Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Remembering Ron Lundy

WABC Radio Great Dies of Heart Attack at 75

If you grew up listening to radio in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, then you knew Ron Lundy, because you listened to WABC, where Lundy ruled the midday shift.

"Hello, Luv!" he boomed to millions of us on WABC and later on WCBS-FM until his retirement to his native Mississippi in 1997.

Lundy had been in failing health lately, and a heart attack finally took him yesterday.
A classy tribute from Bob Shannon on WCBS-FM can be heard here.
The New York Radio Message Board is awash with heartfelt tributes and great stories, including this one from Vince Santarelli involving Lundy's close friend Dan Ingram, another radio legend who followed Lundy on WABC:
When Ron came to New York to sign his contract, he finished up and popped his head in the studio door and told Dan Ingram, "I'll see you in two weeks."
Dan responded, "the hell you will. You're going to stick around and when I get off the air tonight, we're going out for drinks and steaks and talk."
Ron himmed and hawed and finally called the airport to arrange a later flight. The two went out after Dan got off at 6 and had a good night.
Later on , they found out that the plane that Ron was originally supposed to be on, crashed into Lake Michigan with no survivors.
He was lucky that night. Just damn good the rest of the way. Go in peace, Ron.

Trade Schools Flunk Crucial PR Test with New York Times

Many Only Make Matters Worse in Scathing Front-Page Article

The article in Sunday's New York Times about the precarious mix of high debt and low pay for many students of for-profit colleges and trade schools was a real education.
Peter S. Goodman expertly pried the lid off of the often-unseemly recruiting practices of many schools, which left students awash in broken promises and mounting bills.
Let's hope that some of the schools mentioned use the piece as a cautionary tale, not for how to do right by their students -- although that would be a welcome byproduct -- but how not to turn into a quivering mass of gelatin when a reporter calls.

To wit, ITT Educational Services, one of the industry's top names, where a former financial aid officer told of risking the wrath of management if she told prospective students for computer and electronics trades about likely job prospects, which weren't good.

“If you said anything that went against what the recruiter said, they would threaten to fire you. The representatives would have already conned them into doing it, and you had to just keep your mouth shut.”

Offered an opportunity to reply, ITT's flackette demurred. And you know what that means for the average person reading the article: Guilty as charged.
A major opportunity to score brownie points was wasted, and proof of why a company of any size should have a crisis communications plan in place rather than diving for the bunker and acting clueless.
The same goes even when you do choose to cooperate with the media. Career Education Corp. spoke with Goodman, who focused on the experience of a former student at the company's Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Portland, Ore.
While the company wouldn't comment on that student, citing privacy concerns, it did send Goodman the names of other students to talk about their experiences. That's when the journalistic equivalent of a wet dream began.

One came with a wrong number. A second had graduated 15 years ago.
A third, Cherie Thompson, called the program “a really positive experience” but declined to discuss her debts or earnings. The fourth, Ericsel Tan, graduated in 2003 and later earned $42,000 a year overseeing catering at a convention center near Seattle. He said his success reflected his seven years of kitchen experience prior to culinary school.

Not exactly fodder for your testimonial page, huh? It's basically a reverse gotcha. Career Ed walked into an ambush of its own making, one that a few phone calls could have easily avoided.
Instead, kudos to Goodman, whose article may help steer students away from a life of big debts and small payoffs, while hopefully shaming these schools into doing more than just lining their pockets.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wall Street Journal's Lifestyle Coverage Goes on a Diet

First, It Scales Back on Wine Coverage, Now It's Dumping Restaurant Reviews Too

The Wall Street Journal's going all schizoid on us, and it has nothing to do with its wacked-out editorial page.
At the same time, the Murdochian paper of record for the financial set is ramping up with a mysteriously intriguing New York edition, it's nipping and tucking other resources, and not for the better.
Pete Wells reports in The New York Times food blog that restaurant critic Raymond Sokolov called it quits after he was asked to cover food trends instead because the paper was abandoning restaurant reviews.
Sokolov, who had ridden a most-filling gravy train filing entertaining and informed reviews from all over the country, demurred.
Maybe the bean counters got all cheesed off when Sokolov filed a column from Vegas, where among his stops was a new Japanese restaurant called Shaboo, where the tab runs $500 a head. Tax, tip, and wine extra. And he wasn't dining alone.
But those kind of expense reports didn't seem to bother the Journal much, though that seems to have changed more ever since ol' Rupe got his mitts on the paper.
In December, the Journal dumped the husband-and-wife team of John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter, who wrote an estimable wine column.
The Journal, just like it promises with restaurants, didn't abandon wine coverage entirely. But it's more intermittent and largely devoid of insight let alone personality.
Sokolov's departure means yet another reason the Journal's Saturday lifestyle coverage is less appetizing.
What was once a must-read over the weekend is now a I'll-maybe-get-to-it-if-I-have-time-after-reading-the-Times-and-FT read.
At a time when he's adding a New York edition, Murdoch should be running headlong at his competition, not running from it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

More Fallout from "Last Train to Hiroshima"

Charles Pellegrino's Editors More Out of Touch with Reality Than He Is

Much has been written in the last week or so about the book "The Last Train from Hiroshima," and how Henry Holt & Company after author Charles Pellegrino confirmed he was duped by his primary source who claimed to have been a last-minute replacement on one of the planes that escorted the Enola Gay, which dropped the a-bomb on Hiroshima.
So, the book, which was originally going to be corrected in future editions, is now kaput. Holt said it acted not only because of the lies told by that source, but also because Pellegrino may have fabricated other sources in his book, which he vehemently denies.
Beyond this pathetic case of he said, they said lies a larger issue, namely getting facts straight before the book goes to press.
It is what editors do, after all, besides checking that you used the serial comma and didn't split infinitves. But maybe not.
As Robert Gottlieb, the famed editor who worked at Knopf and helmed The New Yorker -- known for its annoyingly fastidious fact-checking department -- told The New York Times:
"It would not be humanly possible to fact-check books the way magazine articles can be fact-checked, just because of length."
So, by Gottlieb's standard, if a 500-page manuscript at least smells right, that's good enough. Facts? We'll just cross our fingers and hope for the best. What twaddle.
Even worse is Pellegrino's editor at Holt, a 15-watt bulb named John Macrae, who told the Times "the difference between fact and fiction is a very fine line."
Come again?
To be sure, the Times article by Motoko Rich does state that Macrae questioned more than 250 parts of the book, but he was more interested in survivor stories and less focused on how the bomb was dropped, the fabricated story of which led to the book's demise.
But let's go back to Macrae's whopper just above. "The difference between fact and fiction is a very fine line."
Here's a guy who has trouble distinguishing between the two and yet he's a high-ranking editor at a major publishing house. How sad. Maybe that's why the book industry has to undergo a ritual humiliation every couple of years.
Macrae sounds like he's channeling Nan Talese, who got burned in 2006 by James Frey in the "Million Little Pieces" debacle. Back then, she said: "At the New Yorker and Time and Newsweek you have experienced people who know where to go and what's right and what's wrong. We don't. There's been a traditional dependency on the author."
Talese was also the one who insisted that memoirs should be held to a different standard than an autobiography, but that's another sorry issue.
So what we're left with are publishers unwilling to spend a little extra money and time vetting a book like "The Last Train to Hiroshima" that sheds a different light on a pivotal moment in history. Instead supposed publishing pros offer lame mea culpas for a massive FUBAR like this one.
Holt paid a steeper price than what fact-checkers would have cost because of the hit its reputation took over this embarrassment. It's a stain that won't wash away anytime soon.
But what's even sorrier are excuses like the ones coming from Gottlieb, Macrae and Talese, and why it's only a matter of time before I'll be blogging about the next dubious manuscript to get pulled from circulation.
We're supposed to learn from our mistakes. Too bad the book industry is a little slow on the uptake.