Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

A Way to Fight Junk Information Addicition

January 16, 2012

Eating junk food can make you unhealthily fat. And ingesting too much junk information can make you unhealthily uninformed.  Way too many of us fit in both categories.

“Who wants to hear the truth when they can be affirmed and told they are right,” Clay Land – a cousin of mine, by the way – said on Weekend Edition Sunday morning. Being interviewed about his book The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, Clay said that we can be better informed if we seek factual information instead of opinions that confirm our beliefs.  His book tells us how we can do that.

He is addressing a big problem. We are feasting on texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets. Some experts think our attention spans have become unhealthily short.  We can change that by changing our information consumption habits.

One can’t blame the providers for the problem because they are giving us what they think we want, content that confirms our beliefs. But, just as Wal-Mart started carrying fruits and vegetables and lower salt and fat content in order to stop losing high-end customers, information providers could start providing more fact and fewer opinions. But we have to reward good information providers by becoming good customers.

I think he has picked a subject is quite timely, one that needs our attention. And I plan to read the book. And it’s not just because he is the son of my cousin Ray Johnson, who is an Albany, Georgia psychiatrists.  Ray gave me the heads-up on Clay’s scheduled interview on PBS. I’m glad he did.


New Ledger-Enquirer Excutive Editor Promises a “Better Paper”

January 6, 2011

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Executive Editor Joseph Kieta speaking to Columbus Rotarians (Photo by Jim Cawthorne, Camera1)

 If first impressions mean anything, and according to the book Blink, which gives scientific evidence, they definitely do, I have to say I am feeling good about the future of journalism in our area. 

Based on what he told Columbus Rotarians today, the Ledger-Enquirer’s new executive editor, Joseph Kieta, is my kind of journalist, one who understands that a free press has a responsibility to do more than make money, though, of course, it must also do that to survive..

 What a lot of people who run today’s media, especially local TV stations,  don’t seem to realize is that doing a first-rate job of investigative reporting  is not only responsible journalism, it can be quite profitable. Back in the old days, I did some investigative reporting, and the ratings were boffo.  If a paper or TV station wants a truly impressive exclusive story, it digs, goes beneath the surface, and comes up with  news that no one else has. Yes, it takes capable reporters, and you get what you pay for…well, sometimes. Hey, it takes money to make money. How’s that for a run of clichés!

 He promised a paper that will “probe, illuminate, compel and not be boring.”  He also promised to “shine light into dark corners,” saying he agrees with the statement that “sunshine is the best disinfectant.”  Amen.

 There will be changes. He plans to reorganize the paper’s newsroom, but gave no details. He praised Dusty Nix for his editorial page work. During audience question time, someone asked if he was going to check with other members of the community about keeping Dusty. That got a big laugh, but Kieta said, with a smile, that a reader might not agree with everything that Dusty writes, but that what he says will provoke thought.  As I told him after the meeting, Dusty is intelligent and does a good job. I stand by that. Besides, I like him. He has no problem speaking truth to power.

 Kieta acknowledged that the media ball game has changed drastically over the years, and that newspapers have changed and will continue to do so. Since papers can now break stories on their websites at any time, which lets them better compete with electronic media,  in the future, the print edition will concentrate more on reflective reporting rather than printing “yesterday’s news.” Makes sense to me. I look forward to it. 

We didn't get to hear from the Ledger-Enquirer's new President and Publisher Rodney Mahone, but since Joseph Kieta works for him, I suppose we can assume that they share the same journalistic philosophy. Good.

There is an Alternative to Security Vulnerable Email

December 12, 2010

While it appears that nothing really bad about the U.S. has been revealed in the Wikileaks leaks, there is a big concern about online security.  Whatever one puts online is online and forever, I am told, and hackers can get to it.  What to do? Well, there the good old United State Postal Service.  A letter is certainly not a hundred percent secure, but it’s not available to the world online, and there are big penalties for someone intercepting and opening your mail.

And if you really want to make a message special, sending an old fashion snail mail epistle especially written in cursive has an emotional impact that  email doesn’t. I got one Friday and it was indeed a rare and special experience.

Gay Talese is Not Thrilled with Internet and Tape Recorder Journalism

January 25, 2010


Gay Talese, the man who gave rise to “New Journalism” when he wrote his most famous article for Esquire, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” has a low opinion of the quality of magazine writing today. The only exception to that judgement is the New Yorker, whose writers do it the old-fashioned way: face to face contact with the source. Speaking to an audience at the Columbus Public Library today, he said magazines are all celebrity oriented.l They want to put a celebrity picture on the magazine cover. The story inside might be written by a writer who maybe spent ten minutes with the celebrity, tape recording an interview. He said you can’t really get a meaningful interview that way.

He and his wife Nan chatted a little about their marriage and careers – they have been married for 50 years – and then took questions from the audience. The first question was about his opinion about the blogosphere and the Internet.

Gay Talese

“I don’t know anything about the blogosphere. I don’t use it,” he said. He went on to say that he believed in face to face conversations with sources, not contact with sources via the Internet, or using Google or anything like that. He believes in personal contact. He doesn’t even like or use tape recorders. For one thing, he says they inhibit sources. The person you are interviewing figures he or she has to get it right the first time. “They usually don’t.” When the person being interviewed is more relaxed and becomes comfortable with the interviewer, they come back to a question and give a more thoughtful answer.

When I pointed out that his most famous article, the one that gave rise to the term “new journalism,” the one he wrote for Esquire Magazine about Frank Sinatra, was one without a face-to-face interview, he admitted that was the case. Esquire had paid his expenses to go to Los Angeles to interview Sinatra, but when he got there, “His press agent said Sinatra could not do the interview because he had a cold.” Finally, the press agent told Talese that Sinatra was upset because he had heard that Walter Cronkite was working on a program for CBS on Sinatra’s connections with the Mafia.

Gay Talese

Instead of giving up, Talese stayed on in Los Angeles and interviewed people who knew Sinatra, people who worked with him in movies and recording sessions. “Hundreds of people had worked with Sinatra over the years.” He believes that he probably got a truer picture of Sinatra than if he had actually interviewed him. But, he said, “I was in Los Angeles. I interviewed those people. I made contact with them.”

The “New Journalism” he is credited with starting with that article refers to the technique that he used in writing it. He dropped the old newspaper style of reporting and wrote it in the same way that you would write a novel. It was all true – his stint as a reporter for the New York Times had imbued him with the importance of accuracy – but, the style was novelistic. It worked big time. Esquire ran it as its cover story.

Talese was not happy with what the “New Journalism” became. His complaint is the same complaint he has with bloggers, the lack of accuracy. Too many writers now, he said, sacrifice accuracy. After their appearance in the library’s auditorium, I went up to him, introduced myself, shook hands, and told him I enjoyed their performance – that wasn’t smoke because I definitely did – and handed him a blog business card, telling him that I had a blog and was going to write about their talk. He took the card and thanked me.

Nan Talese

Nan Talese, who is now Senior Vice President at Doubleday, was asked about some of the authors she has edited for the New York publishing firms where she has worked. It was an impressive list, people like James Michener, Pat Conroy and Rosalynn Carter.

She went to Plains to work with Rosalyn on her autobiography First Lady from Plains. She got to know Mrs. Carter well because they spent a lot of time together. She would have dinner with Rosalynn and President Carter. After dinner they would all watch the evening news on television. She said that was an interesting experience, citing one evening when President Carter became irritated with a report about an English public figure and shouted “jackass, jackass” at the TV.

Mrs. Talese said sometimes Jimmy would try to give Rosalynn some advice about how a passage should be written, which irritated Rosalynn, who finally told him, “Jimmy, you wrote your book, now let me write mine.” She said that the two could be competitive and that when Rosalyn’s book hit the number one slot on the New York Times list of best sellers Jimmy was perplexed because none of his books had done that. She added that they were a great couple and she enjoyed being with them.

Fans in line to get Talese books autographed, Columbus Public Library, Columbus, Georgia

I have never read any of Gay Talese’s books, but that is about to change. After today’s delightful presentation by the two of them, he went out into the library’s rotunda for a book signing. I bought A Writer’s Life, which he wrote in 2006, and the best seller about the Mafia, Honor Thy Father, which he wrote in 1971. I got him to autograph both books.

He was born and raised in New Jersey, but when he graduated from high school, he couldn’t get into any universities there or in neighboring states. He was accepted by the University of Alabama, where he majored in journalism. In “A Writer’s Life”, he reports that his journalism instructors weren’t thrilled when he strayed from the newspaper “who, what, where, when, why, and how” inverted-pyramid writing style. But, look what straying from that style did for him when he wrote the Sinatra story in 1966. It played a large role in his publishing success, and revolutionized journalistic style.

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  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, 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 Jay Leno Show

September 14, 2009


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.

Obama Doesn’t Break TV Record for Inaugurations, but …

January 22, 2009

  President Obama didn’t,  according to Nielsen ratings – Live Feed has a good story on it –   set a new United States record for viewers of an inauguration,  coming in second to President Reagan’s 1981 inauguration.  Nielsen reports Obama got 37.8 million viewers.  Reagan got 41.8 million in 1981.  (That dropped to 25.1 million for his second inauguration in 1985.)

However,  a lot of people watched the Obama inauguration on the Internet this time,  which didn’t exist in 1981.  That audience wasn’t factored into the ratings,  but was huge, with CNN, FoxNews, and MCNBC setting streaming records.  So it’s possible if that is factored in, Obama did set a new record.

Why Are Some CHS Students Spewing Racist Hate?

November 11, 2008

  Reading Richard Hyatt’s report about the vile, racist, threatening remarks made on the Internet by a group of Columbus High School students was an astounding experience.  What in the world is going on that some kids at the city’s college prep magnate could spew this type of hate and venom about the first African American to be elected President of the United States?  Hyatt reports that two CHS students founded the group called “Not My President.”    

  I was reluctant to even mention this because the incident could fan the fires of racial discord, but I realize, also, that it cannot be ignored. It has to be faced and dealt with, especially since more than 400 students, most from Columbus High, joined the Facebook group. Hyatt reports that two CHS students founded the group called “Not My President.”    

  I was hoping that the election of Barack Obama would foster the greatest racial harmony this country has ever seen. The fact that he was easily elected showed that the majority of Americans desire that harmony, and reports indicate that most of the the rest of the world feel that way.