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

The Power of the Written Word at Work

Archive for the category “Social Media”

“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

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

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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

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


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. 


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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Interconnectivity: Are You Linked to Kevin Bacon?

Interconnectivity: Are You Linked to Kevin Bacon?
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Assignment: Journalism 620: Online Publishing)

With more than 7 billion people in the world (US Census Bureau), the Internet and social media make us believe that it just might be a small world, despite the numbers. With an incredible network of connections, it is sometimes unfathomable to believe that someone from California could possibly connect to someone they have never met in London, through the various Internet sources find a bed and breakfast or do a home swap in time for the  2012 Olympics.

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

Oh, the beauty of being interconnected. This phenomenon for everything from businesses, to a body, to social networks is shown historically in 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. According to the book blurb, author “Albert-László Barabási, the nation’s foremost expert in the new science of networks, takes us on an intellectual adventure to prove that social networks, corporations, and living organisms are more similar than previously thought.”

At this point in time, there is a convergence of centuries of mathematical and scientific formulas that form the basis for the belief that networks are present everywhere and in everything. Barbasi describes nodes, links, hubs and networks, labeling “isolated nodes” as people. As an example,  he says when people meet each other, they form a link. When several people get together, say at a party to share information, they form a network or cluster. So, like the internet, a network of connections can go from “isolated nodes” to isolated networks to big clusters with a commonality. Networks can be “computers linked by phone lines, islands connected by bridges and molecules in our bodies linked by chemical bonds.” These networks are linked to connectors and hubs that can cause exponential growth and opportunities for more connections and knowledge.

“Networks are …competitive…dynamic systems that change constantly through the addition of new nodes and links.” with a vivid example of serving a rare wine at a party. Share this with another person, then that person tells the next and then that person tells someone he knows. Pretty soon, everyone knows about the tasty rare wine and it will be gone before the next link can be created. Connectors are people who can literally, connect people, business, entities to others. Hubs “are places on the Internet where all of the important things from connectors are linked.”

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game

Barabasi uses the concept of “Six Degrees of Separation” to explain how closely we can be connected to others and not even realize it. Hungarian Author Frigyes Karinthy first wrote about this theory—that everyone in the world can be connected “through a chain of acquaintances of no more than five intermediaries”—in his 1929 “Chains.” This concept is illustrated in the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Actor Kevin Bacon is seen as a Hollywood hub for all actors who have worked with him or someone he knows.  

The best example of these types of strong and weak connections is LinkedIn. Strong ties are those people who are super close to us, but the best “investment” is to branch out to the weak ties, those we may not know as well, but who can broaden our connections. In my own LinkedIn account, some amazing statistics state:  510 connections link you to 6,365,236+ professionals; and, 65,321 new people in your network since July 22. Wow.

When I took Social Media for Editors at UCSD Extension, what I learned from instructor Erin Brenner reinforced Barabasi’s viewpoint: that for effective connections, I would not benefit from linking to so many other writers, but I would benefit if I linked to organizations or individuals who I wanted to reach as potential clients, such as motivational Latina speakers.

Barabasi mentions the “power laws;” one revolves around the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. His belief? Power comes from a few. He said that 80% of the property in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Another: 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients. My favorite?  How 20% of the population earns 80% of the income.

There are consequences to all this interconnectivity that the general public may not aware of.  In some cases, if technology fails, the world as we know it can come to a stop. There are entities that help monitor what can go wrong, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  DARPA focuses on “the development of new network technologies that will allow the networks of the future to be resistant to attacks and continue to provide network services.”

Precautions must be taken. “MafiaBoy,” a 15-year-old who hacked into and handicapped Yahoo,,, Etrade and Excite in one fell swoop, was first thought to be a cyber-terrorist by the FBI. Barabasi shows how those sites came to a screeching halt for serviceability. Barabasi also mentions how if major hubs are shut down, a domino effect can ensue. His example? American airports. If Chicago O’Hare, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta were shut down, “all air travel within the United States would come to a halt within hours.”

Interconnectivity. There is absolute awe in the concept. But there should also be a little bit of wariness. A little bit of fear. And a whole lot of respect for the power at our fingertips.  


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Aiming for the Heart: Online Publishing with a Punch

Aiming for the Heart: Online Publishing with a Punch
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Master’s Program/Digital Journalism/#620 Online Publishing)

Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins

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

Online publishing puts news at a consumer’s fingertips in an instant. For any journalist trained in only print, radio or television, online publishing is a new world.  Think multi-media. Think “billboard” for posting headlines and text. Think interactive.

In the book, Aim for the Heart: Write, Shoot, Report and Produce for TV and Multimedia, journalist author Al Tompkins lays out the facts of an ever-changing terrain—journalism as we’ve known it, and how a journalist must adapt to online publishing. Tompkins, who is also senior faculty for the Poynter Institute, points out how there must be a great shift in thinking, training, ethics, and coverage techniques in order to be most effective and offer readers multiple ways to consume the news. 

Poynter Institute faculty member Al Tompkins teaches how to produce effective content for multimedia journalism.

Online publishing is about engaging audience.

Online publishing should not be the same as what we put on TV. It is not TV. It is about letting the viewers, listeners and readers decide how they want to consume the news—even on that particular day, for that particular kind of news story. Visuals include maps, graphs, video, still photo galleries, raw footage, text, and links (but make sure they are legitimate, reputable and add to the story, since readers are taken away from the news site). There are “comments” sections after stories and with blogs, various ways to post on Twitter, and easy-to-follow directions to allow readers to post videos or stills on sites.

Cover a story from different angles, beyond the initial story focus. Tompkins suggests, for example, shooting half-time entertainment at high school football games to reach a different audience from the same location—band members, cheerleaders and their families. Make it personal. Localize it.

Interactive maps are another way to engage audiences. They can pinpoint where they are during a natural disaster, for example, and write a recap of what is happening in their neighborhoods.

Online, All the Time
Most users log in either midmorning or in midafternoon. There is constant updating to an online news story; however, a journalist must post with very specific, focused language. Nowadays, when audiences go online to search for a story, do research or expand their knowledge on a topic, they use search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN. The words they key in to “search” for their topic can lead them to a news agency’s site—if that site is using those words in the stories and headlines.

Therefore, using key words thoughtfully and strategically can garner more “readership.” This process is called search engine optimization. Tompkins pointed out how the Sacramento Bee changed its “Real Estate” section to “Homes.” He said, “People who are looking for a house do not search the words “real estate.”

Other ways to draw readership include having compelling video and photo shots that are close up rather than wide angled. Enlarge fonts and practice selective word choice.

An interesting fact from Poynter Eyetrack showed that “online users tend to read more of an article than print readers do…” so to get them to read a story, a journalist has to offer the key words they searched for. Journalists also need to write tight—no more than 800 words—and 15 words or less per sentence. In other words, the story has to be enticing, engaging, interactive, and informative.

The Journalist’s Responsibility
One is no longer “just” a print media journalist. A “backpack” journalist must sharpen her skills so that she can file her own stories, become computer savvy, involve social media tools, know basics of Photoshop, video editing and audio editing, and understand “netiquette.” At all times a journalist must think in multi-media layers. Assessing readership is crucial. Why did they come to your website? What were they expecting? How can you present information? Visitor presence is measured through page views, visitors, unique visitors and the time they all spend on the site and all these factors must be taken into account as a reporter covers stories.   

Editor, Professor, Chair of RTDNA, Stacey Woelfel. Photo credit:

Most importantly, a journalist’s code of ethics must remain steady even as online publishing changes continuously. In 2010, Tompkins, along with news director Kevin Benz, Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) chair Stacey Woelfel, attorneys and other media representatives, produced  guidelines for the ethical use of social media. These social media guidelines for journalists include truth and fairness, accountability and transparency, and image and reputation. Journalists are expected to uphold these.

Sources must always be verified. Truth must be exposed. Awareness of the casualness of social media like Twitter should not be an excuse for inaccuracy and unfairness. Personal opinions and “friending” should not cross professional lines. With an intuitive guideline, a journalist must still “aim for the heart” in order to connect with readers on an emotional, interactive level.

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