Understanding Understanding

Good listening is a sign of respect.

As we approach another campaign season, some thoughts.

Maybe we can have more light than heat.

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These Seven Elected Officials Are Now Reconsidering Their Confederate Flag Tattoos

politicianThat’s the best clickbait headline I can think of for this week.

Please share your submission in the comments.

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The Glaring Problem with TV Live Shots

Hi there, TV news. I know I haven’t talked about you in a while, but I have been thinking about you. And something occurred to me that prompted me to write you.

Apparently, you (and the many dedicated, hard-working reporters in the field) have a new problem. It is a meme run amok. Interview subjects and passers-by are taking advantage of your live broadcasts to propagate a phrase that is as dehumanizing as it is infantile:

“F██k her! F██k her right in the p███y!”

(don’t bother hovering over the text, I am not using a spoiler font)

It is dehumanizing, because it implies that a woman should not have any decision about how she might want or not want to use her body, and infantile because… well… it is. It’s also the same thing that a Heisman-winning quarterback yelled after jumping onto a table in a crowded cafeteria, and got him suspended for half a game.

Many reporters are expressing frustration that this happens a lot. One even turned the double-edged sword of live television back upon her verbal assailants:

Unfortunately, she may have inadvertently spread this meme even further.

Television news… you have a problem. And the problem isn’t that you lack adequate security for your live crews, and it isn’t that you need a delay on live shots.

It’s that your audience doesn’t respect you anymore.

No respect

You could make the case that the audience hasn’t respected you in a long time, having trickled away to apps and Halo and entertainment programming. But that was a disrespect of omission. We are talking overt disrespect of commission here.

That total jerks are hijacking your airwaves for a few seconds of bro-hug tribal asshattery is not your problem… it is a symptom.

Your real problem is that they are onto you. Even these guys, with their infantile dehumanizing minds. They are onto you, because it finally seeped into their simian brains that you both speak the same language: Dehumanizing and infantile.

Even in the 1980s and 90s, we had a term for useless live shots – “Live for the sake of Live.” We called them Dog Licks. It’s a callback to the joke, “Why does a dog lick itself? Because it can.

Dog-Lick Live Shots are the remote segments performed in front of an  empty building, hours after any real news occurred. It usually involves a reporter throwing to a taped package, while simultaneously performing an amazing verbal feat: In as few seconds as possible, introduce the piece while providing a justification for why you are there, where nothing is. And do so in one take, with no prompter and no flubs.

It’s not easy work. And it’s not like the reporters elected to do that. They were ordered to.

I am not talking about those moments where the meeting is still going on, or finished at 4:30, and there wouldn’t have been time to drive back. Technology is wonderful in that regard. But producers back in the newsroom have a long and time-honored tradition of making reporters go live from the craziest of places. The reason? “I need a live element in the B block.”

And it’s the reporter’s job to make it look like it wasn’t just an okay idea – that it was the best idea.

The ugliest spin

It’s even worse when severe weather is in the area, and we have to deal with a torrential downpour of reporters out in the field, where it might or might not be raining, and it might or might not be sleeting, or God forbid there be a tornado. Before I left television, I had an experience with tornadoes. On consecutive Tuesdays, with severe weather dominating the coverage, I did live shots within a half-mile of a radar-confirmed tornadic vortex. One a half-mile north of me, the next week a half-mile to my south. Statistically, I was hit twice.

On one of those days, I was actually out in the elements for the duration of the rain event. Nearly ten inches of precipitation landed on my head that day. And why?

Because the viewers at home are perceived to be so stupid that we need to put a human being out in the weather for them to know how bad it really is. In those moments, I was little more than a prop. An educated, experienced… crash test dummy.

Wait, that’s not fair. Crash test dummies are complex scientific instruments, capable of providing data on newtons of force, G forces, velocity, and many other important and useful data points related to a storm’s intensity. I am limited by my vocabulary, my ability to shout into a microphone over heavy winds, and possibly my ability to bleed in an expressive manner when struck by debris.

Turning reporters into crash-test dummies and props? That’s dehumanizing. It’s not as insulting to the reporter as “F her in the P!” is to women, but mainly because the reporter is being paid not to think of it in those terms. The reporter is actually hoping for a payoff — as much non-lethal damage and chaos as possible, so they can get a better job.”

Speaking the same language

So… yeah. There is a poetic justice that hooligans would shout dehumanizing things to people representing an industry that dehumanizes its own employees. I am not defending them in the slightest. Vulgarity has no place, and neither does treating women like objects.

But maybe, just maybe, TV industry people… maybe this is a wake-up call that the mindless Joe Sixpacks you’ve been condescending to for years might just be onto you. Maybe they have known for a while, and only now feel empowered to express their opinions about the artificiality of what you do. I doubt this is a commentary on their desire for more substance, more investigating journalism – but it can be seen as a rebellion against what you’ve been peddling. News Lite.

The jerks in the video wouldn’t be shouting those things at your employees if you hadn’t treated them like props.

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I have a friend who starts a new job next week. (Congratulations to her, it is a sweet gig. I am jealous.)

quality3This isn’t about her new job, though. It is about her current one.

She is writing a piece for her present employer, and called me up to pick my brain. You see, she wants it to be great, and she is reaching out to people who can give her additional insight and perspective. Several people. It was only in this conversation that I found out something better was coming her way.

There, did you catch it?

  • This is not a person who phones it in.
  • This is not a person who half-asses it.
  • This is not a person who walks away without being proud of her work.

She didn’t realize (but may now) that if I am ever called upon as a reference I have a great story to tell. That she was going extra miles on what would seem to be a rather pedestrian assignment, at a time when others would have been following their feet out the door. Honestly, the piece she is working on is could be little more than padding out the word count. But not for her.

And that is the essence of professionalism.

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The Mammals of Journalism

Some 65-million years ago, a big hunk of something, either ice or rock or a slushy combination of the two, changed the Earth forever. The crash (or, given that 70% of the planet is covered by water, more likely a splash) triggered tsunami, major tectonic shifts, and atmospheric temperatures just shy of a pizza oven for a couple of days. Then, once things cooled down a bit, the rain of glass shards.

It was not a fun time to be alive, but most of those things that were alive weren’t around long enough to complain about it.

One single shift, and the balance of nature was wiped out. We have remnants of dinosaurs, and know an awful lot about them. But on that day, after a dominant run of tens of millions of years — on that day… they died. [Read more…]

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A Workflow for Twitter

No, Mom.

I am not going to get fired.

I am not going to be fired for “being on Facebook all day.” It is, somewhat, my job. And the only reason it seems to you that I am on Facebook all day is that I publish quite a bit to Facebook – not necessarily on it.

The same might be said for me on Twitter. It seems as though I am there often, but in reality I have a workflow. And it is that workflow that I want to share with you. Not because I believe it is any better than anyone else’s — but because most people don’t have a conscious strategy for how they use these tools. Unconscious use can be fleeting, but it can also be aimless and the very time-suck that employers worry about.

Oh — why even bother with Twitter?

Twitter is a great way to make yourself smarter about _________. Whatever _________ is to you, you can become smarter about __________. Fill it in for yourself:

  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Real Estate
  • Local News
  • Trends in Food
  • Trends in Travel
  • Pro Wrestling
  • College Football Recruiting
  • Kardashians

The fact that tens of millions of people use Twitter to make themselves smarter about the Kardashians does not make Twitter a stupid tool. (It makes those people stupid tools, but I digress.)

However, if you are just sitting back and using Twitter as a feed reader, you are missing the real value. Twitter isn’t about consumption, it is about cultivating the network that makes you smarter.

I will say that again: Cultivate the network that makes you smarter.

Take the time to follow links, comment, reply, and engage with the people you’d like to know more from. You might have more in common with them than you know. And once you build out more personal connections with them, they are more likely to share things with you directly, that you didn’t even know to ask about. That’s far better than just seeking those things that you already know exist.

So… here is my flow.

Filling the Spaces

Twitter is too busy to catch up with everyone. I still like the idea Chris Brogan articulated, that you build sources for a stream, and you occasionally dip a hand in to grab a drink. I don’t set aside time for Twitter, I just use it to fill some of the dead zones between cracks in the calendar.

Finish that conference call at 10:45, with another one at 11? Perfect time to scan email, and check some Tweets. And like I said, if you stick to a process, a flow, then you are in and out in a matter of moments, while still engaging in the behavior that sows what you want to reap.

Step 1: Notifications

It starts with having a decent way of being notified. I am not one of the popular gurus, and thanks to not being an active blogger anymore, I am not peppered with pitches in private messages. Occasionally, someone will Mention me on Twitter, calling something to my attention. And it’s nice to use the notification to respond in a timely fashion. Notifications allow you to be there when called, without being hyper-present, eyes glued to the columns.

If you are instead just jumping in as part of filling the spaces in time, then look for people who have reached out to you. If nothing is there, then move to Step 2.

Step 2: Look for Questions

Call up the main Twitter timeline. The people you follow. Now, look for a question mark. In most browsers, this is done with a CTRL-F, a ?, and hitting ENTER. If people you are following have asked questions this recently, and you have an opportunity to answer this quickly, then you have provided an immense value to the other. You build social capital, and it is just the nice thing to do. After that, move on to Step 3…

Step 3: Look for Links

A decent percentage of Tweets will have links embedded. In some cases, there is rich media that accompanies the link, and a little preview. Scan those links, and either open them in new tabs for later consumption, or save them to a service like Pocket, Evernote, OneNote, Instapaper…

(After you read those links, you’ll want to be in a position to share those yourself, and I will talk about that later…)

Step 4: Look for Conversations

There’s a good chance that some of the people you know will be talking with other people, some of whom you don’t know. Opening up some of those conversations can open you up to new and interesting people with whom you can engage.

Twitter used to make this easier, but wisely cut down on the noise. This means that you might have to take an extra step to find those new people, but it is worth it.

Step 5: Post and Go

If the preceding steps haven’t eaten my allotted time, I will post a quick update, ask a question of my own, or I might forego posting entirely and start reading one of those interesting links. Better yet — I might share one of the links I read earlier, with my own commentary or headline.

And that’s it. You repeat the loop the next time you have a couple of minutes free. I like to think about my flow as a list of priorities, which ensure I am engaging in the right balance:

  1. Answer those who have reached out to me
  2. Help those who might be in a momentary bind
  3. Seek interesting information
  4. Seek interesting people
  5. Share and move on

As Twitter has evolved in size and scale and scope and popularity, the essence of my workflow has remained unchanged for years. Some might say that I ought to have a much larger Following count, and that somehow this is proof that this system is a “failure.”

I never promised that this was going to make you a Twitter Guru, or that it would grow your following. If you want to grow your following, there are much better ways to do so. (I don’t follow people who follow me – I follow people I find interesting, and I follow those who engage with me.)

However, I can’t begin to tell you how my job has been made easier, my life has been made easier, and how my personal knowledge about particular topics of interest have been greatly enhanced because I cultivated a network that made me smarter – and I engaged with people who challenged me.

And that – despite the Hokey Pokey’s claims to the contrary – is what it’s all about.

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Paying to Shout When Twitter Mutes

For those of you who missed the news, Twitter is rolling out a new feature called Mute:

Today we’re beginning to introduce a new account feature called mute to people who use our iPhone and Android apps and twitter.com. Mute gives you even more control over the content you see on Twitter by letting you remove a user’s content from key parts of your Twitter experience.

Sounds like a great addition, but there may be consequences for brands: [Read more…]

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