Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Updated: 18 min 32 sec ago

Janice Min pulls the curtain on Hollywood

Thu, 2015-04-09 10:37

The Hollywood Reporter, a trade magazine for the entertainment industry, was on its last legs in 2010 when Janice Min joined the team as editorial director.

Since then, Min has transformed the daily entertainment trade paper into a weekly glossy with longform pieces and photo galleries, as well as revamped the website. Her bosses must have really liked her work, because last year, they promoted her to Co-President and Chief Creative Officer. The title change coincided with the addition of Billboard Magazine to her portfolio as well.

“I was at the mindset, at the time when we were doing this, that Hollywood was such a strange place, in that you had this incredibly visual industry with storytellers,” Min says.  “Everyone in the world is fascinated by Hollywood, yet the press that covered Hollywood was nowhere. It wasn’t keeping up with that conversation at all.”

Min can also be partly credited with that fascination. Before moving to The Hollywood Reporter, Min was the editor at Us Weekly. Her time there, from 2003 to 2009, coincides with the rise of reality television — something Us Weekly was quick to capitalize on. Min notes that Us Weekly was the first publication to put "The Bachelor" on the cover.

“I mean, now you can fast-forward ten years and say, ‘Oh my god, these are the things that have destroyed society,'” Min jokes.  

When she moved to The Hollywood Reporter, some critics worried Min might remake the 85-year-old publication in Us Weekly’s image. That hasn’t been the case, but there are, perhaps, hints of it.

“When I left Us Weekly, they did a going away video for me. And Kim Kardashian, who was sort of a nobody, was just becoming a somebody. They got her to say in the video something funny, something like, ‘Thanks for making my A-S-S a star,’” remembers Min.  Fast-forward to a recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter which included the story, “From Jennifer Lopez to Kim Kardashian: How Butts Stole The Spotlight From Boobs.” It describes the influence of the larger derriere on everything from plastic surgery to red carpet styling.

With Min as editorial director, The Hollywood Reporter is thriving. Circulation for the weekly is only at 70,000 households, but the demographic is high-profile. Min’s plans include growing the brand’s digital influence through video, podcasts, and more.   

Min credits her success at the Hollywood Reporter, and what her bosses are hoping she’ll do for Billboard, with her ability to observe the industry as an outsider.

“I noticed this right away in New York… the Wall Street factor in New York. You have a whole community of people whose one goal in life is to make money," Min says. "In Hollywood, you have a whole group of people whose goal in life is to make money, but along the way they’d like to be critically acclaimed. They’d like to be thought of as smart people, intelligent people… funny. They want to create something that they are proud of on their way to making that money.”

Janice Min pulls the curtain on Hollywood

Thu, 2015-04-09 10:37

The Hollywood Reporter, a trade magazine for the entertainment industry, was on its last legs in 2010 when Janice Min joined the team as editorial director.

Since then, Min has transformed the daily entertainment trade paper into a weekly glossy with longform pieces and photo galleries, as well as revamped the website. Her bosses must have really liked her work, because last year, they promoted her to Co-President and Chief Creative Officer. The title change coincided with the addition of Billboard Magazine to her portfolio as well.

“I was at the mindset, at the time when we were doing this, that Hollywood was such a strange place, in that you had this incredibly visual industry with storytellers,” Min says.  “Everyone in the world is fascinated by Hollywood, yet the press that covered Hollywood was nowhere. It wasn’t keeping up with that conversation at all.”

Min can also be partly credited with that fascination. Before moving to The Hollywood Reporter, Min was the editor at Us Weekly. Her time there, from 2003 to 2009, coincides with the rise of reality television — something Us Weekly was quick to capitalize on. Min notes that Us Weekly was the first publication to put "The Bachelor" on the cover.

“I mean, now you can fast-forward ten years and say, ‘Oh my god, these are the things that have destroyed society,'” Min jokes.  

When she moved to The Hollywood Reporter, some critics worried Min might remake the 85-year-old publication in Us Weekly’s image. That hasn’t been the case, but there are, perhaps, hints of it.

“When I left Us Weekly, they did a going away video for me. And Kim Kardashian, who was sort of a nobody, was just becoming a somebody. They got her to say in the video something funny, something like, ‘Thanks for making my A-S-S a star,’” remembers Min.  Fast-forward to a recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter which included the story, “From Jennifer Lopez to Kim Kardashian: How Butts Stole The Spotlight From Boobs.” It describes the influence of the larger derriere on everything from plastic surgery to red carpet styling.

With Min as editorial director, The Hollywood Reporter is thriving. Circulation for the weekly is only at 70,000 households, but the demographic is high-profile. Min’s plans include growing the brand’s digital influence through video, podcasts, and more.   

Min credits her success at the Hollywood Reporter, and what her bosses are hoping she’ll do for Billboard, with her ability to observe the industry as an outsider.

“I noticed this right away in New York… the Wall Street factor in New York. You have a whole community of people whose one goal in life is to make money," Min says. "In Hollywood, you have a whole group of people whose goal in life is to make money, but along the way they’d like to be critically acclaimed. They’d like to be thought of as smart people, intelligent people… funny. They want to create something that they are proud of on their way to making that money.”

Why your cell phone battery life still stinks

Thu, 2015-04-09 09:43

The reviews for the Apple Watch have been mixed so far. One of the big complaints: battery life.

And it's not just an Apple problem. The batteries that power most of our devices, from smart phones to laptops, are lithium ion batteries. Compared with Alkaline batteries that pop into TV remotes and flashlights, lithium ion batteries are fairly bulky, charge slowly, and drain relatively fast as they struggle to keep up with all the computing power that tech firms have stuffed into our devices. 

Lots of people are working to improve batteries, including Astro Teller, who recently spoke with Marketplace Tech's Ben Johnson. Teller is the guy who heads up Google X, where his title is the Google-esque "Captain of Moonshots."

Johnson asked Teller about one thing that would make a dramatic difference, among the array of R&D projects underway at Google X. No big surprise given our subject matter: batteries topped the list. But in true Moonshot Captain fashion, his goal is more than incremental improvement. 

"A ten-times increase in the weight-oriented density of batteries would enable so many other moonshots, if we can find a great idea. We just haven't found one yet," Teller said. 

So, why haven't scientists and tech leaders found one yet? Unlike computing power, which doubles every 18 months or so, following Moore's Law, batteries are slower to change. 

The short answer there, Johnson says, is chemistry. There is no equivalent to Moore's Law in the world of battery chemistry. In fact, improving the battery is even less methodical than you'd think, according to Matthew Norden at MNL Partners, which also explores leaps in technological change. 

"That's more dark art. It's not quite a witch around a cauldron, but it's close," Norden says. 

Even so, the wizards at Stanford have a study out with some promising findings. Researchers made an aluminum smartphone battery that charges in — no joke — one minute. But Johnson warns it doesn't last too long. 

The key characteristics to improve the device battery are safety, speed, and cost. 

"That's the holy grail," Johnson says. "Once we get a battery that has all of those things, then we will truly be in the future."

For now, we're stuck with two out of three. 

After oil spill, Gulf seafood industry is recovering

Thu, 2015-04-09 07:52

You think a seafood dock smells bad? Try walking in to the New Orleans Fish House. More than a dozen workers in white aprons and knee-high rubber boots feverishly sharpen knives to clean puppy drum and hand-cut tuna steaks.

Michael Ketchum is director for national retail sales at the Fish House. He convinces grocery stores and restaurants that Gulf seafood is the way to go.

"We supply almost every restaurant in the city: We supply Acme Oyster House, Commander's Palace, Emeril's, the Brennans' restaurants. We're running 300 to 500 deliveries a day."

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Ketchum says the reputation of Gulf seafood is back, with the help of QR codes — those square barcodes that look like static-y TV screens. Looking at a bag of frozen shrimp, Ketchum describes the process. "On the back of each bag of product is a QR code, it's right by our UPC code, and the shopper can scan this code with their smart phone and it will pull up a map of where this product was harvested from."

The more you know exactly where something comes from, Ketchum says, the more you trust it.

"If you look where the oil spill was, and look at the questions people had, you knew there was a disconnect between what products were caught where. I had someone ask me if crawfish and catfish were affected. Those two items weren't harvested in the Gulf!" They're freshwater species.

So people trust the seafood again, but now there's a new problem: Supply. Restaurants can change menus when an order falls through. But for Ketchum's big box clients like Target and Costco, that doesn't fly.

"When you're talking to a nice retail chain, you're not talking 200-300 pounds, you're talking hundreds of thousands of pounds of product. They want to know if they plan it out and run ads that it's going to be there."

Part of the seafood industry's full-time job is to say "Hey, it's going to be there," like ads put out by the Louisiana Seafood and Marketing Board. Their campaigns brand Gulf seafood as a specialty product. The hope is that an "Authentic Louisiana" label will get fishermen a better price.

Tony Goutierrez is sorting crabs on his dock in Hopedale, Louisiana, about an hour outside New Orleans. He's not happy with the day's catch.

"You see what we had this morning — that was $220 worth of crabs. And you had $100 worth of bait, and $100 worth of fuel to get here. So it doesn't add up."

Crabs seemed fine right after the spill. But for the past few years, Goutierrez is pulling up empty traps. He says the dispersants used to sink the oil to the bottom of the gulf destroyed the beds where crabs lay eggs. Now, fewer areas to catch crabs mean more competition. "Everyone's being shoved between Hopedale Bayou and Point Lahache- it's putting too many fishermen in one spot."

There's the irony: after the spill, people needed persuading to eat the available seafood. Now consumers want it, and it's hard to find. That's why Goutierrez is struggling to meet the demand.

Over in the French Quarter, the 135-year-old P+J Oyster Company is having the same problem. "They're saying that the oyster landings are the same as what they were pre-oil spill, and there's no way," says owner Al Sunseri. "If it was, we would not have a 300 percent increase on the dock for the price of oysters."

For the first time in its century-old existence, P+J has lost a lot of customers.

"We did fine after World War One, World War Two, during the Depression, recessions, environmental issues like hurricanes and natural disasters," lists Sunseri. "Until this happened."

Back at wholesaler New Orleans Fish House, Ketchum also worries about long-term supply. "I may be trying to build a career here and it may go away, who knows. I'm banking 2015 sales on product that's not even born yet, not even harvested. I know historically it's been there, but now we've done something to the environment."

Five years after the spill, Gulf seafood is probably safe to eat, if you can find it.

Explaining stock buybacks

Thu, 2015-04-09 05:40

Stock buybacks are in the news again. Usually buyback stories are all about companies using their cash reserves to buy back their stock, but this week they’re all about companies stopping their buyback programs.

Viacom announced it’s going to curtail its buyback program until October. And Phillip Morris recently announced a suspension of its buyback program, barring a favorable change in currency fluctuations.

So what is a buyback, exactly?

Here’s a short video explaining how they work — using handbags.

Buybacks are pretty simple: when a company buys back its stock, it does exactly that: it goes into the market and buys its own stock. It can do this in one of two ways. It can simply buy the shares in the open market, just like everyone else. Or it can use a tender offer, where it makes an announcement to existing shareholders, telling them that it’s prepared to buy a certain amount of stock at a certain price.

Why do companies use buybacks? They do it to support their share price. Sometimes they do it to juice their share price. A company might feel that the market price of its shares may not reflect the real value of the shares. By buying some of those shares up, the company reduces the supply of shares on the market. That should increase demand, and therefore lift the price.

You may ask, why does a company want to spend money on buying back its shares when it could be spending that cash on growing the company, buying up competitors, expanding into new markets, hiring more people and helping the economy grow? That’s a good question. Companies that use buybacks are often criticized for sacrificing long-term growth on the altar of short term financial gain. But that’s a consequence on having a shareholder economy. Shareholders like it when their stock goes up, because that means they’re making more money (on paper, at least).

PODCAST: Tell a story about your product

Thu, 2015-04-09 03:00

Airing on Thursday, April 9th, 2015: The people who control interest rates in America look at prices, they look at jobs. But we now know the Federal Reserve is also looking warily at the high U.S. dollar. We consult economist Diane Swonk to understand this key wrinkle in the economy here in the spring of 2015. Plus, a company called Oyster - with agreements from all five major publishers - has opened an eBook store. We look at whether it can compete with the Amazon's standing in the industry. Finally, digital audio downloads can enlighten and entertain. They can also sell things to you. Now, there's a growing sector of podcasting for companies. We learn more about how experts can build a podcast around a product.

Harvard's business women push

Thu, 2015-04-09 02:00

Harvard Business School is extremely selective — only about 12 percent of applicants are admitted. But even with such a large pool of applicants to choose from, the school still has a serious gender imbalance. Only 41 percent of the student body is female.

The school's new PEEK program is HBS' newest effort to reach out to women and encourage them to apply. For a $500 fee, women who attend women's colleges can experience the business school for a weekend. 

"They will immediately be in a classroom here doing a case," explained Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School's director of admissions. "They will have had a case sent to them before; they will be hitting the ground running."

Many business schools also have a gender imbalance, said Linda Scott, the DP World Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Why? "Mostly, I think it's because the environment is fairly hostile," she said.

Business Schools are male dominated, and so are the faculty. Even the course material can be presented in a masculine way, Scott said.

"I think a lot of women just want to avoid that environment." 

A look at the "Social Progress Index"

Thu, 2015-04-09 02:00

You typically measure the economy by counting when dollars change hands. That's Gross Domestic Product. That means dollars spent on bad things, like fixing a car after a crash, count the same as good things, like buying a new tricycle for a kid.

One key alternate measure is called the Social Progress Index, which also looks at  health, education, safety, access to information, personal freedom and other measures across the globe.

This year's index is out as of Thursday morning. We spoke with Michael Green, executive director of the organization that compiles it.

Click the media player above to hear Michael Green in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

The world of e-books is your oyster

Thu, 2015-04-09 02:00

Oyster, a start-up which runs a subscription service for e-books (‘the Netflix for books’) announced today it will launch an online bookstore where users can also buy e-books. The big five major publishers are backing Oyster. We look at what’s behind this move – and to what extent publishers see this as leverage against Amazon.

Click on the multimedia player above to hear more. 

 

Ex Machina imagines a robot indistinguishable from man

Thu, 2015-04-09 02:00

Ex Machina, an independent film about artificial intelligence and deadly robots, hits theaters this weekend. And its release won't be without controversy.

One point of contention: the plot relies heavily on the well-known Turing Test, which is designed to test a robot's ability to mimic man's behavior to the extent that it is indistinguishable from a real human being. Without giving too much away, the movie questions what it would mean to create completely autonomous robots, and how it could potentially go very wrong.

"My interest in AI is to do with it superseding us. It's a sort of evolutionary way of looking at it. We are limited in our potential."

-Alex Garland, Ex Machina writer and director

Click the media player above to hear Ex Machina writer and director Alex Garland in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

The world of e-books is your oyster

Thu, 2015-04-09 02:00

Oyster, a start-up which runs a subscription service for e-books (‘the Netflix for books’) announced today it will launch an online bookstore where users can also buy e-books. The big five major publishers are backing Oyster. We look at what’s behind this move – and to what extent publishers see this as leverage against Amazon.

Click on the multimedia player above to hear more. 

 

Harvard's business women push

Thu, 2015-04-09 02:00

Harvard Business School is extremely selective — only about 12 percent of applicants are admitted. But even with such a large pool of applicants to choose from, the school still has a serious gender imbalance. Only 41 percent of the student body is female.

The school's new PEEK program is HBS' newest effort to reach out to women and encourage them to apply. For a $500 fee, women who attend women's colleges can experience the business school for a weekend. 

"They will immediately be in a classroom here doing a case," explained Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School's director of admissions. "They will have had a case sent to them before; they will be hitting the ground running."

Many business schools also have a gender imbalance, said Linda Scott, the DP World Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Why? "Mostly, I think it's because the environment is fairly hostile," she said.

Business Schools are male dominated, and so are the faculty. Even the course material can be presented in a masculine way, Scott said.

"I think a lot of women just want to avoid that environment." 

Businesses tap podcasts to hone their brands

Thu, 2015-04-09 02:00

In the last decade, podcasting has created new ways to tell stories and disseminate content, from educational programming to documentary and news media.

Now, there’s a growing sector of podcasting among companies, whether their product is blue jeans, beauty care, or footwear.

For the past five years, Todd Mansfield, an audio consultant in Portland, Oregon, has been working with his wife Laura, a brand catalyst, to produce podcasts for companies – in virtually an untapped market. 

They say podcasts are about exploring the culture around a product, not necessarily selling.

“I really go back to educating and cool storytelling content, because that is what’s going to be the differentiator and actually going to position companies to really shine,” says Laura.

Clif Bar is a former client of Todd and Laura’s. Its podcast, called Clifcast, is a nutrition show for runners and endurance athletes.

“These are not considered advertisements, we are very conscious of creating content that’s unbiased,” says Ricardo Balazs, Sports Marketing Manager at Clif Bar and the host of Clifcast. “We’re sharing our expertise.”

Levi’s, another client of the Mansfields, created a podcast about the sustainability of its product.

“We went ahead and did an interview with an English gentleman from Levi’s who unveiled this entire story about ways to take better care of their jeans,” explains Todd.

Senior copywriter John Vieira of Nemo Design in Portland, says getting podcast subscribers is important for a company, because it creates a brand following.

“For a brand, that’s tremendously helpful, because you’re looped in,” says Viera. “But for a person, the reward has to be pretty big. So it has to be something you wouldn’t learn about otherwise.”

The key is creating exclusive content – because for most products, there’s an audience that wants to know every side of the story.

 

 

 

 





 

 



Normal
0




false
false
false

EN-US
X-NONE
X-NONE














































































































































































































































































































































































































/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif";}

Left your wallet at the airport?

Thu, 2015-04-09 01:00
$615 million

This is the payment amount Greece made to the IMF today. Greece's government is caught between its promises to ease austerity, and the bills it owes international lenders. But this one milestone was just reached. However, the country's cash reserve may be running dry, according to Bloomberg

16

That's the ranking of United States on the Social Progress Index. This alternative measurement to GDP, conducted by the Social Progress Imperative, ranks the Unites States 16th out of 133 countries. Despite being the 5th in GDP per capita, the U.S. lags in areas such as health, safety, and even access to information. 

41 percent

That's the percentage of women in Harvard Business School's student body. The school has launched a new program to tackle this persistent imbalance. For a fee of $500, women can take a peek at the business school by trying it out for a weekend.

$31 million

That's how much a group of new Super-PACs associated with Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz expect to raise by the end of the week, Bloomberg reported. It's the making of a huge war chest, and Cruz has a history of big fundraising with political action committees. That said, the numbers are early and coming from an associate of Cruz, so take them with a grain of salt or two.

15 percent

The maximum discount John Hancock Financial will give life insurance policyholders who wear fitness trackers. They're the first insurer to tie coverage to the growing wearables market, just in time for Apple's foray into smart watches later this month.

$638,142.64

That's how much travelers collectively left behind at airport security checkpoints in 2013, CNBC reported, and the change jar is growing. Any money left behind goes directly into the TSA's budget, and some airports have placed donation boxes for local charities in front of security so flyers can donate their spare change somewhere else.

The benefits of wearing the same thing, every day

Wed, 2015-04-08 11:28

Art director Matilda Kahl works in an office where women often wear heels and have “fixed” hair.

But one day, after Kahl was late and unprepared for work, she realized she was wasting too much time on choosing her outfit.

She was fed up.

“You know what? I’m just gonna opt out of this,” she recalls saying to herself.  

So Kahl decided to adopt her own work "uniform" of sorts: black pants and a white blouse. She recently wrote about her decision in Harper's Bazaar.

“This doesn't mean that I don’t love to dress. I go crazy over the weekends,” Kahl says. “I simply just choose to put this choice and time and love for clothing into nights and weekends instead."

Kahl says she has noticed changes since donning her minimalist garb.

“My life has just become so much more efficient, in so many ways,” she says.

Her sartorial decisions are by no means a religion though.

“I wouldn’t have any problem with giving it up, if I felt like it. But it works great for me so, yeah, I have no plans of stopping,” Kahl says.

Kahl says she even (almost) got a raise by wearing the same thing every day. When one of Kahl’s previous bosses noticed that her outfit was a bit redundant, she misinterpreted the uniform as a sign of need.

Trading insurance discounts for health data

Wed, 2015-04-08 11:11
Could fifteen minutes of exercise could save you fifteen percent on your life insurance?   John Hancock Financial is the first insurer in the U.S. to offer discounts to policyholders who wear wireless fitness trackers. Sign up for a new life policy today, and the company will send you a Fitbit, one of those bracelets that tracks your steps. The more exercise you get, the bigger discount you get on your insurance premium, up to 15 percent.   Company president Craig Bromley says the policy will also reward good behavior with "fun sort of rewards" to get you to the gym, like gift cards, discounted hotel stays and leisure travel.   Delaying a death benefit "would obviously be good for us, but also good for them," Bromley says. "You know, other companies are not really helping people to live longer."   It's not just about customers living longer. By leveraging wearable devices and promoting wellness, the company is also trying to bestow a youthful glow on the aging life insurance industry.   "It’s great to be at sort of the forefront of all this technological change, which hasn’t always been the case for the life insurance industry," Bromley says.   It sure hasn't. A recent report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers says the life insurance industry could use some reinvention: the number of life policies has gone up from 23 million in 1950 to 29 million in 2010. PWC says that amounts to a 35 percent drop in market share over 60 years.   "If anything it’s as important or more important than it’s ever been," says Massachusetts-based Certified Financial Planner Tim LePain. Life insurance used to be seen as an investment, LePain says, not so much anymore.   "It’s less prevalent today because there are many other ways to invest your money," LePain says, citing mutual funds as an example.   Analysts expect other insurance companies to follow John Hancock's lead, but will it work? Will more policy holders take up Jazzercise and the Insanity Workout to improve their position on the actuarial table?   "Sure!" says 38-year-old Julie McMahon. "I’d get cheaper life insurance, for what I do anyway."   Other potential customers are not so sure.   "I hope my insurance company doesn’t do that," says Polly Brown. She has concerns about sharing personal health data for commercial purposes.   Brown said she wants her insurance provider to sell her a policy, not to try to be her personal trainer.

Stopping German students in their tracks?

Wed, 2015-04-08 11:07

At an elementary school in Essen, a city in northern Germany, students stream in from recess. They stuff boots into cubbies and hang up their jackets.

The fourth-grade classroom looks a lot like the classrooms in American public schools.  The class has one teacher, who covers all the subjects in the same classroom. Some students excel, some struggle, some are in the middle. 

But next year, that will end.

Every student will be placed on one of three different education tracks: Gymnasium, Realschulen or Hauptschulen. Gymnasium includes eight years of university-prep school. Realschulen is six years, and typically leads to an apprenticeship instead of college. Hauptschulen is the lowest track, meant to serve slower learners.

Bela, one of the fourth-graders, says he wants to be a deep-sea scientist when he grows up, studying marine ecosystems and animals. To do that, he’ll have to go to university.

In Germany, kids are divided up after four years of school, put on paths to university or vocational training.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

In the United States, 66 percent of high school graduates enroll in college. In Germany, only a third of students do.

Germany is very selective about who gets to go to college, because the state pays for every student to attend a public university, and there are a limited number of spots.

Decisions about which students should be tracked for college depend on a mix of grades and test scores, and are heavily influenced by teachers. Students spend the first four years in school with the same instructor.

Lis Vincenz is the principal at the elementary school in Essen. She says this system puts a lot of pressure on teachers, who have to make these tough calls with anxious parents peering over their shoulders.

“They just had their mid-term grades last week, and it only took three hours for the first parents to complain,” Vincenz says. “Parents feel very pressured to have their kids be university-bound.”

Vincenz isn’t a big proponent of the tracking system, and she would like to see students stay together for a longer period of time.

She once taught at a Hauptschule, the lowest track. She questions whether full potential can be predicted so early, pointing out that students at Hauptschulen are disproportionately poor, or children of immigrants.

“Any form of tracking is a form of discrimination really,” Vincenz says. “Even if you don't tell that to the children, they are feeling that they are not really wanted.”

Supporters of tracking point to Germany’s vocational system, where students who don’t go to college are given the opportunity to learn a trade. Graduates of vocational education are still able to earn good money, sometimes even more than college graduates.

 “I see the functionality in it, and I’m impressed by the society that results from it,” says Joshua Hallet, an American expat living in Germany.

Hallett and his wife Wendy live in Dusseldorf, an affluent city north of Cologne. They have two teenage sons who are on the university track.

Wendy Hallett says she loves the tracking system. Her sons are high-achieving students, and she says they were always held back in American schools.

“For our kids to be pulled out, and now be in a classroom of basically all gifted and talented kids, it's insane,” she says. “They're taught at a level that they understand and where they can perform.”

The Hallett family is American, but have lived in Germany for three years. Both sons were put on the university track.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Subject matter doesn’t necessarily differ from track to track, but the depth and pace of teaching does vary. And, says Joshua Hallett, Americans would be quick to call that unfair.

“The tracking system in Germany is so, for lack of a better word, un-American,” he says. “It doesn't give you that golden ring to reach for. Americans are bred from an early age that nobody can tell you what to do, but you can do what you want.”

The irony is, the American comprehensive high school was partially a reaction to Germany’s tracking.

In the 1950s, former Harvard president James Bryant Conant served as an ambassador to Germany. He didn’t like the tracking system he saw there, so he came home and led a movement to reform American schools.

It took 30 years, but by the 1980s any type of tracking in the U.S. — even within high schools — was widely considered regressive and unjust.

In Germany, though, the system hasn't changed much in 60 years, even though parents like Anya Turner worry about the effect it's having on their children.

“My daughter is maybe not as focused as we want her to be sometimes. And having looked back at my education I can relate,” Turner says. “I would find it very sad for her path to be set after the fourth grade.”

Turner's daughter is 9-years-old and will be placed on a track soon. If she isn’t recommended for gymnasium, the university track, Turner and her husband could decide to ignore the suggestion and send her there anyway. In the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the government recently granted parents the right to make that choice.

However, ignoring a recommendation is still rare because, for all of their misgivings, Germans still trust the system.

This is the final part in a series from WGBH's "On Campus" that explores how higher education works in Germany, compared to the U.S. Click the links at the top of the page for previous coverage.

When water runs dry, farmers focus on profit

Wed, 2015-04-08 11:03

"When farmers are short on water, they're going to say, 'Well, I'd like to have more water, but with the water I have, I'm going to make the most profit from it that I can,'" says Jay Lund.

That's how Lund, a professor for civil engineering at the University of California in Davis, explains the crop choices in the state's Central Valley. Lucrative specialty crops reign when water supply tightens.

Here are the Central Valley's top crops, by acreage and value, according to the latest numbers compiled for Marketplace by Bill Matthews, UC Agricultural Issues Center, using data from the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service:

Rafael Cardenas/Marketplace

 

 

'Furious 7' charges up box office, diverse audiences

Wed, 2015-04-08 11:03

For less than a week's work, over $174 million isn't so bad. Add another $250 million on top of that for overseas box office, and "Furious 7" is off and running.

The latest installment of the "Fast and Furious" franchise went ahead despite the death of star Paul Walker a year a half ago, using a mix of CGI and body doubles to keep his character in the film. 

"I love these movies," says Wesley Morris, film critic at Grantland. "They're so much better made than they even need to be." 

This isn't high art, Morris says, but a highly entertaining series of impossible stunts, gaining praise form critics and filmgoers alike. The cast is also more racially diverse than the average blockbuster, encouraging a broader audience to go out and buy tickets. 

"I think the number is 75 percent non-white — the audience," Morris said, but here's a note for distributors growing smug about their profit margins. "People think that Universal has the multiracial, multiethnic thing locked up, right? I think they have the 'Fast and Furious' thing locked up." 

And to retain audiences long-term, studios will have to offer more than sleek cars and an appealing ensemble cast. 

"People don't only want to see brown people drive cars and rob banks," Morris said. "With the right the people and the right story, you can have a diverse cast without calling attention to the fact that you have a diverse cast." 

As for Furious 7, you don't have to see the prior six to enjoy it, Morris says. All you need is a healthy appreciation for cars parachuting backward out of cargo planes.

 

Tsipras' visit with Putin raises European eyebrows

Wed, 2015-04-08 11:02

A beautiful new friendship appeared to blossom in Moscow today between two embattled leaders. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras held his first official meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Both clearly hoped they might be able help each other in their time of need.

Putin wants to snag at least one "no" vote when the European Union meets this summer to consider renewing sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. The sanctions have to be approved unanimously, so one negative vote would terminate the measure and bring Russia some much needed economic relief.

In turn, Putin might, "give the Greeks a bundle of goodies," says Athenian blogger John Psaropoulos.

But, analysts warn that Putin may have a tough time doling out large amounts of cash to Greece; the sanctions and the collapsing price of oil have taken their toll on the Kremlin’s finances.

Putin might reward the Greeks in other ways. He has imposed counter sanctions on a whole range of foodstuffs from the EU, an embargo that has cost Greek fruit growers $1 billion in exports a year. The Russian president could lift the ban on Greek produce. He could also give the Greeks a further discount on Russian oil and gas supplies.

But the Germans say these are paltry rewards when you consider what the Greeks are risking. By playing footsie with Putin, they are putting their whole relationship with the western world in jeopardy.

“What is it that Russia can offer to Greece that can compensate for falling out completely with Europe at large and the United States?" asks Heinz Schulte, a leading German commentator.

In Athens, Psaropoulos says that after six years of economic misery, Greeks no longer seem to care about upsetting their Western partners.

“There’s no feeling that in this marriage between Greece and the West, there’s a danger of breaking the wedding china because the wedding china has already been broken,” Psaropoulos says.

The question now is whether the rift will end in divorce, with Greece’s ejection from the eurozone.

Pages