Saturday, December 27, 2008

CIA in Afghanistan

Rarely have I seen a more awesome story. Read through to the end!

How'd the Post get it?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Grammar Nazis, Stephen Fry, and word power

I have only just discovered the marvel that is actor/comedian/geek/writer Stephen Fry. His quite-charming, too-bad-we're-both-taken British finesse has only been accentuated now that I've discovered his Web site, which humanized him to me somewhat. He writes often prolific blessays, and - Lord help me! - I'm addicted. Just listen to this sentence; just imagine his cadence if he were to orate it.
Words are free and all words, light and frothy, firm and sculpted as they may be, bear the history of their passage from lip to lip over thousands of years. How they feel to us now tells us whole stories of our ancestors.

This is from a (long, skip to his later half if you must) blessay on language, in which he entreats pedants (that's British for Grammar Nazis, keehee!) to quit being stuffy about language. He argues that language is a living thing, and change is fine, even when that change springs from misunderstanding and misuse (such as "meld" to mean "melt" and "weld" rather than "announce," is his example). He further thinks that although grammatically there is a distinction between "5 items or less" and "5 items or fewer" on the grocery store quick-check sign, to actively pursue the distinction takes the joy out of language.

Do Grammar Nazis, he wants to know, ever "yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it?"

And now that he's said it so beautifully, I find it hard to disagree. What is the place of an editor except to clarify meaning by enforcing a stuffy standard that actually says that how living, breathing people talk is wrong? How does that make sense?

Despite that... There is something to be said for a precise standard, especially in today's litigious society. If I write an article about someone, I don't want to misrepresent their intentions by twisting them with my own unclear vocabulary. And I especially don't want to be sued for that!

Throughout my journalistic career, I've been continually impressed by the power of language. Even in its absence it is powerful! Once, while covering a church sex scandal, I neglected to mention that the victim was suing the priest personally, as well as suing the priest's church. The victim's friends, upon reading in the paper that the lawsuit was against the priest's church, assumed the victim was only going after the church and thus the church's deeper pockets - and therefore was uninterested in true justice at all. The simple oversight on my part equaled a loss of face for my source - and that is irrecoverable.

Prose can always be misunderstood - and it's the job of a good writer to try to diminish that in whatever way possible. If clarity is our main goal, then, a balance must be struck between the creativity that allows the further expression of an idea, and the grammar rules that bind word usage.

And maybe how strict our usage gets should depend on the value of the context. For example - how important is it, really, if I say to my friend, "That commercial for Aquafresh infers it's the best toothpaste brand ever" when what I really mean is implies? My point is still succinct and clear no matter the construction. But if I write in an article that President Obama infers (surmises) that Putin is an asshole, that's quite different from implies (suggests). Implies assigns a verbal action on the part of the president, and infers suggests a thought process that may or may not be oral at all... and so, with the wrong word, I could end up either putting words in the president's mouth or taking them away. Libel suit, anyone?

Well... that's a pretty drastic example. But editors do more than merely clarify meaning through grammar and word usage. They fact-check, they quote-check, and generally ensure truth and accuracy are not forgotten. If Sarah Palin had a good solid editor looking over her speeches, maybe she would have sounded less like an idiot when the pundits descended. (Maybe.)

The truth is, wherever you find as much power as there exists in language, you will find both corruption and watchdogs. I like to think both corrupter and defender play part in the joy of language. Accurate language brings us closer to truth, and few things are so joyous as a well-written story that rings with truth, and breathes life to truth, and celebrates truth. That is the joy of language.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Voter Reg. Lookup in Sacramento County

Sacramento County now has a Web site where you can confirm your voter registration status. I found this a few months ago but then lost track of it, so I thought I'd just put it out there in the most visible place I can.

It's getting close to being too late to do something if you're registered incorrectly; if you have troubles, please call Sacramento County at 1 (800) 735-2929.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I edit, but only socially...

I've recently become fascinated by Wordonistas and Grammar Nazis who professionally edit grammar and punctuation. I've always been interested in the subtleties of language, but only recently have I become aware that you can edit socially (as opposed to editing in a cold dark classroom alone). See my list of journalists' blogs on the right? Fully half of those are editors' blogs - and the list is far from complete. How EXCITING!

No? Not exciting? Maybe you agree with this columnist. Then again, maybe you don't...

In my reader

A friend of mine has just started a blog and was asking about what I read. I thought I'd take a moment to write about the kind of things you'd find in my Google Reader... as a sort of pay-it-forward/thank-you-for-blogging moment of recognition to some of the folks who are part of my weekly routine.

The true value of the online experience is that we are able to connect as human beings, so I've tried to express here what I appreciate about each blog. It's not the tool that's important, it's the content.


Achenblog - Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post always has amusing news or non-news (by which I mean opinion prose) to share. His humorist prose is stronger for the fact that he writes to readers as if they were human.

The Latest from Capitol Hill - This is the Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert service (by subscription only, but subscription is free). The Sacramento political stories are quick and easy to read, and best of all, the writers have a sense of what makes "real news" to a political junkie like me.

365 Days of Trash - "Sustainable Dave" has pledged to throw nothing away for one year. He keeps all his trash and recycling in his basement, and does everything he can to cut back on waste. He usually blogs about news related to sustainable living.

Creative Endeavors

Some of these artists are personal friends of mine, and some I have never met. They are all driven by an enormous love for their craft, and I admire their work and follow it closely - because these blogs allow me to do that. It's a joy to enjoy the arts, and that's what the arts are there for!

Musings and Meanderings - A blog by sci fi/fantasy author Christie Golden, who lovingly brings to life many of my favorite characters.
Ommatidia - 101-word short stories, five days a week, by Brendan Adkins. The prose is idea-heavy (my favorite kind), and has to be - it's hard to get across an entire story in 101 words!
On My Easel - Thoughts and works of artist Michael Georges. I find his oil paintings can just light up my imagination.
Penny Arcade - Not only for the hilarious comics drawn by Mike Krahulik, but I adore the written prose by Jerry Holkins. I believe he's one of the most truly influential literary critics alive today. (I don't mean to say he's a critic of literature - rather, his written critiques are literary in themselves.)
Phoenix Requiem - A comic by Sarah Ellerton - I find it hard to understand most graphic novels spatially, but this one has captured my interest despite that.
Poker Face - ED Lindquist is an award-winning author who writes weekly shorts and novels. I especially love the rich descriptions - the way a phrase turns from under her pen can be so pleasing, and conjure such captivating images.
Selserene's Machinimasochism - This machinima artist bases all her movies in the online game World of Warcraft. I love her sense of aesthetics - and humor.

Then of course come the Write Club blogs, which you can learn about here.

Copy Editors

My 'Journalism' links may belong in a seperate post. There are too many to cover. So here are the fun ones, the ones that both embrace, and break wildly free from, banality.

Bill Walsh's Blogslot - Wit from a Washington Post editor/grammar book author. See, told ya editing was fun.

The Engine Room - These two subs (UK copy editors) have a keen eye and funny, keeping-it-real voice. I suspect normal people (aka, non-editors) enjoy their blog too.

Conjugate Visits - Another fun grammar blog. Egad, Brain! They're everywhere!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Help an Egyptian journalist of Twitter fame

UPDATE: The email address listed for His Excellency Habib al-Adly appears not to be working. If you have a fax machine please let me know if that is working!

Two months ago you may have seen this story about a Journalism grad student who twittered his way out of jail. He was covering protests in Egypt when police tossed him and his translator in jail. Because he still had his cell phone, James Karl Buck was able to use Twitter, a text-messaging network, to let his teacher and colleagues know he had been arrested. From there, his friends hired a lawyer to help him out of jail, and he was released within 24 hours.

The sad news is Buck's translator and journalist friend, an Egyptian named Mohammed Maree, is still being held in jail. He needs our help to get him free.

Egypt has a bad reputation for detainee human rights. But as Amnesty International has proven, global concern for the welfare of a prisoner can pressure those in power to ease off.

From Buck's Web site, here's how you can help (from June 9th):

Help Mohammed - send an email or make a phone call to your Senator or Congressperson and asking them to support Mohammed’s release. Ask them to call the State Department and the Embassy — or you can call them directly:

  • State department Egypt desk Larry Cohen (202) 647 4680,
  • American Embassy Egypt political officer Ed White, +2 012 219 1768,
Fax or email the Egyptian interior minister, the one who ordered Mohammed’s detention:
  • His Excellency Habib al-Adly
    Interior Minister
    Al-Sheikh Rihan St.
    Bab Al-Louk, Al-Tahrir
    Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt *- Not working
    Fax: 002 022 579-2031

If you write, please let me know and/or send me a copy of your letter. Remember to call for his immediate and unconditional release, and remind Egypt's government that the world is very concerned for Maree's safety.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Being right and being nice

Such a fine balance to strike. Yesterday posted this clip. I felt moved to share it too...

The scene reminds me of an extra feature on Jurassic Park. The movie was one of the first to use lifelike computer animation. Before computers models, stop-motion was the best way to get life-like movement. In an interview, a stop-motion special effects man talks about seeing computer animation for the first time, and realizing, "This is going to put me out of business, isn't it?"

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Business of politics

State government is alternately very boring and absolutely fascinating.

I've discovered recently that the Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert had stopped charging for its subscription, to my delight. The very talented team, lead by Shane Goldmacher, has a hard job and posts excellent news. For example, this story begins with an update on political squabbles, and ends with a very poignant quote from the Governator:

The governor continued to blame cuts on the budget system and called for a long-term fix that includes a rainy-day fund. He tried to disassociate himself from his own proposed cuts on education and social services, even insisting that he'd like to stand with the protesters who have rallied against him at the Capitol.

"Sometimes you see schools protesting out there or sending me letters," Schwarzenegger said. "I'm with them. I wish I could stand there protesting, too. Because we have to protest the budget system. Not this year's budget. The budget system is the failure. That is what has to be corrected as quickly as possible."

Such a telling quote about the business of politics.

Also recently on the California Majority Report, according to a link from the Alert, the capitol press core is shrinking. Among others leaving, two reporters will be headed to Washington DC.

I remember hearing in my public affairs reporting class that the press core in Sacramento is much different from the press core at Washington DC - that Sacramento's much less competitive. Whereas the DC crowd might all chase one story, and clamor for a response from one source, California reporters have a lazier mindset: "Why bother? Someone else has the story already."

Oh, I'm sorry. That's not laziness, that's the politics of business. Say no more...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Good design means sustainability

Please watch this 20-minute video on good design and sustainability - poignant, funny, and jaw-dropping.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A note about ASAP

While at the Sacramento AAJA's careeer workshop last Saturday, I asked Tom Verdin if he knew why ASAP folded. He told me that the site didn't make enough money. I mentioned advertising and he corrected me--AP does not sell ads. It is a wire service. Not enough newspapers chose to subscribe to the content ASAP delivered.

Though it failed in a financial sense, he compared it to a laboratory because it allowed AP writers to experiment with telling a story using multimedia. It gave them experience that they can now pass on to other writers, and carry with them in the future.

During the panelist discussion, he stressed that AP reporters are not technology experts. They are expected to be comfortable with taking video and audio and other things, but "we don't get paid extra for it," he said.

Monday, March 10, 2008

AAJA Career Workshop: Sacramento pros advise students

Last Saturday I went to an Asian American Journalists Association career workshop for students, organized by Judy Lin of the Sacramento Bee. We were asked to bring our portfolios and resumes for critiques, and more professional journalists than I can name were there ready to critique.

The panelists, led by Pamela Wu, all had unique insights to the industry. The main take-home message of the day: intern, intern, intern! Every panelist except one started their career through an internship, where they worked hard and made excellent contacts.

CBS 13's Tina Macuha from Good Morning Sacramento advised about internships, "Don't complain. When you complain, you attract other negative people to you."

Sactown Magazine co-editor Rob Turner got an internship at Harper's Magazine, "one of the best things for me," he said. He asked students not to treat an internship like a nine to five job. "Stay until the story is done," he said. When other interns are going home at 5 p.m., the intern who stays to get the work done stands out.

His wife Elyssa Lee, also co-editor at Sactown, said, "Do a good job, and you'll stand out." She started her career at Money magazine, and still writes for InStyle. She also advised tailoring cover letters to the publication, because, "we can all tell when you've just copied and pasted."

Bret Burkhart, a reporter and anchor with KGO Radio, also started with an internship. He asked how many students in the room were interested in radio. When no one raised their hands, he said, "See? That's how competitive it is." For those interested in broadcast journalism, working at a radio station could be good experience for the resume.

Newsroom Tech
What technology do the pros use in today's news coverage?

AP reporters take video and audio, but "we're not experts," said Tom Verdin, AP's Sacramento correspondent. He warned against becoming so enamored with technology that you lose sight of how to write a good story.

The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert staff writer and blogger Shane Goldmacher uses HTML reguarly in his blog posts for things like making words bold. "I'm no computer expert, but I'm the expert by comparison," he said. "If you know a little HTML you're miles ahead of everybody else."

Burkhart and Macuha both said it's important to connect with the engineers at a broadcasting station. When something goes wrong, everyone talks to the engineers; remember them when things go right, and they'll help you out later on.

Odds and Ends
The beat has become increasingly important in the newsroom, said Verdin, who advised students to chose one subject area of expertise that they love, such as politics or the environment. Covering the beat thoroughly will be evident in unique story clips. "Get a graduate degree, develop a contact list for that subject," he suggested.

Goldmacher treats his job interviews as a chance to not only be interviewed, but to interview the boss. "Don't work for a bad boss," he said.

All the panelists talked about the long hours they work each week.

"You will hit the pavement, you will get pounded," Wu said. "We all still do it because we love it."

Goldmacher loves what he does because, he said, "I get paid to basically talk to people." Reporters who aren't out of the office talking to their sources aren't doing their job, he said.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Force or fragility

My husband and I were fortunate enough to travel in Hawaii on the island of Oahu last month. We went hiking on the rain forest, swam in the most amazing clear water, and soaked up sun and moisture like a pair of sponges.

The trip for me though was a tad depressing. Oahu's nature seems so fragile. The rain forest is threatened by tourism, pollution, pavement, and foreign seeds and animals. The coral reef is destroyed basically by any contact with humans. Waikiki's enthusiasm for shopping malls strikes me as terribly corrupt. The few trees we saw in the park looked lonely, because I could so easily picture them growing into a huge forest.

I'm used to sensing Nature as a powerful force. I'm used to feeling its presence. On Oahu, it had a timid, fragile presence.

I'd love to return, but try a different island next time. Somewhere with waterfalls, perhaps, where I can mistake the sound of rushing water for natural strength against Man's strangling tyranny.

For pictures of all the neat plants we saw, please visit my Picasa album here. Enjoy!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Freelance writer, freelancing

To be a writer you have to write. To be a freelancer, you have to freelance.

Allow me to emphasize that in no way should "freelance" actually involve "free." Last January I sold a story to a popular online gaming magazine. Two months later I'm still waiting for the check. (Hey, isn't a signed contract good for anything anymore?)

By far though, Paidlancing has been a very fun gig. I've enjoyed writing the newsletter for Home Tutoring Plus. I enjoy researching the topics--sustainable living and parenting/teaching methods--and find it's rewarding to delve into related projects.

I'm kick-starting my old column blog Wordslinger again, as well as keeping three fiction blogs for various role playing games. I'm also taking a break from World of Warcraft, and officially retiring the Shadow Council Strider for now.

I have joined the Asian American Journalist's Association. The local chapter here is quite active. I have no Asian heritage that I'm aware of, but luckily for me that's not a factor in membership.

Please Turn Out the Lights

I've been eying public relations jobs lately. In a shrinking, uncertain, groping-about-for-revenue industry like traditional print journalism, there is a sense of looming doom that has investors unwilling to invest in everything, from freelancing to jobs to digital media equipment.

ASAP News, a long-time leader in multimedia journalism, folded last October. Its final issue left a nonsensical yet tragic plea cross the top of the page: "Will the last person viewing this page please turn out the lights?"

ASAP began as an experiment two years ago by the AP wire service in multimedia feature presentations. Its target audience was me, the younger tech-embracing who rely on the internet for their news. Right up until the end the team delivered relevant (and irrelevant, in that quirky internet way) video, slide shows, audio, interviews, blogs, illustrations and features.

Though it sometimes was too much feature and not enough information for me, it still represented a model the larger papers could follow, I felt. It did multimedia. It did internet presence. And through the blogs and multimedia emerged a depth of coverage I'd not seen in many other places.

So what went wrong? Was there not enough traffic? Why didn't the site sell advertising? Was something wrong with their search-engine optimization? Why wasn't this monetized?

Prosper Magazine also recently folded. Its pages were full of good writing and photography. Apparently, they weren't full enough of ads.

And as I've unfortunately realized, the internet-only publication I sold to earlier this year (with original multimedia content and international following) isn't doing so well either, despite its low production cost (comparative to print).

If there's no commercial value to the product I love, perhaps it's time to invest in it the way the fine arts are supported. NPR and the BBC do it. The axe that is bottom-line driven would destroy so many valuable services, works of art and writing.

The lights are winking out, one by one.