Empty Calories

Everything in the universe requires energy. We humans get energy for our body through calories. My personal preference in method is consuming good saturated fats from grass-fed beef, or venison from a deer my family shot, but to each their own. You may prefer Nonna’s pasta alfredo. Speaking of which, many of us tend to take in a large amount of “empty calories.” My personal preference is probably somewhere between raw cookie dough and doughy bread with ungodly amounts of Grandmother’s jam. As I said, to each their own.

Empty calories don’t help us. Empty calories usually equates comfort food. We eat it when we’re bored, or sad, or both. Going through break up? Get a carton of your favorite ice cream (feel free to try Dulce de leche– it’s a South American thing, you should look into it). The point is, we all have that favorite food or drink that helps us get through the day, hour, or minute, whatever the reason.

Our minds have the same thing. As the writer James Altucher would put it, our brains are an “Idea Machine.” This powerful tool has atrophied like an unused muscle? Because you can’t use something very well if you only feed it junk good.

Maybe you are one of those who binge-watched through their favorite TV shows and movies Netflix, Hulu, or some possibly-less-than-legal-service. Do you take the time to read books, or write a journal, or do you only scroll down websites like Reddit, Imgur, or 9gag? Sure, I accept and even proclaim that video games can be a work of art (Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us comes to mind), but playing video games cannot take the place of creating something. Exercising your “idea muscle,” to quote James Altucher again. Really, just get his new book, Choose Yourself

Who wins? The one you feed.

There’s this old (supposed) Cherokee proverb when a boy asks is listening to wise old man. The man says inside of us all are two wolves. One is evil, one is good. The boy asks who wins. The old man replies, “The one you feed.”

Now that’s a bit melodramatic for our current topic, but the premise holds: There are two sides to you. Lazy, unfilled, unsatisfied, or productive, creative, compelled. Which side are you going to feed?

Raw cookie dough is great. But it isn’t a meal plan. So don’t change your brain’s diet, but lifestyle. Sure, you can still watch Castle marathons, or maybe even finally catch up on Game of Thrones (beware the Red Wedding), but it shouldn’t be your outlet. Learn to express yourself. Write a song. Learn an instrument. Learn a language. Read a book. Write a book. Write a blog. Don’t surf Facebook for the 10th time, write in a journal.

*My brother Kyle had is right when he wrote this:

“So we can choose to take pleasure secondhand in others’ ideas or experience bliss firsthand in out own compositions. Both are enjoyable. But happiness comes from making a difference, not just being exposed to one.”

Want to make a difference? Limit your empty calories.

*Adding my dear brother’s quote made this slightly over 500 words. 

Surviving the Ragnarök of Virtual 300

Ragnarök: Thor Fights the serpent of Midgard.

People really don’t know enough mythology. Keeping track of that part of humanity is important in my mind. I think these thoughts after getting feedback from a professor; but I push ahead.

By “surviving the Ragnarök of Virtual 300” I mean it as epic battle against the elements, time, and  (mostly) yourself. The original Ragnarök actually has to do with the Norse mythological version of the apocalypse and the deaths of Odin, Thor and more. Besides, Ragnarök is a good reference, considering this class is referencing another epic battle. But I digress.

1. Know your tools. One of the pieces of multimedia that you’ll need will be infographics. Kay Tan at Hongkiat.com lists over 20 tools that you can use to make your infographics better and efficient for both the reader and yourself.

2. Don’t procrastinate. Katie Notopoulos at Buzzfeed gives you 13 tips on how to stop. Trust me when I say that you do NOT want to wait until the last-minute to do these. And yes, I realized I sent you to Buzzfeed to stop procrastinating. Oh, the irony. 

3. At this stage of your communication student-hood, you probably have a lot of log-ins to even more websites. If you don’t, Virtual 300 is about to kick your swarmy non-linked-in butt. The best way to handle all the new social media is using something called Hootsuite. The good folks at Seriously Social give you the reasons why.

4. You don’t need a camera to produce content. Hopefully you have a smartphone, so you could follow Poynter.com’s advice here. If you don’t have a smartphone, tablet, iPod Touch, or access to a camera, you may be screwed. You, like most humans, will not survive  Ragnarök.

5. Know how to make top ten lists. You’re going to have to do it sometime during the semester, and reading this weeks in advance would’ve saved me from writing this at 3:15 AM. Also See point 2.

6. Similar to point 2, you should know to to manage your time. Being a part of  theVirtual 300 is a lifestyle change. You won’t have people marching in the street for your “rights,” but you’ll be able to handle better if you do what 99u.com tells you and have some time management.

7. Know what you believe. If you are truly interested in journalism, than you should have an opinion on what is right and wrong: not only journalism ethics, but a clear worldview on life, otherwise you moral outlook will be shaky and it will effect your future work.

8. Do you know what it means to optimize your search engine results? Known about SEO (search engine optimization  to get a more clear understanding of it.

9. You should use RSS Readers (feeders?) to stay on top of the the latest in news and in the industry. I subscribed to PopSci Magazine for years. Not these days, but they do ya the goods on the best RSS Readers now that Google Reader is going away.

10. Feel inspired. Check out this video from The Guardian (one of my favorite news sources) shows how journalism can move and change things through conversation, from small trouble in the neighborhood to the national or international stage.

Good luck with Ragnarök.

Reflections on #Virtual300

Reflection time

“If I would’ve had more time, I would’ve said less.”  It’s a quote/paraphrase that has been attributed to Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway  and Blaise Pascal. It doesn’t matter who said it. I heard it from Jill Falk, my online journalism professor, and it stuck with me throughout the semester. Perhaps that’s what inspired me from writing 1000+ word blogs and down to about 800 (and later, to the 550s+!). Live and learn, as it has been said. Now the time is up, and we are at end the semester. Did I say enough, and what did I say? What have I been doing for the past few months?

Theory (Book Larnin’)

First things first: the textbook. Sure, I didn’t really like it, nor did I really absorb a large amount of information from it. But it did make me aware of things I never really thought about: crowd-sourcing, for one. The other that stuck with me was the interactive side of ‘new media.’ The concept wasn’t new to me, but the behind the scenes, how-its-done details certainly were.

Our professor also showed us various talks and gave a few snazzy prezis herself. We learned that story-telling is key. You can be hip to the buzzwords and have all the latest gadgets, but without telling a story, they won’t be much use.

Practicum

The Interwebs

The rest of the class was all “practical.” We had to do everything ourselves. And it hurt. We learned how journalists use social media (especially Twitter and Tumblr) not only get their stories out into the Interwebs, but to find stories as well. Twitter is more about shouting out what you’re doing (like in this youtube video from early 2009), it’s about being part of a virtual community of like-minded people.

We also had to follow influential journalistic sources on our RSS feeds, tumblrs, and twitter. We used Hootsuite (which thanks to Professor Falk’s Com130 in 2010, I had already) to keep everything in sorted. In theory we did, anyway. Hootsuite can still be overwhelming. It’s true, Jill, admit it). But I digress. Using twitter, we were able to follow individual bloggers, journalist, and even whole organizations (APnews, Wall Street Journal  NPR, etc.). And let’s not even talk about the Twitter Scavenger Hunt.

The most practical, and difficult part of the class was doing the actual stories. First, I had to come up with a story idea. After some generous assistance, I then had to do the actual legwork. Boots on the ground, prancing around from the Boone Home to pipe tobacco shops, taking pictures, asking questions, and getting out of my comfort zone. Which is a good thing. Comfort zones are stupid.

Then the even harder part: putting it online in a presentable fashion. Finding the right programs to put up slide shows, experimenting with SoundCloud to upload a choppy interview on SoundCloud, and my good ol’ reliable timeline program. Of course, there was the infamous Story 5 (thanks to this fine woman here), we had to edit with video. I put a lot of work into that only to find didn’t “finish the race.” I missed some part of the requirements. Which is ironic because my story was about a colorful race.

But in the end, the stories came together, the pictures eventually uploaded, and I did get some sleep.

Finally, all of the class became more familiar with WordPress. I only ever really used it to write blogs. I could hyperlink, post videos, and maybe even a picture or two. It didn’t take long in the Virtual300 to realize there was more to it.

Accomplishment?

I’ve worked on seven stories for this class. I missed out on story number 4, because, well, I was having a hard time with the class at the time. I wrote a story about the Boone Home, by spending several hours on the Boone campus. I filmed myself dribbling a soccer ball through augmented reality. Besides the stories, I gained followers on twitter, and became more proficient in various skills. However, in the end, my favorite accomplishment is on the story I flubbed up in the minute details: the Splash Dash.

I choose this video not because I think it’s fantastic quality, but because how much I went out of my way for it, and the new experience it provided me with. For this video, I used a Go Pro camera, and I had a blast. It enabled to get int he middle of the action, without damage to the camera (and thus none to my wallet). Sure, I may not have made the other pieces of multimedia to put alongside the video, but I made the video. And I had fun.

I am at 799 words. I would have said less, but I have no more time.

The Future of Media

Whatever it takes, whatever ads I need to suffer through, I'll consume the media I want.

Whatever it takes, whatever ads I need to suffer through, I’ll consume the media I want.

Ancient Celtic mythology has a concept called “the time between times.” It was the dusk and dawn. The few moments between the waning of the day, and the advent of the night, or vice-versa. It was in those times that everything became more magical, though perhaps a better word would be sacred, or even more powerful. As I read the Pew Research Center’s study on the pressures that the move to mobile has on the news, I couldn’t help but think of the time between times.

The move to mobile is gathering steam, but news organizations cannot yet afford to pull much from traditional news to invest in the mobile arena. The money just won’t support it, yet they have to move forward on the mobile aspect of journalism. So it is a “time between times,” where the traditional era isn’t really there, but the new mobile era isn’t either.

The Future as a Consumer

As a consumer of news, I really don’t like advertisements that much. The ones I hate really hate are the ones that pop-up on my iTouch (virtually an iPhone). There’s a limited amount of space on an iphone, and having an unwanted advertisement interrupt me makes me more disinclined to whatever message they are selling.

On my iPad, it doesn’t aggravate me as much- advertisements show up on the side of the screen, just like on my laptop. The article in question (Digital: As Mobile grows rapidly, the pressures on news intensify) talked (A LOT) about the changes in digital advertising. They said some things that I’m not sure if I quite understand, but regardless, I managed to get an opinion  Whatever changes the news providers (and their advertisers) throw at me, I’ll adjust. I consume most of my news on my laptop or desktop computer, and not on a mobile device, so the move to mobile hasn’t really affected me much in the regard to my current habits.

The Future as an Employee

Adaptation is not enough, however. As a future of employee of media, this move to mobile means a lot. Tailoring my content for an audience that consumes it on their phones or tablets, instead of their laptops and televisions, will be a constant evolving task. If I work in advertising, I will have to come up with ad campaigns tailored for a mobile audience.

One advantages of this shift is that advertisers will probably have more information on individuals, due to information-gathering methods used for mobile devices. Geo-tagged photos, the immersion of social media into all of our transactions, all add up to more information that advertising can use to get their message to resonate with you. Targeted ads are probably the future (it’s already happening).

One of the disadvantages is that all this is relatively new territory. How do I know what banner ads will work on what size devices? Trial and error? Focus groups?  Furthermore, how will consumers react to targeted ads? Will this be the straw that breaks the camels back? Will they become uncomfortable with the knowledge that advertisers have access to?

So?

The future is an uncertain place. Yes, things change: people will consume their news and information in a variety of ways, be in traditional or not. But one thing will stay the same: people will always consume information, and the devices to do so, be in stone, paper, or smart phones, will continue to evolve, adapt, or wither away. As a consumer and employee, I’ll try to stay ahead of the curve.

The beauty of Snow Fall

Snow in the Woods

Snow in the Woods

The Old Gray Lady surprised me by featuring a piece of journalism that I adored. Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek by John Branch not only caught my attention, but hunted for it. My interest was the prey and Snow Fall was the predator, and it took me down in its jaws.

One of the aesthetic aspects I appreciated in Snow Fall was the simplicity of the presentation. Black text on a white background. Georgia/Times Jew Roman font. Every once in a while a small thumbnail would appear on the side. Some of the pictures featured movement, and you flowed into and through the graphics, rather than being hit over the head by them.

Another thing that “blew me away” about the story was the story-telling itself. This may sound like a no-brainer, but at times it was like reading engrossing fiction- it drew me in, even though I really didn’t want to be reading it in the first place. The sheer volume of research required to gain as much depth as Snow Fall is staggering to me. It’s one thing to create what you want while writing fiction. But as an act of journalism, having the detail that Snow Fall drowns in really does blow me away.

I’m not sure one makes this “act of journalism” so remarkable, though a few people have an opinion or two. Perhaps I am (sadly) not well-versed in current journalism trends, but if this isn’t a widespread way of telling long-form stories, than it should be. I suppose me saying that is makes this story remarkable to.

This story connects back to the Virtual300 because it is peppered with multimedia elements. Though if I wrote an article half-this size, I’m pretty sure my professor would flip, though if I had 1/10 of the multimedia she would cry tears of joy. I’ll have to think about that. In class we have learned of the importance of multimedia, and I think the captivating graphics in Snow Fall demonstrate that, if done right, multimedia can enhance your story on a cosmic level.

Snow Fall is inspiring in the sense that it tells me that it can be done. What I mean is that Snow Fall told a story that is engrossing, even entertaining, while remaining real in its tragic glory. The whole project involved more than just John Branch, and it took six month. It is a huge undertaking, and Branch deserves recognition for it. As for what I can do with it, I could use Snow Fall to inspire me to go the extra mile, interview people with the right questions to get enough details, and to include better multimedia elements.

There weren’t any real negatives in Snow Fall. It’s a very long story, so it isn’t practical, necessary, or even good for ALL news stories to be like Snow Fall. However, it does serve as a guide for integrating multimedia into a story. It shows that multimedia can really enhance the story, and not only bring understand and context, but feeling. When someone takes this approach to a story on, I will be first in line. Also, as I wrote earlier, the story was packaged in a simple format that flowed smoothly, which I really appreciated. At first I didn’t realize that there would be more to the story in the tabs towards the top (TO THE PEAK, or DECENT BEGINS, etc.), though by the time I did notice them, I wanted to read them.

The real (and final) question is how Snow Fall will influence my writing in this class and beyond. It will always be in the back of my mind, and I think I will probably bookmark it. It’s a great style, a unique (though sad) story, and a superb guide to my story-telling. The next month will not find me putting out 8,000 word articles, though I bet they’ll be better than ever.

*Also, after discussing it just before class, I think we should get Adele to re-record her single “Skyfall” and make it “Snow Fall.” That was the only thing missing in the story.

Sample Editorial

Below is an editorial that appeared in the Lindenwood University student-run paper, The Legacy and also the student-run news website, Lindenlink.com Due to limits in prints space, the original draft was too long, so we cut out some paragraph or two. My editor came up with the headline.

Smoking ban seems unfair by Seth York

I do not smoke. Yet despite this, my interest was piqued when I first heard about the recent attempt to get an indoor public smoking ban on the ballot in St. Charles County. The motion failed. County Elections Director Rich Chrismer did not allow it on the ballot due to wording issues. Here’s the rub: the details are not important. What is important is that the ban is not up for vote, and free choice lives to limp on for another day. Let me clarify: I am vehemently opposed to any public smoking ban, and I am happy that the efforts of local busybodies to ban it have failed.

However, maybe I am full of hot air (or smoke). Maybe there is some merit to smoking bans (and we are only focusing on indoor smoking bans). Perhaps I should consider it from a different perspective. How dare smokers force their habits on me. I lead a healthy lifestyle, yet these smokers have the gall, when I go to the same restaurant as they do, to force their unhealthy habits onto me. How dare employers make me work long hours in cigarette smoked-filled environment, when I make efforts to be more healthy. The indoor smoking ban is good for the community, and, it’s good for the smoker, because with this ban they may smoke less. However, it is offensive to force dirty habits onto others. Don’t smokers think of the children?

Now, I’ll respond with a combination of questions and statements. How dare you presume you have the right to force people to not do something you don’t like. How dare you even consider using the real force of the law against business owners who decide the rules of their establishment? What is really offensive is the sheer arrogance that is displayed when you suggest you have the right to tell business owners what to do with their property. Restaurants, workplaces, etc, are not a public good. They are providing a service to you, and it’s offensive to not only be ungrateful but to be malicious in return.

Know this, dear reader: The day this paper is published, around 7:00 p.m., I am going to find a cigar, go to some establishment in St. Charles, and I’m going to order a beer. And maybe some wings, if not a BLT. Do you know what I’m going to contemplate while I smoke, drink and eat? Thank God that busybody efforts failed to squash free choice. And one other thing: Smoking is healthier than fascism.
Then I’ll make my friends laugh by attempting (and failing) to blow smoke rings. Cheers.

Here’s to PBandJterm

The world keeps turning. It is spinning 1000 miles per hour, yet we don’t feel it. Instead, we have different sense of time passing quickly; perhaps it’s all on our head. But does that make it any less real? The past three weeks of “PBandJterm” have flown by faster than the world turns, even though that only takes 24 hours. Paradoxes everywhere.

We started off the week with a visit from Lindenwood’s social media guru, Ryan Griffin. He gave us the rundown on how he handles all of Lindenwood’s social media pages. This included how Lindenwood monitors athletes on twitter, how he treats people on Facebook, and more. I had Ryan previously in my Applied Public Relations class, where he sometimes filled in. The most interesting thing about Ryan was his own endeavor, NutSocial. We had the pleasure of seeing Pickle the crack addict squirrel (look just under his eyes, seriously). Seeing Ryan slowly, but surely practicing his social media skills for himself was encouraging.

One of the better parts of the week (and all of PBandJterm) was chatting with Tara Joyce of ElasticMind. She was very personable, polite, and

Tara Joyce's Elastic mind

Tara Joyce’s Elastic mind

knowledgable. She even followed me back on twitter. I definitely plan on scouring her website and paying attention to what she had to say. We used Google+ Hangout to chat with her, and I was impressed by that before. I had experienced a bit of the hangout previously, but only watched a political debate between people on YouTube. Using the software left a favorable impression.

One of the things that was hammered into our impressionable minds was the importance of an authentic About Me page. Tara Joyce and Jill spoke of it over and over again. Accordingly, the last week or so of class, we also updated our About me pages. I still need to tweak mine (we all evolve and grow), but it’s welcoming and unique at the moment.

Niches are a Nitch, if you catch my drift

Writing about my niche became one of the larger battles of PBandJterm. The assignment itself was not so difficult, but it was provoking. If I’m trying to write about my future, I want to write about my future, and not just say something that will make Jill happy. Though I think my niche blog did. After toiling in my brain (before the very computer I write on now), I finally just decided to write about the Primal lifestyle. It is something I am interested in, know some about, and also am in the transition to living.

The niche Prezi we had to make for our final day in class was tougher. With the idea that I am a story-teller, I wanted to tell a story or two (or three). Not just any story, but an epic one. After brainstorming and jotting notes for literally hours (Both Tuesday and Wednesday nights), I decided to the story about Antarctic explorers. It did connect back, in someway, to my niche blog, but I plan on writing a blog and making a presentation about Willpower later on (if you read the epic story above, you’ll understand why). Instead, I made a more-or-less basic Prezi and it turned out like this:

Travel as My Niche

Travel as My Niche

The Prezi turned out all right. I made some last-minute alterations before I spoke, and I surprisingly came up with more interesting stuff to say than I thought. Perhaps I was a bit doubtful because I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning constructing it (I didn’t give up on the other idea until 2:30).

Of course, I didn’t mention out frield trip to Switch, guided by the welcoming Andrew Mullins and the talented Jessica Leitch of City in a Jar fame. I was throughly impressed by the size, scope, and manner of Switch. The people there were laid back, but definitely passionate about what they were doing. Plus, like I said, the place was huge. The Q&A with Andrew was worth listening to. Also, Jessica gave us plenty of good tips and providing me with some much-needed inspirations. I’ll be following her blog with interest- she seems to be going places.

In the end, I got a lot out of this week, I wasn’t late for anything, and as for the whole class, I loved it. It was one of the best classes I have taken at Lindenwood, in terms of enjoyment and in what I have learned. It helped prove to me that most classes, especially in the communication field, should be short, focused, and intensive. It’s practice that makes perfect, and it’s better not to spread it out over a whole semester. In preparation for this final blog, I looked up “toasting.” Here’s one to our class:

Here’s to Personal branding

content curation, and a small bit of bit of frustration

Now raise your glasses to the good times

to tweeters, bloggers, and elastic minds.

to building proof, having a Hoot,

Oh PBandJterm, we’ll miss your milk.