Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You notice television, radio, etc. have made a lot of hay off the decline in the fortunes of daily newspapers?

This is from the new posting at mediabuyerplanner.com:

Wall Street firm UBS is predicting that ABC’s owned-and-operated stations could see revenue tank by as much as 30% in the first quarter of 2009.

Such a decline, which would follow an O&O decline of 15% in the fourth quarter of 2008, is likely attributable to a decline in spending by U.S. automakers, writes MediaPost. More bad news is expected to follow in coming months, with revenue expected to fall at least 25% over the next two quarters.

UBS expects that Disney’s ABC network will see a 12% drop in revenue, to $869 million, a less drastic drop than the previous quarter, according to Broadcasting & Cable. Cable will see a 9% decline in advertising, plus a welcome 9% jump in revenue from subscriptions.

Ad revenue makes up 20% of Disney’s total revenue.

In coming weeks, Disney is expected to unveil details on its much-rumored partnership with Hulu. Chatter has it that Disney is in negotiations with Fox and NBC to take an equity stake in Hulu.com. In exchange, Disney would get broader distribution of its ABC shows via the video site.

Disney also recently inked a deal with YouTube to make short-form content available on the Google site, in an effort to gain broader distribution for its ABC television programs.

The corporate media can not support itself in these economic conditions. The more we can get back to local ownership of media based on ads from local businesses the healthier the media will be in general.

And we must develop other ways to pay for content regardless of the platform.

DVDs so far this vacation week: Tom Tyler's "Santa Fe Bound, " an above average entry in Tom's series from Poverty Row producers Reliable Pictures. The film has a bigger cast and better sets than many of the Reliables and Tom seems to be enjoying himself in the role of a drifter who falls into the middle of a murder plot to take over a ranch. Perhaps it is because his wife Jeanne Martel played the heroine. The Alpha DVD used a pretty good print with no jump cuts.

"Revenge of Frankenstein:" I've never had the opportunity of seeing all of the Peter Cushing Frankenstein films and now the folks at Big Lots are offering two of the titles in their blow-out of DVDs. How can I resist a $3 DVD? The second film in the series is extremely well-done with a great premise and a fairly remarkable ending. Of course I would watch just about anything with Cushing as he is one of my favorites.

I got to meet him at a Famous Monster of Filmland Convention in NYC in the mid-1970s. he was standing by himself in the lobby of the then Hotel Commodore and I walked up to him and welcomed him to the Unites States. He was extremely gracious and wanted to know who I was and where I came from, etc.

In the days well before people charging to autographs Cushing signed for hours, literally for everyone who wanted his signature.

© 2009 Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, April 27, 2009

Remember ballyhoo?

If you do, you must be close to my age. At a time when marketing products is so important, it's astonishing to me how lackadaisical modern marketing really is.

Movies used to be marketed to death. Theater owners – yes, once upon a time, people, not huge corporations owned movie theaters – and those folks were in competition with each other and everything else hoping to get a slice of your entertainment dollar.

Check out this part of a pressbook – a over-sized booklet sent to theaters prior to the run of a film – a hideously cheapjack Sam Katzman serial starring a solid actor named Kane Richmond who was definitely better than this stuff.

It was the philosophy of the time that every movie had to be sold to audiences. Even serials designed for the kiddie trade.

Remember the drive-ins that regularly showed movies you never heard of? But those films had posters and newspapers ads and previews that were designed to rope you in. They had gimmicks – barf bags, insurance policies and whatever it took to get you interested enough to get you to spend your money.

When I ran Tower Theaters in South Hadley, I just had previews, posters, banners and standees to help sell a movie and not all of those items were available for each title. We did things differently than other theaters, but we were the freaks in business called show – that had the show part surgically removed.

Today, the studios build a Web site, talk with the movie press, post a preview or two. They rely on "viral" efforts and on journalists needing to fill space with entertainment stuff that is relatively cheap and easy to do.

I love this "controversy" about someone "leaking" the new X-Men movie out to people. I smell a stunt here. It sort of renews my faith.

Consider how DVDs are marketed. You used to walk into you local video store and be assaulted with posters, standees, talking boxes, promotional items, etc. – all designed to get you to pick a video up. What kind a marketing can you get at the Red Box?

Here's the irony: there are plenty of creative people doing interesting things. There are audiences still eager for something new and original. The problem is how to reach those people. Most of the ways creative/entertainment products used to be distributed have been corrupted or dismantled.

Got a comic book? Is it Diamond worthy? Granted there are few other distributors, but it's not the way it was at the height of the direct sales market.

Have a small press magazine? Good luck in getting one of the last remaining big distributors handle it at a price you can afford?

Trying to get promotion for your music? Can't go the route of getting airplay and in fact in many areas venues aren't even interested in "new" music.

Producing a movie? You can't get theatrical release through independent theaters because there are so few indies left. You can't four-wall either.

I think people with entertainment products are going to have re-invent the wheel so to speak and look at really how effective some of the older ways of reaching your audience really were.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Here's another take on Bissette

from my good friend and talented artist Mark Masztal. Look, he included the typical Bissette plaid shirt, even!

Check out more of Mark's art (and musings) at his dandy blog.

Now is this a contest? Well, if Steve picks any of these (let it be mine, MINE!) I'm going to assemble a weirdo media package for the lucky arteest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Second Bissette Image

Denis St. John, a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies, depicts a Western Bissette handling snakes and wearing a frying pan.

Denis' blog can be reached here

Denis, unlike me, is of course a real cartoonist as he can draw feet, hands and snakes.

Dogboy has shown me his pencils of a very good Bissette headshot. He is also a real cartoonist.

Cartoonists, you know, get ALL the girls. Or so I've been told.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The media is to blame for economic mess?

One of my favorite Web sites is http://www.mediabuyerplanner.com as it has a wealth of current media news culled from a variety of sources.

Here's a story from today that blew me away:

Americans Blame Ad Agencies, Media for Economic Crisis
Two-thirds of Americans (66%) believe ad agencies have at least some responsibility for the current economic crisis because they caused people to buy things they couldn’t afford, according to findings from a Harris Interactive poll completed earlier this month.

The media is not far behind ad agencies when it comes to responsibility, according to (pdf) the survey (via Marketing Charts). 59% say print media - such as newspapers and magazines - deserve at last some responsibility for the economic crisis, while 56% assign at least some of the blame to news and information websites.

55% of Americans say talk shows on TV or radio, cable news programs (54%) and network and local news programs (53%) all have at least some responsibility, also because they caused people to buy things they couldn’t afford, Harris said.

A significant number of Americans also are willing to look at factors closer to home. Nearly half (46%) assign some of the blame to their friends and family, though the majority of Americans (54%) still say their personal circle of influence bears no responsibility.

The poll also found an age divide over who is to blame for the economic crisis, Harris reported. People ages 55+ are more likely to blame the five media categories and the advertising agencies. In contrast, those ages 18-34 are less likely to say these six groups have at least some responsibility and are more likely to blame their friends and family.

For example, 75% of the older age group say advertising agencies have at least some responsibility compared to 60% of 18-34 year olds. When it comes to print media, 67% of those ages 55+ say they have at least some responsibility while just half of the younger age group say print media has at least some responsibility.

About the survey: This Harris Poll was conducted online within the US between March 31 and April 1, 2009 among 2,220 adults (ages 18+) who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

So, advertising vehicles somehow held guns to the collective head of America and told them to spend needlessly? Popular culture that is reflected through the media certainly has much to do with encouraging people to spend money on various categories of merchandise – entertainment, fashion, etc.

But should we blame the messenger for the recipient accepting and embracing the message? Should the messenger be censoring messages to prevent someone from spending money he or she doesn't have?

I don't think so. Advertising even done in a totally legitimate way still requires consumers to think about claims and offers and evaluate them accordingly.

We got in this mess through a variety of actions – and inactions– from government and big business as well as lack of attention from voters/consumers. No advertiser "made" someone buy a house or a car they couldn't afford.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, April 20, 2009

Okay, here's my best shot at capturing the essence of Bissette in a few lines:

Yes, indeedy this is why I'm a writer – a frustrated secret cartoonist, also.

I only attempted a caricature because arms and legs confound me. Drawing clothing does as well. I'm no good with feet either. And hands! Let's not bring those up.

I can hear the howls of derisive laughter now from my artist friends.

Perhaps I should offer to write the dust jacket bio instead. Maybe Steve would want me to give that a whirl.

Then again maybe not.

Next up in the draw Bissette contest: Dogboy!
© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why living in the city is a pain sometimes

My wife and I have lived in our home for the past 19 years and generally we've been lucky. We've had no major crime incident. No house fire – although we were struck by lightening and the Fire Department personnel were great – and even the missionary types seem to have put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on our house.

So it is the little things – in the absence of something major – that bug you.

This week the trash collectors do what they do every week. They empty the bin in such away to spill trash onto the street. The trash then blows down the street and into my front yard as well as others.

Why do they do this? Why not pick up what they spill?

In the summer the truck leaks a stream of fluid from its nether region that fills the street with a smell that could stun a skunk.

But my current complaint is the fact that people park on both sides of this narrow street. Take a look.

As far as I know there has never been an effort to ticket these cars. This is a major public safety issue as I doubt that emergency vehicles could make it through what's left of the thoroughfare.

This week I will call the Quality of Life Flex Squad to see if the police have a solution for this situation.

Mark May 1 on your calendar media fans:
The Valley Press Club's Annual Roast of newsmakers and
journalists is slated for Friday, May 1, at 5:30 p.m. at the Keg Room, 87 State St. Tickets are available in advance or at the door. The roast satirizes personalities and stories in the news. Various local and state politicians are expected to attend along with the public. Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe and Holyoke Police Chief Anthony Scott and other public officials are expected to attend.

The event includes food, a raffle and a cash bar. The proceeds benefit the club's scholarship funds for journalism students. Members of the area media and Springfield City Hall staff members are among the participants in the roast .The emcee is Jim Polito, a former reporter and anchor for abc40. WAQY-FM Rock 102 radio personality John O'Brien of the "Bax and O'Brien Show" will also participate. Tickets to the roast are available in advance by sending a check made out to "Valley
Press Club" for $10 per person, mailed to Valley Press Club, P.O. Box 5475, Springfield, MA 01102. To reserve a ticket, or for information, call (413) 575-4954.

Tickets at the door are $15. The Valley Press Club consists of active and retired journalists, and public relations
professionals from corporate and nonprofit organizations throughout the Pioneer Valley. During the year, the Valley Press Club conducts luncheon meetings with newsmakers and elected officials, co-sponsors and presents a communications conference at Western New England College, and raises funds for scholarships, among other activities.

The Web site address is valleypressclub.com.

For those interested, I'm still working on my sketch of Steve Bissette. It will debut tomorrow!

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Can YOU draw this man?

No, not the gentle looking guy on the left, but the rather belligerent toothless looking geezer on the right.

Why that's no stand-in for Gabby Hays – it's acclaimed artist, writer, teacher and lover of bizarre stuff Stephen R. Bissette!

The guy with the baseball hat is our mutual friend Joseph Citro – a great author of books such as "The Vermont Ghost Guide," "Weird New England" and a new book out later this year on the monsters of Vermont.

Now Joe needs a drawing of Steve for the book jacket and while we were discussing this I chimed in that I would do one.

You see, if you scratch a writer there is a yearning arteest beneath the surface. The difference between the visual arts and the written ones is the immediacy of reaction – and acceptance – from audiences.

So writers crave for the day somehow people will instantly appreciate their collection of words just as artists have experienced since the first caveman drew a mastodon on a stone wall.

Now here are the things you need to know about Bissette:

1. He does have teeth
2. His favorite shirt color is plaid.
3. This is a rare photo of him without a hat. NO BASEBALL CAPS! Steve wouldn't be caught dead in one.

I'm working on my drawing, which will be awful because I am a writer not an artist. Steve once had me draw a dino cartoon in a sketchbook of his, among the same pages with real artists. I dutifully submitted for what I knew would be ultimately humiliating and crafted a joke about an enormous dino turd.

But I'm prepared to risk embarrassment again.

So send me a jpeg of a sketch to mdobbs at crocker dot com and I'll post them here.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Container ports along the Connecticut?

I've sent the following story to a number of local elected officials and business leaders to see what they think of the idea. What do you think?

Thirty years ago, the Sunday Republican ran a lengthy piece written by a
young Springfield attorney about a public works project that could
dramatically improve the transportation infrastructure for Springfield, West
Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee. His idea did gain some political support
and did progress to a certain point before it was killed.

He now believes the time is right to reconsider it.

Charles Ryan IV, the eldest son of the former Springfield mayor, had
suggested establishing a container port on the Connecticut River. The river
would have had to have been dredged in certain locations and the lock
systems at Windsor Locks would have had to undergo modifications. The result
would have been a river that could support barge traffic from the Long
Island Sound to Holyoke.

The improvements to the river would then allow private commercial
development along its banks to flourish, in Ryan’s vision.

A container port here in the Greater Springfield area, he contended then
and now, would be the perfect addition to the freight rail yards in West
Springfield, the Westover civilian airport in Chicopee and the intersections
of Interstate 91 and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

What stopped the project from moving forward was an evaluation in 1986
that assessed the economic potential versus the costs. The conclusion was
that the cost didn’t justify the outcome,
Local industrial development officials disagreed then and Ryan disagrees
with the report to this day.

Ryan explained to Reminder Publications that in light of the Obama
Administration’s efforts to provide jobs while improving the nation’s
infrastructure, this project should receive reconsideration. He said it
would provide construction jobs and then enduring private sector employment.

He believes that Springfield and other communities have not received the
level of economic development dollars and projects as other parts of the
state or nation.

What makes the project even more attractive in 2009 is the hydroelectric
generating facility that had been part of the original proposal, Ryan
asserted. In 1990 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rated the
potential of such a facility at 90 megawatts.

Ryan recalled that he had been speaking with his father and uncle when
he thought of the idea. While in Law School at Boston College, he visited
the Army Corps of Engineers office in Waltham where he was told a similar
plan had been developed during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt
but was never implemented.

According to a report commissioned by the Army Corps of Engineers the
dredging of the river and construction of locks and dams in Hartford and
Enfield, Conn., had been authorized in 1930 and then again in 1935, but none
of this work was undertaken.

The Connecticut River is navigable from Long Island Sound to just north
of Hartford, where modern navigation is prevented by the locks at Windsor
Locks, Conn. The locks were developed in 1829 to allow river traffic to
travel around the Enfield Rapids. With the advent of railroads in the 1840s,
Ryan said, the locks were used less and weren’t properly maintained.

To build a container port facility in Hampden County, Ryan’s plan called
for the following elements:
• The redesign of the lock system to pass through the Enfield (Conn.) rapids
• As part of that lock system update, the construction of a dam with a
hydroelectric generation system and a fish lift system
• The dredging of the river north of the lock system to ensure the proper

Ryan’s 1979 opinion piece and his subsequent one-man campaign to
generate support were successful, but perhaps part of that attention came
from the times. William L. Putnam, the founder and owner of WWLP, wrote Ryan
about the project describing it as “the greatest economic development idea
in my lifetime.”

Ryan noted in 1983 there had been considerable attention placed on the
condition of the Connecticut River. There had been a successful fight
opposing a plan from the Metropolitan District Commission to divert water
from the river to augment Boston’s water supply. By 1983, about $800 million
had been spent to clean up the river’s pollution. Springfield had built
Riverfront Park and there were increasing numbers of shad and salmon
returning to the river.

Congressman Edward Boland supported the project, Ryan said, and assisted
in securing the attention of the Army Corps of Engineers in compiling an
evaluation released in January 1986. He said that Boland’s successor,
Congressman Richard Neal, had also shown support, but that Senators John
Kerry and Edward Kennedy had not been involved.

Essentially the evaluation had to estimate how much economic activity
would be generated by having the potential of barge traffic on the river
versus the costs of the project.

The report concluded, “The total cost of the project, if it were to be
built today exclusive of real estate, terminal facilities and mitigation, is
estimated at $335 million with annual costs estimated to be at $32 million.
Total project annual benefits amount to $27 million resulting in a benefit
to cost ratio (BCR) of 0.7 to 1. Specific navigation annual costs and
benefits are estimated at $12 million and $6 million respectively yielding a
BCR of 0.5 to 1. Based on the above findings, navigation as a project
purpose is not economically justified.”

Adjusted for inflation, the cost of the project today would be
approximately $670 million. The Boston Globe reported in 2008 the final cost
of the Big Dig would be $22 billion.

Ryan did not accept the report’s findings. In a rebuttal, he wrote,
“Specifically the study fails to project commercial navigation as regards
bulk, container or other modes for export or import, virtually whatsoever;
as the study’s models were predicated on all shipments resulting in empty
backhauls. This effectively negates any realistic appraisal of bulk or
container shuttle service, while doubling the study’s ‘costs.’”

He was not alone in fighting the report’s methodology. Earl Weller, the
chair of the Mayor’s Industrial Development Advisory Committee in Holyoke,
wrote the Army Corps of Engineers in May 1986, stating, “However, the
Committee is concerned that some contributing costs savings or benefits were
either understated or ignored in your analytical work. For example, it
appears that the projections of the job retention and producing effects of
the project were extremely conservative. Also there is no accounting in the
study for potential flood control savings and benefits resulting from a
deeper river bed.”

Weller asked for a careful reconsideration of the project and despite
additional lobbying from Ryan, it never came.

In the second part of this story, local political and economic
development leaders will be asked to look at this project from today’s

© 2009 Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ah, politics!
Sorry I've not posted this week but it's been very busy at work.
You may have heard of the most talked about story in the Valley this week, The following is the police report:

At 8:40 P.M. police officers were dispatched to "Max's Tavern" 1800 West Columbus Avenue for a disturbance involving two females. When the officers arrived on scene they observed a female on the stretcher of an AMR Ambulance. She was being treated by the EMT's on scene. She was identified as Susan Dawson age 44 of Agawam, MA. Ms. Dawson told the investigating officers that she was "the Mayor of Agawam". She told the officers that she was at a function in the City of Springfield and stopped at Max's on her way home. She went on to state that she went to the ladies room and on her way out a 61 year old female acquaintance from Longmeadow, Massachusetts attacked her. This woman grabbed her by the hair with both hands and threw her to the ground. When she was on the ground the 61 year old attacker kicked her several times. Ms. Dawson told the officers that she believes she was knocked unconscious for a brief moment due to the attack. After the attack a busboy intervened and the Manager told the busboy to make sure the 61 year old attacker did not leave the premises. The busboy reached out to block her exit and the female Longmeadow resident grabbed the
busboy by the throat with both hands and started to choke him. The busboy broke the grasp and the 61 year old female confronted Dawson again who was seated on the patio now calling her a name. The attacker was then observed entering a red motor vehicle which was operated by an unknown female. Mayor Dawson was treated and released at Baystate
Medical Center.

Agawam Mayor Susan Dawson has been advised to seek her own complaint in Springfield District Court. The Assault and Battery was not committed in a Police Officers presence and at this time is non-arrestable.

We now know Dawson was having dinner with her longtime boyfriend who is seperated but now divorced from his wife, who was the attacker. And apparently she is pressing charges.

The radio boys at WHYN had a field day with this one – I bet Bax and O'Brien did as well – and The Republican has done three stories so far, the latest being in today's paper – all on the front page.

Here's the question, though: does poor judgement in an elected official's social life really mean anything any more? Dawson is pretty dumb for dating a married man. Period. But, being stupid about your personal life isn't necessarily a crime and in this case there was no crime committed by the mayor. So how much of a story is this?

I think it's a story because it says something about character and judgement. I'm sure there are some people who would disagree with me.

By the way, I don't know Dawson other to say "hello." I don't cover Agawam. I have no axe to grind with her.

And I don't condone the wife's actions. There was no need for violence. I'm sure she could have exacted her revenge in a courtroom.

Dawson came into office with a margin of 38 votes and is running for re-election in a small town full of people who are going to talk about this incident from now until November. it will be fascinating to see how she handles this issue, especially since she is pressing charges so there will be renewed stories about it in the press in the coming weeks.

if she were smart, she would drop the charges, hold a press conference and explain that perhaps she had a lapse in judgement in dating someone still legally married. It's worked for other politicians and it might work for her.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

If you're a news junkie or just someone interested in the role media plays in informing the public as part of our way of governing, then check out the on-line New England Press Association e-bulletin.

Monday, April 06, 2009


Ron Ely in regulation torn shirt as Doc Savage from the 1975 film

I was going to write about "Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze" being a "lost" film – "lost" in the sense that it never had a decent theatrical release and that its video release never made it past VHS. My tape was released in 1986 and – I'm happy to say – looks just fine, as fine as a VHS tape can look.

Warner Bros. though is now making the movie and many other previous unreleased films available for $20 through its "vault" program. The DVDs are stripped down – no extras. At least they will be out in the market place.

"Doc Savage" holds a pecular place in my fan boy heart. I actually saw it in the theater – the AMC multi-plex at the old Mountain Farms Mall in Hadley, Mass. That theater was my home away from home. As a commuter to UMass, I would do as much of my homework in the library so I could catch a suppertime show at AMC. I think the admission was $1.25 at the time.

I saw as many movies as I could in those days, both in theaters and on campus where almost every night some club would be showing some movie to raise money.

Warner Brothers booked "Doc Savage" into the Hadley AMC and I was among the handful of people who saw it there. I wouldn't doubt if I didn't see it more than once, because in the pre-video age YOU NEVER KNEW IF YOU WOULD EVER SEE THAT MOVIE AGAIN.

I did the same with "J-Men Forever."

The film is pure camp, but it did strike me as smarmy as the "Batman" television series. The film had the advantage of having a well-cast group of actors with a lead performer who actually looked like Savage was supposed to look like. There was some decent action and some good-looking sets and gimmicks.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of the film is the use of John Philip Sousa marches. See what I mean.

Whatever happended to Ron Ely? I loved his Tarzan television series as a kid as well.

I was so intrigued about this film I actually was able to talk to its producer George Pal about it. He had an office at Paramount and I simply called him and spoke to him.

What the hell did I do! Here was a great animator, a long-time independent producer, the guy who brought us "The War of the Worlds," The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao" and "The Time Machine," among many others. I should have prepared for a serious interview with a film maker I admired.

But I was a dumb kid and just talked to him about what would turn out to be his last movie.

I can't find my notes, but I clearly recall him telling me that a change in studio execs and a poor marketing campaign had doomed the film. He had intended to produce a series.

There had been a rumor director Michael Anderson had shot "straight" takes of scenes and then camp ones, but Pal denied it.

There are a ton of films that have not yet made it to DVD, which is why I still have a lot of VHS tapes sitting on shelves. I'm glad that "Doc Savage" is no longer one of those.

Now will someone put "Firesign Theater's Hot Shorts" on DVD? Please?


© 2009 Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, April 03, 2009

Okay, I've had my first full day on Twitter and I was amazed at just how many messages can be generated by a relatively small group of people. Since I had the messages come to my cell phone as well it was making its little text sound with great regularity.

The last message came in about 10:15 p.m. or so and this morning the first message arrived at about 7:30, waking up my wife who said, "I hate high technology." She really doesn't. She just hates getting up.

I realize that I'm using Twitter in a different way than my friends and I'm hoping this application has merit for people. I have to admit if I go to Jake's for lunch I probably should "tweet" on my choice of meal. After all I do describe myself as "fat man" on my Twitter bio!