Monday, August 25, 2008

so long sweet summer...and sweet blog

As summer begins to fade into the sun-speckled chasms of our minds, leaving us with only burned foreheads and half-eaten popsicles to remember it by, it comes time for this blog to end as well. Well, for now, at least – who knows if and when I’ll want to strike up again with some banter about the increasing popularity of publishing via skywriting or something?

I have learned many lessons throughout my summer blogging adventure. To name a few: the subway is the fastest way to get around the city, it’s possible to walk from the Lower East Side to Grand Central, and (I reluctantly admit) Starbucks really is the most reliable place to meet someone for an interview.

Of course, my blog was more than just an excuse to guzzle down iced coffees (I promise, Al!). So, in an effort to condense my summer into something resembling comprehensiveness, here’s A List of Stuff I’ve Learned.

#1. People Like Lists
Organized bullet points, summaries, informative blurbs – it’s almost too easy to peruse the Internet for quick, accessible snatches of information. On the one hand, this trend does make a 30-plus-page newspaper seem all the more daunting to anyone who’s either really busy or really lazy. However, short of sticking an IV coursing with political commentary into someone’s arm, I think that any news-receiving method is a good one.

#2. That Being Said, Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Many of my interviewees alluded to the potential for disaster when gullible Internet surfers come face-to-face with completely illegitimate websites. This is an important point to consider for print publishing as well; though websites may require you to be a bit more skeptical, you should always question what you read. It’s part of being an educated, well-informed, curious human being.

#3. The Phrase “Internet Connection” is Almost Too Easy to Pun
I’m not exaggerating when I say that my mother’s favorite sentence in my entire blog is the line “Apparently, signing up for speedy Internet connection can also get you speedy Internet connections” from my post about Marci Alboher. Well, it’s as punny as it is true – the Internet is an amazing place to network. Whether you’re being set up by mutual friends on Facebook or making a name for yourself professionally, there’s nothing better than the Web.

#4. The Power of the Slash
As I continue my small homage to Marci Alboher, the queen of both blogging and slashing, let’s talk about the latter. Working on my project only increased my awareness of this growing professional trend in which one can be a journalist, a poet, and a public speaker (hopefully getting paid for all three). I realized that, as a blogger, I have the potential to be quite slashy myself.

#5. If You’re Trying to Find Yourself, Get a Facebook
How many lost souls would have saved thousands of dollars on therapy had they just made a Facebook? Perhaps I am glorifying the addicting website due to my own obsession, but there is some validity in viewing the Internet as a way to tangibly shape one’s identity (even Obama has one!). As I said, because people like lists and fun, pretty, easy-to-use packaging, there’s no wonder personal websites have become so prevalent.

#6. The Internet Practically Caters to People with Quirky Interests
Want information on the best tank to buy for your sea monkeys? Interested in a pair of purple-and-green checkered hot pants? Not only does the Internet supply the resources for both of those things, but I bet you could find blogs dedicated to them as well. In my interview with Morgan Friedman, he mentioned “niche publishing” as a trend seemingly made for the Internet. Though it certainly exists in print as well (ever heard of ‘Horse & Hound’?), the Web has the resources to convey even more, varied information to the world.

#7. Don’t Let Yourself Drown in Information…
Moderation is important when considering the infinite amount of data available on the Internet. It’s easy to get carried away – Lindsay Palmer mentioned co-workers that literally become imprisoned by their Macs, tirelessly clicking away to read and read and read. Like a rich chocolate cake or a bottle of Absolut, the Internet must be approached with a certain amount of self-control.

#8. …But Take Advantage of the Opportunity!
Don’t be scared of the exciting, endless chances that the Internet provides. Contrary to the belief that the Web is replacing newspapers and T.V as our primary news transmitter, I like to think that it’s just joining the media ranks; it provides more opportunity to expel information than anything else, which is great. There’s no law stating you must get all your news from Google – skim the front page of the Times, check out Perez Hilton for tabloid news (I couldn’t end this blog without mentioning him one more time), peruse AOL News, read NewsWeek. It’s all informative, and it’s all there for us to consume at our leisure.

I think it’s safe to say that this site can finally be titled “the blog of a blogger who now gets blogging.” Confused no more, I am off to bigger and better things – specifically, starting September 1, I’ll be the editor-in-chief of my very own UPenn blog on Check it out!

Monday, August 18, 2008

back in black(berry)

After spending twelve days in France, I’m finding it hard to re-adjust to home, a world full of crappy bread and BlackBerrys that actually have service. This morning at the disgustingly early hour of 5 a.m. (oh jetlag, we underestimate how bad you really are), my dad joked, “Who’s going to go out and pick up the fresh baguette?” and I almost cried as I poured myself a stupidly low-calorie bowl of Puffins cereal instead.

My BlackBerry is the highly coveted Curve edition, a sleek beauty encased in a rubbery neon-green cover I insisted on buying (“I don’t get it,” my mom said when she saw the mucus-colored defilement). However, as much as I love the Curve, it has no service outside the U.S. This impediment shocked my friends, who wondered aloud if I’d be able to handle almost two weeks of connectionless existence. I wasn’t so sure myself.

Before the CrackBerry entered my life, I had a healthy relationship with my phone, one that entailed average amounts of texting and a few calls a day. Now that my phone also offers Facebook access, email, and BlackBerry Messaging, I’m hooked.

Although I had a mild panic attack at the thought of being BlackBerry-less while in France, it was only about a 3 on the Richter scale of freak-outs. To be honest, the thought of strolling the cobblestone streets of Paris sans cell phone sounded all the more enticing – a real vacation, with no worries, decisions, or phone calls from the McCain campaign (are they trying to reform me or something?).

Armed with the idea that my trip would be like BlackBerry rehab, I used my phone as much as possible while in the airport (think of Lindsay Lohan throwing back shots of vodka the night before her eighth trip to Promises in Malibu). Once on the plane, I gave my phone a quick kiss and shut it off – “see ya in twelve days!”

While in Paris, I always felt like I was missing something as I packed up my bag in the morning; lip-gloss, wallet, sunglasses were all intact, and it would take me a minute to realize that I wouldn’t need my phone.

Whenever I stepped into a taxi or sat down to order a $10 mini bottle of Perrier (blame the exchange rate) at a café, I involuntarily reached to check my messages, only to remember that I wouldn’t be able to. More than that, I realized that I wouldn’t have to.

Having phones with us all the time makes us feel obliged to use them. It’s like having an umbrella on a cloudy day: if it starts to drizzle you automatically use it, but if you are umbrella-less, you realize it’s unnecessary to protect yourself from rain with all the vigor of a leaky faucet.

We all feel like we’ll miss something crucial and life changing if we don’t check our phones and emails constantly – this, of course, is bogus. People have lived for centuries without being so plugged-in and ridiculously connected, and they all turned out fine.

There is definitely a certain allure that comes with being informed, one that is irresistible when you have the means. But being without my BlackBerry, I learned that being hooked-in is not as necessary as we think; in fact, it can be annoying and imposing.

That being said, I did turn my phone back on when our plane landed in New York. It immediately began to buzz as I methodically received 45 emails, 32 Facebook notifications, 6 texts and 2 BlackBerry Messages one after another. Sneakily, I put my phone on silent – no harm in being “on vacation” for a few more hours, right?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

vacation #3...

Dear Readers,

Well, the time has come for my last trip of the summer: twelve days en France avec ma famille (see, endless hours of high school French really paid off). So I will be missing in action for some time, gallivanting around the country of wine, cheese, and fashion (that has been rendered unaffordable thanks to our weak dollar). Au revoir et à bientôt mes amis!

Monday, August 4, 2008

“in [Bob] Dylan’s songs, each word is like a stone or a brick that fits together perfectly.”

After surreptitiously eyeing each other from across the room at 88 Orchard, a pleasantly idyllic café on the Lower East Side, Jessy Ginsberg and I finally realize whom the other is (I really should wear a trucker hat or apron that says “blogger”), so we convene at her table to chat about her blossoming music career.

As we settle down with our drinks, I expect her to tell me that she’s been playing the guitar since she was nine months old and began singing even before that. Au contraire, she picked up the instrument about four years ago while brainstorming ideas for her creative writing senior thesis.

“I thought, ‘this is gonna be fun!’’ Ginsberg says of her foray into a previously un-explored world of string instrumentals. “I really wanted to write songs, because it’s an important media to explore.”

Since then, Ginsberg’s career has moved quite literally at lightning speed. She has put out one folk-y/rock-ish/pop-esque (can’t resist a good suffix every now and then) album every year since 2006 and recently signed with Park the Van Records.

For Ginsberg, everything is and always has been about the writing. “My music came about because of its lyric value,” she explains. Over time, Ginsberg has seen her lyrics evolve from “abstract poem collages” more perplexing than the Times’ Friday crossword puzzle to bodies of art that focus around “storytelling and making sense” (always a plus).

“There’s a difference between interpreting and wanting to understand a song versus not caring what it’s saying because it’s so inaccessible,” Ginsberg has learned. I instantly think of Steve Miller’s ode to the fictional “pompitous of love” and agree with Ginsberg’s hypothesis: just because musicians can get away with coining such perturbing lyrics doesn’t necessarily mean they should.

While time and experience certainly hone artistic skill, Ginsberg believes life changes have affected her work with equal importance. “Love can change you; being with or away from someone can change you…life always seems to get in the way,” she muses. “My new record was written during one period of time, making it a more cohesive body of work. It has allowed me to understand myself and know what I’m going for in my music,” she adds.

Though consumers don’t always consider albums artistic entireties, preferring to pick through them for the catchy singles with irresistible hooks, a record is really just like a novel or painting. Knowing that each song is sewn into a particular place on an album to create a specific auditory arrangement makes downloading singles on iTunes seem like a shame. You wouldn’t dare barge into Barnes and Noble and rip out Chapter 8 of The Grapes of Wrath, satisfied with just a little sip of Steinbeck’s literary cocktail when you should be getting drunk off the whole book.

Now, I am not above denying the blatant hypocrisy of that statement: as I type up this post/mini-rant, I am being musically accompanied by one of the two Radiohead songs in my iTunes library. Yes, just two.

“I do download songs – I fall prey to it too,” Ginsberg admits. “I like that music is so accessible, but I wish people still bought records. There’s so much excitement in playing a record all the way through, but that’s not how people want to digest music today.”

Ginsberg is sometimes amazed that there’s even a music business in the first place (an allusion to her self-proclaimed new age-y tendencies). Though she believes in some sort of payment for her lyrical labors (admitting that sometimes she “works harder than a business man”), monetary rewards aren’t necessarily what she needs. “I could be getting 1,000 kisses or a dozen roses…I just think musicians deserve some kind of compensation…it’s not even about the money.”

One could argue that half of the joy of creating and disseminating music is the knowledge that that you are communicating with so many people so quickly. There are days when a song can make me laugh, cry, dance, scream, and think all at once. Perhaps this kind of emotional A.D.D only occurs at “that time of month,” but I won’t let that undermine the power of song, and Ginsberg agrees.

“I’ve been so healed by certain records, and being able to do that for someone else, or for yourself, is an amazing feeling.”

Now excuse me while I steal my sister’s guitar and beg her to teach me to play (I already learned the order of the strings: EADGBE) – I want that feeling too!

Friday, August 1, 2008

“in college, I never turned in papers on time"

Some people are scared of heights, so they don’t go mountain climbing; others have a debilitating fear snakes and therefore avoid the slithery beasts at all costs. Eric Umansky grew up with the less-common, quirkier fear of…writing. So what did he do? Became an investigative political journalist, of course.

“In college, I never turned in papers on time,” Umansky admits over sandwiches at a Panera Bread across the street from his Wall Street office. “I thought that if I never wrote, no one could say I wasn’t good.”

Despite avoiding term papers with the same fervor as a chronic Atkins dieter steering clear of carbs, after college Umansky worked as a columnist for Slate. The online publication, its name emblazoned across the homepage in a nonchalant Arial font, covers everything from sports to politics in sharp, quippy blurbs.

Umansky’s shtick at the online magazine was to “summarize and criticize printed newspapers,” focusing mainly on the top five papers in the country. Smartly dubbing his column a “protoblog,” he notes that he was able to make jokes and write with attitude and sarcasm, a strategy that is usually quickly altered by the editorial equivalent of a corrective back brace when writing in traditional print.

“Because the Internet is less mediated, there is a structural tendency to be less formal and write with more voice,” Umansky suggests.

There is no doubt that the voice I use for this blog is basically the way I speak in real, non-cyber life (yes, I probably would use an Atkins metaphor in general conversation); there is also no doubt that the aforementioned allusion would hardly be fitting in a Shakespeare term paper or a New York Times article on the presidential election.

I briefly discussed the colloquial nature of blogs during my interview with Leslie Bennetts (see my June 6 post). Umansky only confirmed my belief that there is an appropriate time and place for sarcasm; he believes that though blogs tend to be (furthermore, are allowed to be) more biased and opinionated than printed news, there is room for both sides of the information spectrum in today’s world.

“I think of myself as a ‘tweener,’” Umansky explains, referring to his fluid shift between blog-esque, idiomatic writing and the impartial, fairly informative articles he has written throughout his journalism career.

Today, Umansky works at ProPublica, a non-profit online publication that has only been up and running for a few months. “We are an unusual kind of news organization,” Umansky says, alluding to the fact that ProPublica doesn’t actually publish its own articles but instead teams up with news outlets that lack the “reporting muscle” needed to be efficient and thorough.
Employee lay-offs and company downsizing have rattled the publishing world in all mediums, despite the popular tendency to only cluck our tongues pityingly at the so-called archaic newspapers. This is where ProPublica comes in, a text-driven Superman that provides news organizations with the largest investigative newsroom in the U.S.

“We get an audience, and [the news outlets] get a story,” Umansky says of the symbiotic relationship between ProPublica and the publishing world.

I wonder if, ultimately, ProPublica and its progressive attitude towards reporting will pave the way towards the publishing of tomorrow. Will USA Today and the New York Times outsource all of its reporting? Will the term “staff writer” soon become obsolete?

Freelancing has, of course, always been the protocol of the literary world, a term imbedded in the professional psyche of the average writer. Even if he or she is working for a publication, there is always the option to write for someone else – though it’s preferable to actually be employed, of course.

Economically speaking, freelancing is a bit on the taboo, unimpressive side. But maybe if more companies like ProPublica spring up, freelancing will become even more common and accepted than ever before.