Watson’s laws of academic life

29 10 2009

Professor Sir David Watson, who recently won the Times Higher Education Lifetime Achievement Award, has nine laws of academic politics he would like to share.

* Academics grow in confidence the farther away they are from their true fields of expertise (what you really know about is provisional and ambiguous, what other people do is clear-cut and usually wrong)

* You should never go to a school or department for anything that is in its title (which university consults its architecture department on the estate, or – heaven forbid – its business school on the budget?)

* The first thing a committee member says is the exact opposite of what she means (“I’d like to agree with everything the vice-chancellor has just said, but…”; or “with respect”…; or even “briefly”)

* Courtesy is a one-way street (social-academic language is full of hyperbole, and one result is the confusion of rudeness – or even cruelty – with forthrightness; however, if a manager responds in kind, it’s a federal case)

* On email, nobody ever has the last word

* Somebody always does it better elsewhere (because they are better supported)

* Feedback counts only if I agree with it

* The temptation to say “I told you so” is irresistible

* Finally, there is never enough money, but there used to be.

[H/T: timeshighereducation.co.uk]

Towards self-informing news publics

26 10 2009

File under “statements that make me dance”.

Exhibit A.

A single person can now speak to millions of people without touching a reporter. In many cases, it’s thrilling, but for the most part the tools are primitive; we are at the utter beginning of what this means for news production.

Exhibit B.

Online, what a public needs, far more than reporters or endowed professional newsrooms, is a way for everyone to do this more effectively.

Cody “the LeBron James of news production” Brown, news visionary and future millionaire. Anyone with an interest in media and journalism, I suggest you read Cody’s latest blog post.

The future of news? Bricks-and-clicks

25 10 2009

The latest trend for ailing news organizations is to adopt a bricks-and-clicks business model. What with evaporating advertising revenues, news organizations such as Corelio in Belgium are dipping their toes in online retailing. For instance, just last week Het Nieuwsblad launched their Nieuwsbladshop.be, hoping to lure their readers into buying wine, DVDs and books.


Give yourself the freedom, let’s bounce

25 10 2009

For some sports you need a ball. For triathlon you need two. Writing a PhD however, requires a third. While said to be benign, the growth is known to induce severe moodswings, bouts of paranoia and insomnia. Other side effects are self-indulgence, weight loss and Sehnsucht.

One way I try to escape from it all is by running. Long distance running. Ran a 20k trail race yesterday with long time buddy Danny and was able to run consistently and comfortably at my (ideal) marathon pace of 12km/h. All along, I ran to Vaughn Mason & Crew‘s timeless bassline.

Vaughn Mason & Crew – Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll (Brunswick, 1980)

On prescriptive retaliation: Muphry’s Law

23 10 2009

Muphry’s Law is an adage that states that “if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written”. The name is a deliberate misspelling of “Murphy’s Law”.

[H/T: Best of Wikipedia]

Here is the law in full, as originally laid out by John Bangsund:

(a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written;
(b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;
(c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault;
(d) any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent

Quietly taking over the world: LeFto

20 10 2009

His taste in music is cut from the same eclectic cloth as Gilles Peterson, he’s a Nike sneakerhead, a resident DJ at  GP’s Worldwide festivals and a Brownswood regular, a radio show host at StuBru and quietly making a name for himself internationally: LeFto.

Curating the web: “Today” by Eric Baker

18 10 2009

“Each morning, before starting work, I spend 30 minutes looking for images that are beautiful, funny, absurd and inspiring. Here’s TODAY”

— Eric Baker

Read the rest of this entry »

Wordplay in the country for Amelie

17 10 2009

Most parents develop a time-for-bed-kids routine built around stories, jokes, games and the like. I take my laptop upstairs and play some music for my very musical four year old daughter, Amelie. Last night for instance, I learned that she doesn’t care for Jonathan Jeremiah’s Happiness but sings along to good ol’ Dolly Parton’s Jolene. She’s too young to understand the concept of wordplay, but one day I’ll try to tell her about it, fail miserably and suggest she reads this.

Pop singers like the Beatles and Elvis Costello may have visited wordplay from time to time, but country music lives there. A lot of it involves outright puns, like the Bellamy Brothers’ “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?” or Lee Ann Womack’s “Am I the Only Thing That You’ve Done Wrong?” There’s Gary Nicholson’s “Behind Bars,” which is about saloons, and Randy Travis’s “On The Other Hand,” which is about wedding rings. And then there are all those titles that involve wordplay of one sort or another, like Dolly Parton’s “It’s All Wrong, but It’s All Right,” and Johnny Paycheck’s “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised.”

When I think of songs like these, the singer who comes first to mind is George Jones. I don’t know of he’s done more of them than anybody else — the honors there probably go to Roger Miller or Johnny Paycheck. And a lot of the punning titles that Jones uses are just routine joke songs, like the recent “I Had More Silver Bullets Last Night Than the Lone Ranger” or “She Took My Keys Away, and Now She Won’t Drive me To Drink.” But Jones has also made a specialty of using puns and wordplay in the plaintive ballads that he sings like no one else — “A man can be a drunk sometimes but a drunk can’t be a man,” “At least I’ve learned to stand on my own two knees,” or “With these hundred proof memories, you can’t think and drive.”

For some people of course, this sort of punning just confirms a sense of country music as a linguistic trailer park. Since Tennyson’s time, punning has been deprecated as the basest form of humor, to the point where it’s often regarded as a kind of veiled aggressiveness (…) It’s a fitting device for these ballads, particularly when they’re tackling their favorite theme — the fragility of happiness, love, and family. There’s a joke that sums up the genre very nicely: “What do you get if you play a country song backwards?” — “You get your wife back, you get your dog back, you get your truck back…”

Taken from ‘The way we talk now’ by Geoffrey Nunberg (Houghton Mifflin, 2001)

Amelie riding the train

“How Journalists Think While They Write”

15 10 2009

There is a relative paucity of academic scholarship on news writing across the social sciences. This is remarkable because (i) the news mediascape has changed dramatically over the last five years; and (ii) specialized tools are now (freely) available to study news production. So when an article appears that promises to reveal how “journalists think while they write”, my interest is sparked.

In their Journal of Communication article, Bu Zhong and John E. Newhagen (2009) present a model of news decision making. Using an experimental design, the authors examine how 120 (one-hundred-twenty!) U.S. and Chinese journalists make news decisions while writing a breaking news story from a “fabricated” press release. Zhong and Newhagen argue that their results point to a globalized, shared occupational ideology of objective news reporting. Lovely conclusion, but I don’t see how the authors arrive at this conclusion.

Theoretically, I do not understand why the authors fail to acknowledge the growing body of literature in cognitive psychology on writing process analysis that attempts to model exactly those cognitive processes that Zhong & Newhagen make claims about. Moreover, within journalism studies, the issue of reproductive writing (i.c. writing from press releases – which the Zhong & Bu elicit in their experiment) is en vogue. Nick Davies thinks it is the nail in the coffin of quality journalism, Lewis et al. 2009 provide a political economic account for this phenomenon.

Methodologically, I fail to grasp how the news values of conflict, importance, proximity and drama measure “cognitive information” (p597). And also, the authors seem to suggest that how journalists think can be “found out” by asking them in a post-experiment online survey. That seems a bit optimistic, at best.


Zhong, Bu and Newhagen, John, E. (2009). How Journalists Think While They Write: A Transcultural Model of News Decision Making. Journal of Communication 59 (3): 587-608. DIO: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01439.x

Twitter is about tuning and feeding

14 10 2009

Lovely, lovely blog post by Howard Rheingold on Twitter literacy. He list his reasons for using Twitter. Even though I don’t agree with all of them, I am reproducing them here in executive summary format because most of his reasons do make sense to me:

Openness – anyone can join, and anyone can follow anyone else;
– it is a rolling present;
– You are responsible for whoever else’s babble you are going to direct into your awareness;
– people give and ask freely for information they need;
A channel to multiple publics
– I’m a communicator and have a following that I want to grow and feed.
– Few people follow exactly the same people who follow them. I follow people who inform or amuse me, and I hope to do the same for people who follow me;
A way to meet new people
– Connecting with people who share interests has been the most powerful social driver of the Internet since day one;
A window on what is happening in multiple worlds
, some of which I am familiar with, and others that are new to me;
– Twitter is not a community, but it’s an ecology in which communities can emerge;
A platform for mass collaboration:
I forgive the cute name of Twestival because this online charity event has raised over a quarter of a million dollars via Twitter, funding 55 clean water projects for 17,000 people in Ethiopia, Uganda, and India.
– Twitter users developed the convention of adding a tag with a hash sign in front of it, like #hashtag, that enable them to label specific topics and events. When I recently participated in a live discussion onstage, we projected in real time the tweets that included a hashtag for the event, an act that blended the people in the audience together with the people on the panel in a much more interactive way than standard Q&A sessions at the end of the panel. After years as a public speaker and panelist, I found it fascinating and useful to have a window on what my previously silent audience was thinking while I was talking.

Disclaimer: I ‘unfollowed’ Howard Rheingold two weeks ago because his tweets about painting do not interest me. His views on social media and journalism do. I rely on other people such as Marcus O’Donnell to curate his tweets for me.