Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Breaking (or Broken?) News Cycle

A few weeks ago, photos of a lost Amazon tribe were splashed all over the Internet. For the better part of a day, Yahoo! ran this anthropological discovery as the lead story in its featured news box on the homepage. The photographs, taken from a helicopter, were released as evidence in the case against logging on the Brazilian-Peruvian border.

But today, Yahoo! has been forced into a mea culpa retraction. Turns out the photos are of a tribe that's been "discovered" since 1910, and the photos were released as a political statement against logging. The photographer came clean on his real motivations in Sunday's edition of The Guardian.

Since the Internet has set the pace of the news cycle to warp speed, one wonders how much of the time the information is half true, mostly true or - worst of all - not true at all. In this case, the tribe was documented (if never photographed), but knee-jerk journalism sent the photos out on the wire before there was even time to confirm their veracity. The race to be first isn't always winning the slow-and-steady path to accuracy.

Maybe it's time to concede that Mama was right - you can't believe everything you hear. Or maybe it's just that you have to take one source with a grain of salt. With blogs - like The Inbox - taking to reporting at the grassroots level, perhaps the news cycle is just starting with the major news sources and is making its arc through the online forums. All the same, it's hard to find anywhere these days that give you just the facts. That's what sparked the Obama campaign to create its own "fact checker."

The bottom line is, whether it's the Amazon or the American President, it's sometimes advisable to be your own fact checker and make sure that seeing is believing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Train -- Is it (finally) coming?

Here at the Inbox, we've never been shy about cheering for the Brain Train. As an office full of people who make almost weekly trips back and forth to meet with associates at Jackson Spalding or clients in Atlanta, we will be dedicated users of the train the day it arrives. There is no question in our mind that when completed the "Brain Train" will have enormous economic benefits for Athens and the surrounding communities.

In the past two weeks, several events have occurred that make the Brain Train a much more likely occurrence.

First and foremost, Governor Sonny Perdue finally got on board with rail and transit, citing high gas prices and increasing use of GRTA buses. While he is focusing on a well-funded southern line first, many -- including myself -- believe that the Athens line (also known as the Brain Train) will ultimately be the more successful option given the fact that there is a destination at both ends that people will want to visit for work and play.

Second, in a move that received scant notice locally, Bill Kuhlke was named Chair of the Georgia Department of Transportation and strongly endorsed rail. Who is Mr. Kuhlke? He is our district's GDOT representative, and given his embrace of rail and the fact that he represents our congressional district, this has to be a positive for our area. It will certainly be a positive to have the Chair of GDOT looking in Northeast Georgia's direction a little more often.

This story at the Atlanta Business Chronicle offers a good idea of the many positive effects of the line will have. For Athens and its anti-poverty drive, I can't imagine anything that would be better for the local workforce than having a rail line to Gwinnett, which seems to generate just the type of skilled labor jobs we want here for the poor but can't get. The other potential benefits are enormous -- less traffic on 316; more productive commutes for anyone working at CDC, in Lawrenceville, at Emory, or in downtown or Midtown Atlanta; and a great option for tourists or those wanting to visit any of the communities along the route. From an economic development standpoint, having a strong, tangible, reliable link between all the institutions of higher education included in the map above will give us a strong advantage over many other communities.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

If money buys happiness...

…then our close neighbor Atlanta may be the place for you.

Business Week just released its findings of the best and worst cities for the top 20 careers. Along with Payscale.com, the study adjusted the jobs to fit the cost of living in the 25 big city metros, Atlanta among them. You may consider moving to Houston, Dallas and Charlotte, N.C.—the most affordable cities with equally competitive salaries.

But since we’re so close to Atlanta, maybe a simple change of career is more convenient. Following are five jobs for your consideration based on the Business Week report:

  1. Executive Director of a Nonprofit Organization—Atlanta ranks third behind Houston and Dallas with an average salary of $73,200.
  2. Financial Analyst—Atlanta is second only to Houston with an average salary of $62,500.
  3. Legal Assistant—Atlanta’s average: $46,000
  4. Graphic Designer—Atlanta’s average: $45,700
  5. Of course, there’s more to a job than compensation, so why not check out one of the companies Atlanta Magazine named as the Best Places to Work in the upcoming July issue. We, the Inbox Crew, have the privilege of working at No. 9 on the list. We've got the best of both worlds, Athens and the Atlanta-based Jackson Spalding. JS is in the good company of a number of our clients: Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover, Kaiser Permanente and The Condo Store. Also on the list: The Buckhead Community Bank, Spanx, Intercontinental Hotels Group and Atlanta Medical Center, among others.
Photo: seanmorgan


Question: what is the most prestigious honor for broadcast journalists?

Answer: It's not a Grammy. It's not an Emmy. And of course it's not a Tony. It's a Peabody, and many don't realize that the Peabody Awards are headquartered at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication here in Athens. The list of past Peabody winners includes most of the legends of broadcast journalism and some of America's most well known television programming, including everything from Sesame Street to the Sopranos.

On Monday, Eric O'Brien and I had the opportunity to represent Jackson Spalding at the Peabody Awards Gala at the Waldorf=Astoria in Manhattan. It was a remarkable event for a number of reasons.

First of all, the diversity of the honorees. Everyone from 30 Rock to Project Runway to NPR were among the 30+ award winners. We heard acceptance speeches from television anchors who covered the Virginia Tech tragedy with calm, skill and dignity. We heard a moving tribute from Bob Woodruff after he was honored for his production about injured veterans of the Iraq war. And we had the pleasure of hearing from Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Heidi Klum (although, I must say, she had an unusual new look going on). While the winners came from across the electronic media spectrum, they all had one thing in common: absolute excellence with their craft.

The event was a first class production in every way with the glitz and glamour of your typical televised award show. It made me proud to be a supporter of the University of Georgia to see the respect and honor given to our flagship institution in New York City.

A sample of some of the media coverage is below (note my closest brush ever with Perez Hilton); notably the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Athens Banner-Herald (fair disclosure: the ABH did highlight the winners back in the spring when they were announced) have no mention of the event or its honorees. My former employer the Rome News-Tribune did a wonderful locally driven story on the event, as they typically do.

--L.A. Times
--Washington Times
--Perez Hilton
--Media Bistro story and a good summary of winners

Overall, this is a great example of another one of "those things" that the University of Georgia does that it gets very little credit for in the local community that help establish it (and by association, Athens) as a national leader.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

TCBY: Athens' best hidden secret

I used to work at TCBY in high school. Coming from a small town, it was THE place to hang out (and still is). Boy, could I swirl those cones with the best of 'em.

When I moved to Athens, I thought this town has everything- except a TCBY. Yes, I like Marble Slab and Cold Stone (may it rest in peace), but my heart still lies with the institution that made White Chocolate Mousse and Strawberry Swirl sound appetizing.

I would complain to my friends and other Athens locals about the lack of delicious frozen yogurt (Jason's Deli doesn't cut it. They don't have sprinkles.), and they all would say, "Well you know there used to be a TCBY in the Beechwood Shopping Center. It's where Larry's Giant Subs is now." I love Larry's, but after I discovered that fact, my sandwich didn't taste so good anymore.

Until this year, I did not know what had been within 15 miles of my reach. This spring, I was putting something in the trash at my apartment, and I saw a TCBY cup in there. I immediately ran through my apartment asking my two roommates where that cup came from. Long story short, it was from Athens- sort of.

If you drive up the loop, past the Milledge Ave., College Station and Lexington exits, past Olympic Drive, all the way until the loop "ends," keep going. You'll pass Athens Tech., and then, a couple of miles later, you'll see a little gas station/Blimpie/TCBY conglomerate. Heaven.

Even with gas prices as high as they are, I still make it a point to go up there at least once a month. I must admit, it's not as nice as the one in Morristown, but the yogurt tastes the same.

This discovery made me happy, and I hope it makes you happy, too. Athens seems a little brighter now.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Truth about Political Ads

We are all aware that 2008 is a presidential election year. There is no denying it. It's down to two candidates, and the world is watching. Talking heads begin to analyze, bumper stickers are proudly displayed, blogs are red hot with comments and opinions and the next round of town hall debates can begin. Athens, Ga. is not likely to see McCain or Obama on the City Hall steps nor perched before the Arch in hot debate. However, we are certain to see an abundance of political commercials on the local and presidential level.

As a student and practitioner of advertising I have been less than impressed with this election's commercials (although I did find Obama's Yes We Can YouTube music video to be inspiring and smart). As I was mentally preparing myself for the onslaught of awful political ads that are sure to begin soon the creative and talented Mart Martin sent our office this spectacular Argentinian political ad, a great example of the power of words. In Mart's words, "they should pay the copywriter a couple of million!"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My To-Do List

Athens is a different town in the summer. Since I don’t go back to school until fall, I have found a new desire to be the Lewis (or Clark) of Athens. Every day I learn something new about this town, and I love it. So, I have a summer to-do list:
  1. Go kayaking down the Broad River. I love water sports, and I especially love canoeing and kayaking. It brings back great memories when my Dad took my sister and me to the Smokies to go tubing down the river for a day. There’s nothing better than sticking your feet in cold creek water on a hot day. The Sand Bar is the main outfitter for kayaking, hiking and trail rides by the river. There is also a little restaurant, so I may be able to have a “double doozie” and write a post for Dawg Food at the same time.
  2. Play in Watkinsville. I know it’s not technically Athens, but it’s close enough. Ashley Harp at the office has told me so many cool things that happen in Watkinsville, and I want to experience it for myself. I’ve heard there is a cool pottery place out there, too.
  3. Visit antique stores. I like history, and I’ve recently discovered I like antiques. I think my love for the past is the reason why I feel like a kid in a candy shop when I go into an antique store. There are so many great places in Athens that I want to visit them all. Who knows? I might even play dress-up.
  4. Go to a concert at Ashford Manor. Again, this is in Watkinsville, but it doesn’t make a difference. Concerts are performed bi-weekly at Ashford Manor in Watkinsville, and the food is catered by one of my favorite restaurants, Dondero’s Kitchen. This Monday, June 16, the concert is called “A Tribute to Billie Holiday” featuring Leslie Helpert. That should be a goodie.
  5. Take a hike (in the literal and figurative senses). When people tell you to take a hike, they mean to get lost. That’s right. I want to get out of Athens for a weekend. As a Tennessean, there are a lot of things about Georgia I don’t know. I’d like to visit Stone Mountain, Tallulah Gorge, Clayton, Ga., Blood Mountain (Don’t worry. I won’t go alone.) or maybe even Savannah. I’d like to HIKE down into the Tallulah Gorge and really see it for myself. I’ve driven by it many times, but I haven’t actually seen it.
  6. Snoop. I am a naturally nosy person. Summer is the perfect time to snoop around a place I don’t know very well. I’ve always wanted to walk in some of the old houses around town that have been renovated, so I may just drop by- within office hours, of course.

If I get all of this done, I’ll be really impressed with myself. These are my aspirations, though. I may not see the Pacific Ocean, but I'm hoping I'll make some fun discoveries along the way.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Follow the Leader

Late last summer, I attended the first class of Leadership Oconee. The program, facilitated by the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, offers area business people the opportunity to hone their leadership skills while learning about various facets of the community, all while working in small groups on a community service project. Maybe that sounds like what you'd expect from a chamber program.

What you wouldn't expect when you walk into that first meeting is the opportunity to meet people you may not encounter - educators, business owners, bankers, professionals - in your everyday life. People from an array of backgrounds - like long-time residents and recent additions; a range of ages - from recent college grads to the parents of soon-to-be college grads; and with a variety of goals, from getting to know the community better to cultivating business contacts.

Through a series of monthly meetings, our motley crew learned about personal accountability, education, law enforcement, emergency services, economic development, and agriculture. An all-day trip to the capitol provided us with an eyewitness account of the state legislature in action. And the blustery November day spent at a Covington ropes course made us better problem-solvers, team-players, and, well, great debaters on whose leadership we should follow.

Our small group service project raised funds for Extra Special People's summer camp, produced a commercial and a promotional brochure for the new senior center, and compiled a directory of the community's churches for Hands On Northeast Georgia.

In the end, we learned about our great community; hopefully, we made it a little better. Best of all, we left not just leaders, but friends. We graduated last week, but we plan to keep up those monthly meetings - just maybe not in the middle of the agricultural research center's watershed.

If you are living or working in Oconee County, you should consider Leadership Oconee, now accepting applications for LOXIII. (And if you live or work in Athens, check out the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce L.E.A.D. Athens program.) Even if you don't think you're a leader, you might be surprised. If you care about the community, want to know more about it and to feel better equipped to have a positive impact on where you live and work, you're a candidate. And don't let the unlucky 13th year scare you from seizing this opportunity - I guarantee you'll be lucky to have the experience.