Archive for November, 2008

Black Friday? No Thanks!
November 28, 2008

shopping_lines

A little known media secret:   we reporters tend to laugh at the people camping out in line on Thanksgiving waiting for the stores to open on Friday…the so-called Black Friday.

Case in point:   A few years ago we interviewed a woman who blew off Thanksgiving dinner so she and her family could wait in line at Best Buy.   They camped out on a cold sidewalk at 11AM on Thanksgiving Day, knowing full well the store didn’t open until the next day.    By the time our report aired at 11PM, they’d been there 12 hours, and the store wasn’t scheduled to open until the next morning.   What a great Thanksgiving!

Something is really wrong with that picture.    What could be so important inside that store to throw away a whole day?   They could have been home having a Thanksgiving dinner, and don’t say they couldn’t afford it.  If they could wait 18 hours for a $149 Blue Ray, they could have had dinner.   For the record, I don’t have a Blue Ray.  They’re great, and I may get one some day, but I won’t be wrapped in a sleeping bag on cold concrete to do it.

When the I-phone went on the market, we interviewed a high school student who skipped school to get one of the first phones…and the kicker:  his mother called in sick to her job so she could sign the paperwork for him.   What did she tell his principal?     Keep in mind the phone was still going to be available when the boy got out of school in the afternoon.   This is just plain  wrong.   But, thanks to the mom for doing that, because it gave the Eyewitness Newsroom a hearty guffaw.

We in the media are guilty in this craziness.  We encourage this madness with all our coverage of Black Friday even though as reporters interview sleep deprived shoppers huddled in the cold they are thinking “what’s wrong with these people.”

There are questions I want answered:

1.  When you are camped out for 16 hours where do you go the bathroom?

2.   Are you concerned your children are cold?

3.   What about eating?

4.   What are you teaching your children about the meaning of Thanksgiving?

Black Friday has turned deadly in some cases.  In Staten Island, New York a Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death in 2008 the moment the store opened….crushed by a throng of shoppers who’d been camping out all night waiting for bargains.        In California, two people were shot while arguing at ToysRUs.   What kind of loser brings a gun to a toy store?

Sure, there are some deals to be had on Black Friday, but considering the economy, something tells me the deals will be around days for days to come.    Is it really worth it to go through all of this to save money?

I’ll wait for cyber Monday and celebrate Thanksgiving at home.

Read about my department store career: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/from-detective-to-news-anchor/

the Gas Guzzler Myth
November 26, 2008

Someone recently said to me that American cars are all gas guzzlers.  That statement couldn’t be more untrue.  Check this out:  http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/the-american-gas-guzzler-myth.htm

Help for the Big Three Automakers
November 18, 2008

There has been considerable debate over whether the federal government should step in and help the ailing auto industry to the tune of $25 billion dollars.    It seems most people I talk to realize something needs to be done, because a collapse of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler would be catastrophic to the economy.   In fact General Motors put out this video that really spells out what will happen if the Big Three go under.

Kara is from Detroit and I used to work as an anchor in Michigan, so we have probably seen the auto industry from a closer vantage point than many folks here in Connecticut.   I think that’s why we tend to be a little more defensive and protective of the auto industry.  The folks who design, build, and test these cars were our neighbors, friends, etc.    

What really bothers me is when people say “I will never buy an American car.”  What kind of statement is that?    They’ll say things like “my father had an Oldsmobile that had all sorts of problems.”   You know what, that’s ancient history.   The cars General Motors builds today are not your father’s Oldsmobile.  The Japanese killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor and Americans have forgiven them and now drive their cars.  Why is it so hard to forgive  American car companies for the mistake of making some bad cars back  in the 1970s?

It’s also maddening when people say they WANT to see the Big Three go under.   Huh?    To me that is really unpatriotic. 

I’ll be the first to admit the Big Three have made plenty of mistakes that helped create the mess they are in today.     They signed very generous contracts with employees.    They mysteriously dropped the nameplates of cars that Americans trusted and sold really well:  Taurus, LeSabre,  and Cherokee come to mind.    They offer cars to the rest of the world that are not sold in the United States.   Check out the Ford Fiesta in Europe and the Buick lineup in China and you’ll know what I’m talking about.   They design totally “wow” concept cars that grab all sorts of attention, and then never build them.  The Big Three  were also slow to the hybrid craze.    

But that was then, and this is now.   Some of the best cars out there are made by Ford, GM and Chrysler:     the Ford Mustang,  Buick Enclave, and Cadillac CTS.    The electric Chevrolet Volt is coming next year, that many predict will revolutionize the industry.

Bottom line is,  you can buy what you want, but at least be educated about purchasing a car.

The Detroit Free Press printed this list of myths about the U.S. automakers, that is pretty eye opening. 

November 17, 2008
 
 
 

 

6 myths about the Detroit 3

BY MARK PHELAN
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

The debate over aid to the Detroit-based automakers is awash with half-truths and misrepresentations that are endlessly repeated by everyone from members of Congress to journalists. Here are six myths about the companies and their vehicles, and the reality in each case.

Myth No. 1

Nobody buys their vehicles.

Reality

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC sold 8.5 million vehicles in the United States last year and millions more around the world. GM outsold Toyota by about 1.2 million vehicles in the United States last year and holds a U.S. lead over Toyota of about 560,000 so far this year. Globally, GM in 2007 remained the world’s largest automaker, selling 9,369,524 vehicles worldwide — about 3,000 more than Toyota.

Ford outsold Honda by about 850,000 and Nissan by more than 1.3 million vehicles in the United States last year.

Chrysler sold more vehicles here than Nissan and Hyundai combined in 2007 and so far this year.

Myth No. 2

They build unreliable junk.

Reality

The creaky, leaky vehicles of the 1980s and ’90s are long gone. Consumer Reports recently found that “Ford’s reliability is now on par with good Japanese automakers.” The independent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study scored Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Mercury, Pontiac and Lincoln brands’ overall quality as high or higher than that of Acura, Audi, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Scion, Volkswagen and Volvo.

Power rated the Chevrolet Malibu the highest-quality midsize sedan. Both the Malibu and Ford Fusion scored better than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Myth No. 3

They build gas-guzzlers.

Reality

All of the Detroit Three build midsize sedans the Environmental Protection Agency rates at 29-33 miles per gallon on the highway. The most fuel-efficient Chevrolet Malibu gets 33 m.p.g. on the highway, 2 m.p.g. better than the best Honda Accord. The most fuel-efficient Ford Focus has the same highway fuel economy ratings as the most efficient Toyota Corolla. The most fuel-efficient Chevrolet Cobalt has the same city fuel economy and better highway fuel economy than the most efficient non-hybrid Honda Civic. A recent study by Edmunds.com found that the Chevrolet Aveo subcompact is the least expensive car to buy and operate.

Myth No. 4

They already got a $25-billion bailout.

Reality

None of that money has been lent out and may not be for more than a year. In addition, it can, by law, be used only to invest in future vehicles and technology, so it has no effect on the shortage of operating cash the companies face because of the economic slowdown that’s killing them now.

Myth No. 5

GM, Ford and Chrysler are idiots for investing in pickups and SUVs.

Reality

The domestic companies’ lineup has been truck-heavy, but Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have all spent billions of dollars on pickups and SUVs because trucks are a large and historically profitable part of the auto industry. The most fuel-efficient full-size pickups from GM, Ford and Chrysler all have higher EPA fuel economy ratings than Toyota and Nissan’s full-size pickups.

Myth No. 6

They don’t build hybrids.

Reality

The Detroit Three got into the hybrid business late, but Ford and GM each now offers more hybrid models than Honda or Nissan, with several more due to hit the road in early 2009.

Goo Goo Dolls and Elmo
November 6, 2008

goo_goo_dolls

I used to watch the news or Morning Joe or Sportscenter in the morning, but those days are gone.   Now I watch Sesame Street with my daughter, and I must say, it totally rocks…literally. 

Helena loves Elmo, and knows Snuffy, Oscar, Zoe and the gang.  For some reason she says Big Bird, with a Long Island accent “boid” even though her mother is from Detroit and I’m from Boston.   Sesame Street has helped Helena learn her letters and numbers, and every so often there is something for grownups….and the children.

Celebrities make appearances every so often on “sessy” as Helena calls it.   We just caught the Goo Goo Dolls singing with Elmo.  The episode  is actually 11 years old, but who is counting.  The group sang a song called “Pride” written just for Elmo.  Check it out on sesamestreet.org or youtube.   It’s kind of catchy!  

One of my favorite actors the perpetually goofy Ben Stiller also made a cameo and sang “who are the people in your neighborhood.”    Both John Rzeznik and Stiller looked like they really enjoyed themselves.

The Mighty Might Bosstones also appeared years back, featuring a native of my hometown of Norwood, Massachusetts, Dickie Barrett.

Election Night Behind the Scenes
November 5, 2008

What an historic night to be working.   At approximately 11:04 PM, Denise and I announced that Barack Obama had been elected the nation’s 44th president.   Normally, the networks would make that announcement, but since we were in local programming at the time, we got to make the announcement.

We had a full staff working and here is a glimpse into what went into our election coverage.

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clockwise from the left:  Special Projects Producer Tracy Furey, 11PM producer Leah Viator, Executive Producer Kerrie Wudyka,  Anchor and Janitor Al Terzi, some woman who looks vaguely familiar, Associate Producer Brian Spyros, Associate Producer Scott McDonnell, Sports Director Joe Zone and editor Tom Zukowski.

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Political analysts Duby McDowell and Brian Flaherty.   Sorry we didn’t get a picture of Brian applying Duby’s eyeliner.

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A busy night for our web team of Stephanie Berning and Joshua Rafuse checking their Facebook accounts, I mean, updating vote totals.

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Al recalling the first election he covered when Warren Harding beat James Cox.

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Technical Producer Adam (Adam 12) Brooks and operations technician Joel Kosciak trying to make Al, Denise and me look younger.

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News Director Dana Neves and Assistant Director Patience Hettrick making an important election night decision:  what kind of toppings to order on the pizzas.   Notice Dana is sitting….imgp8234

that’s because as you can see in these standing shots, she is ready to give birth any day!     Here Dana is talking to our producer pod:  from the top center clockwise:  Executive Producer Kerrie Wudyka, producers Rob Polansky and Chris Hamm, associate producers Scott McDonnell and Kimberly Cornell, Assistant News Director Patience Hettrick and Associate Producer Brian Spyros.  Below:  Dana and Kimberly.     You’ll see chief meteorologist Bruce DePrest moping around with nothing really to do on this election night, but he is secretly hoping for a freak nor’easter. 

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Here Production Manager Marney Elliott and technicians Dario Muneton (on the right) and Kevin Deninger (left) tell Adam and Joel the only way to make the anchors look younger is to shoot as wide as possible and ask the viewers to squint.  

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Technicians Dave Chmielewski (the front) and Kyle Buchanan (the tail) operate the remote camera.  Let’s hope for Kyle’s sake Dave didn’t eat the three bean pizza (Al and Denise’s favorite.)

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Assignment Manager Dave Ward announcing that Congressman Chris Shays is conceding.   That smile means there are no technical problems….at this particular moment.

The Final Piece of Adriaen’s Landing
November 4, 2008

front-street

Ten years ago, a retail, residential, civic and entertainment district was proposed for a series of vacant parking lots in downtown Hartford called Adriaen’s Landing.   Now, as 2009 approaches, the final piece is finally getting underway.  It’s called Front Street.

Adriaen’s Landing consists of the Downtown Marriott Hotel, the Connecticut Convention Center, the Science Center of Connecticut, parking garages, and now Front Street.   Sadly, the Front Street we are getting isn’t what he had hoped for, at least not yet.

Front Street, named after the now defunct street that ran through the now defunct Italian American neighborhood torn down for Constitution Plaza, will feature 68,000 square feet of retail and restaurants (see the rendering above.)  It was supposed to include apartments.  The downturn in the economy killed that housing, but apartments/condominiums are planned for the second phase of Front Street.

Everybody is disappointed there is no retail in this first phase, but there will be some in the next phase.   There is talk of even a high rise near the Hartford Times building.   My own evidence suggests there is a market for downtown housing, even if they banks are cautious right now because of the economy.  First, the new downtown apartments that have been built are filling up.   Second, when Kara and I rented our brownstone in the SoDo section of downtown, the most popular question was “can I walk to work?”    Our tenants didn’t want to commute from the suburbs to downtown.  They are saving gas money and as 20 somethings, they like being able to walk to restaurants and clubs.   Our place rented right away.  

There is also need for larger housing units downtown.  I know of a few empty nesters who think a 2 bedroom condo is too small.  They want a third or even fourth bedroom for grandchildren when they visit.

There is no argument downtown Hartford needs more retail.   The state has invested millions in the convention center which is bringing thousands of visitors to your capital city.   Problem is, when they want to leave their convention to go shopping, they cab it out to Westfarms Mall and the Shoppes at Buckland Hills.  Great places to shop, but visitors want to be able to walk to places.

Visitors marvel at the attractions in walking distance:  the Wadsworth, Bushnell Park, the Capitol and Old State House.  There is also no shortage of restaurants, but the shopping is limited.  Let’s hope Front Street changes that.

It opens in 2010.

The rendering is courtesy the HB NItkin Group

Election Night
November 4, 2008

campaign-08

Election night is usually one of the most fun nights to work in a television newsroom.  First of all, we have a full staff made up of some dayside folks who work an extra long day.   Denise and Al will be here, and as tradition dictates, Denise will wear the blue velvet dress that she wears every election night.   Secondly, we get pizza, lots of it.   

Most importantly, we are part of history.   We will be telling our viewers about the next president, and reporting the results of our five congressional races and of the hundreds of races to fill the Connecticut General Assembly.  

My first election night at Channel 3 was 1992, and I was assigned to the Ross Perot Victory Party, of course there was no victory.   It wasn’t  a fun assignment, as most of the people there seemed bitter as they blamed the media for the loss of the Texas billionaire.   Four years later, I was at a Clinton Party at Black Eyes Sally’s in Hartford, that was very festive.  In ’00 and ’04, I was in our studio reporting returns.

Our coverage begins tonight on Eyewitness News at 5 and goes all night long.   We’ll be looking for you.

Radio Rules
November 3, 2008

Damon Scott

Damon Scott

Jeannine Jersey
Jeannine Jersey

I heard something kind of bizarre on the radio the other night.  I was leaving work after the 11PM news,  turned on 96.5TIC in the car, and heard two familiar voices:  Damon Scott (the bizarre aspect of him we’ll discuss another day!) and Jeannine Jersey.   They are usually on in the afternoon,  not at the witching hour.

Anyway, they were reading rules of a contest.   They went back and forth with lines like “CBS radio reserves the right….” yada, yada, yada, and “all entrants must be..”  This went on for quite a while.  In fact, Damon and Jeannine were going through the rules when I left Rocky Hill and were still reading them by the time I crossed into Hartford, some 8 miles away. 

All the while, they remained upbeat, while a strange background music played.  It was sort of a soundtrack from “I Dream of Jeannie.”  Disturbing, yet I wanted to hear more of it…the music is.

We have contests on Channel now and then, and we just throw a list of the rules on the screen and you’re expected to read all one thousand words in 7 seconds.  I guess that gets WFSB off the hook legally.  Our friends in radio don’t have that option and have to read every word of every rule, and they Jeannine and Damon kept listeners captivated for the seemingly endless litany of rules without sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher!

Another bizarre thing I caught this weekend that shows the power of the immediacy of radio: callers.  

Scotty McDonnell

Scotty McDonnell

On Saturday TIC deejay Scotty McDonnell took a call from a bride getting married and she requested a song for the wedding.  How cool is that?   To call in and request a song live for your nuptials and you get it!   Scotty threatened to play the “chicken dance”  and wisely decided to go with Guns and Roses.    That would have violated the rules of good taste!

Forgot a job!
November 3, 2008

I forgot to mention in my previous post on jobs, that I worked as an extra for the television series “Spenser for Hire.”   I walked around in the background and met the late Robert Urich.   The show was filmed in Boston, so it was convenient.  The hours were long, but the pay wasn’t bad and the food was decent.   Look for me in the DVD collection!

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