Saturday, April 25, 2009

Harvard Crimson alumni lunch

Saturday afternoon finds us at the Sheraton Commander in Cambridge,MA, with a gathering of present and past Harvard Crimson editors. Mr. Mark Penn, CEO Worldwide, Burson-Marsteller and President, Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, is speaking to a polite crowd.

Penn regales us with highlights of his undergraduate hijinks. It seems he exposed corruption at HSA, whilst baring shocking undergraduate exam scams involving hammers to hands.

Penn's 2007 book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes

Penn makes the point that both the extreme right and the extreme left are effectively exploiting new media methods and getting their messages out. It is the moderates who have not got their message out. He cites the Huffington Post. He thinks the Huffington Post will be more valuable than the Washington post soon. Blogging is the newest profession, everyone is doing it. But he points out that blogspots have fewer employees. They do not keep stables of reporters, they do not have union press shops. Blogging are paid as freelancers, mostly, which is unfortunate, he feels. The ultra-specialization of bloggers is another phenomenon. One change is that journalism never covered in depth many beats that bloggers can now cove. There will be the tycoons of the blogging industry, and those who aren't tycoons.

9% of voting households made over $100,ooo. In the 2008 election, 26% of voters made over $100,000. The Obama voters included 4x as many lower-income voters.

Penn observes that the professional class was largely responsible for electing Obama, and he wonders what will happen in this economic climate.

"Rationality is on the upswing for most people," among what he calls "impressionable elites." Working and middle-class voters have become more consumers of information about candidates' health care programs, while elites are more interested in sound bites.

Also people are researching everything nowadays.

Value is the new Green. The idea of value is an equally important notion. Not just providing it, but having it in people's consciousness, like Wal-mart. He points to hybrid cars as an example of where actual value of cars on offer has gone up, and people are valuing green.

Penn feels it's NOT a young people's world. There have never been so many old people. When JFK was elected, there were twice a many people under 29 as over 65. Today that is flipped, it is 1.5x as many elders as young people.

He worked for Hillary Clinton, the person he "had hoped to become the next president." He points out that a lot of top positions like Congress are still dominated by men. But he notes that women are the majority of university presidents. He notes that boys "re not doing so well," because they are dropping out of school at hight numbers than men.

So where does all this leave the Crimson? One day there will not be a print edition of the Crimson, Penn forsees.

Taking questions from the audience, Penn states he feel the Obama administration has been more effective than, for example, the Clinton presidency, which lost both houses of Congress after the first term.

When asked about the Republican party at this time, he feels unsure if there is actually currently a republican party philosophy. Maybe they should split up, he ponders. Sarah Palin boomeranged because she embodied an anti-education image, while the country is becoming more educated.

Penn observes that McCain did not win the "3am phone call" crisis-handling test. The 3am call was the economy. McCain did not handle the crisis well during the election, Obama did, and he feels thus went the election.

Current trend in media today? Penn feels that the media is overlooking the LAS's, the "long attention-spanners." He notes the web is long and full of wordiness. The recent theory has been that writing was too long and people would not pay attention, but he feels the opposite is proving true.

He calls the Bush second term the "biggest failure of communications," in modern time. Bush couldn't get any legislation passed, he couldn't get anything accomplished, and yet he wasn't impeached. Should presidents make decisions on the basis of polls? When should they set aside those considerations?

What is the direction of polling? Online or with handheld devices like cellphones? Penn sees groups like Harvard undergraduates will best be polled by handhelds, but general population need to be polled online. He notes that people love to answer polls and questions about themselves.

Future of blogging? Don't bloggers simply comment on content of news actually generated by traditional journalists? Penn notes opinion is significantly cheaper to generate than actual news coverage. He sees the most effective method of getting attention is getting on "Live on 5" and motivating them to then go online and leveraging the live appearance. There are currently 20 million bloggers, and when they were asked if they derived their primary income from blogging, 1% or 200,000 said they were.

How can the Crimson integrate blogging? How many blogs does the Crimson have now? asks Penn? It has "sort of one, now" responds Childs.

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