Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Getting WILD

This week Boston lost one of the few stations that catered to the African American/Black/Urban audiences in this city. WILD-FM sold to Entercom communications, and quickly changed its format from R&B/Soul to hard rock.

The Boston Globe article and a Boston Herald column on the subject talked a lot about the loss for the community and how the black community (6 percent of the city's population) no longer has a voice on the airwaves.

They're right. We know the digital divide still exists, based on both economic and racial lines, but the radio waves are open to everyone. Radios are very inexpensive, sometimes even given away. So anyone can pick up the signal. Technically, the airwaves belong to the public, which is why the FCC probably should have charged the major media companies more for the digital spectrum that they practically gave away.

But alas, they didn't.

Yes, there are options, from the Internet to satellite radio. But those options are only available for a price.

This is a loss, so don't just shrug and move along. Just because you can go online and read this blog and other stories from around the world from the comfort of your home, doesn't mean everyone can.

I used to work for a wonderful little station in Rockland County called WRKL-AM. 910 on the AM dial was the place to go when you wanted to know the local news, the school lunch menus and if there were any closings. No, it wasn't as popular as WNEW out of New York City, or WLIR-FM from Long Island (they had some great progessive rock during the 80s), but it served a purpose and an audience.

Today it simulcasts polka music from Chicago.

The radio spectrum belongs to the people, it should serve the people as well. Just because it's cheap to sit a radio engineer next to a receiver, doesn't mean that simulcasting polka (or WAAF out of Worcester) serves the community.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Today I Woke up 10 Years Younger

In his book Little Children, author Tom Perrotta regularly makes reference to the Gary Condit case. That news story, in the summer of 2001, elicited a media frenzy and marked what seems to be the end of this over-intense focus on mundane matters of celebrity, sex and suspicion. Yes, there are still plenty of stories about Britney and the like, but they don't dominate the top of every newscast the way that Condit did. Perrotta put that tidbit there to place the story firmly in the pre 9/11 world, one in which we cared more about the sex lives of an elected official and an intern than much else. In a way he was declaring that summer the end of our innocence.

Today we're more concerned with the safety of air travel.

That's why I'm actually surprised at the media frenzy over the Jon Benet Ramsey suspect. Yes, I expected it to be big news. This is a story that fascinated the American public throughout 1997 mostly for its titillation factor. Dan Rather compared the story to "kiddie porn."

I turned on CNN last night to see them focusing intently on that story, and it led most of the evening newscasts in Boston. This on a night that a flight enroute from London was diverted to Boston for security reasons.

I'm not sure what to make of all this, but I find it rather fascinating. And, suddenly, I feel 10 years younger.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Promoting Elitism

I could never figure out why it was that people thought journalists lived such nice lives. I mean, we were paid nothing, worked long hours and got yelled at a lot.

But then I read the New York Times, the country's "paper of record," and I begin to understand why. As you move beyond the news pages you find yourself in sections like Styles , which promotes expensive meals, fashion that no one can afford and weddings only from those who "mean something" to society.

Take this article from the real estate section. It talks about the problems of smelling ones neighbors, something anyone who lives in an apartment can understand. But do they talk to folks in poor neighborhoods living on top of one another? Of course not:

“I feel like it’s hopeless,” said Susan Stewart, a book promoter for Monteiro & Company in Manhattan and an actress in her 20’s “exasperated” by the cigarette smoke from two downstairs apartments. The smell pollutes the den and master bedroom of the three-bedroom co-op she shares with her boyfriend, Seth Berkowitz, a 29-year-old film restorer and musician, in Jackson Heights, Queens.

“Usually on weekends when I’m sleeping in, I have the window open and get to wake up to the fresh smell of cigarettes,” said Ms. Stewart, a former smoker herself.

That cracks me up! A three-bedroom co-op? Yes, I know it's not in Manhattan, but still. And her complaint is about when she's trying to sleep in on weekends? Is that when she's not shopping for a pair of $200 jeans she read about in the Styles section? It leaves a reader with the impression that this is the crowd the reporter runs with.

If you haven't read it already, Tom Stites tackles this issue in regards to the Boston Globe in a speech he made while in Amherst.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Value of PR

PR Newswire recently put a release up for bid on eBay, a move that Karen Sams says is an interesting publicity move.

It is, but it worries me a bit. In the late 1990s when I was doing a bit of branding or a small jams and jellies company, well before eBay was known for as much as it is, my brother suggested we put the products on eBay. I scoffed, but his reasoning was simple: there's an audience with money ready to buy it, and you can easily set pricing based on what people bid.

He's right, of course. I often use eBay to determine market value for used goods, such as a camera I recently bought. I knew I was getting a good deal when similar items sold for much more than the price I'd negotiated (for eBay I'd have to add shipping , which I didn't have to pay). It's also led me to the conclusion that there are few real bargains on eBay.

So when Lee Odden pays well below PR Newswire's rates for a 400 word release, I see a small red flag. I'm not going to raise the alarm just yet, it's only one auction. But it's certainly not positive.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Trusting the Source

A constant theme of this blog has been the "trust" issue. How do you know who and what to trust when you get your information from people online? YouTube is no exception and an article in today's Wall Street Journal points out why.

A video that has appeared on YouTube showing Al Gore brainwashing penguins appears to be just another amusing video, but it may be propaganda from a DC-area PR firm working for big oil. To be fair, it could also be the work of one rogue person who works for the firm and sent an email from his work computer.

Of course, this goes to the issue of transparency. We all want full disclosure of information because, as Adam Curry says: there are no secrets, only information we don't yet know.

The fact is, being outed in the Journal is pretty bad.

I think it's great for companies to use YouTube if they're creating legitimately good content. Walk through any museum and you'll notice how many paintings are of the wealthy or of religious icons. Why? Because those with money have always sponsored the arts. They had paintings commissioned of themselves or of issues they cared about. With a little time and perspective we're able to see what makes them works of art.

In today's America corporations have they money and video is an art. So yes, corporate America SHOULD be sponsoring good art, and they want to get something for their money: a little publicity.

But be above board about it, getting found out through email trails can't be good for business.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

YouTube Comes of Age

I know it seems like I've abandoned the blog, I haven't. I put it on hiatus for a while as I worked on The Garden City, the citizen-journalism venture I'm working on with Kristine Munroe. If you haven't seen it please take a look.

In any case, I've been watching YouTube come of age over the past couple of weeks. When I left for vacation on July 21, the video site was a place to go and see kids jumping their dirt bikes over homemade ramps. But now it's a place people turn to in order to find home video from the urban battles in the Middle East. Frankly, the phenomenon of Internet video telling the story of a crisis is nothing new; during the tsunami most of the video came from places like BitTorrent, but now people can add comments, tag it and make it easier to find and discuss.

Not long ago I watched a great documentary on YouTube about the idea of "Gold Farming" in China. That is, places where people play video games all day so they can sell the stuff they win online to Americans. It's called a "preview" in the title, so my guess is that a longer documentary is coming. But as I was watching it a question popped into my mind: can I trust what I'm seeing?

If I were watching NBC News, I know there is an organization behind the video that has a certain element of trust built up, one that has earned that trust with its audience. But how do I trust that this is real?

There are those who would argue that the blogosphere is self-correcting, and if this wasn't true, the comments and other bloggers would point that out. Perhaps, but it's going to take us some time to get there. And when you're watching a video in Newton, Mass. said to have been shot in China, who can help correct the record?

Regardless, there is now talk that YouTube could be purchased by a major news outlet like TimeWarner or even News Corp. Whoever ends up as the owner, and however this site makes money, I'll be watching for video from the next major crisis.