Angelo Bepp, commenter extraordinaire

01/04/08

I suspect that Angelo Bepp is an everyman, hiding in plain view although ostensibly disguised as a long-term resident of the state detention facility at Attica, New York.

Angelo is a regular comment contributor to the New York Times online edition. And his comments are funny. Consistently funny. I present a selection:

What have you done to make yourself more attractive on the Web?
I post a picture only showing me from the neck up. That way my prison fatigues & number can’t be seen. I thought it was my car, I really did. How many powder blue 1971 Pintos can there be in New York?

January 3rd, 2008 Link

Executive Who Moved ‘Dem Bums’ Out of Brooklyn Is Hall of Famer

Get over it Brooklyn, its been 50 years. When I lost my dog Blinky, I got over it. Man, I loved Blinky.

December 3rd, 2007 Link

What has been your most memorable culinary experience while on vacation?

Best meal I ever had was in Tibet, a yak burger. Tastes a bit like cheetah.

November 21st, 2007 Link

Where is your favorite place to stay in a national park?

Any where that doesn’t have padded cells or bars is fine by me. I didn’t do anything to that mannequin, it fell on me.

December 21st, 2007 Link

What is your favorite easy-to-make holiday starter?

When I was allowed to indulge myself, I always enjoyed a hot dog with Worcestershire sauce & cottage cheese. Then wash it down with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. Man, Angelo was living the life back then, before the legal thing.

December 19th, 2007 Link

Which band would you like to see reunited?

The Archies. Still listen to their albums every night. I’m 54 years old.

December 11th, 2007 Link

Shootings Test Limits of New Self-Defense Law: What do you think of Mr. Horn’s actions?

Over reacted. My house was broken into 2 years ago. I confronted the 2 misguided young men. I told them what they were doing was wrong. They still took everything of value that I owned, but they know they did wrong.

December 13th, Link

[tags] comment policy, commenter, New York Times [/tags]

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The Marginal Cost of Luxury

12/28/07

Well, not really luxury. More like the perks you used to expect when traveling by air. This is from a recent New York Times article about US Airways:

“…Another employee wondered in October 2006: “Why can we not get better quality snack items for our coach customers? One customer recently compared the generic pretzel nubs we serve to the fish food you buy in a .25 gumball machine at any zoo or park.”

Actually, fish food would appear to be too costly. “We’ve worked with our purchasing team,” management explained, “to bring in many companies to compete on our main cabin tidbit item (pretzels). To date, no one has been able to match our current cost, about 3 cents per package.” (NY Times)

h/t to Nan.

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More of Imperial Nostalgia – and some anti-consumerism

12/26/07

Well, with the oldest-living Queen launching a YouTube channel* in time for her Christmas Message, I’m feeling more than a little flummoxed. This sure isn’t the tradition I remember from my childhood – which was more along the lines of “What do you mean, she’s on all FOUR channels!!!”

Over at Crying All The Way to the Chip Shop, Lee spent some time earlier this month discussing why Britain doesn’t have the same great tradition of “road songs” as the United States. There are obvious geographic limitations – what with Britain being tiny and all – but he argues that there is also a cultural and spiritual chasm between the two countries as well:

“…The truth is, we (Brits, that is) don’t look at life and see endless bright horizons and dream big dreams, we’re a gloomy, glass-half-empty kind of people and who find idealistic American positivity a little embarrassing and phony. Americans, bless their hearts, do still say things like “you can be anything you want to be” and believe it (despite evidence to the contrary) because they’re happily unburdened by history while we’ve had way too much of it and frankly can’t work up the enthusiasm for anything anymore as a result. We built an empire and won a bunch of wars and now we just want to put our feet up and enjoy England’s plucky failures …

These days the stubborn refusal to “have a nice day” feels like a defiant poke in the eye of today’s noisy, amped-up consumer culture (created by America, of course) which bangs you over the head with its global franchises, useless gadgets, trashy television, and blinged-up celebrities. In the face of that, being miserable old bastards may be the last thing we have to hold on to that’s truly ours”.

Here in Canada, we have the worst of both worlds: a faint tie to British history and past glories, a tremendously long and expansive horizon, and very little history of our own.

That means we measure our voyages in hours (“How far?” “About four and a half hours.”) and our travelogues tend to be overladen with descriptions of the scenery (“Trees. Loads and loads of trees. Oh, and an iron mine.”).

Unless you’re driving through Saskatchewan, which is three hours of flat. And a uranium mine.

We’re really into that whole consumerism thing, though. And the franchises. A mall or a neighbourhood can’t really be considered to have “made it” until it’s overburdened with American franchises.

*or ,as The Register notes, “One would like to wish you a Happy 2.0 Christmas”

[tags] England, Half English, nostalgia, Empire, Queen, consumerism [/tags]

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Fleeting Thoughts

12/16/07

  • Who would have thought there would be gangs of moped riders? (Is it riders, or is it drivers? After all, mopeds involve a whole lot of coasting and a fair amount of blind faith in the machine) (via SF Weekly)
  • What sort of employment career leads to life as a Tony Manero impersonator?

“…a D.J. at Planet Hollywood; a guide on one of those seven-rider party bikes that used to swarm about Times Square; a multiple-time reality show contestant; a stand-in for Joaquin Phoenix on two movies; a telegram singer who shows up in everything from an Elvis costume to a chicken suit; and the head alien at Mars 2112, a theme restaurant in Midtown.” (NYTimes)

  • The Women’s Health program from the Department of Health and Human Services has a Twitter feed. An interesting use of technology to pump out (relatively canned) public health messages.

[tags] mopeds, Tony Manero, Saturday Night Fever, impersonator [/tags]

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Be careful about exaggerating brand and product attributes

11/21/07

A few weeks ago, the restaurant critic for the New York Times wrote about “restaurantspeak”: the attempt by restaurant owners and employees to add colour and emotion to the rote recitation of dishes and ingredients.

In some ways, the flowery language used by wait staff and menu writers echoes the work of copywriters and marketers. If you wield too heavy a hand when attempting to infuse your marketing materials with emotion, inspiration and all those other brand attributes, you can end up sounding hollow and artificial.

And that can prompt sarcasm from your intended audience. This from Frank Bruni’s blog:

“…He asked me: “Did you care for another iced tea?”

And I wanted to say: “Yes. After a first iced tea broke my heart, I learned to trust and love again, and I bought a bottle of Snapple, peach-flavored. I cared for it deeply.”

[tags] restaurant, wait staff, waiter, script, retail environment [/tags]

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Why Lou Dobbs became a curmudgeon

11/20/07

This from Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News:

“…Mr. Ailes, who said he admires Mr. Dobbs, compared the CNN anchor’s approach with Fox’s leading opinion-dealer, Bill O’Reilly. “I think Lou got a peek at O’Reilly’s contract and saw what you can make doing opinion — particularly if you’re cranky.”

from the New York Times.

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Lululemon, CSR, and product attributes

11/18/07


This is a point about corporate social responsibility, using consumer marketing and Canadian company Lululemon as an example. While consumers are willing to invest a fair amount of faith and goodwill in a company without proof of a detailed CSR plan, at the first sign of a crisis, they tend to look for evidence, independent testing and videotape of manufacturing facilities with happy and well-educated workers.

Which brings us to the upscale active wear chain Lululemon.

Seaweed or no seaweed? Health benefits from the product or no benefits? That’s the question the New York Times asked this week about a fabric called VitaSea and the products made of the fabric sold by the company. The newspaper (after a tip from a shortseller of Lululemon stock) had tested two of their products for presence of seaweed, as claimed. There didn’t seem to be any.

The company’s first response?

When asked about Lululemon’s product tags and the claims about vitamins and minerals, [Chip Wilson, founder, product designer and board chair] said, “That’s coming from the manufacturer. If you feel the fabric, it feels a lot different.”

And the quotes got worse:

Director for products and design. She said the company would test the fabric in the future.“We will be diving in deeper, so that our educators on the floor can answer those tough questions,” Ms. Schweitzer said. “Right now, we are relying on the mill and SeaCell’s information.”

That’s not the best of answers. Just ask Nike or Mattel how “the manufacturer is responsible” works as a rebuttal to criticism of product quality. Which must be one reason why Canada’s Competition Bureau got involved.

The company responded quickly, noting that they regularly ask an independent lab to test their materials and products, and that they did contain fabric derived from seaweed.

Still, you have to wonder why that fact wasn’t communicated to a BSD like the New York Times when they first asked. (a point Eric also brought up)

By the end of the week, the Competition Bureau had struck an agreement with Lululemon to stop making claims of health benefits for the fabric.

“Those claims have to be scientific and they have to be provable,” said Andrea Rosen, acting deputy commissioner of the bureau. “The onus is on the advertiser, not the government, to prove that the tests are adequate prior to making the claims.” (NYT)

Bob Meers, Lululemon’s CEO, issued a statement after the Competition Bureau announcement, noting that:

“In order to ensure the integrity of our product labelling, we are conducting a review of the therapeutic attributes described on all product hang tags.”

That seems to mean the score is product quality = 1, product attributes = 0.

Overall, their products are better made and more stylish than other active wear products on the market. Which means this contretemps probably won’t affect the company in the long term, since they continue to expand into the United States and abroad, winning converts and customers at the same time.

[tags] Lululemon, Chip Wilson, VitaSea,corporate social responsibility [/tags]

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My first impressions of retail architecture

11/13/07

When I was a kid, I lived overseas. My exposure to the marketplace was at the street and store level: in Milan and Hong Kong, the majority of retail stores fronted on a street.

In Hong Kong, there were very few malls, aside from China Products, a fantastic bazaar for consumer goods made in the PRC, and the mall found alongside the Kowloon cruise ship terminal.

Which is why one particular scene from the Blues Brothers left an impression: the car chase through the mall.

As Elwood and Jake Blues careened through the suburban indoor mall, all that ran through my head was: “all those stores, and indoors as well?”

“Disco pants and haircuts!”

“New Oldsmobiles are in early this year!”

Twenty seven years after their adventure, the Dixie Square Mall in suburban Chicago remains empty. And for some reason, even in Canada, people prefer pedestrian malls with outdoor areas.

Well, except in February, when it’s cold.

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Stale retail help

10/19/07

“…And from the moment we opened the front door, we all agreed later, we knew we were in trouble. The very young woman at the desk had the anesthetized air of a Barneys salesgirl who had languished too long in Belts.” (NYTimes)

That’s from Alex Witchel’s column of September 26, about a visit to a New York restaurant. I can imagine the look, the attitude and the atmosphere around that young woman, can’t you?

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The subtle details of food porn

10/14/07

How does an editor and a writer become a cook? That’s the premise of Bill Buford’s “Heat” – a book published in mid-2006. While I really enjoyed the book, one passage shed some light on the growing popularity of food porn:

“…The new shows put a premium on presentation rather than knowledge and tended to have intimate-seeming camera close-ups of foods, as though objects of sexual satisfaction.

The skin-flick feel was reinforced by a range of heightened effects, especially amplified sounds of frying, snapping, crunching, chewing, swallowing. There seemed always to be a tongue, making small, wet, bubbly tongue sounds.

The “talent” (also known as a “crossover” personality, usually a woman with a big smile and no apron) was directed to be easy with her tongue and use it conspicuously – to taste food on a spoon, say, or work it around a batter-coated beater, or clean the lips with it.

The aim was spelled out for me by Eileen Opatut, a former programming executive. “We’re looking for the kind of show that makes people want to crawl up to their television set and lick the screen.”…”

The popular definition of food porn fetishizes food, either by preparing intricate and ingredient-rich recipes, accompanied by carefully composed photos (the Playboy of food porn) or the rough and sloppy presentation of clearly delicious but probably quite unhealthy entrees (something other than Playboy. I leave the choice to you).

Let’s be clear: there are two components to food porn.

One, the excessive attention paid to blemish-free and colourful ingredients. This is an ingredient list that demands the chemicals and horticultural shortcuts developed during the nineteenth and twentieth century. The luscious “money shot” of a basket of fruit, a smooth and supple tomato, a tropical fruit that seems freshly picked, even if it is a cold and heartless winter outside.

Two, the emphasis on friendly and attractive cooks, chefs and hosts. Not necessarily stunners – those pinnacles of breeding, genetics and cosmetic surgery are still left for the faux newsmagazine shows – but pleasant and entertaining folk. The kind of strangely familiar person you wouldn’t mind inviting over to help make dinner, maybe pick out some new dish sets, and even redecorate the bathroom.

As this excerpt from a 2005 On the Media broadcast further explains:

“FREDERICK KAUFMAN: It’s also shot very differently. It’s actually shot single-camera as opposed to a four-camera television format. And so it’s almost shot like a 35-millimeter film. You get an amazing angle on Giada, who is beautiful, and who always is wearing a very close-cut sleeveless top. And then you get the food, and then you get Giada, and then you get her fingers on the food. And oh, it’s so moist. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]”

I am sure you didn’t need my help to notice this. The second the Food Network became a favoured channel in dorm lounges, industry executives took note.

I’ve noticed a big difference in the food programming produced in Great Britain and the United States. (Let’s not talk about food programs in Canada) My memories of British food porn only include one scantily-clad chef: Jaimie Oliver. And there is NO WAY I ever wanted to see the bare forearm of either of the Two Fat Ladies.

Meanwhile, wholesome Western New York gal Rachael Ray has appeared in FHM. The restaurant critic at the New York Times – feared by some for his/her ability to cripple and crush new restaurants – has a blog.

All the while, some traditional food writers see this fetishization and popularization as a weakening their trade, limiting the scope and depth of food-related stories prepared for readers.
What would the apex of the food fetishization trend look like? How about Giada vs. Rachael Ray on Iron Chef? (YouTube)

[tags] food porn, food fetish, Food Network, Giada, Rachael, vegetables, popular culture [/tags]

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Short Sentences

09/20/07

Short sentences that both amused and enlightened me:

“Older people are sticky”

That’s from a New York Times article about social networks that are targeting the older sundeck set, via Advergirl.

“Mad as a box of snakes”

Part of the introduction given to Irma Boom, the book designer, by Simon Waterfall, the president of D&AD. Via We Made This.

“Web development is for Spartan warriors”

One observation from 50 Designers X 6 Questions. Advice solicited from web designers. Via Communication Nation.

 

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Crisis advice from the Duke – YouTube

09/15/07

Opposition party operatives have always trailed candidates during elections – Canadian as well as American. As technology has become cheaper, the level of data collection has increased. Just ask former Senator George Allen. It’s the YouTube primary.

Even Duke’s in the game. Today, he offers advice on how YouTube could help Senator-in-limbo Larry Craig get out of his predicament:

Cartoon from Doonesbury, naturally.

An additional tactic to respond to YouTube crises, and something I missed when it was originally floated on American politics blogs back in June: flooding the zone.

“… To flood the zone, upload dozens and dozens of random videos which have absolutely nothing to do with the clip you’re trying to make “disappear.” The real strength of the clips you’re uploading isn’t to respond directly to the video, but to confuse the YouTube user and make it impossible for them to find the video they’re looking for. The one thing every campaign can count on is that any web user has a slight case of undiagnosed ADD (attention deficit disorder). If they don’t find what they’re looking for seconds after the search has begun, they’ll tire, and give up the search …” (David All)

Wow. Just like having a “black site” in your back pocket, ready for an emergency, do you have a staffer maintaining dozens of YouTube identities, waiting to deploy them in a flood?

Or is that something you hire a consultant for?

Comments in the many references to David All’s original blog post note that Google’s ranking algorithm wouldn’t be fooled by this strategy, and that most YouTube videos spread virally – the correct link would be bounced from inbox to twittr account, oblivious to the flood of moronic fog.

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The first MySpace and Friendster and Facebook and …

08/24/07

Earlier this month, Joe Engressia died. That name may not mean very much, but the term “phone phreak” may. Engressia was one of the first phone phreaks: using his natural ability to whistle the tones that controlled the AT&T switching network, he helped a generation of nerds to discover their interest in electronics. Along the way, they manipulated the nation’s electronic infrastructure to learn new skills, meet new friends around the world, and talk about dating and sex.

Forty years ago, personal computing was a largely inconceivable proposition. Computers, networks, phone switches and other electronic equipment were the property of large corporations. Sure, there were engineers, technicians and researchers working for those corporations, but they were employees, generally following the rules and maintaining order in the systems.

It took a small group of technically-minded and generally socially awkward people to bend those systems to their own advantage, in the process creating some of the first electronic social networks. A lot has been written about the phone phreaks who delighted in developing new tools and techniques to thwart Ma Bell – here, here and here.

Ron Rosenbaum wrote about the phreaking culture in a 1971 article for Esquire: Secrets of the Little Blue Box.

“… (Joe)Engressia might have gone on whistling in the dark for a few friends for the rest of his life if the phone company hadn’t decided to expose him. He was warned, disciplined by the college, and the whole case became public. In the months following media reports of his talent, Engressia began receiving strange calls. There were calls from a group of kids in Los Angeles who could do some very strange things with the quirky General Telephone and Electronics circuitry in L.A. suburbs. There were calls from a group of mostly blind kids in —-, California, who had been doing some interesting experiments with Cap’n Crunch whistles and test loops. There was a group in Seattle, a group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few from New York, a few scattered across the country. Some of them had already equipped themselves with cassette and electronic M-F devices. For some of these groups, it was the first time they knew of the others.

The exposure of Engressia was the catalyst that linked the separate phone-phreak centers together. They all called Engressia. They talked to him about what he was doing and what they were doing. And then he told them — the scattered regional centers and lonely independent phone phreakers — about each other, gave them each other’s numbers to call, and within a year the scattered phone-phreak centers had grown into a nationwide underground. …

… The last big conference — the historic “2111” conference — had been arranged through an unused Telex test-board trunk somewhere in the innards of a 4A switching machine in Vancouver, Canada. For months phone phreaks could M-F their way into Vancouver, beep out 604 (the Vancouver area code) and then beep out 2111 (the internal phone-company code for Telex testing), and find themselves at any time, day or night, on an open wire talking with an array of phone phreaks from coast to coast, operators from Bermuda, Tokyo and London who are phone-phreak sympathizers, and miscellaneous guests and technical experts. The conference was a massive exchange of information.

Phone phreaks picked each other’s brains clean, then developed new ways to pick the phone company’s brains clean. Ralph gave M F Boogies concerts with his home-entertainment-type electric organ, Captain Crunch demonstrated his round-the-world prowess with his notorious computerized unit and dropped leering hints of the “action” he was getting with his girl friends. (The Captain lives out or pretends to live out several kinds of fantasies to the gossipy delight of the blind phone phreaks who urge him on to further triumphs on behalf of all of them.)

The somewhat rowdy Northwest phone-phreak crowd let their bitter internal feud spill over into the peaceable conference line, escalating shortly into guerrilla warfare; Carl the East Coast international tone relations expert demonstrated newly opened direct M-F routes to central offices on the island of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf, introduced a new phone-phreak friend of his in Pretoria, and explained the technical operation of the new Oakland-to Vietnam linkages. (Many phone phreaks pick up spending money by M-F-ing calls from relatives to Vietnam G.I.’s, charging $5 for a whole hour of trans-Pacific conversation.)

Day and night the conference line was never dead. Blind phone phreaks all over the country, lonely and isolated in homes filled with active sighted brothers and sisters, or trapped with slow and unimaginative blind kids in straitjacket schools for the blind, knew that no matter how late it got they could dial up the conference and find instant electronic communion with two or three other blind kids awake over on the other side of America.

Talking together on a phone hookup, the blind phone phreaks say, is not much different from being there together. Physically, there was nothing more than a two-inch-square wafer of titanium inside a vast machine on Vancouver Island. For the blind kids there meant an exhilarating feeling of being in touch, through a kind of skill and magic which was peculiarly their own…”

[tags] Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, blue box, phreak, Engressia  [/tags]

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Harry Potter Spoiler – and a startling Menudo analogy

07/19/07

The word’s out, thanks to some clueless bookstore employees and some impulsive online booksellers. The NYTimes tells us that the latest volume of the Harry Potter series is violent:

“…at least a half-dozen characters we have come to know die in these pages, and many others are wounded or tortured. Voldemort and his followers have infiltrated Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, creating havoc and terror in the Wizard and Muggle worlds alike, and the members of various populations — including elves, goblins and centaurs — are choosing sides.”

This is only logical. Having set up the ideological framework for a world populated by wizards, muggles, wandmaking dwarves and cuddly yet gigantic henchmen, J.K. Rowling has followed the Edgardo Diaz playbook in exquisite detail:

  1. Identify a trend in popular culture that hasn’t yet accelerated
  2. Personify that trend with a diverse group of individuals
  3. Develop a family-friendly storyline and marketing message
  4. Differentiate your product by emphasizing the attributes and quirks of your characters
  5. Deploy an aggressively effective multi-channel marketing machine
  6. Continue to produce product based on the same storyline, despite a changing cast of principal characters

Most importantly, when your principal characters eventually age out of your target market – get rid of them! Replace them with more appealing, more refreshing and more malleable characters.

That was Edgardo Diaz’ script for Menudo, and it’s obviously what J.K. Rowling has in store for Harry Potter and the gang from Hogwarts.

Nothing like a nice slaughter and wholesale cast overhaul to clean the decks for the next iteration of the wizard franchise: a wide range of spin-off books.

After all, Rowling has already announced that she’ll be producing an encyclopedia of spells, characters and place names. This is an excellent first step to ensure the mythology established by the Harry Potter series remains front of mind with readers of all ages and types: pre-teens, teens, adolescents, young adult, mid-age crisis, wiccan …

Next steps? Brand diversification, much like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Boy’s Own series.

Boy’s Books:

  • Haggrid’s Guide to Outdoor Adventure
  • Your Twin Brother’s a Third Wheel at the School Prom
  • Distinguishing Family Pets from Family Enemies
  • Geocaching by Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs

Books for Young Girls

  • Dealing with Others’ Jealousy, by Hermione Granger
  • I’ve got a Crush on My Brother’s Friend, by Ginny Weasley

Management

  • Undermining the Establishment for Profit, by Lucius Malfoy
  • The Dumbledore Way: Harnessing Your Inner Strength
  • Oligarchic and Anti-Competitive Behaviour in Diagon Alley

Family Counselling

  • Long term effects of poor parenting, by Dr. Draco Malfoy

Medical Research

  • The Golden Snitch and HyperExtended arms
  • Cranial Injuries, Short Term Memory Loss and the Bludger
  • Will Those Eyebrows Really Grow Back: a Laboratory Safety Guide
  • A Danger and A Benefit: A Dragon’s role in limb loss and reconstruction

For more on how the higher education crowd consider Harry Potter, see insidehighered.com
[tags] Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, Pottermania, Deathly Hallows, Menudo, boy bands, Hermione, Weasley, Dumbledore, Hogwarts [/tags]

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I’ll take “An Album Cover” for $400, Alex

07/18/07

A potpurri for you, folks.

Matt Allen has convinced music festivals like Pitchfork, online game sites, Levis and others to underwrite his ice cream truck and its free goodies. His site sounds more participatory than the write-up in the Chicago Reader.

Elsewhere in Chicago, the market for fake sneaks threatens to overwhelm the smaller sneaker boutiques:

“…Here in Chicago, the Croatian Sensation South Side shoe dealer claims to be numero uno in the sneaker black-market. This twentysomething works nights as a bellboy for an upscale downtown hotel and sells shoes by day.

“The summer months are when I make my money,” he says. “In the winter I’ll keep around forty pairs on hand, but in the summer I’ll have several hundred.” Buying in bulk allows him to keep his overhead low. “Last year I put in an order for 680 pairs. But if a girl needs a pair of Jordan XIs in Gucci leather to go with her new handbag, I can get them in a week.” (NewCity Chicago)

“Inside baseball” reporting of political machinations suffers from a fundamental problem: it ascribes far too much expertise and importance to the role of political consultants in a campaign:

“…“The problem with political consulting is you don’t need a license or a degree,” (Marl MacKinnon, the media consultant to Bush ’04) added. “Anyone can just show up with a camcorder. It is the ultimate in hackery — for which I am perfectly suited.” (NYTimes)

Organic Frog rightly points out how the concept of revolution is being undermined by facile and unspirited claims of “revolution”

“…Most of the time the companies using these kind of metaphors aren’t the most innovative in their sector but use the revolution concept to actually overcome this lack of avant-garde thinking.(Organic Frog)

And here’s your obscure reference to “An Album Cover” (look at 2:35 in)

[tags] revolution, hacks, political consultant, campaign manager, ice cream truck, pirated sneakers [/tags]

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I am, in no way, Peter Pan

07/07/07

I’ve been searching around for a new suit lately, mostly online. I was contemplating an updated look, but it looks like I’ll have to continue in my preppy ways, because the men’s fashions being prepared for next spring are, ummm, quirky.

I offer, as support, a review of a recent Milan fashion show – Looking like a Billion Bucks – found in the New York Times. It’s behind a subscriber firewall now, but has been reproduced on a different blog.

“… Peter Pan seems to be the ideal man. How, for example, do you rationalize the success of Thom Browne, who won a men’s wear award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2006 and who was recently hired by Brooks Brothers to help revamp the brand?

You can’t argue with the influence Mr. Browne’s clothes have had on the industry, although he was surely not the first to make suits that suggested a Pee-wee Herman romp along Savile Row. At a garden party … Euan Rellie … is seen wearing a Thom Browne suit that has all of that designer’s trademark details: cropped jacket piped at the collar, lapel, hem and pocket; shirttails left hanging; bow tie.

A caption identifies Mr. Rellie as an investment banker, … Yet far from embodying a model of fiscal authority or contemporary chic, Mr. Rellie comes across in the picture as the man hired by the caterers to make balloon animals.”

[tags] men’s fashion, summer clothes, suit [/tags]

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Home run for a beer garden

07/03/07

Plattduetsche Park Restaurant, which is a German-style beer garden found just outside Queens, hit a home run with its review in the New York Times this weekend. in my judgment, there were four key elements:

  • the headline: “Get Out the Lederhosen and Prepare to Oompah
  • the first line: “BEER + sun + sausage = joy.”
  • the relaxed tone of the entire review
  • and, finally, the picture of the hostess, the patrons and boot-shaped beer steins at the top of the review.

[tags] oompah, beer garden, fraulein, choice placement [/tags]

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Buttafuoco and romantic comedy, who knew?

05/27/07

Two interesting excerpts from the NYT Magazine’s profile of Judd Apatow:

“…12-hour days in Northridge began dragging interminably. The curious appearance one day of Joey Buttafuoco (of Amy Fisher fame) manning a craft-services ice-cream truck only momentarily lifted the torpor…”

“…Next up was “Superbad,” a teenage comedy that Rogen and Goldberg had been writing since high school … Once everyone sat down, Goldberg switched on a DVD of “Superbad” auditions. For half an hour a parade of pretty faces read lines about scoring fake IDs and hooking up. Eventually, the brother of a famous movie star read for the part of Fogell, the school dweeb. He delivered his line a little too perfectly.

“Who would think this kid would have trouble getting girls?” Rogen said. “I want to have sex with this kid. I bet he’s getting pleasured right now, right below the frame line.”

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Jonathan Coulton – from his own mouth

05/25/07

Do you like Jonathan Coulton? Do you like Clive Thompson? Did you read Clive’s discussion in the NYT Magazine of how online and social media can benefit the careers of people like Jonathan Coulton?

Then you’ll like Jonathon’s own personal account: How I Did It.

In keeping with the self promotional theme, I think Jonathan’s story should come in a package:

  • 18 page self-published narrative
  • Autographed reprint of the NYT story
  • USB key of all the home made Jonathan Coulton videos
  • Longwinded testimonial from John Hodgman
  • Flexidisk of Jonathan’s favourite songs
  • A little odd-shaped erratum sheet with a Skype link where fans can find a phone tree of Jonathan Coulton non-sequiturs.

But that’s just me.

[tags] Jonathan Coulton. Clive Thompson, indie music, music promotion [/tags]

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Commercial and Decorative Text in Urban Areas

05/03/07

A handful of looks at urban text:

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Speaking the truth at Southwest

03/19/07

An airline is an extremely complex system developed to manage complex technology and effectively manage risk and, frequently, the human element can be lost in the machinery. Despite some recent problems, it’s evident that Southwest Airlines has taken a conscious approach to ensuring the lines of communication are reinforced within the system – both with employees as well as customers.

Fred Taylor is Southwest’s senior manager of proactive customer communications, and his job is to explain delays, incidents and worrisome smells to customers. As well, he writes an internal report to help other employees explain these service problems.

One of the keys to his success is direct contact with the senior operations officers. Like most communications officers, he had a hard time nailing down the straight facts at first.

“…  Over time, he won their trust. “When something goes wrong, Fred is one of the first people I call,” said Steve West, senior director in the operations control center. Mr. Taylor then gets word out to the rest of the company about what happened. “And my phone will stop ringing,” Mr. West said.

Mr. Taylor, despite that access, tries to keep the customer’s point of view. In his daily report he wrote of a San Diego-to-Las Vegas flight that was diverted to Los Angeles on Nov. 17 because the landing gear would not stay in the wheel well.

“The landing was routine from a piloting perspective. The customers’ perspective was another story,” he wrote, because they had been told to assume the brace position on landing. “We’ll send a follow-up explanation and an apology for scaring the stuffing out of these customers.”  (NYTimes)

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Quotes taken out of context

03/07/07

What are we talking about? Blogs? I present quotes taken out of context:

How do you think your work differs from traditional journalism? We’re taking the tools of journalism and applying them to people whom you wouldn’t normally apply them to — people who aren’t famous, people who aren’t powerful, people just like you and me.

What are you talking about? Journalism has always had human-interest stories. But a newspaper probably wouldn’t run an article where a cop remembers one weird incident with a squirrel when he was a rookie. That’s too far from any kind of normal news hook.

What’s so great about flashbacks to encounters with squirrels? We’re documenting things with no particularly uplifting social mission. The mission is that of an ambitious novel or movie: to point out universal feelings and moments.

Do you write fiction? I didn’t have any particular talent for fiction. I took a class in college.

Do you read fiction? No. No. No. No. I don’t know how to read. I get all my news from Jon Stewart everyday.

from: “Questions for Ira Glass, New York Times Magazine.” Talking about his NPR radio show, “This American Life.”

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Wal-mart wants to target “brand aspirationals,” among others

03/02/07

Aspirational. There’s a word you usually don’t hear Wal-Mart throwing around when referring to its client base. Sure, they’ve made attempts lately to market more upscale clothing – but didn’t Wal-Mart boot to the road one of the marketing execs charged with chasing this demographic?

Apparently, a year of intensive research has helped the company focus on three essential customer archetypes:

“There are “brand aspirationals” (people with low incomes who are obsessed with names like KitchenAid), “price-sensitive affluents” (wealthier shoppers who love deals), and “value-price shoppers” (who like low prices and cannot afford much more).” (NYTimes)

“Value-price shoppers” – that’s a nice analogy for the working poor. Reminds me of Chris Rock’s comments about minimum wage:

“Before I started comedy, I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? It’s like, “Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.”

Now minimum wage used to come up to about $200 a week and then they’d take out $50 in taxes. That’s alot of money if you’re only making $200 a week. That’s kinda like kicking Monday and Tuesday in the ass.”

You can always count on independent community newspapers to thumb their noses at corporate America. This time, it’s the Cleveland Scene, with a snotty and sarcastic commentary on Wal-Mart’s commitment to the a development in the city. “The Devil Wears Wal-Mart: America’s favorite welfare queen cranks up the PR“:

“People of the metropolis tend to have more finely tuned bullshit detectors. While our country cousins saw lovable hillbillies, we saw prehistoric goobers who went sphincter on paychecks and health plans, and violated pretty much every civil rights and labor law they could find.”

[tags] Wal-Mart, consumer research, aspirational [/tags]

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Blog monitoring, astroturfing and keeping the young involved

02/04/07

  • The Blogtrotters: behind the scenes at Umbria, trend trackers and blog monitoring service. (Denver Westword)
  • Playing Dirty: the inside scoop on the role public relations industry in selling the “made in Canada” solution to global warming. It’s a full colonic, including a discussion of astroturfing and how the technique is used in policy lobbying by the big PR consultancies. (This Magazine)
  • Phoning it in on a lazy Sunday: the NYT runs the yearly story on how tshirts and caps – preprinted with the loser’s logo – end up in Sierra Leone.
  • How to keep the IM Generation involved – Paull Young’s notes on the AlwaysOn session.

[tags] astroturf, blog monitoring, blogger relations, climate change [/tags]

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Fabio needs a widget

01/27/07

The advertising community is still stunned that Fabio is a continuing draw for online audiences. Nationwide Insurance’s Super Bowl ad, which featured the long haired bohunk poling down the canals of Venice (or the Venetian hotel in Vegas), kept pulling viewers long after its first airing during the 2006 Super Bowl.

In true “B” star fashion, Fabio made sure his sponsors kept up on the info. Nationwide’s VP for advertising and brand management made that point in a New York Times piece about maintaining the buzz built from a Super Bowl placement:

“We got 1.8 million downloads on that one site. Fabio himself keeps me apprised of that.” (NYT)

Fabio’s life would be much easier if there was a widget he could install on that VP’s desktop.

Imagine what other information could be simply and efficiently distributed through widgets, rather than depending upon online media:

  • Minutes Since You Last Saw William Shatner In Media
  • Last Person to Misinterpret The Cluetrain Manifesto
  • Average Episode Run of New Television Dramas Calculator
  • Latest Coochie Flashed to Papparazzi
  • Number of PPT Decks to Start With a Hugh Macleod Cartoon
  • In/Out of Rehab Updater
  • Dating/Not Dating/Slutting Around
  • Friends/Not Friends with Paris
  • Slept with Wilmer

[tags] Super Bowl, Fabio, Nationwide, widget [/tags]

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A New PSA: When Pigeons Attack

11/25/06

Say you’re a city in Great Britain. Say you have a rather disturbing pigeon problem, and you want to clean up the streets before assuming the mantle of European City of Culture 2008.

You want to educate kids and community groups about the dangers of feeding “feral” pigeons. Personally, I would think this picture would do the trick, but one City Council thinks an endearing educational film would communicate this key message more clearly:

Please don’t feed the Pigeons. Its bad for the Pigeons Its Bad for the City.”

“Ideas the team have thought of:

A short animated film, along the lines of a Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit, Creature Comforts, etc) style Pigeon hosting the film.

A Bill Oddie ‘Springwatch’ style educational nature style film. Preferably with Bill Oddie/Kate Humble or similar presenting.

The finished film would be circa 3 minutes.”

The picture is from a PowerPoint deck included with the quotation document. The deck also includes the print collateral and posters that will accompany the campaign, with a note that they are under embargo until next February.

Personally, I think the message “Pigeons could turn mean and crap on your head” works much better than “It’s bad for the city.” Children have a notoriously poor sense of allegiance to political constructs like City Councils and concepts of shared community responsibility. Maybe it’s because they’re politically disenfranchised, discriminated against because of things like age, literacy skills and capacity to reason.

As for community groups, the cumulative property damage caused by these “rats of the sky” would likely be a more resonant message.

It’s easy to swipe at government communications efforts, but just because your organization has to deal with a number of different constituencies doesn’t mean your messages should be dumbed down and rendered nearly meaningless.

In any case – a recent article in the NYT suggests that anti-pigeon feeding efforts may have to be highly targeted:

“…”In a city like New York or like Melbourne,” [Guy Merchant, director of the Pigeon Control Advisory Service in Britain] argues, ”the pigeon population is sustained solely by little old ladies and little old men that go out every single day and feed top-quality foods to the birds.” This isn’t the average office worker, flinging the last crumbs of lunch. … these feeders maintain a purposeful regimen. Lefebvre calls them ”marginal city dwellers whose interests in life do not much extend beyond feeding pigeons.” He describes, with disarming empathy, people who ”wait outside the backdoors of restaurants for day-old bread and patiently soften all the bread and break it into little pieces and then hand it out to the pigeons.”…”

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Playing the straight man – surviving client meetings

11/16/06

That lull in the conversation. The new client’s just finished their brief: the facts as they know it have been laid in full on the table, and they are now looking to you for insight and direction.

Your team has already read the brief. They’ve picked it apart, examined each fact, claim, assurance and outright lie from every angle. Your environmental scan has revealed the fundamental weaknesses in their analysis, the stakeholder groups and consumer activists just waiting in the wings …

In the second or so that hangs between the client’s last word and your first, you can make or break a relationship.

You can try to extend the lull with the strategic use of hands – a pensive finger to the temple, or maybe a worshipful tapping of the fingertips – but there is still an expectation hanging thick in the air: agree with me and tell me how to fix it, the client seems to be silently whispering. Or boring into your head with unblinking eyes.

At this moment, don’t shuffly your papers. Don’t review your notes. Those two moves imply indecision and uncertainty.

And you know that isn’t true. Everyone on your side of the table knows your team spent a hilarious 15 to 30 minutes brainstorming over the worst possible outcomes for this client. Headlines you wouldn’t want to see in the Globe and Mail. How proposed promo events could go horribly, horribly wrong. Personal observations about members of the client’s staff that you’ve worked with before. The weaknesses of the product line.

The key at this moment is preparation. Working through the responsibilities of each member of your team ahead of the meeting. Working through your own agenda for the meeting. Establishing a lead for the discussion. Having a really good poker face.

Learn from the example of Luke Wilson:

“… I think I’ve been playing the straight man ever since I first realized I was in over my head academically. Math in particular. And science, come to think of it. Not to overlook foreign languages. Not really knowing what was going on in class — and not really caring to understand or actually taking the time to study — I put a great deal of effort into my expression. Earnest yet vacant. Yearning yet lost. I had one simple goal for the teachers. I wanted them to think: This Wilson kid might not be that bright, but damn it, he’s trying. The poor bastard.” (NyTimes Mag)

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Lockjaw in Aisle 87 at Wal-Mart

10/03/06

Oh God. Wal-Mart’s thinking of updating their employee uniforms, and they’re thinking of going preppy.

” … Wal-Mart, long a symbol of dowdy, traditional fashions, is graduating to preppy.

The blue polo and khaki test, now being conducted in about 100 stores, may extend across the chain as early as November, depending on the response of employees and customers, John Simley, a company spokesman, confirmed.

Skittish Wal-Mart executives, who said they had not yet planned on disclosing the test, played down the experimental uniform. But they conceded that the existing smocks and vests, emblazoned with the words “How may I help you?” are unlikely to survive much longer. …” (NYT)

[tags] Wal-Mart, preppy, uniform [/tags]

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Second Life: the future of groceries?

09/21/06

Forget Peapod or Webvan: the real future of grocery shopping lies in the virtual experience available in Second Life. Or at least that’s the message from a reader responding to the NYT’s “What features would you like to see in the supermarket of the future?”:

” … Virtual Reality at home shopping … program would allow you to walk the isles just as if you were in the store … highlite things onsale … also would note items you have purchased in the past (soo you dont forget something) … Then my items would be placed in easy to carry boxes … I would recieve an email that my order needed to be picked up within 48 hrs … There should be a drive thru pickup window were I show my online reciept and my boxes are placed in the trunk of my car.” (NYT blog comment)

Or maybe something even more fantastic:

” … I’d like to see gallon jugs of designer gasolines, nested neatly between the orange juice and Perrier. I’d like to see genetically engineered talking cows like the ones in Douglas Adams’ _The Restaurant at the End of the Universe_ which walk up to you and point out their choices cuts, and wallow in despair if you forego the opportunity of lopping off an extremity today, thank you.

I’d like to see a whole separate supermarket section devoted to baby vegetables: baby carrots, baby corn, baby peas even more miniscule than regular peas. And you should have to trade you regular sized shopping cart for an itty bitty one when entering this section. I’d like to see a conveyor belt that ushers me through all sections and all aisles before shuttling me off toward the cashiers when I’ve gotten all my shopping done. Samples… I really love samples. I’d love for there to be little sample trays of everything in the supermarket… even the light-bulbs and cat litter.

I’d like for the e-coli infected vegetable of the day to be marked down 50% and clearly labelled as such. I’d like for dented cans to again be potential botulism sources… you know… to put a little sense of danger excitement back into buying the discounted stuff. I’d like the dying houseplants and wilted flowers to be a little more than 50 cents off the regular store price. I’d like there to be 42″ plasma screens inside specially maked boxes of Special K.

I’d like my shoppers card bonus points to pay off in the afterlife by affording me a better seating position vis. a vis. the Creator at the Heavenly banquet table. I’d like a shoppers bill of rights that recognizes and clarifies Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, because… well, it’s all ambiguous and stuff. …” (Dabid Flores, NYT Blog Comment)

Pointer from Marginal Revolution.

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Condi and Peter … enjoying a choice cuppa Tims

09/13/06

Choice placement for a couple of Tim Hortons coffee cups – in the hands of Peter MacKay, the Foreign Minister, and Condi as they tour his parliamentary riding. The photo — and a salacious article — were found on the NYT’s splash page.

How does the marketing team at Tims quantify this placement?

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Another “it’s just like blogging” post – with H.S.T

09/10/06

Two points to be made about on-the-fly writing and publication from the early 1970s. First, from the NYT review of Hunter S. Thompson‘s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72:

“…Perhaps whistlestop and jet-plane campaigning should be abandoned and the candidates should compete solely through the electronic media. …”

In the interest of context and full disclosure, I attach the lines that follow the above quote (and which I find amusing AND true):

“… What Thompson does know, however, is that whatever the campaign procedures, the White House will continue to loom in the imagination of power- addicted men as the glassine-bagged white powder does in the imagination of the junkie. Watergate was the attempted rip-off of a fellow addict. “Fear and Loathing” lets us understand why the men we elect to the Presidency may have needle tracks on their integrity.”

The second quote comes from the book itself, and relates more directly to the creative process.

“… The time has come to get full bore into heavy Gonzo Journalism, and this time we have no choice but to push it all the way out to the limit. The phone is ringing again and I can hear Crouse downstairs trying to put them off.

“What the hell are you guys worried about? He’s up there cranking out a page every three minutes … What? … No, it won’t make much sense, but I guarantee you we’ll have plenty of words. If all else fails we’ll start sending press releases and shit like that … Sure, why worry? We’ll start sending almost immediately.”

… Crouse is yelling again. They want more copy. He has sent them all of his stuff on the Wallace shooting, and now they want mine. Those halfwit sons of bitches should subscribe to a wire service; get one of those big AP tickers that spits out fifty words a minute, twenty-four hours a day … a whole grab-bag of weird news; just rip it off the top and print whatever comes up. Just the other day the AP wire had a story about a man from Arkansas who entered some kind of contest and won a two-week vacation — all expenses paid — wherever he wanted to go. Any place in the world: Mongolia, Easter Island, the Turkish Riviera … but his choice was Salt Lake City, and that’s where he went. …”

[tags] Hunter S. Thompson, H.S.T, Salt Lake City [/tags]

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Andrew Young and Wal-Mart

08/18/06

Ouch. Andrew Young’s comments about his own experiences with ethnically-owned neighbourhood retail and grocery stores may end up hurting his erstwhile employers rather than helping them.

You see, Young was hired to head what seems, at first glance, to be a Wal-Mart astroturf operation: Working Families for Wal-Mart.

Yesterday, he resigned after comments made to the Los Angeles Sentinel provoked reaction from a range of community and ethnic representatives.

” … Explaining his comments about Koreans, Jews and Arabs, Mr. Young said he was referring to the history of retail ownership in the neighborhood where he lives in southwestern Atlanta.

“Almost everyone who has come into my community has moved in, made money and moved out and moved up,” he said. “That process is still continuing.”

… “The only thing I can do,” Mr. Young said last night before he resigned, “is to ask that people judge me about a life of working together with people who are different and bringing people together without violence and without rancor. I would hope that would count for something.” …” (NYT)

(BTW – The Sentinel’s website sucks)

[tag]Wal-Mart, Astroturf[/tag]

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A Trade Show homerun, a marketing gimmick and how reporters screw up numbers

08/09/06

Three thoughts for today:

– Hershey’s hits a home run coming out of the 2006 All Candy Expo: a writer for Progressive Grocer drops by the company’s booth at the show and plants a big sloppy kiss on the company and its community health and education initiatives. The only way that piece could have come off better for the Hershey’s folk is if it came “with release.”

– Picked up my ticket for the Billy Bragg show in town September 23. Determined not to pay the Ticketmaster “convenience fee,” I bought it from a little independent music shop, End Hits. They’re likely suffering from the same pressures (and lack of attention) as other music shops, but the fact that their web presence emphasizes community events, local bands and new releases shows they’ve got their head on right. (As an aside – several different ways a kid could spend $20 on music)

– A book that seems promising (although it has not been reviewed by anyone) is Econospinning: How to Read Between the Lines When the Media Manipulate the Numbers, by Gene Epstein, the economics editor for Barron’s. From his publisher’s blurb on Amazon:

“… He then exposes shoddy reporting by a laundry list of economic journalists, providing the dos and don’ts to guide readers to the best options: who to believe, who to respect, who to argue with, and who to run away from screaming. From Paul Krugman (The New York Times) to John Cassidy (The New Yorker), as well as others including, but in no way limited to, Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed), Louis Uchitelle (Goldman Sachs’ Economics Research Group), and Patrick Barta (Wall Street Journal), Epstein does a point-by-point discussion on how readers can get their feet on the ground floor of economics information, and provides readers with a list of his trusted recommendations.”

(hat tip to marginal revolution)

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Tom Hanks’ reluctance to be interviewed – unless it’s a movie junket

08/01/06

… Mr. Hanks was initially reluctant to be interviewed for this article. “Why would I want to — so I could see my name in the paper tomorrow?” he joked. “I get my name in the paper when I go out and buy socks. I go to Gray’s Papaya in New York and I’m on Defamer.com.”

Quoted in a NYT profile of his production company, Playtone.

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Washington Post buys into the “generosity” meme

07/31/06

Steve made a point last week about building influence and audience through generosity – the free sharing of information and a willingness to send your reader off to other parts of the blogosphere for further analysis.

Today we find out from the NYTimes that the Washington Post will be embracing the concept fully – by installing services from inform.com that will serve related news stories for other outlets alongside WaPo-sourced material.

The key for WaPo – the new material will be embedded in pages generated by the Post’s CMS – meaning more revenue for the Post as well as more information for the reader.

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Bad government communications and an Indian blogger’s code of ethics

07/22/06

You may have heard about blogspot and other services being blocked by ISPs in India – purportedly at the behest of the Indian government in reaction to the bombing campaign in Mumbai earlier this month, or maybe in an effort to minimize online commentary that critcises some of the major religious groups in India.

The officials at the central Ministry of Communications don’t seem to be handling the situation very well. An excerpt from the NY Times:

“… Officials at the Ministry of Communications here did not return repeated calls. An official at the ministry’s department of information and technology, Gulshan Rai, said he was aware of “two pages” that had been blocked for spreading what he called “antinational sentiments,” but was unable to provide details.

The secretary for telecommunications, D. S. Mathur, that bureau’s highest-ranking civil servant, hung up the phone when reached at home. The minister of communications, Dayanidhi Maran, was traveling in San Francisco and unavailable for comment.

Perhaps even more seriously, the order to block some blog sites (.pdf) meant that Mumbaihelp, a blog set up for the citizens of Mumbai, was also blocked. It seems like this site wasn’t particularly targeted by the government, but was simply taken down with most blogspot sites as ISPs tried to follow the government’s directive.

In reaction, some Indian bloggers have begun discussing a possible code of ethics that could be incorporated into the country’s IT Act to help limit government crackdowns like this. One version has been proposed by Forrester Research’s Country Head, Sudin Apte.

I’m afraid I couldn’t find much more detail about this proposal. The idea that a specific blogger code of ethics be incorporated into federal legislation is novel, and also startling.

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Podcasts: another way for the paper to preach to you

07/10/06

Voice. It’s a concept we normally associate with identity, opinion, the differentiation of personalities. Charlton Heston is the voice of authority. Dr. Ruth represents compassion. Will Rogers was your wise old uncle. Morton Downey Jr. was your crazy old uncle. David Leisure is your insincere cousin, ready to sell you a lemon and an extended warranty.

Today, it may be voice that keeps podcasting from being overtaken by the corporate training and outreach department. Is podcasting an opportunity to distribute repurposed content? Is it another vehicle for one-way communication? Is the podcast destined to become the medium of choice for, in effect, bootlegged academic presentations and the mutterings of beat columnists? There’s a battle developing between ideas and flair, between content and presentation, between spit and polish.

Obviously, voice is an essential part of podcasting. Rough, hesitant, noisy, easily distracted voice – as listeners we will tolerate ambiguity, trains of thought that miss the station and poor audio quality in the pursuit of original and incisive analysis. In some ways, we imply authenticity and authority from the unprofessional tics found in podcasts today.

Podcasters who came from the world of blogging understand this. They’re struggling with format issues: do they need intros and outros? Are professionally voiced interstitials necessary to keep the listener engaged? How do they handle audio comments to the podcast? What is the relationship between their podcast, their blog, and do the two actually align? Why must I sell my soul to the machine that is iTunes?

A column from Poynter made me pause, however. Chip Scanlon interviewed Tom Opdyke, the morning metro editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the narrator of the paper’s “Through Hell and High Water” series on the aftermath of Katrina.

Opdyke is both a journalist, a professional narrator/voiceover specialist and a dramatist. He discussed how he prepared for a dramatic spoken presentation of the AJC’s original printed word – not what I would consider an original podcast.

Scanlon characterized podcasts more bluntly, and more commercially. In the end, he also seems to have overlooked the value that podcasts can bring to a developing story: first, the capacity to deliver real voices from the scene, to share true emotion from an event’s actual participants. Second, the ability to reflect reader’s reaction. Third, and most importantly, an opportunity for a print medium to break out of its constrained frame of reference.

“For news consumers who like nothing better than a good listen, and for newspapers who desperately want to hold onto their business, podcasts offer a note of hope. Combining the power of audio with the freedom to choose when to tune in, podcasting — think of it as TiVo for the ears — they offer an alternative way for consumers to get their news and information on a schedule, through a medium of their choice.

In print newsrooms, where audio is limited to the quiet mumbles of reporters reading their stories, a new skill set is becoming increasingly necessary: The ability to voice a story with the same competence of a skilled broadcast journalist. ” (Poynter)

A skilled broadcast journalist, as well all know, does not hold much currency with the digerati anymore. Scripted news is as scripted news does.

I’d like to see news outlets make a dedicated effort to developing a real dialogue with the readers – and not just the eight guys who write to the op/ed section three times a week. A “community advisory board” doesn’t cut it either.

I’m probably not giving Scanlon enough benefit of the doubt. He’s a blogger, and he has discussed the reader reaction that can be generated by effective spoken presentation of articles.

But where’s the connection for other readers? How can we tell that a story has resonated with others? In some ways, I feel like this sort of podcast should be delivered in RealPlayer: they represent the same sort of thinking about control, presentation and risk avoidance that we first saw in 1997 and 1998.

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When blogging anticipates life: pigeon-toed prejudice edition

06/20/06

Last week, I compared the unnumberable threads of social media theory and criticism to the sects found in the movie Life of Brian. This week, word from the NYT that pro-pigeon activist groups in London are fragmenting among similar lines:

“”The real fight is among themselves,” the [London] official continued, comparing the apparent discord within the pigeon group to the picayune disagreements between the Judean People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, and the Judean Popular People’s Front in the film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

Members of the pigeon group, Save the Trafalgar Square Pigeons, disagree. For starters, they say, the rogue feeders, who sometimes call themselves the Pigeon Action Group, are not part of their operation, but independent operators recklessly taking matters into their own hands.” (New York Times)

The cause of the pigeon brouhaha? “Red Ken” Livingstone, the Mayor of London, is determined to drastically cut the number of pigeons living in Trafalgar Square.

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Hey client! Two minutes for looking so good, you handsome devil!

05/23/06

rockettwomins.jpg

Is a public relations counsellor’s primary motivation to “make their client look good?” That was the point offered during a favoured podcast this week, and I found myself disagreeing quite animatedly with my car dashboard.

“Looking good” is certainly the goal for marketers, bzz agents, publicity agents, cosmetologists and Maurice Richard.

On a superficial level, PR counsellors are responsible for making sure their clients look good. A sustained and positive corporate, brand or personal image is always the desired result.

Nonetheless, an effective agency or in-house communicator should prepare their clients for any circumstance. That can include glowing puff pieces in the trades, a smooth quarterly call, and a glamorous product launch. It can also cover vital logistics delays, product recalls and labour unrest – not to mention marital discord.

The real test of the relationship formed between client and counsellor comes in those moments of pressure. Will a kowtowing desire for approbation (or a simplistic sense of politesse) prompt a communicator to minimize the challenges that will have to be faced before digging out of a negative public image? Or has the client been prepared, conditioned, warned that effective public relations sometimes means taking a couple of punches and living to see another day?

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The New York Times lives on greenies and other corrective measures

04/27/06

Regret the Error may take the New York Times to task for its corrections, but internally the paper depends upon greenies. So says Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor for digital journalism at the Times:

” … Greenies? They are daily critiques of the newspaper, prepared by editors with contributions from staffers and circulated throughout the newsroom. The odd name comes from the habit of Allan M. Siegal, the assistant managing editor for standards who has been preparing critiques of this kind for decades, of using a green marking pen.) (Ask the Editors, NY Times)”

Landman doesn’t think, however, that readers should be given a public forum to highlight these errors.

” … We do, of course, publish corrections and editors notes to correct the public record. But it seems to me that fingering individuals in public for writing less-than-ideal headlines or overusing buzzwords or splitting infinitives would do much more harm than good, making people fearful and overcautious rather than diligent and responsive.”

One blogger seems to have noticed – quite a while ago – that the Times corrects these minor grammatical errors even after they’ve gone online and have been pumped out through the RSS feed. If you have an eye for detail, you can spot the greenies and then track their deletion through your feed reader.

Technorati:

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