Question

Been a while since I blogged, or did so here at least. Might be a while again and this one’ll be quick. Reading Nick Kristof’s piece in the NYT this morning, in which he expresses support for teachers but characterizes their demands as basically unreasonable and wonders whatever will become of the children, I thought back to a much better post on the Economix blog from a day or two ago.
In that post, Catherine Rampell reports two facts that interested me:

1) The U.S. spends more money on education than other OECD countries (7.3% of GDP for us and an average of 6.2% for the other countries).

2) Teachers in the U.S. make less than their counterparts in similar countries, relative to the pay that they could receive that would fit their education level, despite working longer hours.

Rampell concludes the post by asking whether it’s worth it for teachers to choose a lower-paying profession, which is a good question.

But the one that sprung to my mind is: if we’re spending lotsa money on education (see 1) and we aren’t paying our teachers as competitively as other countries (see 2), then… where’s all that money going?

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Caveat emptor

Nice feature article in the NYT during the weekend about tuition costs at both nonprofit and for-profit colleges. It’s  subject that deserves a lot more attention than it gets. This jumped out to me:

College marketing firms encourage school officials to focus on the value of the education rather than the cost. For example, an article on the cover of Enrollment Management, a newsletter aimed at college admissions officials, urged writers of admissions materials to “avoid bad words like ‘cost,’ ‘pay’ (try ‘and you get all this for…’), ‘contract’ and ‘buy’ in your piece and avoid the conflicting feelings they generate.”

Simple, direct language is the best way to help people understand something. Look at those two constructs and think about which one best helps people understand their future at college. It’s the not the marketing buzzwords. So, then, if the clearest, most concise language isn’t the language being used, the the first priority of these organizations isn’t giving potential students an honest reading of their situation. That’s revealing.

And, yes, I am aware that college is still the best route to a more financially secure future. And, no, there is no college “bubble.” This is just about the marketing, which calls to mind used car salesmen more than anything else.

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.

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.

It’s the Masters, not the Mistress!

Hoo boy. The Masters is once again hearing it for the fact that they won’t let no light-headed, faint-hearted wimmenfolk into their little club. And who could really blame them? See how the ladies are complaining that they can’t join? Proof positive that any female members would just get all whiny and emotional and start talking about their feelings! Check and mate.

Nah, but seriously. This is the sort of issue that I’m flagging now because it’s sure to pop up on the marketing and PR sites that I read (many of which I do like and will add to my blogroll when I get around to it). It’s certain to be accompanied by questions of how the Masters should handle this and what their strategy should be for not trying to alienate women who appreciate golf and whether advertisers for the tournament should blah blah blah.

Y’know how Mr. Payne and his friends can remedy this bad publicity right easily? Allow women to join Augusta National. That, dear readers reader person who read the first paragraph and didn’t bother to finish, is all they need to do. It only takes one sentence to say it! And the Gray Lady ain’t covering herself in glory on this one, either (see also).

UPDATE: Feature article right now. It’s front and center on the website.