Monday, February 12, 2007

Be wise consumers of media -- Ken Lowe on Media

One of the great things about our Cincinnati Rotary club is that we get to hear great speakers -- the past two weeks have been right up my alley as we've had visits from the CEO's of both Clear Channel Communications and Scripps Howard. There's lots to write on these two, but today, I'm focusing on Ken Lowe, CEO of Scripps Howard.

This was my first encounter with him -- but I like him. He's a North Carolina Country boy who got into radio and worked his way to the top of a great media outfit. Along the way, he pioneered the concept of targeted media -- you may have seen the HGTV channel ("a cable channel about grass growing and paint drying") or the Food Network -- you can credit Lowe (or curse him, depending on how much money these channels have cost you). Now he's leading the company's drive into web-based content. And that is what he came to speak to us about: new media.

He gave an on target short summary of the state of media today: rapid fragmentation, immense change and evolution, content creation in the hands of consumers, content delivery coming through many different sources, demand for immediacy, and demand for high quality news and entertainment. "The days of big media as the gatekeepers are long gone." We have moved from Walter Kronkite serving up 4 day old highly edited film clips of the Vietnam war to todays immediacy in which we can see the hanging of Saddam Hussien's hanging as filmed by a cell phone recorder.

At this point, it would be easy to get lost in the slew of issues that arise in such an era of discontinuity -- privacy concerns, quality concerns, what these changes do to us as a culture. But Lowe made a very clear statement that keeps ringing in my ears -- Consumers will ultimately decide the look of media companies in the future. We only have 24 hours in each day, and we spend those 24 hours as coin upon various media (including humble blogging pastors). Now here's the kicker -- Lowe said, with those 24 hours, remember that you have family, friends, and opportunities to give back to society as a whole. Ultimately, in the long scope of things, these technologies don't determine the quality of life.

This frankness fits the profile of Lowe I read from Broadcasting and Cable:

For relaxation, Lowe enjoys all things outdoors. He golfs, skis, SCUBA-dives and fly-fishes, and he enjoys soaking up the great outdoors with his wife and two dogs. He's also vice chair of marketing and a member of the Zoological Society of Cincinnati's board of trustees, as well as a trustee for the Fine Arts Fund; he also serves on the board of directors of Fifth Third Bancorp, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.

Though he sits on various civic boards, there's a lot of country left in Lowe. Besides mentors in the business, Lowe credits his father, a tobacco farmer by trade, with teaching him “the ethics of living a good life and being a good person.”

“We came from a rural area and a fairly basic lifestyle, but he taught me the value of hard work and keeping your word,” Lowe says. “That's really served me well, especially in rising to become the CEO of a company today.”

Co-workers say Lowe is passing on those values to the Scripps team. “I've never met a business leader who inspires as Ken does,” says Susan Packard, president, Scripps Networks Affiliate Sales and International Development. “He binds a team together toward a common vision and moves us to do great work. And we have great fun in the process.”

So Lowe sees that media consumption isn't the point of life, but quality media can enhance life. That's likely why he's such a good fit at Scripps which focuses on news delivery and lifestyle TV (like Home and Garden and Cooking as cable channels). Scripps is squeaky clean ("the sexiest thing we have is the fitting of two ends of pipe together" said Lowe) -- a trait that carries back to Charles Scripps, who passed away earlier this year -- the Scripps webpage features a prominent quote from Scripps "Quality reflects character".

In the follow-up questions, Lowe fielded a question about how young people could prepare for a media career -- and his answers were spot-on:

1) be voraciously curious about life -- not just learning from books, but spend lots of time talking with people and finding out what they like (when planning the HGTV network, Lowe cruised the aisles of Home Depot simply asking people about their projects)

2) be wise consumers of media -- and here he made a riff about how we as adults need to be diligent in how we teach our young people to use media (do you hear this -- coming from a Media CEO).

Timely words from Lowe. I hope to set up an appointment to pick his brain some more on that last point -- for I'm wondering how we can best do that? A number of groups have resources. Focus on the Family, for instance, has a slew of great articles (see this one as a sample) on how to navigate this tricky terrain. Meanwhile Christianity today has a Media and Culture page -- but it focuses mainly on book and film reviews rather than tips on how to actually monitor media usage. Meanwhile, the PCUSA has what looks to be a great resource called "The Electronic Great Awakening" -- I just found it seconds ago. I'll have to save an analysis of this website for another time.

I look forward to your thoughts on this weighty topic.

Soli Deo Gloria