Poltical tweeps under the microscope

Nice post from Nieman Lab on how people are acting like journalists on Twitter. Caught my eye because that’s exactly what I do. This is basically the concept of content curation in PR, a role established enough now that people can list it as previous experience on their resume and apply for jobs that request it.

Here’s what they’re doing:

Now, Metzgar and Ibold are still in the process of evaluating tweets — 250 so far, but ultimately 2,500 — for journalistic behaviors. For example, do these Twitter users verify the information they’re sharing? Do they simply assert information? Do they affirm preconceived notions? Or do they demonstrate some other special-interest approach?

Former Nieman Foundation curator Bill Kovach and Project for Excellence in Journalism director Tom Rosenstiel developed this evaluation framework — verification, assertion, affirmation, and special-interest —  in their book Blur. (For the purposes of their study, Metzgar and Ibold added a “none of the above” category.)

Researchers are also evaluating tweets for political rhetoric using three categories: attack, acclaim, and rebuttal. Their early findings have yielded some interesting results. Metzgar and Ibold find the most prevalent journalistic mode among their politically-oriented sample is assertion, which Kovach and Rosenstiel characterize as placing the “highest value on immediacy and volume and in so doing tends to become a passive conduit of information.” (Sound familiar, web users?)

… cool. But pretty limited. I’d like to see a more comprehensive study of the sharing and fact-checking methods that the various tribes use on Twitter. It’d be interesting to have someone steeped in online blog reading (like many of those adorning my roll to the right) check how different readers of different sites interact and promote information. This is only a preliminary study (from “30,000 feet”) as the article notes, so I’d love to have a look at what it’s like when they get more time and data.

Also, this made me smile:

Regardless of political orientation, tweets were likely to be “scandal-oriented with emotional charge.” (Again, sound familiar, web users?)

As did this, though for a different reason:

What may be more telling is how both of these highly engaged Twitter groups — in addition to an “overall disregard for verification” — ignored traditional media, and one another. In instances when Twitter users did attempt to provide verification, it often came in the form of a link to an outside source. But rarely was that source a traditional journalistic outlet.

Given how ‘traditional’ journalistic outlets have failed us during the past couple of decades, I’m OK with that.

Yelp! for health care

Sarah Kliff has a post about a new start-up that’s devoted to promoting consumer awareness about health care packages (via). Castlight Health will basically serve as an aggregator for news and prices of health care packages, much in the same way that Yelp! is now a go-to for people who want to learn more about businesses. Here’s how, ideally, it’ll be useful:

The idea of comparison shopping is a relatively simple one; it’s something we do all the time. But in health care, there’s traditionally been little place for it. Health insurance plans have traditionally assessed a flat co-pay for a specific health care service, like a colonoscopy or annual physical. The prices, from the consumers perspective, are all identical.

A flat co-pay, however, can mask huge variation in what doctors charge insurance companies. In California, for example, doctors bill anywhere between $1,529 and $186,955 for an appendectomy.

In recent years, health insurance has evolved to give subscribers more reason to care about what doctors bill. With premiums skyrocketing, employers have increasingly turned to Health Savings Accounts. Under those arrangements, employees are given a “defined contribution” — a set amount their employer will pay for health care. That’s different from a traditional, “defined benefit” plan, where employers cover a specific range of benefits, regardless of cost.

HSAs are generally paired with a high-deductible health plan, meant to provide stop-gap coverage for individuals who end up requiring especially high amounts of health care.

In a defined contribution plan, employees have a huge reason to find the doctor who charges $1,529 for an appendectomy — namely, that bill will be drawn directly from their Health Savings Account.

That’s also where Castlight comes in.

No word in the piece about whether Castlight will have product reviews, a la Yelp!, and I’m sure there are a gazillion ways this can go terribly wrong. Still, intriguing idea.

Free for all

Andrew Sullivan has some thoughts on how to best elicit feedback on the Intertrons (via). Sully has long resisted having a full-fledged comments section, if y’all don’t know, and he links to Julian Sanchez:

If the type and volume of criticism we find online were experienced in person, we’d probably think we were witnessing some kind of EST/Maoist reeducation session designed to break down the psyche so it could be rebuilt from scratch. The only way not to find this overwhelming and demoralized over any protracted period of time is to adopt a reflexive attitude that these are not real people whose opinions matter in any way. Which, indeed, seems to be a pretty widespread attitude. Scan the comments at one of the more partisan political blogs and you get a clear sense that the “other side” consists not so much of people with different ideas, but an inscrutable alien species. I think it’s self-evident that this is an unhealthy development in a democracy, but it may be a coping strategy that our media ecosystem is forcing on us—at least until we find a better one.

Then adds:

I have a better one. Scrap comments sections, and add serious editors to filter the smartest emails both in favor of the blogger’s view and against. Yes, you need to develop the thickest of skins. But a thick skin isn’t the same as epistemic closure. Or it doesn’t need to be.

DeLong says something about humanizing yourself as a means of deflection. I’ve never had a high-traffic blog that attracts trolls, so I can’t really speak as to how psychologically damaging it is to often deal with idiots on the Internet. That said, I still think they’re wrong.

I get that there’s a ton of crap on the Web. But good comment sections, which (yes, I know) are few and far between, are still worth it, in my view. I’m aware that having a lightly moderated comment section is a recipe for attracting trolls. But how about Sully’s idea? That the writer gets to pick and choose to which arguments he or she will respond? Makes sense… as long as you entirely trust the writer. And how many people do you read that you trust entirely? I actually trust a fair amount of the people I read at this point but Andrew Sullivan sure as hell isn’t one of them (for good reason, I might add).

So, no, count me out. The Internet has tons of filth and idiocy and ignorance. But I’ll take that and sift through it rather than depend on the host of a site to pick and choose the arguments that they deem worthy of response. I’d like to be able to make that decision, thanks.

Mediacentrism

My thoughts return to the PR blogosphere and its substantive commentary (or lack thereof) on political matters. I think I have found a serviceable, though imperfect, analogy to sum up my beef.

Brian Solis, who is generally acknowledged to be a leading writer in ‘big think’ PR pieces and an overall pretty sharp guy, writes a lot of stuff on the intersection of business, the ever-evolving digital age and how that affects organizations. I was not a huge fan of his writing early on but the more that I’ve read, the more it’s grown on me.

One of Brian’s pet points, and one that I’ve seen him make several times in writing, is that often people focus on digital media and social platforms as ends in and of themselves rather than a tactics that fit into a preexisting business model and organizational ethos. Now, if you made it past the embarrassing number of buzzwords in that last sentence, here’s what I’m getting at:

Brands and their marketers suffer from what I refer to as medium’alsim, a condition where inordinate value and weight is placed on the technology of any medium rather than amplifying platform strengths and ideas to deliver desired and beneficial experiences and outcomes.  Said another way, businesses are developing for the sake of development and establishing supporting presences without regard for how someone feels, thinks, or acts as a result. In doing so, “engagement” programs are calculated, brought to life in the form of an editorial calendar that, by its very nature, isn’t not designed to really engage people at all.

Emphasis mine. I misremembered the term he cam up with, which caused me to waste a good ten minutes on Google searching for a combination of ‘Brian Solis’ and ‘mediacentrism’, failing at that, cursing at Google and then even considering using Bing. But no matter. My moniker is ‘mediacentrism.’ It’s the exact same idea and, I have now realized, it’s one of my chief complaints about how PR types write about politics online, if they do write about it at all.

So often, political posts are focused on the delivery mechanism. Here’s a post from Dan Zarrella about how the leading GOP contenders’ Twitter stats. Here’s a David Meerman Scott post about how Obama’s video is a great example of content marketing. Here’s an InkHouse post about the optics early on in the primary process. Etc, etc.

Again, I stress, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with these posts. They can be interesting. I’m aware that it’s not the job of PR folks to analyze policy. I’m aware that much of their professional work does concern image-managing, so this emphasis makes enough sense. But, nevertheless, I think there’s a lost opportunity to look at the way information is disseminated and rejected received. Plus, let’s not kid ourselves: Jeff Zeleny and Ashley Parker spend almost all of their time writing about trivial, optical stuff. PR people could look elsewhere. And yes, because I am ever the thoughtful and substantive blogger, I’ll give you an example.

Greg Sargent had an interesting post a few days ago. An NYT/CBS poll asked about tax fairness in the context of growth, to steal Greg’s wording, and here’s what happened:

Which do you think is the best way to promote economic growth in the U.S.? 1.Lower taxes on individuals and businesses, and pay for those tax cuts by spending on some government services and programs, or 2. Spend more on education and the nation’s infrastructure, and raise taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses to pay for that spending.

Lower taxes, cut spending: 37

Spend more, raise taxes: 56

And here are a few more figures:

The poll also finds that 67 percent say the government should do more to help improve the situation of middle class Americans; 52 percent say government shold [sic] do more to improve the housing market; 57 percent think the wealthy pay less than their fair share in taxes; and that 51 percent think capital gains should be taxed as ordinary income. People say they dislike government in the abstract, but when the talk turns to specifics, suddenly active government doesn’t look so bad.

Emphasis all his. And wow. Sounds like good news for the Preznit, eh? Except there’s also this:

But a whopping 55 percent are confident in Romney’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy. If Romney clears the basic competence threshold with voters, as seems likely, it could be trouble for Obama.

Waitwaitwait. The public supports, by twenty points, raising taxes on the wealthy and spending more (Obama’s plan) as opposed to cutting spending and lowering taxes (Romney’s plan). 67% say the government should do more to help middle class families, which Romney’s economic plan will not do (see previous link). 52% say government should do more to improve the housing market, an area in which Obama has been quite poor but it stands to reason that Romney would be worse. And 51% think that capital gains should be treated as income, a change which the Buffet rule would mostly accomplish. Romney, if you haven’t been up on it, does not support the Buffet rule.

So: the general public opposes Romney’s general economic plan by 20%. On each discrete issue, the public is more aligned with Obama’s policies than those of Romney. And… wait for it… 55% of Americans claim to be confident about Romney’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy. Now, that’s interesting.

How to succeed in journalism

Came across this the other day, via Driftglass. The entire piece is worth reading just to remember how egregiously, arrogantly, dismissively, entirely wrong these people were, especially the NYT’s Most Reasonable Conservative™. But of all the howlers in the piece, this graf still takes it:

My third guess is that the Bush haters will grow more vociferous as their numbers shrink. Even progress in Iraq will not dampen their anger, because as many people have noted, hatred of Bush and his corporate cronies is all that is left of their leftism. And this hatred is tribal, not ideological. And so they will still have their rallies, their alternative weeklies, and their Gore Vidal polemics. They will still have a huge influence over the Democratic party, perhaps even determining its next presidential nominee. But they will seem increasingly unattractive to most moderate and even many normally Democratic voters who never really adopted outrage as their dominant public emotion.

In other words, there will be no magic “Aha!” moment that brings the dream palaces down. Even if Saddam’s remains are found, even if weapons of mass destruction are displayed, even if Iraq starts to move along a winding, muddled path toward normalcy, no day will come when the enemies of this endeavor turn around and say, “We were wrong. Bush was right.” They will just extend their forebodings into a more distant future. Nevertheless, the frame of the debate will shift. The war’s opponents will lose self-confidence and vitality. And they will backtrack. They will claim that they always accepted certain realities, which, in fact, they rejected only months ago.

It just defies words.

The Paper of Record

Bill Keller can spend 1300 words making an argument. It takes one Google search and about 10 seconds to make him look like an idiot.

Gonna be a loooong year.

So it begins…

My, my, that didn’t take very long. From the front and center article on Politico (no link for them):

American politics has become so angry and divisive that it favors candidates who appeal to extremists and eccentrics, and even are extremist and eccentric themselves.

The nonstop circus of modern campaigns, meanwhile, has left the county’s most accomplished and capable people on the sidelines, with scant interest in running for office.

Or so the argument goes.

But something strange—or rather something normal—is happening in 2012.

One of the most familiar refrains from this age of polarization—that rhetorical bombast and ideological zealotry are what carry politicians to the top—is running headlong into the reality of Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney.

The general election will pit one exceptionally self-contained, self-disciplined, self-motivated man against another with precisely the same traits.

Voters have a choice between two men whose minds gravitate to rationality and logic—both of whom have expressed disdain for the disorder and surliness that pervade modern governance.

Sigh. Yeah, because it’s not like Mitt Romney has embraced right-wing views on immigration or tax policy or social safety net policies or foreign policy or… you get the point.

Meanwhile, that radical in the White House is proposing to raise the top marginal tax rate by… 4%… and that top rate is the lowest it’s been since the 1930s (first few Reagan years excepted).

Gonna be a looooong six months, folks…