National News

Janice Min pulls the curtain on Hollywood

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 10:37

The Hollywood Reporter, a trade magazine for the entertainment industry, was on its last legs in 2010 when Janice Min joined the team as editorial director.

Since then, Min has transformed the daily entertainment trade paper into a weekly glossy with longform pieces and photo galleries, as well as revamped the website. Her bosses must have really liked her work, because last year, they promoted her to Co-President and Chief Creative Officer. The title change coincided with the addition of Billboard Magazine to her portfolio as well.

“I was at the mindset, at the time when we were doing this, that Hollywood was such a strange place, in that you had this incredibly visual industry with storytellers,” Min says.  “Everyone in the world is fascinated by Hollywood, yet the press that covered Hollywood was nowhere. It wasn’t keeping up with that conversation at all.”

Min can also be partly credited with that fascination. Before moving to The Hollywood Reporter, Min was the editor at Us Weekly. Her time there, from 2003 to 2009, coincides with the rise of reality television — something Us Weekly was quick to capitalize on. Min notes that Us Weekly was the first publication to put "The Bachelor" on the cover.

“I mean, now you can fast-forward ten years and say, ‘Oh my god, these are the things that have destroyed society,'” Min jokes.  

When she moved to The Hollywood Reporter, some critics worried Min might remake the 85-year-old publication in Us Weekly’s image. That hasn’t been the case, but there are, perhaps, hints of it.

“When I left Us Weekly, they did a going away video for me. And Kim Kardashian, who was sort of a nobody, was just becoming a somebody. They got her to say in the video something funny, something like, ‘Thanks for making my A-S-S a star,’” remembers Min.  Fast-forward to a recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter which included the story, “From Jennifer Lopez to Kim Kardashian: How Butts Stole The Spotlight From Boobs.” It describes the influence of the larger derriere on everything from plastic surgery to red carpet styling.

With Min as editorial director, The Hollywood Reporter is thriving. Circulation for the weekly is only at 70,000 households, but the demographic is high-profile. Min’s plans include growing the brand’s digital influence through video, podcasts, and more.   

Min credits her success at the Hollywood Reporter, and what her bosses are hoping she’ll do for Billboard, with her ability to observe the industry as an outsider.

“I noticed this right away in New York… the Wall Street factor in New York. You have a whole community of people whose one goal in life is to make money," Min says. "In Hollywood, you have a whole group of people whose goal in life is to make money, but along the way they’d like to be critically acclaimed. They’d like to be thought of as smart people, intelligent people… funny. They want to create something that they are proud of on their way to making that money.”

'I'm With Stupid' T-Shirt Trips Up Ecuador's President

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 10:08

Politicians have basic rules about photo ops. This week, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa learned one more: don't get on the wrong side of an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt.

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Why your cell phone battery life still stinks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 09:43

The reviews for the Apple Watch have been mixed so far. One of the big complaints: battery life.

And it's not just an Apple problem. The batteries that power most of our devices, from smart phones to laptops, are lithium ion batteries. Compared with Alkaline batteries that pop into TV remotes and flashlights, lithium ion batteries are fairly bulky, charge slowly, and drain relatively fast as they struggle to keep up with all the computing power that tech firms have stuffed into our devices. 

Lots of people are working to improve batteries, including Astro Teller, who recently spoke with Marketplace Tech's Ben Johnson. Teller is the guy who heads up Google X, where his title is the Google-esque "Captain of Moonshots."

Johnson asked Teller about one thing that would make a dramatic difference, among the array of R&D projects underway at Google X. No big surprise given our subject matter: batteries topped the list. But in true Moonshot Captain fashion, his goal is more than incremental improvement. 

"A ten-times increase in the weight-oriented density of batteries would enable so many other moonshots, if we can find a great idea. We just haven't found one yet," Teller said. 

So, why haven't scientists and tech leaders found one yet? Unlike computing power, which doubles every 18 months or so, following Moore's Law, batteries are slower to change. 

The short answer there, Johnson says, is chemistry. There is no equivalent to Moore's Law in the world of battery chemistry. In fact, improving the battery is even less methodical than you'd think, according to Matthew Norden at MNL Partners, which also explores leaps in technological change. 

"That's more dark art. It's not quite a witch around a cauldron, but it's close," Norden says. 

Even so, the wizards at Stanford have a study out with some promising findings. Researchers made an aluminum smartphone battery that charges in — no joke — one minute. But Johnson warns it doesn't last too long. 

The key characteristics to improve the device battery are safety, speed, and cost. 

"That's the holy grail," Johnson says. "Once we get a battery that has all of those things, then we will truly be in the future."

For now, we're stuck with two out of three. 

China's Neighbors See Mischief In What's Happening At Disputed Reef

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 09:17

Satellite imagery of a coral atoll in the South China Sea show the reef is growing. A U.S. military official likens Beijing's land reclamation to building a "great wall of sand."

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Chinese TV Star Apologizes For Remarks Critical Of Mao

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 08:51

Bi Fujian, one of the country's most popular television presenters, recently ran afoul of his employer, state-run CCTV, for a parody song he performed at a private banquet.

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Officer In S.C. Shooting Previously Accused Of Using Excessive Force

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 07:55

An inquiry exonerated Michael Slager of claims he used excessive force against an unarmed man he thought was a suspect. Slager was charged with murder this week for killing an unarmed man.

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After oil spill, Gulf seafood industry is recovering

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 07:52

You think a seafood dock smells bad? Try walking in to the New Orleans Fish House. More than a dozen workers in white aprons and knee-high rubber boots feverishly sharpen knives to clean puppy drum and hand-cut tuna steaks.

Michael Ketchum is director for national retail sales at the Fish House. He convinces grocery stores and restaurants that Gulf seafood is the way to go.

"We supply almost every restaurant in the city: We supply Acme Oyster House, Commander's Palace, Emeril's, the Brennans' restaurants. We're running 300 to 500 deliveries a day."

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Ketchum says the reputation of Gulf seafood is back, with the help of QR codes — those square barcodes that look like static-y TV screens. Looking at a bag of frozen shrimp, Ketchum describes the process. "On the back of each bag of product is a QR code, it's right by our UPC code, and the shopper can scan this code with their smart phone and it will pull up a map of where this product was harvested from."

The more you know exactly where something comes from, Ketchum says, the more you trust it.

"If you look where the oil spill was, and look at the questions people had, you knew there was a disconnect between what products were caught where. I had someone ask me if crawfish and catfish were affected. Those two items weren't harvested in the Gulf!" They're freshwater species.

So people trust the seafood again, but now there's a new problem: Supply. Restaurants can change menus when an order falls through. But for Ketchum's big box clients like Target and Costco, that doesn't fly.

"When you're talking to a nice retail chain, you're not talking 200-300 pounds, you're talking hundreds of thousands of pounds of product. They want to know if they plan it out and run ads that it's going to be there."

Part of the seafood industry's full-time job is to say "Hey, it's going to be there," like ads put out by the Louisiana Seafood and Marketing Board. Their campaigns brand Gulf seafood as a specialty product. The hope is that an "Authentic Louisiana" label will get fishermen a better price.

Tony Goutierrez is sorting crabs on his dock in Hopedale, Louisiana, about an hour outside New Orleans. He's not happy with the day's catch.

"You see what we had this morning — that was $220 worth of crabs. And you had $100 worth of bait, and $100 worth of fuel to get here. So it doesn't add up."

Crabs seemed fine right after the spill. But for the past few years, Goutierrez is pulling up empty traps. He says the dispersants used to sink the oil to the bottom of the gulf destroyed the beds where crabs lay eggs. Now, fewer areas to catch crabs mean more competition. "Everyone's being shoved between Hopedale Bayou and Point Lahache- it's putting too many fishermen in one spot."

There's the irony: after the spill, people needed persuading to eat the available seafood. Now consumers want it, and it's hard to find. That's why Goutierrez is struggling to meet the demand.

Over in the French Quarter, the 135-year-old P+J Oyster Company is having the same problem. "They're saying that the oyster landings are the same as what they were pre-oil spill, and there's no way," says owner Al Sunseri. "If it was, we would not have a 300 percent increase on the dock for the price of oysters."

For the first time in its century-old existence, P+J has lost a lot of customers.

"We did fine after World War One, World War Two, during the Depression, recessions, environmental issues like hurricanes and natural disasters," lists Sunseri. "Until this happened."

Back at wholesaler New Orleans Fish House, Ketchum also worries about long-term supply. "I may be trying to build a career here and it may go away, who knows. I'm banking 2015 sales on product that's not even born yet, not even harvested. I know historically it's been there, but now we've done something to the environment."

Five years after the spill, Gulf seafood is probably safe to eat, if you can find it.

Is The NRA Really Banning Guns At Its Convention?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 05:57

Attendees with permits can carry guns at the convention hall in Nashville, Tenn., but not at an arena across the street. Firing pins will be removed from display guns – just like at other gun shows.

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Sabra Hummus Announces A Recall Over Listeria Fears

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 05:52

The national recall covers several products with a "best by" date of May 11 or May 15. The products are predominantly the "Classic" variety of the hummus, in a range of sizes.

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Explaining stock buybacks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 05:40

Stock buybacks are in the news again. Usually buyback stories are all about companies using their cash reserves to buy back their stock, but this week they’re all about companies stopping their buyback programs.

Viacom announced it’s going to curtail its buyback program until October. And Phillip Morris recently announced a suspension of its buyback program, barring a favorable change in currency fluctuations.

So what is a buyback, exactly?

Here’s a short video explaining how they work — using handbags.

Buybacks are pretty simple: when a company buys back its stock, it does exactly that: it goes into the market and buys its own stock. It can do this in one of two ways. It can simply buy the shares in the open market, just like everyone else. Or it can use a tender offer, where it makes an announcement to existing shareholders, telling them that it’s prepared to buy a certain amount of stock at a certain price.

Why do companies use buybacks? They do it to support their share price. Sometimes they do it to juice their share price. A company might feel that the market price of its shares may not reflect the real value of the shares. By buying some of those shares up, the company reduces the supply of shares on the market. That should increase demand, and therefore lift the price.

You may ask, why does a company want to spend money on buying back its shares when it could be spending that cash on growing the company, buying up competitors, expanding into new markets, hiring more people and helping the economy grow? That’s a good question. Companies that use buybacks are often criticized for sacrificing long-term growth on the altar of short term financial gain. But that’s a consequence on having a shareholder economy. Shareholders like it when their stock goes up, because that means they’re making more money (on paper, at least).