Archive for September, 2009

An Environmentally Friendly Georgia Sales Tax Holiday

September 30, 2009

 Georgia state Rep. Richard Smith sent this:

Once again, you will have the opportunity to buy energy-saving and water efficient products without sales taxes during the ‘2009 Energy Star and WaterSense Sales Tax Holiday’. The sales tax holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, October 1, and runs through midnight Sunday, October 4.

Rep. Richard Smith (Photo, courtesy: Georgia House of Reprsentatives)

Rep. Richard Smith, Georgia House District 131(Photo, courtesy: Georgia House of Representatives)

You will not pay state or local sales taxes on the purchase of Energy Star-qualified or WaterSense-labeled products that cost $1500 or less per item.

ENERGY STAR:  ENERGY STAR designated products meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Qualified ENERGY STAR appliances and products eligible for the sales tax exemption include dishwashers, clothes washers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dehumidifiers, programmable thermostats, refrigerators, doors, windows and skylights.

WaterSense:  According to the EPA, if just one out of every four households in Georgia retrofits their bathrooms with WaterSense fixtures, it could save nearly 10 billion gallons of water per year. WATERSENSE –labeled products eligible for sales tax exemption include bathroom sink faucets or aerators and high-efficiency toilets.

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The Secret to Learning How to Write

September 28, 2009
Novelist Jill McCorkle, key speaker for the Chattahoochee Valley Writers' Conference

Novelist Jill McCorkle, keynote speaker for the Chattahoochee Valley Writers' Conference

One thread ran through this years Chattahoochee Writers’ Conference which was held Saturday at Columbus Public Library.  If you want to learn to write, write.  Well, it was the thread that ran through the three workshops I attended, those conducted by retired Columbus State University professor Dr. David Johnson,  Author Tito Perdue, and Richard Hyatt, retired Ledger-Enquirer reporter and Columnist and author of eleven books. The keynote speaker, novelist Jill McCorkle, added that if you want to write, you need to read, read, read. 

Richard Hyatt, author of 11 books,  newspaper columnist, retired newspaper reporter, manage of website Richard Hyatt's Columbus

Richard Hyatt, author of 11 books, newspaper columnist, retired newspaper reporter, manager of website Richard Hyatt's Columbus

Richard Hyatt said that he ran across a section at the Columbus Public Library that had a lot of books on how to write, but the only way to really learn to do it is to do it.   The more you do it, he said, the better you get at it.

So if you want to be a writer, write.

Media in Transition: The Internet’s Impact on Local TV

September 23, 2009

 It seems clear.  The future of the newspaper is online – Time reports that media mogul Rupert Murdoch gleefully anticipates the end of newspaper presses and the unions that can accompany them – but, the Internet’s effect on television doesn’t seem that clear.

Surveys show that the local television newscasts still attract the largest news audiences in America.  However,  those audiences have been in steady decline for the past few years.  However, when the TV website audience is added, it helps make up for the TV audience loss. 

WLTZ VP and GM Drew Rhodes (COurtesy: Jim Cathorne, Camera 1)

WLTZ VP and GM Drew Rhodes (Courtesy: Jim Cawthorne, Camera 1)

TV stations are basically facing the same problems as newspapers in getting their websites to produce impressive revenues. WLTZ VP and GM Drew Rhodes puts it this way: ” The  Internet is still somewhat of an experiment for television stations.  Of course we stream video of news stories and you can see a lot of your favorite shows on the Internet.  However, nobody in the television world is making any substantial money purely via Internet.”

WTVM VP and GM Lee Brantley (Courtesy: Jim Cawthorne, Camera 1)

WTVM VP and GM Lee Brantley (Courtesy: Jim Cawthorne, Camera 1)

When I put the same questions about the Internet to WTVM’s VP and GM Lee Brantley, he said,  “A lot of what you ask is competitive and confidential. I will tell you in one month this year we topped a million page views on our website for that month. Revenues are increasing nicely for our website. At the same time our on-air news numbers are steady and have a larger share of news viewing in the market.” He also said, “The Internet has made us a better news organization, able to provide more news though multiple mediums.”

There are other factors involved with the change of television stations.  The switch from analogue to digital has added side bans, which, in effect are additional channels. Stations use them for specialized programming, such as all-weather channels. Still, the main source of revenue is from the established TV channels.  

What about the future?

Lee Brantley:  “The strong news stations will be better positioned for a brighter future. We can offer multiple channels and more local news than any other source. ”

Drew Rhodes:  ” I think the future for television stations is bright.  I think you will see more consolidation as the years go along.  Look at radio world and its consolidation over the last few years.  The re-transmission consent fees have changed the way television stations make money.  Most analysts project they will continue to grow for years.  I think the future lies with ‘local’ television.  Who can do ‘local’ better?  That station or group of stations will be the winner.  I’m not just talking about news either.  I think we are going to see a resurgence of locally produced shows like we did when television was in its infancy.”

Now that could be fun. It conjures up images of children’s shows like WTVM’s “Miss Pasty’s Playhouse, ” with Patsy Avery,  and WRBL’s “Bob Brandy Show,”  and “Colonel Chick,”  and home shows like “Rozell,” with the late Rozell Fabiani, and weatherman icon Doug Wallace,  and the not-late Don Nahley.  TV commentator, former newsman, and nightclub owner Al Fleming and I joined Don at lunch yesterday to celebrate his birthday.  How old is he?  And Al? And me? Stay tuned.

Media in Transition: Reading the Paper Online

September 21, 2009
The only hard-copy paper I read regularly is the Sunday edition of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.  That’s because it’s part of the e-Edition deal.  I get both by paying for the Sunday paper. Daily, I read the e-Edition.  I like it because it’s an electronic copy of the hard-copy paper.  I also like it because it’s a lot cheaper, and because I don’t have to worry about recycling it.   

I am part of the solution for the paper.  Newspapers all over the country have been trying to find out how to make the same amount of money with their websites that they make with their print editions.  One of the answers is getting people to pay for the online editions.  Still, not many papers do it.  One of the big reasons is that readers might just go to other websites that are free. Advertising is the other way, but, for some reason that I don’t understand, papers have not been able to get enough bucks that way.  

The Ledger-Enquirer’s free online edition has features that you don’t get with the e-Edition.  It’s really one huge blog.  People can and do comment on the stories.  For that reason, and because the paper has some video coverage of stories, I sample it, too.  The comments are sometimes puerile, uncivil, and, well, lies – you get more of those when people can comment anonymously – but there are some entertaining, intelligent, thoughtful ones, too.

The websites operated by traditional news providers are getting the majority of the online audience, according to Journalism.org.  From what I can gather – I haven’t been able to get the information formally from Ledger-Enquirer management – the Ledger-Enquirer follows the national trend with a much larger online audience than its print audience.   

Even though online operations at papers have gathered larger audiences, and, according to Journalism.org, are turning a profit,  the overall loss of revenues  has caused papers to cut staffs drastically. The Ledger-Enquirer is no exception.  This concerns me a lot.  Newspapers are extremely important. The really good ones – and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer has a proud legacy, winning two Pulitzers – have been an important check on powerful interests, government and private.  It takes seasoned, experienced, talented reporters who are given the time to do the digging needed to get the job done. Small staffs don’t provide a lot of digging time.

 We all know what President Thomas Jefferson said about the press, but, it’s so good, I’m going to repeat it:  “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate any moment to prefer the latter.”  

  Next, we’ll take a look at how TV stations are dealing with the online phenomenon.

Media in Transition: The Presses Continue to Roll, but for How Long?

September 17, 2009

As you know, some  newspapers in America have shut down their presses. One of them is Macon, Georgia’s the Macon Telegraph, but the paper still has a print edition. That’s because the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer prints it as well as its own paper.

The Ledger-Enquirer Press, Columbus, GA

The Ledger-Enquirer press, Columbus, GA

I went by the paper recently to get a shot of the press for this blog report.  I knew it might not be running because it prints the Ledger-Enquirer during a night run that lasts until the wee hours of the morning.  But, lo and behold, it cranked up, printing something else, while I was there in the afternoon. I can remember the press running during the afternoon when I was kid.  I “threw” the afternoon Columbus Ledger– which no longer exists – from my bicycle on a 2nd Avenue route.  That was during World War Two. I was 12.   (I hated it.  Too many adult deadbeats wouldn’t answer the door when I came to collect. Folks paid the “paper boy” weekly then. Well, some folks.)  This definitely was not the same press.  The one that ran back in my childhood made a lot more racket.  I couldn’t believe how quietly today’s presses run. 

Ledger-Enquirer newsprint storage room

Ledger-Enquirer newsprint storage room

It takes a lot of paper,  or, as the newspaper folks call it, newsprint to get out the old hard-copy edition.  Just think how many trees will be saved if newspapers go totally online.  Will that ever happen? It’s already happened in some places.  Can it happen here?  It can happen anywhere.

 However, I would think there will always be a niche for some specialized hard-copy newspapers. There are a lot of people now who simply want to hold the paper in their hands while they read it. They don’t like to read it on a computer screen.  That could be a generational thing, though.   

One of the big reasons we hear that presses are shutting down is because of the migration of people to the Internet for news.  We’ll look at that phenomenon next.

A Moment to Reflect on the Education SPLOST Victory

September 16, 2009

We’ll get back to our Media in Transition series shortly, but first, a comment on the education SPLOST that Columbus voters approved. 

First of all, hats off to Columbus attorney Frank Myers who worked tirelessly to get the SPLOST passed. He didn’t front the campaign, but he was very busy behind the scenes doing things like getting TV commercials made. 

The real hero, though, is Superintendent Susan Andrews.  She put her reputation on the line to get voters to approve the penny tax for Columbus’ schools. Obviously, she got impressive support.  Now she has to deliver.  She can’t do it alone, though. She needs a lot of help, the kind she got yesterday, and not just from the public, but,  from the school board, too. They also have to deliver.

Media in Transition: “Revolution,” or Returning to the Past?

September 15, 2009

Automatically, I thought of the song “Everything Old Is New Again”  as I watched the NBC successful line-up last night. Both The Jay Leno Show and America’s Got Talent had audiences running above 15 million viewers according to the overnight Neilson ratings.  Still, ESPN’s Monday Night Football stayed in the ballgame, if you will, also getting more than 15-million viewers.  I watched some of all three shows.  I watched the game while I was getting in my two-mile treadmill walk.  I like to watch something I don’t have to think about when I walk. 

Back to Leno and America’s Got Talent.  Leno topped the established talent show by actually going over the 17-million mark.  No doubt, being the highly hyped premier broadcast had a lot to do with that.  The weekly average will be the thing to watch with Leno.

NBC is being called revolutionary for putting Leno on at 10 p.m. But, really it’s more reactionary. The comedy/variety show concept was big on TV when it started.  Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Martin and Lewis, Imogene Cocker and Syd Caesar and others were staples in the 40’s and 50’s.  I enjoyed those show then and I enjoyed Leno last night.  I have been saying for years that some network should feature some good, live (Leno is recorded “live”), prime time comedy/variety shows.  It’s one of the things television does best.

And as far as America’s Got Talent is concerned, that’s hardly a new concept, either.  Major Bowles “Orignal Amateur Hour” was big on network radio more than 60 years ago, and morphed into a TV show in the 50’s.  Frank Sinatra was “discovered” on the Bowle’s show.

As far as what I thought of the Leno show, basically, I enjoyed it.   I particularly liked the creativity and performance of the car wash skit.  Dan Finnerty and a couple of dancers in business suits offered entertainment to people going through a car wash.  Hilarious.  Let’s hope Jay can keep it up.  Five nights a week?  I don’t know. We’ll see.

Media in Transition: The Jay Leno Show

September 14, 2009

WHAT NBC’S THE JAY LENO SHOW SYMBOLIZES

The TV revolution is not coming. It’s here. Jay Leno is leading it. At least, that’s the impression  you get if you read the Time magazine story, “Jay Leno Is Shrinking Your TV.”   Jay’s Monday-through-Friday prime time ten p.m. comedy, variety show, which will be a lot like his Tonight Show gig, is an NBC solution to the problems accompanying the changing world of TV. 

The subject is so big, especially when you bring in the newspapers,  that I can’t approach doing it justice with just one blog post.  That’s why you will be getting a series of reports on how local media is being affected by the realities of today’s media world. We will start with the Leno change because it does represent the problems faced by  NBC and the rest of the media world.

Drew Rhodes, WLTZ Vice President and General Manager, COlumbus, GA (Courtesy: WLTZ)

Drew Rhodes, WLTZ Vice President and General Manager, Columbus, GA (Courtesy: WLTZ)

WLTZ Vice President and General Manager Drew Rhodes,  whose station will be carrying the Leno show in the Columbus area,  agrees with the Time assertion that the Leno move is a gamble.   I asked him what he thought about the NBC experiment.

“Dick,” he says, “I think that it is just that, an experiment.  However, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I’m very interested to see how Leno plays out.  He has a following.  Can he retain them and pick up more to compete with other prime broadcasts?  I really hope so.”

NBC admits that economics is a factor in its decision. It’s cheaper to produce the Leno show than scripted dramas and comedies that have been running at ten p.m.

“I understand the cost cutting measure,” says Drew. ” All broadcast television companies and parent networks are dealing with the economics at work today.  That does not necessarily mean two years from now, if the economy has returned to 2007 numbers, that we can not loosen the belts somewhat.”

Right now, though, those belts are still being tightened at TV stations and newspapers all over the country.  There are a number of reasons, but one of  the largest is the migration of people to the Internet to get their news.  We’ll look at that and more as we delve into the changing media world. Stay tuned.

Infantry Museum IMAX Drops Hollywood Feature Films … for Now

September 11, 2009

IMAX WILL CONTINUE TO SHOW DOCUMENTARIES

Joe Kleinman, Director of Attractions and IMAX Programming for the National Infantry Museum,  says the Hollywood feature films are not gone forever. In fact, he is working on a deal to play one during the  Christmas season. But, for now, the huge screen will only be playing documentaries. 

Joe Kleinman, Director of Attractions and IMAX Programming, National Infantry Museum , Columbus, GA

Joe Kleinman, Director of Attractions and IMAX Programming, National Infantry Museum , Columbus, GA

This is not unusual for a museum IMAX, he told me. The big Hollywood pictures are quite expensive, even when they are second run like those that have played at the Columbus IMAX.  Even if the museum wanted to play first-run  features, it couldn’t.  He said, “The film distributors don’t want a first-run movie to be competing against itself.”   He said the studios don’t won’t the same film running in two theaters that are less than five miles apart. Fort Benning’s Wynnsong multiplex, which is operated by Carmike Cinemas,  is closer than 5 miles away.  Also, Kleinman says the Columbus IMAX doesn’t want to tie up the theater all day to run the same feature film, which it would have to do with first-run movies.  It wants to be able to show the documentaries that are shot in the IMAX format.

Frankly, says, Kleinman, the documentaries have been making more money than the Hollywood features  for the museum.  The museum gets a better deal on them. As an example, he said the 50-minute 3-D NASCAR documentary pulled larger audiences than the Startrek movie when they recently ran.   

I pointed out that when I went to the IMAX at the naval air museum at Pensacola, it wasn’t playing any feature films. It featured an IMAX-shot documentary about the famous Blue Angels fighter jet demonstration squadron stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.  Kleinman said an IMAX documentary on the U.S. Army Infantry is in the planning stage.   

The two docs now playing are Coral Reef Adventure and Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West.   I saw the Lewis and Clark one at a Florida IMAX a few years ago. It is well-suited for the huge IMAX screen.  I’ll probably go see it again.

Why I Am Voting for the Education SPLOST

September 10, 2009

Some of the complaints about the Muscogee County school system are, in my view, justified. That doesn’t change the fact that the system is going to get about 4,000 additional students over the next few years as Fort Benning’s troop strength increases.  New schools will simply have to be built to accommodate the influx, and old schools have to be renovated and maintained. 

Most people realize that education goes beyond core classroom courses.  Art, music, and sports play a key role in overall education. I have no problem with $17 million of the SPLOST money going to building new and upgrading old sports facilities.  I certainly have no complaint about the creation of an Arts Academy.  Being in the great Bob Barr Jordan High band was an extremely important learning experience for me, one that included music, but was by no means limited to that. It taught self-discipline, team work, and the desire to achieve. 

Our new superintendent, Dr. Susan Andrews, promises to work diligently to correct the problems facing the schools that are, in my view, being left behind because so many of the kids in them are from poor families. She recognizes that poverty is a great handicap for children, but she believes they can still learn, and she will intensify an effort to see that they do.  We need to give her that chance.  

Yes, it is for our kids.  Yes, it is for the future of our city. I am voting for the education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.  I hope you will join me.