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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Military spending I can support: NORAD tracks Santa

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I need to mention it again because it is making sure I have time to blog tonight and set up children’s presents before tomorrow morning. Since 1998, NORAD has been ensuring that children go to bed early. This year, the Google Earth overlay they added has made it even easier to convince children that Santa is really just a couple of hours away.

It has become a yearly tradition for our family to track Santa online. It’s fun. The kids really enjoy it. My 7-year-old was really getting into it this year. He was asking me to click on the links for each of the places Santa stopped so he could learn more about the country and we could “interpolate” (his word) when the jolly fat man would arrive in Ohio. When the sleigh headed over the Atlantic Ocean to Lajes do Pico, Azores, he practically begged me to go to bed so he’d be asleep before he arrived.

As I perused what NORAD had to offer this year, I was impressed. I think this is the first that I’ve seen the tracking use Google Earth. The videos featured realistic satellite images with a computer animated Santa on his sleigh. I had to tell my son that the animation was not real, but they couldn’t really get Santa on video because he moves so fast.

They believe it because the friendly yet official sounding voices telling children that Santa received “lebkuchen” from children in Zurich, Switzerland, had that air of authority. Most of the announcers sign off with something like this:

For NORAD track Santa, I’m Navy Petty Officer Shane Morgan.

My 7-year-old also devoured the supplemental information on how NORAD tracks Santa, and I struggled to explain the purpose of the tracking system to him. I came up with something lame like, “Well, we need to know before someone bombs us,” and his response was, “What do you mean ‘bomb us’?” I even thought about following the Twitter feed and letting him take my iPod Touch to bed.

I know I’m rambling a bit because I’m tired and I still have a lot to do before morning. But if the purpose of this blog is partly to recognize organizations that use the Internet effectively to communicate information (even if that information isn’t necessarily “news”) I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention NORAD tracks Santa again. As I eluded in my headline, this is a government military project I can wholeheartedly support.

For the inside story on NORAD tracks Santa and Google’s participation read this story from CNN.com.

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