I have the privilege of working with a cool new DC startup that’s been selected to present at SXSW 2012’s HatchPitch competition. NewsiT is an app that empowers citizen journalists to document and report events and respond to emerging editorial assignments. The app just debuted for iOS users in the App Store, and the NewsiT editorial team is rolling out a number of assignments specifically geared toward SXSW. Already you can sign up to answer an assignment about the next big technology debut at SXSW by writing a text piece, shooting video, or submitting photos.

It’s a supercool idea that puts mobile reporting organization right into the hands of people who want to get the word out about something, particularly those who suddenly find themselves in the middle of emerging events. Eventually, I can foresee a news ecosystem growing out of this technology and its users. Imagine something like this being available for people in the Middle East during the Arab Spring.

I’m most interested to see the potential of this service applied to musicians and bands seeking wider exposure at SXSW. In the next few days, NewsiT will post assignments and tasks that allow bands to upload multimedia pieces about their personal stories of journeying to Austin to get seen. Furthermore, fans and SXSW attendees will be able to post their own stories about the coolest bands they see at SXSW and/or personally interview musicians themselves.

I think this is a great way to integrate crowdsourced content development. The app interface is slick and easy to use, perfect for snap decisions to capture and disseminate content happening around you. My favorite bit that, admittedly, still needs some development is the gaming aspect of the reporting: users receive points and unlock badges based on their engagement with the platform. I’m ditching my trusty FlipCam for this year’s SXSW and will be reporting the AWESOME directly from NewsiT, so be sure to follow along at the website. Download the app to contribute yourself, whether you’re going to SXSW or you’re interested in one of the existing assignments.

{Disclosure: I’m working for NewsiT as part of their street team for SXSW 2012.}

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Pundits, researchers, textperts, and academics all love to talk about how they would fix the United States’ fragmented, crapped-out communication apparatus. The overarching web of demon seed spunked across drab refurbished halls in the Eisenhower Building on 17th Street NW barely covers the Sarlacc maw of offices, officials, and assholes manning the guns of This, Our National Communication Nightmare. All suggestions for reform mandate – nay, demand! – leadership in renovating this sad enterprise, this broken transistor, these crusted lips. Though none of these tremendous gasbags has deigned to ask the question most important to we lowly peasants of the pen: “Who shall lead us?” Submitted then, for no approval, is this list of AWESOME, kermodial badasses. Executives in 21st century organization and innovation. Preeminent princes of creativity. Visionaries of the better and the righteous.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter.

Image via Wikipedia

Jack Dorsey – Creator & CEO, Twitter

Just interviewed The President using crowdsourced questions from Twitter. Twitter. A social media tool that has archived millions of impressions from people around the world and is on the way to becoming so ubiquitous that it’s considered a utility by some. Elegant simplicity and craftsmanship are his weapons. I think he knows a thing or two about designing a communication enterprise.

Image via The Guardian.

Andy Carvin – Senior Strategist, NPR

“The Crowdsorceror” who mounted a one-man content curation campaign in realtime around popular protests and demonstrations in the Middle East that later became known as the Arab Spring. Compelling, earnest believer in the power of people. His examples inspire legions of communicators to standing applause at his speaking engagements. To Carvin, community comes first. Imagine his style of realtime information gathering applied to intelligence or information operations problems.

Image via TVNewser

Jon Stewart – Host, The Daily Show

America’s funnyman turned mega-popular fake news host, consumed by millions of Americans as “real” news. Despite obvious satirical takes on journalism, staunchly defends That Which Is Right by attacking The Wrong, from Fox News insidiousness to Cramer’s role in puffing up the housing crisis. Genuinely loves America. Imagine his tenure leading government international broadcasting efforts.

 

 

 

 

Image via brosephstalin.com

Tim Hwang – Founder, Web Ecology Project, The Awesome Foundation, and The Institute for Higher Awesome Studies

A philosophical cog caught between the wheels of web analytics and netnography. Cultural researcher and student of human interaction offline, online, and elsewhere. Observer of society, real and imagined. Teamed with the right agencies, his timely insights about social communities could make AWESOMEthe work of thousands of government communication professionals.

Image via AV.com

Fred Wilson – Venture Capitalist and Managing Partner, Union Square Ventures

Social entrepreneur and investor in socially transformative technologies. Believes in the transcendant like Hashable, Etsy, Foursquare, GetGlue, Kickstarter, and more. Blogs regularly about the whys and wherefores, the how-to’s, and the aspirational dreams of his investments. Imagine a federal executive who apportions program funding according to the good of society versus short-term gains or even strategic objectives.

Image via Gawker.

Peter Thiel – Serial VC, Hedge Fund Manager

Avowed investor in the impossible, from artificial intelligence to social networks like Facebook to data analytics supergiants like Palantir. Believer in not just debating future technology and social innovation but making it happen. Convener of social creatives to discuss building an objective American future. Elusive yet visionary. Skates the edge of politics with controversial libertarian-esque views on economics and democracy, a modernist perspective badly required by an ever evolving communications ecosystem.

Image via bookgalaxo.com

Tony Hsieh – CEO, Zappos

The man who brought happiness to millions and made fun a core capability of his company. Committed to making the world a happier place, a mission sorely needed in the personnel departments of hundreds of government agencies.

John Lasseter – Chief Creative Officer, Pixar

The man who built an animated powerhouse out of a tiny studio no one believed would succeed. Since producing some of the most endearing animated films in the modern age, has merged his multibillion dollar studio with Disney to usher in a new era of Imagineering. Our communications enterprise, currently swarmed with ill-trained personnel that barely understand the social phenomena happening around them, requires creativity of this man’s magnitude.

Image via Screencrave.com

Image via Headshift.com

Lee Bryant – Co-founder & Director, Headshift

A social business maestro, he advocates for clients to change the way they do business instead of simply hanging shiny new social media toys on their websites. Understands the complex challenges of technology’s promises and shortcomings in solving organizational and communications problems. Also, very British.

Image via The Huffington Post

Baratunde Thurston – Vigilante Pundit, The Onion

Champion for The Right in all things Wrong. Outspoken advocate for diversity, a trait we see too rarely in government. His infectious influence could inspire legions of public diplomats, strategic communicators, and information operators at all levels. Laughter mandating shot caller of madness. Imagine his effect teaching communicators in institutions across government how to be AWESOME and not just govvies.

David Kilcullen – Counterinsurgency Guru

An early advocate of fighting ideologically against al-Qaeda versus hand-to-hand. Believer in people-focused counterinsurgency security. Sees war as competition managed by influence instead of shootouts and bombings. Widely regarded as the smartest man on the planet when it comes to strategically understanding the wars of the future. If the Defense Department continues playing in deployed communications – and it will – then it will need a shamanic leader like this man to responsibly pilot the interagency minefields such across-the-board coordination that will require.

Image via The Washingtonian

Official portrait of United States Secretary o...

Image via Wikipedia

Robert Gates – Former Secretary of Defense; Former Director, CIA 

The ultimate honest broker in all things government. From his perch as SECDEF, fought interminable battles with service cultures and DOD dinosaurs, breaking down inflated budgets and streamlining operations. Put this same right-is-right tenacity to work reforming and leading the rehabilitation and redesign of America’s communication enterprise across agencies, and we will see magic.

 

 

 

 

Mae Ferguson. Kind of a badass.

Mae Ferguson – President & CEO, Fort Worth Sister Cities International

People forget citizen and cultural diplomacy are cornerstone elements of strategic influence, and because of that, they remain ill coordinated with the rest of our national communication apparatus. Mae has the terrier-like tenacity and management expertise to round up the various bit parts of cultural programs and get them working properly in alignment with national influence goals. A long time nonprofit leader, she has achieved a lot with strangled budgets and limited personnel. Disclosure: she’s also my Mom. :)

Who am I missing?

I know you’ve got some ideas about kermodial badasses we need to draft into service of our faltering national communication enterprise. Tell me who they are in the comments.

 

Spider Jerusalem

Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan. Image by Darek_Smid via Flickr

Inspired by a recent reading of Warren Ellis‘ and Darick Robertson‘s exceptional sci-fi journalism epic Transmetropolitan, I’m going guns up on a number of communications issues affecting the communities through which I circulate in DC. Ellis’ self-described “outlaw journalist” Spider Jerusalem – fueled by copious amounts of drugs and madness in a delightful send-up of Hunter S. Thompson – promises his readership “The Truth. No matter what.” In his writing, Spider goes after all that is wrong with his beloved society, targeting everything from corrupt politicians to the public’s ignorance of special sub-cultures in their fine City. I find Spider’s epic story a galvanizing bullwhip across my back, forcing me off my Xbox-addled arse to write about some of the iniquities in government I see as part of my work. This will be just the first in a series of posts on subjects across the communications spectrum. I’m coming for ALL OF YOU.

Today, my first target is public diplomacy.

OMGWTF

Readers of this blog should not be surprised by my intense disappointment in the modern public diplomacy (or PD) community.  Today’s premeditated murder was spurred on by my attendance and yet another PD gathering in Washington, DC: a meeting of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD). On the shores of our august capitol, PD enthusiasts, practitioners, and executives met to talk about the same retarded problems they have been since before the U.S. Information Agency‘s (aka the USIA) absorption by the State Department during the Clinton Administration. Panelists lamented continued lack of resources for PD initiatives, the imbalance between the State and Defense Departments in strategic communication capability, and a dilapidated piece of shitheel legislation called the Smith-Mundt Act whose Cold War roots strangle in the crib any offspring of modern government communication and engagement initiatives.

At issue for you oppressed, tax-fucked Americans? These same people have debated this same issue for a decade with no charted course for reform.

Hunter S. Thompson would have brain-smacked you all by now. Be thankful for my gonzo. Moo hoo ha ha. (Image from TopTenz.net. Comedy shamelessly ripped off of Warren Ellis.)

“That’s not fair!” some asshole will undoubtedly object, choking himself masturbatorially on reams of “DipNotes” from PD officers both home-based and overseas, begging our pardon thank you very much, “We have changed SO. MUCH. in the Obama Administration!” Let not these purported achievements fill you with comfort, dear seekers of AWESOME, for they elicit mere “yays” from the govvies roaming the halls of cavernous Main State and snickering derision from their interagency compatriots behind the green doors of MacDill and Bragg and Langley. Progress made under Judith McHale‘s reign as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs registers as little more than a cursory reshuffling of office space for most of the strategic communication community. Progress that scores an administration enough points for a minor electoral anecdote but changes nothing. In fact, Dame Judith hung her Mission Accomplished banner on July 1st and dashed back to the private sector, a political appointment weighing under her belt for new boardroom dances with wolves.

They define “progress” as anything more than what the last administration achieved. The politicization of public diplomacy continues. Even PD Jesus Bruce Gregory’s voice cracked with torpor as he queried the Commission about any indication of motivation amongst The Bastards of Capitol Hill to make revising legislation like Smith-Mundt a priority. No one could answer with anything but googly-eyed evasion and exhortations of more progress. All bullshit.

Key to these liver spotted deliberations is the disconcerting lack of any personage on the Commission the age of, it seems, 60? 50? 40? Said Commissioners are charged with advising the White House and Congress on the current state of PD and any required changes. Have these venerable veterans achieved any of these changes in the past? NO. Debates continue unabashed under their scrutiny, but ultimately, no capable young saviors have appeared to dash the fuckery of this decrepit profession into some semblance of modernization. Instead, more meetings. Many, many meetings.

Is PD even a necessary discipline in the 21st century? This existential question should be considered by this Commission and more. Panelists admitted that as communication becomes more social and content ownership franchises more to the individual… does a government agency have any equitable place in this modern communication continuum? How much of said agency’s budget could be repurposed into something more effective, especially in This, Our Decade of Economic Anal Probity?

In truth, some kind of coordinative communication apparatus is probably mandated, but a standalone office of diplomats still trying to get Teh Brown Peeples to read our press releases is not the answer. The profession of public diplomacy itself has even been attacked indirectly by the wild success of independent citizen diplomacy efforts. As much as foreign cultures balk at the elitist diplomacy practiced by our leaders, they clamor for more of US. OUR people. Our CITIZENS and THEIR culture. It is THIS influence, the kind Americans exude in their daily interactions with EVERYONE, that fosters our best destiny in achieving any kind of global equilibrium where U.S. interests and foreign policy objectives are met.

So. What to do?

Less bullshittery. More AWESOME.

We need not more reportage of the latest personnel changes in State PD to accommodate engagement with people of different cultures online. Instead, we need INSANE RISK TAKING. We need programs that make managers shit their pants. We need BOLDNESS. We need MADNESS. We need BETTER. Everyone lives in fear of breaking the law (i.e., Smith-Mundt), but no one has ever been prosecuted much less charged for it. COWBOY UP, PEOPLE.

Retire the old. Empower the new.

If PD is to survive, it needs to stop chasing off all its talent. Instead of rewarding the tired old Foreign Service Officers in their Cold War era suits with prime postings and political appointments, recruit badass social communicators and rockstars. Were I the President, I’d beg Jack Dorsey to fix my State Department. I’d heap tons of cash upon Katie Stanton and Jared Cohen to keep challenging the system instead of being chased off by white-faced, skeleton-eyed Statey lifers. It’s time for PD to evolve and kill its parents.

Flexible, dynamic interagency doctrine.

Christopher Paul, RAND analyst and a speaker at the ACPD meeting, noted voluminous mountains of reports all describing the same problems with the US government’s PD and strategic communication enterprise. All of them, he said, cited failures in strategy, leadership, and resources. While this is true, understand that they can only be fixed with doctrine– legislated, enforceable operating procedures that name the leader and give them authority, power, and dollars. Said doctrine should be written and executed dynamically and train its future communications professionals to a standard of dynamism instead of the usual tired old PD goals shat out by Foreign Service Institute instructors.

An organization… or not?

Since PD people love to retread the same issue over and over, the ACPD discussion inevitably turned toward the idea of a rehabilitated USIA of the future or some such public/private organization that could strategically execute funding for PD or strategic communication programs. If you think this is the solution to your PD problems, I refer you to the abortion that is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for a case study in placenta cannibalization. Ultimately, we will not know if a new organization is needed until we agree upon one final yet primarily critical issue.

Communication is communication is communication.

In the ecosystem of government influence, we have public diplomacy. We have strategic communication. We have military information operations and its subordinate components. We have public affairs. We have countless different ways of describing the same thing, mainly because Our Bastardry In Office refuse to modernize legislation and policy to reflect the present day much less prepare for the ever-fluid yet super-AWESOME future. Instead of rewriting arcane definitions and arguing them over interagency turf, we need a frank and fundamental understanding by our entire government that all of these things are influence and communication is the mechanism by which we engage that influence, be it passively or actively, openly or surreptitiously. We need a pedigree for professionals charged to operate in this ecosystem and high qualifications for the ones assigned to advise senior leaders and decision makers.

Hope Is Not Lost

It sounds doomy and gloomy from the PD pulpit, doesn’t it? Well, here’s another lovely fact for you to chew on: NOBODY CARES. That’s right. Outside of DC, Americans could care less about a minuscule communication discipline practiced by a cadre of foggy eyed concerto directors and staffs of douchebags wielding postgraduate degrees from learning institutions designed to pump out partisanly political clones year after year.

Within this black hole of apathy lies opportunity. While no one is looking, those with the drive and the passion to make change – not ask for it – can turn the modernization of PD into an ecstasy fueled RAVE. The Executive Branch needs not the pusillanimous posturing of political poobahs on the Hill to create true strategic communication primacy in government right now. But to make permanent visionary change, we will eventually need to rustle Congress into the pasture of the future.

To achieve this, however, we need YOU – that’s right, YOU – to get up off your ass and MAKE THIS AN ISSUE. Every time you vote for the guy who likes to tweet dick pics to his mistresses, you screw us out of balanced, effective decisions. Stop sending immense wankers to DC.

Next Time On Strategic Communication Theater…

In subsequent posts, we’ll explore more about what this weird world of strategic communication and influence looks like from Washington. Many of you dear AWESOMESAUCERS have no idea what I’m talking about, and that’s part of the problem. So look for a series of “WTF…?” posts detailing simple explanations of complex processes, systems, and disciplines related to Our National Communication Nightmare.

The gloves come off.

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