Posts tagged ‘Lucire’


Trading identities in the 2010s: when corporate branding and personal branding adopt each other’s methods

14.10.2017


Above: Brand Kate Moss was probably seen by more people when the model collaborated with Topshop.

In 1999, the late Wally Olins sent me his book, Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies are Taking on Each Other’s Roles, a fine read published by the Foreign Policy Centre that argued that countries were trying to look more corporate, adopting the practices of corporate branding. Conversely, as corporations gained more power and their need to practise social responsibility increased, they were adopting the ideas from nation branding. There was an increasing amount of this swapping taking place, and the 21st century has seen the trend continue: more countries have finely tuned nation brands and guidelines on how to use them, while many corporations are trying to look like good corporate citizens—Dilmah and Patagonia come to mind with their work in building communities and advocacy.
   We’ve been discussing at our firm another area where a similar switch has been taking place: that of corporate brands and personal brands. Personal branding is a relatively new development, with (in my opinion) Managing Brand Me the best work on the subject, authored by the late Thomas Gad with his wife Annette Rosencreutz, dating from 2002. (Thomas, of course, founded Medinge Group.) Managing Brand Me features an excellent break-down of the four dimensions involved (functional, social, mental, spiritual) in any good personal brand that still hold true today. They were well ahead of their time given that they had written their book long before selfies became the norm, and before people were being hired by companies as ambassadors based on their Instagram or Twitter followings.
   Those spokespeople are practising their brands almost haphazardly, where some are getting to the point that they cannot be sustained. Others are balancing authenticity with commercial demands: we know that Kendall Jenner probably doesn’t drink Pepsi, and no one wants to be seen to sell out their values. Nevertheless, there is a group of people mindful about their personal brand, and it’s only a matter of time before more begin taking on the trappings of corporate brands: inter alia, guidelines on how theirs is to be used; what products can be endorsed by that brand; how it can be differentiated against others’. Kate Moss may well be one example with a recognizable logotype that appears on products that have her seal of approval. (If I can be slightly macabre, the estates of Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn all think carefully on how each celebrity can be used to endorse products today; while lacking symbols or logotypes, their faces themselves are more than a substitute. With technology democratizing, it is no surprise that living and less iconic people might adopt similar ideas.)
   What of companies? Many now find themselves on an equal footing, or even a disadvantage, to personal accounts. The biggest companies have to fight for attention on social networks just like some of the top personal accounts in the world, and they cannot succeed without speaking to the audience in a personal fashion. A corporate account that reposts publicity photographs would gain little traction except from fans who are already sold on the brand through non-social media; and there is some wisdom in assuming that millennials do not possess the same level of brand loyalty as earlier generations. They’re on the hunt for the best product or service for the price and adopt a more meritorious approach, and among the things that will draw them in will be the values and societal roles of the company. Therefore, there has to be a “personality” behind the account, aware of each of Thomas and Annette’s Brand Me dimensions.
   It has not escaped me that both Lucire’s fashion editor Sopheak Seng and I do better than the magazine when it comes to social media interaction—getting likes and comments—because we’re prepared to put our personalities on the line. The automated way Lucire shares articles on Twitter, for instance, hasn’t helped build its brand there, something which we’re remedying by having team members around the world post to Instagram for starters, giving people a glimpse of our individual experiences. The images might not all look polished as a result, but it is a step toward fulfilling the four dimensions. It is a quest to find a personal voice.
   In the wider media game, this is now more vital as news has become commodified, a trend that was first expressed in the 1990s, too. Perhaps those authors saw that most media outlets would be getting their news from a more concentrated base of sources, and demand on journalists to be first and fastest—something not helped by a society where speed is valued over accuracy—meant that whomever controlled the sources could determine what the world talked about. Global companies want everyone to see when they’re involved in an event that a good chunk of the planet is likely to see; in L’Oréal Paris’s case it’s the Festival de Cannes. If every fashion publication has its eyes on Cannes, then what differentiates that coverage? What stamp does the media outlet’s brand place on that coverage? Is there a voice, a commentary, something that relates to the outlet’s role in society? Should it communicate with its best supporters on social networks?
   Lucire does reasonably well each year at Cannes with its coverage, probably because it does communicate with fans on social networks and alerts them to exclusive content. The rest of the time, it doesn’t do as well because as a smaller publication, it’s relying on those same sources. In 1998 we would have been the only English-language online publication specializing in fashion that talked about each H&M launch; in 2017 many fashion publications are doing it and our share of the pie is that much smaller. Individuals themselves are sharing on their social networks, too. This is not a bad thing: others should have the means to express themselves and indulge their passion of writing and communicating. Exclusivity means traffic, which is why we do better when we cover something few others do.
   However, I recently blogged that Google News has shifted to favouring larger media players, disincentivizing the independents from breaking news. It comes back to needing a distinctive voice, a personal brand, and while we still need to rely on Google News to a degree, that voice could help build up new surfing habits. The most successful bloggers of the last decade, such as Elin Kling, have done this.
   These are the thoughts milling around as Lucire heads into its 20th anniversary this month, and we reevaluate just what made us special when the publication launched in 1997. Those values need to be adapted and brought into 2017 and beyond. But there are wider lessons, too, on just where corporate branding and personal branding are heading; this post did not set out to discuss fashion media. It’s not a bad place to start our inquiry, since fashion (and automobiles) are where a lot of brand competition takes place.
   Indeed, it signals to me that in the late 2010s, companies need to do well as corporate citizens and have a personal voice on social media, ideas that build on my 2013 paper for the début issue of Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing (where I discussed brands in the age of social media and put forward a model of how to manage them) as well as Thomas and Annette’s earlier research. It’s the next stage of where branding practice could go—JY&A Consulting is primed, and we’re prepared to let those thoughts loose on Lucire and our other projects. The book of the blog, meanwhile, is the next target. What a pity I’m not in Frankfurt right now.

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Posted in branding, culture, France, globalization, internet, marketing, media, publishing, Sweden | No Comments »


When someone you know got ‘Harveyed’

12.10.2017

‘Repugnant’ is a very good word, used by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences to describe producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assaults. It’s a small world when someone you know was ‘Harveyed’, and it all follows a very familiar script. My op–ed’s in Lucire today.

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Posted in media, publishing, USA | No Comments »


Secret “Asian” man (with apologies to Tak Toyoshima)

11.10.2017


Matt Clark

Above: Driving a silver Aston Martin. I’m citing the Official Secrets Act when I say I may or may not be on the tail of Auric Goldfinger.

Oh dear, I’ve been outed. I’m a spy. Actually, Walter Matthau and I prefer ‘agent’.
   You can read between the lines in this New York Times piece about Dr Jian Yang, MP.
   I’ve already gone into what I think of the Yang situation on Twitter but if you scroll down, you’ll see Raymond Huo, MP is tarred with the same brush.
   It’s the sort of reporting that makes me wonder, especially since people like me contribute to Duncan Garner’s ‘nightmarish glimpse’ of Aotearoa.

[Prof Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury] said the Chinese-language media in New Zealand was subject to extreme censorship, and accused both Mr. Yang and Raymond Huo, an ethnic Chinese lawmaker from the center-left Labour Party, of being subject to influence by the Chinese Embassy and community organizations it used as front groups to push the country’s agenda.
   Mr. Huo strongly denied any “insinuations against his character,” saying his connections with Chinese groups and appearances at their events were just part of being an effective lawmaker.

And:

Despite the criticism, Mr. Yang has continued to appear alongside Wang Lutong, China’s ambassador to New Zealand, at public events, including for China’s National Day celebrations this week, when he posed for photos with the ambassador and a Chinese military attaché.

   I wound up at three events where the Chinese ambassador, HE Wang Lutong, was also invited. This makes me a spy, I mean, agent.
   I even shook hands with him. This means my loyalty to New Zealand should be questioned.
   I ran for mayor twice, which must be a sure sign that Beijing is making a power-play at the local level.
   You all should have seen it coming.
   My Omega watch, the ease with which I can test-drive Aston Martins, and the fact I know how to tie a bow tie to match my dinner suit.
   The faux Edinburgh accent that I can bring out at any time with the words, ‘There can be only one,’ and ‘We shail into hishtory!’
   Helming a fashion magazine and printing on Matt paper, that’s another clue. We had a stylist whose name was Illya K. I don’t always work Solo. Sometimes I call on Ms Gale or Ms Purdy.
   Jian Yang and I have the same initials, which should really ring alarm bells.
   Clearly this all makes me a spy. I mean, agent.
   Never mind I grew up in a household where my paternal grandfather served under General Chiang Kai-shek and he and my Dad were Kuomintang members. Dad was ready to 反工 and fight back the communists if called up.
   Never mind that I was extremely critical when New Zealanders were roughed up by our cops when a Chinese bigwig came out from Beijing in the 1990s.
   Never mind that I have been schooled here, contributed to New Zealand society, and flown our flag high in the industries I’ve worked in.
   All Chinese New Zealanders, it seems, are still subject to suspicion and fears of the yellow peril in 2017, no matter how much you put in to the country you love.
   We might think, ‘That’s not as bad as the White Australia policy,’ and it isn’t. We don’t risk deportation. But we do read these stories where there’s plenty of nudge-nudge wink-wink going on and you wonder if there’s the same underlying motive.
   All you need to do is have a particular skin colour and support your community, risking that the host has invited Communist Party bigwigs.
   Those of us who are here now don’t really bear grudges against what happened in the 1940s. We have our views, but that doesn’t stop us from getting on with life. And that means we will be seen with people whose political opinions differ from ours.
   Sound familiar? That’s no different to anyone else here. It’s not exactly difficult to be in the same room as a German New Zealander or a Japanese New Zealander in 2017. A leftie won’t find it hard to be in the same room as a rightie.
   So I’ll keep turning up to community events, thank you, without that casting any shadow over my character or my loyalty.
   A person in this country is innocent till proved guilty. We should hold all New Zealanders to the same standard, regardless of ethnicity. This is part of what being a Kiwi is about, and this is ideal is one of the many reasons I love this country. If the outcry in the wake of Garner’s Fairfax Press opinion is any indication, most of us adhere to this, and exhibit it.
   Therefore, I don’t have a problem with Prof Brady or anyone interviewed for the piece—it’s the way their quotes were used to make me question where race relations in our neck of the woods is heading.
   But until he’s proved guilty, I’m going to reserve making any judgement of Dr Yang. The New York Times and any foreign media reporting on or operating here should know better, too.

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Posted in China, culture, humour, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing | 2 Comments »


There’s still a place for blogging—in fact, it might be needed more than ever

23.04.2017

My friend Richard MacManus commemorated the 14th anniversary of ReadWrite, an online publication he founded as a blog (then called ReadWriteWeb) in 2003, by examining blogging and how the open web has suffered with the rise of Facebook and others.
   It’s worth a read, and earlier tonight I fed in the following comment.

I remember those days well, although my progress was probably the opposite of yours, and, in my circles, blogging began very selfishly. Lucire began as a publication, laid out the old-school way with HTML, and one of the first sites in the fashion sector to add a blog was a very crappy one where it was about an ill-informed and somewhat amoral editor’s point of view. For years I refused to blog, preferring to continue publishing an online magazine.
   Come 2002, and we at the Medinge Group [as it then was; we’ve since dropped the definite article] were planning a book called Beyond Branding. One of the thoughts was that we needed one of these newfangled blogs to promote the book, and to add to it for our readers. I was one (the only?) dissenter at the June 2003 meeting, saying that, as far as my contacts were concerned, blogging was for tossers. (Obviously, I didn’t know you back in those days, and didn’t frequent ReadWriteWeb.) [Hugh MacLeod might agree with me though.] By August 2003 it had been set up, and I designed the template for it to match the rest of the book’s artwork. How wrong I was in June. The blog began (and finished, in 2006) with posts in the altruistic, passionate spirit of RWW, and before long (I think it was September 2003), I joined my friends and colleagues.


An excerpt from the Beyond Branding Blog index page.

   In 2006, I went off and did my own blog, and even though there were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of blogs by now, decent bloggers were still few. I say this because within the first few weeks, a major German newspaper was already quoting my blog, and I got my first al-Jazeera English gig as a result of my blogging a few years later. It was the province of the passionate writer, and the good ones still got noticed.
   I still have faith in the blogosphere simply because social media, as you say, have different motives and shared links are fleeting. Want to find a decent post you made on Facebook five years ago? Good luck. Social media might be good for instant gratification—your friends will like stuff you write—but so what? Where are the analysis and the passion? I agree with everything you say here, Richard: the current media aren’t the same, and there’s still a place for long-form blogging. The fact I am commenting (after two others) shows there is. It’s a better place to exchange thoughts, and at least here we’re spared Facebook pushing malware on to people (no, not phishing: Facebook itself).
   Eleven years on, and I’m still blogging at my own space. I even manage a collective blogging site for a friend, called Blogcozy. My Tumblr began in 2007 and it’s still going. We should be going away from the big sites, because there’s one more danger that I should point out.
   Google, Facebook et al are the establishment now, and, as such, they prop up others in the establishment. Google News was once meritorious, now it favours big media names ahead of independents. This dangerously drowns out those independent voices, and credible writers and viewpoints can get lost. The only exception I can think of is The Intercept, which gets noticed on a wide scale.
   Take this argument further and is there still the same encouragement for innovators to give it a go, as we did in the early 2000s, when we realize that our work might never be seen, or if it is to be seen, we need deep pockets to get it seen?
   Maybe we need to encourage people to go away from these walled gardens, to find ways to promote the passionate voices again. Maybe a future search engine—or a current one that sees the light—could have a search specifically for these so we’re not reliant on the same old voices and the same old sites. And I’m sure there are other ways besides. For I see little point in posting on places that lack ‘charisma’, as you put it. They just don’t excite me as much as discovering a blog I really like, and sticking with it. With Facebook’s personal sharing down 25 and 29 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is a shift away from uninspiring, privacy-destroying places. Hopefully we can catch them at more compelling and interesting blogs and make them feel at home.

   I have also, belatedly, added Richard’s personal blog to the blogroll on this page.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


We need to change how we consume and share media as Sir Tim Berners-Lee warns us about privacy and ‘fake news’

18.03.2017


Paul Clarke/CC BY-SA 4.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37435469

Above: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.

Earlier this month, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote an open letter expressing his concerns about the evolution of his invention, the World Wide Web. (Interestingly, he writes the term all in lowercase.)
   It wasn’t just about ‘fake news’, which is how the media have reported it. His first concern was, in fact, about our losing control over our personal data, and determining when and with whom we share them. It’s something I’ve touched on regularly since 2011, when Google breached its own stated policies over user-preference collection for advertising purposes, something that Facebook appears to be following suit with mid-decade. This was long before Edward Snowden blew the lid on his government’s monitoring, something that’s happening to citizens of other occidental nations, too.
   Sir Tim writes, ‘Through collaboration with—or coercion of—companies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, it’s easy to see the harm that can be caused—bloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.’
   But the one that struck me as very pertinent to publishing is Sir Tim’s second point. It’s the one that most news outlets seized on, linking it back to ‘fake news’, a term now corrupted by the executive branch of the US Government when attacking coverage that it doesn’t like. However, Sir Tim’s points were far broader than that. And it’s evident how his first point links to his second.
   It’s not hard to see that there is biased coverage on both the right and right wings of US politics (interestingly, they call it left and right), although Sir Tim points to how ‘a handful of social media sites or search engines’ show us the things that appeal to our own biases through their algorithms. ‘Fake news’ then spreads through these algorithms because they play to our prejudices. He writes, ‘those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.’ These sites are able to determine what we see based on the data we’ve given them, willingly or unwillingly.
   It’s so far from the ideals of the World Wide Web that it’s sad that the medium, which was once so expansive and inspirational as we surfed from one site to the next to read and absorb information, has come to this: a tool for becoming more insular, the first path to the idiocracy.
   Google, as I wrote last year, biases itself toward larger sites, no longer rewarding the media outlet that breaks a news item. The incentive to be that maverick medium is, therefore, lessened greatly online, because the web isn’t being ranked on merit by the largest player in the search-engine business. It’s why Duck Duck Go, which doesn’t collect user data, gives search results that are generally fairer. We think it’s important to learn alternative viewpoints, especially in politics, otherwise the division that we already see in some countries will only deepen—and at worst this can lead to war. In peacetime countries, a compatriot with opposing political thoughts is not our enemy.
   Facebook’s continued data collection of user preferences is also dangerous. Even after users opt out, Facebook’s ad preferences’ page demonstrates that it will keep collecting. Whether or not Facebook then uses these preferences is unknown—certainly Facebook itself clams up—but since the site reports journalists who alert them to kiddie porn, kicks off drag queens after saying they wouldn’t, and forces people to download software in the guise of malware detection, who knows if any of Facebook’s positions are real or merely ‘fake news’? Knowing the misdeeds of sites like Facebook—and Google which itself has been found guilty of hacking—do they actually deserve our ongoing support?
   Of course I have an interest in getting people to look beyond the same-again players, because I run one media outlet that isn’t among them. But we have an interest to seek information from the independents, and to support a fair and neutral internet. We may learn an angle we hadn’t explored before, or we may find news and features others aren’t covering. Better yet, we may learn alternative viewpoints that break us out of our prejudices. Surely we can’t be that scared of learning about alternatives (maybe one that is better than what we believe), or having a reasoned debate based on fact rather than emotion or hatred? And if you are sharing on social media, do you want to be one of the sheep who uses the same click-bait as everyone else, or show that you’re someone who’s capable of independent thought?
   It shouldn’t be that difficult to distinguish fake-news sites from legitimate media (even though the line gets blurred) by looking at how well something is subedited and how many spelling mistakes there are. Perhaps the headlines are less emotive. There is a tier of independent media that deserves your support, whether it is this site or many competing ones that we’ve linked ourselves. Going beyond the same-again sources can only benefit us all.

Originally published in Lucire’s online edition.

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Online publishing: how the players we dealt with changed in 2016

12.01.2017


Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.

Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
   First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocade’s case, it was rising quickly.
   We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that we’ve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And we’re taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
   Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. We’ve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
   Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone who’s followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to us—and we want to make sure our readers don’t fall victim to Google’s snooping, either. I’m not saying that Google ads don’t appear at all—it’s the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhere—but if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then I’ll do so.
   It’s a shame because we’ve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
   We have, sadly, entered an era where—as found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherd—online advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): ‘Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.’ I don’t think this is fair, as they’re not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: they’ve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) It’s not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, it’s time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
   Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, ‘We recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being said—we can absolutely get you live again.’ That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connected—the helpful staff member wasn’t around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
   At least this wasn’t a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, ‘It is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.’ This wasn’t the first change Rightster sprung on us—its code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layouts—and soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldn’t get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
   We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightster’s advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of £11·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a ‘social video broadcaster’, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of £1·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
   Gorilla Nation and Burst’s slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didn’t help. In fact, when they didn’t answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
   We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so we’re still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
   How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what it’s worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasn’t that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.

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Alarm für Cobra 11 changes direction again, with Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner

18.08.2015
First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

Poor Vinzenz Kiefer. The co-star of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, which commemorates its 20th anniversary next year, will be written out of the show, and not by his choice.
   Since the departure of Tom Beck as Ben Jäger a few years ago, the producers of the long-running German action series decided to take a darker turn. Cobra 11 has always been able to reinvent itself with the times, hence the long run, and the light comedy that crept in to such awful episodes as ‘Babyalarm’ or the predictable “bad guys with automatic weapons” plots of ‘Codename Tiger’ (which even had a homage to Michael Bay) was deemed to be at odds with what viewers wanted. Out with Beck. In with Kiefer, a grittier looking young actor who had had a single guest outing in Cobra 11 some years earlier in another role, as a troubled young offender called Dennis Kortmann out to avenge the death of his younger brother.
   The new character of Alex Brandt (incredibly close in name to Kommissar Rex’s Alex Brandtner, played by another short-lived Cobra 11 co-star, Gedeon Burkhard) seemed tailor-made for Kiefer, now 37, a deep, highly talented actor. Brandt had a back-story, caught amongst corrupt police officers which saw him go to prison, something that Cobra 11 producers tried to inject in the mid-2000s when Gedeon Burkhard replaced the ever-popular Réné Steinke. The writers and story editors introduced story threads that spanned the whole season. It was all in keeping with the Zeitgeist, but, ratings dropped, despite a spectacular season finalé inspired by Vantage Point but much more cleverly executed within the 45-minute running time. We finally saw some acting chops from the entire cast: star Erdoğan Atalay got to exercise his not inconsiderable talent as family man and cop Semir Gerkhan, and there was even a hint of “will they or won’t they?” between Brandt and Katrin Heß’s Jenny Dorn—who had previously been in a relationship with Niels Kurvin’s Hartmut Freund character. Yet on occasion, Alarm für Cobra 11 was even beaten by Germany’s Next Top Model, a show which it usually trumped. And Kiefer is the fall guy.
   Burkhard, too, presided over what was considered a darker, moodier season of Cobra 11 in 2007–8, yet ratings fell, and he was given the axe.
   It’s a given that the reinventions help the series, but the obsession with ratings has meant Cobra 11 returning to a level of humour and escapism each time the network, RTL, panics. In a Facebook poll this author set up with 786 respondents, fans regard Tom Beck as the best co-star (565 votes), with Kiefer a distant second (116). Old stars such as Steinke still hold up (67) despite their departure nearly a decade ago.
   Why ‘poor Vinzenz Kiefer’? Today, his successor, Daniel Roesner (top) was announced, which means Kiefer has to complete and, later, promote his work knowing that Alex Brandt may well be killed off (the fate of less popular co-stars) and that he’s on his way out. Alex Brandt may be the gloomy, moody DCI, but behind-the-scenes photos shared by Atalay and Heß show that there are plenty of hijinks, with everyone getting on well. Heß posted her sadness at the announcement her colleague would be given the boot on Instagram and Facebook, and Atalay ceased posting to his social media altogether (although whether that was the reason is unknown).
   Roesner has the ingredients for the escapist audience: he excels in light comedy, he has a friendlier face, and he is already known to Cobra 11 audiences for playing Tacho, whom we first met in 2010 while at the police academy. His character, along with Axel Stein’s Turbo, was so popular that he was brought back for a second guest spot in 2011, and Action Concept, the makers of the series, attempted a TV pilot called Turbo und Tacho, where it is revealed that his full name is Andreas Tachinski.
   Roesner won’t be playing Tachinski this time; instead, after a haircut and a new wardrobe, he’ll be playing a cop called Paul Renner, and whether he designed Futura or not while working at the Bauhaus has not yet been explained. His presence will likely see a return to the escapist, self-contained scripts, with the characters turning more two-dimensional again.
   Beck’s years proved that the show can rebound, but the past two with Kiefer gained him a loyal following, too. The core may well want escapism but Kiefer probably brought viewers who could leave; assuming they knew Cobra 11 had transformed to begin with. Do we want our TV heroes to be light while things are tough; or do we want them to reflect the hard times we have today? Whether RTL has calculated correctly or not will be seen when Roesner’s episodes start with the 20th anniversary of the series; but it will be looking to reclaim the Thursday night prime-time slot more regularly than Cobra 11 has been doing in the last year. Expect huge promotions for the 20th—and to establish Roesner in the new role as RTL attempts to get its audience back.

This piece first appeared in Lucire Men.

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It’s full circle for style.com: back to its origins in fashion retail

02.05.2015

Originally published in the online edition of Lucire, May 1, 2015



Top Earlier today, attempting to get into Style.com meant a virus warning—the only trace of this curiosity is in the web history. Above Style.com is back, with a note that it will be transforming into an e-tail site.

If there’s one constant in fashion, it’s change. The other one, which we notice thanks to a number of our team being well schooled on fashion history, is that trends always return, albeit in modified form. Both have come into play with Style.com, which announced earlier this week that it would become an ecommerce site.
   When Lucire started, we linked to style.com, but it wasn’t in our fashion magazines’ directory. It was, instead, in our shopping guide.
   In 2000, that all changed, and it began appearing under our fashion magazine links, where it was until today. An attempt to log in to the home page was met by a virus warning, preventing us from going further. We figured that this was part of the transformation of the website as it readied itself for the next era, discouraging people from peering. However, having had these warnings splashed across our own pages two years ago courtesy of Google’s faulty bot, when our site was in fact clean, there was a part of us taking it with a grain of salt. In either case, given the impending change, it was probably the right time to remove the link.
   This evening, Style.com is back and virus-free, with an overlay graphic announcing that the website will be changing. Plenty of our media colleagues have analysed the closure over the past week: the Murdoch Press has gossiped about how the layoffs were announced, WWD suggests editor-in-chief Dirk Standen didn’t know it was coming, based on rumours, while Fashionista puts it all into context by analysing just where ecommerce is within the fashion sector, and that content should be the answer over clothing sales.
   What is interesting is no one that we’ve spotted has mentioned how the style.com domain name (we’ve carefully noted it in lowercase there) has effectively come full circle. Perhaps we really are in the age of Wikipedia-based research, as this fact is not mentioned there at all.
   When Lucire launched in 1997, style.com was the website for Express Style, later more prominently, and simply, branded Express, a US fashion retailer. It’s not hard to imagine that had Express remained at the URL, it would have become an e-tailer; it has, after all, made the move into ecommerce at its present home, express.com. Like a fashion trend that comes back two decades later, style.com has gone back to its roots: by the autumn it’ll be e-tailing.
   The omission from the above paragraph is the sale of the style.com domain name by Express to Condé Nast in the late 1990s. We never completely understood the need to start a new brand to be the US home of Vogue and W; for many  years, typing vogue.com into the browser in the US would take one automatically to Style.com. Then, somewhere along the line, Condé Nast decided that vogue.com should be the online home of Vogue after all.
   But having made the decision to forge ahead with Style.com, Condé Nast did it with a lot of resources, and took its site to number one among print fashion magazine web presences in a remarkably short space of time. It devoted plenty of resources to it, and it’s thanks to Style.com that certain things that were once frowned upon—e.g. showing off catwalk collections after the show—became acceptable. Designers used to enjoy the fact that we and Elle US delayed online coverage, the belief being that the delay ensured that pirates could not copy their designs and beat them to the high street.
   To get itself known, Condé Nast bought advertising at fashion websites that were better known, including this one (yes, in 2000 that really was the case), at a time when online advertising cost considerably more than it does today.
   The muscle from the best known name in fashion publishing changed the way the media interacted with readers. Designers figured that if they wanted coverage, they would have to accept that their work would be shown nearly instantly. We became used to that idea, so much so that we now have to show the catwalk videos live in the 2010s.
   In some ways, the change makes sense: we’re talking about an Alexa rank in the 4,000s, which translates to plenty of traffic. The name is known, and most shoppers will make some association with Vogue. The official word is that Franck Zayan, formerly head of ecommerce for Galeries Lafayette, will helm the revised website, and he’s reporting that brands are coming on board rapidly.
   One shouldn’t mourn the loss of Style.com as a fashion news portal, since the content we’re all used to is bound to appear at Vogue. And in all the years we had it in our magazines’ directory, it was listed under our Vogue entry anyway. We await the new site to see what Condé Nast will do with it, and it may yet return to the spot where it once was in the 20th century, in the shopping guide.

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Slides and a podcast: my MMBA 505 lecture and Access Granted, episode 45

23.04.2015

As promised to the MMBA 505 class at Victoria University of Wellington last night, here are my slides. My thanks to Dr Kala Retna for inviting me along as the guest speaker. To the students: thank you for attending at such a late hour. MBAs are hard work.
   I just realized I used to have a whole page of downloadable slides, which I believe we removed when we redid the site for the 2013 Wellington mayoral election. It might be time to reinstate the page with the presentations I’ve been doing here and abroad.
   Thoughts on Leadership is probably self-explanatory as a title, with my main five points being:

1. Be the first.
2. Prove something can be done when conventional wisdom says it can’t be.
3. Change the world for the better.
4. Break glass ceilings wherever you can find them.
5. Find the people who understand your vision.

The first four tend to be the “rules” that have guided me, while the fifth is one I had to learn the hard way some years ago, and can retitled: ‘Find the people who understand your vision and don’t get suckered by those who spout buzzwords.’ As a firm we tend to be a bit more of a closed shop than we used to be, and like any other, we get our share of fakes trying to ride off our coat-tails. Lucire seems to attract quite a few, in particular, which is what the fifth point addresses in some part.
   For a bit of levity after the academic stuff, there’s always this great podcast by Mike Riversdale and Raj Khushal, published today with me as their guest, as part of their ongoing Access Granted series. Only a little bit has been cut for commercial sensitivity, and the rest is a bit of light-hearted banter—the sort you’d have between mates, and I have known Mike and Raj for many years—with no hair-pulling.

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A year of random thoughts: 2014 in review

29.12.2014

For the last few years, I’ve looked back at the events of the year in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. (In fact, in 2009, I looked back at the decade.) Tumblr’s the place I look at these days for these summaries, since it tends to have my random thoughts, ones complemented by very little critical thinking. They tell me what piqued my interest over the year.
   These days, I’ve been posting more about the TV show I watch the most regularly, the German Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei. A good part of my Tumblr, at least, and of Danielle Carey’s, whom I first connected with via this blog, features screen shots and other photographs from it. But Cobra 11 aside—and for those “cultured” Germans who tell me it’s the worst show on their telly, may I remind you that you still make Das Traumschiff?—I still will be influenced by everyday events.
   So what do I spy?
   Sadly, despite my intent in wanting to blog humorously, it turns out that 2014 doesn’t necessarily give us a lot to laugh about. And we’ve had over a year after that Mayan calendar gag, and 13 years after Y2K. It’s still not time to laugh yet.

January
I made a spoof English Hustle poster given all the hype about American Hustle, which seems to have, prima facie, the same idea. It meets with Adrian Lester’s approval (well, he said, ‘Ha,’ which I gather is positive).

   I post about Idris Elba giving a response about the James Bond character. (Slightly ahead of my time, as it turns out.)
   Robert Catto wrote of Justin Bieber’s arrest: ‘So, J. Biebs is arrested for racing a rented Lamborghini in a residential neighbourhood while under the influence (of drugs and alcohol) while on an expired license, resisting arrest, and a bunch of previous stuff including egging a neighbour’s house. With that many accusations being thrown at him, this can only mean one thing.
   ‘The race for Mayor of Toronto just got interesting.’
   I wrote to a friend, ‘If there was a Facebook New Zealand Ltd. registered here then it might make more sense ensuring that there were fewer loopholes for that company to minimize its tax obligations, but the fact is there isn’t. Either major party would be better off encouraging New Zealand to be the head office for global corporations, or encourage good New Zealand businesses to become global players, if this was an issue (and I believe that it is). There is this thing called the internet that they may have heard of, but both parties have seen it as the enemy (e.g. the whole furore over s. 92A, first proposed by Labour, enacted by National).
   ‘Right now, we have some policy and procedural problems preventing us from becoming more effective exporters.
   ‘It’s no coincidence that I took an innovation tack in my two mayoral campaigns. If central government was too slow in acting to capture or create these players, then I was going to do it at a local level.’
   And there are $700 trillion (I imagine that means $700 billion, if you used the old definitions—12 zeroes after the 700) worth of derivatives yet to implode, according to I Acknowledge. Global GDP is $69·4 (American) trillion a year. ‘This means that (primarily) Wall Street and the City of London have run up phantom paper debts of more than ten times of the annual earnings of the entire planet.’

February
The Sochi Olympics: in Soviet Russia, Olympics watch you! Dmitry Kozak, the deputy PM, says that westerners are deliberately sabotaging things there. How does he know? ‘We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day.’
   Sports Illustrated does an Air New Zealand safety video.
   This was the month I first saw the graphic containing a version of these words: ‘Jesus was a guy who was a peaceful, radical, nonviolent revolutionary, who hung around with lepers, hookers, and criminals, who never spoke English, was not an American citizen, a man who was anti-capitalism, anti-wealth, anti-public prayer (yes he was Matthew 6:5), anti-death penalty but never once remotely anti-gay, didn’t mention abortion, didn’t mention premarital sex, a man who never justified torture, who never called the poor “lazy”, who never asked a leper for a co-pay, who never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, who was a long haired, brown skinned (that’s in revelations), homeless, middle eastern Jew? Of course, that’s only if you believe what’s actually in the Bible’ (sic). For those who want a response, this blog post answers the points from a Catholic point of view, but the original quote’s not completely off-base.

March
My friend Dmitry protests in Moskva against Russia’s actions in the Crimea. This was posted on this blog at the time. He reports things aren’t all rosy in Russia when it comes to free speech.
   Another friend, Carolyn Enting, gets her mug in the Upper Hutt Leader after writing her first fictional book, The Medallion of Auratus.
   MH370 goes missing.
   And this great cartoon, called ‘If Breaking Bad Had Been Set in the UK’:

April
I call Lupita Nyong’o ‘Woman of the Year 2014’.
   A post featuring Robin Williams (before that horrible moment in August), where he talks about the influence of Peter Sellers and Dr Strangelove on him. I seem to have posted a lot of Robin that month, from his CBS TV show, The Crazy Ones.
   A Lancastrian reader, Gerald Vinestock, writes to The Times: ‘Sir, Wednesday’s paper did not have a photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge. I do hope she is all right.’
   A first post on those CBS TV attempts to create a show about Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day in the US, partnered with a woman: on 1987’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

   The fiftieth anniversary of the on-sale date of the Ford Mustang (April 17).
   The death of Bob Hoskins. Of course I had to post his last speech in The Long Good Friday, as well as the clip from Top Gear where Richard Hammond mistook Ray Winstone for Hoskins. They all look the same to me.

May
Judith Collins’ story about what she was doing in China with Oravida collapses.
   Someone points out there is a resemblance between Benedict Cumberbatch and Butthead from Beavis and Butthead.

   Jean Pisani Ferry’s view on the origins of the euro crisis in The Economist: ‘Suppose that the crisis had begun, as it might easily have done, in Ireland? It would then have been obvious that fiscal irresponsibility was not the culprit: Ireland had a budget surplus and very low debt. More to blame were economic imbalances, inflated property prices and dodgy bank loans. The priority should not have been tax rises and spending cuts, but reforms to improve competitiveness and a swift resolution of troubled banks, including German and French ones, that lent so irresponsibly.’

June
British-born Tony Abbott says he doesn’t like immigration, or some such.
   This humorous graphic, made before the launch of the five-door Mini, on how the company could extend its range:

   Sir Ian McKellen says, ‘Did I want to go and live in New Zealand for a year? As it turns out, I was very happy that I did. I can’t recommend New Zealand strongly enough. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place, quite unlike [the] western world. It’s in the southern hemisphere and it’s far, far away and although they speak English, don’t be fooled. They’re not like us. They’re something better than us.’
   Lots of Alarm für Cobra 11 posts.

July
Sopheak Seng’s first Lucire cover, photographed by Dave Richards, and with a fantastic crew: hair by Michael Beel, make-up by Hil Cook, modelled by Chloé Graham, and with some layout and graphic design by Tanya Sooksombatisatian and typography by me.

   Liam Fitzpatrick writes of Hong Kong, before the Occupy protests, ‘Hong Kongers—sober, decent, pragmatic and hardworking—are mostly not the sort of people who gravitate to the barricades and the streets. Neither do they need to be made aware of the political realities of having China as a sovereign power, for the simple fact that postwar Hong Kong has only ever existed with China’s permission. In the 1960s, the local joke was that Mao Zedong could send the British packing with a mere phone call.
   ‘With that vast, brooding power lying just over the Kowloon hills, tiny Hong Kong’s style has always been to play China cleverly—to push where it can (in matters such as education and national-security legislation, where it has won important battles) and to back off where it cannot.’
   It didn’t seem completely prescient.

August
The General Election campaign: National billboards are edited.
   Doctor Who goes on tour prior to Peter Capaldi’s first season in the lead role.
   The suicide of Robin Williams.
   Michael Brown is killed. Greg Howard writes, ‘There was Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif., and so many more. Michael Brown’s death wasn’t shocking at all. All over the country, unarmed black men are being killed by the very people who have sworn to protect them, as has been going on for a very long time now …
   ‘There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys.’
   Like so many things, such a statement of fact became politicized in months to come.
   Darren Watson releases ‘Up Here on Planet Key’, only to have it banned by the Electoral Commission. With his permission, I did a spoken-word version.
   Journalist Nicky Hager, who those of us old enough will remember was a right-wing conspiracy theorist, is branded a left-wing conspiracy theorist by the PM because this time, he wrote about National and not Labour. The Deputy PM, Bill English, who commended Hager’s work 12 years ago over Seeds of Distrust, and even quoted from it, remained fairly quiet.
   It wasn’t atypical. I wrote in one post, ‘In 2011, Warren Tucker said three times in one letter that he told PM John Key about the SIS release. Now he says he only told his office but not the PM personally—after an investigation was announced (when the correct protocol would be to let the investigation proceed) …
   ‘Key did not know about GCSB director Ian Fletcher’s appointment (week one of that saga) before he knew about it (week two).
   ‘Key cannot remember how many TranzRail shares he owned.
   ‘Key cannot remember if and when he was briefed by the GCSB over Kim Dotcom.
   ‘Key did not know about Kim Dotcom’s name before he did not know about Kim Dotcom at all.
   ‘Key cannot remember if he was for or against the 1981 Springbok tour.’
   Some folks on YouTube did a wonderful series of satirical videos lampooning the PM. Kiwi satire was back. This was the first:

   Matt Crawford recalled, ‘At this point in the last election campaign, the police were threatening to order search warrants for TV3, The Herald on Sunday, RadioNZ et al—over a complaint by the Prime Minister. Over a digital recording inadvertently made in a public space literally during a media stunt put on for the press—a figurative media circus.’
   Quoting Robert Muldoon in 1977’s Muldoon by Muldoon: ‘New Zealand does not have a colour bar, it has a behaviour bar, and throughout the length and breadth of this country we have always been prepared to accept each other on the basis of behaviour and regardless of colour, creed, origin or wealth. That is the most valuable feature of New Zealand society and the reason why I have time and again stuck my neck out to challenge those who would try to destroy this harmony and set people against people inside our country.’
   And my reaction to the Conservative Party’s latest publicity, which was recorded on this blog, and repeated for good measure on Tumblr: ‘Essentially what they are saying is: our policy is that race doesn’t matter. Except when it comes to vilifying a group, it does. Let’s ignore the real culprits, because: “The Chinese”.’

September
The passing of Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel.
   John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures sums up Nicky Hager: ‘Hager is a gadfly who often causes us to examine our society. He has attacked both the right and the left before. It’s too easy to dismiss it as a left wing loony conspiracy. We tend to shoot the messengers rather than examine the messages.’
   New Zealanders begin vilifying Kim Dotcom: I respond.
   I blog about Occupy Central in Hong Kong—which led to a television appearance on Breakfast in early October.

October
I’m not sure where this quotation comes from, but I reposted it: ‘A white man is promoted: He does good work, he deserved it.
   ‘A white woman is promoted: Whose dick did she suck?
   ‘A man of color is promoted: Oh, great, I guess we have to “fill quotas” now.
   ‘A woman of color is promoted: j/k. That never happens.’
   Facebook gets overrun by bots: I manage to encounter 277 in a single day. (I eventually reach someone at Facebook New Zealand, who is trying to solicit business for one of the fan pages we have, and point this out. I never hear back from him.) The trouble is Facebook limits you to reporting 40 a day, effectively tolerating the bots. It definitely tolerates the click farms: I know of dozens of accounts that the company has left untouched, despite reports.
   Kim Dotcom’s lawyers file a motion to dismiss in Virginia in United States v. Dotcom and others, and summarize the case so far: ‘Nearly three years ago, the United States Government effectively wiped out Megaupload Limited, a cloud storage provider, along with related businesses, based on novel theories of criminal copyright infringement that were offered by the Government ex parte and have yet to be subjected to adversarial testing. Thus, the Government has already seized the criminal defendants’ websites, destroyed their business, and frozen their assets around the world—all without benefit of an evidentiary hearing or any semblance of due process.
   ‘Without even attempting to serve the corporate defendants per the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Government has exercised all its might in a concerted, calculated effort to foreclose any opportunity for the defendants to challenge the allegations against them and also to deprive them of the funds and other tools (including exculpatory evidence residing on servers, counsel of choice, and ability to appear) that would equip robust defense in the criminal proceedings.
   ‘But all that, for the Government, was not enough. Now it seeks to pile on against ostensibly defenseless targets with a parallel civil action, seeking civil forfeiture, based on the same alleged copyright crimes that, when scrutinized, turn out to be figments of the Government’s boundless imagination. In fact, the crimes for which the Government seeks to punish the Megaupload defendants (now within the civil as well as the criminal realm) do not exist. Although there is no such crime as secondary criminal copyright infringement, that is the crime on which the Government’s Superseding Indictment and instant Complaint are predicated. That is the nonexistent crime for which Megaupload was destroyed and all of its innocent users were denied their rightful property. That is the nonexistent crime for which individual defendants were arrested, in their homes and at gunpoint, back in January 2012. And that is the nonexistent crime for which the Government would now strip the criminal defendants, and their families, of all their assets.’
   Stuart Heritage thinks The Apprentice UK has run its course, and writes in The Guardian: ‘The Apprentice has had its day. It’s running on fumes. It’s time to replace it with something more exciting, such as a 40-part retrospective on the history of the milk carton, or a static shot of someone trying to dislodge some food from between their teeth with the corner of an envelope.’

November
Doctor Who takes a selfie and photobombs himself.

   Andrew Little becomes Labour leader, and is quoted in the Fairfax Press (who, according to one caption, says his mother’s name is Cecil): ‘I’m not going to resile from being passionate about working men and women being looked after, having a voice, and being able to go to work safe and earn well. That’s what I stand for.
   ‘The National party have continued to run what I think is a very 1970s prejudice about unions … We have [in New Zealand] accepted a culture that if you are big, bold and brassy you will stand up for yourself. But [this] Government is even stripping away protections [from] those who are bold enough to do so.
   ‘I think New Zealanders are ready for someone who will talk bluntly about those who are being left behind. That’s what I’ll be doing.’
   I’m not a Labour voter but I was impressed.
   I advise my friend Keith Adams in Britain, who laments the driving standards there, that in order to have the road toll we have, they’d need to kill another 2,000 per annum. ‘The British driver is a well honed, precision pilot compared to one’s Kiwi counterpart.’

December
Julian Assange on Google, and confirmation that the company has handed over personal data to the US Government. He calls Eric Schmidt ‘Google’s secretary of state, a Henry Kissinger-like figure whose job it is to go out and meet with foreign leaders and their opponents and position Google in the world.’
   The Sydney siege and the tragic deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.
   The killing of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The NYPD doesn’t look very white to me, but a murderer used the death of Eric Garner as an excuse to murder a Dad and a newlywed.
   My second post on those CBS TV attempts to create a show about Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day in the US, partnered with a woman: on 1993’s 1994 Baker Street.

   Craig Ferguson hosts his last Late Late Show. And more’s the pity: he’s one of the old school, never bitter, and never jumped on the bandwagon attacking celebrities.

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