A Dalhousie story – Don’t write something you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read

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Like many newsies and feminists alike,  I have been following the story surrounding the Dentistry school at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Amidst a time of Canadian sex scandals and rape culture awareness these men chose to be sexist, misogynistic and downright rude regarding their female colleagues. From a personal standpoint, I find  their choices to be awful and am glad to see that these men have been suspended. Their wild lack of professionalism should earn them nothing less.

That being said, this post is not about the punishments awarded to these men.

I plan to discuss the fact that this group of people chose to use social media as a place to share these thoughts.

When I was a teenager, I was told, quite emphatically, never to put into writing something you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read. I cannot remember who gave me this piece of advice, but I owe them a lot of thanks. As social media has expanded it is much easier for unwanted text comments to gain public scrutiny. As I have both of my grandmothers as Facebook friends, my mother following my Facebook, Twitter as well as all the other social media accounts I manage and many other family members able to access everything I say and do online, I tend to choose my words wisely. I try not to swear too much, substituting “effing” for more crass wording and generally keeping my profile clean of overwhelming smut.

These men ignored this protocol so spectacularly it makes my head spin. What these men did can be loosely classified as “hate speech” as defined by Random House Dictionary (speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability). moreover, now they have left written proof. As we all know, Facebook owns everything we put on their site and almost nothing is ever truly deleted. These awful statements made about their once and future colleagues can and will come back to haunt them.

I have always loved the old tattoo adage, think before you ink. the same principle applies to writing. We have all made off-colour jokes in our time – most of us are smart enough not to put it in writing.

AI

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Contract Social Media – Becoming an Authoritative Voice in an Unknown Land

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Writing It’s a brave new world, my friends.

Since Nov. 8, 2014, I have been providing social media services (mostly Twitter and blog content) for Hogg Mechanical, a company  based in Kitchener, Ont. When I began this contract I wrote a post on this blog about my fear and how it kept me motivated. After two weeks of hard work and a lot of research I finally feel like I have a better idea of what I need to do to create effective content. I have received positive feedback from the company and am having a meeting to discuss a more aggressive approach to their social media campaign. I would say these are all very good signs that I am doing what is expected of me or more.

There is one hitch, though: I still know very little about HVAC as a trade.

This was the basis of my fear when I took over the social media contract; I was worried that my writing would show lack of knowledge. I was tweeting and blogging for a company with over 130 years of experience – I had to sound like I knew my stuff. Knowing this, I started researching. Over the past two weeks I have learned more about this trade than I ever expected in a lifetime. I read, I searched infographics, I went to the library, I Googled every little thing. I checked and double checked my information. It was stressful as sin but it worked. I was able to produce meaningful content with an air of familiarity that I didn’t quite yet feel.

The next thing I did was relied on my social media know-how. I know people react more to funny tweets than serious. I know a picture of a puppy in a parka will get more retweets than plain text. I know that people like bright infographics and links to interesting videos. Sifting through the junk can be a trial but it is so rewarding once you find that perfect piece of media.

I started interacting, asking questions on the twitter feed and on Facebook. I inquired what people wanted to know more about. Crowdsourcing gave me at least a month worth of blog topics.

Relying on your skills is wildly important. Research can’t be topped when it comes to the hard facts and as always, remember that social media is exactly that – social. Question your audience so you can give them what they want.

It has been a crazy couple weeks but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I am writing with passion and confidence while learning about something I never would otherwise.

I would love to hear your stories about new contract jitters! Leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter (@idlehands85) and share your experiences!

AI

In the age of spin doctors – the art of PR in the Jian Ghomeshi scandal

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Strike first, strike fast and strike the heart.

This seems to be the tactic taken by the Ghomeshi PR team regarding allegations of abuse against the former Q host.

I have been watching this situation unfold since the get-go and anticipated the wild path this story has taken. From the moment I saw the CBC bulletin show up on my Twitter feed I knew we were in for a wild ride; Ghomeshi’s public statement on his Facebook page created a solid groundwork and the court of public opinion took off running.

See, this scandal meets the trifecta: a loveable public figure, wild allegations and sex; moreover, a largely taboo sexual practice.

After my knee-jerk reaction of “how could they fire him for something that has yet to be proven?” I started to think about everything I had read; not just the statement by Ghomeshi but all of the articles that had popped up near-simultaneously on the internet. I reread a few of the articles wondering what was pulling at the back of my mind, making me want to investigate further – then it hit me – The recurring mention of a public relations firm.

After taking a cursory look into the company (Navigator), I found out that their specialty is crisis management and “image recovery.” The to following text was taken from their website:

Issues Management, Crisis Response and Reputation Recovery

Corporations and individuals sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. We quickly pull together the right team to manage issues before they escalate into major crises. But when disaster strikes, our clients depend on our custom-built communications plans to minimize reputational damage. We formulate crisp messaging, handle media inquiries and provide media training. Once the crisis has passed, we develop strategies to quickly rebuild and recover.

Activation and Persuasion Campaigns

We help clients deliver on stakeholders’ expectations through participatory, transparent campaigns that track shifting opinion, drive engagement and change behaviour. A variety of qualitative and quantitative research approaches support the development of appropriate hypotheses and nuanced strategies to create a critical mass of public support.

These guys are good. They have helped former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (re: the Airbus Affair) and former TTC commissioner Adam Giambrone (re: 2010 sex scandal). It is heavily speculated that they helped navigate Maple Leaf through the Listeriosis outbreak of 2008. they have been contracted by Bell Media, Rogers and Labatt just to name a few. They work hard and they get results.

I revisited the 1,500+ word statement by Ghomeshi and realized what I was actually reading – I was reading a carefully crafted, painstakingly precise work of art made to victimize the man, demonize the women, create context and take advantage of lack-of knowledge.

I am not saying that what Ghomeshi wrote was true or false. What I am saying is that he put his story in the hands of professional spin doctors and watched the world shake their fists in rage at the CBC while patting him on the back and telling him it would be alright.

First, Ghomeshi got ahead of the media curve by presenting the “facts.” The intent was simple: make sure everyone hears your side of the truth before anyone else can get a word in edgewise. People are likely to believe what they hear first, especially when it comes from the accused and deals with facts that most people would try to keep very private. I believe that’s why Ghomeshi went into as much detail as he did regarding his personal kink. He crafted the statement to make it sound as if a jilted ex was out for revenge instead of anything he may have done wrong.

This idea leads into my second point; the demonization of the women implicated in this scandal. There has been a lot of talk in the media over the past few years about rape culture and victim blaming (for more information visit slutwalktoronto.com). There are hundreds of reasons that women choose not to press charges but that does not mean their allegations are any less true. Ghomeshi has already proven through his $55 million lawsuit that he is more than willing to use the legal system to his advantage. This further intimidates these women into anonymity, making it harder for us to side with them. On one side of the fence we have a friendly and recognizable face and on the other we have seven masks (plus one courageous actress) screaming assault. Who are you more likely to believe? By keeping these women hiding in the shadows Ghomeshi is helping to further the idea that these women are just trying to ruin him. People like to believe that others will automatically press charges if something illegal happened – no charges equals no real wrongdoing in many facets of the pubic eye.

Context is also a huge thing. He made his kink relatable by pulling in pop culture references, calling it “Fifty Shades of Grey light.” Many people bought and read (and enjoyed) that book and by using this analogy he was able to use the story to his advantage. The message in this statement was, very simply, “You liked the book, right? You didn’t think it was bad what Mr. Grey was doing? I am doing less than that, so clearly I can’t be that bad!” And we bought it, hook, line and sinker. He created a scenario in which we might find these things alright or even a bit titillating. He played on our own sexual curiousity.

That leads me into my final observation – the blatant play on the general populous’s lack of knowledge regarding BDSM practices. Many people will take what he says on face value as they have no context (minus Fifty Shades) regarding this sexual kink. Most wouldn’t do any research past the end of Ghomeshi’s statement and would not understand that what these women are alleging goes well beyond anything that would be considered light BDSM and into some practices that are considered highly dangerous and improper by people in the scene (ex. the alleged aggressive choking and hard face hitting). If you are interested in reading some more about BDSM in regards to this case, I suggest PhD student Andrea Zanin’s post, Poor Persecuted Pervert (NSFW!!!). Ghomeshi is relying on the fact that we will be uncomfortable enough with the taboo issue that we will not look further than his post.

I don’t know whether Ghomeshi is innocent or guilty. I don’t know what is fact and what is fiction. I don’t know if we will ever find out the truth.

I do know that his strike fast and hide tactic (since his statement Ghomeshi has kept complete social media silence) was carefully planned, plotted and executed to gain mass support before the other side had a chance to speak. We were duped by a bit of PR genius designed to keep the speculations flying and allow Ghomeshi to slip out of sight until the dust starts to settle.

AI

iPod inspiration #1 – Counting Stars

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“Everything that Drowns me makes me want to fly” – OneRepublic, Counting Stars

First and foremost, Happy New Year! I am back from my mini vacation from writing and ready to start my musings again! I have set out some resolutions for this and my other blog (www.ashleyidle.com/feelingoodlookingood) to push me to post more regularly. Through some brainstorming, I came up with the idea of posting a series that can be interspersed through the year. This, obviously, is one of those series.

I like to walk, and when I’m walking, I usually have an mp3 player blasting something in my ears. I enjoy a lot of different music and being a word junkie, I am always listening to the lyrics. A lot of songs have some great one-off thoughts that work brilliantly as a jumping-off point for a blog post, so here I am, analysing random song lyrics in hopes of inspiring anyone willing to take the time to read my musings.

So, here we go!

This song came on my iPod while I was having doubts/ stresses about my writing career (or lack thereof). I was thinking of the setbacks I have had over the past year and dwelling on the negative. I was pushing myself down deep into anger and frustration, but I guess I must have found something that I could push off of, figuratively speaking, and I managed to resurface from my negativity.

Has the past year gone as planned?

No.

Have I gained new clients?

Yes.

Is this a sustainable way for me to make a living yet?

No.

Could it be?

Yes.

Is it frustrating?

Maddeningly.

Do I love what I’m doing (writing)?

Absolutely.

Not all of these answers are positive, but they give me a goal to strive for and a reason to make an action plan. For example – I mention that this is not yet lucrative enough for me to quit my “day job,” Well, that means the goal is more paying clients. I can advertise, make cold calls, get in touch with old contacts… all things that are easy enough to accomplish.

Seeing hope in the future makes me want to pull myself up by my bootstraps and start reaching farther. It may not be flying yet, but it’s definitely not drowning, either.

I have seen some serious disappointment in the past couple years of my life, but through those disappointments I have pulled myself up and bettered my situation. For example, I came out of school a big fish in a small pond and was greeted with a very harsh reality that I was not just going to walk into a media career. That realization made me decide to start freelancing, and thanks to dedication and the support of my friends and family I have a devoted (though small) client base that is continually recommending my services to other contractors. It has not been easy, but it’s been worthwhile.

So don’t let things get you down. If you’ve chosen to freelance (or write commercially/ publicly in any way) you are bound to meet with rejection, hardship and frustration. Don’t dwell on the negative; use it to reach for the stars.

AI

Counting Stars – OneRepublic

Toronto: The Rob Ford issue and why we have yet to reach media fatigue

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As a writer and general follower of news and politics, I have naturally been interested in following the Rob Ford scandal. We are in day 20 of this 50-car wreck of a story and it seems that every time we may be reaching a point of media fatigue, Ford does something else that is the metaphorical equivalent of 10 more cars slamming into the back of this mess.

First, I will explain what I mean by media fatigue; I have borrowed the term from where I first heard it, Drew Curtis’s book, It’s not news, it’s Fark (www.fark.com). The main concept of media fatigue is that when reporting on a large news item, the media has a tendency to take things too far and generally run the story into the ground, so much so that they start reporting on whether they have been reporting on this subject for too long. It’s very common in the media world but I don’t believe it has been happening in this case.

Usually by day 20 of any story, there is nothing new to report. Journalists start regurgitating information, creating sidebars and generally doing anything that could sell more papers. With a large scandal like this one, it’s not uncommon for stories to outrun their course because, hey, who doesn’t like a good scandal? The big difference here is that, unlike most other people who would have crawled into a hole somewhere to let this blow over, Ford has not only stayed in the public eye but has been followed by a continuous stream of incriminating evidence and buffoonish comments, giving the media more to write about without exhausting the well.

Here is an abridged timeline of the scandal starting Oct. 31, 2013 (information from http://www.thestar.com):

  • Toronto police have the “crack tape” in their possession. (Oct. 31)
  • Rob and Doug Ford radio show: apologies for drunkenness, but refuses to step down or take a leave of absence. (Nov. 3)
  • Ford admits to crack cocaine use and apologizes, but again refuses to step down; blames the media for why he didn’t admit it in May (stating that they did not ask the right questions). Ford also states that he smoked the crack in one of his “drunken stupors.” (Nov. 5)
  • Ford video rant hits the internet. (Nov. 7)
  • Ford admits to buying drugs in front of council (Nov. 13)
  • More allegations of Ford’s drunken behaviour surfaces (Nov. 13)
  • Ford makes sexually inappropriate comments in front of media about sexual harassment allegations. (Nov. 14)

For media fatigue to truly set in, there has to be no development in the story for an extended period of time. Ford has managed to beat fatigue by continually doing things that no public figure should. Also, the ford story has seen a true (journalistic) cornucopia of allegations, videos and other incriminating situations come to light. In all seriousness, the media just has to sit and wait for a couple days and boom, another comment. Another flub. Another mistake. This man cannot keep his nose out of trouble.

I am tired of hearing about Ford in many ways; the entire world now understands he is a fool and Toronto is no longer getting invited to parties, but everything that has happened up to this point has managed to stop the story from getting tired.

I am interested, however, in what will happen over the coming weeks regarding the scandal. He has been stripped of much power and left like a clown that no one wants to hire. The world has pointed and laughed. The “Rob Ford should step down” angle has been taken time and again (Even MP Jason Kenney seems to be getting on the bandwagon now). This is the point that will determine whether the media will let sleeping dogs lie or whether they will beat this poor sucker into the ground. I am leaning toward the latter. Why? Remember when Cheney shot his buddy in the face (Again, thank you Drew Curtis of Fark for the example)? It was such an outlandish accident that it took on a mind of its own after initial reports. Ford has made buffoonish remarks mixed with social faux pas and a smattering of illicit substance use. Better yet, he spread it out over almost 20 days; this story may never see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope to see the media leave this alone… but I doubt that will happen.

AI

  • Shortly before he was stripped of many of his mayoral duties, he likened this situation to a coup d’état, suggesting that this was like when the US attacked Kuwait and threatened to make the next election a bloodbath (Nov 18)

http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2013/11/19/rob_ford_97_allegations_against_the_mayor.html

http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Toronto/ID/2419135766/

Why you shouldn’t do something for nothing (pulled from ashleyidle.com)

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I pulled this post over from www.ashleyidle.com because I feel it follows the theme I would like to set for this blog. For those new to the blog, enjoy. For those that follow Feelin’ good, Lookin’ good, enjoy again!

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Would you ask an engineer to build a bridge for free, just so that he/ she could get “exposure?”

I hear you scoff, but people are asked to use their skills every day with no remuneration, just the promise of exposure or public recognition. It seems to be the huge arts/ science divide that brings this to light, too. Artists are expected to struggle, and because of that, people ask them to provide their services with no compensation offered other than the opportunity that someone, somewhere might see their work and they will be “discovered.”

A bigger problem yet is that these opportunities (if you can call them that) get snatched up almost as quickly as paying gigs. Young artists (writers and journalists included) are so desperate to get their name out there that they are willing to take any and all opportunities that come along, paid or not. I see this as a huge issue. While people are willing to give something for nothing, we all lose out on paid opportunities. Who will pay for something when they don’t have to?

The only way to make this exploitation of writers (and all other artists) change is for the majority to stop taking these unpaid “opportunities.” If the free talent pool dries up, many will be forced to pay and the problem will be, if not fixed, much better. Unfortunately, j-school teaches new writers  (not incorrectly) that they are going to have to give themselves, their creative selves, away for nothing to even have a chance at gaining employment in their field.

I see this as an unforgiveable situation in the arts world but also as one that isn’t going to change. As long as young journalists are told they have to give themselves away and greedy people are willing to exploit young writers the cycle will continue.

There are some situations where pro bono is not the worst thing in the world (small start-ups and certain independent/non profit works) but when larger groups, especially larger corporations get into the mix of taking something for nothing it really bothers me.

I know this isn’t my normal post, but I think it needed to be said. As a young writer, this is something that I have dealt with since graduating.

AI

www.ashleyidle.com

G’day

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G’day.

I understand that it’s a little ironic that a writer would choose slang as the first word ever published on her blog, but that is the beauty of language. Whether the words are listed in the OED or we choose to speak in well-scripted gibberish (see: Lewis Carroll, “The Jabberwocky“), the English language and its colloquial derivatives can do so much more than express a simple action such as saying hello. A single, well-chosen word can express warmth, depth, nuance and create a friendly, approachable demeanour or infer exactly the opposite.

To me, g’day suggests:

  • familiarity
  • friendliness
  • warmth
  • It suggests the Australian people, who are generally known for their outgoing, kind nature.
  • It’s informal

The informal friendliness and familiarity of the greeting is disarming and will more likely bring a response with the same openness and warmth, allowing me to better get my point across (once I decide to make it).

That is the true beauty of language. One well-chosen word can speak volumes.

That is also why skilled, trained writers are so important, whether it be the language used in a book or what we hear on the evening news. Our expectations can be raised, dashed or completely misguided by the type of language an individual decides to use.

Writers are more than just people who blather and throw around words hoping to get noticed. We are wordsmiths. We labour over a sentence to have it convey exactly what we hope. We sell our souls as piece-work and pray to be appreciated for the skill we use to craft our art.

I have been a freelance copywriter and journalist for two and a half years. This blog is where I plan to share my ruminations about writing, freelancing and the state of the job market for those in my field.

Please share this journey with me.

AI

www.ashleyidle.com