As I was shopping in Winn-Dixie in North Port, Fla., Saturday, I found myself in the produce area listening to a conversation that was breaking my heart.
An elderly couple was discussing whether to get an orange or an apple. They couldn’t afford both; they had to buy one or the other. As elderly people can sometimes be, they were talking loudly — in this case, about how much money they had left.
A few minutes later, I saw them in another aisle, and they were discussing whether a generic brand of pain reliever had the same ingredients for a lower price as the name brand.
And, again, they talked about how much money they had left. The last number I heard was $12.
When I went to the checkout aisle, I ended up behind them. I watched as they carefully put their precious items on the conveyor belt, including one bagged orange.
As I stood there silently watching this lovely couple making do with what little they had, the wife did something that made me get teary-eyed instantly.
She walked past the bag-boy and grabbed a North Port Sun newspaper.
They bought a newspaper for which I work. They were discussing an orange versus an apple.
One parent sits on bended knee outside High Springs Community School in 2011 while a Sheriff’s deputy tells frightened parents that there has been a shooting at the school. Parents later learned that a disgruntled man had shot at a High Springs police officer many times, sending bullets through school windows. The man was shot by High Springs Police Sgt. Chuck Harper, and no students or school personnel were hurt.
(Personal note: The account below is about a local hero, Sgt. Chuck Harper. He saved countless children and adults. He passed away this week after a long battle with cancer. His funeral is set for tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. at the High Springs Baptist Church. If you are a High Springs resident or had children at the school, please be there to pay your respects. Beginning below is my account of how Sgt. Harper saved lives on that fateful day. Please leave your comments at the end of the account.)
When the news appeared on television of the children and teachers gunned down at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, all I could think of was how that scenario almost happened at High Springs Community School in May of 2011.
I was there moments after a particularly brave police officer used a tree to absorb bullets and then fired a few of his own, stopping the shooter before he could make it inside the school building.
The man with the gun was upset with school officials and had already been inside arguing with them. He then went out to his car, grabbed a handgun and started walking back in. Before a High Springs police officer shot him, the person managed to get off several shots of his own, including at least two shots that went into the windows of the administrative offices at the school.
Who knows how many would have died if the shooter had not been stopped? Would High Springs in North Central Florida have been the center of national attention?
The event was pretty shocking for the small town of High Springs but after seeing what happened in Connecticut, I realize how quickly things could have spiraled out of control in High Springs. But quick thinking by a High Springs police officer and years of intensive training – especially unique for a small town – paid off.
Sadly, the police chief who led the intensive training and modernization of the police department ended up getting chased out of town by a new, backwards-thinking City Commission intent on returning the city to the 1960s.
We all know that even the best planning cannot stop a gunman intent on killing others but in High Springs’ case, years of planning translated into no students and no teachers getting shot or killed.
The shooter, Robert Nodine, 63 at the time, apparently was upset from a discussion he had inside with school officials. When he went back out to his vehicle, the school resource officer, who is an Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy, saw the man fidgeting in the vehicle, then saw the gun. The deputy moved quickly back toward the school, yelling to school officials, “Lock it down.”
As we know from the Connecticut incident, “lock it down” means that everybody in the building is to lock their doors, get on the floor and hide, preferably in a closet or behind a desk.
As the deputy yelled the command, High Springs Police Sgt. Chuck Harper stepped into the fray and aimed his gun at Nodine. That’s when Nodine began shooting at Harper. Nodine apparently was a good shot because Harper ended up standing behind a 2-foot-wide oak tree, and Nodine’s bullets hit the tree at least two times, if not three or more, at where Harper’s chest and head would have been.
Multiple bullet holes can be seen on the oak tree that protected High Springs Police Sgt. Chuck Harper as he stood behind it while taking gunfire. But Harper remained calm and returned fire, hitting the shooter in the school parking lot more than once.
But Harper kept his cool, stepped out from behind the tree and at nearly 30 feet away, hit Nodine more than once.
In a photo taken months before the shooting, High Springs Sgt. Chuck Harper is pictured with the High Springs police dog. Harper would end up using a tree as a shield and then firing upon a man who was shooting at him at High Springs Community School.
Later, we would learn that Nodine had a felony history, including a previous arrest on a charge of battery against a police officer. Nodine was not killed but will never live the same way again.
So what made this incident different from what happened in Connecticut? A big part of it was luck. If Nodine had snuck onto campus and started shooting, there is no telling the damage he could have done. Instead, he didn’t try to hide that he was pulling a gun from his vehicle.
But the biggest difference-maker in this situation was preparation. High Springs Police Chief Jim Troiano had been giving his officers intensive training for years. More than once, so-called city leaders made fun of Troiano, saying he was trying to run a big city department in a small town.
I remember when he had his officers carry out SWAT training in an abandoned grocery store. Many people stood around laughing, poking fun at the officers who were learning how to take down a bad guy in tight quarters.
You have to wonder how much of that training came into focus for Sgt. Harper when Nodine was firing. Harper could have run away, using the tree as cover. Instead, Harper held his ground, waited for the right moment, then fired back. That takes training. That also takes a special soul to be able to hold their ground in such a situation.
Praise also goes to the school officials. When you listen to the 911 call, you’ll realize how they followed the lock-down rules and stayed flat on the floor until law enforcement told them they could get up.
You never know when situations are going to get deadly. I remember in late 2009 how the same police chief got chastised yet again – this time for closing city blocks around a car in the police department parking lot. One so-called city leader called me and said the chief was unnecessarily scaring people. Again, they accused the chief of trying to be a “big city chief” in a small town.
But the chief’s instincts were right. A month later, we would all learn that the owner of the car had liquid cyanide and allegedly was planning to use an insect fogger to spray the cyanide into the air-conditioner air-intake screens at a federal facility.
Bad things can happen anytime, anywhere – even in a small town. When I look back at High Springs, I’m thankful for the years of training that officers and school officials alike had received. Their quick actions likely saved lives.
So the next time your child complains about a fire drill or a lock-down drill at school, explain the importance to them. And for you taxpayers and elected officials, try really hard to understand that when police chiefs and fire chiefs ask for budgets for training, they’re not asking for fun money.
Training saves lives. We don’t know when or where the training will pay off. But eventually, a man with cyanide may be stopped. Or children and adults at a school may be rescued.
This can happen anywhere – even in a small town. High Springs proved that.
These photos, courtesy of a PowerPoint slide by Freddie Johnson, the executive director of Conservation Burial, Inc. in Alachua County, shows the very first burial at Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery in Alachua County.
I remember the time at a funeral when a woman leaned over and kissed the casket of her late, deceased friend. Her action left a “lipstick kiss” on the coffin.
I was a bit startled by her action. But as I sat there, I began to grow fond of the idea of the “kiss” following this man – my personal friend – into the grave with him.
I thought of my friend this weekend as I was introduced to natural burials, where people who have tried hard in life not to hurt the environment want to carry that belief in death and be buried either in a shroud – a cloth – or in some form of biodegradable casket – such as one made of wood or wicker.
Alachua County is home to the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, where more than 30 people have had whole-body burials – as opposed to the burial of cremated remains – in roughly two years. More surprisingly, 150-200 people have made “reservations” to be buried at the cemetery, the only such certified cemetery in Florida.
This past Sunday, just outside the cemetery, at the Prairie Creek Lodge owned by the Alachua Conservation Trust, more than 20 people attended a seminar presented by Freddie Johnson, the executive director of Conservation Burial, Inc. Virtually every person in the room planned on being buried in the cemetery in the nearby forest.
For me, the most poignant moment – the moment that brought tears to my eyes and made me think of the “lipstick kiss” all those years ago — came when they showed a photo of a person who was about to be buried in a cardboard box.
As part of that funeral ceremony, people were given pens and markers and allowed to leave goodbye messages on the box. In a comment that brought a lump to my throat, children were given crayons and allowed to draw pictures on the cardboard box (photo below).
Adults and children left messages on this cardboard casket before the deceased was buried in a cemetery set aside for “natural burials.” (Photo Courtesy of Freddie Johnson)
I cannot imagine a more vividly personal funeral ceremony than one where adults and children leave messages on the casket that follow the deceased into the grave.
This leads me back to the men and women who were at Sunday’s ceremony. These were fascinating people who plan to commit their very bodies to the concept of conservation. You can call them liberals. You can call them hippies. They’d probably laugh out loud at both descriptions and shake their heads in agreement.
But you cannot doubt their conviction. One woman said she hated the idea of what a body typically goes through after death.
“I don’t like the idea of an autopsy,” she said. “I don’t like cremation.”
Many said they didn’t like the idea of being pumped full of embalming fluid and put on display in a funeral home. Others simply didn’t like the idea of embalming fluid – period – because of the harm it does to groundwater and how it can cause cancer.
Others liked the idea of how a natural burial truly brings friends and family together. After all, in a natural burial, there traditionally is no funeral home involved (although there can be). In a natural burial ceremony, friends and family generally wrap the body in a shroud or put it into a casket, then transport the body. The body can be kept ready for the funeral via dry ice or even regular ice — or some form of refrigeration.
If you’re wondering about everything that is involved in planning and holding a natural burial funeral, a video has been produced of a mock funeral, from the moment the person dies to putting the body into the ground. You can purchase the DVD at PassingThroughOurHands.com.
You also can contact Freddie Johnson at Conservation Burial, Inc. in Alachua County and get a tour of the cemetery, plus get explanatory brochures and checklists of how to prepare.
Many at the seminar Sunday said that perhaps their greatest challenge will be in telling their children about natural burial. After all, that’s a pretty heavy subject to lay at the feet of your kids – kids who are now adults but likely have never heard of natural burial.
“I can’t just sit down with them and tell them to throw me in the back of the SUV when I die,” one woman said.
After the seminar ended, I approached the woman and jokingly said, “What if your kids only own a Volkswagen Bug?” She laughed and said, “Then tie me to the roof like a Christmas tree.”
One man said he had already approached his family.
“They liked the idea,” he said.
Another person chimed in.
“So many people don’t even know this is an option,” she said. “People don’t know that you don’t need a funeral home.”
There is a difference in price, too. While a funeral home funeral can run from $5,000 to $10,000 or more, a natural burial costs $2,000, which includes the opening and closing of the grave.
Speaking of the gravesite itself, you should see the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery in person. The cemetery is the exact opposite of every other cemetery you’ve visited. First of all, unless somebody told you there was a cemetery there, you’d likely never know.
The gravesites themselves stand out only because of heaps of pine straw on top. There are also memorial trees or shrubs planted next to the graves. Makeshift tombstones have been erected via tasteful pieces of tree trunks or tree branches. (See video below.)
Over time, though, the pine straw will dissipate and the tree branches will rot. All that will be left marking the grave is a simple, round disk about the size of a silver dollar. The disk generally has imprinted on it what you would see on a gravestone.
While you can’t tell, the cemetery – which can hold 7,000 bodies – is marked with a grid system using permanent markers placed in the ground. Further, gravesites are logged with GPS, too.
The GPS is particularly important because the gravesites are not sitting in an open field with well-placed trails. The gravesites are sitting in a forest, complete with muddy areas, mosquitoes, snakes, squirrels, leaves and fallen branches.
Other than the disk, you would be hard pressed to find your friend’s or relative’s gravesite without the aid of GPS or the cemetery’s grid system. You would simply think you were in a Florida forest.
And you know what? That’s exactly what those who are buried there wanted. They spent a lifetime fighting for conservation, fighting in their own way to save the planet.
They took those convictions to the grave and returned themselves to the earth with minimal impact.
Very personal. Very simple.
And outright beautiful.
Contact Freddie Johnson, the executive director of Conservation Burial, Inc.: email@example.com
I know of only a few times when U.S. Presidents made the cover of a comic book or — gasp! — even got their own comic book. Please use the comments section below to link to other examples.
After watching the last of the three debates between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, I started thinking back to my childhood days of collecting comic books. U.S. presidents would often make cameos in comic books. But the bigger question was, “How often did a U.S. President make the cover of a comic book?”
President Ronald Reagan leads everybody because he got his own action comic book first. He starred in the 1986 “Reagan’s Raiders,” where President Reagan had Rambo-like qualities and went after the bad guys. The cover alone (above) made you want to buy the book out of patriotic duty and sheer curiosity. Apparently, President Reagan was America’s “comic bookiest” president, according to this fan Website.
There there is President Barack Obama, who was depicted as “Barack the Barbarian” in a 2009 comic book (photo above). Sarah Palin, dressed a lot like Princess Leia in the Star Wars bikini scene, apparently makes an appearance in the comic book with her famous line, “You betcha!”
I wonder how many other U.S. Presidents have graced the cover of comic books?
I personally remember President Obama making the cover of “Amazing Spider-Man” (above) not too long ago. That issue was so popular that it had to be reprinted to meet the demand.
But now I wonder if any other U.S. Presidents have had their own comic books or have appeared on a cover. I’m guessing FDR must have appeared on many comic book covers during World War II. So let’s have a little fun. In the comments section below, link to cover shots or Websites that show U.S. Presidents in comic books.
I remember the time I had an entire group of editors looking up at me in utter surprise, all because of what I said on the phone in front of them.
I tell this story in honor of former New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger Sr., who passed away recently. This story is about him – in a roundabout sort of way.
The year was 1988, and I was a student intern at the Washington bureau of The New York Times that summer. That was a great summer. I took classes at Georgetown University in the morning, then would intern from the early afternoon into the evening at The New York Times.
Back then, student interns did more than just write. In fact, they were mainly gophers. I competed against 600 other college students to get the top internship, and when I finally got to the newspaper, I was told that I would handle the facsimile machines, get coffee for staff and do whatever other tasks I was assigned. A few reporters had me pick up their dry cleaning and then bring it to the newsroom for them.
We were told that we could write briefs from time to time if we were ever assigned any.
Well, for those of you who know me, I’m a very outgoing person. I’m not shy. And when I showed up at The New York Times, I was likely one of the most experienced interns they ever had. I quite literally had thousands of stories under my belt and was the #1-ranked college journalist in the country, having just won the Los Angeles Times On-Site Journalism Competition.
I ended up getting a large story printed in the science section of The New York Times and so impressed the editors that they eventually ended up offering me a job before I finished my internship. (I declined because I wanted to attend the University of Florida.)
Before all that happened, though, I made my way around the newsroom, mainly answering phones, delivering faxes and placing hundreds of pieces of mail in their respective boxes. I was a happy fella, happy to be in Washington, D.C. and happy to be in a newsroom full of writing legends.
One day, Arthur Sulzberger Sr. called and asked for Johnny Apple, an editor. I had answered the phone at the main desk where the top editors sat. When Mr. Sulzberger asked for Johnny, I replied, “One moment, Arthur. Let me see if I can find Johnny for you.”
I didn’t think anything of what I had just said until I looked up. The top editors were aghast.
“Did you just call the publisher ‘Arthur?’” one woman said.
“Uh, yeah,” I replied, not yet realizing the gravity of my major faux pas.
“We don’t even call him ‘Arthur.’ He’s ‘Mr. Sulzberger.’”
I could see all the shaking heads on the news desk. I was a bit surprised by the formality but also now a bit horrified. I knew I could be shown the door any minute.
I went to find Johnny Apple but he wasn’t in. That meant I had to go back to the phone and actually talk to Mr. Sulzberger again. Keep in mind that this was 1988, and a person on hold was signified by a blinking, cube-shaped button. But for me, it was the Blinking Light of Doom.
I pushed the button, slowly put the phone to my ear and looked out across the news desk as all the editors looked back at me.
“Mr. Sulzberger,” I said slowly, “Mr. Apple is not in.”
“Who is this?!” Mr. Sulzberger replied with surprising gusto.
“My name is Ronald Dupont, and I’m one of the interns here.”
Then Mr. Sulzberger shocked me.
“I like you! You got spunk. You tell Johnny I called, and maybe we’ll meet up when I visit there.”
I hung up the phone and looked out across the desk of editors.
“He said I have spunk,” I said with giddy glee.
The editors just shook their heads.
Two months later, after I finished my internship and went back to writing for The Palm Beach Post in my hometown of West Palm Beach, I got called into a room by one of the newspaper’s top editors.
Apparently, over time, the story of my phone greeting had grown to where I allegedly said something along the lines of, “Yo, dude, he’s not here right now.” The editor told me this with all seriousness, adding that he had received a phone call from a top New York Times editor.
There was silence between us as I tried to form a coherent reply. And then the best thing happened.
The editor started laughing. I had been interning at The Palm Beach Post for years and was affectionately known there as “Opie.” They knew I would never be disrespectful like that.
The Palm Beach Post editor assured me that I was not in trouble, then added, “You’ll have a great story to tell for the rest of your life.”
I did eventually get to meet Mr. Sulzberger. But that’s fodder for another story.
“Just because it looks good on your computer screen does not mean it will look good in the newspaper.”
I can’t tell you how many times North Florida Herald artist Jamie Walker would make this statement to people who had created their own ad (often using awful Publisher or CorelDraw). These people could not understand the concept that when ink touches paper, the ink tends to dissolve into the paper, giving a different color or, in many cases, a muddy look.
Mitt Romney’s campaign team could have used Mr. Walker in creating a flyer I received in the mail last week. Some artist sitting in front of a hi-def screen probably squealed with joy over how great the flyer looked. But nobody took into account that the flyer was not being printed on thick, glossy paper but on good, old-fashioned regular paper (probably to save money).
The result, as you will see by clicking on the photo above to see it full-size, is a flyer where the right-hand side is muted and hard to read. Further, the photo of Mitt Romney appears to have been taken in a dark room with no flash. In fact, if you held up this flyer in front of somebody and gave them two seconds to decide on photos alone if the flyer was pro-Obama or pro-Romney, I’m betting people would say its pro-Obama.
So how did Jamie Walker get around this problem? Well, in working with our printer and their presses, he learned that the presses tended to print some colors extra dark, other colors lighter. Mr. Walker would then compensate for this by “toning” the photos for the presses. If you saw the ads or the photos on a computer screen just before press time, you would think they were awful because the colors were all skewed.
But when those ads got printed, they came out beautifully.
When I received the Mitt Romney flyer in the mail last week, I could just hear Mr. Walker yelling over my shoulder, “Somebody got paid what you make in a month to put out a product that looks like mud.”
(By the way, if you’ve ever wanted a great print or Web ad but ran into high prices or slow work, you can contact Jamie Walker at JamieWalkerDesigns@gmail.com. He’s passionate about what he does.)
As for the Mitt Romney flyer, I wonder how much was spent on artists, printing and mailing – all to produce a product that’s virtually unreadable and likely got thrown into the trash by most people.
I must say, I was a bit amazed to read on CNN that nobody has drilled into the Earth’s mantle yet. The mantle is the hot, molten material between the core and crust.
Yes, we’ve landed men on the Moon and sent a nuclear-powered rover to Mars but we have not been able to drill roughly 3.7 miles straight down to get to the mantle. To quote CNN’s Tom Levitt, “It could help answer some of our biggest questions about the origins and evolution of Earth itself, with almost all of the sea floor and continents that make up the Earth´s surface originating from the mantle.”
The mysteries of the mantle soon may be revealed as a $1 billion international effort begins to drill into the mantle in the Pacific Ocean (where the crust is the least thick). The challenge will come in the form of finding drill bits that can dig into hard rock and last longer than the current average of 50 to 60 hours. Unless technology improves, the project could take years.
But even if it does, so what? Let’s begin. Heck, scientists in Florida did not believe that actual rivers flowed underground for most of the length of the state. Then a few brave cave divers came along and shocked us all. We now look at what we put into the ground in a whole new light, thanks to the documentary, “Water’s Journey: Hidden Rivers of Florida.”
Who knows what we will find in the Earth’s mantle? Perhaps a new energy source? A better understanding of how the Earth was formed? Who knows? That’s why we need to go and explore.
And while the mission may take years, you can get instant satisfaction by turning to Hollywood, which made a movie called “The Core,” which basically has the earth ending in Armageddon-like circumstances because the military screwed with the earth’s mantle. You can smile along as these actors try to keep serious faces during this dramatic scene:
Facebook has more customers than any other entity in world history and, yet, people are questioning whether the company can continue to make decent money and grow its earnings.
I almost wonder why companies want to go public when they have to deal with crazy questions like that. In fact, if you watch Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent interview at the TechCruch Disrupt San Francisco 2012 Conference (video below), Mr. Z is awfully calm, basically telling people to chill out about the IPO and not to worry about how Facebook will handle making money on its mobile apps. (For the record, I have no Facebook stock.)
Why are people still worried? Perhaps it’s because media companies as a whole (newspapers, TV stations and pure online news entities) likely have just as many “customers” (viewers) worldwide but media companies have failed to generate significant revenue from their particularly great position.
If that’s the case, why do I feel great for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook?
The answer is easy. Mr. Z is willing to try new ideas and invest in new technology. In fact, Forbes is already praising Facebook for the changes it has made in just the past few weeks. Media companies, on the other hand, are generally afraid to venture past a Website and a half-awful phone app. (I just had a media company that is considered one of the digital leaders in the U.S. interview me for a possible job there. Their mobile Website has zero – ZERO! – pieces of artwork, other than the site’s name. The rest is jumbled, hard-to-read text. And this is allegedly an industry leader. This is so frustrating.)
In looking at Facebook, you also have to be careful of the surveys that have been done with Facebook users. In those surveys, people were asked if the ads on Facebook influenced their purchase decisions. A big chunk of people said “no.”
These surveys are always deceiving because humans are involved. As humans, we never want to admit we are influenced by anything because that’s admitting we’re weak and can’t control our shopping habits.
But I can tell you from first-hand experience that Facebook does a great job of putting ads in the right-hand column that catch my attention. Why do they catch my attention? Well, because I care about them. I’m a big comic book fan, and there always seems to be some sort of ad for a new Spider-Man, Marvel or DC Website – or a similarly themed game. And lately, I’ve been getting ads for Websites of local residents running for political office.
If a survey company called me, it would be easy for my pride to kick in and for me to say I’m not influenced by Facebook ads. But I am.
Here’s an easy way for you to tell if you’re being influenced by Facebook ads. How many times have you said to yourself, “Geeez, I wish they’d stop showing me the same ads on the right.” Presto! You’ve been influenced!
Some people will point to GM, which pulled its ads off Facebook and said they saw no benefit from the social network. That’s crazy talk. We all know we don’t really care about car ads, smart phone ads or even new home ads – until we’re ready to make a purchase. The second we start thinking about, say, buying a new car, we start to notice every bloody car commercial on TV and every print ad in newspapers.
If GM doesn’t realize the power of repetition and of having its brand in front of people when they start thinking about a new car, then GM needs a new marketing department.
To wrap this up, I’m going to go back to my childhood. I remember seeing a Coca-Cola commercial on TV in the 1970s and looking up at my Dad and saying, “Dad, why does Coke need to advertise? Everybody knows what it is. They’re just wasting money.”
And my Dad, in his wisdom, said, “Because they advertise all the time, everybody knows who they are.”
That brings us back to Facebook, which pretty much has the world in its hands. Do I think they’re going to make money and find ways to make even more money off their mobile efforts?
The year was 1999, and I was running the Internet division of the St. Petersburg Times. We were trying to find ways to increase readership on the Website. At the time, virtually everybody was on America Online in some form or another.
That’s when I got this crazy idea of approaching AOL out of the blue and saying, “Hey, how about putting one or two of our news stories of our choice on the AOL start-up screen? In return, we’ll link to whatever AOL product you want us to feature – and we’ll put the link next to every story we run.”
I ended up flying to AOL’s headquarters and meeting with a team of bigwigs. Less than 45 minutes later, we had a deal. No money exchanged hands. The St. Petersburg Times ended up getting in front of tens of thousands of eyeballs each day. And AOL got to feature a product on millions of pageviews a month.
I bring up this story because I continue to wonder what sorts of partnerships media companies should be pursuing today. Further, how can media companies diversify?
Here are some ideas:
Has anybody thought of approaching Google and asking for free sponsored search results in exchange for marketing a Google product? Google is trying really hard to get its Google Places and its free create-your-own-Website classes humming along. Every media company from a small weekly to a large conglomerate could easily market these products. In the case of the classes, the media companies could offer free class space, Internet hook-up, projector, etc. (This idea is a bit self-serving, as I have applied to work at Google in a job that would have me working with the media.)
Media companies are doing a horrific job of marketing their mobile apps. (For decades, media companies have been great at marketing clients but awful at marketing themselves.) Honestly, raise your hands if you have seen a TV ad or any sort of ad on a non-media Website advertising a media company’s app. With that thought in mind, media companies should start considering advertising on mobile app games. For example, the game Words With Friends would be a perfect launching point for an geo-tagged ad linking people to a quick download of a media company’s app. The media company could either pay for this ad or try to work a deal where the media company’s mobile app features a prominent download link for Words With Friends.
How about offering free classes where you show people how to start their own blogs? There are so many free blog Websites out there, and a media company could attract a sizeable crowd for each class. Trust me. There are tons of adults out there confused and hesitant on how to start a blog. People could be encouraged to bring their own laptops and follow along with the speaker. Attendees would walk out the door with their own blogs. Further, the media company could show how to add simple plug-ins to give great functionality to the blogs. (For example, the average person would love to know how to tie in their blog with Facebook, Twitter or Google+.) Throughout the class, the media company could show off its own columnists and bloggers. The speaker could even give a quick, 2-minute session on how to download the company’s mobile app to those in the audience with smart phones.
(A note about free classes: If you hold them on a regular basis – such as the second Tuesday of the month – the classes will become an event. Over time, you can bring in speakers to give short presentations on new technology. Or local computer repair shops will pay to give a short sales pitch and have a table set up in the back of the room. As the classes grow, you will be able to bring in bigger, more prominent speakers. Suddenly, the ol’, dull media company becomes a hip place for people to congregate. All sorts of spin-offs are possible.)
How about inviting Internet-related businesses into your building? While this may not be possible at a very small media company, there are literally thousands of media companies out there with empty rooms, unused bandwidth and extra room in the air-conditioned server rooms with the raised floors. Why not rent out space to a local Web hosting company? Or if you learn of a new Internet start-up in your area that you think has promise, why not give them a cut-rate rent to be in your building? The Irish Times held a contest and invited 5 — count ‘em, 5 — start-ups into its building. You could even give them free rent in exchange for a portion of the company. (You could have these people give presentations to the media company’s annual (weekly? monthly?) companywide meeting. Imagine the electricity generated when your staff has lunch with people blazing new paths in the digital world. Ideas will flow both ways.
Why not give a free Web ad and a free mobile ad to a different business every day? Play it up. Market the idea. When these businesses see a temporary jump in their Website/mobile visits, they will talk about the media company. Business owners will realize that their local media company is a viable, strong digital marketing outlet.
If you really wanted to be hip, why not feature a different local social media account each day? Ask people to submit their names. You could have something that says, “Visit Mary Jane’s Twitter account today. Her friends consider her an excellent home chef. Mary Jane Tweets daily with links to her recipes and to videos of how to prepare the food.” In exchange for these free shout-outs, you could ask for each person featured to give a social media shout-out to your media company’s mobile app, Website or other product. It’s a win-win. The media company gets free buzz, and the reader gets an amazing boost in their online followers.
I could go on and on. There are so many things media companies can do with weather tie-ins, sports tie-ins, movie tie-ins, fishing tie-ins, you name it.
The point is that media companies need to start partnering and need to diversify. There is no reason why the next big idea – the next Facebook, the next Instagram – can’t come from a media company, however small or large.
Start trying ideas. If they don’t work, discard them and try something new. Be nimble. Encourage creativity by actually embracing creativity. (And if you have to ask yourself if you’re actually embracing creativity, then, trust me, you aren’t.) Don’t just think out of the box, think out of the building. Think outside your industry.
Having worked for media companies since middle school, I have seen my fair share of marketing pieces by newspapers.
One of the best I have seen has been making the rounds in marketing efforts by the Tampa Bay Times. This ad just begs you to stop and stare at it.
Click for larger, easier-to-read version
I’m not sure if this ad will attract more subscribers but I’m betting it sure works well in attracting advertisers.
Now, wouldn’t it be cool if the newspaper ran a bar chart showing the Tampa Bay Times’ digital efforts over the years and show how individual user numbers have grown? I’m betting they have a higher user number than the total population of the area they cover. Now that would be an impressive marketing piece for the newspaper’s digital efforts.