The Costa Call

Robert_Costa_by_Gage_Skidmore

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.

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President Obama with Teacher of the Year

Teacher of the Year, 2014

Today’s blog was supposed to be about my favorite teacher. But I quickly recognized I had more than one. Then I read about the attrition rate of U.S. businesses, thanks to Christopher Ingraham’s Washington Post blog yesterday. So I decided to provide some unsolicited advice to new and current teachers, based upon the Brookings Institution’s latest report.  The report shows that new businesses are failing faster than they are starting. While the BI’s researchers are working on the reasons for this trend, teachers may benefit from pondering the report’s consequences for their current and future students. Here are several possible repercussions of the study’s findings that teachers might help students better prepare for:

1.  Racial and geographic economies will proliferate.   Future workers will find they will be relegated to either industries or services in which their racial and geographic peers predominate. That simply means that the flat-lining of jobs growth will result in fewer opportunities for minorities to break out of traditional employment patterns. Affirmative action aside, it is human nature to hire and promote more of those who look like the boss.  Minorities who dominate particular industries will continue to do so, unless so-called disruptive economics introduces more diversity. Teachers should continue to teach students to be tolerant of differences so they have a better chance to benefit from the global economy.

2.  Technological advances will shrink employment opportunities. Competition for fewer jobs will also mean that students who develop both social, math, and technological skills will fare better in the future. The debate about teaching to standardized tests and teaching students to think critically should be a moot point, based upon the study.  Both are needed. Clearly, future workers must learn early how to practice creative economics, using problem-solving and basic accounting.

3.  Research skills will become as important as social skills.   Google’s search engine makes some of us think research is like slicing a piece of cake. But with an ever-shrinking jobs pool, students who can navigate the Internet to accomplish a strategic goal will be the better survivors. Teachers who understand that will help students immeasurably.  Their students will recognize the power of technology when used as a bridge to communities of people they know how to relate to–no matter their race or locale.  Have them think about ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft as cases in point.

While I have never been a classroom teacher for more than a few months, I know and respect the power of teaching and of being a lifetime learner.  I am grateful to a long list of teachers in and out of the classroom for helping me navigate in our New and Shared Economy.

Social Media_Boom or Bust?

On King Day, I decided I needed to balance cultural reflection and community service with communication best practices for economic gain. So my schedule was rather eclectic I’d say. The morning schedule included a Webinar by Social Media Magic, while the afternoon was consumed with MLK speeches, good food and by-law revisions for The Young Masters, an youth arts advocacy non-profit I support.

I was grateful I made time for the social media Webinar. While most of us know about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I now know that Fastpitch!, Biznik and Plaxo offer major business and PR advantages. The social media info nuggets discerned from this 90-minute session merit sharing. Heard before, but worth repeating: social media can hurt business, if it is not focused. That means rather than hiring an intern to learn on the job, hire a nouveau expert to execute specific social media-related tasks. The hourly model apparently is dead or dying when it comes to social media, which can take the unfocused worker on a journey that saps the employer’s money without results. Other nuggets of knowledge from the Social Media Magic Webinar:

*Use Twitter as a search engine to identify prospects
*Use Fastpitch! to interest reporters on business news
*Shop around before paying for Social Media Training or certification
*LinkedIn Company Websites reap more engagement when they are engaging

What I appreciated about Social Media Magic’s Webinar was that it was focused on business needs, rather than being about the aimless community watering holes that connect old classmates or neighbors. At its best, social media can raise thousands of dollars for nameless earthquake victims in Haiti. At its worst, it can suck precious time away from the unfocused with little return.