I referred to Jason Blair’s stint on the lecture circuit in a previous post. Well, the student newspaper at WSSU has joined the fray – see Jason Blair controversy at Winston-Salem State University.
Please read on for my opinions …
As I’ve stated in class, I spent about 10 years doing student activities – much of that was spent booking / producing events. Speakers were always among the most controversial selections. Not to drag this out, I’ll just say this about ‘selecting speakers’.
We booked a lot of different people. Everyone always gripes about the costs … and the value of some of the choices. Auburn’s demographics are relatively homogenous. But music tastes, as well as other ‘entertainment’ choices/preferences, differ widely. It is not always easy to pick something that will ‘sell’ and be ‘beneficial’ to students.
For us, what were some of the largest audiences?
– extra-terrestrials (ok, folks that spoke about them – uh, at least i don’t think they were ET)
Seriously, for $1,000 (drawing an audience of approx. 1,000) we had one of the largest audiences/per dollar spent that we ever generated. His speech (and subsequent 90 minute Q&A session) was one of the most successful events I can remember. And I’m comparing this to much more expensive concerts ranging from $15K comedians to $250K concerts and more. Per dollar, some small obscure events – properly marketed/advertised can really draw a big crowd.
– comedians (especially if you offer free pizza!) – $750 for talent and $300 for pizza and coke (that’s 100 pizzas and coke – don’t ask) and you serve 500 people … not bad
– major authors (best sellers – and, oh they are expensive) yes, they stimulate thought and draw in large crowds – but, they are sooooo expensive
– anyone (or any topic) that is controversial … i’d book jason blair – and make it clear in the contract that he must agree to (a) have a pre-speech dinner with various students and (b) agree to answer no fewer than 30 (or 60) minutes of questions at the conclusion of his speech. speakers regularly agree to these things. (Oh, and I would refuse to pay for anything more than coach in airfare. Tough cookies, Jason.)
for $3,000 talent fee and (perhaps) another $500 for airfare/hotel/meals (don’t laugh at that low price for all three – I do not play with booking.) – that would be a bargain in booking – and students are exposed to him in person – and students get to pepper him with questions. trust me, at this point in time, blair has already been hammered with questions by the best – he’ll handle this new round of questions with ease.
UPDATE: I note, with interest, that many in the media (CNN’s morning show, for instance) enjoy riduculing those that book Blair. Well, if you were able to ‘advertise’ Blair as the poster child for what ‘not’ to do as a journalist, why not book him? Why not let students have the chance to question a national figure? Why not further the discussion of all the issues raised by Blair’s debacle? (affirmative action, drug abuse, dishonesty, ethics, and more…). I’m telling ya’, this guy is a bargain as a lucture booking – and, he’s the perfect foil to use as a ‘lesson’. Also, didn’t I mention that $3,000 spent to get students all worked up about an issue is a ridiculously low price for booking a lecture.