Monday, May 16, 2011

Wonk This Way

Wonk if you love torsos.

I'd like to add my name to the American University students and alumni who are less than enthusiastic about the school's WONK branding campaign. This is not a reflection of my attitude toward the school--which I love--or toward any of the wonkish torsos that posed for the ads (you know who you are), but rather my skepticism regarding the wisdom of associating the university with a word that sounds like an enraged goose receiving the Heimlich maneuvre.

At its best, the word is jargon--incomprehensible to all but the wonkiest. At its worst, it sounds like the noise a dog makes before it gets sick on the carpet. But much as I hate the word, I have to respect its accuracy in describing the AU community and its enthusiasm for policy and education.

What other word describes the sort of geek who spends her morning at an open government meeting ... for fun? Nothing else could account for my nerdish glee when I learned the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy was holding an open meeting today. Nor for the fact that two AU students and a professor were already seated when I walked in. I'd registered early, certain that the seats would get snapped up like Radiohead tickets, and was pleased to see that the room was full of people I knew--some personally, some by reputation. So clearly I embrace the spirit of wonkishness, if not the word itself.

One of the highlights of the meeting (for me, at least) was Jeff Trimble's presentation on the BBG. Granted, I've questioned the efficacy of some of the BBG's work in the past, but Trimble made a straightforward and persuasive case for the effectiveness of Radio Sawa, al Hurra, RFE/RL and other BBG broadcasting sources. In addition, he neatly anticipated my question about the decision to switch VOA Mandarin to a web-only platform, providing statistics about Chinese audiences and the BBG's "robust" anti-censorship mechanisms. Well played, sir. Even Kristin Lord was impressed.

Executive Director Matt Armstrong kept his comments brief, but I left with the impression that U.S. public diplomacy practitioners are making an effort to coordinate, evaluate effectiveness and streamline their efforts for maximum effectiveness. Of course, that's just one blogger's opinion. There were quite a few PD bloggers in attendance, and I'm looking forward to hearing their take on the proceedings.

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