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 enough...it'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.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Just Exhausted: Maybe it is both the miles and years? It's been a tiring trip so far....long work days for the TV station and then back to the hotel to work on my projects.

I went for breakfast a few minutes ago...not knowing whether it was to be served in a downstairs dining area or on the rooftop. It was the rooftop and my-oh-my...my Albanian hosts are tougher than I am. I had on a jacket but still felt cold. I suppose the best part is that it led me to come back to the room to warm up and take a few extra minutes to make this entry. The sun is shining so perhaps we'll have a really nice day.

My breakfast has been the same as in previous years....a couple of cheeses, olives, bread, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. There are other things as well....some fruit--fresh and canned, almonds, dry cereal and some sweets--packaged cakes/cookies and also a tasty orange pound cake. The coffee has been good--filter coffee. (Somewhere in the blog--probably around April or May 2006, I think there's even a picture I made of a breakfast plate.)

An American friend, here doing news training, is staying at the Sheraton. They serve a typical American style breakfast buffet. I may actually go over there one morning just to have something different.

Tirana is much improved from two years ago. Street construction has been completed in the center of town. There are more shops open--and, more importantly, many of the places that were open before are still in business. I regard that as a mark of economic health. There's a grocery chain operating in the city called EuroMarket....it's pretty nice. The stores have good lighting, are well stocked and are clean. There are so few things to buy that I typically resort to a grocery store trip to find some presents for my family.

Politically, things are generally improving as well. The government moves slowly to reform but at least there is some movement. People tell me, "Yes, life is better today than two years ago."

My TV station has a new investment company that is building a fiber-optic ring around the city. They already offer high speed Internet but, by September, they will offer Internet, cable TV and telephone service. While the hardware and software for the system can be expensive, the labor and installation is somewhat cheaper. I suspect they'll build the company and then sell to a global telecom company once it has a market presence.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I'M BACK: After almost two years away, I'm back in one of my favorite cities, Tirana, Albania, at Hotel President. I'm here to work with a couple of privately owned television stations in Albania--Vizion+ and Top Channel.

Tirana has changed--the first thing I've noticed is that the streets are mostly paved...though there's a lot of construction going on still, including an effort to build a gigantic traffic interchange that will improve the routing of vehicles at a couple of major intersections in the city. I've come to believe it's just better to build the interchange than to try to put in place traffic lights and conventional intersections. People here just don't seem to obey those conventional measures.

Commercial broadcasting gets taken for granted in the U.S. All we want is to watch our favorite entertainment shows but where would we be if we didn't have those stations covering local and national news? Life for most Americans is so good they don't worry much about the news--indeed, network news viewing is declining and has its highest audience among persons 55 and older. But, we can turn on the TV and see a newscast that we can believe is truthful and fair. There certainly are partisan stories from time to time but generally we get a balanced look at the world.

What about newspaper you say? Yes, newspapers really are more important to the coverage of routine local news--city council and local gov't stuff that isn't visual enough for TV. And, they're sometimes the sort of stories TV people are barely smart enough to know how to cover when you consider that a local TV reporter in a small market has little connection to the town.

It's different in Albania. There are many newspapers being published but many sell very few copies and they are expensive for the local readers. Television is the news voice that is free for the audience and it does serve as a check against government actions. Private television is especially important. Government TV was (and is) the voice of the government and that seldom means it's a free, independent, fair/accurate news voice--though maybe that can/will change. Anyway, I'll spend time offering ideas to help the stations run more effectively to improve their service and perhaps improve their profits.