Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wikis - What's That All About

Wikis may be the best and possibly only example of what it means to be purely and completely democratic. Wikis are holders of great amounts of information, information that is provided by ordinary members of society like you and I. It is almost as if you are giving society a blank chlkboard and allowing everyone to write anything they'd like. One may ask, then, what prevents a single individual from ruining this collective display of intellect. Surprisingly, when such a character presents himself, community members almost instinctively, like piranhas, quickly do away with these unwelcomed infringements upon their wikis. For this is the magic of wikis!

In an attempt to learn more about these interesting phenomenons, I googled the subject in hopes of finding helpful links that would broaden my knowledge about them and may even help me to create my own. I was first taken to Ward Cunningham's Wiki page which gave voluminous information about the nature of wikis. Filled with hundreds of links, this site is extremely informative for wiki beginners.

Next, I went to the wikipedia link that explained the definition of a wiki. Out of curiousity I clicked on edit and was surprised that I could actually change the HTML text the Ward Cunningham wrote. I didn't change anything, obviously, however, experiencing first-hand what I know conceptually to be true is still a shock and takes some getting used to. I then tried searching random terms in this wiki encyclopedia and was shocked to find that no matter how random the term, a page exists. And these are not just small entries, these are pages of valuable information, more information than one would find in a traditional encyclopedia. It'd be interesting to know what the copyright laws on these sites look like--it seems that a lot of the information is referenced at the bottom of the page. I'm curious whether permission from these sites is needed. I then searched for Fairfield University and found quantities of information comparable to the amount on the university's web site.

For people who are new to wikis and the editing process, I'm guessing that the sandbox is an easy way to begin learning. I went to a sandbox site and edited a practice page successfully.

Wikis are certainly an interesting form of digital writing--a form that I will be exploring even more in the future.

Who is Jeff Gralnick??

A short google search for Jeff Gralnick and it become apparently clear why Dr. Sapp and Dr. Simon (our digital writing professors) chose to have this extraordinarily talented man speak to our class.

Mr. Gralnick is a 47-year veteran in broadcast news and is currently serving as Special Consultant to NBC News for Internet and New Technology matters. His career spans generations and his reporting experience includes coverage of major historical events, including the Vietnam War. He has won multiple emmies and awards, and consequently has a huge wealth of knowledge to share with our class.

This knowledge is now moving into Web journalism, as he is exploring different ways news media can use the Web effectively. An interesting article entitled "In Search of Eyeballs and Eardrums" illustrates useful ways to use the Web for journalistic purposes and even gives specific examples of sites that Mr. Gralnick finds exemplary. He also writes an on-line series called NewsLab whose goal is to explain ways local stations can use their web sites to generate new content.

Interestingly, Mr. Gralnick also has experience blogging (making him an even more appropriate class lecturer), and has a blog entitled Peacock. His most recent series of blogs is a very well-written and suspenseful account of the launch and return of the Discovery Space Shuttle.

Questions to Ask:

1. With regard to your blog writing, what changes did you note in your writing style that differed from conventional news writing. Many of us became addicted to blog writing by taking this class. Did you find this was the case with you as well, and do you enjoy the art of blog writing?

2. What do you see is the role of blogs in the bigger sociological picture?

3. How did you arrive at your position, and what advice would you give to students who are looking to follow in your footsteps?

4. What do you think are some of the most effective ways to use the Web as a news media outlet? How do you see the Web impacting the future of journalism even further than it already has?

Each of these questions are obviously tied to his background. As stated above, his digitally writing skills are very extensive. His answers to these questions will helpfully enhance my own digital writing and help with executing a better final project.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thoughts and Ideas from Stovall: Chpts. 12 & 14

In Chapter 12: Media Law Online Stovall gives an in-depth discussion of legal issues surrounding decency, privacy, free speech, and intellectual property that are gaining attention in Web media. The issue that caught my eye is that of decency. As a supposedly free and public source of information, who decides the fine line between decency and obscenity. When is it proper for the government to take action against these Web pages, and when does government action infringe upon free speech. There are clear rules and guidelines when it comes to radio and television. For example, disk jockeys are fined for using obscenities and most television channels do not show nudity. However, case law and proprieties surround Web media are not well established. I found it extremely interesting that libraries could prohibit sites they found obscene, however courts ruled that "public libraries must prove compelling interest before limiting their users' access to sites." (p. 214) This reminds of working in my public library at home and having to monitor the Web sites that people surfed--for some reason, we had no way of blocking pornographic sites, not even in the children's section.

Stovall goes on to give various case law decisions and acts regarding Web media. Perhaps the most prominent being ACLU v. Reno which "found the government to have no compelling interest to regulate noncommercial speech on the Internet" (p. 204) making pretty much anything and everything fair game. Still, defamation of character is not tolerated, however, as Stovall notes, ISP are not responsible as publishers for the material that is filtered through to their providers.

I also found the discussion of "deep-linking" to be very interesting, and I hadn't ever heard of the term until this book. "Deep-linking" is when one site links to another site, but links further than the pages home site, thereby bypassing recognition of the company that the site belongs to. Definitely something to look out for as I'm surfing the Web.

Finally, I also found the discussion of "cybersquatters" interesting, mainly because I find the whole idea ingenious. This is when someone buys up a domain name that refers to celebrity names, movie titles, or other random pop culture reference in an attempt to get someone famous to buy it from them. Unfortunately, Congress passed the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act allowing plaintiffs to sue cybersquatters for up to $100,000.

Chapter 14: Practice and Promise provides a great summary to a book that is filled with some really great information. This chapter combines main points of the book and shows how vast and unfinished the realm of Web media is and what it has yet to become. It also highlights traditional key points that the journalist must be aware of despite the new media form. For example, although the Web offers immediacy, the journalists/editors must not concede to this immediacy if it means giving reader inaccurate of unconfirmed information. This responsibility is not waived just because the Web allows for the timely correction of mistakes.

Likewise, even though the capacity of the Web is unlimited, journalists/editors must still remember that they have an audience to uphold--an audience who may not want to be bombarded with ALL the information available and who certainly don't want this information thrown at them in an unorganized manner. In this way, maintaining customer satisfaction should still remain a very real concern for Web journalists and editors.

Finally, the idea of flexibility in Stovall touches upon many of the same ideas made by Dr. Gil-Egui. The ability of journalists to be flexible not only to carry out traditional news functions, but also to be able to adapt to Web media in all of its various capabilities, begs the question of what changes will be made to education for journalists. Will they be able to do everything? Will they become so technically-enabled that they forget about the traditional tenets the journalism is founded upon? Or will specialization of tasks occur making the necessity for inter-office communication and the union of strategic journalistic goals all the more important to the industry?

Web Journalism - Thoughts and Ideas from Stovall: Chpts. 5, 6, 10

Chapter Five: Every Word Counts provides the reader with some very useful information on how to write news efficiently using the Web medium, a task that becomes essential when writing for the Web. I find that this efficiency is something that takes a long time to get used to and is even different from blog writing. In blog writing, creative license is acceptable and rewarded; however, when writing news on the Web one must be extremely conscious of an audience who wants to read up-to-the-minute news with no subjectivity. The tactics given by Stovall in this chapter, if follwed, will help to make this a reality for Web journalists.

Perhaps the most important point in this chapter is his discussion of layering and hypertext. Providing readers with many different layers and many different links will allow the reader to absorb chunks of information that they deem worthwhile. This takes a lot of skill on the part of the writer who must decide how to layer information in such a way that it makes sense to the reader.

Because the Web allows readers to play a more active role in deciding what to read, organizational tactics are extremely important in Web journalism, as Stovall describes in this chapter. Web writers should make ample use of labels and subheads, be cognizant of the spacing and length of their paragraphs, and use lists and bullets as part of their design to make reading their page more attractive.

The sidebar on p.86 caught my attention because it discusses Web newswriting as a way of providing journalists with a voice--"a place for new types of expression, even from 'old media' journalists now set free." It will be curious to see how Web journalism will evolve and if it will take on a more subjective undertone similar to blogs. Will papers like the NY Times allow journalists to add more voice to their Web pieces that they wouldn't necessarily tolerate in print form?

Chapter Six: Editing gives great praise to editors and discusses their importance to Web journalism. It is worth noting that while editors work in a much different capacity than reporters, they are still responsible for each piece of writing that gets printed. The Five Commandments of Copyediting that Stovall developed serves to remind us of this fact:

1. Thou shalt not accept bad writing.
2 . Thou shalt not tolerate poor language.
3. Thou shalt not have to figure out what the writer is saying.
4. Thou shalt not forgive faulty logic or contradictory information.
5. Thou shalt do the math.

It is clear from reading this chapter that editors functions are essential and while it is logical that they must place faith in their reporters, it is also important for them to question their reporters' writings. One of the most important abilities of an editor is the ability to approach an article from the reader's point of view. They are far enough away from the story to be able to say, if I were reading this with no knowledge of the topic, would it make coherent sense?

Chapter 10: Design on the Web echoes many of the same points made in Chapter 5 regarding making a Web page an attractive and easy read. Perhaps the most interesting part of this chapter is its discussion of how the eye responds to various design elements. For example, large to small fonts, dark to light colors, etc. Knowing where the eye will focus first and using this knowledge to enhance and support your design goals is an interesting way of communicating to your audience. Another interesting aspect of design discussed in this chapter is the use of white space, which is often overlooked. We learn in print journalism how important white space is and this carries over more than ever to Web journalism.

Stovall also gives some other good design tips, such as never make your reader use a horizontal scroll and always think about how quickly load time will take. Having a page that loads slowly will frustrate your reader.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Technorati Study: Blurring the Line Between Main Stream Media and Blogs

Blogs are everywhere! According to the Technorati study conducted its founder David Sifrey, “a new weblog is created every second of every day.” As blogging becomes more and more popular, the line between mainstream media and individual self-expression gets blurred.

This is the subject of a February 18th NY Times article entitled, “That Which We Call a Blog” by Dan Mitchell.

This article goes on to cite blogs written by individuals that which Sifrey considers mainstream site, and blogs that have journalists and reporters as mere bloggers. The line is definitely not clear, and clearly competition is beginning to brew.

According to Micthell, the most competitive blogs are those that appeal to niche markets. These are ones that are focused around a single topic, like gardening. Instead of buying gardening magazines, some one can read a blog about some one else’s first-hand experience with gardening which in a blog-like witty writing style can be both more entertaining and more informative than traditional mainstream media.

The Technorati study gives some very impressive numbers and charts/graphs. The bulk of the report is (most appropriately) comments from readers.

A quick glance at this study and one can immediately assume that blogging’s future is looking pretty good!

Web Journalism—Thoughts and Ideas from Stovall

What Makes It Different: Exploring the Issue of Permanence

The first four chapters of James Glen Stovall’s Web Journalism: Practice and Promise of a New Medium are filled with useful information about the emergence of web journalism and its impact on traditional news media.

Chapter 1: Logging on to the Web does an extremely good job of telling the reader how web journalism differs from traditional media in capacity, flexibility, immediacy, permanence, and interactivity. The Web’s ability to create a permanent record is to me the most powerful characteristic of web journalism, but also the scariest. When you think about it, we have a limited number of books and writings that give us insight into times long ago, think the Bible, the Illiad and the Odyssey, Beowulf, Shakespeare. Surely, some where along the line, thousands of would-be classics got lost, disappeared, etc.

Now suppose it’s 3000 years into the future, and what we would normally consider the present is now ancient times. Suppose nothing that was ever written from now on has gotten lost. Suppose that a written electronic record exists of every book and newspaper ever written—can the Web even hold this much information? On the one hand, it seems great…I’m all for the preservation of good writing, but what about the future of books and libraries? Will they become obsolete? I certainly hope not! And how about bad writing? This will also have a permanent place on the Web. What if for your entire lifetime, every time someone googled your name, they were taken to articles about your drug charges that occurred when you were 18? Combine this with the lack of clear laws surrounding privacy rights and the Web, and you end up with what can potentially be an undoubtedly scary situation.

Making It Different

Chapter Two: News Web Sites gives three tactics used by organizations as they begin to move toward web journalism. The first and most basic is called shovelware. This method gets a bad rap for being uncreative and inadequate for the Web medium. Basically, shovelware is the placement of traditional news onto the web with almost no alterations. While it is true that engaging in shovelware does not reap the benefits of Web characteristics, it is a good starting point for companies just learning how to compete in the world of web journalism. It shows that an attempt is being made to use technology in new ways.

The next step is to begin updating moderately and to obtain a strong readership base. Once the readership is high, only then I would I invest in more aggressive updating, many of which use more advanced and more costly features such as “feeds.” Feeds automatically place articles on a web site through wire transfers. It must be noted that updating that is too aggressive can cause confusion and frustration for the reader. Providing background information and links to previous stories can help remedy this.

Expanding the Definition of News

In Chapter Three, Stovall explains how news can become a great deal more diversified in Web form. He includes great visuals of different ways news can “look” on the screen. Not only does the Web support text like you would find in a newspaper, but also streaming video, sounds clips, places for comments, ways to search for specific article topics, links to other articles, surveys about the article, ways to buy the article, and the list goes on. There is a whole new realm of creativity, layout and design expertise, and technology expertise web journalists are subject to that didn’t exist in traditional media forms.

This makes the ability to be well-versed in these skills extremely attractive from an employment standpoint, especially as web journalism as a career is becoming more and more popular. And it certainly adds to the attractiveness of this class and others like it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Balko to the Rescue

Picture this.

You are at home late at night with your one-year old daughter when someone knocks down your door and enters. You shoot in a panic to protect yourself and your child. The person you shot was a cop entering the wrong apartment. The cop dies. You are on death row for his murder.

This is what happened to Cory Maye, a Southern black man whose trial records for killing a white cop have all the attributes of the type of illogical racial discriminations we'd find in old movies. Balko, a reporter, is using blogging to compile all of the information he finds out about the case.

It is his intention that this case and the atrocity of its decision become public. If successful, this will certainly make blogging more popular. Its potential to rally more people together for a cause faster than any other medium is there, and if this case becomes more publicized because of it, then blogging could quite possibly mean the difference between an innocent man's wrongful death or his aquittal.

Let's all hope it lives up to its potential.

Visit this site for more information on the case.

Blogging: As Cool as it Gets--The World of Commenting

Blogging has just reached new heights in my book. I am one step closer to understanding the blogging craze.

I recently learned that someone had commented on my blog and this was honestly one of the coolest feelings ever. Someone I didn't know from thousands of miles away (Waterloo University in Toronto to be exact!) read my writing and commented on what I had to say about a post entitled The Blogs of War.

Needless to say, the very first comment that I wrote on someone's blog was to him. I thanked him for his comment, gave him a little praise for his well-written blog, and wished Canada luck in the Olympics (the subject of one of his blogs). He hasn't written back yet, but that's okay. I think that having him comment really made this whole blogging experience more real. Conceptually, I knew that people all over the world had access to my blog, but to have that fact substantiated by a comment!...the surge of energy and excitement I felt was instantaneous--hard to describe in words.

The next comment I made was to a girl in our class--Interesting Ramblings of a Brooklyn Girl is the title. I chose to comment on her blog because I'm from Queens and we both had commented on the Caffeinated Geek Girl blog and expressed similar views about it. I also was able to use the fact that we come from the same area as a common ground for starting off the comment. I was surprised to find out that the caffeinated geek girl commented on the comments my class mate made about her blog. I felt almost as if "cgg" was a celebrity of sorts and it is very cool that she wrote back.

Finally, the last comment I made was to a girl's live journal regarding a post about the Olympics. I commented based on the mutual agreement that we are both obsessed with the Olympics and went on to talk about some of my favorite events.

Before this assignment, I hadn't realized how useful and addicting Technorati could be. Not only can I type in any topic and find people's opinions on them, but I can also type in geographic locations--places I frequent in New York, my old high school, and even grammar school to find people that I may be connected to somehow, and if I'm not, I now have a way to start!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Revisiting PhotoShop

Now that I’ve mastered the basics of PhotoShop, I decided to attend the intermediate PhotoShop course given by RCADE on Wednesday, Feb. 15th.

First, I found out that Adobe PhotoShop could be used to pre-design your own website which may come in handy for the final project.

I also learned the power of the ruler and its amazing snapping ability! The ruler, when pulled will put a straight line anywhere on you workspace. If you get close enough to the center, it will snap, giving you an accurate center of your images. It also works for objects as well. For example, if you were to draw an ellipse on your workspace, the ruler will snap at the center of the image.

I also learned how to use the paint bucket, paint brush, and spray paint options. Perhaps the coolest thing was learning how to create a path using a curved line. We practiced this with the Fairfield University logo and created a design for it using paths.

Most of what we did was used making new copies so we really got to understand the use of the history tab and turning different layers on and off to create the desired effects.

We ended with another practicing of the patch tool and the rubber stamp.

The lesson was extremely informative and I learned that students can download Maya for free which is similar to PhotoShop but uses a third dimension to create depth. This program is used by people who create animations, such as Shrek. Certainly, going to give this a try.

One again, time well spent!

Self-Esteem Website Review

Building self-esteem is very important to me, and it plays a very strong role in the happiness of people’s lives. For this reason I chose to review the website more-selfesteem.com. (I was also considering this as a possible topic for my final project-combining factual information with my own personal experiences.)

Starting with the overall look of the website, I found it to be very reader-friendly. The headers break up paragraphs very well and the font is easy to read. Along the left side of the website is a list of links to more information: self-esteem, self-confidence, self-help, words of inspiration, mental health, and links to other websites.

I was a little bit afraid of tackling this topic for my final project since I am not certified to really discuss these issues from a professional background; however, the creator of this site, Karl Perera, is not a professional, and he makes this clear in his “about me” section of the website. I knew that if I did choose to write about this I would have to clarify that in my website as well, and it is good to know that others have taken the same approach to the topic.

The website contains a site map (located at the upper right-hand corner). Clicking here allows the visitor to find a topic of interest immediately. There is also a “contact me” link giving the contact information of the creator.

Content-wise, the site is full of useful information, including a self-esteem test, ways to overcome shyness, self-help methods to use, words of inspiration that a person can tell themselves to keep their esteem elevated. This page also includes a heartfelt story about the importance of valuing every second of life. The mental health link brings the visitor to such tips as: smile and laugh more, realize that if you fail, it’s not the end of the world, and to take on acts of kindness. Finally there are links to other helpful sites.

The creator includes personal experiences and recommends books, and even new age music to help worriers relax. I wanted to use my final project to do something that made me feel good and to help others. This is only one possibility to the project, and I may find that it will lead me to a dead-end. Any suggestions?

Second Person Point-of-View! (What's That?)

Can you imagine an entire novel written in second-person? For most of us, this doesn’t even register as a “valid” point-of-view. Sure, we’ve heard of first-person, third person limited, and third-person omniscient—the three well-known choices we have when we decide to sit down and write a story. But, what if the story we wrote was completely written in the “you” point-of-view?

In Do You Think You’re Part of This? Digital Texts and the Second Person Address, Norwegian researcher, Jill Walker explores the use of second-person address, its impact on digital writing and gaming, and its effect on the reader. (Not to mention, her article is actually written in second-person making for an extremely entertaining and unique read.)

The first things that struck me were the high degree of interactivity and active participation that results when reading text in the second-person—and we get this feeling just from reading traditional written word; even though we can’t really respond or act or even know that the reader intended us to listen, we feel included and engaged in a more personal conversation with the writer.

If we apply this logic to the Digital Age when interactivity is the ideal, at least in Gibson’s mind (I’m reminded of the “connectivity” diagram Dr. Sapp drew on the board), then it becomes obvious why the use of second-person in a digital environment would mushroom. We now have the equipment necessary to respond to writing that seems to be directed right at us. It makes our actions or feelings evoked from the digitally written word able to exist in time side-by-side those words that encouraged such action or feeling. We may even find ourselves writing in second-person (on our blogs, for instance) without even noticing it and hope that someone responds to us.

In a world where mostly everything we read is written in a traditional point-of-view, it is intriguing to learn that authors have experimented with second-person. Walker mentions Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler—certainly adding this to my reading list; believe it or not, I was actually searching for a novel written in second-person, a challenge from a former English professor.

The article also discusses the use of second-person in gaming, particularly in traditional role-playing games (like D&D) and computerized role-playing games (like Doom). In these games, the player becomes both the protagonist and the “reader”—someone who is locked into the boundaries given to us. Walker calls it “the willing suspension of disbelief” (18). For a short time, we become someone else, a character who lives and breaths whenever we play. I couldn’t help think how scary this sounds. I was never one to believe that games could be culpable for the crimes/mischievous behavior of children, but when you think about a constant voice, although nonverbal, telling you to do something or telling you who you are, I can definitely see its brainwashing-like potential, especially when people can easily become addicted to playing games like these.

Lastly, I think that it’s worth noting that this article came Norway. Oftentimes, we forget to look outside of our American bubble to realize that the world does not exist around us. The Digital Age is not only occurring in America but around the entire world. It’s great that we are reading something that reminds us of this fact.

I was originally frowning upon reading a journal article for class (they do have a reputation for being boring), but this was one of the best written pieces of any genre that I’ve read in a long time. If this is how all journal articles are written in Norway, keep them coming!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Blogs of War

The prospects for blogging are almost unimaginable. As a phenomenon, it has such huge potential for changing politics, culture, journalism, economics (just to name a few.) Who would have thought that armed forces in Iraq would be using blogs as an outlet for the emotions and thoughts about the war?

This was the subject of a recent article written by John Hockenberry in WiReD magazine entitled Blogs of War.

While this is certainly a benefit to readers who can learn from first-hand writers about what is actually going on in Iraq, certain safety precautions must obviously be addressed. What if these soldiers gave away information that was detrimental to American strategy? Can some of these blogs actually border on treason? Certainly, an issue that needs to be addressed. While I can understand the intriguing nature of reading a real-time account of soldiers' experiences, I really do not think that the benefits of doing this come anywhere close to the risks and danger that blogging about the war can put fellow soldiers and Americans in.

I can sympathize with the families of soldiers who read their blogs to make sure that their loved ones are okay. I also understand that in uncertain times this form of communication can be extremely comforting. But again, it does have the potential to create a dangerous situation and when letters and phone calls can have the same comforting effect without the danger then this certainly seems the better way to go.

There's something about a soldier writing blogs while in a time of war that doesn't sit well with me. Hours can be spent blogging and it's easy to become a constant blogger--one who blogs whenever there is free time. It has a certain connotation to it that is different from letter writing or writing in a diary. I feel like wartime is not a time to be developing your creative writing skills as a writer. When all your free time is spent blogging, it is quite possible that doing so can become a distraction to your duties.

This being said, the WiReD article "The Blogs of War" did help in my continuing struggle to understand what blogging is and what it means. One of the interesting points is really how little rules apply to blogging. We learn in class that blogs have a certain unique decorum about them—that they are witty and sarcastic. But Danjel Bout writes his blog in a very literary-friendly fashion that is similar to classic novel writers like Hemmingway. Clearly, the rules for blogs are not so strict, which is good because blogging shouldn’t be about rules, but rather about self-expression. Writing his blog in this traditional fashion is not a crime, in fact, many people read and enjoy his blog. Not to mention, this sort of writing can easily be turned into a book.

Furthermore, despite my misgivings about blogging while on the front lines, these war blogs are prime examples of blogging’s potential to make the world a much smaller place. You no longer have to have a chance happening on an airplane seated next to a soldier to understand multiple perspectives, you could do so simply by reading their blogs--illustrating once again that the power of blogging as a cultural and sociological phenomenon should not be underestimated.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Learning Something New

I went to Sitemeter.com and started an account. I now have a site meter for my blog!

I also was successful in figuring out how to link webpages into my blog and to paste pictures. I tested this in the earlier "test" blog post. Then I went ahead and pasted pictures all over my blog.

Will taught me how to strikethrough.

A Lesson in Adobe PhotoShop

On February 6th, RCADE (the FREE on-campus computer training courses) held a workshop on an Introduction to Adobe PhotoShop. Not only did the session allow for hands-on practice with the program, but it also gave basic information about associated computer terms and files. For example, I know now the difference between compressed and uncompressed images. I also know that a Tif file uses 16.7 million colors and that a Jpg file uses 256 colors.

Raising resolution raises the file size, and for a Powerpoint or Web image, the resolution should be at 72 dpi. For print work, this should be risen to 300 dpi. In terms of file size, 1024 k = 1 mega pixel. (Not too shabby!)

We also learned how to use PhotoShop to change picture images. We were given three different images and followed the instructor as we used different tool bar items to add graphic design elements to each image. Gaussian Blur was especially “cool” in its creation of a tunnel effect. We played around with hue adjustments, saturation, and lightness. We learned how to layer these adjustments and use the history tab to go back in time to different events. The healing brush or patch tool magically took away blemishes and unwanted spots from the image.

The instructor was extremely helpful and patient. Each step was explained well and we did not move on until everyone was on the same page. I highly recommend this workshop and found it so valuable that I am planning to attend the next level in Adobe PhotoShop on Wednesday Feb. 15th.

So, to anyone looking to enhance their computer skills, be sure to check out RCADE!

Please Don’t Sue Me!

In a culture where litigious behavior seems to be second nature, blogging brings about a whole new and uncharted territory for being sued. For this reason, Dr. Simon (our Digital Writing professor at Fairfield U.) invited Alan Neighor to discuss the ins and outs of keeping us safe from being sued.

Neighor explained some important legal terms: a defamatory statement is a false statement against someone’s reputation, not necessarily against someone’s character. This includes:

1. accusing someone of a crime
2. accusing incompetency in their profession
3. violating public policy
4. accusing of a loathsome disease
5. accusing of craziness

It is NOT name-calling. You can call someone the most degrading name you can think of, and still this is your opinion against their character (not against their reputation), and is therefore not defamatory.

These rules hold up in blogs. You can be sued for libel if you make defamatory statements against someone in your blog. Of course, if it is the TRUTH, this is an ultimate defense against libel charges.

Neighor explained a very important distinction between private people and public NY Times Sullivan people. If someone makes a defamatory statement against a private person (someone who doesn’t willingly propel themselves into the spotlight), then the standard of care is negligence. In other words, the plaintiff will have to prove negligence in order to win their case. On the other hand, if someone was to make a defamatory statement against a public NY Times Sullivan person, the standard of care is much higher and the plaintiff must show “clear and convincing” proof, that the defendant knew of the falsity and was being malicious.

There are some cases in which statements made can be free from libel charges. If the statement is an opinion, if there is neutral reporting, absolute privilege (as in under oath in a courtroom), or qualified privilege where the 3rd party has a duty to say something.

If you are incorrect in your reporting, you must retract within a reasonable time frame, usually within one month, so that you don’t get sued. If you do get sued and the court sees that a retraction wasn’t made at all or that it wasn’t made within a reasonable time frame, the amount of damages owed to the plaintiff could increase.

Occasionally, people like to be funny and the court realizes this fact. Any time you want to poke fun at people, corporations, etc., you must be sure to make sure that it is easily visible as a satire or comedy and not a malicious act against that person. The law states that if a normal person cannot reasonably see it as a joke, then it may be considered libelous.

When it comes to copyright and intellectual property, four questions come in to play when determining whether you have illegally copied material:

1. What was it used for?

2. Was the text factual or fanciful?

3. How much of the text was copied? Was it only the important parts?

4. What is the impact on the market?

Neighor suggests that when posting blogs, we should use public domain—material that was published before 1978 and not copyrighted. Trademark Law, however, says that you can use mastheads (e.g. NY Times). Photographs should be given proper attribution.

Neighor provided some great information on a topic that should be of utmost concern to anyone in the writing field. His expertise combined with an informal lecturing style allowed for a flow of audience questions and a therefore very relevant yet focused lecture.

It's a Small World After All

Being quite the skeptic of blogs in general, something that Dr. Gudalunis said struck a cord with me and made me realize one of the extremely profound and revolutionizing aspects about blogs: their ability to make the world a much smaller place. Finding and analyzing different perspectives is one of my biggest goals in life and this relates back to Dr. Gudalunis’s “crisis of the referent” theory associated with blogs. As the world becomes a smaller and smaller place, people have access to wider and wider view points. Blogs, like e-mail, the globalization of businesses, and shorter and easier air plane flights, function as a way of bringing these view points closer to our fingertips in developing our own search for what we believe is true.

Listening to this interesting philosophically-driven argument immediately conjured up a memory of quite the unusual plane ride I recently had the pleasure of experiencing.

On my way home from Prague, my best friend Susan and I were given seats that while directly across from each other, and were separated by an aisle. (She flies stand-by and the chances of her getting on the plane nevermind having seats next to each other is always up in the air—no pun intended.) She decided that if a person sat next to her, she would kindly ask him to switch seats with me so that we could sit next to each other and talk about typical girly stuff and recount the highs and lows of our trip.

Enter a gorgeous young man with an acute sense of style (converse sneakers, Mavi jeans torn in all the right places, and an almost unrealistically curly afro), and where does he sit?…That’s right…you guessed it, right next to Susan. Now I’m thinking, no way is she gonna ask him to switch (move him further away from her line of vision?…not a chance). Susan being the awesome friend that she is put his cuteness aside and sure enough, we switched seats, but what happened next was unimaginable.

The three of us began talking, and we began learning a lot about each other. He had spent the past 7 months traveling and began showing us pictures of faraway places (South America’s rainforests, the Egyptian pyramids, camel-riding in the Middle East). We began partaking in the free and unlimited glasses of white wine (perhaps a tad too much) and Susan shortly passed out, a combination of seven glasses of wine and two Tylenol P.M.s will do that to you. I moved my seat next to him and shortly found out that he was of Middle Eastern descent, a what he called “the worst of all possible kinds—Palestinian.” Now, growing up in a staunchly Republican household, I find myself enjoying things that make my mother’s face twitch. Her stand on the war in Iraq is immovable and un-debatable by all means (trust me I’ve tried). It would be extremely interesting for me to find out what this smart-sounding, seemingly sane, young man had to say about his own feelings about America’s dealings in the Middle East.

Nine hours later (to the annoyance and aggravation of our fellow fliers), we were STILL talking. The plane was about to land, and I had spent nine full hours talking to someone I had just met, and genuinely appreciating and analyzing his well-thought out, eloquently delivered thoughts and ideas. We had no arguments nor did we raise our voices, we respectfully listened to what we thought—and we LEARNED from each other. We joked with each other and we honestly enjoyed the healthy exchange of ideas.

If this is what blogging can achieve on a worldwide scale then more power to it. The reason for my skepticism is the fear of the anonymous person. How can someone know if another is telling the truth when we no longer have face-to-face interaction? But, from what I gather, blogging quickly becomes a community of trusting people. And just as my elusive air plane buddy may have been lying to me the whole time, I chose to trust the words of someone I had just met, and similarly, just as a blogger may be lying, the reader makes a gut decision whether or not to believe his or her words. Nothing is ever certain, but the underlying benefit of allowing people to be exposed to such a wide variety of viewpoints certainly outweighs the risk of being lied to. Now I’m not talking hard news here, because if someone blogs about something in a way that fraudulently depicts a falsehood as fact, this certainly can create extreme harm. What I’m talking about is opinions, people’s opinions that are founded on something concrete, reading words that make you say, “hey, that person has a point.” Or, “hey, there’s something that I never thought of.” These are outcomes that help us learn from each other and that help us grow into the type of well-round intelligent people we should all be aspiring to become.

The smaller the world becomes, the greater we understand one another, and the less likely we are to harm one another. Again, if this is even remotely one of the outcomes of blogging, then it has the power to become quite possibly one of the greatest instruments for positive global change in the history of the world.

A skeptic convinced! (well, almost)