Sochi’s ‘Teaching Moments’ through social filters

How to teach social media, without actually calling it social media?

That’s one of the challenges I run into, now and then. To many young students –and I am talking those elementary school to whom “hash tag” means something else entirely–, there is no big distinction between media variants. Newspapers, photo albums, television, encyclopedias etc all belong to one blurry category.

You will probably hear this often – schools are really anxious about (social) media behaviors and the flood of tools that enable them. I take what might seem a contrarian approach: It’s better to prepare students for responsible use of digital media, than ask them to check them at the door.

Yesterday Feb 5th was Digital Learning Day, so it was a good day, as any to address some of these topics. Since this week also happens to be the opening week of the Olympics, I tried to pull these two strands together. As always there was a lucky collusion of opportunities.

  • Padlet - OlympicsTo bring this all together in a classroom experience I began experimenting with a website another teacher referred me to: Padlet. It lets a student import content into a page in a variety of ways – from PDF to QR code, to an embed link – as you could see here. or via this QR Code it generates.

Some of these open the door to what we educators like to call Teaching Moments. To deal with topics such as:

Copyright. What does that mean in a link economy, where someone could embed a video or link to something without violating intellectual property rights? Even the International Olympic committee has had to spell out its SM Policy about blogging and tweeting. Even grown ups need to abide by an event or site’s rules – such as this, below that says one cannot ‘assume’ a reporter’s persona!


Collaboration: The connectivity students take for granted (the always-on wi-fi) makes it possible to have a close conversation with a total stranger, and learn from him/her, but at the same time, sharing personal information with someone on a public channel could be dangerous.

Old media that was decidedly one-way, locked down, or expensive didn’t allow some of these opportunities, but it also protected us from the torrent of meaningless discussions, and TMI. Maybe there’s a lesson in that too.

If you’re curious about Padlet, here’s what the page looks like:

Conversations with an Olympian

Trying out another ambitious ‘chat’ –this time it is with a former Olympian,

Sean Smith - Olympics

Sean Smith was a member of the U.S. Olympic team at the winter games in 2002

The idea is to have my students talk to an Olympian, this week. A few of my fellow teachers have been adding Olympic-related content to our lessons, and this would be a great way for the students to feel connected to the events going on in Sochi, Russia.

To join this Live chat, click on the link below.

  • Date:        Tuesday, 11 February, 2014
  • Time:        8:45 am—sochi-2014

Sean was on U.S. Freestyle Skating team for 10 years, and has been on CSPN, and ABC. He is now an ‘outfitter’ with Promontory Club, involved in several outdoor sports. He is also helping the Salt Lake City NBC-affiliate, cover the Olympics in Sochi.

Live streaming video by Ustream

Remembering Jeret Peterson

The sad news today from Park City, Utah brings memories of some work I did with a  client in Park City last year.

I was working with former Olympian, Sean Smith who, in a few days before he left for Vancouver, learned the ins and outs of sending in video podcasts from his phone. Online and off, he brought me up to speed about the different categories, and whom to watch. He would upload the videos and I would post them within minutes to the blog, for my client.

Jeret “Speedy” Peterson was a name that kept popping up as Sean was confident that the ‘Hurricane’ would certainly earn Jeret a medal. It did.

Below is a short clip of Sean’s excitement about the Speedy.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Peterson family. Your son was truly a legend!

My client, an awesome citizen journalist

I’ve always been a big promoter of citizen journalism. I’ve trained many people on the fringes of media, and followed all the developments in digital, community-based media. But I never imagined I’d have an opportunity like this –to work with someone at the 2010 Olympics.

As we head into the last day of a social media enriched, much tweeted Olympics (1.1 million Facebook fans) I like to share what I’ve learned from working with what I call an ad-hoc embedded, citizen journalist.

Some background: A few months ago I was been privileged to be asked to put together and work with a social media team at Promontory Club, in Park City, Utah. These amazing communicators –venue and event managers turned content creators/content curators –have begun supporting their PR and marketing efforts via social media.

Sean Smith_VancouverOne team member, the manager of  the Outfitter’s Cabin, Sean Smith was invited to be in Vancouver. He happened to be a former member of the US Olympic ski team, but that didn’t automatically make him a social-media reporter. In a short time, however, he learned how vlogs, micro-blogging, photo-sharing sites and blogs work. We prepped him on how to file stories, knit together these daily reports and create a connection between this global event and Promontory members. No laptop involved!

When I briefed Sean I realized he had three things that would work:

  • Access — he would be in and out of the Olympic village, the venues, and has great rapport with the athletes.
  • Credibility – he had previously worked for a TV station
  • Passion – never to be under-rated, this is what makes social media communication so different

Using a Verizon Droid, Sean has been filing photos, tweeting and sending in content for the blog. Better still, he’s doing interviews with members of the US team, before and sometime immediately after an event.

Such as this report:

So what did I learn from this experience? Here are 6 lessons that would help anyone planning to do something like this with a citizen journalist.

1. Plan your angles and visual shots ahead –when it’s possible. Not all events let you anticipate the terrain. An event such as the Olympics is predictable –and not. You don’t know when and at what time you’ll get one-on-ones with the athletes –and medalists! But you do know where you might base your videos. (Check this sneak preview!) Low angle and long shots of steep inclines, close up of emotions etc. Look out for details that would intrigue.

2. Practice with different lighting conditions. Many events were held at night –not the best for video on a 5 mega pixel camera.

3. Have a backup plan for content uploads. We initially chose Flickr for the photo uploads, but when things didn’t work initially, we had Sean to switch to, from where we grabbed the photos and moved to Flickr.

4. Keep videos short. I originally wanted to have Sean file 2-minute videos. But we quickly learned that it would require jumping through lots of hoops to get them to YouTube or the blog. Phones do have limitations. So instead of fighting the bandwidth problem, especially when it involves an international mobile roaming, a steady stream of short videos worked well.

5. Cover what the mainstream media isn’t. Having access to the athletes –and not just US athletes– was great. This included the fun side of things —downtown Vancouver, night life, former Olympic stars, even the Queen Latifas of this world. Or this image (right) of that snow needing to be airlifted into a venue!

6. Let new media shake hands with mainstream media. It doesn’t hurt to distribute your story -or the story about your story– through traditional media. Since my client is based in Park City Utah, we localized the international story through several call-ins to an independent TV station, PCTV in Utah. After all Utah has instant Olympic appeal having played host to the Winter Olympics in 2002.

Here are where to find our citizen journalist.

Olympic video edit excusable?

We all make mistakes –editing mistakes, in the rush to tell a story.

So when the BBC made what they called a ‘chronological’ editing mistake of an event at the Olympics, they were quick to own up. Most viewers –unprovoked by the due-diligence that takes place in the blogosphere– will let it slide. But I find it ironic that criticism reigned down when the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games was found to have been digitally enhanced –an elegant euphemism for editing.

“Thankfully, it’s human beings that make TV and human beings that watch them,” said the Beeb spokesperson. He also called the humans “illogical, irrational and unfair.”

The Chinese could easily have said that.

Grainy, biased, poorly edited reports from Beijing complete picture

Controversy demands source variety. The Olympics, like war, is poorer when the variety is constrained by commercial or political decree.

Jamaican sprint wonder Usain Bolt’ display of speed and celebration spurred much commentary –even a conspiracy theory about him slowing down. All this seems to make the official NBC coverage bland.

We also faced what I hope would be the last Olympics with a news blackout –messages like “Sorry, this media is not available in your territory” — from big (old) media outfits like the BBC, that is ironically doing a great  job of unfiltered reporting through new media.

Then there are plenty of citizen journalists in the village: athletes with cameras and blogs. features some real street-level reporting complete with shaky camera, grainy video and poor audio. These reports don’t compete with the big guys but they sure add pressure for the media to rethink how it covers and keeps us informed about our world.

The Lenovo blogging program, Voices Of The Olympics, has been responsible for more than 1,300 athlete posts. “It isn’t really a program about making millions of impressions in the traditional marketing sense,” says Lenovo, but about those “thousands of connections between athletes and fans.”

Over at Bleacher Reports, another CitJo outfit that’s connected to FoxSports, a reporter called Zander Freund had this to say about the controversial tie-breaker between Nastia Liukin and He Kexin.

“If I were in charge of the IOC, I’d tell Liukin and Kexin to get their butts back up on those bars.”

Not exactly the way NBC’s Bob Costas would have put it, but it’s as authentic and grainy as you can get.

Quotes for the week ending 16 August, 2008

“One thing I love about Benetton: it never knows when to leave well enough alone.”

AdRants, commenting on Benetton which uses another controversial ad featuring a Tibetan monk and a Chinese soldier.

“The forecast? We’re smack dab in a cat five hurricane.”

Steve Rubel on “the thrill of the chase” as PR pros pitch publishers and bloggers, and why PR could be obsolete.

“Guys like Michael Phelps can roll out of bed in the morning in cutoffs and break the world record.”

Gary Hall Jr., on the controversy over the Speedo LZR Racer swimsuit, made of materials developed by NASA, which some say allows less talented swimmers to excel.

“I have no opinion on Tibet. I am a journalist.”

John Ray, ITN’s China correspondent overheard speaking to police officers as he was arrested, roughed up and being taken away after photographing a protest in Beijing, China.

“It sort of feels like the entire world is attending a huge party and NBC threw away our invite.”

Blogger, complaining about NBC delaying the broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics to “maximise its audience.”

“People were in such a good mood all night, watching the ceremonies, smiling, drinking, laughing and taking pictures of fireworks with the enthusiasm of children.”

Mara Schiavocampo, correspondent for NBC Nightly News.

“In the meantime, the world has a new war.”

Brian Williams, commenting on his blog about the Soviet fighters in Georgia in the same week as the Olympics began in China.

“Pray for peace. Pray for the Bachman and McCutcheon families. For all of us.”

Sports columnist for the Arizona Republic, Dan Bickley, from Beijing, commenting on the senseless murder of Tod Bachman, the father of former U.S. Olympian in Beijing.

“That’s a fool’s errand — like the State Department spending untold millions trying to persuade Arabs and Muslims that they have us all wrong. As long as the U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians is what it is — right or wrong — Arabs will resent us.”

Bob Garfield, commenting on Microsoft’s “Mojave Experiment” that tries to solve the pesky little problem it has over people’s negative perception of the Vista operating system.

Image is everything –until you tick off the media

This is the flip side of my last post on image management –the futility of trying to control things.

The British journalist removed from the scene of a protest in Beijing on Wednesday can undo much of gains China has been making in the first few days of the Olympics.

The hand-covering-camera-lens tactic worked in times gone by. Today there are too many cameras that don’t look like cameras. There’s audio. There’s Twitter. And as we have seen only too well, reporters don’t have to be credentialed to cover a story. Images like this will gain more currency when mainstream people are ticked off.

As I more or less predicted last month, media rights mean nothing if someone has a story to tell and an audience.


This comment from David Wolf, on a post on Digital Watch, a blog out of Ogilvy China sums it up well:

“the IOC has yet to come to terms with the Internet and what it means to the way people enjoy – or at least “consume” – the Games.”

Beijing Olympic Report: Branded Entertainment

By amazing coincidence, I heard a bit of Rush Limbaugh this morning, philosophizing on the reason the Olympics attracts a female audience, and his theory was that the Olympics is a hugely ‘chickified’ event filled with stories of rags-to-riches and oppressed people overcoming the odds. They dig it not for the sports, but for the emotion, he went on. Limbaugh is famous for this kind of nonsense, but he’s going to feel vindicated because of how Kleenex plays into this angle.

I’ll leave it to Rohit Bhargava, my guest blogger from Beijing to take it from here.

If you are one of those people that gets in front of the television every evening with a box of tissues to get ready for the melodramatic overload that is the American television coverage of the Olympics, then you’ll be thrilled to know that as part of their sponsorship of the US Olympic team, Kleenex commissioned a documentary to take an inside look at some of the most powerful tear-jerking moments in the Olympics over the past few years. The film is mostly focused on the US (to match their sponsorship) and takes you on a hosted journey with a nameless host who plays the part of “good listener” as past and future hopeful US Olympic athletes are interviewed on a blue couch about their Olympic moments and aspirations.

I had the chance yesterday to go the film premiere at the USA House here in Beijing and it was a well attended affair with lots of recognizable US Olympians, including Julie Foudy, Scott Hamilton, Lenny Krayzelburg, and a few others (see my photos on Flickr). The venue was “homebase” for USOC team members and lots of American gear was available for sale. It was the perfect venue for the premiere and a well put together event. The film itself is a really nice piece of branded entertainment and does well to promote the role of Kleenex brand in the Olympics and in each of our lives, encouraging people to “let it out” without being overly branded. Great job by brand manager Anya Schmidt and the rest of the Kleenex team to keep the branding soft on this project.

I am a fan of Kleenex brand, but I do think that they have a larger strategic problem that likely won’t be solved by a campaign like this or even through an Olympic sponsorship. One of their biggest challenges surely must be the commoditization of their brand. The fact is, people call every kind of tissue a Kleenex. They own the category, but need to continually explain to people why it matters that you buy Kleenex instead of the cheaper store brand. Just once I would love to see them take the road of comparing their brand’s superiority to cheaper imitations. I can already picture the thirty second spot. Guy and girl on a first date go to see a sappy movie. Girl is crying and guy tries to be smooth by handing her a “Kleenex.” She blows her nose, the tissue rips and she messes up her expensive “first date dress.” The ad ends with her looking at him angrily as the tagline fades in: “Kleenex … Because Everything Else Blows.”

Damn, I’m good. I should do this for a living.

PS – Check out the trailer for the film below – its actually really good and will be premiering for a limited engagement in theaters in 25 cities starting August 13th across the US. It will also be available on from August 14th.

To read more real athlete’s stories, visit Lenovo’s Voices of the Olympic Games!

Image is everything. Beijing we don’t have a problem

So easy to criticize lip-syncing, now that the news is out that Lin Miaoke (the girl on the right) who ‘sang’ at the opening ceremony, didn’t. She was simply mouthing the words from Yang Peiyi (left).

“The reason why little Yang was not chosen to appear was because we wanted to project the right image, we were thinking about what was best for the nation,” the music designer Chen Qigang has observed.

I understand the transparency/ethics brouhaha. But when we get to this level of production, since this is ‘theater’ after all, what’s real and what’s fake? Wasn’t most of what happened on the massive stage an analog-to-digital suspension of disbelief?

Before you rant about the fakeness of it all (al la Milli Vanilli) consider too that the pyrotechnic creation of  29 footsteps leading up to the opening event was –for want of a better word, and I don’t mean this badly– fabricated using CGI for the billions of TV viewers. It was part real, part fake.  No different from how special effects around major events are staged, pre-made, and whatever Thesaurus word you can find to fit.

It’s all about the right image, whether we call it advertising, marketing or an opening ceremony. So give Beijing a break.