Just some questions/thoughts concerning our new Social Media class being offered during the Fall 2010 semester…

  • Should educational organizations and institutions attempt to control social media activities – e.g., blogging – as threats to marketing and promotion?  The National Merit Scholarship Foundation, for instance, already has.
  • Should educational organizations and institutions institute a social media policy for faculty and staff?  Ball State, for instance, already has.
  • Should student-run university newspapers plug away at reproducing print newspaper models?  Or should those newspapers be replaced by student bloggers blogging?  At Penn State, for instance, things are already happening.
  • Should you really consider your followers your friends?   Is Farmville really the future of play — or the future of work?  When do social media turn into the sort of club that you don’t want to enter?

Prof. Zemmels and I will be discussing these questions and others next fall as part of an experimental offering of CMMNA394, Social Media, a course we hope will become a permanent part of our new Media Studies sequence within the School of Mass Communication.

***

ps.  Check out Owely.

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I’m sure Buck Owens of “Hee Haw” fame never imagined that his famous song, “Crying Time,” would be used (abused) in conjunction with academic advising time. But the tune, recorded by singers from Tammy Wynette to Ray Charles, has been stuck in my head for the past few days as students begin the semi-annual ritual of stopping in to say hello and to set up schedules for future semesters. For some, it might BE crying time: those whose GPAs won’t meet scholarship minimums or those who aren’t going to graduate “on time,” whatever that is, because they’ve dropped too many classes or taken the wrong electives.

And that’s only one reason advising time is so important. Advising is an opportunity for students and their advisers to talk about requirements for majors and minors, options for advanced common curriculum courses or those “free” electives. It’s not just your adviser saying, “Take Biology T122 on Tuesday/Thursday at 11:00.” It’s not just about reminding you that you need to average 15 hours a semester to graduate in four years or trying to figure out what those study abroad credits are going to substitute for.

Sure, advisers do those things. But your adviser also helps you plan your academic life, reminding you about prerequisites (you have to take XXX before you can register for YYY) and alternate semester courses (course ZZZ will only be offered in fall semesters of even years). And your adviser can help you identify good electives that will enhance your education, not just easy ones that lift your GPA.

Your adviser will help you figure out what minor suits you, personally and professionally. And more than that, a good adviser will help you figure out what you’re going to do AFTER your academic life at Loyola ends.

Every semester I get a new advisee who comes in and says, “I just want you to take my adviser hold off so I can register for classes.” While other departments may “advise” that way, we don’t do that in the School of Mass Communication. We make you sit and talk with us, and we talk about things that you might not see as relevant to the advising process.

I ask my advisees a lot of questions:  what do you want to do with your life? how do you spend your spare time? where do you want to live after you graduate? All this helps me make better, more appropriate suggestions for your courses, as well as to steer you into professional organizations, internship opportunities or even career paths.

I like advising, even when there are more than 40 of you and only one of me. (And there was that semester I had 120 advisees, but that was at another school!) I get to know my students better through the advising process, and we often chat about non-academic topics. I’ve had tearful sessions (and keep a box of tissues nearby), and I’ve celebrated engagements, job offers and revelations of newly-found career enthusiasm.

I look forward to seeing my advisees in the next weeks. I encourage you to come prepared, to have a tentative schedule made out or at least a list of proposed courses to take. But I also remind you to come see me when it’s NOT advising time, just to say hello.

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I have a dear friend (hey, Leslie!) who is a hair stylist in a tiny town in central Georgia. She is the kind of lively, personable stylist who makes the whole hair experience fun, and she’s good at what she does. Customers follow her from salon to salon and travel relatively long distances to have her cut, curl, color or whatever. (She’d also be a great contestant on Shear Genius!)

Unlike the stereotypical hair stylist (whatever that is), Leslie is a very talented PR practitioner. She has a degree in mass comm/PR and has worked with nonprofit organizations. She is a tremendous fundraiser and event planner. Leslie came to PR sort of late in the game. She test drove a few other majors before she quite accidentally “found” PR after reading a flyer on a bulletin board about what all you could do with a degree in the mass comm sequences.

It didn’t take her long to realize she’d finally found an academic home. She jumped in with both feet, taking to PR like a swan to water. She landed a valuable internship and went to work for an organization serving youth, putting her PR skills to work and succeeding.

But Leslie had another vision for her future:  to do hair. After working in PR for a while, she almost apologetically told me she was going to trade school to learn to do hair, with the intention of opening her own salon.

While I supported Leslie in following her dream, I was disappointed that the industry was losing such a tremendous talent. But she assured me that she was going to use her PR skills in promoting herself as a stylist and in managing her own shop, when she opened it.

And Leslie was true to her word. She’s an active member of her church and has directed many special events there. She’s developed brochures for the ushers’ program and works with the pastor to create fundraisers and programming for the youth. She supports Locks of Love, volunteers to do hair and makeup for local events and cheerfully joins in as a participant in all types of worthy causes.

She writes a column for the local newspaper, answering questions about appearance and lifestyle in a simple, straightforward way. And at the end of each week’s column, she promotes the salon where she works and proudly lists her B.A. in her bio.

As Leslie good naturedly reminded me  – in words I’d told her when she was my student – PR skills are transferrable. You can use them in an almost unlimited number of career areas. No matter where you live or what industry you work in, you can put those PR skills to work, helping publics and organizations understand and communicate with each other.

Leslie’s experience reminds me that anything you say as a professorcan come back to haunt you! But she was right. PR skills are practical and relevant; they can take you anywhere, just as you can take them anywhere. At a time when jobs are rapidly and drastically changing, good communication skills – particularly strategic ones – will make you valuable and more marketable.

By the way, if you’re ever in Gray and need a haircut, give Leslie a call. She’ll give you a great style and tell you about that time during PR Campaigns I yelled at her via cell phone from a theatre in NYC about the brick brochure. (But that’s another story for another day.)

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1. When I ask students in my classes to tell me why they no longer read newspapers (and most of them do not read newspapers very often if at all), their answers reference a lack of accessibility, immediacy, and relevance.  But, at the core of these answers is the real reason:  newspapers cost money, and information is free.

2. The phrase “information wants to be free” dates from sometime around the publication of Steven Levy’s Hackers in 1984.  That book helped popularize what thereafter came to be known as a “hacker ethic”:  A loose set of programming principles that subsequently became a full-blown ethos promoting information unburdened by ownership or restriction.

The core of that ethos is this:  Information is most valuable when it is most connected to other information; and, anything that prevents information from connecting to other information is inferior to anything that doesn’t prevent it.  Therefore, over time, things that allow information to connect will prevail over the things that don’t.  Freeware, open access, and net neutrality remain products and principles actualizing this belief.

3. Other things that are free:  Air.  Water (sort of).  And advice.

Each of these, like information, is free wherever it is abundant and easily collected — and not free wherever it is not.  A couple of minutes of compressed air, for instance, costs 75 cents at my local gas station.   Bottled water is at least a dollar at the same gas station.  And, while good medical advice often comes free (eat right, gets lots of exercise), a consultation with your primary care physician costs you your deductible.

4. A current question for schools and universities is whether the education they sell to students is more like the information newspapers sell to readers or more like the advice that doctors sell to patients.  On one hand, information that is abundant and easily collected offers vast learning opportunities:  a truly liberal-arts education.  On the other hand, information that is merely preface to some subsequent, more personalized intervention (e. g., surgery by a specialist, or placement in a job) may be considered more justifiably private and protected than public and shared.

In order for universities to avoid the fate of newspapers, the information they sell to students may be slowly shifting from information that wants to be free to information that doesn’t, and from information that is abundant and easily collected to information that is neither.  This latter sort of information might in part be represented by what some call insider information:  stock tips, internship opportunities, names to know, places to be, numbers to call.  Instead of providing free and open access to the world’s libraries, universities may find it more economically viable to provide more exclusive access to the world’s marketplaces.

5. Selling free information is hard, but it’s not impossible.  Here are a couple a strategies that could help:  You could try to make information that wants to be free less free (like the RIAA), or you could sell a special sort of information:  information that is more valuable when kept private than when made public (like Coke).  This second, “special” sort of information then conflates information and status.  The more status you have, the better — just like information that wants to be free.  But, also, the more status you have that other people don’t have, then even better still — unlike information that wants to be free.

Newspapers are now experimenting with both sorts of strategies:  making information less free, and making information a status symbol.

Schools and universities may be way ahead of them.

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1.  When the news media tell us stories about the world, there are good guys and bad guys.  For instance, right now in New Orleans, outgoing Mayor Ray Nagin is a bad guy.  However, it wasn’t too long ago that incoming Mayor Ray Nagin was a good guy.

2.  I study play.  And, just as there are stories in the news media about politicians, there are stories in the news media about play.  Sometimes, play is a good guy:  It enhances learning, creativity, and innovation.  Sometimes, play is a bad guy:  It’s wasteful, harmful, and disruptive.

3.  In September 2009, a PBS Frontline episode told a story about how a good guy (new technology) beat up a bad guy (poor student performance).  That story is called “How Google Saved a School,” and it’s an interesting story.  You should watch it.

In that story, at about the 4:50 mark, we learn that the assistant principal of Intermediate School 339 in the Bronx can access a student’s laptop webcam without that student’s knowledge or permission.  In the Frontline story, that new technology is a good-guy thing.  Fast-forward to February 2010, and that new technology is a bad-guy thing.

The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence…The idea that a school district would not only spy on its students’ clickstreams and emails (bad enough), but also use these machines as AV bugs is purely horrifying.

Corey Doctorow

4.  Politicians and play and disruptive new technologies –- like, for instance, remotely accessed webcams — are complicated things.  They are not characters in a story.  It may please us to think and write and read about good guys and bad guys, but it doesn’t help us learn about them.  It may well be necessary to understand complicated things in complicated ways.

5.  Do stories help us understand complicated things in complicated ways?  Or do stories prevent us from understanding those things?

6.  If you ask questions like those in #5, are you always the bad guy in the story?

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Anyone remember Franz Klammer’s downhill run in the 1976 Olympics?

I do.  If you’ve never seen it, here it is

The call is by Frank Gifford and Bob Beattie.  It sounds live.  But that call, as exciting as it is, may well have been re-recorded prior to its broadcast by ABC.  Klammer’s run was so surprising, so dramatic, that Gifford and Beattie had earlier called Switzerland’s Bernard Russi the winner and were unprepared to give Klammer’s run its rightful due.  At the time, of course, no one knew that, because whatever ABC gave us was what we got.  Live or taped.  True or false.

***

It’s Lundi Gras in New Orleans, 2010.  No Loyola classes today or tomorrow.

Rather than braving the cold to see yet another of the 50+ parades and celebrations rolling through the city during Mardi Gras, I’m looking forward to watching the men’s downhill at the Vancouver Olympics. With only a single terrifying two-minute run down Whistler mountain to determine the winner, the men’s downhill is very often the most immediate, visceral, and exciting event of the Winter Olympics.  It’s the winter equivalent of the Summer Olympic’s 100-meter dash.  Both signature events rightfully lay claim to crowning the world’s fastest human, on the track or in the snow.

Starting time: 10:30am PST.   I’ve got the live interval times and updated standings ready to go on the Vancouver Olympics website.

But there’s no broadcast of the men’s downhill on NBC.

NBC is showing qualifying runs of the men’s snowboard cross, a new Olympic event.  There’s no mention of the men’s downhill in the NBC coverage.  No update.  No video.  No broadcast.

There is nothing.

NBC is taping and saving their coverage of the men’s downhill for tonight’s prime-time broadcast.

But it’s not 1976.  And NBC isn’t the only game in town. It’s not yet prime-time, and I know who won the downhill.  Twitter tells meFacebook tells me.

I know Didier Defago’s interval times.  I know Bode Miller of the USA took the bronze medal, and I know Miller was ahead of Defago’s time until he hit the very bottom of the course.

What happened?

Will I watch NBC’s prime-time coverage tonight to find out?  Probably.

Will I resent not being able to watch the men’s downhill live?  Definitely.

What I expect to see tonight is a carefully crafted package of the men’s downhill run, spliced and splattered with commercials and self-serving promotions of NBC’s coverage.  I expect to see a story.  I want to see an event.

Should I suspend my disbelief?  Should I trust NBC to groom and coif my experience of the 2010 Winter Olympics?

Once upon a time, circa 1976, I had no choice.

Today, I’m wondering where’s NBC’s coverage of the black bloc?  Where’s NBC’s interview of Canada’s poet laureate?

Where’s the 2010 Winter Olympics Men’s Downhill?

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Yay for social media.

In my last post on this blog, I mentioned several newsworthy topics making the rounds of Facebook, Twitter and such that, as yet, had not been considered newsworthy by more traditional (and still more widely attended) news organizations.  One of these was the NFL’s attempt to establish WHO DAT as a New Orleans Saints trademark.

That was a week ago.  Since then, local and national media have caught up.  Most recently, the “Who owns WHO DAT?” story made it to USA Today.  And, even more recently, to the Wall Street Journal.

So, once again, yay for social media.  That’s where the story began, and that’s where it continues to simmer and sizzle while simultaneously being distributed farther and wider by the likes of the Associated Press.

But, I have to note, not too many of these farther and wider distributions contain much information beyond what the social media mavens first revealed.

The Associated Press/USA Today story, for instance, has a couple of direct quotes from the parties involved, but is otherwise a straightforward retelling of what has already been told.  And, conspicuously missing from both the AP and WSJ articles are some important basics — like exactly what was in the original cease-and-desist letter that NFL lawyers sent Lauren Thom (aka, the new New Orleans cause célèbre, Fleurty Girl). You can read that letter where first I saw and linked it earlier:  here.

Local and prolific tweeters — count @kbeninato and @YatPundit among these — are quick to point to their blogging as ground zero of the WHO DAT story.  And these tweets and blogs remain the best source of the WAT DAT about the WHO DAT.  If you’re really interested in the here and now, for instance, why settle for stale Fleurty Girl sound bites?  Why not subscribe to her live Twitter feed?

And then, if you’re ready, you can think about this:

In parallel with how large corporations like the NFL have obscured the origin and ownership of WHO DAT, national news media — intentionally or not — can obscure the origin and ownership of INFORMATION.  That information — its meaning and value — can’t be owned and trademarked by existing news organizations any more than WHO DAT can be owned and trademarked by the NFL.  If it’s our culture, then it’s also our information:  WE DAT.

Just as the NFL is anxious to sustain profits, news organizations have proven equally anxious to sustain their status and reputations.  Nevertheless, it may well be that the Google-like role of news aggregator — a role demonized by the owner of the Wall Street Journal — is the only real role left mainstream media.

***

For further and related reading, see…

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We discussed agenda-setting in CMMNA100 last week.

Agenda-setting is one of several contemporary media effects theories that understand the influence of mass media as subtle, indirect, and, over the long term, quite powerful. The catch-phrase for agenda-setting theory: The media don’t tell us what to think; they tell us what to think about. This happens as a result of media sources, particularly news organizations, presenting basically the same topics of interest — an “agenda” — in which a more diverse (and accurate) view of the world is distorted and transformed.

With agenda-setting in mind, I am as often curious about the stories the news media don’t cover as the stories they do — particularly during large-scale media events such as the recent NFC championship football game in New Orleans. Here, for instance, are three Saints-related stories that might well have deserved more coverage than they received.

1. NFL playoff team revenues.

Yes, there is some coverage and commentary on this, but you have to do a little searching to find it. For instance, look here.

Apparently, the revenue stream for NFL teams during the playoffs is very different from that revenue stream during the regular season. In fact, there may actually be economic incentives for some NFL teams NOT to make the playoffs. How all this is pertinent to the Saints payroll and Tom Benson’s financial future remains unclear, however, because I just couldn’t find anything about it.

2. Who owns WHO DAT?

On the Friday before the NFC championship game, the NFL issued a cease-and-desist order to a local business regarding the use and ownership of the “WHO DAT” phrase. Lauren Thom (Twitter’s @FleurtyGirl) produces and sells a series of Louisiana-themed t-shirts in her Uptown store. Among these t-shirts is a “WHO DAT” issue bearing the phrase in question and delicately embellished with a small gold fleur-de-lis. NFL lawyers sent a letter claiming ownership of “WHO DAT” and the fleur-de-lis image. According to a local blogger, Ms. Thom caved to the requests in this letter and agreed to 1) quit using the offending WHO DAT/fleur-de-lis design, and 2) pay the NFL a 10% cut of the sales of the remaining stock in question.

An interesting story, I thought. But, despite all the rampant rah-rah about the WHO DAT Nation, I saw little to nothing about the WHO DAT Corporation.

3. Late-night calls from Sean.

Mike Freeman of CBSsports.com published a column on Friday before the NFC Championship game in which he described Sean Payton’s (and the Saints’) relationship with the press as bordering on dictatorial. You can read it here. This story, in particular, piqued my interest, since (if at least some of Freeman’s claims were true) there might be pressure on the local media NOT to give this particular story any attention. But, surely, I thought, the column’s inflammatory potential alone would propel it to the top of the local talk shows’ list of ratings-positive topics. But no, I heard nothing.

***

Are these three topics interesting? I think so.

Are they newsworthy? Well, in fact, I don’t make that decision, and, as long as there are substantial entry costs to gathering and distributing the news, neither do you.

When will those entry costs decrease? When will the “news” be as easily and widely gathered and distributed by cell phones and social media as by the current cultural institutions of traditional news networks and brands?

Is it now?

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It seems we’re just minutes into the new semester and already the calendar is full! For those who’ll be walking at May graduation, it’s the end. The last hurrah. The final countdown (and other cliches). For the rest of us, it’s the start of an exciting spring.

The Center for the Study of New Orleans, directed by Dr. Leslie Parr, the SMC’s own photojournalism professor, kicks off the semester with the third in its 2009-2010 series with “New Orleans in the ’60s: A Time of Change,” on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 7 p.m., in Nunemaker Auditorium. Marimar Velez is Dr. Parr’s – and the Center’s – intern. Get out your tie-dyed T-shirts and join the crowd on Wednesday night.

The 2010 Bateman team, following in the very large footprints of the national champion 2009 Bateman team, is working diligently on their campaign on behalf of the U.S. Census. Under the direction of Dr. Cathy Rogers, PRSSA and Bateman adviser and PR sequence head, the team includes Jodi Forte, Dominic Moncada, Kate Gremillion, Marimar Velez and Christine Minero (the account executive).

The Ad Team is back in action, with students in CMMN A314 Advanced Advertising Campaigns creating a campaign for the National Student Advertising Competition, sponsored by the American Advertising Federation. Their client is State Farm. Dr. Yolanda Cal, the advertising sequence head, is the team’s adviser as well as Ad Club adviser.

Students in Writing for Public Relations are working with Puentes New Orleans/LatiNOLA to promote that organization, led by Lucas Diaz, a Loyola alum. The team in PR Cases & Campaigns have taken on Episcopal Community Services as their client, working with Arthur Johnson.

The spring also means that Spring Fiesta is coming soon. The SMC celebrates our outstanding award winners, student media leaders, scholarship recipients and other shining stars at the annual spring outing – literally. It’s usually held outside, in Dixon Court, with lots of food and fun.

So, even though the paint is barely dry on the SMC office walls, we’ve hit the ground running this semester. We know it’ll be a great ride.

(Interested in information on Ad Club or PRSSA? Center for the Study of New Orleans or Spring Fiesta? Want to check out the renovations to the SMC office? Stop by room 332 in the Communications/Music complex and ask for details.)

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1. Currently, if you’re on the Loyola campus and wish to use the university wireless network, you need to login.  Here’s the login screen.

Then, whenever you lose the Loyola wireless signal, or need to reboot, or plug-in another laptop to connect to an overhead display, or go off campus and come back again, you need to login again.  This means, during the course of the day, you need to deal with lots of login screens.

If you are on a mobile phone and trying to access the university wireless network, you usually just give up and use your (slower) cellular connection.  So, here’s something I’m looking forward to:  Auto-login for the Loyola wireless network.

2. Currently, LSU is one of three USA universities enrolled in the eduroam initiative.  More common in Europe, eduroam allows students and faculty at participating universities to share a common password and login procedure at each university. I’m looking forward to that.

3. Currently, lots of educational institutions and organizations have open access policies promoting a more egalitarian means of producing and distributing scholarly information.  I’m looking forward to having something like that at Loyola.

4. Currently, some people and places offer free public wireless.  Cities do it; buses and trains do it; even educational institutions do it.  So that’s another thing I’m looking forward to: Loyola doing it.

5. Currently, Loyola promotes two ways to access your Loyola email.  Read all about those two here.  SquirrelMail is the more innovative of the two; it was developed in 1999.  In 2004, Google Mail went public.  Now, lots of people use Gmail.  In case you missed that news, here’s a story from 2007. Universities use Gmail.  Cities use Gmail.  I use Gmail.

One more thing I am looking forward to in 2010: A 2010 Loyola email service.

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