Thursday, December 29, 2005

Something I Read ...

A post by my friend, Frank Wilson, at booksinq, earlier this month, provided me with my December 'Coincidence of the Month.' It also led to a great discussion of an author with whom we're probably all familiar, at least a little bit ... though we may not know it.

Frank was recalling James Hilton, a popular novelist of the 1930s and '40s who had several books ("Lost Horizon," "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" and "Random Harvest") adapted into successful films. "I don't know whether anyone reads his books today," Frank wrote, "though they are certainly worth reading."

I had just finished reading "Lost Horizon" that same week, and had thought of writing Frank about it, and asking his opinion (as Book Review Editor of the
Philadelphia Inquirer) of 'Where is James Hilton in today's reading consciousness?' or something to that effect.

I think many people out there may be like me ... saw and enjoyed the movie adapted from the book ... but never read the book itself.

I think Hilton is a wonderful writer, especially when it comes to presenting characters ... their way of speaking and relating to one another, their strengths and their shortcomings, and the strange, sometimes unpredictable course those characters may choose to follow.

I have read that his setting and characters in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" were inspired by his own experiences as a schoolboy in Cambridge. I don't doubt that he became all-too-familiar, as well, with the men and shells-of-men who returned to England from World War I, many of who may have nodded, knowingly, at what happened to Conway in "Lost Horizon," and may have yearned, themselves, for the peace he found in the Valley of the Blue Moon.

Yet, he leaves that peace behind, yielding to a sense of duty to the world he left behind, and to a young co-worker who remains determined to return to that world (in the film, the co-worker becomes Conway's kid brother, perhaps to better persuade film audiences wondering why Conway would leave).

I also enjoyed the setting, so exotic, so far-removed from the commonplace in England. But, then, I have always been a fan of adventures in faraway lands ... guess it comes from reading H. Rider Haggard when I was young.

I am left wondering, as the narrator does in the book's closing line, whether or not Conway makes it back to Shangri-La, and I believe the narrator shares my hope that he DOES. Still, though, we don't know. In the film, audiences are not left wondering, and are given a final, visual assurance that Conway eventually makes his way - albeit with great difficulty - back to the Valley of the Blue Moon.

All in all, a very good read. In fact. I'm going back to that 'Friends of the Midland Library' bookstore - where I found "Lost Horizon" - to see if they have some of his other works. If not, well, there's always Amazon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Something I Heard ...

As I posted earlier, the end of the year brings with it a variety of 'retrospective pieces' to the media, usually nothing more than assemblages of what news producers consider the best and the worst of the departing year.

One of the problems I have with these is that the perspective, all too often, is a shortsighted one, where the 'best' and the 'worst' is often determined by the heights - or the depths - something reached in just the last twelve months ... with little or no attention paid to 'the long view.'

One of these that struck me was a retrospective in 2001 that bemoaned the loss of current pop stars, but neglected
Isaac Stern ... I mean, come on ... was his life really of such insignificance as compared to, say, Aaliyah ?

Anyway, that's one of the reasons I've been enjoying, this week on
National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," a series called 'The Long View' featuring "conversations with people of significant experience, people who can both reflect on the past and look ahead to the future." Today's segment was especially interesting - George McKee Elsey, who quietly witnessed and participated in the making of American history as an aide to two presidents -- Roosevelt and Truman. Now 88, he tells his story, and compares what he experienced, then, with what is happening - in the White House, across the nation and around the world - today.

I STRONGLY recommend the series to you, whether you listen to it, right now, on the radio or, at your leisure, on the web.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Candid Camera ...

In another day or two, we'll wrap up the last of those old chestnuts that fill newspapers and television broadcasts this time of year ... stories about safe Christmas lighting, keeping to a budget while shopping, keeping to a healthy lifestyle in the midst of holiday indulgences, and THE must-have toy that turns the calmest of us into crazed shopping animals.

Next week, we'll be in the midst of those old chestnuts that fill newspapers and television broadcasts through that time of year ... year-end retrospective pieces, looking back upon the best - and the worst - the year had to offer.

I'd like to recommend one on It's called, simply, "2005: Year in Pictures." What makes this one especially interesting, to me, is that it presents two slide shows ... one of the Editors' Choices for the years best photos, the other of Your Choices for the year's best photos (which include the one shown here, by Diana Mulvhill of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. While there is some overlap (some photos appear in both slideshows), they represent, for the most part, two different interests, values, preferences, definitions of 'Best,' etc.

Be Warned: The "Editors' Choice" slideshow contains some graphic images.

CLICK HERE for the slideshows' intro page. I'd be interested in hearing what you think of the two different visions presented.

The Truth Is Out There ... Just Ask Lt. Haut

This past week brought news out of southeast New Mexico, that an old soldier had passed away. Nothing especially remarkable about that, you might say ... happens all the time, really ... but this was one old soldier who could tell one heck of a 'war story.'

Walter Haut, of Roswell, died Thursday at the age of 83.

Haut was a lieutenant in the United States Army, back in the 1940s, and was the spokesman for the Roswell Army Air Field. Nowadays, he'd probably have a more formal title, like 'Public Information Officer,' or 'Media Liaison Officer' or something like that.

Anyway, it was in his capacity as spokesman for RAAF that Haut issued a news release about the recovery of a flying saucer, on a ranch outside of Roswell, on July 8, 1947 ... certainly the first of millions of documents addressing what is now known as
"The Roswell Incident."

And the rest, as they say, is history. You can read some more about Haut and that history in the
Roswell Daily Record.

In my profession as a reporter and editor, I don't often have occasion to pay tribute to the PIO's of the world ... to be perfectly honest, the relationship between the two can often be antagonistic. But there aren't that many PIO's who have had a chance to contribute so much to our pop culture ... and, really, how many of them ever had a story like THAT to 'get out.'

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I Am Newsbot ... Please Insert Copy ...

Over the past six weeks, WHO-TV (an NBC affiliate serving the Des Moines, Iowa market) has turned to the web medium for a creative way to promote its broadcast product.

Visitor's to the television's website (during business hours, Monday-Friday) are greeted by 'Newsbot 13,' a digitized rendition of WHO-TV anchor Erin Kiernan that offers visitors a look at the day's top headlines, updated periodically through the day. Read "The Animated Anchor," Alison Romano's
COMPLETE REPORT , at Broadcast & Cable online.

The technology is nothing new ...
Oddcast characters are showing up on even the humblest websites. But, this particular application of an Oddcast v-host IS something new.

Most of you probably know that the "non-compete clause" has become almost standard in the contracts used nationwide by television stations and their on-air talent. It's a response to the practice of stations identifying a competitor's top performers, and trying to hire them away .... nothing new there, watch Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" sometime.

But those arrangements, it's been pointed out, do not extend to the Internet. So, until Actual Erin will be allowed on the station's broadcast, Virtual Erin will get plenty of exposure on the station's website ... which, reportedly, is enjoying a measurable increase in new traffic since Newsbot 13 was unveiled.

I suspect that we can look forward to the broadcasting industry reviewing and re-writing non-compete clauses in future contracts.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Funeral for a Friend ...

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been three deaths of special note - to me, at least - among the ranks of journalists ... one hit very, very close to home.

That was the passing of Gayle Hill (Mary Gayle Hill Bowden) ... news writer/reporter/producer, director, volunteer and advocate, community leader, longtime West Texas resident ... and friend.

Gayle and I met about twenty years ago at KMID-TV. I was a recent hire there. With the oil bust of the 1980s, a lot of smaller, connected industries went bust, as well. One of those was the contract archaeology business ... surveying state and federal lands slated for well pad location, roads and pipelines. So, I dusted off my second major from college - English - and got a job as a writer for the station.

Gayle, on the other hand, was already a seasoned pro by the time she got to KMID-TV. She had had already established her credentials as a good investigative reporter over at KOSA-TV and, before that, in the Bryan-College Station market. Her move over to KMID from KOSA was one of a number of such moves, and one of many factors that made KMID-TV the dominant, #1 station that it was ... we were Big 2, with a proud emphasis on the BIG.

She did great work. I remember one series of reports she did from both sides of the Rio Grande, in the heart of the Big Bend country, following the flow of drugs over the border, noting the rush of sales at tiny Mexican markets that always followed a successful delivery, always keeping an eye on the men - sentinels? - who stood atop the cliffs overlooking the river, and followed her movements downstream.

She made a similar commitment - as we all did - during the rescue of Jessica McClure in Midland. Most of us put in a solid 72 hours, or so, on that story ... and some did more.

In a way, she started all over again, as many of us did when the new corporate structure, of which KMID became a part, decided that some changes needed to be made. Soon, a lot of us were out the door (I have often joked that one of the largest media groups in the Permian Basin is the "Big 2 Alumni Association"). Gayle was one of many who made the move over to KTPX-TV, and began the work that eventually led to a new name (KWES-TV, NewsWest 9), a new look (the "Star of West Texas"), and a new challenge to the market ... one that was answered, successfully, when KWES took its place at the top of the local market ... and continues to hold to this day.

And it wasn't just news, either. She was also a strong promoter of locally-produced children's programming, took the lead in organizations that encouraged the growth and development of the media, and was an active volunteer (from the street level right up to the board of directors) with many, many non-profit organizations in Odessa-Midland

Of course, work like that came at a price. There were times when she might be down-and-out for days following such a project, resting, recovering ... and thinking of her next assignment. This, from someone whose health was never what you might call robust, and who ultimately passed away at 45 years of age.

But in those 45 short years were enough experiences and accomplishments to fill the life of someone twice that age, and more. And, through it all, she remained a friend, forgiving of my shortcomings, and encouraging of my ideas .. developing a rich life of her own while contributing so much to the lives of so many others.

Vaya con dios, mi amiga


William Powers begins
"The Collapse of Big Media: Seven Steps to Salvation," in Wilson Quarterly, with the following ... "Let’s assume that the news media, collectively, have a soul—that somewhere beneath their tawdry, moronic surface dwells a kind of pure being whose intentions are good. Let’s further posit that this soul is, at present, a lost soul. Once, long ago, it had high principles and a clear sense of purpose. Now it’s at sea, buffeted by one scandal after another—plagiarism, payola, bias, and garden-variety sloppy work."

Take some time, and read the rest. It makes for good reading for news producers and consumer alike, including bloggers ... on some points, especially bloggers. Hat tip to my friend, Frank, at