Things I learned

I’m going back over what I learned this week.

First, let’s go back to Southwest Airlines. How did they handle their total meltdown in Oakland? Did they cover it on their blog? Did they send me an apology? Did they apologize to the 1,000 customers that they inconvenienced last week? Did they hire more staff? Did they have management fly in to take care of the problem? Are they listening?

No.

My willingness to defend Southwest (who usually is a great carrier) went way way down last week. I can no longer recommend them to my friends. Next week I’m flying Alaska to Portland. Does that matter to Southwest? Probably not. Their planes are still full. Corporate profits are still up. Compare that corporate behavior to John Edwards who linked to someone who doesn’t think Edwards did a good job this week.

Would seeing an acknowledgement of negative feedback make me feel better about Southwest? Absolutely. At least I’d know there was someone listening. All its “PR blog” is doing is telling me that no one is minding the store as it goes all to hell.

Then, looking into New Orleans. I still am processing the devastation that is there and the poverty. I haven’t done enough. If that’s the only thing I learned this week, that’d be enough. I feel powerless to do much, cause I can’t take the time off of work right now to go and help rebuild houses and I don’t have extra cash right now to donate. I feel mighty guilty about that, though. It sucks that I haven’t done more.

The most interesting insight from the many pres that I remember from talking to was from Dan Balz of the Washington Post. I asked him if he had a theory of how the campaign would turn out. In other words, did he already have a theory of whether Hillary was going to be nominated, or Barack, or Edwards, or someone else. He said no cause he’s learned that campaigns aren’t linear. Something invariably happens to change everyone’s opinion about which way they were going to go.

On the plane.

Before going on the plane, I thought it would be a lot more glamorous. It’s not. Edwards got, I think, eight hours of sleep in three days. And he did a job I wouldn’t be able to do: answered hundreds of questions in front of some of the most powerful media organizations the world has (he’ll be on George Stephanopolous’ program tomorrow on ABC I hear) and then in front of thousands of people.

Keep in mind that almost all of these candidates are rich. They could do something more fun with their time. I found myself wondering if I had tens of millions in the bank would I be working that hard? And, would I invite people on my plane who could report every single move I made?

I asked him why would anyone want to be President. It doesn’t sound like a fun job to me and after being on the plane it seems even less fun. Imagine having to go through a two-year interview process just to get a new job. Damn, I thought Microsoft interviews were grueling, but I’ll never complain about day-long interviews again.

I found that I was far less cynical about the political process. Leave Edwards out of this. Anyone who is doing this deserves a lot more support than we’ve been giving political leaders. We treat politicians like scum and I came away with a lot more respect for the process and for the people who put their ideas out in front of people.

As for how bloggers can play in this process? I think we just are going to come up short in coverage of campaigns when compared to the mainstream press. In order to ask really tough, probing questions, you need to build relationships with not just the candidate, but also with the staff. The staff really can decide whether you get him at a good time, or one where he’ll lower his guard a bit — and to really ask a tough question you need to listen to him answer questions thousands of times — that’s when you’ll see his weak points and where to probe more. There’s no way a blogger who comes in fresh without following him around is going to know his weak points, or the questions that he always gets riled up about. I got him a little riled, for instance, when I told him that people thought pulling out of Iraq would destablize the Middle East. I knew that’d get him riled, cause I had seen how he, and his staff, were thinking about that. You’ll see that on video next week too.

I learned that there just is no time to think when part of a trip like this. It’s hard to clear space just to sit down and analyze what you heard. I decided to wait until after I got home. But I saw how journalists work. They did an interview, or listened intently to what he was saying, then they zoned in on their screens and really spent time doing nothing but thinking about what they heard and getting those thoughts down. Most bloggers won’t be skilled at finding that “zone” and getting time to sit down and analyze what they’ve just heard. I sure am not.

Anyway, I have family coming over for lunch today, so gotta do chores. More learning next week after I process the video and audio stuff I got and the experiences I had — I certainly would encourage anyone to do this if they had a chance. It’d totally change how you view America and the political process.

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