Immigration Protest, Part II

February 22nd, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

The protest itself

I didn’t have a great deal of time to hang around this morning, but as I was leaving class on my way to work, I passed by the promised counter-protest. There was a also a media feeding-frenzy; I spotted reporters and crews from CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, Telemundo, and various radio and print outlets. I snapped a couple of pictures on my way through.

Notably, I didn’t actually see any of the College Republicans themselves. Most of the attention seemed to be centered around the protesters. I haven’t seen any media reports yet, though. I’m going to thow on CNN in a second and see what shows up.

Media Frenzy

Edit 1805hrs ET: I haven’t had access to a TV for most of the day, so I haven’t been able to look at the media coverage. There’s a story on bbc.co.uk, though, and assorted articles via a Google news search for a pretty generic “NYU” query. The photos to the left were picked up by NowPublic, and Gothamist. I’ll try and catch the evening news later on.

Some thoughts on the Proposed XM/Sirius Merger

February 20th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

According to the New York Times and Reuters, XM and Sirius, the two satellite radio carriers in the US have reached a deal in which they would merge in a $4.6bn stock transaction. The mainstream media has thus far analyzed the potential merger in terms of dollars and cents, and what this means for the market. I’d like to have a look at what this transaction might mean for programming, consumer choice, and multiplicity of voices.

Let’s take a very specific genre of programming that’s relevant from a civic-involvement perspective: news and public affairs. On my XM dial, I have these options for news programming:

  • Fox News
  • CNN
  • CNN Headline News
  • ABC News and Talk
  • CNN Español
  • CNBC
  • Bloomberg
  • BBC World Service
  • C-SPAN
  • XM Public Radio

Now, that looks for the most part like a typical basic cable package, with the exception of BBC and XM Public Radio, which is an interesting case by itself: It’s XM’s answer to Sirius’ deal with NPR, mostly comprised of programming from PRI and American Public Media. Let’s look at that further. Is it really worth it for Sirius and XM to continue their deals with PRI, NPR, and APM simultaneously if the deal goes through? If I had to speculate, I’d say ‘no’; XMSirius combined has enough programming to fill a single channel of ‘Public Radio’ for 24 hours per day. One or other will go away, and I’d say that’s the content from PRI and APM: XMSirius will take the brand-recognition of NPR any day. Depending on the terms of that deal with NPR, this could mean the total loss of PRI and APM programming from satellite radio.

Of course, this is speculative, and predicated on the assumption that the merger actually occurs.

Let’s examine some of the pro-merger reasoning given in the New York Times article, which is mostly summed up in this paragraph:

Mr. Parsons said that unlike EchoStar and DirecTV, whose only rival was cable television, the satellite radio companies have a very small audience compared with the ways people get music, information and entertainment in audio formats, including iPods and the Internet.

So, basically, XM and Sirius shouldn’t be evaluated under the same terms as the rejected EchoStar/DirecTV merger because they face competition from iPods and the Internet. In 2002, the FCC blocked that deal because it would “fly in the face of of three decades of communications policy that has sought ways to eliminate the need for regulation by fostering greater competition”, according to then-chairman Michael Powell. 2002 wasn’t that long ago. In 2002, the internet was home to vibrant streaming media, blogs, MP3 downloads, and so on. DVDs were the industry standard for consumer video. Even iPods were by then on the scene (in fact, they were up to their second generation at the time of the FCC decision). So, what’s really changed between the 2002 EchoStar decision, and this new Sirius/XM proposal? Not that much, really. If Sirius and XM are feeling competitive pressure from iPods, they should figure out how to compete with the external pressure, not use it as an excuse to create yet another media conglomerate wielding a monopoly.

Moreover, the argument that iPods (and presumably Digital Audio Players in general) compete directly with satellite radio is specious at best. I can’t listen to Major League Baseball live on my iPod, nor can I listen to Howard Stern’s show. I can’t get a traffic report, either, and my iPod doesn’t tell me about new music, but it does let me listen to my own music when I feel like it. The perpetual advantage to music radio–both terrestrial and satellite–has been the skill and knowledge of a talented DJ and Program Director to tell me about new music, and create a good playlist for me to listen to. If I’m driving in my car, or walking on the street, I can’t jump onto pandora.com and figure out what music I might like to listen to (as much as I’d like to)–I have to turn to the expertise of someone else, and all I really have access to is radio, including satellite radio. Given my musical preferences and limited tolerance for commercials, this is where XM has done very well for me in the music arena. If XM fails to exploit the advantages of its medium, that is no reason to allow it to change the face of the marketplace with a merger; it is reason for it to retool its programming strategy, its marketing, and invest in R&D that plays up its highly-mobile, nationally-available niche formatted programming.

When the FCC granted two entities satellite-radio operating licenses, they did so with the express intent that neither company should ever own the other’s license. Based on past precident and present circumstances, I see no reason to dissolve that arrangement.

School Lunch Project

May 9th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

This evening, I watched the first two episodes of Jamie Oliver’s School Lunch Project on TLC, which is the American-redubbed version of “Jamie’s School Dinners”. The documentary follows Jamie Oliver’s quest to improve the meals available in British schools. Having spent six years in British state schools, I can personally attest to the generally horrendous quality of food available. At the time, I wondered how it might get any worse. When I ate my first school lunch in the United States, I found out. American school lunches made their British counterparts look like a three-course meal at the Ritz.
In, School Lunch Project Jamie identifies two core problems:

  1. Healthy food is not a readily available option in schools. When it is an option, students will opt not to take it, preferring the unhealthy food they have become accustomed to.
  2. Healthy food is not an option in the home for many students. Having no exposure to good food, kids dismiss any alternatives to junk food out of hand.

In short, as Oliver himself puts it, there is no “food culture” amongst most kids, driven partially by economic reasons and partially by poor understanding by parents and their kids. He takes a two-pronged approach to the problem. First by taking the effort to stretch a meager 37p-per-student budget as far as it will go, buying fresh, quality ingredients, and second, by attempting to educate the students he comes into contact with about food choice. The latter seems to be by far the biggest challenge, especially for the older students who have become deeply entrenched in their poor eating habits. By the third episode, apparently, pupils at the London school Oliver uses as a testbed end up “rebelling” against their new lunchtime diet.

When I was in the UK in Spring 2005, the show was just ending its run in the UK, and public interest in the subject at the time was at fever pitch. I didn’t get a chance to see the show at the time, so I didn’t get much of an appreciation for the remarkable result of a four-part series. Around that time, as a direct result of School Lunch Project, the British government had just increased the budget for school meals significantly, and–equally important–recognized the lack of nutritional content in school meals as a major problem. I see School Lunch Project as a victory on several levels.

First and foremost, that one (admittedly famous and noteworthy) campaigner can make a real difference in the public discourse, and that power is increased withthe addition of more campaigners. The “Feed Me Better” campaign that sprang out of the television show garnered over a quarter of a million signatures on a petition delivered to Downing Street.

Secondly, School Lunch Project shone a light on, and made everyone stare at the critical health problem overshadowing America and Britian (and probably other parts of Europe, too): we’re fat. America, in particular, has a skyrocketing obesity rate, and very little is being done about it beyond a few Oprah TV specials and the odd PSA campaign. School food is still poor. Students are rarely, if ever, taught how to prepare a healthy meal. And by “taught to prepare”, I don’t mean fill in a few worksheets and memorize the USDA Food Pyramid. I mean, actually be taught to prepare, from scratch, using real ingredients, a healthy meal. I suggest that it is a cheaper option to invest in education now, rather than to pay the cost in public health decades from now. I also suggest that since, as Jamie Oliver demonstrates, the food culture within the home itself can be just as nonexistent as it currently is in school, students should be taught about preparing quality food at school, rather than dismissing the subject and leaving it up to parents.

Thirdly, School Lunch Project is a fine example of the power of independent media. The original series was produced and broadcast by Channel Four, one of Britain’s three commercial terrestrial TV networks. My guess (though I have no evidence to support my hypothesis), is that the distance between Channel Four and the government of the day allowed Jamie Oliver to editorialize freely and rake as much muck as possible without fear of zealous editing by overseers. Please don’t misinterpret my comments as being anti-BBC; my point here is that a healthy distance between the state and a documentary filmmaker was beneficial in this case.

Much of the content of School Lunch Project might be lost on an American audience, though I hope the audience sees parallels, if not precise representations of the scenario in many Ameican schools. Replace “Turkey Twizzlers” with “Tater Tots”, and you have the content of most American school lunches: too much trash.
Jamie’s School Lunch Project Episode 3 airs Monday, May 15 at 7/6 Central.

Further reading, and sources:
Wikipedia, “Jamie Oliver”
Channel Four’s Jamie’s School Dinners Page
Feed Me Better