Alternate Reality Vehicles: Bringing Virtual & Augmented Reality to Technology Deserts

Virtual reality must be experienced to imagine and execute upon the possibilities it brings, but if you never get a chance to experience it, how can you leverage it?

And if my hometown Memphis and other communities like it are going to be able to participate in the future, we need to experience it before we get left behind yet again. Ultimately, what we need is a massive investment to deliver low-cost high-speed Internet and high-quality technology education to every corner of this country, but in the interim, why not create Alternate Reality Vehicles packed with high-tech tools and talent to experience and create virtual and augmented-reality content.

Just imagine an RV packed with the latest and greatest content creation and experience tools and piloted by passionate professionals and volunteers bringing thousands of dollars of equipment and experience to schools, community centers and corporations.

After all, just as we’ve used mobile clinics to bring medicine to healthcare deserts, and food trucks to fill our bellies, why not use Alternate Reality Vehicles to help bridge our technological divides.  While far from a panacea it would at least be a mobile oasis bringing a taste of the future to our technology deserts.

Thoughts? I’d love to work with others to see what we can do to help bring the future to Memphis.


Event Calendars: A Key to Community Engagement & Winning the Content Wars

Providing local residents an online event calendar is one of the most basic yet poorly executed components of community journalism.

So this morning, I went to the site on my tablet in search of events, and I couldn’t find it,  so finally I grabbed my laptop and after much searching found it buried in the entertainment section and then proceeded to get further frustrated with the search and overall usability. And then I went to see how I could submit an event, and the experience deteriorated even further as the site passed me off to a 3rd party to create the event.

I’m sorry but if news organizations can’t execute their local events calendar with any quality, then they have no right to survive – and honestly won’t and here’s why:

  1. Events are the ceremonies that help communities come together. Whether they be city council meetings, PTSA meetings, volunteer opportunities, community concerts, athletics events, TED Talks, you name it, community events are key to community life. And by not leveraging modern technology to help foster community, you are failing in your public-service mission.
  2. Event information validates, excites and engages your audiences. If you are hosting information about my event and helping me market it, then it gives me a reason to engage with your site and for me to market your site. And unlike Facebook, having your event “featured” on a news site provides validation as well, building a sense of connection to your organization.
  3. Content costs are nearly zero. Since the event organizer is entering the information, news organizations only need to screen for quality and not actually write up the events. This is the reason why Facebook is so profitable because they just provide the platform while others provide the content.
  4. Local events are a key to competing for a local audience. Today there is no single site or source for local event information, both pre and post event. Since so much of what news organizations are all about, this represents a perfect opportunity for news organizations to combine their brand equity, editorial skills and technology to differentiate themselves.


So what makes a great online event calendar?

  1. Comprehensive: Instead of forcing people to go to multiple places, allow them to go to one place for everything. It’s not just an entertainment calendar. It feature’s every local event for every type of local organization, neighborhood associations, school events, city council meetings, city planning meetings, sports events, meetups, chamber meetings, afterschool events, you name it.
  2. Intelligent: Users shouldn’t have to work very hard or at all to find the events and information they are looking for. Users need to be able to easily filter and find events that matter to them so the categorization options need to make sense to the users and offer a mix of open ended and fixed filters.
  3. Lazy: Help people be lazy and successful. Users should have information pushed to them on a regular basis and the option to have reminders embedded in their calendars so they don’t have to constantly search for options.
  4. Interactive: Ask users for feedback about the events they attended as a way to deepen the user engagement and transform the site into just a calendar into a conversation and drive engagement.

In order to succeed, news organizations will have to think of themselves first as  civic intelligence and engagement platforms that combine traditional journalism with design thinking and technology product management to develop new ways of informing and empowering their communities.


Naiveté Key to Starting any Project

At work I was recently asked, “Kevin, What’s was the secret to get your project funded?”

So I looked in the mirror, and quickly realized it wasn’t based on looks, and instead after much thought replied, “Naiveté, creativity, persistence & luck!” which frankly are the key ingredients for any successful project.

Why Naiveté?

In the beginning I thought it would take a few months to sell the project, and then someone told me it would most likely take six to 12 months, which both relieved me and frustrated me at the time. Ultimately it took more like 24-36 months before the project went from concept to funding

Honestly, I probably would have never tackled the project if I had known it would take two, almost three years before it was finally prioritized and funded. The reality is that you have to be naïve and overly optimistic about how long it will take otherwise you’d most likely give up before you start.

Why persistence?

Because while we all start out naively, success ultimately requires persistence, otherwise we’d give up before crossing the finish line, especially when the finish line seems to just keep moving further away. The challenge is to figure out the difference between persistence and stupidity, as success is never guaranteed.

Why creativity?

While persistence is critical, you need to keep coming up with different sales pitches and throwing them against the wall to see what sticks. And we came up with stories based on fear, greed, greatness, customer experience, you name it with all sorts of different charts that showing how we’d save money, save time, make money, grab new markets and so on and so forth as we drafted presentation after presentation. And each time our story became a little crisper, gained us new advocates and helped us slowly crawl up the prioritization list.

Just like any other types of sales, when you are asking for people to part with their money and resources, it’s rare that you create the perfect pitch the first time. Instead you need to view every pitch as an experiment, where you are making as many observations and potentially asking as many questions as you are answering, otherwise you are wasting time. So identify what went well and modify what didn’t – and keep selling until someone bites!

So what was the final ingredient required for funding?

Luck! Without luck, I don’t know that we ever would have gotten the required nor the desired funding, but part of luck is being ready at the right place and right time when the opportunity arises. And while most of us would love to credit our brilliance for success, and blame bad luck for our failures, the reality is that lady luck is equally present in both.

But without the naiveté to start, the persistence to keep going when it seems hopeless & the creativity to keep coming up with new pitches, you will rarely be in a position to enjoy lady luck’s sunshine.

So put on those rose-colored glasses, but with flexible titanium frames that will hold up to the abuse, and get started pitching!

News Organizations Enrage but Don’t Engage

The New York Times Article “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions” represents both the promise and the failure of modern journalism.

The promise because the article was a classic piece of investigative journalism that shined the light on the way the ultrarich maneuver the political and legal system to evade taxes.

The failure, because the NY Times only enraged readers. Instead of empowering their readers by providing tools to help them take action and drive political change, they only offered an article, like offering a match without a lantern to people looking for light. The match ignites the fire, but the lantern keeps it burning much brighter and longer than the match alone.

Articles are an 18th century technology that are still incredibly powerful here in the 21st century but they:

  • Lack Personalization so that you can understand how the issue impacts you specifically – or where your specific representatives stand on an issue or their role in the problem, i.e. who are my representatives, do they have their hand in the cookie jar, what’s their official position and what’s their track record on the issue.
  • Are passive instead of being Interactive. While they get you enraged, they don’t help you get engaged and take action. Instead you have to search elsewhere for tools and resources to help you reach out to your representatives or mobilize others to make change.

While Infographics, data visualizations, videos and even virtual reality are great new story telling tools, they still don’t fundamentally transform news organizations from being content generators into solution providers – which is what we as a society need to increase our civic engagement and news organizations need to do in order to grow their value.

So if the Times and other news organizations truly want to make a difference, then they need to provide users the ability to:

  • Find their specific representatives
  • Identify how much they’ve received from lobbyists and individuals
  • Their votes on specific items
  • Their positions on the issue. The Times could have easily sent a survey to the representatives and Senators to get their feedback.
  • Give feedback to their elected officials via or similar tool
  • Create, sign or share petitions demanding change
  • Engage with organizations that are fighting for equity
  • Attend virtual or physical town halls with key players to learn more about the issue and potential ways to get more involved


I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface on what the NY Times could do. And yes, they all contain risks, but unlike real estate and employment classifieds, civic engagement is why we became journalists and the space news organizations need to own if they are to fulfill their 21st century potential.

I need a microwave now! So why doesn’t Best Buy let me filter products by what’s in their stores today?

Our Microwave died -so we turned to & for help but instead of coming to the rescue, they just pissed us off with bad Websites that prevented us from buying from them.

Instead of Target and Best Buy leveraging their greatest assets – locations with easily accessible inventory, their Websites made it virtually impossible to find what’s actually available in your nearby locations.

Considering how frequently we use the microwave for reheating leftovers, ad defrosting dinner items, we needed a replacement ASAP – and we needed something that looked good and could fit into the cubby hole we’d built in the cabinet.

Given the urgency and the need for exact measurements this was a perfect opportunity to use the Web for some initial research and then purchase in store until we discovered yet another reason why the big box retailers are struggling.

Best Buy = Worst Experience: You can filter by brand and whether items are on sale, but you can’t filter by what’s actually in store. So in order to find which of the dozen or so microwaves out of the 126 listed is actually available locally, I need to click through to each individual microwave and search to see whether it’s available.

Best Buy

Target = Off Target: At least Target allows you to filter by in-store, but you have to drill into the individual item to find out if it’s at a nearby location. And of course while trying, I got an error 😦

Target MicrowavesOops! We're not yet at six sigma reliability yet :(

Considering the billions Best Buy and Target have invested in real estate and inventory, they could at least invest a few million to make it easy for shoppers to find what they need at their nearby location instead.

Gunfire: Same Sound, Different Meanings in Rural & Urban America

I’ll never forget the flat staccato of the semi-automatics or the boom of the shotgun blasts that would regularly pierce the night sky. As a resident and reporter in Santa Ana I’d pray that the noise wasn’t the prelude to yet another homicide story, where I’d have to interview distraught parents wondering why, wives shorn of their husband’s love, friends mourning their buddies and traumatized neighbors forced to clean the blood off their sidewalks.

I remember:

  • Finishing an interview at Pio Pico Elementary School, driving 100-yards and seeing a teenager laying in the street, blood flowing toward the gutter as cops flooded the area looking for the perpetrator. He lived but others didn’t.
  • The parents who kept celebrating their son’s birthday, year after year. Of reading the search warrant, describing how the killer had shot him at point blank in the brain while he hid behind a car fender. And then the shooter went onto kill another kid – and all because they yelled a drunken insult at the Southside House.
  • Interviewing a young dad with a bullet lodged in his head about, how he knew who shot him, but that he couldn’t tell the police for fear of being killed by other gang members. You can read the story here
  • Covering my first shootings; two separate shootings leaving two teenagers dead and a 13-year old in critical condition. When I went to visit the 13-year’s old family, one of my questions got turned into me supposedly saying that the kid had died. The wailing and tears of that apartment living room are burned in my mind.
  • Teenagers in wheelchairs, alive but partially paralyzed by the bullets that shredded their spines.
  • Calling the police four or five times in one night to report the non-stop gunfire from a block or two away; until I gave up when I learned that in the ‘hood, just because you call the police, doesn’t mean the gunfire stops.

I could go on, but for me guns and gunfire meant only one thing – fear and loss.

Then I went to Washington DC and was talking to someone who grew up in rural Klamath county, where shotgun blasts meant duck hunting and the crack of the rifle meant deer season.

“I’d get up before dawn, go duck hunting and bring my birds to school for cleaning before starting class. The shotgun stayed in the truck and no one cared or called the police – it was just part of life.”

Similar sounds, almost entirely different meanings. When urban America talks about guns, they see death and destruction. When rural America talks about guns they see ducks, deer and dinner.

So when urban America hears about gun control, they see it as a common sense way to save lives, but when rural America hears about gun control, they see their way of life being threatened. Layer on additional racial, ethnic and economic enmities and is it any wonder why we’re so divided on this and almost every other issue in America?


News Orgs: Six Simple Steps to Grow Your Latino & other Hyphenated-American Audiences

I was inspired to write this after reading article BuzzFeed grew its Latino audience the old-fashioned way: with content and thinking, “While it’s refreshing to see BuzzFeed making the investment and reaping the rewards, why is hiring Hispanics, covering their concerns and actually integrating them into the larger enterprise considered newsworthy or novel?”

The fact that it is newsworthy, is also whyBuzzFeed and Univision are growing and why traditional news audiences and outlets are shrinking.

While distribution and story-telling technologies have changed, the keys to successfully covering your hyphenated audience haven’t changed since the days I wrote for a community newspaper.

Just apply the principles of community journalism to us

As a cub reporter at the Santa Ana Progress, one of the Orange County Register’s attempt to go local back in the early 90s, I learned the local news mantra, “People want to read about themselves, their family, their friends, their neighborhood and their organizations, so put lots of names in the stories and bold them as people scan to find the familiar.”

Twenty-years later, people haven’t changed. We all want to see and hear our stories reflected in the media, whether it’s in paper, on TV or online. And so if you want to grow your Latino, African-American and other hyphenated American audience you need to apply that same  local lens as we’re looking for stories that reflect our names, our families, our friends, our organizations, our ancestries, our countries.

We’re looking for validation; that our stories matter; that we matter; that regardless of what’s to the left of the hyphen – we’re Americans;  we belong and we’re welcome – no different than anyone else.

And unfortunately, more often than not, what we see, hear and read tells us otherwise.

So how to rectify the situation and grow your audience – instead of see it dwindle is to define your audience and then design for your audience.

A good place to start is with some basic market research and analyze your market demographics:

  1. How old are they?
  2. Where are they or their families from?
  3. What ethnicities/races do they belong to?
  4. How do they identify themselves?
  5. etc..

And then compare your staff and your coverage with your market demographics to see how well it matches.

Even if you may have never paid attention to these items, your audience does and we notice the fact we are underrepresented and under reported.

For example, as a news junky I listen to NPR but find myself constantly frustrated by how news coverage is skewed to Europe and the Middle East despite the fact that there are way more Latinos with roots and families in Latin America than in Europe. And the conflicts and successes in the Americas, have a much greater impact on us here – than conflicts far from our borders.

As a “Paucho”; (my Mom is a “Gaucho” from Argentina and my dad is a “Pocho,”a derogatory Mexican term for a Mexican-American, from New Mexico), I can tell you it’s the little things that matter:

Pronouncing names correctly

I confess I often butcher other non-Latin names, so this isn’t a deal killer but it’s always great when you hear the “r” rolled correctly.

Not interviewing American Tourists when disasters strike in foreign lands

Guess what, when a hurricane strikes Baja California or Manila, chances are that some of those brown Mexicans or Filipinos may actually be Americans  – and I can almost guarantee you that they have family and friends in the US.

A fair share of the coverage that reflects our importance

Does your foreign coverage look at all like this?immigration_in_usa


Image courtesy of Derekitou. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Global news is now local for a good part of your audience, so remember what’s foreign to you may be “local” involving family and friends to a significant part of your audience.

Going the extra mile to integrate us into your non-minority stories

Us hyphenated people are everywhere, but we may not be as easy to find if you don’t make a conscious effort to find us. We don’t want to just be affiliated with special interest news, tragedies or controversies.

Not relying on the faux-mouthpieces that supposedly speak for the community

I always remember their were two guys, we called them Frick & Frack from LULAC, that the not-so-in-the know reporters, i.e. everyone but the couple Latino reporters covering the city, would call any time there was a story with a police/civil-rights angle – and these clowns would say stupid things like, “We need less police in our streeets!” which would wind up as story quotes and the official Hispanic position.

As a Hispanic, who lived and hung out in the ‘hood, I never heard anyone ever say there should be less police, not even many ofthe “gangsters.” The conversations I was having with my neighbors, teenagers and adults alike was the need for more and better policing as we were tired of being afraid, hearing gunfire and seeing kids killed.

Hiring us hyphenated-folks; Lots of us

A chocolate chip does not a chocolate-chip cookie make. Tokenism isn’t going to grow your audience -and just because you have one of us, doesn’t mean that person can speak for the larger community. The reality is we are much more than the color of our skin or our names – so just because our last name is Garcia, doesn’t mean we have any clue what life as a Chicana in East LA is like or what it’s like to live in Cuba under Castro. And I certainly don’t mean that you need a Latino to cover Latinos, but it always helps to have people who understand the basics.

Ultimately, you need to hire a broad cross-section of employees of not just various ethnicities, but experiences and geographies, if you’re going to be able to capture the hyphenated-stew, or rather chili or phở, that is America today. And not just as cub reporters, but as leaders who can hire and fire and influence the organizational structure so that we’re not just hyphens grafted onto a tree not committed to change.

It’s really that simple.