Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Historical perspective is key to destination marketing. To tell a community’s story, it is important to weave what’s unique about its past and relate that in some temporal sense to its future. In a little more than a week, DCVB will launch a micro site that tells about the Civil War through a Durham lens.

This is all in the build up to the 150th or sesquicentennial anniversary of this incredible part of our nation’s history beginning in 2011 through 2015.

Here is a snapshot of the Civil War’s imprimatur on Durham. As with today, Durham was a place where great things happen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I became a progressive in the early ‘70’s but my career has always been in economic development so people with polar stereotypes of business and social and economic justice assume I’m all about business. It is like being with a bunch of UNC-CH fans, they can’t fathom you’d be a Duke fan, even if you’re from Durham. It can be obnoxious.

My name is on various fundraising lists, so I get calls from one particular national political party, all assuming if I’m involved in building the economy I must be conservative. When I go to meetings around the state, the participants - like UNC fans - can’t believe I don’t share all of their ideological stereotypes.

Similarly because I am progressive and because I live in Durham, when I go to certain meetings, some people with those same polar views believe that caring about social injustice means I can’t have pro-business viewpoints.

I believe President Obama may be one of the transformational figures that breaks up some of these stereotypes. A legendary hit keeps running through my mind called For What It’s Worth written by Stephen Stills and performed as Buffalo Springfield (including Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay and Jim Messina who all went on to bigger things).

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Scanners Read More News Content

Eye tracking is a tool used since the mid-90’s by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau to measure the effectiveness of communication materials like advertisements. It not only measures what works and what doesn’t, but it helps tweak layout and graphics. With the popularity of the Internet as a news source, The Poytner Institute , a school and resource for journalists, uses eye tracking to periodically benchmark the reading habits of online compared to print readers.

People like me, who read a lot of their news via online sources have been characterized as skimmers or scanners implying we read less than printer news readers. But Poytner’s most recent eye tracking survey not only turns that on its head, but confirms that while headline writers and photographers may know less about the contents of a story, they are more important to reader interest and attention:
  • Online readers actually read more deeply (77%) than print counterparts (62%).
  • Two-thirds of online readers read all of a story they selected compared to 59% for newspapers.
  • Print readers are more likely to be methodical and online are more like to be scanners.
  • But both methodical readers and scanners read about the same amount of text.
  • Online methodical readers read 78% of text vs. 77% for online scanners.
  • Print methodical readers read 67% vs. scanners at 59%.
  • Online view navigation first, print read headlines first most often, followed by a photo, followed by another headline.
  • Print ads adjacent to editorial draw as much as full-page ads.
  • Color ads in print draw twice the attention of black and white.

A video summary of the results can be viewed online and a copy of the study purchased online. The Institute is also using eye tracking to determine how readers read news on cell phone or pocket computers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

WOW - 35,000 VOTES

The 1% prepared food tax for cultural and tourism development lost but that isn’t a surprise.

Given the state requirement that we run it in a general election (unprecedented and never advisable for local issues) and so little time was permitted for public education, and a sudden economic downturn, not to mention well-funded interference and misinformation from outside sources….

It is miraculous that the measure received 35,000 votes in addition to t
he 31 organization endorsements.

To put that in perspective, 35,000 votes is as many or more than any measure or politician received in last November’s local election. After 15 years of shaping consensus on this, it seems like just a speed bump.

I say on the merits of this incredible showing under daunting odds that we seek another opportunity to do it right. It is only fair. Raleigh and Charlotte were given this resource without even a vote. At the least Durham should get the opportunity to do it in a local election with ample time for public education.

I didn’t run into anyone who opposed it, who didn’t change their mind after a few minutes of explanation.

Even for those who in good faith opposed it, we need to do more to show them the facts related to regressivity. Fact is, this is simply an opportunity for Durham taxpayers to shift 40% of the cost for cultural, recreational and tourism development to non-residents and free up general funds for more general needs.

As far as the restaurant association, they know full well this isn’t unfairly targeting them. They benefit more than any other type of business by the fact that visitor promotion is self funded by a special tax on hotel rooms. They also know that there is clear and public information that their heartburn after helping Raleigh and Charlotte get this resource is due solely to the fact that the legislature reduced sales tax on groceries.

I think the association has some good points to make but pushing out a lot of confusing, contradictory and border line hypocritical misinformation whether directly or through Raleigh operatives, puts them down on the same level of the “local politics” they are always rolling their eyes about.

Durham deserves another chance.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Okay, we all know there is some waste in government. But I just don’t get these folks who think the solution is starving it. Or those who think that a smaller or larger government has any correlation to waste reduction.

There is waste everywhere including in business and in people’s personal habits. But starving anything just doesn’t seem to me to have ever been a good strategy for change.

We don’t motivate employees by denying them the tools to do their job or cutting their benefits. We don’t teach greedy business executives a lesson by refusing to buy their products; we just take away someone else’s job. We don’t teach recycling by prohibiting purchase of consumer products. We don’t motivate children by fear and deprivation. And trying to starve Cuba all these years hasn’t accomplished anything.

The way to make government more efficient isn’t to worry about whether it is small or large…it should be large enough to do the job.

We need to vote wisely, hold people accountable, hire expert management and let them do their jobs. We need to insist on and reward maintenance of what we have above the latest new and shiny thing. We need to give government the freedom to reassign or even release employees who are not willing to do their jobs and reward those who do a very good job. We need to make sure things are fair. We need to trust.

And the private sector needs to stop whining about taxes. Taxes provide the quality of place that helps them attract good talent. It provides clean water and sanitation and provides a regulated and balanced playing field. It shouldn’t be about whether taxes are too high or too low…but whether they are productive. Rather than whining about taxes, run for office, get involved in making the system even better.


As if it isn’t hard enough for Durham residents to hear ourselves think with 3 of 5 jobs held by non-resident commuters, we’ve had this nutty Raleigh operative running around spinning fabrications about the meals tax referendum under the guise of “Durham citizens.”

Now a guy from Apex, NC has launched a website under the guise of “Durham” residents to oppose a world famed sculpture being installed here.

What gives? Is this the result of regionalism…that people in other communities think they have a right to interfere in Durham’s business? I don’t think so. My theory is it is the result of people who only work here believing they have standing. I guess we should be flattered by the attention.

But if they want to have an opinion that really counts, they should move here, pay property taxes and register to vote. Or if not, back off and get out of our face. Durham is an activist community and we’re perfectly capable of holding vigorous debates on issues without outside interference.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Why is there no “truth in advertising” law that regulates information elected office or referendums? It seems like anything goes. A journalist friend of mine says there isn’t one for politics and he’s not sure there should be because there is too much gray area. I see his point.

But that leaves voters particularly defenseless at a time when the local news media is struggling through some significant business challenges and just doesn’t have the time or resources to commit to investigative reporting. Much of it now seems like a newsletter. People can say anything and there doesn’t even seem to be a follow-up question.

The Herald Sun and Independent both wrote very thoughtful editorials endorsing the prepared meals tax last week. On Sunday, the Herald Sun wrote an excellent recap of the pro and con positions on the issue. Those are great for thorough readers.

But that isn’t how people take in news now. They are skimmers…more worrisome, many get their news just form headlines and photos. That Herald Sun article for example proclaimed in Dewey Beats Truman size type that people are split over the tax…true if you call nearly 29 groups supporting and two against. Then it features a huge picture of the people objecting…only problem is he doesn’t live or work in Durham and he’s using Raleigh channeled funds to tell Durham voters what to do…and his information is deliberately misleading.

But you think anyone would grasp that from the article? The Raleigh paper is worse, often neglecting to mention that Raleigh has had the same tax for 15 years…and also levied it during a recession but without even a referendum…where was this Raleigh group opposing Durham’s tax then? Truth…actually helping it get passed.

On national issues we have NPR which has several shows that unwrap the campaign rhetoric and negative ads. They even do a postmortem on comments made in debates. And when one VP candidate was repeating something not in context…they began inserting a clarification anytime it was reported…guess what…the candidate dropped that crap.

For the most part though, 24-hour news shows on TV are part of the problem…endlessly repeating the same thing…parroting one another and at the same time sucking the life out of other news media.

We also have Saturday Night Live and the Jon Steward show attempting with humor to unveil truth…but believe me, where I come from, a lot of people wouldn’t get the point.

I don’t have an answer, but all I know is that elections are too important to leave voters unprotected from untruths…innuendos…out of contents claims…

And I just don’t see why the FTC can’t put the same standard to political advertising and protect voters, the way it protects consumers from business advertising.