Thoughts on Ferguson

This Ferguson, Missouri situation with Michael Brown and Darren Wilson has struck me like the Iraq war. That is, “I don’t have all the information, there are people making decisions with far more evidence and knowledge than me, therefore, I just can’t make an opinion.”

But I do have an opinion, because doesn’t everyone? But mine’s pretty short.

The police generally deal with unsavory people all day long in extremely bizarre and uncommon situations compared to you and me.

When savory people do unsavory things, everyone’s always surprised. School shooter, robber, rapist, you name it, no one comes out later and says, “Oh yeah, that guy was a mess. Totally not surprised.” Because no one wants to think they’re a bad judge of character or are around unsavory people themselves.

So we know Michael Brown robbed a store. We feel pretty sure he was being a jerk obstructing traffic and walking down the middle of the road, and we know that he wasn’t shot in the back and there was likely an altercation that involved Brown assaulting Officer Wilson in his cruiser.

This is the best source I’ve seen.

We also know that he was a teenager and teens make stupid decisions all day every day, so there’s not much sense in asking why Brown would do anything people claimed he did.

I’m pretty cynical most of the time. What I’m cynical about the most here is everyone’s response in Ferguson. I don’t understand the riots, the looting, or the destruction. It makes them look dumb, ignorant, and perpetuates stereotypes of angry black men and women.

The grand jury made their decision, or at least 9 of 12 people thought there wasn’t enough of a case here. Because all the indictment was for was to determine whether a trial was needed or not.

It’s hard not to be cynical at the media — from the right and left — either.

Plus, the prosecutor has given so much information to the press. It’s like screaming, “If you think the jury is wrong, you find the evidence that backs that up.” Why would someone do that if they had something to hide?

You know who I feel really bad for? This guy. That’s a photo of the guy whose store was looted last night. And was robbed by Wilson when this whole mess started.

Even people claiming the store owner has insurance and can rebuild, insurance doesn’t cover acts of unrest or terrorism. He’s just screwed, like so many other people.

Buying a wedding ring is like buying a used car

Have you ever tried buying an engagement or wedding ring? Good god does that process suck — especially for gay couples.

Here’s how it works for most men:

“Hmm, I think I’ll propose to my girlfriend. I’d better drive to a couple jewelry stores.”

“Welcome sir, can we help you today?”

“Yeah, I’d like to look at engagement rings.”

“Certainly, right this way. Would you like anything to drink?”

And the guy gets the ring, gets down on one knee, yadda yadda.

Here’s how it worked for me:

“I think I’ll propose to my boyfriend. …wait, how does this work?”

I went to the “typical” jewelry stores on the northside like Shane, Jared, Kay, etc.  When you walk in, you feel like you’re about to buy a car. People in suits and dresses that look like suits swarm to you. You’re not allowed to just look at things by yourself.

It was 4:15 on a Saturday afternoon and I walked into Jared. A guy in a suit immediately comes up to me and asks me if he can help. “Yeah, I’m looking for engagement rings.”

“Oh, what’s her name?”

I stopped. Two things ran through my head. First, I was dreading this moment though I had prepared myself for it, but I wasn’t prepared for the guy to be wearing a cross on his necklace. “Shit, this is going to be awkward. Now we have to have a moment. What if this guy reads Drudge? This guy looks like the sort of guy who listens to Limbaugh and screams “JESUS!” like it’s “fire!” in a crowded theater.” The second thing was, “Why did you just ask me that like a dad grinning about his 10 year old son’s first crush?

“Oh, uh, Michelle. Her name is Michelle.”

So there I was looking for rings for my girlfriend Michelle, and listening to this guy drone on about their work and what goes into diamonds. All I could think about was, “Who the hell wears these god awful looking “chocolate diamonds”? It’s a rock, not a Reese’s Pieces.”

So after 15 minutes I managed to say, “I’m just going to look around and if I need anything, I’ll holler.” Then I kinda walked around and noticed that nothing has a price on it, and nothing is labeled clearly for people who don’t really know what they’re looking at.

If there are two kinds of people in the world, those who look at a menu’s food and order what they want vs. those who look at a menu’s prices and order what they want to pay, I’m definitely in the latter.

This process repeated itself at three other stores. Then I went to Shane Co. in Fishers and at 5:01 p.m., when I got there, the doors locked. I guess the next worst thing to banker’s hours are jeweler’s hours.

Eventually I just came home with nothing. I didn’t even have an answer on how the process was supposed to work. Do I get two different rings? Just one? Two of the same? Shouldn’t the engagement rings be “lesser” than the wedding rings?

Ever try Googling “how to propose”, yeah, good look with that. Good luck even with “how to propose gay”. Seriously, don’t search for that last one.

Clearly what I needed was a small, independent, jeweler. So I go looking for those and find places that also buy gold and probably sell you bail bonds all at the same time.

Clearly what I needed was a small, independent, jeweler … in Broad Ripple, Fountain Square, or Irvington.

So I found a couple of individuals: Nick Blum in Broad Ripple and Nancy Lee, just east of Downtown. Both were great to work with, albeit a little untraditional. But for this purpose, I like that. It was during this process I came to realize how awesome it is there really are no rules. I don’t have to do the dumb one knee thing. We don’t have to do a thing in a church with people sitting in rows. We don’t have to have some specific dress code or process. How awesome is that?

So the engagement rings came from Nick, and the wedding rings will come from Nancy, who did some initial drafts and ideas I liked so much I wanted to spend more time getting them right later on.

It’s no surprise that the traditional corporate suits at the usual places weren’t good enough.

An update on lousy reporting

I just read another piece of reporting that made my brain vibrate inside my head (go ahead, read it, I’ll wait. Now ask yourself how the people of Speedway, Beech Grove, Mars Hill, East 10th, or Trader’s Point must feel. Basically it’s a guy waxing about what he wishes his own neighborhood should be like).

I’ve been giving more thought and research to what a “new” news service might look like. My notes, while disparate still, are below.

For now, I’m just going to have to let this project go. Maybe someone else will pick it up and run with it and I’ll wish I had followed through, but it probably won’t happen.

My reasons are many. Like this:

Great ratings don’t come from eight-month special reports on Haiti, O’Donnell said. They come from the television equivalent of must-read newspaper columnists.  People tune in to see what their favorite personalities think. “When you get to 9pm in America … what they’re doing with their remote is ‘I want to know what O’Reilly thinks about this. I want to know what Rachel thinks about this.'”

Plus, I don’t have a big network of people. I’ve consistently foregone thousands of followers and Facebook “friends” in favor of something more realistic and manageable. I don’t have access to money and I have a disdain for debt of any kind.

I am unconvinced there are enough people across Indiana interested enough in paying, supporting, or even viewing much from a small team of people that can’t be achieved by an already existing network of blogs and (for now), Twitter.

I described it to someone yesterday like this: “A couple years ago a tornado hit Pekin, Marysville, and Henryville. Has anyone bothered to check back and see if those people stayed and rebuilt? Did they move, and if so, where and why? There was a flap in some counties that new construction was cost-prohibitive to do because old grandfathered-in septic systems now required more expensive updates. What happened with that? Did the State and FEMA do anything to keep or break their promises?”

I want a smart, slow-news source that asks bigger questions and delivers on some useful data and reporting.

I’m pulling a Jony and saying no to this project for now. Though if you’re reading this and want to bounce ideas or be of assistance, by all means contact me.

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What does good local news look like?

Local and regional news outlets across Indiana generally report on egregious crimes (murders, rape, aggravated assaults, etc.), traffic accidents — particularly those causing death, and numerous opinion pieces with decidedly understood political biases.

The region lacks a news source that focuses on individuals, storytelling, and reader-friendly design. To name a few examples: TV news stations that have commercial-laden and buggy video playback, news stories limited by paywalls with arbitrary limits, click-bait headlines, ads in slideshows and the middle of articles, and otherwise amateur website layouts.

Readers deserve clean, fast-loading, easily shareable, and easy-to-read stories. Stories that inform, give perspective, and tell a balanced and fair account of conditions or situations.

Stories should include delightful and helpful features like one-page stories, no slideshow galleries (instead placing images in easy to skim thumbnails), estimated reading time, and responsible, scalable, layouts and typography.

What does the business model look like?

Readers should have a tie to their news sources like they do a local co-op grocery store, with minimal advertisements that are unobtrusive and relevant. News should be disseminated freely and treated like a public good, but because writers, editors, and other staff deserve to be paid fairly, readers should feel encouraged and ready to donate or sponsor.

Monthly subscriptions, possibly starting at $19 a month. Donation drives, sponsored posts written about staff.

What else is there?

A weekly one-hour long podcast with a panel of 2-3 people.

Pitch

The news has no business being a business.

Why is it important to come out? Why did Tim Cook come out now?

Today I did what I rarely do: I read comments on news stories. Specifically the stories about Apple CEO Tim Cook coming out as gay. The comments generally filter into one of a few categories:

  1. That’s great.
  2. That’s awful.
  3. That’s not news, who cares.

People who think it’s awful are themselves awful people.

People who think it’s not news may be right — in another generation or two.

I can tell you why this is news, and I think Tim Cook knows it all too well: there are still a terrifying number of people who can’t wrap their brain around homosexuality.

These people are mostly in the south and midwest, and Tim Cook knows that given his remarks in his home state of Alabama the other day. And there are entire countries, like China, where he just returned from, that don’t tolerate homosexuality.

Despite the fact there’s nothing he or anyone else can do to change that. The old chestnut, “If I chose to be gay, when did you choose to be straight?” holds weight.

And for every person who called me queer, a faggot, or any other number of gay slurs, it helps knowing you’re not the only person out there. Because I assure you that in a lot of small towns across the world, there is literally just one or two openly gay people, and they’re often young people who don’t have the ability to just get up and leave.

People soften and develop better, more humane, views of the world when they know people they care about and respect are themselves “different”. And for all intents and purposes, gay people are “different”, just like blind people are “different”. “Different” meaning they’re not the majority. They’re not like absolutely everyone else or how social norms supposedly dictate.

So it’s not earth-shattering news, but it is newsworthy. While it may not be important to you, it probably is for millions of others, and if it makes one less person think less of gay people, then Tim’s done some good work.

Indianapolis news is bad, but I can’t fix it. Can you?

The other day I lamented on Twitter that the Indy Star, the state’s largest newspaper, had dozens of stories on their homepage, and all of them were editorial or opinion pieces. There was no news.

There are no local news sources that appeal to me. Nuvo strikes me as a paper for hipsters looking to drink beer and find a boring show to watch (literally, at the time of this writing the homepage is a big bro-bear in horns hugging a glass of beer). Every news station strikes me as nothing but “crime and grime” and traffic deaths, journalism parlance for gruesome murder stories and awful crimes that grab attention. Or it’s just Buzzfeed-style clickbait. The Star is increasingly just cheap editorials sandwiched between pieces I can’t help but think are biased.

Matt Tully has so been swift and adamant that this city will face certain death if we don’t get more preschool funding, despite plenty of research to the contrary. Made me wonder why, until I realized his daughter might skew his viewpoint (which is fair, but it’s a factor), and some possibly-wrong-and-ill-informed rumblings that his wife is involved with a large preschool here in town.

Erika Smith is liberal in her views, and Gary Varvel so conservative in his you almost feel surprised when either of them says something that sounds like actual reporting. In the case of Erika, if we’re not talking about the plight of poor people and transit, we’re probably not talking. And for Gary, if we’re not talking about how horrifying Obama is, we’re probably not talking.

It sounds harsh, and I don’t like criticizing people so succinctly, but our local news reporters have as much responsibility in protecting and serving the public as the police do.

We have some immensely talented individuals working in Indiana journalism. Nikki Kelly at the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette is a trusted source whom I actively seek out for reporting on big events. The now-retired Mary Beth Schneider from the Star also comes to mind. Matt Tully can write really well, too.

And for years I’ve wanted something like The Atlantic or Rolling Stone for Indiana or regional news. It doesn’t exist, and I don’t know that it can.

I have a project in my to-do list app called “Hoosier.ly”, a sort of working title and domain name that (for now) could be registered and made into that sort of long-form, captivating, well-written, journalism.

It doesn’t even have to be the sort of expensive hard-hitting journalism that takes months to do. I think by and large most of the time things are pretty quiet in the halls of the State House and city halls. But even just displaying some sense for interesting stories, like how a kid at John Marshall struggles to compete in a spelling bee can bring a world of insight to people who never get it.

Even our local NPR affiliate is pretty tame on news. I don’t recall a time when WFYI ever had a big scoop or story. The local news reporting strikes me as press-release gathering and some reliance on other local news gathering partners.

But I’m not smart enough to fix this problem. I don’t have the time, money, or resources to devote to building something to fix this problem. And for a lot of people, there is no problem. There must be a shocking number of people who care about the Star’s Falcon cam, or how big some Carmel/Fishers/Geist/Greenwood house is, or how long Andrew Luck’s neckbeard was. They must really like those “entertainment” pieces, and the market has spoken.

Not to mention the actual market dynamics of making money in this industry.

When I think about what I’d like to read, there are three components. A great online site, a weekly 1-hour podcast, and a really well-designed printed magazine-style piece that comes out monthly.

Maybe Indiana just doesn’t have that much news. Indianapolis Monthly is well-designed, but I don’t care about what wealthy Carmelites are doing to their homes, or what over-priced food I can’t afford to eat looks like, or whatever the hell a Swoon List is.

The Indianapolis Business Journal is generally very good and routinely delivers on details I can’t ever find anyplace else, but they sit comfortably in their niche of business news. There’s more to us than just mergers and land sales, right?

So I share this so if you or someone you know is considering or doing something that’s truly new and journalistic for educated, independent-minded, non-partisan people, get in touch. I want to help, or at least be a reader.

It’s not just me, right?