Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bumper Sticker News Leads

I shouldn’t be amazed after the LAX fiasco, but it still astonishes me how fast the news media can “bumper sticker” something. One happened recently. A gentleman was murdered chasing after an armed robber. I assume someone in the media thought to ask “how many robberies have there been,” and the answer given was 70 since January 1, or approximately 3 and ½ weeks.

No one thought to ask if that was unusual for that particular crime, or if they did, it was swept under the rug because it would make the story less compelling. I prefer to believe the former. So the lead appears not only in that outlet but also is rapidly mimicked on television, radio, and many other outlets quickly pick it up, also not asking if that number is really news.

People get up in arms, fear they may be robbed anywhere, anytime, tie down huge amounts of resources in meetings, castigate the police right when they need every resource on deck etc. Others resort to extreme, hateful, racist rhetoric on posts or op-eds. (Sound familiar? Same hysteria fueled when the Raleigh paper so-called “broke” the LAX story.)

Well folks, 70 is less than 1 more per week more than the norm. Now in my mind, one is too many. And beginning a decade ago, I and others argued that the body count approach, which the news media fixates on with homicide, was distracting resources from a crime, robbery, where our community is inexplicably out of synch.

You see homicide is a horrible crime, but most often it isn’t random like the one committed during that robbery. It represents a very small number of crimes, and most often the victim and perp know each other. The way to cut down on homicide is to go after other crimes with intensity, the ones where criminals are graduating to that level.

But the news media, rather than doing readers a service and putting things in perspective and holding other outlets accountable, appears to fall all too often to the temptation of a great bumper sticker. I don’t mean to be so cynical as to attribute motive here.

Much of this problem is due to the fact that radical changes are taking place in the world of advertising. Ad revenue is what pays journalists. Journalists now have no time to do research or to even think and ask questions, let alone provide perspective. Journalism staffs are cut to the bone, everywhere.

The defense journalists often use is that they are alerting people to be vigilant, but while that is a noble motive, it isn’t how vigilance works. Making everyone afraid by writing about crimes as though they happen anywhere, everywhere, all the time just panics people, which leads to hysteria. Panicked, hysterical people become less vigilant, not more.

There are bad people out there, in every community. Some communities reveal that; others sweep it under the rug. But the news media owe it to readers to put things in perspective and to give readers credit. We’ll actually read something without having our “fear” chain yanked.

I believe USC professor Dr. Barry Glassner’s book should be required reading for all news professionals--The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Court Watch

A friend of mine, Newman Aguiar, has significantly helped shape the current “information based” approach Durham is taking to dramatically reducing crime. I’m publishing the results of his Court Watch, which another friend, Matt Yarbrough, helped initiate several years ago.

The numbers below shed light on what Judge Bushfan and others are helping to address, and that is the very few people who commit a vast number of the crimes and appear to commit new crimes, while out on bail for others.

Active Watch List
2007 Summary Statistics
From 1/1/07 to 12/31/07

Number of individuals monitored: 448

Number booked at least once in 2007: 193 (43.08% of individuals monitored)

Number booked 2 or more times in 2007: 103 (53.37% of individuals booked)

Of the offenders booked 2 or more times:
  • 44 (42.72%) were booked between 3 to 5 times
  • 11 (10.68%) were booked 6 or more times
Individual with most bookings:
  • Bellamy, Kenneth
  • 16 bookings
Other Statistics for individuals with 2 or more bookings
  • Number of individuals with 2 or more bookings = 103
  • Total number of bookings = 337
  • Average number of bookings per individual = 3.27
  • Median number of bookings per individual = 3
  • Watch List compiled by Durham Police Department
  • Booking data obtained from JusticeXchange
The Durham Roundtable regularly monitors the booking activity of a group of individuals who are repeat offenders and who have a history of being involved in some the more serious crime in Durham. For current Active Watch List, click here.

Information on individual offenders can be viewed at the Department of Corrections website,

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Glib Response

If he was quoted accurately, Senator and Presidential candidate John McCain responded to a voter in Florida with concerns about the need for more marketing of the US for tourism abroad with the answer that “that is best done by the private sector.”

With that response, Senator McCain illustrated a very common misunderstanding of the difference between “destination marketing” and “product marketing.” The private sector does do a good job of marketing airline seats and hotel rooms etc., but that is the marketing of products.

The “destination” is the first decision a visitor makes, whether domestically or abroad, and marketing destinations isn’t something the private sector can do efficiently or as just part of product marketing. An organization, usually a public/private partnership, is necessary to get the destination on the list for consideration by potential visitors, and then the private sector can help harvest that interest.

It is important to keep in mind that government has an even bigger stake in tourism than private companies. The amount generated in taxes is usually far greater than the gross margin generated by any private company. For instance, Global Insight calculates that the Federal government’s “take” from Durham visitors in 2006 was $78 million, or 11.7% of the gross spending, or roughly twice the average gross margin in the private sector.

If “leaving it up to the private sector” worked, the US wouldn’t have lost so much market share with international travel in the time since the Republican Senate and House in the mid-’90s disbanded the US effort to market itself as a destination. We also need to pay heed. The most successful destinations at drawing international travelers always have destination marketing organizations.

On top of that, the US image abroad is at a historic low, and tourism is one way we can restore that image.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fatal Flaw

Anyone who uses the Internet to search for hotels has run into a fatal flaw. Not with the Web itself but with old-school Global Distribution Systems (GDS). I say old school because Travelocity, which owns Sabre, updated theirs. But Priceline appears stuck with one that can be very inconvenient for travelers.
When these old databases were first organized, they were for travel agents. They were built on the very strange premise that there would be one airport in each city, and the airport would be in the center of that city. So a search of hotels would give you results in a certain radius from the airport. Not very useful unless your destination is the airport.

Of course, rarely is the airport in the center, and many airports, like Raleigh-Durham International Airport, are located not in but midway between distinct and separate cities. So if a traveler is coming through RDU and isn’t geographically savvy about this area, her reservation has equal odds of being right on target… or a 60-mile round trip from where she is visiting.

The easy solution is always to book on the destination’s website, if like Durham, they’ve eliminated this confusion. Another solution is that airlines and these GDS systems need to move into the real world. Airports aren’t synonymous with cities. Even in a centric area, airports are rarely in the center. People visit communities, towns and cities, not airports; they have a destination in mind, and convenient facilities are very important.

But beyond airlines, it is the intermediary, like Priceline, that really needs to put pressure on the GDS they use to move into the real world. Or, like Travelocity, buy one and bring it up to date.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Geology Is Part of a Community's Brand

I’m learning that geology is part of a community’s unique brand. It differentiates or associates a community in many ways including water resources, landscape, appearance etc. But being nearby doesn’t mean communities share geology.

Durham, for instance, is on the Durham Triassic Basin that runs down to Sanford. Of course Research Triangle Park has this geology but so does Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Mostly to the south and east of Durham, some of Wake County and Raleigh are on what is called the Raleigh Belt, but a large part is on the Coastal Plain.

Orange County is largely on the Carolina Slate Belt, the same geology for much of the Piedmont.

This is part of the reason why communities can be proximate yet have very different issues for water, building etc.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who Knew?

A couple of weeks ago I heard the term “rain harvesting” for the first time on a listserv. The Web quickly took me to a company in North Carolina that is one of the most recommended, and they have a source in Durham.

Within a few days, I had enough information for a 700-gallon system at home, perfect for hand-watering more than 100 shrubs and trees and a smidgeon of lawn. We’re also looking at a 5,600-gallon system at DCVB that would provide nearly 80,000 gallons a year for irrigation and help us promote Durham’s green reputation.

City water is still much less expensive, but drought or not, it just makes sense to move non-drinking uses to other sources.

But the point of this posting is how efficiently we can move now from learning a concept to practical implementation, thanks to the Web.

Last time we had a drought and I put in rain barrels, it poured, and I spent years bleeding them off. So getting a system now that requires less maintenance is a guarantee the lakes will be full soon.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Landfill Fires

You wouldn’t know it from all of the hullabaloo last year about the fire at the landfill, but there have been nearly 60,000 landfill fires in communities this decade. An average of more than 8,000 annually. Shoot, there are only 34,000 incorporated places in the U.S., so the odds of having a landfill fire appear to be high.

Why didn’t the news reports contain this information? Or did I just miss something, along with all of the other people who had a lot to say.

Why were people so quick to jump to the conclusion this was a very rare event or to assume someone was an idiot? Or that this just must be “Durham.”

Then again, knowing that news reports about content with which I am very familiar are at best 80-85% accurate (reporters and editors don’t pretend to be infallible) why do I read or listen or view reports on other topics and take them as 100% accurate?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Durham Accolades for 2007

Durham is one of 34,000 “places” in the US (1,237 over 25,000 population, one of 254 cities 100,000+, one of 3,140 counties, and the principal city in one of 361 MSAs). There are communities that rank higher in a category or two, but Durham is one of a handful that consistently rank high across so many different aspects in a given year. Below are some of the accolades Durham received during the past year either as a community or as the core community for a four-county MSA.
  • #2 Best Green Cities For Lifestyle and Quality of Life – Country Home
  • #3 Best Small City for Relocating Families - World ERC and Primacy Relocation
  • #6 for bird counting lists submitted – Great Backyard Bird Count
  • #7 for Business and Careers - Forbes
  • #15 Best Place to Live in the USA - Bert Sperling’s City’s Ranked & Rated
  • #16 Best Green Places (overall) in America - Country Home
  • #26 City Where Business Opportunity Is Greatest For Growing Companies -
  • #37 Best Walking City - Prevention
  • #45 Hottest Business market in the Country - Inc. Magazine
  • 100 Best Communities for Young People - America’s Promise - The Alliance for Youth
  • 100 Best Communities for Music Education - American Music Conference
  • Top Ten Tech Town - Wired
  • Tree City USA for 24th year - National Arbor Day Foundation
  • Top 20 MSA in the nation (only one in N.C.) ranked as Best Places to Educate Your Child - Forbes
  • #1 MSA for College graduation rate among select national tech-focused MSAs - Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel
  • #1 MSA in the nation for percentage of workforce in the “Creative Class” - Catalytix
  • #1 MSA for least excessive drinking and alcohol-related problems - Men’s Health Magazine
  • #3 MSA for Fast Cities (when combined with another MSA and compared back to individual MSAs) - Fast Company
  • #3 MSA for African-Americans to Work, Live and Play (when combined with another MSA and compared back to individual MSAs) – Black Enterprise
For all Durham accolades, click here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Words to Describe a Community

A friend of mine recently shared with me some passages from a book she’s reading. The characters ruminate on “one” word associations for various cities. Words that characterize a community are truly the core elements of its brand. But to be valid in that sense, they need to be words associated with a community by both its internal constituents and its external audiences.

Here are some of the word/city associations in the book:

Los AngelesSucceed
New YorkAchieve

It is an understatement to say Raleigh and Durham have very different cultural identities. A NYT writer once told me one of these places just as well be Tulsa and the other Kuala Lumpur.

Folks in Raleigh always seem to have a lot to say about what they think of Durham. Well, here is what Durham thinks of itself and them. The Durham traits come right out of interviews, focus groups and surveys of both Durham residents and external audiences.

Big LeagueIvy League