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Podcast hub bub

Alright, it’s back. The newest episode of the podcast is perfect to promote on this blog. Basically Memphis area political blogger Steve Ross and I spent about an hour yapping about media issues and I edited it (roughly) down to about half an hour and served it up. I think its pretty good. If you’ve got the time, go check it out here or subscribe on iTunes here.

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Distractions, Commitments and making the Clackity-Noise

I’m working on final projects doing some freelance work, working at the shop and have still recorded and posted two episodes of the podcast. So forgive me if this dear ol’ media blog has remained dusty. In truth I don’t have much to say about the state of media (except, OMGOMGOMG GRIZZLIES). I do have something to say about the creative process, so try to bear with me.

Trying to make things is hard. Making stuff requires a focus and commitment that is terrifying. You put yourself out there. You openly courting comparisons both sensible and butt crazy. In the first episode of the podcast, Lindsey and I discussed our thin-skinned natures sharing the crap we make. In the second, Brent and I talked about the ego maniacal power of rock stars. When you talk to creative people, self awareness just seems to come up at some point.

Every time I write something, I question it. Its simply part of the process. As I write this sentance, I’m asking myself if this post has any merit. Should I even be writing this at all? The awesome DJ blogger/vlogger J Smooth called this “the Little Hater

So why the hell did I start podcasting? Why would I take up something that I have no background in, little training for and that hundreds maybe thousands of people do better? I have no clue. It seemed like the right idea at the time and I thought it would be a fun idea. In just two episodes, I’ve learned a ton.

I need to listen more and talk less. I always knew I was a blabber mouth, I just didn’t know I was obnoxious. I interrupt people. Jerks do that. i don’t know squat about a bunch of things that would really make the podcast a more polished and interesting project. But I don’t, so I learn and I’ll try harder.

Internet person Merlin Mann (who I really agree with and enjoy 98% of the time) said that his job is not to be inspired. His job is to make the “clackity-noise.” That being the sound of the pounding of a keyboard. The only way to actually make something is to DO-IT. So I’m trying and I hope that some of you try to see through the rough edges, interruptions and poorly thought out interviews and posts. I’ll try as hard as I can to keep the gentle rocking of the clackity-noise going.

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Your Grandma is on Facebook

Joe Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy dynasty, said just after the crash of 1929..

“Taxi drivers told you what to buy. The shoeshine boy could give you a summary of the day’s financial news as he worked with rag and polish. An old beggar who regularly patrolled the street in front of my office now gave me tips and, I suppose, spent the money I and others gave him in the market. My cook had a brokerage account and followed the ticker closely. Her paper profits were quickly blown away in the gale of 1929.”

The point being, when everyday people are talking about a stock, its time to get out. It’s remained true through the last few cycles as well. I remember vividly people talking about their crazy stock payoffs in .com companies too obscure to remember. And while its true that if you bet on Google, Apple and Amazon you’d be sitting pretty now; given the froth on the market at the time, you were just as likely to have picked Pets.com, AOL and Yahoo. People were batty about tech stocks just in the same way they were batty about their home values 7 years ago.

Its the classic sign of a bubble. Big high valuation estimates on privately held companies based on conjecture, hope and voodoo. Facebook’s recent valuation was at $50 billion and Zynga (the company that makes Farmville) ws at $10 billion.

To put that in perspective, in 2010 Dr. Pepper/Snapple’s valuation was $9 billion.

I’d sell the farm.

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the hardened masses

After writing my totally out of character praise for the Insane Clown Posse this week, the horrific Shirley Sherrod reverse racism story broke. Somehow, in the bent corners of my fevered brain, I connected the flareup and the media outlets involved to my “ICP is the future of the music industry” concept.
Jesus I hope you bear with me here.
As stated yesterday, ICP doesn’t give a damn about mainstream success. They have reformed success to fit their mold. Independence and the ability to interact and sell direct to their audience have changed their relationship to the music industry and their own fans.
Conservative and liberal media outlets also don’t give much of a damn about mainstream play. Sure, there’s a lot of lip service from the left and the right about how the mainstream media (whatever the hell THAT is) just doesn’t get it and is in the pocket of the other side. The left insisting that the non-biased media outlets get snookered and bullied by right wing media outlets (Shirley Sherrod) and right wing media insisting the journalism has long been the playground of pointy headed liberal elitists (see JournoList). Both probably have a point.
In reality, they don’t care what happens in the mainstream. Any fact-checking or criticism only hardens their audience. Tell people what they want to hear, regardless of fact, and they’ll stay with you forever. Witness Andrew Breitbart’s twitter feed while his Shirley Sherrod story fell apart:

So why provide unbiased coverage at all? It should be provided for the same reason that ICP’s popularity shouldn’t deter bands like The Hold Steady or Okkervil River from trying to succeed.
Because its the right thing to do. That’s what makes it hard, and what makes it great.

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Scrabble is dead! Long Live Scrabble! Wait…what?

So Scrabble, the beloved nerdy word game that I play with people I know on the internet, is being completely destroyed by laziness and proper nouns.

Or not.

This past week every corner of the media rang with the sound of linguistic word dorks hewing and crying over the complete decimation of their beloved wood tiled fetish. Mattel the company that makes Scrabble announced via PR flack, that the “new” version of Scrabble in Europe would allow proper nouns. Now if you play Scrabble, then you know that this is an abomination. Though the idea that I could use Kyrgyzstan in word combat was pretty enticing, it just ain’t Scrabble.

But rest assured the whole thing is just a big misunderstanding!

…the purists’ fears are overblown. Mattel, which has international rights to the game (Hasbro controls it in the U.S.) plans a new version called Scrabble Trickster, with all sorts of gimmicks. Philip Nelkon, promotions manager of Mattel, told the Washington Post that there will be squares on the board calling on players to draw cards. The cards might instruct you to forfeit a letter to an opponent — or permit you to spell a proper noun.

So how does something this huge and dumb get missed by reporters, producers, pundits and basically everyone else in the media? Tough to say exactly. It is a classic feedback loop and like roaches and rats, its hard to get rid of them. Pushed for time, low on resources and lazy, the whole media structure just picked it up and ran.

Oh, and since we’re here, Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and OJ killed those people.

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Timing

It is taken as common wisdom that this is the worst point in America history to ever own a daily newspaper.

Its just so obvious that metro dailies are clear dead ends. Monetizing the Internet is the only hope, otherwise we return to the dark ages, the seas will boil and run red with the blood of lady justice.

Perhaps is it is my wide-eyed optimism, but I keep looking at numbers and I am reminded of a piece of advice that Warren Buffett gave in a recent interview with CNN money.

“I always say you should get greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy.”

It seems plain that the business of journalism has never been more fearful and that leaves a goldmine of opportunities.

Newspapers and media companies are cash cows. In the bright old days of the early 21st century, the Tribune Company regularly drug down profits of 25-30 percent. Those days are long gone though. Last year Tribune posted a comparatively paltry 19 percent margin.

Wait…what?

Yes. The end of newspapers and journalism is nigh. In the worst recession in a hundred years and the worst possible time ever for newspapers, Tribune (one of the most mismanaged media conglomerates in America. They owned the CUBS for god’s sake) posted a 19 percent profit. Would you like to see that in context?

The following is a list of companies and their 2008 profit margins.

Dell computer                         4.01

General Electric                      6.51

Coca-Cola                                23.81

Exxon                                        8.25

I admit that a fair amount of last year’s newspaper profit is due to budget cuts and the cheapening of the overall product, so that drop in profit does represent a worrisome trend.

Nevertheless, I maintain that poor capital management has created the real pain in newspapers bottom line more than the influx of the Internet. Media conglomerates have leveraged themselves so deeply in debt (sound familiar Amex user?) that all that profit goes into servicing its creditors, thus killing their ability to weather the economic storm properly.

A new newspaper, rebuilt from the ground up free of lingering debts (beside start up costs, which clearly would be huge), leaner, meaner and more hungry than fat lazy dailies which feel the need to hire someone to run their Facebook page can succeed. The money is there, we are all just afraid to pick it up.

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Influence

A few weeks ago, Glen Beck was on the cover of Time magazine. The conservative talk show host’s program has been on the rise for several weeks, drawing attention all across the media. These sorts of meta media stories about Keith Olberman, Rachel Maddow, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or any political pundit’s influence are often convoluted and delivered without context.

It made me consider how much influence media creatures like Beck really have. It also made me think of one of Memphis’ own media hype-men.

A few weeks ago, I attended a “Law School for Journalists” workshop at the University of Memphis. During which, a panel discussion about the effects of blog comments caught my attention. Smart City Blogger (a great read)Tom Jones mentioned a blogger he claimed everyone read but no one admitted to reading. That blogger is Thaddeus Matthews.

Thaddeus Matthews is a local talk radio host. In conjunction with his show he posts regularly on his blog. I had only heard of Thaddeus because of his notorious postings of corpse pictures after the Lester street murders here in Memphis. He openly supports candidates for public office and attacks others. His site is the lowest rung of media advocacy masquerading as commentary. He isn’t a journalist and he doesn’t pretend to be.

In our most recent bizarre mayoral election, Thaddeus essentially drove the coverage of dark hoarse candidate Charles Carpenter. He railed against front-runner AC Wharton, even bringing him on his show to ask if he thought he was popular because he made “white people comfortable.” His coverage of mayor pro-temp Myron Lowry was so openly antagonistic that the very idea of balance was silly. It was a daily bloodbath.

With all of that sound and fury, Charles Carpenter finished with a little more than 5 thousand votes. Though this wasn’t a surprise, it does call into question the depth of Mr. Matthews influence. I don’t think there were any Can Thaddeus swing the election stories per say (though I may have missed them) there certainly was an implication that he was important. Why else would leading mayoral candidates go on his show? That import now seems seriously overblown.

And another congratulations to that Kingmaker of Memphis Thaddeus Matthews. His support for Charles Carpenter brought Carpenter 5000 votes. @watchdogon3 mike matthews

The same strain of “influence” flows through the national punditry. According to Talker magazine, Rush Limbaugh draws 14 million listeners a week, an average of 2.8 million listeners per day. Certainly, that is an impressive number. He is the most dominant voice in talk radio. Even with all that listener-ship and despite his attempts to prevent it, he was unable to keep John McCain from winning the republican nomination in 2008.

Some argue that the reason media cares so much about pundits is that they “drive the debate” within political circles and should be covered for that reason alone. Sadly, this suggests that the debate itself is enough to be worthy of coverage. Debates have winners and losers. It is why we have elections and legislation. The debate itself is not the event.

So why do media outlets so obsessively pimp these sorts of “influencer” stories? Because they’re easy, they validate the media’s own feeling of self importance, and they allow reporters to put a finger on what they think is “really” going on out there. It’s a self-sustaining cycle, and we probably ought to break it because we’re puffing up some pretty ridiculous egos out there.

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