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Paradigm Shift: There's More Than Two Sides to a Story

In recent weeks, I started to ask myself why I had given up reading newspapers, or why I had always found their stories predictable and uninspiring. Even when I had gone to the trouble of writing a letter to the editor, it was never published. I never seemed to be part of the newspaper's target audience. I have similar feelings towards politics: it's just one big old boys club with little hope of change and no room for anyone with my interests. I'm glad that social media, or specifically blogging, has stolen some of the news industry's thunder and reminded mainstream media that their point of view is not the only one that matters.

The light came on while I was reading 10 journalism rules you can break on your blog. Rule number three involved adding opinion. "The cardinal rule in journalism is to present both sides of the story," writes Gina Chen. [But] "I’d argue most situations are more gray than that; there are many sides or sides of sides." I couldn't agree more. As a union rep for 24 people, I know that there may be 24 sides to a single issue.

For decades, we've been subjected not only to what news media owners and their advertisers find newsworthy, but also to what the two sides of the story should be. Why couldn't they give more than two sides? Because of time and space constraints. But are these arguments still relevant today?

So where are all the other sides of the story or information that has been left out (or edited)? We add it ourselves, either in a comment or in our own blog post. As for opinion, I am more interested in another writer's reaction to a news story than in the story itself. For instance, rather than read the details of how AIG bilked US taxpayers, I want to hear the taxpayers' righteous anger.

Finally, Web 2.0 has leveled the playing field. Now, via blogs, we can publish or post our own news or what we think is newsworthy. Today, we also have the luxury of expressing our views on an issue through the comments section. In essence, this gives a voice to those traditionally ignored by mainstream media, and all it requires is an Internet hook-up and a computer to have your voice heard. For those of us who don't have a hook-up, there are Internet cafés, and if you don't have a computer, you can always try the public library.

The point is that blogosphere has become a new forum, and we should embrace this welcome change for what it is--a paradigm shift.
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Ode to New York State

When I joined Twittermoms, the first mom I met was the Post-Standard's Gina Chen from Syracuse, New York, and imagine my excitement when she wanted to feature me on her Family Life blog. I was immediately flooded with childhood memories. I had grown up in Kingston, Ontario, which is right on the Canada-US border. As a child, growing up in the land of one television network, which had a test pattern until 9 am, I used to stare across Lake Ontario to the shores of New York State, the land of decent cartoons, the Frito bandito and Hershey bars--that Mecca of fun.

Not only was northern New York State home to CBS, NBC and ABC, the three TV networks of the day, it was also the site of the first McDonalds restaurant. More proof of its superiority in terms of fun, Harriet the Spy and a Tree Grows in Brooklyn, my favorite childhood books, were both set in New York.

What is more, one of my finest childhood memories involving New York State was a cross-border shopping expedition to Watertown. The highlight was watching my mother lie to the Canadian customs officer on our return back over the border. "No sir. Uh...we didn't buy anything...I just took the kids down to McDonalds in Watertown," she stammered, as my brother and I wiped perspiration from our brow from wearing three layers of new clothes.

Not only would this experience provide me with funky new clothes that no one else had, it was also fodder for some very tall tales for my friends. After all, how many kids got to go to McDonalds, get three new sets of clothes and then watch their mother, not embellish, exaggerate or stretch the truth, but actually lie to a government official. Man, I bet she regrets that half-truth...I mean, lie, right now as she reads this.

Anyhoo, it was with great pleasure that I was able to connect with Gina Chen and reconnect with my childhood memories from the North Country. (BTW, whatever happened to Glen Gough and his show, the North Country?) As I have said in previous posts, blogging has given me the exciting possibility of meeting people throughout the English-speaking world. In fact, my first follower was Ida from down under in Australia. Blogging is also a fabulous medium for sharing your views with like-minded people.

I have been following Gina's exciting Save the Media blog to keep abreast of the latest changes in the news media landscape and to contemplate possible opportunities that these changes will inevitably provide. In addition, she posts some great blogging and linking tips. My favorite post from her Family Life Blog was the 25 things that make me feel like a bad mom. Let's just say that I could relate to more than a few.

I am very pleased to welcome readers from New York State and let them know that they have a special place in my heart for saving me from television boredom and feeding my inner pop culture vulture. I would also like to thank Gina and the Post-Standard for having me as their featured blogger.

If you would like to return to the Post-Standard click here.
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Our Hypersexualized Media: How to Help Our Children

On our 10-minute walk home from school, my six-year-old daughter and I have our regular conversation about what happened at school that day. Sometimes, when she feels like talking about it, she reveals some of the social dynamics of her first grade class. There always seems to be someone who is left out or has no friends for a few days.

Like most parents, I cringe and feel sorry for the child who is left out and obviously don't want my daughter or anyone else to suffer. But I realize that this is boot camp for adolescence when the self-esteem of my daughter and the other children will really be put to the test.

Another topic that has come up on occasion is my daughter's passing comments about how one girl thinks that she is the most beautiful. I used to think that the girls were mistaking beauty for self-confidence, but lately, I have heard the word "sexy" mentioned.

Now is this just a word the kids have picked up somewhere? I asked a few more questions to find out the actual context of the word "sexy." I know that both the boys and the girls use it, but when I asked my daughter what it meant, she shrugged and didn't answer. Does this bear watching?

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, I had posted a blog entry on Twittermoms about models who looked liked they were about 12 years old in ads I had seen downtown. Hmmm...maybe this did require more consideration.

I quickly discovered that many parents, educators and women's groups are concerned about the increasingly sexualized portrayal of young girls in the media. There is growing concern about preteen girls wanting to wear clothes that emphasize their sexuality well before they're ready to assume the consequences. Parents, particularly mothers, are finding themselves in awkward situations with subjects that are difficult to broach.

The Montreal YWCA has come up with an interactive resource, EARLY SEXUALIZATION: A Guide for Parents of Preteen Girls, to help parents tackle some of the more difficult questions their daughters might have regarding provocative clothing, ultra-thin models, make-up, seduction and music videos, love and respect, sexuality and peer pressure and Internet safety. This animated guide provides parents with three possible (and realistic) answers they might give to their preteen daughters in response to some tricky questions regarding sexuality. (Warning: This resource is not for children.)

In addition to working in partnership with the University of Quebec (Montreal) on creating the “Countering Youth Hypersexualization: Tools for Prevention and Action,” the Montreal YWCA has also partnered with the National Film Board of Canada to produce Sexy Inc.: Our Children Under Influence, a 35-minute film that analyzes the hypersexualization of our environment and its noxious effects on the young, both girls and boys.

I bought a copy of the film, which came with a guide for educators and parents, and viewed it this weekend. The film looks at the effects of hypersexualization on children who are bombarded with sexually explicit and sexist images, and the unhealthy culture they create. It also offers some suggestions about what we can do to counteract this phenomenon.

Although my daughter is only six, I'm glad that I took the time to look into this and find some resources. I also came across another invaluable resource for increasing our media awareness vis a vis stereotyping, sexism, bullying, hate etc. If you're interested click here to go to the Media Awareness Network.
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What if Bill Gates Had Been Born A Poor Black Girl?

"The lives of outliers--those people whose achievements fall outside normal experience--follow a peculiar and unexpected logic, and in making that logic plain Gladwell presents a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential."

This excerpt is from the inside cover of Malcolm Gladwell's book the Outliers: The Story of Success. When I originally read this passage, I naively assumed that "those people" and "human potential" also referred to women. Unfortunately, as I later discovered, the only woman whose success was discussed in any detail was the author's mother. But not even she was an outlier. From a parenting perspective this book has its merits, but unfortunately, the message is just more exclusion dressed up as inclusion, a "blueprint" that applies to a select few. And sorry, I can't allow someone else to frame what success is!

Let's start by looking at a stat courtesy of Reuters posted on International Women's Day:

Women make up less than 1% of department heads, editors, media owners but a third of working journalists

The message is pretty clear here. If you are a woman, and you want to work in media, there's opportunity for you as a reporter, but if you want to be, say, an editor, things aren't looking too promising! And heaven forbid you should want to be a media owner. But just a second...isn't Oprah Winfrey a media mogul? Wow, she must be that less than one percent! And she's a woman of color too! Now how many women of color are media owners? I have a feeling that it is less than 1%, but sorry I couldn't find a statistic to support that. Now, doesn't her achievement fall outside normal experience? Well, not if we compare her with the other 99% of men who are media owners.

New Category: The Super Outlier

My point is that success should not be a measure of where you are now, but rather how far you've come. For Oprah to become a media mogul, she had to overcome poverty, and racial and gender barriers, which to the vast majority of us are insurmountable. And if we compare Oprah with one of Mr. Gladwell's outliers, Bill Gates, we will see just how far Oprah has come. Bill Gates is white, born into a wealthy family, went to a private school with a computer in the 1960s, had access to a computer outside of school, dropped out of Harvard, started a software company and today is worth $40 billion. Oprah is black, was born into poverty, a child of a single mother and a victim of sexual abuse, went to Tennessee State University, made her way into television, got her own award-winning syndicated talk show that is seen around the world, owns a network, and she is worth $2.7 billion.

I'm not saying that Mr. Gates is not an outlier, but in his case, there is undeniably some white privilege at play. In other words, he has come a long way, but how many opportunities would he have encountered if he had been born a poor black girl? That is why I believe that if Mr. Gates is an outlier, then Oprah Winfrey is a super outlier.

But I still wonder why, Mr. Gladwell, you did not feature Oprah or another woman who has successfully made her way into a male-dominated field? Was it because it didn't support your argument or because it would reveal to men that their success is due to their unwillingness to let anyone else join the club?

Click here for another review of Outliers that appeared in the Telegraph (UK).

Click here to see what another blogger has to say about Outliers. HL
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Daylight Savings Time and Super Outliers

Last night, I was looking forward to today's blog, but Daylight Savings Time had something else in store for me. With just one hour less of sleep, which we didn't notice yesterday, but were all suffering from this morning, my family and I stumbled around until we finally got out the door.

Oh Daylight Savings Time....Just when I thought I could sit down and blog about super outliers, I couldn't remember my arguments...This went on for most of the week. Daylight Savings Time certainly didn't help, but I soon realized that writing about super outliers was much more difficult than anticipated.

For one, it's really difficult to write about gender and racial barriers and keep it light. Two, it's hard to find empirical data to support access to opportunity. Three, Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers:The Story of Success is not all bad. There are some parts that are helpful for parents. Four, I think that his publishers probably have a lot more power over what he writes about than the public realizes. And finally, Gladwell does raise how racism affects opportunity when he addresses his mother's life in Jamaica.

However, I cannot overlook exclusion when it is disguised as inclusion. His book only gives examples of men outliers, and the inside cover should accurately reflect this. Instead of "The lives of outliers--those people whose achievements fall outside normal experience," it should read, "The lives of outliers--those men..."

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A Gladwellian "Opportunity" For Women

On International Women's Day, I thought it was fitting to write about an auspicious "opportunity" for women.

In the Outliers: the Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell explains the factors at play in making an outlier, or someone who does something out of the ordinary. He cites, among others, Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Bill Joy (Sun Microsystems), but the author deviates from the tired, old narrative that these men are outliers simply because of their ambition and intelligence. Although these two factors are important, they are not enough to make an outlier.

Instead Gladwell claims that the success of these two men has to do with their unique opportunities in the early years of their lives. In both cases, Gates and Joy had access to computers at a time when few other people did. They were also able to spend 10,000 hours on programming, the amount of time Gladwell claims is necessary to master a skill. What is more, both these men turned 20 or 21 (working age) when personal computers became available to the general public, creating yet another opportunity.

As most of you are well aware, the news media are undergoing profound changes, as its readers are relying increasingly on the internet as their primary news source. At the same time, we are witnessing the meteoric rise of Web 2.0, or social networking, wikis and blogs, as means for exchanging and gathering information.

In recent decades, we witnessed the number of people controlling our news media dwindle to a select few. Today, anyone with a PC and internet hook-up can be a citizen journalist or social commentator with a blog. We no longer have to wait for our newspaper to publish a story. We can scour the net for a story, add some commentary and post it ourselves. Web 2.0 has also given us more reader feedback and interaction between writers and readers than traditional media ever allowed for. Sounds like the playing field has been leveled, and I smell an opportunity.

There are many people out there who are just as ambitious and intelligent as "the Bills." And if they put in, say, 10,000 hours honing their writing skills and creating a high-traffic blog, we may have another outlier. And given the huge number of stay-at-home mothers and freelance workers who make up the blogging population, that outlier may just be a woman.

Although Mr. Gladwell referred to the factors contributing to his mother's success in the last chapter of his book, he never called her an outlier. In fact, he didn't mention any women who were outliers. Maybe he'll address women outliers in his next book. If he has any problems coming up with some names, I can give him a few.

Happy International Women's Day!
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Accumulative Advantage: Something to Consider For Your Children

When my daughter started school I was concerned about her being too "young." Her birthday is September 25, and the cut-off date to start kindergarten was October 1. Her teacher assured me after the first month that she was ready.

However, first grade was a different story, as it is for many children. My daughter found it difficult to get into the routine of doing homework. I was also surprised that she showed so little interest in learning to read, as both my husband and I are avid readers. At the first parent-teacher meeting, her teacher assured me that my daughter was doing fine and that reading required developing a lot of skills simultaneously. Still I wondered about the amount of resistance I was encountering. She was learning, but there seemed to be little motivation.

One day as I was walking back from my daughter's school with another mother, Mary, I asked her how her daughter was managing with reading. Her daughter, who is in the same grade as my daughter, had no difficulties with reading, or with doing her homework. Out of curiosity, I asked her when her daughter was born and discovered that her birthday was in January. In other words, although our kids were in the same grade, Mary's daughter was nearly 10 months older than mine.

It was around this time that I picked up Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: the Story of Success. Although a very insightful book, I found little to allay my fears about having enrolled my daughter in school before I was convinced she was ready. In his book, Gladwell looks into the different factors that influence success and make the outlier, or someone who does things out of the ordinary.

In the first chapter, the author looks at successful hockey players and the months in which they are born. Given that the cut-off date for hockey registration in Canada is January 1, it was not surprising that young boys born in January, the oldest, would be the biggest and have slightly more skill than boys born later in the year in the same age group. (Sorry, Mr. Gladwell did not mention girl hockey players in his book, as he should have.) He looked at semi-professional hockey players and found that a high percentage of team members were born in the first three months of the year, a pattern which was repeated in other countries.

Now, you might be asking yourself how could being born in the first three months of the year make that much of a difference? Gladwell claims that success is what sociologists dub the "accumulative advantage," and he uses the example of the successful hockey player to illustrate.

The professional hockey player starts out a little bit better than his peers, and that little difference leads to an opportunity that makes that difference a bit bigger, and that edge in turn leads to another opportunity, which makes the initial difference bigger still- and on and on until the hockey player is a genuine outlier.
In other words, the small initial edge, in terms of age, size and skill, leads to more opportunity or more hockey games and better coaches, and the individual gets better and better.

I think you can see where I'm going with this. I immediately felt that I was wrong to have enrolled my daughter in school when I wasn't convinced she was ready. Admittedly, there isn't much I can do now. She has her friends and seems very happy where she is. I guess all I can do as a parent is be on the look-out for those opportunities that will help her along the way.

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