Are You Ready for Summer?

The first day of summer is tomorrow. Are you ready?

Summer days should be lazy and unstructured. I love that notion. In fact, I try to follow a saying by Annie Lamott:

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I fill my days off with pool time, bike rides and beach reads.

However, I also find that I need some structure otherwise I may not achieve anything. I particularly like this list from Online Colleges, which offers 100 productive ways to spend your summer vacation. Their recommendations include to take an education vacation, learn a new language or visit museums.

One of my favorite suggestions is from a 2013 article by Les McKeown who suggested doing something “It’s never the right time for.” I have several things that fit the description and I’ve now added them to my summer list with incremental deadlines. I already feel better knowing they might get done this summer.

Also on my list this summer:

#WalkOn: It’s a hashtag I used when I was consistently walking 10,000 steps a day. My stepping significantly decreased due to a knee injury, but I’m now building back up. I’m tracking my steps from Memorial Day to Labor Day, although instead of 1 million steps my goal is 750,000 steps. If you’re on Fitbit, let’s challenge each other and #WalkOn.

Writing books: I’m finishing my book of travel essays, and will spend the summer reaching out to agents and editors. I’m also going to pick up my mystery (it’s about time!) and resume writing it. And I’ll attend meetings of James River Writers and Sisters in Crime. Their programming helps me grow my skills and become a better writer.

Exploration: My vacation won’t happen until late in the year, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take some time to explore in my backyard. It’s always fun to visit a farmer’s market and see what is in season. Two area attractions have new exhibitions that I plan to see. And I’ll check out some new restaurants with friends.

Of course, the beauty of summer is that you can always toss your list and do nothing!

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Fake News and How to Combat It

We may think fake news is something new, but it’s not.

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Tom Mullen, director of public affairs journalism at the University of Richmond and a former newspaper reporter, discusses fake news. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

“Fake news has existed as long as journalism has been around,” said Tom Mullen, director of public affairs journalism at the University of Richmond and a former newspaper reporter.

He cited an 1835 article in the New York Sun that said there is life on the moon. He pointed out that Joseph Pulitzer said, “You supply the pictures, I’ll supply the war.”

Speaking to Virginia Professional Communicators, Mullen noted that presidents and military leaders use the fake news term to push back against bad news. “When leaders use propaganda, it means they can’t persuade you with the truth,” he said. “That is detrimental to democracy.”

He challenged the notion of alternative facts. “A fact is a fact,” he said. However, while news is verifiable, people can have interpretations, he noted.

Unfortunately, social media is becoming the primary source of news, and that is not news, Mullen said. Stories on social media are easy to manipulate and to spread without verification. Stories that are shocking, surprising or play on emotions are the most easily spread.

“Journalism gives oxygen to democracy,”

Tom Mullen

To determine if a story is fake or real, Mullen said to consider the following:

  • What is the source?
  • How credible is the source?
  • What are other sources saying about the information?
  • When was the Twitter account launched?
  • How is the grammar?

“Grammar matters,” Mullen said. “You should thank your English teacher. Bots are always a little off.”

He also recommended holding politicians accountable. “Criticizing the press is part of a robust discussion, demonizing journalism and journalists is not.”

Individuals should not post, Tweet or spread anything that they are not certain is true, he added.

Another way to combat fake news is to support good local journalism.

“Journalism gives oxygen to democracy,” Mullen said.

He stressed that good journalism –

  • Gives people the information they need to make decisions about their lives
  • Provides an essential civic service
  • Is a tool of social justice by helping to give readers and viewers the information they need to correct injustices

Ultimately, we are each and all responsible for not spreading fake news.