Archives for September 2008

The new expertise

Expertise in a postmodern world is more aligned with experience than it is in the modern world, where academic credentials and formal training often determine one’s status as an “expert.” In fact, such a premium is placed on experience that it threatens institutional expertise, and this is a culture war underway far beneath the view of most.

The latest evidence is a war of words and action between parents of autistic children (the experience experts) and the institutional expertise of the American Association of Pediatricians (AAP). The issue is vaccines given to children. Advocacy groups, whose “face” is model/actress Jenny McCarthy, want vaccines “cleaned up,” while pro-vaccine groups, such as Every Child By Two (ECBT), fear what would happen if parents stop vaccinating their children.

ECBT recently named actress Amanda Peet as their spokesperson, so the “dueling actresses” roadshow is underway. Ms. Peet called parents who choose not to vaccinate their children “parasites,” a statement for which she has apologized. Later, on Good Morning America, Ms. Peet urged parents to listen to the experts, doctors and scientists, not actors.

As you can imagine, being called a parasite didn’t go over very well with Ms. McCarthy. Her response? “Until she walks in our shoes she has no idea.”

I claim no knowledge of autism, but this is textbook experience expertise speaking, and it’s going to get louder, because the tools for spreading it exist where they didn’t before. People sharing their medical experiences is a major threat to the institution of medicine, which created a lobbying arm in the mid-90s to make sure the American Medical Association and similar groups maintained control over medical information on the Web. As I recall, their reasoning was to “protect the public,” but they were also protecting their wallets.

There are tons of medical sites today, but none of them are very useful for self-diagnosing or self-solving what ails a person, even though the knowledge and technology exists to do so.

Of course, the lawyers would have a field day, but that’s another story.

As Jay Rosen wrote a couple of years ago, the nature of authority is changing in our culture, and doctors are a prime example. The doctor is still the doctor, but his or her authority isn’t absolute anymore, and that has profound ramifications for our culture, regardless of what the lawyers might say.

(See also: Passages: Lorenzo Odone)

It's going to be a rough holiday season

Quote of the day: With an escalating consumer-credit crisis, five fewer shopping days, looming retail bankruptcies and the lowest projected sales growth in years, it’s going to be a cutthroat Christmas. Natalie Zmuda, AdAge.

Passages: Paul Newman

One of the turning points in my life occurred while I was running the assignment desk in Milwaukee in the 70s. On the front page of USA Today was a feature on Mickey Mantle, the sub-headline of which was a quote from the Mick: “The people taking over the world grew up on me.” It was then that I realized that my generation was taking charge, a kind of revelation of the opportunity, responsibility and burden that the concept carried with it.

My age group has long since transferred leadership to a younger group, but I still reflect on that — and all my other youthful influences — especially when one passes on. Such is the case with Paul Newman.

He was the first of a new breed of actor-turned-director who excelled at both. I loved Paul Newman, as did most of my contemporaries. He glamorized everything he touched, every role he played. He was uniquely Paul Newman, and I grew up on him. I loved him in starring roles, and I loved him in supporting roles.

“Absence of Malice” was wonderful, but so was “Message in a Bottle.” Everybody wanted to be “Cool Hand Luke.” He was magnificent in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid;” wrote, produced, directed and starred in “Harry and Son;” and sizzled in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman in The HustlerBut the masterpiece of Paul Newman’s career, in my opinion, was the role of Eddie Felson, which he played twice in “The Hustler” and “The Color of Money.” The poolroom scenes with Jackie Gleason in 1961’s “The Hustler” were breathtaking and will always be among the greatest in motion picture history. Gleason WAS Minnesota Fats, and Newman WAS the challenger Felson. “The Hustler” was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and four for castmembers in starring and supporting roles. It only won two, for Art Direction and Cinematography (it was up against “West Side Story” and “Judgment at Nuremberg”). If you’ve not seen the film, do yourself a favor and rent it or download it this weekend.

Paul Newman was a hero of mine, and, like Mickey Mantle, I miss him.

Why traditional media NEEDS social media

The below is straight from a Cone LLC press release, and it is highly, highly relevant for local media companies.:

Almost 60 percent of Americans interact with companies on a social media Web site, and one in four interact more than once per week. These are among the findings of the 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study.

According to the survey, 93 percent of Americans believe a company should have a presence in social media, while an overwhelming 85 percent believe a company should not only be present but also interact with its consumers via social media. In fact, 56 percent of American consumers feel both a stronger connection with and better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.

“The news here is that Americans are eager to deepen their brand relationships through social media,” explains Mike Hollywood, director of new media for Cone, “it isn’t an intrusion into their lives, but rather a welcome channel for discussion.”

This is an old song for me, but you’d be amazed at how few television stations or newspapers pay attention to this space. They’d rather create their own social networking (and perhaps they should) than take the time to “work” MySpace and Facebook, and that’s a shame. We keep trying to force our model on younger generations, rather than experiment where they all gather.

This study ought to be required reading for media companies, because it’s rich with information that marketers can use. People said they wanted interaction with companies, but what kind?

  • Companies should use social networks to solve my problems (43%)
  • Companies should solicit feedback on their products and services (41%)
  • Companies should develop new ways for consumers to interact with their brand (37%)
  • Companies should market to consumers (25%)

We can no longer only make ourselves available via our portal websites; we must go where the people formerly known as the audience live and breathe. And increasingly, that’s in the world of social media.

Get it on, people.

What's wrong with this picture?

Entertainment Weekly's Home PageEntertainment Weekly's TV widget

Above is the widget from Entertainment Weekly that I have on my iGoogle page. Textbook unbundling. You know the drill. But notice that the widget only pictures Barack Obama in its advancer on tonight’s (who knows if it’ll take place) debate. Subtle, but effective.

On the right, is from the upper right-hand corner of the home page of the magazine’s website.

A VC's solution to the economy

Fred Wilson has an excellent post this morning on what to do with the economy. What I like about it is that it comes from the view of a venture capitalist, one who invests money to make money. He compares the Wall Street debacle to a failing start-up that needs a bridge loan. We, the taxpayers, should give it to them — but only in pieces — if the return on that investment is spelled out. If that can’t be stated, then the $700 billion isn’t an investment; it’s a gift, and we shouldn’t do it. Go read it. It’s fascinating.