In the wake of more Techweek sexism, it’s time for Chicago to speak up

I have a guest op-ed in Crain’s Chicago Business about the sexist imagery that Techweek has been using to promote its event.

There’s a lot of context here – it’s not just about Techweek and gave me an opportunity some other things I’ve seen in Chicago’s STEM communities in the last year.

Please go read it in full at Crain’s.  But here’s the call to action at the end:

The responsibility of inclusiveness is borne by everyone, not just Techweek. I’d love to see other Chicago tech events like Built In Chicago, Tech Cocktail and Technori create their own codes of conduct and describe how they will enforce them when they are violated. (The Geek Feminism Wiki offers some good open-source language as a starting point.) Writers and editors of lists featuring local tech luminaries should move beyond the VCs and the C-suiters (who are invariably older, male and white) and showcase the people in the trenches who have much more to do with the code that gets written and the products that get released. Funders should look for opportunities to bankroll women-led companies and incubators — 1871′s FEMTech is an example.

Finally, if you’re a man at a tech program, startup or publication that doesn’t demonstrate inclusion of women or people or color or deliberately uses policies, language or imagery that excludes, speak up.

A community determines what it will tolerate and creates policy to reinforce its beliefs. Now is the time for Chicago’s entire tech community to speak loudly about both.

UPDATE: A few links and events of note since I wrote the above:

* Techweek Chicago held a roundtable discussion about the controversy. They claimed to do so with “the support of Ms. Tech,” a woman-led tech/business group in Chicago but a subsequent story in the Sun-Times said the head of the organization “wasn’t briefed after Wednesday’s round-table despite Techweek organizers telling her she and her organization would be involved in the next action steps.” During the roundtable, the organizers decided to cancel the Black Tie Rave but still donate the expected proceeds to charity. They also created a “fellowship program” so that 50 women could attend Techweek Chicago without having to pay the admission fee. I’m not sure why you’d want to attend an event that doesn’t appear to have your best interests in mind, even if it was for free. At this point, Techweek appears to be trying to buy influence and align themselves with people – like Ms. Tech – who will make them seem interested in solving their problems.

* Melissa Pierce, a prominent figure in Chicago’s tech community, wrote an op-ed for Crain’s detailing how she was “duped” in her participation in last year’s Techweek conference.

* Huffington Post Chicago has a good roundup with commentary from local voices in Chicago tech.

* I didn’t realize it until later but apparently Moshe Tamssot was Patient Zero in this whole thing.

Three summer-related apps I would download to my phone if they existed

* An app that sends you an alert when it’s the perfect day to eat lunch outside. (Version 2.0 could be customizable to your own preferences of temperature, sun and wind speed.)

* An app that periodically reminds you to drink lemonade during the summer. Because it’s delicious and sometimes you forget, especially because it’s not as widely available as, say, pop.

* A GPS-enabled app that tells you to bring a jacket/sweater if you are about to leave the house and the temperature is expected to drop more than 10-15 degrees within three hours of you leaving the house.

Get on this, someone.

This piece isn’t about guns: The Paper Machete – 5.31.2014

Though I’m almost always writing right up until the deadline for The Paper Machete, I usually finish before I leave the house. Not this time. I finished this one sitting at bar at The Green Mill twenty minutes before showtime.  You can see my notes at right.

As always, if you liked this piece, please like The Paper Machete on Fcaebook,  follow it on Twitter, listen to its podcast or - most importantly – attend one of its 3pm Saturday afternoon shows at The Green Mill.

I drew the short straw this week so I’m here to discuss last week’s mass shooting near Santa Barbara, California. I will try to do so in a way that doesn’t make you depressed for the rest of the day.

If you’re worried you’re in for a screed on gun control, don’t worry. This piece isn’t about guns. Not really. That’s not the conversation we had this week.

No, after we spent the Memorial Day weekend remembering the sacrifices others have made to preserve everything good about this country, we were reminded of everything terrible about this country thanks to Joe The Plumber.

How to make native advertising more ethical and effective

Timing is everything.

This piece began as a a conversation I had with a friend who is a former newspaper designer and later became a self-taught digital developer. He has a deep well of experience in print and the web and a love of both. So when he told me he thought native advertising tries to fool readers into believing an ad is news, it was obvious to me that even those most likely to understand the form have concerns about its function. Bob Garfield’s February Guardian article also seemed like it deserved a response. So I decided to put down some thoughts about native advertising that had been brewing in my head since the Atlantic‘s Scientology dustup.

That was two months ago.

For one reason or another, it took a while before the piece was ready to pitch around. By then, Jill Abramson had been fired from the New York Times and native advertising was cited in many of the discussions about the split. I worked with our agency PR director to rewrite it as a peg to that event and what started as something rather navel-gaze-y ended up as timely.

The piece below first ran in PR Week on May 19th, 2014 and was one of its most-shared articles that week.

Many articles about New York Times editor Jill Abramson’s firing discuss her clashes with the business side of the Times organization. One area of conflict was native advertising. According to reports, Abramson’s primary concern with native advertising was her belief that it could mislead readers into thinking the Times was the source of the work rather than an advertiser. Though many questions surround her departure, perhaps it’s worth revisiting why native advertising is often a source of controversy.

Abramson has a point about some native advertising; even marketers who embrace native ads must acknowledge standards aren’t applied across the board. Because of this, the form has an identity problem – perhaps because it too often obscures that identity. When it comes to effective, ethical native advertising, the best of it communicates its intent and meets the reader’s expectations. Here are five suggestions to ensure it does:

Twitter knows more about what drives viewer behavior than NBC

In my last post, I argued there’s more value in social media as its own content channel than in its ability to drive ratings or sales. The prime mover of that post was a quote in the Financial Times from NBCUniversal’s head of research Alan Wurtzel who said social media “’is not a game changer yet’ in influencing television viewing.” He also said “the emperor wears no clothes” which tells you just how much marketing people love a good cliche.

After taking another look at the articles written in the wake of his comments, it’s unclear how Wurtzel came to these conclusion but more on that in a bit.

If you’re going to draw conclusions about cause and effect, it helps to base them on the results of an actual study.

Here’s the latest: On Thursday, Twitter’s head of research Anjali Midha released a second batch of results from a study of 12,000 Twitter users that examined the effects of tweets on consumer action. Her first post focused on the relationship between the kinds of tweets consumers saw from/about brands and the type of action they took afterwards. It’s definitely worth a read.

Specific to this discussion is Midha’s second post which deals with the effects of TV-related tweets. In my post, I argued Twitter can be a complementary content channel all its own, but if you’re going to look to it as a call to action, it’s important to consider whether it affects awareness, consideration and brand education and not just ratings or sales.

It turns out tweets can do all of that:

Stop thinking of social media only as a ratings or sales driver

An article in the Financial Times seems to speak in no uncertain terms about social media’s inability to generate ratings for television shows, despite both Twitter and Facebook fighting for the right to claim each does it better:

The two social networks have spent the past year trumpeting a virtuous cycle between people watching television and using social media. But, in spite of the buzz, NBCUniversal’s head of research Alan Wurtzel says that social media “is not a game changer yet” in influencing television viewing.

Peter Kafka at Re/Code puts an even finer point on Wurtzel’s views:

He comes to that conclusion after looking at the effect of Twitter, as well as Facebook, on NBCU’s ratings during the Winter Olympics. Wurtzel saw lots of chatter about Sochi on social media, but none of that seemed to translate to increased viewership.

There are a number of reasons why using the Olympics as a yardstick isn’t the best idea. Again, from the Financial Times piece:

Ad executives cautioned that the results could be skewed by the fact that the Olympics draws mass audiences who are likely to tune in regardless of social media buzz.

More niche programming, such as dramas or reality television programmes, could show more correlations between social media activity and viewership, says Kate Sirkin, global research director at Publicis’ Starcom MediaVest Group, which last year committed to hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising spend on Twitter over several years.

Other questions I had that I’d research if I had more time:

  • What are the typical demographics of the Olympics and how do they compare to the average user of Twitter and Facebook?
  • Did NBC utilize its social media channels to encourage viewers to tune in for its broadcasts? Was there a specific call to action? Were they conversational? Or did the tweets read more like a print ad?
  • How many “luge” jokes were made on Twitter during the Olympics? (This is less about the topic at-hand and more because I have the sense of humor of a child.)

Wurtzel’s is a voice worth listening to as he’s had a long career in television with many years in research. And he’s not exactly been against new media as a way to drive eyeballs to traditional TV, specifically for the Olympics:

But Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBCU, said in separate remarks that new media seemed to have the opposite effect: The more live video people saw of the games taking place in real-time, the more interested they were in seeing curated primetime telecasts that included more information about the athletes, their background and the stories behind their journey to the event.

Still, as Re/Code and Financial Times both point out, there are plenty of studies that suggest a correlation between ratings and social media chatter. And yesterday Twitter CEO Dick Costolo had a specific response to Wurtzel’s position.

But mostly I’m stunned we’re still thinking of social media purely in terms of eyeballs and sales. Especially since not all marketing tactics/channels are expected to have a direct relationship to them. NBC/Wurtzel certainly seems to view social media as such without considering things like awareness, consideration, brand education, etc.

“Love is a late-night cheese sandwich” – Story Sessions – 02.16.14

A couple quick bits of housekeeping:
* In case you missed it, I talked with WGN Radio host James VanOsdol about the Sun-Times comments decision and that US Airways tweet-disaster. You can listen to it here.
* My next reading is at The Paper Machete on Saturday, May 17th. It’s one of the best live performance events in the city so please come to the Green Mill at 3pm that day or any other Saturday.

Here is the piece I read at Story Sessions back in February. Writing this was more of a grind than usual perhaps because I was writing to a specific theme (“Love Is…”) for a reading series I’d never performed at before. The other folks on the bill were incredibly talented storytelling vets so it was an honor to be in their number.

Story Sessions is a great series and I think I did fine, but there are two things about this show that I will always remember that had nothing to do with what happened onstage. But it’s best to talk about those after you read or listen to the piece so scroll down after you’re through.

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We’re up here tonight to talk about love. So I’m going to tell you about my daughter.

Now there are two reactions happening in the heads of those around you. Those without kids are thinking “Come on man, I just came here tonight to hear some stories and drink some wine, I don’t need some jag getting up there and telling me some crap about his kid. This isn’t Facebook.”

Those with kids are thinking “Come on man, I just came here tonight to hear some stories and drink some wine, I don’t need some jag getting up there and telling me some crap about his kid. I paid a 15 year old forty bucks to sit in my house just to be able to walk in the door of this place. Give me a break from myself for a couple hours.”

Let me reassure you this is not the sort of piece where some pompous gasbag tries to tell you that no matter what sort of romantic entanglements you may have found yourself in, you will never truly know love until you know the love a parent has for his or her child. Or even that love is the daily sacrifices of parenting that come from giving yourself fully to a small, vulnerable person who is responsible for 99% of the times you’ve been hit in the face or genitals.

Let’s stop pretending the Sun-Times is the only news site with a comments problem

On Saturday, the Chicago Sun-Times announced it would temporarily suspend the hosting of comments on its sites. Managing Editor Craig Newman offered some additional comments about the decision to Digiday.

There’s been plenty of commentary about the lack of commentary. Locally, Robert Feder framed the Sun-Times as taking “two steps back for every step forward” and Chicagoist printed opposing views from two HuffPo bloggers. Poynter used it as a peg to discuss previous efforts to change comments sections. Many, many people weighed in on Twitter and Facebook. Several claimed the Sun-Times was quashing discussion of the news without sensing the inherent irony in their ability to use a digital tool to discuss the news about a removal of a digital news discussion tool.

(Ironically, this announcement came on the same day as this Sun-Times column from Jenny McCarthy in which she sought to re-cast herself not as an anti-vaccine advocate but as someone who is pro….something. The color gray? Sadly, this temporary shutdown of comments did not include comments from Jenny McCarthy.)

My theory is people who bemoan a lack of comment sections are Web 1.0 folks who remember when comments were discussions, not digital cross-burnings. Those same folks now use Twitter/Facebook for that discussion and haven’t spent time in daily news site comment sections in a while. If you’re going to build a place for a community, you ought to have the right services, processes and tools in place to serve it. But news site comments sections are there more because of inertia than anything else.

If Stanford’s Future of Media Conference tells you people only read news on their phones for 70 seconds a day, check it out

This afternoon I was checking Twitter when I should have been working on a presentation and saw a retweet of something from @StandfordBiz:

Wow. That’s an astounding statistic about what you do in 2014! It really suggests something about your newsreading habits doesn’t it? Despite all the sites out there publishing great stories, you still seem to spend more time with print. A statistic shared with the Stanford Future of Media Conference and @StanfordBiz’s Twitter account’s 168K followers (receiving 41 retweets!) could be quite influential if it’s true. A flurry of trend pieces is sure to follow!

Except everything I’ve read in the past few years suggests people are reading more news online, particularly on tablet and mobile (phone) products. Even when compared with print products.

Year Three

Abigail and I find ourselves at interesting turning points during this year’s shared birthday week. She finds herself turning from a toddler into a little kid. I find myself trying to become…well, an adult for lack of a better word.

At three, Abigail is full of agenda and opinions, just like her parents. (“I need to…” and “I have to…” are frequently deployed counter-arguments to explain why her actions run counter to our instructions.) Last year she evolved her speech to form sentences so this is now the year of the paragraph: mini-discussions on how she’s feeling, how you’re feeling and what’s happening in the lives of her favorite stuffed animals and TV shows. Speaking of, where last year was Abigail’s Daniel Tiger phase, this year it’s all about Doc McStuffins. Thanks to a gift of a doctor bag just like Doc’s there is not a day that goes by without me, Erin, her grandparents, her aunt or anyone else in her vicinity getting a check-up. (“Breathe in, please! Now breathe out. Sounds good!”)

At thirty-nine – dear God – check-ups have become more a part of my daily life. Not just the fictional variety but the medical, mental and chronological versions, too. I’m worried about things like high blood pressure and getting enough sleep. And I’m trying to make time for things that make me a more informed, well-rounded and thoughtful person so Abigail sees she has a dad who reads and listens to interesting things and doesn’t spend all his time checking his phone.

To that end, I’m wearing an Up bracelet now and obsessively documenting what I eat (who knew there was so much sodium in everything?) and how much time I spend sleeping and exercising. I’m putting things on my Google Calendar like “reading” and “running” so I’m reminded to do more of that and less listicle consumption. Digital tools are once again making my life worth living, and hopefully longer.

Of course, Abigail does not have any of these concerns. Her life is filled with books and discovery and new words and dispensing freelance medical advice. While not the omnivore she used to be, she’s settled into some favorite foods – cheese sandwiches, blueberries, black beans and couscous. When she’s not read to by me or Erin, she’s trying to sound out words in her books or learning vowel sounds with her reading apps. She got a new ukulele for her birthday from her saint of a nanny. She still loves dancing and music and runs around at every opportunity (“Chase me!“) when we’re not making caves out of pillows.

Her favorite thing to do right now is have “sleepovers” on the stairs. Blankets are retrieved, stuffed animals are acquired and everyone gets “cozy.” Everyone except the adults she’s wrangled into this situation as no grown human being is able to contort his or herself into a sleeping position on a set of bungalow stairs.

This was also the year Abigail started to figure out the world’s subtle differences. When she was very young, Erin and I thought ourselves geniuses because we purchased several of the small Pooh Bear security blankets Abigail sleeps with and carries around with her. If anything happened to one of them, another would be quickly pressed into service. Somewhere along the line, Abigail developed a preference for one over the others – he has a tag that’s worn through in a particular way. This one became known as Real Pooh. There is also Special Pooh which is the very first one she owned and looks a little different than the others. And then there’s Bathtub Pooh who is any Pooh who is not Real Pooh or Special Pooh and is OK for her to play with during bathtime so it’s not soaking wet during bedtime. So now we have the stuffed animal equivalent of the Ben Folds Five: a main guy you can’t do without and a bunch of other guys who fill out the ensemble.

Last year Abigail and I went to the toy store to get her a birthday present. This year we went to the comic book store after a pizza lunch at Pizano’s with Erin. I’ve been slowly introducing Superman into Abigail’s life and she’s been conscious of superheroes for a while. My boss bought her a kids’ book version of Superman’s origin story and we’ve been reading it at bedtime. She can identify most of the members of the Justice League. But when we couldn’t find a comic book with Elmo in it like the first one I got her, she lost interest in the rest of the store. She had an agenda and this wasn’t on it.

I’m glad we’re raising a daughter who has her own sense of what works for her and what doesn’t. Her dad’s still trying to figure it out.