Saturday, August 28, 2010

Here We Go Again

TWC Vs. Mickey

Poor Time-Warner Cable. Mickey Mouse is trying to rip them off.
Time-Warner Cable customers are getting email and spots are running on the cable that Disney, owner and operator of ABC TV, ESPN, and Disney Channels, is threatening to pull programming from Time-Warner. It’s another one of those revenue things that seem to happen with TWC every six months or so.

Of course, if Disney plays hardball, “Baseball Tonight” and “Desperate Housewives” could disappear from the cable line-up. (It seems that channels are disappearing from the standard line up all of the time. More about that later.)

“To connect you with all the shows you love to watch, we must pay the companies that own the broadcast TV stations and cable networks. We fight to keep those fees as low as possible, because they directly impact the cable bill you have to pay each month,” says TWC on its web site RolloverorGet “When all is said and done, Time Warner Cable earned a profit for its shareholders of about $0.06 for every dollar that we brought in during 2009. (That’s slightly below the average of 7% for the past 10 years among US companies in the S&P 500, according to the Wall Street Journal.)”

Let’s not forget that TWC is the second-largest cable company in the nation. The figures above notwithstanding, they make lots of money.
August 5, 2010, TWC reported its second-quarter profit rose 8.2%, as demand increased for its broadband and phone services and capital expenditures decreased, according to “It earned $342 million, or 95 cents a share, compared with a profit of $316 million, or 90 cents a share in the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose 6% to $4.73 billion.”

They’re doing OK. Better than most of us. Viewers should keep these things in mind as they read their email and see the spots from TWC. Also keep in mind that ABC programming will be available off-the-air via your digital converter and antenna. Watching ESPN and other cable channels are more problematic. TWC makes a point of saying that it won’t do any good to switch since Disney already pulled its HD programming from Dish Satellite in June.

Meanwhile, a spat between the City of Austin and Time-Warner Cable is brewing. When Time-Warner wrote a new franchise contract, it included public access channels for the City of Austin, the Austin School District, Travis County, the state legislature and even ordinary citizens. As of October 1, 2010, those channels are slated to be boosted to the digital tier.

It will take a cable box to receive them. Those boxes cost $7 per month each. TWC says it will supply one box for varying periods of time to customers who have standard service. What about customers who have multiple televisions?
Stacy Schmidt, TWC spokesperson, says the cable company is moving the channels to increase services and speed. “It’s what customers are demanding”

To this writer and perhaps the City of Austin, the move of local access and government channels to the more expensive, digital tier violates the spirit of the original agreement that created them. The City of Austin is threatening to take TWC to court over the changes. Austin City Council and commission meetings are telecast on Channel 6.

© Jim McNabb, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Austin Reads

Austin reads. In fact, Austin ranks as the most literate city over 250,000 in the State of Texas. That probably doesn’t surprise you. Dallas comes in second. Ft. Worth is third. What may surprise you is that Austin isn’t in the top ten “Most Literate Cities in the Nation”, according to a 2008 study by Central Connecticut State University (their most recent). Austin is #17. Dallas is #38.5 (a tie), and Ft. Worth is #45. Austin is in the top ten when only the Internet is concerned, and that isn’t surprising.

Austin reads more than most boasts of the biggest book store in the land, Book People.

These are not the reasons for a brand new section in the Austin American-Statesman, “Insight and Books” beginning in this Sunday’s paper. “The thinking behind it doesn't rely so much on any particular set of stats as on Central Texans generally being not just literate but interested in their community and public affairs, prone to debate and discuss and embrace civic engagement,” says Tony Shuga, weekend editor.

Formerly in Life & Arts, “the new section will join Insight to form Insight & Books. Available every Sunday in print, the new section will offer thoughtful discussion, in-depth analysis and focus on community engagement. And every day, interactive online features that complement the print product will be available online at,” said a Statesman news release.

“Austin is a thoughtful place, and we love a lively discussion,” said Statesman Editor Fred Zipp in the news release. “With the new Insight & Books section, we hope to feed that discussion and make the Sunday newspaper experience richer.”

“The Sunday print edition will offer articles about Texas and Central Texas written by non-staff writers (experts from the business community, nonprofits, academics and more) as well as those written by Statesman staff, according to a Statesman news release. Former Statesman Texana writer Mike Cox’s columns and reviews will continue in the new section. “There will also be summaries of PolitiFact Texas articles, a new science feature, excerpts from blogs and reader comments, letters to the editor and op-ed columns,” the release said.

“Overall we're adding material, not trimming,” Shuga said.

Who knows? Maybe newsmcnabb might make the Statesman.

© Jim McNabb, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Comm 1317

Broadcast Journalism

for Non-Journalists

Every one of the 3,500-plus students graduating from Austin’s St. Edward’s University is required to take Comm 1317, Presentational Speaking—every student. Why? The University believes that a person with a college education should be able to apply that knowledge verbally.

Some will speak as a part of their profession—teachers, priests, and marketers, but also a biochemist will most likely make a presentation to his peers at some point too. The audience might be two or three on a conference room or it might be two thousand in an auditorium.

Preparing to teach Comm 1317 these past few weeks, I’ve come to see that the course could be considered “Broadcast Journalism for Non-Journalism Majors”. To be effective, the same principles apply.

It starts with the audience? Who will hear your message? Know your audience. TV stations do audience research all of the time. Who’s watching? What do they want?

Rising from that research comes the story idea or topic. Every reporter and every student must come to the table with an idea. The idea becomes the thesis of the report.

Once approved, the idea is researched. All possible points of view are in play, making sure the message is factual. It requires critical thinking.

The facts are analyzed and organized. Some may actually create an outline to stay on topic and maintain the flow of the story or presentation.
Then, the words should fall on the page almost naturally. If the student or the reporter, however, uses bad grammar or poor pronunciation, all of the work done before is wasted time. The presenter will have lost all credibility with the audience.

The style should be conversational, not stilted. Fragments are fine. Eye contact with the audience, whether it is a camera lens or actual eyes, is essential.

For beginners and seasoned journalists alike, practice or rehearsal is important. I’ve paced back and forth before a live shot looking at notes and reaching for the right words, saying sentences over and over.

Finally, after all of this preparation comes the presentation, or in broadcast journalism it is the “package” or live shot. The presenter must have presence, using all talents and tools available including audio and video. It’s about selling the story, selling the speech. It can’t be a dull recitation, or you will have lost your audience. They will have gone to sleep in the conference room or turned to another channel in TV.

Certainly, there are other subjects covered in Comm 1317, but that is the gist of it. I’m even going to include a session on talking to the media in my syllabus. There will also be poetry. Poetry is to be read aloud, but you don’t hear much poetry on TV. I love poetry. Good poetry.

The fall semester starts in less than three weeks. Some of my students graduating in December may have put off taking Comm 1317 until now. The thought of standing and delivering makes their knees weak. They’ll get over that. In all cases the audience really wants you to succeed. Nobody wants to see a TV reporter melt down during a live shot either.

When I was in undergraduate school, I was required to take two courses in religion, chapel, and swimming. Yes, swimming. I guess Baylor didn’t want its graduates to die by drowning and go to hell!

I’m confident that St. Edward’s feels the same, but by requiring “Presentational Speech”, the University wants to ensure that their graduates can share what they’ve learned. Perhaps that’s one reason why they’re on the U.S. News and Forbes lists of top Universities in the nation.

© Jim McNabb, 2010