Color me bad

Elephant_LogoYou find the weirdest stuff on Facebook.

This morning, I stumbled across a new Facebook page that is dedicated to the idea of reclaiming the color blue for Republicans.

At first blush, I thought this was one of the silliest things. But then, I started thinking about it.

Why would the GOP want the color blue versus red? Isn’t red the traditional color for Republicans? Not unless you consider “traditional” as the last 15 years.

According to the Republicans Red No More Facebook page, “center-right parties around the world are Blue, and Social Democrat parties are Red, except in the U.S. where 13 years ago the media assigned Red to the Republicans. “

The page creators argue that for more than a century, Republicans were routinely associated with Blue and Democrats with Red.

That color association was changed, they say, by NBC journalist Tim Russert in 2000 when he assigned Red to Republicans on his electoral map.

Since then, they say, the media has adopted this formula, even though it runs counter to American history and worldwide practice.

Are they right? Well, take a look at the map that NBC used to portray the 1980 presidential election results between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

1980 mapBut do colors really matter?

Apparently so. At least to color psychologists:

Color is a form of non verbal communication.  It is not a static  energy and its meaning can change from one day to the next with any  individual.

For example, a person may choose to wear the red one day and  this may indicate they are ready to take action, or they may be  passionate about what they are going to be doing that day, or again it  may mean that they are feeling angry that day, on either a conscious or  subconscious level.

Experts say the color red can cause people to feel rushed, agitated or angry. The color blue, on the other hand is generally associated with serenity. It is also associated with trust, honesty and loyalty.

So, given this information it becomes easy to see why Republicans want to “take back” the color blue.

And what about the rest of the world? Are Social Democratic political parties generally red and center-right parties blue?

That would be true in a wide range of countries, including Finland, Israel and the Czech Republic. In fact, the more you look, the more you will see that conservative or centrist parties are associated with the color blue around the globe.

But I don’t expect the U.S. Democratic Party to go down without a fight in the upcoming color war. After all, the last thing Democrats want is to be associated with the color red (Think Soviet Union, the Red Invasion and all sorts of other negative stereotypes.

Who changed the color? Was it a mainstream media with a liberal bias? Was it an oversight or an intentional switch by the GOP? There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but one thing is for sure: you can always find some strange stuff on Facebook, which relies on the color blue.

 

Just like a prayer

Bobby Mills

Bobby Mills

Biddeford City Councilor Bobby Mills has a lesson for all of us who use social media.

It doesn’t matter much if the NSA has tapped your phone or if Google is using your online data to create a psychological profile, you have a responsibility to be careful about what you share on social media outlets.

Mills, an elected official, is upset that he was contacted by a local newspaper regarding a potential conflict of interest issue. According to Mills, the newspaper received an anonymous tip regarding something he posted online.

I’ll let Mills tell the story . . .

Interesting enough I just got a phone call interview from the Courier. Someone made an “anonymous” complaint about the unsuccessful Go Fund Me page I set up back in October/November for assistance in our down payment for our lease to own home. Since this page was only created for my family and friends on Facebook I’m simply amazed.
“The complaint was about public officials creating pages seeking donations and conflicts of interests that it may generate.  Seriously.  My family doesn’t live here and any friendships in Biddeford would never be in a situation to assist us if they could. Nonetheless conflicts of interests? Amazing.
 Everytime I’m reelected,  there’s always some “anonymous” nonsense. Hey. Why don’t you call me? 207-[redacted].  Your welcome to come and visit as well. Obviously you know where I live”

Bobby Mills and I have not always seen eye to eye. In fact, I’ve often been one of his loudest critics. But in this story, I feel some of his pain.

Please note: I said some.

Mills and every other adult who uses social media ought to understand how those platforms work. Social media is a power tool in the realm of mass communication, and like any other power tool, you can expect really bad results if you don’t follow some basic guidelines.

Mills said he posted his personal request for the benefit of his family and friends. He didn’t expect criticism or harsh comments about his financial situation from outside his circle of family and friends.

While I sympathize with Mr. Mills’ situation, his defense is extremely weak. He wanted to raise a lot of money (thousands) to help secure a down-payment for a home. You don’t post something online if you don’t want a lot of people to see it.

Rule No. 1 of social media: Never post or tweet anything that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

Bobby Mills likes to use social media. In fact, he’s set up a Facebook page for a second run at becoming Maine’s next governor. Criticize him for that, if you want (and I will . . . later), but don’t knock the guy for being in a tight financial spot and then attack his character because of that fact.

Times are tough for a lot of people. There’s nothing wrong with asking family and friends for help. It’s a tough situation. If you haven’t experienced it, thank your lucky stars.

Raising questions about whether Mills’ original fundraising post constitutes a potential conflict of interest is a bit of a stretch.

By all accounts, Bobby Mills is a good husband and father who loves his kids. He holds several jobs and works hard. He gives a lot back to his community. His only crime here is being a bit naïve about how social media works.

However, if Mills still serves as a member of the Biddeford Housing Authority, and if the home’s sale is connected in any way to that agency, then Mills needs to put some distance between his personal objective and his role as a city official.

Elected officials are treated differently by the media for good reason. When you run for office you have to expect that.

And when you post something on Facebook, you should expect that a lot of people will see what you may not want them to see.

UPDATED: Bobby Mills is NOT a member of the Biddeford Housing Authority.

I hear that train a comin’

NOTE: I was just informed by a member of the newspaper’s staff that this is, indeed, just a “holiday thing.” But my concerns remain for the reasons listed below and because “one-time things” have a funny way of becoming “two-time, three-time, four-time things . . .

 

I am hoping it’s just a holiday thing, but I fear it could be a sign of things to come.

CourierThe latest issue of the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier seemed foreign to me. A free weekly that has been published since 1989, the Courier has always prided itself on being a “hometown newspaper,” exclusive primarily to the communities listed on its mast.

But the latest issue seems to be a compilation of the Courier and two of its sister publications, including the Kennebunk Post.

It’s been a tough decade for newspapers. A sluggish economy has impacted advertising revenues. Online news, combined with social media, has lured readers away from so-called dead tree publications, making it almost impossible for newspapers to be “first with the news.”

For those reasons, I can understand why the Courier’s publishers would be tempted to merge their publications into revamped “regional” weeklies. But this would be a huge mistake.

Before I proceed, a bit of disclosure is in order. I served as the Courier’s editor for the better part of seven years, between 1999 and 2006 under the newspaper’s previous owners. I also served as managing editor of the Courier’s five sister publications between 2002 and 2006.

The Courier and its sister publications were sold by David and Carolyn Flood in 2007 to Sample Media Group, a Pennsylvania media conglomerate that also owns and publishes the Journal Tribune and Times Record.

While working for David and Carolyn, I came to understand the value of a “local” publication. Readers wanted a publication that was focused on their hometown: a newspaper with a staff large enough and bold enough to cover controversial topics at City Hall, but also a publication that would routinely publish information that is often overlooked or dismissed by larger, regional daily publications: The honor roll, local births, expanded obituaries and just about anything else that someone would submit.

There was only one rule: It had to be local. We were not supposed to compete directly with the Portland Press Herald or the Boston Globe. Our success was founded in being different; in being a unique source of news. We were locally owned, locally operated and locally focused. That was our edge.

Moves toward larger regionalization rarely work out for newspapers, especially these days when more people are scrapping for a finite resource of advertising revenues. When local publications lose their local flavor, they also tend to lose their local readership.

As an example, look at the Journal Tribune, formerly the Biddeford-Saco Journal. In the late ’70s, the Journal merged with a daily publication that served the Sanford-Springvale region. That new newspaper has been going down hill since, despite some valiant efforts by a slew of talented journalists and other staffers.

Like every other newspaper, the Courier is also shrinking. And while it may be tempting to merge the publications to save on hefty printing costs, the move would ultimately do more damage than good.

So let’s hope this is just a holiday thing: an effort to get a weekly publication out the door during an especially slow news week (limited staff, vacation schedules, lack of municipal meetings and huge drop-offs in the retail sector).

Otherwise, this move will become another sad chapter in community journalism, especially in this community, which has been spoiled by two daily publications and two weeklies.

Goodbye Stranger

reporterI want to scream.

In a world chock full of culprits that are partially responsible for everything from the “dumbing down of America” to the nomination of Mitt Romney and the advent of Twitter, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to stomach the banality associated with blaming “the media.”

While media criticism is important and necessary, a lot of people who blame “the media” have no idea what they are talking about.

Instead, blaming “the media” has become a catch-all phrase and a convenient target for those who want to ignore two very much larger problems: laziness and stupidity.

There is no question that media has changed, but I challenge you to define the word in its present-day context.

Sure, we can turn to the dictionary and find this: media: (noun) 1.) plural form of medium; 2.) the main means of mass communication (esp. television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) regarded collectively.

Media, whether it’s a daily newspaper, the evening television news, a blog or something that a “friend” posts on his Facebook page, is multi-faceted, multi-layered and increasingly accessible to every person on the planet.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Blaming the media is sort of like blaming your reflection in the mirror for having that fifth margarita or being late to work. Too often, blaming the media is just a convenient form of mental masturbation that serves no good purpose except helping you sleep better at night.

The good ol’ days?

The opening pages of the book Leaving Readers Behind: The Corporate Age of Newspapering contains this stunning contrast of two very different media mission statements:

This is the Journalist’s Creed written by Walter Williams in 1914:  I believe in the professionalism of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.”

And this is the Statement of Strategic Intent issued by Knight Ridder Newspaper Corp. in 1991:  We stand for excellent  service to customers and communities, a fair, respectful and learning environment for all our employees and a strong return for our shareholders. This responsibility is shared by each of us in Knight Ridder, regardless of title or function.”

So it seems easy to be cynical about the so-called “mainstream media” or as Rush Limbaugh describes it: “the drive-by media.”

Oh, how we long for the good days of journalism; the fair and balanced reporting and the loyalty of preserving the public trust. Too bad it’s gone right?

Wrong.

We are surrounded and inundated with loads of good journalism and a diversity of media that is unparalleled and will be surpassed in its diversity in less than 15 minutes.

Before you moan about the demise of media, or the sentimental loss of the warm and fuzzy images of Walter Cronkite and the proverbial grumpy editor such as Ben Bradlee, chew on this: Why haven’t you switched the channel?

Try it, you’ll like it

Better yet, what’s stopping you from being the media? It’s probably the same four things that stop most media endeavors: Money, Time, Resources and Audience.

Sure, go ahead and bitch about advertiser supported media, but how are you going to pay your reporters?  For those of you who will predictably point to examples such as “listener supported” public broadcasting, you may have missed those corporate announcements at the beginning of each segment.

Without corporate and taxpayer subsidies, National Public Radio would be nothing more than a distant memory because the vast and overwhelming majority of its listeners don’t dig very deep into their own pockets.

Yeah, and state-sponsored media is a sure-fire way to ensure credibility and a lack of bias. I mean, really . . . what would could possibly go wrong if we let the government report to us about the government?

I find it annoying that the bulk of those who bitch about the media have spent zero hours in a newsroom nor  ever required to sit through three hours of a planning board meeting while earning slightly more than minimum wage.

Pull back the curtain

Of course, no one loves to talk more about the media than the media. They are a narcissistic lot, full of righteous indignation. I know this because many of my friends and former colleagues still work in the media. God bless them.

These folks are professionals, but they are no different from anyone else and subject to all sorts of the very same pressures you will find in any other profession: gossip, bias, greed, competition and ego.

A few weeks ago, I found myself on the phone with one of the editors at the Portland Press Herald. I was calling on behalf of one of my clients and asking for a favor.

The editor was a bit pissed off about my intrusion, and he didn’t try very hard to mask his annoyance: “Randy, you used to be a journalist, how can you ask me a question like that?”

Surprisingly, he accepted my honest response. “I’m not a journalist anymore, and you know damn well my current occupation requires me to ask the question even though I know you are going to refuse my request.”

That honest exchange led to a compromise we could both live with: he did not budge and I accepted his decision.

Where’s the good media?

As I said before, we are surrounded by some excellent examples of journalism. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of the Southern Forecaster newspaper. That free, weekly newspaper was chock-full of solid community-based reporting.

There was an in-depth, comprehensive story about growing tensions between the Scarborough Rod & Gun Club and a group of neighbors who chose to build their homes near the club. It was a universal story about the themes of gentrification and it made me think about the tension in my own community between those who use the Biddeford Airport and their residential neighbors.

Another front-page story examined the plight of the South Portland City Council in light of a recent court decision that would allow municipal employees to serve on municipal boards and committees. Again, the same dynamic is an issue in my own community.

The Forecaster group of newspapers is one of the few remaining Maine-owned media outlets, and its staff seems to understand the importance of digging deep and solid reporting. Mo Mehlsak is the editor of the Forecaster. I remember him from his days as the city editor at the Journal Tribune. He is a newspaperman’s newspaper man: tough, intelligent and insightful. I never had the pleasure of working with him, but I have admired his work for nearly 20 years. He is obviously grooming an exceptional staff of reporters.

Speaking of the Journal Tribune, Tammy Wells has been covering York County issues longer than anyone else. She offers her readers a ton of institutional memory and insight.

When it comes to unbiased reporting and a willingness to cover stories in-depth, check out the work of my former colleague, Kate Irish Collins, a reporter for the Saco-based Sun Chronicle, part of Current Publications, another Maine-owned media outlet. No one person can come close  to matching Kate in producing such a volume of news content with consistent accuracy and lack of bias.

My friend Kelley Bouchard at the Portland Press Herald consistently delivers solid reporting and poignant features. She led off her newspaper’s insightful (and painful) examination of Maine’s aging population. The Challenge of Our Age.

On Election Night, every political junkie in Maine turns to the exceptional coverage provided by the Bangor Daily News.

And if you’re looking for a good compilation of Maine news and opinion, check out Bob Mentzinger’s  Writing Maine feed. Mentzinger is a close friend, but he’s also the editor at the Brunswick Times Record, another afternoon daily that strives every day to produce exceptional journalism on a shoe-string budget.

Yes, there is plenty of room for media criticism, and Al Diamon does an exceptional job of keeping Maine’s media outlets on their toes with his sometimes harsh, yet consistently detailed analysis that can be found in his weekly Media Mutt column published at The Bollard.

These are just a few samples that show it’s not hard to find solid journalism in Maine or anywhere else. You just have to look for it.

The next time you feel like bitching about the media, go take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself this: are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

Too big to fail?

I never expected it to happen so quickly.

Almost every day I am deep in the trenches of public opinion, helping a wide variety of clients navigate the perilous waters of brand reputation management, crisis communications and message development designed to garner strong public support.

But last night it got a bit personal, and I tried a social media experiment.

urlI had an issue with my mobile phone provider, AT&T, one of the nation’s largest corporations. I spent more than an hour on the phone with their customer service representatives, haggling over a bill that was grossly out of balance. You can find the details here.

The company failed on several fronts. First, they did not live up to the promises they made during prior calls about the same issue. Secondly, perhaps more importantly, they let me off the phone without asking me if I was satisfied.

I waited 24 hours and then launched an all-out social media battle with the company. I dragged their competitors into the fray. I hounded their Facebook page and chased them on Twitter. But it all ended rather abruptly.

I never had the chance to execute the second phase of my PR battle because they smartly surrendered and resolved the issue to my satisfaction.

I am just one person, but I used my social media connections to leverage my message. The results were clear. It took fewer than 24 hours for them to surrender to my one-man war on the blogosphere.

This was all preventable. AT&T spent far more than the $1,000 they claimed I owed. They also suffered as others jumped on my bandwagon, further diminishing the company’s brand and reputation.

There are lessons here.

1.) No company is too big to fail.

2.) Do not underestimate the power of social media.

3.) Your brand and reputation are your most important assets and must be guarded.

AT&T ought to take a lesson from companies like AVIS, which authorizes its front-counter rental agents to do whatever it takes to resolve customer complaints; or LL Bean, a company that built a reputation for the quality of its products by honoring their replacement for any reason whatsoever. Or, GWI, a locally owned Biddeford-based ISP and telecommunications provider that always goes the extra mile to make customer satisfaction a top priority.

Fletcher Kittredge of Biddeford started GWI with vision and commitment, but he also had to endure many, many battles with larger telecomm giants. Fletcher proved that you can compete with anyone by focusing on the quality or your product and developing strong relationships with your customers.

AT&T, by comparison, is a multi-billion dollar corporation. Why is it so hard for such a large company to understand or appreciate the value of customer satisfaction and loyalty?

My Son, Facebook and Five Dollars

My son Tim with his girl and his Caddy...lovin' life

My son Tim with his girl and his Caddy…lovin’ life

This is a story about my son, Facebook and a “crisp $5 bill”

It is also a social media wake-up call.

There are a lot of articles out there about the use of sarcasm in social media, but this piece by Katherine Rosman in the Wall Street Journal is exceptional in both its clarity and lack of pretense.

A couple days ago, I decided to give my oldest son, Tim, a shout out on my Facebook page. It generated a lot of reaction, mostly positive. It also reinforced my earlier thoughts about how to drive your social media analytics because of its wide reach and connection with my intended audience.

To save you time and for those who are not my Facebook “friends,” I have included the original post here:

I am so proud of my oldest son, Tim!
 For the first time ever, Laura and I left him alone at the house for a few days while we leisured at Moosehead. He will be 18 in just a couple weeks.
Our wonderful neighbors were on full-alert.
Shortly after we left the house, the hot water tank failed and began leaking. Tim cut-off the water, used adhesive putty to seal the leak and cleaned up the basement.
He also went to work each day and took care of our dogs, the cats, the rabbit, turtle and three fish tanks.
The house looked awesome when we got home.
I did not hesitate to offer him a token of my appreciation: A crisp, $5 bill

Most people received the post as intended: my overwhelming pride in a young man who continues to amaze and impress me; and a humorous comparison to me (his step-father).

Many of those who commented on that post jumped on me for being a cheap skate or assumed I made a typo. Neither one is true, but most of my real friends already knew that and were just teasing me about my skimpy measure of gratitude. But some other folks thought I was being serious.

Whoa!  Did I just say “real friends?”

Yes, I did… so deal with it. Despite what my Facebook page portrays, I do not have more than 640 friends, and neither do you. It’s impossible.

I am blessed to have more than my fair share of real friends, and I cringe when I think about how the word “friend” has been distorted.

What is a real friend? A real friend is someone you can call at 2 a.m. for bail money. You can talk openly about otherwise embarrassing stuff with your real friends. Go take a look at your friends list on Facebook. Have you ever been to their home? Have they been to your home? Do you know the names of their children?

I wrote about this subject a couple of years ago. Back then I only had 240 or so Facebook friends. But enough about our abuse of the word friend.

Social media outlets such as Facebook are powerful communications tools. They can be used to topple governments, achieve justice and raise global awareness.

But like any other power tool, you need to be careful. Because as Ms. Rosman points out above, sarcasm remains elusive to the data-encrypted networks that are becoming an increasingly important part of the way we communicate.

On a final note, take a good look at this picture of my son with his latest girlfriend, Gina.

He will be 18 in two weeks. He owns and drives a fully loaded Cadillac. He has high-speed internet access in his bedroom, not to mention a flat-screen TV and access to more than 500 channels of satellite programming. He has two part-time jobs and runs his own business.

More importantly, he has a growing relationship with his biological father and his half-brothers. He has the world’s most awesome mother; and a step-father who continually pushes him to excel.

Now you tell me . . . you would kill to be Tim, right? Right.

 

 

 

 

Straight, No Chaser

Yesterday was amazing.

I’m not a social media expert, and I am wary of such titles. But I am fascinated by the new communications tools at our disposal.

angry-computer-guyWithin the last 48 hours, I published two new items on this blog, one about tension in Biddeford created by a push to enhance the city’s “creative economy,” and the other about my ongoing journey with mental illness.

Guess which one generated the most buzz? You might be surprised.

I was.

People sometimes ask me why I write this blog. The answer is simple. I just like doing it.

Self-described social media experts will tell you that the best blogs are those with a single focus, those that focus primarily upon a specific topic. I think that’s pretty good advice for building an audience, but this blog does not follow those generally accepted rules to attract visitors.

Instead, this blog is all over the place, though primarily focuses on politics and my mental illness. It is driven by my raging brain that needs a release: a cyber-coded pressure relief valve.

Although my latest post about Biddeford generated lots and lots of discussion and varying arguments on Facebook, it didn’t hold a candle to my post about my 30th anniversary of being discharged from a psychiatric hospital: broke, unemployed and homeless.

That post about the worst and best day of my life soared off  the analytics chart. Within two hours of publication, traffic to that post smashed the record for any other post in the last two years — a whopping 670 percent jump, attracting readers from Norway, Japan and England.

Why? I have a theory.

There is a lot of information out there, but a lot of it is simply varying perspectives on the same subjects.

Closer examination of my analytics reveals an interesting trend. When I write about my own unique experiences with mental illness, traffic is at its highest. It drops off  when I poke at Biddeford’s political dynamics; it falls even further when I write about Maine politics; and is at its lowest point when I weigh in about national politics, generating no more than three or four hundred unique hits.

Web surfers are weary and inundated by a flood of information about politics and hot-button issues.  Media critics rely on a tired adage: If it bleeds, it leads

But readers do respond and connect with personal stories. They like stories that restore their faith in humanity. They can only argue and fight for so long. Deep down, we want to feel good and connected to our fellow humans.

We all have our own struggles. We are encouraged by stories of overcoming adversity. Our faith is restored. Our energy is renewed, and we want to share the good news.

Like any other writer, I take satisfaction in knowing people are willing to read what I write. I was happy about yesterday’s spike in traffic, but the number of visitors here really doesn’t matter. So, I will continue ranting about any subject that pops into my brain.

But there is an important lesson for all you folks who want to deliver a message. Connect with your audience by being unique and honest.

Dancin’ with myself

echo chamberHow do they do it?

I mean . . . really? How do they stay together, despite their almost polar opposite political views?

I’m referring, of course, to James Carville and Mary Matalin, two political strategists who have gained national prominence for their sage political advice and their respective close relationships to former presidents and aspiring politicians across the political spectrum.

Carville is a passionate, outspoken and often controversial leader of the political left. Matalin is a passionate, outspoken and often controversial leader of the political right.

And yet, despite their divergent political views, they are married and are able to find respect and admiration for each other.

I mention this because of an experience I encountered earlier this week in the sphere of social media, where the subject of politics can be a dominating topic, allowing just about anyone to espouse their political views while attracting commentary from their “friends.”

While social media platforms such as Facebook have become powerful tools to promote various forms of political commentary, there is a growing concern that they are only reinforcing our own, pre-conceived political ideology and creating massive “echo chambers” of political discourse.

With tools such as Twitter, Facebook and cable television, we today have immeasurable ways to filter our news, information and opinion. More than ever before, we can more easily gravitate to our own pre-selected sources of information, a process that robs us of the opportunity to question, challenge and discern the validity of our opinions and viewpoints.

I am guilty of this practice, but I do try to absorb contrary viewpoints, believing that it is a valuable process for expanded learning.

I am a self-described political junkie, and there are few things I enjoy more than debating public policy issues. My real life friends know this about me; I am a born-again contrarian, willing to switch sides when necessary if only to provoke and debate hot-button political issues.

My core political philosophy mostly follows the Libertarian model. I am pro-choice and pro-gun, yet I generally abhor abortions and try to remind others than the Second Amendment includes the words “well regulated.” I voted in favor of same-sex marriage. I am a fiscal conservative who appreciates the need for sound public spending and government regulation. I like renewable energy projects, but believe global climate change is being exploited for political purposes. My Facebook friends span the political spectrum, from hard left Democrats to hard-right Republicans.

In essence, I like to believe that I belong to the Common Sense party. This position earns me no respect whatsoever from those who have staked out much more stark positions. Some members of the GOP call people like me a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Some on the left, describe me as a hypocrite and a sell-out.

But I doubt very much that I am the only one who vacillates between the political poles. I am a firm believer in the political center and the notion that the “middle” is the most important demographic for any election.

Now, back to earlier this week. A real-life friend, a woman I very much respect and admire, threatened to block me from her news feed on Facebook.

Her rationale for this action: “Do you ever post anything that isn’t provocative?”

The subject at hand was last week’s announcement that helped clear the way for women to serve in combat roles. I think this was a good decision, yet I also asked whether women should now be required to register with the Selective Service, just as my sons will have to do when they turn 18.

The majority of the feedback my comment received indicated that most of my friends feel that “fair is fair,” and what’s “good for the goose is good for the gander.” But still, I was bothered that someone would threaten to block my opinions only because they did not align with hers.

My response was almost immediate, but not very well thought-out.

“I enjoy rigorous debate and alternative points of view; it’s why I like social media because it allows me to be exposed and digest opinions other than those I may have already conjured. I have “friends” of all political persuasions; sometimes they drive me bonkers and I’m sure I rattle their cages BUT through that discourse I gain valuable insight.

“I never want my news to be single-focused; I appreciate diversity…including diversity of thought and opinion; and I sincerely value your friendship. Block me if you must, but please know that would be a big loss for me. My previous career [as a journalist and political commentator] was geared toward provoking to inspire thinking. I don’t like echo chambers; and I have learned much from my Dem friends, and always appreciate the challenges to my thinking.”

In closing, my concerns about the proliferation of echo chamber discourse is shared by several academics and other thought leaders (see the links below). I also hope that this issue of echo chamber mentality will become part of a much larger conversation.

Step Outside Your Own Echo Chamber

The Echo Chamber Effect: New York Times

On the flip side: “Echo Chamber” is just a derogatory term for “community”

The Crying Game

A couple of days ago, an exhausted and emotional President Obama visited privately with some of his campaign workers and reportedly got pretty choked up. At one point, the president’s tears began to flow.

For some reason, the White House decided to release this rare footage, despite the fact that it was recorded at an event the media was not allowed to attend.

The reaction? Pundits across the globe praised the president’s candor, his show of genuine appreciation. In fact, President Obama’s crying video has gone viral, attracting more than 1.7 million hits on the campaign’s You Tube channel.

Now let’s compare this to the public reaction from just two years ago, when Republican House Speaker John Boehner cried while being interviewed on 60 Minutes about his new role as Speaker of the House…..well, you remember, right?

Here’s what Bill Maher had to say:

“Did you see the new speaker of the House John Boeher cry? He cries a lot. Mr. Boehner you’ve got to stop crying. For one, your tan is going to run. And what’s he going to do if he loses next time? Put on a Bjork record and cut himself?”

Over the last few days, media pundits and amateur pundits on Facebook have been telling us that it is time for cooperation. It is time for the GOP to brush off its brutal losses and begin working with the Democrats. To steal a phrase, It’s time to put people before politics.

For my part, I am trying. I really am. Check the letter I wrote to President Obama on the day after the election.

But it’s damn hard to accept the media’s blatant hypocrisy. Furthermore, why is it so bad for a man… a strong man, or any man for that matter– to cry? Is it a sign of weakness?

Both Obama and Boehner were captured in honest moments of raw emotional expression. The ability to appropriately express your emotion…whether it’s grief, joy or some hidden pain is generally a sign of good mental health. Do we really want our nation’s leaders bottling up their emotions?

Now, here’s a test. Watch this video and see if it makes you cry….even just a little. I dare ya.

My friends and family know that I cannot watch this scene without crying like a baby. If I were a Democrat, I suppose that would be an endearing quality. But if I am a Republican, I best prepare for some intense criticism.

It will be a lot easier for our nation to heal, if we can just move beyond some of the hypocrisy.

We love dirty laundry

It’s a strange time for the newspaper industry — especially here in Maine, where we recently witnessed several seismic shifts in the media landscape.

Hedge fund financier and philanthropist Donald Sussman said he wanted to save a Maine institution and will keep his hands off the wheel of editorial decisions. (Bangor Daily News Photo)

Yesterday it was announced that Donald Sussman’s investor group will now own a 75 percent stake in the company that publishes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Waterville Morning Sentinel and the Maine Sunday Telegram.

That’s all fine and dandy, except for one small twist: Sussman’s wife just happens to be Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and she shows no sign of leaving Maine’s First Congressional District anytime in the near future.

Sure, Sussman says he has only the best  of  intentions, and adamantly vows that he will not interfere with the newspapers’ editorial process. Yeah, okay…whatever. For the record, I actually have a full-head of hair.

I was lucky to work for a family-owned group of weekly newspapers. David & Carolyn Flood gave me a very long leash, but I was never foolish enough to forget that I was on a leash. The Courier was not my paper.

There were many times when my editorials and opinion columns came nowhere close to matching the opinions of my employers, but they sighed…rolled their eyes…and kept giving me a paycheck. For better or worse, I was promoted three times during the seven years I worked for David and Carolyn.

My salary steadily increased and the newspaper thrived. The Courier was the paper of record in Biddeford and Saco, but I always knew I had a boss…heck, sometimes I even paid attention to David.

But all good things come to an end, and it remains to be seen whether the Press Herald or smaller weekly papers such as the Courier will continue to survive in this brave new world of digital media.

Regardless of the financial implications of producing dead-tree news, the Press Herald and its sister publications have crossed a murky line, despite the financial necessity of the decision.

It’s a tough call. Do you fold, and allow a historical institution to become nothing more than a memory? Do you surrender and send hundreds of employees to the unemployment line?

Or do you hold your nose and make a deal with the devil?

I’m sure Donald Sussman is a nice enough guy. I’ve never met him. But regardless of his Boy Scout oath to be ethical, every story that involves his wife, her decisions or her detractors will now be tainted with lingering doubt.

In November 2010, the Portland Press Herald surprised many of its readers by endorsing Republican Dean Scontras over Pingree during her campaign for a second term. If that happened now, we would have to wonder whether such a stance was motivated by an editorial board trying to make a public statement about its objectivity.

Journalists bristle when discussing ethical standards, so I do not envy the dilemma now faced by the reporters and editors at Maine Today Media.  No matter what lines they feed themselves before going to bed each night, each one of them also knows that they also are on a leash . . . a very tenuous leash.

But before you criticize reporters being on a leash, consider the plight earlier this month for the more than 50 employees at the Village Soup newspaper who were laid off when that group of weekly newspapers suddenly closed.

Being off the leash feels good, right up until you discover that you no longer have a bone to chew.