Camille Reyes

Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Spin me, Babushka.

In media on September 13, 2013 at 10:52 am

The New York Times (NYT) publishes an opinion piece by Russian president Vladimir Putin.  The NYT then publishes a “behind-the-scenes” story revealing that Ketchum Public Relations pitched the editorial to the paper.  First, pitching ideas to editorial boards is standard PR practice.  Second, it is very likely that Ketchum also wrote the editorial because that is also standard practice.  What is unusual here is the small degree of transparency offered by the Times.  It seems a “nothing to see here; these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” maneuver.  Journalists typically do not like to talk about the role of PR in their business despite the long tradition of collaboration (some might say manipulation; I say it depends) between the two professions.  As early as the 1920s, according to sociologist Michael Schudson (2003), “Figures circulated among journalists that 50 or 60 percent of stories, even in the venerable New York Times, were inspired by press agents” (p. 83).

So why did the NYT choose to show a little ankle here?  Perhaps we have reached the point where the U.S. people are so jaded about consumerism that the NYT knows there will not be much outrage.  Only the academics who study media might rant, or those pesky Occupy types who still recognize the military industrial complex through the numbing haze of swooshes, sound bites, and underemployment.  That’s my hunch.

The decision to publish the editorial in the first place is clearer to me.  I read an interesting article this week with a quote from former head cheese Bill Keller as to why he decided to publish the locations of secret prisons throughout the world during the George W. Bush phase of the never-ending war on terror.  Was it Keller’s commitment to a watch-dog press, that kind of First Amendment as bazooka so celebrated in Hollywood movies?  Nope.  Keller said it was because the Bush presidency was already weak.  Politics, pure and complicated.  This implies that had the existence of the prisons been revealed at a stage near the height of Bush’s popularity, the NYT might not have published.  Look no further than the mainstream media’s complicity in selling the Iraq war for the government and you find support for this argument.  So if I’m right, perhaps the NYT views Obama as a now weak president.  Perhaps the powerful are already looking forward to the next puppet?

Which brings me back to a point that keeps getting lost in the story-behind-a-story.  The leader of Russia employs an American PR firm.  Let that sink in for a moment.  I am not suggesting that we return to some form of Cold War propaganda.  I do not find Ketchum to be any more un-American than any other global business.  Instead, we should look closely at this new period of propaganda.  Late capitalism has largely dispensed with tactics like Red baiting, hauling out the enmity when it serves, as we see in Putin’s (Ketchum’s)  bashing of American exceptionalism.  They are right in their characterization of the American government, but the barbs are meant to incite comments from eagle T-shirt wearing gun toters (hey, Dad, love you) and longer page views, not to inspire some kind of deep reflection.  It’s also correct that Putin (Ketchum) taking the moral high ground is absurd; just ask the gays.  Ditto too for the irony of Putin (Ketchum) exercising a right to free speech in a way he/they would not allow in his own country.

Putin Kukli

Perhaps “right to free speech” is the wrong phrase.  After all, the NYT would not accept my editorial on Syria.  Our national paper of record is an extremely powerful platform for the extremely powerful few.  Letters to the editor are a subatomic opening for grass roots organizers.  Comments online are even worse.  For example, it is common practice for PR people to post comments to articles with views in support of their clients.  It is a handy, if completely unethical way to justify the existence of PR firms.

The process behind this editorial, and numerous other “news” and “opinion” articles casts light on the machinations of power.  The continuing fiction of U.S. vs. Russia (the band formerly known as The Soviet Union) makes for good business, Syria be damned.  In the fog of our diplomatic war games, the Syrian civilians are the ones who pay the real price.  I would love to see the PR firms behind relief organizations pen more editorials in favor of transferring the budget for bombs to the budget for humanitarian aid to Syria and to bordering countries now grappling with an influx of refugees.  I’m afraid, however, that the NYT would not find this “newsworthy.”

Cited:

Schudson, M. (2003).  The sociology of news. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Advertisements

So this French Guy Writes a Book…

In Culture, Film, media, Music on December 28, 2012 at 9:53 am

Les Misérables (2012), the musical, in a movie theater—I was skeptical.  The signs of hope were there, however.  For one, I’d seen that the director made the actors wear earpieces, piping in live music for each take from an accompanist just off camera.  As a singer, and a one-time (terrible) actor, I instantly recognized the treasure of this method; Hugh Jackman did not need to explain it.  Basically, you get the benefits of two media in one.  You get the enormous temporal flexibility of film—doing shots in any order, taking bits from here and there, multiple takes, etc. without losing as much of the improvisation of live performance, of feeling the song.

Although the movie is far from perfect (paging Russell Crowe, please stop singing, yesterday), it moved me repeatedly.  The “Heart Full of Love” trio with Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks was so beautiful musically that the movie aspect—the editing in particular—diminished the romance.  (Wait, I take that back, a little.  I could look at Amanda Seyfried without diminishing anything, especially my pulse.)  I dare say that these three actors were classically trained in voice.  It’s no accident this was my favorite moment in the film.  My ears might be biased.

http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/amanda-seyfried/images/31490821/title/amanda-photo

Amanda Seyfried

Speaking of these biased ears, I had forgotten that the musical was sung-through, meaning there is little-to-no spoken dialogue.  The film preserves this, another wonderful choice from director Tom Hooper.  Les Mis, more than any other piece of musical theater, always makes me wonder about the medium.  Why is Les Mis widely considered musical theater and not opera?  It seems to me that the location for its original exhibition, the Broadway/West End-equivalent stage, is the source of the puzzling definition.  Of course, from a marketing perspective, musical theater is an easier sell.  If by easier, one means making the world’s most risky media investment (a Broadway show), a little more bankable.  This movie will do much good for the art form, and for this reason, I really do not care what we call it.

I do care about the experience of media though, what it means to change the form of something in myriad ways.  In the packed little Western PA movie theater where we watched Les Mis, my mother and I were jarred by the people clapping after the big numbers.  It took me out of the moment so I was annoyed.  At the same time, I liked that people were preserving a little slice of the original medium—the live-stage.  One could argue that the clapping added to more of a shared experience.  I’m usually all about those, unless, it turns out, I’m watching a blasted movie.  Shut up!  I don’t have to suspend my disbelief here, unless you clap, you rube.

How odd that I’m the first to yell, “Bravisima!” at the opera.  Corny, I confess.  I even prefer my opera singers to be better actors than singers.  Witness my devotion to Domingo over Pavarotti.  While the latter might be technically superior, the former wrenches more emotion per note than anyone.  When Domingo sings Puccini’s ballad about the stars as he longs for his lover Tosca in prison, I weep at the exact. same. bar. every. time.  Keep in mind I’m speaking of a recording; I’ve never seen him do it live, and I guess I never will now that his voice has aged out of the range.  Again, I’m back to the medium.  The recording does not diminish my experience, although I’m certain the live version would’ve found me bawling from the Met chandelier, straining through tears for a better view of my tenor hero.

So yeah, Les Mis.  It’s an opera, dressed as musical theater, trying to convince big sister to take it to the movies.  I highly recommend the experience, whatever yours might be, but if you’re not down with people singing non-stop for over two hours, don’t—wait, go anyway, what am I saying?  You might enjoy making fun of the nerds in the audience, the sniveling weenies who sing every part in the shower, especially when the tigers come at night.

http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/les-miserables/images/275659/title/play-bill-photo

Culture Police?

In Culture, media on September 13, 2012 at 11:48 am

A few years ago I attended a panel on gay rights issues hosted by NYU Law. The President of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) was among the panelists. He was most intrigued by a question I asked about the social arc of gays in the media. I used portrayals of blacks as an analogy. In television, we went from the offensive Amos ‘n’ Andy (on radio first) to The Jeffersons to The Cosby Show to Bernie Mac.

I’m oversimplifying, ruling out Roots and Julia, for example, but basically one could interpret the representation of blacks as lead characters on American television (sitcoms) as racist, then a sort of separate but equal, then white-washed (white-normative?) with Cos, then perhaps more authentic. I say ‘perhaps’ because I’m not black; but Bernie seemed more real to me, more reflective of the middle class black people I knew then. My point of tracing this interpretive arc was to ask if it was analogous to representations of gays; does society, and therefore media as social constructs, follow this sort of path from prejudice/fear of the other to normativity to authenticity?  (This is not a linear process.  See Reality Television.)

Of course, these terms are terribly tricky. Take authenticity.  For example, The L Word is enjoyable, but laughable in terms of realism. One could argue all those straight women playing lesbians on the show are analogous to black face/ minstrelsy. I would not go that far, especially since gender and sexuality construction is qualitatively different from racial identity formation. But I would take The L Word over Will and Grace (funny show) if I had to choose which one better represents “my people.”  Lesbian drama, anyone?  And there’s another problem with my question about media representation and social arcs: defining an entire group of people is a hell of a lot of pressure to put on a television show.

This gets to why I respectfully declined when the GLAAD Pres basically offered me a job after the talk. I do not agree with the element of control or attempts to control media on the part of GLAAD and organizations like the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC). I’d rather celebrate those media that do offer fair representations and discourse on marginalized communities (Let’s hear it for Bitch magazine, for starters!) Don’t get me wrong, GLAAD knows how to fete great media (e.g. their annual awards). But when I think about studies like the one recently announced by the NHMC, I get a little angry.  The study found:

Media contribute to negative stereotypes. (I am SHOCKED, shocked.)

What a fucking waste of research money. I’m sorry, but it needs to be said. Let’s spend more money on solutions and more complex understandings of social problems. I am even more disturbed by the underlying goal in these studies, the subtext of suppression seeping through the data points. Censorship is seldom the answer. (I’m only persuaded by arguments involving children). Create media, people. Speak, knit, roll on the floor, occupy, code, dance, turn nouns into verbs, semaphore until your heart explodes. Do it because you have to do it; do it because you have the freedom to do it. Culture is what we make it, not how we break it.

The State of Media sponsored by a URL Shortener

In media, Social Networks on March 26, 2012 at 11:40 am

An interactive map that shows the relative popularity of media outlets by state? Sign me up! I am straight-up fascinated by this project between Bitly (the peeps who shorten web links) and Forbes. For instance, seeing my Oregon bathed in the pea soup green of NPR overflows my giant bowl of Portland pride. Notice I say Portland and not Oregon. That’s one of the issues with this study as it tracks social media sharing, and I seriously doubt residents in rural Oregon are chatting about one Melissa Block. Have you ever been to John Day? I didn’t think so.

Mmmm, painted hills. (Photo: Tripadvisor.com)

Before I continue to point out some other concerns with this study/project, I want to stress how cool I think it is. They get a gold star for grabbing my interest, for making me share and care. Their advertisers should be pleased. Now, on with the rub …

“When you share or click a link on a social network like Facebook or Twitter, you’re most likely using a Bitly link.”

Know your memes! Know your political economy of media!

Uh, this was written by “friends” at Bitly. What’s in it for Bitly? Facebook has their own proprietary link shortener called fb.me. I’d have to research if they still use it, or if they’ve dumped it for another service. My point is, the way this is phrased, it is unclear how the process works and how many people are using these links. I may “likely” be using Bitly if it is shortened automatically due to an agreement with Facebook and Twitter, otherwise, I can assure you, I’m likely not. What’s the ratio of traditional hyperlinks to shortened links (regardless of ownership)? It’s also likely that the data makes claims about the population of Bitly users in a state and not the entire state of Oregon, for example. But it is more impressive to look at a map of the U.S. vs. a map of Bitly users.

This is where I would expect Forbes, as a media outlet, to force their friends at Bitly to show a little more Jolie leg, i.e. lift the shroud over the research and give us some numbers, please. I think a standard deviation is some sort of ho-hum night at a gay bar. So when I ask for more numbers, your eyebrow should be arched high, very high.

Pesky Apples and Oranges

Is the Onion (number one in Wisconsin) a media outlet? Here our “friends” at Forbes and Bitly conflate entertainment and news. This is actually a fun debate, and I typically come out on the side of potent vegetables as news; ditto for John Stewart’s show. But if it is news, I think we can all agree that an onion is not an orange, the Colbert Report is not the New York Times. The way information is delivered matters, in this case, to consumption and sharing. What does it mean that satire is more popular than reportage among Bitly users in Wisconsin? This is the state that has shown incredible union solidarity in the face of a particularly nasty Republican campaign to bust unions and feed the rich. I know this because I watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. What does this say about me? Are Bitly using Wisconsinites more inclined to share satire because they need more comic relief? Does the Onion simply “cover” Wisconsin more? If so, did this push this result or will Wisconsin Bitlyheads tweet the Onion out of some form of media pride, the way Portlanders drink NPR by the gallon and eat their libraries?

And what of the medium itself? Is there something inherently more “shareable” about print news over audio/visual news? If more people consume news at work, is the A/V content too obvious, i.e. more likely to be detected on the boss radar?

Finally, who are these Bitly users? We may assume they are on the computer holding side of the digital divide. This fact alone leaves a lot of people out. Again, I want numbers at the very least. Idaho peeps may indeed watch a lot of MSNBC, but you say potato and I say potato. I’m not sure which tots we’re talking about. Hey, Pennsylvania, pass the ketchup and the Huffington Post.

Link (non-shortened-heh,heh) to the Forbes story:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonbruner/2012/03/22/forbes-interactive-media-map/

Fat Jeans in the Spin Cycle

In Advertising, media on March 6, 2011 at 10:04 pm

While folding my laundry at the mat the other day, I was subjected to the most confounding form of misogyny, the kind perpetrated by women on other women.  It is called the Wendy Williams Show.  Cheryl Burke, a young celebrity and dancer, was the guest.  If you watch the clip, you’ll see Wendy bring up Cheryl’s weight issues.  They show a photograph where Wendy says she looks “fine.”  Perhaps Wendy meant fine as in “damn, that girl is fiiiine,” but Cheryl certainly doesn’t take it that way.  She says she looks fine like she’s wearing a grey turtleneck, sweat pants and white socks in Birkenstocks. Fine. Meh.  Soon, the “after” picture pops up, and Wendy excitedly says, “I can see your ribs.  You lost a lot of weight.”

At this point, I suppressed the urge to throw my large, fine, folded panties at the screen.  The claps of approval from the live studio audience were nauseating.  I could just picture some kid with a headset on, raising her hands urging the robotic crowd to clap on cue.

Cheer for the suppression of your entire gender!  Yay!

Cheryl looked better than fine in the first picture; she looked absolutely beautiful.  As for the second picture, it is a subtle portrait of hate.  She is posing in a red suit.  She looks hungry.  She looks desperate.  Each rib screams in succession: “Look at me now Hollywood bitches!  I conform!  I have an eating disorder called FullFast!”  Cheryl really believes in FullFast.  Like really, really.  It’s a spray that kills your appetite.  Just don’t mix it up with RoundUp!

And because Wendy Williams cares so much about her viewers, she’s giving you all a free sample of our national disorder.  Like most women, I worry about my weight.  Although I love my father beyond measure, I will never forget all the times he’s called me “chunky” or after coming home from an adult soccer league match to watch me play, saying “if you lose weight, you’d run faster.”  More damaging still are the hurtful words from other women.  I noticed when my abuela stopped calling me flaca, or skinny.  No more Cuban bread for me.  Solace is not to be found in our mass media either, even on so-called women’s shows.  Solidarity doesn’t work on television.  Compassion and community doesn’t sell FullFast.  Self-loathing does.

Two women very close to me have struggled with eating disorders.  They both happen to be empirically attractive.  Yet foreheads on toilet bowls are not pretty.  Spraying shit in your mouth is not sexy.  The media has long upheld a false mirror to women.  The media, our parents, our siblings, our lovers, our friends, our own minds are guilty.  Yet this particular problem is hardest on women; and the media, as our arbiters of public opinion, are the worst offenders.

I worry the resurgent, media-darling fight against obesity will be co-opted as justification for the media’s brokering of air-brushed images, spray-on bodies. Doctors quoted in the press urge us to get fit or die, yet they leave it to the people without medical degrees to define what fit is.  According to trend expert Wendy Williams, Cheryl Burke is a model, one who has overcome the adversity of the image conscious Hollywood, to show us just what a killer collarbone can do.  The televised Cheryl Burke is fit–fit for the furthering of gross stereotypes, fit for daytime television, fit for your manufactured applause.

Press Release Roach Motel

In Advertising, media, PR on September 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age should know better than to write “A Death Of…” piece so soon after the tired Wired declaration of the Internet’s demise.  Could we put an end to “the death of” as a news device?  This funny video points out how much Wired alone abuses the trope.  Stylistic quibbles aside, I did feel a tinge of hope when I saw the object of Dumenco’s funeral march: the press release.

As a PR pro for almost 15 years, the press release and “relationship building” have been the two constants of my career.  Relationship building is an art form.  The press release is more Marcel Duchamp–stick a toilet on a platform and, “viola!” art!  Yet, there are rigid rules for releases; rules I stuck to because when broken it made the release even worse, like taking a sledge hammer to the toilet.  This is odd for me to say.  I’m a rebel in the office.  I take pride in learning the rules and strategically breaking most of them.  Not so for the press release.

For instance, releases should be no more than two pages long, yet your client will INSIST on a six pager at least once in your career.  What’s the big deal?  Ask this question to a reporter on a deadline, a reporter who is teetering on the brink of a layoff and learning how to video edit at night because guess what, that’s part of the job now, too.  Ask them how they feel about four fucking superfluous pages.

Another edict: don’t use flowery prose, let the reporter do the writing.  So when the team behind “Spirit of the Dance” INSISTED that I use their headline for the local run of the show in our press materials, I did what any good publicist would do.  I disobeyed them and gave my reporters what they wanted: just the facts.  Thus, “Spirit of the Dance Steps To A Tenth Decade of Blockbuster Irish Magnificence–Three Electric Nights!,” never made the rounds in Tampa press circles. They really should’ve bought me more drinks, the eye bleeds I saved them from.

Yet even when the press release is done right, in its “inverted pyramid” most-important-info-first glory, I pretty much hate it.  They are by nature utilitarian, and once you have built those relationships, a simple email or media alert (think calendar listing with a little fat) will suffice.  Skewering the press release saves you the pain of a committee of editors ready to gouge eyes over magnificence v. grandeur.

And yet, I must disagree with Dumenco, because like an upended cockroach in Florida, the legs of the press release are still twitching.

Yes, even I will admit that when you’re dealing with a gigantic media list, a list so large you must tier your reporters in priority order (now there’s a FUN exercise), there is nothing quite so useful as a press release blast on the wire.  If your client is looking for a high quantity of story placements, there is still no better tool.  What about Twitter and Facebook?  Ah, these fancy pants new media tools are quality pushers.  I love them.  Twitter is still a game for the techno-elite.  This might change.  Even Facebook is still limited.  Do you really think Walt is going to notice your product promoting status update nestled in the sea of photos of his grandkids?  Social media is an incredible new platform for relationship building, and it offers cool hybrids of broadcast and narrowcast media.  Yet social media is not a blunt instrument.  Getting your story picked up in the Paducah Post Gazette times 1,000 still requires a press release and a wire.

Believe me, I’m looking for the can of Raid, but in the immortal words of Python, “Not dead yet!”

Mainstream?

In Advertising, media on August 21, 2010 at 11:23 am

I’m a bit poll happy lately, but before you get an itchy clicky finger, some background:

I recently re-tweeted this with my skeptic’s comment upfront:

To which social media consultant Shel Israel responded*:

Here’s where I’m going to depend on your honor to answer the poll question NOW, before reading to the end of this post.

Quit your whimpering about my lack of criteria or context. What is your first reaction?

At NYU, I get scolded with some regularity by my profs for not “defining my terms.” For example, I’ll throw around the word “propaganda” like pepper on my scrambled eggs. Surely we all know what propaganda is? Okay, so when I put it this way, it seems pretty stupid. Of course you need to explain what you mean by such loaded, history laden words. I blame my impatience to get to the center of the Tootsie Roll Pop. I digress.

To be fair, defining terms using only 140 characters on Twitter is tough. Yet, mainstream media (MSM) is, as we love to say in academia, “problematic.” I had not thought about this until Shel’s reply. My gut reaction to National Geographic is a long row of yellow bindings on my grandparents’ bookshelf, not the stuff of the masses and breaking news. I’d say National Geographic has a branding problem, at least with the Gen Xers. My baby sister, a 20-year-old Gen Y, likely agrees with me, although I should know better than to assume this. (Cate?)

Resisting the urge to devise a snarky twoosh (I’m a product of my generation. I snark, therefore I am.), I decided to a. poll my friends, then b. look up some online circulations to help me define MSM a little better. You’d think, working in marketing all these years, I’d have a ballpark number in mind, but most flacks and Humanities grad students are afraid of numbers.  Oh, to be a quant jock.

My first stop: National Geographic. I quickly found their online stats, but not so for the print. No matter, online was my main concern. According to the site, they have 14.32 M unique global visitors. Whoa. Looks like Shel might be right. How does that compare to say, The Washington Post? Foul! Wait, you say, that’s an international daily newspaper, and not a fair comparison. Calm down, I just wanted to compare NG to something I thought was indisputably mainstream.

Plus, words like daily, weekly, monthly seem so dated in a real-time news world.


The Washington Post has 16.7 M unique visitors in a three-month average!  I’m still in disbelief.  How can NG’s monthly be that close to WaPo’s three-month average?  With some trouble and registration, I found a case study at Omniture, the company providing the NG analytics.  No real detail there.  We’ll have to take their word for it.

Intrigued, I looked up my favorite business magazine. Perhaps a niche pub would compare nicely with what in my mind was still a niche “science” pub. My trip to Fast Company yielded nada on the online front–only print numbers. Same for my favorite brain food, The New Yorker. What are these companies thinking by not including online stats on their online media kit in an easily accessible place? I digress. Stymied, I clicked to Newsweek.com. Here was the real test, the ultimate mainstream magazine. Guess what? Newsweek clocks in at 5.1 unique visitors per month (?-tough to tell the time frame), well BELOW that of National Geographic. I officially stand corrected. Thanks, Shel.

(I realize there are many other criteria for shaping a definition of MSM, but in my mind, raw numbers of people, i.e. “the masses” pops up as the first question.)

*I’m still such a kid when it comes to social media. Whenever a Jeff Jarvis or Shel Israel Internet celebrity type responds to me, I freak out. Don’t they know I’m a nobody? I hope I never lose my sense of wonder at the power of the Internet to connect people and ideas in such a populist manner. Yes, yes, computers will be the end of us. I’ve watched BSG. But still, after working with rock stars at a venue for years, I became a bit jaded. Thus far, I’m still screaming over technology. Here’s to the interface, your router and great software.