Friday, February 26, 2010

The Media Changes, Again

Yesterday in the newspaper staff we talked about a newsbrief from ABC about their plans to change the way they do journalism. Basically, they are going to require their employees to learn more skills, and be almost completely responsible for each story from conception to completion. The result will be the loss of 300-400 jobs while others learn the skills to replace those workers. To read the story yourself, click here.

I also just read a blog from OJR about online newspapers giving "citizen journalists" more opportunities journalists.

I find both of these news stories interesting. Journalism as a career has been both threatened and changing in the past years, and clearly, many companies are trying to adapt to the changes to prevent themselves from sinking.

The question for me is, is this going to help the media? I think it's a great idea to require journalists to gain more skills and to be able to manage their stories along any step in the process. But wouldn't it be better to have people specializing in each step to make sure quality is the highest, rather than one person taking care of everything and allowing weaknesses to develop? And it's also great to give regular people the opportunity to make the news...but one man's trash is another man's treasure. We will now have the opportunity to be exposed to badly researched and badly presented news stories from people who think they know what they are doing.

Where is the balance here? Where is the standard of quality?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oh Media, My Media

I just read a great blog post from the Online Journalism Review about NBC's Olympic coverage (Robert Niles is the only writer I tend to like on OJR, by the way). I found this really interesting because of some things the newspaper advisor has been telling us at the campus newspaper about trends and changes in journalism.

He's taken a lot of time to point out the changing media due to social networking sites, inventions like the iPad and Kindle, and citizen journalism (as if journalists were soldiers of some kind?). Essentially, news is being spread in so many ways these days that are beyond the control of the media.

We had a speaker, David Rathbun, come in to the newspaper and address us last week. You can read his blog here: He was a pretty entertaining and educated guy.

Point being, he gave us a few examples of companies making the wrong moves to deal with the changing media forefronts. Here are some suggestions he gave to make the right moves:
  • Enter the dialogue on social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter especially)
  • Act like a business, not like someone's friend (if a business acts like a friend on Facebook or Twitter, then starts trying to push deals on them, a trust barrier is violated)
  • Pay attention to what customers are saying online and respond to advice
  • Hire some people to follow the dialogue online and get in touch with the customers
I would be pleasantly surprised if I encountered some companies and media sources doing this online. I probably won't, though, because of my opinions on social networking sites, which you'll have to remind me to post about later.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Texting + Grammar = Malfunction

I was sitting in a Sunday School class a little while back, and a scribe was writing ideas on the board that were being shouted out by class members. He wrote the following:

"Commandments r important. Keep up safe."

A moment later, he read back through it and added an "a" and an "e" on the "r." But he did not change "up" into "us." How many of you even noticed this error?

I believe the reason he didn't catch it is because when you text using T9 Word, you type "87" and it types "up." Then the conscientious grammatician will scroll through until it says "us."

However, most people don't proofread their texts, so the recipients have to train themselves to know that when it says "up" and that doesn't make sense, they probably meant to say "us." The same goes for "in" and "go," as well as "he" and "if," and many other words.

I firmly believe that texting and instant messaging are decimating people's capacity to utilize their own language. I just wrote a rant on it here in my personal blog. One of my classmates also wrote about this subject on her blog: Editing for the Real World.

I have believed for a long time that some serious reform needs to happen with education, especially with English, because clearly people have very few ideas on how to correctly speak or write. Technology has the potential to help us or hinder us greatly.

Just for fun, I made a list of the dos and don'ts of texting.
The following are acceptable reasons to text:

  • Clarifying meeting time/circumstances with someone
  • Announcing a party/reminding of a party
  • A quick check in with someone, hopefully accompanied by the promise of a future phone call/letter/visit
  • Something reminded you of someone and you want to tell them before you forget
  • You're not sure if a person is available to talk and you want to find out
  • Asking a simple question that can be answered quickly
The following are unnacceptable reasons:
  • Asking a complex, thought provoking question that will lead to a deep conversation
  • Getting to know someone
  • Expressing love and devotion (unless it is commonly expressed in other ways as well, then a text of this nature can just be a pleasant surprise)
  • Figuring out details of a situation that are complicated and will require a lot of attention
  • Any text conversation that lasts several hours
  • Arguing
  • Asking someone out
  • Breaking up with someone
I'm not completely sure how to fix this problem, except on a individual basis. Later, I expect I will make another post with more suggestions, once I do some research. For now, let us all make a goal to use complete sentences, complete words, and punctuation in our messaging, as well as appropriate subject matter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Journalism is on FIRE

Our advisor for the Scroll staff is always telling us to find stories and get more news. Well, last night I finally did as he asked.

I was making myself dinner when I noticed flashing lights coming in through the window. Usually, I'm not a very curious person, which makes me a horrible journalist, but I'm starting to warm up to the trade, so I stepped outside and saw that there was a fire truck and four police cars in the parking lot of my apartment complex. So I immediately called my neighbor who also writes for the newspaper and we headed to the site with our notebooks and cameras in hand.

There had been an electrical fire in one of the apartments in my complex, ironically, the apartment of the editor-and-chief of the newspaper. We interviewed a few girls and snapped some pictures, and I went home and wrote the article.

I still don't know if I could be a journalist in real life, but I am beginning to enjoy pretending, and I am definitely learning.

Here are some things I've learned from my short journalist career so far, all of which helped me adequately cover this news story:

1. Get more than one live source, three is usually a good number.
I have a really bad habit of only interviewing one person, and my editor has to send my articles back to me all the time telling me to get more interviews. But when you get more interviews, you get more perspectives, your story is less biased, and you might find some interesting information that will change your angle.

2. Start with an angle in mind.
An angle is the perspective you want your story to come from (yes, that's redundant. It's journalism). For example, the angle I had in mind for the fire story was students need to be more careful in order to prevent fires in their apartments. But after interviewing people and understanding the situation, I changed my angle to apartment complex managers need to get on top of maintenance so that problems like bad wiring in a bathroom fan don't end in an explosion.

3. Get specifics.
Specific times, places, dates, and especially people. More details make a better story. Also get pictures of every kind.

I finally understand what our advisor has always been talking about. News happens all around us; we just have to have the right kind of eyes open to it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I am Beautiful.

I work as a figure model on campus for the art students. Most people my size would be terrified to pose nearly naked (not completely as this is a religious university), but I actually find it refreshing, invigorating, and fun.

Today one of the artists told me as she left: "You have so many great curves. I had fun drawing you. Your body is beautiful."

Personally, I absolutely love my curves, and so do the art students. Yes, I carry extra weight, but my body is just how I like it. Flexible, soft, radiant...I love it.

The faculty advisor for Scroll is always telling us to carry a camera around just in case we find a great image or a great story. There have been a few occasions already this semester in which someone on the newspaper or the university's news channel has captured a story just because they have been passing by and had a camera with them.

The point of this is that sometimes there is beauty or a story in something that is unexpected. Whether you are a journalist, professional or creative writer, if you open your eyes a little more you will find something you can write about, and it can be inspiring.

I think writers hear this a lot, but I think it takes a lot of practice to be inspired by any random passing object (unless you are in Europe). Creative Writing Corner often has blog posts of random pictures that could inspire stories. But often people watching or going to nature will do the trick (yes, I'm a Romantic).

Monday, February 8, 2010

What the Peking Acrobats Taught Me about Writing

This weekend I had the oppotunity to see the Peking Acrobats perform live. Besides stunning all of my senses, defying gravity, and contorting themselves beyond human limits, there was one thing about the performance that really sunk in deeply.

The acrobats never rushed. This may in part be for a suspense factor, but they were always very careful in performing their stunts. At one point, a man stacked about 10 chairs on top of each other on top of four wine bottles and then balanced on the top of them on one hand. While he was stacking them, he took a lot of time to make sure each chair was perfectly balanced before he climbed on top of it and added another chair. Without taking that time, attention, and care, he may have died in the act of balancing on one hand atop that stack of chairs.

As a writer, I will admit that my biggest weakness is just hurrying to get things done. Applying the impressions the Peking Acrobats gave me led to the following observations:

  1. Always proofread anything you write. This is by far my greatest weakness. I emailed a prospective internship the other day, and after I sent it, I read over it and discovered I had left the last letter off one word. That doesn't look so good for an editing internship.
  2. Choose your words carefully. Often the first word that comes to your head isn't actually going to convey precisely what you want to say. truly is a writer's best friend.
  3. Pay attention to punctuation. I've noticed in a lot of my correspondence with people that they leave out commas, colons, semicolons, and especially quotation marks, simply because they don't know how to use them, but often it makes a sentence or story incomprehensible. The reader will lose both meaning and interest.
  4. Give yourself enough time. If you are not working with a deadline, why turn in work that still needs work? If you are working with a deadline, start far in advance to make sure you can not only write, but proofread, revise, edit, research, and anything else you may need to do to your work. I know that's ironic coming from a college student. But college is all about dreaming and pretending to be better than you are, right?
The acrobats weren't willing to risk their lives on rushing their performance. Don't risk your writing (and credibility) on rushing to get your work done. Death isn't worth it!

For another blog about changing your bad writing habits, visit: The Creative Writing Corner

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hi, My Name is Laura. And I Daydream.

I just read a happy little blog on wasting time.

This blog asserts that not all passive activity is wasting time. In fact, for the creative mind, much passive activity, such as staring out the window, is actually productive. I completely agree.

The other day in class, I found myself staring out the window, which I actually hardly ever do. I was watching people walk from building to building and wondering what each was thinking or feeling, their relationship with the person they were talking to, where they were headed, and if they were excited to get there.

This kind of exercise is clearly productive for the creative writer. Ask any of us, and we will tell you that people watching is just about the best thing we can do for new ideas or whenever we are stuck.

This blog suggested three criterion for monitoring if time is being wasted or not:
Does this activity make me feel calmer, happier, or more inspired?
Does this activity help me come up with ideas?
Does this activity help me solve problems in my life?

I think this is applicable to any kind of writing or for any kind of job, really. Let us all remember to take a moment to collect our thoughts. It's healthy. It's productive. And it's fun. :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

I Correct Your Grammar Because I Love You.

I've experienced a strange phenomenon several times in my life: I tell people I'm majoring in English, and they tell me they are going to stop talking to me.


"I don't want you to correct my grammar."

Funny thing is, I will.

In a lot of contemporary literature, basic grammar conventions are broken, or flat out abandoned, like in McCarthy's The Road, where he uses absolutely no quotation marks. What people need to realize is that you have to know and understand the rules before you can break them.

I've often told my friends who natively speak a language other than English that you really can put the words in whatever order you want, and even make up words, and people will understand what you are trying to say. This is true. However, that is conversational. There are definite conventions in writing. An understanding of these conventions gives you tremendous freedom to express yourself. And everyone wants that.

I'm likely to tell you my grammar is perfect. You shouldn't believe it. There is the occasion, just like a full moon on Friday the 13th, when I'm not 100% certain about what I'm doing. One of those occasions was with capitalization of titles for works. I'm going to blame this on having to learn both MLA and APA documentation. Nonetheless, I found the most useful blog post on an even more useful blog about capitalization. Brilliant.