That “List” Really Tied the Campaign Together….

In the same way Jeffrey Lebowski’s stolen rug “really tied the room together,” having a truly exceptional “List” can really tie together all of your targeted efforts on a campaign. In short, your “list” is an accounting of your supporters, donors, and virtually anyone else who has indicated an interest in your policy platform or general candidacy. This concept of a “list” exists as a common theme in all of my readings on persuasion and Get out the Vote (GOTV) efforts – a malleable collection of interested individuals with expansive, yet measurable power, awaiting activation if engaged in the proper manner. The legitimacy of your list is evaluated by its size, diversity and measurability. Is it large? Is it tested? Is it responsive to influence? Or better, is it persuadable? If yes, then your list is respectable. But you will be measured by what you do with it. Can you persuade your list to activate? Will they donate? Or better, will they vote?

These questions are not new. What is new is the way technology has advanced over the last 6-10 years, allowing the internet and social media to change the way we engage “The List”. The possibilities seem endless. In retrospect, I wish I had taken this course in 2007. Having recently joined a State Senator’s office to focus on public safety policy, I was co-opted to the campaign in my free time, and on weekends. Rapidly approaching an election cycle where the Senator would face a candidate his more senior staff described as “his biggest threat”, I was shocked to learn the status of their website and fundraising efforts. In the shortest of summaries, the website had been abandoned a year prior, there was no Facebook page, and the fundraising list was simply an aggregation of mailing addresses and a scant trace of email addresses. To make matters worse, there was very little record of any measuring from the list. No accounting of donors and their donation patterns, or whether the list was fresh.

At the time, I had no real knowledge of the tactical pillars of digital media, but I did my best to move things in the right direction. I worked to revamp the website, and waged a year-long battle to establish a Facebook page for the Senator. You see they were from the old school, as they say, and resistant to new media initiatives. Much of their success came from friends and family that worked on the Senator’s first campaign, but that was years ago, and now the strong ties that once anchored the fundraising and GOTV efforts are older, have children and drastically different responsibilities and priorities.

One of the clear breaking points for me came when some our campaign team spent a late evening stuffing envelopes for the last big fundraising push. We set up a division of labor, mindlessly stuffing, sealing and addressing these invites. About 4 hours in, and I hear a scream. The campaign director realizes that she left the return envelopes in her car, and that we had stuffed the envelopes without a way to get donors to send the money back. It was 2007/2008 and we were about to suffer a failure akin to Senator Gary Hart in 1984. After scouring the shelves for thousands of envelopes at a Target open at midnight – in an effort to rectify the fundraiser mishap – I saw this opportunity as a way to refresh the base.

We retooled the website, paid for some SEO, and added a fundraising component – crafted these Halloween looking add-ons to the campaign sign that listed the new website, and had them added to every lawn sign in the state. We also refreshed the fundraising list and attempted some basic analytics, calculating who was maxed out, who never donates, and who needed more attention or encouragement.   I also moved the office toward harnessing the power of the Senator’s inbox, implementing some vague semblance of Leichman’s best practices. He would receive nearly 1,200 emails a day. We started categorizing them. Before I understood what JD Schlough’s “nanotargeting” was, I tried to isolate constituents by policy issue and then tailor messaging toward them on an individual basis in an effort to convert their email from concerned constituent to active supporter.

Emphasis on persuasion came next. I received authorization to produce the Senator’s first TV commercial. Through a series of strong and weak tie connections, I was given access to a legit film studio staff to craft a very basic commercial. We had crafted a narrative around family, jobs, education and public safety, and strategically solicited a woman who did voiceover work for NESN to contrast the two male candidates in the race, especially considering our crafted message. Buying the Ad space was intimidating and I thought I may have spent too much money. I was sure I spent too much money when I would be approached by supporters complimenting me on the commercial, but informing me they saw it air at 4am on TNT when they couldn’t sleep the night before. The insomniacs turned out in droves for my guy, apparently.

I learned a lot from that experience. It set the table for my future campaign work, and allows me to better appreciate the readings and discussions in our larger class setting. However, I still struggle to understand why online advertisement has such a limited effect on young voters. I agree with Collins, Kalla and Keane that young voters are hard to reach through the door-to-door method. I also agree that, due to media fragmentation, the logical contact point would be via social media; however, I do not see the influence they cite as significant. I also question the future of TV advertisements. As noted, younger viewers have moved away from TV and to the internet. The rest of the TV loyalist are likely owners of a DVR. As the proliferation of DVR continues, I would argue that TV ad buys will diminish – or at least their impact will fall off considerably. I cannot remember the last time I watched a commercial by choice. It’s an automatic fast forward, unless I am watching a Patriots game, or sporting event in general.

How will we be able to enjoy the salacious attacks that are replayed over and over again, if ads disappear? Without the attacks would Scott Brown have beaten Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy’s seat? Being from Massachusetts, I will not forget the moment Scott Brown released his thirty-second spot in response to Coakley attack ads. In my opinion, he won the race when he hit David Gergen’s “the People’s Seat” softball out of the park during the debate, and then followed it up with the half-zip sweater appeal in his kitchen. I think that special election is a perfect example of how messaging, persuasion and a strong GOTV in a short time-table can change the dynamic of an institution.   It has had a lasting effect here in MA. Consider the Congressional Race for the 6th District. See if the Tisei ad looks similar to the Brown kitchen add. Scott Brown’s legendary truck has even influenced the race. Yes, the same truck he drives in a $645 barn jacket. During the last debate between Moulton and Tisei, the candidates were asked what kind of car they drove. Tisei owned it saying he bought a new 2013 Jeep last year. Moulton, on the other hand, divined “Mikey” from the movie Swingers, and said “um, uh, what kind of car do I drive…um, uh, uh…for the campaign I am driving a Nissan.” Well played. But nothing will ever eclipse Scott Brown’s truck. It had its own Facebook page, and even a bobble head. Apparently the truck thing still works in New Hampshire.

None of it matters if you cannot get your list off the couch and into a voting booth. I cannot wait to see how some of these races play out on Tuesday.


The death of the newspaper

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”          Charles Darwin

I am reminded of this obvious, and perhaps overused, quote from Darwin as I review the readings that have examined the current state of Journalism and News Media. Adaptation is the key to survival for any species – or institution. There are no exceptions – full stop. Print media is a prime example of an institution that failed to manage change in the face of an evolving enterprise. It wasn’t enough to know the internet would change the face of the industry. It wasn’t enough to move Dave Winer’s cardboard box around from place to place – it still contained the same content, generating the same level of interest, regardless of the format.

When thinking about the inevitable extinction of the newspaper, I think back to how many friends I had growing up who actually had a paper route. While that was the 1980’s, some thirty plus years later, and I cannot recall seeing anyone deliver a newspaper in person. While that is partly a result of the changing business model, and perhaps the deconstruction of traditional neighborhoods in lieu of social networks, the reality is the industry did not evolve with this change in society. It is simply not enough to integrate new technology – according to Anderson, Bell and Shirky in “Post-Industrial Journalism,” you must also change your processes. The only question left is whether or not journalism will follow the newspaper to the grave?

In “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” Clay Shirky argues that “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” Moreover, he feels we should untie newspapers and journalism from one another, and worry about strengthening journalism. I tend to agree. I cannot recall the last time I read an actual newspaper; however, I cannot reconcile with Shirky’s notion of strengthening journalism when the internet and the networked individual have effectively eliminated the professional boundaries of a journalist. Making information public is no longer done by professionals or institutions. As professionalism disappears, the expansive network of engaged amateurs fills the void, making anyone with a camera phone, blog or Twitter account a voice to be heard.

In the age of the all-powerful social network, even small publications can succeed if they change their processes. The Tow Center Report discusses the concept of “Super Distribution” as the forwarding of media through social networks, and “that tiny publications with an important article can reach a big audience quickly, at no additional cost.” The elimination of these distribution barriers is a familiar theme. I referenced this concept in my first blog post, citing a coworker’s tween fiction novel. A further example that resonates with me is the ease in which former Boston Herald reporter Dave Wedge published a book on the Boston Marathon Bombings entitled “Boston Strong”.   As Dave Winer might angrily point out, Wedge was merely one of a thousand “witnesses” to the week’s events. Fortunately for Wedge, he was the first across the finish line with a published accounting of the tragedy, and now Hollywood celebrities like Casey Affleck are lining up to star in the movie.

Dean Starkman, in Confidence Game, describes a collection of thinkers, some I have quoted here, as the Future of News (FON) consensus. He says that the FON favors “iterative journalism”, or reporting on the fly, fixing mistakes along the way. Dave Wedge was a seasoned journalist collecting stories and information from the Marathon events, but what about all of the other witnesses that were there? The tendency toward iterative journalism led to CNN to confirm that an arrest had been made in the case without confirmation. This type of journalism also put lives in jeopardy when an institution like the New York Post attempted to confirm the photo identities of the two suspects, wrongly targeting two young kids.

It is dangerous when institutions try to mimic the flexibility of their usership’s social network, and engage in this on the fly journalism. They not only jeopardize their reputation for accuracy and reliability, but they allow other more malleable forms to enter the conversation and establish themselves as the authority on an issue. As CNN raced to inaccurately report that the Supreme Court had rejected the individual mandate, they open the door for SCOTUSblog to enter the conversation and establish themselves as a new authority.

I find myself landing somewhere in between Shirky and the members of the FON, and Starkman on the role of these traditional journalism institutions. I believe these institutions, as Shirky puts it, do the heavy lifting by covering all angles of a story, and that this creates a benefit that everyone can capitalize on – especially for new media sources that do not possess the “slack” to shift surplus reporters and resources to a breaking news story.

Having spent years of my life in Government dealing with investigative reporters, I can honestly say that without the backing of an old media institution, the bureaucrats will simply wait you out. If you do not have the power and reputation to reinforce your efforts, you will not be taken seriously. This accountability is critical, and would simply be non-existent without these formal institutions. While I am certain the newspaper is dead, I am hopeful that journalism will survive – and survive in a way that contemplates the legitimacy of these storied institutions, or I fear the FON will be proven right and large scale corruption will spread across government on all levels.

Review: The Boston Marathon Bombing Wiki page

Thankfully, I was not injured in the Boston Marathon Bombings, nor were any of my close friends or family. However, the events of April 15-19, 2013 left an indelible mark on my memory. As Chief of Staff for the MA Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, I wore many hats from policy advisor and budget analyst to office manager. One of the hats I wore most frequently was that of a crisis manager. I was responsible for assisting in the deployment of our agencies’ resources and ensuring that the Secretary and Governor were briefed and advised on any developing issues. As a result, there are really only a handful of people who had a more complete look at the week’s events. For this reason, I thought I would evaluate the Boston Marathon Bombing Wikipedia page.

Having never visited the page before I was shocked to see how much information had been edited and uploaded to the page. I had anticipated that critical aspects of the investigation and critical contextual issues would have been omitted. After a complete review, I find the page to be very comprehensive. There are over 10 subsections that cover obvious topics like the response, investigation and manhunt, but also a synopsis on the bombers’ alleged motivations and affiliated arrests that took place in the aftermath of the bombings. If I had to nitpick, the introduction is missing references to the MA State Police and the critical role they played in the intelligence analysis through the State Police Fusion Center and Crime Lab. It also references the exchange of gunfire during the standoff in Watertown as occurring after midnight, but I believe it happened earlier in the evening, as I was already on scene shortly after midnight, and it was the shootout that prompted my deployment to the area. The article is also up to date, as recent developments in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial have been referenced as his defense counsel pushes a change of venue order. In fact, it was actually last edited on September 28, 2014.

I was surprised, however, that there were links to the Todashev shooting in Florida. My good friend was “Trooper 1,” who was referred to by the Florida State’s Attorney in the report on the Todashev shooting by an FBI agent during his interrogation. There were also references to certain persons of interest linked to the Tsarnaevs. I did not anticipate that thorough of a link created between these individuals on a Wikipedia page. There are obviously a number of relevant things not included in this article, but they are law enforcement sensitive and in some instances classified, and therefore have not been publicly reported on.

As far as sourcing is considered, there are 335 references listed along with a handful of additional external links. This event received national and international coverage which resulted in hundreds of newspaper articles and magazine citations contained throughout the page. Even the report put out by our very own Harvard University was included in the references.

The article demonstrated Wikipedia’s commitment to neutrality by not only using the term “allegedly” to described actions carried out by the Tsarnaev brothers, but also by including references to statements by Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau and former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis that were eventually proved inaccurate. Deveau alleged, in reference to the shootout his officers engaged in with Tamerlan, that they had an arsenal of guns. Fact remained that Tamerlan only had a Ruger 9mm at his disposal, and a few remaining pressure cooker bombs. They did have a lot of 9mm rounds, in which Dzhokhar reloaded into clips that he handed his brother during the firefight. This must have appeared like an arsenal in the chaos. Another reference to the mystery gun Dzhokhar had in the boat was proved wrong. Commissioner Davis and others were quoted as saying that Dzhokhar exchange gunfire at the boat standoff on Franklin St. It would later be revealed that he was unarmed.

Overall, the article was well structured. I thought readability, formatting and illustrations were generally on point. If there was one area that could have been improved upon it would be the illustrations. There were so many photos taken from the week’s events, that to have a picture of a building in West New York, NJ seems silly. It also did not include any of the leaked MA State Police photos that were published in Boston Magazine.

Being my first time to the page, I was very impressed. There were more aspects of the investigation listed than I had anticipated. It also served to conjure up those memories again. I was expecting to be compelled to edit the page, but I think they have done a great job. I was, however, annoyed at the section critiquing the Governor’s decision to have residents stay indoors during the manhunt. As one of the 6 people who recommended that course of action to the Governor, the criticism still aggravates me. If only the public knew the full breadth of what we were dealing with, and the limited time we had to make that decision.

Perhaps I will edit in my rant and see how long it takes the truth seekers to schedule it for deletion.

By Wikipedia user: theYOTM