28 March 2012

Now on The Huffington Post

I am pleased to say that my work is now on the Huffington Post!

A few weeks ago, Our Duty released an analysis of the Veterans' Affairs 2010 Client Satisfaction Survey.  When i sent out the press releases, I sent one to HP.  About a week later, the Canadian editor replied and asked if I could turn it into a blog.  I jumped at the chance; its not often an editor contacts the writer for work.

This is the result.

I'm pleased with it.  Huffington is giving me the opportunity to say what I think about the survey, instead of just analyzing it, and I'm always happy to give my opinion on something. ;)  Huffington are also willing to consider anything else I care to submit.

Here's a bit about my experience with the Post, for those who may be getting their first break.

Huffington does not pay for your articles.  However, given that they have editors and a high-profile, HP is an excellent writing credit.  (As you know, one of the things about being a writer is that you need other people to say you are good, otherwise people don't take you seriously.)

Next: Huffington does not work like a standard press platform.  While they want items that are timely (the editor was concern that I was writing about something from 2010), they also don't seem to suffer from the immediacy of, say, newspapers.  It took about two weeks to get my post up.

Part of the reason for that was scheduling: week 1, the editorial staff was short-handed.  After I bugged and bothered, I finally got a response requesting that I make my submission more timely.  I did a quick edit and had it sent back within 48 hours (it was a weekend, so I didn't rush).  After another week of silence, I needed to be a pain-in-the-ass again:  I had updated my post by hooking it to the federal budget, and budget day was less than 3 days away.  This time, it turns out the Editor was on vacation, but she interrupted her break to give it a read and send it to the posting staff (for which I am grateful).

My advice?  When submitting to the Huffington Post, make your blog timely but not time sensitive.  Write about something current which is either ongoing (say, robocalls right now) but not dated (like Elections Canada officials testifying today).  Huffington is not looking for news-stringers; they have staff that handles that.  What they want from you as a blogger is insight, analysis, and relevancy...but not immediacy.

It helps if you give the blogs-section a good skim before you begin; that should give you some good ideas on timeliness.

So I need to offer special thanks to Danielle Crittenden, both for giving me the opportunity and for putting up with my impatience.  You should check out her blog as well.  There a great article on vaginal drinking.  (no, I'm not making that up.)

24 March 2012

On Response Rates

We have a multitude of ways to communicate with each other: phone, fax, email, social media, instant messaging.  I'm sure if I looked, I could probably even find a telegram service (legit, not stripper).  All this technology, all these ways of contacting the right person to get your issue addressed, and what do these people do? 

Ignore everything.

Phone calls are handled by people who take messages or, more often, by electronic message boxes.  In either case, your message will likely be ignored.  Email goes unread.  E-messages and social media posts go unanswered.  Faxes get shredded or filed, no response.  We have all these communications methods and, when it comes to reaching the person you need to contact, you might as well be standing on the roof shouting for all the good it does.  And the more "important" the person, the less likely you are to hear from them. 

And if you do hear from their assistant, you frequently get the worse-than-silence response: a promise that your issue will be reviewed and you will be contacted.  In other words, stop trying to reach us; we've already trashed your communications.  Then there's the ever-popular out-of-the-office message: "I am out of the office and will be returning on XXX.  If this is urgent, please contact..."  Well, if it’s not urgent, you leave your message and expect that person will get back to you when they ARE in the office.  Apparently, that is not the case.  It seems that out-of-the-office is now an excuse to dump every message that came in during that time, as if they never occurred.

And then, there's my own private hellish torture: the people who contacted ME, and asked/offered something, who then disappear, leaving me clicking refresh on my email every 10 minutes for the next month.

Common courtesy in communications has gone the same way as politeness on the internet: down the sewer of self-importance.  One would think it would be easier to actually speak to the individual than to continue finding new ways of avoiding them. 

So I want to ask, appeal, implore, BEG you to change your methods.  If you don’t now and never will communicate with those who are trying to reach you, then at least be honest about it.  Take your contact info off your websites.  Set your outgoing message to something like "Don't bother; I'm not going to respond." 

And, above all, don't call people; make promises, and then bail.  That is the worst form of rudeness there is.

For their own good.

Whatever happened to pro bono publico? The idea that lawyers would do work to help the public in order to ensure equality before the law and to help individuals who could not afford to pay them? Where did that concept go?

 Last August, the GG said law firms in Canada donate less than 3% of their time to this fundamental legal ideal. 3%? You could have knocked me over with a feather. Because, as near as I can tell, that might be a couple of firms using ALL of their time, while the rest don't do any pro bono work.

 Because I've been pitching a simple case for a veteran who was mistreated. There is nothing complex or convoluted and it should be able to be resolved with a few letters written. I've approached dozens of lawyers and SIX pro bono societies. Response rate? 1. Not 1%, 1 response. And repeated querying of the societies supposedly dedicated to doing this work has not resulted in a single word. In my experience, the GG's estimate is grossly overinflated.

 Which leads me to suspect that every negative thing said about lawyers may be true. Because if not one will step up to help an impoverished veteran, then the profession really believes pro bono pocketo.

Money, money everywhere, but not a cent to help

Since I started fundraising for Our Duty, I have found it very difficult to listen to any news story that discusses money. 

To date, our biggest donations have come from veterans on fixed incomes, who have scraped together a few bucks out of their meagre pensions to support us.  It is amazing that they did and we appreciate every one.


Listen to any news cast you hear about hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars changing hands, as profit, as waste, as the fine-points in a negotiation, as the net-worth of a company that makes crap.  All that money, flowing all around.  And people like me, who are out there trying to fix a problem or make the world better; we have our hands out, saying please help me help others.  And the money whirls past, like in some pathetic game show booth.

A percent of a percent of the funds being discussed would turn any organization into a major force.  If would take operations out of basement or garage and into an office.  It would let the volunteer staff stop worrying about their own bills and focus on doing what they do best.  It would enable travel to significant events.  It would buy ads to help spread the messages.

But you try getting those funds.  Damn near impossible.

I'm afraid to add up the number of volunteer hours behind Our Duty or to tally the costs we have contributed.  I don't want to know how much we have donated because then I will be even more angry and disillusioned.  Especially since I know a lot of that time and energy has gone into fruitless funding appeals.

And the most aggravating part is the silence.  Letters, emails, phone calls, faxes - most are completely ignored.  Perhaps 1 in 1000 actually gets a response and that’s a 'no'.  The rest just disappear, like you flushed a great wad of your time and effort down the toilet.

The Haves not only won't help, they won't even listen.  Which creates our current situation:  Those with the least to give, give the most.

And that is heartbreaking.