Jet Blue – Brilliant

July 13, 2011

Judging by the soaring mentions of Facebook and Twitter alone Jet Blue has scored big on its Car-megeddon promotion offering four dollar flights between Long Beach and Burbank California this weekend.

Offering just 2 flights in each direction per day this is hardly disruptive to their schedule nor will it successfully transport a significant number of people, but just wait until local stations cover each end of the inaugural flight – just wait till some enterprising network reporter does a ride along.  You can’t add up the amount of free promotion on multiple platforms.  A little creativity at the airline or agency will be paying major dividends in the public’s mind share.  And – just to note their strategic view – by offering this on Wednesday they pretty much guarantee three days of run-up pre-publicity plus the weekend itself.

Why is this grist for a media column?  Because when a company does it right – manages an event – grabs the headline and manages the story – it’s worth a tip-of-the -hat.

Time Warner Cable reporter Suzi Theodory’s  live shot about a brush fire in Southern California becomes more about her than the fire after she is soaked by a helicopter air drop.  She transforms live from being young and inexperienced but sincerely trying into a ditzy rookie.  Sorry.  But the water drop becomes apparently more of the story about her instead of the fire as she repeatedly assures us that she and her crew are “so close to the fire”…. though this is not manifested in the pictures for there are no flames to be seen.

Note too the contradictions within the minute forty-seven second story from being “a growing fire at 10 acres” to suddenly being “almost under control” after the water drop.  Huh?  How did that happen? Oh, and by the way, one speaks of a fire being contained, not controlled, but what’s language have to do with anything when you’re all wet.  Literally.

And again, we wonder why audiences think the press is often too silly for words?

In Bell, California, population just 40,000, a bedroom suburb of Los Angeles there is no media watchdog.
Perhaps that’s why the city’s Chief Administrative Office who began in 1993 at a salary of $72,000 a year was given successive raises to bloat his 2010 salary to $787,637 dollars a year! By contrast President Obama’s salary is just $400,000.

No one noticed. No one reported it. The public was screwed.

In Bell where 1 in 6 residents lives below the poverty line the Los Angeles Times discovered Is a city manager worth $800,000 a year? the Assistant City Manager made $376,288 a year, the mayor and three of four part-time officials made $90,000 and $100,000 a year, and the city police chief earned $457,000. The city police force has 50 officers, by comparison, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck is paid $307,000 to manage a force of 1,300.

No local paper or radio reports on Bell. There is no daily newspaper. TV rarely covers Bell except for a traffic accident or helicopter chase on the freeways, episodic events that have little impact and only passing interest.

Few people obviously paid sufficient attention. I suppose they trusted their officials would behave responsibly and do the right thing, not rape the city treasury and the public’s faith. They were too busy working, living, being with their families – there was no one from the media to keep the officials honest – covering routine hearings, meetings, budget drafts… the pick and shovel work, what used to be called shoe leather of local reporters.

An Associated Press story on the city’s situation captured this quote, “This is America and everything should be transparent,” plumber and longtime Bell resident Ralph Macias said.”

The AP’s story continued, “By law, the council would have had to approve the contracts in an open session, but several residents complained that officials are loathe to explain what they are doing and quick to race through matters at public meetings with little discussion.”

But no one was there to notice.

And that’s what happens when you cut the media, cut reporters, look to savings the can be accrued by off-shoring local reporting to writers in other countries, even as far away as India who watch local meetings online and seek to synthesize what really occurred?

Some will call this the “new media.” I do not think it is much to crow about.

If you were a member of the media and you anticipated potential civil disobedience, which is more news worthy… or more responsible?  A) To cover law enforcement’s preparations of an event which may or may not occur, or B) invest in a more contextual story about the economic plight and social unhappiness that may or may not be responsible for the raw nerves, frayed community relations and tensions?

If you’re watching or reading San Francisco media their choice largely appears to be A.  It remains easier to point and shoot a camera or grab the easy quote from officialdom rather than source out responsible individuals in a community which is not just under-served but largely ignored much of the time.

All of this stems from what might best be called Rodney King redux, 3 days of riots in Los Angeles after an all-white jury in Simi Valley, California acquitted four Los Angeles policemen accused of beating Mr. King following a traffic-stop.

Eighteen years later another trial, also involving a white police man and a black victim, is poised to provoke rage.  The trial of former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Meserhle is soon to be deliberated, and in the event that the jury finds him not guilty or not guilty of a serious enough offense, there are fears of new riots in Oakland’s streets.

The media question is what’s the best way to cover this story?  If there are riots will they simply be about justice, or the belief that the jury’s verdict was not the right result?  Or is it possible that disobedience and tumult occur because of a systematic failure to provide for a community – including well-paying jobs, better schools, economic development, and sustained community services?  To read or listen to much of the pre-coverage it would seem as if the community itself has gone mute on these issues — that if there are disturbances it will be because of justice, and not a pattern of injustice, racial profiling, harassment and other abuses, real or perceived, believed or merely assumed as truths.

And so the coverage has featured police drills.  Law enforcement is ready.  Mutual aid for emergency services has been requested and responses tallied.  All this remains the easy story.

But what about the community?  Who is demonstrating leadership?  Who is articulating what is needed or wanted within the black community, and equally important: are they being heard?  Are they even being approached?  Are they being included in the story or edited out from the earliest point, the story’s inception?  For those of us who covered the Rodney King riots we quickly learned it was not just rage at the system that acquitted the police officers.  Unhappiness had simmered for some time – over services or a lack thereof – over treatment by local Korean merchants and alleged abuses or snubs, some of which were deemed to be based on cultural perceptions.

In Oakland I have grown tired of forecasts of civil unrest.  I am particularly tired because I have yet to see anything more than a prediction of trouble,  what some one in a position of office, whether that is municipal or media, believes could happen based on history.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if the media could report and foster a dialogue because it does have the platform, knowledge and experience; because too,  once upon a time, dialogue mattered.

And what if there were no demonstrations or that they were brief and peaceful?  Then off to the next crisis du jour, a tumult of the moment, a toxic time bomb waiting to explode showering some one else with woe of the moment.

Death – captured on video – in June 6th’s Los Angeles Times Death of fugitive porn actor captured in disturbing video is a short metro (L.A. Now) item on the death of a porn actor named Stephen Clancy Hill, who was wanted in connection with a rampage that left two others dead.  In all, not a terribly monumental story when compared with carnage that dots the worldscape daily, except that this story features video of the actual moment of Hill’s death captured and shown as a link from KTLA Channel 5.

Is this news worthy?  And why have the editors determined that watching a raw tape of his body tumbling off a cliff, ricocheting and bouncing from is something that adds to our understanding or appreciation of the death?

In the final act of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, Guildenstern wonders aloud if the concept of death can be portrayed on a stage. It is not a large leap to extend this question to citizen journalism and modern media.  Somewhat at an emotional loss he asks, “No…no…not for us, not like that. Dying is not romantic, and death is not a game which will soon be over…Death is not anything…Death is not…It’s the absence of presence, nothing more…the endless time of never coming back…a gap you can’t see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes no sound.”

For the editors of the Los Angeles Times the death of this man makes a great deal of disturbing visual noise.

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