Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Strictly Speaking" Redux

Remember Edwin Newman's great books from the 1970s on writing - "Strictly Speaking," and "A Civil Tongue?" They greatly influenced the improvement of writing since then. However, I just came across this timely article by Naomi S. Baron, titled "Mobile world: Written word may be more informal." Naomi Baron is a professor of linguistics at American University in Washington, DC, and the author of "Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World." She updates Newman's observations and examines the frequent criticism that mobile and Internet writing is polluting written communication. We may hear that abbreviations and other text shortcuts are creeping into other more formal writing, such as academic papers. But she gives us an open-winded analysis of this situations. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Real "Big Russ"

All of who aspire to be the best communicators we can be must pause and note the passing of Tim Russert. Those of us who want to influence others with our craft should pay homage to this decent and dedicated professional. Whatever our chosen medium, we can all learn from him.

Writers can find value in his carefully crafted questions, which were designed to elicit a reasoned response and create the “ah-ha” moment, not the “got-cha.” He made "Meet the Press" about illumination of the issues rather than humiliation of his guests.

Students and observers of journalism can learn from his fairness, a quality in shockingly short supply. Though Mr. Russert began his career working for noted Democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Mario Cuomo, he questioned his guests in equal measure, regardless of their side of the political aisle. In fact, his colleagues at NBC testified throughout this weekend of tributes that they never really knew his political views.

Mr. Russert is also remembered as an astute listener. This is in stark contrast to those pompous pundits who are eager to tell you all the facts based on a single side of a complicated issue — the side that fits their political agenda — blithely disregarding any opposing view. Mr. Russert’s goal was enlightenment, not self-aggrandizement.

As with his word craft, he also understood the power of a well-chosen visual. With a simple white board, he made clear that the key to the 2000 election would be "Florida, Florida, Florida." That board now sits in the Smithsonian Institution, a symbol of his prescience.

Above all was his obvious decency. The hours and days since his untimely death are filled with stories of his spirituality, his deep Catholic faith. Unlike some of his fellow baby boomers, he appreciated the sacrifices his father, "Big Russ," made for him, working several jobs and hauling trash so that Tim could share in the American Dream he defended in World War II. Tim rewarded his father by immortalizing him in his book “Big Russ & Me, Father and Son: Lessons of Life.” The book elicited so many responses from sons and daughters about their own fathers that he followed up with “Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons,” a compilation of those letters and emails.

But perhaps his most notable quality was his civility. "Yelling and screaming is not what people expect of us (on “Meet the Press”). It's not what we're about." Oh, if that were only more true on the radio dials throughout the country, which have debased the level of our political discourse under the guise of fairness and balance.

I, for one, was looking forward to his coverage of the quadrennial fall battle as much as I am anticipating the outcome. A throwback to an earlier, more courtly time, Tim Russert made sense of our vibrant yet maddening body politic. He did it with craft, with preparation, and with dignity. There will be a huge gap in this year's election. But I also suspect his absence will loom larger as the years go on.

I suggest that we all take note of this man and learn about him through the continuing testimonials. It is possible that we will not see his like again, and we are all poorer for it. Perhaps this is an opportunity to demand more of our media, our society, and ourselves in our national conversation. That could be the greatest tribute of all.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Learn to Be a Lean, Mean Learning Machine

I turn this post on my blog over to my good friend Shawn Doyle, speaker and author. Shawn writes and speaks extensively on motivation. As part of his message, I refer you to an interview that he had on the iGroop Internet radio network about continuous learning and reinventing yourself, just as Bill Gates reinvents his software, except Shawn won't charge you up the yazoo and you won't be disappointed afterwards by the results.

By the way, to learn more about Shawn and all his work, I invite you to visit his website, too.

Monday, June 2, 2008

What If BLOGGERS Threw a Hissy Fit and Nobody Came?

Did Dunkin' Donuts cave? They threw Rachael Ray's TV ad for iced coffee under the bus. This happened after some bloggers who are anti-Arab/anti-Mideast/anti-Muslim (take your pick) complained that Ra-Ray was wearing some traditional Middle Eastern garb associated with terrorists. And as the Bush administration has been telling us, we can't let the terrorists win, can we?

Anyway, Newsweek has an editorial by Lorraine Ali that cites the dangers of Double-D's action. Even while she takes some humorous swipes at the real danger of the ad - i.e., Dunkin' Donuts product - she clearly states her true concern for their reaction: "It's that the cries of a few commentators indulging in the worst form of racial stereotyping—and their demonization of an entire culture—was enough to spook a giant corporation."

I understand her viewpoint, but I respectfully disagree. I look at this as a marketer, and I believe that as soon as the ad became well-known for this controversy, it became ineffective. Unfortunate, but true. I believe that Dunkin' Donuts had nothing to gain by standing on principle here. A more worthy example is Proctor & Gamble's insistence on keeping their logo, even though some insist that the company has ties to Satanism. Such a stand is worthwhile for such an integral part of a company's identity, but for a single ad with an overexposed media celebrity? Hardly worth the trouble.