Too Many Tools

June 12, 2011

“Go where the conversations are.”
– Every PR and marketing person worthy of his/her job

There are things that I want to be able to communicate through my personal social media presence. For some time, I was desperate to grow the “social media brand’ that was “dtearl.” I use it across Twitter, Facebook, my email account and a host of other social tools. With more job security and greater devotion to my school work and job work, upping my Twitter followers and trying to connect with more people feels less critical.

Fewer people are now reading my blog, I tweet far less, and I hardly post on Facebook anymore. I check LinkedIn once a month to write requested recommendations and approve new friends. That isn’t to say I don’t have anything to say, but I’ve become comfortable with how I’m saying it and who I’m saying it to. My desperation for online attention is replaced by pushing a brand that I promote in my job. I tend to it on nights, weekends, almost every waking moment.

Both for my job and for my own personal amusement, I am trying to stay up on what is happening in social media and social tools. I also want to see how it fits my needs.

That’s why I’m signed up on Tumblr now. I’m certainly not an early-adopter, but I feel like I have virtually no choice – it’s growing faster almost anything on the web right now.

I’ve regularly checked Tumblrs for months, probably because nothing is better suited for generating memes. It’s multi-media friendly, it’s easily shared among users, and it’s easily maintained. I’m there now, at, surprise surprise, dtearl, and I hardly know what to do with it.

For long form writings, reviews and links, I use this blog. For sharing videos and other content that entertain and amuse, and to keep in touch with friends of a purely social nature, I use Facebook. For sharing non sequitur thoughts, links, following the news, and following people who I’ve found based on similar professional and academic interests or niche passions, I tweet. I keep half an eye on, quora and flickr too.

It is entirely logical, if not critical, to build your social media presence around your needs, not the other way around. Yet, new social media tools are a lot like sex, I think. Consider:

“Ugh, I haven’t had (sex/time to check my Facebook/access to Twitter) in (length of time that is supposed to sound long but is really bragging).”
“You did just fine without it for (length time from birth until estimated first exposure based on coolness) years.”
“Yeah [sigh], but now I know what I was missing.”
[Eyes roll, return to drink/plate/own computer screen]

You don’t know that you need it until you’re exposed to it, and then it becomes integrated into your life. Sure, I could write letters, read a newspaper, keep a journal, make phone calls, and turn on the radio, but I feel like I don’t know how I would keep in touch with family in friends, get the news, entertain myself or share my thoughts on things.

Here’s the thing. For the first time trying a new social media tool, I’m not sure what it’s giving me that I don’t already have. Yeah, everybody’s doing it right now, but why? I’m finding myself unenthusiastic about joining the crowd in a digital social space. I might sound like people who argued that joining Facebook was unnecessary when Myspace and Friendster were all you needed, but with the tools already available, aren’t we reinventing the wheel?


Tell It Like It Is, If That’s What It’ll Be

May 23, 2011

If there’s one article that everyone in sports read today (or at least tried to get through), it’s Jeffrey Toobin’s story on Fred Wilpon the Mets’ owner, the Ponzi scheme victim (we think) and, evidently, player evaluator hater. Watching the game from his box in Citi Field, Wilpon takes a hammer at the cornerstone of the franchise – the triad of David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran:

In the game against the Astros, Jose Reyes, leading off for the Mets, singled sharply up the middle, then stole second. “He’s a racehorse,” Wilpon said. When Reyes started with the Mets, in 2003, just before his twentieth birthday, he was pegged as a future star. Injuries have limited him to a more pedestrian career, though he’s off to a good start this season. “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” Wilpon said, referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.”

After the catcher, Josh Thole, struck out, David Wright came to the plate. Wright, the team’s marquee attraction, has started the season dreadfully at the plate. “He’s pressing,” Wilpon said. “A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.”

Wright walked.

When Carlos Beltran came up, I mentioned his prodigious post-season with the Astros in 2004, when he hit eight home runs, just before he went to the Mets as a free agent. Wilpon laughed, not happily. “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series,” he said, referring to himself. In the course of playing out his seven-year, $119-million contract with the Mets, Beltran, too, has been hobbled by injuries. “He’s sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was.” Beltran singled, loading the bases with one out.

A number of Mets fans are up in arms, or so it seems, with the fact that the actual owner of the ball club would actually besmirch the names of his own players. Amazin’ Avenue, one of the sharper blogs devoted to the team out there, has two insightful posts on the the mistakes that Fred Wilpon made. According to Matthew Callan’s analysis, Wilpon is going rogue because of a lack of willingness to care anymore:

Clearly, Wilpon is not above badmouthing his own organization, openly and otherwise. The fact that he’d do it so nakedly, so undeniably out of his own mouth seems the act of a condemned man who knows his time is short and no longer cares about the consequences of his actions.

James Kannengieser isn’t so friendly in another worthwhile analysis, calling Wilpon a “disgrace.”

This is undoubtedly difficult for an organization. As a full-time employee of a team whose sales goals are challenging and important, the idea that my boss would call us “shitty” is brutal. In a New York media environment, an owner shouldn’t be more critical than the back page of the Post or  Daily News. It’s called a PR disaster by pretty much everybody. That “shitty team” ranges form the General Manager (who probably gets a pass considering the brief time he’s been in Flushing) all the way to the scouts and bat boys, and every last one of them will feel the pang of embarrassment for those comments.

I’m not sure it matters, though. Not many people would disagree with Fred Wilpon’s analysis, and, if he’s committed to rebuilding the team from the ground up and starting over, then good for him for offering a dose of real talk. I concur with Craig Calcaterra’s write-up for HardballTalk:

Moreover, if you’re a fan of a “shitty team,” don’t you like it that the owner acknowledges it rather than play the Baghdad Bob routine and pretend that everything is sunshine and daisies? I want my team’s owner to acknowledge my frustration, even if I may take issues with his specific critiques and agree that he shouldn’t be the guy saying this stuff publicly. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if Wilpon said that Carlos Beltran’s contract was a bargain, Jose Reyes and David Wright were megastars and if he said that the Mets are fantastic and positioned for greatness?

Mets fans know that ownership doesn’t approve of the recent team failures. Fred Wilpon himself has personally apologized to fans in emails before, and GM Sandy Alderson was brought in for a complete rebuilding. The Wilpons need to renew credibility in the organization. Clearly, calling the players you signed isn’t a short-term solution, but a clear-eyed approach to the problems of the present and the solutions of the future is critical. The Mets aren’t going to get better as they are today, and the Madoff money isn’t going to come back. It’s time to set expectations both within the organization and among fans, and build from the ground up.

The days of “Captain Red Ass” and the happy-go-lucky veterans in their near-prime and young kids with unlimited potential are over. We’ve all known it, fans and foes alike, and I’m glad that Wilpon does too. If Reyes, Wright and Beltran are wearing different uniforms this season or next, then this moment will be looked on as nothing more than foreshadowing and a possible bogeyman for an unbalanced trade.

If any of these players are expected to help the team over the long haul, then that’s a very different problem.

Creating My Education

May 22, 2011

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges about part-time graduate school is scheduling. With a job that requires a lot of nights and weekends, building a schedule that allows me to actually make it to my classes and continue my program in a direction that actually can lead to an M.A. in Global Communication from GW.

Summers are among the most difficult times for such things. With a compressed schedule, once a week classes meet twice, meaning that classes often overlap. Professors, looking to get research done when they aren’t grading hundreds of undergraduates, take time away. Those that stick around struggle to fill classes.

For the first time, I’m contemplating an independent study as a graduate student. I’d like to build a course addressing the way American policies and politics impact the construction of public diplomacy and aid operations. Though PD officers and leaders can ask for the tools they need to handle the challenges of their work, it is Congress and all of the interests that surround it that control the hardware store. Navigating the myriad committees, think tanks and bureaucratic postures to get buy-in is a fascinating, challenging, and arguably counter-productive way to do one’s job, and I’d like to analyze how all of that gets built.

I haven’t yet reached out to a faculty member, and I’m only just beginning to construct my personal syllabus to present to whoever sponsors me. I want to take full ownership of this, because I feel this is an opportunity to take a critical next step in my educational experience.

Much of my journey thus far has  been deferential. I take it at face value that the faculty I learn from know exactly what they’re talking about and have the right approaches to the subjects at hand. I have taken it for granted far too often that an article that is peer-reviewed in a subject that I am unfamiliar with has to be well-constructed, logical and true. I now think, however, that graduate school is about stepping into the ring and arguing on behalf of a different view. It is about challenging my assumptions and the research and methodologies and saying that that’s not right.

One day, I’d love to start combing through those fundamental articles that built my understanding of political communication and tackling them a second time. Those books and articles about how people understand the world around them, how politics is communicated through theater and how the press relates to the public and government have become my Catechism. Was I right to accept that?

All that said, I want to assemble a curriculum that makes sense to me, engage it the way I think it needs to be engaged, and synthesize it in a way that I become arbitrator rather than passive receiver. Before I reach out to anyone with determined expertise and experience, I want to see if I can do it right on my own.

That said, to all the PD folks who at one time or another bookmarked my blog and thought it disappeared forever, please please please send suggested readings. GAO docs, peer reviewed articles, books, news stories, blog posts, whatever. I’m going to aim high this summer, and would love some of your suggestions as I put together my plan.

Why Whitlock and Twhitlock Shouldn’t Share a Twitter Account

March 28, 2011

Shortly before 10pm eastern time on Monday, as word began circulating that Matt Painter was considering leaving Purdue men’s basketball for a similarly situated Missouri team, writer Jason Whitlock began tweeting some silliness:

Though even remotely sophisticated fans of the NCAA basketball scene recognized the lunacy of such a possibility. Whitlock himself pointed one of his victims out and kept the rouse going:

Finally, he took it a step further and incorporated one of the nation’s most famous and controversial coaches, Bob Knight:

I’ve followed Whitlock for at least a year now, and I get it. This is his brand, and he reminds readers (and ridicules them for missing) that there are two personalities: “Twhitlock and Whitlock,” – the journalist, and the entertainer/reactionary/regular guy.

The strategy has paid dividends. With more followers than five of my hometowns combined, in large part because of jokes like these, he’s driving clicks to his column, and legitimizing the investment in him. For these reasons, plus a sprinkle of ego, Jason Whitlock won’t alter the way he does his thing.

But he should.

Fact is that Whitlock is a journalist, writing serious columns about serious issues like race and class in the gagillion dollar business that is professional and collegiate sports. In his industry, facts are sacred and credibility is all a good writer has. It is popular and it is successful, but Whitlock’s existence in the space between sarcasm and willful misdirection is unethical. Just because it’s a joke, that doesn’t mean people will get it, including your editors. Just ask Mike Wise.

Perhaps more importantly, Twitter isn’t context friendly. Tweet streams come to phones and computer screens fragmented. Streams of consciousness do not flow nicely together. A joke can be separated from its clarification substantially enough by other followed tweets that the truth is never seen. Knowing the medium is as important as knowing how the audience consumes via that medium, and Whitlock fails to recognize his responsibility to do either. Worse, he ridicules people who don’t take the time to understand what it all means.

Dude, it’s Twitter. It’s 140 characters. It’s not about taking time. It’s the opposite.

If it’s so important for Jason Whitlock to have a public Twitter account where the responsibilities that come with being a member of the media don’t apply, follow the model of Slate’s John Dickerson. For personal information, opinion and humor, you can follow John the person, or you can follow John the journalist for his job side. Like it or not, you can’t have it both ways on Twitter. A journalist in one public sphere is a journalist in every sphere unless there are CLEAR demarcations set forth.

I’m not going to stop following Whitlock, even if there is all the “Twhitlock” crap from time to time. He’s an important voice in sports media and he is often capable of providing a different approach to tired topics, but it’s time to draw the line. Fake news stories coming from real writers are unacceptable. End of story.



What Came First – the Music or the Misery?

January 18, 2011

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

– High Fidelity

In some roundabout way, listening to Matt & Kim for the first time turned into a contemplation of what I consider to be one of the smartest passages of Nick Hornsby’s High Fidelity. Matt & Kim, specifically the album “Sidewalks,” provide pretty great music, and far too happy for the real miserable stuff I listened to in high school.

To be frank, I was really, really good about finding all the negative stuff in high school. I knew what made every good thing bad, and every bad thing apocalyptic. My music selections complimented this distorted world view quite well. Away message statuses (because EVERYONE was on AIM and communicating their most personal feelings in the most impersonal way through purple and blue comic sans fonts and emoticons) were so sad that my friends’ parents were calling the house to make sure I was ok. I had a way of making Dave Matthews seem like the angel of death.

Was the music offering me an outlet to express my frustration with tireless work with little self-esteem, self-identity and clear goals, or was music creating a self-perpetuating cycle of sad? Did the music tell me that it wasn’t just ok to be unsatisfied, but that I should be?

In a more current story, I donated blood a week or so ago, and the blood extractor (who I’m sure has a more formal and medically appropriate title) asked, “Do you believe in the American dream?” Admittedly, I was caught off guard by the question posed to virtually every high school English class in the hopes of pitting the cynics against the optimists in fervent discussion.

“I… I don’t know. Not really in the way we talk about it,” I said.

He paused. “Really? Well I do. I know it’s real.” His story of immigration to the United States, as he told it, was clearly meant to fit neatly into the rhetoric of the “Land of Opportunity.” What matters is that he thought so in relation to his interpretation, but in the time since that conversation, I’ve read stories of dismal economic projections, difficult wars and talked to friends attending the nation’s best schools facing a depressing job market offering few opportunities to relieve massive debt burdens.

Where does this all come together? Consider the mirror response to Hornsby music/misery equivalent to the chicken/egg debate. What came first – The Land of Opportunity or the talking about it? The American Dream or the belief in it? And why does it matter?

Public diplomacy classes have revealed a great deal of concern about the “say-do gap.” Without action to support the hefty promises that are so pleasant to make both to domestic and foreign audiences, cynicism, depression and frustration can run rampant. To make an unfulfilled promise is far worse than saying nothing at all. Even if agents of international strategic communication aren’t operating daily in the rhetoric of American slogans, there is a critical choice – either tell it like it is for most, or like it should be and is for few.

What if music yielded the misery? Does killing the phrase “Land of Opportunity” somehow deny the world of its possibilities?

My Favorite Tracks of 2010

December 19, 2010

Much as I’ve embraced the running joke about the piss-poor state of indie rock music in 2010, I will say that there have been a handful of songs that I’ve really, really liked.

Here are my favorite 10, all released in 2010. Going back through my profile, it’s clear that The Rural Alberta Advantage and LCD Soundsystem are the two artists that I’ve added to my regular personal rotation this year though the albums I’ve listened to most are from ’09 or earlier.

Here are my top ten (with a couple of honorable mentions), and a couple of thoughts on each:

Read the rest of this entry »

Sharing With Friends… and Everyone Else.

December 18, 2010

With social media and the way life is being communicated via your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other, far more expansive networks, the lines that are drawn in the online sand are easily washed away, but hard to draw again.

There have been a ton of jokes about The Washington Post’s obsession with Facebook (Gizmodo is the original source of many of the laughs), but beyond the site’s configuration, there have been two great pieces published on the page in the last two weeks about what Facebook is and what it represents.

Marc Fisher’s piece about the burglar who had broken into his home and flaunted his successful thievery on Fisher’s son’s facebook page inside the residence included a graf both fascinating, difficult and, (sorry Marc) wrong:

My son was coping brilliantly with the trauma of losing his belongings – until he saw the invasion of his Facebook page. That’s when the pathetic indignity of the burglary hit. Here was a space that my son had carefully walled off from public view, limiting access to his page to his friends and schoolmates. And now a lowlife stranger was taunting him in that presumably private zone.

A private zone?

In naming him Time’s 2010 Man of the Year, the magazine lauded him for “connecting more than half a billion people.” Yet, Fisher argues on behalf of his son that Facebook is a carefully sculpted private network of people. Rita J. King, perhaps one of my favorite bloggers, scholars, Tweeters and general visionaries, offered a similar sentiment upon hearing of the Zuckerberg announcement, calling Facebook a segregated service.

With Facebook, everyone is right and no one is right. If you want a truly carefully walled off social network with people you trust to keep your content and status updates in the circle of trust (and you have an iPhone), you should be using Path, not Facebook. If you want to exist in a fully-public life, then you have a lot of work to do to get yourself going “viral,” infiltrating thousands, if not millions of the tangentially connected communities that define the internet today. Those walls that we construct both consciously and subconsciously, are at best translucent. Media have determined that, friends or not, your Facebook statuses are fair game and newsworthy, and, regardless of context, audience and timing, you can be held accountable.

Facebook as a tool for a brand is still incredibly valuable, but for individuals seeking to communicate, document and share the daily goings on of life, its relevance is long gone. Knowing an audience is essential in developing communication. Who is reading my post? What will it mean to them? Will this person give me the benefit of the doubt if it doesn’t communicate who I am in the best light?

Because these segregated networks are segregated only in theory, every word, video or photo posted to a page must be considered fair game for everyone. As our digital society becomes more Facebook savvy, it’ll be a hell of a lot more boring when we’re all on our best behavior.
In a second, much more emotionally devastating article, readers are given the story of Shana Greatman Swers, whose ordeal from September 23 until her tragic death six weeks later is chronicled in her Facebook page. (It’s unclear whether or not they gave prior approval, but it is especially interesting that those comments made public in the page include direct links tot their respective profiles.)

I spent some time discussing the article with my good friend (and a critical follow if you’re a beer-loving Twitter user) Bill today. It is by now understood that our digital imprint will last far longer than our actual lives. We may not fully understand what that can mean. In the case of my friend Steve, whose epic social media impact is strong as ever despite recently passing away, it is his tweets that friends, family and the casually interested/bored are using to reconstruct his life and understand who he was.

Much of the success of Facebook, Twitter and its predecessors, competitors and successors, lies in its simplicity. It is easy to rattle off a few hundred characters to share with an inexplicably interested group of friends, friends of friends and random lurkers. In the short term, it is a welcome distraction. In the long term, it is that same thoughtless stream of consciousness that people will one day use to remember and understand my life.

Looking back, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.