MIT Communications Forum – The Campaign and the Media

Last night MIT kicked off the Fall’s Communications Forum sessions. The topic was the campaign and the media. It was sponsored by the Communications Forum, the Center for Future Civic Media and the Technology and Culture Forum.

The evenings panel – moderated by Ellen Hume, included John Carroll from WGBH and Boston University, Ellen Goodman from the Boston Globe and Tom Rosenstiel from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

This post isn’t a summary – or even a recap – of the evenings event; it’s just few of the points I found interesting and some observations.

Hume started by asking: who is the media? who are journalists? and who is setting the campaign agenda?

In the past it has been print that has led the way – and in terms of actual reporting, that continues to be the case. During this election cycle though cable has upped its volume of coverage. Sixty-seven percent of coverage on cable news outlets is focused on the election – but, according to Rosenstiel – it is not reporting. It’s conversation.

If you do look at the actual reporting that takes place – again, according to Rosenstiel – the focus has remained much the same as it was 25 years ago. Platforms, policies and personality are still the same fodder today as they were then.

But that is only for real reporting. In the conversational world of cable news, something else has happened. More and more time is being given to campaign operatives and spin doctors (even if they are not actually identified as such). The result is a move away from reporting and toward ideology.

Carroll felt that the result was that the media is more of a presence and less of a factor in the campaign. Cable TV isn’t changing anyone’s mind, it’s just reinforcing existing points of view. On the right there’s FOX, on the left there’s MSNBC and CNN sits somewhere between the two – but it too is devoting more and more time to talk programming as opposed to reporting.

Goodman pointed out that there is so much raw content out there (she cited the YouTube video of Sarah Palin receiving a “blessing against witches”) that people are serving as their own editors and reporters. Making sense of the news is one of the biggest challenges all of us face in this environment.

The point was made that in this world where conversation can supplant reporting – discussion trumps facts. Campaigns repeat and repeat and repeat the same falsehoods over and over again and few people are willing to believe the media when they point out that what is being said isn’t true. This stems – in large part – from the Republican’s strategy of running against the media and the Democrat’s growing distrust of the media and being to “corporate.”

The result is that we’re in a situation where the media’s voice is often ignored or discounted – even if what they are saying is true.

There was an interesting discussion of who serves as the “assignment desk” for the media – who sets the larger agenda that the press follows. In the past it was the New York Times or the Washington Post. Today, it’s YouTube or Politico or The Daily Show. As Carroll pointed out, “the chinstrokerati all follow Politico.”

An other interesting topic was the unit of measure of news. At one point, it was the package (i.e. the New York Times) now it’s become the story. To me, it’s moved again and the real unit of measure is the conversation. If you look at a site like Politico, the story may be fairly brief – but the thread of user- contributed comments can run into the hundreds or even thousands of messages.

One issue in the conversational world of media – whether in forum threads or on cable TV – is that there are few (if any) was to separate truth from distortion. All of it simply tends to reinforce existing points of view by the selective acceptance of discussion points.

As much as I enjoy the conversational aspect of the media, this is a big problem. The media has essentially abdicated its role modern role of objectivity in favor of joining the fray.

[tags]MIT, MIT Communications Forum, SoMeElection08, Ellen Goodman, Ellen Hume, John Carroll, Tom Rosenstiel, media, politics[/tags]

Practicing what we preach

I love being part of the Social Media Club – the content, events and people are great. But sometimes it seems that mostly what we do is listen and discuss rather than create and share. And since social media has so much to do with creating and sharing content, I was interested in trying something with the group here in Boston that would let us make something together.

The idea was to find an ongoing event that had a definite end and that would create rich content opportunities. This year’s election seemed perfect. We had a dozen people at the meeting last week and decided to get the ball rolling with a general site about the election. We created a Ning community – SoMeElection08 – to centralize content and conversation and have seen interest and participation build slowly but steadily.

We want as many people to participate as possible so some on, sign up and get involved.

[tags]someelection08, social media, smc. politics, election, socialmediaclub[/tags]

I suffer by my own hand . . .

To keep up with 1000 Faces I headed over the the Chicken Bone (my favorite Wednesday night) last night to take pictures. While I got some really good ones, I didn’t get to bed until 3:00 this morning. By itself that’s cool. Unfortunately, I had to get up at the crack of dawn (5:45). <3hrs sleeps sucks.

[tags]photography, sleep[/tags]

1000 Faces

For a long time I’d only photograph people if they were in the way. Except for family members, it was pretty rare for me to actually intend to take someone’s picture. I have no idea why that was the case but for years it was. This past spring I was in Austin, TX. While I was out one night a group of women asked me to take their pictures. I have no reason why, its not like they were ever going to see them or anything.


I liked the way the pictures came out though – close in, from the shoulders up and with a flash – and started taking more . . . and more. This summer I was at PodCamp Boston and was starting to feel a little bored. I hit on the idea of trying to photograph all of the attendees. I didn’t get everyone but did manage to get 140 or so people. I really liked the way all the faces looked one after the other. I sat around thinking about it and eventually came up with the idea for 1000 Faces.


After PodCamp I probably had 200 pictures or so. I started looking at other events and started taking more pictures. My main source has been the Chicken Bone, a bar near my house. The people there are great and really good sports about me wandering around with my camera. Bars in general are great places to photograph people – but so are meetings, the street, events, etc.

Boneoke - 8/6

I’ve learned a few things while doing this. First, having a big beard *seems* to put some people off. When I started I was bearded and the number times I heard “no” was pretty high. I actually did a little test one night. A friend and I were out walking and drinking. I was getting shot down more than usual and was getting kind of bummed out about it. I handed her the camera and no one said no to her. Lesson – people are more comfortable with attractive 24 year old women then bearded 42 year old guys. (I’ve since shaved and have noticed way more people say yes.)


Another thing I’ve learned. People seem to like photographs of women more than of men. I’m not saying this is science or anything but that’s sure how it looks to me. At some point I need to look at other variables – age, eye color, hair color, etc. – to see what role they play in viewing preference.

The Faces of PodCampBoston

I’ve also proven (to myself at least) that all people are good looking at some level. When I take these pictures I really do see how attractive people are – women and men, young and old. It’s been funny the number of people who tell me they don’t photograph well but who then say, “wow, that’s a good picture, can I have it?” I always say yes.

One Wednesday Night in New York

Right now the photos only live on Flickr. What I’d love to do is find a place to display them. I imagine them printed larger than life and mounted along a long corridor so they can be walked past and appreciated. Too often we walk past each other in life and never look at the faces around us to see and appreciate just how beautiful people are.

One Wednesday Night in New York

Take a moment and check it out. And let me know if you’d be cool with me taking your picture.

Me Naked

[tags]1000faces, photographs, faces, men, women, flickr, gregpc[/tags]


Spent Monday evening over at WebInno. For whatever reason, I opted to go as Il Maggico, a pretend magician I am working on. As always, the event was a blast – not so much for the companies that are there (although they are usually pretty interesting) as for the opportunity to spend time with so many great people.

A few people have said the event has gotten too big – I don’t think so myself; in fact, on Monday there were a few people saying that it might be smaller than in the past. (I spoke w/ Dave about it and he said that July is the largest event of the year so the following one is by its nature smaller). In either event, the room was full of people I wanted to talk to (and photograph) and that was great.

The three main dish companies, on the other hand, were not so great – at least as far as I was concerned. Of the three, I think Givvy, an online portfolio-based charitable contribution management system was the most interesting. The provide a way to make and track contributions that happen both online and off. In addition, they allow for the creation of portfolios to make giving easier. These portfolios can be shared so others with similar concerns can find and contribute to causes that mattter to them.

Another interesting aspect of the company is Givvybase – an online database of 1.4 million charities that can be edited and accessed by third-parties. Their business model is to provide themselves to large organizations to help them do a better job of managing corporate giving programs. I wasn’t floored by this but it was better than what was to come.

I was familiar with Brring for their sponsorship of Podcamp in 2007 (thanks by the way) but I wasn’t sure what they actually did. (This is a common thing for me – AC Milan is my fave football team but it was only recently that I found out that Bwin is an online betting company.) Anyway, Brring provides custom ringback music. That’s right – hold on to your hats, I said CUSTOM RINGBACK MUSIC!!!

For all of you who don’t bow to the alter of cell inanity, this is the ability to have a specific song play for callers when they call you – AFTER they listen to a 5-10 second ad. Hmmmmm. Now look, I am in my 40s so maybe I don’t care about the impression my callers get while they are waiting for me to pick up – but really, does anyone? My biggest question about this was around royalties and copyright – and why anyone would care . . .

The last company was Pixily. They do online image-based document management. In concept this is cool – fully indexed images of all your documents. I remember working with what was then ScanSoft (now Nuance) on a product that did this – Pagis. It was cool but who has time to scan in thousands of pages? That was my first question for Pixily.

They had an answer! You send US the documents and we’ll scan them in . . . So the plan here is for me to send my bills, medical records, financial statements, etc. off to the either for input? Hmmm, I was pretty concerned about the whole privacy thing – but then they demonstrated how tough the envelopes were! Boy, he tried real hard to rip it but it just didn’t happen. Those envelopes were sure strong! I guess I have nothing to worry about . . .

But seriously – what they have isn’t a bad idea, but I do worry about privacy. When credit card numbers are compromised people hit the roof – but imagine if a data center that holds thousands of people’s broad personal data is hit – that would be very very ugly indeed.

So as I walked out to get some dinner with friends I was not bowled over. In fact, no one I spoke with seemed to be. I asked a number of people which of the presenting companies they’d invest in and the answer was always the same – none of them.

The next event is in December so we’ll see what’s on tap then.

[tags]WebInno19, Cambridge, tech, Givvy, Brring, Pixily, GregPC[/tags]

The Communications Horizon

Heading into the home stretch for 2008, we’ve been talking more and more at work about what things will look like in 2009 and beyond from a communications perspective. There are a few questions I’m hoping to get my head around – about how people are thinking about communications – and I’d be totally thrilled if people would be willing to share their thoughts. Here they are in no apparent order:

What are the major issues you see on the horizon for yourself or your company heading into 2009? What changes to you expect?

What are the major market trends that will impact the economy? How are those trends going to effect business?

How has corporate communications changed and what changes do you think will happen next?

What would you love to see happen in 2009 – on a business and personal level?

Drop me a note if you have anything you want to share.


[tags]communication, trends, 2009[/tags]