Letters

Letters 07-25-2016

Remember Bush-Cheney Does anyone remember George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? They were president and vice president a mere eight years ago. Does anyone out there remember the way things were at the end of their duo? It was terrible...

Mass Shootings And Gun Control The largest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred December 29,1890, when 297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota were murdered by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry who had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection.” The slaughter began after the majority of the Sioux had peacefully turned in their firearms...

Families Need Representation When one party dominates the Michigan administration and legislature, half of Michigan families are not represented on the important issues that face our state. When a policy affects the non-voting K-12 students, they too are left out, especially when it comes to graduation requirements...

Raise The Minimum Wage I wanted to offer a different perspective on the issue of raising the minimum wage. The argument that raising the minimum wage will result in job loss is a bogus scare tactic. The need for labor will not change, just the cost of it, which will be passed on to the consumer, as it always has...

Make Cherryland Respect Renewable Cherryland Electric is about to change their net metering policy. In a nutshell, they want to buy the electricity from those of us who produce clean renewable electric at a rate far below the rate they buy electricity from other sources. They believe very few people have an interest in renewable energy...

Settled Science Climate change science is based on the accumulated evidence gained from studying the greenhouse effect for 200 years. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet 50 degrees warmer due to heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase...

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Adventures in Advertising

Robert Downes - January 4th, 2010
Adventures in Advertising
A current fad in corporate America is to hire marketing firms to pitch stories to newspapers for everything from soup to wingnuts.
Typically, you’re slaving over a hot computer, trying to turn the lead of a dull topic into gold on the printed page, when a call comes through with a brilliant story idea for Northern Express.
Here’s an example.
Caller: “Hi, I’m calling from LadyStretch underwear for plus-size women with a great story idea about our new line of Mirdle undergarments for mega-sized men. I think it would be a wonderful story for your newspaper!”
You (hardly believing your ears at your good fortune): “Wow! What is it?”
Caller: “Well, you know how a lot of hefty men have issues with their big guts? The new Mirdle is a girdle for men... blah, blah, blah...”
Paranoid types sometimes imagine that the government has some sort of control over newspapers to influence what gets into print. I remember a time about 10 years ago when a local guitarist refused to do an interview because he imagined that Northern Express was a front for the Traverse Narcotics Team and that I was an undercover cop. Obviously, that would be impossible, because it would mean quitting my other job at the CIA.
But increasingly, the truth is more insidious as corporations and their P.R. teams dream up new ways to hack the news.
A few years ago, we used to get calls from Cold Stone Creamery touting their latest ice cream flavor. The weird thing is that the callers sounded like girls in their early teens.
“Um, have you heard about the new raspberry-cherry-walnut cheesecake ice cream flavor at Cold Stone Creamery?” would be a sample call. “We think it tastes really, really good and your paper should do a story about it.”
The callers sounded like they were somewhere between 12 and 16 years old -- very earnest -- and sharing the news about the latest ice cream flavor in breathless tones. I don’t know if the national Cold Stone Creamery company hired teenagers to make the calls, or if it was just some local kid, high on a sugar buzz, and taking it upon herself to chat up the new flavors. In any case, it was quite a stretch that we‘d do a story on the latest version of tutti-frutti.
In November, a personable woman who sounded like she was in her late middle-age called, asking if our paper was going to do a holiday gift guide.
Well, yeah, I said, we do a gift guide every year.
It turned out that this woman was from a public relations firm, pitching a story idea for Verizon’s new line of digital cell phones. Wouldn’t it be great to have a full-page story on Verizon cell phones?
Probably not.
A few days later we were invited to write about a new t-shirt being offered by Domino’s Pizza. Ixnay...
Ditto a guy plugging something called the Treasure Hunters Road Show.
“It would make a fantastic story for your paper,” he assured me, promising that the show is quite the big whoop-de-do. It had to do with some dealers traveling around the country buying up gold and silver jewelry, along with rare coins and collectibles like vintage guitars, toys and Civil War swords.
The Treasure Hunters idea sounded more like an ad than a story, and I told him so. Apparently, he took my advice, since their company purchased a full page ‘advertorial’ in another paper the week of the big event.
Needless to say, it’s rather irritating to get calls from marketing firms off in New York City, Iowa or New Delhi, trying to masquerade their products as fodder for stories. There’s supposed to be an invisible wall between the editorial and advertising departments at a newspaper, where theoretically, we don’t even know what goes on “over there.” But increasingly, I find myself in the role of a traffic cop, politely directing these PR people to the ad department.
These days, advertising is being woven into the fabric of our lives in inescapable ways. (And, yes, I know there are lots of ads in Northern Express -- just saved you the effort of writing a letter.)
Frustrated by TiVo technology that removes ads from your favorite TV shows, it’s said that next big thing for television producers will be weaving the ads right into their shows in an endless whirl of ‘product placements.’ We also see more products popping up in video games and films.
At some point, I suppose that attractive people will be asked to rent out their rear-ends for ad space. Shapely young ladies could make a fortune advertising products for men, such as cologne, trucks and fishing tackle. Come to think of it, that sounds like a very good business opportunity in these trying times.

The Joke‘s On Me
One of the hazards of writing a weekly column is that of making predictions or blanket statements. So I should have known better in last week‘s column not to have claimed that the “War on Terror“ is finally over.
How was I to know that only a day after that gem went to press, some nut would try to blow up a plane from Amsterdam to Detroit?
On the other hand, a generation ago, such an incident would have been dryly reported by Walter Cronkite on the evening news, followed by a few newspaper articles and then America would have moved on.
That‘s not the case today, where the 24-hour cable news cycle demands feeding on such items and niggling them to the point of mass hysteria. You can‘t turn on CNN, FOX or MSNBC without seeing some talking head wringing his hands over fear that the sky is falling; and oh, by the way, also making the leap that President Obama practically pushed the bomber onto the plane.
What‘s irritating about the incessant fearmongering on TV is that it tends to have much of our nation quaking in its boots over the latest 24/7 crisis. The terrorists are certainly winning on that score, thanks to their fifth column friends on cable.
I‘d point out that only two months ago, these same cable worry-warts predicted that by now, millions of Americans would most likely be dead of the Swine Flu... but that would be tempting fate.

 
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