The King Speaks


The King Speaks

Posted by Sarah Sphar and tagged with Akron, Cavs, Cleveland, sports; 12:00am, July 7th 2010

Yesterday afternoon, it appeared that LeBron James had finally spoken - via Twitter, that is. Long notably absent from the by-turns useful and annoying service, James finally claimed his handle, King James, announcing that he was at long last "in the building." As of late Tuesday evening, James' account bore the "verified account" badge that Twitter bestows on celebrities, corporations and other high-profile accounts that are ripe for impersonation. No word on whether or not he follows his own elbow.

Celebrity Twittering is a weird phenomenon. For one thing, there's a reason some people have publicists. (The Hills' Spencer Pratt and Courtney Love are the first examples that come to mind.) For others, it's a humanizing touch - a way to interact with fans that's easy and entirely voluntary. Here in Cleveland, Josh Cribbs and Shaquille O'Neal have both built faithful Twitter followings, the latter even using the site to send followers on scavenger hunts for autographed shoes. So, the King is in good company.

When I clicked "follow" on James' Twitter page yesterday morning, he had yet to send even one message and had already racked up north of 65,000 followers. By nightfall it was hovering around 157,000 - still a long way from O'Neal's impressive 2.9 million, though one imagines he'll catch up. It will be interesting to see how James, who manages to be ubiquitous yet private, interacts with his legions of fans (and haters...on the Internet, there's no one who doesn't have them). Particularly his adoring, mercurial, devoted, fair-weather Cleveland fan base.

Cavs fans, who at this point are simply bracing to have their hearts broken, may take comfort in the fact that James' Twitter bio says "King of Akron." The words they most long to hear, however, will take far fewer than Twitter's 140 characters: "I'm staying."


Haute Spoiler Alert

Home & Style

Haute Spoiler Alert

Posted by Ivan Sheehan and tagged with culture, entrepreneur , media, Ohio, writing; 12:00am, July 7th 2010

I've never purchased a copy of, much less subscribed to, Vogue. I never embraced Men's Vogue, though its short shelf life would seem to indicate I wasn't the only one with reservations. None of this kept me from settling in to watch the 2009 documentary film, The September Issue, which chronicles Anna Wintour and her legion's quest to produce the thickest issue in Vogue history.  

While most regular Vogue readers will be smitten (and frankly, it's difficult not to be) with the couture, the romanticized locations, and the gratuitous dose of pomp and circumstance that seems to surround Wintour's every sunglass-wearing move, I was soundly floored by the business of Condé Nast's fashionable centerpiece. 

While MTV would have every teen girl believe a fanciful career in publishing awaits them at the editorial roundtables of Elle, Teen Vogue, et al, The September Issue does well to document that reality is much different. And even more ridiculous. 

As print magazines struggle, the Vogue team triumphs on in the openly ludicrous world of fashion. Filmed during the making of the record-shattering September 2007 issue, the cameras follow Wintour and her cadre on international jaunts to Paris and Rome, long hours, a tragically uncool Starbucks addiction, clever story boards, creative infighting, the scrapping of photo shoots that cost more than $50,000 and the ever-looming deadline. Having worked in the print industry, it made me nostalgic. 

The days of long editorial staff debates over what carefully cultivated copy would never see the light of day, meetings with creative directors to coordinate photo shoots for covers and fight over images, being tightly wound as deadline approached, breathing a sigh of relief when the issue went to bed: that's print nostalgia – not full reality. 

Vogue is an anomaly. Most print publications don't have multimillion dollar monthly budgets to develop their books. There's no doubting that Grace Coddington is among the world's most truly gifted creative visionaries ever to share her talents with the print world, but part of me would like to see how creative she'd be with a budget of $100 and little to no equipment. That's when a creative director really shows his or her colors. I'd like to see what Wintour would do with a staff of four, and what publisher Tom Florio would do without a reliable sales army, among other things. 

Giving credit where it is most certainly due, the Vogue team banged out an 840-page September '07 issue (of which 727 pages were advertising; 87 percent of the magazine, if you're doing the math). Two years later, ad pages were down to approximately 425. 

Recently, news broke that Florio would leave Vogue at the end of June. With Condé Nast in various capacities since the 80s, Florio doesn't know yet what he'll do next, just that he wants to do his own thing. "I've been here a long time and I really love the place … But if I don't do this now, then when?", Florio was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal. So even the top man at a top performer like Vogue can still feel the pull of the open road, so to speak.

No doubt, Florio will have ample capital at his next venture, though probably not the vast resources, power and influence he both felt and wielded at Vogue. Clearly, these things aren't as important to him as pulling his own strings. Perhaps that's the appeal of the entrepreneurial venture. I've felt it myself.


Sunday Satire: Entrepreneurial Poverty

Food & Drink , Region , Home & Style

Sunday Satire: Entrepreneurial Poverty

Posted by James Colman and tagged with business, development, entrepreneur , fashion, gallery, Internet, Lake Erie, media, politics, punk, region, satire, shopping; 12:00am, June 28th 2010

It is a widely heard message across Ohio: buy local. Consumers are encouraged to eat, drink, bathe, sleep, live, listen and build local. It is a notion that has gained significant momentum in recent years, despite the rise of multinational chain outlets. However, as one local group has discovered, living local is a hard slog. 

"We are committed to local entrepreneurial ventures. Period," says Patrick Billows, co-founder of the Center for Righteous Aspirational Poverty. "We commend those organizations that refuse to be bought by big business, instead relying exclusively on local organizations, businesses and people to fund their enterprises." 

Billows, the former proprietor of a boutique sweater shop, featuring goods only made using wool from regionally raised alpacas, opened the center in 2008 with his wife and business partner Amanda, who admits their venture was a bit shortsighted. "We launched in November and business was great for the first six months," she says. "When the weather changed in spring, business tanked and never recovered." 

The center raises money for local enterprises by relying on fund-raising efforts at events throughout Northeast Ohio. To date, local philanthropy has helped the organization raise close to $800. "We gave $100 each to six different outlets that sell local products only." The pair kept $200 as rent money for Billows' brother, who the couple lives with. 

"When we opened, we knew it would be tough; we took a vow of poverty to be local," says Renee Dintan, owner of Style Us, a clothing and record shop in Sheffield Lake. "We wanted to carry only locally made clothing and only sell albums recorded by Ohio artists." Dintan argues that the manufacture location of the vinyl is a moot topic given the artists' Ohio connection.

Business at Style Us has been tough, and Dintan sleeps on a pullout cot in the 400 square foot store and relies on a pay phone down the street from her storefront. "We read how interested people were in supporting local businesses – just go on Facebook, and it seems as if everyone is championing a local business," says Dintan. "I see lots of people talk about my store, but I don't think they're all really shopping here."

Jake Pembrooke may disagree.  He owns Father's Farm Cottage in Portsmouth, Ohio, a quiet southern Ohio town where Pembrooke's restaurant business has been booming. "I read about the problems facing local retailers – heck, I even see them; plenty of businesses have come and gone since I opened the Farm Cottage, but we don't seem to be affected," he says. Since opening, Pembrooke's highly seasonal, highly local menu has won rave reviews, and residents are clamoring for a seat. "Everything we serve is from Ohio soil, and while it costs more, it certainly tastes better." An Ohio rib eye with local purple potato hash and a roasted corn maque choux made with local vegetables costs $39. The average yearly income in Portsmouth is $24,000. "Our profit margins are negligible," says Pembrooke. "From staffing, licensing, permits, food, billing, materials and all the other costs, we barely break even, which stinks because there's not much left we can reinvest in the community." It's an alarming trend, according to at least one financial analyst. 

Bill Rearoro, a financial analyst with Bender & Beggs in Canton, says that this situation has historical precedence. "At one time, China was the technological and cultural center of the world," he says. "Yet, after years of self-imposed isolationism, the country crumbled. I see parallels to the misguided if well-intentioned business plans of today's entrepreneurs." Success comes at a price, too. 

 "I opened Primrose Particulars in 2004, selling a variety of locally made goods, from honey and soap to books and pottery," says Janet Primrose. "Yes, we carried lots of other goods to help pay the bills and help us continue to support the local artisans." Local critics saw things differently.

"Being local means you have to struggle, or 'you're not keeping it real,' I was told," says Primrose. "If you make money, you're clearly doing something wrong." Primrose closed her store in late 2009, and now lives in Florida. 

[Photo by Kevin Nortz]

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Sportsmanlike Conduct


Sportsmanlike Conduct

Posted by Ivan Sheehan and tagged with blog, recreation, region, sports; 12:00am, June 25th 2010

I've never been an avid sports fan. I'll choose the Arts pages over the Sports pages, and I'd rather listen to NPR or music than sports talk radio. I was a mediocre tennis player and had a blessedly short soccer career as a youth. I'm utterly hopeless when it comes to most other athletic pursuits requiring more coordination than a brisk walk. I enjoy watching tennis and I follow Formula 1. I cheer for Cleveland's sports attempts, and the Browns bring out my inner meathead. However, nothing rivals the excitement and intensity of the World Cup. 

Aside from the Olympics, no other sport unites the finest athletes to compete on an international stage with such grand spectacle. Unlike the Olympics, the World Cup has a singular focus: play soccer and play it to win. The games are not for pride of city, region or state. A successful bid on this stage universally translates to transcendent moments of national pride. Unless you're lacking a pulse, it's impossible not to be swept away with the cross-cultural exchange, the sharing of once-in-a-lifetime moments with the whole world as an audience. 

As fans, we linger on every nuance of a game. For soccer newbies, the magic of a moment is quickly learned. Locally, fans, friends and friendly strangers gather around TV sets, in homes and bars. (Editor's Note: Special nod goes to the Charles Stewart Parnell Pub in Cleveland Heights, whose owner Declan Synnott continues a much-appreciated tradition of opening for every single World Cup game, regardless of the hour. It should also be noted that Synnott's pub is home to the finest Guinness pour in the city.) The atmosphere is tense yet friendly, as each passing moment could equally result in tears or cheers. It's an excuse to gather as fellow Americans, fellow Ohioans, fellow Clevelanders and Akronites. For 90 minutes, we can all agree to root for the good guys – ourselves.

On Wednesday, I watched as the United States clinched a hard-earned win in the 91st minute. It was inspired. Despite officials whose questionable judgement threatened to derail the hopes of a nation and the efforts of a focused team, emotions were collectively reigned in for the greater good. It was as expressive a display of determination as you'll ever see. Never once did the United States team relent, and when the odds seemed squarely stacked against them, they rose to the challenge, victors in epic fashion. Although Landon Donovan gets credit for the goal, it was hardly the actions of one man who shaped the course of the game.  

Given the seemingly endless barrage of negative developments at the national and local levels, from oil spills and healthcare debacles to corrupt leaders and a devastated economy, Americans – and Ohioans – could stand to watch a few games. One man isn't going to solve all our problems. No struggle is too great. We work best together, and it only takes a small group to facilitate major change. I hope you're taking notes, sports fans. We all have a sporting chance. Class resumes tomorrow when the United States plays Ghana.

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Sunday Satire: Media Meal Ticket

Region , Food & Drink

Sunday Satire: Media Meal Ticket

Posted by James Colman and tagged with blog, Cleveland, club, media, restaurant, satire; 12:00am, June 20th 2010

There was a time when enjoying a meal meant sitting down with friends and family, sharing tales from life's rich pageant. "That type of dining is dead," says David Skonting, director of the Northeast Ohio New Media Foodie Club. "Sure, dining is still about sharing a meal with people, connecting with others, but we're advocating doing so on a much bigger scale." 

Skonting and his cronies spend as much time with iPhones and Blackberries in their hands as they do knives and forks. The club's members are encouraged to bring laptops, so that every moment of a meal can be recorded and posted to the Internet's annals of anonymous dining. Others rely on their mobile devices, providing Twitter and Facebook updates as the meal progresses. "Checking in with FourSquare was just the beginning," says Louis Daley, who will open what he calls a "cyber gastropub" this fall in Avon. "We are planning an aggressive Swarm marketing campaign." Twitter subscribers can earn the much-coveted FourSquare Swarm tag by luring large groups to certain destinations at the same time. Daley says that Twitter followers who participate in "swarms" at his restaurant will be rewarded with complimentary cocktail napkins and extra ice cubes in their water.

The Swarm tactic provides a solid group  of customers, but creates havoc for staff members. "Of course, we love the business, and we love the tips," says a host from a popular restaurant who preferred to remain anonymous. "Unfortunately, it negates much of the efforts we make in terms of scheduling to avoid huge influxes of patrons. Our primary goal is to provide excellent service, and having 50 people arrive at once, playing on their computers and Blackberries disrupts the entire restaurant." 

However, NONMFC members disagree, pointing out that business is business, and restaurants should be grateful for the coverage and reward them for dining there. "We're basically the new food critics," says Samantha Brawn. "We talk about the food and tell the chefs who we are. We take pictures and post them on our blogs. This is great publicity for the restaurant, and I've had many chefs apologize after I've posted about bad dining experiences.

"The restaurants need us; the chefs need to reach out to us, offering us special dining experiences, so we have something to write about." Not to be outdone, traditional media–advocates are jumping in on the action, albeit in a way they know how. 

Every Sunday, the Paper Boys, a new social group dedicated to the preservation of print media, meet at a local eatery or coffeehouse, and bring copies of various Sunday newspaper editions. "Our numbers are really growing and certainly holding strong," says Paper Boys founder Richard Dullard. "This so-called 'new media' will never replace the print product, it's just a fad. We'd just as soon ignore the whole thing." At the time of writing, the group had six members, with no new applicants in two months.

For more information, look around the Internet. [Photo by Kevin Nortz]


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