Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why write a story when you can copy a press release?

Oooooooh SHAME on the Bangor Daily News and The Bar Harbor Times! Both papers wrote almost identical stories last week on the Trenton man who suffered injuries from falling from his tree stand. (Why this is really news in the first place is astonishing to me...but anyway.)

I had heard the story on the radio and then read Al Diamon's blog Media Mutt on the writing scandal.
Plagiarism? Yes, but as it turns out, not of each other. Both papers copied large amounts of their coverage from a news release put out by the Maine Warden Service. Except for the first paragraphs, the articles track the release almost exactly.

The release: “Harrison Sawyer, 56, of Trenton set out at approximately 6:30 yesterday from Pittston Farm, canoed across the north branch of the Penobscot River and trekked to the location where he has hunted for several years.”

The Bar Harbor Times: “Harrison Sawyer, 56, of Trenton set out at approximately 6:30 a.m. from Pittston Farm, canoed across the north branch of the Penobscot River and trekked to the location where he has hunted for several years.”

The Bangor Daily News: “Harrison Sawyer, 56, left Pittston Farm at about 6:30 a.m., canoed across the north branch of the Penobscot River and trekked to a spot where he has hunted for several years, according to Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.” -- from Al Diamon
Is it a case of laziness? Small staff? Who knows. It is, in any case, irresponsible and unacceptable.

I make sure to teach my students that a press release is NOT a news source. It is a source to be used in having interviews and writing your story. They should be used as a first step in creating a news story -- not the ONLY step.

Attack of the App

I don't know why Ray Richmond is but I read his recent blog post with disdain.

He was pontificating about how his new iPhone app, News Fuse, supplies you with content from 18 different news outlets.
The app gives you the content in a brilliantly streamlined, slick fashion without littering icons all over your screen. The news sources appear en masse or disappear with a single touch. Every one of the sites features comprehensive, up-to-the-minute content, laid out simply and attractively. It takes roughly five seconds for each of the 18 to refresh, update and appear on your screen.
He loves that this costs him only a one-time fee $0.99. He estimates that if he paid for all this content it would be over $100 a month and once you got around to reading them the news would be old.

Hurrah for the News Fuse? Maybe to people like Ray Richmond who can't seem to slow down enough to enjoy a magazine or a cup of coffee with the newspaper. Reading news content on a cell phone sounds as appealing as churning butter. Call me crazy, but who wants to squint to read the iPhone screen? How much thicker does Apple want my glasses to get?

To me, this app sounds like a good idea in theory, but in practice isn't so hot. My eyeballs are hurting just thinking about it. Do any of you out there read stuff like this on your phones?

Propaganda Jehovah's Witness Style...

The other morning I found a January 2009 issue of Awake! on my kitchen table. Those of you who have been visited by Jehovah's Witnesses will know the little mag I'm talking about. Hmmmm -- I thought. I knew MB's father loved Jesus but did he leave this for us after his recent visit? Turns out he didn't. I guess Grandma took it from some JW visitors before she moved out.

The cover is sort of enticing: "Are We Running Out Of Water?" For those of you who don't know better you would have thought this was a science magazine. Fooled you! Had you looked closer you would have noticed a smaller headline in the bottom right corner that reads "Also: Are Your Problems A Punishment From God? Page 28. This is a ploy to get you to read the magazine and find God.

Flipping through I couldn't believe all the topics this 31 page thingy covered: The Water Crisis, The Toucan's Beak, Relationship Advice, Forgotten Slaves of the South Seas, Pizza, and the Sahara Desert. Holy Moses!

Here's a glimpse of the "mission statement":
This magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things.
Good God Almighty! If that isn't a warning or a threat I don't know what is.

I've been carrying around this scary little publication for a few days now, waiting to blog about it. I'm surprised it hasn't burned a hole in my handbag...I mean, I celebrate Christmas, and birthdays, and love Easter candy! I don't pray before I eat and I never go to church. Maybe it's a sign from God?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to pay a blogger...

I have started a blog for the magazine I work for. It's fun and allows us to do more timely stories on the things happening around us. It also allows us to publish things we probably never would in the pages of our magazine.

My boss sent me this article via Advertising Age about when and how to pay a blogger and the ethics and code behind it.
When my colleague Sean Corcoran and I researched this topic, we realized that this practice, which we call "sponsored conversation," is here to stay. Some bloggers are journalists and some others act like journalists -- those will adhere to tight ethical standards on gifts. Other bloggers will take money to write anything and have no credibility -- you don't want to pay them, since no one believes them.
I believe what it comes down to is transparency and credibility.

Bloggers like Michelle Mitchell, who writes the popular Alaska-mommy blog Scribbit, has businesses sponsor her posts. They don't necessarily go with what she's writing about...for example, a recent post about Cashew Fettucini Alfredo is tagged as being sponsored by a business that sells baby shower gifts. Had the post been about shower gifts to by that you can find at this store, it would have been fishy.

Mitchell also has give-a-ways that promote certain products and she does her fair share of plugging what she likes. But she's credible because she's established. She's been around for a while. She has her profile up where people can check her out. She's written a book. People believe her. Oh yeah, and she's fun to read!

I think this sort of thing is what blogging should be about. She has made a business for herself and getting the kickback from that is a transaction between her and her clients. When there isn't that transparency and credibility is when problems arise.

I remember when I worked for and we would put together gadget gift guides and holiday gift guides...we were never permitted to keep ANYTHING sent to us to review. The thought being that because we got something for free we would write favorably about it. This is less journalism and more public relations. And it's not fair. I don't care how much you pay me -- I will not endorse something that goes against my morals or values. If something is terrible I will not promote it...unless to say how terrible it is.

I would love to be able to have my own slew of bloggers out there that I could pay. But right now the money just isn't there. So it's up to me and our interns to do it. Which is fine.

The safest way to get yourself or business out in cyber world is to hire a professional web marketing person to help you. There are people out there that will help you boost your web presence. My friend Nicole is one of these people. It is her job to put you on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, help you start a blog, whatever! Online marketing guru's are way more credible that hiring some dude off the street. And they have price sheets, accountants, statistics, and clients to vouch for them.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

New Book!

I picked up Barbara Walters' autobiography last night called Audition. I'm so excited to read it!
Breaking news: Barbara Walters wears fake eyelashes, is afraid to drive, gave up her black married lover to save her career (while his went down the tubes).

These and other true confessions provide the tabloid interest through 600 pages of the network diva's new memoir, Audition. But it's her heartfelt candor that lifts this book above mere titillation. Finally we learn why Walters is so relentless. It's a question I've often pondered watching her on television after beginning my own TV news career 30 years ago. In this engaging and chatty look back at a life largely lived in public view, Walters provides the answer. - The Washington Post
I've spent the last two days moving into my new house so there hasn't been much reading time...but I did squeeze in the first chapter this afternoon. So far spectacular!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Have you ever been so busy that your mind turns numb at the end of the day? That's been me all week. We have been cranking on all cylinders to get the 140 page double issue magazine to the printer by tomorrow at 4:30 pm. I've had 3 things going on all at once at work, plus I'm in the middle of buying a house and moving into it so I'm ALL messed up! By the end of the day I'm literally mush. My sentences make no sense. I drop things. Words don't come to my mind. It's the oddest sensation!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Secret Life of Bees

I finished this book last night. Now I feel compelled to see the movie. In most cases the book is usually better than the movie but I have heard otherwise in this case. Has anyone seen it?

I like the actresses in it:
Dakota Fanning: Lily
Queen Latifa: August
Jennifer Hudson: Rosaleen
Alicia Keys: June
Sophie Okonedo: May

On to the next read....haven't decided what it is yet!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Renegade Writer...

I check this blog every so often. Often times it's used to plug it's own classes, but this interview with Dan Baum of Playboy, Wired, and Rolling Stone fame was fantastic!

He used to be on staff at The New Yorker but is now making his way as a freelance writer. Even with his credible background it's not easy these days. Apparently he's a whiz at writing story can check out some successful ones here.

Here's a bit from the blog post:
What does it take to make it — what kind of interests and background do you need to be able to do the kind of journalism that you do? What is your background?

I worked for six years in newspapers and then we’ve been freelancing ever since. What does it take? I used to say that for people getting out of college, working at a newspaper is great training, but newspaper jobs are getting hard to get.

I think it takes relentlessness. When I’m starting to work on a story, I’ll start reading about something, and I’ll just follow every link, and as I’m doing it I’ll make a list in a Word document of the people that I need to find.

I start calling them immediately, and talking to them and taking notes on my computer. The expression I use with Margaret is “I had a red dog day today,” which means I had my nose down on the ground and I was going after everything today. Just hoovering in enormous amounts of information. And when I start a proposal, I try to have a series of red dog days where I am just relentless, going after everybody, and as soon as I encounter somebody’s name I pick up the phone and I call. When I finish the interview I say, Who else should I talk to? Then I call those people.

I don’t put it off — I don’t say these are people I’m going to call later — I do it right then. Man, there are times when in one day I can get enough information to write a proposal that will get me a $12,000 magazine assignment.
And this is just one little tidbit! If you are a writer I suggest you read the whole darn thing.

Is Maureen Dowd Lazy?

One of my former students and current workplace minion sent me this article on Maureen Dowd and her apparent plagiarism. She used a 43-word paragraph originally written by Josh Marshall of the political website Talking Points Memo in a recent column about Nancy Pelosi.
The similarity was first noticed by TPM on Sunday, and by the evening a mortified Dowd had apologized, saying she had not read Marshall's column but that evidently someone she knew had. "I was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing," she wrote in an e-mail to the Huffington Post among others, "who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column.' The Times amended the web version and noted the correction.

But, as the blogosphere quickly pointed out, this idea was not so much woven into the column as slathered in Elmer's and pasted right on. It seemed implausible, many noted, that Dowd could repeat word for word what she said she heard. Or that the friend had expressed the idea in precisely the same way as Marshall without knowing it. And if the idea was not her own, why didn't she attribute the friend? -- from
Does Maureen (who I am on a first name basis with in my mind) think she is above it all? Doe she even have an original thought or is she sapped of ideas for her columns? Does she think she should be treated differently because she is a columnist? Is the red dye seeping into her brain? All questions I don't have time to think about at the moment due to deadlines.

Photo by Alex Wong

Monday, May 18, 2009

"My Personal Credit Crisis" by: Ed Andrews

My friend Annie and I were talking about the merits of writing new stories in the first person. We didn't find many. But in reading this story by Ed Andrews from The New York Times my mind is temporarily unmade.

This is a gut-and-heart wrenching story. Andrews is a financial reporter for the NYT and writes an article about how he fell into credit crisis. It just proves that normal, everyday Americans, even ones who know they should know better, have fallen prey to mortgage lenders. It's sad.
I joined millions of otherwise-sane Americans in what we now know was a catastrophic binge on overpriced real estate and reckless mortgages. Nobody duped or hypnotized me. Like so many others — borrowers, lenders and the Wall Street dealmakers behind them — I just thought I could beat the odds.
I've never had a lot of money so when I have to make a big decision like going to graduate school, buying a car, or buying a house, I don't take the decision making process lightly. I don't have credit card debt and refuse to live beyond my means. Heck, I even have a roommate to help alleviate the costs of living!

I guess when you're used to not having such luxuries like an expensive car, renting a vacation house in another country, and top-of-the-line clothes and furniture it's easier to live without.

Here's to living broke!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oldest and Whitest

According to the most recent census data, Maine is the whitest and oldest state in the nation. This should surprise no one. I wonder if we get a blue ribbon or a medal or something. We could prominently display it in Augusta! We could use this in a new marketing campaign: More than Potatoes, Lighthouses, and Lobsters! We've got OLD WHITE PEOPLE! I don't know why all those Dixie southerners who hate minorities so much just don't get up off their keisters and move north. It would be PARADISE for them!

Maine doesn't have much in the way of other stuff. We don't have any professional sports teams (unless you could UMaine Hockey professional...), we're not known for our shopping (unless you heart L.L. Bean), and it's cold more than half the year. If we have to be the oldest and whitest state in the nation I say we embrace it!

Other stats:

Youngest state in the nation: Utah with a media age of 28.7.
State with the most people over 65 years of age: Florida -- duh.
State with the most women: Washington D.C. at 52.7%
State with the most men: Alaska at 52.1%

Check out the story in the Bangor Daily News here.

Work Space

Have you ever seen that CBS Sunday Morning show where Andy Rooney goes into different offices at CBS and assesses their tidyness? The messier someone keeps their office the more productive they are. His words -- not mine.

Here is a photo of my office as I left work last night...

I was even astounded at it's atrociousness! I am working on deadline on our magazine that is going to be TWICE the size that it normally is to commemorate our great city's 175th birthday. It's been stressful and crazy! People have been losing their minds this past week and -- luckily -- my mind has stayed intact. My desk, however, has not.

I came in this morning hell bent on cleaning it up but I don't know where to start. So I didn't bother.

Does your office look like this? Or is it just me....

Monday, May 11, 2009

Commute Another Way Week

Welcome to Commute Another Way Week here in the great state of Maine! The 15th Annual Commuter Challenge is sponsored by the Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Each day will highlight a different way to commute. The awareness week kicks off today with Vanpool Day, followed by Transit Tuesday. Rice said in years past, the BAT bus system offered free rides, but the down economy has forced the BAT to do away with that incentive. -- from the Bangor Daily News
Well that's kind of a bummer now isn't it?

So far my favorite day is Thursday which is "Try Anything Day". Hm. Try anything? Perhaps my chihuahua could pull me in a wagon? I found an old jump rope in my grandmother's garage -- I could jump my way to work. My uncle is in town and he doesn't have a job yet -- maybe I could get him to carry me to work. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.

About 200 people have taken the poll on the BDN website on if they plan to commute differently to work this week. 80% of them voted no. When you live in a rural area like we do...there's only so many ways you can get around! If you want to use my uncle lemme know...

Book Bulimia

I am a bulimic shopper. Often times I buy something only to return it a day later. The same can be said sometimes for my book browsing. I have picked up The Secret Life of Bees probably a bajillion times off of the shelf at numerous bookstores from Maine to New Jersey. It has been prominently displayed in Borders for about three years now. I'd pick it up, read the back, flip through and read a page here and there and put it back on the shelf.

I do this with a lot of books on The New York Times Bestsellers List. It's like I don't want to read it because everyone else is reading it. I did the same thing with Eat, Pray, Love and you know what? I really liked that book! There was no reason I should have put off reading it for so long.

So when I saw Bees is Merri-Beth's library displayed in our living room I went for it. I had just finished Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and needed a change of genre. I hear the Bees movie is rather good -- so maybe once I finish the book I'll check it out.

Here's to getting over book bulimia!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gay Marriage in Maine

Hooray! I just love that Maine is the 5th state in the nation to legalize gay marriage. It's smart and kind and fair. It's also all over the news!

Gay marriage gets blessing from Maine
-- New York Daily News

People’s veto effort is likely to postpone weddings indefinitely - Bangor Daily News

Maine, fifth state to alloy gay marriage --

California voters likely to revisit gay marriage -- Los Angeles Times

N.J. gay rights advocates: Marriage near -- The Star-Ledger

What's so great is that Maine is getting other states talking about the issue. Even if it gets vetoed in the future the discussion has begun (or been revisited) for other states. Hooray for Maine!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Genres I like

I find myself drawn to books in the same few genres:

1. The Holocaust (ex: Escape from Sobibor)
2. China (ex: anything by Amy Tan)
3. Gay Funny-Men (ex: Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris)
4. Women Who Grew Up in New York (ex: Their Last Death)
5. Depression-Era America (ex: The Grapes of Wrath)

I try not to read two books from the same genre in a row...I get bored. The book I'm reading now, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, fits in the "Women Who Grew Up in New York" genre. I like it, but not as much as I Was Told There'd Be Cake.

Soon I will be living with my friend Merri-Beth who has a whole crap load of books and we can feed off each other. The main problem with Merri-Beth's impeccable taste in reading material is that it's much like mine! In scanning through her library I found most of my favorite books!

What are some of your favorite books? Five of mine are listed below:

The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
What is the What by Valentine Achak Deng and Dave Eggers
Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote
Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

End of Semester Hell

Want to know what I have been reading lately? Final papers. Feature stories to be more specific. 20 of them. I've read most of them before in their first draft stage. Some of them have improved vastly. Some haven't.

I've also been grading final exams. I'm glad all of my students passed -- there weren't even any C's which makes me a happy professor.

I have been putting off reading these papers. Luckily I'm not passing them back because the semester is over. But once I'm done I have to formulate their final grades. This takes a lot of time and I'm just not in the mood. But I have to do it this week.

I need some motivation....

Friday, May 1, 2009

What Mimi Saw: Earth

I have been on pins and needles wanting to see this show and I finally did! My friend Kim and I (both Discovery channel nerds....Shark Week anyone?) went to the Bangor cinema last night. Much to our delight we were the ONLY ones in the ENTIRE theater! Has this ever happened to you? It was a first for me and I LOVED it! Good thing I went with her and not some tall blond drink of water or I would have been making out through the whole movie. Actually, probably not because though I do like to make out this was an AMAZING movie!

If the thought of time lapse video gets you all excited then I'd suggest bringing an extra pair of underwear to this show. Entire valleys and forests turned from skeletal and winter white to yellow spring to deep green summer to a colorful fall in a matter of moments. The diligence it took these photographers to compile this footage is staggering. They had to take a photo every day for 365 days a year in the exact same spot to get it right. Holy cow incredible.

I don't know how they did it but these camera men caught 6 ducklings jumping out of their nesting hole in a tree to the forest floor. Who even knew ducks HUNG OUT in trees? Not I. Not Kim.

They caught a great white shark catapulting itself into the air to catch a seal. They caught Birds of Paradise shaking their booty for their women friends. They caught a lion attach in the DEAD of night in the desert and a cheetah catching this young deer-ibex like thing too. We were on the edge of our seats for that one, rooting for the baby deer-ibex thing the whole time. And because there was no one else in the theater we could squeal and scream all we wanted. It was liberating.

Anyway. Check out the trailer here. Go see the movie. It's worth it.