Ranting and Raving: Journalism may not be fake, but it’s lazy

Fake news? Nah, more like lazy news.

Journalism today isn’t what it used to be. Part of that has to be because of the overly cautious news sources who routinely withhold information out of so-called privacy concerns. But, back in the day, journalists had ways to work around such roadblocks. They had sources inside of sources who could point them to the answers they sought.

And when that failed, there were databases they could access for other information. (There still are.)

Nowadays, however, it seems if a source says “no, I can’t give you that information,” that’s it. End of story. No further effort required. Here’s what we know, or rather what the sources will tell us. We’ll leave the rest for another time when maybe they will be ready to spoonfeed us a bit more information.

Case in point:

This past week, a guy opened fire on a city police officer in my town. The officer gave chase, resulting in a shootout in a crowded shopping parking lot. The perpetrator was killed.

Police then learned that a K9 dog had been shot in the initial drive-by. During emergency surgery, the dog died.

The news reports on the incident didn’t provide much more information than you just read. The name of the perp was released, and his age, and the name of the dog.

The dog’s funeral was covered extensively.

But I have yet to see an article about the man who did the shooting. Beyond his name, who was he? Why did he open fire on a police officer?

 The TBI is investigating, so I guess that means there’s nothing more to be released until they get ready to release it.

A journalist worth his salt wouldn’t quit there. You’ve got a name, so let’s figure it out. What town did the guy live in? Did he have a criminal record? Did he have a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram page? Are there friends or family on his page that can be contacted? Actual people who can tell us more about him? What information or sources can be gathered from his obituary?

That’s fact-finding information any good journalist should pursue in any situation. There’s a story behind the story here, but no one seems interested in it. If the official source doesn’t share the information, does that mean it’s not worth pursuing? Or is it because journalists today are lazy?

Local journalism isn’t alone in its apparent laziness.

All week long, CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins has bemoaned the lack of access to the President and anyone in his administration. We know from past experience that when Trump and his co-horts do answer questions, they are riddled with lies in any case.

Kayleigh McEneny finally took a handful of questions from the press for the first time in over two weeks on Friday, but refused to take a question from Collins.

Kudos to Collins for trying, but honestly, what did she expect?

I suggested in a tweet to Collins that she should find another source to answer her questions.

In other words, journalists, don’t be so lazy.

Around the Web: Advice and trends for the writer

by G. Robert Frazier

I peruse a lot of online articles about writing and reading every day in order to further educate myself on the craft as well as stay up on recent trends. Some of the articles also provide entertaining reads. Because I’m such a swell guy, I occasionally like to share what I’ve come across in this blog. Herewith are some writing-related missives to fill your head:

I came across this interesting blog from Annie Neugebauer, who attended last year’s World Horror Con and asked some of the biggest horror authors in the game what scares them.  I have to agree with Jack Ketchum that Alzheimer’s is a scary disease to contemplate, both for the person experiencing the disease and for family members. But from a writing standpoint, losing all my stories to some computer virus or hard drive crash would rank right up there. Thank God for the Cloud!

Speaking of horror, the Horror Writers Association released its 2015 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot this week, with its members voting through February. Should be interesting to see which books rise to the top and eventually make their way to my never-ending reading list. Naturally Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams made the list, as did Clive Barker’s latest Hellraiser opus, The Scarlet Gospels, two books I am looking forward to reading.

If horror’s not your thing, the 2016 Edgar Award nominations were also announced this week. Winners will be announced at the 70th Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 28.

Electric Lit featured this look at the debate about including cultural pop references in your novel versus trying to set your novel in the eternal present.

Any short story writers reading this? Here are some inspiring quotes about the art of the short story to fuel your head.

One of the most common pieces of writing advice you’ll come across is to write every day. But in this article, author Daniel Jose Older takes issue with that advice and believes that what stops more people from writing than anything else is shame. “That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be’, ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.” Older believes that “no one can tell you how to manage you’re writing process.” Everyone has to figure that out for themselves.

The Washington Post recently published an article about how used book stores are making a comeback. But author/blogger Kristen Lamb argues in a recent post that buying used essentially “robs” authors from getting paid. Salon responded that Lamb isn’t seeing the bigger picture of used book sales. As a writer, I can definitely see Lamb’s point. Writers don’t make much money as it is and for their work to be resold through used outlets with no remuneration doesn’t seem fair. But Salon’s point is also valid in that it could potentially lead someone to purchase other books in your canon. Personally, I buy new print books whenever I can as they are more presentable on my bookshelves, they don’t smell bad, and the pages are germ-free. But, from time to time, I will buy used, especially if a book is out of print or otherwise impossible to come by. I occasionally resell some books I’ve read at discounted prices on eBay, but I always try to sell them in a like new condition rather than one with bent covers, creases in the spine, or marked pages. The author might not be getting any kickback from the resale, but I don’t mind a few extra bucks going in my pocket here and there.

Finally, you know what they say about how writers should just type and not let their internal editor get in the way of their writing? That the best thing to do is just get your words down on paper as fast as you can? That a shitty first draft is to be expected? Well, here’s something else to consider: According to a research study at the University of Waterloo, if you want to improve the quality of your writing, type slower.

They may have a point, but I haven’t got time to type slower. I’ve got far too many ideas in my head that I’m trying to get down on paper. I’ll worry about prettifying my prose when I do my rewrites.

Garth Risk Hallberg, on the other hand, who wrote the giant 1,000-page City On Fire, maybe should have taken their advice to heart. If he had, maybe he could have avoided these truly cringe-worthy sentences that you just have to read to believe.

Around the Web: Dirty dancing, kinky robots, fear of family spark changes

Every day I scour the Internet and my news feeds for story writing tips and advice. But every once in a while I come across some stranger than fiction articles that compel me to read further. You never know, some of the articles or ideas may just become fodder for a story later on.

Just when you thought you’d heard of everything…

A Gorham, Maine high school announced this week it will no longer hold student dances because of today’s tendency by students to participate in risqué dance moves, also known as grinding. The sexually suggestive dirty dance moves are making parents and dance chaperones uncomfortable. The ban follows on the heels of a similar ban by Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts last year.

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Theater of the Absurd: LA creatives may be penalized for tax they don’t owe

Just when you think you’ve heard everything, there’s this: In Los Angeles, if you are freelance writer or creative trying to eke out a meager living, you could be penalized for a tax you don’t owe. The penalty applies if you fail to register for an exemption from the tax by a certain date each year.

This has got to be one of the most ridiculous excuses for a city government to stick it to the masses I’ve ever read.

The full article is here.

What do you think? Should freelancers and creatives have to acquire a license to work and be penalized if they don’t? 

Trigger warnings on textbooks, novels border on ridiculous

by G. Robert Frazier

I don’t mean to sound insensitive or cold, but this whole push for trigger warnings on virtually everything is ridiculous.

According to the Washington Post article, four students, who are members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, say trigger warnings are needed on certain texts dealing with Greek mythology, of all things. “These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background,” the students write.

When I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, we would often include a note to readers — a trigger warning, if you will — at the beginning of stories about sexual violence. It was just good public policy to let parents know the article’s content might not be suitable for children to read. It was the same idea as ratings for motion pictures and comic books.

Trigger warnings take the idea a step further, by seeking such warnings on topics ranging from racism to classism to sexism and every -ism in between. And not just for the benefit of parents trying to monitor their childrens’ reading, but for the reader who may take personal offense to any of the issues or content within said article.

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Writers: Roll the dice to see where your writing life takes you

The Los Angeles Times recently surveyed writers participating in the L.A. Times Festival of Books about their path to literary success. The result can be seen the creation of a unique board game that lets you play along.

The board game cites interesting results along the way, including:

  • the age respondents decided to be a writer
  • 51 percent kept a diary
  • 25 percent who got an MFA in creative writing
  • most influential books in youth (Grapes of Wrath and Portrait of a Lady)
  • 58 percent of writers make a living from writing
  • how respondents published, whether with a major, traditional publisher; independent publisher; or self-publisher
  • 64 percent had books rejected
  • age in percent that they had their first best-seller
  • percent who teach creative writing

The game itself awards points for writing or winning a contract or agent, but deducts points for falling into a social media hole that keeps you from writing to losing points in a computer crash. I played the game and scored 33 points, which translated equates to: “You’re Ernest Hemingway. You’re celebrated, but not by everyone.”

Hmm, I’ll take it.

Give the game a try. (But subtract 10 points for allowing it to keep you from writing.)

 

Reading and Writing Around the Web: The Nonfiction Edition

Every day I scour the web for interesting articles, tips, and just great reads. Most of what I’ll share concern reading or writing, books, movies and TV, because that’s what I’m into. If you see something worth reading or care to discuss a topic, just leave a comment.

I may not be a paid journalist any longer, but I still appreciate interesting news stories that are timely, well-told, or that inspire debate or critical thinking. Here’s a roundup of some articles that caught my eye in the past week:

The New York Times had an interesting report about Amazon’s bruising workplace culture. But even the Times was at odds with the story, as its Public Editor Margaret Sullivan pointed out what she felt were flaws in providing complete fairness in the article. There are numerous links in her opinion piece to additional takes on the article, both in favor and against. The article and its fallout-over 5,000 comments on the Times article alone—has the attention of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. And Fortune offers three lessons from the Amazon takedown. Apparently the idea of peer reviews that Amazon uses have been popular for years, according to NPR. Doesn’t make them right, though, if the idea is just to tear down someone else or stab them in the back so that you can get ahead.

Elsewhere, Conor Friederdorf of The Atlantic recently posted his annual list and links to 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism. Says Friederdoft: “This is my annual attempt to bring some of those stories to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article that was published last calendar year and I haven’t included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement.” Truth is often stranger than fiction, as they say.

NPR posted this story about a library in Sri Lanka after it was gutted in a mysterious fire decades ago and how it has been reborn.

NPR also has a neat story about the first two women set to graduate from the Army’s elite Ranger School.

And this article sounds like that movie The Monuments Men: Nazi treasure train found in Poland.

For those of you who still can’t stop talking about Harper Lee, there’s a forthcoming book that explores the childhood relationship between the author and Truman Capote, “Tru & Nelle,” by Greg Neri, and how their friendship pushed them to write.

There was an interesting discussion between Liesl Schillinger and Benjamin Moser in the New York Times earlier this month about the so-called death of the novel. Of course, the novel is anything but dead. If anything, it is continuing to evolve with the advent of both self-publishing and ebook publishing, but the article is definitely worth a read.

For young adult authors out there, here’s an interesting article from NPR about cultural touchstones that today’s youth have never had the pleasure of knowing.

And, sadly, here’s an interesting story about the late actress Yvonne Craig, and her heroic battles onscreen as Batgirl and offscreen as an advocate for workers unions, free mammograms and equal pay for women.

Read anything good lately? Articles, books, or otherwise. Post your list (and links if you’ve got ‘em) in the comments below.

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/20

I tried to keep the distractions to a minimum today and limit my time online so that I could do a little bit of writing. Couple of things did catch my eye and they are listed below for those interested in a bit of writerly advice or an interesting read:

First up is a thoughtful article about the psychology of flow in storytelling. There’s a fine line between keeping a reader’s attention and losing it altogether, and this article explores how writers can strive to keep that reader turning the pages.

One of Geoff Dyer’s top 10 tips for writers is to keep a private diary or journal. I started a daily journal back in December and kept forgetting about it. I’d add a few thoughts every couple weeks or so and try to recall all that had transpired in between. I haven’t touched it since April. On the other hand, I have at least been posting from time to time in this blog, so there’s that.

If you’re struggling with what to write next, actor Brett Wean recently shared how improvisation can provide your story the spark it needs.  The article addresses screenplays, but obviously can be put to work for your novel in progress as well.

In case you missed it, July 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, “the eighth wonder of the world!” The Hollywood Reporter celebrated the occasion by reprinting an article published the day after the Southern California park opened on July 18, 1955. Admission, by the way, just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

Sticking with the theme of anniversaries, today marks the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.

And finally, author and NASA engineer Homer Hickam (of October Sky fame), shares his writing advice on his website at Homer Hickam online.

If you see something worth sharing, please do in the comments section!

High school basketball teams take sportsmanship to a new low

This is somewhat amusing, unbelievable, and shameful at the same time.

Two high school basketball teams – Smyrna and Riverdale, who happen to be located in the Middle Tennessee county in which I live (though, thankfully, I did not attend either as a student) — purposefully tried to lose to each other on the court this past week. The teams intentionally stalled play, made unforced turnovers, deliberately missed free throws, played with backups instead of the usual starters, committed blatant on-court violations, and, at one point, even made as if they were going to shoot at the wrong net.

The referee policing the action finally had enough of the shenanigans and called out the coaches.

Turns out neither team wanted to win because that would pit them against a powerhouse team and possible elimination in the next round of the playoffs, according to published reports. Instead, they wanted the loss so that it would put them on the other side of the bracket where they would stand a better chance against the opponent over there. A win in that case would propel the team into the state playoffs.

Sounds like a Las Vegas sports fix. But these are high school teams!

To appreciate the irony of this further, you need to know that winning is par for the course in Rutherford County high school athletics. Coverage of high school sports has always been an emphasis at the local newspaper, where I used to work as an editor. The county has produced numerous state champions over the years. State playoff berths are as expected from them as much as Super Bowl appearances are expected of the New England Patriots. Anything less is almost taboo.

Hard play, execution and determination are the norm from these two teams.

Famed sports writer Grantland Rice — who was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and whose portrait once hung on the wall of my office in Murfreesboro — said: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

In this case, how the teams played the game was unbelievable, embarrassing and disrespectful.

The game was an insult to fans who paid money to see a legitimate contest between the two schools. Fans were clearly not in on the game plan of trying to lose in order to advance, and the fans took to voicing their disgust on Twitter as the game unfolded.

Nor was the plan to intentionally lose disguised very well. One player reportedly even signaled to the ref that she had made a three-second violation and the ref should blow the whistle on her.

Now that’s comedy.

What isn’t funny is what this says about sports and what it says about fair play. Whether this was an idea or a directive foisted upon the players by the individual coaches or whether it was something the players themselves decided to do, the result is the same. Their actions were dishonest and deplorable, and, quite frankly, akin to cheating.

Both teams have already been punished by being banned from the postseason altogether, put on probation for the following season, and each school fined. One coach has been suspended for two games and discipline may be forthcoming for the other.

Hopefully, the players will learn from their mistake as they go through college and beyond. Because, being duplicitous is not a highly sought after skill on job applications.

And you all thought deflating footballs was a new low.