What Can Campaigns in Small Cities Learn from National Campaigning?

Note: This post is an assignment for Nicco Mele’s course – Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age – at the Kennedy School of Government.

How can the internet be used to promote both political candidates and advocacy campaigns? We’ve recently started focusing on the ways email, online advertising and social media can be harnessed in presidential campaigns.

In a piece by JD Schlough & Co, the authors detail the way Harry Reid’s well financed Senate campaign in Nevada used personal data to target very specific campaign ads online. The reality is that targeting individuals with particular characteristics (age, gender, race, political party and/or geography) requires a large amount of cash from a campaign. Not all campaigns have these resources – particularly campaigns on the state and local level. However, there are some takeaways for local level campaigns in the strategy shared:

“On the Reid campaign, digital was treated like all the other elements of the media tool beltIt’s important to note that most of our (online) persuasion campaigns, even the early ones, were executed in conjunction with traditional media buys. We worked side-by-side with the Reid media team and often layered our online flights on top of broadcast and cable television buys, mirroring their messages and giving them additional frequency by running the ads online. Other times, we layered on top of mail.”

From email to Tumblr, the Internet unquestionably provides more paths for state and local candidates as well as elected officials to communicate their messages to the public. Candidates are also figuring out how to mobilize voters and add sophistication to field organizing through sites like VoteforChange.com and Neighbor to Neighbor. Seth Walls points out that with Neighbor to Neighbor, “you can log onto the system and in a matter of seconds have a list of undecided voters on your street, many of whom you probably know, that you can target for the campaign.”

Regardless of your feelings on publically displaying someone’s voting position (which is a different, but important, conversation to be had), the power of an online platform supplying this information is huge.

However, the amount of time and money dedicated to the many online platforms may vary depending on the geographic reach of the campaign you are running.


Having closely followed the city of Jackson, Mississippi’s recent democratic mayoral run-off, I am tuned in to which of the lessons learned from wide-scale campaigns might apply to our nation’s smaller cities.

Candidates are more likely to have limited resources and capacity in elections in small and mid-sized cities than national platforms. This plays out in some visible signs from two Jackson campaigns in 2013. The website for one of the candidates is still live in its original form even though the election wrapped up in May. Another candidate’s Twitter account attracted only 672 followers out of 126,000 adults over the age of 18 in the city.

While a limited number of potential voters became Twitter followers, one candidate’s twitter feed does supply a look at the diverse ways local candidates are trying to connect with voters in today’s campaigns (see below).

Within a short time period on April 16, Mr. Lee’s campaign posts tweets promoting:

  • A traditional campaign event – Women for Jonathan Lee Sunset Social;
  • A Twitter Town Hall that evening and;
  • A new TV ad that is posted on YouTube for online followers to view.

Screenshot 2013-10-28 22.08.35

This small selection of tweets tells us that both traditional (in-person events and TV ads) and online (Twitter town hall, YouTube ads) efforts to advance the campaign’s message are used interchangeably. It does not show the same messaging coordination that Schlough mentions above, but it does hint at an evolution in local campaigns to use all available resources to advance a message – many of which are online. It also suggests that there is an opportunity for these campaigns to streamline messaging through all of these channels and better use traditional media to push voters toward online content.

Alignment of messaging through many channels – online advertising, email, traditional media, mail and events – is a replicable strategy for organizations with more limited resources. Our MPP Digital course also underscores the importance of reviewing the metrics of your online communication and refining your message – something that, in my experience, state advocacy organizations could unquestionably do better and with greater diligence.

Refining online interaction with invested audiences and expanding the online reach of advocacy organizations is a key goal of my time at HKS. Some of the tactics used by presidential campaigns require more followers and more money than local campaigns have at their disposal, but reviewing their tactics and finding strategies to better message, connect, and mobilize remains critical for organizations in communities across the South.

Until Next Time!

Note: If you are particularly interested in presidential campaign ads and their evolution over time, I would recommend going through the series of videos we analyzed in class here.


Oh, the hashtag.

Yesterday, I went to a workshop on how to attract more readers to the Kennedy School Review blog. One of the recommendations Nicco Mele gave us was that we use at least 2 hashtags – or ‘#’ for the less social media literate – for each tweet as a way of driving more readers to our content. Now, I’m usually not a fan of hashtags… and Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon outline many of the important reasons why I feel lukewarm about them here. BUT I do love a good hashtag for a weekend of fun with friends. So, when Mindy came to visit for the weekend, we naturally created a hashtag for putting up our photos online – #mindydoesboston.

Many of the photos are below. We probably walked 20 miles over the course of the weekend (no exaggeration). We drank Harpoon beer, relished  some new england lobster rolls, and ate a bourbon glazed, bacon doughnut. Yes, that is a real thing that exists in the world. Mindy was a great sport, and Tom was a skilled Boston navigator. We also walked the Freedom Trail and got a fantastic app with fun facts for our future visitors. Mindy also decided that everything we saw was either the oldest or the best of its kind “in America”. The oldest building, the largest American flag, the best cocktails (at Drink, again)…”in America”. She was a joy to have, and I hope it will not be her last time visiting the Allins.

The same day Mindy traveled back to Jackson, two fellow Tarheels swooped in to take her place. Brendan (Tom’s college roommate) and Lindsey spent a relaxed Monday off with us around Cambridge. Tom took them to one of our favorite sandwich spots – Darwin’s – and they even came with me to do my regular homework procrastination activity – watching Charlie romp around the dog park. We warmed up that evening with some Welker white chili. I woke up at 7am the next morning, and Brendan was already scrubbing dishes in the sink from the night before…Brendan gets the gold star for being such a helpful house guest.

Last weekend also marked the end of busy week in which I took my first (two) midterms in 5 years. I still don’t enjoy them, but it was a little fun to feel the pre-test anticipation in a room full of nerdy students with sharpened number 2 pencils and calculators with fresh batteries. The midterms went just fine, and weekend visitors were a welcome distraction from the intense week of schoolwork.

Finally, Tom and I can’t wait to head to Franklin, North Carolina next weekend to celebrate as two of the most exceptional people we know  –Kaila Ramsey and Matt Garza– get hitched. Tom will be a groomsman, and he finally figured out just which socks to wear in today in Inman Square. Which did he choose? Stay tuned. We’ll let you know after the weekend of merriment!


Until Next Time!


The Weaknesses of Blogging

Note: This post is an assignment for Nicco Mele’s course – Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age – at the Kennedy School of Government.

To say that the business of news production has changed with the rise of the internet seems an understatement. Many, many individuals have transitioned from reading one source of news on paper to getting the news from twitter, blogs and multiple papers online.

These changes in accessing information have also shaped the world of reporting. In his article “Confidence Game: The limited vision of news gurus,” Dean Starkman describes the influence of the internet on news-making:

“The consensus believes that reporters and editors must enter into deep, if not constant, contact with readers via social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. The consensus favors ‘interactive’ journalism – reporting on the fly, fixing mistakes along the way – versus traditional methods of story organization, fact-checking, and copyediting.”

This environment has led to the rise of less formal blogs as a key source of information. Even traditional outlets like Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger are having reporters generate blog content, and it features these blogs prominently on their website (see photo).

Screenshot 2013-10-15 10.21.58When I was at MEPC, we used the blog as a platform to get out analysis on issues in a timely way even when traditional media wasn’t picking up the story. This tactic of information dissemination varied in effectiveness. As Dauo points out in The Triangle: The Limits of Blog Power,

“Blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of (bloggers) to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step…”

The power of forming this ‘triangle’ proved true in MEPC’s blogging influence. If state legislators took note of the post and traditional media picked up the story, our voice became much stronger.

Although I have seen the importance of a blog platform in advocacy and policy analysis, I don’t think most policy shops have the capacity to generate in-depth reporting on issues. I found that policy analysts might know where investigative reporting was needed on state-level issues, but those analysts themselves did not always have the experience, platform, jurisdiction etc. to expose a topic in need of attention. Analysts are not journalists.

Starkman’s piece grasps this perspective and lays it out at a serious problem:

“The public has a problem. The problem is that journalism’s true value-creating work, the keystone of American journalism, the principle around which it is organized, is public-interest reporting; the kind that is usually expensive, risky, stressful, and time-consuming. Public-interest reporting isn’t just another tab on the home page. It is a core value, the thing that builds trust, sets agendas, clarifies public understanding, challenges powerful institutions, and generates reform. It is, in the end, the point.”

I couldn’t agree more, and as I tried to comb through my memory for examples of investigative reporting during my time at MEPC, I realized how increasingly rare they are in state and local media.

There is, however, one example that shows the importance of this reporting in our communities. Annie Gilbertson, a young, talented reporter with Mississippi Public Broadcasting (who  left the station after a year when temporary funding for her position ran out) did an investigative series on the process the Mississippi used to select sex education curricula for K-12 schools. The process was flawed and poorly executed and many members of the policy community new this to be true, but the closer look into the process needed wasn’t within their capacity. Annie had the time to dig deeper – meeting with officials and policy experts and persistently following up on open records requests.

Her diligence led to an amazing set of stories Mississippi Sex Education: An Investigative Series that exposed errors made by panel members in the selection process and exposed that schools were teaching sex education curricula that would not have been approved if the process were done correctly. Her work brought up serious issues of accountability, put pressure on key officials, and fueled a broader dialogue about sex education curricula in schools.Screenshot 2013-10-15 11.16.30

Reporting like this Annie’s is essential and, as Starkman says, a core value. Finding a way to support and preserve it as news outlets evolve always will be important for our communities.

Until Next Time,


Blogging for the KSR

Because Mindy, Tom and I will be exploring Boston and Cambridge this weekend, there will be limited writing. BUT I did have a wonderful opportunity to do some writing for the Kennedy School Review this week. Read that instead! And follow @HarvardKSR on twitter for all the awesome articles they post by students at the Kennedy School.

Screenshot 2013-10-11 08.11.39

Until Next Time!


A Tale of Two Weekends

Tom and I have had two whole weekends of fun since our last post! Unfortunately, our weekends of fun were spent apart. This weekend Tom has been in Roanoke, Viriginia at the CityWorks (X)po. The tag line for the weekend is “A Gathering to Share Big Ideas for Better Cities.” While I was sipping wine alone at our dining room table, Tom was sending me pictures from Ed Walker‘s rooftop apartment and chatting it up with my HKS professors. Tom was living the dream.

Zika, Irene, Dina, Miya and Joanna

Zika, Irene, Dina, Miya and Joanna

Since Tom was out of town, I took some time to fulfill some personal priorities for my time in Cambridge. Saturday night marked my first Massachusetts dinner party. No boys were allowed (except Charlie). We had my mom’s yummy stuffed past shells and a great salad. Charlie largely behaved himself thanks to a Target bone purchased earlier in the day, and all six of us has a great evening of stories about skydiving, shark watching, and bungee jumping. I have no plan to do any of these things after hearing their tales. Needless to say they were a group of intelligent and bold women who made my home feel full even when Tom was away.

Charlie and I also got to check out some particularly interesting characters at the dog park. There was a great dane and a schnoodle named Einstein.


Charlie also got to go to Friday’s HKS Quorum Call and became a complete ladies’ dog (credit to Chris Myers for the name). He got lots of treats from fellow students and dug one too many holes in the HKS lawn. He will definitely make another appearance soon.

Last weekend I was very fortunate to travel to Cape Cod with some fellow Kennedy School students. We spent a weekend focused on leadership development, but there was some fun spread across days as well. We did improv exercises and got to travel to David Gergen’s home on the Cape for a night of kayaking, volleyball playing and lobster eating. I had never had a lobster before (or at least one I had to break open!), so I was a bit overexcited about the process. The other students humored me by taking my picture with the lobster before I dug in. Our time on the Cape was very special and helped me form closer relationships with the CPL fellows. Plus, playing volleyball with David Gergen on your team never hurt anyone.

Next weekend our close friend from Jackson, Mindy Waldrop, is visiting Boston, so get excited for shots of us gallivanting around town.

Until next time!


Becoming a Wikipedia-er

This post is an assignment for Nicco Mele’s course, “Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age” at the Kennedy School of Government. Our assignment is to review and analyze a Wikipedia article for several different factors. Family beware- this blog might not be a particularly enjoyable read.

For many 20-somethings it is hard to remember a time when Wikipedia did not exist… but how many of us have ever edited a Wikipedia article? If you haven’t, you would not be alone. I created a Wikipedia user page for a current HKS course, but I can’t say I would have thought about doing so otherwise.

With my new found Wikipedia editing power in hand, I went to the page of a policy topic near to my heart: remedial education. I was fortunate to write several policy reports and blogs on the topic when I was at the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, so it made sense for an evaluation of a Wikipedia entry (which is the assignment).

My first reaction was that the article lacked the basics about remedial education courses that are critical for someone trying to build knowledge of the subject. What subjects are remedial courses usually available in? How do colleges usually place students in remedial courses? How are remedial courses delivered differently at two-year community colleges vs. four-year universities? These seem like key background questions that need to be included, and much of this information is not.

Seven out of ten of the sources for the Wikipedia entry were scholarly journal articles that contained evaluations or findings on remedial program effectiveness. This bodes well for the accuracy of the limited information provided; however, without any hyperlinks, readers could not easily access the pieces if they were interested in digging deeper on the subject. One of the sources provided was from a leading social policy center in the area of adult education, The Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Having CLASP articles as a source provides readers an example of the active policy debate surrounding remedial education. Unfortunately, little about the current debate is outlined in the article.

Outside of sources, a large portion of the article focused on the advantages and disadvantages of delivering remedial courses online. Clearly, a Wikipedia user has contributed their expertise on this area of remediation (which is an area open for debate currently). However, the large amount of content about online remedial learning skews the article – making it seem that this is one of the key topics to focus on the remedial education. The weight in the article is online learning does not necessarily reflect the broader national discussion on the topic.

For someone just learning about a large system like remedial education, a visual for how these courses fit within the overall course offerings at a community college or university could be helpful. The Wikipedia article contains no visual for how remediation connects to other courses or the trajectory of students that start in remedial courses. The map of courses below outlines remedial courses in math and English and connects them through to college-level courses. Similar course diagrams could make the large number of developmental courses and the long path to college-readiness for some students more transparent.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 12.35.06 PM

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 5.48.56 PMSimilarly, there are many visuals that trace the current trajectory of students starting in remediation that could highlight the debate about course/program effectiveness (see info-graphic). There is also a very large amount of state-level innovation and evaluation of remedial courses, and this trend is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article.

Ultimately, the Wikipedia entry on remedial education contains accurate, but incomplete background on the design of remedial education, the effectiveness of remedial programs and current efforts to improve their design and the outcomes of students.

If readers are interested in learning more about the ongoing debate around improving remedial courses there are several good resources through the Community College Research Center. Perhaps in the days ahead I will add some of these resources to the Wikipedia page and become a more active user!

Until Next Time!