This Week's Highlight Reel | October 13-17

by Paul Balcerak in

This week was all about getting stuff done, and taking some time for myself when I could. Here's some of the stuff I did along the way.

My Best Tweets

Things I Wrote For Curator

What I'm Working On

We have a new promotion up and running with Domino's: Tweet or Instagram your team-spirit photos on game day (make sure your account is public) with the hashtag #TailgateAtHome, and you'll be entered to win a fully catered party for your next game day.

I'm helping with winner drawings and communications, and posting pizza-related humor to the associated Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Good Things I Read

Gross and horrifying accounts of street harassment. ... A guy who may have saved the world by doing nothing at all. ... This is totally what's in my head every time I get the J.Crew catalog. ... I'm jacked up for bike sharing in Seattle. ... Deadspin corrects a mistake as only Deadspin can.

Why Sensational Journalism Can Actually Be Dangerous

by Paul Balcerak

Stop me if you've heard this at some point during the past 24 (hell, four) hours: Ebola.

Of course you've heard it. It's everywhere. Not Ebola, of course, but coverage of it. If you get your information from U.S. mainstream media, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to find you're "worried," or even that you think there's a full-blown outbreak going on.

There's not. And the U.S. mainstream media needs to chill the fuck out and take a long, hard look at what it's doing.

This is not something to debate openly like a missing airliner, or a new pope, or even an assassination attempt on a politician. Those things shouldn't be debated, either, but Ebola is a particularly dangerous topic to start speculating about because it runs the risk of whipping the public into mass hysteria. 

Don't believe it? Here's a chart showing how Ebola coverage has blown up in U.S. media:

We're covering this thing more than fucking Africa, and there are only three confirmed cases.

Mainstream media knows better and obviously doesn't give a damn. The amount of coverage given to any topic gives that topic weight. When people are reminded at multiple points throughout the day that X exists, it becomes impossible to ignore, and once it's in your head, you start playing out scenarios. Uninformed scenarios. In the worst cases, those scenarios might even compel a person to act, or a more nefarious person to fan the flames.

And the danger is this:

We’re scared, and getting more scared all the time. And it may be time to wonder whether the combination of fear and politics could hinder the effective decision-making needed to keep the virus from harming Americans.
— Paul Waldman, The Washington Post

What should the media do? A few things:

  • Follow the lead of Fox News and CNN.
  • Reduce the amount of coverage given to Ebola.
  • When new information comes to light, shift into a mode of explanatory journalism.

On that last point, I've found The Washington Post and Vox to be the best sources of information (the latter a little more so than the former).

I don't expect any of those points to be heeded by the media members guilty of turning this whole thing into a circus. But it's what should happen.

Next Time You Get Stuck In Your Head, Act

by Paul Balcerak in

Lately I've been paying a lot more attention to how I spend my time. Where once I may have spent free time just vegging out or daydreaming, I'm now finding myself being a bit more productive, if mostly on mundane tasks. 

Don't get me wrong—vegging out and daydreaming have their place. But when they start to dominate the free time you have, you can end up sacrificing the future for the present all too often. 

My mantra of late has been: When you start to think too much, act. 

Another saying I think of is, "Do something your future self will thank you for."

It's not about constant motion or productivity. It's just a means of avoiding that thought of, "What the eff did I do with all my time?" You know—when someone asks you what you've been up to, and you have no idea; you can't remember.

When I can, I'll do something related to what I'm thinking about. If my mind drifts to what I think the weather's doing tomorrow, I'll maybe locate my rain gear and set it out ahead of time for my commute. If I'm thinking about what to write, I'll just write, and if it sucks, I'll throw it away. 

When I do need to veg out or get into my head, I've been trying to schedule time for it: 30 minutes online. An hour zoning out, but only after I intently think/meditate for 20 minutes. 

Again, it's not about being relentlessly productive. It's just about recognizing that time is a finite resource, and I'd like to at least have something to show for what I spend mine on.

Social Sharing On Fridays Just Got Easier

by Paul Balcerak

Buffer has a great post up on 10 little-known features of the app. My favorite is this:

Re-buffer your top updates from your analytics page

Via both the standard analytics and the expanded business analytics inside your Buffer dashboard, you can drag-and-drop or one-click-add to your buffer those posts that were smash hits the first time around.

So what I just did was scrolled through my Buffer analytics tab, and rewrote and rescheduled all my top tweets from the week—sort of a best of/week-in-review helping on Friday.

I might also start doing a links-of-the-week feature (something I've always sucked at maintaining) by picking out my top tweets and embedding them in a blog post each week.

Anyway, there's a quick life/work-hack for you!

This Blog Is About Openly Learning

by Paul Balcerak in

I've always been a big advocate of education and transparency—it's why I started my career in journalism, and why I continue to try to push those two things out into the world.

I saw a great post on NPR's social media desk Tumblog today that inspired me to—well, no, fuck it, I'm just going to outright steal it. It's a short manifesto for why their blog exists:

At conferences and online, we hear from lots of people who are both surprised and excited that we share our tips and tricks online. We do it for a couple of reasons:
1. We work in public media. We believe that we should be sharing everything we can with the public. We’re in this together!
2. Making our process transparent and accessible helps fulfill NPR’s mission to educate and inform.
3. Sharing is infectious! We’ve found that other people open up with their own wisdom and experiences when we are generous with our own knowledge. The result is that the Social Sandbox now features outside contributors as much as it does our own insights.
4. It’s also a place where we can highlight our successes, failures and curiosities, with the hope that others might take our work and build on it.
Do you read the Sandbox? Have any suggestions for us? Let us know! 
@melodykramer and @wrightbryan3

My reasons for blogging are a little bit different—I'm here to openly learn, and share that with anyone who wants to listen—but I love the format and the spirit in which this was written, so I'm copying it. Shamelessly, because it's a great idea.

Here's An Interesting Way To Use An Animated GIF

by Paul Balcerak in

There's a lot of gimmickry in news—social media, liquid screen TVs, etc. So it's refreshing when a news outlet takes one of those gimmicks and makes something of it.

Case in point: This animated GIF from Vox, which shows the path of White House intruder Omar Gonzalez.

Adam Baumgartner / Vox

Adam Baumgartner / Vox

This is scary as hell. Some nutcase with a trunk full of ammunition was able to rush the White House and get this far.

The file type works well as the medium here for a few reasons:

  • It's shocking to see the exact route, and how far Gonzalez got.
  • Video would technically fulfill the same purpose, but even if it were looped a few times, it would fall flat. An endless GIF hammers the point home: He got this far. He got this far. He. Got. This. Far.
  • The rawness of it makes it tangible—more real.
  • The method—using Google Street View to trace the intruder's steps—takes the realness to a whole new level: You can retrace the route yourself.

The wrong lesson to take from this would be: People love GIFs; let's do more of those.

The right lesson is: The right tools for the right job—and make sure you have a good knowledge of what tools are available to you.

John Travolta's Right About One Thing With Regard To 'Battlefield Earth'

by Paul Balcerak

John Travolta recently popped up to defend arguably his/the worst movie ever, Battlefield Earth. It was a great opportunity for everyone to remember (though most probably haven't seen it) and laugh at how bad it was.

I never saw Battlefield Earth, and I don't plan to, but I think the fact that John Travolta is still out defending it is fantastic. His reasoning is why:

Why would I ever regret that? I had the power to do whatever I wanted, and I chose to do a book that I thought was worthy of making into a movie. […] It was a moment where I could say, ‘I had all the power in the world and could do whatever I wanted.’ Not a lot of people get that opportunity, and I did what I wanted to do.
— John Travolta

You can find a lot to criticize about the movie, and the man, but good for John Travolta for not giving a shit. One day, all any of us will have left is the decisions we've made, and we'll either be faced with the fact that we did what we wanted, or that we acted according to what everyone else wanted from us.

The One Instagram Account I Just Couldn't Follow

by Paul Balcerak

I'm flipping through Instagram earlier tonight—double-tap, double-tap, scroll, scroll, scroll—and I come across this one picture that's a real thumb-stopper: Fog and blurry lights at night (I'm a sucker for that) and what looks like the faint outline of a city. Only the fog is above the city, and the perspective is looking down, not up. Someone shot this from a skyscraper.


Double-tap, profile-click, follow, photo-stalk, back button, scroll. The whole process took about 30 seconds, tops, like it always does.

But something stopped me this time. I went back and looked again. The photo was a re share—someone had posted it to promote someone else's account—and the caption made me uneasy:

"This 16-year-old is killing New York <scream-face emojis>"

I go back to the user page: Gobs of photos of tennis shoes in the foreground with gold-tinged nighttime city streets hundreds of feet below. He's dangling off buildings. Normally I would've thought this was cool, but fuck—this was someone's 16-year-old kid.

I played back everything I just did. Then I un-did it—unlike, unfollow.

That did nothing. I'm like one guy in a mob stepping away quietly while everyone cheers.

But I just couldn't follow this guy's—this kid's—account. It would somehow make me feel like I was condoning the stuff he does. He doesn't know, he'll never know, and even if he did, he wouldn't care.

Me tapping a few buttons did nothing. But it felt so much worse to think about leaving things be.

Editor's note: I'm not linking to anything for the same reason I said above. It's just too fucked up.

How To Build A Content Calendar Quickly

by Paul Balcerak in

Fancy Calendar I spend a lot of time at work building content calendars, either for blogs or for social media. It's not easy. It sounds easy until you sit down to create two weeks' or a month's worth of posts and realize that posting on the same subject matter day after day can get monotonous fast.

I've come up with a simple solution for avoiding that fatigue, and it's also something that can help you potentially optimize your content. Here it is:

1. Figure out what topics you want to post about

Before you even start, you should have an idea of what you're posting about within your niche. If you're planning content for a home decor blog, maybe you have a handful of categories like product reviews, DIY, Q&A with an expert and design inspiration. Whatever it is, figure that out and write it down.

2. Decide how often you want to post about each topic

This is key, especially if you're interested in keeping your schedule under control. If you don't yet know which types of content perform best (more on that in a future post) you can start by weighting them based on what takes up the most of your time. For the topics I mentioned above, DIY and Q&A will probably take the most time because they involve an interview and a lengthy content piece, respectively. A product review might take a bit less time, and design inspiration is probably the shortest because you're essentially curating other people's content.

Assign a percentage to each one. Don't think about it too much, because you can adjust it later. For this, let's just say: Design inspiration, 50%; product reviews 30%; DIY and Q&A, 10% each.

3. Divvy up your calendar per the percentages

Let's say I'm blogging five days per week for one month, so, 20 days. Ten days are dedicated to inspiration, six to product reviews, three do DIY and three to Q&A.

4. Scatter 'em, or theme your days

I like to mix things up and keep readers guessing. You may want to set up a system where every Tuesday is product review day, or something like that. Whatever you're comfortable with is what's best.

I still build my content calendars in Excel because that's what I like. It doesn't matter what you use, but I do recommend writing the topics down, day by day, somewhere. The visualization will help keep you organized.

5. Write

This is the hardest part, but once it's done, you're done. All you have to do then is plug your content into the slots you created in Step 4.

The "bonus" part of this is optimizing your content based on which topics perform best. That's easy enough to do, but it's another set of instructions for another post, which I'll write about soon. Check back, and let me know in the meantime if you have questions or feedback.

Photo: Windell Oskay / Flickr