Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Emoticon Period

Some people panicked recently when it was reported that private email-like messages on Facebook from before 2010 had become public when people switched over to the Timeline format. It turns out that Facebook, as well as several media outlets, investigated and found that in every single instance the messages reported as private were cross-checked and discovered to be legitimate wall posts that had never been private to begin with. Which is definitely a relief.

To quote a TechCrunch reporter: "It can be hard to remember the way Facebook worked or the way we used it back in the day. Without comments, people would have conversations by exchanging wall posts, and any one taken out of context might seem like a private message. We also might not have been as careful with what we posted to walls back then before everyone’s co-workers, boss, and grandma had a Facebook account."

That made sense to me. So I looked back at my Timeline from before 2010 to see what sort of things I was posting back then. Yes, I know, I was supposed to do that when I switched to Timeline and delete embarrassing posts, but I was pretty sure I didn't have any drunken party photos on there and I didn't get a Facebook early enough to have embarrassing geeky middle school photos on there so I figured it was all good. And really, I think Mark Zuckerberg vastly overestimates our stalkerish tendencies on this one. Does anyone actually use the Timeline feature to go back and browse through what their friends were doing on Facebook three years ago? If you do, perhaps you should take up a hobby like golf instead.

I discovered there were many phases I went through on Facebook. There was the emoticon period, where every post I wrote ended in :) After that came the ellipse period, where each status trailed off like this ... despite being the end of whatever I meant to say. And, of course, the time of the passive aggressive posting of song lyrics.

Some things on my Timeline brought back memories. Statuses like "Jade is glad Taylor Hall didn't burn down last night" and photos from New York, for example. Some posts didn't bring back memories, like one from a guy I don't remember ever doing anything just the two of us telling me that he had fun the night before and he was glad he went with me. Whatever that night was, I don't remember it at all (maybe I should be more concerned about drunken party photos). I also had a lot of thoughts like, "Hey, I really liked that shirt. I wonder what ever happened to it."

If a potential employer were to look at my past posts they would see a very balanced person-- I have used both "I love everyone" and "I hate everyone" as status updates in the past. I have also posted both liberal and conservative newspaper columns to my wall, complained about college while also saying it was wonderful and written a fairly even mix of cheerful and angsty messages. See? Balanced. Or bi-polar.

It was interesting that I didn't want to be one of those people who wrote about all of their personal problems on Facebook, but you could still tell when I was going through something really bad, because eventually I couldn't contain my angst and so I would write angrily about other things instead. "Will everyone please stop using that stupid Who Has Seen Your Profile app?" became code for "My life is falling apart and I don't know what to do." Of course, some of my angry/whiny posts were just that. I really want to go back and tell my former self, "Aww, you don't get a spring break to go with your Christmas break and Thanksgiving break and summer break? You poor baby. College must be so hard compared to the real world."

I also found a lot of gems like this one:
"Dear readers,
I apologize that you (were/have been/will be) offended by the (content/word choice/layout) of the (article/viewpoint/photo) that appeared in the Daily Universe. I received your email that (I/the staff/the reporters) are (apostates/idiots/socialists) and are lacking in (integrity/common sense/a testimony). Thank you for your concern.
the opinion editor"

Which reminded me that as much as I loved my jobs at The Daily Universe, I am also very glad to not be practicing journalism in Utah anymore. Although it was kind of fun looking back through and getting my memory refreshed on exactly which names I was called while working there. Unprofessional, condescending, smarmy ... ah, the memories. I should really keep a list, so when I get a new piece of hate mail I can be like "Oooh, cowardly, I haven't gotten that one before."

Seriously, everyone should go back and browse through their old Facebook posts ... it's not like anyone else will. And you might be surprised at what you find out. Like the fact that you had Fruit Loops for breakfast on August 29, 2008 and they were delicious.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Good and bad

The last few weeks at work have been insanely busy. Part of the reason for this is that our town has decided to literally have about five years' worth of violent crime for our town in the space of five weeks. No kidding. It's like there is something in the water. Some of our recent letter writers would helpfully point out right now that it's probably the fluoride.

To recap: In our town of approximately 14,000 we had a woman shoot her husband in the chest while he was sleeping and then shoot herself. She died, he survived and swears she had always seemed perfectly sane he has no idea what might have provoked her. About a week later a local man was found downtown, murdered. Police are still looking for a person of interest who was caught on camera with him earlier that night but other than that there are no leads. A week after that two young men got in a fight in a grocery store parking lot and one died of blunt force trauma to the head. At the end of that week a man was charged with trying to pay a fellow inmate to kill our district attorney after he got out of jail. Yesterday a rape suspect was shot to death after police responded to the scene and he tried to attack them with a knife.

In between all of those violent crimes we were also covering events ranging from a woman falling off a cliff to a local surgeon being killed in a motorcycle crash to an anesthesiologist pleading guilty to molesting women he put under to local controversies like the anti-gay comments made by a local school board member on the radio and the firing of the very popular business manager at the local animal shelter. Every controversial story, including the crime ones, causes us all to also have to use up staff time being yelled at (or in a few cases, to be fair, being talked to reproachfully but politely) by people who didn't like some part of the story. So it's been busy.

Fortunately I'm not the cops reporter and haven't had to cover the crime ones myself (I got more of that in New York than I ever wanted) but it still takes its toll in having to build extra pages, proofread more, etc. and endlessly discuss every word of the stories to see if we're revealing too much or not enough and if we're striking the right balance between sensitivity and helping local law enforcement in their investigation.

Being a reporter makes you hyper-aware of every bad thing happening in your area. It's not just the major stories either--I get the unedited police logs every day and things get harder to forget when a one-liner about an arrest for assault turns into names and details about a woman being beaten by her husband in front of her children.  It's enough to make anyone want to move out of town, but then you read the state wire and national news and realize it's just as bad everywhere else and worse in some places. And then you think about all of the people you know who don't take basic safety precautions like locking their doors at night and you shake your head in wonderment. There is a reason why I immediately signed up for self defense classes upon returning from my New York internship.

We also have the police scanner on all day, which ranges from the funny ("we have a report of a man threatening people with a sword") to the sad (a drowning in progress miles from town that turns into an assumed drowning death before police can get there). It's easy to develop a respect for law enforcement when you listen to them doing their job every day and respond to the same accident scenes they do at about the same time (they beat me there only because they have the advantage of being able to legally speed).

Of course, when you're a reporter you also get exposed to all of the good in town that goes on all of the time, much of which the general public isn't really aware of to the same extent you are. People focus on the one crime story in the paper to the exclusion of all of the positive things we cover--nonprofits, grant and donation announcements, sports, volunteer work, thank yous in the letters to the editor section, interesting people in the community, programs in the schools, church service projects, good things government agencies are doing, etc.

For every sad story I've covered I've talked to multiple people who are working hard to make a real positive difference in their community and succeeding. For every raving ignorant, bitter, angry person I have to deal with I talk to others whose neighbors want everyone to know that they have been quietly serving the community in impressive ways, like donating 35 gallons of blood for free since they moved here or spending hours every week collecting and sorting cans to give the deposits to charity or donating their highly valuable professional skills to a nonprofit regularly when they could be getting paid for it. For every person who goes to jail there is another person who has made a career of helping others. It restores your faith in humanity.

I guess the lesson is that human beings are both good and bad, and you have to be prepared for the bad while not getting too cynical to see or believe in the good.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Copy editors don't have offices

Real life is not like the movies. Everyone knows that on some level, because most people have yet to have one of those movie-ending moments in their lives where they save the day against all odds, start dating a sensitive, intelligent model, get sweet revenge on their enemy, have all of the criminal charges that should have resulted from their hijinks magically disappear and are offered a large reward and the job of their dreams all in the same afternoon. Still, you assume that Hollywood gets other facts straight until they make a movies about something you're very knowledgeable about, like football or stamp collecting or being a dentist. And then you say, "If they think that's what it's really like, then maybe I shouldn't rob that casino based solely on my knowledge of Ocean's Eleven after all."

Take, for example, reporters. I'm not a totally seasoned veteran yet, but I've worked in three different newsrooms and met a whole lot of journalists from other publications so I think I have a pretty good feel for what it's like to work in the print industry. And I can tell you, it is nothing like Hollywood usually portrays it. If you'll notice, one of the two leads in romantic comedies often work for a newspaper or magazine (think Never Been Kissed, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Runaway Bride, 27 Dresses, Sleepless in Seattle and When in Rome) and it is always obvious that the director has never actually set foot in a newsroom (well, okay, I can't speak for sure for a magazine).

For goodness sake, in Never Been Kissed Drew Barrymore is a copy editor at a daily newspaper and she has her own office. I can't even begin to tell you how absurd that is. People who work for newspapers do not have offices--it's called a newsroom, not newsrooms, for a reason. Even when I worked for the Daily News, which is huge, everyone worked on computers spaced about every three or four feet along rows of tables, even the assignment editors. How else are you supposed to yell across the room at each other and eavesdrop on conversations so they don't have to be repeated? It would take twice as long to put out the paper. The only people who had their own office that I know of were the publisher and managing editor. And a copy editor is low man on the totem pole, so there is NO WAY Drew Barrymore would have an office. The Daily News, by the way, is supposedly where the main guy in When in Rome works and I can tell you the actual newsroom does not at all resemble what the movie portrays, although at least they don't work in offices. But it's way too cheerful-looking.

Also, movie newsrooms (at least of the newspaper variety) are always populated with way too many highly attractive people. I'm not saying there are no good-looking people working at newspapers. I'm just saying that most ridiculously good-looking people interested in journalism end up as news anchors, and print reporters generally tend to look vaguely homeless, except for the photographers, who look explicitly homeless. And those journalists' desk always look even more unkempt than they do.

Another thing that is unrealistic in movies that supposedly feature a journalist are the deadlines. Sure, journalists do occasionally work for a couple of weeks on an intense investigative story involving freedom of information requests for government documents, but when the journalist in a romantic comedy spends three weeks falling in love with the main character they are writing a column or story about, generally by about the third day the editor would be going "Why is this not on my desk? I needed it yesterday!" Maybe that was how it was at one time. But now we live in an age when print is dying and therefore every journalist is doing the job of three other people and therefore journalists are always running around frantic and harried and having to choose which thing they should be doing will have to not get done for the day, not meeting a cute guy for coffee at 10 a.m.

Item number four: Print journalists are not perky and do not get excited about things, except maybe scandals involving government officials and gaffes made during presidential debates. They don't walk around the office smiling in a dreamy way that makes their co-workers say "You're in love, aren't you?" Their co-workers would not ever under any circumstances ask such a ridiculously sappy question.

If you want a better idea of what journalists and newsrooms are really like, I suggest watching State of Play with Russell Crowe. Of course what happens to his character in the movie is more exciting than a normal day of work, but in the bonus materials they talked about spending a couple of days at the Washington Post doing research and it shows. The newsroom looks like what a major metropolitan newspaper's newsroom would actually look like. Russell Crowe's desk, with its papers and sticky notes and notebooks covering every inch, looks like a journalist's desk. He and his car are both appropriately unkempt and unassuming. His editor, played by the talented Helen Mirren, is appropriately tough without being the red-faced, ranting caricature of an editor in a lot of movies. Some things in the movie aren't very realistic, like the extremes they go to in one case to blackmail someone into talking to them, but a lot of other parts are.

If someone made a movie about journalists that involved a lot of sitting through a lot of public meetings, now that would be really realistic.