Civil Media

June, 2016
Brian Watson, Founder and CEO of the Opportunity Coalition

These remarks proceeded a presentation from guest speaker Aaron Harber, Host and Executive Producer of The Aaron Harber Show

Writer and thinker Peter Kreeft once encouraged, “Be egalitarian regarding persons. Be elitist regarding ideas.”

Most media sources fail to apply this sentiment toward the clattering, shoving stream of current events that they cover. Rather, they all-too-often allow noise and rancor to dominate the media space.

It takes guts to be civil in mainstream media these days.

What does “civil” media even look like? For our guest speaker tonight, a ‘contrarian programming approach’ to media refers to reported information that steps away from that hustling clamor and overhyped noise. This alternate programming tactic ‘gives everyone a fair chance to speak by working to create a setting that is conducive to honesty and accuracy governed by mutual respect in spite of differences in opinion’. This evening, it is my pleasure to discuss why civility is better than barbarous media.

 Number one: We are fascinated by ourselves

In 1968, Walter Cronkite expressed his personal opinion on CBS about the Vietnam War and shook the United States. This departure from straight news reporting marked a new era. Critics shred him, even today, for his liberal bias, but that difference in opinion is insignificant compared to actual weight of his opinion on broadcast. The reality is that Cronkite took the time to investigate thoroughly before delivering his views, mostly unlike media today.

In 1987, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine shattered the media world once again. The repeal created modern talk media. 38 years before, the doctrine was instituted to require that broadcasters present opposing views for the sake of an educated discussion when on the air. Once repealed, hosts could push a political agenda without hesitation. Cue the rabble of the all-too-often blind, opinion-saturated modern media.

People love talk and interview shows because we are fascinated by ourselves. In a good way. The human experience is shared, and by hearing one another’s opinions and honesties, we participate together in thinking through this human life.

Number Two: The Socrates Approach

Sudden disaster is more compelling than slow development. People respond quicker to negative, hype words like ‘cancer,’ ‘bomb,’ and ‘war’ than soft, positive words. Perhaps this is because we are trained to focus on the negative aspects of life for self-preservation—or maybe we are all just bored, but hype is not worth compromising the reliability of our media.

Socrates, the most famous question-asker of all time, is recorded as saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  I think most would agree that a provocative question is usually more compelling than an opinion shoved down your throat, and the unexamined media is not worth shouting across the airwaves.

It comes down to one principle—honesty. Media should draw it out, not corrupt it. Walter Cronkite was certainly unafraid to voice unpopular opinions, and we need more of that, but with his accuracy as a factor. And not simply for the sake of being a contrarian of course, but to exercise and stretch our ideas to question the veracity of everything from Hollywood to D.C. 

As the producers of human experience, we should expect honest news that ignores hype when reporting on us.

We are fortunate to have Aaron Harber here to speak with us tonight. Mr. Harber is the host and executive producer of The Aaron Harber Show—a nonpartisan, political TV Talk Show that strives to implement rigorous standards of honesty, accuracy, and ideological diversity contrary in principle to the modern media scene.  

Fundraising

April, 2016
Brian Watson, Founder and CEO of the Opportunity Coalition

These remarks proceeded a presentation from guest speakers Katie Benhke and Kristin Strohm, Co-Founders of The Starboard Group

Whether it’s a little church bake sale, a large benefit party, or a nationwide Presidential race, the need to raise money for a project or a cause is ever-present and all around us.

In fact, while many of you may think that I work in commercial real estate, I would suggest that I’m actually nearly a full time fundraiser, as I’m raising capital with investors about 75% of my days are spent meeting with lenders and equity partners for our different deals.

It’s wonderful to go out and build a building but if you don’t have any capital to do it well, you’re not going to be too successful at it.

Every single day I am meeting with people both in the United States and Internationally to talk to them about investing in commercial real estate.

Raising capital is truly an art form much like anything else and it’s something to be learned and it’s something over time that you can get good at.

I read a book that said, you need to spend ten thousand hours at whatever it is you do before you become an expert. Now, I know some parents in the room may have spent ten thousand hours asking their kids to pick up after themselves, so I don’t know if you’re an expert there, lord knows I haven’t been an expert at asking my kids to pick up after themselves.

Depending on your age, location, and how willing you are to give out your email and physical address, studies show that many Americans are solicited for funds up to 150 times a year.

Many non-profit organizations spend 30-50% of their organization’s time and resources specifically directed at fundraising – and some small orgs spend up to 70% of their efforts fundraising.

There are about 25,000 non profits in our state, over 50% of those had annual budgets of under $25,000.

Katie and Kristin from Starboard Group are here this evening to chat through all of the ins and outs of Fundraising 101 and well as what that looks like specifically in the political space here in Colorado in a big presidential election cycle.

Before they come up, I have just a couple of thoughts that will help place this evening’s conversation in context:

Number 1: Fundraising is better when it’s about relationships

What do I mean by that?  Donating money is a sign of trust. Someone is willing to open up their checkbook or wallet or savings account because they believe in the person, project, or cause that they are engaging with. This trust is usually always built on a real relationship – whether it’s a personal friendship, a family connection, or a well known reputation.

-       To show the power of fundraising that grows out of trust from personal relationships, let me share with you a story about my experience in the Middle East…I’ve seen this principle played out throughout the world… in their meetings they want to talk about faith, family and politics, in that order and you better be able to handle that kind of discussion because during that time they’re seeing if they can trust you. 5% of the conversation is actually about business. If you don’t get to business that means that you failed in the other three categories. Once they get to know you, the speed of trust to a transaction is absolutely phenomenal.

-       Fundraising can also be about social relationships of trust and connectivity as well. I think back to a perfect recent example of this, which was truly a fundraising phenomenon: The ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” – do you remember this from the summer of 2014? Did you know this challenge raised $115 million dollars for ALS research? We’ve never seen anything like it. What drove it? Relationships: friends publically challenging other friends to do something socially awkward and chip in for a greater cause.

All fundraisers will tell you that the best thing you can do with donors is to build a lasting relationships with them. Regular follow ups, phone calls, thank you events, etc. are proven to nearly double the chance of these donors giving again – because they didn’t just have they’re check cashed and forgotten. Instead, they feel a part of really making the vision a reality; which leads me to my…

Second Point (Number Two): Fundraising is better when there is real “buy-in” for donors

While relationships are the key to building trust, having a real sense of “buy-in” for donors is incredibly important.

Donors need to see the actual power of their contribution and tying an actual project or need to their dollars is incredibly important. Rather than having their investment go into one big pot, how much greater is that buy-in when it is earmarked to specifically complete a specific project, or be the solution to a specific need. Donor dollars turn into real work which turns into real benefits.

This is also important at a higher level. Donors will find that they will have a “good return on their investment” if they know that they are giving to a cause that is socially responsible, or environmentally responsible, or in general something that is greater than themselves, that will last longer than themselves.

Often people in this world are looking for change and being a part of something larger than yourself, something that will outlast you and have a significant impact.

We’re about to send out a fundraiser for the Bay Root Innovation Center. As you know we have built several incubators here in the United States and we have seen the power and impact on that.

I was recently in Bay Root and I know several Americans do not like Bay Root, in terms of our involvement there. In Bay Root the unemployment rate between 20/30 year olds is over 25%. They’re having a major brain drain because there is no opportunity and people say, why live here when I can go somewhere else?

One thing we’re doing in our philanthropic efforts is to create business incubator centers around the world. Places where people can get good job skills and have a positive impact.

If someone has that cause that is bigger then themselves, something to have an impact on, they may be more inclined to be disenfranchised and do things that may be negative to society versus positive.

So we are launching the Bayroot innovation center, it’s a block from the American Bay Root University. With donations we want to create this innovation center so the Lebanese can go out and achieve their dreams.

If you want to have an impact in this world, start with one life and this center will impact many lives for the better.

We’ve all heard the stats and studies about the U.S. being the most generous nation on earth, both individually and politically. That’s a truth that each of us in this room can be proud of and can help carry on effectively.

In all our endeavors, let us always remain people-driven and never merely fundraising dollars or financial benchmark driven – or else we’ve missed the whole point: to use these funds to spark ideas, organizations, and people willing to go out to empower others and to provide new opportunities for a much brighter future.

Please join me in welcoming this evening Katie Behnke and Kristin Strohm…

Stewardship

February, 2016
Brian Watson, Founder and CEO of the Opportunity Coalition

These remarks proceeded a presentation from guest speaker Mr. Walker Stapleton, Colorado State Treasurer

This evening, I’m pleased to welcome a very special guest to the Opportunity Coalition, Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton. It’s an extreme honor to have someone of such high caliber and influence join our conversations and overall dialogue about the issues of today as well as the future of Colorado. And as our State Treasurer, Walker also deals with much of what we address here every month through his regular interactions with businesses, industries, individuals, and communities across the state.

I also know he recently completed a personal tour of all 64 counties in Colorado, and I hope we’ll get the chance to hear more about that tonight. I think it’s neat that we have a State Treasurer so invested in having an intricate and personal knowledge of our diverse state and assets.

No doubt Walker will shed some light on important functions and operations of the Treasurer’s office like balancing budgets, investing state funds, public finance, state economics, and collecting tax revenue. I’ll leave that to him, because after all it was a very smart man, Albert Einstein himself, who once said that, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” 

I would like to offer a few thoughts on an idea, a principle if you will, that seems to encapsulate all of the above topics I mentioned surrounding the role of the Treasurer – and that is the idea of stewardship.

I would propose that The Office of State Treasurer is responsible for, first and foremost, being a good steward of vast financial resources here in Colorado. A good Treasurer gives serious attention to these details and works, not only to manage well, but also always strives to give the best return on these investments as absolutely possible.

The idea of stewardship, or being good stewards, is something that is unfortunately often times not highlighted enough for those in the business world or those who talk about free market ideas. But could there be anything more appropriate that fits in with the messages of productivity, sustainability, and investment - than the concept of stewardship?

Stewardship, at its core, is simply the idea of properly caring for and managing that which was entrusted to us. A good question we can all ask ourselves is: “How can I provide the best return for those who have invested so much in me, my business, my family, or my community?”

What are we doing to be stewards of the gifts and resources given to us or developed/built by us? Are we wasting resources? Are we being sloppy? Or are we aware and disciplined enough to invest these right back into others?

-       Socially responsible (investing in PEOPLE)

-       Environmentally responsible (investing in the WORLD around us)

-       Volunteering/donating time and other resources (investing in CAUSES)

-       Individually responsible (investing in YOURSELF – health, mental, wellness)

These thoughts are in no way intended to be a guilt trip or an accusation by any means. Quite the contrary – I hope this is nothing but an encouragement to us all. We would all do well to remember to be leaders in our fields. Not only as advocates for business, entrepreneurship, capitalism, and free markets, but also as those known as leading lives of stewardship.

As we hear from our State Treasurer this evening, may we all learn from his insights and work to take these principles of good government, like that of stewardship, and successfully grow and develop them in our own lives and relationships.

News Media

January, 2016
Brian Watson, Founder and CEO of the Opportunity Coalition

These remarks proceeded a presentation from guest speaker Mr. Jared Wright, Publisher and CEO of the Colorado Statesman.

I’d like to open the evening with a few remarks about media.

I’m very excited to spend the evening dialoguing on this topic of news media together. Without a doubt, news media has faced significant challenges and various new obstacles in the last decade, from the serious struggle of print media circulation, readership, and ad revenue and the rise of the digital information era. There’s ever-increasing cynicism in public attitude and perception of the news in general.

Thankfully, our speaker this evening is working hard toward positive solutions here in Colorado from one of our state’s oldest publications, The Colorado Statesman, which was founded in 1898.

Before we invite Jared up, I’d like to share a few highlights and trends about what’s going on right now in the world of media…

First, to what could be labeled the “crisis” in print media.

The number of daily newspapers published in the United States has been falling steadily. Last year, there were 1,382 dailies on the market, down from 1,676 just a few years earlier. Investment in newspaper advertising is also dwindling. According to eMarketer, it will amount to about 16.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2016, over $4 billion less than it did in 2011.

In 2015, 63% of Americans said FB and Twitter were a main if not the main source for their news consumption, largely rejecting regular print media readership. 

But who’s still the biggest in the print world?

The Wall Street Journal and USA Today regularly vie for the top spot in circulation each year, followed up by the obvious publications like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, and The Washington Post.

On a neat positive note, it’s worth pointing out that our own Denver Post consistently makes the Top 10 list of the most widely circulated papers in the country.

For those that miss the Rocky Mountain News… you know why.

This chart measures the percentage nationally who read any daily newspaper the day before. 

It’s affecting all ages, all demographics, and where they get their news.

Economically speaking, as we so often do here at the Opportunity Coalition, the number of newsroom jobs has also dropped off significantly. Today, nearly a third of news media jobs and positions have been cut from companies and publications across the United States compared to a decade ago.

And sadly, on top of these print media woes, there is also a growing cynicism and distrust of the media here in Colorado and across the US. We often complain about the media, either because it’s too depressing, too political, or too boring.

I want to encourage all of us here this evening to not to fall prey to these negative attitudes. Instead, let’s always place it into perspective of those who do not have the luxury to consume or voice news, opinion, and perspective openly and honestly.

From state run news in China, to complete fabrication in North Korea, to shutting down of dialogue and unapproved content in countries throughout the Middle East, there is much we have that much of the world does not. May our complaints never be about the availability and access to news and information that we literally have at our fingertips 24/7 here at home.

It was John F. Kennedy who did a wonderful job capturing the spirit of our approach to news and information here in the US: “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." 

Let that rest in your heart and mind. I just came recently from the Middle East, and I was in countries like Saudi Arabia and other places and you get to see this first hand – in terms of what content and what access you have to certain ideas. You may not always agree with those ideas; they may not be valid ideas, but be thankful that we at least live in a country where we can hear them.

To continue to help us build off these ideas of freedom of information and power of news media, I’d like to introduce our guest speaker, Jared Wright…