Michelle Sullivan Communications

500th blog post: on Jack Layton-inspired « mono no aware » in the age of social media

This is my 500th blog post. I’d been saving it for something special : an article about the change in direction this blog will be taking, including the unveiling of  my newest project. But that can wait. Right now, I’d rather dedicate this personal landmark to Jack Layton.

In Japan, the term aware (pron. a-wa-ray) speaks to a reverence for the « transient beauty and mortality of all things ». Mono no aware is often translated as « the ‘ahh-ness’ of things », life, and love. Awareness of the transience of all things heightens appreciation of their beauty, and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing.

And so it is for me, with Jack. A time to reflect upon the contribution of a great Canadian. «Ce bon Jack» as we say in Quebec, when talking about Jack Layton. And he carried his name well.

In the hours following news of his passing, my mother compared Jack Layton to my father. That’s the highest of compliments .. to Mr. Layton. But she was right. Both were honest, compassionate men of integrity whose true « religion » was love for their fellow man. The outpouring of affection for Jack from Canadians and the urge felt from coast to coast to mourn collectively is deeply touching. When we mourned my father, we were comforted by words of kindness and shared memories from family, friends and acquaintances about the man we’d loved and had lost.  Eleven years later, the passing of a much more public figure shows how far technology and the Internet have brought us in our ability to grieve collectively.

And all these online spaces and social networking sites allowed me and thousands of others to share our thoughts about Jack’s passing and legacy with one another in real time.

My father passed away in September of 2000 and friends and family from across Canada and as far away as Ireland gathered for the interment of his ashes a month later. Not being there to receive the condolences of our community in the days following his death was a difficult thing for those who were far away in those first weeks. It is a key stage in the grieving process. Eleven years later, it is clear that developments in technology in general, and of social networking in particular, make physical distance almost inconsequential. We can come together to comfort one another in our grief, and we can collectively share in those all important rituals that accompany death, as they happen.

The social media space is composed of tribes. Tribes with common interests, overcoming physical distances to come together in sharing. Since Jack Layton left us on Monday, Canadians have been gathering online as a tribe of millions, to pay tribute to one of their own, and to comfort one another in their collective grief.

Who said technology alienates us from one another?

Now if you’ll excuse me, now that Jack’s funeral is over I’m going to turn off my laptop and grab my bike for a ride through the Laurentian woods. Time to reflect and quietly pay tribute to this great Canadian.

RIP Jack. You will be sorely missed.

And give my love to my Dad for me. He’ll be the guy welcoming you to the eternal-club-of-good-guys with a golf bag on his shoulder and a warm smile, hand outstretched.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.
Arundhati Roy as quoted by Stephen Lewis, during his eulogy for Jack Layton

KD Lang sings Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic

Croire de Martin Deschamps

Lorraine Segato sings Rise Up

The Youngbloods – Get Together

MAJ: Footage from the various ceremonies, including musical tributes, have been circulating online since Jack Layton’s death. Below, I’ve updated the musical list presented above with footage from the funeral ceremony, hosted on YouTube.

Steven Page sings Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Richard Underhill plays Van Morrisson’s Into the Mystic

Croire de Martin Deschamps

Lorraine Segato sings Rise Up

The 502nd mile mark – when moving from fifth into third gear makes sense

This blog is shifting gears.

When Jack Layton passed away, I decided to postpone publication of this blog post to pay tribute to him. The positive reaction that my 500th blog post garnered reinforced the notion that social media in general and blogs in particular are a wonderful way for me, as an individual, to connect in meaningful ways with other members of my tribe. Thank you for everyone who took the time to write and speak to me about what I’d written.

In that 500th blog post, I alluded to the fact that I was going to change the direction this blog has been taking for the past 4 years. When I first launched this social-media-for-PR blog in January of 2007, there were only 2 other PR bloggers in Quebec. I had been excited about the possibilities social media opened up for our industry and our clients for a few years by then, and was eager to share and discuss my discoveries with my PR tribe.

Mission accomplished. Far from single-handedly, mind you! Along with many other early adopters and social media zealots, I’ve managed to convince a colleague or two to take a look at social media for PR and I’m pleased with the inroads that have been made. We’ve been joined by the industry mainstream and social media is taking root in the Quebec PR landscape. There now are dozens of Quebec-based blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Google+ profiles and LinkedIn Groups – not to mention Third Tuesdays, Camps and other events – available to Quebec PR types hungry to stay abreast of the latest developments in social media.

I’ve written hundreds of blog posts presenting social media case studies, tools and best practices for PR professionals. Now, many more voices have joined and there’s a wealth of information out there. It’s fantastic.

And it’s why I’m now able to shift gears.

I’m going to start concentrating less on the tools and innovations, and more on the impact social media and the Internet in general is having on society, on tribes, on individuals. You’ll see less of this and more of this and of this. And you’ll probably hear more about tribes than you ever thought possible. I may just have to rename this blog …

I also intend to focus more on the public affairs side of PR, moving away from where social media seems to have found an easy and natural fit – marketing communications. So no more brand name case studies. There are other great blogs for that kind of thing. I want to take a look at how lobby groups – whether corporate or grassroots – are leveraging social media to effect political and social change.

Fifth gear: Lowest power, highest speed. Used for high speed cruising on dual carriageways, motorways and other such open roads.

Third gear: Used for driving uphill, through a hazard at speed and where a greater degree of power is needed than fourth will allow.

This blog is shifting into third gear. The hazards are greater in number, the stakes are higher. We’re talking about people’s lives and how they use social media to change the world around them.

It’s going to be a fascinating ride. And yes, I pick up hitchhikers.

Media take-away : breakfast chat with journalists

Robert Melnbardis of Reuters and Martin Vallières of La Presse were on hand at this morning’s CNW breakfast conference and I have to say it was worth hauling my tired carcass downtown at 7:30 this morning to attend.

Some take-away items of particular note :

  • Both Cyberpresse and Reuters are in the process of revamping their web presence. Reuters will unveil something next month, which Cyberpresse will be doing the same in September. La Presse’s Affaires section will become dynamic … I almost wrote more dynamic, but really, that would presume that it was dynamic to start off with. I think Vallières would probably be the first to admit that a nice burst of fresh air will do that online section a world of good.
  • La Presse’s online and traditional newsrooms will be physically moving onto the same floor in La Presse’s St Jacques offices, in order to better work together. A concrete sign of how important online media presence has become.
  • Getting financials out as early as 6:30 am is a practice Melnbardis encourages, as it gives him time to research the companies he’s covering before attending press conferences mid-morning.
  • Melnbardis exhorted financial PR professionals to stop being so provincial : Reuters offices around the world receive our financial releases, so we have to start being very clear as to which currency we’re using right in the top paragraph of our releases. So if your quarterly earnings are in CAD, be sure to say so, because Reuters’ Man in Mumbai wants to know.
  • Reuters also wants to see corporate websites with clarity of presentation and quick links to current and past financials. Melnbardis stopped short of giving concrete examples, which is a shame, because a good model always helps sell a concept to a client à la ‘Well Melnbardis likes this site, so you really need to rethink stubbornly refusing to do the same, Mr. X.’
  • Reuters is also pushing multimedia – it is now accepting photos from citizen journalists, even going so far as to provide ‘civilians’ with cameras – and invites us to follow suit. In fact, both Reuters and La Press were supportive of the concept of social media press releases with hyperlinks and multimedia. Melnbardis confirmed to me after the event that providing a video of press conferences online would be a valuable resource to members of his team unable to physically attend our clients’ events.
  • Surprisingly, both Melnbardis and Vallières seemed at a loss to explain the virtual disappearance of the press conference, saying that they appreciate them as long as they offer added value, such as access to directors and upper management. They definitely don’t want a rehash of the press release. They seemed to come to the conclusion that the press conference is a dying art form because PR professionals want to be sure to control the message. I didn’t have to get out of my seat to defend our profession, as my former employer and colleague Ahmed Galipeau did the honours, stating what I imagine most PR professionals in the room were thinking : we don’t do press conferences because no one comes. Interesting that such a disconnect in perception and cause and effect exists between our two professions. Would be worth exploring further.

A little bio info :

Robert Melnbardis is Editor-in-Charge, Canadian Equities at Reuters News, where he has also been the Montreal-based Quebec bureau chief since 1995, covering business, politics, general news, culture and sports. Mr. Melnbardis manages a team of equities reporters across Canada who report on the country’s publicly traded companies.

Martin Vallières is back in Montréal after spending several years in Toronto as economics, business and finance correspondent for La Presse. He also spent two years at the Washington office. Before joining La Presse, he worked for ten years as journalist and editorial assistant for the business weekly Les Affaires.

On a personal note, I have to say I was silently pleased to note a photo of Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe from my April 21st event at Moisson Montréal being used as stock footage on Cyberpresse and within the pages of La Presse. Vallières had it up during his presentation. No one knew but me, but I have to say I love that feeling you get when you’re the only one in the room with a little secret.