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Category Archives: Media

‘Doodles’ push up the audio channels on Google

If you’ve been on the Google search page today you couldn’t have missed the tweak to the traditional Google Doodle. This one is for International Women’s Day.

To call it a tweak is to both understate it (and to state the obvious!) These Google Doodles are always a tweak up on what we have expected.

Notice, too, how these Google doodles now have a neat audio quality? On Valentine’s Day it featured mini stories by Ira Glass –the best ‘radio voice’ today in the U.S. Just like Ira’s show This American Life, Google encapsulated vignettes related to romance in (what else?) little colored hearts. You could read about that project here.

The point of all this is that plain old audio appears to be making a comeback. Big time comeback, if you consider how services such as Sound Cloud, and VoiceThread have become popular.  Is it that we have become jaded by video and pictures –with every mobile phone on the planet generating all this flotsam that wears us down? Or, is it that we may be kicking our habit of glazing over stuff, and now yearn for deeper content?

I didn’t mean ‘plain’ when I said plain old audio. Recording devices now capture a lot more quality than before. We can capture a lot more conversations, and almost make our mini audio documentaries with them. Our own little ‘Audio Doodles’.

And we are richer for this!

Now if only some rich uncle (or Google) would underwrite this idea

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Media, Podcasts, Social Media

 

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Polar Vortex gets media massage – delicious left-wing/right wing debate

Breaking News. Limbaugh’s argument freezes on contact! 

I have to admit the term Polar Vortex at first sounded a bit of verbosity aimed at making a big story out of a weather phenomenon.

But I did look it up, and find that for once, it is not one of those media marquees trotted out by a TV station’s graphics department.

But it turned out to be a delicious controversy, when good old Rush Limbaugh stuck his tongue out at the equivalent of a frigid lamp-post.  I first picked up the detail in the Discussion Pages of Wikipedia. One Charles Edwin, a Wikipedia editor (biting his tongue, no doubt) left this terse note in the Talk Pages:

“a lot about the media frenzy. Rush Limbaugh, like others, say they remember cold winters and walking to school in massive snow, uphill, both ways. :-) Rush Limbaugh is a student of global weather and expects there may be a three-day gap in the cold for Superbowl Sunday.”

Limbaugh called the term something invented by the left-wing media. Predictably so, since Limbaugh makes everything sound like a conspiracy, since that is the jet fuel which powers his craft. Here’s what he said on Monday.

“Now, in their attempt, the left, the media, everybody, to come up with a way to make this sound like it’s something new and completely unprecedented, they’ve come up with this phrase called the “polar vortex.”

To which weatherman Al Roker, threw a nice counterpunch, by revealing and reading from a 1959 college text-book that had the term Polar Vortex defined.

Sometimes these silly spats teach us something, especially about speaking out of turn –with poor facts.

Now if you’re wondering why I would be interested in this the Vortex debate it’s this. I just got back to school today, and as is normal, interrupted my lesson plan to get my fifth- and sixth-grade students to do a project on the Polar Vortex. 

As I used to tell people when discussing social media and the oft-contested topic called the ‘wisdom of the crowds,’ poking around the talk pages can take you to down some interesting paths.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2014 in Media, Wikipedia

 

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Review: “Chat Republic: A welcome change from the American-centric view of social media”

Review by Linda VandeVrede

Now that Twitter and Facebook have been around for several years, the ability to communicate with strangers and mobilize crowds seems an accepted form of crowd communication. Younger generations who are extremely good at texting have emerged as so-called “thumb tribes.” Yet as these voices continue to emerge, some corporations are still fearful of these public conversations and their implications.

Angelo Fernando’s new book, “Chat Republic,” provides an overview of social media, including how it has evolved and continues to be a work in progress. It acknowledges that social media poses a threat to those who once controlled the conversations that took place within and without an organization. It acknowledges that social media has challenged traditional ingrained ideas about marketing and management, with some taking to it with abandon, some approaching it with a measurement of decorum, and some sniping from the sidelines without partaking. Angelo reminds us to consider communities in terms of what gets shared, not how. He points out that conversations between humans are inherent in our society; even FDR had “fireside chats” that made listeners feel as if they were participating, even through a one-way radio medium.

This citizen journalism scenario is messy but informed. This is not a bad payoff, Angelo observes. The hoi polloi, rather than a filter, decides on which media they will believe. Citizen journalism isn’t merely reactive now. It is becoming more proactive, where people proactively seek stories that interest them and share them with others.

Chat Republic is full of examples of times through world history when people have networked around monolithic authorities in small clusters, from homeless groups decades ago to the Middle East most recently. Still, there is a discrepancy in how people view social media. “There are those who see social media…as a transparency filter to let the sunlight in. There are also those who decry it as a lever that unlocks the floodgates to an unwanted stream of information and/or trouble.” The positives are that it improves trust and reputation. This is the new face of PR, crisis management and advocacy.

One of Angelo’s interviewees observes that people’s habit for deep reading has eroded: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.”

If you ever wanted a view of how social media has changed us for good, this is the book. Best of all, the data presented is multi-cultural, a welcome change from the American-centric view of social media that dominates most books. Angelo’s book is full of tips and case studies about how these concepts have been implemented effectively. I’ve always been impressed with his ability to pull in examples from all walks of life, and analyze the hoi polloi response to social media.

(Disclosure – Angelo was part of the group blog Valley PR Blog, with whom I blogged from 2007-2010, and I am one of the many people interviewed for and quoted in the book).

Picture Copyright: Adam Nollmeyer

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Book, Chat Republic, Media, Social Media

 

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How do you prevent employees from reading a story? Use some nice gobbledygook

You can’t make up stories like this.

The Department of Homeland Security has sent a memo to employees that they may be violating their non-disclosure agreement if they click on a link to a Washington Post article.

It’s obviously a tricky legal thing. Employees are being asked not to use their work computers (referred to as “unclassified government workstations”) since doing so will “raise the level of your unclassified workstation to the classification of the slide…” Doing so, they warn, will cause “data spillage.” It’s also sensitive, being connected to the Edward Snowden affair.

That classified slide, featured in the Post, is about the program known as PRISM, that secretly collected downstream data about people from companies such as  Facebook, Skype, Google, Apple, Microsoft etc.

But the question remains: If DHS really fears such “spillage” why did it not block access to the site from work computers, rather than send out that lame memo? It’s as useful as telling 12-year old students “do not turn to page 296 of your reader; by doing so you will be in violation of the school’s policy.”

I find this very topical for another reason. I just interviewed a company called Safetica, about a product it  markets as ‘productivity’ solution – to monitor employees’ online behavior. It will not snoop into people’s content, it says, but collect data about the paces people visit and how much time they spend there. It gets more interesting: this data, can be viewed by both supervisors and employees!

Maybe Safetica ought to send DHS one month free trail of its data leak prevention software!

 
 

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Citizens’ voices matter

A few years ago I conducted a series of webinar-style workshops for the U.S. State Department, for content creators, educators, marketers and those in traditional and new media. The workshops were called  “Passport to Digital Citizenship.”

I was convinced that citizen’s voices would be valuable, and –despite technological barriers and people who would try to keep them quiet– they could be heard.

So today, as my book is about to launch, I am thrilled to see this report by CNN on the importance of citizen-driven media.

Journalism has been forever changed — I’d argue for the better — thanks to the fact that people can interact with media organizations and share their opinions, personal stories, and photos and videos of news as it happens. This year’s nominated iReports are prime examples of how participatory storytelling can positively affect the way we cover and understand the news. 

(“36 stories that prove citizen journalism matters.” By Katie Hawkins-Gaar, CNN | Wed April 3, 2013 )

When we talk of  ‘participatory journalism’ we mean that ‘CitJos’ work alongside traditional media. They are not here as a replacement model, but to complement the changing media industry. Of the 100,000 citizen stories submitted to CNNiReport.com in 2012, they used 10,789 –having vetted them first.

I just interviewed the creator of a leading citizen journalist outfit in South Asia, and he stressed the importance of community guidelines, and careful design.

Citizen journalism, and the power of citizen voices is a big section in my book, Chat Republic.

 

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Being Obscure, clearly. Why ‘Romnesia’ and ‘Obummer’ distort elections

They are funny, memorable, and provide plenty of water-cooler conversations.

The campaigns know it. They must have gag writers on staff to supplement their communications and marketing people. The unfortunate thing is that they work.

Not the lines, but the distraction. They provide a sidebar to the main event that eventually drowns the real issue.

When Obama, fresh from his speech in New York this week (the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial dinner, where both Obama and Romney delivered great one-liners, a tradition of that white tie event) fired up a crowd using a coined word ‘Romnesia‘ it supposedly lit up social media. Sure, it gave the president a stick to poke at his challenger, who has been gaining ground.

But in the last few weeks to the election, it is a huge distraction from what Obama and Romney should be doing: telling voters, especially those uneasy about both candidates, what they stand for. It may have pricked the bubble about the self-created entrepreneur, but it also treats an important election as a referendum on who citizens don’t like, as opposed to what they really want. Bumper stickers are all about this. Bumper-sticker campaigning just feeds this mentality that we don’t really need to know  (or read) the candidate’s policies, so long as we keep up with the tweets, and let the one-liner define our choice.

Locally, in Phoenix, we have one of the most intellectually embarrassing senate races, by Jeff Flake and Richard Carmona. Going by their ads, I personally don’t want any of them representing me.

Like both major parties, they spend millions on tarring each other’s reputation instead of telling us why we should pay their salary. Worse, they hide behind shady organizations that pretend to represent us, who pay for these spiteful spats.

Take a guess: who might ‘Americans For Responsible Leadership’ and the ‘Committee for Justice and Fairness’ represent? They are quite opaque –by design. These political action committees (PACs) poison the waters of democracy. Why?

  • They are still stuck in the mass media mindset, imagining that he who shouts the loudest will win our vote.
  • These nattering nabobs of negativism account for 75% of negative advertisements (a tar bucket that’s worth $507,240,744.99 according to the Sunlight Foundation)
  • Their ‘message’ –a mess of pottage, really– is clear. Don’t think, just vote! Their goal is simple, as in E.B. White’s words: “be obscure, clearly”!

To think we as a country spend billions trying to introduce democracy to other parts of the world!

 

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Hungry for zingers? We citizens get what we deserve*

The cynical side of me wanted to skip the presidential debate this Wednesday. But with so much build-up and punditry surrounding this made-for-TV event that pretends to be a way a democracy decides on its leader, I gave in.

Truth be told, I am one of those decidedly ‘undecideds.’ I had decided to not be influenced by this stylized boxing match.

I happen to teach Language Arts, so I wanted to watch it from the perspective of rhetoric. I often I ask young people to pay attention to turns of phrase, juxtaposition, and tone-of-voice. It’s how writers and speakers hold –or lose– an audience. So in this debate I was less concerned with facts and half-truths (we have to expect plenty of the latter, in this setting) and more with how the idea was packaged and delivered.

My three observations:

1. Trickle-Down Twist: Many of you are all familiar with trickle-down economics, a term often associated with president Reagan, but really refers to supply-side economics. I liked how Romney added a twist to it, by introducing the term trickle-down Government.

“The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more — if you will, trickle-down government — would work.”

Note how he forced Obama into a corner, by starting out the sentence saying his view coupling it with loaded keywords such as big government, regulation, spending

Obama’s come-back?  None. His limp attempt to punch a hole in this branch of macro-economics later, was a painfully professorial argument that was lost in the weeds:

“Now, that’s not my analysis. That’s the analysis of economists who have looked at this. And — and that kind of top — top-down economics, where folks at the top are doing well, so the average person making $3 million is getting a $250,000 tax break, while middle-class families are burdened further, that’s not what I believe is a recipe for economic growth.”

Got that? A 48-word summary of an analysis may have had its place at some dull economic summit, but not here, with a debate divided into tight ‘pods’ by the moderator.

2. Tax Cuts Vs Tax Offset. Obama  tried to clarify his position versus Romney’s as being based on tax cuts.

“And this is where there’s a difference, because Governor Romney’s central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut — on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts — that’s another trillion dollars …”

But Romney’s pushed back calling it tax offset, and attacking it thus: “Mr. President, Mr. President, you’re entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts.” In effect, he was pushing the president into a corner, saying “liar, liar, presidential pants on fire.”

Romney may have been, as numerous fact-checkers very quickly pointed out, tiptoeing with his numbers himself. FactCheck.org called him “a serial exaggerator.”  Romney’s website does state clearly he plans to “Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates” and “Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000..”  But who reads campaign websites? It’s too much work; much easier to watch the debate pod!  Romney’s zinger about the airplane +White House +facts was perfect for the Twitterverse.

3. Birdseed For Social Media. Speaking of Twitter, you have to imagine that Romney’s attack on Big Bird was a well planned sidebar. It is a silly piece if information, since PBS accounts for such a minuscule amount of government money (the govt spends $0.223 billion on PBS vs $4 billion subsidizing oil companies). But it adds color to a dull fight between two men in suits on a dark stage.

I believe Big Bird was seeded by those the Romney campaign who knew social media users would love something not-so-boring to tweet about. The yellow bird generated 135,000 tweets per minute while the debate was on! One of the many insta-Twitter accounts that ensued, @FeedTheBird, has tens of thousands of followers.

Will social media, or even the ‘verdict’ of who won, matter in whom the country chooses? My optimistic side believes it will not. But we cannot discount how TV debates have indeed swayed elections. If you are cynical, you will want to believe that we citizens feed this machine that produces a televised horse race. We are ready to scan past the deeper arguments and remember the zingers, and the candidates feed our appetite.

 

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Truth, Lies and iPhones

I had been fascinated about the Mike Daisey story that broke some months back here in the US.

It opened up a can of worms about how truth (or ‘truthiness’ as Stephen Colbert put it) and how we twist and maim words and facts. Politicians do it, as do talk-show hosts, reporters, advertisers, scientists, corporate leaders etc.

As someone who writes for the media, I thought this brouhaha was way too important to dismiss as one man’s folly. Daisey was the everyman in a culture of compromised truths and spin; a culture that sometimes believes the means justifies the end in getting a message across. (Anyone remembers Message Force Multipliers?)  The infamous scientist who lied about climate studies admitted he had has a  “serious lapse” of “professional judgment and ethics.”

The classic statement by Daisey for me was this:

“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind my work… It’s not journalism. It’s theatre,”

Is marketing also ‘theater’ then? It could be argued that some aspects of it –product display, packaging etc– is staged, right?  Could some forms of PR (stunts, at least) be also considered theater? Are we sometimes taking Daisey-esque ‘shortcuts’? This is the uncomfortable space many of us operate in.

That’s the background to my recent piece in LMD Magazine, titled “Truth, Lies and iPhones.” Read it here.

Or download a PDF of the article here.

(Incidentally ‘truthiness‘ despite its quirkiness, became the Number 1 Word of the Year in 2006.)

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Media, Radio, Social Media

 

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Lost in translation – when jokes go sour

With so many channels permitting us to share so much chatter, it’s alarming how people forget that what seems private could be very public. Twitter is “a village common” says David Carr, media and culture columnist for the New York Times. He considers what someone says on this channel as very public. (There is a journalistic debate on whether a tweet is actually public content.)

Humor often has a way of going wrong. If you are planning on posting a zinger remember the Aflack guy. The comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who was the voice of the duck in the Aflack commercials, made a few off color tweets soon after the tsunami in 2011. One of them was: “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, “They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.” He quickly became the ex-Aflack voice.

Even a comedian ought to think before he tweets.

Speaking of humor, this joke gone wrong, involving the Dalai Lama would crack you up. Nothing offensive, but the punch line, lost in translation, just didn’t connect. Karl Stefanovic, the anchor of the Today show in Australia explains.

 

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Storytelling tips from Lone Ranger

When I teach young people about the  elements of a story, I tend to lean on the trusted models of the Who-What-When-Where-Why-How (or the 5WH) structure. Or the one about having a Beginning, Middle and End. (My version of this, for those writing for the web is to make sure they have a Beginning, a Middle and a Hyperlink.)

So this week I revisited  two stories, separated by several centuries. The Lone Ranger, and Beowulf.  (Yes! There’s a delicious irony of being able to listen to a 1930 radio show of The Lone Ranger via a Kindle app!)

The basics of these stories –one from the radio age, and the other from a different culture and era, entirely – is that they revolve around conflict. It makes good drama. Good vs evil material. But beyond that, it is how carefully  the author, or script writer selects his words.

So here are four things we could take away from Lone Ranger:

1. Grab Your Reader/Listener
Cut short the pre-amble, and get to the point fast.  In Lone Ranger, we are all familiar with how the scene is set: “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty “Hi-yo Silver!”  (The previous intro was: “In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. ….Return with us now”)

The ‘search for the truth’ is built around intrigue (masked man) and the promise of action (search for truth, hoofbeats…)

2. Cut to the ‘Chase’
Move quickly to build up the tension. The stereotypical car chase (or horse chase here) can have other variants such as a puzzle that the reader is yearning to solve, the expectation of a confrontation etc.

3.  Build Great Dialogue.
Though the story is told to us by a narrator, it is rich in dialog. Tonto, his foil, despite the author’s use of some clumsy pidgin English, is full of exchanges.

TONTO: “Crooks try rob bank last night”
RANGER: “Have Bogus Brown and his pal Elk been in town?”
TONTO: Umm. “Them the fellers try to rob bank?”

4. Humanize Your Characters
The Lone Ranger, despite his mask, is still human enough for others to be able to relate to him – Sheriff’s, townspeople, crooks.

Too often our modern ‘stories’ –um, press releases, podcasts etc– are full of inside jargon, and layer upon layer of description. It’s almost as if the boss’ requisition stated that the script be stripped of ‘normal’ words, and the sort of everyday, ordinary exchanges. Instead what creeps in a slick, sloganized phrases, put in the mouths of spokespersons who would never talk like that.

Maybe we should make Fran Striker (college dropout, announcer) the little-known writer behind Lone Ranger, essential reading for those writing for an attention-deficit audience.

 
 

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