Monthly Archives: September 2010

Is a good education a sure path to happiness and success? Maybe, maybe not.


The Tribune news apps team has put together an easily searchable and pleasantly displayed way to see how any Illinois school is faring. By the way, I might never have known about it if not for one of the team posting it on Windy Citizen. Thanks again Joe.

Like a lot of people I’m sure, I promptly searched for the schools I attended and here are the results:

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – better than 90% of all schools in Illinois

JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL – better than 94% of all schools in Illinois

HIGH SCHOOL – better than 98% of all schools in Illinois 

So you see, my schools actually improved as I went along. I should be happy, successful and brilliant, right? Yes, no and… I’ll leave that to others to judge. 

If being happy is the most important thing in life, then I’m all set, but I hardly needed these top notch schools to achieve happiness. Plenty of people are happy who went to bad or mediocre schools. And by the way, my happiness is greatly tempered by the lack of professional success as I’ve entered the third decade of my life this past August, but I digress.

Time and time again we are told that a good education is the path to all that is good and wonderful in this world. It is the path to a good job, a solid career and a positive economic outlook, one that will enable us to hopefully get married, have children, buy a home, travel and do it all in style. These things are not untrue, but might not such an outlook place too much value on education and too little on other things? It’s time to start asking tough questions like: does everyone really need to go to college? Under the current economic conditions, will people with college degrees continue to make more money? Will this generation of Americans end up, for the first time in history, worse off than their parents? And how much of this can be blamed on the constant dictum we heard growing up, that a good education is the answer to everything. Is it really?

Just while writing this post, I gave a preview of it to someone who follows me on Twitter. I said the short version was that all my highfalutin education hasn’t amounted to much in practice. The response was: “join the club!” This reminded me of the title someone I know gave to their website. I could just tell you what it is, but it’ll be more fun if you click over to it yourself.

This is not strictly anecdotal. In a world in which even Master’s Degrees can be seen as poor economic investments, maybe we truly need to rethink the way we view education.

I could go on, but I’m more interested in what all of you think. Do you think the quality of education, after a certain point, is overvalued? Do you think your education has paid off?

Image credit: UniKeep

Hey look what you can do with newspapers

This week is packed with events. Here’s where you can find me.


Since I’ve got a handful of events I’m attending this week and since I’d still like to meet many of you in person, I thought I’d give everyone a brief rundown of where I’ll be in case you also want to get together for a quick coffee or something.

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 13 – I’m not sure where or what yet, but I’ll likely be covering something for this fine publication. Will probably not have any time to meet, but if you live in the area and have story ideas for me, pitch away. I’ve recently been added to their stable of freelancers so the more I write, the more moolah I make and I need stuff to write about. Hit me up with any tips, interesting events, etc. Almost anything can be news for a hyperlocal like this.

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 14 – While this Tribune panel discussion on education is sold out, let me know if you want to meet up before or after. If you’ll be at home and nowhere near the city, I’ll probably be tweeting impressions of the panel here and there. By my side (I hope) will be the delightful Emily McFarlan. It’ll be the first time we’re meeting so look out! :)

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 15 – This event is the Chicago chapter’s launch of a national effort. I’m looking forward to this quite a bit since I love hackers. Mostly I’m jealous of all the cool stuff they can do, but I also like them as people. I’m hoping they feel the same way about us hacks.

THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 16 – I’m not at liberty to say anything about the event I’ll be at on this night, but it’s from 6-8pm in River North so, again, we can hang before or after if you’d like.

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 17 – Forget you know me. I’ll be home relaxing with the husband who may or may not be in the throes of a nasty cold by then. He will need my nursemaid skills and I won’t be online at all.



Media organizations cannot be counted on. Please be a responsible consumer.

Yes, traditional media organizations should be more responsible. But in the world that now exists, we can’t count on them to be. So maybe we, the audience, have to take some responsibility on ourselves, being more literate about media techniques, especially the kind used to persuade or manipulate audiences.

We could learn to take a deep breath and count to 10 when the experts in zealotry and media try to push our emotional buttons. We could recognize that we’re being baited by the likes of Mr. Jones, and that the journalists are witting or unwitting enablers.

And then, knowing we’re pawns in other people’s games, we might say: No thanks, try that on someone else.

Proof that the iPad can’t totally replace newspapers

The Great Man (or Woman) theory of media

Now, at least, CNN is looking at a few unorthodox names to inject a little life into primetime.

This entire piece is worth a read for a glimpse of CNN’s stubborn refusal to “take sides.” For more on that by the way, see this gem: In other words, we’ve heard that story before. But the snippet I pulled out is a story I haven’t seen discussed as much.

When I read that line, I was transported back to my European History class in sophomore year of high school. I assume because the class was AP (advanced placement) there was a bit more on the curriculum than just the facts of historical events. Thus our first unit was on Historiography which is the study of how history is recorded and how it’s interpreted in different cultures, time periods, political climates, etc.

One of the first things we talked about was the Great Man theory of history vs. Determinism. The Great Man theory basically states that in a given historical situation, key events occur because of a major figure i.e. Adolf Hitler for example. This theory would say that even if Germany and the rest of the world was exactly the same, but if Hitler had never been born, perhaps we would not have had a war, a Holocaust, etc. Another leader could have come to power, but there was something unique and distinctive about Hitler and another man would not have caused events to happen as they did.

The Determinist theory says that the individuals are not important, but rather many other factors are and a historical event would have happened whether or not a certain person was involved. So this theory would say that no, no, it didn’t have to be Hitler specifically. Another man would have done the same things and history would have turned out exactly the same way.

As you can see neither of these theories, in exclusion, is satisfying. Most of the time the truth lies somewhere in the middle and most people would acknowledge that. But if that’s true, then why do media organizations of various mediums seemingly subscribe ONLY to the Great Man (or Woman) theory of media?

If your cable network is in trouble, you obviously need to hire some superstar, big name talent. Ditto for local networks. If your newspaper isn’t selling, maybe you need some famous, high-price columnists or hotshot editors. Why is this always the solution? Or, if it’s not always the solution, why is it the one that seems to garner the most attention from media reporters? All I ever read from my local beat reporters on the media scene is who got hired, fired, etc. Even if the people are not in all cases big-name hotshots, why is there so much focus on the individuals? Why is there not more discussion of the Determinism side of the equation? More coverage of the content of news orgs, their editorial direction, their technical innovations (or lack thereof), their audiences, their new initiatives, etc. Are these things not equally important?

If someone has a good answer for me, I’d love to see it in the comments.

Some people aren’t fit to hold elected office… this guy for instance

Thank you Paul Volpe ( I knew I started following you for a reason :-)

In case you’re wondering, Davison didn’t get nominated. I can’t imagine why.

UPDATE: The lovely Robert Loerzel informs me that more about this guy can be found in this TPM post. And they’ve got the video too if you want to watch it a second time (and who wouldn’t??!)

Younger, thinner, richer or smarter?

So, would you rather be younger, thinner, richer, or smarter? According to a  Harris Interactive survey, 43% of the people answering that title question said they’d want to be richer. The next-highest group (21%) said they’d like to be thinner, followed by those answering smarter (14%), and younger (12%). And 9% of those surveyed are apparently quite content individuals, answering that they wouldn’t want to be any of those things. Showoffs.

Found via the Twitter feed of Sandra:

These people are clearly uninformed (and that’s why only 14% said “smarter;” if you’re dumb, you don’t know you’re dumb).

The best answer to have given would be “thinner” or better yet, if there was an option for “more attractive.” If you’re hot and dumb, you can still get pretty far in life. Most likely you’ll even make more money so that takes care of the “richer” part. And once you’re rich (and still hot), even fewer people will care that you’re dumb.

That, in a nutshell, is the tyranny of beauty in our society.

But apparently the tyranny of money is even more powerful.

What I read


In my recent interview with the fellas at Journalism Lives, one of the questions I had the most fun answering was the one that asked what my media diet is like.

The answer to what one reads, as this Atlantic Wire series can show you, can be quite interesting.

Since my response to that particular question had to be scrubbed to keep the interview at a manageable length and since people do sometimes ask me what I read daily, I figured I’d post my response here.

This is what I told the Journalism Lives guys, verbatim, when they asked me what I read and if it has changed any in recent months/years:

There’s been a tremendous change over the years I think. To put it in context, I’ll be 30 at the end of this month and I think I’ve just now, in the last year or two, gotten into a comfortable media consumption groove. Basically, I use Twitter for almost everything. Before your jaw drops, allow me to explain :) I actually have a lot in common with Jay Rosen. He talked about his habits here. Notice how he says he doesn’t use RSS/Google Reader. Neither do I. He doesn’t watch much TV news. Neither do I. In fact, where I used to enjoy cable “news,” I simply can’t stand it anymore. I find that online I’m kept informed about everything that’s said on both the left and right of the political spectrum and I don’t have to see/hear it. Jay also puts a lot of stock into his trusted sources: people he follows on Twitter, blogs he reads regularly, etc. So do I. I do it a bit differently in that I have quite a good number of people/accounts on mobile alert so that cuts through the noise of following 3k+ accounts (btw, I’m constantly working to cut that number down; I’d love it to be under 2k at least). Even with the mobile alert list, I put people on and take them off as time goes on. Some feeds always stay on of course. These are people who are important to me personally, professionally, or people who are really great at finding unique content online in my interest areas. I also use Twitter Times semi-daily. This allows me to make sure I’m not missing anything important that a lot of people are talking about. Same thing with Cadmus. I could do an entire dissertation on Twitter honestly, but suffice it to say that I carefully follow people in 3 main groups: journalists/media people including critics, politicians and political bloggers and people in and around Chicago, especially if they blog. By choosing carefully, I’ve been able to construct a feed where almost everything and everyone I see in it at a given moment is interesting to me.

For local news I spend a lot of time every day on Windy Citizen. These stories have been hand-picked by a community I trust deeply so I’m kept in the loop on Chicagoland news without ever having to visit the homepage of any major newspaper or media org in town. So I check in there 3-5 times every day and post things, comment, go read the linked stories, etc. Some of the Twitter feeds I have on mobile alert are also local. The only site which I visit regularly without being reminded (other than Windy Citizen) is Beachwood Reporter. You can judge for yourself why, but I’ll also tell you :) It’s great media criticism and political analysis, two of my favorite topical areas.

I get e-mails from Daily Beast, Mediaite, Foreign Policy and other sites. I don’t always open them and read them and some I read more often than others, but these are also helpful in focusing my attention and they’re a good reminder to visit the site where they come from. I tried getting the Chicago Tribune in print for a while, but found that we had no use for it. My husband read it during his commute, but he could have just as easily read it on his iPhone. I didn’t read it at all save for a few rare exceptions. I’ve recently subscribed to The Atlantic in print and am awaiting my first issue. The price was quite low and I consider their content to be worth having in a paper bundle. Once upon a time, I subscribed to Newsweek for a similar reason. Needless to say, I don’t feel that way about their content anymore. I also get the SPJ publication, Quills and the Columbia Journalism Review.

I occasionally listen to the radio, but only while driving somewhere and even then not very often. I prefer music. This doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally consume radio content; I just do it online :)

At the end of the day, I know this is all working because I find myself to be well informed about major worldwide, national and local issues (or at least as well-informed as I want to be). I also usually see things before others. It’s very often that someone will send me something or tweet me and ask me if I saw this or that and I’ve already seen it. By going about things this way, I also find that I’m exposed to so many sources of information that even if I’m not interested in something now, I would know exactly where to go if I were to suddenly become interested in it.

If books count as media, I read them as well though not as many as I’d like. I read almost exclusively non-fiction because there’s so much to learn and so many subjects which are interesting to delve deeply into.

NOTE: Since I wrote this, I turned 30 and received my first issue of The Atlantic. I cannot say that both were received with an equal measure of excitement.


Citizen journalists? We don’t call them citizen novelists.

I hate to break this to my fellow professional journalists, but
accurate and compelling reporting — and that includes passionate
and partisan reporting with a point of view– is neither a science
nor black magic. Some folks have to go to school to learn it and
never really do. Others acquire these same skills through some
other life experience, possess them, and often not even know they
do until they are forced to use them. If unlicensed citizens can
write great pieces of fiction with no certification why is it so
hard for some to accept that some of those same citizens can write
or produce equally compelling pieces of non-fiction?

Now, of course journalism and fiction isn’t on quite the same scale. If a character is badly written, what’s the worst that could happen? If a news story is badly written, well…

Then again, the point is still valid and also closely tied to this concept: