The 9-11 Generation

Eleven years later they do not call us that. In some countries they erect one monument to tragedy; in America we erected monuments in every airport. Scanners and x-ray machines that stand as a constant reminder of the attack. Our remembrance ritual involves removing our shoes and emptying our luggage. We gave-up rights, toppled a regime, and chased Osama Bin Laden to the far corners of the Earth to exact revenge. Yet they still don’t call us the 9-11 generation. It’s not because we are free, but because we are not scared anymore.

Despite this we have grown-up in the shadow of this tragedy without growing out of it. Eleven years later the liberties we gave-up to allow the government to fight terror are still gone. Our warriors still roam Afghanistan. We still speak of fighting the war on terror without any sense of when we might win it. We achieved important victories without much reflection on whether it might be time to move on from security theater in airports or strengthening due process protections. To our credit we got out of Iraq and will soon be out of Afghanistan but we still have to think about how we want to live. Do we need the security blanket of getting everything x-rayed and body scanned before we go on an airplane?

The fear does not linger, but these monuments do. In eleven years our world has changed. We have changed. Soon we will be out of Afghanistan. It seems our intelligence and military services are so effective that the operations of the terrorist organizations across the world have been severely hampered if not eliminated. We have not suffered an attack on the homeland in many years. Justified or not, I feel safer; I feel ready to move on.

How to Make Door Knocking More Effective

I have been knocking doors for political candidates since high school. Most people are probably familiar with this method of campaigning by now. You go to a door, introduce yourself, and talk with the person who answers about your candidacy (or the candidacy of the person you are supporting) and ask them to support you. Maybe you give them a sheet of paper with literature about the candidate or offer them an absentee ballot. Other than that, you probably will not talk to or hear from this person until Election Day. Campaigns use this model because it works, but I also think it is broken.

Door knocking is a high engagement activity with low long-term returns or follow-up. People that are marked as supporters are typically just put into the voter file to be contacted to remind them to vote at the end of the election. However the political parties, from what I have seen, are not leveraging this data to engage in party building activity. If I was in charge of a political party or managing a campaign then the people who are marked as 1s would get invitations to attend a Democratic Town Committee meeting or a small-dollar fundraiser associated with the candidate. I would also attempt to match them up with a person in the party from a similar background to check-in with them and help them understand other ways they can get involved.

Also I think it is important to note that the segmentation and coordination among campaigns and canvassing is terrible. In theory the entire party has a database it shares from NGP VAN but in practice each campaign and party apparatus uses only its own data and does not cross-reference its data with other campaigns. This means that for each race each voter might potentially be contacted by every single candidate running for office from President to dog-catcher. This can be irritating to the voter but also involves a large amount of work replication by the individual campaign organizations. In recent years I have seen some effort to coordinate knocking and IDs but nothing sophisticated. I think the new website to allow voters to ID themselves as supporters by the Obama campaign is also a neat shortcut to help them avoid doing unnecessary calling. If the Connecticut Democratic Party implemented a comprehensive data sharing and analysis program it could probably get a lot more mileage out of its current data and maybe irritate the voters less.

How would you improve political outreach and door-knocking? Would you like it if campaigns let you identify yourself as a supporter (or non-supporter) on a website so that you are not called by them?

Bruce Springsteen SXSW Keynote from 2012

Sometimes it is easier to unearth a hidden gem from an obscure website than to write a full post. As a fan of Bruce Springsteen I found this keynote address to be a fun listen.

The Decline of Journalism?

I am a news junkie. My main sources of information are the New York Times (I subscribe), Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Hartford Courant, and CT News Junkie. I supplement that with news from my twitter and Facebook feeds. Among these sources the only one I pay for is the New York Times and I have a subscription to Wired magazine. The rest of these are free online. As a consumer this makes me happy because it saves me money and I get to enjoy these products without cost. Yet I think it may be destroying journalism.

Collecting the news and posting it online is not free. I pay a yearly fee to host this blog on a service that is reliable and does not serve advertisements. The underlying content system is free since it is open source. I suppose I could choose to host it on the Wordpress.com website and save money but I enjoy having the ability to use the web server for other purposes and to learn the underlying technologies. It also takes time and effort to write the posts. In a professional news organization where they spend time and effort conducting research and interviews it is easy to see how these free websites get expensive for the creators.

Today there seems to be two ways to pay for news: advertising and subscriptions. The New York Times is demonstrating that subscriptions are just as important as advertising in the web age. I am inclined to agree. I think making people pony up some money for their news increases their commitment to the organization. Their model of providing some free content and then charging for extra seems to be effective. I also think there is some merit to charging micro-payments for access to old articles. My prediction is that most of the free news sites will eventually shut down or convert to the paid model.

What happens if they do not? We already have seen the size of physical newspapers like the Hartford Courant shrink. News staffs are shrinking across the country and the quality of the news at many operations is in a decline. Large organizations like New Yorker and New York Times are bucking this trend. The non-profit CT Mirror is also doing good work. The Hartford Courant website is terrible but they put up some good blogs and many of their journalists are interesting to follow on twitter. As the news consuming demographic switches to digital first consumption the newspapers will have to move with them. If they move and they are able to show that they provide high quality product then they will get subscribers and be able to compete with the New York Times and other operations like it. Otherwise we will eventually lose them.

Job Hunting

There are few things stranger in this world than job hunting. The problem with job hunting is that no two people end up in the same place in the same manner. Almost all my jobs from my computer consulting days in high school through my current job at the University of Connecticut have been primarily the result of people asking me to work for them because I had a skill they desired. In college my job search process for summer internships largely involved sitting at my desk and deciding which of the multiple offers to take. Unfortunately things are not quite that easy post law school.

The focus of many online websites and consultations with career services is a resume. I’m not entirely sure why. I have a resume and I am proud of it but even at two pages it is rather brief. I’m not completely sure how someone pulls a full story from it. In fact I do not believe I have ever seen a resume that I would deem useful. On a resume you can look for certain benchmarks like whether people have experience doing certain types of things and if their grades are decent but that is not going to tell you if the person is enjoyable to be around, a good team player, or has the ability to quickly learn new skills. Some people will try to fill these gaps by writing that they are a team player on their resume. I am not sure how helpful that is considering I have never seen a resume where someone says they are a bad team player. Suffice to say that if I was hiring someone I do not think resume searching would seem like an efficient method to find a good employee. That’s why I try not to blame employers for not getting back to me after I cold send them my resume from a job site.

From the perspective of a job searcher it is also difficult to ascertain whether a job or internship will be good. I have had both extremely promising internships turn into duds and seemingly boring internships turn into the most valuable experiences of my professional career. Some things are simple like you can see if the job falls into your field of interest or is the type of role you might enjoy. However you cannot tell whether the people at the workplace are good to work with, whether the employer treats the employees with respect, or how much opportunity you might have to grow there. If you want to learn these things you have to conduct rather extensive background research. Even then the people you talk to might be biased or interact in the environment differently than you. Law firms solved this problem by bringing on associates the summer of their second year to take them for a test drive. Then the economy collapsed and this model sort of died. I think it would be a good idea to have more of this, not less.

Another problem is that now all companies want are people with experience. This is code for not wanting to train the employee so they will basically only hire someone who is currently doing the same thing for their competitors. This means that if you have a job you have a lot of leverage because if you have a valuable skill there are people trying to poach you on a daily basis. This is most famously rampant in Silicon Valley but I have also heard stories of it in the legal field as well. When I search for legal job postings there are plenty of jobs for people with 2-5 years of experience but not for fresh graduates. I think eventually companies and law firms will realize that it is cheaper to train new employees than paying higher and higher salaries for employees they poach from competitors. Until then new graduates are at a huge disadvantage.

This is why job searching is all about networking and who you know. It is much easier to have someone vouch for a person and trust they will work out then to do the cold job hunting thing. This means that the networkers are at a huge advantage and it is difficult to get jobs entirely based on your skill. Sometimes career services offices try to teach networking or hold networking events, but I only know of one person who has gotten a job from them. Real networking is usually accomplished through your internships or when a parent or uncle knows someone who knows someone who has an opening. Yet in law school they don’t teach us how to effectively leverage that.

So far my takeaways from job searching post-law school are the following: be open to new experiences, first impressions can be wrong, do not be afraid to talk to people about your job search, and never give-up hope. If I was career services I would probably spend less time focusing on resume editing and more time helping students connect with groups and organizations in their area of interest so they can get more of the valuable type of networking. I would also encourage them to develop a portfolio of work or projects they can use in their applications or interviews. One of my cold interviews was with the State Elections Enforcement Commission and one reason I was able to successfully interview was that my senior project at WPI was on the efficacy of the Citizens’ Election Program. These not so small things make a huge difference.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.