Failure as Taboo: My She’s Geeky Tweets Part 2

Back in January I attended — and live-tweeted — the She’s Geeky unconference in Mountain View, CA. Very slowly, I’ve been mulling over what I tweeted from there. Especially from Susan Mernit’s Jan. 31 session on that taboo of taboos, especially for women in business and tech: discussing and dealing with failure.

(For more context on failure, see this consummate resource.)

NOTE: This is part of a series based on my live tweets from At last weekend’s She’s Geeky unconference in Mountain View, CA.

Series index

Perhaps more than any other She’s Geeky session, this one resonated with me. Right now, I’m in the process of ending my marriage, relocating from a community I’ve loved and called home for nearly 14 years, entering midlife, and dealing with much emotional backlog that has accumulated while I’ve kept busy busy busy for so many years.

That’s a lot of stuff to handle, on top of work and ordinary life. Frankly, it’s been hard for me to admit to myself — let alone anyone else — that because of all these issues I am not currently operating at the 1000% (not a typo) level I typically expect of myself, and often deliver.

So first, here are my tweets from this session, followed by some results of my mulling on this. Note that I deliberately did NOT identify speakers, except for prompting questions by Susan Mernit. Discussing failure leaves people vulnerable, and the attendees of this session agreed to make it a safe space. Everything appearing in quotes below is from an attendee…

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Mars Phoenix Talked to Me!

I love starting the day with this kind of conversation:

I asked the Mars Phoenix lander...

Phoenix said....

Wow, that is so cool!

…Of course, I’m not talking to the real Mars Phoenix lander, but rather to people at the mission’s PR team who are tweeting as if they’re the lander — via the account MarsPhoenix. A June 12 FCW.com article explained:

Rhea Borja, Media Relations Officer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory… came up with the idea to create a feed on Twitter, a microblogging Web site, to help attract a younger group of space enthusiasts. …It worked. ‘The people who are following the Mars Phoenix Twitter, they’re people who don’t typically read air and space stories or follow missions,’ Borja said. ‘It’s like a whole new world for them –– literally.’

“The lander’s personality comes from Veronica McGregor, manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Media Relations Office. She set up the feed a few weeks before Phoenix, which was launched in August 2007, landed on Mars on May 25.

“The plan was to set up a blog to update people about Phoenix’s progress, but that involves a lot of people and can be very time-consuming, McGregor said. A blog was still set up, but Borja’s idea to use Twitter seemed like the ideal way to give people up-to-the-minute information, McGregor said. ‘The great thing about Twitter is that you don’t have to be in front of the computer to get updates. You can get them on your cell phone wherever you are,’ Borja said. ‘So, I thought, how cool would that be if you were out and about with friends and you’re having dinner and getting the countdown of the spacecraft [to its landing]?’

This is one of the smartest uses of Twitter for public outreach I’ve ever seen — giving folks a sense of a personal connection to this high-tech mission to find water (and signs of life) on Mars. (Some members of the Phoenix team are also blogging.) I especially like that Mars Phoenix is replying to questions sent in by its Twitter friends (like me).

Makes it all seem so much less… alien!

In the past, I’ve railed against “character blogs” as stupidly inauthentic. I think it’s counterproductive to maintain the ruse of a false persona in the blog format, unless posts are very short. But for a space mission, “character tweets” from the spacecraft seem like a brilliant fit.

I’m not sure why the difference in length of posts and the nature of the medium makes a difference, but to me it does. Need to mull this over. Thoughts?

Journalism: A Toxic Culture? (Or: Why Aren’t We Having More Fun?)

Despair, Inc.
Remind you of any journalists you know?…

(NOTE: I originally posted this article on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. But I thought Contentious readers might be interested in it, too.)

Most of what I do is help journalists and news orgs wrap their brains around the Internet. Generally I enjoy that work. Lately, though, I’ve been getting quite aggravated at the close-minded and helpless attitudes I’m *still* encountering from too many journalists about how the media landscape is changing. Those attitudes are revealed by statements, decisions, actions, and inaction which belie assumptions such as:

  • The only journalism that counts is that done by mainstream news orgs, especially in print or broadcast form. Alternative, independent, online, collaborative, community, and other approaches to news are assumed to be inferior or even dangerous.
  • Priesthood syndrome: Traditional journalists are the sole source of news that can and should be trusted — which gives them a privileged and sacred role that society is ethically obligated to support.
  • Journalists and journalism cannot survive without traditional news orgs, which offer the only reliable, ethical, and credible support for a journalistic career.
  • Real journalists *only* do journalism. They don’t dirty their hands or distract themselves with business and business models, learning new tools, building community, finding new approaches to defining and covering news, etc. As Louisville Courier-Journal staffer Mark Schaver said just this morning on Twitter, “[Now] is not a good time [for journalists] if you don’t want your journalism values infected with marketing values.”
  • Journalistic status and authority demands aloofness. This leads to myriad problems such as believing you’re smarter than most people in your community; refusing to “compromise” yourself professionally by engaging in frank public conversation with your community; and using objectivity as an excuse to be uncaring, cynical, or disdainful.
  • Good journalism doesn’t change much. So if it is changing significantly, it must be dying. Which in turn means the world is in big trouble, and probably deserves what it will get.

There’s a common problem with all these assumptions: They directly cut off options from consideration. This severely limits the ability of journalists and journalism to adapt and thrive…

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