Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Every rom-com ever

I've never had the experience of having a sister, or even a female cousin living in the same town. Instead, I was blessed (or cursed, depending on the day) with three younger brothers. I never thought too much about how being totally outnumbered affected me until I went away to college and started living with girls. At first it was an adjustment living in a female-oriented household, but by the time I graduated I was used to it. Now that I'm back home, there are some things about our household that I've realized are because of the male/female ratio.

Take, for example, the type of movies we watch. Name any PG-13 action movie made within the last eight years and I've seen it. If a movie doesn't include a wildly destructive car chase, gun-toting bad guys who couldn't hit an elephant from ten feet away, someone jumping out of a building/helicopter/speeding car without breaking any bones and at least one explosion, my brothers aren't interested in watching it, and generally majority rules. That probably explains why years ago when our second cousins came to visit and we were talking about movies, one asked Lance if he liked chick flicks, to which he replied seriously, "I don't think I've seen that one before."

It also explains why Cole can't follow the plot of a romantic comedy, even thought they are all exactly the same. Man and woman meet in a way that makes a bad first impression. They find out, to their horror, that they will have occasion to be spending a lot of time together. They annoy each other while one person's spunky sidekick makes jokes about it. They have a breakthrough moment where one character is emotionally vulnerable and opens up to the other, who comforts them. They pretend that night didn't happen, but start spending a lot of time looking at each other across the room. This upsets the nice person one of them is dating, who gets mad at first but eventually says "Go on, I know true love when I see it." It looks like they are going to get together, but there is some sort of misunderstanding or it is revealed one character was lying to the other. They fight. One packs bags for a trip, moving out of town, quitting their job, etc. The other shows up at the last second and apologizes in a sappy speech. They kiss. The camera pulls back and they are now at their wedding. The spunky sidekick and the nice ex get each other as a consolation prize. Credits roll.

But if you are a sixteen-year-old boy, the conversation you have with your older sister and mother who ganged up on you when the rest of the menfolk were gone for the evening, goes something like this:
"Why did she leave?"
"Because she is mad at him."
"Because he keeps watching the other girl instead of listening to her."
"Why would he be watching the other girl? He doesn't like her."
"Yes he does, he's just pretending he doesn't."
"How the heck do you know all of that? They didn't ever say any of it. You're just supposed to know because of their facial expressions? This movie is more confusing than Inception."

I guess I could see why he would be confused. Life generally doesn't happen that way, especially when you're in high school. In high school it goes like this: Girl falls for guy. Guy falls for a different girl, who likes his best friend, who likes the first girl, who thinks he is gross. There is a lot of angst and poetry writing. After two weeks they play romantic musical chairs and this time two lucky pairs actually manages to like each other at the same time, while one girl is left out in the cold. She listens to a lot of Avril Lavigne while the two romantic couples write sappy love songs for each other. At the end of the week, one of the girls catches her boyfriend talking to another girl in his class and immediately breaks up with him for "cheating." The Avril girl sees her opportunity and hooks up with him, while the girl who dumped him gets mad at her friend for "betraying" her. Every week is a new episode in the soap opera until by graduation the student body has tried every romantic combination possible, in some cases twice, and none of them have worked.

Movies may be far-fetched, but maybe TV shows aren't so unrealistic after all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Aliens in Mount Shasta

My brother Cole is now a politician, thanks to a winning election for student body treasurer. It may have been a small-time election, but he won the same way that many politicians win their elections:
A) By flooding the market with way more advertising than his opponents
B) By having really good hair
C) By not talking about the moon or aliens

Seriously, more wannabe politicians need to heed letter C. This week (I am not making the following stories up) one of my colleagues interviewed the two candidates running against Greg Walden for the U.S. House of Representatives. One candidate, Joyce Segers, is an open believer of Lemuria-- the belief that Mount Shasta is a mythical power source left over from an ancient, magical civilization that came here from another planet and some (including Segers) believe those beings still live in a hidden city under the mountain. Really. Aliens in Mt. Shasta.

When my colleague asked the other candidate, whose name I don't remember, what his biggest platform was he started talking about how the moon is getting farther away from the earth every year and if he is elected he will make sure NASA gets funding to put solar-powered engines on the other side of the moon to push it back toward earth, otherwise in a few more decades we will have "perpetual daylight." There are several scientific problems with this. One is that it is not the moon that causes night time, so even if it gets so far away it decides to turn traitor on the earth and become Saturn's moon the sky will still get dark at night. Second, I don't think solar power is going to work very well for engines on the dark side of the moon. That's kind of why it's called "the dark side of the moon."

This week a guy wanted to place an advertisement in our newspaper for go-go dancers for the pagan church he is starting. When questioned about his church's basic tenets, he said he wasn't sure yet what they were, because he was just getting started. But he knows he needs bikini-clad dancers. I'm sure his next call to the newsroom will be to announce his candidacy for something.

Luckily, Walden (who seems more or less sane)is running again, so we don't have to entrust our country with any of these people. But what happens to the states where they don't have another viable option? Do they decide who is slightly less likely to end up in a mental institution and vote for that person? Ah, that explains so much about Congress. For example, it explains how the good people of Georgia elected Rep. Hank Johnson, who asked last year in all seriousness if sending more Marines to the tiny island of Guam would cause it to "tip over and capsize." Yet another example of why political science majors should really be required to take some actual science classes too.

Fortunately for Hank Johnson, whatever intern was responsible for writing his press releases must have taken the same class as all the other political press release writers, which teaches when the person whose campaign you are working for says something completely stupid/offensive, the first step is to write a press release saying he or she "meant it metaphorically." Did a politician say something about shooting their opponent or using a "second amendment remedy"? They meant it metaphorically. Did Mitt Romney say something about hanging Obama? He meant it metaphorically. Did Newt Gingrich talk about putting a colony on the moon? Yes. But his campaign strategists didn't take the "he meant it metaphorically" class. Or the "any mention of the moon makes people call your sanity into question" class. Or the "there is a certain point you should just give up, and you passed it a long time ago, dude" class.

If people don't buy the excuse about meaning it metaphorically, politicians can always say that they "cannot say with certitude" if that is their policy/quote/underwear being plastered all over the Internet. Or that they may have "used the wrong words" when calling someone a slut. Or that when they said people in this country should be speaking the "language of prosperity, not the language of the ghetto" they were referring to when "ghetto" meant a medieval Jewish neighborhood. After all, there are more Spanish-speaking voters than medieval Jewish voters.

Fortunately for Cole he is a regular viewer of the Colbert Report, so he knows all the tricks. If he ever gets caught embezzling from school funds or something like that he can always blame the liberal media.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Goodbye old friend

Sadly, the Daily Universe at BYU is no more. It is being replaced by a weekly paper titled The Universe and a few extra stories on the web. When the change was announced, most people who never worked for the DU said "So what?" but you're just going to have to trust those of us with experience there who aren't drinking the Kool-Aid when we say the whole thing has been a poorly-handled tragedy so far. I'm not going to get all sentimental here, but a couple of other people posted their "Top 10" (actually more like 20, but who knows how to count in a newsroom?) favorite moments in the newsroom and I wanted to share a few of my own, in no particular order.

1) Seeing my byline in the paper for the first time. I was making an important contribution to society! I was changing the world! Actually, that very first article was about worms in Antarctica. So maybe not. Nobody probably even read it. But it was still awesome, and so was the first time I walked past a random person on campus who was reading an article of mine.

2)When I was metro editor, in a less dignified period of time at the paper, whoever was the last one to the conference room for our daily front page meetings had to say the prayer. It was cheating to wait by the door. So the news editor would holler "front page!" and all of the other student editors (and some professional staff as well) would vault out of their seats and run pell mell down the hall, occasionally shoving each other (or our reporters, or the disapproving broadcasters) out of the way if necessary.

3) We had a lot of really great debates about current events in the newsroom during slow news days. I remember the night after the State of the Union address one year everyone was sitting quietly working when McKay suddenly said "All right everyone, favorite State of the Union moments," and everyone instantly turned around with great anticipation and started saying gleeful things like, "When he mentioned Citizens United, did you see Alitos's face?" I loved working with people who could be as nerdy about stuff like that as I was.

4) The spontaneous game of newsroom football that broke out between editors one afternoon when there were no reporters and no professional staff around. Fortunately, no university property was harmed in process

5) When we made a "scratch and sniff" edition for April Fool's day that was actually just plain newsprint. Sitting in the Cougareat at lunch watching people was priceless. Some people kept scratching harder, sniffing again and looking disappointed. Others clearly suspected maybe it was a prank but couldn't help surreptitiously sneaking a sniff when they thought no one was looking.

6) Watching BYU beat Florida in double overtime during March Madness while the Arts and Entertainment editors tried to get work done because they couldn't appreciate what all the fuss was about

7) The BYUSA story. Also the cheating story. Pretty much anything investigative that totally put the campus in a tizzy

8) Reading the infamous Jimmer thread with everyone after I published Michelle Peralta's letter to the editor against Jimmer worship. Also, reading the full collection of letters that came afterward

9) Christian and Danny yelling at each other in Professor Hughes's class

10) Working on the opinion page Monday and Wednesday nights while listening to the copy desk, plus Rich/Kaye/Brandon/RJ, laugh over funny typos

11) All of the special holidays Kaye had us celebrate, like Pancake Day and Cardigan Day. Also, all of the "surprise" birthday parties in the conference room, including the time Kaye invented a front page meeting because my birthday was on a Thursday

12) Pranks, from super glued quarters to candy hearts

13) Coming up with photo illustrations for stories on every possible topic. I particularly enjoyed my career as a hand model for various packages.

14) Hearing horror stories about other editors' reporters, like the one who made out with his girlfriend in the press box during a game

15) When Courtney was gone and Jordon pretended to be her all week

16) Reading all of the really hilarious letters to the editor I didn't print for various reasons (mostly because they were from mentally unbalanced non-BYU students, like the guy who always talked about how the "Mormon CIA" kept erasing his blog)

17) Winning a Hearst for a column about free speech (also finding out that one of the random days we were supposed to submit for a contest was the BYUSA story)

18) Watching the Divine Comedy spoof on the BYUSA article together

19) Courtney and I chatting over Gmail chat when we were sitting across from each other because we didn't want the reporters to hear us talking about their stories

20) A ton of hilarious quotes, great people, lessons learned, fun moments, hard work, and sticking it to the man over three of the best years of my life

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Don't read about Snooki

Frequently my publisher sends all of us an email with the latest column she has found about why, in the writer's opinion, newspapers are "dying." I would like to think the message she is trying to send to us is "These are the things we should avoid doing" as opposed to "your career is doomed." Anyway, the latest one she sent actually makes a lot of sense. The author claimed that it is actually the readers that are killing newspapers, not just because they don't want to pay for news, but because they have bad taste in articles. As much as readers say they want to read real news and not "trash," they are lying, as evidenced by the fact that their complaints are most often in the form of comments under articles with titles like "Who is the father of Snooki's child?" Don't tell me you only clicked on that headline to comment on the story without reading it, SeriousGuy22. Also, don't forget that the social reader apps on Facebook let everyone know you read "How to seduce that hot co-worker" this afternoon.

See, in the good old days before the Internet, journalists had no idea how many people read their stories. Sure, they knew how many people bought the paper, but they didn't know if those people were reading the whole thing cover to cover, only looking at the comics, or only reading the headlines. If a reporter was feeling wildly optimistic (or more likely, very drunk) they could tell themselves that everyone in town was reading all 800 words of their investigative piece about water rates. With the advent of Internet page view statistics, however, they have been disabused of this totally foolish notion. Reality TV stars, cats on YouTube and sex offenders are in. Things that actually matter are out.

As I write this, the stories on Yahoo!'s "most popular" list are these:
New look for 'Dragon Tattoo' star
Actress blasts 'puffy' face critics
FBI takes bin Laden off 'Most Wanted'
Former coach bashes Michael Jordan
Soccer player's inappropriate photo

So what would you do, if you worked at a company in danger of bankruptcy and you knew you could go in the next round of layoffs if you didn't get enough people reading your stories? Would you continue to write stories that attempted to explain important 800-page Senate bills and took hours of research and getting stonewalled by secretaries to write? Or would you start spending ten minutes rewriting others' stories on hot topics and posting them under tantalizing headlines?

Don't be fooled by the headlines. If you're curious about the "horrifying secret" or "crazy new trend" clicking on the article will reveal, I'll save you the time: If it was really that crazy or horrifying they would have actually put it in the headline (for example "Woman found out she was married to her long lost brother"). The last time I clicked on a headline like that, I found out that the horrifying secret the author found out about Marilyn Monroe is that she was naturally thin. No joke.

Also, if the headline asks a question, the answer is always either "no" or "we have no idea". Why write an article titled "Obama hasn't said anything about Romney's religion" when you could call it "Does Obama really believe Romney belongs to cult?" It's just an opportunity to throw in buzz words. One of my editors during my internship at the Daily News a couple of years back told me that Sarah Palin was consistently one of the most searched-for terms on the Internet that summer, so "If Sarah Palin sneezes, you'll be writing a story about it." I could do it, too: "Is Sarah Palin dying of a horrifying secret disease?"

According to Google News, the top news topics as I write this are Mitt Romney and Axl Rose. Combine this fact with the knowledge of words that make people click on stories any time without fail, and you will know to expect headlines like "Did Mitt Romney and Axl Rose have a shocking gay love affair?" in the coming weeks. Be honest: If you saw that headline come up on the MSN homepage, would you click on it? Yeah, I thought so.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My parents live with me

While I was doing research for an article the other day, I came across a column in the New York Times criticizing people my age as a "Go nowhere generation" because a lot of us (yours truly included) moved back home after graduating from college. He seemed to think Millenials are boring and timid, but I would like to think most of us are just pragmatic. We took a look around at the people five or ten years older than us who now owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth because they thought they had to have a house the size of their parents' as a newlywed twenty-something and thought "No thanks."

For me, living with my parents was basically an accident. Their house was just supposed to be a brief stopping point from which to send out job applications to various interesting parts of the country. But only about one in twenty journalism job descriptions doesn't include the requirement "must have at least five years of experience," so when a reporting job here fell into my lap out of the blue one day I decided it would be stupid to refuse. At that point my parents offered me an opportunity to live rent-free, with free home-cooked meals every day and someone willing to do my laundry every week while I was at work. It was really the laundry that did me in.

At first it was pretty hard on my pride, to be honest. When my friends and I talked about what we were going to do after high school I was always the first to say I was NOT going to stick around The Dalles, and when we all went off to college I was one of the farthest away. Don't get me wrong, both The Dalles and my parents' house are great places to live and I thoroughly enjoyed growing up in both. But I just didn't see myself as that girl. So I felt like a loser. That's the stereotype, right? I don't know about guys, but girls say they don't want to end up with "some guy living in his parents' basement." OK, I'll admit it: I actually took significant comfort in the fact that the house I grew up in does not have a basement. Sad, I know.

Eventually I realized I was being dumb. I have a really good thing going for me, who cares what other people think? Logan suggested when it comes up with people who don't know anyone in our family I phrase it as "My parents are living with me."

But it works out pretty well for both of us. I get the above-mentioned benefits, and my parents get their favorite, best-behaved, most helpful child back :) It took Mom a while after I came back to stop expecting the gallon of milk to still be on the table when she got back from her meeting she left for before the dinner table was cleared. Plus, she says I more than earn my rent by helping Cole with his homework, because he'll let me look at his AP essays with him but he absolutely refuses to let anyone else even look in the direction of his schoolwork. No joke, when he writes papers on the computer he saves them under a random letter combo and then saves a bunch of blank pages under other bunches of letters so Mom can't just look it up when he's not around.

Plus, it's different living at home now than it was when I was in high school, or even during the summers between college semesters. My parents don't expect the same things from me. Before, if one of my brothers had something like a robotics competition going on, it was the expectation that I go unless I had a good excuse not to. Now it's like "You're welcome to join us if you want to." Most of the time I do, but if I skip the occassional scouting court of honor I don't feel too guilty. I go to Family Home Evening with the young single adults instead of my own family. If I want to go somewhere I just go instead of having to ask to borrow the car. And I'm more of my own person, versus trailing behind my parents and just being seen at "the McDowells' daughter." When I go to a Relief Society dinner I sit at the table with the twenty-somethings and Mom sits with the women with sisters with teenage/adult children. When we go to a community event together, people are just as likely to come up and talk to me about something I wrote in the paper as they are to come up and talk to my dad about a meeting they were both at.

Will I live with my parents forever? No. Not even close. But right now I do, and that's okay with me. I wouldn't want Cole to get too spoiled once Logan leaves for college.