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Quality Journalism

Theroux’s travels across China provided the audio soundtrack for my trip across Tennessee, punctuated by checking NPR news on the hour. As I passed through Nashville, it occurred to me to spend a little bit of time listening to some of the local radio stations. I listened to music from Nashville until it faded in the distance. Yet the mental soundtrack was provided by Robert Pirsig. What was I doing driving a Toyota Prius across Tennessee after long drives from Connecticut to Virginia to North Carolina? No, my little Prius is pretty different from Pirsig’s motorcycle, but there were parallels.

Theroux often referred to the last time he had been in China and how much things had changed since then. I thought back to my various trips to Tennessee. In 1983, I spent several months hitchhiking across the States and Europe. I hitchhiked down from Kentucky into Tennessee going from one old college buddies place to the next. I was picked up by a trucker who called himself Outlaw Floyd. He thought I was really pretty and could make a good living in San Diego servicing Navy boys. He was heading to San Diego and offered to take me out there and set me up in business. I got off in Knoxville.

I thought of other trips to Knoxville to visit old college buddies and head up into the Smoky Mountains, or of when I came to Knoxville to spend a long weekend at a cabin with a bunch of friends I had met from an online community. I drove past interstate entrance ramps where I was sure I had stood for hours. When I stopped to get gas, I saw a guy standing on the side of the ramp with a sign saying Chattanooga. I was heading to Memphis, but stopped to see if I could at least get him a little closer to his destination. Unfortunately, I-40 and I-75 split very soon after the ramp, so I really couldn’t help him. It was good, though, to see that people still hitchhike and to chat with him briefly.

All of these memories were from long ago, when I was on the road, looking to find something, perhaps ‘the metaphysics of quality’. NewsTrust is supposed to be about finding ‘quality’ journalism. What is quality? Where does quality fit into the future of journalism, into the blueprint for the next newsroom? Hopefully, I will explore some of this over the next couple of days.

In parallel with this, I thought of my struggles in school years ago, and my struggles now with my daughters’ schooling now. The Wikipedia article about Robert Pirsig starts off, “By virtue of being a precocious child with an IQ of 170 at age 9, Pirsig skipped several grades. This, along with a stammer, made for a difficult school experience.”

I arrived in Memphis and settled into my hotel. I am reading various papers in preparation for the conference. I am relaxing from the drive. I struggle to make sure I get good WiFi signal and I rest in the whirlpool. The hotel is large. It feels mostly empty and a little bit shabby. It makes me think about the hotels that Theroux writes about, a big hotel built as part of a politburo five year plan, that hasn’t turned out the way it is supposed to.

The drive, the hitchhikers, the music, the memories, the hotel; perhaps all of these are part of some larger metaphor for my own future, my daughters’ future, the future of journalism, and in fact for the future of this country, of all of us.

What does it all mean? I’m not sure. Things don’t turn out as they are supposed to. Yet I hold on to the hope that difficult experiences will lead all of us to ‘quality’.

Both Sides Now of the Road not Taken

How do I go from meeting with people to talk about how my daughters can have the most successful educational experiences possible to a meeting with people to talk about the future of journalism? The easy answer is head south on I-81, throw the Paul Theroux tape in the cassette player and start driving. Yet that only addresses the logistics. As I drove down I-81 listening to stories about Mongolia, I looked out the window and saw cattle standing by the side of the highway with snow covered mountains in the distance. We haven’t had any snow on the ground up in Connecticut, and here I was in Virginia seeing snow in the distance. There was a disconnect between what I was seeing, what I was hearing and what I was thinking.

On the road

Last night, sleep worked hard to evade me. Surrounded by comfortable pillows with the aid of a sleeping pillow, I finally drifted off to a night of strange dreams. My mind has been churning a lot. I am in a hotel in Staunton, Virginia where Mairead, my eldest daughter is currently a junior at Mary Baldwin College. Miranda, my second daughter, is applying here and I will be speaking with various people about the educational goals of both of them. Mary Baldwin has a Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, which is how Mairead, aged 16 is a junior, and why Miranda, aged 13 is now applying.

From here, I will drive down to Memphis for the Journalism that Matters conference and the National Conference on Media Reform. Providing a soundtrack to all of this is Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux, which is the book on tape I’m listening to in the car.

Last night, I stopped at a local bar and grill. I sat at the bar and listened to the regulars chat with the bartender. She was a college student whose classes just started up again today. She spoke about starting her student teaching at a school in some nearby town. On her first day, she spoke with the students about what they had done during the Christmas break. One student spoke about visiting her grandparents in jail. My mind flashed back to Gina, to my resolution on Gather, to my discussions with Miranda about Freedom Writers. Freedom Writers is based on the true story of a teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach California.

My mind wanders the hour drive out of Long Beach up to Malibu where wild fires are currently raging. My wind wanders to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential library about a block from the hotel I am staying in here in Staunton. My mind tosses as I worry about how I will continue to pay my mortgage, or if I’ll be able to sell my house at a reasonable price, let alone how I’ll manage to support two kids in college.

When I left Theroux’s tape, he was settling into a railway car by himself on the trans-Siberian railroad with the staples he bought in Poland; a good setting to write. I’ve always wanted to ride the great railways of the world. I’ve always wanted to write about my travels. I guess that is part of the reason I digress and talk about the student teacher at the bar. That, tied together with a resolution to help people find their voices and the needs to feed and educate my family gives my mind plenty to churn about.

Will I find the best things to do for my daughters’ education? Will I find chances to write? To help others find their voices? Will I find a way to finance all of this? I guess this trip is more than just a physical road trip.

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Why I am canceling Google AdSense

Last Thursday, I received an email from 'Google Adsense' saying:

It has come to our attention that invalid clicks or impressions have been generated on the Google ads on your site(s) through users of third-party programs paid or provided with other incentives to visit your site. Such programs may include, but are not limited to auto-surf, pay-to-surf, pay-to-read, or pay-to-click sites.

I responded:

I do not know of any invalid clicks that have been generated on Google ads for my site. Can you provide me additional information, such as the IP addresses this is occuring from, the time, and any suggestions about how I can prevent this?

Today, I received an email from Google stating:

As you know, Google treats instances of invalid click and impression activity very seriously. As a reminder, we cannot disclose any details about how our monitoring technology works or what specifics we found on your account. However, we can assure you that we have thoroughly re-reviewed your account, and have confirmed that your account violated our program's Terms and Conditions.

The email was from 'The Google AdSense Team' and provided no useful information.

In my response, I noted

It appears as if you are hiding behind the rationale that providing any substantiation of your allegations would make it easier for others to take advantage of you. This rationale is very similar to the one used by the current U.S. Administration for doing away with a thousand years of jurisprudence and our basic civil rights.

I also told them I would stop using AdSense and encourage other bloggers to do the same.

Google is a very large corporation, and over the two and a quarter years that I've used AdSense, I've earned a total of around $70, so my leaving AdSense won't really affect either me or Google.

Yet I do hope that this blog entry causes others to stop and question whether or not Google can or should be trusted as an advertising vendor.

Gathering Voices

On New Year’s Day, I wrote this post about my New Year’s resolution. I cross posted it to Gather.com since the idea really came as a response to a Gather advertisement.

Today, I received an email from Gather saying:

On behalf of the Gather Editorial Team, I am pleased to inform you that your New Year's resolution has been chosen to appear on the Gather home page tomorrow, Monday, January 8, 2007 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET. In addition, you have won a $50 gift card to Borders. Congratulations!

Needless to say, I’m very excited about this. I do hope that a lot of people read my resolution and spend some time thinking about how they can help people around them find their voices.

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