Monday, February 14, 2011

They Used to Be Convictions

The internet world was rocked today by the announcement that Of Principalities and Powers (known to its legion of fans as “OPP,” or sometimes just “Oh, Pee”) has opened its pages to corporate advertising and, in a clearly-related development, is involved in negotiations to sell the blogsite.  This follows close on the heels of the news, late last Sunday, that Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington is selling her liberal website to media giant AOL for $315 million.
At a hastily-called news conference, Of Principalities and Powers founder C. A. Russell said the blog was branching out into celebrity coverage and would immediately make its pages available for advertising at competitive rates to “interested corporate entities.”
When asked what prompted the moves, Russell said that it was “a timely response to opportunities to enhance our revenue stream and position ourselves more favorably for corporate takeover in the upscale market.”  When asked to clarify his statement, he paused and then said, “I’m selling out.”
Queried about what corporate advertisers the blog was targeting. Russell specified “the financial sector, energy conglomerates, defense contractors, and major pharmaceuticals.”  After reporters pointed out that those were the corporate areas often singled out for criticism on the blog’s pages, he responded, “Precisely.  That’s why it makes sense for them to book advertising and then exercise their financial clout to shape blog content.”  
“Does that mean that you’re actually inviting those corporations to gut your columns in exchange for cash?” asked one stunned reporter.
Russell failed to answer the question directly, saying instead, “I think I’ve already spelled out my basic stance.  This has been just another in a long lifetime of hard winters, and my wife and I have never been to St. Thomas, Anguilla, St. Barths, St. Vincent, Cancun, or even Hawaii.  The house we’re renting is being sold, I haven’t owned a new vehicle since 1972, we currently have nowhere near enough income to qualify for tax breaks, and Congress is poised to cut Social Security and medical benefits as wars eat up half the federal budget.  Add to all that the sale of The Huffington Post, and clearly the time was right to rethink my positions.”
“By ‘positions’ do you mean ‘convictions’?”
“They used to be ‘convictions’: now they’re ‘positions’.”
“What makes you think Of Principalities and Powers will attract the big-bucks advertisers you mentioned?”
“Our financial advisers tell us that corporations are always on the lookout for areas with an exceptionally pure water supply.  Once identified, those areas become prime targets for commercial and residential development, since pure water is an increasingly rare commodity.  Our blog holds a comparable position in the media landscape.  It’s virtually undiscovered, and in laboratory tests our columns consistently rate pro-peace, pro-nonviolence, pro-democracy, pro-human rights, pro-civil liberties, pro-environment, pro-poor and middle class, pro-tolerance, pro-arts, pro-education, and pro-activism.  We’re 99.44% pure.  That should make us extremely attractive as an area for commercial growth.”
“But my understanding is that the level of pollution in a water supply has a direct correlation with the level of development,” commented one reporter.
“Well, I guess I’m asking if you expect the analogy to play out that way.  Areas have pure water, get developed, and then have polluted water.  Your blog is pure, it gets developed, and ...?”
“In both cases, think of the new revenues.”
“I’m not sure that addresses my question....”
“You need to understand our corporate vision.  We feel that with our new partner--whomever that may be--we can embrace the digital future and become a digital destination that delivers unmatched experiences for both consumers and advertisers.”
“Consumers?  Haven’t you always thought of your readers as citizens first?”
“We’re rethinking our business model.  We see ourselves now as serving advertisers rather than the public.”
“Do you really think the culture needs another media outlet tarted up with celebrity coverage?” asked one reporter hesitantly.  “I mean, won’t it just distract people from the issues that matter to keep plastering pictures and stories of Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian, and Christina Aguilera all over your pages?”
“I see celebrity coverage simply as a way to attract more viewers to the blog.  Like spooning sugar on a grapefruit.”
“How far have you gotten in your efforts to sell your blog?”
“I can’t divulge many specifics at this time.  I can tell you that we’re engaged in extremely delicate negotiations with a number of serious candidates, including Fox News, AOL, Disney, and Viacom.”
“And the price tag?”
“Our starting point is the Huffington Post deal.  They draw about 25 million visitors to their site per month, and sold for $315 million.  We’re looking at prorating our price based on our number of monthly viewers.”
Hastily scribbling notes, one reporter asked, “So can you give us a ballpark figure for your selling price?”
“Somewhere in excess of $2,500.”
The reporter looked up.  “I don’t think that will get you a week on St. Barths.”
“We’re willing to settle for Tampa.”
© Tony Russell, 2011

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

An Equal-Opportunity Peace Advocate

Writer’s note:   This column is a sequel to the November 8, 2010, column “War?  What War?” in which Uncle Whitt chastised Ace for his foolish claim that we were a nation at war.  Unfortunately for Ace, he fares no better this time around in an encounter with another neighbor.
*                     *                          *
I found a parking place with twenty minutes still left on it at the side of the courthouse, and hurried out front to catch the peace protestors.  With a little luck, I could finish up and get back to the car before it was time to put another dime in the meter.
Three people were standing on the sidewalk, holding hand-lettered signs and waving when a car happened to drive by.  I didn’t recognize a couple who appeared to be in their seventies, but my heart sank at the sight of the third one, who was all too familiar.  Ms. Carrie Higgins, my former third grade teacher, now a feisty octogenarian.  “How’re you doin’, Ms. Higgins?” I said.  “What’s your sign say?”
She turned, saw who I was, and held her sign up so I could see it.  “You can read it yourself by now, I expect,” she said.  
“Give Peace a Chance,” I read, and nodded.  “We got a news tip that you folks had some pretty controversial messages,” I told her.  “Guess it was accurate.  That’s certainly provocative.  What has the public reaction been to your sign?”
She considered.  “We’ve been coming out here almost every Thursday for nine years, Ace, so your tip is a trifle tardy.  But to answer your question, a lot of people wave at me as if I’m a distant cousin by this time.  Other people give me a thumbs-up or make the peace sign, which is encouraging.”
“How about negative reactions?”
She laughed.  “We get some of those too.  Once in a while somebody scowls and jerks his thumb down.  One gentleman raises his middle digit each week as he drives by.  Some people crank their windows down and yell for us to move to Iraq if we don’t like it here.”
“Why did you laugh?” I asked.
“I laugh because their reactions baffle me,” she said. “Really, now.  ‘Give Peace a Chance’?  How can that be objectionable?  Can you explain that to me?”  
“Well, it’s political, isn’t it?” I said.  
“I’ve often thought about what Colman McCarthy said about politics,” she answered.  “He said the true definition was ‘Who decides where the money goes.’  And in that sense, it’s certainly political.  Do these bitter, angry people really endorse killing women and children, destroying cities, diverting a trillion dollars away from health and education and employment and research and what all, and bringing home horribly wounded and mentally scarred sons and daughters as their return on their tax dollars?”
“I meant political parties,” I said.  “They’re probably Republicans, and you’re criticizing George Bush’s war.”
Ms. Higgins gave a ladylike sniff.  “The last time I looked, Ace, Barack Obama, a Democrat, was president.  Mr. Obama has increased the military budget every year he has been in office and has escalated the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We are as opposed to his policies as we were to Mr. Bush’s.  I’m an equal-opportunity peace advocate.”
I glanced at my watch.  I still had about four minutes.
“Maybe they see your protest as unpatriotic,” I offered.  “If our country is at war, you should support the war.”
She gave me an appraising look, and I squirmed.  For a minute I was back in an old high-ceilinged classroom with an oiled wooden floor.  “If the war is unjust, am I obliged to back it anyway?” she asked.
“Uh, it’s our country  ....,” I began, and stopped.
“If the war is bankrupting the nation and robbing our children and grandchildren of their future, am I obliged to support it?”
“Well, Ms. Higgins ....”
“If the war is alienating millions of people overseas, turning them into our enemies, and making us less safe in the long run, am I obliged to support it?”
“Well, you know, uh ....”
“If I surrender any moral sense I have, and any critical thinking ability I have, I’m simply a slave of the state, not a free and responsible citizen,” she declared with some passion.  “Are you seriously suggesting that loving your country enough to try to persuade it to halt a disastrous war is unpatriotic?”
Actually I was, I guess.  But I stole a glance at my watch and breathed a quick sigh of relief.  “I wish I had more time to talk with you,” I told her, “but I think I’ve got enough for a story.  If I don’t leave now, I’m liable to get a parking ticket.”
“That’s a convenient excuse, Ace,” she sighed.  “I’m afraid you haven’t changed a great deal in forty years.  When are you going to grow up?”  And she pivoted and resumed waving her sign at cars as they drove past.
© Tony Russell, 2011