Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Emerging Media & Politics Part 2

Those staunch, staid Republicans keep getting all interactive on us!

First there was the live web tour of the convention facilities I wrote about a couple of days ago.

Now they're sponsoring a contest to win a free trip to the convention. All you have to do is make a video of yourself, 2 minutes or less, about why you're a Republican. The winner will get to attend the convention as part of the press corps, and will see their video played on the convention floor. Pretty cool, although I don't have the time, energy, or interest to actually make a video and post it. Which got me to wondering: are these types of promotions really aimed at (or even successful at) attracting new devotees who are drawn by the interactivity? Or are the party faithful the only ones who are really participating?

I noticed while I was at the contest site that the Republicans have 27 other convention related videos on YouTube, including an archived version of that lunchtime chat web tour of the convention center from last Friday. One of the most watched videos is a spoof of a costumed donkey visiting the convention headquarters to deliver a singing telegram (and then being mock "arrested"):

When something as old school as a GOP convention can get into the new media act, you know it must be mainstream!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch & the Power of the Internet

Randy Pausch 1960-2008

If there ever was an example of how social media can spread an important message virally -- Randy Pausch's story has to be it.

Randy died today at age 47, 11 months after giving an academic lecture that was seen in person by several hundred people, but thanks to the Internet, has been watched by millions more.

Randy was a ground-breaking professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon University here in Pittsburgh. He co-founded the university's Entertainment Technology Center and developed Alice, the university's innovative educational software for teaching computer programming. He was at the top of his professional game, when, two years ago he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given less than a year to live.

On September 18, 2007, he delivered his "Last Lecture" at CMU -- I've capitalized the words "last lecture," because that's the name of a special lecture series at CMU. Speakers are invited to talk about what they would say if indeed, the lecture was their last.

For Pausch it truly would be his last lecture at his beloved alma mater. Entitled "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," the lecture was Pausch's funny, upbeat and self-deprecating look at his own life, punctuated by his sage advice for living -- even as he knew he was dying. If you haven't watched it you should (click here).

Randy's lecture was posted on CMU's website, then on YouTube, and has been watched by at least 6 million people, probably more. It was turned into a best-selling book. It lead to invitations to testify before congress about funding for pancreatic cancer research, to appear on Oprah, to work out with the Steelers, even to appear as an extra in the upcoming Star Trek movie. As one colleague put it, Pausch lived more in his last year of life than most of us will live in a lifetime.

For those who knew Pausch today is bittersweet: he is gone, but his legacy will live on, thanks to his courage, humour, and a lecture that, thanks to the Internet, has touched people around the world.

Watch one of KDKA's obituaries on Pausch by clicking here.

Watch Pausch's address to CMU graduates in May by clicking here.

Watch a version of the Last Lecture with running commentary by Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal who co-authored Pausch's book by clicking here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Emerging Media & Politics

As a journalist, political junkie and marketing student, I've been fascinated to see how the 2008 presidential campaign has embraced emerging media and social in such a big way.

It's a given that candidates large and small will have websites, and of course McCain, Obama and Clinton have them -- all let you switch from English to Spanish -- very smart, since Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S. These websites are not only places to disseminate information and connect with voters, they're fundraising powerhouses. How else to explain how Hillary Clinton raised more than $1 million in less than 24 hours after she urged supporters to visit her site during her victory speech in New Hampshire in January?

E-mail has also become a huge tool for the candidates to communicate -- including with those of us in the media. I'm signed up/was signed up to receive e-mail releases from both the Obama and Clinton camps. During those long six weeks of campaigning leading up to the primary here in Pennsylvania, I was inundated with at least a few -- and often dozens -- of press releases and position papers every day.

Today I learned of yet another way that politicos are using new media. I got an invitation from the people who are organizing the 2008 Republican National Convention to participate in an on-line "Lunchtime Chat" tomorrow at 1pm, which will take participants on a live walking tour of the convention headquarters in Saint Paul, and give us a chance to meet the people behind the scenes of the convention. The chats use technology powered by a company called, the live streaming provider of the convention. The fact that the Republicans actually have a live streaming provider tells me that we're probably in for 24/7 streaming of both of these conventions for those who just can't get enough!

P.S. No surprise, the convention homepage also has a blog, wallpaper, and a social networking site where people going to the convention can hook up and make friends even before they get to Minnesota. The Dems have their own page with some of the same features, plus an invitation to make a "why I'm a Democrat in 2008" video and post it to YouTube!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Breaking Up is (less) Hard to Do

Under the category of what will they think of next, a new phone service called Slydial is making it easier to get through those awkward moments (like breaking up with someone) by connecting directly with their cell phone voice mail.

You call 267-Slydial either from your cell phone or a landline, enter the other person's cell phone number and voila. The only caveat is that your phone has to be caller ID enabled, to prevent people from anonymously harassing other people on their mobile phones.

Gavin Macomber, co-founder of MobileSphere Ltd., the Boston-based communications company behind Slydial says the idea for the service while developing a service to lower the cost of international roaming on cell phones. And it actually does have some great business applications: business people wanting to leave reminder messages for clients, or leaving messages for people traveling in faraway time zones without having the phone ring at an odd time of day or night.

That said, the ability to leave really bad news on someone's voice mail box without having to actually TALK to them seems like the most intriguing benefit of Slydial! And isn't that lack of face to face contact the way we like it in these days of e-mailing co-workers who are sitting an office away, and texting people that we could call on the phone?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Birth of a New KDKA Blog

It’s always fun when the things I’m learning in my Master’s Degree program dovetail with things that are going on at the TV station. It feels good when my learning allows me contribute to the success and health of my company in new ways. And it gets me excited again about the possibilities for the future of a business that a lot of people say is dying.

For the past several months we’ve been talking a lot about how to make our website,, even better. Right now our site traffic is consistently second in the chain of CBS owned and operated TV stations, coming in ahead of giant markets like LA, New York, Miami and Chicago. But we’re always being challenged not only to increase traffic, but to increase time spent at our site.

One of the ways we’re doing that is by encouraging more of our reporters and anchors to blog. Right now we have 12 blogs on the site, 10 local, 2 produced by CBS and distributed to all of the owned and operated stations. Our local blogs range from one that answers viewer health questions written by our medical reporter, Dr. Maria Simbra, to a blog about road construction and transportation issues written by our traffic reporter Jim Lokay. Even producers are getting in on the act: web producer Angela Taylor writes about her passion for the Young and the Restless, and sports producer Mike Vukovcan keeps readers up to date on the latest scoop from inside the Pirates organization.

One of the things I don’t like about our blog page right now is that it isn’t engaging. The way it’s set up, the blogs all appear by title, but in no particular order. There’s no way of knowing which blog has new information posted, or even what’s inside the blog. In other words, there’s nothing to guide you. How would you know from the headline on reporter Mary Robb Jackson’s blog called (duh!) “Mary Robb Jackson’s Blog” that inside you would find the emotional story of Mary Robb’s adopted daughter Mariel’s travels to meet her birth mother for the first time?

Contrast this with one of my favorite company blogs, Direct2Dell, a “blog about Dell Products, Services and Customers.” Like the KDKA blog, it’s written by Dell employees, including everyone from vice-presidents to customer service reps. But the set up and layout of the site is, in my opinion, much more intuitive than the blog page.

Sign on to the Dell blog, and you’ll find one or two main posts of the day – almost like a lead story in a television newscast (see where I’m going with this?). To the right of the main blog is the list of other categories where employees may also be blogging or answering customer questions. Someone (probably lead blogger Lionel Menchaca) has decided, of all of the blogs written that day, which are the most newsworthy or of the most general interest to be the main blog, and Menchaca writes the lead post on days when it needs to be an over-arching message that’s not specific to a particular subject category. He also writes a week in review on the weekends, summing up the discussion at the blog that week. My guess is that Menchaca also prods his colleagues to write posts when he believes that the most important story of the day for Dell is something in their area of expertise. He may even be the one who makes sure customer service is monitoring the blog for consumer complaints and answering their questions.

My hope is that the future KDKA blog will look a lot like the Dell page, with a “lead” story relevant to the day’s news or to what people are talking about, and the list of all blogs marching from top to bottom on the right. For example, expect me to blog early on about the avalanche of viewer e-mail I get about why television newscasts “tease” so much. I’ll probably also blog early on (or get my consumer reporter Yvonne Zanos to blog) about the frequent viewer e-mail we receive related to on-line scams. When there’s a big court case going on, I’ll certainly get our veteran reporter, Harold Hayes, to blog about the behind the scenes scoop he observes. When a big weekend construction project threatens to cause traffic nightmares, Jim Lokay’s blog will be featured that day. And if I had been chief blogger when Mary Robb wrote the blog about her daughter, that would certainly have been front page news!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Bling in "Ning"

I’ll admit to being really late to this social networking thing. This year I finally signed up for LinkedIn (only because a bunch of my business acquaintances kept asking me to join their networks), and created a presence (I can’t really call it a “page”) at FaceBook after my husband and some other friends joined there.

So it’s no surprise that I had never heard of the social networking service called Ning until my friend and classmate John introduced me to it. You might describe Ning as social networking page crossed with a wiki crossed with a blog, where people create customized websites to host on-line communities around just about any subject (in any language) to connect with like-minded people.

There’s GAX for gamers (2700+ members) and “Mamas Fallen Angels” for people who love “hair metal” music of the 80’s and 90’s (3700+ members). Hip-hop mogul 50 Cent has a Ning site with more than 100,000 members! Launched in February 2007 by Gina Bianchini and Marc Andreesssen, Ning was recently valued at half-a-billion dollars (yes, that’s a capital B!) as reported by TechCrunch, and the company predicts by 2010, it will host 4 million social networks.

In an article on FastCompany, Adam Penenberg describes Ning as something called a “viral expansion loop”:

"It's a type of engineering alchemy that, done right, almost guarantees a self-replicating, borglike growth: One user becomes two, then four, eight, to a million and beyond. It's not unlike taking a penny and doubling it daily for 30 days. By the end of a week, you'd have 64 cents; within two weeks, $81.92; by day 30, about $5.4 million. Viral loops have emerged as perhaps the most significant business accelerant to hit Silicon Valley since the search engine. They power many of the icons of Web 2.0, including Google, PayPal, YouTube, eBay, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Flickr. But don't confuse a viral loop with viral advertising or videos such as Saturday Night Live's "Lazy Sunday" or the Mentos-Diet Coke Bellagio fountain. Viral advertising can't be replicated; by definition, a viral loop must be."

That’s all way too technical for me. All I know is that Ning offers a lot of cool features, like total customization of the page (including the ability to use company logos) and the ability to insert widgets from other websites. It provides the opportunity to create individual member profiles and discussion groups within the Ning page, and helps users to display photos and slideshows, even allows them to integrate their FaceBook pages into the network.

CMS Wire asks if Ning is the next FaceBook or MySpace. I think that’s selling Ning short. I’m really looking forward to getting to know Ning better now that I’ve discovered it. I can think of lots of applications. I’ve just agreed to be co-chair of the committee that will plan and fundraise for my college class 25th reunion – why not create a Ning page for that?

Maybe we need a Ning social network for harried graduate students ;-)!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Dear family, friends and colleagues--

I know this doesn't have anything to do with TV news, marketing or emerging media (unless my "digtal" camera counts as new media), but I had to share. My son's North Hills (PA) tournament baseball team won the Bauerstown 8-year old tournament last night against a tough team from Deer Lakes, 11-6. Given that our boys were at one point down 6-1, they learned a valuable lesson about never giving up. It's a lesson for all of us -- whether we work in the challengeing worlds of news and marketing, or are studying challenging subjects like new media in graduate school!

You're Kool and the Gang if you started singing the song my headline was inspired by!