Sunday, March 19, 2006

casting call for the new politics

Eastwikkers has a two part series called "New PR Jobs for the Post-Blogging Economy" (Part I here; Part II here) that discusses new roles for PR professionals in "the blog age."

Lately I've been writing about to what extent voters can be and should be considered customers. In a similar vein, I find it useful to consider many political jobs (that either do exist or should exist) as PR professions -- that map in an interesting way to the list that Eastwikkers has created.

I'd argue that these roles need to be filled in progressive politics in order to build a progressive political machine. From my limited perspective (one foot inside institutionalized politics and the rest of me on the outside and dangling over a keyboard), it looks like these roles may be filled here and there at a micro level in regional political communities, but their value don't seem to be systematically recognized inside the Beltway. No news there: we're back where we expected to be, building our own progressive organizations.

My conclusion: making sure we cover these roles in the progressive ecosphere will help us build/boostrap more quickly and effectively.

The Researcher -- This one is way obvious. In this age of conversational PR, which is largely happening in the digital world, research and measurement people have a privileged place. They've always understood the value of listening, as well as the value of numbers. But unlike the pollsters and researchers of old, the new leaders will not use what they find to respin the message, but rather to enable the teams they support to enter the conversation truthfully. Historical role model: George Gallup. New-media role models: Katie Paine and Tony Obregon.

Are progressive bloggers the researchers? Or are we in a closed-loop with no one outside listening? Do the DNC, DCCC, DSCC, state parties, or presidential hopefuls have researchers whose job is to use social media tools to monitor blog conversations as well as conventional media? Who is the Katie Paine or Tony Obregon of progressive politics?

The Anthropologist -- corporate communications will learn a lot from the world of design that companies like IDEO has helped to evolve. Like the product and experience designers, communications people will go into the field and observe how people are actually using the tools (and we thank IDEO's Tom Kelley for the anthropologist metaphor). We'll see a lot more of this as companies accelerate the adoption of DIY community tools such as wikis. It's the social rule, not the tool, that many new communications professionals bring to the table. Historical role models: Margaret Mead. New media: Elizabeth Albrycht and Dianna Miller, who are studying wikis for SNCR.

Apparently inside the Belt Way, an athropologist is an intern who eats at Applebees. (A cheap shot, I know, but I couldn't resist.) I used different terms at the time, but I've written previously that the anthropoligists of progressive politics are our precinct captains. Where else are we, or could we be, filling this role? And do we have a Margaret Mead, an Elizabeth Albrycht, or a Diana Miller of progressive politics?

The Gardener -- to build and maintain communities, you need more than just anthropologists. You also need people who are talented in "caring and feeding" the community, and sustaining online environments that sometimes get fractious, unstructured, unproductive. This is a special talent, in rare supply, and the most enlightened members of this lot will always have work. Historical role model: Voltaire ("we must cultivate our garden"). New media: Constantin Basturea, Dan Forbush

I laughed when I read this, because I often play the role of Gardiner in online and offline communities, but I'd never thought about the role this way. I know that "Gardeners" have stood out instantly when I've met them smaller communities. For example, when I first started reading BOP News, Ian Welsh and Ellen Dana Nagler were both important and busy gardeners in BOP's community--they had a huge impact on why I stayed around as a reader, and how I eventually gained traction there as a writer. It strikes me that Gardeners can also play an important role as media spokespeople for the progressive political machine, to be the "good cop" that spreads the "good news." I feel like we must have a few people like this on a national scale, but I don't have any names coming to mind. Who am I overlooking here? Or who is a Gardiner who should be promoted to a larger scale or higher profile?

The Communications Architect -- Sometime the tools are just as important as the rules ... if you are smart enough to really know how to use them. A few folks in the PR world are way ahead of others on the technical side and are helping their clients to make sense of the technology tool kit so that they can actually do stuff, and build things (what a concept). Note: building is as much of an art as it is a science. The best folks in this group are creatives. Historical role model: Frank Lloyd Wright. New media: Phil Gomes, Mike Manuel, Jeremy Pepper.

In the world of online politics, I think of the folks at Drupal, and the tech teams from the Clark and Dean campaigns. This is a category that really interests me, because there is such a challenge in identifying and implementing cost-effective technical tools in grassroots and downballot campaigns. Who else is driving technological innovation for political tools,or, adapting tech innovation from other spheres for progressive political purposes? (And I look forward to Waldo Jaquith's ongoing commentary here.)

The Impresario -- some PR people will lead by the sheer force of their personality, their work output, or the artistry/fun of their writing (after all, blogging is a writer's medium). For these folks, it's an opportunity to define and shape a new industry. We expect a number of people to emerge here, each with a different strength or style. Historical role models: Ivy Ledbetter Lee and Edward Bernays. New media: Richard Edelman, Steve Rubel, Scott Baradell, Neville Hobson.

In 2003/2004, this was the Dean/Trippi team. Do we have PR Impresarios in progressive politics today?

The Connector -- Anyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell -- or who is familiar with network theory -- will recognize the role of the "connector." The PR profession has always been able to attract people who are exceptionally gifted at creating and maintaining vast networks of contacts. In the new world, this skill is in larger demand because we now have the tools to make networks more efficient, intelligent, dynamic. Historical role model: Dwight D. Eisenhower, who rose to the presidency by maintaining one of the biggest and busiest Rolodexes in history. New-media role model: Renee Blodget (Renee: I hope you are OK that I am pairing you up with a Republican).

The best online political connector I've ever dealt with is hands-down Matt Stoller (and I hope Matt's likewise okay with the implied comparison to Eisenhower). Surely we must have other people acting as hubs in progressive political networks: who are they? [And a related question that I plan to explore further in a separate discussion: are progressives in politics making optimim use of networking tools like Orkut and Ryze?]

The Professor -- Hey, we are talking about a major transformation -- if not a revolution -- and no transformation is real without the help of people from academia. A number of college professors are literally breaking ranks from the "old school" and making great contributions to the knowledge base. But note: you don't have to be a teacher to be a teacher. We can all use a professor -- and MaryAnn -- in our lives. Historical role model: Horace Mann. New media: Robert French, David Phillips, and Philip Young.

I am not up au courant with the academic scene. My only thought here is of the late and much missed Senator Wellstone.

The Social Reformer -- One of the most interesting things about social media is that they are, er, "social." And over the last year, we've noticed that some of the more ambitious social-media projects trend toward the promotion of social values. A few PR folks are taking this one step further and applying new media to promote social causes. This will benefit our world -- and the world -- in numerous ways. Historical role model: Eleanor Roosevelt. New media: Dan Forbush (for his work in education and Katrina), Brian Oberkirch (Katrina), and the gang at Eastwick for their work in 2004 on voting reform (they'll be doing more in the next few years).

I hope we are all social reformers!. In the context of a progressive political machine, I am trying to figure out how this maps out: issue advocacy groups? What aspects of the current progressive ecosystem are most obviously identified with social reform? Do we need to be more strongly identified with social reform in order to succeed? Do we need to keep social reform elements discrete and isolated? Is there a middle way?

The Critic -- Again, this is an industry transformation, and transformations always require people who are brave enough to do the job of destroying the old to make way for the new (reminds me of a friend of mine in college who studied architecture; he vowed to go into a related profession called "demolition"). This is a tough role, and you won't get much love. But the role is critical, especially in the context of general reform. Historical/spiritual role model: Shiva, the Destroyer. New media: Shel Israel and B.L. Ochman.

Well, I have to affectionately nominate Stirling Newberry for this with the rest of the extended BOP News family running close behind, since we have a tendency to grouse about not just the status quo in establishment politics but also in the progressive blogosphere--and regularly land ourselves in hot water as a result. (I can only imagine that Stirling will be delighted to be paired with Shiva the Destroyer.)

The Hub -- And after we destroy what shouldn't survive, we must get into the business of repairing and building the industry. To describe what's involved here, we need to invoke another network metaphor, because the most important builders are "queen bees" in their networks (alas, we may in fact have a monarch). They are among the few people in our world who have met most of the researchers, anthropologists, gardeners, architects, impresarios, connectors, professors, idealists, and critics. In fact, two of our new-media hubs recently brought our world together, and for a brief moment we were all in one place. Let's see what the future will bring. Historical role model: Abraham Lincoln. New media: Jen McClure and Elizabeth Albrycht (Jen and Elizabeth: I hope you are OK that I am pairing you up with a Republican).

I may be wrong, but I don't feel like we have a Hub in the sense that Rodriquez uses the term--and I think we desperately need these people (or these tools).

Finally, my question to you: after you read Eastwikker's list, where do you see progressives covering these bases? How do these roles map to the progressive blogosphere? What gaps are left and how do we go about filling them?

I am strongly interested in the topic and I look forward to discussing this with you. And, I'm not trying to say that Eastwikker's list is a road map to a progressive political future; instead, I am sharing it here in the hopes that it will springboard a productive conversation from a fresh perspective.

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