Tag Archives: free lance writers

Chautauqua Series at St Kate’s Tackles Ideas that Tickle the Mind

Come August, the human brain starts drifting off course – it needs some exercise, some fun, some attention!  Give your frazzled mind a break by letting it dip into the deep well of learning opportunities that will burst forth during the ten days of the Summer Chautauqua on the lush green campus of St. Catherine University.

Thoughts of the Chautauqua conjure images of sunshine, leisurely learning for the sake of learning itself, and spending time with others who share the delight of marinating in new ideas.

The SCY Chautauqua series begins with a grand kick-off on Wednesday, August 3, 7:00-9:00 at Coeur de Catherine, aka the student union.  All are welcome (adults $10, children $5) for a gala celebration of summer and learning.  Musicians of the Irish ensemble Barra with dance caller Ann Wiberg will host a ceili, a traditional Irish gathering focused on fun (see, you’ve already learned a new word….)

Let the learning begin!  Need a techno update?  There’s a class on working magic with your digital camera, or another on staying sane with social media or a session on the future of the book (which no doubt includes a touch of technology…)  Or is Poetry in the Parlor more your style?  Acquaint – or reacquaint — yourself with the work of Mary Virginia Micka or Cass Dalglish.  If you are the writer, Elaine Weimar Wagner and Mary Desjarlais will explore their experiences in a session called I Got My Book Published, You Can Too.

Are your social concerns in need of an informed airing?  Try Racism in Minnesota or a session on youth bullying or Genocide and Our Response or a session on Pakistan offered by Nancy Parlin.  Explore the resources of the CSU campus (Ade Bethune: Beyond the Catholic Worker or a session on the Artwork of SCU) or of the area (An Insider’s Look into the St. Paul Union Depot Restoration Project.)  There are sessions on health and nutrition, golf and Zomba fitness, a short golf game clinic and a Latino spin with sessions on the Argentine tango and salsa (the dance, not the sauce.)  Joan Mitchell will talk about Women of the Bible and Vera Chester will explore the topic of Asian Wisdom for Aging Minnesotans.

Some sessions, including a series of podcasts and the Poetry in the Parlor readings) are free.  Others are low-cost ($20 for a single class down to $12 for 8+ classes.)

All of the details about the Chautauqua series – schedule, registration form (pre-reg required), parking, map and more) are available on the web , call 651 690 6666 or email alumnae@stkate.edu.

So, give your mind a chance to flex its considerable muscles with a fresh take on a new topic or a chance to polish the sheen on some of those stray thoughts that flit past on a summer day!  You’ll find ideas, fresh air, flowers and friends waiting for you on the SCU campus in early August.

Does poetry matter — really? how?

Once again the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center takes on an imponderable.  The Great American Think-Off topic for 2011 is “Does Poetry Matter?”

To this English major the answer seems obvious – till one thinks deep.

Guidelines note that “judges are looking for essays that address the value and usefulness of poetry by speaking about personal experience rather than abstract philosophical reasoning.”  Ah, there’s the rub.

The contest involves far more thinking than paper work.  Submit an essay of 750 words or fewer by April 1 – send the essay by email, USPS or online.  No admission fee and a financial incentive of $500 cash plus travel and lodging to/in New York Mills for four finalist essay winners who will be invited to participate in the final debate in June.

The winter of 2011 offers an irresistible opportunity think deep and long.  Poetry seems like a most worthy topic for cogitation.

Though there are lots of details on the competition past and present on The Great American Think-Off website,  don’t let the prose distract you – focus like the proverbial laser on the theme!

Here Comes Peter! The Magnificent Peter Shea

Writing about Peter Shea, his quietly amazing projects and his magnificent mind, is no easy task.  As my then-young son once observed, Peter is just so “Peter-ish.”  Any profile illuminates but a single facet of a multi-faceted man of ideas.

For example, if you have to ask “Why the Bat of Minerva”? then you probably don’t know Peter Shea – yet.   The Bat is Peter’s long-running cable show (15 years plus – Peter’s not so sure of the inaugural date.) is a midnight Saturday and Sunday night regular on Metro Cable Network/Channel 6 in the Twin Cities.  Peter says that the format, in which a disembodied Peter poses questions from off-camera “allows me, a shy person, to have conversations I want to have and to pursue lines of inquiry with real people rather than with books and articles. …and it does some diffuse good for the community, in several dimensions: providing a model of civil, extended conversation, giving people ideas about the lives they could live, getting ideas and ways of working into circulation, helping bright and under-exercised people realize what kinds of challenging work are available to them.”

Over the years the soft-spoken Peter has posed thought-provoking queries to scores of famous scholars, authors, scientists, Americans on the rise, global leaders.  In recent times the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota has archived The Bat so the hour-long interviews are streamed for those who missed the midnight premiere. A sampling of recent interviews suggests the breadth and tone of Peter’s guests:

  • October 6, 2010 – Juliet Schor, a professor of Sociology at Boston College where her research focuses on trends in work and leisure, consumerism, the family, and economic justice. Most recently she is the author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010),
  • September 29, 2010 – Mike Tidwell, author of Bayou Farewell and founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
  • August 30, 2010 – Rob Gilmer, a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at the University of Minnesota. In the fall of 2010, he will be teaching Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010, a course which has garnered national attention.
  • August 20, 2010 – Paul Barclay, a professor of History at Lafayette College where his research interests include Japanese empire, especially in Taiwan, frontier studies, and the use of images as historical documents or instruments of ideology.
  • August 15, 2010 – Ann Waltner, a professor in both the Department of History and the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures and director of the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, talks about Matteo Ricci’s 1602 map of the world, recently acquired by the James Ford Bell Library.
  • August 5-15, 2010 – Minnesota Fringe Festival

Though these are the most recent, the full list of interviews over the years is astounding – Eugene McCarthy, John Davis, Rosalie Wahl are among Peter’s favorites. He also mentions  Maja Cerar (violinist), Carolyn Walker Bynum (medievalist), Morton Subotnik (composer), Andrew Light (environmental ethicist) and Ann Sharp (educator).  The Bat website lists the boundless and boundary-less library of videos Peter has produced since the early days of The Bat when Peter’s two sons (now grown) ran the cameras and, Peter hopes, “got some of the message.” Peter, who allows he’s not much into numbers, produces some impressive ones, e.g. some 82,000 visits  to the IAS website and nearly 10,000 video views since Fall 2008.

True to form, Peter has plans.  One big plan is just unfolding.  In a new series entitled Meet the Neighbors Peter, who also works with Shalom Hill Farm near Windom,  has begun interviewing members of the rural community for cablecast on community cable then archived in a blog.  He’s also been asked by the U of M Department of English to profile all willing faculty – of course he’d like to expand that to other departments.  In general, Peter hopes to produce “rich and coherent archives.”  He cites, for example, “a fine collection of interviews from the Spark Festival of Electronic Music” and a “small but growing collection of interviews done in connection with the Minnesota Fringe Festival.”  One oral history project underway, documentation of the history of the philosophy for children movement.  High on the list of Peter’s current enthusiasms is collaboration on expanding access to  the lectures from “Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010” a U of Minnesota course which IAS is providing online through the Bat.

Peter’s hopes for a bright technology future include great confidence in the future of cable, primarily because “the standard media have messed up fine productions with commercial interruption and commercial packaging to an extent that seems to me suicidal.”  At the same time, equipment is improving and coming down in cost so that “normal people with normal time resources can do interesting niche programming, and the shortcomings will be more than compensated by the lack of commercial distortion and the freshness and immediacy of low to the ground production.”  This offers unique possibilities for rural Minnesotans, Peter expects.  Other dreams include visions of easy archiving and repackaging, Internet 2, and every viewer both a producer of control of his or her own access options.

Learn more about Peter’s background, plans, persona and style by watching an interview archived on the IAS site.

You will never keep up with Peter’s fertile mind and high hopes – to keep abreast of the tangible products, watch the Bat of Minerva website or tune in to Channel 6 at midnight on any Saturday or Sunday.

Patch on the Move

Sooner rather than later AOL’s Patch is making mighty leaps in this direction.  Just as the company is launching its 100th site, Patch, the hyper-local web-based news machine, will start showing up in an additional 500 communities this year.  AOL’s strategy is to restructure as a destination for a range of hyper-local content.

Reuters reports that Jon Brod, executive VP for AOL Local and a Patch founder, anticipates that, as legacy media falters there is chasm of quality information at the community level.  According to ReutersPatch is just one part of AOL’s content offering, which also includes Seed, a platform that relies on user-generated material on popular topics, and several popular topic-specific sites like Engadget, which is dedicated to consumer electronics and tech gadgets.”

As noted in a previous blog, keep an eye on Patch – and its siblings — no doubt coming soon to your community, especially if you live in an upper-income burb.

My earlier Patch post

Milling for advertisers’ attention

Content mill (aka content farm) is a metaphor rife with image possibilities – there are content millers, grist for the content mill, and, most challenging, the concept of winnowing the wheat from the chaff. The content mill itself is a handy term for an industry that is either the bane of journalists and searchers – or a job for free lance writers.

By loose definition, a content mill is a business that pays people low sums to acquire massive amounts of Web content. The content is entirely geared to the voracious search engine – the name of the game is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The strategy is to pitch the content to the advertiser. It’s all about volume. Quick and dirty content on hot topics amounts to ad revenue for the site, though not for the hapless scribe.

Still, the reality of the day is that there are squadrons of unemployed or underemployed writers for whom the lure of writing for content mills is irresistible. For writers it’s a paycheck more than a moral commitment to corporate aggrandizement. Kimberly Ben, who manages the Avid-writerblogspot summarizes the pluses for writers:
1) writing for content mills is less stressful, 2) [writers] don’t have to spend time marketing for private clients, 3) writers can put more focus on writing for themselves, and 4) you can crank out several articles quickly. Hard for the starving artist to resist the lure.

Implicit as the influence of the content mill may be, the industry is neither a benign nor welcome contributor to the blogosphere. Major content generators, particularly Demand Media, Associated Content and AOL, have been grinding out a fine mix of wheat and chaff for some time. Experienced web searchers have been agitated, aggravated and downright grumpy about the pollution of web content for ages. Still, the tipping point seems to be Spring 2010 when financially troubled Yahoo acquired mass content producer Associated Content.

A host of vested interests hoisted a digital red flag.

At this writing, these interests are coalescing. A recent player, the Internet Content Syndication Council, represents some major content generators including Reuters and The Tribune Company. ICSC is circulating a document that lays out a framework for a position paper on online content syndication. Addressing the inclusion of milled content, that document reads “to counter this threat, the Internet Content Syndication Council believes the time has come to start an industry discussion about the best way to preserve standards of quality for informational content.” There’s talk about modifying the Google algorithm to consider the factor of quality – what a concept!

The stalwarts who still care about quality of information – and who eschew digital garbage – welcome any discussion of quality. One can only hope that advertisers will see the light. It could be that a united nudge from the public could make a different at this juncture when the winnowing process is in motion.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they do grind exceeding small.