Archive for August, 2009

Paneling It

August 25, 2009

Spoke for the first time at Social Media Breakfast Austin this morning. While 7:30am is too early for my taste, good discussion, smart people and Torchy’s Tacos made it worth it.

SMB Austin 9

SMB Austin 9

We got questions about whether PR professionals should use Twitter to communicate with reporters (yes, but not obsessively), how media can monetize social media (it probably can’t) and what the future of journalism looks like (Google Wave, wikis, context).

The most interesting question we’ve all confronted in journalism panels of late is this idea that there’s a vast ‘sewage pipe’ of information out there, and it is difficult for consumers to sort the waste from the valuable pieces of information. How should we best help people find the news they need? Curation/aggregation is a good start, so long as the readers grant the curator or the news organization credibility. I’m also interested in advanced, dynamic tagging. But let’s have a conversation about this… reliable information is hard to measure and hard to find. What’s the best way journalism organizations can get it to the people who want it?

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Stay Classy, KVUE

August 21, 2009

“I found what I wanted. It was the aspiration to become a political news journalist. Let’s examine the facts.

a.) I love politics. I find it interesting and feel it is a field that takes a lot of work and critical thinking. I also like it because of the involvement of the people in the field.

b.) I love news and current events.

c.) I like to write about the news. Actually, I like to write about any interesting topic, and the news is constantly changing so I think it would be very interesting to write about.”

–Me, Mrs. Blackmore’s 7th grade Language Arts class, Age 12

Even after all these years, the a, b, and c remain the same. But I won’t be writing for broadcast anymore, at least not with the same regularity. After spending my entire adult life in television news, it’s my last day at an organization with “-TV” at the end of its name. It’s kinda weird to think about.

The strength of friendships forged in the field between TV reporters and photographers is unmatched, largely because we rely so heavily on one another to turn our news products. So I’ll miss my photographer friends the most, but hope that they will teach me as I start shooting and editing in my new capacity as a multi-platform journalist at Texas Tribune. My friend (and TV reporter idol) Otis put it well when he said, “The thing about TV news is that it is not nearly as glamorous as you might think. The pay stinks, the hours suck, and, more often than not, the reward for work well done is more work.”

A goodbye wave to TV News

A goodbye wave to TV News (photo by JL Watkins)

Still, I’m generally hopeful about television news’ future. I’m not leaving because there’s ‘no way to save  TV’. I just think it needs a serious gut check. My own experience at big broadcast companies has led me to worry these corporate behemoths might be systemically crippled from making the kinds of innovative and agile changes necessary to compete in this Web 2.0 world. In many ways they run like battleships, and the thing about battleships is that they take awhile to turn.

My hope is that leaders in the industry think beyond the next few years and consider the best ways to distribute a product for a smarter, more engaged and more discerning ‘next generation’ of news consumers. In the meantime, I’m grateful for ideas like Texas Tribune, which will dedicate itself to civic engagement, explanatory and enterprise reporting, and using the tools of the social web to allow our users to be active in the ongoing political conversation in Texas. As we consider the future, the Tribune model is as worthy as any other idea in trying to keep journalism alive.

My favorite mentor, Marty Haag, died in 2003 before he could see what’s happened to the world of television journalism in which he was a titan. I hope my decision to leave TV, but not leave journalism, won’t let him down. As he liked to say to his sons, who passed this on to me: “Just make a decision and move forward.”

That Damn Squirrel!

August 17, 2009

One of the hottest internet sensations lately is the photo crashing squirrel, who might have received more news coverage in recent days than the Iraq War.

squirrel

A ground squirrel showed up in the foreground of this shot after the couple set the timer on their camera for a picture of them in Banff National Park.

The original has now spawned thousands of parodies — the crasher squirrel with Wyatt Earp, Mick Jagger, the Muppets, you name it. And just last weekend, our friend was taking some engagement photos for us when the effort was thwarted by a pesky little stranger…

austin_squirrel _crasher-2

Adventures with The Robot, Continued

August 15, 2009

My photographer pal Little Lost Robot, his wife and his baby came into Austin today to hang out and explore ye old city. A few years ago, Robot and I worked together in South Carolina as a reporter-photographer team, cruising around the city looking for news and angrily screaming things out the car window like WE’RE YOUR FRIEND FOUR! (Our call letters were W-Y-F-F).

The first day Robot and I worked together, he stood on the opposite side of an intersection from me and matter-of-factly said there was a dead cat next to him. Just when I was convinced he was joking, he picked up the cat body, clearly in deep stages of rigor mortis, and held onto it by its tail just to freak me out further.

We’ve since both wound up in Texas (he’s in Houston), so the shenanigans can continue. But being reunited reminded me of the wackiest (and perhaps awesomest) dude we met in our reporting adventures: RIPPIN’ RICHIE. Rippin’ Richie is a neo-conservative social-libertarian break dancing fool. He would take on PETA and other liberal groups by going to their rallies and challenging protesters with break dance-off’s. His method of political persuasion was so interesting we HAD TO do a story about him. I still have it on tape somewhere, but it’s not available anymore on the WYFF website. Robot put it this way, three years ago:

He lives here in Greenville, sells “how to pop-n-lock” DVDs online, and occasionally breakdances out his political views in front of PETA activists and anti-war protestors.

Today I learned Rippin Richie has since started an 80’s cover band that became one of the hippest acts in Greenville. I believe it is called RetroVertigo. Leave it to Rippin Richie to continue reinventing himself. He’s one of the smoothest dancers around.

In fact, there’s video proof. Here’s the three of us jamming out in front of a tank. (Since I have no moves, I simply mimed.)

The 2006 Breakdance Summit with Robot and Rippin' Richie

The 2006 Breakdance Summit with Robot and Rippin' Richie

We Have Liftoff

August 12, 2009

Wedding planner hired. He is SO fabulous. I mean, just look at his profile photo.

timlaan

Family Ties

August 8, 2009

We’re near Washington, DC, for a massive family reunion. My maternal grandma flew all the way in from Taiwan to take part, so our one layover in Houston really doesn’t count as much travel. Grandma has five brothers and sisters and she’s the oldest surviving one. The fact there are six siblings in that generation mean that by the time you get to my generation, there are about 68 cousins and second cousins and cousins-in-law-once-removed. Or something. I still don’t know them all.

The family reunion agenda

The family reunion agenda

We’ve shared some moving moments – like the survival stories grandma told about triumphing over war (WWII), revolution (the Cultural one) and separation (time and distance).

But mostly this gathering has been about the lighter moments — eating way too much food in order to please our elders (a Chinese thing that feels like being slowly fed to death), joking about perhaps incorporating our family into some sort of LLC, and cousins connecting over which ‘realm’ or ‘guild’ they are in in the addictive computer game, World of Warcraft.

Which reminds me: Cousins Calvin and Cary, both grown-ups with families of their own, decided a few years ago to go out into the woods and fully embrace who they are as men. They choreographed an extensive Star Wars-themed kung fu light saber battle that my other cousin, Clarence, caught on tape. See below.

If I Could Turn Back Time…

August 4, 2009

Every so often I regret the wrong turns I took in my halcyon days of youth. Misguided decisions, unfounded conclusions, and that distracting crush on my 12th grade economics teacher (though I became a whiz in the principles of Macro and Micro Economics.)

Lo and behold, a chance to relive my high school days came in the mail  yesterday. Next summer, I can go on a trip across Europe with other promising high school students from the “greater Austin area”!

highschoollettersmall
See the full letter

Blackout

August 1, 2009

Being at work yesterday sans-the internets felt as if I’d gotten a pair of male anatomical features cut off. (Not that I would really know, but it was an apt hyperbole.) We’re still in the midst of an ongoing company-wide internet meltdown. Started at 2am Friday morning and it continues, affecting The Dallas Morning News and something like twenty television stations in markets across the country. Awesome.

The incident makes me feel relieved to be headed to an organization that’s not so… corporate. My current company is dominant in the media world (and I’m proud of that), but also a behemoth whose many technologies and systems are inextricably linked. In this modern news age, when organizations need to be nimble to change with a smarter, more engaged and choosier audience, the behemoth structure gives individual stations very little control over what their web sites look like, which features can be offered (or not offered), where ads can be placed, etc. And it goes without saying that when something goes wrong, it affects everyone.

Internet or not, I’m sad to be leaving in two weeks. But after a trying and distracting day (I embarrassingly stood someone up at Starbucks), it was reassuring to find a post on Media Bullseye featuring my thoughts on Texas Tribune and going ‘beyond broadcast’. Mainly, it was nice to think about moving forward.