A photo speaks a thousands words and one editorial point of view

On the evening of September 11, 2001, my family piled into the car and we drove to a restaurant to have dinner. During the five mile drive on a mostly deserted freeway, we talked about the events of the day and how the kids felt about them. My daughter — who was 10 at the time — was the most affected. As we passed by a gas station, she noticed a line of cars forming and blurted out, “Daddy, my friend said we should get gas NOW because it will be $10/gal by night. It’s already $5/gal in Indiana!”

I smiled because I could. I was driving and she couldn’t see my face from the back seat.

I asked her why she thought that was true? I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it amounted to ‘prices moving west to east’ just like the weather. We talked through this a bit more and then she realized that the logic her friend had was not entirely accurate. Prices don’t work like weather patterns.

Last week, The New York Times started a “What’s going on in this picture?” as part of their Newspaper in Education program, the Learning Network. It has been several years since I created newspaper lesson plans so I found myself a bit rusty as to why this bothered me so much. Then I remembered my recent exchanges with @NeilHedley on editorial point of view on some photos during this election cycle and found my bearings.

I don’t mean to disparage The New York Times and their Newspaper in Education program. They are following a model that has been set for a long time by educators. But I think we can do better by our kids.

During my time at Newspapers in Education at the Dayton Daily News, we did not play “guess what this is” games. We crafted the KidsINK pages like they were real editorial. That meant photos captions that explained what was going on in the photo.

But that does not mean the photo was not carefully edited. Photos on the KidsINK pages were as carefully chosen and cropped as were the words to describe them as were the words written to tell the story. The editorial point of view of photos mattered then 10-14 years ago and matters even more today.

Stick with me.

Part of what is challenging about teaching literature or history — and this case, news — is relying on the student to “discover” the plot that is somehow buried in a sea of words or behind a series of pixels on a photo. For most of them, withholdig the plot or what is happening in a photo seems like “gotcha” learning. Kids today are not in short supply with people telling them what they are looking at.

Finding out the facts or the plot is easier than ever with tools like Wikipedia and Google. The primary skill most students need now is not the ability to discover what is happening, but whether or not what they are being told and shown is factual and true.

Tell kids what is going on in the photos; don’t make them guess. Now, ask them, “Do you believe it is true? How about factual? What about the photo makes you think that? What about the photo makes you doubt that? Why do you think it is important that someone thought you should know that?” and then perhaps most importantly, “What do you believe the photojournalist is trying to convince you to believe?”

Skills our kids need to navigate their futures.
Bon Stewert wrote this excellent piece about sending kids out into the wild unprepared. Please read it (but after you finish this post.. I promise, we are almost done.)

Let’s fast-forward to The New York Times’ election day issue (the New York edition, which is different from the National Edition) photo above. A click on the photo will lead us to the full page*. What does this photo tell you?

At first glance, it is the First Family walking on stage before Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech. But why that particular photo? What else is going on? What about the family, the election and the country did the editors want the readers to know? What is being said in that photo? What is the editorial point of view?

Here is my take. I think the position of the two girls — Sasha and Malia — is screaming volumes about what was accomplished on election night. Look at where they are relative to the president and first lady. They are in front of them, almost leading them on stage. I think the editors are telling us that while Barack Obama may have won a second term, it was really the generation coming after them that won the night. The next generation solidly includes members who are strong, non-white and female and not ever, ever, ever going to be breaking up with America.

In case you think I may be reading too much into the photo, take a look at the library of photos available to the front page editor. The photo featured above was chosen — consciously or subconsciously — for a reason. The photo is a self-contained story that the editor wanted to tell. There is no such thing as “just a pretty photo, embellishing an article” in a newspaper.

Kids need to know what is going on — and they need to go through the discovery process themselves — but they also need truth assessment in far faster and larger quantities than their parents ever did. In many cases, they don’t have the luxury of fact-checking against an encyclopedia or library. Media lies to them in a constant stream in real time; on television, on radio, on the Internet and in conversations with their friends and peers.

*Dear NYT lawyers: Please consider this Fair Use for educational purposes. Please?

99% does not mean 99 things #OccupyWallStreet

#occupywallstreet

I read the #OccupyWallStreet story in the New York Times this morning and kinda just shook my head slowly. They reported this as if it were a 2011 version of Woodstock, complete with hippy-chicks and guitar-slinging beatniks.

Yay. Or should I say “bully* for them.”

It’s not that the New York Times didn’t get it. I think they do. It may be because the protest is making itself hard to get.

Here is my advice to the #OccupyWallStreet folks. Do with it what you will.

Get simple. Fast.
Know what you want. Demand something short and easy for the media to understand in under nine seconds and something that even Chuck Todd won’t misunderstand and mangle (though I’m not entirely sure how you can do that.) It is really hard to get what you want when you can’t define it in 140 characters or less. Human dignity? Universal health care? Free universal education? Free checking? A specific banking bill that a Congressman wrote? (e.g. SB-5 in Ohio got over a million signatures because we were able to point to a specific bill.) If you can’t answer the question: “What do you want?” quickly, you are just creating a mob, not a group of lawfully-assembing citizens who demand that their grievances be met. (Example powdered wigs worked for the Tea Party!)

Unite
The worst thing you need media to call you is hodge-podge, rag-tag, unorganized and that sort of thing. The easiest way to organize is to get a slogan and have everyone wear the same t-shirt. Green would be delicious irony. Print a big 99% on the front and silk-screen a large block of white on the back where each person can write his/her own story.

Kickstarter
Get a Kickstarter going and start raising money. You are gonna need a lot of it. A Kickstarter helps those of us in Dayton, Ohio who can’t be in NYC to participate. That would also force you to think specifically about how you will spend the funds which will lead you to define your goals.

Website, Social Media
You have a good start at occupywallst.org/, but there is way too much on your site. Photos of people, just like this. And quit with the fist-pumping anger. Us older people still remember the Black Panthers and you are scaring us.

This is not an event
Quit scheduling things. There is no “agenda.” Do-nothing corporations have an agenda for meetings that nobody likes but go to anyway because there is almost always free muffins. The 99% are not corporate offices. And keep celebrities out of your group. Susan Sarandon and Cornell West are not helping your image. They are even less of the 1% those in your group will never be. When they show up, the media focuses their cameras on them and away from the crowd. Who does that serve? The celebrity. Only.

Produce your own media
Have your own reporters and writers. Use studio media techniques to deliver your own stories. Issue media credentials to people at NBC, CBS, Times, etc. Make them come to you. (They won’t and the credentials will mean nothing, but it will send a message to corporate-owned media… who are part of Wall Street… which you knew, right?)

Shut up
Do not chant. Do not talk to the media. Say nothing. Ask everyone there to say nothing to media, the police, hecklers, etc. The medium of silence will be your message. You are the 99% who are not being heard.

Ultimately, I think this movement will die off simply because a mob of hobos and stray dogs is not a group you can negotiate anything with. Sure, there is general unrest and all the ingredients for an uprising and class riots exists in all parts of America, but unless there is something specific (like ending the Vietnam War) to rally around, it is just a mob. If you want this to take hold, you have to simplify.

Quickly. Winter is coming.

*Sorry for the pun. I know this is a serious topic and I knew better, but I couldn’t resist. Part of what I’m protesting is a general lack of humour, in good times and bad.

The definitive difference between a real journalist and your sorry blogger butt

New York Times front page May 25 2011

Maybe I’ve read one too many rants from know-it-all bloggers about how nobody really needs journalists and how journalism is a dead dying industry, but it really hit home today about the real difference between journalists and blogger know-it-alls.

Above is the front page of the New York Times.

How much fortitude did it take for Eric Thayer to look through his camera lens and snap that photo, straining to keep his emotions from shaking the shot out of focus? Did he fight back tears as he shot or did he just let them flow and do his job anyway?

Has Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) thrown up yet because of anything he’s seen while reporting in Joplin? I’m guessing he has, yet he continues reporting.

How many of us could go to a disaster site like Joplin and not be so overwhelmed by emotion that we could not find the courage to continue reporting or shooting photos so the rest of us could know about the devastation?

Anyone can report the news on good days. It takes men and women of incredible skill, determination and a cast-iron stomach to handle news as devastating as a tornado, earthquake, flood or war. The value of a good journalist should not be measured by how well s/he does the job on a slow news day, but how well s/he reports when all around them is falling apart.

The next time you hear someone at a conference or on a blog rant on about how journalism is dead, ask them if they’ve been to Joplin.. or Minamisanriku… or New Orleans… or Afghanistan… or Sri Lanka. Ask them how many children they’ve seen dead in the streets or how many faces of utter despair and hopelessness they have looked into.

Like their experience with real journalism, I would wager the answer would be zero or fewer.

Footnote (literally this time) I found this moments before hitting the publish button. It was so overwhelming, I had to share.

My little dopamine spritz #twittermakesyoustupid

Bill Keller New York Times

Last week, Bill Keller (@nytkeller) Executive Editor, The New York Times tweeted out: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. discuss.” And I wrote a blog post that was a half tongue-in-cheek job application and half… naw, it was a job application.

I suspected his tweet was done to get some material for a column he would eventually write and I tore through my Times every day looking for it. Sure enough, there is was (online, but in print this coming Sunday.) I’m sure he read my blog post because he called twitter a “helpful organizing tool for… dog-lover meet-ups…”

My phone will be ringing any day now!

Almost immediately, Mat Honan, Editor of Gizmodo wrote a blog post lambasting Mr. Keller for his views. It would have been easier to take seriously had he used appropriate AP style, not resorted to name-calling, did not employ obvious logical flaws and stayed away from using curse words. It is also obvious that Mr. Honan was in a state of heightened agitation when he wrote the post.

All of this, of course, just went to prove Mr. Keller’s points about “our ability to reflect” and twitter being the “enemy of contemplation.” Had Mr. Honan thought a bit more about what Mr. Keller was trying to say, he may not have been as incendiary and hyperbolic in his response.

The world has changed is crap
As I was writing a #letsblogoff post last month, I was also listening to a speech by yet another social media expert who asserted, “The world has changed…” and I thought that was the most absurd thing I had ever heard. That is not a truth. That is not even a fact. The fact is this moment has changed from the last moment and the moment before that. “The world is ALWAYS changing…” is more the truth. The truth is most people either did not notice the changes or lied to themselves about them happening.

When I was selling exercise bikes to paralyzed people, I worked with a biomedical engineer who was a great philosopher but didn’t really know it. “Biology works on a sine wave,” he was fond of saying. It was his job to make the binary bits (on/off) of technology works within that natural wave. For example, while he could make a muscle contract instantaneously, it would create intolerable pain and dangerous reactions for the patient. He therefore had to ramp up the contraction slowly, hold a contraction and then ramp it down.

Bear with me; I’m getting to the relevant parts. You aren’t fidgeting, are you?

Technology works on a binary framework. Things are either on or they are off. Biology works like a potentiometer, in degrees of on or off relative to each other. The two are almost always incompatible as the human brain struggles to stuff the digital parts into the sine wave of biology. Try as we might, no matter how much we talk about becoming cyborgs, the human brain will always be an analog, biological mass, tied to that sine wave. This makes learning hard and frustrating. You can’t just plug a thumb drive into your ear and transfer knowledge. Nor can you transfer wisdom or context. Technologist predict we will eventually, but I hope they are wrong.

So what we are is a mesh of technologies of varying degrees. Just because twitter exists, it doesn’t mean conversation ends. Just because we have Kindles, it doesn’t mean books are dead. Just because we have blogs, it doesn’t mean newspapers are dead. Media — like biology — exists on a sine wave.

Jeff Jarvis unwittingly proves Keller’s point
Predictably, Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) offered some tweets to refute Mr. Keller’s post. They were:

Just as Erasmus warned of the danger of the press, @nytkeller warns of the danger of Twitter. Oy. http://nyti.ms/iOAy6f

@nytkeller=Erasmus, who said: “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books?” #1

#nytkeller=Erasmus: Books are “hurtful to scholarship, because it creates a glut and even in good things satiety is most harmful” #2

@nytkeller=Erasmus: The minds of men “flighty and curious of anything new” would be distracted from “the study of old authors.” #3

I think that just reaffirms Mr. Keller’s points about knowing stuff. Obviously, Mr. Jarvis knows who Erasmus is and was familiar with his quotes. While it is possible he Googled “obscure quotes from dead guys on the books,” I very much doubt it. Mr. Jarvis was well equipped to argue a point with Mr. Keller without looking up supporting evidence. Hmmmm…

Mat Honan did the same thing with Socrates in his blog post. Sorta.

It’s about adaptability
At the end, Mr. Keller may be slightly concerned that we are becoming a species that is dependent on the longest lasting battery and is not acquiring and sustaining the skills to be able to exist by “clock and fist.”

While our use of technology may have the net effect of our species advancing for now, it does not develop the individuals of the species. Cut the power, you create a bunch of people who have no clue how to survive. The most adaptable will not be the ones who know how to program their GPS units but the ones who can navigate by the stars, clock and fist.

I think ultimately, though, Mr. Keller is calling on us to stay adaptable. Our very survival depends on it.

#TwitterMakesYouStupid – a New York Times challenge

Last night, Bill Keller, Executive Editor, The New York Times tweeted out: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. discuss”

And of course, this started up a firestorm among the twits, many of whom were not particularly skilled with using the grammar of the English language or the proper placement of an apostrophe, but that probably proves Mr. Keller’s bias a bit too much.

I digress.

I don’t care about how stupid twitter makes you or if stupid people use twitter or any of that. Not one bit. My motives for writing this blog post are just way more selfish than that.

I hopped on over to The New York Times library of blogs and noticed a gaping hole in your catalog: NO DOG BLOG!

That can not stand!

Everybody knows that Americans only want to read stories of cute puppies, dogs being rescued from flooded drainage ditches, loyal dogs saving their owners during earthquakes or rescue dogs doing extraordinary things during times of tragedy like 9/11 (shameless, I know, but watch where I’m going with this before you judge.)

So, Mr. Keller, I propose you hire me to write a blog specifically dedicated to dog residents of New York City. In a city of 8-9 million people, many who own dogs, there has to be at least a hundred stories a year worth reporting, right?

I will be in New York City for the annual 140Conf June 15-16. Please call my people to set up an appointment in your offices.. or Gregory’s Coffee on 7th is fine. I’ll buy.

Unless you think I’m just too stupid to write for your little newspaper.

All you, Mr. Keller.

Facebook’s privacy mess just a way out of a larger mess that has everything to do with software management

facebook privacy

It seems that everyone has an opinion on Facebook’s privacy mess and I would be remiss if I didn’t just jump right on the bandwagon and try to grab some limelight (two clichés in one sentence!)

Here is what I think is going on.

I think Facebook’s privacy policy is more a reflection of a user culture that wants to be able to customize and individualize everything than it is a deliberate attempt at obfuscation. “Share this thing with these three people, but not that one but only on the third moon of every…” You get my point… As you throw in more stuff, you increase the settings combinations exponentially.

But Zuck’s stated views on privacy is not helping his case. It may just be his way of trying to manage the tangling mess of settings by stating “everything is not private” just to be able to get out from under the hell of customization expectations he created.

Or he really is a monster.. I dunno.

Annoying little kids at the New York Times

Yo-Yo Ma Photo by: Ron Edmonds/Associated Press
By: Ron Edmonds/Associated Press
Today, the New York Times is “the annoying kid at the magic show shouting, ‘I know how you did that trick!'”

Why did you have to spoil the illusion? Did we really need to know this? Why couldn’t you just let the magic happen instead of stirring a pot nobody needed to watch?

There are facts and then there is truth. The beauty of the music, the feelings of change, the togetherness of the moment is the truth. And you ruined it all with the facts.

Thank you. Thanks a lot. If you want to come over and kick me in the ribs, I’m sure that would make for a full day and you may be able to die happy, knowing you have kicked the crap out of everything beautiful.

Is there a text in this election?

Oh, brother. Why is this DNC nominating process so hard for the common people to grasp? And why is the misinformation being fueled by the press? I saw the same thing happening when Bill Clinton was being impeached. The “mob” saw Clinton’s impeachment as him being thrown out of office. But wait, the Senate actually gets to decide the ultimate fate?? Oh, that’s right, cooler heads are in charge.

The New York Times ran an article by Stanley Fish that is just dead-on accurate about this whole process. My perspective from a dog’s point of view.

This super delegate issue is a NOMINATION by a political party, not an election by the people. It is about picking someone who has the best chance of defeating the other party’s nominee. The GENERAL ELECTION is about which nominee would make the better president.

Primaries and caucuses are “tests” to see how well each party-hopeful would fare in an election. It is a test-run, if you will. At the end of the day, the only “obligation” a superdelegate has is to the party and voting to nominate the candidate who has the better chance of winning in a general election.

If you don’t agree with your party’s nomination rules, work with your party to change their rules. Or join another party. And, if you don’t like who your party puts up for nomination or who it nominates for the general election, vote for someone else. That choice is the part of the democracy that is ours.