Coverage You Can’t Trust

Look at this Facebook post from NewsChannel 13.

The post includes a photo of a person sitting outside an Albany police station that was the scene of a recent clash with protesters. It’s excluded here because we don’t know if she did anything to warrant this kind of attention, and the police won’t say why they’re looking for her. However, that doesn’t stop WNYT from blaring in all caps with an exclamation point, ONE SHARE CAN HELP POLICE!

This is disturbing and irresponsible. It’s not unusual for the media to share a photo to identify someone who is clearly a suspect in a crime, but this steps over the line.

The accompanying story says, “Police aren’t saying why they want her, or what she might have done.” Don’t ask. None of your business. All you need to know is that we are the police and we want to find her. Take our word for it, she’s a bad one. Just look at her.

Maybe there’s a very good reason for the police to be looking for this woman, but if that’s the case, tell us why — and shame on WNYT for posting this without questioning the cops or asking for a justification. They not only skipped the basic journalism part, they then jumped into the fray to whip up their audience. Remember, ONE SHARE CAN HELP THE POLICE!

It stinks when these TV stations do the bidding of the authorities without considering what they may be up to. What happened between protesters and police was unfortunate, but it’s the job of journalism to question those in power, not become their lapdogs.

Nevertheless, ONE SHARE CAN HELP POLICE! Paging George Orwell.

Ink Stained Stretch

Back in local TV marketing land, we never went after the competition directly. Oh, it was tempting, and once or twice I even produced promos that weren’t allowed on the air because they took shots at WRGB. Instead, we stuck with advertising that put the spotlight on our own attributes.

This is not a universally accepted practice.

Last week the Times Union started running ads taking aim at the Daily Gazette over their local news coverage.

Click to enlarge

This is hardly Hearst versus Pulitzer stuff from the newspaper wars of the 1890s, but by today’s standards, it’s an aggressive position.

The headline:

Award-winning local news from local journalists.

OK. powerful message, accompanied by photos of four unnamed people who are presumably award-winning local journalists. It continues:

When you read your local newspaper, you should expect local, staff-written stories, not just wire stories.

Fair enough! And then:

The Times Union consistently writes more local stories by local reporters compared to the Daily Gazette

Ooof, that’s bold — but in fine print below, it says “Stats are attributed to a survey taken Aug 1 to Aug 31 comparing local stories in the Times Union vs Daily Gazette.” What? All that tells me is that they wrote more local stories in August 2020, not “consistently.”

The message isn’t the only thing that’s sloppy. The ad also contains a pretty huge layout error in the bottom paragraph where some copy is repeated. Mistakes happen, but if you’re going to do an ad about how much better you are than the competition, let’s have somebody proof it, OK?

So, why are they suddenly going attacking the Gazette? These are sophisticated people who don’t do things on a hunch, so I’m guessing that they saw some research they didn’t like and this is a knee-jerk reaction.

It’s fair to compete for readers, but today the stakes in that competition are higher than ever. Winning this swim race isn’t about going faster and finishing first, it’s about holding the other guy’s head under the water so he drowns. There’s no second place anymore.

You Can Leave Your Beard On

Brandon Fellows was having an awesome 2021. He got to to participate in the historic riot at the Capitol. Had his picture taken sitting on a police motorcycle. Was interviewed on CNN. Sat back and took a smoke in a U.S. Senator’s office. And it didn’t end there. Bloomberg News did a big feature on him a week later, giving him plenty of space to air his views.

Yes, it may have been his best year ever — until he was arrested on federal misdemeanor charges* for his role in the the January 6 insurrection. So much for having a moment.

You’d have thought we were done hearing from Mr. Fellows — but then WNYT got the chance to interview him on February 13, and boy, did they make a fucking mess of it.

For some reason, they allowed Fellows to appear in the same Yukon Cornelius-looking disguise he wore on January 6 in Washington, with a knit hat, sunglasses, and an absurd red beard made of yarn.

Sometimes there’s a very good reason to allow an interview subject to hide their face. It’s not uncommon to shield the identity of whistleblowers, sexual assault victims, and witnesses of crimes who may be harmed or intimidated — but someone who’s been criminally charged after such a high-profile incident? Not that I’ve ever seen. At that point, you’re sort of a public figure.

If Fellows insisted on wearing that getup, WNYT reporter Dan Levy could have ended things right there, but he didn’t. Actually, he didn’t even bother to explain in his story why Fellows was disguised. But what do you expect? Levy also didn’t press Fellows on his claim that he and other Trump supporters were being persecuted, “just as Hitler did with the Jews.” Hey, Dan Levy — were you even listening?

All I can figure is that since this story ran on a Saturday, the people who should have stopped it from airing had the day off.

But hold up, what am I thinking? Making Brandon Fellows take off his disguise or asking a tough question might have ruined the chance to have a “First on 13” exclusive, and we can’t allow that to happen.

*Since this was published, Fellows was hit with five more charges, including a felony obstruction count.

Blaxploited

The Times Union came under fire for an email pitch to Black-owned businesses on sponsoring its Black History Month coverage.

It’s not clear what the email said, or the precise nature of the complaints, but some of those who received the message felt it was inappropriate. How inappropriate? Well, so inappropriate that the paper published an A1 apology from publisher George Hearst. That’s very (very) inappropriate.

The Newspaper Guild — never fans of the TU’s management — described the situation as follows:

“The community criticized the Times Union for exploiting Black History Month to make a profit, and for charging Black business owners exorbitant prices to place advertisements in a predominantly white newspaper during a month meant to celebrate their community’s successes and legacies.”

Well, duh. That’s what they do.

Special content is not usually created because a media organization cares about a topic, but because they can sell it. Every time you see something above and beyond what they normally do, you can bet someone has asked, “Can we sell this?”

Look, newspapers, TV, and radio are, first and foremost, advertising delivery devices. It’s not uncommon for sales teams to target advertisers who may have an interest in a piece of content. A special section of the paper, a show on a certain topic, a series of stories — they can bring in money. Doing something about education? Try to sell some ads to colleges and universities. Special insert on health issues? Go hit up those deep-pocketed hospitals. Black History Month series? Offer it to black-owned businesses.

Whatever they said obviously touched a raw nerve, and this at a time when it’s more important than ever to be culturally sensitive.

Oh, by the way — I’d like to announce that I’m offering sponsorship opportunities for my St. Patrick’s Day coverage. After some drunken shenanigans, many of our readers might like to read blog posts about soda bread, potatoes, whiskey and ceili dancing. At least those who haven’t already been carted off in the Paddy wagon, that is. Contact me for more information.

Gone for Good

First, sorry to bore you with another blog post about blogs.

This week, the Times Union quietly began informing bloggers that their pages are coming down on February 5. By “bloggers,” I mean local people who contribute their work for free. This doesn’t include blogs by employees, like those written by Steve Barnes and Kristy Gustafson Barlette.

Times Union Editor Casey Seiler told one blogger that the paper could no longer devote resources to managing the blogs and the problems that come along with them. In a story published on January 29, Seiler says, “Having these blogs operate on what was effectively an honor system created considerable concerns and periodic controversies over posts that exceeded our guidelines.”

Can’t say I blame him.

Back in the early 2000s, the biggest buzzy thing in media was user generated content. Newspapers thought that their readers could be anointed to serve as journalists, photographers, and bloggers. It was going to build local interest and engage more readers, and it was THE FUTURE, dammit  — but ultimately, these experiments failed.

The Times Union’s “citizen blog” page remained a vestige of the user generated content craze, and it puttered along for years. Some of the blogs were pretty good, but often they sat fallow once people lost interest. It was like walking through a second hand store. You’d find some gems in there, but you also a lot of stuff you don’t need.

It seems the Times Union’s, “I don’t have time for this shit,” moment came when Rep. Elise Stefanik got her panties in a bunch over a blog post poking fun at her. The paper finally gave up, which is understandable. The economics of newspapering ain’t what they used to be, and every moment spent dealing with something stupid — like a blog that doesn’t bring in any money — is a moment that you could have spent making your product better.

There will be a lot of hand wringing over this by current and former TU bloggers. I get it, but folks, this is what happens when you hitch your wagon to somebody else’s horse. And remember, it’s not personal. It’s strictly business.

This One’s for the Bloggers

Dear Times Union bloggers,

You probably think that you have a nice relationship with the paper — and why wouldn’t you? They give you space to publish your work and access to readers, and they pretty much ignore you and let you do your thing. If you care about having an audience, it’s not a bad gig.

But watch what you write.

This week, TU bloggers Lale Davidson and Peter Marino came under fire from Rep. Elsise Stefanik over this passage in a satirical work aimed at the local lawmaker:

“I myself am childless because I am a rising star in the Republican Party, and family planning is possible by way of the contraception paid for by my excellent taxpayer-provided healthcare plan.”

I’d link to the post, but it’s gone, because the Times Union took down their blog page, replacing it with the simple message, “This site has been archived or suspended.” In my opinion, the piece would have worked just as well without that idea included, but you know what they say about opinions.

This is not the first time the paper has deleted posts or eliminated entire blogs when controversy erupts. The worst example of this was when two bloggers bravely shared the stories of their #metoo experiences, but writers need not broach sensitive topics to be targeted. One time they went after a blogger who made a harmless joke on April Fool’s Day.

But that has nothing to do with you, does it? Those people should have read the terms of service when they started blogging for the Times Union. They broke the rules and deserved to be punished. Right?

Look, the paper can do whatever it wants, and frankly, they have enough headaches without those that come with an unruly bunch of bloggers. And let’s not get into free speech, not after you’ve completely signed over the rights to your work. But here’s the thing: it’s like the Times Union has a pocket full of change and you’re one of the pennies. To them, you’re blog isn’t worth anything and they wouldn’t even notice if it disappeared. They aren’t going to take your side in an argument.

My advice? Save copies of your work, and then go into your Times Union WordPress dashboard and delete everything you ever wrote for them. You’ll lose your audience, but keep your dignity.

We’re Number One

Visitors to Albany probably look up at the Corning Tower and think that this is a place with an inferiority complex.

And they’d be right.

More confident towns laugh off minor offenses and move along, but throw shade on the Capital Region, and you’re in for a fight. And we never let it go, as seen in this Times Union piece where their columnist dredged up some ancient insults from a 1972 New York Times story. Seriously?

But today we can celebrate being better than anyone else in one thing: the Capital Region had the best cult.

No, maybe “best” isn’t the right word, but it’s certainly the most notorious. NXVIM has drawn the world’s eye to the area, what with the extensive media coverage of the Keith Raniere trial and the HBO documentary The Vow.  Finally, we’re known for something big — no, not something positive, but hey, stop your complaining.

This is not to diminish the evil done by NXIVM and Raniere, and he’s going to prison, where he belongs. Regrettably, we can’t also punish the local people and law firms who enabled his dark shenanigans. Many other folks in the area bought into his nonsense by taking NXIVM’s pricey “Executive Success” classes. This a small town, so I guarantee you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who went through the program or did business with NXIVM.

So, hold your head up high Albany. The next time somebody calls you Smallbany, point to NXVIM and ask about the cults in their town. It’s not likely they can top this one.

Recovery

I woke up this morning and realized that my recovery is complete. It’s not drugs or alcohol that were my problem. Not gambling or sex or any of the usual addictions that plague our brothers and sisters. No, my issue was local talk radio.

I never agreed with anything I heard — quite the contrary. I listened because it stirred a dark part of me and made me fill up with contempt. Contempt for the viewpoints I heard from the host and callers.

The funny thing is that even though it sucked me in, I knew all along that it was all just a bullshit act.

Local talk radio is a sham. A guy like Paul Vandenburgh at Talk 1300 may not even believe a word of the garbage he spews every morning, but but he doesn’t have to, because it’s all theater. He’s playing a character, and if he thought he could make more money playing a far-left liberal character, he’d do it in a second.

The worst part is that I wasted time on something that wasn’t even very good.

For the sake of comparison, consider Rush Limbaugh. You may dislike his position on things, but there’s no denying that he’s a brilliant communicator. Even public radio legend Ira Glass tips his hat to Limbaugh:

“Rush is just an amazing radio performer. Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him. That is some chops.”

There’s nothing amazing going on at Talk 1300, but I guess in a small upstate town like Albany, it doesn’t take much to amuse people. Or fuel their rage.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Quote

This song by Brandy Clark, We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, is all over the radio.

The duet with Randy Newman is pretty catchy — and certainly timely in these crazy times — but it’s sure to make Jaws fans cringe. As so many people do, she misquotes the iconic line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Does the one word make a difference? Yes.

Chief Brody’s use of “you’re” instead of “we’re” is telling. It seems to be him saying, “OK, let’s get the hell out of here and come back when you get yourself squared away with a proper boat.” But in Quint’s world, that’s not an option. There is no bigger boat, and more importantly, here we are — and now we’re all in this together. This is no longer about me, it’s about we.

The subsequent scenes in Jaws show Brody, Quint, and Hooper coming together as a team, forming a bond that is one of the beautiful things about the movie. You’re boat is now our boat.

So, I’ll stop being an annoying purist with my complaining about a silly movie quote. And if there’s one thing we need now, it’s a bigger boat.