Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interesting Idea

Terri Bennett hadn't seen it coming. The longtime television weathercaster in Charlotte, NC suddenly found herself unemployed this summer when her station failed to renew her contract. A non-compete restriction will keep her off of any other station in town for at least a year -- yes, even though they fired her! -- so she took another tack.

She started her own local weather channel and put it on the web. Check out TerriBennett.com. Can she turn her name into a weather brand? More than 15 years on the air in that market should help. She can do a lot more with the site to engage visitors and to keep them coming back but the idea that one person can create her own "channel" intrigues people like me who believe this could be a niche in broadcasting's future.

Not ALL of broadcasting's future but a profitable part of it for the people who have the skills and savvy to create original and interesting content on a regular (preferably daily) basis, especially those who recognize how much more intimate the Internet is than traditional media and can make visitors feel like they're interacting individually with them.

This is especially true in weather because you can create content relevent to a large audience for little in production costs. Other general interest topics such as consumer news might be other avenues to explore. A story about one shopper's bad experience can serve as an object lesson for many shoppers.

Sports and news are more difficult because they tend to focus on events that might hold little interest to people not affected. Without a large staff creating content across a wide area, those topics might be better left to traditional media. There is still room for magazine-type feature stories. Those are labor-intensive to produce so it would be difficult to crank them out daily but the possibilities exist.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Goodbye Gala

Friday I went to a farewell party for a friend of mine. She and I had both started working at WFLA-TV in Tampa in 1997. I lasted two years; she stayed a decade. Unless there's a story she's not sharing, she resigned voluntarily without having another job lined up.

That is a scary prospect, as I know from experience. But I survived and I know she will too. If all else fails she'll have no trouble returning to television but after ten years of knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, casting yourself adrift into the unknown can cause some sleepless nights.

So it is understandable that her gala was marked with many smiles and a few tears. I e-mailed later to tell her that it was right that she feel mixed emotions. I wrote about an old PBS show about birds I remember watching years ago. It was time for a nervous fledgling to take his first flight. As he launched himself, he defecated what looked like half his body weight. The moral was clear: Even if you have wings, taking a big leap can scare the crap out of you.

When I say that I don't miss TV news, that's true. But even now the fear will occasionally flash through my head: "What have I done! I left the greatest job I will ever have!" You know what? I'm grateful for that because if I never missed it, it would mean that all the time and effort I poured into it was wasted. What a shame that would be. So don't panic, I wrote to her, if it happens to you.

It has helped me that I still do some freelance work and I'm sure it's an avenue she'll explore.

She took pains to remind everyone that she was merely leaving the station, not the area. Some people will forget anyway. Out of sight, out of mind. I told her it would not be a reflection on her. She is more memorable than most. She greeted everyone at the party with an enthusiasm that that made each feel as if he or she were the one person she was most glad showed up. I know I felt it -- at least until I saw her give the next person the same welcome.

That may be the greatest talent a person can have. And it's one reason I'm glad I stayed in touch all these years. Well, OK. She's also cute.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Actual picture of actual candles actually photographed by the author.

Nothing soothes the soul like candlelight. Of course, it's much more soothing if there is smooth jazz and a beautiful woman1 involved but even if it's just my couch, my cat and I watching the glow play on the wall it's a wonderful exercise in serenity.2,3

I've read that people shouldn't burn candles if the power goes out. The fire danger apparently presents more of a health risk than stumbling around in the dark. I don't care. I'll continue to use them whether there's electricity available or not.

1 With the added benefit that the flattering light from candles expands the number of women who can claim this distinction.

2 My second favorite exercise after co-ed naked aerobics.

3 I don't know if serenity is something you can exercise. Note to self: polish this phrase if there's a danger more than five people will read it, especially any who might be willing to engage in my favorite exercise.4

4 With me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Old Meets New Media

The average TV news viewer sees TV news reporting as much more glamorous than it is. The few seconds you see a reporter on camera constitutes a tiny fraction of his day, much of which is often spent asking strangers for information and on-camera interviews. You can arrange interviews ahead of time for many stories but for the low crimes that make up much of TV news, you have to put foot to pavement and knuckle to doorknocker, hope that people with answers will open their doors and that you can convince them to go on camera. Those days I was no more than a well-dressed beggar, hoping for a handout. A few scraps of detail or a few bites of sound.

The new interactivity between the media and their readers and viewers might change some of that. Oh, reporters will probably always have to go knocking on neighbors doors. But now if they won't talk when you go to them, you can ask people who knew a murder victim and her killer to come to you. At the bottom of a breaking news article about a murder/suicide, the St. Petersburg Times solicits people who knew the couple to leave a comment or contact the reporter.

Based on the first person's comments, I'd say it's a good thing that you can't libel a dead person. But people are responding. Since commenters are anonymous, there's no way to verify that they knew the victim or the shooter and aren't just making stuff up. (I'd say "alleged" shooter but if the Times isn't worried about libel, neither am I.) That's one benefit of physically going to the scene. If you knock on someone's door, you have at least some assurance that the person who opens it has a connection to the area. You can look the person in the eye and sense if they know what they're talking about. Or whom they're talking about.

I know that ever more of the information we get will come straight from citizens rather than filtered through journalists. Blogs devoted to neighborhood news like The Seminole Heights Blog devoted to that section of Tampa will satisfy many people's interest for neighborhood news. Yes, many of the items refer to and quote material from either the Times or the Tampa Tribune but there's a surprising amount of original reporting.

But who are the reporters? Distrusted as they may be, the big media outlets at least give you someone to hold accountable. They have ethical and stylistic standards meant to ensure that you can trust that their stories are factually accurate. You might believe that the Times' coverage matches the leftward lean of its editoral pages but at least there are names attached to the articles. Names whose credibility -- and future career prospects -- depending on getting the story straight.

I'm glad there are outlets outside the mainstream media for people to read and watch news and information. You're reading the one I write. But if the day ever came when we relied solely on anonymous bloggers for information, we as a voting public would be wandering though the world in darkness.

So those beggars holding notebooks and microphones instead of "will work for beer" signs do have a useful purpose, unglamorous as it may be compared to what it might seem.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Explaining Halloween

A friend and former collegue of mine and his wife recently adopted two teenage orphan girls from Ukraine. Jim has detailed the joys and sorrows of the process on his blog.

He recently posted a photo of one of the girls and her new younger brother dressed in their Halloween costumes. It made me wonder: As the girls acclimate to American life, how must some aspects of it seem to them?

Like Halloween.

Do they celebrate Halloween in Ukraine? If not, how'd the girls take it when Jim explained it? Maybe Halloween is world-wide but it would have to seem completely nuts to someone unfamiliar with the custom. That would have been a conversation to hear.

Father: "First, dear, your brother's going to dress like a pirate and you're going to dress up like a cat."

Daughter: "Is that so people won't know we're your children?"

Father: "Then you're going to go knock on people's doors and demand candy."

Daughter: "With a house this big I never thought you'd have to send us out to beg for food."

She and her sister will get even soon enough. If it hasn't happened yet, it won't be long before boys come calling on the lasses. Sending them out trick-or-treating is one thing. Sending them off on their first dates? That's going to be a fright night.


This song is based on a recording I made so long ago that it was in mono because that took less space on my computer's hard drive, which at the time measured all of 1 gigabyte. One!

To modernize it, I brought the mono file into my Sony Acid program and added some drum loops and a couple of keyboard fills. I recently figured out that Acid will adjust the tempo of any loop to match that of the song. Quite convenient.

I have another version of this song with a lead guitar part but this one goes without a dominant melody.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Guitar Talk

Here is a slightly more polished version of the tune I recorded when I first bought my new acoustic guitar. I'm trying a variable bit rate file so if you have a fast connection it should play up to 320 kb/sec. Unfortunately, it's still going to be my playing so don't expect a dramatic improvement in sound quality.

New Acoustic Test Two
The lead guitar is a little smoother and there's a keyboard fill way back in the background there too. I don't have the ideal recording set-up, even without the microphone leg balance exercise involved. I think I'm going to have to try to run the audio through a mixer on its way to the computer. That's how I used to record guitars and vocals before I got my guitar port and thought I could box up my analog guitar pedal until it was a museum piece.

Being able to add a good acoustic guitar sound to songs excites me. I've also made an effort to play the guitar at least a little bit every day. I've kept the streak going since I bought the new guitar. My callouses are coming back but playing still hurts my fingertips.