When you say O. Henry, most people think of the “The Gift of the Magi,” but my favorite short story by O. Henry, AKA William Sydney Porter, was always “The Cop and the Anthem.”
In that story, Soapy, a hapless hobo tramping around New York City, is desperate to be arrested so he can spend winter’s coldest days in jail. But Soapy isn’t even very good at breaking the law — and you can read the rest here.
A modern day Soapy had no such trouble in Troy this week; police arrested one Jamaine Makepeace who they say broke windows at the Rensselaer County Clerk’s office in a bid to be collared by the cops. Why? To go somewhere warm. According to a police spokesman:
“He told us he figured he would do enough damage to get a year in jail. He told us that he was tired of being on the streets and begging food from people.”
Mr. Makepeace got his wish and is currently being held in Rensselaer County Jail without bail.
Homelessness is complicated and nothing I say about it will be anything less than trite — but those who scoff at the idea of helping the most troubled among us should take note, even as you mock what President Obama had to say on Monday.
It’s a sad story, but at least this guy, like Soapy, will be safe and warm for a little while.
Yes, it’s Grinch season, that time when unimaginative reporters overuse the Grinch metaphor. Experienced scribes know that a good story needs a bad guy, and this time of year labeling someone “Grinch” is a handy tag.
Those are five examples. I could give you five-hundred.
The problem with this is that like many real-life stories, the Grinch tale is about something more complicated than simply an evildoer stealing all the Christmas stuff — but when you start in with all those other things, those inconvenient truths, you begin to lose what makes your story powerful: the bad guy.
A really good reporter will go out and build his case against his story’s antagonist. Maybe talk to the Grinch’s angry ex-landlord or interview his former spouse and disgruntled children. Make the Grinch looks like a real dirtbag. And then — the truth doesn’t much matter, does it?
The dogs are enjoying the new iPad Mini we have in the house because the touch screen makes it’s easy for them to navigate. They never got the knack of using a mouse; that’s more of a cat thing.
Being newshounds, they love searching for stories about dogs and reading them to me when I have my morning coffee. Type “dogs” into Google’s news search and you get hundreds of results, so they never run out of material.
“Listen to this one,” announced Scarlett. “The Coast Guard ended a search Monday for a teenager whose parents were killed after they plunged into the powerful surf in a nightmarish chain of events that started when their son tried to save the family dog from drowning.”
Maddy ran in from the other room. “Holy crap!”
“Wait, there’s more.” She continued. “Eureka residents Mary Elena Scott, 57, and Howard Gregory Kuljian, 54, both drowned Saturday. The boy, Gregory James Kuljian, is presumed dead. Ten-foot waves had pulled the dog into the ocean as it ran to retrieve a stick at Big Lagoon, about 300 miles north of San Francisco.”
Thanks for that cheery little tidbit. “Geez… what a terrible story. Isn’t there any good dog news this morning.”
She was waiting for this. “Wait! This story actually has a happy ending, right here in the last line: ‘The dog returned to shore.’”
If I ever get to teach a class on public relations — to stand in front of people and talk about what works and what does not — I will include this rule in my lessons: Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever block a camera with your hand.
That’s what Albany “International” Airport’s Doug Myers did when he confronted a pair of Infowars.com activists leafleting — and shooting video of it — at the airport. His hand job is at 1:48 in.
When I used to sit and watch countless hours of boring raw news footage, nothing made my day like the hand in front of the camera. It’s a golden moment, one that would literally send me to my feet dancing around the room — and when someone did it it was guaranteed to appear in a news promo.
While we’re at it, one other rule: Keep cool, smile, and don’t raise your voice. Myers managed to do none of these things, instead giving the activists exactly what they wanted: an angry authority figure who was losing his sh*t. Nice work.
Oh, a third rule: when things go wrong, don’t try to fix them by lying in your subsequent statement:
“On Nov. 23, we asked two individuals to move away from the escalator area of the terminal where they were distributing fliers. Our concern — as it always is — was for the safety of the passengers and the public who were in the airport.”
Anybody who watched the video knows that this wasn’t about being near the escalator — but to their credit, the airport backed off the absurd “million dollars of insurance” demand made by Myers:
“Filing a simple form and providing advance notice of their arrival are all that is required. We would welcome them back to the airport to distribute their information.”
OK, I admit it: I still get nostalgic for my days hawking TV news.
There was a time that working in local TV was fun — before cable and the internet started sapping away the ad dollars. Today, everybody longs for those quaint old days when the only competition was radio and the newspapers.
What I really loved was chasing around our news people with a camera to make they’re work look hyper-exciting. This spot is chock-full of cliches and somewhat dated, but a good example of the genre:
One interesting note: we did not risk life and limb to get that opening shot, the one where the news vehicle stops just short of the camera. No, instead we had it accelerate away from us in reverse and ran the footage backward. Thank you, Georges Méliès.
And yes, I know: It would have been better if the license plate said “WNYT 13.”
Does it surprise me that the NY Post thought that outing Sophia Walker was front page news on Monday? No — I mean really, are you surprised by anything the NY Post does?
Spreading across the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook, the Sophia Walker franchise is a mix of pop culture, sci-fi, style, and politics. It is often hilariously profane, but always very well done with a very distinctive voice and personality. On Monday, the Post revealed that Sophia Walker is not a person but a persona created by Sheldon Silver staffer Bill Eggler.
But Sophia Walker’s mistep — as is so often the case with people who write anonymously — was letting things sway too close to work, in this case commenting on blogs in defense of Sheldon Silver. One thing leads to another and the gig is up.
The Post seems to relish the she/he aspect of this story, making cheeky wink-wink-nudge-nudge references about Eggler, to which I say, “Benjamin Franklin.” Not only did Franklin regulary write under pseudonyms, he adopted numerous female personas to do so, most famously that of Silence Dogood. Ben Franklin would have loved the internet.
So annywho, bravo to Mr. Eggler. If this is the death of Sophia Walker, she will be mourned.
When the cowbell hanging over my desk began swaying back and forth, that’s when I knew. Unable to control myself, I shouted out to nobody in particular, “Earthquake!”
The next thing I did was send out this tweet:
That’s hilarious, because I didn’t actually dive for cover or flee my building, or utter a prayer or anything — no, while my desk was still gently rocking I sent out a tweet. Almost immediately, the Twitterverse exploded in an orgy of seismic chatter.
In retrospect, there was really nothing to worry about, but during the mild shaking none of us had any idea if it would get worse. Imagine how stupid you’d feel if the ceiling fell down on you while you were making wisecracks about the earthquake on Twitter?
As usual, traditional media dropped everything and overindulged in the story. Imagine a keg of beer falling off a truck and rolling right up the steps of a frat house. That’s the only thing you can compare it to — and the party didn’t end until everyone passed out later that night.
I won’t bore you with my opinions; for a better analysis of how the media treats stories like this, see Howard Kurtz’s piece, Washington’s Earthquake Farce. The key sentence: “Much of the media has only one volume these days, and that is loud.”
The earthquake has passed and we all lived to tell the tale, but hear this: if the desk ever shakes hard enough to actually ring my cowbell, I’m totally out of here.
That may be the sort of blasphemy that gets my blogging license revoked, but what can I say that doesn’t overstate the obvious? So I won’t bore you.
No, this is not about what we think, but why we think what we think.
Simply put, the Saturday morning trouble in Albany would not be a news story without the video. There would be no parade of blog posts, endless ranting on talk radio, outraged public officials holding press conferences, or breathless local TV news hype.
It’s all about the video.
Consider the example of fires.
Houses catch on fire all the time. Even if nobody gets hurt, it’s one of the worst things you can experience. But is it news? Not really — unless there’s video. If there are pictures of your house burning down, that’s when news producers consider it a story.
Twenty years ago — hell, TEN years ago — the Kegs and Eggs thing would have been confined to a routine newspaper story and a brief item on your newscast. Technology has changed us.
Whenever we create a new innovation – be it an invention or a new idea – many of its properties are fairly obvious to us. We generally know what it will nominally do, or at least what it is intended to do, and what it might replace. We often know what its advantages and disadvantages might be. But it is also often the case that, after a long period of time and experience with the new innovation, we look backward and realize that there were some effects of which we were entirely unaware at the outset.
I’d say McLuhan is out there in the cosmos somewhere having a good laugh right about now.