January 30, 2009

Too Hot for PrimeTime

For me, the SuperBowl is all about the commercials. Sometimes I have a team to cheer for, but since the Cleveland Browns haven't had a shot at the big game since I was a tot, it's all about the commercials.

First, let's talk about the PETA spot that NBC had declared too sexy for primetime. I'm not mad at NBC -- while the spot is no hotter than The Sopranos' BadaBing girls on HBO or even the supposedly cleaned-up version on Bravo, in these post-Janet's nipple days, erring on the side of caution makes sense.

The genius of the spot to me begins with its premise. Some Mad Men (or women) somewhere took a little-known "factoid" (vegetarians have better sex? Who performed THAT "study"?! ) and created a sensual message. I will bet my Victoria's Secret catalog that they knew full well that if the spot were banned, it would attract more viewers than if it ran during any quarter of the football game. Heck, you can even see it here!

'Veggie Love': PETA's Banned Super Bowl Ad

Sex sells. We get that. And we all know that the rules are r-e-l-a-x-e-d for what is permissible and what's not. Hence my surprise when I caught the new radio campaign for Frank's RedHot Hot Sauce. First I laughed, then I didn't. Then I laughed again. As far as I can discern, it's available on radio only. Could it be too risque for TV? Listen to it here - the slogan is, "I put that **** on everything."

At the Red Hot website, only the radio spot is available. As a first-time visitor, I don't know if their ads were always posted online. So far, I've only caught the spot during "The Tom Joyner Morning Show," otherwise known as one of the most popular programs on black radio.

In my adult lifetime I've seen the rules relax to the point that cartoon characters on Family Guy can say "ass" and SouthPark did an entire episode dedicated to the word "shit." How long before RedHot and other advertisers can come right out and say the word they're bleeping out today?

January 29, 2009

Search, Shop & Do Good

Variety may be the spice of life, but too many good choices can drive you crazy!

Yesterday's post announced the virtues of leapfish, a metasearcher that goes beyond Google to give both horizontal and vertical search results in a compelling, contemporary layout design. I like it a lot -- it's hard to break old habits, but I've been using it for at least a third of my daily searches for the past few days.

First I "cheated" on Google, now I'm cheating on Leapfish. But I have a really good reason: Good Search.

How can I not love a search engine that raises money for my favorite charity? Even better, I can use the site to shop, and still raise money! SUCH a deal.

The results layout is fairly old school Google-y, the knowledge that I'm doing good may outweigh the coolness of Leapfish for me.

First, I (the user) designate the charity of my choice (big surprise, it's the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland). Then, GoodSearch donates a penny to that charity every time I complete a search.

Stop that giggling! No, I may not search enough to generate a zillion dollars. But if I can get 1,000 people who support the same charity I do to use GoodSearch, and we each complete 2 searches a day, we'll have raised $7,300 in a year. (That's the NY Times' calculation...I suck at math.)

GoodSearch was launched in 2005 and did quite well, no pun intended. But it was in 2007 that a new little friend, GoodShop joined the site. The GoodShop mall features an impressive roster of online stores including Target, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BestBuy, WalMart and Sephora. Every purchase from one of these sites generates -- you guessed it -- mo' money for your favorite cause.

Heck, a single Girl Scout troop could raise thousands for the charity of their choice! It's a terrific idea -- I'm happy to spread the word and add the button to my blog. Keep searching, keep shopping and do good.

January 28, 2009

What Are You Looking For?

Ya gotta love a search engine with a sense of humor. I've been experimenting with LeapFish, where the homepage says "It's OK, you're not cheating on Google."

Searches on Leapfish are both horizontal and vertical, which is, at the very least, really interesting. After hearing President Obama refer again to Portuguese water dogs, I finally decided to find out what the heck one looks like. Google's web search returned several sites, some photos under Images and a few News items.

Leapfish, on the other hand, gave those results PLUS sections with Blogs and Videos about Portuguese water dogs, places to Shop for them and Answers to questions asked about them on Yahoo. All kinds of sites from YouTube to Amazon are mixed into the results.

I'd tried other search engines in the past -- I bet you have, too -- but I always come back to Google. I don't know if I can put a finger on why I don't like Yahoo or MSN or ask...I just don't.

Leapfish, I learned, is a metasearcher -- a search engine that includes searches from other search engines.

(Let me say here that I have much, much love for netlingo, my favorite dictionary of all things online. I have heard about meta- this and that for so long and had no idea what it meant and no one could seem to help me. Now I understand that the prefix describes inclusive apps. A metalanguage, for example, according to netlingo, is a language that includes other languages. In this case, a metasearcher includes other searchers.)

Another metasearcher you may have heard of is dogpile (which also raises funds to help animals in need through the ASPCA). There are others, including clusty (I found the layout to be too busy), search (OK, I guess), and zuula (tabs for Google, Yahoo and other sites show their results...kinda strange to me).

None of those sites could entice me to leave my Google baby, but Leapfish figured out a way to make searches fun again. First, its homepage is appealing and doesn't look like it was designed by the guys on "The Big Bang Theory."

Remember the first time you tried Google's "I'm feeling lucky" button? Well, LeapFish tries so hard to be fast that it starts searching with the first letter you type and updates with each subsequent letter. Its slogan is "Just Type It". It works pretty well - I haven't stumped it yet...a sad goal, but I plan to keep trying.

Actually, I did stump the LeapFish bet-I-can-guess-what-you're-looking-for technology, but only when I searched for my own name. I expected LeapFish to find my own website and my LinkedIn page but it also found my blog, my Twitter page and comments I'd left on other people's blogs. Deep.

I don't think Google has to worry, partly because those folks are smart enough to regroup if they need to. Meanwhile, I'm only having a fling. I'll be back...I think.

January 24, 2009

Catholic Cyberspace

Mark your PDAs, kiddies -- today is World Communications Day for the Roman Catholic Church. The bigger news is that the celebration includes the launch of a Vatican channel on YouTube!

(Embedding the channel instead of a single video on it, just didn't work for me. Bummer.)

In a message released yesterday by the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said that responsibility falls most heavily "to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this 'digital continent' ". He encouraged those young people "to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm."

A Papal presence on the Internet! Lawd have mercy.

Certainly the Vatican is not the first religious body to see the Net's potential for reaching believers and non-believers alike. And it was Pope John Paul II who introduced the Vatican's website in 1995. What impresses me now is Pope Benedict's choice of words to describe the Internet.

A "digital continent". What an accurate assessment. Asia is the largest of the physical continents, with Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia and Antarctica following, in order of size.

But the Internet! Now THAT's a continent. The Net encompasses the entire planet, or at least, any place where there's a computer. The Net even includes the 15 million people who live in the island countries of Oceania, which is considered a world region, not a continent.

Of course, some folks may be distressed to learn that the Roman Catholic Church wants to evangelize this new digital continent, but perhaps they shouldn't be. Chapter after chapter of the Church's history is filled with stories of missionary work around the globe. Why would, or should the Church view this brave new world any differently?

Even while announcing plans to post as many as 3 new videos a day, Pope Benedict also warned, once again, that the cyber community is no substitute for real-world relationships:
"If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development."
He's right on point there.

But The Big Question is: is the Pope himself online? The LosAngeles Times reports that the answer from the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communication was "I don't know."

We do know that Pope Benedict was reportedly given an iPod in 2006. What wouldn't you pay for a photo of him with the classic white earbuds?

Also, he is said to have texted messages citing scripture to thousands of attendees at last summer's World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. In December, the Vatican publicly embraced the iBreviary, an iTunes application offering the Breviary prayer book in Italian, English, Spanish, French and Latin and, soon, in Portuguese and German.

January 21, 2009

Twittering History

President Obama's inauguration is over, but I'm still flying high on hope. For a metaphysically spiritual person like me, it does indeed feel as though there is nothing that cannot be accomplished...together.

(*I don't know who gets the credit for this photo from the inaugural news pool, but it's a beauty. Thanks, Lynne!)

I spent Inauguration Day with one hand on the TV remote and the other on my laptop's mouse. From 7:30 am until about 7:30 pm, anyone peering in the window would think I was alone in my living room with my cat Charlie, a roaring fire and a bowl of popcorn.

And THAT, ladies and germs, is why The Four Agreements teaches never to make assumptions.

Because although I was physically alone, I shared every bit of that historic day with a zillion of my friends on Twitter and Facebook. It was probably my biggest Twitter experience to date. From the garish orange jacket Peggy Noonan wore on The Today Show, to the OMG adorable Obama girls, to the tears I shed again and again, I was a tweetin' fool.

And I wasn't the only one.

By simply adding #inaug09 to tweets on the subject, my messages joined millions of tweets from around the world , LIVE in real time, at tweetgrid.com/inaug09. Check it out! It was still going today, but I don't know how long the site will be enabled.

People who were actually at the in D.C. viewing history, or standing along the parade route were tweeting, too. They gave a new dimension of vicarious being-there to the day. Several of them have since posted their photos at brightkite and other places. I'm not a member of brightkite yet, so I don't claim to know it well. But I think it was popular yesterday in particular because users could easily show on a map where they were (on the Mall, on Pennsylvania Avenue, hiking down 18th Street...).

I attracted several new followers throughout the day, including comedian Paula Poundstone! (@PaulaPoundstone) I couldn't tell you what I did that pulled people to me. I certainly admit to being guilty of snark now and then (why WOULDN'T Wolf Blitzer shut up to let his audience hear some of the amazing school bands in the parade?) but I also noted the touching scenes, like an impaired Muhammad Ali slowly moving toward his seat.

I was also one of the many, many twitterers from all over who cheered Obama for walking part of the way down the parade route even as we expressed fear for his safety.

Apparently I was among a minority of folks who enjoyed Dr. Elizbeth Alexander's "Praise Song" poem and its broad inclusiveness (*Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce...").

(OK, I admit that I had to close my eyes as she read the poem to fully appreciate it, but that enabled me to listen carefully to the words without the distraction of watching 2 million people waving flags in the cold.)

And I'm here to tell you, the SECOND that Ted Kennedy fell to the floor of the Capitol Rotunda, it was on Twitter. Well, actually, Twitter was as confused as the media. Was it really Ted or was it Sen. Byrd? Had Sen. Kennedy died?

Of course, much like our nation, the twitterverse had its naysayers as well. I saw several *roll eyes* and gagging sounds in tweets by people who didn't share my Obamajoy with the P-OB hoopla. (One of several lessons I got during the day: with only 140 characters per tweet, P-OB is twitterspeak for President Barack Obama.)

PCWorld described it this way:
"There didn't seem to be a lot of Bush fans Twittering -- it was kind of a national stream of consciousness, minus Republicans."
I typed and tweeted while switching between NBC, MSNBC and CNN (I tried ABC and CBS but their teams just didn't click with me. And Fox... well, do I really strike you as a Fox News kind of girl?)

I did try the CNN.com/Facebook hook-up for a while. The computer screen showed CNN's live feed juxtaposed with live Facebook status updates. But the feed kept freezing, and I had a perfectly good HDTV set to watch since I work from my home. Facebook did give me the chance to digitally share the experience of Clevelanders who were watching the festivities on a big screen at Playhouse Square, and that was fun, too.

At the end of the evening, around the time Beyonce led the nation in a collective "awwwwwww" during Barack and Michelle's first dance as President and First Lady, I spoke at length with my BFF who had frozen her buns off on the Mall with my goddaughter. (The World's Cutest Goddaughter, to be exact.)

She had great stories, as you might imagine, but few photos. It was too cold to take off their gloves to work the camera! (I didn't say that apparently it wasn't too cold for tweeple!) I did ask if she saw any of the parade but she explained that Obamaphiles had to choose early, and quickly, which of the 2 events to see because security required folks to be in place along the parade route by about 7:30 am. No way to leave one spot during the swearing in and then move over to Pennsylvania Ave. (All props to the Secret Service, btw, before, during and after this Administration!)

Today, post-inaug, Google didn't find me a single story in traditional media about how many of my fellow Americans (and neighbors worldwide) tracked the inaug through social networks. Maybe the old-school outlets will catch up tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Computerworld reported that at its peak on Jan. 20, "Twitter had five times more tweets per second" than normal and PC Magazine said Facebook had more than 1 million status updates throughout the day.

But when I shared my stories with my friend about how I'd spent the inauguration with my online community, she came up with really deep insights about how and why I've adapted to finding human connections with humans that I can't see.

To me, that sentence defines web 2.0 in a nutshell. I've heard people refer to "new levels of feedback" and the importance of feeling that our voices are being heard, but I see web 2.0 as a redefined community.

We are one, behind a keyboard or face to face. That's what Obama tapped into from the start, and flipped it to make us active, through any means necessary. And the hope that we feel now is that he will continue to show us how action -- onlne, financial, physical, by telephone, any way at all -- will save us and sustain us.

January 20, 2009

Gettin' Creative with Change

Caught the new Pepsi "Yes We Can" spot last night. There's sure to be some snark coming Pepsi's way, but speaking as an Obama girl from the original Pepsi generation, I love it!

The visual linkage of the redesigned Pepsi logo and the Obama campaign logo is obvious. What I think is a bit more subtle (and probably ignored by Gen Y and millennials) is the resurgence of Pepsi as the drink of "a new generation." And the acknowledgement that with the inauguration of Obama, the new generation is feeling its power, as well they should. Exactly as teens and young adults did in the 1960s when Pepsi was the coolest drink in town.

But it's not just the Obama tie that impresses me. It's the recycling logo. The Pointer Sisters "Yes We Can Can" that appeals to my Boomer peeps. The red white & blue tie in not only to the Obama logo, but also to the inauguration timing of the spot's heavy rotation.

The NY Times tells me that Pepsi switched agencies last November, so I'm guessing that all props for the new campaign go to TBWA/Chiat/Day. I think they're genius.

January 19, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

Surely this was one of the calendar's most amazing juxtapositions of historic dates. As MLK Day draws to a close, I'm looking forward to spending Inauguration Day as I spent Election Day: with one hand on the TV remote and the other on my laptop mouse.

(The box of Kleenex will be somewhere within reach of either hand. Heck, I cried during Sunday's We Are One concert. I'll be a goner by the time Barack takes the oath at noon.)

The web is offering a myriad of options. They're not all reserved for tomorrow...check out The Huffington Post's pre-inaug ball tonight, for example.

Tomorrow, I'll be on CNN, Twitter, Facebook, essence.com, and who knows where else. But there's one thought that I can't let go of, and I don't think there's any media anywhere that can help me find the answer.

For Christmas I asked for and received Diahann Carroll's autobiography, The Legs Are the Last to Go. Early in -- page 30, to be exact -- Ms. Carroll writes about the 1962 Detroit opening of the Broadway-bound musical, No Strings.

The legendary Richard Rodgers (you may know him best from his partnership with Oscar Hammerstein) wrote No Strings with her in mind: the story of an American model in Paris who falls in love with an American writer. It was Broadway's first integrated love affair and it should have been a high point of Ms. Carroll's career to that point.

Sadly, Mr. Rodgers informed her that the Detroit hostess of the opening-night party did not want Ms. Carroll in her home. I'll quote Ms. Carroll to explain the backstory, because it takes her words to give the story its true power:
"She felt that it would confuse her children to see a black woman who was sophisticated and elegant because they didn't exist. She told Rodgers she was certain he'd hired tutors to teach me diction and manners, and that I was a fabricated black character who was designed to startle white audiences. Did Rodgers, who wrote 'You've Got to Be Carefully Taught' about prejudice for South Pacific, argue with this racist hostess or give her a dressing-down? Did he tell her to cancel her party? No, he did neither."
The story ends with Diahann Carroll renting out the restaurant across the street from the theater and held her own opening-night party for the cast and crew. She writes that she chose to never speak of the incident again with Rodgers. There was no reason.

About now I'm guessing you're thinking that I'll tie this example of blatant racism to the highly educated, sophisticated and oh-so-articulate black family that's about to move into the White House. The answer is yes...and no.

I read this story about the Detroit hostess at least 3 times. And I always come up with the same questions. Where are those children who had to be so protected from Diahann Carroll today? What do they think of Obama's election? Were they "carefully taught" their mother's racist beliefs? Is their mother still alive? What does SHE think about Obama?

The story doesn't tell us how old the children were at the time of the incident in 1962. But barring catastrophe, they are alive, living somewhere on this globe at this momentous time. What are they thinking?

I love this story because there are many, many children who were raised by racist parents during the 1960s. And the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. And yes, in the new millennium years, too.

Racism is indeed carefully taught, and I pray the number of teachers is dwindling fast.

January 16, 2009

The Show Must Go On

Happy to share help and compassion for Twitter noobs from NY Times tech blogger David Pogue. He opens the post with a great line about how hard it is to keep up with web 2.0 changes and updates. He compares it to "drinking from a fire hose."

Pogue goes on to describe his a-ha moment with Twitter and shares really good tips that I wish I'd had when I first began tweeting. Many thanks to Michael Lerner at the Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center who forwarded the link to to me. Michael and I talked after my presentation yesterday for the Lake County Visitors Bureau Arts and Culture Committee and the Lakeland Community College Nonprofit & Public Service Center.

It was a terrific opportunity, and I'm very grateful [once again] to Lakeland Nonprofit Center Director Carol Willen for it.

That being said, I was a bit more nervous than usual before the program began. Regular readers will remember my post about Mercury Retrograde, which arrived on Jan. 11. So, a commitment to give a presentation about communication during an astrological phenomenon that rips communications to shreds wasn't very calming to my digestive system, if you get my drift.

Three slides into the show and something went...wrong. Wherever a line of copy was to appear, only the upper markings were visible. Instead of "Facebook launched in 2007," the audience saw something like '''''''' '''''''' '' ''''

Apparently it's a big hairy deal when you create a presentation in one version of Powerpoint and show it on a computer loaded with a newer version. Who knew? Lucky for me, more than half of the slides were full-screen graphics, and I knew the copy-heavy slides basically by heart.

It's not that I've gone totally Shirley MacLaine or I'd hide in my room whenever Mercury starts its backwards path. I mean, I've also committed to lead a workshop for the staff at Case Western Reserve University's Mandel Center before Mercury goes direct on Jan. 31. I am aware of certain astrological goings-on but I'm not paralyzed by them.

But when I go to Case, you can bet I'll be bringing my own laptop.

January 14, 2009

Cellphone Magic

I really do love the innovation of technology and Web 2.0 , but sometimes it just makes me laugh.

Apps using voice-to-text software such as Jott and dial2do are terrific tools, especially for people like me zooming from location to location with no secretarial support back at the office. Call a phone number from your cell phone and dictate a message to a few contacts or friends, and presto, it's done. Or, send a reminder to yourself to write that essay or book that trip.

Last week I found out about voice-activated ChaCha (1-800-2CHACHA). Call from your cell and ask any question at all. What's making Steve Jobs concerned about his health? Who was the 25th U.S. President? What time does the next Continental flight leave LAX for New York? What were the names of the 3 fairies in Disney's Sleeping Beauty?

Within about 30 seconds, you'll get a text confirming that ChaCha is hunting down the answer. A minute later, there's a text with the answer. Thousands of amateur researchers field your questions, search online for the answer and zip it to you with a link to where they found it.

Obviously, this could be helpful in both professional and personal settings. ChaCha made me smile. Umbrellatoday.com made me guffaw.

Type in your cell number and zip code and when the forecast calls for rain, you'll get a text message saying "You should take your umbrella today."

Are we really so lazy that we can't take the time to check out the weather report on our own?

Actually, I know the answer to that one is "No." I am often stunned by the well-educated people who, upon seeing me under my umbrella will say, "I can't believe it's raining!" My reply is always the same: "You would if you'd listened to the weather report this morning." Now all they'll need is a cell phone.

Maybe I should tell the What Not to Wear team about this one!

January 13, 2009

The End of TV As We Know It

The Obama countdown to Change is 41 days away. Not the Inauguration, silly. I'm talking about the national switch to digital TV on Feb. 17. President-elect Obama wants a delay, and once again, I agree with him.

On Jan 5 we got the news that after reaching the funding limit of $1.34 billion set by Congress, people applying for the $40 coupons to defray the cost of a converter box will be placed on a waiting list. Applicants can request up to two coupons; converters cost between $40 and $80.

The waiting list already has requests for more than 100,000 coupons. The only way those applicants will actually get satisfaction is if a coupon now in circulation expires, freeing up more money for the program. Big surprise: the Commerce Department office administering the switchover -- the National Telecommunications and Information Administration -- is warning that anyone on the waiting list will probably not see a coupon before The Big Day.

Mr. Obama joins consumer advocates, lawmakers and me in worrying about the people who rely most heavily on over-the-air TV. In particular, the elderly and people in low-income and/or rural households.

The switchover would have had its challenges before the economy tanked. Now? With hard choices of paying the rent or buying food, getting a prescription filled or keeping the house warm, who the hell is thinking about a new TV, a converter box, cable or satellite service?

And that's the people who understand what's about to take place. It's a safe bet to say that millions of Americans watch the crawl alerts and hear the radio PSAs and have no idea what the message is really saying. The FCC site features a podcast explaining it all. A podcast. Seriously? When even former President H.W. Bush refers to "your--what do you call it?--your Google"?

If and when the digital switch comes to be a top-of-mind issue for these people, I'm guessing it'll be at the last minute. Some projections say the number of consumers on the waiting list could climb into the millions by early February. A Dec 08 Nielsen survey estimates that about 7.8 million homes, or 6.8 % of total U.S. television homes, are "completely unprepared."

In a letter to Congressional leaders, John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team wrote:
"With coupons unavilable, support and education insufficient and the most vulnerable Americans exposed, I urge you to consider a change to the legislatively mandated cut-off date."
PBS chief Paula Kerger noted that now is a time when cable TV is becoming a luxury, and she told a meeting of the Television Critics Association that "people are making very hard economic choices in their households," choosing to rely on free, over-the-air television.

I have heard arguments questioning why the government owes anyone a TV, comparing the current situation to when UHF caught fire in the 1960s.

Apples and oranges, I say.

UHF provided access to double-digit channels. That's all. More channels. If you wanted to receive them, you bought a funny looking add-on for the antenna on top of your set. The switchover that we're facing now will mean the end of what is supposed to be a free service. WITHOUT A CONVERTER, YOUR TV WON'T WORK.

You bought a TV, you watched free, over-the-air programming, and suddenly, through no fault of yours, it ain't gonna work. Apples and oranges.

January 10, 2009

Where's My Old Fax Machine Now?

I know very little about e-waste, except that it ain't good.

The computers, monitors, cellphones, game consoles and other tech toys that people throw away every year can release chemicals at landfills or incinerators that are toxic to the land and to people. But that's all I knew, until now.

Blogger Jill Tubman reports from the Consumer Electronics Show why it's not just the treehuggers who should care about e-waste. If you're concerned with global issues, Africa or human rights, then this subject will wake you up, too.

Jill's at the CES to find out what tech manufacturers are doing to make their products more green, which will mean that nobody and no thing dies just because I want a flatscreen monitor.

Once again, it seems that developed nations are quietly doing their best to disregard the health and well being of people in less developed nations. In countries like Ghana, for example, there are piles and piles of old computers, etc. that have been shipped from the U.S. and Europe.

Men then burn the electronics to retrieve scraps of metal that can be sold. The lethal smoke gets in the men's lungs, and in the lungs of any nearby farm animals. The wind blows the smoke which contains deadly particles of ash, metal and God knows what. Those teensy killers drift to fall into rivers and other water supplies. The scorched land under the burn sites is ruined.

Heck, why am I trying to describe this stuff to you? Just watch this vid from Greenpeace. But I warn you: once you know this kind of information, it's hard to forget it.

For me, I used to be proud of myself for actually using the envelope HP provides for recycling printer cartridges. I'd offer unwanted tech items to local nonprofits, but if they didn't want 'em, then into the trash they'd go. I've got to do better, and I will. Will you?

January 7, 2009

1 Photo > 1,000 Words?

Yesterday when I saw CNN's coverage of Roland Burris standing outside the Capitol, I sent a tweet saying that to my eye, the appointed-but- not-seated junior senator from Illinois was just "a sad li'l man standing in the rain."

Turns out I must have an "eye," because the pic by photog Stephen Crowley (above) is on the front page of today's New York Times.

I had been fairly snarky in my tweet about the Burris Drama, but the Times photo caught the reality of the moment. For that millisecond, the situation was sad, bordering on pitiful.

I'm in the group that believes that to date, Gov Blagojevich has been found guilty only of having a really, really bad haircut. He has the legal right to make an appointment to the U.S. Senate. But that's beside the point.

Only a camera -- a STILL camera -- could so effectively strip away the weighty and diverse levels of race, ego and oh-good-grief politics in this story. The result captures the instant when one realizes once and for all that life isn't always fair. To me, the photo had the potential to garner widespread sympathy for Burris, just as warm fuzzies for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are eroding.

But when I went to the NYT site, lo and behold, the photo was nowhere to be found. Of course! The Internet waits for no one. Who the heck knows when they printed the hard copy Times that I saw? Especially since I saw it in Cleveland, and Cleveland surely isn't New York? (Forgive me for stating the obvious.)

Online, at 2:30pm at least, the NYT homepage showed a photo of the 4 living U.S. Presidents grinning with the president-elect.
(And speaking of the moment-in-time language of still photography, could Jimmy Carter BE any farther away from Bill Clinton and still be in the picture?)

I finally found the Burris story and photo online in another section.

The whole experience made me question what I thought I knew. If more Americans access the New York Times through its website than the printed version, then there's no telling which photos, and which stories, they choose to see. Does that reduce the power of Crowley's picture? Not necessarily. But it does illustrate how the game is changing for everyone in media, including photographers.

January 5, 2009

Sharing the Pain? No Thanks.

John Travolta is one of millions of folks who are decidedly NOT having a happy new year.

If you're just returning from holiday on Saturn, you may not know that the actor's 16-year-old son Jett died Friday while on a Bahamas vacation with his family. Less than 72 hours later, the vultures are circling.

In a news cycle where Britney Spears has regained her senses, the Travolta Trifecta has seduced every form of media known to man.

The trifecta: celebrity Scientologist + a disease most people have never heard of + supposedly suspicious circumstances surrounding a death.

I say "seduced" because while Jett's death is certainly newsworthy, the story is not enhanced in any way by interviews with EMTs who responded to the 911 call. The story is heartbreaking on its own merits. I came to that conclusion without hearing secondhand that Jett's mother stroked her son's hand in the ambulance while both parents called out his name over and over.

No. I did not need to know that. Neither did you.

And thanks to technology, the next step may be for us to HEAR the actual 911 call. Oh boy.

I've heard enough of these calls -- before I can change the station -- to know that I don't want to hear this one. Except in the rare case where the murderer makes the call, the recordings are devastatingly similar. Anguished loved ones babbling incoherently, begging for help, sobbing into a phone.

I used to work with a woman who would often say, "I don't need to see brain surgery to know what it is." At the time, I thought she was old-fashioned, out-of-step and unwilling to accept the world on its own terms.

Now I understand.

Here's another example, this time from from the venerable Today show. The story was the shocker about the 4-year-old found abandoned at a turnpike rest stop in the middle of the night. The tot said a man came to his house without knocking and shot his mommy. He knew enough info to lead authorities to his home in Dayton where Mommy was, indeed, dead.

That's what I knew when I went to bed last night.

This morning, Today ran the taped piece, updating the story with news that the stolen getaway car had been found. Next, Meredith Viera asked the boy's father, who seemed sedated (what a shock), how the boy was doing. [Ans: Not good at all] Then she asked the dead woman's sister, who could barely control her tears, who might want to harm her sister. [Ans: No idea. She was beloved]

Guess what? Except for one sentence about the car being found, I don't know a damned thing more than I knew last night.

Except, while I have admired Ms. Viera throughout her career, this morning...not so much.

In many cases, communicators, like journalists, need to ask just one question before giving the final OK on a project. The question is: Just because I have the ability to share this information, should I share it, and why?

January 3, 2009

Proactively Seeking Closure at the End of the Day

My aunt, a former teacher, calls John McCain's use of "my friends" a "verbal crutch." Not the same as a cliche, she'd say. I agree.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently ran an editorial listing words and phrases that have outlived their usefulness, as determined by members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW).

Lord knows I hate a cliche more than I hate made-up business-speak (operationalize springs to mind). Maybe I was an editorial writer in a past life, because my personal 3 most offensive cliches made the list! Here's my they are, with commentary by the NCEW:
#3: Faith-based. "Almost 100% of the time this phrase is used, the user means 'religious,' and they should just suck it up and use the real term."
#2. At the end of the day. "At the end of the day, all I'm looking for is a good martini."
I dislike this phrase so much that it practically tied for #1. For a while, especially during the campaign season, I dreaded turning on "Meet the Press" for the certain knowledge that at least one guest would say "at the end of the day, Tim..."and make me hurl. And speaking of campaign season, am I the only one who instantly distrusted anyone who repeatedly referred to "the American people" as though we were mentally disabled and riding on the short bus to school?


The #1 word that I pray never to hear or read again is:
Proactive. "Needs to be retroactively banished from the language."
For-profit, non-profit, all around the town, can we please stop being proactive? Because we rarely are. In my experience, by the time someone's telling me how proactive "we" need to be, that train has left the station. It's like when someone says, "to make a long story short." The story is ALWAYS already too long by the time the speaker says this old chestnut. And truth be told, the speaker knows he's been talking for too long, and that's why this quasi-apology is tossed in.

The NCEW list included only a few others, and I was iffy about all of them except for closure, to which I hereby give Honorable Mention. I really like the NCEW descriptor for this one: "An appalling word that crept out from the woodwork of psychobabble where it squats, poisoning the language, above all in journalism."

Of course, banishing words from the language is a tricky affair. Remember when the NAACP held a "funeral" for the N-word? You may not, because the word didn't die. And probably the only reason people will stop saying "proactive" is because a new soon-to-be-a-cliche will take its place.

Meanwhile, my best advice for the New Year? Don't use any of the Big Three in my presence or risk projectile vomiting that may stain your lovely shirt. Use "closure" and I'll just throw up in my throat a li'l bit.