Today's Rash Report is about, well, Rash.
Because it's my last Rash Report column for Ad Age. And it's my last day at Campbell Mithun, the ad agency that's been my professional home for a quarter century.
Newspapers? Yeah, I know. I read the news about newspapers, too.
But I am optimistic that newspapers will always be around. Oh sure, it may not forever be the modern media miracle delivered to your doorstep. Someday soon it's more likely to be on-screen than it is on the porch. Yet news is necessary in every society, everywhere. And newspapers have the best physical and intellectual infrastructure to continue to be the main source.
Besides, I've had a front row seat to this show before, having watched ratings halved on network TV over my career.
But look at them now. CBS just had the biggest audience ever for the big game on Super Sunday. ABC's Oscar-cast is next week, and one of the favorites, "Avatar" (the movie with blue characters that's made a lot of green in Hollywood), is the biggest box-office draw ever, which should spike ratings. Fox's "American Idol" continues to be the network death star, as it won twice this week over NBC's spectacular Vancouver coverage, which itself proved that there's nothing that compelling content can't cure.
So, sure, there's been some demographic diminution. But what's most amazing is that as the Big Three mushroomed into the Big 300 on most cable or satellite services, that the networks can still often split half the viewers among them.
Some of this has been done by innovating with new genres, like reality TV. That's meant fewer scripted series, of course. But those that remain must be better than ever, which is why many critics contend it's the new golden age of television. So along with the criticism they often face, much credit is due to programming executives -- and the sales execs who make it all possible. Content has always been king. But it was easier to reign in the era of three networks and three martini lunches. Today TV is more like Starbucks -- familiar, but with infinite choices. So investing in the best programming available anywhere is a necessity, not a luxury, for the big broadcasters. Sometimes it's a matter of checkbook programming, like buying NFL rights. But that has to be coupled with taking more creative and commercial risks, so the next "Mad Men" is likely to be on ABC as it is on AMC.
This cultural-commercial continuum of media will still be a part of my beat at the paper. But I'll miss covering it for Ad Age, a publication I will depend on more than ever to keep me up to date. I'll be forever grateful to all my colleagues there, who allowed a media negotiator to negotiate a column on a daily basis. In particular, Ann Marie Kerwin, whose edifying editing taught me so much. When she ran out of red ink (although never out of patience) Aris Georgiadis was just as great, and gracious. The whole team, including Greg Palmer, has been terrific, as well as former Editor Jonah Bloom. Of course he's moved on to new challenges, but Ad Age will not only survive, but thrive. After all, they put a Minnesotan, Abbey Klaassen, in charge.
Most of all I'll miss Campbell Mithun. Agency veterans are familiar with the internal marketing mantra most shops have that creativity isn't just for the creative department. Campbell Mithun walked the talk, encouraging me to go beyond Nielsen, and to think about the nation, and how we watch and what it means. They then allowed me to explore it academically, which led to me teaching mass media and pop culture at the University of Minnesota. And finally I was ready to write about it -- first at my kitchen table, then as an agency release. It led not only to the Ad Age version of the Rash Report, but one on Delta Sky magazine, which I'll continue to write, as well as a radio version on WCCO-AM radio, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis.
I'll be forever grateful to Campbell Mithun for all of it. Especially to Earl Herzog, Dick Hurrelbrink, Steve Wehrenberg, Don Kvam, Steve Arndt, Harv Furman and Carol Grothem, as well as the real brains of the daily operation, Hilary Lund, Seth Normington, Sara Moe and Zo Paradis.
But now it's time to begin a new challenge. Or maybe it's just a different version of an old one. My first job, after all, was to deliver the Star Tribune. Now it's time to deliver for it.