Denise’s Roundup of Interesting Reads of the Week

I am back with my picks for the week’s most fascinating stories, with a smattering of food, land use planning and science.

1. Being Happy With Sugar | The Atlantic — This story gets to the heart of my dilemma with most nutrition reporting. What sells are pronouncements, i.e. “Sugar will kill you, so cut all sugar from your diet!” But the truth and the data from clinical trials are much more nuanced than what gets the most “likes” on Facebook. This long read examines the subtleties of the influence of fructose on weight.

2.  When Is a Food Truck More Than a Food Truck? | The Walrus — A fascinating piece exploring the ways that food trucks can build community and subvert top-down urban planning efforts in Canada.

3. Bees Build Mental Maps to Get Home | Nature — An interesting new study on the brain science of bees.

4. Beauty is truth? There’s a false equation | Aeon Magazine — A fascinating essay exploring the influence of the aesthetic on the history of the scientific theory.

5. This Invisibility Cloak Actually Works, But Only in Fog and Milk | Vice’s Motherboard — Because this takes the cake of cool science news of the week. To make invisibility work, you have to bend light around an object so that it appears that it’s not actually there. Scientists were able to do this with a stainless steel cylinder coated with light-scattering polymers and dipped in water.

Photography: Sparrows at the Community Garden

Out at the community garden in Corvallis, little sparrows and finches serenade us as we labor in the dirt. They hop between rough-hewn wooden bird houses and fence posts as the hot evening wears on. It’s one of the most pleasant aspects of working in the garden. Plus, I’m a bird enthusiast, with a pet lovebird at home. So naturally, I sought to capture the bright colors and cheerful textures of these tiny musical creatures.

Here are my images:

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Denise Picks Six Intriguing #LongReads of the Week

(Photo by Flickr:Stephen Cummings)

(Photo by Flickr:Stephen Cummings)

It’s time to grab your coffee and relax into your favorite comfortable chair with your preferred reading device. I have picked six more compelling journalism pieces to recommend to you from this week’s writings. Five are excellent long-form works. One is an extra encore, just for its interesting topic.

1. Hacker, Creeper, Soldier, Spy | National Post — Canada’s National Post proves long-form journalism is far from dead with a riveting two-part chronicle of Matt DeHart, a former U.S. soldier who claims that he is wanted for working with online hacktivist group Anonymous.

2. The Inside Story of Oculus Rift ad How Virtual Reality Became Reality | Wired — This story reads more like a real-life Snow Crash brought into the realm of the present day rather than non-fiction. A fascinating profile of a scrappy startup with a game-changing innovation, written in such a way that builds tension and drama in all the right places.

3. Sherpas, Fate and the Dangerous Business of Everest | The Wall Street Journal — A rich piece of journalism filled with well-done multimedia pieces to enhance the text. This piece humanizes the exploitation of the Sherpas in stark, careful prose. Heartbreaking.

4. How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star | LA Weekly — A sweeping epic detailing the evolution and democratization of mass media in the Internet age and how that has shaped celebrity gawker culture. I must also admit I was once a Tom Cruise fan, ranking the Last Samurai as a favorite, until he seemed to “go nuts.” I enjoyed this piece much more than I expected.

5. Fire on the Mountain | The Atlantic — Aside from offering a powerful multimedia experience, this story quite frankly made me cry. Details like Eric Marsh’s hiring process — he took a chance on a man with a shady past for his honesty about it, and “Marsh offered him a job that day. He wanted good men, not just good firefighters” — got me on the side of each one of the 19 hotshot firefighters who braved a blaze in Yarnell, Ariz., and lost their lives. Another aspect of this epic that I appreciated was the writer’s skillful use of making the complicated bureaucracy that mobilizes to fight major fires seem digestible. 

6. The book rustlers of Timbuktu: how Mali’s ancient manuscripts were saved | The Guardian — The topic of this piece is just so fascinating that I had to throw in an extra recommendation.

Denise Picks The Five Top #MustReads of the Week

(Photo by Flickr:FontShop)

(Photo by Flickr:FontShop)

I’ve decided to narrow these lists down to five of the most compelling journalism longreads and interesting news of the week.

So grab your coffee and your favorite reading device and dive in.

1. Why Don’t Octopus Suckers Stick to Their Own Skin? | Smithsonian Magazine — My favorite science news this week comes from a fascinating study that examines a seemingly esoteric phenomenon but one with important implications. Why don’t octopus arms stick together or end up in knots? The answer has to do with a chemical signal.

2. The Reykjavik Confessions | BBC News — An intricately wrought epic and psychological real-life thriller detailing a chillingly botched murder investigation that gripped Iceland for more than a decade.

3. Segregation Now | The Atlantic — Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, writer Nikole Hannah-Jones places a critical lens on Tuscaloosa, where desegregation is not playing out quite as the courts had hoped. She follows the generations of the Dent family to personalize the civil rights struggle of this city’s families. This graf is an example of the story’s stunning details that humanize a challenging issue: “Late last year, D’Leisha took the ACT for the third time, but her score dropped back to 16. So early on a Saturday in February, she got up quietly, forced a few bites of a muffin into her nervous stomach, and drove once again to the community college where the test is administered. A few weeks later, she got her score: 16 again. She contemplated a fifth attempt, but could see little point.” 

4. Narenda Modi and the new face of India | The Guardian — If you’re not watching India’s fascinating elections, you should. This feature provides an excellent analysis of Modi’s rise to prominence and power in a deeply complicated country. What drew me to this analysis in particular was its sprinkling of literary references.

5. Alex Trebek is the Last King of the American Middlebrow | The New Republic — Sure, you could see this profile as banal, pandering pop culture pretension, as several commenters did. Yet, I enjoyed it nonetheless as a sharp, charming profile of an endangered slice of Americana. Perhaps it’s this about quiz shows that drew my nostalgia — “In the Internet era, knowing a little about a lot provides diminished cachet: You don’t have to retain facts when they can just be Googled.” 

Facebook Insights Metrics Explained: Engaged Users

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When you throw Facebook content up on the Interwebs, much of the time it’s experimentation. You’re playing around with picking the time of day and the day of week. And no matter how strong your hunch or how honed your journalistic instincts, you ultimately take a stab in the dark at the newsworthiness of the content. But how do you really know how well your audience responds to that content? And more importantly, how do you communicate that to your superiors?

To whip out a social media superstar’s answers to those questions, tap into the power of Facebook Insights.

Before you even download your page’s Facebook Insights, though, it’s time to strategize.

Pick three or four goals that you hope to accomplish by posting to Facebook. These could include selling a product, raising awareness or driving traffic to your website. While you are still wrapped up in this content development phase, establish benchmarks for success. It’s more effective to do this right away, rather than procrastinating to the end.

These unique goals will ultimately shape your benchmarks, so alas, I can’t tell you in a general blog post specifically which ones are best to track for your organization. But if you take one look at Insights for the first time, I have a feeling you won’t find it all that insightful at first blush. The newly revised Insights reads like gobbledygook to managers seeking the gospel of the return-on-investment of social media.

Before getting overwhelmed, read on. I’ll explain several key Insights metrics in an occasional series in this blog.

This week I am tackling “Engaged users.”

Facebook defines this metric as “the number of unique people who’ve clicked, liked, commented on or shared your page posts.”

In other words, this key performance indicator tells you how many people have interacted with your content. This is an insight you can take specific action on. This should drive your content decisions.

How so? You can analyze whether your tone, voice, subject and even time of day yields the most interaction. Interaction, in turn, influences your page reach, because every time your fans comment on your content, their mutual friends see their comment in their news feeds. This metric alone touches many other metrics.

Even so, so what? Why bother with this metric? Aren’t eyeballs and fan counts more important?

They’re important, but they belong to a package of indicators that help you truly understand your page’s performance.

So, if you want to collect fans like some people collect baseball cards, don’t bother with this metric. Just run a bunch of silly contests asking your fans to get their friends to like that page. That flush of new fans will be gone in a week, though.

Want people to stick around? Want genuine, passionately engaged brand advocates who actually like you for you?

Then watch this particular metric like a hawk. Gauge which topics are more popular, interesting and relevant to your audience. Compare those data over time. Change your content accordingly.

Slowly but surely, like an old-fashioned game of Telephone, these enthusiastic fans will build a true grassroots Facebook audience. One day, they’ll convince their friends to buy your product.

And that’s what makes Facebook’s word-of-mouth networking so powerful.

Denise’s Top Ten #MustReads

(Photo by Flickr:alexkerhead)

(Photo by Flickr:alexkerhead)

It’s that time again for the best and the brightest of this last week’s journalism.

1. Addict. Informant. Mother. | New York Times Magazine — A heartbreaking profile that builds drama and tension with all the right shimmering details. Scenes like when Ann is hunkered down on the bathroom floor of a Giant Food, her bright stretchy orange headband underneath mounds of compacts and mascara, trying to find the thin blue line of a vein as someone interrupts, “Is someone in there?” And the way that details shift in and out to describe the color of a scene. She smelled of shampoo, and her eyes were carefully made up. “I don’t even know if I want to ask you if you’ve been clean,” Davenport said. Chilling.

2. You’ll Never Guess Which Rapper Has the Largest Vocabulary | The Daily Dot — Data scientist Matt Daniels breaks it down by using a technique called token analysis to compare the numbers of unique words used by Shakespeare versus popular rappers. This might seem like a waste of time unless you’re a literary and data visualization geek like me. Plus, language and literacy are important, and rap’s dexterity with language is all too often underrated.

3. Onward to Europa | Aeon Magazine — A single thread of detail — “the strategy of following the water” — binds this sprawling, colorful piece together that challenges conventional space science wisdom. I love metaphors sprinkled in here such as “It is the safest possible bet, the astrobiological equivalent of the bland-yet-filling casserole your in-laws sometimes make” and writing like “…a sign that its outer shell is active enough to hide the telltale craters that scar the face of a world over geological time.” It starts out following this thread, describing the ebbs and flows of the failures of the Mars expeditions, then switches to exploring the possibilities of Europa. Then it concludes with the challenges of this question — “Why are we chasing ice crystals underneath a desert instead of seeking out alien seas?”

4. How Garlic May Save the World | National Geographic’s The Plate — I really like how this is set up. You think it’s a quirky account of the ancient history of garlic until you find out at the end that it’s actually about a study examining garlic’s ability to kill off the methane-generating bacteria in cow bellies. Well done and creatively told.

5. Secret Libraries of New York City | Atlas Obscura — A gorgeous photo gallery for the bibliophiles among us.

6. A visual time machine into U.S. history | New Scientist — The American Museum of Natural History has revealed its photographic collection to the general public, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the past. This gallery includes — Oregon represent! — a painting of a solar eclipse as seen from Baker City, Oregon.

7. 10 Million Sardines in a Sea of Skyscrapers | Foreign Policy — I’m always eager to quench my inner land use/development geek with sprawling, beautiful essays like this. I really like how the writer weaves in statistics — for example, “It’s easy to look at statistics and view megacities as the looming development crisis of this century. The United Nations estimated in 2006 that there was just one toilet for every 1,440 people in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum.”  Then it goes through common assumptions about the pitfalls of density and challenges them one by one. A fascinating look at urban sprawl. 

8. Rice Theory: Why Eastern Cultures Are More Cooperative | NPR’s The Salt — A fascinating study that explores the hypothesis that the unique way that rice is produced shapes the nature of Eastern culture. Plus, some beautiful photography goes with the story.

9. High Times: Meet the Russian Kids Who Take the World’s Riskiest Photos | Rolling Stone — Ivan is a Ivan, a slim 19-year-old student with dark hair and an air of blissfully ignorant confidence. A really neat insight into an unusual cultural phenomenon — Russia’s young death-defying “roofers.” 

10. The First African-American Piano Manufacturer | NPR’s A Blog Supreme — NPR’s bloggers are producing some really fascinating stuff. I’m a jazz fan, so I immediately gravitated to this particular post. It’s a Q&A piece with jazz drummer Warren Shadd, the first African-American instrument manufacturer.

Bring authenticity into your social networking. It’s just another kind of business networking.

(Photo by Flickr:SpokaneFocus)

(Photo by Flickr:SpokaneFocus)

When I was a reporter in Stayton, I made it a point to connect with the local chamber of commerce. At first, my intentions were partly strategic; the owners of the auto body repair shop or the tanning parlor know the first names of just about everyone in a small town.

So every Wednesday morning, I polished my shoes, made sure I carried a full stack of business cards and brushed my hair. At 8 a.m. sharp, I showed up at the business that the chamber spotlighted that week. I could find myself at a gym one week, wandering around exercise equipment to mingle with a crowd of smiling bankers and insurance agents. Another week I could be walking around bookcases in a used bookstore, shaking the hands of local entrepreneurs between the stacks.

Hold that image in your mind, because I am painting a picture of my vision of social media. These gatherings, which the chamber called “Greeters,” are also a kind of “social networking” IRL, as it were — in real life.

The business host always provided hot coffee and pastries at those laid-back get-togethers. Chamber staffers waited for the guests to fill up the space. Then a facilitator asked everyone to introduce himself or herself. Everyone went around a large circle and said their name, their business and a tagline. Often their enthusiasm for their work splashed outside the realm of a mere elevator pitch. The business host then explained their company and gave everyone a tour and demonstration. Once, for example, a teacher in a karate studio broke a board with his hand for our viewing pleasure. After the formalities finished, we blended into an uneven crowd again, asked after our families and shook hands, telling jokes along the way.

My vision of social media is simply this type of traditional business networking, a fun chat around a hypothetical water cooler. Many newbies, though, have a difficult time viewing it that way. They see it as the next shiny thing. They see it as a sales pitch. They collect followers like some people collect baseball cards.

They’re doing it wrong.

Let’s start with that word “social.” This word describes the ways in which we humans organize ourselves into a society. Then consider that word “networking,” which is all about how we humans make connections.

Connections become relationships when they begin from a place of authenticity. Social media is merely a tool to create those genuine connections. What would you tell your most admired business leaders over a cup of coffee?

When I started attending those Greeters sessions, I did not introduce myself by merely broadcasting. I kept my tagline short. I listened to the news of the week. I memorized everyone’s first names. I memorized the names of their friends, grandchildren, relatives, romances and rivals. I figured out their hobbies, their favorite sports teams, how they took their coffee. I followed through on my promises. I did not sensationalize, nor did I report on only negative controversies. Neither did I shy away from the dark truths. I found the intersections between newsworthiness and relevance amid their conversations. More than all of that, I showed up.

But it can be intimidating to initiate the move beyond superficial small talk in gatherings like that. You don’t know whom you can trust. If you aren’t listening from a place of empathy and respect, however, you’re not networking. You’re not making genuine connections.

In return, I’m not sure I can precisely quantify my return on investment. Sure, I got great leads for some good stories. I could count how many published stories resulted from those leads.

But the chamber Greeters networkers remembered me. They respected me. These days, I run into them sometimes in the social web or in real life. If it’s real life, they recognize me immediately, smile and shake my hand. They remembered that I showed up every Wednesday at 8 a.m. and shared coffee with them. Sometimes in the long run, that’s worth more.

Denise’s Journalism Picks: A Top Ten Round-Up

Photo by Flickr:Tricia

Photo by Flickr:Tricia

From a prison knitting class to renegade blended hard cider, I aim to captivate you with my weekly round-up of the most interesting journalism of the week.

I shall harry no longer; here is my list.

1. What do conductors do? | The Telegraph — My boyfriend’s a conductor, so naturally I gravitated toward this lyrical appreciation for the subtleties of the profession.

2. It’s Not A Health Hazard to Have Sushi Made with Bare Hands, It’s a Necessity | Smithsonian Magazine — I love how the author weaves colorful imagery throughout this piece. It begins with the staccato of the sounds made when hands work with sushi. Then the brilliant transitional lede from that — “effectively silenced the hands of sushi chefs.” Each succeeding paragraph switches between flavors, sights and smells of sushi preparation in some luscious prose.

3. Prison Knitting Class Imparts Empathy, Life Lessons and Accountability | The Washington Post — I like how this story kicks off with physical descriptions of the people in the class, transitioning into the seeming incongruity of the subject. The testimonials impart how knitting makes the participants relax and meditate. Then the writing examines the history and outcomes of the project.

4. Nigeria’s Stolen Girls | The New Yorker — A haunting piece about the abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls that opens by humanizing this terrible ordeal through the lens of one girl, and weaves first-person reporting throughout the narrative. This is an under-reported issue that needs more media attention.

5. What’s Left of May Day? | Al Jazeera America — A thought-provoking editorial about the ebbs and flows of the labor movement.

6. Renegade Cider Makers Get Funky to Cope With Apple Shortage | NPR — A beautifully written piece about some inventive hard craft cider makers who are experimenting by adding unusual ingredients such as herbs and chili peppers into the fermentation tank.

7. 400 Years of Beautiful, Historical and Powerful Globes | Wired — In my relentless weekly search for cartography porn, this gem caught my eye. Gorgeous photos of beautiful globes.

8. Building an analytics culture in a newsroom | Nieman Journalism Lab — Who would have thought that innovating a whole corporate culture would start as simply as distributing a mass email praising people for their successes in the direction you want them to go? The analytics dashboard is also a user-friendly, creative idea to get more people on board.

9. Beijing introduces recycling banks that pay subway credits for bottles | The Guardian — Although this concept was motivated by economic reasons rather than environmental — the scrap industry in China is huge — this is just an intriguing and truly innovative idea.

10. How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future | Smithsonian Magazine — Because of this sentence: “The literary genre isn’t meant to predict the future, but implausible ideas that fire inventors’ imaginations often, amazingly, come true.” I’m a science fiction fan and this piece rhapsodized on many reaso
ns why I appreciate the genre.

Denise’s Top 10 Picks: Most Compelling Chronicles of the Week

(Photo by Flickr:Ross_Angus)

(Photo by Flickr:Ross_Angus)

Once again, I bring you the week’s best journalism — the interesting, the sublime, the unusual, the cool.

Without further ado, I present The List.

1. Magic in Service of Truth | The New York Times Sunday Book Review — Salman Rushdie memorializes Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I think that’s all you need to know.

2. Can Wal-Mart Really Make Organic Food Cheap for Everyone? | NPR — An interesting premise; can a massive supply chain create demand and drive down costs? Or would transparency crumble in such a system? Fascinated and intrigued but also disturbed by Wal-Mart’s forays into organic.

3. 18 strange and beautiful hummingbird species | Mother Nature Network — Wildlife photographer David Hemmings captures exquisite images of these important pollinators. As an aspiring wildlife photographer I find inspiration in this photo essay.

4. An Indian From India Photographs Both | New York Times Lens Blog — Photographer Annu Palakunnathu Matthew explores ethnic, cultural and geographical identity in an intriguing series that pushes the boundaries of our biases.

5. Video: Could These Drones Replace a Live Orchestra? | WQXR — A fascinating and yet creepy video. This is a must watch. Robots play Carol of the Bells and it’s mesmerizing.

6. The Real-Life Pokemon That Can Regenerate Missing Limbs | Wired — A really nicely structured mystery that explores how the axolotl, a rare type of salamander, can regrow whole limbs, and what this might mean for humans trying to do the same.

7. This interactive travel map of the Roman Empire is like Oregon Trail Meets Civilization | io9 — You remember my cartography fetish, right? This pushes all those buttons. This is just cool.

8. Patrick Stewart on His Craft, 21st Century Science and Robot EthicsSmithsonian Magazine — A fascinating interview with one of this Trekkie’s favorite actors, the one and only Sir Patrick Stewart. He manages to encapsulate just what I love about Star Trek: “I hope that the moral questions will be addressed as enthusiastically as technical questions will be addressed when it comes to artificial intelligence.”

9. India: Censorship by the Batra Brigade | New York Review of Books — Nothing makes me want to rush out and buy a book quite like attempts to ban and censor that book. Penguin India kowtows to a challenging Indian rule that forbids malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings. This powerful essay will make you buy this book too.

10. One Million Vintage Crime Scene Photographs Discovered in Los Angeles Police Archives | Beautiful Decay — These photos are just really well done, and will probably inspire you to pen a crime novel or two.

Shareable web content raises the profile of Oregon 4-H

Photo by Flickr:West Point - The U.S. Military Academy

Photo by Flickr:West Point – The U.S. Military Academy

Kids learning to dig the taste of vegetables. Youth powering up model rockets and engineering Lego robots. Children exploring their cultural heritage through dance.

These activities make 4-H, the Oregon State University Extension Service’s youth development programs, shine. The state fair and animals have always been vital to 4-H. But its nontraditional programming exposes kids to science in ways that could radically transform education.

That’s all powerful, important stuff. But not much of it is newsworthy — it stays the same year to year and it’s often not controversial. My task was to raise visibility for 4-H. This in turn would recruit new families and funds for the programs.

For some time, I wrote press releases about scholarships and awards. I broadcasted them to dozens of newspapers all over the state using a press release distribution service. These occasionally got attention in smaller-circulation hometown newspapers, if they had space that week.

So I got to thinking. Who’s my audience? 4-H families and future recruits, pretty much. What do they want to read about? What impacts them? They want to read about the cool ways their friends are making a difference in 4-H. They want to read personal, human stories. They want to read what sets 4-H apart from other after-school clubs and sports.

So I developed a series of web-only stories focusing on how 4-H served culturally diverse audiences with nontraditional programming. I explored programs that exposed kids to science, technology, engineering and math. To develop these stories, I made cold calls to regional 4-H leaders, checking in with what they were doing. I scoured websites and newsletters for ideas. I mined their social media pages. I deepened already good relationships.

As a result, I produced the stories below.

I distributed these stories via email to staff and administrators connected to the sources in the story. I encouraged them to repurpose the content in newsletters, websites and social media sites. I posted the content on Extension’s social media sites. I sent strategic news tips to local reporters. I got attention from the Molalla Pioneer, the Burns Times Herald, the Curry Coastal Pilot and KMUN local news radio in Astoria, who said they were interested in pursuing a story or running the story I wrote. A couple of these stories also appeared word-for-word in the Ag Weekly/Prairie Star online newspaper.

These stories take a little more legwork to report, as I always round up testimonials from people impacted by these programs and talk with multiple sources. But they are more effective than merely broadcasting. Newspapers want to get an exclusive, and it’s a good way to build a relationship and trust. Plus, the content can be repurposed in so many other ways as well. The ripple effects go far in these digital times, increasing the footprint of 4-H in the process.