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

The Power of the Written Word at Work

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

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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