Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Journal of Thanksgiving


OK. I don’t know how professionally meaningful this post will be. I suppose for some journalist new to this market or for some journalism student, it might be useful. It’s going to be kind of like buying stocks for the long haul, not day-trading.

This Thanksgiving I feel very blessed. No, I don’t have a gig other than this blog, a mainly gratis PR/publicity effort, and my music. No, I don’t have much income, therefore. But, I feel very grateful, very thankful, and very blessed.

I came here in 1970 sick unto death of news. In Waco all I covered was dead people and civic club speakers. My creative drive was only satisfied by the scores of feature stories I dreamed up. Also, I got to use a very cool Bolex camera. (No zoom. It had a three lens turret.) So, when I got here, I sold time for KTBC AM and FM, and I got to know the Johnson family and all their friends in the business.

It didn’t take me long to figure it out, and by the end of 1971, I was back in broadcast journalism. Yes, there were ventures out of the business. Working for Bob Bullock was an adventure. Those who knew me in that era are aware of the wild ride. All the while, however, I becoming more and more an Austinite.

When I first came to town, Austin was the 100?+ market. Really. It really was. So, without moving in 38 ½ years, I’ve jumped to the 49th market. Saves on moving expenses.

More than that, however, it leads to roots. Many, if not most people in journalism do not get the opportunity to put down roots. It starts with having a real life beyond a virtual life only existing in a TV, radio, or newspaper newsroom. It means having friends in the real world, friends who don’t move. Oh, I have wonderful friends who have moved to the east and the west. I love them all. But, I can’t see them often. They, therefore, are an embellishment in life, but they cannot be part of the fabric of a life. Roots people are special. Journalists are fortunate to have roots friends.

Staying in one market also leads to a lifestyle. Maybe it is related to George Carlin’s treatise on “stuff”. Now, stuff isn’t terrifically important. I’m in awe of my friend Bruce Whiteaker and wife Shirley Whiteaker who eliminated their stuff and became mobile, able to respond quickly to the next opportunity or adventure. They are in Knoxville now. Stuff, however, becomes attached to the roots through association. You know, whenever you move from one place to another, your friends help you move your stuff. Or, you and your friends go places and do things together and you, thereby, accumulate mementos (aka “stuff”).

You see where this is going.

Anyway, after 38 years here, I may qualify as “Old Austin”. Research says most people watching TV haven’t been here for more than five years. So, I must be really, really “Old Austin”. I’m good with that.

More than “good”, I’m grateful. I’m grateful that the communications industry and the audience have tolerated me for these years. I’m thankful for my wife who is so supportive in so many ways literally. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to make a living—make a life—mainly in broadcast journalism for close to four decades in one place. That one place is a very, very special place too. My thanks to my undergraduate college roommate and Austinite Rick Bays for bringing me here in the first place back in the ‘60s. Little did I know back then …………………..

I give thanks, and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

(c) Jim McNabb

Monday, November 24, 2008

Just the Facts. Just the Facts

Covering Cops

“Homicide investigations are nowhere near as glamorous as depicted on a sterile television or movie screen,” said Austin Police detective David Fugitt in today’s Austin American-Statesman. I covered crime for a lot of years, and I couldn’t agree more. I covered so much crime that I avoid the CSI shows nowadays. I’ve seen enough of the real thing.

While looking for something else this morning, I found instead a newsletter entitled “The Citizen Bulletin”, published by the Austin Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association in the winter of 1989. What interests me is that the issues then and now are much the same. For example, there is a story “To Pursue or Not to Pursue”. I was covering crime for KVUE TV at the time, and they asked me to write a piece about the “Police Beat”. After nearly 20 years, it still holds up, although I’m editing it some for space:

“It takes a certain type of reporter to cover the police beat. For
some reason, most reporters choose to cover city hall, the legislature, even
general assignments, rather than pursuing the police beat. But for the
reporters who choose police and law enforcement, there is no better beat.

“There is always something going on,” said Lisa Koseoglu, who has
covered police for two years at KTBC. “There are so many
divisions—homicide, theft, narcotics. You can always find a story.”

And the stories are always about people. I have covered the
police beat for most of my 18 years in Austin. [Remember, this was written
in 1989.] If you cover some governmental body, you’re talking about stuffy
plans and programs, budgets and bureaucracy. But if you stumble on a story at the police department or any other law enforcement agency, it’s a report about people. It may be about bad people or bad things that have happened to good people, but because of the constant human element, the audience is interested in what you report.

But sometimes those stories can get to you. I recall several
events that got under my skin and trouble me—like the unsolved murder of Lauren McCarty in 1984—yet I had to report them.

According to John Harris, reporter for the American-Statesman,
“The ones where children were victims, or where involved in some tragic way, have bugged me at times, because I’ve got two small kids of my own. Harris has covered the police beat since mid-1987. He added, “A few times I’ve wondered how I might react if the victims had been my kids, especially when they’re things that could have happened to anybody.”
Koseoglu remembers them too. She said that “cases where a child is involved or (the victim is) someone to whom you can relate” bother her. But, does it affect the way she writes the story? “No, I don’t think so,” she said.

It affects me to an extent in that sometimes I am so outraged or
maddened by events that I think it shows up as a certain amount of passion in the way that I prepare the story. Frankly, I hope that I never lose those
feelings. I don’t want death and pain to become commonplace.

But personal feelings cannot color the truth. There are times when I cover a story where I have formed a strong personal opinion. I find that I work even harder on that story to present a fair and balanced report so no one could ever suspect my own convictions. I’m not writing a column, I’m writing news.

Some of the toughest stories to write have to do with police officers
who get into trouble. These kinds of stories don’t make you a popular
person around the police department; the important thing is to be fair.

“Police may think we’re down here for the fun of it,” Koseoglu said. “But it’s our job. We have to write the story.”

By the same token, Koseoglu believes that many people misunderstand the police and their priorities. “There is a common perception that the police are out to ‘get’ people,” she said. “They see officers on Mopac holding up a radar and think, ‘Don’t they have anything better to do?’ But it’s their jobs, too.”

Many times it is city politics that change police priorities, and these
changes can affect morale in the police department and their support in the
community. I’ve seen it many times over the years. Someone in city
hall gets concerned about speeding on Mopac, running red lights, or
prostitution. There will be a crackdown to solve the problem of the
day. After a few months of publicity generated by police and city hall
reporters, public opinion may change. All the while the media is being
wooed and used by sources on all sides. That’s when I become

Since this column was written there have been changes upon changes in the public information procedures at the Austin Police Department. When I first started covering cops in the early 1970s, I would go to the press office and sort through the crime calls and blue forms (arrest sheets) from overnight. Cops would come and go, carrying on conversation with the reporters. Nowadays, in the 21st Century, the flow of information is on one hand, open, and on the other hand, very controlled by the public information office. The “blue forms” are gone, and although I asked many times, the office wouldn’t let reporters see the “serious incident log” from overnight. It is difficult for police reporters not to go with the flow and wait for the next news release, page, or photo op planned by the public information office. The good crime reporters still look beyond the obvious for their stories. The PIOs sometimes don’t like it, probably because the chief may not like it. But, the PIOs are caught in the middle too. Sometimes the public information office is not a fun work place.
Back to the article:

There is one thing for sure: There will always be a demand for police
news. It was the staple of the earliest newspapers and an integral facet
of “breaking” broadcast news. It is the constant change that makes it an
enjoyable beat [except for the occasional death threats].

There is always a story, and that story is always about people.

© Jim McNabb

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Hate It When You Say That!

More Banned Words and Other Atrocities

The South Austin sky was clear last night during the 6 o’clock news. Perfect weather for watching the space shuttle docked with the orbiting space station. It zoomed overhead at 17,000 miles per hour in what we call “space”. We incorporate “space” into terms like a “space walk” (Hold on to that tool bag.), and everyone understands.

“Space” however, is resulting in another outburst on the topic of “Banned Words …” Once again, it is driven by our friends in the play-by-play booth. How many times have you heard it since the beginning of football season—“He’s at his best when he’s operating ‘in space’.” Holy Smoke! T.O. is in “space”? Maybe T.O. is from outer space? Is T.O. an alien? Is he documented? Yes, he’s well-documented. This overused descriptive is now bleeding over to basketball.

Another now hackneyed phrase that keeps cropping up again and again comes from former colleague Nancy Miller Barton after my first screed on banned words. You’ve heard it: “We have reporters on the ground.” Holy Cow! Where else would they be—in space with T.O.?

Nancy also reminded me of my tirades on the subject of “whether or not”. What’s wrong with “whether or not”? It is redundant. All you need to say is “whether”, as in “I don’t know whether I’m using the English language well.” As in all good writing, economy of words is usually the goal, unless you happen to writing legislation.

Want another constantly-used redundancy? This one comes from another former colleague Shane Deitert, now managing editor of the Fox station in Little Rock: “ATM machine”.

Another reason why journalists should write the way that people talk is the constantly used question, “Where’s it at?” My mother was an elementary school teacher. This is one of the first things she pounded into my preschool brain. If I were to say, “Where’s it at?” My mom would answer, “Between the A and the T!” I came to hate dangled prepositions. All was well in our household if I were to ask simply, “Where is it?”

All these should be added to the newsroom white board as banned words and phrases. Want some more?

> “Fewer vs. Less.” Fewer people use this adjective properly nowadays; it is becoming less and less prevalent. These words are not interchangeable. Generally, use “less” with mass nouns and “fewer” with plural count nouns. For example, “less employment, fewer jobs.” (The Columbia Guide to Standard American English)

> “Farther” vs. “Further.” Again, these are not interchangeable. “Farther” pertains to distance and “further” has to do with depth of understanding or additional information. And, “father” is what I am, and my son grew weary with these examples as he grew up.

> “It’s” vs. “Its.” It’s is a contraction for “It is” while “Its” is a possessive pronoun. Most people know this. It’s a typo more often than not.

> And finally, “Lie” vs. “Lay”. Basically, living beings lie and inanimate objects lay. After that, one gets into verb tenses, and we do not want to go there.

Again, send me your peeves. And, as I said before, feel free to make a sentence out of as many of these atrocities as space permits. And, we all know that “space” is vast.

Now that I have vented again about use of our language, I may get back to local journalism next time.

© Jim McNabb, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thank Your Photog

Love through the Lens

This time of the year makes me think of television news photographers or photojournalists. There is a noticeable difference between a “shooter” and a photojournalist. “I can make a “package” (AKA TV news story) out of a doorknob, former Austin photojournalist Gary Blankenship used to say. I believe that he could. The whole concept of a well-shot TV news story is to tell the story in pictures—No narration or reporter needed.

Some photojournalists are instinctive. It is like the camera is part of them. Rob Lee, Kenny Kaplan, Josh Stephen, and Mike “Choo-Choo” Stanberry can be counted among them in the lore of Austin news photographers. Put them in a “spot news” situation and the camera would see, hear, and possibly feel and smell. Rob is still around doing free-lance work. Kenny is back on the East Coast working in TV close to 24/7. Josh is also still in the business elsewhere, while giving tender care to his wife, a cancer patient. “Choo” is no longer alive. I think that sensory overload may have contributed to “Choo-Choo’s” early death.

Photojournalists are artists too. Look closely at the screen during a staged sit-down interview. Consider the lighting. The casual viewer might sense that something looks good or bad but not know why. But look at the lighting again. Look for shadow or lack of shadows. Look at colors created by gels chosen by the photographer. A great photog can create these scenes fast with ease. It’s the eyes. Former Austin news photographer and homegrown son Tyrone Wright used to say, “If you need to find something, find a photographer.” Ty is out of the business, happy in New Mexico. But, he was talking about the eyes, the attention to detail.

But why is it that I bring up photojournalists this time of the year? Well, it is about the approaching holidays. Some photojournalists have the special knack of helping us all see the world through their eyes, through their lenses.

It came natural to former KTBC TV chief photographer David N. Smith, and David first did it with a 16 mm Bell and Howell film camera. KXAN TV’s Jim Swift is more than the dean of Austin news reporters. Until only recently, he shot almost all of the video for his stories. He added the reporter’s track or narration to the stories as he edited—something that drove to madness news producers trying to time their shows. I would not be a bit surprised if Swift isn’t still shooting. Finally, a former KXAN chief photographer, Al Marabella had this uncanny ability to capture a moment of emotion with a camera.

Most every Thanksgiving, Al would head to the airport anticipating homecomings. Every year was different. It was perhaps easier at Robert Mueller Airport before 9-11. None of it was staged. Loved ones met each other at the gate shedding tears as they hugged each other closely like they’ve never hugged before. The faces, the faces! Some young, some old! Each greeting communicated messages of Thanksgiving and love that no words can express.

Man, that was good television.

(C) Jim McNabb

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Local" is now Ethos

The New “Local”

“Local” takes on a new and enhanced meaning in this digital age. I chopped out a portion of the last post because it was straying off-topic slightly, and the blog was becoming too long. But, an avid reader, Pat, points out that “all politics is local.” This past election cycle certainly proved that, and the Internet was key to creating this national movement resulting in the election of our new president. Certainly, for a few of the debates and for election night, the country was tuned to television by the millions—A vast community. Viewers also cared about the down-ballot races in other states, because the parts mattered to the whole.

Sometimes sports can do the same thing. This past World Series did not deliver. But, the 2008 Olympics did, especially whenever Michael Phelps was in the pool. People still refer to the Dallas Cowboys as “America’s Team”. And, sportscasters will often refer to “Red Sox Nation”. Live television has the power to bring all kinds of people together. Is that phenomenon “local”? It depends on what one means by “local”.

Radio stations like Austin’s KGSR FM stream their programming on the Internet. Displaced Austinites and others are listening online around the world. Is this a part of the new “local”? KGSR’s web site invites you to become a part of the “KGSR Community”. What kind of community is this? Does this have to do with place, or is the geography of “local” changing? Meanwhile, KGSR FM2, the new so-called HD channel is playing all Austin artists—local programming to the extreme.

But, back to Pat’s comments: “I watch the hurricane reports for northern Florida, since my son lives there. That makes Florida kinda local for me!” I’ll admit that I picked Charlotte, North Carolina as a weather example in the previous post because I have friends and family there. So, yeah, I DO care about the weather in Charlotte, because I care about them. The Charlotte weather report is parked on my Internet service provider home page right next to Austin.

Technology is taking “local” to a new level.

“Local” in the digital age, I proposed in my master’s paper, is attached to ethos rather than place. Like-minded readers/viewers/listeners/users/consumers of programming are carving out their own niches, cultures, and virtual spaces through the Internet. They have agency as a part of what is coming to be known as the “active audience”.

This is not to say that the readers/viewers/listeners/users/consumers abandon the old media (Traditional TV, radio, and even newspapers); research says they do not, but they take what they may find in the traditional media and manipulate it in their own way using new media. So, in Austin, Texas or anywhere else there is Internet penetration, a reader/viewer/listener/user/consumer could be a member of several different spheres—some of them spatial and others virtual.

Word of the day: Ethos.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Local News Lives!

Local News
Simon and Garfunkel

There is a debate going on right now among members of the news media, academe, and others over whether we are seeing the death of local news. (Please see the previous blog “More or Less”.) Of course, there are others who are debating whether or when one of the three network newscasts will go dark. Still others believe all of the network news will morph into headlines, leaving the scraps for cable customers. If that becomes the case, can one really see some of the daily fare as true news? Take “The Daily Show” or “Countdown” for instance. Many viewers say they get their news—all the news they need—from The Daily Show. Even Paul Simon wrote, “I can get the news I need from the weather report.”

Well, Paul Simon’s assertion may fit my definition of local news. Sure, there is weather everywhere. Some of it is severe. Some of it was ordered up by the chamber of commerce. But the weather you care about is LOCAL, isn’t it? Is it going to rain here? When is it ever going to rain here? When is it going to freeze here? It is no small wonder that Jim Spencer and KXAN TV rule the ratings when storms are moving in.

Local news in its purest form may be defined as events or developments that interest or affect the greatest number of people in your audience on a specific day. Change any of these dynamics, and you change the definition of news, or what you thought was news may not be news any more. OK. I came up with definition when I was teaching. But, you can apply that rather academic definition on a good news day when making story choices.

What is news on a slow news day? The definition of news may be the answer to the question, “Who cares?” If nobody in your local audience cares, it isn’t news. How many times has a producer bellowed to a reporter, “Make me care!” when the reporter is sent back to revise a script. Another slow news day definition might be the answer to the question, “What are the people in your community talking about?” These all work.

The best philosophical answer to the question of what is news for me is simple: Truth.

When my son was in elementary school, he had to write a paper about his parents’ work. I was on the air then, so he knew what I did, but he had to ask me about my job. I told him that I had the best job in the world. I got to go to work and tell the truth every day. I still believe that.

With layers of promotions and various platforms, journalists are still in the business of truth telling.

Truth may not matter either, however. Perceptions of truth may be more powerful. (See the last presidential campaign.)

Neither truth nor perceptions matter, if they have no relationship to “place”, if they are not local. What happens in Charlotte, North Carolina doesn’t matter in Austin, unless there is some relationship, some connection. The storm in Charlotte, doesn’t matter in Austin. If, however, there is an upper level trough digging into the southwestern states that is going to drive arctic air into Austin this weekend, I care. I got the news that I needed from the weather report.

You could argue that you could get that same information from The Weather Channel or online. Yes, you could, but it is your local, trusted meteorologist who cares and makes you care.

Maybe the media and the users/consumers of their information should start viewing stories from the legislature and city council as having the same potential significance on our daily lives as the weather report. Nowadays, it is more difficult than ever to sort out the truth and its significance. Bailouts in the billions of dollars are beyond complex. But that bailout may be coming to a bank near you, perhaps a bank where you store your bucks. It may hit you and your readers/viewers/users/consumers like a blue norther. There is no disputing the local truth of a blue norther in Texas.

They’ll make you a believer in local news. And, that’s the truth.

© Jim McNabb, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More or Less

Doing More with Less

Startling. Startling is only one adjective that can be applied to the vast wasteland which is our news media nowadays. Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow in 1961 referred to television as a “vast wasteland” in a different context. It was harsh and possibly overstated then. In today’s economic climate, it is still harsh, but not overstated.

Look at what is happening in our local media, broadcast and print. All are being forced to do more with less.

Just this morning, I counseled a former colleague to hang on to a job, because good jobs are few. Another former colleague is leaving, rolling the dice, with the hope that one of two jobs will open up. In many ways, I did the much same thing when I left a perfectly good job at KEYE TV here in Austin in May, 2008, cocksure that a teaching position would mine within a few months. Didn’t happen. Cautious universities are doing more with less too.

TV people know about ParkerVision. ParkerVision sells live television production automation systems. Using ParkerVision, broadcasters cut personnel and operational costs out of news production with its robotic cameras. A studio used to need a live person behind every camera, plus a floor manager and somebody else running the teleprompter. With ParkerVision, the production department needs half of that crew or less. If, however, it is not programmed properly by the show producer and technical director, wrong or no video may show up on the air or it takes the wrong camera at the wrong time.

KXAN TV has used ParkerVision for years now, and it still shoots them in the foot at least once a week. It can make the production look sloppy. Even so, other local stations are looking at using it. Why? It’s doing more with less.

In all fairness, LIN TV stations must do more with less. LIN (TVL) stock is dragging the bottom at the lowest share price ever, trading at less than $2 a share, down from its high of around $26 only five years ago. There is no quick infusion of cash coming. So, they must do more with less.

General Motors (GM) and Chrysler Corporation are talking merger and asking the federal government for a hand-out. “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation” says the old saw. Things are not going so well right now. GM stock is below $3 a share, down from more than $32 per share last November. Cerberus Capital Management owns a majority of Chrysler along with Four Points Media. KEYE TV is part of Four Points Media. Since Cerberus is a private equity limited partnership, no financial information is available. But, KEYE has been forced into two highly visible personnel cuts. Doing more with less.

Belo Corporation (BLC) owns KVUE TV along with other TV stations and newspapers, notably the Dallas Morning News. “Faced with a weakening economy and a softening advertising market, Dallas-based broadcast company Belo Corp. said Wednesday [November 5, 2008] it would freeze hiring, cut staff in some markets and reduce other costs,” a Dallas Morning News story reported just last week. Belo stock is trading below $2 a share, falling from close to $30 per share about five years ago. These days, they’re doing more with less.

Of course, it’s old news that Cox Newspapers is trying to find a buyer for the Austin American-Statesman several of its other newspapers. It is startling (I’ve used that word before) that the American-Statesman has fewer reporters and photographers on duty during an average weekend than at least two of Austin Television newsrooms. As newspaper photographers respond to stories with several different cameras, including video, and a note pad, they’re doing more with less.

The Internet is becoming a vital and vigorous news medium in its own right as all of the local media channel stories, pictures and video online. Sure, new media is searchable, interactive, fun, and vast, but it also free. Shoot, this blog is free. It is doing more with less.

I’ll write a happy post next time.

Jim McNabb
© 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

You Decide. Time-Warner or NFL. Who's Right?


OK. We've been here before. Time Warner Cable asked us to believe that LIN TV, owners of KXAN TV, KXAM TV, and KNVA TV were the bad guys. They wanted to be compensated for the use of their free signal. Somehow, that issue was solved just in time for the sweeps.

Now, we are asked by Time Warner Cable to believe that the National Football League are the bad guys. I still think that TWC is wrong. Actually, they are both wrong.

Eight NFL games that used to be on free TV are no longer available, including the game tonight, Thursday, November 6, 2008, because the NFL has forgotten its fans. These greedy owners created a "network" of their own. They are so full of themselves that they think that the fans and TWC will do anything to see them play their silly games.

Make no mistake. I am a sports fan. I would watch the game tonight, if it were available. These owners and their minions are nuts for creating this so-called network. I hope they lose millions! Meantime, Time Warner wants to put the games in a higher tier where they can charge more for it. I hope they lose millions.

Yes, I guess I qualify as "old" at 61 years old. I can remember when the only NFL games were where the cameras were--The East Coast and neighboring areas. One of the coolest games I remember was one that I watch alone as a kid. The TV was black and white. It was the Chicago Bears Vs. the Detroit Lions. They played in the snow. You couldn't see the sidelines or end zone. On a disputed touchdown call, fans came out of the stands and players went into the stands fighting. It was horrible. It was great. It was free.

Now, we have owners in suits that cost more than my truck posturing with players with rings that cost more than my house, saying we can't watch their games unless we pay. Last year, outraged, I watched the Dallas Cowboys (I grew up in Dallas.) against Green Bay online. It was jerky, pixelized and ugly, but it was free. This time, Time-Warner said, no. We won't make a deal. From the TWC site:

"The NFL is waging a campaign to try mandate Time Warner Cable to carry the
NFL Network and force our customers to pay for expensive sports programming that they may not want.
Time Warner Cable’s position: We have offered to carry the NFL Network on a Sports Tier. Customers choosing to subscribe to the Sports Tier would have access to this programming at their choice. Customers choosing not to subscribe to the Sports Tier would not have to pay for this expensive programming.

"The NFL’s response: The NFL, however, is still insisting that the
network be placed on a broad-based tier, which would result higher costs for
customers who are not interested in NFLN. By refusing our offer, the NFL is
denying the public access to games that were once available on broadcast or
other more widely distributed networks.

"Time Warner’s last proposal: To put the interests of fans first, Time
Warner Cable submitted a new proposal to carry the NFL Network on a Sports Tier
or premium basis. This time, we proposed to make the NFLN games available to our
customers on a per-game basis, at a retail price set by the NFL, with 100% of
the revenue collected for this programming going to the NFL. While offering this
with no mark-up is far from ideal from our point of view, we are willing to take
this step to make sure no interested customer was unable to watch these games.
The NFL has rejected this offer too.

"NFLN appeals to only a small segment of our customers and it is highly
priced. We continue to believe that the most appropriate place for NFLN is on a
Sports Tier. When the NFL is willing to compromise, we will resume

Whatever ...

Who's right? Who's wrong? I don't know. It's all about money. That's why both sides have lawyers.

Who's screwed? You know that answer.

Jim McNabb
(C) 2008

Just the facts ...

Never Assume

I assume that I must have been given a check list of sorts when I was a student in college of things to do and things not to do in journalism. I assume that I must have made such a list and distributed it to journalism students when I was teaching in San Marcos at what was then Southwest Texas State. If I didn’t make the list and hand it out, I should have. Someday, I’ll sift through the box with all my syllabi, handouts, and lectures to find it. It would have to be a chilly day in the middle of winter to spend that much time in the attic. But, I assume that I prepared such a list.

It’s like a litany of “dos” and “don’ts” for kids in kindergarten. You know: Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t hit. Especially, don’t hit girls. Don’t bite. Do use your “inside voices”. Do wash your hands. I assume there a list for kids’ behavior, but I don’t remember getting one. I do, however, remember the rules, and they still apply.

This historic Tuesday, Election Night, all the anchors and reporters were doing their dead-level best to adhere to one of the rules on that list, “Never assume.” The networks had been burned before by exit polls. Assume nothing. “Overall, television struggled to avoid leaping to conclusions based on voluminous data. Anchors bit their tongues,” writes Joanne Ostrow, TV critic for the Denver Post. “It was another instance of TV knowing more than it was telling.” Maybe so, but it was an important time to employ the rule “Never assume”.

Even the campaigns were operating under the same rule. “It ain’t over till it’s over,” declared now vice-president-elect Joe Biden. Strangely, within the same hour McCain Senior Advisor Nicolle Wallace also exclaimed, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” One was cautious optimism. The other was holding out hope. But, it is safe to “never assume”.
Of course, all of this led to suspense followed by history in the making. (Is North Carolina still “too close to call”?) Never assume.

All of this on Election Night brought to mind an assumption I made, an assumption totally unrelated to the election. In an earlier post I talked about the November, 2008 sweeps and a battled of #1 anchor teams. I assumed that KVUE TV’s Tyler Sieswerda would be joined by new co-anchor Terri Gruca in time for the fray. I gave myself some wiggle-room when I wrote, “KVUE TV’s Tyler Sieswerda has been waiting for a new co-anchor. Terri Gruca should be settling in soon.” I didn’t say when, but I assumed it would be in time for sweeps.

Well, now the first week of sweeps is ending, Sieswerda is still flying solo at 6 and 10. Rats! So, I emailed friend Frank Volpicella, KVUE’s news director. “Terri Gruca starts on Dec 8th. However her first day on the air, will likely be Monday Dec 15th, Volpicella said.” Never assume.

Write it 500 times on the blackboard, “Never assume”.

Jim McNabb
© 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Looking for Local Election Returns

Local Election Returns?

No doubt most voters were transfixed on the outcome of the Presidential election and its ramifications. For the most part, so were your local media in Central Texas. What if you wanted to know the status of a LOCAL contest?

Well, you could stare at the screen of your favorite TV station, if you have one, and wait for them to scroll possibly stale data. If you missed it, you must keep on staring—Not very satisfying. Yes, the focus of the day was the historic election of Barack Obama. But, the down-ballot races are important too. Where are the returns for your state representative or county commissioner race?

Ah, go to the Internet. But all sites are not equal.

Far and away, showing why they won awards this year, was the best, the best of all media in Central Texas. KEYE TV.COM had one click to get to results leading you to a list of races. Simply click on the race and (BOOM! As John Madden would say) there were the latest results.

I sampled all during election night. I had three TVs going and my laptop. The Austin American-Statesman showed some results, not all. News 8 was about the same, relying on the Associated Press. Highly promoted had streaming video. I love Laura Skirde. It was interesting, but not immediately informative. I tried several times to access raw voting information, but I could not get in. Perhaps KXAN is so popular that their site was overwhelmed. I got little from them.

Meantime, KVUE TV’s site keeps asking if you’re a “member”. YES!!! But, I didn’t want to bother with their re-registration process. (I understand why they do it—Demographics and data—but I back away. KVUE TV needs to get over it and lose that part of their web site. There are better ways of gathering data about your users.) Perhaps the worst station for local results was KTBC TV.

Is the media better than the government? Yes. I tried Travis County’s site for local races and had less success. So, I suppose that the media gets a passing grade for trying. That’s interesting to me because the media gets its information from where? The government.

Bottom line: wins in this election cycle. I almost stopped writing there. No, I should give credit to the person who wraps her arms daily around, Sousa Williams. Well done.

Jim McNabb
(C) 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rev. Wright Returns Right Before Voting

Polemics or Politics

The stated purpose of this blog is to comment on communications more often than not in Central Texas. However, during this weekend before the general election when some nameless group calling itself The National Republican Trust predictably pulled out the preaching of The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, I was agitated. No, I was annoyed. Further, I felt compelled to pull out a little preaching of my own on the subject, first published in a different place earlier this year during the primaries. Preaching is communication. I went to church this weekend in Central Texas. So, it is OK to proceed.

When the media focuses on the preaching of The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the discussion should be about “Pulpit Freedom,” not politics. One might think that a preachers’ prophetic, even apocalyptic prose from the pulpit is rooted in the reformation. Certainly, the freedom to preach one’s mind was one of the driving forces of the reformation. And over the ages, dynamic preachers have helped move a nation’s or a people’s social, ethical, and religious priorities.

But it was in the Age of Enlightenment that Voltaire, the 18th century French philosopher said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It was in that spirit that our forefathers drafted the First Amendment to our United States Constitution. This pulpit freedom is embraced by congregations from Anabaptists to Unitarians.

I am most familiar with modern day Baptist beliefs, which would include the polemics of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. Certainly, his words changed hearts and minds in both a religious and social context. And, yes, his rhetoric was often emotional and unsettling as well as inspirational. Arguably, preachers are supposed to make their congregants uncomfortable. Preachers are supposed to make their congregants think.
Preachers, pastors, priests, ministers, imams, rabbis and congregation leaders today have a responsibility to preach the truth. And, as the movie script said, sometimes we “can’t handle the truth.” News media snatching quotes with the goal of writing the truth are ill-equipped to interpret the whole of a homily delivered on a given Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Usurped portions for use in political advertisements violate intent entirely in most cases. Sermon quotations out of context may or may not tell the whole of the truth.

Further, it cannot follow that every congregant present can be presumed to be persuaded by the sermon. I have shaken my head in disagreement and contemplated standing and leaving in some circumstances. Looking back, I wish that I had left a few church houses having been offended by some of the histrionics. By staying and listening, I heard the whole context, however. I still might not agree, but I knew what I needed to know when it came time to decide whether to return to that church.

So, no, it is not about whether candidate for President and Senator Barak Obama should be linked to words preached by The Reverend Jeremiah Wright. In this country Rev. Wright has those same First Amendment rights that journalists hold dear. Journalists call it “freedom of the press.” Preachers call it “pulpit freedom.” They are close kin.

Jim McNabb
© 2008