Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'm mostly packed. My flight on Sunday departs at 6:10 AM....21.5 hours from now. I'll probably be up by 3:45 and out the door by 4:30 AM. I had my last Hotel President/Hotel Imperial breakfast today. It was the usual: sliced cucumbers, cheese, tomatoes and bread. Coffee but no juice. Instead, I had a glass of San Pellegrino sparkling water in honor of my bride.

I have been hearing more in the news here--via SkyNews and CNNi--about the British MP expense scandal. What a pleasant change to not hear about U.S. political problems.

More tonight perhaps, if time permits.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Dinner the other night. I scribbled this entry on a napkin the other night. I've just gotten it into a more useable file format. :)

Linda Ronstadt blared on the corner radio—not really a stereo system—in the restaurant I dined in tonight. The place looked nice enough but the waiter neither spoke nor seemed to understand English. The menu had a few English words but most importantly, it had a few pictures. Grabbing my attention was the picture of a dish combined with that all enticing word, special. I pointed to it and ordered vasser with gas. Vasser was my attempt at wasser, German for water. Follow wasser with the word water and I figured I’d get lucky.

It’s one of those restaurants like so many others in Tirana-a small storefront that has been expanded by taking over most of the sidewalk in front of the store. The really bold places, after having grabbed much of the pedestrian space sometimes push a few more tables out front to add still more seats, reducing the sidewalk to about a three foot wide path. Most of the sidewalk intrusion doesn’t bother anyone. After all, everyone benefits at one time or another from the expansion. This place wasn’t that bold but they had built a covering over the seating area and had probably doubled their seating area to accommodate more than 100 people. I was having an early dinner so there probably were no more than two-dozen people dining or having a late afternoon coffee when I was there. I was surprised to notice a group of three motorbikes for home delivery. In my mind, the restaurant moved into a fast-food category instead of the casual dining place I sought.

Still, it was a wonderful evening, pleasant and mild. I was reminded all the more of what Americans lose by being a vehicle dependent society. I want my yard, my little patch of property but having a chance to enjoy city life and being able to walk somewhere is a nice addition to life that I enjoy when I travel. Friends greeted each other as they passed on the street or as the sidewalk walkers and sidewalk café sitters mingled.

Most of the customers, when I first arrived, were men. But over the course of the evening the clientele will change as women with children—those same sort of good moms needing to feed the kids as are at home—fill the tables as they wait for dad to join them. I’ve noticed over the years the productivity drain that seems to hit male workers. They just spend too much time in the cafes in the afternoon, smoking, drinking coffee and talking. Then they complain because everyone stays late at work and arrives tired the next morning. People tell me the cafe is just an extension of the workplace. I don't believe it. It's not an especially productive extension at least.

I’ve already figured out my dessert. There’s a gelato stand just a few doors up the street. I don’t know why but I discovered lemon gelato on a trip to Albania several years ago and it has become a trip tradition. I’m watching my weight, actually planning to return a few pounds lighter so I have promised myself to keep the gelato cravings under control. Why lemon? It’s hard to find lemon ice cream in the states. The gelato is sweet but tangy, with a sharp lemon flavor. I just like it.

This is my seventh or eight visit to Albania over a six-year period. I was last here in March 2008 where I worked with Vizion+ TV and Top Channel. They’re the two most widely viewed television stations in Albania though Top Channel is a strong number one to Vizion’s second place. This project will have me figure out whether Vizion is still number two. They’re programming this last year has been weak and they lost their popular news anchor to the number three station. I’ll do an audience survey, as I’ve previously done, to help them figure out what’s going right and wrong.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm traveling again in the Balkans, Albania specifically. This is probably my eighth time to visit Tirana since November 2004. I am again working with Vizion+ Television, a privately owned TV station based in Tirana but they have about 90% national coverage with several repeater transmitters.

Tirana has both changed and stayed the same since I was last here in March 2008. There are small businesses that have been successfully in business since 2004 or 2005. The streets are generally better--there's been some paving and street improvements. There are more cars but traffic seems a little better organized. Some things are the same. The smells of fresh produce sold by sidewalk vendors, the pungent smell of the white cheese that's so common here. It's somewhere between yogurt cheese and feta. Imagine slightly mild feta cheese and you'll have the taste of it. I have previously written about the city and my habits.

About the only significant change is that the TV station sends a car to pick up my translator and I. This is the first time I've had a translator. Altin (pronounced like Al-teen) is an interesting guy. He's a former TV journalist and has spent time in the US through a journalist exchange program sponsored by Voice of America and the Embassy. The morning ride means I don't take a taxi. I miss the interaction--not that the drivers spoke much English.--but we we could exchange greetings and grimace at some of the crazy things other drivers did. As I've walked along the street in the afternoon to stretch my legs, I've seen familiar faces of the same drivers from previous years.

Mr. Chicken is still in business. It's a favorite fast food restaurant. The serve sufllaqe (Greek souvlaki), roasted chicken and sandwiches. Albania food...whatever traditional food is supposed to a little hard to find. I've not seen very many things that seem unique. Lots of the food seems to reflect the Turkish conquest.

I'm staying at Hotel President...but renamed Xheko Hotel Imperial. Xheko is the last name of the two brothers who own the hotel I'm in a fancy room.....really very nice...compared with the other basic rooms. There's a shower and tub. The bed has a real kingsize mattress. The plasma TV has CNNi and SkyNews. Check it out at:

This isn't a very interesting post...will try to make time to do something better.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I'm back in Belgrade, my last day here before returning home.

This has been a good trip. Perhaps it's that I finally have a better understanding of what and how to do in my instruction. Maybe there is a realization among participants that it is time to implement changes and the changes I'm advocating are a good place to start. I'm here as a media management and sales trainer. For many of the participants, they've entered a media career by chance. They have on-the-job training but that may be based on non-competitive circumstances. In old Yugoslavia/Serbia, there were no private stations. Once municipalities were authorized to operate newspapers and radio/TV stations, the firms soon became bloated with employees--patronage appointments in a society with universal employment. A weekly newspaper might have 100 employees and only 70 to 75 would routinely show for work.

Privatization has now taken place. The staff of 100 has shrunk to 25 to 40 in size--which is still too large. But it's a great start. The challenge now is to develop a generation of employees and managers who are more entrepreneurial than their predecessors. Simple management tools help: job descriptions, employment applications, performance reviews and employee performance recognition. I talk about Jim Collin's Good to Great approach to leadership. This time, I've added some thoughts from The Carrot Principle as to how to acknowledge employee performance. Common sense? Common sense is not so common.

Is all of this the same stuff I do back home? Yes and no. It's simplistic to say I'm just here to give lectures. I spend 8 to 9 hours everyday with my group. I don't think many of my colleagues at U.S. universities could make it through the first couple of days. And many would have no interest in trying. Some lack practical application of the materials they teach. Others couldn't dream of traveling to another country, especially one where the people don't speak English. Making the jump across cultural, political and economic differences is the single greatest challenge. There are 500 or so mass communication/journalism programs in the U.S. While the program sizes vary, there must be between 8,000 to 10,000 faculty. I don't think I know of more than 100 people who have made two or more trips outside the U.S. for teaching, training or research projects.

Unlike my U.S. students, there often is no common ground between the participants and myself. My challenge is to present the information as something that can be implemented in their workplace. There's some theory, there's lots of practical advice and there's an encouraging dose of enthusiasm. I meet wonderful people, many of who have high aspirations. I know that it is the circumstances of birth and life that have me on the side of the table opposite them. I am reminded to be grateful for what I have.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I am in Nis, Serbia. Last night, I was the featured speaker for a group of journalism students at University of Nis. The journalism program is about five years old. While enrollment is strong--250+ students--facilities and faculty could be improved. I was invited to talk about journalism and media from the U.S. perspective. I felt some dread because I increasingly find the quality of journalism in decline. Newspapers are shrinking in number and edition size. Reporters seem to be less experienced than ever. Television focuses all too much on visual stories at the expense of important stories that don't always have accompanying visuals. Worst of all, until the financial crisis, we seemed to be shifting increasingly away from issues of substance and toward shallow subjects. If anything positive comes from this crisis, perhaps it will be a slap in the face reminder that conspicuous consumption is not the goal of life.

As we started the discussion, there were 75 to 80 students in the room, I discussed a free press as one of the essential elements of a democracy. The other two elements are competition in elections and the marketplace, and participation in government and society. Journalism, strictly speaking, is part of the third element--civil and political freedom, which includes free speech and free press. I laid the old trap that I've often set for my students in the U.S. They agreed that some journalists are not responsible in their reporting and that wages are too low. They also agreed that they want to be professionals, just like doctors and lawyers are professionals. I snapped the trap shut by telling them that a regulated press, with professional standards--minimum education standards, perhaps licensing--is no longer a free press. What is important, however, is a press that strives to be professional--responsible, fair and accurate in conveying the news. My goal for the thousands of students I have taught is to help them learn to gather, evaluate and convey information. I owe Russ Shain, my former dean, with helping me understand this when I was a new member of his faculty nearly 20 years ago.

My comments were translated and this added to the length of the presentation. After about 40 minutes, we took questions. And, my were the questions great. I realize they used an encounter with a foreigner to get some answers they might not ordinarily hear. It's just like the class speaker in my class who could repeat my previous lecture but would have so much more credibility.

I wonder whether my students would have been able to engage a visiting journalist from Serbia or even the U.K. I'd like to think so but I struggle to find students who are inquisitive about news events. One of the best questions came from a 4th year student who asked how journalists avoided endorsing or manufacturing consent for government actions. While he was thinking about U.S. media failures to question intelligence estimates of WMDs in Iraq (weapons of mass destruction--have we forgotten that acronym?), I also discussed President Obama's efforts to secure media and public support for his economic policies.

It was an enjoyable event.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hello from Belgrade. I'm back in Serbia for the first time in three years. It's a joy to be back. The city looks good. There's been additional building throughout the city and traffic in the city is more chaotic than before. While I see progress, it comes with a price. The cost of living continues to rise and food is almost as expensive here as in the U.S. and my U.S. salary is much higher than media counterparts in Belgrade. When I ask people my stock question, is like better today than one year ago, the answer I get is no. The world economic crisis is a big part of their answer. It is no consolation to know that most Americans would have a similar answer.

Facebook and general Internet access has taken some of the introspection out of blogging. I started this entry Wednesday night. I am finishing it on Sunday and I'm even in a different city. I am now in Nis, Serbia, to the south of Belgrade about 220 kms--if you never remembered the conversion, 100 kms equals 65 miles. So, we traveled about 143 miles to get here.

When I first came to Nis in 2003, with my friend from the Embassy, we stayed at the Ambassador Hotel--a multistory official hotel from the old government days. It was a sad mess. No renovation or any sort. Just worn out and dirty. For the subsequent visits, I stayed in small private hotels. The sort of place with a couple of dozen rooms and accommodating staffs. Poor Ambassador still hasn't been renovated. I staying at The Regent Club--Google it if you must. I had a nice meal in the restaurant this evening. I'll start my sessions again tomorrow at Media Center Nis (MCN).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wow. I spent the night in the Singapore airport. I went from a 5-star hotel to a cot-and-TV room in a transit hotel. But I'm in a 5-star airport. I'm not referring to shopping and restaurants--though they're here--but to the amenities. Free Wifi is not a big deal but how about free video game playing rooms to pass the time, numerous fast-connecting email statioins and free movie theaters to pass the time. It's also just a lovely airport to walk through.

That transit hotel wasn't bad either. For $40, I had an air conditioned room, comfortable enough bed and a place to take a hot shower the next morning. I can't add Singapore to my "places visited" list (to count, I think you have to go through immigration).

Talk about irony: As I'm checking in at the transit desk, the waiting area is full of young women (teens to early 30s) who have slept on the floor or in chairs. They're all Muslims. There's in traditional clothing for the region, including having their heads covered by hajabs. While they sleep, the TV is blaring Rachel Ray's talk show. The segment I see focuses on new bra styles to enhance or better show a woman's cleavage. I'm glad the women were all asleep.

There's irony everywhere.
Where does the time go? It's Tuesday afternoon, 4:40 PM in Surabaya, Indonesia. I've been on the road for about 10 days and what a wonderful trip it has been. I've conducted two media workshops for radio managers, covering broadcast journalism and news management. The participants were a joy to meet. They're business people but they've built radio station in a somewhat hostile environment. There are cultural and religious issues, government censorship, a sometimes chaotic economy, a lack of adequate human resources and of course a basic need to also support community development. It's a tougher environment than US stations face.

We also talked about the continuing challenge for radio to remain relevant in a world dominated by television news and increasing levels of Internet access in Indonesia.

The trip has been mostly work but I've had fun with the people I've met. As always, I've tried new foods--including jellyfish and chicken feet. Perhaps the greatest was trying durian, a large and smelly fruit grown in much of Southeast Asia. Durian is covered with sharp prongs on the outside. You break open the fruit and pull chunks of flesh from the oversized pod. It's a different taste--I really can't describe it. Go to Youtube and watch one of the videos for a look and description of what others have said.

As always, the trip has left little time to ponder on the blog about the people I've met and things I've seen. Indonesia is an interesting country--clearly not the sort of transitional place I have previously visited. But outside of the major cities, fundamental issues of development remain. The press is reasonably free but there's still a free speech chill from criminal libel complaints. I hope that I can come back.

I suppose that's's almost time to board.

Safe travels to all. I'll overnight in Singapore at a transit hotel then catch my morning flight home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What day is it? I feel like I have been in travel mode for a week. How strange also to look at a map and marvel at how far from home I have come. It’s Tuesday after and I know that only because my computer tells me so.

I spent a restless Monday night in Taipei. My fear always is that an alarm won’t sound or a wake-up call won’t come and I’ll miss my flight. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas because I’ll have a couple of days to sleep in. I was impressed enough with Taipei.

The U.S. influence is there. Freeways are called freeways; signs have a green background—just like in Peoria. The city appears more vibrant than some American cities, mostly I think because there must be no municipal control over signage. There are neon signs almost everywhere. There are so many that I wonder how a sign can break through the visual stimulus overload to be meaningful to anyone. I would have liked to have talked with someone about the local economy. Everything I read suggests the ripple effect to Republic of China (and PROC) to the slowdown in the U.S. and Europe.

I flew China Airlines to Jakarta. I think China Air is the principle airline in Taiwan. It was a wonderful flight. We were on a very new Airbus 330 than included a personal video system for those of us in economy. It was a comfortable flight—though another long flight, about five hours.

I sometimes write about smells hitting my senses when I travel. Sometimes it’s the smell of trash fires smoldering in the late evening or early morning and it’s the first significant smell that hits me as I leave an airport or arrive in a city. Other times it’s been the sharp, pungent smell of cheese. Still other times, it’s the smell of an open market where you smell not just foods for sale but literally the smell of the people who are working hard to make a living and provide as best they can for their families.

I’m in the Jakarta airport and I don’t have any particular smells that are hitting my senses. I smell fried food—including Krispy Kreme donuts (who would have thought?). The KK store is just across from Starbucks here in the airport food court. There are other familiar foods as well….Hagen Dazs ice cream. It’s a bit humid—at least compared with Peoria and warm also. I bought a Coke Zero, canned in Indonesia to cool off.

I’m now a millionaire (I exchanged one Ben Franklin at 10,700 Ruppies per dollar and received more than a million Ruppies in exchange). I’m struggling to get use to the pricing structure. I was surprised to find that I paid about 70 cents for the Coke Zero. I suspect bottled water or a local drink would have been half the price.

Just a few quick thoughts….will get more posted soon.
Wow! It has been eight months since I last posted. Shame on me. In that time I traveled domestically and internationally--it's usually just the international stuff that I blog about. The international trip was a return visit to Kyrgyzstan. Really enjoyable. Domestically, my family and I took the Great American Summer Roadtrip and traveled to Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Fantastic. Those trips are sufficiently past to keep me from doing a legitimate entry but I am now in Indonesia and will post about that trip.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alternating Days:

We may have sunshine today. We've alternated each day between rain and sun--which I suppose still beats successive days of rain.

The weather pattern is also a good metaphor for the media conditions in Albania. Some days things work and some days they don't.

Newscasts routinely do not end at a fixed, scheduled time. One night the newscast runs 35 minutes. Another night 45.

The Prime Minister blasted the media at a news conference yesterday--accusing two of the stations of having "commentators" on a late night political talk/discussion show who were drunk and making wild charges. These sorts of things are the kind of charges that cause owners to lose licenses and citizens to lose alternative voices to state media because the private owners get sloppy--which happens partly because there is no training, including training to establish ethical standards of conduct.

Because the newscast runs long, on some nights commercials must be dropped because the program time would run long and the late news--10:30PM--would begin late.

Sales people enter a clients office and the first thing the client asks is, "How much is my discount?" Never mind that no discussion has begun as to what the client should buy and for how much. The order takes--they're not SALESpeople when they do this--immediately say, "How about 20% (or 30%)?"

How much does it cost to produce that program I ask television station people? They have no idea. People are assigned to the production staff and paid but there's no cost accounting. If we don't know how much the program costs, how can we make a logical (business like) decision to run the show and how much do we price the ads for?

Can a TV station in Albania make money from a show that costs them $1 million to produce for a short TV season--13 weeks? No. I don't know the value of the TV ad market in Albania--though probably somewhere the data exists--my guess is that all the TV and radio ad spending probably totals between $13 - 16 million--about 9 - 12 million Euros.

Ok....time for the days adventures to begin.