Posts from January 31, 2005

Why, oh why:

Why, oh why

: Jon Stewart talks with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek about the Middle East and asks: “Explain to me, why did God put all our fuel under there?”

America on trial

America on trial

: Oh, gawd, the Michael Jackson trial begins. We watch him going to lunch. We watch him coming back from lunch. We watch the poor guy whose job it is to hold an umbrella over the poster boy for the dangers of fame. We watch MJ being wanded — no pat-downs here. We watch reporters fill time. And it’s just the first day. We’re sentenced to months of this.

They said on TV today that 1,000 journalists had applied for credentials to cover the trial. Why, lord, why?

I’m going to bet that the trial will not be the subject of much talk in blogs — unless something amazing happens — but, of course, it will explode in big-media’s coverage. If that’s the case, what does that indicate about news judgement? You tell me.

: Folks are coming up with excuses to get off this jury. Who can blame them?



imus.jpg: I try to be jaded about media but I have to say it was cool to spend another day at MSNBC covering Iraqi blogs on Sunday — so cool that I brought my son along for my afternoon session so he could watch TV being made.

I got there at 6a, knowing what Howard Stern feels like working his hours. They set me up at a new desk, which looks like a kitchen island in the galley of the Starship Enterprise. It has a computer and screen — only problem is, Will, who preceded me, had to turn away from the anchor and the camera to use the machine: a TV problem. So I wheedled to get my laptop hooked up so I could look at it, the anchor, and the camera at once and feed the image of my screen onto the air. Meanwhile, a floor director sat down at the anchor’s chair and I learned a new TV term: “belly mark.” She moved tape on the edge of the desk dictating where the anchor’s belly should be, assuring that she would be in the light and in the shot. They said the belly marks were already set up for the Imus crew. And it was then that I learned that this desk is intended for Imus when he comes to MSNBC’s studios in Jersey. Sure enough, I looked down at the dashboard and there were Imus buttons for him and Chuck and guests. I took a picture with my phone as proof. I was not stupid enough to leave a Bababooey note for the I-man; I want to come back to MSNBC. I didn’t go to on the PC. I didn’t make any jokes about cowboy hats. I behaved. But it was tempting.

One of my favorite scenes is watching the analysts who stick around all day finish a segment, for that is when the sound guy comes over to turn off their wireless mikes to save on batteries. The guests turn their backs to the sound man, bend over just a bit, and flip up their jackets. It’s not a dignified pose. It’s these little moments that puncture the facade of big-time TV.

Later on, when my son and I were standing at the edge of the big studio, one of the nice sound guys explained to Jake: You think the anchors are really smart but you don’t see that they read the Teleprompter and people talk into their ear. It’s show biz. And then I get a speaker in my ear and bend over and hike up my jacket. I thought my son might be impressed I was on TV. Instead, he sees me assume the position of analyst submission.

In this space, I rant and rave about exploding TV and how low-priced competitors are coming. Still, I admit it’s impressive to watch TV sausage being made all day. Even at its greatest efficiency, it still takes a lot of work to put out a two- or three-minute segment: The booker books the guests. The producer figures out what the segment will try to convey; for my last segment of the day, on the Monica Crowley and Ron Reagan show, I worked with the prodcer to prepare pictures and video and words to put on the screen. The producer preps the anchor. The anchor interviews. Now ring the room with camera operators — three big cameras plus a boom camera (that’s how they get those high-altitude whooping shots) plus a SteadiCam — and floor directors and that sound guy and lots of folks in the control room: all to convey a few sentences of news to you and make it interesting. TV’s great to watch on either side of the camera.

This was the second time I did a segment with Ron/Mon and this time my counterpart was Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft. It was civilized TV. We had our says; we disagreed; but we didn’t shout. Yes, it is possible.

Before we were on, Ron/Mon interviewed Natan Sharansky because he wrote Bush’s favorite book (yes, he has one): The Case for Democracy. They’re talking with the smart man and suddenly Sharansky yelps, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” and it looks as if he got a shock. Ron gets a puzzled look; it sounded as if Sharansky was reacting to something Ron had said but he hadn’t said anything yet. They couldn’t investigate because they lost the satellite. Then they get it back. They talk again. And again: “Oh, my God!” Ron now realizes this is what Sharansky says when he loses the satellite. But he recovers and asks Monica the quetion he was going to ask Sharansky and she recovers, too, and answers. This is TV. It’s all about staying in control. That’s the hardest lesson to learn.

Today, they called back asking whether I could dash in for another blog segment. I was too far away and suggested a couple of other bloggers but will admit that I wish I could have gone in. Sure, it’s show biz. And there’s an hour of hanging for two minutes on the air. But I’ll admit it: TV is fun.

: Just now I see that Howard Kurtz wrote about changes and improvements at MSNBC.



: Lots of folks are gushing over A9’s photos of storefronts automatically associated with yellow page listings. I go in an ask about my favorite sandwich joint, Cosi, and for reasons I can’t figure, the photo associated with it is of a woman wearing a burkha.

I’ve seen years go online-yellow-page triumphalism. It was going to take over the yellow pages and destroy businesses… but it ended up destroying the destroyers first. I’m unimpressed. Show me why I’m wrong. Leave a search that works in the comments.

Denton, the brand

Denton, the brand

: Nick Denton launched two new blogs today: Lifehacker (the software response to the hardware Gizmodo) and Gridskipper (a travel blog from the edges). But that’s not news. Heck, Dave Sifry told me he’s now tracking 40,000 new blogs a day (up from 15k only about a year ago).

What’s news is that Nick (a friend and business colleague of mine) signed up Sony for Lifehacker just as he signed up Audi for Jalopnik.

And here’s what’s newsworthy about that:

Since the internet started, many big-time publishers have struggled to convince big-time advertisers that this new medium is not just about direct response (click-through) but also about branding (that is, the value of associating your brand and product with a media brand — the reason to advertise in a glossy magazine with a classy audience, for example). That is why the Online Publishers Association was created.

But note what Denton has done twice: He got big-time advertisers to sign onto a product that didn’t even exist yet. Take it from a guy who started a magazine; that doesn’t happen. So why did they do it? Clearly, they wanted to be associated — branded — with the next, new, cool thing. Just being the first in equals branding. That is a value of this new medium: its newness.

Now that won’t last forever. One of my mentors in the magazine business said she never wanted to be what a famous creative director called hot models — the hot thing. For you don’t stay hot. But it’s clear that this new medium, executed cooly, has heat, has whuffie. And the fact that it comes from the people and is promoted by the people may be enough to keep its heat, its whuffieness, its branding power forever. We’ll see.