Monday, September 15, 2014

Are women better writers than men?

by Don Keith

OK, maybe you have not been pondering the point of whether one sex makes for better writers than the other, but the folks at Grammerly decided to do some research on the subject.  Their "info-graph" is below.

You may have to enlarge the graphic to see the small print.

Just as interesting to me as the conclusions of the Grammerly folks is the fact that there is a website that specializes in checking and correcting your writing.  Is it better than Microsoft Word's fussy grammar correction?  A feature that literally drives me to distraction?

I don't know.  But in listening to folks talk and reading a great deal...especially on a particular local "newspaper" website...the need is there.  Oh, yes, the need is there!

Regardless the gender of the writer.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What? A newspaper that is actually INCREASING circulation?

by Don Keith

Regular followers of this rant know that I have criticized long and hard the silly moves being made by traditional newspapers (and other media, for that matter!) to attempt to overcome major technologically-driven changes in how people consume media.  My favorite target is The Birmingham News, which continues to shoot themselves in the foot as they attempt to cut their way to prosperity and rely on a clunky, cluttered web presence ( to meet the shift in users to a digital platform.

Well, in a recent blog post, media researcher and all-around bright guy Mark Ramsey takes a look at one newspaper that seems to be doing it right.  And it is an entity that many said was doomed, partly because it was a printed newspaper and partly because it was a hybrid local/"national? publication.  But mostly because a digital guy bought the dying paper and would surely run it the rest of the way into the ground.

Read on:

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has been the owner of the Washington Post for a year, and while his experiment at the Post remains a work in progress, the brand is experiencing the highest digital traffic in its history and is even modestly increasing print circulation in a time when most newspaper brands are continuing to suffer steep declines.

1. Bezos is playing for the long term
Bezos is famous for putting long-term growth ahead of short-term financial pressures. Indeed, there would be no without this thinking style.  That doesn’t mean you should ignore the day-to-day financial demands of your balance sheet and your stockholders. But it does mean that you can’t create a long-term future in disruptive times one financial quarter and one round of layoffs at a time. It’s cliché, but true: You can’t shrink your way to success.

2. Bezos is investing in the brand
Bezos has added some 60 new editorial staff at a time when newspapers across the country are only cutting staff.  If you want someone to pay attention to your brand – to care about it – you had better give them more to pay attention to and care about, not less.

3. Bezos has launched a number of innovative initiatives
GigaOm writes:  [Editor-in-chief Marty] Baron gave credit to PostEverything and Storyline, as well as growth at other Post features and blogs such as Wonkblog (whose creator Ezra Klein left to start what eventually became Vox), along with new ventures such as The Morning Mix, and verticals devoted to health, science and sports.

4. Bezos has put great emphasis on digital, both strategically and in terms of hiring
Many of the new editorial hires were specifically for the brand’s digital platform.
Editor-in-chief Baron, from Capital New York:  In order to achieve those goals, we think we need to hire people who are fundamentally digital. They’ve sort of grown up in the digital world, they’ve written primarily for digital platforms, and that’s what we’ve been looking for. Our view is that the web is a different medium, and it calls for a different form of storytelling. These are all people who are experienced in that form of storytelling, and in many instances it’s second-nature for them, and that’s their primary form of expression. We need more of that, we want more of that.

So the Bezos recipe sums up to this: Focus on the long term, invest in the brand, take risks by experimenting with new initiatives, and see the world the way today’s digital consumer sees her world.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Books are old technology? Ask James Patterson if there is still gold in publishing

by Don Keith

I've posted multiple times about how rapidly changing technology has affected some media much more than others.  That is especially true of two media in which I have more than a passing interest: broadcast radio and book publishing.  I'm a former radio broadcaster and I have published more than two dozen books.

Well, I keep hearing that nobody reads anymore.  With all the audio and video choices, why bother turning the pages of a paper book or flipping the simulated pages of an e-book?  Apparently plenty of people still turn off Facebook or Netflix or Pandora and curl up with a good book, whether it's on ground-up trees or in an electronic device.

Forbes Magazine is out with their report on how much the best-paid authors make and, frankly, the haul is breathtaking.  And that correlates to plenty of copies of books being sold, whether in printed or electronic form.  No surprise to those who are aware that James Patterson leads the ranking with more than three times the income of number two.  Of course, he now has a small army of "co-authors" cranking out so many books it's hard to keep track of them all.  He averages releasing a book a month with his name on it.  But somebody obviously is.  Keeping track and buying them, whether they have time to read them all or not.

By the way, in case you are wondering, my income from writing books is similar to Mr. Patterson's...if you move that decimal point many, many places to the left!

(Another by the way:  I was actually under consideration to be a "co-author" with the late Tom Clancy.  I had always heard he paid his "co-authors" a flat $1,000,000 per book.  Here is another example of needing to move the decimal point many places to the left to be accurate.  Still, I was thinking about accepting the job if offered just to have the opportunity to work with Mr. Clancy.

Still, if Mr. Patterson is reading this, I could probably do a darn good "co-authoring" job on his genre of book, too!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Desperate times call for desperate measures

by Don Keith N4KC

In the face of unprecedented assault from rapidly changing technology, broadcast radio has resorted to many desperate tactics lately.  Unfortunately, the most common defense is to cut every possible expense and do little more than stream music or "ride the satellite," running piped-in syndicated programming for most of the day.  None of this seems to be working.  Listenership and revenue are down, down, down.

Recently, a Canadian radio station, CKMP in Calgary, Alberta, did something even more drastic.  In order to make the claim that they played more songs than any of the streaming services (such as Pandora)--even with the commercials the station has to run--they simply edited each of the songs they played so they were all about 90 seconds long.

That's right.  They cut the songs by about 50% so they could play more of them!

OK, there was a time when stations did similar goofy stuff.  Some broadcasters used to speed up the songs a bit so they could play an extra one or two per hour.  In some cases, that also caused the same songs on other stations to sound a bit slow and lackluster.  Even so, listeners eventually noticed the songs sounded as if they were being sung by the Chipmunks and revolted.

Well, that is about what happened in Calgary.  Artists and record labels were the first to call foul.  They wanted the songs aired the way they created them.  I'm not sure that protest would have been enough, since stations are desperate enough to ignore any party that does not keep a rating book or carry a listening-measurement device.  But then listeners let them know how crazy the idea was.  They, too, wanted to hear all of their favorite songs, not just the half of them that the station decided they would play.

Three weeks into the experiment, the station gave up.

What's next?  To what lengths will desperate broadcasters go to try to save the medium from its demise?

One thing you can bet on: it will not involve putting better and more compelling content on their air.  That costs money, takes creativity, and requires a willingness to take a risk.

Those are three commodities sorely lacking in traditional broadcasting these days.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A dose of common sense, please

by Don Keith

Allow me to delve just a bit into politics this time around.  I became embroiled recently in--of all things--a debate over the dangers of government-mandated minimum wages on--of all places--an online forum devoted to self-publishing.

Then, just in the nick of time, I ran across this article, which does a good job--in my opinion--of dealing with that and similar subjects.

In a recent speech of which Politico claims absolutely energized the “Progressive” left, Elizabeth Warren laid out her so-called 11 Commandments of Progressivism.
In what follows, I will first give Warren’s “commandment,” and then explain how each so-called commandment cannot be implemented without official state violence and coercion. I emphasize that I am not going to use hyperbole or paint Warren in a false light. I’m sure she is a nice person when one meets her. My point is not that Warren is nice or nasty, but rather that she espouses a political economy that is based on political favors for some coupled with fierce intolerance toward many.
The 11 Commandments:
1. We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.
For all of the financial misconduct that we have seen from Wall Street, the problem isn’t a lack of regulation or a dearth of enforcement. No, the problem is that Wall Street is linked at the hip to the federal government and to the Federal Reserve System, which then uses Wall Street as a mechanism to pump cheap money into the system. At the same time, the state then protects Wall Street firms from the consequences that occur when investments in the financial bubbles the Fed creates fail.
Progressive Populists like Warren claim to abhor the tax-funded bailouts, but they don’t object to the inflationary actions of the Fed, nor do they call for a halt to the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and K Street. Yes, they might complain about the relationship, but at no time has Warren or any of her ilk ever called for a severing of the ties between Washington and Wall Street.
What Warren actually is saying is this: We want the state to have an even greater role in directing investments and determining the outcomes, and when the outcomes invariably fail — as we can expect central planning to do — then we demand ever more of the same. The results may be economically disastrous, but they provide marvelous political theater.
Warren never will endorse free markets on Wall Street — and neither will Wall Street, which I believe to be instructive. Nothing would provide better discipline for the markets than free markets, but Warren is not interested in market discipline; she is interested in the markets being forced to provide outcomes that violate economic laws, and then demanding even more government coercion when disasters inevitably occur.
2. We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth.
Warren obviously is referring to the fact that not all scientists believe we are in the middle of catastrophic global warming — and that makes her mad. In fact, it makes Warren so angry that she wants the state to intimidate scientists that don’t go along with Washington’s pre-determined “scientific” outcomes.
One does not “believe in” or “not believe in” science. Science is not — or should not be — a deity. Science is about using certain consistent methods to ascertain and test various theories about the natural world. It also is about determining probabilities for certain, repeatable events and it should never be hijacked by politicians for their own uses.
If Warren truly did “believe” in science, then she would have no objection to scientists like Roy Spencer and Judith Curry explaining in public forums — without harassment — why they believe the current fears that Warren promotes about “climate change” are overblown. You see, in real science, the “discussion” never is over. Skepticism is the very heart of the scientific method, something that the “discussion-is-over” people like Warren refuse to hear.
What Warren means is that governments should fund scientific research, and that the research should reflect what politicians like Warren want it to reflect. America’s current obesity crisis, for example, is linked directly to government bullying of scientists almost forty years ago, forcing them to accept the government’s “new” nutrition standards, including the government’s “war on fat,” which has been disastrous.
3. We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality.
I am no expert on “net neutrality,” but I don’t think that Warren is much interested in protecting the interests and rights of ordinary individuals who use the Internet, as she remains strangely silent on illegal spying done by the CIA and NSA which does absolutely nothing to protect ordinary citizens.
4. We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage.
Translation: If you are willing to work for pay that is below what the government demands you be given, then you are breaking the law. And what about those people whose productivity does not match what Warren believes the minimum wage should be? They are out of luck.
What Warren does not say is that the original purpose for imposing the minimum wage was never about getting people out of poverty. Instead, Progressives wanted to ensure that certain groups of people, blacks and Eastern Europeans living in the USA, would be priced out of the labor market. Given the unemployment rate for black teenagers in this country is at an all-time-high, one just might think that the Progressive strategy has worked very well.
It is the business owners that Warren so despises who have to foot the bill of increased labor costs, and if they cannot, then the business closes, but Warren would of course not lose a dime. Lest one thinks she has any respect for entrepreneurs and people who have invested, worked, and risked their own finances in order to start and maintain businesses, Warren has this to say, according to Progressive columnist E.J. Dionne:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” she said. “Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.” It was all part of “the underlying social contract,” she said, a phrase politicians don’t typically use.
Entrepreneurs, in Warren-speak, are social and economic parasites that should get no credit at all for anything. They just take advantage of government services and business success comes almost automatically and the entrepreneurs then extract wealth from the community via profits.
5. We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them.
When I was fifteen years old, I worked at a tourist attraction near Chattanooga called Rock City. No one — including the politicians — believed that I should have been making enough to live on my own. Likewise, the vast majority of fast food workers are not people trying to live independently; they are earning money to help pay for their expenses, save for college, make car payments, and the like.
First, Warren does not even understand what we mean by jobs and wages. A “job” is the application of labor to the creation of either a producer’s good or a consumer’s good. A wage is the payment given to the owner of the labor services for that particular service. It is nothing more than that.
Second, by insisting wrongly that employment is essentially a welfare scheme, Warren disconnects labor from production. To use a Marxian term, she endorses alienation as a labor doctrine in which the worker is alienated from any realities regarding his or her job. According to Warren, the job is nothing more than an income stream to the worker, with the stream having no connection at all with the value of what the worker produces.
If we were to take the reality — based upon laws of economics — of Warren’s statement, we get this: “If you are willing to work for less than what the state declares to be a ‘living wage,’ you will not be permitted to work at all, and should you seek employment without permission from the state, we will treat you like a criminal.” Unfortunately, in Warren’s new order, there would be lots of labor criminals, people working off-the-books and ultimately marginalized people turning toward the fringe occupations that the state declares to be illegal.
6. We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt.
Student loan burdens are becoming greater, but perhaps we need to ask why that is so instead of telling students that someone else — often someone not privileged to have had a college education — will foot their bills. If pushed hard enough, I suspect that Warren would agree with fellow leftists that college should be both tuition-free and relatively open-accessed. Furthermore, in their minds, that should be no problem. (I have spoken to enough faculty members where I teach to know that a lot of leftist Democrats believe that colleges should not charge tuition or anything else, period.)
At the very least, it would seem, Warren believes that individuals that rack up large education debts should not fully have to pay those debts, with the payments, instead, falling to the taxpayers, and even though it is quite clear that the personal “profits” from a college education tend to be privatized. Like the Wall Street firms and other crony capitalist outfits, Warren now wants an entire country in which certain politically-favored groups (and firms) find their profits privatized, but their losses socialized, and paid for by everyone else.
7. We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions.
Interestingly, while shilling for increases in these things (which, as always, are covered fully by taxpayers who will be forced to supply the “dignity” to others), Warren is not willing to afford “dignity” to entrepreneurs who saved, took big risks, and took chances with their lives to provide goods and services for the benefit of consumers.
8. We believe — I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014 — we believe in equal pay for equal work.
Warren is not speaking of payment for men and women who do the same job in a market setting. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that shows that single women tend to outearn single men.
No, Warren is speaking of a term called “comparable worth,” in which government authorities determine the “equality” of jobs. Such a process is utterly politicized, so what Warren really means is that the state will determine the so-called worth of a job, and then force employers to pay accordingly.
9. We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all of America.
If Warren meant getting the state out of the marriage business, I would support her point here. However, judging from all of her rhetoric, what she means is that everyone else should be forced to accept her definition of marriage, and anyone who does not will be fined or even arrested for holding onto dissenting views.
Warren constantly agitates for a thoroughly politicized society in which the state decides what is valuable, what is “legitimate,” and what kind of thinking should be permitted. When former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich this year was forced out because he had contributed some money to a “man-and-woman” marriage initiative in California in 2008, it sent a clear and chilling message to workplaces everywhere in the US: the only thing that matters is politics.
It didn’t matter that Eich was a major player in helping develop the Internet and his skills will be sorely missed. No, the Elizabeth Warrens of this world care only about a person’s political views. (Maybe that is one reason Warren has expressed such hatred of successful entrepreneurs: they succeed outside of political ideology.)
10. We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform.
Because the current immigration situation is a hot-button item that I would prefer not to touch, given I can see arguments on both sides, I only will say that Warren’s vision of unlimited immigration into an absolute welfare state would be a disaster. Warren has shown no proclivity to putting any limits on welfarism, and given her political record, I believe she sees new immigrants as a source of political support exchanged for welfare benefits.
11. And we believe that corporations are not people, that women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it. We will fight for it!
The Hobby Lobby decision was quite limited, and the implications of the decision certainly did not call for the totally unhinged reaction Warren and others had. The US Supreme Court did not prevent anyone from receiving birth control devices or anything else. All it said was that there were four kinds of devices or chemical compounds which abortion opponents call abortifacients that certain employers could be exempt from providing free of charge for employees.
It does not prohibit Hobby Lobby employees from purchasing those particular chemicals or devices; the decision only says that Hobby Lobby does not have to pay for them, given the religious nature of the company’s owners and the fact that it is a tightly-held corporation.

Please understand what Warren is saying: the owners of Hobby Lobby have no rights. They are not people; only those with views similar to Elizabeth Warren have rights. 

Okay, it's not strictly about rapid technological change, but I feel better now, having made this excellent rebuttal available on my little blog.

Feel free to agree or disagree.  Just, please, be logical, cite and document research, and avoid emotional diatribes.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Someone please help me understand

by Don Keith N4KC

Maybe someone can explain something to me.  Article in an industry email newsletter today:

Pai seeks deeper AM radio fixes.
FCC commissioner Ajit Pai yesterday renewed his call for moving forward on proposed quick fixes to help AM radio. During a meeting with Ohio broadcasters, he said elimination of the so-called ratchet rule and setting an FM translator window designed for AM broadcasters top his list.

Now, how will allowing more AM broadcasters to put up FM translators re-broadcasting their AM programming help save the AM band?

Okay, so maybe it allows them to make enough money to keep their AM transmitter on the air, but it also clutters up the FM band, puts more marginal signals there that will drive even more listeners to alternative audio sources, and opens things up to even more abuse.

Abuse?  Having big-market/multiple-station owners putting sham AM stations on the air just to be able to re-broadcast them on FM is abuse.  So is using so-called HD2 channel audio to program a translator.  Neither leads to greater use of stations on the AM broadcast band.

Please, someone, tell me where I am missing how this plan is the salvation of AM radio.  And tell me why AM even needs to be saved if the marketplace has already determined it is no longer needed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Self-serving research example of the day

by Don Keith N4KC

Here we go again with using research studies to back up a self-serving point of view.  You can bet that if you surveyed 1,000 ostriches and asked if they felt they had a better view of what was going on with their heads in the sand, you would get a majority who would answer, "Yes."  Otherwise, you would probably never hear about the study in the first place.

The latest is reported by our old friends at INSIDE RADIO, who would have been telling buggy whip manufacturers that all was well with their industry until the very last one closed shop.

This one--by some outfit named NuVoodoo Media--determines that 62% of new members of Pandora continue to listen to traditional over-the-air radio at least a half hour a day.  Well, huzzah and hurrah!

We have no idea how the questions were worded, nor do we have any input on the demographic breakout of this "study."  But did it occur to the researchers (or to those in broadcasting who seem to think this signals that people who listen to streaming media actually listen more to AM/FM than they did before, as the article's title implies) that there is a rational explanation for these results.

Few yet have the ability (or data credits) to listen to streaming audio in their vehicles, though many more will soon.  If their daily commute is a half hour each way in a car, and they want to listen to audio, it has to be AM/FM...or CD or audio book or whatever...but you can bet most of that is AM/FM.
There's your 30 minutes a day for Pandora users right there.