Friday, March 27, 2009

Free Electricity!

Stumbling around the Internet looking for possible freelance work, I found a site called Metacafe. Its model is simple. You upload original videos. If enough people watch, you get paid.

And if you show people how to snag free electricity, you make enough to pay for a nice vacation.

Metacafe says it pays $5 for every thousand views a video gets. It has to reach 20,000 views before payment starts. It also must have a rating of 3.00 or higher. Kip "Kipkay" Kedersha has mastered the craft, according to Metacafe's list of top earners:

1. Kipkay  -  $122,152
2. Liv Films  -  $55,088
3. fishinglivebait  -  $45,138
4. massagenerd  -  $39,196
5. shootingeggs  -  $30,533
6. Reel Stunts  -  $29,079
7. jeff3230  -  $28,903
8. maverick99  -  $26,059
9. spacepaintings  -  $25,471
10. loup226  -  $23,386

Kedersha swears by Metacafe on his website, which also includes his videos since Metacafe does not demand exclusivity.

It's not a way to get rich quick. The video above took 540,000 views to earn Kipkay $2,700. It takes a while to build an audience and you have to have more than one hit to make a decent payday. But once a video catches on, it keeps making you money.

It's another way enterprising people are putting video cameras to profitable use.

Alligator Hearts Garbage Truck

I kid you not.

This was my latest story for An alligator at a Sarasota attraction called Jungle Gardens lets loose a bellow every time the trash truck makes a pickup at the park.

I didn't even think this was a zootoo-type of story. I sent it to my editor for grins and she wrote back telling me to pursue it.

Best of all, editors made virtually no changes to the text version of the story I submitted and the video version survived completely unscathed.

That means, of course, that if you don't like it, it's entirely my fault.

Feedback on has been mixed. A lot of people got the humor but some did not. They felt sorry for the lonely gator. Alligators don't need playmates.

Perhaps I should have pointed out that this one came from an alligator farm. If she wasn't at the park, she'd be someone's wallet.

And from the small world department: Les Smith, the anchor who introduced this piece, worked for more than 20 years in Norfolk, Va, including the two years I worked there in the early 1990s. I wonder if he recognized my name as he read it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cable TV Wars

Interesting article in the St. Petersburg Times about how a local cable company is using its local 24-hour news channel as a weapon in its fight against a burgeoning rival.

Bay News 9 appears on Bright House Network in this market. BN9 is still characterized by the same automaton delivery its anchors have used since its founding in 1997.

Its uniformly personality-absent approach makes it the Muzak of local news. It serves as inoffensive background noise for doctors and dentists who don't want to subject waiting patients to game shows, soaps or any of the Judge Judy/Joe/Tom/Dick/Harry shows.

It has fans, gaining an audience in the morning that rivals that of at least two of the broadcast affiliates that do news.

A few years ago, Verizon began offering its cable TV service, called FiOS. Fiber optic cables, Verizon claims, give FiOS superior picture quality and more HD channels than mere cable as well as more bandwidth for Internet customers.

If it weren't for customer service problems, many deriving from Verizon's inability to meet demand, a two year contract (Bright House does not require one), and prices only marginally lower than Bright House's, Verizon might have encroached on more of Bright House's turf than it has.

Times Business Columnist Robert Trigaux theorizes that Bright House's biggest "differentiator," as he calls it, in its effort to fend off Verizon is Bay News 9.

Questions I have are:

How much of Bay News 9's costs are supported by advertising versus how much is subsidized by Bright House because BN9 serves as a differentiator?

How large a market share would Verizon's cable services have to capture before Bright House could no longer afford its own news department?

If I'm Verizon, I don't consider starting my own news channel yet; I try to win customers with picture quality, price and service -- including addressing the concerns mentioned above -- and wait for BN9 to fold.

THEN I'd launch my local news product -- if I thought it would differentiate me from any future challengers.

I don't know what that tipping point would be or how close Verizon could be to reaching it but it will be interesting to watch the contest.

(Strangely, Bay News 9 is on channel 6 in Pasco County.)

Who Knew?

No, not, as United Press International reports, that David Letterman would turn news of his recent marriage into a top ten list.

The news to me was that UPI still exists.

Got Time on Your Hands?

You probably don't have as much time to waste as the people who created this. But you only have to waste two-and-a-half minutes to watch it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

NOT a Scam

You've no doubt seen ads claiming that you have money out there somewhere waiting for you to claim it. It could be a tax refund check you never cashed, a deposit for an apartment rental or utility you never got back or a long-forgotten bank account.

If you pay this company to find your missing money, it will probably do what you can do yourself for free: Visit

CBS News reported this morning that this is legitimate. You enter your name and the state where you might have missing assets then a list of potential matches comes up.

Alas, it didn't locate anything for me.

Police on MySpace

Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the page connects the police to people ages 14 to 25 who don't watch the TV news or read the newspaper.

That's from a St. Petersburg Times article about how the Tampa Police have created MySpace pages for itself and some individual officers.

This echoes the challenge that news media face in trying to reach people ages 14 to 25 who don't watch TV news or read the paper. And, although MySpace and Facebook are free, it can't bode well that not just government agencies are bypassing traditional media in trying to reach their audiences.

Too bad for the police. With newsrooms so short-staffed, many stories show up on the air barely re-written from the news releases. This morning one of our local stations called a police dog a "canine deputy" numerous times in a story.

Someone had obviously re-typed that police-speak verbatim without a thought from the news release. Just because someone uses officialese gobbledy-gook doesn't mean newswriters have to repeat it. In fact, a journalist's job is to translate that non-sense into plain language.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Month Late

But I was busy. And lazy. And I forgot.

Here is a video I shot during my trip with my brother Jim to Key West last month. If you're not my brother Jim, you'll probably be bored. Jim, you'll probably be bored too.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another Scammer

Seems inventing "facts" to wring a buck out of someone is the American way.

I came home one day recently to find a folded sheet of white paper taped to my front door.

Do you know how Riverview ranks in
crime on a scale from 1 (low) to 10
(high) according to the U.S. Census
Bureau's American Community Survey?

For violent crime, it says, "we come in at a 6." For property crime it's a 7. In both cases, according to the flyer, "the U.S. average is 3."

At first glance it looks pretty scary, doesn't it? I could have placed myself in mortal danger simply by reading this thing before going inside!

Which is the idea. "What can I do to make myself safer?" People will ask. So how convenient that the flyer is a pitch to attend a meeting about "our new Neighborhood Watch Program."

It promises that an administrator from our HOA (homeonwers association) will be there as well as a sheriff's deputy.

And, look! Also there will be a security system salesman. He "will demo personal property security options." A photocopy of his card appears in the lower right-hand side of the flyer.

Now the scam alarm is going off. Once that kicks in my brain function follows and I realize that on any evenly-weighted scale from 1 to 10, the average is never 3.

What is five, Alex?

Then a little research showed that the U.S. Census Bureau's American community Survey, while real, does not count crime statistics. That would be the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the U.S. Justice Department.

So the survey results are fiction. And it looks pretty certain that this whole thing is a ruse designed to lure me into a meeting with a guy who will use high pressure scare tactics to sell me a home security system.

Which, oh by the way, I already have.

If this person had actually contacted our HOA, he might have learned that all of our homes came with a security system included. Whether to pay for a monitoring service was left to each home buyer but the keypad and the rest of the hardware is already in place.

He may be a little disappointed in the turnout of his event. I got home not long after the flyers had been posted to all of our doors. Most were still up.

Until I walked around the neighborhood and peeled them all off.

UPDATE: Our HOA administrator informs me that the flyers were posted by a neighbor. The statistics are still bogus and the flyer still seems fishy but I have deleted the name of the security system salesperson because I don't know what role, if any, he had in the flyer's creation or the event's planning.

Friday, March 13, 2009

When Am I Gonna Learn

... to keep opinions to myself, nod my head and say, "Thank you, Sir, may I have another?" Like a good boy. Or at least one that wants to keep freelance jobs.

I don't know.

ZooToo posted my latest story today. It's about how people will line up and wait for hours for the chance to adopt dogs they saw on TV rescued from puppy mills.

Some changes made after I submitted the story disappointed me. I keep reminding myself that I surrender editorial control of these stories in exchange for creative control over how I cash the check.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quit While You're Merely Losing

...instead of waiting until you're completely embarrassed.

So Comedy Central funnyman Jon Stewart makes fun of CNBC for their slightly egregiously inaccurate economic forecasts. Some of the people on the business network that Stewart singled out failed to see the humor. I get that. Being the butt of a joke usually makes you look like, well, a butt.

And you figure, hey, I have a talk show. I'm fairly fleet-a-tete. Why am I going to let some sawed-off smart aleck get away with that? I'm not!

Let's just say that that idea ranks only slightly lower than the advice to buy Bear Stearns stock. Consider your opponent: An extraordinarily sharp guy with nothing better to do and a team of comedy writers standing by.

I'd equate this contest of wits to the Christians and the lions, except that the Christians didn't have a choice. CNBC asked for this.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Keep an Eye Out

And replace it with a miniature video camera.

The AP reports that a Canadian documentary filmmaker, who has only one eye, plans to shoot a documentary secretly recording people with a camera built into his artificial eye. The film concerns the proliferation of surveillance cameras around the world.

The story doesn't mention whether the guy plans to record the audio with a microphone concealed in a hearing aid.

Can Local TV Sports Be Saved?

One reason I got out of TV sports reporting full-time was the attitude most stations had toward their sports departments: They were a drain of resources rather than an asset that won viewers.

Did I say "had?" They still do. WPLG in Miami will have one sportscaster left after it lets its weekend guy's contract expire July 1. If you click the link, scroll down past the stuff about Charles Barkley's DUI to read the story.

And XETV in San Diego axed its entire sports department. The recent loss of its Fox affiliation played a role, according to the station's GM.

Richard Doutre Jones also cited a loss of sports viewers to ESPN.

The problem isn't just ESPN, although part of the problem is guys at local stations whose only aim is to perfect their ESPN demo reel.

It's that the audience is so fragmented now that stations haven't figured out what's left for them and how to attract an audience for it.

Once upon a time even with ESPN around, a San Diego TV station could cover the Chargers or the Padres in a detail that ESPN could not match.


Forget that ESPN is now four networks (five if you count its Spanish channel). The NFL, NBA and now Major League Baseball all operate their own networks. There's the Golf Channel. CSTV is College Sports TV. Speed is an all-racing network.

Then there's the web. if I'm pro football fan, gives me play-by-play updates of every game in real time. Newspaper blogs and sites like aggregate news around the league. Scores, highlights and league news go right to my phone.

And what are local stations doing?

They're teasing "highlights" when anyone who gives half a flying flip (also known as falling on one's face) has already seen the highlights, already heard or read the news and knew the final score as soon as the game ended.

In other words, they're giving me the same thing I've already gotten except later and, usually, not as well. I live in a top-15 market and there's not a sportscast on any of the four stations here that can keep my attention for its duration. AND I LIKE SPORTS!

What can a station do?

Covering high school and recreational sports won't work if you're going to give them the same treatment you're giving to a pro or major college team. Just because someone plays in an adult soccer league doesn't mean he wants to watch highlights of it, unless it's his game.

A high school football game may draw 7,000 people painted in school colors. What are you doing for the hundreds of thousands of other people who might be watching?

Try this: Tell me a story. Give me insight not just into a game but into the people who play them. Show me someone I'd admire for his or her athletic achievement, regardless of what level it is. Sometimes it's a pro football player; sometimes it's a Special Olympian.

At their heart, sports are about succeeding where most people fail -- those rare days when someone's grasp exceeds what his reach should be.

Sports are more than scores. They have drama, humor, triumph and tragedy. Good sports stories expose the human elements behind the action. That's something you rarely get from the talking-head-ex-jock-shoutfests on ESPN.

That would make me watch.

The problem with this is that such thoughtful content takes time to produce. It takes professional storytellers. You can't give me insight into something if you don't have any.

These things cost money. Which stations don't have in abundance any more. So they hire the plentifully available, and therefore cheap, ESPN highlight-reading wannabes and pretend to wonder why the audience tunes out when the sports segment comes on.

What would I do?

If I ran a station -- and don't worry, there's no danger of that -- I would still do a daily sports segment at a specified time. People who will watch for sports news won't choose you if they don't know when they can find it.

But some days the segment would run 1 minute; other days it would go five. Similarly, some days the sports department would have one person, other days more.

My sports reporters would report news when needed. That might be one day one week and three the next, depending on what was going on.

Sports would be part of the daily editorial meetings rather than a semi-autonomous entity within the newsroom. No more wondering what "they" are thinking. Decisions on what to cover are made as part of the overall daily plan.

Would it work? I don't know.

How's the current model working?

Traffic Stop

We're not talking police encounter, here. My temporary gig doing the traffic for WTSP-TV, Tampa Bay's CBS affiliate, will end soon. Seven months ago I got a call saying that the station had let its traffic reporter go and asked if I could fill in "until further notice."

Further notice has come.

The last girl that the station auditioned has won the job. I don't know when she starts but I do know she's going to need a lot of training before she's ready to go on the air. My days here are numbered but I don't yet know exactly what the number is.

The gig has lasted a lot longer than I would have guessed and it's been good for me.

Coincidentally, I had just put together a montage of lighter moments of my traffic reporting. I've posted some of the clips before but some of the later ones are recent.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Nothing to See Here

Here's the thing. When I have something interesting enough to document here, I'm too busy (or too lazy) to write it.

When I have time to write, I don't have anything to tell you. Did you really want to hear about my exciting weekend of movie watching and book reading?

One of the movies was "One Eyed Jacks," a western starring Marlon Brando and Karl Malden, who, even in 1959, had a double-wide nose.

Stanley Kubrick was supposed to direct but he and Brando had "creative differences." The star actor won the fight and directed the film himself.

Malden, who was 12 years older than Brando, is still alive at age 96.

I also watched Ridley Scott's "final cut" of his 1982 classic "Blade Runner." The DVD is part of a 2-disk package. The second one is a full-length feature documenting the making of the film, from how they put the financing together to how they cast the parts to how they designed the special effects.

I also read the latest Spenser novel from Robert B. Parker, which was another disappointment. The writing is still crisp and the dialogue witty but the story, like most of the recent Spenser novels, was lame.
Parker confessed in an interview that he sends the first draft to the publisher without even reading it. You can tell. It reads like the author was phoning it in.

Too bad. The early Spenser novels (the series began in the early 1970s) are terrific reads. Now only a long-time fan of the series will get anything out of them.

I did complete another zootoo story and send that off to the editors. I'll post the video once it goes online. The one that went up last week about a cat that tests his diabetic owner's blood sugar has gotten good reviews and drawn more than 1200 comments.

Meantime, here's a video from the Daily Show that doesn't make me wish I had cable but it does make me understand why so many people do.

Monday, March 02, 2009

This Cat's Nose Knows

Here is the promised zootoo story about the cat that checks his owner's blood sugar by sniffing his breath. The video is embedded below but you can also read more details on here.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Erica and Brandon

"I'm sorry," she said. "I kiss a lot."

The context was a photo shoot rather than a date but since I was shooting a couple being, well, a couple, the young lady in question still had nothing to apologize for.

This was my second shoot with someone who replied to my craigslist ad offering to shoot them for free in exchange for their understanding that I might screw the whole thing up and leave them with nothing for their effort.

Erica and Brandon met me Saturday morning in the Ybor City section of Tampa. I made suggestions on where to stand but, as with my previous victim subject, they mostly directed themselves.

After the shoot I made copies of all the ones they wanted. As I powered up my laptop, they started talking about lunch plans and invited me along. "Wait until you see the pictures first," I said. "And decide if I earned it."

They did. And I gratefully accepted their offer.

The framing was primarily vertical but I shot some horizontally.