Thursday, November 9

Speak For A Living

‘Being a speaker is a fabulous way to make a living,” says Regina Clark, president of the New Jersey chapter of the National Speakers Association (NSA), an organization open to professional speakers and focused on helping its members “learn the business of being a speaker.”

The New Jersey NSA chapter began meeting last September and was chartered by the national organization in the spring of 2006 with 26 founding members. “Before that time professional speakers in New Jersey didn’t really have their own home,” says Clark.

The next meeting of this new group takes place on Thursday, November 9, at 6 p.m. at Hilton Garden Inn in Bridgewater. The speaker is Tim Wright who speaks on “How I Worked My A** Off to Get More Paid Speaking Engagements.” Cost: $50. Call 732-748-0987 for more information.

Clark is the only member of the New Jersey chapter who is not a New Jersey resident. She lives in Goshen, New York, “west of West Point,” and says the hour and 15 minute drive to Bridgewater “is a little shorter and more convenient” for her than the drive to the New York chapter meetings.

Attendance at the New Jersey meetings has ranged from 12 to 40 people over the last few months, says Clark. Last May the group put on a full-day development conference attended by over 60 people.

There is no one special type of person who becomes a speaker, she says, and the organization reflects that variety. “There are celebrity speakers who people want to hear because they are celebrities and there are other people who give speeches because they are able to motivate people and deliver an inspirational message.” People who have won Olympic gold medals “and can also speak” are also in demand, she adds.

There are also people who talk about living with handicaps or who have gone through life tragedies and want to deliver an inspirational message. Other people who join the group include “serious corporate types who specialize in speaking to business groups and corporations as well as “the ones who throw a little magic in their speeches and try to be more entertaining,” and authors who are promoting books they have written.

It is an unusual mix, she says, but they all come to the NSA to learn “the business of speaking. We are not a group like Toastmasters that will help you develop your speaking skills.”

To become a member of the New Jersey chapter a person must pay $140 and be a member of the national organization. To join the national organization a person must have had 20 paid speaking engagements in a 12-month period. “There are different levels of certification,” says Clark. Fewer than 10 percent of the 3,600 members have reached the level of Certified Speaking Professional, a designation that Clark holds.

To be a professional speaker is to be a business owner, says Clark. “If you don’t know how to be in business you’ll never make it in this profession.”

Like most small business owners, a speaker needs to be flexible. “It is impossible to just say, ‘I speak.’” says Clark. A speaker should be prepared to speak in front of large audiences and small groups, to do keynote speeches, meeting and seminars, to act as a consultant, and to do assessments.

While some speakers do have a staff, most are solo businesses. Everything from marketing to bookkeeping to networking to making travel arrangements falls into the speaker’s hands. A few of the areas a speaker needs to keep on top of include:

Sales and marketing. The speaker is the product. “You are selling yourself, your message, and your ability to motivate that audience,” says Clark. Speaking is a very competitive business. “One person told me I’m a commodity. There are a lot of speakers out there. You need to market your unique value to an audience.”

The Niche. Find your target market, then “brand” yourself for that audience, advises Clark. A big mistake many novice speakers make is to try to be everything for everybody. But, says Clark, “that will only water down your credentials. Instead, market yourself to a specific group or market a specific topic.” Some speakers target a particular industry, while others become experts on one topic.

Find a niche where there is money to be made, she says. “The corporate world has money. It is more challenging if your market is non-profits or the government.”

Her own specialty is teaching Six Sigma, a method she explains is designed to “teach Geeks to communicate. Coaching highly technical people to influence and lead others is a great market.”

Financials. Another mistake many novices make is “not looking at the financials, spending money before they make it. They get a website, a logo, brochures, all before they have any speaking engagements.”

Collections. Just as with all small businesses, speakers must collect the money owed to them. “There are so many different business models, everyone does things differently,” says Clark. “Some people require a deposit before they speak. Others tell me they never require a deposit and they never have a problem getting paid.” Clark recommends making it easy to accept payment. “Take credit cards, checks, whatever works.”

Leads. “There are thousands of associations out there that hold conventions or offer workshops and seminars and need speakers,” says Clark. Novices can tap into the market through directories and books of listings. The Internet is also a great resource. But most important, says Clark, is to develop relationships. Engagements often come about because an organization wants to hire a speaker and someone knows someone. “My business is all referral,” says Clark.

Clark has been a professional speaker for about 12 years. She came from the corporate world. “I’ve been in the training area since the 1980s,” she says. Most recently she worked with Meldisco, a division of the Melville Corporation. She then “decided that I could do on my own what I was doing working for others.”

Clark enjoys the flexibility her job provides. She has three children, and her job works well with their schedules. “I don’t work on holidays,” she says. “The summertime is slow. Companies don’t want to hold training programs in the summer when people are on vacation, so most conferences are in the spring and fall.”

She has also had the opportunity to travel to 38 states and several countries, including Canada, Germany, Amsterdam, Italy, and Belgium. “For an international job you charge more,” she says, and adds, “I have a fabulous husband and a fabulous babysitter to make it work.”

You must also be aware of “cultural issues,” but with the globalization she says that all speakers, whether they work only in the United States or throughout the world, should realize that their audience will likely be international. “At my last seminar there were people from Germany, Mexico, and India in the audience,” she says.

Meeting interesting people from diverse cultures is another plus Clark, who says “It is just a privilege for me to get to stand in front of groups of people and deliver a worthwhile message.”

— Karen Hodges Miller

New Jersey Models For The Country

Kenneth Jackson, a professor of urban history and social sciences at Columbia University, is a son of the south but has adopted New York City, and specifically the Upper West Side, as his home. He writes, lectures, and frequently appears on television but above all, he loves to teach. Jackson originally became interested in studying cities and suburbs through a mentor in the mid-1960s when the field of urban history was new and wide open for a young professor.

Jackson speaks on Thursday, November 9, at McCosh 50 at 8 p.m. as a part of the University Public Lectures. His unique approach in this talk is to view the entire world as if it were New Jersey, and to address the past and future of the state. He says that he likes to use New Jersey as a model for where the United States is going in terms of suburbanization because “it has good transportation, the wealthiest per capita income, is trying to preserve open space, has many people who are very interested in the environment, a disverse ethnicity, and dense a population.”

Jackson went to Columbia as an assistant professor in 1968, expecting to teach for a year or two. Thirty-eight years later, he is still there, writing and teaching about the cities and suburbs. One short break occurred when he came to Princeton as a visiting professor from 1973 to 1974 and taught general American urban history. He soon returned to Columbia, where he helped organize the school’s first urban studies program.

He is famous for the evening bike tours he organizes for groups 300 students, teaching assistants, and administrators, who cycle through Manhattan, traveling into Central Park and swinging past Times Square, to weave their way down to lower Manhattan, eventually ending their ride across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Moving beyond the boroughs, he has taken the time to look around at the city’s neighbor to the west. He takes the students in a rented bus for field trips to satellite cities all around New Jersey, including Bayonne, Hoboken, Newark, Patterson, Passaic, and Fairlawn.

One destination is the planned community of Radburn, a part of Fairlawn, which was developed in the 1920s and 30s, and is one of most famous planned communities in U.S. He wrote about it in “Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States,” his best known publication.

Planned communities, including Twin Rivers, in East Windsor, are just one of the areas in which New Jersey has been a pioneer. Jackson maintains that New Jersey has both a negative and a positive image, but that all aspects have to be considered in suburbanization such as infrastructure, sewers, water, transportation, police, and hospitals.

He sees the past and future of the Garden State as a roadmap for the future of the United States. When asked why he selected New Jersey over other states, Jackson says that he sees New Jersey as a model for where the country is going in terms of suburbanization, because the state has had stereotypically troubling issues such as an inadequate transportation system, gangs, crime, and overcrowded roadways for many years.

These same issues are now being faced by cities and states across the U.S. but they are problems that New Jersey was forced to deal with for decades due to its early industrialization, overpopulation, an enormous influx of immigrants, and government corruption on both local and state levels.

“New Jersey is years ahead of the rest of the country in terms of what it has experienced with urban sprawl,” Jackson says. “These problems are not unique at all. In fact, they are typical of the pattern going on across the U.S.”

One example he points to is the state Supreme Court’s 1975 Mount Laurel decision, which mandates that every community provide its fair share of low-income housing. “New Jersey has been a leader in its efforts to create affordable suburban housing and has wrestled with this issue longer and more successfully than any other state,” Jackson says. “This state is out front in terms of thinking about these issues and trying to do something about them. In fact, it is doing a better job than most states.”

The Princeton corridor, which stretches from New York to Philadelphia, is not unique. It is being mirrored all across the country as cities spread out across the open land, creating one massive suburb. Jackson points out that “New Jersey has fairly good transportation, the wealthiest per capita income, a dense population of diverse ethnicity, and is trying to preserve its open space. Plus there are many people who are very interested in preserving the environment as well as the land.”

“A city and a state have to be livable,” he maintains. “How New Jersey deals with these issues and the challenges it faces in the future make it the American bellwether state.”

Jackson was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1939 and was there to give a speech when interviewed by phone. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Memphis, where he received his B.A. in 1961. A Woodrow Wilson fellowship gave Jackson the opportunity to pursue his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he studied history and economics and obtained his M.A. in 1963 and Ph.D. in 1966.

The son of an army officer who later became an accountant and a homemaker who preferred going downtown to avoid shopping in the suburbs, Jackson was the second oldest child with three sisters. His childhood was spent in a suburban tract house that was just the type of area he would later write and lecture about. In 1965 he joined the Air Force and was sent to the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where he served as an assistant professor of logistics management. While there, he taught management techniques to maintenance and supply officers and was a captain by the time he completed his military duty.

Jackson is now working on two books, “Gentlemen’s Agreement: Race, Class, and Differential Development in Newark, White Plains, and Darien, 1840-1990,” and “The Road to Hell: Transportation Policy and the Decline of the United States.”

He lives in Manhattan and northern Westchester with his wife, college sweetheart Barbara Bruce Jackson, who recently retired as chair of the English department at Blind Brook High School in Rye Brook, New York. “Barbara is one of two people who graduated with a higher average than me,” he says. — Jean Cervi

Put Passion Into Your Career

Passion has gotten something of a bad name in recent years. In a world rife with negative passions such as road rage, political pigeonholing, and overly aggressive football players, it is hard to remember if there is such a thing as a good passion. But according to author and career coach Bob Garvey, passion is the missing ingredient that plagues most people’s unfulfilling career choice.

Garvey believes that the failure to take passion into account is the root cause of millions of people’s chronic job dissatisfaction. “Most people view passion for their career as something that would be nice to have, but that it isn’t necessary,” he says. “But people need to change their perspective on purpose and passion. Passion is a critical part of a career and really it has to go from ‘nice to have’ to ‘need to have.’”

Garvey, who is based in Manheim, Pennsylvania, is the author of “Goal Setting, the Key to Bringing Passion into Your Career” as well as the forthcoming “Purpose Takes Guts: Making Your Job more than a Paycheck.” He says that “the trick to putting passion into your career is to refine your goal-setting skills and then use those goal-setting skills to find your passion.”

Garvey speaks at a NJAWBO meeting on Thursday, November 9, at 6 p.m. at the Harrison Conference Center at Merrill Lynch, 900 Scudders Mill Road, Plainsboro. Call 609-924-7975 for more information, or visit www.purposefulgoalsetting.com

But how does one go about finding passion in relation to a job or career? According to Garvey, “you really have to take a kind of personal inventory. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? A pretty good clue is to look at the things in your life that energize you. Then start paying attention to the things that you are good at doing, your strengths.”

Garvey was born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where his father continues to work as a pharmacist and his mother is a massage therapist. He then earned his bachelor’s degree in business from Cornell University. After graduating he worked in sales and marketing at a number of companies, including Black and Decker, Behr Paints, and Rubbermaid. He and his wife, Kimberly, who works as a teacher, have three children: Bobby (10), Jack (2), and a baby girl named Maggie.

Garvey says that he learned much about passion in career, or lack thereof, in some of his earlier job stints. “I used to manage teams that were made up of entry level sales positions, which were held by college grads, right out of school,” says Garvey.

“We would ask them to work some fairly long hours, about 60 to 70 hours a week,” says Garvey. “It surprised me just how many of them would kind of fall over the side as we went along. They had trouble being motivated. I would ask them, why are you doing this? Why are you putting yourselves through these rigors if you do not have a clear plan on where you are going and how to get there?”

“The kids who thrived in that environment at Rubbermaid had a vision for their career,” says Garvey. “They knew exactly how their job fit in with where they eventually want to get. They knew what they had to do to get there. The folks who didn’t have this vision really struggled. So these kids would wind up either quitting or be asked to leave because they just weren’t producing the results that were expected of them.”

According to Garvey, most people have no concept of what their strengths really are. “There is research out there that shows that more than eight out of ten Americans cannot articulate what their strengths are,” he says. “That’s amazing, really. No wonder people have so much difficulty finding their right niche.” And once these strengths are identified, the next step is to actively work them into your day.

Many career counselors recommend, particularly for the over-40 crowd, that people go to a quiet place and listen to their inner selves. But while that can be effective for some, Garvey believes that job seekers just out of college are not going to be able to put that strategy to good use.

“They need something a little more active,” he says. “I ask them to work first with goal setting and then, at the end of the day, look back and see what the biggest energizer of their day was. Then they are asked to make a big list over several weeks, analyze it, and start incorporating those energizers into their day. That is a good launching point for finding some meaningful work.”

While the truism for many is that money is everything, Garvey says that for those seeking a satisfying career, it may not rank very high. “There is research that suggests that money is not the prime motivator in most people’s career choice,” he says. “It might be in the top five, but it is really not in the top three.” Recognition is the prime-motivating factor for most people, whether it is from the company, from the boss, or from fellow employees. “That’s really what most people want,” says Garvey.

Garvey also stresses that what career searchers may want when they are in their 20s may be vastly different from what they want in their 40s. “If you consider the billions of dollars spent on advertising each year for consumer goods, it’s not hard to see why many people, particularly young people, feel like they need a 40-inch plasma TV to fulfill their lives,” he says. “Because of that, and because of the materialistic nature of our culture, young people tend to gravitate toward jobs that are higher paying in order to be able to gather those things quicker.”

But even in a materialistic society, money only goes so far when it comes to career satisfaction. “But most people get to a point in their lives where they see that it is not quite as fulfilling as they thought it was going to be,” he says. “Then you’ve got to go through that process, which can be painful at times, and peel back the onion, look at yourself, and find out what it is that you can do that is going to be fulfilling.

“A common technique for many looking to improve their career prospects is to formulate a plan based on where you would like to be in a year,” says Garvey. “While that may work for some, I do not recommend it for everyone. That’s because when I start to visualize into the future — one year, five years, ten years — I start to intellectualize things. But I think for most people, that visualization is not enough to get you out of bed in the morning.”

Instead, Garvey recommends that people pay attention to what their strengths and passions are right now, and then find the energizers in life, and make them a part of the daily routine. That will give job seekers some momentum to move forward and it will add energy to those visualizations.

Putting passion into a career that is intrinsically meaningful is both a cliche and a truth. Garvey says that the truth lies in the difficulty in achieving it for most people.

“I’m confident that by the time most people have finished college they have heard all about finding their strengths and finding work that they love to do,” he says. “But it is one thing hearing about it in school, while you’re getting your education, and another thing to hear it when you are off in the real world with bills to pay. I think at that point my advice to most people is that they need to figure this out because, after all, it is the rest of your life.” — Jack Florek

Monday, November 13

PC Remote Access Easier Than Ever

Remote data access is not a new idea. For decades corporations have been spending substantial sums of money setting up an infrastructure to keep their employees connected to their central hub, no matter where in the world their business takes them. The ability to link into the latest data from the home office has no doubt given big business an edge in the marketplace — until now that is. Remote access has reached the masses, and even the smallest of business people are now empowered to access files that were inadvertently left behind in the rush to make the red eye to Cleveland.

With the power comes choice. There is a dizzying array of software available in every price range, right down to free.

To help navigate the software choices that face the small business or individual the Princeton PC Users Group offers “Remote Computing: Step-by-Step” on Monday, November 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Mercer County Library, Lawrence Branch, at 2751 Brunswick Pike. The seminar is free and open to the public.

Leading the discussion is Hank Kee, who can be heard weekly on WBAI-FM 99.5 in Manhattan. For those outside the station’s broadcasting area, the shows are available as podcasts at the show’s website, www.pcradioshow.org. As co-moderator of the nation’s longest running personal computer talk show, Kee has had the opportunity to preview numerous software packages, and has more than a few tips and tricks to share.

Before starting his broadcast career, Kee was involved in various hardware and software projects, dating back to the U.S. Air Force’s AN/FSQ-7 computer, which used over 55,000 vacuum tubes and occupied a half-acre of space. As computers shrunk down and started moving into homes, Kee was working on free software packages, and his efforts rewarded by PC Magazine when he became one of the first recipients of its “Technical Excellence” award.

Remote computing, or telecomputing as Kee refers to it, is really “extending your keyboard, screen, and other peripherals through the network so that you do not have to be at a site.” This has several advantages for people working in any number of industries — as well as for personal use.

GMail Drive is an easy and free way to remotely access files. A Google search for “Gmail Drive” will yield numerous sites that offer the software as a free download. Once installed, your GMail account will be transformed into a virtual hard drive that can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection. Currently Google offers about 2.7 gigabytes of free storage space for each account, but Kee is quick to point out that GMail accounts are free, and anyone needing additional storage can simply open multiple accounts.

One word of caution with GMail Drive. Make sure that your data is backed up on a non-virtual drive. At present Google neither specifically prohibits nor allows the GMail Drive functionality, and if it becomes a burden on Google’s servers, the company could decide to block it out. Google also has the right to change storage limits or to start charging for service at any time.

LogMeIn, which can be found at www.logmein.com, offers a free product that has more functions than GMail. The software can be installed on a home or office computer, and allows full access and control of the computer through a web-based interface. The software allows users to log into a remote computer and capture full control of its keyboard and mouse.

Anyone who has tried to talk his favorite aunt through an issue with her computer will appreciate this function.

There are some limitations in the free version, but most are overcome in the full-featured versions, which begin at $9.95 for a package suited to an office worker who wants access to his computer from home or on the road and goes up to $99 for intensive users, including computer technicians and help desk personnel.

LogMeIn allows subscribers to retrieve files for their own use, transfer files, print documents remotely, and collaborate by inviting others to look at what they are seeing on their screens.

GoToMyPC, located at www.gotomypc.com, is a full featured service whose prices start at $19.95 a month. It allows full access and file transfers from a remote PC, making forgotten documents a thing of the past. GoToMyPC has also rolled out several other remote access services, such as GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar, which bring multiple people together at one time and give them the ability to share documents in real time.

Whether you left a client’s file behind or your grandmother can’t get her E-mail to work properly, remote computing can be a lifesaver. As is true for every corner of the Internet, the options for remote computing are endless. Kee looks forward to walking you through them “step-by-step” during his interactive presentation, and helping you determine the best way for you to access your PC from around the globe.

— Patrick Spring

Tuesday, November 14

Simplifying Your Life

‘Don’t these idiots ever consider that human beings are going to use the stuff they make?” This cry comes from consumers every single day as they try to install computer peripherals, unwrap DVDs, assemble table saws, and open olive jars. From software to unassembled bunk beds, it seems that most manufacturers are presenting consumers less with a product than with a pop quiz. But help is on the way.

The Usability Professionals of America have banded together to make life easier in all its mechanical and electronic aspects. This eclectic group of professional tool simplifiers (www.passoc.org) has claimed Tuesday, November 14, as World Usability Day. Visit www.worldusabilityday.org to find the celebration spot nearest you. For those in the U.S. 1 area, this no-cost festival of simplification takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the Sarnoff Center in Princeton.

Cosponsored by the ACM/IEEE, “New Jersey Makes Life Easy” features exhibitions and a series of brainstorming sessions. Speakers include Todd Warfel, partner in the Philadelphia consulting firm Messagefirst; Edmond Isralski, human factors manager of Abbott Laboratories, headquartered in Abbott Park, Illinois; and Mark Altom, chief technology officer of the global communications firm Avaya.

From his earliest days, Warfel was in search of improvement. Growing up in Muncie, Indiana, he told his mother at age six that he was going to move to the East Coast. “I continually felt I wanted more diversity in my life,” he says. Educationally, Warfel achieved his quest for diversity, attending first an arts school, where he learned to draw, then shifting to photographic design, and finally moving to the study of copy writing. Later, in l995, he graduated from Ball State University with majors in English and psychology, and a minor in graphic arts.

All of his studies became well-blended fodder for his career. After working for a few firms, Warfel became intrigued by the just-emerging World Wide Web. He remembers remarking to his friend, “I think this is really going to go somewhere.”

Warfel hitched his wagon to the cyber-phenomenon and opened Calypso Studios, a design firm specializing in brand identification. Then, five years ago, he founded Messagefirst (www.messagefirst.com), and recruited an impressive list of clients, including ATT Wireless, Bank of America, OfficeMax, and Tylenol.

He was recently commissioned to study the efficiency of several online dating services. In browsing the sites, he happened upon, as he puts it, “one really hot girl,” with whom he has just returned from his honeymoon.

When guiding manufacturers toward user-friendly design in their products, he issues two fiats: they must require no manual and no user support groups.

Nixing cross-purposes. Warfel’s goal is to marry the needs of clients and of their customers. Recently, for example, Warfel was contacted by Bankrate. On its website, www.bankrate.com, Bankrate’s visitors can find the latest rates from hundreds of competing companies offering home mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, college loans, investment instruments, and more. The site includes not only rapidly updated rate tables comparing over 1,400 lenders, but also more than 200 articles, and myriad listing applications, such as a quick chart about the five basic things to remember when buying a car.

But Bankrate had a problem. Navigating across this vast site took countless steps. Finding a home mortgage took the browser 10 clicks. For the company, in one way, this seemed a blessing. Financing Bankrate’s enormous project requires an average of six to eight pop-up ads per page. So, the more pages each visitor clicks to, the more ad revenue. However, browsers forced to wade through the multi-step cyber morass were giving up in droves, which made neither potential customers nor advertisers very happy.

Bankrate’s CEO, Tom Evans, called in Warfel and asked him if he could simplify the site visitor’s experience by breaking it into fewer, easier steps, and, at the same time, increase the number of ads to which the average browser would be exposed. Warfel unhesitatingly answered yes.

“Actually I didn’t really know how, when he first asked me,” confesses Warfel, “but I knew I could do it.”

Simplicity surveys. Warfel’s confidence lay in his use of business’ eldest principles: don’t make what you want — make what the people need. Using a full range of demographics, Messagefirst staffers gathered a broad survey group of possible home buyers, including people of all ages, incomes, and levels of computer experience.

Then, armed with a video camera, he invited them to go to www.bankrate.com and navigate the site and arrive at a good rate for their new home loan. “We were merely flies on the wall,” he says. “We offered no advice or aid.” He noted that excessive options, each requiring a click to a new page, acted more as annoying extra hallways, rather than selective destinations.

Simplified solutions. Warfel’s study provided evidence that browsers indeed were becoming disgusted and dropping out before ever reaching the desired rate table. With a little technical makeover, the Messagefirst crew was able to halve the number of steps required to reach the goal. This pleased the customer, which was half of the job Bankrate’s had asked Warfel’s company to do.

Satisfying the company and its CEO came by following another old business maxim: teach ‘em before you sell ‘em. Warfel’s study showed that most of the categories — home loans, credit card rates, car loan options — just left the browser at the rate table as a final destination.

“I had just purchased a home myself,” says Warfel. “I remembered all the things I needed to know: insurance, movers, attorneys, title searches, surveys, and so on.”

Much of this advice was already buried somewhere on Bankrate’s vast site or in its archive of written articles. Using these and various outside sources, Messagefirst began building links that led the site visitor further along the information trail, equipping him with the tools he needed.

Bankrate visitors are now spending a lot more time on this more informative site which is, in their view, infinitely easier to navigate.

Complexity’s cost. When computers first began shifting from a home luxury to a home necessity, people were awed at these little gray boxes. Several manufacturers sought to maintain the wonder by deliberately building in complexities. Nothing so creates mystique as a conspiratorial knowledge of F keys, and secret passwords. Fifteen years into the home computer revolution, and despite user-friendly pull-down, one-click menus, much of the historical complexity remains.

Warfel constantly urges clients to realize that they are leaving money on the table by retaining these multi-step add-ons. He tells of one major software client that doubled the development expense, and cost, of its software with an extensive manual. Since no one ever read it, the company set up a hotline, and the sales force spent an inordinate percentage of their time explaining the package.

The company management dismissed the cost of the manual, and claimed hotline supporters were only minimum wage lackeys, but the sales force time really made them take notice. When Warfel showed them that the firm’s sales people were spending 20 percent of their time — at a cost of $875,000 annually — on explanations of the software package, they hired Messagefirst on the spot. Today, the same software neither has nor requires, manuals, hotlines, or costly sales explanations.

With advocates for simplicity like Warfel and the rest of the usability professionals, we may just find ourselves in a less confusing world. Now, if we could only shoehorn a few of these folks into our government offices.

— Bart Jackson

The State of Ethics in the Fourth Estate

What has happened to the news? Whether you watch it or read it, is it really living up to your expectations? The Society of Professional Journalists states in its code of ethics that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.”

The code is filled with noble directives such as, “never distort,” “distinguish news from advertising,” “test accuracy,” “show compassion… show good taste,” and (my favorite, ) “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.” (Did you catch that? The very addition of “my favorite,” slanted the news and broke the public trust.)

To determine exactly what the pubic deserves from its search for information, and how honestly today’s newscasters are presenting it, the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists is holding its annual ethics forum on Tuesday, November 14, at 8 a.m. at the Cook Campus Center in New Brunswick. There is no cost. Visit www.njspj.org for more information.

Richard A. Lee, who served as deputy communications director during Governor McGreevey’s final days, and who currently acts as communications director of the Hall Institute for Public Policy, speaks on “Hacks and Flacks: Tales from the Dark Side.” Other presenting journalists, who have covered everything from Hurricane Katrina to 9/11 include Greg Trevor, Christopher Guidette, Dana Leusner, and Andy Boglivo. The forum is designed for both journalists and for the media specialists who deal with them.

Lee says that he had very little to do with Governor McGreevey’s decision to resign, but he was involved in getting the news out. A native New Yorker who earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Bonaventure University (Class of 1975) and his master’s degree at Montclair State University, he has more than 30 years of experience in journalism.

He landed his dream job, rock music reviewer for Upper Montclair’s very with-it Aquarian, right after school. “I just loved this job,” recalls Lee. “Here I was in my 20s, actually getting paid to go to rock concerts and listen to music and tapes.” He later returned to academe, and earned his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in media studies.

Settling more into mainstream journalism, Lee then joined the Woodbridge News Tribune as statehouse correspondent. Lee continued his career, reporting and writing for a number of papers. Stepping out of the reporter’s role, he later served as public information officer for the State Assembly before joining the McGreevey administration.

Now communications director at the Halls Institute for Public Policy, Lee has the chance to present vital Garden State issues, ranging from smart growth to smarter budgeting. He sees this post as a prod to research and essential discussion.

Lee also teaches public relations and English composition at Rutgers University and Mercer County Community College.

It’s election time again, and the public has watched news reporters concentrate on the horse race, to the exclusion of the horses. John Q. Public may not know which senator or congressperson stands for what, but he knows a great deal about each candidate’s personal habits and foibles — and those of their spouses and children. Lee is well aware of these trends.

“FDR could not walk and JFK had his liaisons, but in decades past, the press chose not to report them,” says Lee. “By the time of President Clinton, we were hearing far more than we ever wanted to know about the Monica Lewinsky affair.” This problem is important, but Lee sees it as secondary to the erosions of fair, all-sides reporting, and what he terms “news homogenization.”

But not all of the changes in news reporting can be put on the reporters’ shoulders. Lee points to a number of factors that are altering the information available to us.

Tech invasions. Few doubt that the privacy we once cherished — and granted to public figures — no longer exists. Even if a newspaper ignores ultra-personal events, some blogger will scoop up the tidbits and spread the word to millions. Often the mainstream press will print those reports, thereby getting the word out to anyone who is not yet spending hours a day online.

The Gary Hart affair. But it isn’t fair to blame the Internet for all of the focus on the private lives of public figures. The political gloves-off event that began the trend of “all’s-fair” reporting, Lee says, was the l988 presidential candidacy of Gary Hart. With questions about his actual name and age lurking in the background, Hart responded to the allegation of a mistress by inviting the press to accompany him and search his life thoroughly. Reporters accepted the invitation, and quickly found evidence of Hart’s extra-marital dalliance.

That was the green light that sent investigative writers scouring every possible source for the most intimate information about the private lives of public figures.

News conglomorates. Probably the largest hurdle facing all news presenters in today’s marketplace is overarching media consolidation at all levels. Lee points out that five major companies control virtually all the news we currently watch. In New Jersey most all the newspapers are owned by Advance Publications and the Gannett Company. Each of these also controls television stations and thousands of print journals in other states.

For the reader, says Lee, this means that the news gets homogenized. Local news and local angles on stories are lost. He cites the recent presentation of the New Jersey state budget. “All the stories gave a remarkably similar assessment of the budget, but none of them were taking specific topics and discussing what it would mean to this or that individual region,” he says.

Bottom line reporting. Reporters are severely limited by media budgets. When a major corporation runs a news service, it wants it, above all, to run like every other tentacle of their business: at a profit. If it doesn’t grab enough revenue, it will be cut off. This translates into tight purses and rapid, easily obtained reporting.

In a dispute between an airline and its pilots’ union, for example, limited time and budget constraints mean that even a sharp reporter will run and get a quote from the airline officials. They are, after all, easy to get on the phone. Union officials, however, are not as easily contacted. As for reading all of the proposals from each side, rather than relying on quick quotes, there simply is not time. Reporting, therefore, becomes “don’t make it good, make it Tuesday.”

What the public wants. Should newscasters present the news we should have, or the news we want? During the endlessly publicized murder trial of O.J. Simpson, several public opinion polls blasted the media for concentrating on this celebrity issue to the exclusion of much more vital events. Meanwhile, television’s guiding mandate, the Neilsen ratings, kept proving that this same public was tuning in and lapping it up.

“It’s a known fact that a candidate’s new healthcare policy gets two paragraphs buried on page two,” says Lee. “But let him lambaste his opponent on some personal issue, and it takes up the whole front page.”

When Lee and the press relations people working for then-Governor McGreevey related the resignation details to the press, they worked on dealing with the specific story at hand. They made it clear that the Governor felt that not being gay, but facing the pressures of an extortion lawsuit related to that fact, would infringe on his ability to perform, and thus resignation seemed the proper course.

“This keeping to the immediate issue worked amazingly well,” says Lee. “It focused people’s minds more on that than on any other aspect of the ensuing scandals.”

In spite of all of the pressures on the media, Lee still insists that ethical practice in journalism is less a tightwire than a disciplined method of doing business. “The work may be more competitive and necessarily faster than before,” he says, “but the standards of being fair and giving both sides in a fully presented story remain the same.”

— Bart Jackson

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