Archive for March, 2011

A View on How Newspapers and TV Differ on “Bean Counter Cannibalism”

March 30, 2011

BY JOHN CORNETT

My friend of many years, John Cornett, who worked in the newspaper business for a long time and ended up as publisher of two papers before he retired, put his interesting comment about yesterday’s post on Kurt  Schmitz’s departure from WTVM on Facebook. In case you don’t read Facebook, I’m posting it here because it gives an interesting perspective on the differences between TV and newspapers. We really don’t know why Kurt no longer works at WTVM. He says the station said he quit, but he denies that. Station management won’t discuss it publically. That leads to speculation, of which there is a lot on Facebook. John’s is based on his many years of newspaper administration.

  Sounds very much like bean counter cannibalism to me. The television world, as opposed to newspapers, and even radio, is vastly different in that regard. In the visual world, age-maybe a few wrinkles, a little too much paunch, maybe a younger, more twinkly personality(male or female), even ethnic considerations and certainly ratings-come into play. The written world knows none of those boundaries. It’s all based on the quality of the writing and the breadth and depth of knowledge, which is usually associated with education, age and on-the-ground, hard-knock experience. In the visual world, sometimes “Hi, I’m Suzie (or Freddie or Jose)-here’s the weather picture tonight” is all it takes to displace good people that don’t meet ratings(bean counter) standards. 

John Cornett

 

 I’m sure I’m telling Noah about the flood here, Richard. You’ve experienced, dealt with, and overcome those kinds of mercenary standards to reach prominence, even dominance, with a station that recognized the merits of experience, news savvy and trust-importantly TRUST- which only comes with age, experience and depth of knowledge-over the latest fresh out of J school show horse qualities. 

I suppose, John,  I should point out that I also had very good ratings over the years, and they climbed steadily when I worked at WTVM.  It was interesting that even though I was 55 years old – Kurt is 55 –  when I switched from WRBL to WTVM in 1986,  that the young demographics that advertisers love stayed high, and if I remember correctly, even got better.  A lot of people were surprised when the Ledger-Enquirer took a poll of teenagers on their favorite local TV news anchor and it turned out to be me.  I had one lady write me to request an autographed picture for her two-year-old granddaughter, saying the little girl would tell everyone in the room to be quiet when I came on the screen. Incredible, but true.  

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Kurt Says He Was Asked to Leave WTVM

March 29, 2011

When WTVM Chief Meteorologist Kurt Schmitz and I were messaging each other on Facebook, I asked him how things were going at 9.   He explained that he was told to leave WTVM. I told him that nothing surprises me in the world of TV, because, in my opinion, it’s cannibalistic. 

The first time I heard that term used in connection with a work environment was when it was used by the late Jim Woodruff, Jr., who was part owner, president, and general manager of WRBL Radio and TV.  When I told him in 1968 I had accepted a job at WAGA-TV in Atlanta and would be leaving WRBL, he said that I would find it more cannibalistic in Atlanta.  I was flattered that he made an effort to get me to stay at WRBL, but I had already accepted the job so I left, being careful not to burn any bridges with Jim.  I had a good relationship with him, and indeed it turned out that it was a good thing I didn’t burn that bridge, because I came back about five years later as the Vice President of News as well as the evening news anchor.

He was right about Atlanta being more cannibalistic, but I already knew that because I had worked at WSB Radio for four years.  That’s not to say there weren’t really fine people there.  There were, and I had good friends, but I did quickly learn who were the back stabbers and dealt with them accordingly. However, I also found it true to a lesser degree at all the TV stations I worked for.  It just seemed a little more intense in the Atlanta broadcast arena.  The stakes are a lot higher in the really big markets. Of course, the phenomenon isn’t limited to the TV business.  When people are competing for power, status, and recognition, as well as money, it is well known they can play roughly.

That’s not to say anyone is playing roughly in this case, because I really don’t know the details of what is going on with the situation with Kurt, because he is being careful about what he says on advice from counsel, he told me via email. He did tell me this much:

“I reported for work on Friday at my regular time, and after a short meeting I was then asked to leave the station. And after a weekend of uncertainty I found out finally today that my job with the company had been terminated.  I was stunned as this came out of nowhere.”

That’s all he would say, but he added he will have more to say later to stop rumors from flying.

I asked WTVM Vice President and General Manager Lee Brantley about this and he said it is a personnel matter and he cannot comment.

 

Thoughts Triggered at Wynnton Arts Academy

March 25, 2011

Wynnton Arts Academy, a.k.a. Wynnton Elementary, the oldest continuously used school in Georgia

As I was sitting in the auditorium of Wynnton Arts Academy in Columbus,  Georgia,  attending a performance in which a four-year-old friend of mine, Cliff Tankerserley, son of Lance and Anne Tankersley, was performing,  I had to reflect on my years at Wynnton, and on all the things I have seen over eight decades.

Wynnton Kindergarten and Pre-K students performing "Rumble in the Jungle." This was taken from a video shot by Lance Tankersley, father of 4-year-old Cliff. Cliff is the 4th person from the right.

When I started in the First Grade at Wynnton in 1937, the nice auditorium with state-of-the-art lighting wasn’t added until eight years later.  They did such a good job of matching it to the rest of the older  building that it looks as though it has always been a part of the school.

 

Wynnton Arts Academy auditorium was built in 1945

 One of the most spectacular news stories of 1937, the year I entered Wynnton Elementary School, was the explosion and burning of the German zeppelin Hindenburg as it was docking in Manchester Township, New Jersey. 
 

The first big technological leaps were made  before I was born, but not before Wynnton Academy for Boys was built in 1843.  By 1853 boys and girls were attending. Electric lights and motors,  the telephone, automobiles, the movie camera, radio, and the phonograph were all invented in the late 19th Century.  But, just look at what happened after I came on the scene in 1930:

Television, cell phones, the Internet, atomic bombs, atomic power, jet aircraft, space shuttles, rockets powerful enough to put men on the moon, helicopters, microwave ovens, just to mention a few things that had been around for quite a while when today’s Wynnton kids were born.

And think of the dramatic breakthroughs in medicine: sulfur drugs, antibiotics, and vaccines to prevent polio, chickenpox, smallpox, and now, thankfully,  shingles, and the discovery of laparoscopic surgery. 

They were all marvelous scientific achievements, but there is, of course, the downside.  The two largest catastrophes since 1930 would be World War II and the Great Depression.  It is estimated that up to 70 million people, the majority being civilians, were killed during WWII. The first use of atomic energy was to kill hundreds of thousands of people.  The Great Depression threw hundreds of millions of people worldwide into abject, crushing poverty. 

Certainly we have learned from those lessons to get along better with each other and the world, to think in terms of community, and to use our wonderful technological advances to make it a better world for all.  Of course, you know, that has not happened.  Our country has been at war almost constantly since World War II, conducting two up until recently when we decided to add another one.  Millions of people in the world are starving. Millions don’t have clean water to drink.  Too many dictators still rule and oppress. 

It is enough to depress a person if you let it.  But, probably a better approach is simply to do the best you can to make the world a better place for all, and to enjoy the real treasures of life,  people you love and who love you.  A retired friend of mine, who was a highly-placed corporate executive who was involved in employee motivation recently made the statement that money is never a motivator. That, deep down, it’s not what people care about.  Once they reach a comfortable level of income, they care about what happens at work, and their self-esteem. He did add, though, that the lack of money can definitely be a motivator.  Not having enough to properly support oneself and family does focus ones concentration on money.

Just think of what thoughts a return visit to where you went to school can generate.

How Newspapers Can Survive

March 22, 2011

 

John Cornett

My old friend John Cornett – we’ve known each other for more than 70 years – responded to yesterday’s post about changes at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer via Facebook.  Because not everyone who reads this blog reads Facebook, I decided to pass his comment on to you.  He has credibility when it comes to observations about newspapers because of his professional background.  He started at the Ledger-Enquirer as an employee in the promotion department.  He ended up there as National Advertising, Promotion and Personnel Manager, and administrative assistant to the publisher.   He became publisher of the Boca Raton News in Florida, then the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune in Gary, Indiana. After retiring from Knight-Ridder,  he became Publisher of the Sports Classics Magazine in Camden, South Carolina, and now operates the sports travel agency Sports Classics International in Columbia, South Carolina.

He commented on  Ledger-Enquirer Executive Editor  Joseph Kieta’s  statement in Monday’s L-E print edition about the newspaper’s goal. 

Joseph Kieta wrote, “We want to create a daily newspaper that is an oasis from the noise of the daily news cycle – a deep breath and exhale that adds depth, relevance and context and answers the questions ‘why’ and ‘how.’ If we do our jobs the right way, we’ll probe deeply into local affairs and thoroughly explain community issues.”

John Cornett wrote: “An ambitious but fitting goal for any newspaper, and one that can be the difference in survival as an essential reflection of the heart beat of a community, and the kind of demise that many newspapers that fail to meet that standard will ultimately suffer.

“I just hope they put the resources and the personal and financial commitment behind the words. It will be the salvation for many fine journalists, employes of the support groups in production, circulation, accounting and advertising and for the community at large.”

The Oasis Goal Sounds Good to Me

March 21, 2011
 

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Executive Editor Joseph Kieta (File photo by Jim Cawthorne, Camera1)

  Now we know how the new management of the Ledger-Enquirer is changing the paper.  Proclaiming the changes with the lead article on today’s front page – incidentally, that’s where it should be, in my view, since a daily newspaper still has a tremendous responsibility to and influence on a community – Executive Editor Joseph Kieta  explained the changes are in response to reader calls for an improved paper.

Instead of commenting on the details of the changes, because you can read that story for yourself easily enough, I will just lift out the one paragraph that is the most significant to me: 

“We want to create a daily newspaper that is an oasis from the noise of the daily news cycle – a deep breath and exhale that adds depth, relevance and context and answers the questions ‘why’ and ‘how.’ If we do our jobs the right way, we’ll probe deeply into local affairs and thoroughly explain community issues.”

If the paper can accomplish that, it will indeed provide an extremely important service that is sorely needed.  There is a big problem though. The public’s attention span is probably its shortest ever.  In-depth analytical writing that is succinct, incisive, insightful, and easily and quickly read has always been a daunting challenge, and it still is. 

The L-E folks have my best wishes in meeting that challenge because for many years I have been troubled by the egregiously superficial news reporting so common to  TV,  which, according to Pew Research, is still where the largest number of people get  their news.  That’s why I have always said that newspapers are extremely important because of their ability to report in-depth.  Still, being in-depth is no substitute for being clear.  

Is Public Education Killing Creativity?

March 15, 2011

I put this on my Facebook page a few minutes ago, but I decided it is too good not pass it along to any of my blog  readers who might not see it otherwise.  Not only is  Sir Ken Robinson very entertaining, he has something very important to say about education.  Yes, it’s relatively long, but it’s worth it. 

I or Me?

March 14, 2011

MEDIA TYPES HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO SET GOOD GRAMMATICAL EXAMPLES, DAMMIT!

I just read a story about ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit being run out of Columbus, Ohio because some Ohio State fans didn’t like his attempt to be objective.  They didn’t want the former Ohio State football star to be objective. They wanted unabashed bias for the Buckeyes.  Maybe, though, that wasn’t the real reason.  Maybe it’s because he set a poor English grammar example for young people listening to his broadcasts. 

Just look at what he said defensively: “Nobody loves Ohio State more than me.” Did that “me” just jump right out at you?  Everyone knows that “me” is an objective pronoun, and “I” is a subjective pronoun.  Right? He should have said, “Nobody loves Ohio State more than I.”   Just add the understood words “love Ohio State” to the “I” at the end of the sentence and it makes sense. You wouldn’t say, “Me love Ohio State.” Well, maybe you would, but that’s your problem.

Anyway, the media example setters just make no effort anymore to use correct grammar.  Surely they know proper usage.  Maybe they figure that their audiences, especially sports audiences, can’t identify with some elitist, stuck-up guy who shows off by using correct pronouns.

Japan’s Tragic Earthquake Rocks CSU

March 11, 2011

This is a news release from Columbus State University’s Office of Community Relations.

COLUMBUS, Ga. — The powerful earthquake that rocked Japan overnight was strong enough that a Columbus State University seismometer clearly picked up the earth’s movement — for four hours.

CSU’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center started recording the earthquake on their machine about 6 a.m. universal time, which was about 1 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. An image of the quake’s register can be seen online at http://www.ccssc.org/rtmd/drumplot/index.html.

The earthquake also caused concerns for many around Columbus State University, as a group of six students and two art faculty members are in Japan this week as part of a study abroad program. Officials heard from the group early Friday morning and all are safe. They are optimistic that their regular travel plans will remain intact they should return to the United States on Saturday.

Sachiyo Oka (from left) and twins Nami and Yumi Hayashi, all Teikyo University students visiting Columbus State for a language immersion program, pose momentarily early Friday before boarding vans for a weekend sightseeing and shopping excursion in Atlanta.

Representatives of CSU’s Division of Continuing Education said all but a half dozen of the 22 Japanese students visiting Columbus State’s English Language Institute had heard via text, e-mail or social media that their family members were okay.
 
“They’re all doing incredibly well, considering,” said Susan Wirt, director of Continuing Education at Columbus State. “There were some concerned looks, but overall they appeared okay.”
 
All of the 14 female and eight male students, ages 18-22, attend Teikyo University in Tokyo and had family in the Japanese capital or south of there. None were from the hardest-hit area of northern Japan.
 
Continuing Education officials, aided by two local volunteer translators, met with the students before 8 a.m. at the hotel near main campus where the group is staying. After consulting with the group, it was decided they would proceed to Atlanta for a planned weekend of sightseeing and shopping excursion.
 
“They’re just trying to get through via their cell phones and other means,” Wirt said. “They know they’re safe here.”
 
The Teikyo University students arrived Feb. 27 and are scheduled to return to Japan March 18 after participating in the ELI’s Immersion Excursion, designed to improve their English and understanding of the U.S.
 
So far, they’ve attended English language classes, toured CSU, heard lectures from Columbus State professors, dined with faculty and staff who invited them to their homes, visited such local points of interest as the Springer Opera House and National Infantry Museum and taken in such sporting events as a CSU baseball game and a Columbus Cottonmouths hockey match.

The Education Solution: Teacher Evaluation

March 6, 2011

OPTIONAL PAY FOR PERFORMANCE IS COMING

 

Northside High School classroom

  Ginger Starling used phrases like “value added,” or “teacher bonuses,” but finally agreed she was talking about a form of “pay for performance,” a term that a lot of teachers want nothing to do with.  Starling is the Muscogee County School District’s Race to the Top Grant Administrator. She and MCSD Superintendent Susan Andrews are on the state committee that is devising a new teacher evaluation program, which Georgia must have to get the  $400 million  supplied by the federal program. Muscogee County School District, which is one of the 26 Georgia districts participating in the program, is getting $11 million. It is keeping $4 million of that in reserve to pay bonuses in the fourth year of the program. To give those bonuses it must be determined which teachers are performing well enough to get them.

 Many teachers are not interested in getting paid bonuses connected to evaluation results.  They like things the way they are.  They like getting raises for seniority and obtaining advanced degrees.  So a lot of them are fighting the evaluation idea.

One of the people they have to fight is arguably the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, who is now dedicating a lot of his life to education reform.  In a Washington Post op-ed he said,  “After the first few years, seniority seems to have no effect on student achievement.

“Another standard feature of school budgets is a bump in pay for advanced degrees. Such raises have almost no impact on achievement, but every year they cost $15 billion that would help students more if spent in other ways.”

He is also for larger class sizes, saying that surveyed teachers have said they are willing to teach larger classes for more money.   While there is no evidence that I know of that supports the idea that smaller classes get better results, many educators scoff at the idea that larger classes are just as effective. 

 The Georgia Board of Education has already dropped class size limits for budgetary reasons, but no one has said that teachers will be paid more for the increase in students.

 As far as the new evaluation procedure is concerned, former Richards Middle School teacher Judson Patten asks, “How do you compare a math teacher to an English teacher or a geography teacher to a science teacher? They all have education degrees and they all have 4, 5, 6, 7 years of college degrees. That’s why a state-wide salary schedule was created. Pay for performance is NOT the way to go.”
 
But, it is the way it’s going for a lot of states, including Georgia.

 Neither Superintendent Susan Andrews nor Grant Administrator Ginger Starling has a problem with having a new evaluation system.  Both agree that the one used now is weak. They tell me that fifty percent of the teacher’s score is expected to be based be on student achievement based on test results.  The other fifty percent will be made up of a number of factors, perhaps including student and parental input, plus classroom observations.  Whereas only one observation is required now, there will a lot of them in the future.

What about the comparisons that Judson referred to, things like comparing a science teacher to a math teacher,  or a teacher whose class is made up of affluent kids with one made up of children who in live poverty?  Starling admitted, “It is very complicated.”  She said, however,  those problems are not being ignored and ways to be fair are being studied.
 
None of this is set in stone. It’s a work in progress.  I couldn’t get an answer on when it goes into effect.  But, it will have to be ready three years from now because that’s when the district will start paying $4 million in bonuses to teachers who qualify. 
 
To be considered for a bonus a teacher will have to agree to participate in the bonus program.  What happens if they don’t?  They can’t get a bonus.  They can, however, continue to teach.   However, they will be evaluated under the new system whether they opt for a bonus or not.  .

 My evidence is anecdotal, but I have yet to run into a classroom teacher or retired classroom teacher who buys into pay for performance. Still, when one of the richest men in the world calls for pay for performance for teachers a lot of people are going to listen. 

In the Washington Post Op-ed he also wrote, “We know that of all the variables under a school’s control, the single most decisive factor in student achievement is excellent teaching. It is astonishing what great teachers can do for their students.
 
‘Yet compared with the countries that outperform us in education, we do very little to measure, develop and reward excellent teaching. We have been expecting teachers to be effective without giving them feedback and training.”
 
Changing an established order is never easy. However, anyone who doesn’t realize that America’s education system needs upgrading in order for the country to remain economically competitive globally, is, in my view, in a state of colossal denial.
 
 
 
 
 

 

A Really Cool Concert

March 4, 2011

Columbus State University and Fort Benning Jazz Bands combine for a number in concert.

I almost got up and walked out of the Columbus State University Jazz Ensembles concert last night. Not because of the music, but because of the cold, drafty Studio Theater.  Actually, the Studio Theater was too small for the audience that showed up. The concert should have been in Legacy Hall, which could have comfortably handled it. Still, I couldn’t leave because the CSU band and the guest Fort Benning jazz band were just too good  to miss, especially when I saw “Jumping at the Woodside” on the program.  

The Count Basie  classic was listed at the end of the CSU Jazz Band’s program, but the band didn’t play it. I was really disappointed, but that was short-lived, because during the intermission when the Army band moved onto the stage, I asked some of the CSU bandsmen, “What happened to ‘Jumping at the Woodside?’ ”   They smiled, looking at one another because they were about give away the surprise ending to the concert, and said, “It’s going to be at the end.” With that information, I put up with the cold theater and stayed.  CSU probably keeps the theater chilly for the band. No doubt playing that high-energy music raises their body temperatures considerably. 

At the end of the concert,  just as I suspected,  the CSU and Army bands joined forces to play “Woodside.”  So instead of a great 18-piece band performance, we got a wonderful almost 30-piece band version that blew us all away. 

Teen Tavern Tooters, about 1947, Columbus, GA

The reason that the song meant so much to me is because we played it when I was a member of the Teen Tavern Tooters in the late forties.  The Teen Tavern Tooters 17-piece band was made up of Columbus, Baker, and Jordan High musicians. I played drums.  No, when we played the piece it certainly didn’t come up to the CSU-Fort Benning combined jazz band’s performance, but the teenage dancers at Teen Tavern, a non-alcoholic teen night club,  loved to jitterbug to it and always gave us a huge hand when we played it.   

The concert last night again illustrated what wonderful musical resources Fort Benning and Columbus State University provide Columbus. It also demonstrated again the value of the positive symbiotic relationship between the post and the Columbus area.  If you like jazz be sure to attend the concert next year…well, if it’s held in Legacy Hall.