Wednesday, September 30, 2009

@akronnewsnow Tina Kaufmann working up story now as 38 firefighteras say goodbye in Akron; layoffs after midnight.
AP @akronnewsnow GM to shut down Saturn.
Ironic: Indians manager Eric Wedge began his pro career in the RedSox organization and ends his first major league manager gig in Boston Sunday.
@akronnewsnow and @WAKR with LIVE Eric Wedge coverage now.
Coach Mangini named Derek Anderson Browns starter against Bengals Sunday.
WBNS10News in Columbus reporting Gov. Strickland will adjust budget plans; no slots revenue, wants a delay for phased income tax cut.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Akron FOP Lodge 7 voting and counting tonight on concession deal; details in AM on WAKR with Ray Horner, Larry States.
More on Akron union voting down concessions to save jobs. @akronnewsnow
@akronnewsnow Sommerville, Dawson talk and take calls.
On 1590 WAKR now: City's finance director says firefighters walked away from talks, layoffs loom within 48 hours.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nature Girl in the 'burgh on business. Perfect night for...
From @akronnewsnow - Firefighter talks with City stalled.
Great weekend in Atlanta with @chipmahaney @steviesaf and @staceywoelfel among others for rtndfcnn. Check out coverage.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Uncle Walter

Having a rare occasion to mark -- the admitted end of an era, marked by the passing of a generational giant -- calls for more than just a couple speeches. Remembering Walter Cronkite was an opportunity to think about the state of journalism and state of the media (not necessarily the same thing, one should note) and ask "what would Walter do?"

There's been plenty written, said and viewed on what Cronkite meant to television and journalism. There was one observation made Wednesday during an event held in Avery Fisher Hall at New York's Lincoln Center, that while Murrow ushered in the era of broadcast journalism it was primarily through the use of radio. Cronkite, it is said, was the real father of television journalism.

There are the Huntley-Brinkley folks at NBC who might respectfully disagree, but there is near-unanimity that Cronkite was, is, and will always be the first true "anchorman." He may very well be the last to wield such influence, given the fracturing media landscape which is remaking business models for broadcast and print journalism.

It must have been tough for President Obama to speak to the legacy of Walter, admitting from the start that unlike virtually every other speaker he didn't know Cronkite. So the President challenged the media, invoking the legacy of Walter.

Listening to the speeches, I was struck not so much by the expected platitudes on Cronkite's meaning to the business but more by what Cronkite meant to those who knew him. Former President Bill Clinton noted how Walter and Betsy Cronkite invited he and Hillary to sail in the waters off Martha's Vineyard at a particularly bad time -- when it didn't hurt to have a wayward husband photographed with America's most trusted man. It was a real moment that didn't dwell on interviews with the powerful. It was a moment of genuine humanity, recalled by one man highlighting the decency of another. "He was a good man," Clinton said in the raspy Arkansas drawl not lost to years of the world stage. Not journalism. Not media. A good man.

Nick Clooney is perhaps best known by a new generation as George's father. For those in Cincinnati's Tri-State area he's remembered as the long-time news anchor at Channel 12, certainly no stranger to the news business.

Clooney recalled the times when the local anchor and icon anchor shared dinner, telling news war stories. A night of equals, reporters to the core sharing stories. Clooney noted wife Nina, tossed aside such puffery, remarking his stories of the Newport Fire strike didn't compare well to interviewing Anwar Sadat. The most powerful moment was when Clooney spoke of their final dinner together, a time when a weakened Cronkite wasn't noticed by the restaurant crowd until he left -- and wasn't aware his fellow diners were silently standing in tribute. "Because you always stand when a gentleman leaves the room," Clooney said softly. An auditorium packed with some of the world's most jaded gasped at once. True emotion, not the "reality" that passes for today's television.

"60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney had the packed house laughing so hard most of us missed the next punch line, all because he was on the video screen even with his first-row seat. A friend for 65 years, it would have surprised me if Rooney could have walked up those stairs; not because of age and gait, but because he still shows the pain of losing his life-long friend, a relationship forged in wartime London through the highs and lows of creating a new journalism medium.

NBC's Tom Brokaw, CBS's Bob Schieffer, ex-CBS boss, now head of Sony, Sir Howard Stringer, current CBS corporate chief Les Moonves, incumbent CBS News chief Sean McManus -- all strode to the podium to remember not just legacy but a human man who liked a drink, loved a laugh and was forever curious. It was almost a picture of a more innocent time, despite thinking back on Cronkite's tenure spanning a World War, Korea, Vietnam, genocide, the rise of the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain, the Civil Rights movement and murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the rise of the Kennedy dynasty and death of it's President and brother, the political destruction of Nixon, all seismic shifts in American political life.

There was also Buzz Aldrin, America's second man to set foot on the moon, paying personal homage to the anchorman who set the standard for supporting extending mankind's reach beyond the clouds. Members of the Navy veterans protecting and serving the U.S.S Intrepid, docked in Manhattan, a favorite viewing spot for the sailing-lover Cronkite, recalled him with their highest honor: shipmate.

If Murrow is considered the patron saint of broadcast journalism, "Uncle Walter" the father of TV journalism.

- - -

All of this leads us to journalism today, a far different world than the one forged by the Cronkites, Huntleys and Brinkleys. It isn't just the white boys club anymore, although it is worth noting white men still run America's news businesses. TV is still the big dog, but gone are the 40 percent profit margins that once allowed producers in New York to send limo drivers out to pick up pizza.

It is still a cash cow, but as consultant Terry Heaton recently pointed out, business looks for growth and not just cash flow. Watching profit margins shrink by half means the business isn't as as much fun anymore; high-flying executives and anchors used to private jets with comfortable leather seats now fly coach with the rest of us. And kiss those languid lunches at the Four Seasons goodbye.

It will take a tougher breed than those used to the comforts, Heaton points out. There are jobs in journalism for those with passion and the skills to create using new tools and approaches, but those fighting the march of change will find only frustration. It will take those who want to follow the story, not the perks; the battle will be won by those who show the desire to build something new instead of mourn a passing of the old.

The new tools Cronkite saw over his career are things we take for granted now, but it bears noting when he was reporting for United Press it was a monumental task to find an international phone line, or a telegraph operator willing to send news back home during wartime. Now, even satellite phones are only as useful as their ability to shove huge packets of information upline.

Not, streaming video. "You Are There" was a show holding the promise of what electronic journalism and storytelling could become. Today it resides on our phones, more mini-communications centers than just a telephone. It isn't just the journalists using these tools; the soldiers have the same tools. Mail call is still important, but more so than precious web time where we can see and talk to each other from the front?

On Wednesday, the royalty of network media shared the space at Lincoln Center to note the end of Walter's era, this American Century of television media. It was telling to watch so many reporters checking Blackberry and iPhone screens during a quick lull (myself included) or even follow the string of Tweets and text updates from inside the hall. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News -- all had an easy decision showing the current and former President speak, but the real coverage was found online as CBS fed the program worldwide, real time.

No waiting for teletypes to clear the farm reporting back home so the news package could move; no waiting for Western Union to open, or an international operator to find an open line as Cronkite learned to deal with. This story, his story, had no reason to wait. The world moves faster now. Mr. Clinton on Mr. Cronkite lives forever on YouTube. The reporting didn't need to wait for the evening news, the top of the hour radio report or tomorrow's newspaper; it was happening right there, on the spot, thanks to the soapbox software of Twitter and other social networking.

All of these new tools strike fear in the hearts of many unwilling to embrace those changes over which they hold no sway. Listening to those who came to praise Walter Cronkite, I couldn't help but think the true strength of his leadership at the helm of what was Murrow's ship was ultimately found because he recognized the tools for what they are: means to the end. Would Walter have argued against then-newfangled technology needing a satellite truck to send live images back from Vietnam over shooting film and hoping it made the last flight out.

If he were reporting today, I'd like to think Walter Cronkite would be using Twitter, Facebook, Ning, Livestream, CoverItLive, all of those tools and more to practice his craft. Maybe he wouldn't have the "most trusted man in America" tag, but he'd have the storytelling.

Whether we tell the stories of our communities -- at home or half a world away -- using a keyboard or a notepad, an uplink or a manual typewriter, the single most important element is still the storytelling. The legacy of Cronkite -- and Brinkley, and Huntley, and Chancellor, and Bradley, and Reasoner, and Reynolds, and Walters, and Jennings, and Brokaw, and yes, Rather too -- stands in their ability to transcend what it took to put the story together and instead focus on doing their best to be sure the audience at home understood.

Great legacy to carry forward.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Looking For Voter Direction

Halfway through the September 8 city primary day there's one bit of wisdom voters seem only too happy to part with: having an election day right after a holiday may not have been the brightest idea.

Of course, you made it to the polls already through that absentee/early vote, right? About five-thousand Akron voters reportedly asked for the E-Z Vote (wish I'd trademarked that one...) form to do their patriotic duty, but only three-thousand turned in their ballots so far.

Unlike past years where a big absentee vote was an indicator of interest, however, this may just be a sign that voters have finally figured out voting early means no longer being tied to a Tuesday.

When we checked in around mid-morning the best planning for the long day by elections officials seemed to be packing books or cards -- the non-partisan kind with kings, queens, jacks and aces along with the numbers. I'd note you could shoot a cannon off in the place, but that would assume there were enough people around to light the fuse.

This election bears closer watching than your normal Akron turnout because it's the first real test of political clout by both sides following the June Recall. Mayor Plusquellic's team won handily then, and the Citizens for Akron Committee boldly moved ahead in attempting to solidify the Mayor's already tight grasp on Council by trying to sweep out those few dissenting voices to be heard with a discouraging word.

But a negative campaign mailer slapping a scarlet "R" on Council's Mike Williams, John Conti and even Bruce Kilby may have backfired. These incumbents tell me it really served to fire up their supporters based on the reaction they get in face-to-face campaigning as opposed to political discourse through the mailbox.

Does Don Plusquellic get his way with the Citizens for Akron-endorsed slate? Is the push from official Akron enough to propel the experienced ticket of Terry Albanese, Jim Shealey and Jeff Fusco past Williams, Conti and another player such as Linda Omobien, Joe Finley or Kelly Mendenhall among others? Just what impact did the shenanigans of David Reymann and Ernie Tarle in Wards 6 and 7 have on those local races?

Punditry aside, nobody's plunking down money on this. Too many variables, including the weather (rain today) and turnout (very light) which benefit either side depending on who you may be talking with. It is a test, however -- a challenge to see if the alliances forged during the recall election both for and against the mayor remain strong enough to focus on what is the next step in Akron's political infighting: either consolidation of power or a new way to do business.

Joe Finley's performance head-to-head against the mayor two years ago was enough to provide a scare, and what anti-Plusquellic forces felt was a chink in the political armor. Now Finley is on the ballot again, but on his own and not running against someone. There is a Mendenhall on the ballot but it isn't Warner, it's wife Kelly. The two most powerful anti-Don brands Akron may not even be the most potent at-large vote-getters.

Whatever the results tonight, this election provides a useful glimpse into whether there truly is a political machine operating at the behest of the Mayor -- or the strength of the political muscle flexed by Plusquellic's most vocal opponents.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Respect v Genuflect

Folks watching NewsNight Akron on Western Reserve Public Media (yeah, that's the old PBS 45/49 for those of us not following at home) will hear continuing conversation on the Vietnam Memorial Park's bench.

It's been a banner week here with plenty of discussion over the role we give our elected officials. In Akron, it was sparked by the Akron Beacon Journal's Bob Dyer, first to point out the tasteless granite bench Akron provided for the Memorial Park in Clinton.

In the event you missed it, Bob's original story. In summation, Akron sent a bench with a quick toss-away line and Mayor Plusquellic's name while every other participating city took it as an opportunity to inspire and thank rather than extend the political brand.

Eric Mansfield, Phil Trexler, M.:L Schultze and I follow suit. I'll likely take some heat for comparing the rush to slap a politician's name on anything that doesn't move to a dog's desire to mark their territory. The thought stayed with me while driving to Akron this morning, coming through Macedonia (where Mayor Don Kuchta's name is on signs) through Cuyahoga Falls (where Mayor Don Robart's name is on signs) into Akron (where Mayor Don Plusquellic's name is on signs) and the studio.

Does anyone think we need the name of elected officials splattered on cars, park entrances, city limits, state lines or even gas pumps?

- - -

Some of this thinking plays out in my thoughts on President Obama's plans to address school kids next Tuesday; this webcast/cablecast comes the day before he addresses the rest of us on the subject of health care. Fox Television already says they won't carry the address, opting for entertainment instead. Here at Rubber City Radio, WAKR will carry the address thanks largely to the Indians having a night off. Otherwise, we would stream it.

When the President of the United States asks for time to talk directly to voters -- after all, we're the ones who decide who manages the country every four years -- we should clear the time. But in today's fractured media landscape one or two networks skipping the speech isn't the end of the world, although it does call to question that network commitment to helping the public stay informed. Between NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, CNN Headline, CNN Financial, CSPAN123, Fox News Television, radio and web I can't imagine anyone who wants to listen or watch is being denied.

Having landed in favor of airing the address, however, I do believe it's important to note why and accept others won't make the same call. Just because the President wants the time doesn't mean they should get the time. We established early on that America is a nation built on the concept of all of us are created equal (not just the men, by the way), and while it's taken us a long time to fully embrace that concept it really does mean ALL. That includes Presidents, Governors, Mayors, Senators -- all the way down the list. It is appropriate to ask we respect the office, even respect the person -- but to take it to the next level seen by politicians to splatter their name, image and cause in every aspect of our lives makes me uncomfortable.

We have a right to object to bowing down to any man (or woman) who expects it just because we elected them to manage our affairs. We've allowed the political class to use our parks, road signs, post offices and public buildings for their own personal branding for far too long, but until Dyer's column showcased the logical extension of that mindset it was easy for us to dismiss the cult of personality seemingly driving today's politics.

On Facebook recently I noted schools can't allow God through the door -- anybody's God -- so why is it acceptable for politicians to waltz right in? Seems to me kids should be learning how to read, and don't really need the President (or Governor, or Mayor) to get in their faces and remind them why they're in school.

A good friend weighed in that the President should get the chance because he's the President. That works when he's addressing a joint session of Congress, but to pull kids out of class to watch him on television? There's a uniquely American question to be asked when authority is used as an excuse: so what? Is that really enough of a reason to turn elementary school into another place to spread the political personal brand?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Schools and Political Cults

There's a simple phrase liberal activists like to use when rallying their troops: "no justice, no peace." Can we amend it to include "no God, no politicians?"

I'd like to say I find amusing the current flap over plans by President Obama to follow in the footsteps of...wait for it...George H.W. Bush. On Tuesday, President O is supposed to address students across the nation just like President 41 did nearly two decades ago.

This White House even had lesson plans ready to go; at first, students were asked to write an essay on how they could help the president. Now the geniuses in Washington realize how creepy that sounds, so they're asking our little skulls-full-of-mush to just write how they can realize their own dreams and goals.

Why should this creep all of us out? Because, deep down, we all have good reason to fear what happens when hero worship turns to just plain worship. Check out this video aired in a Utah school district where Hollywood stars giving their "pledge" go a bit over-the top:

Hey, just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me. I've always wondered just how so many people march in lockstep (or goosestep) in the cults of personality that inevitably lead us astray.

Back when H.W. did it folks on the left weren't happy; using the system for politics, they said. Now the folks on the right are squealing with the shoe on the other foot. They're both political pigs.

The irony here is school across the nation won't let God -- anybody's God, even talk of it -- in schools.

Why then do we even entertain the thought of exposing kids to politics?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

UPDATE The Bench

Sometimes a screw up is just so massive it's a no-brainer to step back, take your licks and move forward. Those are the kind of lessons one learns playing sports, and the Quarterback from Kenmore is paying attention.

Tuesday's Akron Beacon Journal story from Bob Dyer brought to attention the poor display of Akron's entry of a stone bench for Clinton's Vietnam Memorial. Other cities taking part in the program inscribed inspiration on their granite, but Akron sent a simple toss-away message and then added Mayor Don Plusquellic's name, as if it was one of those "welcome to..." signs plastered on every entrance to the city, city park and city building.


Now Plusquellic's stepped up to the line, telling Dyer he's not afraid to admit his mistake -- adding he (and, by extension, his minions) should have paid far greater attention to what must have seemed to be a routine request. Plusquellic deserves praise for taking responsibility and not ducking into the "staff did it" defense so frequently displayed by Washington.

This is serious stuff; comments on the original story run about as you would expect. No politician in his/her right mind disses the service of those who've made the ultimate sacrifice. Those are some of the lessons learned from America's Vietnam experience; along with a more questioning public in times of war, with the exception of Iraq, when post-9/11 still had most of us spoiling to send in the bombers. The political class, however, learned a valuable lesson when opposing military action: don't oppose the military, make clear it's the action one is not in favor of.

Mayor Plusquellic was right and proper in deciding to 'man up' and tell Dyer he would do the right thing. It would be surprising if some thoughtful soul or company didn't step up and shell out the couple thousand dollars to fix the error -- given the warchest the Mayor's supporters amassed for the June recall, that should be something done in a couple minutes on the phone.

Plusquellic deserves kudos. Dyer's original story was titled "Akron's Tastelessness to Last Forever" but in this case forever doesn't have to be much longer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Bench

Here's a reason why it's important for strong, independent voices in the local media -- keywords here being strong and independent. Where else would someone point out the obvious that's been right under our noses?

Bob Dyer's column in Tuesday's Akron Beacon Journal describes a battle of benches in Clinton's Vietnam Memorial, specifically Akron's contribution. If you haven't seen the story, take the time to read it now. Take another minute to see the picture, which tells a thousand words by itself.

Imagine, as Bob notes, dozens of marble and granite benches bearing quotations of leadership, sacrifice and patriotism matched to Akron's entry -- bearing the name of the Mayor.

According to the article, the ball was dropped on South High Street by the high-thinking political types who must have imagined small-town Clinton was looking for the same thing we tolerate everyday driving into the City, passing parks and recreation areas. We've become numb to the flowering of the political name brand on the things owned by the taxpayers; we expect to see Don Plusquellic, or Don Robart, or Don Kuchta (in my neck of the woods) plastered on every entryway to the 'burg. The Man has his stamp of approval on a city or town or village as is royalty bestowed upon him the privilege of ruling the fiefdom rather than the citizens casting a vote.

Maybe it's time to deflower the process.

Does Ohio really need to change signs every four to eight years to reflect the new dog in the Governor's office? Why do cities need to spend a dime of public money, or a minute of public worker time, making sure all the parks, byways, paths and city limit signs bear the name of the Great One, no matter which Great One is in office? How is it we tolerate this type of behavior in a nation where "We the People" start our Declaration of Independence from the slavish fealty to the elite?

Isn't Akron -- and Ohio -- worth more than providing a cheap local example of what it must be like to live in North Korea, where Kim Il fill-in-the-blank holds total power?

The difference between here and there is here we elect the elite to rule so long as they follow a few basic rules which provide the appearance "they" really are more like "us". Dyer's column provides a reminder it is still up to us to remind "them" that "we" are still in charge.