The Junk Drawer: Taylor Swift Can’t Save The Cops edition

Welcome to this edition of the junk drawer. As we have outlined in previous junk drawer posts, this is a random collection of stuff that is important but didn’t fit anywhere else, much like that drawer in the kitchen of most of our homes.

Here’s a look at some screw-ups, stories and updates:

MAYBE JUST BE BETTER AT YOUR JOB? At the risk of creating anarchy with the title of this post, let’s tackle how Taylor Swift ended up in the middle of a controversy surrounding police officers in Alameda County. It turns out that, in addition to not understanding copyright law, the First Amendment and general common sense, at least one officer in this fine hamlet doesn’t understand how YouTube’s service agreement works either:

Last month, Sergeant David Shelby, an Alameda County Sheriff’s Department officer, was caught playing Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” from his phone as he was being filmed by activists, in a move he said was done “so that you can’t post on YouTube.” The incident was the latest in a bizarre trend in which police officers play copyrighted music while they are being filmed by the public, in hopes of triggering social media antipiracy filters, which would theoretically get the video deleted. 

Aside from not doing what he had hoped it would do (keeping people from filming him and/or allowing YouTube’s “bots” to save him), Shelby actually brought more attention to his actions from both inside and outside of the police department. He is apparently not the only one who has tried this:

In the last few months, cops across the country have been trying this cute little trick for keeping their interactions with the public off social media: Playing pop songs over interactions with the public when they’re being filmed. One Beverly Hills cop played Sublime’s “Santeria” when he realized he was being live-streamed in February and another with the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” and another in Illinois tried it with Blake Shelton’s “Nobody But You” in March.

They think that if the audio captured was smothered by a copyrighted song, posting it to sites like Instagram or YouTube would result in the poster getting smacked with a copyright takedown notice—and the platform would either remove the video, mute the audio, or ban the user altogether. In each of these cases, it didn’t work, and the videos remained online. People have a First Amendment right to film the police.

Shelby tried it, but it didn’t work: the video stayed up on the Anti Police-Terror Project channel, and now has almost 740,000 views.

It’s unclear what any of these officers were doing at the time that made them so worried that they were being filmed, but maybe THAT should have been the bigger concern. If you’re doing something so bad that evidence of it requires you to try to force illegal actions (copyright infringement) on other people to get away with it, that doesn’t say much for you.

On the other hand, I’m waiting for the first time some officer tries this with a Brittney Spears song, so this can start making the rounds again:

Speaking of outrage…

I AM FURIOUS AT… UM…: Journalism has two simple rules when it comes to telling a decent story:

  1. Tell me what happened.
  2. Tell me why I care.

Usually, people being upset with something leads to a pretty good answer to both of those stories. That said, it only really works if you let us in on what you know:

OK, Augusta McDonald might have been following the story, and the outrage, and the lawsuit, but maybe a couple people out there reading this thing (read: Me and Amy at least…) have no damned idea what happened, so how about filling us in? The photo of a basketball team (I think) with blurred faces and three smug looking weasels in red shirts isn’t helping here either.

I get that you don’t always want to give away the whole story in the promo like they do in “The Kentucky Fried Movie” but for Pete’s sake, give us a bit of a hint in either the head, the lead or the photo captions.

Speaking of things that are usually Kentucky-fried…

THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST FOR THE AP: Fred Vultee, a journalism professor at Wayne State University and eternal copy-editing god, was fond of telling folks that it’s just as easy to drown in 2 inches of water as is to drown in the Pacific Ocean. His point, in the editing realm, was that we should read every piece of copy carefully and fact check everything, regardless of how important we think it is.

I’ve often taken this a step further in explaining to students that it’s rarely the deep-dive, FOIA-driven, scandal-based investigative piece that ends up with problems or that costs journalists their jobs. It’s usually the small stuff that we either overlook, joke about or just make random assumptions on that tend to kill us.

A case in point is this article that shows how the Associated Press did the chicken industry wrong with its use of improper “chicken art” with a story on a corporate poultry merger:

When the AP distributed the story to all of its member news outlets, it also distributed a photo of an egg laying operation, rather than one of a broiler operation such as Sanderson Farms, or Wayne Farms, with which Sanderson Farms will merge.

And that layer operation photo was published on the websites of some of the nation’s major news outlets, such as USA Today, Financial Times, U.S. News and World Report, Boston Globe, and many others. Considering USA Today is part of the Gannett network, which owns over 100 daily newspapers and 1,000 weekly newspapers, its hard to tell how many readers saw this.

But the simple fact is that way too many people did. And my guess would be most of those people don’t understand that broilers and layers are totally different breeds of chicken and the operations are completely different.

Chickens are chickens, in their minds.

(Side Note: We have eight chickens at the ol’ homestead now and all I really know about them is how to build stuff like a coop, a “poultry palace” and a chicken run. Well, that and that it’s a major pain in the keester to try to catch them when Amy says, “Go make sure the chickens are in the coop for the night.”

If you ever want to visualize a humorous moment, imagine the author of your textbook cursing in the darkness while diving headlong after a pile of fleeing poultry, only to grab one by the leg and be beaten about the face with its wings.

You’re welcome…)

The thing that is important to understand here is not that the AP had some sort of fowl up (Sorry, I had to…) but rather that there are ALWAYS people out there who have niche interests reading your stuff and they are ALWAYS going to be upset when you screw up their beloved topic. For an earlier edition of the media writing book, I interviewed Meghan Plummer, who was working at the Experimental Aircraft Association as a publications editor. She told me stories about how she would get angry letters and emails when she’d mistake one kind of tail rudder from another in a piece or incorrectly note the year in which a plane was built or flown.

To some folks, planes are planes, but Plummer understood that these people have a passion for the topic and have come to expect that the material they read from an aviation publication will feed that passion. Keep those kinds of folks in mind when you’re writing about a topic, even if you couldn’t care less about it.

And finally, speaking of things you couldn’t care less about…

THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM: The Dynamics of Media Writing’s Third Edition has just pressed and is available for purchase at all fine textbook institutions (and I imagine free downloading already on at least three hacker sites). The update covers a lot of the crucial updates in the law, ethics, social media and web writing while doubling down on the basics that that still matter in all fields of writing.

It’s been more than a decade since I went looking for a media-writing text that treated each field of media equitably and honestly, if for no other reason than I was tired of having students in my class say, “I’m going into PR! Why do I need this stuff? The whole book is just news, news, news…” I can still remember the conversation I had with Matt Byrnie of SAGE at an AEJ conference that led to this book:

Matt: “That’s a great book! We don’t have it. You should totally write it.”
Me: “I don’t want to write a book. I want you to have someone write it so I can buy it from you.”
Matt: “You don’t understand. NOBODY has that book. That’s why I need you to do it.”

We scheduled a sit down for noon the next day where I would pitch him a concept. I remember doodling on a piece of paper from the Renaissance Hotel with ideas, rules and core concepts. When I showed it to him, he said, “We might have something here.”

I looked the book up at Amazon when putting this post together and saw this:

Number one new release in communications? Maybe we do have something here… And I’d like to thank all of you who read my stuff for making that happen.

Have a great week.


(a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

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