Friday, November 21, 2008

JFK, 45 years later

Hard to believe it has been that long since JFK's assassination, but even now the images and events of those days are burned into my brain, as vivid as though they happened yesterday. Back then people trusted their government for the most part, and the media... trust that is now gone in both cases.

JFK inspired people in a way that hasn't happened since. Looking back, you can see he was a flawed human being with character issues, but when you're a nine year old kid you need heroes. Mine were JFK and Alan Shepard. Kennedy told us anything was possible and Shepard proved it was.

We talked about Kennedy in class a lot, especially during the Cuban missile crisis. Being so close to Manhattan we knew we could all be vaporized in an instant. There was a team spirit back then, a patriotism I never saw again until 9/11... and even that faded quickly. Kids were inspired to reach for the top.

I remember the school nurse coming into our fourth grade class, whispering into the teacher's ear, and then quickly leaving. The teacher announced, "President Kennedy has been shot. You are all to go home." After a few numbing moments, the kids in the class turned into a bunch of reporters. Was he dead? Where was he shot? "I don't know. Just go home," the teacher said.

We ran home and parked ourselves in front of the television set for basically four days. The one time we left was to go to church (packed beyond belief) and on the walk home people were on their lawns yelling, "Oswald's been shot!"

The images and events are frozen in time. Cronkite wiping away a tear, John Jr.'s salute, the natural sound of the drums as the coffin rolled through DC (with nary a word from a commentator... back then they knew enough to shut up and let the pictures and sound carry the story). We trusted television back then, we believed what we saw.

Then, everything began to unravel. Lyndon Johnson escalated Vietnam and Americans began to seriously doubt the government. When the Warren Commission ruled that Oswald had acted alone and a network agreed, it was the first crack in the credibility of television journalism. No one believed Oswald had shot JFK with a mail order rifle. (When I visited Dealey Plaza years later, it only confirmed my beliefs.) We didn't believe the Warren Commission, and since the network agreed with them, we didn't believe the network. (The one dissenter on the Commission was a congressman named Hale Boggs, who mysteriously died in a plane crash later. Hmmmm.)

But before I get off on an Oliver Stone tangent, let's get back to the original point. Trust. The media has lost it, and truly jumped the shark during the 2008 election. Now we're like the cheating husband asking the wife to take us back and trust us. The wife is objectivity, while opinion is our mistress.

How do we get back that trust? Well, it won't happen overnight. We have to become objective again, do stories that really affect people instead of just chase the scanner, provide people with information that can make their lives better. Be part of the community, provide help as only television people can.

Deliver the news without an opinion or an agenda.

Many have written that America lost its innocence the day JFK was shot, and that is a perfect way to describe the time period. It has sadly never come back. Living in "Leave it to Beaver" land might seem corny looking back, but we were happy and believed in a future. I'm not sure anyone believes in anything anymore.

But we have to start turning it around. We saw a little of it during 9/11 but news slipped back into its old tricks, running sleazy stories during sweeps and being as sensational as possible.

Time to turn back the clock.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just when you think your life can't get any worse...

I was about to write something along the lines of a pep talk for those of you working in horrible situations, and then I read this.

If this doesn't put things in perspective for you, nothing will.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mailbag: Brunette is the new blonde


I'm graduating next year. I'm a brunette with dark eyes, and people are telling me I need to go blonde before putting my resume tape together. I think I would look ridiculous.

Will a different hair color improve my chances?

-Natural Gal

Dear Natural,

Well, this is probably going to get me a few emails.

First, lets look at the statistics. Someone did a study a few years ago and determined that while only ten percent of American women are natural blondes, seventy percent of female newscasters sport the fair-haired look. Do the math.

Now a few personal experiences. Once, I was looking to hire a few reporters and was whipping through resume tapes. One of our female managers (a blonde) was looking over my shoulder one day as a parade of women with light hair filled the screen. At one point she actually said, "Not another blonde."

Another time a young lady with stunning red hair came in for an interview and actually asked me if her hair color would keep her from getting a job. (Full disclosure: the Grape is married to a redhead, so the answer was no.) She kept the natural red and is very successful today.

I've worked with many women who colored their hair. It worked on some, but on many it just looked weird. ("Such pretty blonde hair," an old weatherman used to say. "I wonder why she dyed her roots brown?") I've watched one woman over the years, a talented brunette with beautiful dark eyes, go lighter and lighter and lighter until she is now approaching Anna Nicole territory, and she just looks garish. It's gotten to the point that the hair is so distracting you don't notice her talent. She also hasn't gone anywhere.

And usually the dark eyebrows, dark eyes, and dark roots are a dead giveaway. And high def is unforgiving.

That said, there are still a lot of blondes on the air. Maybe we need a study to see if most of them were hired by male News Directors.

But here's a real unscientific study. In 2007, every single one of my brunette clients got jobs, and quickly. Not all the blondes did, and those who did seemed to take awhile.

Your appearance is a key factor in your career. Not fair, but this is a superficial business. But in my personal opinion, coloring your hair isn't going to improve your chances.

And, there's no such thing as a brunette joke.

Now please excuse me while I dump some Grecian Formula on my gray.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What politicians don't want you to know about honeymoon periods

A lot of new people will be taking office in the next few months, from the President on down. And there's always talk of a "honeymoon period" that the media gives these rookies... a few months to get their feet wet and make mistakes.

Uh, wrong.

Politicians know this, and will often use this time to sneak things past the media, then plead ignorance if they get caught. Problem is, they often go unnoticed by reporters who are willing to wait a while before holding politicians feet to the fire.

I remember one local race in which there was one huge issue. One candidate was for it, the other vehemently against. The guy who was against it won, and the minute he took office he changed his tune. Many media people gave him a pass since he was the "new guy" when in reality he should have gotten hammered.

When covering rookie politicians, you have to hit the ground running from day one. Treat their first day as if they've been in office forever. There is no honeymoon period when you're a reporter being a watchdog for the public. Keep a close eye on the new people. They don't think you're watching, but trust me, you'll get some really good stories if you do.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Our book made the NY Times

Check it out...