Category Archives: media

Would You Rather Be First or Right?

The Dannemora prison escape has been a fascinating story, and Friday evening, with one escapee gunned down by police and the other on the run, it was a big news night.

There were many wild tales from the North Country woods, many of them reported by eager reporters on Twitter. Unfortunately, some of them were not exactly true, like this one from Time Warner Cable News reporter Geoff Redick.

Exciting? Yes. True? No.

But, Rob, Geoff Redick says right there that “TWO police sources” told him this story.

Oh, really — what police sources? To be so confident, it must have been two very high ranking people with direct knowledge of what’s going on — like officials from the command post.

Mr. Redick went on to tap this one out:

Later in the evening, this all turned out to be bunk. Whatever — stop distracting me with all those annoying facts!

TV news has always been obsessed with getting stories first, even if only by a few minutes. Social media has taken it to the next level; it used to be about who could get it on the air first, and now it’s who can tweet it first.

I’d say this is progress. There’s never been a faster way to get things wrong.

Sounds Like America

If asked you to name a composer who evokes the American spirit, you’d mention Aaron Copland, but could you come up with another? I could a bunch — and all of them have worked in Hollywood.

There is a particular style of movie score that’s big and bold and sweeps you away. It sounds like America.

One of those scores is the one James Horner did for Rocketeer.

I have a long history with the movie.

Horner died in a plane crash this week. It’s telling that he escaped to the sky, a very American pursuit, which you can hear in his music. And you can certainly hear it in that title theme to Rocketeer, titled “Takeoff.”

Reporter Walks Into a Bar…

What a pleasant surprise to see Plattsburgh’s Monopole bar appear in a New York Times story. I spent many hours in the Monopole as a college student. It wasn’t my favorite haunt, but we’d often end the night there grabbing a slice of scalding hot pizza.

It would come right out of the oven and burn the hell out of your mouth. A sober and sensible person would wait for it to cool; we were neither. In the morning, you were not just hung over, but you had shreds of skin hanging down from the roof of your mouth. Good times.

But about that story. A Times reporter made the rounds of the North Country collecting theories about what happened to those two escaped murderers. Among the opinions was that of longtime Monopole bartender Gail Coleman, who posited that they ran off to Italy. Hey, why not?

Stories like this one show why it’s great to be a newspaper reporter. You can go around and talk to people, like in a bar for example, and whip up a pretty good piece. Your story comes from conversation.

Compare this to what it’s like being a TV reporter. Weighed down with a big camera and lights, the moment you walk in, all intimacy is lost and artificiality takes over. Plus, a certain type of person is attracted to TV news crews. What’s the word I’m looking for… oh, yes: yahoos. If you don’t think people act strangely when cameras are on, go home and turn on TLC or Discovery.

A lot of people won’t talk with a camera pointed in their face — not the way they’ll talk to some guy with a notebook who’s drinking a beer. I once had a TV reporter try telling me I was wrong about this; I guess that’s what happens when you inhale hair spray fumes for so many years.

It makes you wonder why anyone would do that job. The stagey interviews, reliance on pictures to tell your story, merciless time constraints — meanwhile some newspaper reporter is sitting in the Monopole chatting up Gail, all the while coming up with something better than any work you’ll ever do, all in his head.

God, I’m going to miss newspapers.

The Facts Escape Them

Vincent Musetto, who wrote the classic NY Post headline Headless Body in Topless Bar, died this week. You should read this fascinating story about how the Post fact-checked the topless part of the tale, and ended up printing the most famous headline ever.

headline

But speaking of headlines and fact checking, let’s talk about Dannemora.

I’ve been deeply fascinated by the recent prison break and read everything I could get my hands on, like the Times Union’s front page story today with this headline:

Fugitives end 150-Year era — Residents worked “The Job” with no escapes — until now.

They interviewed John Egan, who used to run OGS and once worked in the prison. An excerpt:

Egan was “flabbergasted” by last weekend’s breakout, the first such incident in the prison’s 150-year history.

Egan went on to say, “That record of no breakouts stood for 150-years. It spoke for itself.” Well, that’s quite a record — except it seems that Egan may be a little confused on top of being flabbergasted.

The New York Times ran a story this week saying that the prison has a long and colorful history of “breakouts,” including two that involved escaping through tunnels and pipes. Then, just minutes ago, I heard a similar story on NPR about the “two dozen” escapes from the prison.

It could be that the New York Times and NPR are completely wrong about this Dannemora thing. After all, the TU story was written by the paper’s star reporter, Paul Grondahl, with help from one Keshia Clukey.

So why does it matter? I guess because if you can’t get something simple right, maybe we shouldn’t trust you with something complicated.

Oh, and by the way: the Times Union — without an editor’s note — changed the online version of the story so that the second paragraph simply reads, “Egan was “flabbergasted” by last weekend’s breakout” — without the 150-years part.

To tell you the truth, I’m a bit flabbergasted, myself.

Smudge Report

A co-worker suggested I check out a new website, saying it’s like The Onion, except local. I set my expectations on low. I’ve spent enough time reading Times Union blogs to know that when people try being funny, it usually sucks.

But I went to Albany Smudge anyway – and I was pleasantly surprised.

At Albany Smudge you’ll find satirical news stories that are both funny and dead on target. Many of the pieces use references that display a deep knowledge of local culture and the stereotypes we have of area towns. For example, this jab at snooty Bethlehem:

“The Town of Bethlehem is even a little less friendly now that it has announced it will remove all “welcome” signs by the end of the summer. The move, said one local official, is being made so that area signage “conforms more accurately to the evolving views of our residents toward outsiders.”

The writer knows Bethlehem, right down to the annoying hyphenated last names.

People will be curious to know the author’s identity. Whoever is behind this is a real writer — not some hack like me who bangs out silly blog posts — and he or she deserves credit.

My only critique is a tiny one: some stories might play better using the names of real local figures and politicians, but that’s easy for me to say; I’m not the one responsible in case someone gets angry — and the fake names are pretty good.

Chalk up this one up as a winner. A bright spot on an increasingly bleak and depressing internet.

Burger Bites Man

Every year, local reporters and photographers head to Scotia — a place typically avoided unless there’s a murder or a particularly interesting fire — to cover the opening of Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In, the ad hoc beginning of spring in the Capital Region.

You know what would be news? If Jumpin’ Jacks DIDN’T open — yet every year we get the same damn story. Here’s an example from last year. Sorry in advance for the terrible video player. Continue reading

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

A group of Siena College students staged a protest this week over a billboard put up by a local contractor. It shows a posh kitchen with the headline, “Your Wife Wants Me.” The students claim that the billboard’s message is sexist, and they felt so strongly about it that they stood out in the cold for hours to express their opinion.

billboard

WTEN

You can decide whether it’s sexism — but it’s certainly plagiarism.

That headline, “Your Wife Wants Me,” is riffing on a campaign by a Baltimore area jeweler in 2007 with the headline, “Your Girlfriend Wants Me.”

Smythgirlfriend

Since then, the clever creative has been ripped off all over, sometimes substituting girlfriend for wife like in the kitchen ad. In fact, it appeared on a local jewelry billboard within the last year.

Borrowing ideas is nothing new in advertising. I suppose it becomes stealing when you claim it as your own, but there’s something else going on here: the jewelry ad is funny and surprising.  The kitchen ad is neither.

They took a great concept and sapped all the wit out of it, which to me is more offensive than any sexist overtones. If you’re going to rip something off, at least do it well.

The Media Was the Message

There was a nice piece about the passing of Don Weeks in the Gazette — and Mark McGuire, who used to write about TV and radio for the Times Union, was the perfect guy to handle the job.

It used to be that the dailies had someone writing regularly about TV and radio, but now coverage of the local media has pretty much vanished. At WNYT we had scrapbooks filled with stories about the station’s performance in the ratings, the comings and goings of reporters, puff pieces about anchors and more.

Now it’s very rare to see stories like that, and even the Business Review, which used to follow TV and radio ratings like they were the Dow Jones average, has given it up.

It’s funny because there would be so much to write about today. There’s more local TV news on the air than ever before, stations are big in social media and the radio business has changed dramatically.

I’d guess we’ll never see local media covered again. Local papers are doing more with fewer people — and in many cases, the people doing more are doing it for less money, like the crew at the Times Union who haven’t had a raise in seven years.

Maybe someone should write a blog about local media. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read critiques of local TV and newspapers, or have someone writing about the imbecilic ranting of local talk radio hosts?

Nah, that would never work.

Pointless

Damn, I knew it felt warmer than 6 degrees outside, and now I know why:

Capture

Thanks, Times Union!

Sure, we’re all obsessed with how cold it is outside — but does showing the temperature like that really add anything to the conversation? It’s probably OK for the newspaper to round that down to 6 degrees. That’s the way the National Weather Service does it.

What I like about weather is that it’s one of the few things we all have in common. It’s something that total strangers can bond over, discuss, commiserate about — it crosses all social and physical boundaries. It’s the glue that binds us.

So, what I’d like to know is this: what do they talk about in San Diego?