Obama, communications and beach volleyball

Another absolutely perfect early morning to run: mild, low humidity and no wind. And as I was putting in my five miles, I thought that I should at least occasionally talk about communications on this blog. So here goes. First, I have some advice for Barack Obama.

The speculation is that Obama is going to announce his choice for VP later this week — either Evan Bayh, Joe Biden or Tim Kaine, according to an article in The New York Times. Here’s my advice. Don’t make the announcement Thursday. As a nation, we can only deal with one major story at a time.

And Thursday night — well, that’s the finals for women’s beach volleyball. USA v. China. Karri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor are going for the gold. And with all due respect to Bayh, Biden, Kaine, Clinton, et al, well, you know.

Then there is a big story emerging in Akron that will play out during the elections. Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic has proposed a big idea: leasing the Akron sewer system to a private company and using the proceeds to give scholarship money to the children of Akron residents. No big idea works its way onto the election ballot without controversy. And this is no exception. So a citizens’ group that opposes the plan will have its own initiative on the ballot. Oh, boy. A complicated ballot issue — with two competing choices.

I haven’t looked at either plan closely enough to know which — if either — actually makes sense. (And though my house is connected to the Akron sewer system, I won’t get to vote since I am not a resident of the city of Akron.) But here is my advice to the mayor. For his plan to have a chance, he is going to have to make this a debate over the economic future of Akron (more college grads, better jobs, economy, etc.) rather than helping Akron children get a college education. Why? Everyone in the area has a stake in jobs and the economy. Few these days care about education — particularly because most voters have no direct connection with the schools.

Here’s from a recent Gallup poll looking at education:

Just 29% of American adults have children in grades K-12, and of those, almost one in five don’t attend public schools, but rather attend private or parochial schools or are home-schooled. The majority of Americans therefore are not currently or directly involved in schools.

Few Americans mention education spontaneously as the top problem facing the nation today. Education, however, is an issue that has fundamental or basic importance to Americans, and it appears near the top when it is included in lists of issues to be prioritized.

Americans are much more positive when asked about the quality of education their children receive in their local communities, than when asked about the quality of education across the country.

Books such as The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman have underscored how important education can be, particularly in the sciences and engineering, but there is little data to show that Americans’ views on education have changed dramatically.

Now if I were reporting instead of just blogging, I should check with the Akron school system and see if the 29 percent figure makes sense locally. But then again, maybe reporters don’t do that kind of reporting any more either. It requires picking up the phone, or leaving the office to actually go talk to someone.

Here’s a section from a really interesting column by David Carr in The New York Times Monday, “Even Scandal Can Be News.”

Writing about the National Enquirer, Carr says:

Still, at a time when newspapers are cutting back in big whacks and chaining the remaining reporters they employ to their screens to feed all manner of deadlines and blogs, the National Enquirer puts reporters on the streets — in between tracking Kelly Ripa’s lack of body fat — and keeps them there.

“What we do harkens back to a golden age when newsrooms were full of people who would knock on doors and not take no for an answer,” Mr. Perel [National Enquirer editor] said. “A lot of organizations can’t afford to do it or seem to have lost their appetite for it.”

Yep. Given that many reporters these days are being forced to do way more with way less, here’s my last point today related to communications. PR people — when you are writing quotes for use in news releases these days, pretend that someone will actually print it. Gone are the days when we struggled over every word in a pretend quote — only to have it rejected immediately by the reporter. Now. Well, hey, it’s better than nothing and the only effort required is to hit copy and paste. So, come on — let’s try to make the quotes at least somewhat conversational and maybe even credible.

Here’s an example from a story about Myers Industries in today’s Akron Beacon Journal.

”Our objective with the initiatives announced here today is to further improve our manufacturing network and processes to minimize operating costs and maximize customer satisfaction,” John C. Orr, president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement. ”That includes rationalizing our manufacturing footprint to lower overhead and distribution costs, improve operational effectiveness and reduce working capital requirements. In doing so, we will be better positioned to serve our customers with the products they need, manufactured at the right location for the customer, and delivered when they need them.”

OMG. I know John Orr. We spent many a pleasant Saturday and Sunday afternoon standing on the sidelines watching our daughters play soccer. And actually talking about a lot of things that actually made sense. At least to me. Minimize…maximize…and footprint. Oh, my.

Beach volleyball, anyone?


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