Friday, September 24, 2010

Tick, tock

In less than three hours, one blog post can end a career.

Or at least that’s how long it took when Andrew Breitbart posted a drastically edited video of Shirley Sherrod’s speech at an NAACP event in Georgia. The video appeared to show Sherrod -- a black woman, and U.S. Agriculture Department official – making racist remarks against a white farmer.

Approximately one hour after the original blog post, had picked up the video, citing Breitbart as its source.

By 2pm, Sherrod had resigned.

It didn’t stop there. Politically conservative cable news stations and websites jumped on the story. The NAACP president, Ben Jealous, Tweeted his condemnation of Sherrod’s remark. Most horrifying, the Obama administration accepted Sherrod’s resignation without calling for an investigation into the whole truth.

In the old days – a mere 15 years ago – the Sherrod story may never have been available for public consumption. The head of a news desk – for broadcast or print – would have viewed the video and most likely insisted on seeing the entire thing rather than airing a snippet provided by an anonymous source. There would have been an editorial process and, perhaps, someone may have even decided that this story wasn’t worth a precious 30-second spot on the evening news or a column in the next morning’s paper. In fact, that’s almost exactly what happened at the nation’s three national broadcast stations (ABC, NBC and CBS), which did not air the Sherrod story the first night, waiting to gather more facts.

Traditional news sources uncovered the unedited video within a day. Sherrod was then able to tell her side of the story on various news programs. Her message of transcending racism and working together was finally transmitted - albeit muffled - across the headlines, airwaves and blogosphere. Apologies from Jealous and even President Obama rolled in.

But, by then, it was too late. Shirley Sherrod was already out of a job.

Today, bloggers are wielding extraordinary power in their capacity for cheap, instant global publication. It is the perfect manifestation of the First Amendment – giving the most ordinary citizens the power to say whatever they want to whomever they want – and to read whatever they want, whenever they want.

The Sherrod incident illustrates everything that is wrong with the media: how the race to be the first to break a story leads to bad reporting, and how the rise in blogging has meant a rise in credence given to bad information. Accurate reporting and all of its fact-checking takes time – something no news outlet has when they are consistently being scooped by other media sources like blogs.

But the Sherrod incident also is a harbinger of what may be to come. The important part of that story is that most traditional outlets – including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal – refused to be baited into bad journalism. They held the story, and walked away untarnished, when even the president could not.

If blogs want to continue breaking news, they need to get the facts straight. They owe it to their readers who are clicking on their ads, driving their revenues and forwarding their links to expand readership. Otherwise, the savvy media-consuming public will start lumping them together with the rest of traditional media.

* served as the source for the timeline of this blog post.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Click, click, click

I tiptoe out of my son’s room, shut the door, listen.

Silence. I have 90 minutes – maybe two hours.

I load the dishwasher and race to the basement to change the laundry. Dancing around the Matchbox cars littering the kitchen floor to get to the counter, I pour myself a cup of luke-warm coffee.

Then, I squish my bottom into the tiny beads of my red beanbag chair with a laptop, open Safari and manually type in the urls to my favorite blogs. My mind wonders quickly these days when I’m on the Internet, flitting like my toddler from one new discovery to the next.

I have never put much thought into the letters, numbers and symbols that drive what’s on my Internet screen, Everything seems so effortless. With quick clicks across my computer screen, even I easily created a this free blog on the Blogger platform, complete with an innocuous background and drag-and-drop plugins to add some spice to my page.

I’m not afraid to admit it: I’m in awe of bloggers who can bang away on their keyboard’s to alter a basic template, making it an artistic extension of their writing. I envy clean-looking blogs with photos that pop with vibrant color off a simple white background. I can’t resist the headers that suck me in with whimsical swirls of design. I especially love the blogs that inspire creativity.

But I have ninety minutes (sixty if I decide to pick up all those cars and switch the laundry). On a toddler’s schedule, I’m starting to think like a toddler, too. If a website doesn’t grab me right away, I’m on to the next.

For me, it’s all about what’s above the fold.

A photo or an interesting entry title right up front draws me in. And if I have to look too hard to find a writer’s “About Me” tab, I’m likely to drift away.

My newest discovery is the RSS feed. I had seen it on several blogs, but was afraid to click it. Did I really need to subscribe to anything else? -- My email inbox is cluttered with health tips, coupons and sale notifications. I HAVE 90 MINUTES – this is not a time to add more stuff to sort.

But RSS seemed more efficient than remembering all my favorite bloggers and taking the time to type in their web addresses, only to be occasionally disappointed when there isn’t an updated post.

So I clicked through my favorite bloggers to see if I could add an RSS feed to my Google Reader.

More clicks and a password, I logged onto my Google Reader and immediately saw any updates from my favorite bloggers. I shouldn’t be so giddy about this, but it’s better than k-cup instant coffee. Really, it is!

But here’s an RSS “fail”: sometimes I want more that just the newest post. I can’t see the photos of my favorite blogger’s kids, pets and, in the case of Dooce, a recent office renovation through RSS.

As the clock ticks down and Harrison begins to stir, I click on a few more links. This is how I socialize these days, in 90 minutes, with the tips of my fingers clicking my keyboard seeking out tid-bits of life on the outside of mine.

When the baby wakes up, we’ll be off to the park. I’ll be chasing him up a ladder, no time to make friends with the moms watching over their children playing quietly in the sand.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Perfect

(My MIL with Harrison, five days old. Her outfit is still perfectly pressed
after the 5:30am departure from the Kentucky airport,
followed by a connection in Charlottesville and a 2pm Boston arrival.
Her look is complete with lipstick and dangly earrings.)

In three days, my in-laws will descend upon us. “Us” being my husband, our son and me in a three-bedroom apartment - if you really want to call that guest room a bedroom. It doesn’t have heat in the winter and, under the bed, there used to be a collection of vintage porn magazines left over from my much-older male cousin who lived here before us. Now, there are just dust bunnies under the bed and the horrifying memory of my cousin combing his hair to look like John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever.

I should be sweeping up the rogue hairs on the bathroom floor. Or cleaning out our refrigerator’s vegetable drawer, which currently houses something that may have been an eggplant, but now resembles a sixth-grade biology experiment. I definitely should be wiping splatters of dinners past off the wall (thank you, my dear, sweet baby boy).

But instead, I’m sitting on the floor in our living room, squishing crumbs into our formerly nice Pottery Barn rug. I say formerly, referring to that time before we had our son, who is now 18-months old.

Formerly, I would have been buzzing about the apartment, trying to prepare for my mother-in-law, who – according to my husband – is as close to perfect as perfect could be. I am not perfect, but when she comes, I try. (Do all daughter-in-laws feel this way?)

Emma is – in a word – lovely. Born in southern Illinois, transplanted to eastern Kentucky as a newlywed in the early 1970s (about the same time as that classic porn appeared in our guest room), she embodies my vision of the classic southern housewife. She sits front and center for Sunday Mass, delivers elderly women from the local nursing home to a salon for their weekly wash-and-dry, and hosts last-minute dinner parties by whipping up a beef Wellington with garlic scented mashed potatoes and an array of colorful vegetables. She rotates the photos in her house depending on who is visiting, to make her guests feel special. Emma always has a batch of chocolate-chip-pecan cookies ready when you walk in the door. Each morning, she wakes up looking just as she did before going to sleep: haired combed, lipstick applied, face glowing.

This time, when she visits, the usual spinach quiche à la Julia Child won’t be waiting on the stovetop. The scent of just-baked banana bread will not be wafting through the apartment. I definitely won’t have time to clean the city-dust from our windows or beg our neighbors to pick up their lawn trash. Or plan wonderful, enlightening cultural and shopping trips into Boston.

But the guest-room sheets are clean. There are flowers on the freshly dusted antique cedar bureau she gave my husband when he was 22. The milk stains will be wiped clean from our hardwood floors. Crumbs will be vacuumed.

I’m not reveling in my new role as a stay-at-home mother. I’m resenting what my mother-in-law considers as my new job’s requirements. I don’t want to sweep, wipe and bake. With a bachelor’s degree and years of practice, I had mastered my old responsibilities of presenting to executives, writing reports and answering questions about the financial industry.

Motherhood is proving to be more complex than I anticipated. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my old identity of engaged corporate citizen with a gym membership, dry-cleaned clothes and a small handbag with my new one of barf-stained sweatshirts, a loaded diaper bag and a babbling baby. Nevermind living up to my mother-in-law’s precedent.

So now, I’m sitting. Because on Monday, when my in-laws’ plane touches the ground at Logan Airport, I won’t be able to sit. A perfect daughter-in-law doesn't sit.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Get a blog!

(Reading with Harrison, January 2010)

Most nights, my husband and I settle into our evening ritual. After our 18-month old baby has gone to sleep and the dinner dishes are drying, he takes command of our only remote and flips through the channels. I curl up on the couch opposite his chair and reach out into the blogosphere.

While Aaron is certainly an amazing husband and father, who listens carefully as I detail the giggles, meltdowns and massive poops that dominate my day with our son, it is to these bloggers I turn for amusement, camaraderie and information.

Since leaving my full-time job to be a full-time mother, my real world has become increasingly small. I used to read blogs as a brief escape from my desk job, but I had plenty of personal interaction with co-workers and friends. Now, as I’ve tailor my days to accommodate naps, meals and playtimes, blogs increasingly have become my lifeline to the outside world. I’ve realized babies aren’t really conducive to a healthy dose of daily adult interaction.

Stating this makes me a touch sad…. Before the Internet and blogs, people were more likely to talk to each other – at the supermarket, at the park, at the library. I remember my own mother being social in the checkout line at market. I met my first group of girlfriends when I was three years old because our respective mothers became friends at the library playgroup. Now, I watch as many mothers furiously tap on their handhelds, while pushing a stroller or oftentimes ignoring a screaming child, never mind interacting with me. I’m just as much at fault here. Eye contact can be much harder than enduring BlackBerry thumb.

So while blogs are being blamed for the demise of traditional journalism (i.e., newspapers, network news, cable news networks, etc.), it’s the demise of human interaction that is more unsettling to me. Instead of discussing in person, picking up the phone or, God forbid, writing a letter, more and more people are blogging about their experiences and throwing them out into the world for anyone to read – doesn’t matter if those readers know the author or not.

At the same time, I’ve turned to blogs to bridge a void in my life. As a new mother, I felt every emotion imaginable, including ones I didn’t want to say aloud. I searched on line and found countless mothers – bloggers – who were feeling what I was. I discovered mothers who also cried every day despite their perfectly healthy, much-wanted and adored babies. I read about women who felt like their identities had been stripped away when they gave birth. I read blogs about mothers questioning their decisions to stay at home full-time with their children and how they transitioned to this new role.

Any of these issues I could have broached with the real women in my life. But I was scared. I was embarrassed. I couldn’t even verbalize some of the feelings I was having. But those blogs helped me get through those early months of being a new mother. Even though I had never met any of the bloggers I followed – never even posted a comment (gasp!) – they felt like they had become “friends” to me.

The writing isn’t always the best at these blogs. And as a former editor, the grammatical and punctuation errors that abound make that crease between my eyes grow ever deeper. But I’m not seeking perfection – and I would venture to guess that their other blog followers aren’t looking for Pulitzer-prize winning writing either. What we’re searching for is a voice that is similar to our own – a voice that speaks to us like a friend would.

And sometimes, after a day of chasing Cheerios and reading “Goodnight Moon” yet again, it’s comforting to read a post by someone who knows exactly what you’re feeling.