'Westworld,' 'Jurassic Park' creator Michael Crichton's plea to science

Friday, October 14, 2016
Michael Crichton—the science fiction writer who created Jurassic Park, "Westworld" (reborn this fall as a critically acclaimed HBO series) and other tales of tech gone awry—bristled at suggestions his work was "anti-science."

Michael Crichton in 2002
Photo: Jon Chase / Harvard News Office
(Click for audio)
On a 1993 return to Chicago, where he was born, he addressed that criticism.

Before an audience at the Field Museum, he talked about the challenges of representing technology in fiction:

"My work has been critical of science in a variety of ways ever since I began. … You can either see the technology of the future as beneficial and wonderful, which often doesn't make a very interesting story; or you can see it as hazardous and dangerous, which is what I tended to focus on."

But he also made clear his interest in the dystopian ran deeper than just the urge to tell a good tale.

He said he had "no hope" government could serve as a watchdog over advances in biotechnology, which he said was "changing every two minutes."

He added: "My wish would be for the scientists themselves to exercise caution."

Crichton, who died in 2008, refused to grant interviews with reporters during that 1993 visit. But the museum made audio of his lecture available for broadcast.

And guess who saved it?

So here's Michael Crichton at Chicago's Field Museum on Aug. 21, 1993.

Enjoy this? Check out 1997 audio of American Museum of Natural History associate curator Rob DeSalle and then-Science News associate editor David Lindley discussing their book, The Science of Jurassic Park and The Lost World; Or, How to Build a Dinosaur.

The art of the headline. Also: Pizza.

Thursday, October 13, 2016
Anyone who's talked shop with me for even just a few minutes hears about my longtime passion for great headlines.

So the insightful Andy Crestodina and Amanda Gant didn't have to ask twice to get me to agree to address that topic at the monthly "Wine & Web" event Oct. 25 at their Orbit Media Studios HQ in Chicago.

Just getting to know the Orbit team is worth the trip.

But if you're accountable for email open rates, clickthrough rates or social media engagement levels, you'll also gain intel on ways to take your work to the next level.

You'll learn:
  • Easy ways to determine the words your audience finds most interesting.
  • Why email's still a channel unmatched for gaining audience insight.
  • How article-level headlines should differ from email and social media headlines.
  • The (more than a) century-old writing counsel more essential than ever now.
  • Bonus: Anatomy of an email turd!
Come on out. (Bonus No. 2: Lou Malnati's pizza.)

Disclaimer: The Meyerson Strategy blog does not encourage you to drink and code. Cascade your style sheets responsibly.

An actor's life for me

Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Each year since 2013—so far, anyway—I've been honored to join a wonderfully talented Oak Park Festival Theatre* cast performing an old-timey radio drama on the stage of Oak Park's historic 19th Century Club.

My contribution is minimal: I'm "your announcer," opening and closing the show, tossing in a few background crowd noises and reading the wryly written ads crafted by award-winning actor/director/playwright Belinda Bremner.

But what fun to stand up there, hand cupped to ear, alongside real actors**, bringing to life a classic tale of terror and/or suspense.

This year, it's an adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, Oct. 21 and 23.

I'd love you to join us. Details on the show here. Tickets here.

Proceeds benefit the theater and the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association.***

* My wife served on the Festival Theatre board from 1989 to 1996, including two years as president. Don't blame her.

** I was Carl Sandburg High School's "Thespian of the Year" in 1973. Things went downhill after that.

*** I donate my compensation to the theater.

Podcasting + You.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Podcasting. Audio storytelling. Radio.

Whatever you call it, however you know it, it's enjoying a renaissance in the digital world. Those of us who've worked in the field for decades are delighted people are rediscovering the joys of listening.

Even more exciting: The growing interest in creating audio. It's easier than ever to do, and an audience is easier than ever to reach.

But—as with any creative work—it's not necessarily easy to create something good.

That's where Public Narrative's mission of giving voice to the voiceless, teaching people to tell better stories, comes in.

For the second time, this November I'll be sharing what I know about creating great audio and connecting it with growing audiences. You know: The expertise that won one of this year's Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association.

And lucky for you, sign-ups through the end of August for my class in podcasting and for all Public Narrative's fall offerings are on sale at a 15% discount. Your registration fee supports a great cause, and it'll bring you together with other creative people exploring this new (but also old) world.

Do it now.

Tell 'em Charlie sent ya.

[Updated Oct. 4, 2016, to reflect the end of the early-signup discount period.]

This book about the toy biz will be a TV series. Here's the author in 1998.

Monday, September 26, 2016
"I went in with this naive notion that what I was going to find … was sort of this fun-filled Santa's workshop."

Toy Wars cover
(Click or tap for audio)
Author's book inscription
Reporter G. Wayne Miller's inside story about the 1980s and '90s battles between the toy companies Mattel and Hasbro, Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies That Make Them, is in the works as a drama series from Amazon, starring and co-written by Josh Gad ("Frozen," "Angry Birds," Broadway's "Book of Mormon").

… Which makes timely my 1998 interview with Miller—a session he called "absolutely great" and one that he'd remember "for years."

As he then described his five-year mission, "I went in with this naive notion that what I was going to find inside Hasbro or any giant toy company was sort of this fun-filled Santa's workshop. And, in fact, what I found was a very brutally competitive business."

Let's set the WABAC Machine for a time before iPads, iPhones and iPads took center stage in kids' imaginations to hear a firsthand account of the real-life drama that shaped generations of childhoods.

Footnote: Almost seven years before this interview, I had a personal interaction with Kenner Products, eventually subsumed into the Hasbro empire. It was the subject of my first column for Oak Park's Wednesday Journal newspaper, newly resurrected on this blog.

Bobby Rush, congressman and Black Panther Party veteran, in 1994

Sunday, September 25, 2016
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.)
(Click or tap to hear audio)
Then flirting with a campaign for mayor of Chicago, here's U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush in an interview with me, aired Sept. 25, 1994.

On his role in 1968 as co-founder of the Black Panther Party's Illinois chapter: "The focus of the civil rights movement became police oppression. … Some viewed the police department like an occupying army as it relates to the black community."

And on police behavior in 1994: "I would send a message to police officers: We honor you, we respect you … but we will not tolerate police brutality."

All still sadly relevant today.

Meyerson, recommended

Friday, September 23, 2016
A career devoted to creating content that keeps and builds an audience -- from award-winning radio news that kept music-loving audiences from punching the button ... to what became Tribune Co.'s highest-clickthrough-rated editorial email product, Daywatch ... to creation of the innovative and award-winning "Tinder for radio news" app, Rivet: Content strategist, podcast and radio engagement expert, email and social media pioneer -- linking great work with growing audiences online, on-air, in print. (Updated, September 2016.)

A sampling of recommendations. Many more posted to LinkedIn:


Sarah Rand, partner engagement and communications consultant, American Institutes for Research: "Charlie was great to work with on our podcast. He helped with the podcast at every step of the way from conceptualization to editing. Our team constantly kept Charlie's mantra in mind as we created the piece: Don't be boring! And the podcast turned out great!"

Stephen Anzaldi, internal communications manager, Northwestern University: "When I brought him in to share lessons with my colleagues in the Northwestern University news office, he took it to the next level. Charlie is incredibly effective in clarifying, helping to cut through the noise that has become online communication. Our email news alert is more crisp and sharp as a result. ... I'm tempted to go back to j-school to sit in on more of his lessons."

Dan Haley, publisher, Wednesday Journal Inc."Several years ago our weekly community newspapers were trying to figure out how to drive traffic to the updated news coverage we were posting to our then new website. We had breaking news on the site but people were still perceiving us as a weekly news product. Charlie ... directly laid out the solution. We had to build an e-mail list of our readers so that we could push out our news updates to them. That solution is probably the most central element of our success digitally. Now, multiple times a week, we send e-mail updates to many thousands of our readers. Today that seems obvious. Eight or 10 years ago it was a fantastic insight from Charlie. He is clear-eyed, problem-solving, direct-talking."

Linda Lenz, then-publisher, Catalyst Chicago: "Charlie examined the audience data for our weekly news e-blast and our Feedburner feed, finding patterns that prompted us to make changes -- mainly in layout and headlines. Almost immediately, our Feedburner 'reach' rose 50%, and our e-blast click-throughs are trending up. Charlie presented his critique in a manner that made them easy for all of us to swallow. It was time very well spent."

Sophia Madana, then-digital/social media specialist, VanderCook College of Music: "I attended a lecture Charlie presented on email marketing. ... After implementing his tips, the open rate of my email campaign is nearing 20 percent and the click-through rate has increased significantly. I happily recommend Mr. Meyerson as a consultant to any company or organization looking to amp up its digital presence without feeling too overwhelmed."

Molly McDonough, managing editor, ABA Journal: "Charlie was a positive, energizing force for me and my co-workers. I appreciated the time he spent learning about our operation, then pointing out ways he thought we could improve, and most importantly, showing us how. I especially liked that he rolled up his sleeves and spent one-on-one time with staff answering questions, editing and coaching. His observations and suggestions led us to make immediate changes that proved good for us and our readers."

Kathleen O'Hara, vice president marketing, Direct Energy: "Charlie ... provided a detailed assessment of our social media strategy. He provided the overview with sensitivity and honesty to help us move to the next level."

Bob Rowley, director of media relations, Northwestern University: "Charlie ... presented a fascinating and informative lecture and Q&A for my media relations team at Northwestern University on maximizing our audience and sharpening our Web content. He's a pro, a wise man and a great colleague. He knows the Web and the news business and would bring great insight and value to any non-profit organization, public institution or private enterprise."

Former students and interns

Scott Kitun, CEO at Technori, management consultant, and Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism graduate"Of all of the many instructors at Medill, ... Charlie ... provided me with the most value, post-graduation! I still rely on Charlie for guidance and mentorship years after having him as my instructor. His vision and understanding of the ever-changing media landscape is invaluable, as is his professional experience."

Adam Langer, acclaimed novelist, critic and Forward culture editor. "One of the great pleasures of my college years was the time I spent at an intern at WXRT-FM. What, in part, made it such a wonderful and fulfilling experience was the presence of Charlie Meyerson. Always professional, informative, dedicated, and exceedingly well-prepared, Charlie helped me to learn the crafts of editing and writing, particularly under tight deadlines. He was both an excellent teacher and a terrific colleague."

Lauren Victory, reporter, WBBM-TV (CBS), Chicago. "
Charlie Meyerson mentored me since my beginning days as a journalist. When I was in my junior year at Northwestern University, ... Charlie focused on both the old and new of our industry -- delving into ethics and the digital future .... Years after my internship, he remains a sounding board for me and a connection to several important journalists in the Chicago area."

Giacomo Luca, reporter, KFVS-TV, Cape Girardeau, Mo. "Professor, mentor, news director, friend; If you're looking for the best of these it's Charlie Meyerson. He is one of the most influential teachers in my life and I wouldn't be where I'm at today without him. His News Reporting class was spot-on what it is like to work in a daily newsroom. He brings passion, years of experience and independent attention. He helped instill the skills I needed to go on to become a professional journalist."

Kim Strickland, author, blogger and airline pilot. "I interned under Charlie at WXRT Radio in Chicago during the summer of 1984. ... He made me feel comfortable at 'XRT, like part of the team, even though I was just a kid, and he found a way to critique my writing in such a supportive and instructive way, I still carry what he taught with me to this day.... On days when I just don't feel like sitting in the chair, I hear Charlie's words in my ear, “Have fun and do well.” Do well. And so I try. Because I do not want to let this man down."


Lou Carlozo, investment staff writer, U.S. News & World Report: "Charlie is, plain and simple, a visionary of news and radio content. He was the first person I ever met to grasp what 'search engine optimization' meant, in the mid-2000s. He was years ahead of his time. The same reporters who groaned at his wise counsel regarding SEO were scrambling to catch up years later. Charlie is wise, smart as a whip, and hands down one of the best news and radio pros I've ever worked with. I'm grateful for all he taught me, as it allowed me to go to AOL and achieve fabulous results in a short time. He also has a way of promoting loyalty and team play like few others I've met. He's the best, period.”

Boris Geisler, UX & UI design, innovation and production consultant -- and architect of the Rivet Radio app: "Charlie is phenomenal! He combines a level of comprehension, professionalism, and joy that I've not seen in a newsman and story-teller. His attention to detail and sense of righteousness is what makes him a top-notch leader and strategist. He led Rivet Radio to journalistic excellence and a long list of awards. Plus, if it wasn't for Charlie, I wouldn't have the primary news source I enjoy every day! If you're up to something big, hire Charlie! He knows!"

Alison Scholly, former chief operating officer, Chicago Public Media: "Charlie Meyerson is ... creative, well spoken, pays attention to detail, challenges conventional wisdom and has an affable relationship with all colleagues, whether they work in the news department or not. I worked with Charlie for many years at Chicago Tribune Interactive, and his leadership was frequently sought out by others because he was insightful, witty, respectful of others and worked tirelessly to collect and share audience insights with his team. I would hire Charlie into many leadership positions, but especially into roles that require consistent high effort, thoughtful decision-making, strong relationship-building skills and the ability to glean audience insights and take well-reasoned risks."

Walter Sabo, former CEO, Merlin Media; and former vice president, ABC Radio Networks"Charlie is a great professional ... extremely collaborative and smart. He knows Chicago and understands the needs of the listener and the media community. I would work with him any time, anywhere."

Read more recommendations.