Category Archives: media

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.

Random Notes

Membership Has Its Privileges
The Times Union has taken to calling readers “members.” Does this give us access to the gym at the TU headquarters?

Good Lord
Among the rules for mass at my church this weekend: Masks all the time, no singing, four seats between individuals or family groups, no touching hands, limited seating capacity, attendance by reservation only, do not enter without an “ambassador” to seat you, do not leave until instructed to do so by the ambassador, stand at your seat to receive communion, no communion on the tongue, no books or paper, no mingling in common areas or the parking lot, bring hand sanitizer. Peace be with you.

Oh, Canada
Usually at this time, we’re getting ready for a week in Canada, to a quiet island where Lake Ontario spills into the St Lawrence River. Not this year. The border remains closed until July 21, at the earliest. Got to keep out the filthy Americans.

Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the TV Reporter

As an EMT, we were trained not go into unsafe situations, regardless of the patient’s condition. Nope — not risking my ass, even if it means saving your life.

That’s why it’s so interesting when you see local TV reporters putting themselves in harm’s way covering the recent protests across America.

For example:

Not defending the cops here, but standing on the fringes of a riot might be — oh, I don’t know — a little unsafe. Would you go to a fire and hang around in the “collapse zone,” the area where the burning structure might fall if it comes down? Of course not — and this is no different.

Ah, but this is the noble profession of journalism! It’s not a job, but a higher calling, and informing the public is worth the sacrifice of my life.

Don’t make me laugh.

I’d encourage journalists to weigh the risks associated with any assignment. This includes fire and accident scenes, extreme weather, busy roadways, dangerously elevated emotions — and yes, riots. Your personal safety should always come first, and none of you are paid enough to take chances. If you think being on the sidelines of a chaotic situation, like that riot, is supposed to be a safe zone, you are wrong.

And if you’re a TV reporter in Podunk, Kentucky, don’t dare compare what your doing to covering a war. Those sort of journalists understand the risks — and they accept that when you go into a shitstorm you may be hit with some shit.

Build that Paywall

It’s not a surprise that the Times Union has shoved it’s popular staff written blogs behind the paywall. Steve Barnes addressed this in an apologetic post in his Table Hopping food blog, explaining that the paywall also applies to Capitol Confidential and Kristi Gustafson Barlette’s blog.

Hey, I get it, content has value.

I subscribe to the digital edition of the New York Times and get the Times Union delivered, which also gives me access to their online content. I may joke about the TU, but I still like reading an actual local newspaper — even though it may infect me with COVID-19.

And it’s all good — mostly.

But here’s the thing: if I pay for your newspaper, I should not be subjected to a barrage of trashy click-bait advertising, like what’s found on every page of the Times Union’s website. It’s full of garbage ads for nonsense websites, celebrity news, slideshows, unwanted videos that auto-play — if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go to any story on their site and scroll down.

I believe in advertising, and legitimate ads from local and national advertisers are welcome — even targeted ads that prey upon the instincts and desires tracked by my browsing habits. What the Times Union is doing, however, is destroying the user experience for those who visit their website. Period.

Advertising is a social contract, of sorts. I’ve pointed out the relationship we agree to have with a lot of television content: I watch your ads in exchange for being informed and entertained. When the ads are intrusive and onerous? Then the contract is broken — and if I’m actually paying and still seeing all those shitty ads, shame on you.

Me and My Mummy

People still ask me if I miss my old job. Not really. Well, yes and no. Yes, it was always interesting and it was work I excelled at, but do it today? No thanks.

But allow me to reminisce.

Lon Chaney Jr. as The Mummy

Early in my career, I produced cheap local commercials and we were doing a spot for Halloween Hall in Ballston Spa. We’d done a lot of shooting in the store, but this season they had a unique new item they wanted to show off: an elaborate mummy costume. This would require a special shot that could only be done back in the studio.

Our plan was for the mummy to emerge from the darkness into a beam of light — and to make it extra dramatic, we rented a smoke machine. Nothing makes things look cooler than a smoke machine.

We were all set — but someone would have to swaddle themselves in this mummy suit. Normally, I’d persuade an intern to do this, but that semester we didn’t have one, so I wrapped myself up and went to work. It looked terrific — exactly as planned — and with the studio full of smoke, I got out there and lurched around doing my best Lon Chaney Jr.

That’s when the station’s chief engineer ran in screaming.

“What is this smoke? Do you have any idea what it can do to these cameras? The PARTICULATE MATTER in this could corrode the circuit boards! Destroy the optics! How are we going to do the news in three hours with no cameras?”

Oh, shit.

Yes, we were in the same studio as used for the newscast, and in moments, a crew from engineering started disconnecting the hulking cameras and dragging them into the hallway.

It should have been funny, me standing there in a mummy suit getting yelled at, but my blood ran cold. I skulked off to my office and waited to be fired.

Later in the day, my boss, the director of sales, called me to his office. He said something like, “Hey, no more smoke machines in the studio,” and sent me on my way.

That’s the day when I learned a valuable lesson: TV stations are not run by the engineering or news departments, they are run by sales. The only media literacy lesson you need is this: it’s a business — and if you think the media is biased, you’re right. They’re biased toward making money.

Rolling Boil

Dominick Purnomo grew up around the work, stress, and pain that comes with carrying the weight of a restaurant. His parents, Chef Yono & Donna Purnomo are local legends in the food world, so he saw the business at its best too, with all of its triumph and joy. It’s a tough game. Restaurants are a place of great successes and epic failures. 

Dominick’s parents may have tried to steer him away, but he jumped in with both feet.

On Thursday, he tweeted a copy of a letter he was sending the Times Union, setting off a skirmish on social media where food and journalism collided.

You can read Susie Davidson Powell’s review here. To say she hated Boil Shack is understating things, for her review wasn’t just negative, it was gleefully nasty.

It’s fair to say that some people find Powell’s reviews annoying. When she started at the Times Union, her pieces were thick with Britishisms, so full of pip-pip-cheerio nonsense that they sounded like parody. Not so much now. Thank God for editors.

The president has taught us that Twitter is a great place to show how thin skinned you are, so Purnomo’s post drew a tart response from several prominent TU folks, like managing editor Casey Seiler.

Maybe Purnomo will get a polite and reasonable response to his letter from a senior manager at the paper, but that time isn’t now.

I don’t completely agree with Dominick Purnomo on this. A restaurant can have a bad night and fix it the next day, but your bad night may have ruined somebody’s special occasion. Or maybe you took the $100 bucks they put away for a nice dinner and you didn’t deliver. There’s no taking that back. 

As for Susie Davidson Powell,  her schtick is unfair and unprofessional. She may have been right, but she was not just.

Congressman Jackass

He loves puppies and has eclectic taste in music. His sisters were his role models and his kids have become his best friends in many ways. His first heartbreak? At six, when Timothy the turtle died.

What is this — some middle aged guy’s lame online dating profile? No, it’s from the 20 Things You Don’t Know about John Sweeney.

It doesn’t mention the former congressman’s three divorces, the drunk driving arrests, the domestic strife, the ex-stripper, those frat party pics, that assault involving his kid, the ski trip thing — but hey, that’s stuff we already know.

I always read these 20 Things features that Kristi Gustafson Barlette writes, and I wasn’t surprised when the Sweeney item left a few readers bent out of shape. One guy wrote, “I’m looking forward to next week’s segment, ’20 Things you don’t know about me: Chris Porco’.” Kristi says her subjects are folks who are “interesting and people know them — or know of them.” By that standard, a Chris Porco 20 Things is not off the table. And you know we’d all read it.

So here comes John Sweeney again, reimagined as the cool, sensitive guy in recovery who “used to party with the band U2.”

Yeah, right.

Mr. Sweeney, do us all a favor and go away. Go away and quietly pick up the mess you’ve left in your wake. And I’ll tell you what: we’ll say a prayer for your recovery, and another prayer that you don’t fuck up again and damage the lives of more people around you. Best of luck, sir.

None of us are perfect. I may not have accomplished huge things in my life, but at least I’ve been a good husband and father. I’d like to think that’s enough.