Thursday, May 28, 2009

Discovered - Howard Owens and TheBatavian.com

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I really wanted to go to a summit on the future of journalism held at Centennial College today, but thought I couldn't go because it was invitation only. Then I remembered that I "work" at the CBC. So I asked my boss if I could cover it. He said yes, I got a press pass, and I spent a perfectly lovely day listening to various important online news folks talk about what the heck we're going to do with this crazy interweb thing and the fact it doesn't make us any money.

A lot of interesting things came out of it. I'm doing a feature on it for CBC.ca and will spend most of tomorrow writing about those interesting things, so I'll just link to that later instead of going into it now. What I want to write about now is Howard Owens of TheBatavian.com.

The reason I want to tell you about him is because instead of spending his time blogging about how Google killed the newspaper star, he came up with a solution. As of June, he will be making a living solely off his website, which publishes local news for a town of about 60,000 people in New York state. Here he is:

That's right: It's possible. It can be done. Put the noose back in the drawer and break out the champagne, J-kids: There's a chance we're not going to starve to death.

He was helped along by a few major things. First, he started out with a $5000 a month advertising budget from GateHouse Media, where he worked when he came up with the business model for the site. Second, he knew how to be his own web developer. Third, he has no kids and his wife helps him run the site.

Still, though, I think it's possible to replicate his basic model without an outside advertising budget, html knowledge, or a wife. This is the model: Find a town with a local newspaper that doesn't have a website, or has a really bad one. Preferably have existing ties to said town. Aim to cover the news better and faster than the local newspaper. Make promoting the community and local businesses your mission.

I find one of his strategies for making money particularly brilliant. When he approaches a local business about buying an advertising spot on the site and they say no, he asks if they'll give him a couple hundred bucks in gift certificates instead. Then he writes a post selling the gift certificates for half price. Boom - Business gets customers into their store and trying their stuff, and he gets the money from the sales.

Some people at the conference session were uncomfortable with this concept and thought it mixed advertising and content too much. I agree with his response - People aren't stupid. They know the gift certificate sale isn't a news story. It's an ad.

I also like his philosophy on the principle of journalistic objectivity. Owens is a libertarian. He is on a mission to promote local businesses and bring down chains. He says this is "overtly political." But he also reports The News, in a traditional sense. And this works online, and it works in his local context. And I think it's neat.

So anyway, rejoice away.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I lie to children.

I used to teach swimming lessons in lakes at camps in the summers. This is a lot harder than learning to swim in a pool. It's colder, it's deeper, there are less things to hold on to, and most of the time you can't see the bottom.

I've probably told hundreds of scared children that there's nothing to be afraid of, that there are no sharks in lakes, that the fish are friendly and can't hurt them.

Today, I had to make a photo gallery of invasive species - that's plants, animals, bugs and fungi that were brought here from somewhere else and are now taking over. This ugly bastard is one of the photos.


This is the cutline I wrote to go with it:

"The sea lamprey is an eel-like, jawless fish that entered the Great Lakes from the east coast of the United States through the canal system. It feeds like a monster in a low − budget horror movie − it uses its mouth to attach itself to a healthy fish, gore through its scales and skin with its tongue, and suck out its fluids. The sea lamprey has contributed to the extinction of three species of cisco fish and the collapse of commercial fisheries. (Invasive Species Specialist Group)"


That's right, kids. There are no sharks in lakes. But counsellor Claire didn't tell you there are FOOT-LONG BLOOD-SUCKING VAMPIRE EELS.


Sweet dreams.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fantastic quote

"The ego is a primitive device installed in your brain to tell you when to flee from tigers. Unless you regularly interview tigers, it will misinform you during any interview, hectoring you with concerns about your next question or whether you dressed properly." - Investigative journalist Eric Nalder. 

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/expose/expose_2007/etools/loosenlips.html

Friday, May 15, 2009

Twex?

I was on Twitter and I saw this tweet from Marshall Kirkpatrick, who's the head writer for ReadWriteWeb (which you should totally read if you want to be ahead of the curve on all things technogeek):

RT @marshallk feel like I'm in a giant room filled w/ thousands of people doing their thing but leaning in to talk to each other at times. i love twitter 


This is an interesting point. But besides that, it made me realize why Twitter gives me a sense of deja vu. It reminds me of old school chat rooms.

Anyone remember those? From the giddy, hedonistic early days of the internet? When it was a really cool, new idea that people could "hang out" online?

Then they got creepy and porny and mostly full of sad lonely dudes trying to have cyber sex. I wonder if they still exist. Well, I mean, they exist in specialized formats - SoulSeek, the downloading program I use for music, has chat rooms where all 13 fans of experimental screamo free jazz synth noise around the world can chill and trade albums. But I mean the ones that are just a big, crazy free for all, with no discernable theme.

That's a lot like what Twitter's like. Just like the old-style chat rooms, you learn to filter the noise and just "lean in" when you see something interesting, but for the most part, it's pretty anarchic.

Anyway, this led me to a second brain wave - I wonder if people are starting to have cyber sex on Twitter?

I don't mean through direct messages. That wouldn't be any more eyebrow raising than people using Facebook and MySpace like dating services, really, or cybering over instant messaging. And I don't mean people trying to peddle porn - that also happens pretty much instantly on every new internet medium.

Twitter makes it possible to have cyber sex like people did in the old school chat rooms - publicly, in real time, with everyone... watching? Listening? Reading? 

Whaddaya know... like shoulder pads and high waisted pants, everything old is new again.

This led to a series of related brain waves... there could be Prostitwits. There could be #orgies. There could be swinger tweetups.

I twitter searched some dirty words. I didn't dig up any public smut, but I also didn't look all that hard.

I would have to turn myself in to the hype police if I pitched two stories about Twitter in a month. But someone else should totally run with this.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rant rant

I'm reposting a ranty comment I made on my friend's blog. She was discussing how today in class she was told that early in her nursing career she will suffer multiple nervous breakdowns, be the victim of constant judgey gossip, and accidentally kill someone. None of this, I gather, was prefaced with a "probably" - it was more of a "enjoy your straitjacket, sucker."

I've brought up a lot of these points before, but in reference to people telling journalism students how dumb they are for going into journalism (I just wrote "journalism stupid" instead of students... ha). I think they also apply to a lot of other programs. Also, it's one of my favourite pet peeves. Begin rant:

You know what? Rant time. Why do profs do this? It's not just nursing, and it's not just journalism. I've heard the same thing from people in tons of other disciplines. Why do professors seem to think that telling their bright eyed and enthusiastic students that their chosen profession is horrible, the future is bleak, and they're stupid for picking it is a good idea? Being realistic is one thing. But I don't think most students are dumb... Most students, I think, go into university programs knowing what they're getting into, and having already decided that they're passionate enough about it to pursue it despite ruthless competition, low pay, or in your case the prospect of accidental murder. If they change their mind, they'll drop out. They don't need professors rubbing it in their face.

In the case of nursing, when you can't really have enough nurses, it's downright socially irresponsible for your profs to use these scare tactics. In the case of journalism, music, philosophy, international deve
lopment, and a million other majors where there's too many students who want to do it and not enough jobs for them, programs should limit enrollment. It's also socially irresponsible and cruel to let thousands of students into a program, take their tuition money, then essentially laugh at their stupidity by telling them their degree is useless.


Argh. Argh. Bleah.


To this I add: It also devalues the institution the prof is working for by saying getting a degree from there isn't going to help when graduates look for work. PR fail.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Commuting sucks.

Oh hi,

I'm back.

And the reason I've been gone for a while is this: I have about three hours a day when I'm not either getting ready for work, working, commuting or sleeping.

I'm commuting to my latest internship at CBC.ca from my parents's house in Oakville. I'm not going to bother calling it a silly name, because someone from the CBC has been reading my blog regularly for a couple of months. I suspect it is my boss, because I put it on my resume. Oh, hi.

Anyway, the work is good. Commuting, on the other hand, sucks.

Sucks is not nearly a strong enough word. It's like I can feel the sands of time slipping through the hourglass. I can hear the grim reaper laughing as he plucks precious hours of my youth from me on the QEW. I can smell the stench of resentment and misery on my fellow passengers when I take the GO train instead of driving in with my mom.

Clearly I'm being melodramatic. But I really do hate commuting. There's no good reason for it, really. I read the paper, mostly. I think it's the sense of feeling trapped. And also the sense of feeling cheated. When I was done for the day at CP, I could literally do whatever I wanted to. When I'm done for the day at the CBC, I have no choice but to sit in gridlock or squished on the GO train for an hour and a half if I want to sleep in a bed, as opposed to under my desk or in the gutter.

I understand why people do it. Living in the city is stupidly expensive, and even more so if you have kids. And people like being able to afford a yard and a house bigger than a shoebox and all that stuff. When I say I'll never, ever, ever commute from the suburbs, people older than me usually give me a sort of "we'll see about that in a few years" type response and knowing look.

I'm not going to get into whether or not I want kids. But let's just imagine a hypothetical aspiring journalist in her mid twenties who, for whatever deranged reason, did want to have kids. To me, this lifestyle sounds infinitely more pleasant than doing the suburban commute:

- Own compact but liveable condo or townhouse walking/biking distance from work
- Take kids to park regularly
- Spend quality family time maintaining a community garden plot, possibly in said park
- Have three extra hours per day with which to make nutritious dinners and lunches, make snowmen, play, and otherwise spend quality time with kids
- Be well rested and pleasant instead of cranky and angry upon returning from work
- Possibly, in some sort of beautiful dream world, even exercise in the mornings
- Hire someone to clean condo/townhouse with all the money saved by not owning a car. Teach kids to ride the bus at age 4. Possibly bike kids around in one of those hilarious stroller/wagon pulled by a bike things that you see parents using in the Glebe. Have even more free time. Take up crocheting with said free time. Teach kids the value of living a simple lifestyle with minimal material goods.

My point is, there is no possible scenario in which I can imagine commuting from the suburbs being something I would want to do.

Excuse me, it's my bed time.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Man, Claire's posts have been so boring and journalism-y lately. Where's the juicy stuff?" Read on, friends.

Last night I went to my friend Michelle’s house (no, not Megababe; yes, everyone I know from home is named Michelle). We’ve known each other since high school and were briefly roommates. She was having a barbecue, and I was in town, so I popped by for a beer.


“Popping by for a beer” turned into a few beers, which turned into Michelle’s friend somehow convincing me it would be a good idea to come to the bar even though I was wearing my usual jeans-T shirt-hoodie-Converse sneakers uniform. Which turned into a fantastic discovery.


El Convento Rico’s. A gay bar in Little Italy.


The decor seems to be bowling alley/casino inspired, with TVs flashing in exhaustingly bright colours and more disco lights than usual. They play the usual Madonna/Beyonce/Village People type gay bar fare, with the usual midnight drag show. They have booths along one side that appear to be swathed in mosquito nets.


But what makes it fantastic is the clientele, composed of four distinct groups:


1) Young gay men

2) Aging lesbians

3) Straight men hoping girls will get bored of dancing with men who aren’t interested in them, thus increasing their odds of picking up at the end of the night (you can find these fine specimens of humanity at any gay bar), and:

4) Straight women throwing stagettes, dressed in veils, cat suits, and head bands with vibrators strapped to them.


A gay bar doesn’t seem like the first venue that would spring to mind when planning a stagette, but apparently it’s quite popular. So popular, in fact, that according to the people I was with who came there often, there’s a stagette party almost every time they go.


I don’t care how much you hate Madonna. This is a hilarious sight. Just sitting down and people watching is worth the cover. The bridal party women throw themselves at the gay men, the straight men try unsuccessfully to grind with the women from behind, the lesbians stand around and drink, and everyone overstimulates themselves with flashing lights, glow sticks, alcohol, and vibrating head bands. Not recommended for the epileptic.


And to conclude I leave you with this video, reposted from The Peach. You're welcome.