Tag Archives: journalism

Earth Day 2020: Thoughts on Rolling Stone, Issue 1338 – April 2020

I drafted this post several days ago, but held off on posting until Earth Day. I figured that this would be the appropriate time to share my thoughts.

It had been quite a while since I read an issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Throughout a good portion of my younger years, Rolling Stone was a staple of my regular reading, allowing me to stay current on arts and music, as well as politics and social issues. But I kind of fell out of it. I would see issues at newsstands, and be intrigued, but declined picking up a copy. Recently, my wife brought home the latest issue of RS, a special issue dedicated to the current climate crisis, a subject I am passionate about. I began reading and got drawn in. The publication still has its journalistic integrity, intelligent writers, and progressive stance that inspired me in my youth.

The articles in this issue evoked a range of emotions in me from anger and frustration to hope and inspiration. As infuriating as the corruption and greed is that fuels the current crisis, there is also an amazing amount of courage and innovation out there, spearheaded by energetic groups and individuals who refuse to succumb to the forces unwilling to relinquish their grip on global power.

Not surprising, one of the articles focuses on Greta Thunberg, a young woman whose passion, courage, and dedication is a huge inspiration for me. But I confess, I was shocked and disgusted by the level of hatred directed towards her, which truly underscores how challenging this cause is.

Outside of the Parliament building, Greta tells me she doesn’t worry about her safety despite Trump and others speaking cruelly about her on social media. (According to her mother, locals have shoved excrement into the family mailbox.) Later in February, she would march in Bristol, England, and be met by social media posts suggesting she deserved to be sexually assaulted.

(p. 42)

Greta’s determination leads me to something Jeff Goodell said in his article. We cannot allow our personal despair to suck us into the quagmire of inaction. We all have a responsibility to do whatever we can to help in this crisis.

When you look at images of the bush fires in Australia or the cracking ice shelves in Antarctica, it’s easy to think that it’s too late to do anything about the climate crisis — that we are, for all intents and purposes, fucked. And it’s true, it’s too late for 182 people who died from exposure to extreme heat in Phoenix in 2018, or for 1,900 people in northern India who were swept away in extreme floods in 2019, or the 4 million people who die each year around the world from particulate air pollution caused by our dependence on fossil fuels. And the way things are going, it’s probably too late for the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, for large portions of the Great Barrier Reef, and for the city of Miami Beach as we know it.

But the lesson of this is not that we’re fucked, but that we have to fight harder for what is left. Too Late-ism only plays into the hands of Big Oil and Big Coal and all the inactivists who want to drag out the transition to clean energy as long as possible. Too Late-ism also misses the big important truth that, buried deep in the politics and emotion of the climate crisis, you can see the birth of something new emerging. “The climate crisis isn’t an ‘event’ or an ‘issue,’ ” says futurist Alex Steffen, author of Snap Forward, an upcoming book about climate strategy for the real world. “It’s an era, and it’s just beginning.”

(p. 39)

As I watch the global response to COVID-19, I can’t help but think that this is the kind of response we need to the climate crisis. And yes, there will be deniers just like there are COVID-19 deniers protesting that they have the rights to congregate in spite of the risk doing so poses to others. And yes, we cannot depend on governments to address this challenge. Just like the COVID crisis, we need businesses and individuals to come forward and lead the way, because our political structure is way too dysfunctional to foment any substantial change.

I’d like to close with one last thought. Since we all need to do our part, I’m going to assert that if you are not making personal changes and sacrifices in your lifestyle that are difficult and uncomfortable, then you are probably not doing enough. Filling out online petitions while sipping a Starbucks latte from a disposable cup, or driving your gas-powered car to a demonstration is not going to create the level of change needed. Decide what you are comfortable doing, and then do more.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on keeping on.

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Artificial Writers

I read an article in Wired magazine last night that fed my nightmares and caused me to wake up in a state of anxiety. The article was entitled “The Rise of the Robot Reporter” written by Steven Levy (click here to read the article online). The story explores the advances by Narrative Science, a company that successfully created an algorithm that can analyze sports and financial data, then generate well-written news articles based upon that data.

The company’s CEO and co-founder, Kristian Hammond, makes the bold prediction that within the next 15 years, 90 percent of news articles will be written by computers and that a computer will win the Pulitzer Prize in about 5 years. At first, this seemed kind of cool. I mean, I’m a geek and stuff like this is fascinating to me. In addition, who doesn’t secretly wish that the news contained more plain, factual information and a lot less spin from media with political and social agendas? But as I slept and allowed this information to percolate in my subconscious mind, I became aware of a personal threat.

I work in the field of technical communication, writing various forms of internal and external communications for a software company. Some of these documents include user and administrator guides, as well as technical reference materials. I became very aware that much of what I do could be outsourced to a computer. Essentially, I gather data, analyze it, then compile it into a format that is usable and accessible to my target audience. This is no different from what Narrative Science’s software does. For me, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to see this algorithm being applied to technical writing, where the application analyzes the code, reads the engineering notes, and determines the functionality, then generates a set of instructions or reference materials that is accurate and useful. So where would that leave me?

Over the years, I’ve learned that it is important to remain adaptable and not fear change. If technical writing becomes automated, I’ll find a new use for my skills, such as developing training materials or managing the information generated by these artificial writers. Our world is changing fast. If you can’t be flexible, you will likely end up joining the ranks of those unemployed individuals unable to use the narrow set of skills they have become dependent upon.

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