Things I learned

I’m going back over what I learned this week.

First, let’s go back to Southwest Airlines. How did they handle their total meltdown in Oakland? Did they cover it on their blog? Did they send me an apology? Did they apologize to the 1,000 customers that they inconvenienced last week? Did they hire more staff? Did they have management fly in to take care of the problem? Are they listening?


My willingness to defend Southwest (who usually is a great carrier) went way way down last week. I can no longer recommend them to my friends. Next week I’m flying Alaska to Portland. Does that matter to Southwest? Probably not. Their planes are still full. Corporate profits are still up. Compare that corporate behavior to John Edwards who linked to someone who doesn’t think Edwards did a good job this week.

Would seeing an acknowledgement of negative feedback make me feel better about Southwest? Absolutely. At least I’d know there was someone listening. All its “PR blog” is doing is telling me that no one is minding the store as it goes all to hell.

Then, looking into New Orleans. I still am processing the devastation that is there and the poverty. I haven’t done enough. If that’s the only thing I learned this week, that’d be enough. I feel powerless to do much, cause I can’t take the time off of work right now to go and help rebuild houses and I don’t have extra cash right now to donate. I feel mighty guilty about that, though. It sucks that I haven’t done more.

The most interesting insight from the many pres that I remember from talking to was from Dan Balz of the Washington Post. I asked him if he had a theory of how the campaign would turn out. In other words, did he already have a theory of whether Hillary was going to be nominated, or Barack, or Edwards, or someone else. He said no cause he’s learned that campaigns aren’t linear. Something invariably happens to change everyone’s opinion about which way they were going to go.

On the plane.

Before going on the plane, I thought it would be a lot more glamorous. It’s not. Edwards got, I think, eight hours of sleep in three days. And he did a job I wouldn’t be able to do: answered hundreds of questions in front of some of the most powerful media organizations the world has (he’ll be on George Stephanopolous’ program tomorrow on ABC I hear) and then in front of thousands of people.

Keep in mind that almost all of these candidates are rich. They could do something more fun with their time. I found myself wondering if I had tens of millions in the bank would I be working that hard? And, would I invite people on my plane who could report every single move I made?

I asked him why would anyone want to be President. It doesn’t sound like a fun job to me and after being on the plane it seems even less fun. Imagine having to go through a two-year interview process just to get a new job. Damn, I thought Microsoft interviews were grueling, but I’ll never complain about day-long interviews again.

I found that I was far less cynical about the political process. Leave Edwards out of this. Anyone who is doing this deserves a lot more support than we’ve been giving political leaders. We treat politicians like scum and I came away with a lot more respect for the process and for the people who put their ideas out in front of people.

As for how bloggers can play in this process? I think we just are going to come up short in coverage of campaigns when compared to the mainstream press. In order to ask really tough, probing questions, you need to build relationships with not just the candidate, but also with the staff. The staff really can decide whether you get him at a good time, or one where he’ll lower his guard a bit — and to really ask a tough question you need to listen to him answer questions thousands of times — that’s when you’ll see his weak points and where to probe more. There’s no way a blogger who comes in fresh without following him around is going to know his weak points, or the questions that he always gets riled up about. I got him a little riled, for instance, when I told him that people thought pulling out of Iraq would destablize the Middle East. I knew that’d get him riled, cause I had seen how he, and his staff, were thinking about that. You’ll see that on video next week too.

I learned that there just is no time to think when part of a trip like this. It’s hard to clear space just to sit down and analyze what you heard. I decided to wait until after I got home. But I saw how journalists work. They did an interview, or listened intently to what he was saying, then they zoned in on their screens and really spent time doing nothing but thinking about what they heard and getting those thoughts down. Most bloggers won’t be skilled at finding that “zone” and getting time to sit down and analyze what they’ve just heard. I sure am not.

Anyway, I have family coming over for lunch today, so gotta do chores. More learning next week after I process the video and audio stuff I got and the experiences I had — I certainly would encourage anyone to do this if they had a chance. It’d totally change how you view America and the political process.


Adam Curry and John Welch ask the hard questions of me

I’m listening to Adam Curry’s podcast today and he just asked “why the secrecy before I went with Edwards?” He also asked whether bloggers would be able to ask the tough questions? Also over on John Welch’s blog he attacked me for not reporting anything substantive.
They asked me to not write about the campaign’s announcement before I got on the bus. Why not? They wanted a big bang, just like Steve Jobs wants when he keeps everything secret until he’ll announce stuff at MacWorld.

Regarding asking the tough questions. I don’t think that’s a problem with the campaigns. I watched Edwards — over the span of three days — get asked hundreds of questions, including on what he’d do in Iraq, what he’d do regarding gay marriage, how he’d get Americans to conserve energy, and all that.

I realized within a few minutes of arriving at that house in New Orleans that I was simply not going to add any additional value over the mainstream press in reporting what he said. Come on, on that front lawn was more than a million dollars of equipment. Bloggers are supposed to compete with that? No way, no how.

So, what did I do? I just started listening. I got to know his staff instead of trying to ask a question that’d get Edwards angry or give me an answer that he wouldn’t give Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

The other thing, John, is you totally miss what I’m there to do. I’m not there to be a news source. I was there to study how campaigns are using technology. I will go to Newt Gingrich’s campaign stops, if he asks me along to study that.

Was I used by the campaign? Absolutely. I was there to give a different look at the campaign than the Washington Post or CNN could give. They wanted to be the first campaign to reach out to the social media industry. They are using more social media than any other campaign so far. Go ahead and visit Hillary’s site. Or Barack’s. Or Newt’s. Or any of the others. No one else has a Facebook site, a MySpace page, a blog, a video blog team. I haven’t seen the others do live blogging like was done over on Daily Kos this week.

Over the next week I’ll get up my own interviews and you’ll see the video I captured. I’m not that fast, but then, I don’t see my job to compete with CNN in speed. There’s no way bloggers are going to be able to do that.

There’s no way I was going to be able to give you more depth than Dan Balz, reporter for the Washington Post. He’s been covering politics since when I was in middle school. I needed a few days just to get up to speed on the political system.

Let’s go at this another way. What do you wish I would have reported? What do you want to know from me now about my experiences, and what I heard?

Keep in mind, I have lots of stuff to get up for you to watch/listen to, including recordings of two blogger meetings where groups of z-list bloggers asked him pretty good questions, I thought, and my own interview with him.

One thing about access: Just because you get access doesn’t mean you get anything unique that other people aren’t already reporting on. When he’s on the plane he discussed mundane things with his staff. His staff would give him feedback about what was being discussed on blogs and forums. They talked about questions he could have answered a little better, or impressions of the day. Pretty boring stuff. Do you really want me to get boring? I could tell you he likes Diet Sunkist. Does that really help the dialog here?

Or, does it matter that some of his campaign staff has worked on eight Presidential campaigns and they think he’s the nicest guy they’ve worked for so far? If I reported stuff like that, you’d all call me a shill anyway. Or, how about does it matter that he knows how to use a Blackberry? I mean, how mundane do you want me to get?

Anyway, just some thoughts from your favorite shill blogger. 😉

UPDATE: Shel Israel wrote a nice post about what I was there to do.

I notice that Ryan Montoya, the Edwards’ staffer who invited me on the bus, is watching the blogs too.

Michael Markman has the best comment: “It won’t matter whether Scoble is for or against Edwards—or if Scoble’s readers can figure that out. Edwards success or failure is not in Scoble’s hands. It’s totally up to John Edwards.”

The Zeitgeist of Scoble

Wow, a 15-year-old did a huge analysis of my blog. Some of the things he’s found:

Since moving to WordPress I’ve typed 2,103,816 characters.
Average of four characters a word.
4706 characters a day.
464,078 words total.
192 words a post.
Compare that to Shakespeare who only wrote 884,647 words.
2405 posts.
I’ve linked to 4,992 pages. 4321 of them unique. Spread out across 1858 domains.
Two links a post, 86% of the links being unique.

Interesting, thanks Yuvi!