Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Salute to a good place to eat

It' not often that I blog about favorite places to eat, but right up there at the top of my list is Chick-Fil-A.

It's always good, hot, affordable and delicious.

And you get service with a smile.


McDonald's or Wendy's don't come close to competing with Chick-Fil-A.

So here's to the good, hard-working, service-minded, friendly "there to please you" people and scrumptious food that you'll find at your neighborhood Chick-Fil-A.

Eat more chicken.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Story on Katie Couric for Pub Aux

(Got the following piece published in the January 2009 edition of Publishers' Auxiliary)

By Larry Timbs
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary

If you’re working in the community newspaper business, you’ve no doubt confronted the word “sacrifice” a lot lately.

But be thankful that you yourself haven’t yet become the “sacrifice” (or perhaps more accurately, the “sacrificial lamb”) at your newspaper in a gloomy economy that’s teetering between recession and depression.

We all know, for example, that in this slumping funk of an economy these are tough, worrisome times for America’s newspapers. Too many advertisers, fearful about making ends meet, have pulled their ads from the hometown paper. Compounding the newspaper ad revenue decline: Web sites like and will run classified ads at no charge.

The result: Big newspaper companies like Gannett and McClatchy keep on keeping on, but not without laying off, in various waves throughout 2008, up to 20 percent of their workforce.

(America’s smaller newspapers (hometown weeklies or dailies under 50K circulation) are faring better, with many reporting slight circulation gains or modest retail ad growth. But putting out a profitable paper in such a stagnant, gloomy economy is challenging even the best publishers.)

You hope, in the midst of all this economic downturn, that you’re a valued employee who has at least a semblance of job security as a reporter, editor, copyeditor, page designer or whatever at your hometown paper.

But what if your employer asked you to sacrifice—as in take a pay cut to continue doing what you do every day?

What if it were put to you something along the lines of: “Well, if everyone in the newsroom agrees to keep working for say 10 percent less than they’re now getting paid, everyone can keep his or her job. That way, no one will get laid off or be terminated.”

What would you do, Mr. or Mrs. Reporter, Page Designer, Photographer, Copyeditor or Editor?

That question came to mind when the university where I work recently announced that in spring 2009 semester, everyone—from the president on down to professors to groundskeepers and janitors--will be furloughed for nine days. That means, for journalism faculty, we all essentially do the same amount of work next semester—teach the same number of classes, with the same or even more students, read and evaluate the usual number of papers, write and present the same number of lectures and workshops, generate the same appropriate amount of scholarship or research as in semesters past.

We’re all being “furloughed” because of the weak South Carolina economy, tied to projected declining state revenue —which helps fund universities like Winthrop.

Some prognosticators put the unemployment rate in South Carolina at 14 percent by summer 2009.

Everyone at Winthrop is being furloughed for those nine days so that everyone can keep his or her job.

So, like many of you in the newspaper business already know or will know, I’m familiar with sacrifice.

But what about someone like Katie Couric? What does she know—really and truly—about giving up for the greater good?

If, like me, you recently watched the CBS Evening News, you witnessed Couric, the first woman anchor in network news history, hammering Ron Gettelfinger in a one-on-one interview about the fate of the U.S. auto industry.

Gettelfinger, once a chassis line repairman at a Ford plant in Louisville and now the president of the United Auto Workers Union (which has a million-plus members), got grilled (and then some) by Couric.

Couric intimated, from the tone of her questioning, that because the UAW hadn’t made sufficient concessions, the U.S. Senate rejected a $14 billion bailout package for the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) auto makers.

Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

Couric (with a scowl): The perception, Mr. Gettelfinger, is that this bailout bill fell apart because your union would rather see the auto companies go under than take a pay cut. True or false?

Gettelfinger: That’s totally false, Katie.

Couric (unrelenting): UAW members average 42 paid days off a year, including five weeks of vacation and 17 holidays. Do you think, Mr. Gettelfinger, that this may seem excessive in light of current economic conditions and the condition of the U.S. auto industry right now?

Gettelfinger responded, saying he’d like to compare that amount of time off to what the Congress of the United States gets, but he respectfully declined to go there. He went on to say that UAW members had already made tremendous sacrifices, and they would be willing to sacrifice more—if only given the opportunity in continued talks with the federal government.

He also cautioned Couric to keep in mind that if the U.S. auto industry goes bankrupt, it will quickly dissolve, meaning the Big Three will no longer exist. That would lead to the dark scenario of hundreds of thousands of additional Americans losing their jobs.

Okay, we’ve heard all this again and again in the news—point being that if the U.S. auto industry collapses, we’ll go from deepening recession to worsening depression, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the era of FDR.

What we haven’t been attuned to is the idea of an obscenely well paid media celebrity (Couric) harping about “sacrifice” to a former auto factory repair man.

The irony of the network anchor bearing down on Gettelfinger about economic sacrifice is that Couric gets paid $15 million a year. Her predecessors at CBS, Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite (both with far more journalism experience) earned much less.

If Couric does 260 broadcasts a year, according to one blogger, that works out to $50,000 per half hour news show.

(Actually, subtracting the commercials, Couric is only on the air for about 20 minutes each weekday night, and I’ve noticed on numerous weekday nights she’s got a substitute anchor.)

All this hasn’t gone unnoticed in the blogosphere:

“No question (K)ronkite is getting a stomach ache, and (Edward R.) Morrow is turning,” griped one Couric critic.

Another wrote (and it’s posted to CBS News’ credit, on “I did not appreciate Katie Couric’s look of disgust while interviewing Mr. Gettelfinger, or the accusations that the UAW is the reason the Auto Makers are in trouble . . . Katie, if the auto workers are so overpaid, would you work for an equivalent wage?”

I doubt Katie Couric, who took over the CBS News anchor chair in September 2006, is sacrificing as much as those UAW members.

And I seriously doubt that she’s even begun to make the kinds of sacrifices undertaken or seriously being contemplated today by many in the community newspaper business.

Ditto for the kinds of belt tightening and sacrifices now afflicting journalism education.

Let’s see—wonder if I can get a sub professor for me during those nine furlough days next semester?

Larry Timbs is an associate professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. He’s also faculty adviser to the student weekly newspaper at Winthrop.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pee in the news

Well what will NASA think of next?

Just read an interesting piece in the Charlotte Observer about the space shuttle Endeavor and its seven astronauts. Endeavor and its crew returned safely to Edwards Air Force Base in California after a 16-day trip working on the international space station.

Ok, yawn, you say.

But get this. One of the things the astronauts did up there (or maybe it's over there) was haul and install equipment that will convert astronauts' urine to water.

You got it. We're talking about recycling human pee into drinkable, clean water.

The idea is that if we go back to the moon or to Mars or beyond, it'll be too expensive to lug water. Best to recycle human pee and make it life-sustaining.

It's going to happen, folks.

Pee into drinkable water.

Whaddya think about that?