Happy Valentine’s Day, From QUAN+UM!

valentine out of my head copy

It’s been crazy busy around here lately and I haven’t had a whole lot of time for blogging. One of the many things I’ve been toiling away on: Time Travel Valentines for So You Created a Wormhole, which we posted on the Wormhole Facebook page and Twitter, etc. Find the other five on our Facebook page or at thetimetravelguide.com. Go find them and share them!

Continue reading Happy Valentine’s Day, From QUAN+UM!

5 Social Media Dont’s for Writers

writing

Hey, you’re a writer now. You know what that means? It means that a big part of your job every day is social media-ing, in hopes that anyone anywhere might actually read your goddamn book, story, article or whatever. If you do your job right, you might get some traction. Most likely, no one will read it, but you might get a few “likes.”

That’s okay, I’ve decided. Having hammered away at social media for more than a year now in a more or less official capacity on behalf of So You Created a Wormhole, I feel like Nick and I have carved out an incredibly modest divot into which we fit neatly. I’ve also realized that the vast majority of this s–t is in no way worth the time, money or effort.

I can’t speak from anything but my own experience when it comes to any of this stuff. And I can’t say that I’ve been hugely successful. But I do know what things not to do when other writers on various social networking platforms do them, and if they bother me — a writer who seeks out and pays attention to other writers — I’m almost positive they bother other people too. So here’s the best I can do in terms of social networking advice: a list of s–t to avoid (mostly because I dislike it).

Continue reading 5 Social Media Dont’s for Writers

The Rear-View Mirror on 2012, and Many Thanks

happy 2013

Whoa. It’s 2013, and it’s been a crazy year. Seems like a mistake not to take a second and look back at all the cool things that happened, and the many reasons for which I have to be thankful.

Continue reading The Rear-View Mirror on 2012, and Many Thanks

A return to journalism could save journalism

Journalist

Occasionally I like to throw down a diatribe about the state of journalism, something of which I’m more spectator than participant. But seriously, it’s impossible to study journalism, to give a crap about it, and not see the state of Journalism The Institution and not freak the hell out. I’ll try to keep the freak-outs to a minimum.

My most recent cold sweat at the thought of what our jackass country is doing to the gathering and dissemination of information came from this Poynter article, which discusses the fact that news magazines like “Newsweek” and “Time” don’t employ fact-checkers. This was important because the cover story of the latest “Newsweek,” which happens to attack President Barack Obama’s track record as president, also happens to get, like, a lot of things incorrect.

But hell, why bother to get things right when you can just be loud? That seems to be the prevailing wisdom in media for the last decade.

Continue reading A return to journalism could save journalism

excuses and restarts

facepalm 600

Sometime around July, I started to write an entry in this blog to restart it. As you might have guessed, I never finished that entry.

That entry opened with a short discussion of lowered priorities, the balancing of making money and writing in blogs that no one reads, et cetera and so on. I also played the “I was writing a book” card, which kind of excuses me, I guess. Except we finished writing that book in April. I’ve had a few short flurries of activity since then in the editing process, concerning copy edits, content edits, cover choices and promo materials, but nothing to warrant not having written here for so long.

Let’s face it. I was lazy. I also read A Game of Thrones, A Storm of Swords (when something becomes a TV show or a movie, that’s often when I find out about it) and some other stuff. I’ve played a lot of video games for work. Skyrim is a thing that sucks up some of my time. I have a lot of excuses, I’ve written a lot of words, and I’ve neglected this thing I’ve created. I have a tendency to do that. I’m a terrible father and an easily distracted god.

Continue reading excuses and restarts

Meet your heroes (if they tweet)

2010-10-03_19-48-26_671 (1)

The more time I spend with Twitter, the more I realize it has the potential to be single greatest achievement of the Internet to date. No, dude – I’m totally serious.

Beyond the more amazing achievements of Twitter – broadcasting the struggles of people in oppressed parts of the world, for example – it every single day brings people closer together. And not in that Facebook “we were friends in high school and now we can occasionally check out pictures of one another’s dogs” way, in which there’s as much relationship expansion as there is total could-care-less ignoring of other people going on. Twitter is a conversation, and only a conversation, between groups of people. Twitter is a chance to have a conversation with virtually anyone, and in many ways, your ability to take part in that conversation is moderated only by your ability to have something interesting to say.

I’m speaking, of course, about following famous people on Twitter.
Continue reading Meet your heroes (if they tweet)

Hornshaw’s Comic Con coverage

So one of the big benefits of living in Los Angeles: the mecca of all nerddom, the San Diego Comic Con, is about as far away from me as my alma mater was from my parents’ house.

What’s more, my freelancery at FileFront means I’ll be doing some news coverage from the event when I hop up there Saturday with hetero life mate Nick Hurwitch. Not only will I be enjoying it, I’ll be getting paid to enjoy it.

It is now all the more enjoyable.

So here’s a quick post about where you can see all kinds of Hornshaw-related Comic Con stuff tomorrow. Here, obviously, will be a few of the more thinkpiece/analysis write-ups I occasionally do about things, so anything that strikes me as interesting enough will probably appear on hornshaw.com on Sunday.

Continue reading Hornshaw’s Comic Con coverage

Creating the journalism Spam State

I’m working on a diatribe about journalism in general, but I need to temper and hone my argument better before I post it here. In the meantime, I’ll comment on a smaller portion of the evolving journalism industry: Citizen journalism.

Everyone’s got an opinion as to the evolution of the industry right now, but the ones that drive me the most crazy are these advocates of citizen journalism. Not only as a working journalist, but as a member of this society, I feel like full-scale citizen journalism will be a horrible development.

I’ve spoken at length with Caitlin M. Foyt about this idea. She likes the idea of citizen journalism in a lot of ways – instead of one perspective on events, you get many. You get eye-witness accounts of said events, and different people’s first-hand knowledge of what happened, from diverse voices.

It sounds great, and in certain instances and under certain circumstances, it is. Crowd-sourced news can be great.

Provided there’s a filter.

But often there isn’t. The idea that any clown from any place can write any thing on the Internet and not only are we going to believe it, but we’re going to encourage it, scares the hell out of me. I went to school to do this; if we educate people to do it, probably there’s something important to learn about doing it.

The consideration of ethics, of what’s fit to print and what should be held back, about doing harm when harm is unnecessary or mitigating collateral damage against the innocent, were all major subjects of study during my time at Central Michigan University.

Citizen journalists have no concept of ethics. There are plenty of things that most people don’t think about until after the fact – like the publishing of names of accused people, for example, or of photos showing people in compromised situations. Like at the moment of their deaths.

Not to mention that there’s nothing stopping all these random contributors from just posting whatever they want. Just because you have the name of someone who’s been arrested, or a rape victim, or whatever, doesn’t mean it should be public information.

There’s also nothing stopping these people from running rampant and publishing anything they want, true or not, verified or not. Or pushing their agendas and sculpting the news to fit their world views. All these things, all these biases, are supposed to be avoided by professional journalists. While this doesn’t always happen the way we’d like, at least we all recognize that we’re supposed to try to practice journalistic ethics.

Yes, citizen journalism can be extremely useful in certain situations. My favorite example is a car crash. Lots of eye-witness perspectives of people who happen to be there can bring clear focus to an event that has the potential to be confusing after-the-fact. In that regard, I like citizen journalism, because many accounts mean more of the picture is revealed.

But for a crime? For a government meeting, or a new bill going through the state senate, or anything concerning the rights of the accused, or corporate malfeasance, or any number of other things that newspapers and journalists are supposed to cover and cover well – no, thank you. No citizen journalists can handle things like that.

For one, they don’t know how. Two, they don’t know, or don’t care, that everyone is entitled to certain rights and that you protect those rights. Accused criminals are innocent until proven guilty, even if they’re accused of molesting children or murdering grandmas and puppies. But blogs and Internet comments ALREADY are rife with people leaping to conclusions, convicting people because they’ve been arrested, calling for public executions (really – that happens on newspaper comments all the time). These are the people I’m supposed to trust to give me the truth?

And that’s the other thing: What truth is there when there’s no one looking over your shoulder, making sure you get it right? The best part of the journalism industry is that reporters can’t just make things up (usually). They can’t just put together a story with only one side of things told. Because there are laws. There are editors. There are people who know better reading things over and saying, “You haven’t done a good enough job of meeting our standards.”

One of my major problems with journalism today is that these standards have become far too lax, but they still exist – unless you’re talking about a blog, or a citizen journalist, who not only doesn’t have these rules and this oversight, but has no idea what these journalists and editors are even looking for.

Any reporter will tell you, people are routinely trying to push their story ahead of everyone else’s. Even sources don’t recognize the need for fairness. How can people who write the news fairly when working part-time, for free, without education?

So I’m supposed to read these stories written by untrained, uneducated citizen journalists and find what in them – truth? Trust? Facts? How is it better to let people who have not only no financial stake in the story, but any number of conflicts of interest because they are NOT WORKING JOURNALISTS, create the news? What we’re giving people at random is the power of the press without any of the responsibility or preparation, and we’re pretending like it’ll be better for the country.

If a story is written about the impropriety of a used car dealership by someone else in the used car industry, how is that proper? A former employee – do we trust that? What about a competitor? At what line do we decide that no, your work is not to be trusted, but yes, this guy’s is? And how do we check random people out? If a story comes from random citizen, how do we know that his or her sister-in-law isn’t the owner of a dealership, or friends with someone who was fired, or even just a customer who got taken for a ride? How do you cleanse the news of all these agendas when ANYONE is allowed to push their stories like they’re fact?

Crowd-sourcing and citizen journalism have their place – as a supplement to the work of reporters. As a watchdog effect in which citizens, who SHOULD be gathering their own information, both add those perspectives to and call out reporters on the information they’ve found. But those facts contributed by anyone off the street must be checked out.

A journalist friend of mine mentioned on Twitter the other day what a source of citizen journalism the 10-million-plus user network Facebook could become. He suggested using its college network setup to create huge, crowd-sourced outlets for campus news.

On its face, it could be a good idea, but to me, that’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard of. Most of the people I know on Facebook can barely put together two sentences. Ten million idiots throwing content at the wall and calling it news? It’ll be an inundation of unsubstantiated mud-slinging, name-calling, and agenda-pushing. You’ll be getting the Dennis Lennoxes of the world spreading lies, propaganda, and defamation, coupled with the sorority clones and fraternity clowns making sure everyone knows about their philanthropy, fundraiser and party this weekend. And that’s just some of the b.s. that will populate a crowd-sourced Facebook news program.

What you’ll barely hear about, if at all, are the things that matter – tuition raises, actions of campus police, crime, security, administrative moves, changes in classes. And even if you do, how will you be able to find them, read them, and believe them in the face of all the garbage you’ll have to wade through? And what will these news stories be, except people bitching about paying more with “I’m not happy about this because it effects me” mentality?

You’re creating a spam state of journalism.

And there’
s just too much at risk. The power of the press is too great to try to create the news out of a compilation of random bits of information contributed from people with no filter. And no amount of seminars, workshops, or three-hour training sessions with real journalists is going to create journalists out of random people. They need real schooling.

I’ve been learning and practicing good journalism for the last eight years of my life. That’s why I’m qualified to write a news story – and editors will still read it over, make sure it’s true, and hold me accountable for every word that story says. Is that really something we want to surrender to the Internet just because it’s more convenient to let Bob, Jim, Sandy and Marsha write down what they see?

It’s a bad idea because journalism is no longer about the quantity of news produced, or the speed at which that news is found – it’s now about quality.

We’re going to figure that out real soon if we keep ignoring the fact that trained journalists know how to write stories that are good in favor of something that’s cheaper, faster, and above all, less trustworthy.

One of those existential moments, but also involving ‘Star Wars’

A ludicrous Twitter exchange involving my sister and one of her best friends threw into sharp relief how ridiculous my life is.

For the better part of an hour, we jokingly discussed starting a 1950s-style leather jacket-wearing gang not unlike what you’ve seen in “West Side Story.” After discussing possible names (involving crushing, skulls, lasers, souls, and being old and obsolete), we started to talk about being in the gang, where we’d have our clubhouse, training ourselves for extensive snapping, etc.

The entire discussion included no fewer than:
19 references to “Star Wars”
2 references to “The Venture Bros.”
1 reference to “West Side Story”
1 reference to “Star Trek”
2 references to Oprah
2 references to Dr. Phil
2 references to the Jonas Bros.

This while the laptop sat on my lap and I played the new “Ghostbusters” video game. On a Saturday night. Alone.

What’s insane is not that I was freakin’ great at the game of making totally obscure “Star Wars” references during this conversation (and I am); what’s insane is that I remember so much from movies and, often, large portions of my own life are a little hazy.

For example, I was trying to think back on my childhood the other day, specifically the areas of right around fourth and fifth grade. I can’t remember much of anything from those years, except that I was, in a vague way, unhappy. Picked on, probably.

But I can recite most every line from “A New Hope” in succession with a high degree of accuracy. I could act that entire movie out with improvised sets and costumes if I wanted, on very short notice, by myself.

That’s sad in a lot of ways. How is it that “Star Wars” had a greater effect on me than fourth grade?

It’s not like I’m ashamed of my intense nerdiness. “Star Wars” is a morality tale of our time. It’s a quintessential battle between good and evil. Aspiring to be like heroes from movies isn’t a bad thing, I think, especially when it was experiences like laying on the living room floor, chin on hands, watching “The Empire Strikes Back” with Dad that shaped me into the man I am today. I want to be a writer because of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and Stephen King and George Lucas and Michael Crichton and Chuck Palahniuk and Philip K. Dick. I want to make movies because of Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm and Johnny Five and Rick Deckard and Arnold Schwartzeneggar and Ellen Ripley and George Romero.

But it is a little ri-goddamn-diculous.

I write this post as I dig away at a new zombie story for the “Wrath of the Damned” blog. There’s another ridiculous nerd outlet. And what I do remember of school included a lot of being made fun of (like when I wore this Vader t-shirt mocking an old Uncle Sam poster that said “I want you! For the Galactic Empire.” And douches were like, “you want me?” “No, Darth Vader wants you — to die!” Should have said that). Specifically for things that I liked and was passionate about.

Guess my point is this: The things we like, the things we make, have the potential to be huge. I don’t think I’d be the same person I am today if Indiana Jones didn’t exist. I’m almost positive I’ve never had an impact like that on a person.

And I can count on one hand the people who have had as much an impact on me as Luke Skywalker.

Makes you (or me) think about to what exactly your life amounts. And your work. I wonder if anyone I know would count me on the same hand as Luke Skywalker. Or hell, even Flash Gordon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Timon and Pumba.

And on a similar note, I guess I need to get writing, because I know exactly where the bar is set.

How I found a real use for twitter

I’m fascinated by this Twitter stuff.

Tonight Nick Hurwitch and I worked pretty extensively on the “Wrath of the Damned” multi-author Twitter story, which consists of an on-going short story created by whoever happens to sign on and add to it. Caveat: We don’t tell each other what we’re doing until it’s up. Therefore, the story goes all over the place in a really organic, interesting way. (That’s @wrathofdamned if you’re interested.)

It’s a different sort of writing, that’s for damn sure. For one, the 140-character limit means you get right to the point. No screwing around. It minces things like description and complete sentences, but it also means a really pure story — find the best way to convey your thought or abandon it.

And not knowing what the other authors are going to contribute is extremely interesting because it means making up a new story at pretty much every turn. I had more than one good idea for what the story would become at key moments. Then Nick stepped in. Now we have something wholly new — like a dead main character. It’s really quite exhilarating, from a writing standpoint.

Just wandering around reading Twitter is a lesson for a writer, though, really. Snapshots of people’s days, of their lives, of their thoughts — you get quite a bit of information. It’s also a good way to see what is not interesting, at all. It’s almost better to follow boring people than interesting ones. I’ve learned some new stuff about authenticity, to be sure.

It’s kind of stark when you see reality condensed into tiny bites, especially when you read something profound. Fabricating that experience makes it all the sweeter once you’ve found the real thing.

Oh, also, I can get tidbits from Oprah.