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Friday, April 18, 2014

Our Professional Disaster, and Other Opinions

Okay...get ready for another one:

By now, we have heard and seen the sadness of yet another tragedy in this world. The sinking of the "Sewol," a South Korean ferry that has left nearly 300 people still missing. Even sadder, nearly all the passengers on this particular voyage were high schoolers headed for a field trip to an island.

Ferry disasters are not uncommon in this part of the world. It is too soon to tell exactly what happened: it appears that the vessel struck a reef or something, listed sharply to port and sank very fast. Boats like those are not built with the watertight integrity of modern ocean liners; belowdecks is cargo area and space for vehicles.

You can imagine the damage the boat took, and how quickly things changed.

From what we also know (from the sad and eerie messages texted from some who didn't get out), the passengers were told to stay put. An order to abandon ship did not come for 35 minutes, and survivors say they never heard it.

Staying put at first is standard procedure. You don't want to start a panic and a stampede, I get that. Efforts to correct the list failed; only then, did the order get made to abandon.

That seems to be about the size of it all. Now, why am I going on about it?

The media coverage, which I have tried to avoid apart from the sources that I felt more trustworthy. While I do not understand the language, I watched the Korean Broadcasting Network's coverage online. They did special coverage, and as I note below, they ran it in an interesting way.

They run like a PBS station, or Japan's NHK. A very professional, low-key and proper presentation. NPR would be the same way, as would the BBC. Yes, I am biased, I am part-time employed by an NPR affiliate, but I know how they work.

I know how the other side works, too. 

I made a point of keeping an eye on how the Beeb, NHK, and the Asian networks handled the matter. They have done it for the most part with confidence in themselves, calmness, and yes...PROFESSIONALISM.

Something lost on far too many of my colleagues.

Now, I was prompted to write this and include comments I made on this site:

Commenters are furious over the CBC's usage of footage, photos, etc. They are getting in a lather over it. Well, they have got some justification, I see it.

They don't watch much American TV, I don't bet. Look at what we have, and what our broadcast media has mostly degenerated into.

I do not mean to sound like an old guy, nor do I wish to slag my colleagues, but I'm not impressed with even the veteran behaviors exhibited by people you'd think had more of an idea of how to act before a camera.

I'm putting the finger on the TV side, which I don't have much experience in, but have enough to know.

Here's what I wrote (whether or not they'll permit its use, I don't know):

"Look, I fully understand the complaints you have, regarding the use of the grief of the families who are still wondering if their loved ones are alive. I would feel as devastated as they. If you think the CBC is bad (not to defend them), I suggest you watch American cable networks if you can stomach it. 

I work in this media. I agree, we all too often use the suffering of others for our own egos, gain, ratings, etc. That's why I don't work in television. In a 24/7 news cycle you are going to see the same stories and the same footage, over and over again. The days of the six o'clock news with the National or what have you at seven, with a ten o'clock update are long gone. That's why you see the recycling. There just is not enough content to fill it all. 
Now...I have watched the Korean Broadcasting Network's coverage. They were going with special coverage during the unfolding events, but they get high marks for professionalism, and keeping their emotions in check. They did damned well. Same for NHK and the BBC; they did not go "wall to wall" with coverage. In comparison, CNN's obsession with the Malaysian airline disaster shows how bad we can get. 
I've spent 30 years in this business folks...I don't like the way it's gone anymore than you. I cringe every time I see a cable news host lose their s--t and do what their bosses tell them to, and whore themselves with emotional ranting, and blame-tossing. And yes, they will do anything they can to stir emotions and keep people watching. 

The last two generations of "media people" (my term) are largely a bunch of smart-assed little brats who have grown up on talk radio, fake reality TV and Fox News. They think this is news. Most of these kids wouldn't last 15 minutes in a proper newsroom. Today, I can name colleagues whom I like as people, and who have the tools but don't get the application. We call them, "Book Smart, Street Stupid." 

This is how it is. If you do not like it, let them know, and not just on a comment board where no one is paying attention. It would also do to stop watching that s--t. I grew up near the Canadian border, and I always admired the way the news was presented. To some extent, I still hear it being done well. 
Forgive my going off, because I hope you understand why things are done the way they are. Honestly, if I were in charge, I might well use some of the same footage you are complaining about, because it does help tell the story. All the time? No, probably not. 
That all said, I remain saddened by the stories of those people who are lost and their families. We can't imagine their grief unless we've lived through it. Don't think we in the business like these stories: we don't! We would love nothing better than to just tell you about mundane, and yes, even boring happenings. 
Like your countrywoman sang, "A little good news," yes, we'd rather do that."

Well, there you have it: our own addiction to knowing everything right this minute, and the pressure we face to get it out there, right here, right now and without delay.

We don't have the resources, folks. We don't have the money, we don't make the revenue to do it the way you think it should be done. Absent of that, I know people in newsrooms who work their asses off day in and day out to do it "right." Even if they don't get it first, and it's not breaking news anymore.


No, actually they won't. And they don't. They don't forget when we fuck up. Whether or not they actually turn away, well, that's another matter for debate.

Guess the thing I'm getting at is: do you think we have too much of it? It's up to us to decide to turn it off, and come to it when we need or want it.

As it stands today, I am on the edge of this business. I am outside looking in, for the most part. What I do makes a difference in small ways, and I am thankful that what I do provides a service. A real one: if you want it, it's there. If not, that's cool, because you may not need it.

Addiction. Yes, we are addicted to some pretty crazy things. News (mostly which confirms our own ideas), so-called Entertainment, brain-numbing shows, and obsessively watching every move so-called celebrities make. Though for the latter, most of them really don't do anything I would consider to be that spectacular.

In the end of may seem a rather unusual step away from the topic, but here it is. We lost one of the great authors of our past century. Gabriel Garcia Marquez left us at the age of 87. The key adjective to describe his work is "imaginative." He mixed real life (much of it around his native Colombia) with fantasy. Imagination...not something you need to live by, but something to make you think and give you a little of what we all need. Not too much, but enough.

We all need to think about it, really think about what is important. I am trying to shed light on this for you. While I also try to figure out how much I need...and don't want.

Thoughts for the day, and hopefully for a bit longer while I sort out my own issues. My own writings are not meant to shake foundations and destroy worlds; they have their own place, and I hope to live long enough to see the day that stories like "Parasite Girls" get their day. I'd like to know what readers think, and hear it in their words. That would be a bigger payoff than money.

Okay...let's hope for a little better in the coming days.

Peace, Outta Here...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Parasite Girls," Censorship and Assorted BS

I have to tell you, I really don't have time for this stuff. But I am going to focus on the events of the past day, and point out a few things that need to be done.

A few days ago, in an effort to promote my book "Parasite Girls," I sent an email to WHTM-TV, also known in the PA mid-state as ABC-27. They have a noontime live program called Good Day PA, hosted by Amy Kehm. The reason I did this was because they have an "Author's Spotlight" section. It's about a 3-5 minute sit-down segment, where Amy interviews area authors.

Why not, I thought? So I send the email; Ms. Kehm gets back to me and is most enthused. She says they're booked for a few weeks, but what days are good?

We agree on May 20th. I'm told when to arrive at the studios, etc. I am given a document to fill out: synopsis of the book, key points, contact information, all standard stuff. I send it back, along with my written synopsis, and a shot of the cover.

Two days ago, I also sent them a copy of the book, so they could look it over, or at least skim it. All well and good.

Well yesterday, I get an email from Ms. Kehm: it is apologetic in nature, and she uses the term "awkward." You know what's coming, don't you?

My appearance was cancelled. The cover of the book is apparently too controversial for the program, and they cannot show it.

My first reaction: "Are you kidding me?"

Now, for those of you who bought my book (thank you) or are interested in it, "Parasite Girls" is a work of fiction. It deals with the story of a journalist's reinvention of self, plus the struggle of his female friend (and two of her closest ones) as they battle against a real form of social injustice.

"Parasite Single" is the actual term, and it is the basis of a book by Dr. Masahiro Yamada. I have not read this book, but the idea is a look at this phenomena of Japanese adult women (and some men) who continue to live at home with their parents, and don't leave. The insinuation (whether deliberate by Dr. Yamada or not, I don't know) is that they are mooching off their folks while living a carefree, irresponsible life.

Aidan, the main character knows that everyone has a story. He sees his old friend Mima struggle with her past. He watches her best friend Sora struggle with bipolar disorder; he sees their friend Eko dealing with her past as well.

This is the cover of the book. The scene depicts Sora, the bipolar sufferer in one chapter, and one portion of the story. This is the artist in action, during the rush of a creative episode.

So this is offensive, is it? This is too much to show the Good Day PA audience, huh? Too sexy, too racy, too whatever for the good, fine citizens of Central PA to see?

As far as I am concerned, Ms. Kehm and her people did not bother to read (or if they did, think about) the synopsis that I gave them. They did not bother to examine the issues involved in what I feel is a good, and compelling story.

I am a broadcaster myself. I have spent 30 years behind the mic, behind the board, on location and everywhere else there is to be in this business. I understand how hard it is to put together a show and produce, day after day. It's not always fun, and you have to make decisions.

I feel this decision was arrived at hastily, and for the wrong reasons.

"You can't judge a book by looking at the cover..." -- True, but we all do it, and often it is done for the most uncertain of reasons.

Now, let's take a look at the big picture: I live in Central Pennsylvania. This area, as one of my colleagues likes to say, "still thinks Kennedy is president."

These people by and large live in the past, and they live in a fantasy world. I have lived here 14 years, and it never ceases to amaze how small-minded and ignorant people can be. Not everyone, but quite a few.

Taking a look at the video clips ABC-27 offers of Good Day PA, and if you look at the authors, you can see what they go for. Nice, inoffensive, pedestrian subject matter, w/o a hint of anything that can possibly offend the sensitivities of the audience.

Which categorically denies the state of a high percentage of THE REST OF ABC-27's alleged programming.

I am in this media, and I am not impressed with, nor am I a fan of a lot of it. This TV station is not unlike any other commercial one; they have to make money, pull ratings, and cater to the needs of their viewers, sponsors, etc.

Now what I'm going to say is just one person's opinion, mine. You don't have to agree with me, but I hope you might see my point.

This station decided, based on the cover art that my book is somehow scandalous and even offensive, or would be perceived as such by a largely older, conservative and religious crowd. That's where I think this went, right?

Now...have you watched ABC-27 at all lately? Did you see what they had on yesterday?

"Good Morning America" is NOT in my view a news program. Delivering the news from a couch is not news. Having a bunch of celebrities and guests who will say anything to get their 15 seconds of fame is not news, nor is it remotely informative or entertaining.

Kelly Ripa and her boytoy of the moment is not a show worth mentioning.

I had the unfortunate experience of having to listen to the audio of a show they run called "Bethenny" recently. A trashy, name-calling, low-intelligence talkfest which makes "The View" sound brainy by comparison.

Then they have soap operas, "Judge Judy," a show called "Trophy Wife," and overnight paid infomercials.

Oh this is not offensive, is it? I don't care much for their local news coverage either, never did. Honestly, there is not one program on their station I would waste time watching.

I'm sorry, but you know what? In my humble opinion, a large percentage of programming that station offers is mindless, cheap entertainment that to me is utter shit.

So this is okay for your audience ABC-27, but not a few minutes' chat with a local author who busted his ass to get his work into print, and a story that is actually about real and serious issues?

Shows where we are, doesn't it? This audience is likely the same one that finds "50 Shades of Grey" and Danielle Steel novels as high-brow reading. Imagine what talk radio they listen to as well, eh?

Well, you know what? Fine. I do not ask you to bombard ABC-27 and Ms. Kehm with emails or letters, for that won't do any good. I highly doubt they will reconsider, and I don't want it. If you don't want me in the club, I would feel uncomfortable being there because it's grudging and not honestly wished for.

So if you wish to be judge for yourself, go here:

I have learned that if you click on the Kindle version and page inside you can read the first few of the story. I don't think what I wrote is that controversial, I really don't. I just wanted to write a good story, and I have several more coming.

ABC-27 hasn't stopped me from selling my book, and they have not stopped me from writing. No one will. I feel they have just made themselves look foolish in public, and I certainly don't mind tweaking their noses if I get a chance.

I just find the hypocrisy amusing, but also sad. Just sad. What the hell are they so afraid of? A real story, about real issues? Ideas other than the ones that they already, and can only be confirmed, not challenged?

The struggle continues. One bump in the road ain't stopping me. 

Peace, Out.