Teach Me to Be You

I decided to interview my close friend, Lucy Vavala. I have always admired her Twitter Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 11.59.32 PM.pngand the many numbers of retweets and likes she gets on everything she posts. Lucy is a junior, Women and Gender Studies major. She describes her Twitter brand as mostly light hearted, although she talks a lot about politics and pop culture. To quote her exactly: “It’s kind of a mess, but it all works together”.  Below is the interview I had with her.

Do you feel you reach people on Twitter you wouldn’t connect with otherwise?

Yes. Definitely. I think I started on Twitter following my friends, a small network. But once I started following celebrities, blogs, and writers I connected with other people who followed these accounts as well. Then once I made my Twitter public, more people began to take notice to my tweets and my friends would retweet it to their friends.

Do you tweet about controversial issues only when an issue is trending or will you just tweet about issues that you are passionate about?

Sometimes the things that are trending are the things I’m really passionate about. Such as the Woman’s March. On Twitter I comment on a lot of current events, but not because everyone else is. I comment because I think it is an important issue that needs to be discussed.

Do you think there is a difference between the voice you use on Twitter and the voice you use in face-to-face interactions?

No. Anything I tweet I make sure sounds like something I would naturally say. If you post something that is attached to your name and your personal brand, but isn’t authentic, why post it?

What tweet are you most proud of? And why?

“My arch nemesis from swim team when I was little is going to the Olympics and I am eating stale triscuits on my couch in complete darkness”

This is horrible to say but I’m most proud of this one because it got the most retweets. I mean, I’m proud of other tweets but this one has to do with social validation.

Have you ever reread a tweet and thought it was too offensive to post?

Yes, there have been times where I reread a tweet of mine and thought “oh wow this could easily be misconstrued”. But even if I am tweeting something political I will still post it. I don’t care if my opinion differs from someone else’s, but if I assume someone will read my tweet and think I’m a bad person then I rethink it.

Do you ever use Twitter as an outlet when struggling in college?

At times, I have had my fair share of vague tweets. But I never really used Twitter as an online diary, because it is so public. I use Twitter as an outlet for my thoughts and opinions, not my feelings.

Do you have any advice or strategies you use when it comes to tweeting?

  1. Make sure it’s your authentic voice. That can be hard to find on social media because sometimes we just post what we think people will want to hear.
  2. Don’t tweet every thought that pops into your head. Use your filter.
  3. Be conscious of how you use capitalization, abbreviation, and word choice.
  4. Choose which audience you are trying to speak to: immediate audience (friends) or random people who might come across your tweet

I used the strategies Lucy gave me and created a tweet I thought would mirror her voice. Surprisingly, it worked! I got 5 likes (which is a lot for me).

My interview with Lisa Ryan

In my time with working for The Review, I met have many writers I admire; their styles, structure, and overall use of language all engage me, improving my writing along the way. I’ll say that many of those writers are my peers and still work for the paper, although many have left and gone onto jobs in journalism or non-profit. For myself, the writer I consistently find myself inspired by is Lisa Ryan, a junior Communications major and fellow Review editor. Not only is she a good friend, but a great reservoir of knowledge when it comes to all things journalism. Here are the questions I asked her. I hope you get something out of this, hopefully just as much as I did.

Growing up, what books/genres were you reading and why? 

I read constantly growing up, and when I was in elementary school I was very interested in fantasy (Harry Potter, Ella Enchanted), and I also read a lot of historical fiction. Growing up, I read fewer books about modern people in everyday situations than I would later in life. I think my interest in historical fiction and fantasy had to do with my interest in lives that are different from my own, which makes sense in hindsight, since I’m studying journalism now. However, that curiosity doesn’t really explain why I began to prefer young adult (YA) realistic fiction in middle school and high school. At that point, I was interested in reading about people who were dealing with the same problems I was as a young person. I found it comforting to see my own teenage experiences reflected, and I want to write YA someday to (hopefully) give someone else that feeling of understanding.

Did you reading habits grow up influence the style in which you write?

My earliest reading habits (fantasy and historical fiction) taught me a great deal about world building, the process of creating a lifelike and compelling setting for a story. Although I do not think I will ever have the patience to create a setting as detailed as that of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, I still want to bring characters to life in settings that will feel real to my readers.

Like I said before, my positive experiences reading YA realistic fiction made me want to write for a teenage audience. One of my favorite writers, Sarah Dessen, is someone whose work I found in middle school; she writes funny, heartfelt stories in which teenaged or college-aged girls deal with complex family ties, romance and friendship. The books were not just entertaining to me, but meaningful, as the main characters deal with coming-of-age issues like finding one’s confidence or building an identity outside of others’ expectations. Sarah Dessen’s books, which I read and re-read growing up, made me want to write books that would help young people beat everyday boredom while still having the benefit of seeing their own lives reflected in the work.

Talk about working for The Review, the university’s independent, student-run newspaper. What makes the editor position that of envy?

I was very nervous when I began writing for The Review, as my main experience in nonfiction writing before then was based in columns. Luckily, the editors for whom I wrote were helpful and supportive; with their assistance, I learned a great deal in a short time. That opportunity to help others improve at an activity they enjoy is the most rewarding and enviable part of my current position as a Managing Editor of the Mosaic section. I am glad I can assist others who are unsure about their work as they are learning how to write in AP and/or Review style, because I wouldn’t be where I am now if someone had not worked with me in the same way.

As an editor, how often do you find yourself learning from the writings of your reporters?

One of the things I struggled with as a reporter was starting off my articles on a strong note with an attention-grabbing lede. I had trouble coming up with ledes that were engaging, but not cheesy – that is, until I started seeing the ledes that some of my reporters were writing. Reading others’ dynamic, original ledes from an editors’ perspective, carefully considering how they were written, helped me to improve my own writing in that area.

 What are some goals you have for yourself after you leave college? Can we expect a book from you?

Ideally, I would like to be a reporter by day and an author of fiction by night. I know I’ve talked a lot about wanting to write YA coming-of-age fiction, but in college, I became interested in both mystery fiction and true crime stories. Because of that, it would be ideal if I could fill a mystery story with strong coming-of-age themes (family, identity, personal growth) and engaging characters; so far, it’s been a lot to fit into one story, but I’m going to keep trying. Hopefully you can expect a book from me someday!

In terms of journalism, I’ve worked in news as a general assignment reporter for my local paper two summers in a row, I would like to continue working in news reporting. My ultimate goal is to pursue investigative journalism; I am always impressed by the impact major investigations can make, and as someone who wants to make a difference in the world, this seems like a good way to do it.

What advice would you give someone who wants to write professionally? Did you ever benefit from someone giving you advice?

Honestly, the one thing that I can say for sure has helped me get new opportunities in writing (getting hired for The Review, or getting an internship) is practice. In high school, I blogged when I could and wrote for the school newspaper; no one read our school’s paper besides our advisor, but hearing her feedback and that of others on the staff helped me to grow as a writer. From junior year of high school until now, I have just been trying to gain writing experience and take in constructive criticism or positive feedback wherever I can.

I also try to read widely in the areas (fiction and nonfiction) in which I want to write, whether I’m reading adult fiction along with YA fiction, or reading a personal essay after checking out news coverage. I was given that advice by a news editor who was my boss during a summer internship; throughout my eight weeks working for him, we would go over edits he had made to my articles that week, and on Friday afternoons he would take the time to ask me about my goals and give me advice on how to meet them. I have benefitted greatly from his advice, whether it was about gaining a better grasp on AP Style, or guidance he has given as I prepare to graduate and search for a job.

A Review

Olivia Mann is currently an art history and history double major. Despite not focusing on English in her course work, she is a self proclaimed feminist and uses her strengths to write for the UD Review.

As a copy editor, she picks her own assignments which tend to be in the realm of LGBTQ activism and social justice. These are areas of passion for her so it makes writing easier.

In our discussion we covered topics like writing for digital vs. paper, receiving feedback and her writing process.

Are your pieces posted on just the website or printed as well?

” I think all my stories have been in print and on the website. The date of when we write a piece also affects that. Like if the paper comes out on Tuesday and there is immediate news, we will publish only to the website. But we are digital first, so most articles will be out by 11pm Monday night and then it will be printed the next morning.”

Do you write differently when you are writing online?

” It is the exact same copy.”

Do you do a lot of research before writing your pieces or see how it flows?

“Yes I do a lot of research. It really helps when going into an interview, having background, and they really appreciate when you know a lot about them and have the knowledge about them to make a great article. For a piece on Islamaphobia, I found Naveed Baqir through Rate My Professor. It just so happened that he was also a past UD professor. He left UD about a year about and due to the presidential election, he feels that he needs to stand up for his community. He is now the executive director of the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs.”

Do you receive feedback from readers on your piece?

“One thing that I get feedback on a lot, because I am in the same editing chain, is AP Style. Other feedback, I have gotten is from the Review staff that is very supportive. I have also gotten feedback on my AIDS article, mostly through twitter. People will re-tweet my articles. I have about 10 re-tweets on one article last year. I also had a lot of responses on an article about trigger warnings, because it was kinda like a battlefield of open speech.

When my articles are controversial, that is when they get the most attention. There are times when the Review got dragged through the mud like when Ellie was running for SGA president and the Milo article.”

What’s your favorite piece you have done?

” I would have to say one about Islamaphobia. It was a lot of onsite journalism. Like recapping on an event and saying what happened is great but I got to interview him and attend a Muslim prayer session. It was funny because they come together for religious reasons and at the end they had pizza.”

After speaking with Olivia, I learned more about her research process and how she finds sources for her articles. With so much going on around campus, she is still able to dig deeper than the story on the surface and immerse herself in her words.

Profiling a Digital Writer

Patricia Cason is a junior English major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She writes for The Odyssey to gain experience as a published writer for her life after graduation. Her writing has always interested me, not only because she is a friend of mine, but because she doesn’t stick to just one topic. She has some articles that are in the popular list format, but she also writes about some more serious topics as well. My goal for this interview was to gain some insight about what motivates Patricia to write about what she does and to learn about what she takes from the overall experience of writing for The Odyssey.

How did you become involved in writing for the Odyssey? Was it strictly because you are an English major or was it more on your own personal interest?

Patricia: I started writing for The Odyssey because “being published” is important for anyone considering a career as a writer. Where you’re published doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re putting your work out into the world for people to see. The biggest reason I write for [The Odyssey] is to demonstrate interest in written communication for future employers. I chose The Odyssey because it’s a lot more relaxed than our student newspaper, The Breeze, and I didn’t want to deal with strict deadlines in addition to my academic course load.

 

How do you come up with topics for each one of your articles?

Patricia: A lot of the topics I write about come from personal experience, or are common themes I pick up on during conversation with my friends. I write down potential topics whenever they come to me, so I have a lot of article titles scrawled in my notebook and in my iPhone notes. One time I wrote almost an entire article while I was hosting during a slow day at TGI [Friday’s], which was definitely a better use of my time than actually working.

 

You seem to have a good range of topics varying from your “Society Killed the Liberal Arts Major” to a more controversial topic such as the article “All the Questions You Were Always Too Afraid to Ask” and a few light-hearted lists such as “8 Reality Checks for My Insane Expectations of Freshman Year”. Are there different approaches you take to each type of article and/or certain things you keep in mind when writing the more serious ones?

Patricia: Sometimes I choose topics because I think I’ll get a lot of social engagement, and other times I feel as if the topic itself is important, and needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, the audience I reach from Facebook and Twitter shares is primarily bored college students, so articles such as “All The Questions You Were Always Too Afraid To Ask” always get drastically more views. It’s kind of disappointing actually, because a lot of people say they care about deeper issues, but don’t engage with it in their free time when it’s offered to them.

 

After writing for an online publication, do you see any striking differences about writing online vs. for print?

Patricia: I’ve never written for a print publication, but the biggest difference that I see is the types of people you reach and the ability to measure your audience. I can see the exact number of people who read my articles, which isn’t possible for print sources. Additionally, since The Odyssey gives its creators the burden of sharing and marketing their piece for views, I really only originally reach the people I’m friends with on Twitter and Facebook. So, if I wrote an article that primarily 30 year-olds would be interested in, they’d probably never see it because my younger followers wouldn’t be interested enough to share it.

 

Overall, would you say that writing for The Odyssey has helped you grow as a writer and has prepared you for life outside school with an English degree (career wise)? If so, in what ways?

Patricia: It’s been interesting, because I have the freedom to explore pretty much anything I want and have it published. It’s also taught a bit about writing for the public vs. academic papers. Obviously, I probably shouldn’t use words like “ostensibly” in Odyssey articles, or my readers will disengage with the content. I’ve definitely learned that the general public heavily favors lighthearted “fluff” writing.

 

I found Patricia’s answers to #3 and #4 particularly interesting because they can be nicely tied to the Social Action assignment we just had. She points out how she wishes to have lots of public engagement about her posts but often gets her hopes up because of the limited audience had access to. She points out how her friends on Facebook and Twitter claim to have concern for the deeper issues but doesn’t engage with it in their free time. This is something that all of us have claimed to experience in our reflection of our social action. Additionally, this lack of sharing can impact what she chooses to write about since she must keep that audience in mind.

LinkedIn Social Action Post

When starting the “prep” for this assignment, I knew I wanted to write about something related to business. I thought it would be too cliche’ to write something on United, although that’s the hot topic nowadays. Then I got to thinking about what my group and I talked about in class one day – is the internet and social media used as a simple (yet effective) catalyst to share, usually detrimental, information with a larger public. I found what one would think would be an issue in business – accusations of a CEO firing employees with a potentially immoral underlying motive. And I posted it to my LinkedIn.

Now, I don’t have 15,000 followers or anything like that in my network, but I would think that as a business platform, that LinkedIn would serve to be my catalyst to spur discussion, or at least add to the conversation.

The author does a great job as well, keeping some sense impartiality, and simply reporting her findings. So I didn’t think that the discussion would be too one-sided. I thought it might garner some comments and at least a little discussion within an online business community.

However, after 102 views (according to LinkedIn), my post received 1 like and 0 comments. To play devil’s advocate for myself, here are a few “could-have-happened” in my opposition: perhaps people just scrolled through my post; perhaps, due to my lack of posting prior, no one cared to check out my post; perhaps I posted it with too little time for people to respond; there are a number of “perhaps” that could have happened.

So, how big of a catalyst is my personal LinkedIn? Apparently not that big. No game-changers, or mind-shifting ideals coming from my site.

But the article I posted interested me because, as the author on BusinessInsider wrote, she had a following. It was one of the featured stories. The tech company, Tanium, got publicity for this, and there CEO got called out on some potentially harmful accusations. The question I posed in my post is, without social media or the internet, would this have just been an internal issue? Or would the issue have been brought to the public’s attention, but at a much slower rate – perhaps causing the public interest to be lessened due to the lack of a catalyst?

It’s hard to tell sometimes whether news would be news without the internet and the information age. What would we do without our beloved social media and internet? What issues would be swept under the rug? What issues would still be important?

 

Not a single good response

Today seemed like the perfect day to post an article about the former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly. A New York Times article detailing the millions of dollars he gave out in settlements to women alleging O’Reilly of sexual misconduct and maleficence came out a few short weeks ago, drawing feverish backlash from the social media world, media ethics organizations, and advertisers.

Together, they combined to create a persuasive argument against O’Reilly, whose alleged misconduct streamlines back to the early 2000’s and repeats over and over again.

O’Reilly has long been noted for his agitation toward left-leaning ideologues and policies as well as his occasional, but notable, combative tone used against guests. On air, O’Reilly commanded the conversation, often interjecting and cutting off guests whom he disagreed with. To many opposing his viewpoints, O’Reilly’s show didn’t present an opportunity for constructive conversation. Rather, the discussion often became fraught with O’Reilly’ s characteristically argumentative rebuttal.

Now, after 20 years of TV time and a show that garnered more viewers than any of its competitors, the show will terminate immediately. The intense pressure from advertisers – almost 50 of them pulling their ads off of O’Reilly’s show – combined with mounting evidence of continued sexual misconduct were too strong for the Fox News empire to overcome. It had been reported that in the past few weeks, upper-level executives had been hoping that this negative press would subside. But in the end, the company felt that keeping O’Reilly didn’t out way keeping him around.

So today, I wanted to post about this. It felt important. It felt timely. Bill O’Reilly getting the can? His release represented a win for many factions of people. Those who detest sexual predators anywhere near or  in the workplace won. Liberal media outlets with a strong distaste for the Fox News style won. If you didn’t like O’Reilly, you won.

The hope that many people would react, comment, or share my post bounced around in my head before anything transpired. My social media feed is filled with a plethora of voices, friends and acquaintances from across the isle, I thought. At the very least, I would get a response or two saying that my thoughts on this were justified, or my rejoice in his firing was deserved. It appeared to me that this was a good topic to knock down my ideological wall with and show my cards.

No one responded.

The article I posted was the initial NYT reporting, presumably one of the first media organizations to have something out there. A trustworthy source, no matter whether you lean left or right. Yet, the response on my feed was disappointing. A little more than 20 people actually liked the post even though hundred of people saw it. Additionally, only two of my friends provided commentary. One said “Good Riddance” and the other, who leans more conservative, happened to agree that O’Reilly’s release was a good thing.

Did I overestimate the amount of diversity in my online world?

After a few hours of needless checking and re-checking, the likes and comments fizzled out. What I was left with was a staggeringly weak pool of comments and interactions. All of those who chose to add their voice to the conversation did so in affirmation of my liberal beliefs. Even the one conservative fellow was on my side.

This was supposed to be a tumultuous occurrence. People were supposed to argue with each other.  My Facebook was supposed to light up in blue and red paint, with lines drawn firmly in the ground and the two opposing sides squaring off in political theater. It was supposed to be marvelous, until it wasn’t. I blame this on myself and my smaller-than-previous-thought bubble of like-minded friends and strangers existing in my virtual world. I blame my high expectations too, but mostly the bubble I occupy. In it, I now realize I’m far less enriched with different political perspectives. My ability to engage in debate with my liberal friends pails in grandeur and intensity to the debates I would have if I had more conservative friends. What this proved to me is that ideological lines are hard to break, in person and online. And in the hyper-polarized world of embattled, two-sided, divided avenues of thought, it will only get harder.

Social media algorithms dictate more and more of what appears in front of us, thereby enforcing the deep lines of our politics. Facebook, in a way, knows what I want to see and who I want to see posting. It computes a pragmatic guesstimation of what will appeal to me, knowing that prior visits to news outlets and blog posts would implicate me as the left-leaner I am, even if I don’t wish to have that be my only reality.

To break on through to the otherside, Facebook and social media as a whole shouldn’t let me get in the way. In return for my time spent on WashPo, I should be directed to an article on The National Review. For every article read on MotherJones, I should be reading the work of someone writing for The Weekly Standard. It is admittedly difficult to come up with these places off the top of my head. For myself and other snowflakes, a well-respected conservative publication is as rare as a Bill O’Reilly apology.

Guess that’s what I guess I get for living in the bubble.

Social Action

I would like to discuss briefly two posts that I shared on my Facebook page- one I intended for this project and one I did not. Both posts I made relate to inequality and oppression of different groups. The first one I will talk about was made on Tuesday about Rachel Dolezal. If you have not heard of her, she was born to two white parents in Montana but claims she has felt she was African American her whole life. When she became an adult she excessively tanned, got her hair permed, and convinced everyone she met that she was really black- she even lied about who her father was. She studied African American studies at school, became a professor for the course, and held a job as part of the department for NAACP. When her parents outed her as white, she quit all jobs and underwent shaming online. I chose to blog about this because it has gained relevance again today as she will be featured on Dr. Phil. The comment that I attached to the article read:

Nicole Mason

Since racism and cultural appropriation is a topic I see pretty frequently on my Facebook feed (thanks to Trump’s election and proposed actions), I thought it would get at least a few comments. I got my first like within 2 hours, and then a couple more over the next 36 hours. I got one comment thanking me for what I said and sharing about this issue.

 

The second post I made the day before on Monday. This one I did not intend to use for my social action assignment (due to its informal structure and some inappropriate content), but it gained a larger reaction that the post I intended to use. This one centers around misogyny and unrealistic standards for girlfriends. The post is a list from “totalfratmove.com” on ways to be the “perfect college girlfriend” including things like having no insecurities, not being upset if your boyfriend ignores you, not being clingy, and keeping the guy and his fraternity brothers happy. This post got me upset because of its derogatory and degrading tone towards women, which is something I see way too often and am tired of witnessing. I had to share my thoughts with people on Facebook and said:

Nicole Mason (1).png

This post got likes immediately and received a total of 15 reactions (which may not be high for most people but is extremely rare for whenever I share something), however it got no comments. This got me thinking. Did I receive more attention because it was a shorter article (written in list form), with lighter content, and did not come from an official news website? These reasons would make sense because in my opinion people are more likely to click on and read to an article if it relates to them (college website vs. global issue), is a shorter read, and the comment the sharer made along with the article is shorter as well.

Overall, I wasn’t shocked by the amount of responses I got. I was certainly not surprised I got mainly likes, however I was expecting to get more than one comment on the article about Rachel Dolezal since it was a more official article.