Archive | May, 2010

Social media is for the babes

25 May

I came across an article online a couple of days ago that made  me pause. The issue at hand? Togetherville, a social networking site designed for 6- 10-year-olds. My first thought? How ridiculous. What does a 7-year-old need with their own junior version of Facebook? It’s like parents who give cell phones to children who can’t even drive yet — unnecessary and an electronic push that we shouldn’t be making, another step backward in the development of interpersonal skills.

Seriously, kids. I waited until I was almost 16 for a cellphone.

Then, I thought about it some more. At my advanced age of 20, my childhood experience is already worlds away from the one of kids growing up in this decade. I used to take books around with me when waiting for a doctor – last spring, I saw two young boys in an orthodontist’s lobby playing with the camera on their mother’s cell phone while their older sibling was being seen. Like it or not, digital is dominating the world and the lives of today’s children. Maybe Togetherville isn’t that bad of an idea. Online safety and cyberbullying are increasingly important issues and the younger you start teaching a child about something, the more likely the lesson is to stick. And I don’t really think this will hinder children’s ability to interact with other people. In fact, as an avid Facebook user myself, I find that social media makes me more likely to talk with people and discuss issues than I would without it. A popular use for Facebook events? Party planning. As in, real life get togethers, many of which I would not know about otherwise.

Overall, I think Togetherville highlights the importance of social media and the importance it will continue to have in the future. For everyone quitting Facebook because it’s “a waste of time,” you might want to rethink that decision. And for journalists, children who are now growing up with these websites will be reliant on them when they are adults as well. Tweeting, blogging, developing Facebook fan pages – all are important tools for today’s multimedia reporters.

It’s all about cred, baby

23 May

As editors, we have the responsibility of making sure whatever passes through our desk on the way to publication leaves that desk fair and accurate. In order to accomplish this, we need to be skeptical of everything we’re reading. Reporters are only human; they often have to write and research stories in a hurry and subsequently make mistakes in their math, spelling, facts. Additionally, it can be hard for reporters to hide personal agendas, no matter how unbiased they believe themselves to be. Only lazy editors will assume all of the information they read in an article’s rough draft, and additional drafts, is correct. Editors need to go the distance. As Reid MacCluggage said, “We don’t raise nearly enough questions.”

The accuracy checklist from the Society of Professional Journalists raised an important question for us to consider while working: Are we ready to defend our decisions publicly? Too often, we fall into the trap of assuming we won’t be held accountable for mistakes we make, especially small ones. If someone’s name is spelled wrong, however, we can be sure they’ll point it out and question the integrity of the publication in the process. Integrity and accuracy are moving into the forefront as the characteristics that make people want to keep traditional media around. They can get information rapidly from many sources, courtesy of the Internet, but the traditional media remain sources of verification. “Did Kanye West really die, like they’re saying on Twitter? I think I should check The New York Times’ Web site.” If we lose our credibility, we lose our purpose.

It’s historical. People hate being misled.

Future of texting lingo

23 May

On one hand, I’ve personally seen a decrease in my generation’s use of abbreviations and “textisms” in electronic communication. As more of our mobile devices become equipped with technology that, for example, automatically finishes words, the need to use abbreviations lessens. The goal of these abbreviations is, after all, being able to communicate quickly, but if people can communicate quickly and maintain the “traditional” spellings of words, I think they will. People like the familiar, the things learned in childhood; if change isn’t necessary, we tend to avoid it.

The newest generation of technology users, however, has grown up with “textisms” and abbreviations as a part of its lexicon. For this generation, these shorthands are not stand-ins for other words; they are the words themselves. Most of the people I know who are a couple of years younger than I am tend to use texting shorthands at a much higher rate than I do. In this way, I could see texting shorthands sticking around and eventually taking over; they are, after all, often stored in a phone’s word bank along with their longer counterparts. Additionally, I think there are some “textisms” that are not merely abbreviations but words in their own right, created to help overcome challenges of communicating electronically. Take “LOL”, for example. Oftentimes I’m not actually laughing out loud when using this word, but I type it so a friend can detect sarcasm or a joke on my part, subtleties that texts cannot always convey. As I hear this “textism” and others enter our verbal lexicon, I take it as a sign they are further entrenching themselves in our language. Language has been spoken much, much longer than it has been written and is a more innate part of the human experience.

Some adults may need help translating this t-shirt...

Labels, labels, labels

23 May

Hispanic – Reporters use this as a blanket term to refer to people from Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. It’s a term created by the U.S. government, not by these people themselves. However, many of these people don’t identify with this term — it implies a connection with Spain that doesn’t always exist. Some people from these areas speak French or indigenous tongues. When searching for a general term, I would probably use “Latino” to refer to Spanish-speakers. Otherwise, I would ask the person involved what they are comfortable with or what they themselves use.

Socialist – (I’m looking at you, Fox News.) Now, there’s nothing wrong with this term; it refers to a certain set of political and economic beliefs. My problem with using it is its overuse. I’ve seen it applied to people and laws that definitely don’t fit the criteria of being socialist. In these cases, it’s usually being used to imply something negative about that person or law. If the criteria are there, use it. If not, find a more accurate term. (The above applies to the terms “liberal” and “conservative” as well.)

Oh, Glenn, you work that chalkboard!

Extremist – We discussed this one in class the other day, and as I thought about it, I decided it definitely needed to be on this list. The problem with this term is that it’s very subjective. People inside an “extremist” group may not, and probably don’t, consider their actions extreme at all. I say, always be cautious with this term. If it’s widely linked with a group, it’s probably okay to use it. But it could be better to play up a different and more direct label — a religious group, a political group, etc. — and then describe their usual activities, letting people decide for themselves if the group is extremist or not.

Technological clutter

23 May

We live in a world where we are bombarded with information; as the amount of information in our lives grows, our desire to absorb it all causes us to cut our depth of understanding in any one area. We simply don’t have the patience to read anything that doesn’t immediately catch, and retain, our interest. We don’t feel obligated to devote ourselves entirely to something electronic. I know I, for one, feel no guilt about abandoning an article online if I’ve read the lead, or even the headline, and lost interest. I know there is something more interesting awaiting me one click away. When I read a book, however, I feel compelled to follow through with the commitment I made by picking that book up; I’ll keep on reading even if I hate the story or the writing or the characters. There are no shortcuts to tell me what happens, no distractions to tempt me away.

So where does journalism fit in this world of clutter? Well, as it increasingly becomes a part of the electronic world, it becomes beholden to our electronic reading behavior. It’s so easy to click on an ad that catches our interest, spiriting us away from an article and information that may deeply affect our lives. We especially are likely to do this if an article is dense and complex. Click to the next page? I don’t think so. As we place more and more of a premium on entertainment and interaction, journalism that refuses to fulfill these roles will be replaced with other types of “clutter.” We don’t have to dumb down information in order to prevent it from getting lost amid internet clutter; we just need to be aware of how people interact with the online world and tailor our product to this behavior. Providing readers with the chance to interact with online journalism, like comment boxes and polls, and including a variety of features with each article, like charts and videos, will help. Chunking information and using systems like Twitter will make people more likely to pay attention to us. The best method for preserving journalism? Quality. We need to commit ourselves to producing the best content we can. We no longer command our readers’ undivided attention. If we want to keep them interested, we need to offer them a product so rich and absorbing that they forget the other clutter jostling for their time.

UPDATE This NY Times article totally drives home the point I make in this post. Multitasking = horrible for concentration.

Thoughts on the AP Guide to Newswriting

23 May

At the end of the first chapter, Cappon says his book teaches how to produce simple, direct news writing. He says this should be every journalist’s goal, and I agree with him. Nowadays, life moves quickly; readers don’t have the time or patience to deal with stilted, empty writing. Additionally, journalists worldwide can compete for the attention of the same audience. Because readers have a lot of choices, they can easily abandon one news source for another. If we want to keep our audience, we must make our writing relatable and less formulaic. In this sense, wordiness, abstraction and jargon kill good writing.

My room reflects how I like my writing: Clean.

These practices can be hard to overcome; from early on, instructors train us to believe that successful writing comes from complex sentence structure and advanced vocabulary. Simple is equated with uneducated. We shouldn’t repeat words, instructors tell us, but replace them with synonyms in order to add variety, to avoid staleness. In addition, businesses and institutions surround us with carefully constructed phrases that sound good but ultimately don’t say anything. We fear the danger of misrepresenting what others say, so we feel obliged to maintain their abstraction and jargon, chatter we consider neutral. Wordiness traps us in much the same way. We want to accurately capture the nuances of a situation without imposing judgment. Our solution? Add more and more to our writing in order to avoid generalization. Finally, journalese provides writers with a comfortable bank of phrases and words to draw from when they write. It’s nice to not have to worry about how to put a story together when we already have to worry about gathering information. Some phrases even seem naked without the unnecessary words that pepper them.  It will be hard, but we need to evaluate the reasoning behind every word we use when we write. Through increased consciousness, we can eliminate the unnecessary and the formulaic and learn how to capture everyday life in our writing.