Oct 26, 2010

The death of local media legends

RIP: Boom Boom, Mac, Saratogian

Well, one is technically Walking Dead

You know the old wives tale: death comes in three's. Well, the Capital Region's media universe suffered just that; three deaths last week. Let's look at each one:

Boom Boom Brannigan

If you are my age and grew up in the Capital Region, your music tradition and transition went like this: you started out listening to Boom Boom Brannigan on WPTR (AM radio) in early grade school, then when you got into high school you kicked into the deep shit on WRPI (FM radio). Despite the consensus, music today is just as good as it was then; the real difference is simply that AM/Top 40 back then was better --- in Boom Boom's day and into the 70's --- than today's garbage. The problem with today's fine and worthy music is that is just doesn't get played to the masses.

There is a site online somewhere of local radio clips, and you can play back some old Boom Boom shows. A perfect radio voice, he had. That was pre-Clear Channel, when local radio actually.....well, existed. He was a big deal, and when he made a promo appearance somewhere, it was an event.

But to me, he was always a bit of a contradiction. After all, he got big during the British Invasion, but he paraded around town looking (and acting) like Elvis. But Elvis was non existent to kids my age; the Beatles blew him off the radar screen and he didn't really make an appearance in our world until the end, as a Vegas act. Apparently, Mr Brannigan never got that memo.

When FM kicked in, the Boomer was pretty much all done himself. Sure, he bounced around the dial with his (now) oldies act, but his prime time status had long since passed. I saw him at the race track one year, under the party tent. Everyone in the place would steal glances at the big guy, whispering to their friends without trying to be too obvious about it. But is was cool; they weren't in viewing-a-trainwreck mode. Instead, you could tell that each person doing so was briefly overcome with a nostalgic whiff that transported them back to a childhood or teenage years of comfort and glee.

And there sure ain't nothing wrong with that.

Bob McNamara

Likewise, Bob 'Mac' McNamara was another local media fixture that was around... well, forever. He was the sports guy, serving anchor terms with all three of the broadcast networks in the Albany market. Remember; local news used to be a thirty-minute affair, so the five minutes allocated to sports had to be delivered quickly and succinctly, which this guy seemed to do pretty well.

Everyone I knew that was associated with him through the years considered him to be a royal pain in the ass, with a personality that quickly and dismissively made a snap judgement on a person or a subject matter, and then moved right on to the next one in line. Well, there you go: just like the on-air persona. What might not have worked in the office no doubt helped him stay in the game for all those years.

But it all came crashing down, when Mac got into a row with a worker bee at a local PBA Bowling event. A 300-game had been rolled during the tourney's early qualifying round, but the youngster had failed to ring up the Old Master to get him running over to fawn over the big deal.

But there lay the rub: bowling a 300-game was no longer a big deal, especially at the PBA level. In fact, it often happens more than once on a daily basis. But Mac was stuck in the past, and hadn't kept on top of his own game. Like Boom Boom; another memo was missed. He was fired, refused to apologize to get his job back, and was off the air forever. No one would touch him.

I would guess he spent all these retirement years as a not-to-happy kinda guy. That's too bad. I don't know if he necessarily deserved better, but that's no way to exit the bright lights of the big stage.

The Saratogian

OK, the daily newspaper of Saratoga Springs isn't really dead – it hasn't shut down and it continues to produce a large quantity of folded paper each and every day of the week. So let's instead just file them under the heading of Walking Dead. Here's why:

The Saratogian, like all newspapers, is facing tremendous challenges with declining circulation, falling ad-revenues, blah, blah, blah. We all know the deal here, right? Right.

But the hometown folks have a plan: to go full blown into this Citizen Journalism thing they must be hearing a lot about, and sign-up a crew of local yokels to become subject matter experts in a wide variety of topics. In other words, enlist some fresh voices to produce editorial content for the paper on a regular basis. There's even some sort of revenue-sharing plan in place that will split any page revenue (Google AdSense, etc) --- this business model has been out there for awhile (Topix, Associated Content, Examiner), with modest returns being realized by the writer.

Now, a cynic (and labor union members, no doubt) would dismiss this as nothing more than a ploy that replaces a professional journalist (or two or three or four) with a team of not-so-professional amateurs, at a small percentage of the financial compensation. You know, there is probably even some merit to that argument!

But that's not what gets us into mourning mode here, with the realization that the Saratogian has jumped the shark / shit the bed / bought the farm / given up the ghost. Instead, it is the Formal Invitation to participation in this so-called Community Media Lab (ahh) by Managing Editor Barbara Lombardo that has us taking the black suit to the dry cleaners. Here is a part of it:

“We’ll provide training and feedback on blogging and some of the basics of reporting and writing. We’ll also invite you into the newsroom, to get to know our staff, to learn how decisions are made about news coverage and presentation – and to give you opportunities to participate in that discussion and to bring ideas to the table.”

Let us summarize what exactly is going on here, from the Saratogian's POV:

1. The old model of news journalism obviously isn't working

2. A major part of that reason is the leveling of the playing field, where anyobody and everybody can take part in the conversation, publishing his or her thoughts on the internet in any presentation style, format, frequency or spirit that they desire. All the old rules are off the table.

3. We want a piece of that action!

4. But first, anyone who wants to play with us needs to come into our terrarium and learn our Standard Operating Procedures of how we operate under the old model; you know, the one we admit doesn't work and we are trying to move away from?

So, Ms Lombardo wants me (and/or you) to “learn how decisions are made about news coverage and presentation” and then “help everyone hone their blogging skills”? Take these new people that are supposed to lead them into the new frontier, and make them buy into the OLD business model? Does this make any sense? No, it does not.

Let's try using a useful analogy:

*** A telegraph company FINALLY realizes that it's decline most likely has something to do with technology advances such as the FAX machine and (ultimately) the internet. So, in a last ditch effort to survive, it takes its last remaining funds in the bank and buys a Secure eMail Delivery business. Now, what's the first thing it does? It sends all those new software engineers to the factory to learn how this business has long made those old, shiny, copper plated telegraph keys!

Just like Boom Boom and Mac, the Saratogian hasn't gotten the latest memo. But as opposed to those two gentlemen who just went quitely into the night, the Saratogian is looking like a major league idiot by thinking it can somehow reverse the new alternate universe of democratic conversation and info-exchange and somehow bring it back into last century's failing paradigm – and make it work!

It brings to mind Mr Einstein's famous quote:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.“

A New Memo to Ms Lombardo: Fuggetabout it!

Now, if you want to do it right, give me a ring. It ain't hard; and I ain't that expensive.

(oh no, I used the word ain't! That sure ain't gonna fly in the Community Media Lab, is it?)


Clare said...

That is what I like about here. You switch from BBQ humor to something serious and back again. It keeps me on my toes thats for certain.

Paul W said...

The 1st 2 were a bit before my time but your newspaper part was perfect. I don't think I have physically touched a copy of the Saratoghian in 10 yrs or more.

Tim M said...

milwaukee journal sentinel has been using " community reporters " for several years now. every year they audition for a new batch of " community " reporters and they usually pick a 50-50 mix of conservative/religious types and progressive types. none of the community types offer anything but pablum from their party talking points. bla-bla-bla ad nauseum

b said...

good stuff, homie

Phil the Thrill said...

I hope you're not the one that gets to write my obit.

Anonymous said...

The Saratogian seems like it is written for a 3rd grader. So now they want to add more shitty blogs? You meant to tell me that the current ones about what kind of paper to use in your bird cage and the nothingness of two working moms and how to buy a soft bicycle seat and the rantings of some looney militia nutjob are so willdly popular that they need more of them? Yeah, I'll sign up foe the firewall version that is no doubt coming up next so I can read those masterpieces!

Anonymous said...

Where's BoomBoom's Nehru jacket?


What the heck is BBQ HUMOR?