Tag Archives: journalism at its finest


30 Jul

Yesterday in a small community outside my hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, something horrible happened. A man held his daughter, her husband, his ex-wife, and two children hostage. The children were let go, the man killed his daughter, wounded the two other adults and a law enforcement officer. There was a standoff lasting about 18 hours that eventually led to the gunman killing himself. In addition to local and neighboring law enforcement, the Mississippi Highway Patrol was called in. It was a terrible thing for the community to hear about on a Sunday night.

Oh, hang on.

The community probably didn’t hear about it Sunday night because the Laurel/Hattiesburg NBC affiliate did a pre-recorded late newscast. Because of the Olympics. And the local newspaper website is snuggled safely behind a paywall. What that newspaper, The Chronicle, did was post updates throughout the night and into this morning on its Facebook page. I agree with my friend Desmond who said their use of social media was about the best of any news outlet anywhere. They nailed it. The coverage was timely and completely professional. They did not editorialize or sensationalize. WDAM, the local television station, said they were short staffed and didn’t use Facebook for actual news. On its Facebook feed this morning, WDAM posted the following:

Remember: Facebook is not our website. This is just where we share stuff and talk to our audience. Our website is www.wdam.com and its children – our mobile apps, and our mobile site. We don’t post all of our coverage here, and we don’t necessarily post news here as it happens.

Right. Because what a waste of time and energy THAT would be.

Could it really be there are still traditional media outlets out there that don’t understand if it didn’t happen on social media, it didn’t happen? Appears so. What The Chronicle appears to understand is that social media gets the story out there now. The internet gets the story out there now.  And that allows the print edition to do what we’re always complaining news doesn’t do anymore: Analyze, educate, and supply context. Obviously not everyone uses Facebook and Twitter. I get that. There are thousands of people in Jones County without internet access. That’s why WDAM’s fail in reporting (or not reporting) the story last night is so mind boggling to me. Then going on the defensive this morning was just weird. We were understaffed, you guys! Olympics! USA! No one reads this feed for real news!

Traditional media, social media is not making you irrelevant. You are making you irrelevant. Stop making it about competing. Stop worrying about whether or not people use their real names to comment on your website. Who the hell cares? It’s supposed to be about the story. Newspapers and broadcast news outlets can’t compete with social media. So why worry about it? There’s an opportunity to use social media to your advantage. You can be the guy who first broke the story on social media then used your paper or television studio to tell the whole story, or you can be the guy who’s hoping enough coverage of ribbon cutting ceremonies and lost pet announcements will keep you in the black. That’s doing versus hoping. No one ever won a Pulitzer or increased ad sales by hoping.

Elephants Are Morbid: Digital ADHD

29 Sep

(Note: I started writing this on 9/19. Just so you know. Also, I’ve tried errything I know to get the second half of the piece to break into proper paragraphs. It is difficult to read. BUT YOU WILL READ IT AND BY GOD YOU WILL NOT COMPLAIN.)

Blogging has some distinct advantages: I get to choose what I write about. I can write in my sweat pants–and by that, I mean I actually write my rough drafts on the INSIDE of my pants as a political statement about the transitory nature of the pixel vis-a-vis text-based applications and the political landmine that is cotton-based paper products in a post-green consumer society. The complete and total lack of editorial oversight here at Standard Shed Studios makes sentences like that possible. YOU’RE WELCOME.

So, here’s the thing. I was just talking to a friend about this blog she read where the writer was publicizing IP addresses for various reasons. Do not like. In this digital age, that information is really no different from publicizing a physical address. If you’ve got trolls and need to block a fella, do it. No need to talk about it. That person behind that IP address may be  perfectly lovely until he or she gets behind the wall of anonymity the internet ostensibly creates. Like getting in a car. Get me in traffic and I will let loose with a stream of expletives which will melt the rubber off your radials. I’m not an aggressive driver–far from it. It’s because of the cussing. If I didn’t talk to my fellow road-sharers, every time I got in my car it’d be like Death Race 2000 and I’d be Machine Gun Joe. (That one’s for you, THK!) In other words, stay away from Perkins, ma, ’cause Senior Day is triple points.

Point is, my mind works like this:

  • Sit down at desk.
  • Realize I forgot Cheetos. AGAIN.
  • Wonder if they have Zapp’s Cajun Dill Chips at the grocery.
  • Talk myself out of going to see.
  • Start writing stuff. Just stuff. Just getting the fingers working.
  • Twitter feed produces Twitter Feud O’ The Day.
  • Look at NPR feed.
  • Wonder where the saying “memory like an elephant” came from.
  • Learn that elephants mourn and hold elephant funerals.
  • Remember watching that Nature on crows that was cool as hell. Crows hold funerals also.
  • Wonder what would happen if an elephant showed up at a crow wake.
  • Wonder, yet again, why I don’t have a book contract/sitcom.
  • Think about writing a sticom where the sassy neighbor wears a caftan.
  • Realize I’m about to be late for something.
  • Take a sip of what I BELIEVED to be Coke Zero, but is actually CHERRY Coke Zero.
  • Brush my teeth.
  • Run my errands.
  • Finish disgusting cherry Coke because it’s open.
  • Get back home, clean kitchen, iron, remember I have half-written blog post.
     Notice nowhere on that list is fix dinner for husband so he stays big and strong and sexxaay so he can subsidize my writing habit.
Me: Um, sweetie? ‘Member how you said next time I went out of town you were gonna eat nothing but sardines in mustard sauce on white bread?
Him: Yes? Are you going out of town? (He says, trying not to let excitement creep in to his voice)
Me: Well, not exactly, but I did go to Germantown today.
Him: So you’re saying there is no dinner.
Me: Well, I guess if you want to be all technical and whatnot.
     It’s at this point you’re expecting me to go back and tell you what the hell the publicizing the IP thing had to do with anything. The truth is I don’t remember. I’m keeping it in the post because I think it’s important for you to understand what it is like to be me.
     I would like sympathy, please. Smothered in tender kisses and $20 bills.
     I think what I was driving at was that you have to give up a little privacy when you’re playing on the digital playground. And you can’t really complain too much when people you’ve never met in person know as much about you as your OB/GYN. My husband is getting used to total strangers knowing what he had–or didn’t have–for dinner. Or what movies we watched last week. Or how I send him texts telling him he’s the cool, cool breeze that clears away my grumpy and leaves me in a place of simple pleasures and unicorns and bunnies.
     Just kidding, honey! I won’t tell them that!
     If you put me on a project which interests me, I’m on it like mayo on a bologna sammich. Otherwise? Well, why do you think I know elephants mourn? Today I just lack focus. I think I’m suffering from early 21st century postmodern neo-narcissistic existential angst. Everything is making me stabby: Cliff Stearns, Hizzoner The Governor Lite (Thanks for following me on Twitter, yo!) Middle Tennessee, and for some reason the fact that today is National Coffee Day and people keep hawking fair trade coffee.
These things make me happy!!
And this:
Everything I do, I do for you, internet.

If You Break Them Open, Do They Smell Like Ladies Lying In The Sun?

9 Sep

I’ve been talking about serious stuff this week, and will continue to do so, but I want to take a brief detour to CosmoLand. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a fake Cosmo Twitter feed, but honest to God, I don’t know that I could come up with anything better than the laff-a-minute verified Cosmo Twitter feed. For example, this just happened:

Also this:

How is some straight dude waxing philosophical over boobs dumb, but asking if a guy should shave his “coconuts” not? Please? Anyone?

Here’s another of my rejected Cosmo articles. You’re welcome.

What Your Dude’s Favorite Kitchen Utensil Says About Him!

  1. Spatula: Oh, he’s an old-fashioned kind of guy with a great sense of humor! He’d love nothing more than to give you the Aunt Jemima Treatment on a lazy Sunday morning!
  2. Wire Whisk: He likes his woman like he likes his omelette: FLUFFY!
  3. Citrus Zester: What kind of man has a citrus zester? Not the kind you take home to mama! Zesty in the kitchen, zesty in the bedroom?!
  4. George Forman Grill: This guy’s meat and potatoes all the way! Sure, pounding you like a cheap steak will get old after a while, but that bank account is full of salad!!
  5. Ginsu knife: The best kind of dude! He’ll believe anything!! Have fun on that trip to Cabo your “doctor” says you need to treat “exhaustion”!
  6. Electric Can Opener: This one’s a toss up, girls! One one hand, he clearly loves gadgets–WINK WINK–on the other hand, if he can’t expend the energy to open his Spaghetti-Os with a manual tool, what other manual tools won’t he use?!! WINK WINK!!
  7. Meat Fork: Ladies, let’s be honest. This guy’s more interested in your butcher than you! But that’s okay! A gay BFF is like a LBD–Every gal needs one!!
  8. Pastry Fork: Ooooh, who doesn’t love a man who makes pie? Watch out, though! He may expect you to be his cherry pie!!
  9. Mixing Bowl: A little of this, a little of that. He’s into experimentation! But watch out! He may be eating two meals at once, if you know what we mean! Of course you do!
  10. Juicer: He likes it wet and sticky! But look out! All that fiber might ruin your romantic date!!


3 May

I want to start out with a few disclaimers.

  1. I am not a journalist. (Pipe down. It needs to be said.)
  2. I am not the sharpest apple in the deck.
  3. I am not a lawyer.
  4. I am not a therapist.
  5. I do not care if you wish to hump wild oak trees at night in the privacy of your own home.
  6. I hate bullies.
  7. I enjoy neither confrontations nor being confrontational.
  8. I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Communist party. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  9. I used to think I was really conservative.
  10. I have no ten. I just wanted to make this list end on nice number. Nine seems, oh, unfinished somehow. As if I stepped out for a sandwich.
  11. Oh, wait, I do have a ten. This is a long one. Get a snack. <insert that’s what she said here>
Okay. Now, here’s the thing.
I had like two other things I was going to write about today, but I did something stupid. Rather than just sit down and write, I looked at the Facebook news feed from my hometown NBC affiliate. Those of you from Laurel who are reading this are sitting there going, DUMBASS! And you are RIGHT. There’s nothing wrong with the station. It’s the comments that kill the operation. IN MY DEFENSE, I had a hard time getting up this morning. The jolt of adrenaline I got fixed that right up.
WDAM has a user-generated page on its website. Most news outlets do. You can post pictures and video. Today someone who wished to remain “anonimise” (Although there was a legitimate-sounding name under the “taken by” credit, so I don’t know what’s up with that.) posted a video purportedly of two middle school cheerleaders getting in a fight. The title of the video had the name of the girls supposedly in the fight. You with me so far? Adolescents, names, fight, video, user-generated content. Good.
I don’t comment on news sites generally. It’s really pointless. I don’t enjoy getting into virtual cat fights with people I don’t know and don’t care to know. My friends and I will discuss it, but that’s usually as far as it goes. When you grow up in a tiny town in southern Mississippi, you just hear a lot of nonsense. It gets pretty easy to tune it out. But I have to say that I took issue with this. Beyond the fact this was YouTube fodder and not news, you just don’t go throwing kids’ names around on websites. As my friend pointed out, legitimate news organizations do not do that.
And I pointed this out. I said, you know, you just don’t do that. You’ve not proven veracity, you know nothing about it. Further, because it is on the website of this station, the perception is that the video is legitimate. You and I, dear reader, may understand anyone can post anything at any time. You know what? People can do that on MY blog. You can comment until the cows come home, but BECAUSE IT IS MINE, I have a right to moderate what you post. So I set up a troll filter and comments that might be spam or hateful are held for me to moderate. I do that because while I feel very strongly you say what you want to say, I have an obligation to my reader(s), to me, and to my family. And if you call out my kids by name without my permission, you say something hateful, I’m going to knock you out of my virtual space. Because that kind of talk is not helpful or, frankly, interesting. And IN MY SPACE, your First Amendment rights are not the issue. While you have a right to say what you want, in my space, I have a right to tell you to hush up and go play in another sandbox. See how that works?
Basically, I was met with a bunch of people saying I was wrong. No, scratch that. I was met with a bunch of people who didn’t read what I wrote. Work with me here.
What I wrote, some several times, was that the severity or veracity of the content was not an issue. That it was not MY issue. That’s not what I was talking about. That you, on your website, allowed the names of minors to be published without benefit of research was the issue. I actually looked up what the laws are regarding the publication of the identity of minors. Now, again, I’m not an expert, okay? To cut to the chase, I found Smith v. Daily Mail. In this 1979 ruling, The Supremes unanimously decided that the First Amendment allows journalists to name minors if the information is obtained legally and “truthfully” reported. Judge Rehnquist wrote, “Publication of the names of juvenile offenders may seriously impair  the rehabilitative goals…The press is free to describe the details of the offense and inform the community of the proceedings against the juvenile.” But this applies to a court case. Right now, there’s no court case involving these two children.
I went to the RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) website. They had a lot of information regarding the ethical treatment of juveniles in the media. Some highlights:
  • What alternatives have you considered besides identifying the juvenile?
  • Who besides the juvenile, will be impacted by your decision? Other juveniles? Parents? Families? Victims? Officials/investigators/courts?
  • How does the juvenile’s family feel about identifying the young person? Has the family granted interviews or provided information to the media? Has the juvenile talked publicly?
Now, the station maintains that since it is UGC (user generated content) they neither have to edit it nor stand behind it. In fact, in a comment directed at me, the station said, “Susan, if we run a story on this, we will verify the information. Content uploaded to our UGC platforms is moderated, mainly for obscenity. We do not, however, hold it up to the same scrutiny we would a story posted to our main news site or aired on television. We believe our audience is savvy enough to navigate the modern world of photo and video sharing and to exhibit a level of appropriate skepticism as they would with any social media service.”
That’s when I started thinking about the Tea Party.
Personally, I feel footage of two kids fighting (staged or not) is obscene. But my point, AGAIN, was never about the posting of the video to the website. My issue was that minors were identified. They may or may not have been involved. YOU DON’T KNOW. And, sorry, but kids get a pass. If you want to debate the importance of leaking a juvenile’s name, we can have that discussion later. But what the station and many other commenters did was ignore my concern. Here I am saying, wow, someone’s posted a video identifying two kids and I’m not okay with that. But it turned into statements like Girl Scouts get their pictures in the paper all the time. These kids need to be called out so they can be punished. It doesn’t matter because the video’s a fake. 

What the Tea Party does is barf out some ridiculous piece of rhetoric, generally that has nothing to do with anything, and then get mad when you won’t engage them. ANCHOR BABIES! PLANNED PARENTHOOD IS ABORTING FETUSES AT EIGHT MONTHS! OBAMA ISN’T AMERICAN! And then when you say, well, see, Obama is from America. Here’s some proof. They say, IT’S A FAKE! CONSPIRACY! IT’S OBVIOUSLY PHOTOSHOPPED! And you can’t argue, you can’t rationalize with someone who refuses to concede you’re even arguing the same subject.
I’ve been thinking about something called splitting. It’s a psychology term. Basically what it means is that a person will split the world into good and bad, black and white, with no middle. They can’t integrate good and bad into something approaching reality. Because reality is all shades of gray. And a lot of people who do this do so to protect their egos. So someone who splits may have this very intimate moment with another person, but he or she will then retreat into anger because the self could disappear and turn into the other.
It’s so easy to split the world into black and white. It’s so easy to dismiss someone’s point because you have–in your mind–an even more important point to make about something else. It’s easy to dismiss a point when it hits too close to home. And it’s easy to dismiss a point when it’s not yours. But directly responding to a point that no one ever made is really ridiculous. It shuts the other person down and makes it easy for the person doing the shutting-down to say, Ah. There you go. Not so smart now, are you, Mr. Smarty Pants?

The Tea Party isn’t going away because there are too many people out there who want a forum for their particular concerns whether or not they are the concerns of anyone else, whether or not they are legitimate, and whether or not they even make sense. THIS is what the Tea Party means by individualism. The Tea Party is like this big bar. And that one dude starts yelling PLAY FREE BIRD! And the other dude starts a fight about the relative merits of Skynrd versus Foghat. And that creepy old dude in the tube socks is telling you about the time he and his old lady did it in the truck to “Sweet Home Alabama” on the way home from Daphne. They’re all talking about the same thing, right? Skynrd? No. It’s that everyone has their own opinion about Skynrd and wants to share. So that the Tea Party is full of fake conservatives who say they don’t want government to have a prominent role in our lives when what they really mean is they want to make illegal anything they don’t deem morally acceptable shouldn’t surprise anyone. Because these are the people who are out yelling their fool heads off in a smoky bar on the outskirts of West Beaver Dam, USA.
It’s all about civility in public discourse, stupid. 

1:30 PM: By the way, the station did remove the names from the post. The station, on its Facebook page said, “After considering the issue, we did remove the names, as we did not post this video and can’t be certain the names are correct or that the video isn’t staged. Again, we offer user submitted content ‘as is’ in most situations. We have decided not to air the video on our broadcasts. Still, school bullying is an important issue to us, and we feel allowing this video to appear on our UGC platform will do more good than harm. So, it will remain there but not appear on air or on our main website. We appreciate your comments on the matter and have taken them all into consideration.”
I would like to applaud WDAM for doing what I happen to think is the right thing. And I hope that this does open the possibility that the station will do some substantive pieces on bullying. Clearly there is need.
3:50 PM: WDAM appears to have removed both the Facebook thread referenced here as well as the video from their Send It To Seven section of the website.

(Full disclosure: Two of these comments are from a friend and one is from my brother. The more you know…)