I haven't blogged in a while because I've been busy chasing after my son all summer and continuing my search for the best pizza in Seattle. Delancey is still #1 in my book, but the hunt continues.
I did, however, take time out of my busy schedule to agree to be interviewed by the nice folks at mastersincommunications.com, "the premier resource for Master's in Communications programs." They reached out to me on LinkedIn to ask if I would be interviewed since I recently completed my COML program at Gonzaga. I gladly agreed to answer their questions because explaining what I accomplished in the program helps clarify what aspects of the program were most important to me and I also want to help others decide if graduate school is right for them. It certainly was for me.
My interview can be found here. Hope you find it interesting! If you or anyone you know has any questions about going to grad school online or the COML program, please feel free to send me an email. I would be happy to answer any questions about my journey and why I chose to go to school online at Gonzaga.
Assignment - Create a piece of propaganda. This could be a fake news story, or an image designed to persuade the audience. Post on your blog and discuss what makes it propaganda.
My propaganda is a script for a fake political radio advertisement. Since the elections are a month away, television and radio advertisements here in Seattle are filled with political spots. Negative political advertisements are generally loathed by the public, but they are effective and political campaign managers and consultants believe they work, even if the evidence is inconclusive. They take a kernel of truth and twist and mold it to shape an extreme negative perception of an opposing candidate or issue.
We've all seen political advertisements and most of us express annoyance that they clog up our commercials. But we often remember the message delivered in the advertisements. Negative campaign advertisements exist because they work. They could be considered a type of propaganda because of some of their characteristics, including being misleading and publicizing a political point of view. But most political ads are tied to a fact, which is why I would not consider them to be true propaganda.
My example, however, is true propaganda because it is not true. It is a good example of the absurdity of political advertisements. I see it as propaganda and also satire, because it seems like it could be real.
Fake political radio advertisement
[Introduction begins with ominous music in the background]
Narrator: Many Washingtonians consider their pets to be part of the family and would do anything to get them the medicine they need to survive. As a state representative, Joe Smith voted to raise taxes on medical supplies for pets by 400 percent. Those tax increases resulted in thousands of families in Washington having to give their beloved pets away.
Sound: Dogs sadly barking and whining in the background
Narrator: Joe Smith and his cronies in Olympia want to make pets unaffordable for everyone but the one percent. He doesn’t share our values. Joe Smith: Bad for our pets, bad for Washington.
Narrator (quickly speaking): Paid for by People Protecting the Population against Pet Taxes
Sound: Single happy dog bark
Assignment - Select a failed social media campaign. Discuss why you believe this campaign failed. How did the company or person try to repair its image after the campaign? How would you have approached this campaign differently?
Starbucks, the ubiquitous Seattle-based coffee company, is seen as a leader on many progressive issues, and does a great deal to earn the loyalty of its 277,000 worldwide employees, or “partners” as they are known. From offering full health care benefits to part-time employees to being recognized as a LBGT-friendly large employer, Starbucks prides itself as being a progressive and inclusive company.
My wife works at the Starbucks Support Center, which would be known as a corporate headquarters if it were any other company. Equality and social responsibility are very important at Starbucks, and it has paid off in many ways. For example, Starbucks was recently named the fifth-most admired employer in the world; it has achieved 100 percent gender pay equity in the US; and its stock has done well over the years (though not lately).
As a progressive and forward-thinking company, Starbucks has engaged in many social media campaigns. Some have been hugely successful (people can’t wait for the holiday cups to come out). Others have hugely backfired.
Former CEO Howard Schultz and Starbucks have not shied away from controversial issues. In many ways leaning into social issues facing our country has made Starbucks the successful company it is today. People like being associated with the brand because they agree with the company’s values and culture. One example of social activism that Starbucks and Schultz took on is the “#racetogether” campaign that Schultz spearheaded in 2015.
Schultz decided early in 2015 that his company should do something to try to bring people together. Funny that we thought people were irreconcilably divided back in 2015. Little did we know what was to come. But that’s a blog post for another day. Anyway, Schultz had an idea and ran it by his executives. He proposed that Starbucks baristas write “#racetogether” on customers’ cups. This simple gesture would be accompanied by a media campaign in which Starbucks would work to engage the public by starting a discussion on the racial tensions in America.
According to an in-depth analysis of the campaign by Fast Company magazine, Schultz wanted to do something and had this idea, but he nor anyone on his team really examined how it would look for a white male billionaire to attempt to lead a discussion on racial issues. Nor was any market research done on the idea. It was hastily rolled out and quickly exploded into a controversial, poorly thought out, foolish idea. Those were some of the more kind words used to describe the initiative, which included a memo instructing baristas to ““engage [customers] in conversation,” and offered three bullet points for possible sentiments to convey, including, “Our company feels responsible to do our part as the country faces ongoing racial tension.”
Social media predictably (for everyone but Schultz) exploded. People of all races almost universally panned the idea, saying that they were definitely not interested in talking about racial issues with their local barista. The fact that Starbucks lacks diversity at the executive level and is led by a white man was immediately brought up. Who was Schultz to tell others to engage on social issues? Why was the company even bringing up social issues at all?
In just a week, Starbucks ended its initiative of baristas writing “#racetogether” on cups. But the company did not admit defeat. Instead they doubled down, admitting an error in the execution of this particular initiative but committing to be a leader on corporate diversity. For example, Starbucks has expanded into economically diverse neighborhoods and has committed to hire 10,000 “opportunity youth,” specifically from areas that tend to be economically depressed. And while Schultz himself admitted that the “#racetogether” initiative was not successful, he also prided himself on the fact that his company at least starting a conversation about racial issues instead of ignoring them.
Personally, I never would have had the interest nor the desire to try to address racial issues as a corporate leader. I don't agree with Schultz that corporations should be involved in social issues of the day. There are other ways to stand for something besides trying to force people into a conversation or engagement they do not want to have. That is egotism, not leadership. In my opinion, corporations should operate ethically and legally but should leave the activism to others. That is not to say that their employees should not be allowed to engage in social issues or that the corporation should not weigh in on issues of the day. But I think any such actions should be done with great care and consideration. Corporations should be as neutral as possible, leaving the politics and activism to others.
While the #racetogether initiative was clearly a failure, with 62 percent of social media posts related to the campaign classified as negative, according to an analysis by AdWeek, it did raise Starbucks’ profile and got people talking about social issues. Everyone “came together” to bash Starbucks and Schultz’s egotistical approach to discussing racial issues, but the conversation was happening, which was the company’s goal all along. So in a way the initiative had its intended effect.
Photo credit: Business Insider
Assignment - Select an online persona or organization and evaluate its social media presence. What is your perception of this identity? Comment on the positive and negative aspects of how the identity is presented. Offer some insights on how to improve this identity.
New Seasons Market is a 21-store regional supermarket chain based in Portland, Oregon. Most stores are in the Portland metro area, with two locations in Seattle and one in San Jose, California. New Seasons is northwest-focused and features a lot of regional products. It has a progressive workplace and attempts to be involved in local communities. Its identity is based in its regional, progressive foundation and the company's social media presence reflects its mission of being the “ultimate neighborhood store.” Social responsibility is central to New Seasons' social media outreach efforts and its online posts reinforce stated commitments to connect local tastemakers with customers and “champion the regional food economy.” My perception of New Seasons’ online identity is that it aligns with the company’s stated social responsibility goals.
New Seasons’ social media presence is polished and professional. The company uses a PR firm to manage its online profile and it shows. The photos and videos feature individual products and spotlight local producers and vendors. The posts are professionally produced and include positive, hip copy without being edgy. The content focuses on promoting products and engaging with local communities. I think the social media presence shows authenticity but also seems packaged, if that makes sense. The content looks exactly like what a PR firm would test in focus groups and produce for clients.
New Seasons has 75,000 Facebook followers. It is connected with 23,800 people on Instagram and 13,700 on Twitter. Not bad numbers for a regional retail company, but not a large following overall. To put that number in perspective, Safeway has 1.4 million Facebook followers and Whole Foods Market has 4.3 million Facebook followers. A more apples-to-apples comparison may be that of New Seasons to Metropolitan Market, a similar upscale grocery store chain with about a dozen stores in the Seattle area. Met Market, as it is colloquially known, has 14,000 Facebook followers and a similarly curated social media presence. Based on New Seasons’ relatively small following on social media and the few comments each post generates, there doesn’t seem to be a communitas of like-minded grocery shoppers.
Like most companies, the social media persona of New Seasons is curated to be positive. It wouldn’t make sense for a company to willingly expose its real self. Companies want to control their own narrative. For example, many people in Seattle are opposed to New Seasons entering the market here because the company is non-unionized. Union supporters here say that the company is anti-union and its presence in Seattle is accelerating the gentrification of a historically minority neighborhood. I happen to live about a mile from where the new New Seasons is opening later this year and I can say with first-hand knowledge that gentrification has been going on here for a long time. New Seasons is not to blame for displacing people who can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood.
New Seasons could improve its social media image by posting more content online. Currently, the company posts 1-4 times per week on its accounts. This could be increased. In-house videos could also be produced featuring employees or aspects of its stores that are better and more interesting than the competition. Most people know what a Safeway experience is like: boring, bland, and slow. New Seasons strives to be different, so that needs to be displayed more on social media. Featuring the food is fine, but most markets have good food. I personally like shopping at New Seasons because it is a better overall experience than going to Safeway. The New Seasons experience doesn’t show up enough in social media posts.
As I mentioned earlier, New Seasons only has 23,800 Instagram followers. This could be because most people don’t engage online with grocery stores. But 23,800 people do, so the company could profile some of its shoppers to help tell their story. Using real customers would bring credibility to the story and would show how loyal customers are to their neighborhood store. Loyalty is hard to measure, but I am reasonably confident that New Seasons customers are more loyal to their store and enjoy shopping there more than Safeway customers are loyal to their local store. A “customer of the week” could be a fun way to feature New Seasons products and customers. I would be willing to be featured in an Instagram post and many other customers probably would be as well.
Photo Credit: Mercer Island Reporter
Assignment - Select a technology and explain how it has politics
In his article, “Do artifacts have politics?” Langdon Winner (1986) discusses the provocative notion that technical things have political qualities. The best example he gives is the invention of the atomic bomb. The fact that the atomic bomb exists at all brings with it a host of political controversies about its care and operation. All bombs must be controlled by a centralized, authoritarian social system in order to safeguard them from actually being used. The atomic bomb is clearly a technical artifact surrounded by political implications.
One can think of many other examples of artifacts and technologies having political qualities. The first example I thought of was guns and the endless debate over gun control here in America. Very few people have a neutral opinion on guns and their influence on society. For some, gun rights are absolute, enshrined in the Constitution. Others believe that guns are a threat to society and must be highly regulated or even banned. But a gun is just steel and a bullet is just metal, lead, and gunpowder. The artifact does nothing on its own. How it is used is political.
The famous saying, “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” comes to mind when examining whether guns, or any other artifact for that matter, have politics. Iterations of the quote could be used to define the political element of any artifact. Atomic bombs don’t kill people; people use atomic bombs to kill people (they could leak, but you get my point). People are in charge of artifacts and determine what the artifact does or does not do.
As Winner (1986) discussed in his article, “blaming the hardware appears even more foolish than blaming the victims when it comes to judging conditions of public life.” Gun rights advocates would certainly agree with that quote. Many supporters of gun rights believe that guns can be used responsibly for hunting and self-defense and that anyone who uses a gun for a nefarious purpose is already breaking the law. You can’t blame the gun for what someone does with it.
However, gun control advocates could point to another Winner quote: “what matters is not technology itself, but the social or economic system in which it is embedded,” to describe their desire to regulate guns. Gun control advocates have long sought restrictions on access to guns because many gun deaths arise from areas with depressed social and economic systems that have guns embedded in the culture (inner cities, etc.).
While mass shootings may get the media attention, two-thirds of all gun deaths are from suicide. Keeping guns out of the hands of anyone, the argument goes, will reduce gun deaths overall. If it takes someone longer to get a gun, he may be less likely to go through with a planned suicide. Gun control is a multi-faceted topic that includes reducing mass shootings, suicide, and gun-related crimes.
Those in favor of gun rights first point to the constitution when defending the right to own a gun. But what if the Founding Fathers hadn’t mentioned guns at all in the Constitution? What if there was no Second Amendment? Things would probably be far different today. Winner (1986) generalized such a scenario when he wrote, “although one can recognize a particular result produced in a particular setting, one can also easily imagine how a roughly similar device or system might have been built or situated with very much different political consequences.” Using his logic, Americans likely wouldn’t have as many guns as people if the Constitution hadn’t expressly mentioned the right to own a gun. If guns had been regulated by the government since the beginning, a gun culture and industry in our country may not have ever been created.
But that is just dealing in hypotheticals. The gun culture in America is tremendously active and controversial, and self-reinforcing. In other words, individuals who own guns tend to favor gun rights and those who do not own guns tend to support some sort of gun control. Gun owners and non-gun owners alike do support background checks and preventing mentally ill people from purchasing guns, which have broad support among the general public.
Since guns are legal and constitutional, a different Winner quote applies to the gun debate: “Inherently political technologies are man-made systems that appear to be strongly compatible with particular kinds of political relationships.” The gun culture is a man-made system that exists because guns are legal. Guns are a political technology compatible with the political relationship of the second amendment to the Constitution.
Guns are engrained in American culture and will continue to be controversial and political. The controversy surrounding guns and their proper place in society (if any) is a clear example of the politics surrounding technologies.
Photo Credit: Cheaper than Dirt
I recently mailed a package at a post office in Oregon to Spokane. My books needed to be returned because my most recent class had ended. Like so many times before, I expected an email confirmation that they had been received. But the email never came. I called the school and they said that they had not received my books yet. I looked for my receipt proving that I had sent the package but quickly remembered that I threw it away. The one time that I needed the receipt that I almost never needed, I didn't have it. Argh.
I called the post office in Oregon and the woman who answered the phone predictably told me in a tone that suggested she had answered the same question about 6,700 times that there was nothing she could do to help me if I didn't have my receipt with the confirmation number on it. Unsurprising that a government employee would not help me, I thought to myself, and hoped for the best that my package would turn up before the return deadline. But I gave it one last shot and submitted a query to the USPS web site with my detailed information.
The next day the manager at the Spokane post office said that he received my query and would dig into his files and try to find my package. I was blown away but still didn't expect much since they deal with so many packages every day. Sure enough, the next day he called me again and said that he had looked for quite a while and had found my confirmation number. The package had indeed been delivered to the school so it was the school's fault that they had not received my books. I couldn't believe that the manager had taken so much time to help me when he didn't have to do so. He could have just told me that he couldn't help me. I was so impressed with his gracious act that I wanted to show my gratitude.
I submitted another query to the USPS web site expressing my gratitude that the manager had helped me in the hopes that it would get forwarded to someone in charge of something who could recognize this guy for his hard work. The next day I got a voicemail from a manager at the Spokane office telling me how much it meant to her and the other workers that I recognized their efforts. She was practically emotional in her gratitude for my gratitude, saying how they have to deal with a lot of difficult people and how much it means to them when they are praised for their job. The next morning another manager called me and said that he wanted to honor the manager who helped me and wondered if I had remembered his name (I hadn't). He also said that they deal with a lot of difficult people and expressed how much it meant to him and the rest of the folks there that I had expressed my gratitude. I was blown away by how much my simple gesture meant to an entire group of people. It has inspired me to work harder to express gratitude, especially for the times when people go out of their way to help me. Sometimes the simplest acts are the ones that mean the most.
I recently turned 40. It was not anywhere near as traumatic as turning 30 was. Like most 29 year-olds, I was full of myself and thought that entering my 30s would be the end of everything fun and amazing. Turns out that my 30s were pretty dang awesome. I knew myself better. I was more confident. I had a girlfriend who became my wife who gave birth to our son. I consumed much less bourbon. In most ways my 30s were even better than my 20s.
Turning 40 did not fill me with dread. I barely even thought about it because I was so busy trying to potty train my son. Hard to think about yourself when you are chasing a 3 year-old around and cleaning up accidents. Definitely gives you perspective on your place in the universe. So far 40 has been pretty good. I feel pretty much the same as I did when I was 39. I've gone on vacation and gone to sporting events and have developed quite an impressive tan from being outside so much. But there are a few differences.
I love to play golf. Back in my 30s I would have headed to the golf course whenever I had a free two hours to myself. It is my happy place. This year during our yearly family beach vacation I had several opportunities to play golf, mostly in the warm afternoon as my son was napping. I thought about doing so, but the couch was much more enticing. I crushed some epic naps that week. Napping and resting were more interesting to me than golfing. I even enjoyed just laying on the couch with my thoughts. No book or computer or phone. Just a couch. It was very relaxing to turn everything off and just focus on being still. Looking back, it may have been a new development to just enjoy some peace and quiet rather than trying to stimulate myself by hitting a golf ball. In my 40s, napping has replaced golfing as my new hobby. Let's hope that I can enjoy both a lot more as time goes on.
I love to cook. It is my favorite hobby. Creating something that tastes great is very rewarding to me. I especially like it when other people are impressed with my cooking. My hobby is great for my wife as well because I do all the cooking. She just has to come home and ask what's for dinner. It works for both of us. I also love to eat and experience great cooking. I'd rather go to a fancy restaurant than do pretty much any other leisure activity. I'm looking forward to checking out a new restaurant tomorrow. Can't wait to try something new.
I also love to watch cooking shows. Anyone who follows me on social media knows my love of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It is my favorite show because it is simple and interesting. Go to restaurant, interview diners, show how to make signature dish, eat it and rave about its flavor, rinse and repeat. I could watch a channel just dedicated to Triple D and Guy Fieri.
A new show on Netflix I'm really into is Chef's Table. A remarkable chef is featured on each episode. I've watched several episodes so far and the style and production blow me away. It is beautiful to see the chefs excel at their craft. It really brings to light what separates great chefs from adequate ones. One difference is the attention to detail. All the kitchens featured in the show are filled with calm people diligently doing their job. There is no chaos, only order. Another difference is how visually appealing the dishes are. The chefs are obviously making tasty food, but they also make beautiful food. The detail is what sets them apart. Of all the great restaurants I've been to, the one constant has been that the food looks as good if not better than it tastes. I can't say that my food looks great, but it usually tastes pretty good. I guess that's why I'm only an adequate cook and not a great one.
I am profoundly disappointed that you lacked the courage to stand up to the City Council and oppose the job-killing head tax. For you to say that you were part of a "compromise" is disingenuous because the only compromise was between the City Council and the far-left fringe activists. They should have originally asked for $1,000 per employee because you would have agreed to a $500 per employee tax and called it a compromise.
I expect the City Council to be openly hostile to business because they have held and demonstrated those beliefs all along. I had more hope for you to be a check on their profligate spending and government expansion. Instead, you showed that you are out-of-touch at best and hostile to business interests at worst. Your temerity is especially galling because you had campaigned on being the leader that Seattle needs right now. Seattle needs leadership, but you are not leading.
How can you say that the head tax passed by the Council does not "jeopardize critical jobs?" A head tax of any size is a tax on jobs. What sort of "compromise" is blasted by the entire business community, companies large and small, as blatantly anti-business? I had hoped that you would be a leader for the silent and not-so-silent majority in Seattle that is sick of the activist, anti-business City Council.
Your support for the head tax shows your true colors as an anti-business politician more worried about offending the far fringes of our city than standing up for the job creators and workers that comprise the majority of people who voted you into office. I hope you will remember this when running for re-election, because you have lost my vote and the votes of many of my friends who are tired of living in a filthy city that is being run into the ground by a runaway city government.
Seattle resident, Durkan voter, and former supporter
All have been on television or will be sometime in 2018
1. Jim Nantz
2. Al Michaels
3. Charles Barkley
5. Tony Romo
6. Scott Van Pelt
7. Mike Wilbon
8. Tony Kornheiser
9. Troy Aikman's hands
10. Chris Collinsworth
11. Terry Bradshaw
12. Joe Buck
13. Dan LeBatard
14. Verne Lundquist
15. Doris Burke