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Jun 20, 2006

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Lex

So have I.

Joe Killian

I don't mind carrying a digital camera on stories and have done it every now and then. Ditto a digital recorder for on-site audio at the N&R.

But here's the thing: I'm a really bad photographer.

I'm not just saying I'm a bad photographer as compared to the award-winning pros we have on staff. I'm a bad photographer by drunken-Sping Break-photo standards.

I think if we're going to turn reporters into mobile multi-media units (and we probably should) we're going to have to train and compensate them accordingly.

Ed Cone

We've had some knock-down brawls in the comments before about the quality of non-pros-with-steadicams videos.

I think the consensus is: good is better than bad, bad is better than nothing.

You'll learn by experience, and criticism. And yes someone should pay you for your work.

Chewie

Bad is better than nothing if the President's motorcade is being shot at, the Missing Link stumbles out of the woods, or a meteorite lands on the football field.

For a professional company that purports to deliver media, their standards better be higher than "bad is better than nothing", or we won't watch -- which means we won't pay.

The janitor can't manage a story meeting. The receptionist can't balance the books. Not everyone has an eye and ear for the creation of compelling media.

But by all means, let's encourage crap work. There's not nearly enough out there.

I guess this means the kid who washes cars in the parking lot will be taking over your column space. Cool. So 2.0. Anyone can do it, right?

Joe Killian

Well...I dunno if I'd call myself the janitor.

I'm just saying I've seen my pictures and I've seen our photographers' and I'll take theirs any day. For some breaking things or things that just sort of happen - like my wandering around the Southern Baptist Convention and finding weird, funny things to shoot - my skills are adequate. That may be the sort of man-on-the-street thing for which this suggestion is best suited. If I took some courses and practiced I think I'd be able to handle that kind of thing.

But back to the issue of training and compensation -- I have a good friend who works at a really good newspaper in another state. They're getting their act together online and have, indeed, loaded down their reporters with all sorts of new gadgets. They want photos. They want audio. Can we get some video on that?

But they aren't paying them any more.

That's a mutiny waiting to happen.

Ed Cone

Who's encouraging crap work? We want good work.

But for many stories more mundane than Bigfoot -- the 3 AM building fire, or a train hitting a truck on Elm St -- competent work is going to draw viewers.

You say "we" won't watch.

If by "we" you mean professional videographers who don't believe what non-professional videographers tell them, that we'd rather see more videos of great content than only a few videos with superb production values, well, you may be correct.

The rest of the world, though, will watch. Hell, people watch YouTube, don't they?

As equipment improves, and reporters with cams get better, newspaper sites will draw viewers for the packages of reporting and images.

Your analogy to a column is not quite right, by the way -- the analogy is really to news reporting, which is not about prose quality (although good writing is appreciated) but about delivering the news in a timely and clear way. Competent video will add value to that kind of writing.

sean coon

if the move is to replace camerapeople and staff photographers, i agree it's a bogus move... but if it's to provide context where context was already going to be missing, i'm all for it.

just because the establishment is "professional," it doesn't mean they have limitless resources to cover all media angles like the people/establishments on the edges of the net can.

instead of looking down at this decision, maybe we should all recognize that, like the role of an editor or newsdesk, the role of the reporter has to change in these 2.0 times as well.

maybe, just maybe, WaPo is ahead of the market curve and the forthcoming requirements to obtain a journalism degree and to simply survive the onslaught of decentralized media options.

John Robinson

As someone trying to figure it out from the management end, I'll say it's not nearly as simple as it seems. It's expensive, it requires training, and it changes the role of the reporter. None of that is bad or unnecessary. In fact, the future is clear that this or something like it is necessary. But it is hard to get a handle on....particularly the expense.

Chewie

You didn't say "competent is better than nothing."

Competency is at least as high as a professional media organization should aim. In my view, they should set the bar a little higher for the sake of their own profitability and branding.

It simply makes no sense for you to celebrate the inferior. You don't do it for writing, art, booze, schools, elected officials, or anything else. Your message on this is pandering to a utopian notion of citizen media, and I don't think the News & Record should take your advice. It's a lousy business model in a market that ultimately doesn't reward shortcuts. Crappy products eventually get recalled.

Why not ask that they hire people who already know how to do it to do it well? Does that violate some proletarian principle I'm not aware of?

Whether the janitor is doing the column writing or the reporting, it's the same B.S.

Brian R.

I don't belive that people who watch web videos care one iota about the production values. They are enthralled by the "realness" of the handheld digital video CONTENT. Its hyper specific, fresh, funny, and full of important info.

Short online video can contain very newsworthy content. That's what's important right?

Ed Cone

I'm not celebrating the inferior, Chewie, you are.

Not having a video of a building fire is inferior to having a video of that building fire.

You are making it sound like this is brain surgery, or fine art. It's not. It's being there and aiming a camera in the right directon and not jerking it all over the place. Yes, there is a level of skill involved, and some people are indeed highly skilled. But given the simplicity and ubiquity of the technology (which continues to improve, and will allow a lot of corrections to be made to, say, poorly lit shots), we're about to see a lot more competent video-makers emerge. Maybe the janitor takes good movies.

Digital photography and the web have already made this a reality with still photography. Video is next.

There's an old story, probably apocryphal, about an early projection for the size of the global automobile market being tiny, because of the limited number of chauffeurs.

This is what technology does: it makes things that once required specialized expertise -- cars, computers, videos -- accessible to the masses.

Nobody is saying it's all of the same quality, or that good quality is not better than bad quality. But the monopoloy of the pro videographer is ending. Sorry.

Chewie

Putting CONTENT in all caps doesn't put money in the bank. They're free to try it, and see if they can make it pay.

Chewie

Ed, your arrogance makes you seem a very, very small person. You said what you said, and now you want to say I'm saying it. That's pathetic. You said, "bad is better than nothing." I didn't, because I don't agree.

Why don't you come to NAB next year and offer your "Sorry" to 100,000 highly skilled professionals.

I'm sure they'll give you exactly the amount of respect that you're due on this topic.

You don't, in fact, know it all.

Ed Cone

Technology is disruptive. It pushes a lot of people out of jobs they trained for, and thought they'd hold forever, and it allows a lot of people to do things that only pros once did.

I think TV news will need camera operators for as long as they use the conventional format of a pretty person shot in front of the newsy subject. I don't think newspapers should go that route.

There will always be work for professional videographers, and photographers, but that's not really the issue here. I think Sean got it right in his comment above -- it's not about getting rid of the pros, it's about using technology to extend the reach and depth of what sites can offer.

Those 100,000 highly-skilled professionals will have to adapt, move up the value chain, find places where their very real expertise is still worth paying for. I'm guessing that large-scale hiring of fulltime video pros by newspapers will not be part of the solution.

sean coon

chewie, i'm not only a citizen media head, but a long-time developer of the medium. IMHO, ed's on point here.

a news site isn't a product that can or will be recalled; it's an organism that either evolves to meet the challenges of its competition or it dies a slow and painful death.

old media is absolutely being challenged by newcomers from all sides -- individual blogs (from national biggies like boingboing & wonkette to local blogs w/ national eyes like the one we're on right now), participatory sites (newsvine, digg, slashdot, etc.), conceptual rss feeds (tracking news about "greensboro" or pictures of "greensboro"), opinionated journalism working with the memes of the blogosphere (the daily show, the colbert report), etc.

you bring up branding; in the online news and information space, the very notion of brand has been completely redefined. while quality images and video adds to a brand position, the lack of such context can inversely destroy a brand, especially in this age.

citizen media is not a utopian phenomenon; it's a reality that major media players have to take seriously.

when blogs and sites like flickr, youtube, etc. move beyond the consumption patterns of the early adopters to the masses -- with an even stronger ecosystem and retrieval system supporting their distributive profitability and findability -- disruption will only begin to describe the shakedown in the advertising and marketshare game.

neither WaPo, the N&R or any other funded, professional, news organization should dilute the quality of their work, but i don't think ed is espousing that approach.

this is one particular aspect of media evolution.

Chewie

Sean, Ed is espousing that approach. What do you think "bad is better than nothing" means? It means news organizations shouldn't sweat the quality of their work. Just give Grandma a video camera, and tell her to hold it steady. She can do the news as well as those reporter chumps.

People will come in droves with open wallets! They'll desperately want what we got, 'cause they could do it themselves! Wait a minute...

I hear a lot of yap yap. I don't see anyone moving their 401k money into amateur news on the web. When you make you first gazillion, send me a postcard.

Better yet, see you at next year's NAB giving your seminar about adapting to a changing technology market. It's nothing anyone has ever heard before out there, and boy, won't they be glad to see you guys.

sean coon

chewie, you're wrong. and your grandma reference is pure hyperbole.

this article is specifically about adding context to stories on news sites.

if a reporter can add context to a story by recording the actual sound of illegal fireworks, or by shooting b-roll video of workers loading crates of said illegal fireworks, or snap a picture of the blown off thumb of a kid on 7/4 in new york, why shouldn't they?

maybe the media ends up as rich notes to the reporter, maybe some of it is good enough to place online where citizen media heads will lift it and provide traffic via links in. and maybe (sit down for this one) it makes its way onto TV (lightning does strike).

33% of WaPo's referrers comes through blogs.

how that for yap yap?

i've a better idea; rather than us coming to a national association of broadcasters convention, why don't you go to any number of hundreds of bar camps, unconferences, berkman events or sig conferences?

why?

because unlike the world of videography, the root of the technology value proposition is innovation and evolution.

and web sites aren't coded in HTVIDEO.

Chewie

Sean -- so glad you're around to tell me when I'm wrong. I can't lay enough accolades at your feet. Don't ever let your fount of wisdom get clogged. We'd all be lost without you and Ed, who are -- wow, what a coincidence! -- always right.

Since you've guys have got all this figured out and are single-handedly revolutionizing the way we consume media, the rest of us will just wait around until you can tell us what to think and do, and then tell us what we thought and did.

I knew the Internet was powerful, but you even know what conferences I don't go to! Geez!

See you there.

sean coon

this isn't about being right or wrong, this is about reading the original article ed linked to and not engaging in hyperbole.

i read no mention of grandma and who is this "us" you keep referring to?

and come on, chewie, talk about the pot calling the kettle black... when have you ever been off point?

Ed Cone

Chewie, perhaps I have done a poor job of expressing my views, but I am not advocating poor quality, or grandma replacing talented workers.

I do think bad is better than nothing, but as stated, I also think good is better than bad.

And I think good enough is good enough in many cases, say, when a reporter working alone is on scene and captures an arresting image or video with easy-to-use digital equipment.

My guess -- and it's a guess -- is that qualified pros will continue to be assigned to stories when possible and when the need is clear ahead of time, and that increasingly capable reporters -- not grandmas or janitors -- will also capture a wide range of material of suitable interest and/or quality to make it onto the website and increase the value of the product.

As for granny, she'll have a digital cam, too, and if she shoots something of sufficient interest and/or quality, it will also make it online.

I'm not sure where the hostility and ad hominems are coming from, this seems like a fairly bland and straightforward subject to me.

Chewie

Sean, if it isn't about being right or wrong, I'm not sure why you would start a comment thusly: "Chewie, you're wrong."

We're voicing opinions here, and none of us are wrong. I'm not sure what you're going after by asking when I've ever been off point. I didn't say you were off point. Let's leave it where we left it. I heard you, and hope you heard me.

Ed, I appreciate your clarification and don't find much to disagree with in it. I've noticed it often takes you several back-and-forths before you say what you really meant to say.

Amateur videographers can and will do whatever they wish, and they will attract some eyeballs and drive others away. That's the beauty of the wide offerings of the net. But a professional newsgathering or media organization should look for a mantra that reflects a higher concern for quality than "bad is better than nothing" as a business model. Both their integrity and their profitability are affected by this decision.

There is an entire industry built around creating content for a profit, as it has always done. Technological change has always been, and continues to be, a fundamental concern at the core of that industry. Your "sorry, find another job" dismissal demonstrated a lack of knowledge, coupled with unjustified arrogance.

Many different elements, including technological and cultural ones, come to bear on this topic. You know much about the web and about business. But you don't know everything about everything. Why pretend you do?

Ed Cone

Chewie, I have no answers to your ad hominems.

I think reporters with digital equipment are going capture much material of sufficient interest and quality to add substantial value to websites.

This seems like a straightfoward, non-oracular point of view, one shared by the Washington Post, and one already proving out across the web.

Digital media and the web will have an impact on professional videography, as technology has had an impact on many other fields. This, too, seems to me an uncontroversial proposition.

Lenslinger

Now, I’m no lofty columnist or new-age citizen media expert - I’m not even a print guy, for Gutenburg’s sake! What I am however, is someone who has spent the better part of the past sixteen years practicing street level broadcast journalism, all by my lonesome whenever possible. I do so more out of contempt for the on-air reporter model than any urge to break new ground, mind you - but exposure is exposure. Along with my fierce dedication to solo-newsgathering, I’ve fostered a blog habit in recent years that has added a small digital camera to my arsenal. As a result, I know a thing or three about juggling cameras, notepads and agendas. It may be the future of the business all right, but I’m here to tell ya, it ain’t easy. Rare is the news scene I walk away from with incredible video, dazzling snapshots, imperative sound-bites and all the facts. Usually I manage to bag three out of four, with the digital still shots suffering the most. That’s okay by me, as the snapshots are really a blog-hobby kind of thing - whereas my moving pictures are tied directly to my weekly stipend. But this post isn’t about me - it’s about the compression of skills, the lowering of standards and the over-sold advent of multimedia journalism.

While most shooters I know (stills and video) are consummate journalists, most reporter types want nothing to do with the dirty end of the lens. Who can blame them? Image gathering is a strenuous business - one involving sore muscles, lousy weather and little glory. I’d pace around the perimeter with nothing more than a notepad too, if I could get away with it. Tragically (for my back, anyway) I’ve always brought a camera or two to go along with my press-pass, but it hasn’t stopped me from noticing how different scribes and lensers act in the wild. Whereas photographers lunge head first into the action, reporters tend to lurk on the edges. That’s where the long-view is I’m guessing, the place to see the story that’s unfolding as more than a series of close-ups and segues. Not withstanding the occasional uppity grump like me, this collaborative partnership between photog and reporter works quite well. With each partner free to pursue his part of the quest, the results can be visually stimulating and lyrically provocative, with a few actual facts thrown in for good measure. But what happens when the gifted scribbler is handed a lens and ordered to bring back viable images as well as vetted perspective?

I’m not quite sure, though I suspect some ugly pictures are in the offing. While that truly offends a student of image as myself, I’m guessing a generation of youtubers won’t really care - especially when they’re watching the resulting footage or stills on a screen the size of a postage stamp. What they will hopefully care about is accuracy, if not nuance - something that’s even harder to capture when you’re trying to decide what to do next, interview the witness or bag the wide-shot. As those whose assignments rarely take them away from the internet café like to tell us - taking pictures isn’t brain surgery. After all, what schlub couldn’t use today’s user-friendly cameras to click a few pix while still managing to gather their thoughts? Maybe they have a point, but it’s gonna take a new breed of print reporter - one not afraid to get in the way to get the shot - before anything close to revolution is captured on-screen. Until then, I’d look for lots of fuzzy photos to pop up on newspaper websites, accompanied by glowing text touting the dawning of a new, convergent age of media. Perhaps, but I’m guessing the smattering of amateurish images will be just that - postcards from the edge. So if you’re a print reporter soon to be saddled with an unwanted lens, stop by the scrum and say hi. I’ll be down there with the TV guys and gals - trading lies with my camera-wielding co-horts while we all silently plot to eat your lunch.

Andy Coon

I had this argument with a business partner a while back when I just got out of school. We were both intimidated by how easy it was to own a camera and shoot and edit. We thought anyone can shoot so why would someone hire us for their project. Well it turned out that no one hired us for their project because we were not professionals at that moment. Now he and I have gained some professional credentials and are taken more seriously because of our experience.

I think it is an exciting time to view the world through the eyes of the beholder. For instance Sean and I were invited to NYC for the World Premiere of The War Tapes at The Tribeca Film Festival. This film won the best documentary award with amateur camera people because we were allowed in their world and saw just how dangerous their lives were.

On the flip side of things... I have noticed how much the marketplace is lowering the value of a professional rate to shoot and edit. I found a job on craigslist.org in NYC for a DVD author/editor for $10 an hour. I made more delivering pizza. But why should our profession be any different from all the others that have fallen off the markets map? I guess my college education helps in times like these. By the way purchase Greensboro's Child...

sean coon

chewie, you're spot on -- i said "wrong" when i should have said "you're way off-base":

What do you think "bad is better than nothing" means? It means news organizations shouldn't sweat the quality of their work.

that's not how i read ed's intent (and btw, ed and i throw down more than enough, so get off the ropes of the tag-team retort).

i read the article, ed's post and his specific comment speaking to the potential for good media being better than no potential for media, as nothing -- good, bad or average -- will be produced by reporters without cameras. the grandma comment just made no sense to me at all, so i dropped "wrong" into the mix when i meant "way off-base."

i did try my best to share an informed opinion, while you dropped sarcasm and hyperbole. that exchange does read as professional insecurity on your end, when there's more than enough room for professional discourse... ed never brought that up before i just did -- i read him as saying videographers will most likely need to evolve their skills sets in this more dynamic, lower cost to entry media world we find ourselves, especially moving forward.

and i tend to agree.

in my field, i had to gain skills as an information architect, interaction designer, interface designer, etc. to be in a better position to respond to the design opportunities of technological innovation... and i continue to evolve to stay in the mix.

sean coon

@lenslinger - well put.

@andy - what did i teach you about linking to greensboro's child! haha...

Ed Cone

'slinger, your low opinion of television journalists is widely shared in the print world.

But I'm flummoxed by your prediction of low-quality work to come from actual reporters with digital cams. Do you mean people like this guy?

Hell, you liked my photos of the BI building implosion -- just about the first digital photos I ever took -- enough to put them on your own website without attribution. I'm pretty sure those shots would have added value to a newspaper site, or a TV station site, for that matter.

Also, people won't be watching small web video forever -- fullscreen, high quality images will be here soon enough.

But again, this all misses the larger point: it's not about replacing pros, it's about adding capability so that reporters who are on scene by themselves can have a chance to capture something useful.

Lenslinger

I'm not saying some print reporters won't garner incredible images - just that most of them won't. Maybe in a few years a new generation of scribes will take up the camera with great resolve, but i just don't see it happening among the old school set - not in a way that will blaze any new journalistic trails. Once Generation Laptop comes aboard, that will most probably change.

On the subject of change, I'm all for it. In fact, the revolution you speak is oen I've been cross-training for for years I've been juggling multiple lenses, a notebook and the quiet knowledge that I'm better than most for quite some time. If the rest of the world is ready to catch up, bring it on. I just don't think the average print reporter I encounter (cerebral, plodding, winded) is going to set the world on fire with cutting-edge images. Not for a few years anyway...

As for your own image-gathering past, my hat's off to ya. But I still think you assume bagging that perfect shot is far easier than reality proves. Technology helps, but there's nothing like real-world experience when the news unit's rubber hits the road. See ya out there! - oh wait...never mind.

Ed Cone

How did the conversation shift to the "perfect shot" and "cutting-edge images?"

We're talking about reporters with digital cams capturing images with enough proficiency to add value to the news.

It's already happening on blogs. More than a year ago, MSNBC used thousands of amateur clips from the tsunami, for example. Some were quite good, others were valuable for documentary purposes.

Newspapers are adding digital cams to their arsenals. Film at 11. That's the story.

Molly McGinn

As long as papers give the reporter the choice, not the ultimatum, to pick up a camera, a video camera, or a mike, it's good. It probably won't help the CAR guys, but learning a new skill can only help the storytelling.

The guy in the next cube here is a former television journalist and he wondered out loud: "Wonder what some of those early reporters would have done if they had access to technology like that?"

Ed M

Jonathan Jones

So I'm late to the party on this one, but wanted to say Lenslinger is spot on. That comes from the perspective of a print reporter who has worked in much smaller shops than the N&R and knows what it's like to be expected to get a good story and a good photo. I can usually do both.

The thing I have yet to do is get a great photo and a great story. Focusing on one usually takes away from the other, much for the reasons Lenslinger laid out above.

An example: A few weeks ago, I covered a plant explosion in High Point for the N&R. I ended up with a fair amount of information that I didn't see in any of the other news outlets by doing exactly what he described, hanging back and taking the long view. As a result, I found several people who were in the building when the explosion happened. If you were in the middle of the scrum to get good videos and photos, you wouldn't have even known they were there. And I didn't have to worry about getting into that melee because the N&R had two excellent photogs taking care of that front -- both of whom also provided valuable information.

The end result was a much better story than what I could've done if I had been worried about getting a photo, which most certainly would've turned out not-so-great since point-and-shoots aren't so great when the police keep you 100+ yards farther away than necessary.

There's also a great benefit to having two people working the same story, with different perspectives. It's not unusual for a photog to ask a good question that I didn't think of. Likewise, I'm not afraid to point out something I see that would make a good photo. And when you've got a good rapport, things can turn out beautifully.

One of the best stories I've written was most undoubtedly thanks to a photog. We were covering a Marine's burial at Arlington, where the press is kept a great distance away and no interviews are allowed on the grounds. Through his long lens -- and thanks in part to a doubler loaned by a WaPo shooter -- he captured a moment that I could barely see with my less than perfect eyes. We ended up focusing the entire package, picture and story, on that one moment. I think it turned out OK.

I don't mind carrying a small digital, especially if it really is just a supplement or I'm rushing to a scene where I'm going to beat the photog there -- a rarity in the news biz -- or one just can't make it. And I see the benefits people above cite.

But the cynic in me worries that at a time when newspapers are being pushed to attain unsustainably high profit margins it will eventually come around to bite us. What one day is a supplement could easily become a bean-counter's ideal spot to save money. Two people on a story are, after all, more expensive than one.

I've worked in a newsroom with a grossly understaffed photo department where every reporter carried a point-and-shoot. It was supposed to be an "enhancement" to what the photogs could get to. It often led to less than desirable photos ending up in print.

I'm not that old and will learn whatever skills necessary to stay employed in this strange business, without much hesitation. I'd like to see videographers do video, photographers do photos and writers write. Every now and again exceptionally talented people come along who can do all three well, at once, and we should find a way to help them shine. I'd just hate to see it become the expectation that everyone do all three.

Sorry for such a long comment Ed, but I wanted to share my thoughts.

Ed Cone

No problem, JJ, content-rich comments like yours are worth the space.

It is galling to see newsrooms decimated so that the heirs to newspaper fortunes can continue to live large, or a quarter-by-quarter stock market appeased.

Digital images and video are not the only places where tech foists more work upon reporters -- many of us are asked to write online in addition to our regular workload with no extra compensation, for example.

Maybe the current ownership cycle will end, and a new kind of owner who wants the best possible product and will settle for merely large profit margins will arise...

It's pretty to think so.

Chewie

Jonathan, that comment was a huge contribution to the thread, complete with examples and a voice of reason and experience. I just wanted you to know it was appreciated. Wish that I had expressed my position half as elegantly.

Jonathan Jones

Thanks Chewie.

Ed, I sure hope you're right about a new type of newspaper owner coming along. The N&R's parent company is a good one, it's a big part of why I came here having worked for it in the past in a different state. But there are an awful lot of newspaper companies that I think are taking a short-sighted approach in order to appease Wall Street.

I realized I didn't made a point I wanted to earlier. While I have my above concerns, I also agree with Ed that newspapers need to be on the front of the web-video game. As Internet video quality gets better, I believe it's going to be something people come to expect on a good website.

Lex

If my experience is any guide, the more-work-for-the-same-pay fear is overblown. Reporting jobs are still covered by FLSA, last I checked.

But will everyone get the equipment they need? No. Will those who do get the equipment get the training they need, or even the time to teach themselves? No. Will declining revenues and/or increased costs for equipment and/or training be used to justify flat or declining salaries (in real terms) and smaller staffs? Bingo.

Honestly, you want training? Stay home next vacation and spend the money on a digital video camera. Rip a tune off any old CD you have lying around, then go shoot video -- of anything and use Movie Maker (now standard on Wintel machines) or iMovie (now standard on Macs) and make yourself a music video. Will what you come up with be the equivalent of what Lenslinger or Chewie produces? Of course not.

But it just might be good enough to enhance a news report or add entertainment value to something on your (work or personal) Web site. That's a start, and Lord knows it's better than sitting around waiting to die, which appears to be our only other option right now.

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