Monday, January 31, 2011

New Newspaper Publisher and New Classifieds

Non Sequitur

The Austin American-Statesman has a new publisher. Cox Media Group announced that Jane Williams is the new publisher of the local newspaper and the Statesman Company’s various ventures. Her previous position with Cox was Vice President of Sales, notably not news.

Even so, Ms. Williams will responsible for all news content. “As Publisher, Williams will be responsible for all business and editorial operations of the Statesman and its affiliated publications, including,, and 10 weekly community newspapers,” a Cox news release says.

It isn’t unusual, in fact it is prevalent to see media executives rise from the sales side of the business, but I always like it when the new boss began in production or as a cub reporter. Executives who start at the bottom dealing with the day-to-day grind of journalism, know what the business is all about most of the time.

By no means am I intimating that Ms. Williams does not know the newspaper/communications business. I am confident that she does. Her media career spans 27 years in the business. She wouldn’t be where she is and where she was if she were not.

“Jane is among Cox Media Group’s best and brightest, and we’re thrilled to be able to promote such a true professional from within our company for this senior role,” said CMG Group Vice President Ben Reed. “Combining her years of media industry experience and unique talents with our exceptional Austin team ensures continued success at one of America's premier newspaper brands.”

Interestingly, Ms. Williams does not have newspaper roots. She began her career in broadcast sales.

“Williams launched her media career at WATL-TV and WAGA in Atlanta and joined Cox Television’s WSB-TV in 1988 as an Account Executive and became a Sales Manager in 1997. Seven years later, she assumed the Director of Sales position at that station. In 2007, Williams was promoted to Vice President of Sales for Cox Television and in 2009 assumed the position of Vice President of Sales for Cox Media Group. As VP of Sales, she has been working with all CMG newspapers along with CMG television and radio properties.

“She is a past President of the Atlanta Broadcast Advertising Club, is a member of the Television Bureau of Advertising’s Board of Directors, and is a past member of the University of Georgia’s Marketing Executive Advisory Board. Williams was awarded the ABAC (Atlanta Broadcast Advertising Club) lifetime achievement award in 2009,” the Cox news release says.

Another mold-breaker is found in her education vitae: She holds a BS in Psychology and Behavioral Science from Berry College, not business, marketing, broadcasting, or journalism. She is a native of Atlanta, the Cox Media home base.

She succeeds Michael Vivio who developed and grew numerous new revenue streams keeping the paper profitable during difficult times. Vivio also staved off would-be suitors and kept the Statesman in the Cox family when it was for sale. Also, he’s a good guy.

Interestingly, the announcement of Williams’ appointment comes on the same day that the Statesman unveils a new classified ad section. “Wooooooo-whooooooooooo!!!” you say.

“Tales & Sales combines engaging content with sales information. It’s classifieds but with Austin attitude and fun. Tales & Sales also features The Stuffologist — a savvy raconteur spinning the tales behind the myriad things Austinites do and don’t do (Work) or love and don’t love (Pets). The daily themes include Wheels on Monday, Work on Tuesday, Homes on Wednesday, Pets on Thursday and Stuff on Friday,” a separate news release says.

With Craig’s List and E-Bay sucking the life out of newspaper classified ads, I have to admit that the Statesman has come is an interesting way of changing the classifieds appeal. You might want to check it out. Future, it will be interesting to see if it attracts new business.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

It Could Be Better

Austin Post Nailed

Recently, a reader of my journalism and media criticism blog nailed it. The reader’s comments could have been written by a media critic, but more significantly, they were written by a news consumer. The reader castigated the Austin Post ( for its lack of objectivity and playing fast and loose with facts.

What follows started as a reply on my blog, but as I wrote, I became more and more convinced that I should elevate the observations from mere comments to media criticism addressing the content of Austin Post.

It must be noted that Austin Post is basically a blog, an amalgam of blogs. There are only a few writers who are trained journalists. The stories are, using their words, "lightly edited", meaning that bias may be obvious. I'm sure Austin Post wishes for writers of all persuasions, but it just isn't happening. The Post would like to grow, but I don't think that is possible since it has no real identity.

Yes, I post at Austin Post. I write news along with an occasional, clearly identified screed. I've written less in recent months.

Once I thought that Austin Post might be a model for future journalism. I did, however, tell them up front nearly two years ago that they needed paid writers to cover beats in addition to their editor-in-chief.

So, now, I think the Post has reached its potential. Further, if they do not tighten the reins, if they do not hire professional journalists, they may recede.

Idealist writers came to the Austin Post when it went live seeing the possibilities.

The current editor-in-chief, Karie Meltzer, does what she can with what she has, constantly trying to recruit new writers. When she came on board, Meltzer freshened the home page and changed the editorial philosophy.

Over the months some of the first writers have fallen away. I can't read their minds; I don't know why they no longer post or post with frequency.
I know of at least one original writer who now posts at the Austinist. The Austinist, however, is also a blog staffed by unpaid writers, even though they have advertising.

Research in Austin over the years says that content is king. Any medium can look great, but if it lacks solid content that makes people care, it is doomed. This observation is just as true of some local TV stations as it is of the Austin Post. Content doesn’t just happen. Reporters create content. Fewer or no reporters equals less or no viable content.

It the Austin Post wants to grow, if the Austin Post wants to be a force in Austin, if the Austin Post wants to be taken seriously, it must change.
It must pay some staff members to cover the important "news of the day". It needs original pictures and video. It needs to break news rather than repeat news—stories that people have already heard or picked up from news releases. Worse, some stories are written right out of the daily newspaper. Geez.

The Austin Post must do these things. Or, the Austin Post will continue to be only as good as the person who posts the most. It will not grow. It will not prosper. Sorry.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Make It Stop

Violence in the Media

Violence in the media was the topic I’ve been churning during the past week. With a bowl game every night on ESPN, I’d have all of the other televisions on nightly programming. I don’t normally write about programming, but I was somewhat stunned by some of the images depicted in these crime shows.

I saw a brief but graphic scene of a victim impaled on what looked like playground equipment. That same show—I think it was Miami SVU or something—depicted the drowning of a man buried on the beach up to his neck waiting for the tide to come in. That show, or maybe it was another one (The all seem the same to me.) showed the charred remains of a woman in a beach bonfire.

People die before our eyes in the worst possible ways. I’ve had more guns pointed at me, the viewer, during the past week that I could ever imagine in real life.

Almost all of these “dramas” have something to do with forensic science. So, they always have macabre shots of corpses on cold, metal tables in the morgue.

None of the images would have been shown on broadcast TV not that many years ago. Something has changed, hasn’t it?

Vietnam has been called the first televised war. War coverage in other eras came from sanitized news reels in theaters, newspaper coverage in long gray columns, or perhaps pictures in Life Magazine. Those photos then came the closest to revealing the grisly elements of warfare. One could also sense the fear and horror of the bombing of London during World War II listening to Edward R. Murrow’s live witnessing from the rooftop. Vietnam, however, was a game-changer.
Repulsed by what they saw on TV, viewers became voters and protesters. I’ll never forget the film of the evacuating helicopter lifting off from the American embassy in Saigon. It was powerful and poignant. It changed our perceptions.

Now, we have endured a decade of continuous, retching, and disturbing video from Iraq and Afghanistan. The suicide bombers, the IEDs, the drones literally drone on and on, wearing away at our senses. The Fort Hood shootings shook and shocked the nation. The extremist Army captain’s horrific mass murder of unarmed fellow soldiers could be seen as an isolated case. Investigators, however, always fear copy-cat killers. The intensive news coverage of the savage event could result in undesired effects on those predisposed to violence or extremism. (Video Games, Television Violence, and Aggression in Teenagers, Joseph R. Dominick, Journal of Communication, June, 1984)

Remember Pacman? Not the football player, but the video game. Now, compare that with what’s available today. I admit that I haven’t played the games, but I’ve seen the ads, usually shown during football games.

I believe that we’ve become a nation inoculated by the powerful images and violent actions. There is research to back this up. “Exposure to violent video games is significantly linked to increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, and cardiovascular arousal, and to decreases in helping behaviour. Experimental studies reveal this linkage to be causal. Correlational studies reveal a linkage to serious, real-world types of aggression.” (“An update on the effects of playing violent video games”, Craig Anderson, Iowa State University, October, 2003)

Generally, young people who are predisposed to violence are more likely to exhibit violence after significant exposure to violence from most any media—Television, film, and/or games.
Further, this desensitization is revealed in the language we use. Civility left the room long ago.
Congress member Gabrielle Giffords, whose district was targeted using a crosshairs graphic by a Sarah Palin political action, was disturbed by the depiction months ago.

“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” Giffords said in March. “But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”

An apparently disturbed, 22-year-old gunman shot her in the head during a Tucson community meeting January 8, 2011. While she fights for her life, six others including an innocent nine-year-old girl and a federal judge died, and up to 14 others were wounded.

Investigators are still asking, “Why? What would trigger such unthinkable aggression?” I don’t know if he watched violent TV programs or news. I don’t know the effect of watching war for nearly half of his life. I don’t know if he played violent video games. I do know that he posted problematic screeds online.

Words do matter. "We're getting ready to celebrate this weekend the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., who admonished us that we are going to regret in this generation not just for the vitriolic words and deeds of bad people but for the appalling silence of good people," House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) told Fox News Sunday, January 09, 2011.

What are the answers? What actions are available to individuals? We can start by being polite. We can teach our children to say, “Yes, Sir”. And where the media is concerned, we can turn off the TV and unplug the video games. We can talk to our children about what they are seeing in the news.

It starts with each of us. It starts at home.

© Jim McNabb, 2011