I am not a Know-Nothing

Former US President Abraham Lincoln's statue is seen at Lincoln Memorial  in Washington

Former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s statue at the Lincoln Memorial is seen in Washington March 27, 2015. The 170-ton, 19-foot-high statue, formed from 28 blocks of Georgia marble, was sculpted by Daniel Chester French and carved by the Piccirilli brothers. The 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre in Washington is April 15, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron – RTR4WKMZ

I found this writing from President Abraham Lincoln quoted in an article on The Atlantic’s website very insightful. Applying it to today’s political climate produces interesting results:

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain,” he (Lincoln) wrote in 1855, in a meditation that reverberates all the way to our current election. “How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”



With malice toward none; with charity for all

Library of Congress
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations. – President Lincoln, March 4, 1865
We may not think of Abraham Lincoln as “the most divisive president in U.S. history” as some have called President George W. Bush or President Obama, but the truth is Lincoln was president during the only time in our nation’s history that Americans fought against each other in a civil war.
Today, March 4, is the day in 1865 that Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term as President. The closing remarks of his address (above) were relevant then as a way to begin the healing the nation needed. Those same words have meaning today, much for the same reasons.
In the news, on social media, pretty much everywhere you turn, there are messages being shouted that pit one group of people or ideas against another. I look out and see our nation divided. I look out and see divisions, not just between Republicans and Democrats, but among those two groups. What I see is the rising tide of bigotry and racism. This tide is evil and has the potential to drown us all.

We can and must remember our history. We can and must overcome. We can and must do everything within our power to dispell the base instincts that are shouting for attention. Lincoln understood this. He spoke about it and took actions to stop the division. He took actions, just as we must today, to stand united, because should we continue to be divisive we shall fall.

Let the communicators communicate

Often one of the most frustrating aspects of a communications professional’s job is gaining authorization from management/leadership to distribute information. In this day and age, it is important to get the message right, but it is also important to get the message out. There are ways to do this in a timely fashion. When I read things like the following in news articles, I cringe. I know exactly how the communications staff feels.

The lack of a communications chief was perhaps the most “maddening” deficit, one former worker said. When Hurricane Sandy hit, the media relations team, short of staff, was overwhelmed. One spokesman, Mark Gross, became ill from exhaustion in the middle of the crisis and was ordered to take a day off.

Behind the scenes, Cuomo aides insisted that they sign off on all news releases. Ms. DeRosa said that this was because inaccurate information had gone out, and that the requirement significantly improved the authority’s communications.

But according to former authority executives and to emails, it became a cumbersome process that delayed getting information to customers.

As a result of this “maddening” (good word choice, by the way) supervisory “deficit,” a lean staff was overwhelmed and control and dispersal of information was ceded to the media and others who did not have access to information updates of critical importance.

When the communication is about when power will be turned back on for people after a catastrophic storm, and it is delayed for a reported 12 hours, things can get dicey. As the story points out, an outside entity was asked to take over management of PR and did so, with the caveat that the administration was only allowed 15 minutes to review media releases before they were distributed. Sanity was restored.

The point is that it should have never gotten to this point. Organization’s hire communication professionals to handle the job of creating and distributing messaging and information. Let us do our job. In the end, we’ll all be better off for it.

How Soccer Explains the World

Image of How Soccer Explains the World book on bookshelveChristmas in our house this year was fantastic. We all received gifts that we wanted, and some that we didn’t know we wanted until we opened the package and saw them. One of those gifts for me was a great book that my wife picked up at our local Goodwill store. The book is How Soccer Explains the World: An {Unlikely} Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer. I am a soccer nut, so as soon as I had the chance, I started to read it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about the correlation between the spread of the most popular game in the world and the homogenization of our cultures into one global culture?

The book grabs you from the first sentence. I mean, who wouldn’t want to keep reading after “I suck at soccer.” All joking aside, though, if you were to read on, you would find an intriguing narrative –  the quest to understand the beautiful game from every possible perspective intermixed with local and global history.

I must admit, I am only about a quarter of the way through the book as I sit to write this. However, in the pages I have read, I have come to understand the birth and underlying rational for hooliganism and the cultural ties this fan-based violence has to the rise and fall of various regimes in the former Eastern Bloc. The author’s theory concerning globalization begins at the local level, primarily because the violence, sectarianism and hatred exposed by his depictions of the hooligan fans is identified as unique to the particular club and socioeconomic conditions that are apparent at the time the hooligan culture is on the rise. As the economies around the various clubs begin to change, there is an evolution of the fan base toward a more cosmopolitan make up. Those with less money are siphoned off from attending the games in the stadium and like these fans, the author seems to intone that the hooligan culture is also pushed aside, to the darker corners of society.

Throughout the world we have seen this same scenario played out over an over. The violence never goes away, and in fact will always be associated with sports. Especially where alcohol is involved.

Is there an answer to ending the violence related to sports? I’m not sure. I do believe that having a positive shared experience with others as it relates to the purity of sports can help all of us live together in a more peaceful way. As humans, we will always have a competitive nature. Let it play out on the field. After all, it is just a game. However, as Foer points out, by exposing the dark underbelly of soccer, we get a glimpse of society’s dark corners. We may not always like what we see. Yet, in knowing the darkness exists and understanding why it manifests itself in the ways it does, we can take steps to change it.

Photo via.

Top 4 communication don’ts for 2011

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Tucson earlier this month, I read and watched with great interest the media coverage about the influence political rhetoric may have had on the shooter. Now, with the State of the Union (#SOTU) just days away, there are several PR stunts that are taking place (like this) in an attempt to ratchet down the rhetoric and communicate a message of unity. I think this is actually a good thing. And it lead me to think about the communication trends that will flow throughout 2011.

So, without any further hesitation, here are the 6 things you should avoid this year in your communications:

  1. Hate-filled political rhetoric. Simply put, when you spout hatred, the majority of people will turn you off immediately. Those that don’t are just looking to hear their own thoughts echoed back to them. Instead of building political arguments on crass emotional epitaphs, 2011 will be a year to use your brain to build political communications that are based on provable metrics. Of course, there will always be emotional messaging in politics, but making the case in support of one side or the other will be a lot easier if you can put out strong numbers that are then supported with a positive success story.
  2. Splintered messaging. Keeping your message consistent across all communication channels will be the way to go this year. Don’t say one thing on Twitter and something entirely different on your blog. Instead create one message and format it for each communication vehicle. This will cut down on the noise that can interfere with message being decoded by your intended audience.
  3. Crisis mode. Do you think that if BP and Toyota had it to do all over again, that they would get out in front of the story, trying to manage how it unfolds rather than communicating from a defensive position? I would hope so. But, maybe not. Maybe how they communicated was so ingrained in their corporate culture that looking like bungling dolts out of the gate was the only way they could come out of the gate. Instead, in 2011, organizations that go into crisis mode need to get their side of the story out first and fast. They need to be active in the social media sphere by interacting with the media and their audiences. What they don’t need is the public face of the organization speaking without a filter. Think before speaking, it really helps in a crisis.
  4. Information overload. It seems like we’re hardwired now to constantly produce and receive communications. Are we? Bing.com’s commercials about search overload make a good point. There is too much needless information cluttering our communications. So, in 2011, don’t add to it. Remember the old adage: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In other words, Make sure that when you communicate, you’re adding value for your intended audience. You can do so by learning about your audience. What do they care about? What do they already know and what might be interesting to them? Find out the answers by interacting with your audience. Listen when you are doing this, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll hear.

Well, there you go. My Top 4 communication don’ts for 2011. What do you think? Are there others that should be added to the list? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

It’s not like they’re running your briefs up the flag pole

I had to do a double take when I read the recent story about U.S. residents fighting for the right to hang clothes on the clothesline. I can’t believe that in this day and age, where so many people are trying to “go green” that there are housing associations that would put the kibosh on people hanging their clothes up outside to dry.

I had no other option but to hang my clothes up on the clothesline to dry when I was in Spain as an exchange student. I’m just lucky that my host parents didn’t live in one of the communities where the “right to hang” is being persecuted.

It is simply ludicrous that there are oversight bodies with this much time on their hands. I have to point it out that no one’s property value will go down because a neighbor hangs their shirts out to dry. It’s a good thing all of these people on the housing committees didn’t live in the time before dryers were invented. 

I’m fully in support of fighting for your right to hang your clothes on the clothesline. It just makes sense. And, as one of the persecuted says:

If my husband has a right to have guns in the house, I have a right to hang laundry.

I guess the communication moral of the story is don’t mess with people’s guns, or their laundry.


Is this newsworthy?

The internet is not a newspaperIn a recent post Heather Whaling on the prTini blog asked “What’s News?
Since I started writing for the local newspaper over a decade ago, this has been a question that I’ve thought quite a bit about. Now, in my position as a nonprofit marketing coordinator, when I have to draft a news release I often have to sort through a barrage of flowery language to get to the core issues that could be considered real news.
Heather’s post intrigued me because she framed her question around the news of the day, or lack of it. Asking why Twitter got more “ink” than Gmail when both had service issues is an interesting way to bring the world of social media into the realm of the news gatekeeper.
I think it would be interesting to inquire of an assignment editor at CNN.com what the thought and decision process was leading up to the posting of the Twitter outage story.  Heather pinpoints the probable response–Twitter is new and exciting. Additionally, an outage effects a lot of people.  But to that point, so does a service outage of Gmail. The “new and exciting” thing is was will get the coverage, though, simply because it is new. You can’t have “News” without “New.”
Heather’s second example is the more interesting one, however. She asks how Sen. Ted Kennedy can posthumously become a bi-partisan mythical hero, when during his life he was the “poster child for ultra-liberal partisanship.”
She argues that his working with senators from the other side of the aisle while alive didn’t merit coverage, but when he died, that was the shining example of his public service career. It just doesn’t make sense.
However, looking at the context of the story, it does.
I think it was important for the news media to highlight the best qualities of Kennedy after he died. When someone of Kennedy’s stature dies, and for the reasons he died (brian cancer) the media can’t play up the controversy surrounding the individual. Instead, the news media has to search for the positive things to say. As the gatekeepers, they feel a responsibility to direct the course of the immediate conversation about how Kennedy will be crafted. They want to be the drivers.
With the growing influence of social media, however, the opportunity for news media gatekeepers to be the drivers on any story of interest’s immediate conversation  is quickly diminishing. That is why it is ever more important for any player in the mediasphere to find the news in a story and get it out there.
In other words, being newsworthy in the age of social media means being direct, interesting, and most importantly engaging.
Photo credit: mfopotos