Architecture of evil corporations in movies

In Roger Ebert’s review of the latest Mel Gibson movie, the thriller Edge of Darkness, he takes a considerable detour to talk about how corporate headquarters are depicted in film, and how the architecture can lend credibility to a film.

I agree with Ebert: more credible archeticture and set design makes film realistic. In this case, when the subject of the movie is corporate malfeasance, credibility is undermined then it gives the audience a false sense of security: corporations don’t really behave like that. When believability’s edge is dulled, then the fictional Northmoor becomes like a boogieman.

Ebert writes:

[...] Northmoor — which you will not be surprised to learn traffics in illegal, traitorous and dangerous activities — occupies a spectacular structure atop a tall riverside hill, visible from miles around: Its tower, its modernistic design, its curious enormous gleaming globe, suggesting a planetarium. It is a building worthy of magazine covers, not least Architectural Digest.

One purpose of corporate architecture is to impress. Northmoor’s desire is to impress us, the moviegoer. Its structure looks left over from a James Bond movie, and indeed the “Edge of Darkness” director, Martin Campbell, made “Casino Royale” (2006). It’s the kind of edifice that inspires such questions as, “What do they do in there?” Much of what they do takes place in enormous buried spaces within the hill. This low-profile corporation undertook a construction project on a par with a subway line.

So, what’s the deal with the above photo? That’s the reverse view, from my backyard, where the set of Northmoor HQ was built. In reality the set was on the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain in South Deerfield, MA, which is a state park. If you’ve seen Edge of Darkness and the office we’re talking about, there was no CGI involved (photo of the set here). The entrance of Northmoor, where cars are shown driving up, was filmed about 9 miles away at the Five College Library Depository, a former nuclear war relocation site.

Doesn’t my photo, taken in the winter, look mysterious, or ominous even? Maybe Edge of Darkness should have been shot in the winter? While I love living here and the Western Mass green in the summer, it doesn’t work as a setting for a thriller.

Considering Northmoor was supposed to be doing nuclear work for the government, what the hell were they doing at the top of a mountain with a wonderful view? No doubt, it looked great. But secrets are supposed to be secrets, and don’t include two story plate glass windows overlooking the Pioneer Valley.

Roger, considering you’re not a big fan of the Northmoor set, I’m happy to let you know there was bunch of nighttime filming that didn’t make the final cut.

Look who’s coming to PodCamp — a newcomer interview

Some of the most important purposes of PodCamp events are introducing and educating newcomers to the world of social media. I’m fairly experienced in the world, but I think understanding how people get to PodCamp and what they get from it is interesting. Insights that newbies give us are how PodCamps and education about social media can improve.

After PodCamp Western Mass I put a call out for a newbie to interview about their PodCamp experience. Jennifer Gilbert (@TheatreChick10 on Twitter) agreed to be interviewed about her PodCamp and social media experience. Thanks, Jennifer.

First, can you give us a little sense of your experience using social media before going to PodCamp Western Mass? And how about since PodCamp?

I have been using Facebook since 2004 and I have been a member of LinkedIn for about a year. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a bit of a Facebook junkie. I use it to keep in contact with friends, family and co-workers and have also dabbled in a few of its applications, Farmville being my favorite but recently I have gotten bored with it. As for LinkedIn, I had only joined and then did not do much else with it. It wasn’t until just before attending PodCamp that I joined Twitter. Kelly Galanis recommended I make an account prior to attending.

Since PodCamp I have only occasionally used Twitter/TweetDeck. Coincidentally, since PodCamp I have been contacted by one of my long lost college classmates through a LinkedIn message. He is completing his Masters in May and is looking for work. I sent him a message through LinkedIn with recommendations for where to look and who to contact. I also followed up with an old co-worker from an internship I did by old fashion email (the only contact info. I had for her) to see if they were hiring. I ended up sending along this information to my classmate through email (got his email through LinkedIn but it was easier to forward him my co-workers info. through email than having to log back into LinkedIn).

You’re new to Twitter. What brought you to using Twitter and how do you plan on using it?

Kelly Galanis recommended I get an account prior to attending PodCamp. At PodCamp I went to several sessions about Twitter, including about the use of TweetDeck. I haven’t yet found a purpose for its use in my life but I haven’t given up on figuring out how to integrate it into my social networking portfolio, for a lack of a better term.

Can you give us a little breakdown of your experience at PodCamp Western Mass? What did you find most useful? What sessions did you attend? And do you think you’d attend another PodCamp? Were there any people you found particularly compelling?

I attended the Social Networking 101 session, how to efficiently use social media session, a TweetDeck session and the panel discussion session. I found all of the sessions useful. All the presenters were very knowledgeable, and willing to explain everything, no matter how naive the question was (and I had plenty). I will most definitely attend the next PodCamp and I’m looking forward to attending more advanced sessions next time as well. I found Lesley the most compelling. She presented the TweetDeck session as well as being on the panel discussion. It was very interesting to see how social networking can be used so effectively for business purposes. However, I am a civil engineer at a private engineer firm that doesn’t yet utilize any social networking tools but maybe by learning more about social networking an application may arise.

One last question, Jennifer. Social media can be a weird thing, at least to me: it can be a deeply social experience, even though some people never meet each other. PodCamps can break down that barrier, making it easier to meet people you might not otherwise have. How do you think you’ll use social media with people that you know or already see “in real life”?

Right now I use Facebook to keep up with family, friends and co-workers in my social sense and I don’t want it infringe upon my professional life. For professional connections I believe I will end up utilizing LinkedIn. As for Twitter, right the only people I follow or that follow me are from PodCamp. I haven’t inquired with any of my friends, family or co-workers to see if they have Twitter. I’m still not sure how I want to use Twitter in my life.

I’d like say thank you to Kelly and Tom Galanis for telling me about PodCamp!

Weekend Reading – Links For February 13, 2010

How the David Letterman, Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey Super Bowl ad got made. All kinds of disguises and hijinks.

A chronology of Einstein’s life in 1905 when he was 26 years old. How is it possible that one man could do so much in a year? Stories like this, and watching The Cove this week, make me worry that my life is less than it should be.

If you ever wanted to figure skate and do a triple lutz-triple toe loop, here’s a video for your reference. Pretty cool with slow motion and graphics for details.

As the resident of a quiet village in Oxfordshire with a plummy accent to match, she makes an unlikely revolutionary. But she has become a key player in the unrest that is shaking Iran and is such an irritant to PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad that she has been subjected to a propaganda campaign by the regime’s henchmen. [full story]

Can gay footballers ever come out? Story from the U.K.

Why haven’t you watched The Cove yet?

Run. Do what ever you have to, but watch the documentary The Cove. After watching The Cove, if you haven’t been moved and exhilarated, drop an anvil on your foot to test your senses. In addition to being a compelling film about environmentalism being fought for by dedicated people, it’s a cool espionage story.

The Cove is the story about people trying to stop the slaughter of dolphins in a remote cove in Japan. How they’re trying to stop the slaughter is by making the movie, which is the espionage part of the film. Everybody in this little fishing village is trying to stop the filmmakers from capturing the hidden slaughter cove on film, but the filmmakers have a clever team, including people from Industrial Light and Magic (the folks that brought you Star Wars, among other special effects heavy movies) who helped create hidden “rock” cameras.

The photo above? That’s the bloody cove captured using the hidden cameras.

A formula for creating a movie with stink on it

Take this to the bank: the more big stars cast into a single movie, the more likely you’ll be making your grocery list while watching it. Here’s a great example, opening this weekend: Valentine’s Day (keep an eye on the MetaCritic site for the latest reviews). Before breaking down this bag of turd, let’s go to the preview:

I saw that preview last weekend when I went to the movies, and was so shocked I screamed out, “I don’t like any star in that movie!” Really. There’s not one star in Valentine’s Day that makes me buy a movie ticket. That’s why studios cast stars into movies; people buy movie tickets because of their favorite stars. Kind of sad, really. Story and script can have so little influence for some people, they’ll skip a great movie like The Cove.

That preview has red flags all over the place:

  • towhead kids in a romantic “comedy” (why can’t adults have a romance without kids muscling in on the action?)
  • amusing absentmindedness (“it’s Valentine’s Day today? I thought it fell on a Thursday?” … that’s funny?)
  • old and young people talking about sex (aren’t the generational differences cute … but non-threatening).
  • “At the end of the day, it’s all about love.” (really, is my life reduced to that? I have to depend on love from someone else to feel good about myself?)
  • The woman that is too good for the guy (well, the guy is Ashton Kutcher, so I’ll buy that).

One element to creating a crappy movie is having a reviewer mark it as “the perfect date movie,” which Toni Gonzalez from WNBC-TV did. A “date movie” means that you’re paying attention to your date, not on the movie, so who the hell cares about it. A great example of this is Date Movie, which is listed as one of the worst movies of the decade on MetaCritic. For movie lovers, the studio did us a huge favor with that title.

What other signs let you know a movie stinks?

What makes small PodCamps unique?

Since going to PodCamp Western Mass 2 this past weekend, I’ve been thinking about what made this un-conference different from the others I’ve been to, the first and third in Boston. It was different; maybe because of the size changed the dynamic? Note that I said the small PodCamp was unique, not more or less useful.

Doing a little research, I found that PCWM might be the smallest such event taking place. With roughly 100 attendees to the Western Mass PodCamp 2 (twice as many as the first), it offered an opportunity to meet a lot of people, especially when the sessions began with a round of introductions; those intros gave me a chance to meet people who interested me.

I’d like to make two arguments, though I could be persuaded otherwise, and I’ll leave this open for discussion.

Small PodCamps should strive to be more unique, and not try to be like the big boys. We need more small PodCamps being more unique than their big brothers. Being small is an opportunity, not a liability; there’s a chance to be experimental. For example, at the risk of being labeled a heritic, how about less social media being practiced at a social media conference? Kind of crazy, I know, but that follows into my second argument.

At a 7 hour conference of 100 people, with a chance to sit in on 4 different sessions, how many different people could you connect with: 35? 50? More? And at a small event like PCWM, many of those connections could be sustained easier than in a large metro area like Boston, Berlin, New York, or Toronto. In fact, many of the PCWM people go to regular Western Mass Tweet-Ups, so they’re staying connected, in real life, throughout the year.

What would happen if people concentrated on talking instead of tapping? During lunch at PCWM the fellows from the NomX3 video podcast were creating content in front of the room. Honestly, it was kind of a drag. I was trying to have a conversation with the people at my table, only to be interrupted a few times by these guys talking to the whole room. Less social media, more real life connection at a conference, please (I think the kids call it IRL).

We should all give a shout out to the organizers of PodCamp Western Mass, in the above photo, who can be found at their Twitter accounts:

Photo courtesy of @PatBrough

Picking up pieces from PodCamp Western Mass

After attending PodCamp Western Mass 2, I found a lot of questions and notes scribbled on my notepad; here were some of things rattling around my head:

  • I wonder what it would be like if nobody was writing on their laptops and phones during sessions. That means no Twittering. Personally, I can’t pay attention to a presentation or discussion while at the same time writing Tweets. I can jot notes down on my little yellow pad, though, and still follow a conversation.
  • Maybe it’s a personal phobia, but I need a schedule of sessions ahead of time. I like planning my day to optimize the learning I can do in one day.
  • PodCamps at educational institutions are the way to go. They have all the facilitates needed to learn.
  • Maybe having two colors of name badges would be a good idea; self-identified “nubies” would have their own color. It’s a good conversation starter and everybody can make sure the nubies are getting the info they want or need. How about corresponding the nubie color with useful sessions on the schedule?
  • Was there a Facebook session? Wouldn’t make any difference to me because I gave up using it two years ago over privacy concerns. “Social as I want to be” is something I think about when using social media.
  • Surprised there was only one podcasting session.
  • I really like Steve Garfield. I’m kind of a shy person, so his positive vibe, confidence and outgoingness inspires me. I remember him at PodCamp Boston 1 and thinking, “who’s this geek running around with a video camera?”
  • Getting one of my clients (a nubie) to PodCamp turned out to be a good idea. He was able to dip his toes into the social media community, learn a bit, and gain the confidence that he could learn these skills. Plus, we had a great wrap-up meeting at The Tavern in Westfield.
  • PodCamp is not the place to find clients. Concentrate on learning and networking, and that may payoff in a referral. Maybe. Otherwise, don’t worry about doing business.
  • It’s interesting how people interact with the unemployed. It’s like we have a communicable disease with a social stigma that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite company. This observation isn’t unique to the PodCamp community at all, but I did a little experiment during PodCamp Western Mass. On one of the conversation starter stickers I wrote “unemployed,” and to make sure it was seen, I put those stickers on my back. Conversations were started based on the other stickers, but nobody talked to me about being unemployed.
  • I liked the wide variety of skill levels that came to PodCamp. When I heard this dude ask how to register a URL (I think he called it “getting my name”), it blew me away. I take for granted how much learning I’ve done.

Did you have anything rattling around your head after PodCamp Western Mass?

Photo (CC) from stevegarfield

Bad news about U.S. labor? Just a matter of perspective!

If you’re a reporter and have a certain perspective on life, don’t let that get in your way of telling a good story. At least that’s my read on this post on the New York Times Economix blog, titled “Who Belongs to Unions?“.

First, you need to know that many people just read the titles of news stories. If you include a graphic with the story, like the Times does in this post (the same graphic I included above), it’s pretty much assured that not many people will read further. In this case the post title doesn’t really reflect the interesting story of these labor statistics, a story that’s outlined by the source of the graphic, The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the BLS story, titled “Union membership declines in 2009“, the important information is that … drum roll, please … union membership declined by 3/4 of a million people in 2009. The NY Times took an important story and turned it into a trivia question by ignoring the job loses and looking at what sectors had union jobs.


5 Questions for Domino’s about their new pizza marketing

We’re in the midst of a media blitz by the Domino’s Pizza shop. Apparently they recently heard their pizza sucked, so they decided to do something radical: make the pizza better. What’s left unsaid about this media campaign, why it’s so revolutionary, is that in the past they might have simply hired a new ad agency and more publicists to squelch customer complaints.

Domino’s new campaign is heavy on honesty, reality, and communication through social media. Their reputation was so tarnished that it would’ve been nearly impossible not to mention in the new campaign. There’s a reason Twitter communication is featured so prominently in these new ads: because it was through social media they were pressured to change. Domino’s couldn’t control the messages customers were creating and broadcasting with social media.

And now Domino’s is trying to reset their brand. Hopefully for them, that means resetting peoples opinions of Domino’s pizza. It’s a tricky thing to do, and I’m not entirely sure Domino’s is successful so far. In fact, after watching their extended ads posted on YouTube (below), you might have some of the same questions I did:

  1. “There comes a time when you know you’ve got to make a change” What time would that be, the invention of Twitter? This ad implies that most of your customer feedback is coming through Twitter, but I know that your pizza was horrible in the 1980s (the last time I tried a Domino’s pizza). Is Domino’s saying they’ve been ignoring their customers for 30 years?
  2. Why do you have public relations hacks speaking for your brand? These hacks have been smoothing over the fact that your pizza has been a mass produced food-like substance for 30 years. You want people that have been part of the problem in the past to now speak for your brand?
  3. “Some people didn’t give us credit for the taste of our product. That’s what we’re fixing.” You weren’t getting credit because you didn’t deserve credit. It’s not clear what Domino’s is trying to fix here: the “product” (customers usually call them pizzas; they don’t order “one large product”), or the fact that they weren’t getting credit for the taste? If Domino’s wants credit they don’t need to change the pizza, just throw more money at the advertising and PR budget.
  4. In the Domino’s confrontation video, when men in white coats start knocking on doors, I was left to wonder why are only people in the suburbs are eating Domino’s pizza? It seemed kind of strange. In fact, it looked like all the people were from the same neighborhood.
  5. Is it fair to get criticism from people in a focus group, then confront them at the front door with one of your pizzas, asking for immediate feedback with the camera rolling? If you came to my door, I would’ve taken the pie and told you to come back the next day for my evaluation. Look closely at the video: only one person took more than a single bite before giving their (positive) opinion. Is it reasonable to expect a honest food review after one bite?

Never mind the pizza, what do you think about Domino’s communication? And if you’re from Domino’s can you answer those 5 questions?

Photo (CC) from Nemo’s great uncle

Fill You Up With Smarts – Weekend Links For January 30, 2010

UMass Amherst has a new branding effort. Why don’t they just improve the University instead of worrying about the brand message? How about stop cutting tenure track faculty? Considering one of your brand themes is “smart”, you might want to stop the faculty slide. Tenure faculty at UMass Amherst has dropped nearly 250 since 1988 (pdf).

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is probably going to retire this year. At 90 years old, his work is going to be hard to replace. He’s had some full throated opinions lately … on the campaign finance law that was overturned, Stevens said the current court was blazing through case law precedent. The final sentence of his dissent: “While American democracy is imperfect, [...] few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

PGA tour starting to pay for the transgressions of Tiger Woods. – “It is a harbinger of what the PGA Tour may be without its most popular player. Three of the Tour’s 46 tournaments scheduled for 2010 don’t have a lead corporate sponsor, nor do 13 of next year’s tournaments. Television viewership of the first two events of this year’s Tour tumbled.”

Margaret Talbot of The New Yorker is blogging the same sex marriage trial in California, Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

Terrorist Carlos The Jackal is in a French prison for life, but he’s suing a film company for final cut of a documentary they are making of him.

Vermont has suffered more deaths per capita in the Iraq war than any other state. The state has a rate of 3.54 deaths per 100,000 residents, which dwarfs even those that follow right behind: Montana (2.87), Wyoming (2.57), Nebraska (2.50) and South Dakota (2.46). Why is the rate so hight? A few reasons, one of which is that their National Guard gets a lot of tough assignments.

After Three Months, Only 35 Subscriptions forNewsday‘s Web Site. After moving the newspaper Web site behind a pay wall ($5 a week), site traffic has dropped off a cliff; in December 2009 the web site had 1.5 million unique visits, a drop from 2.2 million in October.

Transcribing everyday conversations of Al Qaeda members. Other than the terrorism they like, they’re regular guys!

Jay Leno’s blind spot – the most surprising revelation of the Oprah interview [video]

Jay Leno has a large blind spot when it comes to dealing with humans, which Oprah revealed during her interview with the milquetoast comedian on Thursday. It even caused Oprah to catch her breath, making her circle back and confirm Leno’s answer.

What is that blind spot? He seems to have a hard time dealing with his peers, especially those who’ve touched “his show”.

First case in point, Johnny Carson. In the Oprah interview he doesn’t even mention him by name, only referencing him as “someone” he took the show over from. It was similar to his first show after Carson retired in 1992, and Leno failed to even mention his predecessor who hosted the Tonight Show for 30 years. Why is Leno always involved in “late night wars”?

Second example of Leno’s problem with his peers: Conan “Coco” O’Brien. In what I would call strange behavior, Leno said he didn’t consider calling O’Brien directly during this whole mess, despite what he says earlier in the interview about only a half dozen people really understanding what it means to do a late night show. Wow. Check out that bit, around 5:15 of the video.

Have you ever had a conflict with a friend and thought it better not to speak with them?

Who was the master live blogger of the Apple iPad announcement?

I just finished following the live blogging from 3 different sources: MacWorld, the NY Times, and Engadget. Why is this important? Well, if you’re interested in the live blogging of events, this is a good hint at where to look in the future. Until now, I was never sure myself; now I know who’s got their shit together.

First, theoretically MacWorld should have had the best coverage. In the end, they had the worst by a mile. A complete mess. Five minutes into the presentation their internet connection went dead (nobody else had a problem). Because of this, I would assume, they switched from what would have been the best interface to a regular blog page, but there was no auto page reloading and new entries were on the bottom of the page, not the top. A pain in the neck. They had a few images. The text was well written, made better by the fact that they had three people simultaneously live blogging (Jason Snell, Dan Moren and Jonathan Seff). The content was okay (more images, please), the interface made the live blogging useless.

Update: Jason Snell responds in the comments, including a detailed explanation of what happened with their technical issues.

The New York Times did a good job, but their coverage might be different than you’d expect. Not a lot of images during the presentation, but the text is expansive and well written. If you like reading about the event, check out the Times live blogging. In terms of the interface, it’s nothing special: a regular blog page that you’ll have to refresh yourself. At least new entries are posted on the top of the Web page. I give them credit for that.

Funniest line from the NY Times coverage:

I’m cutting out all of Mr. Jobs’s “phenomenals” and “amazings” and “incredibles,” folks. Just assume they are there.

Who had the best coverage? Engadget had the best coverage because of the ridiculous number of clear pictures. Their downfall was the the text descriptions, but this is live blogging of a consumer product roll out, so you want the pictures, right? I think so. But there needs to be better technical specification descriptions. Plus, for live blogging, Engadget had the two features that are necessary: sorting most recent updates at the top and auto refreshing of the page.

Funniest line from the Engadget coverage:

“We have a breakthrough deal with AT&T.” Wow. Some serious sharp intakes of breath here.

Did I miss some good live bloggers? Who do you think did the best live blogging of the iPad announcement?

Pope wants priests using social media, but probably not THAT way

Did you know the Catholic church had something called “World Communications Day“? Me neither. Seriously, who would have thought the church was such a proponent of communication when they’ve been pretty much mum about their priests raping boys and girls around the world. Go figure.

[An aside: if you go to the link above you'll find the official message from the Pope about World Communications Day. The message begins thus: "Dear Brothers and Sisters!". Seriously, the Pope is using an exclamation point, which reminds me of the quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: "An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke."]

Anyhow, Pope Benedict XVI has asked priests to be prolific bloggers and make “make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications.” I’m guessing that doesn’t include using Craigslist to lure young girls into sex, as recently happened. Somewhat amusingly, the priest was caught up in a FBI sting operation called “Operation Guardian Angel.”

For more information about the Pope’s social media blitz, check out this article on Mashable, and Pope2You, the official Papal social media site that includes links to his YouTube page, iPhone app, and Facebook app.

Interview: Morriss Partee on PodCamp Western Mass

Coming up on February 6, 2010, a camp is taking place … no, not the kind of camp where you take swimming lessons and drink “bug juice“. PodCamp Western Mass is taking place at Westfield State College, where people will get together to talk and learn about all aspects of social media. PodCamps have been happening around the world since 2006, so I thought I would invite Morriss Partee, one of the organizers of PodCamp Western Mass, to discuss the 2010 event.

Morriss, aren’t PodCamps usually held in larger cities? Why have one in Western Mass?

Being a Western Mass resident for most of my life, I know that many folks think of our neighboring large cities, Boston, New York, as where the action is. I’ve always felt that we have amazing talent, people, business, organizations and energy right here in gorgeous Western Mass, and thought it would be great to bring all these folks together.

What was it about the first Western Mass PodCamp that made it worth doing a second time?

My hope in organizing the first one, along with social media pioneers Tish Grier and Jaclyn Stevenson, was to foster connections among all of our Western Mass talent; to bring together social media innovators such as Jason Turcotte, and Christine Pilch, alongside business leaders, programmers, artists, web designers and so forth. It was totally a success in terms of learning and networking in a fun environment. Everyone wanted to do it again, so here we are!

Can you please explain to people who aren’t aware, first, what is this “pod” business, then what about the “camp” part?

It’s a funny name, but the main idea is that this is an unconference where we all contribute and share our social media knowledge with one another. The “pod” comes from podcasting, and the “camp” represents the unconference, or grassroots, approach to the event. We stick with the name because it’s trademarked on behalf of the common good. PodCamp is an offshoot of BarCamp, and here’s the wikipedia info on that term’s origins.

It’s called a PodCamp, but are people only discussing and presenting about podcasting? Can you tell me what kinds of things people will see and learn at PodCamp Western Mass?

PodCamp was originally about podcasting, but the name stuck even as people became more interested in all facets of social media. We’ll determine most of the sessions the morning of the event, but tracks and subjects that are shaping up include: Social Media 101, blogging tips & techniques, video blogging, journalism/citizen journalism, social media in higher ed, and programming social apps. But anyone who has social media info to share or a session they want to learn more about, are welcome to submit it, and if there is interest, we’ll put it on the agenda!

Who do you think would most interested in PodCamp Western Mass?

Anyone interested in learning more about social media, including business people, educators, artists, programmers, designers, writers, PR people, and marketing professionals.

I’ve gone to a couple of PodCamps, including the first one, 2006 Boston. The one aspect that surprised me the most was the community spirit among people interested in social media. I think social media has sort of an unsocial reputation — these people can only communicate via the Internet — and that actual face-to-face communication is awkward. But that’s not true! At least not in my experience. Can you tell me about some of your good experiences at PodCamps?

I missed the first PodCamp Boston, but attended numbers two and three, and yes, the community spirit is wonderful. I think that’s part of the reason why PodCamp is such a great and important event– we interact with each other from a distance via computer screen all the time– but there’s no substitute for actually being the same room. I’m thrilled that Western Mass has “grown up” in the online social media space– there are many fantastic people who made friendships at last year’s inaugural PodCamp WesternMass, and I can’t wait to make many more friendships this time around! Including, that I hopefully get to meet you f2f for the first time, Bill!

Thanks for taking the time, Morriss. Hope to see you on February 6th.

PodCamp Western Mass has more information, plus you can register for the event. Of course, they have a Facebook page?

Have you ever been to a PodCamp, Western Mass or otherwise? Have a good story?

Why UMass should improve the brand, then worry about the message

I had this thought: what would happen if an organization, instead of using a lot of effort to improve their brand message, instead did better work that would improve the brand itself? Instead of creating better messages about your product or service, you improved your product or service. Wouldn’t that be a more efficient use of resources?

After reading this story about the University of Massachusetts Amherst trying to create a more compelling brand message, I was left to wonder the difference between the brand message and the University itself. After all, they’re not selling laundry soap; it’s a institution of higher education, therefore the brand is not just the message. The stakes are higher than marketing soap.

Their research has identified 5 brand themes they want to focus on: “smart, wide open, real, entrepreneurial and maroon”. The theme that piqued my interest was “smart,” which they say “emphasizes the high caliber of the student body and the quality of the faculty”. Really? In no way do I want to disparage the current faculty, but doesn’t UMass Amherst at least need a consistent number of faculty doing strong work, if not a growing number of faculty, to be considered “high caliber”?

Let’s look at the numbers (you can find any of these stats at the UMass Institutional Research (OIR) site). The tenure system faculty has decreased 11% between 1988 and 2009, from 1,197 to 972 faculty, respectively. At the same time total faculty, tenure and non-tenure, decreased from 1,292 to 1,180.

In terms of total number of faculty the drop was around 100 (leaving aside the issue of tenure), but then there’s this problem: student population has increased. Between 1990 and 2009 undergraduate student population has increased from 17,717 to 19,440.

Okay, faculty population is decreasing and student population is increasing; who is teaching these extra students? The numbers don’t lie. Most of the increased workload is falling to non-tenure system faculty; between 2000 and 2008 the full time equivalent instructed student ratio increased from 20.3 to 25.5 for non-tenure faculty. All other categories of faculty remained constant during the same period, more or less.

What does this mean for the “smart” theme of the UMass brand? Shaky would be a good word to describe the relationship between the reality of the statistics and the brand message. Non-tenure faculty have no incentive to contribute to the community in the same way tenure track faculty do; moreover, good faculty will always look for tenure track opportunities, which offer more stability and salary.

Do you have anymore examples of brands not meeting the expectations of the brand message?

Photo (CC) by missmac

Using anonymous sources to rehabilitate a mobster’s image

This past weekend The Boston Globe published a story about Boston-based gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and his son (deceased) a girlfriend gave birth to in 1967. In terms of advancing the saga of Bulger’s life (reported to include 19 murders), it doesn’t do much. In fact, the story boils down to an attempt by the old girlfriend, Lindsey Cyr, to rehabilitate the Bulger image; apparently, until his son died at 6 years old, Bulger was a great dad. I was touched to find a mass murder was a caring dad.

On the scale of investigation journalism, the story was on par with an investigation of why the sun came up this morning. Given that, why does this story use anonymous sources throughout? Repeatedly the story cites a “former mob associate” of Bulger’s (not clear if it’s the same assocate referred to throughout the story). The story doesn’t give a reason why these sources need to be anonymous.

Also, in a weird turn of the story, when trying to cite an incident that included Bulger’s younger brother, former State Senate president William, a “friend of William M. Bulger” confirms the story, not William Bulger himself! Why?

Using anonymous sources can be an effective tool, but readers have to know why they’re being used if we’re expected to trust the reporting. Is it possible that The Boston Globe hasn’t learned the lessons of former New York Times reporter, Jayson Blair? The upshot of the Jayson Blair affair was for the Times to be more judicious in its use of anonymous sources; and when its done, to tell the reader why.

Read the Bulger story. Am I missing something? How confident are you in that story?

Wouldn’t you love to watch April baseball in Minneapolis?

The Red Sox are the opening day visiting team at the new Minnesota Twins stadium, which appears to be a great place to watch a game, just not in April (this dude loves the Twins so much he doesn’t mind the cold!).

How does this grab you: they average 3.1 inches of snow in April, with a one day max of 13 inches in 1983. For the month the average high is 57 degrees; the average low is 36 degrees. Luckily the Red Sox are playing all day games.

Apparently someone at major league baseball doesn’t like the Twins because they scheduled the first night game for April 16 against Kansas City. If they get 10,000 people to sit through that tilt, I’ll eat one of their Walleye (fish) on a stick.

That’s right, the new ballpark fare includes fish on a stick, along with pork chops on a stick and cheese curds. Even though they have some weird ideas about ballpark food, all of the food is supposed to be cooked at the stadium fresh.

It’s April. At night. You’re watching the Twins and the Royals. How do you stay warm?