Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I like digital birthdays

I think I like digital birthdays.

Yesterday, more than 100 Facebook friends posted Happy Birthday to me.  I’m not bragging, just sayin’.

I got “Happy Birthdays” from friends from Fairfield, Auburn, Selma, Camden, Birmingham, all my hometowns, and from far-flung FB friends, like former coworkers who live in Washington state, Texas, Georgia and both Carolinas. It was great. My little i-phone bussed all day, with another friend posting on my wall. I’d smile.

Then, when I opened Google to look something up, Google was spelled out with birthday cakes, and when my curser hovered over the chocolate-caked Google, it said “Happy Birthday, Jackie.”  Clever people those Googles, who know it’s my birthday because I use g-mail and Google Chrome (it is faster than Explorer). So of course Google knows. It always knows.

I was even able to post a birthday video present to myself and my friends,  a video of Dylan and the Band in The Last Waltz doing Forever Young and Baby Let me Follow You Down. I couldn’t have done that without Facebook, or seen the comments from my music-loving friends.

For all the complaining I’ve done about how a “new digital focus” is ruining the daily newspapers in my home state, I admit to liking the whole digital birthday thing.  I am a moderate Facebook user, and don’t get me started on Words with Friends, the one on-line game I play.

I liked my digital happy birthdays and being able to reach out to friends no matter where they are. I like Facebook, sure, and I’ll post about this blog as soon as I’m through, but we all know Facebook horror stories, and about how it’s been used to hurt people, on purpose or not.

Yes, there’s much to like about our digital, social media, on-line world, and there is much to be wary of.  And, I still want my daily newspaper as a newspaper – no matter how pleased I am at having this great international connection that’s the internet and the social sites that thrive in it.

And for all the convenience and the “wow that’s neat” that go with today’s digital focus, there is also the knowledge that there is a lot of knowledge out there about you and yours.  Just be aware, even as you value and enjoy the social media worlds you choose to be a part of - that a big brother of our own making is watching, and knows where you’ve been (digitally) and knows who your friends are. Kinda freaky if you think about it.

Yes, I liked my digital birthday (and my real one, too). I want thank those who stopped a minute and said, Happy Birthday! via Facebook. This is a great use for the interactive internet-based social media world that continues to change and make itself a part of so many people’s lives.

So, I vote yes for digital birthdays. But, I still want my daily newspaper in a newspaper, and probably won’t shut up about it. But that’s for another blog post.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

News rant 2: What the headline should have been

There is so much that bothers, angers and saddens me about the current news about the changes at Alabama’s three largest newspapers.

But what struck me strongest this morning, when I opened my newsPAPER to see the news about workers’ notification of job losses, is just how un-newspaper-like the story (company announcement) was presented, and, at least for now, printed.

It was not until paragraph seven that the “lead” of the story emerged – “about 400 employees statewide will experience an employment loss.” There’s your story, almost at the end of the story, and this in a news story about a news company.

When I worked for 15 years in corporate communications --writing news releases about job cuts and reorganizations, acquisitions, layoffs and closures more times than I care to remember, including the one that eliminated my job and more than half of our department – this would not have been accepted or even tried.

If we sent a news release to any newspaper or media outlet leading with dribble-drabble about “new focus” and buried the information about impact on people and communities, it would not fly with even a small town reporter-editor, much less a big city one. And rightly so. And we didn’t try. We in corporate communications – usually with former reporters in the mix – knew that the media would not and should not accept and run as presented a news release that buried the real news, the real impact on communities and people.
Reporter and editors would ask the questions about jobs and numbers and impact and rewrite the company statement to lead with 400 job cuts. (That’s 400 out of how many jobs?)

That would be the headline. It always was, and always should be, because that is the NEWS.

But when the company doing the downsizing owns the media outlets, the rules are obviously different.

To me, it’s just another disappointment.

For the reporters, editors, copyeditors, production, sales and delivery folks who got their manila envelopes Tuesday, the disappointment and worry is personal and devastating. Some apparently received the message that they would stay and others were invited to compete for some 100 jobs in the new companies. Others got the word that they are gone, job eliminated, and here’s the process to find out about your severance package.

There’s no doubt what was the NEWS in the newsrooms and composing rooms and print and delivery offices yesterday. I know that the reporters and editors at these fine publications recognize the irony that their news story was not really treated like other news stories. But, they have other concerns, most of them, like finding a job and applying for that max $225 in weekly unemployment. Good luck my friends, it’s tough out here, said the journalist-corporate communications manager-turned office administrator.

It's a small thing in the big picture, I suppose, when media companies bury the bad news in their news releases about job cuts, because they can.  I’m ranting, and I know it.

“Media company restructuring to eliminate 400 jobs statewide” -- That’s the headline that should have come with this latest announcement about digital focus changes, and it would have if this was an announcement by a manufacturer or a retail company, service center, sawmill, steel mill or a power plant.
And, it really doesn’t matter if this headline appears digitally (which it does in this blog) or in print. 

It’s the news, it’s reporting. It’s a free press in a free country.

And we’re going to miss it when it’s gone.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dailies demise is discouraging

Question: When is a daily newspaper not a daily?

Answer: When it no longer publishes a newspaper daily. I mean publishes, on paper, a newspaper that is delivered to your home and to the newsstands DAILY.

I’ve been bummed and saddened since the news (published in my still-daily-for-now hometown daily newspaper) that the three largest daily newspapers in Alabama will go to a three-times-weekly publishing schedule as part of a “new digital focus.”

Focus, bocus.

I’m as digital as the next person and, as a reporter for half of my ever-lengthening working life, I knew that the things have been a-changing for print media. But it’s still sad, and it’s still a loss for those of us, and we are many, who want a paper newspaper. That’s what it’s called, a newspaper.

But, beginning in the fall, The Birmingham News, Mobile’s Press-Register and The Huntsville Times will stop printing newspapers except on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers will (be left to) get their daily news from a revamped, new-and-improved digital source at al.com. Al.com is great, but I still want my newspaper, the newsprint, the ink on the fingers, the turning the pages to the story’s jump, circling something I want to remember, clipping out a story to keep or share.

Digital, smigital. It’s just not the same.

In staff reports and a letter from The Birmingham News publisher, there was talk of “reshaping how Alabama’s leading media companies deliver award-winning local, sports and entertainment coverage in an increasingly digital age.”  Al.com is being revamped and will be around-the-clock, seven-days-week news source. You’ll just have to go to your computer or smart phone to read about it (and bring the magnifying glass for those smart phone articles).

If I’m this upset about losing the daily in daily newspapers, I can imagine what my parents’ generation is saying – those folks who are not joined by texting thumb and finger to their digital devices and computers.

“Where’s the newspaper?” Ma asked. “ It’s in the computer,” Pa answered.

They probably feel like I do and others I know – bewildered at the idea of not having a newspaper to open and read every day. Reading a daily newspaper is something I’ve been doing my whole life, and writing for them is something I’ve done for half of it.

I remember when Birmingham had TWO dailies. I wrote for both of them – interning and working a Christmas break at The Birmingham Post-Herald (then the morning paper) the year before I graduated in journalism from Auburn and then being a stringer (another old-fashioned newspaper word, like daily) or correspondent for The Birmingham News in the 1990s.

I worked for a small daily that was then still a real daily, 7 days a week, at The Selma Times-Journal for years. (My Facebook profile picture has a younger me holding an Alabama map, at the crossroads in Selma, taken by veteran reporter Alvin Benn).

I’ve also been in the trenches at a weekly, The Auburn Plainsman, and a semi-weekly (twice a week) at The Auburn Bulletin back in the day. If a twice-weekly newspaper is called semi-weekly (which it is, not to be confused with a bi-weekly which we in the biz called a publication printed every two weeks), then what’s a three-times a week newspaper called? A tri-weekly?

I’m too depressed to look that one up.

No matter what you call it, a tri-weekly-supposed-to-be-a-daily or whatever, there will still be reporters reporting the news. I loved being a newspaper reporter, and I’d do it again in a minute. Nothing compares to it. Being a reporter, you can “ask people who don’t know things that are none of your business,” as one of my reporter heros Kathryn Tucker Windham used to say.

I loved news reporting -- gathering the information, writing for deadline, seeing your by-line and knowing you did the best you could do to get the readers (and believe it or not, we always thought about the readers) the best information, presenting in the most compelling way. But even four years ago -- when downsizing launched me from corporate communications-public affairs land and I thought I might go back to reporting -- newspaper reporting jobs were scarce. The veterans who taught us so well were retiring or being retired, trudging out the newsroom door. And, now the profession just took another hit. But, I’m pulling for you, you determined print-to-digital journalists. Hang in there. News is news; writing is writing. Communicating is communicating. I get it. I just don’t like it.

This change, this “new digital focus,” is about business, about surviving in a changing marketplace. I know that, and probably most disappointed subscribers of these never-again-to-really-be-daily newspapers understand that.

But, it doesn’t mean that we’re not disappointed at the demise of the daily. 

Goodbye old friend. My ink-stained fingers will miss you.

Song of the day:
I can’t think of a newspaper song, so in honor of the 71st birthday May 24 of writing genius Bob Dylan, I offer some of his words about change.

"Come writers and critics who prophecize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come gain
And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin
And there's no tellin' who that it's namin'
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'."

-- The Times They Are A-Changin’, by Bob Dylan (1963)

Picture of the day:

This one combines the subject, newspapers, with this precious picture of my first-born William Frank Walburn, who turns 30 on Sunday, May 27. Times, they do change. Happy birthday Will. And, the newspaper he’s holding, it’s The Selma Times-Journal, a daily.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Birmingham Arts Journal tells our storm stories

Poems, photos, paintings and prose about the fear and hope, color and light and losses and lessons of the devastating storms of April 27, 2011 swirl together in the latest edition of the Birmingham Arts Journal.

I’m honored to have one of my blog posts included in the five-by-seven-inch, 50-page booklet that is the all-volunteer, nonprofit arts journal.  The one-year anniversary-storms issue of the arts journal – now in its 10th year of publication -- is online at http://birminghamartsjournal.com/pdf/baj9-1.pdf

My own family’s storm story -- a posting called “Images of tornado devastation include horror, hope” --  appears on pages 12, 13, and 14. The original post on this site was May 16, 2011.

I attended a reading of this publication the day before the tornado’s one-year anniversary and met wonderful people who belong to the Birmingham Arts Journal, writers and artists all.

They include new members like me, and young artists like Nick Petelos, a recent fine arts graduate who created the painting that is the cover art for the issue. Nephew of the Hoover mayor, current Jefferson County manager (bless his heart) and apparent namesake, Petelos said he painted the picture as representing chaos months before the storms hit.

Others reading their words or there to hear them include Carolynne Scott, fiction writing coach whose classes in Homewood I hope to join this month, and Stephen Edmondson, whose business card identifies him as “Raconteur, Bon Vivant and Palmist” and purveyor of “Cherokee Rain Dances for all problems.” And, he writes well, too.

The Birmingham Arts Journal is a volunteer effort for its editor Jim Reed, who is master of ceremony at these readings and who curates the Museum of Fond Memories at Reed Books in downtown Birmingham; his wife, art editor Liz Reed, and production editor Kathy Jolley. Novelist Irene Latham is poetry editor, but she was not at this meeting.  I’d hoped to meet Ms. Latham. She wrote a book called Leaving Gee’s Bend, set in the same L.A. (lower Alabama) region as my novel. 

There were other novelists and writers and painters there, and just folks who love words and love to create. I felt at home with them, and that was great.

I liked all the pieces – Carolynne’s lament on trees lost in storms called “A few questions for the tornado adjuster” to Birmingham artist Nancy Lloyd’s “Tornado Over Tuscaloosa” oil painting. Check it out online or find a copy at Reed Books. A $5 (or more) donation to The Birmingham Arts Journal gets you a copy of the publication; $25 membership donation gets you a year’s worth and supports this labor of love for words, art and expression.

Song of the day
I’ll replace the song of the day with this poem about the day after the storms by Jessica Temple, a University of Alabama graduate in English who is now in graduate school at Mississippi State.

Jessica Temple
                        the day after
Plastic cups
still in their dispenser,
rest in the rubble where a restaurant was.

The hospital saw 600 patients in the first 5 hours.
40 children arrived alone.
Don't come if you only have broken bones.

Red X's on cars,
just additional scars
added to those already torn through the skin of the city.

A mailbox,
the day's delivery still in place,
displays the address of the house that should be behind it.

A dog still chained to a tree uprooted
from another plot of land,
must have surfed through the wind.

One man swears he was 30 feet above the ground,
riding in his iron bathtub,
Wizard of Oz style.

A cat found in a neighbor's apartment
hid under the wrong bed
since no walls are left between the two.

A student saw arms waving,
pulled a pregnant woman from her house
Then her child.
Then her mother.

My father saw a picture of a front door
with no house behind it.
Good thing you weren’t home, he says.
The girl nods, says, 
I was. 

A young man threw his nearly-naked body 
over his neighbor. Not to be a hero,
but because he thought the world was ending
and he didn’t want to be alone.

Picture of the day
Birmingham Arts Journal cover art by Nick Petelos, “Refractory”

Friday, January 27, 2012

No blog: Blame it on Words with Friends

Blame it on Words with Friends.

I haven’t blogged since late November, and I suspect it’s mostly because of Words with Friends, the Scrabble-like on-line game where I keep multiple games going with Facebook friends. It’s addicting; it’s fun. It’s challenging, and I like to win.  And “Words” has helped me waste computer time, time when I could have been waxing prose-like at jackierwalburnwrites.blogspot.com. Instead, I am searching for the elusive TW (triple word) square connection that will turn my J, Q or Z into a 50, 60, 70 point word. YES!

I’m not alone. Alec Baldwin blamed it on Words with Friends when he got booted off an American Airlines flight in Los Angeles back in December when he didn’t turn off his cell phone as the plane waited in line to take off. He was just playing "a word game for smart people,” Baldwin said, as he defended himself on Saturday Night Live later that month.

A word game for smart people. I liked that. And, I really like this on-line version of my favorite board game. It’s not the same vibe, of course, as the real board game with those wooden tiles and the neat little wooden couches where you line the tiles up and move them around. Our family still gathers to play Scrabble – our game old and worn and still with score pads from sleepovers and game fests gone by. We still play the real game whenever we’re together and I can talk them into it.

I play Words with Friends with several former co-workers and with my eighth grade best friend from Fairfield who lives in Florida now. I’ve played with my husband’s cousin from Washington State, with my niece, my son, my son’s friends and with Kathy, my former co-worker and fellow downsized Weyerhaeuser corporate communications manager, who beats me every time (so far) and who taught me the secret of the S.

I don’t play other Facebook games, and I don’t have a smartphone to play other games there, only a dumb phone that just calls and texts. I don’t accept invites from Facebook friends to join them in playing Castleville or Farmville or Hidden Chronicles or Pioneer Trail. I don’t even respond to the requests. Sorry about that. I am too busy playing Words with Friends, seeking that DW or TW, hoping for a U to go with the Q. No U? U can always go with QAT or QI. I didn’t know what these words meant until I looked them up.

Qat: the leaves of a scrub that can be chewed for a stimulant effect.

Qi: A variant of chi – the force in Taoism and other Chinese thought, meaning inherent in all things. The unimpeded circulation of chi and a balance of its negative and positive forms in the body are held to be essential to good health in traditional Chinese medicine.

But it does not really matter if you know a word’s meaning in Words with Friends -- aside from a word nerd’s joy at knowing the meaning of words like qi, qat and taj (Taj: a tall conical cap worn by Muslims as a headdress of distinction). But, believe me, meanings known or not, Words with Frienders know and love their QATs and QIs and TAJs.

I like to think that Words with Friends is my only on-line computer game because I like words and I like spinning them together. I mean, I get a headache just looking at a Sudoku puzzle.

And, even though I enjoy the mind-targeting challenge of Words with Friends, I miss blogging and hope maybe some folks miss me doing it. So, I look forward to more frequent musings, and songs and pictures of the day, in 2012.

But, for right now, it’s “my turn” on three Words with Friends games over on Facebook.

So, I wish you great qi and plentiful qat.

Word out.

Picture of the Day:

My Aunt Norma Ruth Romine Young, seated, with my stepmother Emily Love Romine at family Christmas at our house. I want to send best wishes for a speedy recovery to sweet Aunt Norma, my daddy's sister, who is recovering from hip surgery. 

Song of the Day:

In recognition of this week's tornadoes in Alabama, for the song of the day, I quote the first two verses of Shelter from the Storm by wordsmith genius Bob Dylan. I wonder if he plays Words with Friends?

Shelter from the Storm
By Bob Dylan

’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”