Local-washing food and sportswriting

McDonald’s recently launched a local TV commercial around these parts (h/t All Over Albany). Yep, multi-national Mickey D’s name-dropped a bunch of Albany-isms (some of which The Locals don’t actually or frequently use) into a spot in a bid to put a local face on the Golden Arches.

I suppose it should be a compliment that parochial Small-bany rated a commercial geared directly toward its decidedly Single-A market. But a comment about “local-washing” in the All Over Albany blog got me thinking about the phenomenon.

The “Buy Local” movement has had some positive impacts, even beyond the obvious growth of the excellent farmer’s markets we have in upstate New York. I like that regional chain supermarket Hannaford sells some local produce from farms in a few-county radius here, even if the offerings are limited to one cart in a several-thousand-square-foot store. But they position the offering as you come into the produce section and label it with the farm it came from. Bully for them. It’s a good idea, and a smart idea. It appeals to my 100-Mile Food sensibilities, even if I don’t come close to fully practicing that.

But what about Starbucks re-naming one of its Seattle stores as “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” to whitewash some corporate stain? What about the execrable Gannett Corporation’s deceptively named ShopLocal™ Web site? (h/t Forbes). Frito-Lay ads in Florida? Local-washing efforts by Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Citgo and Hellmann’s? Does at least some of what Wal-mart and other supermarkets do (in selling local produce) redeem themselves in the same way that Hannaford does in my mind (though Hannaford’s superior-for-a-chain organic section, including its own house-brand, gives it a bump in my book, and no, I’m no flack for them, I just like their store; but am I biased because I’m a fan?). And, as Elisabeth Eaves writes in Forbes, did the “Localvores” bring this onto themselves?

I have mixed feelings about this. Not about the McDonald’s commercial, but about the full ethos of buying local. I support that philosophy wholeheartedly, but I worry about the dogma of supporting that ethos to the exclusion of all other approaches.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that the chains do actually hire local people, which Eaves notes — yes, I agree that they do create jobs. On the flip side, those jobs often pay poorly, come with limited or no health insurance, send most (if not all) of the local franchise’s profits out of the area and back to the corporate headquarters, are situated in a building that often has no architectural relationship to long-standing neighboring structures (except to other chain places in a sea of urban sprawl, and this in the face of typically weak zoning laws), and quite possibly replaced jobs in locally owned businesses (not franchises) to begin with.

On the other hand, in these strained economic days, if I’m not eating PB&J for lunch (again) my lunch budget is $3 — enough for two items off McDonald’s Dollar Menu and a buck coffee, provided I can scrounge up enough change in between my car seats to cover the sales tax. Plus, we took Junior to the place once and he referred to it as “Old McDonald’s.” In fact, we tried Wendy’s a few weeks later, and eager to avoid him becoming brand-brainwashed, we called Dave Thomas’ place Old McDonald’s, too.

(Aside: At once point I had attempted the Neil Pollack approach in Alternadad and tried to flip branding on its ear by telling Junior that, whenever he saw the Golden Arches, it signaled a building that sold yucky food. That didn’t last long once we had a hungry 3-year-old suddenly awake on a road trip and the only thing open on a Thruway rest stop was Mickey D’s. But I digress.)

In the end, it’s a fine line. Hannaford’s approach seems to be the right one, though of course, I’d like to see even more local offerings there. But McDonald’s approach seems more sneaky, more insidious somehow.

It’s not entirely dissimilar from what ESPN is doing with ESPNChicago.com, ESPNBoston.com, ESPNDallas.com and (God help us) ESPNNewYork.com. (Though ESPNScranton.com still seems to be available.)

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Not so Extra! End of News

With all the news in the last few months about newspaper layoffs and closings, never have I been more depressed about the future of the industry than I was after watching the AP’s Thomas Curley being interviewed tonight by Charlie Rose, which largely mimicked (in subtle message, if not tone) Rupert Murdoch’s recent gauntlet-throw-down to Google.

Newspaper publishers, hear me: Google is not the problem. I have been exposed to more newspaper Web sites (and thus, more newspapers) in the last eight or nine years or so through Google (and through blogs and other sites — more on that in a minute) than I ever would have been as a lonely reader paying for a print newspaper, or by merely typing in random URLs to try to find your newspaper sites without The Google.

No, the problem is you, newspapers. You are the ones that haven’t been able to figure out how to make money off of this opportunity (or rather, not enough money to pay your reporters and editors, rather than paying your shareholders demanding outrageous profit margins in the pre-Recession days and your MBA-holding publishers with zero news sense).

It’s as if a busload of tourists just stopped at an all-you-can-eat restaurant, and the buffet owner blamed the bus company because he suddenly had too many customers.

That you can’t find a way to make a profit with a busload of tourists at your door is the most depressing news I’ve heard yet about the declining state of the newspaper industry.


Apologies to my dear readers (both of you) for my recent hiatus, which likely will continue a while longer. Potty training woes (Icepick Jr., not Icepick Sr.) and the hope-springs-eternal beginning of baseball season have kept me away from posting.

Um, that, and hypocrite that I am, I have rebooted my Facebook account and have discovered that I sort of like it — let my well-deserved flaming commence. But while you’re throwing stones, this brings up a nice segue to another recent misdirected complaint by the corporate news industry — namely, the bloggers-are-stealing-our-content meme.

One of the things I like best about Facebook (apart from the fleeting uptick for my flagging self-worth in posting what’s “on my mind”) is the ability to post links to articles and blog posts from around the Web to share with my dear Internet friends. While the number of times I do this certainly annoys some (if not all) of my six pals, surely, once in a Blue Moon, one of these friends clicks on a link I posted and reads an article on a newspaper site or blog that they may not have otherwise read.

This is a money-making opportunity for these sites — in potential ad-clicking revenue, in potential click-per-view fees, in ad-rate-setting based on increased hit counts. That newspapers are failing to make money off this opportunity is their failure.

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Sarah Palin’s hate rally

We’re deep into a unique level and type of hate in this country. No, of course it is no where near the level of hatred spewed centuries upon centuries onto people who simply looked different or believed in a different God than other people.

No, this is not that level or even type of hate. This is the hatred of bullies. This is the hatred of the uncivil. This is the hate of road rage, of the kids who cut into the lunch line and dared you to call the hall monitor, of entitled people embittered twice over because of the failures of the system and the failures of themselves. This is the hatred of the bloggers (guilty) and especially of the commenters, the hatred that would drive a mother to perpetrate a vicious hoax and bully her daughter’s one-time friend into suicide.

It’s a hatred McCain and especially Sarah Palin seem to have no trouble trading in.

I’ve been impressed with Sarah Palin’s rhetoric, at least when presenting a scripted speech. She more or less held her own in her debate with Joe Biden, essentially making up for her flubs and utter lack of knowledge in her two major broacdcast interviews. While a fresh perspective can make up for a lack of experience, it cannot make up for a lack of understanding.

That said, why would you want this person next-in-line for the Presidency and force your children to grow up — in 2008, still! — where this is acceptable and encouraged?

At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, “Sit down, boy.”

(Full article at Washington Post)

It’s one thing to shoot the messenger, as Palin has shown that’s about the only thing she’s adept at (in addition to her admittedly good rhetorical skills on the stand). It’s another to incite hatred.

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Press freedom and America

Well, glad press freedom battles are limited to Vietnam, and would never happen in America, least of all in this 2008:

So glad to see our freedoms are protected here in America, because, you know, the world hates us for our freedoms and all that.
And while we’re at it, stifling Freedom of the Press is not limited to violent means. John McCain’s campaign has taken-its-ball-and-gone-home by canceling an appearance on Larry King’s show because Campbell Brown at CNN had the nerve to ask some tough questions of a McCain spokesman.

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Press freedom and the global economy

Hate to get all radical (if not rad) on you, but I heard this story on NPR about jailed Vietnamese journalists on the drive home, and despite my near overwhelming disappointment and rage at newspapers these days, this story out of Vietnam underscores the importance of press freedom in this world of ours, no matter if the product if on the Internet or (gasp!) in printed form. I hope those pushing for the larger global economy keep these basic freedoms and all human rights into consideration when considering trading with these countries.

Free Speech and the New Yorker cover

My opinion on the infamous Obama magazine cover on this week’s New Yorker? Outrage at first, then thoughts of the New Yorker still thinks it’s relevant? How quaint. And finally an appreciation for the satire of it (or the attempted satire). I have to admit, I didn’t like it, even if the cover is poking fun at those who would hold such false asssumptions about Obama.

But more importantly, it reminds me of the controversy last year over the Danish cartoonist whose work incited death threats and riots from those who would choose to stifle the free expression of ideas. If you believe in defending that right, then you have to defend the New Yorker.

More discussion at Romenesko.

Cut it out — Business hates hoops

With March Madness™ underway, my favorite predictable crap news stories are the ham-handed hang-wringing about how many work hours the tournament costs American business.

Well, to paraphrase an old Onion headline, how many leisure hours are lost to working in today’s economy, with unpaid overtime, answering e-mails and Blackberries at home, with conducting business while driving and talking on your cell phone, while surfing the Web at home to gain an edge on business the next day?

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