Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Living Room Guest That Won't Leave

It sounds so easy! (from eHow)

We’ve finally upgraded to a flat-screen HD TV set in our living room.  The new 32-inch Toshiba fits perfectly on the wall between two windows.

We also have another new piece of living room furniture – a 120-pound coffee table! Ok, it’s actually our old, anything-but-flat, 32-inch RCA set, circa mid-‘90s.  But we’re kind of getting used to it staying around.

Not that we haven’t tried to get rid of the behemoth.

Right off, my sister’s boyfriend told me that, when he had a similar problem, the Salvation Army was more than happy to come and pick up his set.

Apparently, the Salvation Army marches differently on Long Island than here in Brooklyn.

“I’d like to donate a giant working TV set,” I tell the charity’s representative.

“Great,” he responds. “What do you have with it?”

“Uh, I have the remote control and the instruction manual.”

“No, what other furniture are you donating?”

“Isn’t a large TV set enough?”

“We require two pieces of furniture for a pick-up.  You can drop the TV off.”

“I don’t have a car – and it weighs 120 pounds!”

No other charity seemed willing to pick up a TV set in Brooklyn, either, so we decided to give the monster away to a regular citizen. 

Having heard that Freecycle was the way to go in these matters, I joined that Yahoo group and posted the following listing: “working 32" RCA Entertainment Series TV set, complete with remote
control and instruction book -- but estimated weight of more than 100

Within a day, I’d received three responses.  The first two were extremely polite -- “Can I have it please!” and “When can I get it please?” – and the third a bit more direct: “I am interested.”

To each, I replied, “Great, do you have a way to move it?”

And that was my last interaction with anyone from Freecycle.

A while later, doing some more research on the Internet, I discovered 4thbin, dubbed “the ethical e-waste rescue solution.”  4thbin offers to pick up used TV sets in New York City – for a price.  "Well," I told my wife, "we knew from the start we couldn’t sell our oversized box. Then, we found out we couldn’t give it away. So maybe it’s time that we pay someone to take it away."

Facing the inevitable -- that nobody would ever watch a TV show again on our still perfectly functioning, but now obsolete old set -- I was now reconciled to happily paying for it to be demolished in the name of a sustainable planet.  So I filled out the form on the 4thbin website for a free estimate.

A day or so later, I received an email with the price.  My reply: “Ok, what’s the next step?”

And that was my last interaction with 4thbin.

And so this enormous “coffee table” still sits in our living room. 

The next step, of course, is to push the set out to the curb (we do live on the ground floor, after all!).  Then, inevitably -- regardless of any forecast-- it will begin to rain, forcing us to remove the “It works!” sign taped onto the TV. And the city’s Department of Environmental Protection will undoubtedly ticket us for illegal curbside disposal.

In the meantime, please wipe that coffee stain off the glass top of our table!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dispatchers & Dispatches: Airlines & Newspapers Meet Their Connections at Gate Greed

This was the summer when two good friends of ours finally had long-gestating books published -- Dave Astor’s Comic (and Column) Confessional and Bill McGee’s Attention All Passengers.  (But please note: Those of you Googling the latter book who don’t know Mr. McGee on a personal level must refer to him as “William J.”! And Amazon insists that Dave's book was published in 2008!)

What are these two books about? Let their subtitles explain.
Astor: Finding Myself While Covering Syndicates, Celebrities and a Changing Media World
McGee: The Airlines' Dangerous Descent---and How to Reclaim Our Skies

While Bill’s book is obviously about the descent of the airline industry, Dave’s has a similar theme -- the descent of newspaper syndication in particular and newspapers themselves by extension.  No, I wouldn’t call it a “dangerous” descent – the death of a bunch of newspapers can’t be compared with the deaths of hundreds of airplane passengers.

But the causes of each industry's decline, as detailed by Dave and Bill, are remarkably similar – the greed of corporate America and its executives. That greed leads to the downsizing of good jobs, to mergers and acquisitions, to the maximizing of profits over the considerations of employees and consumers. It’s no surprise that Ralph Nader appears prominently in both tomes.

While Dave and Bill argue eloquently about how the industries they cover have specific attributes leading to unique corporate arrogance, they would both probably agree that newspapers and airlines don’t have any monopolies in this area. Take trade publishing, for example. Dave’s book – being a memoir of his 25 years at Editor & Publisher magazine before he was, well, himself downsized – also provides a good look at how business-to-business media play the same corporate game.

Indeed, I met Dave while we both worked at Marketing Communications magazine, and my wife met Bill when they were colleagues at Travel Agent. While Dave then stayed in one place for 25 years, I spent a few years traveling from one corporately mishandled trade pub to another. I covered the TV industry, where deregulation led to the consolidation of TV station owners (comparable to individual newspapers). Combined with the consolidation of content suppliers (as with the newspapers, also called syndicators), this reduced the numbers of both potential readers and potential advertisers, leading to, well, the consolidation of TV trade pubs.

Hey, I could write a book! Hell no, that’s an awful lot of work. I’m sure Dave and Bill were holed up in a cave the past couple of years!

But I could write something under my own name for a change. Or under my first name, at least. And so I have.

(photos by Les)