Sylvia Spotlights: Writing, Women, and the Big "What-ifs"

The Power of the Written Word at Work

Life’s Twisting Paths to Purpose

Celebrating leaps of faith and life’s twisting paths to purpose. When I earned my Journalism degree from USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism back in 1982, all I wanted to do was write. So I did. Freelancing all the way.

In 2012, I decided to go back to school and earned my Master’s in Digital Journalism under the direction of great professors like Dr. Sara-Ellen Amster, Danielle Cervantes Stephens & Alan Abbey. Never saw myself as a professor, but soon, began teaching Journalism & Media Studies classes. Challenging but exciting. Every day, I learn from my students and when I see their potential–it is inspiring.

And I continue to write, as well.

Then, surprise! At UCSD Extension, one campus where I teach, I was thrilled and honored during Women’s History Month this year to be featured as one of “50 Voices of the Future.”

Celebrating its 50th Anniversary, UCSD Extension selected 50 professors who are thought leaders in their fields to give their perspectives on “the next 50 years.” I was interviewed for the field of Journalism. What? How did that happen?

The interview is found here: 50 Voices of the Future: The New Era of Citizen Journalism with Sylvia Mendoza

It’s been quite the journey. What I believe to be true is this: I truly believe in the power of the written word. The platform or means for delivering the news and media content will change but what remains constant is the Journalism Code of Ethics. It’s what guided me as a young student at USC; it’s what should be core 50 years from now. Each individual journalist should be able to stand unwavering in this fast/first competitive mentality. Our integrity and respect have to be constant and the foundation for quality work.

What’s next on this twisting path to purpose?

There are more books to write, more people to interview, more classes to teach–and from them all–so much more to learn. How blessed am I? Onward!

50voices-mendoza

“My Writing Process” Blog Tour

Deadlines. Flexibility. Routine. The need to write. The need to create or produce. Fortunately, I am disciplined to sit at my desk and write almost daily, but taking part in this “My Writing Process” blog tour at the invitation of a writer and teacher I truly admire—Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book of Days–really made me think. Judy is currently working on Wild Women, Wild Voices, which intrigues me to no end since I’m a big advocate for empowering women. You can find out more about Judy’s projects and process at www.judyreeveswriter.com

Diving into the 4 questions this blog tour is based on, I begin…

  1. What am I working on?

That’s a loaded question since I write non-fiction, fiction and articles—and teach.

For fiction I’m working on “the book of my heart.” Finally. It’s been simmering and shifting voice and point of view and being pushed to the back burner for seven years now. It’s about a breast cancer survivor who has lost her mojo and believes the only way she can get it back is by reviving her high school rock band—much to the surprise of her husband, kids, and best friends/band members. This year I have an agent who is so ready to take it out into the world, that I finally have a deadline. Maybe that’s what was missing all along. As a journalist I thrive on deadlines.

Salsa Serenade, previously published as Serenade

Salsa Serenade, previously published as Serenade

I’m also self-publishing my old romance titles that I received the rights back on. The first, Salsa Serenade, is out now.

Non-fiction--biographies of 150 remarkable Latinas.

Non-fiction–biographies of 150 remarkable Latinas.

For non-fiction, I still work with my The Book of Latina Women: 150 Vidas of Passion, Strength and Success. The 2013 re-release is currently a finalist in the International Latino Book Awards; winners will be announced on June 28 at a banquet in Las Vegas. Receiving that call from Kirk Whisler of Latino Literacy Now was my version of what the Academy Awards must be like. I was speechless and teary and overcome. The women featured in the book are amazing and even today I get goosebumps when I speak about them. My agent and I are talking about breaking down the book into a series for middle grade readers and highlighting much-needed Latina role models from various career fields.

For journalism, my favorite magazine to write for is Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. I cover amazing educators, advances in the education field, overcoming stereotypes and visionary perspectives. Next up is a piece on the incredible community outreach work being done by students of the MFA program at Cal State San Bernardino headed by Dr. Juan Delgado, a poet himself.

  1. How does my work differ from that of others of its genre?

Good question. In all my work—fiction, non-fiction, articles—I find myself writing about inspiring people/characters I’d want to hang around with at a dinner table. I write about strong, intelligent, selfless women, Latinos and Latinas who blaze trails and surpass the bar. I write about people who have integrity and values and follow their passion despite the risks; those who have time for others and learn as much as they teach. Those who question the norm and break stereotypes. Those who speak for the underdog. Their stories mesmerize and need to be told.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

Because I believe every person has a story to tell—and that includes the characters that live in my head for my novels. I’m intrigued by people and their journeys, their obstacles and their vision. I’m often in awe of how they can somehow pull from that inner core—even on the darkest of days—strength, desire, perseverance and passion to change direction and make things happen.

  1. How does your writing process work?

It starts with acceptance of fewer hours sleep and that my desk will never stay clean for more than a couple of days before the next project takes over the space. It usually pays off in the end…

Elbow deep in a new project

Elbow deep in a new project

In the READ LOCAL San Diego booth at the Encinitas Street Fair

In the READ LOCAL San Diego booth at the Encinitas Street Fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I teach media studies and journalism at a community college. The days I don’t, I get up by 5:00 to start writing on my fiction. For some reason, my brain is in its more creative juices. On those days I pick up where I left off. Almost always I work on my desktop computer, though I carry a notebook to jot down ideas, or else I forget. I’m going to try to use my laptop this summer for more portability. I take an exercise break—usually a spin class or brisk walk—around 9:30 to get the blood flowing and give my brain a rest. Then right back to it.

In the afternoons, between lesson plans and grading papers, I work on articles, non-fiction, or editing. That could mean research. Interviews. Outlines. Transcribing notes. First draft. Second draft. Third draft. Sometimes more, especially for articles. At night I’m usually fried, so I watch TV and enjoy it, dissecting well-written shows.

Deadlines trump all routines, however. When I worked on The Book of Latina Women, two weeks before deadline, I was probably at my desk 15-18 hours a day.

And then there’s life. Curve balls are thrown at us all the time and I deal with those as they come. More importantly, I like spending time with my kids, family and friends and practice escapism in different forms like salsa dance lessons, hiking, reading, traveling, eating, movies and concerts. I convince myself they’ll bring a depth to my writing, one way or another.

I figure how can I write about life if I’m not experiencing it?

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’d like to learn more about my projects and writing life, please check out www.sylvia-mendoza.com

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Now it’s time to pass the baton. Two of my friends are up next on this blog tour and will post their routines on May 5.

NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Caridad Pineiro is a Jersey Girl who’s written over 40 novels/novellas—dark and sexy romantic suspense and paranormal romances for those who live to love on the edge—and contemporary romances under her sweet, but still naughty side, Charity Pineiro. Visit www.caridad.com/blog

Ara Burklund writes YA with a unique voice and twist. Her first book, If I Die Before I Wake, is out now from the Alloy Entertainment division of Warner Brothers. Take a look at her other projects, sure to stand out in the ever-expanding YA genre, at www.araburklund.com

Encinitas Street Fair–Connecting Readers to Local Authors!

The ENCINITAS STREET FAIR is this coming weekend, April 26-27! It’s so much fun and a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday in San Diego.

Encinitas Street Fair

If you’re in the area, please visit the READ LOCAL San Diego booth on Sunday from 1:30-4:00. I’ll be joining other authors as we sign and talk books.

The opportunity to meet and mingle with other local authors of all genres, meet readers and share our writing process sounds like a perfect kind of weekend. To have it in quaint yet eclectic Old Encinitas on Highway 101–one of my favorite communities in San Diego–is the proverbial icing on the cake.

I’m proud to be a member of READ LOCAL San Diego. The mission of READ LOCAL is to connect readers with authors in their communities. According to its website, it was “created to raise awareness of the expansive literary community in the greater San Diego area, to foster a meaningful connection between local authors and readers, and to enrich the lives of readers through ongoing events and outreach programs.”

I just like the fact that we see the power of the written word come alive in a variety of genres; there’s something for every reader. Much like a bouquet of wildflowers, we will each offer the unique beauty of our individual books as part of a bigger collection of art.

Hope to see you Sunday!!!

For more info on READ LOCAL, visit http://sandiego.readlocal.org/

For more info on the 400+ booths and the weekend schedule for music and entertainment, visit: http://www.sandiego.org/events/festivals-and-street-fairs/encinitas-april-street-fair.aspx

The Salvation of Artist Fabian “Spade” Debora

Shades of Gray: First Amendment Rights Not Always Black & White

JOURNALISM LAW (655) DISCUSSION QUESTION: Do you believe that traditional First Amendment protections should also apply to the Internet? Please cite the relevant Supreme Court rulings on this point, and also please give your opinion and thoughts. Please explain your reasoning in detail.

 “First Amendment Protections are not absolute.” This was one of the most intriguing quotes in the textbook, The Law of Journalism and Mass Communication for the Journalism 655 Law class. Based on discussions and readings, especially Chapter 2 on “The First Amendment,” I have started to see that the law, which is black and white, really has more shades of gray than ever imagined when it comes to interpretation and also on a case-by-case basis.

It was interesting to see definitions of Freedom of Speech—and the parameters under which Law of Journalismthe right is protected—and how so many people just throw the term out there, thinking they are protected. From the very birth of the amendments to present day technologies and citing specific cases, the concept of Freedom of Speech is, well, beautiful and to be experienced by every American.

However, that right often comes with limitations and caveats. Freedom of speech covers many platforms, including now, the Internet. I believe First Amendment protections should apply to the Internet, but I also believe that these protections will be evolving as technology evolves. More people are posting to blogs, websites, and all modes of social media, sometimes because they can, and sometimes because they can remain anonymous.

It was interesting to see that sometimes an ISP (Internet service provider) could be brought to court for allowing questionable material to be published on a particular site. Mostly, it is about individuals or publications or companies that post material; they are liable for what they post. When someone decides to publish commentary, stories, photos, or the like on the Internet, they do have freedom of speech, but there are many “unprotected categories” of this right.

For example, the text says, “Political speech enjoys full constitutional protection, while seditious speech, fighting words, obscenity and defamation are unprotected categories.” 

A few other categories that are not protected include: blackmail, extortion, perjury, false advertising, disruptive speech and can cover child pornography, cross burning, and true threats (particularly to national Security), and also to an individual’s security/safety. Freedom of speech cannot cross privacy interests, either. In addition, there are content-neutral laws, also known as time/place/manner laws, which can affect a person’s protection under Freedom of Speech.

One Internet case citing the “true threat” category was about the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA), which targeted doctors who performed abortions and placed them on its website (p 115).  Wording on the site “suggested a mafia-type contract be taken out on abortion providers whose “crimes” were compared to the Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II.” 

Four doctors sued the organization, fearing for their lives and inability to continue practicing medicine. They said they were “intentionally intimidated…with a threat of force.” The ACLA was found guilty of “intentionally threatening to harm the doctors.” On appeal, another court upheld that ruling, saying that “true threats arise not from the use of specific words but from the meaning of a message interpreted in context.”

Categorical balancing was a topic brought up in the text that covers, for example, privacy vs. political speech. It explains the extent of harm caused to determine whether the expression falls into punishable category.

For the abortion doctors’ case, the Supreme Court ruling covered the “true threat” category and, therefore, this was a punishable category. It is interesting to see how these cases are brought to court and trial. Sometimes it seems that the outcome can seem like a roll of the dice, so random, but in reality, we have these freedoms—of speech and of the press—and still have to be held accountable as citizens and journalists. The ACLA crossed the line—if one looks at the black and white of the law—and the unprotected categories of Freedom of Speech.  Whether through a website, blog, or social media outlet, what a person says can be seen as a threat or a target for libel, slander and defamation.

As journalists, it might be more of a balancing act. It can come back to ethics and being aware of what the unprotected categories are, but at the same time, we have to have the liberty to publish what we feel is relevant news. It will be interesting to see how protection of our Freedom of the Press and Speech will evolve as more of our work appears on the Internet, and reaches, influences and/or incites the masses.

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For Sake of a Story: When Journalists Cross the Line–Invading Privacy

JOURNALISM LAW DISCUSSION QUESTION: In writing sensitive stories, reporters often face complex questions involving legality, ethics, fairness and privacy. Please discuss how you as a modern communications professional would deal with the following situation, involving former tennis star Arthur Ashe, and the media’s decision to reveal – against his wishes – the news that Ashe had been diagnosed with AIDS. Please discuss both the legal and the ethical aspects of this situation. Among other questions, please say whether the newspaper had the legal right to print this information without Ashe’s consent, and whether this raises any legal issues involving libel, defamation or invasion of privacy.

The questions posed in the Media Ethics Case Study, “Arthur Ashe and the Right to Privacy” by Carol Oukrop at Kansas State University, offered a glimpse of several issues: transparency in journalistic coverage, invasion of privacy, public vs. private individuals, whether or not the story is newsworthy, and whether or not a person who was once a public figure, will always be a public figure—and can be covered as such.

There are many ways the newspaper could get around the legalities of publishing a piece without Arthur Ashe’s permission. Falling back on the First Amendment is, of course, core to that. If you went by the black and white issue of the law, of course, the newspaper had the legal right to publish the piece.

What can save that newspaper from libel and liability issues would depend on a few things: the angle they take, the way content was written, word choice (fact vs. opinion), its intent and whether once a person is a public figure if s/he will always be considered a public figure. It might take into consideration the public’s right to know. What are the parameters of that?

However, what makes a piece news worthy? Why is it news in the first place? After some of the cases we’ve read, there is no telling whether the issue of “legal right to publish” is the actual issue at stake. Getting the news out faster than the next guy, with total disregard for the individual vs. the paper’s exclusive, can influence—and cloud—a publication’s bottom line.

Today, it seems there is a very blurry line when it comes to journalistic standards of excellence, ethical reporting and transparency.

There is a person’s right to privacy. Pushing the envelope often times crosses those ethical lines.

Peter Prichard, editor of USA Today, said, “When the press has kept secrets . . . that conspiracy of silence has not served the public. . . .”? “Journalists serve the public by reporting news, not hiding it…”

What does Ashe’s health have to do with better serving the public? USA Today tried to justify its coverage saying that exposing Ashe could free him and his family “of a great weight.”

It also said Ashe could help the public better understand and defeat AIDS. What gives the paper the right to even suggest such a thing? What if he didn’t want to? What if he wanted to do so within his own time frame? Or after his daughter was a little older? What right did USA Today have to place THAT burden of being an AIDS spokesperson on him?

USA Today was wrong in pushing Ashe against a corner. He had hoped to keep the news private, especially for his child’s sake. An editorial Oukrop cited from The Christian Century (April 22, 1992) called this a “tale of media irresponsibility and corporate greed,” an example of “entertainment posing as information”—and I agree.

The media invades privacy issues, especially when public figures are at the center.  Ashe had, over the years, earned much respect for his professional accomplishments, as well as his involvement in human rights/struggles—and many other agendas that impacted communities. Being an AIDS spokesperson did not have to be thrust upon him, even though he handled the media frenzy and aftermath with grace and dignity.

Oukrop’s last source truly sent chills down my spine. Fred Bruning wrote that, “The wishes of a stricken man cannot substitute for editorial judgment… but the objective is clear. Personal concerns are secondary to the principles of a free press.”

What “principles” formed the basis for USA Today’s decision? When there is such a fine line between ethics and freedom of the press, a media watchdog needs to sniff things out to ensure that the “principles” of the First Amendment are not taken lightly or abused. Otherwise, the action can backfire and a publication can lose its credibility as a viable media outlet. 

 

ABC 10 News San Diego: New Owners, Big Investment in Homegrown Programming

ABC 10 News San Diego: New Owners, Big Investment in Homegrown Programming
Journalism 640 News Business Models–Final Project/Analysis
By Sylvia Mendoza

Business Model

In January, the E.W. Scripps Co. bought ABC 10 News San Diego and eight other television stations from McGraw-Hill Broadcasting for $212 million. According to Price Colman of TVNewsCheck, “Scripps will morph from a newspaper company that owns television stations to a broadcast company that owns some newspapers.”

The mission is to rebuild the stations’ cash flow margins and to invest in “homegrown programming to reduce its reliance on syndicated fare; bulking up investigative news efforts; reorganizing and centralizing digital operations.” The annual broadcast revenue will jump 50% to roughly $450 million. Publishing will contribute about $400 million.

J.W. August, managing editor for ABC 10 News, has been with the station for 30 years. He feels Scripps will be a great fit. “Though they’re based in Indiana, they have deep family roots here, and think local, local, local.”

Staff

There are 75 on staff. There were no layoffs during the recession or buyout. Those who have since left or retired have not been replaced. “Scripps is not about stripping down and selling it,” said August. “They’re actually building up the station.”

A consumer reporter was just hired as part of the investigations team. All new hires must be trained as backpack journalists. “It’s the only way to survive in this business now,” he said.

J.W. August, Managing Editor ABC 10 News San Diego

The Evolution

Fifteen years ago a Seattle paper had started posting articles online, explained August. “We thought, ‘How’s it going to affect us?’ But we saw the writing on the wall.” Back in the day, Internet Broadcasting Systems designed their website. “Early on, our I-team was blogging, but it took up too much time. We’d get hundreds of hits, but our goal was thousands. So we stepped back.”

They were one of the first in the U.S. to try backpack journalism. They were flown out to observe a Memphis station, which had gone completely backpack. However, August believes it had made the transition for the wrong reason—they cut bodies for profits.  

“We knew we had to feed the beast, but we did it to increase content. We had photographers learn how to be reporters and reporters learn how to be photographers. We were the laughing stock of this market for about two years.”

Now backpack journalism and multimedia is the norm. Reporters have laptops, cameras, wifi and Twitter accounts. Producers set up robot-run cameras so they can pre-program a news broadcast in advance.  Email alerts, cell phone access, apps, and Facebook are all active. The website was reconfigured to make it more user-friendly. Accessibility and posting is constant and competitive.

Sometimes a well-oiled machine can have glitches, however. “Even with a bigger team, there is a chance for more mistakes because everything’s going up so fast,” August explained. “I wrestle with that.”

Gravic, however, amazes him. This is a measurement tool that gives feedback on programming, minute by minute. “It keeps track of how a story plays, how many hits it gets, when viewers change the channel, how the headlines play, what commercials are run,” said August. Its analysis can cause a dramatic shift in content—and keep the audience planted for the entire newscast. It helps them schedule topics, breaks and headlines better, for example. “We can see if we did the story wrong, but it can also help us produce better content.”

ABC 10 News San Diego

Income

The Internet is bringing in more advertising income in three main areas: 1.      News/broadcast (Television)2.      Website (Streaming, written product, trending topics)

3.      Azteca (Spanish language)  

“Three years ago, we saw that 40 percent of the market is Hispanic and we wanted in,” says August. It’s been slow to assimilate them. One reporter has one or two-minute cut-ins for the regular broadcasts every hour. There’s also an Azteca page on the website. It is a start for a very lucrative target market with buying power.

Partnerships

ABC 10 News has a partnership with XETV Channel 6 for video sharing and Sky 10 (helicopter) is shared with Channel 30. Sometimes investigative teams collaborate. 

The Future

A “newsroom of the future” is being built. The news hub will be in the center of the room and the “spokes” lead to reporters’ and editors’ desks in an effort to be more efficient and interactive.                                

ABC 10 News-KGTV

August wants to figure out a better way to better shoot photos and videos for iPhones if the majority of the population will be getting its news that way. He also sees custom newscasts somewhere down the line. “You’ll be able to pick the subjects that interest you, build your own newscasts, and have that delivered to you in your preferred format.”

No News without Journalists

There’s a limit to technology, said August. “Someone’s got to write in the field, someone has to do the quality work.” Even though the goal is to deliver more product on different platforms, quicker, a gatekeeper is needed, no matter what medium is used. August seems to look forward to the challenge. “We have a good parent company that supports the big J, and is dedicated to quality content on any platform.”

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The Poetic Flow of One Man’s Perspective–My Heart Jumped

Inspiration. I seem to always be looking for it. I run into it all the time.

My critique group rocks

With my friends, who endure hardships and still are the most amazing, generous, talented, loving people surrounding me. With my own kids, who I sometimes watch with awe with their blossoming. With my parents who withstood unbearable conditions to succeed and offer their kids better lives. With my professors, whose knowledge spurs me to do better. With my employers and editors who who create environments of respect and professionalism that make me aspire to make a difference. With my educator mentors who are in academia because they want to teach and envision our future leaders. With my colleagues, who are so committed, their achievements create magical outcomes. With my interviewees, who have taught me about life and living and how attitude is everything.

I’ve been lucky to work with students and clients like at UCSD-Extension, who write about their lives. Memoirs. Creative non-fiction. It is a brave thing, and often times, I am inspired beyond words as they are willing to be raw and real. Maybe this is why I started my own company offering writing and editing services–so that I could help clients develop their stories while staying true to their visions and voices–and ultimately share with the world the life experiences that so moved them, transformed them, or led them to better places of awareness. I see my clients who are already inspirational and motivational speakers like Daniel Gutierrez and Dr. Yasmin Davidds, whose words I read to this day.

And now, my clients who wrote 8 Ways to Say I Love My Life will have their book out this Fall.

Raw, real, rich in detail, 8 Ways Delivers

All eight authors laid their hearts bare and the resulting book has that “wow” factor to me. I cried. I laughed. I saw light after dark despairing depths.

What I know is this, some memoirs, inspirational works and self-help books rise above. They have the potential to inspire and change lives.

I listened to Jane Fonda speak on Life: The Third Act and her focus was on–what do we do now, with long life expectancies, for the last three decades of our lives? Should I do anything differently, I wondered.

It is not only about our purpose in this world, she said, but in our approach to it. How do we react to the good that comes to us and the bad that corners us?  When you strip away everything material, what matters? Fonda shared a quote by Viktor Frankl (how did I not read him before?), author of Man’s Search for Meaning.

I had to find him, his work, his words.

“I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets…”

His passage on love flowed so poetically, I read it over and over and my heart leapt. Imagine, to be lucky to love that way, to have someone love you that way. To know that love is one of those “things” that matter. So as Frankl, a Holocaust victim enlightened me when he shared bits of his life and philosophy, I saw inspiration.  Those who write about their lives are bold and brave and inspire in their own way. I am right where I am meant to be.

I close with Frankl’s poetic perspective of love:

“…for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved…” 

~ Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor & Author, Man’s Search for Meaning

Secrets to Successful Online Publishing

Secrets to Successful Online Publishing
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Master’s Program Final Assignment; Journalism 620 Online Publishing)

Networking. Social Media. Multi-media. SEO. Billboard approaches. Links, hubs, nodes. Websites. Internet. The World Wide Web. Anchor text. Interactive. Audience-driven. The jargon itself seems technical and fast-paced. But what pulls these elements together is interconnectivity.

Beyond our personal lives, this networking world has also transformed traditional news gathering and dissemination in print, broadcast and radio mediums. The way news—and online publishing—is covered today, is also fast paced, far-reaching, interactive and instantaneous. Successful news coverage offers an audience options in how to read, listen to, or view a story.

Producing news for online journalism and publishing is about networking and linking to promising audiences—but it goes beyond being efficient in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, and a myriad of other online networking sources. When we set up websites, we must be conscious of the words we choose, placement of those words and graphics and possibility for links. In the textbook, Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug shows how important it is to be aware of and practice more of a “billboard” approach.    

Don't Make Me Think

Author Steve Krug uses common sense tactics to make web site development user-friendly and efficient–which can result in more traffic to a site.

Awareness will make us better journalists for online publishing. Kirby Harrison compares analyzing websites with how he first viewed films, which is the career path he wants to pursue. Harrison says in his blog, “Now, I look at the little details that are wrong with the web. It was similar with film, when I went to the movies, all I did was watch the movie. It didn’t matter if it was a horror film or a comedy, I just enjoyed my time in the theatre. After learning more details into what it takes to make a film, camera angles, and the eventual do’s and don’t’s in filmmaking, I saw movies differently. Instead of enjoying what I was watching, I started judging the camera angles, whether or the director should have used a wide angle or not, etc.”

Like Harrison, journalists must be aware of how their work can be most effective. They must communicate and produce stories they are assigned or are compelled to tell—in one medium or another—but also in a multi-media focus to keep audiences engaged and keep the news interactive.

Jane Clifford explained this extremely well in her blog, “Digital Daze.” She writes, “After realizing — and accepting — that online readers are different in their approach to news (they choose what to read, when to read it, whether to respond to it on the spot and, much like being in a buffet line, they may taste a map, such as this one digest a graphic or list or photo, and move on to the next story sooner or later, depending on how well the journalist holds the viewer’s attention), online reporters must make sure a story is more than text.”

So what makes one news agency or journalist stand out from another? What is the secret to successful online publishing? What is the secret to successful networking?

Networking was not always associated with the Internet. In Hassan Alassaly’s blog, he reminded me of how our textbook, Linked, began—citing a networking venture that is centuries old. Alassaly writes, “Albert Barabasi[‘s] first pages of his book “Linked” he talks about the networking and how is it works, and to tell us it has been used since the beginning of the Christianity describing Paul that he understood his message is not enough to be reached for, except by networking.  He has to walk 10,000 miles in 12 years of his life to contact as many people as he can to connect his idea about Christianity and Jesus of Nazareth.”

Bodies, bridges, social networks–what do they have in common?

Technological advances and mediums that are the norm now have been foreign to me, a print journalist for the last 30 years.  In National University’s Online Publishing class for its Digital Journalism graduate program, every class has led to this one.  The core group of students in the program personifies a solid networking system.    Students are learning there are no secrets to successful online publishing. It is hard work. It is adapting. It is about putting into practice what we learn in the classroom—and also trusting our instincts. It is about what we bring to the table as individual professionals. It is about telling compelling stories that will draw audiences and reaction.Through all the readings in this class—Don’t Make Me Think by Steven Krug, Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins, and Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi—what I’ve learned most is this:

  • the news is ever changing,
  • multi-media offers interactive alternatives for the online user,
  • the dissemination of news is interactive and instantaneous, and
  • successful promotion of a news article or news agency depends on how effectively key words and phrases are used that can optimize an online search on a given topic.

A journalist can adapt to a digital journalism world by remembering two valuable practices. 1. She must remain true to ethical journalism standards as she researches and reports her story. 2. She must strive to tell a story with heart, which was the crux of Tompkins’ viewpoint. If one can get to the emotional core of a story—the heart of a story—the more likely audiences can relate—and will return to a site to learn more.   

Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins

“Write, Shoot, Report & Produce for TV and Multimedia”

The beauty of networking is that one story can link to other sources, one person can tell their friends and families to link, and then the network for a story grows. Journalism student, Nebo Uyanwah, seemed to enjoy how Linked resonated and gave a new perspective of the magnitude of the Internet. “I love the analogy of the web being different continents or very large communities,” Uyanwah says.

This is how we network and grow as journalism students in the program. We read texts from experts in the field of impactful journalism so that we all start on the same footing. During weekly Live Chat sessions we listen to each other’s comments and discuss certain materials; we link to each other’s blogs and learn about personal style while seeing the strengths and diversity of perspectives. Our professors invite us to stay linked and suddenly, our networking circle has grown.  

As Professor Theresa Collington states, we need to “begin to view (digital) society as a complex social network. The world is actually very small.”

Indeed, Jerry Simpson put that idea to the test when he “linked” with Collington. “I was surprised as the number of connections you and I have in the journalism world,” he writes in his blog. “About a dozen of my friends follow you and even though we haven’t met in person, we are connected or as the author points out “Linked.””

We are enlightened by each other in these journalism classes, too. Insight by Mark Taylor enlightened me as to why Barabasi used the example of Gaetan Dugas, known as “Patient Zero” in the AIDS epidemic, in the Viruses and Fads Chapter. I initially had trouble equating it with the concept of being linked.

Taylor says, “People infected with HIV not only provide an example of the six degrees of separation outlined in the first nine chapters but the epidemic also implies that networks can be made to be damaged…Many journalists rely on digital devices and various social media outlets to reach out to other networks to acquire information needed for news stories. If an act of cyber terrorism was launched against these devices our communication infrastructure would be greatly hindered.”

When each of us in these classes shares insights, perspectives and news coverage practices, they link us to other points of view. Isn’t it part of a journalist’s job to see as many sides of a story as possible?

What I have loved most through all the readings is the concept of interconnectivity that Barabasi brought to life through discussion of the Pareto Principle—or Six Degrees of Separation. He made it fun and relatable by describing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. We are in a connected world but we have to go beyond that basic concept to produce news that matters to more people.    

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game

It is taking this interconnectivity and following the lessons Krug tells of producing effective websites that are conscious of the target audience. “They want information fast, at their convenience, which is easy to understand,” says Mark Godi. “Often times, they want to get in and get out. To make them stay, your site has to be interactive.”

Interconnectivity is about believing that the heart of a good story will resonate with audiences as Tompkins believes—while using basic, effective online journalism practices. It is understanding that we are all connected as social human beings, in one way or another. In a beautifully clear written summary of Aim for the Heart, Mic Simpson reiterates, “Stories that pull at the heartstrings will not only be remembered but retold to co-workers, friends, or families. Then you’ve not only affected those who were there for the original story, but so many more as well.”

Glenda McCray-Fikes points out that Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote The Tipping Point, realizes that we may know the same number of people as the person next to us. However, some people are connectors. McCray-Fikes explains, “Connectors are the folks that are strong networkers and can get a message to more people in shorter amount of time then the average person.”

Even with seven billion people in the world, we are linked. As journalists, we can be the connectors. When we keep the power of the written word and multi-media coverage professional, yet authentic, interconnectivity can also be more powerful than we ever imagined.     

Staying Linked to Kevin Bacon–Part 2

Staying Linked to Kevin Bacon—Part 2
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Master’s Program Assignment; Jour 620 Online Publishing)  

Bodies, bridges, social networks–what do they have in common?

In the second half of the book, Linked: The New Science of Networks: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Science, Business and Everyday Life, author Albert-László Barabási, the educator/researcher is unleashed. The first half of the book was easier for a lay person to follow, someone with no scientific or mathematical background. However, Barabasi’s elaborate explanations showing the complexities of how a body’s cellular makeup and the World Wide Web are similar and depend on interior networks, links and nodes, became tedious and lost parallelism.

Chapter—or “Link”—titles were intriguing but content within was dissected to the point of confusion. The Tenth Link was Viruses and Fads; The Eleventh Link was The Awakening Internet; The Twelfth Link was The Fragmented Web; and The Thirteenth Link was The Map of Life. Barabasi did give some unique examples of how things can go terribly wrong with certain “networking.”  One such example was of the French Canadian flight attendant, Gaetan Dugas, who supposedly slept with approximately 20,000 people—and became known as “patient zero” of the AIDS epidemic. He was “at the center of an emerging complex sexual network among gay men.” Many of these first cases are linked to those who  had sex with Dugas.   He knowingly slept with these “victims” and they had no idea of the severity of the disease. This one man, a node for some, a hub for the disease—allegedly started a worldwide health crisis. However, Dugas may have been wrongly identified as a source, according to Xtra! Canada’s Gay & Lesbian News. This was also documented in an Xtra! video on Patient Zero.

Barabasi’s point in using this example? I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps it was understanding that links—from DNA and genetic propensities for cancer or other illnesses and cellular “wiring”–could go wrong. This could also be applied to networking malfunctions on the World Wide Web. In “The Twelfth Link—The Fragmented Web”—Barabasi talks about how some robots have “taken up residence in the virtual world…performing one of the most thankless and boring jobs humanity has ever designed: reading and indexing millions of Webpages.”

He defines the Web as “a scale-free network, dominated by hubs and nodes with a very large number of links.” It would be a difficult and almost impossible task—and quite an undertaking—to keep track of the millions of web pages in order to estimate the size of the Web. In addition, everything seems interconnected, which adds even more complexities to the ever growing Internet. Barabasis states that “the Web is fragmented into continents and communities, limiting and determining our behavior in the online universe,” yet the “structure of the World Wide Web has an impact on everything from surfing to democracy.”

A Federal agency or other entity could attempt to regulate the Web, but it is truly a localized, individual, ever changing monster, with thousands feeding it daily, watching it grow to unfathomable dimensions.  

So, even though search engines are amazing and seem to offer up a myriad of options for the web surfer, they have only touched the tip of the iceberg in unraveling the breadth of the WWW. Google, for example, has “indexed only 7.8 percent of the estimated 800 million pages out there.” Yet, Barabasi goes back to the six degrees of separation theory, saying, “despite the billion documents on the Web, nineteen degrees of separation suggests that the Web is easily navigable.”

The bottom line for Barabasi is that within the World Wide Web, there will always be a balance of trial and error, growth and setbacks, and even good and evil. The power of being “linked,” however, offsets the negative. He believes being linked to communities that matter to individuals, whether it is for business, education, activism, entertainment, research or enlightenment, or any other category, can produce positive outcomes. Surfing the Web and learning about its behind-the-scenes intricacies is all about possibilities and empowerment—and the knowledge that we are connected more than we think.

The power of this interconnectivity defies all logic. It is up to individuals to harness even a portion of that power to create networks for a greater purpose and discovery, moving ever forward.    

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