Frank Catalano is a prolific writer of analysis, commentary and other forms of journalism. His regular columns and contributions have appeared in a wide range of online and print publications, and he has co-authored two Dummies books on digital and web marketing.
Frank was a long-time contributor to the education news site EdSurge(2012-21), where he most recently wrote the Edtech Reports Recap column.
Frank was also a founding columnist for the tech news site GeekWire and, at various times, a GeekWire podcast host, contributor and interim deputy editor (2011-19).
There is nothing like going through an interview process to help crystallize your thinking about the practice of a profession. Especially if you have to look at it through the lenses of eight different people.
Recently, I went through an intense day of interviews for a strategic marketing executive position. The company is well established and known, so this was not a case where I had to provide Marketing 101 instruction. However, being grilled about your thinking by more than a half dozen intelligent pros, each with their own perspective, makes you realize the guiding principles by which you’ve worked aren’t necessarily thought about or communicated the same way by everyone. Continue reading Unique, believable and true: Mantras for good marketing→
In 1994, I got a call from an editor I knew at a Seattle-area newsweekly. Computers for personal use—and the companies that made them possible—were getting a lot of attention due to this newly accessible Internet. I’d been a full-time journalist and now worked in tech. Would I be interested in writing a snappy regular column explaining computer industry developments to mere mortals?
Many people don’t have a clue how journalism works. Journalists may have less access to events and their newsmakers than the general public. All this for a career choice that has limited job options.
Those are the headlines from my recent temporary return to full-time journalism after a several-decade hiatus. The full story I lived through as a fact-chasing Rip Van Winkle is more nuanced. Yet dramatic cuts in journalists’ ranks and an apparent increase in attempts to control what’s produced not only makes doing the work more challenging, it may combine to undermine what the public gets in good journalism, especially at the local level. Continue reading Observations of a gentleman journalist→
It informally began with the Seattle Public Library and ended with the New York Public Library. In between, there were official moments with Marvel superheroes, a tree octopus, moldy mainframes and a yodeling pickle.
That was the 14-episode run of the GeekWire pop culture, science fiction and arts podcast that I hosted from August 2017 to November 2018, with the outlier library pieces before and after acting as, well, bookends. Dubbed for shorthand as the “popcast,” it was a mix of in-studio interviews with field trips for on-site audio walkthroughs, also spawning a dozen-and-a-half stories. Continue reading Popcast recap: From 2001 to yodeling pickles→
Media are plural. That may seem like an obvious grammatical observation. But when people talk about “the media,” odds are they are combining many applications and formats in their minds: news, entertainment, fine art, informational, video, audio, text, and other criss-crossing slices of the “media” pie.
In 2012, I wrote what is arguably the GeekWire column of which I’m most fond: “7 steps to raise a geek child.” It was borne out of my experiences raising my son and — not surprisingly — had echoes of my own upbringing, all with the intent of sharing what I’d learned with colleagues and friends who were then new parents.
As our communications technology has improved, what have we learned about avoiding the spread of medical misinformation and rumor in the three decades between AIDS and Ebola? Apparently, not enough.
Over at GeekWire, I draw comparisons and share lessons gleaned from my experience as a one-time health/science reporter, someone who began covering AIDS 30 years ago and before it received a lot of mainstream attention. I also add a perspective on how public health professionals today are using social media and the web — tools that didn’t exist three decades back — to propel good info and play Whac-A-Mole with the bad.
But as part of the research for the GeekWire column, I dug up an ancient digital file (probably written on an Apple IIe or early Mac) that summed up the advice I offered other broadcast news reporters at the time, in 1986. It was one of a series of columns I contributed to a newsletter of the Associated Press, AP Broadcaster. Continue reading AIDS to Ebola: Tech changes, rumors persist→
In some respects, what our parents and grandparents thought of as the “Big C” is now the “little c.” Cancer survival rates, for a variety of reasons, have improved overall. The earlier detection of many common types of cancer still comes as a emotional shock, but there is much more public information. And thanks to technology, more choices.
I recently realized I have passed a milestone: It has been 20 years since my first regular tech column.
Back then, it was for Eastsideweek, one-time sister paper to Seattle Weekly (and my editor was the irrepressibly intelligent Knute “Skip” Berger). Turns out even then I was writing on a personal computer, likely my Apple II — and I still have the text file on my current laptop. Continue reading It was 20 years ago (almost) today …→
Digital K-12 education is finally coming into its own.
This simple statement may evoke disbelieving cries of “What – again?” Those of us who have been around the Lego block a few times recall similar statements during the boom-bust cycles of packaged personal-computer software, multimedia CD-ROM, and dot-com, bringing to mind pioneering names like Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, and Knowledge Adventure. Continue reading Three drivers of the digital classroom→
Fair warning: This advice is going to piss off a lot of advertising sales reps.
A question I get fairly often is, “Where should I spend my marketing budget?” The hidden question in the question is that there are magical tactics, unknown to mere mortals, that will propel market awareness and sales to Olympian heights.
Earlier this month, I took part in ritualized torture. Others call it an Ignite presentation.
Ignite, for the unignitiated, is something of a nerd presentation death march. You have a topic, which you propose. You have five minutes, which is firm. You have 20 slides, which relentlessly auto-advance every 15 seconds. Continue reading Surviving Ignite in three easy steps→
I get cranky when I see lazy marketing writing. Especially when the primary purpose of marketing writing is to motivate readers.
What do I mean by lazy? Words and phrases that sound as though they’re saying something but are content placebos. Technology (and education technology) marketers are notorious for this practice. While many lazy words probably once had specific meaning, they’re now applied so indiscriminately they’ve become like over- and mis- used cooking ingredients: too many empty word calories, filling space instead of stomachs, and similarly providing no sustained energy. Continue reading When “leading” trails→
Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of projects to name products, services and companies. And these projects can go pear-shaped in ways almost too numerous to contemplate, from endless free-for-all brainstorming to unilateral executive decisions — only to discover later the exec subconsciously found a choice comfortingly appropriate because it was the name of a largely forgotten competitive product. Continue reading Naming the no-tears way→
The downside of book contracts comes when you lose control of your self. And that’s the case now that my name is attached to two “new” Dummies books that I had no direct involvement in writing … and didn’t even know existed until I read about them in a blog.
Let me say upfront this doesn’t mean they’re not good books. But my advice and image — state of the art nearly a decade ago — have been repackaged and represented as current. It’s marketing at its most automatic.
Background: In 2000, Bud Smith and I wrote Internet Marketing for Dummies, a successor to 1998’s Marketing Online for Dummies. The contract I signed allowed for non-U.S. editions, a good idea. IMFD was translated into languages and alphabets I don’t read, or in some cases, recognize. All in all, IMFD was in print for seven years, a good run.
Being a panel moderator is the hardest easy job in public speaking.
I’ve moderated, conservatively, more than one hundred panels over three decades (I started as a teen at science-fiction conventions). Aside from the aforementioned fan gatherings, there have been professional panels at events ranging from E3 Expo to technology industry conferences to book and education industry trade shows.
Ever go to a charity auction and think, “Hey, this is a lot like eBay — why don’t they just put it all online?”
Because odds are it wouldn’t work nearly as well or raise as much money for the cause. It’s a matter of individual and group psychology.
This past spring, as a favor to a colleague, I dipped back into the world of charity auction emceeing for a night at Villa Academy in Seattle. In 2003 and 2004 I regularly emceed charity auctions as a feel-good sideline through Stokes Auction Group (which provides auctioneers and auction services exclusively for charities). This gave me insight into auctions for organizations including the American Heart Association, YouthCare, Boys and Girls Clubs, Young Life, Skiforall, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which does the delightfully named “Tennis Ball.” I gave it up when my travel schedule and new position made committing to an auction schedule impossible.
From the delightful anachronism category, I present the gift I received from my wife Denise on the recent occasion of my XLVIIIth birthday. It is a Smith Corona manual portable typewriter, recently reconditioned, with a new ribbon.
In my teen years, my mother — knowing of my desire to be a writer — gave me a Smith Corona Electra 120. It was a pseudo-electric typewriter. I say “pseudo” because it was electric except for the carriage return, which was still manual. But it served me for many years until I purchased my first computer, an Apple IIe with a daisy-wheel printer and the fabled 80-column card (if I had to explain today what an 80-column card did, you wouldn’t be impressed).
This Smith Corona will occupy a functional place of honor near my 1948 Webster’s New International Dictionary Second Edition, Unabridged.
For a dozen years, I was a marketing consultant and tech industry analyst. I worked with a variety of clients. Sometimes, a short-term project would extend into a long-term interim executive assignment … and with that, would come a business card for a year or so. This is the third of three parts (including media and tech) of how business cards and contact info evolved over 30 years, this one covering the consulting years 1992 to 2004. Continue reading Business cards: consulting years→
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, saying you worked in “personal computers” was akin to saying you work in genetics today. It sounded cool, but few folks completely understood it. Personal computers and their software were still not affordable for the masses; these were the days when a copy of PowerPoint, by itself, was $400.
Still, from 1987 through 1992, I moved from covering technology as a broadcaster to promoting it at two different companies. And I was doing so in a field — consumer technology marketing — for which there was no formal training and, in reality, no template as to what worked and what didn’t. It was pretty damned exciting.
There are few descriptions of a career more sterile than a resume.
Resumes are text. Resumes are written and rewritten. Resumes exist for one purpose only: to help get that next job. They do little to capture the character of a position as it was being held. Yet for many, they’re the only document that bolts one job onto the next in the construction of a working life.
The following originally appeared as a “State of the Art” essay in Analog Science Fiction & Fact’s July 1992 issue. Portions were later excerpted in the Seattle Times in October 1992.
Though 2004 is a dozen years later and some of the names of the players have changed, much of the game being played remains the same today. When it comes to news and the human capacity to make sense of it, filters are important since more broad-based information gathering and dissemination mechanisms — up to and including the latest darling, Web logs — don’t change the limits of the human attention span. And mass media continue to have increasingly less mass.
(The following essay originally appeared as a Special Letter in the March 4, 2004 issue of STRATEGIC NEWS SERVICE, published by Mark R. Anderson. For more information on the SNS newsletter, please visit www.stratnews.com.)
Pop quiz: What is a computer? For extra credit: What is a consumer electronics device? What is a toy?
Or, more to the point: define what makes a firm a computer company, consumer electronics company or toy company.
This would have been an easy quiz a decade or even five years ago. Computer companies sold big, expensive ($2,000 and up) multifunction boxes with microprocessors inside. Consumer electronics companies sold single-purpose devices at sub-$200 price points. Toy companies sold stuff that was fun to play with, usually for under $100, and rarely had any advanced technology in it (unless, like me as a kid, you were fascinated with how an Easy Bake Oven could actually cook anything edible). Continue reading When companies collide→
This morning, I went though my usual routine: Make coffee. Open freezer. Grab ice cube tray. Remove one tuna cube and place in bowl. Microwave for 20 seconds. Add cold canned mystery chicken parts mix from refrigerator. Microwave for 10 seconds. Grab container of lactulose, measure 2cc into a syringe, and release over tuna-chicken mixture.