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November 17th, 2009
02:00 PM ET

50on50: The worst time I was suckered


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I got the email in a plane on the runway. Last night at 8:22pm. HE – the man who was responsible for my most embarrassing panic-inducing moment as a journalist – is “happy to talk … eager to help if I can,” according to the message on my buzzing Blackberry. It’s been 18 years since I fell for his practical joke. Eighteen years since I relayed his faux news release to the largest news audience in America, on 'World News Tonight With Peter Jennings.' Jennings had the egg on his face. But I pitched the egg. And now HE – that eminent author with the twinkle in his eye, is “eager to help if he can.”

NOVEMBER 5, 1991

That’s when it happened. The evening of November 5th, 1991. I remember the specific date because I just looked it up on the internet. My memory of being suckered lives forever in my heart and on the Vanderbilt Television News Archive. I was a mere 31-years-old. A year into my job as the youngest of Peter Jennings’ three writers. That’s when the fax came into our newsroom with the story I couldn’t resist.

FORBES FYI

The news release, in some respects, sounded too good to be true. But the letterhead on the fax was from a reputable news brand: Forbes. Forbes FYI to be precise. It had a phone number at the bottom. I dialed it. The answering machine was on (in those days it was an actual machine.) It sounded authentic to my 31-year-old ears. But nobody would be available until the next day.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/17/art.christopher.buckley.jpg caption="Christopher Buckley at an event in New York City in May."]

I couldn’t wait. Jennings was going on the air in 90 minutes, and I felt compelled to beat the competition with this gem of a story about what the Soviet Union planned to do with the body of its founder, Vladimir Lenin. The Kremlin, according to the fax, was going to auction off Lenin’s body to the highest bidder.

THE CULPRIT WAS …

So now, after all these years, I’ve tracked down the author of the faux fax. It was no secret who wrote it: the eminent author Christopher Buckley. Given my one experience with him, when he emails me that he’s “eager to help,” I’m reminded of the Twilight Zone episode when strange looking creatures from outer space with huge brains descend on earth. The only clue to their intentions is a book they’ve brought with them written in their strange language. The American translators are relieved when they figure out the book’s title: “How to Serve Man.” By the time they realize it’s a cook book, it’s too late. I will speak with Christopher Buckley, but not near the kitchen.

CAN I TRUST BUCKLEY NOW?

I was still on the runway, waiting for my flight to take off, when another email from Buckley arrived, at 8:27 p.m., a mere five minutes after the first. Buckley could talk now. I called immediately.

Chris: Michael!

Me: Chris!

I was in a bit of a fog from the excitement, so I’m not sure I got his quote right. But I think he said “I’ll tender an apology 15 years late.” So tender.

I told Buckley I couldn’t really talk now because my flight was about to take off. But we made plans to chat the following day (today) in the afternoon. “You’d better get off the phone,” he urged me, “or you’ll get in trouble with the FAA. I don’t want to get you in trouble a second time.”

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 16th, 2009
03:24 PM ET

50on50: Suckered – Part 1


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

It happened again. My on-the-verge-of-50 savvy and life experience could not prevent my jaw from dropping. I'm aware lobbyists have influence in Congress. But this was another case of "I didn't know what I didn't know."

IMAGINE

Imagine a member of Congress saying publicly, for the record: “A lobbyist for a major pharmaceutical company has convinced me that ….” Well, we don’t really need to finish such a statement. “A lobbyist convinced me” is not the quickest route to credibility. And yet ...

And yet, we learned in this Sunday’s New York Times that more than a dozen members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, entered statements in the Congressional Record that were written by a lobbyist.

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According to The New York Times, the language was spoon fed to congressional staffers, Democrats and Republicans, by a prominent pharmaceutical lobbyist, and regurgitated, word for word in most cases, by the members of Congress themselves. Regurgitated without any attribution.

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 14th, 2009
08:29 AM ET

50on50: Age = Influence?


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I was ready for my closing argument. The information I gathered from leading trial attorneys for my past two pieces added so much additional weight to the premise that the 18-49 year old audience demo is finished, I was ready to end it right here. But I asked one too many questions.

Age=Influence … Very Often

In case you haven’t been following this series: a 34-year-old trial lawyer acquaintance of mine alerted me to the fact that litigators tend to correlate the age of a juror with his or her potential influence. Generally speaking, the older juror will be the more influential one. That’s who you want on your side. It’s the influencers who we want in our TV and dotcom audience as well. With that knowledge, 18-49 seems so arbitrary.

Voices of Experience

I called my friend Cindy Vreeland about this. She’s the Vice Chair of the Intellectual Property Litigation Practice Group at the top tier law firm WilmerHale. University of Chicago Law School class of 1990. “You’d love to persuade all members of the jury,” says Vreeland. But, in reality, you hope “to persuade the jurors who are interested in the case and have the power to persuade the others.”

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 13th, 2009
01:35 PM ET

50on50: Balloon boy – the judge’s surprise


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

As I approach 50, I must remind myself, despite my “vast” life experience, always be prepared to be surprised. For example, this morning at 10:30am, CNN was covering the “balloon boy” parents’ court appearance - LIVE. What a waste of precious air time I thought. And then, I was surprised.

FLY BABY, FLY

The defense attorney for the “balloon boy’s” father was explaining politely to the judge why the judge could keep things brief since his client understood the implications of his guilty plea. My eyes were glued to the right side of CNN’s screen which showed video of the great helium balloon flight – speeding through the sky – looking like a giant chef’s hat racing to pluck the father from the court room oven and deliver him to his alleged dream of a reality show.

But this was his reality show. In the courtroom. Pleading guilty. That’s when the surprise hit me. This story was not a waste of precious air time.

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 12th, 2009
06:16 PM ET

50on50: Trial Lawyers v. 18-49 demo – Part 2


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I just learned some things that have me really excited about turning 50 – and more excited than ever that this 50on50 series may help bury the 18-49 audience demo worshipers in time for my big birthday in December. I learned these things from one of the leading jury consultants in America.

Pick a Juror, Not Any Juror

Doug Green knows a leader when he sees one. Trial lawyers pay him good money to identify the potential leaders in a jury pool, men and women who will have the influence, the stature, the respect, the inclination, to persuade the other members of the jury to vote one way. And, Green has found, there is a correlation between age and influence.

I’ll share one of Green’s many stories from the courtroom to illustrate the point. It involved an intellectual property case in Texas.

“A juror comes into court in a coat and tie. He’s wearing a tie chain. Well turned out for a country setting. He’s about 60. Retired. Does some farming and ranching. He had been a foreman on a jury before. If we lose him, we know we’re in deep trouble. If we win him we may not necessarily be ok. But if we lose him, he’ll take the rest of the jury with him.”

FULL POST


Filed under: 360° Radar • Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 11th, 2009
11:15 AM ET

50on50: Trial Lawyers v. the 18-49 demo


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I bumped into a trial lawyer acquaintance of mine at Starbucks in the CNN Center the other day. Somehow we got into talking about what litigators look for when choosing a jury. That’s when it hit me. How to select a jury can help people in my business choose a target audience. And the lesson from jury selection is: the 18-49 age demo seems to make little sense. Its days are numbered as I approach my 50th birthday.

THE ONE

The name of the trial lawyer who sparked my eureka moment is Stefan Turkheimer. He used to be with the DA’s office prosecuting felonies, including “a lot of meth trafficking.” Now he represents plaintiffs in personal injury and other cases.

Turkheimer explained that, because it’s so hard to get 12 members of a jury to agree on a verdict, attorneys can’t possibly try to pick the right 12.

Instead, they try to pick the right ONE. The ONE who has the potential to – and here’s the key word - INFLUENCE the other 11 jurors. The ONE who can “marshal the troops in the jury room.“ That ONE, you hope, you’ll be able to persuade.

How old does that someone tend to be, I asked Turkheimer. “It’s someone who has reached a certain age,” was his answer.

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 9th, 2009
11:45 AM ET

50on50: My confidential job self-evaluation


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I must interrupt my 50th birthday campaign – my campaign to bury the worshipers of the18-49 audience “demo” – so that I can tend to company business. The deadline has arrived for me to write the confidential self-evaluation portion of my job performance review. For efficiency’s sake, I’ll post it right here.

I’m in a zone as I approach 50. Not a zone defense. A creative zone. I can’t remember precisely when it began. But if it stretches on much longer, in the 50on50 AC360.com series I’ve been doing to fight my imminent expulsion from the 18-49 demo, I believe CNN stands to make incalculable gains (or, better yet, calculable.)

Would I rather be turning 40? Sure I would. Provided I was in this zone. I’ve spent various periods of my life in the zone. But never a zone like this. And never for so long in a single stretch. So if 50 is the price of admission to this zone, I’ll pay it.

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 5th, 2009
11:00 AM ET

50on50: Advice from Michael Jackson


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[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/11/02/boxoffice.this.is.it.ew/story.this.is.it.gi.jpg caption="'Michael Jackson on set at one of his final rehearsals." width=416 height=234]

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I was hoping to post a story this morning called: “What Selecting a Jury Teaches Us About Targeting the Ideal Audience.” But I decided to take Michael Jackson’s advice instead. The story has to wait. Here’s why.

The story I was racing to write was triggered by a chance discussion I had yesterday with a smart, young trial lawyer I know. This 30-something litigator told me how he goes about sizing up which jurors will have the maximum impact for his client.

If I could translate his insights on choosing a jury into choosing a target audience, I could help knock the wind out of the worshipers of the 18-49 audience demo. But Michael Jackson’s advice slowed me down.

I can’t remember what song Jackson was singing at the moment in the captivating new documentary “This is It” (somebody out there who has seen it please refresh my memory.)

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 4th, 2009
11:20 AM ET

50on50: Saw blade through thumb. What would you do?


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

It’s going to be hard to keep your eyes off the photo in this piece. But the story of a construction worker’s thumb impaled by an 8 inch serrated blade provides me with a weapon in my final 50 days before turning 50. The weapon might be valuable as I battle those who plan to kick me out of the 18-49 year old audience demographic. Don’t worry, I won’t use the blade.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/04/art.saw.50on50.jpg]

What Would You Do?

The story of the saw in the thumb was shared at a CNN editorial meeting by one of the most popular leaders in the field of internet social networking. His name is Chris Brogan.

Brogan has more than 106-THOUSAND followers on Twitter (you’re all invited to lunch at his place.)

He was at CNN to explain how companies like ours can enlarge our audience and build trust through social networking.

I had one question for Brogan. So many of us on Facebook, Twitter, and similar networks, find ourselves swamped with inane thoughts, often from very bright people. We’re losing faith in social networking. We’re tempted to tune out.

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
November 3rd, 2009
02:00 PM ET

50on50: The velvet rope social network


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[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/02/art.red.velvet.jpg]

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

Let me begin with my Facebook status update: I JUST PUT ON MY PANTS. THEY FIT WELL.

There are two silent reactions my friends on Facebook might have. Which one do you think is more likely:

a) I really trust Michael's opinion. I wonder what brand of pants he's wearing today, where he bought them, and how much they cost. Does he have a recommendation for a good dry cleaners?
b) Has Facebook stolen my friend Michael's brain?

The more likely answer is b.

So many of us on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites feel this way. We try to limit our Friending requests to people we know, or have reason to respect. Intelligent people. People with important or funny or original things to say or pass on. And then they go and ruin it by sending out messages that sound like they've been written by a body snatcher.

Now, not all our Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers do this. A number of mine focus primarily on introducing our social network to ideas, places, people and events we would benefit from knowing about.

FULL POST


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
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