Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Searching for 'Printosaurus Rex'

What or whom will history blame for the extinction of traditional print media? The looming comet of global online adoption? A climatic shift in generational tastes and information habits?

Both certainly would be factors. But media consultant (and "Recovering Journalist" blogger) Mark Potts also would guide future paleontologists to another culprit: the fossilizing remains of Printosaurus Rex, a pernicious breed of newspaper executives who "continue to hold back intelligent, aggressive digital development." The P. rex -- whom Potts also calls "printies" -- tend to "rhapsodize about how nice it is to be able to hold news in their hands," "declaim about never reading blogs," and still "print out their e-mail."

(Image of "Sue" the T. rex from Chicago's Field Museum)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Spinning the Web

What does it take to run a modern government p.r. and media relations operation?

Ric Cantrell, chief deputy of the Utah state Senate, offered his take last month during a panel I moderated at the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual meeting in New Orleans. Ric spoke in detail about how emerging technologies are changing the way lawmakers in his state communicate with each other, with politically engaged citizens and, more than anything, with the media. From an always-on webcam in Senate President John Valentine's office to frequent Twitter "tweets" and mobile text messages sent during the legislative session, new tools are quickly replacing the traditional ways of reaching out.

Nothing told that story better than this somewhat blurry camera phone image of a white board in Ric's office, which shows a checklist that guided him and his staff when setting up news conferences....

You can click on the image above to enlarge it, but here's the full list, reprinted in order:

That's right: The venerable old news release is just a maybe -- and only after the event has already been blogged, text messaged, streamed and podcast.

Whether huge numbers of citizens or reporters are yet logging on for all of this online information is beside the point. Making legislative events and information available in so many formats is a step toward more accessible, on-demand government.

Ric's emphasis on transparency made me think about the Reichstag Building, home to Germany's parliament, or Bundestag. Lawmakers meet in the Berlin building's airy plenary chamber, with floor-to-celing windowed walls and a 70-foot high dome of glass and mirrors overheard (right). The Reichstag Building was closed as the country's parliamentary meeting place in 1933 by an arson blaze that gave the Nazi party its opportunity to suspend most civil liberties. Renovated and reopened in 1999, the Reichstag's new see-through halls of power are an intentional reminder of the importance of open deliberation and decision-making -- whether the public is paying attention or not.

Ric's work in Salt Lake City sends the same message to citizens and government leaders alike -- just by new means.

(Ric Cantrell was one of three speakers at our NCSL panel, "A New Life for Online Government." Here's the video of our 90-minute session in the Windows Media video format -- with an unfortunate audio glitch in the recording during the introductions. Ric speaks right after my extended intro. Following Ric's talk about p.r. 2.0, Alabama Homeland Security Director Jim Walker talked about his state's impressive "Virtual Alabama" project and TheSLAgency's Leigh Rowan spoke about public sector uses of virtual worlds, such as Second Life.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Managing by Emoticon

(Adapted from the August edition of my Managing Technology e-mail newsletter for Governing...)

An online essay by Poynter Institute writing guru Roy Peter Clark has made me self-conscious about my use of emoticons and exclamation points. Roy's advice: "If you want to be considered a serious writer, never, ever use emoticons in e-mail messages. The occasional exclamation point is fine." (See: The Thinking Writer's Emoticon)

A clear writing edict like that has a way of focusing attention on one's lapses. Turns out I am a serial user of winks, frowns and smiley faces, especially when trying to sand down a jagged edge in a work e-mail that otherwise might sound harsh, humorless or unsympathetic. A search of my sent mail revealed at least a dozen winks in July alone. Gag!

But an academic study, in the journal Social Science Computer Review, made me feel a bit better about my emoticon habit. A team of social and organizational psychologists in the Netherlands tested a variety of e-mail samples with 105 secondary-school students to try to gauge their perceptions of what various emoticons conveyed about the senders' motives and intentions. The findings of this 11-page (yes, 11-page) study:
"We conclude that emoticons do have a certain impact on message interpretation and that they can serve some of the same functions as actual nonverbal behavior. In terms of the known relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication, the emoticon can possibly serve the function of complementing and enhancing verbal messages."
Well that's a relief. ;-)

Here's the abstract. And for anyone who do not know, the digital smiley face was invented a little more than 25 years ago by Scott E. Fahlman, a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist.

(Image above is from's list of smiley face water towers across the country.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Trends or Fads?

  • Virtual windows and skylights. Every cubicle can be a corner office in the future! This could go over big in rainy old Seattle. The photo above is a "SkyCeiling" marketed by an Iowa company called The Sky Factory.

  • Co-ed college dorm rooms, also know as genderblind or gender-neutral housing.

  • Hypermiling, which a Washington Post story earlier this summer defined as the practice of "changing your driving behavior to coax better gas mileage out of your car." Common techniques include driving slowly, braking as little as possible and limiting AC use. Gas prices have guaranteed this movement all kinds of ink, pixels and air time this summer -- positive and negative.