Quoth the Chron

The Chronicle runs out another inept marketing campaign

The Houston Chronicle's latest house-ad frenzy involves promoting, of all things, the incisive, sharp, thought-provoking writing that is (apparently) in the paper.

They have ads -- often full-page ads -- highlighting quotes from past Chronicle stories or columns; they have a Web page dedicated solely to honoring the Great Thoughts of their writers.

The Web page, www.chron.com/quotes, has a total of five such examples. Surely it was only bandwidth problems that kept them from citing more.

One of the quotes demonstrating just how, as the site says, "Chronicle writers and editors report the news, interpret the world and put it all down in words worth noticing" comes from, it must be said, the comic strip The Wizard of Id. ("All men are created equal. After that, they're on their own.")

Another comes from film reviewer Eric Harrison, who doesn't have a column. Finding interesting stuff from Chron columnists apparently was too tough. Harrison's quote is fine ("Show me a black man who isn't angry, and I'll show you a fool or a corpse"); Ken Hoffman weighs in with the Hoffmanesque "Pizza and self-respect rarely go together. At least not the way I eat it."

But then there are examples from the two Metro-front columnists. Leon Hale has turned some fine phrases in his day, but "My mother used to tell me that sometimes I even smelled like that dog" isn't one of them. As for Thom Marshall, well, we sympathize with the marketing person tasked with pulling a gem from that output.

Whoever's doing the marketing for this "Our writers are great!" campaign can't be reading the paper too closely, though. The house ad featuring Hoffman's quote manages not only to misspell the name of syndicated columnist Marlyn Schwartz, it tells us to "find quirky points of view from the likes of Dave Barry in Texas Magazine on Sunday."

Barry's column hasn't appeared in Texas Magazine in over two years. The Chron moved his column to the Lifestyle section in January 1999.

Not to mention that the marketing department missed a fine piece of column-writing, Chronicle-style.

In her April 15 Sunday column, political writer Jane Ely lamented, according to the headline, that the "City Needs to Know: Where Are Our New Leaders?"

"Sure, many of the veterans are still here, still care," Ely wrote. "Houston continues to be blessed with the likes of Ben Love, Dick Johnson, Bill Lawson, Ken Lay, Bob Lanier, Leonel Castillo."

Back up a minute -- "Dick Johnson"? That can only be Richard J.V. Johnson. The chairman of the Houston Chronicle.

This one's for you, boss.

Infotainment Ad Infinitum

All three of the city's biggest TV news operations basically abandoned their 6 p.m. news shows April 19 in order to show live coverage of a high-speed police chase. Someone had hijacked the cab of an 18-wheeler and went cruising on the highways for an hour. An hour that just happened to coincide with much of the local affiliates' evening news holes.

As if by magic, the driver of the cab gave up his quixotic escape attempt just at 6:30 p.m., sparing any heartbreaking decisions on whether to stick with the chase or go to Entertainment Tonight.

The question of whether showing such chases represents TV at its most gripping or its most idiotic is apparently settled, and there's no need to rehash it here. The stations have weighed in with their belief that a highway chase is a legitimate way of serving the public.

Especially KHOU. It not only showed the chase, it reshowed it. Anchors perkily informed viewers that if they wanted to see the whole thing over again, they just needed to stay tuned that night after the Late Show with David Letterman. Channel 11, as a service to the public, was going to replay the inanity.

Who Needs Stars?

If it's spring, it must be time for the Shell Houston Open gold tournament. And if it's time for the SHO, it's time for the Chronicle to tell us that it doesn't really matter that Tiger Woods has decided once again to skip the event.

Incidentally, the Chronicle is a big-bucks sponsor of the event. The paper, along with corporate giants like Enron and Continental Airlines, is one of 11 "Gold Sponsors," the highest level of support besides Shell.

"But the big names keep on coming, minus Tiger," columnist John Lopez wrote April 19. "And they always will….To call [the SHO] 'minor league,' as some have, is absurd. Woods' presence would have brought more of a national focus, more media attention and crowds, but how much more?"

Ummm… lots? And lots?

"No one should apologize for Tiger not being here. Of course Tiger would raise the national notoriety of this event," Lopez wrote, apparently without a dictionary handy. "Of course the TV ratings would soar. But in terms of local support, the crowds would be noticeably larger only on Thursday and Friday."

In other words, the tournament would be much more high-profile, get much higher television ratings and much larger crowds on half the days it takes place if Tiger came.

Last year Lopez was even more eloquent on how the tournament didn't need any highfalutin stars. "Elements in Place for SHO of Birdies: Not a Field of Dreams, But Drama Still Likely," his column was headlined.

"So you say the field for today's Houston Open is a mere Shell of itself? I say sure, it could be better….So Tiger is not on the menu. Sure, we'll all miss him, but that doesn't mean, as [golfer Billy Ray] Brown put it, that the remaining SHO menu has been reduced to 'chopped liver.' "

The year before that, it was golf beat writer Eddie Sefko's turn to carry the torch.

"Let the weekend's events at the Doral-Ryder Open be a lesson to all of us when we feel inclined to whine about the strength of the field at the Shell Houston Open or any other tournament," he wrote. "It's not the number of stars you get into your field that makes a tournament great. It's the drama that unfolds along the way that makes it fun."

Sure, some tournaments' drama may be provided by stars, and other tournaments' drama may come from someone "who just got his playing privileges last year at the qualifying school," Sefko wrote. "Does it really matter? Fans still get to see golf played at its highest level."

Dammit, we should be happy Tiger didn't show up. He'd just ruin everything.

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