Airhead Journalism Alert!
With its premiere issue, the glossy giveaway City Moves -- Houston's Y2K Magazine has already secured a prominent place in the annals of the town's zany media ventures. Not only does the monthly publication style itself a "cybermag" without listing a web page, its versatile associate publisher and editor-in-chief Shel Emmons doubles as a model in four cosmetic- and dental-surgery ads as well as penning articles under her "favorite little-girl name, Olivia Chase."
Even previous vanity publishing monuments such as the now deceased Ultra Magazine come off like U.S. News & World Report compared with City Moves. The 27-year-old Emmons, a former dental nurse who lists several English and psychology courses taken at Indiana State as her credentials to be an editor/publisher, sets the tone for the magazine with this introduction:
"Helloooooo, anybody there? Um, hello Houston, may I have your attention for just one moment please? I am inviting you to frolic down the 'cyber' road to success with me and my playful sassy attitude."
As for content, Emmons declares, "My incredible staff and I have arranged to give Houston an imperative focus. We have unmitigated reading material contributed by Houstonians themselves.... This is substance! Real Life! If you are not prepared for vicissitude, I suggest you put this publication down right now and continue along in an ordinary, passe mode. Reticulate your mind, do something eccentric for yourself!"
Just in case you didn't get the message, Emmons continues with: "Bequeath to me what differentiates you from anyone else, I guarantee I'll heave it back in a way you haven't seen. Pulsating your views on various subjects and keeping you adultated each month."
It's all enough to get the Indiana State English Department put on academic probation.
Emmons says she, former Inside Houston ad rep Ted Kurtz and graphic designer Thanh "Turbo" Tran put their heads together three months ago and conceived the first 112-page issue, which looks as expensive as it reads brainless. Asked who is footing the bill, Emmons says she kicked in the retirement fund accumulated during her nursing stint. Let's hope there's a lot more cash coming from elsewhere.
As for the missing web page, Emmons says that's just a minor detail to be corrected with the next issue. "We wanted to design the magazine first and wanted a little bit of input from people," explains the editor-in-chief, "and we wanted to make sure we have a web-site company ready to go. They're working on it right now."
Concerning her unorthodox combination of executive and ad-model roles, Emmons giggles and admits, "Believe me, I've caught flak for it, and I knew I would." She graces the magazine's inside cover in a slinky, high-thigh-cut gown promoting laser vein surgery for a Bellaire physician, Dr. Jose Monsalvez. Then on page 16, Shel also writes a health-care column including a lengthy interview with (who else?) Dr. Monsalvez on unsightly veins and what to do about 'em. So much for the issue of separation of editorial and advertising.
On page 32 there's a beauty makeover that seems to start with a plain Jane model and ends up with ... Shel Emmons! Then on page 58, under the headline "The Look That Keeps You Smiling," Shel mugs it up for Swonke Family Dentistry. By page 70, she's leering out of the page on behalf of breast-implant surgeon Dr. Robert Capriotti.
Emmons isn't one of those endorsers who urges people to buy things but doesn't use the products herself. In fact, she reticently admits she's been a patient of all the doctors in the previously mentioned ads. But lest you get the wrong impression, Emmons would like to make it clear that "I'm not somebody who wants to go out and have all kinds of surgery done to look like a walking perfect person. I've never had any facial plastic surgery done, or anything like that!"
One can only hope that if by any chance City Moves limps on to December 1999, the Year 2000 computer glitch will put it out of its fluffy misery.
Nice to know that when it comes to pet peeves, some Houston Metro board members are more concerned about leaks to the media by fellow trustees than about the continuing poor performance of a private company hired by the board to manage a portion of Metro's bus operation.
Recently, articles here and elsewhere speculated about whether a member of Mayor Lee Brown's inner circle, Danny Lawson, was trying to tilt the impending selection of a new general manager in the direction of a pal and contributor to the mayor's campaign. After the flurry of publicity about the possible hiring of New Orleans transit consultant John Potts, several mayoral appointees on the board groused at the last meeting about who inside the agency might be feeding information to the press. Metro vice-chair Ira Scott Jr., reported to be the spearhead of the effort to hire Potts, seemed most vexed.
Scott complained to board chairman Robert Miller that the sanctity of Metro's closed meetings, where most of the matters of public interest are traditionally thrashed out, had been violated. Scott referred to the four-member general-manager selection committee but delicately sidestepped airing the suspicion that Jim Cumming, appointed to the board by towns outside Houston, had alerted local media about the candidacy of Potts.
When Miller blandly explained that the selection process would likely be wrapped up later this month, Scott warned that the leaker was still at large and could strike again.
"You haven't addressed my real issue," Scott told Miller. "And that is, we may have the same situation occur again with what you just described, unless we make some changes. And it's bigger than the general-manager search I'm concerned about; when we have closed meetings that we are told are confidential, and the public gets involved, then we haven't had a closed meeting."
Scott then offered a telling observation about the public's role in making transit decisions.
With no indication he realized the irony of his words, Scott declared, "It appears that the public's perceived opinion has influenced what we want to do as a board.... There are reasons why we have closed meetings, and there's a time for the public to get involved."
Scott may have been in a foul mood because negative publicity played a role in producing a new front-runner for the general manager position, New Jersey Transit executive director Shirley DeLibero. Interestingly, DeLibero was previously cited by sources at Metro as being a prime source of their negative material concerning Potts, the candidate pushed by Scott and Lawson.
Cynical veterans of dealing with Metro have noted that the board's definition of a proper time for public involvement is often after the key decisions have been made. Longtime transit activist Barry Klein deconstructs Scott's words this way: "People who run these appointed boards have a political agenda, and they want to pursue it despite what the public's opinions may be. This is a man who is aware that public opinion may interfere with his desire for where Metro should go."
Miller suggested that perhaps the board could handle the leak problem informally, though he gave no indication what measures might be taken. If that doesn't work, added the chairman, a public action might be taken; again, he offered no options. Impeachment, anyone?
Meanwhile, out in the real transit world, a firm hired by Metro in January 1997 to run a portion of its bus routes continues to accumulate statistical black eyes. Ryder/ATE, the former employer of both Metro Deputy General Manager Fred Gilliam and prospective GM Potts, has had 1.97 accidents per 100,000 vehicle miles thus far in this fiscal year, nearly twice the number on routes operated entirely by Metro. The privatized routes generated 25.2 complaints per 100,000 passengers, versus only 14.2 for Metro. Figures for service interruptions per vehicle miles and on-time performance also showed substantial margins in favor of union-driven buses over the privatized operation.
The Insider humbly suggests that Scott should concern himself more with the continuing stream of statistics showing that privatized bus operations have resulted in poor public service, and less with disclosures of what he and other board members are doing behind closed doors.
Don't let governmental waste or neglect take you for a wrong-way ride. Relay news tips to The Insider. Call (713) 280-2483, fax (713) 280-2496 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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