Thursday, May 25, 2006

Finally, my Atlas Television pictures have posted! That's Atlas Program Manager Meliha and me, in their master control room. All video events are stored digitally and the station runs much like a giant MP3 player--though with pictures and sound and programs and commercials airing at scheduled times. On the plasma monitor are scenes from "Fashion Television" a channel featuring fashion models walking down the runway in designs from Paris or Milan or some other location and with pop music playing in the background. Once in a while, they actually have a few seconds of interview with a designer, model or celebrity. Atlas uses FTV to fill blocks of vacant program time.

Here's their neat little Canon camera with a firewire attached harddrive. The audio connection is wireless...though you also see an attached camera shotgun mic. They were shotting a wraparound for a show while I was there. Then they unplugged the harddrive and connected it to a computer for editing. Editing is done with Adobe Premiere. It's a known software in the region...easy enough to find people who are experienced users...and it will do what they need to do. And did I mention, it's cheap to buy, install and maintain?

Here's a slightly tighter shot of master control with people blocking the view.

Johnnie Walker: It was like a scene from a John LaCarre or Tom Clancy novel. When I arrived at the border crossing from Montenegro to Albania, the Montenegro side seemed to be just starting their day…everyone wasn’t quite awake, though it was 8 AM. I was ordered back outside the border control building by a fellow holding a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red…an open, half-empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. He stepped across the room and out of sight. When he returned, he had a glass in one hand and the bottle in the other hand. Now, I can’t say for certain that he poured a glass of JWR for breakfast but that’s what it looked like to me. I promise; I’m not making it up. The officer who appeared moments later and took my passport was a nice looking, young and clean-cut guy. He was polite, professional and wished me a good day. I’m in Albania today. I’m here collecting some job satisfaction data for a research project.


The Picture I wish I could take: When you travel, there are always pictures that you wish you could take. Sometimes you just miss the shot because you’re not ready, or the shot you get is poorly framed or something else prevents you from getting it right. Then there are the shots you imagine but can’t quite figure out how to get into a position to take. I keep imagining a shot with two Montenegrin or Albanian women….one elderly and one young, 18-23. The elderly woman will likely be wearing a black dress that goes almost to her ankles, black socks, and her head will be covered with a scarf. She is a peasant woman, use to hard work and a modest life. The young woman might be her granddaughter but her appearance will provide a 180 degree change. Her hair will probably be bleached or dyed—and could even be a shade of purple. She’ll be wearing blue jeans and a tank top and both jeans and shirt will look like they’re at least one size too small. And, she’ll probably be walking with high heeled shoes. Life here is such a contrast. The grandmother was alive before Communism and lived her most productive years under Communist rule. The granddaughter has only a little more memory of Communism than might her American counterparts. She may well be an only child—though Albanians often have large families. Now she is struggling to find her way in the world and in many ways has a tougher environment to live in than her grandmother because the granddaughter receives so many conflicting messages. There are the traditional roles of woman caring for home and children plus doing household and homestead chores. There’s the potential message of new opportunities for women, if her father will permit her to get an education. And, there’s the pop culture world of sexuality that has already changed her self-image, just as it changes the lives of young women in the U.S. But at least in the U.S., the changes have not produced the cultural gulf that is present in the Balkans. What sort of life is ahead for this young woman in her difficult and vastly differing world? Why would I want this picture? Because it presents this contrast and is part of the ever complicated situation of life here.


In my time in Montenegro, Serbia and Albania—since early February—I have encountered only a dozen native English speakers. Three were only brief pass-bys as we walked past each other on the sidewalk. Seven were Embassy or US-AID (Agency for International Development) people. I encountered my 13th native English speaker tonight; he was American and I would have preferred to have never had the contact. The guy walked into the restaurant where I was having dinner. His tattooed right arm was wrapped around his Albanian girlfriend. I though he might actually be a local mafia guy. Instead he was a drunk American and every tenth word out of his mouth was something offensive. Apparently he’d had a bad day at work—I think he worked for a contractor, probably with some sort of infrastructure rehab project. I didn’t talk to him and though I spoke a few words to my waiter, I doubt that he realized I was also an American.


I have tried multiple times to post the Atlas Television pictures but have not been able to get them to load. I will keep trying.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Drooling with envy. I mentioned in Sunday's blog my chance encounter with a past workshop attendee; she's working for Atlas Television, a new privately owned television station in Podgorica and has used job descriptions and performance appraisals in hiring employees (that's from my management workshop). I visited her station today. All I can saw is WOW! My friends in the TV business would be drooling over the equipment and installation. It's an entirely digital facility. Their control room monitor is a big plasma TV with an added software option to allow the screen to be dissected for use in any desired one single screen or up to 20 individual monitors. Audio is wireless throughout the facility. Their video field cameras have firewire connected harddrives to store the raw video. And, their cameras are a smart choice....the Canon XL2...with an improved lens....a good picture at a good price.

I will transfer the pictures from my camera and try to get them uploaded shortly.

My only beef with the station is the lack of local news--though at the same time, the other private stations and state television do such a poor job with news that Montenegro doesn't need another struggling newscast. Atlas has purchased a movie package of top titles and the series Law and Order: Criminal Intenet for local airing. As explained to me, they hope to avoid ad sales to small businesses and instead focus on larger clients. Their studios will wow any visitor. If they're able to attract a reasonable audience with their movies and local efforts, they may do ok but I think they will soon be surprised by how difficult it is to both sustain the programming efforts they envision AND to effectively sell to agencies and larger clients. There are sooooo many stations in Montenegro and each wants a slice of the ad market. I heard an estimate last week that the ad market in Serbia was between $72 - $100 million. I can't imagine that the entire ad market in Montenegro (print, broadcast and outdoor) is even $15 million. Yes, I've pulled this number partly from thin air....but it is also based on some real observations and market knowledge.

One ace they have up their sleeve is their owner....Atlas Holdings, an investment group that owns a large bank group, Atlas beer, has involvement in tourism, and owns small private college that offers a graphics program. Those are just a few of the things they own...the station will of course help promote all of their ventures.

Monday, May 22, 2006

These photos haven't been cropped or reduced with Photoshop, so the files are quite large and slow to load. But, I wanted to give you a look at some of the Pro Independence celebrants from last night/this morning. I left my apartment about 11:30 PM and didn't get back until about 2:30 AM. And, the streets--though with thinning crowds--certainly weren't empty as I headed home. Police were out but the crowds I saw were in a good mood. I also saw journalists from a number of countries covering the event. Journalists from Reuters, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Albania and Serbia were present. Earlier I saw a BBC crew but I could not confirm their presence last night.

By a whisker, the referendum has been approved. The Electoral Commission has reported approval by 55.4% of the voters--this is above the EU's 55% threshhold but hardly a decisive victory. If it's appropriate to think of the glass as "half full" instead of "half empty" then we can also think of Serbia as now being free of Montenegro. Perhaps the Serbian government will think harder about their desire to join the EU and they will finally turn over over Mladic. Serbia, with a substantially larger population and considerably more entrepreneurship thanMontenegro, has a lot to offer the EU.

Celebrations have continued today. At the university, there is a noticeable gulf among the faculty. Probably 75% of the faculty supported continuing the union. At least 50% of the staff also appears to support the union. Students have been given an option to delay their final exams, scheduled for today, until Thursday.

Some of the exams that I know about are simple oral exams. "Let's spend 5-10 minutes with you answering some questions about an entire semester of work so that we may determine your competience in the coursework." This is hardly a rigorous, appropriate and ethical approach to educational assessment. I am sure there are countries where the European model of education works very well but I will forever have doubts about the quality of any graduate degree work I encounter from a Balkan region university. There is little rigor or review of the educational process.

"Estavisti" emailed me to take exception to my characterization of Montenegro as now being free. First, thank you for your email. Though you've disagree with my comments, I appreciate the fact that you read them and emailed.

I think you and I are in greater agreement than perhaps you believe. My characterization of freedom is based on Montenegro not being "amalgamated" into a relationship with other countries by threat or sheer size and power domination. In that regard, Montenegro is now independent of external relationships and in that way it is, as I said, "On the brink of becoming an independent republic." I would agree that Montenegro has not made the sort of political/economic/social progress needed under the Dukanovic government and that is why I went further to acknowledge the difficult times that I believe are ahead for Montenegro. I also think the Pro campaign ran as an extension of government policy and not as an independent election issue. I don't know if you were here in Montenegro following the elections or getting reports from the web. I can tell you that at one point in the evening--my translated report--indicated that at least one opposition leader was not willing to concede defeat and the report indicated a call to go to the streets...not necesarily for confrontation but to simply not accept defeat, yet.

If you don't like my report....check this short story:

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Little Engine That Could: It isn’t often that you have a chance to watch a country gain independence—from ground level. I have just done that. Montenegro is on the brink of becoming an independent republic. Unofficially, I’m told the approval vote for the independence referendum was 56 or 57%, with approximately an 86% turnout; the referendum needed 55% approval for recognition by the EU. (Too bad Americans can’t achieve an 86% turnout for our presidential elections. I suppose when you live in a democracy, that also means taking your freedom for granted.)

The last time Montenegro was mostly free was nearly 100 years ago but wars in the Balkans ended their monarchy and led to their absorption by Serbia. I watched the initial returns with some local friends and then walked back to my apartment. As I returned, cars were pouring onto the streets, each car packed to capacity with youthful enthusiasts, waving the flag and yelling, “Viva Montenegro” as they raced down the highway.

Opposition leaders are not yet willing to recognize the results. There is word that the opposition parties are calling on their followers to go onto the streets and not yield to the independence movement—not until the official vote numbers come out tomorrow. If this happens, I think there could be some scuffles. I don’t know that they’ll be bad…maybe some rock throwing and fist fights. I hope this is all. I suspect there’s a greater risk of a fatality from an auto accident or pedestrian being hit by a passing car. There’s been some gunfire…just shots into the air to celebrate, including two bursts from an automatic weapon—with tracers. The police are on the streets so order should be maintained.

The celebrants on the streets are mostly young people—perhaps 16-30 years old. I wonder if they know just what they’ve gotten themselves into? Montenegro has a long way to go before they will be ready to join the EU. I’m not an expert on their government or economic policies but many reforms are needed to rid the country of the gray economy and a significant push to improve university education is needed. There’s little commitment by the faculty at the University of Montenegro to actually educate the students. Courses in law, political science and journalism have few written assignments and lectures are often cancelled by the faculty. Final exams are often oral and are completed in 5-10 minutes. I've also blogged before about cheating by students--it is a problem. How can you be a functioning, independent country if you don’t have qualified people to fill needed jobs? And, the brain drain continues to be a problem. The best and brightest know they don't have to stay here, if they don't want to stay.

I like Montenegro…I like the people….and I am happy they have approved independence in a peaceful, democratic election. But for all the donor money that has come into the country so far, I think it is only a small percentage of what will be needed to help the country begin to function independently. I'd like to think the proud Montenegrin heritage will encourage them to pursue reforms on their own. I won't hold my breath.

Viva Montenegro!


Side note: As I was walking to town today, I met a young woman who attended my management and sales workshop in Podgorica in March 2004. She’s now the program manager for Atlas TV—the newest private TV station in Montenegro. She beamed as she told me she has used two specific ideas she learned from my workshop: Create job descriptions for all employees you hire and have the employees read and sign a copy of the job description, and let them know they will be evaluated through a performance appraisal process that is based on the job description! I will give her a call Tuesday and go by the station for a tour.