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BCNI16 Review Part II

See Part I here.


I will not work for free! Freelancer Session

I will not work for free! Freelancer Session

Lesson One from BCNI16: I really should take notes at these things.

Back in the day, I’d incessantly click-clickety-click on my laptop, playing along with the recognizable soundtrack of the New Journalrusalem. At some point in the last eight years, I lost focus. Or, if one is generous, I concentrated on “just listening and absorbing” the lessons at BCNI sessions (“listening and absorbing” being the Newer Journalrusalem song-and-dance).

Next year I’m going back to notes. I may even bring an analog pen and paper notebook. (I KNOW! Crazy.) I want to write these reviews well and the fact is, I need to be reminded of all that I listened to and absorbed. A lot of knowledge is dropped at BCNI, and I’m only human. Basic info like the titles of the sessions I attended would be handy right about now. Unconferences don’t do helpful things like post the session titles online for post-erity (see what I did there). Searching through the hashtag, I came up with some photos of the board to remind me.


In the morning, I attended “Sponsored Content Isn’t Evil” given by Brian James Kirk and Michelle Freeman. Then I wandered a bit for the next session and ended up in Michael Gold and Daniel Victor’s “Objectivity in Journalism” session, which was standing room only (this is the session in which I corrected a speaker’s use of “girl” to refer to a grown woman in the room #notsad #willdoitagain).



In the afternoon, I attended Aram Zucker-Scharff’s session “Break the Internet for Justice! Using Content Fraud Techniques Ethically.” After that I went to Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato and Andrew Zaleski’s session “Freelancers Unite! How to Be a Successful Freelancer.” My final class was “7 Ways to Make Listicles that Don’t Suck” bravely given by Danya Henninger (why “bravely”? I’ll get to that in a minute [and yes, I know I placed the ? outside of the “”. Grammar evolves]).

Lesson 2 from BCNI16: I really should’ve taken notes. No, really. 

Although my work and dream (aka a published sci-fi novel) schedule wouldn’t allow writing up details of each session, if I had taken notes I could at least share key points. For now my crappy memory will have to do. Here are some noteworthy thoughts from or generated by each session:

Sponsored Content Isn’t Evil

We’ve moved on from promotional articles to event sponsorship and patron-artist relationships. This means one doesn’t write a glowing promo ad/article for Comcast, say. It means building a method through which Comcast can fund journalistic work. Sometimes this is underwriting of coverage of a certain subject (hopefully not in conflict with the outlet’s integrity and not related to Comcast’s image). Other times this is paying for lunch at events organized by the outlet. Said outlet may have a readership Comcast wants to meet in person, so sponsoring such an event gives Comcast access to that readership and gives the outlet some funding (above and beyond event costs). It’s no secret Technical.ly is sailing along on event sponsorship. Take a second, though, and absorb that: A news outlet is an event company, essentially leveraging its readership in order to provide those readers with quality news coverage. Innovative. And it MAY JUST WORK (see Technical.ly’s expansion rate into other cities). 

This made me think of my hyperlocal blog and whether or not I want to adopt one or more of the ideas that came from this session. I’m still thinking about it. Leveraging one’s audience means one must 100% commit to providing that audience with consistently high-quality journalism. Seeing that I don’t have media insurance (will get to that in a minute, too), I’m not quite sure I can ask the local government the tough questions. I’m not even committed to posting on a regular schedule, let alone dog the corruption cats in this town. Still, the session gave me some insights into the reader-producer relationship nowadays. We readers have always been leveraged. Being approached at an event by Comcast because they are interested in me as a customer or as a potential employee is not a bad feeling. Facebook’s creepy geo-tracking is a bad feeling. This is actually OK, if not (dare I say) cool.

Objectivity in Journalism

I arrived too late to this session to sum it up well. One thing I do have to say, though: Seriously? Seriously. Why are we still talking about this? Sociology, Anthropology and Psychology (and maybe even Physics) have statistically and categorically answered this question: The concept of objectivity as we’ve all known it does not exist. Why do journalists struggle so dearly and consistently with this concept? Thankfully Mr. Gold and Mr. Victor were on board with the truth, which is: humans aren’t gods; we cannot erase our biases.

Here’s my question: Can we move onto different theories on how best to deal with our biases? The social sciences could use some input on that, as they aren’t “applied” practices, as it were. Gold and Victor, I think, were trying to move the crowd in that basic direction, but, as always, there were a few holdouts. This is an education problem. J-school has some serious issues it needs to address.

Break the Internet for Justice! Using Content Fraud Techniques Ethically

Aram’s session, frankly, made my head spin. The easiest part for me to understand was how bots build fake accounts (to seem like real humans) and direct actual humans to sites that scrape other site’s content. A light bulb went off for me at this point, because for the last several months I’ve had what Aram described as “typically young, female, sexy” Twitter profiles follow me en masse. These profiles usually have no bio or URL and are simple aggregates of click bait. Here’s one I got today. I give it an A for effort, though, because this is the first of such accounts I’ve seen with a bio. See the tweets? Just links to arccasa.com. No real human interaction. 


Aram let us know that the bots follow real people on Twitter to lure them into following back, therefore lending legitimacy to the account. The fake account needs to appear to be real to get past other anti-spam bots on various sites. Simply following a real account, like mine, helps to gain that legitimacy. So I’ve begun blocking any and all accounts I find suspicious. I’m sorry if you are a real person and I’ve blocked you. You are a victim in spam war and content fraud. Contact me and I’ll fix it.

Content fraud and ad arbitrage are above my head, and I don’t feel confident enough to teach it to you at this juncture. But Aram gets it, and you should ask him. I do love the concept he put forth: use their weapons against them. When I have an explainer, I will share it. Aram’s a smart guy and a friend I’ve made purely through loving each and every word he’s had to say at all of the previous BCNIs (Got a book rec from him this time at the Happy Hour, too: Jennifer Government. Reading it now). 

Knowing who to block on Twitter is a major piece of info I got out of this session for now, though, and that’s worth TONS.


Aaron Jorbin had a wood bow tie to match his frames.

Freelancers Unite! How to Be a Successful Freelancer

More true, real, applied, actionable, valuable, priceless information came out of this session. I’m new to journalism, coming from IT and academic research. I don’t know the everyday ins and outs of the practice. One of the reasons I haven’t fully committed to my hyperlocal blog is because I have no insurance against getting sued. Perhaps young j-school grads aren’t aware of the workings of our civil justice system, but like the ancient Greeks we are a quite litigious society. Free speech isn’t free and one practicing it needs indemnity. I’ve been asking (the wrong people, obviously) for months about this. The answer came in this session. We were talking about contracts. Major news orgs have indemnity clauses in freelancer contracts that usually try to clear the organization of any liability if said org gets sued (which happens a lot). Presenters MBI and AJZ advised the freelancers that any clause so stating can be and should be removed from any freelancer’s contract. The organization is absolutely on the hook for what they publish; they’re just trying to get one over on the little guy. Don’t fall for it. 

So: media insurance. Apparently there is some writers guild option? I didn’t get that far in the session. I’ll keep researching. Any clues, please let me know. 

Other awesomeness from this session are some networking opportunities that have yet to come to full fruition for me but I’m hoping they do. That’s actionable, measurable stuff right there, folks. BCNI gets better each year for concrete information and advice, not just for beginners but for middle news managers and up. 

7 Ways to Make Listicles that Don’t Suck

Danya Henniger’s session as well as Brian James Kirk’s Sponsored Content Isn’t Evil session were presented honestly and bravely at BCNI this year by these two old school journalists, and it warmed my heart. Listicles and sponsored content are, by anyone’s standards, social media topics. These topics were shunned if not outright despised by the traditional journos in previous years of BCNI. It was awesome to see the concepts accepted as realities in this year’s New Journalrusalem.

(BTW: Are you wondering why I’m cheekily referring to the 1980s movie Working Girl and its Carly Simon theme song in this article? I’m “making a funny” as the kids say, but only partly. Working Girl [don’t get me started about the “Girl”] is about a bootstrapping Wall Street wannabe’s gritty methods in breaking down the old guard’s doors. You may think I’m referring to myself in the world of [tech/science] journalism here. Perhaps. If you’ve got some guts, though, think a bit more about the state of the 4th Estate and its practitioners. Go ahead. Let that river run. Be brave like Danya and Brian. I troll you all with love.)

As for Listicles, here are some of Danya’s points:

  • Don’t worry about rounding off. “6” is as good if not better than the standard “10” or “50.” Have a little journalistic integrity and include what belongs on the list and nothing else. If the number comes out to be 13, run with it. 
  • It’s OK to NOT include the expected entries on a list. There was some discussion in the room, though, about whether or not to address their exclusion. What came out of that chat, as far as I can tell: You can certainly write a headline like “9 Best Cheesesteak Places That Aren’t Tony Luke’s” to make it clear you don’t want to hear from the Tony Luke diehards. But it’s also OK to simply skip the typical expected stuff and not mention it. it’s up to you. Know the latter option may generate more comment hell. You’ve been warned.
  • Listicles aren’t evil, either, and their popularity helps pay the bills. Danya, who now works for Billy Penn but used to work for King of Listicles, Zagat, writes them with integrity and purpose. Lists are how we absorb info now and they are absolutely a method of honest reporting. Here are the top 2 things you need to do about it:
  1. Get over it
  2. Get onboard

Lesson 3 from BCNI16: Happy Hour is another place to take notes



Ken Grant selfie!

Happy Hour was fun and as always a great way to meet new people. I met two young Philly Biz journalists whom I won’t out here but I really enjoyed talking to them. Also saw some journos I haven’t talked to since the Pen and Pencil meetup after ONA14 (the 2014 Online News Association Conference which I attended thanks to a CPIJ and Knight Foundation Fellowship). They took my advice back then and disregarded the top-desk’s search for “Cinderella coders” for their newsrooms. (Code or Journal. There is no try. If you code, demand much, much more pay.) We chatted about Mr. (head of Temple’s J Dept) Boardman’s oped on the Pen and Pencil’s Off the Record meetups. Perhaps the journo community was abuzz about it, but I had to bring it up to hear any opinions on the subject. (Chris Wink had a FB discussion about it I found quite informative.)

Many familiar faces  were in attendance but I missed chances to say hello. Part of the reason for this is I’ve instituted a “no schmoozing” rule this year. As a naturally (and this is an understatement) gregarious person, I fear I can be somewhat of a pest. To mitigate this, I’m resisting approaching others at events. My theory is that if they want to say hello, they will do so. Sure, they may simply be distracted or busy, but that is also a reason why I shouldn’t bother them, right? I’m sorry if you were one of the “them” this year. I wasn’t ignoring you; I was letting you be. 🙂 Do me a favor and say hi next year. Hopefully I’ll be sitting with my best BCNI friend Heather Chin who couldn’t come this year because she was journaling things in her hometown of NYC. 


Other sources on BCNI16:

Emily McManus



WHIP Temple Student Radio








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Barcamp News Innovation 2016 – Review Part I

See Part II (with actual real info and great advice from sessions) here.


The lunch panel

On October 15, 2016 at the Annenberg Hall on Temple University’s campus in Philadelphia, PA, USA, 150-200 journalists and other media makers and watchers gathered for the 8th Annual Barcamp News Innovation (BCNI). The pure momentum of my yearly attendance to BCNI had me driving up Broad Street at 9 a.m. on a Saturday yet again.

I parked in the garage for the first time in 8 years. I know. You’re shocked. We proud (ex-)city dwellers usually raise the colors of Those Who Fight The Philadelphia Parking Authoritarians and defiantly park on the street. Previous BCNIs were held in the springtime but this year the date was moved to the fall. Since my lifestyle is most closely related to academia, my “new year” starts in late August/early September. My new year’s resolution is to work steadily and earnestly on a novel. In that vein, my schedule has endured some severe slashes as of late. The bloodshed rivals the Red Wedding. All extracurriculars are on the shelf. Parking in the garage gave me one less hill to conquer. (Don’t gloat, PPA. We shall duel another time.)

College campuses are awash in Ingress and Pokémon Go (PG) stops, and Temple is no exception. On the walk to Annenberg, I caught a few ‘mon and fueled up on supplies (dump the lower potions, keep the pokéballs). Thankfully I’m not one of those super-absorbed PG players, because holy crap, there’s a humongously huge hole in the earth next to Annenberg Hall. Temple has a lot more $$$ than it did when I was there in graduate school. I wasn’t expecting whole blocks to be dug out to make way for new buildings. But Annenberg was still standing, and I arrived there well to find it had not one but 2 PG stops out front. Bonus!

The Board – as in, food

Breakfast was happening when I walked in. The spread was lavish. Judging by the way they’d raided the table, my guess is journalists, like academics, are not typically treated like humans. I’d arrived close to 9:15; after the 9:00a.m. start but before the 9:30 board opening (more on that in a minute). Despite being early-ish, almost all the yogurts were gone. The normal people still had plenty of food to choose from though. I grabbed the last mixed berry yogurt and a cup of coffee. A plate of odd-looking bagels sat close to the yogurt bowl, but since it wasn’t labeled “Gluten-free” I dared not take one. None of the food was labeled. I knew there would be GF offerings, but for me, eating the catered food this year was like being a poison-tester for the Starks. I managed to flag a Miles Table worker later at lunch to identify the (meatless – why does everyone assume GF also means vegetarian?) GF sandwiches. At breakfast, the odd-looking bagels looked yummy but it’s a risk eating catered food with a label, let alone without one. I was happy with my yogurt and coffee. Plus, this food was practically free as it was included in my $15 ticket price, even if I couldn’t eat 99% of it. The caterer didn’t identify the vegan offerings either. In a room full of journalists, it’s curious no-one had a pen and paper to remedy the missing label problems. (Meh. Everything’s digital these days. Where’s my virtual reality overlay when I need it? The futurists promised me flying cars and VR. I got self-driving cars and games.)


Chris Wink directing the crowd’s attention to the day’s schedule

The Board – as in, schedule

BCNI is an “unconference” – a gathering where the attendees present. Surprisingly, the board – a pushpin-and-cardstock physical scheduling wall – never ends up being a Game of Thrones war scene. Spaces get taken up on a first-come, first-serve basis and these journos politely accept whatever sessions end up in the time slots. Fascinating. Yet they all end up being pretty great sessions.

Almost all the podcasting/social media crowd was not present. This is understandable, given the change of the season. Fall is big for conferences in that area of expertise. That’s the bad news. The good news is the concept of online reading and internet culture has been fully inculcated into the hearts and minds of Philly’s best and brightest journalists. I attended sessions (loosely) entitled “Listicles that don’t suck” and “Sponsored content is not evil.” That was heartwarming to see.

Side note: NOT heartwarming: hearing a Millennial male journalist publicly refer to a fellow attendee, a grown woman, as a “girl.” That’s not just a bad habit, it’s oppressive and HIGHLY offensive language. Such an egregious mistake is especially worrisome coming from a supposedly well-informed professional JOURNALIST – the true purveyors of our progress, the critics of our culture! What was more disappointing is that this violent error would have flown by unfettered and excused by his peers, had I not called him out. I’m not *really* one of his peers, am I though? I’m GenX and didn’t go to J-school. I come from academia and IT. The rest of the white males in the room let it pass. The crowd in that standing-room-only lecture hall would’ve rioted if that same white man had referred to a grown black man as a “boy” as if it were 1950. Yet I was the only one to call this man out for reducing an adult to lesser status. Doesn’t bode well for journalists as a whole, does it? Wake up, Journos. Those old white dudes who schooled you are doing you no favors.

Back at breakfast, I reviewed the board and caught up with old friends. I spent the rest of the day running up and down stairs. The lunch panel and the happy hour were both great. BCNI is an outstanding and absolutely essential networking and educational event for the Philly media community. This “review” is too long, though. I’ll have to break this up into a series. I’ll complete it over the course of the next few weeks. I learned a lot this year, perhaps even more than previous years, and it’s too much to share in one post.

Congrats to the organizers and the sponsors. Another BCNI to remember! More to come…




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The usual what & where of breakfast these days

The usual what & where of breakfast these days

I don’t remember the first time I encountered The Lie. I grew up with a biting skepticism of all authority, for various (and quite valid) reasons, so I’m sure The Lie was something in my consciousness from the first moment of sentience. But I don’t remember when it began.

I do, though, remember the moment where The Lie was solidified in my mind. I was in 5th or 6th grade health class, run by the school’s short, balding blonde, white former-high-school-wrestler gym teacher. He was a nice guy, actually. His glasses were too big for his face, but this was the early 80s and travesties like that happened on the regular.

Mr. Gym Teacher was in the front of the room, sitting on our homeroom teacher’s desk. We were taking about nutrition. He brought up a popular cereal commercial. He didn’t have visuals, as the money for such luxuries in a small parochial school in a forgotten county of Pennsylvania was non-existent. The media wasn’t necessary; every cereal commercial was the same.

“You know how all the cereal ads say, ‘a good part of this nutritious –or complete –breakfast,’?” Mr Gym Teacher asked.

This phrase was so ubiquitous we needed no other reference. Every cereal ad narrarated that phrase over a huge bowl of the product along with 2 slices of buttered toast and a glass of orange juice. Some scenes included a glass of milk [more milk!] or other breakfast foods like eggs and bacon.

We all nodded in recognition. Generation X was inundated with cereal commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. (If Baby-Boomer-invented robot overlords ever take over the world and we Xers need a secret pass phrase to identify each other, “Part of this nutritious breakfast” would be it.)

Our teacher asked, “What is wrong with that breakfast?” We yelled out some answers: doesn’t have enough fruit; no jam on the toast; the cereal was too sugary.

“No,” he said. “How many of you eat that much food at breakfast?”

Mic drop. Silence hit the room. No-one raised a hand. Until that second, I didn’t realize I had been wholly believing the lie those ads were telling. I’d felt shame my family couldn’t offer such “complete” breakfasts every morning.

In reality, our mornings were more mad-rushes to the bus than merry meets of the family. Orange juice was just not done, let alone toast and butter. It was cereal or nothing, and we had a bowl of cereal if we were lucky enough to have time to eat it and enough milk in the house. No milk meant no cereal at all. Powdered milk was an attempt to fill in the gaps but it was rejected outright by my brothers and me. The neighbor kids were out of any kind of milk more often than not, due to their (worse) poverty. They couldn’t understand why we simply didn’t try water or eat it dry. With milk being such a rare commodity in our whole apartment complex, we never, and I mean never, had a glass of it alone like the kids in the commercials. That would’ve been a selfish sin of the most cardinal kind.

Yet here I was, faced with the incongruent image in my head and the reality of not one hand raised. Didn’t middle class people, like my fellow students, who lived in big houses with big kitchens and two parents automatically have “complete breakfasts?” There I was, probably the most broke student in the class, and I wasn’t the only one that didn’t get a “nutritious” breakfast every day. The shock of it! With that small lesson, my teacher told me I was OK, that although I didn’t have the big kitchen or the fancy meals, I was normal (at least in this).

I’d love to say at that moment, as a young girl, I was anointed with holy wisdom and I dropped my obsession with escaping my less-than-ideal circumstances. After all, if the middle class breakfast was a falsehood, perhaps my higher-socio-economic-as-salvation was a bad theory, too.

That thought was cast out of my little brain as quickly as it came in. The “Does money really make one happier?” question still is a biggie for me. But now as an adult I can say it carries with it the “Lie” label. According to research, money can help one be happy. After a certain point, though, it is no help at all. Where that point exists is up to you.

Lately The Lie has taken over public dialogue, specifically around the 2016 Presidential Race. The Lie isn’t the candidates’ promises or their faults. It’s the illusion that ranting and raving on Facebook helps. It doesn’t. We’re all in a mad rush to work. To school. To the hospital. But The Lie has us thinking we’re the only ones. It separates us. It takes over our theories about life. It deludes us with unhappy goals. No-one ever eats that much vitriol for breakfast. Stop serving it.

As an adult, my challenge, now that I have the kitchen, the house, and as much milk as I could possibly drink, is to root out where The Lie is in my daily life. My suspicion hovers around wrinkles and looking younger. The beauty ads never say anything about FEELING younger, do they? That’s left to the vitamin spots.

Yet, I buy the creams and I take the vitamins.

That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? You can never find a good gym teacher when you need one. It’s up to me to decide where my beauty cream regimen ends, where my expensive pill tolerance peaks, or where my money/happiness point is.

I do know one thing: I have enough milk in the fridge. I married a man who keeps it stocked. 🙂

Choose well, Friends.

Photo Credit: Laura Blankenship on Flickr

Video: DigThatBoxTOYS on YouTube

The usual what & where of breakfast these days 0 comments


A gang of heavily armed thieves bound and gagged a woman, then robbed her

Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?


Here are some more headlines that portray the reality of the crime:

“Robbers took millions in jewelry from Kim Kardashian”

“Thieves with guns bound and gagged Kim Kardashian during brazen heist”

“Armed thieves attacked tv star by posing as paparazzi”

These headlines put the onus (and the active verbiage) of the crime on the perpetrators, not on the victim. Really makes a difference, doesn’t it?

Notice how other headlines portrayed the incident:

Kim Kardashian West Robbed of Millions in Jewelry in Paris” NBC News

Kim Kardashian West Unharmed After Being Held at Gunpoint” E! Online

Kim Kardashian West’s Robbers Likely Posed as Paparazzi Before Attack” People.com

According to recent studies reported in the Atlantic, the order of the perpetrator/victim in the headlines of a crime affects how much victim-blaming occurs in the incident’s aftermath (and active-vs.-passive verbiage, I dare to add). As we’ve seen with this case, Ms. Kardashian was victimized again by tweeters-with-blame, including famed designer Karl Lagerfeld.


Instead of blaming the vicious, soulless sociopaths who attacked a woman, tweeters blamed Kim for being a target for robbery. Kim “displays” her wealth too much, said Lagerfeld. She shouldn’t be on social media, said the masses –on social media, ironically.

Victim-blaming lets us shield ourselves from the truth that bad things do indeed happen to good people (like us!). Meaning: It is hard to accept that we are in danger when we go out into the world, no matter what we do.

Having empathy for victims means we must absorb and live with that truth. Doing so proves too difficult for many people.  When women get raped When rapists rape women, the headlines lead with the woman as the subject. She is the object in the sentence. She was raped A criminal raped her, but the headlines start with her as the active subject of the sentence. (See the Atlantic article for the Dan/Lisa example).

Let’s start by changing the way we say things: Brock raped (he’s not “a swimmer” anymore, he’s a rapist). Let’s change the way we see people (seemingly normal people rape). <- Yes! That’s a scary thought! Take a deep breath and deal with that fear. You’ll be a more empathetic person and society will benefit.

While it is OK to talk about how to keep oneself safe in a dangerous world, it is not OK to bring up that subject in the same article as reporting a crime. Safety talk and crime reporting are two distinct actions, and keeping them apart is the right thing to do. Victim-blaming serves to make us feel better (not safer), but confronting a culture that unburdens criminals of blame would make the world a better and safer place for us all.


Photo Credit: Yuvi Panda on Flickr


BarCamp News Innovation: October 15, 2016


From Technically Philly:

“The eighth annual Barcamp News Innovation returns to talk news process and editorial process.  Rather than the spring, this year we’re hosting the one-day unconference Saturday, Oct. 15 in the newly renovated Temple University Annenberg Hall.

More than 150 people attended last year, including representatives from the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC Nightly News, Business Insider, Google, Yahoo, Philadelphia Inquirer, Mozilla, Vox Media and many more. There were big consumer brands and B2B publishers and freelancers and editors and just about anyone a part of sharing information with communities.

It’s the biggest annual celebration of publishers, journalists, editors and content creators in Philadelphia. We want content strategists, podcasters and other media specialists to join us.”

This year the organizers have moved the event from the springtime to the fall. October 15th is the date. An entire Saturday filled with great knowledge-sharing and cross-cultural (i.e. journalism and internetters) exchange. I think I’ve been in attendance every year since its inception. Go the BCNI Philly website to register now. It’s like, $15. Total bargain. Usually includes bagels and coffee and lunch… and a lot of DOPE KNOWLEDGE. You should come.





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