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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

American news consumers turn to the U.K.

Okay, okay. I admit to being a bit of an Anglophile. My favorite TV program (make that programme) is BBC Two’s Top Gear; I’d prefer a Guinness over an American lager anytime; and with the exception of Jimi Hendrix – who lived in the U.K. during his glory years – I regard Brits to have given us the greatest rock gods of the '60s and '70s. Of course, lots of other Yanks have a special fondness for things British, even without the over-romanticized special relationship.

But now it turns out that we on this side of the pond have been increasing our ties to the mother country in a new way (make that news way). This report at paidContent.org says that we news-consuming Americans are increasing our reading of U.K. news Web sites to supplement what the domestic MSM (main stream media) are providing here. In fact, in the last year alone, Americans accounted for 54% of the total increase in traffic to U.K. news sites, compared with only 8% from Brits themselves.

The article notes that the Drudge Report accounts for some of the increased traffic. But other factors must surely be at work. Critics of Congressional and Obama administration health care proposals have been drawing many analogies to the U.K.’s National Health Service in recent months, increasing U.S. interest in the state of health care in the U.K. Uneasiness over fiscal and foreign (i.e. Afganistan) policies in both countries is contributing to increased American interest in what our cousins are thinking and writing about.

But my personal theory is that the quality of reporting and commentary has a lot to do with our virtual travel to U.K. news too. While there are tough-minded, good national reporters covering finance, business, government, and politics in the United States, the British press is so much more truculent when it’s needed. Our national media outlets cover the economic crisis and other consequential events with sameness and blandness. The left- and right-biased cable TV programs and talk radio are mind-numbingly unedifying. (I, a certifiable libertarian right-winger, can not stomach FOX News Channel anymore than I can liberal, statist talking heads in the MSM.) Paul Krugman’s phoned-in Keynesian blather is reprinted in every major newspaper in the country. So if you want something different, say, for example, original analysis on the international financial markets, you can read Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s column in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. Even when AE-P seems wrongheaded, he is imminently thought-provoking. When’s the last time one could say that about CNBC’s Jim Cramer?

Whatever the causes of our transatlantic news gathering, let’s hope it is improving our perspective. American society (and politics) is far too narcissistic. We too readily believe our own myth-making and consider our actions, even misguided ones, to be virtuous. We too easily think the globalization of the economy is all about us. We have always benefited from outsiders' views of the world and America – from Tocqueville to Alistair Cooke – even when we don’t agree with them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Remembering William Safire

Bill Safire passed away yesterday. He was a PR man turned Nixon speechwriter turned token conservative New York Times columnist.

His legacy in political journalism was a mixture of political courage (e.g., his outspoken criticism of the PATRIOT Act) and fascination, if establishmentarian coziness, in the halls of power. He was a captive of personal agendas (what columnist isn’t?), but more often offered provocative and interesting viewpoints. Perhaps his more important legacy was as a careful and joyful practitioner of public communications, and as a close observer of the uses and abuses of language – semantic, syntactic, political and cultural.

I first consciously became aware of Safire’s wonderful wit and fearless intellect when I encountered one of his books in my teens. During my childhood, dictionaries were very important. (My father was a lexicographer and his magnum opus, a new Modern Greek-English dictionary on the principles of the Oxford English Dictionary, was a constant in our family’s life.) After reading my sister’s copies of Ayn Rand and old MAD magazines from the late '60s and early '70s, I developed a precocious interest in politics. So my personal interest and my family’s unique cross to bear intersected perfectly when I discovered Safire’s Political Dictionary (third edition) in 1978, his lexicon of political coinages, phrases and terms. Like millions of others, I later enjoyed and learned from the wide range of his writings – the political and “On Language” columns in the NYT, memoirs, novels, and collections of quotations and speeches.

In many mediums, Safire shared his boundless joy in the creative use of language for persuasion, edification and fun. Though he sometimes erred (and erred badly on the Iraq war), he used his intelligence and experience to keep Washington power brokers (of whom he became one) a little more honest.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy Punctuation Day!

That’s right – September 24 is the official day to celebrate commas, colons, semicolons, and other punctuation marks that grace our English language.

If you would like to participate in a simple way: Smile as you read this.

If you would like to pay serious homage to the occasion: Consult your favorite style guide to help you determine when to replace a comma with a dash.

If you are an over-the-top Punctuation Day enthusiast: Produce a pastry in the shape of a punctuation mark and submit it by September 30 to National Punctuation Day, 1517 Buckeye Court, Pinole, CA 94564. For more information, visit www.nationalpunctuationday.com. (This is not a joke.)

Chief Punctuation Enthusiast
Goff & Howard, Inc.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hiring in 2009

At the end of August, we sadly said goodbye to Aubrey Shermock, our writing teammate, who left us to attend graduate school in Cincinnati. We also set out to find our next writer, starting a hiring process that we take very seriously at Goff & Howard.

Following are a few of my observations on the process, which in 2009 is very different from the last time we did this.

• There was no need for a paid advertisement. By communicating through our employees’ networks and tools like Twitter and Facebook, as well as posting the job opening on a PR blog, we received more responses than I ever recall getting from an ad.

• There was also no need for a post office box (and therefore no paper waste). People e-mailed us their cover letters, resumes, and writing samples.

• The world is full of outstanding people looking for jobs in the communications world. The work experience of new college grads is particularly impressive. Many of them had multiple internship experiences and skills that they consider second-nature – like tweeting and blogging. Some even have Web sites devoted to their job search, so that we just went to a person’s site to find his or her resume, references, blogs, and other useful information.

Now, weeks later, we have selected our next writer. We are very excited to introduce her… soon, very soon.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

School year shifts office flexibility into high gear

Kids are back in school. Families are forming their routines for the next nine months. At work, clients seem to be shifting to a higher level of get-things-done mode.

Goff & Howard parents have a total of 15 kids in pre-K through high school. When Goff & Howard won a Best Places to Work award recently, one of the reasons for the honor was our family-friendliness. Occasionally one of our kids needs to come to work for a day (the photo shows Heidi Larson and her son Andrew, who visited our office during one of the last days of summer vacation before entering first grade), and other days we want to volunteer in the classroom or on field trips.

Sometimes we need extra time at home at the beginning or end of the school day. Thanks to cell phone and e-mail access outside the office, clients can reach us and we can stay in touch with the team even as we wait for a school bus to arrive.

To strike the right balance at work, we continue to focus on coming together as a team during the day. The value of face-to-face contact in serving our clients will never be replaced, even as technology enables us to sometimes do our jobs outside the office.

Giving employees the flexibility to accommodate their children’s needs is very important at Goff & Howard. By helping them balance their work lives and family lives, we believe that our team produces their best work.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Harvest time at a special garden

Students from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe's Nay Ah Shing Schools started a garden to plant, maintain and harvest produce that will be used in their lunches and nutrition education classes. The project is helping students learn more about where their food comes from and how to eat healthier.

Nay Ah Shing Schools are now working with the Band's DNR on a plan to develop another garden bed to grow strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and other fruit next season. Work has also started on a friendship garden on the east side of the Mille Lacs Band's government center.

Click here to read more info about the project.