Saturday, April 25, 2015

Twitter is My News Channel


For the past year I’ve found myself regularly missing newscasts on television as I find other things to do. This gets particularly common this time of year, when the broadcast of Red Sox games, usually from the East Coast, overlaps the broadcast of local and national news on the networks.




I used to be a news junkie, back in the day when reporters became anchormen (and they were all men). They started out in newspapers and radio and, as television grew to be the most-consumed medium, field reporters. Names like Huntley and Brinkley and Mike Wallace and John Cameron Swayze and Douglas Edwards graced our television screens at six o’clock. At one time, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America.




In the early days of cable news, I thrilled to Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Baghdad on CNN during the Gulf War. If you wanted to know what was happening in the world, you could tune into CNN 24/7 and find out.

But, over time, the reporters were replaced with pretty faces who were visually appealing, had pleasant voices, and couldn’t pronounce words of more than two syllables correctly. Instead of reports on what is going on in the world, we now have who was eliminated as a contestant on the network’s most popular “reality” show. CNN and FoxNews spend hours with “talking heads” blathering and speculating on what the news might mean rather than giving us more news.
And then I started seeing regular segments on breaking news stories that started out with “Here is what we’re seeing on Twitter” or “His Facebook page tells us…”. Huh? Since when did social media become a reliable news source?

I’m sure half of you looked up at the headline for this post to verify you remembered what I was going to write about correctly. You did. Because I discovered that most of what was being reported as “breaking news” on television, I’d already read on Twitter.

This started when I discovered @WhatsUpTucson, a local guy who regularly tweets traffic accidents, police activity, and fires, along with lost and found dogs and such. Since people in town know he shares information, they tweet him with what’s going on in their neighborhood, often with pictures, which he retweets. Most of this stuff never makes the local news, although I find it of interest.

I often look at Twitter during commercial breaks—which have become so numerous and so long that there are times I can’t watch the shows I tuned in for—and noticed comments about events happening around the world. Again, this hadn’t been on television news and often wasn’t on CNN which, in the evenings, has switched to canned programs, just like the Weather Channel doesn’t do live weather at night (except for when there’s a major weather event affecting the United States). Many times it’s hours or even days before stories from around the world make our network news.

So I started following Reuters and Agence-France Presse and the BBC on Twitter. We live in a global village. No longer can we be isolationist and just be concerned about what happens in Washington or New York or Tucson, Arizona. What happens in China or Africa or South America affects us. Climate change is a global problem. And the foreign news agencies cover these stories a lot more often and in a lot more depth than our news-as-entertainment channels in America.

I follow NASA and the US Navy and Discover Magazine and the Hubble Telescope and Universe Today because science news isn’t covered at all.

So I’m skipping the evening news more and more often, even when there isn’t a conflicting Red Sox game. Because I get my news on Twitter.

Picture Credits:
Twitter Logo from https://about.twitter.com/press/brand-assets
Walter Cronkite By NASA/Bill Ingalls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Resistance


I recently finished reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It's one of those books that comes up often when writers discuss their favorite craft books, but one which I never got around to reading before. It's in the vein of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. These books don't teach you about grammar or plot structure or how to write believable characters.

What these books teach is that the struggles you go through on the path to becoming a writer are not unique to you; all writers face them. Indeed, all creative people face blocks to fulfilling their dreams. Success is pressing on in spite of the blocks.

A good part of this small book focuses on resistance, that thing which keeps you from doing the very thing you were born to do. Writers talk about this all the time. Usually it takes the form of "Why is it that every time I sit down to write, suddenly cleaning the toilet becomes preferable?"

Writers can come up with all kinds of excuses to not write. Research is always a good one. When you're doing research, you can pretend that you're working on your book because there are certain facts you must know before you submit the book to an agent or publish it yourself. Of course, you don't need to know them at that exact minute. And you certainly don't need to know all that other stuff you found on the web while researching a fairly simple question.

Talking to other writers, whether in person or online, is another excellent excuse. We call that "networking." Writers need other writers as critique partners, as sources of information, as someone to blurb your next book. You have to make time to network. Unfortunately, too often these conversations turn into excuses to socialize, to have an old-fashioned kaffeeklatsch, gossiping and whining to one another about anything and everything, including why they're not writing.

The puzzle is why we continue to do this when the only result is not accomplishing anything. You wind up feeling like a failure. But Resistance is strong.

This really hit home with me. I began the year with good intentions, as always. I was going to develop a writing schedule and stick to it. I was going to be more productive. There was no reason why I couldn't be. I'm retired after over thirty years of having to go to a day job that often required more than forty hours a week.

But then I made sure I did exactly the opposite by volunteering for more responsibilities and scheduling appointments early in the day "so I could have the rest of the day free to write" and starting my day with Facebook and email "just to see what was going on and if there was anything I should be aware of."

And then, while I was at yet another one of those meetings being told that part of what I needed to do as a member of that group was to give it more time, I said the magic words: "I have a full time job, even if it doesn't pay very much."

A lightbulb went on for me.


I had told myself writing was a full time job, but I'd been tracking the hours I spent on it and reality was that I hadn't even made it a decent part time job. Resistance had sneaked in and gotten me to fill up lots of hours with things that weren't writing, leaving little time and energy for what I said I wanted to do. Until I read The War of Art, I hadn't realized what was going on. I was purposely sabotaging my calling.

Because, as Pressfield says, that's what writing is: my calling. If you don't fulfill your calling,


I'm not being selfish when I give writing a priority, which is what I feel every time I decline a commitment. I'm doing what God gave me to do.