Thursday, July 31, 2008

Family Ties

I had a full day of work, and I've been informed I have family I haven't seen in a long time in from N.C. back in my hometown in W.Va. So, I'm about to make the 1.5 hour drive there from Blacksburg, Va., to visit them. I should be back tomorrow, ready for a good weekend of blogging and hopefully catching up on a lot of other stuff. As I'm sure you can all understand the importance of family, you'll forgive me for a short, mostly irrelevant post today.

For upcoming posts, expect more Blue Ridge Parkway/outdoors adventures, PR/journalism news, geek news/features and internship updates.

For now, check out some of our older posts or visit our affiliates' links on the left. Thanks for being patient and for tuning in!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Community Reaches Out to Help Traveler, Dog

A homeless man and his dog are stranded in the valley, but local groups are raising money to get them well and get them home.


BY JOSHUA A. DELUNG | THE ROANOKE TIMES

RADFORD — Lee Walters had steady work, a home and a dog he loved. In retrospect, life was good.

But then he had a misunderstanding with his boss. Unable to find another job, the 49-year-old waiter from Bloomsburg, Pa., began to live off his savings. Eventually, those ran out.

In December, he lost his mobile home. Click here to find out what happens next.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cuil (Not Really)


New search engine not likely to make anyone at Google lose sleep

JOSHUA A. DELUNG | RELATIVELY JOURNALIZING

Well, I suppose by now you've caught yesterday's news about Cuil, a new search engine created by some Google alumni. I must say, I was pretty excited. Heck, I used to try a Yahoo! search, an Ask.com search, a Dogpile search, an AltaVista search — just whatever I felt like that day to mix things up. But that was back in the day when all search engines seemed equal — back when you still "searched" instead of "Googled." Now that Google is a household name, I was eager to try something that promised to be different from, perhaps even better than, Google, yet was created by people who had been involved at the search engine giant.

I immediately rushed to Cuil.com, pronounced "cool," thus explaining the headline for this blog post. Now that you understand that, I guess you probably can guess that I was disappointed at my first glance. I did a couple of searches I normally run on Google, and I found that I wasn't as pleased with the results — they just weren't nearly as relevant. Some of the terms I used only yielded one or two pages, but Google gives me a couple dozen pages of results, all relevant, with the same search terms. At first, I did like Cuil's interface. It seems sleek and shiny, sort of the Mac of search engines. Unfortunately, when you actually try using it, you find it's still sort of in a clunky stage.

Cuil gives you tabs at the top of your window with related searches, but honestly, if I wanted to know about X-Men 2 (the movie) instead of Uncanny X-Men (the comic), then I would've just searched X-Men 2 instead, perhaps utilizing some good old Boolean. The engine also provides a box that invites you to "Explore By Category," so I get a box full of multiple drop-down menus when I search "X-Men," with such listings such as X-Men comics (the different titles put out by marvel), X-Men mutants (with names of various characters) and even X-Men storylines (with the runs written as continued stories grouped together, such as the recent "Civil War" storyline). These category explorations are definitely neat, but I don't think they would have much practical use when doing day-to-day searches for certain facts, addresses, news stories, etc.

The last problem I had with Cuil is the layout. Normally, I'd be all about sticking it to the man (in this case Google), but this just added to the functionality problems Cuil has. With Google, you get a clean, ranked listing of results. With Cuil, you get a choice between two or three columns of misaligned results (albeit with a thumbnail photo) from which you can't really discern where they rank. So far, Cuil just seems too flashy with useless features and a strange layout (not to mention not-so-great search results). The engine's proprietors claim it indexes more Web pages than Google, but from what I've read, Google hasn't disclosed such numbers in a while and still claims it indexes the most.

I also found this article from ABC News, which was written earlier today, that had this to say after testing Cuil (the article also reports Cuil had some intermittent outages when it launched yesterday):
On Google, a search for giraffe brought up a Wikipedia entry for giraffes, a link to the San Diego Zoo and the Giraffe Heroes Project. On Cuil, a search for giraffe — which took quite a long time to surface — brought up a Wikipedia entry to the video game "Space Giraffe," and categories like "The #1 Ladies Detective Agency" and "Children's Book by Roald Dahl."

A search for movie times (no quotes) on Google brings up Fandango, movies.msn.com and movies.aol.com. On Cuil, a search brings up those listings, but also a Times of London story about Stephen Hawking appearing in a movie.
Perhaps the only good thing about Cuil is that they are not supposedly tracking users' activities online as Google does. (If you didn't know that... where have you been? Ever wonder why you get such "relevant" ads and such?) Personally, I'm willing to let Google try to sell me something and learn a little bit about my online activities as long as they keep making Gmail and other additional features great (I also love my customizable iGoogle user page, complete with the news headlines and other things I want displayed in real time). That's one other problem with Cuil; it's just solely a search engine. But most of all, it just isn't Google.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Top 10 Greenest Superheroes and Villains

There's no more popular trend today than going green. Well, maybe other than blogging. Corporations make attempts to greenwash in order to attract consumers, and as despicable as you may find it, you can't deny that you feel bad about yourself if you pick the product that doesn't promise to save the environment in some way. So, in an attempt to greenwash this blog, I've decided to come up with a fun and interesting blog post regarding the environment and a topic I know my readers enjoy. So far, my most popular blog post of all time didn't deal with my internship, journalism or public relations — it was about superheroes. This just goes to show that the people in my network and readers who stumble across the blog for the PR/journalism posts must all be somewhat nerdy. Of course, I've also defended these people in the past. Without further ado, here's my top 10 list of the greenest superheroes and villains gracing the pages of a comic book near you!

10. Green Goblin — His skin may be deceiving at first. Sure, using pumpkins as weapons is better than wasting valuable natural resources on more traditional weapons, but what about the 1,000+ volts of electricity he wastes when attacking with his micro-circuited gloves? The pumpkin vines that sprout up in New York City from missed attacks on Spider-Man may cancel that out, but there's no excuse for the carbon footprint of the Goblin Glider. What's that, the pumpkins are bombs? Sheesh...



9. The Incredible Hulk — He's pretty green, but only when he's angry. Seriously, though, Bruce Banner is a super-smart chemist, so surely he can put that to use in finding alternative fuel sources and other environmentally friendly discoveries. Unfortunately, the gamma ray radiation emanating from this superhero probably isn't so great for those around him, and the Hulk's smashing personality probably causes more destruction than conservation.





8. The Riddler — A genius in his own right. This villain is one of the few who can make Batman really think. Pretty much everything about E. Nigma is themed in green, making him a poster boy for the environmentalist movement. He often constructs well-engineered death traps that require little or no usage of fossil fuels. I've also heard rumor that he recycles the paradoxical notes he leaves Batman.






7. Captain Planet — This is probably the only hero ever created whose entire purpose is to save planet Earth from looting and polluting. Officially endorsed by Gaia, Planet had a one-up on Captain America, who is only endorsed by Uncle Sam. However, Planet doesn't rank very high on the list because without his precious Planeteers, he's useless (read: nonexistent). Once the Planeteers grew up, they tossed their rings into a fire and moved on with their lives, happy not to hear any more of Planet's cheesy one-liners. Kwame joined the NBA, Wheeler works for a nonprofit group, Linka became a computer programmer and part-time adult film star, Gi drowned in a tragic sea cow migration accident, and Ma-ti realized that "heart" isn't really a power and started an emo band.

6. Green Arrow — How can someone who parades around as Robin Hood not be good for the forest? Oliver Queen is a master archer, so he can obviously reuse arrows time and time again (he never loses one because he never misses). The only problem is with some of his less eco-friendly arrow concoctions such as the bomb arrow. He may not be the greenest hero, but he definitely helps out more than others in the comic book realm. The real question is, what if he had to face off against Marvel's Bullseye character from the Daredevil series? May the greener character win!




5. Green Lantern — Continuing the tradition of originality in superhero names in DC comics, Green Lantern is another character who is so green he has the word in both his name and his costume. His power ring uses absolutely no environmental resources because it runs completely off of will power. If only will power was a real superpower then perhaps Green Lantern could save the ozone layer, stop the ice caps from melting and move up higher than number five on the list.





4. Polaris — Lorna Dane, of X-Men fame, is also known by her superhero name of Polaris. She is thought to be the all-powerful Magneto's daughter, which of course means she too can control the Earth's magnetism. The ability to fly, coupled with control of the world's metals, provides Polaris with a strong connection to the environment that should prove useful in saving us from impending doom. Oh, and she has green hair.






3. Aquaman — His super strength and ability to communicate with all the creatures in the sea could prove very important in a battle to save our oceans. If only the dolphin-whispering merman could remain powerful for any extended period of time outside of the sea, he might have been green enough to secure the runner-up spot.







2. Poison Ivy — Batman may call her an ecoterrorist, but she may be our only hope in restoring our planet to its rightful state. Poison Ivy is obsessed with environmentalism and would turn the whole world into lush, green landscapes if she could. More plant than woman, there's only one hero or villain out there who is more in tune with nature than she.







AND THE WINNER IS...










1. Storm — More goddess than mutant, Storm can control every aspect of the weather, and she even has a knack for knowing what Mother Earth feels. Having such a connection with our planet combined with her ability to control virtually any ecological situation should provide Storm with the needed resources to do a lot of good for our environment. She's even sensed a dying tree on the grounds of the X-Mansion before. She may lose a point or two for creating acid rain in the past, but she's still the greenest superhero. Heck, she's even married to an animal.





Well, I hope you enjoyed this edition of my latest list of superheroes and villains. I'd like to give an honorable mention to Spider-Man, who never drives a car but always delivers pizzas (or punches to bad guys) via bike or web-slinging. I hear he's even friendly to arachnids (except Scorpion), but he also beats up on Rhino... and Vulture... OK, scratch that.

Disagree with the list? Think you know a greener superhero? Have other comments or suggestions? That's what the link at the bottom of the post is for!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Blogging Journalists

I've been thinking a lot recently about the whole concept of blogs by journalists. I'm not talking about personal blogs, but rather blogs hosted on news organizations' Web sites where their employees are encouraged to write blog posts.

It seems as though journalists blogging goes against all traditional teachings in journalism. Stay unbiased, don't show your opinion — ever. However, as virtually everything else in journalism is changing, it only makes sense that sharing your thoughts with readers may now be acceptable. Now that convergence journalism is in full swing and many journalists have a good grasp on technology, participating in social media outlets such as blogs is one more way to appeal to audiences and sell ads (or at least generate clicks and unique hits to eventually generate more ad revenue). The move to blogging in journalism does seem geared toward the age-old argument between advertising and journalism. You can't sell ads without good content to attract readers. (Or is it that you can't have a job creating content without the ad revenue?)

I recently moved from being a freelancer to an editorial assistant at my newspaper. Of course, in the first week, I was dispatched out to cover some breaking news. I was encouraged to create a blog post about the story before it ran in the next day's paper. The editorial staff explained that our bureau's blog was mainly to include things we wouldn't normally put in the story — personal opinions, thoughts, experiences, neat facts, etc.

I felt a little strange when I started writing my blog post, using a first-person narrative to tell about my adventure. In the end, it turned out to be what I feel is one of the most interesting little anecdotes I've written in a while, and I received a lot of good feedback about it. Maybe this whole journalist/blogger thing won't be too bad after all, but it is definitely going to feel weird for a little while.

What do you think about journalists blogging? Does it compromise the sense of objective anonymity a story's byline once had? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Do you blog as a journalist? Do you enjoy reading journalism blogs alone or in conjunction with related stories? And the big one — is blogging journalism? Please, leave some comments and start up a discussion about this topic!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Citizen, Soldier

I promised a blog post about what I have learned during my six years in the Army, so here it is. I'll try my best to keep my own political opinions out of it concerning war policy and such. What I want to do is just write a little about what the military has taught me and what my experience was like. I'm sure each individual has a different experience, so don't presume that mine is necessarily typical. Then again, it just may be. I'll leave that up to you to decide in the comments section at the bottom of the post.

I joined the West Virginia Army National Guard in 2002 as a 17-year-old senior in high school with my parents' consent. I enlisted as a 19 Delta Cavalry Scout, and I drilled one weekend a month during my senior year, earning a little extra gas money (back then, I could run my car the whole month off my drill pay).

Seven days after high school graduation, I went to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) for the second time — this time to ship to U.S. Army basic training at Ft. Knox, Ky. Upon arrival, my recruiter told me that my slot as a scout had been taken by the active Army, and if I wanted to go to basic training that summer, I'd have to go instead as a 19 Kilo Abrams Armor Crewman (a tanker). I enlisted using the split-option enlistment, so I could go to basic training that summer and my advanced training the next summer, so as not to miss any college. This would be the first of many screwups by the Army, but I didn't know that yet and went on to Knox.

I spent about three days in the reception battalion, getting clothing issued and such, before shipping down range to the 2-81 Armor Battalion's Bravo Company and being assigned to drill sergeants Wiley (or it may be Willey, I don't remember now) and Pollard. Basic training wasn't too bad, really. It's mostly mental, and as long as you are willing to push yourself further each day and to follow all of the rules, surviving it is relatively doable. I made it through with relative ease, though I did get the flu (and still qualified as a sharpshooter with my M-4 rifle that same week). I went from 180 to 155 pounds, a number that seems unrealistic (yet so good) to me now. I ran two miles in about 14 minutes then and did more than 80 sit-ups in two minutes. Yeesh.

I enrolled in ROTC while attending Marshall University my freshman year of college. It was all pretty much a watered-down version of basic training, thus one of the reasons I eventually would leave ROTC. I found out that my advanced training date had been scheduled for the fall of 2004, meaning I would have the summer free but miss my third semester of college. It was not until this time that I was told split-option soldiers were not guaranteed to do their training during the summers. I'd take 18-plus hours every semester when I returned in the spring of 2005 because of this, plus some summer school. I still worked hard and graduated in four years, regardless of the Army's great scheduling skills.

I've got to admit, the Army National Guard's money came in handy during college. I had earned an academic scholarship, so I was using the 100 percent tuition reimbursement from the Army to cover my room and board. However, it took them until halfway through each semester to finally get me the check (after multiple times of losing grade records I sent them and other delays), so I ended up taking out student loans and then paying those back with the Army money. The extra approximately $500 I got each month on top of drill pay and tuition assistance, just for being in a critical skill job, was definitely nice as well. I definitely feel I saved some of that money, and what I didn't, I spent well — unlike the Army's money spent on my advanced training (that I had to miss that semester of college for). One week after I returned from Ft. Knox for the second time, I was called and told I was now to be reclassified as a scout (the job I originally had enlisted for).

Strangely enough, my unit had deployed to Iraq while I had been at basic training the previous year. I didn't get deployed with them because my advanced training hadn't been completed, though ironically, they didn't deploy in their actual jobs as tankers. Nope, they didn't even take tanks... they all deployed as infantrymen on HMMWVs. So, I was left in the rear detachment, taking training to become a scout.

It wasn't long after I was fully qualified as a scout that my unit returned from Iraq and we moved into a newly built armory and Mother Army once again decided our jobs weren't quite what She wanted. Once we were all HMMWV (wheeled) scouts, they decided we needed to go through a year of new equipment transition training on Bradley Fighting Vehicles. At this point, instead of a Saturday and Sunday each month and two weeks in the summer, we were doing 3-5 day drills and month-long annual training sessions. (Though the Army National Guard still advertised one weekend a month, two weeks a year to recruits.)

Just as I learned the ins and outs of being a Bradley gunner, I had two drills left. So, my Army career seemed to end before I ever really got to do any one job at all. My official separation date is Oct. 7, 2008, though my last drill was a couple of weeks ago. My unit is deploying again later this year, but I'm told as of right now the stop-loss date will miss me. However, the military can still call me back until 2010. That's another thing the recruiter failed to tell me, and something everyone out there should know about before they join the military. EVERY military commitment, regardless of how many years you sign for, is eight years long. Because I opted to do six years actively drilling, I have two in the individual ready reserve (IRR). The IRR is supposed to be used in national emergencies and such, but the Iraq War has changed all of that.

As of right now, I'm still owed pay from three months ago from the Army. This is one of many pay problems I've had since being in the military. Hopefully, I'll see that sometime soon. It's just one of the many frustrations I've had with the Army, but I'm glad that I had the experiences of the past six years anyway. I've learned a lot about how government organizations work, physical and mental discipline and work ethic. I've fired virtually every weapon available to combat arms soldiers in the modern military, a feat very few can say they have done, even in the military. Most of all though, I've met some of the best (and worst) people in the world.

That's the number one thing I'll take away from it all — those brothers in arms I've come across who understand what no one else I'll ever meet outside the military understands. I've met some real idiots in the military (my drill sergeant would call them "shitbags"), but I've met some of the most genuinely good-hearted people in the country as well. I think about Luke, my battle buddy from basic training, who is a big kid on the inside and is always smiling. Or Benjamin, another Ft. Knox friend who I helped practice what he would say to his high school sweetheart back home when he finished basic training. Then there's Ian, the kid from out west who I recently got back in contact with... he now has a debilitating disease, but there's no guy I have ever met with such a kind heart toward his friends. There's Seth, Joey and Jonathan, three guys I got to know really well through training sessions and late nights on the river at Camp Dawson just goofing off. There's the sergeant who taught me how to take apart an M-16 for the first time. There's the lieutenant who gave me a leadership role as a young soldier. There's the sergeant who is a good father, a man of God, and an even better Bradley commander. It's all about the people; even when the military sucks, you know you have some friends to complain with at least.

Here are some specific things I have learned:

  • Always be prepared. Carry the items you think you may never need — because you will.
  • Work harder than everyone else. When someone else works as hard as you, put that person on your team.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Be ready to close in and fight if you have to. Never take the same route twice. Sometimes, it pays to be a silent professional.
  • The KILL! KILL! KILL! mentality doesn't fit in to real life very well.
  • Military benefits and pay are pretty good, but no one is going to just give it to you. You have to fight tooth-and-nail to get what they agreed to. But, if you don't uphold your end of the deal immediately when told to, they'll notice immediately.
  • The military doesn't promote the best and brightest to be its leaders. It promotes those who check the boxes without question and who affirm those above them regularly.
  • Respect your flag and your country. Put your hand over your heart and shut up when you should. It's not that difficult, just do it.
  • Those in the military are primarily conservative. You'll be looked at as a sort of traitor if you voice more moderate or liberal ideals.
  • Chicks dig the uniform. They don't dig your military schedule or attitude.
Well, those are just some things I can think of. Perhaps I'll follow up in the future. All in all, the military has been a bittersweet thing for me. It's had plenty of benefits, but also it's had plenty of disadvantages. I think it's a good time to be getting out, though. You may as well go active duty if you join the military now because it's getting out of hand in the National Guard and Reserves with longer drills and annual training periods. If you want to have a long-term career, forget it, unless you work for the government or something (which, most of our guys are prison guards and cops). Our unit is also deploying again soon, and this is a pivotal, unsure time in the War on Terror. Plus, I've been told that there will be a change of command coming (in my opinion, at a very bad time) to the unit soon because of civilian law trouble involving the current command. There is a lot of uncertainty in the military now, and I personally don't support the War in Iraq, so I'm happy to (hopefully) be missing out on that upcoming deployment.

So what about you? Have you had experiences with the miliary? Leave some comments!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Big Chimney



Big Chimney Dogs, cats, birds and even a goat enjoy a "holler" in West Virginia, just outside of the capital of Charleston. Shari Baloch, whose grandparents live here in Big Chimney, learns to shoot a shotgun from her big brother, Jamie. JOSHUA DELUNG | RELATIVELY JOURNALIZING

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Parkway Bike Trip a Harmonious Trek for Area Group

Blue Ridge Parkway in 10 days

Matt Gentry, staff photographer for The Roanoke Times, New River Valley Bureau, prepares to photograph seven Blacksburg women who are riding the Blue Ridge Parkway in 10 days. JOSHUA DELUNG | RELATIVELY JOURNALIZING

By Joshua A. DeLung

FLOYD — Swoosh! They whizz by at downhill speeds reaching 35 miles per hour (any faster, and they would break the speed limit on the Blue Ridge Parkway just before Mabry Mill). The seven Blacksburg women are riding their bicycles along the entire Blue Ridge Parkway in just 10 days, chasing a dream to complete the ride for no reason other than to enjoy the company of one another and share their passion for biking.

To continue reading this story from today's edition of The Roanoke Times (New River Valley Current), click here.

Today's post is of course related to yesterday's post, which featured the sister blog post to this story (in the New River Notebook) that tells of the adventure we had behind-the-scenes while gathering the news.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dispatched



Today's blog post is going to be a quick update on how things are going for me this summer. I'll try to get back to more great lists, videos and PR/journalism blogs posts as soon as possible, but I'm really swamped with work right now.

I just finished up my last article for New River Valley Magazine this week, which will run in the Sept./Oct. edition, lovingly referred to as the "football edition." I started a new position as an editorial assistant at the Roanoke Times this week, which means no more freelancing. And yes, I'm still working on getting my graduate internship hours at Access. My biggest projects for the internship right now are working on social marketing campaigns and putting together pieces for an annual report. At the new newspaper job, I'm mostly working on events calendars and other similar tidbits, but today I got lucky and was dispatched out for a story.

I had been at my desk about an hour and a half, when... well, just read my blog post in the New River Notebook. (Adventures on the Blue Ridge Parkway)

Oh, you're back already? Great! So, I'll try to post the actual story link when it runs, which I believe will be in tomorrow's NRV Current, a Roanoke Times insert.

Well, in about another 50 hours of work, I'll finish up my internship. By then, it'll be back to graduate school to start my last year. That means I'll start teaching again (unless I hear back about a different assistantship I applied for), on top of school and newspaper duties. But, I just finished my last training period with the Army National Guard this month (I officially separate in October). So, without the Army and freelancing jobs, I think everything will even out to become manageable in the end.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Social Media Addiction Rap



Media rap from Chuck at Pop Labs.

Lyrics:

I surf the web, I used to watch TV
now I'm logged into Joost, it's commercial free
lets see where I want to go
and who I want to know
connecting people with people with Web 2.0
I don't use email unless I'm at my job
want the next post, I subscribe to the blog
I'm easy to find
I'm always online
social networking sites, I think I have nine
I use Myspace to promote my music
I get friends and album sales that's how I do it
but tell me have you heard
about the new word
something like Myspace but they call it Virb
always something new, I'm a start creatin'
I'll make a brand new Facebook application
uploading pictures and mp3s
update my profile and hit ctrl+D
can't stop what I started, it's getting ridiculous
social book mark it, add it del.icio.us
some can't take it but I just can't quit
go to Imeem and listen to my playlist
watching videos on my YouTube channel
clickin' so much, my mouse smoking like a candle
I'm online for hours, addicted to the power
10 tabs open on a Firefox browser
I must be going crazy cause I can't get enough
I guess I'm addicted to social media
I feel ya, bro. I feel ya.

Monday, July 21, 2008

'The Dark Knight' Review



I just kept running out of time this weekend, so I ended up catching today's (Monday's) showing of The Dark Knight. I saw the 5:30 p.m. showing at the local cinema, which just reminds me again that I'm getting older. My mom reminded me that I used to say, "Only old people see movies before 10 p.m." Ouch.

So, The Dark Knight, the second Batman film in the character's revival series (following Batman Begins and in an entirely different continuity from Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin), beat out Spider-Man's third film for weekend records. What is it that makes this movie so great and popular? Let's take a look...

Best Quote: "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." (Harvey Dent) Or, “A magic trick? Well, let me show you, I’ll make this pencil disappear!” (Joker)

Acting: The acting was superb on the part of the late Heath Ledger. A more maniacal, creepy version of the Joker, perfect for the dark remakes of the Batman saga, could not be done by anyone else. However, this is a very different joker from Jack Nicholson's kooky, cartoony, sadistic Joker of the past. Ledger played the part well, but if you loved Nicholson in the part, I doubt you'll change your mind. Christian Bale is akin to Keanu Reeves — good at playing parts that require little to no emotion but plenty of action. However, Batman's voice comes off as being too dark, almost like a little kid trying to imitate a deep voice. It's not convincing, but everything else about the performance is. As for the secondary characters, you can take them or leave them. One thing's for sure, Maggie Gyllenhall isn't very easy on the eyes... but you don't have to look at her much.
4 out of 5 for acting!

Story: This movie has multiple storylines intertwined. The opening scene is one of the coolest ever made, but I won't ruin it here for those who haven't seen it yet. Expect similar twists and turns throughout the film, though, but don't ever expect more than one or two scenes to stand out much. The story isn't overly complex, and it almost seems like it will never end. You never get bored during this long movie (2.5 hours), but you never get too drawn in either because things change so often that there is never any great plan to be foiled. In other words, the Joker doesn't try to take over the world, steal gold from Fort Knox or anything such as that — he just randomly wreaks mayhem throughout the movie, and Batman diffuses one situation after another... after another... after another. Overall, the story here seemed as though it's mainly a bridge between Batman Begins and whatever comes next.
2.5 out of 5 for story!

Music: Batman music. Don't worry, you won't even notice it much over all of the explosions and gunfire. Unfortunately, no KAPOW! or BLAM! sounds. Don't even get me started on the lack of shark repellent.
3 out of 5 for music!

Attributes: This movie is straight action with dark, dark overtones and a bit of sadistic humor. The love story within gets maybe four to five minutes total dedicated to it, and there are some scenes that express the recurrent Batman theme I like to call emo theme. You know what I mean, Batman always suffering from an inner conflict about whether or not he should exist and such. Yeah, he wears black, too. He's a little emo. But unlike those skater kids at the mall with their bad haircuts (or lack thereof), Batman can beat you down.
4 out of 5 for attributes!

Overall Rating: 3.5 overall!

See It/Don't See It/Buy It/Rent It: See it in theaters and buy it when it comes out! Any fan of comic books, Batman or just plain action movies will love this film. Fans of psychological thrillers or people who saw the old Batman films should at least rent this one at some point. This is a great movie, and the biggest problem with it is that the story wasn't tailored a little better and that it was sort of predictable, especially to long-time fans. And I just couldn't help but wish the Joker had fallen from that building at the end and been left lying creepily on the pavement, still laughing. I'll argue until I'm blue in the face that Nicholson is irreplaceable, but if I had to choose the closest second out there, it'd be Ledger. And let's face it, this isn't a Batman movie — it's a Joker movie.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Country Roads Took Me Home

Well, my last week of training with the Army is over. I spent Saturday and today (Sunday) enjoying the countrysides of West Virginia. It's funny how the mountains never leave you. You can "sophisticate" yourself, but the accent and the love of redneck things always comes back if you give it time. I almost died from Internet withdrawal (and boredom once or twice), but being back home reminds me of the simple things to be thankful for in life. A quiet "holler" (hollow, for you city slickers), a faithful hound dog, a sweet blueberry or an exciting ATV ride can all put a smile on your face. If you live in a rural area already, then you understand what I mean. If you are from the city, or if you just haven't been home to the country for a while, plan a trip soon. You may leave conflicted about your "big plans" for a successful career in the city, but you definitely won't leave without a full stomach, fresh air in your lungs, and laughter still reminiscent in your ears.

Hope you had a good weekend, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of my readers. Please tell your friends about Relatively Journalizing, and subscribe to our RSS feed if you haven't. Tell your friends too!

This week, I should be back to regularly posting more great material on the blog for your reading pleasure. Expect another internship update, an update about my new job at the newspaper and hopefully a post about my six-year Army contact coming to an end. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday

It's Saturday, it's been a long week — give me a break, OK?

If you are seeing this blog post, I didn't get back to the Internet in time to write today's post. The last week of posts was actually prewritten last weekend and autoscheduled to post because I've been doing my last stint of training with the Army National Guard (yep, my six-year contract is ending) this past week. Expect a post about what I've learned from my six years in the military in the near future.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Social Marketing for Event Promotions



Yesterday, I posted about doing annual reports. I mentioned another client we are doing promotions for who has an event coming up. Today's post will talk about the aspect of this project I'm working on.

Social Marketing


We have another client who is essentially a local center for the performing arts. This client has a new event coming up in the next month, so we're trying to promote it heavily to get the word out. It's an exciting event, and I'll probably try to post some information about it on the blog later, but I don't want to directly tie the client to my internship learning post.

I've been given the task of working on the social marketing aspect of promotions for this campaign. This is good because I've become increasingly interested in social marketing in the past few months. Social marketing and search engine optimization have been covered heavily by all of the PR news sources recently, and I of course have done a lot of my own research and become hooked on Web 2.0, which is the foundation of social marketing campaigns, since I started writing this blog. Because I have accounts already on Facebook and Twitter, and because I have a blog and extensive Web 2.0 knowledge, I felt this was an ideal assignment.

The client already has a MySpace and Facebook account. Though I personally can't stand MySpace and deleted my account long ago (too many spam wall posts and invites from fake porn stars), I did have an account and recently set up one for a friend, so I understand how everything works there. Facebook is probably my forte, as I've been involved with it from the beginning. (Actually, before the beginning, anyone remember the now-defunct CollegeFacebook or MarshallFacebook?) Twitter and blogging I've only been doing for a little more than a month now regularly, but it's been an everyday thing, involving multiple hours of tinkering. So far, I've worked on streamlining and updating the client's MySpace and Facebook sites. This also involves prepping events and groups on each site to enable e-viting guests to the upcoming event we intend to promote. Also, I created a Twitter account for the client and began growing their network in the targeted areas.

One thing I found very important and noticed right away was that our client did not show up on Wikipedia searches. That's right, no Wikipedian had ever created a page for them. Now, Wikipedia of course does not allow personal blogs or promotions of any sort, as it's strictly an online encyclopedia. However, I read a research study that concluded Wikipedia is the number one Web 2.0 site right now for finding organizations like our client. I felt that creating an article on Wikipedia just so that the client would be "established" on there and show up in searches would not be promotions, just education for anyone who happens to do a search. I've got a nice little Wikipedia page created for them now, and I plan on experimenting by updating it with a section that explains what events they have, etc., and hopefully finding a way to work in the show we're promoting without actually promoting it.

I still also plan on fiddling around with Yahoo! Answers, which was highly ranked in the study I read also. I feel like I would be spamming consumers and just drive them away from the client if I randomly posted information on Yahoo! Answers, but if I can find relevant questions related to the event we're promoting, then I'll give it a try. As you may have noticed, well-written answers are few and far between on Yahoo! Answers, and ones that are get ranked the highest by readers. It should theoretically be easy to get the client ranked at the top of pages related to their events.

I realize how much work social marketing, if done correctly, is. It takes a lot of hours to actually produce results, but I think the results are great if you do things the right way. What's the right way, you ask? Well, you have to have recent updates and look current to your networks on these Web 2.0 sites. If you don't reply to comments, send out new tweets once a day or so, etc., then I think you will easily lose the interest of those in your network and start losing members online who may have showed up at an event if they had seen that reminder tweet, e-vite, news feed item, or wall post. It seems like some of the previous stuff going on with some social marketing campaigns just wasn't followed up properly. Log into some organization's Facebook accounts and you may see 10 unanswered messages sitting in the inbox. That's not good social marketing — it's all about the community and interacting with them, getting them involved and including them in the conversation.

I have two questions I'd like feedback on:

  1. How do you feel about an employee at an organization using, say, a Facebook account for the organization dually as a personal account, to include sending personal, unprofessional messages to friends and disclosing the employee's name, etc.? Or, do you think a more professional approach where the account is "the organization" speaking, sending out only official messages about related topics and events is the best approach? What are the benefits and disadvantages of each?
  2. Do you think including a call for user-created content would be beneficial in a campaign to promote a specific event? Would this generate buzz and encourage attendance? For example, what if the group was hosting an Election 2008 event and asked for video submissions of people impersonating candidates and other political figures? Do you have any other ideas?


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Creating Annual Reports



I realize it has been a little while since I updated about my internship, which was the original purpose of blogging again this summer. The two primary projects I've been heavily involved with in the past couple of weeks have been doing an annual report and doing promotions for a separate client. I'll cover annual reports today and the event promotion campaign tomorrow.

Annual Reports

What I've learned is that it's not necessarily clear who handles annual reports. Sometimes advertising agencies claim it is their role, while public relations firms often say they are the ones for the job. I could see organizations doing these jobs in-house or even splitting the job up between accountants and freelance photographers, writers and designers.

In our case, a university has hired the firm, which is a sort of integrated marketing communications firm, as it does advertising/marketing, public relations and design. Compiling an annual report is a tedious process where one must exercise care in keeping with the report's theme and supporters' interests. For a state university especially, the writing style and included articles should not contradict the opinions of major donors and as many major donors as possible should be featured with articles/photos in the report. In a way, the annual report is not only a way to present financial information, but it's an update on other news/happenings and performance. Also, the annual report seems to exist largely to reinforce donors' faith in the organization and to encourage them to continue donating through implied and expressed thanks.

Now, when I say compilation of the annual report is tedious and time-consuming, that isn't to say it's difficult. It really does not seem as though it is too difficult a job at all. As long as you are organized and good at meeting deadlines and coordinating multiple projects with other people, then putting together an annual report shouldn't be too daunting a task. Basically, what we've done is storyboarded the entire project, page by page, planning where photos, lists and articles will go. This helps to determine the size needed for each element, and this is where the organization comes in. Some financial lists or rosters of board members will need to come from the parent organization you are working for. But once you've got a list of articles approved, usually taken from searching through archives of news releases for the past year and recommendations from the organization, then it's all about getting the articles assigned and written just as you would in any news organization. You have to set up a timeline of what photos will be shot when and by whom. Then, just start putting everything together in the proper order and make sure it lines up with what you've storyboarded, make adjustments as needed, and start layout when you have everything you need. Preliminary graphics and such, of course, can begin development immediately.
  1. What are some annual reports you've seen that look great or have great themes? Have you ever used an annual report to find information on a company?
  2. Have you ever put together an annual report? What is some advice or insight you would offer? What do you think about the above statements?


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Write Your Own Ending: Part 3



Today is the exciting third and final part to the posts where you get to leave comments and write your own ending to the story. See WYOE (abbreviated) parts one and two by using the previous posts archive in the sidebar.

The first two posts involved public relations and journalism, two heavily covered areas on this blog. It's original purpose was, after all, to help me keep track of my PR internship (though I'm a journalist at heart). So what's left, you ask? Well, the other area that is usually covered on Relatively Journalizing is something I like to cram into a multidimensional topic I call techie (geek) news. This comes in the form of links, Web 2.0 tools and references, comic book stuff, movie reviews, etc. Therefore, it's only appropriate that the last WYOE post would involve something a little nontraditional and fun.

The Participatory Fan Fiction

Rather than write a few paragraphs and ask you to complete the story, I'm going to post some guidelines and ask you to write the story. Be sure you check the box to get follow-up comments so you can see what other people write and comment on your favorites.

Guidelines:

— Pick one to two Marvel Comics villains (i.e., Venom)
— Pick one to two DC villains (i.e., Scarecrow)
— Pick one hero of your choice and one sidekick (one must be an actual comic book character, you must make up the other one)
— Presume the story takes place in the present day
— Choose a setting for the majority of your story to take place (i.e., Iraq)
— Include all nine characters, plus the presidential candidate of your choice (Barack Obama or John McCain) in your story
— Pick one of the following five crises to address:
  1. A strange object in outer space is headed straight for Earth.
  2. The Earth's core temperature has risen rapidly for the past 24 hours and shows no sign of stopping.
  3. Iran and North Korea have joined forces and attacked United States forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea.
  4. The world's polar bears have all gone missing.
  5. Vast amounts of people have contracted a disease in the U.S., which leads to a zombie-like mutation.
— Include the quote, "I guess pink just isn't really your color."
— Write it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Write Your Own Ending: Part 2



This is part two in our "Write Your Own Ending" series. To get the full background and see the first story, check out "Write Your Own Ending: Part 1."

The Reporter's Dilemma

There you are, minding your own business at your desk, when the phones start ringing wildly, screaming their jingles across the newsroom. Cellphones go off as well, and you hear everything from hip-hop to the fight song of the local sports team. You are a reporter at The Middlestate Herald, and breaking news is happening right now.

Your editor puts down the phone in a hurry and motions for you to come over to her desk. A bomb just went off at a local office building, and an estimated 500 people were inside at the time. You and some of your colleagues rush to the scene, ready to do what it takes to get the story.

While at the scene, you get some vivid photographs. There are bodies everywhere, and the destruction is indescribable. Authorities have the death toll estimated at 357, and injuries are at more than 100 people. You get the story — police think a disgruntled employee blew up the building after going on a shooting rampage, according to witnesses who miraculously survived the blast.

You return to the newsroom, and you sit down with your editors to make the call on what photos to run. While you were out, the newspaper received a video in the mail, sent the day before by the killer. The videos are chilling, and the killer reasons with the camera as to why he felt the act of terrorism was justified. Already, national media are beginning to descend on your town, and you've been assigned to head back to the scene and to interview victims' families tomorrow.

What do you do? Where do you draw the line on running certain photos? Do you write about the killer's manifesto and post the videos on your Web site? Do you reason with your editors about giving the families and friends of the victims privacy? How do you think media should handle tragedies such as these? Should journalists not tell the story at the expense of not getting the word out about the precious lives that were lost? Or is covering tragedy too closely an invasion of families' privacy and disrespectful? Make the call by leaving a comment.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Write Your Own Ending: Part 1



Remember these? Well, in the same tradition as the Choose Your Own Adventure series, I'm going to start a series of posts that explore the topics normally covered by the Relatively Journalizing blog. Those topics, of course, are public relations, journalism, new media and Web 2.0, techie/geek news, and more! Here's the catch: I'm going to write part of the post, and you get to finish it by posting your ending in the comments section! Happy blogging...

The Public Relations Predicament

It was summertime. As the young public relations practitioner, fresh out of college, sat on the riverbank, watching the foliage around him blow in the fresh, crisp breeze, he couldn't help but think how magnificent and pristine the river looked. The Graystone River seemed to dance before his very eyes as it curved around the bends in the distance, and it seemed to whisper comforting words in his ear as the small rapids sloshed mere feet in front of him. This is the life, he thought, spending the weekend on the river, enjoying nature the way I used to back home.

It would likely be the last time the young man would absorb the glamor of the river at this spot.

CBlu, a public relations firm in Middlestate, N.C., and where our protagonist had landed his first job, recently acquired a car parts manufacturing plant as one of its clients. Unfortunately for anyone who frequented the area of the river where our friend went to relax, the plant was looking to expand its operations with another building and dump site by the river. Soon, about five acres along the riverbank would be home to a new manufacturing building and an area that will be used for dumping waste product from the building.

The Environmental Protection Agency and other organizations have determined that the waste product being dumped on the riverbank is not a harmful substance, so the company has made no efforts to move the dump site or use a protective liner. A dirt berm has been put in place, and the company hopes to sell the dump site to be used for commercial development once the area is filled and the waste product is compacted level with the surrounding area. However, local environmental groups have scientists from around the state who study the waste product. They have determined it contains at least five substances that have been known to be harmful in the past, including arsenic.

Our young PR practitioner has just been assigned to deal with this account. The community seems split 50/50 on being happy about the project. Construction of the site is already underway. Calls are coming in from both sides all day long. You are the PR practitioner... what do you do?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I'm the Best at What I Do



Check out this trailer for Marvel's latest animated film, coming to DVD and Blu-ray January 2009. The full story is available here.

Do you think Marvel is overdoing it by releasing so many animated films in the past few years? Are they killing the coolness of some characters, especially Wolverine, by making them guest star in every possible way? Would you rather see them just include every Marvel character they can into these films spread over an actual timeline of events, sort of like a miniseries?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Feeling Lively?



Google's new Lively online world takes a page out of Second Life's book. I'm not sure what the appeal is to sites such as these. I love Web 2.0 as much as anyone else, and I like sharing content, blogging, and staying informed about what's going on around and world and in the lives of my friends. However, watching my avatar stand in a virtual room talking to other avatars just seems like a bore to me. I never really got into the whole chat room thing either. IMing, yes, is fun and useful between friends, but I don't ever go looking for random screennames of people to start conversations with.

I remember a guy in my dorm when I was an undergraduate who used to spend almost every waking hour playing World of Warcraft, and my mom actually knew an older woman who was obsessed with it as well. I've always been a fan of online multiplayer games from real-time strategies such as Starcraft to first-person shooters such as Halo. But I've seen the way people use these MMORPGs and simulated worlds. The guy in my dorm, for example, would just keep his avatar in a common area with other avatars, listening to people attempt to sing and talking smack or flirting with so-called girl players. In fact, he did very little actual accomplishing of missions or leveling up. This behavior seems very similar to what people do in Second Life, and now, Lively.

For me, the purpose behind this phenomenon is lost. I realize, though, that with the buzz generated by virtual worlds in the last few years, there must be somewhat of a market for them out there. What do you think is the appeal? Do you participate in virtual worlds and chat with people? What else do you find yourself doing inside them? Are virtual worlds simply for people without friends in the real world? Please, do leave some comments.

P.S. Oh yeah, Google doesn't have Lively for Macs yet, so I'm predisposed to think it must suck.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Holy Anime, Batman! (Gotham Knight Review)



Batman: Gotham Knight released Tuesday (July 8, 2008). I wasn't really sure what to expect at first, but I had watched some previous animated features involving some my favorite comic book characters. The Ultimate Avengers animated films and the Invincible Iron Man animated film by Marvel were all worth watching. So, I had a little time to kill, and I decided to rent this latest contribution to the Batman mythos from iTunes.

Right away, I was pretty excited, just by the great music and dark intro. Now, it's important to know that this film is actually six short films about Batman, all of which are set between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (the latter film releases in about a week). Another thing you should know is that the artwork in these films is beautiful, but they are done in an anime style. If you enjoyed the Animatrix, then you'll likely enjoy this movie. Actually, if you remotely like Batman at all, you'll be entertained for the duration of the 1 hr., 15 mins. of footage. Oh, and one more thing — this one isn't necessarily for the kiddies. It's rated PG-13, but keep in mind, there is plenty of blood and a guy does get his head cut off on-screen.

The cool part about this film having six chapters is that you don't have to watch it all at once. This is one reason it's such a great iTunes download. Each story is independent of the other and acts as a vignette about how Batman's character developed in between the two live-action films in the franchise's rebirth. Each chapter is about 12.5 minutes long. Here's a brief look at each one:

"Have I Got a Story For You" — Four kids each tell a story about their encounter with Batman, meaning we get a different perspective each time. This is cool because we see Batman portrayed as a shadow monster, a bat-thing, and even a robot. The ending here is classic, by the way.
4 bat signals out of 5


"Crossfire" — Two Gotham City police detectives distrust Batman, declaring him a vigilante with no right to be involved in crimefighting activities. Perhaps there are ways he can gain their trust...
2 bat signals out of 5


"Field Test" — Batman grapples with technology and has to decide how far he will go to do his job. Is he willing to put others' lives at risk to protect his own while fighting crime?
3 bat signals out of 5


"In Darkness Dwells" — The Scarecrow has escaped and makes his return in this short. Batman must also face the Killer Croc. An action-packed chapter that really makes you feel as though you are watching a Batman movie.
5 bat signals out of 5


"Working Through Pain" — Bruce Wayne continues his martial arts training, especially in a spiritual way, as he attempts to learn to handle the pain he feels, both externally and internally. This is a powerful look at the inner workings of a complex character, and the film cuts between two timelines that connect for a great conclusion that is an ultimate realization for Wayne.
4 bat signals out of 5


"Deadshot" — Batman must take down a villain named Deadshot, one of the classic DC villains who had yet to be included in a Batman film. What's so interesting about this villain is that he helps us examine a character who is opposite of Batman in the sense that Deadshot loves guns, and Batman vows not to use them, even though his enemies do. There is an excellent sequence in this film where Bruce Wayne actually talks about how he feels about guns. This is a great chapter to end this group of films.
5 bat signals out of 5


Best Quote: Either "Croc bit me!" or "I'm willing to put my life on the line to do what I have to, but it has to be mine — no one else's."

Voice Acting: Great, the Batman voice is what really matters, and it's believable. (5 bat signals out of 5)


Story: Each chapter has its own rating above, but overall, they weave a story that provides us with some great entertainment, a brief look into the inner workings of Batman, and a nice fix until the next movie releases. (3 bat signals out of 5)


Music: Heroic, dramatic, what you'd expect. (5 bat signals out of 5)


Attributes/Animation: This is straight comic book movie goodness, not much else. The storytelling is deep, rich and better than a Saturday morning cartoon, though. The anime style seems out of place at first, especially when Bruce Wayne looks as though he belongs in Final Fantasy. You get used to it quickly, though, and luckily, some of the best animators in the business are on board. (4 bat signals out of 5)


Overall Rating: 4 bat signals out of 5!


See It/Don't See It/Buy It/Rent It: If you like action, anime, Batman, comic books, comic books movies, etc., even a little bit at all, you should see this movie. I'd recommend renting it unless you are a hardcore Batman fan. However, you do get some extra episodes of past animated Batman series and some commentary from Bob Kane if you buy the movie. I really think this couldn't be better-suited than for putting on your iPod or laptop to watch a chapter at a time during your lunch break and such. Personally, once my iTunes rental expires, I probably won't watch this again for some time, and I doubt I'll buy it. That doesn't mean it isn't good, but it's just not something I feel like I have to own. It's not a full-length, live-action Batman movie, and for me, it's mostly just feeding my realization of how cool of a character Batman is and making me want to see the new movie at the same time.

What do you think?

Note: I also had a Roanoke Times article published yesterday for anyone who enjoys local music events in the southwestern area of Virginia.