Monday, January 30, 1995


Well it's but a month into the new year and I've already modified one of my resolutions. But that's okay. Change is good. Adaptability and flexibility make fine middle names.

I resolved on New Year's Eve that by the end of the calendar year 1995, the Chinese Year of the Boar, I would have some piece of my writing published in a major publication, or if you will, have a major piece of my work published. A lofty ambition indeed, but having just turned the corner past thirty, it was a feat long striven for and seldom sincerely sought. Now that I was a mature adult, it was time to become a serious writer.

Events of this past week may not have entirely squelched that desire but they certainly shed new light on the worthiness of such a goal. I had the fortune to be asked to attend a conference of many of the major Minnesota magazine publishers at the Metrodome Sheraton last Monday. The event itself was quite inspiring. I learned that the printing and publishing industry is the second largest industry (next to manufacturing) in the state and that many fine people are connected with it.

I was there as a clerical worker whose duties it was to help with the registration of the members. I smiled and politely collected the fees due. Many of the people I met were powerful people in their own daily worlds; owners of magazines, publishers, editors and people in charge. I was fortunate after the registration process was completed, to be able to eat lunch and sit next to Craig Neal, the publisher of one of the few magazines I read with any regularity, the Utne Reader.

Mr. Neal commanded the most attention at the table I was at, being the publisher of one of the largest, best known, and most respected Minnesota based magazines. His charisma, knowledge, and education came across very clearly in his conversation. He was the center of the rest of us, obviously quite comfortable and used to being there. I took in the discussion and the unspoken role playing, with great curiosity. I tried to figure out how exactly I fit in. Here was my big chance, a once in a lifetime experience to network with, and impress with my witty repartee', someone who had it in his grasp to alter the very direction of my life.

So I quietly snarfed down my cheesecake.

I was a bit disappointed at the conversation that swirled on around me. The arrogance and elitism hovered as clearly as the clanking noises of goblets and fine china. Many of these people seemed to have little connection with every day concerns that probably confront their readers. Indeed, personally they made me feel every bit the lowly state clerical person who somehow managed to seat himself at this high powered conference in their world. Was I being paranoid? To a degree. Was this going to be a bit much on the old self esteem? Quite possibly.

But as the conversation turned to the common concerns each of these high powered people faced (the cost of printing on recycled paper; potential tax increases facing the industry; the danger of changing too fast for one's audience; the cost of magazines in Germany) a strange sense of pride swept through me. I didn't have to take a back seat. My problems were certainly just as bothersome as any of their's. I just about blurted out that I was the editor of the finest newsletter in the state and felt like asking them all in all seriousness, if any of them had seen my work. More cheesecake. As the back patting moved on, I really felt like I didn't need heed to the inferiority that should have been inherent in the situation. My work, my writing means as much if not more to me than anyone I observed in the room, and in the end, that means just as much as circulation or profits.

As the lunch ended and the publishers congratulated themselves, I hustled out of the room feeling slightly smug, and a lot more satisfied with where I was at in my own world. One of the leading critics of my work has suggested that my writing is too personal to have any type of universal appeal. This is of course a concern, because like any other writer, I want my work to be read and enjoyed by as many people as possible. Since most of my work these days is for the newsletter and this may not be a major publication, and the writing we do here might not be any more than an individual catharsis, nonetheless I don't think it can be said we suffer from the ills of trying to be too popular or that we have lost our self in self congratulatory elitism. This isn't exactly brain surgery, but that's the very point, we don't need to be.

The same thing might be said for our company. The issues we as an organization face as we move forward, as we face new and bigger challenges, as we decide our direction at the same time trying to survive in an increasingly competitive market, can be difficult and it can be easy to lose ourselves in the chaos itself. But as long as we keep on recognizing the services and products that make our stores unique; keep on identifying and doing whatever we can do to best meet the needs of our customers, we can consider ourselves a success. We may not reach the sales totals of larger corporations, but we can take pride in what we do provide and the uniqueness of our identity.

Monday, January 23, 1995

Name of the Game

"Business information, this is David..."

Back in the Dark Ages when I used to help answer the Minnesota Secretary of State's corporate information lines, one of my major duties was to check on "name availability" for new corporations and businesses that wished to change their corporate name.

I had a computer that accessed a database; I would punch in the proposed name and an alphabetical listing of similar names popped up on my screen. It was my job to do a preliminary check, trying to determine if the proposed name conflicted with any other names currently registered with the Secretary of State.

Previous state law said the name standard for the filing of a business name was that names could not be registered that were "deceptively similar" to another on file. The name standard changed in recent years to allowing the Secretary of State to accept names that were "distinguishable" from all others registered. This helped free up options for businesses trying to file an acceptable name. It also was a big change in the law.

For example, under the old law, businesses wishing to file a name that contained the word, "Daytons" would have a difficult time getting a name accepted. Under the new law, a business probably would be allowed to file the name "Hudson-Dayton, Corporation" because the name is different and thus distinguishable from "Dayton-Hudson Corporation."

The key in all this is that names are not filed with the state to establish rights to that name. Rights to a business name are established by a business using the name in the market place and thus developing common law rights to its corporate name. So, while it would probably be possible to file the name "Hudson Dayton Corporation" Daytons no doubt would probably have a problem with the other business, and would send a room full of hungry young lawyers after the other company. If the other business had begun using the name, Daytons probably could claim any earnings used under the name "Hudson Daytons" infringed on their rights to the name and punitive damages would be awarded.

People took name registration very seriously. For good reason- deciding on what you should call your business somehow hovers over all the other decisions you have to make to succeed. No matter how good your product or service, if your name is inappropriate, chances are you won't make it. Registering a name was yet one more area where the threat of a lawsuit hung heavy in the air. The mantra I chanted after many of the tens of thousands of calls I answered was:

"That name appears to be available, however we will not make the final decision until you submit your papers and a final search is conducted."

Names are filed with the Secretary of State, the great keeper of records, for public information, to help maintain a certain amount of information on corporations. One of the major stress factors in answering a great number of these phone calls was having to tell callers that yes indeed, there was a $35 dollar fee for filing information such as a name or address change. "$35 bucks to change my address? I'm going to call my congressperson!" What people didn't understand was that the filing fee wasn't for changing the information, it was for the process of reviewing the change for legal standards, plus the costs of maintaining a database as well as microfilm and retrieval costs.

The point of bringing all this up is not to impress you all with my knowledge of filing articles of incorporation and corporate amendments. The point being the relationship that exists between businesses and the government is a difficult one. The current administration is moderately "business friendly" trying to establish an atmosphere that will keep Minnesota businesses happy and profitable. Working from the government side, I had to straddle the line between helping business people with paperwork, while also trying to deal with a public that wanted to find out as much as they could about the businesses.

With the changes we are all facing in our company, deciding on the corporate name will be challenging. To find a creative and innovative name that helps describe and promote our business will be hard enough. That the name has to meet certain criteria to be accepted for filing with the state, makes it all the more difficult. So for all of you with input on what our new stores will be called, good luck.

Next week: D/B/A (doing business as) names.

Monday, January 16, 1995

St. Rose of Lima Defeats Highland Park

In a clash of eighth grade private school girls basketball titans, the determined team from St. Rose of Lima defeated the mighty Highland Park Catholic school last Wednesday at the University of Minnesota Women's Basketball Pavilion.

Half of the game is available for asking via video tape, the other half is not due to a malfunctioning camcorder battery. A greater appreciation for the work done by camera people at sporting events should be had by all... Ladies and gents, these folks' job ain't easy.

Led by power forward Jessica Deutsch, the girls from St. Rose of Lima held off the feisty Highland Park team by a score no longer remembered by this reporter. In the end, St. Rose's trapping defense provided too big an obstacle for the guard play of Highland Park.

St. Rose won its fourth game of the year behind the solid ball handling, rebounding and defense from Deutsch, along with solid scoring from Cree, Jill, and the rest of St. Rose's starting five. St. Rose's inspired effort in a neutral sight arena proved that girl's basketball can provide for an excellent afternoon of entertainment. Pay equity aside, determination, spirit, and skill played with passion and intensity demonstrated that the game at any level is worth a peek.

Rumor has it that St. Rose's underclasses will exceed this year's group, and big things should be expected out of the program.


A NOTE ABOUT LAST WEEK'S ARTICLE IN THIS SPACE: Last week we had a tirade that probably made little sense to many of you. As you might recall if you read the article, I had a bit of a problem with the advertising and philosophy of one of our local newscasts.

The article was a self indulgent effort bemoaning the lack of ethics by one of our local stations. Yes, the article had little to do with what our stores are about, and most of you probably did not make it through the entire piece, but it had to be written. I woke up screaming one night about the travesty of Channel 4's news, and I couldn't get back to sleep until my thoughts were down on paper. I'd seen one too many self promoting commericals, one too many warm fuzzy newscasts.

An alternative viewpoint was expressed to me, for which I am grateful. Said viewpoint pointed out that Channel 4 is giving an ideal example of applying Quality principles to their newscast. Indeed, Channel 4 has followed the Quality mantra by listening to its customers and providing the service the customers have called for.

While my argument might be that journalism is not about Total Quality Management, it has to be conceded that WCCO is a business and thus applying Quality standards to its "product" is a customer friendly type of thing to do. This was entirely overlooked in last week's article and we appreciate the education given.

Perhaps it is the frustrated journalism student that lingers inside of me, but despite my admiration for those businesses that truly develop better organization and productivity via Quality, I can't quite convince myself that the role of the media is to follow the whim of its audience.


Here's a TV recommendation to all of you closers who get home sometime after midnight: The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder. Last week the show debut, and like Snyder's CNBC effort and the classic Tomorrow shows from the late 70's, this one isterribly entertaining.

Snyder is a charismatic interviewer/ personality. He isn't afraid to ask a difficult question from his always timely guests (the first week of shows featured Newt Gingrich's parents, Ice-T and Mrs. Huffington, Kelsey Grammar, and Jon Bon Jovi), and his laugh and sense of humor are infectious. Snyder is an ideal follow up to Letterman; arrogant yet never pompous; establishment yet skeptical; show biz yet entertaining. The Late Late Show is television at its most watchable: spontaneous, funny and for the bleary eyed. Snyder provides the perfect way to unwind and end your day.

Monday, January 9, 1995

It May Be Yer News, But It Ain't My News

Next week, WCCO-TV, Channel 4, begins a brand new bold experiment in local television news. They will have two newscasts broadcast simultaneously, so we the viewers have a "choice" in what news we want to watch.

On the surface, this doesn't seem like a bad idea, and in the age of clicking, this idea fits ideally in the way many of us now watch TV, with remote control in hand. But it's not the idea that's the problem here. Rather, it is the promotion of the idea as an example of a television station's devotion to "community service."

When television began, laws were written to ensure stations devoted some broadcast time to issues of importance to communities. This is what Sunday morning TV is all about. Much of the community service idea eventually settled into local outlets forming their own news organizations and airing their own 10 o'clock news broadcasts. Go to any city of any size and you will find newscasts that resemble what we are all familiar with: 23 minute broadcasts divided into "news," weather and sports. Most stations have one male and one female anchorperson, a zany weather guy and the rah rah sports fellow.

A few years back when Channel 11 was purchased by Gannett, the way that news organization promoted itself was with a cloying "KARE" campaign, with warm news and smiling Twin Cities residents waving at the camera at the end of the broadcast. Media critics, journalism students, Channel 4's management, and those viewers with some semblance of taste, scorned the pretentious "warm fuzzy" newscast. But damn if it didn't work and eventually the KARE bear's news became the runaway leader in the ratings.

This startled Channel 4, the traditional news leader, and they scampered in reaction to Channel 11's success, eventually launching a similar campaign to show that they too, cared about their viewers and community. Last year they began a "Your News" onslaught, which included town hall gatherings to survey what their viewers wanted on a local newscast; a softer 5 o'clock broadcast which was children sensitive (no unnecessary shots of decaying corpses or the like); and several spots showcasing their people working in community service roles.

The latest example of "Your News" is this split newscast idea where viewers have a choice of watching the normal Channel 4 news and a different version on Channel 23, with no weather, sports, Dimension, but with more feature stories, financial stories, and health and fitness spots.

The problem of all this is that it really isn't a major news organization's job to ask its viewers what they want to see. Part of being a responsible news organization isn't to pawn off the definition of what "news" is, but to stand by the decisions of the organization in deciding what gets covered and what doesn't, along with defining the tone of the stories. Unfortunately, most local TV stations do an extremely poor job in doing this, and it is truly a staggering responsibility. It's a cop out to ask the viewers to decide what they want covered and how it should be covered. The more people you ask, the softer the focus becomes. What's news for me isn't necessarily what's going to be news for you. People have said they want to see less bad news. But what exactly do they mean? What is "bad" news? Much of what is news is going to disturb some group of people, because it will go against how they normally think and feel. Often times news won't make the majority feel good, but it's not supposed to.

What is truly troubling about the "Your News" concept is the idea that Channel 4 is meeting its community service responsibility by the pandering inherent in the way they have chosen to improve their ratings. If it really is our news, how about dropping the pretense of objectivity, and admit that all stories require the bias of those reporting and covering the event? Admit that what is "news" is whatever will attract the most viewers thus it isn't really a "service," it's more like entertainment.

Part of the reason given for splitting its newscast is that there isn't enough time to cover all the stories that deserve coverage and now Channel 4 will have more time. If they are really doing this for us, why not drop all the advertising and give themselves fourteen more minutes and also eliminate any potential conflicts of interest and offending and pandering to their sponsors?

This isn't to say that Channel 4's news is any worse than its competitors. Indeed, the Twin Cities is rather lucky in that we do have an alternative in Channel 2's experiment from last year, a newscast that covers the day's top stories with a little more depth and perspective. But how about something even more avant garde than giving us another clicker choice? Why not just send cameras on to the streets, into businesses, and into the legislative and city halls and film the day to day events of our communities? Try something different that no one has ever done: cover the routine and let stories build over time. Why cover crime with such fervor and not cover the long term issues that lead to despair and dysfunction in our society? Why do we need the talking head anchors rather than using the power of the medium as an art form and let the video do the talking? Television news increasingly suffers from the apparent need for the personalities of the station to be stars and the reason people watch the news.

Channel 4 is doing a lot of self promoting, proud that they are breaking new ground. But until they admit that our news is still their news, we will all just have to put up with the annoying dishonesty of the campaign. And I for one, will be watching M*A*S*H repeats on Channel 9.

Monday, January 2, 1995

New and Improved Newsletter

Yes I realize that one of the most depressing things about one of the most depressing holidays of the year is people's need to make promises to somehow improve, writing down resolutions instead of seeking real solutions. But if you can't lick 'em you gotta join them and we now pledge that in 1995, the newsletter will be bigger and better than ever. Before we unveil our promises to you, we would like to apologize for any typos that appeared in any of last year's issues. Must be that 586 Intel chip.

RESOLUTION #1: The newsletter will now be chewier than ever and with NEW IMPROVED TASTE!!!

RESOLUTION #2: The newsletter will join one of the latest fads in the world of technology and virtual reality: In 1995, we will become INTERACTIVE. Every week you can tear off the last page, crumple it into a little ball and toss it around the room. It's great fun, and most importantly, it's good for YOU!!!

RESOLUTION #3: This is the year that we also hope to become more user friendly, especially for our sight impaired readers as well as those environmentalists of you out there who want to save on paper costs and save the lives of trees. Later in the year we will offer a new service where you can phone in, and I will personally read the newsletter to you doing my best to recreate and use the many voices I hear inside my head!!! All to entertain and educate YOU!!!

RESOLUTION #4: We will cut production costs by cutting down on our consumption of breakfast burritos. And of course, we pass the savings on to YOU!!!

RESOLUTION #5: As always, we pledge to make you laugh, make you cry, but most importantly, make you think. HAPPY NEW YEAR ALL!!!

The 1994 Newsletter WOMAN OF THE YEAR

Recently, it was announced the newsletter was beginning to put together the information needed to decide, announce and salute our third annual Woman of the Year. Like any good bureaucracy, the proper people were notified, the most diverse committee was formed, and serious discussions began behind closed doors.

So, as we now step forward to honor the 1994 Woman of the Year, we'd like to thank all who had input in the output. The committee would like everyone to know there were several qualified candidates, and it is a shame that not everyone can win. Join us now, if you will, as the committee in its best pressed dress shirts, in its fanciest ties and dresses, and with its finely combed and quickly graying hair, does its best to brush out the cat hair from our clothes and recall all that were considered.

1994 was the year of the couple. You weren't no one this past year if you weren't no couple. Think about it: Loreena and John, Erik and Lyle, Tonya and Nancy, Kathie Lee and Regis, Bill and Hillary, OJ and Robert, Kurt and Courtney, ER and Chicago Hope, Heidi and her friends, Michael and Lisa Marie, Woody and Soon Yi, Conan and Andy, Jeb and George Jr., and last but not least, Rush. Man if further proof is needed about the value of bulk and teamwork, we'd like to know why.

Thus, it is with some irony that the winner can't really be considered a part of a couple. We've all heard about this person's failed marriage. And this person can hardly be linked to his counterpart in the Senate. Still, the choice for the Newsletter's third annual Woman of the Year was unanimous. This single person encapsulated the ugly tone of the year and the very idea behind the award itself: to identify the person who had the biggest impact on all of us.

During an election year of political unrest and ultimately an uplifting upheaval, one person tapped into the nasty pulse of the nation. Voters were angry and one person used this anger to fuel his so called, "Contract with America." Now disputably the most powerful member of the most powerful body in the world, NEWT GINGRICH's name no doubt will continue to haunt us all over the next few years. Perhaps now that Newt has the liberal loving, free ride pushing, drug takin', hippie sniffing, mutants from the counter culture that occupy the bunker like White House, on the run, politics of change will unfurl like nothing we've seen since the glory days of Reaganism. Yes indeed, it is with great pride and DIGNITY that the newsletter's 1994 Woman of the Year is so appropriately named. Our deepest and most sincere congratulations go out to you, Newt.

1992- H. Ross Perot
1993- St. Francis of Assisi