Enough About Donald Trump, What About Burundi?

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Rwandan refugee camp in east Zaire, 1993 (courtesy of CDC)

I get it: Donald Trump is the leading front-runner in the Republican primary who spouts off whatever comes to mind and is a former reality T.V. star.

But amidst the American media’s love affair with Trump, other important world issues are being overlooked. Lately, I’ve been seeing articles pop up about potential genocide in Burundi.

Doesn’t Burundi deserve our attention, too?

According to a Dec. 15 article in the Washington Post, the violence has forced more than 220,000 Burundians to flee their homes.

Reflections of Rwanda

Burundi’s population is split primarily between Hutu (80 percent) and Tutsi (19 percent). For anyone that knows their history, they’ll recall the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994, where more than 800,000 people were slaughtered (thanks for the actual number, Baltimore Sun).

Remember the movie, “Hotel Rwanda?” Yeah folks, that could happen again.

Yet every time I open my Facebook news feed, all I see is “Trump this” and “Trump that.” Meanwhile, Burundians are screaming for the major world powers to pay attention to their country.

I have a friend who survived the Bosnian genocide that started in 1992 and she can tell you it took years before the world intervened. Meanwhile, she lost close family members and friends.

Time to Switch Our Focus?

Of course we need to watch what Trump says and speak out if we disagree, but should our media be giving the man so much attention, that other world events—like potential genocide—aren’t being reported with the same vigor?

I’m a former journalist and I’m asking you: what the heck happened to my beloved profession?

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How Inflammatory Language Brought Us to the Age of Mass Shootings

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SWAT team members approach a building with a gunman inside. Thirteen people were killed and 30 more wounded in an attack by a lone gunman at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 (courtesy Wikipedia).

First Planned Parenthood, then today: San Bernardino, Calif.

Both are medical clinics. Both are supposed to be safe places … kinda like schools (anyone remember Sandy Hook)?

According to CNN, president Barack Obama said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

Regardless of what you think of our president politically, you have to admit: HE’S RIGHT.

How Did We Get Here?

I was in high school when Columbine happened on April 20, 1999. The massacre shocked the world because things like that just didn’t happen. Since then, mass shootings have begun increasing in frequency, until today, they’ve become commonplace.

So how did we get here?

Some say we need more gun control. Others say we need better access to mental health care. Personally, I think it’s a combination of both … but everyone seems to be leaving out one very important factor.

This is a sociological problem, not an individual one, which means a sickness has somehow pervaded our society. 

What’s the one thing that’s changed from 1999 until now? SOCIAL MEDIA.

The Age of Propaganda and Inflammatory Language

Now, I’m not blaming social media. In fact, I’ve worked in it for a living.

However, social media gives people, institutions, political parties and special interests an unfiltered platform to broadcast their thoughts and ideas.

You know those Facebook memes that people love to share that instigate endless political debates on comment threads? They’re developed by groups with certain agendas to garner engagement and prompt action by plugging into people’s emotions.

You know what that’s called? PROPAGANDA.

Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Kim Jong-un still uses it. Propaganda is powerful because it plays into people’s emotions and fears. Even the most educated can become susceptible to it.

In the age of social media and content marketing, propaganda is running rampant in our country. It’s causing the best of us to scream at each other and it’s making our society angry.

As angry individuals, we insult others behind the blanket of “freedom of speech.” We say whatever we want because “we have that right.” We develop a sense of persecution, which leads to an “us versus them” mentality. “Them” always end up less human than “Us.”

How Do We Fix It?

We need to begin using our words responsibly again. I’m a journalist; I’m all about the First Amendment. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And words can kill.

We also need to hold media outlets, political institutions and special interest pages accountable when using inflammatory language. Don’t watch them. Don’t share their memes. Don’t comment. JUST DON’T ENGAGE.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are your thoughts on the increasing mass shootings in the U.S.? Do you agree with my conclusion?

Rolling Stone, Rape, and Journalism

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It started off innocent enough. A female college student. An alleged gang rape. A magazine journalist trying to do the right thing.

I didn’t read Rolling Stone’s article, “A Rape on Campus,” about an alleged gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia frat house. But for the sake of this commentary, I didn’t have to read it.

All I read was Rolling Stone’s “Note to Our Readers” published on Dec. 5, 2014 — and that was enough.

The note, published by Managing Editor Will Dana, admits Rolling Stone’s failure to properly investigate and verify the woman’s story. It reads, “due to the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man who she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men who she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her.”

Understandable, right? Maybe for that small, weekly community newspaper, where circulation doesn’t exceed 22,000 and most of its reporting staff are interns or rookies out of college. But for freakin’ Rolling Stone Magazine, which churned out an article generating worldwide headlines and prompting a university investigation … ummm, no.

Here’s the problem with Rolling Stone’s decision.

They let the first rule of good, hard, ethical journalism slide: objectiveness. Which means checking both sides, regardless of your thoughts on the issue’s sensitivity. If your source is a Deep Throat, then you verify facts elsewhere.

This seems cold, but folks, the consequences of failing to conduct yourself in this manner, as a professional journalist, could be far colder … like what happened with Rolling Stone.

Recent reports from The Washington Post and other news outlets have since surfaced, showing “there now appear(s) to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account,” according to Rolling Stone’s note to readers.

Now, is it possible Jackie was sexually assaulted or even raped? Of course. But due to Rolling Stone’s failure to remain objective, and thoroughly verify her account, the magazine just created a greater boundary for any rape victim to cross when convincing the authorities of an attack.

Perhaps, Rolling Stone should have just stuck to its journalistic guns the first time, and refused to run Jackie’s story unless its reporters could contact the alleged attackers.

And I’m talking from experience.

Eight years ago, when I worked as a newspaper reporter covering education, a group of three girls approached me from a local college. They accused the college of covering up sexual harassment, and sometimes even assault, on a regular basis.

Of course, I took this very seriously, and started looking to interview more sources. However, no one would go on record. Since no one reported anything to police, I couldn’t verify crime reports. Eventually, I told the girls if they refused to cooperate and go on record, no story. They didn’t, and therefore, nothing ever ran.

Which brings to light something else: is this mistake by Rolling Stone representative of what’s happening everywhere to good journalism?

With the rise of social media and the blogosphere, I have seen the decline of traditional journalistic ethics in lieu of special interests and editorialized rants. This isn’t everywhere … yet. But what happens when the lines between propaganda and journalism are blurred? What happens when we can no longer trust that our sources of news are objective, allowing us to decide for ourselves?

Rolling Stone should have never made the decision it did, regardless of its editors’ and/or reporters’ views on the sensitive nature of rape. By giving in to their subjectivity, they negated objectivity, and only further tainted the very issue they were trying to protect.

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Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, journalist, and social media strategist who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. She recently finished her first novel and blogs about the lessons she learns while finding a literary agent, among other topics (like this post). Want to follow Shari’s progress toward a book deal? Then join The Readers Club! Sign up here.

It Snowed in Phoenix! And How to Pitch Magazine Editors

What’s that about global warming again? Oh, right … it freakin’ snowed IN THE DESERT yesterday!

I live in Phoenix, Ariz., and it actually snowed here. Seriously. I borrowed some Facebook images from our local news stations to prove it:

Snow photo_93.3 KDKB
[Source: 93.3 KDKB Facebook page]
Snow photo_KBAQ
[Source: KBAQ Facebook page]
And because I have nothing else to say, I’m re-publishing a VERY old blog post, before anyone even knew I existed (on the social Web). I used to write about professional stuff … really!

So, if you’re a writer, or PR person, maybe these tips will offer something useful. Imagine that!

Enticing Magazine Editors and Media–Successfully Pitch Your Story!

Whether you’re a PR professional selling your company’s story, or a freelancer enticing a magazine editor, understanding how to pitch well is vital.

I’ve enjoyed success as a journalist and media relations professional for a reason:

1. Keep your pitches to five sentences or less.  

As a freelancer trying to get published in a magazine, I received my best advice from a senior editor at TIME Magazine. Here it is:

Keep your initial pitch to one paragraph (I suggest five sentences, tops). 

  • If you’re a freelancer, follow-up with a brief description about your experience (places you’ve been published, years of experience), as well as why YOU should write this story.
  • Cut and paste any additional material, such as a news release, into the email body after your pitch. As a backup, attach the document.

I’ll never forget the editor’s words from TIME, “We are too busy to open any attachments. If it’s not in the email body, we won’t see it.”

2. Forget sounding fancy. Cut to the chase: the five W’s.

As a newspaper reporter, the best way to entice me to DELETE your email, was by developing a fancy first sentence. I only cared about the WHAT of your story—so I could decide immediately if it was newsworthy.

  • My number one tip from my last post on writing engaging content was to keep your article lead less than 30 words. Apply that rule to any story pitch.
  • You will lose the reporter’s/editor’s/producer’s attention if don’t tell them upfront the Who, What, When, Where and Why.

3. Make it relevant!

Is your story timely? Localized? Who’s the audience? TIME Magazine would rather publish a national trends article, whereas Phoenix Magazine (from Arizona) would seek a feature on a high school coach who’s changed the school’s morale.

Regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or PR professional, do your research.

  • If you live in California, but are pitching in Connecticut, run a Google Maps and get an idea of the geography.
  • Read through your target publication to understand its style before pitching (hint hint: you can work that style and relevance into your pitch).

4. Follow up via phone in two to three days–not the same day.

Most editors will get hundreds of emails a day, maybe more. IF they read your pitch, it won’t be the same day you sent it, so give them time. When you call a few days later, start with this:

“Hi ____, my name is _______ and I’m a freelance reporter from ______ following up on a story I emailed you a day or two ago.”  Then immediately launch into your story idea. Most likely, if they haven’t seen your email, now they’ll open it.

Above all else, never forget the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? Always put yourself in the editor’s shoes and ask, “Why would I publish this story?”

Whatever the answer is … that will be your news hook.

It’s Raining Spiders … and Stuff

Ladies and gentlemen, it has rained spiders in Brazil. Yes … spiders. Rained. IN BRAZIL.

The land which gave birth to Zumba has now become Stephen King’s official playground. And you can thank the “social spider,” a group of arthropods working together to form a giant web to catch their prey.

Now that’s socialism, folks.

 

Thank you to 12 News in Phoenix, Ariz. for originally informing me of this (intriguing? terrifying?) phenomenon.

[… Shudder …]

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AND IN OTHER NEWS:

**I officially ended the world’s longest eyelash debacle on Sunday. Not sure how this happened, but I wound up with an eyelash stuck in my eye for a MONTH. A month, people. Do you have any freakin’ clue what it’s like to wake up every morning to an eyelash jabbing its way into your cornea, with NO recourse? I poked, I stabbed, I rubbed; yet that dang thing would not budge. For this alone, I think I deserve a spot in the “Guinness Book of World Records.”

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**The Black Keys won three Grammys. The Black Keys are seriously the coolest musicians EVER (except for my dad, of course).  I saw them, LIVE, with my sister, back in October, and they tore it up. And last night, they won THREE GRAMMYS, which means my El Camino ticket stub is now worth some mula. $$$$ 🙂 (Not that I’m selling it … suckers!)

**Java jam. That’s it, people. Jam made from espresso. A piece of Heaven really does exist here on earth. I may now die in peace.

**My cat peed on his own this morning. VICTORY!

cat in litter box

5 Reasons the World is Ending: No More Saturday Mail!

It’s over! It’s all freakin’ over. I always said when the mail stops coming on Saturdays, the world is ending.

And on Wednesday, the Post Office announced it: no more Saturday mail.

SkywalkerNooooo

I want to thank the Arizona Republic and the Associated Press for publishing the story and letting me know I can now begin preparations to DIE. Just as long as I don’t decompose under a parking lot, like poor King Richard III.

Not that I believe in “The Book of Revelation” (in fact, I’m Jewish), but I’m sure if you dig deep enough—somewhere within its dark pages of death and destruction—you’ll find something about the mail ceasing to deliver on Saturdays.

I am convinced we are only months away from the REAL Armageddon.

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And here are 5 reasons why:

  1. We are running out of IP addresses. Don’t believe me? Go take a class in Cisco networking. You think the wars over cinnamon were bad (yes, empires actually rose and fell over cinnamon)? Just wait until no one else can log onto the Internet.
  2. Stars Wars married Mickey Mouse. If George Lucas no longer retains the right to sue you for using the word “lightsaber,” I think we’ve reached a whole new dimension in history. Hopefully, Disney isn’t as bad … but maybe I should call my lawyer, just in case?
  3. Twinkies joined the dinosaurs.  Ever seen the movie, “Zombieland,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson? If you haven’t, you need to know only two things: Zombie Apocalypse and extinction of the Twinkies.
  4. Guns now shoot lightning bolts. Yes! You can thank the United States Army for this. We now have LASER GUNS that can shoot freakin’ LIGHTNING BOLTS (thanks WIRED Magazine). Dying isn’t good enough; we need to rip our enemies’ electrons from their surrounding air molecules, first.
  5. NO MORE SATURDAY MAIL. Really … need I say more???

How Did King Richard III End Up Under a Parking Lot?

If I was a king, I’d be pretty peeved if I wound up buried under a parking lot, of all places.

Then again, if I was a king, I’d be pretty peeved—period—since I’m a GIRL. Well anyway, this is exactly what happened to England’s King Richard III. In case you haven’t heard the news, scientists confirmed Monday that a skeleton they found during an archeological dig last August is, indeed, the King.

Not only that, but CNN reports how DNA extracted from the bones “was matched to Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinetmaker and direct descendant of Richard III’s sister, Anne of York.”

Could you imagine being that guy?

One minute, you’re sawing through wood in some remote town in Canada, and the next minute, you’re freakin’ ROYALTY.

Dude, seriously … I need some of that karma. Now.

However, should my dream ever come true and I end up as “Queen Shari,” I’d much rather decompose under a shopping mall. With cute shoes.

So Kim Kardashian’s Baby Bump is Showing; WHO CARES?!

As I logged into my Yahoo! account yesterday to check my very important and serious email … there were the words … bitch-slapping me across my tender cheeks:

Kim Kardashian’s Baby Bump is Showing!

[Pause … for effect.]

When my eyes finally adjusted to the message, you know what words fluttered through my delicate brain?

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‘Who the f– cares!’

I mean, really. I’m not trying to be a celeb grinch or anything, but how many women become pregnant each year? I’ll tell you (yes, I actually looked this up):

In the U.S. alone, nearly 4 MILLION births take place each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that’s births. Can you imagine how many women actually become pregnant?

So Kim Kardashian’s baby bump is showing.

(Note: NOT “Kim Kardashian’s Baby is BORN,” or “Kim Kardashian in Custody Battle”)

Hmmm. To complement this fascinating, breaking, Pulitzer-worthy story, here are some other items that made headlines on Thursday, Jan. 24:

KIM KARDASHIAN’S BABY BUMP IS SHOWING!

excited-woman

Quick, grab the camera! Light a fire! No, sound the tornado sirens! Hell, make it a nuke warning! Close the movies, call the President … hurry, someone get me a pedicure! STAT!

Meanwhile, I demand a headline of my own: “Shari Lopatin Drives Car.”

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14 Ways to Use Duct Tape that You Never Knew Existed

So did you hear about the man who got duct-taped to his seat on an airplane?

No, this is NOT the start of a stupid joke. It really happened … in Iceland. Seriously:

Which got me thinking about the numerous ways we can use duct tape. Like, for instance, back in high school, the battery to my portable brick—a.k.a. cell phone—fell off. Rather than buying a new one, I just duct-taped it back together and walked around like that ’till college.

Because I’m just that cool.

So here are 14 uses for duct tape that I bet you NEVER even knew existed:

  1. Wallpaper
  2. Household bug trap
  3. Cheap Frisbee
  4. Do-it-yourself bikini wax
  5. Band Aid
  6. Nail polish remover
  7. Car parts adhesive
  8. Fat reducing body shaper
  9. Handmade tug-of-war rope
  10. Lipstick substitute (seriously, try it!)
  11. A ball to amuse your cats
  12. Nose-pore cleaner
  13. Tin Man Halloween costume
  14. And finally … silencer for that “God, shoot me now!” annoying-as-hell coworker

So tell me, what are some ways YOU use the ever-beloved duct tape?