The Costa Call


Robert Costa
Source: Wikipedia
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Some things in life you can’t escape.  Last night, I celebrated another March birthday with a friend, whose birthday is a week later, at Le Diplomate restaurant on 14th Street in Washington. Both communication specialists, my friend and I talked about everything but politics, for awhile. When the subject came up, we both sort of shook our heads. My friend remarked that it was hard to believe some of the developments happening in politics and the media. If anyone had told us years ago the things happening now in the political landscape, we wouldn’t believe it. We both admitted to working consciously to resist the urge to keep up with the rapid-fire political news pushed to us via our cell phones. We knew such restraint was necessary to manage our own daily lives.

But the next day,  I succumbed to the pull of the cell phone’s news flash once again. I couldn’t help it. The Washington Post had released its journalist Robert Costa’s account of a cell phone call from our 45th President about his party’s replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

I have a number of opinions about that call, but I will keep the personal and political ones to myself. To stay true to the purpose of this blog, however, I feel compelled to focus on how the call speaks to the consequences of digital media in our modern political era.

Transparency: What is most revealing about the call from the 45th President of the United States to Acosta is that it gave the appearance of flouting established communications protocols for persons who hold the high office. The call also went to a journalist at a publication that has been vilified by the current Administration (and its supporters) as a bastion of the “elite liberal media.” The consequence is that it will undoubtedly spark an open discussion about whether the call was part of a planned communications strategy or an executive whim that diminished and devalued established executive branch communications protocols.

Truth: Never before have individuals been so challenged to sift for the truth, based on the myriad news sources that interweave news and opinion. A conscientious effort to decipher truth from fiction, “spin” and accusation presented by digital news media will require diligent objective reasoning abilities that diverse demographic and political groups may be increasingly challenged to adopt. This could have grave consequences for our democracy and others. On the flip side, the immediacy of journalism in the digital age gives rise to the facade of unfiltered reporting and the impression of veracity. Taking the Acosta call as a case in point, we tend to believe that the 45th President repeated three times that House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was not to “blame” for the replacement bill’s demise. We believe it, not just because a reporter said it, but we also believe it because it’s fresh off the phone call, with little filtering, we suppose. We also believe the Acosta account because his Wikipedia bio suggests that Acosta is least likely to put a liberal slant on his account of the phone conversation because he used to work for a conservative publication, The National Review. Never before has the phrase, “consider the source,” carried so much complexity in the business of information curation and dissemination.

Compromise: One and not done. On the surface, the 45th President’s call appears to be a simple admission that just one of his proposed campaign initiatives will not be achieved in the short term. That new opportunities for “wins” will abound in the months and weeks ahead. But a deeper analysis suggests that high-level communication via digital and social media has become the norm and carries a double-edged sword that may increasingly contribute to the calcification of political gridlock and the erosion of party allegiances. It seems that our digital media universe is not conducive to finding middle ground or fostering political discourse that might produce compromise leading to common-sense public policy.

I have been a purveyor of digital media technology for many years. I marvel at the positive changes it has brought humanity. But I am not alone in the belief that we must harness and guide it for political good. The Acosta call from “45” may be a blip on the digital political news radar, but if we fail to heed its warnings, we could be in a heck of a mess no matter who holds the reins of power. Like birthdays, we can’t escape technological advances, but we can determine how we manage them.


Jobs Report: Is Tech Part of Our Recovery?

Chart of Jobs Growth in US, 2008-2011
Job growth since 2008 Infographic:
Chart of Jobs Growth in US, 2008-2011

Job growth since 2008

This morning, my SMS alert told me what I used to report every month on the radio: last month’s jobless rate. It’s good news by most standards. Six percent (6.3 to be exact) of people actively seeking work is the lowest rate in 5 1/2 years. Nearly 290,000 new jobs added. All good indicators our economy is bouncing back.

But are Baby Boomers bouncing back, and if so, how? The Urban Institute’s report on joblessness among the 50+ crowd, coupled with a GAO analysis, during The Great Recession painted a pretty dismal portrait of the financial well-being of this pre- and currently retired demographic in the US.

Being a techy Boomer, myself, I am curious about how the tech sector is playing a role in helping my folks out of the most recent jobs rut.  So, this May, I am putting that question out to my network…on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIN and traveling around the country to investigate it.

As part of my personal research, I’d like to find success stories of Boomers using technology to bounce back from a tough financial spot. If you can help with this research, send or Tweet me a link or a personal contact that I can interview anywhere in the country.

And if you’re a Boomer who wants to jump into the tech economy (check out to improve your financial position, here are five revenue-creation companies you may want to explore:


1. E-Bay

2. Flex Jobs

3. Postmates

4. Thrillist

5. Lyft

Subscribe to this blog, and I’ll help keep you posted on this and other digital cues in the rapidly changing world we share.

Pitching Backpack Reporters

Panel on backpack reporting

Panel on backpack reporting (L-R) Audrey Barnes (MSJ '82) WUSA-TV; Matt Ford (MSJ '06) Associated Press; Courtney Dunn (MSJ '06) formerly with WBOY-TV; and Brittany Morehouse (MSJ '03).

Backpack TV reporters may be the hardest-working journalists in the business these days. Some like the work, others bemoan the trade-offs that come with adapting to a news business that’s undergone pretty major sea changes.  For some, working in TV news is becoming like that spouse whose jokes don’t quite cut it the way they used to. You gotta love them.

Why else would journalists lug equipment, make-up and notepad in a backpack and cover between one and eight stories a  day (if they land in a smaller DMA).  I remember covering three radio stories a day for WHUR-FM for a time, and I felt like a dishrag by day’s end.  So now that I’m on the pitching end of the communications food chain, I went to my alma mater’s graduate school, hoping to gain a bit of insight about the life of a modern TV reporter.  Of course, my motivation was to learn how to better pitch them and build rapport. 

I didn’t learn that they were busy as heck because convergence of media has them working like what a CNN  editor called  “human Swiss Army knives.”  I already knew that.  But listening to their passion, frustration and aspirations helped me to pinpoint where a PR pro might be supportive.  What is most critical for backpack journalists is time and organization. For PR professionals, that means giving them fast facts about your story and leaving the boilerplate on your Web site, not your press release.  If you don’t have facts about spot news to give them, pitch them well in advance about an enterprising story they might offer an editor that involves your cause or client. If you do have facts to provide, or a statement about a developing story, send it to them using Twitter and AP mobile.  In the age of media convergence, all information should be accessible in multiple formats.  Even Medill recognizes the informative panel about backpack journalism could have been hashtagged for Twitter and recorded for YouTube and its Web site

Finally, appeal to a TV reporter’s  journalistic passion. Most reporters are looking for feedback and recognition for consequential work.  Comment on their blog and offer resources that provide perspective and insight into issues they cover.  As hard as they work on a daily basis, they can’t always offer the analysis of stories they might like.  But they want to do so.   Appeal to that side of their journalistic sensibilities, and they’ll likely give your story serious consideration when you pitch. You’ll have the satisfaction that you have helped a journalist with a job that’s often satisfying, but getting harder every day.