Tag Archives: Social media

The Unfriending

This morning I scrolled through Facebook and unfriended everyone that I saw who had posted something about getting the economy going again. It wasn’t very hard. Their posts usually went something like this.

“I don’t mean to sound insensitive to anyone who is suffering currently, but enough is enough. Let’s get our lives back. Yes, it sucks for people who are dying, but this is just the flu, and people die from the flu all the time. It’s time to get the economy going again, or we’re all going to be sunk.”

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A Vocation Vacation

A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.
A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.

It’s raining, really raining.

Not just the little summer drizzle. The kind of rain that builds into a rhythmic melody on the roof and on the windows.

I’m sitting here in my parents’ kitchen drinking a big mug of green tea staring at a counter full of vegetables I want to ferment.

It’s Friday.

The Friday before I return to work after an overextended hiatus.

I thought about going back to bed after I dropped my daughter off at school. The sound of the rain and the thought of laying there under the covers and drifting off to the pitter patter of water on window was extremely hard to resist.

The only reason I didn’t, is because I know that next week I will completely rely on routine to get me through the week.

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The Tin Man seeks a heart

Tin Man
Tin Man

I read a story this week about a woman who moved to Portland, Oregon from New York city and found herself incredibly lonely. Like dangerously lonely.

The better part of my life has been spent pursuing the opposite of loneliness. One of the reasons I moved to Chicago was because I believed that a city with eight million people would be the antidote to loneliness.

At first it is.

You’re surrounded by the cacophony of this human hive. It fairly roars with the constant sound of movement. You can’t look around and not see humans walking somewhere quickly. Nobody meanders in Chicago.

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Narcissism and Hubris in the Status Update


The forward-most car on the 5:30 p.m. 303 train from LaSalle Street station in Chicago to Vermont Street in suburban Blue Island is ungodly noisy.

It has a screech not unlike a large dying animal when the car shifts from left to right as it slowly leaves the station.

But it doesn’t impede the conversation that occurs between the long-time commuters of the forward-most car on train 303.

They all know each other and have for a long time.

They greet each other with hugs and ask after loved ones they know by name.

When I found my way to the forward-most car on train 303, I was lonely and growing bitter commuting in from the Chicago suburbs every weekday.

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Little pink houses and barbed wire fences

From Wikimedia Commons
Pink Houses

As a missionary kid, I spent a big chunk of my life living in community.

I don’t mean just a small town, I mean living with 20-30 people in close quarters, like sometimes in the same room.

Most of my parents’ friends know more about me than I remember about myself.

I’m often reminded that when I was living in the Rax mountains of South Eastern Austria in the late 70s, I sometimes confused my two languages – German and English – in rather amusing ways.

When I learned that my pet fishes had babies, I ran around yelling “The fishes had sex! The fishes had sex!”

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Live inquisitively, not judgmentally

Indian Toilet

Recently my daughter’s teacher told my wife that our incessant moving around the country seems to have benefitted her quite a bit.

I was taken aback by this, feeling a father’s guilt at loving a career too much to the detriment of the well-being of my children.

It seems Gabbers has a keen understanding of political boundaries like counties and state lines, well above that of her second-grade peers.

Her teacher even said that she had learned things about places and people because of her interactions with Gabrielle.

I shouldn’t be surprised.

This was my education too.

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Navigating by Stars in a Digital Universe


I’ve had a particularly close look at the disintegration of legacy media. Close as in the front row of a movie theater, that uncomfortable place where you have to put your head back on the headrest to try to take it all in. 

The kind of front-row seat you would normally ask for a refund for. 

But I can’t ask for a refund, because this is the career I chose. Or perhaps it chose me, I don’t know. 

I used to write condolence notes to friends who were axed from their jobs as reporters, copy editors and photographers. 

And then I found myself in the sights of the hedge trimmers that are the corporate interests that run most of the traditional media in the United States. 

And my friends sent me their condolences. 

I wrote a private note to a few friends on Facebook, and someone sent it to the all-seeing Jim Romenesko, who published it and significantly changed the course of my career. 

Here is what I said:

“I believe in the process of news and the responsibility of a local newspaper to provide news to the citizens. Unfortunately, newspapers are helmed by old, decrepit captains who cannot see past their bifocals way down their noses reading about yesterday with all the relevance of the Hindenburg blimp disaster.”

I haven’t worked at a newspaper since I wrote those words.

And I only write it here again, because like everything else you ever do on the Internet, it never goes away. You only have to Google my name and scroll a little ways to find it.

At the time that I wrote it, my only experience was in newspapers. But now that I have worked in television and radio, the same applies to each of these legacy formats.

My point was not a personal attack on any one “captain,” but a condemnation of the bigger picture, the one that saw newsrooms excoriated to feed the bottom line. 

Rather than build something new and powerful to engage in public discourse, shed light on corruption and establish information that is truthful and accurate, we harvested all the old growth and sold it downriver so we’d have enough product to carry us through until the current set of leaders could retire comfortably on dwindling but still magnificent profits. 

Many years ago, after the full realization of the first dot-com bubble burst finally made it into writing and when talking heads could rattle off I-told-you-so’s on the morning shows and evening news, I said that legacy media should redefine itself like a startup. 

Risk, creativity, reinvestment in quality, innovation, strategic partnerships and chaos. All are hallmarks of startup culture. 

And all are exceedingly exciting when I think of how journalism could, should apply these to a new business model. 

Thomas Carlyle wrote that “(Edmund) Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery, yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

That was in 1787, when the press was little more than a political instrument wielded deftly by politicians for purposes of propaganda. 

Slowly we grew into the skin coined for us in the term and ideology of the Fourth Estate, never realizing that one day we might actually shed the skin for another to pick up and wear. 

The press has reverted to a propaganda instrument, wielded instead by corporate interests and less so by politicians. 

We’ve lost the mantle of the Fourth Estate to something not entirely proletarian, but more so than today’s media. 

Where did the Fourth Estate surface after we dropped the mantle? It surfaced in the colored revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, Iran and in the Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya and Syria. 

It surfaced on YouTube and Twitter and to some degree on Facebook. It surfaced in lightweight storytelling technology like smartphones and inexpensive laptops with cheap USB cameras. 

It surfaced in the capable hands of the public, that very public the media has defined like so many define children, that is should be seen and not heard. 

And I stand on the other side of the glass wall of the 1A meeting room and watch as we continue to push out “all the news that’s fit to print,” without consulting or involving the very audience leaving us in droves for pseudo media outlets that allow them the interactivity they desire. 

Perhaps the most egregious difference between today’s media and the pseudo media that is outpacing it is the loss of talented thinkers, innovators, revolutionaries and leaders.

In my career I’ve been lucky to encounter a few of these for a short period of time and usually toward the end of their run of glory. These are the people who’ve imparted the most wisdom, insight, vision and direction to me.

These are the Yoda’s and the Obi Wan Kenobi’s to my Luke Skywalker, the Gandalf the Grey to my Frodo. 

The longer I stay in the media business, the more time passes between meeting the crazy ones, as Steve Jobs described them. They are passing on, either to newer and more welcoming industries or just out of the consciousness of our particular industry. 

And the helms of our ships are steered by captains who do not understand GPS and who would rather navigate by the stars instead. 

For nine years I’ve held on to the last thread of hope for media, a tenuous connection of legitimacy that is thinner now to the point that sometimes I can’t see the line in front of me. 

Maybe it’s time for the floundering dirigible to crash and burn, so that a Phoenix can rise from its ashes. 

You can listen to me read this article here:

Is there a better way to handle citizen journalism?


Media organizations are doing some soul searching this week. Even Reddit issued an apology, of sorts, for the way in which the social news forum offered a platform for witch hunters in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.

CNN, still is reeling from the Supreme Court health care debacle last year, took another hit on the chin when its pundits and talking heads filled the screen with proclamations of captured suspects well before officials announced a lead.

Even the overly cautious Associated Press, the longest to hold out that a suspect or suspects were in custody, finely had to recant.

It wasn’t just CNN, the AP or online forums like Reddit that screwed up the Boston Marathon Bombings. Every media outlet got something wrong.

And it’s not because they’ve let their editorial standards slip or because they’ve lost too many quality people. No, my friends, resources are not the issue here.

It’s because the audience has fundamentally changed. And big media (and small) has failed to recognize it.

If I can get my news from someone at the scene who live Tweets and posts pictures or video, I may be no better informed than if I waited for big media to get there and dissect it for me, but I’ve experienced a little of the trauma, I’ve lived just a little of the narrative through the eyes or lenses of those who were there.

Most media outlets still gather information, distill it, then push it out from behind the hallowed glass halls of the A1 daily meeting.

The audience is tired of being told what happened, when they’ve know about it hours before CNN recapped it or the New York Times printed it. The audience just wants to understand it.

And in our efforts to explain it by telling people who, what, when and where, we forget that there is an army of  smartphone-bearing citizen experiencers out there already fleshing out the narrative.

But instead of treating them as the narrative, we isolate them and caution our remaining audience not to believe everything you see. But we were irrelevant long before we reached the point of marginalizing our own audience this way.

Getting back to what we do best

We are all addicted to story, because story is the common denominator between humans and the rest of the universe. If we need to understand something and preserve it for future generations, we put it in a narrative.

Media outlets attempting to scream into the dark void are starving for attention, and though the bells and whistles of television might get a momentary glance, there is no stickiness there these days.

Which is how Boston went so terribly wrong for so many media organizations.

In the aftermath, after the FBI shut down the information network, I saw media organizations try to connect into the narrative by providing a shell, a housing, so to speak, for the stories that were emerging.

By then it was far too late.

And even though this illustrates the best intentions, most publishers, general managers, managing editors and executive editors would do well to understand that people just don’t need you anymore, not when they can go to the source and hear the stories from the mouths, the keyboards and the cameras of the experienced. Or, more realistically, those stories find us through word of mouth and popular consensus as it trickles down to the phones in our pockets.

Journalism has thrived not on its ability to investigate and ferret out the wrongs in society but by great storytelling.

Media organizations no longer control the tools that allow the broadcast of stories. Social media took that away, smartphones with 10 megapixel cameras and high definition wrested it out of the hands of television producers. The venerable news sources of old are just one of 10 or 12 tabs open on your browser these days. One icon among dozens on your smartphone or tablet.

New Media is old media in sheep’s clothing?

Sure, new media makes the tools infinitely easier to use, but rapid monetization means they make the same mistake old media has made.

Who controls the story?

In the flashbang of public input from a large-scale breaking news story, it can be difficult to see who controls the story. We’re at a time when source-driven reporting is giving way to massive attempts to both control the flow of social information and to utilize it to help get at vital information.

The question for major media, and really all media, is this: What is our reporting role changing into, and how do we better harness and use the public flow of information to better serve humanity?

Worldview: World Leaders Take to Social Media

Worldview: World Leaders Take to Social Media

What to do when your Facebook Edgerank drops –

Like any good relationship, you need to have a two-way conversation, a meaningful dialogue. When I started work at a newspaper in Oregon some years ago now, There was a slogan in use. “Join the conversation.” What struck me as funny was the fact that it wasn’t actually a conversation. We pushed out the news, vetted by editors, reported by reporters and drenched in integrity. You were expected to have the conversation about the gospel we were publishing each day.

I remember being asked to start a MySpace page for a newspaper I worked at. But the idea was not altruistic. My editor was simply looking for another way to push out content. Another delivery vehicle, a number generating miracle. This has always stuck me as odd. It is perhaps the one thing that turns me off about the news business in general. Turns out I was right. News, is a conversation. It’s a give and take between two or more people. It’s not a one-sided relationship. And many news agencies are learning that the hard way now that Facebook changed their Edgerank algorithm to favor better engagement over pushing links. About three weeks ago, we noticed a dip in Facebook referrals. We went from many thousands reached to just a few thousand reached with virtually no viral reach. We panicked. We went to forums and searched high and low for an answer. It seemed as if Facebook was finally forcing the revenue issue, and it looked like they were holding our hard-earned fans for ransom. If we paid Facebook some money, they would release a few more of our fans, and our precious referrals would return. But that’s not actually what happened. Vadim Lavrusik, a Facebook liaison to journalists, told us that it’s all about the kind of engagement we were doing. Links, banal headlines, self-serving content just wasn’t cutting it with Edgerank, because it wasn’t cutting it with our fans. He encouraged us to try a few different tactics for a few days. Instead of posting links with small picture embedded, we posted full pictures with links. We started targeting our stories to their impact audience. We started engaging with individual fans. We posted with our fans in mind, not with our own interests and needs at the top of the list. We posted less frequently, but we posted the best of our content. At first nothing happened. We called out Vadim on Facebook and whined a little. Then, incrementally, as you can see by the graph at the top of this page, we started to see an increase in engagement. Soon we saw more likes, more shares, more organic and eventually way more viral. These are not the only things you can do to increase engagement. We are experimenting with many other techniques right now. But these few things will improve your relationship with your audience and get back to a two-way conversation. The main issue is that most news organizations still view it as a one-way relationship. Even this setback may not help them bridge the digital divide. I hope it does though. When that Facebook crack goes away for a little while and your page views drop, it may be that come to Jesus moment many stodgy media outlets need. Then again, it may not. But I believe Darwin had a little something to say about that. Engagement is relationship, it’s a two-way conversation. I’m glad Facebook is finally holding people accountable for better engagement. If I had the controls, I’d do the same thing.