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Archive for March, 2009

In so many ads today, someone says that, after taking some drug, he or she feels like him or herself again.

What a revelation! “I took kalipentamyzine, and I feel like myself again!”

Who would you expect to feel like? What if I said, “I took kalipentamyzine, and I feel like Ashton Kutcher again!”

I don’ t think so. If Ashton Kutcher takes kalipentamyzine, is he going to feel like Les Potter again? If so, that’s one freaky drug.

The statement presupposes that “feeling like yourself again” is a good thing. If you need the drug, then obviously, something is wrong.

Accordingly, the way the statement is worded, if you take it, and it works, then you go back to feeling crappy again. Duh!

To be accurate, you would need to say, “I took kalipentamyzine, and I feel like myself felt before I started feeling crappy which resulted in my taking kalipentamyzine in the first place!”

But that is far too wordy for good advertising.

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My Organizational Communication Master’s class discussed media relations last night. It was enlightening.  Most all of the students are working practitioners attending night classes to earn their Master’s degree. Their media relations experience runs from none at all to their major job responsibility.

I ask this question of and for them: In the world of Web 2.0, what constitutes an effective media relations program? What are its components? What are the characteristics of a well-managed media relations program these days?

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The major advance is the internet, and after 20 years (has it really been that long?) we are seeing parts of our society crumble around us as the new processes — effortless information sharing, hierarchy-destroying collaboration, online community-building and citizen journalism — begin to take hold.   Ron Shewchuk

This quote from Ron’s timely and insightful comments to my post on Atlas Shrugged got me thinking. I am reading about conversation analysis (CA) in my Advanced Qualitative Research Methods doctoral class. CA is a qualitative approach that has become highly relevant for examining educational phenomena related to discourse supported by many tools and resources for computer-mediated communication.

Joan M. Mazur, writing in the Handbook of Research on Educational Communication & Technology, 2nd Ed (2004), reminds us of the easily observable aspects of discourse, such as words, gestures, sounds, and body language. Each is key to understanding the structure of the discourse.

But obviously, written discourse is different. Written discourse, Mazur says, is multimodal, and an analysis of written text gives us opportunities to study a range of communications and representations within one text, called the semiotic landscape.

For college instructors like me, there is plenty motivation to understand written discourse. I am a Baby Boomer teaching mostly Millennials. Whereas the youthful motto of my generation was “never trust anyone over 30”, Washington Post Book Critic Ron Charles says, for the Twitter generation, the new slogan seems to be “don’t trust anyone over 140 characters.”

Think of the language used in computer-mediated contexts like email, Twitter, text messaging, digital videoconferencing, chat rooms, threaded discussions, and instant messaging. Communicating on the Internet contains a new hybrid language of “written speech” with its own evolving semiotics, such as emoticons, and its own verbal structure, Mazur says.

Problem is that communication technologies affect the quality and conduct of conversation. Emoticons, Mazur says, those iconic representations of emotions that are peppered into text-talk to indicate a range of affective responses, have become so routine that many word processors (and WordPress) default to an automatic insertion of the graphic yellow smiley face when one types  a colon followed by a closed parenthesis.

That’s where CA comes in. In a broad sense, CA means any study of people talking together in oral communication or language use, including computer-mediated communication technologies.  The central purpose of CA, Mazur says, is to investigate the norms and conventions that speakers use in interaction to establish communicative understandings.

Mazur says researchers have isolated three basic facts about conversation: 1. turn-taking occurs; 2. one speaker tends to speak at a time; and 3. turns are taken with as little overlap between them as possible. It is important to understand the concepts of computer-mediated communication since so much of our discourse occurs online now.

Torill Elvira Mortensen, writing in the Handbook of Research on New Literacies (2008), says the human being is an animal that desires meaning, much of which comes from communication. Like Ron says above, computer-mediated information flowing through the Internet is an opportunity for individuals to find, share, and contribute information. Weblogs, or blogs, are especially effective at allowing the individual to express him or herself.

In fact, blogs change the concept of the sender-message-receiver model conceived in 1949 and still used today. Mortensen says a new image of the user emerges from the personal publishing power that the Internet gives the individual, and it needs a new theory to explain it.

Online communication is conducted in text and mediated through a channel that is separate from the human body. The communication world off line offers real substance, but the online world offers nothing but symbols structured in some kind of text. Therefore, Mortensen says, the study of human behavior online is a study of the human exchange of symbols online.

Interpreting texts, or hermeneutics, seeks to help us find the meaning in texts. But how language is used now and will be used in the future of computer-mediated communication is wide open. Doubtless, there is much work for researchers in discourse analysis.

Yes, I know. If I was really hip, I’d have said this in 140 characters or less.

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Ayn Rand’s prophetic novel, Atlas Shrugged, reads like today’s news.

In Atlas Shrugged, the country is in an economic downturn marked by business closings and massive unemployment. Many other countries are destitute and are becoming socialist states. In the U.S., Colorado is the last great industrial center. Leading the charge is Ellis Wyatt’s productive oil field, made possible by his innovations. Dagny Taggart, VP of Operations for Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, wants to build a line to link Wyatt’s oilfields with the rest of the U.S. She wants to use Rearden Metal to build it, a new alloy developed by Hank Rearden. Dagny, an engineer, believes in Rearden’s company, the last dependable steel manufacturer in the U.S. and in his product, though it is untested. Her brother James wants to do business with a crony who heads an inefficient company that is in no way as good as Rearden’s firm.

The economic depression is worsened by the strange disappearance of talented people who retire and vanish. As more and more great men disappear, the U.S. population becomes more depressed and pessimistic. To express the growing pessimism, people began asking a question with no answer, “Who is John Galt?’ The question describes the growing sense of hopelessness and pessimism. Fueling the turmoil is an increasing effort by government to pass legislation that stifles the creativity and enterprise of such men as Wyatt and Rearden. Economic pressure groups want the government to force companies to share their profits. Men like Rearden believe in the right to own the product of their effort and to trade with whomever they please. The government increasingly tries to outlaw the voluntary exchange of goods and services.

The government’s response to the worsening economic situation is to pass onerous legislation that requires all workers to stay in their jobs, all businesses to remain open regardless, and that all patents and inventions must be turned over to the government. The government nationalizes more and more industries while the politicians use their power and influence to create their own empires. The collapse of the U.S. economy due to the government’s socialist policies is inevitable.

As economic conditions deteriorate and more and more talented people disappear, Dagny eventually crashes a plane into Atlantis, a hidden valley in Colorado. Dagny finds that all the talented inventors, artists, industrialists, philosophers, and scientists whom she has long admired have taken refuge in Atlantis. They have gone on strike. She also finds that John Galt does indeed exist and is their leader.

Rand started writing the novel in 1946. When it was published in 1957, She explained to editors that Atlas Shrugged was, in part, written to provide a moral defense of capitalism.  Rand passionately believed that without the unfettered independent mind, the world would collapse into savagery. Rand believed the independent mind of the individual is responsible for all human progress and prosperity. When Rand was writing Atlas Shrugged, many people believed that the government should have the right to coercively redistribute income and regulate private industry.

Atlas Shrugged is a passionate argument that American society’s freedom is responsible for the country’s great achievements. Prosperity suffers when great minds and innovation are shackled by government regulation and interference. The great thinkers and doers — the producers — in Rand’s sweeping novel go on strike in support of individual rights and political freedom versus a debilitating collectivism.

Atlas Shrugged is imbued with Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. In Rand’s own words, “capitalism is the only system where people are free to function and where progress is accompanied, not by forced privations, but by a constant rise in the general level of prosperity, of consumption, and of enjoyment of life.”

In Greek mythology, Atlas was condemned to support heaven and earth on his shoulders. What if he shrugged? Today, all across America, people are beginning to shrug.

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In reading Merriam (1998) Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education, I ran across an old friend — content analysis.

In a chapter on mining data from documents for qualitative research, Merriam discusses content analysis for qualitative case studies. As a communication/PR/IMC professional, content analysis is a familiar frequently used tool for determining what is being reported in the media. Commercial clipping services are frequently hired to provide the practitioner with packets of press clippings and broadcast monitor reports. These can be studied to see what messages are getting out to audiences. They do not, however, provide any solid information on readership or if there is any impact of the messages on attitudes, beliefs, or behavior.

Merriam reminds us that historians and literary critics have long used content analysis to analyze historical documents and literature.  She acknowledges that content analysis is currently used most frequently for media such as newspapers, periodicals, television, and film. Merriam says these applications have a strong quantitative focus and are concerned with measuring the frequency and variety of messages and confirming hypotheses.

Cutlip, Center, & Broom (2006), writing in Effective Public Relations, say content analysis has a role in determining trends, providing valuable insights into what might be on the public relations agenda in the future. Public relations firms increasingly help clients anticipate issues by using the services of issues-tracking firms and by conducting their own content analysis.

Merriam says most research designs using content analysis are sequential, moving from category construction to sampling, data collection, data analysis, and then interpretation.

The deeper I dig into my doctoral studies, such as my current focus on qualitative research methods for education, the more similarities I find with aspects of my career in communication/PR/IMC. I find that most comforting.

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Twitter.

For some strange reason, I looked up the word “twitter” in Webster’s New College Dictionary, and look what I found — “twitter”, as a verb, means:

 1. To utter a succession of light chirping or tremulous (vibrating) sounds.

2. To titter.

3. Tremble with nervous agitation or excitement.

As a noun:

1. The light chirping sounds made by certain birds.

2. Light tremulous speech or laughter.

3. Agitation or excitement.

Who knew?

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Is it just me, or does it seem to you like the word “chipotle” is everywhere these days?

As a friend from Tennessee asked with tongue firmly in cheek on a recent visit to Northern Virginia: “How did we ever live without chipotle?”

That wry rhetorical question says it all.

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