February23,2011

In 1994 Katie Couric Asked What Internet Is…17 Years Later How Much Do We Really Know?

It’s really easy to look at this clip from Today’s Show in 1994 and snicker a little bit. If you’re around my age (28) you’ve grown up with the internet for most of your life, if not all of it. And many of us who read blogs, tweet, facebook etc consider ourselves to be pretty internet savvy. But, on a whole, are we really net savvy as a society?

I would say…not really. In fact, according to the NY Times a full 28% of Americans don’t use the internet at all. I grew up in a rural area and didn’t get access to internet consistently until 2000, the year I went to college. I still remember very well life without the internet–and honestly, it wasn’t all that bad.

But moving on to those who do use the internet, there’s lots of signs that “use” doesn’t equal “knowledge.” There’s still a frightening number of facebook users who have no grasp of the need to adjust their privacy settings. Even more aren’t aware that privacy is even an issue as they allow more and more applications to access their information. Last week my facebook stream (which I rarely ever bother to read) was full of people panicking about their phone numbers and the numbers of their phone contacts being openly visible on facebook.

Since these privacy issues began, rather than learning every little detail, I’ve chosen to take the safe route and scrape facebook of everything except my name and profile picture. That doesn’t make me savvy, just cautious.

And what about spyware and phishing sites? People still struggle telling legitimate sites from fake sites, and and surf the web with outdated virus software. I think on some level Microsoft relies on this ignorance because it’s one of the biggest reasons people buy new PCs. When my PC died, I avoided responsibility by buying a Mac. I’d never return to PC.

But those are just individual decisions, what about the media and government’s understanding of the internet, and more specifically, social networks?

I’m working on a post about the media’s over and mis-emphasis on social networking’s role in the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. It’d be silly to imply that social media didn’t play a significant role. Facebook and twitter have been used for everything from informing protesters of places and times to meet to helping reporters find witnesses for stories or travel across borders.

But in many ways, the media is talking about social media in a way that gives it more credit than it deserves. After all, there are people behind these computers and simply using social media doesn’t make one effective at it. Further, the emphasis on digital revolutions is tone deaf given the lives lost or altered forever in these uprisings. Like so many things social network-related, I find myself asking “what about the human element?”

Finally, this year the government will have to make some big decisions on net neutrality. As companies like Comcast and Verizon spar about various services and territory, all the average consumer can do is sit back and hope internet service gets better and cheaper. We’re largely at the whim of corporations whether we’re informed or not.

Lately, the Obama administration has had to defend its position on net neutrality. This, a full 2 years into the President’s term. The internet and how we use it and how its provided to us is one of the most pressing matters of this generation. But I can’t help but wonder if the people who will make the biggest decisions about it–from Congress to the President–are about as knowledgeable as The Today show hosts were in 1994.

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February18,2011

The Suspension Letter Twitter Sent UberTwitter and Twydroid

Today twitter suspended both ubertwitter and twydroid today for “policy violations,” but didn’t say why. Well, I got my little brown hands on the letter twitter sent them when the sh** hit the fan.

February 18, 2011

To whom it may concern,

We are sorry to inform you that we have made the very difficult decision to suspend the use of your application by twitter users. As you know, we’ve had a long and successful relationship with you and we’re very sad to see it come to an end. Unfortunately, twitter has strict standards and expectations when it comes to the use of our site and a quick review of your clients’ activity shows a deficiency in meeting them.

Months ago we sent you a warning letter about the amount of time your twitter client spends fully operational. We found that your 99.9% success rate violates our policy of only working half the time. We also found that users of your application were pleased with the aesthetic, were able to block millions of bots and report them to spam without any trouble, and had access to the old, preferred way of retweeting.

While we understand why you’d make such a high quality product available for free to users, we simply cannot tolerate its inconsistency with our way of doing business.

For that reason, use of your application has been suspended indefinitely. We promise not to make the reasons for the suspension public if you don’t.

Thank you for your outstanding commitment to users of twitter, and we hope to work with you again in the future when your standards are low enough not to compete with our officially produced applications.

Warm regards,

Twitter

**This letter is not real. Okay?

Tech Crunch has the real scoop…Twitter says Ubermedia was violating privacy with DMs longer than 140 characters and changing the content of users’ tweets among other sort serious charges. They said the problems have been ongoing since April of 2010. I definitely don’t want Twitter to be like Facebook and say privacy and rules be damned, but I haven’t found a better twitter client for blackberry than uber twitter.

Tweetdeck is my favorite desktop client but not yet available for blackberry. Social Scope is pretty popular and users seem satisfied but it’s private invitation only. I guess the hope is that us ubertwitter folks and twydroid people will whine for a week and then use one of the applications twitter created itself. I’ve used twitter for blackberry and was not impressed.

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February18,2011

Quick Friday Thoughts on Iyanla Vanzant, the Kardashians, Lil Kim, and Mo’nique

I haven’t done a quick Friday thoughts post in a while so here goes it.

65 Million Reasons to Pay Attention to the Kardashians

The Kardashians made 65 million dollars last year to which everyone responds “DOING WHAT?”

I think the Hollywood Reporter’s article on the Kardashian clan answers that question well.  The Kardashian talent–mainly a talent of their mom Kris–is branding, marketing, and choosing opportunities wisely.

These days, the Kardashians are ubiquitous. Their book, Kardashian Konfidential, has been on the New York Times best-seller list since December (275,000 copies have shipped). Kim’s eponymous fragrance was Sephora’s top seller last year, and a new fragrance, Unbreakable by Khloe and Lamar, launched Feb. 12. In the summer, the sisters will unveil a new lifestyle collection with in-store shops at Sears. (The Sears deal is one of their most lucrative projects to date, along with QuickTrim diet supplements and Kim’s eponymous fragrance.)

Although it’s interesting to observe how the wheels of stardom turn, those three things are important to everyone in every stage of their career. And as the job market becomes even stiffer, the books, seminars, blog posts and the like that address personal brands and selling yourself to employers have multiplied exponentially.

Even on a smaller scale there’s always debate about whether the right person has achieved success. “Right” meaning the person with the most talent. I’m sure you can look around your work place and see a variety of people who have succeeded despite a serious dearth of talent. What the Kardashian clan has done is nothing new; however, the tools are evolving and I find it pretty fascinating.

Is There Something to All the “Iyanla Vanzant is Crazy” Talk? I Mean Besides Her Saying It Herself

There was a key moment in the first part of the conversation between Oprah and Iyanla Vanzant where Oprah asked Vanzant why she approached their business meeting 11 years ago the way she did. Vanzant’s response “There’s some crazy a pill can’t fix.”

Apparently, that comment and Vanzant’s perceived erratic behavior on the show has led people to really run away with this crazy label.

I don’t like it.

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I have taught Crucial Conversations for quite a few years. And even when not teaching, working in politics and government, I’ve observed a great many tense confrontations. I didn’t find Vanzant’s interaction with Oprah to be strange in the least especially given the size of Oprah’s audience, the time gap between their last conversation and this one, and the internal conflict Vanzant must have had in terms of deciding how to “handle” Oprah on live television on her own turf.

If you’ve never seen YOURSELF in the midst of a tense interaction with another person–especially in a business setting, I would tread lightly on using the word “crazy” to describe Vanzant’s behavior. Just something to think about.

For the record, I took Vanzant’s comment about being too crazy to be fixed by a pill to mean that some of her issues were deeper than even she could understand or address at the time.

Monique is Still Very Very Very Loud and Unnatural

One of the things that really annoys me about people who are famous for one thing is that it makes it so much easier for them to get to do the next thing. And even if they’re not good at the next thing, they still get to do it because, you know, well, they’re famous.

Monique is about as bad a show host as it gets. And it bothers me that she’s the only black late night talk show host and in order to see some of our favorite stars that aren’t covered in the mainstream, we have to endure her over serious, supremely emphasized speech patterns and screaming.

Was that a rant? Cause I don’t rant. But since it kind of seems like a rant, I’m going to stop there.

Lil Kim Needs To Fire Everyone Around Her and Educate Herself on Modern Technology

This week everyone’s favorite Mattel knockoff released a diss (I can’t believe I’m 28 and I just wrote the word DISS) mixtape  charging $10 for downloads. The cover art was some sort of anime crap that depicted the aftermath of her murdering up and coming rapper Nicki Minaj. For those of you who pay no attention to such things, Lil Kim is angry at Nicki Minaj because she believes Nicki has stolen her image and hasn’t credited her appropriately.

Unfortunately, Lil Kim is a terrible rapper when she has to write herself. While I was over on Dlisted getting my monthly dose of extreme fuckery, I listened to one of Lil Kim’s songs and not only were the lyrics terrible but she’s now rapping in her natural high pitched voice which sounds very unpleasant. But this is a media blog and that’s besides the point.

The real issue here is that newer (younger) artists like Nicki Minaj have leveraged social media and modern techniques to get their careers started right. Lil Kim is making a bevy of mistakes:

1. No one charges for mixtapes (especially ones that aren’t even mixed!) Mixtapes are a way for artists to get creative and use beats they’d normally have to pay for the license to use. It’s a way for them to promote their music. If you want to charge $10 for something you put the work in to create a complete album and sell it on itunes. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE should be ignorant of these facts.

2. You can’t just make shit up anymore. Lil Kim stated that she sold 113K copies of her mixtape in 28 hours. We live in the world where quality artists don’t even sell that much. And blogger @robo3k confirmed with Paypal that there is a $3000 limit to how much money you can receive on paypal in day. Other bloggers revealed that Kim’s mixtape site had only gotten 23K clicks (not downloads). For those of you who have blogs or other new media goals, it’s really important that you learn at least the basics of analytics.

The saddest mistake:

3. One of the worst things Kim ever did is not educate herself on business matters. Before going to prison a few years ago, Kim was not aware of her financial expenditures and it’s probably a safe guess that while the Notorious B.I.G. was alive she probably didn’t pay much attention to the contracts she signed.

But Kim is not in her 20s anymore. As a 35 year old woman, it’s time for her to take a step back and educate herself on the decisions that she makes. There’s a lesson in this for us all. Ever feel like you go through life making decisions on auto pilot? Think about it.

Instead of writing diss tracks, Kim should have been using her free time pursuing ways of understanding this new-fangled thing we refer to as the internet, and seeking out advice from her celebrity friends who have been in the business a long time on how the business has evolved.

But the biggest thing she needs to do is figure out what to do besides rap. Not a lot of space in entertainment for a  35 year old who only REALLY had one huge album and has since destroyed her best asset–her looks. Kim needs a 2nd act. And that act probably needs to include student loans.

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February17,2011

Oprah Winfrey, Iyanla Vanzant and Self-Validation At Home and In Business

Part I of Oprah and Iyanla Vanzant’s televised confrontation over why Vanzant left Oprah’s HARPO studios 11 years ago aired yesterday and I loved every minute. The rundown: Oprah chose proteges to develop and Vanzant was one of them–along with folks like Dr. Phil and Suze Orman. During the height of Vanzant’s popularity, journalist and media mogul Barbara Walters approached Vanzant about doing her own show. She turned the offer down and subsequently met with Oprah to float the fact that someone “big” in TV had offered her a deal to leave HARPO.

The meeting between Oprah, Vanzant and Oprah’s executive producer that took place so many years ago was a perfect example of a breakdown in communication. Vanzant wanted a certain thing to come out of the meeting, but rather than asking for that thing, she attempted to manipulate the conversation so that Oprah would give it to her voluntarily.

But “that thing” wasn’t the show offer that prompted the conversation. The thing Vanzant wanted so badly was to be validated by Oprah verbally. In other words, she wanted to be told that Oprah respected her and her work and was committed to their business partnership.

Vanzant’s story reminded me of when I was a very young child. I used to always long for my parents to say they were proud of me, or to read something I’d written or attend a show where I was performing. But validation just isn’t my parents’ thing and to this day they’ve never read anything I’ve written or expressed that they were proud unless it was a result of me asking them directly.

I learned very quickly that asking my parents directly to say they were proud really isn’t all that satisfying, I stopped that a long time ago. But in business, directly asking a supervisor or business partner or client to provide feedback is often the best way to leave an uncertain conversation feeling better equipped to make a decision.

It occurred to me the other day that I hadn’t taught a Crucial Conversations class in a really long time (at least a year). That’s unfortunate because it’s one of my favorite skills to teach. I would have advised Vanzant to ask Oprah if she believed in her and if she genuinely intended to invest in her future at HARPO. I would have also told her to explicitly express the concern she had about turning down an immediate and specific business deal in order to wait for Oprah’s promising but uncertain one.

From there, Vanzant could have looked at she and Oprah’s shared history and made an informed determination as to whether her past experiences were consistent with the answer Oprah provided. This approach probably could have also helped her make a better decision about what Walters had offered her or, at the very least, help her structure the deal more favorably. [In part II of the interview which will air next week Vanzant talks about the subpar treatment she received under the Walters show deal]

For every single human being, validation and value come into play routinely. How you handle those moments of insecurity or simple uncertainty can have long lasting consequences because often those situations present themselves at critical times. Whether in business or personal dealings, I think most of us could become better at two things:  Being cognizant of when a moment of self-doubt has arisen, and planning ahead of time to successfully deal with those moments.

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February14,2011

Awesome Displays of Journalism–My Favorite Stories from the Past Year

We talk a lot about bad writing and the decline of journalism–and that’s important. But sometimes it’s nice to highlight good journalism.  In fact, it’s more than nice, it’s imperative. There are lots of great writers around and we should share their stories. I think it helps to read a lot of good writing that way you know shitty writing when you see it.

Those “better” writers weave the details of stories together seamlessly. They find and get solid sources and excel at choosing when to use a direct quote and when to paraphrase. They choose good stories and present them in an organized manner successfully playing with chronology and expertly using even the trickiest writing techniques (for example, flashback). And most of all, those better writers make you wish the story would never end. And, in many cases, when the story does end it can leave the reader with a sense of longing.

There were four stories that I read over the past year that immediately came to mind when I decided to write this post. Just to note, I do a lot of reading, so there are definitely other stories besides the following four that impressed me. But again, I remembered the four below right away.

I read a lot of sports stories, and the first two articles I want to highlight are from the world of basketball and football. Yahoo sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski’s account of how the Miami Heat came to sign then Cleveland Cavaliers Forward Lebron James is very compelling. Wojnarowski manages to cover and explain the perspective of almost every party involved with the James trade.  And, for ESPN, Tom Friend writes an exciting piece on former football defensive lineman William “Refrigerator Perry.” This piece was so heart-wrenching and smartly written I had to take two breaks before completion.

The other two pieces also share a common link–both are stories about con men. For the NY Times David Segal profiled Vitaly Borker a Russian owner of an online eyewear store. Not only was Borker selling faux products, he bullied and threatened customers who complained. This piece starts out as a simple profile of a bad businessman, but Segal builds the story slowly and by the time he arrives at Borker’s house you are on pins and needles wondering how the conversation will go, or if Segal should even be there. (I should mention that Borker was eventually arrested as a result of this profile.)

The final story is an old one that I just read about three days ago in The Atlanta Magazine. Its title is “The Debtor” and it profiles a man whose murder may go unsolved due to the amount of enemies he made conning an array of people out of money–including the daughter of late soul singer James Brown, a woman he actually married.

If you read any or all of the stories, be sure to let me know what you think. And do not hesitate to share other well-written pieces and why you loved them.

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February8,2011

Huffington Post, AOL, And Why You Shouldn’t Write For Free

When Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington and execs at AOL announced that AOL would be buying Huffington Post for $315 million dollars a lot of people were surprised. In the media world, people wondered if this was a good investment for the Grandaddy of the internet, and whether HuffPo would lose its original appeal of being disassociated with media giants.

To address those two issues, in my opinion, this is a great deal for AOL, and HuffPo has been connected to large media industry for at least the past 2 years if not more. The change to HuffPo’s original “value” was made a long time ago when Huffington decided to expand her core set of leftist writers beyond an original hand-selected few. From there HuffPo became a breaking news and tabloid paper no different from TMZ or any other scandal-driven site.

The reason this is a good deal for AOL is because 75-80% of AOL’s current profits come from people who have had AOL mail for a long time and believe that they still need to pay AOL $25 a month to continue to be able to access it. For many subscribers, that’s $25 a month on top of whatever they’re paying to their internet service provider—Comcast, Time warner etc.

Unfortunately, relying on customer ignorance isn’t really a failsafe plan, and HuffPo provides a pretty cutting edge route into the future—free aggregate content distributed through multiple channels, high click rates, and aggressive pursuit of ad dollars. As you can see, there’s every reason to believe their business strategy will still rely on ignorance, just contributors instead of customers.

What the hell am I talking about? I’m happy to explain.

Huffington has built a $300 million media empire off the backs of people who write for free. The excuse that many bloggers and writers give when writing for free is that it gives them exposure. I certainly am aware that “exposure” can be a form of payment, but there are limits. You have to be choosy especially if your eventual goal is to freelance write fulltime.

On a site like HuffPo which is crowded with content, readers rarely click through to links contained in posts or their skimpy author box. When you visit HuffPo it feels like you’re being attacked with information. If you follow my pattern when I visit the site you click from article to article paying little to no attention to who wrote what. Some exposure that is!

If you’re interested in reposting your work on HuffPo or anywhere else for free, that’s not a terrible idea. Reposting can bring some benefits (for example, it can increase the number of sites linking into your blog which can improve your traffic ranking) and it takes precious little time to send a few quick pitches and pastes text.

But to maximize your time and impact, I still say cling to old rugged Writer’s Market book. As a writer, your biggest concern should be two things: 1. Building a strong byline and 2. Making money.

If I’m trying to decide between submitting original content or altered reposted content to Huff Po OR some local or small magazine that pays $50, I choose the magazine. Most people know by now that almost anyone can be published on a site like Huffington Post while even small magazines have editorial standards and require some bit of expertise in the area in which you’re writing. Further, that $50 that you get from the magazine can be used to buy ads on blogads or some other site. There’s more exposure to be had advertising on a low traffic but relevant-to-your-niche blog than there is by having a couple posts on a crowded site.

Besides, if you plan to live off your writing you need to be submitting to publications that are likely to reject you if you suck. Rejected pitches and articles can be signs that your writing isn’t progressing. You don’t want to spend a huge amount of time blogging for free for other sites only to find out that when you want to be published your writing just isn’t there yet.

Plus, when you’re building your byline keep this in mind: Most of the people you need to “impress” with your byline are pretty aware of how to tell a publication or web site with editorial standards from a blog that lets anyone post provided they have a controversial topic or a lot of twitter followers. Whatever your goal is, pursue a byline that helps you get there. Don’t just go for what appears like a valuable idea.

You know the old saying, time is money? Well, it really is to writers.

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February2,2011

Nicki Minaj, Exploitation, and Vibe Magazine’s Unfortunate Juxtaposition

When I’m not tweeting and blogging you can find me hanging out over at The Atlantic. James Fallows, a veteran national correspondent for the magazine, has this great series where he finds unfortunate and/or memorable headline juxtapositions. It’s one of my favorite series on any blog or web site.

I thought of Fallow’s findings when I clicked on a tweeted link to Vibe Magazine–something I don’t think I’ve ever even done before. Basically, the link was asking if Nicki Minaj’s spoof of blackploitation films during her appearance on Saturday Night Live was going “too far.” In other words, did she exploit herself or further promote stereotypes of black women (big booties and loud mouths) in her performance.

Having seen the performance in real time, I thought it was fine. First of all, it was nice to see an actual black woman in an SNL skit. Typically, Keenan plays every black female character, so seeing Nicki in a skit was refreshing by itself. Beyond that, I found the skit harmless and certainly funny in moments.

But that’s neither here nor there because I barely got through Vibe Magazine’s rushed and baiting post before my eye went to the right and felt stirrings of contradiction.

Why discuss whether or not something is exploitative of women when you’re using “thick” black women in bikinis and “Not Safe For Work” photos of black women in the nude, and comparing the best “celebrity boobs” to rack up Adbrite and Glam Media checks? Okay that’s a dumb question, obviously it must be the money.

I don’t expect high quality commentary from celeb gossip sites and magazines, but I have to say there is something fucked up and completely laughable about even attempting to introduce some sort of serious cultural discussion about black womens’ bodies on the main section of a page when you have a live feed from Black Tail on the right.

As Fresh would say, girl, I guess.

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February2,2011

Media Strut is 6 Months Old! Ow! And Did You Know Technology Is Helpful?

It occurred to me as I was nosing around and checking out other bloggers stats (hee!) that Media Strut is now 6 months old. Almost a year ago, Necole of NecoleBitchie told me that a year mark is the true test of a blog. Most people quit after 3-6 months. This explains why 99% of blogs I click on have a post that says “Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while…”

Anyway, Necole told me that a year is about the time that a couple things become clear:

1. Whether you will continue to produce high quality content.

2. Whether you actually are serious about blogging (and you certainly don’t have to be).

Given how successful Necole managed to make her blog within a year and half or two, I appreciated her passing that little gem along to me. It’s quite possible without her telling me that I would have quit by now.

A blog has growing pains–provided you care whether or not it’s successful.  You have to find your individual voice. You have to find purpose and direction. But most of all, you have to find some damn readers. I mean unless your intention isn’t to speak to anyone in particular, but just to insert your voice into the stratosphere.

Well my goal wasn’t to yell into an empty hallway. And due to the fact that I am a confirmed quitter, I’m happy that Media Strut has a steady readership of about 5K unique visitors per month. Most of you return more than once during the month. I like to think we are growing together, and I’m excited to see where this blog will be once it hits the year mark in August.

Continue Reading…

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February1,2011

Fuck Being A Journalist…And Other Revelations About Journalism

From 9th grade on I planned to major in Journalism in college–broadcast journalism to be exact. Where I’m from, being on a local TV channel and reading the news is big shit! I thought I’d be perfect for a job like that, I could write and speak well, I have a great voice, and the camera loves me like a sister.

I show up freshman year of college, declare my major as Journalism, Public Relations and Advertising with my concentration being broadcast journalism. By the 3rd class I realized a few things.

1. I don’t give a damn about going out to get a story.

2. I really just wanted to be on TV.

3. I prefer giving my opinion to just presenting facts (even if I order them in a leading manner).

4. “Sacrificing” and “paying dues in a small market” really wasn’t “my thing.”

5. I didn’t like or fit in with the other JPRA majors.

I had decided early on that political science would be my minor. But I noticed that in those classes I felt more at home. Debating back and forth with arrogant white male preps who wore suits and carried briefcases and laptops to class was more my speed than discussing ad implications with a bunch of over serious introverts. I’m generalizing here, but this was the culture at my alma mater.

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January31,2011

When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: With One Errant Comment, Moseley Braun Throws Her Mayoral Hopes Down the Drain

The other day I spoke to one of my friends about how Moseley Braun was doing in the Chicago mayoral race. They told me she was doing pretty well so far. I asked if she’d said anything…ahem…wacky yet, and my friend said no.

Well that’s all changed.  During a candidate forum, Moseley Braun was accused by Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins of not being seen around Chicago very much. Moseley Braun’s retort? That Watkins hadn’t seen her around because she was too busy smoking crack and leading a cult.

Talk about a high profile case of when keeping it real goes wrong.

According to news reports, Moseley Braun’s comments sparked boos and disorder and the Pastor of the church at which the event was held called the situation “embarrassing.”

Indeed!

Quick thoughts:

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