Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

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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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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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.

 

Time versus Carefulness

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There was an interesting conflict between broadcasting necessity and journalistic necessity this morning on CBS This Morning.  Susanne Craig and David Barstow, both reporters of the NY Times, co-wrote a story which they broke about the taxes of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Apparently, Ms. Craig discovered three pages of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax return in her NY Times mailbox.  After she and Mr. Barstow verified the authenticity of the pages with the tax professional that actually prepared the return the pages seemed to come from, the reporters released the story.  The reporters were asked if they feared legal consequences for writing the story based on documents Mr. Trump’s campaign said were obtained “illegally”.  They responded that a  tenet of journalism is that if a reporter does nothing to solict the receipt of such documents and they are verified as true, they can report the story as factual and be held harmless.

Ms. Craig spoke succinctly and briefly about how she got the documents, while Mr. Barstow was extremely measured in how he talked about conversations with staff attorneys, odd presentations of numbers on the form itself and getting the preparer to verify his work.

But because he took so much time carefully going through those aspects of the story, Charlie Rose and Gayle King began getting cues from their director that time was running out and that they need to wrap so the show could go to a break.

It was ironic that the journalists at that table, all of which were seeking the truth in the spirit of the First Amendment, were also essentially at odds over the amount of time available to tell that truth.

The chasm between TV news and newspaper reporting has been an open secret for decades.  If you notice, TV people are often reading stories written by newspaper people.  Newspapers reporting has been and remains the backbone of American journalism while TV is the compromise that adds pictures and speeds things up while removing much of the useful nutritional information.

I understand the program clock.  I understand affiliates down the line waiting their turn to insert local news, weather and traffic.  And I understand the need to make sure advertiser’s commercials get aired since ultimately, that’s the fount from which everything flows.

It just made me a little sad that such an important story was abbreviated.  To read the full, fascinating article at your leisure, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html

Ridin’ the Train

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I rode Amtrak’s “Empire Builder” to Chicago three weeks ago from Portland, Oregon and from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Portland, Oregon yesterday.  It went across the top of the nation with a stop in Glacier National Park, past the Continental Divide and through the geographical center of the U.S. Here’s my take on the ride to and fro:

PROS
Legroom
Dining Car
Snack Car
Observation Car
Leisurely
Gorgeous scenery
No taking off your shoes
Coach seats deeply recline for sleep
Wide seats
No baggage fees
Much less hectic/stressful than flying
More bathrooms
Less costly than flying (if you don’t get a sleeper car)
Less fearful than flying (if you have a fear of flying)
Power outlets

CONS
Coach seats reclined not quite enough for my 6-foot frame
Slow
May not serve locations I need
Tiny bathrooms identical to airplane bathrooms (However, there was one large bathroom for the disabled.  It was mostly unoccupied).
No Wifi

It left on time, arrived on time and was only delayed in North Dakota as it shared common rails with freight and oil trains.  The customer service people (Rhonda) were great, the conductors were professional and the ride was smooth.  If I am in no hurry to go where I need to go in the future, I will be taking the train. Except for emergencies, there is no reason for me to not plan ahead for the time it takes the train and choose it over the planes, cars or buses.

P.S.  Can’t make the seats longer, can’t go much faster than 70mph, isn’t going to more places right now but, hey Amtrak, you CAN improve Wifi for other than just along the Eastern corridors.

Written by Interviewer

September 30, 2016 at 01:24