Monday, December 12, 2011

End of Semester Reflections

As my first semester of graduate school comes to an end, I am happy to breathe a sigh of relief: I SURVIDED, WHEW! This semester was both challenging and exhilarating. I faced a variety of challenges this semester including; getting re-acquainted with the world of academia, working 35hrs a week and balancing a full load of demanding classes. After spending a year away from school, it was sort of difficult for me to get into the habit of writing essays, doing homework and reading  200+ articles a week (thankfully I learned how to “Harvard texts”: ) But all in all, I learned a great deal- most of which will be beneficial on the road ahead. Despite the hiccups, I am looking forward to what next semester has in store, with a ‘slimmer’ schedule, I will certainly be able to get the most out of my grad school experience.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Good Bye, Blogging

I started this blogging assignment off by stating that I didn't like blogging.

I can admit a change of heart with some boundaries.

I really enjoyed reading those entries of my classmates, but I have to say that I wasn't moved by the medium. Mostly, I think I tended to treat this as a diary or a journal. I just grabbed onto a feeling a flew with it. I'm not sure if that goes against the assignment, but there it is. I can see the merits in the exercise when it's really a main form of communication, but I just have a hard time accepting it as something that I will be doing for the rest of my life, or ever. But I am willing to admit that maybe the problem is with me. I have repeatedly said that, at the heart of communications, lies this word: community. I really can't get away from it. Maybe I'm turning myself into a hermit for this rejection of blogging.

I'm sure this is not my last encounter with blogging, as I'm sure this is not its only purpose.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Meme is over? Coopting Viral Memes for Marketing

Internet memes are fun. Yet there is a shelf-life to memes. They are inside jokes that we share with friends, but they lose their charm after a while. The charm usually begins to fade when everybody tells the same joke. It's not funny anymore, it no longer provides a that same sense of community. This mainstreaming of the joke usually coincides with advertisers jumping on the bandwagon and trying to capitalize on the popularity. After that, its a downhill slide into the oblivion of the pop culture trash heap.

When I first saw this, I thought it was genius. Two clever blokes had created their own rocket to launch mediocre alcoholic beverages into space. It seemed to be the next logical step in our exploration of the final frontier. Brilliant! However, I soon discovered that this was not the case. In fact, this is an "earned" media campaign dreamed up by the good people at Anheuser-Busch.

Before I get into my thoughts on this, let me just clarify the idea of "earned" media. Essentially, this concept refers to advertising that is shared either virally or through the newsmedia, not through traditional paid advertising slots during commercial breaks.

This appears to be a growing trend in low quality alcohol marketing as video of guys "icing" each other with Smirnoff Ice also made national headlines and was described as "the nation's biggest viral drinking game." Though Smirnoff denied involvement in this viral meme (perhaps because it encourages immoderate drinking), questions still exist as to the truth of this claim.

Why is internet meme-ing becoming the marketing campaign of choice? The target audience for these beverages, college age men, are spending increasing portions of their day on social networks and they are more likely to be exposed to advertising on facebook, than on tv.

We heard in a group presentation in class this semester about how advertising firms are using these sorts of techniques on children, but the range of target audiences exists at all ages. Companies are banking on our networks to build awareness for their product and inspire people to buy into them and share the experience.

Don't be surprised to see a kitten standing on its hind legs and drinking from an open bottle of Colt45 the next time you log into, and if so, does that signal the end of memery as we know it? Will tumblr sites go the way of other pop culture icons?

Not to negate the rest of this post, but probably not. (no fear cat lovers, your precious lolcats are most likely safe). However, it does have lasting implications regarding the nature of communications in the 21st century, the power of networks, and how we create and project our own interpretations of our individuality. Will this affect what you post on your social pages in future? Will you consider the source of an item more closely before you share it with your friends? Or is this a big deal outta nothing?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Using Knowledge Share to Enhance Company Brand

The Family Tree reading from this week seeks to explore the idea of transmission communication. This type of communication is linear, persuasive and goes through a unidirectional process, in which the sender sends the message to the receiver through several channels. This can be better described as a more evolving form of knowledge transfer.  David Levine and April Gilbert have explored the idea of knowledge transfer in great detail. In their research they have provided a comprehensive outlook into the theme and dissected its value with relevance to organizations. Gilbert claims that knowledge transfer is a common challenge shared by all organizations. Knowledge has emerged as one of the greatest assets to any organization. Even with the emergence of new technology and media, the role of knowledge has maintained the greatest influence. In fact, mechanisms such as the Internet have only been used to supplement knowledge transfer at its core. Organizations can now use systems such as the Intranet, Lotus Notes and Google Documents to transfer and share important information. Levine notes that most organizations have abandoned the hierarchal system of control and have adopted a strategy that embraces employee involvement and productivity. This increase involvement from employees contributes to boost in company morale and overall creativity within the organization. Companies are now using media convergence not only to build a better corporate profile, but to also increase the knowledge share and productivity of employees.

Soap Operas and Edutainment

After reading Jade Miller's  Ugly Betty goes global: Global networks of localized content in  the telenovela industry, I was inspired to write about the role that soap operas play in edutainment. Below is an excerpt from my essay on edutainment "soapies"  in South Africa:
The essence of edutainment rests in the art of subtly transferring messages of social or commercial importance to audiences that tune out to other communication tactics. By harnessing this platform, organizations like Soul City have discovered that their edutainment productions are successful in promoting social mobilization amongst citizens of South Africa dealing with HIV/AIDS, political corruption, relationships, sexuality, bullying, abuse, corporal punishment and disabilities.The Soul City Institute utilizes edutainment soap operas to help audiences understand best practices for handling a broad range of social issues including HIV/AIDS which continues to plague the lives of South Africans.
Two of Soul City’s most popular series discuss the subject of domestic violence and safe sex. Within the series on domestic violence for example, female actors often portray characters that deal with verbal and physical abuse from their male partners. Throughout South Africa, it is widely accepted that domestic violence is a cultural norm because it provides a way for husbands to discipline their wives. By tackling such a culturally entrenched idea through edutainment, Soul City sought to empower women to speak out against abuse and ultimately obliterate the practice overall. This example of mobilization through edutainment relates to Albert Badura’s social learning theory because it encourages individuals to reject old behaviors and ideas in exchange for new ones. Although the popularity of Soul City’s productions suggests its messages are being received, the direct link of behavior change to edutainment is difficult to measure. In many instances, the social effects of the programs are not immediate and only influence incremental behavior change overtime.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Castells: Social movements in the age of the #

If I can offer one piece of worthwhile advice to anyone who reads this blog, it would be to subscribe to the Public Lecture podcasts from the London School of Economics. If you're interested in anything from contemporary global politics to in-depth discussion of philosophy, the LSE has had the leaders of the field come and lecture about it for their students and - kindly enough - the general public. Not stopping there, they also appreciate those of us outside of the general area and post the lectures for free online, youtube and at itunes.

This, however, is not a treatise on how awesome the LSE is, nor it a discussion about online learning (though that would be an interesting discussion on international communal learning... maybe another day. Instead this is about a recent lecture by an author we have discussed at length this semester: Manuel Castells.

He discussed how the internet offers a new forum for social movements to form and gain traction citing the #occupy movement, the Egyptian revolution and the April 26th movement, and the "indignants" movement in Spain. It is well worth a listen as there is far too many points of interest to discuss here, however, there were a couple of points that stood out to me that I would like to touch on.

Firstly, Castells sets the stage in constructivist terms, points that social movements have existed in various forms for millenia, however, the internet offers a new way for oppressed groups to exert counter-influence over those in power. He suggests that this medium allows for people to gather information from sources other than traditional (and conservative) media.

He also extolled the groups formed on the internet for coming up with original solutions to current problems in a democratic manner. Maybe I didn't listen as closely as I should have done, but I felt that this argument was a little flawed. Early on in his remarks he argues that social movements are different from political movements because they don't try to offer political solutions to problems. Social movements express the need for a social change to take place while political movements advocate for a solution. He does acknowledge that a social movement can turn into a political movement and vice versa, however, he seemed to suggest that they cannot coexist.

I question this for two reasons, firstly, because he seems to contradict himself later in the discussion when he talks about the indignants of Spain developing a new constitution as well as how Iceland's social movements have revolutionized their government following the 2008 collapse. They both take action as well as express dissatisfaction with the status quo. Secondly, it implies that a step-by-step approach to change is not feasible. I suppose this makes sense within the constructivist framework where there is a constant struggle for power, and only major power shifts create significant change, but I don't believe that reflects what happens in the real world. I may be naive, or I may simply not be a constructivist, or I may be misrepresenting Castells' argument. In fairness, all three are possibilities. So judge for yourself, listen to the lecture and let me know if I'm off base.

What other points that Castells makes stand out for you? One, off-hand, remark that he made that I think is worth exploring moving forward is the power of cell- and smartphone technologies as "defensive weapons." Castells suggests that their capability to take photos and videos on command allow for greater freedom of information and challenge portrayals of events from those in power that may not accurately illustrate the actual events. While I question the concept of a "defensive weapon" as a contradiction in terms, I think that he does have a point here. Cell phone footage of major events have significantly altered the frame of major media stories over the last decade from the video of Saddam Hussein's execution, to youtube video of students at UC Davis being casually pepper-sprayed by police during a peaceful protest. A picture speaks a thousand words and makes for an extremely powerful message.

The Global Media Market

This week presentations focused on media in a global context, from X-Factor to the Golden Compass, I think the over-arching theme can be traced to making something truly "International". The X-factor group spoke about using this package (X-factor) and tweeking it to appear more culturally relevant. The show originally began in the U.K. and although it applies "glocalization" to their format I wonder if it really just boils down to the individual countries view of the West. The examples provided in class were the Middle East and China; the Middle Eastern X-Factor failed while the Chinese X-Factor flourished. I wonder if this has more to do with relations with the West and the Middle East. One need only to look at the history of U.S. and Middle Eastern relations to understand the hesitation to adopt Western....anything. The U.K. track record isn't any better.  Although Western relations with China is sometimes turbulent, it has a lot more of a reason to embrace a program like X-Factor.

X-Factor has an interesting model because it plays a popular theme--a rags to riches story. Contestants come from all walks of life, all to compete for fame and fortune. The X-Factor also uses music to draw in the audience, and its quite easy to tweek the style of music used on each program to appeal to each market, but as the case in the Middle East demonstrated--cultural adaptation doesn't always equal commercial success.

The other group presented on creating a movie that was not only appealing domestically, but also internationally. The presentation made me think of the narrow view "international" or "foreign" markets are defined.  The example brought up in class was of the Golden Compass; it tanked domestically but was hailed as a success internationally. The film was characterized as  having "heavy dialogue" and "overly complicated plot"which was described as a barrier to success in an international market. It was later revealed that the success was due to the U.K. market, where the Golden Compass has a cultural connection.While outside of the U.S. the U.K. has a Western perspective. It makes me wonder about the definition of a "international success," is it really just  that every other country outside the U.S. is lumped together and stamped with the title international? This doesn't take into account the cultural ties shared with the U.K. and the ease of cultural transferability. If this is the case I believe it is impossible to create something that is truly "international" because this definition is too broad, and can never truly be understood under the guise of us (U.S.) and them.

Many thoughts and theories can be put into practice when examining global media and it's successes and failures. Is media an assertion of nationalism? or globalization? Cultural relevance? or Cultural odor? Are we creating more global understanding? Or stonewalling and stifling smaller voices?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Human Resource Development and the Strangth of Public Diplomacy

Human Resource Development is a relevant theme to be explored in the field of public diplomacy.

Although new technologies are being created rapidly, more attention and research should be dedicated

to strengthening human capital. Human capital involoves making sure that existing organizational

leaders remain competitive, relevant and capable of communicating American value to the global
community.Robert Rouda and Mitchell Kusy offer a broad perspective of human resource development in the workplace. These scholars highlight the ever increasing role of maximizing on not only physical and intellectual capital, but also human capital. Kusy argues that human capital is the greatest asset to any organization and therefore must be given the appropriate attention. Rouda defines Human Resource Development as organized learning objectives arranged within an organization in order to improve performance and personal growth for the purpose of improving the job, the individual, and/or the organization. Human resource development can encompass, but is not limited to career development, organization development and training.

Rouda and Kusy separate the levels of HRD into several distinct stages. HRD at this stage begins with an assessment of needs. This stage explores the way systems are currently and the where they should potentially be. HRD helps an organization know exactly what needs to be accomplished, set benchmarks and goals, discuss expected changes in the environment and access the economic costs and benefits. HRD identified priorities and importance within an organization to make sure goals are met. A needs assessment also identifies possible solutions and opportunities for growth. Finally, this HRD model leaves room for evaluation and recommendations to improve the HRD model. With a tight foreign aid budget, public diplomacy officers are relying more on people assets to communicate American values. In order for these officers to be truly be efficient, it requires a great deal of human resource development.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The War of Ideas - Survival of the Fittest

Dr. Rob Kelley came to speak to us today.

While I would have loved to have gotten more into his thesis, we did watch a very thought provoking movie on diplomatic relations with the middle east.

The movie made me realize that so many people out there just refuse to hear anything different than their own beliefs. It's the stuff of late night comedy, but this movie drove it home. Smiling stupidly was one buffoon proudly explaining that because this was America, he had successfully blocked the broadcast of Al-Jazeera English within the states. If I'm not mistaken, there was some spittle coming from the right-hand corner of his mouth.
How can we be so dumb as to fall for that? First, even if you are convinced that it is propaganda, wouldn't you rather listen to it so as to win an ideological battle with the enemy? Simply listening to an enemy message will allow you to build up your own defenses while taring the opposite to the ground. Second - doesn't the absolute ban just insult the very beliefs you're trying to protect? By blocking a certain point of view, how can you possibly be upholding democracy (considering some of your own people can understand this "foreign" message)? Third - you show the world that you have no confidence that true democracy will prevail in the face of tyranny. If the message says "suppress a community" then play it and see what the people think. That's right; the people.
Sorry, this guy was just a prime example of what is wrong in the nation and the communication rhetoric. His simple actions conveyed a flawed picture of what he thinks he stands for.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Meme's for Social Action

We've talked quite extensively in class about network theory and how it applies to the Internet, and also meme's. The notion of things going viral, while most of the time this applies to funny cat pictures  recently there have been meme's that is gaining more attention. The meme is in reference to the recent pepper spraying of U.C. Davis students by campus police. The whole incident was recorded by a student and shows the officer spraying students, seated, in protest. Regardless of where you may stand on this issue there is no doubt that this image has taken off and gone viral. News organizations like NPR and The Week have written excellent articles on the meme and its implications. A lot of class discussion revolves around the power of the Internet as a network and meme's. I feel this is an obvious  example of how meme's can promote social change or commentary, not just cats and Justin Bieber. 

Some argue that the incident should not be trivialized in such a way, or that this meme is making fun of the whole situation; but I believe that it is the opposite. Some of the meme's provide interesting commentary on this and are often composed of tranquil people being pepper sprayed--begging the question, what was their crime? What were the protesters? I believe people are more likely to read up on the what actually happened after seeing this meme.

This also reminded me a lot of the reading by Bingchun Meng From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse: E Gao as alternative political discontent on the Chinese Internet. While the U.S. does experience the same level of censorship (yet). I think using humor as a tool for political discourse, is truly power. Just like  E Gao this appeals to a large audience, serves a point of discussion, and is easily adapted to make different point. As the meme is put out to pasture with other LOLCatz, I hope the message will have a lasting effect. 

Benetton Ad Controversy

Earlier this month, the popular clothing store, United Colors of Benetton unveiled images for an upcoming advertising campaign. The ads featured world leaders kissing each other. In one photo President Barack Obama could be seen kissing Hugo Chavez the President of Venezuela.  In another image, Pope Benedict XVI is shown kissing Egypt's Ahmed el-Tayyeb. For obvious reasons, the company is receiving overwhelming outrage from many who feel the advertisements were created in poor taste.
White House officials and the Vatican have even threatened to sue the company for the creation and intentional distribution of these digitally altered images.
As a customer of Benetton, I am equally appalled by the company’s poor judgment in its “Unhate” campaign. The advertisements are deceptive and culturally insensitive. The leadership at Benetton deserves to be penalized for their unethical consent to feature fabricated images in its advertisements.

I do understand and recognize that the company is dedicated to its mission of global tolerance, unity and love yet, I find it difficult to comprehend their rational for creating images that displayed our most respected world leaders engaging in an overtly homosexual behavior which misrepresents their public persona. How does that inspire people to end the hate? Contrary to what the mass media touts, America is a conservative society.

Mass Media’s Threat to National Security

Earlier today, I watched a story on CNN’s The Situation Room about last week’s presidential debate. The journalist reporting the story spoke about how the candidates were asked a question about Iran and if they were president what would they do about the threat Iran posed. Candidates Huntsman and Gingrich agreed that “covert” actions should be taken by the U.S. government to stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuke. After the story, the reporter went back to Wolf Bilitzer in the Situation Room where there were several political pundits waiting to offer their insight on the subject. One of the pundits, who happened to also be a representative from the American Enterprise Institute, vehemently expressed her disapproval of the candidates’ decision to talk about the details of a possible military operation.  From her perspective the candidates ‘loose lips’ on television, posed a threat to national security. She is concerned that Iranian officials are watching CNN and may use the candidates’ commentary to evade U.S.  military action.

It is no surprise that the intelligence community is concerned about the role that mass media plays in informing the enemy. Because information and communication technologies enable messages to be disseminated rapidly to other countries, it is necessary for elected officials-and those aspiring toward office- to ensure that their messages reflect the best security interests of the United States. When Osama Bin Laden was captured for example, images of him were leaked that showed him in front of a TV watching an American news program. Whether or not Bin Laden used international media to get tips on how to avoid military detection in past years, has yet to be determined.

One thing is clear: Mass media should be used responsibly and messages that are delivered through this medium by current and future elected officials (as well as other opinion leaders) should be closely monitored for they may pose a threat to national security. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Be Your own Reporter!

So we meet once again with this chicken-or-the-egg question: does media influence politics or do the politics influence the media? Especially in cases of war or domestic financial depressions, there is a case to be made by investigative reporting techniques. As we have seen in our history, not even politicians know the full stories because they are simply not there. It is very easy to feign ignorance even though information sources are right in front of us.
I think it's impossible to deny that certain news casts are bent one way while others do try to report honestly. I think for the most part it is a battle between what we want to know and what we need to know. Conservatives are attacked for ignoring facts and being narrow minded while liberals are attacked for coming off as crazy. At least they try to show the facts. Not opinions, but facts.
I can also admit that while I generally support this latter view of the news, I think it can be done better. I often see great news reports spoiled with a snarky "what are you gonna do about it?" sort of ending. I think it's exactly this attitude that secretly fuels the debates.

Having said this, I think we all need to just do our own investigative reporting. The figures are out there for everything. CIA world fact book, WTO, They're right here. Check your sources. Find out who is supporting the news you read. Be warry of .coms.

"We can no longer live as rats. We know too much."
-Nicodemus, The Secret of Nimh

The World Is Judging You Via Social Media

So for a couple of weeks I've been meaning to write about twitter. I love it. I get breaking news via twitter, follow a host of @handles that advertise restaurant bargains in DC (I'm working on a student budget after all), and generally keep track with what is going on in the world in 140 characters or less.

One thing I am not, is a tweeter myself. I may retweet stories of interest, but I rarely post anything of my own and that may cost me in the long term. Here's why:

With Twitter becoming an increasingly influential forum, it is an obvious next step for people to be curious about who are the most influential people within this burgeoning world within social media. Hence, the creation of websites like KloutPeerIndex and YourBuzz that all measure the impact that your twitter handle has on your followers. For example, I have (what I consider to be) a reasonably respectable Kloutscore of 40. However, that falls into the 9th percentile of tweeters worldwide according to Twitalyzer. #epicfail

Now this may seem harmless, maybe even interesting, but here's where it can get interesting. Let's assume that a recent graduate of a prestigious university in Washington, DC is looking for a job. Problem number one, 50 other people all applied to the same job. Let us assume that this graduate's resume makes it to the top of the pile and is picked for final interviews with three other candidates. All four do great in the interview and in person and on paper there is really nothing to choose between them. "Well," says the potential employer. "What about online?"

And herein lies the rub. The employer wants to hire somebody who will have the greatest impact for their company, and why shouldn't that include online presence as well? Even if the company is merely background information that appears only occasionally on the twitter page, a candidate who is an "influencer" on twitter will be more appealing to the employer.

So where does that leave those of us in the single digit percentile group? Well, to paraphrase Shawshank Redemption in an overly dramatic way: get busy tweeting, or get busy dying. This may be the newest pressure on jobseekers in the 21st century and it may not be long before Kloutscores and Twitalyzer ratings are appearing on resumes and cover letters. You may have worked hard to get a fantastic education, you have experience in your field, your facebook page may be well scrubbed of embarrassing pictures, but in the 21st century, is that enough any more?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Promoting Digital Disobedience

An article published by Ian Shapira highlights the U.S. role in offering aid to the Middle East. Unlike other contributions, this aid is not coming in the form of money or food products. Instead, the U.S. is providing citizens in the Middle East technology to surf the web anonymously in an attempt to overthrow their government. The Washington Post article further notes that technology aid is purposed to encourage citizens to use social media and view news without being tracked by their government.  
The State Department and the Defense Department have been big supporters of promoting digital disobedience by offering technology aid. In January 21, 2010, Secretary Clinton, declared that she supported a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. The United States is taking a dual approach to their engagement. On one hand, we are working with foreign counties to promote good governance and on the other hand we are attempting to empower citizens to demand their own good governance. Engaging both government and civil society is critical; however, it does come with many risks.

Demonstrators using this new technology provided by the U.S. are constantly being on alert. Although they actively use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to advocate their concerns, they do so with much hesitancy. Not only must the U.S. remain smart in the Middle East, but must also be vigilant in China. The U.S. is constantly monitoring diplomatic relations with China. However China censors certain and blocks certain websites from its citizens.  Providing technology aid to these countries can be perceived differently by these foreign governments. On the same token, these same governments prefer that the United States not speak out about human rights issues.

The U.S. is taking a political act of encourage by investing in this technology to encourage civil society to demand democracy. Regardless of the risk and challenges posed, the U.S. is making an effort to give citizens the tools to define their own life and advocate for their own issues. While managing diplomatic relations with foreign governments, the U.S. has a very serious task of empowering the grassroots movement.  The U.S. is not only encouraging civil disobedience, but is advocating for digital disobedience in a new way.

Media Transformation and Political Dissent

This weeks readings focused on how the Internet has produced many new forms of reporting and tools for dissent. In the article Taking the state out of the state—media relations theory: how transnational advocacy networks are changing the press—state dynamic, Sean Aday and Steven Livingston discussed how transnational advocacy networks are challenging traditional networks. The reading discusses how traditional “beat” reporters rely to heavily on their sources and perhaps give too much credence these sources.  Aday introduces the concept on of transnational networks he states: “composed of variety of nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, governments, and myriad individuals located within these bureaucracies and other levers of symbolic power in world affairs including academia and the media.”  The definition offered is summarized with that they share “ a common vision of an issue or condition". While I have to say  that at first this statement rubbed me the wrong way, I think it is dangerous to have an agenda in reporting, I wonder if there is such a thing as unbiased reporting. As the reading suggest traditional media reporters, develop close relationship with sources and perhaps that influences their reporting?
The reading this week also highlighted the importance of the Internet as a tool of political dissent. The reading From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse: E Gao as alternative political discourse on the Chinese Internet is a fascinating example of how people in China are using creative ways to shed light on the censorship by the government. The main thing the reading stresses in the humor in these messages, and perhaps that’s why they achieved their viral status. Humor has away for uniting a population, and the reading cites the popularity of shows such as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, not only entertain, but strike a cord with viewers about important political issues, one need only to look at the popularity of his Rally to Restore Sanity to see that the influence of the show is significant. The reading reminded me a lot of the “dictators dilemma” how do you promote the use of the Internet, while also censoring it? I think the efforts by Chinese dissents will only increase, and the more the government tries to restrict content, the more the population with push back. One only needs to look at what happened when Mubarak shut down the Internet in Egypt, to quell the revolution.  The E Gao movement is creative as it is funny.

International Reporting: Who Decides What's Important?

In many news organization there is usually two key actors who help reporters decide which stories to cover. Those individuals are usually the news director and the assignment editor although on some occasion, story choice can come directly from the reporter, but still requires approval from the director or editor within the news agency. The bureaucratic structure of news agencies is arguably a necessary component to deliver current and important news to the public, but this system is questionable when assessing whether or not this system leads to the production of fair and balance news.

In Hafez’ text International Reporting, he defines international reporting as, “the content and processes of media coverage of realities beyond the home state.” The “realities” that Hafez’ mentions includes events such as famine, droughts, conflict and even elections abroad. The role of international reporting has evolved over the past 20 years and has become a central to the American news diet. As with domestic news, journalists are central to delivering the story in international reporting and in many ways have become “intermediaries in the process of globalization (Hafez, 1).” The author’s definition of the role that journalists have in process of globalization is valid considering they carry messages about culture and societal norms from one country to another through media networks. For example, after the terrorist attack on America in 2001, the Muslim religion and Middle East culture were both central to understanding the individuals who committed the hijackings. I remember a CNN news story that covered the growing trend of Americans converting to Islam after September 11th. The story was a western perspective on Islam and did little to help the public understand the religion itself and its influence in supporting the terrorists in their act (if at all).

Agenda setting becomes especially problematic in international reporting since time and resources determine which stories can and cannot be covered. In many ways, the limitations in international reporting appear as if there is bias toward particular topics and events. As Hafez mentions, “only a small number of countries, topics and perspectives make it into the international reporting within a particular nation.” For countries like Somalia, international reports on its famine crisis came too late. Thousands of people in Somalia died due to hunger and some suggest that many deaths could have been prevented if the media covered the crisis sooner.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Power of Mobile Technology

The reading for this week highlights the impact of The Mobile Civil Society and gives several examples showing how individuals have used their cellular devices to effectuate change. Telephones have always been a major component of the public sphere. In the United States, it is very standard for citizens to call their elected officials to voice their concerns and express their needs. Civic organizations use phone banking- strategies that allow individuals to lobby their congressman or congresswoman regarding a specific issue. As much as the telephone has been purposeful to advocate, it has emerged as a tool to get candidates elected, educate the masses and even make it easier for individuals to make their banking transactions.

During the past presidential election, candidates from both parties had the technological capability to send campaign messages to supporters via text message. Not only could a person receive the campaign message, but they were also given the opportunity to financially contribute to the campaign.

In the assigned reading, Castells notes several instances where wireless communication has been used as a political tool for change. Particularly, In January 2001, thousands of Filipinos engaged in what they called People Power II to revolt against corrupt government practices by then President Joseph Estrada. Receiving information from their cell phone, demonstrators met at the original site of where the original People Power movement began.  The protest lasted for a little over 4 days and by the time it was finished several of the senators and cabinet members resigned. This signified both success and fulfillment for the movement. It is noted that over the course of the protest, over 70 million texts were transmitted.

Wireless communication has proven to be another form of non-violent direct action. If used strategically, major change can be made to reshape the global political landscape.

Palin & Trump: Political Entrepreneurs

The term political entrepreneur as defined in the Aday & Lvingston reading is a “network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue area.” In other literature, political entrepreneurs are people who use the political arena to capitalize on controversial issues and events (Younkins, 2000). Although the literature in this week’s class focuses on transnational networks as entrepreneurs, I think the term political entrepreneur can also be specifically applied to individuals who, through the media, use the political arena to advance their own interest.   

By definition, Sarah Palin could be considered a political entrepreneur. Palin’s bid for the white house in 2008 can arguably be classified legitimate. Her subsequent political involvement however, gives the appearance that she is a self absorbed political entrepreneur who used the public sphere to push her own financial agenda. Not long after losing the election in 2008 Palin, could be seen on nearly all major news networks promoting her new reality television show and book. Although she was no longer Governor of Alaska or a political candidate, she used her political reputation to make money. Just like Palin, Donald Trump relied heavily on the mass media to increase his popularity as well as promote his reality TV show. In both of these cases, the media served a key role in promoting the selfish interests of two political entrepreneurs who did little contribute to advancing society.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Google Diplomacy

The reading Google Earth and the nation, by Sangeet Kumar discusses the growing power of Google and how as a non-state actor is influencing and affecting behavior of nation-states. The readings main case study was India, and it's aversion to Google Earth. The reading discussed the security concerns India had over the inclusion of sensitive buildings, such as the presidents residence and other government buildings. This security concern was echoed by Australia, Netherlands, South Korea,Thailand, Ireland, and Russia.  The reverberations of Google Earth were felt on a global scale. Google and these sovereign nations engaged in what could be seen as diplomatic negotiations regarding Google's policy, often times met with Google's "liberal credo" as Kumar says, that entails free flow of information without taking into account their own interests in seeing Google Earth thrive.

Google uses the most powerful network, the Internet, to exert it's influence. Kumar really explores how instead of a Google nation, that another nation could address it is a center-less diffused network, with no nation-state, and no governing body. How does a nation effectively maintain diplomatic relations with such a nebulous entity? In the end much like many heads-of-states do, a visit from the head of Google prompted Google to conced to India's demands, in order to foster a positive working relationship.

This Thursday the class attended “The Last Three Feet: New Media, New Approaches and New Challenges for American Public Diplomacy” which was hosted by George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy & Global Communication, the Public Diplomacy Council, and the Walter Roberts Endowment. Ambassadors and Foreign Service Officer's discussed the changing nature of diplomacy, and best practices. They spoke of the challenges in diplomacy, in a changing media scape, a lot of the issues they discussed I could see echoed by Google strategy. The increased power of non-state actors such as Google are apparent--do you think it is possible that one day Google leadership will be invited to supra-national meetings, like the U.N.?  Should there be a governing mechanism to control these entities?

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Actors Closing the Gap of "The Last Three Feet"

So I was originally going to write about how there are an increasing number of websites out there that allow people to measure the influence that they wield on twitter and facebook, but given the event the class went to yesterday and Professor Hayden's lecture on his new book this afternoon, I'm going to save that post for next week and discuss what we heard about public diplomacy and soft power.

Perhaps the thing that struck me the most about the presentation on Thursday was what not was talked about: private and non-governmental public diplomacy. From what we have read for class and based on what we see every day, the concept that states are the only actors in public diplomacy is just not reflective of reality. In fact, there is probably an argument to be made that they are not even the most important or influential actors in public diplomacy any more either. Yet, with the possible exception of Michelle Kwan and the moderators, both panels were entirely populated by officials from the State Department.

We have talked about the rise of the international civil society in the age of information and, as a result, we increasingly see public diplomacy practiced daily on social networks, the internet at large, and between private individuals. While governments have attempted - with mixed success - to co-opt these forums to exert control over their foreign policy message, increasingly, public diplomacy is conducted without their direction or support. Professor Hayden acknowledged in his lecture this afternoon that, at the State Department, the department of Public Diplomacy does not even conduct the most important aspects of public diplomacy any more.

It would have been helpful to acknowledge this with presentations or panelists who are non-state actors in the public diplomacy debate. In saying all this, I do not want to give the impression that "The Last Three Feet" event was not important, illuminating or useful. Quite the opposite, looking at how the State Department is confronting the challenges of 21st century diplomacy is critical to understanding how the US is viewed around the world, but we cannot ignore the fact that state actors play a smaller role in public diplomacy than they used to.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Conference

So today was the diplomacy conference at GW. I just first want to say that I have never given much thought to diplomacy. But so much of the message ("Love us, please!") is wrapped up in the method of delivery. It really is, in my opinion, nation-branding. This shouldn't sound so negative. There are things that we do right and we'd be crazy not to promote ourselves abroad. I just wonder if we're doing it right.

A lot of the panelists spoke of using social media as a method to reach out to the local communities. I wonder about this. Some seemed to speak of it in a rather democratic light, using FB to answer questions about American policy. Some actually used it quite creatively and cut down on the red-tape stuff to allow answers to come in real time.
I was, however, thrown by the use of the word "fan base." Is the goal to turn our diplomats into internet personalities, signing autographs at a local cafe? I suppose this would help boost the US image overall, but it seems to distract the main point.
The diplomat from Turkey especially had a good presentation. She spoke of a few projects that tried to bond the youth of Turkey and the US. Some projects failed, but others had great success. I think the meat of this one was to allow young Turks to think for themselves, not just through whatever lens was given them. Especially in younger populations, I would tend to think that there are greater similarities. Kids will be kids. Recruiting younger folks to be diplomats was simply a fantastic idea in my book and I hope that trend continues.

The second panel of the day might as well have not even existed. It was so overtly clear that they were hungry. Once we got past the older gentleman speaking way too enthusiastically about giving poor foreigners iPads so they can be like us (I don't even have one, by the way), the moderator made no effort to encourage any real conversation. Like I said, the most I got out of that was a diplomat from a different era proving to us by his diction that he really didn't know what was going on in the digital age. The emphasis is not on the tech itself. He was really bringing it back to an arms race.

Overall I thought it was a great experience. I keep coming back to this thought of "communication" as an expression of "community." We use common words and symbols, we obtain and spread information in similar ways. We do what it culturally relevant so as to be heard and to learn. It's a really fascinating idea and I think the most important that I could glean from this course. Having said that, diplomacy presents itself as such a challenging issue. How do we honestly and accurately express ourselves to a culture that is fundamentally different?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Technology and Networks

Social Media a Necessity?
This weeks reading Topologies of Communication focused on social connections, the formation of networks, and the way they are used to achieve social goals.  The reading suggest social networks can help do things such as find someone to house sit, to find a job, or get a new plumber. I couldn’t help but think the way the Internet has transformed the way we use social networks. If I needed a plumber, chances are I would use the Google network rather than a contacting someone in my social network.  Apple has recently released Siri—an iphone assistant that allows customers to use commands to do everything from setting reminders, placing phone calls, to finding the closest Indian restaurant. Can networks be replaced by technology, would you listen to Siri more than a trusted friend?
In another sense websites are making networks more and more perceptible. A new feature on Facebook invites user to separate their contacts into different networks, from friends, to co-workers, or family. Facebook user’s employ this network to organize events, share news, and maintain contacts. When a person leaves Facebook, its as if they have fallen off the network grid. Recently a friend of mine decided to leave Facebook, she felt frustrated by the large amounts of “weak ties” she obtained, where as previously these ties would have faded they are maintained because of the site. In order to disable her account she was prompted several times to explain why she was leaving, and after completing those actions she was finally shown pictures of her friends with text read so and so will miss you. Since she was a previously a user, she’s had to explain again and again that she is no longer on Facebook and that for events she can’t just “log onto Facebook". Networks are a series of relationships, and technology is not needed to facilitate these networks, although it will interesting to see how technology helps shape and facilitate these networks.

The Brand Value of Facebook Profiles

In a recent class discussion I pointed out that Facebook profiles are an excellent way for individuals to manage their brand. Whether a person is posting a video or updating a status, their activity on Facebook is a reflection of their thoughts. Additionally, it sends a message to the receivers or viewers that this is the perception that a person wants to give to the public.
As time progresses, communication is becoming less personal. Employers are choosing their employees based on social media profiles, students are earning degrees online and e-commerce makes it easier for people to purchase goods. Individuals are constantly striving to manage and maintain their credibility over the web.Facebook profiles give others the opportunities to learn about your interests, educational background and even career aspirations.Viewers can see your professional networks, personal friends and civic participation.
Managing your brand is critical. Some people view your profile way before they meet you. It is increasingly important to be conscious about the image you represent as well as the message you send.
Business and corporations have the responsibility of managing their brand as well. It is important for these entities to manage their brand by maintaining a presence. They can maintain a presence by disseminating news and information or providing deals on certain merchandise. Businesses and individuals are greatly impacted by their Facebook brand and must work constantly to maintain it's credibility.

Google: Key Actor in International Affairs

By now, most people in the United State and the world has either heard of Google or has had their life impacted by it in some way. As a U.S. company, Google represents the quintessential American company that evolved from humble beginnings to becoming a profitable organization. Google is a leader in information and communication technology. Google as a search engine is a useful tool for a myriad of industries, but more recently it has become the source for peacekeepers to track conflict in regions throughout the world.  For example, in 2009 the “Google Earth” application provided the U.S. State Department and humanitarian workers with satellite images of villages that were destroyed during the conflict in Darfur. These images allowed the foreign officials to avoid areas that were highly volatile as well as provide aide to villages with the most need.

I think that the service that Google Earth provides is exceptionally useful and necessary. I would like to see Google Earth play a similar role in America, by helping law enforcement stamp out crimes. Despite many who contend Google Earth’s surveillance capabilities I strongly believe that its technology is a great way to increase safety and security throughout the world.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

News Impartiality

The BBC posted a story yesterday detailing how the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee plans to review the station's news coverage of the Arab Spring in order to "ensure that it maintains the high standard of impartiality and accuracy that audiences expect." According to the article, the review will content analysis, audience research and interviews with interested parties.

My reaction to reading this story was that one of envy. When was the last time there was a serious, substantive review of American news media and the recommendations are actually taken on board? My feeling is that there would be an incredible opportunity to improve the quality of journalism in the United States.

Now before I go too fare down a naive and idealistic path regarding the media, there are obvious differences between the United States and the United Kingdom that would prevent a similar review from happening here. Firstly, the BBC, in spite of a large degree of autonomy, is still a government institution and thus, subject to the rules and regulations the government requires. Secondly, the constitutional right to freedom of the press would present significant governance questions to instituting a similar review process of private news media in the States.

That said, the "outrage" following Janet Jackson's Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction forced congress to act and consider new legislation governing what is considered appropriate television. Congress is not above mediating the media and has therefore set a precedent in this area. A substantive, unbiased review of national media in the United States is as least as important to the future of American youth as preventing them from seeing Janet Jackson exposed.

What do you all think? Am I wrong? Would this work here in the US?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Basketball and International Culture and Footwear Purveyors... Oh my.

Following up on our in-class discussion last week regarding Nike's failed attempt to mesh Chinese culture and basketball, I saw this new commercial by Adidas featuring Derek Rose taking on Toreros.

I think it's interesting on several levels. Firstly, the timing is a little awkward given that Spain recently outlawed bullfighting due to animal cruelty. I would assume, given the popularity of basketball in Spain, that this ad was originally intended to air over there and I wonder if it still did (I doubt it). It's possible that Adidas decided to air the ad in the States in order to get some mileage from it and hopefully get some marketing traction from it. Given that the NBA season is expected to start at least a month late as a result of the lock-out, even that seems less likely.

Rose has grown in prominence in the NBA following a stellar college career, so it's understandable that Adidas would want to feature him as a star in the sport and a premier endorser of their equipment. Granted, Rose plays for the Chicago Bulls, but is a bull fight really the best concept to use here to highlight his talents? I'm not so sure.

Even if we assume that bull fighting continued in Spain - we should acknowledge the popularity of the sport in parts of Latin America as well - would the ad have been successful? How does it portray Spanish/Hispanic culture? What do you think about this ad? Does it make the same mistakes that Nike made? More to the point, would this ad inspire somebody from Spain to go out and buy Adidas sneakers?


I've really enjoyed some of the details in this week's readings. Maybe it's not even so much the details as it is the way that many of the details are missing.
Many of the conclusions reached, as with the consensus in class, state that there are blends between formal and informal networks. Businesses may, for example, use formal networks. At my current job (UPS) we use the same suppliers every week, we use the same drivers every week, we even serve a lot of the same clients on a weekly basis.
What I find immensely interesting is the fact that clients often rely on our networks to accomplish their goals; personal or otherwise. Especially in international situations, where addresses can sometimes be weird (I shipped a package to Mexico for a client and the address contained the phrase "between such a building and some other building"), senders and receivers are dependent on our ability to connect between offices to resolve issues.
In a typical example, someone within the formal network (ie UPS international) calls me and says that an address wasn't sufficient for delivery. I then have to do some detective work outside of a formal network and get a hold of the sender. Often times, I have to reach out a number of ways to establish contact. Phones go unanswered, emails unseen. Luckily the UPS store has a FB account and I am sometimes able to get a hold of the shipper that way. At this point, I'm even relying on another network to accomplish the goals set out in mine.
When I finally do get a corrected address (or recipient phone number), I have to call the international office back so that they can call the local office who informs the driver who then calls the recipient. The most interesting thing about this is that it isn't just the information that needs to be relayed, but physical goods.
To make it full circle, as long as I've done my job right in including the sender's information, a confirmation email is sent out upon delivery.

It is sometimes mind-boggling to realize that while I'm just some guy selling a service, I'm also greatly responsible for the success or failure of a transaction. So long as every node in that network is functioning, the circuit can be completed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Culture for Sale. . .Anyone?

In 2011, the term globalization is just as ubiquitous as the word travel, yet some take for granted just how globalized our world has become. In Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat, he defines globalization as the interweaving of markets, technology, information systems, and telecommunications networks in a way that links them together. The interconnected elements that comprise globalization affect all parts of society including the economy, governance, and culture. The recent global economic crisis is a great example of the sometimes negative impact of a one world economy.
While some aspects of globalization are negative, others can be more entertaining. For instance, the U.S. primetime hit TV show, Ugly Betty was a spin-off from a popular Colombian telenovela called Betty La Fea. Before and during its time in the U.S., Betty la Fea was exported to 70 countries. According to Jade Miller’s text, “Ugly Betty Goes Global: global networks of localized content in telenovela industry,” Ugly Betty and other telenovela’s are widely popular with audiences throughout the world because they “combine universally appealing stories (rags-to-riches) and style (melodrama) with localizable specifics with which viewers can easily identify” (Miller, 2010). The telenovela industry in particular has witnessed isomorphism globally through the way in which television shows have copied its format.
Within the sphere of globalization, the process of cultural transfer is an integral component. Cultural transfer causes nations to adopt, enhance and alter things that are inherent to another culture. Television programming and fashion are two examples of cultural transfer. As companies expand their presence in the global public sphere glocalization becomes a norm that brings each of us together.

Topologies of Communication in D.C.

The reading assigned this week dealing with topologies of communication draws interesting parallels between the social and professional relationships in Washington D.C. The author describes topologies as the structure of links and nodes. He begins by illustrating an example from Facebook.  Facebook allows you to view the profile of your friends and also see mutual friends that exist. By clicking on one friend, you can see their entire network of friends and draw conclusions about their social and professional connections. In essence, this makes Facebook, a small world.

After living in D.C. for nearly a year, I am convinced that D.C. is extremely small in terms of social and professional connections and ultimately your networks will overlap. In this case, size is not a matter of scale, but of connection (Callon and Law, 2004). Topological communication disregards Euclidean geometry and measures of space all together. Similar to Facebook, the connections and networks in D.C. are similarly aligned. For example, people with similar interests are going to “Like “the same pages, post similar blogs, and comment on similar news. This interaction slowly brings individuals together who share a common interest. After a period of time, members of these social networks begin to know each other informally and can strengthen their relationships and network based upon their online commentary. Similar to D.C., if you have an interest in international relations, you will see some of the same people at talks that occur at the Council on Foreign Relations, The State Department and the Center for Strategic Studies. After more frequent encounters, not only do the individuals attending these events begin to become familiar with one another, but they are also exposed to the friends and other networks that these other people may have. To further explain, Grovenetter expresses this idea in terms of weak ties and strong ties. Strong ties dominate the social network by linking us to friends, family, fellow colleagues and employers. Weak ties cross between clusters of strongly tied people, but reach separate places and spheres.  (Granovetter 1973). Professionals in D.C. use the power of strong and weak ties in D.C. daily. People use this strategy to secure employment, to gain information and even to be granted access to special events.

The topologies both on Facebook and D.C make our networks more connected. The more people you know in D.C. increases your chances of knowing or being informed about what is going on in the area. Additionally, it’s not only about the people you know on Facebook or in D.C. What matters most is how many of those people know you. The topologies of communication make our social and professional life closer than ever.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Power of Fan Nations

 Mark Deuze discusses the growing popularity of media participation, a process in which fans are taking a more active role in the media they consume. He describes how historically an audience had to rely on letter to editors, or hot-lines to interact with media, and the process was still a top-down system. The advent of the Internet has changed all of that. Watching television is more interactive then it has ever been, often times  viewers are given a hashtag to use when referring to the show, in order to streamline the conversation. I recently watched the Emmy award show, while observing the conversation on Twitter. The variety of comments ranged from award winners, to fashion, to fans supporting their favorite shows. Fans are now able to engage in conversation about there favorite shows. The buzz created about a show may attract new viewers.

Fan also have increasing power in reviving their favorite programs.  Deuze talks about the possible end of the “gatekeeper” regarding news, but this notion can also lend itself to entertainment programs as well. Shows that have large or dedicated fan-following have showed increasing power over studios—even after a show has been cancelled.

The popular television show Arrest Development, went off the air in 2006, after three seasons. Although the rating when it aired originally were less than stellar, it has garnered a huge cult following via the internet. Participatory fan bases are asserting their power, and that’s something we can all do the chicken dance too. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Simpsons: A Global Cultural Phenomenon

I'd like to open this post as a forum to continue today's classroom discussion on American media and its impact on global culture. We saw how badly comedy can get muddled in translation today with Nike's flop of a Lebron James commercial in China. Professor Hayden described comedy and irony as cultural traits that are the most challenging to translate, yet The Simpsons is a global phenomenon that has spanned two decades and translated into over twenty languages including Arabic as you see here.

So how is a comedy so popular globally though it clearly reflects American pop culture? Perhaps it is, as Iwabuchi describes, culturally odorless. Though it references American pop culture, the fact that it is a cartoon that largely plays on the comedy of family dynamics, it is those dynamics that make it popular overseas. It should also be noted that in global syndication, certain liberties are taken with editing and translations that make it more compatible to the local cultural norms. That said, I think there is still a clear cultural identity here and so does Hugo Chavez as the Simpsons was banned in Venezuela in 2008.

And Chavez is not the only critic of the Simpsons. Brazil and Australia were unimpressed with the depictions of their nations in episodes when the Simpsons traveled overseas. Interestingly though, when the Simpsons visited England, giving the country the same stereotypical treatment as Brazil and Australia, the same outcry was not seen. Perhaps this is because the country is used to it by now with similar episodes seen in television shows from Friends to Married With Children. Or is it a deeper question? Is there such close cultural ties between England and the United States that the English could appreciate the comedy? Was there - as I feel - a larger group who felt that the show actually reflected negative sentiments about America? This is highlighted when Homer get's stuck in a British roundabout (traffic circle). After hours of attempting to exit, he finally gives up and yells, "I'm getting out of this the only way Americans know how: unilaterally!"

What do you think? What is it about The Simpsons that makes is a global success? Does it represent American cultural imperialism? Or does its success come from being culturally odorless?

Civil Society in the New Public Sphere

SPOILER ALERT: I touched on this question in my midterm exam, but it is a question I'd like to spend a little more time on.

This year we have seen several incidences where movement have arisen, largely through the grassroots (there's that word again). At the beginning of the year we saw this in Egypt and throughout the Middle East during the Arab Spring. From the spring and into the summer we saw the News of the World "phone hacking" scandal rock Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp. And most recently, the #occupy movement has grown over the course of the last month and has now "gone global."

The common thread between the three of these movements is that they have played a significant role in shaping the debate in the new public sphere without the help of civil society. In fact, traditional groups and organizations within civil society have, for the most part, been conspicuous in their absence. In Egypt, civil society was rigidly controlled by the Mubarak regime. The phone hacking scandal is actually old news that was largely ignored by the media and independent organizations until it was revealed that the tabloid paper knowingly impeded a police investigation in a high profile murder case. With the #occupy movement, there is a sense of suspicion and dismissal from the media coverage and only muted support from unions and organizations.

While you could perhaps argue with my characterizations of the participation of the civil society in these three cases, however, what is more certain is that in none of these movements did civil society lead the debate and shape it. Is this coincidence, or is it evidence of a developing trend?  Is individual public diplomacy replacing traditional groups in the civil society? Is this a good thing?

Assuming for a moment that this is illustrative of a trend in communications, then I am not entirely sure that it is a good thing. Civil Society is the go-between for the public and the government and it is far more challenging to individually create the awareness necessary to shift the conversation in the public sphere. That said, I appreciate that the evidence of this year suggests that it is increasingly possible for public to control the debate within the public sphere. It is interesting to see what happens next and I look forward to hearing from the leaders of the April 6th movement tomorrow and hear what they have to say about shifting the debate in the public sphere and inspiring change in their country.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The New Public Sphere

The public sphere is providing a more concrete avenue for civil society to be involved in the political process. I would actually argue that the public sphere is necessary to maintain an appropriate level of good governance. Providing a forum in which individuals can express ideas and debate issues is critical to democracy.

From its historical roots, the public sphere took the form of town hall meetings, conventions and tribal gatherings. These strategies required a more participatory approach on behalf of civil society. The ability to debate complex issues and influence policy was all done in person. Now, the public sphere has transformed to a more digital communication approach.

I think it is important for America to never lose the common touch. While I support the public sphere and its digital magnificence, I will remain committed to personal interaction when it comes to discussing important issues.

In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, we should always remember what was accomplished without the convenience of technology. The MLK dedication this weekend reminded me that civil rights activists worked hard to use the power of the public sphere. They did not tweet about the March on Washington, nor did they post status updates about demonstrations. Yet, they were able to mobilize the masses for a clear objective and rely on the common touch to bring them the results desired.

The Decline of U.S. Nationalism

Throughout history, nations have helped cultivate feelings of common belonging among people. When groups gather to celebrate federal holidays, exchange ideas in the public sphere, or participate in civic society through voting and or volunteering, they are contributing to the ideology of nationalism. In the United States, citizens identify with the nation through a variety of symbols and rituals. For example, school-aged children are required to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag daily as part of their educational routine. In many ways, this act of socializing young children to self-identify with the nation lays a foundation for nationalism that in some cases lasts a lifetime.
Today, the status of nationalism in the United States is arguably in question. Since the dawn of the ‘Great Recession’ millions of Americans are without jobs. In fact last month, the U.S. unemployment rate was at 9.1 percent.[1] With millions of Americans out of work, government approval rates are rapidly declining. In recent months, thousands of citizens have relied on the public sphere to express their disapproval for the government. In New York City for example, protesters on Wall Street have taken their complaints directly to the institution they hold responsible for the economic crisis.
Unfortunately, there is an overwhelming amount of dissatisfaction among Americans toward their nation. Nationalism is built upon unity, shared culture, and pride, thus a threat to these elements ultimately threatens the nation. If the demonstrations on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C. are indicative of the status of nationalism in America, it is clear that national identity in the U.S. is in jeopardy.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

OK, What Gives?

So I finally got around to watching "Capitalism: A Love Story". It was heart-wrenching. Politics aside, it was horrible to watch people thrown out on the street. It was difficult to sit and watch as the stories of a few rock-bottom families developed along side the tales of clever corporate schemes to horde money. The fact is, though, that politics were not aside. I'm doing some reading now on topics that the movie covered (ie - Reagan economics, modern housing markets, congressional jurisdiction and the voice of the people ignored). I don't have to read for long to find that Moore's fact-checking is right on target. Everyone should see this movie. It was unreal.
I know that in class I tend to come across as negative, but it's really just more of a skeptic thing. After all, my middle name is Thomas. I think it is so important to check credentials and to do some quick fact finding before we swallow information whole. Who's putting the news out there? Who sponsors this website? Whose manifesto is being pushed between the lines? Especially in an age where "information is so readily available" (a feature of the internet we hold in highest regards), it is vital that we know our sources.
One of the reasons I think we should care so much is that we NEVER heard about any of the back-door dealings that took place before, during, and after our financial crisis. Did you know that the top members of the financial firms essentially held congress down to get them to pass the bailout (after it had initially rejected it)? Or that memos were published within Bank of America that openly discussed ways in which the top 1% could effectively RULE the other 99%? I didn't. My point is - what is going on? How did we not know? Why did it take a few people so much digging in order to find out? We are communications majors here. What is happening to our field?
This just keeps feeding into other questions: How did we get to this present situation? Why are so few able to suppress so many? Why, when those of us willing to shout gather in NYC and DC, do the rest of us look on in apathy/amusement/judgment?

Click Here For A Look At "Capitalism: A Love Story"