Friday, November 12, 2004

AOL Reorgs in Preparation For What? 

This past week AOL and its parent company Time Warner (once upon a time AOL was the parent and Time Warner was the child) made several announcements. Why?

The previous week AOL announced it was laying off 700 people and had repositioned AOL.com as a portal that would compete with Yahoo. At the beginning of this week Time Warner announced it was putting aside $500 in a contingency fund to prepare for any potential settlements with SEC and Justice Department investiagtions and stockholder suits that are pending. This was followed by two other AOL announcements, one in the middle of the week about a huge reorganization and at the end of the week AOL made annoucenment of a new travel aggregation product that will compete with Orbitz and Travelocity and an announcement about a new Senior Vice President in AOL's advertising sales group. I know AOL and Time Warner too well to believe that these announcements were mere coincidence. The timing indicated a well-orchestrated attempt to signal Wall Street that something is going on.

Here's what I think is going on: TW is sending a signal that it's getting AOL's house in order and will sell it as soon as all of the investigations are wrapped up. TW is also signaling the SEC, Justice Department, and litigating stockholders that it's ready to settle and pay up to get it over with.

When Dick Parsons announced TW's first quarter earnings, he made a special point of saying how important AOL's EARNINGS were to TW--second only to TW Cable's earnings. He also praised the startegic plans of AOL CEO Jonathan Miller. Why this emphasis? Parsons was whetting the appetitite of potential buyers who need big cash flow, now he's further enticing them with a lean and mean AOL, poised for growth in areas other than its traditional dial-up business.

The AOL reorganization into three units that will report to CEO Miller was a signal of the death of AOL's notorious matrix organizational structure. The matrix structure was probably an idea of Steve Case to bring AOL's beanstalk growth of the mid 1990s out of anarchy. But instead, the matrix structure gave fifedoms to an unruly passel of anarchists that created an incredibly slow moving, impossibly complex, internecine warring, multi-headed hydra monster that couldn't make decisions as fast as technology was changing. Every head had a different agenda and a different idea of how best get the stock price up and, believe it or not, how to beat Microsoft, its sworn enemy.

It looks like AOL's new reorganization will kill the multi-headed monster and may make decisions easier and faster. In fact, AOL has made several aggressive decisions to expand beyond the dial-up business recently, so it seems to be moving forward faster than before. But does it know where it's going?

When Bob Pittman came to AOL in 1996, he knew exactly what AOL's business was and where it needed to go. It was straigtforward. AOL was an ISP and its only goal was, to quote Peter Drucker, "to get customers and keep them." Sign up members, and that's what Pittman told AOL's direct marketing genius, Jan Brandt, to do, and she did it.

Steve Case set forth AOL's mission: "To build a gloal medium as central to people's lives as the telephone and television--and even more valuble." At the time, that was really cool and visionary. But it was a mission for the Internet, not for AOL. Granted, from 1995 on AOL was the Internet. And guess what, AOL did accomplish its mission, it built an global medium, the Internet, as central to people's life as the telephone and television--and even more valuable. It was the Internet, not AOL that became that medium. And AOL grew on the back of a buggy-whip technology--the telephone, or a twisted pair of copper wires. It based its business model on connecting to the Internet via the telephone. When Case saw that broadband technology, DSL and cable, would ruin his telephone connectivity business, he used AOL's inflated stock ("wampum" Jack Welsh called it) to buy Time Warner.

Case conned Gerald Levin into selling him hard assets that could shore up AOL's inevitable decline as people switched to broadband. Case and AOL probably deluded themselves into thinking that the AOL content was so terrific that people would want it even though they no longer needed AOL to connect to the Internet. But when people were connected to the Internet via a fast, always-on connection, they realized they didn't need AOL because there was other content as good or better out on the vast Internet.

So what is AOL's purpose now that people don't need it to connect? It's no longer to get customers and keep them--keep them, maybe, but at what price? The Wall Street Journal this past week critiqued AOL's new television campaign as being misdirected. What was the commercial's point? Was it trying to get new customers, keep old ones, get them to switch to broadband, or to go to AOL.com? I suspect the purpose was trying to keep customers because one commercial mentioned many of AOL's safety features such as parental control.

But what the commerical didn't mention was that as a last resort AOL will let people keep their e-mail address for $4.95 a month. That means they can't connect or have AOL's content, but that they can go to the newly configured AOL.com and retrieve their e-mail. But $4.95 is along way from the $23.90 a month AOL gets now from its 22 million members.

AOL is losing about 650,000 members a quarter, which is a shame, because it is a much improved product and its content is getting richer all the time, but probably too late. So, AOL is setting up (or improving) shopping sites in the Internet, travel sites, a portal (AOL .com) for life after connectivity, and, in the meantime, is conducting an orchestrated campaign to sell it to some investor who wants a cash cow in a declining business. I wonder who that might be?

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Big Media's War on Creativity 

I made the argument in my previous blog that from looking at editorial endoresements by newspapers in the election that was just concluded, it would appear that fears of corporate control over the voice and opinion of local newspapers are unfounded. I know from my own experience and from the data I looked at and reported on about newspaper endoresements that the vast majority of large media corporations allow their local media outlets autonomy in their editorial and candidate endoresement decisions.

If this is the case, then what is the concern about letting big media corporations get bigger--owning more stations and owning newspapers and television stations in the same market? Big, public media companies are more interested in growing profits than in influencing voters. The obvious exception is Sinclair Broadcasting, but it appears to have suffered financially because of its attempt to influence voters, which will reinforce the local autonomy policies of other big media conglomerates.

Other than coportate opinion control, one of the other major argument against media consolidation is that it stifles a diversity of voices in a market. However, with hundred of channels on cable, satellite television and radio, and, especially, the millions of blogs and information sites on the internet, this argument is weakend.

The biggest problem I have with the big media companies getting bigger is because these congomerates emphasize profit growth, not serving their communities and certainly not nurturing and encouraging creativity and innovation in the arts.

In many markets local radio stations used to encourage and even play local bands and would break new music if a popular DJ or a program director liked the sound of a new artist or band. But this sort of experimentation is not allowed in corporate radio where independent record promoters pay stations to play records the big record companies are pushing.

In some markets, locally owned television stations used to occasionally air performances by local theater groups and other local performance artists, but this practice is declining as more and more stations, particularly corporately owned stations, chase profits. Corporate radio and television today is lowering the standards of taste, culture, and creativity.

Don't get me wrong, profits are necessary for businesses to survive, but the question is how much profit is enough? The answer for big media is always "more." That's how big media bosses keep their stockholders happy and, thus keep their jobs, by demanding more, always more. But as newspaper circulation and radio and television audiences slowly and irreversibly decline, how does the big media get more? By adding advertising pages and adding commercials, by imbedding product placements in programming, by producing cheap (in both senses of the word) look-alike programming, and by appealing to the lowest cultural common denominator ("The Swan" instead of Swan Lake).

I'm not a cultural elitist. I hate the opera and am not a fan of the ballet or classical music, but I am a fan of jazz and theater, both of which have a rich and deep artistic American heritage that is being ignored by big, corporate media. Add to this cultural inattention by big media the FCC's crackdown on "indecency" (translation = freedom of speech) which further inhibits creativity, and you have what amounts to a war on culture and the arts--to say nothing about the religious right wing's attack on free artistic expression through idealogical bombardment of the National Arts Foundation.

The country doesn't need, especially at this time of the ascension of the conservative religious right, more big, corporate media, more media consolidation that it order to grow will genuflect to the conservatives' attacks on indecency and, thus, creativity. American needs more independent voices who will have to learn how to survive through the hard necessity of innovation, and what is innovation but applied creativity.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Newspaper Endorsements 

Tuesday, November 9, 2004. Newspaper Endorsements.
I looked at a list of 411 newspaper endorsements that was published on the Web on November 2. It provided some interesting and unsuspected insights into "big media."

Of the 411 newspapers, 199 with a total circulation of 15, 900,734 endorsed Bush and 212 with circulation of 21,762,206 endorsed Kerry, which gave an early, unrealistic hope to Kerry supporters (like the early exit poll data did). But I examined the list based on what some of the larger and more prominent newspaper groups did. Here are the results:

Gannett (owner of non-endorsing USA Today), the largest newspaper conglomerate in the US had 65 newspapers on the list, 25 for Bush, 40 for Kerry.

Knight-Ridder owned 24 newspapers on the list, 6 for Bush and 18 for Kerry.

Scripps had 14 on the list, 6 for Bush, 8 for Kerry.

The Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune) had 8 papers on the list, 2 (The Chicago Tribune and the Harford Courant) endorsed Bush and 6 endorsed Kerry, including Newsday in Long Island.

The New York Times Co. had 12 newspapers on the list with 4 endorsing Bush and 8 endorsing Kerry.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. had four newspapers on the list, 2 endorsed Bush (The New York Post and the Boston Herald) and 2 endorsed Kerry (smaller suburban papers).

So much for the theory of corporate control of the press. Gannett, the biggest of the media conglomerates that owns newspapers obviously let its papers have local autonomy, as did Knight-Ridder, Scripps, and even the Tribune, New York Times, and Murdoch. The last three companies have the perception of being biased, but they allowed diviation from their perceived slant.

It's too bad Sinclair Broadcasting didn't take a page from the above newspaper companies' play books and allow its 40 stations that ran the anti-Kerry documentary local autonomy. Maybe there is a lesson here fro Sinclair.

Looking at the list, it would appear to support the argument that newspaper editorial endorsements don't make any difference in the final outcome of a national election. It also might give people who are against concentration of control of local media (like me) to pause and think, even re-examine their position. Because if media conglomerates are more interested in profits than in political proselytizing (as it appears by examinign the list of endorsements) then why not let Gannett, the Tribune Company, and Murdoch own all the television stations and newspapers in the country?

I'll make a case for the other point of view later.

Monday, November 08, 2004

More On Editorializing 

Monday, November 8, 2004. More On Editorializing.
Today Jim Romanesko of the Poyneter Institute had several links to newspaper columns about newspaper editorializing. One links to Al Neuharth's stance against it, and another, by the Pittsburgh Post-Tribune's Colin McNickle, made a plea for newspapers to editorialize in order to frame the issues for an informed public discussion. McNickle claimed that the Cleveland Plain Dealer shirked its civic duty by not endorsing either Kerry or Bush this year.

But, as I indicated in my previous post, even if it's considered shirking by many journalism purists, I think we're going to see more newspapers stop endorsing presidential candidates. Nevertheless, the debate is on and online, so check it out.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Post-Election Media 

Sunday, November 7, 2004. The Post-Election Media.
Sinclair Broadcasting was widely criticized in the press and liberal blogs for running pro-Bush editorials and an anti-Kerry documentary in prime time on its television stations. One group was so upset it filed with the FCC to get the Sinclair licenses. The press also reported that many advertisers pulled their advertising from the Sinclair stations that ran the anti-Kerry documentary--advertisers notoriously shy away from controversy and content they consider to be an inappropriate environment for their commercials.

But what about newspapers? Do advertisers shy away from newspapers that run editorials contrary to an advertisers point of view? No. So why shy away from television stations that run a controversial prime-time special? I suspect the answer is that advertisers steer clear of contorversy when they have alternatives. There are lots of alternatives to the Sinclair television stations which is not a group with stations with must-buy ratings. Whereas, there are few, and in most cases no, alternatives for newspaper advertisers.

So what is future of editorials and pro-candidate programs on television? Poor, I think. Bottom-line oriented CEOs and boards of directors will be scared away from controversial programming by reports of Sinclair's advertisers' defection.--everyone except Sinclair's CEO, David Smith, who claims that his company made money on the anti-Kerry program and will continue to do issue-oriented programming and editorials, according to Media Post's Wayne Friedman in his Novemebr 5, TV Watch Column.

I don't think Friedman believes Smith, nor do I, and, more important, I don't think other broadcasters will. The trend in recent years has been for televison networks and stations not to editorialize and to steer clear of contoversary (with the exception of the "60 Minutes'" Rathergate fisco). That controversy will more than likely make CBS and the networks more cautious, especially because they will not want to irritate the Bush White House and the Republican-dominated FCC, which they hope will expand station ownership limits and go easier on indecency. So don't expect any changes in television, and that includes Fox News's and Sinclair's pro-conservative approach. And, don't expect the FCC to give Sinclair's licenses to anyone else.

What about newspapers? It is clear that newspaper editorials don't have a major impact on the way people vote in national elections. Kerry endorsements outnumbered Bush endoresements from newspapers this year, but so what. There were several newspapers, including USA Today, that did not endorse presidential candidates. USA Today's founder and current columnist, Al Neuharth, does not believe newspapers should endorse candidates. USA Today is a national newspaper, and the number-one circultation daily in country and, thus, attemtps to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Could it be that USA Today's neutrality is part of the reason it has grown and increased its circulation lead over number two, the Wall Street Journal and number three, the New York Times, both of which endorse candidates?

The New York Times, with its endoresement of Kerry, reinforced to the Red states that is the voice of the Eastern liberal establishment, which is anethma to the Red states. Can the New York Times ever fulfill its national expansion goals if it continues to be seen as a New York liberal paper? Probably not.

As newspaper circulation continues to decline and bottom-line pressures plague the print business, I would not be surprised to see many newspapers continue to endorse local candidates but not to endorse national condidates--to take a USA Today approach to neutrality and try to avoid alienating either side of the political divide. The concept of going down the middle (sometimes referred to as objectivity, which we realize now is not possible) originated in the 1800s when publishers of partisan newspapers realized they could double their circulation and, therefore their advertising revenue by being neutral and appealing to both sides. I expect more newspapers to take this approach over the next four years.

What about the partisan media of today, especially blogs and radio? Blogs have had a extraordinary impact on the political scene this year and have come into their own as a source of news, opinion, and discourse. Dan Gillmor, in his breakthrough book, We the Media, suggests that blogs are the media of information in the future. Blogs took a step back this past week when several of them posted early exit polls that showed Kerry in the lead, which led to a short surge in Kerry futures in the stock market and too early euphoria among the Kerry campaigners. And the authors of at least two of the most read blogs, Daily Kos and Press Think, have indicated they are tired of the daily pressure to blog and are asking for contributors to share the burden of posting, so there might be a decline in the quality and timeliness of blogs for a while. However, I expect blogs such as Talking Points, Instant Pundit, and the The Note to increase in readership and usage as sources of information and opinion. Recent research has indicated that 34 percent of people 18-54 get their news from the Internet. I expect that to increase to almost 50 percent in the next four years.

Radio is a different matter. I expext partisan radio to decline, especially liberal radio. I don't expect Air America Radio to last the year out. Al Franken is Air American Radio's biggest draw and his goal when he started was to see that George Bush was defeated. So much for that.

Perhaps the anti-Bush blogs and Air America Radio will learn that just being against something doesn't work. It worked for Rush Limbaugh in bashing the Clintons, but that was a common sport at the time and easy to do. I expect Rush's influence to decline as radio audiences continue to decline--a slow but irreversible decline.

In summary, less poltical partisanship and controversy in television, fewer endorsement editorials in newspapers, more partisanship and influence of blogs, and less influence of radio.

Election Results 

Sunday, November, 7. Bill Grimes's Post-Election Thoughts.

Final Thoughts: Election

1. The Months Leading Up To Election Day:

· Fifty-five perecent of registered voters in the US were Democrats (and still are).

· The president's management of Iraq was losing support rapidly among voters.

· The public's view of the state of the economy--mainly, "lost jobs"--was adversely affecting voters' views of the president.

· The president's overall "job performance" was thought to be "good" by less than 50% of voters--his lowest since mid-2001.

· By the end of October after three debates, some polls found that Kerry won all three; many found that he won two; none found that Bush had won two or three of the debates.

· Media coverage critical of the president's performance intensified (according to Center for Media and Public Affairs the large three broadcast network shows aired 77 % "positive" stories on Kerry while 64% of Bush stories were "negative").

· Communicating some compelling appeal to "conservative" voters in the Red states would likely be important for Democratic victory.

· In the 2000 election Bush received fewer popular votes than his Democratic opponent.

2. Election Day: The Vote

· Nine million more people vote for Bush than did in 2000

· Three and a half million more vote for Bush than Kerr

· Republicans gain four additional Senators

· Kerry fails to win one Red state and loses key state Florida with 47% of the vote.

3. Tomorrow: The analysis and future:

1. That Kerry lost the presidency and Democrats lost seats, given the perceived state of Bush administration’s handling of foreign affairs and the economy is at the very least surprising.

2. The election result suggests less than competent strategy and execution by the Democrat brain trust and the candidate. Some thoughts as to how and why this substantial advantage Kerry enjoyed during the last few months was squandered.

3. Dems cannot win Red states with a liberal from Northeast (or West Coast) unless perhaps their Republican opponent is a Moderate West Coaster) unless perhaps their Republican opponent is a moderate Northerner--obviously not the case with Bush.

4. Electing a Senator to the presidency does not seem to be a route to the White House—when was the last time it happened? Wouldn't Dem strategists be thinking this too?

5. Associating and cavorting with Hollywood and Rock n' Roll mega-stars continues to be thought to be ultra-cool by Dem candidates but not thought so by Red state voters (and, I think, a lot of Blue state voters, as well). A few examples of star Kerry cheerleading that appeared in the press presumably with his handlers' knowledge (since each was related to raising money for his candidacy):

1. Whoopie Goldberg at Rainbow Room black-tie event uses scatological language referring to the president's last name as a warm-up to calling him as criminal.

2. Cher, speaking to an elderly group of ladies in Florida, struggles to maintain her balance at the podium and arduously searches her memory for words; finally finds them; and calls the president a modern Nazi.

3. Eminem, a rap song artist whose lyrics often highlight cop beatings and violence to women , pens a new, made-for-the-campaign, anti-Bush tune.

4. Bug-eyed Susan Sarandon and anti-business hubby Tim Robbins are pictured condescendingly ticking off reasons Bush is stupid.

5. Meryl Streep regales a group of NY potential Dem donors about the president's "fixation with Jesus Christ."

6. Michael Moore's “Fahrenheit 9/11” which produced gleeful disdain in the brilliant brains of two-coast Dems had the opposite effect in Red states where "less-sophisticated" Americans who saw (not many) or heard via word-of-mouth the vitrioloic depiction of the president felt the movie was unfair and saw Moore as "another Hollwood smart ass who looks down on us folk." A schoolmate friend, a retired postal employee who has never left West Virginina, told me that upon visiting his daughter in Philadelphia he went to see Moore's movie. He had planned on voting for Kerry but was outraged by the "superiority attitude" of the movie maker. Marty voted instead for Bush.

Well, all this sounds cool and hip here in NY and on the left coast but, I believe, Dem brothers, that buddy-buddy stuff with patronizing and privileged Hollywood profit-participators is not amusing and not appreciated in Red states and will never be. Advice: muzzle the mouths of the stars and don't jump up and down on a stage in Toledo, Ohio two days before the election to show Ohio voters that you and the Boss are bros. Maybe, if your name was Clinton, but William Clinton you were not. IT IS THE CULTURE, STUPID.

· Do not associate with billionaire New York Liberals. Take their $80 million that George Soros raised with four other pals and keep it quiet. The publicity of fat-cat financing helps only in NY and LA exactly where Dem candidates do not need help--it hurts in Red states. Mr. Soros, quoted extensively in a 12 page article in an October issue of the most liberal, Bush-whacking magazine, THE NEW YORKER, compares the Administration to Hitler's and calls Bush "worst kind of liar". I am sure his half-thought-out thought was: The morons in Middle America have never heard of this magazine, let alone ever reading (or capable of reading) it. That is if Soros even considered the consequences of his raving hostile opinions on performance of the President. Did he and the Dem chief strategist--the lady from Massachusetts whose bio leader is managing the campaigns of Ted Kennedy in that challenging-for-Dems state--think that Karl Rove might receive a copy of the article and if so Mr. Rove might just have an idea or two as to how to distribute it strategically to voters? Did they think at all about the impact these remarks might have on the unfortunate American who doesn't understand how Soros made billions and while not resenting it wonders why such a fortunate person (and immigrant to boot) would be so angry in their great country, America. As this West Virginia boy can attest, those Mountaineers do not like to hear that talk from a guy who has never been to their state and who has not been on a commercial plane in 40 years. An additional factor is one my daughter communicated to me. She said a number of her friends in San Francisco thought that Mrs. Kerry was an unattractive snob who evidenced little empathy for anyone and no real affection towards her husband. The contrast between the two presidential candidates' wives was starkly clear--and the losers were the Dems.

· Kerry's occasional assertion of some Administration "failure" without a referenced source damaged his credibility and thus his chance to win. Example, in third debate Kerry said, on the subject of national security, "Our nation's borders are more vulnerable and unsafe the they were four years ago." Now, how without citing some source for this claim would anyone believe this possible? Everyone knows about the creation of Homeland Security and their terrorist alerts; most everyone knows that spending on security has been dramatically increased since 9/11 and everyone living person in America knows that since that awful day thirty-eight months ago not a terrorist firecracker has been ignited in this country. Does any one think that we have not suffered another attack because our borders are less safe? Or, could it be, Mr. Kerry, that perhaps because terrorists do not want to attack us again? Or, maybe is it just darn good Republican luck? I do not know what Kerry was thinking about! This is one example of a number of unsubstantiated criticisms of his opponent that are nor remotely believable. Advice to Dems: do not permit candidates to make such statements. Voters with a little bit of thought will conclude that the speaker is not being honest and thinks they (the voters) will not notice. (Voters too dumb, candidate thinks. Or I am too smooth.)

· Final thought: people want to vote for a likable person. Likable I think means something like the good guy I know at work or at the club or at church. Likable is not a person speaks with affectedly multi-sentence retorts. However you want to define to, likable enough--relative to Bush--was not John Kerry. And "person” just means a guy or gal who has a few flaws, just like me. Not the picture perfect Kerry with his Anglo patrician good looks plus with a dash of Eastern European mystique; the best education culminating with Ivy school debate champ; decorated war hero with non-stop bravery, an "in-your-corner" DA getting bad guys; a Senator of tireless devotion to task and electorate. Even if it were all true nearly all the time, it is not the profile of any "person" you or I have ever known. Sculpted in privilege, packaged by Hollywood Dem advisors and much funded by New York financiers who openly spew hatred of an American President, Kerry was inadequately managed and was incapable of executing a "likable person" public persona. Johnny, we didn't ever know ye."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Not in Anger 

Wednesday, November 3, 2004. Not in Anger.
I read a number of blogs today and many of them were filled with anger. We all have different ways of dealing with loss. Some do it with anger or rage, other with sadness and depression, others with new resolve, and others with rationalization (“You really didn’t want Kerry to win because the mess is so big he’d get blamed for not cleaning up an impossible mess and not be re-elected").

The way I dealt with my loss was to shed a tear when I got up this morning to give vent to my grief, not for me but for America and its global reputation, then to read some blogs, and then to go for a walk so I could think about what I might do to see that such a disaster didn’t happen again. I said to myself, “Don’t get mad, get even.” I counseled myself not to become angry, not to take it personally, and not to let my emotions or my ego blur my vision. This was my response, more because of age probably, than because of reasonableness.

I wrote down a list of things I had to do, starting today, to see that my team won in 2008. I thought, “Put me on the team, coach. Tell me how to prepare, what to do, who to block, and who to tackle. We have to show the world that we can play fair, play by the rules, and win. If we try to beat the other side by using their negativity, scare tactics, and dirty tricks, we debase the honor of the game, we lose our pride, and, ultimately, we lose our souls.”

I remembered a story about a renowned samurai warrior who protected a great lord. The lord was assassinated one day and the loyal samurai, enraged, sped after the assassin and finally cornered him. The samurai raised his shining sword and prepared to behead the terrified assassin, but at the moment that he was going to swing his sword toward the head of the assassin, the samurai instead let his arm and sword drop limply to the ground and he turned and walk away, letting the assassin live. When an onlooker asked the samurai why he had not killed the assassin, the samurai replied, “I was angry and if I killed him it would have been because I was angry, which is not the right reason he should die. He must die not because of my anger but because he killed my lord."

Democrats must defeat the Republicans in 2008 not because of anger but for the right reasons.

The biggest problem now is to find a coach, or as Bush called Karl Rove in his victory speech, an “architect” for a victory in 2008. We have a talented legion of willing, motivated, bright players who are on the humane, caring side of the issues, but we need a much better coaching staff and head coach who can unify us as a team so that we have one inspiring, positive mission, one simple, positive message, and one overriding, positive goal—to win in 2008—and not to have a goal of the Republican candidate losing, that’s a negative goal (“Anyone but Bush” didn’t work). We need a party organization that doesn’t focus on how to make the other side lose, but that focuses on how to win with honor. Winning with honor is key, because that is what will restore our honor in the world and in the history books in the twenty-second century and beyond.

Winning with honor is much harder than winning by breaking the rules (as we found out yesterday), so that's why we have to start now, plan better, and work harder, but not in anger.

The Morning After 

Wednesday, November 3, 2004. The Morning After.
I quit drinking 26 years ago after I had hepetitis and discovered six months after I recovered that even a sip of booze hurt my insides. I haven't missed the booze or, especially, the hangovers. The morning after tying one on were miserable. I remember saying to myself, "Was that woman I was flirting with really that pretty? Did I really make that obnoxious remark? Did I really try to pick a fight with 300-pound gorilla?"

This morning I'm having another type of hangover--a sadness and hubris hangover--and I'm asking myself, "Was my candidate really that good? Did I really predict to friends that the youth and female vote would create a Kerrry landslide? Did I really believe those exit polls published on blogs in the late afternoon and that the networks wouldn't touch? Did I really say that the pre-election polls were all wrong because they couldn't reach cell phones."

I wasn't drunk, I was wrong. I let my heart and my hopes color my thinking. I didn't realize that voters would vote their hearts, not their heads; would vote according to their faith rather than according to the facts; would vote according to their short-term interests rather than long-term ideals; and were so worried about "security" that they were willing to give up some of their own and, especially, others' constitutional rights (including prisoners of war).

I was also wrong about blogs as the new media model. This was the election that I thought (and hoped too much) would be influenced by blogs. But the blogs not only got it wrong but also you couldn't get to many of them. Reports this morning indicated that the severs of several of the most popular blogs crashed--Daily Kos, Talking Points, and Wonkette among them. The liberal-leaning blogs posted exit poll results that were favorable to Kerry. The exit poll results were distributed virally in the late afternoon and gave Kerry supporters (like me) false hope. The networks got it right this time by not referring to any exit polls and being cautious.

CNN was the most cautious, ABC the most aggressive in calling wins for states and, thus, electoral votes. I wonder if anyone watched CBS's coverage. Did ABC or the networks' coverage matter? Not much, although I suspect that by being aggressive, ABC probably picked up viewers. We'll see what this means for future elections; however, I do believe that the TV news networks are much too full of themselves and think they have a lot of power to influence elections, like not calling states until all the polls have closed. If you look at a map of red and blue states this year and in 2000, the two maps are virtually identical. Few people changed their minds from the 200o election.

Also, Bruce Springsteen and the rock and show business stars didn't help bring out the youth vote. Some estimates indicate the only one in ten young people (18-29) voted. Joe Trippi wrote in a blog on MSNB that the future of the country was in the hands of the future of the country. Nice line, and true--the future of the country were irresponsible and didn't care about the future of the country. Joe Trippi forgot, as I did, about the self-absorbtion and notoriously short -term vision of many young people, who think long-term is day after tomorrow.

But Aaron Brown of CNN did quote at length Buzzmachine's Jeff Jarvis's post-election peace pledge:
I promise to... Support the President, even if I didn't vote for him..... Criticize the President, even if I did vote for him..... Uphold standards of civilized discourse in blogs and in media while pushing both to be better.... Unite as a nation, putting country over party, even as we work together to make America better.

Well said. I'll try to follow it.

What will Bush's second term mean for the media? I would try to predict, but today I have no faith in my ability to predict. I think Howard Stern said it best--that he is glad he is moving to satellite radio. Life in radio and television is going to be hell...and cleaner.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Tuesday, November 2, 2003. Election Day.
I voted today at 9:30 am at the 92nd Street Y. It was inspiring to see the longest lines I've ever seen when voting at the Y. My favorite snapshots were; 1) a limo driving up, a driver hustling to open up the back door and helping a well-dressed, feeble old man out of the car and onto a walker as the old man painfully and slowly made his way to vote and 2) an old bull dog tied to a parking meter while his owner was inside voting--the bull dog looked liked Dick Cheney, mean and sad.

I had lunch with a good friend, a conservative Bush supporter, who predicted a Kerry win, which raised my spirits. What we agreed on was that if Kerry wins there will be a better chance of legislators getting together and working out reasonable compromises that would modernize the election process, reduce the deficit, and reform election financing.

I walked home (95th Street) from 33rd Street--up Fifth Avenue to 58th Street to make sure that FAO Schwartz was closed (it was), across 58th to Madison, and up Madison all the way. It was a will-power walk. I didn't stop at Ferragamo, Gucci, Hermes, Timberland, or Ralph Lauren.

When I got home, I checked out the blogs and the early indications from Daily Kos were in favor of Kerry. I read another blog that recommended that people check out blogs because blogs would have the best early information because they would publish early (and unreliable) exit poll information that the networks and old-line news organizations wouldn't touch.

I then went to Romenesko, as I do every day, and linked to Jimmy Breslin's last regular column for Newsday. I love reading Breslin and I was sorry to read that his column would be his last, so I sadly clicked on it. However, I was rewarded with one of his best, in my opinion. Please read it. He predicts a big Kerry win as he has been for months. I felt better.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Monday, November 1, 2004. I Was Bushwacked.
Last evening I got a call from a woman who asked me to "support" the Southern Illinois University School of Journalism where I received my masters degree in 1982. She asked for a donation this year for more than the $100 I had given for the last few years. I told her that I wasn't able to give anything this year because, "I have given all the extra money I had to John Kerry and the Democratic party."

She asked, "Why are you voting for John Kerry?"

I replied, "What!"

She repeated, more emphatically, "Why are voting for John Kerry?"

As I hung up the phone, I growled, "It's none of your God damned business."

The Bush-Rove mafia have infiltrated everywhere it seems. Do the Bush-Rove Nazis really think that by challenging people they are going to get them to change their minds or their votes? I think this kind of confrontational behavior reveals a deep anger and frustration that these messianic people have. They hate everyone who doesn't share their fundamentalist, simplistic, freedom-denying beliefs. Well, they are not going to get any money from me and they are not going to win tomorrow.

What happened to me was not as bad as some of the hateful, ruthless, angry scams others have suffered. The Daily Kos reports of one in Michigan:

"In a recording of a phone call played for The Associated Press, a young woman says: 'When you vote this Tuesday remember to legalize gay marriage by supporting John Kerry. We need John Kerry in order to make gay marriage legal for our city. Gay marriage is a right we all want. It's a basic Democrat principle. It's time to move forward and be progressive. Without John Kerry, George Bush will stop gay marriage. That's why we need Kerry. So Tuesday, stand up for gay marriage by supporting John Kerry.'"

This type of filthy crap is another reason why Kerry will win tomorrow, and when he does I hope he puts Karl Rove in Abu Ghraib...no just kidding, Abu Ghraib is too nice a place for Rove.

But one thing you can be certain of is that when Bush loses he and Rove will blame the media, not their right-wing conservative ideals or Nazi tactics to rape the election process (which an excellent story in the Atlantic Monthly pointed out was Rove's MO--he stole one in Alabama by using the courts). If for some unfathomable reason you are still undecided, read the Atlantic Monthly story before you vote.

Monday, November 1, 2004. Why Sincalir and Pappas Aren't Bigger.
Bill Grimes wrote the following in response to my blog about television station owners Sinclair (24 percent coverage of US TV homes) and Pappas (15 percent of US TV homes) and provides some excellent insights into the future of local television broadcasting:

The reason I think neither of these companies are acquiring more television stations (they could own up to 39% coverage) is that the business of broadcast television is in secular decline and sophisticated investors in these companies would sell shares. The unspoken business story for TV stations is not so much the continual, sustaining loss of audience, it is the relatively recent smart and aggressive competition from local cable systems for ad revenue.. Did you know that Comcast last year generated $1 Billion, yes, billion, in ad revenue for its cable systems. Comcat has 23 million subscribers--22% of US homes. Time Warner Cable with 11 million subs must have near $500 million in system ad revenues. This money is coming out of radio and, particularly now, TV stations' pockets. Cable systems with two commercial minutes an hour on 50+ basic cable network channels have finally figured out how to package and price this commercial inventory. And, nearly as important and very detrimental to TV stations, is the reality that cable subscriber penetration is at approximately 70% of US households, and in some markets even higher, so broadcast television stations' (and networks') old refrain that cable's reach is low does not work with advertisers any longer. National advertisers with more information and marketing expertise have invested a far greater (and growing) percentage of their televison budgets with cable networks than local retailers and businesses have with cable systems. But, alas, those days of are over for the TV stations.
And this is why Sinclair and Pappas are far from the legal number of television stations that they could own. They will be buyers again someday, perhaps, but only when prices of tTV stations fall by 30-50% which is likely. Just check out share price performance in last couple of years of Clear Channel; it's now about 50% of its 2-3 year high. A nightmare for investors. Mr. Pappas and Mr. Smith of Sinclair are reminded of this quite frequently by their bankers and investors.

It is past dusk for the broadcast television industry, particulalrly for mid-size station groups like these two which have no networks, no cable ownership, or no other media assets to possibly warm up their chilly evening with earnings.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Sunday, October 31, 2004. Bill Grimes Responds to GM Bully Blog
The lesson is that Time Warner and Time, Inc. have enough audience and capital to exert leverage when a GM seeks "breach of church/state" deals from it. That part of your blog was good. However, criticizing GM for trying to use its muscle to get best deals was questionable--it is exactly what GM management should be trying to do. But first, they should figure out how to make better cars.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Saturday, October 30, 2004. The Ills of Media De-Regulation and Concentration. Forty Sinclair television stations aired an anti-Kerry documentary and Harry Pappas, the principle owner of Pappas Telecasting, which owns 25 television stations, bought time on some of his stations and gave it to California Congressional and state legislators running for office. These two incidences of partisan political activity by owners of groups of television stations is another example of the unintended consequences that resulted from FCC de-regulation.

In 1989 the FCC recinded the Fairness Doctrine and personal attack regulations because broadcasters and many liberatarian advocates felt that the Fairness Doctrine limited public debate on important issues because the rule stated that if a broadcast station aired one side of a controversial issue of public importance, it had to air opposing viewpoints. As an ex-broadcaster, I know that the rule was confusing and extremely difficult to implement (but not impossible). Did it mean that all opposing views had to be aired or just one? If a group bought time to pitch for one side of an issue, then a station had to present the other side, even if it meant giving away time to do so. Because of this rule, the vast majority of broadcasters avoided controversial issues, which, crictics argued, limited public debate on important issues. Recind the rule, they argued, and robust debate whould follow.

Broadcasters paid the National Association of Broadcasters to lobby the FCC to recind the rule, which it eventually did. But the result was not robust debate, but partisan activity. When broadcasters were told they didn't have to be fair, many of them decided not to be--Sinclair and Pappas among them.

In 1996 the FCC, at the urging of broadcasters and the NAB, raised substantially the limit on the number of stations any one company could own. The result was an immediate rash of station buying by the already big groups that had the money to buy additional radio and television stations. Sinclair's growth exploded to 62 television stations in 40 markets reaching 24 percent of US televison homes. Pappas grew to 25 stations reaching 15 percent of the US television homes.

The broadasters pushed for this type of media conglomeration and concentration for financial reasons, not because they viewed the media as a public trust. Their interests were mainly to serve their stockholders, not to serve the public. The problems of media concentration are brilliantly put forth by Ken Auletta , who writes about the media for the New Yorker, in an interview by Scott Libin of the Poynter Institute. I strongly recommend you read Auletta's penetrating comments. Click here.

Saturday, October 30, 2004. A Bully Gets Weaker.
No one likes a bully. That's why I enjoyed reading newspaper stories this past Thursday that reported that General Motors "would temporarily lay off more than 10,000 workers for one to four weeks early next year at five plants that mostly produce sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks," according the New York Times.

The layoffs were undoubtedly accelerated by big auto retailers such as AutoNation, demanding that General Motors and Ford "no longer...crowd their lots with slow-selling cars and trucks to help Detroit's auto makers avoid production cuts," according to a Wall Street Journal story this last Thursday. The layoffs will obviously affect profits at General Motors--it will be a smaller and weaker company.

Why should I enjoy GM's weakness? Because GM for years has tried to bully the media into giving it special deals because for several years it was the media's largest advertiser (replaced by P&G in the past two years). Last week, Rick Sirvaitis,
president and chief operating officer of GM's media-buying arm GM Mediaworks and, thus, GM's top media guy made another brash attempt at bullying when he told executives at the American Magazine Conference that he was "itrigued by the prospect of product-placement in magazine editorial. He told the publishers that he found such prospects 'very relevant,'" according to a 10/25 article in Advertising Age. What Sirvaitis is saying, on behalf of General Motors, is that magazine publishers better give GM product placements in editorial content if they wanted GM's business.

GM was probably emboldened in its bullying efforts by the success of its product placement deal on "Oprah" last month when Oprah gave away 15 minutes of her program and 276 Pontiac
G-6 midsize 2005 sports sedans worth $28,400 each to everyone in her audience on that day.

Over the last decade most magazine publishers have been fighting a losing battle to keep advertising and editorial separate, Time, Inc.'s magazines being a notable exception. Time Inc. still has the guts and integrity not to cave in to product placement pressures, but the vast majority of other publishers have caved in as pressure on bottom lines has intensified. I hope publishers will resist GM's pressure to include product placements in editorial because there is too much clutter already in the media and, in the long run, melding editorial with product placements will hurt the credibility of magazines.

Another reason magazines have backed down from the once firm stance on separation of church and state is not only becasue of increased competition and increased profit pressure, but also because of improved technology. Printing and production technology has improved, which, in turn, has substantially decreased closing times for magazine advertising. In the past magazine salespeople, when asked what the editorial content was going to be could say, "I don't know" with credibility. Today, advertisers understand, because of shorter closing deadlines, that salespeople know what the editorial content is, so the salespeople can't use the "I don't know" dodge any more. Therefore, advertisers ask about the content and when they find out, they want ads in or close to relevant content. Salespeople typically cave in to threats such as, "Your competition is giving me content placement, so you'd better give it to me or lose the business," because they are afraid of not getting an order.

I hope magazine publishers will not cave in to GM's or any other advertiser's bullying and take a cue from Time, Inc. and keep editorial and advertising clearly separated. Time, Inc. is a good model because it has the top three magazines (People, Sports Illustrated, and Time) in total revenue and seven of the top 10 magazines in total revenue. There's a lesson here for other publishers.

Saturday, October 30, 2004. CNNfn.
On Friday, October 29, CNN announced it was closing down CNNfn, its financial news network that was established to compete with CNBC. This was a big surprise because no one had ever heard of or watched CNNfn, so the big news was that CNNfn even existed. Who knew?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?