On the Internet’s Lawless Frontier

11 03 2010

If you haven’t heard of it yet, perhaps you should check out Topix.com, specifically this part.

The team that created this had a genius idea. They constructed forums specifically for every single town in America, no matter how small, and then gave any visitors instant access. Like the comments section of an article, simply input a username, your response, pass a bot test and your insightful, informative comment is instantly posted. There is no e-mail registering, no system to prevent multiple postings under different names and not a damn moderator in sight.

It is incredibly easy to create a topic and then populate it with fake posters. Comments are never removed once up, it’s the Internet Libertarian-style.

Though a forum, it also serves as a “news” outlet, if by news you mean rumors posted as fact. In this way, it is actually a kind of competition for my employer, Bardstown’s tri-weekly newspaper The Kentucky Standard. I peruse Topix daily for a few professional reasons – to keep track of what’s on the mind of Bardstown citizens, to check for any references to the newspaper – but mostly for its pure entertainment value.

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In Pursuit of Public Service

3 02 2010

With several prominent local officials deciding to collect their retirement checks, the races for county positions are full with hopefuls looking to work on the government’s dime here in Nelson County, Kentucky. Nearly every office is contested and there are in fact 12 Democrats and one lone Republican gunning for County Clerk, a job noted for its low level of responsibility and high rate of pay.

I would direct you to the source material, but honestly the stories are not the most exciting piece of journalism I have ever done. Instead, I’ve provided the follow transcript that is a mash-up of the many (too many) interviews the staff at the Standard has done with candidates for county positions.

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What’s Fact When the Facts are Factually Unsound?

20 01 2010

Conversationally, I can be a bit fearless – willing and ready to debate whoever about whatever. In essence, I have opinions that I don’t mind voicing. Now, with some experience as both journalist and blogger, the evolving nature of how we express what we think to be true has turned out to be different than my original expectations.

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The Joys of Rural America

5 01 2010

I’ve been residing now in Bardstown, Kentucky, since the middle of October and I’ve gathered some impressions about my new location. I never imagined myself as the kind of person who could stand to live in sub-20,000 population community and this largely remains true. Yet, Bardstown has a surprising amount of charm despite its diminutive census count.

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The Grass is Always More Blue on the Other Side

8 10 2009

After months of continuous searching, applying and being rejected, I have at last convinced a newspaper that I would make a worthy addition to their staff. Those poor fools at The Kentucky Standard. My stint of table waiting has come to an end (Thank you, sweet Jesus), and now I’m heading down south to Bardstown, Kentucky, to the land of Bourbon and Bibles, in service of democracy, freedom of the press and special sections promoting unbelievable deals by local merchants.

This will not be my first experience working at a community newspaper. Before I hopped a plane to Korea, I had been employed as reporter/editor/fall guy for the prestigious Lake Sun Leader, covering everything local and happenin’ for the Lake of the Ozarks area in central Missouri. As it turned out, there wasn’t really a lot happening, but I covered it any way. Are you a middle-aged cover band playing “Mustang Sally” three times a night for other middle-aged hoosier tourists? Congratulations, front page of the weekend Entertainment section.

I also wrote a video game column which contained slang and terms that vexed my publisher endlessly. He was convinced such language was the result of grammatical error rather than an intimate understanding of the subject matter. In fact, not a single person on the staff played video games or very much understood them or the culture surrounding the hobby. Yet, when I announced my departure from the paper, the first thing everyone said to me was not “Oh, too bad, we will miss you” but rather “So, are you still going to do that video game thing?”, even the moms from the sales department.

The job involved more editing than writing and as such allowed me to be blamed for all the mistakes that my editor did not catch. For some mistakes, however, I can claim sole responsibility. For example, the last of my nightly tasks involved sending the finished PDFs of the newspaper pages to the printer. A simple job that I usually finished with complete success. Yet, through a process still mysterious to me, I once managed to substitute the next day’s paper’s opinion page for the archived version of that page from exactly one year ago. Though this greatly enraged my publisher, I’m convinced most of our readers didn’t even realize the switch.

My new gig will involve considerably more writing though not really anymore prestige. My concern will cover two primary beats, Education and “Cops n’ Courts.” Though the latter may sound like a poorly conceived reality TV show, it’s basically means reporting on any sort of serious crimes, trials or accidents that occur. So, if you live in Bardstown and manage to drunkenly knock over the giant fiberglass rooster at the gas station on Rt. 245 before plowing headlong into the Baptist church’s Halloween display (splattering pumpkin guts everywhere) only to emerge nude from your vehicle and protest your innocence when the cops arrive, I’m probably going to put your name in the paper.

Hopefully, events equally adventurous and hilarious will occur during my tenure at The Kentucky Standard, which I will chronicle here. Though I do not own any guns, have never voted for a Republican and can read above a 5th grade level, I’m sure I’ll have no problem fitting into rural Kentucky life.

Author’s Note: The above remarks are only meant in jest and in no way do I mean to offend or insult the fine people of Kentucky. Both my parents were born and raised in Lexington. I have visited the state many times and have always enjoyed myself, and I am looking forward to taking up residence there.





A Life of Servitude

21 07 2009
An example of a menu item from California Pizza Kitchen.

Even though it is called California Pizza Kitchen, all of the menu items at my work are made in Illinois.

My stint as a waiter has started in earnest at California Pizza Kitchen. I have been cut loose from the training strings and now fake happiness, laughter and general enjoyment to seated patrons on my own terms. My nature has always been prone to indulgences in self-reflection and spontaneous mental vacations, so I wondered, prior to beginning the job, how that would jibe with the responsibilities involved in serving.

In truth, not very well.

Matters become worse earlier this week when a cocktail of drugs prescribed to me for a rapidly escalating case of poison ivy (acquired this weekend via gathering firewood in the dark) plunged me into a mental fog. I moved about the CPK floor, dimly perceiving shapes in the haze and engaging them in conversation as best I could. To describe it in a modern sense, I could feel a significant amount of lag between the time I heard a customer say something and the moment I could bring forth a response.

My brain felt suspended in a thick porridge and incapable of operating with the kind of rhetorical agility usually associated with earning good tips. I’m sorry, group of wise-cracking old ladies, but I cannot issue a rejoinder to counter your overflowing wit. My apologies, mother and young child combo, but today I am not able to cater to your every pressing need, so you will doubtless become fussy and agitated. I humbly regret any errors, business men discussing something in earnest, but you are probably not paying attention anyway.

Oh God, teenagers. Please just go away, you are pretty insufferable and you should know that drinking so many sodas in such a short period of time is like asking for diabetes for Christmas when you are forty.

Serving enjoyment aside, I’ve spent the time since my last update completing some other writing endeavors, which I would kindly ask that you view. If you assess any enjoyment from reading the following, please leave a comment expressing your general satisfaction.

I’ve written a little piece of fiction as a kind of creative writing exercise for a blog I maintain with some friends. I had a lot of fun creating it in hopes that you would have fun reading it.

Also, I’ve done some more work for Matador, a travel Web site that has previously published my stuff. This time around it’s sports-related, a quick guide to becoming a long-distance running all-star.





Another Stellar Recommendation

24 06 2009

I am motivated to write this post by the same impulse that directed me to recommend the fantasy fiction of George R.R. Martin. In conversations that cover the subjects of literature or journalism, what one likes and one doesn’t, I often deliver the same sermon extolling the virtues of a weekly radio production from Chicago NPR station WBEZ. Such endless recommending can become tedious, its listeners began faking interest and I am often frustrated that the full extent of its merits is not conveyed. Hence, this post seeks to rectify this situation by providing a definitive account of the subject.

"Every week we bring you a theme and a variety of stories based on that theme"

"Every week we bring you a theme and a variety of stories based on that theme"

“This American Life,” hosted by Ira Glass, consistently delivers a show remarkable in its storytelling, relentless in its journalistic legwork and surprising in its content. It is some of the finest American journalism being produced today.

The show is structured around a theme, conceptual creative and various in scope, with a series of stories, or acts, that relate to the week’s motif. The number of acts per show changes, two to four is typically, with bigger one-act tales coming along occasionally. One show even attempted to cram 60 one-minute acts into a single episode.

The show uses a staple of regular contributors and producers and occasionally includes work by well-known non-fiction authors such as David Sedaris or Dan Savage. Some acts are journalistic retellings, full of interviews, others are personal essays read by those who wrote them and even short stories make rare appearances. While the show has a general formula, the crew at WBEZ constantly finds new ways to tweak and explore the show and what can be with it.

The medium of radio is ideal for the show. Unlike television, which clearly separates the viewer from the performer, radio has a transformative intimacy. As you listen to people tell stories (tragic, funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming, shocking, informative, inspiring, refreshing, gut-wrenching stories) in their own voices and struggle to express them in their own words you feel a closeness to the person and the story.

With a full hour straight through, no commercials, each act is given enough time to develop, evolve and change. There are no hurried edits, one-line cuts or soundbites. Each issue is thoroughly explored and each episode gives you something you didn’t have before, be it information or insight.

For “This American Life,” the success is in the stories. As I listed a few paragraphs up, the range of emotions evoked in a single episode can vary wildly and some of the tales will stay with you for a long time.

In particular, I will always remember the story of a kid whose father, an electrician and TV repairman, dies of a heart attack. It’s the 1950s when his father dies, unwarned and unaware about the risk factors contributing to heart disease. A few years later, the kid decides in typical childish fashion, to dedicate his life to inventing time travel, to save his father before it’s too late.

And for most, this is where the story would end. The kid grows up and realizes that time travel is not possible, just the dream of a distraught child. Instead, the show traces the course of this kid’s life as he goes to college for physics, becomes an engineer and spends the next few decades of his life trying to make time travel possible. He undergoes ridicule and accolades, setbacks and steps forward, love and divorce all in effort to warn his father, to get a couple more years to spend with him.

You can hear “This American Life” as part of the weekend programming for most public radio stations or download the podcast from their Web site or iTunes. Worth a listen, I promise