Sunday, July 31, 2005

Social Filters

So, you'll be hearing a lot from the folks at eastwikkers about frames and filters. We were reminded of this topic this week when Yahoo!'s Jeremy Zawodny began an interesting conversation about blacklisting PR spammers. Not sure this is the right way to tackle what appears to be an increasingly difficult problem for journalists and A-List bloggers, and in some cases it might even be defamatory (we'd sure hate to wind up on a list like this). But PR bloggers take note: best way to get filtered -- literally, not just figuratively -- is to annoy your peers.

Open Source Education

Lawrence Lessig waxes eloquent/romantic about the good old days, when libraries helped to level the educational playing field for all comers, rich and poor. A timely post, given the local-library budgetary crisis that the media is just beginning to notice.... But he points to MIT's innovative OpenCourseWare initiative, through which the university is making available -- free of charge --course materials from numerous departments. Similar experiments are underway at Utah State University, Johns Hopkins, and Tufts. Only a matter of time before this really catches on, and an enterprising soul proposes a way to distribute all these teachings.

The "Media and Economics" School

See Richard Posner's recent roundup of eight -- count 'em -- recent books on the media. For those of you old enough to remember, Posner is the conservative academic/jurist who has led the "law and economics" movement since the dawn of the Reagan era. Posner and others have used L&E to do battle with many longstanding laws and precedents, interposing the economic cost/benefit analysis as the basis for deciding all manner of legal dispute. He's applying a similar economic lens today to the media scene, arguing that negative trends like sensationalism (think Michael Jackson) and polarization (think Fox, talking heads, and angry bloggers) are the result of "the vertiginous decline in the cost of electronic communication and the relaxation of regulatory barriers to entry, leading to the proliferation of consumer choices." But greater choice hasn't created a competitive market for truth and accuracy, says Posner. "[P]eople don't like being in a state of doubt, so they look for information that will support rather than undermine their existing beliefs. They're also uncomfortable seeing their beliefs challenged on issues that are bound up with their economic welfare, physical safety or religious and moral views." It's like a page from George Lakoff -- people generally prefer to listen to what fits their views, filtering out the rest.

A proponent of new media -- see his article for a lengthy and passionate defense of bloggers against charges from mainstream journalists -- the professor himself is a blogger, sharing a site with University of Chicago economist Gary Becker.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Framed and Filtered

George Lakoff -- the linguistics professor-cum-communications consultant for progressives -- is the subject of the cover story in this week's Sunday New York Times Magazine. Author Matt Bai pulls no punches with the Berkeley prof, who has made as many enemies as friends in his quest to educate Democrats on the communication strategies used by Republicans. While generally dismissive of Lakoff's long-term influence, the article is certain to generate debate on the true art (if not science) of "framing," and whether it adds anything new to the theory and practice of "positioning."

We do think that Lakoff and company are onto something slightly new -- the notion that people generally vote based on their identities, which are formed largely by their notion of "family." True or false, this is worth investigating further, and it is worth exploring whether there are applications in the corporate context. In the meantime, Bai and other critics may have framed "framing" into disrepute; it'll be interesting to see if the term survives.

BTW, Matt ... the "father of framing" is not Lakoff, as you wrote, but Erving Goffman, an academic who came long before Luntz, Lakoff, and all the new propagandists. Looks like your "founding father" frame got "activated."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Outing the Outer

Now that the secret's out -- Karl Rove was the source that outed CIA staffer Valerie Plame -- many people in and out of the blogosphere are wondering if Bush will keep his promise: to punish the perpetrator of this year's most famous anonymice case. Democrats are demanding Rove's resignation, but so far the word at the White House is mum. We predict an even more strident debate on the subject of anonymity, a debate we have contributed to (most recently here).