Sunday, May 31, 2015

I'm Ready for My Close-up, CB

My brother’s son, Eric, made it onto NBC’s national newscast last Wednesday night. Alas, he was one of the victims of the data hacking of Anthem Inc.’s health insurance files. A face was needed to personalize the tens of millions affected consumers. Eric became everyman.

Still, it was a thrill to be interviewed for about 30 minutes, of which perhaps five seconds of Eric appeared on air. Such is the life of an everyman consumer. 

This wasn’t the first time Eric scored media news coverage. Back in 1998 The Washington Post featured his exploits at the Winter Olympics in Japan (as a spectator, not as an athlete). More on that later.

No matter how many times it happens, even if you are an every day bylined reporter, there’s never anything dull about seeing your name in print, or seeing and hearing yourself on air, TV or radio. I always turned to my editorial column whenever a new edition of Chain Store Age reached my desk. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they are indifferent to the experience. They’re deluding themselves and lying to you. It’s equally stimulating when others notice your work and bring it to your attention.

About 25 years ago I secured MasterCard as a sponsor for a Retail Credit Trends report my magazine published. A few months later American Airlines signed MasterCard to sponsor a business segment for its in-flight programming. MasterCard asked me to be part of the telecast. I was flattered but the thrill became palpable when a friend mentioned that while flying to California he happened to look up from his work at the very moment my face appeared on a big screen before him. He didn’t have his headphones on, but he said I looked authoritative.

Some 12 years later NPR invited me to its New York studio for a live afternoon broadcast (I think it was for All Things Considered) on the retail scene in Maryland, specifically why large chains, especially The Home Depot, were not placing stores in a predominantly Afro-American community. As people rarely recored radio broadcasts it was not unexpected when few of my family and friends listened to the 15-minute interview live or on tape. 

So it was that much more exhilarating when I learned one of Ellie’s friends in Hawaii called her to say he heard her dad being interviewed on NPR. That made me smile almost as wide as the time an advertising client related how a salesman started dancing around an office waiting room holding a copy of Chain Store Age open to my editorial page while screaming, “He was a camper of mine.” 

Seeing one’s name in print is not always an occasion to relish. Among my editorial job tasks was talking to the press, which I did about twice a month. I’m a journalist, so I can say this: Be wary when talking to a reporter. Measure all your words carefully. Think how they might sound or appear in print. They don’t mean to, but reporters may place your words out of context. Until I saw or heard the finished article I always worried the reporter might distort a comment made in context into a sensational quote I would need to explain to a bent-out-shape retail executive.

As long as I’m updating you on my media history, I saw the other day that HBO will air the mini-series Show Me a Hero beginning August 16. The producers filmed it without my debut as a film extra last fall; I could not make the first casting call and they didn’t bother to get in touch with me again. Ah, well …

Getting back to my nephew Eric, here’s how Washington Post reporter Kevin Sullivan chronicled his exploits at the Nagano Olympics in 1998: 

After portraying how the rich and famous enjoyed the Olympics, Sullivan wrote, “For those without royal blood or imperial purses, there’s always the Eric Plan. 

“Eric Forseter, 22, from Rockville, (MD), is spending a year bumming around Australia as he prepares for law school next year. He bought a cheap plane ticket from Sydney to Tokyo plus a Japanese rail pass, and made his way to Nagano with about $400 in his pocket. 

“Forseter found lodging at a hostel, where he spends about $30 a night to sleep on a tatami mat on the floor in a room with 10 strangers. He had to go out and buy a towel, and he's living on orange juice and croissants from the convenience store. He said his accommodations are relatively spacious, though, compared with the 15 or 20 George Washington University students crammed into another room. 

“On his first day in town, Forseter met another young man who had bummed two tickets to the high-profile Canada-Sweden men’s hockey game from one of the players. They sat in great seats right behind the goal, then moved to seats directly behind the team benches. They collected a couple of stray pucks and even a broken stick from the Swedish team. 

“That night they rolled into the Pink Elephant bar and had beers with NHL stars Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick, who play for the U.S. team. The next day, Forseter bagged tickets for the Finland-Russia hockey game. Scalpers wanted more than $400, but a nice man invited Forseter to sit with him for free. Turns out the man is the father of NHL star Teemu Selanne, who plays for Finland. Forseter sat at center ice and chatted with Pat LaFontaine of the U.S. men's hockey team and the parents of NHL’ers Pavel Bure and Chris Chelios, who were sitting nearby. 

“Sunday night, with somebody’s extra ticket, Forseter saw figure skating, one of the Games’ premier events, for $4 — the cost of a shuttle bus. In total, Forseter figures he’s spent about $300 and had about $3,000 worth of fun. 

“‘I’m on a roll,’ he said.”

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