Posts tagged ‘New York’


As News of the World closes, we might be getting better at making business accountable

08.07.2011

So James Murdoch has announced the end of the News of the World. It’s no biggie: as others have discovered, a domain name for The Sun on Sunday has been registered, and if this is by an agent of News International, it simply makes sense for the Murdoch Press to consolidate its tabloid brands and raise the circulation of The Sun.
   Chatting about it here at work today, my view was that the problems plaguing the Murdoch Press were cultural, and shuttering one paper really wouldn’t make much difference. I described Rupert’s former hands-on style and, like him or not, the man was the master of his craft for years. He knew the sort of headlines that would shock and get sales. Whether one admires the craft is another matter, though, it should be noted, it made the guy a multimillionaire.
   It’s easy to forecast that News will allow the shock of the death of the 168-year-old newspaper brand to set in, push through with the BSkyB deal, and relaunch the paper under its new name, hiring some of the 200 staff back.
   It’s not the first time Murdochs have rejigged or renamed a newspaper. Already I can envisage a ‘Reach for your new Sun’ headline being proclaimed in a Saturday edition, apeing what happened in the 1960s.
   Interestingly, another writer also believes in the cultural explanation. Simon Dumenco points to how News behaves in the US, seemingly operating in a fantasy-land.
   In Britain, on Wednesday morning, every newspaper carried the hacking scandal on the front page—with the notable exception of The Sun, which led with a pregnant Victoria Beckham. (The Guardian had all 10 papers, but The Sun’s page one has since disappeared, presumably due to a copyright complaint. I have put that front page below.) The hacking scandal appeared on p. 6. Dumenco points out that when gay marriage became legal in New York, everyone there carried that news prominently, except for the Murdoch Press, which relegated it to a bottom-of-page headline in its New York Post, and a second ‘What’s News’ in-brief item in The Wall Street Journal.
   Dumenco predicts that the public will tire of it, though, as I blogged earlier this week, in 1997 a lot of people swore off tabloids. Not a lot changed in the immediate years after that. But we can only hope: one of our predictions in Beyond Branding was that consumers would demand greater transparency and integrity. That certainly has held true for a lot of sectors. They are true, even of media, but the cycle is longer thanks in no small part to the habits some people have with news providers. Nevertheless, it is happening.
   As news consumers move online—and there is plenty of evidence of this shift—it’s possible that the audience will shift to media that are perceived to be fairer. Those wanting confirmation of various biases can find them in niche media or blogs. There are more people analysing the media, so it may be easier for people to discover critical thinking behind the stories.
   There’ll always be a mob mentality (people have banded together since they began socializing) and tabloid journalism will not disappear (there’s a sense of Schadenfreude, especially of celebrity stories, while there’s inequality in society). But this week’s example of the fairly rapid withdrawals of advertising accounts from the News of the World—Ford, Reckitt Benckiser and Renault come to mind—shows that the public has a line that shouldn’t be crossed. The internet has allowed people to group together to make their viewpoints known, and it’s refreshing to note that, more often than not, we do so for good causes and a sense of justice, rather than for divisiveness or harm.

The Sun, Wednesday, July 6, 2011

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, publishing, UK, USA | No Comments »


What’s wrong with our values now?

11.05.2011

Alistair Kwun always finds great articles on personal identity. The latest is from Wesley Yang in New York, discussing the Asian-American experience, and why, despite having such good grades at school, are there so few Asian-American leaders in the US? (Incidentally, this is a strange term: what do Americans call non-oriental Asians?)
   I applaud Wesley in writing this piece, because it’s an issue that needs a voice. Whenever you write an article that covers an entire race, it’s always going to be tough. The debate he’s generated is very valuable, and it’s through that that we can improve ourselves and our systems.
   You almost need to base part of it on stereotypes, no matter which race you talk about. And Wesley highlights that there may well be racism in the US against Asian-Americans (just as there would be in China against Caucasian Chinese if someone did an article from that perspective):

If between 15 and 20 percent of every Ivy League class is Asian, and if the Ivy Leagues are incubators for the country’s leaders, it would stand to reason that Asians would make up some corresponding portion of the leadership class.
   And yet the numbers tell a different story. According to a recent study, Asian-­Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents. There are nine Asian-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. In specific fields where Asian-Americans are heavily represented, there is a similar asymmetry. A third of all software engineers in Silicon Valley are Asian, and yet they make up only 6 percent of board members and about 10 percent of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies. At the National Institutes of Health, where 21.5 percent of tenure-track scientists are Asians, only 4.7 percent of the lab or branch directors are, according to a study conducted in 2005.

   But here’s what I don’t get. The idea that because we retain our values, we’re worth less as leaders. That somehow, having decent values means we lack some kind of ability to take risks.
   Wesley doesn’t generalize. In fact, he points out numerous examples of Asian-Americans who did take risks. And, when I think about it, among my peers, our propensity to take risks isn’t far off any other group’s.
   Here are the two paragraphs that struck a nerve:

Chu has a pleasant face, but it would not be wrong to characterize his demeanor as reserved. He speaks in a quiet, unemphatic voice. He doesn’t move his features much. He attributes these traits to the atmosphere in his household. “When you grow up in a Chinese home,” he says, “you don’t talk. You shut up and listen to what your parents tell you to do.”

And the attempt to connect that with the following idea:

Aspiring Asian leaders had to become aware of “the relationship between values, behaviors, and perceptions.” He offered the example of Asians who don’t speak up at meetings. “So let’s say I go to meetings with you and I notice you never say anything. And I ask myself, ‘Hmm, I wonder why you’re not saying anything. Maybe it’s because you don’t know what we’re talking about. That would be a good reason for not saying anything. Or maybe it’s because you’re not even interested in the subject matter. Or maybe you think the conversation is beneath you.’ So here I’m thinking, because you never say anything at meetings, that you’re either dumb, you don’t care, or you’re arrogant. When maybe it’s because you were taught when you were growing up that when the boss is talking, what are you supposed to be doing? Listening.”

   So being considered, taking in everyone’s viewpoints, and not being brash about something is a bad thing?
   In a decent, multicultural society, one would hope that we can appreciate different norms based on how someone is raised. And it’s not just between two races. Even in a single race, you can have someone whose parents taught them to be quiet and another whose parents encouraged lively debate. Is one person worth less than the other? Is one less suited for leadership? I don’t think so: so many other things need to be looked at.
   Surely the “weapon” for any race is the ability to have perspective and to be proud of all your cultural norms? While Wesley’s examples are about a few Asian-Americans who want the recognition they deserve, those of us who are proud of our culture and have done all right because of it—and being smart enough to bridge our traditions with the host nation—might think the following, as one of Alistair’s friends did:

My issue with articles like this is that they seem to encourage disdain for our heritage. I am trying to raise my daughters to have pride in their ethnicity.

   My view was this, initially, and I’m still quite happy with this comment on Al’s wall. Naturally, I could not extend it to our other oriental cousins because it’s a statement founded on personal experience, but I’m sure some would agree with this. I added the italics for emphasis here:

I would have thought that because we are “different”, it would make us more suited to challenging “the Man”. We can question them because we come from a culture that affords us perspective—and it’s not just us Chinese, but anyone with any ethnic background. (I was even chatting about this to a white Irish–American New Zealander recently.)
   But is there a ‘traditional’ pathway? If there is, I don’t know of it, and was never told it. Maybe I won some genetic lottery and had parents who were smart enough to realize that having values is not an impediment, if you can make them work to your advantage. I also had parents who took risks—the risk of going to a new country, the risk of starting their own businesses—and where my mother, when she was working for someone, refused promotion because she didn’t want the extra responsibilities.
   But isn’t risk-taking something instilled in all Chinese émigrés? In the US and here, it was those who headed to the 金山. Those were the pioneers and they had a hard time. Those of us with grandparents who fought the Japanese. Those of us who came out with our parents. If we respected their histories, we should realize—and maybe this is me talking in hindsight—that we have our own mark to make like our forebears, and that means having our own adventure.

   I don’t believe there’s something about our culture that holds us back from speaking our minds, being subservient or taking risks. We invented enough stuff to show that we have decent lateral thinking among our ranks. What about Honda? It’s a motorcycle and car company now making jet planes—how many companies started doing bikes and now makes planes? I have always thought the “meekness” that Wesley writes of is, in itself, a stereotype: if you buy into it, then you’ve just hurt yourself by conforming to someone’s false idea of what it means to be Chinese.
   Goodness knows the number of times I’ve heard (though, interestingly, not last year) ‘I thought Asians weren’t interested in politics.’ Well, obviously, we are, and we’ve had more of them for a lot longer than a lot of other cultures. (Try telling Peter Chin or Meng Foon of their supposed disinterest over the years.)
   The mark of an open-minded society is one which values people equally, realizing that everyone has a different way of doing things.
   The mark of maturity is having perspective, which has come about through contact, dialogue, travel or endeavour.
   If the failure of an Asian-American to speak out prevents them from being promoted, then maybe we need to look hard at that organization.
   Because I honestly don’t think blame should be levelled at the person for being the way they are.
   What it does show is that there are systems that are inherently racist. When it comes to denying Asian-Americans their rightful place, it’s apparently now our fault once again for being who we are.
   I’m hoping to high heaven that the stats in New Zealand aren’t as dire as the ones Wesley cited, though we sure are under-represented politically. I don’t blame the voters, and I don’t blame the potential candidates. But it should make us wonder about the fairness of the system and the institutions behind it.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


A bad choice of word, but what does the gay community actually think?

19.03.2011

While I was out, I had noticed on Twitter a news item about an octogenarian, working for American Airlines, who was sacked for his use of the word faggot.
   I despise words like that, just as much as chink or nigger, but the question arises: should he have been sacked, losing some of his benefits after 54 years’ service?
   He wasn’t a homophobe. The story, which may have surfaced in the Murdoch Press (where else?), was that Freddy Schmitt backed the right of gay soldiers to serve openly. He said, ‘Back then, a faggot coulda saved my life.’
   Bad choice of word? Absolutely.
   But the man is 82, and probably grew up at a time when such words were not deemed unacceptable. Maybe we can say he should have kept up with the times, but sometimes, new learning slips your mind and you fall back on the old.
   I have a father who grew up at a time when Negro and Negress were acceptable words, and, while he rarely uses them (the last time I heard him use Negress was 2004), the guy is 75.
   I’m not sure if this is playing the age card: it’s simply understanding that we’re not that good at retaining knowledge we gain later in life. In Dad’s case, even more so, when you’re talking about a language he only started learning at 14.
   After a while, you just don’t feel like keeping up with the vernacular, foreign or not.
   I asked my American friends of African ethnicity what they thought was acceptable, and they didn’t have a problem with people of Dad’s generation using these two words, as long as he kept away from the n word itself. (Which he does, as it was probably derogatory for a long time.)
   The gay community is more than capable of speaking out for themselves without my second-guessing their reaction to Mr Schmitt. With that in mind, I popped into the Pink News site (‘Europe’s largest gay news service’) to see readers’ reactions, and mostly, they felt Mr Schmitt should be taught proper usage and not be given an apology, but that he should not have lost his job over it.
   A minority backed American Airlines’ move.
   So, judging by the readers of one publication, it seems that Mr Schmitt should be told off, especially if he’s still working as a trainer and contacting the public, but many of those whom he supposedly offended are far more tolerant than the airline might think.
   Not unlike the 1970s’ British TV series, Mind Your Language, where it seemed the majority deemed it politically incorrect as it was supposedly offensive to minorities.
   I don’t find the show offensive, the actors (most of whom were of the ethnic groups they portrayed) didn’t, and I have yet to meet any member of a minority who does.
   The fact that the majority thought us so weak and so unable to speak for ourselves that they made that judgement for us is more offensive.
   ‘Oh, those poor [insert minority race here]. They will be so offended by that. Let’s cancel the show.’
   I’m sorry, we have a voice, thank you. Engaging in dialogue with us is not that hard.
   Just as the gay community has a voice in this instance. They don’t need me, or American Airlines, or anyone else, to speak for them about the utterance of an 82-year-old man.
   ‘Oh, those poor gays. They will be so offended by that. Let’s fire the man.’
   Of course we should speak out in defence of our fellow human beings, but we should also engage in dialogue, too (that’s an invitation: everyone’s comments are welcome). We shouldn’t presume that, somehow, one group is superior, and that the other’s voice should not be heard.
   I just hope the motive for the article isn’t to separate people, because, as one reader on Pink News pointed out:

Political correctness run amuck! Aside from being unfair this is EXACTLY the sort of PC BS that causes moderate Str8s to think ‘gosh, the queers ARE getting out of hand’.

   It’s not the ‘queers’ doing it, it’s a corporation which likely had heterosexuals making the judgement to fire Mr Schmitt.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, USA | 2 Comments »


Be vigilant and don’t look

13.02.2011

This most recent trip to Auckland was marked by plenty of drama. The first experience was getting a virus the second I hooked up to the internet. The second was, having accidentally bumped the light into beam in my rent-a-Falcon on Ponsonby Road, a very interesting gentleman in a Toyota Picnic in the next lane flipped the bird, shouted, ‘You f***ing idiot, you’ve got your f***ing beam on,’ and proceeded to swerve his car into mine, then cut me off in my lane, before running a red light. The dude was angry. Running red lights seems to be commonplace there, having witnessed an average of one incident per diem, and once again, I seemed to receive confirmation that the page on intersection block is missing from the Auckland edition of the Road Code. (This last one has haunted me for years: every time I leave the gap in the intersection, my Auckland passengers consistently say, ‘I can tell you’re not from here.’)
   I know the strange motoring habits of Auckland I report are isolated examples as I have not really seen too much of this extreme behaviour on my previous trips. There are some oddities such as the inefficient motorway, where no lane is the quickest one, or the fact that travelling at 10 km/h above the speed limit is de rigueur, but then, you find quirks here in Wellington with our one-way system and less than clever signposting (which has, in our defence, improved).
   The reason I make these remarks is a concern where it will all lead. An Auckland friend, who was a witness to the Toyota Picnic’s driver’s extreme sense of drama (I wonder: what more does he do when something bad actually happens?), once said to me that he was surprised that in Wellington, a person spotting a friend on the opposite side of the road would shout out to him.
   Apparently, this does not happen in Auckland.
   So if the everyday gesture of friendship in society is now deemed inappropriate in our largest city, what is next? Could it be this?

London Underground, no eye contact

   These signs were not around last time I visited London, and I had to head to Duck Duck Go to search whether it was just a joke. A few people have reported them, so either they are connected by prima facie unrelated individuals who are coordinating a clever marketing campaign, or they are genuine.
   If genuine, then this is a sign that civilization has left Great Britain faster than the gold reserves under Gordon Brown’s watch.
   I’ve made eye contact with strangers before on the Tube in a friendly fashion, given up my seat for ladies and insisted they take it (they usually react as though it is a prank), and joked with friends and noticed Londoners chuckle at our conversation.
   (Female New Yorkers, incidentally, are still flattered that a gentleman gives up his seat on the Subway, and the elderly are always grateful. In Paris, meanwhile, giving up your seat to the elderly is expected, as well as to members of the armed forces.)
   The latest Underground sign makes me wonder if London has descended into the world of Harry Brown, where making eye contact with someone will lead to a fight. I suspect such signs have been put up after incidents of eye contact leading to violence. And that means the most basic aspect of human civilization—the ability to refrain—is now lost on an increasing number of citizens in the occident.
   It seems to run counter to the expectation that people stay vigilant, on the look-out for suspected terrorists, after years of the Troubles and, more recently, July 7, 2005. If you don’t look, how do you know?
   ‘I’m sorry, guv, I never got a look at his face. I can tell you he was wearing Doc Martens. Shoes with Martin Clunes’s image transferred on to them.’
   I think it’s a cautionary warning that if we don’t teach our own lot to get some perspective on life—a high beam on a car is not the end of the world, Mr Picnic—we’re looking at cities that are going to reflect the lack of civility that this sign suggests.
   What an appalling advertisement for modern Britain, undoing anything that the Tourist Authority might wish to do. It’s as bad as Britain’s apartheid policy.

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Posted in culture, France, New Zealand, UK | 6 Comments »


A tribute to Bernard Schwartz—that’s Tony Curtis to most of us

01.10.2010

I can’t let the passing of Bernard Schwartz—a.k.a. Tony Curtis—go without some sort of tribute.
   I’ve bitten my tongue a few times this year on writing what I wanted to on this website. And with hindsight, I really should have just gone for it, as someone who preaches transparency. Yes, I do indeed have a sense of humour and a love for old movies, and dear Bernie Schwartz is one of the reasons this blog is named as it is.
   This blog did not start off all political. An early political entry was about the Mohammed cartoons in Jyllands-Posten, but generally, this was a marketing blog. It was called The Persuader for two reasons: the marketing book, The Hidden Persuaders, and the TV show, The Persuaders.
   While my German friends think Alarm für Cobra 11 is my favourite show, the truth is that it’s actually what they know as Die Zwei: a camp series made in 1970 starring Tony Curtis and Roger Moore. The rest of us know it as The Persuaders, or, if you are French, Amicalement votre—it’s still quite a popular show in France and not long ago, you could buy the DVDs at newsagents.
   When I visited Eze, France, in 2002, the first thing I thought of was not the parfumeries, despite owning Lucire, but the episode of The Persuaders, ‘The Gold Napoleon’. I understand from the official Roger Moore website at the time that Moore himself had read the piece.
   It was through Curtis and Moore that a kid in Newtown lived his fantasies of driving along the Corniches in sports cars in the 1970s.
   Of course rich playboys drove sports cars around the south of France, rescuing damsels in distress, and fought shady Mafia figures and dodgy politicians.
   The closest I got was bombing around in humble Opels and Peugeots around France and the dodgiest thing I ever fought in that country was food poisoning.
   And as I got older, with the ad libs that Curtis did in the series—including at least one reference to Bernard Schwartz—I began to think of the great matinee actor by his birth name. It’s why I Tweeted a farewell to ‘Bernie Schwartz’.
   I was a fan. As a kid, I thought Houdini was fabulous, and this stayed my favourite Curtis film for years. Unlike most of the tributes coming in today, I wasn’t that big a fan of Some Like It Hot, though I have seen it many times, and Operation Petticoat was a late-night filler for me. I’m old enough to have watched these as films on regular TV.
   I am aware that Bernard Schwartz could be a bastard. Sir Roger Moore, in his autobiography, mentioned that his co-star came in as a grump till he smoked a couple of joints. He called Joan Collins a ‘c***’ when filming with her on The Persuaders. Directors on the series had their share of complaints. He wasn’t particularly private about his private life, telling his friend, Walter Matthau, ‘Walter! It’s Bernie! I f***ed Yvonne de Carlo!’
   So while the serious film buffs go on about Bernard Schwartz and his 1950s’ classics, and The Boston Strangler, I will remember him for the 24 episodes of The Persuaders. Who cares that he made all of them while high? They shaped my childhood and I still think it’s a heck of a legacy.

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Posted in culture, France, interests, TV, USA | 1 Comment »