My nightstand has been covered with parenting books lately (I’m expecting a baby girl in July).
Some of my favorites are about the French approach to parenting — the best so far has been “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” by Pamela Druckerman.
How does this relate to creativity and newsrooms?
Essentially, the heart of French parenting mirrors my paradoxical attitude toward creativity and leadership.
A quick excerpt:
French parents … mean something different than American parents do when they call themselves “strict.” They mean that they’re very strict about a few things and pretty relaxed about everything else. That’s the cadre model: a firm frame, surrounding a lot of freedom (p. 234).
I find innovation thrives in similar circumstances: The tighter the boundaries or limits when trying to solve a problem, the easier it is to come up with a creative approach (those zany “Project Runway” challenges immediately come to mind).
I structure my time in similar fashion: I set up firm routines and organizing systems with the help of tools like Google calendar. Those efficiencies help free up “creative time” to tackle the most important goals.
I think this applies to other struggling industries, too (say, newspapers!). “The real role of leadership in education … is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control … creating a climate of possibility. And if you do that, people will rise to it …”
Roanoke has been called a swing town in a swing state, so why not celebrate with your own swingin’ election night party?
(And by the looks of Virginia’s changing demographics, we should be able to recycle these ideas in the next presidential election.)
Read more from my Roanoke Times story, Elect to party! How to throw a swing state election night party »
Roanoke Times food writer Lindsey Nair wanted to write about all of the creative Halloween treats she saw on Pinterest. So she challenged a few staffers to try whipping them up themselves.
I made these *scandalously easy* witch hat cookies (photo by Rebecca Barnett | The Roanoke Times).
The best part? After photographing all of the yummy sweets (including Frankenstein crispy rice treats and a pumpkin-shaped cake), she shared them all with the newsroom in a casual Halloween party.
Read the story here.
This reminds me of my “Quest for the Best Margarita” series in our Inside Out entertainment section in 2006. I tried to create social opportunities for our ragtag team of freelancers, so we met every couple of weeks to rate restaurant margaritas. This made for engaging (and incredibly popular) content throughout the summer — and each stop became a relaxed incubator to joke about story ideas.
To celebrate Inside Out’s first birthday in 2005, I hosted a small staff party at my house — we rated store-bought birthday cakes (Kroger’s chocolate with whipped vanilla icing won us over).
This is my own (numberless) data visualization to explain a digital journalist’s skill set.
Lisa Williams of Placeblogger.com and MIT Media Lab’s Center for Future Civic Media shared some tips on creating powerful data visualizations in this free “Diving into Data” webinar from the Knight Digital Media Center (Oct. 30, 2012).
1. Why should I care? Why is learning data visualization tools so important? Because the problems we face as a nation/world/species are ever more complex and can’t be told adequately in narrative forms, says Williams. (HOORAY FOR ALT STORY FORMATS! She’s my people!) Data viz is persuasive and shareable (think viral Facebook memes) because it’s so visual. It can teach the story better. This was one my favorite examples from the webinar: Billion Dollar O-Gram, which puts the billions of dollars of global spending into context using a treemap.
2. Data viz *IS NOT* new. The Vietnam War Memorial is data visualized. Also, Florence Nightingale displayed her death statistics from the Crimean war in a powerful chart.
3. Go to the ‘gym’! Yes, we’re all incredibly busy doing our jobs. Who has time to learn how to make data come to life? We just have to make time, says Williams. Try to develop an exploration mindset — one of continuous learning. How? Intentionally carve a few hours a week to update your skills and try some of these tools out. Think of it as a “gym for your career.” Fantastic analogy!
4. Where should I start? If you’re hunting for data, be sure to search what’s already available at data.gov and datacatalogs.org. How to turn the data into fancy charts and graphs? For beginners, Williams recommends Many Eyes. More options: Buzzdata (more visual snap) and Tableau Public if you’re really serious.
5. Need some inspiration? Williams recommends “Visualize This” and sunfoundation.tumblr.com to get your creative data viz juices flowing.
I’m still processing all of the amazing ideas from the second CityWorks (X)po in Roanoke, Virginia, over the weekend. I connected with so many creative, cool people; tweeted from the conference like a maniac; and boiled down all of the good stuff into 5 top takeaways that I can apply to my own life and work at The Roanoke Times.
1. Think big, stay small
Don’t forget the power you have to improve your neighborhood, city and world. But progress happens in baby steps — small ways every day (Mike Edson). You don’t have to do it perfectly or expensively (Mike Lydon), the most important thing is that we DO IT — and magic can happen. But don’t pin too much on magical wishing, said the refreshingly blunt speaker James Howard Kunstler. His new book (which I bought — and he signed) says it all: “Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation.” A sobering alarm about our finite energy sources — and one that emphasizes contraction: Our systems will be forced to be smaller, more local.
Keynote speaker Kennedy Smith shares “The Best Ideas of 2012” on the first day of CityWorks (X)po.
2. Millennials are taking us back to the future
1912 is coming back again (with some twists), according to Kennedy Smith. Millennials will impact our economics and design for years to come: They think local; are more environmentally conscious; reuse and recycle (see: rise of consignment, repair shops); and appreciate playful, techy interactivity (see Peapod grocery shopping). Most importantly, a huge number expect to own their own businesses (see: popup shops). An entrepreneurial explosion on the horizon?
3. Could we create a real Times Square?
All the talk of placemaking — and especially Mike Lydon’s examples of “tactical urbanism” (like DIY crosswalks) — got me thinking about our imminent launch of the Times Square blog on roanoke.com. We want Times Square to become a bustling digital town square, where we’ll invite conversations about the most important — and most popular — Roanoke Times stories; spotlight contributions from the community (reader photos, videos, etc.); and connect the community with our journalists and staff through Q&As, behind-the-scenes tidbits and schedules for meetups and events. But couldn’t we create a *real* Times Square — possibly outside our doorstep, on the lawn of Roanoke’s Municipal Building? Or on our little-used roof garden? We could host picnic lunches — meetups about various issues discussed on the blog. Would there be interest?
Robin Williams, an architetural historian at the Savannah College of Art and Design (and the guy in the hat), was impressed with the abundance of art deco style in downtown Roanoke. He urged the owner of the building behind him (which houses the City Corner buffet) to restore the bottom half to its original art deco glory.
4. Let’s go on historical scavenger hunts
The architectural tour of downtown Roanoke (thanks, Robin Williams) was a fascinating peek into our past. Williams was impressed by all of the art deco (a sign Roanoke was booming during the 1930s?), and was especially moved by the building that houses the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce. Who knew it was such a special example of postwar modernism? He mentioned creating some sort of architectural scavenger hunt to help folks learn to look up — and it reminded me of Inside Out’s St. Patrick’s Day treasure hunt in 2008, which relied on many architectural elements for clues in our puzzle. Perhaps we should do another version, asking historians to provide the stories behind the buildings? This time we’ll have QR codes.
Who knew the building on Jefferson that houses the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce was such a special example of postwar modernism?
5. How can we help bring neighbors together?
We heard Aaron Naparstek’s hilarious “Honku” poetry — this was his therapeutic way of dealing with the incessant honking outside his Brooklyn home. His project helped unite his neighborhood over a problem. But during CityWorks, I also met committed Roanoke neighborhood advocates who were trying to find ways to bring their communities together over positive issues. This got me thinking about our own Good Neighbors Fund that The Roanoke Times has sponsored for years. How might we reinvigorate this fundraiser — or take advantage of social media? I keep focusing on the name: Good Neighbors. Sadly, I don’t know my own neighbors very well — but I’d jump at the chance to help organize an effort to raise money for a good cause, which would help me get to know them better. Perhaps we can help neighborhoods brainstorm ideas on how to raise money for the Good Neighbors fund — either around the holidays, or throughout the year? We might offer a “starter kit” of sorts for these neighborhood connectors? Hmmm. Wheels are turning ….
Did you attend the (X)po? What were some of your biggest takeaways?
My top 5 takeaways from The Art and Science of Editing webinar with consultant/educator Merrill Perlman (@meperl), formerly of The New York Times
This Oct. 3, 2012, webinar is “for writers and editors who want to learn to identify when you need to edit something, when you don’t and how to explain your changes to others.”
Most important: Your job as an editor is to stand up for the reader. Your goal is to make something more accessible — what is the writer saying? What is the reader hearing?
Good editing follows guidelines, not rules (except when it’s a law).
You want to edit, not change. A change is something you *want* to do … an edit is what copy *needs* to be clearer. “An edit always keeps its main focus on the reader. A change is made for convenience sake or to obey a rule.” And editing improves copy as *invisibly* as possible.
“Good editors understand why they do what they do … and can explain it.” When you do explain an edit, avoid terms like “you did” or “I fixed.” Instead: “The idea is unclear” or “a reader might misunderstand …”
How to give a story a fresh read? Change the font size to make it bigger … or print it out and read on paper.