Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another One for the Rant Files...

I follow the tweets of Roger Ebert, and while that often means a barrage of re-tweets and incomprehensible references, it also means that once in a while, you get a gem of information or entertainment. This morning, as I perused the dozens of accumulated tweets produced by people who stay up later, wake up earlier, or live in another time zone than me. One tweet caught my eye, a re-tweet from Ebert about bloggers not being slaves. Well, how could I resist?

It seems that the Washington Post, like many other newspapers, is looking to expand its online content to stay alive. By creating a local blogging network, they are providing several markets with a directory of blogs, which they find and ask to sign up. The blogger gets their photo and biography on the website, along with a link to every new blog post. They also get to create content for the Post on demand and engage in discussions with other bloggers and editors. But what they really get is nothing.

Sure, there is the prospect of increased traffic from being promoted by Washington Post on their local site, but there's no guarantee, especially since the blogs they choose could easily have more traffic than they do at the moment. Many bloggers write for nothing. It's like volunteer work. You write what you are interested in and take your pay however you can, either from pure satisfaction or Google Ad pennies. But that doesn't work when you know that someone else is looking to line their pockets with your content. If it's worth something to them, it should mean something for you.

You can read the post itself here. He has a really good point about why bloggers shouldn't sell themselves short. It's not just about us. It's about the other writers who have climbed their way to a position that actually gets them paid. If you provide content for free just because other people do, you contribute to circumstances that lead to paid writers getting phased out. For the sake of more page views, you dismantle a whole system of writers getting wages.

It's a diabolical plan, and it's probably working for them for the most part. But I believe in karma, and I believe that value eventually gets its due. So I'm going to end this rant on a positive note. See how we're evolving together?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Flip Side: Advice to the Class of 2010

I figure, I just gave a few choice tidbits of nostalgic advice to those looking forward to four blissful (ha!) collegiate years. How about doing the same for those about to say goodbye to those same four years? After all, you are the guys I'm closer to, I even know a few of you. So here we go, the best I can offer you (keeping in mind that this is coming from a one-year old graduate still searching for their place in the aforementioned real world):

1. Savor the stress. This is your final conference session. And you have a week less than everyone else. It's enough to make you pull your hair out. Believe it or not, I miss that. Because it's crazy, but it's kind of awesome. It's a special kind of stress that will soon be replaced by the stresses of the real world. And those stresses can't be cured by locking yourself up in a study room and living on Pub grub.

2. After conference is done, it's time for a job search (unless you are one of those inexplicably lucky people to already have plans). When you're sending those resumes, crafting the cover letters and eventually taking interviews, learn how to sell your Sarah Lawrence degree. Some people will know what it means to be an SLC grad, but others won't know how you've spent the past four years, and won't know how impressed they should be. Let them know that you know how to project-plan, can work independently and make tight deadlines. You can dig deep for research and you know how to present your projects to upper management for approval.

3. Go to Mayfair. Sure, your time is nearly up. But don't just live in the future, take advantage of what's going on right now. This weekend it's Mayfair, and it's too easy to just let it pass and ignore the cotton candy while you make a final push to complete your work and wrap everything up. Don't. I told the incoming first years to take advantage of on-campus events, and that goes quadruple for you guys. Your last midnight breakfast, last brunch, last theater show, last dance party, these are milestones that should be exploited for all possible nostalgia and self-pity. Take pictures of your dorm room, the campus, everything you see everyday and might not even notice anymore. Then the nostalgia can continue for decades.

And take pictures at the faculty show. Secretly, of course, and for your own personal use (no Facebook posting!), but just do it.

Sorry you only get three pieces of advice. Honestly, I don't feel qualified to offer much else. Just hang in there, I guess. And I'm still jealous of the few days you have left there. (Let me have my jealousy, it keeps me going.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

How Not to Attract Customers

Recently, while in the mall, I witnessed perhaps the worst method of engaging customers: by haranguing their political beliefs.

An employee of on of those cell phone kiosks spotted a mall customer walking by, and he or she must have been wearing something which denoted support of Obama (there are pins, shirts, posters, as much merchandise as I still have from the Spice Girls heyday). In response to this, he asked, "What has he changed?" Keep in mind, this person had not spoken to this employee, he was merely yelling out at a passerby. And he wasn't offering a hand massage or roasted nuts like most other extroverted kiosk-ers.

Now, call me crazy, but this doesn't seem like the best way to attract customers. But how could this be considered normal? Have we become so politically fractured that pulling a Glenn Beck (or a Keith Olbermann) on unsuspecting passersby is considered acceptable, even a good idea, especially when at work (no matter what your job)?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Advice to the Sarah Lawrence Class of 2014

Following SLC on Facebook and Twitter, I was asked last week to provide some advice to the newly accepted members of the class of 2014. I provided the obligatory 140-character tweet, but it got me thinking about all the things that don't quite fit into that. And so I want to share them now, while indulging in a little nostalgia.

1. Take a chance on an over-registered class. Is there a great course taught by one of the institutions at SLC? You know, one where every interview is tripled up and everyone seems to have it as their first choice? Go for it. There are 15 spots, and the chance that you will get one of them is just as high as it is for anyone else. Why not put yourself out there to take a class with one of the greats; what's the worst that could happen?

2. Well, the worst that could happen is that you get bumped. Getting bumped is not the end of the world, even though it might feel like it at two in the morning when you check MySLC, see that you only have two classes and realize you won't be spending Saturday morning sleeping in and enjoying brunch, but running around campus doing more interviews. Thoughts flash before your eyes, of truly boring classes, something you would never want to take, with books you can't even understand and a teacher who hates you. You see your entire year go up in smoke, from potential amazingness to certain doom.

Snap out of it! It's not the end of the world. I've been bumped from a "rock star" class, and I ended up registering for what turned out to be my favorite class. There are plenty of classes out there, and chances are that alternate registration is going to show you some great options you didn't even notice the first time around.

3. Don't return your books at the end of the semester/year. There are books I tossed aside that I wish I still had. After staying up until the wee hours trying to read just enough to get by, you might hate the sight of it, but that book might be worth a second read one day, or it might just be worth the sentimental value.

If you are absolutely sure you aren't going to want a book, at least don't return it at the campus bookstore. Sure, it's convenient, but it wears away at your soul to buy books for hundreds of dollars, only to return them for a few quarters each, knowing that next semester, someone will be paying another few hundred dollars for them (I am not exaggerating). You are better off going to eBay or another website designed to exchange books between students. Also, chances are your class will be offered again, and if you wait until that happens, you can get a lot more for your used copy because there will be people with an immediate need for it.

4. Go to the on-campus events. It's all to easy to fall into the apathetic mode of the Sarah Lawrence bubble, lock yourself up in your dorm and ignore the great shows and other events going on all around you. The theater department does some great things, and the dances are a fun way to blow off steam. The same reasoning goes for joining clubs and being generally involved in the community. Don't be a hermit, because four years goes by in a flash, and you're going to wish you went to some of these crazy things. One of my favorites was the song night in spring, where a particular class has spent the semester preparing a show of pop songs, performed cabaret-style. Look out for that one.

5. Get out! There's plenty to do one campus, but there's exponentially more to do in New York City (well, duh). When you're coming from states away, half an hour by train seems like nothing. But when you're actually on campus, it seems like such a hassle sometimes. Take advantage of the Met van that runs between campus at the Metropolitan museum over the weekends as often as you can, and explore the coolest city around. Not every weekend, but don't go too long without doing something fun.

6. Having a crazy-stressful conference week is a tradition you don't need to follow. It's common knowledge that once the library goes into 24/7 mode, that's when things start getting insane, and as the end of the semester gets closer, it only gets worse. People will go for days without sleep, plowing away on three conference papers all due the next morning. They are fueled only by stress and greasy Pub food. This affliction, though common, is avoidable. Here's how: planning.

My personal plan of attack was always to count up the number of pages I was going to need to write, add at least 7, and then that number of days before the due date, I would start writing a page a day. Simple. So when you've got two 15-20 page conferences, you start about six weeks out. It lets you take tiny nibbles at your work, and though 20 pages is intimidating, one is easy. Just take one idea, one source at a time and work through it. Some days you can do more than one page, but as long as you get just one, you'll be all set. And with those extra 7 days you have a week to edit. You could even send the professor some of your draft to make sure you're on track, knowing you have room to change it.

This routine served me well for each and every conference paper I completed. And while I did miss out on the midnight library experience, I was able to enjoy midnight breakfast a lot more than those who were rushing french toast before returning to their books.

7. Just enjoy it. If you've read this blog before, you know I am suffering from serious post-grad separation anxiety. I would love to do all four years all over again, but I can't. You, the newly accepted class of 2014, are the ones with all that time, all those classes and all those experiences ahead of you. Know that you are one of the lucky ones, and know that I am supremely jealous.

Also, live in the old dorms at least once, and explore your study abroad options, even if you end up staying in Bronxville for every semester.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Little Unpaid Ranting*

As a part of my continued job search, I scan over the ads of various open positions, including the "gigs" on Craigslist in the area. And I'm just wondering: why is it that, when you're a writer, you're expected to accept unpaid positions with start-up companies for doing straight-up work? I'm pretty sure start-up banks don't wait until they get going to pay the tellers, and construction workers expect compensation for their time whether your building houses a money-maker or a flop. It seems that only "creative" careers can expect to work without compensation until the company they work for makes good.

Sure, a start-up can't pay as much as an established business. They can't afford to. But why should writers get paid nothing to provide the content for a magazine, whether online or on paper. The company which hosts the site still gets paid, and the printers get paid, whether or not there are readers in the end. But the writers, the people providing the actual words, are left to hope that enough funds are produced that they might just trickle on down to us. Doesn't that seem wrong? The point is, it shouldn't matter whether the company is starting out or going on 20 years. Work is work, and it should be compensated as such. Promises and hopes are about as good as Monopoly money, and experience and references only go so far.

Everyone can write. Well, most people can write. And I think it is because of that basic fact that writers are constantly undervalued. Because not everyone can write well, and not just any writing is going to get you the results you are looking for. Why do businesses realize their need to invest in their building, their computers, their accountants, but fail to see the value in words?

*This rant brought to you by Craigslist, and Friday afternoons.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Give Me My $3, Uncle Sam!

It's tax day, everybody! Dun dun dun! My mom set up my taxes on Turbo Tax and I sent it off a few days ago, with an expected return of....three bucks. Super exciting. Better than owing, I guess.

So, what to do with my newly-found fortune? Let's see what $3 buys you.

I could get some value meal items at a fast food restaurant. But once you factor in the cost of health insurance to deal with having eaten fast food, it hardly seems worth it. I could get a gallon of milk. The would be very calcium-conscientous of me. A gallon of gas would get me further though (pun intended). It could buy me a magazine, but I pretty much subscribe to everything I want to read. And why pay $3 for 25 pages on content and 50 pages of ads (sorry, publishers, maybe if you hired me I'd have the money to buy more). I could get 12 quarters and have a fun round of Pac-Man somewhere.

I think I'll just save it. In twenty years it can be my retirement fund for half a day.

Anyway, another year, another tax day. Another reminder that I'm supposed to be "an adult". I wonder if you ever really feel like an adult. Or do we all just walk around feeling like pretenders?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Unpaid Internships are Evil, the New York Times Said So!

I read an interesting article in the New York Times that talked about unpaid internships, and I got yet another glimpse into the abyss that is the current entry-level job market. The number of unpaid internships is sky-rocketing, and some of them are just plain illegal. It seems that because students are so desperate for experience that can bolster their resume, they are taking jobs which should be paid and thanking their employers for giving them squat. That, in turn, probably lessens the overall number of entry-level positions available when they graduate, because why pay someone when you can get a whole new batch of freshman next semester?

I also learned a few things. Did you know that internships are supposed to be about benefitting the intern, not the employer? That's kind of the main idea. The majority of your time spent should be in educational tasks, shadowing and learning from people whose jobs match up with your future goals. The cliche of the coffee-fetching intern is actually illegal if that person is unpaid. More disturbing is the fact that apparently, because interns aren't technically employees, they aren't protected under certain laws, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and sexual harassment with no way to seek help.

Sometimes things just look freaking bleak. The fact that we're continually willing to let younger people suffer through the ritual of the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder, to me speaks to a horrible masochism. It's this groupthink of, "We had to go through these terrible trials, they should too." Except it's getting to the point where the things my parents would have to do are what I should have done in high school, and their first jobs are today's unpaid college internships. And doing those things isn't a guarantee of the position you want when you graduate. It's just the least you can do to hope to be in the running. Because now you're competing with people who were laid off with five years experience. It's like fraternity hazing gone extreme.

But eventually you have to think we're all going to get through it. I just hope that I'm never jaded enough to be willing to save money by underpaying an intern who deserves more. Break the cycle? Yes we can.

This indignant and depressing blog post brought to you by Friday nights.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Is This an April Fool's Joke?

Seriously, how is it April already? What happened to March? It only started the other day. I haven't experienced March with nearly enough madness, I say we extend it or another week or so. Anything to keep April at bay.

Not that I have anything against April. It's a perfectly fine month. Full of showers and flowers and warm weather before it turns into summer's oppressive heat. It's not so much about April itself, it's the fact that time is just passing so quickly. I swear, a year at school never went by this quickly, from Kindergarten to senior year. Why is that? Does time pass more quickly when you don't have homework?

Well, either way, welcome April. I won't hold it against you that it looks like it might rain. I might even make a resolution for the month: more and more blogging! I'm talking multiple times a week, people! Get ready!