December 31st, 2010
It’s been a good year. See you in 2011!
One of this year’s communications highlights was the book “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte, superstar communications guru. She presented my “Four Organs of Communication,” approach. Her book spent most of the year in the top 100 best sellers on Amazon and is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in effective communication.
A YEAR OF 100 BENSHI ESSAYS
It’s been an interesting and productive year for “The Benshi,” — this “non-blog” website I started in January. A little over a year ago, shortly after the publication of my book, a number of people asked me if I was going to create a blog to accompany the book. Given that I had offered up my criticism of blogs in the book, it seemed contradictory to then open my own blog.
Right about the time I was pondering what to do, a writer in Esquire magazine wrote a piece about what’s good and bad about blogs. He told about a few years ago, when blogging was new, how he spent three months preparing to open his very first blog. He carefully edited his first post, then with great pride finally opened it up and waited for the first comment, which arrived within and hour, and was a single line that said, “You’re a faggot.”
I love that story. It sort of sums it all up. You step up on your soapbox to address the world only get a rotten tomato thrown in your face before you even start.
I’ve previously run two blogs. That was enough for me. It’s a great thing for some people (Andy Revkin, for one, is a master of conducting a blog like a symphony with his Dot Earth, and Carl Zimmer shows how constructive and substantive a blog can be with The Loom), but not for me. For starters, I really didn’t like the anxiety of wondering whether someone has just posted a comment like that which is going unanswered until you compulsively check the blog. Every hour. Not for me.
So I came up with The Benshi, which is what I call “An On-line Journal.” It differs from a blog in three major ways:
1.) NO COMMENTS – It’s a one-way communication exercise, which I’m sure irks plenty of people who are dying to get a chance to post their instant insults and rants. There is an email address connected to the site (info AT randyolsonproductions.com) and plenty of people use it — particularly last spring when I did my interviews of Mike Mann and Marc Morano. The emails have proven to be a good way to interact with readers as I know who they are, we have extended discussions, and none of it is being done in public to show off to anyone. It’s a shame the conversations can’t be shared, but that loss outweighs having to wade through the insults. I tend to believe in a thing called dignity.
2.) SCHEDULED POSTINGS – We managed to stick to a very structured schedule of posting only two items a week, almost always on Monday morning and Thursday morning. Very little of the content is just rambling, spur of the moment comments — which is one of the strengths of blogs, so I’m definitely not trying to dismiss blogging, only talking about apples and oranges.
3.) EDITOR – From the start, my internet guy, Ryan Mitchell, has been the editor of The Benshi. He reads over each “essay” (not “post”) for basic writing elements, coherence, and most importantly, politics — making certain I don’t say anything too outlandish or offensive. He’s very good at all this and has been the crucial piece of the puzzle to make it all work.
So how do I feel about this format? I’d say it’s a perfect fit for me. I’m sure it wouldn’t work for some people. At first it was a little odd to not have the validation that comments bring. And given what a numbers-obsessed society we’ve become, I’m sure that a lot of people equate no comments to no readers, and thus are afraid to invest their time reading anything on the site because it’s not being certified by the presence of hundreds of comments.
The stats show the numbers of views per item range from about 5000 to 10,000, and most videos we’ve posted found their way past 1000 viewers. But more importantly it’s been a place to stockpile my on-going thoughts as I continue this exploration of the interface between science and mass communication. Towards that end, to wrap up the year, here are what I consider to be the five most interesting interviews I conducted, plus my ten favorites essays in terms of substance.
Here’s to the new year and further explorations — see you in 2011!
FIVE MOST INTERESTING INTERVIEWS
1.) MIKE MANN, CLIMATE SCIENTIST – Mike was willing to speak bluntly about the campaign waged against he and his climate science colleagues by the climate skeptics, saying very simply, “We are in a battle.”
3.) MARGARET NAGLE, SCREENWRITER – In July Margaret and I ran a communications workshop for the folks at Union of Concerned Scientists. She was nominated for an Emmy for her screenplay of the HBO movie “Warm Springs,” is currently a writer on HBO’S “Boardwalk Empire,” and is a hypnotically great storyteller.
4.) MARK HARRIS, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER – Mark was one of my professors in film school at U.S.C. He’s won three Oscars — two for his documentary features on the Holocaust — and is simply a great guy who will tell you there’s as much “storytelling” involved in non-fiction as fiction.
5.) JEREMY ROWLEY, IMPROV INSTRUCTOR – Jeremy has worked with me for 8 years on a wide variety of our Shifting Baselines projects with the Groundlings. He’s not only a tremendous comic actor, but an equally gifted improv instructor.
(NOTE: My interview with climate skeptic Marc Morano would probably have made this list if not for the problems of political correctness which I don’t dare transgress)
TEN MOST SUBSTANTIVE ESSAYS
1.) DECLINE OF CIVIL DISCOURSE – quit whining about the decline, “It is what we wanted, it is what we chose”
2.) WHY SCIENCE NEEDS THE HUMANTIES – science can fulfill, but the arts arouse
3.) OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW – there isn’t going to be a “next Carl Sagan”
4.) AROUSE AND FULFILL IN TODAY’S WORLD – the Henrietta Lacks book is a model for today’s need for arousal
5.) MY TAKE ON THE “NO PRESSURE” FILM – if you’re literal minded, it’s a disaster, if not, it’s innocuous
6.) “NEVER AGAIN” MOMENTS – the public health community does a better job of learning than the climate science community
7.) INFORMATION PACKRATS – you can’t arouse if you think everything is equally interesting
8.) VANISHING ENVIRONMENTAL AND SCIENCE JOURNALISTS – what do you expect when nobody reads newspapers any more
9.) A “CLIMATE N.C.S.E.” IS NEEDED – the folks battling the anti-evolutionists are ten years ahead of the climate crowd
10.) THE PUBLIC RELATIONS CRISIS FOR THE SCIENCE WORLD – the blows to the credibility of science are not just from anti-scientists