Could it be that we are all the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere, and the internet has landed on our shores?
I know this may seem like a stretch, but consider:
At first the Europeans who came over didn’t really mean any harm. They weren’t really even expecting anyone to be here, and they didn’t know that here was here.
And in general they didn’t start just killing people, not at the start. They kind of needed the native people to help them survive.
So it is with the internet and with social media. It wouldn’t be able to grow and mutate if it just started killing people right off the bat. There’d be way more alarm if people started dying as soon as they tried using Google.
One of the central thesis that Jia Tolentino talked about with Ezra Klein is something I'd never really had clearly in my head before, and I'm still struggling with it, but it's essentially the idea that the “winners” in the current internet economy are the ones that most successfully allow each individual to become attached to the online version of themselves.
That’s super clear with Facebook and Twitter, of course, but even is a common thread with the others:
Apple from its earliest days told people that it knew you were secretly Pablo Picasso, or whomever, and that with the right machine you could make that clear. And without the iPhone, there would be no selfie.
Amazon isn't just about getting you books faster, it’s about making you a star, and providing all the stuff that you deserve as a star, and even anticipating what you might want. That's the treatment that stars get.
And Google is about making sure that you feel heard. When you search for something, you get just what you are searching for. It knows what that is because it so helpfully tracks everything you do and then makes predictions from that. It’s why privacy advocates are having such a hard time getting people outraged — most people like it when someone is interested in them, even when they know that interest is pecuniary. What do they care?
While the Europeans that came over did lots of actual killing, either directly or indirectly with Small Pox or the introduction of guns, etc., the thing that most completely killed off the spirit of the people here was an idea, the idea that land could be owned.
The tribes that lived here, in general, operated under the idea that the land can't be owned in the same way that sunlight or air can't be bought or sold. It was all a gift, to be treated as such.
Once the idea of owning land took hold, it was just a matter of time before the native way of life would be all but erased.
Reading that book about Red Cloud, visiting Pine Ridge and Standing Rock, I have limitless respect for the tribal members among us today. But I think even the two tribal members who were just elected to congress would say that one of the main points of the Tribes today is to remind us all of a time when people had respect for the land, and for the sweep of history.
One of those two is a 35th-generation (!) New Mexican, Deb Haaland. And when she was sworn in and saw Sharice Davids, the other woman who makes up the sum total of all the Native American women ever elected to Congress, all she could do was cry, and share a hug. (And then, in perhaps one of the most genuine moments ever on the floor of the House, used her younger colleague’s scarf to wipe away tears.)
Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, the first Native-American women to ever serve in Congress, share a moment after being officially sworn in: pic.twitter.com/acIRC5hX20
What struck me most about that moment, and the reason it tied together so much with what Tolentino is talking about, is that Haaland was being totally herself and in that moment as it happened. She wasn't putting on a show. She wasn't acting out the part of the person being emotional, she was just being herself right then and right there.
How rare is that these days?
Not just for members of Congress, but for everyone. We seem to all have been infected with the idea that the persona of ourselves that exists on the internet is the same thing as our actual selves. That's the dangerous idea, the one that — like land ownership for the native peoples — will be the one that dooms us.
The canary in the coal mine here is teenagers, who have grown up completely online. In an affluent society when all outward structures of resilience would seem to be stronger than ever, teens are ending their own lives at a rate that’s growing alarmingly quickly.
This is the warning, the one that seems to me to be coming down from the elders, and also from those like Tolentino who are much younger than me and can see the pernicious nature of the all-online culture from the inside.
The warning is that the most dangerous thing is not using the internet, but letting the idea take hold that the person who we are on the internet is the same as the person who we are in the real world. We are not.
So, what do we do to fix it? How do we avoid this massacre before it happens to us?
I don’t actually know, but I have some ideas. I’ll mull those over and try to get them here, soon, or maybe I'll just get off the damn internet and read another book from a local bookseller and have actual conversations with some people in person and not worry about how that conversation will translate into a tweet. At least I’ll try.
If you are reading this, you may have heard something about the Journalism Trust Initiative, maybe because you saw it on the agenda of the SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism conference or some other event.
It’s hard keeping all the misinformation-fighting efforts straight, and the ground keeps shifting.
But if you are at all interested in the world of misinformation (you won’t catch me using “fake news” because I don’t want the inimitable Claire Wardle to bollox up my knickers, or whatever it is the Brits do when they are unhappy with you) then you will want to know about the JTI, as you will be hearing a lot more about it in the months and years to come.
The short version is this: It’s a standards effort, a real one. There are lots of things called “standards” in journalism. But they aren’t really standards in the way that every other industry in the world understands them. Those aren’t ISO-compliant. They weren’t developed by a cross-section of industry. They’re great, sure, but they aren’t really standards.
Real standards are the kind of thing that makes it so you can use wifi at any hotspot around the world. Did you ever stop to think how all the hundreds of different manufacturers agreed to one system of making wifi work?
The answer is standards.
If you wake up, have a glass of water, brush your teeth, have breakfast and then go somewhere in a car, bus, train or airplane, you’ve had hundreds of standards that have been a part of your life without even thinking about it.
And if you are saying, “I just woke up and went for a walk, so no standards touched my life.” Well, if you walked on a sidewalk, there were standards involved. If you locked the door when you left… heck, even if you stayed in bed and looked out a window, standards touched your life.
As the New York Times points out, life is a lot easier if you can plug in any socket. This is something I learned up close at CableLabs, which is involved in dozens of standards that make the internet safer and faster. (It was the team there that helped me to see that misinformation could be battled with the time-tested tool of standards.)
But somehow all of the gathering and reporting the news, editing it, and publishing over the internet… all of it somehow gets done every day without an independent standards group having any part of the process.
How did that happen?
There’s an easy answer there, especially in America: Thomas Jefferson.
There were others, of course, but Jefferson is the one who said that if he had to choose between a government with no press or a press with no government, he would surely choose the latter.
Of course, that was before he was president and tried to crack down on coverage he didn’t like. But by then, the free press was free, and they weren’t going back. And properly so.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is 2016.
During the Brexit election and during the presidential election in the U.S., foreign governments were able to undermine democracy. They did that because they were able to take advantage of new technologies and newish social networks. It’s not just me saying this, it’s the law enforcement and national security experts who studied it closely and said that’s exactly what happened. They said that in January of 2017.
My question today, here in 2019, is this: What’s changed? What’s really actually changed?
It’s hard to point to any one thing that is actually different in the actual structure of the way that news is delivered, other than the fact that a lot of local news providers have gone out of business, which of course makes it even easier for misinformation to fester and grow.
I pay a lot of attention to a lot of the efforts to fight misinformation, and most of them are great.
But after studying it really closely, I’ve come to be convinced that there’s one thing that will make more difference than anything else, and it’s standards.
And there’s someone who agrees with me, a guy by the name of Sergey Lavrov.
He’s the Russian Foreign Minister.
To understand how he agrees, first you’ll need some background on the Journalism Trust Initiative.
You see, like me, people at the group Reporters Without Borders agreed that we need to bring real standards to journalism for two main reasons:
To keep misinformation out of the system, and,
To help improve the economic situation for actual journalists.
The way this will work is by having real standards, so the people of RSF has been doing the heavy lifting of making real, ISO-compliant, standards. First they applied, successfully, for an official standard setting process with CEN, the European subset of ISO and contracted Afnor and DIN, the two independent French and German standardization bodies, to run it.
They’ve hosted a long series of meetings where journalists and others have gathered to craft the actual standards.
The people working on those standards have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours hammering out exactly what should go into the standards. It has been a lot of hard work, and nearly all in the background. The way the process works is that the proposed standards, in general, stay private as a way encouraging full participation. Then at an agreed-on time, the standard becomes public, and anyone can comment on it.
Now this is the point where a part of you is going to want to stop reading. It’s similar to how you feel when you go to an event at a school, and someone starts talking about “the mission” or whatever and you know that you are going to get cornered into donating or, even worse, volunteering.
But keep reading, just for a moment please, so that you can understand exactly what is being asked of you, and what it might mean.
If these journalism standards get wide acceptance and use, then the original goals of the JTI will start to happen. First it will be harder for misinformation to infiltrate the newsfeeds of the world.
Second, the platforms and the advertisers will have a new tool to encourage legitimate journalism. They will be able to see who has gone to the trouble of applying for and getting certification under a set of voluntary standards. People from Google and Facebook have been a part of the JTI process at various stages. We’ll have to wait and see if they use the tools provided to them to make things better, but I am hopeful.
Look, nobody’s a bigger critic of the platforms than me, but in some ways I do feel sorry for them. They just have gotten so big so fast they don’t know how to fix the messes they’ve created. And while it’s easy to say that they should be able to, in some areas they really just can’t, and we wouldn’t want them to. I mean, in the same way that we don’t want government saying who is — and who isn’t — a journalist, well, do we want Facebook doing that?
I say the only one who should get to decide who’s a journalist is other journalists. The way that works practically is if they come together and declare themselves some kind of group as diverse as The Associated Press or as niche as a group of publishers in one city or state, well, then they get to do that.
And then those groups can, if they themselves want to, go on to be a part of a legitimate standards operation. That’s why we need real standards, so that the groups have something following an accepted process that they can use.
That’s why the standards themselves are so important. And that’s why we need you, especially here in the U.S.
I’ve been involved with the JTI since it’s earliest days. I’ve been to, I think, every meeting there was to go to. I was one of only two guys from North America in the first meeting in Paris in a stuffy room at Agency France Presse. I think for the most part the people involved have been very well meaning, but there’s no question that the document in its current form has a European sensibility. That may never change completely.
But it doesn’t mean that we can’t make sure that it will at least work for us here in America.
To do that, however, we have to show up. We have to be involved in the process. We have to do the admittedly hard hard hard hard work of reading a proposed standards document, all of it, and then making some comments.
If you want to comment in writing, you certainly can, or if you want to participate in a workshop we’ll be putting on in Austin, Denver, Washington or New York, you can do that. If you are attending the EIJ, the APME, or the ONA conventions coming up in September, that will work, too.
I’m asking you to do this because I’m convinced that standards are the thing that can do more than anything else to fight misinformation. I’m asking you to do this because with your participation the standards will get stronger, will work for more diverse journalists, and they will be a great new tool to finally do something to improve the economic reality for publishers.
And I’m asking you to do it to let the Russian foreign minister know that you are not going to play his game.
What is his game?
The Russian government has been pretty much absent in the battle over misinformation. Putin jokes with Trump about “Fake News” but other than, you know, killing and jailing journalists, the Kremlin has not tried to fight or even comment on any of the international efforts to fight misinfo.
With one exception: the JTI.
This is Sergey Lavrov, who went to Paris last year and made a big speech, and in that speech in front of the French Foreign Minister and the press and in the hometown of the JTI, criticized the JTI, by name. He then went on to say this:
“Такие подходы наводит на очень неприятные мысли о том что мы имеем дело с разновидностью политической цензуры.”
“This approach leads to very unpleasant thoughts that we are dealing with a kind of political censorship.”
Now, this is laughable in an awkward way. We’re talking about a very high ranking Kremlin official saying that the government shouldn’t be involved in news content. It’s as if Weird Al Yankovic announced that singers should not be involved in parody.
But to me it’s instructive. No less than the Russian foreign minister is preemptively fighting an otherwise obscure standards effort. Why? I can only think that this is the one thing that the Kremlin is worried about, the only thing that might stop their massive and sophisticated misinformation effort. (If you haven’t seen the NY Times video series, featuring the aforementioned Claire Wardle, it’s really worth a watch. The Russian efforts are massive. And the only thing that’s changed since then is that now China, Iran and other countries are doing the same thing.)
So, what is Lavrov worried about?
I think he’s worried that standards could actually work. I think he’s worried that the things he’s been able to do in the past would be a lot harder with standards in place. Maybe he’s worried about what the Kremlin wants to do next, the thing that nobody even knows about, and that standards would create a roadblock.
So, taking some time to work though the language of the JTI standards may not feel like fun, but it may just help. It might help keep some of the crap out of the newsfeeds. It may help strengthen the economic situation of legitimate publishers. And it may just be the one way you — personally — can stick it to the foreign governments that think they can get away with undermining democracy, and spammers who want to cloak themselves with an aura of legitimate journalism.
Pew recently did a survey showing that people don’t really blame journalists for the current misinformation crisis, but they do think journalists need to fix it. I say they are right on both counts. We didn’t make this mess, but we are the ones who need to clean it up.
If you believe that, too, but have been trying to figure out what you, personally, can do, well… now you know. You can come to one of our workshops, or try taking a beta version of the approved, official questionnaire once it’s available.
Standards are boring, but they work. If you participate now, when your non-journalist friends and family ask you what you are doing to fix things, you can tell them about this. Not sexy, just hard work, but it’s the only thing that we have any proof might actually work.
There's a scene in Infinity War where Dr. Strange looks at all the future scenarios, 14 million or so, and figures out that there's only one that's any good.
I've been doing a bit of that with our current president now that the Mueller Report is out.
As of today, two presidential candidates have said they support impeachment, though Kamala Harris seems to have worded her support somewhat more delicately than Elizabeth Warren.
There are plenty on the left, and even some on the right, who think we should impeach.
Do you think so?
Don't go by what your emotions tell you should be the thing that happens, go by what will happen.
Here are the scenarios that I see, way fewer than 14 million:
Trump Impeached in House, Convicted in the Senate, Removed from Office
This is unlikely because there would have to be about 20 Republicans in the Senate who would vote to remove a sitting president, something that literally has never happened in the history of the United States.
I'll write below about why this is very unlikely, but let's just say in this scenario that it happens.
In that case, Mike Pence becomes the president. Because he wasn't elected president, he'll likely have a primary challenge, and that primary battle will be all about the future of the party. A Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, would be able to say that he is not Trump and has always been his own man, so the election won't be about Trump at all.
Even if Pence survives a primary, he will be his own man on the ticket, and the election won't really be a referendum on Trump, so it will be a more normal election. He'd likely lose, just like Ford did after Watergate, but it wouldn't be historic.
If you are a Republican, this is probably the best case scenario for you.
Trump Impeached in House, but Acquitted in the Senate
If you are thinking, but Trump is so bad! just remember that only a third of the Senate is up for re-election. Of the 53 GOP senators, 22 are facing election.
In my state of Colorado, one might think that Cory Gardner would vote to convict Trump so as to make his re-election a bit easier, but it may not. It may just bring him a primary that he might not survive. And even if he did, it may just not make any difference as the Democratic field is strong and the voter sentiment seems to have moved against any Republican in Colorado.
But that's Colorado. In other states, voting against a president of your own party just does not happen.
So, Trump emerges from impeachment as someone who was tried and not convicted. It weakens his presidency, but he actually gets a boost from winning in the Senate in the same way that Clinton got a boost when he wasn't convicted. He and his supporters went on to say loudly that all of that was over nothing, and they weren't wrong. Trump and his world will say the exact same thing, and come out stronger.
This is probably the second-best scenario for Republicans.
Trump Investigated, but Never Impeached
In this scenario, the current state remains the case all the way through the election: Hearings. Subpoenas. Contempt citations. On and on and on.
Meanwhile, we hope, there would also be some action on actual legislation, even though not much could pass because of the partisan divide. But holding the hearings and getting bills ready to pass for after the next election is a good way to work out the bugs lurking behind big new ideas.
In that case, Trump is weakened to the point of near irrelevancy. He is the party nominee because he's fixed it that way from the get-go.
But there is almost no enthusiasm for him to actually get elected because people like being on the winning side of history, and a guy who looks like the only reason he wants to win is so that he can keep being immune from prosecution is not exactly campaigning from a strong position.
Trump at the top of the ballot could be a crushing body blow to what remains of the Republican Party.
This is clearly the best-case scenario for Democrats.
It's not fun for Democrats to think about another year and a half of Trump, but it's the medicine we have to take here in this democracy.
What will happen?
Look, I'm as surprised as anyone that Trump is still here. I thought history was on the side of him being gone by last August.
But he's still here.
What do you want to have happen? Play through the scenarios and tell me which one gets you to what you really want.
If you look at it dispassionately, the savior of the Republican Party would be impeachment, and the best thing for Democrats would be to keep Trump in power until Inauguration Day in 2021.
Tis the season to reflect, and plan for the next year.
(And to use the word “Tis” apparently.)
I’m currently working on a plan that is complex, and just a pain in the ass to get done. It’s the kind of thing that is so new that if you were to lay odds, you would bet against it.
Of course, that was true about me when I started a new business back in 2001. The odds were against me, and still somehow I launched the business, and then sold it in 2006. The odds were not great when I started another business right after that. I’m no longer involved in that one day-to-day, but Bill Track 50 is thriving to this day. Same story for the blog writing service now known as Verblio, which is also rocking thanks to the staff and the writers making it happen.
The language is a bit obscure, but Wilser does a great job of breaking it down.
The “Projector” is you. You are the one who is projecting what the future will be. If you project yourself into the future and you create it, then you can succeed.
But it just takes hard work to make it happen. That’s the “constant” part.
Be nice if I could just have great ideas and then sit back and watch them take off. But... no.
This projector needs to be constant.
That’s going to be really important to remember in the coming year. All signs are that between the economy and the current occupant of the White House, 2019 is going to be a rough year, full of distractions and annoyances and everything that can give any of us an excuse to not remain constant.
So for me in 2019, my theme is for the Projector to stay constant.
Big news in the world of “Fake News” recently is that both the French and British governments are united in fighting it.
Not the problem, unfortunately, just the name.
The French have come out against the name “Fake News” for no reason other than their long history of hating any words that are Anglo-Saxon.
What should we call it?
Even for the French, that seemed like a mouthful, so they also coined a new made-up word that they think will be catchy: “Infox.”
I wouldn't count on that word lasting long.
And the Brits are not offended by the Queen’s English but they are, as always, offended by Americanisms, so they, too have banned “fake news” from official documents.
There is no such thing as American English. There is English. And there are mistakes.
— A tweet quoted in the excellent The Prodigal Tongue by Lynn Murphy
The problem is that they could not agree on what word to use in its place.
We recommend that the Government rejects the term ‘fake news’, and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. With such a shared definition, and clear guidelines for companies, organisations, and the Government to follow, there will be a shared consistency of meaning across the platforms, which can be used as the basis of regulation and enforcement.
— From the report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee to the UK Government
So in very clear terms the government has said that there will be a “shared consistency” with one word, it just isn't sure which word that should be.
Look, both governments are right, the term “Fake News” is horrible, and is being used to mean everything from News I don't like all the way to organized propaganda designed to destabilize democracy.
But the problem for those of us inside the battle is this: Every time we tell people who are not working on this all day every day what we are working on, no matter how we describe what we are doing, they will invariably say:
“Oh! You are fixing fake news! That’s so important!!!”
That’s when we smile wanly and say thanks.
Luckily, for those who are working on this so hard, the part about defining the problem is pretty much done. In reality, it’s been done for a long time.
As helpful as that is, it still uses both the mis- and dis- forms of information.
So, which is it?
I’m going to say that misinformation has won the day, in no small part thanks to the Cyrillic alphabet, and whichever clever person it was that came up with the coolest logo for a conference, maybe ever.
Of the hundreds of conference badges I’ve gotten in my life, this is one of the few I’m hanging on to:
This is serious stuff, and thoughtful people are hard at work trying to make a difference. I’m totally engaged in working on my particular slice of the solution, one that is working to strengthen many of the other efforts going on by making certain that news publishers do in fact have the imprimatur of the standards-based bodies they profess to follow. You can see more about that on the Certified Content Coalition page.
But lest you think the people themselves are all humorless, I present here my own captions to some pictures from the D.C. Misinfocon.
While I won’t be at the London event, I will be looking for photos that I can use for my next post.
I doubt anyone much cares how I’m voting on the less well-known stuff on the Colorado ballot given that they probably don’t care that much how they cast their own vote!
But on the off chance that I can be helpful, here’s my quick guide on how I voted on the stuff that’s not in the headlines all that much.
Congress District 1
My counter-culture tendencies would like to vote for the Libertarian just because there’s absolutely no hope that anyone other than the Democrat will win in this district. (That’s why I’m voting yes on Y and Z - more on that below.)
But I’m going to vote for Diana DeGette because she’s a proud graduate of Denver South High School, where I went and where my son is going now.
Secretary of State
It’s going to be a blue wave this year, no doubt about it. The one guy who might survive is Wayne Williams. I think we have a pretty good tradition in Colorado of keeping politics out of this office, so I’m voting for Williams because he was smart enough to hire the incomparable Lynn Bartles.
Colorado Court of Appeals
I actually read the Blue Book for each of the judges, and there was only one who didn’t get a unanimous nod from the State Commission on Judicial Performance: Elizabeth L. Harris. So, that’s enough for a no vote from me.
From the Blue Book: “Sometimes she unnecessarily reexamines facts and lower courts’ reasoning, which reduces her efficiency and which may create a perception that she is unfair. Lack of timeliness also has been a problem...”
All the rest of them got a unanimous nod, so they all get a Yes vote.
And if I could vote twice, I would for Kerri Lombardi for District court. Is it because I once covered a trial where she was an excellent prosecutor? Maybe a little bit. Actually, the real reason is that she’s another proud graduate of Denver South High School! Is there no end to the glory of that place? ;-)
That’s Denver South High School in the background.
Change the age for serving in the Legislature from 25 to 21?
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Brain development and full rational thinking is just not in place until we hit about 25, experts say.
So, that’s a no vote from me.
(Even my son — who’s an intern at the legislature, and would be a wonderful elected official, said that he thinks legislators could use some more impulse control, and he’s studied the science enough to know that even he won’t have full use of that until he is 25 — urges a no vote.)
Change the format for the ballot for judicial retention elections.
Really? We have to vote on this? Isn’t this up to some underpaid staffer running MS Word in the bill room?
Mmmkay. I’ll vote yes.
Industrial Hemp? What?
Luckily, the swell team at Ballotpedia has a page on this one. The thing I looked for was that Jon Becker was in favor, as was just about everyone else in the statehouse. If they all looked at it and are fine with it, than I am, too.
Amendments Y and Z
I may be more passionate about these two than anything else this year in Colorado.
A big part of the reason that politics is so screwed up right now is that the congressional districts are gerrymandered so that the entire race is the primary. Only the extreme edges of the spectrum show up for those, so the race is to see who can out-crazy everyone else.
Then the general election comes and those of us nearer the middle wonder where we got these loony candidates.
These two amendments will take a step toward fixing that.
Two big YES votes on these two.
Slavery, as the saying goes, is our country’s original sin.
Can we please pass this? It won’t absolve us, but it needs to be a part of our path to absolution.
I have good friends on both sides of this, but for me I’m voting yes.
Money does NOT make for a good education, but a good education is impossible without money.
This will make all the TABOR mess even messier. Well, maybe we should fix that?
The tax falls more heavily on the rich, who should be doing really well because of the Trump tax cuts, so they won’t even notice it, right?
While reading the text of Amendment 74, I kept thinking of this:
So, that’s gonna be a hard pass.
No on Amendment 74.
This is the one about campaign contributions. If someone donates $1 million to themselves, then all the other limits go out the window.
This is a thoughtful amendment, and it may actually help.
But this is a constitutional amendment, so if it has some unintended consequence, well, we’re screwed.
So I’m a no vote, just barely.
This is the one is trying a bit too hard to be clever, with the whole “Fix our damn roads” name and the idea that there is a magical way to pay for roads without raising taxes.
I was tempted to vote yes because I think this throws another bomb into the TABOR mess (we really should fix that) and because, well, I wish we could fix the damn roads.
But there’s a lot of damn stuff that needs fixing, including dams.
(Reminds me of a joke: What did the fish say when he ran into a concrete wall?
I think the legislature needs to do its damn job, and decide how to spend tax dollars. We elect them to make the hard calls between roads, schools, prisons, etc. I say we let them do that job, and we’ll stay out of the way.
I’m a no vote on 109.
This is the other roads one, but it’s done the right way. It comes from the Chamber of Commerce, which isn’t exactly a tax-and-spend kind of group.
If we want roads to be better, we should stand up and say that we will pay for the roads to be better, and that’s what this does.
Yes on 110.
Payday loans. Why hasn’t the legislature fixed this?
My hunch is that the people who make fistfuls of blood money making these predatory loans have spread just enough of it around that it has kept lawmakers from taking action.
When the legislature can’t get the job done, it’s up to us.
Vote yes on 111.
This one has gotten enough press, so you are going to have to make up your own mind about this.
Luckily, this one is a change to the statute, not the constitution, so even if it does pass, the legislature will be able to fix it, or get rid of it entirely.
I hope this has been of some help.
Voting is one of the great honors we have, and I hope that everyone reading this does vote, and then checks to make sure all their friends and family are doing the same.
Nobody knows more about this than Alex, and he’s highly respected. (And I personally find it a bummer that he’s out of the trenches and is now an academic.)
But it got me thinking: Are the U.S. Elections really the World Cup of Information Warfare?
I mean, he is talking very specifically about the U.S. Elections, and the US didn’t even get into the last actual World Cup. Americans are famously blasé about soccer, so making that analogy here may actually minimize what a big deal misinformation is.
So, with all due respect to Alex, here’s a better breakdown:
U.S. Election Misinformation
While it seems like there is actual competition, at least recently there really isn't. Everyone knows the team coached by Bill Belichick will win, and that he will cheat.
Similarly, everyone knows that the Russians cheated in trying to influence the U.S. elections. But in this case because of their influence, the one person who might stop the cheating is now in charge, so nothing will happen.
U.S. Election Hacking
World Series of Poker
This is different than misinformation, this is actually trying to manipulate votes. Anyone can get in, anyone can win.
Much as with Olympic teams made up of people without much of an actual connection to the country they compete for, there are spammy operators all over the world pretending to be from somewhere else.
And there are so many different forms of competition that nobody can keep them all straight.
And just as we all know about, say Michael Phelps or the time that Google News showed a story about how Las Vegas Shooter Was a Rachel Maddow Fan, most of these competitors toil in obscurity. (Bonus: Just as with the actual Olympics, we know the Russians will cheat.)
People Claiming “Fake News”
People who believe a politician who claims that stories he doesn't like are “fake” are the same people who believe Pro Wrestling is not fake. (By the way, it is not fake to report that Donald Trump is in the WWE Hall of Fame.)
I am really looking forward to Misinfocon in Washington DC. I am.
In part that's because I'm very interested in the topic of misinformation. (Currently that's the most common word I've seen used to avoid having to say “fake news” and perpetuating a phrase that the current occupant of the White House uses as an epithet to describe “news.”)
But the real reason I’m looking forward to the conference is that I want to redeem myself after the last Misinfocon in Kyiv.
Why do I need to redeem myself?
Well, it's a little embarrassing, but in the spirit of transparency, bla bla bla, here goes:
An American in Kyiv
This was my first Misinfocon, and so I didn't know much of what to expect. I did read that it was a hackathon, and I've seen, participated in, and judged those many times in the startup world, so I was familiar with the format.
I just had never seen one outside of the world of startups. How would that work in the world of trying to root out bad actors trying to weaponize content for political gain? I was excited to find out.
Especially in Kyiv. I had to give credit to the organizers for taking this conference right to what could be considered Ground Zero in the fake news world. On the plane on the way over I had watched Winter on Fire at the recommendation of a friend who had been there. Kyiv is an amazing city. More on that in a bit.
Veronika gets special props for her Twitter picture:
I understood going in that the problems were complex, and saw some of that first hand at the kick-off meeting for the Journalism Trust Initiative from Reporters Without Borders the week before.
But the speakers and many of the attendees helped me understand what was going on even a bit more.
After the first day of the conference, I fell asleep quickly, exhausted by the busy day, the Ukrainian beer, and the jet lag.
The next day brings what you might think of as a play in three acts:
Act I: Our Protagonist Goes On A Journey
I woke up very early the next day, and one story dominated the news.
At first, I thought maybe my VPN was busted because one of the top stories I was getting on Google News was from Kyiv, but it turns out that it was just a top global story, and it happened to be a quick Uber ride away from where the conference was happening.
This caused me to go into full freak-out for a bunch of reasons.
It happened really close to where I was.
My wife and son were at home, and might get this news, not sure. I didn't know if I should call and tell them I'm fine, alerting them to the fact that fake news fighters are being gunned down right down the street from where I was fighting fake news. Or if I shouldn't call.
Misinfocon was all about figuring this information warfare, and here's a guy literally on the front lines of that war who became a casualty.
What does it mean to be fighting fake news if we can't even keep reporters alive?
I immediately shot off a note to the conference organizers. Dwight Knell made a nice mention of him to open the day, and then we kept going.
But wait, I kept thinking, is this it? Shouldn't we be doing more?
Once we broke into working groups -- and I'm not proud of this -- I pretty much hijacked the agenda of our group. We were supposed to be coming up with ideas of how to fight fake news. We did that, but all in the context of this one death.
And while killing journalists is horrific, it’s not really central to the issues of misinformation. At least it hadn't been. That changed, as we will see.
None of that mattered. I was the excitable American, and Something Must Be Done. THIS SHALL NOT STAND!
I thought, anyway.
Act II, Our Protagonist Leads A (Small) Uprising
The format for the “hack” part of Day 2 was that we broke up into three groups. Building on the work that had been done the previous day, we were supposed to come up with some real, tangible solutions. The rules were that we were to come up with ideas with no concerns about budget or approvals. Just assume that we can get all that, and go to town.
So we did.
I went to our group and made an impassioned plea. The death of this journalist — right here in the city where we were meeting — could not go without note.
So fired up, I was, that the group all got into the action.
Here I am, in the early stages of making an arse of myself. (Photo courtesy Misinfocon.)
We came up with a whole plan. I had the brilliant idea that we should make a statue of the fallen journalist, and put it right in the central square of Kyiv.
Some of the others in the group suggested that we maybe do something that would actually honor journalism, not just this guy. It's so good this was a group project, and not an individual one, or I really would have looked like a moron.
So we came up with a whole list of things, starting with the statue, but then moving very quickly past that to ideas that would make a difference.
A statue in Maidan, the central area of Kyiv made so famous in the winter of 2014 when protesters took over the square. More than 100 died, but the protests eventually led to the ouster of the Kremlin-installed president, Viktor Yanukovich, who remains in exile in Russia to this day.
Matching statues in major capitals around the world to highlight the importance of journalists and the fact that so many are killed.
An endowment to pay for some number of journalists to report from war-torn areas. With the changing economics for newsrooms, very few news publishers pay to send reporters into the most dangerous regions, even when those are the exact regions that most need the cleansing power of sunshine from an audience paying attention to the facts.
Along with paying the journalists, paying for extensive security for them, and for their families back home.
This one was grim, but was a great idea that came from one of the local participants: Life Insurance for the reporter. The family needs to carry on if the worst happens, and if they don't have to carry on in poverty, it will certainly help. Any children left behind won't need to worry about a roof over their heads, and will be able to afford to go to college.
I don't know if we were channeling Warren Zevon, but it seemed like we were thinking Send Lawyers, Guns and Money. The next item was to set up lawyers to help these journalists navigate the legal minefields while they are in the literal minefields.
I then went on to a crowdsourcing platform and found a guy who turned a photo of Arakady into something that looked like a statue.
The freelancer tried it a couple of ways, one of them with a green hue that was supposed to look a bit like the green of the Statue of Liberty. Another one of the participants from Kyiv nixed that one. It was news to me, but a well known local story is of the Little Green Men — soldiers who tried to be known as the “Polite People” were actually Russian soldiers wearing green uniforms with no insignia. Putin thought he could get away with denying that they were Russian soldiers, and in some ways he did.
Anyway, no green Arkady.
We finally decided on one that just looked like marble, and we'd put an orange safety vest on the statue. Then we'd place it in the central square. We used a tourist picture I'd snapped on my first night Kyiv, and with that, we had our presentation.
I then was hoping someone else would go on stage and present, but they all looked at me to do it, and so I did.
I then had to leave to get to the airport to fly to Lisbon, via Frankfurt. About as far of a trip as you can make without leaving Europe. (Most people in Ukraine really wants to be part of the EU, and Putin wants Ukraine to be part of Russia, hence the conflict.)
Because the first leg of the flight was a bit late, I had to run through the massive Frankfurt airport, I was basically out of communication with the outside world for about six hours.
What a six hours that was for the world of Fake News.
Act III: Our Protagonist Learns His Lesson
My plan was that as soon as I was safe in Lisbon, I was going to call home to let my family know that I was safe.
But by then, well, the only thing that was in danger was my reputation.
You’ve certainly heard the news: The brave journalist was not, in fact, dead. The blood seen near his body was pigs blood. The story is that this journalist was involved in a plot to fake his own death did so to help authorities find those who really did want him dead.
I've read all kinds of stories about this, including one that came out just before I sat down to write this, and I still don’t really know what's going on.
One thing that clearly did happen is that the killing of journalists is now firmly in the territory of misinformation. Right after Arkady Babchenko showed up at the press conference about his own death, Russians said that they were shocked, SHOCKED, that people would accuse them of killing journalists, and this one wasn't even dead. Maybe some of the other dead journalists aren't really even dead.
What have I done?, Babchenko seems to be thinking. Created a mess, is the answer. (Photo from news.com.au)
It's hard these days to say that Kremlin agitprop has a point, but in this case, well, they weren't wrong.
I couldn't believe that they were quoted in the New York Times, and they couldn't believe that I'd been in Kyiv for the whole outré episode.
We agreed that we may never know exactly what happened, but we do know they'll be talking about it in journalism schools for the next 50 years.
I did learn three things, however.
Misinfocon is a great conference. I don't know what will happen there in D.C. exactly — that’s the beauty of a hackathon. But if the one in Kyiv is any kind of guide, it will have all the right people in the right place and something magical may just come out of it.
It might be better if I just keep quiet for this one. If I lead a team it may produce a result that won't be judged well in the light of history.
Slow down and listen. Let me explain that one a bit more:
While we were in a bit of a break at the last event, one of the participants who was from Kyiv told me about their most famous poet, Taras Shevchenko.
I was in such a hurry to Do Something, that I thought it was quaint and possibly a bit annoying that someone would be talking to me about someone who’d been dead for 150-odd years. I’m trying to be a better listener, though, so I pulled up his Wikipedia page while I was talking to her, and then promptly forgot all about it.
A couple of weeks later, when I was finally closing all the tabs from that trip, I found that page.
Here's the last part of a poem that apparently just about everyone in Ukraine knows:
Oh bury me, then rise ye up And break your heavy chains And water with the tyrants' blood The freedom you have gained. And in the great new family, The family of the free, With softly spoken, kindly word Remember also me.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up.
The woman who told me about this poet didn’t know that Arkady Babchenko — at just about that exact moment in a room a mile or so from where we were sitting — was figuratively “rising up.”
But something about this whole thing compelled her to share that with me, and now I share it with you.
Freedom of the press is under assault right now, but a lot of us our fighting back. We are all working on different pieces of it, but we are all a lot like a family... as Taras Shevchenko might say, the family of the free.
That family is gathering Monday, and I am so glad that I'll be there for this family meeting.
But if something big happens in the news on Monday night, I won’t say a word about it on Tuesday.
I've been kind of off the radar of social media lately, and this blog has been quiet, even by the not-so-staggering standards of years past.
It's because I'm working on a new project. Can't talk about it just yet, but soon you won't be able to get me to shut up.
Once that project becomes public, my profile on the interwebs may grow a bit, and there may be some people who have the question I posed in the title of this post:
Who the hell is Scott Yates????
In the spirit of always making it easy for the reader, I offer this post as an answer to that question.
One warning: If you come here thinking that you will find proof that I'm a proto-communist, or a quasi-fascist, or whatever, you will likely be disappointed.
I approach politics and life with a single point of reference, and that is that I like to solve problems. That approach has meant I've spent time as policy wonk for a conservative Republican, and as volunteer for the homeless, public television, immigrants, and other traditionally liberal redoubts.
If you are looking for a box to put me in, it will be a weird-ass box.
I grew up in Denver happy and basically well-adjusted, given that my mother was a licensed social worker, and read all the books about how to raise well-adjusted kids. She was a liberal dating back to the days when she and her father cried together when JFK died.
I attended CU-Boulder, but dropped out. No scandal there. I wish there was. I wish I could have a story like Steve Wozniak, who reportedly was asked to leave after he hacked into the Regents computer system. Mostly I just didn't know what I was doing, so I left, and spent some time as a live-in volunteer at a Catholic Worker house in community with the homeless, and my best friend, who was doing the same thing for much more intentional reasons.
Then I decamped for New York to attend NYU, and work in the publishing capitol of the world. I had a great time there where I was a columnist for the school paper, and I got internships at New York Newsday and SPY Magazine. I got to meet living heroes of mine in person, like the time I got to meet Nat Hentoff when spoke at the original Catholic Worker House. I loved every second I was in New York.
The author, pictured in the 1980s, at least 10 years after that style of mustache had gone out of style.
Then I travelled some, saw some of the world, and then returned to my home state of Colorado and took my first job as a cub reporter at the Durango Herald. That was followed by an ill-advised cup of coffee at the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American. I then returned to Colorado and worked at LovelandReporter-Herald, my second "P.M." paper. (That's what old newspaper hands call an afternoon paper, printed after noon and delivered by high school kids on bikes. That's where I learned to write fast, and why I get approving nods from journalists who've been around.)
I then moved to a weekly paper in my hometown of Denver best known at the time for all the futon advertisements: Westword. It's now better known for marijuana advertising.
You can look at some of the stories I wrote on the Westword site, I think that was the first place to publish my stories on the web. If you want to look for a slant to what I wrote for the papers before that, well, good luck with that. Mostly it was school board stories, so...
After Westword I essentially got out of journalism. I did some work at a health food magazine, but much of that was helping them transition to the Web. Then one day I got a call from Governor Bill Owens. He was a conservative, and he wanted some help with writing, and a few other jobs, including running a conservative think tank for him. He never asked for my party affiliation, just asked if I'd work for him. I did, happily and productively, for years and he remains a friend to this day.
I'm not actually sure what my affiliation was. In those days you had to register with one party to vote in the primary, and because I lived in Denver I probably registered as a Democrat so I'd have some interesting primaries to vote in. Republican primaries in Denver are something like gatherings of non-alcoholic beer fans: Lonely and kind of pointless.
I was conservative, though. I remember my mother wondering where she'd gone wrong when I told her I wanted to vote for Bill Armstrong, and even put a bumper sticker for him on my Datsun.
These days I'm like George Will: a homeless Republican. The party left me while I was standing there, advocating for conservative values like the rule of law, and a stable and limited government.
It didn't take a lot of foresight to realize that there wasn't a great future in journalism, as much as I loved it.
I enjoyed the people in the newsrooms, and the culture, and the problem-solving that came with trying to figure out how to distill complex problems into understandable stories that would hold a readers' interest for 900 words. I really did love all that, but I also started getting frustrated writing about problems and not solving them.
It was one day, stuck in traffic, that I realized I could to some small degree actually solve traffic problems with information.
Kids, ask your parents about the days before iPhones and Google Maps when you couldn't pull a super computer out of your pocket and find out what traffic was like. In those days, we'd all just finish work, go get in a car, and get stuck in traffic without knowing how bad it was really going to be. Ten minutes after we were into the drive and already stuck in traffic, you could hear a guy in a helicopter tell you how screwed you were, which was... not awesome.
So I started a company that let people know about traffic before they got stuck in it: MyTrafficNews.com. In those days, companies like mine weren't called "startups." It was called a "dot-com." I got a patent on that, and eventually sold the company to traffic.com, which later got bought by NavTeq, which was bought by Nokia, which was bought by Microsoft. Food chain in action.
I then started another company that eventually became BillTrack50, and is delighting clients to this day, helping them keep track of legislation. The original company, however, ended up in a lawsuit against some of its investors. I signed a thing saying that I can't say what happened with that suit, which is an obtuse way of saying that I won, but not in court. The original court filings are public, and you can go and get those and read them (I hired a lawyer who was a pretty good writer). But I signed an agreement saying that I would not continue to publish them on the internet as I had been, so sorry for the hassle there.
Then in 2016 I decided to hire someone to replace myself. The new CEO and I were together at a trade show in Boston when the election happened.
I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do after that, but I wrote a post about what I wanted to do, and at the top of the list was to be an Entrepreneur in Residence. It's good to announce to the world what you want to do, because that's exactly what happened, with the most amazing research facility you've never heard of: CableLabs.
I love the concept of an Entrepreneur in Residence because it allows a person to really think broadly about problems and solutions. That's where I came up with this idea that I'll be announcing very soon, I hope.
So, that's it. That's my story. Feel free to dig in and see if you can find something more embarrassing than a picture of me with a cheesy Village People-esque mustache, though it's hard to imagine anything more horrifying than that.
I challenge you to find fault with any the following:
If the #metoo movement would have been around, Bill Clinton wouldn't have survived being governor of Arkansas, let alone survive a Democratic primary for President.
Bill Clinton’s abuse of Monica Lewinsky was horrifying.
It was so horrifying, that a respected reporter was completely correct to try to report it.
The true story of what Bill Clinton did to Lewinsky was killed by Newsweek editors.
The killed story made its way to what was then an obscure website called the Drudge Report.
The Drudge Report became one of the top sites on the internet after that.
As it grew it sent huge amounts of traffic to a site called Breitbart, making it a huge success.
One of Breitbart’s founders was Steve Bannon.
At Breitbard, Bannon worked with investor Robert Mercer.
Mercer funded Cambridge Analytica, which also hired Bannon.
Cambridge Analytica, Bannon, and Mercer were key players in getting Donald Trump elected.
Is there any fault in any of that progression? Any of those facts?
Now, a logical conclusion is that without that set of facts, maybe we wouldn’t have Cambridge Analytica and Steve Bannon would still be a third-rate movie producer, and maybe a few thousand voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would not have voted for Trump.
Unlike the numbered facts above... it’s debatable.
Bill Clinton didn’t just create a world where Trump could beat his wife in the electoral college, he created a world where it was Trump, and not someone else, would challenge his wife. “How do we maximize Trump?” was a memo that actually circulated in the Clinton campaign, according to an inside account.
What’s not debatable is that Bill Clinton sowed the seeds that made things bad for Hillary, Monica, and women in general.
After reading a tweet from Kurt Andersen (without a doubt the smartest and best boss I ever had) I got thinking more about the timeline of Watergate and our current president.
I worked for Kurt at the old Spy Magazine. I'd like to think that this is the sort of thing that Spy would have done. (The headline is an homage to a regular feature in Spy, Separated at Birth?)
If I had all day, I'd do more of a Spy thing, and ask the design team to make this look better, and ask the photo research team to come up with some amazing photos that draw connections, etc. But in the spirit of DONE, here it is.
I hope this is helpful to people all over the political spectrum.
For people that want Trump gone tomorrow, this shows pretty clearly that as of July we were really only about half done with the process. There's a long way to go.
For people that are tired of the drip-drip-drip, perhaps this will show why it almost has to happen that way.
For supporters of President Trump who are currently comforted by the fact that he's still in office despite what you perceive to be relentless media attacks, you won't find comfort, exactly, but with luck you'll see that those on the other side politically are not delusional about Trump, and that the sweep of history is not on Trump's side.
June 17 Burglars break into the DNC headquarters at Watergate
June 9 Don Jr., Manafort and Kushner meet with Russian government official promising damaging info about Clinton. Trump tweets later that day for the first time about "33,000 emails."
June 20 Washington Post reports connection between burglary and Hunt
July 18Washington Post reports Trump wants GOP to go soft on Russia
Sept. 15 Hunt, Liddy and burglars indicted
Oct. 7 DHS and DNI announce that Russia is interfering in election
Nov. 7 Nixon reelected
Nov. 8 Trump elected
Jan. 8 Burglary trial begins
Jan. 4 Mike Flynn reports that he is under investigation
Jan. 11 Hunt pleads guilty
Jan. 6 CIA, FBI and NSA report that Putin ordered a campaign to influence the election
Jan. 15 Other burglars plead guilty
Jan. 10 Sessions tells congress that he “did not have communications” with the Russians
Jan. 20 Nixon inauguration
Jan. 20 Trump inauguration
Jan. 30 Liddy convicted
Jan. 30 Trump fires Yates
Feb. 28 FBI director tells congress that Dean had “probably lied” to FBI.
Feb. 28 Trump staff instructed to preserve any Russia-related communications because of investigation
March 17 McCord refutes previous denial that he was working for the White House
March 17 Page refutes previous denial that he never met with Kislyak
April 27 FBI Director Gray resigns
April 5 Nunes recuses himself
April 30 Ehrlichman, Haldeman resign, Dean fired.
April 11 Comey tells Rosenstein about “serious concern about the way in which the president is interacting, especially with the FBI”
May 17 Senate Watergate Committee begins hearings
May 9 Trump fires Comey
May 19 Cox appointed as special prosecutor
May 17 Mueller appointed special counsel
June 3 Dean testifies that he discussed the cover-up with Nixon at least 35 times
June 8 Comey testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee, worried about president lying, says he hopes there are tapes
July 13 13 months after Watergate burglary, New York Times reports on Oval Office tapes of phone calls and meetings
July 8 13 months after meeting of Don Jr., Manafort and Kushner with person they believe to be Russian government official, New York Times reports on that meeting
Oct. 20 "Saturday Night Massacre" firing of special prosecutor.
Oct. 30"Manafort Monday" Manafort, Gates arrested. Special Prosecutor's office also unseals previous indictment and plea deal with Papadopoulos
Oct. 19 John Dean enters guilty plea after cooperating with prosecutors.
Dec. 1 Mike Flynn enters guilty plea after cooperating with prosecutors.
Nov. 17 "I am not a crook" speech
Nearly Every Day Trump tweets something saying Russia investigation is phony.
Dec. 7 White House can't explain 18-minute gap in tapes.
Dec. 11 White House can't explain 18-day period that Mike Flynn wasn't fired.
March 1 Nixon named as "unindicted co-conspirator" along with the "Watergate Seven"
April 16 Special prosecutor subpoenas tapes
May 9 Impeachment hearings begin
June 27 House passes Articles of Impeachment
Aug. 9 Nixon resigns from office
One last note:
One of the young staffers working on Watergate for the House Judiciary Committee was Hillary Rodham Clinton.
We may not have learned all the lessons we needed to learn from Watergate, but perhaps there's a young staffer working behind the scenes right now who will one day run for president, and if she doesn't come to fame as the wife of a guy who was once impeached himself... and if the election isn't tampered with... maybe she'll even win.
There's a scene early in Groundhog Day when the host where Bill Murray's character is staying says something about the weather to him, and he launches into a whole meteorological discussion that he would do on TV, and the person just stares at him. Then he says:
Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chitchat?
"Chit Chat," she says, awkwardly for both of them.
"Up and to the right"
When you are a CEO, and someone asks you how things are going at your company, you never are sure if they are just making chit-chat, or if they are really interested in the metrics of your business.
I suppose I could have asked which one it was, but taking the lesson from that scene, I always thought that would seem awkward, so I always just said: “Up and to the right!”
I guess I could have just said “Up!” given that we’re all marching at the same pace to the right on the spreadsheet of life, but “Up and to the right” seemed more conversational and worked for both sets of people asking. At least I thought it did.
When someone was actually asking about the health of the business, they were always glad to hear "up and to the right."
Anyone who’s been around business for any length of time knows that to have 20 positive quarters in a row is hard. Really hard.
And so it was. It was the one thing I thought about more than any other: How to make sure we would grow, and keep on growing. All. The. Time.
And grow we did.
After five years of leading a company that grew every single quarter, I decided to step away, and now BlogMutt has a new CEO.
The top thing on my list was to be an Entrepreneur in Residence. A guy I know saw that, and one thing lead to another and now I'm happy to say that I am a version of an EIR at CableLabs/UpRamp. It's an amazing opportunity, and I'm learning a ton and feel like I'm contributing to the world of cable and broadband in some meaningful ways, helping an established industry think about growth.
(My biggest contribution for CableLabs is not getting to define once and for all exactly what is a startup... but it's up there!)
I'm also doing a couple of other things that I'll write about more later, including helping a great friend grow a business that could actually put a dent in the opioid crisis.
I'm also mentoring some new startups, and have a few other projects going, including one where I'm analyzing some data for my pals at BlogMutt. (REALLY interesting findings percolating there, and I'll share them here, of course, once that's ready to go.)
In addition to that, I've also started doing some executive coaching for CEOs who are trying to grow faster and do more with the hours that they have.
Out of that coaching work has come a new opportunity: Helping launch a new kind of adventure. What I love about it is that it allows me to pay very particular attention to top-line growth.
Steps to Consistent Growth
The idea is simple: While techniques for growth are pretty well established, it can be difficult for operating CEOs to focus on those techniques every day. Once the realities of daily operations set in, it's quite difficult to have the foresight, focus, and courage to ignore what's going on in the business on a daily basis, and do what needs to be done for growing the company in the future.
There's an analogous situation in the public arena that I wrote about recently. In short: The future has no lobbyist. The status quo does have a lobbyist, and so things typically remain the same.
It's the same thing even in small companies. Employees are focused on the tasks at hand, but there's nobody who has the job of representing the unknown future.
Well, if that's your job, and you know that you aren't at your maximum and the organization you lead is not growing as much as it could, I might have an answer for you.
(That's what we're calling it for the moment. Not sure if the name will stick.)
You can read much more about it on the site, but in short we are going to make sure that everyone involved is going to do three things:
Set really aggressive, specific, structured goals for growth in a business for 18 months from now, basically by the end of 2018. We will work with you to find the right goals specific to your business.
In a structured way, read the best thinking on growth, and apply it rigorously.
As a group of peers with a lead facilitator, keep each other accountable to reach our individual goals. (This will be much different than other peer groups you may know about. See the site for more on that.)
So, there you have it: Three steps to consistent growth.
You may be thinking that you are already doing your own version of that, and maybe you are, but are you getting the results you think are possible?
Do you see a clear path to 20 positive quarters in a row? How about four?
If not, maybe you'll want to join us Thursday night.
If you aren't in Denver, or if you don't want to join a club, any club, (I get that, but would tell you to get over yourself) or if you are reading this too late... Just follow those three steps on your own, including getting into a group of peers with a leader who's been through those battles.
If you are in a spot where you'd like to see more consistent growth, I hope you'll consider joining us on the evening of Thursday, July 13th. Write to me to get an invite link.
If you know someone who is leading an organization, and wants to grow, I hope you'll send this post or the 10X site to that person.
Well, I'm now realizing that I'm not interested in starting another company, not at the moment. I don't mind hard work, but creating another startup from scratch right now just feels… lonely.
However, there's a problem: I don't play golf.
I don't ski.
I don't want to train for a marathon, a triathlon, a decathlon or even the Butt-Numb-Athon.
In short, I gotta get back in the game. I wanna be in it, solving problems, making customers happy, bringing new approaches to sticky problems.
A bunch of friends asked me what I want to do when I announced I was leaving, and I didn't really have a good answer. After a bit of a break, and thinking about it for a while, I finally have one, so this post is essentially the answer to that question.
Here's three scenarios of what might make sense:
Scenario One: Entrepreneur In Residence
Let's say you are in an established company. Maybe a growth-stage tech company, maybe a media operation. Maybe even a non-profit that's got a good track record.
Things are going well enough for you, but you realize that the world is changing fast, and you have a sneaking suspicion that you aren't really keeping up. What you'd like is for someone to come into your operation and do a few things without upsetting the apple cart too much.
What kind of things?
Talk to the team, see what entrepreneurial ideas are lurking around, but aren't getting any daylight.
Launch a new low-impact initiative, maybe a podcast or something that everyone thinks is a good idea, but it never seems to get done.
Evaluate other new ideas, see if there's any traction.
Typically an EIR just comes in for a defined time, usually one year. After that you'll have a much better sense of the future, and you'll have a program in place if you want to bring in another fresh set of eyes a year from now.
Scenario Two: New Product Leader
Let's say you have a new product idea, but your current team is busy with the current product. You've got some indication that this new product could do well, but you need to know how well it will integrate with what you do now, and you need to figure out what you don't know about actually launching this thing.
You want someone to come in who won't freak everybody out, but will also move the concept forward, and fast. That I can do.
Scenario Three: CEO Transition
I just ran a process to gently ease a CEO out of his position, run a search that he liked, and then found a great new CEO who is now kicking ass.
It's true, I was the first CEO in question there, but I have to say that I really did a good job at that.
Do you know a CEO who is, perhaps, a bit restless? Or perhaps that CEO just is no longer a good fit for what the company needs? And that CEO knows it, but just doesn't know how to let go?
I can help. I can help the CEO really look at the situation without a lot of emotional baggage. I can give hope to that person to see what the world might be like having moved on? And I can run a search to find the perfect new candidate, and then make sure that new CEO gets going in the right direction.
It would be hard, if not impossible, for someone who hasn't been in those CEO shoes to have that conversation. There are a lot of recruiters out there, but this is something entirely different. I've been there. I can empathize, strategize, and then move things forward for the person, and for the company.
Scenario Four: ??????
I realize that what will actually happen may be a bit different from what I plan on happening. Always works that way, right?
But if you are someone, or if you know someone, who might be interested in talking to me about one of these scenarios, or something entirely different, be in touch.
As of today, I'm going to be stepping down from day-to-day leadership of BlogMutt.
This news is big for me because I love everything about the company: the staff, the writers, the customers. Even the goofy name. BlogMutt is an exceptional operation.
So, why leave?
Well, we all have our strengths, and it's clear to me that my strengths are more in starting things... in creating something out of nothing. That and working out of 100-square-foot offices on a desk of a piece of plywood, like in the picture of me above in BlogMutt's very first office.
What BlogMutt needs now is someone who is good at:
1. Operations. Managing everything from sales to health insurance to product.
2. Growth. Understanding how to reach into new markets, reach new audiences, and build great partnerships.
For the short term, I'll be spending most of my time looking for someone to do that.
We need someone who can manage KPIs, EBITDA, CLV, etc. and not get MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over). I'm not that kind of CEO. As much as I love BlogMutt, I am just not that person.
Together with Wade Green—BlogMutt's other founder and technology head (who is staying on)—I'm now looking for that person, someone who can move us forward on all that management stuff, but also someone who can understand the magic we've created here.
Me, Courtney & Wade in the world's shakiest selfie, in BlogMutt's second office.
Qualities of this individual include:
Someone who is delighted to help small agencies be able to compete with much larger agencies because they have the power of BlogMutt behind them.
Someone who is moved to tears, as I am, by our writers. I spoke about them here, and we’ve shared some of the stories on our blog here, here, here, here, here, or really just about anywhere on our blog.
Someone who loves loves loves small businesses and understands the battle they face is almost always time, and how much BlogMutt can help them.
And someone who recognizes that the greatest assemblage of talent in any one office anywhere in the great state of Colorado is found on the second floor of an otherwise-boring building behind the PDQ gas station and convenience store in south Boulder, BlogMutt's fourth office.
Do you know that person? If so, please be in touch. See below for more.
(Most of) the aforementioned assemblage of talent, complete with my wrangling of the mascot mutt, Buddy, in front of BlogMutt's third office.
What comes next?
So, with BlogMutt getting some new management, what's next for me?
And I may be starting something new. What would that be, you ask?
Well, six or seven years ago I was fascinated by "crowdsourcing" in the loosest possible sense of the word. After a lot of conversations came the world’s best crowdsourced blog writing service, BlogMutt. Now I'm interested in "food." I read stuff like this about our broken food system and I find myself interested. Or maybe I'm just hungry.
In other words, it's time for me to sit under my own vine and fig tree. I’m no George Washington, but I am inspired by what he did, stepping down. That really had never happened before. And now we all get to live in a world where "no one can make us afraid."
And like Washington, I’ll be able to show the world that I can step down and the company will thrive because BlogMutt is so strong.
I’ve been lucky to have grown up in that world that Washington envisioned.
Really, I’ve been lucky my whole life. I had a great childhood, and I have a great family now.
I was lucky enough to work as a reporter and writer for years in New York City and all over Colorado.
And in a world where most startups fail, I’ve been lucky enough to create three of them that have all succeeded.
Thanks for joining me on this journey.
And by the way, before I can do any of the new stuff, I need to know that BlogMutt is in good hands. So if you know of someone who might be a good fit for the CEO job at BlogMutt, please contact me at CEO [at] blogmutt.com. That won't be my email much longer, so write soon.
The current controversy over putting a woman on the $10 bill — instead of the $20 — is helpful because it sheds a bright light on the powerful history, and all it represents today.
But history can be hard, so to help make it easier here's a helpful infographic. Feel free to share, embed, print, post, and then share some more. Let's bring history home, and ensure that no injustice is done in the paper we carry in our pockets every day.