media, Sports, Uncategorized

TV sportscasting is getting it wrong

Tony Romo is now the top color commentator for CBS football games, and Phil Simms is out.

The New York Daily News reminds us that Romo is getting this promotion despite no experience in sportscasting.

(Sidebar: It’s funny, isn’t it, that Romo had to toil as a little-known backup quarterback for years before taking on a job that generally goes to a top, high-profile draftee, but he walked right into a job that normally goes to someone who toils for a couple of years at a lower level?)

Romo might be good. He might suck. But he would have to suck awfully bad to get people to turn off the channel, wouldn’t he? People will tune into CBS to see football and tolerate the announcers. No one is turning the dial to figure skating on Sunday afternoon. So Romo’s “qualifications” and “abilities” are actually irrelevant. Unless he pulls a Jimmy the Greek, he’ll be fine.

Speaking of sportscasting, this week the Dodgers opened their season and will play the year sans Vin Scully for the first time since the 1940s. Scully’s style of calling television games was different, as anyone who watched Dodgers broadcasts will surely recall. Sitting alone on the microphone, Scully would talk and tell stories – like a talk radio host without the ferocious outrage – while incidentally mentioning the game action. It worked especially well on television.

To watch Scully succeed this way begs the question: Why do TV announcers spend so much time describing the action that viewers can see? Think about it next time you watch a game. Then, for extra fun, count how many times they read graphics to you. Michael Kay of the YES Network is particularly guilty of this sin (though I have probably watched so many of his games that my bias may be showing).

It makes sense why they do this – many sportscasters get their start in radio, where there is no visual support. But one would think that some media outlet would try something different. After all, television news programs stopped presenting the same way as radio news. We have had televised sports for something like seven decades, why do we still adhere to radio-era traditions? This is especially true for football, America’s made-for-television sport.

There might be a new model emerging from networks that use “whip around” coverage. The MLB Network does this particularly well with MLB Tonight, where a host and two in-studio analysts watch each night’s action and comment over teams’ local broadcast feeds. Their easy, joke-filled banter makes it fun to watch, mirroring conversations you might have watching games with a bunch of friends. And it’s different from most baseball broadcasts, where an announcer narrates events as you watch them.

This could work for a single team, as well. Wouldn’t that be more fun to watch than some former athlete rhythmically rattling off recaps of the obvious during breaks in the action as most color commentators do? Think of the familiarity and rapport fans could develop with the on-screen personalities.

Television sports is not a high-risk place to experiment – generally, ratings are driven by the games more than the broadcast. CBS gets that, which is why they’re willing to stick Tony Romo in a broadcasting booth with only a few postgame interviews under his belt. It’s time to try something even bolder. The radio era is over.

It’s time to try something even bolder. Sportscasting should evolve past where it was during Vin Scully’s rookie year.

Culture, Uncategorized

The First Black President

Here’s a real “check your privilege” moment. Did you know that, in 1971, Bill White became the first black play-by-play announcer in sports when he took to the mic for the New York Yankees? It took until 1971 for that to happen.

It makes sense when you think about it: Teams tend to hire former athletes as their sportscasters, and until 1947 there weren’t any black baseball players. So seeing a black sportscaster 24 years later seems right – except, of course, that neither of those lines should never have existed in the first place.

Still, I had no idea that White was so significant until I read this post on The Undefeated. (I just knew him as Phil Rizzuto’s former broadcast partner.) The piece uses White’s legacy to point out how the Barack Obama Presidency has changed the perception about further color barriers: Obama has made those barriers temporary. If a black person can be President, we assume will will be the “first black [INSERT ANYTHING HERE]” at some point. Time, more than prejudice, is the enemy now.

For whatever you think about now-ex-President Barack Obama (I have some opinions), that legacy alone means something. As a white guy, I can’t even fully appreciate it myself; just as I took for granted growing up hearing Joe Morgan and Ken Singleton call baseball games. When I was young, my parents told me that if I tried hard enough, I could do or be whatever I wanted. It’s hard to imagine a parent having to tell their child the opposite – that no matter how good you are, some doors will be closed. Whether it was always true or not, that was a legitimate feeling in communities of color.

Among the debates surrounding the legacy of our 44th President, this accomplishment is worth celebrating. It’s sad that there was once a color barrier on the baseball field, or in the broadcast booth, or any number of other places. Now, hopefully, we can know there will never be a time like that again.

 

Politics and Grassroots, Uncategorized

Clinton lost the Obama coalition (and they should have seen it coming)

FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of the 2016 electorate shows that Hillary Clinton’s loss was indeed due to low voter turnout. Apparently, high numbers of Democrats and Independents (and even a good number of Republicans) didn’t feel it necessary to go out and make a choice between two horrible candidates.

Who could have predicted such a thing? Turns out, it was easy to spot as far back as June 2015. As (obviously) any dolt could see, Clinton’s strong numbers against a fractured Republican field belied real issues among key demographics. And the issue wouldn’t be losing votes to the eventual Republican nominee, but in losing raw voters period. Polling can offer people a chance to see preferences, but judging intensity of preference requires a deeper reading of the numbers.

Clinton’s people should have seen this. (If they did, they figured to correct it by scaring the bejesus out of people by telling them how bad Trump was. That strategy typically invites failure.)

On its face, FiveThirtyEight’s analysis gives Clinton supporters some cover: They can claim that if the turnout had only been higher, their team would have won. (If only it hadn’t been for James Comey/the Russians/fake news/okay maybe Comey again?) But such face-saving leaves unanswered questions about why turnout was so low. Refusing to vote is a vote, as well. People think of political campaigns as an effort to get a voter to choose candidate A over candidate B, but in reality the first challenge is getting voters to make the choice at all.

Politics and Grassroots, Tech, Uncategorized

Trump’s answer on data is actually the right answer

Donald Trump says his Presidential campaign will be about personality, not data:

In his AP interview, Trump discounted the value of data: The “candidate is by far the most important thing,” he said. He said he plans a “limited” use of data in his general election campaign and suggested Obama’s victories — universally viewed by political professionals as groundbreaking in the way data steered the campaign to voters — are misunderstood.

“Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine, and I think the same is true with me,” Trump said, explaining that he will continue to focus on his signature rallies, free television exposure and his personal social media accounts to win voters over.

That’s exactly the wrong answer on an 8:00 a.m. conference call, but it’s exactly the right answer for an interview – which is something many political professionals miss. In the quest to sound smart to industry press, operatives can fall into the trap of talking too much about process. But voters don’t care.

Yes, the data-driven campaigns President Barack Obama ran in 2008 and 2012 were groundbreaking. But people voted for Obama’s message. The data elements helped them vote, but they made the choice, ultimately, based on the message.

In this cycle, polarizing figures with limited crossover appeal lead both major parties. Both presumptive nominees face divisions within their parties. Voter turnout could suffer, which could make the ground game vital. If the race is close, it will likely be the campaign with the better turnout operation that comes out ahead.

But a candidate has three jobs: 1) Ask for votes; 2) Ask for money; 3) Don’t mess up. Chatting about campaign tactics is not on the list.

Maybe Trump has a basement full of nerds chained to computers analyzing data sets to develop the winning turnout plan. Even if he does, it wouldn’t help him to brag about it. Even if the Trump campaign proved to be the most sophisticated data operation in the history of ones and zeros, it would only serve to amplify his message.

Campaign tactics may drive votes, but personality wins voters.

Culture, Uncategorized

That mad world of blood, death, and fire

Each March, someone on Facebook posts a video of Liam Clancy singing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” for St. Patrick’s Day. The song’s protagonist is an Australian World War I soldier and its writer is Scottish-born, but Irish singers seem to do it the most justice. Written in 1971, you’d be excused for categorizing it with the anti-war songs of its era. But give it a listen after you’ve spent about 24 total hours listening to Dan Carlin talk about World War I, or read any of the grisly accounts from the era, and the song takes on a much different tone.

World War I was called “The War to End All Wars” because of the near-universal realization that modern warfare sucks. As the song alludes, killing technology has been getting much more efficient in the past century and a half, and WWI was the first chance to observe that trend.

Since World War I, most long-term conflicts have had some sort of moral reasoning. World War II fought Adolph Hitler’s plan for world domination; the Cold War fought the Soviet plan for World world domination; the War on Terror fights jihadis who use radicalized Islam to justify their plan for world domination, and so forth. World War I was, in many ways, a local territorial war that expanded because of alliances and agreements among great powers. For example, if France and Russia didn’t have an “I Got Your Back If You Got Mine” treaty, Germany might not have invaded France – heck, maybe Great Britain wouldn’t have been in the war at all.

When you think about how much of that war was triggered by paper and handshakes, and then read or listen to how ill-prepared the military leaders and troops were for the shift from horses and swords to tanks and machine guns, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” becomes that much more more sad.

Politics and Grassroots, Uncategorized

Running independent? Better start now.

Donald Trump heads into March like a lion, leading polls and looking to emerge with a delegate count that may put the Republican nomination away. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are taking their whacks at him more aggressively than before – and even if they can’t nudge Trump out of the race, they can extend the nominating contest until it falls under the arcane rules of the party convention.

All these turning gears have the more speculative wondering about whether a serious third option could appear on the November ballot for the first time in 20 years. Trump supporters want their guy to have a spot if they feel the GOP finds some kind of black magic to nominate someone else; Republicans fear the Trumpocalypse and don’t want to have to write in Mickey Mouse against Hillary Clinton. These are both significant audiences, so an independent candidate seems like it could make some waves. Michael Bloomberg has been the biggest name to consider an independent run so far.

So could it happen?

The major problem is logistics, as Ballotpedia’s page on Presidential ballot access makes clear. While the major political parties pretty much have a free spot on each state ballot, running an independent bid means petitioning 50 separate state election authorities. Signature requirements range from 1,000 in Idaho to nearly 180,000 in California. (Thresholds for getting on primary ballots tend to be easier, and petition signatures can be supplanted by filing fees.)

Getting on all 50 ballots means collecting over 900,000 signatures. But wait, there’s more: As anyone who has handled ballot access can attest, fake and invalid signatures are a major problem. People who sign petitions may not be registered to vote, or they may use a fake name, or they may violate some other arcane rule (such as Nebraska, where a signatory must not have voted in either party’s primary). Campaigns generally try to capture at least twice as many signatures as needed for just this reason, so the real magic number is about 1.8 million signatures.

The first deadline for access is in Texas, where a candidate needs about 80,000 signatures by May 9. That’s significant, because an independent offshoot of the Republican primary would surely look to Texas as an opportunity to pull support. And though a smart operation might cherry pick friendly states to focus efforts there, such a plan requires much advance data work. Either way you slice it, a third party effort has to start almost immediately.

The candidate would almost have to be a self funder, or have access to a very generous fundraising network; they would also have to have a good amount of political savvy to build the organization necessary for the task. Most of the current candidates couldn’t pull off the optics of positioning for a third party run while also running for the nomination, but Trump could probably get away with it. If Trump is the nominee, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, and Jeb Bush are in the sweet spot of the money/strategy Venn diagram, though it’s tough to imagine they would do more than split votes and toss some close states to Clinton (or Sanders).

Rick Perry has floated the idea that he’s open to a second crack at the nomination at a contested Republican convention, but he offers a compelling case as an independent candidate as well. Winning Texas and maybe a handful of southern, western, and midwestern states could disrupt Electoral College totals enough to push the race to the House of Representatives. Another, center-left independent (like Bloomberg or Jim Webb) would make that outcome even more likely.

It makes sense why the prospect of a candidate beyond the two major parties holds considerable sway this cycle. Yet, the election laws in place greatly discourage it. Beyond smaller third parties and failing an indictment, Americans are likely stuck choosing between the two candidates who emerge from the party conventions this summer.

Culture, media, Uncategorized

Disney princess study shows people have too much time on their hands

Linguistic researchers have logged hours upon hours of dialogue from Disney movies, and found that in the most recent ones, male characters speak three times as often than female characters:

And yet, in one respect, “The Little Mermaid” represented a backward step in the princess genre… The plot of “The Little Mermaid,” of course, involves Ariel literally losing her voice — but in the five Disney princess movies that followed, the women speak even less. On average in those films, men have three times as many lines as women.

The data come from linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess franchise. Because so many young girls watch these movies — often on constant repeat — it’s worth examining what the films are teaching about gender roles.

Dangerous right? Let your dughters watch Disney movies at their peril. The researchers divide the Disney princesses into two “eras”; Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are classics, and the modern era is from The Little Mermaid on. In the classic era, female characters speak as much or more than males; outside of Tangled and Brave, no Disney princess movie from the past half-century has more than about 40% of its dialogue spoken by women.

At Acculturated, Carrie Lukas notes that many of the loquacious gents in these movies are side characters (“the modern-day Jiminy Crickets such as Sebastian inThe Little Mermaid or Olaf in Frozen”) who aren’t even human, and whose gender may not be super clear in the traditional sense.

But there’s something else afoot. Ask yourself, Who are the bad guys in these movies?

Snow White had her Evil Queen. Cinderella had her wicked stepmother and two moronic stepsisters. Aurora, which is apparently Sleeping Beauty’s given name, had Maleficent. Sure, Ariel had Ursula, but Ariel also didn’t have a voice for much of the movie. Since then, most of Disney’s big bads have been boys. After Ursula, the next major bad gal was Rapunzel’s stepmother in Tangled. And surprise: That would be the next movie where female dialogue eclipsed males. (The “bad guy” in Brave was a bear, I think, so it’s a different case.)

(Sidebar: though Jafar serves to underscore this theory, I’m throwing Aladdin out as a “princess movie.” Though Jasmine is marketed heavily as part of the pantheon of “Disney Princesses,” Aladdin is not a princess movie. You can tell because it is named after the male protagonist. This is a hint. You might as well kvetch about Nala not getting enough lines as the “princess” in The Lion King. Also, how much of the 90% of the male dialogue in Aladdin came from Robin Williams?)

Many of the non-protagonist male characters that hog the script serve as either the evil-doers or as buffoonish comic relief. Neither is a particularly favorable image. Would Frozen have been a better movie for women if the slow-witted Snowman had been voiced by Melissa McCarthy? (By the way that could have been hilarious.) That is the answer to the “problems” these researchers have found, and it isn’t clear that it improves the messages these movies send to young girls.

What is clear is that someone got paid to watch an awful lot of Disney movies.