27 December 2008

"What We Must Hope for, is Hope Itself!"

Well, I've paraphrased. And badly. But I think hope is going to be that important this year.

In just a few short weeks, we shall have a new president; a new leader for this country and the most powerful man in the Free World. And since it has been well-noted that he comes to the job a mite bit under-prepared but proclaiming himself the Leader for Change, I would like to note that what he does do well is something we haven't seen in awhile.

He's an awfully good orator. Yikes! The man won election in good portion because of his speaking skills. Remember the last time we had a great public speaker who gave us all hope in the house? Yes, Bill Clinton was good at that, but that's not who I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of Ronald Reagan, who had some level of executive leadership experience having run the "Fifth Largest Economy in the World" of California.

(And please, don't email me to say that GWB is a good orator because I will have uncontrollable giggle fits for days. The 43rd President spent most of his five six months as a President slumping to the side at podiums from coast to coast. Just once, I wanted one of his handlers to approach him during a speech and whisper in to his ear, "Sir, the American people are watching. Show them the respect they deserve by standing up straight, please?)

Ronald Reagan was also the Great Communicator. His talent as an actor was legendarily mediocre, and he wisely moved into public speaking and politics as soon as his good looks began to wane in Hollywood. (Wow, these days, that would have put him running for office at age 23, eh?) He spoke eloquently, to the people, with excellent command of the language but without pretense of high-mindedness. He was down to earth but incredibly compelling.

And he made us all feel better about our country and ourselves, as Americans. He knew that we wanted to feel good about being a Super Power and that to have a hero, we needed a villain. It was so gratifying when that Villain ran out of money and with all the flourish of a vaudeville curtain torn aside, the Berlin Wall came down. Fortunately, he knew he wasn't the be-all, end-all intellectually, so he hired good help, too, to carry out his ideals and they became our ideals. He provided our best image of ourselves.

So now we have Barack Obama, elected because he makes us feel good and we all want to join in the change and be part of the future of racial equality in this country. (Nevermind that it doesn't exist. There's a saying in Hollywood: "Fake it 'til you make it.") President-elect Obama is everything we like in a President in these United States.

He's tall, slender, youthful and good looking with a strong, well-educated woman by his side and two beautiful daughters to raise in the White House. And one heckuva public speaker.

The man brings together all the best traditions of public speaking, from Martin Luther King's use of anaphora (repeated phrases, like "I have a dream...") to his dynamic vocal delivery, use of pauses and pacing, and even his exceedingly apparent personal confidence. He exudes the hope that we are looking for.

And let us hope that he can deliver on it. Otherwise, 2009 may be very dark indeed.

17 December 2008

"All We Have to Fear is Fear Itself"

You've seen pictures like this before, right? I mean, we all know what this is: an ostrich with its head in the sand. It's the image of a frightened animal, avoiding the very thing it fears by hiding its eyes and leaving the majority of itself vulnerable to whatever threatened it.

I'm never really sure (nor is important to this post) that these images are real or photoshopped.

These are dark days for journalists. Dark, bleak, frightening days of seemingly endless cutbacks and layoffs and buyouts. The road to the unemployment office or back to college is well traveled.
It's a sad and painful and uncertain time. The recession is hitting at a moment when the internet was already encroaching on how journalists are valued. And we aren't coming out ahead.

So I was very excited to meet with a news executive at a major city television station a week ago. He had sternly warned me prior to the meeting, "I have no jobs to offer. If five people walk in and quit tomorrow, they will not be replaced." But I was ready to counter that. I said that I had internet proposals for social network marketing and other suggestions. He seemed agreeable and interested in that idea and I took heart in my preparations.

I like to speak in simple terms, so let's just say my proposals were grouped in two categories: freebies and not so free. The freebies included ideas for social network marketing and setting up structures to handle those responsibilities and give the TV station's team of highly respected journalists ways to express those deep voices in the "new media."

The news executive told me "My people wouldn't be interested in that. They seem to get a big head of steam and then lose interest after two weeks."

I must admit feeling a bit surprised. I can only conclude he flunked the class at management retreat on "locker room pep talks." His people lose interest? (Anyone who has ever given an up-and-coming reporter a chance to promote their stories knows they rarely think of anything else ever again.) These were suggestions that wouldn't have cost him a dime to put into place and it wasn't within my power to offend the man by asking how he could afford to allow his people to not utilize these methods? To not promote his news product in these newer ways? I tucked my hair behind my ear and thought "Ok, so much for the freebies."

Then I offered my larger, over-arching proposal. It might have required some effort and perhaps working with the other stations in his group to develop the concept. But I think it would be a worthwhile investment in terms of what the future holds. It would have put that group forward in terms of where they stand in the new media and multiple platform use. And I included a quote I had seen in an article on Forbes.com only days before:

"Every day a station doesn't push more of its resources online is another day a competitor might."
He said he didn't see any benefit to it. His community wasn't interested and any investment would be a waste. I think at that moment I realized that I could say to him "Oreos are good dunked in milk," and he would have responded, "No, I think that wouldn't work for our viewers."
Let me point out that he lives in one of the top 2 or 3 most internet-connected cities in the country, where a large percentage of the population utilizes mass transit in their commute and is very focused on the daily news. So interested are many of his older viewers that they have an eye on the day's events continuously throughout the day. My proposal addressed all three of those aspects, and would have put the station itself out in front of many other stations and... allowed them a bigger piece of the network-to-affiliate pie. (Food metaphors flowing fast here today.)
Change is difficult. It frightens most of us. It is terrifying and painful and scares us witless. But as frightening as change is, in the communications field what we ought to fear most is being left behind.

And why do we have to be afraid? Can we not go forward with the knowledge that yes, there is a bit of Darwin's process is at work here. The fearless are going to make it. The weak are not. I don't know which I will be numbered among but I do know, I am not wanting to sit idly by and wait for it to happen. I'd rather bruise my knuckles knocking on the door than sit in the newsvan and do nothing. I'd rather get in the mix and be swallowed than the last kid in the game. There's always a risk that you get leftout that way, you know.

And if you stick your head in the sand, there is a possibility that winds will come up, swirling the sand around your body in a drift and bury you. Or at the very least, looking odd and a bit left out.

10 December 2008

It Runs in the Family...

I have a lovely niece who likes to write. Don't you think she's lovely? (She hasn't told me, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly the face she makes during most of our conversations. Hmmmm.) She's just published her first article in the hometown paper in the tiny little Western village where she lives. (I drove through there several weeks ago. Trust me; it's a village.) Here's a link to the newspaper's site and article. http://www.hurricanetimes.com/article.cfm?articleID=18206

She sent it to me first, along with a note pleading with me to be gentle on her beginning writer feelings, all tender and new and dewy. "Blah blah blah...tender. Blah blah blah... please don't pick on me blah blah... too much."

In the true spirit of the season, I thought "Bah humbug, kid! Get used to it."

I went on to suggest all kinds of changes, additional punctuation, explanations of various terms and names that would be needed even if only the 27 families and their various scarecrows did all read it. ("What is a 'Lin tree'? Is that a new species of fur?" "Who are the ladies of the Desert Rouge Hattitudes? Is that a group of overly made up hat-wearing grannies? What does that mean?") Oh my goodness, you would have thought I had said her writing was total poo and that Auntie no longer loved or would share funnies on youtube with niece-ums.

A day later and it was my turn. I was preparing for a meeting to discuss internet and social network marketing proposals with a group that I'm interested in working for, and I turned to nicey-nice-Niece and said "Would you mind taking a look at this for me?"

I have to admit genuine pride in Ms. Nicey-nice at this moment. She's so humble and probably a lot nicer than her Auntie. (Or was she being facetious? There's apparently a wild streak of that in the family, somewhere...) She said "Oh, you want me to look at it?"

I have tried to explain to her in the past that professional writing is an extremely collaborative kind of thing. Journalists often ask for their editor's eyes on what they are working on. Or they turn to a trusted colleague and ask which turn of a phrase they prefer. Egos are nice things, but they generally cost too much for my backpocket. I'd rather be right on the facts and on the writing.

So my Ms. Niece-let read my report. She gave it a thorough going-over, too. And returned it back to me with changes made in the best possible way. (A microsoft document software that I'm still not completely sure I understand, but.. Ms. Nicey-Nice does!)

And I went on my way with a better report. Because Ms. Nicey-Nice Niece who reads occasionally at this spot on the Internet, that's what we do in journalism: we work together. We collaborate. We appreciate along the way. And things get better.

08 December 2008

What If?

What if you could talk to your viewers/
readers/ content recipients every day, all day long, offering them little tidbits about your story to intrigue and excite them? Wouldn't you do that?
Then why aren't you Twittering?
The New York Times says, Twitter is "one of the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet". The free social messaging service provides anyone who signs up with the opportunity to connect and stay connected with their network.
To use it, Twitter users simply answer - "What are you doing" in 140 characters or less. Using a rich set of tools, hosted by twitter and 3rd-party developers, twitter users then connect around these conversations.
Maybe those users might send a message back. Maybe it might be a helpful little bit of information to steer a journalist towards another source, a different direction, or something they had previously discarded but now perhaps deserves more thought. Maybe it might provide NEWS.
Twittering isn't what it used to be anymore. And by tomorrow, it won't be what it is today. But neither is journalism. It's not the flat, dead, and decaying profession we were warned it might be in J-school. It's vibrant, alive, on the web and growing. And we're going to have to get behind it.
If you started with pad and pencil, typewriters might have been fearsome things. Computers --the devil personified and humming along towards the Gates of Hell. But Twitter might be the little bit of self-promoting, viewer-inducing technology of your dreams. And it will only be that if you allow your definition of dreams to involve the word "change."
And who knows? Change might be for the better.

07 December 2008

Forward... MARCH!

Yes, I think we've got to EMBRACE IT.

The New York Times Sunday magazine has a lovely article this weekend. It's the second weekend in a row where the NYTimes puts a scare on the media. Last weekend, it told the world the dirty secret that we've all known for awhile: tv stations are getting rid of high priced talent. That's nothing new. It's been the established pattern of every recession ever seen, so why would this one be different?

This week's scare puts all the cards on the table for all media everywhere. It says basically, get with the new media or get ready to fade away. It sorta reminds me of the elves in the Lord of the Rings who say that they will "fall in to shadow and go to the North."

Before we fall upon our swords on behalf of righteous journalists, let's think this through. Why would we NOT want to use twitter? Why would we not want to put up a profile on facebook and market the #!$!&%!! out of it? Market ourselves? Our abilities, talents, people, viewpoints and the fascinating quirks we see in the world around us?

I read a quote once from Anais Nin where she was talking about coming to a turning point in her life. She stood poised on the precipice of a great decision, questioning whether to go forward or back in that moment. She said she finally moved forward realizing that her fear of going back or even standing still was greater than her fear of moving forward into the unknown.
I think that's admirable. If we were afraid as journalists, we'd all be working in tiny little places, never moving forward. But instead we surge forward, looking for new challenges. Isn't it better to bruise your knuckles knocking on the door rather than to sit quietly and never ask?

And think about it. In every great story, does the hero or heroine ever find happiness by going back? No, they move forward. They go with confidence, strength, and a positive attitude, but by golly, they go FORWARD. And lean into it.
The Times blogger closes with this comment, "For old-media types, mental flexibility could be the No. 1 happiness secret we have been missing." I think that's really true. We trained and worked so hard that we're afraid of letting go of what we learned to try something new. But the truth is that if we examine the new media, we find new ways to offer our content to new receivers. Embrace, people! EMBRACE!
Of course Anais never had a blackberry, did she? Yeah sure, facebook-twitter-ning-RSS and farking are a little scary to some. But me? I sorta... digg it.

06 December 2008

This Day Onward... Just Three Things...

There's a study out that shows we'd all be happier folks if at the end of the day, we'd focus on finding three good things that happened that day and analyze why they happened. Sounds simplistic, doesn't it? What Thinktank run by Pollyanna and Underdog came up with that one, you wonder.
But it's actually a research project being coordinated by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his colleagues collected about a hundred different suggested ways to increase happiness and they're are now systematically going through them, one by one. It's more of a scientific approach to happiness and I like that about it.
I'm going to just take this one and go forward with it. I think we're in such a tight spot right now, economically, that to do otherwise is to merely go with the cycle. Since it seems a downward spiral and I've always liked to buck the current, I'm going to give it a try.
And I have my own anecdotal evidence to offer.

One day when I was a wee cub reporter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I went out for a little run. I left the house, smiling and happy. I had just walked out of the housing development and then took about seven steps of my run when I was hit with it: a black, rising tide of unhappiness, bleak depression and utter hopelessness. All this drama played out in seven quickly taken steps on a hot sidewalk at age 23. Can you see why 20-somethings can't be allowed to rule the world?
I immediately stopped what I was doing and assessed what had caused my mood to change. I thought "Wow, where did that come from? I have a decent job, enough food to eat and clothes to wear, and good friends around me. Why am I suddenly depressed?"
And right then, I realized that day's depression (in my particular case) was just a mood that I had allowed to envelope me, and further, that if I wanted to, I could change back just as quickly. So I did.
I can't say that life has been perfect for me ever since. I've had a lot of bad things happen. Jobs lost, cakes fell, boyfriends dumping or dying, and friends who have proven false. But I've never gotten seriously depressed again. I've had bad times, but always known that they were temporary and that I could work at them and change them.
We're in a rut of bad attitude in this country. Oh, I'm not saying that we aren't in a bad spot. Clearly, we are. But if we don't change our attitude to allow for recognition of the good things that happen in our lives, we'll never really experience them, will we?
I think we're headed for a rocky spot where we're going to have to make do with less. You've heard those fire victims, looking at their burned down homes, with tears in their eyes saying "Thank heavens we all got out ok. It was only stuff." I think that's a phrase we're going to have to start learning. We may have to be "ok" with a lot less stuff in the future. And we're going to have to internalize the feeling that that truly is okay because otherwise, nothing will ever be enough.
So three things. From now on, I think I'll just blog about three positive things here at This Day. Three positive things in the news, in my life, in the media, in politics. I've tried not to complain but to gently, humorously point out the idiosyncrasies in the media and politics in the past. Now, I'm going to cut to the chase and find the positives.
Which somedays, I hope will be gently humorous as well. We'll figure it out as we go.
PS: about the picture. Yes, I know it's ridiculous, but it's fun. Don't you agree?

03 December 2008

What Worries You Most?

You are worried, right? Is it that you'll lose your job? That you'll lose your retirement? That you'll need dental work this coming year and not be able to afford it? Or that you're going to have to scrimp to give the kids what they want for Christmas?

There are lots of worries facing all of us right now and yes, the nightly news does make it worse. When day after day, the problem continues to unfold, it becomes difficult to get grasp at what seems to be a cliff that is crumbling and feel yourself slipping away.

We were on a slippery slope of spending and an utterly ridiculous sheet of very thin ice as far as home loans in this country for a very long time. And everyone knew it. That was the worst truth: we all knew it. But nobody could... or would do anything about it.

So now we're being honest about it. We've stopped making loans and started yanking homes back from people who sadly couldn't actually afford them in the first place. I'm sorry for them because they lost their stake and their credit rating due to unscrupulous lenders. But if the government buys them a house, then by gosh, I want it to buy me a house, too. I've been waiting for years because I couldn't afford it, but you didn't see me signing in the funny pages after a wink and a nod from a sleazy mortgage lender.

Now we're being honest. But are we also being brutalized by the nightly news? At some point, we're going to have to turn our attitudes around. At some point, we're going to have to start focusing on better days ahead. We're going to need to pull our wallets out of the deepest part of our back pocket and pull out a few bucks to spend.

And with those dollars, we're going to buy back our country's economic health. We won't turn this around until we turn our attitudes around.

I'm not trying to be a Pollyanna here, but we are going to have to put it behind us, show some faith in the American economy and start the wheels grinding again. I'm not the greatest believer in our economy. I don't know that we'll ever have the huge lead we used to have over everyone else. Something about the size and buying power of all those people across the Eastern pond makes me think we might just be small potatos. I desperately hope as a people, we have learned a few lessons here and won't be such ridiculous, laughable, spoiled consumers. But just as desperately, I hope we start consuming again.

It would be nice if we could count on the media for help, but to be honest, people in my business aren't going to... not yet. We'll get around to it, but at the moment, we're a bit overwhelmed by all the gloom and doom stories that are coming our direction.

(Trust me on this. I'm a lifelong news junkie but I feel torn every night because I spend the day picking my attitude up and out of the gutter, just so that Charlie, Katie and Brian can kick and trod it under again every evening. I want to filter out the economic stories a couple of nights per week so that I can get a decent night's sleep. Oh, the inhumanity of it all!)

The news will turn it around, but not until every reporter among us has felt like we've gotten a piece of it. And then after we're at saturation, then we'll start looking for the "new angle" and find ourselves grasping for any positive thing that comes along.

So please be patient. But go be patient in the checkout line. Because with spending, even if it's at a store that ends in "mart," some is better than none. And it's just going to have to do until sometime in 2010. At least that's what they say on the news.