About Perception: BrBa vs The Wire
By The Garrity Group
Thank you for joining the perception podcast, this is Tom Garrity of The Garrity Group Public Relations. Based in Albuquerque where we help small businesses to be heard and large organizations to be understood in New Mexico.
New Mexico is known for Green Chile and Baltimore is known for Crab Cakes. But if you watch mainstream television… those perceptions are so 1980’s! Both cities are known as being the iconic backdrops for television shows with a cult-like following: Albuquerque, NM is known for Breaking Bad and Baltimore is known for The Wire.
This episode of the Perception Podcast provides Albuquerque listeners a chance to learn more about Baltimore and The Wire as a way to remind us that we are not alone! Greg Abel shares some great insights that will resonate with Albuquerque and New Mexico residents.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:00:00] The perception podcast today takes a bit of a darker turn. As we focus on myth versus reality, Breaking Bad versus Albuquerque, The Wire versus Baltimore.
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:00:15] Thank you for joining the Perception podcast. This is Tom Garrity of the Garrity group Public Relations, based in Albuquerque, where we help small businesses to be heard in large organizations to be understood in New Mexico. And joining me today on the Perception podcast is someone I’ve had the opportunity to know for a number of years through a group called the Counselors Academy, which we can chat about briefly here, too. But his name is Greg Abel of Abel Communications in Baltimore, Maryland. Greg, welcome. Hi, Tom. Thanks for having me on the podcast. You bet. Glad that you’re here. Well, so what initiated our conversation today is basically two TV shows in Albuquerque. It’s Breaking Bad in Baltimore. It’s The Wire.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:01:00] And we’re not going to provide kind of a spoiler alerts if you haven’t had a chance to binge watch either of the programs. It’s just more about perception. But before we get into that perception, how do you how would you describe Baltimore to someone who’s never been there before?
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:01:16] Well, that’s a great question, because Baltimore has many things. So it might depend on context if they were coming for a business trip and a couple of days or they’re moving here and they want to know what the city is really like. But to answer your question, Baltimore is one city in many cities. It is a city that was formerly defined by a strong manufacturing economy that has since gone away. So the weather there used to be a lot of steel making, for example, in the area. Bethlehem Steel 40 years ago had 40000 employees in Baltimore, maybe 50 years ago. There is a season of The Wire that’s about the port and steel making and the port are intertwined. And a lot of the blue collar jobs that paid well have unfortunately gone away. So from an economic standpoint, Baltimore’s blue collar past has shifted to more of a services and industry economy. You got a lot of banking and finance here. So some of the big players in the region are at T. Rowe Price and Legg Mason. These are large financial companies. And then you’ve got, you know, under armor is based here. And they’re very much intertwined with sort of the spirit of Baltimore as a gritty underdog. You know, their their slogan is Protect This House, which is kind of a thing that I think people think about. And Baltimore is very often perceived from the outside as a city that’s troubled and not a great place to live. But perhaps like a lot of places that people who do live here have a lot of pride in it and know of its charms beyond maybe what you see on television or in the news. And so I would I would add that it is a it’s a very segregated city and has historically been segregated, which is unfortunate. And a topic of debate and discussion all the time. It certainly has had its challenges and problems that continue as we speak with violence, unfortunately, have a high murder rate for a city of our size. Among the highest in the country. So that’s a big problem. And then what Baltimore also has going for it is its location in the middle of the East Coast between Philadelphia and Washington, just a three hour train ride to New York, a beautiful downtown harbor, a whole lot of development along the water in the downtown neighborhoods where you can go to a great restaurant and overlooking, you know, the ships on the harbor. And, you know, there’s been a wonderful burgeoning restaurant scene that’s been happening for the last few years. So, you know, you could probably tell just by what I’ve mentioned so far that it’s many cities and one and it has many problems and many charms. And we all who live here try to to do our best to talk about what’s great and address our problems in realistic ways. And none of these things are are easy or short term in terms of solution and change.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:04:17] Wow. Very well said. And I wanted to see ships because we don’t really know. The closest ship we have in New Mexico is Shiprock, which is a fantastic site out on the Navajo reservation. But, you know, it’s I’ve never really had the opportunity outside of BWI to really experience the German hospitality of Baltimore, Albuquerque. By contrast, is is a very multicultural city as well. You know, we have a number of issues like any growing town does being the urban center for New Mexico. Albuquerque is the the financial center. It’s also the largest city in the. State, the largest media market. And as results, if something happens in Albuquerque, as far as that’s bad, it gets amplified throughout the state and sometimes disproportionately just because the media is here, as opposed to being in Estancia, which is maybe about 20 minutes outside of Albuquerque or Rio Rancho or anywhere on Native American reservations
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:05:23] Multicultural as well. You know, we have a very strong Native American population in New Mexico and Albuquerque, New Mexico itself is actually minority majority state. So it’s, you know, about 47 percent Hispanic. And then, you know, other ethnicities tier down from that particular perspective. Crime has been one of the things that has really skyrocketed over the last several years. It was a major issue in the last mayoral campaign, which was about two and a half years ago, and continues to be an issue for various different reasons. The culture is fantastic here. You know, the you know, the food is reflective of that. But also, you know, really kind of looking at the cultural influences in Old Town, in the South Valley, in the North Valley. You know, both are very different types of cultures. If you’re wanting to explore all that as a tourist. You can, you know, be enjoying, you know, some great enchiladas down at Barillas Coffeehouse and then in, you know, just about 20 minutes time, be at the at the San DIA peak tramway to head up to ten thousand four hundred feet to the top of San DIA Peak. So, you know, definitely a lot of different things to do in Albuquerque. When I was preparing for this for a conversation today, I asked a good friend of mine who’s in the media whose name I will not use. So people’s trying to reverse engineer to say, well, who did Tom talk to? You’re not going to find out, because I know a lot of reporters. But I asked this person to basically describe the wire and to describe Breaking Bad, to basically set that table for our conversation. And this person writes that The Wire essentially started out as a story about crooks and the cops who tried to catch them. Then it used that lens to peel away at the chronic problems in Baltimore, drugs, poverty, corruption, cronyism and a failed education system. Breaking Bad followed Walt’s descent into from good to bad and made Albuquerque a character in the story. The big sky, stark landscape and authentic locations helped to make the fictional story seem real. And so that’s this reporter’s assessment of the two different programs helped set up our conversation. Would you generally agree with The Wire has as far as the perception of The Wire?
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:08:02] I generally yes. I think that that description is accurate. I would add that the city of Baltimore is as much a character in the wire as Albuquerque is to Breaking Bad. And David Simon, the creator, has said as much.
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:08:17] He intended that to be the case. And so I think the this is a many layered subject. But the overall kind of story arc of the wire includes police that end there, you know. Well, effectiveness and ineffectiveness and leadership and lack of leadership. It’s also about, you know, a marginalized part of our society and how they have to get by. And, you know, when you don’t have access to jobs in a traditional economy, then you find an underground economy. And this is a way of life that the wire peeled back and showed that this sometimes is not a job of choice, but a job of necessity. That job being a drug dealer. Right. And so we learn these things from The Wire. It’s not a nonfiction show. It’s a fiction show. And it’s based on the reporting and views of someone who covered cops and courts. And in this world for a long time at the Baltimore Sun, our largest daily paper. And so what you have then is this sort of reflective long term look at a city and its many intertwined problems. You know, it takes a deep look at the politicians and their motivations. Some of them, you know, inherently good. Some of them self-serving. Some of them corrupt. And so it’s not just the violence and the drug dealers and the cops. It’s kind of like this web of connections. I think the phrase from this show is everything is connected. Right. So how the cops operate the history of segregated communities in our city and the inaccessibility of kind of traditional. To quality education and mentorship in some of the marginalized neighborhoods leads to some of these systemic problems we have, and these are not issues that you can neatly wrap up in a 60 minute TV show or even an investigative newspaper piece. And that’s why The Wire is so compelling and why it has such lasting power is because it gives you like a really deep dove into what it is like to live and come up poverty. Also what it’s like to be a competent detective and how those worlds interact with one another. So it’s as much about that as it is about like Baltimore. And Baltimore is where it sets. You can’t separate the two. But it’s also just about how people who are marginalized get by.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:10:43] And it’s really you know, it’s the storytelling, isn’t it? You know, as far as the both The Wire and Breaking Bad, that those are that’s the one thing that, you know, they were both very good at is telling different stories and reflecting the character of the towns that they represent, which is kind of an aspect of the character of the of the towns that they represent, I should say. But so I’m often, you know, if I’m at Beer Club or chatting with some friends and there’s a lull in conversation, I can almost always get a rise out of someone. When I ask, is Breaking Bad good or bad for you? And, you know, no one is short of opinions on that. So let me kind of twist the turn the tables on you. Is the wire good or bad for Baltimore or the question?
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:11:38] I, I have a hard time with it and I will answer it. But I want to just provide a little context, which is that I know I don’t know David Simon, but I’ve met him and talked to him about this topic.
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:11:52] And he is I can tell you, and he said it to me, that he takes no responsibility for the wire being negative for Baltimore. What he is is a storyteller. And he shed light on what is as opposed to providing some kind of, you know, violent or different version of a city that doesn’t exist. It may as well be nonfiction. Right. So is it good or bad for Baltimore? It is both. It is bad in that there is sort of this knee-Jerk perception that the wire equals violence and crime and corruption and danger. Right. The wire itself, that is a phrase that was about wire taps to catch drug dealers. So, like, that’s not good to associate with a serious kind of who you are. Right. So that’s not good. I would say, though, that one of Baltimore’s kind of unique. I’m not sure what the right word is, but but facts about the city is that it inspires a lot of art that goes beyond the city and makes an international impact. You know, you have John Waters is from here. Barry Levinson is from here to pop. Took classes at the Baltimore School for the Arts. And you have a history of filmmaking and art creation in a city that’s very gritty and kind of like aware of its of its deep flaws. But then also, like, inspires all this creativity that comes bursting out. And the wire is part of that. So it’s like it becomes a canvas of sorts for very interesting creative energy. And because of that, I think the wire is also good. And that it’s it’s it’s among a list of things that the city has inspired. Now, it doesn’t it hasn’t inspired kind of like good PR or in the PR game. So you wouldn’t make the wire to promote your city, but you would also hold it up as an example of some of the amazing creative energy that the city inspires. Mm hmm.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:13:54] Fascinating. And I would say from Breaking Bad perspective, I did. I’m going to provide some background before I give my answer. Yeah, I know. Yeah, I’d like to. You guys set that up. It was very, very well done. Is that back several mayoral administrations ago. The city made a conscious effort to promote Albuquerque through the police department on a show known as Cops. In fact, one of the early seasons just focused on Albuquerque. It was a very big program effect. I’m sure some cable network somewhere is is airing it in its entirety where you can find it on Netflix, perhaps. Who knows? But outside of Bugs Bunny complaining that he should have made a left turn in Albuquerque, the city really wasn’t on anybody’s radar. In fact, I remember when I was living in Miami. Listening to Larry King one night, the epic radio commentator, radio host. This is before I moved to New Mexico. He was challenging his listeners to call in and try and. Well, Albuquerque and I’m thinking, wow, what? Yeah, that wasn’t very nice, but it was it was everybody kind of came in and they, of course, you know, chopped up the spelling and he really didn’t allow anybody from Albuquerque to call in. But but, you know, he made a good point that oftentimes, you know, a town isn’t always what it seems as far as from the outside looking in. And it’s not always easy to spell either. And so with all of that said, you know, that I think that Breaking Bad was good for Albuquerque because it provided relevancy to the conversation. It made Albuquerque relevant to pop culture in an area that it really hadn’t ever been. Now, I think where the challenges come for Albuquerque, has it seen in it’s seen in the. That we’re kind of we set that Breaking Bad, set that bar so low as far as what that expectation is of, you know, human existence, that Albuquerque in some respects, some aspects, is really embracing and diving down to that expectation. And as a result, gun crime is up. You know, it just crime in general is up. And that is what gets covered quite a bit. And and the media cover what the media covers. You know, that’s not what that comment is. It’s just that sometimes I think it gives permission to certain elements of the society to say, hey, it’s OK to act bad because I saw it on TV. And so it s it resets that social norm. And when in reality, you know, knock on wood, you know, I’ve not had much of an issue with crime. I mean, I’ve had my house right in two before. But it’s definitely you know, there’s the Breaking Bad on television and then there’s the Albuquerque that I know and love. And, you know, it’s always easy to complain, to talk about crime rates, but I think that, you know, for the national conversation, it made Albuquerque relevant and, you know, the kind of the softer side of things with Better Call, Saul, which is the prequel to Breaking Bad, has shown a different part of Albuquerque. Now, of course, it’s been the final seasons. It’s getting a little bit darker on that as well. But but, you know, so how do you change that perception of Baltimore or do you do you push the arrow all the way through? Or do you just say, you know what? That’s the TV show, but this is the Baltimore that I know?
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:17:28] Well, it’s such an interesting observation.
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:17:31] I think we’d also be it’s also worth mentioning that for both cities and both programs, these weren’t just kind of, you know, interesting shows that had a life. And there were some fans. These these are cold favorites that will endure for probably, you know, decades and generations like those two shows are like not just, you know, tied to these cities we’re talking about, but like in the law of television history, they’re held up as like some of the greatest drama in the history of the media. You know, like you can’t escape it because it’s so big and casts a very long shadow. And I think that’s part of this story here. It’s not just like because there were other series that have been set in Baltimore. I’m not I don’t I don’t know about Albuquerque, but, you know, there was David Simon’s work. There was homicide. It was the legacy. It did homicide. OK, then it did the corner and then the wire. All the ones about murder ones, about the drug game and other ones about like the drug game and everything else. So if you have a snatch, I guess. Yeah. The people around you will joke like, you know, can’t we just have a show called Roeland Park, which is like a really nice, like, sort of, Tony, upscale North Baltimore neighborhood where the houses are nice and people are kind to one another. And like that wouldn’t make for great drama, I guess.
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:18:51] So kind of like everything to your question, I think. I guess
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:18:55] Remind me, where are we right now?
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:18:57] Well, he wrote, reacting to, well, how do you change that perception? Like in Albuquerque, for example, I you know, we have a very vibrant business community. And, you know, that is something that is not reflected and would not be reflected in a Breaking Bad or better call Saul. I mean, yeah, we have great investment from the federal government and the Sandia National Labs. You know, we have a really strong tech transfer program and emerging technology sector, you know, in addition to all the, you know, business trappings that come with being the metropolitan area. As far as the financial center, a lot of really strong banks. You know, the craft beer culture is very strong here. And so, you know, you have a lot of these positive things that when it comes to changing perception, I think you just kind of you accept Breaking Bad from a New Mexico perspective for what it is. And, you know, if people want to go by and see the car wash, that they want a car wash. Right. I used to actually go quite a bit when I lived in that. Part of Albuquerque. I loved it, but there were always tourists outside grabbing pictures, which is not a bad thing for them to be growing. Get him pictures up because it gets people in to take a look at it. But, yeah, you name it, claim it, and then you kind of move on and talk about the the very positive aspects of the city, which, you know, Albuquerque and Baltimore have plenty of.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:20:21] Right. And so to get that point of how do you make change that perception. So if we’re going to kind of you know, you have you do have to shine light on on the cities, you know, great aspects.
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:20:35] So we can talk about Johns Hopkins University and hospital system, which employs a lot of people here, and has continued to expand its footprint in the downtown region to kind of turn a lot of housing that wasn’t being utilized well into nicer housing and for construction that’s going on now. There’s also an argument there that you push out people who were there. But Hopkins is a shining star in Baltimore under armor, is a shining star in Baltimore. The University of Maryland medical system is is a very big downtown. There’s all the graduate schools of pharmacy and there’s a hospital and there’s, you know, the medical school and nursing school. It’s all part of Baltimore’s fabric. And, you know, that’s nearby Oriole Park in Camden Yards. And then the home of the Ravens, that downtown sector is very vibrant and there’s a lot of development that’s gone on around it.
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:21:29] Although our downtown area has challenges and the kind of independent of the wire, you know, the city has not turned around a population decline that’s been going on for maybe 30 years. Baltimore’s population as of the 2010 census was in the low. Six hundred thousands and that’s down over the years. I don’t know the exact percentages, but it’s it’s been on a decline, whereas the regions around Baltimore County and the surrounding counties have all been on an uptick. And so that’s an area of concern. And so to change the perception, you have to both shine light on the things that are great, like the places I’ve mentioned. There’s also a big tech economy here and good, good startup culture. There’s a great number of companies that are doing work in the cybersecurity realm that are interesting and well-funded and making, you know, creating jobs and kind of the new modern technology driven economy. But then we’re missing that working class economy that we had a generation or two ago. And there is some there is a significant violence problem there. The city remains a dangerous city in many parts of it. And we’ve had a change in leadership. But I don’t know if, you know, if the news was national. But our era, our mayor recently stepped down from, you know, some a situation where there was some corruption going on. And so now there’s a new interim mayor and that isn’t good. So I I think it’s this combination of recognizing what is special and different that is worth promoting and having difficult discussions and working over time to improve those areas that really need to be improved, better policing. And we just got a new police commissioner, but there’s been a lot of controversy and, you know, some unfortunate resignations and legal challenges from the past police commissioner. So we have had anything but smooth sailing over the last 10 years and longer.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:23:36] Fascinating. In fact, all of this is great info. And one of the things I really wanted listeners in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to understand is that, you know, we’re not alone. You know, there are other cities about the same size. Albuquerque has a population of five hundred and fifty thousand in the city itself. MSA is about six hundred and fifty thousand. About two million in the state. So you have more than a quarter of the population here in Albuquerque. But, you know, it’s just it’s we’re not alone. And I think you bring up some some great points. This has been time well spent. But before we jump on to two to the wrap up talk about counselor’s academy. I think it’s really key. That’s how you and I got to know each other, which I’ve been the better for. How would you describe Consulars Academy to someone who might not know
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:24:28] Thanks, Tom. Counselors, as a organization that’s a part of the Public Relations Society of America. So the Association for PR Professionals, you know, as I say, and then there are sections and there’s a section that we’re both been active with as Counselors Academy, which is a part that caters to the needs and conversations that are very valuable to people who own or run independent public relations firms. And so in our world, these are. Well, it can be an independent who just kind of as a solo public relations professional all the way up to 100 or more employees. Our sweet spot tends to be to, you know, oh, I don’t know, a handful of two 50 because we all kind of are running growing businesses and we all have very similar challenges, but in different markets, maybe in different focus areas. But what’s wonderful about it is, you know, we get together at an annual conference, we have a Facebook page. We have personal relationships we rely on so that we can help each other. Both take advantage of opportunities, solve problems, act as coaches for one another.
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:25:33] So it’s just one of the best professional development networking things I’ve ever done in my career. Let’s just open the door so to so many wonderful relationships and opportunities
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:25:43] I echo that from the first conference that I had in Mexico back in 2010. To today, it’s a I echo everything that you say about counselor’s. I think that’s great. Greg Abel, Abel Communications, thank you for joining us. How can people find you and your firm?
Greg Abel, Abel Communications [00:26:02] Thanks, Tom. We are online and able communications dot com. Amy, E-L Communications dot com. And then nobody wants to drop me a note. My email is Greg Gera, e.g. an e-mail communications dot com.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:26:15] Thank you for listening to the Perception podcast. This is Tom Garrity. For more information about the Garity Group and for more podcasts like this.
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:26:24] Visit GarityPR.com for aboutperception.com.
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