A new public diplomacy as banks close foreign embassy accounts? Not exactly

The term “public diplomacy” is problematic, born out of bureaucratic wrestling in the mid-1960’s as the “struggle for minds and wills” gave way to counting tanks, bombers, and missiles. It’s very use today continues to signify something that is different, but it is not a separate line of activity that is discretely separated other “private” or any other diplomacy. It is not faery dust to be sprinkled on when the time is right. And don’t get me started on niche terms like “baseball diplomacy” or “music diplomacy” or “left-handed comb diplomacy” or whatever. “Public Diplomacy” is a term that should be abolished and replaced with a more generic label as it prevents proper integration of various information, engagement and influence activities across the government, notable but not exclusively, in the State Department. To some, public diplomacy does not fit here because private entities are engaged with foreign governments, the exact opposite of how many define “public diplomacy.” What a mess, but to the point of this post…

The latest debacle in DC is an example that will surely invite some commentator to “coin” a new term, “banking diplomacy.” What I’m referring to is a post by Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin about US banks closing accounts of foreign embassies. To me, this is a fine example of the trouble with “public diplomacy” as it creates immediate trouble (and no doubt discussions and negotiations) behind and in front of closed doors with a variety of organizations. There will be private and public maneuvering, with Josh’s piece likely one such intentional example by some party to the situation. (If Josh was informed by an observer without a direct stake, would that make this less ‘public diplomacy’? My head spins at the mere thought of considering this.)

Continue reading “A new public diplomacy as banks close foreign embassy accounts? Not exactly

Three signs your newsroom is not ready to cross the digital divide

The Knight Digital Media Center posted ‘three signs’ that indicate a newsroom remains focused on print, with online activities an ‘add-on’ operation. In today’s “now media” of converging platforms and audiences, the newsroom needs to think about where and when both the audience and the information are to be found. Alter the recommendations somewhat and the lessons apply to public diplomacy and public affairs offices as well.

1. The staff still reports to an assignment desk that is focused on print and/or is organized in departments that correspond to the sections of a newspaper. This inevitably means that newsgathering for print gets more time than the news organization can afford and print production demands drive the daily reporting and editing assembly line. The fix: Newsgathering staff reports to the online assignment desk. Print becomes a production team that draws heavily on the online report for content at the end of the day.

2. News meetings focus on top news for the next day’s paper and meeting times reflect print. If your frontline editors are focused on daily meetings that happen in the middle of the morning and late afternoon, you’ve got a big problem. If you’re spending more than one-fifth of the meeting time talking about the next day’s newspaper, you’ve got an even bigger problem. The fix: Meetings run by online editors at times that reflect digital publication timetables (like when to serve peak traffic) and focus primarily on online content, traffic and engagement metrics.

3. The top newsroom executives – say the Editor and Managing Editor(s) – are all print veterans who look at online from the outside. …

The change is a shift from the clock of the producer to that of the consumer. Lost to memory is that current print schedules were based on the consumer: when the commuter picked up his paper to work and from work. Today, the consumer no longer ‘picks up’ the paper as much as she grazes for information during the day across multiple devices and sites.

While technology-poor communities may not have the luxury or time to ‘graze’, their news providers tend to have that access. Other news organizations are a ‘market segment’ that is a valid target for information professionals as the roles of consumer and producer of news become blurred.

Organizations that fail to adapt to the modern information environment will loose access and relevance to audiences that matter. of course this is not true if the paper simply wants to serve a discrete community within a fixed geography, determined primarily by balancing printing and distribution against revenue, where there are no serious competitors.

Event: International Broadcasting and Public Media

Checkout this event of potential value at the New America Foundation, “International Broadcasting and Public Media.” The event’s description is promising, as are the panelists (described as ‘participants’ but surely the audience will be allowed to participate as well, right?).

In an increasingly digital media landscape, people across the globe are relating to their news outlets in new ways. The missions of media producers are changing, as technological innovations reshape news networks into communities. The assumption is that U.S. public media institutions and international broadcasters are also transforming themselves to serve the emerging public interests in media. How should these institutions be changing to meet the needs of audiences that expect to engage in news and information, not just passively receive it? Even amid the explosion of information, there are information gaps. If foreign coverage one of them, how best is it produced and by whom?

I will not be there, unfortunately, but below are questions off the top of my head I’d like asked and discussed (are there really ‘answers’?).

Continue reading “Event: International Broadcasting and Public Media

Sharing links with mri.to

You’ve used bit.ly, nyt.ms, fb.me, huff.to and probably a whole slew of other URL shortners. Now, there’s one more: mri.to. MRI.to is MountainRunner & the MountainRunner Institute’s own shortener service. Friends of MountainRunner and the MountainRunner Institute are welcome to use the shortner. Just email me and I’ll provide the API key.

A URL shortner reduces URLs into a much shorter set of character so they can be easily shared, tweeted or emailed to friends. For example, the URL for my article on the BBG at Layalina is http://www.layalina.tv/Publications/Perspectives/MattArmstrongSeptember.html. Using mri.to, it becomes more friendly to Twitter, Facebook and even email: http://mri.to/cBr3o4.

Go on, email me and start to use it.

Two nominees for the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy announced

Last week the White House announced the President’s “intent to nominate” two individuals to the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Sim Farar. These are the first nominations to the Commission by this White House, but certainly not the last.
The Commission has seven members, no more than four of which may be from the President’s party. The Commission is charged with monitoring and improving how American interacts with people around the world. Some call this public diplomacy, others strategic communication, and others perhaps simply engagement. The Desert Sun, a Palm Springs newspaper, described the Commission as a “bipartisan panel evaluates and makes recommendations about the federal government’s efforts to understand and influence attitudes abroad.”

Continue reading “Two nominees for the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy announced

Cartel Info Ops: Power and Counter-power in Mexico’s Drug War

By John P. Sullivan

Mexico’s cartels are increasingly using refined information operations (info ops) to wage their war against each other and the Mexican state, as noted in a recent post “Mexican narcos step up their information war” here at MountainRunner. These info ops include the calculated use of instrumental and symbolic violence to shape the conflict environment.  The result: attacks on media outlets, and kidnappings and assassinations of journalists by narco-cartels to obscure operations and silence critics.  Editors and journalists turn to self-censorship to protect themselves; others have become virtual mouthpieces for the gangs and cartels, only publishing materials the cartels approve.  Cartels are now beginning to issue press releases to control the information space–through censorship and cartel co-option of reportage. Finally, the public, government and even cartels are increasingly using new media (horizontal means of mass self-communication) to influence and understand the raging criminal insurgencies.

Continue reading “Cartel Info Ops: Power and Counter-power in Mexico’s Drug War

SAGE Initiative, a draft Mission Statement


The Strengthening America’s Global Engagement (SAGE) is an initiative to develop a cogent business plan for enhancing American public diplomacy and strategic communication efforts. The envisioned organization would compliment government organizations, such as the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The new organization would have an air-gap between the government and programs that would allow greater flexibility and agility. This gap is likely to be more attractive to potential partners and programs that, for a variety of reasons, do not want to or cannot be associated with the US Government. Background information on the SAGE initiative being run out of the Woodrow Wilson Center, with support from the SmithRichardson Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, can be found here.

A draft mission statement and “broad outline of organizational framework” from the Governance Committee is below.

The new institution’s mission is to foster engagement between the U.S. society and the rest of the world with a view to promoting shared values and common interests, increasing mutual understanding and respect, and enhancing America’s standing in the world. The organization will advance these objectives preponderantly through grant making, but will also have organic capacity to itself stimulate peer to peer contacts and to build communities of interest through its ability to convene, to network, and to synthesize the best research available on relevant issues.

This organization will be a congressionally endorsed independent non profit (501-C-3) organization. It will look to congressional appropriation for some of its core funding, while program and project funding will come both from private sources and various government agencies. The governing board of the organization will be made up largely of eminent private individuals with several seats set aside for bipartisan Congressional participation.

News on SAGE will continue to be available here on MountainRunner. Disclosure: Matt Armstrong is on the SAGE budget committee.

Mexican narcos step up their information war

The GlobalPost has an interesting article by Mike O’Connor on the expanding manipulation of the press in Mexico by a drug cartel. This escalation in information warfare by the Zeta Cartel moves beyond intimidation to block certain stories as the cartel issues stories to discredit their enemies and build “credibility” of their friends. From Analysis: A PR department for Mexico’s narcos:

Instead of reporting on crooked public officials or the growth of organized crime, newspaper editor Martha Lopez runs press releases from the Zeta cartel. …

She said the gang has established its own public relations arm that issues stories the local papers are under orders to run, or else journalists will get hurt. …

There are two editorial lines in the press releases. According to Lopez, the Zetas write their “stories” to make the Mexican army look bad. The army is deployed in the state to help fight the Zetas. So the Zetas send stories about army human rights abuses. “Some of those stories are accurate in a small way, but they are exaggerated. Sometimes they are not true,” Lopez said.

And, then, Lopez said, the Zetas want to make the local police look good. “They protect the police because the police are their allies,” she said. “We get stories about how the police or the chief are so wonderful, especially the chief.”

Congratulations Melanie Ciolek!

imageCongratulations to Melanie Ciolek on winning the USC Center on Public Diplomacy’s Prize for Best Student Paper for 2010. Melanie’s paper, How Social Media Contributes to Public Diplomacy: Why Embassy Jakarta’s Facebook Outreach Improves Understanding of the Limitations and Potential for the State Department’s Use of Social Media, was published on this blog back in June.

Melanie wrote “How Social Media Contributes to Public Diplomacy” as a student in my Public Diplomacy and Technology (PUBD510) last semester. (See and comment on the draft syllabus for Spring 2011.)


Next week is the “Sixth International Scientific Conference on Security and Counter Terrorism Issues” at Lomonosov Moscow State University, November 11-12. My presentation on Thursday is titled “Now Media: a New Democracy of Influence.”

Needless to say, I will have limited access to email and will not be posting to the blog during this trip.

Understanding Influence: A Matter of National Security

By John M. Koval III

image_thumb[1] This post is inspired by your Nov. 1, 2010, post titled Wikileaks as an exemplar of Now Media, Part 1. I agree with you that anyone can be influential, and that it’s impractical to distinguish between consumers, creators, audiences, and media. That being said, we’re failing as a country to understand influence, not as a subjective skill, but as a system, or, perhaps more accurately, as a weapons system.

From a national security perspective, we have an obligation to know exactly how state and non-state actors, like Wikileaks founder Jules Assange, employ influence. In the 21st century, we’re fighting influence wars against traditional states, transnational networks, bloggers, media, and countless others. Yet, we don’t have a framework to fight these wars. It’s as if we’ve begun the Manhattan Project without the periodic table of chemical elements.

Continue reading “Understanding Influence: A Matter of National Security

Wikileaks, Assange and the UN, an example of propaganda

The Wikileaks community and Wikileaks watchers are actively and likely inadvertently the myth that Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and front-man, is giving a “keynote” at the UN this week. They are forwarding a Tweet from @Wikileaks that includes a link to a Reuters “Factbox” article that appears to indicate Assange is speaking at the UN. In fact, he is not giving the “keynote” or otherwise speaking at the UN Human Rights meeting but at a press conference put on by the International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR), a nongovernmental organization registered in Switzerland. A minor detail.

Continue reading “Wikileaks, Assange and the UN, an example of propaganda

The Gutenberg Parenthesis and the Extinction of Newspapers

An important question in today’s information environment is how will people receive their news? The centuries old model of print may be going to the margins because of financial challenges: more readers requires more printed copies, requiring larger and more expensive printing plants and distribution channels. The Age of Print may be dead.

The Gutenberg Parenthesis is the theory that the age of text was a temporary interruption, a manifestation of technology where information, knowledge and truth were structured and “owned” in volumes. We are “going forward to the past” where conversation, gossip,  the visceral and unstructured content dominates. Continue reading “The Gutenberg Parenthesis and the Extinction of Newspapers

2010 Cultural Diplomacy Conference: Cultural Diplomacy as a Listening Project?

On Monday, 8 November 2010, the International Communication Program of American University’s School of International Service, with sponsorship from the MountainRunner Institute and the Public Diplomacy Council, will host a 1-day conference to consider the extent to which, and how, cultural diplomacy might be a “listening project.”

From 12:00pm to 4:30pm on the AU campus, this conference is an opportunity for productive exchange among key stakeholders in the future of cultural diplomacy, all of whom should be in more regular conversation: the policy community, practitioners in public diplomacy, and academic researchers on the topic. Continue reading “2010 Cultural Diplomacy Conference: Cultural Diplomacy as a Listening Project?

Wikileaks as an exemplar of Now Media, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts that will explore our world of disappearing boundaries – from geographic to linguistic to time to organizational – that create new opportunities and challenges to agenda setting and influence. Wikileaks, as an exemplar non-state actor in this world of “now media,” requires analysis beyond the superficial and polarized debate common in today’s coverage of both the organization and the material it disseminates. The MountainRunner Institute is working to convene a series of discussions with experts across the spectrum, including (ideally) someone from Wikileaks, to discuss the role and impact of actors like Wikileaks and the evolving informational and human landscape. If you are interested in more information or in participating, email me at blog@mountainrunner.us Continue reading “Wikileaks as an exemplar of Now Media, Part 1