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An observation in search of more words

Product of some conversations and some reading and a movie: If the newspaper industry dies before it can fully reinvent itself, the death will be blamed on the internet. And to be sure, the 'net will share some of the blame. Newspapers were among the first things affected by our craving for all the information all the time with none of the cost.

But -- you maybe hear it here first? -- that will not be the only cause of death. Sharing guilt will be stupid management. That's stupid management that worried more about keeping very fat profit margins than about the tornado heading their way. And stupid management who couldn't figure out that paying good people crap wages ... and asking them to work in conditions that make it clear that you don't value them ... will mean you lose those good people to other places.

And, the subject of two recent conversations, stupid management that doesn't realize it takes PEOPLE and TIME to do the kind of work that attracts and keeps readers in 2016. Readers can find garbage writing and shallow reporting in far too many other places. They don't need to give their local paper $1 or so per issue for the same junk.

Sad but true

I watched "All the President's Men" with my two 101 sections to close out this semester. On the good side: I'd forgotten how much I enjoy that movie. I also had the pleasure of watching many of the students get intrigued, some in spite of themselves.

But I walked away with one rueful thought: I wonder how many news organizations today would have given Woodward and Bernstein the time and resources to do the reporting they needed to find the Watergate story that was there. I'd like to believe I'd be pleasantly surprised ... but I doubt it.

Random thoughts

1. "I was misquoted/misunderstood/taken out of context" is used as an excuse so often that I admit I usually don't believe it. It too frequently translates this way: "Oh, were you actually listening to my stupid comments?" or "Oh, I didn't know you were going to put THAT in the story." (Extra demerits are given if the speaker is a public figure with plenty of experience in dealing with the media.)

2. I'd really hoped we were long past the "love it or leave it" mentality. It appears not. Just for the record, sometimes groups or even countries are criticized because the critic believes they can and should do better. Listen carefully: Some criticism is simply slamming, but a lot of what's being said lately is an honest attempt to make a situation better.

Idle musing

Last I looked, there were about 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. Many of us have had mastectomies. Some of =that= number have, for a variety of reasons, not done reconstruction.

So you'd think retailers might realize there is a market for summer dresses that aren't sleeveless (the better to show scars) with cut-down-to-here cleavage, yes? Nope.

And it's particularly bewildering when one of the retailers, Lands End, has a swimsuit collection that makes it clear someone in house does understand.

Will this make sense?

Perhaps someday I'll understand how you pay for a college education, but then skip classes and do a half-assed job on the classwork ... but I doubt it.

Meanwhile, I find myself wondering what a couple of students could have done if they gave a damn.

One of these days ...

(Prompted by listening to reporting on the same-sex marriage cases being heard today by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Someday, someone is going to say in front of me that marriage is for the procreation of children.

And if they're lucky, I will only mildly ask if they're claiming my 40-year marriage, with no official children, is invalid ...
Casual comment on a photo posted by a friend on Facebook: "Hanging with the libs?"

TED talk found yesterday and slated to be used in class tomorrow: Eli Pariser talking about "filter bubbles," the algorithms some web sites use to show you more of the things you're looking at most often. You won't know those bubbles are in use, Pariser warns, and you can't adjust by telling the site you want to see more of other things.

A Pew Research Center article (found here: http://www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits/) on what choices people make to find news.

A political campaign -- for the current member of the House of Representatives from my district -- that painted his opponent as an Evil Liberal because she came from a college town east of us. The approach must have worked with some voters, since they kept using those commercials.

Friends on Facebook who post comments like this: "If you're planning to vote for x, just unfriend me now." "If you think x is doing a good job, you should unfriend me." "If you ever vote for the x party, you should probably go ahead and unfriend me now."

I think I see a pattern here. And if I'm right, it's a pattern that's going to make it increasingly hard to find solutions to the problems we see as Americans -- unless you happen to believe that one end of the political spectrum has all the wisdom.

I don't. I'm one of those people who -- dare I admit it? -- thinks each side has the right answers for some of the problems. And I've found myself wistfully pulling on what I thought were my rose-colored glasses and wondering why it was easier to talk about political issues in the past.

But apparently those are not rose-colored glasses I'm wearing. Another Pew Research Center study notes that “'Ideological silos' are now common on both the left and right. People with down-the-line ideological positions – especially conservatives – are more likely than others to say that most of their close friends share their political views."

(My editorial note: I doubt they're correct about that. I suspect a lot of their close friends take the approach I've begun using -- a refusal to discuss political issues. If I never say anything, you'll never know which way I lean on any issue. And then you can decide whether you want to be friends on the whole package of Penshark, not just my political beliefs.)

That same study suggests that I am not part of the minority of Americans: "These sentiments are not shared by all – or even most – Americans. The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want."

Why don't you hear more from us? The Pew study says many of us in the middle have disengaged from politics. I still vote and pay attention, but I've lost count of how many times I've wondered why I bother.

And if anything, social media may be making that problem worse. (Obligatory disclaimer here: I love social media. I'm active on Facebook and Twitter and I teach about lots of social media. That doesn't change the opinion I'm about to give you.)

I don't mean just the "unfriend me now" crew. Facebook clearly tailors your news feed to give you more of the friends you click on most and less of the others. I've not seen anything confirming the same thing happens on other social media, but I'd bet on it. And I've heard stories of different people getting different results for the same search, so I suspect it's happening there as well. And then there's the ability to follow on social media only the news sites that agree with you.

So those who are convinced their side has all the wisdom can spend their time in those "ideological silos." Maybe the other side has a better idea in this case? They'll never -- or rarely -- hear that idea. Both sides can spend their time instead congratulating themselves on how wise they are.

We can keep moving in that direction. But that way lies more gridlock and more delay and more frustration. Or we can start trying to make change. Maybe that includes asking social media to stop giving us ever-larger doses of our own opinions. Maybe -- radical thought -- that includes trying to really listen at least occasionally to the views of someone who disagrees with us. Maybe we can figure out how to stop making "compromise" a dirty word.

And if none of that succeeds, perhaps the next time I hear someone on one end of the spectrum proclaiming "we're taking our country back," I will look innocently at them and ask when I get to take =my= country back.

Consider your surroundings

Dear Person Attending the Conference in My Building,
Before you decide the seemingly empty hallway is a phone booth, you might look around just a bit further. What you seem to have missed are the three currently-occupied offices in that hallway and the two others (including mine) which can easily hear conversations in a hallway where voices carry. You also seem to have missed the restrooms located a very short distance from where you're sitting; traffic in that hallway is considerably higher than you might think.

If you were having a casual conversation, it wouldn't matter as much. But the conversation you seem to be having probably ought to deserve a bit more privacy than you have just now.

I Don't Want to be Hearing This

Wrong day for this ...

So I left myself with almost no time for lunch and a guarantee of a late dinner. I can live with that part -- it's my own fault.

But we're now at 30 minutes and counting of time I could have used to go get lunch ... if I'd known the people who made appointments were going to blow them off. Grr ...

But then there's today ...

I'm still not back to full human after a stomach bug wiped out the second half of last week. But because I'm (fill in your words of choice -- I'll go with "close to full human"), I pushed myself into work this morning.

It was Day 1 of the Post-Midterm Break half of the semester. After three classes, I walked back from the Reilly Center with a work-study student who had the office mail. When we got to the office, I kiddingly told him I'd wait to see if I had any mail.

I did: a letter from a former student, one of those who I taught when I was still an adjunct. She started the note this way:

"A very smart person suggested a good way to mark this day would be to write a note to thank an influential teacher. I always like a good idea!" She continued by telling me that things I'd taught her in that long-ago class were still things she uses often today.

I can think of few better gifts to a teacher than to tell her that she has made a difference. And to do it on a day when I badly needed that lift ....

My thank you note will be going her way shortly.



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January 2016
"Laughter, like love, has power to survive the worst things life has to offer. And to do it with style."
-- Jim Butcher, from "Blood Rites"


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