OK, so in the traditional of Labor Day, I am cutting and pasting an email that is one of my favorite emails I've ever written (and I've been told that a few journalism profs have passed along to students) about the power of social media and the comfort in recognizing that the warp-speed pace of change is incredibly threatening to anyone. Even people who are good at tech.
Social media connection is so exciting and so inspiring, but it's also crushing and overwhelming and downright threatening at times. Because to be always on-call and to be always expected to learn the new great thing, well, that's a lot to handle. Totally awesome (I mean, the iPhone and Twitter, RIGHT?) but also, a lot. It is all a lot sometimes, and I think it's helpful to know that even for people who have a proficiency for tech, it is still a challenge. That always comforts me, anyway.
At the end of this is also a very beautiful story about my mom and YouTube and childhood lullabies and a moment that never could have occurred without where we are at with tech in today's society. So there is that, too.
Happy Labor Day, everybody. I love you very, very much. And I'm so happy to be back in New York.
For background: This is an email that I wrote to Northwestern's Medill alumni listserv back in May when people were flailing around decrying how Twitter was the death of everything good in journalism and society and common decency. Enjoy!
"...Skimming through these emails and wanted to share my perspective on the rapidly changing tech and media landscape. I wrote one of the first stories about Twitter in 2006 for The New York Post and went on to become the first writer for that newspaper with a verified account. I know some -- not a lot -- but some of what I speak.
"As my friend David Carr (not to mention Brian Stelter) from the New York Times could tell you: Twitter is without a doubt, without question, essential for reporting nowadays and frankly, it gets embarrassing when those who are intimidated by the technology (which I definitely was at first, too) find that the most comfortable response for their lack of knowledge is to then respond with fear and dismissal.
"With that in mind, I offer these few words of hope and encouragement to those who may be interested in learning more but are also understandably cowed by all of the rapid tech change happening in the industry: *Know that it's not just you.* We are all intimidated. We are all overwhelmed. We all feel behind. We all do not have enough time. We are all struggling to keep up. I consider myself fairly tech proficient, but it took me a solid day of Googling and watching YouTube tutorials and playing around and failing and just learning and imitating (the way I might have in j-school) to unravel the insider code and all the rest of Twitter.
"The best model for enrichment, education and adapting to this tech revolution I've seen is between Stelter and Carr at The Times, honestly. (Watch their dynamic in the doc 'Page One.' It's delightful, informative and inspiring.) Stelter is a younger reporter and his tech expertise hugely enriches Carr (which both recently talked about at Internet Week in NY -- which, incidentally, if anyone is bemoaning not having a job, go to any conference like this, show a little hustle and value and emotional intelligence and a great 'getting-it' work ethic, and you'll find a 100 leads by the end of the day). By the same token, Carr's many years of wisdom as a reporter, manager and alternative weekly editor in addition to decades of in-the-trenches people and political maneuvering are knowledge that he can offer and enrich to the admittedly grateful Stelter.
"This is an ideal modern mentorship model. Instead of blanket and fear-based dismissal, actually say to a younger person who may not have the finesse you do in networking and intelligence gathering: 'I would love to answer questions you may have about wisdom and skills I have, and in turn, I would love to ask you questions about some of these new tech modalities you seem more proficient in by virtue of your age and earlier immersion.' Except maybe in language less ham fisted and dorky than that.
"Related: I always like to say that the quickest way to ascertain someone's intelligence and confidence is to see how comfortable they are in saying: 'Wow, there is so much I don't know and have to learn.' This is a quality you find from doctors, lawyers, editors, screenwriters, some of the top minds you will ever meet. 'Wow, there is so much more I have to learn.' What a thrilling and intimidating proposition.
"Smaller minds go the '48 Laws of Power' route. Which is adorable. But small and transparent.
"Having openness and initiative combined with hustle and anticipation (meaning: not being that guy who says 'how do I get to the place?' but knowing to Google for directions and showing in this short-hand code that you respect other people's incredibly limited time) are truly gorgeous qualities in today's rapidly changing media model.
"Don't major in the minor. 'Well Twitter sucks because of X.' Sure, and the entire democratic system should be dismissed because of one scandal. No. That's cheap and lazy and wildly uninformed.
"It's embarrassing when senior editors do not know when a big story has broken until half an hour after the fact (if that's a primary responsibility and expectation in their job) because they are so committed to their assessment of new technology being bad (because it doesn't come easy for them) that they didn't know to have TweetDeck up and follow @ap to find out the very second a story broke. Or when veteran reporters miss a scoop because they aren't following their sources who are now revealing news on Twitter first (and might later delete a tweet) unfiltered by publicists.
"So, I say to anyone who's genuinely interested in learning and embracing some of the new modalities for both news and promotion and really, so much else that is possible right now (read any book by Seth Godin: the revolution we are in right now is the connection revolution): just remember it's not easy for anyone. It can be frustrating and confusing and hard and maddening and worst of all: It makes you feel dumb. It makes you feel that someone who is younger than you has a very specialized knowledge -- and it comes easy to them -- and perhaps now some of the skills that you've learned are no longer relevant. That's a very uncomfortable feeling. But that's also the thrill of innovation and the age we live in. (If you can shift your perspective and choose to view it in that frame.)
"Or, smaller minds will fight to the death to be right. Whatever works.
"Lastly, I'll share a very sweet story that speaks to the beauty of the modern age. When my mom was visiting me in NY a few months back, I recorded her singing a lullaby, 'Baby's Boat,' that was a favorite of mine as a little girl. I snapped her singing it on my iPhone and then uploaded it immediately on YouTube. Here's a message I got about the song the other day.
"(...Yes, there's a lot of sad and bad and frustrating and scary and just plain maddening things about technology. But oh how sweet the lovely things are.)
"'Dear Mandy: I am 9 months pregnant, and woke up from a dream the other night about my grandmother (long gone), singing me a song, about "sail, baby, sail"... I couldn't shake the dream but I was certain I must have imagined the song, because I only saw my grandmother a very few times when I was little and I could not remember ever hearing her sing.
"'I called my mother, who got all choked up and asked me how I could possibly remember such a thing, and that she hadn't thought about that lullaby since she herself was little, and in fact her mother DID sing a little lullaby at night to her and her sisters this same line about "sail, baby, sail"...'Anyway, long story short -- thanks to Google, I found your video with your mom singing and just absolutely burst into tears. It's the same song. Your mom looks a lot like what I remember my grandmother looked like, and the song is the one I dreamed about, and she must have sung to me when I was very small. I sent it to Mom, and we both listened to it online and just can't believe it. I am so happy to have the pieces filled in so I can sing this same lullaby to my baby when she comes. It is like my grandmother's spirit found a way to pass a little piece of herself on to her littlest great-granddaughter, through you all. THANK YOU so much, and thank you to your mom. What a priceless gift. Sincerely, Catherine'"
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.