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Friday, October 13, 2006

"The Media," Aviation and Getting it Wrong 

I hated it when friends of mine used to blame "the media" for some perceived bias or agenda, as if the media were a secret evil cabal. I, of course, would leap to the defense of my chosen profession, often so vehemently that people have learned not to say words like "the media" around me. It just tends to set me off.

But I've always felt a little as if I doth protested too much. I'm painfully aware of how often we in "the media" get it wrong--through poor research, bias (intentional or not), plagiarism, weak reasoning and more.

This week's plane flight into the Manhattan building incident has had me in high dudgeon. I hold my private pilot certificate, and think that my decision to learn to fly ranks as one of the great accomplishments of my life. So I have some knowledge of the risks and rewards of General Aviation (GA).

Based on the reports I've seen in newspapers and on websites, and the conversation I've heard on talk radio and talk TV, I've learned the following:

1) GA is very dangerous.
2) GA pilots are as a rule inexperienced and therefore dangerous.
3) Small planes should be banned from a variety of airspaces, especially Manhattan, because of the risk of terrorist incidents.
4) There's no compelling reason for people to allow GA in this country--it's just for rich folks with too much time and money and not enough sense.

Interesting thoughts, all. But with the exception of the reporting of CNN's Miles O'Brien, who's actually a pilot, my "the media" compadres are getting it wrong. And if they can get GA wrong, what else are they getting wrong? It's little wonder to me that our audience's faith in our veracity is so small.

Yes, general aviation has its dangers (as does waking up in the morning). Our aviation 'trade' magazines and e-newsletters focus on these, almost to the point of morbidity. Pilots are always trying to learn from the mistakes others have made, to avoid these themselves.

But what gets lost in the shuffle of media coverage of high profile aviation incidents are a few facts: even inexperienced pilots have more training than any non-race car driver. All private pilots are required to undergo a thorough retesting of their knowledge and flying skills every two years (the dreaded bi-annual flight review). We have medical certificates which must be renewed by a doctor (depending on your age and your certification level, every 6 months, one, two or three years). We can't carry passengers if we haven't logged at least 3 landings in the prior 90 days. If we want to fly faster planes, or more complex planes, we need further training and endorsements in our logbooks. If we want to fly in the clouds, we need an additional rating. If we want to fly multi-engine planes, we need an additional rating. The list goes on.

Can you imagine the impact of requiring this kind of training and rating to drive cars? I can--the roads would be a heckuva lot safer. How about similar training requirements for gun owners? How about some legal recurrency training requirements for journalists?

Sure, even with training, aviation mistakes--and horrible ones--will occur. Some human beings will make bad decisions, dig themselves holes, and die.

But "the media" won't be content to take that approach to stories like these. I'm sure we'll see a whole raft of new flight restrictions in the aftermath of this incident. But I'm also certain that my drive home from work tonight will continue to be an adventure in avoiding the poorly trained and talentless.

Granted, flying is not an inalienable right. And while freedom of the press is, constitutionally, a right, we in the press have also been free to get things wrong, over and over, hurting not only the subjects of our coverage, but also ourselves and our credibility.


That Which Doesn't Kill You... 

Paul Conley excellently evokes the sadness that plagiarism can cause in this post on ComputerWorld's response to its recent theft-of-intellectual-property incident.

I guess if you've been in media for any length of time, you've encountered some form of plagiarism. My story goes back to my earliest days in print, as one of the editors of my high school literary magazine. A student submitted a terrific poem on a controversial subject. Our teacher-advisor wouldn't allow us to accept the poem, since its subject matter was deemed inappropriate for our suburban student population. We editors fought and appealed all the way to the principal and got the poem in. A great victory.

Of course, after the literary magazine was printed, we learned the poem had actually been written by Langston Hughes.

The sense of humilation and deflation we felt back in 1977 lives with me today. Paul notes that plagiarism is a learning experience for the editors who have to deal with its effects. True enough.

And thankfully, I haven't had to deal with it since (as far as I know).


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Not Dead Yet! 

I had a call over the weekend from Paul Conley, my friend and fellow b2b blogger, who was checking in to see if I were still among the living, literally and figuratively. Evidently, I haven't posted to this blog in some time (er...August 15), and even more evidently, I haven't been the best correspondent, forgetting to reply to several email inquiries from readers of this blog wondering where I was (a new, overly aggressive spam filter is partially to blame for that!)

Folio's Tony Silber also weighed in on his magazine's fine new blog:

Meanwhile, a b-to-b blogger of significance, David Shaw, appears to have gone dark. His blog at B-Or-Not-to-B is gone after sitting dormant for a month and a half after a post about Penton Media in mid-August. I e-mailed David a while back, and there was no response. If he’s stopped blogging, he’ll be missed. David is one of the astute observers of this industry.

Ah, I'm blushing! Thanks for the kind words, Tony.

The problem I've faced is three-fold. First, my business is flourishing, and my partner Scott Chase and I have been running hard to keep on top of it. We're a small shop, obviously, and we tend to wear most of the hats. Managing growth is nearly as difficult as finding growth.

Second, one of our clients, for whom we do a variety of business development projects, has involved us in many interesting, but confidential, endeavors. I haven't felt comfortable posting about some topics because of our involvement with this particular client, but hope to share some lessons learned when I can and when I won't violate our client's confidence.

Third, I really haven't had all that much to say of late, and so therefore have kept my own counsel.

Oh well, all excuses, and not very good ones. But this blog is not dead yet (and neither, apparently, am I), and while I can't promise when and where I'll post, or on what, I will be posting.


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