Sunday, February 03, 2008

The governor and I

Life is full of rules and covering an elected official is an exercise fraught with conditions.

Allow me to explain.

This past week Governor Patrick was in the area for two days. I like the guy. I voted for him. One of the reasons he was attractive as a candidate was his grassroots campaign and style.

Of course now as governor he adheres to all of the standard conditions of his office – a press team that controls access and information, plain clothes state troopers as escorts, and often times the avoidance to engage in some of what I see as the real issues.

First stop this week for the governor was his newly opened Western Massachusetts office in Springfield. The media – me, the AP, the daily, a public radio station and two of the three TV stations – were waiting. The governor was on time but was literally whisked in past us. The time was about 3:10 p.m.

The press aide – whom I know and admire as she does her job very well – came out and said the governor wanted to get some work done, but he was willing to meet us briefly for some questions.

The casino issue, the struggle with House Speaker DiMasi and budget issues are all hot buttons right now. All the reporters were armed for bear.

Well, the press aide said the governor would only entertain questions about he new regional office. Any other questions would have to be asked at his next stop, a campaign stump for Senator Barack Obama.

Everyone looked as if they had been kicked in the groin. With deadline and expectations of editors looming over their shoulders the ideal scenario was to get what you needed then and skip the Obama thing.

The TV folks were going to cover Obama event and the daily was going to send a reporter – a different one – as well, but these restrictions are frustrating.

We all trooped into the office about 3:30 p.m. and a couple of people dutifully asked questions about the office. The whole thing lasted 10 minutes at the most.

It was a non-event news-wise but is a classic example of control. The governor is the boss. We are not.

The next stop was at American International College from 5 to 6 p.m. So I hauled myself over there. The governor was there to pump up volunteers and make a couple of phone calls on behalf of the presidential candidate.

People genuinely like him and he had a hard time getting to the men’s room as people kept stopping him to shake his hand and speak with him. A state trooper checked the men’s room ahead of him and stood in front of the door as a beacon to the governor where it was.

The press pool then had an availability – three TV reporters, one radio reporter, one from the daily, me, and two college students from AIC.

I hate press conferences in which every reporter is trying to ask a question and speaks over another. My tactic is to be in front to establish eye contact and if I’m going to ask a question, try to be first. I succeeded this time by talking over my colleagues and explaining to the governor if I wasn’t first these TV guys wouldn’t let me talk. That got a laugh from everyone. Humor is very important.

I asked about the casino issue. The presidential contest isn’t as interesting to me. I knew I wasn’t going to get a follow-up question, so I just stood there and listened.

Next up was a political fund-raiser for a local state representative and the governor was going to be there. It started at 6 p.m. at the Basketball Hall of Fame. The rep is a bit controversial with opponents to same sex marriage and there were about 40 protesters out on the sidewalk. I got some quotes and a photo and went inside.

I wore my press pass around my neck and that insures one of two reactions: either people get away from me because I’m a reporter or they come up to say something nice. I got both that evening.

I was the only member of the local press to cover that event. It was significant as it was an exhibition of political power for the support of a freshman rep. This guy has made some very powerful friends. The reporter from the daily paper had told me they were passing up the rally and the TV people apparently didn’t want to use their resources either.

The governor didn’t arrive until after 7 p.m. I imagine he was brought somewhere to get a bite to eat and to sit a moment. I had to stay long enough to get a quote from him about the state rep.

Although I would have preferred to speak with him prior to his speech, I couldn’t as the crowd crushed him. Someone asked me if I was going to wade in and I said, “No.” That’s not fair to the people who’ve paid a minimum of $100 to be there and might cause some ill will towards the newspaper and me. The quote in the speech would suffice and it did.

To recap: I’ve spent a good chunk of my day chasing the governor and I have two solid quotes to be used in two separate stories. I think of it as panning for gold. Sometimes you hit a nugget and sometimes there’s juts a lot of sand.

The next day I attended the governor’s tour of a school in Chicopee that received a state grant to operate on a longer day. We were not allowed to interact with the governor until the press conference that had enough time for him to make a short speech and just three questions. Not every reporter had the chance to ask a question.

For those who are interested this is a slice of the kind of the professional life I lead as a editor and reporter.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A mayor fights back

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is doing something that traditionally mayors in the city don't do– he's commenting on an editorial published by the "Springfield Republican."

Normally mayors just to take it when the 'paper – known for its past habits of trying to be a kingmaker in this area – decides to spank them.

Sarno released a letter today that he sent to the 'paper criticizing them for asking him to step aside in the search for a new police commissioners.

Any reporter who has covered Sarno knows of his admiration for the police and the job they do. At the last Valley Press Club roast, Sarno was kidded for this use of the term "blue," and he took it all with a laugh.

Clearly he was not laughing today and that brings up the subject of how "The Republican" is perceived. Despite a billboard on I-91 that proudly proclaims that between the print and Web editions the 'paper is boasting of over 400,000 readers, the reality is that it has laid off reporters, cut the paper in size, and eliminated half of its daily opinion section as well as all of their business section.

No billboard can disguise the fact that this is a newspaper in severe trouble.

Sarno wasn't endorsed by the 'paper and several of his key press events were ignored by the 'paper. At this time one could say the mayor is easily more popular than the 'paper.

Since I work for a competing 'paper – a weekly – some might chalk up this observation as snarky criticism. That's not my intent. The Sarno letter is one indication of how weak the 'paper has become from a political point of view. I'm genuinely concerned if the city and the area can support a daily newspaper that can longer effectively do the job a daily newspaper can do.
©2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, July 13, 2007

Baaad language

I got this today...what do you think? What fascinates me is if so many people are concerned about language why are so many recordings, movies and television shows with adult language so popular? Do we have a double standard? Are we willing to tell a pollster that we are against profanity in one venue but enjoy it in another?


13 July 2007

CONTACT: Tim Bueler

52% of Americans think so, according to a new poll conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Morality in Media.

Conducting Talk Show interviews on this topic is Morality in Media President Robert Peters.

During your interview, Robert shares findings from the Poll, including the following questions and answers:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, should have authority to fine any of the major broadcast TV networks, such as NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX, for airing a single expletive or ‘four letter word?’”

Do you agree or disagree? And is that strongly [agree/disagree] or just somewhat [agree/disagree]?

Agree (total strongly agree and somewhat agree): 52%Strongly agree: 31%
Somewhat agree: 21%
Disagree (total strongly disagree and somewhat disagree): 42%
Strongly disagree: 23%
Somewhat disagree: 19%
Neither agree nor disagree: 2%
Don’t know/Refused: 3%

Among women who work and have children in the home, 69% agreed, 39% strongly so. Among those adults between the ages of 45-54, 62% agreed, 39% strongly so.

The survey was conducted by telephone by Harris Interactive on behalf of Morality in Media between July 5, 2007, and July 9, 2007 of 1,003 U.S. adults ages 18 and over. Sampling error is / -3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. A full methodology statement can be obtained by contacting Robert Peters at 212-870-3210

Robert W. Peters, President of Morality in Media, commented:

“There is a perception on the part of many in the secular entertainment and news media that because they, along with many in their circle of friends or co-workers, curse with impunity, most everyone else must do likewise, or at least not be bothered too much by it.

“There is also a perception that our nation’s founding fathers put their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on the line so that those in the media could curse up a storm, not only in the workplace but also in front of microphones that send filthy language unsolicited into tens of millions of homes.

“There is also a perception that many federal judges agree with them, which is why broadcast TV networks sued in federal court challenging various FCC determinations that the broadcasters violated the broadcast indecency law and challenging the constitutionality of the law itself, a law that has been on the books since 1927 and that has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“In one of those lawsuits, the TV networks argued that the FCC had no authority to fine a network for airing a ‘fleeting expletive,’ and last month two federal Court of Appeals judges seemed to agree with them. Furthermore, the two judges seemed to think the FCC no longer has authority to fine a broadcaster, even if the broadcaster airs curse words continuously.

“The truth is that while many Americans may on occasion utter an expletive, most adults also understand that cursing or swearing is not acceptable behavior, especially around children. In other words, unlike TV networks, most adult Americans still have some standards.

“The truth also is that the First Amendment was never intended to endow the media with a right to curse whenever, wherever and however it wants, and as much as it wants.

“This is not to say that the FCC should fine a broadcast licensee whenever an expletive is uttered over the airwaves. In the 1978 FCC v. Pacifica case, the Supreme Court observed that the FCC’s decision in that case ‘rested entirely on a nuisance rationale under which context is all-important.’

“It is to say that to give broadcasters a ‘right’ to curse at least once in every program borders on madness, and to give broadcasters an unlimited right to curse crosses that border.”

Morality in Media is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that works to curb traffic in obscenity and uphold standards of decency in the media. MIM is headquartered in New York City.

About Harris Interactive:

Harris Interactive is the 12th largest and fastest-growing market research firm in the world. The company provides innovative research, insights and strategic advice to help its clients make more confident decisions which lead to measurable and enduring improvements in performance. Harris Interactive is widely known for The Harris Poll, one of the longest running, independent opinion polls and for pioneering online market research methods. The company has built what it believes to be the world’s largest panel of survey respondents, the Harris Poll Online. Harris Interactive serves clients worldwide through its United States, Europe and Asia offices, its wholly-owned subsidiaries Novatris in France and MediaTransfer AG in Germany, and through a global network of independent market research firms. More information about Harris Interactive may be obtained at


Robert Peter is President of Morality and Media. He is a regular guest on many television programs including three times on Larry King. He has been a diligent warrior in the fight against indecency for over two decades.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Interesting column on publicists

I received this vai e-mail from one of the p.r./ad folks that I deal with on a regular basis. For anyone working in the press today, this should strike you as pretty funny!

Read It and Lacrimate
Implementing a paramter-based verbal interface with the professionally periphrastic
By Gene Weingarten

Washington Post
Sunday, May 20, 2007

From time to time, I am cruelly slandered by members of the public relations industry, who accuse me of writing unfairly about their profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love PR professionals. They're a hoot, because they are such pathetic, desperate dillweeds.

I am right now looking at something called Your Market Wire Newsletter, a package of financial "news" that arrives, unbidden, in journalists' inboxes every week. It is filled with incomprehensibly written press releases on subjects of even less interest than can be found in a non-interest-bearing fiduciary debenture with negative yield. That's exactly how these releases read, only they are less scintillating and more crammed with jargon. One word never suffices when 16 can do the job; big, important-sounding words are better than small, clear ones. Plans are "initiatives." They are not begun; they are "implemented." These releases could sedate an enraged rhinoceros.

Here's a release from MasterCard (headquartered, interestingly, in Purchase, N.Y.) announcing an incremental change in one of its programs so as to maximize "categories of spend" by "scoring cardholder activity against specific parameters using a rules-based engine." In another release, a company called HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries Inc. identifies itself as "a leader in toxin-free integrated aquaculture and aquatic product processing" that "practices cooperative sustainable aquaculture, using nutraceutically enriched feeds." A release from a company called Clarkston Consulting breathlessly discloses that Clarkston "has been selected as the SAP implementation partner for Bumble Bee Foods Inc., North America's leading marketer of shelf-stable protein."

"Shelf-stable protein" is apparently "canned fish." We are never actually told what SAP is.

So I decided to call the PR people who issued these releases and tell them that The Washington Post wants to write a big piece about their little story. (To PR people, in terms of arousal, this is like mainlining pheromones.) Then I would tell them that I just had one teensy little question to ask, and once they answered it, we'd be good to go. The question would be written like their press releases. When they failed to understand me, I'd say, "Well, too bad. I guess I just can't do the story."

I started with Angelia Jackson, the PR person for Clarkston.

Me: Vis-a-vis the implementation of SAP technology, what is the source-related derivation of the acronymically based identifier of the service entity, and how does it operate so as to enhance production and profitability or, alternatively, improve the business model of the shelf-stable protein supplier of which Clarkston is now a client?

Angelia: So you're asking me what SAP is an acronym for and how it helps Bumble Bee?


Angelia: Hello?

Me: You understood me?

Angelia: Sure, it was very clear.

I didn't know what to say. I had no backup plan! So I thanked her for her time and next tried Meir Kahtan, representing MasterCard.

Me: Given the degree to which the deployment of incentives-based purchasing paradigms leads to the accretion of goods and the contracting of services by consumers in patterns and to extents that may prove inimical to the sorts of budgetarily sagacious decision-making vis-a-vis the prudent marshaling of available resources and or investment strategies, might your new program, through positive reinforcement of negatively nuanced patterns of behavior, contribute to economic nonviability on a user-based scale?

Meir: That's a great question!

Me: It is? What IS the question?

Meir: You're asking if we are going to spend ourselves silly, right?

Me: Uh, right.

I felt as though I had entered an alternate reality. And, in a way, I had. I was lost in the land of the Gobbledygooks, trapped among the morbidly verbose, and I was speaking their language. By the time I got to my third call, I was a pathetic, desperate dillweed myself. And angry. I took it out on Dan Stepanek, PR guy for HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries.

Me: First, your press release identifies your chief executive as "Norbert Sporns." What is his real name?

Dan: Norbert Sporns.

Me: If you say so. Can you semiotically explain, interpret or otherwise elucidate from a hermeneutic standpoint, vis-a-vis the terminology in this press release relating to toxin-free integrated aquaculture and aquatic product processing, what actions, processes or industrial practices are performed upon what nature of product so as to encompass the aforementioned terminology as it relates to your company?

Dan: We provide frozen, toxin-free tilapia farmed in ponds in China.


Dan: Hello?

Me: You got that?

Dan: Sure.


Dan: So, do you want to talk to Norbert?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

All news people have a 'slant."

A reader from Longmeadow was one of the many people who attended this year's communication conference conducted at Western New England College last week and he brought up an interesting point to me.

He noted that no one elects any member of the press to be their representative and yet the press can act in a leadership role in a community.

His comment came as a follow-up to one made to the panel of which I was part about the obvious or not so obvious slant in news coverage.

As long as someone has been disseminating news and opinion, someone else has sought for an agenda. Newspapers in the United States in the 18th and 19th Centuries were often identified with a particular political or social point of view.

And they were open about it. Readers pretty much knew what they were getting into when they opened the pages.

Newspapers, radio shows and television program are bully pulpits that have often been used for personal gain and advancement as often as they have for more socially responsible efforts. We aren't elected by anyone but we have to win back your vote day after day by delivering a product in which the reader sees value.

The idea that a newspaper is "objective" is a nice pie in the sky idea. I believe that stories should be reported in the most inclusive, fair and non-judgmental way possible and this is what I've practiced and what I've urged my staff always to do.

A newspaper, though, is more than just a story. It's also a determination of which stories get covered and where they are placed. Do the stories have photos? How large are the photos? Is a story front page worthy? Is a story held for a big splash on Sunday or is it buried in the Saturday edition?

Do the stories that run underline an editorial viewpoint? Do they support a business or cause? Do the publishers or the owners of the newspaper influence what stories run?

Now some people in this business dismiss the idea of a slant. They are just plain ignorant or disingenuous. Please, be honest with your readers and viewers. They deserve it.

I view my responsibilities seriously. We serve readers and advertisers. We try to create a weekly news product that is desirable to both groups.

Yes, I have opinions. I voice them in this column. I put my picture and my name on them so no one can mistake them for being representative of anyone else but me. Not all papers do this.

My regular readers know that I'm a dreaded liberal who sometimes voices thoughts that have led some folks to call me a "closet Republican."

I do have a "slant." Here it is:

I like running stories about good works people helping each other out.

I like underdogs.

Election coverage needs to be as inclusive as possible.

I like the organizations and individuals who may not get much attention from the larger media but have interesting stories.

I like good elected officials, but have little time for ones who abuse the public's trust.

I like making readers happy by seeing the accomplishments of their friends and family in our newspapers.

I would rather tell people about an up-coming event than reporting on it afterwards.

I applaud the small or local business owner who is contributing to the advancement of the communities they serve.

I'm not here to tell people for whom to vote or to shove an issue down their throats. If they agree with something I write, fine. If not, that's okay, too.

All constructive viewpoints are welcomed on the opinions page fro readers. I'm tired of mean-spirited material.

I know I don't have all the answers and I know I make mistakes.

I have pride in western Massachusetts and its people.

I'm basically a Jeffersonian kind of guy who believes that people, if given access to information, will seek out the truth.

That's pretty much my editorial slant. I think it would be great if other news outlets honestly shared theirs.


Just as I was finishing this column I received an e-mail from WRKO in Boston that former House Speaker Thomas Finneran has been hired to be its new morning drive talk show host.

This comes just days after his conviction for obstruction of justice.

WRKO recently dismissed its entire news staff and apparently has been having ratings problems. Considering the station is the home of Howie Carr, known for his long-standing criticism of Finneran and his record, this decision smells like a publicity stunt to me.

Rewarding someone like Finneran, though, with his kind of gig smells even more.

© 2007 by G. Michael Dobbs

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More local media bites the dust

The road up Provin Mountain was remarkably steep and narrow and I remember clearly wondering what would happen if we met someone driving down. Luckily for us, that didn't happen.

I was on edge enough as I was on my way, along with my fellow teammates to appear on "As Schools Match Wits." I was nervous being on television and hoping we didn't make fools of ourselves.

I think I was glad that our principal, when making his regular announcements on the Granby High p.a. system, conveniently forgot to remind people to watch the show.

Of course when we were on a second year and he didn't plug the show I was cheesed.

Ah, high school!

I hadn't thought about my three times appearing on the local high school quiz show until last week when the news leaked out that one of the longest-running locally produced shows in the history of American television was being axed.

When I was a kid, the local television stations were filled with locally produced shows. Stations produced shows because they made money.

Locally produced shows stopped being moneymakers for stations years ago. It's more profitable to make a deal for a syndicated show than it is to try to produce something that competes against a syndicated show.

WWLP's management should be commended for upholding the tradition of local programming long after many other stations pulled the plug on their shows. It's a shame now that WWLP looks like any other NBC affiliate just like WGGB looks like any other ABC affiliate.

If you don't watch the local news, nothing is different.

Newspapers are cutting back and giving their readers more wire and syndicated stories to save money and be more profitable. Radio stations don't want to produce local programming beyond 10 a.m. Why should they if they can get programming for damn near free off a satellite dish?

And television stations boast how they cover their communities, but fill their news shows with stories picked up from the networks and fluff. I don't mind fluff, but give me local fluff, please.

We're all too willing to accept less and less information about our own communities. If we don't watch out our avenues to local information will be closed off.

Without local content decisions affecting large groups of people will be made by increasingly smaller groups of people. We will be reduced to a nation of whiners who sob about not knowing about an issue until it's too late.

Here's my suggestion: go to people who advertise in local media and become their customers. Tell them you saw their ad in a local media outlet. Encourage them to buy more advertising. Ask them to tell their advertising representatives that people need more local content.

In this business, cash is king. If people see the profitability in local programming and stories perhaps this trend can be reversed ever so slightly.

I can dream, can't I?

And a tip of my fez to Len Collamore and Phil Sherpardson, the gurus of my edition of "As Schools Match Wits."

This column represents the opinions of its author.
©2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, September 04, 2006

Why I hate TV...sometimes

The other day, I had to go to the dedication of a new building, the headquarters of a non-profit that does a lot of good work.

A local congressman had been invited and I noticed the dedication was running late. He had not yet shown up, which is typical among many elected officials.

I thought we were back on schedule, but nope. There was more of a delay. Then I noticed a TV newscrew walking in.

Now, make no mistake about it, but many print people are envious of their TV counterparts. Television attracts attention from the public and newsmakers that print never does. Since I have a body and face built for radio and print, I harbor little desire to be on television, although I've made some appearances on a locally produced PBS talking head show.

What astonishes me about people is that they are willing to run their events on TV's schedule and while they all profess to how important print is as the primary mans of communicating with the public, they get all over squishy when a camera comes on the scene.

Now I was on a tight schedule and I became increasingly annoyed when I saw the TV reporters do a stand-up with the director of the agency. I became actually angry when the same reporter pulled the congressman off his seat to do another stand-up.

The TV crew couldn't wait like the print reporters had to wait and the non-profit folks clearly wanted to oblige them.

Print is still the medium that endures. It's portable. clippable and easily reproduced. Slap a story in a scanner and you can have something digital to send around the world.

But it's not as sexy as being on the tube.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. My words alone.