Category Archives: journalism

How I’m using social media

Well, hello strangers.

I’ve finally decided to resurrect my blog from its sad, dormant state. I have to admit that I’m a little embarrassed by how long it has been since my last post. I guess I’ve been filling my blogging void through my social media accounts. However, I realize that I still need to practice my long-form writing skills, and I can’t exactly do that on Twitter or Facebook.

So, I took time to reflect on how I’m using social media to refresh myself on what it is I want to accomplish through my accounts and to look at why I make it a point to visit these sites each day. What I found: It’s all about the news. (Shocking for a journalism graduate, right?) Whether it’s about me reading the news via social media or about me sharing news via social media, I like being in the know, and that’s why I like and use social media. Now, I can’t say for certain why others follow me on social media, and I’m not so convinced Klout can gauge that either (here‘s my Klout profile, by the way, if you care), but I can at least explain how I’m using social media.

Twitter

Twitter is my favorite social media site and the one I use most often. It’s concise. It’s engaging. It’s effective. Content drives Twitter, which is why I try to keep my tweets less about me and more about others by sharing stories, videos, photos, etc., that I find interesting and think others will, too. During my last year at KU, I helped manage the University Daily Kansan‘s Twitter account and the KU chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists‘ Twitter account. Twitter is my “Google Reader” (I wonder: Do people still use that?). It’s my microblog. It can be my way of getting customer service, and it’s often where I search for news topics, KU basketball commentary or what’s going on around Lawrence.

LinkedIn

I’ve heard people say that they don’t understand how to use LinkedIn to network or find jobs or that they don’t like it, but along with Facebook and Twitter, it’s a site I visit daily. It’s not that I’m constantly updating or refining my professional profile, or looking for connections. And while that is important, one of my favorite features on the site is the customizable LinkedIn Today section. I find links to news articles that are being shared by among industries I’m interested in (and often share those articles), and I can see which articles my LinkedIn connections have shared. I love that I can pare down the news to suit my interests and then browse articles in a visual, organized format. Aside from that function, to state the obvious, LinkedIn helps me establish a professional presence online and then share that presence with other professionals. I should also mention other key functions I’ve used on the site, like its job search function, which suggests jobs I might be interested in based on my experience, or groups, which provide a forum for people with similar interests to hold discussions, share articles or just stay in touch.

Facebook

You’ll find that if we’re not Facebook friends, you probably won’t be able to see much of my profile. I use Facebook more for personal sharing than I do on other sites because, unlike Twitter, for me, Facebook revolves more around keeping up with what my friends are doing. I don’t visit Facebook to find my hard news. I do believe, however, Facebook pages are great for businesses and organizations to engage with their audiences and share information. Currently, along with my sister and dad, I help manage a couple of Facebook pages: Silver Lake Girls Golf and Silver Lake Baseball (my dad coaches both of the teams). Also, during college, I managed the Kansan’s Facebook page.

Google+

I have to confess: I dig Google+. The problem? Only a handful of my friends are actually using the site. I don’t even post there as much as I’d like — mostly because I know only a few friends will see it and, I guess, anyone who has added me in one of their circles. But, I still have hope it will catch on eventually. If nothing else, I really like visiting Google+ to see how the news organizations I follow use the site. I find that I like Google+’s interface for following news stories because it’s more visual than Twitter. Also, I love Google+ Hangouts and the awesome features I can include while “hanging out.”

Pinterest

I refuse to believe that Pinterest is only good for pinning items about weddings, home decor, food recipes, or arts and crafts. I certainly try to use it for other purposes than that. So far, I’ve got boards about topics ranging from visual news to design/typography, to video. (And, yes, I occasionally pin a recipe or home decor idea, too.) Pinterest is my newest social media venture, and I’m already scheming ideas for new boards. But first, I think it’s important to build up the boards I’ve got.  I love (and am taking notes from) this list of how journalists can use Pinterest. So far, I haven’t found too many journalists using Pinterest in ways that this article mentions, but here’s hoping that catches on.

What’s above also appears on my “About Lauren” page, which may seem like a blog post cop-out, but hey, baby steps. I’ll go on the record here and say that I will post more often, I promise.

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‘Eat your lawn’

The following blog post appears on my “Media and the Environment” class blog. I’ve posted it on my blog to share some of what I’ve learned this semester.

I continually see it pop up in my News Feed on Facebook: “______ found some rare eggs to share with their friends!” or ” ______ just harvested their chicken coop. ”

Those aren’t my friends’ status updates. They’re recent actions in a game made popular by Facebook called FarmVille.

In FarmVille, there's always enough land to grow food, and usually all, if not most, of it is used. (Photo from flickr.com)

Basically FarmVille allows people to grow and harvest crops, raise animals and keep gardens on a farm. I often wonder how much the game has inspired its players to start growing food in real life.

In the game, players usually use every plot of land they have for something — growing, raising animals or building sheds, barns, etc. I think this part of the game actually can translate well to a recent food movement: eat your lawn or food, not lawns.

No, this isn’t to suggest we all graze like cows in our neighborhoods, but it does question our society’s obsession with having nice lawns and using resources to grow grass when those resources could be used to grow food.

The movement came after Heather C. Flores wrote Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community. The book reflects Heather’s idea that people could connect to each other and to their community through growing food together.

Most gardens I’ve seen at friends’ or family’s homes take up a small section of the backyard, which is nice for growing a few vegetables. But for someone who values variety and having plenty to eat, I can understand why people would want to actually use their lawns for more than just decorative purposes.

Plus, there are benefits to growing a garden (not a digital garden on Farmville. It can be cheaper to grow produce than to buy it from a store. It releases stress and improves muscle tone.

One family in Lawrence, Jeremy and Amber Lehrman, started their own version of “food, not lawns” about four years ago and to both use and sell what they grow. Amber said when she and her husband started to expand their garden to cover more of their yard, it was because they wanted locally-grown food rather than because they had heard about the “food, not lawns” idea. They also realized they could help lessen the impact of food that travels hundreds of miles.

“We wanted to eat farmers’ market food but couldn’t afford farmers’ market food,” she said.

The Lehrmans started with a 4-by-12-foot garden. Amber said each year the garden seemed to double. Now they’re out of room to keep expanding. For the last two years, Jeremy and Amber’s garden has produced more than 1,400 pounds each year. They’re hoping for 2,000 pounds this year.

I can only imagine what would be possible if more Lawrencians caught on to the movement. There might be more of a selection at the farmers’ market, there would be more locally-grown produce restaurants could use and more people in Lawrence could engage with their community. I think the most rewarding aspect behind “food, not lawns” isn’t the food. People in communities are given a common interest and have common activities, like seed exchanges, in which they can interact with each other.

It’s easy to say, “If only Lawrence had an infinite amount of land.” But maybe we do have enough land here to grow as much of what we want. We’re just not seeing what is really right in front of us.

— Lauren Cunningham

A new kind of green beer

The following blog post appears on my “Media and the Environment” class blog and on the Localvores blog on the WellCommons site. I’ve posted it on my blog to share some of what I’ve learned this semester.

I’ve always wanted to have a green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, and with this being my first Patty’s Day as a 21-year-old, I’ve been getting excited to enjoy one.

I guess I get a small thrill from drinking an unnatural-colored beverage for the wow factor. But the concept of green-colored beer got me wondering about the other type of green beer — beer brewed in a sustainable way. Green, or sustainable, beer can include anything from organic beer to beer brewed in breweries that use solar energy or use waste to help fuel the process.

When I went to Brooklyn Brewery this summer, I didn't even know it was a top green brewery in the U.S. (Huffington Post). I had a local beer with New York honey and orange peel.

I’ve heard my parents or my friends say they like local beers more than generic beers, and I agree. Until recently, I had been under the impression that it was a matter of taste. I’ve tried both beers from local breweries (Ad Astra Ale from Free State Brewery being my favorite) and beer, such as Budweiser, Miller, etc., and I definitely notice a difference in quality.

But drinking local means so much more than just quality or taste. Because beer is made from ingredients that are grown outside of where it’s brewed, local breweries are likely to get most of beer’s necessary ingredients from local areas. Of course, this means less emissions because less travel goes into getting those ingredients to a brewery.

I spoke with executive chef at Free State Brewery Rick Martin about the beer at Free State Brewery. He said although the beer at Free State isn’t organic it’s still a natural product because of its ingredients.

Martin also said their beer is almost a zero-waste product because leftover grain from the brewing process at Free State Brewery is sent to local farms to serve as feed for animals.

Until now, I just thought there were local beers and generic beers. Maybe it’s because I’m relatively new to the drinking scene, but I didn’t even consider that there would be such a thing as organic beer. I’m always quick to assume that the word “organic” always applies to food when it really can be applied to items from clothing to beauty products.

Like any other organic item, organic beer’s ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides. Brewing organic beer even produces a clearer beer and a faster fermentation, which I know people like my uncle (who brews his own beer) are always looking for.

There are even green breweries around the U.S. that brew in a sustainable way, using wind energy or recycling waste products.

Thinking about drinking green-colored beer now kind of freaks me out. Most green beer is made by adding food coloring, which is made of food and color additives, to beer.

Not that I’ll now only be drinking organic beer, but I have found ways in which to make smarter beer choices.

— Lauren Cunningham

Looking at food pantries as a mirror

The following blog post appears on my “Media and the Environment” class blog. I’ve posted it on my blog to share some of what I’ve been learning this semester.

In case you missed it this week, The Associated Press reported that a woman claimed that the fat around her midsection, otherwise known as love handles, saved her life from a gunshot. She was quoted in the story saying, ‘I want to be as big as I can if it’s going to stop a bullet.’

My mom often is my hook-up for healthy, locally-grown food, such as this ground beef from Santa Fe Trail Meats. (Photo taken with my iPhone TiltShiftGen app)

Now, not only did I think her quote was one of the most illogical statements I’ve read in a while, but the story got me thinking about how the types of foods people eat show in appearance or beliefs about nutrition.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always eat what I should. (I don’t think anyone really does.) But since taking time to learn about the importance of healthy, sustainable and local foods, I really try to pick out items in the grocery store that reflect this awareness. Unfortunately, because I am a college student and don’t have a lot of money, I can’t always afford the best foods.

I think my food pantry and refrigerator reflects my conflict of “Do I buy all fresh, local or organic food or do I buy cheap junk food?” pretty well. In my kitchen, you can find anything from ground beef from Santa Fe Trail Meats or whole grain bread to Velveeta shells and cheese or off-brand cereal.

Honestly if I can get twice as much cereal in a big off-brand bag for half the price of a cereal like Kashi, I’m going to choose the off-brand bag. Yes, I would love to buy Kashi everytime I buy cereal, but that’s extra money each grocery trip I could use for bills, rent, etc.

For me, primarily focusing on buying higher quality proteins, fruits or vegetables is the best option for the income I have right now. Once I have a steady income, I definitely want to be able to shop primarily at places like The Merc. The reality is that I can’t afford it now. It’s enough for me to try to find fresh or healthy foods, let alone organic or locally-grown foods.

Luckily, I do have healthier opportunities around me even now that I always try to take advantage of. One of our family friends shares the vegetables she grows in her garden with my parents and with me, which I love. As a teacher, my mom also regularly tries to buy local foods from her students’ families or co-workers (hence, my supply of meat from Santa Fe Trail Meats).

No, not all of the foods in my kitchen reflect someone who always chooses the healthiest option of food. But I’m not that person just yet anyway. I think my food selection still shows that I am constantly thinking of the smartest, most sustainable food choices for my budget.

— Lauren Cunningham

Please, be more vague

The following blog post appears on my “Media and the Environment” class blog and on the Localvores blog on the WellCommons site. I’ve posted it on my blog to share some of what I’ve been learning this semester.

In my recent efforts to become environmentally-friendly, I’ve been searching the App Store on my iPhone for applications that can help me make smarter choices.

This shows a screen capture from my iPhone showing GoodGuide's rating of my Kiwi Strawberry Snapple.

So far, I’ve found GoodGuide. The app gives an overall rating of the product, not based on user ratings, but on a combined score of health, environmental and society ratings. It looks at product quality or safety, unnatural or unhealthy ingredients in the items and environmental impact of the company. It also has a feature that scans the barcode of items to get a sense of how “good” they are.

So after enjoying a Kiwi Strawberry Snapple the other day, I thought I’d check out just how “all-natural” the drink claimed to be. My new app gave the beverage a 3.9 out of 10 rating.

It also gave the drink a zero out of 10 for health, which I found alarming for a product that claimed to be “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth.” I looked at the nutrition facts, and as the label claimed, there were no artificial flavors or preservatives, but I also saw the 51 grams of sugar in the bottle and five percent juice content.

GoodGuide lists information about different aspects of products to help consumers pick the smartest choice.

GoodGuide told me the product contained high fructose corn syrup, a substance found in pretty much everything people eat today. I didn’t see this on the label, so I investigated a little further.

It seemed as though the app’s health rating hadn’t been updated. I found that Snapple recently switched from using high fructose corn syrup to real sugar. a switch that helps its “all-natural” claim.

It makes sense, considering the problems popping up with high fructose corn syrup. GoodGuide even lists high fructose corn syrup as an “ingredient of concern.”

For a juice drink that claims to be all-natural and “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth,” I wonder what Snapple means. The ingredients are recognizable, but it’s a stretch to say my kiwi strawberry drink was all-natural. If Snapple’s implying that fruits are the “best stuff on earth,” they should start putting more fruit in their drinks, instead of making it from “a blend of juices from concentrate with other natural flavors.” They offer some drinks made from 1oo percent juice, so why not make all drinks that way?

I also discovered the company has changed its labels and bottles recently, but only for appearance. GoodGuide gave Snapple a 5.2 out of 10 for its environment rating. Of the three areas the environmental ratings were comprised, two were scored at less than five out of 10: environmental management and resource management.

So as a consumer staring at a drink claiming to be natural and made with “real ingredients,” I’m not impressed. Really, Snapple has just made its ingredients recognizable, which I do appreciate. But to avoid greenwashing, I think they need to re-evaluate other aspects of the company.

GoodGuide is helping me along in my new way of thinking about food and sustainability. But really, I think it takes a more extensive reading of the labels of what I’m consuming.

— Lauren Cunningham

Translating definitions

The following blog post appears on my “Media and the Environment” class blog. I’ve posted it on my blog to share some of what I’ve been learning this semester.

Recently while eating at Angler’s in Lawrence, I saw something on the menu I hadn’t noticed before.

On the back side of the menu, it was noted at the bottom that the restaurant was a sustainable seafood restaurant. I pointed it out to my boyfriend, feeling better about our decision to eat there, but I also wanted to know more about exactly what that meant. Below the headline, there was some information that kind of explained what the term “sustainable seafood” meant, but the two short paragraphs on the menu didn’t really inform me completely.

Since then, I’ve checked out their Web site to see exactly what the restaurant meant by their sustainable seafood statement. They give some good explanations as to what they mean by sustainable seafood, but I wonder how the term translates to other restaurants and to those restaurants’ consumers.

The term “sustainability” has been thrown into a lot of media coverage about environmental or political issues. Often the word is defined as a balance between people, planet and profit. But I think it’s interesting that the word at one point didn’t include anything about the environment.

I looked up “sustainablility” in the Oxford English Dictionary through the KU Libraries Web site and found that up until December 2001, no definitions included anything about the environment. The definitions before 2001 did include descriptions of maintenance and the ability to be upheld or stand alone, which I am realizing is essential for others to understand in order to apply it to the environment.

I agree that it’s important to include the planet in the discussion when people take on sustainable projects or talk about making things more sustainable, but I’m not so sure that sustainability — the word itself — fully encompasses the aspect of the environment within its definition. It is nice to have a go-to word that can be used when discussing green or environmental issues, but I don’t think a single word cannot possibly sum up the planet, profit or people.

Instead of just labeling some project or item as “sustainable,” I believe meaningful discussions and definite definitions should be given to the public. Honestly, I don’t have a great answer as to who should give that definition, but I see more news outlets and blogs who are trying to offer some guidance. But of course, there’s always the question of who, if anyone, will actually take the time to educate themselves? My hope is that the term won’t try to define or take on too many aspects, and I hope more people begin to understand that research should be done in order to truly have a meaningful discussion about the environment and the food we get from it.

Getting a trend to stick

The following blog post appears on my “Media and the Environment” class blog. I’ve posted it on my blog to share some of what I’ve been learning this semester.

Trends are a funny concept to consider.

No one person makes any explicit rules or regulations, yet trends can occur locally, nationally, sometimes even internationally.

I know I jumped on the bandwagon when everyone started to claim to eat organically or eat organic food. To be honest, I don’t know if I could even give the correct definition of “organic.” I know some of the major points — no antibiotics, no herbicides — but I have never really taken the time to do my part when it comes to learning about organic foods. USDA organic label? I’ll take it.

Oh, good. Only 17,500 entries to consider.

It seems as though I’m currently succumbing to another food trend: eating local. After watching Food Inc. for the first time, I couldn’t stop telling my boyfriend things like, “We really should think about where we eat out more,” or “I’ve really got to start looking at what I buy at the grocery store and where that food’s coming from.”

The piece of this puzzle that remains to be solved is if I will really, truly learn about this trend and be able to define what “local” means.

Luckily, our focus in “Media and the Environment” is food, and I’ll have numerous opportunities to read material on local food systems and what being a locavore might really mean. But I’m still worried about how others might react to this food trend.

Of course, the public supporting a local food system would be fantastic. But if uneducated individuals account for the majority of this new trend, no local food system can be upheld in Lawrence.
The local economy-boosting aspect of local food systems excites me, but also concerns me. The obvious upside is that it would make convincing others to beginning a strong local food system easier. The downside: the economy won’t always be terrible, believe it or not, so will people continue to care about the economic benefits even years after a recession?

Fortunately, my guess and my hope is that people will notice how beneficial eating locally can be and will want to work to maintain a system. But education and involvement are key to ensuring this.

As a community, Lawrence needs a strong and easy-to-grasp definition of “local.” “Localvore” on the LJWorld.com can be a great beginning to tools that can educate people in Lawrence and in Douglas County. The blogs provide an easy way to get people talking about the possibilities of eating local in Lawrence, which I think is the best way to generate interest. The newly-formed Douglas County Food Policy Council provides helpful resources on a local food system as well.

I learned valuable information after reading the “Localvore” blogs and from the DCFPC, and I’m proud of myself for already being more informed on the next food trend. Now it’s just a matter of educating others.

— Lauren Cunningham