Friday, July 14, 2006

What? Me? Sensationalize?

This is the last I'm going to say about this topic.
I finished reading a Colorado woman's
account of how their meeting with Katie Couric went.
It sounded a great deal like our meeting save for less contradicting.
There was a P.C. crowd, though it seems that their crowd ran the entire gamut of the monetary spectrum (ours did not).
All in all nothing in their gathering that was said was really different than ours.
That's unfortunate. It seems then that this verifies what I thought about the tour: It was never about getting our ideas, but rather validating what they knew already.
We want technology used.
We want our news to be objective.
We want stories we care about or are relevant.
We want to have less sensationalism...or do we?
Coming out of the Minneapolis meeting, it seems that the only thing anyone cares about is
Matt Bartel's Pen.
Sadly this is why no one will ever care about the news again, and why we will always have news stations or pundits in charge.
I'm sorry that his pen was taken, but look how he has benefited from it...and look how the story has taken off.
We say we don't want sensationalized news, but then we eagerly await and cheer as a pen being taken away makes it on to the national news circuit.
Don't get me wrong, it's great for
MN Speak, but I'm sorry that the main thing anyone will remember is that moment.
Not the fact that the whole thing was really a PR stunt, not the fact that it made the news, however short a time, relevant again. No, people will only remember that a guy's pen got taken away.
This does, as my sister pointed out, mean one other thing: Whereas "blogs" were thought of as only a passing fad, this incident does give them more power and credibility. In essence, the era of the trusted journalist only being from a newspaper or TV has had the coffin lid nailed shut.
If the story is true (and I hate saying it, but in someways it sounds too ridiculous to be true), then the producers of the TV news felt that a guy who writes online can be considered a journalist, which means that his pen was taken away (in compromise) to keep him from writing about the event (which is funny, because they knew I was a blogger as well and never said anything). Nevermind that Matt could have, oh I don't know, borrowed a pen from someone else. It's the principle of the matter.
Bloggers and online news journalists (sometimes called civilian journalists) have been given credibility from this single action.
It's just too bad that all we care about is not the fact that someone, as much of a public relations stunt as it was, actually cared about our opinions, but that a writing instrument was taken away.
And yes, I know I'm just as guilty for mentioning it.
I guess my problem is that we want controversy. We are so desperate for schadenfreude that we look for it anywhere and pimp it hard.
Welcome to the 21st century.
That's the last I'm going to say about the whole Katie Couric affair. I wish her good luck, because she will need it if she wants to compete with other news programs or the internet.
As for the whole pen incident...It was two days ago. Time to move on and get on with our lives.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hanging with Ms. Couric

The town hall meeting was today. While most people are currently talking about Matt's pen being taken, I can tell you the little guy's story.
Let me make it clear: I am not Lee-Ann Stephens, the Minnesota Teacher of the year, nor am I a member of the press (as apparently Matt Bartell is considered), nor am I a well-known priest, rich business person, or a minority.
I am just some schmuck, who was invited because
Jason DeRusha reads my blog.
Imagine being developmentally challenged and being invited to a MENSA meeting. That's how I felt this morning.
So here's my story.
I woke up early this morning, which I haven't really done in a while. The baby usually sleeps between 4 and 8, so getting up and moving at 6 was kind of hard, to be honest. Moving on.
Since it has been re-opened, I have not been to the Minneapolis Library. I know many people really like it, but I can't help it: I don't. It's really cold. Not in a temperature way, but in a design way. It doesn't feel inviting to me. It's narrow. Instead of saying, "Please...get a book, sit, and read for a while," it says, "You! Get a book and get out!"
The event was on the second floor. There was a nice continental breakfast, yada, yada, yada.
After checking in, I right away felt out of place. First of all, the woman to man ratio ended up being 8 to 1 in favor of women. I have no problem with that, but I somehow knew it would be that way.
Every man I saw was in a suit. I was not. Let me make this clear: I'm a teacher, a new parent, and on break. I wore a polo and khakis. This made me an outsider which was clear by the fact that NO ONE would come near me at my table. At one point a group of people (and I was shocked how many people knew each other) chose to sit on the floor (in really nice clothing) rather than stand at my table. I stood alone for a long time...until a priest named Dale joined me.
Very nice and articulate man. I put aside all of my feelings about religion and the Church while talking to him.
So let's get to the good stuff: the actual meeting.
I sat dead center. The meeting itself? Pointless. Nothing was really accomplished. While Katie Couric and Rome Hartman were well spoken (and sometimes humorous), there was nothing to really be gained. For every single thing one person said, someone else said the exact opposite. At one point it was mentioned that the news needs to be more objective. Thirty seconds later: the next person said the news needs to be "personal."
It was a shame.
I promised DeRusha I would not pull any punches, so here we go:
1. The entire event was amazingly political. I'm sorry, the make-up of the room was a P.C wet dream. I was easily one of the youngest people in the room, but there were African-Americans (I already mentioned Ms. Stephens), Hmong, Hispanic, old, young, intellectual, working man, Native American, etc.
At one point, toward the end of the meeting, a young black man had been holding his hand up for awhile (most people at the meeting forgot the whole "let's hold our hand up" thing and just stood up and talked). A woman walked down the aisle, caught Hartman's eye and pointed at the young man, mouthing, "You MUST call on him." The young man mentioned Africa, and the crowd murmured its approval. The whole event, though intending to get out "real opinions" didn't, which leads to my next point:
2. Minnesota Nice creates too many damn problems. Almost EVERY SINGLE PERSON, except for myself and one other guy, prefaced their thoughts or speeches with, "Welcome to Minnesota, Katie," or "I loved the Today Show." Sigh. Beyond that, they were unwilling to stir it up, yet afterward people were complaining. You had your chance to say something and you didn't. You're not allowed to bitch when you had the opportunity to talk.
One guy, beyond myself, was willing to actually comment on what people were saying and say something controversial. No one wanted to debate (which both Couric and Hartman said they wanted as part of their introduction). It was too bad.
3. Their questions weren't answered. They said, "We want to talk about the news, not ideas for what we should talk about," yet the group spent more time talking about what should be talked about. ("We're a fly-over state," one woman commented. "You should do stories that would make us interested...not just what's important on the coasts.")
What saddened me was that most people there didn't hear the "WORLD" part. They said the world should be talked about, but their ideas were Minnesota-centric.
So I know what you're thinking at this point: "Leab, you can't shut up, so what did you say?"
4. I did speak. I waited patiently and then said the following:
"My name is Leab, and I'm a high school English teacher. (This immediately had people coughing or talking. I'm not the Minnesota Teacher of the Year, so what does it matter what I say? To continue....)
First of all, you mentioned Murrow. Well, he let the beast out, and it's time to put it back in. The news needs to return to being objective, which it has not been in a long time. It's obviously slanted which is why certain people watch only certain channels. Most people nowadays might say that being objective is being wishy-washy, but they're wrong. This is a chance for you to prove that. (I heard no murmurs at this point, so either they agreed with me or thought I was nuts.) I teach a lesson on propaganda, and my students, more often than not, brought me one of two things: either a political speech, predominantly Bush, or news casts. Many were actually from the Today Show as well. They see it this way, because the news creates fear or tells us who to vote for instead of just reporting the facts.
Now if you ask my students where they get their news, they will tell you blogs, the web, or The Daily Show. Our own WCCO here has people like Jason DeRusha who have blogs, which leads me to ask (and here I turned around to Don Shelby) when are you going to have your own blog, Mr. Shelby?"
Shelby responded with, "Sssssh. Don't give them any ideas!"
I turned back and continued, "You need to embrace technology. Either through a blog, Ipods, or making the website work with the news. We don't really have the time to sit down and watch the news when it's on, so give us the chance to see it when we can."
I didn't get much of a response. The woman sitting next to me made a comment about how, "I shouldn't have said that."
Couric's response to what I said was a frown. She then talked about how blogs really cannot have journalistic integrity and how they are usually emotional and full of anger and hate. She ignored that there are some that aren't that way (again, see WCCO's), but whatever. I wasn't wearing a business suit, I wasn't a minority, and I didn't have a position like Hennepin County Coordinator. I was a nobody, so who cares what I think?
At the end, we were allowed to have pictures taken with Ms. Couric. I was in the final group and was allowed to talk to her. Here is how the conversation went.
"Are you a Mets fan?" She asked me. It was obvious she noticed my hat I had with me.
"Yes. I know you like the Yankees. Both teams are having great seasons."
"That's true, but the Mets are leading their division."
"But you can't count out Steinbrenner's cash and drive. Well, good luck with the rest of your day," I said to her.
"Thanks. May I ask you something?"
"Yes you may," I replied.
"Your students really brought in the Today Show?"
"Yes. One even brought in the Colonoscopy episode."
"Can I ask you another question?"
"Of course."
"Who invited you to this meeting today?"
"A local reporter put in my name. Wanted the 'Everyman' perspective. I'm the 'Everyman' apparently."
"I see." LONG PAUSE. "Well thanks for coming out M." (she used my name here, which was disarming as I said it only once."
I next talked to Rome Hartman.
"Did you really show your class Good Night and Good Luck?" He asked me.
"Yes. They understood it, though they found it slow."
We chatted for a while about news, websites, and blogs (he was surprisingly for them), then he asked me:
"So how did you end up here today?"
It was at this point I realized that I really did look out of place. I didn't kiss anyone's ass, which meant I was not exactly what they were looking for.
I told him the same thing I told Ms. Couric.
"Interesting." LONG PAUSE. "So how long have you been teaching?"
I talked to him for five more minutes or roughly until my bladder started screaming at me. We talked about teachers, how people don't really understand what it's like to be a teacher, and, of course, how everyone compares our education system to Japan's or another country's (and here's a tip folks: Stop doing that. Our system is not like anyone else's, so shut up with the whole, "Why aren't we like Japan?" crap.)
In the end, there were an amazing amount of Katie fans there. DeRusha had mentioned, at one point, that they wanted serious thinkers, not fans, at this meeting, but so many people fawned over her.

Still, I didn't have my pen taken, so I guess that's something...right?
Thanks to DeRusha for getting me invited, but I just don't feel that ANYTHING was really accomplished. They listened...and then decided they were going to do whatever they were going to do.
The bottom line is this: As one person said, "Until you decide who your target audience is, it's impossible to decide how your show will work."
That's really it. If you aim for older people, you'll need feel good stories. Aim for the younger crowd, and you'll have to explain EVERYTHING.
That's it. Still, I'll email ideas to you, CBS News. I have a lot of them.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Town Hall Times

So I read DeRusha's blog everyday.
I noticed that his
latest entry is lovingly sarcastic when it comes to Katie Couric.
My question: Should I feel guilty that I have been invited to be one of the "community members" she is meeting with tomorrow morning?
That's right. Ole Leab has been invited (in no small part thanks to DeRusha) to meet with Ms. Couric and discuss issues, "that are important to you and your community."
I have a great deal of things I could say, but I really don't want to be:
A: Taken into custody, and
B: Beaten to death by Minnesotans who hate transplants (of which there are too many right know...that whole "Murderapolis" thing is being put on the people who aren't from here....)
So, while Jason is "Duluth", I will sing his praises and pimp him out WCBS. Hell, he'd do well in New York.
Right now, I'm thinking about talking about (what else) education issues.
Anyone have anything they'd rather have me talk about with her?
And how funny is it that I, an angry transplant, have been asked to talk about what issues are bothering me.
I assume Ms. Couric, seen here during her cheerleading days, will probably nod her head, appear interested in what we have to say, tell a P.A. to write some notes, and then disappear.
After all, the invite says, "No Press, No Cameras, Just Conversation."
The email also made it clear that WE are not to bring cameras to this thing.
I would imagine that's bad for P.R. Here is America's newest sweetheart and yet we, the general public who CBS hopes will watch her, are being told not to expect autographs or photos.
Personally? I don't care. I don't buy into the whole "celebrity" thing. Never have. When I was a kid, I worked at a fair selling raffle tickets. Then mayor Ed Koch came. I walked right up to him and said, "You're Mayor Ed Koch, you're going to buy some raffle tickets from me."

Both he and his aide (or friend or whoever he was) stared at me in disbelief...then they both bought raffle tickets.
I once met Mark McGwire at a restaurant in St. Louis. Again, it was just like meeting anybody (for me at least).
I've never been one to be star struck.
So if this thing tomorrow turns into a giant "Oh my God, I LOVE YOU!" fest, I'll be pissed. I'm going in order to actually get issues on the docket. That's it.
Plus the free food. I mean old habits die hard, folks.
So thanks, DeRusha, for getting me in to this little shindig. I'll try not to embarass you too much....
No really.

Reality Snaps Back

I had to go to work yesterday. For the first time since June, I walked into the school at which I work. It was hard.
I went for two reasons:
1. I can't seem to check my work email from home (which I need to do in order to prep for a class I have to take in August).
2. In order to drop of a couple of items (tickets for a co-worker, a picture of my son for my principal's "Wall of Hope," and to pick up some books that have been added to next year's curriculum.
The first issue came with the drive. It's been a month since the school year finished, so I had already forgotten how long the drive is from my home to the school. By the time I exited 94 at Snelling, I was almost livid. Having spent so much time at home with my son the last three weeks, I haven't really been out driving with the Minnesota folk.
Here's a quick update: Most Minnesotans still can't drive.
I watched a guy in a Ford truck shoot across four lanes to cut off a 16 wheeler in order to get off the freeway. I watched another person (couldn't see if it was a man or a woman) drive on the shoulder because no one would let his or her car on the freeway.
With anger running through my veins, I entered the school. It was hot. Very hot. Not comfortable.
I started in the office. My principal was gone, so I left the photo with her secretary (who really runs the school, but no one talks about that).
Borrowing a key from the secretary, I headed up to my office (I left my keys with her) to check my work email. As I went, I ran into some of my colleagues who were just standing out in the hallway (there were classes going on, but whatever).
"Hey...did you have to kid?" I was asked.
"Well, seeing as how it's now OVER a month since the due date, it's pretty safe to say yes." I replied.
I showed them the two I had (both of which are in earlier posts).
"He's adorable," I'm told.
"Thanks," I reply.
"So are you miserable?" Another colleague asks.
"Excuse me?" I reply.
"Is he keeping you up all the time? I mean you look good, so either you're relaxed, which means all is well, or you're working extremely hard to make it look like all is well."
"Does it matter which?" I asked.
"Testy, are we?"
"No," I replied. "All is well. The Poozer sleeps through the night. WE have to wake HIM up."
"What?" comes the general consensus.
"That's right. He's great."
I watch my colleagues faces fall, which tells me that they were, in some ways, hoping I was going to be miserable. That tells you a great deal about the people I work with at this school.
Leaving the group, I headed over to my office, which was open as people were working in there. It was then I discovered the real reason I'm pissed.
You see I share a room with other people. My desk is in the corner (away from the door which is perfect, because I can hide then). Now I mentioned
before that some people tried to take my desk and area for themselves, but were told they couldn't have it by me and the principal.
Well, when I walked in yesterday, I discovered they didn't listen. All of my boxes had been stacked in a different corner, and my desk had been taken over by someone else. One of the boxes had been opened, and my stapler was missing (I later found it on another desk. My name is even on it, folks). There was also note on one of the boxes that read:
Here's your stuff. It will need to move somewhere else by August 1.
We need the key to your desk so [name protected] can use it.
Needless to say, I am not happy. All of my stuff is now stacked in a corner of the principal's office, and I will not be able to figure out where I am going to be until August.
The problem here is not that I have had my desk usurped, but the fact that the people who did were told not to do it by myself AND the principal...and then did it anyway.
I left a note for the principal. Mine read:
"I don't really care that they moved me out. However, whatever room I end up in, I want that desk. It's my desk, and I will not clean it out.
I have the keys to it as well.
Hope you're having a good summer."
And with that, I left.
That's why reality really sucks. When I'm with my son, it's all clear. I feel at peace around him and my wife. The second I step back into my place of work, I feel that dreariness. Yes, if work were meant to be fun, they would call it Super Action Fun Time, but this is different.
My wife is going to be dropping in on her work next week. I have no doubt that she will get a much different reception. I also have no doubt that her desk and her will have been left untouched.
Am I high on the Totem Pole at work? Oh God no, but remember, the Totem Pole needs the lower people in order to stand up. I'm so damn sick of people thinking they can get away with whatever they want. And I can't believe they waited until I was gone for the Summer.
It doesn't make me want to rush back. Hell, my wife and I have been discussing the idea of me becoming a stay-at-home father. Incidents like this don't make me want to rush back to work.
Of course, what do I know? I'm the homeless teacher now. Can you spare a dime for a cart?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Neglected Kitties

My cats have voiced their displeasure lately. They're upset over the fact that the humans in the house are fawning over another little human instead of them. So, following Sophe's lead, I placed the cats where anyone can seen them. Thus I present:

Enjoy them as I have for the last nine years (Their collective birthday was yesterday).

Because some of you are probably more human fans, here is another picture of my lovely son.