I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Ateamsm“I pity the fool” is my favorite saying from the A-Team, the 80’s NBC drama/comedy featuring a team of actors with terrific chemistry. That line is from Mr. T, but the title line comes from the leader of the A-Team, actor George Peppard. It’s tongue-in-cheek, or sorts, because it was always used after something went terribly wrong, but the group ended up winning after all. I’m referencing it here today, because I want to share a couple of recent illustrations about my own prophecies from years past.

We’re at the dawn of the postmodern era, the age of participation (See my October 2003 essay, Participatory Journalism). While my industry, local TV, found my words fascinating, none of it made sense to them. I kept studying, analyzing and writing, but wherever I went to speak, people I was desperate to reach simply couldn’t grasp the concepts. Today, however, I can see things I predicted coming to pass, which both encourages me and makes me sad. “If only” is a phrase with much sorrow for someone who cares.

I live in Huntsville, Alabama, and while I once was the news director at WAAY-TV, my favorite TV news source is WHNT/News19. We got 8 inches of snow Wednesday and Wednesday night, so Thursday, the entire community was shut down. It was a very special snow day for families across the Tennessee Valley, and WHNT-TV led their evening news with clips and photos sent to them by average people (and some REALLY talented). In truth, the programs were filled with such stuff, so the reality was that everyday people produced the news that was on the TV station. This is what I’ve meant by the “Age of Participation.” Everybody is a media company today. Every. Body. And Jay Rosen’s “Great Horizontal” is pumping out content every hour of every day. What was “the news” yesterday here in Huntsville? Grown-ups and kids playing in the snow. The sun came out. It got up to 42 degrees. Roads cleared quickly. And through it all, everybody (well, nearly everybody) had the day off.

the dress

Then, there’s the story being featured nearly everywhere of “the dress” that’s gone viral. What color is it anyway? Is it blue and black or is it white and gold? It began as a question posed by the everyday owner of the dress on Tumblr and spread like wildfire after a Scottish entertainer passed it along. Even major celebrities got in on the act, people like Taylor Swift and, of course, Kim Kardashian. The mystery was solved by another everyday guy who simply tilted the screen of his laptop back and forth. Science then got in on the act, with Wired calling it an optical illusion.

The point is that “the news” is increasingly created and reported by you and me. Meanwhile, the debate over “real” journalism marches on, something I would suggest is a pretty serious waste of time. I mean, what IS “real journalism” anyway? The professionalization of the press is less than a hundred years old, and it has led to the cultural mess we have today, because “the pros” covet celebrity (I mean, CBS led the friggin’ Evening News with Bob Simon’s death — led the news with it! Really!).

We’ve lost our way, folks, but I trust the people to eventually find a way to keep each other informed about what’s important. The only issue is access, but that, too, has become a part of the Age of Participation.

The people formerly known as “the audience” are a whole lot smarter than we ever thought.

The Right Way to do Customer Service

I received this 2 days after contacting Vanguard

I received this 2 days after contacting Vanguard

It’s been many years since the “Dell Hell” episode in the life of Jeff Jarvis, and customer service across the country continues to have its ups and mostly downs. In my limited experience, however, I sense that companies are really trying to use technology to assist with the heavy lifting today, although we still have a very long way to go (will somebody please invent a replacement for telephone answering technology?).

I want to share with you today a remarkable experience I had last Wednesday with Vanguard USA, a manufacturing company that specializes in photo, video, and hunting accessories. In my case, I was looking for a quick release shoe (see photo) for Alicia’s old tripod, made by Vanguard under the Forceguard brand. My search for this was like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack, and I ended up on Vanguard’s website. They offered 10 or so quick shoes, but the dimensions weren’t offered, so I was stuck. On their contact page, right under their phone number, is an email address. At first, I was taken aback. I mean who knew? I clicked on it, opening my Outlook and presenting me with a simple method of contact.

Below is the entire email chain. Note especially the time stamps. Every company in America (hell, the whole world) could learn from this, and I am happy to present it here for you:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 12:28pm

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m in need of a quick release plate for an older Forceguard (Vanguard) tripod (MG5-OS). The opening for the plate clasp is 1 1/2″ x 1 3/4”. Do any of your QS products (except #40) fit that criteria? You don’t give the dimensions.

Sorry, but I really NEED this.



Terry Heaton
7435 S Catawba Circle NW
Madison, AL 35757



Thank you for your email and your interest in our products.

You need the QS-36. You can purchase it from our website at www.vanguardworld.com

We thank you for choosing VANGUARD and we hope to keep you as a satisfied customer.

Michelle Rainbolt
Repair Technician
Vanguard USA Inc


Your are amazing! Thanks.

Terry Heaton


I ordered the part, Michelle. Too bad I can’t request overnight shipping. Seems like something’s missing in your ordering process. I need that sucker and was willing to pay what’s necessary to get it. Boo-hoo.

Terry Heaton



Call me here at the Service Center 800–875-3322 x120 and I will see what I can do…

Michelle Rainbolt



It will be going out today 2nd day air. Tracking # is as follows: 1zew00150265006143

Michelle Rainbolt


You are SUCH a blessing. Can you give me name/email of your supervisor? I’m so often underwhelmed with anybody’s “customer service,” that I’m really trying to come to grips with the opposite. Love to get you a raise.

Terry Heaton

Thursday, February 5, 2015 12:48pm
Email to Michelle’s supervisor:

Dear Lynn,

I had just a wonderful customer service experience with a staff member of yours yesterday. I’ve got to say that in all my years of contact with various “customer service” units, I’ve really never had one quite so positive as I had yesterday with Michelle Rainbolt. You know, everybody has horror stories, and I always dread contacting companies, because it’s just so often useless. Just the fact that your company provides an email address online that is actually watched is remarkable, and I appreciate it so much. I sent my need (a little Quick Shoe for an old tripod), and Michelle got back to me within the hour to give me the information I needed. Unbelievable! I then went to your website and made the purchase. Unfortunately, speedy delivery was not an option, so I wrote Michelle back to thank her and tell her I wished I had the option of 1 or 2 day delivery. She got back to me immediately and actually gave me her direct line. So I called and spent 5 minutes on the phone with her, where she was able to arrange 2nd day delivery for me. I’ll now have my part tomorrow, and I am one truly HAPPY customer.

Give Michelle a raise, pat yourself on the back, and go tell your CEO that I said he runs a terrific company.

Thank you so much,




Thank you so much for the kind words for Michelle.
I have shared your email with the whole company, because you are correct too often we only hear the bad.

Thanks again.

Best Regards,

Lynn A. Slagle

Me and my Mango Kool-Aid

Mango Kool-Aid

I’m set for a year!

Every once in awhile, things happen in my life that remind me of the incredible wonder of our networked world. In observing and writing about these things, it’s easy to begin to take this new world for granted, and I don’t want ever to do that. So let me tell you the little story of my passion for Mango Kool-Aid.

When I was a boy, my mother would “spike” the Kool-Aid with Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and I’ve carried that on all my adult life. My favorite was the green Kool-Aid, which I used to call, appropriately, “Green Stuff.” A few years ago, I discovered the wonderful flavor of Mango, and began making my concoction with Mango Kool-Aid. Then, the people at Kraft did something totally unexpected; they stopped making Mango Kool-Aid. Oh no! In some stores, you can buy “Peach-Mango,” but who wants that when you’re a Mango purist like me?

I found a store last summer that had a close-out, so I bought all they had, but those ran out last week. I went back to Green Stuff, but, alas, my heart belongs to Mango. I had the thought a few days ago to see if anybody might be selling Mango Kool-Aid via Amazon. Sure enough, there was SweetDeals4U with 4 boxes of 48-count Mango — PURE Mango — Kool-Aid.

I scooped them up, and they arrived today from North Brunswick, New Jersey.

I am a very happy camper. Years from now, this kind of thing will be second nature in the postmodern world of the Great Horizontal, and everybody will take it for granted. Me? Never. It’s a wonder, this thing we have created. Let’s not lose sight of that as we argue, bicker and scream about what’s needed to protect it.

John Carter (of Mars)

John and the princess

Strong woman and the perfect male hero

Off-topic, I know. Most of you know I’m a science fiction buff. I saw the film this morning and have just a few things to say. If you are a science fiction fan, you owe it to yourself and the genre to see this film. What’s most amazing about the story — written 100 years ago — is the remarkable imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs in creating it. You will see glimpses of many famous works in this, for their creators all robbed this story.

Alex (my stepson) and I saw Star Wars, Avatar, Flash Gordon, Superman, Stargate, and many, many others in “John Carter.” You will come away with a deep appreciation for Burroughs, and I hope this film brings out many stories about him in the press.

John Carter is the real deal, and I can’t wait to see it again. Oh, and it really needs to be seen in IMAX 3D.

Per request, me and my banjo

The Heaton BrothersAt the request, or challenge of Rex Hammock, I’m putting up an MP3 of myself and my two brothers, Bob and Jim, from a tape made in our basement in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1965. I was 18. My younger brother Bob was a a virtuoso mandelin player at the age of 16. Older brother Jim played guitar. He was 20. We performed as “The Heaton Brothers” on television and on stages around Michigan in the mid 60s. Vietnam broke us up.

We performed this song, Rawhide, for Bill Monroe in his hotel room, and Bill tipped his hat to my little brother.

We were really quite good, and although this recording is pretty rough, I think you’ll agree. We were certainly a novelty in the Midwest, and I’m pretty sure my life would have been very different were it not for Vietnam. Enjoy.


Rawhide, by The Heaton Brothers.

Lifetime: Don’t contact us, except via postcard

Being the consumer that I am, I do a lot of writing to companies and whatever to explain my pleasure or displeasure. Most companies are happy to hear from people, or at least they pretend to be as such.

But not the Lifetime cable channel. I wanted to drop them a line to express my dissatisfaction with dropping the show “Models of the Runway” that followed Project Runway last season. I thought it was great and added a whole new level of drama to the actual competition of Project Runway.

So I went online to get the address, and here’s what I found:

Lifetime only wants postcards

Hilarious, right? Actually, it’s pretty pathetic and further evidence of exactly what’s wrong with the entertainment industry, which is a blatant disregard of the people they’re supposedly trying to please: the audience.

Wake up, Lifetime. Postcards? Really?