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Where have we gone wrong?

22 Feb

Blame Justin Beiber, Twitter, and texting all you want, but whatever the reason, the current generation of high school student ages 15-19 do not have their facts straight. Worse yet, the facts they do not know are not esoteric, they are about simple events in our nation’s own history. Try not to cringe or punch your own computer screen out of frustration as you watch this hilarious, and embarrassing, video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2fHQ9eULzk

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Weighty Issues

27 Jan

What if there were multiple websites that promoted suicide that were accessed by hundreds of adolescents each day? Should they be banned in schools? Should there be some kind of government legislation over such sites? Many young women feel this way about pro-ana and “thinspiration” websites, undergrounds that promote anorexia and bulimia nervosa as lifestyle choices rather than psychological disorders.

These websites offer tips on keeping disordered behaviors a secret as well as photographs of women and men who are unrealistically underweight as “encouragement” to maintain an unhealthy diet regimen. These photos bear captions such as “If they can do it, why can’t you do it?”

“It makes the girl in my mirror look that much more disgusting in comparison,” said Olivia*, who is in recovery for anorexia. “It made me need to keep going.”

As shocking as it may sound, pro-ana websites often downplay the mental and health issues attached to eating disorders and make them out to be somewhat of a diet plan.

“These sites tend to make light of eating disorders and ignore the fact that they are actually very serious, thus the prevalence of eating disorders is perpetuated,” said Maisie*, a former user of pro-ana and thinspiration websites.

Many of the sites are set up as social networks similar to Facebook in which each user creates a profile. Information that users post include current height and weight, goal weight, and “thinspiration,” photos, song lyrics, and personal manifestations such as “starving hurts but hunger works,” and “nothing tastes as good as thin feels” to encourage users to continue on a path of extreme weight loss.

Other sites play videos, constant montages of skeletal women, including celebrities and models, set to an ironically chipper soundtrack. The women are often faceless, and common shots include  the low waistline of blue jeans and protruding hipbones or a shot of a stick-legged girl in shorts with the notorious “thigh gap” that many viewers aspire to have.

“Like ballet and some forms of modern dance, thinspiration puts a premium on both agony and lightness,” said Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times. “It also carries a fierce ethic of self-sacrifice.”

Many who have seen these sites view them as both a health threat and a complete moral and ethical outrage.

In 2008, French legislators approved a law against web sites promoting anorexic or bulimic behaviors, which is impressive for a capital of high fashion. However, many have doubts that such a law would work in the United States.

“I definitely think there should be some kind of legislation over these sites, although it would be difficult to do much because of the First Amendment,” said Maisie. “Maybe pro-ana and similar sites could be required to include some kind of warning about the dangers of the site’s advice to health—the same idea as the warnings on cigarettes and alcohol bottles.”

Many pro-ana websites use the guise of being an online eating disorder support system for those trying to recover, and their operators argue in defense of that claim.

“We are here as a live-and-let-live community where people do not seek to judge, but seek to understand,” said James Watson, founder of the website Prettythin.com, in a letter in 2010. “PrettyThin is not pro- eating disorders; it is pro individual. We support those who have an eating disorder and wish to live lives without being treated like freaks.” He also said in his letter that he does not believe that eating disorders should be treated as a mental illness, although many health professionals would argue that that is exactly what they are.

Like most sites of this genre, posts on Prettythin personify eating disorders and give them names, the most common being “Ana” for anorexia and “Mia” for bulimia.

“It definitely is abnormal behavior; it is a sickness,” said Kara Caricato, who struggled with anorexia and bulimia for about 15 years. She is one of many that believes these sites are like a suicide aid. “That is basically what you are doing to your body, slowly killing yourself,” she said.

Both founders and those in opposition to these sites agree that they serve as a safe haven and familiar place to turn for both anorexics and bulimics, no matter how unhealthy that is. But some pro-ana sites take it to extremes.

One such example is the subgenre known as “bone thinspiration,” whose ideals represented are so severely emaciated that they look like they could be corpses. They go by names such as “Clavicle Envy” and “Skeleton Stories.” Other sites represent anorexia as a religious belief, set with a list of commandments and prayers.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) recognizes February as National Eating Disorder Awareness Month and will be hosting an awareness walk in Tampa, Florida, February 25th.  NEDA also hosts the year-long Media Watchdog program, in which those who are anti-pro-ana can write letters of protest to the sites as well as to magazines and television networks.

While eating disorders do not discriminate, the target audience for pro-ana websites is middle class Caucasian women between the ages of 15 and 24. According to NEDA, eating disorders are most prevalent in female middle class college students.

Historically, college campuses have protected students from potentially harmful sites such as Juicy Campus. Should pro-ana sites join the banned list?

“At private schools, where there are a different set of standards, I think pro-ana sites should be blocked to protect students from this influence, at least while they’re on campus,” said Maisie.

Mental health professional Laura Praschan agrees that these sites should be blocked from most university campuses. Until then, she advises that those prone to emotional triggers should avoid pro-ana and similar websites.

“Even sites claiming to be a community for those in recovery can be dangerous grounds,” said Praschan.

For more information on the impacts of these sites or participating in any NEDA events, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

*Interviewee did not wish to reveal last name.

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We the Media

25 Jan

I found myself huddled by a scaffolding at the back of the pavilion at Dolphin Aviation in Sarasota this past Tuesday at the rally for Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. He was making a stop on his Tour de Speeches and was expected in Fort Myers in another couple hours, and he was already late for this rally. I was shadowing at the local news channel and rubbing elbows with other journalists and reporters at the press pit. I had my Nikon poised and ready and was chit-chatting to my host news correspondent and exchanging glances and smiles with another young intern with a camera from NBC. We stood politely and slightly aloof. When Gingrich fianlly stepped out of his bus, our eyes focused on the crowd rather than the potential President. When he spoke, we did not cheer nor boo nor applaud. Many of us bit our lower lip in restraint.

The button of the mouth of the camera operator in front of me came undone about 15 minutes into the speech, not long after posters about ignoring the liberal media began to be passed around. My host warned me to be careful, to never share an opinion or debate and to be cautious of what I took from others.

Of course, we all bear our own political opinions. When I entered with my host and our clipboards, many mistook us to be a part of the campaign staff. But being a journalist at a political event does not make you much less of a target. One man shoved a camera in my face asking me a question about Obama that I could not understand much because he muttered, and me and my host both turned our backs. He persisted, asking why I was unprepared to answer such a question.

“I am not unprepared, but would prefer staying neutral,” I said, trying hard to be diplomatic.

My host was more blunt.

“Leave her alone, she is underage,” she said. She had also mentioned that she could have killed the man testing the mics while she was taping pre-speech interviews.

Politics is a circus of media and events and good PR, as they stalled for the arrival of Gengrich, as reporters with recording devices hounded the press secretary. However, not much is different from the media. There is a lot of networking and PR attached with being a journalist, especially on an assignment such as this.

The main things I learned by owrking a few times in the field are to never discount anyone as a potential back up interview, no matter how obnoxious over gaining your attention they may be, to never fight back to strongly, and, as seen on the hit ABC sitcom Modern Family, to never “go viral.”

My host also recommended bringing backup powder, blush, and Friz-Ease to events and o yes, to never go viral.

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How Couponing Became Cool (again)

12 Jan

Just as the housewife of the American dream home donned her pearls and her apron to bake a pie, she also took a pair of scissors to the coupon book before heading to the market. But coupons are not just for moms anymore. In fact, they are becoming more and more synonymous with the young, trendy, and social-networking crowd, and much to the benefit of rising businesses, restaurants, and boutiques.

Image Credit: "Nest Egg 11" by tanyah

Thanks to sites such as Living Social and Groupon, couponing is not a lonesome activity but an activity that involves networking with friends. For example, if three of your friends also buy into a coupon that you bought and then suggested, you receive your coupon free. And coupons are no longer for the grocery. Sites offer savings for everything from French Bistros to massages to Barre lesseons. These sites are also a great opportunity for new business owners to get their name out there and attract potential clients.

“Living Soical and Groupon have enabled me to continue having an active lifestyle and do entertaining things with my friends and family in this economy,” said Michele Bowermaster, a faithful user of both sites.

” I have found many new places and services I did not know about.”

So what do you think about Living Social and Groupon? Love it? Already think it’s old news? Leave a comment below to weigh in.

 

Baby Gaga

4 Apr

The Icecreamist in London at first glance is a fresh take on the ice cream parlor. Make that an extremely fresh taste. With the tagline “lick your addiction,” The Icecreamist leads the way to get your chilled fix. “They tried to make me go to rehab and I said yes,yes,yes,” is another one of their taglines. The website warns that some motifs may be inappropriate for young children. In another words, it is an adult ice cream store.

Some of their “treatments” include alcoholic ice cream beverages. However, many are more controversial than that. One of their famous mixes is the Sex Bomb, and ice cream containing natural stimulants such as Ginko Bilabo, Arginine, and Guarana. It also contains a shot of the very high proof Absinthe, but even more shocking, it contains a bit of Viagra!

The 18+ London shop is obviously stirring up a lot of controversy, but we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. The Icreamist really landed on the map with the introduction of the Baby Gaga. The ice cream attracted international attention at its premier, and it goes for a whopping £14 ($22.50 US dollar) per scoop.

So what is the Baby Gaga? It is ice cream made from human breast milk!

According to the social blog Where the Girls Go, The Icecreamist founder Matt O’Conner says that the lactating women must undergo the same testing procedures used at hospitals when screening blood donors.

With customers being curious and intrigued and eager to get their hands on the unusual, the ice cream did not take much time to sell out. Lactating women were also waiting in line to sell their milk to The Icecreamist.

Of the smaller controversies, a law suit is taking place with the real Lady Gaga over the name.

More concerned about a restaurant food containing human bodily fluids? As it turns out, so are a lot of people.

While the flavor is not officially banned as of yet, samples of the ice cream have been taken away for testing.

London is known for its oddities, but this is definitely a few steps too far! At the same time, one cannot help but be intrigued about such an establishment (and they do have some more typical flavors that seem fun while remaining edible).

The Public Speaker

4 Apr

The Public Speaker podcast provided me with insight into self-introduction, listening, and applying speaking skills to finding work. One thing I found interesting about the podcast was the advice given about presenting yourself in the best way possible online on your LinkdIn profile.
For example, Lisa pointed out that the words and phrases “motivated, dynamic, and extensive experience” are both vague and overused. To avoid such exhaustion, I learned that you should describe your skills and experience more accurately and precisely, elaborating in more detail and skipping over the vague and cliché phrases. For example, what is your experience? How did you contribute to that company? Did you take action and act appropriately in an emergency? Lisa suggests picking on or two stand-out stories to inspire interest in you and save the rest for an in-person meeting. She also suggests quantifying your experience. Continue to elaborate. The most common are increased customer service or decreased errors, and by how much.
Another way of expressing yourself eloquently on LinkdIn is making sure your key words are up to date. If so, substitute these words for newer, fresher words. The things that surprised me is that you should be on your toes about key words and be aware of international borders when it comes to key words, as the web is international. For example, the word dynamic carries a slightly different meaning in Brazil and Spain than it does in the United States.
What the web has to do with speech is the engagement in dialogue. The social media is a dialogue not a monologue. It is a mean to communicate to others, not to display yourself. To truly use the social media to its greatest potential, you must participate in online discussion. There is a power to speech online that is comparable to an in-person interview or discussion.
Lisa also spoke about preparing to speak face to face and the necessity of warming up your voice. It is important to keep your voice strong, especially if you use voice a lot. What is surprising is that the people who need to care for their voices is not limited to singers, actors, or professional speakers. It is also important for people who work in noisy environments, attorneys, and sales reps. However, these people tend to not think about it as often.
In event settings, it is good to use a microphone to avoid straining the voice. Other methods of protecting the vocal cords include resting your voice before a major speech. Deep breathing also helps, and it brings down the heart rate, so it is relaxing. It is also helpful to relax the daily tensions of face and neck. I found it interesting that tongue twisters before a speech help with trouble spots in the speech and keep you from stuttering through those spots. Singing scales, even if you are not a singer, helps keep the vocal muscles strong. It also increases mood. Lisa explained that it is also important to drink water throughout day and the night before, as it optimizes the throat’s mucus production, lubricating the vocal cords. She also recommends throat coat tea. These tips are extremely helpful for anyone who needs to communicate with a healthy and strong voice.

An Interview with a PR Proffesional

16 Mar

As an 80 year old male, Ron Cornette is not the person who comes to most people’s minds when they hear “PR professional.” Not only has public relations recently become a career dominated by women, but it has also become a career associated with younger people, although the Father of Public Relations Edward Bernays stayed active in the field well into his later years. Cornette is formidable, as he runs market classes and training sessions for about 200 Wagner Realty agents at 10 offices. Cornette gives about two or three training sessions daily. His job also includes planning office events and giving presentations.

Writing a number of training courses of his own is one of Cornette’s biggest professional accomplishments. The State of Florida Commission has accepted a program of his as an official training course of marketing and PR professionals.

Lately, Cornette has been as busy as ever. In a buyer’s market, agents continue to sell enough real estate, especially to those who have stayed afloat in these tough economic times. The biggest challenge for being a PR person in real estate right now is not finding buyers, with prices below the normal value. It’s thinking about the buyers’ financing, as it is hard to get a loan.

Despite logistics and the economic recession, Cornette loves his position in PR with the company Wagner Realty. “What I am doing can be done at any age,” says Cornette. “You just have to have a business structure and a business plan.”
Over the years, Cornette has learned a lot about planning and presenting, and he has some advice to offer. “When working in corporate PR, you have to think about why someone would want to do business with the company you are representing and buy their products. Why should they hold the idea that that specific company is the one to turn to?”

Cornette expands on what he said by using an analogy with apples. “Lots of people sell apples just as lots of companies list houses. You are responsible on communicating to the public that these apples are shinier, kept in better conditions, bigger, juicier, and more appealing than the other apples.”
In PR at Wagner Realty specifically, there is a lot of coordinating with marketing people to ensure that the photographs and the written fliers for the houses are appealing to the public. The job also involves reaching out to the public and continuing to present the listings in a favorable light. “Sometimes people still don’t realize you’re selling good apples unless you tell them about it,” says Cornette.

Cornette also advises that anyone going into the field of PR or marketing develops good writing skills. Cornette points out that in this era of texting and auto-correct, spelling has shortcuts and seems almost irrelevant. However, in reality there is no excuse to lack knowledge in grammar. “I proofread pamphlets, and I must say that I find some of the mistakes appalling,” says Cornette. He commented that PR is still a business of words. “Before putting anything out to the public, make sure that it not only has proper grammar and spelling and syntax, but that it is also something that can be read and remembered.”
I enjoyed conducting this interview with a man with such a dedication to his field that he continues to host meetings and conferences at his age. I chose my journalism/PR major for the journalism aspect, knowing very little about PR. I still am content in my choice in journalism rather than PR as a career path, but it did further enlighten me that the passion for words and the passion for people are alive in PR as well as in journalism.