Crummy Little Podcast Episode 2: Beverly Hallberg

District Media Group Founder and President Beverly Hallberg is one of the savviest media professionals in Washington, D.C., and she did a great job previewing the upcoming Republican debate on this week’s Crummy Little Podcast. She also talks about why Hillary Clinton isn’t connecting with voters (and why Bernie Sanders is). There’s even some baseball talk at the end.

Download the podcast here or check it out on iTunes.

How SNL became bulletbroof

Last night, Saturday Night Live’s celebration of its 40th season was… odd. The broadcast was not crisp. Most of the jokes fell flat. The cuts from scene to scene were sloppy. Eddie Murphy could have been replaced by Damon Wayans without materially changing anything.

It doesn’t really matter, does it? Watching cast members from different eras collaborate and the self-referential callbacks to the earlier classics, served as a reminder that SNL has undergone more resurrections than the bad guy in a 1980s slasher flick. Even though there were a lot – a LOT – of seasons when the show was less-than-par, there’s a trail of would-be competitors in the show’s wake. Even as the Tonight Show yielded ground to Arsenio and, eventually, Letterman, SNL was never seriously threatened. (MAD TV’s mid-90s debut was probably the best shot anyone took.)

Depending on how you count, SNL has had three excellent cast eras and maybe one or two more very good cast eras. Maybe even more important, SNL has done well at making its content packagable for the social internet age. Topical sketches are very sharable due to relevance and length, and the rise of shorts videos – a presence since the early years but more integrated in the last decade – have only helped. More than any old media property, SNL has been the most clearly adaptable to the modern media environment. While they’ve been slow at times, they’ve generally kept up.)

Because of that evolution – and the continued waves of success – the show has It’s a brand name now.  A bad year (or even three) won’t force NBC to pull the plug. Like Tonight, Today, Dateline, and the nightly news, SNL is more than a series on the network, it’s a block of time. Even if the format changes, 11:30 on Saturday night will have a comedy show on NBC for the forseeable future.

Pity the successors to Lorne Michaels at the helm of the show, though – with the show such a proven commodity, NBC will likely expect success. Saturday night Live may be bullet proof, but the

Mike Pence might have something here

There’s some understandable bristling at Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s announcement of a “state-run” news service. called “Just IN.” It sounds like an memo from Vladimir Putin’s desk, not an initiative launch by a erstwhile darling of the conservative movement. The idea of government feeding the media, rather than the institutions having a healthy and mutual skepticism, doesn’t sit well.

But maybe this is where media is going. The other night, I watched reruns of Ken Burns’s 1994 documentary Baseball. It originally aired on PBS, but now it’s home is, appropriately enough, the MLB Network. Last Saturday, the NFL Network aired highlight shows for each Super Bowl up to this year. (I tuned in just as Plaxico Burress was scoring a game winner and not shooting himself in the leg.) The New York Yankees, the NBA, the NHL, and several major college sports conferences have staked out their own spot on the dial; Disney and Oprah Winfrey have done the same. Netflix, Amazon, heck even Overstock produce their own entertainment programming. More and more, those who produce the content want to control the delivery channels as well.

Additionally, Just IN gives Pence a direct conduit to the people outside of the filter of any bias from reporters, producers, or media outlets.

Creating a state-run news agency immediately conjures images of Soviet-style Propaganda. In reality, Pence may simply be ahead of the times in an evolving media landscape.

New Journalism and too many white dudes

Emily Bell notices a trend among the teams Nate Silver and Ezra Klein are putting together for their new, future-of-journalism companies: There are an awful lot of white guys:

Well, [Klein’s] project X may now be called Vox, but the great VC-backed media blitz of 2014 is staffed up and soft-launching, and it looks a lot more like Projects XY. Indeed, it’s impossible not to notice that in the Bitcoin rush to revolutionize journalism, the protagonists are almost exclusively – and increasingly – male and white.

Bell recoils from Silver’s comments that he hired partially based on “clubhouse chemistry”: “A clubhouse. Do we really still have to have one of those?” Silver probably does, since he works at ESPN.  Since it’s a sports network, ESPN predominantly caters to men.

Yet Bell writes this from the authority of her dual posts at Guardian and Columbia University. This is not, apparently, the opening manifesto of her own journalism site.  Her screed is merely a complaint from these established beachheads, pointing out that the do-ers aren’t doing enough.

She’s probably right: There might be room for newer, more diverse voices in the marketplace the Kleins and Silvers are trying to occupy.  It’s just a shame she’s passing up such a great business opportunity.


Going multi-screen: #Facebook #adds #hastags

Cross-posted at ViralRead.

Facebook now allows users to include clickable hashtags in their posts.  The decision seems Twitter-inspired, right?

Sort of, but not completely. Though they are using the tags made popular by Twitter, Facebook’s new feature has just as much to do with an old media dinosaur – namely, live television:

During primetime television alone, there are between 88 and 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook – roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night. The recent “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones, received over 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, representing a significant portion of the 5.2 million people who watched the show. And this year’s Oscars buzz reached an all-time high on Facebook with over 66.5 million interactions, including likes, comments, and posts.

Speaking of the Big Game, recall that Super Bowl Sunday was a big night for Twitter this year – half of the commercials mentioned Twitter in one way or another.  Watch almost any live programming and you’ll catch hashtags superimposed on the screen almost as ubiquitously as the logo of the channel you’re watching.  All this takes advantage of multi-screen media consumption – the fact that audiences usually mess around on their phones and tablets while zoning out in front of the warming glow of TV.

And if you’re a show, product, or even a politician in a debate you want to own both of those screens.  Facebook wants to be a gateway to the buzz – and the sweet, sweet marketing dollars that follow it.

(Via AllFacebook.)

Black Friday/Cyber Monday: Media Holidays

As much as Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas/Winter Holiday season of family, friends, and good cheer, Black Friday and its partner Cyber Monday have become the official kickoff of the unofficial shopping season that turns all that good cheer into stress, anxiety, and insomnia.

But it’s all bunk, or at least it is now.  You’ve heard of “Hallmark holidays” – invented celebrations that exist only because greeting card companies want to sell more cards and trinkets.  Right now, Cyber Monday and Black Friday are “Media Holidays”: They exist only because constant media attention feeds the perception that these non-events are actually events.

The evolution makes sense: for years, Black Friday was the most optimum day to do Christmas shopping.  The day after Thanksgiving is either an official day off or a vacation day for many workers, and after a day of turkey and relatives, people wanted out of their houses.  Depending on where you get your information from, the moniker comes from either retail sales finally going into the black for the year or Philadelphia shoppers behaving like, well, Philadelphians.

The advent of online shopping meant online shopping during Advent, and thus came Cyber Monday – that first day back at work when office workers would get back to their desks and shop online.  Part of it was procrastination for those still suffering a hangover from the leftovers (or maybe a leftover hangover), but part of it was because in the early days of Amazon, the best internet connection many people had was the one at their work desk.  Often, the T1 they plugged their business computer into was exponentially faster than the dial-up NetZero that their family used for limited connectivity at home.

The reality is that advances in residential broadband, smartphones, and mobile networks have made the concept of Cyber Monday ridiculous, especially given that many retailers’ “Black Friday” sales extended from the Monday before Thanksgiving through the weekend and almost all were available online during that same time frame.  And there’s really no reason to go outside at all if most of the sales are available online – you can do just as much shopping in your pajamas watching Christmas movies on Black Friday as you can bundled and waiting in the black of night for some kid making just over minimum wage to unlock the doors at Target.

What keeps these non-holidays going is the media element. Much like many places of business that aren’t selling things, Thanksgiving weekend is slow for many media outlets.  Black Friday deals and images of shoppers camping out make for ready-made content on every news program, from the local news up to the national networks.  Social news helps too: tweets and status updates that come with the voluntarily miserable experience of shopping at some insane hour with family and friends are fun to read.

Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) provide an interesting yearly phenomenon that fills time on the news – so interesting that both days continue to outlive their original purpose.

Clown Questions and the Post-Media Era

It’s 1951.  Underneath the stands at Old Yankee Stadium, Joe DiMaggio dresses after a game, a gaggle of sportswriters crowding around his locker eager for a nugget of wisdom from Joltin’ Joe.  A cub reporter from the 78 daily newspapers New York City had at the time elbows his way through and asks if he plans will celebrate tonight’s win with a late night rendezvous with Marilyn Monroe.

Joe’s eyebrows raise in a mixture of mockery and disbelief.  “I’m not going to answer that,” he chuckles.  “That’s a clown question, bro.”

As the entire world knows now, that quote didn’t come from the Yankee Clipper but the National Treasure, Bryce Harper.  There were t-shirts for sale by the next morning, there are video mash up jokes, and, of course, tweets-a-plenty.

Mark it down: this is when Washington DC officially accepted baseball.  For all Ryan Zimmerman’s heroics as the franchise’s first home-grown star since the relocation from Montreal and Stephen Strasburg’s at-times otherworldly pitching and always otherworldly hype, nothing feeds this particular home town crowd like a witty retort to the press.  Inside the Beltway Bubble, pundits pondered over whether the quote might find it’s way to the podium at the White House briefing room.

Jokes aside, it’s a valid point.  And one the other Mormon looking to stick around DC might think about. Harper’s disdain for the reporter (if not his word choice) might work for politicians.  Remember the infamous 2008 interview where Katie Couric asked inane inquiries about Sarah Palin’s news consumption habits?  Palin did herself no favors trying to answer what were pretty dumb questions.

When done right, a snarky, off-the-cuff comeback is more powerful than answering a question “the right way.”  That reporter who wanted to know if Harper was going to crack open a cold one might have been put off by Harper’s flippant response, but it didn’t matter.  The rest of the world saw it, and liked it, and unless that reporter is friends with Cole Hamels there isn’t much he can do.  Harper’s message is out.

It’s doubtful that the communications firms in town are prepping an office for Communications Strategist Bryce Harper after his playing days are over – he may be a whale of a ballplayer, but his wisecrack was just a wisecrack.  Maybe there’s a second lesson there though: that if you have to overthink your response to a question, your answer will suffer.

Or as Yogi Berra put it, you can’t think and hit at the same time.

Beck vs. O’Keefe

Glenn Beck was almost immediate in his criticism of James O’Keefe’s latest video adventure, and the media is picking up on it this week:

“The problem with this whole thing is does James O’Keefe have enough credibility to continue to do” undercover video journalism? Beck asked his listeners. That kind of journalism, he said, is “just really not something that you necessarily want to get into.

Beck, of course, is a media trailblazer himself, who rose to national prominence through his revolutionary and original radio program.  He created a similarly original television program and online magazine.

With others from the right falling all over each other with admiration for O’Keefe’s NPR sting, Beck stands out as a rare dissenting voice.

But more than that, O’Keefe’s brand of activist journalism is simply more interesting than Beck’s platitudes from behind a microphone.  For months, critics have been crowing about Beck’s flagging ratings.  O’Keefe is a threat to Beck from a pure business standpoint.

After all, if you were Fox News, what would be more likely to get ratings – Glenn Beck’s chalkboard with notes about the GDP or James O’Keefe sending someone with a hidden camera into a government office?

When is boycotting CPAC the smart move?

On Friday, Jim DeMint announced he will boycott CPAC.  He joins a host of conservative organizations – including the Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Center – who have decided not to attend this year’s event and Congressman Jim Jordan, head of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House.

For an inside the beltway conservative organization, CPAC is a place to be seen by activists – mostly students – coming in from across the country.  It’s a rare chance to be face to face with members, participants or supporters of your organization – people you may only communicate with via email or phone.  And because it’s such a rare chance, it costs money – lots of it.  Beyond the thousands in sponsorship and/or booth rental fees, an organization has to put lots of thought and resources into making their booth stand out.  Giveaway items, multimedia displays, and other amenities cost money – to say nothing of staff time.

It’s not a prohibitive or unwise investment, but it is an investment.

On the other hand, for a group with a limited budget, boycotting CPAC can separate you a bit from the crowd.  Articles and blog posts about your boycott will likely get into the hands of activists who care about your issue.  If you are one of hundreds of booths in CPAC’s main hall, you may not be able to cut through the noise in quite the same way.

For the politicians who don’t go, it’s also a win-win.  For DeMint, who has crafted a brand as a gadfly against Republican leadership, bowing out aligns him against an inside-the-beltway professional conservative movement.  For tea party activists who paint the entire Washington crowd with the same brush, DeMint and Jordan become horses of a different color.

And the reality is that the Washington, DC version of CPAC isn’t nearly as important as it was 20 years ago, before communication between outside the beltway activists became as easy as it is today.  In its first decades of existence, CPAC could have helped set the conservative message for an entire year or election cycle.  For conservative activists, CPAC might be a rare time to hear from Presidential hopefuls early on, before their campaign started in earnest. But this is a different time.  The era of 24/7 news means campaign themes and messages for 2012 might not be set until weeks or months before – after all, who would have predicted in February of 2007 that a late financial crisis would tip the scales for Barack Obama in 2008?  (In fact, who would have predicted at that time Obama would be the nominee?)  The shorter news cycles have extended Presidential campaigns – meaning that 2012 contenders will be crisscrossing early target states like New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina within six months.  There will be no shortage of chances to hear from Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin.

CPAC is still important; but in the modern media environment, it simply cannot be as important as it once was.  CPAC may still be the conservative movement’s biggest stage, but it’s hardly the only stage anymore.

No one likes citizen journalism

This week may be called anti-indie journalism week.  Consider these three stories:

Each story, in its own way, is based on a lack of understanding of the modern media landscape.  But door number three is the most egregious.

Risen’s comments about bloggers could be appropriate – the downside of a media universe with more outlets is that there are more outlets tat just spew crap, and it is up to the reader to be more discerning.  He doesn’t summarily dismiss the concept of blogs, though he does come off as an arrogant schmuck.  Similarly, the “student” who questioned Etheridge never identified himself as a reporter, which would have been the smart thing to do.

The FTC, on the other hand, is just way out in left field.  The document, which outlines options such as granting tax-exempt status or other allowing reporters to copyright “hot news.”  Really, though, these recommendations are simply reactions to the fact that print newspapers have fallen on hard times:

Although many of the issues confronting journalism cut across different news media platforms, such as broadcast television and radio, most of the discussion in this document will use the perspective of newspapers to exemplify the issues facing journalism as a whole. Studies have shown that newspapers typically provide the largest quantity of original news to consumers over any given period of time. We include within the term “newspapers” online news websites run either by an existing newspaper or by an online-only news organization.

That an online news aggregator like the Drudge Report would seem to count as a newspaper to the FTC isn’t the biggest problem.  The big problem is the concept of establishment journalism, which is the bedrock of the FTC report: professional and somehow specially qualified reporters paid to investigate and package stories for consumption by the reader.   That mindset is what leads a reporter for a prominent newspaper to lash out at internet critics or a Congressman to take umbrage with a question from a reporter without a press pass.

When the reporter or the politician does thinks that way, it’s just stupid.  When the FTC thinks that way, it could also become the law.