Thursday, January 29, 2009


Here's a blurb I wrote a few years ago trying to encourage my mass communication students to get out of their comfort zones and talk to "real people."

(I frequently require them to interview at least one "real person"--defined as not someone who is a student--for their writing assignments. Do this to try to get students out of their comfort zones.)

On "realness":

I'm often asked (or maybe challenged is a better way to put it) by students in my mass communication classes what I mean by a "real person." I try to explain that (no offense meant) students are NOT really real.

In one sense, no one is ever entirely real. But if you're older, say at least 40 or 50 or 60, you likely are on your way to becoming real.

A real person, as I see it, is someone who has had his or her fair share of failure or disappointment in life, who has been beaten down or rejected but who has also risen back up and learned to overcome deep depression or the downsides of life. Part of being real sometimes involves having someone you love say they know longer care about you or don't want to be with you.

A real person knows, from personal experience, that life is full of disappointment and that sometimes, "failing forward" is the best he or she can do. 
A real person has been taken apart and has put himself or herself back together again and is stronger for having been through turmoil, rejection, defeat, depression or failure.
 A real person may have had his or heart out of rhythm and had to get it shocked back into rhythm (recent personal scary experience at Piedmont Medical Center). Or even scarier: had his chest cut open and two of his arteries snipped and bypassed so blood could course more easily through his body.

A real person is humble but strong, never haughty, and always trying to learn. A real person, always trying to be a good listener, knows probably only that he or she still has a lot to learn. A real person knows that the best things in life are free and that everyone on this planet has dignity, worth and something to offer.

Realness often happens very slowly--almost glacially.

I am reminded, when I talk about "real people" in my classes, of the classic children's book "The Velveteen Rabbit," by Margery Williams.

In that book, two stuffed animals, a Skin Horse and a Rabbit, converse with each other in a children's nursery. 
Old, bedraggled and on his last legs, The Skin Horse wore a patched, ragged brown coat, and children had pulled out most of the hairs in his tail, making them into string bead necklaces.

Rabbit: "What is REAL? Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

Skin Horse: "Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

Rabbit: "Does it hurt?"

Skin Horse: "Sometimes. . . When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Rabbit: "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?" 

Skin Horse: "It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very

Food for thought about being a Real person or on becoming a Real person. Good luck to all of you as you evolve into "realness."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

YouTube video of yours truly

Been about eight months since I had my chest ripped open and went through the double-bypass.

Praise again to Dr. John Lucke, my heart surgeon at the Veterans Hospital in Asheville, N.C.

And thanks to all the nurses and other support staff who helped get me through that.

Reason I'm even mentioning this now is a couple of students at Winthrop University recently shot a video of me (as part of work they're doing for a broadcast class).

Topic: My heart surgery and my back surgery in 2008.

Click on the hotlink headline above to view the video. (Turn your sound up.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Professors and what they believe in

We had an interesting discussion today in one of my classes about this: Should a college professor express his opinions or viewpoints (in class in front of his students) on controversial topics.

A controversial topic could be religion, abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, gay marriage, politics, elections...

Some of the students said their professors had informed them that it's best NOT for them (the professors) to take a public stand on such topics. Seems the reasoning goes something like this: If a professor states his/her views in class, that might unduly influence or shape the thinking of students.

Here's what I think.

Professors should profess.

If we can't and don't do that, why are we here? What's the point?

Why bother about anything if we ourselves don't speak up and out when we're asked to do that.

Here, for the record, are some of the things/people I believe in:

1. John McCain (voted for him mainly cause he's a decorated Vietnam war hero, almost died for this country, and he's a good, smart guy.) That said, I've got to say I like Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. I hope and pray they lead our country out of the current economic turmoil.

2. God. I'm a Christian, baptized (full immersion in water) as a sophomore in high school. I haven't been very good at going to church these last few decades, but I am trying to read the Bible. I chip away at it every so often--now on First Solomon in the Old Testament.

3. Dogs. They're a man's best friend. Faithful to the end as our best loyal companions, what's not to like about them?

4. Family. Without a strong, supportive family, we soon wither. But for my wife and my children and my parents and brother and sister, I wouldn't last long. God bless them all. I love them very much.

4. Extraterrestrials. Yes, that means I believe in UFOs. We just cannot be the only living beings in this entire universe. It's too big. Life HAS to be out there someplace else.

5. A free press. Make that a free, responsible press that shines a light on truth and wrongdoing and injustice (and on justice). Without a free press (and yes, it does get rambunctious at times and off point), I wouldn't be writing this, and you wouldn't be reading it.

Ok. Enough for now. These are some of my core professed beliefs.

What do you profess, ladies and gentlemen?

And if you haven't already taken my poll (in the upper right hand corner of my blog site), please do it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New semester gets underway

Well here we are at the start of a new semester--spring 2009.

The syllabi are all written and one hopes that at least a few eyes will grace their pages.

At Winthrop each course meets 28 times.

28 times to try to make a difference in a student's life.

28 times to come up with something imaginative or innovative (and also instructional) to make something good happen for my students.

28 times to be there on time (at least to beat my student there to the classroom). 28 times to stay a heartbeat ahead of the munchkins, as I always say.

And 28 times to learn all their names and get to know each one, at least a little bit, on a personal basis. (Interesting to note that this semester I have at least five students named "Brittany.")

A tall order--to say the least.

But I'm honored and lucky to be here at this university--even in our current downturn or slump in the economy. I remind myself that thousands of my counterparts--in the "real world" of journalism--have been laid off or even terminated (what an awful word!).

Winthrop is going through tough times--what with the nine furloughed days for all faculty and staff, but we're still here.

Still working and striving to make that difference in so many lives.

Challenging, but that's what we faculty and staff are all about.

Let the fun (and learning and exploring and dreaming) begin.

Good luck, everyone, in spring semester 2009.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Update" and "Coffee News" story for Pub Aux

Got this story published in the March 2009 edition of Publishers' Auxiliary.

By Larry Timbs
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary

A lot of newspapers in the United States are in dire financial straits.

Newspaper ad revenue is down—by about $2 billion or 18 percent in the third quarter of 2008, according to the Newspaper Association of America. And online ad revenue seems also to be declining.

Little wonder that so many newspapers today are just trying to hang on and survive the worst economic recession in recent memory in the U.S.

Newspapers are making ends meet through layoffs, hiring freezes, furloughing of employees and the elimination, in recent months, of thousands of jobs.

So where have a lot of the newspaper advertisers gone and will they ever return? And if they do return, when exactly will that be? Not likely anytime soon, some say, considering today’s record numbers of homeowners facing foreclosures, plunging retail sales and consumers retreating to deep hibernation.

Advertisers seem to be nervous at best, and who can blame them, considering the general depressing funk of today’s economy?

Key questions: How can newspapers ever get advertisers back into the fold? What can be done, if anything, to convince hometown Main Street businesses and services that the local community newspaper is an effective way to win back customers and boost sales?

Those questions seem even more challenging in an era of newspapers not only confronting a sour economy; newspapers are also wrestling with how to adapt to declining or near zero growth readership (especially among young people), increasing competition for ad dollars from other media, and an overall change in media habits of consumers.

But maybe a twice-a-week community newspaper in Decatur, Texas, offers a ray of hope. The lesson from Decatur is that part of the answer in luring advertisers back is in size. Maybe size matters. Maybe smaller is better.

For example, Decatur’s hometown newspaper, The Wise County Messenger, has been publishing its one-page (front and back, 8.5 inch by 11 inch) “Update” five days a week (Monday through Friday) for over 30 years, according to ad manager Lisa Davis.

About 4,000 copies of the freebie “Update” are printed and delivered each day to banks, grocery stores, post offices and any other high traffic areas throughout Wise County, Texas (population about 50,000).

On the front page (and remember, “Update” is the size of a sheet of typing paper), readers find tidbits of news about what’s happening in Decatur (population about 6,000) and in other places in Wise County. The news blurbs are about meetings, community calendar items, accidents, police reports, festivals, weather, funeral notices.

On the front page of “Update” you’ll also find four ads, each selling, per day, for $100 or $75, depending on their size. A typical day, for example, will see a car dealer or AT&T Wireless or dirt hauling business or attorney advertising in “Update.”

The entire back page of “Update” sells for $200 per day. (A sample copy of “Update” distributed at an NNA meeting a few years ago featured this back page with a restaurant menu--paid for by the Big Z Travel Center in Rhome, Texas.)

A nice thing about “Update” is that it not only brings in money for the Wise County Messenger (published on Thursday and Sunday); it also keeps the newspaper’s readers informed about breaking news.

“Update” is easy to read—like reading a letter from your mother or friend—and easy to handle. No cumbersome big newspaper pages that are hard to navigate or fold and unfold. No jumped stories. “Update” looks friendly. No long, large, overwhelming gray masses of type.

You can read “Update” over a cup of coffee or finish looking at it while you wait on your menu order. Plus, again, it’s free.

Yes, the downturn in the economy has affected the Wise County Messenger. The newspaper, which had a good year in 2008, is seeing advertisers today getting tighter or a bit more nervous with their money. That means the paper might be re-evaluating how it structures advertising in “Update”—maybe to just having two ads on the front page instead of three.

That said, “Update,” according to Davis, is “still a wonderful product. We’re still making good money off of it, and we’re definitely going to continue it . . . It’s feasible and you can do it. We also put it online.”

Davis doesn’t know why more community weekly newspapers don’t have a similar advertising vehicle. She mentioned that the Wise County Messenger seems to be the exception in this regard, even though the newspaper has promoted “Update” and shared news about it with the Texas Press Association.

“We’ve done it for so long and we know how profitable it is,” said Davis, who’s been at the newspaper for about 19 years (15 years as ad manager.) I just don’t know why other papers don’t do this. It’s one of the best products we have.”

Another two-page (11 inches by 17 inches) front and back advertising medium that newspapers might want to emulate is the freebie “Coffee News,” published weekly in the Charlotte, N.C./York County, S.C. region.

Like “Update,” the coffee-colored “Coffee News” is easy to handle, can be read in about 8-10 minutes (perhaps while sipping a cup of coffee or waiting for your menu order) and features mainly tidbits of positive or humorous human interest news about such things as area art guild exhibitions, fundraisers for the Human Society or the opening of a “warming center” for homeless women and children. Trivia questions, quotable quotes and a horoscope also help engage readers. A “Find the Coffee News Man Contest” challenges readers to locate a little Coffee Man” hidden in one of the ads; find the “Coffee Man” and notify the publisher via the Internet or by mail and you become eligible for a cash prize.

In the Jan. 6, 2009, edition of “Coffee News” were 18 paid ads, each about three inches wide and two inches deep. Each ad sells for $35.77 per week.

“Coffee News” publisher Kevin Lanier has 20-plus years working professionally in advertising (part of it with the Charlotte Observer). He says the 9,000 copies of “Coffee News” distributed each week to over 900 doctors’ offices, restaurants and waiting areas provide “affordable, consistent advertising for small to medium-sized businesses.”

An advertiser is always on the front or the back of each of the nine editions of “Coffee News” and it takes only a very few minutes to read the ads and the news tidbits; thus, potential customers give the ads more scrutiny than ads appearing in multiple page publications such as newspapers, Lanier said.

And in the current downturn in the economy, “Coffee News” seems to be holding its own, according to Lanier.

“We’ve actually attracted advertisers looking for a more affordable alternative for their advertising needs,” Lanier wrote in response to an email query. “Instead of investing that $3,000-$4,000 per month for a billboard on I-77, they’ve considered Coffee News as a source to get their message out. Being a new company that is entering its third year, we are profitable and looking to expand in April by adding a tenth edition . . . which is slated to begin April 17th. . . We are investing in the business and are currently in a high growth mode.”

What’s the lesson that newspapers might take away from a publication like “Coffee News”?

Maybe it’s that smallness and being free, and not being hung up on labor-intensive journalism, has its place–for advertisers and readers.

“With the general public being so time-starved, they don’t take the 20-30 minutes each day to read the newspaper that my parents and grandparents used to do,” Lanier said. “Many current day college students and recent graduates have never purchased a newspaper as they rely on the Internet for information. . . Granted we (Coffee News) don’t have the news content that newspapers have, but we provide an 8-10 minute respite and only publish good news.”

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

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rick Warren sets high example

I don't usually write about evangelicals or about anything or anyone that's religious.

But I can't resist noting a few things about Dr. Rick Warren, pastor of America's fourth largest church, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

You may know Warren, 54, from his having hosted a political forum--featuring John McCain and Barack Obama in the heat of the 2008 presidential race.

Or you may have recently heard that he'll give the invocation (prayer) at President-elect Obama's inauguration in a few weeks.

But did you know that this amazing minister reverse tithes, meaning that he says he lives off of 10 percent of what he earns and gives 90 percent to the Lord?

Did you know that his world-wide best selling nonfiction books (more than 20 million copies sold)--"The Purpose Driven Ministry" and "The Purpose Driven Life" made him wealthy, allowing Warren to repay Saddleback Church the 24 years of salary he took in since he founded that church?

Did you know that national publications--such as Time magazine--have called him one of America's 10 or 15 most influential people?

Did you know his beloved wife Kay is dying of cancer?

Here are a few recent comments from Warren--about Kay, about suffering and pain, about happiness, about money, about faith, about eternity, about why we're called "human beings" instead of "human doings." Paul Bradshaw interviewed Warren:

"People ask me, What is the purpose of life? And I respond: In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were not made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in Heaven.

"One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body but not the end of me.

"I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity. This is the warm-up act - the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.

"We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn't going to make sense.

"Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into another one.

"The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort.

"God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy.

"We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that's not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.

"This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer.

"I used to think that life was hills and valleys - you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don't believe that anymore.

"Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it's kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life.

"No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on.

"And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

"You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems.

"If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness,"which is my problem, my issues, my pain. But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others.

"We discovered quickly that in spite of the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people, God was not going to heal Kay or make it easy for her.

"It has been very difficult for her, and yet God has strengthened her character, given her a ministry of helping other people, given her a testimony, drawn her closer to Him and to people.

"You have to learn to deal with both the good and the bad of life.

"Actually, sometimes learning to deal with the good is hard er. For instance, this past year, all of a sudden, when the book sold 15 million copies, it made me instantly very wealthy.

"It also brought a lot of notoriety that I had never had to deal with before. I don't think God gives you money or notoriety for your own ego or for you to live a life of ease.

"So I began to ask God what He wanted me to do with this money, notoriety and influence. He gave me two different passages that helped me decide what to do, II Corinthians 9 and Psalm 72

"First, in spite of all the money coming in, we would not change our lifestyle one bit. We made no major purchases.
Second, about midway through last year, I stopped taking a salary from the church.

"Third, we set up foundations to fund an initiative we call The Peace Plan to plant churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and educate the next generation.

"Fourth, I added up all that the church had paid me in the 24 years since I started the church, and I gave it all bac k. It was liberating to be able to serve God for free.

"We need to ask ourselves: Am I going to live for possessions? Popularity?

"Am I going to be driven by pressures? Guilt? Bitterness? Materialism? Or am I going to be driven by God's purposes (for my life)?

"When I get up in the morning, I sit on the side of my bed and say, God, if I don't get anything else done today, I want to know You more and love You better. God didn't put me on earth just to fulfill a to-do list. He's more interested in what I am than what I do.

"That's why we're called human beings, not human doings.

"Happy moments, PRAISE GOD.
Difficult moments, SEEK GOD.
Quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD.
Painful moments, TRUST GOD.
Every moment, THANK GOD."

Here's to you, Pastor Rick Warren, and for reminding us that we're human beings, not human doings.

What are we being today?

And what about yesterday and tomorrow?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My take on Katie Couric of the CBS Evening News

Here's a guest column piece I got published on the Opinion page of The (Rock Hill, S.C.) Herald on Jan. 3, 2009.

Couric was hypocritical

By Larry Timbs - Special to The Herald

Have to get something off my chest.

If, like me, you watched the CBS Evening News recently, you may have witnessed Katie Couric, the anchor, 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 initially rejected a $14 billion bailout package for the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) automakers.

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.

A dark scenario

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.

OK, 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.

Economic sacrifice

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, 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 automakers are in trouble ... Katie, if the autoworkers 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.

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

This weekly column features opposing views from readers. These opinions are contrary to those expressed on this page or which otherwise take issue with something that appears in The Herald. All commentaries submitted become the property of The Herald and may be republished in any format.

Larry Timbs is an associate professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Winthrop University.

© Copyright 2008, The Herald, Rock Hill, S.C.