Coming soon to the website! In the meantime, here’s a selection of shots from my recent adventures in Paris. The group included my mother, Patrice Stribling Nelson; stepfather Curtis Nelson; and sister Melanie Caputo. We stayed in an 1830s apartment building within sight of the Eiffel Tower, ate at street cafes and visited Notre Dame Cathedral and the Musee d’Orsay, among many other places.
I enjoyed the French atmosphere and lifestyle, with fresh baguettes and ripe strawberries at street stands within walking distance, experiencing the metro tunnel system and riding a cruise boat along the Seine, and exploring the cultural history of Paris from the opulent Opera de Paris to Shakespeare & Co., bookstore hangout of Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation (and later, Allan Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs of the Beat Generation). My favorite spot was Notre Dame, which unfortunately is still sequestered for renovation from the great fire of 2019. They are on track for reopening the great cathedral in time for the 2024 Olympics.
The view from my garret window.
Chess players outside the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore.
The famous chandelier of the Opera de Paris, featured in novel, movie and stage play The Phantom of the Opera. Looks pretty secure…
Notre Dame Cathedral, behind construction walls.
One of the many gargoyles, some of which were damaged in the fire.
This weekend is Archon, our local con and a delightful return after last year’s cancellation. Many of our familiar faces won’t be there, unfortunately, but I understand the concerns. We share them, of course, but I made the decision a while ago to return to the con circuit and I am very pleased that Archon will be requiring vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours before the show. Masks will be required as well, and we will be taking extra precautions for our room party.
The Literary Underworld will be set up in our usual spot by the door of the dealer’s room, and I hope folks will come by and say hello!
Here’s my schedule, at least as of now:
“That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen!” When your story goes in a different direction than you had planned. Friday 17:00 – 18:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
“The Once and Future Kings” What are some of the best retellings or reimaginings of the King Arthur legends? Friday 20:00 – 21:00, Marquette B (Gateway Center)
Author Reading with Elizabeth Donald, Sela Carsen, and Ryan Dalton Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, Cahokian (Authorquarium) (Gateway Center)
“Editing: My Way or the Highway” You’ve scored a book contract with a major publisher, but they want changes. Editors can’t always be right, can they? Is there a ‘line in the sand’ you just won’t cross? Saturday 14:00 – 15:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
Autograph Session with Sela Carsen and Elizabeth Donald Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, Cahokian (Authorquarium) (Gateway Center)
“Social Media and You: How to Make It Work For You” Want to utilize social media more to promote yourself or business but don’t know how to? Well, let’s help you! Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Salon 4 (Gateway Center)
“Virtual Pros and Cons” During the shutdown, both individual authors and artists, vendors, and conventions attempted to operate virtually. Who did it well, and what flopped? Saturday 20:00 – 21:00, Salon 2 (Gateway Center)
Sunday I have no panels, so you can find me at the booth! We are starting a new benefit, by the way: all Patreon subscribers get 10 percent off at the booth. So if you happen to be there, please do visit!
As I write this, I am beginning my last week of summer “vacation.” That last word has to be in quotation marks, because this summer has hardly felt like a break! Between my freelance work and ducking this bloody virus and managing the circus that is my family, I’ve hardly felt like I was on a break.
However, next week begins an intensive two-week training course in English composition pedagogy, which is academic-speak for “teaching English comp.” This being grad school, the readings actually start this week, and then for most of August I will be training heavily and preparing to start teaching in the last week of the month.
While I’m not (entirely) new to teaching, I am very new to English composition. Little-known Elizabeth fact: I never took English 101 or 102, nor a creative writing class until last year. Back in the ancient days (a.k.a. the 1990s), you could take a test called the CLEP (make your own jokes) and a high enough score let you skip straight to the literature classes. So I CLEPped out of English comp, and thus I have never taken or observed these classes. Whee!
Still, this is an exciting new challenge, compounded by the fact that all my teaching (and learning) this semester will be online, as well as my requiring tutoring for students who are struggling with writing skills. I am very grateful for the privilege to continue working entirely from home, as we all continue to ride out the pandemic and try to keep ourselves and our families safe.
In the meantime, journalism! This month was all about the news, as the folks in Highland kept me hopping. I also had a few essays, although I didn’t put any of them on Medium. I’m still trying to sort out what kind of material is going to be of interest on that site, and what people would like to hear from me.
Of course, the first priority is always to the Patreon, as those good folks fork over perfectly good money every month to read my blatherings. They got a couple of essays this month, as well as a photo travelogue from San Antonio. That’s the second of what will probably be four travelogues on San Antonio, and will eventually be repackaged into a travel piece. You know, in my spare time.
You can always catch my latest work at ElizabethDonaldPhotography.com, and the shop is linked to all images that are available for sale. If you would like a piece customized as a poster or other item, just ask!
We have been informed that Archon has been canceled for 2020, which was disappointing but not a surprise given the mass cancellation of just about every convention, book fair and signing this year. There are a few possibilities left for the holiday season, but odds are strong that every convention and signing will be canceled this year. I hope to see your faces again someday…
Finally, work continues on the novella of doom, which should come out later this fall. I’m delighting in the creep factor of my haunted San Antonio (hey, if I like a city, I’m gonna infest it with monsters) and looking forward to seeing it in “print.” More about that next month, I hope! Many thanks to my awesome editor Rachel Brune, who has displayed uncommon patience with me…
It’s been a wild month to close out a wild year. The first week was consumed with finishing out the semester, writing term papers and grading my students’ projects.
Then I hopped a plane to Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., for my pilgrimage to the now-defunct Newseum and to visit my family. There are many photos and stories to be told there, and Patrons and Medium subscribers will probably see them first. You might consider subscribing! (See, I can be subtle…)
There are also shenanigans afoot. I’m not free to talk about them yet, but suffice to say “busy” doesn’t really cover it.
Toward the end of the month, I took a bit of a break and enjoyed the holiday with my family. I hope you were able to do the same. But now it is a new year, and we must roll up our sleeves and set about achieving the impossible on a daily basis.
I stood outside the Newseum once, but I didn’t go in.
It was May 2015, and my niece had just graduated from high school. My son and I road-tripped across the country to watch her walk across the stage, and for a little mother-son bonding time. We explored Baltimore, which is a city always dear to my heart after living there for a few years as a teenager. I introduced him to Berger cookies (“too chocolatey” – it’s like I barely know him) and the historic sailing ships in the Inner Harbor.
One day, we took the train into Washington D.C. We had just the one day to fit it all in, and we had prioritized. He wanted to see the real Declaration of Independence – one of his favorite movies as a child was National Treasure, and while he was maturely confident that there was no buried treasure map on the back of the Declaration…. well. He wanted to see it.
So we did the National Archives first, and the Museum of American History. We skipped Natural History because the dinosaur exhibit was shut down (and really, to a teenage boy… it’s all about the dinosaurs) and I sadly skipped Air and Space because the U.S.S. Enterprise was in refurbishment. Priorities, man.
We walked the entire length of the mall, past the Museum of African-American History that was still under construction and even then was an amazing sight. We visited the Washington Monument and spied both the Capitol Dome behind its scaffolding and, itty bitty from several blocks away, the White House. He had expressed a desire to visit, but it seems you needed to make reservations through the office of your local Congresscritter, and we had not thought to do so.
Then we walked the rest of the way to the Lincoln Memorial, which was second on his list only to the Declaration of Independence (which was much more faded than the one in the movie, he was sad to note). It was raining by then, and we ended up trapped by Abe’s big foot for a while as the storm drenched the area.
We visited some war memorials, including the Wall. Then we had the long walk back to the train station through the rain, which drenched us enough that it killed his cell phone and my umbrella. It was a very long, exhausting day, but one of the all-time heights of our travels.
The only regret we had was that we didn’t have time to do more museums and historic sites. Washington is lousy with them, it’s true. You could kill a week there and not see everything. But one day was absolutely not enough.
I lingered outside the Newseum for more than a hot minute. I knew there was no way we could add it to our schedule. It was an enormous draw for me, of course, but unlike many of the other sites, it was not free. It would have added $50 to our costs to go in, and money was very tight that year. We wouldn’t have time for more than a short walk around, and really, I was prioritizing his interests.
After all, I’d been to D.C. a few times before when I lived in Baltimore, and he had never been. Also, he is smarter than I am, and has no intention of going into the news business. He wants to make movies and theater. He certainly has absorbed an appreciation for journalism – you can’t be raised by a single mom reporter and not understand the news. But it’s not his thing.
It’s okay, I told myself. We will come to D.C. another time, maybe when my husband can join us, and we’ll see the Newseum then. I’ll drag them both kicking and screaming if I have to, but I’ll see it next time.
Then came the announcement last month, breaking the hearts of thousands of newsnerds. The writing had been on the wall for some time, as the Freedom Forum has struggled to make ends meet at the Newseum’s costly location on Pennsylvania Avenue. Just like me, tourists passed on paying $25 to visit a museum of journalism when there were so many free or nearly-free options around them.
But for me, the announcement was a stab to the heart, especially since so many cretins thought it was hilarious to tie the death of the Newseum to the supposed death of newspapers. I suppose there are actual parallels – people who refuse to pay for something eventually lose it, but a museum is one thing; the loss to the American public as they lose journalists and newspapers is incalculable, and they don’t even realize it.
I kept thinking of that moment, standing outside the Newseum in the rain and wishing for more time, more money. What if I had known it was my only chance, that within a few short years it would be shut down, passed on to Johns Hopkins, and its collection shunted to some warehouse where it will be loaned out to temporary exhibits?
Is this really necessary? I thought. Can’t some billionaire buy them a building somewhere? (Paging Jeff Bezos.) It doesn’t have to be on the mall, it doesn’t have to be a stone’s throw from the White House. I wouldn’t care if it was in Scranton, Pennsylvania or Fresno, California or right here in St. Louis (which, by the way, would be fantastic).
There should be a Newseum, always. There should be a place where we go to remember how important journalism is to our democracy. If news is the first rough draft of history, then can there be anything more important to preserve for our understanding of our own national story?
I found myself moved almost to tears, and finally, I could not stand it any longer.
My semester ends next week. Thanks to the internet, I can work from anywhere with wifi.
I have family in York, Pennsylvania, which is not close to Washington D.C…. but it’s in shouting distance.
This weekend I’m at ContraKC, an adult relax-a-con in Kansas City! I’m delighted to be back at Contra, which is the first convention that honored me as GOH several years ago and the people here have welcomed me as part of their family.
I’m looking forward to good conversation, good booze and BBQ second only to Memphis (sorry, KC, my heart belongs to the Bluff City).
And this will wrap up the Fall Deathmarch, which started way back at Labor Day, spans six states and I don’t want to speculate on the mileage. After this I’m settling back home for a bit, plus or minus a hometown signing in December and a possible trip to Washington D.C. for a photo shoot and visit to the Newseum before it dies.
Thanks to everyone who came out to see me at my various stops, who supported and cheered and bought books and art – especially that latter part, since that’s how I make my living. Extra thanks to my fellow authors and minions, especially my husband and son, Sela Carsen, David Tyler, and anyone else who helped us schlep books all over the midwest.
Touring is a grueling life living out of a suitcase with boxes of books and booze perpetually living in my mudroom so it can be loaded into the car next weekend, but it also has an extraordinary benefit: the chance to meet and talk with so many people who enjoy my work. That is a true blessing, and I am thankful for it.
Every year, I tell myself I’m not going to do it this year. I’m not going to schedule myself into a pretzel every fall and say “yes” to everyone. And then I look at my profit-loss sheet and remember that rent is a thing, and if you write horror and you’re not out and about in the fall, you ain’t workin’.
The first round for the Fall Deathmarch was, of course, Excellence in Journalism. There’s a summary of that excellence conference pending for St. Louis SPJ, but believe me, it was a terrific week and absolutely the first place I’d go if I were job-hunting in media today. Also, San Antonio is a nifty city and I’d love to go back with the family someday.
• Breakfastival of Hope, Glen Carbon, Ill., Sept. 14. Okay, so technically this isn’t a public appearance: I won’t be speaking or signing anything. But those of you who have followed me for a while know that I have lost an inordinate number of friends to cancer, and I am sick of it. I have been a team captain for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life for more than 10 years, and this year the local Relay has opted to do a daytime food festival instead of the traditional all-night walk. So look for me and the St. Andrew’s team at the photo booth, where you’ll be able to ham it up as a superhero or Disney character.
• SPJ Student Journalist Boot Camp, SIUE, Sept. 21. This is one of the best programs we do at St. Louis SPJ: we put together a small group of student journalists with working professionals in the area and help them learn a bit about how the job is done today. I’ll be conducting the session on ethics and generally herding the cats.
• Writers of the Riverbend, Alton, Ill., Sept. 27. This is at Maeva’s coffeehouse in Alton, and I’ve been attending as long as they’ve been running it. Books will be on hand; I may or may not bring art to this one depending on space. But if you’re planning to attend and would like a specific piece, please let me know and I’ll be sure to have it on hand!
• Archon, Collinsville, Ill., Oct. 4-6. Always a highlight of the year, Archon is our hometown convention and we will be there in force! The Literary Underworld will have its usual table just outside the dealer’s room, and we will bring the Traveling Bar to the Doubletree, so be sure to come by and say hello!
• Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky., Oct. 11-12. Who tries to do two major cons back to back? Crazy people who don’t sleep. Imaginarium is a terrific convention, more of a writers’ workshop crossed with a film festival and a ton of fun. Literary Underworld will once again have a table in the dealer’s room and run the Traveling Bar, and I’ll be presenting on a number of topics, including a two-hour workshop on the business of writing.
• Leclaire Parkfest, Edwardsville, Ill., Oct. 20. This is another fundraiser I run for the American Cancer Society: Used books for sale during Leclaire Parkfest, which is a nifty little festival celebrating the history and culture of the Leclaire village. Don’t look for it on a map: it was annexed into the city of Edwardsville many decades ago, but I’ve lived here since 2012 and I absolutely adore Parkfest. Look for us under the pavilion on the far side of the lake, and pick up some books while you’re there!
• Grownup Book Fair, St. James, Mo., Oct. 26. I’ve never been to this one, so I can’t say how it goes! But I’ll be there with books and art.
• St. Andrew’s Book Sale, Edwardsville, Ill., Nov. 1-3. No signing or speaking, just volunteering … but if you love books, you should check out this sale. Books start at 50c, and cover all topics imaginable. It’s a terrific way to get a jump on your holiday shopping.
• ContraKC, Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 8-10. This is a small, adults-only convention in KC, and I’m happy to be back after having to miss it for several years up to last year.
And… then I get a break! Whee! Until, of course, the holiday markets start up. And we won’t talk about research and term papers and my students and Ye Olde Thesis. (Send chocolate and booze, please.)
So I hope to see you characters while I’m out on the road (which is, y’know, pretty much the only way anyone’s going to get to see me!) Who needs sleep?
First, I’m delighted to report that one of my images will be on permanent display in the Ellisville (Mo.) City Hall. It’s “Pigeon of New York,” found here (second photo from the top). It was in their temporary Behind the Lens photography show, and apparently they really liked it!
The annual ebook for my lovely Patrons was finally completed and emailed to all current Patreon subscribers, and I thank you for your patience. Anyone who subscribes to the Patreon this month is also going to get the ebook as a welcome gift. I remain exceedingly grateful for the Patrons, whose generosity allows me to rely on steady income through the sleighride of these two years in school.
The fall semester kicked off in August, and heaven knows that’s going to swallow my life! One of my classes is on anti-media rhetoric, so that should be an interesting theme to my blogging this fall. I’m doing an independent study on the philosophical aspects of media ethics, and of course, I begin work on Ye Olde Thesis. Thoughts and prayers.
And now, to this month’s work! Or at least that which was published this month…
I’m off to San Antonio later this week for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference, where I am honored to represent St. Louis Pro to the important business of the Society of Professional Journalists. I will be meeting with my colleagues on the national ethics committee, and skulking about the panels on issues ranging from freelance survival to the ethics of covering suicide. I hope to get free long enough to get some nifty photos and possibly develop a travelogue on San Antonio, which is a new city for me.
I’ll be live-tweeting the conference at @edonaldmedia, so if you do the Twitter, feel free to follow me there if you really want to hear all about the things we journalists do when we’re away from adult supervision. It’s going to be 101 in the shade while I’m there, so whatever’s left of me will be reporting back next week!
I am happy to report that my sort-of first academic conference went well, in that I completed my presentation and no one threw anything at me or shouted “Heretic!” and tried to chase me from the building. My barometer for “went well” might be a little low, but remember, I work in the news business.
Technically my first academic conference was the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity, where I spoke about the 2014 project to rewrite and update the SPJ Code of Ethics a couple of years ago. I was a bundle of nerves there as well, but I was not presenting original research; merely reporting on a process in which I was part, and with extensive assistance from then-chairman Andrew Seaman and former chairman Kevin Smith.
The conference took place the first weekend of March at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., which is just south of Oklahoma City. I flew down on Feb. 28 and took the afternoon to look around Oklahoma City before settling in to be all academic and stuff.
This is the first academic conference where I was presenting my own research, and as my friends and colleagues know, my research last semester was wrought with blood and tears, so I was more than a little uneasy about the presentation.
But no moreso than my traveling companions, both of whom are my fellow first-year masters students and at least twenty years younger than I, the younglings.
I’m glad to report that AEJMC is a fairly low-key and welcoming conference, with three or four presentations per hour in small rooms with receptive audiences. Following the presentations, there is a respondent (who apparently was tasked with reading all the papers) who gives initial feedback, then questions and comments from the audience.
The respondent for my session could not make it, which was both a disappointment and a relief – I hope for real feedback, but I’d be just as happy not to get it in front of a live studio audience. I’m shy.
I attended many other sessions as well, and got a sense of what kind of research is taking place on the academic side of the field. This is different than the usual trade conferences I attend (and certainly different than the pop culture cons).
The trade conferences tend to be focused on practical applications, career advice, recounting of methods and approaches, and other how-to’s for performing and promoting journalism.
At the pop culture cons, there’s usually people in costume. This was not present at AEJMC.
Here are some of the research projects I heard presented:
• A game-based intervention on adults for media literacy did not yield the expected results, but showed promise for refinement in helping to promote the ability to discern fact from fiction in news content.
Note: The more education one has, the more one interacts with text and the more time you spend on content, the more likely you are to be able to discern fact from fiction and resist manipulation. Yet another nail in the coffin of “not everyone needs an education,” in my opinion.
As one person in the audience suggested, it is high time universities considered mothballing the old-fashioned “speech” class requirement in favor of intro to media or media literacy for all undergrads. Not every professional adult is going to give speeches in their work life, but everyone will need media literacy going forward. Food for thought.
• Along that line of thought, West Texas A&M University developed a service learning model for media literacy. Freshman students went through a five-week training course in media literacy, then went into the area high schools and taught the principles of media literacy to high-schoolers. The high schools want to incorporate it into their curriculum, but are swamped with mandates and limited on time and resources.
The program emphasized the importance of balance and fairness, evaluating sources, internet censorship, citizen journalism around the world, the impact of social media, and more. Then by teaching it to younger kids, the students learn better themselves.
Note: The program focused on finding a middle ground between championing journalism’s goals and successes, and dwelling endlessly on our errors and doom-and-gloom challenges. Teaching young people that all media is suspect, that journalism is dead and everyone online is awful does not help foster the next generation’s ability to navigate the media landscape or build a better one.
Or, as one speaker put it, a critical look at mass media should not turn into a conspiracy-theory cynicism that serves only to further tear down the profession and the industry.
• An examination of automated journalism in China. There have been previous studies of this, but focused only on such news in English. What is automated journalism? Apparently, news stories that are aggregated by algorithm, with no humans involved.
This is a beast heretofore unknown to me. The creation of aggregate stories alone was a bit of a shock to me a few years ago, when it tore down the age-old prohibitions on citing and linking our competitors’ work by compiling “stories” with links and citations to other news organizations. But at least those stories still have a living, trained journalist doing the compiling and evaluating the sources’ veracity. This is the closest thing I’ve seen yet to replacing journalists with robots.
It’s safe to say I’m not a fan.
Fortunately, the study found that readability and expertise rated higher for human-written news than automated, although for some reason readers rated credibility marginally lower for humans than machines. If you want to read more about Robby the Robot Journalist, Emerj did a piece on news by A.I. in January.
• Research on health podcasts found that doctors and people who have been personally diagnosed with an illness carried much higher credibility with podcast listeners than hearing the same information from a podcast host who did not have medical credentials. It also had a higher impact on health behaviors, and a higher interest in downloading and following the podcast in the future.
Another podcast study focused on commercials: the average is 5.1 commercials per podcast in the top 100 iTunes-distributed podcasts, up from 2.4 a decade ago. About 31 percent were sponsorships, and 87 percent directly or indirectly related to the subject of the podcast.
• This one will not please my teenage son: While 71 percent of Americans age 18-24 are habitual Instagram users, as much as 25 percent would qualify as “problematic users.” Social media addiction is a real, trackable thing, folks.
The addictive gratifications of compulsive Instagram use rival those obtained by food, sleep and sex, though they do not have a classification as a mental disorder (yet). They defined it as a state of unconscious activity, of compulsive use with multiple gratifications. I am probably mangling this definition, but it was an interesting study.
• In popular culture, there were examinations of Mad Men as a paradoxical feminist text, the portrayal of bisexuality on CW shows, the representation of Asian Indians in American film over the last 10 years, and the Kardashians’ impact on awareness of the Armenian genocide.
Don’t laugh. I didn’t know either, but they’re an Armenian episode and have apparently made a significant impact in advocacy for genocide victims and awareness of Armenian culture in exile. Who knew?
Also, the average CW viewer watches eight hours of TV a day. When do they work or sleep?
My colleague Rahul Menon did the Indian film study, and found an increasing number of positive portrayals of Asian Indians as hardworking, funny and helpful, though still fewer than half are actually portrayed by Indian actors.
Finally, there was a study on the impact that popular culture can have on people’s perceptions of mental illness. Specifically, they studied Batman and Beyonce, focusing on an article about Beyonce’s struggle with depression and Batman knocking the hell out of someone who said bad things about someone with mental illness. I’m paraphrasing, because this is already a long blog post, but it was an interesting study from the University of Missouri.
The answer is: yes, it makes a difference – but the study itself didn’t quite bear that out. Popular culture changes opinions, which sounds like a DUH, but in academia you need research and statistics to back up the things that should seem obvious, because sometimes it’s not. The “parasocial relationship,” which is academic-speak for our ability to identify with a fictional character, is key to whether the popular culture icon can shift personal opinion in real life. In short, mental health stigma can be reduced if it is responsibly discussed in media, but the message and the media matter.
Also: More than 80 percent of the audience was familiar with Beyonce. Only 69 percent were familiar with Batman. What?
This is a quick-and-dirty rundown on two days of research discussion, and apologies if I have mangled anyone’s research. I was honored to be there with my little study on journalists’ portrayal in film, and gained some ideas and feedback for my continuing research as I proceed into … wait for it … my thesis. But more on that next year!
Note: I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial while I was in town. A narration and photo array will be pending on the Patreon.
The journalism part of my trip to Baltimore will be rightfully chronicled at stlspj.org, as I was there on behalf of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists.
But I never go anywhere without my camera in hand, and I shot in the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, and Westminster Cemetery, the resting place of Edgar Allan Poe.
The Aquarium was my first real attempt at shooting living things, as I’ve rarely done portrait photography and never tried shooting wild animals. I have so much to learn about photography – every time I think I’ve really got this thing down, a shark turns the corner and reminds me that I have no idea what I’m doing.
It’s frustrating as hell, but it is also exciting: new things to learn, new skills to master, and I get to see pretty things while I’m doing it.
Or, y’know, scary things.
Do you want more? The full photo arrays and travelogue will be on the Patreon, so subscribe here if you’d like to see the cognac on Poe’s grave, swim with the sharks and find Nemo. More and more of my writing and photography is going directly to the Patreon, so I do hope you’ll sign up.