Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Newsroom finds the future of journalism - on TV!

Aaron Sorkin has seen the future of journalism, and it's Keith Olbermann.


The Newsroom, Sorkin's new HBO show, is about a fictional cable news outlet that discovers how awesome journalism could be if anchors just spoke their minds on TV instead of giving their viewers the same-old partisanship disguised as objectivity.

Watch the full episode on YouTube.

Our hero, Jeff Daniels, is a Tom Brokawesque figure who finds his inner Keith Olbermann at a college forum. He shocks everyone when he says that America is not the best country in the world (for Canadians, this is less shocking - har, har!) and has a pretty great statistics-fueled rant at the ready.

Every freshman in the building knows a good story when he or she hears it, so out come more iPhones than the last time Coldplay sang "Yellow." When our anchor comes back from the resulting three-week "vacation," he's shocked to learn his crew has gone on to other things and the new producer is an ex-girlfriend played by Emily Mortimer.

Computer bad, people good

From there, the Newsroom picks up where the film Network left off: an on-air anchor who's "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore." But Network was a comedy, and it had something to say about the future of journalism.

The Newsroom is not a comedy, though it has some laughs, and it's not very clever about the state of the news biz. The show has a strange anti-Internet thread - strange, because Sorkin wrote the acclaimed the Social Network. There's disdain for YouTube, blogs, email(!), and the computer that shows if news is important when the color turns from yellow to orange and red.

The not-so-compelling message: computers bad, people good.

A more interesting show would have Daniels play a Julian Assange-like character who knows where the future of the news lies, but finds himself fighting for freedom of the press against an establishment that won't acknowledge he is the press. Just a sec: I'll call my agent.

The show's target is a good one, if a little obvious: lazy TV journalism. But the idea that we, the viewers, need someone to snap us out of our Matrix-like cocoons ignores that we already have that person in the brilliant Stephen Colbert.

Like Sorkin's the West Wing, the Newsroom is full of self-important idealistic people that at times plays like a satire of self-important idealistic people. While this tone worked in the confines of the White House, it leaves something to be desired in a TV newsroom. Is there anything worse than a new TV reporter who thinks he or she is doing God's work?

The Newsroom is His Girl Friday by way of the Brady Bunch Movie. The show ostensibly takes place in the real world, but it's unrealistic, and the characters don't know it. It's a conceit that leads to such plot devices as the jaded, cynical anchorman who's also comfortable dismissing something he's seen as a hallucination.

The Golden Age of Journalism: two years ago

The biggest cheat is that, 15 minutes in, we find out the Newsroom is actually a period piece from April 2010, also known as the first day of the BP oil spill. It's a cheat, because it allows our journalists to quickly realize "this story is bigger than people think! They can't cap the well! There's more oil being pumped into the water than they're saying!"

Within two minutes, the gang has the entire story cracked, and before you know it, Daniels is on air live, sans cue cards, weaving together a brilliant news show that's only possible when:

1. You know what the news will be before it happens.
2. You've memorized Aaron Sorkin's lines.

When the show ended, my first impression was, "I like it!" There's snappy dialogue, an expensive set, great HBO production standards, and the always-awesome Jeff Daniels. After some thought and a faceslap, I thought, "But none of it makes any sense!"

So, in a backward kind of way, the Newsroom proves its point: it's a TV show that delivers some thrills, as long as you don't think about them for very long. Given the questionable state of TV journalism and the future of journalism itself, it could've been so much more.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Eleven new words that taste great and are less filling

See number 7. 

1. Anarchrist - A political faction advocating religious funding by a government it believes should be abolished.

2. Bombedy - Comedy that's funny because it's not funny.

3. Jobbyist - Any boss in the tech industry who believes that he is the next Steve Jobs, when in fact, he is pursuing a hobby. And, yes, it's always a "he."

4. Misjoke - To make people laugh with inaccurate or inappropriate humor.

5. Schrural - An educational institution in the country.

6. Swequity - An increased value in gym shorts earned from a famous person perspiring in them.

7. Synonym Buns - A category of pastries that includes scones, rolls, and eclairs, but not buns themselves.

8. Twaffic - Traffic reports on Twitter.

9. Uniqueness - A measurement that describes how one of a kind or unlike anything else something is. "Your uniqueness level is one out of 10."

10. Webding - A wedding conducted over the Internet.

11. Wryrony - The dry and mocking expression of one's meaning using language that normally signifies the opposite.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I write the songs that make grammarians cry

Cover your ears at 18 seconds. 

There are lots of songs with dodgy grammar. 

However, there are some that, in the parlance of Canadian comic Derek Edwards, make you want to pull your car over and smash your head through the windshield. 

For me, these songs fall into two categories:
  • The artist who should know better
  • The artist who doesn't know better.
I enjoy many of these songs immensely - but they all leave me with a nagging feeling that something needs changing. And maybe, just maybe, if we start fixing them now, we can solve the world's grammar problems by the time the Peter O'Toole robot awakes the Prometheus crew.

1. Prepositionally challenged

"But if this ever-changing world in which we live in makes you give it a cry..."
Paul McCartney, Live and Let Die
Prescription: Consider breaking this sentence into two, Sir Paul, and try to keep your prepositions to 15 per sentence.

"I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to."
Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man
Prescription: Don't end a sentence with "to."

"Must of got lost somewhere down the line."
J. Geils Band, Must of Got Lost
Prescription: Replace "of" with "have."

2. Time for a rewrite

Phil Collins, Sussudio
Prescription: When you find me a girl actually named Sussudio, then I won't have a problem with this song.

"And my funky tunk keep on walkin'."
Moby Grape, Funky Tunk
Prescription: Get that funky tunk surgically removed.

"Louie Louie - oh no. Me gotta go. Aye-yi-yi-yi."
The Kingsmen, Louie Louie
Prescription: Don't put marbles in your mouth. And sit up straight.

3. Were vs. was

"Long time ago when we was fab."
George Harrison, When We Was Fab
Prescription: Were, not was. Hey that could be a band name!

"I wish I was special."
Radiohead, Creep
Prescription: There's much disagreement about this one, even among grammarians. I do believe that if you wish or describe something that is contrary to fact, you say "were." Either way, the song is about being a creep, so I have to give this one a pass on a technicality.

4. Double negatives

"We don't need no education."
Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall, Part II

"I never said nothing."
Liz Phair, Never Said

"I can't get no satisfaction."
Rolling Stones, Satisfaction

Prescription: If you're being ironic, this is great. If you're not being ironic, you're saying the opposite of what you mean.

5. Do versus does versus don't versus doesn't.

"Every little thing she do just turn me on."
The Police, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
Prescription: "Does."

"She's got a ticket to ride, but she don't care."
The Beatles, Ticket to Ride
Prescription: "Doesn't." 

6. Not-so-fresh rhymes

"Hey mighty brontosaurus/Don't you have a lesson for us?"
The Police, Walking in Your Footsteps

"The words of the prophets were written on the studio wall/Concert hall!"
Rush, Spirit of Radio

"I got this Stella I bombed from that last cafe/This night's not even begun - yes yes oh yay."
The Streets, Fit But You Know it

Prescription: Stop being irritating.


What are your favorite least-favorite grammatically questionable lyrics and why?

Monday, June 18, 2012

My favorite mobile apps for summer 2012

Hashtag app for Twitter and Instagram searches. 

Summer's here, and the time is right for apping in the street.

The mobile apps that are rocking my phone's world this summer:

1. Hashtag for Twitter and Instagram

This cool, little app lets you to follow Twitter and Instagram topics at the same time using hashtag searches. Even better: when you're done searching, you can pick and choose the tweets and photos that interest you and create a Hastagraphic for reporting, storytelling, and sharing.

2. Tweetbot with Storify integration

Tweetbot was already the best mobile Twitter app on the market, but it's now integrated with Storify, so you can capture Twitter conversations, create a Storify story about them, and share it with planet Earth.

3. Waze

This social-mobile-map app is supposed to be for "drivers" to make real-time updates to live maps. Yeah: bad idea. However, for car passengers and bus riders - like me - this app is nothing short of awesome. You can report construction, traffic jams, radar traps, and hazards in real time as you commute, giving everyone else a heads up before they head out.

4. Voxer

Roger, roger. Voxer turns your iPhone into a walkie-talkie. Text messages, photos, and - new! - audio, in real time or to play back later.

5. ReaddleDocs with Dropbox and Box integration

One of the great smartphone apps, ReaddleDocs saves documents from emails, the Web, Dropbox, Box, and the storage service of your choice, so you can access them anytime from your iPhone or iPad.

6. CardFlick

Digital business cards you can customize and share ("flick") from smartphone to smartphone or by email.

7. The new Foursquare

The mobile check-in app underwent a big facelift last week. I never much cared for being "the mayor" of McDonald's, and I guess neither did anyone else: the app's new focus is on recommendations, not sticking it to your friends because you eat more McChickens than they do.

8. Video-sharing apps: Socialcam, Viddy, Bambuser

Welcome to the new wave of apps vying to be "the Instagram of video" - filter, share, and (in the case of Bambuser) stream your video to friends, family, and your adoring publics.

9. MindMeister

Build your mind maps for creative, business, or organizational purposes (or Euro 2012) and share them with your friends and colleagues online.


What mobile apps are you lovin' these days?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I love the smell of blogging in the morning

Hello blogging, my old friend. I've come to talk to you again.

I've neglected my blogging over the past year. What used to be a 700-times-a-day habit slowly trickled down to a once-or-twice-a-week habit. I blame a heavy school year, an embarrassment of client work, an addiction to Twitter, and those time-consuming (albeit awesome) master's assignments.

The good news: it's summertime, and the living's easy. I'm enrolled in a new class in which I must blog a minimum of three times a week. As the guy who gets his own students to blog once a week (general response: "groan!"), it's not only a dream come true to combine coursework with something I love, but it also makes me look like a softie by comparison.

I've saved up a host of topics to complain, I mean write, about in the weeks ahead, and I look forward to doing so to a whole, new audience: my classmates in arms, some of whom will be blogging for the first time.

I don't just love writing blog posts, I also love reading blog posts. If you have a blog that I don't know about, post the link in the comment section, below, and we can be blog buds for all time.

For those of you about to blog: I salute you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rob Lowe doesn't hate us - he feels our pain

Rob Lowe as Terry Dullum.

What a difference a day makes. 

Why, it seems like just yesterday that I was pissed off at Minneapolis CBS affiliate WCCO for ruining the Tony Awards with painful scrolls, maps, beeps, and trolls.

There weren't actually trolls, but it's a nice rhyme that summarizes how I felt at the time: like little, hairy dwarves had broken into my house and were biting me as I tried to enjoy a little song and dance.

I got a little bounce from the rant, but nothing like when Winnipeg-visitor and Hollywood celebrity Rob Lowe got pissed off about the same thing. He tweeted something about being in a "hellhole" because Grand Forks' ABC affiliate WDAZ interrupted a basketball game with local election results.

Our local media is so used to the "xxxx hates Winnipeg" story, it replaced "xxxx" with "Rob Lowe" and ran with it.

But, no, Rob Lowe doesn't hate Winnipeg. You'll find that he actually hates WDAZ for cutting into his basketball game with its local election results. He's not mad at us, he feels our pain!

We Winnipeggers are so used to this stuff from our U.S. stations, we've somehow started to think that it's our lot in life to put up with the never-ending thunderstorm watches, program break-ins, and Terry Dullum's "slightly off-the-wall observations" on the WDAZ evening news.

I'm not suggesting the election results aren't important: to the good people of Grand Forks, they clearly are. But - as I said in my last rant - this kind of news is what Twitter and the radio are for.

If these results were so important to WDAZ, why didn't it interrupt advertising instead of program content? Turns out there was something more important than the election results: paid ads.

So to our fine affiliate to the south, I offer some friendly advice: before you break into regular programming, simply ask yourself this question: "Would I throw a rock through my TV screen if I sat down to watch my favorite show and saw this instead?"

In return for doing this small thing, we'll take your tired, poor huddled cases of Cherry Dr. Pepper yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your Olive Garden, the homeless Cinnabons, and everything else that NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg hates, and we'll bring them back to Canada as we lift our lamps beside your golden door!


By the way, Rob Lowe and I were wondering: who won the election?

Gladwell and Rowland: how to be an FBI profiler - and psychic!

If you want to see author Malcolm Gladwell in Winnipeg, you have a choice:
  • You can buy tickets on Ticketmaster for the low, low price of a million dollars (I exaggerate).
  • You can enter the Downtown Peggy contest by sharing your favorite odd or insightful tidbit from Mr. Gladwell. 
In other words: start with the last two, and drop the dough when you don't win!

My favorite Gladwell insightful tidbit

My favorite chapter from Gladwell's What the Dog Saw is "Dangerous Minds," in which Gladwell gives a shout-out to magician Ian Rowland and his book, "the Full Facts Book of Cold Reading" to debunk FBI offender profiling (the chapter appears in its entirety here in the New Yorker).

Gladwell's point: FBI profiles are "so full of unverifiable, contradictory, and ambiguous language that (they) could support virtually any interpretation," and by simply mixing and matching these simple techniques you too could be an astrologer, psychic or FBI profiler:
The Rainbow Ruse - "the statement which credits the client with...a personality type and the opposite." Example: "You are introverted, but you can also be lots of fun."

The Jacques Statement - "Named for the character in As You Like It, who gives the Seven Ages of Man speech, tailors the predictions to the age of the subject." Example: you say to someone in their 50s or 60s, "You sometimes think about your lost youth."

The Barnum Statement - Named after everyone's favorite hero of the circus and public relations, you simply "make an assertion so general that anyone would agree." Example: "Your life has been crazy."

The Fuzzy Fact - The "seemingly factual statement couched in a way that "leaves plenty of scope to developed into something more specific." Example: "I can see you're from Canada, possibly Manitoba. Could it be Winnipeg?"
Inspired by Gladwell, I picked up Rowland's book and got some more:
Fine Flattery - You can gain agreement by flattering those around you. Compare your client to "people in general" and then flatter them by suggested they're an improvement. Example: "Compared to most, you're very honest."

The Psychic Credit - Credit your client with having an intuitive gift. Example: "You're have great insight and perception into (whatever)."

Sugar Lumps - Get the client to embrace your psychic junk by giving them a pleasant emotional reward for doing it. Example: "You are more connected to the spiritual world than others - I get much stronger tarot impressions from you than from other clients."

Greener Grass - We're all fascinated by the road not traveled. Compliment the client, and then refer to the path not traveled. Example: "I see you are very successful in the professional world. However, this life has also brought its penalties..."

The Good Chance Guess/Lucky Guess/Fluke
- Good chance: "Your home address has a 2 in the number." Lucky guess: give a common name or initials, and wait for the client to accept it. Fluke: "Your name is Claudine."
For some reason, these techniques also strike me as being of particular interest to advertisers. In next year's ad class: I start reading tarot cards.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I'm severely irritated with WCCO's severe storm warnings

Beep, beep, beep.

A thunderstorm in Minnesota? I'll alert the media.

I'm done with WCCO. The CBS affiliate in Minnesota ruined its Tony Awards programming last night with a never-ending Severe Thunderstorm Warning map and scroll, and three loud beeps repeated every 30 minutes, drowning out the show's audio to draw our attention to the impending "rain and thunder emergency."

Thank you, WCCO, for replicating in my living room the true Broadway experience: getting boiling mad when your boorish rowmate's cell phone goes off during the big number.

Red alert. Death Star approaching. 

Severe weather is to WCCO what terror alerts were to the Bush administration. No one would begrudge WCCO for warning its viewers about actual impending doom, but by now we know the station, like the Bush administration, is the boy who cried red alert. 

When WCCO says "thunderstorm warning," what it means is "you're going to get a little wet." Hell, your basement might even get moist. Oh, the humanity.

"Local weather" is the way most U.S. stations get viewers, so in the era of the ever-eroding TV audience, these stations wrongly believe that a little manufactured danger is the way to go.

But if you're in the business of providing your viewers with quality programming, and you ruin that experience, what are the odds the viewers will come back? More than that: if there is an actual emergency, the constant message that tells us "we're in trouble" is a little more than irritating: it's irresponsible.

It's all about the Benjamins

So let's pretend for a minute that there was actual danger (well, lightning did cause small fires last night, according to WCCO's terrible website). We can presume the people inside their homes watching the Tony Awards were OK. If drivers were concerned, they could turn to their radios ("the everywhere medium") or mobile phones to get the latest scoop.

The only thing left that people want to watch live (the important thing for Nielsen ratings and ad revenue) anymore is "live programming." If you were a WCCO/CBS advertiser who bought a spot to run during the Tonys, wouldn't you want a refund if this is what it looked like?

WCCO is a repeat offender. I've never missed an episode of the Late Show with David Letterman - ever - which means I get to sit through WCCO's obnoxious test of the Emergency Alert System, which only happens during Letterman's first guest.

Another scroll, more beeping, and a recorded audio message to boot. What would Kiefer say? 

Interesting fact: the emergency alert system was set up by Harry Truman in 1951, and has only ever been used once (in 1971) and it was by mistake. The system wasn't even used when terrorist crashed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001.

Here in Winnipeg, we're nothing but "spillover media" to WCCO. I'm sure the good people at WCCO could care less if we watch their programming, as evidenced by their weather map, which shows the world ending at the Canadian border.

So, what can we do about this? 
Maybe the easiest is to just stop watching WCCO.

Monday, June 4, 2012

7 lines to make it seem like you care about hockey


If you're like me, you tuned in to the Stanley Cup to watch the Kings versus the Devils, and were disappointed that there weren't members of the Royal family battling demons.

Compared to the average Canadian male, my hockey knowledge is wanting at best. I came to this realization in in grade two when I attended Robbie "Stretch" Armstrong's birthday party, and his dad gave out prizes to kids who could correctly answer hockey-trivia questions.

"Who played right wing for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1970?" he asked.

"Kookamunga!" I blurted out to laughter from the other kids, but not Mr. Armstrong. I didn't get a prize.

Since then, I've found myself sitting in many a-basement with many a-hockey fan, forced to make many a-conversation about many a-hockey game. I've tried to care, but the fact is that, deep down inside, I really don't.

To survive, I've developed seven lines to make it seem like I care more about the game than I do. At your next Stanley Cup party, simply mix and match as required:

1. The boys have got to get into the corners. 

When nothing's going on and no one's scoring goals, simply say this over and over and over. This phrase sounds much more authoritative when delivered in a French-Canadian accent, but if you deliver it that way, remember: you're going to have to commit to the accent for the entire evening.   
2. Put the biscuit in the basket!

You can shout this with excitement if your team comes close to scoring a goal, or with frustration if it doesn't. Either way, people love biscuits in baskets and the image will conjure up a simpler time when men ate biscuits out of baskets when they watched the game. Whatever you do, don't shout, "Put the puck in the net!" because it's dirty.

3. Lucky. Unlucky.

When the opposing team does anything good, say "lucky." When your team does anything bad, say "unlucky."

 4. He won it cleanly. 

When a hockey player gets a puck away from another hockey player, you can just say, "He won it cleanly." No one knows what it means, but it was repeated ad nauseam in Sega Genesis NHL hockey and has the ring of something that only a true hockey connoisseur would say.
5. If it happens all the time, why's it called a one-timer?

As it turns out, hockey fans know a one-timer when they see one, but can almost never explain how it got its name. When they're unable to answer your question, it will be they, not you, who feel inadequate.

6. Two minutes for looking so good!

Every time a player gets a penalty, say this. All the men in the room will laugh, as they remember this classic Canadian TV commercial:

7. Last minute of play in the game!

Saying "Last minute of play in the game!" in an authoritative, booming voice makes it seem like you've been to a hockey arena at some point in your life. Just make sure you save it for the last minute of play in the game.

Enjoy the Stanley Cup, and - Kookamunga!