Camille Reyes

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

When censorship-for-politeness ends and I-just-don’t-give-a-f*ck-anymore begins

In Social Networks on September 26, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Guest blogger Savantemeritus appears courtesy of “The Project for Sustained Mental Stimulation.”  She is a fellow grad student in Media, Culture and Communication at NYU.  Gorditamedia knows talent.  You can thank me later.  Comments encouraged.

I had the opportunity to consider the issue of the online identity recently for a class on digital media. The superstar controversies were of course privacy, data-mining, oversharing, and, rather obliquely, a consideration of the plausibility of a Skynet/ HAL-like device coming into reality (the discussion ran quite the gamut). While it was the tendency of most (full disclosure: myself as well) to pontificate their views on these phenomena on a macrosocial scale, I turned the lens inward after class and asked myself the question: when did I stop caring about my overtly liberal link posts and clearly er, dishonorable pictures on Facebook, this despite knowing my ultra-conservative, hyper-Catholic family members lurked in the shadows of my ‘recent activity’? I knew the answer immediately and I borrow the words of my favorite romantic line of all time, courtesy of Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy in ‘Pride and Prejudice’:

“I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

Perhaps a big reason is that 1) I know they are not online enough to be offended by my ‘true’ self (while the nature of truth and self is another cogitation requiring a lot more meditation and neuroscience than I can afford right now, for the purposes of this post, let us say that one’s ‘true self’ online is the behavior one exhibits when one is burdened with the least amount of hesitation and the most amount of what we feel is an action most loyal to our sense of personal authenticity). Or if they are like the average online American who spends about 14 minutes on Facebook per day, it might also be because they 2) don’t care about me as much as the narcissism promoted by Facebook has led me to believe or 3) I’m safely lost in the overwhelming stream of their newsfeed. The other category of justification has a tangential relationship to reason #3: most of my Facebook friends are young, like-minded individuals and by constituting a majority of that friend list, they give me enough comfort to express my (contested) ‘true self’.

I remember late in 2006 when slowly but surely, people outside my college life started trickling into the service. First it was the more hip younger relatives, friends from high school and friends from abroad. It was becoming what Friendster or MySpace just never got to- the global critical mass that allowed for a one-stop site where I could find people and be found. I was thrilled; I reveled; I went on mad friend request frenzies. And then, a relative who was head of the local church organization popped up on the request page. And once you go down that path of saying yes to one, it becomes a slippery slope, a snowball… a bloody disaster. Pretty soon there were over thirty members from various branches of both maternal and paternal family tree. What followed was an equally mad frenzy of photo untagging and eventually, a near cessation of active Facebooking.

That was censorship for the sake of politeness. It wasn’t all the fault of Facebook’s open registration- I was graduating from college, neck-up in a thesis and looking for jobs. But no doubt, a significant part of the decline was that it became too onerous to consider whether I could stand to live with dissenting kin, and even dissenting ‘friends’ knowing my stand on reproductive rights or marijuana legalization.

By seeing the scale of variation among my relatives, friends and acquaintances, the painful wonder of the multi-faceted self, that the self is quite variable, hit me and the difficulty of maintaining any sense of authentic self in the face of an audience of such aggregated temporal, geographic and personal difference just became too hard.

So instead I became a voyeur, a casual Facebook stalker on nights when I ran out of episodes to catch up on the DVR. But about a year later, I found myself in grad school– tagging myself in the same dishonorable photos I forswore, thoughtlessly liking pro-gay marriage links and sharing an analysis of the health care overhaul for my own little discordant Facebook world to see. And just like the start of Mr. Darcy’s love for Elizabeth Bennett, I could not “fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation.”  I just was. And upon reflection, this change in behavior was a reflection of a change in focus- I was no longer thinking that what I was putting out there was for everyone. I was posting mostly for my graduate peers, who were actively engaged in all sorts of social networks. Their activity inspired me to participate and they became my primary audience. This happens to coincide with Lento et. al’s findings that “a user’s retention and interest in blogging could be predicted by the comments received and continued relationship with other active members of that community” (quoted from Java et. al). It is not that I stopped caring what everyone thought… it is because my social barometer had adjusted to be more sensitive to my immediate community (graduate students) online than the rest of the digi-zens populating my online social network.

Ever dependable is our brain. Responding to the contradictory pressures wrought by bringing one’s divergent offline worlds to one virtual universe, it develops an adaptation: caring about what certain people think. This isn’t new, if you really think about it. I remember living in an analog world and selectively caring-what-other-people-think as a sanity preserving tool. I learned this fairly quickly. The only difference is, back then, a massive server in some anonymous data center was not there to document one’s personal evolution for posterity’s review.



Press Release Roach Motel

In Advertising, media, PR on September 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age should know better than to write “A Death Of…” piece so soon after the tired Wired declaration of the Internet’s demise.  Could we put an end to “the death of” as a news device?  This funny video points out how much Wired alone abuses the trope.  Stylistic quibbles aside, I did feel a tinge of hope when I saw the object of Dumenco’s funeral march: the press release.

As a PR pro for almost 15 years, the press release and “relationship building” have been the two constants of my career.  Relationship building is an art form.  The press release is more Marcel Duchamp–stick a toilet on a platform and, “viola!” art!  Yet, there are rigid rules for releases; rules I stuck to because when broken it made the release even worse, like taking a sledge hammer to the toilet.  This is odd for me to say.  I’m a rebel in the office.  I take pride in learning the rules and strategically breaking most of them.  Not so for the press release.

For instance, releases should be no more than two pages long, yet your client will INSIST on a six pager at least once in your career.  What’s the big deal?  Ask this question to a reporter on a deadline, a reporter who is teetering on the brink of a layoff and learning how to video edit at night because guess what, that’s part of the job now, too.  Ask them how they feel about four fucking superfluous pages.

Another edict: don’t use flowery prose, let the reporter do the writing.  So when the team behind “Spirit of the Dance” INSISTED that I use their headline for the local run of the show in our press materials, I did what any good publicist would do.  I disobeyed them and gave my reporters what they wanted: just the facts.  Thus, “Spirit of the Dance Steps To A Tenth Decade of Blockbuster Irish Magnificence–Three Electric Nights!,” never made the rounds in Tampa press circles. They really should’ve bought me more drinks, the eye bleeds I saved them from.

Yet even when the press release is done right, in its “inverted pyramid” most-important-info-first glory, I pretty much hate it.  They are by nature utilitarian, and once you have built those relationships, a simple email or media alert (think calendar listing with a little fat) will suffice.  Skewering the press release saves you the pain of a committee of editors ready to gouge eyes over magnificence v. grandeur.

And yet, I must disagree with Dumenco, because like an upended cockroach in Florida, the legs of the press release are still twitching.

Yes, even I will admit that when you’re dealing with a gigantic media list, a list so large you must tier your reporters in priority order (now there’s a FUN exercise), there is nothing quite so useful as a press release blast on the wire.  If your client is looking for a high quantity of story placements, there is still no better tool.  What about Twitter and Facebook?  Ah, these fancy pants new media tools are quality pushers.  I love them.  Twitter is still a game for the techno-elite.  This might change.  Even Facebook is still limited.  Do you really think Walt is going to notice your product promoting status update nestled in the sea of photos of his grandkids?  Social media is an incredible new platform for relationship building, and it offers cool hybrids of broadcast and narrowcast media.  Yet social media is not a blunt instrument.  Getting your story picked up in the Paducah Post Gazette times 1,000 still requires a press release and a wire.

Believe me, I’m looking for the can of Raid, but in the immortal words of Python, “Not dead yet!”