3 Videos That Grabbed My Attention This Week

People email me videos constantly. In just a few days my inbox seems to fill up with short films, mostly from YouTube, that my friends and relatives (sometimes complete strangers) handpick for my enjoyment. And I love it! I can’t get enough of these quick comedies, dramas, autobiographies, etc. in an endless stream of creativity. Here are three videos that caught my attention, along with the masses, this week.

The Paperless Future – “Emma”

Can you really be a fan of paper? Well I know that I am and then some. I would not want to live in a world where my book collection is digitized. Of course there are other concerns if paper goes away. (Thanks mom for sharing this video.)

After Ever After

Brilliant! Not much more can be said about this video that is intelligent, creative, and given the finished product, an amazing piece of editing and timing. If you enjoy this video you may want to check out Paint’s “Movie Villain Medley” from 2011.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay

Marina and Ulay fell in love and their performance art blossomed as a result. When they broke up they of course made a big deal about it and each walked from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, met in the middle, and then never seeing each other again. That is until years later when Ulay showed up at Marina’s MoMA exhibit when she was sitting across from strangers and meeting their gaze. It’s an amazing reaction when Ulay sits down without Marina’s knowledge of his attendance – just lovely. (Even James Franco stopped by.)

Which videos pulled you in this week? Share links in the comments section below.

Breaking News: Are You a Chicken Little or a Sensible Simon?

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 7.18.36 PMNow that we have access to information from around the world 24/7, it’s up to us what we believe. The faster it arrives in our feeds the quicker we can pass it along as truth to our followers. But what if our sources have it wrong? Are we adding to the confusion? When it comes to breaking news, are social media outlets such as Twitter just one big game of “Telephone”?

Case in point: Lil Wayne.

As of Friday evening everyone seems to agree that rapper Lil Wayne is in a hospital, but that’s where the stories diverge. If you believe @LilTunechi’s Twitter account then he is doing well:

If you follow Lil Wayne’s friends then he may just be watching the Syracuse game:

With more information to come:

However, if you read tweets and reports from @TMZ you may have learned that Lil Wayne was in a coma, receiving his last rites (TMZ has since removed this “deathbed” detail from its story). The media outlet has posted several brief reports on Twitter including:

Which leads to news reports like this:

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 6.52.00 PMFollowed by this:

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 7.39.24 PMAs reports break on stories around the world, the speed at which we receive information is unbelievable which is why we should always take a beat and wait before adding to the noise. Or at the very least, admitting to our Chicken Little mentalities and posting our corrections in full view of our followers.

How do you share breaking news?

Promo Stunt Markets Murder

Would you try to stop a murder if it was happening right in front of you? That’s the question that was asked by Thinkmodo during a promo stunt for the upcoming film Dead Man Down. (The stunt is reminiscent of this elevator prank in Brazil that went viral.) The reactions, which you can see in the video below, alternate between fight and flight, however it raises many questions regarding its production.

A few of the immediate questions this video raised for me were:

  • Was anyone actually hurt? (I can imagine a boot to the head happening at least once.)
  • Who would sign a release to use footage of them running away? Were they paid?
  • How many people did they video to edit down to these reactions?
  • How many of the “real people” were actors?

What questions did this video raise for you? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Taylor Swift ft. Goats, Paper Towels, and Nicolas Cage?

It’s Thursday afternoon (at least out here in California) and you’re sitting at your desk, bored. You’re in between projects and you need a little pick-me-up, a smile, a quick guffaw. Since you cut caffeine out of your diet at New Years (good for you, going strong two months in) you need something other than coffee to perk you up. Time is passing by quickly and you only have a few minutes before you need to head off to a meeting/start in on your next bit of writing/check in with your boss/etc.

I give you three viral videos quickly sweeping the Internet. They are listed in order from best (goats) to Nicolas Cage (worst) and paper towels (more of an intermission). Tied together with a sweet Taylor Swift song? What more could your flagging energy levels ask for?

Goats (be sure to watch this one to the end)

Paper Towels

Nicolas Cage

Harlem Shake: Harlem Responds

According to Gmail it was 10 days ago, February 9. That’s when a friend emailed me some “Harlem Shake” videos and said he wanted to jump on the bandwagon to promote a local nonprofit. My exact words, looking back at my response, included “stupid” and “people are bored”.

I usually enjoy a decent viral video but this seemed cheap. It was copycatting and did not involve unique ideas. Nobody was building on the idea, only adding to the amount of product that was available. Though I wasn’t a fan, like many others I failed to even question its authenticity.

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 3.26.30 PMAs the “Harlem Shake” fad winds down, it’s interesting to hear from the neighborhood that invented the dance. Watching this film by Schlepp Films can teach a lesson that many reporters already know: do your own research. In other words, don’t just build on what you are presented with, dig deeper.

Listen to the people being interviewed and give some thought to how many tweets, posts, or videos we respond to without properly digesting their content or questioning the source. We need to do more of that before we provide a thoughtful response or more often, silence.

About the video (from SchleppFilm’s YouTube post):
Street interviews with members of the Harlem community, and their views about the popular ‘Harlem Skake’ video trend. Videos shown to participants included versions from DizastaMusic, TheSunnyCoastSkate, & PHLOn NAN
Song ‘Headspin Long’
Licensed by Apple Garage Band

House of Cards: Cutting the Cord from Online Dispatches

house_of_cardsWhen I finished watching the last episode of “House of Cards” the other night, I spent the following few minutes reading an article by The New York Times’ Brian Stelter.

The piece focuses on the increasing difficulty of discussing entertainment presented in a format that allows binge viewing. Specifically Stelter wonders how viewers will be able to discuss episodes on social media without spoiling it for others yet to strap themselves down for the initial gorging.

Netflix’s release strategy went against the grain of “social TV,” the catchall term for viewers who virtually watch TV together by chatting along in real time on Twitter, Facebook and other Web sites. Jenni Konner, one of the showrunners for HBO’s “Girls,” made the point this way on Twitter on Sunday night: “I don’t know how to talk to people who aren’t at least halfway through ‘House of Cards.’ ”

I am guilty of participating in social TV, most recently when I keep one hand and one eye free to scroll Twitter during episodes of “Downton Abbey”. I experience the occasional chuckle provided by a fellow viewer’s snarky observation but reading these updates is proving worse than sitting in a crowded movie theater where everyone whispers questions to their companion.

While the art may stand on its own, audiences seem to yearn for a connection away from it, pulling themselves out of bankrolled moments crafted for complete concentration and hitting the feed bar with each mouse click for another reward earned from their due diligence.

Watching “House of Cards” was a breath of fresh air. I felt released from social media’s grip for a few hours each night, able to absorb a gripping story without the flavoring presented by viewers next door or around the world.

My wife and I made dates over the past four days to be home, watch the show, discuss its narrative, and snuggle up on the sofa. I hadn’t watched television like this for some time. At university I hosted viewing parties with my roommates. We watched “Beverly Hills 90210″ and “Party of Five”. A few years later and I was overseas watching Friends on video or burned copies of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”. If you wanted to discuss the episodes you had to be in the room.

I miss those days when I connected with viewers by having them over, asking about their day, recapping during ads, and generally taking a break from our lives. Now I have one hand free to scroll and type, reporting and reading what I missed while I typed. I’m afraid to miss a comment no matter how mundane.

This is no way to watch television. Nowadays to be informed is to be distracted and I miss keeping both eyes on the television. We’ll catch up when you’re done.

This post first appeared on Medium.

BuzzFeed Contributor Calls Out Publicist

Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 11.23.20 PM

It’s a phrase recited by PR professionals worldwide: be careful what you put in writing. As a result we like to call people when we discuss initial ideas or make requests. If you see us on the phone we are probably asking for a favor, typing is for ultimatums.

That’s why I both understand and am perplexed by Beyonce’s publicist when she reached out to BuzzFeed yesterday afternoon. After the site published a collection of photos from the singer’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl they apparently received a call from Yvette Noel-Schure requesting that a few “unflattering” photos be replaced. Ms. Noel-Schure then followed up with an email citing the specific snapshots.

Look, we’ve all been there. The press publishes what it wants. If the words came out of your mouth or took place near a camera you can expect it to appear in print or online. However, part of our job is brand management and sometimes that means image control. The photos in question could be construed as “gurning” and it’s understandable that a simple request could be made to replace them. That doesn’t mean the media outlet has to do it, it’s just a request. It is your due diligence to make it even if you know it won’t work.

Unfortunately we do not know if the request was pleasant or not since we are only presented with an email. If this was a bit of revenge on behalf of the reporter then they should include the initial tone of the phone call, otherwise the email reads just fine.

Before you dismiss the image management of a celebrity like Beyonce, just consider what she has been up to lately. In just the past few weeks she “sang” at the Presidential Inauguration, hoarded headlines with her silence following that event, demonstrated the perfect response to smack talk at an NFL press conference, performed at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and announced her worldwide tour. It has been a carefully choreographed parade of events. Along the way I was awed by her ability to own the news when nothing that she was doing was necessarily newsworthy.

So as someone who spoke out against spotlighting Beyonce’s lip synching moment at the inauguration when real news was taking place around the world, why does this catch my attention? Because requests aren’t news. Why BuzzFeed chose to publish this story is understandable, after all it garnered over 6,000 likes. But it’s exactly this type of “reporting” that creates a divide between publicists and the media.

This is not news. This is a request that barely rises above junk food corn syrup; a sugary high for a reader that lasts just long enough until another tidbit of celebrity trivia reaches an inbox. Sometimes the allure of publishing some behind the scenes details for a quick hit is too much to resist. I get it, it’s BuzzFeed after all.

Accuracy in Fiction: Journalists Need to Stop Chasing Windmills

This newspaper hasn’t existed since 1939. Exterior of the Baltimore Sun for “House of Cards”. photo: Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun

This newspaper hasn’t existed since 1939. Exterior of the Baltimore Sun for “House of Cards”. photo: Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun

I’m five episodes into “House of Cards” on Netflix and I already made the mistake of reading initial impressions online. If you haven’t peeked at reviews, many based on the first two episodes that were screened for the press, then I urge you not to for your own continued enjoyment of the series. You will find no links here for that reason.

However I do want to touch upon one criticism that has risen to the top of several online discussions. There seems to be a drumbeat from viewers upset that the show is not more realistic. Particularly journalists who want us to know that newsrooms do not function as they are being portrayed. This seems to be a growing concern among our reporting brethren. A similar message crept up when Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” aired and it began to ruin the show for me.

As a former reporter for a newspaper I would like to take a moment and go against the tide. Right here and now I would like to state that I do not go in search of realistic portrayals of my former profession in dramatic series. I understand that the show is made up, contrived, and in this case pulled from the BBC classic of the 90s. At no point was I expecting the series to relay the actual boredom faced by reporters as they chase down leads, make endless calls, knock on doors, and tweet. Wouldn’t that be a blast, watching our journalistic representative Zoe Barnes tweeting? After all, David Carr of the New York Times seems to spend much of his day doing just that and he’s unabashedly unapologetic for his love of online media.

So why do the opinions of the media affect my viewing pleasure and possibly yours? I think it’s when they sum up their feelings and put them forth as gospel. Almost as if they’re telling me not to like the show because it’s so far from being a realistic portrayal of their lives. A few reviews in and this theme becomes a topic of discussion.

The press has repeatedly told me that I’m foolish if I enjoy such fantasy. But why must shows like this be realistic? Where is the enjoyment in that? Do they wish for us to return to a viewership consisting of children on “Take Your Child to Work Day”, “oohing” and “ahhing” at the monotony of their lives to justify the time they put into it?

I also worked at nonprofits and we frequently did not dress as well as the fictional well-digging, water-saviors on “House of Cards”. As a publicist I wish that I didn’t have to straighten my CEO’s tie or remind him to tuck in his shirt before a televised interview. I would’ve loved to work with Robin Wright’s perfection but that world rarely attracts these types.

And I’m ok with that portrayal. Why? Because while there will be a few people who actually believe nonprofits work that way, most people will see it for what it is, fictionalized drama, a tool, a means to an end.

The real story centers on the characters. To have them accomplish what they must they need to be in power. What better place than politics, a growing nonprofit and the editorial room at an established newsroom where they sit in (gasp) chairs, or a budding communications start up complete with bean bags and exercise balls? These are devices, nothing more. To look for realism here is chasing windmills.

The Return of Timberlake

2013JustinTimberlake2020240113So what you may not know about me is that I think Justin Timberlake is the man. Years ago reluctantly accompanied my wife to a concert that he was headlining with Pink and left a JT convert. The guy is beyond talented and thankfully taking a break from his acting/comedy/Myspace to issue a new album in the near future after recently releasing his single ‘Suit and Tie‘ with Jay-Z.

This all made me reminisce about what we did without Timberlake’s music over the past six years since he released Futuresex/Lovesounds. Sarah Schaefer summed up the feelings of Timberlake fans quite nicely in this video:

Check that fact and then check it again

IdiotsAs a former journalist I appreciate the rigors of fact checking. It’s a tedious and not always satisfying chore however it’s worth every minute to prevent assumptions from creeping into your copy. If you are also tempted to take someone’s word for it you will be caught with your pants down as they say.

This is why I have little sympathy for fellow reporters who skip this vital step either for convenience, to respect the wishes of a source, or to keep a story intact. Case in point: Manti Te’o’s non-existent, dead girlfriend.

The immediate coverage is little more than sensational journalism, rubber-necking and supposition at an embarrassing tale of woe at least or a carefully constructed publicity stunt at most. However, to think that this is the story is to miss the main point driven home by the journalists who originally broke this news on Deadspin.

After watching Timothy Burke, Deadspin’s editor, on Anderson Cooper it was evident that he cared as little for the sideshow attraction of Manti Te’o’s virtual love life as I did. Instead he waited for the fall out from a press corps that was duped by such a tall tale and printed every mistake in detail.

The story of the media’s involvement in promoting the Manti Te’o story is well documented including a piece that supposes the Notre Dame linebacker met his girlfriend in person based on an account from his father.

The response to Deadspin’s article has been widespread including a reporter who decided to fall on his sword and another who denies responsibility since he didn’t want to fulfill his journalistic obligation with an athlete who was suffering.

While this story is sure to continue to unravel over the next few days as interviews are secured and people begin to speak out I can see exactly why this happened — the pull of the story was too much. Is it odd that as this news broke I was watching Charlie Rose discuss Lance Armstrong and how some sports reporters called him a doper from the beginning while others either bought the hype, like most of us, or were bullied into reporting the hype? Of course this is no excuse for false reporting the existence of a person. It’s journalism 101 — speak with the parties involved.

The overcoming of hardships is extremely prevalent in sports journalism since it makes great copy. The rise of the underdog and the comeback kid story arc appear in countless reports. This type of reporting that looks for the unbelievable seems like a soft spot for pushing falsehoods and outlandish claims. That said, it says something when reporters start to build off of previous reports and do not do the leg work themselves. The snowball effect of this story coupled with competing news agencies makes me think it played a large role here.

Reporting news in this fashion is a sure fire way to get yourself in trouble. There is a reason why many reporters look harried or disheveled. When you are out pounding the pavement, spending hours on the phone, and securing meetings with people you tend to overlook basic appearances.

I remember writing a feature that took shape quickly yet wasn’t published for several weeks. It involved embezzlement at a summer camp and was going to potentially lead to a court case involving at least one defendant. As I dug around that story I was greeted with barely veiled threats and any number of reasons to stop investigating. Each day I met with my editor to report progress and how the story could be better buttressed against future attacks of poor research. In the end it ran and was airtight.

Maybe that example lacks the emotional distress of someone suffering from a loss however I’ve also spent countless hours investigating people who lost their homes, family members, and livelihoods. While it may seem crass to an outsider to pose question after question to people who are suffering it also the only way to get at the heart of the story. If you don’t you may find yourself the subject of an investigation led by your colleagues.

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