Category Archives: words

SUNYCUAD focuses on the power of play

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug.

The recent SUNYCUAD conference hit one out of the park with its theme on the importance of the power of play. Even though we work in higher education, we too often overlook the importance of curiosity, exploration and wonder in the creative process.

Bob Hambley, designer and partner in Hambly and Woolley, set the tone in the opening plenary by saying that we need to play and be curious to succeed in creative work. He cited the work of Dr. Bruce Duncan Perry, who posited that curiosity leads to a circle of creativity: 

  • Curiosity leads to exploration
  • Which leads to discovery
  • Which leads to pleasure
  • Which leads to repetition
  • Which leads to mastery
  • Which leads to confidence
  • Which leads to more curiosity

The challenge, Hambley said, is that curiosity peaks in humans at about age 5. Is it a coincidence that this is when formal education also tends to begin? Along the way, curiosity is discouraged by disapproval, by fear, by a lack of time, and by craving of certainty. The process of what we call “growing up” tamps our creativity down.

But Hambley thinks we can reverse the process by activity letting our curiosity come out of play. He encourages us to work five things into our regular routine to keep our curiosity strong:

  1. Observe
  2. Inquire
  3. Challenge
  4. Explore
  5. Take risks

The risk-taking part is important. Higher ed focuses so much (too much) on best practices, sometimes to the exclusivity of innovation and new ideas. But we can never evolve without risk. If we fail or if we succeed, the most important thing is that either road leads to learning, Hambley said.

After watching Hambley’s inspiring talk, I emphasized taking risks more in my presentation with (excellent) Oswego student blogger and intern Lizzy Marks, 6 Suggestions for Successful Student Storytelling. To invite student storytelling into your narratives, you have to take risks and trust people. But somebody had to take a risk to create the colleges and universities that make up the SUNY system — and making the system was a big risk in itself. Compared to the risk people like Oswego founder Edward Austin Sheldon took in the 19th century, hiring a student blogger seems like a fairly small deal.

Perhaps the biggest highlight was the trip to Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play, where we explored exhibits on Sesame Street and other children’s programs, rekindled our younger years with classic arcade games and enjoyed the natural wonder of an amazing butterfly garden.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

What was your favorite toy?

A wonderful question that cropped up from time to time was “What was your favorite toy?” For me, it involved trips to the dentist: While becoming creative didn’t require pulling teeth, getting my favorite toys sometimes did.

We went to a dentist named Dr. Betts in Auburn. The most memorable part was that at the end, our reward was selecting a little rubber animal. Which seems small, perhaps, except that our collection of rubber animals turned into a big community. My brothers Joel and Colin assembled their little communities and the Little Animals, as we came to call them, all interacted with each other and had many adventures, from football games to missions of international espionage to battling Star Wars characters.

From the power of playing with the Little Animals, my brothers and I learned three important things that followed us into our creative endeavors:

1. Storytelling. Without leaving the house, those animals went on adventures far and wide, to Soviet Russia, to the moon, to distant planets. We learned to tell a story — generally flights of fancy, yes — but to create characters and motivations and cohesive narratives. I honestly look back with a sense of awe at how sophisticated we were as kids when it came to crafting the adventures of the Little Animals.

2. Collaboration. As noted, all three of us had our own sets of animals, but they all interacted with each other in larger narratives. They generally began with a concept from one of us, often taking from TV or a movie but sometimes just dreamed up, with the others adding to it to keep the action going. In retrospect, I am so grateful for such an awesome preparation for collaborative creative work.

3. Community. Every adventure depended on the Little Animals working together and bringing their own strengths to the table to solve whatever challenge they faced. I still remember my characters like Jerry Cat, Sammy Squirrel, Singo Seal, Danny Dolphin, among others, and how they were all pieces of our larger Little Animal community that showed that togetherness conquered all.

Wow. That’s so much more than I realized. We grow up — or so we think — but how we played as kids continue to influence us. We also need to make sure that childlike curiosity and our willingness to play stay with us too.

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Celebrate your unsung heroes! They are campus treasures.

loisThey don’t appear in admissions materials. They aren’t generally the subject of news releases. They’re not mentioned at orientation. Yet they may be the people your students remember most and love the best.

Your unsung heroes are a huge part of your culture, even if you don’t see them in committee meetings and special luncheons. We recently learned, quite pleasantly really, that one of the biggest “stars” to our students and alumni is Lois Terminella, who has brightened the day — in ways large and small — for decades of students at Lakeside Dining Center.

My colleague Jeff Rea recently interviewed Lois for our Spotlight feature in our Campus Update newsletter. Posting to social media was a no-brainer, but we never imagined the explosion of love that followed … 81 comments, almost all of them adoring, with 674 likes and 168 shares.

Posting a link on Twitter yielded an immense (for us, anyway) 54 retweets and 56 favorites. Click the link in the second paragraph above and you’ll find more wonderful comments on the Campus Update story.

Lois, quite simply, is a gem and the love via social media shows how special she is to the SUNY Oswego family.

A gentleman by the name of Peter Fland added this lovely comment on Facebook about another unsung hero beloved by alumni:

Every generation has their Lois. At Waterbury and Scales in the early 60s Louise the cleaning lady was one of ours. Everyone loved her to the point that she was featured on our float in one of the parades. She did many things, but the funniest of all was when she would push into the bathrooms and say “Good Morning Darlins – Are ya decent” – after she was in. One day I was late for a presentation and struggling to iron a shirt. She pushed me away, told me to get my shower, and finished my shirt. I do not know how she knew I was pressed for time, but she did. 50 years later I remember her fondly. Three cheers and a toast to all the of these wonderful people. Congratulations to Lois and all like her. They will always have a piece of our hearts.

Lois and Louise are exceptional, to be sure, but every campus has its unsung heroes that may fly under the radar of many but present some of the fondest memories to your generations of students.

Find those unsung heroes. Celebrate them. Share their stories. You might be amazed by the impact they’ve had … and your students and alumni will have a chance to show their love to those who very much deserve it.

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Leadership, shoveling snow and great communities

If somebody said that leaders getting out and shoveling snow was a hallmark of a great community, you’d say that’s crazy, right?

Think again.

A delightful story came through Twitter the other day about Michael Benson, the president of Eastern Kentucky University, showing up to shovel a student’s driveway in response to a tweet. It’s not a new service EKU offers, just a good-natured good deed from Benson, who regularly interacts with students via Twitter and responds to challenges for things like ping-pong games and dodgeball. But this little act of kindness was so on target that it inspired others to take up shovels to help their neighbors and it rightfully earned plenty of media attention.

ekuAfter I shared it, friends at other colleges helped put it into the context of a larger narrative and trend. A friend at Cornell noted that Berea, Kentucky, is considered one of the 20 coolest towns in U.S. Then another colleague from Cornell, Mark Anbinder, recalled how Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick once went around the city with a shovel and some friends to help those who needed it. Ithaca also happens to be considered the Best College Town in America by Business Insider, among many other awards for being an awesome community that occupy a long list on VisitIthaca.com.

Coincidence? Maybe less than it seems.

The best communities and campuses are powered by a spirit where everybody is involved. When the person on top rolls up their sleeves — or tucks them into a coat to take up a shovel — how powerful a message is that? If the college president or the mayor take up shovels and take time to look out for the community, what possible reason could you have for not helping others when you have the opportunity?

I’m not saying your president or mayor needs to go out and shovel — it’s not a very enjoyable opportunity unless you it’s something you like doing — but the act is more metaphorical. It is not the specific actions but the attitudes that are significant.

I still remember so many years later when I was unemployed and unhappy and fresh out of college, visiting my alma mater of Brockport. A dean had a brief exchange with me that suddenly made me feel human again, lifted my spirits and bolstered my beyond-sagging confidence. It wasn’t anything in particular she did or said, nor anything she would ever remember, but just a brief moment where her message to me was simply: You matter.

meeting

We all matter. And just the reminder of this means a lot. Our star student blogger Alyssa Levenberg, of “Alyssa Explains It All” fame, has always wanted to meet our college president, Deborah F. Stanley. After a hockey game, seeing President Stanley there but not feeling like she could just walk up and say “hi,” Alyssa tweeted that she’d like to meet the president. A meeting was arranged, and President Stanley told Alyssa she was a fan of her videos and they talked and Alyssa came out more than impressed. “She really shows why @sunyoswego is awesome,” Alyssa tweeted after the meeting.

But you know what, let’s take this one step further. You always have the ability to make yours a better community. You always have the ability to show others that they matter. Say a kind word. Go do something good. Make somebody happy.

When it comes from the top, the message is strong. But it doesn’t mean that anybody, everybody can’t step up and become a leader of making their community, their world a better place.

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Year in music: Top 20 albums for 2014

Male-female duos were all over my top 20, but who reigned supreme for music in 2014?

Male-female duos were all over my top 20, but who reigned supreme for music in 2014?

Every year, I’m part of a collaborative effort across higher ed to list the best music of that span. Every year, I struggle. For 2014, I kept shuffling most of the top 10 right down to the deadline … although my #1 was pretty much set the first time I heard.

And now, as the late great Casey Kasem once said, on with the countdown …

20. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager. The two things this album has going for it are Lewis’ voice and Ryan Adams producing. Overall the material is decidedly less interesting than her recordings with Rilo Kiley.

19. Bad Suns, Bad Suns. With a little more verve, variety and exploration, Bad Suns could have been this year’s Imagine Dragons or Bastille, but instead they’re a pretty decent act that produced a very catchy single in “Cardiac Arrest.”

18. Beck, Morning Phase. When you’re in the right mood, this is a great album. When you’re not in the right mood, it’s kind of a downer. Sorry, Beck fans.

17. Gemma Hayes, Bones and Longing. The Irish songstress creates albums that are very good in the moment yet largely forgettable once you’re done. Which is unfortunate, since she has a gorgeous voice.

16. Afghan Whigs, Do The Beast. File this under mildly disappointing. Greg Dulli and the boys can still put together some interesting songs but it’s nowhere near the power of their older material since it’s missing the angular guitar riffs of Rick McCollum that so perfectly complemented Dulli’s alternately lovable and loathsome characters.

15. Dex Romweber Duo, Images 13. The former frontman of pscyhosurfabilly duo Flat Duo Jets has successfully reinvented himself in a duo with his sister Sara on drums. It’s mostly rockabilly, blues and jazz with the occasional shreiks and howls and guitar flourishes that remind you of Dex’s mercurial talent.

14. David Gray, Mutineers. Gray’s music is like an old friend — comfortable and reliable. Bursts of impressive songwriting notwithstanding, many of his latest records are somewhat interchangeable yet always charming.

13. Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker. Set-opener “Violent Shiver” starts with a rockabilly guitar riffs, trudges through swamp blues and a taste of grunge before even completing a verse. It’s that kind of unpredictability that makes this album remarkable and surprisingly fun.

12. U2, Songs of Innocence. Once you get past the army of hipsters whining that — gasp! — an album by a legacy band had defiled their iTunes playlist, you find a pretty decent album. Probably their best since 2001’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” it yields plenty of catchy moments yet the band didn’t stay embarrassingly away from what it does best.

11. Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn. Talent has never been the question with Fleck, perhaps the greatest banjo virtuoso on the planet, but instead how accessible his material might be. But the sweet vocals and additional banjo work of Washburn — who also happens to be Fleck’s wife — makes this one of the most engaging effort in Fleck’s impressive canon.

10. Shovels & Rope, Swimmin’ Time. Married duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst continue to get better and better playing foreboding folk that casts a dark atmosphere dotted with glimmering and shimmering riffs and harmonies.

9. Bob Mould, Beauty & Ruin. Bob Mould can do no wrong. He just plain knows how to rock out or present a steady slow burn, lift you up or break your heart. Like his previous record, “Silver Age,” he does wax reflective on growing older but it’s Bob Freaking Mould so anybody can enjoy it.

8. Twin Forks, Twin Forks. Best known for his work with Dashboard Confessional, Chris Carrabba ventured into folk and Americana with his new band. Call it what you will, but few vocalists have the effortless ability to craft vocal hooks Carrabba does — emo, folk or polka, it just plain works.

7. Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge, Avalon. A seemingly odd couple — “Critter” Eldridge better known for bluegrass and the Punch Brothers, Lage for modern jazz — blends sensationally through interpretations of the Great American Songbook and some improvised originals. Their collaboration, especially live, crackles with talent and chemistry.

6. Big Wreck, Ghosts, After the colossal disappointment of Big Wreck’s second album “The Pleasure and the Greed” in 2001, I’d never think a baker’s dozen years later to have a new record in my top ten. But “Ghosts,” like 2012’s “Albatross,” is a pleasant return to form. Once known as Canada’s answer to Soundgarden, Big Wreck’s comeback material easily eclipses any of Chris Cornell’s recent output.

5. Little Hurricane, Gold Fever. With a White Stripes formula — frontman Anthony Catalano and drummer Celeste Spina — playing a kind of retro rocking blues, they first made a splash with “Homewrecker” (notable largely in providing a soundtrack for Taco Bell ads). Their latest shows an even tauter, tighter take on love and loss and lust.

4. St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Half the City. “Close your eyes and listen, and you might imagine someone who looks a bit like Otis Redding. Open them, and you’re likely to see someone who looks more like your neighborhood bank teller,” said Bob Boilen of NPR. Can’t say it any better, other than that the whole excellent band and the material make this an outstanding listen.

3. Rural Alberta Advantage, Mended with Gold. When RAA first showed up, they seemed a bit of a novelty — perhaps a cross between Neutral Milk Hotel and fellow Canadians The Tragically Hip. But “Mended with Gold” is such a solid, compelling disc that it’s time to re-evaluate their skills and staying power.

2. Blondfire, Young Heart. This is simply a relentlessly catchy record. The highest of five male-female duos in my top 20, siblings Bruce and Erica Driscoll have shown flashes with their previous recordings, but “Young Heart” is really a stellar non-stop parade of hypnotic pop/rock gems.

1. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams. Adams’ prolific nature (including three full-length albums in 2005 alone) overshadowed the fact that as catchy and engaging as his material was, his songs always felt a bit more sloppy and incomplete than you’d hope. Then he slowed down, mellowed out (a little) and the results are stunning. “Ryan Adams,” his first disc in three years, features the kind of thorough songcraft and loving arrangement that shows just how much talent he has in full flower. In my opinion, nothing even came close to this for best album of 2014.

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Giving in to health: In support of taking sick days

sickdayI took a sick day for the first time in a while last week, and although being sick is never fun, it was one of the better decisions I’ve made made lately.

Many people refuse to take sick days, even when they’re entitled to them — and I’m usually one of them. But it’s foolish to go to work sick, underperform and just trudge home even sicker. But why do we do this to ourselves?

We hate to admit weakness. Our popular culture, especially sports, build up an image of strength in working through pain or illness. Michael Jordan’s legend includes gutting through the flu to score 38 points and lead his Bulls to a 1997 comeback playoff win. Or a limping Kirk Gibson coming off the bench to hit a winning homer for the L.A. Dodgers in the 1988 World Series. We are shown moments of ailing athletes and other coming through and our pride takes over. But perhaps one of our greatest weaknesses is not admitting to weakness.

The pursuit of productivity. I’ll admit membership in the cult of productivity, a need to keep things moving, meet goals, always feel like I’m accomplishing something. But you can’t be very productive when you’re sick, no matter how you try to block it out, so sometimes taking a break to recover and recharge is what produces real productivity.

We like to feel irreplaceable. Chances are we’re good at something we do and feel we can do it better than anybody else. We fall into the delusion that things can’t get done without us, which is simply poor management on our parts. We should all have other people who can do tasks when we’re not around. Because, let’s face it, history shows all human beings get replaced eventually.

And so we soldier on, through coughing and running noses and headaches and fevers and chills, not only exposing those around us to our germs but preventing us from getting better. But we need to swallow our pride, and our medicine and vitamins and tea and chicken soup and whatever, and take that sick day.

Here’s why:

Our bodies need it. The idea of getting better by working through, by showing our “strength,” is simply bunk. There’s a reason doctors have prescribed bed rest and fluids for the most basic maladies for millennia. If you keep trying to work through sickness, you prolong your illness, wear yourself down even more and even make yourself prone to additional ailments.

Our minds need it. When you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, your decision-making suffers. One of most valuable skills in the workplace is the ability to make good decisions — it suffuses everything we do — and trying to power through sickness detracts from this vital tool.

Our organizations need it. When you come to work sick and refuse to give up control of anything, the unwritten message is that you don’t trust your coworkers. True leaders instead take time to help others learn, groom them for increased responsibility and then give them opportunities to shine. If these opportunities come because you’re home in bed, then they are blessings in disguise.

>> I’m usually that stubborn guy who tries to muddle through the aches and pains, the sneezing, wheezing and coughing, but after trying to stave off something for days, last Wednesday after teaching evening class I came home and collapsed into bed. I realized the best solution was to give in and take care of my health. Taking Thursday off to recover and recharge made me ready to go and productive again on Friday. And since I’m incapable of being idle, I did spend part of my day off doing chores I normally have to shoehorn into whatever free out-of-work hours I can, which eventually relaxed me even more.

Admittedly, taking sick days off can be complicated by staffing, deadlines, projects and other life priorities. I know that for self-employed people a day without work is a day without income — but if you press pause so you can recover and return to do your best work, then you can look at it as an investment.

Every musical composition contains beats and rests. You can’t compose a symphony on all beats and no rests — the rests emphasize the beats — and you can’t live a fruitful life that way either. So when you’re tempted to work through a sick day even when you’re drained, think about taking a rest instead. The beat will go on.

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Why are colleges still writing press releases?

Everybody knows (well, I hope they do) that the dissemination of information and the news media themselves have changed immensely in the past few years. Today, colleges can reach large audiences for their stories, photos and videos via social media, while most of what were known as “print media” outlets have slashed editorial staff, cut back on publication dates and (in some places) evolve toward digital-first publication.

Against that backdrop, many colleges are still writing traditional press releases and not changing their view of how to generate and disseminate stories. But should they?

Two great sessions at the recent SUNYCUAD conference — Greg Kie’s “Why Are We Still Writing Press Releases?” and a panel presentation on “What’s Next for Local and Regional Media” hosted by Alexandra Jacobs Wilke — gave a fabulous and fascinating overview of this topic.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.37.49 AM

The game has changed

The panel presentation, moderated by former higher education journalist Wilke now with SUNY Potsdam, featured Tim Farkas of Northern New York Newspapers; Ron Lombard of Time Warner Cable News; and Ellen Rocco, station manager for North Country Public Radio.

Their message was clear: They’re just not interested in getting buried in press releases. In fact, the more releases you sent, especially if they had little news value, the less likely some news orgs would even look at them in the busy, competitive news marketplace. Quality trumps quantity.

What do they want? News. Good stories. Things that will interest their audiences. But we (as communicators) need to facilitate this, not complicate it. We need to be more selective in what we send them, and focus on conveying relevant, interesting stories.

Lombard explained that news junkies still very much exist, but how and where they consume the news has changed. Farkas noted that the Watertown Daily Times has become digital-first and dedicates resources to getting its stories out to audiences via social media (do colleges follow their lead?). My favorite line from Rocco, whose operation has evolved from radio to media because young people don’t even have radios any more, was that “you don’t have to justify investing in new media” if your goals include younger audiences, because that’s where they are.

Instead of piles of press releases, they said, should focus on relationships and strategy: What do particular news outlets want? What don’t they want? If we have an outstanding feature story, they advised, consider personally reaching out and pitching it instead of burying it in an avalanche of releases.

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Think news, not press

Kie’s thought-provoking session drew on the SUNY Canton communicator and former journalist’s experiences as well as interviews with others. Ramming out releases loaded with marketing-speak and embellishment to meet marketing goals — but not news value — means more work for those editors, already drowning in releases, who may just let your releases sink into oblivion.

We should essentially, Kie says, write NEWS releases not PRESS releases, because the press is not our audience — readers are. We should be more selective in what we send and to whom we send it. We should avoid “cutesy leads,” Paul Riede of the Syracuse Media Group told Kie, and instead provide concise information and let media outlets decide what to do with it.

The edicts of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” are still relevant: “Omit needless words” and “Eschew obfuscation.” Be concise and clear. Or to borrow a beautiful phrase I heard recently: Nobody cares how a clock works. They just care what time it is.

But Kie sees use for relevant news releases which, when they run in online publications that take our submissions, surface on Google News and may lead to more discovery. He cited “Why Bullies Thrive at Work,” penned by Kevin Manne at the University at Buffalo, that started as a news release on faculty research and found its way into Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal, the “Today” show and BBC Radio, among other places. Admittedly that story was very topical since bullying was much in the news at the time, but it also represented an actual news story told with clarity and relevance that found a large and willing audience.

Kie mentioned the leaked findings of the New York Times’ innovation report, and its implications that newsrooms need to consider websites and social media channels part of distribution. Your news stories on your .edu site (ours is considered a Google News source) and shared on Facebook and Twitter can reach web-savvy and socially active audiences as readily as they can appear in what we once called newspapers.

In the end, you want win-win situations. “When you can write the type of press release that is aligned with the news media’s own goals and needs,” Colin Matthews, CEO of readMedia, told Kie, “they’ll not only print the release but thank you for it.” Worth noting that readMedia, which started as a conduit for sending student hometown news releases (probably news with the highest publication rate of all), has set the pace by evolving into a company that provides hometowners that also get distributed via social media through the students themselves (who can also build online profiles) via their Merit tool — which dovetails with evolving definitions of media and information flow.

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Less noise, more strategy

If you’re in an office that spends more staff time cultivating, writing, editing and distributing news releases for no other reason than because “that’s what we’ve always done,” it’s time to re-evaluate things. If you put out a high volume of press releases without any discretion, all you’re doing is creating more work … and more noise. When you need to do less — especially because it’s crowding out opportunities to do work that will get a higher payoff with your audiences than that news release on page 22 of a local shopper that almost nobody will read — you could consider asking some questions to steer your writing priorities:

1. Does this support our strategic communication goals?
2. Does this serve a substantial audience?

All communication should have goals. When your time and resources are limited, you shouldn’t create a news release, a webpage or a social media account “just because” — these should all involve strategy.

Strategic communication goals can be viewed broadly or narrowly. For us, promoting academic reputation — which I loosely define as “showing why attending or working at Oswego can be awesome” — is key, so promoting student or faculty research is part of that, made easier when you can show relevance that the average person can understand. If we’re opening a new building or adding a new major, however, the bottom line is not the building or program itself (and definitely, imho, not a process story) but how it will benefit our students (provide better labs and opportunities, meet a professional need or niche).

The problem we all face is tradition, the many press releases that we’ve always sent just because somebody asked us to … that many media outlets don’t even want, let alone want to run.

Digital (r)evolution

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 10.34.50 PMAs Herbert Spenser and Charles Darwin posited back in the 19th century, those who will survive and thrive are those who best adapt. Just a few days ago, Amazon bowed to the changing marketplace by placing its Digital Music section (formerly CDs and MP3s) front and center and moving its CDs down the menu into a CDs and Vinyl submenu in Movies, Music and Games. Couple that with the aforementioned New York Times innovation report and you’d have to be either obstinate or incredibly nostalgic/romantic to not realize the future (or perhaps even the present) lives in the digital realm.

If media outlets are going digital-first, shouldn’t we? Are we creating online newsrooms that showcase our best or are we sending (often-unwanted) e-blasts to editors? Or are we somewhere in between?

But let me clarify: Telling great stories on our websites and getting positive media attention are not mutually exclusive. Stories of interest to our key audiences are, by definition, news. Every media outlet wants news, wants to share stories that move their readers. The more we clutter the streams with off-point releases, the less they will even try to see the diamonds when they emerge.

We also need to realize that news releases are just one possible method of storytelling. Our student-created and student-centered videos such as Head2Toe Health: Kevin Graham, Grad Student/Pro Wrestler (approaching 2,000 views) and Monotype Printing at SUNY Oswego (above 1,300 views and counting) reach bigger (and wider) audiences than if we had merely blasted them out as news releases — in large part because the video medium tells the stories better. Similarly, standalone posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can concisely and elegantly communicate better, quicker and more effectively — directly to key stakeholders — than pouring hours into a press release with little readership or relevance.

There’s no perfect answer to the question of why colleges still send news releases, or if they should, but it’s something we all ought to revisit and revise if possible. Our news should be, well, news and we should create stories welcomed by editors and readers alike, anywhere they want to find it.

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Don’t hate the player (Richard Sherman), hate the game.

Malcolm Smith.

That’s the name of the Seahawks linebacker who hustled downfield to make a heads-up interception that will send Seattle to its second Super Bowl™ ever. You won’t remember his name, because he didn’t do what Richard Sherman did.

Sherman, as most of the world knows by now, is the All-Pro cornerback who made an amazing mid-air adjustment to tip the ball to Smith. Then adjusted a lot of attitudes just after the game when Erin Andrews asked him a question and he went off with the kind of trash talk he brings every minute of every game. Just as much of the Twitterverse had hit “send” on a congratulatory tweet to the Seahawks, Sherman suddenly changed the conversation.

My Twitter feed was divided between immediate haters of Sherman and those who found his candor “refreshing” and about what you’d expect right after a ferocious game between two teams that hate each other.

The most naive reaction came from professional communicators who suggested somebody should get Sherman to media relations training. Sherman has a communication degree from Stanford. He knows what he’s doing. He knows this is how he gets famous. And if you knew Richard Sherman — and almost nobody does — you wouldn’t have been very surprised.

*****

umadbro

Courtesy of Richard Sherman Twitpic

I’ve been a Seahawks fan longer than probably the majority of my Facebook friends have been alive. I’ve seen ups and downs with this franchise — more downs than ups, many years in the NFL desert — so this win was beyond exciting. I was disappointed in Sherman’s behavior because it taints the moment of victory and turned many fans (with a shallow understanding of the team and the game) against them for the Super Bowl™.

Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the game. He led the league in interceptions, which is all the more amazing because quarterbacks so rarely throw his way. Sherman (correctly) noted that on the final play, the 49ers gambled by going at the Seahawks’ best defender. He has bravado, but he can back it up.

If you follow the Seahawks or are a hardcore football fan, you know this. If he played in New York, you’d know it. If he played among the East Coast media that sets our sporting agenda, you’d know it. But he plays up in the northwest corner of the country, where you have to do bold things to get attention.

He first gained notice when, after the rising Seahawks earned a surprising upset win over the Patriots last season, he tweeted a photo of himself and New England quarterback/media darling Tom Brady with a caption “U mad bro?” The sports establishment that reveres Brady was aghast some upstart would do such a thing, people with actual senses of humor found it funny, and soon enough the sports world returned to ignoring Seattle and its mouthy cornerback.

The Seahawks and the 49ers hate each other with a passion. The Seattle secondary and San Francisco receivers trash talk and taunt more than most, so it’s not surprising that Sherman and Michael Crabtree, the receiver he tipped the ball away from and ripped in his postgame interview, despise each other. The NFL likely will fine Sherman for his comments (probably less than the $50,000 they docked teammate Marshawn Lynch for not talking to the media) while realizing the swagger he brings and the rivalry between the two young teams will bring the league riches beyond belief.

*****

Russell Wilson is the kind of player coaches and PR staff dream about. In just his second year in the NFL, the humble Seahawk most believed too small to play his position in the league is now a franchise quarterback for a Super Bowl™-bound team. He says everything you’d want in his interviews about hard work and teammates and respect for opponents. He makes plays with his head, his legs and his arm. Wilson is known as the first player to show up for practice and the last to leave. Wilson’s face lights up when he tells heartwarming tales of visits to children’s hospitals, and how much he admires the brave young people he meets.

Russell Wilson is everything we say we want in our heroes.

So he’ll never be as famous as Richard Sherman.

*****

Fortune favors the brave. That line has been written many times about the Seahawks (mainly in Seattle, of course, because outside media barely paid attention to them until recently). Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider built the Seahawks from also-rans to Super Bowl™ contenders in a few short years by taking lots of risks and creating a competitive atmosphere. They took risks on quarterbacks deemed too short, cornerbacks deemed too big, defensive lineman considered too small, and found a way to win. Mel Kiper and the shellacked-hair draft analysts who make a living pricing young players as if they are sides of beef, routinely give the Seahawks low grades in their drafts … but Wilson (third round), Sherman (fifth round) and others Kiper and others derided are among the best at their position, and undrafted free agent Doug Baldwin made a number of game-changing plays on Saturday.

Deciding to go for it on fourth down — where Wilson rifled a pass to another undrafted free agent receiver, Jermaine Kearse, for the go-ahead score — is the kind of thing most observers applaud … when it works. On the field, Sherman deflecting the pass to Smith to seal the Seahawks win and trip to the big game is something fans cheer.

But when the athletes we venerate for on-field bravado do something other than act as corporate spokespeople, the world acts with disgust. Fans tweet their dissatisfaction, not realizing they are merely making the target of their anger more famous and more ripe for several endorsement deals.

Richard Sherman knows this. Football is not the only game he plays better than almost anybody else. Russell Wilson can still become famous, and deserves to. Malcolm Smith can still become a prized football player. But only Richard Sherman has become the most talked-about athlete on the planet.

UPDATE: Sherman explains himself and his comments in a Monday Morning Quarterback column for Sports Illustrated. If you’re interested in knowing how he really is, it’s well worth a read.

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