Archive for the ‘spin’ Category
There’s a certain irony apparent (at least to me) in Chris Hadfield returning to earth after what is undeniably one of the great examples of communication in action and the government for whom he works being roundly pasted for its “rebranding” of the National Research Council of Canada. And there are lessons to be learned here. And I have to tip the hat to friend and colleague Susan Murphy, whose post this morning “Chris Hadfield: Social Media Un-guru” got me thinking about all this.
First, let’s précis Chris Hadfield. In his five months on the International Space Station, he has, in the words of tech blog Gizmodo, “made us care about space again.”
How? They say “Hadfield straddled the lines between teacher and performer, educated expert and screwball with a camcorder, just about perfectly.” His Larrivee parlour guitar wasn’t just a recreational toy. He used it to record an earth-space collaboration with a choir and with Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson that became a national singalong on “Music Monday.” His camera became a tool for a unique set of eyes on our planet and a record of all sorts of land, sea and skyscapes. Look at Cape Bretoner Parker Donham, who posted twice when Hadfield “took pictures of my primary residence.” And then, as he prepared to return to earth, he released a moving cover version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
Meantime, the Canadian government refocused and rebranded the venerable National Research Council last week. The refocusing moved the historic institution “away from basic science” and towards a focus on applying science and collaborating with business.
The move has been criticized by many people, including Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells and US-based science blogger and author Phil Plait, who called it “monumentally backward thinking.” Some point to the current government’s uneasy-to-hostile role of muzzler / gatekeeper between scientists and researchers. It also was a matter of some concern inside the agency too, according to this CBC blog post.
Chris Hadfield was able to do what he’s done because of a few things:
- He’s a charismatic person, and we’ve been able to see that because we see him.
- He had five months to tell a compelling story and to build an audience for that story.
- He was willing to tell human stories in a human way.
- He was willing and eager to engage with people.
What’s the latest video on the NRC’s Youtube channel?
Is it fair to compare these two videos? Probably not. Is it fair to compare the two channels? Maybe.
- NRC: 102 subscribers, 11,786 views, comments disabled on most videos
- CSA: 153,623 subscribers, 22,970,172 views, dozens and hundreds of comments per video
- NRC: 2,194 followers, 229 tweets
- Hadfield: 879,225 followers, 4,919 tweets
- CSA: 45,510 followers, 13,821 tweets
What we’ve seen in the last five months has been a demonstration of the power of social media. That demonstration will only be truly useful if other parts of the government which funds agencies like the Canadian Space Agency and the National Research Council see that potential and make use of it.
As the tragedy of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh unfolds, I’ve been thinking about something that happened more than 100 years ago.
In April 1911, a tragic fire in a clothing factory in New York killed 146 garment workers at the Triangle Waist Company and injured 71. Until 9/11, it was the second-deadliest disaster in that city’s history.
When I was a kid, I saw a TV movie based on this tragedy, and for some reason it stuck with me. Perhaps it was because at about 13, I was watching child actors portray workers in danger at the factory and dying from burns, or from jumping from the 10th storey or higher, as the flames became more intense.
And that fire’s come back to me now as rescuers give up hope in Dhaka and the body count rises past 400. The dead in New York in 1911 were the bottom of the barrel. They were recent immigrants, young women, desperately trying to gain a foothold in their new country. They worked making women’s blouses (known as shirtwaists) nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and seven hours on Saturday, for the princely sum of $12 per week.
When the fire broke out, apparently when someone dropped a match or cigarette in some cloth scraps, it raged through the factory, helped by the fact that far too much scrap cloth had been left in bins. And the doors to the factory were locked.
So the workers tried to escape. The fire escape, a compromise between the factory owners and the city, was shoddy, and 20 workers fell to their deaths when it collapsed and fell 100 feet to the ground.
Horrified onlookers watched dozens of people leap from the building, some described as “living torches.”
Now compare that to the thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh, making less than $40 per month as compensation for their contribution to the Bangladeshi export economy, which accounts for 80% of the nation’s exports.
The tragedy of this collapse is infuriating, given the fact that the building was constructed without the slightest apparent regard for building code regulations, and that the owner apparently tried to escape the country once the collapse occurred.
And when it was discovered that Canadian brand Joe Fresh was one of the brands being produced there, Canadians began to ask themselves whether they should be buying cloths. Talk of a boycott of Bangladeshi products began.
The issue was then complicated by people pointing out that a boycott of Bangladeshi goods might well result in hurting the very workers that it was intended to support and assist. As the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders wrote:
“The garment boom has reduced poverty sharply and raised the status of women. This has coincided with a five-year period of democratic stability. But the cities are corrupt and virtually ungoverned – almost certainly the root cause of the building collapse. Changes to building codes, safety standards and hygiene are unlikely to happen unless pressure comes from outside.
We know it can work. In 2010, Dhaka’s garment workers held huge protests: They won a historic minimum-wage increase of 80 per cent, to around $50 a month. And pressure from North American companies, chastened and embarrassed by events such as last year’s lethal fire, has increased safety and working standards in factories that sell to the West. Similar pressure can force companies to pay workers fairly and keep them safe from disaster and abuse.
The garment boom has helped reduce poverty in the West (by reducing clothing costs) and in the East (by providing wages far higher than subsistence farming or casual labour). The next step is to remain connected, and to demand the sort of workplace standards that should be universal. Bangladeshi workers should have the same protections that our own workers won, through tragedy and horror, a century ago.”
As you can see, I’m far from the only person thinking about this tragedy and relating it to the Triangle fire.
When over decades, living standards for workers in the West increased, and worker protections increased apace, we’ve seen that production go overseas, to places in which those protections and standards don’t exist. The Bangladeshi workers share many characteristics with their sisters who died 100 years ago.
But knee-jerk reactions don’t make for concerted change. It’s important for us to learn and to listen to those who know more about what’s happening on the ground, and then to figure out what the best thing to do is and to try to help our fellow man and woman by supporting in the BEST way possible, not simply the one that makes us feel good. And if we truly believe this is an important issue, we should be willing to act in a more substantive way than just clicking like on a Facebook page or signing an online petition.
Here’s a documentary about the Triangle fire that I found on Youtube.
I disagree with the Government of Canada on many things. So many I couldn’t begin to list them here.
So it’s with some surprise that I find myself… defending at least one of their actions.
A flurry of attention got given in my FB and other circles to this story recently:
“OTTAWA (NEWS1130) – The Harper government has been monitoring political messages online, and even correcting what it considers misinformation. One local expert says the government is taking things too far.
Under the pilot program the Harper government paid a media company $75,000 to monitor and respond to online postings about the east coast seal hunt.
UBC Computer Science professor and President of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, Richard Rosenberg, says it seems unnecessary for the government to be going this far. “The government has a lot of power, that it feels the need to monitor public bulletin boards, or places where people express views and then to respond to that, seems to me going beyond a reasonable action the government should be taking.”
Rosenberg says knowing that the government is monitoring certain topics online could result in people being more careful with their identities when they’re posting about political issues on the internet.
He says it’s the first time he’s heard of this happening in Canada.”
There are 20 pages of comments on the story. Most are along the lines of this:
|Democracy dying a quicker death in Canada!
I guess the right to free speech, freedom of the press, the right to strike, belong to a union, belong to a professional group, a society, freedom to associate and every other right or freedom we have under our Constitution or the Charter of rights and freedoms will slowly be eroded by this government! Two generations of mine fought in two world wars to defeat tyrants and dictators, their legacy for us does not leave room for the same politics happening here. I work with people from all around the world and many have asked how Canadians can allow this to happen in our country. Some left their homelands to escape dictatorships and tyrrany but see it happening here. Something is dreadfully wrong here. This is no longer the Canada I grew up in, these are not the politicians my parents and grandparents would have supported.
It would be REALLY easy for me to write a post critical of the federal government’s actions. I’m not much of a fan of our current government. Except… isn’t this exactly what we tell organizations to DO?
One quick example: Radian6 has a book out called Nine Rules of Social Media. Chapter two is the rules of listening:
- Refine, refine, refine.
- Process what you hear.
- Don’t ever stop listening.
Later, they talk about “the rules of engagement”:
- You don’t have to talk directly to people to be engaged.
- Social media engagement policies and guidelines are a must.
- Be kind, be social, and be consistent.
I don’t think anyone involved with social media would find much to argue with with those rules, in principle.
Another example is the now ubiquitous US Air Force Blog Assessment Chart, made popular by Jeremiah Owyang.
And if I was being asked for advice from a client on a controversial file, I would think the fairly standard fare would include:
“Listen where people are talking about you. If you see plainly wrong information, consider whether and how to correct it. And engage in the conversation if you feel it will further your case.”
So if we social media folk tell our clients to listen all the time and engage when appropriate, why would we not want our government to do the same?
And if we want a responsive, attentive government, are they not supposed to know what people are saying in public forums and on public websites?
Whether or not we are in support of a government or a political party, surely we must be able to agree that it’s in our — and their — best interest to listen to and understand what discussions are being had in the online public square, and to understand what this means to the government’s policies and programs.
Where the government seems to me to be falling down is in explaining what it did and why. After a week (admittedly a week including a long weekend and a very difficult period of preparing to lay off thousands of employees) I received an e-mailed response from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s media office.
Here’s what I asked:
I’m a communications blogger interested in learning more about the program of monitoring and engagement DFAIT coordinated concerning the seal hunt. (see this story:
national/article/58287–or http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/ harper-government-monitoring- online-chats-about-politics Canada/20091222/seal_) monitoring_091222/
I would appreciate the opportunity to learn what tools were used, what criteria were used to gauge success or failure of the initiative, and whether it was judged successful or not. I would also appreciate seeing some examples of how and when the government engaged in discussions to correct misinformation.
Here’s what they told me:
This pilot provided a tremendous opportunity for the Government of Canada to test new media monitoring and communication tools as a way to be better informed about what Canadians are saying about important public policy issues.
There were two objectives to this pilot: to correct misinformation about Canada’s seal harvest, and to train Government of Canada employees to detect and correct misinformation about this industry. Both objectives were met.
Topics for monitoring and correction covered the two main myths regarding the seal harvest: the myth that the harvest is inhumane, and that it is unsustainable.
Not much detail there. So I guess if there’s a lesson to be had, it’s that doing good work (at least one can assume it was good work) deserves a good story to be told.
It seems like just a year or so ago that Netflix found itself in the New York Times apologizing for hiring actors to pretend to be excited about the company entering the Canadian market. And didn’t the US Federal Emergency Management agency have to apologize for pretending that its own employees were journalists, when it faked a news conference? Oh yeah, they did!
But hey, those guys are amateurs. They are certainly not “Canada’s home for hard news and straight talk”, a network that is “unwavering in their commitment to uncover the real stories impacting the lives of everyday working people and their families“.
So when Sun News wants to cover a citizenship ceremony, what ends up happening? The minister’s office sends down the orders to put together a ceremony at the Sun studios (not where Elvis and Jerry Lee hung out, sadly), and when they have trouble putting together enough warm bodies to make the ceremony look legit… the ceremony gets faked, with public servants posing as new Canadians. Here’s the video, in all its cringeworthy glory. Keep in mind as you watch it, that six of these people are not “new Canadians.” They are federal employees.
I’m guessing the two small people on the end aren’t the public servants. They appear to be children, although in this topsy-turvy world who can tell? Here’s the story as reported in the Globe and Mail, obtained through Access to Information requests by the Canadian Press.
The story’s money quote:
When a bureaucrat sent Sun News a list of possible citizenship ceremonies to cover in Ontario, a network employee suggested another scenario. “Let’s do it. We can fake the Oath,” reads an email from a sunmedia.ca email address, the name blacked out of the document.
I suppose I should draw the lessons, although I can’t imagine I have to:
- Journalists shouldn’t create pseudo events or cover them as real events.
- Public servants should have more integrity.
- Hard news and straight talk don’t mix well with “Fake the Oath.”
Let’s all be a bit better than this.
The political appointee Candice Malcom appeared on Sun News today to apologize for the event. Sun News host Pat Bolland claimed that they knew nothing of the fakery. For what it’s worth, I never would have suggested the strategy followed in the wake of this muffup. Here’s the video:
UPDATE 2: Sun News Network’s David Akin weighs in with his take on the event.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Stephen Duckett’s unfortunate choice to focus more on his cookie than on the reporters chasing him for comment.
A quick summary: while Alberta Health Service, the agency managing that province’s health system, was going through some serious criticism over wait times and other issues, reporters buttonholed its CEO, Stephen Duckett, looking for comment. He wanted them to wait for a media availability that was happening in a short time, and instead of commenting kept walking, repeating “I’m eating my cookie!” in response to persistent questions.
A couple of things to note here:
- the wording is important, particularly these phrases: “will no longer serve” and “both the Board and Dr. Duckett have jointly agreed that now is the time to move on.”
- According to the CBC story, one board member has resigned, while a Calgary Herald story suggests three board members may have resigned. This decision came direct from the province’s health minister, Gene Zwozdesky. The Herald story is somewhat unclear on who told them this, but apparently the agency’s board chair said “I did speak to the minister and his directions were clear.” Sounds like marching orders to me. This may also explain the resignation or resignations..
- I suspect the provincial government needed to be seen to be cleaning house on a messy situation. Keep in mind that a Conservative MLA was kicked out of caucus last week for criticizing health management in the province and that opposition parties are baying like hounds on a fox hunt on this.
Departures at the top of any organization are difficult to manage, and this one appears particularly messy. But to conclude that it’s because of one bad media encounter going viral leads me to two thoughts:
- If this was because of “Cookiegate”, it’s a bad decision
- If it wasn’t, there’s likely a great deal that we normal humans don’t — and won’t — ever know.
Don’t judge too quickly. We outsiders aren’t privy to what really is going on within the organization.
Update: The Globe and Mail has its analysis.