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What I Do Pt. 1 ('Personal Branding' Interview)

I was recently interviewed via email by Dan Schawbel for his blog, Personal Branding.  I was flattered that Dan requested an interview and he was fun to chat with.  

My professional life is exciting and I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had.   To friends and strangers alike I often find that it’s difficult to articulate what I do, but the Personal Branding interview succinctly summarized the last few years of my career.  Dan’s original interview is here and you can read the transcript below.  As always, your comments and thoughts are appreciated.  If you have any questions feel free to contact me.  

Thanks.

How did you get your job at ABC News?

I’ve worked relentlessly for years to legitimize both my work and the social web as a medium.  Hard work and the associated sacrifices are often over-looked by today’s ‘social media experts.’  This is not to say I’m the most talented or hardest working person you’ll ever meet.  I’m far from it.  However, for years – long before social media was main stream – I stayed in on Friday and Saturday night to edit audio, code PHP, and send email.  I also thing it’s very important to acknowledge and thank people for their time – especially if they’ve helped you in some way.  Often a simple expressing ‘hey dude, thanks for coming on the show/thanks for connecting me to so-and-so/thanks for the coffee meeting’ goes a long way.  I’ve been in broadcasting for my entire adult life.  My grandfather is a HAM radio operator so in some ways radio runs in the family.  But I began both broadcasting (content creation) and platform building  (administrative) at the same time.  I attended the great radio program at Black Hills State University – a tiny school in the mountains – and studied under radio legend Dave Diamond.  Diamond encouraged ethical ambition and taught me a lot about the arts of speaking in public and on air, managing people, and building platforms, and completing long-term goals.  After a post-college stint working (and failing) in the music industry in California I returned to BHSU in 2004 to complete my political science degree.  During that time – mid-2004 – I began a radio show and podcast with a good friend.  Together Doc and I built the Creepy Sleepy show – a politically-independent podcast.  Over the next few years the show built a small but loyal following.  In 2006 I covered the South Dakota ban on abortion.  My reporting on the abortion issue lead to a job with Ellen Ratner and the Talk Radio News Service.  There I concurrently covered the United Nations and 2008 Presidential Campaign, and built digital platforms.  That lead to my current gig at ABC News.  Here I occasionally conduct interviews with technology and political thought leaders and am in charge of building the digital platform for ABC News Radio. 

There are so many different types of media now. You’ve invested your time in radio and blogging. Why were you drawn to these?

Ha! Well, the easy answer is to say that I – like everyone in the media industry – am a narcissist.  Look, I’m a strong believer that people – human beings – are inherently curious, inherently social, and inherently lazy.  By that I mean that people want the path of least resistance between people, other people, and information.  I’m draw to the ideas behind what, why, and how people connect.  To that end, I’m draw to the media platforms people – humans – use to communicate with each other.

What is your prediction for the future of media. Will it just be a giant mashup?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  Most journalists and pundits love hearing themselves talk but hate making predictions.  Truth is, no one knows and anyone who claims to know is not to be trusted.  But we do enjoy speculative hyperbole so I’ll bite.  First, I encourage you to check out a video from 2004 called EPIC 2014.  The video walks through a brief evolution of the web up to 2004, then speculates on the next 10 years.  What’s shocking about EPIC 2014 is how very accurate the video is.  Another great film is the recent documentary ‘We Live in Public.’  WLiP documents the escapades of Dot Com pioneer Josh Harris and various proto-lifestreaming experiments he conducted on himself and others.  A overarching theme in EPIC, ‘We Live in Public,’ and technology in general is the juxtaposition between the power of the social web and the pithy ways in which it’s used.  While I’m happy to ramble about my opinions on Facebook or Google or Twitter or how the public uses the social web, that stuff is far more like celebrity gossip snack food.  It’s fun but not too relevant in the big picture.  I’m far more interested in questions of Why and How than Who.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve interviewed? Why?

This is a tough question to answer.  While I’m low on the journalist totem pole at ABC (trust me – every journalist pays their dues for a long time; I’m paying mine) I have the luxury to be able to interview whomever seems interesting ans is willing to come on camera.  In this role I’ve had great conversations with tech leaders like Jason Calicanis, Lawrence Lessig, and Gary Vaynerchuk.  Independently I’ve interviewed Willie Nelson (great guy) a few times, Chuck D is a really down-to-earth guy, a few congressmen and senators, and various musicians.  Musicans – for the most part – are the worst.  Many are utterly dull but equally self-involved (the analogues between musicians and social media people are staggering but I’ll refrain from ranting).  On the campaign I was able to – briefly – interview every major presidential candidate.  The best interviews, however, are with people you’ve never heard from.  Every year I interview several dozen policy leaders at the UN and that’s always a blast.  While reporting from Darfur I – along with a group of talk radio hosts – interviewed president Salva Kiir.  That was fascinating.  We also traveled far in to Darfur and purchased slaves.  The UN frowns (maybe for good reason) on this practice.  They argue that it provides profit-motive to continue the abduction of women and children.  I don’t necessarily disagree, but this particular moment provided the opportunity to talk at length with oppressed women and children.  These discussions with marginalized (and who are we kidding: “marginalization” is euphemistic language for raped, beaten, stabbed and otherwise abused) people took deep seen in me and helped me understand the importance of strong and indelible journalism. 

But a lot of meeting cool people, traveling to interesting places, and building useful digital platforms comes down to luck.  I’ve worked hard, sure, but I’ve also caught a lot of lucky breaks.  As does everyone in my position.  I’m really happy that I’ve been able to meet myt idols and advisories alike.  But no one exists in a bubble and I do my best to thank the people in my life who have made some of these experiences possible.  My advice to both media industry veterans and n00bs alike is to a) be a good person, b) do the right thing, c) be tenacious but fair, say ‘thank you’ on a regular basis, but e) don’t take shit from fools.

Aside from media and politics, you talk about zombie’s. Do you find that your personal interests get in the way of your professional one’s at all?

Best. Question. Ever.  Really!  So I’ve written a bit about zombies and what attracts me to the ‘medium’ on my website.  With a few friends I’m building a modular geo-local, real-time social game called ‘Zombie Doom.’  We won’t launch for a few months but when we do we hope to introduce a few unique and fun ideas to both the social gaming space and the zombie afficianado space.  The lurching, undead, Romero-esque ‘Zombie’ is a very modern phenomenon.  Pre-Romero there are very few cultural instances of what we’d today call a ‘Zombie.’  Post-Romero the meme took strong and undeniable root in pop culture.   I think the reasoning is fairly simple.  People feel overwhelmed and want an escape.  A lot of people are attracted to the idea of “were society to collapse, I am strong.  I would survive.”  I think that – at least in the Western, hyper-busy, media-saturated paradigm – the ‘Zombie’ is a material expression for very real but very abstract fears.  Zombies – as an idea – are inevitable. 

 

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Dan Patterson

Journalist & Technologist

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