Flashmobs at the polls

Like with every election, it’s been written that some mid-term 2010 races are already over, hours (or even days) before the voting is over.

Polls predicting various winners will likely be correct in many cases. But more than ever before, I have a hard time believing anything is over until the last ballot has been cast. And it’s due in part to the fact that we are now so connected via technology and social media that things can change quickly.

At the top of the Facebook homepage today is a counter, telling everyone how many of their friends and how many users overall have voted. As I write this, over 6 million of them have already clicked on the button.

Facebook's election day widget

Facebook's election day widget

On Twitter, many of the trending topics are election related, included a “Promoted” tag of #election at the top of the trends. Foursquare has an “I Voted” badge for those who check in from a polling place. And bloggers and mainstream media are cranking out election related content, much of which can now be viewed from almost anywhere via a mobile device and easily passed along to others.

While some races are no doubt over, I also think it’s safe to say that somewhere a person who was not going to vote will vote because of what they’re seeing on one of their social media applications. And somewhere there may be a sudden flourish of people who do this. Flashmobs can form in minutes–there’s no reason an organized swarm of voters can not show up at polling locations.

It’s always been the case that any race can end up going right or left or elsewhere in the final hours and minutes. But it feels like technology makes it even more possible now.


Washington Post: I’d Like a Saturday/Sunday Subscription Option

If I have any time to sit down and read the print edition of the newspaper, it’s on the weekend. Those are the days I’m in less of a hurry to get out the door and I can sometimes sit there with my coffee and enjoy the paper, which for me is The Washington Post.

But this only happens on Sundays. Saturdays are out, not because I don’t have time, but because there are currently only two Washington Post subscription options: seven-days-a-week or Sunday only.

I could sign up for seven-days-a-week but I don’t need it Monday through Friday. I could also go out and pick up a copy of the Saturday paper, which I occasionally do, but that kind of ruins the whole read-it-in-your-pajamas-while-you-drink-coffee-and-eat-breakfast experience.

Several years ago, I heard a member of the Post‘s staff propose a weekend only subscription during a washingtonpost.com online chat (their name escapes me and I can’t find a link to it) and I’m a fan of this.

I would guess there are a good number of people in my situation—we’re unlikely to sign up for everyday delivery, but the Post could be making more money off us if they had a way for us to get Saturday and Sunday delivery, rather than just Sundays.

Perhaps the Post fears they’ll lose too many full-time subscribers who would downgrade to this option? There’s definitely the potential for this to happen. But the Post and other papers are losing subscribers already anyway, as more people get their news online.

I’m sure the Post has run and continues to run through various options and scenarios. But as new models for the news business are discussed, maybe its worth giving more consideration to the fact that there might be quite a few people who are online news consumers most of the time, yet who would still be willing to pay to have the option of sitting around with the old school paper on not just Sunday but Saturday as well.

Readers (and PR people) deserve better

If a news outlet is going to run a story that includes comments about an organization, shouldn’t the reporter contact the organization to get their side of the story and to–at the very least–make sure that what’s been said is accurate? And shouldn’t an editor be making sure this is happening so that readers get the full story? It’s Journalism 101 to me, but I’ve been running into issues along these lines a good bit lately, including one today.

The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana ran a story that mentions ABCTE, the non-profit I do the PR for, and the article contains this quote about our program from someone in the education field there:

“It’s a test that measures minimum competency in subject areas, that is accepted in nine other states. I think it’s a slap in the face to teachers because there’s no demonstration of pedagogy and it’s a quick fix, granting license on spot.”

The quote is filled with inaccuracies and this could have been avoided had the reporter called us. Contrary to what’s stated above, ABCTE exams test for more than “minimum competency” and ABCTE actually does cover pedagogy and tests for it in the Professional Teaching Knowledge exam, which all candidates must pass before earning their certification. The program takes the average candidate 8 to 10 months to complete. It is quite rigorous. I won’t get any further into these details on the program here (anyone interested can read this blog post) because I want to get back to my main point:

All it would have taken was a phone call from the reporter and this story could have given readers a much more complete picture. And then an editor should have been asking the right questions before moving this story forward. Repairing the damage caused by misinformation can take a great deal of time and it’s unlikely you’ll reach everyone who read the initial story.

I realize that the newspaper industry is facing tough financial times and that many don’t have the staff they once did–they’re looking to get the work done by fewer people and that doesn’t always lead to the best results. But not doing the fundamental things required to make sure you give your readers an accurate, well-rounded story isn’t likely to lead to a brighter future. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Make every effort to get the story right. Readers should, if nothing else, be able to trust that a news organization has done that.

What’s in a Headline?

Something in today’s Washington Post has me puzzled. The Post reprinted a Baltimore Sun article about last night’s Orioles game, a game Baltimore lost 6-5 to the Boston Red Sox. The headline in The Post reads, “Guthrie, Orioles Blasted by Boston.” In the game, the Red Sox scored six runs and hit three home runs off Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, while the Orioles put up five runs and hit two home runs off Red Sox starter John Smoltz. The Orioles nearly had a third home run, but Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury robbed Luke Scott of one.

So, the starting pitchers have similar lines in the box score, in what was a one-run game–and the O’s were inches away from putting another run on the board with Scott’s near homer. Yet, The Post says Guthrie and the Orioles got “blasted.” I checked the Baltimore Sun, where this article originally appeared. The headline: “Red Sox defeat Orioles, 6-5, in opener.” That headline seems a little more appropriate for a one-run game. “Blasted” would have been more appropriate if the Sox had won something like 10-5 or hit a couple more home runs.

So, what’s up with the Post headline? Maybe it was written in a hurry, without much thought or by someone who just isn’t up on baseball (this is, afterall, the same paper that has called a hockey puck a “ball” in a photo caption)? Is the creator of that headline loyal to the Nats or D.C. and looking to make the team up the road’s performance look worse than it really was? Or maybe they’re a Sox fan? 6-5 isn’t a blasting. Why not go with something similar to, or exactly, what appeared with the original article in The Sun?