Category Archives: media and journalism

Were the Christmas miracle mother and baby “saved” from epidural?

Ah the miracle of medicine, look how much you’ve done for women and babies. Birthing in the Western World is no longer fraught with danger, thanks to your hand.

Or is it?

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The oh-so convenient Christmas miracle story splashed internationally across mass media headlines of a Coloradan woman and her baby dying through childbirth and then “inexplicably” being revived held readers spellbound. It was the perfect gift for editors – as a front page, it sold papers.

But media did not report the facts – they just told a good story.

In birth, medicine has moved beyond monitoring women and fixing stuff that goes wrong to getting in there and making birth a “medical procedure.” Whether a woman is likely to birth successfully without intervention or not is not considered when offering everything from epidurals to c-sections to “patients” who are armed with the gift of choice, but not the gift of a full education about the side-effects each of these interventions carry.

Do they know that as soon as you introduce one intervention, the likelihood of more being required is exponentially higher? Epidurals lead, often, to more intervention. Why? Because blind freddy can tell that if you can’t feel your body, if you muck around with its ability to do the work it was naturally trying to do, then it’s going to be more likely to repay you in kind. Epidurals are not headache tablets for birthing. Too many women believe they are. Too many women give their birthing up to medicine with no reasonable or rational cause. They’re missing out on the most powerful experience of their lives – and often recovering from major abdominal surgery. Society is also paying through the nose for these unnecessary surgeries. Over 30% of American women now have c-sections. Before long it will be the “normal” way to birth.

Media did not question the fact that Tracy and Mike Hermanstorfer were being “prepped for childbirth” in a medicalized setting with pitocin delivered and an epidural being inserted, and that apparently coincidentally Tracy’s heart stopped after the epidural. (There is real research into the side-effects of epidurals… this link to the American Pregnancy Association states more than 50% of American women have epidurals – but if you read to the end, the very real possibility of cascades of intervention and medical trauma directly related to the epidural, including severely lowering heart rates of both mother and baby are basically outlined. And that’s if they put it in correctly.)

Henci Goer reported on this story yesterday, for Lamaze International. She outlines the details of potential medical responsibility in the trauma endured by this family. Additionally, in ABC News’s video interview with the doctor and Hermanstorfers, the cascade of intervention is described – but the reporting does absolutely nothing to question further about those interventions.

Traditional media are failing us in reporting on birth. We are so accepting of medicalised birth that media do not question medical responsibility in this family’s trauma. Instead, it celebrates the “Christmas miracle” that sells its papers – and the UK’s Daily Mail even went so far as to credit the doctor for bringing back lifeless Tracy. Again, the business model gets in the way of good journalism. Find the quickest story that sells the paper and pulls a heartstring, not the story that takes research and investigation.

I know many religious people have already adopted this story, calling it God’s hand at work. Others will say “thank goodness she was in a hospital (where our human-made gods are) – what would have happened if she were at home?”

What indeed.

Why my research is in Twitter

“Twitter’s a fad.”twitter

“The young kids use Twitter because they don’t want to have a real conversation.”

“Twitter is destroying society.”

“How do you know they’re real?”

“I really don’t care that much about what you’re doing all day.”

I’ve heard it all. From all types of people.

The only people who truly understand Twitter are those who are using it regularly, and have overcome the barriers to acceptance that it inherently presents as a tool of technology.

Academics don’t get Twitter. Including many of those doing research into social media.

Twitter represents a new way of communication. After lifestreaming on Twitter for over two years and researching it for over 12 months,  I understand the nuances of the communities on it, and have watched it morph as it has moved from being a geek tool to a plaything of the mainstream.

I’ve seen people pretend to be people they’re not. Consciously and unconsciously. Romances, flirtations and breakups. Proposals, business endeavours, connections – and their destruction. Lonely and socially inept people have connected with high flyers and leaders. I’ve watched as people going through the most intense pain of their lives have dared to share emotion and feeling that they’d never divulge to their closest friends in a physical sense. I’ve seen Twitterers decide, recently, that “in real life” friends and online friends really are the same thing. For many, normal people, physical presence does not matter any more.

In 2010 I’ll be completing my thesis in the communities of mombloggers on Twitter. I’m particularly looking at some individuals who have had things happen to them that we just don’t talk about in society. People who are judged through horrid newspaper reporting that does nothing more than enable the middle class and other everyone who doesn’t fit their beige lives. People in pain. Who perhaps with Twitter have found reason to keep going, found some sense of support they didn’t have available “in real life” – and through whose journey the rest of the community is learning more about things that often get swept under the carpet. Death. Abuse. Homelessness. Why some women hate others, and appropriate responses to companies and those we don’t understand.

It’s hard.

My big wish for my work in 2010 is that I can somehow do some justice to the women in the communities of Twitter, and give them the opportunity to be heard and appreciated. I can see the opportunities and topics for my PhD dissertation being unveiled, without my pushing them.

I know it won’t be easy when some decide to be contemptuous.

But I’m ready.

I’ll pay for content when there’s Twitter with penguins

Usually, I don’t consciously pay for content. I say ‘consciously’ because if I click on a link and there’s a paywall, I won’t do it. I also don’t subscribe to any newspapers or magazines (online or in ‘dead tree’ format). Basically, the quality of the content I’m seeing doesn’t make me want to pay for more of it.

Mr Murdoch does have the right idea. Getting people to pay for content is definitely a way forward. But News Corp. is missing the biggest opportunity they have. It’s a global organization, and while about 1% of their content producers are the best in the world, they are still.. the best. Why doesn’t News identify that globally based 1%, and put it in a paid-for format? At a really, really high price?

If Mr Murdoch thinks that I, or anyone else, will pay for the other 99% of his writers who are complete crap, then he’s mistaken. I’d rather read the far more professional blogs, with the diversity of opinions and transparency News cannot offer.

After freelancing, creating content for a few different publishers it also appears that organizations don’t like to pay their contributors. Waiting six months for a payment on any work done is not a viable business model. I don’t know why some people think it’s all hunky dory. And it’s been this way for many years.

So I don’t pay for content, and I’m wary of accepting any freelance job at all these days. Because I simply don’t like waiting to be paid when my time is better spent on more pressing things.

But my kids? That’s another thing entirely. I currently pay for three social network memberships. And while I’m a member of about 15 social networks, none of these payments are for me. They’re for my kids. My kids totally expect to pay to get access to information, community and technology. They’re growing up with a pay-for-it frame of mind. At the moment it’s a mum-pay-for-it model, and I’m fine with that because the quality of content accessed by my kids on networks like Club Penguin is really worth $5.95 a month. It’s a vibrant community, with great quality stuff. If organizations continue to treat them this way, by the time they’re my age they’ll be paying for content, and believing they should.

But a key part will be getting rid of the 99% of crap for adults and creating something worth subscribing to. We need a Club Penguin for grown ups.

Sidebar: For the “something shiny” HCI people: Twitter with penguins. Now we’re talking.

 

 

NestleFamily, breastfeeding and social media

I have a great amount of data from the recent NestleFamily twitterstorm. Luckily, I was able to see the storm coming. As a few of the attendees began tweeting about meeting up a few days prior to the start of #NestleFamily, I could see that there was going to be some fallout. My interest had been piqued a few months earlier with the Nestle “What’s for Dinner” junket that received some backlash (which I was a part of, albeit briefly).

Even though I was prepared for it, I doubt anyone saw the enormity and longevity of the community’s outrage. The tail of it is still going. This was a key happening on Twitter, and it had far more impact than the Motrin Moms speedbump. I would argue that Twitter’s community has morphed again as a result. Focus on the types of junkets mommy/daddybloggers who call themselves “PR friendly” accept, and what it says about who they are doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There were real responses from the community. Many negative. This great post by cynematic discusses this responsibility further.

My research

I manually copied thousands of tweets using the #NestleFamily hashtag. I also created an online survey that people were invited to complete during the twitterstorm. I’m very excited to have that data. The 66 completed responses are authentic, grabbed at the time it was all happening, and the qualitative survey responses are about as true to real emotion as you can get – people were telling me what they were doing at the same time as doing it. That’s not easy to get when questioning people about their about online activity. When I write it up it will be a chapter in my thesis, and probably a paper/conference presentation as well. I’m going to write up a short version of the results and post it here on my blog soon.

The most positive outcome has been the amazing work done by Annie, aka @PhDinParenting, who took the opportunity to ask some very pointed questions of Nestle. Nestle has been responding to her questions, so good on them. And Annie has posted their responses in the best, most transparent means possible. She then adds her own analysis and research, with links that are exhaustive, informed and inspiring. It is her work that represents the future of real journalism. It’s why I say that the future of journalism is social.

My question to Nestle

I kept largely out of the limelight on this twitterstorm so as not to taint the data I was collecting. I did, however, want to find out Nestle’s views on the dismal rate of breastfeeding in the USA. Nestle promotes its substitute milk in the USA, and with the USA’s very low rate of exclusive infant breastfeeding at 6 months of age, I wanted to find out what they thought about it all. I submitted the question as follows:

As a premier substitute baby milk manufacturer and marketer in the USA, I’d like to know what your opinion is about the fact that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the USA lies at just 12%, when the WHO says it recommends 100% exclusivity for the first six months.

Your Nestle site states that WHO is the “gold standard” so I’m assuming you would agree this statistic is troubling.

Why do you believe this statistic exists? Do you think it can change? And if so, how?

It took a few weeks (I think Nestle lost my question, and then located it when I enquired again about their response), but their response is here:

Thank you for contacting us. We apologize for the delay in our response and we appreciate your patience.

At Nestlé Nutrition we support the positions of the American Academy of Pediatrics and WHO that exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of age is best. The most recent statistics from the 2008 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card (2006 data) show that the national average from exclusive breastfeeding is around 13.6%, which is below the Health (sic) People 2010 goal of 17%.

According to the CDC Infant Feeding Practices Study (IFPS) II (http://www.cdc.gov/ifps/ , there are many reasons why mothers might stop breastfeeding, ranging from difficulty with sucking and latching to worries about producing enough milk. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/122/Supplement_2/S69#T2

We believe that optimal infant health is truly the goal and we advocate for more infant feeding support and education for mothers, regardless of whether they breastfeed, formula feed or both.

We are encouraged by the improvements reported in breastfeeding initiation and duration and will continue our efforts to educate and encourage mothers to give their babies a healthy start. That includes providing education and resources for her, and if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed, or chooses to supplement her breastmilk, we provide high quality, iron-fortified infant formula-the only safe and healthy alternative to breastmilk.

Robyn Wimberly RD,LD.
Nestle Nutrition Contact Center

So there you go. I have my own thoughts on this response. The final paragraph, to me, is just disgraceful – it’s written very poorly. It seems to be saying that Nestle’s substitute formula is the only “safe and healthy alternative to breastmilk.” I know that those words “safe and healthy” are definitely not something I agree with. But I’m a breastfeeding advocate, ex-journalist and PR queen, and am used to spin. I have done the research. I know what I know and have made up my own mind. The US Government has initiated the Healthy People plan, but where breastfeeding rates are concerned it is failing – and it doesn’t reflect the WHO “gold standard” referred to on Nestle’s own site. There are holes all over this response. The last paragraph made me wince. I think Annie does a brilliant job of dissecting these responses and calling out the holes. I’m not going to do that here. I recommend you read all of Annie’s work, and if interested in more, you can read my short research blog piece on Breastfeeding in America, see the Ignite presentation, or email me for the full papers to see how the numbers stack up. And then make up your own mind.

So what does all this mean?

Now, I know that this storm has ended up being thrown in the “too hard” basket by many people on both sides of the fence, as well as those who sit on top of that same fence. Statistics are being used pragmatically. Manipulation of data is rife. There’s aggravation, and it becomes personal for many who feel attacked by even discussing it. For many, it sucked the ‘fun’ out of Twitter.

But the fact is, this milestone proved the resilience of the microblogging community. It’s opened a conversation that will bind the community even more solidly. It’s given us a view of people that we didn’t know before. People to both connect with, disconnect from, and understand better, even if they disagree with us. If Twitter were really nothing more than messages about eating candy and frozen dinners, then this storm wouldn’t exist. People have taken it upon themselves to get better educated about something they might not have known about before. They were provided links and questions. They had the opportunity to follow up, and go deeper into the issues than they have ever been led by mainstream media, and Nestle ended up without the buffer of media to spin their messages to.

Key Learnings

For the community: Mainstream media is no longer an excuse for not knowing about stuff. The depth of information you have is up to you and your attention span. That’s a hard responsibility to own. In Nestle’s case, I congratulate anyone (including some attendees) who tried to find out more information or followed it up, no matter where you ultimately sit on the ‘issues’. I challenge those who simply sought an easy path and blindly continued tweeting Nestle-friendly inane statements on Twitter, without addressing any of the twitterstorm. It won’t, in the longer term, help your credibility in the community. The really influential people in this equation can be easily identified. And that’s awesome.

For companies: You don’t get to own your messages any more. Social media represents a revolution, not an evolution. It’s another tool in your promotional strategy, but you have to be ready for the real conversation. The one where your comments get called on. The one you don’t direct. And you will never have the last word unless the community deems it to be okay.

Disrupting the barriers of media in the 21st Century

This pre-internet installation was and remains a vital consideration in the future of media. It has been supposed for a long time that communication and media technologies allowed people who already knew each other to improve existing relationships. Alternatively, broadcast media were used to send corporate-owned messages to the ‘masses’. There has been very little in the understanding of communities and how they are built and morph through media. To date, due to the expense of entry to creating content for media communication technology, most middle class people have been limited to the telephone – and that form is one-to-one rather than the one-to-many formats offered by social media. This installation’s first day shows how people who did not know each other were able to create conversations and relationships – even for a short time.

People in the video respond a certain way because they realize people in the other location can actually see them. This created an ‘event’. In the 21st Century, when everything that happens in public locations could readily and easily be posted to the web, are we seeing a change in everyday public behaviors due to the fact that we are aware, more than ever before, that someone might be posting our actions? From music concerts to classrooms, from traffic accidents to natural environments, people are creating ‘events’. The greater questions are how have we as a community become the public entity we are creating, and what impact does this have on how we relate to each other. What has made people immediately reach for their cell phone to take a picture when something happens? This is a stage of history we’ve never faced before.

While we have come through an era where “the medium is the message,” we have moved on from this. The medium is still the technology. The message today is found in the resonance of community. One is not the other. In fact, the irony as stated by Steve Harrison in his essay on this particular video (found in HCI Remixed), is key. Separation does in fact, invite a connection. If we believe that human beings seek resonance with each other, eliminating some of the barriers to finding that resonance through disrupting the accepted norms of relationships and community will in fact deliver us to new ways of ‘seeing’ each other. Through these new ways of discovering resonance we will be able to grow an international array of communities. The international would relate not just to geographical space, but also class space. We have a media which will offer everyone an opportunity to find resonance of community with the homeless, the traditional-media famous, and their neighbor.

Don’t think influence, think resonance

The new buzzword in social media appears to be Influence. According to conferences, some marketers it’s what people want. To influence others.

This is a mistake. It demonstrates a very shallow, one-sided view.

(cartoon from xkcd.com)

Talk to most people in social media for example, and they’ll tell you the truth. What they’re doing is looking for, and responding to resonance, not influence.

What all of us seek in social media is Resonance.

The influence part happens afterwards.

In social media, you can’t influence someone unless they want to be influenced.

Guess what… if traditional media had understood the need to find real resonance with its market, it wouldn’t be in the situation it is today.

Resonance. It’s what creates meaning. Just like the rice here.

Personal brands and the Unique Selling Proposition

After the Creative Revolution in the 1960s, advertisers began to try to find communications that gave people a reason to buy their product. That developed into the Unique Selling Proposition or USP – the ‘thing’ that makes people choose your product. It still applies. Every successful product has a USP. Over time this went from features to benefits. You’ve probably heard ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak’. Sell the benefit. In a marketplace full of things that do the same operation, to stand out from the crowd you need to have something that sets you apart. And that’s your sizzle.

The USP for M&Ms: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

The USP for M&Ms: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

For example, there are heaps of dishwashers. They all wash dishes. It’s hard to be known as a product, based purely on that. It doesn’t set them apart. But sizzling benefits like being ‘whisper quiet’, or ‘economical’, or ‘green’ will make the difference for the consumer in a target market. Make no mistake, these benefits might be common to more than one product – but the first to market with it as a sizzling quality, to make it a USP, will get to own that benefit.

In the 21st Century, if you are one of the many who believes you, personally, are a brand (do a search on personal branding and you’ll see what I mean) then the USP has never had more importance.

How do you sell yourself? What’s the one thing about you that makes you different and desirable? What’s your USP?

There are no doubt lots of people who can fulfill a good bit of your job. Code a website, write a story, answer a phone, collect a debt, change a nappy.

But there needs to be something about the way you do it that sets you apart. What’s your USP? Too many people don’t easily identify the things that they’re really great at – better, in fact, than most others. It’s time you did. What’s your sizzle?

It’s harder for women to get to recognise their sizzle than for men.

Research has shown women, in particular, are bad at identifying the things they’re really great at. A female A grade math student will say she’s “okay at math”. Whereas a B or C grade male math student is more likely to say they’re “great at math.”

It’s ironic that in the 1960s, Mary Wells, the first woman to own an advertising agency, was the first to think of branding beyond an obvious USP in the four walls of advertising.

Mary Wells, image from www.wowowow.com. Their photo essay on Mary Wells is great.

Mary Wells, image from http://www.wowowow.com. Their photo essay on Mary Wells is great.

She extended the branding across all the marketing effort, so the flavour of that USP was on the lips of everyone experiencing any part of it. Ms Wells decided communication was something that happened all across the marketing effort. Of course she was right. The first step is identifying your USP. The second is to celebrate it across everything you do. The way you behave, dress, communicate. It’s all your own brand.

A good number of mommybloggers have accomplished this. They can sell their sizzle. But far too many very deserving women are not doing it.

Grab your sizzle, sell it up. Because you’re awesome. You have a USP. Time to identify it, claim it, and use it.