Category Archives: media

Witless

I’ve figured out why AMC’s The Walking Dead is such a bummer: the show is completely humorless.

And what’s so funny about brain eating zombies?

Nothing — but horror aficionados know that the best work has some laughs to diffuse the tension. Without that, it’s just a relentless downer, but mix in some funny bits with the scares and you have a winner.

Right wing talk radio is like the horror genre in that regard. You may hate Rush Limbaugh’s politics, but he can be entertaining. Even while you disagree, it’s fun to listen.

You can’t really say the same for Talk 1300’s Paul Vandenburgh. I’ve been listening to him for years and never once heard him say anything that’s funny. Not a joke, never a witty remark, no humorous observations. Never. Not once.

Some people think humor is related to intelligence, but not always.

Vandenburgh’s obviously smart enough to pull in some listeners with his angry guy schtick — and smart enough to be 13% owner of his radio station — so he must be smart enough to come up with a zinger now and then.

Right?

Maybe not.

I think there’s something else going on with humorless people and those with no appreciation for irony: they are missing a certain part of their brain. Whatever little node or fold that makes a person funny is absent or undeveloped.

In the interest of science, I hope we can get hold of the brains of some of these humorless people when they’re gone. — not in the zombie sense, but for research. We must find a way to help them. God knows, we’d all be better off.

Ink Stained Retch

Oh, Times Union. Here’s the latest development as they creep toward full paywall:

Indulge me as I tell a story.

Years ago, the Times Union’s marketing director, Bob Provost, invited us TV station people over for a meeting. I can’t remember what we talked about, but I remember that he gave us a tour.

We saw the vast, bustling newsroom, rows of busy graphic designers, phones ringing off the hook in the sales office — and most impressive of all, the production plant where the massive presses sat.

Everything was was spotless and impeccable and unfailingly professional.

And it was intimidating.

Even my boss, the general manager, seemed a bit overwhelmed. We looked around and saw a leviathan that sucked in ad dollars. Who could compete with this? They might as well be printing money on those presses.

How times have changed.

I’ll repeat something I’ve noted before: local TV still doesn’t charge you a penny for their content. They sell advertising and the advertising pays the bills. Newspapers charge you for their product and fill it with ads. And isn’t that like making you pay for it twice?

On Their Own Terms

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein firestorm, two Times Union bloggers wrote brutally frank #metoo accounts about being sexual assault victims.

The newspaper took down the posts and suspended their accounts.

Yes, you read that right.

Chuck Miller, who had his own trouble with the Times Union, re-published the posts by Heather Fazio and Fran Rossi Szpylczyn on his blog. The paper put Fran’s post back up when she agreed to change the term “cock-tease” to “c*ck-tease” — as if that makes a difference. According to Chuck Miller, Heather Fazio has refused to change what she wrote.

Both bloggers were notified of their suspension by Tena Tyler, who’s listed on the masthead as “Senior Editor, Engagement.” Here’s how she engaged them:

Sorry about your sexual assault, but you violated our terms of service.

And what terms are those?

“You agree not to post, e-mail or otherwise make available content: – that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, lewd, defamatory, pornographic, libelous or invasive of another’s privacy or harms minors in any way”

OK, so a woman’s story about being attacked — in one case as a child — is “lewd” and “pornographic.” That’s fucking sick, Ms. Tyler.

Look, I’ve complained about the Times Union’s blog page for a long time, especially about the way they manipulate people and the one-sided relationship between the paper and the bloggers– but this is too much.

Any writer who continues blogging with the Times Union is out of their mind. Maybe you enjoy the opportunity to reach a large audience, but at what cost? A deal with the devil often seems like a good idea until the bill comes due.

Another Brick in the Paywall

Watch for changes to the Times Union’s digital offerings.

I noticed on my phone and tablet they’ve been fiddling with settings that impose a monthly story limit. By “fiddling,” I mean turning it on and off. Also, the paid content timesunionPLUS story designation has vanished.

It could mean that they’re getting ready to pull the plug on free content — like so many newspapers have done — and that the timesunionPLUS scheme was a bust.

The blogs? Those will probably stay free. Hey, you get what you pay for.

Maybe they’ll take up my idea of offering unlimited access for $.25 per week, which I’d gladly pay for the online edition.

“Rob,” you say, “why should they give away their news content. That makes no sense, these days.”

No, I suppose it doesn’t. And who would do that, anyway? Oh, I don’t know — local TV stations, maybe? They’ve never charged you for news and they still don’t.

Anyhow, wait and see.

The Debate Debate

All politics is local, and local news is always looking for a way to make local races interesting. Sometimes it’s a struggle. In much of the Capital Region, political power is so tilted toward one party that results are a fait accompli — and in many other races, the candidates are often indistinguishable.

That was the case when the Democrat candidates for Albany mayor debated on August 17 — and it was a real snoozefest. The winner of the September primary will be mayor — and you may as well pick the name from a hat, because they’re all the same.

But this isn’t about the debate, it’s about the exessive exposure it got in the media: the amount airtime it got far exceeds the audience.

You could watch the debate live in primetime on WNYT or listen on WAMC, plus there was streaming. WAMC ran the whole thing again the next afternoon.

What’s a small audience?

In 2013, about 12,000 people voted in the Albany mayoral primary. That represents about 1.3% of the people in the market. That adds up to a ton of people who are not involved or interested.

I used to work with a news director who said that people in Pittsfield won’t watch a story about Schenectady. I said that people will always watch a compelling, well-told story — no matter where it occurs.

But a boring story? Kiss them goodbye.

At the Movies

Spectrum TheatreI went to the Spectrum Theatre recently, and it turns out they no longer accept these pre-paid passes.

The theatre changed hands in 2015. The new owners bought the Spectrum’s funky hippy-dippy indie vibe, the art exhibits, the homey slideshow ads, the cake and cookies and popcorn with real butter, but there’s one thing they didn’t buy: a long-term commitment to honor these cards.

At the box office, I explained that it’s not cool to turn down the passes. The box office clerk explained back to me, “I can’t help you. Call customer service if you have a complaint.”

And he handed me this fortune cookie-sized piece of paper.

Landmark Theatres

Landmark wants to hear from you. Or not.

The woman I talked to at Landmark was impatient with my call. I suggested that when they bought the theatre, they also bought the Spectrum’s loyal long-time customers — and their passes. “Too bad,” she said. I was obviously not the first person to bother her on this topic.

No biggy. I can afford to buy movie tickets and I’ll still go to the Spectrum.

But one more thing: the passes you and I bought may not be any good, but it turns out that the former owners — Keith Pickard, Sugi Pickard, Scott Meyer and Annette Nanes — got a nice bonus as part of the purchase deal. Keith Pickard told the Times Union:

“We have passes forever. That was negotiated. That was part of the negotiating deal — that we have movie passes for as long as Landmark is leasing the property. Don’t forget,” he added, “we’re film lovers.”

Well. that’s terrific. Too bad your long-time customers — the film lovers who patronized your business for decades — don’t get to use the passes they purchased “forever”.

Keith Pickard also said:

“We’re very happy to be a part of this, and we think Landmark will serve the community well. … The legacy is very important to all of us, and I can’t stress this enough. We feel we have a good partner for this. It’s stewardship.”

You’ve got your legacy, Mr. Pickard. And your lifetime pass.

Stranger Than Fiction

The Albany Smudge has been on my mind lately. One of the things I loved about the site’s satirical stories were the ridiculous quotes from clueless people with an overblown opinion of themselves.

In case you’re missing The Albany Smudge, don’t worry: sometimes real life is just as funny. Here’s Shenendehowa school board member Robert Pressly in a TU story about why superintendent L. Oliver Robinson gets paid so much:

“Our desire is to have a district where people can proudly state they’re from a certain school,” Pressly said. “We think we’re definitely on track with that in terms of what people say about us and perceive about us.”

Well, Mr. Pressly — I have a pretty good idea what people say and perceive about you, but it’s not what you think it is.

Ah, and the story had a pretty great headline, too:

Shenendehowa superintendent gets another raise

My italics.

O-Bits

What’s better than sitting on the back deck early in the morning with a cup of coffee and the obituary page? I’ll tell you what: having a cigarette while you do that — but I digress.

The obits are certainly one of those things that are better on paper. Something about the ephemeral nature of newsprint that matches our own brief shelf life. That’s pretty deep, if I don’t say so myself.

But today, obits live forever online — as long as you don’t mind them served up with a few ads.

I did a completely random check to see what ads appear on the obit page and here’s what I came up with.

OK, Natalie Merchant at Tanglewood. Personally, listening to Natalie Merchant would make me feel better if someone died. Some might say her music could make you feel worse, but if it takes your mind off your grief, that’s a win-win in my book.

And PODS? Well, moving is often a byproduct of someone’s death — or at least getting rid of their stuff, so I judge both of these ads to be contextually appropriate and useful in your time of grief.

What do obits cost? Here’s a rate card I got from the Times Union, and believe me, if you’re going to have an elaborate obituary, it will cost some money. A few basics:

The first 10 lines are free the first DAY that the obituary runs, the customer pays for those lines every time after that.

After the first 10 lines each additional line is $4.75 per line with an additional $16 service charge.

A line constitutes roughly 22-25 characters including spaces and punctuation.

So, they throw in the first ten lines, which is maybe 250 characters, or, less than two Tweets. Want a picture? That’s $47.50. Cash up front unless you’re a funeral home — and yes, they have procedures to prevent fake notices from being placed.

I advise you to write your own obituary. This will take a lot of pressure off your loved ones, and hopefully, they’ll publish whatever you leave behind, regardless of cost. Seriously, do you think your family is going to edit your obituary? I mean, I might do that — but remember, my edits are always to make your work better.

Smudged Out

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

In 2015, that was my blub-worthy assessment of The Albany Smudge, the Capital Region’s own Onion-esque satire website. Yesterday the humor page posted some bad news: they’ve had enough.

Publisher “Burt Wilkersonn” explained why the site is ceasing publication in a story dated June 18:

“We decided to stop before we completely sucked. I mean, how many times can you make fun of doctors’ wives and their naturally gifted children in Bethlehem, or the underprivileged folks of South Colonie?”

Albany Smudge possessed a keen understanding of the area and knew the exact location of its soft spots. They mercilessly jabbed at cultural touch-points — especially our stereotypes of local towns and their inhabitants.

It’s sad to see it go, but easy to understand. It must have taken a lot of time to write the well-crafted stories they published. Their output was prodigious, putting out new editions every week since November 2014.

I can’t say if Albany Smudge every caught on in the way it deserved. There’s so much content for people to sift through today — much more than when I used to publish Albany Eye, more than a decade ago.

The most impressive thing about Albany Smudge may be this: even when it took sharp aim, it was never mean. These days, that’s saying a lot.