Another Stool at the Bar…

Or is “another stoolie behind bars” a better analogy?

Damned if I know.  I’m still trying to get my head around it being 2010.  According to the science fiction future historical timeline, this was the year in which Dave Bowman comes back to terraform Jupiter’s Europa, there are colonies on the Moon and Mars and everyone has a nano-scaled tech implanted in their heads to augment their wetware.  Instead, we’ve got Glenn Beck, ride sharing with the Russians to the International Space Station and the iPhone.  Somehow, I feel short-changed.

But, I digress.  As usual.

My actual purpose in writing today was to introduce a new member of the Crowd, Brian Lambert.  Observant visitors will note the appearance of his “gravatar” on the left side of the page or  may have read of his imminent arrival in David Brauer’s MinnPost column over the holidays.

Mr. Lambert is one-man media band with  gigs ranging from MinnPost, where he’s one of the authors of the Daily Glean, to blogging at the Rake and MPLS/St. Paul magazine, yakking on KTLK-FM and writing for the Pioneer Press where I first met him as a media critic. Starting next week, he’ll be co-hosting a 7-9 PM show on FM107, aka “The Chick Station.”  He’s probably done more stuff I’m forgetting, but I’ll leave it to him to embroider as he sees fit.

I’m not sure when his first post will appear or the topics he’ll be writing about (not surprising since I don’t know these things about myself), but I almost always find Mr. Lambert’s musings interesting, insightful, entertaining and fun.  He’s also enjoyably snarky and gossipy about the local media scene when the spirit moves him.  In short, he’s a fine addition to our group, especially since he promised to buy the first round for everyone who makes it to our next meatspace gathering. This alone sets him apart from the rest of us.

Enjoy.

– Austin

Photo credit:  Dick Kraus.  “Brian Lambert helps his dad shovel a heavy snowfall from the steps of their rented house in South Huntington in 1996″certified payroll nice

What Happened In Rochester Better Not Stay In Rochester

Whatever magic Al Franken unleashed this morning in Rochester to secure the DFL endorsement with 62 percent of the votes ought to be vacuumed up off the floor of the Mayo Civic Center and bottled for the fall. According to MinnPost’s Doug Grow, today’s Al was sincere, articulate, persuasive and effective, qualities not much seen to date from the man who gave us Stuart Smalley. See for yourself:

Maybe he read Loveland’s post.

– Austin tax preparation business fine

The Man Who Mistook a Web Site for a Newspaper

Mike Hatch ducked an interview with MinnPost‘s Eric Black on the grounds that he mistakenly thought it was the Rochester Post asking for an interview about his tenure as AG and that of his successor.  He was shocked – shocked! – to find “that in fact you represent a blog called the Minnesota Post.”

This strikes me as the funniest thing I’ve read today.  Mr. Hatch is one of the most media-adept politicians I’ve ever observed; does he really expect me to believe he doesn’t know what MinnPost is or where Mr. Black is coming from?

– Austin free invoice fine

If You’re Not Outraged….

Doug Stone’s “Where’s the outrage?” posting on MinnPost today, coupled with Dr. Loveland’s musing on the state of the newspaper industry, has put me in a bit of a grumpy mood this afternoon. If an article as well-researched and well-placed as the New York Times’ analysis of the Pentagon’s use of retired military officers as a fifth column can’t rouse us – regardless of our political leanings – then the state of our union is pretty worrisome and the future of the newspaper industry looks pretty bleak

For those who can’t be bothered with the full version, the NYT last weekend ran a huge front-page analysis of how the Pentagon has systematically targeted a group of retired military officers serving as “analysts” for various news media. Turns out that these individuals 1) have been regularly exposed to special briefings, backgrounders, talking points and other spin from the Defense Department; 2) are often employed or are otherwise affiliated with companies that depend on the DoD for substantial revenue and; 3) these relationships were seldom if ever disclosed to the news organizations or their consumers.

This is the kind of reporting media experts say newspapers should focus on in our brave new world – in-depth, long-form, entrepreneurial, context- and content-heavy. This is the kind of reporting that – as Mr. Loveland correctly points out – often fuels the rest of the media and the blogosphere.

Except when it doesn’t. As Mr. Stone reports, the reaction to this massive heave has been – to say the least – muted. Despite the amount and quality of research involved (after more than a week of carping from the “liberal media” theorists the only correction made so far is the misidentification of one analyst’s service branch), despite the placement (front page of Sunday New York Times is as close as we get to a national agenda), there has been relatively little follow on by other media and very little evidence that the populace is particularly upset.

Mr. Stone cites several reason for this collective yawn including our cynicism (“Of course they’re doing this, everybody does it.”) and the unwillingness of the media to criticize itself, particularly in an age of media concentration and where the finger of criticism was pointing in the mirror.

Regardless of the disease, though, the symptom is what concerns me.

WARNING: BLOGGER CLIMBING ON SOAPBOX AHEAD…PREACHING TO COMMENCE IN 3…2…1…NOW…

Our system depends on checks and balances and not just between the branches of government, but between the various elements of the larger society. Government excess is checked and balanced in part by a strong and active press and by an engaged and informed public. What we’ve experienced in this decade has been a surge in the government – the executive branch in particular – seizing new powers and rights for itself while the media has been in a relatively dysfunctional phase of timidity, navel-gazing and economic turmoil even while the public has been relatively distracted and disengaged.

Oddly enough, especially coming from a guy like me who believes the negligence of the current administration nearly meets the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, I don’t begrudge the administration using the opportunities presented to it. Every president – regardless of party or philosophy – has tried to expand his powers and to use the powers of its office to implement its agenda. Outreach to the retired military officers makes sense.

I do, however, fault the media for 1) not knowing about the relationships with the DoD, 2) not disclosing the relationships and 3) not acting to clean itself up in the wake of learning of these problems. I also fault us – the public – if we don’t take this fact – and many others – into consideration when we go to the voting booth.

– Austin investment advice kind

Consumer Weather Perceptions Argue for Twins Stadium Roof, Not Weather Data

One of the most persistent water cooler topics in the Twins Cities over the last few years has been this: “Should the Twins put a roof on their new outdoor stadium?”

On the Opening Day of the Twins season, Jay Wiener at the online news publication MinnPost (anyone reading it?) had some typically insightful reporting on this subject. The crux of his analysis:

So, including today, since 1961, that’s seven home openers out of 48 — or about 15 percent – that would have been problematic. But, if Opening Day were pushed each time beyond April 15, it looks like all but one of those snow/rain/cold days would have been avoided.


Interesting. But if these are the data the Twins used for their their roof decision, their analysis was incomplete. To me, the sales loss associated with going lidless goes beyond ACTUAL weather cancellations. Losses also will be associated with something else, the consumer’s perception that there is a constantly LOOMING THREAT of weather cancellations, or, just as importantly, a miserable experience.

After all, in marketing consumer perceptions about the product matter more than the actual product attributes. If buyers are convinced Yugos are lemons, it doesn’t really matter all that much if the reliability data actually tells a different story. And if Twins fans are convinced that the chances of cancellation or a bad experience are high, it really doesn’t matter if the weather data tell a sunnier story.

For this reason, I hope the roof decision was viewed through the prism of surveys and focus groups deeply probing consumer perceptions and concerns about weather, not just historic weather charts. The number of Opening Day weather-related cancellations is interesting and partially relevant, but it strikes me you have to go much deeper into consumer angst about Minnesota weather.

• APRIL/SEPTEMBER BOYCOTTS. How many families will boycott individual tickets in April and September in anticipation of the higher liklihood for cancellations and bad experiences?

• PREEMPTIVE DOWNSIZING. How many families will opt for PARTIAL season ticket packages, rather than FULL season packages, in order to avoid the weeks when the perception is that cancellations and bad experiences are likely?

• FROZEN OUT. How many families ultimately will not renew their ticket packages with the memory of a miserable experience(s) frozen into their brain?

• NON-METRO NO SHOWS. How many non-metro Twins fans and their families will eliminate or severely limit their Twins road trips because a multi-ticket forfeiture due to a weather cancellation seems too possible to risk the cash?

OK, I realize the following “analysis” is ridiculously back of the envelope. But I kinda sorta have a real job, so this is the best I can do between conference calls and emails. Here goes: If the Twins stadium is used for 30 years, the $200 million cost of a roof spreads out to about $6.6 million per year. Let’s say the average amount a fan dumps at the park per game — tickets, food, beer, trinkets — over those 30 years is $75. I have no idea if this number is reasonable, but remember MLB inflation rate is not exactly the same as the normal inflation rate. Given all that, it would take the loss of just 88,000 fans over 81 home games per year (3.4 million total annual capacity in the new stadium) to justify the cost of the roof.

For all of the aforementioned reasons related to consumer weather-related perceptions, might that be possible?

– Loveland

adp paystatements kind

Phased Gas Tax Increase Gives Legs To A Damaging Story

When you face an inevitably controversial story, every strategic communications counselor worth their salt will tell you the same thing: Manage the initial bad story as best you can, but, more importantly, do all you can to halt or limit subsequent follow-up stories. Reason: More damaging stories usually means more reputation damage.

Everyone knows that, right? Well, apparently not the earnest policy wonks who crafted the state transportation finance bill that passed the Minnesota Legislature last week with the courageous backing of a bipartisan super-majority.

The transportation finance wonks wrote a bill that calls for a 2 cent increase on April 1 (prepare for the flood of April Fools jokes), a 3.5 cent increase on October 1, and a 3.5 increase over the next five years. In the policy world, this is known as a “phase-in.” It is done to take away some of the immediate political bite of the proposal, and to allow people adequate time to adjust.

In the media relations world, this is known as “water torture.” That is, the phasing guarantees a steady drip, drip, drip of “DFL Defends Yet Another Gas Tax To Increase” stories onto the foreheads of Minnesota taxpayers, including a bunch of stories just a month prior to the November election.

There has been some terrific journalism done lately by MinnPost and the Star Tribune on this issue. Those stories put this increase in a much more complete and thoughtful context than the standard AP or broadcast news story does.

But the unfortunate reality is, most reporters are not going to cover this story more deeply than “Drivers To Feel Pain Due To Yet Another DFL Gas Tax Increase.” And thanks to legislative wonkery untempered by PR counsel, those reporters are going to be be spending the next five years writing that damaging story over and over and over again.

– Loveland sample invoice kind