The Colgate Scene
January 2008

People on the go

Deirdre Childress '81 [Photo courtesy of Deirdre Childress]

Deirdre Childress '81 has a message for all journalists, young and old: Know your multimedia.

The Weekend magazine editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Childress was recently elected secretary of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). One of her platform prongs focused on job retention for journalists of color, something she said can be improved by teaching them to be web savvy.

"The digital generation is so far ahead of the current [working] generation, so one of the areas we need to work on is to give mid-career journalists more digital training," she said. "Journalists of color are hitting a ceiling. People are living a long time and they won't be competitive in their careers if they're not qualified to move up."

Although she's considered herself a writer since the age of 13, and she wrote for the Colgate Maroon-News, Childress got her first real taste of the profession while interning at the Los Angeles Times through a communications study group. Two weeks after graduation, she officially began her reporting career at the Syracuse Post Standard. Since then, her extensive experience has included reporting and editing for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Daily News, and United Press International.

As the profession changes and the fate of print journalism is uncertain, Childress is working to increase the representation of minorities in the newsroom. Through her work with the NABJ, she hopes to improve the grim statistics that reflect decreasing numbers of journalists of color. "When you look at the surveys, you find that although the population of the U.S. is increasingly becoming browner and includes more minorities, the number of minorities in the newsroom is shrinking," she said.

To improve diversity in the journalism workforce, the NABJ has been meeting with top news organizations like the Associated Press to discuss solutions. One proposed measure is for the NABJ to provide a short list of top-qualified candidates of color to companies when positions become available. "We're going to give them names of people who we know can do the job and see if we can make a real difference in that area," Childress said. Through networking and improved multimedia training, the NABJ hopes to turn those statistics around.

Childress also stresses the importance of multimedia training with the young journalists she mentors through Temple University and a regional high school mentorship program originated by NABJ Founder Acel Moore. "I tell them right off the bat that they need to not just be able to write a great story, but they also need to be able to take pictures and learn how to do video. They need to be an all-purpose, one person reporting system."

Mentorship has been a symbiotic relationship, Childress said, because it helps her keep current, too. She participates in any workshop that comes her way, but Childress said the real learning experience comes from the students she mentors. "Staying around younger people, you learn from them. I don't think of it as, I'm imparting all this wisdom on students; I learn from them and it's equally beneficial."

Michael Blum '04 with one of his unique marketing tools for Beemster Cheese [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

Any salesperson can woo clients over dinner at a swanky restaurant. Michael Blum '04 has a different approach: he takes clients 2,000 feet up into the air.

As the U.S. marketing and brand manager for Beemster Cheese, a Holland-based gourmet cheese company, Blum is helping the company gain notoriety in the United States one hot air balloon ride at a time.

A lifetime fascination with hot air balloons and a need to balance leisure with long work hours sparked Blum's plan to help him meld business and pleasure. After earning his balloon pilot license, he pitched the idea to his manager in Holland. Once his manager stopped laughing, he encouraged Blum to present the idea to the CEO.

"We walked out of the meeting, and I had a hot air balloon," Blum said. "My life has never been the same since."

Two years later, the idea is still paying off. Not only does the Betty Bovine Beemster balloon help Blum entertain clients like no other cheese company, but it also draws the attention of onlookers below when he takes customers for rides.

"I give them the chance to experience something that they may never do; and at the same time, I'm there to help brand the product," he explained.

Blum also travels around the country to hot air balloon festivals, which he believes provide visibility of the Beemster name to at least one million people per year, factoring in festival goers, local residents, and national media.

The balloon, which Blum had a hand in designing, is hard to miss with its 37-foot image of the blue Beemster cow in a bright green pasture. Blum said the brand recognition goes one step further with three-foot-tall fiberglass calves that match the balloon and are placed in supermarkets where the cheese is sold. "They relate the balloon to the calf and it draws more people to the deli case as a whole," he said.

The blue cows aren't the only ones gaining national attention. Blum has been in the media spotlight several times over the past year with both planned and accidental happenings. In May 2007, he was featured in the Journal News [lower Hudson Valley, N.Y.] when Beemster broke the Guinness World Record for making the world's largest wheel of cheese. The idea to challenge the record and the event to display the 1,323-pound cheese wheel in Grand Central Terminal were both credited to Blum's inventive marketing style.

Later, in October 2007, Blum was profiled in the Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register, the newspaper of his native Wheeling, W.V. Blum managed to spin even more press while that story was in the making when he and the reporter took some local residents by surprise during a landing, resulting in two television news stories.

"Above the media attention, it really cements my relationships with customers; the smile it brings to their faces is worth a lot. I don't think I could have more fun in business," Blum said.

[Photo courtesy of Michael Blum]

With the somewhat unpredictable nature of hot air balloons, Michael Blum '04 doesn't always know where he's going to land. So, imagine his surprise when, after taking a flight during the Adirondack Balloon Festival this past September, his landing was met by Colgate couple Bob '80 and Susan Mauhs '81 Hummel. "We'd been chasing the balloon because of its catchy design. We saw it coming down in our friend's yard and pulled in to watch," Susan said.

The couple's Colgate sweatshirts immediately caught Blum's eye and he called them over. "When I said that I went to Colgate, they were as shocked as I was," Blum said. He soon learned that they had something else in common: their son Chris '09 is in Phi Delta Theta, of which Blum is also a member.

Both parties agreed that although alumni will often cross paths in public places, it was quite unusual to meet during a hot air balloon landing. "Here we were, in upstate New York, in a backyard sharing a laugh and a few stories with a fellow alumnus who'd just dropped out of the sky as if we'd been expecting each other," Susan said.

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