Why I Give a Damn if Local News Outlets Suck

January 29, 2015

newspaper boatI have inadvertently waged a one-woman campaign against poor journalism in the Tampa area. Granted, it’s mostly happening in my head, but let me tell you about it anyway.

Though there are probably more important things to worry about, I actually give a damn that media outlets like WTSP put out garbage stories like this:


“It happened to quickly for me to be able to do anything. I was like wow hope this turns out alright,” says Kincaid.


Wesley just hopes the driver learns a lesson as this could have been much worst.


That’s some cringe-worthy work, right there.  Between writing that looks like it came from the pen of a 12-year old and the total lack of editing, this post is a train wreck. The worst part (and, yes, that’s the correct use of “worst”)? This happens every day on this site and many others like it.

How do news organizations expect to be taken seriously and viewed as trustworthy sources when their copy reads like a high-school newspaper? If a media outlet can’t manage to offer better content than this, then why should I believe they’re a reliable reporting source?

If a news site doesn’t respect its readers enough to clean up its copy before pressing the Publish button, then I can only assume they don’t actually care about what dreck they’re offering. If they care so little about putting a somewhat professional face on their content, I can easily assume there’s nothing else professional their journalistic integrity either.

I’m aware that this kind of content is actually a symptom of a larger problem motivated by news organizations simply trying to stay afloat in a rapidly changing industry. (Read: An industry that’s falling apart at the speed of light.) Bad writing and under-reported stories are an indication that a news outlet is cutting corners at the staffing level and hiring inexperienced or inept journalists. Simply put, they can’t afford to bring in writers and editors who can do better.

That’s the crux of why I give a damn if my local news outlets suck. It means news organizations are cutting budgets to the bone just to stay alive and readers are paying the price. As somewhat of an insider to the publishing industry, I can tell you definitively that readers are part of the problem.

We’re forcing actual journalists to compete with citizen journalists. We make actual news outlets compete with sites where breaking news appears as it happens. However, I’m not trying to debate why professional news sites are in an editorial shambles. Changing the tide is another post altogether.

When I see sites like WTSP and other local outlets put out crap stories like this I know they’ve given up. They’re not even trying to be professional or offer credible work. They’re just phoning it in and that’s a pretty heartbreaking thing to see.

I’ve picked on WTSP before and probably will again because they are such egregious offenders. It’s just so frustrating to see the utter crap they put out under the guise of “news.” I realize I could just stop visiting the site instead of hate-reading it all the time but there aren’t a lot of local news outlets left anymore. I could vote with my clicks and go to Twitter or Patch for my local news but then I’m part of the problem. I want to support real news sites.

So, what’s the answer? I have no earthly idea, but the question kind of makes me queasy.

To be clear: I will be the first to admit that I make plenty of mistakes while writing my copy. Indeed, this post will probably have several. This blog isn’t part of a news organization, though, whose success relies on being a trusted, reputable voice. I am thrilled that my professional writing gets run past the eyeballs of professional editors who clean things up and make writers like me look professional and sound smart.

Image: Kate Ter Haar

Don’t Just Stand There, Say Something

October 29, 2014

speak_upI spend a lot of time listening to people. For work, in my personal life, socially, I am talked to and talked at a whole lot. As you might expect, I don’t agree with everything I hear but I usually keep my opinions to myself because I don’t have some deep-seated to share every thought that crosses my mind.

Sometimes, though, someone will say or do something that brings me up short and I struggle with whether to gently say something or not. I go through the usual permutations in my head:

“I don’t want to start trouble.”

“It’s not worth the effort.”

“It won’t matter anyway.”

“Will it even make a difference?”

Well, sometimes it does make a difference.


Backstory One

My tolerance for chest-beating male assertiveness-bordering-on-aggressiveness is rather low. Since I circulate both professionally and personally in predominantly male worlds filled with strong personalities, I have found ways to move around without making my problem anyone else’s — until they make theirs mine.

Earlier this year I volunteered to participate in a project led by someone who Managed By Threat. “Don’t be late for the meeting because you don’t want to deal with me when I’m pissed,” was standard team communication. I am a hard and reliable worker so there was really no need to include threats in every single group email about this project in order to keep me in line.

I backed off to the fringe of this project because I got tired of being preemptively berated for things I hadn’t even done. Eventually I left altogether without explaining the real reason. It was a shame because, aside from his management style, I quite like the project lead. I just couldn’t hack the knotted stomach and clammy skin from simply seeing a team email in my inbox.

Sidebar, the first: Those of you who know me in real life are probably scratching your heads right now trying to picture anything intimidating me. If you haven’t met me, trust me. Fear is not in my wheelhouse so you know this was really outside the boundaries of acceptability.

Anyway, someone close to the project and to me knew why I left and asked to share it with the lead. I agreed. Imagine my surprise when word got back to me the lead is taking formal steps to deal with his “anger management issues” (his words).

Sometimes saying something does make a difference.


Backstory Two

A man I know very well recently shared with me his plan to pursue a woman who had already told him she was not interested in a romantic relationship. I was horrified and gently (no, really, I was nice about it!) asked why he would choose to disregard what this woman had clearly told him in no uncertain terms.

He cited chapter and verse reasons why his idea was sound and made all kinds of sense. Except that it didn’t.

Honestly, I have very few hot buttons. I’m an extremely rational person. However, when I hear someone talk about how they plan to aggressively pursue a woman who has explicitly asked to be left alone, I tend to lose all perspective.

At first I decided to stay out of it. He’s a grown man, this is a free country, and I’m not the social police. But the situation continued to eat at me.

Eventually, I contacted someone who I knew would understand why this was all sorts of wrong and asked him for a link or two to some blog posts from a male point of view that explained why his entire line of thinking was flawed beyond belief. I forwarded the links to my friend, fearing all the while that it would drive a wedge between us, fracture our friendship, and, well, piss him off.

A couple days ago, he told me he thought about what I said and decided to leave the woman completely alone. I could have cried in relief.

Sometimes saying something does make a difference.


Closer to home

My husband is a reformed Nice Guy. He was never so misogynistic that he subscribed to MRA beliefs and whatnot but for many years (and many years ago) he believed that if he was just nice to a woman long enough she would eventually fall into his arms. We call it the Vending Machine Principle: Drop in enough Nice Coins and a relationship will ultimately pop out.

So how did he get from there to become someone who is deeply committed to furthering the understanding of women’s rights issues? Because, back in the day, someone spoke up. Someone explained why he should consider reevaluating his thinking about women and it got through to him.

Sometimes saying something does make a difference.


Speak up

I struggle a lot over when to speak up against misogyny, racism, homophobia, and such. I’m not a preacher or a teacher. I wasn’t put on this planet to sermonize, demonize, or lecture. Y’know, sometimes, though, you just have to say something.

I never in a million years could have predicted either of these situations would play out the way they did and I’m glad I didn’t keep quiet. If you’re ever on the fence about whether to call someone on acceptable behavior, please consider speaking up.

Sometimes saying something does make a difference.


Image: Howard Lake

Siri, please let me love you.

October 7, 2014

Siri thinks she did something wrongYou know how you re-vacuum the same spot over and over until it picks up that one piece of lint even though it’s easier to just bend over and snatch it up with your fingers?

Sometimes that’s what it’s like to deal with Siri.

“Siri, call Premier Dry Cleaners.”

“Here are three dry cleaners in your area. One is fairly close to you.”

“Siri. Call PREMIER Dry Cleaners.”

“The premier of ‘Gotham’ was September 22nd.”

“SIRI!” Call Premier DRY CLEANERS.”

“Here’s a website for Clear Vue Eye Glass Cleaner.”

*Furiously punches buttons on phone to verify Premier Dry Cleaners is in Contacts.*

“Siri. Access Contacts. Call Premier Dry Cleaners.”

“Okay, I have added ‘Order Contacts’ to your Reminders.”

“Siri. Find Premier Dry Cleaners.”

“Okay, I found Premier Dry Cleaners. Would you like directions?”

“No! CALL Premier Dry Cleaners.”

“There is a Veneer Dry Roofers, but it’s quite a ways away from you.” (2,844 miles, in Eastern Canada)

“Go away, Siri.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

Zen and the Art of Leaving Facebook

September 29, 2014

ZenI wasn’t really sure what to expect when I made the decision to deactivate my Facebook account a couple months ago. I’d been on the site for several years, mainly using it to keep up with the lives of people I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. It was also a great place to let my hair down a bit since I need to be cognizant of what I post on, say, Twitter, which can be seen by anyone.

The reasons I decided to deactivate aren’t really germane to this post so there’s no need to go into them. Suffice it to say, the signal-to-noise ratio became unbearable and it was starting to affect my stress levels (which have since returned to normal).

Here’s what I’ve noticed since turning off my account.

There is no graceful way to leave Facebook.

When you deactivate an account, you simply disappear from the site. There’s no way to leave a note on your own profile that you’ve disabled your profile and no options for letting people know you’re taking time off.

Well, that’s not entirely true. In the days leading up to the deactivation I could have posted something about my decision and let it filter its way through my friends but melodramatic “I’m leaving!” posts are anathema to me. So I simply vanished.

The resulting reactions were…strange. A surprising number of people assumed something was wrong which, I suppose is a fair presumption in the absence of information to the contrary. A few people took it very personally, assuming I’d simply unfriended only them.

Many people, as I expected, didn’t notice. Now, let me be clear. I don’t say that as a passive-aggressive way to imply my friends don’t care. I’m sure they do. I simply mean that the way Facebook presents information in timelines makes it virtually impossible to know whether people have left Facebook or are simply not posting. Indeed, even prolific posters don’t always make it into the feed of all their friends because Facebook’s algorithms are so screwy it’s hard to know what to expect.

This is my single biggest frustration with leaving Facebook — the inability to let your friends know in a way that’s not completely awkward.

Scheduling is complicated

My husband and I use Facebook as the invitation mechanism for some of our parties. We’re planning an upcoming event and I’ve realized that inviting my friends will take some additional work since he’s not connected to some of them. They won’t be able to see his Facebook invite unless we make it public (not an option). On the other side of the equation, I don’t always know about upcoming events I’m invited to since they’re also typically scheduled through Facebook.

Isolation factor: 10

I’ll admit it, I feel completely out of the loop now with nearly everyone I know. A good friend was involved in the elaborate rescue of a mother and child after witnessing a car accident and I heard about it fourth hand. My mother-in-law had foot surgery and I didn’t know until she hobbled into my house. My friends are having all kinds of notable things happen to them but I have no idea what they are. I miss their pictures and stories, their triumphs and concerns. However…

Real life is a lot more fun

I’ve been floored to discover how much more enjoyable it is to meet up with friends face-to-face and be able to say, “what’s new?” without already knowing. I love to watch the joy on their faces as they describe a new job or a the details of a vacation. I love seeing actual, real-life, animated faces telling what I’ve missed. I love being able to say, “I’m so happy for you, tell me more” instead of mindlessly clicking a Like button for the 84th time that day.

You too, huh?

When I tell people I’ve left Facebook nearly every single person says, “I’ve been thinking about doing the same thing.” Assuming folks are being honest with me (and I believe they are), the majority of people I know are unhappy with the site and don’t want to be there. Everyone I’ve talked with about this says the only thing keeping them from leaving is that it’s the only way to keep in touch with others, especially people who don’t live nearby. But…

It’s not the only way

Believe it or not, Facebook is not the only way to keep in touch, nor is it the easiest. I’ve taken to corresponding at length with friends over email and, guess what? It’s a hell of a lot more fulfilling than Facebook ever was. It’s the modern version of writing letters and takes exactly no more time than chatting over Facebook.

An added bonus? I actually look forward to opening my inbox these days because it’s now it’s filled with more than spam and bill payment reminders. On top of that, I’ll always have the messages we exchange and they won’t get lost in the timeline or private messaging depths of some website.

Fewer obligations

Perhaps my favorite thing about being off Facebook is that I’m no longer obligated to tolerate posts and comments that make me uncomfortable. I’ve spent about 30 minutes typing and erasing all sorts of examples of what I mean by that. In the end, I think it’s sufficient for me to simply let the preceding comment stand because I’m pretty sure anyone reading this has had at least one relatable experience and understands.

What now?

I’m not sure. I do miss certain aspects of Facebook  but not to the point that it overrides the enjoyment of being away from it. Perhaps I’ll reactivate my account one day, perhaps not. In the meantime, I’m truly enjoying about 99% of what being off of Facebook has to offer. I’m still on Twitter (mostly professional stuff) and Tumblr (whatever strikes my fancy), so if you’re on either of those, look me up.

Image: Pittaya Sroilong

My Standing Desk is “Marvel”-ous

September 25, 2014

I’d love to claim that I switched to a standing desk in my home office because of a sweeping desire for improved fitness and health but I’m not gonna lie. I took the leap (the stand?) a couple months ago because Marvel Studios has its movies planned out through 2028 and I want to be around to see them all.

I wasn’t sure if I’d like it but it turns out my lazy self actually enjoys standing most of the day. Except for some weird minor pain behind one knee that I’m still trying to figure out, I don’t have any of aches or agonies I’d read so much about. In fact, I feel so good about the whole setup that I recently added a mini-elliptical to the mix so my feet have something to do.



Though pre-made standing desks are pretty rad, I didn’t want to invest a whole bunch of coin in something I wasn’t sure I’d use long-term. Instead I went with the IKEA standing desk setup this smartypants came up with (bonus: an excuse to go to IKEA). That’s where I got my conventional office desk a couple years ago so the fact that all the pieces and parts of the new rig match is a nice little aesthetic touch.

My iMac, wireless keyboard, and mouse are comfortably elevated and there’s enough room on the table for a cup, pens, notebook, etc. My MacBook sits underneath the shelf on the regular desktop so when if I need to sit for a while, I can just plop into my chair — after moving the cat off of it.

I stand on an anti-fatigue mat when I’m typing, but when I’m reading, surfing, or goofing off I use this mini-elliptical. I’ve only had it a couple of weeks but, so far, I love it. Shockingly, I haven’t fallen off of it. Given my klutziness, that’s a ringing endorsement for its stability.


Stray observations:

  • I fidget a lot more now than when I was sitting all day. I switch from foot to foot, rest one on a footstool, (okay, upside down cardboard box. What? I’m cheap.) or adopt strange pseudo-yoga poses.
  • I’m about a hundred-thousand times more active during the day. I used to save all my “next time I get up” tasks for one big excursion every couple of hours. You call it lazy, I call it an economy of effort. Now I zip around all day refilling my water, switching out laundry, and doing all the other things I used to put off. I figure tackling mundane stuff is easier now since it’s halfway done because I’m already up anyway.
  • I can’t sit for long stretches anymore without getting twitchy. Sitting through Guardians of the Galaxy without standing up nearly gave me an aneurysm.
  • I drink a lot more water and nibble a lot less throughout the day. I’ve always been good about guzzling water but I get refills much more frequently since I’m already on my feet when I drain my bottle. I’ve stopped a lot of mindless eating because… well, I’m not sure why. I suppose I feel like it would be too much of a pain in the ass to eat while marching away on the elliptical and I just don’t have an appetite for grazing while standing still. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it.
  • I am a whole lot less stressed about exercise. If I don’t get around to walking or doing something else fitness-related on any given day, the stats on my Fitbit remind me I haven’t exactly been sedentary all day either.
  • My cats love me more because, now that I don’t use my desk chair as much, there’s an extra place for them to sleep.
sleeping cat

Exhibit A

So, if you’re on the fence about trying a standing desk, I highly recommend giving it a shot. The IKEA setup and an anti-fatigue mat will only set you back around $75. You can always repurpose the items if you don’t like it after all.

(Geez, has it really been a year since I’ve posted? Eh. I’ve been busy.)


What I Wish I’d Learned Sooner

September 4, 2013

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for a ridiculously long time and I kind of feel bad about it. I feel particularly silly because it seems counterintuitive for a professional writer’s blog to be devoid of words. I’ll blame it on Shoemaker’s Children syndrome and just being really, really busy. After all, it’s the truth.

So, here I am. The list of things I could write about is as long as my arm. It ranges from my thoughts on current events to sharing fun little stories about work, married and family life, or remodeling a house (ugh!). None of that is on my mind today.

People often write up postmortems about life-changing events and I’ve got a litany of my own lately that range from a new marriage and moving, to a health issue, a couple of major projects I’ve undertaken, and so on. However, the learning experiences I’ve taken away from all of these events seem to boil down to one thing — and it predates the events themselves.

When you’re in the midst of The Very Important Things, it’s difficult to see what kind of person you’ll be when the dust settles. While I’ve learned a lot about myself in recent years, I’ve learned even more about the world around me and, specifically, the people in it.

It took me a long time to realize that for every poisonous person in this world there are double the genuinely good souls. I noticed a while back that I was spending too much time dealing with the former at the expense of the latter. I also noticed that poisonous people tend to pool together and I began making it a point to avoid those swamps. My life has been infinitely better for it.

Those of you who know me are aware that I have an exceptionally low tolerance for bullying that dates back to early childhood. As an adult, I was disappointed to discover that bullies still exist in the grown-up world, often slathered with a greasy sheen of manipulation to soften the edges.

I railed against such behavior in adults for a long time before I finally realized the answer was to simply cut off their food supply and not engage at all. It doesn’t stop the behavior, but it certainly removes the impact it has on my life. Bullies are a festering bacteria, but they can’t invade your ecosystem if you wash your hands.

I realized that the wonderful life-changing events I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy are a direct result of my refusal to wallow, rail, fight against, or challenge people who make it their life’s work to be assholes. Instead, I spend my time enjoying the opportunities that find people when they’re happy to the core.

Have you ever taken a hard look at people who try to force others to bend to their will? They look old, ravaged, and miserable (hint: they are). Contrast that with people who are happy, ambitious, and enrich the lives of those around them. They look peaceful (another hint: they are).

This was driven home to me recently when someone I haven’t seen in quite a long time came to visit. The last time he’d seen me, I was struggling with a situation brought on by someone who wanted their happiness to come at the expense of mine. The visitor remarked to Michael that I looked “radiant and serene,” and that the last time he’d seen me, well…not so much. That’s all the evidence I needed to know that I’ve made the right decisions.

So what does this have to do with lessons I’ve learned from life-changing events? Simply this. You only get one go-around on this planet. You can choose to spend it challenging desperate people with agendas but no life, or you can choose to spend it with people who have delightful lives and no agenda.

When you do, you’ll find that the life-altering events that come your way are enriching instead of draining. When you encounter a road block, you’ll have people to support you instead of people so wrapped up in their version of the world that all they bring to the table is anger at the “unfairness of it all.” Oh, please.

It seems to me that people are reluctant to walk away from poisonous situations because they’ll lose something important to them in the process. While that may happen temporarily, I’ve never seen it last. I’ve found that whatever precious-to-you tendrils have coiled themselves around a bad situation eventually lose their grip and head for a sunnier environment. Every single time.

Experience has taught me that not all bullies give up, especially when they refuse to realize that it’s their very actions that created the consequences they dislike so much. Let them tilt at windmills and just walk away. Toxic people create and thrive in toxic environments and I prefer to breathe clean air.

If you’re stuck wondering why things just don’t seem to go your way, take a look at what — or whom — is gaining from holding you back. If you’re spending all your energy pushing back against people who want it their way or no way at all, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Instead spend that energy on people who light up your life, be patient, and watch the things you thought you’d lost gravitate back to you.

You Don’t Scare Me

April 26, 2013

I posted this on Facebook this morning and I’m going to leave it here as well. It concerns the avalanche of factually-inaccurate memes that circulate around social media and why I’m sick of it.

I’ve tried to stay far, far away from this gun control debate but there’s one point that I can’t stay quiet about any longer (and it’s not about the gun laws themselves).


Many memes and “shares” claim we’re one step away from the days of Hitler if we change our laws. Here’s an article CITING HISTORIANS about why that is utter crap.


The reason this particular false meme bugs me is because I’m sick to death of the fear-mongering and hysteria surrounding so many of the things we’re debating as a society. It’s hard to have civilized discourse and, y’know, solve problems, when a group’s first line of defense is to play the fear card or, in some cases, bully people (“If you don’t share this, you don’t have a heart.”)


I see it in everything from public safety or policy debates to animal welfare concerns to attempts to raise awareness about health issues, and I’m tired of it. If you want me to hear your side of things or listen to your elevator pitch about what concerns you, stick with facts. I’m more than willing to have my mind changed or be enlightened about things I misunderstand, but don’t come at me waving fear flags or insinuating there’s something wrong with me if I don’t capitulate. I simply won’t listen.


We are in a technologically wonderful age. We have the ability to reach people in ways we never could before and in numbers that go far beyond what we could in the past. Facebook is an excellent medium for sharing ideas but it’s easy to click, share, and like without giving it any real thought. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that gal.


If you want to sway me, talk to me. Tell me what YOU think. Throwing things at me designed to scare or intimidate won’t make me hear you and it certainly won’t make me take up the torch for your cause.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I can’t be bullied, coerced, intimidated, or made to feel bad about not reacting the way someone wants me to. I’ve faced too much legitimately odious behavior from people in recent years to have a scare tactic on Facebook even get on my to-do list of Things I Should Consider.

I’m perfectly happy to have a civil conversation about nearly anything and am always open to the possibility of having my mind changed. But when the conversation begins at DEFCON 4, I’m out. I simply don’t respond to manipulation, threats, or anger. If that’s your approach, I’m sorry to disappoint you but, Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.


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