2017 in Review: The (non) Story of the Year

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There’s a common adage among skeptics the world over: “Who watches the watchdog?”

Decades ago I had the honor of serving on the HFL School District’s newly formed “Technology Committee.” This group was tasked with the job of trying to determine the best way to integrate the then new technology of personal computers (and related software) into the learning environment. We quickly saw one of the greatest advantages as the enhanced ability to conduct research from direct sources. Librarians saw this as an opportunity to free up rare shelf space by replacing printed (and quickly outdated) encyclopedias with their digital (and instantly undated) equivalent.

For every upside, however, there’s a glaring downside. In this case, it was the credibility of the source. Britannica curates its encyclopedia, so there’s reasonable assurance the facts it presents have been thoroughly checked. But what about the vast amounts of uncurated raw content spawning fast (even then) on this new thing called the “world wide web”? Who checks those facts.

As diligent adults trained in research integrity – no matter what our varied professional background – we understood this to be a potential problem. Back then, the decision among educators was to create a “white list” of acceptable mass media sources. This included the usual names of popular and well-known print, radio, and television companies.

Unfortunately, a dozen or so local folks with excellent insight and the best of intentions couldn’t stop the juggernaut that would become Facebook, Buzzfeed, and YouTube. It soon became quite evident that anyone could upload anything in a fast and furious fashion. And no one could control that process. Nor would they want to. This was the living example of the First Amendment and our Founding Fathers would have been proud to have had a hand in laying the foundation of such a free and open society. Everyone with a modem and a keyboard had a right to say whatever they wanted, just as two centuries ago everyone with a printing press, paper, and ink had a right to say what they wanted.

Only, today, there are more people, and more keyboards, and you don’t even need a modem like you did two decades ago.

That being said, just because we all understand and accept that no one in America can prevent another person from their free speech (no matter how obnoxious), we also understand we are not obligated to believe everything we read. In other words, “free speech” can never be curtailed, but “free listening” must act as our own personal and individual “curator.”

Which brings us to so-called “fake news.” The term itself is fake. There is no such thing as “fake news,” as anyone well-studied in the art of rhetoric can attest. Of late, blaming “fake news” for all the ills of the world has become a favorite parlor game. To counter such fake news, several states (by coincidence, all controlled by the same political party and, by further coincidence, all following the 2016 election) have begun efforts to mandate “media literacy.” They’ll soon no doubt discover the problem with such government intrusion, as Facebook infamously (and recently) did.

Immediately following the 2016 election (again, by coincidence), Facebook, standing accused as allowing itself to be an enabler of “Russian Collusion,” grandly announced it would create a plan to address its role in the spread of “fake news.” One news executive was quoted by another news organization as saying, “Facebook has been under fire for this fake news flap. They obviously needed to do something. A lot of these elements seem like they’re logical steps to kind of help with the fake news scourge,” (“Facebook unveils new plan to try to curb fake news,” CBS News, December 15, 2016). Facebook created a reporting system and brought on partners like ABC News to vet suspected fake news.

A year later, Facebook, its tail between its legs, scrapped the program (“Facebook fail: Social network scraps ‘disputed’ flags on ‘fake news’,” USA Today, December 21, 2017). It turns out, as any behavioral psychologist would have predicted, flagging “fake news,” rather than discouraging readers, only encouraged them. But this wasn’t the only problem with Facebook’s effort. The problem ran much deeper, and well beyond Facebook. The problem was with the White List itself.

It turns out, the news media no longer prides itself on “curating” the news. Instead, at the behest of the usual bean counters, and despite what professional journalists say (and even believe), what matters most are clicks, audience count, and Nielsen Ratings. And what’s the best way to gin up these numbers? Why using the same click-bait tactics employed by the much despised purveyors of fake news.

Worse, these former White Listers have not only shunned the concept of curation, they actively pursue the opposite – the purposeful creation of news. Call this the “Woodward-Bernstein Effect.” It seems (by coincidence since the 2016 election) every reporter and editor today wants the head of a president mounted above their fireplace mantel. This obsession drives their day-to-day research, every narrative they write, and all the stories they publish. It’s no longer about the news, its about pushing an agenda in search of a Pulitzer (see “Newsroom Pros Reveal Candid Truth About Media Bias,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, October 19, 2017).

I’m sure you see what I’m talking about (assuming you still partake of mass media news consumption). You see it every time the organization brags about its prowess in “investigative” reporting. While this is a laudable goal, it breaks down the moment the organization fails to curate and instead promotes an advocacy position. Then, as we have seen over the last year, you see only one point of view – and a lot of missed opportunities.

So, the biggest story of the year is the one that was never printed. All the King’s investigative reporters and all the King’s editors (and a special prosecutor) couldn’t uncover any real evidence of any sort of illegal collusion, despite a year of trying. Yet they’ve managed to write, publish, and broadcast an endless font of stories on the subject, including several notable ones that had to be almost immediately retracted. What stories did they fail to uncover in the process? Those are the stories of the year.

Who Owns Your Data?

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Towards the end of the day, I finally rediscovered how to use Twitter on my Blackberry. Then I discovered I could retweet faster than I could type. Since a lot of 965897_88613402_data_stock_xchng_royalty_free_300folks had similar ideas to mine, retweeting became the most efficient method for me to get those ideas out of my head and into the Twittosphere known as #SMACSRIT.

#SMACSRIT was the hashtag for the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Social Media and Communication Symposium (SMACS) II, a lively, entertaining and enlightening event held on – at least what started out as – a rainy Thursday on September 29, 2011. I could write about each session, but, perhaps bowing to the behavioral phenomenon called “recency” – the tendency to overweight the last thing seen – I’ll focus on the final keynoter, who posed an intriguing question while Continue Reading “Who Owns Your Data?”

The Best Social Media Manual… Ever! A Book Review of David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR

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The_New_Rules_of_Marketing_and_PR_250“What’s the best book I should read to get started with this whole ‘social media’ thing?” When I asked my good friend @mikefixs this question last year, he strongly suggested I read David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR, originally published in 2007 with an updated paperback published in 2009. This may represent one of the best pieces of advice on the subject I’ve ever received.

Why?

To begin, just take a look at the author’s subtitle: “How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing & Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly.” What else can I say except, “It works.”

Here’s how.

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Day 22 – December 5, 2009 (Sat): Combine Your Social Media Tools

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Start of Day Twitter Stats: Follow: 129 Followers: 110 Listed: 6

Missed yesterday? Go here to read what happened on Day 21 – December 4, 2009 (Fri): Do Some Off-Twitter Marketing

twitter_power_joel_comm_150I must admit, I actually started doing this a few days before in anticipation of robotics consuming my day today. That’s correct, gentle reader, no sooner had I completed one major event, but it was smack dab right into another. Talk about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire!  Come to think of it, fire does have a mesmerizing ability. Perhaps you’d first like a glimpse at the fire before returning to the experiment.

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Back to the Future

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So I says to Mark I says, “Mark, I’ll go but I don’t want to pull in before you. You see, at the risk to confirming stereotypes, I’m a bit of a wallflower when it comes to these things. I could regale an auditorium filled with strangers, but put me in a small reception where I must talk to people face-to-face and I sort of stay to myself, speaking not, unless first spoken to.”

998276_97728952_business_time_royalty_free_stock_xchng_300“When it comes to groups,” I fully confessed, “I have a tough time feeling I really belong.”

Mark reassured me I could arrive after 6:30pm and find him already on hand.

Such was the set-up for attending my first meeting of the Rochester Social Media Club at Label 7 in Pittsford, NY. Funny thing. I discovered something there. Something really surprising.

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A Spoonful of MSG – A Review of Seth Godin’s Tribes

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Somewhere in the middle of Tribes, Seth Godin writes of the blog msg150.com (under the heading “Three Hungry Men and a Tribe,” pages 62-63 in my 2008 Portfolio (Penguin Group) 10th edition). As the author puts it, “This blog is obsessively chronicling every restaurant in a sixteen-block square of Seattle.” Leaving aside the unnecessary use of the passive, let’s focus on the meat of this particular reference. It turns out, most of the restaurants covered by msg150.com carry Asian cuisine. And you know what they say: Chinese food fills you up quickly, but, a half hour later, you’re hungry again.”

I can think of no better epitaph for the book Tribes, the eleventh book by the bestselling author of Purple Cow and The Dip.

Tribes CoverNow, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to disparage the book. Far from it. I consider Tribes a must read for reasons I hope to make clear. More to the point, I’m not going to begrudge someone born five days before me, possibly even in the same hospital. Quite simply, I’m merely going to follow his instructions (“Fear of Failure is Overrated,” pp 46-48) and offer some constructive criticism.

First, if you’re new to the whole Web 2.0 and social media thing, Tribes represents perhaps the easiest entrée into the embracing concept behind this innovative world. It’s easy to read. I finished it in just a few hours despite the many interruptions and distractions of a relatively free Saturday (let’s see, that would include one Boy Scout Training class, Saturday Mass and my daughter’s high school drama production). The book contains very little jargon – or at least very little of the kind of jargon that might scare neophytes away.

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