“Sexting”: Is it public or private communication?

This will be a short post. I am not a legal expert, my field is communications. But the recent legal action being taken against some teenage girls, and the legal process which is moving forward in connection with the cases in question, may ultimately have an impact on the matter of what constitutes public vs. private communication in this new communications age. The facts  are these: In New Jersey, a 14 year old girl has been accused of child pornography after posting explicit nude pictures of herself on MySpace.com; the girl supposedly posted the photos because she wanted her boyfriend to see them. In northeastern Pennsylvania, a prosecutor recently threatened to file child pornography charges against three teenage girls who are said to have taken sexually suggestive cellphone pictures of themselves which showed up on their classmates’ cellphones.  “Sexting” by the way is the term used for such activity when done by cellphone.

Technology has in some ways made the “wall” between what is public and what is private much more porous, it’s more like a curtain now, waving in the breeze. But technology isn’t the culprit here, perhaps it’s more a facilitator. Years ago, long before my time, when the telephone was really still in its infancy, there were party lines, shared by a number of subscribers, such that one’s conversation could be overheard by others, who “inadvertently” might listen in. There is some comparability between today and yesterday in this.

The cases noted probably don’t hinge at all on the public/private issue, but rather matters pertaining to legal definitions of “knowingly” committing a crime, and the minor status of the “perpetrators”.

On Monday, a federal judge blocked the prosecutor in the Pennsylvania case I have cited from filing charges against the girls involved. The American Civil Liberties Union sought the temporary restraining order on behalf of the girls. The prosecutor said he would consider seeking an appeal. This case and others like it should be followed closely; these  legal uncharted waters may have ramifications, including first amendment ramifications,  for us all.


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“Freedom Tower” vs. “1 World Trade Center”

What’s in a name? Just about everything. Last week the owners of ground zero decided the  name “Freedom Tower” which was to be used for the most prominent of the several  new buildings being constructed on the site of the terrorist destroyed twin towers just didn’t send the right message and have opted instead to use the name associated with the former north tower “1 World Trade Center”.

Symbolism abounds as ground zero resurrects itself. The building in question should be ready in 2013, and will rise to a height of exactly 1776 feet at the very top of its antenna.  It is designed to evoke the Statue of Liberty. It will become America’s  tallest building.

I have stood at ground zero. Only the most callous of hearts is not affected in its presence.

That being said, I want to focus in this post on more mundane yet still important matters. This name switch calls attention to  issues relating to “branding” and “brand identity” (watch for an up-coming post all about “branding” and the naming process). The developers have legitimate concerns that prospective tenants might see the “Freedom Tower” name as putting a bullseye on the building. The general populace finds the same name appealing in that it clearly makes a “don’t tread on me” statement.

Pragmatic considerations apparently are holding sway in naming this “tower”, which is, it should be recognized, one of several “towers” associated with the overall site development which also incorporates a memorial and museum, a performing arts center, as well as other elements. The meaningfulness of the overall re-development of the ground zero site to all Americans cannot be overstated. It is the sum of the total that I think matters most; for individual elements of the project, as with any naming decision, mulitple factors must be considered.

In fact, using the name of the destroyed tower has significance of its own. In any naming process, the heart of the matter is to  carefully screen all the name options (and there should always be options) against a set of specific criteria; a name that just has a certain “ring” to it, may literally sound good, but if the name doesn’t “work”  it should not be used. All too often, naming gets too little attention.

While on the subject of the importance of names, we must ensure the names of  those who perished as a result of the September 11th attacks are enshrined in our national memory. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is dedicated to this purpose. $300 million has been raised towards its fundraising goal of $350 million. Those who wish to contribute to the construction of the memorial can do so at the following site:



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Earth Hour: Nonverbal and Symbolic Communication

The lights went dim. The darkness fell. It was Earth Hour. Yesterday, all across the world, in 84 countries. At the Sydney Opera House in Australia. At the Eiffel Tower in France. At the Bird’s Nest Stadium in China. At the Great Pyramids in Egypt. At the Acropolis in Greece. At the Sears Tower in America. At the home of “Mr. & Mrs. Concerned-citizen-of-the-world”. The goal: 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote to be presented to world leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference December 7-18, 2009.

Regardless of your own perspective about global warming, Earth Hour is a major example of nonverbal and symbolic communication.

Nonverbal communication involves the transmitting of a thought or idea without the use of spoken language per se. Symbolic communication is a sub-set in which symbols and symbolic action are used.

Many will consider, and have flatly stated that they think Earth Hour is nonsense. A billion people switched off their lights as their answer

Historical footnote. Mind, Self, and Society was posthumously published in 1934. Based on the lecture notes of George Herbert Mead, really the father of social psychology, the book puts forward in his theories the ideas we today  generally refer to as “symbolic communication”.  As an interesting aside, while Mead published scholarly articles widely during his lifetime, he died in 1931 and never finished correcting the galleys to what would have been his first book. Essays in Social Pyschology was first published in 2001. So Mead’s work in essence spans much of the modern day social and communications theory time-line. The other figure I want to mention as making a contribution to all of this is the philosopher Susanne Langer (1895-1985) who conceived “symbol theory”; while she is most often associated with aesthetics,thinking about the arts, she significantly called attention to the importance of symbols.

I’m not asking here whether Earth Hour will have an effect on policy, only time will tell that. The question is simply whether Earth Hour effectively utilized symbolic communication to try to make its point “without saying a word”. If you would like to take part in this survey go to:http://www.earthhour.org/home/ to find out exactly what happened during Earth Hour, and then return and complete the survey. I’ll post results after sufficient response.


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Irving R. Levine, consummate newsman

I cannot ignore the passing of Irving R. Levine, who among other journalistic accomplishments, for nearly a quarter century handled the intricacies of economics and business news with aplomb for NBC. When he retired from reporting, he became dean of the College of International Communication at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, a city near my own. Mr. Levine, among a number of “trademarks” including his ever present bow tie, was quite committed to the use of his and middle initials in general. I at least have that in common with this distinguished communicator.  For a complete obituary (Mr. Levine started his career writing obituaries for The Providence Journal  interestingly enough) go to:



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Pope Benedict XVI as a communicator

Yes, he is infallible in regards to communicating religious doctrine per the dictums of the Catholic Church, but on a purely public level, as a major world figure who by the very nature of the role spends much of his time communicating ideas I assume he expects will  have some  impact, by all reports, including one issued by the AP today, he is without question having some communication problems. http://www.grandforksherald.com/event/article/id/112288/group/home/

This may be largely irrelevant to the faithful, but it is fair to assess the record of public figures including the Pope in this regard, strictly from the context of world culture if nothing else. So here goes.

We have a number of controversies that the papacy has encountered, one of which has been documented in a previous post (see sidebar tags). We have an approach to the media which by all accounts can be characterized as aloof at best, and this runs counter to his predecessor Pope John Paul II, to whom the title of “Great Communicator” has been attached by many.

All of this in spite of some obvious efforts to connect in a 21st century communications “style” including going on YouTube, and Chinese translations of his speeches carried on the Vatican web site.

With his up-coming first time trip to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories in May, his communication skills will be stringently tested.

The Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center has been quoted as saying that as a church and world leader, the pope has to communicate in an understandable and persuasive way. I agree.


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President Obama and Communication Experimentation

OK. What’s the latest. The lastest is the “online town hall” today – another first. Q&A of the people, by the people, and for the people. How many people? White House estimates indicated some 67,000 watching online towards the end. How many questions? More than 100,000, with over 3.6 million “votes” in cyberspace to help rank the questions of most interest. CNN.com characterized the event as a kind of virtual meeting and a new twist on President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats. In an earlier post I wrote about the need to re-invent the fireside chat (see sidebar tag).  http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/03/26/online.obama/index.html#cnnSTCText

The comments I looked at to try and assess John Q. Public’s reaction fell into two categories: opinions about the content of the event, and opinions about the nature of the event. Because this is a blog dedicated to matters relating to communicators and communications I’ll reserve judgment on the content and stick with issues related to format.

Typically, either commenters felt the “online town hall” was a kind of staged event, or they considered that representing the event as a real face to face was inaccurate at best.

If we look at this “communication experiment” from a strictly numbers standpoint, to give this some basis for comparison, there were 131.2 million voters in the 2008 presidential election compared with 3.6 million voters for favored questions to ask during the online forum; by my calculation that’s 2.7% online votes relative to election votes. I’m using “election votes” for comparison purposes because this reflects the voting population, actively engaged enough to cast a ballot in 2008, and therefore this is the “universe” one might expect to pull from for an event like this. In my opinion, that’s a solid expression of general interest for a first time attempt at something never tried before. The 67,000 viewers tally seems a miniscule number granted, but remember the president himself characterized this event this way: “This is an experiment,” he said, “but it’s also an exciting opportunity for me to look at a computer and get a snapshot of what Americans across the country care about.” Remember, this is the same president who refused to be parted from his Blackberry.

What I want to emphasize as regards this “communication experiment” is the legitimacy of trying it out. One requirement for an effective communicator is to gain a sense of his or her audience. This may turn out to be a valuable way to “stay connected”, and if so, justifies the idea – from a communications strategy standpoint, given the reaction as I have gauged it, much of which is predictable and based on built in biases, as a communication vehicle it may not have much sway with the general populace, but as this blog always takes the effort to point out, it is the impact on the intended audience which really counts. The intended audience here? Those confortable in cyberspace, the very cadre enlisted by the Obama campaign team so effectively. I intend to do a separate post after more thorough assessment as to how the “online town hall” concept might be fitting into the further development of an overall communications strategy for the president, that being something I have addressed in previous posts as well.


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CNN uses “word cloud” to analyze President Obama News Conference

This post will prove the point that one picture is worth a 1000 (or whatever number) of words. Jonathan Feinberg, a senior software engineer at IBM  developed the “Wordle” as he calls it, as a “toy” as he describes it. In fact the “Wordle” is a unique communication analysis tool which is perfectly suited for the contemporary environment. Most every savvy internet user knows about “tag clouds” – there is one associated with this blog. It provides a visual explication of the global content of this blog by establishing the emphasis  of the blog in terms of topics covered, shown by the varying size of keywords used. As I understand the Feinberg invention, “Wordle” takes this a step further, by graphically distributing a word array of any text feed into it.

Tonight, with CNN using what I assume was “Wordle” technology to analyze President Obama’s nationally televised News Conference, in my opinion, “Wordle” comes of age – and in fact – changed its age; it’s now appropriate for use by those of any age desirous of “seeing” what someone is saying, writing, etc. In the process of using such an evaluative tool, we come to “see” what the communicator is trying to communicate. Pretty neat and a pretty significant advance for the field of communications Mr. Feinberg. We thank you.

If you want to “see” for yourself go to: http://www.wordle.net/ and also visit the Wordle Blog at: http://blog.wordle.net/


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The Gypsy Kings and Dr. Seuss

The Gypsy Kings is one of my favorite musical groups. They perform rumba flamenco,  a musical form indigenous to the Catalan region of northeastern Spain and southwestern France.  Never heard of them you say? Well, they have a wide audience alright, (selling over 18 million albums) but in a sea of such expanse as THE GLOBAL ECONOMY how does one define “wide”? One definition, “Large in scope” (from the Wiktionary entry: “wide”), leads on to another – what do they mean by “large”, and so on ad infinitum.

Which brings me to Dr. Seuss, who used a pseudonym by the way,  just like some in the online new media of today. His real name of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel. Of his many wonderful children’s books, the one on point for this occasion is: Horton Hears a Who! For those unfamiliar with the story, I refer you to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horton_Hears_a_Who!

Basically, Horton, an endearing elephant in the jungle, seems the only one capable of hearing the inhabitants of the city “Who-ville”  who live on a tiny planet comprised of a speck of dust. For the purpose of this post the important point to note is that: “In the end it is a ‘very small shirker named JoJo’ whose final addition to the volume creates enough lift for the jungle to hear the sound, thus reinforcing the moral of  ‘a person’s a person, no matter how small’.”

So now, let’s cite some stats. Technorati, the be all – end all for blog info tracks around 112 million blogs at this point (from “The History of Blogs” in The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging)! So how can any blog ever hope to have an impact, let alone an audience? Which brings us to audience profiling. Who in “Who-ville” is the blog really trying to reach? That answer defines the “universe” (size, total number) of the intended audience, which may very well turn out to be only a handful. So evaluating effectiveness of “reach” (a media advertising term which in essence tries to quantify by numbers and/or percentage how many readers/visitors from the intended audience any particular blog in this case is actually attracting) is the important consideration.

The Complete Guide to Blogging states:  “There may be 112 million blogs in the blogosphere, but only 7.4 million, Technorati tells us, have been updated in the last ninety days.” So close to 94% of the blogs out there are essentially dormant.  That narrows things a bit!

Thus, the moral to this story is “an intended audience, effectively reached, signals success – no matter how small”.


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Culture and communications

It has occurred to me that some visitors to this site may ask why there are posts covering the news of the day, matters involving politics, popular culture, etc? What is the relevance to a blog dedicated to communicators and communications? Before plunging ahead, let me assure you that this post is about as technical as this blog gets. One of the guiding principles for this blog is that: it shall be generally understandable to all who seek to gain from its information. This is carved in stone. So bear with me on this one, because in order to make the point, I have to get “technical”. Here goes. 

There is, first of all a hint in the name of the blog itself. “Communicators” are individuals who have messages to transmit in some way, through media, public speaking, and so forth. By and large I am using the term to refer to those who have a public presence in this regard, for example say, President Obama or Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (more to come on Mr. Geithner in a separate post).

Now one of the accepted definitions of “culture” is: “an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning” (taken from Wikipedia, keyword: “culture”). So “culture” and “communication” are inextricably connected.

In fact, the basic premise of the bestselling text MediaMaking: Mass Media in a Popular Culture is that: “mass communication cannot be studied apart from the other institutions in society and the other dimensions of social life – each is shaping and defining the other.” (quoted from the Amazon.com editorial review of the book). My position is that this applies to communications in general, and this theory, if you will, is paramount to a basic understanding of communications overall. In every post, I endeavor to address the matter undertaken from a communications perspective.  That’s as it should be with a blog named “Communicators & Communications”. We now adjourn sine die.


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President Obama on late night TV

I raised this issue in a previous post: https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/12/franklin-roosevelt-invents-the-fireside-chat/

namely, what is the most effective means President Barack Obama can use to communicate with and to the American public in this present crisis environment? I’m not talking here about the usual and customary. These are not usual and customary circumstances we face as a nation. What’s needed is a creative solution to the urgent requirement for the President, as “Communicator in Chief” as I have previously referred to the role, to garner the confidence of the citizenry that we will prevail against the economic travail we have encountered; granting the content of the message is of utmost importance, the “packaging” of that message, is almost equally important as every Marshall Mcluhan fan knows, for indeed the medium is the message. (See previous relevant post ) https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/07/marshall-mcluhan-revisited/

So what’s the right setting? We have the townhall meeting format – that’s been tried; we have the primetime televised press conference – that’s been tried; and now we have the late night talk show – chalk up that one.

Last night’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” featured President Obama, and there were a number of “firsts”: First time a sitting president has appeared on a TV Program like The Tonight Show, first time as a sitting president Barack Obama makes an unseemly comment about “special olympics” (more about that later). This is all very serious. What the President’s team is obviously doing is experimenting. I don’t believe this is trial and error – not for a minute. Each “media decision” is carefully considered beforehand and carefully analyzed afterwards.

I reject the notion suggested by some that putting President Obama on late night television is primarily an attempt to pump up poll numbers.

I think ultimately, a combination of “outlets” will emerge that serve the communications strategy at hand.

Is it beneath the dignity of the office of president to appear on a late night talk show, and joke around at that? This is a Twitter and Facebook absorbed society. It is important to put a “human face” on the person who holds the highest office in the land. In fact, because we live in a Twitter and Facebook culture, President Obama needs to establish this kind of closer personal connection with his fellow Americans in order to communicate convincingly – an essential goal in order to move us forward as a nation. In an earlier post I wrote: “What is needed is to re-invent the “fireside chat” circa 2009.” That is what I believe the Obama communications team is attempting to concoct.

On the matter of the gaffe involving “special olympics”, now apologized for, I have personally spent a great deal of energy in community service on behalf of those with disabilities over the years, and I was indeed truly disappointed by the President’s remark. Let’s hope that errant comment will be turned into an opportunity to advance the cause of those with special needs. In any case, we need to move on with this larger “experiment” which is, advancing the State of the Union.



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