Posts from March 9, 2004

What it takes to be a movement

What it takes to be a movement
: Micah Sifry is looking at what it takes to build a movement online (for a panel this weekend) and he did some great homework. He charted various organizations/movements against (1) Technorati links, (2) Yahoo groups (a so-so proxy for interactivity and community), and (3) MeetUp members. I’ll leave it to better sociological minds than mine to analyze the data. At a glance, I thought that to get a clean sweep across these three columns, one needs a candidate (or perhaps a person — a celebrity; see the Stern post below). But I’m not sure that’s true; a movement can wisely use all these tools. Or perhaps when it comes to movements, it’s a matter of different strokes for different folks; perhaps some movements work best with face-to-face meetings and others just can’t and shouldn’t support that. I think we are at the very genesis of the idea that a movement — whether a Presidential campaign or a lobbying cause or even a government in exile — can be built virtually and we’re only beginning to learn how. Sifry’s analysis is a fascinating view of this.

Touchy-feely fanaticism

Touchy-feely fanaticism
: David Brooks has a very odd column in today’s Times.

He attacks Mitch Albom and his touchy-feely ilk. And I’m jiggy with that. I can’t stand Deepak et al filling bookshelves and PBS at pledge time and minds with their self-indulgent pap.

But then Brooks quite oddly decides to compare and contrast Albom with Mel Gibson. And if that’s all he did, I wouldn’t necessarily agree but I wouldn’t be posting about it. Except he goes one step further: He uses Gibson as a proxy for religoius fundamentalism and fanaticism (I still won’t argue) but even then still says Albom et al are more dangerous.

Who worries you most, Mel Gibson or Mitch Albom? Do you fear Gibson, the religious zealot, the man accused of narrow sectarianism and anti-Semitism, or Albom, the guy who writes sweet best sellers like “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven?”

I worry about Albom more, because while religious dogmatism is always a danger, it is less of a problem for us today than the soft-core spirituality that is its opposite. As any tour around the TV dial will make abundantly clear, we do not live in Mel Gibson’s fire-and-brimstone universe. Instead, we live in a psychobabble nation. We’ve got more to fear from the easygoing narcissism that is so much part of the atmosphere nobody even thinks to protest or get angry about it.

Have you read the news the last two and a half years, Mr. Brooks? I’d say that religous dogmatism — fundamentalism and fanaticism — is a well-proven danger! It is causing wars and hate crimes and terrorism and, some would say (see below), peril to the Constitution. To lump Gibson in with all that is odd enough but then to dismiss all that as trivial against the crap-think of Albom et al is most odd.

The daily Stern: SternSpace

The daily Stern: SternSpace

: Howard Stern is mobilizing his audience to vote his way in this election (against Bush and any Congressmen setting themselves up as our moral jury).

Well, then, he needs SternSpace. What Howard Dean et al built and every presidential candidate then (tried) to use, Stern — or any celebrity activist — could use to mobilize fans and followers. The elements are now obvious:

> A weblog to inform his audience — especially those who cannot now hear him thanks to Clear Channel. It should report on what Stern is saying, on his stand on candidates, on schedules of concerts and rallies, on news from the FCC or candidates. Any volunteers?

> Weblog comments or a forum, where his audience can come together, meet, plan, and talk about their man.

> MeetUps. See yesterday’s daily Stern post; there already is a MeetUp for Stern fans and it’s essentially unused now. All Stern has to do is promote it once and all of a sudden, Stern fans everywhere will be meeting (at bars; forget the cafes).

> Audio and video. Stern can’t and won’t stream his show on the Internet, for that would undercut his radio stations. But he could put up a few segments on this topic as MP3s; I guarantee they would be spread all over the Internet in an instant.

> Merchandise. Stern has always refused to rip off his audience with Stern mugs. But this is different: It’s a movement. And movements need bumperstickers, T-shirts, and buttons to show how big the movement is. Stern can use CafePress.

> Digital stuff. Stern’s audience creates brilliant song parodies and such. So set them loose on the cause (a la MoveOn): Have them create commercials and songs and posters and just give them a placee to share all that.

All this can be set up in a day: A TypePad weblog, a MeetUp, a page with audio and video files, a store. (Bababooey: I’ll tell you everything you need to know.)

This needs to be about more than Stern, of course, to draw a larger digital coalition of those against Bush and Clear Channel and censorship.

Of course, if Stern can do this, any famous person with the ability to promote a cause and a URL can do the same. Celebrity gains new power.

: Stern said this morning that his FCC sources say Michael Powell is “freaking out” that all this could have an impact on the election and so he is thinking about holding off on the fines until after the election.

Stern acknowledges that some may accuse him of crying wolf, but remember that the Wall Street Journal also reported that the FCC is working on fines. And a wolf — that is, Clear Channel — has already bitten him.

So Stern — who had a real impact on the elections of Christie Todd Whitman and George Pataki — now turns to political action. Watch out.

: This is about much more than Stern, of course. It is a cause.

Sandra Tsing Loh has been bitten by the wolf. She was fired by the LA NPR station, KCRW, because the F word got out on one of her commentaries.

Last night on Marketplace, she finally talked about it.

As it turns out, her commentary — on knitting, she says, knitting! — was supposed to include a bleep over her saying the F word. Fell between audio cracks; she or an engineer or producer slipped up and the F word wasn’t bleeped.

And she was fired. Zero tolerance, you know.

This is absurd and it is an indication of how we’re going too far with this moral chill.

The blurb for her commentary says:

The controversy over Janet Jackson’s


: Jim Zellmer is covering the local school-board election in Madison with video interviews of the candidates and more. All it takes is one citizen who cares… and a keyboard. [via Dan Gillmor]

: UPDATE: Tim Porter asks, following up on the line above:

Imagine what a newspaper could do with many reporters and many keyboards if only it could break free of conventions dictating what it should do.