Wednesday, May 24, 2006

so what: communicating in the age of AIDS

One of the most fascinating communications projects we've ever worked on was the funding and sourcing for the first television series on AIDS, from WGBH-Boston, back in the late 1980s. Called The AIDS Quarterly, it was hosted by Peter Jennings and was the brainchild of Renata Simone. At a time when most television networks weren't touching the subject, public television took it on. And they won the funding (from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, at the time one of the few philanthropies active in AIDS) because Renata, when asked "so what?" by a clever foundation executive, could answer that question about the impact of the epidemic and the impact of the series.

Today, we still use the "so what?" question to check our (and our clients') assumptions about communications matters large and small. And we're pleased to alert you that Renata has produced a lookback at the AIDS epidemic on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the first diagnosed cases of AIDS. Airing on the public television stations series Frontline next week (Tuesday, May 30 and Wednesday, May 31), the special will look at the science, social and political impacts -- and I expect it will hit the "so what?" question hard, as usual. (Check your local listings for specific times.)

If you do communications and outreach about AIDS matters, contact the series (information here) about their planned outreach and education events, or about using portions of the film in your work.

government bloggers

...and would-be government bloggers gathered at the National Association of Government Communicators yesterday in Baltimore. Don't get caught president Denise Graveline joined Susan Matthews Apgood of News Generation and Dan Shellenbarger of the Ohio Channel to talk about missed opportunities and good examples of blogging, podcasting, RSS and more in government and non-government settings. One participant shared information about an emerging law enforcement blog: The Los Angeles Police Department blog, reportedly one of only two in the nation. We continue to seek your good examples of blogging within and outside the government. Email us at

Monday, May 15, 2006

you know you're not paying attention... least, not fully, to most of the information that comes your way. And now the wavering attention span of the modern multitasker is being scrutinized at a lab in Los Angeles, sponsored by the Interpublic Group of Companies, a holding company for ad agencies and media buyers, according to today's New York Times. There, major corporate clients can focus on "concurrent media usage" in settings that replicate homes where consumers can watch TV, use the Internet and talk on the phone. Market researchers, the article notes, are now trying to measure consumers' level of engagement with various media. One chilling finding: "'Our research showed that people somehow managed to shoehorn 31 hours of activity into a 24-hour day,' said Colleen Fahey Rush, executive vice president for research at MTV Networks." While solid measurement tools still are not available for attention spans, we're already advising our clients to pay attention to this trend.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

publicizing nonprofit credibility checks

We've been watching major nonprofits take a variey of stances when it comes to sharing publicly the steps they're taking to correct credibility problems, and the latest example is covered in today's New York Times: The Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit center for research and treatment, where the board of trustees has taken on new roles in examining conflicts of interest that arise when physicians at the clinic have relationships with industry entities, such as drug and medical device manufacturers. The move comes after a year of public controversy, during which even the clinic's chief executive disclosed (and then severed) ties to for-profit companies. The clinic has not yet decided to make available to patients and the public information about potential conflicts. David J. Rothman,a medical ethicist at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, who advocates such public disclosure, notes in the article, "If they make that information public, they will set a precedent that is very difficult to resist." What's your nonprofit's policy on disclosing potential conflicts? We can help you strategize and plan for such an event. Contact Denise Graveline at

Friday, May 05, 2006

come blog with us

...on May 9 or on May 16, from 9:30am to 1pm, at the National Press Club's computer classroom for our "Blogging for Your Business" workshops, back by popular demand and our own conviction that blogs can be turned to your communications needs, no matter what you do. We've helped retail, construction, public relations, federal agency, nonprofit, franchise, art and writing professionals use blogs to, among other things:

- replace their newsletters and save printing and mailing costs;
- communicate swiftly with members, reporters and constituents;
- update their web pages effortlessly and frequently, without help;
- share their expertise to educate and bring in new clients;
- decide whether they need a blog;
- explain to other colleagues the pros and cons of blogging.

Seats are still available for both workshops. Register now online here, and join this cutting-edge movement. You don't want to miss the experience that one participant said "has changed my business model completely." Email Denise Graveline at with any questions you may have.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

the holes in peer review

New York Times science writer and physician Lawrence K. Altman today takes scientific peer review of journal articles to task in a commentary that reviews most of the steps in the peer review process -- and most of the holes in it, too. News about journal-published findings are among the most popular types of science news, and nonscientists have come to look for the term "peer-reviewed" as a marker of quality. Not so, says Altman:

However, even the system's most ardent supporters acknowledge that peer review does not eliminate mediocre and inferior papers and has never passed the very test for which it is used. Studies have found that journals publish findings based on sloppy statistics. If peer review were a drug, it would never be marketed, say critics, including journal editors.

Altman's commentary includes a rundown of recent retractions of findings that went through peer review, but later turned out to be fraudulent. If you're releasing scientific news, you should expect -- and welcome -- questions that go beyond "is it peer reviewed?" when establishing the quality of the research. Altman's commentary provides a useful guide to consult in understanding the process and what it can -- and can't -- do.