Cafe Witness

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chris Dodd Internal Campaign Email "Snafu"?


I don't know how I got on the Chris Dodd email list, but here I am, getting weekly updates from his campaign. Most of those updates are (understandably) requests for donations from his supporters -- sometimes blandly and obviously so.

However, none of them were accidentally transmitted internal emails from Campaign Manager Sheryl Cohen to fellow strategist Tim Tagaris.

Until today.

(Evidently, Ms. Cohen figured out how to email the WHOLE mailing list after all -- see below.)

Transcript of Email from Chris Dodd Campaign to ENTIRE Mailing List:

From: Sheryl Cohen [EMAIL]
Reply-to: EMAIL,
Date: Nov 30, 2007 12:36 PM


I made a few small changes to your email draft -- you'll see them below.

Would have sent to the entire list myself, but I could only figure out how to send this test.

I know you're concerned about sending another fundraising email, but we're only $40,000 short of hitting our November goal, and that money will help keep us on the air and talking about ending the war in Iraq and the Constitution. And honestly, our supporters online are so terrific and have come through for us every time.

Plus, with votes on the war and retroactive immunity coming up, our leadership will help keep the pressure on other presidentials to keep their word.

Ask people to give at this link so we can track the goal publicly.


Sheryl Cohen
Campaign Manager, Chris Dodd for President

On Nov 30, 2007, at 10:53 AM, Tim Tagaris wrote:

Chris Dodd for President

Dear Friend,

Think about it for a second. Do you truly know what you'll get from the other candidates if they win the nomination?

If you really want the answer to that question, don't ask a person where they are going -- ask them where they have been.

Why do some candidates spend as much time apologizing for a career full of bad votes as they do talking about how they'll remedy the fallout if elected?

Why can't we get the simplest of answers to the straight questions from others?

And why do some just flat out skip the tough votes?

From authoring the Family and Medical Leave Act to his often single-handed efforts to restore the Constitution, you know what to expect from a Dodd Administration.

We set a goal about a week and a half ago to raise $100,000 online and we'll need your help right now if we're going to meet it.

Please get us there by contributing $25 right now.

Thirty-four days.

If you feel strongly about our fight to end the war in Iraq, prevent war with Iran, and restore the Constitution, we need your support right now.

Our field operation is humming along and our current "Restoring the Constitution and Rule of Law tour" is drawing larger crowds than we've seen at any point in the campaign.

But we need your help to keep it going.

Thirty-four days.

Your contribution right now will ensure we have the resources necessary to continue the fight through January 3rd.

You've come through for us every time.

Not much time left.

Let's get it done.

Tim Tagaris
Chris Dodd for President


The Lesson Here?

Actually, two very important lessons can be learned from this conundrum:

1) If you're going to accidentally email thousands of people regarding internal political communications for a presidential candidate, make sure you don't say ANYTHING that could be used against you if it fell into the wrong hands. (Good job, Ms. Cohen!)

2) Please, please teach everyone on your staff how to use the email system.


*UPDATE* Immediately after posting this blog, it occurred to me that the Dodd campaign may have purposely "leaked" this email, knowing that the blogosphere would swarm to it.

At least, if they DIDN'T do it on purpose, that's how I'd spin it, anyway. (Notice how the email is actually entirely positive, and meant to draw attention to a campaign that's obviously not among the "major names" in the news these days?)

*UPDATE* All of which brings up a valid question: What's worse: gaming the social media system to make $40,000, or being legitimately incompetent?

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Give the Gift of Sanity This Christmas

Christopher S. Penn posted a great holiday gift-giving guide over at his Financial Aid Podcast -- one that has nothing to do with fashion, technology or Elmo and everything to do with honesty, compassion and common sense.

(Plus, it includes a section on Gifts You Can Give Yourself!)

You can download the file here, but you'll have to go here to thank Chris.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Sobering Thought

As I was laying in bed yesterday, it occurred to me that, in all likelihood, I'll be dead in 60 years.

I'm 30 now, so -- at best -- that means I'm 1/3 of the way to my grave.

Not that it bothers me. But it does get me thinking...

When I go, will I have lived a life I can be proud of?

Will I have accomplished most of the goals I pursued?

Will I have seen and done things that made my life worthwhile?

I suppose the answer to those questions will be up to me, in my final hours. But I'm also aware that the fuel for those answers will be found over the next 60 years or so. That means every choice suddenly takes on a bit more weight.

Suddenly, "just getting by" doesn't seem worthwhile.

Suddenly, "living comfortably" doesn't seem good enough.

Instead, I'm well aware that I have a LOT to do on the road to a life I can remember with pleasure and contentment in my final hours, instead of frustration and regret.

Seasonal cliché? Possibly. But nonetheless relevant.

How are YOU doing on your road toward the Great Unknown?

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Good Are Consultants?

You have a company. You have a budget. You have employees.

Why do you need consultants?

I believe there are two specific cases when companies should look to outside consultants to help them solve problems. I also believe there are NUMEROUS times that companies squander consultancy cash when it could be better spent internally. (And, as a sometimes-consultant, I'm well aware that I "tie my own noose" as I write this.)

When You Need a Consultant

1) Your company wants to do something it doesn't know how to do, and the influence of an outside consultancy will be more likely to convince internal employees that the new direction is valid.

Example: You want to integrate social media solutions into your existing PR workflow. Your existing PR employee(s) believe the status quo is acceptable and don't want to innovate. Thus, turning to a third party consultancy and asking them to help establish the new mandate will create a sense of obligation among your existing PR staff, rather than laboring under the guise of an internal suggestion that can be sloughed off without repercussions.

(Note: By doing this, you also run the risk of alienating your existing staff, which is why it's often better to take this action AFTER internal discussion. See below.)

2) Your company needs to drastically overhaul its existing direction / workflow, and internal employees are part of the problem.

Example: Production and sales are down, and you need to upright the ship before you're dragged under. Relying upon the staff that's drilling holes in the stern isn't likely to solve the problem, so turning to an outside consultant will help provide you with a clearer, objective, picture of the problem and possible solutions.

When You MAY NOT Need a Consultant

1) Your company wants to try new things that are within the same sphere of expertise as existing, open-minded employees.

Example: As above, you want to integrate social media solutions into your existing workflow. If your internal PR staff is open to the idea, relying on them to lead the movement is usually far preferable to jettisoning them (and their loyalty) in favor of the expertise of strangers.

However, a consultant may still be very helpful in instructing your eager employees in how to do what they'd like to do extremely well.

2) Your company has problems in certain areas that could be repaired by improved communication.

Never underestimate the likelihood that the root cause of your company's problems lies in your employees inability to understand each other in the first place. (Note: You're an employee too.)

3) Your company is outmoded in some areas, but the existing employees could be more useful if their skills and time were applied in new directions.

Why keep wasting your employees' time at a soul-crushing aspect of their jobs when they could be better deployed on new tasks that will help your company gain traction / market share / momentum by charting a new direction?

Even worse: why bring in outsiders' opinions to make your already-frustrated employees feel even MORE marginalized?

Again, consultants can be valuable here in helping guide reassigned employees, but that's a solution that presumes you value your employees (and their loyalty) enough to want to help them improve their current situations (and, therefore, the company as a whole). Assigning them a taskmaster without explaining WHY this change is for the better only breeds resentment and crushes morale.

What Does This Mean for Consultants?

Technically, nothing. Consultants are entitled to gain work anywhere they can find it, and if a company is soulless enough to turn to you for assistance at the expense of the existing employees who are already providing worthwhile feedback, that paycheck is yours to cash.

But consider this:

Why would you want to consult for a company that ignores the advice of the people it already employs? Do you really need your expertise to be validated by the clueless?

Wouldn't you rather work with a company that understands the humane way to integrate your ideas within its existing culture?

So my advice to discerning consultants is: Feel free to take any job offer that comes down the pike, but you're well within your rights to inquire as to whether your potential "partner" has already harvested the insight of its his / her available (and, likely, willing) workforce.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What Does Success Mean to You?

I've been creating Something to Be Desired for four years now. I consider us to be "successful" in that we've kept the show online and interesting despite numerous hurdles.

And yet, whenever someone asks me what my goals are... I realize I can't articulate them, because I haven't defined them for myself.

Things Are Changing

I've been having a lot of conversations lately with social media folks -- and reading a lot of blogs and Twitters -- that lead me to believe the bulk of the people in this space have a hard time defining what success means for them, and therefore understanding the steps they need to take in order to get there.

Last year, PodCamp Boston exceeded expectations because it had never been done. This year, although attendance was up, it was still about 50% of the registered total. Was that a "success"? It depends on whom you ask.

Most of the no-shows were people "outside the fishbowl" -- those interested parties who weren't yet creating content and therefore weren't 100% invested in having a conversation about it.

"How do we get those people involved?" was the question a lot of us have been asking for a long time, and there still aren't clear-cut answers.

Maybe that's because we're not demonstrating that social media is a "successful" investment of OUR time and resources yet, simply because so few of us know whether or not we ARE successful. It's hard to lead by example when you're not sure where you're headed.

What Constitutes Success For You?

Are you a creator? Does the thrill of making something from nothing give you an unequaled charge?

Are you a collaborator? Do you prefer working with others to make something greater than any of you could have done independently?

Are you seeking an audience? What kind of audience? Is it more important for you to have a wide, "mainstream" appeal in your work, or a smaller, highly-engaged readership / listenership / viewership?

Are you seeking investment? What kind of investment? How much money / resources? From whom? What would you do with it if you had it?

Are you seeking to make a living at what you're doing? To become profitable? What's your break-even point? Where will that money come from?

What do you want to be doing in a year? In three years?

Very few of us seem to know the answers to these questions, which therefore prevents us from being able to take the steps to accomplish them. As a result, I see a lot of rudderlessness throughout the medium. I see disinterest, worry, cynicism and frustration. (I should know - I'm the generator of a significant amount of it.)

So, if that's the case, why don't we refocus for a moment and ask ourselves, honestly: What does success mean to you?

And, to kick-start the conversation, I'll list my POV. To me, success would be:

* Being out of debt
* Making a comfortable living
* Having health insurance
* Working as a writer / director / producer
* Having STBD viewed by 10,000+ people per episode
* Earning enough money from STBD to pay the cast
* Seeing STBD become one of the top shows in modern media
* Collaborating with creative people from multiple fields
* Helping shepherd other people's ideas to fruition
* Investing in / growing other small businesses
* Being able to donate time / resources to charities
* Being able to travel


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Friday, November 09, 2007

Why Punk Rock *IS* the Blueprint for Social Media

I saw the documentary Punk's Not Dead at the Three Rivers Film Festival this week and it got me thinking about why punk is the model we social media creators SHOULD be following.

Major Similarities Between Punk and Social Media

Punk was a medium created by the disenfranchised youth who sought to rebel against the corruption and groupthought inherent in "the system."

Punk had a low barrier of entry -- most "musicians" had zero training or experience (or, often, talent), but their passion and presence is what made them noteworthy.

The punk scene relied on word-of-mouth, grassroots marketing and DIY production values.

Punks regularly refer to themselves as a family, bonded by a philosophy and shared experiences.

Punk, like social media, is primarily the playground of white men.

Major Differences Between Punk and Social Media

Social media requires more expensive equipment to create than punk rock does.

Social media relies upon digital distribution.

Social media can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time -- if they have a computer.

Social media is looking down the barrel of the "money vs. passion" argument much earlier, and much more publicly, than punk ever did.

About the Film

Punk's Not Dead is an insider's look at how and why punk has survived for 30 years. Director Susan Dynner grew up in DC during the birth of the punk scene and has been involved with it ever since. The interviews she conducted for the film mirror the kind of "passionate desperation" found in today's social media movement, and offer a LOT of correlations for our potential success.

Among them:

* Henry Rollins makes several great points about the hand-to-mouth lifestyle led by even the "top" bands. Everyone looked up to Black Flag as the epitome of punk success, but in reality, they were sleeping on fans' couches and floors and living out of their tour bus -- which, he insists, could never stop moving.

"We were like sharks," Rollins says. "If we stopped moving, we wouldn't eat."

* Ian MacKaye built the Dischord label from the ground up, based primarily on the reality that the mainstream recording industry saw no value (or marketability) in the punk scene. But instead of scheming to find ways to make the MSM notice them, the punks said "fuck it" and created their own labels to sustain their momentum.

(Dynner was on-hand at the 3RFF showing and, during the post-film Q&A, told stories about hanging out at Dischord in the early years, where she - and everyone else on-hand - taught themselves how to hand-package the records and ship them out, one by one.)

* To the people *in* the punk scene, the musicians were both larger-than-life and completely accessible. Casual fans could wander backstage and have a beer with Bad Religion or Sham 69 almost by accident. That kind of "peer" mentality involved the fans of the music in ways that MSM could never hope to achieve.

* Throughout the whole punk lifeline, the scene has consistently resembled a "family" or artists who distrust MSM intervention or any attempts to control or repackage their original intentions.

On the other hand, the nature of speaking truth to power, as punks often did, was seen as the most *mainstream* concept in the world -- far moreso than the antiseptic POV of the MSM.

* The seminal punk bands were (and still are) happy to play a room of 5 fans or 50. Numbers weren't the driving force; the need to be heard, and to meet new people who shared their POV, was.

* Again, from Rollins: "We were (metaphorically) standing outside, screaming [pantomimes a loud voice], but to the record labels, it was like [pantomimes tiny, muted voice]."

Until, of course, the "cool kids" noticed, and suddenly punk mutated into something marketable... but *ONLY* after the punk pioneers carved out their own (relative) success.

* To this day, bands like Subhuman, The Adicts and The U. K. Subs tour incessantly, sleeping in fans' houses and selling their own merch from tables and vans -- 30 years after they first took the stage.

Despite the fact that bands who have come along well after the forefathers started the scene are now enjoying exponential success, while the legends who lit the fire in the first place are still living hand-to-mouth, they carry on because they still derive so much pleasure from the endeavor that they couldn't imagine NOT doing it.

All of Which Makes Me Wonder...

Will social media have this kind of longevity?

Why are some of us so eager to model our work after MSM -- or to garner their attention in the first place -- rather than refining our specific brand or shade of originality?

Are modern media creators so passionate to have their voices heard that they're willing to push through all obstacles, sleep on floors and "tour" endlessly, just to ensure they're heard by the audience that's seeking them out?

What think you?

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Looking Toward Pittsburgh's Political Future

The best comment I've read (thus far) about the future of Pittsburgh's political situation came from a comment on The Burgh Report, from a commenter named "hatesyinzers":

I don't see any potential Democrat knocking off Ravenstahl in 2009 despite his "weak" showing yesterday. The Yinzers love Ravenstahl's anti-intellectualism, brazen arrogance and sense of entitlement, meaningless boosterism and lack of ethics. He will grow stronger over the next two years... the Yinzers will love him more and more for every scandal and ethics violation he is involved in... he has the mayor's office as long as he wants it...

I'd like to say I disagree, but the sad truth (as near as I can see it) is:

* Pittsburgh is in the throes of the ineffectual, old boy-network Democratic machine

* Ravenstahl is a very young cog in that machine, with years and years of political rewards ahead of him as long as he supports traditional cronyism

* The average voter is chronically unable to understand the issues and therefore votes based upon preconceived notions of party or personality

* A Republican (or any non-Democratic) mayor in Pittsburgh will probably never happen in my lifetime

In short, the Pittsburgh mayoral election is a snapshot of the pointlessness of the current political system in America. Shall we explode the two-party system and force people to run on their own merit (and individual fundraising ability -- or in a fundraising-free system)? I'd love to; wake me up when that's a possibility.

Meanwhile... did anyone else write in Mathis 4 Mayor?

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Electronic Voting Problems in a Nutshell

Agent Ska, the tireless champion of all that's progressive in Pittsburgh, was on-hand when an electronic voting machine in Pittsburgh's (primarily black and far from affluent) Hill District simply stopped working during yesterday's elections.


Between issues like this, the lack of a paper trail and the foreboding warning the election volunteer gave me ("Make sure you press the big green square at the end of your voting or else, not only will your votes not be counted, it'll crash our machines"), I'd say the modern election system needs more than a bit of work.

So -- who's up for dissolving the Electoral College before 2008?

(PS The second video in the link above is the best -- it shows the machine blinking in all its futility.)

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Haz Bin BlawgTagged?

I was evidently blog-tagged by Dr. Mani regarding the online experience. Having not blogged recently, this is a good opportunity to revisit the keyboard...


1. How long have you been blogging?

A: I've been blogging since 2004, when I began by dabbling with a MySpace blog.

2. What inspired you to start a blog and who are your mentors?

A: It was an experiment at first, like most things I do online.

As for mentors, I think that's a presumptuous question, which infers that everyone must blog for a reason and actively seeks to emulate the style of someone else. For example, I may read Chris Brogan's and Seth Godin's blogs on occasion, but we paddle in different boats these days.

3. Are You trying to make money online, or just doing it for fun?

A: I'm trying to make money, period. Paying my rent and eating every day are great accomplishments. If I happen to make that money online, so be it.

Right now, I look at social media as a still-emerging market, so putting all of my eggs in that basket would be ludicrous. Then again, so would putting zero eggs in that basket.

And, rationally speaking, putting eggs in baskets never seemed like a sensible storage solution in the first place...

4. Tell me 3 things you LOVE about being online.

A1: Meeting a variety of people I wouldn't meet otherwise

A2: Consuming large and varied amounts of information

A3: Near-instantaneous feedback on new ideas, breaking news, and other benefits of being plugged into the collective subconscious

5. Tell me 3 things you STRUGGLE with in the online world.

A1: The relevance, permanence and unstable momentum of online relationships (and the movements created therein)

A2: Information overload, resulting in an inability to focus for long periods of time / parse the truly important information from the trivial or temporary

A3: The massive amount of groupthink, errant "wisdom of crowds," and general mediocrity associated with being plugged into the collective subconscious


Must I tag others? Fair enough. I tag Julia Roy, Tim Siedell (Bad Banana) and Locobone. Feel free to swap out questions with more relevant ones, if you're so inclined.

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