“Divas are people too.”

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From the moment Chris Lee claimed that yes, “divas are people too,” I remembered why I had liked him so much when I heard him present last year. He was referencing his interview with Mariah Carey during which he noted that she had ordered caviar. It is this attitude and sense of humor that I believe makes Lee a successful reporter and writer.

It’s always refreshing to hear a journalist advocate for their line of work, and Chris Lee does exactly that. He is optimistic about the possibilities that come along with the transition journalism is taking to the web. He says that journalism can be a glamorous job in that as a reporter, you get to meet a lot of fascinating people and hear their stories. People will say things that shock you, and it’s your job to accurately encapsulate this person through your writing.

Something I found interesting throughout his presentation was the way he described the difference in writing for print versus writing for the web. He explained that although his writing does not differentiate on the web versus print. However readers expect different things when reading a magazine, newspaper or an online article. When a journalist writes for the web, there is more immediacy and what he calls “bomb throwing.” This means that you have to be more precise and state the most important facts first in order to pique the reader’s interest. My theory is that this could partially be because people are more prone to distraction on the web. They could switch tabs to Facebook or Twitter any second. In order for your story to be read, you have to give it character by making it interesting and to the point.

Lee gave really great tips on writing and interviewing. Something that resonated with me was when he said, “Write like a reader. Article, start sucking and I’m going to leave. Give me any excuse to stop reading you, Article, and I’m gone. Sweeten the deal for the reader by writing vividly.” This is such an interesting way of thinking about how to draw people into your writing. You have to think like your audience; what facts are they looking for? What do they want to know?

In terms of interviewing, he advised us to start the interview with a researched, informed question to show that you’ve done your homework. He also said to hold the hardest questions for last, and to never ask yes or no questions.

Lee has a wonderful personality and is a very entertaining writer. I liked him more the second time hearing him speak.

 

Free Culture: Rip, Mix and Burn

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The ubiquity of digital culture has allowed the cultivation of creativity and information to reach a larger audience. It is true that the “law adjusts to the technologies of the time,” as stated by Lawrence Lessig in “Free Culture.” It reminds me of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), two bills that were proposed earlier this year that would have worked to criminalize links that lead to copyrighted material. SOPA and PIPA would have censored so much of the Internet, something that is continually expanding upon itself. They would have been counter productive if passed. They are an example of how the law has failed to adjust to technologies of our time; the Internet is just too powerful.

One example of how our digital culture has affected intellectual property rules is that of David LaChappelle’s million dollar lawsuit against Rihanna and Def Jam, which was settled in October. Costume and visual elements of Rihanna’s “S&M” music video highly resemble some of photographer LaChappelle’s body of work Vogue Italia. In this instance, intellectual property was at stake, and LaChappelle felt cheated by Rihanna’s blatant plagiarism of art that he had created. This was an asinine thing for Rihanna and Def Jam to do, and displays a complete lack of artistic originality on Rihanna’s part. Yet the video has over 40 million views and went on to reach number 1 on the Billboard Top 100.

What Rihanna did with “S&M” was similar to the way Disney Inc. adapted old fairytales and turned them into animated movies. Lessig says that Disney, “ripped creativity from the culture around him, mixed that creativity with his own extraordinary talent, and then burned that mix into the soul of his culture. Rip, mix, and burn” (p. 24). I guess that is what one could say artists are doing these days. But isn’t that the way people learn in the first place? By copying what we see and building upon it?

Some artists on the other hand, see it fit to release all of their music for free. Skrillex and his label OWSLA allow people to download his music off of music blogs and SoundCloud. This makes sense though in his case, Skrillex is an artist who revolutionized electronic music and took the genre of dubstep, sensationalized it with elements of house music and produced it exceptionally well. His songs are recognizable in themselves becaue they are so popular, but also because they possess sound qualities that had never been heard before. His music is his intellectual property that he was willing to share digitally, and this benefitted him and his fans greatly.

SOPA and PIPA were futile attempts to combat a problem that will never be solved. Internet censorship is something I doubt will ever be fully achieved by the government. An artist should be able to use the internet to assist him or her in distributing music, or whatever kind of art is being produced.

Be Another Raindrop in the Wave: Discovering Wikipedia’s Possibilities

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Image from fanpop.com

I always wondered why Disney movies are so rarely recognized as sexist and racist when the animated films contain so many degrading messages. Disney movies provide unrealistic expectations for girls, whether they are about body image, romance, race or even hair. Disney’s gender stereotyping has become a flawed template for what men, women and romance are supposed to be like in modern perceptions. One example that I’ve noticed is that the premise of “The Little Mermaid” is also the idea that it is favorable for a young woman to completely give up her own life to pursue a man. To me, this is one of many sexist messages embedded within the Disney movies that is overshadowed by our love for the childhood memories and escapism Disney films provide us with.

It is this lack of opinion about sexism in Disney films that inspired me to write a Wikipedia post on the page for “The Little Mermaid” (1989).

I found Wikipedia to be difficult to navigate. I knew that I wanted to make a short, concise addition to The Little Mermaid page about feminist criticism of the message of The Little Mermaid and incorporate an article as the reference. Luckily I was able to understand the html needed to include the article. The trick was figuring out where to add the post.

Aside from learning how to navigate the site, I experienced participatory culture and engaged in contributing to the collective intelligence on the Internet. Wikipedia shows that “nobody knows everything, and everyone knows something,” as Pierre Levy said.  It’s interesting to know that your knowledge is out there and people could be agreeing, disagreeing, or learning from what we have to say. In The Wikipedia Revolution, Jimmy Wales says, “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.” Being able to contribute to the sum of all human knowledge (though I question the credibility of some of the knowledge that is on Wikipedia), and becoming another raindrop in the wave (a metaphor used on the “Benefits of contributing” part of the creating account process) gave me a feeling that I was part of something bigger. Even if the content I added was merely a thought about sexism in “The Little Mermaid.”

Art of the Essay with Erin Aubry Kaplan

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“What makes writing universal is the specific. Nobody wants to read about humanity, they want to read about a person,” said Erin Aubry Kaplan to an audience of LMU students in the English Village on Nov. 14. Kaplan is an L.A. journalist who has written for many publications including the L.A. Weekly, Salon.com and The Los Angeles Times.

Kaplan stood in front of us with a calm, confident demeanor. When she spoke, her peacock feather earrings jingled and she smiled often. She told us about how her career as a journalist progressed – although she was hesitant to call her work a career – as she explained that being a community based reporter is something she enjoys so much that she doesn’t consider it to be work.

As a journalist, her beat is writing about the political and social justice issues surrounding African Americans and women in the Los Angeles area. Kaplan explained how through her reporting, writing and interviews, she makes larger statements about humanity by zoning in on specific individuals and events. I learned that journalism is not about trying to explain a cultural phenomenon in its entirety, but about focusing on a specific person through a feature in order to explain how the world works. By looking at what happens in inner cities like Crenshaw – one of the areas Kaplan did a lot of reporting on – readers gain an understanding of issues that don’t get a lot of attention.

Something that stood out to me was Kaplan’s discussion of whether or not journalism should be seen as a public service. While acknowledging that a lot of journalism is PR driven, she seemed to view her writing as an effort to educate the public about the issues African Americans face in Los Angeles. She also discussed the difference between writing for a newspaper/magazine, writing essays and writing novels. She said that while journalism promotes ongoing discussion, novels are more personal and in depth. I especially liked her essay “The Butt,” which was published by an L.A. Weekly blog. In this essay she writes on how she has come to appreciate her butt and how embracing her body changed her outlook on life.

I liked Kaplan because she was personal. She was relatable and its very clear how much she cares for people. I especially enjoyed her 2001 Salon.com article “The color of love,” in which she tells the story of how she fell in love with Alan Kaplan, a source she interviewed who later became her husband. In the article she writes, “I must say I have always been prone to falling in love with my subjects — for an hour, or a day or two at most — taking the prolonged conversations and forced intimacy to heart before writing a story that either favored them or did not, and then filing it all away in my professional memory.” Maybe journalism isn’t just about hard news. Kaplan believes that the best stories are ones that are able to describe a person or event while making a larger critical statement about humanity.

Stay as you are

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The Medium is the Massage is a page by page mind-fuck. McLuhan redefines our world through what he calls a “collide-o-scopic” lens, emphasizing that the media has more influence on us than we could ever imagine, and that the vehicle through which we obtain information (medium) is just as telling as the actual information (message).  He compares the online world to a neighborhood, in which everyones problems and thoughts are constantly being shoved in everyone else’s face. This is so true. Social media is like a great big nosy neighborhood in which every time you log in, you become part of a constant, instant stream of information.

On another note, something else that this book calls attention to is generational gaps and the influence media has on us at different stages in our lives. On page 59-60, the text reads upside down and is slanted to the left. There is an image of a horizontally stretched smiling face. This eerie image is accompanied by text that reads, “Primitive and pre-alphabet people integrate time and space as one and live in an acoustic, horizonless, boundless, olfactory space, rather than in visual space.” This statement especially tripped me out. Generation Y spends so much time looking at screens, screens which have become visual representations of our lives. Our generation has to graphically lay out everything in order for us to make sense of it. Websites, interfaces and cell-phone screens are all visual representations of communication and how people choose to convey information.We judge people and base our relationships off of what we see on screens. We get so angry at screens.

Its easy to get lost when media is telling you to do a thousand different things all at once. Change your clocks, watch this video, look at this picture, vote. In this day and age it can be really hard to stay neutral and grounded when propaganda is being thrown at you. The best advice for this chaos is on page 77, “The stars are so big, the earth is so small, stay as you are.”

Mark Leibovich Comments on Our Bipartisan Nation

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Romney and Obama point fingers during the 2012 presidential debates
Image from Autoblog Green website

Coke vs. Pepsi
Image from Foodbeat.com

I’ve been to many panel discussions and heard many guest speakers at LMU, and Mark Leibovich was one of my favorites. He is the Chief National Correspondent for the New York Times Magazine, a position that involves reporting on political happenings and interviewing political figures such as the presidential and vice presidential candidates in the upcoming election, as he did most recently. I had the pleasure of having lunch with him with the rest of the Loyolan staff as well as attending his keynote discussion that same night on campus.

There were two main points I appreciated about his discussion. The first was his optimism as a reporter, as well as the sense of importance he associates with his career. The second was his outlook on America as a bipartisan nation.

His discussion of what it is like to be a reporter was captivating. He explained that reporting is about interacting. I liked him because he was refreshingly positive about his career and encouraged us to go into journalism. He described an exciting and busy lifestyle.

One thing that stood out to me during my time listening to him was his optimism. It was inspiring to hear a successful reporter speak positively about his job. I asked him if he had any advice for an aspiring journalist, and his response was to be nice to people, be flexible, and to lose any sense of entitlement. He said that if there’s one thing employers wont tolerate, it’s an young intern or writer with an ego.

In addition to his career advice, it was also interesting to hear his take on America’s current political outlook. I have always been slightly irritated with the bipartisan nature of the U.S. Everything has to be one way or the other; democrat or republican, Mac or PC, Coke or Pepsi. I have always found it detrimental for people to view the world through a binary lens. It is just inaccurate that two opposing positions should represent the views of millions. Mark Leibovich phrased this thought in a way that really resonated with me. He said, “After spending time with each candidate, you see that they are both human and the elction process is very inhuman. Neither is good or evil, hero or villain.” This view is contrary to what a lot of Americans think. People tend to get caught up in a bipartisan viewpoint where they favor their candidate and see them as a manifestation of every economic or social-political viewpoint they have.

The election process categorizes the two candidates as representatives of two diametrical political ideologies. This is not the actual case. It’s fascinating how the media paints a picture of each side and how news organizations portray them as such opposities. This is a very short-sighted way of looking at politics. It was great to hear my view reaffirmed by a prominent reporter.

My Trip to the Los Angeles Times

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Last Friday, I went with the school newspaper on a field trip, if you will, to the Los Angeles Times. Our connection is though LMU alumni John Corrigan, who is the Asst. Managing Editor for Arts and Entertainment at the LA Times. He came and spoke to us at one of our staff meetings about what it’s like to work as a journalist, and he in turn invited the Loyolan editors to attend an A1 meeting at the Los Angeles Times.

The A1 meeting was fascinating. All of the section editors met in a conference room and discussed what was to go on the front page of the next day’s paper. Everyone received a printed out budget of what was to appear in the paper. The stories were about the recent sexual abuse scandals in Boy Scouts of America, a poll about the death penalty and news about school bombings in the Middle East, along with a followup about Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old peace activist who was recently attacked by the Taliban. Toward the end of the meeting, a photo editor gave a quick slideshow of the art that was to accompany these stories. Above is a slideshow of my own.

My favorite part of the experience was exploring the Globe Lobby in the basement of the building. It is this old room full of awards, recognition of LA Times journalists who died on the job overseas, and other various artifacts. There is a ginormous globe that sits in the middle of the lobby with silver dots on it. I never found out what those silver dots represented. Above in the slideshow are some photos of important front page headlines that have been archived in the Globe Lobby. Hopefully I will be back at the LA Times again!