#MeToo

Me too

By Samra Jones Bufkins

In the wake of the many sexual harassment allegations in a variety of industries, the social media hashtag #MeToo has gone viral. Women who have experienced workplace harassment or sexual assault are telling their stories, most after years, even decades of silence.

I’m one of them.

Some background: The term “sexual harassment” was first used in 1973 in a report to the president of MIT by the university’s ombudsperson, Mary Rowe. Although Dr. Rowe is reluctant to take credit for coining the term, her work on this subject led to MIT developing one of the first anti-harassment policies in the nation.

By the mid-1970s eight activists at Cornell University were using the term, but it didn’t see common usage until Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. In the late ’70s courts were recognizing a woman’s right to sue her employer for unwanted sexual advances, and the Supreme Court upheld these cases in the 1986 decision Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or
    condition of an individual’s employment, or
  2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis
    for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
  3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an
    individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or
    offensive working environment.

The EEOC recognizes two main types of sexual harassment: Quid pro quo (“Do this if you want to keep your job.”) and ongoing hostile environment (Speech or conduct that is pervasive, offensive, and demeaning and affects the target’s ability to work.) The harassment can be from someone of the opposite sex or the same sex.

Why we waited

When I first experienced sexual harassment, in the 1970’s, it was just becoming an issue, and few talked about it. Women who complained were often labeled “whiners” and “troublemakers.” We believed we won’t be taken seriously. We fear retaliation, and often left a job because we felt nothing would be done. Most women suffer in silence.

It didn’t help that Phyllis Schlafly made statements like “sexual harassment on the job isn’t a problem for virtuous women.” She fed the flames of victim-blaming that still exist today.

Additionally, many of the incidences of harassment we endured weren’t exactly recognized as harassment until Anita Hill brought attention to the problem of offensive comments in the workplace. Many of us thought these guys were just jerks, and if they didn’t specifically ask for sex, or threaten us, we toughed it out.

Remember Lisa Olson? She was a sports reporter for the Boston Herald in 1990 when she was trying to conduct a locker room interview with members of the New England Patriots football team. When her complaint became public, the Patriots team owner called her a “classic bitch.” An investigation by the NFL resulted in three players and the team being fined. Olson was subjected to harassment by Patriots’ fans, death threats, and a home burglary. She was villified in the press and by comedians. Playboy asked her if she’d pose. After settling a lawsuit against the team, she relocated to Australia to continue her journalism career.

It’s because of treatment like Olson received, along with victim-blaming, that many women still don’t talk about their harassment.

What I put up with

Here’s my litany of squirm-worthy incidents, most of which I’ve never told anybody about until now.

University of Kentucky, about 1975: A male professor in my major constantly made comments about my “flat ass.” These comments were made in class and during departmental social activities, within earshot of other faculty and students.

WKYT-TV internship and summer job in 1976:

  • The station’s sales manager would constantly come up to me, get way too close, and say “Take me to your ladder, I’ll see your leader later.” (I am six feet tall.) I usually rolled my eyes. What was I supposed to do? Ruin my career before I even graduated from college? That’s what would have happened in 1976.
  • Production crew members constantly referred to local female commercial talent by the C-word, and in one case said of a pair of twins known for their ads: “They both go down like a submarine. I want a threesome.” This was all in my presence.

WTVQ-TV, first job after graduation in 1977. Multiple incidents.

  • In the film editing room, where I worked, I was subjected to a day of watching pornographic film. My supervisor’s friend from Chicago was visiting, and showing off his work in the field.
  • While working a night shift in the control room, one of the guys was making video copies of the film “Deep Throat.” I had no choice but to listen and see this film displayed on multiple monitors. I complained to the night director, who told me to grow up.
  • The morning after the Deep Throat episode, I found the August issue of Hustler magazine, the one with the infamous scratch-n-sniff centerfold, open on my desk.
  • While visiting two college friends, a brother and sister, and their mother out of town one weekend, we ran into the station’s general manager in a posh local restaurant. He came to our table (really an elegant booth) to chat. I introduced him to my friends and without warning, he said “God you look good” and leaned over the table to kiss and grope me. My male friend planted his hand in Charlie’s chest and pushed him away. All of us were mortified. When I returned to work on Monday I told my supervisor (yes, the guy with the pornographer friend) and he went to the manager’s boss. Soon I was in his office telling him what happened, and he seemed appalled. Later that day Charlie came in, shooed everybody out, and apologized, saying he was drunk. He sent handwritten apology letters to my friends, their mother, and my parents.
  • After the incident in the restaurant, I started getting written up for petty infractions–things everybody else in the station got away with, like using the copier late at night (this TV station located the new copier in the women’s restroom), returning from lunch 5 minutes late, and so on. It was clear retaliation for reporting the manager, so what did I do? I found another job.

WTHR-TV: This was a larger station in a larger market, so I didn’t deal with as much of the abuse I did in my previous jobs, But there were some comments and dirty jokes. I also observed incidents with other female employees.

  • One colleague was an extremly well-endowed woman. One of the new directors shouted “Bazooms!” the first time he met her in our office. That nickname followed her around the station until she left.
  • Sex, male sexual prowess, and the goings-on of a married weather forecaster having an affair with a videographer were constantly discussed in the control room, hallways, and offices.
  • The weather forecaster mentioned above was married to a reporter at the station. When word got out about the affair, the assignments editor constantly assigned the videographer to work with his girlfriend’s estranged husband. (Yes, I’d consider that an ongoing hostile environment.)
  • When editing video programs in the master control room, union rules required the presence of an engineer to operate the recorder. More than once, while perched on my stool, I was brushed, patted, rubbed and other subtle but inappropriate touches. When I complained, I was told “oh, they’re just doing that because they like you.”
  • Male co-workers made constant sexual comments about the women in the programs, female reporters, and female staff of the station, usually within earshot of women so they could enjoy our disgusted reactions.
  • One videographer made a practice of asking any woman on camera (employees, public officials, guests being interviewed) to lick her lips as he set up the shot. He did it nicely, and if anybody asked “why?” he explained it away as a way to relax before going on air. Those shots of women licking their lips were edited together into a reel that made the rounds of the station, accompanied by crude comments. I was on that reel. I walked into a room and saw the guys watching it, and after that refused to lick my lips for any cameraman. When I complained I was told that was just harmless fun.

King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1982-1985.

  • Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m only listing it here because it is the only place I’ve worked (I was in the engineering office with only 2 other women) where I was treated with respect and dignity by all the men. When people find out I worked in Saudi Arabia, their first reaction is to say “oh, wasn’t that awful?” No, it was not.

Hermann Hospital, 1988–1990.  

  • My boss was the VP of development, and he had a habit of making sexual innuendos, including this comment about a sighing sound our photocopier made: “That sounds just like (my wife) Paula when we’re making love.
  • He constantly said things like “Men make more money than women, get used to it.”
  • When he fired his secretary (he wanted somebody better looking) she sent me an interoffice envelope containing the offer letter sent to a young male employee, just out of college, with no experience. It listed his starting salary at nearly $10,000 more than mine. By then I had tendered my resignation and went to the EEOC. That’s where I learned his comments and behaviors (and everything that came before) were sexual harassment. I received the difference between my pay and the new employee’s pay going back to when he was hired, and the VP of development was put on “special assignment” and never set foot in the hospital again.

I was extremely fortunate over the next few years to work in environments where sexual harassment seemed non-existent, at least to me. But then I went to work for Reliant Energy in the fall of 1999.

  • One male co-worker had the disconcerting habit of staring at my chest whenever he talked–and he loved to hear himself talk. He did this to all women, and when challenged about it he said “that’s just where I focus, I’m not really looking.”
  • One manager in a department we worked closely with made crude sexual remarks, which were dismissed as “oh, but that’s just Dan, he’s harmless.” The day he walked behind me while I was standing in my boss’ doorway and tucked my baggy blouse into the waistband of my shirt, I was speechless. My supervisor immediately got up and took him into our VP’s office. Nothing was done. When he retired, he said “thank you for putting up with all my transgressions.” Everybody laughed.

University of North Texas, Mayborn School of Journalism, 2009–2017. 

Again, very fortunate to work in a place where sexual harassment, at least from my experience, was rare and not tolerated. We were required to watch training videos to help us identify and avoid behaviors that could be considered harassment.

  • I had one male colleague who was a master at “mansplaining” the obvious.
  • He also made sly comments under the guise of “I can’t say things like this anymore because I’m afraid of being accused of sexual harassment.” He would go on and on and on about how sad he was that he could no longer tell a female (colleague or student) that he liked her new haircut or outfit, and belabored the point ad nauseum.
  • When a colleague was fighting a terminal illness, we made a get well video to pep him up. This guy began his comments with a joke about sexy nurses.
  • I had one female student report to me that her boss at an internship had framed photos of nude women in his office. She overheard him say “I do it because I like to see their reactions.” We reported this firm (the boss in question was the owner) to the university’s career center and asked that they no longer be allowed to recruit on campus. A year later, their internship and job postings were back on all the job boards.

It was hard writing this, but it was also cathartic. I haven’t even told my husband about the stuff I endured before we were married. I also have a feeling I’ve left some incidents out.

Now what?

To some, (men and women) many of the incidents cited can be considered inconsequential, and women reporting them are labeled as petty. But as Lady Gaga sings in “Till it happens to you,” you don’t know how it feels.  Men particularly have no idea, and women who have not experienced it are often the worst of the victim-blamers. But I truly believe if the #MeToo movement gains traction, we might make some headway in erasing this blight from our culture.

Culture change takes time, however, and all you have to do is read comments on news articles and social media posts to know we still have some knuckle-dragging neanderthals everywhere we look. The problem of sexual harassment is much broader and deeper than being whistled at by construction workers or groped in the file room. It’s also not the fault of women, although we are the ones offered anti-rape classes and workshops. Where are the workshops and classes for men? (They exist, and are often treated as a joke.) When are men told to be aware of their surroundings and watch how they’re dressed?

We need more men proactively working to keep their peers from continuing this behavior. We need more women willing to report incidents in a timely manner. We need HR departments to take allegations seriously and not let the reporting process be intimidating.

We won’t end this plague overnight, but we can speak up and demand its cessation. Beginning now. Sexual harassment is everybody’s problem, and it’s high time men stepped up to the plate to call out their male colleagues’ behavior and support women’s right to dignity and respect in the workplace. I’d think they’d want nothing less for their daughters, sisters, mothers and wives.

stop sexual harassment

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane evacuations: Never an easy decision.

By Samra Jones Bufkins, MJ, APR.

Irma

As I write this, I am watching news coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which produced the largest mass evacuation in U.S. history.

Hurricanes are big, destructive storms, terrifying many people in their paths, but modern forecasting technology makes it easier to predict the areas that will be affected. People living in those projected areas need to be safe.

As the old saying goes, you run from water, you hide from the wind. Evacuation of low-lying areas is proven to save lives, as it probably did with Hurricane Irma. However, mass evacuations have their own problems, and there is much discussion about how to efficiently transport millions of people out of harm’s way.

Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Coastal Bend area of Texas in late August, 2017 before going back out to sea and moving northeast to sit over and flood the Houston area, is a case in point. After the Houston Metropolitan area received 55” of rain, flooding much of the city, people started criticizing the mayor and other officials for not evacuating the city.

As a survivor of the evacuation ahead of Hurricane Rita in September, 2005, I think they made the right call.

Hurricane Rita evacuation

Barely three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Superdome_Roof_Damage_FEMAcoastal Mississippi and Alabama, Hurricane Rita unexpectedly grew to a category 5 hurricane, bearing down on Galveston Island with alarming speed. Based on storm surge projections and floodplain maps, officials ordered an evacuation of people in vulnerable areas. Millions of people from Corpus Christi to Beaumont packed up and left for higher ground.

On paper, Houston and Galveston had what appeared to be a good plan. Starting with the barrier islands, people were instructed to leave in stages, based on their geographic area, with those in the most danger going first. Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 21, traffic streamed north on the Gulf Freeway as thousands of people fled the island and coastal areas.

Houston mayor Bill White called for the city to be evacuated, emphasizing those areas subject to storm surge flooding. We were in a mandatory evacuation zone because our house was near Clear Lake and Galveston Bay. Our assigned departure time was 3-5 am Thursday, Sept. 22.

My husband and I were in the process of putting our house on the market. Bill was already working at his new job in Dallas, and I had quit my job to prepare for the move. He left work in Dallas early on Wednesday and drove to our home in Bay Area Houston to help me load up and evacuate.

When Bill arrived about 9 p.m. we packed the truck and the car, hanging the bicycle rack on the back. We got to bed about midnight and slept restlessly for a few hours. At 3 am we received a reverse 911 call with a recorded message by Mayor Bill White, telling us we should be getting on the road.

We made a final check of the house, secured our bicycles on the bike rack, packed the cats into crates in the car, and Bill took our basset hound in the truck. When we closed and locked the front door at 4:45 a.m., Rita was a category 5 storm headed for a direct hit on our area. We weren’t sure if we’d have anything to return to, but I left the porch light on.  Hurricane_Rita_Peak

Thus began a journey none of us will ever forget.

Gridlock

We hit the Gulf Freeway and headed north at a normal speed, listening to the radio for traffic reports. Remember, this was 2005, before all the gasoline and traffic apps we have today. As we got closer to the South Loop, traffic slowed. gridlock

Bill called me and suggested we take the Hardy Toll Road, which began north of downtown Houston. We got off I-45 and snaked through deserted side streets until we got on the toll road. Where we sat, without moving more than a couple of car lengths at a time, for six hours as the temperature approached triple digits.

On the radio, Mayor White and County Judge Bob Eckels were begging Governor Rick Perry to authorize removing the concrete barricades and allowing northbound traffic to drive on the southbound lanes. Those pleas were rebuked with excuses like “we’d have to get cranes down there to remove the barricades.” The logistics of blocking more than 100 exit ramps to prevent head-on collisions would also require hours. Meanwhile, 3 million people were sweating on a hot freeway, with some getting sick from the heat. To save fuel, many of us turned the A/C off.

The state eventually agreed to open contraflow lanes, but we had already inched past the opening on I-45, and they wouldn’t let cars enter the southbound lanes directly from the exit ramps. In other words, northbound lanes were gridlocked, and the few cars in the southbound lanes whizzed by, safely on their way to Dallas.

Out of gas, out of food, out of time

Low on gas, about 10 p.m. we got off the freeway in Huntsville. We had gone 95 miles in 17 hours. There was no fuel or food anywhere in Huntsville. I was ready to check in to the state penitentiary just to get off the road.

Bill took the exit for Bryan/College Station and I followed down the dark country road. roans prairieThere was traffic, but it was moving, until it suddenly came to a complete stop. This time Bill grabbed a bike off my car and took off up the road. When he came back he said “It’s a gas station!”

Ninety minutes later we gassed up both vehicles, got some snacks and caffeine, walked the dog, and chatted with people in the parking lot. Locals in the tiny community of Roans Prairie had come out to direct traffic, make coffee, check the restrooms and provide comfort to strangers.

We had pretty smooth sailing from there, taking back roads and I-35 to Waco. Cars and trucks were pulled off on the side of the road, with families camping there. Convoys of utility and supply trucks headed south. It was an eerie spectacle reminiscent of some apocalyptic movie.

About 3 am we pulled into a church parking lot where several other families had parked to get some rest. One man was planning on staying awake all night with his shotgun, willing to protect us all from crime.

The next morning, many fast food places were running out of food and coffee. We headed up to Bill’s Dad’s house in Denton. When we arrived about 10 a.m., we had been on the road for 29 hours.

I’m sure there are similar stories coming out of Florida and Georgia as people flee Hurricane Irma.

Lessons learned

Could a mess like this been avoided? Maybe. But there are things people could have done to minimize the agony.

Too many vehicles

Bill and I took two vehicles. I know we weren’t alone. Most of my neighbors took two cars, and we talked to people along the way with as many as four vehicles per family. That had to contribute to the gridlock. We Texans love our cars, and when faced with losing everything left behind, knowing you have a car gives you confidence as well as one less thing to repair or replace.

Looking back, we could have left the bicycles and a few other items, put the cats on the back seat with the dog, and made the trip in the truck.

But how would you limit families to one car? What about large families or those with lots of pets? I’m not sure there’s an equitable way to manage this, other than urging people to leave earlier.

Shadow evacuations

Another factor contributing to gridlock was the thousands of people well inland who decided to evacuate, clogging roads and using up resources along the route. This phenomenon is called shadow evacuation, When people inland of mandatory evacuation zones decide to leave, they often get in the way of people truly needing to get out.

For example: about 11:30 in the morning I got a call from a friend asking if we wanted to have lunch in College Station. Lunch? I just wanted to get off the Hardy Toll Road. These friends lived near downtown Houston and the Heights, well above any flood danger, and 50 miles inland.

When I realized we weren’t going to be off the road by dark, I called a former colleague who lives in The Woodlands, hoping to crash at her house. She said they were in Dallas at her brother’s house. All their neighbors left when they did that morning.

The Woodlands is a good 75 miles inland.

How do you minimize shadow evacuations? I don’t think it’s possible in a free society. When authorities can’t force people to leave during a “mandatory” evacuation, you can’t force those who want to go to stay behind

Fear of another Katrina

Many people with no need to evacuate left, either out of fear of another Katrina, or to avoid the inconvenience of being without power for a few days. Add in the fact that thousands of people from New Orleans were in Houston—and undoubtedly didn’t want to ride out another hurricane–you have a recipe for gridlock.

When evacuation is worse than the storm

Approximately 100 people died in the Rita evacuation, from heat-related illness, stress or accidents. Deaths included 24 nursing home evacuees who died when their bus burned on I-45 south of Dallas. That nursing home was near the Houston Galleria, well away from storm surge or potential for wind damage, and was not even close to a mandatory or voluntary evacuation zone.

After Rita, coastal counties and the governor made changes in procedures, and when Hurricane Ike approached Houston in 2008, contraflow lanes were considered, although not needed or implemented.

Houston has survived major flooding from storms in the past, without evacuating ahead of time. People will debate the decision not to evacuate until the next storm comes along. When people evacuate and the storm changes course—as Rita did—they become angry and complacent the next time a big storm blows through. Despite mixed messages by government officials, fear of another Rita was probably at the root of the difficult decision made by the mayor and Harris County judge.rita evacuation tweetWatching six or seven million people struggling to evacuate south Florida this week brought back bad memories. As sad as I am to see the suffering of people stuck in flood waters in Houston, I still think they made the right call not to evacuate. Lets hope the powers that be prioritize infrastructure improvements and communications to avoid future debacles during natural disasters.

 

 

New Year, New Stuff, New Musings

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-01/fireworks-light-up-the-sydney-harbour-bridge/5995388
Photo Credit Reuters: Jason Reed.

The year 2015 will be one of milestones and challenges. For starters, I’ll have a birthday ending in zero. At my age you don’t give much thought to birthdays unless they end in zero or five. This one will generate a lot of thought.

I’m moving all my blogs to WordPress. After teaching social media for four years I feel like I’ve put on my “big girl” blogging panties. Blogger was easy, Blogger was free, and Blogger was a habit. I also used Blogger for the collaborative blog created by my social media students–then one of them accidentally changed the primary email, making it his blog, not mine. Because Blogger is a Google product and his email is a Gmail account, my only option was to delete that blog and start over.  Classes start January 21 and new posts should start soon after that–in the meantime you can see what they’ve been up to in past semesters.

August 2014, Graduate School Commencement

The blog moving process, which is still in progress with the help of my former teaching assistant, student and now friend and trusted colleague Amber Morgan Freeland prompted me to make the change on all my blogs. I haven’t moved the “Missing Memo” blog (about dealing with my husband’s Alzheimer’s Disease) but that should happen soon.  In the meantime, playing around with the new WordPress blog sites is productive procrastination (that stuff you do that really accomplishes something but isn’t what you’re avoiding doing).

I also ended 2014 recuperating from back surgery, the same procedure Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo endured in 2013. Fortunately I don’t have to get tackled by people the size of small cars for a living, but as I endure physical therapy I have a new appreciation for that narrow column of bones and cartilage that was never designed for us to get up off our knuckles and start walking upright.

Starting a new year also involves starting a new semester, and this one proves to be a challenge. The number of public relations and advertising majors are growing, and I have 93 students enrolled in my course “Ethics, Law and Diversity for Strategic Communications.” While I love teaching this class (a required capstone course) I’m wondering if I’ll be able to get this class to engage in the kind of thoughtful, provocative, and often funny class discussions.  I’ll have two sections of my Public Relations Communications (also a capstone) course, and the social media class is shaping up to be its usual mix of craziness and seriousness.

Oh, did I mention I have a student doing an internship in California, working for the Dr. Phil show? I’m looking forward to reading her weekly reports.

Frodo
Frodo in his prime, in our garden in Houston.

There were losses in 2014. We lost Frodo, our gorgeous 17 year old Maine Coon cat, who came to us in a torrential thunderstorm in Houston and has left an indelible mark on our hearts. Frodo had been declining, and one day just didn’t get up.  He’s buried in an honored spot in our garden.

Frida
Frida, always about half the size of Frodo, was the “Alpha” cat.

Less than a month later we lost Frida, the scrappy little rescue cat who was only 12 years old. It seems she died of a broken heart, because she and Frodo were close pals since our days in Houston.  After he died she withdrew and stopped eating. When we found her she was beyond help. She is buried next to Frodo, with some lovely flowering plants and an angel cat ornament marking their graves.

Holly at the lake
Holly exploring the Lake Lewisville shoreline.
Last picture
Last photo with our darling dog.

Then, just before Thanksgiving, our beloved basset hound Holly couldn’t get up one day. We rushed her to the emergency clinic but the cancer that had silently invaded her body had spread throughout her vital organs. Classy until the end, she died in my arms as Bill, the kind veterinarian, and I sobbed. She was nine.

Holly swimmingSwimming next summer will be different without Holly, who, oddly for basset hounds, was an enthusiastic swimmer, especially when the weather was Texas HOT.

Mama Cat 52814
Mama Cat, really a kitten herself, when we found her on May 28, scared and alone with 5 newborn kittens.

With loss there is gain. In late May the stray cat we had been trying to catch to have spayed gave birth to five orange kittens in a downstairs closet.  She moved them several times before settling on the spot I had chosen for them. They gave us a lot of joy with every milestone and every toddler adventure. Kittens on hat Continue reading

Getting to Know You

The class roster was daunting: 54 students enrolled in “Ethics, Law and Diversity for Strategic Communications,” the required capstone class for Advertising and Public Relations majors where I teach.

Fifty four students isn’t large at some universities, or in some subjects, but it’s a large class in a journalism school, where individual attention and mentoring are key to student success. But budgets are tight and the faculty is small, so all the stratcommers are lumped together into one drab, windowless classroom two days a week to study ethical codes and learn how to make ethical decisions.

The other classes I teach are mostly PR writing classes—intimate gatherings that include many one-on-one coaching and editing sessions in my office. I get to know those students pretty well—their dreams, their fears, their aspirations. Some of them open up about their lives and ask for personal coaching, and I do the best I can with that, even if it’s only to listen and let them know I care. I become close to these kids, and genuinely care about them and their futures. Many stay in touch after graduation to ask professional advice and share important milestones. They’ve become a sort of extended family.

In the big ethics class I already know most of the PR majors, or have them in my PR class that semester. The advertising majors, for the most part, are new to me. Since I want to know everybody by name, I call roll. Yes, it takes time at the beginning of class, but if I passed an attendance sheet around I’d never hear some of their voices, never make eye contact even for that instant when they say “here” and look back down at their iPhone.

I try to get discussions going, and often break the kids into small groups to discuss cases in class. I roam around and try to get to know the kids, but it’s hard in such a large group. I always encourage the kids to come see me in my office, but they rarely do. I want to know their names, where they’re from, what they want to do after graduation. I want to help them if I can, and I can do that better if I know them.

So the day the students presented their first case studies to the class I realized with some sadness I’ll never know most of these kids. Broken into groups of 5, they analyzed an advertising or PR case and made a presentation of their findings. As I sat there watching them prepare their materials I was struck by how many kids I didn’t recognize. I’d look at the group list and at their faces and think “Where did that girl come from? I’ve never seen her before.” “Is that young man the one who sits in the back and never speaks? Who is he, again?”

I still call roll at the beginning of class. As long as they sit in the same seat every day I can usually look in their direction when I call their name, meaning I am at least associating a name with a region of the classroom. But would I know their name outside of class? Probably not. I know the ones who have reached out—those who’ve joined me for lunch or invited me for a beverage with the student association after class. But those are the ones I’d know anyway, because they drop by the office to say ‘hi” and speak up in class. They ask pertinent questions and challenge me and that makes an impression.

Many studies have been done about why students drop out of college. Besides expenses, many reasons related to depression and not fitting in are cited. Feeling like the professors don’t know you or don’t care is a factor in these feelings. Large classes are definitely detrimental to developing close student—professor relationships, but students could do more, too. Walk up to the professor after class, introduce yourself and ask a question—even a lame question is better than nothing. Ask to clarify a concept, ask about the book, the syllabus, anything to show you are engaged with the material and interested in learning. Drop by the professor’s office during office hours, even if it’s to say “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d say ‘hi’.” Bring a graded paper with you and ask about something written in the margin. Ask about another class, or about an internship. You’ll start a relationship with the professor that will enrich your learning and enhance your collegiate experience. You may even find you have a new friend or mentor for life. But you, the student, need to make the first move, or risk becoming a nameless face in the back of class staring at a mobile device.

In a week or so they’ll make their 4th group presentation to class. By now, they all look familiar enough that I know they’re enrolled in the class, but I wish I could name them all on sight, even in the classroom. The ultimate luxury would be to know them by name if I run into them elsewhere on campus, or out in town. Then I’d know we had developed the solid professional relationship that good networking and mentoring is built upon.

C’mon kids, drop in and see me. Next semester there are 67 kids in that class. I’ll need all the help I can get getting to know you.

Twitter at 3 am (Denver time)

Show over. Looks like I lived to tell about that one—and didn’t embarrass the university or the Mayborn School of Journalism. (I’m not worried about embarrassing myself, but I never want to hurt the client/employer.) Either I did OK or their second hour guest didn’t show up, because what was originally booked as a one hour interview lasted two. But the time flew by, even though it was way past my bedtime.

Admittedly, I’m a little out of practice, but got the hang of it again quickly. How? First of all, I didn’t think about the fact they claim to have a million listeners of this show. I’m on the phone with one guy who’s asking me questions, and occasionally someone else is conferenced in for a three way conversation. That’s a pretty normal state of affairs for most of us, and one PR pros could keep in mind when doing interviews.

So, how did it go? After my prep (see previous blog post), I had several interesting Twitter conversations with my students, mainly about Rebecca Black’s horrible viral music video—then she turns up on Leno and the snarkfest got even better.

Gotta love Twitter. Where else can you converse with people like they’re sitting in the living room with you while they’re miles away? But I digress….

My desired nap never materialized, and at about 1:30 am I found myself fading. I made a cup of strong tea and got a huge glass of ice water, hooked the headset up to my phone, and listened to the show before ours. I pulled out my notes and listened to people talk about DUI and marijuana and how Obama is a Marxist. Seems to be a theme there.

There was a small posse of students listening—and tweeting—that I really appreciated. Katie Grivna, NT Daily Editor (@katiegrivna), Julianne Verdes (@JooLeeV), Lesley Merritt (@PR_Lesley), @ValerieElisse (sorry, can’t remember your last name because I haven’t had you in class yet), Nick Clarke (@Nikwc) and my loyal TA, Kali Flewellen (@iamkalijo) turned out to be a spontaneous support posse. They’d chime in with comments, quips for me to use, and critiqued everything from the show’s music to the announcer’s voice (very nice).

Rick Barber is one of the best informed and considerate radio hosts I’ve worked with. He knew his stuff but had no problem saying “I don’t understand this, explain it to me.” I was way over-prepared (as any good spokesperson would be) but nothing prepares you for those people who call in to radio talk shows.

The first caller was a Star Trekkie, who thought this whole thing was “borg like.” I found things in his comments to agree with, to validate his position, and Rick eventually politely cut him off to go to a commercial break. We also had a call from a Texan who wants to major in music at UNT, who wanted to know how to use Twitter strategically, and a real estate guy who was asking for advice on how to use SM in his business. I found myself dispensing some consulting advice, which is OK. I want people to know how to use it strategically, and find value in it.

I even got to discuss my beloved Kentucky Wildcats and the NCAA basketball tournament. How’s that for taking control of an interview? And I plugged the social media class blog on air, too.

Kali, my awesome TA, called in and had some good things to say about Twitter, and I had the chance to discuss some customer service case studies, how to set up a Twitter account, and how to find people to follow. I plugged Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, and Twellow. Rick seemed to be hanging on every word.

He’s a great interviewer. He lets you talk, asks good questions, and is fun to chat with. I’m spoiled. I felt like I was sitting at a table having a beer with him, it was so easy. Because he’s such a congenial interviewer, I was able to get all my desired talking points in without (I hope) appearing to take charge of the interview.

But those callers can be scary, especially at night—to paraphrase Forrest Gump, “They’re like a box of chocolates, you never really know what you’re going to get.

As for prep– a good spokesperson knows the topic, and is passionate about it.  That’s all it takes to make it look easy, although I was consciously watching the clock to put in a Mayborn plug if I thought it had been too long since the last one.  Gotta think on your feet, but it’s easy to do if you know your stuff and love it.

The kids who tweeted comments and ideas didn’t realize it at the time, but they were doing exactly what they’d be doing for a client or CEO in a similar situation. And they were great moral support. Even though I’ve done stuff like this dozens of times before, it’s always good to know your posse’s got your back.

Click here to listen to the whole show.

Twitter at 2 a.m.? What WAS I thinking?

My PR students may be interested in knowing how I prepped for a one hour live interview on 850 KOA radio in Denver on Wednesday, March 22. People who know me well will want to know how I prepped for this interview because it was from 2-3 a.m. Dallas time. They know I’m usually in bed by 10:30 because I’m an early riser. Oh well, we PR people are good soldiers. We do what we have to do for the cause.

The producer’s call came at 3:30 as I was walking over to the student union to meet a music professor friend for coffee. At this time of year she’s up to her eyeballs in juries and recitals, and I’m up to my eyeballs grading student writing. Thirty minute breaks are necessary for our sanity.

The producer had received a very nice, very flattering dispatch from UNT’s PR department touting me as an “expert” on Twitter, available to talk about it, and describing my use of it in the classroom. This advisory included an incredibly eloquent quote by me, caught when I was well-rested and in a good mood.

The scenario was intriguing: The show is called “After Midnight with Rick Barber” and it has a million listeners. It’s available via webcast, and because it’s a Clear Channel station, they have wide reach. This is a good opportunity to promote the University of North Texas and the Mayborn School of Journalism. But 2 am? That’s deep into my regular REM time.

But Steve, the jovial producer, had me at “This radio host just doesn’t ‘get’ Twitter.” I’m in, big time. I LOVE talking to Twitter haters, Twitter agnostics, Twitter wafflers and Twitter doubters big-time. Sure, I’ll stay up past my bedtime to talk to your guy about something I started out hating and for which I am now an evangelist. Do I call you, or will you call me?

After exchanged emails nailed down all the details, my work began. I’ve done live, one hour interviews before, but they were always in studio, where I could see the host, and at a civilized hour. Wait, there was the one I did on a hunting and fishing show (when I worked for a conservation organization) at 5 am an hour’s drive from home. But I digress….No matter how “expert” you are, you have to prep for something like this, or you’re a fool. I’m representing the university, even if it’s in another time zone when only insomniacs are listening. So the first thing I did was research the station, and the host. I ‘liked’ the station on Facebook and started following them on Twitter.

News Radio KOA 850 AM is a news/talk station that is also the official station of the Denver Broncos. Their broadcast lineup includes Rush Limbaugh, which is important to know, because that tells me a lot about their audience. Their network news is Fox News Radio. Looking at the rest of their lineup, I can tell they like humor. Good, I’m OK with that. I also catch up on local news, which, if appropriate, I can refer to during the interview. Colorado is struggling with major brush fires right now.

The next thing I do is try to find info on Rick Barber, which in this case is not easy. The guy doesn’t have much of an online profile, which is not surprising if he’s not a Twitter fan. The station’s website could provide more biographical info, but I’ve got to work with what I’ve got. A Facebook search tells me he graduated from high school in 1964 (so he’s my brother’s age) and has been a radio host in Denver since 1982. He has undergraduate degrees in journalism and anthropology, which makes me think he’s an interesting guy. He’s from Providence, RI and likes classical music and jazz. I think he likes golf, but he doesn’t really have much on his page. I know all this because his Facebook security settings are wide open.

I listen to their local newscast—pretty standard fare—and the evening talk show host rant about how our president is a Marxist.

So, now that I have an idea of the tone of this station, I check for some updates on Twitter, related to its 5th birthday, and refresh my memory on some general social media statistics. I’m trying to anticipate the questions, and listening to the people calling in to the earlier programs helps me prepare for the potential for late-night nuttiness.

And I have another Diet Coke.

Then I prepare a little bullet point sheet, print off a couple of favorite blog posts about Twitter and social media so I can quote them, and review a PowerPoint I showed in class about Twitter. I also Tweeted my progress to my students and asked them for input, which was wide-ranging.

It always pays to be over-prepared, especially when it’s a situation you’re unfamiliar with. This is not a taped interview of 5-10 minutes in length, this is an open-ended live late-night minefield, and while world peace or a cure for cancer is not at stake, I don’t want to embarrass the university or the Mayborn School of Journalism. So I decide it’s also worth reviewing a blog post I wrote in March, 2009 about prepping for a late night TV appearance. No, this guy’s not Letterman, but he’s been on the air for a long time in a major media market and undoubtedly has a following. I can’t take any chances.

So now, as the evening news is winding down I’m getting comfy and switching gears to get a little brain break before the fun begins. I’m armed with the stats I want to use, and will have both the desktop and laptop computers fired up for real-time Googling and live Tweeting as needed. I’m looking forward to this, and will post an update after I’ve finished the show—and gotten some sleep!

Social Media: bringing people together in times of crisis

During this spell of icy weather (is it Winter Break II or Early Spring Break?) I’ve been getting over a horrible upper respiratory infection, which gave me the perfect excuse to wallow on the couch with blankets, cats and a laptop, monitoring the cable news channels and social media.  Just the way any modern AARP member spends her time off, right?
Between naps and doses of Mucinex, I noticed something.  There have been many articles written about how social media supposedly isolates us.  One of my students, Pelpina Trip, blogged about a new book by Sherry Turkle called “Alone Together” and went on to quote an interesting Pew Research study about social media. 
I’m with Pelpina, and Pew, on this topic.  Yes, it’s annoying to be around people glued to their laptops, tablets and mobile devices to the exclusion of the people around them.  I’m getting a lower tolerance for rudeness even as I tweet and text from restaurant tables while conversing with my husband or friends. 
But I think overall, social media can be a great unifier.  While lounging on the couch waiting for the world to thaw out I’ve experienced and commented on the uprising in Egypt, heard people complain about the rolling blackouts that left them freezing in the dark, exchanged energy conservation tips,  learned which restaurants and stores were open in Denton, shared snarky comments about the Super Bowl and helped students with assignments.  I’ve rearranged guest speakers for my class, given shout outs to colleagues who are doing heroic work in the bad weather, and whined with friends all around the country as we deal with this horrible winter storm. 
My first year out of college I went through a blizzard in Indianapolis.  It was the winter of 1978, and I was among a team of about 30 people that kept Channel 13 in Indy on the air for 4 days. We suspended union work rules so that every task was covered, slept in shifts in the hotel across the street or in sleeping bags in offices (the mayor of Indy spent one night on a couch in our lobby), and we pulled together as a team to keep the information flowing to a city paralyzed under 3 feet of snow and near-zero temperatures.  There was no internet, no Twitter, no social media of any kind.  We had land lines and “film at 11.” It was primitive by today’s standards—no live shots of reporters freezing on highway overpasses and stating the obvious, just good solid information sharing to keep people alive and comfortable.  People around town phoned the station to tell us what was going on, what stores were open, who needed help, which stores had gasoline or milk or baby formula, and we passed it on to the viewers.  The National Guard put snow plows on tanks.  I couldn’t find my car for 3 days and it took a week to dig it out, and then it had to be towed to the shop for repairs.  That’s life in the rustbelt.
Why am I telling you this?  Because what we did at WTHR in Indy was exactly what social media has done during this storm and its aftermath—we shared useful information with people who needed it, and we were occasionally entertaining.  And people like me, sniffling and lying on the couch, felt connected to the world by the touch of communications.  Social media is an extension of that—it’s more personal than an exhausted anchor in a newsroom passing along information, and it doesn’t require the filter of an assignments editor.  You can converse with multiple people at once and share diverse points of view, without editing by a media gatekeeper.  It’s info from a friend—real or electronic—and it makes you feel connected and whole.  That’s what the global village is all about.

On lying as a PR strategy; or, sex, lies and drug tests

I wasn’t going to write about the downfall of Indiana Congressman Mark Souder, latest in a long series of religious, “family values” advocates caught valuing his carnal urges over his marriage and family. I don’t get mad about these horny hypocrites any more, although the irony of preaching ‘family values’ while bedding a younger staffer is striking.

At least we didn’t have the wronged wife, beautifully dressed, smiling bravely next to him as he gave his tearful resignation—and where he obliquely blamed Washington and those criticizing him for his transgression. He claims the Mrs. wanted to be there, but why should we believe him now?

I also wasn’t going to write about Democratic Senate candidate Mark Blumenthal’s claim that he “misspoke” when he said he served in Vietnam.

‘”On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service and I regret that. And I take full responsibility,” said Blumenthal…”But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.”’

Yeah, right. There’s a big difference between serving “during” the Vietnam war and actually going there, only to come home and be ridiculed and spit on in the airport. (Ask my brother about that and see what he says.)

So again, we’ve got the liar blaming others and really only showing regret that he got caught, and deflecting blame onto the people criticizing him.

What prompted me to write is the news that Floyd Landis, dethroned 2006 Tour de France winner, is finally coming clean about his doping. Well, sort of.

He’s admitted taking performance enhancing drugs throughout his career, but still maintains the test that busted him from the Tour de France podium was flawed, and that he never used synthetic testosterone that season.

And in the same breath he names Lance Armstrong a fellow doper.

So this is his strategy—admit to generalized wrongdoing while maintaining innocence in a specific case, and then deflect the attention onto a bigger name in the sport just to make sure your story makes front page news. It’s an interesting twist on the “Express regret but admit no wrongdoing” theory of public relations adopted by so many politicians and celebrities. And it’s a unique way of blaming someone else.

Full disclosure: I’m a long distance cyclist and a real fan of Lance Armstrong, and I find it hard to believe anybody who went through the cancer treatment he survived would intentionally put any harmful substance into his body. The man is driven, out to prove something, making a difference in cancer awareness, and has an incredible work ethic. He’s also arguably the most drug-tested athlete in the world. This is a man whose wife was in labor, and as they were getting into the car to go to the hospital were interrupted by the WADA crew demanding a sample. He’s won lawsuits against people who made doping accusations before, and he’s never failed a drug test. Until I hear otherwise from Lance himself, I believe he’s clean. Everyone else’s accusations are sour grapes.

I was also a great fan of Landis, and this is why I’m so mad: I gave money to his defense fund. I shook his hand and had my photo taken with him. He looked me in the eye and thanked me for my support as he signed my Richardson Bike Mart jersey. I stood in the store—decorated with Tour de France memorabilia given to the owners by their friend and loyal customer Lance Armstrong—and listened to Floyd and his lawyer talk about the case they had against the charges.

And I believed him.

I spoke to a former pro cyclist with knowledge of doping—he’s now battling Multiple Sclerosis—and he said there was no way Landis would have taken testosterone as a one day drug enhancement. He also talked about how the Tour de France’s chain of custody for samples is so bad they could have mixed up a dog urine sample with Floyd’s and never known it. So everything pointed to a setup.

Now it appears those of us who contributed to his $2 million dollar defense fund—cyclists, trainers, bike shop owners, and fans—are the ones who were set up. And the timing–during the Tour de California and Giro d’Italia and the run up to the Tour de France–is suspect as well.

And I’m mad. I’m sure the bike shop owners who organized appearances and loyal fans are mad. The little kids who broke open their piggy banks and gave money for Floyd’s defense are mad. The media are mad. The French are mad (OK, they’re always mad about something). The entire clean portion of the cycling world is mad, because Landis’ accusations cast aspersions on everyone involved, not just those caught, and not just on Lance Armstrong.

Floyd’s PR strategy is working though—he has ensured that whether or not he rides in this year’s big European races, he’ll be the talk of the Tour for a long time. For those who believe there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Floyd is winning without ever getting on a bike.