Asking ‘why’ is fun and essential but invites trouble

One of the things that I learned in my days as a journalist (though I’ve applied it long before I got into that business and it’s gotten me in a pantload of trouble through my life) was the value of asking “why.”

In my first journalism class I learned a) the inverted pyramid, which is the structure of a news story, and b) the “5 W’s and 1 H” … who, what, when, where, why, how.

A major problem in the news business today is that so few reporters bother to ask “why.” Maybe they’re scared to, or maybe they skipped that part in j-school. Maybe it’s not even taught any more.

But here’s that warning: Asking “why” gets you in a whole bunch of trouble.

I must share this from Seth Godin, who says it well:

“Why?” is the most important question, not asked nearly enough.

Hint: “Because I said so,” is not a valid answer.

Ol’ Seth seems to advocate getting yourself in trouble too.

But seriously. If you want to learn some wonderful applications for the “why” question, read Seth’s post for yourself. Try some on your boss sometime. You might get stuff done.

Just a thought …





New quit-Facebook move has wealth envy at its core

There are lots of reasons for a person to want to quit Facebook, but objections to how insanely rich it made its founder isn’t one of them.

But as the social media behemoth prepares to go public and make what could be a record-shattering IPO (that’s “initial public offering” for those of us who put our money in CD’s of the Miles Davis and Willie Nelson variety), folks appear to be storming the exits. There’s even an I’m Not On Facebook Twitter feed and website, though it appears the people behind thee site are more interested in hawking T-shirts than anything else.

But the objection is that Mark Zuckerberg used to be one of the guys; now he’s a porcine one-percenter. He’s committing the grevious sin of making a pantload of money from Facebook.

OK, what’s the problem? More power to him.

I have my own negative feelings about Facebook and did shut my account down for a year before restarting it. It can be a colossal waste of time. By its very nature it shoots your privacy out the window. The user leaves himself to be flamed, cracked, stalked and generally violated with just a few mouse clicks. You have to use filters to screen the good information from the usual junk. Many third-party apps are malware just waiting to happen. And each new innovation puts your life a little more out in the street — like what’s that option that allows you to share everything you read online?

But it’s still fun and somewhat useful. Many of my friends use Facebook as the only way to communicate, eschewing even anachronisms such as email. There are some real blasts from my past among my Facebook friends, including old running mates from decades ago, former co-workers, kinfolks, some old girlfriends (awkward), even an ex-wife (tres awkward). Many of my blog readers come from my Facebook ranks, and the whole thing is good for business. I won’t knock that.

So Mark Z can probably buy WalMart instead of shopping there. Anybody have a problem with that?

Facebook isn’t my go-to social media site, though. Not even close. I spend more time on Twitter than any of the others, and tweeted incessantly during the last few minutes of the Super Bowl (a barnburner of a game — I tweeted that the game was so nerve-racking, if there was a toilet on the 50-yard line the players would be using it). I use Linkedin for professional contacts and get a lot of mileage out of the groups. I enjoy Google+ and picked up some story ideas from Quora.

But come on! So Zuckerberg won’t ever have to work at a WalMart as long as he lives; he might be in a position to buy the whole schmeer. Like who cares? Get a life! He came up with a product that at the time was far better than anything remotely similar (remember how long it took to load a Myspace page?). People like his product. He’s created value, whether real or perceived, and the users number almost into the billions. Apparently he’s doing something right.

I was once accused of wealth envy because my computers run Linux instead of Windows. Ain’t necessarily so. I have no problem with gazillionaire Bill Gates. I just find Linux meets my needs and allows me to really customize my system and use free software. It’s funny hearing some Mac users decry Gates and his billions, though the late Steve Jobs could afford to buy his black turtlenecks by the shipping container. But I digress.

I don’t mind the one-percent gang. I wouldn’t mind working for some of them. With those folks I stand a better chance of making my exorbitant asking price. I won’t have to worry so much about whether the guy is going to vanish come billing time, or whether the check would bounce. Instead, it’s a straight value-for-value transaction, and a rich guy (i’m talking self-made here; I don’t count the trust-fund brats in this equation) would understand this concept better than anybody.

Ditch Facebook because of the malware. Junk it because you don’t like to put your business out on Front Street. Shut it down if you’re wasting time instead of rainmaking. Kill it because it has no value for you. Scrap it because you can’t stand the third-party games, the inane postings, the fact your significant other is making time with a former flame, because those pictures of you lying unconscious in a puddle of what you hope is beer are messing up your chances of a promotion …

But quitting Facebook because it’s printing money for Zuckerberg is the wrong reason. Spin again to find another excuse.


Who pays attention to endorsements anyway?

A good friend of mine mentioned recently that a couple of legislators we both admire — Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Tim Scott — so far are laying off on endorsing anybody in the Presidential primaries. My friend says it’s a good thing; we don’t need to form yet another bandwagon in this campaign. There are enough of those already, thank you.

My initial choice in the Republican primaries, Herman Cain, threw a major screwball in giving his endorsement. Hey, he’s having too much fun right right now, making the politico-comedic scene with Steve Colbert, to be messing with the campaign lunacy.

A candidate with half a brain (I understand that is a requirement to run for office in some states) would covet the nod from a DeMint, a Cain, or even the freshman Scott.

Politicians are funny about endorsements. When I edited a weekly paper in Arizona, a City Councilman kept bugging me about it during the election season. Somehow or other he got the idea I set the policy there — that privilege usually goes to the guy who buys all that paper and ink, and it sure wasn’t me. But the owner and I were on the same page there, so I got to make the endorsements.

In truth, though, I can’t tell you who really pays attention to those endorsements.

OK, I lied. Maybe I can:

  • The candidates themselves.
  • The ones making the endorsements.
  • The drones.

Of course the candidates are interested in endorsements. They’re in a volatile business, and their fortunes are dictated by public opinion. They’re always checking the wind. A good endorsement from a fellow politician (why did I say wind?) shows the candidate he may be on the right track and wowing the right crowd. And a media endorsement is good, too. As laughably ineffectual as the mainstream media is these days, they still have enough muscle to set policy.

The endorser also has an interest here. To a politician making an endorsement, it can be genuine respect, the making of an alliance somewhere along the line, or a favor to be called later. Like it or not, horse trading is still a big part of politics. And a news outlet has thousands of advertising dollars riding on an endorsement — not just in the political season, but after the votes are counted and the signs torn down.

But that’s small stuff. Why did I mention the drones?

The drone factor is important here. Off the election results over the past couple of decades, they may be in the majority by now. More likely they already are; they only recently discovered voting.

I’d have no problem if these drones (y’all know who you are) merely retired in front of the television, watched the newest hottest reality show, kept up with the celeb du jour, got their news from the National Enquirer or TMZ, and left the voting to those who actually care.

The drones pay attention to such stuff as endorsements, and are more likely to base their vote from an endorsement than a person who actually engages his brain every once in a while.

Here’s the straight stuff: If I vote a certain way because my favorite movie actor or athlete says so, I’m a drone.

If I vote for someone because my union/teacher/boss/spouse/authority-figure-of-choice votes a certain way, I’m another drone. ¬†Taking advice from someone you respect is one thing, but giving that authority figure the pink slip to your vote is something else entirely.

If I vote with an eye toward what I would get out of it and screw the rest of the country, I’m the worst kind of drone.


Stay home.

Go away.

Better to handle sharp objects than a ballot.

Oh, yes. That newspaper owner I actually saw eye to eye with on endorsements: We both agreed that to make an endorsement was to insult the voter’s intelligence. I did have the privilige of writing the editorial containing our endorsements, too. After listening to all the candidates bugging me for months and stringing them along a little bit, I wrote something like this:

“Here are our recommendations on how you should vote: Make sure the paper ballot is right side up before you punch out your choices.”

Fun days. But my boss wouldn’t let me write anything urging the drones to stay home.

Oh, well. There’s always this election.



Watching the swirling action can be hazardous to your health

Don't forget to close the lid. Guess that means the seat goes down too.

Leave it to the British press to remind us of a dirty little secret — like making sure the lid is closed before you flush.

This is stuff I can’t make up.

According to the Mail Online, flushing releases all sorts of bacteria, allowing it to explode into the air, and the lid is there to block it. Or something.

The Mail quotes microbiology professor Mark Wilcox for the info here:

Flushing an open toilet “…¬†increases the risk of viruses like the winter vomiting bug of transmitting to another person … ‘It is very clear from our work that the lid is there for a reason,’ Professor Wilcox told Mail Online …¬†Professor Wilcox and colleagues from Leeds University conducted a study to see how using a toilet lid could affect the spread of disease, specifically in hospitals … they used a sterilised toilet cubicle and created a ‘diarrhoea effect’ in the bowl using stool samples that had been infected with the hospital superbug C. difficile.”

I guess watching everything swirl clockwise down the drain (counterclockwise in Australia) is one of those behaviors that spreads disease.

I didn’t know that.



Ink-stained wretches can still dream

Not long ago I started corresponding with an old friend, a fellow survivor of the newsroom wars. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years, and he had an idea that caused the printer’s ink in my veins to flow a little bit faster … this idea was, why doesn’t he buy an old struggling newspaper, call all the old reporters who haven’t drunk themselves goofy yet, get them all together in one newsroom, and show the world what real journalism is all about … stop me if you’ve heard that one …

(You know there’s more. Read it in HubPages!)


Freaks! Freaks! Freaks!

Are you one? Test yourself …
This is a rather interesting quiz, although one tends to know early in life if he is one of those nonconforming freaks.
By the way, I scored an 83 overall. Again, no surprise. The test actually has three grades — on the need to be unique, on the need to not conform, and the willingness to express dissent (also known as stirrin’ the puddin’). My scores were fairly consistent across the board, ranging from 79 to 89 in the three categories.

Mark your calendar: Asteroid strike on agenda in 2182

H’mmm … from the look of things, what I write today will make absolutely no difference to anybody in about 172 years.
Good to know. I guess I can stir things up without worry. – Scientist Warns Massive Asteroid Could Hit Earth in 2182


Lightning strike gives woman a Blackberry brand

When you think about it, there’s almost something poetic about the whole thing, unfortunate as it is:

Lightning bolts cause problems across area:

Lightning bolts cause problems across areaHANAHAN — A lightning blast seared through a television cable into a laptop computer and burned a woman in her bedroom Monday. The blast was so strong that it left on her ear an impression of the screen of a Blackberry device she was listening to.”
I live about a mile from there, as the crow flies. That thunderstorm blew hot and heavy in my neighborhood, and it had me plenty worried. I left my computer running, but shut down my cable modem and disconnected it until the storm passed. It did give me an excuse to knock off from work for a little bit, anyway.
When I reconnected everything, I had no Internet signal for a couple of hours. Apparently a lightning strike blew something out. Withdrawal symptoms were minimal. But I’m fine now, and playing some catch-up.
Now, I don’t know this lady who got, uhh, branded. But there are quite a few folks I know that are so married to their cell phones and crackberries, and are so rude about it that, if something like this happened to them I would have to laugh.

Of newspapers, pop tarts and Lady Gaga

In case you’re wondering whatever happened to the industry they call “journalism,” here’s a rather amusing (yet true) take by the Washington Post:

Gene Weingarten – Gene Weingarten column mentions Lady Gaga.

Here’s an excerpt, and I totally relate to what Weingarten says:

Call me a grumpy old codger, but I liked the old way better. For one thing, I used to have at least a rudimentary idea of how a newspaper got produced: On deadline, drunks with cigars wrote stories that were edited by constipated but knowledgeable people, then printed on paper by enormous machines operated by people with stupid hats and dirty faces … everything is different today, and it’s much more confusing. For one thing, there are no real deadlines anymore, because stories are constantly being updated for the Web. All stories are due now, and most of the constipated people are gone, replaced by multiplatform idea triage specialists. In this hectic environment, mistakes are more likely to be made, meaning that a story might identify Uzbekistan as “a subspecies of goat.”

Weingarten gets into the business of writing headlines, too. A headline used to be written for human eyes, and liberties were occasionally taken with humor and taste. Like when my old editor, the late great Verne Peyser referred to the McDonalds shooting in San Ysidro (the one where the guy went nuts and killed more than 20 people) as “McMassacre.” Or when the Fontana Herald-News ran the story of Redd Foxx’ death with the headline “Fred joins Elizabeth.” Now, that’s headline writing.

Not any more. Here’s what Weingarten says:

… even the best headlines will be changed to something dull but utilitarian. That’s because, on the Web, headlines aren’t designed to catch readers’ eyes. They are designed for “search engine optimization,” meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted “eyeball.” Putting well-known names in headlines is considered shrewd, even if creativity suffers …

Which explains the Lady Gaga headline in the WaPo story. Weingarten mentioned the name of the pop tart du jour only peripherally, and that’s what became the headline. And myself, well, I’m gonna put her in my headline too, just to see what happens.

Anyway, the whole industry has changed. If I showed up in a newsroom today, I wouldn’t recognize it. Or like it.

I reckon I can complain about it. Back around 1990 I thought it was a horrible travesty when the newspaper where I was working formed focus groups among the community to shape our editorial policy. Shoot, accountants and doctors don’t do this to determine how they’re going to do business, are they?

But now see what’s become of the news trade:

Recently some newspaper out around Pasadena outsourced much of their editorial work to … people in India. Folks who don’t speak the language, but they sure make a lot less than even a poorly-paid journalist stateside.

And news outlets like USA Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and SF Gate farm some of their work out to a huge Web content company. I can’t complain about that; I do a lot of work for that particular Web content company (under an assumed name), and they do have a lot of good writers in their stable. But the copy is competent but colorless, and designed more for search engines than real live human readers.

Oh, yes. Extra points for mentioning pop idols; it gets them on the search engines faster.


(Photo: What’s she doing in my newspaper? Photo by Billie Joe’s Entourage.)