Tag Archives: college

Where have you gone, Lou Grant?

By now everyone in the world has heard about the colossal screw up last week when KTVU-TV fell victim to a prank and announced fake, racist names of the crew of that crashed Asiana airliner.

While most people are chuckling and asking “How could that happen?” the men and women who run local TV newsrooms should be shaking in their boots. If they have any self-awareness at all, they should be dropping to their knees and praying “Thank God, they didn’t call my station.”

I spent more than 26 years in the  local TV news business most of them as a news director, running local news departments. I have been out of the business for more than ten years, but I stay in touch. Many of the problems I saw when I was there remain today, and have gotten worse.

This may not be exactly what happened, but it is a very plausible scenario. A call or email comes into the newsroom. Some junior staffer, probably fresh out of college takes the call and gets excited and yells “We have the names of the pilots!”

Someone only slightly more experienced responds, “Oh my God, we have to get this on the air, NOW!”

Already someone else has called the promotion department to tell them to start working on a promo hyping the “exclusive breaking news.”

The chyron operator (the person who types the letters that you see on the screen) transcribes what is given to him.

Meanwhile, not until the anchor reads the names on the air does anyone actually look at the names and say them out loud.

Supposedly in the KTVU case, someone at the station called the NTSB where an intern confirmed the names. How this happened, I cannot explain.

So why does something like this slip through?

1. Too many stations overemphasize flash and speed over substance and accuracy.  How many times have you seen or heard “breaking news,” or “this just in,” or even better “live, late breaking.” On the other hand, how many times have you seen a station brag, “We got it right!” Getting it right may be an assumption, but when it isn’t emphasized, it falls by the wayside. It may only be a dumpster fire, but if it’s live and breaking news, we’ll be all over it.

2. The economics of the TV business are such that there just aren’t as many experienced people left in many newsrooms to actually provide a system of checks to catch mistakes before they air. This was a noon newscast in a major market. You would think there would be some senior people around to call the shots at that time of day. However, when you get to a smaller market, especially on weekends or in the early morning, it is just a handful of inexperienced people processing a high volume of news content. The same young producer or reporter who gathers in the information also writes it and approves it for air. There is no one to give it a second look, or if there is, they are frequently as green as the first person.

3. TV newsrooms are not staffed by rocket scientists. This is a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. This is not a blanket indictment of everyone who works in TV news, nor am I saying that TV news people are all morons. For the most part, they all have college degrees, so at least in theory they are literate. And clearly, there are some very sharp people working out there.  However, on the average over the past two decades or so, the TV news business has not attracted the cream of the intellectual crop.

It starts in college. If he or she is being honest, a broadcast journalism professor will admit (as many have to me) that the students he/she is teaching are not the best and the brightest. The students who were at the top of their admission class are majoring in subjects that will produce a more lucrative career, like pre-med, pre-law, finance, engineering, and so on. When compared to majors like engineering, chemistry or even nursing,  broadcast journalism is a fairly easy major. It is often a second choice or back-up plan for students who couldn’t hack it in the more demanding majors. (In full disclosure, about a hundred years ago, I was one of those students.) Further, it is not at uncommon for the top graduates in a broadcast journalism program to take a look at the starting salaries in the TV business and say, “Screw this. I’ll go to law school or get an MBA.”

4. It’s very sad that a large number of those students/graduates aren’t really interested in journalism or news in general. They want to be on TV. They might be just as happy, or perhaps more so, being a “spokes-model” or a contestant on “Big Brother,” as covering the city council in small-town USA. For most new, young TV reporters, the job of collecting and presenting news is just a means to an end — a way to get on TV. If the stars align in their favor, maybe they get a shot at their true dream, to get off the street, away from the day-to-day drudgery of actually covering news, and become an anchor. As a result, there is very little emphasis what traditionalists might consider real journalism. “How does my writing look?” is replaced by “How does my hair look?”

5. Back to college for a moment, although the salaries aren’t a lot different, there is a contrast between the broadcast journalism students and their academic cousins across the quad in the print journalism department. It tends to attract a different type of student. In print journalism, it doesn’t really matter what you look or sound like. The most fame you will achieve early in your career is a byline and maybe a thumbnail photo. Strangers won’t come up to you in the grocery store and ask you why you changed your hair style. While still in school, you are actually expected to be able to write something longer and with more depth than a tweet.

I wish I had a good conclusion for this post, but I don’t. I continue to watch local TV news here. Mostly I just want to know if it’s safe to go to bed and what the weather will be in the morning. I really don’t care about the “live, late breaking” dumpster fire.

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A busy day…

Today has been interesting, in two parts. This morning, we hosted a “state visit” by a group of roughly 65 VIPs, including the state Board of Regents, a bunch of university presidents and senior university system staffers. Most of these people have never been here so it was a pretty big deal.  I have been working to plan this event since mid-January and have fretted over the details and coordinating with the two other institutions in town. As it turns out, everything went very well. Everyone did what they were supposed to do and they did it well. No hitches and I heard nothing but compliments. Big load off.

Suits and dresses on the work deck. What's wrong with this picture?

Suits and dresses on the work deck. What’s wrong with this picture?

One of the cool things about my job is the opportunity to get out and take an occasional boat ride. This afternoon, I went along on one of our small skiffs to shoot some video for a promotional piece we are producing to market our research vessel.

Tough duty out on the water today.

Tough duty out on the water today.

The weather was gorgeous, roughly 80 degrees and sunny. We were out for about an hour which was just enough to sunburn my face. Duh. I did get one cool shot with my Canon point ‘n shoot camera. We frequently see dolphins around here, but it’s tough to get pictures because they don’t surface where and when you are expecting them. I did get this shot this afternoon, which was pretty pleased with.

A dolphin riding the bow wave of the R/V Savannah

A dolphin riding the bow wave of the R/V Savannah

How can something that looks so bad, taste so good?

There is one additional thing I did on my MLK holiday this week. I made a pot of black bean soup. As is the case with many things in our family, black bean soup has a story behind it. (Not necessarily an interesting story, but a story all the same.)

Black Bean Soup with onions and sour cream

Having grown up in a very meat-and- potatoes family, I don’t think I had ever heard of black bean soup until I had graduated from college. The summer after I graduated, I was working a summer-replacement job for a radio station in Vero Beach, Florida. (WTTB-AM “Where The Tropics Begin”) I spent most of the weekends that summer driving to visit my then-girlfriend, either in Gainesville or at her parents’ house in Clewiston. But on one particular weekend, I was stuck in Vero without much to do. The GM of the station, Pat Hazel (a really great guy) invited me to share Sunday dinner with his family.

“My wife is going to make her fabulous black bean soup!”

I didn’t know what to expect, but it didn’t sound particularly appetizing to my rather naïve and inexperienced palate. Of course, I went to dinner anyway and had a great time. Pat and his family were warm, engaging people and they made me feel very welcome. And I loved the soup.

In the late 1980s black bean soup started to show up on restaurant menus, and I was reminded of that evening. I thought I would give it a try myself. I investigated and tried several recipes and settled on the one below. Once they overcame the initial problem that the soup doesn’t look very appetizing, even my children started to like it.

One step is to puree some of the soup in a blender and then return it to the pot to thicken the soup. One time I used a long ice-tea spoon to stir it around in the blender, but it accidentally came in contact with the blender blade. I never knew that black bean soup could be explosive.  There was puree’d black bean soup all over the white kitchen cabinets, the ceiling and me. It took hours to clean up that mess.

Today, black bean soup is “comfort food” in the Poolman household.

Here is the recipe.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

Here’s what you need.

  • A bag of dried black beans—cleaned and rinsed*
  • A ham bone with chunks of meat still attached or some cut up left over ham, about two cups.
  • A “ton” of chopped onion and celery (just like the chicken soup above.) Easily two large onions and 4-5 celery stocks.
  • A bay leaf.
  • Salt and pepper.  (Go easy on the salt to start. Ham is naturally salty. You can always add more if it’s not salty enough.)
  • A little dry mustard (powder) if you have it, but it isn’t crucial.

*Before you do anything with the beans, put them in a bowl, sort through them with your hands and pick out any stones.  Yeah, that’s right, stones, like the kind you find on the ground. Occasionally you will find them. Most beans were harvested in third-world countries and their processing isn’t the most sophisticated. You definitely want to catch these before cooking. Nothing will ruin a good meal faster than having someone unsuspectingly bite down on a rock. Once they are “clean,” use your colander to rinse them well under running water.

First thing you have to soften the beans. There are two ways to do that. The first is to soak them in a bowl overnight. The other is to put them in boiling water and simmer them for about 10 minutes and then let them sit for an hour. In either case, you should drain the beans through a colander before cooking. Do NOT cook them in their soaking water.  The major issue with beans is the gaseous by-product that comes several hours after eating. Draining them before cooking with reduce that significantly.

Once your beans are soft, put them, the ham, the onions, celery, spices and bay leaf all into a pot with a couple of quarts of water. You should have so much onion and celery that it should look like they are the dominant ingredients. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow it to cook for at least an hour, maybe more. The more you cook it, the more everything will meld together, which is what you want.

Note: Keep a close eye when it starts to thicken that you don’t allow it to scorch on the bottom. Stir frequently and adjust your heat as needed.

When the soup is almost done, take about a cup or two of the bean mixture and put it in your blender. Whip the beans into a thick paste and stir it back into the mix.  This should thicken the broth and give it a creamier texture.

Serve with chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream.

A hint: Most ham bones are extremely fatty. So I usually cook the ham bone by simmering it for an hour or two the day before I plan on cooking the soup. Refrigerate it overnight and much of the fat will congeal on top of the water. You can spoon it off and throw it out. It will reduce the fat-content of the soup significantly, without affecting the great taste.   

And this is a good idea?

Sometimes I have to wonder what some people are thinking, or if they are even thinking at all.  One esteemed member of the Georgia General Assembly thinks the answer to combating crime on college campuses is to arm the students.

This is not a new idea, but it doesn’t get any better with age.

That is a wonderful recipe for safety.  (For my friend, Ned, who has difficulty discerning whether I am being serious or sarcastic — I am being sarcastic here.)

1.) Take a group of immature (18-23 years old), young adults and provide them access to guns.

2.) Do so without providing any training.

3.) Tell them you are doing so in order for them to be able to use the guns to protect themselves and their fellow students.

4.) Insert them into a situation involving close living quarters (college residence halls, fraternities, etc.) and frequent opportunities to consume large amounts of alcohol. (College students? Seriously?)

That sounds like a really good plan. (More sarcasm, Ned.)

I have heard people comment that the shootings at Virginia Tech would not have happened if the student body had been armed. Actually, I wonder how many other innocent students and faculty would have been shot by the untrained and unskilled would-be vigilantes who have watched too many shoot-em-up movies and played the same genre of video games. Scarey.

Keep the shootings to the DVDs and the video games. It will keep the body count down.

Poor, impoverished students

College students in Georgia are starting to whine. I have a little sympathy for them, but not too much. The governor released a plan this morning to save the Hope Scholarship. That is a lottery-funded program that has provided full college scholarships at state schools for students who graduate from high school with a 3.0 GPA and maintain it in college. Unfortunately, lottery sales are not keeping up with Hope demand and something has got to give. The governor’s plan caps most Hope Scholarships at 90% of current tuition levels with no automatic increases as tuition goes up at state schools.

I am sympathetic to the students and their parents, but not totally. I think that having someone pay for 90% of your college tuition is a really good deal. At one typical medium-range Georgia public university, that unpaid 10% comes to just under $44/month (two semesters’ tuition and fees, spread over 12 months). I strongly suspect that many of those students spend more than that on beer.

There is something to be said for requiring the student to pay at least a portion of the cost of their education. They may place more value on it. I had a boss once that held to that exact theory. He would reimburse employees for outside courses and training to improve themselves, but never the entire bill. He believed that if someone wasn’t willing to foot even a small part of the bill for a course, it would not be something they would take seriously. I think he was right.

Another issue is how the level of affluence of many of today’s college students has increased since I was a poor, impoverished (I really was!) student back in the dark ages of the 1970s. Before my current job, I worked at a state university, and got to see the way many of today’s college students “survive.” It always amazed me when I volunteered to help out on “move-in day,” and saw how many students arrived equipped with their own car, laptop computer, stereo, smart phone, flat screen TV, video game system, etc.

In Georgia, the joke has been the biggest beneficiaries of the Hope Scholarship are the car dealers. Enough parents used the money they saved on tuition to buy their young student a new car, they invented a new term for it – the Hopemobile.

Most of today’s students look with distain at the idea of living in a 13×13’ dormitory room.

My old dorm room looked pretty much like this.

Share it with a roommate? Never!

Use a communal restroom and shower room down the hall? Who are you kidding?

Most now live in relative luxury in off-campus apartments or in more-expensive apartment- or suite-style residence halls.

I’m sure there a few students for whom the Hope cutback this will be a hit, but for many, perhaps a great majority, this will be a minor inconvenience.

So if you are faced with an additional $34 a month in education expenses, what can you live without? Your smart phone? Your car? Your cable TV service? Your regular Thursday night bash at the student-bar? Your “luxury” apartment?  I’m sure it would be a tough decision.