A Recap

December 16, 2010

To the more than 500 people who looked over my post, and to the many of you who offered feedback via Facebook or personally, thanks a lot. This article in the Albany Times Union does a brilliant job of summarizing the impact that Steve was able to make without meeting even meeting people.

Steve will be buried this morning, and though I can’t make it to Pennsylvania, I’ll be thinking about him.

Thanks also to WRGW, who devoted their pre-game show last night to him. You can listen to it here or direct download.

Last night, we had a moment of silence for him at the GW women’s basketball against Auburn. I think it’s fitting that it was a women’s game – although he was incredibly passionate about both teams, NOBODY knew more about GW women’s hoops than him. We used this image below. Even when there weren’t others in the stands, he was there:

Thanks again everybody. It’s felt pretty great to be writing again, and, instead of trying to focus on sports, social media and politics and their convergence, I’m going to just sort of write anything and everything that I hope you might find useful. I hope you’ll come back some time.


The Passing of a Friend and a Social Media Epilogue

December 15, 2010

Two nights ago, Steve Smith, a friend through the Colonial Army (GW Basketball’s student fan group) and WRGW (GW’s student radio station), was killed in a sad, disturbing, unbelievable accident on the way home from visiting a girl he was dating.

GWhoops, George Washington University’s most popular message board, has a thread talking about him that’s developing. Frank Dale, a friend of mine and leader of both the Colonial Army and WRGW’s sports department at points during our respective college careers, does a nice job of summarizing the difficulty of balancing the difficult process of focusing on your own personal sphere and maintaining the friendships that seem inconsequential until they’re gone. (ADDED: Jessica Quiroli posts a nice tribute too.)

He was passionate in sports, in relationships and he was never afraid to throw himself out there. I have little doubt that with his willingness to say something controversial and unpopular and his impeccable knowledge of the history, statistics and intangibles to back it up, he would have one day been a sports journalist or entertainer (or, both) that everyone loved to hate, but had to respect. He had the dedication, the work ethic and the ability.

I personally miss the kid, and spent a good deal of time with him, including a trip to New Orleans. Walking the French Quarter with him after a few difficult losses for GW basketball, I was struck by how good a person he was. He was provocative, but he did it for the fun of it. In those moments of frustration and irritation that he caused you by saying something you refused to agree with, he found a deeper level of you. That was the life he lived, from what I knew of him. Everyone knew who the stars were in Major League Baseball, so he learned all the rosters of Double-A ball. His knowledge of music was downright uncanny. And he wanted to share the love. He wanted others to know what he knew because it caused him so much joy and you deserved to experience it too.

This is the first time I’m watching the death of someone close to me evolve on Twitter and Facebook. The Atlantic has a great piece from earlier this year about social media and the death of someone you’ve watched from afar, but to comb through the Twitter messages and watch the Facebook wall of someone that you know who’s gone, it’s something unreal.

So many people have had messages for him, from those who knew him well to those who only knew the Twitter enthusiast that they relied on for New York Yankees news and opinion. Others remember concerts, radio broadcasts and hugs.

Painfully, the world can watch the grieving process of a girl who was falling for him up until the moment he died. I’ve elected not to put her account here because it’s something so private in a very public sphere, but to see the hour-by-hour account of happiness-turned-worry-turned-frustration-turned-loneliness is nothing short of heart wrenching.

It’s strange, knowing that your Tweets, videos, status updates, blog entries… they’re just going to stop one day, and will leave a personal history that contains no ending.

Instead, all you can do is hope that through the people you’ve known or the people you’ve impacted through the social media you’ve created and the ideas you’ve shared can write the epilogue to the story that ends without an ending.

Because of who he was and what he created, the epilogue is substantial and wide reaching. I can only hope that what I share with the world makes the impact that he was able to make.

Are They Ready to Bleed For It?

June 4, 2010

As the blood in my left arm swelled just where my forearm meets the inside of my elbow, while the Red Cross Blood Donation Center worker fumbled about, trying to remove the needle that had so badly missed, then nicked and then further tweaked my vein, I thought to myself, “I wonder what she does for a living.” I sure hoped it wasn’t really this mess.

I’ve been a blood donor for a good six years now, and make sure to do it a few times every year, and I’m not going to stop because of the bad experience here or there. However, knowing that if it had been my first time I’d never return again, I am thinking tonight about setting expectations and delivering on promises.

I figure that the two most important components, however broad they may be, to successfully delivering to any audience you seek to influence for their hearts, minds or wallets are setting expectations and meeting those expectations.

It would be wonderful to live in the easiest of worlds and keep expectations low. Where to partially fail is to meet expectations, and where though the customer/client/whoever may not be thrilled, he/she won’t feel deceived. Of course, few places are going to stay in business, and as BP and their 60/70% guesstimates on top kills can attest, low expectations won’t lead to a lot of buy-in.

Success then relies on working hard to sustain and meet high expectations. However, sometimes the demands are nothing short of unattainable. Other times, you can’t control the delivery of an item, you can only tell how and when it will be delivered to your client, hoping desperately that the promises you made to earn trust and business are kept by those who are trusted with the responsibility to keep them.

I’d contend that practitioners of Public Diplomacy and strategic communication have to contend with that every day. Where they do the work of sharing and engaging in a world that is meant to put America’s best face forward, the best face isn’t always the most reflective of what really happens when one buys in to the American ideal.

In a nation so large as the United States with so many complicated interests (many self-serving, many contradictory and many illogical), how do we generate a successful communication strategy that generates interested publics and allies, yet minimizes disgust and cynicism when the country stumbles in practicing what it preaches?

This isn’t to say that I deny the substantial strengths of the United States, its businesses, its people and its belief systems. It is to say, however, that a more open society is subject to the billions of fact checkers who can share their discontent on any number of social media platforms, while a more closed society can more carefully craft a story and the perception that validates its tale. The United States’ engagement with the world has to be on real terms with real expectations. In order to remain competitive with others who can more successfully use fiction (at least for now), those real stories also have to be really good.

How does one tell the story well enough so that the audience is willing to accept the needle without becoming disenchanted when the extraction is a painful one?

CNAS Annual June Conference

June 6, 2009

Thanks to Matt Armstrong at MountainRunner for flagging the June conference for the Center for a New American Security. I’ll be there for the majority of the conference, and would encourage you to come check it out.

It will be my first time seeing Judith McHale speak. I’m looking forward to reflecting on what she has to say.

McHale Finally Nominated

April 15, 2009

Just to update from yesterday’s post criticizing the Obama administration and Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton for dragging its feet in making public its selection for Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: Judith McHale has finally been nominated.

The Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman was the first to note it, and U.S. News and World Report has recently given it a few sentences.

So far, no major print daily has picked it up, though the announcement was made last night.

I’ve noted Marc Lynch’s early crticism of the selection (and, unfortunately for the State Department, his FP.com post has become the fundamental introduction to McHale – just Google “Judith McHale”), but I’m going to reserve judgment. I’m hopeful she’ll shine in her confirmation hearing, especially considering she’ll have had more than three months to prepare for them. I’m eager to see how she intends to incorporate the initiatives of Alec Ross with the an aggressive and sensible Public Diplomacy effort.

More will be posted as it develops.

Still Waiting, Mr. President…

April 14, 2009

Judith McHale, expected Undersecretary Nominee (Photo from State Department Web Site)

Judith McHale, expected Undersecretary Nominee (Photo from State Department Web Site)

From the highest echelon of professional sports teams to the youngest recreation league, coaching and staff changes take place at an often blinding speed. Nearly every time, an interim coach is named. No professional sports team, despite their collective experience and expertise, is ever asked to call its own plays on the football field, or organize its own line changes on the ice hockey rink. And, in the few times that a firing takes place without a coach waiting in the wings, it is in the slowest stages of the sport’s off-season.

 In public diplomacy, though, as in all aspects of foreign relations and international affairs, there is no off-season, no time for anyone to rest on their laurels and step away from the task at hand. The team of Foreign Service officers and public diplomacy experts representing the United States and its values (while simultaneously discrediting the message of our enemies) has been asked to operate without an undersecretary to report to since the departure of James Glassman on January 19th. The lack of even a public nominee, much less a scheduled confirmation hearing, says three potential things about the President and Secretary of State:

o       that Public Diplomacy is not actually a priority of the Obama administration, and that Hillary Clinton doesn’t even believe her own rhetoric about “smart power”,

o       that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton naively think that they can somehow handle public diplomacy operations on their own,

o       and/or that the President and Secretary of State cannot multi-task in their current jobs.

While whispers that Judith McHale will be tapped for the position have existed for weeks on end, the lack of a formal nomination is deeply disturbing. Something, therefore, must be done. The health and wellness of the United States’ image, credibility and security depend on a consistent and focused approach to public diplomacy, and if the President and his Secretary of State will not nominate an Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, someone within the federal government must accept that responsibility.

For this reason, it is evident that the country needs legislation that requires the chair of the senate committee relevant to the executive department to select an interim nominee to serve in the position (pending confirmation of the senate committee) for a period of sixty days if the President fails to put forth his or her own. From that point forward, if the president fails to nominate a replacement, that nominee would then be moved forward to the general senate for confirmation as the official undersecretary, deputy, or, heaven forbid, cabinet-level secretary.

Granted, the Obama vetting process has likely become more intense than any in history following a series of embarrassing retractions, and Matt Armstrong has noted that President Obama is not the first President to allow the position to go unattended. However, undersecretary positions at cabinet level positions should not be left for a more politically salient time. We need not look further than the struggles undergone in the treasury department, then wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the remarkable diplomatic pressures placed on the United States every day to know that these appointed positions are crucial to the health and wellness of the country.

If Hillary Clinton is the manager and Barack Obama the General Manager of an American baseball team, the lack of an undersecretary for PD is like not having a third-base coach. Obama can outline the goals, and Clinton can put together whatever strategy she wants, but without someone standing on the base path between third and home, no player will know how and when to execute the strategy so crucial to the success of the team. If the President won’t, then Senator Kerry must.

Contrary to Popular Belief, I Am Not Dead…

March 28, 2009

I’ve merely been trying really hard to keep up with the job, and subsequently trying to find another one. In the meantime, trying to teach myself enough coding to throw my own domain up and start marketing myself a little bit. Anyway, I’ve been spending the last few days pondering Softer Power, and there are a few posts due in the pipeline. I’ve got some things to share RE: social media, public diplomacy (including the imminent nomination of Judith McHale and the delay in nominating her), and the possible end of newspapers.

There’s a lot to write, and much to share.

In the meantime, check out this video by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the band I’ve declared my new favorite.