From the ashes

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When I tell people I’m a journalism major, things usually get a little awkward.

There’s a pause, and maybe a fleeting expression of surprise. They smile politely. “That’s interesting!” they say, or maybe, “You must really like writing then!”

Yes, it is interesting, and yes, I really do like writing. And while I appreciate your efforts to be polite, I definitely see through your attempts at pleasantries. When you’re complimenting my writing or feigning interest in the field, I know all the things you’re really thinking:

Journalism? Does anyone even read the paper anymore?

Or maybe:

Print is dead. How are you going to get a job?

that's a terrible idea

I don’t blame you for thinking that. It’s not hard to find arguments about how newspapers are dying out. Personally, I agree that the traditional, physical newspaper is on its way out, but I don’t think that it will completely disappear any time soon. However, I am bothered when people react to my major this way because it implies that they believe newspapers are the only form of journalism out there, which couldn’t be further from the truth. This brings me to the most important thing I learned this semester:

Journalism isn’t dying. It’s evolving.

As our world changes, especially as technology advances and becomes a more and more prominent feature of our daily lives, journalism too must change. Here are a few key changes I see happening (or hope to see happening) in journalism’s near-future.

1. More news sources and medium variety

As the significance of print journalism falls back, other media will rise up to take its place.  The news will continue to be broadcast on TV, and written content will move to be entirely online. Social media news reporting and sharing will increase as well. The emphasis on online and video content will help to make journalism a more interactive and involving experience for the public.

2. Increased media accountability and the return to “real” news

One thing I absolutely hate about modern journalism is how it often moves away from hard news and informing the public about what is truly important into areas more suited for gossip magazines than formal reporting. (For example – I see this a lot in political reporting, when female candidates for office are asked more about their hair or their children than they are about their position on the issues.) The public is growing tired of this trend and is starting to demand better from journalists. We’re going to start holding the media more accountable for the way they shape and frame news, which in turn is going to give us a more unbiased, “real” form of journalism.

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[Side note – if you haven’t seen the speeches from this week’s White House Correspondents dinner, please do. The speeches from President Obama and Cecily Strong (of SNL) weren’t just funny; they addressed a number of issues about how the public views journalism and the media as they pertain to politics and beyond.]

3. More citizen journalism

Twitter has been the champion of citizen journalism thus far, allowing anyone to “report” on events in real-time as they unfold through tweets. The more people who express interest in current events on platforms like Twitter, the more others will be encouraged to become “citizen journalists” online. Admittedly too many voices can be confusing, but I think great interest is better than great apathy. Plus, more views can give us a more complete picture of an issue.

So when I tell people I’m going to school for journalism and they give me that look that says they feel sorry for me, I know they are just falling into that fatal false assumption that journalism is nothing without print. While journalism as we know it may have gotten its start in print, it’s more than just newspapers.

As technology expands we will continue to find new ways to report and deliver information to the public, responding to a demand for news that will never die. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of an optimist, but I see a lot of potential for journalism to be the phoenix story in my generation.

From the ashes of print, journalism will rise, stronger, more important, and more beautiful than ever.

Every TV character is the same (and we like it that way)

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Have you ever watched a TV show and thought a character was just like you or someone you know? Maybe you’re best friends with a Phoebe or a Chandler, or maybe your boss is actually a Michael Scott. Finding these real-life connections to on-screen characters is part of the appeal of television. But have you ever considered the similarities characters on different shows have to one another?

Television (and film, literature, and other media) is full of what we call character archetypes – molds that help shape and define our favorite individuals on screen. Here’s a few examples you’ll recognize:

The Anti-Hero

Style: "Mad Men"The Anti-Hero has become an increasingly common protagonist character. He’s not a hero in the traditional sense – he may be immoral, unstable, deluded, or struggling with a dark and troubled past – but we accept these flaws and root for him anyways.

A few recognizable Anti-Heroes include Tony Soprano on The Sopranos, Dr. House on House, Don Draper on Mad Men, and Walter White on Breaking Bad.

The Fool

GilligansIsland_74.jpgThe Fool never seems to have any idea what’s going on. He can usually be found tripping over his own feet or bumbling his part in the plan to catch the bad guy. He may unintentionally create trouble, but nothing bad ever seems to happen to him – he’ll always duck to pick up something shiny on the ground just as the villain swings his sword. The Fool’s cheerful disposition and tendency to make a mess of even the simplest of tasks combine to make him the most lovable of idiots.

Some examples of TV Fools include Gilligan in Gilligan’s Island, Maxwell Smart in Get Smart, Joxer the Mighty in Xena, and Ron Stoppable in Kim Possible.

The Chosen One

Harry Potter wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last.

buffyThe basic premise of this character type can be summed up in one sentence: “Only you, The Chosen One, can save the world from demons/vampires/evil/[insert other applicable peril here]!” This is often one of the least difficult archetypes to spot because the character(s) in question is almost constantly being referred to as “the chosen one” by other characters.

Some TV Chosen Ones include the Halliwell sisters from Charmed, Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Winchester brothers in Supernatural, and Emma Swan in Once Upon a Time.

There are plenty other character archetypes on screen, from “The Cynic” to “The Eccentric Mentor” to “The Dumb Muscle” (find a list with more archetypes and examples here), and frankly, it probably isn’t news to most of us that these archetypes exist. In fact, sometimes we even acknowledge them.

One of my favorite “call out the archetype” moments happens in the 1976 film Network. A woman relays pitches for new TV shows to a network executive. While the ideas are supposed to be for different shows, the woman uses the phrase “crusty but benign” to describe an elderly gentleman character over and over again – each “unique” show pitch fell back on the same type of characters.

networkThe scene’s humor comes from the audience’s recognition of the common character tropes on television, but this brings us to another question: if we recognize the characters on our favorite TV programs are often essentially the same, why do we continue to watch them?

“The world can only be known in relation to peoples’ experience of it, not independently of that experience.” – Tom Andrews, Grounded Theory Review

In the context of television programming, this means writers must create characters that fit into the social context in which viewers expect to see them. If a character does not fit into a socially constructed archetype, the audience may find them harder to understand and relate to, making the program less interesting and enjoyable overall. In essence, the relatable character (even the archetyped one) is the most loved.

If you need more proof, think of that TV character from earlier who reminds you of yourself or someone you know. This character is your TV spirit animal. My TV spirit animal is Liz Lemon from 30 Rock (who is played by my real-life spirit animal, Tina Fey). Our fascination with relating to these characters leaks into the online world through Buzzfeed articles like 21 Ways You Are Definitely Leslie Knope or 29 Reasons Why You Are Liz Lemon.

say yes

You might be thinking that character archetypes would make media boring, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I think they are actually essential to successful TV because they help create bonds with the audience. We can’t always relate to the situations TV characters find themselves in (I don’t have any experience slaying vampires or being the mother of dragons, for example), which is why it’s so important to be able to relate to the characters themselves on such a human level.

Don Draper and Walter White may both be Anti-Heroes, but in the end, we actually like it that way.

A UNC Microcosm

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I’ve been conducting interviews and focus groups with UNC upperclassmen for my PR research class. A lot of my research was social media based, so I thought I would share some of the main themes I took away from the process.

Facebook ain’t what it used to be…

…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The general consensus was that while everyone has a Facebook account, they’re not doing a lot in terms of adding content to their personal pages. (ie, I don’t remember when the last time I updated my Facebook status was.) Still, students identified Facebook as one of their most-used social media sites. Why?

Even if we’re not posting statuses, we’re still communicating on Facebook. Our Facebook networks allow us to keep up with others, and the Facebook messenger app is a pretty popular way to get in touch with people.

facebook-event

Facebook events are also a big reason we’re still using the site. First, the events help keep us involved in what’s going on around us. Second, the events help persuade us to get involved too; when you see friends will be attending, you’re more compelled to go than if you had just seen a flyer for the event.

We’re split on online advertising.

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The debate over targeted online ads isn’t anywhere near resolution. Some students thought targeted ads were creepy and invasive, some thought they were funny, some thought they were useful, and some installed Google AdBlock a while ago and don’t have to deal with them at all.

We have specific reasons and expectations for following brands and organizations on social media.

1. Freebies

You can pretty much always bribe us with free stuff to like/follow your brand on social media. I mean, we can always unlike/unfollow after we get the goods, so why not?

2. Witty or relatable posts

We like funny. It brightens our day and it doesn’t make us feel like you’re just here to sell us something. If your brand has a strong grasp of sarcasm, memes, pop culture, or general wit, the posts will be more enjoyable and more likely to keep us as an audience.

DiGornio tweets

3. Engaging with the audience

Maybe it’s vanity or maybe it’s just human nature, but we like to feel like someone is listening to us and cares what we have to say. Brands that respond to Tweets, like Facebook comments, or retweet our personal content are more likely to stay on our good side.

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4. Being the best source of information

If we’re interested in a smaller brand or organization, social media is often the best source for the most up-to-date information. Many of these smaller organizations will have a social media presence before they develop a website or other communications channels since social media is free and easy to use.

We don’t ask (people) for help.

When asked what they would do if they didn’t know how to work a computer program or the latest app, everyone said they would always try to use Google or a YouTube tutorial to figure it out way before they ever considered talking to another person. After the internet resources there’s a hierarchy for human assistance, too: students said they would go to a friend for help if they couldn’t find the answer online. Most students seemed unwilling or uninterested in asking a UNC faculty member (professor, library staff, IT staff) for assistance.

That’s all for now – let me know if my findings ring true for you.

The path to fame

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Do you wanna be famous? Get on YouTube. You know the saying – YouTube: where stars are born!

Ok, so no one says that, but maybe they should. YouTube may seem like a place of humble beginnings – after all, all you really need is an internet connection and a cheap webcam to start out – but it has become an interesting phenomenon when it comes to fame. YouTube personalities are actually proving themselves to have real star potential.

This is especially true in the eyes of teens. One survey suggested that YouTubers may actually be more popular than traditional celebrities. Half of the top 20 influential figures were YouTubers, including the top 5: Smosh, The Fine Bros., PewDiePie, KSI, and Ryan Higa placed 1-5 respectively. (Full top 20 ranking here.) These users have millions of video views and channel subscribers.

youtube fame survey scores

YouTube has become a way for “normal” people to enter the showbiz world, both short and long term. Short term, YouTube can gain people the opportunity to hold guest spots on the small screen. Talent search shows like America’s Got Talent dedicate entire segments of the program to YouTube-specific entries. The scripted dramedy Glee did a YouTube audition contest for a guest spot on the show. Ellen DeGeneres invites YouTubers onto her show all the time.

And then there’s the longer-term fame of the biggest YouTube stars. YouTube trio Hannah Hart, Grace Helbig, and Mamrie Hart are now involved in a feature film, a few novels, and most recently, a talk show on E! network. Shane Dawson similarly published a book and produced/starred in a couple films. The Fine Bros. greenlighted a Nickelodeon TV series based on their “react” videos and Smosh is contributing their voices to an animated Angry Birds movie, plus their own self-titled film, “The SMOSH Movie.”

grace helbig show

Of course, the growth of YouTuber fame is not yet limitless. We haven’t reached the point where PewDiePie gets seated next to Brangelina at a red carpet event. But who knows? With the growth of YouTube and the ever-blurring definition of fame, anything can happen.

When helping hurts

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This week a distressing video surfaced online in which actual homeless people read some horrible things others have tweeted about homelessness. The video concept was based on the popular Jimmy Kimmel segment in which celebrities, athletes, and musicians read mean tweets about themselves.

Unlike the Kimmel segment, the video is not intended to be humorous. Created by a Canadian advocacy group, Raising the Roof, the video meant to publicize many of the stigmas, stereotypes, and general mistreatment of the homeless population by the public.

While I respect Raising the Roof’s intentions, I disagree with how this campaign was enacted.

Do I believe the tweets should be publicized somehow? Yes. The tweets Raising the Roof collected are upsetting to see and indicative of a very dark, depressing side of society. You don’t want to believe people actually say things like this, but the evidence is right there on your screen.

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I understand the organization wanted the audience to have a more personal connection to the cause and to understand how the stigmas against homelessness are harmful. However, the decision to ask homeless people to read these tweets on camera feels cruel, plain and simple. These statements aren’t like the ones featured on Kimmel(“@Drake looks like Voldemort with hair”); even when those break into a truly “mean” level, at the end of the day Kimmel’s guests are living their dreams – or at the very least, they aren’t worrying about having a roof of their head or finding their next meal.

Watching the people in this video react to tweets about homelessness is heart wrenching.

heartless homeless

I know that Raising the Roof wanted to capture this emotion and turn it into advocacy and fundraising for their projects, but instead this video makes me want to admonish the organization for creating further pain in lives that already face so many difficulties. It feels like a case of the ends justifying the means, and I’m not sure they did in this case.

A Beginner’s Guide to Flaking

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Scenario: You make plans to meet a friend for drinks Friday night at 8. At 5pm you text them, “Still on for tonight?”

What are the possible responses, and how do you know if they’re flaky?

The True Confirmation

Flake rating: 0 (Not Flaky)

Reaffirms your plans (and means it). Shows up for drinks. Totally great and not flaky.

The Fake Confirmation

Flake rating: 1 (Deceptively Flaky)

Texts you back at 5 saying you’re definitely still on for drinks, then follows up an hour or two later (or worst-case, just before 8) with some kind of reversal message. Something came up, they can’t make it, or they just don’t feel like going out any more. The message probably contains some kind of self-deprecating statement like, “I know, I suck” or “I’m literally the worst!”

the worst

The Chronic “Maybe” Case

Flake rating: 2 (Maybe Flaky)

Catchphrase: “I’m not sure I can make it, but I’ll try!” It’s the friend who can neither confirm nor deny if she’ll be able to follow through with your plans…ever. Are they really unsure, or is “maybe” just their nice way of saying no? This one probably depends on the person. If they have an unpredictable job or a busy family life, the “maybe” may be for real. If not, they may just be stringing you along, which definitely makes them flaky.

The “Sorry, something came up!”

Flake rating: 3 (Flaky)

Vague and unoriginal, but at least this person thought you were important enough to not leave hanging. There’s about a 75% chance this is a total lie and they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a more specific excuse to ditch you. Or maybe they did actually have something come up last minute that’s more important than your plans together. Either way, definitely flaky.

The Zero-response No-show

Flake rating: 4 (Frustratingly Flaky)

Unacceptable. End friendship. You don’t need this kind of person in your life.

not cool

I’m kidding, but really, unless a true emergency happened to prevent this person from contacting you, there’s no excuse to both not respond and not show up as planned – not with all the ways we have to get in touch with someone.

But the same tools making it easier to contact our friends have contributed to an influx of those friends flaking out on us. Technology makes flaking easier than ever before; you can cancel plans via text or Facebook faster and easier than you could ever cancel face-to-face. Technology makes flaking more convenient (for the flaker) and less socially awkward.

“Nothing lets us so seamlessly shed our commitments quite like a text.” – Kata Hakala, Mic.com

Still, just because we can ditch plans more conveniently doesn’t mean we should. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a flaky text, you know how frustrating it can be. (Especially if you’re in touch with the kind of flaker who tells you they can’t make it for drinks only after you’re already waiting at the bar.)

I think part of the flaking issue stems from an unacknowledged disagreement among friends about Acceptable Flaking Protocol (AFP). Facebook invites are a great example of the disconnect in people’s idea of AFP. Does joining a Facebook event have the same value as a verbal commitment to attend an event? If you join a Facebook event and then can’t actually make it, are you obliged to change your online response to a no? If you don’t change your response and you don’t go, are you flaking? And are all these rules different depending on the event itself (size, location, host)?

idk (shrug)

Then there’s the whole issue of the flaking time frame. How long before an event or commitment should you give notice that you can’t make it? Does AFP suggest 24 hours, an hour, 5 minutes? Again, does it depend where you’re going and who you’re with?

The question isn’t why we’re flaking – we all know why.

cancelling plans

The question is how technology will change our communication patterns, and how we’ll have to create new social rules to deal with the changes.

For now, I’m left waiting for a universally recognized AFP.

April Fools or nah?

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So, I’m always a little skeptical of anything I read on the internet. Let’s be real – it’s way too easy to create something entirely untrue online (and to get people to believe that it’s true). And on April 1st, it’s pretty much to the point where I don’t believe a single thing I see online all day.

Still, it has been quite interesting to watch other people react to April Fools schemes online. Tumblr went the traditional prank route, creating a video promoting the “Tumblr Executive Suite.”

tumblr clippy copy

Clicking the video lead to the appearance of an obnoxious animated copy machine that follows you down your dashboard – reminiscent of the Microsoft Office animated “assistant” Clippy the paperclip. Tumblr’s “Coppy” actually got so annoying that someone went through the trouble of figuring out how to use Chrome adblock extensions to get rid of it.

On the other hand, Reddit created a social experiment of sorts with their April Fools special by dropping a button with a 60-second countdown on their site. Users with registered accounts could click the button once to reset the timer…but no one knows what would happen if the timer actually reached zero. Naturally, this created a heated divide between pro-pushers and anti-pushers.

reddit button

And of course, it wouldn’t be a modern April Fools’ Day without an influx of fake new technologies. It’s actually been pretty interesting to see what people came up with this year, and how they relate fake products to real-life trends. For instance, selfie-tech was a major theme this year, ranging from intentionally ridiculous (selfie shoes) to almost believable (pet selfie sticks and selfie cars).

Lately technology has been growing and expanding so fast, often into more experimental realms, that some of these April Fools developments don’t seem too far-fetched. (Here’s a video quiz to see if you can identify fact from fool.) Just goes to show you shouldn’t be afraid to follow through with some “foolish” ideas  – think outside the box!