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Grant Money for Network-Centric Advocacy

connectusnetworkcentric_investingHere is a really interesting request for proposals from the Connect Us Fund. The fund has established operating principals that include a value for "network-centric" behavior. I would love to find out more about the review process and the level of network theory incorporated.

I am really happy to see the foundation community start to look at issues of network capacity vs. organizational capacity. My personal goal is to see the theory developed, additional thinkers and leaders recruited, pilot projects developed and campaigns implemented. This is a giant step in that right direction.

An F-Word from the Courts to the Administration: Freedoms!

The Court fights back. Individual freedom and right to challenge authority are most important in the moments that are most challenging. Amen!

"Striking the proper constitutional balance here is of great importance to the Nation during this period of ongoing combat," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote, in a passage that seemed to summarize the dominant view of the court. "But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear or to the privilege that is American citizenship. It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation's commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad." -Washington Post

Wahoo. Rock and Roll. Breath. You have got to love the balance of power.

Ownership of the Movement's Struggle

As we professionalize message and tighten advocacy branding do we actually kill the adaption of advocacy arguments and campaign messages? Is it possible that the stronger the "brand" of advocacy the more participants fell like that it is the message is not thier (ownership) but the message of the group or speaker (distant not owned). As we play with the intellectual property of movement is saving rivers American River's?, saving forest "greenpeace's"?. National parks "NPCA's"?, etc.

Are we taking so much ownership of messages to attrack membership into a brand (failing model of engagement) that we are wrestling participation and individual ownership of basic ideas from ownership of the many? The follwing quote raises interesting variables in the ownership of music, art, an agenda, or argument.

His conclusion is substantially the same as Cory Doctorow’s, but he appeals to our shared cultural heritage by saying that the act of experiencing a work of art—a song, a book—is the act of appropriating it, of making it part of our lives. Of reacting to it, sharing it, drawing the wrong conclusions from it. He argues that by tightening down on these secondary uses, we kill the mechanism by which culture is created.

This is a great question for our campaigns and advocacy efforts. How are our campaigns and tactics fostering the experience of political engagement? How are we helping many millions of people making the struggle for justice, clean air and clean water their struggle? Are we letting our arguments, facts , research, brochures, photos and data be a part of the participants experience or are we moving increasingly toward engagements in civic debates that are branded experiences?

Was Howard Dean only fun while he was an underdog because people owned his arguments...general disappointment with mainstream Democrats, anti-war, and open anger against bush. Is it possible that the more he branded the less he became "of the people"? What about other movements?

Flame Wars: Online Campaign Counter Measures to PR Tricks : Reverse Engineering PR Tips for Effective Corporate Pressure Campaigns.

Ever find your community locked in battle with corporate public relations team? Ever wonder about ways you can mobilize consumers to help you boycott a product? (Are you a woman that works for Wal-Mart?) I have been thinking about these tactics for a bit (winning the game of web dominance July 2003) However, a recent newsletter finally offered a few points to work from for a guide on flaming corporate reputations. (I would image the same would be true for elected officials, software, opposition groups, etc.)

The Marketingsherpa sent along an interview with
Pete Blackshaw. Pete helps public relations and marketing experts develop strategy to counter consumer rage. If you read carefully you can find some great tips on ways to pressure companies and disrupt the "spin and control" cycle the public relations gurus would like to exert over your voice.

"As many as 70% of consumers who contact your company with a complaint will also post their complaint in a public online forum. --This year, consumers will post almost a billion comments and reviews
of brands online."
So instead of recommending listening to complaint, addressing complaint quickly and changing behavior to satisfy customers, we have back to PR-Manipulation 101. There are a few great factoids and interested tips in the article for online advocacy campaigners.

There were a few thoughts that jumped out as potential points for contemplation and discussion for online advocacy campaign strategists.

1. Good comments and opinion online are worth far more than the ads used to counter them. Conversations about companies and products are very difficult for companies to hide or spin. High traffic boards and fresh content may be ranked higher on searches than the website of the product.
How much control do consumers really have over your brand presence online? --- 976 million high-impact ads worth.

2. The more details and personal voice you use the more valuable your comments are to the campaign. Details of discussions, product use, responses by target, etc. demonstrate your engagement and build credibility.

3. Some sites are more powerful for the review than your website (hint ..Center for New American Dream). E-opinons, Amazon comments, review discussions, a-list blogs.

4. Here is a shocker finding supporting the network-centric approach to advocacy campaigns...people trust other people more than names or brands....

2004 Forrester/Intelliseek research shows that more than 60% of consumers trust other consumers' online postings about products and brands. In comparison, pop-ads are only trusted by roughly 5%, search ads by less than 40%, branded ads by less than 50%. So an individual consumer post may have far greater impact than the online ad campaign you paid for.

That research alone maybe worth another rant. This also resonates with some stuff I was reading from a talk from the Microsoft campus by Dr Weinberger (Cluetrain manifesto, small pieces...)

5 Reporters use the web. Another voice explains that the press do have internet access and that they use it when working on a story.

Last but not least, reporters are increasingly influenced by online buzz. "They use it as a starting point for commentary on a brand. It often serves as a counterpoint to company information," says Blackshaw.

5 things you can do to run a more successful pressure campaign against your opposition.

1. Jump first and fast. A short burst of intensive activity will create message saturation effects. It is important to dominate the space for a short time rather than a long drawn out dribble campaign. Quickly get your message out and posted. (The first comments in a string often anchor additional discussion and the conversations. The also register on searches and could be picked up as a "high" action item by bloggers and other monitors.)

2. Flame message boards, blogs and review sites with detailed personal accounts of frustration with the company. When you wrote your first letter of complaint (post an image of the product or letter they sent back.) Detail time line and comments. The more you talk about the process to highlight your concerns and opinions the more your credibility grows with the readers.

3. Build a group and cohesion among the folks working on the campaign (set up a listserve, care2 group, etc) get everyone working off the same sheet of music no matter what discussion boards they are working on. Set up a "google news alert" with the company name and blast your message into any comment areas or discussions related to news coverage. (

4. Create a list of important sites to dominate.

These might include: usenet postings on portals such as MSN, Yahoo, AOL, and Google, industry related vertical sites, clubs and microcommunities where fans and enthusiasts hang out, blogs and moblogs, eretailers such as eBags who solicit customer reviews, and review sites where small (but active) groups of consumers gather to complain, such as, or review or rate products, such as
- kudos -peter

5. Be Believable. (lots of details and digital images) build on traction of message. (small groups on discussion boards can really create energy around a topic)

If a user who's talking about your product has actually had experience with the product, "that means a lot more than if they mention the brand but show no evidence they actually used it." Another test of believability is to check other posts surrounding the user's comment. Do other users seem to resonate with what has been said?

6. Identify key issues
What are your target audience going to care the most about? (Hint ..Oceana should start a "sick ship" discussion board. ) Travelers want to know which ships are prone to flu outbreaks and then use the attention to talk about the fact that cruises dump the waste of a small city overboard as they cruise.

To identify key issues being discussed about your products or services online, ask yourself: which issues inspire the most emotional discussions? Which issues spread from one forum to another (for example: do hostile rumors go from a Usenet to blogs to third-party sites)? Which issues spread faster than others?

There were some other interesting ideas that advocacy campaigns should play with in the membership questionnaires. Find out how many of your members are active in online discussion forums, community listserves and blogs. (These become the core team of your online activists).

LINC : Case Study in Tech Value to Campaign

Here is an interesting case study on the use of technology by a small state based group that increased power locally and nationally by leveraging technology.

Working for Equality & Economic Liberation: Databases and Low-Income Families During TANF Reauthorization Debate

Technology can play a strong supporting role in the efforts of grassroots organizers. For WEEL, the implementation of a database meant more than better administration; it meant the ability to fine-tune its strategic civic engagement efforts. The ability to move the database from a record-keeping instrument to a strategic tool leveraged WEEL’s small staff and focused efforts into real influence, ultimately at the federal level. In a small organization, that ability could translate into the difference between successful and unsuccessful endeavors.

Working for Equality & Economic Liberation’s experience is an example of how merging technology with other strategic activities can significantly enhance the capacity of organizations working with limited resources. By integrating data from multiple sources, WEEL was able to target specific audiences for its message, concentrating its efforts on work that would bring the greatest results. Then, by recording those results, the organization was able to prove to legislators that its work had an impact. In WEEL’s case, that meant a direct line to the Senate. Technology not only enhances the organization’s ability to effectively manage data, an administrative task the value of which is difficult to overstate; it also provides grassroots organizations with the ability to use data strategically, to achieve impacts stretching beyond the concerted efforts of individuals alone

It is not as network-centric as I would like (group did not have a strategy to connect member to member) the story demonstrates that by pushing power and tools to the edges of the movement helps local and national strategy and results.

GOP Internet Strategy: Smart and Hidden (for now)

There is some great insight on Internet strategy for nonprofits in this article on campaigns.

The GOP Web site's campaign loyalty program -- called "Team Leader" -- allows volunteers to collect points for writing a letter or soliciting a new party member that can be redeemed for coffee mugs or golf caps emblazoned with the party logo. "The purpose of the Team Leader program is to engage your average American citizen in the political process," says a program spokeswoman. "So many people want to be involved and they just don't know ... where to start."

The Bush-Cheney Web site provides a step-by-step blueprint to channel that energy. Built around sophisticated Web tools -- it aims to convert interested Republicans into committed volunteers. Within minutes of signing up, the Web site creates a tailored "activity center" for each user. It provides contact information for each user's local radio stations and newspaper. There are sample letters they can send on key issues, as well as a tracking system that allows the user -- and the Party -- to keep score each time someone writes a letter to the editor or encourages a friend to sign up. Regional campaign offices also take advantage of the database.

One week, I received invitations to participate in a local phone bank a few miles from my home as well as a book reading nearby by Karen Hughes, the President's former communications director. By comparison, it's far more cumbersome for volunteers using the Kerry Web site to learn whom to call or to write with a pro-Kerry message. Bush-Cheney eCampaign Manager DeFeo compares the Republican Party's customized approach to voters to the tailored recommendations that customers receive once they log onto Come election day, the Bush campaign will use its Web software tools to send each volunteer a map and directions to the nearest polling place as well. "I don't know of any other campaign capable of doing it," DeFeo says.

Top Down or Bottom Up?

But the Bush campaign doesn't match the Democrats in the degree of interactivity -- or spontaneity -- it allows in the campaign. For instance, what the Bush-Cheney Web site calls "a blog" reads more like a long list of press releases and announcements. Readers can't post replies -- or engage in a conversation.

"Any organization that simply views a Web site as a megaphone to talk down to its supporters is misusing the power of the Web," says Larry Purpuro, coordinator of the Republican's e.GOP project in 2000.

"Most campaigns are run by control freaks," adds Purpuro, now a Washington D.C. e-campaign consultant. The genius of Joe Trippi, Dean's onetime e-campaign manager, Purpuro says, was his "visionary ability to let go and allow for the full flourishing of a bottom-up movement."

Dean allowed supporters to take the initiative independently in a rapidly evolving and decentralized e-campaign. His "Dean Defense Forces" -- an online SWAT team -- countered negative attacks with quick-fire missives to hardcore supporters. Pro-Dean messages flowed into supporters' cell phone inboxes. And, the free-flowing journals of bloggers helped drum up so much support that the Dean camp smashed all previous records for online fundraising, transforming a little known candidate into the Democratic frontrunner

It is not expensive. It is just smart.

Advocacy: Relationships and Voice: Failure of Current Strategies to Respect People

I am having lots of fun playing with a talk from the Microsoft campus. Dr Weinberger (Cluetrain manifesto, small pieces...) is in town! It is very cool that the Microsoft staff have so effectively blogged the presentation.

There is some wonderful stuff here for advocacy campaign planners to think about in the context of the organizational and media strategy they typically use.

Ambiguity is the core of relationships. The extent to which you know more about a group than you can state explicitly is the extent to which the group is real.

Membership...big organizations know lots about their members. They want to know more and more so that the leadership of an organization can manipulate messages to appeal to each segment of their list. (The problem is that entire perspective about the "list" is failing. A list is not a group) A list can not act. We want to build groups and not lists. We want to allow our members to connect with each other to build their own ties that have little connection with the centralized organization and leadership. Sierra Clubs group structure is a strength.

Particularly, I love the rant on message control and communication. I have been looking for the words and justifications to see why controlled messages don't work as effectively. I think the following quotes start to shed light on the subject.

“professionalism is great, but the web loves amateurs more”. “Community is a place where people care about each other ; know about each other”. “What is the opposite of marketing? Voice!”. “Corporations have spent relentless efforts to suppress their voice and to suppress the voice of the customers; they have also spent a lot of time to take the meaning our of what they say and do”. “Keep the imperfection from the voice”.... “in blog, one of the most important thing is to write badly”
Look at memos vs. email. Memos are formal, reviewed, voiceless, narrowcast. Email is a voicier medium. (By the way, the Internet is not a medium. It’s a place I enter into, not just something I send bits through. If you don’t get that, you miss what is drawing people in.) Email: really different. Hugely informal, not reviewed, individual, cc: everyone. (Or brief, funny, hastily written, ill conceived, thoughtless, and regrettable.)
“Let’s pick on someone. Kenmore. Their site is full of marketing crap. And it has useful information, but it’s buried eight clicks deep. If I want useful information, I go to everybody’s home page, and I find myself here, in this discussion. Why do I trust the information more in these than on the web site? Because it’s badly written (therefore human), positive AND negative, and followed by discussion so I can fact check. It’s human and deals much better with the deep ambiguities of the world than marketing. Look at this thread: there’s a physicist of lint here talking about dryers! Conversations like this on the web are smarter than any company can be.”

Message volume, chatter, conversation about a topic are the most important elements in engageing to people interested in an issue. However, the professional marketing and message crafters want to kill that dialogue. They want to be the sole source for information on an issue. It is a model that is failing and our advocacy campaigns strategists have not yet figured it out.


What needs to change? How can conversations replace broadcasts? How do you build a new set of connections between people and important issues and policy levers?

1. Invest in new types of organizations and tools that connect people to each other and not merely to the broadcast message. More focus on Advokit and Meetup less on one-to-many strategies.

2. Distribute power (staff time, talent, resources and money) to the edges of the movement. Shift the agenda of larger portions of the movement to be "service" based giving support and tools to individuals in the field and smaller all volunteer groups. Empower your most talented people to occasionally fight for local agendas.

3. Create a "staff share" program across the movement. Strategically support conversations (informally - social gatherings, conference calls, email, conferences, blogs) . Let a larger portion of the staff develop and execute campaigns to move a environmental agenda forward.

4. Always be prepared for help. Manage your workflow in a way that highlights the work of others and is prepared for others to come in an take over your job. Build and distribute the work that anyone does on an issue that you think would be useful.

There is a huge slice of the American public that are sick of the prepackaged and perfectionist nature of our messages and messengers. The want real passion, debate and voice. They want to participate on their terms and they are going to continue to resist being slapped into a database, segmented onto a list and data mined into a category of unengaged, uninterested, donor, member, activist, whatever. They are an important part of the future success of civic engagement and we need to invest in new methods to engage with them.

Are you the Worst Source of Informaiton About your Own Campaigns?

I am still playing with a bunch of the fun ideas from the Jarrett House North blog....

Then we go to our jobs, which are like forts. We selectively release information to our customers, which is called marketing; to our employees (visualized as Oompa Loompas), which is called managing; and to our partners. But the walls are full of holes, and the company is now one of the worst sources of information about its own products.
“How did we get here? Markets used to be about conversations; now marketing is a verb and it’s done to people. We release as little information as we can to control our customers. It goes back to the industrial revolution. Interchangeable goods, interchangeable workers, interchangeable customers. You know, before the 1920s, consumption was a disease. It meant you were coughing up blood. Now it’s not even an insult any more. We can look at these interchangeable consumers as a way to drive down the cost of advertising. Reduce them to the lowest common denominator, cram the messages down their throats, and sell more stuff!

But as Doc Searls says, there’s no market for messages. We all run from them, Tivo past them. And marketers respond by making marketing even more ubiquitous. So marketing becomes like war; marketing campaigns, saturation marketing, targeted marketing, etc.”

Wow. This is a rich jumping point for our campaign cycles. (Valdis --It's the Conversation Stupid Ideas) Can we ask these questions? DO the insiders know how campaigns are made and formed? Are they leaking and gossiping about management choices? Are environmentalists and professional communications staff the worst places to get information on the issues? How are we providing information for family-to-family conversations, peer-to-peer campaigns? Have a few people roll play your supporters how do they pick up your banner and talking points? How can they connect social networks to issue actions without forcing their friends into your membership/data funnel? Is society "Tivoing" past messages of asthma, cancer, poverty, injustice, global warming and species extinction? How is the system not looking at members and supporters as "interchangeable" ? Has democracy become like the markets in swamping out a public that is not in charge of the system?

What steps can we take to engage folks on a meaningful level in a conversation? How can we empower more people to use their own voice to talk for the movement?

A Peterson's Guide to Major Industrial Polluters and Environmental Threats

I was at a conference a few years ago and on route I had to fly west out of Pittsburgh. I was enjoying the few minutes of rest as the plane climbed to altitude (no electronic gadgets). I could see a huge smelter and industrial complex out my window. I could also clearly see a scattering of plumes from industrial sites scattered across the landscape.

I had been thinking that some places (Atlanta, Chicago, etc. ) get huge numbers of flyers whipping through their skies with nothing to do but peek out an airplane window (great teachable moment). Travelers are a great target audience for educating the public about environmental issues.

What if we could shoot the climbs on the way out of major airports, time it with average air speed and offer little brochures for activists to handout in airports?

Take ads in travel mags, etc. folks could also print them out for the next trip. Travel agents could offer them with tickets. I could even see a Peterson's guide to industrial landmarks from the sky.

Flying west out of Pittsburgh. (turn to page 3)

Section 1 (Flight details)
Flying West out of Pittsburgh you will see nothing until you reach 2 minutes after take off. After a three minutes climb looking to the north the people on the right will see....(Pittsburgh Steel. (page 5), Mountain Top removal (page 4), Sprawl (page 7), Acid Mine Runoff into Main Stem Rivers. (page 9)

Section 2 (Feature Details)
Pittsburgh Steel...Nice glossy photo of Pittsburgh Steel plant (like a bird book) with text underneath talking about the jobs, tax revenue, products and pollution that come from the plant. The text could include map of projected plume (great for local flyers) EPA pollution permits, number of violations on site in the last 10 years, projected asthma deaths and cancers caused by emissions and contact information for local groups. The text could include the positions of the lobbyist that are supported by the company on worker safety laws, environmental regulations and tax breaks given to the company.

The same thing would also be really cool for popular bus, rail and cruise ship routes. How many folks are on one of those cruise ships? They must see all kinds of sites along the coastline.

Richard's Notes ? Looking out the other window

The Capacity of Civil Society Sector: Network-Centric Health Assessment Tool?

There is an interesting article in Alliance that touches on a new matrix (the folks at John Hopkins) to assess the health of Civil Society Sectors by country. It is interesting to see the measurements they are offering and think about such social measurements from the micro-level. Instead of looking at the US can we focus these measures on the environmental movement at the state level? Most importantly are these the right measurements?

the GCSI measures the level of development of the civil society sector along three basic dimensions: (1) capacity, or the level of effort the sector mobilizes; (2) sustainability, or the ability of civil society to survive over time; and (3) impact, or the contribution that civil society makes to social, economic and political life.

I have been kicking around these questions before and I am particularly interested in the ways Hopkins approaches to these questions.

1. capacity -- How do they define it? Do they care about the ownership/management of the capacity, the efficient use of capacity and the state of readiness of capacity.
2. sustainability -- How do they define it? Do they look at states of latency as a sustainable approach? Do they look at age, gender, race demographics and trends to evaluate sustainability? Do they consider the possibilities that it may be prudent to run at unsustainable rates in the civil sector (In order to bump the workload to government or private sectors)
3. impact -- cost per benefit?

I am also interested to understand how the Hopkins models may handle decentralized network action in a civil society context. (Civil rights Bus boycott co-opted cars and other resources that were not existing "capacity" before the action nor were the boycotts sustainable but they had huge impact. If the model can not scale downward to campaigns I doubt that it is functional as a macro-guide.

My challenge is to propose new measures of network health.

See the Coverage of the News in a New Light

Gideon Rosenblatt's Blog: Discussion on Visually Mapping the News highlights some very cool tools used to visualize the online presentation (saturation) of news and concepts. The tools are great because they demonstrate the effect of "media cyclones". High energy stories that feed on themselves and step into the "low pressures" of a slow news day.

Newsmap provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures and within news segments in constant change around the globe. Newsmap does not pretend to replace the googlenews aggregator. It's objective is to simply demonstrate visually the relationships between data and the unseen patterns in news media. It is not thought to display an unbiased view of the news, on the contrary it is thought to ironically accentuate the bias of it.

I would be very interested in seeing the staying power of news over time. Can we use maps to predict that story X will also be a hot story in three days? Assuming that news is a really complex system of connecting information how can the tools teach us about the "ecosystem". I am interested because I want to game this unregulated system and because I want to build awareness of the ways it may be gamed to work against the stickiness of stories. ( Do conservatives control enough of the leavers and news outlets to game the system? How does FOX and Clear Channel picking up on GOP talking points set the agenda?) Can the LA times and NY times and liberals tip the scales with hot progressive stories? Should big outlets be breaking news or covering the story that everyone else is covering so to dominate the space map and connections?

In a campaign driven advocacy world can these maps tell us something about the public appetite for a story tomorrow?

Blogs have exploded in popularity amongst young people and adults in the last 18 months

The future of the advocacy movement.

"I am now looking at the way blogs can be used in the class, as an educational technology," Mr Huffaker said.

"The average blog post is over 2,000 words (per page), which is really interesting when you are trying to get kids to write essays."

He found evidence that some teachers had already been using blogs to highlight pupils' work to improve literacy, but also as a way for students to comment on each other's work.

Blogs have exploded in popularity amongst young people and adults in the last 18 months.

They are an increasingly common way of expressing and communicating on the net, along with e-mail, chatrooms, message boards and instant messaging.

Questions about the Parts of an Advocacy Network

I want to bang out some of the thoughts I am wrestling with after spending some time with a group of fantastic people in Seattle and San Francisco (more on that to come). The last several days have been affirming and opened a new list of questions and ideas.

I am at the place in my thinking where I now believe networks are the mechanism that the environmental and progressive movement should be exploring as new structure for organizing and deploying resources for creating change. They are not "scary" . Organizing the network means building network capacity and has little or nothing to do with the fate of large organizations.

These new networks are a mix of the existing legacy of organizing (individuals, trade guilds, organizations, unions, think tanks, churches, federations, progressive companies, politicians, software, databases, foundations, community technology centers, etc.) and a new generation of powerful and weak participants not bound into the system by the same old models. New participants and resources that are merely tied between these legacy systems by a dense layer of connections. all that I have written in the past. I have never touched on some really important concepts. I am very excited by the boost these last few days have provided and I am excited to see where the next round of chasing questions will take me.

"the Network Layout"
All the participants in the new systems are "nodes". This covers people, groups, foundations, etc. as well as databases, software, intellectual property, reputation and other nonhuman and nonphysical assets.

Questions: * What are all the nodes in environmental advocacy networks? How can we evaluate "node fitness"? What is the value of all the nodes combined? What is the output of the nodes as individual stand alone power bases? How is that output "throughput" changed when it is connected with other parts of the advocacy movement?

The value of the nodes of our network are not the only thing on the table. The connections between those nodes have value. The connectivity of the movement has a direct value (because it takes investment to create and because the connections improve the capacity of the network to do work.)

* What are the connections in the movement? How are they created? How can they be maintained? (luckily Richard Rogers was a huge help in spelling out the connections)

Nodes (people, groups and resources) and connections (self-interest, resource exchange, contagion, mutual interest, proximity, etc) are not enough to motivate network behavior. The protocol for exchanging ability to do work must also be hammered out. I am still kicking this around but there needs to be a series of steps that make it possible to push and pull work through the pipelines between our network (standards and protocols).


I am also fascinated with the ideas of "pulsing" an advocacy network. testing and monitoring the network capacity and monitoring changes in network throughput in an advocacy context.

There also is a new concept of the organizing node "cult of the alpha male" the solar stars at the centers of each network universe. What is the role of these catalyst? Can the size and influence of these players be reduced if the network finds other ways to provide these functions that they typically provide? What would that look like in an advocacy context?


There is not many answers here but I wanted to outline my current musings. Hopefully, I will pull more of these thoughts together in the weeks ahead.

Working the Media Trends to Your Advantage: Advocacy Strategy in the Age of Connectivity

There is a great new report on the state of journalism in 2004 posted by The study is the work of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

The report is a must read. The trends and dynamics they discuss are targeted toward the journalists but the work also has major implications on the strategy you should be using to distribute messages and work with these dynamics.

Here is my take on the findings and a brief discussion of the possible strategy implications.

1. More news outlets are fragmenting views and audience. They are also seeing a general decline in audience size.

It is more important than ever that advocacy groups have access to great database of always changing news outlets. What online sources, radio, TV, magazines and papers are reaching your target audience. It is no longer safe to assume that if you get the local papers your are moving your message to the right people at the right time. It is also essential that you work your "hooks" into the online version, TV version and radio versions of the outlet (or reporter).

2. Budgets are disappearing. Newsroom is shrinking. Less reporters need to generate more content.

Make it as easy as possible for the reporter to cover your story. They do not have the time to track down leads and facts. The more you can complete the story for your journalists friends the more likely they will do something with your story. Make sure you have an online press room. Have the story, images, graphs, video, key contacts, etc. prepared for the journalists.

3. Online, ethnic and alternative media have growing audiences.

It is essential to develop the relations with the emerging media. The dynamics are moving in the right directions and the online, ethnic and alternative media are going to have increased budgets and resources to help "break" stories. these are the places where the y will have more resources to attack stories important to their readers. Increasingly advocacy communication staff should have a communications plan that taps into the increasing power of alternative media.

4. Much of the new investment in journalism today - much of the information revolution generally - is in disseminating the news, not in collecting it. Most sectors of the media are cutting back in the newsroom, both in terms of staff and in the time they have to gather and report the news.

Every good story hit is increasing in potential redistribution value. Many outlets are entering content sharing and re purposing agreements. Do not disregard smaller outlets as an outlet for your big story exclusive because the value of the story can be picked up across media partnerships. Target small bureaus of the big papers to see if you can "trickle up" rather than merely going with the "big" hit and then customizing the story for smaller markets.

5. raw elements of news as the end product...

Produce your own content. Provide your video, photos, recordings of people in the street or public meeting. The 24 hours cycle has an endless demand for fresh content and almost zero money to produce it. The more that you can connect them to volunteer video and accounts "on the scene" the higher likelihood that some outlet will grab the raw feed. If you expect it to be a great visual you can grab it with volunteers. Collect the images, track down email and contact information on people recording the event.

6. delivering essentially the same news repetitively without any meaningful updating.

The initial story matters. Plan your campaign and events for short burst of attention not a big ongoing story.

7. Journalistic standards now vary even inside a single news organization. ... a mass audience for news not in one place, but across different programs, products and platforms......the way that advertising intermingles with news stories on many newspaper Web sites would never be allowed in print.

You need a database of all the distribution channels associated with an outlet. Advocacy groups also need to think about exploiting the loose rules on advertising. If there is an upcoming report on water quality by the states or feds see if you can get an online ad for connecting people to your group. Ask your local news outlets (TV, News and Radio) for a sales pitches from the advertising department to see what options they offer for "placement". You don't want just ads you want on air personalities to wear your tee-shirt, hat, etc. How much would it cost to develop a Friday river report for the summer months?

8. public perception evident in various polls that the news media lack professionalism and are motivated by financial and self-aggrandizing motives rather than the public interest.

When the media screws up attack them. They are weak in the public's perceptions and the y screw up advocacy stories all the time.

9.Study shows general increases in journalist workload, declines in numbers of reporters, shrinking space in newscasts to make more room for ads and promotions

Again. Prepackage your key messages in short blast. Think about ways to use ads and promotions to move your message.

10. Traditional media is in TROUBLE..the economics are not looking good and audience is shrinking.

Advocacy groups had better start thinking about the alternatives and new ways to move messages directly to target groups without the media.

11. Online journalism appears to be leading more to convergence with older media rather than replacement of it. When audience trends are examined closely, one cannot escape the sense that the nation is heading toward a situation, especially at the national level, in which institutions that were once in different media, such as CBS and The Washington Post, will be direct competitors on a single primary field of battle - online. The idea that the medium is the message increasingly will be passé. This is an exciting possibility that offers the potential of new audiences, new ways of storytelling, more immediacy and more citizen involvement.


12. Those who would manipulate the press and public appear to be gaining leverage over the journalists who cover them. Several factors point in this direction. One is simple supply and demand. As more outlets compete for their information, it becomes a seller's market for information. Another is workload. The content analysis of the 24-hour-news outlets suggests that their stories contain fewer sources. The increased leverage enjoyed by news sources has already encouraged a new kind of checkbook journalism, as seen in the television networks efforts to try to get interviews with Michael Jackson and Jessica Lynch, the soldier whose treatment while in captivity in Iraq was exaggerated in many accounts.

While I would not expect any checks for your story ...make your story pre-packaged and easy to cover. when you have the "hot" issue of the moment be prepared to take much more intense volume of interest because of these dynamics.

Libraries Organizing Emergent Democracy in September

This is a cool example of message development from the people. It also presents an opportunity to move some really important agendas and open meaningful discussions about the war, energy policy, terror and the US response to 9-11.

On September 11, 2004, citizens across the U.S. will come together at their local libraries to discuss ideas that matter to all of us. Through talks, debates, roundtables, and performances, citizens will share ideas about democracy, citizenship, and patriotism. What better way to spend September 11th, recently designated "Patriot Day," than by participating collectively, thinking creatively, and becoming a part of the well-informed voice of the American citizenry?

Public libraries provide all citizens open and free access to information. Almost all communities in the US have at least one library. There are over 16,000 public libraries in the US, and that's not including university libraries, K-12 libraries, and church libraries. In other words, libraries constitute an impressive national infrastructure. Moreover, 96% of public libraries have computer technology that can serve to connect events across the nation, thereby constituting a national and distributed media infrastructure. In this way, the September Project will foster a national conversation with, for, and by the people.

The September Project has three goals:

1) To coordinate with all libraries -- big and small, urban and rural -- to host free and public events on September 11;

2) To work with all forms of media -- mainstream and alternative; corporate and independent; print, radio, film, and digital -- to foster and sustain public discourse about issues that matter;

3) To foster an annual tradition for citizens around the world to recognize and give meaning to September 11th.

The aim of The September Project is to create a day of engagement, a day of community, a day of democracy.

So if you were really a network-organizer and you were looking for a way to tap into a new network to discuss your issue you could:

1. Develop talking points, fact sheets and organizing materials for the day. Hand these materials out on the way into the library to influence the discussion.

2. Send all of your members and best spokes people to the library. (Free meetup!)

3. Promote the event at nontraditional organizing moments. (Who feels funny about announcing a talking session in a neutral place like a library). Invite the media to the event. Work with the media after the event so they focus on t he right issues. Use this gathering as a time to listen, talk discuss and connect.

4. Have a follow up strategy ready to roll and organize outside the library. Organize people to vote and work the polls.