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.

Great moments in political PR

The Heartland Institute, which is one of the leading “think tanks” producing “research” about the lack of effects/irrelevance/non-existence/shut up, hippies of global warming, has put up a few billboards to try and raise awareness of their position (via). Here’s one:

You may or may not remember the Heartland Institute for working with Philip Morris to call into question the legitimacy of research that documents the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. Charming.

Popping the bubble

Going off my last post, I’d do better to remember that most people spend their time thinking about stuff other than what I think about. I’m aware of that politically and my writing references that a bunch but I guess it’s just as true for marketing stuff.

When you read about marketing or PR, you quickly gain a level of familiarity with basic concepts and techniques that show up in every other post. Advice on how to write good headlines, craft engaging content, deal with your stakeholders in a respectful way, all of that stuff is repeated so often that it needs no saying among PR folks. Or at most, it needs only a casual reminder every once in a while.

But when you step outside of that echo chamber, in which everyone is talking to everyone else and they all work in the same industry and deal with the same client problems and use the same acronyms, you have to reset pretty quickly. Lots of people don’t have much of an idea how to define ‘public relations,’ let alone have developed thoughts on content marketing or the efficacy of automated email outreach. If you stay in the bubble too long, it’s easy to forget that, or at least it is for me.

The Hangover

I’ll take a break from my harrumphing and tut-tutting and tsk-tsking of the PR blogosphere for not writing about exactly what I’d like them to write about to share this:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure may have popularized the color pink as a universal symbol of breast cancer fund-raising. But these days, many of the breast cancer foundation’s local affiliates are singing the blues

Registered attendance or donations have declined by more than 25 percent at some of the group’s recent Race for the Cure events, according to interviews with officials at 10 of the national nonprofit’s local affiliates.

Although the group’s race season is just getting started, the early returns indicate that local affiliates, a mainstay of Komen’s fund-raising operations, are struggling to recover after a public outcry in February forced the national Komen association to rescind a controversial decision that would have curbed financing for breast health programs by Planned Parenthood.

So, Komen is still experiencing some serious trouble in the wake of l’affair Planned Parenthood. From a few grafs down in the article, this jumped out to me, too:

But the very strengths that enabled Komen to become the world’s most prominent breast cancer nonprofit played a role in its recent stumble, corporate governance experts said. Nancy G. Brinker, the group’s charismatic founder and chief executive, built Komen into a pink powerhouse, thanks to an army of dedicated local volunteers and donors. Yet when the national headquarters decided to make a policy change that would have prevented affiliates from financing Planned Parenthood programs, it left those local chapters out of the loop, according to interviews with Komen affiliate officials.

“To a certain extent, we did not feel we were controlling our own destiny, which was unfortunate,” said David Egan, the co-executive director of the Komen Minnesota affiliate.

Likewise, corporate governance experts say, the insider culture at Komen’s headquarters, with national executives and board members deeply loyal to Ms. Brinker, discouraged independent efforts.

“They are too insular,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a watchdog group that rates nonprofit organizations.

I have my fun, every so often, taking potshots at PR people who are paid enormously well to advise organizations to do things that I think are screamingly basic. Stuff like empowering people on all levels in your organization, soliciting honest advice from stakeholders both internal and external and issuing timely, unrestricted apologies when the situation calls for it.

From the beginning of this snafu, it was clear that some people were kept in the dark about cutting off Planned Parenthood. So, the above advice, even if I’ve heard it a gazillion times, is still worth repeating again. The Komen episode underlines that there is one large, spectacularly funded organization that hasn’t heard this advice or has no interest in taking it. And, of course, it isn’t just one organization. No doubt there are many, many more.

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.

Pineda

Truly unfortunate break for both the young righty and the Great Pinstriped Satan. Although I hate the Yankees and wish them nothing but ill, this is still never something that’s good to see. What’s been weird for me is that some of the commentary is making it sound like Pineda’s career is over, which it clearly isn’t. I get that it’s an important year for his development and all that, but unless his arm falls off, he’ll still have a lot of time to grow when he get’s healthy.

As to how this makes the trade look, well… when it first happened, I was thrilled to see Montero dealt away, because in his limited time in the bigs last year, he looked like the real deal to me. Obviously, behind the plate, he’s still got a ways to go, and the Mariners might just DH him for a while or forever if he produces enough. Still, though, at the time, and even today, it seems to me like a good deal, or at least an understandable deal, and one that would benefit both teams. The Yankees just got a crap break.

And I am ever astounded that Brian Cashman still has hair, although I guess not having George around has made his life a bit easier. Always figured he’d be bald by 2005 at the latest.

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.