Category Archives: ethics

Do Not Defund the NEA and NEH

NOTE: The following is an open letter I wrote today to the board and staff of the Pickford Film Center, the non-profit organization where I serve as board president.
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Dear fellow Board Members, fellow arts supporters, and members of the greater Bellingham community,
The Pickford needs your help. America needs your help. There is some indication from the White House that funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is in jeopardy. We need your help to take action to prevent this, not only for the Pickford’s sake, but for that of all arts organizations who do vital work in their communities around the country. I urge you to do what you can to protect and defend the NEA and NEH, because the arts and humanities are vital to our communities and to our democracy.
It appears that the current administration and congress plan to defund the NEA and NEH for some inscrutable partisan purpose, but the math is simple: these two endowments comprise a truly minuscule portion of the federal budget – each receives approximately $148 million annually. That may sound like a lot, but combined it is only four one-thousandths of one percent of the total federal budget. To put that in perspective, if the annual federal budget were an annual household budget of $50,000, the NEA/NEH portion would be only $2.00.
The expenditure is comparatively minuscule, but the benefit to communities is immense.
For example, since 2014, Pickford Film Center has received close to $20,000 from the NEA through the Washington State Arts Commission to support Doctober, our annual documentary film festival. In 2016, PFC received $7500 from the NEH through Humanities Washington to support Media Literacy workshops. In 2017, Pickford Film Center is currently scheduled to receive $10,000 from the NEA Art Works program to support all of our curated series and festivals.
All of this funding the PFC has received supports programs that are about inquiry, film history, foreign cultures, families, and children. These funds allow Pickford Film Center to bring in diverse films that might not otherwise be seen in this community, keep ticket prices low, raise awareness, and serve our community. They provide a vital link in distinguishing Pickford Film Center as an important service to our community. These funds enable ALL members of our community to participate in film and to have their perspectives broadened. Film has always been one of the most truly democratic art forms we have in this country, and Pickford Film Center exists to provide a forum for celebrating and advancing this aspect of our culture.
So please join me in a couple of three small actions that will help lend support for this vital piece of the federal budget, and feel free to forward this email to other arts supporters you know:
  1. If you can do nothing else, there’s a petition at the White House web site. Please sign it: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/do-not-defund-nea-or-neh-0
  2. Call or Write your congresspeople too, urging them to protect NEA and NEH funding in the federal budget.
  3. No matter what happens, keep supporting the arts and humanities. Whatever it is that you most enjoy, be it the cinema, the ballet, the symphony, the opera, the museum, the theatre … please keep supporting them as an audience member, an advocate, and (if you are able) as a donor. Our democracy depends on it.
Thank you.
Brian Sibley
President, Board of Directors
Pickford Film Center
Bellingham, Washington

 

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Four Cheers for Reporters!

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The author (in white vest) being interviewed (by Kyle Jordan, professional journalist, with cameraman Stephen LeFranc) during the Deepwater Horizon spill, June 2010. Pensacola, FL.

If you read this blog, you know I’m a PR guy. And today, I am working with a new client. I’ll be providing a spokesperson media training session to three of the firm’s partners next week. I love doing media training for my clients. It’s a lovely marriage of my theatre background and my PR career. In a way, it’s analogous to directing a performance. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but there are similarities. More importantly, this process helps my clients become more effective spokespeople who understand how to help the reporters get what they need, which tends to result in better coverage for my clients and better stories for the journalists. Win-Win.

Anyway, part of the preparation process involves asking the trainees a few questions before the training day in order to gauge their experience, attitude and opinions about reporters. Armed with this knowledge, I am able to make better use of everyone’s time and customize the session to the needs of the individuals I’m training.

One of the questions is:

“What opinions do you have of journalists?”

As I was reviewing this client’s responses today, I asked myself, “How would I answer that?”

It’s quite simple and can be summed up in four points.

  1. I have genuinely liked more than 90 percent of the journalists I’ve worked with in the past 15+ years. They’re kind, curious, polite (but firm), hard-working and professional individuals. As for the other 10 percent: I’ll tell you about them over a beer sometime. They are the exception, not the rule.
  2. As a spokesperson and a PR representative, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to end an interview prematurely because of a combative, rude or unprofessional journalist (and I’ve done hundreds of interviews, with reporters from at least a dozen countries around the world).
  3. These journalists have my respect because they’re doing an incredibly demanding job, most of them for very little pay, under the kind of nonnegotiable daily deadlines that would make most of us cringe.
  4. Most reporters have a largely thankless job. But they do it anyway because they believe in telling the story.

In that spirit, I’d like to tip my hat to all the journalists out there who are bravely facing the world with their inquisitive minds, their sharp pencils and their steno pads. I’ve enjoyed working with you (well, 90 percent of you) over the years. And I thank you sincerely for the job that you do. You’re great!

Hats off to reporters! Won’t you please join me? Thank a journalist today!

The Change Agent is Brian Sibley. You can follow him on twitter: @bsibley

Jargon – Symptoms and Home Treatment

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On a conference call last week with a potential client, I was again confronted with a disease that plagues businesspeople: Excessive Use of Industry Jargon. This is a serious disease that often goes unreported. It’s time to bring it out into the open and talk about it.

Because the majority of my professional experience has been spent practicing PR and marketing communications, I’ve seen many cases of this condition. But today what I wanted to address are some of the possible reasons why it continues to plague businesspeople. It’s an insidious condition that infects people without regard to age, gender, level of education, race, color, or creed. You may even carry this disease yourself without realizing it. That’s OK, the diagnosis and cures are both simple and can be done in the privacy of your own home. But first:

Who is prone: this disease is borne out of either insecurity, or a kind of boastful pride (the same kind that infects schoolyard bullies and information hoarders). The afflicted believe that if they hold esoteric knowledge and don’t share it, then they are members of an elite club. They have heard (but misinterpreted) the phrase “knowledge is power,” and misunderstood it to mean that “knowledge is power … when that knowledge is not shared with others.” If that were true, then teachers would be unquestioningly the most powerful people in the world, and none of you would have learned anything in school.

Jargon and buzzwords are words and phrases that appear within organizations and industries and are used to describe products, services and unique characteristics of that group. The key thing to remember is that they are a form of shorthand, and do not instantly make sense to people outside the group. Everyone is guilty of this. It may be the most prevalent disease in business. For example,

  • Journalists talk about “ledes” instead of introductory sentences
  • Hotel people talk about “rack rates” instead of standard prices 
  • Ad sales people talk about “avails” instead of available space
  • Graphic designers talk about “mock-ups” instead of prototype designs
  • Marketing people talk about “The Creative” instead of the art concept

  • Biologists talk about “macro-invertebrates” instead of insects 
  • Corporate trainers talk about “staff augmentation” instead of … well, I still have no idea what this means in plain language

You get the point. Your industry has its own terms just like these. 

It is important to note that there are times when use of jargon is totally appropriate. Feel free to use it at meetings of other employees in your group who know these phrases and their meanings. But don’t use it in public. Don’t use it on a sales call. You might think it makes you sound like an expert, but it really just confuses your audience.

The Symptoms: self-detection is difficult. But you may have noticed these signs in others… Use of buzzwords, industry terms and three-letter acronyms (“TLA’s”). Audience members seem confused, isolated and distant. Quizzical looks from others following your talk.

Home Treatment: first, learn to think like a teacher. Observe your audience. Look for nonverbal cues – a furrowed brow, a confused expression, total silence on the other end of the phone – because your audience may not be confident enough to ask for clarification of your buzzwords and jargon. Ask simple questions like, “do you understand what I mean when I said ‘Price Point’?” And then of course you need to define the term and confirm understanding. (by the way, “price point” is just a lengthy way to say “price” …)

With effective home treatment, the prognosis is good. Anyone can learn to use clear, plain language to get their point across. If you manage to correct this condition, others will find you more personable, more effective and more likable.

And who doesn’t want that?

(The Change Agent is Brian Sibley. Follow him on Twitter @bsibley)

11 People to Unfollow on Twitter today

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Let the record show that I am about to write a Listicle*. The internet is rife with articles on “Who to Follow on Twitter” but I’ve seen scant evidence regarding the contrarian view. Since I generally prefer the contrarian view, I offer the following.

I did this exercise recently, and was sharing my process with Brendan Lewis, who shares in my love of all things snarky, especially when it involves Social Media. He encouraged me to write it up. So you can thank him if it seems helpful. (Note: If it’s not helpful, please direct all complaints to: Goldman Sachs, 200 West Street, New York City.)

Specifically, who should you unfollow? Unfollow these people, and enjoy a Twitter feed with substantially less narcissism, solipsism and self-promotion. Read on:

  1. Unfollow anyone who claims “guru” status of anything. Do I need to explain why? Same goes for “raconteur” and “diva” and some others. If you have to SAY that you’re a guru, odds are you are not. These words are pretentious when self-applied.
  2. Unfollow anyone who lists “running” in their profile. While I generally have nothing against athletes, people who call themselves “runners” bug the crap out of me. There are people who go for a run. There are people who run marathons. But people who identify as “Runners” tend to be self-important types who never played team sports or don’t realize that you CAN play team sports after high school. Crossfitters and triathletes, this means you, too.
  3. Unfollow anyone who unironically retweets Gary Vaynerchuk, Peter Shankman, or Brian Solis. If you MUST follow these guys yourself, do so only for comic value, because these guys actually believe that they are God’s Gift. In reality they exist largely in a feedback loop of their own creation. Same goes for Michael Brito, Jeremiah Owyang, David Armano, and Chris Pirillo.
  4. Unfollow people who use the phrase “content marketing” in their profile or in their tweets. They heard this buzzword recently and decided to catch the wave. This wave will have crested and crashed in six to 12 months. Something else will take its place. Simply “marketing” is OK.
  5. Unfollow anyone who is a self-proclaimed “thought leader” immediately. (For more information, see #1 above). As Bob Dylan said — at least apocryphally —  “Don’t follow leaders.”
  6. Unfollow most PR people. They’re easy to find: their agency name usually appears in their twitter profile (firm names like Edelman, Waggener Edstrom [a.k.a “WaggEd”], Shandwick, Burson, etc.) Most of these folks don’t do anything on twitter but parrot their clients’ messages anyway, and talk about their regimen for training for the upcoming Metro Half-Marathon and Wine Festival (see #2 above).
  7. Unfollow anyone who says on their twitter profile that they’re “gluten free,” or “paleo,” or ”vegan” … these folks are compelled to share their quotidian food choices globally. You don’t need to know, really. It isn’t that interesting.
  8. Unfollow anyone who uses more than two hashtags in their twitter profile. #youre #doing #it #wrong #jackwagon #stop #trying #to #draw #attention #to #yourself
  9. Unfollow anyone who lists their Myers-Briggs personality type in their profile. I can only assume that this is a carryover from online dating sites. What gives? If you’re an INFJ, shouldn’t you be reading a book with your cat anyway instead of managing your Twitter account? Get off the internet! It belongs to us ESTPs anyway!
  10. Unfollow people who claim to have written “bestselling books” that you have never heard of. Authors who have actually written bestselling books generally don’t need to claim authorship of same on their twitter profiles. Having written a book that’s #46 in Amazon’s category Business> Business & Investing> Management & Leadership> Management> Marketing> Digital & Interactive Marketing> Social Media> Does not qualify as a bestseller. For a list of Bestselling authors, see Publisher’s Weekly or The New York Times. J.K. Rowling is a bestselling author. So is John Grisham. So are Bill Gates and Sheryl Sandberg. Unfollow authors who aren’t in that category.
  11. Unfollow any remaining mommy bloggers. That thing was so 2008.

Once you’ve unfollowed these people (if there’s anyone left in your feed), you’ll find that it probably contains interesting things about the world you live in or the industry in which you work. It might even contain things of real intellectual value. When you unclutter your feed from the narcissists and self-promoters, you can follow things of genuine interest. Isn’t that what a tool like Twitter should be used for anyway?

(Disclaimer/Warning: Following the advice in this post may negatively impact your Klout score. But if you’ve read this far, it’s a safe bet you don’t care.)

And now, gentle reader, I eagerly await your vitriol.

*Listicle, n. – a portmanteau of “List” and “article” … get it?

For our daughters and sons

Saturday December 15, 2012

Dear Mr. President,

As I write this, my daughter is asleep in the next room. She’s in the second grade. Tomorrow we’re going to a performance of The Nutcracker. She has a new dress, hat and shoes that her grandma bought just for this occasion. She sleeps tonight in safety and security, anticipating the joy and wonder that tomorrow will bring. And I know that tomorrow when I wake her up, she will never have looked more beautiful to me, never more precious. Her eyes will never be more blue, because of what happened.

My heart breaks for those parents in Connecticut who will not wake their daughters and sons this morning. To borrow from Abraham Lincoln’s famous letter to Mrs. Bixby, how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile them from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. I cannot imagine their horror, for it is, most truly, unspeakable.

Many people have said today that, “today we must grieve, and tomorrow or the next day we can talk about what happened, and why.” While I can understand — and even appreciate — the reasoning behind this sentiment, I cannot, and I will not, agree that we must wait to have a national discussion about the growing epidemic of gun violence in the United States. And I urge you and the members of Congress to do the same. Please do not wait to have this debate. And please, Mr. President: be strong. Something has got to change. What we saw today is not what James Madison intended when he wrote the Bill of Rights. It cannot be.

What we need now is to get real. We need to put aside the rhetoric of the past, and we must focus on a new future, one that represents the reality of today, and honors the memories of those sons and daughters who died needlessly. This is the greatest country the world has ever seen. And yet, for some reason I cannot comprehend, and I cannot explain to my daughter, we are killing each other at a rate much higher than every other developed country in the world. How can we be at once so great and so murderous? It does not have to be this way. How can we, as a free people, accept this much murder as the price of living in a free country? I’ve tried to understand it, but I cannot.

You and I have many things in common, and I’m sure we’d enjoy each other’s company. I’d very much like to share a drink with you someday. I’m sure we’d tell each other stories about the daughters we both have, who we’d do anything for. And I hope when that day comes, we can share that drink in a nation that has found a way, has seen the imperative, to prevent these mass killings from happening.

Our daughters and our sons deserve nothing less.

Respectfully,

Brian Sibley (Bellingham, Washington)

Five Things You Need to Know About Obama’s Public Health Insurance Option

The choice of a public health insurance plan is crucial to real health care reform. Here’s what you really need to know:

1. Choice, choice, choice. If the public health insurance option passes, Americans will be able to choose between their current insurance and a high-quality, government-run plan similar to Medicare. If you like your current care, you can keep it. If you don’t—or don’t have any—you can get the public insurance plan.

2. It will be high-quality coverage with a choice of doctors. Government-run plans have a track record of innovating to improve quality, because they’re not just focused on short-term profits. And if you choose the public plan, you’ll still get to choose your doctor and hospital.

3. We’ll all save a bunch of money. The public health insurance option won’t have to spend money on things like CEO bonuses, shareholder dividends, or excessive advertising, so it’ll cost a lot less. Plus, the private plans will have to lower their rates and provide better value to compete, so people who keep their current insurance will save, too.

4. It will always be there for you and your family. A for-profit insurer can close, move out of the area, or just kick you off their insurance rolls. The public health insurance option will always be available to provide you with the health security you need.

5. And it’s a key part of universal health care. No longer will sick people or folks in rural communities, or low-income Americans be forced to go without coverage. The public health insurance plan will be available and accessible to everyone. And for those struggling to make ends meet, the premiums will be subsidized by the government.

Sources:

1. “Words Designed to Kill Health Care Reform,” Huffington Post, May 7, 2009 http://bit.ly/Btp7O

2, 3, 4, 5, 6. “The Case for Public Plan Choice in National Health Reform,” Institute for America’s Future
http://bit.ly/UgrIP

PR folks: Would you represent Blagojevich?

I was asked a question this morning: “Would you represent Rod Blagojevich?” This brings up a very interesting point for PR people of all kinds. The troubled Illinois Governor is in the news again, this time because he’s skipping out on his state impeachment proceedings, which begin today. The stated reason for his absence? He’s upset that the rules of the state government prevent him from calling any witnesses to his defense. He’s annoyed by this detail, and is taking his case to the Court of Public Opinion: in this case Larry King Live, and other national broadcast outlets in New York.

As for the legality of anything Blagojevich may or may not have done, the courts and the senate will determine. In the Court of Public Opinion, the governor has decided that his only option remaining is self-defense. If you’ve been watching the news in the last three months, chances are that you have some opinion about his guilt or innocence. His appearance on Larry King Live tonight will either reinforce those opinions, or cause people to re-evaluate.

Regardless, the governor, guilty or innocent, is to be commended for his decision to talk to the American public about his side of the story. If he had acted sooner, he might not be in such a deficit of public approval. People expect a quick response these days, because they know they can get one. When a response is slow, people tend to presume guilt or assume the subject is being evasive.

Now back to the initial question: “Would you represent him?”

I believe that everyone is entitled to a competent defense. Very much like defense attorneys represent accused criminals every day, PR people can find themselves in the position to represent individuals or companies that have been accused of doing bad things.

If you were accused of a crime (regardless of your guilt or innocence), would you not want an attorney to represent you in the Court of Law? Someone with deep knowledge of the workings of the legal system who could present a case on your behalf?

Why should it be any different with the Court of Public Opinion?

What would you do?

Would You Privatize Defense?

Timothy Noah of Slate wrote this article yesterday about the case for socialized healthcare. It’s an allegorical tale of an America with privatized national defense. People who place a high value on defense (and have the money for higher premiums) would be able to afford the best defense plans, and the people with little money or inclination to put toward defense would have less expensive premiums, but higher out-of-pocket costs for paying the militia to defend them against attack. Those people living in cities that have already been attacked (Baltimore, Honolulu, Washington DC and New York) would basically be uninsurable, because the defense insurance companies would place them in a very high risk category.

Sound familiar?

This is the way the political left needs to start framing these discussions if they’re going to make people understand that healthcare, like national defense, isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. It’s a moral responsibility of the government to care for its people. Everyone, regardless of income, deserves the same access to heathcare.

In our current system, costs are skyrocketing. The system is broken, and needs to be fixed. We’re the wealthiest nation on earth, yet the only nation of its kind with this kind of healthcare system. What’s wrong with us?

“Don’t Make Me Come Back There!”

“Don’t Make Me Come Back There!”

I don’t think my own father ever said that to me when I was a kid. Perhaps I don’t remember. In any case, I got pretty good at passing the time on road trips … we took quite a few when I was younger. My brother and I didn’t fight that much … at least not in the car. So we never gave dad much cause to bark at us in that way.

Parents of today have all manner of technological innovations available to help them not have to yell back at their kids when they start whining about the length of the road trip. When you’re a parent, as I am, the temptation is frequently to use television as an anecdote to a child’s fussiness, whining, and other emotional manifestations of boredom. The debate on the talk show was about whether or not it was a good idea — philosophically speaking — to let your kids watch a DVD in the car.

I was invited by Kristen at Motherhood Uncensored to participate in an online radio talk show today on the subject of DVD Players in Cars. You can tune in by clicking here.

Once you’ve had a chance to listen to the show, let me know if you have comments!

Rummy-Nation …

Walter Pincus wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post about a $10 million per year bid that’s been released by the Pentagon that “calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.”

Rumsfeld has said many times (including earlier this week … see yesterday’s post on this blog) that he’s cranky about how much bad news comes out of Iraq. He often cites that the troops get far more bad press about things like Abu Ghraib and Marine soldier misconduct than they do about good things that happen like the recent announcement about the Medal of Honor recipient.

Donald, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure some one is), first of all: does this surprise you? It should come as no surprise to anyone that bad news sells a lot more papers than good news. Just pick up any newspaper in America. The stories about fuzzy puppies and acts of heroism are almost ALWAYS buried somewhere other than the front page.

Bad news sells.

You can’t censor the bad news to try to manipulate the public into believing that Iraq is going smoothly.

But you’re going to try. And in doing so, you’re going to waste $20 million. We’re not buying it, Donald.

And that goes for you, too. Dubya.

As of today: 2642 American deaths in Iraq.

Bad news, no matter how you look at it.