Oh This Cynical World

Someone left porcelain dolls outside of eight homes in California and because the dolls resembled little girls who lived in them it creeped out some of their parents. They called the police and of course the police investigated:

Orange County Lt. Jeff Hallock told KTLA that the pattern was “creepy or very unusual” so they began collecting the dolls and interviewing the affected families…

“Following conversation and questioning of several parents, information was learned that focused on a female adult who lived in the local community and attended church with many of the impacted families,” according to a release from the police department…

“Investigators have concluded that her motivation was out of goodwill and that she intended it as a kind gesture,” police said.

This truly says something about our society these days. You can’t blame the parents for being a little spooked by it, or the police for doing their jobs, but it’s hard to believe that a generation ago the first thought wouldn’t have been “I wonder who’s leaving these gifts around?” instead of, “Holy crap some creep’s stalking our daughter.” Again, not blaming the parents, just pointing out that it’s just one more way our society has changed. After all, who lets their 10 year old play outside all day unless they have some sort of GPS enabled locator in his pocket?

Insights from Ira Glass, Host of This American Life

This interview on Lifehacker with Ira Glass about how he does his work ends with a great piece of advice:

I’d just say to aspiring journalists or writers—who I meet a lot of—do it now. Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.

With some slight editing this could work for almost any line of work.

News and Record’s Weak Pricing Logic

The Greensboro News & Record announced a new digital subscription model that its editor explained in a front page piece of today’s paper. After explaining that all 7-day print subscribers will get digital access for free he described the digital subscription model:

After a special introductory period with rates as low as $9.99 per month, a digital-only subscription will cost slightly more than a seven-day print subscription.

The reason for that variance? A print subscription permits us to subsidize the cost of content by providing access to your home or business for preprinted advertising circulars. A digital-only subscription lacks that advertising subsidy.

Readers who have no subscription may view up to 20 articles or photo galleries every 30 days at no charge. There is no limit on viewing selected content, such as many wire service stories and classified ads.

Here’s the thing: consumers don’t give a sh** why you’re pricing your digital subscription at whatever level it’s priced, they only care that the product is worth the price. What matters to them is whether or not they are getting bang for their buck. Is the content that the N&R is producing worth the price of admission? If so then people will gladly pay it, if not then they’ll find what they need elsewhere or just go without.

I’m willing to bet that part of the thinking is that people will just decide to get the print subscription, and thus opt in to the advertising subsidy, if they price the digital-only higher than the print+ option. That’s logical in a way, but ignores the reality that they have to produce content that’s compelling enough for people to pay for it whether it’s print or digital. They might think they’ve lost a ton of subscribers because those subscribers believe they can get the N&R’s content at the N&R website, but it’s more likely that they lost subscribers because much of the content readers used to get exclusively from the paper – stuff like syndicated columns, wire reports, classified ads, national news, etc. – is now available from a variety of sources. That means the N&R’s only unique product offering is local news/data/information and the last time I looked they hadn’t expanded their local coverage or deepened their editorial bench, which makes it hard to imagine the product being perceived as worthy of the price they’re asking.

Airing of Grievances Coming to a Commission Meeting Near You

A front page article in the July 15, 2014 Wall Street Journal makes the point that the recent SCOTUS ruling allowing prayers before public meetings is an opportunity for atheists too:

The former president of the Freethinkers of Upstate New York, Mr. Courtney says he plans to give a four-minute speech highlighting the notion that the country was founded on the authority of the people, and the importance of ensuring Americans of all types are heard.

He will be the first atheist to address the Greece town board. Before the Supreme Court ruling, the town board allowed a Wiccan priestess to deliver an invocation.

While Mr. Courtney disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling, he takes some comfort in his view that it weakened what he calls Christianity’s “de facto monopoly on invocations.”

“In a sense, it has opened the door for a bit of a free-for-all,” he says.

The article also mentions the Pastafarians who are planning to offer their own prayers. Personally I’d like to see observers of the Festivus holiday take their turn at the podium to air their grievances. Not familiar with Festivus? Check out the video clip below and you’ll get it.

Our own Forsyth County Commission’s case is mentioned in the article of course. That case has irked me long enough that I can’t stomach giving it another minute of my life to think about, but I will say this: the true test will be when the commission is faced with having to entertain an invocation from a hard core satanist. It’s one thing to listen to a non-believer offer up generic messages of inclusion and cooperation, but it’s an entirely different ballgame to listen to someone ask them to accept guidance from the devil. I wonder if they’ll take their own advice offered to the non-believers who’ve complained about the invocations in the first place – just step out of the room if you don’t like it?

Our Rapidly Changing Culture

Making the social media rounds recently was this observation shared on Craigslist by the management of a New York City restaurant who were trying to figure out why service was so much slower in 2014 than in 2004 despite a simplified menu and increased staff size. They found security footage from 2004 and compared it to current footage. Some results they shared in their post:

Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).

26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.

14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another 4 minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo.

9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn’t have gotten cold.

27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another 5 minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving.

Given in most cases the customers are constantly busy on their phones it took an average of 20 minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check. Furthermore once the check was delivered it took 15 minutes longer than 10 years ago for them to pay and leave.

8 out of 45 customers bumped into other customers or in one case a waiter (texting while walking) as they were either walking in or out of the Restaurant. 

They studied 45 customers in both cases and found that, on average, the time spent in the restaurant went from 1:05 in 2004 to 1:55 in 2014. It’s fairly safe to assume that other service businesses are experiencing similar behavioral changes in their customers, and it’s stunning to think about how quickly it’s happened.

BTW, I’m a notorious food-porner, but I can’t imagine taking more than 10 or 15 seconds to snap a pic of my snapper. I like my food way too much to waste more time than necessary before I dig in.

Hype vs Hyperbole

A few weeks back the folks at the Greensboro Coliseum started hinting to the press that they would have a “historic” announcement. What was this historic announcement? That Paul McCartney would play a concert there as part of his US tour this fall. Sure McCartney’s a big act – a huge act to many folks – but is one concert date on one tour really historic?

Compare that with yesterday’s announcement that downtown Greensboro will be getting an 850-seat venue affiliated with House of Blues. Much less hype for something that will have much more impact on Greensboro in the long run.

Some local folks got their panties in a twist when other folks got a little snarky about the McCartney announcement. They took it as a slam on McCartney when really it was an indictment of the over-the-top PR push by the Coliseum folks. There’s a reason people don’t trust marketers/advertisers and the Coliseum folks provided us with a perfect example when the crossed the line from hype to hyperbole.

Measuring Success

There are many ways to measure success and/or failure, and it’s important to keep that in mind when you assess hot-button issues. For instance, this article in the Greensboro News & Record about Obamacare’s affect on insurance coverage in North Carolina:

In North Carolina, 16.7 percent of residents are now uninsured, compared with 19.6 percent before the onset of the ACA, according to a study conducted by the social network WalletHub.

 

North Carolina ranked 33 among states for its number of uninsured residents.

The Tar Heel state also ranked fourth among states with the most net new private insurance enrollees per capita.

WalletHub used data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Census Bureau to make its projections.

Those who supported Obamacare will likely tout this statistic as proof that Obamacare is working. On the other hand, those opposed to Obamacare can ask the question, “But at what cost?” That’s the crux of the issue: we can all probably agree that more people having health insurance is a good thing, but we’d probably have lots of heated debate over how much to pay for it, how to pay for it and how to structure the program. Does the phrase “socialized health care” ring any bells.

Quite frankly I think it’s far too early in the process to declare Obamacare a success or failure, but I’d say these numbers show a positive trend towards getting more people health insurance coverage. Long term who knows whether or not Obamacare will be a net success, but at a minimum we’ve seen thousands of North Carolinians moved off the roles of the uninsured and that’s a step in the right direction.