Feedback

My mind is racing at this ungodly hour of the night/day. So I decided to fire up my laptop and perhaps capture some snippets of what’s been bugging me.

And what a coincidence. As I was looking at my e-mail, I was led to this Poynter Institute column “Great Bosses Know: Hire Good People, But Don’t Leave Them Alone.”

The thing is, finding good people is always a big challenge for managers. Keeping them is a steeper hill you have to climb. What’s interesting is this point:

 …the most important thing great bosses do is help others succeed. As I write in “Work Happy,” the way to accomplish that is to modify that hot-button management mantra I so dislike into something far more helpful:

Hire good people and give them great feedback.

That last statement hits home.

Review: ‘The Drunkard’s Walk’: How Randomness rules our lives

I have to admit, the book title itself piqued my curiosity. Now, it’s hard to put down this brilliant work by Leonard Mlodinow who is a physicist.

New York Times wrote this wonderful review:

Mlodinow — the author of “Feynman’s Rainbow,” “Euclid’s Window” and, with Stephen Hawking, “A Briefer History of Time” — writes in a breezy style, interspersing probabilistic mind-benders with portraits of theorists like Jakob Bernoulli, Blaise Pascal, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Pierre-Simon de Laplace and Thomas Bayes. The result is a readable crash course in randomness and statistics that includes the clearest explanation I’ve encountered of the Monty Hall problem (named for the M.C. of the old TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal”).

Such books make me wonder why my physics professor couldn’t make that subject interesting back then? It’s not that I hate Physics. I love it. But there are a lot of concepts in physics or mathematics where I go off into lala land. Prof. Mlodinow has avoided boring me about all these weird concepts, and that makes this book a good read.

This one is a good buy!

Secret here is to always find something relevant in our daily lives that you can connect hard topics such as physics.

Telling a story, Gonzo-style

I recently told my class to write a story about a new experience. This assignment was partly inspired by recent readings on Gonzo journalism, a style that was first associated with Hunter S. Thompson who popularized this style of journalism.

Thompson has inspired other writers. This style, which was often described as a “stream of consciousness” (more like writing from the hip), has sparked a new genre of journalism, but it has also earned some ire from traditional ones. This style is tough, especially after years of being told to follow a certain formula.  This formula is simply called “5Ws1H” — no, that’s not a secret code that  journalists only know.

We read the news today to answer these basic questions: what, who, when, where, why, and how. We want our news quick.  Now that we have Twitter, we only read (admit it!) the headlines, and move on.

So back to the classroom. I currently teach J109, which is an elective that is described as writing for a popular audience. The shorter description will confuse you more, so I will spare you the details. But think about that short description: writing for a popular audience. Further reading of the course outline, I found out that I was tasked to help students write about technical topics/issues using techniques in journalism.

As journalists, we’re trained to be generalists. We are trained to absorb a lot of information. Then, we have to make sense of it. If we”re given a rock, we need to tell me what kind of rock it is, and where it came from, or where it has been. Perhaps, it’s a chip of  a block in a landmark in our town hall. It might be a heavy piece of meteor rock that fell from the sky one chilly night. It’s heavy and it’s black. It might be a smooth slate we picked from a brook.

Yes, we need to master the basics. But that doesn’t stop you from exploring other styles of writing. Gonzo or whatever it may be. As long as you tell it like it is.

‘Bloggers as saleman’

Interesting observation at Baratillo.net about the increasing number of bloggers being invited to cover events. It goes:

I do not know if you notice it but in the past few months there has been an increase in the number of events bloggers have been invited to. There have been more than a baker’s dozen of food tours. And there have been more tech events than Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs. And a lot of bloggers have been invited to these events.

They happen one way or the other, most of the time. And it is a good thing bloggers are invited. But are there times when a blogger abandon his role as a blogger and starts to be the defacto spokesperson or salesman of a product the event launches? Is this a good or bad thing? Are the principles of the blogger compromised? Does it seem that the blogger has sold his soul for a shiny new product because it was given away for free or he/she is part of the viral campaign?

In essence by doing such things does the blogger depart from his original role and thus become just a mouthpiece of the product? He ceases to become a blogger and starts being the Goebbels – the online propaganda Czar of the product.

As you would read along, you’ll be encountering words like “objectivity,” which is an idea familiar among journalists. What is objectivity? The answer to that question will likely lead you to endless debates. I would rather use responsibility. But that’s another issue. Anyway, let’s go back to the article.

Has the blogger by doing this sold his or her soul to the Devil? A devil that comes in the form of a free meal, a shiny new camera or even a new phone?

These are questions that have been from time to time in my thoughts as I see things shaping in the community. It is a concern. It is a similar concern to that mania of hits, page impressions and ranking mania one sees among blogs … but let us leave that alone for awhile.

A few things to consider or thoughts that come to my mind:The blogger has the option to write a post or not and f the blogger then decides to write a post, a series of posts or even publicly state that he or she believes in the product is this wrong?

Only if he does not believe in the product or he is doing this without giving the product a critical eye.

If a blogger does not believes in a product and then endorses it or even promotes it then I think he or she or I (if that were case) would be selling out – dropped the role of the blogger and become the salesperson of the product.

Here comes the dilemma. One way out of this is not to write about the product or whatever is being promoted. Why don’t they write about something that is not related to the event. Or probably they can focus on certain issues? I remember writing a product review in the past. When it came out, I was branded a “pro-this,” and “anti-that.” The review narrated my personal experience with that certain product, which meant it highlighted the pros and cons, and general observations compared with other existing rival products. Mind you, it’s really hard to do reviews because it takes time and keen observation to point out what’s hot and what’s not.

People have their biases. Perhaps the best way of approaching the dilemma cited in the article is to become more responsible about what you write. Just my two cents’ worth.

‘Online media can help newspapers tell better stories’

I found myself sitting in a new and cold lecture hall in Ateneo this morning, listening to American associate professor Janet Steele who shared her insights about narrative journalism. (It so happens that I’ve bought a book titled, The New Kings of Non-Fiction, an anthology of well-written stories done by known and unknown journalists, several months ago).

The lecture was attended by students, professors, and journalists who sat for more than two hours, listening to her interesting talk on narrative journalism in the age of new media. Questions were raised. One question pointed to the role narrative journalism in the age of new media. Ms. Steele said that online media can help newspapers tell better stories. She picked examples from the Washington Post, which I believe is one of her favorite American newspapers.

Her words got me thinking, how far have we Filipino journalists used narrative style in reporting news? Just a brief explanation. Narrative journalism or reporting uses literary devices to tell a story. It’s not your usual inverted pyramid, which has been the practice for decades.

Ms. Steele gave some examples she picked from, well, Washington Post. As she read the lines from these narrative journalism pieces, it was evident that good journalists can turn simple news into a wonderful piece of non-fiction that allows readers to better understand the context of stories. They learn about characters, the scenes, the multiple perspectives, and the of course, the story.

One question was raised: has narrative reporting changed how journalism is done in newspapers? Hard to say, she said. But it was evident that narrative reporting is a technique being used to captivate readers, at least in the US.

Check this excerpt from the New Kings of Non-Fiction, and understand how good storytellers can turn straight news into a literary piece.

Finally, Ms. Steele pointed out:

“There is still a place for narrative stories in an online age. They bring all stories in a multimedia package. But nothing replaces good reporting no matter what platform is used.”