Support Quality Journalism. Now.

Ladies, gentlemen, and friends outside the binary, we’ve reached a tipping point in our relationship with the media. Journalism has finally reached that critical mass required for real change.

I could sit here and dissect why this has happened, but frankly, it’s better left to others and we don’t have time for that. We’re in a crisis and the only thing that can fix it is cash money and your eyeballs.

We, the consumer, MUST change our media consumption habits. Now.

We, the consumer, MUST demand better reporting and reject clickbait, entertainment gussied up as news, and opinions dressed up as reporting. Now.

We are the ones with the control.

The dirty secret is that all that bullshit that’s being touted about as journalism doesn’t exist if we’re not there to consume it. We need to stop looking at trash. Now.

Our president has been very vocal about his dislike for the media, as I’m sure many of your friends and relatives have been. So. If you don’t like it, how can we change it? Talk does nothing. You’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is.

Journalism requires money. Quality journalism requires more. There’s a reason why reality shows are so prolific. They’re cheap to produce and inherently lack developed content. Journalism has gone the same way. The institutions that haven’t died off yet have had to change to meet our expectations so they can scrape together what little cash they can and keep their doors open. We cannot expect good journalism for free.

I’m not saying the media is faultless, not by a long shot, but again. We are the source of the revenue. The reason this milquetoast, underdeveloped, bullshit thrives is because we’re literally paying for it. We click and say, “Yes, this is adequate.” We keep coming back for more of the same.

On the other hand, the answer is not to get disgusted and throw up our hands, either. We need to find the good reporting that exists and support that. A rising tide lifts all boats. We need to demand quality by rewarding quality. Now.

How do we do that?

  • You’re going to need to read. Find news sources that are doing the work. If you’re not sure, find articles that have been shared with you and go beyond the headline on your Facebook wall. Dive in. See what that organization has to offer. Read.
  • Turn off AdBlock. If you’re blocking ads, you’re blocking revenue. Support good reporting with your eyeballs.
  • Read the article on the website of the people who reported it originally. Aggregators websites do not create content. They just steal and regurgitate it. This means you will need to follow your news organizations directly, visit their site, their app, their Facebook page… Otherwise, they do not get the ad revenue. Someone else who stole from them does.
  • Subscribe. Do they have a print edition? Sign up. Do they have a digital subscription? Even better. Less dead trees, more money to support good reporting. USE YOUR MONEY. VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLARS. YES, I AM YELLING.
  • Ignore nonsense. Shit is too real for you to care about what quick trick is going to trim inches off your waist, which celeb was caught red handed, 13 times a pizza was the realest, or what tattoo you should get based on your name and the street you grew up on. This is not news.

 

We, the consumers, need to take an active role to control the future of journalism. Blame is bullshit and counterproductive. We need to change. Now.

It starts with you. It ends with you. Do it. Now.

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Reviews of Self Help Books I’ve Owned For Several Years But Have Still Never Read

Meditation for Dummies, 2nd Edition by Stephan Bodian

There you were at a Borders going out of business sale. You hadn’t been ripped to shreds. You still had your bonus audio CD included. I bought you with Acrylic Painting for Dummies and got a $10 rebate. Someday I will read you and listen to your CD and find true balance and renewed sense of peace. Or you’ll go out into next year’s garage sale. Good job, Lauren!

 

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here by Paula Begoun

I think I already have all the tools to have the Best Skin of My Life: mild depression and a vitamin D deficiency that makes me really sleepy all the time! But I suppose that someday I’ll crack the cover of your book and probably find out I’ve been doing skin care all wrong. I’ll wake up looking like a forgotten block of cheese in the bottom of a fridge drawer. But I’ll never know I’m wrong if I never open the book! Good job, Lauren!

 

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

First I joined your email list in hopes that I could become motivated with my writing. You talked, much like Stephen King does in On Writing, about just committing to it. Like a job. Like your life depends on it. But here your book sits, untouched and unread. Like 90% of your emails from your mailing list, left to languish in my inbox like a friend you just can’t seem to make lunch plans with. “Ugh, gosh, shoot… Sorry, I just found out I’m working remotely… from Guam. Forever. And they banned lunch there. And reading.” I do like the semi-crumpled paper airplane on the front. I can identify with it. Good job, Lauren?

 

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

A successful artist friend recommended this book to me and I rushed out to buy it, insisting to myself I would read it! I would be motivated! Anything was possible!

Yup. Good job, Lauren.

 

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

My therapist recommended you. You have zebras on the cover, pictures inside too… one picture has a monkey on it. A monkey! Who can say no to a cute little monkey and a book that discusses the management of stress related diseases THAT YOU KNOW YOU SUFFER FROM in an updated and revised edition of this self help classic?!

I can, apparently. GOOD JOB, LAUREN.

The Only Constant Is Change (And Shopping)

shopsmartgoneshopping

I’ve subscribed to magazines for a long time. I loved Wired for years and Real Simple magazine stepped in and gave me wisdom and advice that I couldn’t get from my family. But there’s one magazine I’ve been buying since issue one. One magazine that I’ve still subscribed to even after I ditched the others: ShopSmart. ShopSmart is a magazine from Consumer Reports… It focused on not only reviewing products, per Consumer Reports’ standard offerings, but also developing specific content for its readers.

Well. It was. And it used to.

I got this postcard in the middle of last week:

ShopSmartcard

RIP ShopSmart. I can’t say I’m shocked. The magazine had a small subscriber base and Consumer Reports wants to focus on digital. And they absolutely should. Everyone is moving to the ease of the internet and with how Consumer Reports works, being a nonprofit and all, they’re going to have to find the best way they can present their findings. In a world where information is practically free and a click away (and where the veracity of this information is often suspect) this will be challenging. So I get it.

That said, I really liked ShopSmart. I hope Consumer Reports fulfills their promise of incorporating things from ShopSmart into their usual offerings. I always found the original Consumer Reports magazine very dry. ShopSmart had a voice. They always focused on saving money, highlighted technology, shared something new in every issue, and was always relevant. I could find out what apps I could download on my phone to get coupons or deals. I could compare lawn equipment and figure out what peanut butter what cheapest (while still being tasty). But most importantly, it taught me what to look for. It taught me how to shop as an informed consumer.

This was the sort of thing I was always trying to do on my own time. I’m the type that does heavy research before buying anything. I’d rather spend some effort figuring how best to spend my money than buy something that sucks. I learned it from my dad, who enjoyed a gift subscription of ShopSmart from me for years and read it cover to cover as well. Sure, the subscription offset the savings, but I’ve made enough large purchases wisely that it was worth it. And it was nice to trust someone else to be an expert instead of doing the heavy lifting myself.

Those are all things that I think should be at the heart of any consumer based publication. To be an informed and educated consumer means knowing about all of the above mentioned. ShopSmart did a really excellent job at that.

Consumer Reports right now is a lot of data about things people buy. It’s sort of there, floating, without context. I’d like to see the newer Consumer Reports sort of mash the style of these two periodicals together. If the new magazine was a hybrid of the two publications, it would really be something worth reading.

If you’re seeing this and you’re just now learning about ShopSmart, that’s a bummer and I’m sorry you missed out. I’d recommend checking out BrightNest and The Sweethome to fill in some of the gaps. They’re good stuff. Hopefully Consumer Reports can be, too.

I had had a better title, but ‘had had’ had had some issues.

I’ve been reading Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men after the First World War. It’s filled with stories that came out of the tragic circumstances of WW1. Challenges I would have never imagined for those left behind when their men went off to die defending them. For a society predicated on the idea that a woman’s purpose was to be married and have children, this was a huge problem. There just weren’t enough men. The book is dense and well researched. I’m enjoying it.

I guess having a text that is so academic (and British, which cannot be divorced from an association with propriety) is why this phrase stuck out so much: “had had”

A reference to the past where you possessed something. I can only imagine how infuriating the English language can be to non-native speakers when they see things like this. Heck, to native speakers as well.

I remembered my first encounter with the phrase so vividly. I was in the elementary school library, probably reading ‘The Giver’ or some other classic, and noticed it in my book. I read and reread but it made no sense! I ran up to my librarian, proclaiming that I found a typo in a book. She explained that wasn’t the case and that having the word in the sentence twice, right after one another, made sense because the meaning of each instance was different. I walked away thoroughly perplexed.

And of course there’s situations where the word can show up even more often. Because of the way it can reference possession, the past, AND ITSELF, there is a way to use the word “had” eleven times in a row. Here’s a widely circulated academic example:

James, while John had had “had”, had had “had had”; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.

Confused? Of course, because I look like a damn crazy person right now. But it is correct. Not that this is academically kosher, but you can head to the Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject. It contains this lovely bit of text:

See also – Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

Now who looks crazy. THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. That’s who.

The doing is the thing.

I’m waiting to hear back from a local writing club to see if they’ll have me as a member. I like to write but understand it is a skill to be developed. That’s part of what this blog was born out of. I can crank out 500ish words or so for these posts or the newspaper articles I write for my college, but to move on to the next level I’m going to need help. I have Stephen King’s “On Writing”. I have a copy of “Bird By Bird” which I think will speak to my anxiety directly. I say ‘think’ because I haven’t cracked the cover. On either book. I have a mental block. I know, it’s crazy. You know what I am reading? A book about everyday economic theories!! YEAH. WHEW, LAUREN, SLOW DOWN, GIRL.

One of the goals I wrote down for that writer group was to read these books. My aversion probably relates back to my lack of confidence and weird newbie shame about my writing, so it’s more about confronting that than the knowledge within. Honestly, accomplishing any sort of writing project is confronting it. To quote Amy Poehler, “You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.” So I am doing the thing. Every blog post is a win. I’m chipping away at those negative feelings.

My acceptance in this club will be based on some writing samples I submitted. One was an essay I wrote for college. There was a Splitsider piece I wrote. And then some samples from the newspaper and this blog. Everything I selected was good writing; but more importantly, they were pieces I was proud of. If I can manage to bypass the anxious and the talking and the worrying and the thinking, I think I’ll be able to create more pieces to be proud of. I just need to keep it up and to be brave.

I’ll finish this up by sharing a short piece I’m proud of. I went to a writers conference a few years ago. One workshop included an exercise. We needed to create a short piece of fiction in TEN MINUTES with some key events: You’re in first class on a train. You notice something on the floor. You look out the window. Someone sits down next to you.

The other writers shared their work. It tended to be a bit softer, sort of ‘masterpiece theater’ submissions. Mine was… different. Sort of silly and snarky. I really liked writing it. Maybe I should do more writing prompt exercises. So enjoy, and if you’re feeling frisky, add your submission in the comments below.

Got on the train. Took my seat in first class.

I look to the floor and see a used Kleenex. Gross. It’s nice to know even in first class people still struggle to make mass transit a clean experience.

In walks a slender Gwyneth Paltrow type, clutching her cell phone, designer bag, and the hand of a three year old holding an iPad.

Oh. Awesome.

She looks right past me. I’m not surprised. She’s in her own world. People exist within it to do things for her. And why shouldn’t they? She clearly rushed here straight from yoga.

I turn to the window. The trees roll past. I try to peer through them. Farms out there, best I can tell. Splotches of amber, brown, and lush green. A fence runs along the tracks. It’s a totally different world from the train. Organic, open. The train car seems so unnatural, with the clicking and hums generated by our forward motion.

‘Gwyneth’ has sat down next to me now with her child, engrossed in his shiny gadget. She turns to me.

“Hi. Could you give Jonathan the window seat? Trains make him nauseous.”

Tea + book = TIME TRAVEL.

These are books about the internet. I told you I was a nerd, yes?

These are books about the internet. I told you I was a nerd, yes?

I’ve had a cold, so I should also note that tea + NyQuil  = TIME TRAVEL as well.

This week’s blog post was almost pictures of horses with googly eyes. ALMOST. But I’ve rallied in time to bring you some musings about reading. I like to read! It is ‘hide indoors and read’ weather! And I like to read the dried tree paste type of books, not these newfangled electronic books that all the kids are reading. It probably has to do with the fact that when I’m on an electronic device reading, I’m also on the internet, which makes it easy to OH LOOK A CAT

What were we talking about? Books. Ah yes. So I like physical books. The problem, though, is that I am terrible about sticking with one book. Right now I’m in the middle of nine books. Just sort of shuffling from one topic to the other, going back and forth, book to book. You might say this is a terrible way to go about reading, but I read 90% non-fiction books, so it’s not as bad as you think!

This also dooms me never to use a public library. I always paid my fines as they inevitably came until I gave up on borrowing books entirely. I was never the friend you lent a book to if you wanted it back anytime soon, which stung at first when I realized it… but I’ve come to accept my affliction. It has a name: F.A.R.T. – Fickle Arbitrary Reader Thievery. To anyone that has been a victim of my F.A.R.T., I am sorry. I can’t help nature. I read as the wind blows.

What I do instead is use PaperBackSwap. The idea is that you have books. Other people want those books. You post them, people request them, and you pay to mail them the book. You get a credit of a book. You ALSO want books. You list the books you want and as people post those, they come to you in the mail. Circle of life and all that. A semi-permanent library. Perfect for me.

At this time, I’ve been a member of PaperBackSwap for seven years. I’ve gotten 235 books. The closest person I’ve sent a book to was 13 miles from me. The furthest I’ve mailed a book was 5,854 miles away. (They were in the military overseas and ordered How To Survive A Robot Uprising – a bit disconcerting but HEY I’m sure we’re all going to be fine.)

Not every book you’ll list will come around. There have been some books I’ve had on my list since 2008. But I do get a steady flow of books coming and going. If I really like a book, I can keep it. If after 40 pages I’ve decided it’s not for me, I’ll ditch it and move on to the next thing.

I’m not sure if there are other F.A.R.T.s out there. But if you’re a F.A.R.T. like me, you might give PaperBackSwap a shot. As for me? I’m going to start a new book, I think. Maybe The History of Salt?! (Yes, this is actually a book I have.) (Yes, I am a terrible dull person.)

Also: POST BONUS – sometimes you’re not paying attention and you order two copies of the same book, like this:

Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good