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).