Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Vegas first

I've been to Las Vegas enough times that there aren't many firsts left for someone of my income bracket. But this past Sunday, I dipped a toe into a different income strata and got to see Sin City from a new perspective ...

That's the view from The House of Blues Las Vegas Foundation Room which sits atop Mandalay Bay at the south end of The Strip. In a Spaceballsian bit of fortune, my college roommate's friend's brother's friend is Rob Belushi. Rob is an actor and also the son of James Belushi. Rob, who I met Sunday night on my 24-hour Vegas sojourn, was supremely generous and hooked up his friend, Tim, and then Tim's brother, Andy, and the rest of our usual Vegas crew by getting us on the list at the Foundation Room.

In addition to getting on the list, and a host taking us up the private elevator, we also scored a free round of drinks. BONUS because I was able to get a glass of 25-year-old Macallan scotch, which runs at least $477 a bottle according to the quickie Google search I just ran. Incidentally, we ventured into a club that served bottles of Macallan 25 for $2457ish.

But as amazing as it was to get a free glass of a scotch that I might not have again for a loooooong time and which was simply amazing, the views were even better (see above).

The rest of the trip though taught me one vital lesson, I cannot gamble alone nor ironically under a clock. While we were waiting to go from Mandalay Bay to another club, that Rob was awesome enough to hook us up to via a comp'd limo, we had about 25 minutes to kill gambling.

I sat down at a $15 blackjack table, which is actually the first time I'd sat down at such a high limit (welcome to non-profit teen newspaper editor Vegas guy's blog). Well, with only a few minutes to play I am not content to bet $15 a hand, but instead am betting $25 a hand, since throwing in one of my few green chips is easier than three reds. I know it's not, but it seemed it at the time. :o

Well, the higher limit sends Bill packing pretty fast but I am hanging on thanks to a big bet that came in. However, my up $50 quickly became a break even again. Sitting alone, I had the most intense bout of stupid recklessness of my gambling life. I put $100 on a single hand of blackjack. I've done this before, but this was the first time I ever did it WITHOUT feeling like I wanted to throw up. (A whole new sign of WHATTHEFUCKHAPPENEDTOME?)

Of course ... I get dealt something like a 15 (I've blocked out the details) and the dealer gets something like a 20. Needless to say voila $100 hand. Do I cut my losses at down $100 for the quick blackjack session?

UM ... I think you know where this is going ...

NO. I took a version of my bad joke advice and chased my big loss by betting big! And threw down another $100 bet (at, yes, a mere $15 table). And well, 30 seconds later I was down $200.

Thankfully the rest of the night was good times just hanging with the guys and I was still basking in the glow of a lucky, tense Arizona win over Texas.


Weirdest sight (BY FAR): a dude in an ASU t-shirt cheering for UofA during the NCAA tournament game against Texas. I didn't even know how to feel about this one. I know that there's no fucking way I'd cheer for ASU against any other team or even against getting sprayed by a skunk.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When editors are tone deaf

AOL, which owns TechCrunch and Moviefone, has gotten on the media-ethics-transparency radar because of a request relayed by the latter asking the former to tone down the snark in a review of the new Summit Entertainment movie Source Code.

The review writer, Alexia Tsotsis, balked at the request and standing up for independent editorial control everywhere outed Moviefone for passing along Summit's request.

In her response, Moviefone ed-in-chief Patricia Chui wrote:

2) This is important: We never told TechCrunch to change the post in any way. A publicist at Summit reached out asking if we could convey the studio's feedback to TechCrunch. We did so. If the editors had responded that they declined to edit the post -- which, naturally, is entirely their call -- we simply would have conveyed that information back to Summit.

The reality of our situation is that, as a movies site, we work with movie studios every day, and it is in our best interests to stay on good terms with them.
Here's where we get to the tone deaf editor part: 
Staying on good terms with studios means that we will relay information if asked. It does not mean that we would ever force a writer or an editor to edit their work for the sake of a studio -- or anyone else.
We take editorial integrity seriously at Moviefone, and it's painful to be depicted as a pawn of the studios when that is emphatically not the case. You may think it unseemly for a studio to request changes in an article; that's certainly your right. But the accusation of pandering on our part or crossing an editorial line is, to my mind, completely unfair, and I would hope that a reasonable reader would be able to recognize the situation for what it is -- overblown and unwarranted

Relaying information, if asked, as a way to stay on the good side of an industry that a reporter writing for a site owned by your corporate parent is covering might not qualify as pawnhood. But the great fear First Amendment defenders have is that the consolidated media will severely curtail what should be our freest marketplace of all—that of ideas and opinions.

And Chui's wet-tissue defense of serving as an intermediary of a request to ALTER EDITORIAL COVERAGE is a stark naked example that fear manifest.

The absolute last thing any critic wants is for her/his readers to question their objectivity, a concern grossly exacerbated already when the studios own publications, too. (I've always been impressed with how Warner Bros. movies can get ripped in Entertainment Weekly, both of which are owned by Time Warner.)

So when Chui tosses off this entire matter as overblown, she tacks on the perfect coda to her tone deaf editing symphony. Not only does she not get what she did was wrong on the micro level of the appearance of trying to influence coverage, but she also blows the macro level by failing to recognize why this example of fears of choked independent media was a big deal in the first place.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

1,000 words

As a writer I value the power of words so much; they have made me feel triumph, love, grief, lust, fear, evil and the miraculous. But as an evolutionary creature I am also moved by the image and this picture from post-quake/tsunami Japan broke my heart more than anything I've read. It's 5-year old Neena Sasaki, carring some of her family belongings from her home that was destroyed after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 15 in Rikuzentakata, Miyagi province. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images, via the Big Picture).

I'm not an image stealer, so please click on either of the links above to see the image in high-resolution on the Boston Globe website.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

It's easier to hate "anonymous"

Like lots of internet writer idealists who work on small news websites, I've long been annoyed (on my good days) at so-named content farms, like ehow.com. They're defined on Wikipedia as:

... a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views.[1] 

The big criticism is that these sites value page views, which attract dollars, over providing the best relevant information. Google has recently announced that it had changed its search algorithm to push these results further down.

The reason I've been down on them is that the small, independent teen newspaper I work for struggles to get page views, particularly our new adult-editor-written blog. Granted, we're not writing nearly often enough, nor maximizing our social media outreach to truly accumulate page views. Buuuuuuuuut at the same time, I hate that we'll never have the resources to simply publish post after post of keyword-jammed, semi-relevant-at-best articles just to increase our Google page rank as content farms are criticized for doing.

The result has been that like most of Internet users, I've found an anonymous villain to hate. Well, until Monday night. It turns out I know someone who writes for content farms. I've never had an in-person meeting with Christine Margiotta-Geraci, but we've known each other for years. She was a student at Newhouse who wanted to ask me some questions about the Albany Times Union. I answered and we struck up an e-mail "friendship" over the years. I've admired her drive as she went from interning at the TU to various other papers across the Capital Region and now to a public relations job for a school district.

I recently discovered her blog, which is linked to above and definitely worth reading if you're into social media, and in her most recent post she outed herself as a content farmer, someone whom I once considered "my enemy." And in fact the enemy of a truly democratic digital domain.

Well, like virtually everyone in 2011, who hasn't been the beneficiary of a Barack delivered extension of the GW Bush deficit-causing tax cuts, Christine has been trying to get creative earning some extra cash. I'll quick excerpt and let her explain:

I accept the fact that some of the stuff I’ve written for content farms is total crap. ... But when I put it into perspective, I’m still writing. ... There are so many worse things I could be doing for less pay that would require me to spend time away from my family. ... I’m not looking for sympathy. I felt the need to share my perspective plainly and honestly, because I’m tired of people bashing content farms and their writers when they don’t know the stories behind the stories.

Allow me be the first of the content farm haters to apologize, Christine. I feel like a Republican who has just learned that a longtime friend is the recipient of a government "handout" that he wants to cut in the name of inefficient bureaucracy.

So I'm done begrudging anonymous writers for trying to make a living. The economy sucks and the poor are getting ignored while the middle class is getting turned into the poor, because Barack and the Dems are wilting in the radioactive glow of John Boehner's orange-glo. What we really need is a content farm union!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bad citizenship

The polls in Los Angeles open in 8 hours 15 minutes. I will not be voting. I cannot in good conscience cast a vote when I haven't done any research into the nearly one dozen ballot measures. Of all the things I forgot to do after the move, namely addresses I forgot to change, my voter registration is the most important. One of the reasons I didn't do my research is because I never received the voter guide that contained the sample ballot and noted my polling place.

Without the reminder of the ballot sitting on my desk, the election never burrowed its way into my consciousness, despite the fact I read the Los Angeles Times every day. And since it never took root in my consciousness, I never pushed myself to do the necessary election prep.

Sadly, the city clerk's website and the county registrar's site don't give ANY information about how voters who have moved should proceed. I know that I can vote, but I have no idea what I should bring with me to try to expedite that process, given that I won't appear on the rolls for my new polling place. And I don't have the paperwork that I would normally present to my old polling place.

And jadedly, I don't want to bounce between polling places for a fucking March election. I can't stand that in California I can vote as many as three times a year—March, June and November.

In light of the democracy revolutions and protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and China, I feel a stinging sense of disappointment in myself. But at this hour of the night, I am not sufficiently disappointed in myself to rectify that.

But it's not all laziness. I take voting seriously. Despite my hardcore liberal leanings, I don't want to simply vote Left or Dem. And though I highly respect the Los Angeles Times, I don't want to follow its endorsements unquestioningly or even with just a simple and too fast read. 

Dammit. I hate when I blog about me sucking.