Spoiler Alert!

For several months, I’ve been chewing on the idea of how a “spoiler alert” has changed in television now that we’re all watching whatever we want whenever we want to watch it. Since I finished the second season of House of Cards this weekend – fans of the show seem to be walking on eggshells to avoid having the show spoiled for them, or spoiling it for someone else – I thought about what the concept means for that show and for TV viewing habits in general. (Actually, this topic got some media play last month when Jennifer Lawrence had Homeland spoiled for her, but I still feel like there’s a lot to it.)

Not to be meta, but I guess this IS a spoiler alert if you haven’t finished House of Cards. In the very first episode, Zoe Barnes, a journalist who figured prominently in the first season, is pushed in front of a D.C. Metro train and dies. Just like that.

When I first saw the episode, I did not believe she really died. Honestly. I thought she was going to miraculously survive with severe injuries, or the show was going to take some strange supernatural turn and have Zoe come back as a ghost. Kate Mara had been everywhere promoting the show’s new season. On TV, in GQ…I thought there was no way Netflix would let her promote the show so heavily only to have her killed off in the first episode. How could she have done all that press and kept the secret to herself?!

(Seriously, props to Kate Mara. I could never keep a secret like that for so long.)

Technically, any show could use a star to promote a new season and then kill him/her off right away. House of Cards just seems even more prone to spoilers, with its all-episodes-released-at-once distribution model. I was talking about the show with friends tonight, and one person had to leave the room voluntarily because she hasn’t finished and doesn’t want anything to be spoiled. Googling “House of Cards episode recap” turns up dozens of articles with headlines that basically read: “SPOILER ALERT HOUSE OF CARDS SEASON 2 EPISODE 5 OH MY GOSH DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED BECAUSE SO MANY CRAZY THINGS HAPPEN!” Which, as a fan of the show, I appreciate, because I really would like to discover surprises for myself. House of Cards doesn’t air at 9pm EST/8pm CT like most other shows. Since no one really knows when others are watching it, people are taking caution not to spoil anything. With a show that airs on actual television, there’s little concern for spoiling because, hey, you could have watched it at 9pm EST/8pm CT like the rest of us. If you find out something you didn’t want to know, that’s your fault for not avoiding the Internet.

Spoiler alerts reach a whole new level now because Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon, etc. give us instant access to shows that ended months, years, or decades ago. Last spring, I started watching The West Wing and inadvertently had the show spoiled for me right off the bat when I looked at the show’s Wikipedia article. I knew from the get-go that the President had multiple sclerosis, that Josh and Donna became a thing and that Zoe Bartlet was kidnapped.

That, of course, was my own fault. I should have known the article would spoil a lot for me. But at what point do we expect that everyone has the same frame of reference for TV shows? Who’s already finished a series, and who’s just discovering it?

I don’t think every television review needs to come with a “SPOILER ALERT!” headline. I don’t expect anyone to keep The West Wing a secret from me because most people finished it eight years ago. This whole concept is just fascinating – the way it changes our viewing habits and the way it alters our conversations about what we watch. In one circle of friends, you could have two people who binge-watched House of Cards, one who’s halfway through the series, and a handful who don’t care at all and have a different TV obsession altogether. Instead of one big conversation about the same show, we’ll have a few tiny conversations about a few shows. And as long as the people who are still working through House of Cards don’t find out that FRANK BECOMES PRESIDENT, I suppose that’ll have to do.

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February 9, 1964

Fifty years ago today, the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, and music in America changed forever.

black and white beatles ed sullivan

That day seems so magical to me. Part of the reason I love it is because it happened on February 9. What ever happens on February 9? It’s the dead of winter, and in 1964, the country was still reeling from JFK’s death. Some of the sadness was lifted when that British band took the stage on American TV. In his introduction of the band, Ed Sullivan said it best: “…this city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles.”

The Beatles were different, and that gigantic television audience knew it. I think the root of my love for the band is that they were wholly different. They didn’t come along and play better versions of the same kind of music that had been around for years. They played music no one had ever thought was possible. No one had even imagined that kind of music existing. The Beatles created it, and everything was different afterwards.

Looking at February 9, 1964 from my vantage point in 2014, what really fascinates me about the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan show appearance is that nothing like it could happen today. No one band, person, movie or television show could capture our collective attention anymore. Sixty percent of the American TV audience watched the Beatles’ performance. Today, you wouldn’t get 60 percent of people to tune in for live coverage of an alien invasion.

I was thinking about this earlier in the week after reading a fantastic New York magazine interview with Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. Discussing the differences between how SNL did comedy in the 70s and how it does comedy now, he noted:

At that point, you had a complete unity generationally—in music, movies, politics, and sports. It’s much more fragmented now, so half the people watching Drake’s show, maybe 60 to 70 percent, didn’t know him. Even news is fragmented now. There used to be much more cohesion—everyone saw the helicopter take the people out of Saigon. I don’t know whether people know what’s going on in Fallujah right now.

We don’t have the same cultural touchstones anymore, but I don’t necessarily bemoan that. We have a wealth of amazing media options. I’ll watch my obscure TV show, you watch yours. Everyone’s happy. But with our fragmented media world, nothing will bring us together in the same way. You have to wonder if a band like the Beatles would break through with the same force in 2014, but it’s hard to put their music in today’s context because today’s music wouldn’t be here without them.

I’m kicking myself for not taking advantage of more NYC-based Beatles events leading up to this 50th anniversary, but I am definitely going to visit the Beatles exhibit at the New York Public Library before it closes in May. The Beatles popped up all over the place on TV this past week, though, including a segment on NBC Nightly News (it doesn’t get more perfect than Brian Williams talking about the Beatles) and David Letterman’s awesome week-long tribute to the band. Letterman’s show, of course, tapes in the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the Beatles actually played on February 9, 1964. When Paul McCartney visited his show in 2009, he talked at length about the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan appearance:

This week, Letterman had all his music guests play Beatles songs. Lenny Kravitz’s “Get Back” was pretty great:

Fifty years later, the Beatles are still a cultural force, and their first Ed Sullivan appearance is still a television milestone. February 9, 1964 was quite the day.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco (And Can’t Come up with Clever Post Titles)

Winter term at the University of Oregon can be dreary: cold, cloudy, probably raining, summer still months away.

The pain of late February was eased, however, with a quick trip to San Francisco with my Allen Hall Public Relations pals to tour a few agencies in the area: The OutCast Agency, Fleishman-Hillard‘s SF office and SHIFT Communications. From exploring the neighborhoods of San Francisco to soaking in wisdom from PR pros, it was a BLAST. Yeah, capital letters.

We drove down on Thursday and devoted Friday to visiting agencies. Luckily, it was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed coffee in Union Square before beginning our tour.

Our view of Union Square on Friday morning.

OutCast seemed to embody the hip Bay Area tech PR agency vibe. Their offices are housed in a brick building near AT&T Park and chalkboards with inspiring quotes line the walls. Employees from various levels of the agency hierarchy – including one UO grad and former AHPR member – spoke to us about OutCast’s clients, strategic approach and internship program.

An element of OutCast’s structure that intrigued me was their recently developed media strategy team. While everyone is involved in media strategy to a degree, they have a team dedicated to developing relationships with reporters and consulting individual client teams on media-related projects. One of my favorite parts of my internship at Sports Illustrated this summer was sitting in on meetings in which the communications team brainstormed unique approaches to media relations – how many angles can we find in this story, and what reporters might cover it? To whom can we give an exclusive? How can we play up the most exciting part of this story? It sounds like OutCast’s media strategy team tackles those questions, and I loved learning more about it.

Since OutCast is so close, it would’ve been a crime not to stop at AT&T Park. A few AHPRers on the tour are Bay Area natives and huge Giants fans (their excitement for Buster Posey’s return was palpable), so all the baseball fans made a pilgrimage to the ballpark.

Lunch with the Say Hey Kid.

Our next stop was Fleishman-Hillard, which gave us perspective on the larger agency culture. They walked us through a few case studies of recent work, including a campaign with Callaway Golf. An advertising agency developed a new ad campaign to promote the brand’s new product line, and Fleishman was tasked with drumming up publicity for the campaign itself (not just pitching the products featured in the ads). The campaign featured famous golfers like Phil Mickelson, and took them off the golf course and into Las Vegas, where they made shots from the tops of buildings and into fountains. Hearing how they targeted various media outlets and capitalized on unique opportunities (like having Phil sing the SportsCenter intro music) inspired me to think creatively about media opportunities for campaigns I might work on in the future.

We met with Fleishman-Hillard on the 20th floor of their building, and were treated to this gorgeous view.

Finally, we visited SHIFT Communications, which was especially terrific because we were able to re-connect with the great Karly Bolton (I’m following her footsteps as AHPR’s Firm Director), who now works in their SF office. After a panel discussion about SHIFT’s work, approach to PR and advice for the job search, they hosted a happy hour for us; I know we all loved chatting with the office about PR, statement necklaces, the New York Giants and everything in between.

Warm welcome at the SHIFT-hosted happy hour.

Karly guided us through San Francisco’s coolest neighborhoods that night, and we packed up for Eugene in the morning. There’s something tragic about looking at the San Francisco skyline in your rear-view mirror, knowing all that lies ahead is 500 miles of freeway and a lot of homework. (Okay, that sounded a little more dramatic than I meant it to.) But you get the idea – there are few things more fun and inspiring than a weekend in a big city, surrounded by awesome people. Can’t wait to go back.

(P.S. – AHPR’s Business Development Director, Rachel Koppes, did an AMAZING job planning everything, from reserving the hotel to carrying a clipboard with directions from agency to agency. She deserves a standing ovation.)

Breakfast and an iPad

Today marks the end of an era for the Landsem household: My parents ended our subscription to The Oregonian.

For as long as I can remember, The Oregonian has been part of my life. In middle and high school, I’d read the sports or living sections while eating breakfast (Fridays were reserved for the A&E). I loved reading the comics in color on Sundays, too. A self-proclaimed hoarder, I have copies stuffed in my closet commemorating the deaths of Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy, and countless sports sections recounting the Oregon Ducks’ recent football success.

Our final Oregonian.

I’m a journalism major in the “print v. web/newspapers dying/internet paywall” age; that print papers are on the decline is not news to me. But for some reason, that discussion never really hit home until last night, when my parents announced that today’s paper would be our last home-delivered Oregonian.

While much of my parents’ decision to cancel their subscription is based on the availability of other options – my dad can read a print copy of The Wall Street Journal at work, they both have iPads and both read a lot online as it is – another factor was the poor delivery service. I haven’t been home to witness it, but my dad’s been frustrated for a few months since our delivery is often missed.

I’m sure the Oregonian has bigger worries, but when it’s so easy for consumers to get their news elsewhere, you’d think they’d bend over backwards to serve loyal customers (my parents have subscribed since they married in 1986; and really, since 1982, when my dad split a subscription with his roommates at OSU). After a few days of no paper, and no apparent effort on the part of the paper to remedy the situation, my parents decided it was time to cancel.

My parents are not customer service snobs; they’ve considered unsubscribing a few times in the past, but never had as many reasons to as they do now. One factor in their decision was as simple as clearing the clutter that accumulates with a daily paper. They still plan to buy the Sunday edition from Starbucks or 7-Eleven, to take advantage of the expanded feature sections and coupons.

I completely understand what they’re doing. Since I’m not home 90% of the time, it doesn’t even affect me. But metaphorically speaking, a stage of my life ended with the end of the Oregonian subscription. The Landsems are no longer one of the households keeping print media alive. My eight-year-old sister will never run outside, pajama-clad, and grab the paper to read over breakfast. To archive major world events, I won’t save a front page in my closet drawer; I’ll take a screenshot or clip to Evernote.

It is sad, but more for what it represents in journalism than for what it means to my family. I’m not losing any sleep over it – I’m waking up with breakfast and The New York Times on my iPad.

A Brand New Bias?

Poniewozik.

Imagine yourself as a third-grader trying to learn to write that name in cursive.

I actually have no idea if James Poniewozik had to suffer through elementary-school writing lessons, but someone taught him.  Taught him well.

In the two-ish years that I have subscribed to Time Magazine, his column is the one I have read most consistently and his ideas and viewpoints are the ones that teach me the most.  Plus, his Twitter profile picture shows him with a gigantic mug of coffee.  How can that not be great?

Poniewozik writes TIME’s “Tuned In” column.  Every week he contributes an essay to the magazine that highlights current events and/or issues in media and journalism.  Occasionally, he’ll write a bigger feature or the cover story.

His most recent column for TIME was especially intriguing.  In the column (from the November 16, 2009), he discussed how media bias is not limited to left-wing and right-wing; it’s not just Fox News and MSNBC that are perceived to lean in one direction or another.

It’s also the center.  Poniewozik’s column, “Moderation in Excess,” was all about moderate bias.  Moderate bias.  Oxymoron?  He doesn’t think so.

He describes this bias as being evident “whenever an organization decides that ‘balance’ requires equal weight for an opposing position, however specious.”

“There isn’t one, and there never was,” he says of the “neutral center.”

Honestly, I’m still tossing around my own ideas of what this means, but I think he raises a very interesting point.  Does someone considered to be politically moderate just objectively assess both the far-left and far-right positions?  Sure, but you can’t vote in the middle.  There has to be some middle ground to stand on.  The devil’s advocate always has an opinion.

Poniewozik brings it back to the journalists, talking about how journalists won’t be able to cover from that “neutral center.”  As a journalism student, that’s what I’ve always understood: be unbiased.  If I understand his position correctly, he sees a difference between moderate bias and fair treatment of positions.  But regardless, he gave me a lot to think about.  His columns usually do.

As if his interesting journalism propositions weren’t enough, he tweets, as all great journalists do (general statement, but you get the idea).

A few recent gems from @poniewozik:

Young woman on the N train deeply absorbed in a volume of Conrad. Lauren Conrad.

Drafted my Mad Men review; going to sleep on it, then polish and probably post early in the morning. Yay, four hours of sleep!

Never seen Mad Men, but I love that four hours of sleep part.

Read James Poniewozik’s  “Tuned In” blog here and follow him on Twitter here.