The Internet. Humanity. Same thing.

We want to shout about a birth into the heavens. We want to place the face of someone we’ve lost in the stars. We want people to know.

These moving words were tweeted from the New York Times’ Opinion Twitter today. They really sucked me in. They spoke to something I really understood. But this isn’t the full quote that NYT Opinion tweeted. These words came from a piece by NPR’s Scott Simon that reflect on tweeting from his mother’s deathbed two years ago and capturing so many eyeballs and hearts along the way.

If you’re like me, you wouldn’t expect the first poignant sentences to be referring to something that can seem as trivial as tweeting. But it was: “Social media has become the first line of our utterly human response.” That’s the next sentence.

As we looked at social media’s “good side” in class on Thursday, I figured I’d continue that conversation.

We all have those moments where our faith in the Internet is restored. To me, in those moments, I really mean that my faith in humanity is restored. That’s because the online world is a reflection of us — one that’s becoming more and more accurate as the Internet is accessible to and used by a variety of generations from different corners of the world.

The world and those in it can seem harsh and ugly, and the Internet magnifies that. It does the same to humanity’s honest, creative, brave and beautiful bits.

One of the moments where hope was given to me through the web was when I, two years ago, noticed Scott’s Twitter feed. The Storify at the end of this article lays out all of them. Even rereading them just now, I got butterflies. Below is one of my favorites.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.11.33 PM

As Scott reflects, he reminds us that what happened those couple of days was just another way to share experiences through Twitter — or any global digital platform. He acknowledges that those moments are mixed in with the mundane, the light-hearted, the serious, the hateful, the everything.

And he confirms that he does not regret broadcasting those final private moments of his mother’s life. I don’t think I would either.

Accepting the digital world as an extension of ourselves makes it easier to understand and appreciate it in all its flaws and beauty. And it makes it possible to participate and share our human experience with each other in ways we never thought possible.

We will see more of the “good” of the Internet the more we share. The more we use it as “the first line of our utterly human response.”

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Get it Together, WordPress

I don’t know why I haven’t heard of this sooner.

The lovely NiemanLab newsletter I signed up for in order to spark ideas for this blog pointed me in the direction of Atavist this past week.

I signed up for a free account and played around a little.

Formerly Creativist, this site is designed specifically with writers in mind and has been completely revamped (oh also it’s a new and improved magazine).

A user can make the story he or she is presenting visually engaging without being code-savvy or doing much at all.

For those that have known or used Creativist and are wondering, “Why all the changes,” the people behind the site explained why here.

Basically, I love it. And if I were to start this semester over, I’d use it for this blog instead.

When creating a new “project,” — which can be as simple as one article or as complex as an entire ebook or interactive app — easy-to-use “blocks” are the basis of it all. Blocks make embedding any kind of media into a project as easy as clicking and dragging.

This, I think, is what online communicators want. Simplicity. Easy use. Beauty. Think what Apple did to what we expect our phones and desktops to do in these three categories.

Here are some screenshots of something I put together in less than three minutes. And it still looks legit.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 5.01.35 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-29 at 5.01.53 PM

Go over and get started. Makes me want to create something just because of how effortless it is to make something so pretty.

“Race Together” mixes two very different organizations: do we care?

“Race Together,” an initiative that Starbucks and USA Today have joined forces to create, has received mixed reactions in the past week.

Baristas behind the counters of Starbucks shops were encouraged to start conversations about race with consumers while writing #RaceTogether on the cups of drinks they sell. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says conversations are the start of understanding others life experiences and ideas — sparking change through empathy to eventually live together as one.

USA Today produced a special section in partnership with the coffee chain with tons of content, mostly videos, from different perspectives on facing racial tension and racial inequality in America. There are multiple interviews of Starbucks “partners” on the issues as well.

As mentioned before, many have criticized the implementation of the campaign on the Starbucks side. The baristas had no formal training on how to start conversations and customers were annoyed that they were faced with a heavy and complex conversation while simply trying to get in, get coffee and get out.

Other criticisms went further, questioning the genuineness of the effort by the huge, sometimes “purpose-driven” corporation, saying the initiative is more about seeming culturally relevant and competing with other high-end coffee shops than making a real impact. Tweets got so negative that Corey duBrowa, VP for global communications, deleted his Twitter account on Monday. Social media critics called out the company for the top executives being predominantly white while many lower-level employees are members of minorities.

Starbucks ended the writing on the cups today, but said it was not due to the criticism they’ve received. Other phases of the initiative, including the hiring of 10,000 “opportunity youth” in the next 3 years and the production of three more special sections with USA Today.

Although there are definite flaws in the execution of the initiative by both entities, I applaud their effort. I would rather my companies at least be trying to evoke positive change than doing nothing.

However, part of me feels uneasy about the partnership between the two. At the top of the Race Together online edition,  the “Starbucks” logo is placed beside the newspaper’s before links to different articles and videos.

As journalists struggle to figure out how to make money in an increasingly complex media landscape, when does native advertising cross a line? I understand that the content isn’t saying “Starbucks coffee is the best, buy Starbucks coffee,” without hinting that it is, in fact, sponsored by Starbucks. But it does associate the USA Today brand with Starbucks’ goals.

Should we be worried about the objectivity of the content when a separate corporation’s interests are involved — one that claims to be seeking positive change, but is still not held to the same standards or ethics as a news outlet?

I genuinely encourage a conversation to come out of this blog post. (If this makes it to the rebelmouse site, please, Professor Robinson, mention this in the description.) I invite comments or separate blog posts or a discussion in class because I am genuinely interested in thoughts from other future journalists and communicators.

As we move forward I think this conversation is an important one to have. Where do we stand and do we care about corporations sponsoring content?

HEY CLICK ON THIS PICTURE OF ALCOHOL

As I’ve written before, I like Twitter. I am hesitant to changes on the social site because I love it as is.

Today, I was scrolling through my TL on my computer. According to Twitter’s “Company” tab on their home page, 80 percent of users access Twitter through a mobile device. But I do both.

Anyways. I was scrolling through, and I, for the first time, noticed what looked like a tiny bar graph in between the normal “favorite” star and “more” ellipsis.

With some research, I realized I am late to the Twitter analytics game. Apparently, way back in July 2014, the site released the option to see how engaged followers are with certain users’ tweets: “advertisers, Twitter card publishers and verified users.”

I’m having a hard time finding exactly when the option became available to everyone.This blogger says it was announced at the end of January 2015. As I said, I just now noticed the “tiny bar graph” today, on my computer.

That may be because I normally use Twitter on my phone, and the option isn’t coming up there. It’s supposed to. I’ve made sure I have the latest version of Twitter, have logged on to analytics.twitter.com, etc. (how to access this feature is described here). Side-note: the analytics website is extremely helpful in tracking your tweets and their effectiveness in reaching who you want to reach. Check it out.

Either way, this addition escapes my distaste for Twitter change. On my computer, this is what it looks like when I click on the bar graph:Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 3.09.57 PM

It has views of that particular tweet and how followers engaged, whether that’s through the classic favorite or retweet, or if it’s through a click to a link, to a profile picture or name, or to view the tweet’s details. (Hey you, don’t judge my weak Twitter game!)

As someone who hopes to communicate professionally, the ability to see if what I’m saying reaches people’s eyeballs, grabs their attention and/or causes them to spend time with the content by clicking through to a link is extremely useful.

From looking at the more detailed analytics page, I can see, over the last 28 days, a summary of my Twitter activity. If I view “all tweet activity,” I can see the engagement rate (the percentage of engagements with the tweet out of the overall impressions (views) of the tweet) of each tweet over the last month.

The most obvious observation by looking at the engagement rates: Tweets with a vine or photo have a drastically higher engagement rate than those without. My highest, at 40.5% engagement:

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 3.35.05 PM(What can I say, people like NYC & alcohol.)

The feature can help to enlighten anyone who cares about their voice being heard and how people are responding to that voice.

It presents a whole new way of gauging a tweet’s success. I never would have guessed that the above tweet would be my most successful over the last month, even though I haven’t been as active on Twitter as usual. It got 4 favorites — not horrible, for me. But still. My cocktail?

But hey, I should be brought down to reality when it comes to my tweets. That’s what people paid most attention to. There it is.

I hope the feature not only gives me a little bit of a reality check, but also encourages me to tweet more often, to be more interesting and relevant, to include the most engaging content and to ultimately reach more people.

Habits. Addictions. Eyebrows.

Lately I’ve been pulling out my eyebrows. I mean, not my entire eyebrows. Mostly I just kind of rub my (usually left) brow — when I’m nervous (aka during UNC basketball games), bored, or sometimes when I’m focused.

It’s a habit I’ve picked up in less than a month. Every once in a while, I’ll actually pull out a hair. Every time, I look down at a small black line on my thumb and think, “Wait, what was I just doing?”

As I was just browsing news articles and funny RTs from the Carolina victory over UVA (WOO!), my mom noticed me eyebrow-picking — I had mentioned it to her last weekend. I started thinking about the many bad habits in my life. Including the ones that involve my Internet use and media consumption.

To me the strangest addictions are the ones that are small and make no sense. (Not that any addiction makes sense. But I mean, eyebrow picking!?)

A similar pointless habit of mine can be seen in how I use my phone. I find myself — in some of the same situations (when I’m bored or in an uncomfortable situation) — checking certain apps on my phone even when I know there is nothing new to be seen. I alternate between Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and occasionally Facebook. I pull down and refresh even if the last tweet or Insta-picture was posted seconds earlier. I have the finger pattern between the apps memorized.

Alex Markowetz, a professor at the University of Bonn who studies our relationships with our mobile devices, says our phone usage is often irrational. He recently spoke with Nieman Lab on the subject in their report on what we can expect from smartwatches:

Smartphone usage is actually habitual. It’s not a conscious, deliberate decision.

Alex & his team put out an app called Menthal that helps you (and them, for research purposes) monitor your mobile habits. Alex’s site explains that the app also “enables users to detect abusive patterns in their usage and maintain a sustainable digital lifestyle.”

Our subconscious habits that feel like minute addictions scare me. What we do in our in-between moments — when we don’t feel like we’re doing anything — says a lot.

On a personal level, I hope to catch myself in these nonsensical habits. To stop them. First, I am, of course, in pursuit of some eyebrows that are, in fact, #onfleek. Second, I think I could find more healthy ways to deal with boredom, tension or anxiousness.

Like putting down my phone. Thinking. Or relaxing. Or doing something. Embracing an awkward or uncomfortable situation — being the first to break the silence on a bus ride that would instead be spent updating my Twitter feed impulsively. Developing a better way to relieve stress — going on a run instead of nervously petting my eyebrow.

Other questions I have on all this & how it relates to mass media:
What else is there in my life that is as pointless as pulling eyebrow hairs? How do my media habits affect where my attention ultimately ends up? Should media outlets capitalize on our habits — what about if they’re addictions? 

Proximity Prospers

After reading my classmate, Chelsea’s, post on whether the Internet is making us one big, happy family — more connected, more globally aware —  or causing us to be more segmented into our own smaller communities; I couldn’t get the question out of my head.

Right now I can see both in my own life. I use WhatsApp to chat with my host brother and sister from last summer who live in Salta, Argentina. I received a “Happy Birthday” from Polish, Italian and Brazilian friends on Facebook.  And I receive news from different corners of the world online (although not as much as I should).

At the same time, I feel much more connected online with the people and events closest to what I’m familiar with. My social media accounts (especially Instagram and Snapchat) are filled with what my friends, the majority of whom are nearby, are doing and thinking. My Twitter timeline, although I try to branch out with who I follow, has a heavy UNC influence, which I can particularly see during a situation that brings Tar Heels together.

In the last month I’ve noticed this more than ever — with the death of the legendary Dean Smith, the tragic killing of three students that left us in shock and with questions, and the height of basketball season — I felt so consumed by news and forms of communication that focused on my own community.

Maybe, as Chelsea suggests, that’s because that’s what I’m interested in. I don’t “feel compelled” to seek news from other parts of the world because it doesn’t directly affect me as much. Proximity. (I guess News Writing taught me a little something here & there.)

Whether or not the fact that people are most interested in and connected to what is closest and most relevant to their own lives leads to the most healthy and informed we can be is another question. I’d argue that it doesn’t. But it does feel like human nature.

As, like I talk about in my latest post, communication (along with news) permeates our daily lives more and more, I think we will become more and more segmented into local groups.

We won’t have to go to a kind of global meeting place because instead of everyone “meeting” in one giant network of ideas, the network will go where we are. The Internet will be on our wrists and in front of our eyes, embedded into our streets, homes and cities’ infrastructures.

I hope that people find it in themselves to reach out to what’s happening elsewhere. To find people’s views that are from very different places meaningful to them. Maybe we will find a way to force ourselves to come into contact with foreign events and people as we move forward.

But for now, I see convenience. I see walking down the street being such an intense experience that the individual’s need for global connectedness will lessen. I see proximity.

Mobile is the (near) Future

In the last year (since last January), U.S. newspapers’ digital reach has increased 19 percent, with the eyes of 173 million (in Jan. 2015) glued to news online. 

That means newspapers are reaching 82 percent of the American adult online population. It’s a record high. 

Plus, 39 percent of those viewing digital newspaper content are doing so exclusively on a mobile device — up from 27 percent in the last year. 

Only 32 percent of those viewing newspaper content online used only a laptop or desktop. That’s what’s interesting to me. 

The gadgets we carry around constantly are what we view the world through. For now, those are cell phones. But I bet the more technology expands into the fabric of our daily lives, that’s where news will go. It’s where it has to go. 

We still have some work to do on the mulah side of things. Digital advertising from newspapers still only accounts for 14.5 percent of total ad revenues in 2013. 

But I have faith. The demand is there. The content is there. And we are beginning to realize that we must bring news to the readers in ways that are as entwined in their daily lives as possible.