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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Random bits of this and that

I have to confess that I've spent little time on the blog this weekend. Between yard work, house cleaning (in-laws visiting in a week), and wrapping up another section of my non-fiction book, I've been swamped.

Right now I'm stretched out like Gumby in "my" chair, with a cold Presidente next to me, my dog laying at my feet, and a South Park re-run on - the one about Chef's salty chocolate "cookies."

I'm not experiencing any deep thoughts and that feels good. In fact, the heaviest thing on my mind is how to get the faint poop smell off of my hands. No worries, no "accidents." I just decided to use a new hippie fertilizer on my lawn that's comprised of just a smidgen of the usual chemicals and mostly of "natural" ingredients. That's what the giant bag said. Of course, I didn't think about what the natural ingredients might be before I spread hands full of the stuff over the barren parts of my lawn. I swear it's like the chemicals caused the natural stuff to bond to my hands. If my 20th hand-washing hasn't worked by morning I may try tomato juice. It supposedly works for skunks.

My biggest quandary is whether to wear jeans and a blazer or a suit to work tomorrow. I don't want any crap from the straight guys. Fellas, there ain't no shame in dressing to the nines. Just make it look like you, not like something you pulled piece for piece off a mannequin.

Along the lines of my sleepless monkey beard night from last week, the funniest thing I saw in the Sunday comics today was this "Opus" strip.

I have a relatively new neighbor with kids, three I think, and they look to be between the ages of five and maybe 11. A couple of nights a week - sometimes on week (school) nights - they're up really late, playing outside. I'm talking after 11 p.m. late. Otherwise they appear to be healthy, happy kids. It's none of my business, I know. But the late nights bug me.

Proof that stardom in the entertainment world is just one random discovery away from all highly talented people: 19-year-old Robyn Troup, an unknown Houstonian who was chosen to perform with Justin Timberlake at the Grammy's tonight for the "My Grammy Moment" promo gimmick. She was good. I was impressed anyway. Who needs eight or 10 weeks on American Idol when you can get put on blast, as the kids say, in a matter of minutes on national television?

I was doing some Googling earlier, looking for a copy of an old article of mine that I couldn't find in the online archives of my old newspaper, and I stumbled across the one incident I'm aware of in which I was ever sort of ripped off. I suppose I could be flattered. You know that whole thing about imitation and flattery. But I wasn't flattered then. This time I laughed when I saw the article. But several years ago I was really annoyed. Here's the deal. Most newspapers (and TV and radio stations for that matter) buy into news wire services by which articles from other papers are placed on the wire and made available to everyone else for a fee. So if you write a story whose scope goes beyond the city where you live it's not uncommon for another newspaper in another city to buy your article and run it in their paper too. I won't deny it's a very cool feeling to get a call or an email from a friend in say Dallas, or D.C. or Chicago, or Denver, because they picked up their home town paper and saw a story with your name on it. Sometimes when papers buy your story they'll localize it. They'll have one of their reporters do a local interview for a local angle and add a sentence or a paragraph or two to make the story fit their area better. And that's all normal. Usually when that happens your name still runs at the top of the article along with the name of your newspaper, so people know who did the heavy lifting and where they did it. That's called the byline, if you didn't know. And the paper that bought reprinting rights to the story will add their reporter's name in italics at the end of the story and say something like Daily Globe Staff Writer John Doe contributed to this article. That's called a tag line. So anyway the story in question was one I did in the spring about three or four years ago. It was a look at dating and mating rituals of the perpetually single. It was funny, I think. I questioned relationship experts and then had three local singles tell me their worst dating experience. And I had the experts analyze each adventure. A couple of months later a friend in another big Midwestern city emailed me to say they saw my article. Yes, I was tickled. So I went to the Web site of that city's newspaper. And there was my story...but with a few changes. My three dating nightmares had been replaced with three singles from that city. It amounted to about 1/5th of the total length of the article. Otherwise, it was word for word what I had written, down to the jokes and anecdotes from the experts. Their reporter even used the expert analysis from my three daters verbatim. Here's the kicker: at the top of the story there were two bylines, one for their reporter who had changed a very small fraction of my story followed by my byline - the suggestion being I had written "less" of the story, when I had actually written pretty much all of it. One of my bosses called that paper and confronted one of their bosses. They gave a lame, stammering excuse for the deceptive shared byline. What a rip. That's OK. They know who they are and how they handled my material. It's all good.

OK, I'm done rambling. BTW, "Ask James Anything" was a blast. So we'll do it again next Friday if you guys are up for it. But give me some tougher questions next time ;-)

Till tomorrow, I'm outta here like Don Cornelius.

Peace and hair grease, my friends.

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  • gosh James.. that doesn't improve my opinion of or faith in reporting/news etc.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 1:47 AM  

  • I have an uncle who used to take jokes he'd hear from family and repeat them to others. Trouble was, he'd butcher the joke so badly, the punch line would make no sense at all. Polite people would chuckle a bit and move on, but some folks would ask, incredulously, "Where did you hear THAT one?!?" "Oh, my NEPHEW told me that!" he'd say proudly. I took him aside one day and said, "Uncle Bob, next time you tell a joke you heard from me, go ahead and tell them you thought of it yourself."

    "Really? Thanks!"

    By Anonymous The Sarcasticynic, at 6:58 AM  

  • I use a hippie fertilizer too. It's made out of fish. My hands don't smell good either.

    By Blogger mist1, at 8:16 AM  

  • Wash your hands, James.

    By Blogger Matt, at 8:54 AM  

  • I love 'South Park.' I know I'm not supposed to, but I absolutely adore that show.

    "You are dead to me, Ky-yul."

    By Blogger SWF41, at 9:12 AM  

  • Oh James ... When you use that hippie fertilizer be sure to wear some of those surgical type gloves cause it's got doo-doo in it.

    Yeah ... too late huh? Oh well, your experience is a warning to others.

    I was surprised how good that girl on the Grammys was. But, I can't decide if it's because she was really good or because I had such low expectations. She sure was cute though.

    I bet it was much easier for reporters from small town newspapers to "steal" other people's stuff back before Google changed the world.

    By Blogger Jay, at 9:47 AM  

  • OMG, I LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE me some Opus. Thanks for the hook-up, James. I have like 5 older books that I re-read occasionally.

    BTW - sharp dressed men are super hot. Remember that.

    By Blogger Christina_the_wench, at 10:33 AM  

  • Someone buy this man a pair of gardening gloves!

    I know this doesn't qualify as being ripped off in the least, but I was always simultaneously frustrated and flattered when the AP would pick up one of my stories... cut it down to 1/2 its size, tweak the meaning... and then take my name off of it.

    "That's mine, Mom, I swear! The one with the 'AP' byline..."

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 11:01 AM  

  • I can sing a mean redition of Chef's "Chocolate salty balls"

    It's always a favorite at the Karaoke joint.

    As for them mucking up your article, it sounds like laziness.

    Not too cool of that newspaper.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 12:43 PM  

  • Oh Pamela, I'm sorry. I didn't want to shake anyone's faith further. Truth is there is a great check and balance system in place. But occasionally someone or some organization bends or breaks the rules. Not condoning that, but consider this analogy: Every time we find that an individual police officer has gone bad we don't immediately worry that over all local laws aren't being properly enforced. We recognize the bad cop for what he is and exercise faith that the rest of 'em are managing the application of the law the way it was meant to be. Same w/us.

    Sarc, that is pretty funny. I suppose if anyone ever butchered one of my stories I'd beg 'em to take my name off of it.

    Mist1, fish fertilizer? Seriously. I may have to try it. I swear I have a couple of patches in my front yard that are mocking me. Nothing will grow on them. I want to do like Homer Simpson and stick a plutonium rod in my yard. Bet it'll turn green then.

    Matt, I'm washin'. I'm washin'. But actually I washed so much last night and this morning my hands smell fresh and clean again.

    SWF41, that episode you're quoting was one of the funniest ever, I think. Wasn't that the one where Cartman becomes Dog, the Bounty Hunter/Hallway Monitor?

    Jay, I have definitely learned my lesson. Gloves from now on. But like I told Matt, the good news is after nearly scrubbing my skin off a couple more times last night and this morning, my hands no longer stink. Oh, and I feel ya with the "My Grammy Moment" girl. I couldn't decide if she was a great singer or if she sounded good 'cause I didn't expect her too. I think she was good. And you're right, cute too. And only 19, she's got a potentially big singing career ahead of her. And Google definitely changed the world. I can't tell you how many plagiarists I've read were caught after some writer or some editor accidentally tripped across pieces of their work with someone else's name on top.

    Christina, I've been an Opus fan forever. But I don't have any of the books. I've got a bunch of old Far Side collection books.

    ThirdWorst, that really is the most annoying feeling in the world, seeing your story chopped and cropped by a wire service just enought that they take your name off of it. Sort of takes some of the wind out of your sails.

    Hammer, it was laziness. Had to be. I know as a reporter with a tiny fraction of pride left I wouldn't want to just fill in a few tiny blanks in some other writer's story and put my name on it. Wouldn't feel right. I've been presented with similar situations and told editors I'd prefer, time permitting, to start from scratch and write my own version.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:53 PM  

  • I'm gonna say you should go with jeans...

    Get crazy. ;)


    By Blogger Steven Novak, at 2:15 PM  

  • JB - yep, same one. I was rolling, and telling myself the whole time 'this is not funny! this is not funny!'

    I heard "Afternoon Delight" on the radio a couple of weeks ago and got the giggles again.

    Sick. Sick, I tell ya. :-)

    By Blogger SWF41, at 3:10 PM  

  • I only had a minute to check your blog this morning, and DANG-IT if I wasn't singing, "Put 'em in your mouth and suck 'em!" ALL DAY.

    Now you've posted again, you ribald poster, you!

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 9:32 PM  

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