John Klossner's Ink Tank

Give social media the respect it deserves

I did not learn of the death of Osama bin Laden from a newspaper, print or digital version. I did not hear report of his passing from CNN, Fox, MSNBC, or even Oprah. I did not overhear it in the grocery store.

No, I learned it from my 14 year-old daughter. She in turn had heard of the successful attack via her Facebook friends, who had been posting it all night long for her to see and inform me when we both woke up that Monday morning. Maybe I need to take a lesson from her and check my FB page upon waking. Maybe I need to take another lesson from her and check my FB page every half hour, instead of once a month like I do now.

To this point I have not considered my 14 year-old daughter a hard news source, unless you count the theme of last week's episode of "Glee" as hard news. Part of this is the parenting process – up to this point, I have been able to lord my worldly knowledge over her, discounting anything that she knows that I don't as "junior high school drivel." (I think that has been able to work so far because she doesn't know what "drivel" means. I'm hiding behind a 1960s vocabulary. Or, in this case, an 1860s vocabulary.)

Part of this is my not treating FB as a useful information outlet in my world. (My wife, for example uses FB as a means for public announcements and communications for the several committees and organizations she participates in. I wouldn't consider it productive to use FB to announce the several new obscure YouTube clips I discovered today.)

But now I have to start trusting my daughter as a source for more than the name of the latest teen YouTube sensation. I'm actually looking forward to it, as I'm beginning to view every one of my relationships – both flesh and digital – as another "hard drive," which I can tap into for various data. My daughter, until this point, had been my hard drive for all data important to her age group – pop music, the latest Twilight movie information and pointing out to me which one is Taylor Swift. This latest experience means I can now count on her for more than saving me the time spent reading the latest issue of People magazine.

Actually, this doesn't have as much to do with my daughter growing up as it does with me growing up and learning to respect every potential information source.

I have been considering this as I read a GovLoop discussion on skills needed to be a social media manager in the workplace. I think the one skill needed – besides knowledge of the established social media networks – is openness to all the potential sources. There is a quilt of social media possibilities out there, and the good social media manager, while knowing how to best use the major networks, also would do well to keep their eyes, ears and fingertips open to previously unknown and unused social media sources, and how people are using them.

This isn't as easy as it may appear. There is a systemic fear in this: fear of the "social" element in social networks. Many offices still do not encourage social network use, or outright prohibit it, for fear of the social taking precedent over work. This is a tough line to straddle: When does a conversation cross from being social interaction to being work? We can't monitor each and every conversation that takes place, whether it be oral, digital or passed around via handwritten notes.

The rules of employee oversight – are they getting the work done or not? – should apply in all office interactions. I don't think we can prohibit digital conversation just as we can't monitor/prohibit conversation taking place in the office hallways. This fear of social networks could prohibit potential growth through the use of these networks. (At least that's what I read on GovLoop. It's enough to make me want to start checking my Facebook/LinkedIn/GovLoop/Twitter/Quora accounts more often.)

And to listen to my daughter.

John Klossner on social media

Posted on Aug 15, 2011 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Public service or just a paycheck -- why do you work for the government?

My wife spent the first part of her career as a newspaper reporter, working for publications throughout New England. About 15 years ago, she was approached by a former colleague who invited her to join him in the press relations office of a federal agency. She has been working there ever since. I can safely say my wife enjoys being a government employee, although I don't think she ever felt an overwhelming desire to use her skills in government work before taking this position. The job came up, and she took it.

I share this because lately -- with all the turmoil surrounding government employees and their roles and functions -- I have been interested in what motivates people to first become government workers, and what still motivates them.

So I would like to ask any public-sector employee a few questions.

How did you get your job?

Were you specifically looking for a government job?

Does it make a difference to you whether you work in the public or private sector, or is it just a job?

Basically, why are you a government employee?

If any government employees would like to answer via the comments section, my only requests are that you a) be bluntly honest; b) keep it brief; and c) not treat it as a campaign speech.

I may compile these at some future point, but the comments section may do that for me.

John Klossner

Posted on Jun 15, 2011 at 12:19 PM31 comments

Offensensitivity: Are you joking?

Every other week the editor of Federal Computer Week sends me a story or topic that will accompany the cartoon on the back page of FCW (or, as the editor would put it, a story that the cartoon will accompany). I get back to the editor (a) to share sketches for two or three cartoon ideas on the topic, or (b) to discuss any unique angles or subject matter that I am not familiar with. After this discussion, I submit the cartoon sketches.

The editor then gets back to me with feedback: Sometimes he picks one favorite cartoon or, if he likes all of my ideas, tells me to go with my favorite. But sometimes he asks me if everything is all right at home. I then redraw the cartoon for publication and send it in.

We recently had a unique experience with the cartoon process. The topic came from a blog entry concerning recent debates about whether contractors should be included in DOD war zone death notices. Now the problem – which you've probably picked up on, and which the editor and I, being professionals, immediately noted – is, what is funny about death reports? In his note to me, the editor suggested that I avoid using war zone deaths as the central theme or image of the cartoon and instead focus on the universal theme of contractors feeling undervalued.

The editor (Editor1) I usually work with was away when I submitted my ideas on this topic, so he asked me to submit them to another editor (Editor2). I submitted the following sketches to Editor2, cc'ing Editor1.


As it turned out, Editor1 was checking his email that day, and he responded first, saying he liked the "fallen tree" (sketch 2) concept. Editor2 then responded, saying he thought a dead tree was a little too close to actual death, and that he preferred the other idea, which we went with (see below).

I think both ideas would work for illustrating the point, and I have no problems with either editor's response. (Other than noting that this is an example of why, when I work with new clients, I always request to have just one contact person. My experience as a cartoonist/illustrator is that the more people giving feedback means the more interpretations of the idea I'll have to deal with. I have worked with clients who, with multiple chefs responding, have turned a drawing of an airplane into a fallen tree).

In this case, I am more interested in what a reader finds offensive, and how that corresponds with my own sensitivities.

Personally, I felt that the airplane cartoon – with an image of contractors being viewed as baggage – was the one most likely to be deemed offensive. I thought the tree – although, in retrospect, I realize the tree was dead – wouldn't get that response because the image was so far removed from a war or human environ. Also, I though the use of the "tree falls in the forest ..." cliché would distract readers from the grim details of the story and direct their attention to the bigger point.

In drawing cartoons of all shapes, sizes and subject matter since the last century, I have received some – not bags full – of feedback when I have offended readers. A couple experiences come to mind.

Several years ago, I drew a cartoon for another publication commenting on a series of data thefts at the Veterans Affairs. I received an angry e-mail from a reader who was highly offended by the use of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the cartoon. I don't know if this reader represented a larger group or not.


And then there was a cartoon (drawn for another publication) that wasn't particularly offensive at the time, but might be considered so now. The cartoon showed a man standing in the cockpit of an airplane, with the pilot saying to his copilot, "Better do as he says. He has a laptop." The cartoon was drawn during the early years of wireless technology (so long ago that I don't even have a scanned copy in my files, which is just as well, because it wasn't a very good drawing), when there were conflicting messages regarding technology and flight safety. There were many jokes about the "silliness" of worrying about electronic devices on planes. This cartoon actually resold (being a freelancer, I resell my cartoons to other markets) several times before Sept. 11, 2001, at which point it became irrelevant, not very funny and logically wrong.

I’ve never made it a goal to offend as many people as possible with my cartoons. I'm not the frothing-at-the-mouth-type artist who's trying to take ideological prisoners. I try to find and illustrate a unique take or angle on a subject, hopefully in a humorous way, albeit with mixed results. (To be perfectly honest, the reader I most often offend is myself, with either a poor drawing or an obscure – technical term for "nonexistent" – joke.) I understand that the occasional offense is a byproduct and, in these comments section-charged times, insult is found everywhere.

Just ask any editor.


Posted on Jun 09, 2011 at 12:19 PM2 comments