Helen Fallon

profile-Helen Helen-Fallon

First stop Wales, then on to London 5/11

Hello from London! The Point Park has finally arrived in London, the first part of our JOUR 390/590 International Media course journey. After a semester of preparation, we are finally here.

I arrived earlier than the rest of the group, taking advantage of the trip to visit with James Lang, a soccer coach who stayed with my family in 2006, and his family in Wales. He came as part of an MLS coaching program, and it was the best 15-minute decision my late husband and I ever made. James is just marvelous, and he fit into our soccer- and sports-crazy household easily.

We have remained in contact since then – he joined our initial Point Park international travel group in this same city in 2008 and came back to the USA twice – and it was my chance to experience Wales and meet Tori, his wife, and Emily, his 1-year-old daughter. (And I can’t forget the dogs – Pippin and Maggie. Or his great parents, who I finally got to meet in person.)

We had a great time – checking out the small village he lives in near Bridgend, eating “real fish and chips” from a takeaway shop, walking the dogs on a rainy and windy beach (hey, it always is raining in Wales!), exploring a coal mine and a castle, and touring the streets of Cardiff.

The next time I see him, his small family will grow by one, and Emily will have be running instead of just toddling around chasing after those two little dogs. They plan to visit the USA, with their sights set on taking the children to Disney World at least, and I promised I’d meet them whenever that does happen. Most likely I’ll be back to Europe before then.

I had travel issues coming over. My plane to JFK was delayed, so I had to be re-routed through Detroit to Heathrow. The agent jokingly said my baggage might be misplaced. She was right: It had gone on the JFK despite rebooking my flight, and James and I had to troop through two terminals in Heathrow to fetch it. It could have been worse, I guess, but tell that to a jet-lagged traveler who was almost strip searched to claim it.

It is amazing how difficult travel has become. The larger group had travel issues, too. Some difficulty with several students’ boarding passes made them just miss the connecting plane from Paris to London. We may not fly Delta again, although we try really hard to patronize the Pittsburgh to Paris connection. Once I get the full story, I think we will complain this time, for both mishaps! We start tonight with a group meeting and casual dinner … then we dig in for real tomorrow!

Learning more about the British media 5/12

Our first full day in London started off and ended with visits to two of its famous attractions – the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and a ride on the London Eye. It signified the old and the new in this fabulous city, contrasts you see everywhere in this great place and that I saw here in 2008, the first International Media trip.

As always, we began the course and serious side of this trip with a lecture from a professor. Barbara Schofield, senior lecturer at the City University London, handled that very well. She explained to us the current state of the British media, still reeling from the phone hacking scandals amid Rupert Murdoch’s now slightly diminished media empire, and the sex and molestation scandals plaguing the broadcast entertainment side of the media.

What is clear is how the British newspapers are controlled and owned by billionaires with specific agendas, and how this will all play out with the elections next year will be incredibly interesting and perplexing for Prime Minister David Cameron.

Of course, just like the United States, declining circulation and dropping advertising revenue hinder newspapers. Pushback against the TV license fee and high salaries for its executives have the BBC in defensive mode. The move to Media City in Manchester cost the broadcaster a great deal of money, too. So it has its problems, as well as the competition from Sky TV and British Telecom and a few others.

Next up, James Probert, a young BBC employee right around the students’ ages who explained how he – a French and political science major who took a gap year to figure out his life – how he is working his way up the ladder in sports. He started as a runner and has held a number of assistant and researcher positions until he landed at his current position in sports on the news side.

He’s been fortunate to work on the London Olympics, the London Marathon, an Andy Murray (lucky guy!) documentary and more. Plus he was just personable and gracious, so gracious he joined us for dinner before our London Eye ride. We wish him all the luck in the world, and we know we’ll hear more from him and his career.

London PR and The Guardian’s Pulitzer 5/13

Very full and interesting day today in London! We had a mix – public relations and journalism with a social media panel discussion in the morning and a visit to The Guardian, winner of a shared Pulitzer Prize with the Washington Post, in the afternoon.

Former Point Park professor and now senior lecturer at Birmingham City University Dr. Kathleen Donnelly assembled a great panel with two of her students and Pamela Mountier, a visiting guest lecturer at BCU who also teaches at international PR practice at Cardiff University following a long PR career. The students – one current and one alumnus – explained their work at Unilever and a new agency named Battenhall respectively.

The first, Rebecca Kerry, is on placement at Unilever, and she reviewed a successful project with  that included a search for a citizen astronauts who will take a trip into space on a commercial flight this August. The other, Anton Perreau, told the students how his new agency has been formed geared for the social media economy.

Rebecca explained how she moved between products – from laundry to deodorants! – in her placement. One incredibly successful campaign took three years to come to fruition, including one year to pull it off. (She asked us not to mention products she worked on ….) Now it is trying a bold maneuver – switching its M.O. from a young audience emphasis to a slightly more image and socially conscious approach, a big risk for the brand, Rebecca says.

Anton’s agency work is his second job post graduation from BCU. The year-old agency is being careful to select clients it can service without over-stretching its work force. He amazed the students with the information that he gets 2,000 pounds a year for technology and 300 pounds at his review. The goal – keep employees happy, and also eliminate an IT department, as they are also expected to solve all their own computer issues.

Another interesting point: Battenhall has a management split – 49 percent is owned by two Chinese investors, the rest by creator and a few other top officers. He has a small stake in the agency, too.

Pamela gave the group context, noting that social media is an enabler, a tool but not a means to an end. She’s had experience with BP Oil, agribusiness, life sciences and not-for-profit sectors across Europe, the Caucasus, the US and ASEAN countries.

All this travel and experience has led her to the conclusion that social media is a true realization of Andy Warhol’s adage that everyone is famous for 15 minutes. Facebook and Twitter and more lets devotees post and promote themselves as no one else can. And she has been watching the good and bad that has resulted from all of this, giving us excellent examples from around the world.

She offered the students five good do’s and don’ts in working with social media in closing. Key among them: plan (and don’t forget to get approval for content) and be transparent; don’t fake it and don’t forget that social media becomes part of your brand’s legacy.

Kathleen and I couldn’t wait to get to The Guardian for our visit, coming just a month after the paper shared the Pulitzer for public service for its groundbreaking articles on the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities based on the leaks of Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor, now in asylum in Russia, revealed the NSA’s mass collection of U.S. citizens’ phone records.

The paper – still reveling in this honor – is different from other newspapers in London in that it operates as the Scott Trust. That means it is not beholden to shareholders and can pursue investigative ventures like none of the others. And it puts it in a much more solid position, too, with the endowed funds that come with a trust. It was noted that The Guardian’s financial situation improved greatly and stabilized over the past year.

We heard from Roger Tooth, head of photography, and Margaret Holborn who works with the paper’s Education Centre. With offices now in New York City and Sydney, Australia, he explained how the paper has moved from an emphasis on the print editions of both The Guardian and The Observer (the Sunday edition) to 70 percent website and 30 percent print. The website has changed to three different websites, one for the UK, the U.S. and Australia, making it a true 24-7 operation.

He explained photography selection and staffing, noting that much of his day and his staff is spent combing through thousands of photographs to use to accompany articles and composed galleries and slide shows. The paper relies on agencies, as its actual photography staff has been greatly reduced from days past. It has two staff photographers, 10 others on contract (part-time employees) for a 280,000 circulation paper that moved to a Berliner (slim tabloid format) in 2005.

Roger said even with all the emphasis on the website, he believes the paper will persevere. He reminded the students that television didn’t kill radio, and he doesn’t believe the Internet will kill newspapers. They just have to adjust, change and modify. With the current circulation figures, he believes it has a core group of readers who will stand with it.

Margaret explained the rich and long history of the paper and the current operations. The Guardian started as a paper in Manchester in 1821, and The Observer began operations in 1791. (And it is actually the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper!) It is a liberal, left-leaning paper, and it employs 600 journalists for its three daily editions and Sunday product and websites.

She took us through the newspaper’s day and operations, which is similar to most American newspapers and dissimilar. The differences: The meetings and planning conferences are not just for editors, but rather anyone can join in the decision-making process, which can get quite heated. And a session that included Benedict Cumberbatch, star of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” also led to a packed house, Margaret said.

The paper has three lawyers who review most articles. Sub-editors (the British equivalent of copy editors) carefully check the rest. (And with good reason – Libel laws are tough in England!) These sub-editors do much of the work to get it all together for the press and perform one duty I had never heard before – nose the story. She explained that meant changing the lead to make it more appropriate.

The Guardian has embarked on a program of engaging readers. It’s not that they want citizen journalists, per se, but they want Guardian witnesses. That means people offer tips, leads, comments, and photos and video for its papers and websites. It is also active in working with students and media professionals. The end goal?  More reader debate, more analysis.

Margaret said winning the Pulitzer has an affirmation of the enormous risk the paper took in printing Snowden’s materials. While the coverage around the world has been positive, it has been muted and almost non-existent in the United Kingdom. But, as she says, think about who the major media moguls are and what they own and it’s no surprise. “We think it’s amazing, what with the government after us and all that. We couldn’t have done it, though, with the Trust and the office in New York City.”

Final day in London 5/14

We ended our stay in London with a repeat visit from our 2008 trip to Bloomberg London, part of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s media empire. We had three great young women talk to us, explaining their work and their passion for the corporation.

Before I start my blog, a factoid that should interest readers: The London headquarters has 7,000 fish swimming in its tanks on every floor. That tradition started when Bloomberg formed the company and his wife gave him a fish. He started adding a fish for every employee, and huge tanks now flank the color-coded floors. The collection includes all kinds of fish, including sharks. Hmmmm.

Toni Parsons, an executive producer on Bloomberg TV, starts her day at 5 a.m. and her work days most always stretch beyond the ”3-ish” quit time. She is passionate about her work on arranging the appearances of the experts and analysts and prepping the anchors for the newscasts.

Her constant goal is to get the best to appear on the shows, as the mantra is to always be accurate and heads above the competition.  It’s fitting, she says, for the highest-regarded financial news network, which eschews opinion for reporting and makes sure it covers other news, too, and not just the markets and finance.

The South African native started at Bloomberg as an intern after attempting careers in education and at Lehmann before the crash in 2008, when she and many others were let go. Floundering, she found work as a receptionist at BBC World News, and juggled that with the Bloomberg internship. She did so well she became a freelancer and contract employee before being hired permanently, and it’s a route she urged the students to consider to get started.

Toni admitted she had a lot to work to do to understand finance and the markets, and she continues to learn all the time. To her, that’s great. As one of Bloomberg’s 15,000 global employees, she is part of its growing workforce that means the headquarters will move in several years to accommodate them all.

Toni loves the transparency of the organization (most executives don’t have offices and no walls, she told us), and she and the other two speakers from the recruitment area appreciates the engaging top officers who talk to employees all the time. In fact, now that Bloomberg is no longer mayor, he’s back in the company. And one of his first dictates was to tear down his office walls.

Sara Mann is one of the recruiters who likes to tell these kinds of stories to the people she recruits to Bloomberg. The Kansas City native who also drifted before finding her place more than four years ago at Bloomberg. Before London, she worked in the New York office.

She told the students she has to look for people who can handle the open environment and the Bloomberg culture. It doesn’t suit everyone. She also said that although people like Toni work very hard, Bloomberg wants them to have a work/life balance. It is a 24/7 operation, though, 365 days a year. But what works is that when London is done, Australia, Asia or New York can take over. And everyone is just a phone call away if need be.

Carly Stewart emphasized the transparency as we all walked through the building, looking at the open studio and news rooms packed with people. It’s throughout the business, she emphasized time and again.

The company is always very gracious to us, welcoming students to its canteen packed with drinks, food, fruit, snacks and more. A cynic might think that’s to keep people working. But an optimist might say it helps employees – who earn a good and fair salary, according to Sara – cut down on food costs and makes sure they are sufficiently fueled to keep the company’s media the best in the business.

Once we were done, the students peeled off to their various destinations – Kensington Gardens, Abbey Road, Baker Street to track down Sherlock Holmes’ home and so much more. I wanted to go through the National Gallery, and I spent hours in there looking at remarkable work by Monet, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci and countless others. What tickled me was as I left I ran into Melanie Vadney, Kelli Murphy and Emmiley Stern heading to it before it closed. Great choice, ladies. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Now, time to pack up before the 3:30 a.m. wake up call to get to our Eurostar train. And I am not kidding about that time one bit.

We arrive in the City of Lights! 5/15

Bon jour! Our first day in Paris was such a blur to me, and totally exhausted from getting up at 3:30 a.m. that I didn’t write at all yesterday. (Yes, I know: Not making a deadline is terrible! But I also had some major computer issues here, too. I hope they don’t return.)

The  Eurostar train ride here – incredibly smooth, so smooth that I slept through it!  I did feel some pressure in my ears at one point, and it must have been when we were underwater.

One amazing thing for us: no passport check when we arrived. We had cleared customs in London. I suppose France and England trust each other.

Our wonderful guide Vincent gave us a great overview of the major sites on our initial bus tour. We stopped at the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, had lunch in the Latin Quarter. A few quick facts: The heads of the Notre Dame statues of the French kings were cut off by the revolutionaries and buried. They were found later, and the statues repaired.

So much blood soaked into the ground at Concorde Square during the initial revolution that the guillotine had to be moved. Horses would not ride through it. The Latin Quarter is named so because of the Sorbonne – Latin was the instructional language. And most of that instruction took place out of doors.

We had a great group dinner and then took a chilly but impressive boat ride along the Seine. Crowds lined the riverbank, several bands played and Paris at night is incredibly beautiful. The only issues: some very loud German student tourists. They never stopped talking, yelling, fooling around. And that’s sad …it leaves a bad impression.

To close, one final interesting thing: I overheard one of the cinema students asking John Rice this morning if he knew who won the European elections. It’s amazing what these trips prompt among students. I love it!

Learning about the French media and enjoying “Belle et Bete” 5/16

Our first full working day brought us back into the course today, and here are two major takeaways from our visit to the Sorbonne campus and Ketchum Paris: Working journalists with valid press cards get a 30 percent reduction on their taxes as their work is considered so important, and writing skills still top the list of credentials that employers want to see in applicants. Hurrah on both points!

Juliette Charbonneaux, a teaching assistant at CELSA, reviewed the newspapers, magazines and broadcast components of the French media for us. Newspapers are struggling but still have great circulation figures in my estimation, and the broadcast is doing fine also with the help of a television license fee, much like Great Britain. Newspapers also get help and financial support from the government because officials believe their work is important at preserving French history and culture. And the education and training of journalism students is still important and sought after.

Competition is fierce for the seats in CELSA, as well as for the assistantship that Juliette has as she pursues her doctorate.

Now that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a crisis for the media, as the World Wide Web and the economic crisis of 2008 has devastated advertising revenue. Circulation is not as much an issue for papers as newsstand sales. Those are dropping, and that is a major concern. So that is why the government stepped in with support, 600 million euros in addition to the other revenue it provides. But that was over a three-year period that ended in 2012, Juliette told us. Regional papers remain strong, just as in the United States.

One bright note: No tabloids here. That doesn’t mean there aren’t sex-filled magazines and newspapers on the newsstands and magazine racks. Anyone can find them, but the emphasis is on serious coverage. The French love their magazines, and Juliette said there are 1,200 of them. A satirical magazine that looks like a newspaper, Le Canard Enchaine, is very popular.

A new invention: mooks, a magazine plus a book that looked fabulous. I want to bring one home, but I cannot fit that much weight in my already stuffed suitcase and I can’t read it. Just beautiful layout, range of articles and photography. It’s not uncommon for these bimonthly (or three times a year) mooks to run 10,000-word articles, harkening to a long-ago revered literary tradition.

France lags behind in media websites, particularly the magazines, Juliette said, but is working on it. More and more are creating paywalls, and some American sites – Slate and the Huffington Post – are well received here, she said.

Broadcast has wrenched itself free from much governmental control, and it does not have as much BBC-type programming. TV and radio are divided into public and private channels, and France 24 (created in 2006) is its 24-hour news channel. Radio is thematic, much like in the States. Sadly, reality TV is popular here, too.

Juliette said French journalists have become much more professional with a set code of ethics, and the media want to hire young people with intense training.  So obtaining a journalism master’s degree from one of the 14 recognized schools (like the Sorbonne) is the best way to get hired.

Now for that 30 percent reduction: Full-time journalists and freelancers and contract employees who work enough hours can obtain a press ID card. Once they get this and sign a “clause de conscience,” they can get that 30 percent tax reduction. This is overseen by a commission with a mix of professionals and academics, she said. Why? To protect the profession and separate them from communicators – those PR types and others. And this goes back to 1935.

Unbelievably at Ketchum we split into two groups and heard from the president, Phillippe Berteille. The 30-person office has a small conference room, and he said he didn’t mind: It brought him back to his teaching days. We are also fortunate because Ketchum Pittsburgh (where it all began!) always finds us an office to visit. No one much mentions its Pittsburgh roots, as Ketchum is part of Omnicom, the second largest PR agency in the world.

I had heard much of this before at prior visits. Paris reports to London (led by a Texan, Phillippe said, who is more British now than his employees). He also said that although PR emerged late in France, it is taking hold. It is still not well known, though, and he and his staff must always demonstrate and prove the value of their work to clients. He hammered home to the students the ideas that successful PR hinges on client relationships, which Ketchum does very well. Reputation and trust are critical in France, and that is something his employees work on all the time.

Ketchum has always been known for its media relations expertise, but Phillippe says it does much more. It is a leader in social and digital media PR work – and he said that although he does not have a Twitter account himself, Twitter is becoming much more important in France.

The office does accept interns – three or four. They don’t need to be fluent in French but have to know enough to work well with the staff and clients. Phillippe says he makes sure they have a mix of work and finds their addition to the staff refreshing. He said with their digital native roots, “we learn from our interns.”

Following this full day, I accompanied a small group of the students to the Theatre Mogador to see a Broadway-style production of Disney’s “Belle et Bete.” It thrilled two major fans – Holly Tonini and Kim Roberts – and we all knew the storyline and the songs. We had great seats, made even better by the kind usher who moved us into empty seats in the center of the first balcony. Beautiful voices, excellent choreography and gorgeous sets made for a wonderful performance. A perfect end to a wonderful day.

Hiking up to Montmarte and a great dinner  5/20

We had to eat a good breakfast this morning as we hiked up the mountain, as our guide Vincent said, to climb up to Montmarte. This is an artistic district and the highest hill in Paris, and home to many Parisians – including our Vincent! It was a gorgeous morning, just perfect for a great walk to see some beautiful sights.

On these windy, perfect little Parisian streets  — too narrow for the big tour buses – we stopped along the way to see locations for the great film “Amelie” and “Midnight in Paris.”

The views – just spectacular. Even a windmill or two, as well as a funicular, which we didn’t take. Vincent pointed out some great shops and creperies, some of which I hope to go back to on Monday morning when we have some free time.

We also saw the status of St. Denis, one of the two patron saints of Paris. He was a bishop, and the Romans – under the rule of Emperor Decius —  beheaded him around 250 AD because of his passion for Christianity. He picked up his head and walked 10 kilometers carrying his head until he died. We saw the statue that marked the spot where he died. As Vincent said, as a Catholic you have to believe ….

At the very top of the hill is the Basilica du Sacre Couer (Sacred Heart), a gorgeous cathedral from which you can see a panoramic view of the city. It is also the setting for an artists market, which some of the students patronized. We had a great lunch, and I tasted and enjoyed my first croque monsieur, a delicious grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

From there several students and I made our way via the Metro to the Louvre. We saw much of what we wanted – the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s statues, Delacroix’s paintings of Napoleon, the Gallerie of Apollo, and the original moat and foundation of the Louvre. We hung in there as long as we could, and I am sure saw only a quarter of it all.

I left the rest for my next trip back. I made it back to the hotel on my own via the Metro  and joined Kathleen Donnelly and David Fabilli for a delicious dinner at the Café Wexler right near our hotel. I had Thin Ray – stingray with Granny Smith apples and raspberry sauce – for a starter and duck for my main course. So I was adventurous.

Last thing on my list to still try: escargot. I will do that before I leave, as well as frog legs. And I am still searching for that great crepe. Hey, some people shop, but I love to wander and explore and eat great meals. To each his own!

Sunday Mass at Notre Dame and walking in great authors’ footsteps 5/18

A few differences: no young altar boys or girls, and no presentation of the gifts of wine and bread by parishioners. Fewer hymns, too, for all to sing.

After that I made my way by Metro to meet Kathleen Donnelly in the St. Germaine district so we could have lunch and then walk where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso and so many others walked. She showed me where Gertrude Stein and her brother and later Alice B. Toklas held salons for the authors, painters and sculptors they liked and promoted.

She pointed out the bookstores that sold their books – including one owned by Sylvia Beach, who was daring enough to publish “Ulysses” in February 1922.

The creatives drank and fought – Hemingway was a pain and agitant and Picasso, the youngest of the bunch, also caused arguments and fights.  But Gertrude and Alice eschewed drinking and pretty much kept the salons under control.

Exciting times and they formed the basis for Kathleen’s major research. She should market this tour!

We had another great group dinner, and then headed off for a walk along the Champs-Elysees with Vincent. Gorgeous avenue – if it can be called that! – with its exclusive shops, expensive car dealers, cinemas, restaurants and more. Third most expensive street in the world, he said, behind Fifth Avenue New York and another in Tokyo.

We headed out to walk up to the Arc d’Triomphe, the most famous of the arches of Paris, and expected to climb its 300 steps at our reservation time. But it had closed early! So we headed to the Eiffel Tower to catch the hourly twinkling of lights. Missed the one at 10 p.m. but stayed for the 11 p.m. extra illumination. Marvelous! It lasted only about four minutes, according to the students, but the weather was perfect, the mood upbeat and a must-see for the students.

We trudged back on very sore and tired feet but satisfied. A perfect way to spend Sunday in Paris.

The world’s oldest news service and a new TV service 5/19

Back to business again today with visits to Agence France Presse, the world’s oldest news service, and France 24, a 24/7 television channel that broadcasts in French, Arabic and English. Much like the Associated Press, AFP offers news and feature stories and photographs to its clients largely, but because of financial losses, it is reinventing itself to reach more people and make good use of social media as it does. Our two hosts, both editorial leaders – one for the news operation and the other for social media – made it clear, though, that they would not do so in competition, mostly with its regional papers. That would pose a conflict of interest.

AFP is admired in journalism for its excellent international news coverage and breathtaking photographs. I know it not only from what I teach but also from my work at the Post-Gazette. It, like so many other journalistic ventures, still can’t quite figure out how to monetize itself better as it moves into more Web-based work. The news services, though, are in a stronger position as collectives, meaning its clients are members that pay fees.

But the issue is, both men told us, is that clients are cutting back what they need or want in AFP services, and each contract is negotiated individually. And AFP moving toward more video as part of its service is creating more expenses. It also uses social media for crowd sourcing, getting information and tips and other leads for stories. The emphasis still is on accuracy as well as speed, they noted.

Unlike the other media we visited, AFP still has staff photographers, as well as contract and freelance photographers to ensure coverage. It also hires interns, although most of them in Paris come from Columbia University, which has an agreement with the Sorbonne that includes a three-month internship at AFP. It has the same arrangement with the Sorbonne for its students, too. AFP’s financial standing has improved over the past year, and part of this is because it also receives some funding from the government, just like the other media that we visited. Independence from government pressure or interference into journalistic operations is guaranteed, though, by law.

Always a serious news operation, AFP has not covered many of the scandals and sexual issues of politicians and celebrities. But that changed when President Francois Hollande rode his own motorcycle to see his mistress, alone and in the middle of the night without security. It’s a sea change for the French media, they noted, and pushed along because of the success of personality-based magazines that are enjoying great success in France right now.

The big event AFP is gearing up for right now is the World Cup in Brazil. AFP will send 60-80 people to report it properly. It’s less than ideal, the editors said, because of the companion news story with the unrest over it in Brazil. And the editing desk will remain in Paris because of the expense.

The future holds more multimedia for AFP, and more job changes and switches for its employees. Generally AFP staffers spend four years in one position or bureau and then move around or switch assignments to keep people fresh. Main bureaus are in Paris, Washington, D.C., and Hong Kong. It employs 1,700 journalists worldwide.

Fun point for me:  Thomas Watkins, the social network and blogs editor, worked in the United States for AP with my high school friend, Danny Pollock. Danny was his editor! Six degrees of separation …….

Next stop – the suburbs outside of Paris to visit Paris 24, a new service that reaches 250 million people in 177 countries. It’s not as big as BBC or CNN, but it was created just in 2006 and its main audience is France and French-speaking nations around the world.

We had a great conversation with four top people at the TV service, two of whom had U.S.-French citizenship and have returned to France to lead this new endeavor. They are all proud of the focus on human rights stories, particularly in Africa. It runs with three separate news shows – morning, midday and evening. Magazine – or more in-depth – shows are also a staple of the TV network.

They emphasized time and again that French culture is something that people around the world are very fond of, and that principle guides much of what they cover and broadcast.

Time zones pose a challenge for them, and Paris 24 is not as organized yet as it should be to compete with U.S. broadcasts in Asia.  It’s also very difficult, not to mention very specific, for the TV network to be distributed in the United States.

Paris 24 is state-owned and managed, so it doesn’t need to make a profit. That helps it tremendously as it finds its coverage niche and range of coverage.

All those who talked to us also noted that their very presence has made the other TV networks, wire services and major newspapers up their international coverage. As an example, there is now a New York Times reporter stationed in West Africa.

The decision was made to be as accurate and diverse in coverage to attract attention and distinguish itself from the other media. That is the reason for more environmental and women’s rights and issues stories and shows.

Another emphasis is on analysis of news events – not editorializing or “shouting roundtables” shows as seen on the U.S.  The French are also very curious about the world and love to visit or learn about little-known places. So that figures into its coverage, too.

Big challenges are ahead for Paris 24 – staffing, space and distribution – as it works toward its goal as it moves from a start-up to a worldwide news network. Former president Jacques Chirac created France 24 as a competitor to CNN. “We’re not there yet,” several of our hosts said.

We toured the facility, looking at news desks, control rooms and studios, and saw first-hand just how cramped it all is. The staff is pretty much bilingual, and Arabic staff all speaks French.  The staff takes turns on the news, magazine, desk and night desks right now. Each area has staff for each language sitting right next to each other, and we watched an English show be translated right into French (way cool!). France 24 is looking for more partners – It already has an agreement with Eurosport for some of its sports programming.

We’re going to Disneyland!  5/20

We journeyed by RER train to the land of Disney for our final official visit. Disneyland Paris was a great target for us early in our planning, as this trip included four Sports Arts and Entertainment Management majors, and many of our own School of Communication students are advertising/PR majors.

Disneyland Paris became a project in partnership with the French government in 1987. Originally Disney had also considered Barcelona. But France’s location and stature as a travel destination sealed the deal, and the Disneyland Park opened in April 2012, followed by Walt Disney Studios in 2002. Originally it was called Euro Disney, the complex struggled at first. But a debt resolution and an aggressive advertising and marketing campaign – complete with a name change to Disneyland Paris – brought it to the profitable side again.

The resort and park has logged 275 million visitors since its opening, including 15 million last year.  The two theme parks have 59 attractions, and the cast members who make up the staff come from 100 countries. The benefit for France – 55,000 jobs in the parks and indirect jobs in the hotels and resorts. More than 1,500 business meetings have been held there, according to Irma Smits, who is part of the press and media relations team.

Martina Stuben, director of public relations, has been with the park since it opened, and she explained how the public relations operations work. Obviously, a great deal of its operations is handled by the French PR staff, as 50 percent of its visitors and the media it works with comes from the home country. The rest are considered European PR staff members. One thing that stood out in her description of event planning and activities: the use of celebrities to promote the park. We saw a number of videos of their work, and Salma Hayek stood out among some well-known soccer and rugby players. She and the others also talked to the students about the “cultural Chernobyl” the park experienced as backlash when Disney Euro opened. Martina said the efforts have come full circle to it now being considered pop art and a welcome addition.  And she said, “We’re having fun here every day. [We’re] a first destination in Europe these days.” Today her staff uses all the social media possible and is constantly adjusting, as “the journey never stops” to attract visitors. New to the resort this year – a ride based on the movie “Ratatouille.” (And lucky Kelli Murphy, whose birthday coincided with our visit, received a stuffed namesake rat as a present, which pleased her very much!)

The other presenters all shared their love of the resort. Stephane Cunnac, a senior publicist, started in operations in the park. He now works mainly on TV productions, and he took us through the 20-year park anniversary, the planning for which started two years ahead and was 10 months in production.  The main theme – Disney Dreams. More than 2,000 invited guests attended the event, and it took lots of media coordination.

He saw the addition of the Space Mountain ride in 2005 as the real turnaround for the park. Another addition – wine in the restaurants. That change was made after the first year.

Cyril Deschanel took us through park management, focusing on the entertainment. The resort employs 450 performers and 120 cast members to keep visitors entertained during their visits. The entertainment includes stunts, comedians, and musicians and dancers, as well as special events. Two parades each day complete the bill. The park operates all four seasons, and the Disney Music Program brings in high school bands from all over Europe. The resort hires its own musicians and dancers.

Damien Vayne started as a performer in the Peter Pan Flight attraction and moved to work in Orlando for a while and Disney cruises before returning to work at the Paris resort.  He works mainly with Switzerland, Nordic countries and Russia in his PR work on a daily basis. Damien fills in and helps with other countries’ media as needed. Six official languages are spoken throughout the park, and cast members from the 100 nationalities represented and speak 20 languages can be called upon to help visitors, he said.

His best advice to the students is PR professionals always have to know their media and make them “feel special, feel as if they are at home.” Visiting media always want to meet and interview a cast member or performer from their home country, too.

One interesting point: Middle East visitors want a VIP experience, such as a guide to get them through the park. They then let their readers and viewers know that they will receive a similar experience when visiting. Another point he also has to remember is that Russian visitors need a special visa to enter France. So those media invitations need to go out earlier than others so proper planning can occur and they can come to the park.

Whatever they do, it’s all working, Damien and Martina said, as they have no difficulty in attracting media visitors to their press tours, regardless of tough financial times for worldwide media. “That’s mostly because it’s [Disneyland Paris] still new to so many countries,” Martina said. “They still want to come here.”

All combined for a gracious and well-organized and planned visit. They gave us each a “Frozen” travel mug and complimentary ticket for the resort. As David Fabilli and I wandered the park in search of a perfect gift for his great-niece Kennedy, we saw the students at all points. Unfortunately intermittent showers and a final downpour rained on our visit. But this able PR staff gave us all rain ponchos to get through it all. They do indeed think of everything for their visitors.

Final days in France

What did we do after Disneyland Paris? We headed to Normandy for a completely different experience … a chance for the students to see the French countryside and experience history in ways you never can from a textbook, film or classroom.

When we started these trips, we always had an “out” trip as part of our itinerary. The first was to Stonehenge and Bath when we visited London. In Ireland, we decided to see more of the country, traveling all the way up to Belfast and then to Cobh and the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Mohr. And so on. So this time, we planned for a bus excursion through Normandy. Our only complaint? Not enough time!

First stop – the D-Day beaches. 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of that World War II turning point and massive assault by U.S., British and Canadian troops and their allies. We visited the Sword, Omaha and Utah beaches, stopping at the immense American cemetery and checking the displays at the visitors centers.  I watched the documentary “Letters,” a moving account recommended by our tour guide. I was the last one on the bus … Just didn’t have enough time to see it all.

What struck me the most was the vastness of those nearly 10,000 headstones. White crosses and Stars of David for as far as you could see, such a stark reminder of the horrible loss of life that had to occur. Such brave young men, and such tragedy for their families and loved ones. The ultimate sacrifice for the most daring of military actions, and to remind us of this, many of us collected sand, stones and shells from the beaches. Visitors realize what a gamble this was for the Allies and what a triumph over such evil. The French are enormously grateful and will never forget it, our tour guide reminded us. This beautiful place …. a fitting tribute, lovingly maintained. Crews were everywhere cleaning up and sprucing up all areas in preparation for the major commemorations and services next month.

We walked over the huge holes left by the bombs in the grassy areas and checked out the German bunkers and mortar ruins. The cliffs the Texas Rangers scaled, losing half their men and finding dummy German guns. The scale and scope of all those beaches and the D-Day landing made my heart beat faster. I watched “Saving Private Ryan” just once. I couldn’t bear to see it again. I don’t think I could watch it again now having been there …. I don’t need to do so. But I would love to go back and spend days there.

From those beaches we headed to Bayeux, a gorgeous little town. And a surprise for the professors was at hand: Our hotel was overbooked, and we were upgraded, the owner said, to a mansion they owned. Just gorgeous! I just felt so sorry for the hotel clerk who had to drag my huge suitcase up what was really three flights (all European hotels start at 0) and John Rice who lugged it back down the next day. We had Champagne before our delicious dinner, too. And the bathroom – incredibly modern! Hated to leave so soon, and we didn’t have time to go see the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Next time!

Our last two stops – just incredibly memorable. First, a trip out to Mont-Saint-Michel, a Benedictine abbey and cathedral built in homage to the Archangel back in 708. The monks came in the 10th century, and a village grew within the base of its walls.  The entire structure is on an island, which became a pilgrimage destination, and according to its literature, it became an impregnable stronghold during the Hundred Years War, resisting all English assaults. The religious community was dissolved during the French Revolution and became a prison.  (And oh, such a horrible one for all those royals and others loyal to the monarchy! Vincent told us of some terrible torture there ….) But the French came to their senses around 1874 and returned it to a historic monument.

The entire structure is amazing, and we climbed hundreds of steps to get to the top of it.  The structure is built in three parts – the cathedral at the very top (for God), then the abbey and the monastery (and yes, there are monks and nuns there), the Great Halls, and then the village with its shops and village. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and attracts 3 million visitors a year. Very busy the day we were there despite rain and strong winds.

What is also interesting is the major preservation work to preserve the island and its bay. The site is threatened because of silt and sand around the island’s rock. This massive project aims to “put the Mont back in phase with the tides gain, with the goal of completing the work by 2015. It has replaced a dam and rerouted the river and the sea to carry the sediment away. A new access road is being constructed with a pedestrian footbridge.  The shuttle buses will still take visitors to the footbridge, but it will be much improved, Vincent told us, once all the work is finished.

That rain drenched us as we headed back to our bus and our final stop in the walled medieval town of St. Malo. It’s truly just a gorgeous little place, right at the edge of Brittany. An island, it was notorious for its pirates and privateers. We had a great tour of the walled city, the beautiful Cathedral of St. Vincent (very fitting for our great tour guide!) and its windy side streets. Its shops and tons of restaurants draw many tourists, and we toured and shopped with all of them. The students moaned about the stores closing at 7 p.m., but that seemed to be the norm. Our hotel was tiny but modern and beautiful.

My small group stopped for crepes to recharge before the final shopping and touring. Vincent said it was the best, and we had to agree! Just what we needed and wanted. I don’t think I could ever get tired of crepes.

We ended the night with a great group dinner at the Chateauxbriand, taking photographs and comparing stories.  I could tell the students really didn’t want it all to end, and in truth, I didn’t either. All our trips end this way, with wishes for more time, more visits, more touring.

The students dispersed quickly to spend time together that last night, and I walked around some of the streets just one last time to look around and capture the feel of the small town and imprint in my memory. We had an early call the next day to have our last French breakfast together before heading to the airport and start our nine-hour journey home. But for one last time, I wanted to hold onto this remarkable opportunity to be in France, to see it finally for myself. I won’t forget it. And I will come back to see more is a promise I made to myself that night. I hope I can keep that promise.

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