Mainstream Media Strategy – Recommendation from a reader’s perspective

As mainstream media (MSM) companies continue to scramble to find a winning model, I am inspired to write a post based on the interactive (read: moderation) strategy that the BBC has put in place on its news forums. Having taken a look around at a number of other significant news media sites around the world (NPR, ABC, CBC, MSNBC, WSJ, NY Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, TF1, France 2, The Australian…), the BBC would seem to closest to having a ‘good online model.’ 

The BBC will take an article and, for a limited time, convert the selected article into an online debate where readers have to register to participate (write and/or recommend). In essence, I assume they make the divide along the lines of articles strictly reporting versus opinion pieces. For the sake of this post, I am going to refer to a debate which is already ‘closed’ entitled: “Is US right to block Google digital library?” (Link no longer working). This is basically how the BBC’s Online Debate works. During the period of debate, the BBC allows registered readers to comment, and very explicitly identifies its full moderation policy. In the policy box (see below), they identify the number of comments sent in, the number published and the number rejected. There is also the number of comments in the moderation queue.

Fully Moderated BBC Blog
When the debate is closed, they issue the final status. For this particular debate, as marked below, there were a total of 892 comments submitted, of which 539 were published and 35 were rejected. There were some 353 comments (a little more than 1/3) that did not get published. At 539, as we can all recognize, that’s just too many comments to want to sift through. Most of them are terribly repetitive and completely without interest.
BBC Debate Closed
The final element of note from the BBC’s Debate section is the “Recommended” option where registered readers can, at the tick of a RECOMMEND box, give their positive vote. [See the BBC rules here.]

BBC Debate Article Recommend Button

Beyond the article of news you are reading, oftentimes, you can find equally pulsating thoughts and analysis in the internet community’s commentary. Too often, however, when reading most MSM sites, popular blogs and the like, there are just too many comments to wade through, amounting to a completely unreadable mass of jumbled thoughts, written in differing styles, without an attractive layout, in no particular order, and with very little interaction amongst them (for this, I tend to like the “reply to this comment” option). However, in the BBC’s case, the 539 published comments have a democratically voted triage that takes place via the number of positive recommendations. This makes great sense.

For this particular debate, there were 12 pages of comments which received at least one vote (presumably many of which were self voted). The top “recommendation” received 118 votes, the second one 59 votes and so on. 

Overall, I believe that the BBC is pioneering a new best practice… However, as you might imagine, I have a few thoughts regarding BBC’s initiative that might improve further their efforts, and could serve as a best practice recommendation for other MSM companies, perhaps as part of a greater solution for the freemium debate.

My Recommendations to media companies: My point of view below is entirely based on being a reader of the article/debate as opposed to the POV of the MSM executive. 

1./ More edge to the voting. As a reader, I am much more interested in the comments which have more rhyme and reason. The reader recommendations are certainly worthy, but are not very discriminatory. On a first level, I might prefer a 5-star rating system to add a little more ‘value’ to the reader’s feedback, or an ability to agree/disagree as, for example, the CBC do (which is sorted first to last, and most agreed). 

CBC Agree or Disagree vote

I think that there is room to add a few more dimensions to this democratic (if moderated) style of vote, taking the TED.com system that includes a host of different adjectives that describe the post. Examples of voter categories could be: Well Written, Thought Provoking, Not My POV, Funny, Informative…

2./ Optimal social bookmarking. Another easy add-on would be the social media bookmarking and tagging services. I do not understand why the BBC has not systematically ad
ded a more comprehensive list of available services (e.g. what about Twitter?). Social bookmarking can only help spread the word. And, when they do put the tags, the tags come below the comment box… Readers are more likely to tag and bookmark than add a comment I believe, so ‘go with the flow’ and put the tagging zone front and centre. Here’s a good example from mashable (who make the difference between a comment, i.e. thoughtful article, and a reaction, i.e. a 140-character twit). 

Share This Post Social Bookmarking Buttons

3./ Most Popular Follow-ons. Another functionality I would highly recommend to the BBC (and other media companies, of course) is the NY Times’ Most Popular Page. This page gives the top 10 of the most emailed, most blogged, most searched and most popular movies. The one that caught my attention most was the ‘most blogged’ list which is a very engaging way to follow the discussion. Of course, I was just missing the ‘most commented’ list.

4./ Stronger Editorial Direction on Commentary. But, more importantly, to the extent that the BBC is spending so much time and resources on the moderation (only culling 1/3 of the comments), I would be inclined to have a third box, possibly reserved for paying subscribers for those media companies looking to make money [Mr Murdoch], which would involve the choice. with editorial license, of best comments. These comments would be sorted in some way to provide readers with guided orientations and some overall statistics on the vast array of comments. As far as editorial voice is concerned, one interesting option would be to collaborate with value-sharing external organisations (e.g. an NGO, some reputed think tank, an academic institution, etc.). Statistics could include, for example, the number of comments strongly in favour, strongly against… There could be Featured Authors whose comments are judged by the editor to be worth more than others — comments that may not be commonly judged as popular, for example, because they were written late (ie not enough time to accumulate recommendations) or were too erudite to warrant internet reading. I would even go so far as to recognize the value of most appreciated commenters (providing some heralded recognition, if not in-kind remuneration?). 

5./ Interest Groups & Chat Rooms. Another idea would be enable interest groups to be formed on the site which, like Amazon, would allow “readers like you also read this” type of functionality.

There is real value embedded in the comments section, even more so when/if the subject is about a company or a brand (i.e. for the marketers). The trick of course is to keep on encouraging commenting, all the while not publishing everything or, as the BBC would defend, keeping a neutrality in the filtration system. As MSM continue to scramble to find the right economic model, my belief is that there needs to be a closer fit with the experience of the reader. By getting closer to what the reader really wants (time savings, consistent content, aligned values, advice & education, and even entertainment ), the MSM players will find ways to give value to the reader who, in turn, will be more willing to pay for the service. How that payment is provided is as yet WIP — providing a personal address, opting in for advertisement, etc. — and a subject for another post.

I cannot practice exactly what I preach on this site (limited functionality of blogger), but I certainly would be happy to have your comments and thoughts (as usual, moderated only per the Minter Dialogue blog policy as stated at the bottom of the page).

Value of a Facebook Friend placed at 37 cents – What a Whopper.

How much is your friendship worth? Just 37 cents!

Burger King Whopper SacrificeI love this. Burger King is up to its notorious self, finding all sorts of ways to gain rebellious publicity. In this most recent activity, Burger King announced that it would give any person that drops 10 Facebook friends a coupon to buy a Whopper. With a Whopper priced at $43.69, that would effectively put the price tag of a friend on Facebook at 37 cents. The campaign, called Whopper Sacrifice, is now closed as some 24,000 people quickly sacrificed 10 of their friends to reap the Whopper coupon. Here is the story from the New York Times. If you want to check out the Whopper Sacrifice application, it’s here. And, if you are one of the people on the losing end, who got dropped by a now “ex-friend,” the Burger King team were sufficiently foreseeing, to provide the angry-gram application directly on their site (photo top right), with the ability to write to your ex-friend a nasty letter (replete with an angry hamburger). Here below s a neat little artistic rendering of the program from a Kenyan, Joe Ngari.

Facebook Friends versus Burger King Whopper Sacrifice

Frankly, it’s a wonderful piece of marketing, (a) getting at the notion of those who have oversubscribed their Friends, (b) giving out a free burger during the difficult economic times, and all this (c) with an application on Facebook, the second most visited site, after Google, over the Christmas period. Kudos to the BK marketing team and the Crispin Porter & Bogusky ad agency that came up with this counter intuitive program. And the cost? Ok, let’s say $10,000 for the FB app. Add $20,000 for the 2 light websites (angry-gram and Sacrifice Whopper) including the hosting for the sake of argument. And, let’s say there’s a whopping 30% uptake on the coupons (30% of $88,560) meaning $26,568 worth of redemption of the coupons sent out electronically, of course, taken at a reasonable cost of goods of perhaps 15% (I have no idea of the fast food COGS), adds less than $4,000. Of course, there are the agency fees to add. So the total cost would be $35K plus agency fees. Not bad from where I sit, even if I don’t like fast food.

Somehow, I managed not to get dropped, but I’d love to hear your reactions!

Facebook and all Social Media now officially subject to viruses

Facebook LogoFacebook is now officially “virusable,” and it isn’t because of the winter chill. Here’s the NY Times article from December 11, 2008, talking about the Trojan worm koobface virus that has infiltrated into Facebook. Of course, you should know that the koobface virus was discovered back in July 2008. Apparently, all social media platforms are now vulnerable.

You should also keep an eye on Facebook’s security page (http://www.facebook.com/security) which warns of the latest threats and provides a number of virus scan options to check if you have been infected).

Padel Tennis – The Best Racquet Sport in the World

I have mentioned in the past my singularly most favourite sport is padel tennis — even if I don’t get many chances to play. The New York Times ran an article in late December 2008 on the topic of the alternative tennis games: Tennis spawns variations (thanks to my father for passing along) in which it refers to this wonderful game, padel tennis.

Padel Tennis TournamentThis game is quite different from the platform tennis you see in the US and that is often played in the middle of winter. Padel is generally played in the warmth of the sun with walls rather than fencing around the perimeter. If you have never seen padel tennis, don’t be alarmed. The game is quite geographically limited: principally Spain, Argentina and Mexico, and there are a few courts dotted around elsewhere; for example, in other Latin American countries and, that I know of personally, in the south of France and with one in the outskirts of Paris. From my online scouting, meanwhile, it would appear that the game is sprouting up elsewhere… There was apparently a World Championship tournament held in Calgary this past August 2008 with competitors from 15 countries: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Portugal, Spain, Uruguay, USA and Canada. The site still says that the tournament is “coming” in August 2008… so apparently, the winner is as yet unannounced. There was even a blog from the UK about padel tennis (but it hasn’t been updated since 2006).

What makes padel tennis so enchanting? There are four main reasons why I love this sport:

Padel Tennis Hitting off the Back Wall1/ It is a wonderful combination of squash and tennis — the best of both worlds with walls, a net and a tennis ball. The racquet doesn’t hurt (plus they have very new snazzy racquets these days — see to the right).
Padel Tennis Racquet (Racket)2/ You can play at all ages… as long as we are talking doubles. In fact, padel doubles is the best game, especially when you have four equally matched players.
3/ The ball stays in play for what seems like hours because of the low margin of error — all the more so when you are playing with a good set of players.
4/ Certainly a bit of nostalgia here, but the game is generally found and played in warmer climates… and usually in Latin countries, which is all very appealing.

There is even a Federation of Padel Tennis… an important address for anyone who, like me who hopes one day to own a chateau, will want to install a padel court around the back.

A word of warning: don’t take any bets playing an Argentinian in padel… the apparent world’s number one (in the men’s) is an Argentine, albeit the ranking was stopped in 2006 — and on the women’s side, the top 10 is filled with Argentines too. Along with polo, the Argentines have tended to dominate padel (although, as the NY Times article suggests, the game is apparently in decline in Argentina). The Spanish currently dominate the men’s top 10.

For more information, here is wikipedia’s description of padel tennis. As a final aside: it is funny but virtually all the internet sites I found about padel tennis are no longer very active. All the sites seemed to have fizzled out oddly enough in 2006… I guess that means the community of padel tennis players is more interested in being offline (and on the court)!

Added in 2015 – an impressive highlight reel of the 2012 World Championships:


 

If you are a fan of padel tennis, let me know where you are!

Role Model for Obama, McCain and myself

Statue of Liberty by Andy WarholWe all need a role model. Call it a (Wo-)Man’s Condition.* I have found this true for me in life as well as in work. Among other things, a role model or icon helps to inspire you and shape your response to unknown situations; and it is in those moments that people can become bigger than life. But, for me, my icon is somewhat fragmented. Depending on the subject (spiritual, leadership, sports…), sometimes it is one singular person, sometimes it is a composition, and sometimes it is fictional. And what is true for the ordinary layperson is also true of the big leaders, corporate, humanitarian or political: we all need a role model.

Any politician that is wanting to make a name for him or herself normally will have identified a few icons to look up to. These icons can serve as models for behaviour, benchmarks for how to construct a career, make a speech or set an agenda. And there is no dearth of choice of big name leaders in the past.

Teddy RooseveltMoving to the US Presidential campaign, for Senator McCain, you tend to think he is anti-iconic to the extent he is the maverick, not that there has never been a maverick before. All the same, McCain apparently takes stock from Teddy Roosevelt (see this article by Jill Zuckman from Chron.com).

I have been wondering, meanwhile, at the comparisons drawn between Senator Obama (D) and President Abraham Lincoln (R). Certainly, there are many articles, blogs and chat rooms that have taken up this story. The fact that Obama made his coming out speech (announcing he would run for President) in front of the Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln served as a legislator has no small part in beginning this thread.President Abraham Lincoln

Here is recap of the similarities between Obama and Lincoln:

* they both came from humble backgrounds in Illinois
* both were lawyers
* served 8 years in the Illinois State Legislature
* 1 term in Congress
* neither served in the military
* and race is clearly a defining part of their Presidential campaign.

This television report from CBS, with an interview of Professor Daniel Weinberg from Illinois, discusses some of the similarities between Obama and Lincoln.

However, this NYT article by Michael Cohen prefers to compare Obama to Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist leader (not to be mixed up with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the 1860 election campaign). Douglass, ironically, was more commonly known as a critic of Lincoln, although, as Cohen writes, Douglass, in the latter part of his life, also openly lauded Lincoln.
There are two lines that I wish to reproduce here from Cohen’s article. He writes that, what may define Obama’s presidency if he wins, is: “one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose.” And, secondly, I also enjoyed the last line of Cohen’s article: [If Obama wins in November, he will likely look to] “…prove the elder Mr. Douglass correct by seeking out the proper balance between what is right and what is possible.”

It is interesting to note that Douglass was nominated as VP of the first ever woman US presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull in 1872. Douglass refused the nomination. It should also be said that there is controversy as to whether Woodhull was actually a legitimate candidate (age, not on the ballot, etc.).

Lord Henry Temple Palmerston, 3rd ViscountIn any event, if I were to choose my own political icons, in no particular order, I personally would cite Prime Minister Winston Churchill — the right person for a difficult time. Secondly, I would view NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a good maverick icon to look up to — anyone that brings ethical business sense to politics is good news. Thirdly, I would like to mention Rudy Giuliani for his leadership pre- and post-9/11. Fourth, I would have to cite Mahatma Ghandi — proof that a single individual can move a mountain. And lastly, going further back in time, I am inclined to think of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, the master of brinksmanship. But, in each case, what they stand for is hugely contextual. You need to find the right pitch for the times. Not that I am running for President (I cannot as I was born overseas), but it is a good exercise to stop and think over who your role model(s) is (are).

And who are your role models in business, politics or life?

____
*Not to be mixed up with Malraux’s La Condition Humaine.

The future of Mainstream Media in today’s world of citizen journalism…

Why the decline of traditional Main Stream Media?

Down Arrow - The Downward Spiral of Mainstream MediaWhy the decline of Mainstream Media? This question has been argued and tossed around in many a media organization’s board room over the course of the last five years. Clearly, for news organizations in particular, time is running out to find a solution that will allow the economics to work.

From a supply perspective, the proliferation of choice and the democratization of media Masses of Dots -- the proliferation of media outletsplatforms have rendered the “space” extremely congested. There is a niche for everything and, unfortunately, one could argue that the objectivity of “serious” and researched news is becoming a niche as well. The ability for serious news organizations such as NPR, the BBC or CNN to maintain worldwide coverage, much less afford overseas news bureaus, is virtually a luxury of the past. Consequently, the number of in-depth investigations has been declining in quantity and in quality.

From the perspective of the consumer, over the course of the last 20-30 years, the sources of information have been corrupted either by overt financial concerns and objectives, or by the lowest common denominator style salesmanship (epitomized by the ‘entertainment’ of News of the World and other such rags). This 2001 article from LA Times offers a good recap [proof enough that the subject has been around].

So what are the main issues?

Certainly, the internet has played a role in unfurling the problem. The democratization of journalism is, to my mind, just a reaction to the lack of the right offer. Consumers, pressured for time, have largely rejected standard hour programming. In virtually Don't Trust Corporate Mediaevery household, the television is competing against the computer, much less the IPOD — although the radio seems to be holding its own. In the realm of news, consumers today are looking for customized information, in byte sizes. For many, the relationship of a consumer with his or her local news team is visceral. The consumer is looking for some form of connection – because the news is feeding the psyche, helping to rationalize events around him or herself. There is, in this relationship, an inherent wish to believe it is truthful — i.e. that the news is authentic. And I would argue that the problem of news organizations can be quickly related to the problem of established brands: how to stay authentic, flexible, customized and in touch with its [mass] consumer? As Noam Chomsky says in his article “What makes Mainstream Mainstream?“, media organizations have typically relegated the consumer to be passive. He writes, the consumers’ “…job is to be ‘spectators,’ not ‘participants.'” So, too, say many brands.

For news organizations, it strikes me that the main question is: What is news for?

Local Culture. Today, it seems that news has reduced itself in large part to a form of entertainment, completely hamstrung by viewer ratings. By extension, news is feeding water cooler talk: sports results, weather forecasts (hardly news) and local sensational events. News organizations are intrinsically local and their bias on news reports is strongly linked to the local point of view such that, with a worldwide satellite dish in your home, you can find two widely different sides to many of the international stories [when/if they are covered, that is].

Learning. If encouraging reading (and writing) were part of the objective of news and printed media, then why has the standard of Reading & Writingwriting plummeted (you can find English mistakes on the front page of any major reputable newspaper, including the Financial Times virtually daily).

Advancement. If, more nobly, the goal of news is the advancement of society, then it would seem that the mass majority of people are tuning out. The case is still made that, by having the coverage of certain genocidal regimes, enough international outcry will mobilize an international intervention. In this regard, from a western standpoint, “serious” news is more or less a portal of democracy.

Ted Turner said, in one of his typically brazen interviews, that such information and news is important. Unfortunately, he used weather as the perfect example (and not only is weather not news, it is highly speculative) since, with this information you can know whether to wear a raincoat, etc. Not exactly newsworthy news or 100% accurate.

Turner also cited in this video (which I will endeavour to post when I find it on YouTube), that news coverage helped to uncover Hitler. However, news neither uncovered Hitler, nor helped to sway or stop him. And, news coverage has not helped the continuing carnage and tyranny in many African countries. Propaganda, on the other hand, plays a whole other role in this type of context.

No doubt that Turner is a great philanthropist and was a business titan. Where Turner’s vision has taken on a whole new meaning today, he said back in this late 1970s interview, that “we all can learn from each other.” This notion of collaboration is highly interesting in today’s context of citizen journalism and web 2.0. Maybe we just have to learn from each other.

If, as some say, news is the first day of writing history… sports and weather have no place in that frame. The important notion for news organizations to grasp is that they need to provide meaning. News should be able to connect and interact with its audience. Of course, news needs to be pertinent and researched. But, above all, news should have sense. Sense to help progress our society. Sense, such that its viewers learn and grow. The BBC (and NPR) have this component in their genes — but typical
ly have been too stand-off to interface with its audience. So, the big news agencies are going to have to learn to lose some control, engage with their audience (i.e. work with citizen journalists) and in the meantime focus on providing a meaningful message. Over time, what will matter is not the quantity of people watching the BBC (although that is a critical part of the economic equation today), but on the quality of the people watching: the opinion leaders, the community heads, the bloggers and godfathers of viral messages… Clearly, the new media department at the BBC is making headway and, once the dust settles, hopefully, they and enough of the “serious” stations can find their place in providing meaningful, sensible and objective news for what is, now, a worldwide audience.

Great Teachers in my Life

Great TeachersI remember the great teachers in my life as if it were yesterday that I was sitting in their classroom and reveling in the learning. I have been blessed to have had six standout teachers whom I will honour today in the post below. The real take away for any reader of this post is what are the defining characteristics of a great teacher? And, secondly, it is the questions: what have you done to say thanks to those teachers? For the most part, teaching is a often a thankless and low-paying job and there is little way to understand the long-term benefits and/or realisations (ROI) brought about by a great teacher. My call to action for you? Call him or her; write a letter; make a special visit…now before it is too late. And if you need a special motivation, read Mitch Albom’sTuesday’s with Morrie.” You might find the urge.

So, who were my inspiring teachers?

I will start with John Peake (or JSBP). Nominally, John was my housemaster, history beak (teacher) and sports coach at Eton College. But, he was also the man responsible for cultivating my passion to learn, who showed me how to teach and live with zeal, humour and sensitivity. I shall always remember the day he led our class outside onto a muddy field to re-enact the falling of the British Square [first time in its history] to the Zulus in the Boer War. And, in the annual athletics competition, our house always excelled. This was in large part because John knew how to motivate every single boy to participate. He also had a habit of attracting some of the better talent, if I say so myself. In so doing, I credit John with laying the foundation for always wanting to be the best I could be. JSBP REMEMBERED

Secondly, I think back to how lucky I was to have known Patrick Jordan (aka PJFJ), the headmaster at my [now defunct] prep school, The Old Malthouse (OMH), down in sunny Dorset. After all these years, I have to thank Patrick for my passion for rugby and athletics (including throwing the javelin). He also was passionate about his Triumph cars which he delighted in sharing with us. Patrick went on to become a highly successful headmaster at Packwood Haugh.

Thirdly, I cite the theatrical Michael Kidson (MGMK), my history teacher for many divisions (classes) at Eton. His theatrics–sometimes hystrionics–always kept us at attention, if not on edge. Michael laid into us with vigour, I shall always remember his criticism of my “woolly” English. Flying wood blocks notwithstanding, he was as generous and kind a man as you will ever find.

Fourth, I cite Colonel Ozzie Ostock, my history teacher from the Old Malthouse. With his authentic Colonel’s handlebar moustache, Mr Ostock brought history to life with his anecdotes. He would tell us vivid tales of WWII and was responsible for having at least one war hero (that I can remember) come present to us in the Gym. Managing to corral the zany energy of a roomful of 8-9 year old boys, he started me on my journey of twelve years of studying history–and a lifetime since. He is responsible for my love the film “The Dambusters”, the story of an eccentric scientist’s invention that devastated three German dams in the Ruhr Valley (Ruhr and Eder rivers). Here is a “fan site” out of England: Dambusters.co.uk.

Anil Gaba - Great TeacherThe most valiant award, however, goes to my statistics teacher, Professor Anil Gaba, at INSEAD. If you knew me, you would know that this could not have been my favourite topic. But, through wit, real case examples and a great deal of patience, he systematically, and single-handedly, made statistics stick. Also, Anil created a favourable environment for social interaction. A soulful individual. Anil is now Dean of Faculty at INSEAD (Singapore campus).

Finally, I would like to remember Professor Terry Des Pres, holocaust scholar and my freshman English teacher at Colgate University. While his classes borderlined on Dead Poet’s Society material, wearing every day the same outfit, Terry excelled in the ‘happenings’ in his own home. Reminiscent of a Salon environment, we would stay endless hours debating and sharing stories, especially on one occasion with his great friend John Irving. Here is the NY Times article covering his premature death in 1987, and a nice writeup in the Colgate Scene on-line.

Voilà, my list of top six Great Teachers is complete. There were, however, other great “moments” Great Teacher - Mark Rosekindin teaching that I would also like to remember, including Professor Mark Rosekind, an FSR*, at Yale University, teaching us about sleep (and dreams). And, on this one occasion, on my suggestion, we decided to hold an entire class outside (on a beautiful spring day). Since the class had somewhere over 100 students, that was a trickier enterprise than might be imagined to do spontaneously. I set up my amplifier and microphone outside our dorm room window and all the students sprawled out on the grass in Silliman College square. And it was the surprise of my sleeping roommate that gave me this priceless memory: There Bert was, sleeping in mid-afternoon and, in the midst of his dreams, he heard through his window a mellifluous Californian accent speaking about sleep and dreams. Professor Rosekind was also great at keeping our full attention by hatching spontaneous studies of his students who dozed off in his class. See here for Mark’s site at the National Sleep Foundation. And here, no less, a blog about Dr Rosekind with one of his podasts. (*Famous Sleep Researcher).

I should also thank my English teacher and sports therapist “Uncle” (aka Unkie) at The Hotchkiss School for giving me another memory of a lifetime. As he walked in this one spring day, the whole class spontaneously broke out singing the Grateful Dead’s “Loose Lucy” in a capella from beginning to end. And his priceless answer at the end: “why me?”

So, why these teachers? The attributes that blare out like a coach’s megaphone on crisp winter morning are: being passionate, being real, being interactive. As Todd Whitaker says in his book “What Great Teachers Do Differently,” great teachers focus on expectations, while the mundane teachers focus on the rules. And, in every case, they were also great listeners and always available for discussion after hours. As you can see, I did the rounds when it came to schools. But, no matter where, there always was at least one teacher that stood out a cut above. Make sure you remember the one(s) that stood out for you!

For further reading on the topic, if you got inspired, here are a selection of other sites and articles about Great Teachers:

TIME magazine feature on How to Make Great Teachers (i.e. how to overcome the low pay de-motivation)
Great Schools website features the Great Teachers’ qualities
Oprah did a show on Great Teachers featuring Mr Clark’s essential “rules” for Children

Norway quota for women on corporate boards

A bold decision

I read with interest about Norway’s legislated quota for women’s presence on publicly traded private limited liability (“ASA”) corporate boards. The improvements in equality on boards in Norway were not coming fast enough*, so, in 2005, the government put in place a minimum quota of 40% of women on every ASA corporate board by the end of 2007, with consequences if not met. In the last six months of 2007, it is estimated that 400 additional women were voted onto corporate boards, making Norway by far and away the country with the highest representation of women on boards. Quoting from GlobeWomen.org, “In its 2007 study, Women Directors in the Fortune Global 200 Companies’ released in Berlin at the June Global Summit of Women, Corporate Women Directors International reported that only 11.2% of corporate board seats are held by women in the 200 largest companies in the world.” The successful implementation of the Norwegian law has been observed by many other countries (including Canada, Spain) seeking similar diversity. I note that Sweden apparently balked on a similar quota initiative five years ago.

A 40% target

Having been set the objective of 40% female representation on boards, the targeted Norwegian companies are now on average at 37%, at parity with the 37% of their women parliamentarians, although below the true parity achieved in PM Jens Stoltenberg’s current cabinet (8/16)**. The very least one can say is that the Norwegians are putting their money with their mouthes are…and with great courage. I was able to find, for example, many sites with stats on gender equality (including this one at Statistics Norway).

I was intrigued by a blogger’s following explanation for the strong presence of women in Norwegian society:

usini wrote (find in the comments section): “I think that one has to be very careful not to generalise from the particular. Women in Norway always had quite a strong position politically, because, so I believe, of the economy being based on fishing and sea-faring which meant that a lot of men were absent when decisions had to be made. Thus a solution which is suitable for them may not necessarily apply to other cultures.”

One of the items to watch closely in the near future will be how the Government deals with non-compliant companies. This Guardian article identifies the scope of the problem with 111 yet to comply and 5 companies that still have zero women on their boards. Clearly, closing down those companies will be an explosive solution. The second evolution to watch carefully is how the board members are re-elected… When/if a woman leaves a board, will she systematically have to be replaced by another woman?

Sensitive topic

This quota law was naturally a topic of great sensitivity. Quotas are a generally reviled policy. And most of the commentary I have read on this particular policy are predictably unfavorable. Certainly the ambition of going from 6% to 40% was enormous, if also artificial, over such a short period of time. As much as some Norwegian unions might have been delighted by the quota, most of the private sector was up in arms and there is probably continuing concern that foreign companies will look less favorably at installing in Norway. As reported by the Centre for Corporate Diversity, there was also concern that some of the 500 concerned companies would change their ASA status to avoid this law. That particular concern has proved unwarranted. Meanwhile, even the Norwegian Gender blog, authored by Ragnhild Sohlberg, has put up reservations as to the success and/or desirability of a quota system. Susan Gunelius at Women on Business also issued reservations against quotas. In any event, finding qualified talent in those numbers over such a short time frame does not appear healthy–and one has to imagine some negative fallout in the first few years. Nonetheless, I applaud the courage of their convictions.

In many ways, the trick for the Norwegians will now be to validate the new status to show that corporate performance is at least as good as in the past (if not better) in order to encourage other companies (such as Luxottica, which has committed to 30% of women in management positions) if not other governments, to follow suit. Proving that the performance has otherwise been altered by a higher presence of women will ultimately fall to the numbers and bottom line. The question is whether the benchmarks and interpretation of those numbers will be clear.

Looking at the global playing field, it is interesting to note how a smaller country can become, in a certain fashion, the experimental laboratory for other bigger countries. Not that the context in any country can perfectly translate for other countries, but this policy and its successful implementation could surely give rise to new initiatives in other countries. Its failure would only reinforce the “I told you so” against quotas. In the same vein of looking at “small” country initiatives, I am tracking Norway’s actions on the ecological front (including this Green Prison initiative in a prior post) where they are pioneers as well. The least one can say is that they are attempting to bring about change. And since the end is desirable…to what extent does that justify the means? Any thoughts?

Other blogs on this topic:

Yvonne Roberts speaks out in favor on Guardian Unlimited. The comments are quite heated.
Ibibo Blogs – One blog supporting the notion that Quota works…
Fresh Inc. — 40% of business school students in Norway are women.
NYT Article from Jan 2006 — Women more reasonably represented in politics & media…
Mises Blog – The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Even this post inspired a lot of debased, inflammatory comments (from 2005)…
Reinvention Inc... where I picked up the story about Spain following Norway’s example (not on the imposition of a quota, but an incentive to have higher female representation. In 2006, Spain had under 4% female representation on corporate boards.
CareerDiva – with a balanced comment section to date (just 5 comments).

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* The initial request from the Norwegian government was made in 2002, with a non-binding law established in 2003. In the following three years, the percent of women present on boards rose from a poor 6% to an ‘average’ 11%. I read a 2003 article from Time magazine on the topic… makes for good recent retrospective information.

** I found a blog posting on Writes Like She Talks, referring to a Huffington Post posting from 2006 that discusses the representation of women in politics across the world, where the USA ranked 67th. Write Like She Talks has an updated blog site now, here.

Marc Jacobs – Welcome to the late late night show

For the latest fashion week in New York, the standout performance has been the pre- and post- tangle surrounding the Marc Jacobs Collection, shown on September 10th. Among other things, I was very impressed by the use of SMS by Jacobs’ Press team to alert [certain VIP] attendees to the retard.

Jacobs’ show was scheduled for 20h30 (8:30pm). An SMS sent out to attendees said the show would be an hour late and to come around 22h (already quite an exaggerated sense of an hour). A second SMS was issued at 21h45, saying the show wouldn’t begin before 23h (11pm).

Nothing like over promising. Now for the delivery.

Per the press reports, Anna Wintours (Vogue) and Suzy Menkes (IHT) both thought the retard stepped over the bounds of acceptable. Here’s the report from WWD. Menkes reportedly said, “I would like to murder him with my bare hands and never see another Marc Jacobs show as long as I live. Where’s the dinner?” Fashion Shows that start on time are such a rarity, you wonder why the agenda proposes a specific minute for the beginning. Why not write: sometime after x pm or not before y pm. New concepts in time management are needed, such as obligatory SMS messaging and pre-show massaging…

There is a historic need for suspense, generating impatience and a stir crazy audience, with ants-in-the-[hot]pants is a modus operandus. This is typically not helped by chairs at fashion shows which are made temporarily for temporary seating. Some fashion designers seem to behave along the lines, “the longer the wait, the bigger rap; and the more hype my show will create.”

Anyway, Jacobs sparred with the powers that be post show (in the press), defying the likes of Menkes and Wintours, and telling them not to come ‘next time.’ Maybe, though, the time after that will be okay?

With all that said–and while I didn’t attend the show–with my Lit background, I can only say that I was extremely interested in the deconstructionist theme to Jacobs’ show, played back to front. Sounded absolutely fascinating. A finale at the beginning (including Jacob’s enthusiastic bow), 3/4 finished dresses, undersized shoes and again shoes with the heels attached to the front. For music, the show was accompanied by non-linear cuts of Ravel’s Boléro. There was a blow by blow writeup in USA Today Blog. Unfortunately, the show may have been missing in content (per le Figaro); but then what’s new for those who don’t like Derridan deconstructionism. Otherwise, seems like Jacobs’ show did its very own auto-destructionism.

See Figaro article: “Le retard de Marc Jacobs déchaîne les critiques

Other blogging the Jacobs’ show:
Fabsugar: NY Fashion Week
NYTimes Runway Blog
Style Dish, Cry me a river…
Hollywood, That other Blog


When a blog becomes institutional

iblog doesn’t stand for institutional blog

I have been a fan of the freakonomics blog for quite some time — a testament to the power of a good book (now available for $17 on amazon, down from $28 list price!) going on line per se. However, the very notion of a blog is up for grabs at this point as this lunch over ip article points out. Freakonomics is an institutional blog, an anathema to blogging as considered in the blogging world of the [recent] past.

The evolution of blogging

Now that we have more than 70 million blogs (per techorati), it may well be time to add some marketing muscle to the very term of a blog (beyond splog). As Bruno Giussani points out, the blog concept is migrating and, with it, the ways of communicating. Blogging is even entering into an evil phase as this IHT article points out. Incentive enough to make sure that I have a comment policy (see below).

I take note of Joe Jaffe experimenting with the interface of his jaffe juice blog, facebook, twitter, itunes podcasting, and potentially so many more (netvibes, bloglines, myspace, linkedin, plaxo. flickr…). Same idea over at Twist Image, with Mitch Joel, where we are looking at ways to concentrate the multiple [social] media avenues to grow your on-line community. And it’s true that agglomeration is the new buzz word which is going to be a major part of the near-term evolution of the net, not just blogging. The web has cast a wide reach with a whole host of new opportunities, but managing the tangle of [even one’s own] links and gaining critical mass will be the name of the game in the future. By the way, I do love the new Google blog search which is helping to clear up the confounded blog search.

Anyway, as far as blogs are concerned, we might consider creating subcategories of blogs. I propose that we create a new list of definitions for what we have broadly been calling blogs. That list could go something like this:

  • persoblog for those personal life blogs, shortened to plog
  • communiblog for community blogs, shortened to cubelog polyblog for multiple author blogs, polyblog (like it as is)
  • musiclog for the music aficionado, mclog
  • marklog for marketing blogs, as is
  • medialog (aside from the issue of the company of the name), for news blogs
  • shoplog for shopping addicts, as is
  • institulog for institutional blogs (ban the idea!), i-blog (perish the thought twisted)

and final idea (for today that is):

  • noblog for not only bullshit logs…

The question will become: who is capable of setting the pace and giving these names? Us, the community of bloggers… but that’s a whole of people to galvanize. Probably will need the New York Times or Herald Tribune to pick up a piece like this one and then, kapow, it’s off to the races.