Monday, September 7, 2009

The world is all a Twitter

As with many trends, twitter was one i was late to adopt, or actually to notice. Months after Twitter was what everyone was talking about, I still had no idea what it was. It was the same way when Facebook was the new big thing. Finally after hearing about it enough, I decided to check it out, just so I could know what it was. When I found out you were just supposed to write 140 characters about what you were doing at that moment, my first thought, was 'Who the hell would want to do that? It seemed a bit vain to think that anyone would even be interested in what I was doing at the moment. It took me months after that to get Twitter and consistently use it myself. (I prefer not to share my twitter account here, as it gets a bit more personal than this blog, but if you can find it, i'm both impressed and creeped out!)

Even though I still find it a bit exhibitionist to share with the world what you're doing, I find myself for some reason addicted. I only do it once a day, maybe twice, which isn't yet quite extreme. It's the people that tweet (what it's called when you post something on Twitter) constantly that worry me. It's like Twitter has replaced their real lives. With all the tweeting they do, I sometime wonder how they have time for a real life at all. I guess I like it because I feel connected with people that through geographical and time reasons, I don't have as much time to update on my real life anymore. It also is a bit satisfying to tweet that you did something interesting and exciting (and you aren't lying), and know it's out there for the world to see.

This brings me to a disturbing trend of people tweeting at times when their real life should have taken prescedence. There is this story: Where a woman tweets during a bank robbery instead of calling 911 . I think that when your life is in danger, and all you think of is going on Twitter, you have a bit of a problem. After that plane crashed into the Hudson earlier this year, passengers started tweeting about how crazy it was that their plane crashed into the Hudson river. If I were part of a disaster like that, Twitter would be the last thing on my mind. I think that kind of tweeting is a new spin on the old competition with friends. In elementary school coming back from summer vacation, most people would want to make their summer vacations soud better than their friends'. This is the new way to make your life sound more exciting than everyones' (and therefore make yourself better than them), but this time it's on a global scale. Also, in this new instantaneous culture, it's a way to let people know about major events when if they didn't know immediately they'd be offended.

It's not just us regular folks who use twitter. Demi moore, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and Lance Armstrong are among a few of the celebrities found on Twitter (and most of them can). This article: suggests the ways in which it benefits celebrities to have Twitter accounts. It lets the fans know who they really are, sepearate from the paparazzi rumours that become more vicious every day. It lets them show what they're really doing without agents or any other intermediaries to get in the way. Of course, there's still the problem of fake celebrity accounts, posting untruths, but as of know it is mostly easy to determine which is the true celebrity. Celebrity twitter accounts also satisfy the sometimes rabid need fans have for anything celebrity. It also shows celebrities away from all the glitz and glamour that makes them seem a bit unreal. Twitter shows them do the same things as everyone else does, and it makes them seem more human.

There is one disturbing trend i've noticed recently while using Twitter, and I'm not yet sure of the implications. When you mention a product on Twitter, that product "follows" you. That means your tweets appear on their main page and they can see them. I think they use this for marketing purposes, though I'm not sure what they can get from my tweets that could help them with their advertizing. One real life example is when I tweeted about enjoying a certain video game, that video game started following me on twitter. I could block them, but I haven't. Realizing how Twitter can be used as a money maker has made me a bit more cautious about what I tweet.

Remember, my bloggers, that with any social media, there are risks. And hey, twitter gives us media junkies something new to talk about! That's something to tweet home about!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Problems Solved by the Cell Phone

I was reading this book set in the late 90s, and I realized that some of the things that happened in the book would not be an issue today because everyone has a cell phone A lot of people even have one instead of a home phone. One of the topics for the writing sample that Humber students have to do is about how cell phones have changed our lives. Most people choose that topic, but reading that book made me realize that cell phones, like many other technologies have changed everything.

A lot of times in the book, the mother got angry with her daughter because she missed curfew and the mother had no idea where she was. If that happened, my mom would just call my cell phone and ask me where the hell I was, and when the hell I was coming home. In another scenario, there was an emergency and the daughter couldn't be where she had to be , and the mother had no idea where to call. Today she would just call the daughter's cell phone, and it would be a non issue.

During the same book, the girl was trying to carry out a forbidden relationship, which was proving difficult for her. When the guy would call her house, her parents would answer the phone before she could get it. If this happened today, the guy could call her cell phone, or she could call his cell phone, and her parents wold have no idea. E-mail would make a relationship that was forbidden that much easier to hide. The new technology of cell phones has made it easier both to separate and control.

Cell phones separate parents and children in that children can have their own number and parents don't have to be privy to who their children are talking to. A lot of my friends only know my cell phone number, because either I'm out, or I don't answer the phone at home. It's a number that's mine, no my whole family's. I'm never out of contact range, unless of course I'm in the subway where there's no reception. I think I'd have a lot less plans without my cell phone, because a lot of plans come up at the last minute while I'm out.

They add to control, because my mother can know where I am at all times. She calls me while I'm out to ask where I am, and who I'm with. Mothers used to ask those same questions, but they didn't have the power to ask repeatedly. I'm also expected to call before I go home, and my cell phone has to be on just in case. It is good in an emergency, because you can always contact someone and tell them what's going on. The only downside is now, if you're late and don't call, you can no longer use the excuse that you couldn't get to a phone.

I don't clearly remember a time when everyone didn't have a cell phone, so it's in hearing stories from my parents, and reading books set in the past to realize what it was like. There were so many problems, some of which carry the plots of books, especially in the teen years, that just don't happen anymore.

How cell phones have changed our lives seems like a really boring essay topic, but they like all other technologies, have opened up some possibilities and closed others.

Until next time bloggers,


Monday, August 24, 2009

Apparently not Everyone Likes Short Shorts.

Guess what everyone? Michelle Obama wore shorts on a hot August day to the Grand Canyon. (pause for collective gasp which will never come.). No big deal right? I mean, if you're not wearing shorts on a day like that, I would think you were insane. Apparently to most major news outlets, it was a big deal. Looking at the front page of the Toronto Star on Friday, I saw this picture accompanied by a story about Michelle Obama wearing shorts, and the apparent scandal it caused.

My first question is, what scandal? Did anyone really care? All the news stories, which make this into their biggest news, appear to defend her from critics calling her outfit choice inappropriate. I think these critics must be invisible, because I have not seen one article or comment criticizing the outfit. All they seem to do is defend the outfit that no sane person would criticize. I think it's sad that this was front page news. Front page news should be at least a little more exciting than this. Most people realize that the first lady is a human being, and it would be ridiculous to expect her to wear a long dress or a pantsuit or something. I actually like that this first lady seems a bit more normal than the others I've experienced. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite devoting a blog entry to this unimportant event, but why something gets on the front page and other things don't is a question that has always fascinated me.

So why the hell is this news?

Well it does have the news value of prominence. The first lady of the United States has always been a prominent person, and none in recent history have been able to stand on her own, in addition to being very photogenic. Other than that, this has got nothing going for it. On a normal day I don't care what celebrities are wearing, and shorts are nothing outrageous. Articles suggest that it's because it's a slow news month. After reading the newspaper daily for a few months, I have noticed that less seems to happen in August than usual. I guess after a few years I might notice that very little newsworthy ever happens in August. At least last year there was an explosion which meant no one had to resort to stories about shorts.

I think it's kind of stupid to write a story about how you think a story isn't a story. For blogging, sure. But for a newspaper where one would assume you're reading the "news" that should be a big no no. Not only was it the biggest news of one day, it was the biggest news of several days. What's worse is that it's not that nothing else happened in those several days, it's just that perhaps editors thought Michelle Obama and her shorts were more important. If she had been wearing a pant suit or something, they would have said she was crazy to be wearing that in such heat. It's hot at the Grand Canyon, especially in August. Those shorts were modest, especially by today's standards. They couldn't be called short shorts by any means. I thought they were pretty classy. So whoever is deciding to put that in the paper, get over it already! please?

Hey, I'm wearing shorts today, maybe I can be on the front page of the Star!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Can't Turn Away from the TLC Freak Show

My bloggers, I have a confession.
I am obsessed with TLC. I know it's horrible, and it exploits people. I just can't help myself! The one I have the biggest problem with, and I will try to stop watching is Jon and Kate + 8. They've been all over the tabloids lately because of their divorce. But really, why should we care? All that lady did was basically have a litter, and she destroys their childhood with extremely frequent filming. That has made her shoot to celebrity status. Other than the fact that their kids get no privacy, and no choice in the matter, there are several things that bother me about the entity that is Jon and Kate. Here's the 3 biggies.
1. Extreme freebies
What family with 8 young children gets a mansion, free trips to Disney World, Hawaii, Colorado, Spas, and can still get hair plugs and teeth whitening? Well, Jon and Kate can! They have no jobs, at least not what normal people would consider jobs. So where do they get all their money? From selling their childrens' freedom and privacy for cold hard cash. They should have named their kids Money, Cash, Dough, Moola, Change and Bling, because it's obvious from watching the show that's all they see their children as. They say they will keep doing the show because they don't want to loose their house and all their things because the children will be sad. Yet doing so will continuously damage the children who have already started telling the camera people to go away, although they really have no choice in the matter. Now they will have to go through the pain of their parents divorce, with their parents profiting from their every reaction.
2. "It's for the Children"
That is their justification for doing the show. But really, what does it get their children but material things? It's the same as when they said they were "making memories" which is why they did the show. The memories they are making for their children don't seem to be pleasant ones. They will only remember being dragged across the country with their meltdowns, shortcomings, and parents' dysfunctional relationship laid out there for the whole world to see. Jon expressed worry about the day when the children are old enough to google themselves. Sorry to break it to you, but the 8 year old twins are already old enough to google themselves. It would be much worse if they were to google their parents. They don't need to google though, because Jon and Kate are constantly in the tabloids. And they do it too themselves!! They have a ginormous backyard, where the paparazzi, or "p-people" as they call it, can't see them. So why the heck do they play in the small concrete driveway.
3. The show is their "job"
When the show started, both Jon and Kate had a job, and it was about them struggling to make ends meat for 8 small children. Gradually, Kate stopped her job as a nurse. Ok, that makes sense. Someone needs to stay home with the kids and take care of them. Suddenly Jon quit his IT job and "worked from home" though he was never seen working, and eventually said he was a stay at home dad. They both stay home, yet they're no longer struggling financially. How does that work? Then we find out one or both of them are constantly on the road making speeches about their struggles, and later promoting their books. Their speaking fee is quite expensive. They are gone most weekends, leaving their hcildren with strangers. This is their "job" now. Without the exploitation of their children, they would have no job. Yet they aren't obligated, and probably don't, give their children anything. Something seems very wrong to me about people living off their children. I hope the Pensylvania labour board agrees, but I don't think they do.
Needless to say, I will no longer be watching Jon and Kate + 8.
The show will go on, and it must. Kate herself expressed that as her greatest concern in the monumental divorce episode. Why do we care about a family supposedly living their "everyday lives" in front of us? I think it's because it's not real. No one lives like that, and it's a disaster, and that's why we watch. It's the reason why people stop and watch a train wreck. New episodes will be starting next week, which shows these children didn't get a break. They are constantly "working" for their parents gain. This is not the only show on TLC that does this. There is Little People, Big Worlds, where we watch a family live their "normal lives" because they're little people with average sized children. There is the show 18 Kids and Counting, where the Duggars who have 18 children don't want to stop any time soon. There is the Little Couple, where we're expected to be interested in the "everyday lives" of newly weds just because they have different forms of dwarfism.
There is just something wrong when we are entertained by watching what people say is their normal lives. It's somewhat voyeuristic in a way. Nadya Suleman was just offered a show for her octuplets and 6 other children for a large sum of money. Shows likes these might be why she wanted so many kids in the first place. Having 14 children 7 and under and getting a show will probably just make things worse in the long run, especially for the children. Don't even get me started on the people with severe deformities who get specials, or the disaster that is Toddlers and Tiaras.
The only thing I've ever learned from "The Learning Channel" is how disturbing the types of things we like to watch really are.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not knowing about Harry Potter makes you culturally irrelevant

You know who these people are and can give me some sort of fact about the movie they appear in, right? Good, because if not, I would be worried.

Wow, long time no blog! I guess I get too busy with other things. Since I have last blogged, I've still been reading a lot of Chuck Klosterman, specifically the book 'Chuck Klosterman IV' and his many Esquire articles online. Once again I think that man is brilliant and am driven to blog by his articles. Not about what he knows, this time. More about what he doesn't know. I'm also here to muse about how someone who loosely defines himself as a pop culture critic knows nothing whatsoever about one of the biggest defining cultural phenomenons of a generation.

In his article called "Death by Harry Potter", which appeared in Esquire in 2007, he admits to knowing nothing whatsoever about the famous boy wizard, or the books series that has enthralled millions. The first thing, I, a super Potter fan, though while reading this was "How the hell is that even possible?" I mean where does Klosterman live, under a rock? Has he never watched television? Does he not know someone who knows something Potter related? For someone who talks about being so culture oriented, how could he not have the faintest clue about Harry Potter?? He talks about ignoring the books and movies, but with all the press both have gotten, and all the hype surrounding them, I don't think you could ignore it so much that you haven't at least picked up bits and pieces. Even just paying attention to the news would get you the basic storyline.

I'm not saying everyone has to be as obsessive as me; knowing every single fact, reading the books and watching the movies multiple times, and even dressing up. Some people can even hate Harry Potter, and I know many who do (admitedly, not too many). Those people, however, have some basic knowledge of the story, and have never appeared as clueless as Chuck Klosterman in his article, even if they have never read a book or watched a movie. I just don't understand how someone who talks so much about other pop cultural phenomena can be ignorant of one that has in recent years become ubiquitous. In the world of popular culture, not knowing the bare necessities of Harry Potter is akin to not knowing that the music video for Michael Jackson's Thriller involved zombies.

What exactly is so wrong about this lack of knowledge? It was hard for me to separate my obsessive fan outrage with the actual possible reasons. One thing Chuck Klosterman admits is that it creates a generation gap between his generation and the one that I belong to, the one he says in the article will probably go on to control the mass media. I've noticed some of this generation gap in his writing already. He talks about some bands, shows, and celebrities that I am completely unfamiliar with sometimes. I am guessing they were most popular some time before I was born, most likely in the 1980s. He was, however, more relevant than other writers on similar topics, which is why I kind of like him. He does say that not knowing about Harry Potter may be detrimental to his career, which is likely. Pop culture is about right
now and if you don't know about something so essential to the culture of the moment, that puts you at a major disadvantage.

Harry Potter is probably the biggest literary phenomenon of all time. That in and of itself deserves at least some notice. It's something that everyone, no matter what their age or interest, knows something about. For my generation (and I hope that makes no one older who happens to read this feel old), it is also something we've grown up with. I was 8 when the first book came out, and 17 when the last came out. I'm 19 now, and the 6th movie has just come out (it was awesome by the way!) I grew up as Harry did, and like watching Sailor Moon and liking the Spice Girls as a child, it is a common thread that connects me with any new person I meet who is around the same age as me. I don't think that Star Wars, which Klosterman uses as an example in his article, ever reached the same amount of popularity with all people of all ages all around the world.

There are certain things that stand the test of time in the world of popular culture. These are things that everyone knows about, no matter when they were born. These things stay popular even if they really haven't been for many years, at least not in their original way. I know about the Jackson 5, even though the height of their popularity was when my mother was a child. I know vaguely of the Mickey Mouse club, although I think it was cancelled long before I can remember. I know about and love Monty Python, and was shocked when my mother told me she watched it when she was my age. Harry Potter is most definitely one of those things. My grandmother's 70 year old friend knows about it, and so does the 4 year old I used to babysit. That to me shows it's pretty darn special.

I've heard that the media is ubiquitous. Well, as long as you don't live under a rock in the middle of nowhere with your eyes closed, so is Harry Potter.

Below is a link to the article, just in case anyone's interested.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

News? What's that?

I haven't been updating this as much as I wanted, but I guess life gets in the way.

This post is to explore a question that has always been harder than necessary for me. Since I want to go into the news business, I figured it was important to know what was newsworthy. I read the paper practically everyday, but that doesn't help much. Things that I think shouldn't be important make the paper. Do I care about Jon and Kate's marriage crisis? Actually, following that has been a bit of a hobby of mine, but even I can tell that it is one issue that shouldn't be covered in a mainstream paper dedicated to "news". In my news gathering class, we learned that the two most important questions to ask to determine if something is newsworthy are 'So what?' and 'Who cares?' That works most of the time, but just because people care about something, doesn't make it important.

The mundane lives of celebrities have made the news for a long time because people think they care about that. (Though going deeper into celebrity news will require another post). There are also the sayings "When it bleeds, it leads", which means that the more gruesome and violent a story, the better it will be received. Happy news does tend to get left to brief mentions at the end. News also has to sometimes be sensational, something people wouldn't encounter in their daily lives often, which would make it most interesting. This is best captured in the quote by the former New York Sun editor John B. Bogart,
"When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news." There is also the fact that the news is a business that has to sell itself. Sometimes I think that what is newsworthy depends entirely on what will sell, which is a kind of depressing thought.

If that were the case, maybe a better question would be, What should be news? That might be an even harder question. Early on, everyone who wants to be a journalist is given a list of 9 'news values'. They're a good benchmark, but they are also not everything. Just because a story is a little weird, or involves a prominent person, or just happened, for example, doesn't make it news. I find that the best way to tell is a kind of a gut feeling. You look at something, and you just know. Or you think you know anyways. I try to go by things that I would want to know more about, or things that would make a good story. Then again, in class we learn how to make a good story out of the most mundane of things. I try to make it about what needs to be known, not necessarily what people want to know. Thinking of a newspaper or other news outlet as an aid to democracy is a good benchmark to determine what is worthy of the news.

So have I really answered the question? Possibly not. Here's a pretty good example that can be used to determine what you think news is. This is also taken from Chuck Klosterman's "Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs", not word for word since I don't have it on me, but the main idea.

Suppose you are the Editor-in-Chief of the New York Times. It is your job to decide what goes on the front page. This particular day, Scientists find and kill an authentic Bigfoot. By a strange coincidence, U.S. government captures the live Loch Ness Monster and are running experiments. On the very same day the president of the U.S. finds out he has inoperable brain cancer that will be fatal. What do you put on the front page?

This is a tough question. Even so, I hope to be in such a position some day, because that would be pretty cool. My first instinct is to not run the president story. Yeah, he's a pretty important guy, everyone knows that. On a day without all those other things, it would probably make the front page. However, all that story has is a famous person. Sadly, a lot of people get terminal cancer everyday, and that never makes the news. It will, of course, be in the paper somewhere. On a day like this, however, the event itself is too common, though the person it happened to is famous.

It's hard to pick one of the other two. There can, of course, be 2 things on the front page, but one will end up being the biggest. I think these two stories are similar enough to combine. They're both about two things previously thought not to exist that have had their existence proven. "Mythological Creatures Found" the headline will say (or something like that). It can go into how each of the creatures are found, and what conclusions can be drawn from finding them both on the same day. That story will make a very good issues of my paper. This is a far fetched scenario, but choices like this are made everyday. This or that? One will go on the front page, and one won't. Some things will be on the news, some won't. Happy things often fall into the "won't" category.

This entry hasn't solved anything, but what I hope to have done is to state that the question "What is news?" is one that has no definite answer, and must be answered day after day, story after story.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Allegedly Keep Neglecting this Blog

Other summer projects have been getting in the way, really! But now I have something to say.

This quote, from "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" struck me as extremely true:

"This is why all reporters eventually go insane: Even if you see a guy shoot someone - in fact, even if a guy shoots you in the face, and you watch the bullet come out of the chamber of the .38 he's holding - the event needs to be described as an "alleged" crime, and that alleged criminal needs to allege that he had no part in anything that allegedly happened." - Chuck Klosterman

I am definitely going to go crazy because of this some day.

Now I understand the need for such language, in principal anyways. Innocent until proven guilty and all that. Journalism is supposed to be about the facts, not who did or didn't do something. Yet it's really hard to say alleged when someone confesses, or when the event has a large number of witnesses. I start to wonder how much it is about the truth, and how much it is about how to avoid getting sued.

I had a lot of trouble with the legalities around reporting I learned in my News Gathering class, especially court reporting. In fact, all I know for sure is if I don't find a way to remember all that stuff fast, and I have to do a court story, I'm probably going to get sued. The excessive use of the word alleged seemed so unnecessary when for all it tries, reporting doesn't stick to the objective truth. Of course, you don't lie, that would be wrong . But out of pages and pages of notes that may be irrelevant, you need to exclude some things, and what you exclude depends on where you want the story to go.

There are also the observations we were told to make, and the leaving out of confessions and past criminal histories that I had a hard time grasping when it came to court reporting. We were told that we could report on how the person looked when they walked into court, their body language and their attire. Now what does that have to do with anything? Guilt or innocence? It just seemed to be a way of manipulating that precious "truth". And if someone confesses, do you still need to say allegedly? Sure they could be lying, or coerced, but they did say for a fact that they did the crime. Past criminal histories were another thing that I had a hard time leaving out. I mean, it happened, it's a matter of public record, and it was said in court. If it damages a persons case, that's because people can't separate past from present.

Klosterman also has trouble with the fact that journalists know for a fact that most people lie to them, and they must get both sides of a story however one sided a story may seem. It's perfectly all right to print something you know to be untrue, if of course, someone else said it. As long as it's properly attributed, it's fine. The same is to be said for stories where you know one side is right. As a journalist, you're not allowed to have an opinion. And while you may be pretty sure that a law protecting children from molesters is a good thing, you're going to need to find someone who thinks we should be nicer to the molesters, in order to present a fair and balanced story.

Don't get me wrong, I still want to be a journalist very much in spite of this small annoyance. There's too much about it that I love. I will allegedly get used to saying alleged seemingly unnecessarily. If it were a viable career option to be a professional blogger though, I'd totally do that.