• 29Jun

    One of my goals this year is to revive this blog (and the larger web site). So I’m here dusting off the furniture, blowing away the cobwebs, opening all the windows to air the place out.

    The biggest challenges of blogging as an academic, for me, are
    a) finding the time, and
    b) deciding what to write about.

    The problem with a) is that there’s not enough of the main resource (time), and the problem with b) is that there’s an overabundance: so many possibilities, but so little… well, see a). Add in the tricky question of how much I can say about my research without jeopardizing my chances of publication, and it can all get a bit overwhelming. Commence cobweb formation and dust accumulation.

    But I enjoy writing, and I enjoy discussing my work, engaging in conversations with other academics, practitioners, students, and anyone else who might feel so inclined. Especially during the summer, when the job can get a bit isolating. I also may not limit myself strictly to work-related topics, because I think anyone who works in media, in particular, needs to cast a wide net and be engaged in lots of different kinds of interactions and activities (including time alone to just think about stuff). So I make no specific promises about what I’ll be writing, here, only that I will be writing on a fairly regular basis. I’m aiming for at least two or three posts a week.

    I’m looking forward to getting back into the blogging habit, and community. Stay tuned.

  • 24Mar

    Yes, that’s a buzzword-y title. (Also: uh, hi. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy.) It’s the official name of a course I’m offering this Fall, on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University. Unlike my classes at the Cronkite School, it’s open to all majors. It’s also capped at 129 students, so there’s plenty of room.

    In the course catalogue, the description reads simply, “Covers topics of immediate or special interest to a faculty member and students,” which doesn’t really say much. So I thought I’d post some more details about what I have planned. Not a syllabus (yet), just a statement of intent, so to speak. If you’re an ASU student looking for an elective, think about MCO494! I’m very excited to have the opportunity to really explore the world of social media from a variety of perspectives.

    The short and snappy description, if you’re in a hurry, is this:

    This class will explore and critically analyze the social, cultural, legal, ethical, economic, and technological dimensions of social media tools from Facebook to FourSquare, Twitter to Flickr, and beyond.

    More detail after the cut.
    Read more »

  • 29Nov

    My previous entry was partly for my personal records, and also a response to a Twittered request by Constantin Basturea for details about social media-related panels at the conference, which I was happy to oblige. However, my conference attendance or interest wasn’t limited solely to presentations regarding the online world. Aside from a very interesting panel on mentoring, sponsored by the Mass Communication Division and which I hope becomes a regular feature of the conference, my NCA experience also centered around one of my central research interests: crisis communication and management.

    I noticed that there continues to be an emphasis, in the public relations research on this topic, on rhetorical strategies regarding image restoration/repair/renewal.This year, I was happy to see a shift away from concentrating solely on the mid-crisis or immediate post-crisis stage, and more discussion of crisis preparation, prevention, and learning. The “pre-crisis” period–aka, any point in time when a crisis is not (knowingly) in full swing, or just ended–also overlaps with risk communication and issues management, and I enjoyed several presentations on these topics. Read more »

  • 24Nov

    Despite my embarrassing neglect of this space over the last few months, I’m neither dead nor trapped under a heavy piece of furniture–unless you count the metaphorical heavy furniture of a busy new job and numerous research projects in progress. To compensate a bit, and also for my personal records, I thought I would write a bit about this year’s NCA conference. I’m currently sitting in the San Diego airport waiting for my flight home, so it’s all very fresh in my mind.

    This year’s conference was a short one for me: given last week’s Cronkite Week celebrations, particularly the luncheon on Friday to honor our award recipients Jim Lehrer and Robin McNeil, I didn’t get to San Diego until Saturday. I was supposed to arrive early in the morning, but fog caused such serious delays I didn’t make it to the Manchester Hyatt until around noon. So I missed both the Top Papers session and business meeting for the PR division, unfortunately. Read more »

  • 14Sep

    Much of my work deals with theories of complexity, seeking ways to operationalize the concepts of these natural science theories for use in social science research, and develop new complexity-based concepts for the study of social phenomena. Eventually I’ll write a blog post (or six) that deals with some of these concepts in greater depth, but here’s a quick and dirty summary of some of the key characteristics of complex systems:

    • they are made up of individual elements, or agents;
    • these agents engage in local, recurrent interactions based on rules that may change as circumstances evolve;
    • these interactions lead to patterns of self-organization among agents, as they form groups and develop modes of behavior to adapt to internal and external changes (self-organization is also often referred to as emergence);
    • as a result, the system is dynamic and unstable, subject to both gradual and sudden change;
    • everything that occurs within the system is dependent on what has come before: history plays a central role in self-organization and system change, even when the changes are nonlinear (cannot be immediately traced to a proximate cause);
    • the boundaries of complex systems are highly permeable and not clearly defined: the extreme level of interdependency makes it difficult to say what lies “inside” the system, and what lies “outside”;
    • for similar reasons, complex systems cannot be reduced: extracting part of the system, or statistical sampling, will necessarily lead to the loss of significant sets of relationships among agents, and thus obscure some sources and/or reflections of change.

    One reason that the complexity sciences have resonated so deeply with me ever since I first discovered their existence, several years ago, is that I can so clearly see evidence of complexity in my own life. Seemingly random interactions form recognizable, emergent patterns over time, and an insistence on expecting linear a+b=c results is bound to meet with disappointment. Personally, I’ve found it less stressful and more satisfying to embrace nonlinear outcomes and allow myself to be surprised by where life takes me. (This doesn’t mean accepting fatalism: the importance of history and local interactions means that I have to focus on my own efforts, actions, and relationships. They just may not end up leading to where I think they will.)

    My professional interest in complexity has produced some emergent patterns as well. First, it led me to pursue a doctorate, which wasn’t at all my initial plan, and to write the book that came out this past summer. Both were the result of my master’s thesis and my resulting relationship with Priscilla Murphy, who was the only person writing about public relations and complexity back when I first began studying these issues. It has led me to study networks and narratives, which in turn have introduced me to certain people and bodies of literature. And at the moment, it has led me to projects as diverse as my current research on Twitter in public relations, collaboration with my colleague Yushim Kim in the School of Public Affairs here at ASU’s downtown campus, and with the Consortium for Strategic Communication led by Steve Corman at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in Tempe.

    As recently as six years ago, I never could have foreseen any of the above, yet in retrospect it all fits together perfectly. (That’s what I would call the narrative dimension of complexity.) I love seeing the emergent patterns in my life and my work.

  • 10Sep

    So, this week we’re talking in class about persuasion and propaganda, and the way that public relations seems to be inextricably linked in the public’s imagination (and the mind of many journalists) with the latter.

    This discussion reminds me of a TV commercial that ran for Telecom Italia a few years back, and that I find fascinating when viewed from the perspective of communication theory. I made sure to record a copy of it for future reference, since I was so struck by it.

    This ad makes me think of at least four different theories. What about you? And would Gandhi be engaging in propaganda if it were true?

  • 31Aug

    I really enjoyed Shel Holtz’s video/slide presentation on social media in organizations; I plan to assign it to my students in a few weeks. I think he does a good job of explaining the potential benefits of knowledge sharing and relationship formation that can come from active use of social media.

    The first time I taught a college class, I was surprised to learn that many students in the so-called Digital Generation had relatively little awareness or understanding of social media tools and their power. I found myself having to radically revise my assumptions about how much time most students spent online, and what they were doing. This was a few years ago, when the number of tools was limited, but I continue to find similar reactions even now, and even though I’m working with a somewhat different student population.

    These days I’m working on a project on Twitter, which I’ll be discussing at NCA in San Diego as part of a roundtable jointly hosted by the PR and Organizational Communication divisions of NCA. When I mentioned Twitter the other day in class, I discovered that none of my students had heard of it. I certainly don’t expect anyone to know of every social media platform that exists–I showed them the Conversation Prism developed by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas, while admitting that there were plenty of services shown that I’d never heard of–but I think of Twitter as pretty high-profile. Once again, my assumptions needed revising.

    I’ve been active in social media for many years, since well before the term “blog” was first uttered, and have always found there to be a divide between those who “get it” and those who don’t. For me, with a background and interest in organizational knowledge sharing and internal communication, the benefits seemed immediately obvious from the start. But it’s been an uphill battle: back when my online practices were limited to personal interaction, I would frequently encounter the “What’s the point?” question from less technology-minded friends. Then with clients, who were sometimes enthusiastic about the technology but not about the regular writing and communicating part, and sometimes vice versa. And now with students, who may or may not be active users of Facebook or MySpace, but who struggle with the idea that they need to know how to use social media effectively as part of their toolkit as professional communicators.

    So I continue to be surprised by what students know about social media and what they don’t, and to be challenged by figuring out ways to illustrate the professional usefulness of these services. Shel’s video is a good start.

  • 30Aug

    View my page on PROpenMic

  • 30Aug

    I’m in the process of preparing an upcoming lesson on ethics and PR, and facing the usual dilemma. I think it’s crucial to emphasize the importance of ethics in any kind of organizational decision-making context, and the potential impact of strategic communication campaigns makes it especially key for public relations students (and practitioners, of course).

    However, I find it difficult to adequately cover the topic of ethics in a single class session. While I’m sure they’ve already had exposure to ethical concepts in previous coursework, some discussion will be necessary to determine just what they know and remember. In the past, I’ve been surprised and saddened to find that many students have solid personal ethics, but are convinced that they will have to abide by a completely different set of rules when they join a company. “The corporate world is ruthless, and you have to do everything you can to get ahead,” “There’s no room for ethics in the workplace,” and “If your boss tells you to do something, you can’t refuse even if it’s unethical” are all sentiments that students have expressed in discussions and written assignments. Obviously we need to spend more time making sure students understand the importance of upholding professional standards of conduct despite pressures in the workplace. That’s not going to happen in a single week of class.

    I would love to teach an elective on ethics, but barring that possibility, I’m trying to work in as much discussion of ethical decision making as I can throughout the semester. Aside from the PRSA code of ethics, I’ve found that movies and novels are often good conversation starters: The Insider, Thank You For Smoking, and Slick (A Novel) have all worked well for me. I’m interested in knowing how other instructors incorporate ethics into their public relations or other communication classes.

  • 25Aug

    Karen Miller Russell posted recently about advice to PR doctoral students. There is a lot of good advice in the post and comments, but as someone who is newly done with the process, it got me thinking what sort of suggestions I would give.

    For the most part, what comes to mind is advice applicable to doctoral students in general: time management is key, do your best to network in and out of your department, choose your advisor (and your committee) carefully. The usual, which the above post and its commenters have already mentioned. (Although the advice to limit TV time goes against my own experience: having something going on the TV or computer was crucial to keeping me in my chair during the many, many long hours of data entry and analysis. Writing, however, is another story altogether.)

    I agree that it is a nice goal to use all of your papers to develop ideas for your dissertation, and hopefully turn at least some of them into publications. In my case, the process was not quite so linear: I wanted to take advantage of graduate school to explore lots of different potential directions, rather than pursue a straight path. Now, if I’d had a clear dissertation idea from the start that had stood up to a few years of probing from different directions, I would probably have been quite happy to go along with it. But that rarely happens, for me: I need to walk down numerous roads, discarding most of what I find but storing useful bits from each, before I can figure out exactly where I want to go. This has been a recurring pattern, so I’m at peace with it, although I’ll confess a touch of envy for those who manage to be single-minded in their scholarship.

    On the other hand, I like to think that taking a broader, more winding approach has its own advantages. I have learned about a number of subjects I will probably never have the opportunity or inclination to explore again (although, never say never…), but that doesn’t mean that researching and writing about them was useless. It’s all been a part of clarifying my thoughts and refining my identity as a scholar, which is hardly a waste of time. Plus, I like to think that much of what I’ve discarded may come in handy in the future, working with students with interests different from my own.

    Maybe this idea that every bit of information and knowledge might come in handy, whatever the source, can be blamed on having seen Working Girl too many times at an impressionable age…

    All of the above applies to doctoral study in any field, really, although I suppose some might allow more flexibility than others. In terms of advice specific to PR students, I think going to conferences is probably the best way to remain aware of what is going on in the discipline, and if you’re lucky, making other people aware of you. In hindsight, I wish I’d become more involved in the nuts and bolts of my conference divisions while still in grad school, but I do think that presenting at a few sessions of NCA and ICA was a start in this direction. (I presented at a few other conferences as well, but none had public relations divisions. My work tends to cross a lot of disciplinary boundaries, though.)

    It’s important not to find a personal balance: I’ve seen people focus so intently on writing papers for and attending conferences that they neglect their dissertation research. That’s obviously a bad idea.

    I suspect I will have more, and different advice, as time goes on and I gain some distance from my own doctoral studies. Right now, though, with my PhD still hot off the griddle, this is what comes to mind.