June 19, 2009

I had the pleasure of attending a very thought-provoking dinner in the Bay Area a few weeks ago. The topic was the use of innovation in promoting the United States’ statehood goals around the world. The guest of honor was Alec Ross, the new Director of Innovation for the State Department. It was a great evening with very smart people and lively conversation.

I made the point that night that “citizen journalism” was happening through the use of new social media technologies. This citizen journalism was changing the nature of journalism in the U.S, but it had even more potential abroad, where control of journalism is one of the prime tools used by “bad guy” regimes around the world.

Well, little did I know then, but the election in Iran is a prime example. Iranian demonstrators have used the service to tell the world, and each other, what is happening in Iran, to post photos, to organize future events in near real time. Twitter has proven to be so important to the resistance movement that the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to delay its planned downtime to facilitate the resistance movement.

It is an incredible example of the use of mobile phones, the Web, and social network technology to report news and to organize real-world speeches and protests. The latest eye-opener was a move by Western Twitterers to change their time zone to Tehran to confuse the Iranian government censors. Brilliant.


A day after this was posted, Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the UK, said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian that

” technological advances and the democratisation of information mean “foreign policy can no longer be the province of just a few elites”.

“You cannot have Rwanda again because information would come out far more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would grow to the point where action would need to be taken.

“Foreign policy can no longer be the province of just a few elites.”



The Frog & the Scorpion

June 9, 2009

I think most of us know the parable of the frog & the scorpion. If you don’t, the quick summary is that the scorpion asks the frog for a ride across the stream. The frog, afraid of being killed by the scorpion, initially rejects the scorpions request. The scorpion talks the frog into it, however, by convincing the frog that he would be killing himself if he kills the frog mid-trip. Well, the frog buys this logic and mid-way across the stream the scorpion stings the frog. Before he dies, the frog asks why he would do this. Surely they will both die. The scorpion responds “I could not help myself. It is my nature.”

Watching the Newspaper Guild in Boston reject the contract proposal of the Boston Globe (and New York Times Company) management is just like the parable. Yes, of course, the union is right that the deal was unfair and that management isn’t sharing enough pain. However, no one in management, or in the union, seems to have a clue how to fix the situation of declining readership, declining advertising, terrible customer service, and a “stale” voice in reporting.

In terms of service, for the life of me, I could not get a Globe delivered to my house before 6:45 AM. The contracted time is 6:00 AM. No amount of complaining could correct it. So instead of bending over backward to protect paying readers, the Globe ignored us, then raised home delivery prices by approximately 25%. So I canceled daily delivery.

I am quite sure that the union is justified in its anger toward years of bad decision making at the Globe and the Times. I am not anti-union, but “it’s all their fault” and rejecting business-saving proposals, defending 37.5 hour weeks and lifetime employment contracts don’t endear the Guild to me or many others. Blaming management doesn’t excuse the Guild from decades of the same old approach to journalism.  It’s just too easy to point to management and blame them. It’s in our nature.