Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Weighing One Against The Other

Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." But, how do you measure and weigh the good and the bad that one has contributed in weighing whether or not you have respect for them?

The timely example (we'll get to more specific ones in a minute), is to judge Michael Jackson. Now, he has met his maker, and been judged where it matters most. However, where does he stack up in ones' own heart and mind? The easy comparison is to pit his music against the allegations and resulting settlements for his 'issues'. Yet, that does not factor in the good he did for charities, nor the odd manner in which he raised his children. The pendulum swings back and forth, and I could go on with hundreds of pluses and minuses. Thus, you get the point. Measure and celebrate just his music, and you have a hands-down showcase for any number of musical halls of fame. Add in other issues, and the matter gets decidedly cloudy.

While we don't have unions, per se, how do you qualify a "scab" in the world of photography? And, when you do, is it okay to break bread with them and play nicey-nice? What would a reader of this column surmise if they witnessed me having lunch with the greatest proponent of work-made-for-hire, or microstock? I don't know if any one individual or company fits that bill, but what would a reader think?
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Without knowing the topics of conversation, it would be hard to draw a thoughtful conclusion. Suppose, I was trying very hard to convince them to step away from the dark side? Sometimes, these types of conversations are incremental, or relationship building. Successes can be measured in inches, and are sometimes imperceptible to the untrained eye. The President, regardless of administration, meets with other world leaders to find places of agreement, not to argue (at least not at first) over matters of disagreement.

What, however, would be your reaction if a friend did a job you had turned down, because it was a work-made-for-hire job, or a $1k job that paid $100? And, if this same friend seemingly was echoing your anti-WMFH attitude, but you knew they had signed a WMFH contract to do that job, how would you react? Does your personal friendship survive and your business discourse with them get short circuited?

If, for example, Time Magazine had named Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden Person of the Year, would you cancel your subscription? Was American Photo's celebration of the work of Robert Maplethorpe (a long time ago) enough to get people to cancel their subscriptions? When news outlets get metaphorically 'spanked' by fake news (like the fake reports of George Clooney's death) does the mindset "you reap what you sow" enter into the equation?

As newspapers begin to actually rely on 'citizen journalists' for their content, over their journalistically trained professionals, will you accept the occasional assignment from them and lend your credibility to the publication, knowing that it adds to the credibility of the free 'citizen journalist' content? What if you got sent out to do the cover assignments for the publication every issue, but all the inside pages were filled with 'citizen journalism' and the frequent bad image, would you associate yourself with that?

Lots of questions here, what do you think?

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Monday, June 29, 2009

On Failure, and Becoming Legendary

Michael Jordan, on failure:


Michael Jordan, on becoming legendary:
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How committed are you to being a photographer?

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Washington Post Fakes Own Front Page For Profit

The Washington Post, (NYSE: WPO) which normally sells reprints of past editions from major news stories for keepsake purposes, has stooped to a new low, faking a cover to cash in on Jackson's death. To make matters even more absurd, Matt Schudel, in his article "Michael Jackson Obit, the Backstory" writes of the Jackson obit "...we had no advance obituary prepared." Really? The King of Pop, whom you deem worthy of a $249 framed "commemorative" issue of, had no advance obit of Jackson? Since Jackson, at the age of 50, was not expected to die anytime soon, despite many reports of health irregularities over the years, it's little surprise that an over-worked and under-staffed newspaper would not focus on preparing an obit, given the numerous rounds of staff reductions in recent times.

The fake cover - that is - it's not an actual cover from the newspaper the day Jackson died - can be had in a framed version for as much as $249.95.
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Here's the actual cover (with thanks to the Newseum, viewable here too), with a small piece at the top, which refers to Jackson as an "Object of Acclaim, Curiosity", which I can only guess doesn't make for much of a resale piece. (Click at right to see it larger and read it for yourself.)

Below is a screen grab of the Post store (viewable live here):


The Post should think twice about faking it's front page - re-writing history from its' actual front page to one that they can sell "commemorative" copies of.

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NY Times' AME McNally 'We Apologize' Over Infringement Suggestion

In a Q&A interview, titled "Talk to the Newsroom", New York Times Assistant Managing Editor for Photography, Michelle McNally issued an apology for freelance writer Sonia Zjawinski's unencumbered advice to use Flickr's photographs for interior decorating, not providing any suggestion that the potential user confirm the photographer has granted those rights. (New York Times Advocating Copyright Infringement?, 6/26/09). When asked during the Q&A by Rod Irvine:
Q. Do you endorse the view of Sonia Zjawinski that it is perfectly acceptable to steal copyrighted images from the Internet? Do you think it's a good idea for The New York Times to seemingly endorse such views by publishing them? Or do you think it is as disgusting and outrageous as I do?
McNally responded:
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A. I have received a number of queries about Ms. Zjawinski's recent post on Gadgetwise, a New York Times blog about personal technology, in which she discussed downloading and printing Flickr images for use as home d├ęcor. Here is where The Times stands on the issues that have been raised about the post:
We are strong proponents of copyright protection. The New York Times does not endorse, nor is it our policy to engage in, the infringement of copyrighted work. We apologize for any suggestion to the contrary.
Interestingly, this was the last question on the last page of the Q&A, seemingly buried at the end of the discourse. In a sense, like corporations or government officials putting out bad news late on a Friday afternoon, where it will be missed by many. What is also interesting, is that McNally does her darnedest to differentiate "The New York Times", as was inquired about in the question, when she refers to the piece by Zjawinski, under the masthead of the The New York Times as being "...on Gadgetwise, a New York Times blog about personal technology..." as if to say the blog isn't really the Times.


With thanks to Tampa photographer James Broome for the heads up on this in the comments of the original post.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

New York Times Advocating Copyright Infringement?

Freelance "independent writing and editing professional" Sonia Zjawinski (LinkedIn: Profile) has published a piece - Flickr as an Interior Decorating Tool - under the New York Times masthead that, by painting with broad stokes and no caveats, writes:
And if you’re wondering about copyright issues (after all, these aren’t my photos), the photos are being used by me for my own, private, noncommercial use. I’m not selling these things and not charging admission to my apartment, so I think I’m in the clear.
Ok, so she says "...I think...", well, Zjawinski, think again. The problem is, countless people will have read that article, and concluded that it was ok to infringe on the copyrights of countless people on Flickr. The responsible thing to have done would have been to have directed readers to look for the Creative Commons tags (that Flickr showcases here) that would give readers guidance about what they could, and could not, do with the photos.
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The author, not content to have been hoisted up by her own petard, and pummeled in the comments section, seeks out a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who suggested "People are posting photographs and know very well that they are going to be viewed by people on a computer, and if someone wants to print a photo out that they see on Flickr to enjoy some other time and in some other place, that seems fairly analogous to what people did with the VCR."

Uhh, no. The author tries to cover her tracks, because, since she's a freelancer, she may have concerns about keeping the New York Times as a client, and she writes of her initial article in the second one "... a lot of people saw it as promoting thievery. That was not what I wanted to advocate by any means." It then seems she found a lawyer at the EFF who would back her position on this issue, or atleast give her cover. It wasn't until her second article (I would call it a mea culpa article) - Are Flickr Photos Fair Game for Home Printing?, (6/26/09) that the author directed readers to the Creative Commons pages, but how many people who read the first, then read the second?

It used to be that the news media would vet and fact-check the articles that went out under their masthead. Further, employees of these organizations knew that if they got it wrong or played fast and loose with the facts, they would very quickly lose their jobs. However, on this NYTimes gadget blog, facts and truth seem to have been separated from the reality of the laws that govern copyright.

With thanks to Rob Haggart over at A Photo Editor, and secondarily, Lane, for the heads up on this.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The News of the Day

Timing is everything. The news of the day yesterday, atleast for those of us stateside, was the passing of Farrah Fawcett. That is, until the King of Pop himself passed away. Immediately, Fawcett was eclipsed by the passing of Michael Jackson. As someone who has had a close family member pass away, I had a strong desire for the community to turn out in droves to honor my loved ones' passing. So too, no doubt, did Ryan want that for Farrah. Yet, the news of the day became that of Jackson.

What could this possibly have to do with the business of photography?
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As I started with, timing is everything. In the above case, it was bad timing all around, however, the timing of Jackson's death will affect the celebration of Fawcett's life. In a corporate example, my long-time client, XM Satellite Radio, was scheduled to officially launch their service, if memory serves, on September 12, 2001. That, of course, got moved to later in the month, and it was a subdued launch. The other day, I was working with a client who was promoting a press conference/news event for a very worthy cause, however, the news media were immediately dispatched to cover the metrorail crash here in DC, so no media came.

Be sure that your contracts for services rendered have cancellation fees. If you were a photographer in LA photographing a VIP reception at UCLA Medical Center in LA for the hospitals' biggest donors and the Hospital board, and they cancelled the event because of the media horde and all the mourners outside, a cancellation fee should apply. It should apply especially if the client didn't tell you until close to the event start, and you had turned down multiple assignment requests from media outlets to cover the mourning (and become a part of the horde) because you knew you had another contractual commitment. Further, contemplate your own timing as you make plans for your business. Don't send e-mails to clients, for example, Saturday afternoon. They'll get lost in their inbox, and a lesser portion of them will get read than if you sent them Monday mid-morning, after prospective clients have cleared their inboxes.

Just as you would never send a non-time-sensitive e-mail to a photo editor at a daily newspaper when they are on deadline (usually between about 4pm and 6pm or so), or knowing that the weekly publications put their final issues to bed Tuesday evening so calling/emailing Tuesday afternoon will get you ignored, so too, paying attention to the news cycle as you time your activities is something very important to the longevity of your business. This isn't personal, it's just business.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

iPhone 'Find My Phone' Feature - In Use

It's 1:05 pm, Saturday, the day after the new iPhone was released. Do you know where your iPhone is? Mine is ( as evidenced by the Find My Phone feature) at the White House, safe in my pocket. Today I have pool coverage duty, which, with the weather being what it is, gives me a chance to test out the new features of the iPhone.
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As someone who HAD a 3G phone, and who had to revert back to a 2G for a few months, exactly because I lost the 3G, this is a very valuable feature. Since my cell phone is my lifeline to my clients, not having access to my email and client calls, even for a day, can be very costly.

Further, and for a very real reason, I am concerned about the data on my phone. Not to worry, I can wipe it remotely using this same screen.

When a business tool like this gets updated, and with critical features like this, upgrading (you can get the above features with the older 3G phone and the new 3.0 software) is so beneficial to the smooth operation of your business, that it's a no brainer.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Newspapers Online - Newport News

Some people get it. Some people don't. Lots of really smart people thought they knew what they were doing when they put all of their content online for free. Not the Newport News in Rhode Island. Check out the video below - they seem to have engaged the simplest solution to the online dilemma, and it's working for them.

Newport Daily News: Charging for news online from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo.


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Washington Post Co Bankruptcy Again?

In 1933 Eugene Meyer bought the Washington Post Company (NYSE:WPO) while in bankruptcy. Is the Post headed that direction again? The Post ombudsman suggests that "The circumstances are similar today" that created the first bankruptcy.

In ombudsman Andrew Alexander's article, from Sunday June 14, 2009 - Big Changes Bring Fears About Quality, Alexander cites an almost unanimous response to his query of staffers about what is in store for the Post's readers. They pointed to a loss of quality for the readership.
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While the article, in large part, looks at the text side of the paper, the paper's talented photography staff continues to diminish, replaced by file images, wire photos, and freelancers without the skill set and capabilities of a staffer. The Washington Post has arguably the most talented staff photography team in the country. Yet, they are taxed by not only needing to fill the needs of the newspaper, but also the website, and other Washington Post Co. divisions. Next thing you know, they will be getting assignments from Kaplan for photography for their SAT tests.

June 5, as the brain drain continues, Ju-Don Roberts stepped down as Managing Editor of the online division, headed off to an online division of Rubert Murdoch's News Corp. This, as Tom Kennedy, who was Managing Editor for Multimedia left in February, leaving Michel duCille to run what is reported to be a combined department. duCille, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner is Managing Editor for Photography at the Post.

Can an over-taxed staff continue to deliver the same quality and caliber of images as before? Not likely, without substantial help from freelancers, and an over reliance on wire and agency images. Yet, this suggests that the freelancers, working under an unfair contract that demands rights for use in all Washington Post properties, and which pays a pittance, are as capable and talented as the staffers. They are not.

This, while just last week the union that represents the employees of the Washington Post ratified their new 2-year contract that chips away at the seniority of the employees, allowing the paper to protect employees regardless of their seniority status. Thus, it would not be unreasonable to see the Post protect newer cheaper hires and cut senior staff above and more expensive than the cheaper ones. With an almost $54 million loss in Q1, and the slashing and combining of sections, quality and quantity are already suffering.

As the demand for eyeballs in print and online intensifies, and peoples' attention spans get shorter and shorter, quality visuals will be what keeps people reading, or in the very least, attracts people to the content in the first place, and then begins reading a good lede. If a picture is worth a thousand words, why is it that photography departments everywhere are getting shorted in favor of their copy-writing brethren?

Step 1: Newspapers around the country should be paying their freelancers a higher assignment fee than it costs to pay a staffer, and don't demand an unreasonable rights package. One time use in the paper and online should be sufficient. Doing this alone will demonstrate the costs savings that can be realized by maintaining a staff. Further, you will attract top talent to your department for freelancing, not those naive enough to accept low pay and rights grabs until someone sets them straight.

To those who say "nice idea, but we just don't have the money", I say BS. You are the captain of the ship - and you should be willing to do right by your "crew" and that includes protecting the officers (i.e. staffers) as well as those that toil below deck (i.e. freelancers). When the ship has gone down, do you want to be remembered as the captain who sold out his crew to try to save his ship and himself, or the one who did right by his crew to the bitter end? Doing battle with accountants and lawyers inside your company on these issues won't be easy, but if your job was easy, anyone could do it.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Look3 - Festival of the Photograph - Sylvia Plachy

Sylvia Plachy takes the stage on the first of three days at Look3 - Festival of the Photograph.


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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Look3 - Festival of the Photograph - Overview

Look3, the Festival of the Photograph, held for the past two years, enters its' third year this week, June 11th through 13th, in Charlottesville Virginia. A remarkable celebration of photographers, their images, and stories, are on display in galleries around town, as well as on stage at the Paramount Theater each evening.

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World Copyright Summit - Robin Gibb interview

At right is a crop of the brochure for the World Copyright Summit, held June 9th and 10th 2009 in Washington DC. What is remarkable is that, while a photographer is an iconic visual representation of copyright on their brochures and website, not a single photographer, illustrator, or, as Robin Gibb pointed out, painter, is on the program for the Summit. Further, not a single photographer's trade organization was in attendance as a delegate (we asked the registration team there), so we put the question to the organizers of the event, CISAC, and asked Robin Gibb, their President, to help us understand how this happened.

It was suggested that organizations like the Copyright Alliance, which was in attendance, collectively represents those creators, as they have photographer associations as members. However, to not have a single photographer, illustrator, or painter on stage, while the vast majority of other creators were, seems rather odd.

See if you can discern the answer Gibb gave us, as we asked, and re-asked the question.

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World Copyright Summit - Michael Heller Interview

At the World Copyright Summit, held June 9th and 10th 2009 in Washington DC, Michael Heller, Columbia Law School professor and author of the book The Gridlock Economy, was a featured speaker. Following his presentation, he took a few minutes to discuss with Photo Business News some additional thoughts about copyright, orphan works issues, and issues of private property rights as compared to societal rights and needs.

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World Copyright Summit - Public Knowledge Interview

The World Copyright Summit, held June 9th and 10th, 2009 was a who's who of organizations and individuals with a wide array of perspectives on copyright issues. Gigi Sohn, President and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a Google-backed organization, shares her perspective on copyright issues, and Orphan Works. Last year, we reviewed a number of Public Knowledge's statements about Orphan Works - Orphan Works - A Unique Set of "Myths" and "Facts" (6/2/08).

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Orphan Works - "in the coming weeks"

During the World Copyright Summit, Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT), gave the keynote address on the first day of the event, held here in Washington DC at the Ronald Reagan Building. During the address, Sen. Hatch stated that he was actively working to get orphan works legislation passed this Congress.

Senator Hatch's remarks on the subject were:
I also continue to be very active on passing orphan works legislation.

Last year, the Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation to encourage the use of orphan works - works that may be protected by copyright but whose owners cannot be identified or located. Countless artistic creations - books, photos, paintings and music - around the country are effectively locked away and unavailable for the general public to enjoy because the owner of the copyright for the work is unknown.

Unfortunately, it often isn’t easy to identify or find these owners of copyrighted work. To make matters worse, many are discouraged or reluctant to use these works out of fear of being sued should the owner eventually step forward.

For years, I have been working with industry stakeholders and copyright experts, including Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights, to pass orphan works legislation. The bill seeks to unite users and copyright owners, and to esure that copyright owners are compensated for the use of their works. I couldn’t agree more with Register Peters when she said, “A solution to the orphan works problem is overdue and the pending legislation is both fair and responsible.”
While it comes as no surprise that orphan works will return this term, such a public pronouncement, during a time when the Senate Judiciary Committee is taking up the nomination hearings for a new Supreme Court Justice, came as somewhat of a surprise. It would have been reasonable to expect that this would be in full discourse this Fall, however, when we contacted Sen. Hatch's office for a comment, his Press Secretary, Mark Eddington, provided us with this quote from the Senator:
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“Orphan Works remains an important priority for me. Last Congress, the Senate unanimously passed the legislation. I see no reason why Chairman Leahyy and I can’t re-introduce this bill in the coming weeks.”
It could reasonably be expected that the bill that is re-introduced will be identical to the one that passed the Senate last session, and then all eyes will turn on Chairman John Conyers. Back in January, at the start of the 111th Congress, we wrote 111th Congress - Orphan Works Futurecast, which details Conyers' past positions as very Pro-IP.

With The President having both Houses of Congress, whatever final bill will have to have the blessing of the President. We detailed our reading of the tea leaves as it regards President's position at the same time, in Orphan Works in the Era of Obama.

It isn't likely that bills will sail through Congress and become law before September, but with a Senate bill dropping in the next few weeks, it would be very probable that the House would hold hearings during the early Fall.



Related Story:
IP Watchdog - Senator Hatch Speaks at World Copyright Summit, 6/9/2009 (includes Sen. Hatch's entire remarks)

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

PDN - White-Washed Photo Contest? Hardly

Is Photo District News guilty of "passive raciscm" in their latest photo annual? In a word, no. What started (here) as race-baiting, evolved into money-grubbing race-baiting here, with a well honed charge that PDN's photo contest is passively racist because their jury is all white.

I have been critical of PDN's past photo contests (No Confidence Vote for the PDN/NGS Contest, (1/28/08), but this charge is just outright asinine.

There are three premises that these charges suppose:

1) By having a jury that looks all white, these individuals will select or be pre-disposed to selecting white photographers, white subjects, or issues predominantly of interest to whites.

2) They should have been actively racist in saying "hey we need a _____ guy or a ______ woman here to round out the color spectrum for our judges."

3) That, independant of race, judge(s) "of color" were asked to judge not for the color of their skin but their stature in the industry, and could not do it, for whatever reason.

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Premises 1 and 2 are actively racist, as compared to the initial charge which suggests passive racism, and premise 3 results from the lack of actual knowledge of the inner goings-on of the contest, and is an assumption by critics.

The judges didn't have a headshot (or likely even a name) associated with each entry during the judging. Judges don't say "hey, all our entries are about the good in the world as represented by white people, we need some black and asian plight to offset that good so our contests' winning entries appears balanced."

Unfortunately, this charge deserved to stay on the backpage of the Weekly World News, and instead, was brought into, for lack of a better way to put it, the mainstream blogosphere by A Photo Editor (here), so I felt it necessary to put forth a response as well. A silly $1k offer, is the best money the critic will never have to spend, in order to get this type of charge out of the backwater where it should have stayed.

An era has arrived when people are largely judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin. Does racism remain? You bet. Whites can be racist, just as well as blacks, asians, hispanics, and so on. We will never eradicate all racism. Bush's trusted Secretarys of State? African American, alonside other races in other cabinet posts. Obama's trusted VP and cabinet officials too cross a spectrum of race, and in both administrations, race was not a factor.

PDN is neither actively nor passively racist. Further, neither are the judges.


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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Conan O'Brien: Transformed Background an Infringement?

Conan O'Brian, the new host of NBC's signature late night show, has transformed from Carson's curtain, to Leno's cityscape, to what truely looks like the other-worldly Mario Brothers:


The above background from NBC, with the overlay of Mario's kingdom by the good folks at Serious Lunch, (they have an animated gif there that is a challenge to watch for more than a few seconds), show that it's hard to dispute the two are the same. They also have a link to a much larger version for you to look at in more detail.

So, the question is:

Derivitive work?
Was the use transformative?
Did Conan/NBC need to license the scene?
If permission for a derivative work is required, but NBC did not seek it, would Nintendo likely sue?

I have my own opinions on this, but what say you?
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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

UPDATED: Gordon Ramsay on Photography & Laughter

Two days ago, we wrote about Gordon Ramsay in In Search of Excellence (6/1/09), which was very significantly commented on, with much color and entrenched opinon. As I am making my way through the series, he makes a point about photography, alongside the idiocy of the owner of a Los Angeles restaurant, who is not only a part time actor, but, apparently, thinking he also can take a photograph. He cannot.


and another one "with ghastly pictures":

Food photography belongs in magazines and cookbooks, it would seem, but definitely NOT on menus. I would humbly agree, unless, perhaps it's Denny's, IHOP, or that type of dining experience.

Next up, is laughter, and the place for it.
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I've addressed this issue before, as it relates to people in the background while you are on the phone with a client. If you have people in your office, pets, or children, they cannot be making a ruckus while you are on the phone. If you are conversing with a client, and they hear people hooting and hollering while you are carrying on an important conversation, the client will think you are just having a party and taking a few snaps in between beers, and god forbid the laugh in the background come at a pause in the conversation where your client says something that would never warrant a laugh at all.

Dogs barking, children screaming, and other distracting noises in your home office should be verboten during business hours, or at the very least, when you are on the phone. In the above clip, laughter is heard from the kitchen which doesn't make the restaurant come across as professional, or focused on getting the customers' food out in a timely manner.

Details, details details. Unlike the previous clips where many people missed the point and decided to focus on Gordon's language and so on, these clips don't have that.

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