The Right to Twitter your mind

Technological progress has way of quickly influencing how we interact with one another as a society; the law tends to take a long time to catch up to these changes. There is no surprise then that often there is no clear cut ruling on cases involving new technology, particularly the emerging forms of social networking.

An example of such (found here) illustrates an emerging problem in our current world of social networking, what are we allowed to say now that we can communicate on a large scale instantly? In the linked story a British national, Paul J. Chambers was arrested in England after posting on twitter that he would blow up the airport. The tweet was tweeted after Mr. Chambers grew frustrated with delays at the airport. Convicted of sending a “menacing message” and subsequently losing his job, Chambers has become a perfect example of how we should all be careful of what we put out there.

Although this case happened in England and not in America, which has more freedom of speech, the risk of something being tweeted or posted on facebook getting us in trouble still exists. We have all heard stories of people losing their jobs over ill advised messages about their workplace or bosses.

When does a joke become a threat? How will law enforcement know the difference? There doesn’t appear to be any clear cut answer, and the legal system is going to take a while to catch up. We will have to moderate ourselves as social media users, taking consideration to what we write and how it will be perceived. There are no laws or code of conduct in place for social media, so it up to each of us to monitor ourselves.

Everyblock, the news next door

We live in an age of information overload. As we continue to find ways to disseminate information quickly to the masses we face a new problem, there is simply too much information out there with few ways to filter it.

I was recently exposed to a site that it seems is trying to alleviate this problem when it comes to local news. The site is everyblock.com and it does this by going “hyperlocal.” The site was originally funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation, but now owned by MSNBC. A newsfeed site that covers various cities across the United States, everyblock.com links news from various sources, thereby cataloging all interest worthy events in a given city, sorting it geographically and making it easily accessible

Browsing through the site I easily find interesting news stories in various neighborhoods in Miami, making me wish that where I live, Pembroke Pines was covered. I would be very interested in knowing about new businesses opening near me, robberies, following the trials of crimes committed locally and other events that quite frankly, just don’t make into the conventional news sources.

Taking into account my journalistic endeavors, I am even more upset that Pembroke Pines isn’t covered. This site is a useful tool for someone like me in my opinion. It is very refreshing to see so many stories, logically sorted that may otherwise slip through the cracks during the day.

To Define Myself and My Subject

A question has been asked that forces me to evaluate exactly how I choose to define myself. If I started and worked at a small, community minded news service, what subjects would I choose to cover as a journalist, and what “local” area would I focus on?

I guess this question is so hard to me to answer because I have never felt like I was really a part of any community or group. It is a childish sense of alienation that has pestered me my whole life. I’m sure it doesn’t help matters that I’m an immigrant. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Well there you go; I am a Jamaican immigrant currently residing in the state of Florida.

Does the fact that I am Jamaican and here in Florida mean that I am automatically relegated to writing stories about the Jamaican cultural experience in Florida? I hope not, mainly because I refuse to define myself solely on where I was born. Don’t get me wrong, I still do have a fond attachment for and appreciation for my Jamaican roots, I just refuse to let that be my sole character trait.

Inversely though I have to acknowledge that it would be a great disservice to myself, that in my endeavors to be a better journalist I ignore any unique perspective that I may have. So, I guess IProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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ill cover the Jamaican community in Florida, but I will do so with an eye toward those, who like me, are just trying to find a place to belong.

If my 10 years in Florida has showed me anything, it’s that there a lot of people who felt the same way about where they came from. There is a large Caribbean community here (I personally suspect that it has something to due with a plane ticket to Ft Lauderdale International Airport being the cheapest one out of the Caribbean). I figure that as I try to find my place in world, I may as well tell the stories of those who are as well.

Fiction and Reality, The Penny Press and The Murder Mystery

As a fiction writer now trying to be a journalist (or is that a journalist who tried to be a fiction writer), I am aware of the correlation between truth and fiction. It has been said that a truly great work of fiction is one that can tap into the mood and universal emotion of the time; meanwhile, a great work of journalistic writing is one that can tap into the universal truths that we all hold dear.

It is only natural for the two to take inspiration from one another. It has become fairly common for journalists to refer back to fictional works to explain real world events (disagree? Think about how frequently newscasters used to refer to crazed gunmen as going on a Rambo like rampage).

This borrowing of concepts doesn’t only go one way. Good fiction has to have a hint of truth in it to resonate with the reader; even the most fantastical works usually rely on the dichotomy between the real and the unreal. As the field of journalism continues to grow and evolve, fiction too will grow along with it.

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is considered to be one of the most important American authors, responsible for many of the tradecraft found in modern horror and mystery works. It is his work, “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” a short story and sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” written in 1842 that I feel best shows the correlation between fiction taking its cues from the news.

During the 1830s and 1840s, America experienced an influx of cheap newspapers meant to capitalize on the growing middle and working classes of the time. These newspapers, referred to now collectively as The Penny Press newspapers, because of their low price of only one penny in comparison to the contemporary papers at the time being six, were known for their direct style of writing and for writing stories based more on the present happenings of the communities they were distributed in. Many commonplace journalism practices started with The Penny Press papers, such as interviews and observations made in the field by a growing number of journalists.

The Sun

The Penny Press was revolutionary in that it combined sensational news with wide spread appeal. It also ushered in the age of political neutral reporting, sports coverage and daily editions.

 

 

An influential event in the history of journalism was to occur on the afternoon of July 28, 1841 when a group of men discovered a body of a young woman, drowned in the Hudson River. The woman, Mary Cecilia Rogers, had been restrained with a rope and her face horribly battered and cut. The coroner would later conclude that a hideous violence had been visited upon Mary Rogers and that the murder was done by two or three persons.

Normally a murder like this would have provided some, but not as large a flurry of newspaper articles as it did, if Mary Rogers had not worked as a sales clerk at a tobacco store frequented by many literary nobles at the time. She was well known to many of the journalists of the time who frequented the tobacco store and they quickly turned the mystery of her death into a flurry of newspaper headlines. The Penny Press essentially created a great murder mystery of the time as they competed to cover the details of the death of the “beautiful cigar girl.” The story would take many twists and turns involving suicides, the discovery of a murder site that had evidence that seemed planted and finally, a deathbed confession of guilt that to this day is still considered dubious.

This real life murder mystery would be considered notable but not as well known if it wasn’t for Edgar Allan Poe who would fictionalize the event and move the sitting to Paris in “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” The first murder mystery based on the events of a real crime and printed in 1842, it was a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

Poe had taken inspiration for many of his stories from events that had taken place in his own life. “The Fall of the House of Usher” was based on an urban legend that involved two bodies discovered during the demolition of Usher house on Boston’s Lewis Wharf. “The Cask of Amontillado” is also believed to be based on another urban legend of someone being walled up inside a building in Boston. It seemed the people in Boston tended to have skeletons in their closet.

I think the fictionalization of a news event proves the commonality between fiction writing and journalism, that they are both businesses. T is true that they both strive to higher ideals, the journalist wishes to spread truth and the novelist wishes to explore the human condition, but they both also need to sell their products and make money.

The Verve. Glastonbury Music Festival, 2008

The Verve

The Verve take the Pyramid stage

The Verve was the headliner for Sunday night during the 6 day long Glastonbury music festival. They started their set with “Bittersweet Symphony,” their first breakout single from their “Urban Hymns” album back in 1997. Bittersweet indeed I would imagine as this song in not only their most widely recognized and biggest hit, but was also at the center of a long legal battle between The Verve and The Rolling Stones over ownership of the song. It would be a legal battle The Verve would lose and would be forced to concede all royalties from it to The Stones.

None of that mattered today though judging by the way the band spectacularly launched into the song, the festival audience singing along with their native English band. The crowd clapped in unison, it may have been a music festival with other acts to perform, but at that moment the audience was there for The Verve.

Richard AshcroftThey followed up with “Love is Noise,” also from the “Urban Myths” album. It was a slower heartfelt medley punctuated by lead singer, Richard Ashcroft strumming on acoustic guitar.

They finished the set with “Love is Noise: from their “Forth” album. As with the other songs The Verve owned the crowd and gave a stellar performance, none of the problems that have caused the band to breakup twice in the past evident. Ashcroft’s chorus of “I want to thank you” and “let’s take it higher” repeated several times while pointing at the audience encapsulated their whole performance. This is a band that loves its audience and is equally loved back in return. After a one minute acoustic wind down the band humbly bowed and cheered back at the audience.

Show and tell, how much is too much?

Is there such a thing as too much information, especially in the business of newspaper reporting? Recently we, a journalism class at Florida Main building of the University of TexasInternational University, were given a hypothetical to ponder: if the front page story at the newspaper you worked at was a horrific school shooting and one of your photographers provided you with graphic photos of the aftermath, what would be your responsibility as a journalist in regards to covering the story on the front page?

One of the codes of ethics that all journalists should abide by is to: seek truth and report it. With this in mind it is not only a journalist’s job, but also his responsibility to report the news no matter how tragic or disturbing the public may find it.

But this responsibility to disseminate the truth does not give the journalist a license to glorify, sensationalize or otherwise trivialize the seriousness of any situation, particularly one as tragic as a school shooting. This is where one of the other codes of ethics for journalists comes into effect; a journalist must endeavor to minimize harm.

Compassion is an important trait for a journalist to have and cultivate. Although a front page story with gory photographs of school shooting victims would undoubtedly garner attention and possible boost sales, it would also be in poor taste and cause untold harm and mental distress in the community.

It is a journalist’s responsibility to report the news, to let people know what is happening, but is also his responsibility not to harm, physically and emotionally, his audience. The right thing to do in the hypothetical posited at the start would be to place the story on the front page as it is undeniably a story of public interest, but photos would have to be handled with the utmost care and consideration for the public’s well being, particularly those of the families of the deceased.

In Silence

I do not like silence, I never have. Those closest to me have told me that I have a dislike for silence bordering on Attention Deficit Disorder. Music playing in the background, a television playing something I’ve seen a hundred times before, any kind of distraction to alleviate my boredom.

It was never always like this, I spent much of my time growing up in Jamaica on a farm in the Blue Mountains. I would spend many of my days sitting amongst the trees enjoying the serenity of nature. Now though is different, now there is only the city of Pembroke Pines, Florida and cold concrete.

I am sitting alone in my room, the only quiet room in my house, what with my mother puttering around the house cleaning and cooking, and my sister being my sister. I find myself being forced to endure the silence of my room, a space which until recently has never really felt like my own. Until very recently the only contents of my room was a bed, a dresser and several boxes of books.

Now as I lay here I am overwhelmed by the smell of laminated wood, no doubt coming from the three sets of bookshelves I have recently installed. I never realized how many books I’ve managed to collect over the last decade of living in America. One bookshelf is devoted to comic books, another to novels and the third and final one dedicated to books about writing and World War II. A somewhat eclectic mix I imagine, but in keeping with my character to those who really know me.

The majority of the room is white: white walls, white bed sheets and white longboxes (used for comic collecting). I need posters. I have posters, several movie posters that I have collected over the years that now lay, still rolled up, in my closet. It was my plan to put those up once the shelves were done and maybe I shall in coming days.

Sitting on one of the book shelves my alarm clock ticks away. I always thought I was a bit on the loud side, but I’ve gotten used to it over the years. Outside I can hear birds chirping, my south facing window overlooking an overgrown bramble that the city of Pembroke Pines hasn’t seemed to have cleared to put up a shopping mall or town houses yet. The relative silence is broken every few minutes by the sound of a car driving by.

I am not enjoying sitting here in the silence. It’s the wrong kind of silence, It’s the silence of the city, the silence of people not being in the same room, but still in the same house. I miss the silence of the woods, the true silence of being alone with myself instead of hiding from others