Monday, November 28, 2011

We Don't Pay--Technically

In his New York Times article, Paying for News? It’s Nothing New, Jeremy W. Peters shattered my belief that major news outlets don’t pay for interviews.

In the most technical sense, major news outlets don’t. But they provide various types of expense reimbursements in exchange for an interview. As Peters notes:

The payment is always for something else, tangible or intangible, like one’s time or the rights to memorabilia.

So what’s the difference between paying for a picture or paying for the interview? The money ends up in the interviewees hands.

Peters also notes that this practice has existed in one form or another for over a century—citing an example of his own paper paying a survivor of the Titanic.

Maybe the real issue is not paying for interviews but the guideline of not paying for interviews isn’t realistic. Major news outlets can’t seem to follow the intent of their own guidelines, even if they have met the guideline in its most technical sense.

Read Peters’ analysis at

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Collectively, We Can Make a Difference

I recently saw a headline in the Montreal Gazette asking, “What can YOU do about the road mess?”

For those not familiar with the road situation in Montreal, it’s pretty frightening.  We live on an island, so our bridges and tunnels are essential to travel here.  

But we can’t always trust them.  A bridge in one of the suburbs fell 5 years ago, killing people who were driving under and over it.  At the beginning of the summer, another bridge was abruptly closed after the public had been assured it was safe, and a report was leaked that the most traveled bridge is like a “patient” with “terminal cancer” and wouldn’t withstand an earthquake.  Those are rare here, but more frequent than those in Washington, DC.  

And if that weren’t enough, the overhang on a tunnel fell.  Fortunately, it did so on a lazy Sunday morning and no one was hurt.  

Although concerned about the politics of the situation, the provincial government responsible for the roadways has been short of forthcoming on information.  

While these emergency repairs go on, most of the major roadways are in various stages of reconstruction, with little or no seeming regard for the disruption the combined construction efforts are taking on Montreal. 

So when Annabel Soutar asked,  “What can YOU do about the road mess,” my instinctive response was, Nothing.  Soutar got interested in the situation when the bridge fell 5 years ago.  She noticed that a culture existed in which no one had to take responsibility for the problem.  Each actor could absolve him or herself of blame—and no  one realized that the collective innocence led to real deaths of real people that really could have been avoided.

So she wrote a play to call attention and raise anger.

And she advises people to, at the least, be informed and, at the most, actively hold elected officials and civil servants for our safety.  

This is truly one of those situations in which only collective efforts will bring openness and accountability to this system.  Although that has hardly been accomplished, recent actions by transportation officials suggest that the concerns are on their radar, even if they’re far from solved.  

Dealing with Disappearing Friends

Having had been on both sides of this equation, I know how hard it is when friends drift. In his advice column in the New York Times, Philip Galanes suggests that, just because a friend drifts, doesn’t mean that friend stops caring. It’s just that their lives and yours are moving in different directions.

Check out the complete story at

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dining at Dollarama

About a year into the current economic slump, I read an article saying that dollar stores like Dollarama and Yankee Dollar were carrying more food items as cash-strapped consumers sought to stretch their grocery budgets.

In one of the funniest news pieces I’ve read in years, Toronto Star, business columnist Tony Wong discovers that “Dining at the dollar store might be cheap, but you can feel the effects on more than just your pocketbook.”

Hillarious, but with a touch of melancholy underneath it all.

Read it for yourself at

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bilboa Is So Yesterday

Following the lead of Bilboa in transforming a European city considered to be a remote outpost of civilization, the New York Times recently showcased two other cities following the same formula.

The city of Santiago de Compostela in the northern Galicia region is home of a new City of Culture, which includes a library, archives, museum (which sounds like it is primarily going to exhibit temporary exhibitions), and performance spaces, in an uber-modern building located in a centuries-old historic district. Details at

Reporter Finn-Olaf Jones reports that the city of Perm, on the western edge of Siberia (and, apparently, considered the last stop in civilization as one enters Siberia on the TransSiberian Railway), is transforming itself from a closed city of the Soviet era into an avante-garde visual and performing arts centre, and is attracting notice worldwide. The city is doing this by dedicating some of its economic development resources for the arts. The transformation involves strengthening and expanding cultural institutions like remodeling the museums. But more importantly, the transformation involves developing and promoting local talent. In the process, Perm is also attracting emerging international talent to its burgeoning arts scene.

Check out the whole story—as well as travel suggestions—at

Monday, November 14, 2011

Management Training for Nonprofit Executives

Philanthropists are giving Human Resources a good name.

According to reporter Stephanie Strom, some major philanthropists are requiring that the leaders of organizations they fund participate in management training as a condition of the funding. 

Although many nonprofit executives rightfully resist such intrusion of donors on everyday operations, many of those interviewed by Strom appreciated this type of advice. The donors recognized that, although the organizations they fund are passionate about their goals, some minimize the role of management practices and principles in achieving those goals.  As Strom writes:
“People in this sector, just like scientists and doctors, get promoted because of their issue expertise and then no one really ever teaches them how to manage,” said Jerry Hauser, the center’s chief executive and a former consultant at McKinsey & Company. “Then it becomes a vicious cycle, where the next generation coming up in an organization comes up under someone who doesn’t know how to manage.”
Following training, the nonprofit executives gained new insights into their operations and devised new ways to more effectively achieve goals and prepare for the future.  

To read the entire article--and learn about some specialized sources of management training for nonprofit executives--visit 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Digital Content, Disappearing Archives

Transferring content to digital formats has its advantages. For example, think of thousands of songs you can store on an palm-sized iPod or the hundreds of books you can store on a single Kindle, which is thinner than a book.

But archival purposes isn’t one of those advantages. As University of Maryland Information Studies and English professor Kari Kraus reports in When Data Disappears (published in the New York Times, August 6, 2011), digital media like hard disks, thumb drives, DVDs and CDs, are “inherently unstable.” Most of these media start to degrade with time. Even if the media survives, the formats do not. (Don’t believe me? Try to open a Word 95 file with MS Word 2010.)

We may be producing more content in a week than all of civilization produced for centuries, but if we don’t find a way to preserve it so it’s accessible to future generations, all of that great content could disappear from our historical consciousness.

Learn more about the issue at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ranking and Choosing Online Degrees

U.S. News & World Report, the pioneer in college rankings, is in the midst of conducting a new first-of-its-kind study: rankings of online universities.  But according to “The Online-College Crapshoot” (by Laura Pappano, New York Times, November 4, 2011at some of the biggest online universities, including Capella and Kaplan, aren’t participating.  
Among their concerns is the concern that the criteria one might use to rank a traditional university do not apply to online universities.  For example, because many of the students in online universities are non-traditional students, some of the information about class ranking in high school is less relevant.  

Some of the issues are that the strengths of traditional and online universities differ.  According to the article, traditional universities focus on research and promote the expertise of their faculties; online universities focus on teaching and learning support.  (I think that sells both groups short; nearly all traditional universities have units that promote teaching and learning; some online universities focus on research).  

In a related article, Pappano suggests some tips for choosing an online university now—before the ratings are available (Before Signing On: A Checklist, New York Times, November 4, 2011, at 

To get information, speak to someone who “isn’t hawking courses, like a program director” rather than a recruiter.
  • Course quality (what you’ll learn, assignments, and whether the instructor is qualified to teach the course)
  • Educational support—that is, someone who will provide advice on courses and preparing for work after graduation—and do so on a timely basis
  • Technical Support—that is, if the technology fails, how quickly will the problem be addressed (some programs only have support during normal business hours; most online students sign onto their courses on weekends and evenings
  • Credit transfer, that is, if you decide to switch to another university later in your studies, will they accept your credits
  • Accreditation—that is, will anyone recognize your degree?  Most employers and universities only recognize degrees from accredited institutions.  
  • Costs, jobs, and other indicators—that is, the likelihood that your degree will translate into a job afterwards, based on the experience of previous graduates 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Oprah's Favorite Thing

Even though Oprah isn't on TV anymore, she's still compiling a list of her favorite things and publishing them in her magazine.

Among her favorite things for 2011 are some dreamy carmels from my sister-in-law's company.  Check them out in the Oprah magazine--the carmels from the Velvet Chocolatier (

(Don't usually plug things, but it's not every day that someone in my family is on Oprah's list.)