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Journalism vs Marketing

 

For the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over the topic of Facebook as a news source. This mulling was sparked by the recent accusation that Facebook was blocking more conservative posts from its members’ feeds. Although I’d classify myself as active on social media I would not characterize myself as a heavy FB user, but I cannot deny that FB is a driving force in contemporary life.

But as a heavy consumer of news, this provoked me into thinking more critically about how news is packaged now. I began by looking at Random House Webster’s College Dictionary’s definition of journalism:

journalism: (1) the occupation of gathering, writing, editing and publishing or broadcasting news. (2) newspapers and magazines; the press. (3) a course of study for a career in journalism. (4) material written for a newspaper or magazine. (5) writing marked by a popular slant.
Then I added the Five (Plus One) Questions of Journalism that I learned in school:
WHO? WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY? and HOW?

Although many FB users like the ability to share personal content with both their friends and in some cases, the public at large, Facebook is a business and the reason its platform is “free” is because its users have a value to their business. I respect that Facebook is a business model and the positive elements it brings to its users’ personal and professional lives, but I don’t give it any higher, altruistic attributes.

Facebook evolved from a cool way for college students to engage with a defined population into a global tool for people (with internet access) to share personal content. That personal content shapes and drives what you see, and it is driven primarily by those mystical algorithms. The recent news kerfuffle revealed by Gizmodo is that there are humans (primarily young, East-coast educated humans) who curate the news feeds, and while this isn’t surprising from an employment standpoint it does make me consider what the employer’s motivation is in regard to this staff.

And then I remembered the Three Big Questions of Marketing:
1. Why do you do it?
2. How do you do it?
3. Why should we care?

But if Facebook considers itself a news source shouldn’t  it be held to as high a standard as news outlets? Recently I read an op-ed letter that described Facebook’s news feed as akin to getting your news out of a gumball machine. Although that resonated with me I’d be more inclined to describe it as getting your news from one of those arcade games where you crank a crane over the stuffed animal of your choice before you drop it. You may not get THAT animal but you’ll get something. Since Facebook is using “likes” and “friends” to drive the feed the reader will never know what s/he DOESN’T see. There’s nothing inherently wrong with click bait and recommended content, but I have a problem with the limits on “why” is it selected for you.

When you buy a newspaper or visit a news-specific site there is visible paid advertising, so why is that any different from Facebook? I don’t necessarily read every article in a newspaper or every ad, but the people who run the newspaper make it very clear which content is which. They even make it clear when they aren’t just giving me the facts; such as the Op-Ed page where they invite folks with differing opinions to share them. And maybe that’s where I get hung up. I don’t want anyone to presume that because I liked something once, that’s the limit of everything I like. I may be open to liking something new and different, but the only way you’d know that is if you get to know me. And getting to know me is a privilege earned by your professional behavior.

But let’s get back to journalism, which is what I’m calling “news” for this exercise. Most adults realize that although journalists should be unbiased professionals many of the organizations who employ them have a distinct slant. I try to read from as many news outlets as I can and pay attention to the bylines.  I follow news organizations on Twitter — and that has sped up my own personal news cycle in terms of delivering breaking news. But there is something warmed-over about Facebook news — like it’s pre-digested. Sometimes news is like a punch to the gut.  When it’s bad news it will sadden you or even make you shake with rage.  News shouldn’t be trying to sell you on something.  Its first purpose is to inform you, its higher purpose it to enlighten you, but its most noble purpose is to make you uncomfortable.

Facebook’s purpose is to get your eyes to linger as long as possible so somebody somewhere can figure out how to sell you something.  It is far from FB’s best interest to make you feel like logging off (which may also explain why trolling and negative behavoir get a lot of attention).   I enjoy a good cat video as much as the next guy, but until cats can get press credentials I’ll get my news from the journalists.

 

 

 

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Forever, Plastics

Perhaps my goal here is to further “afflict the comfortable,” but this BBC Earth video from 2009 left me awestruck.   I discovered it visiting the site of the poet Liz Brownlee who is participating in the A-to-Z Challenge again this year (her “A” entry is about the albatross).  I became her WP follower two years ago when I first survived  A2Z and she continues to inspire me with both the depth and breath of her work.

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Facing History

I suspect I’m not alone when a glance in the mirror shocks me, because it’s my mother’s face looking back at me.  Why does this unsettle me?  My mom is a feisty woman.  The first generation of her family to go to college, she became a teacher because that’s what her parents told her to be.  She missed both the “swinging 60’s”  sexual revolution  and the “consciousness raising 70’s” because she was too busy working and raising her family.  Both of my parents are part of the Silent Generation, children of parents who lived through the Depression and learned the best way to get along was to conform, work hard and strive for security above all else.

I’ve grappled with identity and transition all my life.  Not that I’m confining this conversation to women, but I’ve found that as a group we spend a good portion of our energy managing physical change throughout our lives.  We undergo many physical changes marked by our bodies:  as we pass from girlhood into adulthood, from month to month, during and after pregnancy, and then, menopause.  And I’m not even going to address the themes of body image and not-so-subtle pressures to maintain a standard of beauty bench-marked by youth.

We also manage emotional and psychological change as become workers, wives, partners, mothers, bosses, caregivers, empty-nesters, grandmothers, even widows.     All of these changes occur over timelines that vary from woman-to-woman, and we look to our friends and elders for insight and reassurance that we’re not going through this alone  (or to reassure us that we’re not crazy, weird or delusional).   So after all this time and effort I put in working on my own issues, why wouldn’t I just look like an older, wiser version of myself?   In my mind I picture my face at 21, but it’s just framed by grey hair and a couple of crinkles at the corners of my eyes and lips.  I forget about the changes the years and environment have made to my skin, that gravity slowly pulls at my cheeks and chin(s). My own twenty-something daughter has taken to raking her hands through my hair to “see her future” in the pattern of its graying.

But just because I resemble my mother it doesn’t mean I AM my mother. We’ve both had different life experiences and outlooks.  Is our shared biology destiny?   Or is it a form of fear that shocks me? I’m fortunate that my mother is still here – so I can compare the arc of my aging to hers, but I’m struck by the realization that I’m just as limited by biology and time.  Lately my mom speaks about her decreasing energy, and how limited she feels by her body and its aches. She is frustrated that everything just seems to take more time and effort, and I get it.

So I am face-to-face with what really scares me, and it isn’t that I’m turning into my mother, it’s that I’m watching the future — my future — unspool before me.  The good news is my mom is independent and healthy, but there is still so much more I want to do, to create, to see, to work on. As  a greedy child I thought my supply of sunny days was infinite, but as an adult I’ve learned that the amount of both sunny and rainy days is finite, and I want to make them all count.  Which makes this blog all the more important to me – and grateful for the eyes who read it.

Thanks, Mom.

 

 

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Nothing Smaller than Your Elbow, Please

OK, Napsters, I was on the fence about blogging this but it could be considered a public service announcement. Thanks to Notorious s.t.u. who convinced me to turn it into a post.

For the past few months I’ve been reconciling myself to the fact that my sense of hearing is fading. Stands to reason as I’m getting older, and have been attending arena concerts for a good portion of my life. Then in the last few weeks I’ve been noticing pressure in my head.  Maybe it’s just allergy season and some resulting sinus pressure?  I’m sure if I take a decongestant and an antihistamine, I’ll be fine.

Now I digress briefly to a short parable about the behavior of the frog when you put him in a cooking pot of cold water and slowly turn up the heat.  No frogs were harmed in the making of this post, but the story asserts that if you heat the water slowly to boiling the frog will placidly cook to death.  Conversely, if you tried to put the frog into a pot of water already boiling, he would struggle mightily to avoid death by boiling. 

So it turns out that the reason I can’t hear and have this growing pressure in my head is due to “cerumen impaction,” which is medical jargon for “large, unsightly plugs of ear wax filling your ear canal.”  Since I try to keep it classy over here I’ll let that be enough of a word picture for you, but you can Google some images (on an empty stomach, please) if you’re a visual person.   Not to put too fine a point on it:  I was the frog sitting (and suffering) in growing silence as the wax “simmered” into the solidity of those “potatoes” my mother warned me about when I was five.

The kind otolaryngologist (the medical specialist of boogers and ear wax) who removed these scary blobs reassured me that cerumen impaction has nothing to do with insufficient hygiene or lazy health habits.  Ear wax is our friend.  It keeps water and other gunk away from our delicate ear drums, but depending on the size and shape of your inner ears it can also be a magnet for more ear wax.  The answer to ear wax is NOT the Q-tip!  Again, the old adage “don’t put anything in your ear except your elbow”  is still a good rule.

So I shall risk the embarrassment of the blogging community by sharing my story, and to remind everybody that no matter your age, do not accept a decrease in your hearing as normal.  Have a doctor take a peek in there whenever you visit.   Don’t do anything as ill-advised as attempting to remove stubborn ear wax yourself, and it bears repeating, do not put ANYTHING sharp or pointy into your ears.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

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Mom’s Slingshot Theory

During the luxury of a first pregnancy you have this rich, fantastic experience of imagining your baby not just as an infant, but all through his or her life.  In most of these fantasies you imagine your child as a sports phenom, a musical prodigy, a high-IQ intellectual achiever, POTUS, or maybe winning a world-renown prize.  And you picture yourself in the background or standing proudly off to the side, beaming in the reflected glory of your progeny.  Clearly, your (and your partner’s) DNA played a BIG part in this result.

Reality sets in not long after that baby arrives, when you realize your one job is to keep this howling creature alive through 24 hour intervals.  The baby does not care if you have eaten a meal, taken a shower, or that you were asleep 5 minutes before his most-recent demand.  Mother Nature knows this and did two things:

  • 1.     She made the cry of the human baby impossible to ignore, and
  • 2.     She made human babies so cute and irresistible that we WANT to take care of them.

Not long after we get the hang of taking care of this new baby something shifts.  Baby will want to do more on her own, to become independent.  So here’s where my Slingshot Theory begins.

Pretty much right after you greet this baby you treat her like a very large marble, and you put her in the pocket of a big slingshot.  As a Mom you spend a lot of your energy and strength pulling back the metaphorical pocket holding your bundle of joy, and when you can’t hold on any longer your baby is catapulted into the Infinite.  I picture myself standing next to the flaccid slingshot, panting and sweaty, mouthing a little prayer of safekeeping.

Because as much as you try to convince yourself that you control the way your child interacts with the world, the reality is you don’t.  You should protect and guide your child, but at key points along the way you have to let go.  Your first day back to work, her first step, his first day of school – all of these events are navigation away and apart from each other, and they make it easier for the bigger “firsts.”  All you can do as a parent is to give that child the tools and resources to leave you, to become independent, to render you obsolete in this job.   Still, you are both at the mercy of the Universe.

The greatest joy the Universe can bestow is to return that child back to you as an adult and ultimately, a friend.  At least until you enter your dotage and need somebody to take care of you until the Universe claims you back.

So, today I want to salute all mothers who have kids out there in the Universe, or are about to launch them.  And I salute the children who have come back and kissed those mothers.

And to my own children:  I never doubted that you would grow up to be the fine, kind women I know today.  You honor me by living your independent lives, and that is a blessing all its own.

Happy Mother's Day from  Can I Take A Nap!
Happy Mother’s Day from Can I Take A Nap!
Short Fiction

Ocean

She stood at the water’s edge, the sand steamy and sharp.   The moon was visible, hot-red and bloody through the haze.  Night brought no relief anymore, but she walked here with a vestigial memory that the water would feel cool.  There was no surf spray, no crash of waves.  Just undulating water depositing and re-depositing metal, plastic and skeletal remains.   Although she could see the silhouettes of the debris piles free-floating on the surface, she was surprised there were so few of the greasy, hairy balls along the tide line.    Was the oil bound together in the bigger, industrial clumps or on the sea floor now?  They used to scavenge for shelters out of the bigger garbage patches, and she remembered an old cupola with the arrowed horse on top.  It really wasn’t functional as shelter, and the world now had no need for decoration.  Survival was beauty enough.  Teeth and nails – these were tools now.  Hair better off gone, too, if the chemicals hadn’t burned it away.

The ocean was turgid and tepid, but she couldn’t smell it anymore.  She was used to that smell by now.  Used to the smell of decay, sometimes overly sweet, like petrol.  She didn’t know if she would even turn around and go back.  Why?  It was no better inland and the scavenging might be better here.  There was no winter anymore – only the spiky heat in both the light and the night.  She could shelter and keep watch until anyone else came to join, or kill, her.

She would never live to see the prophecy fulfilled, but she could remain on watch.  There must be some sign of the ocean cleaning, healing herself after Man had gone?   Somewhere, anywhere in the whole of the ocean wide and deep, there had to be something alive to crawl back onto the land and create the world again.

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Is Bigger Better?

Every so often we would discuss the topic of taking a cruise family vacation.  And for the last fourteen years our Jenna has always maintained that this is a terrible idea.  As a seven-year-old she maintained that it was possible for a ship to run out of food or medicine (but mostly food), and being in the middle of the ocean was not a good place to be hungry with, say, 1,000 people. I think she also surmised that the children would be the first to be eaten.  The Nap Family would gently mock her, but we never did take that cruise. 

Now I think our young Evil Napping Genius was ahead of her time in predicting choppy seas for cruising.    Just this week the New York Times ran an article “Too Big To Sail,” about the gargantuan size of today’s cruise ships and the potential for bigger problems – and we’re not talking about food shortages.  We’re talking about fires, damage to plumbing and ventilation systems, and how big a life boat should be.  On top of it all is the lack of oversight and safety regulations for the industry as a whole. 

Think of the most recent publicized cruise ship disasters:  Carnival Corporation’s Costa Concordia capsizing off the coast of Italy and the Carnival Triumph, floating crippled and powerless in the Gulf of Mexico due to an on-board fire .  I know some folks who grew up with Dads who conducted fire drills in hotels.  These fire marshal Dads would make their families count off the steps from their room to the stairwell in case of a smoky fire evacuation.  Maybe a little extreme (then again, maybe not), but how do you evacuate from your hotel room on the high seas?  Are there fire drills on these behemoth boats or does the cruise industry not want to kick-off anybody’s vacation with thoughts of potentially life-threatening accidents? 

In terms of scale compare the Titanic, which held approximately 2,500 people (2,223 passengers plus crew) to the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas, which holds almost 8,700 people (6,300 passengers and 2,394 crew) – a capacity almost three and half times the size of the Titanic! That is one big boat, and while I’d like to think seasickness would be the least of my problems, I would be awake nights wondering just what keeps something that big moving through the ocean.  And just how does it handle all the waste from the 8,700 revelers each day?  Am I so jaded as to believe the only reason to build these mega-ships is to wedge more revenue (paying customers) onto each cruise?     

Plus it reminds me a little bit of the corporate-sponsored spacecraft in the movie Wall-E.  For any readers who aren’t Pixar fans, the humans of the future in this film live on huge space craft after Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by waste.   What makes it even more disturbing is the “shape” of the humans:  after living in space for generations they can’t even support their own weight and move exclusively in individual hovercraft.  The below quote from Wikipedia feels eerily applicable to this “bigger is better” trend:     

“The film is seen as a critique on larger societal issues. It addresses consumerism, nostalgia, environmental problems, waste management, the immense impact humans have on the Earth, and the direction in which the human race is headed.

It’s not that I want to be a buzz kill for folks who like to take cruise vacations, but I’d like everyone to have fond memories of the places they’ve visited and the things they’ve seen.  And to come home safely.