By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
I have a friend called Jenn Wong who’s a brilliant voice-over artist and generally an all-around cool lady. One of her recent Facebook posts, however, touched upon something has has been sticking in my craw for some time.
Jenn posted an enticing photo of a cocktail. That’s all well and good, but there was no explanation — no name, no description, no info. Perhaps it’s the tastiest libation known to mankind, but I wouldn’t know, because she didn’t offer any coherent details. The photo was accompanied only by a string hashtag references.
For the not-so-Internet-savvy types, a hashtag is any word or phrase preceded by a pound sign (#) that refers the viewer to another online post or comment section or Twitter conversation on the same topic — and quite possibly, to more hashtags and incomplete references.
So wassamotta with that? Simple: it’s indicative of how people — educated, astute, talented people — don’t write anymore. The complete sentence is an endangered species, my friends, and thoughtful prose has become a pair of brown shoes in a tuxedo shop.
What ever happened to writing for clarity and developing what you want to say? I suppose the answer to that is the Internet, and our obsession for instantaneous consumption of and responding to information.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m on Facebook and have a Twitter account – not that I use it much – though I am likely a finalist for the title of World’s Slowest Texter. There is certainly a place in the realm of communication for such services; when it comes to events that are unfolding before our eyes, such as the rapidly-changing developments of 2010-11 collectively known as the Arab Spring, instant sources of news and information are invaluable.
Some stories, however, simply cannot be told in 140 characters. Instagram is great for transmitting photos, but sometimes a picture’s thousand words are insufficient.
Recently, the V3 Digital Media Conference was held here in Little Tokyo. It’s billed as a “gathering of Asian American bloggers, digital journalists, and digital enthusiasts,” with the goal of connecting online voices.
The Rafu was not invited. Some of us attended last year’s event, only after some lobbying for an invitation.
The conference, created by the Asian American Journalists Association’s L.A. chapter, features some truly fine writers and journalists — the L.A. Times’ Henry Fuhrmann among them. My fear, however, is that many at the conference fall into the category of those who choose speed and technology over quality, and that the event puts an emphasis on the media and not enough on the message. As the conference was taking place, many attendees posted photos and videos to sites like Facebook, to show what was happening, but it seemed that woefully few actually wrote more than a phrase to offer any details.
Online blogs and postings are often — far too often, really — given to spewing out unsubstantiated claims, incomplete information, opinion and pointless rants. That, frankly, is not sound journalism, but poor storytelling. We all have something valuable to say, but it’ll remain unclear if we can’t properly articulate it.
When applying for news media credentials, from the LAPD or Major League Baseball for example, they will largely reject requests from bloggers, for the very reason that such writers often show a casual disregard for the standards of journalism. News reporting takes education and practice, and you can’t simply decide one day that you’re a qualified journalist because you have a smart phone.
I’ll admit that we felt a bit snubbed by V3Con, and I suspect that we’re seen as somewhat of a dinosaur. We still print on paper, for cryin’ out loud.
To that sentiment, let me again warn against weighing content against its delivery. The printed word has been around for centuries, but it’s in the deftness with which it is deployed that true meaning and worth lie.
When radio began making its way into homes, the death knell for newspapers pealed across the land. Television threw fear into radio and movie producers in the 1950s. The Internet was supposed to wipe out TV and newspapers in a binary flash.
Perhaps some of those prophecies materialized, and the landscape has certainly evolved, but again, the message always trumped the medium, and the skill of the writer is what continues to matter.
Here at The Rafu, 89-year-old Maggie Ishino continues to work as a columnist and typist. Yes, we still have a typist. Sure, she’s learned — sometimes begrudgingly — to use a computer and the Internet. But she still writes, in fluid, well-constructed verse and sentencery, just as she did as a teenager in the Poston internment camp, using a pen and inkwell.
The message, not the medium, carries meaning, and it would appear that others are sharing some of my opinions. “Weird” Al Yankovic has not so subtly blasted a few common misuses of the English language in his wonderful new song and video, “Word Crimes.” Rain on a wedding day is not necessarily irony, and there is no coffee drink called “expresso.”
As for The Rafu, if practice makes perfect, we’re hard to beat. At more than 111 years old, we predate TV, broadcast radio, USC and UCLA. We were around before Ford’s Model T, long ahead of women’s suffrage, and even prior to the modern ball-point pen. When the Wright Brothers took their first flight, The Rafu had been in business for the better part of a year.
No matter what you think about the future of newspapers, the value that comes with experience in irrefutable. A recent example is Rafu’s 2012 investigation and story about the debacle that ended with Greg Willis departing his position as CEO of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and doing so under a cloud of controversy. One local online writer speculated about the unfolding events before we printed our story, and many readers – as well as at least one other L.A. news publication – took her comments as truth. We did our homework and our report was far more factually sound than any other. We don’t blog. We don’t guess. We deal in facts.
It’s called “content” for a reason, people. Without writing, there won’t be any need for events like V3Con, say, in the year 2050.
If it is held, I’m confident you’ll read about it in The Rafu Shimpo.
Oh yeah, if you like, you can follow me on Twitter, @MikeyJet.
Mikey Hirano Culross is the Rafu sports and travel & arts editor. He can be reached by email. Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.
Thank you for your thoughtful story. I agree and hope that we can all find a way to be better communicators. The Ties That Bind Southern California Leaders Forum is planning a session in October to discuss better communications within our community. Rest assured, the Rafu Shimpo will be invited!