Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Hate/Love Relationship

Do You Trust the Media?

When I came home at the end of my first semester in undergraduate school and informed my mother that I had changed my major from business to Oral Communications/Radio and Television, she was mortified.

“Oh no,” she cried! “You don’t want to do that. You’ll work nights, weekends, and holidays. You won’t have any time for family.” She didn’t know or didn’t mention the bad habits one might pick up in “the business”, but she was right about all of her misgivings.

At least at the beginning, I did have to work nights, weekends, and holidays and some of the other stuff too. Over time, if you survive, you get better hours grow out of the bad stuff.

One thing, however, she didn’t know about. She didn’t know that being a journalist might mean people wouldn’t like you, wouldn’t trust you, and might even avoid you.

That’s the continuing findings of Gallup polls. “The majority of Americans still do not have confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 44% of Americans who have a great deal or fair amount of trust, and the 55% who have little or no trust remain among the most negative views Gallup has measured,” reads a September 22, 2011 news release. These poll results remain consistently low, varying little over the past decade.

At least journalists are doing better than Congress!

I maintain that there is less bias and more fairness at the local level than there is in the national media, particularly the cable channels. It may be those polarizing cable channels that skew the results of the Gallup poll.
This assertion is also backed by an analysis released Thursday, September 21, 2011 by the respected Pew Research Center.

“The public’s impressions of the national media may be influenced more by their opinions of cable news outlets than their views of other news sources, such as network or local TV news, newspapers or internet news outlets,” the report says. “When asked what first comes to mind when they think of ‘news organizations,’ most name a cable news outlet, with CNN and Fox News receiving the most mentions by far.” Pew has been tracking perceptions of the media since 1985.

Pew and Gallup go hand-in-hand on the issue of whether there is bias in the media. “The majority of Americans (60%) also continue to perceive bias, with 47% saying the media are too liberal and 13% saying they are too conservative, on par with what Gallup found last year. The percentage of Americans who say the media are "just about right" edged up to 36% this year but remains in the range Gallup has found historically,” the Gallup release reads.

“Just about right.” Woooooo-Whooooooooo. We’re getting a little better.

But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder:
“Partisans continue to perceive the media very differently. Seventy-five percent of Republicans and conservatives say the media are too liberal. Democrats and liberals lean more toward saying the media are "just about right," at 57% and 42%, respectively. Moderates and independents diverge, however, with 50% of independents saying the media are too liberal, and 50% of moderates saying they are just about right.”

According to Pew, 66% of Americans still get most of their news from television. Consider, however, more and more Americans, 43%, are getting their news information online or from their mobile devices. To borrow the title of a book on journalism criticism published decades ago, this is “News from Nowhere.”

Google is sifting our stories according to our preferences. We get email news links from the media we choose. Now, Facebook is looking at getting into the news business, tailoring our news feeds to our preferences. (It’s annoying enough that Facebook is now parsing our friends into different categories, but that’s a different subject for another day.)

Dr. Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief told me that his organization is working toward gathering data regarding our use of things like iPads. “The next challenge is conducting surveys using text and smart phones, but we are not quite there yet.”

(Prime sources for this story may be found at and under “Politics”. Both organizations released their findings September 22, 2011.)

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Still Hacked Off

Texas Exes
Hammer LHN
in Social Media

The Longhorn Network (LHN) is not a worry now. Football games have gone to “normal” channels, but the Longhorn nation is still fuming. Viewers can’t see the custom pregame shows offered by LHN.

A Texas Exes discussion group on LinkedIn continues to distill the discontent fomenting among the Longhorn faithful not just in Austin, but across the state.

“I can't believe UT kicked of the new network without getting carriers lined up. This is a joke,” writes one alumnus. “I have DirecTV. I've written and called. When calling no one even knows anything about the Longhorn Network.” According to published reports, Direct TV is not negotiating with the LHN until next year when their contract is up.”

“I am extremely disappointed with ESPN/LHN over the whole thing! I live in the Houston market and, due to a complete failure by ESPN/LHN to obtain distribution with Comcast, DirecTV and Dish Network, virtually all of Houston was "blacked out" for the UT/Rice game,” reads another post.

Other Houstonians agreed. “I think that ESPN and/or UT should have at a minimum made sure that they had the Texas market locked in at the time of launch. I am, I think understandably, shocked that Houston, the fourth largest city in the US and chock full of Texas Exes, was not "locked in" when LHN launched.”

The story is the same in North Texas. “We live in an area of Garland where you can only get Time Warner or AT&T Uverse. I've called AT&T (my provider) to ask and signed the online petition for Longhorn Network. It shocked and saddened me that the network wasn't secured ahead of time,” she writes. “It was very frustrating. I hope it’s resolved soon. I will happily change providers because the hassle will be worth it.”

And finally, from the Texas Exes: “It is very disappointing to see the university associated with something so poorly executed as the Longhorn Network. With all the hype leading up to it, and all the negative feelings it has caused with the other schools, there is no excuse for such a poor launch.”

It should be noted that several Texas Exes did have access to LHN through Verizon Fios or Grande Communications, and they love it. Further, those who don’t have it, want it.

Potential viewers who don’t have LHN were not impressed that the network this week announced nearly a score of nonconference basketball games beginning in November. Or maybe they didn’t know. The announcement was not featured by most media. (Details of the games are on the Longhorn Network’s web site,

In all fairness, the Rice vs. UT game might not have been televised at all. Given Texas record and Rice’s stature, networks might have put their resources elsewhere. There was, however, the promise of seeing the opening game of the season, and that’s what has Texas Exes ticked.

Once again, the blame should not fall to the providers. ESPN and LHN want too much money and assurances that the LHN will be placed on a standard tier.

Moreover, the bigger issue is whether the creation of the Longhorn Network will indeed break up the Big 12.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Longhorn Network Makes a Deal

One Deal Down

Yes, the Longhorn Network can be seen in Austin, but you might have to go to a bar or a friend's house.

ESPN and Grande Communications announce that the Longhorn Network (LHN) will be available to University of Texas fans across the state of Texas in time for the Rice vs. Texas game on Saturday, September 3, when the Owls take on the Longhorns from Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. CT (with a re-air at midnight CT). Grande Communications serves the Austin, San Marcos, San Antonio, Midland/Odessa, Waco, Corpus Christi and Dallas markets.

“As a Texas based company, Grande understands the passion our customers have for Texas sports,” said Matt Murphy, President, Grande Communications. “We are pleased and very excited to make Longhorn Network available as part of our cable television offerings.”

Added David Preschlack, executive vice president, Disney and ESPN Media Networks, “Grande customers across the state of Texas will have access to more Longhorn content than ever before.”

Grande doesn’t extend far across Texas. There is still NO agreement with Austin’s biggest programming provider, Time Warner. Neither Direct TV nor Dish has signed up either.

The deal could put pressure on Time Warner, but it’s all about money.

Prior to Saturday’s kick-off, the two-hour Texas GameDay - the only pre-game show exclusively from inside the stadium - at 5 p.m. will give fans all the insights, analysis and excitement they’ve come to know from ESPN’s College GameDay pre-game show. Then, Longhorn fans will see the debut of Texas GameDay Final – a two-hour dedicated post-game show televised immediately after the game exclusively from the field. Monday at 7 p.m., Rewind with Mack Brown will breakdown all the plays and action from the team’s first contest. Finally, Tuesday at 8 p.m., Texas Football Overdrive will present the Rice vs. Texas game in an enhanced format featuring interviews, sound and analysis that bring viewers an inside look at the game.

Longhorn Network Coverage of Sept. 3 Season Opener:
Date Time (CT) Program
Sat, Sept 3 5 p.m. Texas GameDay
Sat, Sept. 3 7 p.m. Rice vs. Texas
Sat, Sept. 3 10 p.m. Texas GameDay Final
Sun, Sept. 4 12 a.m. Re-air Rice vs. Texas
Mon, Sept. 5 7 p.m. Rewind with Mack Brown
Tues, Sept. 6 8 p.m. Texas Football Overdrive

ESPN has a 20-year agreement to own and operate a year-round, 24-hour network dedicated to all things University of Texas.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

The Grind of the News Business

The Statesman without Zipp

“Retirement Day 1: gym, guitar, write something that lasts. Life is good.”—Today’s post by former Austin American-Statesman editor Fred Zipp. Zipp retired at the age of 56.

There is a sense of freedom that comes with early retirement. I remember that feeling of, yes, euphoria increasing with each step toward my truck as I was about to drive away from KXAN TV for the last time having resigned as managing editor at 58.

I hope the same for Zipp.

That Facebook post is the only public comment Zipp has made since his seemingly sudden retirement yesterday (Thursday, September 1, 2011). All three of the things he listed for the day are all healthy and fulfilling. The gym is good for the body. The guitar is good for the soul. “Writing something that lasts” is the only comment that could be construed as a postscript to his days with the Austin American-Statesman.

The news business is transient and unrelenting. You must feed the beast constantly. The beast is always wanting more—more online, more in print, more on the air. The beast is never satisfied. You put out a paper one day. You wrap fish in it the next. That’s why they call it “news”. If it happened yesterday, it’s not news unless people didn’t know about it, and they care to know about it.

There is nothing permanent about it. Not only do the words on the page fade, the people do too.

“We said goodbye to a dozen newsroom colleagues Friday in the second round of voluntary retirements to hit the Austin American-Statesman in a little more than two years. Another 21 employees are leaving from other parts of the paper,” Zipp wrote Sunday, June 26 this year, in a poignant column printed on the Editorial page.

“Some of the names are familiar to our readers, and some less so. Regardless, we lost a heartbreaking amount of passion, intelligence and experience.”

Decades of collective history, goodwill, contacts, at talent walked out of the room. It hurts when you are in a management position. Zipp knew that he could no longer turn to Denise Gamino for another award-winning story or investigative series. He knew that Michael Corcoran was taking with him all of his contacts in this the “Live Music Capital of the World”.

Corcoran, himself, said that is why he came to the American-Statesman. “I came to the Statesman from the Dallas Morning News, a bigger paper, because I wanted to cover music in a town where it was more than just an excuse to meet like-minded souls.”

Corcoran was writing his last pop music column for the American-Statesman. He was listing his favorite stories. “Several of these are stories another paper wouldn't have let its music critic devote the hours and hours it took to research and write. Some of them are sports stories. A couple take first person to the brink. But my editors trusted me, and their editors backed them.” He talked about how he was going to miss the newspaper after 16 years.

Zipp was with Cox newspapers for 26 years. His new publisher, Jane Williams, heaped praise on him in a memo to the American-Statesman staff.

“As Editor of the Statesman for the past three years and previously as Managing Editor, Fred led the newsroom to more rigorous reporting standards, better response to breaking news and in-depth investigative reporting. He was also instrumental in the newspaper's leading edge embrace of digital journalism,” Williams said. Zipp’s leadership also resulted in numerous awards. “Fred had a tremendous drive to make sure the Statesman remained relevant in the years to come.”

Interim Editor will be Debbie Hoitt, the former managing editor. Hoitt is also a top flight journalist.

As Corcoran’s editors backed him, I hope Williams will back Hoitt in her decisions. Newspaper purists will watch, wondering if Zipp’s departure signals any significant changes in content and coverage.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Big 12 Blues

Still Longing



With much ballyhoo and backslapping, The University of Texas at Austin rolled out its Longhorn Network August 26, 2011. DeLoss Dodds, UT athletic director, looked like the cat who had swallowed the canary.

Now, vultures seem to be circling around the Big 12 (with ten members), and the last straw was this devil’s deal between UT and ESPN.

Oh, UT still thinks the Longhorn Network is a good thing. In email Thursday (September 1, 2011), the university is still applauding the move. “The 24-hour Longhorn Network is the first network of its kind, bringing unprecedented exposure to the University community.”

With just two days to go before the planned televised game against Rice, Saturday, September 3, 2011, the email admits there are too few ways to watch it. “Verizon FiOS TV is the largest service provider to add the network. Distribution deals with other TV providers are in negotiation.”

With the Big 12 in flux and possibly fading, investing in the Longhorn Network is becoming more and more of a risky deal for Time Warner and the rest of the cable or satellite providers serving Austin. Perhaps there will be a one-game arrangement while they continue negotiating. Time is running out.

The UT Exes sent out a rather urgent email earlier in the week asking members to contact their cable TV providers and beg them to buy into the Longhorn Network. ESPN, who promised to pay UT $11-million a year for 20 years, also emailed exes telling them to “demand” access to their Longhorn Network.

The Network instantly ignited criticism and action from UT’s rivals in the Big 12. Texas A&M is outa here by July, 2012 if another conference will having them. The Aggies didn’t like the TV cameras constantly trained on the Horns. Longhorn Network is the first sports network devoted to a single school.

Bill Byrne is the A&M Director of Athletics. “Byrne said Nebraska and Colorado's departure altered the landscape of the Big 12, as did the creation of the Longhorn Network, which, along with partner ESPN, tried to televise high school games,” according to the Bryan-College Station Eagle.

"We anticipate that ESPN will continue to push the envelope with the Longhorn Network, regardless of Texas A&M's conference affiliation," Byrne told the newspaper.

The Oklahoma Sooners could be the next to hitch their wagons and head west to the PAC 10 or elsewhere, leaving the Big 12 with too few teams to be viable. Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe claims that all remaining schools are committed to sticking with the conference. We’ll see.

So, while the Longhorn Network may be a good deal for The University of Texas, at least one longtime rival sees greener pastures. “A&M also could reap financial rewards by switching leagues. The Aggies received a $11.2 million payout from the Big 12 last year. SEC schools collected $18.3 million each. Former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer told The Eagle last week that he believed the addition of A&M would allow the conference to renegotiate its television contracts with CBS and ESPN, meaning possibly even more of a payout.”

Immediately after A&M’s announcement that they would leave the Big 12, their box office experienced a surge in season ticket sales. Meantime, many UT season ticket fans are trying to find buyers.

© Jim McNabb, 2011