Get Rid of the Hookers

I worked for one of the so-called Beltway Bandits in the Washington, DC media market. These are companies that provide services to the United States government. Your taxpayer dollars go to these companies, which is why some consider them to be stealing your money. One humorous and unforgettable experience was when the client, an agency within the United States military, wanted to use social media outreach for cause marketing. The client approved a campaign presence using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Somehow, Twitter was misunderstood by the female project manager, who, like me, was an employee of the consulting company (not the federal government.)
She was unfamiliar with (and I think fearful of) what would happen if the consulting company set up a Twitter account for an agency of the US military.

With Twitter, you choose whom you want to follow. One essential trait of Twitter is a social outcome. When you choose to follow someone on Twitter, the accepted behavior is for them to reciprocate and choose to follow you.

I am happy to report that by working smart to choose to follow particular Twitter accounts which had large numbers of followers, I was able to boost the number of Twitter followers for the military client so that we hit the one thousand mark within the first four months using Twitter. It is easier to have a Twitter account and just let the organic process work in which people choose to follow you on Twitter or not. But, that approach will not allow you to hit one thousand followers in your first four months using Twitter like I accomplished for the military client.

This social transaction process on Twitter is very different from what happens when you set up a website. A website can be an entirely passive product on the Internet. Visitors can choose to visit your website or not. One of the essential drawbacks of setting up a website is that there are so many sites available online nowadays that yours can easily get lost in the crowd unless you spend considerable time and effort to promote the site. In contrast, Twitter accounts are specifically social in that you set up a Twitter account because you want to reach out to other people in a highly interactive way.

I wonder what is the point in setting up a Twitter account if you then do not work on your engagement of other Twitter users so that you generate a high number of Twitter followers? Also, what is the point if one does not interact with other Twitter users in the tweets, themselves? I believe that Twitter should not be used by people who only want to post mundane things like what their cat did that was so cute this morning. Nor should Twitter be used unless one is ready and willing to jump in and interact with other Twitter users. Others may disagree with me about that.

If you are an individual and you set up a Twitter account, you probably won’t concern yourself with who chooses to follow your tweets. But, if you set up a Twitter account for a US government client, should your thinking be different because you are representing someone other than yourself? If you set up a Twitter account for a military client, should you be concerned with managing who chooses to follow your military client’s presence on Twitter?

Spammers (those who send out unsolicited messages to make money from selling products or services) are able to thrive by using the Internet. Each new online tool is quickly accepted by spammers who are happy to have additional ways to have their messages seen by millions of Internet users. Spammers took to Twitter quite readily. Some spammers use Twitter to conceal their true identities while pushing out messages that attempt to sell products and services. Other spammers are open about their efforts to sell stuff and it is not difficult to find Twitter users whose purpose of being on Twitter is to sell sexually-oriented services or products. This is just one of the realities of today’s Social Media.

Should you concern yourself with sexually-oriented Twitter followers? If you have an individual Twitter account just for your own personal use, you really are totally free to decide that on your own. But, what if you set up a Twitter account for a government and/or military client? Should you allow sexually-oriented Twitter followers on your client’s Twitter account, or, should you use the built-in Twitter capability of blocking followers? These are not hypothetical issues.

During the first few months after I set up a Twitter account for the military campaign’s outreach, it didn’t take long before there were Twitter followers of an obvious sexual nature. Some Twitter followers during the initial months posted a profile picture with nudity. Other Twitter followers posted a profile picture with drug-related imagery such as a marijuana leaf.

The female project manager grew very angry with me when she saw these profile pictures on Twitter. I will never forget her raising her voice to me and saying in an unpleasant tone, “Woody, get rid of the hookers!”

One argument today is that there is no negative impact upon either you or your client if Twitter followers have either a profile picture or a Twitter username that seems controversial. The Internet is wide open. You will find that there are varying degrees of openness across the Internet and acceptance of controversial images or words. Unless one has signed up for a Twitter account, it is not possible to see who is following whom on Twitter.

It may be best to think of Twitter usage this way: If you sign up to use Twitter, you implicitly are accepting the rules of the road that some followers may come along that you would prefer not to have around. But, it is definitely true that there currently is no global consensus as to what is considered controversial online versus what is not. The standard–if there is one–as to what is controversial or undesirable may also be in continuous flux. I think that there may come a day when vetting your Twitter followers will be considered outmoded. Perhaps the desirability of vetting Twitter followers is one of those many things whose value exists primarily in the eye of the beholder?

Is a Degree in Journalism Useless?

A controversial online report from The Daily Beast suggests that some majors, such as journalism, are “useless.”

One working journalist disagreed in a well-written statement worth reading.

I take issue with the label of “useless” in referring to majoring in journalism, not just because I majored in journalism. Truth and beauty and what is “useless” are all things that are strictly in the eye of the beholder. A long time ago, one Star Trek episode from the original series wanted us to ask, “Is truth not truth for all?” Wise is the person who understands the correct answer to that question is “No!”

I feel that I was fortunate to have studied journalism in a polytechnic environment. That’s an unusual word that basically describes an institution of learning that offers students instruction and hands-on training in industry-specific and technical skills in an applied sciences format. So it is that I became biased in favor of a polytechnic institution. If you major in journalism specifically at a venue where you can learn industry-specific, technical skills in an applied sciences format, your major will NOT be “useless” when you graduate.

Why? The elusive truth is that your major is not as important as what you can do with it after you are no longer a university student. What you study is less important that whether you emerge from a university with new skills that allow you to use your mind effectively so that you behave in ways that will help you survive in the 21st century.

I believe very strongly that anyone who has learned how to use their mind effectively so they can behave in ways conducive to survival will NEVER conclude their journalism major is “useless” based on the current employment possibilities within various journalistic professions or the typical annual salaries that people earn. A university degree is no guarantee of happiness or success in personal or professional life. But if you attain a polytechnic education, your mind will be trained in an essential combination of technical and intellectual skills that can shape how you process life in your head.

Part of that skill of using your mind effectively so that you behave in ways conducive to survival is that you must learn how to be adaptable. Equally important is that you must learn genuinely how to welcome change all around you and embrace change in your professional life. This is true whether your major is journalism or something else. The trick is to learn technical abilities that you can then repurpose to new technology as it emerges. At the same time, your intellectual skills (such as how you seek information and how you process what you find) must be fluid so that how your mind works is never outmoded as society keeps changing.

I speak from experience: I graduated with an undergraduate degree in journalism before there were personal computers or cameras that don’t use film or voice recorders that don’t use tape or the Internet or blogging or Facebook or Google Drive. Somehow I survived decade after decade of tumultuous changes in technology and in the journalism profession. You can, too. The only thing that can make your journalism major “useless” is if you somehow do not learn how to use your mind effectively so that you can behave in ways conducive to your survival.

We Have No Secrets

Sometimes I like to annoy non-Boomers by quoting song lyrics written by from singer/songwriter Carly Simon. Usually, the annoyance fades especially when I am sharing especially profound Carly Simon lyrics that transcend generations.

Certainly one of the most profound of all the many, many lyrics written by Carly Simon is “We Have No Secrets” from 1972. In this poignant poem set to an irresistible melody, she warns of the sweet perils of being too honest in life.

I think that members of the younger generations who post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and whatever other social media channels today need to memorize the entire lyrics from “We Have No Secrets” and maybe even learn the entire song to sing it themselves quietly and softly while they spend so much time online.
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Brighter Future Possible for Cal Poly Journalism Department

During September 2010 I posted a commentary online that was reposted elsewhere.

What I wrote was a strong expression of the anger that I felt about troubles within the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Journalism Department.

I could not understand how a once vibrant Cal Poly Journalism Department that shaped my professional career in the 1970s could look like a train wreck in the 2000s. I am not the only alum who came to believe that the widely publicized bickering among faculty members was the root cause of the descent of the Cal Poly Journalism Department. Ironic how the department that teaches public relations could let faculty bickering spiral out of control into a major public relations disaster.

That was why I posted my recommendation online in 2010 that Cal Poly alumni should withhold financial support for the Journalism Department. As someone who has earned a doctoral degree and has worked full-time with numerous faculty members at several academic institutions, I know that faculty bickering is a 100% preventable condition.

But, I accept that the past belongs in the past. Today I am convinced that a professional focus upon rebuilding the reputation of the Journalism Department and earning accreditation is the only way to go.

As 2011 begins, I am encouraged that Linda Halisky, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and Harvey Levenson, interim chair of the Journalism Department, have been working to craft many tangible changes designed to improve the management, operations and reputation of the Cal Poly Journalism Department.

From all I have seen, I sincerely feel that the work begun by Halisky and Levenson deserves a closer look by all who care about Cal Poly. I believe now is especially a time of need for Cal Poly Journalism alumni to support–both financially and professionally–the reform efforts of Halisky and Levenson.

Lessons from the Hoover Dam Bypass

Hoover Dam Bypass

Lessons from the Hoover Dam Bypass.

A new bridge connecting the states of Arizona and Nevada over the Colorado River recently was opened to the public. Since the great Hoover Dam was built a generation ago, there was a curving two-lane highway that crossed right over the dam, itself. After 9/11, concerns grew that terrorists could easily blow up the dam and release tons of water to destroy everything downstream below Lake Mead to the Gulf of California. Out of an abundance of caution, the idea for this new crossing over the Colorado River was born.

Sam and I made the trip on the old Highway 93 crossing back in the Summer of 2006 while on a day trip to the Grand Canyon. When I lived in that area a decade ago, I became very familiar with the long desert drives spanning lonely highways in Northern Arizona on the way to Las Vegas. This new shortcut is something I cannot wait to see in person.