April 29, 2017

Google Increases Regulation Of False Ads And Fake News

In a report on Wednesday, Jan. 25, Google announced its increased regulation of advertising and linked-to websites about a week after President Donald Trump vowed to cut Federal regulations by 75%.

Google must have figured that if Trump’s administration wasn’t going to care as much as President Obama’s administration did about protecting consumers, it had better step up its efforts to protect people from dishonest advertising such weight-loss schemes, fake news, pay-day loans, porn, “trick-to-click” ads and many other online scams.

In 2016 Google took down 1.7 billion ads that violated its advertising guidelines and policies. This number is up from 718 million ads Google took down in 2015.

In addition to fake ads, many fake news sites were also banned. Often scam sites use the “.co” domain name instead instead of “.com” in an attempt to fool potential readers. According to Recode:

Also among those the removed ads were what Google calls “tabloid cloakers.” These advertisers run what look like links to news headlines, but when the user clicks, an ad for a product such as a weight loss supplement pops up. Google suspended 1,300 accounts engaged in tabloid cloaking in 2016.

So, this is a shout out to Google for being transparent and publicizing what it is doing in terms self-regulation to protect consumers. I’m sure that Google understands that it is much better to regulate itself rather than have the government get in the act. Even though Google, through its parent company, Alphabet, has one of, if not the biggest lobbying organizations in Washington, it still needs to protect its reputation with its users, who are virtually the entire population of the free world (the Chinese government blocks Google) and regulate itself before the government, even the Trump government, does.

I was surprised that sites selling beer and tobacco were included on the list of “Prohibited Content” (sites on which Google ads may not be placed). Sites that sell wine and champagne are OK. Although the difference in acceptability between beer and wine escapes me, perhaps this distinction reflects the taste of Google’s founders, Page and Brin. But nevertheless, Google has policies and promotes them.

Facebook, on the other hand, has not been quite as transparent or as forthright about its attempts to counteract false advertising and fake news. It did announce in December that it was outsourcing the determination of fake news to five third-party organizations: Snopes, PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, ABC News, and the Associated Press. And last November, Facebook announced that fake news websites will be prohibited from using its Audience Network Ads, but the announcement came right after Google announced a similar policy.

Google has been the proactive, transparent leader in trying to weed out false advertising and fake news, Facebook has been the hooded follower. Let’s hope that Google continues to get stronger in self-regulation and that Facebook continues to follow suit and isn’t Trumped in doing so.

Google is doing the right thing for its users, and is being rewarded for it in its market cap of $583.56 billion (1/25/2017) on the NASDAQ, a record high, and the second highest market cap (to Apple) in the world. Facebook’s market cap is $378.9 billion on the NASDAQ, so it should be chasing Google.

Trump’s Vs. Princess Leia’s World

I enthusiastically accompanied my wife, Julia, to Washington over this past weekend to participate in the Million Women March, and I’m so glad I did because it was a thrilling and surprising experience.

Thrilling because I have never seen so many peaceful, friendly, joyous people in one place. We were packed in like smiling sardines on the Metro and in the streets. Surprising because of the makeup and mood of the throngs. The makeup of the crowds was amazingly diverse, yet harmonious — of one mind — and that mind was resistance to President Trump and his words, actions and policies.

There were contingents of women from Wellesley, Smith and other colleges. There were mothers with their young and old daughters, there were young men pushing old women in wheel chairs and there were a surprisingly large number of men — fathers, husbands, boyfriends and sons gladly supporting their daughters, wives, girlfriends and mothers and grandmothers. It was inspiring.

The mood of the throngs I saw at 3rd and C Streets S.W. and within a several-block area were warm, friendly and fun. The costumers and signs were as diverse as the crowds were, and many of them were hysterically funny. At times I felt like I was back at Burning Man, a similar non-judgmental, harmonious, accepting and giving atmosphere.

Julia admired the gold-painted shower caps (“golden shower”) worn by a family, and one of the men in the family promptly gave her a shower cap, which she wore the rest of day — a gift just like at Burning Man.

One of my favorite posters (there were many of them) was a large (maybe 4′ X 3′) one that had an image of Princess Leia from Star Wars: A New Hope holding a blaster on it with the text “WOMEN BELONG IN THE RESISTANCE” over the image.

The Star Wars films are the most popular series of films in the history of movies.  The latest film in the series, Star Wars: Rogue One, had a monster opening weekend this past December of $155 million in North America and $135 million globally to make it the second highest grossing movie that ever opened in December, second only to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This stupendous opening completely thwarted attempts by a right-wing group on social media (#DumpStarWars) to boycott the movie, which prominent conservative conspiracy theorist Mark Dice called “feminist propaganda.”

The final scene of Rogue One shows a CGI image of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia looking at the stolen plans of the Death Star and saying “hope!” I have a wild guess that this message of “hope” may have inspired the “WOMEN BEONG IN THE RESISTANCE” posters of Princess Leia at the Million Women March.

What is not speculation is that Donald Trump is most unpopular president in the history of the country. And contrary to the claims of the new president and his wooden puppet (Pinocchio) Sean Spicer, the crowds at the Million Women’s March were much larger than the crowds at 45’s inauguration. Therefore, referencing Star Wars and its feminine hero the day after 45’s inauguration was appropriate because it put in context the stark contrast between the crowds at the inauguration and the protesting crowds the following day and it put in contrast the difference between the popular Star Wars female hero and the unpopular male president.

How satisfying it must be to Carrie Fisher’s family and friends that her Star Wars character, Princess Leia, is more popular than the president of the United States and that Carrie’s immortal character has become a symbol of resistance.

George Lucas’s creation of the Star Wars world was driven by technology, computer-generated graphics (CGI), which changed the way movies were made. The Million Women’s March was driven by technology, too. Without the ability to coordinate protest marches world wide via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms and without world-wide media coverage, a protest in which an estimated three million global participants, such a massive, diverse mass of people could not have gathered.

The media, particularly social media, made the world-wide protest possible. And as Clay Shirky writes in his ground-breaking book, Here Comes Everybodya revolution in social organization has commenced, and in today’s world connections are more important than media content, as posited in The Content Trap by Bharat Anand of the Harvard Business School. Donald Trump took advantage of this revolution and direct connection when he used Twitter to communicate directly to America without a traditional media filter. He connected, but so did those who oppose him. Therefore, the new communications and connection technologies cut both ways, help both sides.

What alternative world will most Americans want to live in? Trump’s surreal world of anger, of hate, of America first (and only) and of female denigration or the Star Wars unreal world of anti-authoritarianism, of honoring diversity, of galaxy-wide justice and of female empowerment? Both worlds seem surreal, are post-reality, alternative truth worlds where villains become popular idols and where evil empires rule. We don’t  know the end of either story yet, but we have to develop a new hope that the resistance will eventually win. However, it will probably take at least four years.

Facebook Quacks Like A Media Company, But Isn’t One

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. In the past couple of weeks Facebook has been quacking like it’s a media company. It’s not ducking its responsibility for controlling lies masquerading as news, and it’s snuggling up to traditional news media that distribute content on the massive Facebook platform.

Facebook has hired Campbell Brown, former CNN and NBC anchor, as head of news partnerships. In announcing that she was joining Facebook, Brown wrote: “I will be working directly with our partners to help them understand how Facebook can expand the reach of their journalism, and contribute value to their businesses. That also means making sure there is ongoing feedback from publishers as Facebook develops new products and tools for news organizations.”

The week following hiring Brown, Facebook announced that it was going to begin serving ads in the middle of videos (mid-roll) and “giving publishers 55% of all sales, which is the same split that YouTube offers” according to Digiday.

However, all of of this well-intentioned and welcome sense of journalistic responsibility does not make Facebook a media company. It is much more than that. Facebook is a platform like Microsoft’s Windows, Amazon and the biggest platform of them all, Google. Even though Facebook and Google are supported by advertising like media companies such as Comcast, the Walt Disney Company, Time Warner, Twenty-First Century Fox, Google alone is worth more (market cap) than all of the media companies mentioned.

As of Jan. 12, 2017, Google’s market cap is $560.4 billion and Facebook’s market cap is $358.4 billion. The only company that is more valuable than Google is Apple ($635.9 billion). For comparison’s sake, the largest traditional media company is Comcast, which has market cap of $171.10 billion, about 48% of Google’s. Disney’s $170.5 billion market cap is just 47.5% of Google’s and 21st Century Fox’s market cap ($54.86 billion) is more than twice CBS’s market cap  ($26.93 billion), which means that Google is more than 20 times more valuable than CBS and Facebook is more than 13 times more valuable than CBS.

And the size of the audiences that marketers can reach via Google and Facebook dwarf the audiences available on the traditional media to a similar degree as the difference in their market caps indicate.

Why have marketers and advertisers switched much of their advertising investment from the traditional media to Google and Facebook? Because of the precise targeting capabilities of online advertising. When advertisers (including political candidates) invested in advertising on traditional media such as TV, they bought content that they assumed reached the audiences they wanted to reach — they bought news for older, better educated people, for example.

With digital ads, advertisers don’t buy content; they buy individual impressions and they buy these impressions programmatically in real time. Thus, Campbell Brown doesn’t have to handle individual buys from news publishers or advertisers. Instead, she educates them on the advantages and benefits of publishing or advertising on Facebook and then they do the work of placing the orders and managing their accounts programmatically, computer to computer on the Facebook Audience Network.

In addition to automating the ad buying and selling process, Facebook and Google, as platforms and not content producers (media or news companies), don’t have to take the heat, insults and rants from an media-bashing president elect and his press thugs.

In the current anti-media climate coming from Trump Tower and soon from the White House, what organization would want to be labeled as a media company? Bring on the platforms.

Emperor Trump: Let Them Watch ‘Celebrity Apprentice’

President-elect Donald Trump will continue to be an Executive Producer of the NBC prime-time reality program “The Celebrity Apprentice,” which is returning January 2 after being off the air for two years and will feature a new host, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When I read this announcement, I was reminded of Emperor Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon III, who once proclaimed, “One of the first duties of a sovereign is to amuse his subjects of all ranks in the social scale.”  According to Ross King, author of the superb book The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave The World Impressionism:

If [Louis-Napoleon’s] subjects could be entertained, he reasoned, then perhaps they would fail to notice or to care about the fact that most of their liberties had vanished. This was the man, after all, who had suppressed an insurrection in Algeria in 1856 by sending the magician Robert Houdin to Algiers to to bamboozle the locals with this repertoire of amazing tricks, including his famous “bullet catch” routine. And what worked on unruly Algerians would likewise, Louis-Napoleon hoped, work for the unruly French.

While President-elect Trump hasn’t yet suppressed journalists and forbidden the press to publish negative comments or images of him as Louis-Napoleon did, I have no doubt that he would like to divert the public’s attention away from such issues as the environment, conflicts of interests and picks of unqualified cabinet officers, and to keep his celebrity, reality star status and image with his core fans and followers. Also, as John Cassidy pointed out in his penetrating New Yorker article, Trump wants to have his cake and eat it too — govern the country and be involved in his businesses. Trump has said that he will have no involvement in making decisions on Celebrity Apprentice and that the Executive Producer title merely represents his development of the show and his financial interest in it.

From Trump’s perspective, there’s no conflict of interest. He’ll get richer and his fans will love him.

In terms of today’s TV network business and ethical values, NBC apparently sees nothing wrong with the president of the United States being listed as an executive producer in one of their entertainment programs. However, I think NBC should be concerned.

Remember CBS’s CEO Les Moonves’s comment about Donald Trump’s campaign? “It might not be good for American, but it’s damn good for CBS.” That was also the attitude of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News — get the ratings from covering Trump regardless of whether it’s good for the country. Profits before public service.

Julian Goodman was President of NBC from 1966-1974, and had come out of the news division. It was under Goodman’s leadership that NBC developed the highly rated Huntley-Brinkley Report that featured John Chancellor, who in 1970 became the sole anchor of the renamed NBC Nightly News, followed by Tom Brokaw. Goodman, Huntley, Brinkley, Chancellor and Brokaw were old-fashioned broadcast newspeople who, like their competitors at CBS News, Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid and Walter Cronkite, felt that broadcast news was a public service, a public trust.

It wasn’t until 1986 when GE bought NBC and Larry Tisch took over as CEO of CBS (after buying 24.9% of CBS’ stock) that the two networks’ news divisions had to make a profit. The notion of news programs making a profit had been anathema to William S. Paley and Robert Sarnoff, the founders of CBS and NBC, who both viewed their news divisions as crown jewels of public service that helped them keep their valuable radio and TV station licenses that were issued by the FCC to “serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.”

I don’t believe that if Julian Goodman, or David Brinkley, or Chet Huntley, or John Chancellor, or Tom Brokaw or their intellectual and public-service/public-trust oriented successors were still running NBC that they would have agreed to carry a program for which one of the executive producers was the president of the United States. Therefore, I don’t blame Donald Trump for taking the executive producer money; I fault NBC for giving it to him.

NBC is helping Trump entertain the public and divert their attention from important issues.

On the other hand, NBC carries Saturday Night Live and Alex Baldwin’s devastatingly satirical impression of our future president, so maybe the scale is somewhat balanced.

Is Bashing Breitbart News Counterproductive?

In the past couple of days the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have featured stories about companies, including Kellogg’s, pulling their advertising from Breitbart News, where Trump advisor Steve Bannon was the former chairman.

Is ceasing to advertise on Breitbart News: 1) A good marketing (business) decision and 2) the right ethical decision?

There is no question that marketers such as Kellogg’s and Allstate Insurance have the right to free expression and should be able to place their advertising investments wherever they like, but there is a question as to whether it’s a good idea from a business and ethical point of view for advertisers to announce their advertising cancellations.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Kellogg’s was unaware that their advertisements were placed on Breitbart.com, which is not unheard of:

It is common for companies to buy online ads through third-party networks or ad exchanges that place the ads on numerous sites. As a result, many companies may not be aware of which sites on which their ads ultimately appear.

“We determined that the site violates our hate speech prohibition,” said Josh Zeitz, a spokesman for AppNexus. He said that Breitbart was never a direct client, but that some of AppNexus’ technology partners made Breitbart’s inventory available on its exchange.

Breitbart called the decision “un-American,” according to the Washington Post“Kellogg’s decision to blacklist one of the largest conservative media outlets in America is economic censorship of mainstream conservative political discourse,” it said in the statement,” read the statement.

So in the battle of press releases, Kellogg’s wants the public to believe it pulled its advertising because of consumer complaints and Breitbart’s values, and Breitbart News wants the public to believe that Kellogg’s and other Breitbart-shy advertisers are exercising economic censorship.

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Fake News: Facebook Is A Technology Company

Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has come under intense scrutiny and criticism since the election, largely because of the prevalence of fake news on his social platform that some critics are claiming helped Donald Trump get elected.

Zuckerberg’s initial response to concerns about fake news was in a Nov. 12 post on Facebook in which he wrote that Facebook is a technology company, not a media company. He also wrote that it was up to users to decide what news to follow and that it is a “crazy idea” that Facebook influenced the election.

The notion that Facebook is a technology company, not a media company, is nonsense. It’s fake news.

Zuckerberg is no dummy. He took the idea of a digitized facebook from some Harvard classmates and was good enough at coding to put one up on Harvard’s servers. As Picasso said, “bad artists copy; good artists steal.” Zuckerberg was smart enough to get into Harvard, smart enough to take a good idea and smart enough to continue innovating at his new company to leave Friendster and MySpace in the dust.

But when the company became successful Zuckerberg didn’t want to admit that Facebook was a media company, even though he eventually managed it like other media companies are managed, i.e. to maximize advertising revenue. At the beginning of Facebook, Zuckerberg didn’t like advertising because he thought it hurt the product. However, he soon learned, like Larry Page and Sergey Brin learned at Google, that users weren’t going to pay for the service, so in order to grow he had to accept advertising.

Advertising revenue is like heroin. Once you try it for a while, the highs become addictive.

Zuckerberg became addicted to advertising revenue, but because he was a new player in the game, he thought he could deny being in the media business and being addicted to ad revenue. He talked a good game, a game that would inspire the troops at Facebook, appease its users and distract investors. He said Facebook’s mission was “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” which is a lot more noble than admitting its mission is to maximize advertising revenue and profit. Wealth is even more addictive than heroin.

William S. Paley didn’t start CBS to serve the public with a truthful news source and create a community-focused discourse on important issues. Paley, like president-elect Trump, went to the undergraduate Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and, also like Trump, founded his company with the goal of getting rich. Why else would you go to business school? But Paley realized that the biggest profits were not in owning a network that packaged programs and shared advertising revenue with affiliates, but in owning radio and then TV stations.

The problem with owning radio and TV stations is that you have to get a license from the federal government (from the FCC) to use public airwaves; and to get those licenses, you have to agree to serve the “public good convenience and necessity.” Therefore, Paley realized that the No. 1 priority of radio and TV station managers was to keep their licenses, so it was in his economic interests to serve the public interest by providing news, public affairs programming, editorial writers and community affairs directors at the CBS-owned radio and TV stations.

But Paley and other broadcasters, through the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), lobbied hard (and expensively) to get the FCC rules changed so that being fair (the Fairness Doctrine abolished in 1986) or providing meaningful public service was thrown in the trash heap of good intentions. Bring on Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and now fake news.

These changes in regulation brought about a revolution in the media. Neither cable television nor the internet require a government license, so the concept of public service didn’t apply. Cable TV became the uncensored, unregulated home of indecency, advocacy news and pornography, all driven by an addiction to advertising revenue. The internet was driven by the same uncensored, unregulated content and addiction.

But there is some hope, some ethical light at the end of the tunnel. In 1974 eroticist Al Goldstein put his Screw Magazine on cable TV, and it t soon became Midnight Blue. Eventually, the repulsiveness of Midnight Blue, Screw Magazine and other porn became obvious to viewers. The novelty wore off and they died without advertisers or viewers. This election that spotlighted the obscenity of fake news might just be enough to kill it too.

Mark Zuckerberg has now announced that Facebook will try to do something to censor fake news by cutting off the reason for its existence — advertising revenue. The teenage Macedonians and Filipinos who created the fake news didn’t care who was elected in the U.S.; they cared about the advertising revenue. By admitting that Facebook would cut off the ad revenue to fake news sites, Zuckerberg was admitting that Facebook is a media company, that it isn’t amoral and that serving the public interest matters.

Welcome to the traditional media world, Mark.

Trump Meetings Spotlight A Media Power Shift

President-elect Donald Trump’s meetings–one with TV network news executives and anchors, another with New York Times executives and columnists–highlights a tectonic power shift in the media.

One thing that was telling about the Monday meeting with TV executives and anchors from CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC, who were summoned to Trump Tower in Manhattan, was the timing. The off-the-record meeting, which was described as a “f***ing firing squad” by the New York Post was held in the afternoon after the Trump team had posted a two-and-a-half-minute “infomercial-style” video on YouTube. In the video, Trump lays out his agenda for his first 100 days in office and pledges to create jobs, renegotiate trade agreements, put in effect bans on lobbying and end restrictions on energy production.

In other words, Trump went OTT (over the top) of the TV networks and spoke directly to the American people, as his predecessor, President Barack Obama, had done on occasion. The intended message to the TV networks and to the American audience was, “I don’t need the TV networks to communicate with the people. I can use social media platforms on the internet.” He thus threw a spotlight on the shift of media power from linear TV to the random-access and immediate, on-demand-access content distributed on the internet.

Then, when he faced the TV network executives and anchors, including Wolf Blitzer, Lester Holt, David Muir and Gayle King, he could call them “liars, the deceitful, dishonest media who got it all wrong,” and they had to swallow it because they had agreed the meeting was off the record. None of them had their video cameras hot for a live shot or a tidy two-minute video story to present. They were powerless. They probably didn’t know what Trump knew — that they had been disintermediated by technology, the internet and social media.

The next day, Tuesday, unfolded in typically bizarre Trump fashion by the President-elect tweeting in the morning that he was cancelling a planned meeting at the New York Times with Times executives and columnists, then changing his mind, and going ahead with the mid-day meeting.

The Times meeting was structured differently than the meeting with the network TV people in that there was an off-the-record segment and an on-the record segment. The Times had the power to have Trump come to the Times and agree to make part of the conversation on the record, which had to add even more humiliation to the network TV attendees and remind them of their diminished power.

It’s also telling that the Times live-tweeted the part of the Trump conversation that was on the record, and, guess what, Trump was respectful and cordial. According to the Times’ tweets, Trump said he respected the newspaper. Times media correspondent Mike Grynbaum tweeted, “Donald Trump on The New York Times: ‘I do read it. Unfortunately. I’d live about 20 years longer if I didn’t.'”

The fact that the Times was doing real-time coverage of its conversation with Trump using a social media platform on the internet that readers could access as it was happening reinforced the power shift to digital news from old-fashioned, linear-accessed TV news that must occur in a studio or live with intrusive camera crews with reporters in make up.

No wonder the Times picked up 41,000 digital subscriptions after the election. Intelligent readers know where the news power resides.

Trump To The Press: ‘You’re Fired’

Donald Trump won the presidential election without much help from the traditional press. Of the 45 major newspapers in the country, only one — the Las Vegas Review-Journal , owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — endorsed Trump. The New York Times and the Washington Post endorsed Clinton, and USA Today endorsed “not Trump.”

Trump vilified “the media,” especially the New York Times and the Washington Post during his campaign, and the next evening after he won, he dodged the press when he went out to dinner. He essentially said to the press corps, “you’re fired,” like he used to snarl to losing applicants on his NBC TV prime-time reality shows The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice.

The press was outraged that Trump didn’t play by what they thought were the rules. On Thursday, Nov.17, the Poynter website featured a story titled “Journalism organizations call on Trump to up hold traditions of White House coverage”:

Eighteen journalism associations penned an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump Wednesday that requests a full press pool, regular press conferences and a more responsive approach to fulfilling freedom of information act requests.

The letter, which calls Trump “the new leader of the free world” was signed by the American Society for News Editors, The National Press Club, Reporters Without Border and The Regional Reporters Association, among others. Committee to Protect Journalists, which also signed the letter, said in October that Trump threatened press freedoms.

Does the press really think Trump is going to snuggle up to them after they were so wrong in their predictions and after trashing him day in and day out during the campaign (not that he didn’t deserve some of it)?

In the Nov. 15 podcast of NPR’s Hidden Brain host Shankar Vedantam talks with historian Allan Lichtam who developed a 13-point model, which he calls “13 keys,” that he has used to predict correctly the last nine presidential elections, including predicting a Trump win. In the podcast Lichtam said the press didn’t get the story of the election right because the coverage was “lazy and misleading.” Lichtam said that “reporters didn’t have to get out of bed to write about the polls.” They didn’t get out of their urban enclaves and talk to Trump supporters, who the reporters must have thought were “deplorables.” After all, the majority of reporters (except most of those with Fox News and Brietbart News) are Democrats.

Lazy is a pretty good way to describe much of the press coverage of Trump. Many of the newspaper, magazine and online news reporters and TV hosts, like Megyn Kelly, are part of the elite, self-absorbed celebrity class. Walk though the newsroom of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Time, the New Yorker or The Atlantic and you’ll run into scads of graduates from the the top three journalism schools (Missouri, Northwestern and Columbia) and Ivy Leaguers. They are not deplorables.

Also, TV news outlets such as CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox News gave Trump lots of free attention. Trump is smart enough to know that to a politician, like to a startup, as quoted from Antonio Garcia Martinez best-selling new book, Chaos Monkeys, “media attention is like sex. There are two types: good … and better.” He certainly knew the old adage about publicity: “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.” And “Trump” is easy to spell.

Trump’s relationship with the press reminds me of the myth of Echo and Narcissus recently featured on the Daily Art app: “Punished by a goddess for her constant chatter, Echo was confined to repeating the words of others. Enamored with Narcissus… she tried to win his love using fragments of his own speech but he spurned her attention.” As we know, Narcissus saw his reflection in a river and fell in love with himself.

“It’s the same old story, a fight for love and glory…”

Trump Card: “Men With Nothing to Lose Will Stop at Nothing to Win”

“Men with nothing to lose will stop at nothing to win” is a quote from a brilliant book, Chaos Monkeys, by Antonio Garcia Martinez. The author was writing about entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, but when I read the line over this past weekend weekend I had an “ah-ha”moment. President-elect Trump.

I’m an eighty-something, preppie, Ivy League, ex media executive and former journalism professor who lives in the Upper East Side of Manhattan who supported first Elizabeth Warren, then Bernie Sanders and finally Hillary Clinton. I also teach a graduate Media Ethics course at the New School in New York. It would be hard to find a more blue-blooded, liberal, bubble-wrapped elitist who up until Tuesday evening was confident Hillary Clinton had a lock on the election.

When Trump won, I was shocked, shocked that democracy was going on in America. Having spent my life selling, managing and teaching about the media, I thought I understood the media and how it had been manipulated, hijacked and exploited by Donald Trump, but two quotes from Chaos Monkeys were epiphanies: “To a startup, media attention is like sex. There are two types: good … and better” and “Men with nothing to lose will stop at nothing to win.” I realized that the media was a partner in the election of Donald Trump.

First, let’s put the definition of “the media” in perspective. It is as broad as the definition of “the American people.” The media is an amorphous, general, broad categorization that has vastly different meanings to different people. The media to an Ivy League Upper East Sider in Manhattan might consist of the New York Times, NPR, The Atlantic and FORBES. To a working-class electrician in Ohio the media might be Country Music radio station TheBull (106.1), BuzzFeed and Breitbart News on Facebook. The media has as many different meanings as there are people who listen, read, watch or use it.

Media consumption is fragmented and polarized. People like their favorite radio station, but hate “the media,” which is a pejorative term that means “messages that don’t reflect my bias.” Some Ohioans may read the Youngstown Vindicator, but not read the New York Times and perceive it to be “the liberal media” that did not support their candidate, which makes them hate the NYT and, by association, hate “the media.”

Donald Trump played on this media hatred and gave the haters what they wanted, vitriol against “the media,” among other targets of his verbal kicks and punches.

Many pundits and critics of the media also faulted “the media” for its horse race-esque coverage of the primaries and the election. Many people blamed “the media” for caring more about who has ahead than about who had ideas of substance.

These critics were right. The media did cover the primaries and election like they were a race or a game, but the media got the game wrong. The election was not a horse race, which has written rules. In California, for example, “interference” is defined as “bumping, impeding, forcing, floating in or out or otherwise causing any other horse to lose stride, ground, momentum or position.” Even the UFC’s ultimate fighting game has rules: No head butting, no eye gouging, no biting, no hair pulling, no fish hooking and no groin attacks of any kind.

Remember in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the  Sundance Kid when Butch (Paul Newman) said before a pending knife fight, “Not until me and Harvey get the rules straightened out” and Harvey said, “Rules? In a knife fight? No rules!”

In politics there are no rules except the Constitutional right to free speech. This election was a knife fight. Trump knew that and Clinton didn’t. Butch Cassidy won the fight by kicking Harvey in the groin before the fight started and won. There were no rules. Trump kicked his primary opponents and Clinton in the groin after the fight started and won.

Trump broke all the rules that his opponents and the majority of mainstream media outlets assumed existed in politics. Trump’s opponents and the media were wrong. In politics there are no rules. It’s a knife fight, and Trump, who was already a celebrity and a multi-billionaire, had nothing to lose, so stopped at nothing to win.

Comedy Central Should Appoint a Woman to Replace Jon Stewart

In her Academy Awards acceptance speech for receiving an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette got a rousing welcome from legend Meryl Streep and other women in the Oscar ceremony crowd when she called for equal pay for women in the movies.

It’s time for equal pay and equal opportunity for women in television, too, which means that Viacom’s Comedy Central should name a woman to replace Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”

And I have a candidate – Laurie Kilmartin. Laurie is currently the only female monologue writer for Conan and has been a successful female stand-up comedian and writer.  She’s very smart, knows politics and is tough enough to stand up to the macho male political blowhards and bloviators who Jon Stewart was so magnificent at deflating.

Larry Wilmore has added some welcome diversity as Stephen Colbert’s replacement in the time slot that follows “The Daily Show,” but to succeed in the 11:30 p.m. time slot, Wilmore needs a strong lead-in from the “The Daily Show” at 11:00 p.m.  If Wilmore and Stewart’s replacement for “The Daily Show” don’t do well in the ratings, Viacom’s response will more than likely be to do what it’s typically done in the past and increase commercial time.

Joe Flint in the Wall Street Journal had a revealing article  on February 18, titled “Cable TV Shows Are Sped Up To Squeeze In More Ads,” and the worst offender, with 24.2 minutes of commercials in an hour, was Viacom’s BET.

Twenty-four minutes of commercial time in an hour; what a self-defeating, greedy travesty. No wonder people are cutting the chord and paying to watch exciting commercial-free programming such as Netflix’s “House of Cards.”

Therefore, Viacom should try something radical and newsworthy by choosing the right woman to replace Jon Stewart. A woman-for-a-woman’s sake would be cynical and would work against Comedy Central, but the right woman would give the network a much-needed boost.

My suspicion is that Comedy Central will make a “safe” choice of a white male, that the ratings of “The Daily Show” will decline and that the network, under profit pressure from Viacom, will increase the commercial load, which in turn will start a vicious cycle of turning off viewers, lowering ratings and adding more commercials.

Welcome to the land of stupid, suicidal cable programming.

NBC Is Painted In The Right Corner With Lester Holt As Anchor Of ‘Nightly News’

The NBC News division of Comcast-owned NBC/Universal had no choice but to appoint Lester Holt to replace the suspended Brian Williams on the top-rated “NBC Nightly News,” and by doing so it painted itself into the right corner.

Holt will be the first African-American sole anchor of a major broadcast network’s early news program, and that’s good. Appointing Holt was the right thing to do because Holt had been Brian Williams’s regular backup for several years and was the obvious choice.

Unlike CBS News that cynically hired Katie Couric to anchor its evening newscast primarily because she was a woman, not because she was a qualified journalist, NBC News promoted Holt because he was the best person for the job, not because of his gender or race. NBC had its eye on merit, not necessarily the ratings.

Also, there would have been a huge outcry, led by MSNBC’s own Al Sharpton, if Holt hadn’t gotten the job. NBC would have been accused, and rightly so, of racism if they had not upped Holt. And now NBC is stuck with Holt for the same reason even though the ratings of the “Nightly News” will probably go down for several reasons.

First, the odds of any network evening news program staying number one forever are slim. Second, it is no secret that there is still racial prejudice and that there are people who will switch newscasts because of Holt’s color. Third, an anchorperson is not the only contributing factor to why people watch an evening network newscast.

AR&D, a major local TV station news consultancy, made a presentation at which I was present several years ago about the elements that contributed to a newscast’s success. There were 150 of them, and the anchor or anchors was only one of the factors, and not the top one. Media researchers know this fact, but the media generally don’t.

The media tend to simplify the highly complicated question of what makes a newscast number one, and they tend to attribute ratings success primarily to the anchor. The networks should be so lucky that it was as simple as hiring a charismatic news reader.

What Lester Holt has going for him is habit. Habit is the most important factor in a news program’s rating success. Also, Holt is very good at what he does – reading the news – and he’s a solid reporter and journalist.

What Holt has against him is that NBC News’s reporters and producers are not as strong as they used to be. The other 149 factors are not under his control and are weaker than those at ABC, as demonstrated by the fact that ABC’s “Good Morning America” took over the ratings lead from NBC’s “Today” in the summer of 2012 and is still in the lead. It seems inevitable that ABC News’s know-how will take hold at its “World News Tonight,” and the ratings trends are starting to show ABC catching up, even before Williams was suspended.

My heart goes out to Lester Holt, a solid professional who deserves to sit in the “NBC Nightly News” anchor chair, but who will blamed for an inevitable decline in the ratings that will have nothing to do with his competency or merit. I’m also glad that I’m not NBC or Comcast trying to deal with the situation at the same time that it is trying to convince the FCC and the Justice Department that it’s good for the country to allow it to purchase Time Warner Cable.

But that is another story. In the meantime, Holt is competently doing his job in the corner he’s in. Go Lester!

Stop Watching NFL Football

On September 15, I sent the following email to my children and my six oldest grandchildren:

I was watching NFL Football on Sunday, as is my habit, but in the Jets-Packers game, after an ugly fight in the end zone, I realized that the rage and violence was out of hand and that I was guilty of supporting this culture of violence by watching it.

Fifty years ago I quit smoking when I realized that it could kill me, which meant I would never see my three (at that time) beautiful children again. Thirty-five years ago I stopped drinking because I was recovering from hepatitis. When I had a glass of wine, it hurt me — it was agonizing — and I once again decided that I wanted to live to see my kids grow up.

Yesterday I stopped watching and supporting NFL football because I don’t want my grandsons and granddaughters to be exposed to that kind of violence. If there is any fighting in their lives, I want it to be the gentle, fun, highly choreographed dance that Amaqui, Kai and Abe [three of my grandchildren] did in “Aphrodite and the Alien” [a 2:46-minute video spoof].

I urge you to read this blog post by my friend, the psychiatrist Justin Frank, the author of “Bush on the Couch” and “Obama on the Couch.” The post is titled “Facing Facts.” And I hate to do this, Chris [my son], because I know how much you love the Patriots, but I urge all of you not to watch NFL football and to stop supporting a culture of violence…for the sake of my children, my grandchildren and your own humanity.

In an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times titled “Punishment of Child Abuse” that ran on September 17, Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, in reference to NFL star running back Adrian Peterson’s indictment for “reckless or negligent injury to a child,” wrote:

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense. Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.

In the NY Times September 18, Book Review section, Anand Girdharads wrote a review of Jeff Hobb’s new book:

“The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” seeks answers in the true story of two men, reared in the same mostly black, mostly luckless neighborhood, whose trajectories spectacularly diverge.

One man is Shawn, born to a sweet-talking, drug-pushing father named Skeet, who tries to keep his son from books, fearing they will make him too soft for a hard world. Instead, Skeet teaches Shawn how to fight, intimidate, know everyone on avenues where it’s lethal not to.

In “luckless,” poverty-stricken, tough urban ghettos, fighting and violence are ingrained in the culture – violence is taught to children and in many cases this violence and abusing (and abusive) behavior is ingrained in a child’s personality and soul by brutal “punishment.”

But what can those of us who have not been brought up with violence and abuse and who are privileged, white, upper-middle class and secure do to help reduce the violence and systematic abuse of children and women? We don’t have a Harry Potter magic wand that we can wave to reduce violence in our society.

But we can do what concerned, fed-up citizens have done for eons – protest. Civil disobedience. Stop obeying bad laws – Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King taught us how to do that – and stop supporting a sport that teaches (bounty on hurting quarterbacks), accepts (minor punishments for sexual and child assault) and even encourages soul-shrinking violence.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Uplift your own sense of humanity, agape and compassion. Stop watching NFL football.

Enough, Roger!

Guest Blogger, Bruce Braun writes:

I’ve been a fan of the NFL since childhood, but no longer. It is not because the 49er’s charge $117 a pop for one ticket and parking can easily be $50. Violence on the field is one thing, but that is where it should stop. Ray Rice has become a metaphor for the daily violence we see in our country. Tolerance has effectively become tacit license by the NFL management and owners for players to commit crimes off the field. Sit out a few games, pay a fine? No big deal when you are being paid $10M a year. “I was drunk, lost my head, but I now see the error of my transgressions and promise to not do it again.” Bullshit!

Enough is enough.

In every other profession, new hires are subject to reference checks, applications inquire if the applicant has ever been arrested or convicted of felonies, etc. Why not the NFL?

If Roger and the owners were really concerned about players being arrested, charged or convicted, consideration ought to be given to a more comprehensive screening of players before hiring them. Cops have to pass psychological and criminal background checks, government security clearances draw similar scrutiny.

I submit the following for just the last 12 months that should prove sufficient for more screening than just playing ability. My source is http://www.utsandiego.com/nfl/arrests-database/.

Ray McDonald, defensive tackle, San Francisco 49ers. Arrested Aug. 31 on suspicion of felony domestic violence in San Jose, Calif.

Greg Hardy, defensive end, Carolina Panthers. Arrested May 13 on two misdemeanor charges after he allegedly assaulted and threatened his ex-girlfriend.

Ray Rice, running back, Baltimore Ravens. Arrested and charged Feb. 15 after striking his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

A.J. Jefferson, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings. Arrested and charged Nov. 25, 2013 with one felony count of domestic violence following a fight with his girlfriend.

Daryl Washington, linebacker, Arizona Cardinals. Arrested May 3, 2013 for assault after an argument with his ex-girlfriend in her Phoenix apartment.

Amari Spievey, safety, Detroit Lions. Arrested March 26, 2013 for third-degree assault, risk of injury to a child, disorderly conduct after a child-support argument in Middleton, Conn., his hometown.

Michael Boley, linebacker, New York Giants. Arrested Feb. 8, 2013 on child abuse charges in Etowah County, Ala., three days after being cut by the team.

Leroy Hill, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks. Arrested Jan. 29, 2013 on two felony counts of domestic violence after an incident with his girlfriend in his Issaquah home.

Chris Rainey, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers. Arrested Jan. 10, 2013 and charged with misdemeanor simple battery after an altercation with his girlfriend in Gainesville, Fla.

Robert Sands, defensive back, Cincinnati Bengals. Arrested Jan. 4, 2013 and charged with fourth-degree assault after an altercation with his wife in their Florence, Ky home.

Bryan Thomas, linebacker, New York Jets. Arrested Oct. 31, 2012 and charged with aggravated assault of his wife and drug charges in Randolph, N.J.

And recently, we read Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson beat his 4-year-old son with a tree branch as a form of punishment this summer, an incident that allegedly resulted in multiple injuries to the child. According to reports, Peterson has been indicted in Montgomery County, Texas for injury to a child.

What about former New England Patriot, Arron Hernandez who is currently being held without bail following his indictment on three murder charges?

Would Michael Vick be playing in the NFL today if TMZ had broadcast video of his tossing cash bets as dogs tore each other apart?

I can’t fathom any corporation with an employee arrest record like the NFL. How many companies would continue to employ persons exhibiting behaviors such as those above? Only a zero-tolerance policy on assaults, battery, drugs, drunk driving, weapons charges, and domestic violence will ever send the proper message to players. Game suspensions and fines don’t cut it.

We should keep in mind the League enjoys an anti-trust exemption that enables individual teams to not compete for TV revenues with other teams, that it has benfitted hugely by taxpayer bonds to fund stadiums and their improvements, that it is the beneficiary of numerous federal state and city taxes and that it has misrepresented the seriousness of brain concussions for years until very recently, like this week.

Football has become a game in which millions live out their fantasies of “killing the opposition”, has become too powerful and too violent and is becoming a metaphor for American ignorance and aggression.

What say you Roger, other than using terms like ambiguous?

Gannett Spin-Off Makes the Score Wall Street, 4 – Public Service, 0

On Tuesday, August 5, Gannett announced it was spinning off its publishing business, consisting of USA Today, 81 daily newspapers and the British news company Newsquest. The new spinoff newspaper company will keep the Gannett name.

The company that will own Gannett’s television stations and digital assets doesn’t have a name yet, but will consist of 46 stations, including the Belo stations, which Gannett purchased last year for $1.5 billion. The new broadcasting company will be the largest group of TV stations in the top 25 markets.

Gannett’s response seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to the Tribune Company and E.W. Scripps Company doing the same thing – spinning off its newspapers and keeping its TV stations in a separate company.

And several weeks before these two spinoffs, Time Warner spun off its huge magazine businesses, including Time, People, Fortune and Sports Illustrated, into a stand-alone print business and kept its content-creation and distribution businesses, Warner Bros., HBO and Turner Cable channels.

All of these spinoffs were justified based on maximizing shareholder value. TV stations and cable channels rake in gobs of money and are highly profitable. Newspapers and magazines are slowly bleeding to death as readers move from paper to mobile screens and as advertisers inevitably follow this audience diaspora (and pay less for the corresponding mobile ads).

But when the notion of “maximizing shareholder value” is bandied about, we have to ask who are the shareholders that are demanding more “value,” which really means a higher stock price. Today’s shareholders are not individuals, but are huge institutional investors, such as pension funds, mutual funds and hedge funds that all demand outsized returns. They have a Wall-Street-Gordon-Gekko-greed-is-good mentality.

In the good old days (ahh, nostalgia) most newspaper and many magazine owners thought of their publications as delivering useful, important news and information to serve the public good, convenience and necessity, and were typically guided by the tenants of responsible journalism as well as, and often before, profits.

What seems to have happened in the four recent spinoffs is that the media companies involved have spun off anything that smacks of public service.  Separate the profits from the journalism – keep the state, throw away the church.

Wall Street, 4 – Public Service, 0.

But wait. There is hope. One counter trend to the Wall-Street-greed-is-good approach is reflected in Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post, and there are indications that the WAPO is scurrying to catch up digitally and continue to serve a more mobile public. And BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post have hired responsible investigative journalists and are publishing responsible, in-depth journalistic reports to intersperse with their click-bait content.

Another counter trend is the rise of B corporations, as reported by James Surowiecki in the August 4, issue of The New Yorker. The B in B corporations stands for benefits, and the firms are for-profit companies that “pledge to achieve social goals as well as business ones.” (I’d link to the The New Yorker article, but you can’t get in unless you subscribe, so I don’t bother.)

Warby Parker, Patagonia, Etsy, and Seventh Generation are examples of B corporations, of which there are currently over 1,000, and are allowed by law in 27 states.

Surowiecki writes:

The rise of B corporations is a reminder that the idea that corporations should be only lean, mean, profit-maximizing machines isn’t dictated by the inherent nature of capitalism, let alone human nature. As individuals, we try to make our work not just profitable but also meaningful. It may be time for more companies to do the same.

I would add one word to the last sentence: “It may be time for more media companies to do the same.”

But what are the odds that the old-line media moguls such as Murdock, Redstone, Moonves, Roberts, Bewkes, or Iger will get a sudden public service urge or that the Wall Street owners of their companies’ stock will allow them to achieve social goals as well as business ones.

Don’t hold your breath.

“Programmatic Buying Killed Us”

NEW YORK – July 5, 2020. “Programmatic buying killed us,” said CEO Jill Jack in an interview the week after she closed down National Spot Sales Representative, Inc. (NSSR), the last remaining independent television and radio national sales representative company.

ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC’s TV station representative divisions and Clear Channel’s Katz Media Group all shut down their operations a year earlier, leaving NSSR struggling with only 5% of all TV and radio inventory sold on a direct, guaranteed basis.

“With so little inventory sold non-programmatically, we couldn’t survive,” Jack said. “There weren’t any buyers left because all the agencies used their own or independent trading desks, so we had to call direct on small- and medium-sized businesses that typically made us call on their Purchasing Departments.”

“Selling used to be fun – calling on buyers, taking them to lunch, plying them with drinks, sneakers, jeans and all sorts of swag.  Purchasing Departments don’t take swag. All they want is Big Data and insights. What do my salespeople know about that? It’s no fun,” Jack said wistfully.

I asked Ms. Jack if there was any single event or watershed moment that might have foreshadowed the end of direct media selling. “Sure,” she said, “On June 4, 2014, Ad Age reported that the world’s largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble announced that 70-75% of its digital media wold be bought programmatically. I remember Ad Age’s sub-head on the story: ‘Other Marketers Likely to Follow P&G’s Example.’

“It was like the bottom fell out of direct selling. Up to that point, most digital ad dollars went for direct marketing, not for branding. P&G’s decision opened the floodgates for digital branding dollars. Everybody followed P&G like lemmings, as they always do.”

I asked if agencies weren’t reluctant to fire all of their media buyers. “Hell no,” Jack replied, “they couldn’t wait to automate the digital buying process and turn over buying to software at their trading desks. Media departments are cost centers; trading desks are profit centers. Automating their media buying process saved the agency’s bacon. Made them profitable again.”

I asked Ms. Jack what happened in the upfront market. “The upfront market went programmatic in 2017,” she said. “The big advertisers and their agencies still made deals under the table to allocate prime time and sports inventory and to shut out smaller brands, but the final buying was done on an automated basis. Actually, it was handled by Google.”

I asked if Google still handled the automated buying process even after it bought CBS in 2016. “Yes,” Jack said, “but killing salespeople wasn’t Google’s fault.  Google has added a lot of salespeople, who they, like Facebook, call evangelists. Google didn’t kill media salespeople, P&G did. They never liked us calling on them anyway.”