Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Nice reaction to what I thought were relatively harmless observations that in hindsight do a better job of showing what's really wrong with politics: boiling down arguments over policy into demonizing the opposition.

This isn't unique to the GOP, although what has been described as Rove-ian strategies are often blamed for the horrible state of discourse in Washington (my, how people forget Paul Begala and James Carville at their Clintonian heights...) and by trickle-down Columbus and Akron. Because I decided to take an objective view at the current Alex v Kevin flareup and note (correctly, I believe) that most of the fighting over the cross-the-t and dot-the-i rules pushed by both sides in the Summit County GOP is ultimate insider stuff.

You would have thought I was advocating NAFTA in Youngstown.

Note I didn't deny these things were important, but to be in one pocket or the other for observing elderly bladders past midnight may have more to do with how things move (literally) for members of the Central Committee is just common sense, folks. I know you want to embrace the nobility of 470 Republicans, all in one room, marching toward doing the right thing but have you ever actually seen a volunteer committee in action? If they aren't Cavaliers or Indians fans tonight (both are playing) then there are definitely enough members who will be honked off if they miss the new episodes of Law & Order before downing their warm milk ahead of sleepy time. This isn't uniquely GOP, by the way...how many times have Democrats held full attention or even had a full showing for a meeting without a meal, drinks or TV up for raffle?

Some basics here, for those who missed the point:

- The New Summit Republicans have been pushing their points and agenda religiously for nearly five months now; we've had 'em on the web and on the air talking issues, and political strategy, and plans to do better. Is there really anything lost by just getting on with the vote at this point before Tangier bartenders start earning overtime?

- The Old Guard still controls the party (that's why the New Summits want to overthrow them) and so will use the tools at their disposal to win, much the same as the opposition is using the power of the media to their campaign advantage. Regardless of the rules if there are votes to do away with Alex and company, the votes will be there in the early going; if they don't have the votes, then they mounted the challenge and lived to fight another day.

The New Summits are concerned Bryan Williams will do the vote counting; he's been running the Board of Elections and generally won decent marks, including Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's observations in her recent deposition. Tim Grendell is Arshinkoff's Cardinal Parliamentarian, which should make the maneuvering fun to watch given the hard feelings between the Geauga County State Senator and his Summit counterpart Coughlin.

Conspiracy buffs, get over it; time for the people who count to have votes to count.

I really don't have a dog in this hunt. Despite all the back-room rhetoric to the contrary on how evil the others are I don't think any reasonable observer would think Alex has done nothing good for the party, nor do I think any reasonable observer would think Kevin/Don/Carol would lead to the end of the GOP universe.

This beauty contest comes down to what a majority of 470 people think, and after about four and a half hours of rules wrangling, secret ballots and other arcane intrigue there will come a point when what the Committee had for dinner will play every bit as big a role in how things work tonight than the Summit Stratego both sides are playing.

No matter who wins I'm very happy to have Tivo at home so I can still watch L&O; if this meeting forced me to miss Lost it would be a very different story.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The GOP's Short Game

As of this writing just about 48 hours to go until the Alex-Carol-Kevin Show hits the stage at Tangier, with up to 470-plus invited to witness either the start of the new era Summit Republican Party or stay-the-course politics under the elephant's trunk.

There's plenty of angst in this family feud, not the least of which has been among the men and women who actually make up the Central Committee, a name that sounds more like a throwback to Vladimir and Josef's time than political organizing in America in 2008. The comrades are not exactly thrilled with the prospect of being put on the spot by either group.

I think the Klinger-Coughlin brigade hit a wall last week when the fight became more about the rules of engagement than the prospect of romance; the sniping back and forth over which group's rules were more fair than the other still hurts my eyeballs just thinking and reading over the rules. Sure they're important, but in the long run the folks who control the party get to set the agenda and for Wednesday night's roast on West Market that would be the Arshinkoff wing.

For his part the incumbent chairman assures me votes will be conducted by secret ballot so long as the majority wants them cast and counted in secret. A 60% vote by the body as a whole will allow voice-voting and that might be a key to consider in figuring out just how long this all might take. My guess is despite talk of how committed people are to their party the possibility of imposing long waits on older bladders might play more of a part in whether balloting stays secret than either side cares to admit. Arshinkoff also says the media is welcome (we'll have a table off to the side to watch the proceedings) as witness to this slice of local political history.

The New Republicans want a head-to-head vote but that's not likely to happen; county committees have lots of leeway on how they run their own show and here the Central Committee chooses the Executive Committee which then picks the Chairman. So for the upstarts to upstage the Old Guard they need to replace the Old Guard, a formidable task since it isn't mano-a-womano but a more complicated process. Not only would the Central's have to vote against their long-term chairman's interests but now they're being asked to vote no on people they've supported in the past on the Executive Committee...a personal vote.

Is all of this bad for Summit County's GOP?

Nope.

Think of this as the natural way of things. Someone has to challenge the old bull elephant for dominance over the herd, and this is the challenge. For the most part despite the hard feelings each side seems to feel for the other most of this debate has been largely issue-focused, and that's a credit to both sides for not pursuing the case through the mud (even though both will point to this-or-that as proof the other side tossed dirt) but talking about strength of organization and ability to fund raise in the modern campaign cycle.

It's a good sign when democracy occasionally raises it's unruly little head in Summit County's political world. It was good for City Hall to have a scare, however brief, from Joe Finley because that's the kind of voice people in power understand...it helps them regain their focus on why they wanted the job in the first place. It is good for young voices to join the chorus of the Akron School Board because having a fresh perspective keeps an organization vibrant and in touch with stakeholders.

It's good for Arshinkoff to face a challenge from Coughlin/Klinger because it shows the GOP is diverse, and diversity helps build a stronger base to grow from despite the pains of transitioning from one to the other. No matter who wins the battle Wednesday night (if indeed there is a clear winner to be found) the ongoing fight for the soul of a political party is worth the effort.

Getting back to the point of gulag politics noted above: Akron and Summit County are largely run by men who've been there for awhile. In and of itself that isn't necessarily a bad thing, just as long as those on the outside still have faith the system can work for them just as it does for folks in charge.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Learning New Toys

What a wonderful world this media business is turning into; after a week of RTNDA@NAB seeing toys too amazing to even start describing it is apparent we have lots of work to do on the next generation of AkronNewsNow...with the V word tops.

Video is everywhere...including one of our key workstations now in the ANN/Rubber City Radio newsroom. Take for example this video: gone, I think, are the days when it was just the property of television stations. We're using a $39.99 Dynex web cam from Best Buy popped atop a flat screen Dell workstation monitor for a quick down-and-dirty read off the screen rundown of some of the stories we're working on today...it's a feature I'm thinking would be of some value and interest on a daily basis to have the outcome of our morning meeting posted for viewing:

If my embed doesn't click try this one using WMV file...

video
What's the future here? Using the web for regular video updates; no more waiting for the TV crew to meet their More on Four, Live at Five or Seen at Six models. For radio operations, those top and bottom of the hour deadlines are now "old media" and for newspapers the luxury of that late-night whenever we feel like publishing target. There are some phenomenal and simple programs available that easily take the power of TV production out of the hands of professional producers and put them in the hands of everyday folks who have something to say. I've even been reading of a radio group that has a three-camera live TV truck they use to video stream and produce for cable high school football.

While these applications have far-reaching impact for the big media companies (imagine CNN's Anderson Cooper, for example, LIVE video streaming from his cellphone with far greater quality anywhere in the world with a broadband card) I think it is most exciting for our "hyper local" companies concerned more with city council, neighborhood meetings and high school sports. With such technology why can't Firestone's superb swimming program hold it's own against the normal media powerhouses of football and basketball? These "products" are very much about real life for real people, giving those of us in the "content business" more opportunity than ever to connect with our neighbors and help them connect with each other.

My friend Diana (who continues to look younger every day under the Georgia sun) is embarking on a venture where she and her partners will take their reporting deeper into one segment of the economy; because of this technology she won't need six-meter satellite dishes and three-thousand dollars a window satellite time. She has the web, and affordable tools to help her spread the word (and her work) in far wider circles than ever before. These tools are the same as the ones we use to craft these blogs -- including these funky web cams at Best Buy for under $35 bucks.

I've gotta lose more than a few pounds if we're going to do this for real...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Losing Akron's Identity

As the annual convention of broadcasters and journalists wrap up in Las Vegas a disturbing note from home -- Akron is losing another part of it's identity.

Now I admit this isn't of a scale such as Goodyear leaving, the University of Akron closing halls of learning, or even the Aeros setting up shop elsewhere -- those actions would impact thousands in their paychecks and leave vacant publicly-owned buildings.

Losing a TV newscast, in the greater scheme of things, doesn't mean the community watches property values plummet or neighbors thrown out of work.

But it does reflect the disturbing future of fewer news outlets bringing new voices to one of Ohio's biggest metropolitan areas. Akron and Canton now depend on a handful of newspapers and radio stations for coverage on the home front, sharing precious television time with every other suburb of Cleveland. This isn't the kind of thing the "Cleveland +" campaign folks and regionalism supporters like to talk about; showcasing northeast Ohio as one giant metro area, united. Instead we become one giant metro area, still made up of dozens of cities and towns and townships, each with their own unique identity but each somehow marginalized.

I count Eric Mansfield as a friend; the others at WKYC-TV's Akron-Canton news operation are trusted and valued colleagues, and all shared a vision of giving voice to the communities they know are more than just secondary zip codes under the umbrella of the 44's along the lakefront. Akron, Canton, Kent and other communities all have unique identities and traditions and losing that outlet takes away the opportunity for many voices to reflect that richer diversity. We wind up the poorer for it.

Not to bash the PD, Rep or the Beacon Journal or our operations here at AkronNewsNow.com and our group of radio stations, but the role the media plays in helping to hold the powerful accountable is lessened as we now compete for seconds of coverage on the most dominant form of mass communications. The media choices in this day and age are stunning, offering wider variety than ever before but opportunities to help set the table for debate by putting issues and leaders in context is important, and now one more opportunity is lost because the struggle was just too difficult and our communities not supportive enough.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Webkins & Photoshop

OK, I should know better than to allow a photo of me smokin' a stogie on vacation to be so easily snared by the kids in the web division at AkronNewsNow.com. So it's time to pay the piper -- the pirate piper.


On a normal day I would fully expect teeth blacked out, rude signs carved on my forehead and Lord knows what else but this one gave me a serious case of LOL. Thanks to Bryan, his Photoshop skills, and too much time on his hands. Thanks also to Bryan for showing restraint and not posting on his own to my blog...although I know it was only fear of Greybeard to thank.
Enjoy it while you can, matey...the Parrot knows where you work.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Out of Site, Out of Mind

Some might argue "out of mind" applies more broadly. In the true spirit of transparency I note I am out of town this week, with wife and mother-in-law along the shores of Sarasota, Florida where the smoke police have gone too far (thanks Stacey for reminding me of my poor spelling.)



As indicated the the photo, left, showing your author during far happier times one of the few major vices I enjoy is still puffing away at a good cigar while strolling the beach. OK, not always good -- but at least one worthy of a Churchill or Clinton. That pleasure is now a thing of the past thanks to the fuzzy logic of citizen leaders here who don't like their beaches serving as ashtrays.



Rather than enforce anti-littering laws, which would require a police presence or some other type of civil authority to actually walk the beaches, they've outlawed smoking on the sand. It bears mentioning, I supposed, that the beach is the ONE area in tropical Florida where the air actually DOES move all on it's own, assuring that neighbors are not giving neighbors cancer.



For the record, I like non-smoking areas in restaurants; I appreciate non-smoking sports venues (except golf courses) and I even prefer no-smoking in bars on those somewhat rare occasions when it's time to tip a few. But the beach?



My wife, the Nature Girl, insists I am blowing this all out of proportion and besides I can still sit on a park bench while she goes shopping. OK, that takes care of about three hours of time but it is beside the point.



Instead of enforcing the already-existing laws governing the cleanliness of public lands we are now banning the open-air use of a fully legal substance. Even in the case of alcohol so long as it isn't in a glass or metal container you can pretty much guzzle to your heart's content so long as the goods are in plastic.



Oh, for simpler days...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Same Deal, Different Day

Got word from the Secretary of State's office today with some clarification on just when the local Central Committee meetings will be held. Democrats were planning April 17, Republicans April 18 but now both meetings may push into the following week.

SOS Jennifer Brunner notes the legally-required meetings should be held six to 15 days following the certification of recounts; this makes a difference because the Summit County Board of Elections is expected to certify the election results tomorrow but the clock actually starts ticking once any recount races are finally decided, and that is likely to have an impact on the party committee meeting calendars.

Not your typical post-up breaking news but since being a political geek means thinking stuff like this is worth writing (and reading) there it is. Meetings are now likely for the week of the 21st unless both sides get a dash of energy. In both cases local party stalwarts will choose executive committee members and respective party chairs will also be picked, although that could be left up to executive committees rather than the central body as a whole.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Lunch With Alex, Tea With Kevin

Tuesday was one of those interesting karma days, when different worlds seem to bump up against one another. That's the nature of the business, whether it is media or politics but especially when it is both. After all, how many occasions do we get to spend the better part of four hours navigating the latest chapter of the Elephant Wars?

Update 8:46 p.m.: Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett downplays any of State Senator Kevin Coughlin's hopes for a Columbus presence; additional coverage here at AkronNewsNow.com.

My sit-down chat with incumbent GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff was typical for conversations with him -- a couple hours, off-track at times but informative and entertaining. It is clear he still holds great passion for what has become his identity over the past 30 years, even to the point of still calling Ray Bliss "Mr. Bliss" when recounting stories of glory years before Reagan brought revolution to Republicanville.

Alex tells me there will absolutely be a secret ballot for central committee members and they will most likely meet on Friday, April 18th -- the day after Democrats meet to officially set up their respective party structures following the March primary. Unlike the Democrats, however, the GOP will probably see some wrangling back and forth ahead of time.

While the Dems will officially select a new full-time chair since Russ Pry left partisan behind for the executive's office (yeah, I know...inside joke and intended) the GOP won't be the rubber stamp it has been for decades with a significant challenge to Arshinkoff's tenure in the form of Carol Klinger and the New Summit Republicans.

While supporters say this campaign is now Klinger's to wage with personal communication to committee members it is clearly still a battle between Arshinkoff and State Senator Kevin Coughlin, who held his own chatfest Tuesday with a 47-minute conference call that also included Stephanie Warsmith of the Beacon Journal, Eric Mansfield of WKYC-TV, Ben Keeler of The Keeler Report and Ohio.com's politics page and yours truly.

Coughlin wants rules of order for the meeting, even to the extreme of approaching state GOP leaders about running the meeting themselves. There isn't much chance of that happening if Arshinkoff has a say about it, which as incumbent chairman he does but the opening salvo in the minutiae of the meeting wars has been fired. I don't expect state GOP leaders to come without a direct invitation but you have to figure they will have plenty of eyes in the room to track what is going on in this tussle between a proven major fundraiser (Alex) against a proven local vote getter (Kevin) and the future of the last bastion of anything approaching a competitive Republican presence before you drive into Lake Erie.

Arshinkoff argues expectations of a vibrant, winning local GOP can't be measured in the traditional sense of the world we see in all of Ohio's counties; indeed, he points out, the biggest city in Ohio with a Republican at the helm is now our very own Cuyahoga Falls, which explains the rousing reception Mayor Don Robart got at a McCain-event state GOP dinner in Columbus recently. Urban=democrat stronghold in today's Ohio, with Canton falling, Akron not even close, Toledo, Dayton and Cleveland not even a consideration and Columbus and Cincinnati reflecting the same burbs versus inner city schism that sets the true red v blue battle lines. Given the national climate, his perspective on keeping the local GOP alive also hearkens back to the later Bliss years when Republicans couldn't elect a cup of coffee.

Coughlin makes the argument the emphasis on getting what the GOP can should come at a more efficient prices without the overhead, that it should be more grass-roots based. He says the party under Arshinkoff's guidance focuses more on fundraising than party-building, and it is at the hyper-local where the best opportunity for growth exists. That doesn't, however, really take into account the "bankability" of the party presence and whether traditional big donors will pony up the cash for such an operation, or whether the new blood will stimulate new revenue sources to replace the old. Politics in the modern age is an exercise in professional marketing and campaigning despite the apparent grass roots success shown by an Obama campaign claiming the bulk of their financial support comes from small donors. In reality, it's the mix that matters.

This is all a good fight for the local Republican party: the opportunity to determine the broad direction from which specific strategy will grow. Companies and non-profit organizations go through this on a regular basis with strategic evaluations designed to respond to changing times and politics is no different.