Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

To The Good

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pondering

In the course of writing my book about the public radio pledge drive, it has happened twice so far.  Twice, I have found discrepancies in secondary sources.  Reporters love doing that.  And when I notified the purveyors of that information, they acknowledged their errors and fixed them.

I’m just plodding along here.  For me, this process isn’t fancy or technical.  Rather, it’s more like connecting cars in a toy train set.  But it feels nice to know that not only am I paying attention, but I am correctly interpreting what I find.

Written by Interviewer

December 7, 2016 at 00:31

Goddamn, Goddamn, Goddamn

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goddamn

Three goddamns.

That’s how many were in an interview between OPB’s “Think Outloud” host Dave Miller and “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert in their rebroadcasted interview today from September 2015.  Although not one of George Carlin’s original “Seven Dirty Words”, the trifecta reminded me of a 2009 interview NPR’s Madeline Brand had with Jeremy Renner, who had starred in “The Hurt Locker”.  Words were bleeped but his use of “goddamn” wasn’t, which prompted a listener to ask the NPR Ombudsman why not?

The Ombudsman replied that “using god damn it” is not legally profane, according to the FCC.  The phrase is not, in legal parlance, “actionable”.  The federal agency defines three standards for language; obscene, profane and indecent:

1. Obscene content does not have protection by the First Amendment.  For content to be ruled obscene, it must meet a three-pronged test established by the Supreme Court: It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

2. Indecent content portrays sexual or excretory organs or activities in a way that does not meet the three-prong test for obscenity.

3. Profane content includes “grossly offensive” language that is considered a public nuisance.

However, a training pamphlet from KBOO Community Radio in Portland, Oregon, identifies words and contexts that apparently are to be avoided just in case an official decided to interpret the law a little more broadly.  These include not playing certain songs or repeating certain song titles, sexual jokes or innuendo, creative editing of profane or indecent words or fleeting references, such as “Oh Shit!”

KBOO giving the realm of questionable language such a wide berth might have something to do with the fact that the station was fined $7000 in 2001 for violating community standards on its “Soundbox” program.  The station had broadcast a poem by performer Sarah Jones that included lyrics the FCC considered indecent.

From the FCC lawsuit:
Radio Station:  KBOO-FM, Portland, Oregon
Date/Time Broadcast:   October 20, 1999, on the “Soundbox,” between 7:00  and 9:00 p.m.
Material Broadcast:  “Your Revolution”

(Various female voices)

Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
The real revolution ain’t about bootie size
The Versaces you buys
Or the Lexus you drives
And though we’ve lost Biggie Smalls
Maybe your notorious revolution
Will never allow you to lace no lyrical douche in my bush
Your revolution will not be you killing me softly with fujees
Your revolution ain’t gonna knock me up without no ring
And  produce little future M.C.’s
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not find me in the back seat of a jeep
With L.L. hard as hell, you know
Doing it and doing and doing it well, you know
Doing it and doing it and doing it well
Your revolution will not be you smacking it up, flipping it or rubbing it down
Nor will it take you downtown, or humping around
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not have me singing
Ain’t no nigger like the one I got
Your revolution will not be you sending me for no drip drip V.D. shot
Your revolution will not involve me or feeling your nature rise
Or having you fantasize
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
No no not between these thighs
Uh-uh
My Jamaican brother
Your revolution will not make you feel bombastic, and really fantastic
And have you groping in the dark for that rubber wrapped in plastic
Uh-uh
You will not be touching your lips to my triple dip of
French vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe
Or having Akinyele’s dream, um hum
A six foot blow job machine, um hum
You wanna subjugate your Queen, uh-huh
Think I’m gonna put it in my mouth just because you
Made a few bucks,
Please brother please
Your revolution will not be me tossing my weave
And making me believe I’m some caviar eating ghetto
Mafia clown
Or me giving up my behind
Just so I can get signed
And maybe have somebody else write my rhymes
I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
You know I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
Your revolution makes me wonder
Where could we go
If we could drop the empty pursuit of props and the ego
We’d revolt back to our roots
Use a little common sense on a quest to make love
De la soul, no pretense, but
Your revolution will not be you flexing your little sex and status
To express what you feel
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not be you shaking
And me, [sigh] faking between these thighs
Because the real revolution
That’s right, I said the real revolution
You know, I’m talking about the revolution
When it comes,
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
When it finally comes
It’s gonna be real

In 2003, a more forgiving FCC, after hearing from Jones herself and the station, chose to rescind the fine.   Fortunately for KBOO, both the fine and the rescision were before the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl.  The public outrage which followed caused the FCC to jack up fines per violation from $32,000 to $350,000.  Such a fine would’ve been like a planet killing asteroid smashing through KBOO’s tiny 8th Avenue studio.

The FCC determined that community standards were not violated.  It is an example of how the law regarding obscenity, indecency and profanity, whether gratuitous or not, is and isn’t written in stone.  There may be several standards at work when stations chose to allow or restrict language that may or may not cost them big bucks, public support or both.

What is Old is New again

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rolled-parchment-paper

As I continue working on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I came across a quote from Susan Stamberg’s “Every Night at Five”, published in 1982.

“We ask people what they make of the tax cut, the threat of radioactivity, Watergate.” “Their reactions are barometers of the political climate.  Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have said that when Walter Cronkite criticized his Vietnam War policy, he knew he’d lost ‘Middle America’.  During Watergate, when a Nixon voter in Manhattan, Kansas, told us he’d lost faith in the president, we knew Richard Nixon was suffering heavy losses.”

I found this the day after reading Kyle Pope’s critique in the Columbia Journalism Review on how the media missed the in/out debate by paying too close attention to the left/right debate.  That, after hearing Scott Simon commenting on criticism of the media in wake of the election.  And that, after discovering an interview PRI’s Andrea Seabrook did with Current magazine back in August where she articulated the same thing; the “what unites us is much more than what divides us” argument, and how many people are angry about the same things.  For example, in Portland, Oregon, KBOO news director Lisa Loving said she was pitched a story of Wall Street Occupy protestors reaching out to Malheur Occupy protestors.

Ms. Stamberg’s quote reminds me that the media goes through cycles of lucidity.  With the election of our president-elect, it seems it has, again, emerged from a period of darkness.  And while it parries criticism, it will double down on a new way to explore something that it once learned, forgot and has apparently found again.

Written by Interviewer

November 15, 2016 at 03:01

Over the Top

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overflowing

This is a quickie.

I am very interested to see if and how commercial and non-profit advertising changes in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

I have noticed more bi-racial couples in advertising.  Also, more people of color as well as more gay, lesbian and physically and emotionally challenged.  I wonder if that will lessen.  Also, I wonder if the language in advertising will change to reflect less inclusion and more language that is less “politically correct” as a reflection of the new reality.

I wonder if social comedians and satirists will become more harsh and pointed in their social critiques.  I wonder if local news will focus more on crimes committed by people of color.  Will national network news be more jingoistic regarding stories of other countries?  I wonder if social media will become even more vicious.  I wonder what kind of new TV shows networks and production companies will develop and if they will feature no-nonsense business leaders or presidents kicking ass and taking names.  And if wonder if gun sales will now fall.

All of this may sound like over the top speculation.  But, I’m wondering what qualifies as “over the top” anymore?

Written by Interviewer

November 10, 2016 at 01:46

Posted in Scratchpad

800-257-1257 after 40 Years of NPR

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image1

As I read throught the pile of books written about public broadcasting, I saw a picture on pg. 11 of  “This is NPR: The First 40 Years” that fascinated me.  It is a 1980, black and white photo of Ellen McDonald, Michael Richards and Nina Totenberg.  But the phone number on the TV near the upper left corner of the photo is what drew my eye.  The number is 1-800-257-1257.  For some reason, I got stuck on wanting to know the history of that phone number.

1 – In July 1983, the Louisville Kentucky Courier Journal ran a classified ad for a subscription to Barron’s Magazine that featured that number (https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/110689641/)

2 – In 1991, the number was listed as a contact number in Starlog Magazine, December issue #173 in association with a Space Calendar sold by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (https://archive.org/stream/starlog_magazine-173/173_djvu.txt)

3 – In 1992, it appreared in the Lifestyles section of the Adirondack Mountain Sun Newspaper, December 24, 1992 in a rant over corporatism on Christmans Eve and the number in TV commercials (http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn93063680/1992-12-24/ed-1/seq-14/ocr/)

4 – cjb.net, a free reverse phone number search engine with a Canadian address (96 Mowat Avenue, Toronto) that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since 1998, associates the number with a 23rd Street address in Ragland, Alabama (http://www.cjb.net/800/257.html)

5 – Teletech Communications, Inc., that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since 1999, associates the number with a fax line belonging to the telecommunications service provider, the Gary Larsen organization in Conifer, Colorado (http://teletech.8m.com/)

6 – I visited toll free directory assistance (www.tollfreeda.com), the toll free directory (www.inter800.com) and toll free numbers.com before posting and could find no listing or use of the number.  But Toll Free Numbers dot com says the number has been in use since 1999 to an AT&T customer.

7 – Cityfreq.com, another phone number search engine with the same Canadian address that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since December 2000, says it was the phone number for Lakiesha Sicard (http://www.cityfreq.com/phone/800257.html)  I found nothing that associated the name with the address of #4.

8 – The now-defunct Infomercial Index website, which had copyright notice dates at the bottom of its webpage from 1996 to 2002, listed the number to call for a collection of Zamfir’s Songs of Romance (http://www.magickeys.com/infomercials/nffull.html)

9 – In 2003, the Astral Pulse message board asked if anyone had heard of a condition known as synesthesia and a commenter recalled late night commercials with the number in different colors (http://www.astralpulse.com/forums/welcome_to_metaphysics/anyone_heard_of_synesthesia-t3199.0.html).  According to Wikipedia, in this form of the condition, known as grapheme-color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.

10 – In 2010, a blogger for the site “Liner Notes” mentioned how he remembered seeing a Canadian commercial for Zamfir, King of the Panflute (http://hitparadelinernotes.blogspot.com/search?q=1257)

11 – In April 2013, a post on the RetroJunk message board mentions the number connected with commercials run on CNN in the 80s (http://www.retrojunk.com/community/post/index/51323)

9 – Facebook shows a conversation of lovers of WTBS Night Tracks (an competitor to VH1), between 2013 and 2015 about the ad which appeared in 2004.  The commenter on a mobile phone remembers seeing the number (https://m.facebook.com/groups/NightTracks/?view=group).  This comment shows up in the Google search of the number but does not appear in the post itself.

12 – Between November 2015 and May 2016, numerous complaintants received scam calls on everything from social social security, online dating, payday loans, credit cards and general harassment from the number (https://2000i.net/8002571257.who.called)

13 – In May 2016, a commenter on USPhoneScams.com said it was the number used by a phone scammer that was pretending to represent the IRS (https://usaphonescams.com/800-257-1257.tel)

That number, in a strange way, is now a part of NPR’s history.  I wanted to know what that history has been since 1980. From Barron’s Magazine subscriptions to phone scams, how far it has fallen in fortunes.  The number hasn’t fared nearly as well at National Public Radio.

Written by Interviewer

October 23, 2016 at 07:31

Chain of Command

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billy-bush

Billy Bush’s cancelled appearance on NBC’s Today show is justified.  But let’s take a step back and look at this with a little more distance.

It’s likely what happened in the days leading up to that 2005 interview with Donald Trump was there was a lot of coordination between Trump’s people and Bush’s managers at Access Hollywood.  Mr. Trump and his “The Apprentice” were riding high in the ratings and no doubt the network really wanted his face on their program to nudge them even more.

Also no doubt, after that video was shot, everybody from the camera operator, to Mr. Bush, to someone above Mr. Bush’s in his chain of command watched the video in some edit bay somewhere.  Maybe several somebodys watched it.   We don’t know if that person or those people also snickered and laughed.  We do know Mr. Bush did.  And, as everyone who works in a company knows, management wants to know everything but wants deniability in case anything goes South.

We also know that video didn’t see the light of day until about 72 hours ago.  Until then, that video and everything it represented was kept like a family secret in Access Hollywood and NBC Universal until somebody looking to juice things up remembered to go through the archive searching for any file containing the keyword “Trump”.

Like any public relations disaster, the first people to fall are the footsoldiers, the expendables.  But over time, the wheels of corporate justice start to grind slowly forward like the gears in a Don Quxiote windmill and everybody gets outed.

Everybody.

Written by Interviewer

October 10, 2016 at 10:22

Non-Traditional

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bw

As I read up on the innards of public radio while working on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I’ve found something interesting.  It has been said that it’s important that public radio continue to focus on the audience it has; a 25% or so slice of the total listening audience (described as Innovators and Thinkers) while pursuing other segments of the audience not based on their skin color but on their interests and values.  That assumes the audience members in that sought after segment make no connection between the color of their own skin and their interests and values.

It reminds me of why non-traditional casting, as a rule, doesn’t work in the theater community.  I sat on the board of an African-American theater non-profit for a year and a half.  Audiences are comfortable seeing black actors playing in productions like “Porgy and Bess”, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “Jitney” and a number of other productions written with the black experience in mind.  They are OK with the ocassional, high star power substitution.

But a black actor in a traditionally white role is a very uncomfortable experience for many non-black audience members.  This 1998 NYT Letter to the Editor makes that argument.  Nearly 15 years later, no less than the director of the London’s Stratford Shakespere Festival is still defending its validity.  Not much has changed.

To me, it’s an example of how even if the story is a human story, skin color is the lens that determines who sits in the audience to see it.  So making the assumption that doesn’t also work in the other direction, i.e., non-whites will consume public radio on the assumption they themselves don’t view culture through the lens of their own skin color, that is incorrect no matter what any data set says.