Nielsen Flak Jack Had Nack

It takes something special to pry the Riff out of retirement. In this case, it took the retirement of someone special. Jack Loftus, the long-time mouthpiece of the Nielsen Co., and penultimate adversary of the Riff, is calling it quits. We'd like to believe we had something to do with it, but we have to admit we threw the towel in long before Loftus did. No, it seems the Nielsen communications chief has grown more interested in grandparenting than he was in heir apparenting the Nielsen communications empire, now that he's turned that over to the eminently capable hands of Karen Watson, Nielsen's digital media savvy communications czar. What Jack was to the Golden Age of Nielsen television ratings, Watson promises to be for its New Age of the omnimedia's digital multiverse, or what insiders like to refer to as "A2/M2," because it makes them sound more like a six sigma company than a Riff column.

But this one's about Loftus. Who, we should point out, was a fairly credible journalist before he took up flaking for Nielsen. But even during Nielsen's most incredulous moments, Loftus managed to command the respect of trade reporters and the consumer press for his straight-shooting, his honesty and perhaps most important of all, his empathy. For all the millions we figure he netted in Nielsen stock over the years leading up Nielsen's buyout, Loftus never lost his passion for reporting, his instincts as a journalist, and, perhaps most importantly, he never forgot what it was like to be on the other side of a story. In our book, those are good qualities in any PR executive, and win you points, even if it doesn't always get the headline you wanted.



As much as he became one "them," Loftus always remained one of us. You could almost hear his discomfort when he once tried to explain to a reporter what a "sample performance index" meant.. Technical jargon and Nielsen gobblygook was not his element. We're pretty sure he didn't know what a "regression from the mean" means. And we're quite positive that he thought a "statistical deviation" was a fetishist who had a thing for numbers.

No, Loftus was most comfortable jaw-boning with reporters over what the story really was, and trying to spin it just a smidgen in favor of Nielsen's direction.

Once, in an attempt to break the wall down between Nielsen, and the journalists who cover the ratings behemoth, Loftus organized an unusual panel discussion during Nielsen's annual internal company meeting. He invited a group of trade editors to talk about how they cover the company, its ratings products, and the issues surrounding the TV ratings business. It was an interesting table-turning experience being grilled by Nielsen executives, one of which had the audacity to ask the panel who our "favorite sources" were. We were aghast when some of our fellow panelists began answering that question honestly, naming names and spilling beans, and we waited with perverse anticipation for our turn to answer the, when panel moderator Jack Loftus cut to a new question. Had he let us answer, our response would have been: "Why Jack Loftus, of course."

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