Friday, November 18, 2011

Sizzle or Steak?

I consider myself a journalist first and foremost. News beats in every fiber of my being. After that, maybe a designer, maybe a writer.

I want to comment on this article a friend sent me, based on several things that happened this week.

First, the Associated Press, long our go-to news source (and yes, we newspapers paid heftily for the priviledge) chastized their reporters publicly for "Tweeting" while they were in the thick of the drama down at #OccupyWallStreet this week.

The traditional way, you see, would be for said reporter to get said news, go back to the newsroom with it (hopefully getting at least two sources for said news along the way). Give it to one's editors, and then the editors would do what they do, bending it, shaping it, making it ready for public consumption (in the case of AP, on all (paid) outlets that AP streams out on).

Twitter has changed that.

I also covered (as a journalist) the events of #OccupyWallStreet and #OccupyLA and other events in the Day of Action this week (Nov. 17). Using the social media at my disposal: mostly Twitter, also Facebook.

Twitter changed the way I process news.

I like and respect Jeremiah Owyang, and read him on Twitter and other outlets. However, in this instance, he's missing the point.

As a designer, they used to tell me: know your tools. Know which one to use for which purpose. So it is, too, with social media.

While all his comments about permanency and Twitter are valid (sure, I wish they had an archive function, or a timeline thingie like Facebook is about to have, but they don't). Permanence is not the importance of Twitter, nor is "time spent there wasted."

Twitter for me (sorry, AP) has become my primary news source. We have raised a generation of news junkies, and we want it now, and we want it fast. Twitter gives us that primacy.

Let me illustrate for you a story, of part of my week, how my "social media" life went.

I spent a good chunk of the early morning Day of Action online. I was multi-tasking between Twitter and Facebook. (I have a large contingent of friends on Facebook who still don't see the value or need for Twitter. Sadly.)

So, as the story of the day: Day of Action, mostly #OccupyWallStreet was breaking (a story, I might add, that MSM journalists were barred from covering, thanks to Bloomberg's "media blackout"), I was manning the controls. I had my news sources in action who were in the thick of things.

I was monitoring my Twitter feed. When items came across, I would cross post them (RTing them to my stream (2000 people) and posting them on my FB wall (1300+ people). Who then reposted to their streams and walls. I posted pictures, I posted video, I posted commentary. I heard when the first people got arrested, I heard when the police captain offered himself up. I was, as much as I could be, right there in the thick of it.

That's how news works today. (Several people sent me emails that day, thanking me for my coverage.)

The AP journalist KNEW that, yet was chastized for it. (It's against company policy.) If you are right there, on Wall Street, you have the news as close as your Twitter feed. That's as much as you have control of it today, because everyone around you also has a camera and access to the world.

So for me, monitoring my Twitter feed (which I do at least daily) takes the place of reading my daily newspaper. It is certainly "steak" for me on great news days, though when people are just talking about nonsense, it isn't.

I don't consider one iota of time that I spend on Twitter "wasted." I wish I could spend MORE time there. I wish I could've spent all of the Day of Action on Twitter, for example.

Owyang says: "if you Tweet more than 20 times a day, you should have just blogged."

Everyone uses these tools differently. For me, I use Facebook as a platform to get information to my friends and family. (Especially those who, for whatever reason, aren't even ON Twitter yet.) I use Twitter as a short-term news source, but also for whatever bursts of items I may want to discourse about: whatever's happening on Survivor or Dancing with the Stars, some movie or song I just experienced, etc. If it's a longer thing that warrants a blog, I'll write one. I have two blogs, in fact.

But while many people use Twitter to post links to people (I primarily use FB for that), I most frequently now ReTweet others. I follow 2000 people. I ReTweet the interesting bits for others in my stream. As far as my own posts, I probably don't do 20 in a day, but on some news-heavy days, I can be RTing 100+ times.

I also "live blog" frequently on Twitter: the Oscars, the Emmys, Survivor and its finale; or sometimes conferences that I'm at. The first few is to share a communal experience with people, the conference stuff is for people who can't get there.

It has never been (for me) about "what did I have for breakfast?" It is very much about "what am I seeing/hearing/feeling/experiencing right now?"

Owyang wants to get people over to things that make money for him. I am about documenting our social journey. For me, Twitter IS the steak. If I had to only live with ONE choice for social media, it would be Twitter, in a heartbeat.

If people want to know more deeply how I feel about an issue, they can friend me on Facebook, or read my blogs. Or listen to my podcasts. There are vehicles for everything. I think anyone who forcefully weans themselves from any social medium is an idiot. (As is anyone who still isn't anywhere on this value chain.) We are all still learning and growing with these new tools, and learning how they best work for us.

I have a friend that I had to drag, kicking and screaming, to get onto Facebook this week. He's an actor, wondering why his agent isn't calling him so much. "Are you on Twitter? Facebook?" I innocently asked him one day. Turned out, he hadn't ever even SEEN a Facebook page. (This was about a month ago.) I'm sorry, but that's inexcusable.

I mean, I suppose, if you really have a spiritual vow to be a hermit, it would be ok. But if you are living, breathing and alive in the world, it's inexcusable. Especially if your work is as an actor!!! When you are depending on casting directors to cast you. "Did you know about all the casting directors who are on Twitter?" I asked him. His face paled, he looked incredulous. "Well, no." "Huh. And have you been working a lot lately?" I continued. "Well, no."


Twitter is a news source, a job source, a living breathing hive of activity. To cut oneself off from it... you might as well be typing on an electric typewriter and watching a black/white TV.

I understand Owyang's point. There are lots more types of new software coming at us that we have to learn. But we have to put a stake in the ground with the ones we have, and realize why they are important. If you choose two social media to be on: Facebook and Twitter would be the ones right now. And you should be checking both every day.

And, if you also want to visit my blog or listen to my podcasts and give me money: hey, that's OK too! ;-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who Should Be Benched at Dancing With the Stars

The long nightmare is finally over. No, the Dancing With the Stars (DWTS) finale is next week, and we'll see who finally wins the coveted mirror ball trophy from among three deserving contenders (and that, I'm looking forward to).

No, I'm talking about the season-long Charlie Sheen moment of meltdown by Maksim Chmerkovsky on DWTS.

Now, let's recap for a moment, shall we?

DWTS, for the uninitiated is a simple premise: you take (mostly D-level) "celebrities" and other assorted fame-mongers and sports figures, most of whom have never danced before in any way, and somehow make them into dancers (or at least watchable) for ten weeks.

The job of the pro dancer on this show has somewhat evolved and changed. There were moments when the pros had more to do, and were able to be more creative. But really, the MAIN thing that a pro is there for (sorry, Maks) is to coddle said celebrity. Walk them through their tantrums, hold their hands as they shake in fear about this crazy project they've taken on, and most of all—try to keep all the pouty drama behind the scenes.

That's why someone like Anna Trebunskya (and yes, along the way, the pro dancers have themselves become celebrities; and Maks is SURE acting like one)... someone like Anna is perfect. Her dances/choreography is amazing, but she also has a very giving personality, and can walk through this show with any crazy nutcase they throw at her, and appear graceful (this season, she had Carson Kressley, God help her).

And, except for the fact that Carson was one of the worst dancers I've ever seen on the show, they had bravura and flair and were very crowd-pleasing.

Now dancers, especially dancers at the top of their craft, are very diva-like, just like any other art form. They have honed their instrument, they have worked very hard to get to be the machine of dancing they are now. And to have that chiseled artistry thrown together with someone who has two left feet... actually who thought of this crazy show?

Well, that's the deal, and you pretty much go with it.

From the beginning, some pro dancers rose in the ranks. Among the males: Derek Hough, Maksim Chmerkovsky, Mark Ballas were among the standouts not only this season, but in seasons' past. Standouts by the virtue of THEIR dancing, and THEIR choreography. All stunning to watch on stage, while, to varying degrees, their partners could be dreadful.

Maks seems to work best when he's got a sexual vibe going with the woman he's dancing with. Whether or not he and Erin Andrews (a few seasons back) actually had a "thing" going, they SURE seemed like they were, and (for me) that was the best Maks season to watch. When I think of memorable Maks' choreography, that number with Erin in the bed really stands out.

But they did not win.

Last season, Maks had Kirstie Alley. They were amazing fun to watch together. Kirstie was a great dancer (IMHO). She even acknowledged Maks' rampant sexuality (on the show and on Twitter) and they got as close as Maks has ever gotten to the mirror ball trophy: second place. And there was some very public griping by Maks last season about how that win was rigged, and he deserved to win. (Charlie Sheen moment #1, actually.)

But here's the reality: He has NEVER, not once in all these seasons, won the mirror ball trophy that they are striving for.

The trainwreck he had this season was a "soccer star" named Hope Solo. They had no sexual chemistry at all (Maks' failsafe), and very little other chemistry. She also had two left feet. They appeared to be butting heads constantly.

All of this came to a head a couple of weeks ago, when... well, first, let me explain. The judges have to be a bit (what I call) "LA." They can't just come right out and say: "Hope, you suck." Maybe that would be a better show if they did. But they have to think of inventive creative LA ways of saying, "YOU SUCK." So, on this particular week, Len (always the sternest, though fairest, judge) decides to say something about the heel level of Hope's shoes. Much had been made this season about this tomboyish girl not being comfortable with the girlishness of dance. She did seem uncomfortable in the heels they put her in every week.

So this particular week, they were dancing to a song from "Rent," and they put Hope in a sort of boot thing, with a lower heel. And Len was accurate. She did dance better in them. So, trying to make a silk purse from this smelly sow's ear, he said something about her heel height, RATHER Maks than saying, "HOPE, you really suck," which is what he should've said if he was ACTUALLY talking about her dancing.

But Maks decided he'd had enough, and decided to go off on Len right then and there, since Len was commenting on stupid stuff like heels, instead of talking about the dancing (Maks should really be thankful here he didn't). Len says something about being in this business for "fifty years." Maks says: "Maybe you should get out of it then."

That was Charlie Sheen moment number 2. First, let me dissect the gravity of this here. Charlie Sheen, first was on drugs and/or bipolar. Second, he was in an interview situation. Maks was right there, in the MIDDLE OF THE SHOW, on air, dissing Len. That's something you just don't DO in California, in show business, and survive. Make no mistake, he was, in that moment, doing the exact same thing Charlie Sheen did. He was dissing his coworkers ON AIR.

He compounded his heinous mistake further (Charlie Sheen moment number 3) when they were interviewed by Brooke Burke as they were getting their scores. He actually said the words, "It's MY show." Behind Maks as he was saying this, you could see Derek Hough, Derek who's actually WON three mirror ball trophies, and counting, Derek, who's gone further than Maks every season he's been in it, Derek, who actually knows how to work with whatever celebrity is thrown at him and not have public meltdowns... Derek looked horrified at what Maks was saying.

If that show is "anyone's show": it's Derek's.

The next week, damage done, Maks tried to redeem himself by saying that, no, the crew work very hard. He (Maks) doesn't do it alone. Still not apologizing to the judges. Still pissy in his routines with Hope (which, btw, STILL SUCKED). Through a bizarre twist of fate (some team dance nonsense), the week Hope Solo should've gone home ended up being David Arquette instead (so sad!).

So, the week after the crew apology, obviously the judges and Maks had a little sit-down and/or talking to by the higher ups (those whose show it ACTUALLY is). Maks came back chastened (host Tom Bergeron called him "Stepford Maks"). The judges, notably Len, WAY overgraded Hope, giving her nines, for God's sake.

This past week, when we were finally put out of our misery, they gave her eights, and Len said "We were being nice." (They were!)

But here's the real point. The damage has been done.

If I were running Dancing with the Stars, I would damn sure have Maksim Chmerkovsky sit out a season (at least). Put his lovely brother in, in his stead. Let Maks reflect on how damn lucky he is to have a job dancing on national TV. Let him be grateful that there are judges judging him at all. Let him get in touch with the fact that the "celebrities" (D-list though they are) are what people tune in for.

I also noticed that in the week of the blowout, the opening credits had the celebrity named with their pro dancer. It said: "Hope and Maks." "Ricki and Derek." "David and Kym." After Maks' blowout, they changed it. It still had the pros' picture, but not their name anymore. Not your show, Maks. Not any pro dancers' show.

The real blowout reverberations have not yet ended, mark my words. After all, Charlie Sheen got fired for exactly this. Maks is great as a dancer, but boy does he need to regroup.

At least a season.

And while they are replacing people, I sincerely hope they ALSO get rid of the tired and annoying Brooke Burke. She can barely read the teleprompter, she asks stupid questions. All she does is look good. The show would be much better served to have the wonderful and amazing Tom Bergeron with someone who can actually think on their feet, maybe someone who's a dancer, who can ask insightful dance questions, instead of: "What's going to be going through your head next week?" Who the hell knows the answer to that question, lady?

It's really a shame, because DWTS has this amazing set this year. Fabulous lighting, costumes, camerawork, even great pros. But it was really soured by Maks' antics, and Brooke's vapidity. Oh sorry, Brooke Burke CHARVAY. Sigh. Dear God, help us.

Hey, maybe they can get that host from So You Think You Can Dance, who actually got an Emmy nom this year? Ain't no way Brooke Burke would ever get one. But that sure would be a team, huh?

I'm looking forward to the finals next week. Whoever wins, it will be wonderful. If Cheryl Burke wins, that would be amazing that she's winning with Rob Kardashian. If Karina Smirnoff wins, it would be her FIRST mirror ball trophy (and I'm kinda rooting for her for that). But most likely, three-time winner Derek Hough will four-peat (with Ricki Lake). After all, it's really HIS show. Watch next week. You'll see why.