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Harnessing the Wisdom of Mentors

I have my own personal definition of disadvantage and it comes from my own background of growing up in foster homes in Brooklyn, New York.  I never felt that I was disadvantaged because I was poor.  My disadvantage as I grew up came from the fact that I didn’t know anybody who knew anybody, and from the fact that I had no role models.  Nobody showed me what my future could be.  I just knew that there were women who were teachers, women who were librarians, and women who were nurses.  And it was kind of like if you wanted a career you could be one of those three and that was it.  

That actually didn’t happen because on my first job I was asked how fast I typed and I said well, that’s not going to work.  So luckily I wound up in a trade association where my first boss, a fellow by the name of Doctor Hal Edrich, was my first mentor.  And what he did was he cared about teaching me not only the trade, which was research into values and attitudes, but also, he gave me the opportunity to speak in front of people.  He told me how really good I was.  He told me I really could succeed.  And he introduced me, as we went to various conventions and meetings, to people who were the top in their professions.  And so I started to see a woman here, a woman there, another one somewhere else.

And then my next mentor, Arnold Brown, was somebody that became also my business partner later when we started our firm.  And he took me to different professional meetings, and one of them was the Professional Society of Futures, the World Future Society.  And there were two women there that were outstanding and I thought oh, I really admire them.  And so little by little it was the men who started to introduce me to environments in which I saw women.  As I got older and had done a lot of successful things and had gained a lot in my career, and I was really grateful, I thought okay, it’s not that I want to work with poor young women, it’s not that I want to work with physically challenged young women.  I want to work with at-risk girls between the ages of 11 and 13 who are at risk mostly because they don’t know anybody who knows anybody and they’ve never seen what their future could be.

And so increasingly they’re maximizing their presence and they’re mortgaging their future.  And so I put together a new kind of mentoring program which was in teams, because my feeling was that if part of being disadvantaged was not knowing anybody who knew anybody, why would you want just one mentor.  Isn’t it better to have five so you can get the whole world opened up to you from five women?  So I put together teams of five executive women and five at-risk girls.  Each woman had one girl assigned, but they were a team so that the girls had like one big sister; and for aunts, the same thing.  And that multiplied the worlds that were opened up to these girls.  We did—and I basically told the women you’re not their social workers, you’re not their mothers; you are photo albums, you are photo albums.  

Show these girls what could be for them.  Take them places that they’ve never been.  Don’t try to raise them.  Don’t try to tell them what they should be.  See, one of the things about mentoring, very important, is that it’s not about making somebody in your image.  It’s about giving somebody a possible image for themselves.  And then helping them achieve what is right for them to achieve, not what is in your image.  And then I want to say another thing about the year 2012 and as we head into the 21st Century, and that is that when we think of mentors we think of finding people who are older and more experienced than us to get us through the things that we need to get through, to teach us things.

We’re in a world now where those of us who are older need mentors who are 15 years old.  I always tell my clients and my audiences, go out there and just as you would hire somebody to mow your lawn or baby-sit your kids for five or ten bucks and hour, hire a 15-year-old who’s not in your family, because they have no patience with you.  Hire someone who’s 15 years old and say for three hours this week or five hours, you’re going to teach me something, anything, I don’t care; just teach me something.  Because what’s happening now is that the wisdom is not just coming from the older down to the younger, it’s a world in which the olders have to learn youngers as well.  So mentoring now is really about someone who can expose you to what you don’t know but what will make a difference for you in the future.  And I always think of mentoring as basically a photograph album. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
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  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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