Be a person, not a bot: don’t cheapen your social media network with garbage-like invites

“Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land

I feel like a number
I’m not a number
I’m not a number

Dammit I’m a man
I said I’m a man.”
-Bob Seger

Those lyrics come at the end of “Feel Like A Number,” from the 1978 album, Stranger in Town. It chronicles the alienation that comes from being just another “spoke in the wheel” of some monolithic entity.

Don’t add garbage to someone’s in-box — it’s already overflowing with unwanted stuff

However, with disturbing frequency, it is the feeling that arises at least once a week when I receive a LinkedIn invitation from someone. The pattern isn’t slowing down, either, even though a growing number of people have had more time to adjust to this social media space and come to their senses.

It’s time, then, to issue another plea for common interpersonal sense. If you are prone to inviting people to link-in with you, based solely on words on a screen and not any real-life flesh-and-blood interaction, then this is especially intended for you: stop cheapening your social network by inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry who has some remote tie-in to you (such as the fact that you both reside on planet Earth.)

Each time you issue an impersonal, shot-in-the-dark LinkedIn invitation, you are contributing to the overflow of garbage in the world. You are also revealing some damaging details about yourself. It’s lazy, it’s presumptuous and it positions you as a LinkedIn lemming–a follower (of all the others committing this sloppiness) and not a leader.

When you meet someone, preferably in person but possibly otherwise, that’s the time when you should consider connecting on LinkedIn. As you do so, give context and briefly state how you see such a connection serving both parties. Consider writing a recommendation shortly later, to cement the relationship and add value.

If you find yourself with hundreds of connections, but hardly anyone for whom you could write a recommendation, then that’s a red flag.

Conversely, being able–and willing–to craft recommendations results in value that flows not only to the people you recommend, but yourself. After all, your connections’ networks are more apt to read the relatively tiny number of recommendations your common connections have received than wading through the long list of connections they have amassed.

So, a parting public relations and marketing tip for you as you consider your own version of You, Inc.: when you remember to treat people like individuals, not another spoke in some expanding wheel of superficial contacts, you build up the quality of your relationships.

And in a world where it doesn’t take much to have quantity on the surface, it’s the depth of your quality relationships that will serve you much more in the long run.

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From ‘Return to Me’ to ‘A Beer With Baron,’ creating a scene is a marvelous, meticulous art

Twenty summers ago, on a warm mid-July night, my wife, Bridgett, and I ambled out of a Chicago bar.

Sauntering toward the corner, we passed an older gentleman sweeping the sidewalk. On the fire escape directly above us, a woman gazed at us with a deep melancholy. And all around were scores of people, each playing their part in this moment.

Then, we did it again…and again…and again–at least a dozen times in all.

You can see the last portion of how it looked, almost exactly one hour into “Return to Me,” a sweet, heart-string-tugging movie directed by Bonnie Hunt and made possible by a crew that shot at the Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern in the Old Town neighborhood

 

The sweeping man (who appears a few moments before this clip begins) is Carroll O’Connor, the actor best known for his role as Archie Bunker in the 1970s hit series “All in the Family.” The woman on the fire escape: actress Minnie Driver, playing the film’s lovelorn female lead.

The scene lasted for all of 20 seconds, but it took at least a half-hour to secure all the angles and options that Hunt sought. It was a meticulous process that turned these mundane moments into something marvelous. The scene concluded as Bridgett and I kissed at the edge of the crosswalk, Driver peering down wistfully. For this point in the scene, I asked Hunt in jest: “What’s my motivation?”

“Not to sleep on the couch tonight,” came the reply from Hunt, who knew my wife through her role as the movie’s payroll accountant.. (Our extra moment was an impromptu happening, after we visited the set during a date and one thing led to another.)

More recently, on a cold November afternoon, I forged a recurring relationship with a bar door–and deepened a partnership with another director, Joe Kreml, who is every bit as dedicated to his craft as Bonnie Hunt is to hers. This time, I walked up to it (multiple times), reached for its handle (repeatedly), then proceeded through it (time and again). The occasion was filming a new introduction to “A Beer With Baron,” my talk show for the Village of Oak Park’s Channel 6.

One of many takes of the One Lake coasters.

After 10 episodes at The Beer Shop in Downtown Oak Park, Kreml, Oak Park’s video manager, and I agreed the time was right for a change–to the very eastern border of the community, where One Lake Brewing opened in May.

Kreml and I have collaborated on video projects for over 10 years, dating back to my super-heroic turn as “Super Shopper Spotter,” a role that I imagined to turn a “shop local” campaign from a tedious slog to a fun, instant-gratification exercise in customer rewards. While I concocted the campaign’s campy framework, complete with a garish costume that included a bright red cape, Kreml took it to another level with an outstanding, outlandish commercial that highlighted his creative mind.

Last week, once we moved our shoot indoors–mercifully so, given the mid-30s temperature–One Lake Brewing owners Jason and Kristen Alfonsi joined the action.

Capturing the beer tap’s pour.

Jason greeted me as I came inside, and then Kristen had the more multi-tasking role of turning to greet me as she was in the midst of bar upkeep, hearing my request for two beers, and then turning to begin the process of pouring the drinks.

If we did each of those portions once, we did it at least 10 times, and the Alfonsis were great sports with each successive run-through.

But the undeniable, genuine star of the show, thanks to his technical acumen and tenacious attention to detail, is Kreml. Check out the 21-second intro, as part of the entire One Lake debut of A Beer With Baron that features cartoonist Keith J. Taylor:

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Lessons abound in The Daily Northwestern’s coverage of Jeff Sessions, protesting students

Gallons of ink, mostly cyber-based, have already been spilled. More will surely flow.

This is in the wake of recent events on the campus of my alma mater, Northwestern University—events set in motion by an on-campus speech last week by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to a group of Republican students.

From what I have gathered, The Daily Northwestern did a solid job reporting on his talk, as well as the protest of his presence on campus and general role in the Trump administration.

Then, editorial back-pedaling ensued, in the face of some students who expressed upset over certain elements of The Daily coverage—including its posting of protest photos on at least one of its social-media platforms.

On Tuesday, Charles Whitaker, Dean of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, issued a statement that addresses myriad tentacles spawned by this saga. His observations are spot-on, and if you read nothing else about this entire chain of events, I urge you to read it here.

Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications Dean Charles Whitaker.

One especially important excerpt from Dean Whitaker:

“And to the swarm of alums and journalists who are outraged about The Daily editorial and have been equally rancorous in their condemnation of our students on social media, I say, give the young people a break. I know you feel that you were made of sterner stuff and would have the fortitude and courage of your conviction to fend off the campus critics. But you are not living with them through this firestorm, facing the brutal onslaught of venom and hostility that has been directed their way on weaponized social media. Don’t make judgments about them or their mettle until you’ve walked in their shoes. What they need at this moment is our support and the encouragement to stay the course.”

Those words–in particular, “stay the course”–helped spur on the latest financial contribution from my household to The Daily Northwestern. The 138-year-old publication is where, as a sports reporter, columnist and editor, I enjoyed some of my best and most formative collegiate experiences. (And truth be told, it was my wife, also a Wildcat alum, who was the driving force behind the donation; after reading Whitaker’s statement, she couldn’t find the “Donate” button on The Daily Northwestern site fast enough.)

Some other initial reactions and reflections:

  1. Through each mundane story, energizing scoop, sloppy mistake, heart-wrenching encounter, and so many impossible-to-categorize pieces that I have written, here is a lesson that seeped gradually, inexorably into my soul: being a good journalist is a courageous, vulnerable, noble, messy pursuit.

2. Perfection is impossible, and excellence is not only elusive, but in the eye of the beholder. Indeed, how someone responds to a story frequently reveals much more about them than any strengths or flaws in the story itself. To wit: this entire Sessions coverage fall-out.

3. Good, old-fashioned reporting on difficult subjects has always been met with fierce resistance and come under assault. Some of my best and most important work has also been among my most reviled reporting—by a few vocal, and heavily vested, individuals. It’s human nature, after all, to try to deflect, or eclipse entirely, light that is unflattering or worse.

4. When compared with my primary time as a journalist (1984-2006), what is so dramatically different now: the weaponizing of social media. As Dean Whitaker so aptly describes it in his statement—the “brutal onslaught of venom and hostility.”

At times, journalists are the targets of that vitriol. More than ever, it is essential to develop thick skin and recognize that taking heat comes with the territory. In fact, and in my experience, it is often an indication that we are on the right track.

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Keeping Up With the State-Bound Oak Park and River Forest Huskies Girls’ Cross Country Team

Two weeks ago, when I sang the praises of Melissa Isaacson’s “State,” I foreshadowed a return to my sports writing roots as I chronicle my daughter’s cross-country team’s postseason efforts.

Having transitioned some 13 years ago from a long career in journalism to public relations and other forms of communication, I call these “random acts of journalism.” Or, as someone else recently put it, “You can take the writer out of journalism, but you can’t take the journalism out of the writer.”

The state-bound OPRF Huskies, after their sectional success. My daughter, the tallest one, is far right. (Megumi Hoshi photo)

Fortunately, against a historic backdrop highlighted by the tumult of whether Chicago Public School runners could compete during, and after, the CPS teachers’ strike, my daughter and her teammates have performed as well as hoped.

This past Saturday, they advanced from the Sectional at Lake Park High School in Roselle to the Class 3A state finals on November 9th in Peoria.

Here is the feature that I posted on the Oak Park-River Forest Patch page.

I am acutely aware of, and extraordinarily impressed by, the dedication and discipline that cross country athletes must bring to this often-lonely pursuit. An amusing, but spot-on, phrase from long-distance runners is that their sport is other sports’ punishment.

So, I made sure to emphasize those sacrifices with excerpts such as this one:

How they booked a return trip, the school’s 10th since 1979, is a testimony to their hard work and determination. On a day where the temperature dipped into the 30s and the three-mile course made for a muddy slog, the seven OPRF runners brought all their training to fruition.”

Of course, their success means my self-appointed assignment isn’t over. Keep an eye out for their performance “at State.”

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Melissa Isaacson’s ‘State’: A Coming-of-Gender Treasure That Resonates on Many Levels

One of life’s recurring pleasures is coming upon a book I wasn’t looking for—then being powerless to look away.

Three weeks ago, with a few minutes to spare before heading to a nearby meeting, that scene played out at a local library. There, prominently displayed along with other new releases, was a book whose cover was graced by a photograph of girls’ basketball players, uniforms and haircuts from yesteryear, cutting down a net in victory.

This was my introduction to “State: A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation,” by Melissa Isaacson.

Though we have never met, I have known of Melissa for nearly 30 years, dating back to her time as a Chicago Tribune sports reporter and columnist.  So, I have read countless stories she wrote about the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Bulls, and beyond. But I never knew her own coming of age story as a voraciously hungry high school basketball player. That came in the mid- to late-1970s, during the early years of Title IX opening the door to high school competition for girls.

As Isaacson acknowledges more than a few times, the book took many years to write, as she squeezed it into an already-busy schedule while overcoming periodic bouts of inertia, that bane of many authors and would-be authors. I am grateful she persisted, because the finished product is a lovely, heart-breaking, heart-warming, bittersweet and genuine coming-of-gender treasure.

It’s much more than a sports book, too, with Isaacson delving into the behind-the-scenes drama, trauma and triumph of her own family as well as those of her teammates, coaches, and others. Those subplots underscore the truth that we never really know all that is going on with someone else, so our default keys should be kindness, empathy and support.

In addition to those strengths, “State” resonated with me on at least four levels.

As a Former Player:

Like Melissa, I was an aggressive player long on desire with a certain ceiling in the talent department, willing to throw my body around in order to stay on the court. However, in terms of pure hunger, I have to concede that Melissa eclipsed me, a truth reflected by the 5 a.m. informal practice times she and other determined teammates carved out in order to grow their game and conditioning.

Turning the pages stirred feelings similar to those that washed over me a few years ago as I read Pat Conroy’s “My Losing Season.” In that 2002 memoir, Conroy focused on his senior year (1966-1967) as the starting point guard of The Citadel’s men’s basketball team. In “State,” Isaacson recalls her journey in the burgeoning girls’ basketball program at Niles West High School in suburban Chicago.

Unlike Conroy’s final season, in which The Citadel lost two-thirds of its games, Isaacson’s team was a perennial powerhouse, culminating in a redemptive 1979 state championship.

Both books tugged at me to do something along those lines and reflect—perhaps even report—on my own basketball past.

It’s doubtful that a book of the ’85-’86 Marshfield (Ma.) High Rams is forthcoming, but here’s a nutshell: I played basketball on the South Shore of Boston, capped by a 10-10 season in the Old Colony League, a so-so mark that included exhilarating highs and extreme lows that ever since have served as personal reservoirs of confidence and regret.

My best friend and I were co-captains, months after a basketball camp encounter with the high-flying, beloved and ultimately ill-fated Len Bias that was surreal in retrospect.

For years, the Marshfield High basketball court doubled as the Boston Celtics’ summer rookie camp. Years later, when I met Larry Bird while on assignment covering LeBron James, Bird chuckled at my observation that we had played on the same court (though at different times, and against dramatically different competition).

And just as Isaacson as a teen had the good fortune of coming into the orbit of Jerry Sloan, the kind and recently-retired Chicago Bull, I had the honor of having my shooting form brusquely critiqued by Red Auerbach, the curmudgeonly cigar-waving Celtics coach and front-office legend.

As a Youth Basketball Coach:

I cherish the experiences I had as basketball coach of my son’s and daughter’s teams for roughly 10 seasons, combined, through the local park district.

Those years were filled with the thrill of game-winning shots, the disappointment of playoff losses, the joy of winning two championships, the frustration of a few winless seasons, and above all, the privilege of teaching the fundamentals of a game I love to scores of children.

 

I learned much along the way, too. It didn’t take long to detect significant distinctions between my two squads, perhaps most notably in the arena of coachability. (If you have to wonder whether boys or girls are more coachable, consider this: I took a one-year sabbatical from the helm of my son’s team because his aversion to taking instruction—or maybe it was my inability to convey it effectively enough—was damaging our relationship.)

Likewise, Isaacson touches on that gap in coachability, as experienced by her second varsity coach, Gene Earl. He had previously coached only boys and took on the role reluctantly. In short order, he was astonished by the eager receptivity of the young ladies he inherited in a program whose foundation was fostered by Arlene Mulder. She was more versed in organizational structure and interpersonal motivation than the game itself and, remarkably, would later become the highly respected and longtime mayor of Arlington Heights, Illinois.

As a Sportswriter:

More than any other “beat,” covering high school and college sports dominated my early years as a journalist. I suspect my prose is part of numerous classmates’ scrapbooks, as I covered virtually every sport other than my own during my junior and senior years writing for the Marshfield Mariner and serving as editor of the high school newspaper, The Ram Pages.

Lord knows I wasn’t nearly good enough to play at Northwestern University, but I could certainly cover the team (as well as most every other sport) for The Daily Northwestern.

Throughout “State,” Isaacson taps into local media coverage of her team, often from publications that are no longer in existence. Compared with the current bits and pieces of local journalism coverage of high school sports, her Niles West Indians received the equivalent of the full-court press that powered much of their success. Nowadays, the few remaining local media outlets do their best to keep up with high school sports, but there are many gaping holes.

As a Father of a Female High School Athlete

About halfway into “State,” it began to sink in that my 16-year-old daughter and her teammates (in cross country and soccer) are standing on the shoulders of all the women, like Isaacson, who came before them.

For nearly a half-century, the battle has raged for more equitable funding, court time, respect, and all the other ingredients that coalesce into the formation of a functional team. The struggle continues, certainly, but no doubt there have been substantial strides.

Over the next few weeks, inspired in part by Isaacson’s book, I will be filling the gap journalistically and writing about my daughter’s cross-country team’s postseason efforts. Last year, the Oak Park and River Forest Huskies came in 10th among Class 3A Illinois high schools—matching the best result in school history.

This year, it’s almost certain they will advance through their Regional and Sectional competitions to qualify for the season-ending race that draws all the top runners from across the Prairie State to Peoria.

Fittingly, that race is known in shorthand by the same name that Isaacson and her contemporaries called it 40 years ago: “State.”

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