Tag Archives: Television

A montage set to music: The best movies of 2013

Movies are all around us. Kind of like the Force, before George Lucas ruined it with all that claptrap about midichloridians or whatever.

Films live inside your TV, your iPhone, your laptop. They’re sitting on shiny metal disks and even being celebrated in these insanely large and dark stadiums where you pay $12 for popcorn and a Diet Coke that costs 20 cents.

And if you’re anything like me, movies are something magical.

So there’s this professional movie critic, David Ehrlich, a man you’d think only takes joy in ripping apart SMURFS 3: ARE WE THERE YET, PAPA SMURF while praising some black-and-white existential French movie where the hero finally kisses the girl and promptly gets hit by a bus–well, you’d think critics like him wouldn’t create something so joyful and beautiful as this.

Except of course he would. Why does anybody become a movie critic, book reviewer or rock journalist? Because they love nothing more than movies, books and making fun of Axl Rose and Vanilla Ice trying to stage a comeback.

So tell me, peoples of the Series of Tubes: which movies in 2013 make your top three?

Related posts:


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.



Filed under 3 Tinseltown Tuesday, The Big Screen

Top 10 Myths of Journalism School

Oh, if I could go back in time, and whisper in the ear of my younger self during journalism school.

Not that I was busy screwing it up. Editor-in-chief of my college newspaper, graduated No. 1 in my class, won a bunch of awards, blah-blah-blah. (Related: Who is this Guy?)

But the traditional things that most journalism students think they SHOULD be doing — well, often those are seven separate kinds of wrong.

And there are other things Serious Journalism Majors scoff at, things that you actually should not only embrace, but hug tightly to your bosom.

So here we go with the Top 10 Myths of Journalism School.

Myth No. 10: Hard news is the only true love of a Serious Journalism Major

Sure, unfiltered Marlboros and Jim Beam come close. But nothing beats a scoop about an amazing scandal. You laugh at people trying to make the words flow for their feature story on dumpster divers, a story packed with all these photos, which are for nancypants who don’t have the stones to write more words.

Here’s the truth: hard news is all about news gathering and using the inverted pyramid, which is a horrible structure for any sort of writing and needs to be taken behind the barn and shot.

Hard news is worthy, and does the public a great service. Yet if all you do is hard news, you won’t truly learn journalism — or how to write.

Related posts:

Myth No. 9: Journalism school will teach you how to write

Once you get that pigskin from j-school, and land your first journalism  gig — at The Willapa Valley Shopper or The New York Times – you’ll go home after 12 hours of banging on the keyboard to stay up past midnight, banging on the keyboard some more while smoking Gallouise Blondes and drinking cheap whiskey sours as you write (a) the next Great American Novel, (b) a Broadway play involving a debutant who falls in love with a struggling young reporter or (c) a Hollywood screenplay about a vast government conspiracy unraveled by an intrepid young intern at CBS.

This will be a lot of fun, and you’ll remember this as being the Best Thing Ever until you’ve been doing it for seven months and turning every draft of your extra-curricular writerly fun into three-point attempts. Also, you will miss this thing we call “sleep” and these other things we call “money in the checking account” and “a social life that does not involve typing on a keyboard chatting with a person who may, or may not, actually exist.”

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong, Speechwriting, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

Journalists just wanna have fun

As a reformed journalist, I can tell you secret things.

Number One: Coffee.

If you want to make a reporter smile, or an editor not growl at you, feed them industrial amounts of coffee.

Number Two: Stress requires unstressing.

Journalists do a stressful job for tiny amounts of monies, and they’re under the Most Insane Deadline Pressure Known to Man, which makes them look for ways to unwind.

Here are my favorite journalists finding ways to unstress.

First we’ve got Bob Herzog.

Bob’s a TV reporter from Local 12 in Cincinatti who took the thankless job of “Traffic Reporter, A Job We Sometimes Have Interns Do” and turned it onto a “Dancing King of the Glowing Tube.”

Then we’ve got WGN anchors Robert Jordan and Jackie Bange, who look quite Serious and Somber while delivering the news.

Once they hit the commercial break, they transform into silly nutballs and do a special shebang, which they’ve honed over the years to take up exactly two minutes.

Also, just because I can, the original Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cindi the Lauper.

The Killers once covered Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj covered it EVEN BETTER.


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.



Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong, The Glowing Tube

1988 Crystal Light National Aerobics of Awesomesauce

This is what we call, in the news business, a muffin choker.

You’re reading this thing they used to call “a paper of news,” which “paperboys” — though sometimes adults, and women — delivered to your house every morning. And while you’re drinking java, eating a blueberry muffin (it must be blueberry, sorry, this is required) and reading about civil wars in Somalia and whether Snooki is pregnant or not, you see a story that makes you CHOKE ON YOUR MUFFIN while snorting coffee through your nose.

So: watch this amazing clip, which felt like a transmission from another time and another place, specifically the late ’70s in some alternative universe, though it’s actually 1988. Look at the feathered hair, the spandex, the whole package. Why isn’t this an Olympic sport?


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.



Filed under 5 Random Thursday, Muffin chokers

Insane pool tricks

Apparently, magical pool shots require three things: (1) Napoleon Dynamite hair with nerdy McNerd glasses, (2) big-time soundtracks and (3) blondes in miniskirts.

And here are trick shots by what looks like Larry the Cable Guy‘s younger, skinnier brother, who calls himself Praying Mantis for some reason. No blonde. No glasses or Napoleon Dynamite hair. HOWEVER: What he does have is a rocking soundtrack stolen from 1983, possibly taken from Jan Michael-Vincent’s trailer on the set of AIRWOLF.

Special bonus video: flaming cue ball, which is apparently the kind of thing that world-class pool sharks do when they’re drunk.

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Filed under 5 Random Thursday

Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

Hear me now and believe me later in the week:

  • flaws and quirks beat absolute perfection
  • the package matters more than the product
  • without legs, you are dead in the water

And now I’ll prove those three things to you with one word, a word that you will definitely recognize and understand.


Here’s that word: SNOOKI.

Does the Snooki (real name: I don’t care) have flaws and quirks? Oh yes. Her flaws may be uncountable by modern science.

Conventional wisdom is that talent trumps all. This is America, right? The cream rises to the top. No way will somebody like Snooki get magazine covers.

snooki is pregnant! stop the presses

The Snooki, she is pregnant! Stop the presses!

HOWEVER: Just a few miles from the Jersey Shore are 5.82 bazillion Broadway actresses who have more talent, beauty and brains in their pinky fingers than Snooki and all her castmates combined. Some of these Broadway stars approach perfection, being triple threats who can sing, dance and act while looking like supermodels.

Talent alone, though, doesn’t make them into stars.

Are they hidden gems? Not so much. They’re on Broadway, seen by millions of locals and tourists in one of the biggest media markets in the world.

If the people who place all of their faith in the viral power of the Series of Tubes were right, all that overwhelming talent plus a few tweets and YouTube videos would be launching people from Broadway into the stratosphere, week after week.

Except that doesn’t happen.

Instead, we have People covers of Snooki getting pregnant and in-depth interviews about Basketball Wives or whatever.

Let’s figure out the how and why of this. Then let’s put our evil knowledge to use.

Flaws and quirks beat absolute perfection

In the old days, back when we had these things called “papers of news,” some papers ran an interesting contest. Out of a page full of photos of pretty women, the game was picking not your favorite, but the photo you predicted OTHER READERS would choose.

Much more interesting. In the first case, it’s your preference. Maybe you like blondes with short hair. Who knows? Who cares?

The second question — which photo will readers choose? — is quite good. It takes brainpower.

And it’s the same game played by Hollywood talent scouts, music industry execs, literary agents and model agencies. Put yourself in the shoes of a diverse audience, young and old, city slickers and cowboys. Now bet your career and livelihood by picking not who you like the best, but who you think PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW will pay money to like.

With the old newspaper contests, readers went with quirks and flaws. If there was only one redhead on the page, picking her was smart. Because she stood out.

Think about some of the most famous supermodels. Lauren Hutton had a big gap between her teeth. Cindy Crawford had her mole.

Lauren Hutton, model, icon

Lauren the Hutton, model and icon.

When everybody seems equally perfect and wonderful, a little quirk or flaw makes them interesting, lets them stand out from the crowd and gives the audience somebody to identify with, because average Joe and Jane Sixpack aren’t perfect, either.

A related idea is that quirks and flaws — even train wrecks — attract attention.

If you’re perfectly talented and perfectly balanced and sane, you’ll never make the news for (a) getting married and divorced every 72 days, (b) having spats with other stars, (c) being arrested for being a drunken idiot or (d) going into rehab.

Robert Downey, Jr. is the perfect example of this.

Downey is a supremely talented actor. If he had a perfect personal life, you might hate him. You’d want to see him brought down to earth off his pedestal of perfection. On the other hand, if Downey was drinking Charlie Sheen‘s tiger blood nonsense, you’d dismiss him as an idiot. Instead, people admire Downey for getting clean and sober, because everybody loves a redemption story. He still has an edge — plus flaws and quirky charm — but he’s no Sheen, who’s turned into a punchline.

Contrast also works. If you see somebody who looks great, it raises expectations. Time after time, an ugly duckling has shown up on stage at Britain’s Got Talent, underwhelming anyone watching until they opened their mouths and MADE PEOPLE CRY.

Here is Paul Notts, who definitely played the part of the ugly duckling. And the crowd loves him.

The package matters more than the product

The average person in the 1970s was exposed to about 500 ads per day. Today, it’s up to 5,000 ads per day, all professionally designed by Don Draper  to persuade you that yes, you have to buy that widget RIGHT NOW.

What Would Don Draper Do? He'd light a cigarette and have martini.

What Would Don Draper Do? He’d light a cigarette and have a martini.

It’s no exaggeration to say that a 1 percent response rate isn’t failure at all. That’s pretty dang good.

If the pros are happy to get something like 1 percent, don’t think that you are somehow immune from the mathematics. Your package has to be amazing to break through all that clutter.Because people are more media savvy than ever. They have to be. If people weren’t such hard targets, they’d blow the mortgage money on a garage full of Shamwows, Fat Magnets and DVD’s of the Brazilian Butt Lift.

This is why you can’t think, “I have 15,000 blog readers and 22,000 Twitter follows, so if they all buy my book / album / black velvet portraits of dogs dressed like Elvis, I’m home free.” Because 1 percent or less is far more likely.

Packaging is so important that it actually subverts true talent. I’ll let somebody smarter than me explain.

Malcolm Gladwell tells a great story in BLINK about classical musicians in professional symphonies. Used to be, the conductor watched people try out. Then he picked who’d be first violin and all that.

For the sake of fairness, symphonies switched to having musicians play behind a screen. You couldn’t see who it was. What they sound like is all that mattered anyway, right?

This little change turned classical music upside down.

Conductors freaked out, because they were picking women for manly instruments like the tuba, stuff that women couldn’t possibly have the strength or lung power to play.

Also, some people looked terrible when they played, but sounded great.

Other people were good-looking and looked great when they played, but they actually sounded bad, when you couldn’t see them.

The screen turned off the connection between our eyes, our ears and our brain.

It’s the same thing that happens when you’re sick and can’t smell. Food tastes entirely differently. Taste isn’t all in the tongue.

Here’s the other thing: a conductor can tell the difference between a room packed with world-class violinists, but you and I can’t. A professional food taster can tell you insane things about packages of Oreos, down to which factory produced the additives and flavorings. A scout for the New York Jets could talk to you for hours about how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are totally different quarterbacks, but to you and me, all we know is they’re both really good and that Peyton has a younger brother who looks like he’s still 12 and plays for the New Jersey/A football team.

Eli Manning, the only 12-year-old to win a Super Bowl ring.

Eli Manning, the only 12-year-old to win a Super Bowl ring. HE IS AMAZING.

The intricate technical details about how each quarterback handles seven-step drops when facing a corner blitz, well, that’s beyond our ken.

Sidenote: I don’t even know if “ken” is a word anymore.

The point is, when we’re talking about the top 1 percent of talented people, doing whatever those talented people do, the package is more important than the product.

That’s because the professionals who pick winners and losers do have strong opinions, often about technical, high-level stuff, but those opinions actually don’t matter at all to the people WHO MATTER MOST, which is you and me, Joe and Jane Consumer, the people who’ll buy the movie tickets / books about sparkly vampires (please don’t) / music singles on iTunes.

The only opinions that matter are the uneducated ones. That’s the trouble.

We don’t care that professionals in the music industry say Madonna and sixteen other pop princesses have weak voices. Our eyes are hooked up to our brain, which also communicates with our ears. The whole package matters, not just the voice. So the showmanship of Madonna makes her a star when a zillion other singers, with better pipes, fail.

Unlike the symphony tryouts, there is no screen in real life.

You can take it further. There are all kinds of actresses, including Lindsey Lohan and Selena Gomez, who put out albums that sell. It’s because their name ID is crazy high. They know how the publicity game works. And so they get more attention, and sales, than musicians with far more talent, toiling in obscurity.

A great package + poor talent beats great talent + poor packaging.

The same is true of actors, writers and artists. This is why obscure artists suddenly sell all kinds of paintings and such when they die. Their name is finally in the news. They’re getting exposure and attention.

People finally see the package, and that leads to them looking at the product for the first time.

Without legs, you are dead in the water

Though I kinda sorta hate reality TV, it is the best possible laboratory for testing evil theories about media and publicity.

The structure of different reality shows makes stars out of people like Snooki and Kim Kardashian while denying fame and fortune to other people with more actual talent and potential.

Here’s why: legs.

Survivor is one of the original reality TV hits, and you probably remember the first guy who won it, the naked man, David Hatch, right? (I am not certain about his first name, and yes, the Series of Tubes would tell me, but I believe “naked man” and “Hatch” is close enough.)

Hatch was an interesting villain, and villains stick in our head better than heroes. But aside from getting in the news for going to prison (train wreck!), Hatch pretty much disappeared.

Same thing with Rupert, a bearded pirate hero full of mirth and charm who was on Survivor: Some Island Where It is Hot. A great character. Should have been a star. But except for some kind of Survivor All-Star thing, Rupert also disappeared.

Why? Because the structure of Survivor doesn’t give anybody legs. Except for the rare times they bring back people for a second go, you are one-and-done.

Jersey Shore, Basketball Wives and even the crazy stuff on Discovery (Mythbusters, Storage Wars, Southern Men Who Put Their Hands Into Swamps to Catch Man-Eating Catfish) have given us breakout stars not because those people are far more talented. It’s because the structure of those shows gives them legs.

They aren’t one-and-done. The people on those shows are on the Glowing Tube season after season.

And it is no mistake that we’re talking entirely about the Glowing Tube so far.

Movies are typically one shots. Unless you’re in a crazy successful series like STAR WARS or HARRY POTTER, a movie doesn’t typically have enough legs to get you even to Snooki status. You need movie after movie for that.

This is why TV is king.

Why? Because unlike all other forms of media, the Glowing Tube automatically generates all kinds of extra coverage in newspapers and magazines, blogs and radio, social media and regular old water cooler BSing.

Not accidentally.


Sure, they talk about movies and books a little on the radio when I drive to work, but mostly, they’re talking about TV shows. Mad Men, Survivor, American Idol.

So let’s look at American Idol for a second. Actual talent. Big exposure. But it’s one-and-done, right? That should blow my evil theory out of the water.

Except the producers of American Idol understand that their newborn and freshly hatched stars needed steady exposure. They understand the need for legs. So after the season is over, not only does the winner (and some also-rans) have albums released in a hurry. They also send the winner and runner-ups on a big long concert tour.

The reverse is not true. Being in the newspaper or on the radio doesn’t automatically get you on TV.

Are there exceptions? Sure. Scott Adams and the comic strip Dilbert are a great exception. He writes best-selling books now. He had some kind of Dilbert cartoon on TV.  This, however, is rare.

Being on a TV show, season after season, makes you a household name. TV exposure has launched some of the biggest movie stars (Michael J. Fox, George Clooney, Tom Hanks and 16.9 zillion other people I don’t need to name).

Recurring guest spots on Oprah have generated entire careers for Dr. Phil, the Dog Whisperer, Dr. Oz and 283 other people I’m not listing.

The next time you’re at the doctor’s office, pick up a copy of PEOPLE or US and count how many photos and articles feature (a) Hollywood actors, (b) pop stars, (c) reality TV stars versus (d) authors, reporters, cartoonists, politicians, dentists, plumbers or radio hosts.

I put a lot of people in (d), and even then, (d) won’t add up to much. If I were truly evil, I’d make it unfair by saying “authors not named J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.”

So: this is complicated, but not rocket science.

  • Flaws and quirks give people a hook, a way to stand out. Instead of saying, “You know, the pretty supermodel” or “That singer, the one who sings well,” you can say, “The amazing model with the gap between her teeth” or “That ugly British frog who sings opera that makes you cry” and PEOPLE GET IT.
  • The package is what people see first. If they never see it, you have no chance. If a great product is wrapped in bad packaging, you have no chance. And yes, a bad product in amazing packaging will beat true talent and brilliance. So work on the packaging, no matter what type of artist you are. Then work on it some more. Because you will live and die by the package.
  • Exposure is great, but you need legs. Even if you’re on TV, which is the King of All Media, and which automatically generates coverage in all other forms of media. Yes, Internet Boy, the Glowing Tube is even more powerful than the Series of Tubes. Sorry. All true.

Related reading for people who enjoy seeing conventional wisdom get all blown up, Michael-Bay style:

The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books

Forget the Twitter: free ink and airtime are your MOST DANGEROUS WEAPONS

Using free ink and airtime to BUST THROUGH



Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.



Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

Photos and video, they are your FRIENDS

The New York Times

For two years or whatever, I blogged three times a week about publicity, speechwriting, public relations and scandals for The New York Times’about.com.  If you are an author, actor, director, politician, professional athlete, rock star, user of social media or otherwise in the public eye, THESE POSTS ARE USEFUL TO YOU. If you live in an ice cave, you can safely ignore all this stuff and go back to tanning that elk hide.

Photos and video, they are your FRIENDS

The Eyes Rule the Brain

If you’re not on TV, you don’t exist

What To Wear For The Cameras

Three mug Shot Mistakes and How to Fix Them

How to Write Photo Cutlines

How to Stage and Use Group Photos: Avoiding the Dreaded Staged Photo

How To Take and Use Action Photos: Readers Are Attracted to Motion

How to Turn Mug Shots and Group Photos into Action Shots


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.



Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong

ELECTRIC AVENUE, as interpreted by the Red Pen of Doom

A classic, and the first video I remember seeing on MTV, and one of my favorites.

Great song. Great video.

As a special bonus, I found the lyrics.

All of them.

And yes, the Red Pen of Doom couldn’t resist taking a shot at interpreting each line.


(My friend, who doesn’t need to be named, and is a male, though possibly not a man, and definitely not a boyfriend, but a buddy.)


(I say this twice to reinforce my greeting and to use it as a shout, sort of a combination of “Hey!” and “Man!” and “Can you believe this nonsense?”)

Down in the street there is violence

(There are sometimes assaults and murders that I did not commit, or authorize, and this worries me.)

And a lots of work to be done

(I have things to do, people. I don’t always  hang out in my living room singing at the TV or ride my motorcycle around empty streets.)

No place to hang out our washing

(The economy is so bad, and living quarters so cramped, not only do I fail to own a washer and drier, I don’t even have enough space to hang my clothes out to dry.)

And I can’t blame all on the sun, oh no

(The fact that the weather here is glorious doesn’t cause anyone to be unsuccessful. There are other reasons.)

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Filed under 2 Music Video Monday

Why reporters love mayhem, destruction and FREE DONUTS

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: Mayhem, crackpots and craziness is always more entertaining than the boring business of actually making the trains run on time and hot water coming out of the faucet when you turn the knob with a big H on it, though reporters do cover those stories, because they are important, and it’s their civic duty, and we should thank them for risking their lives with the mayhem and risking their sanity reading Draft Environmental Impact Reports.

disaster, tornado

Reporters are required to cover disasters and mayhem. It’s their job. Don’t hate them for loving it.

I know, for I have a journalism degree and wrote many stories at papers of news.

A hot city council meeting is when the gadfly who always shows up to kvetch about property taxes during the public comment sections yammers too long and has to be gaveled down and maybe, just maybe, you think he’s gonna keep talking anyway, just to see what Little Mr. Mayor can do if the gadfly keeps flapping his lips.

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Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong

The evil truth about reality stars like Snooki and The Situation

I marvel at how people like Snooki and The Situation and the Kardashian sisters are famous, or infamous, though they wouldn’t know the difference if you flew in a Harvard linguist professor to explain it to them every morning.

Snooki has a book deal. The Kardashian sisters have clothing lines and money coming out of their ears.

The Situation swimming in some of the $5 million he made this year. Next year, he'll make more, and with all that money, he  plans to buy a lifetime supply of spray tan, the latest Abdominizer and this little country called Canada. Sorry, Caanda, but get ready to study up on the GTL lifestyle.

The joker who calls himself The Situation in on track to earn $5 million this year.

I have witnessed episodes from the first season of Jersey Shore by using the power of the internets, and I have come to an epiphany.

These people are not making scads of money, scoring book deals and dancing badly on “Dancing With A Few Stars and A Bunch of Other Schmucks” in spite of their obvious handicaps in the areas of brains and common sense.

Just up the road from the beaches of New Jersey are thousands of people on Broadway who can sing, dance and act. Many of them are gorgeous. In every way, they are clearly superior to the reality stars picked by producers to invade our lives. So why aren’t they making $5 million a year and getting on the covers of all the tabloids?

Let it be known: These reality stars are not chosen and elevated in spite of their lack of common sense. They are famous precisely BECAUSE OF this very flaw.

Normal, well-adjusted people are boring. They don’t make for exciting television.

If a film crew followed you or me around for 24 hours, they wouldn’t get footage of four random hookups, two screaming matches and a bar fight. They’d get film of us driving to work, doing our jobs and fighting traffic on the way home to have dinner. If you’ve got pookies, maybe you take them to soccer or baseball or whatever. If you’re young and single, maybe you catch Arcade Fire if they’re in town.

You would not spend three hours showering, spray tanning and doing your hair to get ready to go clubbing, then get into a bar fight.

You would not steal your roommates latest girlfriend, as they have been a steady item for at least 48 hours, which is a record. You would not drink all of the booze in the house and call your father at 3 a.m. while you were crying and whining about your boyfriend being pissed about that fact that you slept with a roommate or three.

You would not not order pizza and tell the pizza man that your last name is Situation and your first name is The.

And therefore you do not have, and will never have, a reality show. So there.


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.



Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong