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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

YouTube Review Takeover

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Social media has taken over our social lives. Has it taken over how we view products as well?  ♦ 
In 2009, I discovered the video-sharing website YouTube. The first video I ever watched consisted of a young girl named Blair Fowler, sitting on her bubblegum-pink bedroom floor, showing me how to spray Herbal Essences “Totally Twisted Curl Scrunching Gel” into my hair and scrunch it to give the illusion that I just went to the beach. She showed me the bottle, explained what it was, how much it cost, where to buy it, and the pros and cons. (Of course I bought it and soaked my hair in it for probably a year straight.) The video now has over two million views on YouTube, which is right in the average ballpark for successful review videos on YouTube. This was my first experience consuming a review of a beauty product, and naturally, I figured that this is how all products were reviewed and popularized.
    Nonetheless, my mom’s fascination and lack of knowledge about this mysterious video-sharing platform proved me wrong. She wanted to show me the way she found information about different products, so she brought out her favorite magazines. My mom showed me articles about the newest makeup, hair, and skin products. Soon enough, I realized magazines were the original review-sharing platform, not just for beauty products, but for clothes, food, gadgets, everything. Still, I found all these same types of reviews on YouTube and was able to see a plethora of different opinions and thoughts. These videos allowed me to gather my own feelings. When the new iPhone came out, I found reviews on YouTube the moment it was released. When I wanted to try a new lip gloss, I was able to find hundreds of suggestions from people who showed me exactly what I would be buying. I respected my mom’s way of gathering reviews, but nothing would replace the experience I had found through my favorite YouTube reviewers.
    Some YouTube stars (“YouTubers,” as they are referred to) have risen to such a high level of status and credibility in the “beauty world” that they are able to sustain a highly comfortable lifestyle, just with the commission they receive from their videos. Along with YouTube paychecks, many have been rewarded with a spot on PR lists of some of the top beauty brands in the world. Not only does this mean that they’re getting the products for free, but they are also getting them as soon as they come out, or often times, a few weeks before they launch to the public.
    Take, for example, Tati Westbrook, self-proclaimed “glam life guru.” Tati has just under four million subscribers on her YouTube channel, consisting primarily of beauty reviews. Her most viewed video, titled “DRUGSTORE MAKEUP Favorites & Hate it’s,” has accumulated just over four million views. Even some of her oldest beauty videos, from over six years ago, have hundreds of thousands of views. Nowadays, Tati is going on tropical vacations, hosted and paid for by different brands like Smashbox and Benefit Cosmetics. She even has a video series on her YouTube channel where she tries out the most expensive makeup and skincare she can find, and happily purchases it with her own money.
    Tati, like many other renowned YouTubers, has created a community and audience that is loyal to her channel, helping her grow and create more and more content. The speed at which these reviews are able to be created and published is incomparable to the time it takes to produce a magazine issue. YouTube reviews are better for the brands, because they can reach very specific audiences that are guaranteed to be interested in their product. They’re better for the customer, because we get instantaneous information and visuals about any product we want.
    Taking into account all these aspects of what makes YouTube so popular, it can be boiled down to platform and medium. Kids are growing up with computers, iPads, and TV screens at their reach in everyday life. When my mom was growing up, however, there was no such thing as YouTube, let alone iPhones, laptops, and tablet devices. Of course, she chose to read magazines for reviews, because that’s all there was. As simple as it may sound, YouTube reviews are so mainstream and popular, simply because they cater to the generations raised in the world of internet and electronic devices. As long as you’re in an internet-accessible area, you can find reviews on anything at anytime. It seems like the perfect platform to find reviews, but there are, as in any internet phenomenon, flaws.
    The one major con to this YouTube takeover is the presence of sponsorships, meaning YouTubers are being paid to say positive things about a brand. A few years ago, when sponsorships began to arise on the YouTube landscape, no one was required to specify whether or not their review was sponsored by the company or not. This became problematic for viewers, creating a confliction of wanting to trust these reviews, but not knowing if they’re doing it just for the money. The more suspected sponsorships a YouTuber partook in, the less credible they became to their audience.
    However, now that YouTube requires creators to clarify whether or not their reviews are sponsored, there is a strong level of trust and understanding that has, once again, allowed the site to continue on as the primary platform for reviews. Furthermore, YouTubers also have the power to turn down a sponsorship if they do not believe in the quality of the product. By announcing to their audience, that they turned down money in order to stay truthful and honest in their reviews, YouTubers now have more credibility than ever.
    Overall, with videos getting millions of views each day and YouTubers working directly with prestigious brands at an unbeatable abundance and speed, YouTube has completely taken over the original paper review. Younger generations expect internet-based content, and YouTube provides exactly what they need. People no longer have the patience to wait a month to see what few products a magazine might recommend, when they can get hundreds of opinions on a product before it even launches. I understand that, for my mom, reading magazines brings a sense of comfort and ease, and power to her! As for me, I think I’ll be watching YouTube videos until there are none left to watch.
  • About the Author
    Ellie Livingston is a junior at Miami University, studying Creative Writing with a separate focus in Media Communications. Her passions include the beauty and skincare industry, as well as her chocolate lab puppy, Leonardo, and her handsome cat, Fitzgerald. She is planning to live in New York City after college, hopefully with a kitten of her own.

    The Modern Transformation of The Handmaid's Tale

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    Thirty-two years later, and we're still facing the reality of Atwood's Gilead.  ♦ 
    There has been a noticeable trend among new TV shows as of late. Speaking as a faithful and avid viewer of television, I have noticed a pattern among popular, new shows over the past ten years—many award-winning television series have begun as award-winning books. One successful book-to-TV adaptation is adapted from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I suspect its success isn’t entirely due to this trend, but also due to its engagement with the social, political, and cultural issues facing American currently.
       The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel that takes place within a former US territory called Gilead in the implied (yet unspecified) near-future. A theonomic military dictatorship has taken control and removed the rights of all women. In this society, women of a child-bearing age are expected to submit themselves sexually to military commanders in order to restore the rapidly plummeting birth rate. The main protagonist, Offred, tells her story as she struggles with oppression; she also details her old life, as well as how this new society came about.
       Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985. It became a big hit immediately— the book sparked debate in both academic and non-academic settings. Atwood’s novel focused on ideas from second-wave feminism such as sexuality, reproductive rights, and domestic violence. Many of these ideas were woven into Atwood’s novel as commentary on the political climate of the ‘80’s. Thirty-two years later, the television show by the same name was released to the public, in a political moment seeming much the same as before.
      The show won the 2017 Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series. The show went on to win the main category and seven other Emmys -- the series was nominated for a total of thirteen awards. It became wildly popular and the show was renewed for a second season just three weeks after the first episode premiered. But, how can this book be relevant today when it was published thirty-two years ago in a totally different era?
       Atwood doesn’t give us the answer, but the show does.
      The television producers transformed The Handmaid’s Tale from a product of second-wave feminism into a series that embraces current feminist beliefs and practices while also looking towards the future. The show allows the book’s argument to become fully realized through visual elements, adding more intensity, relevancy, and immediacy to the experiences the show seeks to explore. With movements like #MeToo and number of powerful Women’s Marches, The Handmaid’s Tale comes at a moment in the feminist movement that hinges on solidarity between women and finding ways of challenging societal expectation and constructions.
       One of the ways the show addresses current issues is via “The Ceremony.” It happens once a month when a Handmaid is most likely to conceive a child. During the ceremony, a handmaid submits sexually to the man of the household with the wife present for the purposes of recreation. This ritual is directly in conversation with the rise of conversational around sexual assault and rape. The Ceremony promotes non-consensual sex for the needs and requests of the patriarchy. The handmaid has no choice but to submit to forceful intercourse; a woman who refuses is sent to the outer edges of society to clean up radioactive waste. To refuse would be a death sentence. Rape has continually been quietly smoothed over by the voice of men in power, but by reframing the way the audience thinks about non-consensual sex, the show strives to challenge that history by giving women a visual voice.
       While The Ceremony is a rather blunt correlation to issues today, there are other aspects of the novel that are enunciated better through the show’s visual elements. Activism and solidarity play a large role in bringing the women of Gilead together to discuss their qualms with the government. The oppressed women in the show form a resistance group, something that doesn’t happen in Atwood’s original piece. It’s hard not to think of the Women’s Marches in this instance. Several rumors suggest Offred will be rescued by the resistance—a glimmer of hope for not of the future of Gilead, but also of America. Women’s actions and voices affecting change.
       The series portrays Offred before the creation of Gilead: her name was June. After all the women are fired from their jobs, June becomes active in protesting the new laws. She holds a sign and chants with the crowd while facing policemen who eventually begin to open-fire. The image of the marchers running away from gunfire and explosions is terrifying. Within the confines of the US there have been countless anti-protest protests that have resulted in the injury and death of peaceful individuals. It is difficult to delineate which events are from the book and which are based in our own reality. This is the most striking aspect of watching, as if nothing had changed in the 32 years since the book’s publication.
       The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the best modern examples of a successful book-to-TV show: it takes important elements from the text and transform them into something that feels fresh, yet faithful. The changes made from book to show were necessary, positioning the conversation in something more immediate, something more real and threatening.
  • About the Author
    Lynn Vormbrock is a junior English Literature major at Miami University. She hails from Cincinnati, Ohio--which is her favorite place to eat Skyline chili. Lynn spends her free time playing the piano, reading Brit Lit, and watching an embarrassing number of The Office reruns.

    Why You Should You Wait before Buying Your Next E-Reader

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    A decade after the Kindle revolutionized the way we read, CLEARink Displays is poised to (finally) revolutionize the e-reader.  ♦ 
    E-readers have been on the market for just over ten years at this point, and they’ve come a long way in that time, from the original 250MB Kindles with only 200 non-illustrated titles to choose from to the modern-day 32GB models with over 6 million titles at your fingertips. However, one key aspect has stayed the same over those years: E-ink, the screen technology that has become the standard for the industry, considered to be the best alternative to, and closest approximation of, having a real book in your hands.
       That is, until the 2017 Society for Information Display’s annual DisplayWeek tradeshow in Los Angeles last November, where the Kindle’s proprietary technology may have finally met its match with the debut of CLEARink, a revolutionary new e-paper display that earned SID’s Best in Show award.
       CLEARink is a new screen technology that claims to have more vivid display than e-ink and use less power while still being able to be used in direct sunlight, making it an obvious challenger to the Kindle. This bold statement would lead people to ask what could possibly make the new technology more vivid than the industry leader—the answer is, CLEARink uses only black pigments on the screen, whereas e-ink has to use white pigments to paint whitespace on the screen. More, it has an 83% reflection rate on its natural white screen, making it twice as reflective as the current e-ink. This means it does a much better job simulating paper while using no extra energy, as the process of only using black pigment leads to the most defined text while conserving the most battery power.

       CLEARink has more to offer than just its black-and-white display, though: it also has the ability to create 4096 colors and display videos at a 30+Hz on the same page as text, a first for an e-paper device. Using these features will use extra battery, of course, but it will still consume 85% less battery than a traditional LCD screen, which at this time is the best device that can do this. The next major breakthrough is the screen itself—e-readers have always been limited in size—the segment leader used in the latest Kindle has only been produced in screens under 8 inches—but that is no longer an issue. CLEARink screens are able to be produced in any size while. This new technology will not only allow for bigger e-readers but will possibly lead to other uses such as billboards and outdoor signs.
       The last big breakthrough is an important one, as it ends the era of cracked screens. CLEARink's screens are bendable, so they will resist cracking and will be able to put into devices with bent screens like new curved TVs and many other devices (and uses) not even yet considered.

    Comparison of CLEARink features vs. current e-reader displays.

    Which brings us to the final question: should you indeed wait for CLEARink to become the standard before buying your new e-reader? The answer is yes. There are so many advantages to the new technology and zero added cost of production. This does not mean that the new e-reader will not be more expensive—we’ll have to see once the reader actually hits the market— but even if it is, the added value from these revolutionary new features will clearly justify any cost increase . . . and will make it worth the wait.
  • About the Author
    Christian Campisi a junior Engineer Management major at Miami University who hails from Columbus Ohio. While being new to writing, he enjoys every minute of it and hopes to do more in the future. As an engineer, he plans on using these writing skills to compose many technical papers and do some personal writing on the side.

    “There Was an Idea”: How Marvel’s Shared-Universe Gamble Paid Off

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    It’s not Thanos who’ll claim world domination with Avengers: Infinity War. It's Marvel itself.  ♦ 
    The most alluring thing about comic books is that they have no end. Sure, storylines come to a close, finer aspects of a character change from year to year, writer to writer, but the comic book industry has been around for over seventy five years, and likely will for just as long, if not longer. Pick up a comic today, and the key components of the heroes are still the same. Captain America, some recent controversies aside, will always be Steve Rogers, America’s super soldier, frozen in the ice during World War II and brought back to fight the villains in our time. Tony Stark is always the genius behind the iron suit. Peter Parker, Spider-Man, will always be a kid in Manhattan trying to do his best to take care of his neighborhood. It’s hard to translate this immortality onto the big screen, not the idea that superheroes exist; that’s easy. It’s just another action movie. What’s hard to translate is the idea that superheroes will always exist, that when we go to see a superhero flick, we’re not just seeing another superhero movie, but interacting with something that’s part of a larger narrative, something that’s bigger than us, that’s going to last longer than we are.
       This immortality is in part established by Marvel’s crafting a sort of mythology within their comics, a tradition of a shared universe where characters interact with and impact one another. This tradition of a shared universe began in the comics in the '60s when Spider-Man teamed up with the Fantastic Four. Although similar team-ups had occurred in DC’s stories previously (the Justice Society of America formed in the 1940s, and Superman and Batman first met in the early ‘50s) there were limitations on who could share titles, and if characters with their own titles could partake in teams. By contrast, Marvel envisioned a world from the beginning where the heroes could interact without limitations. At the time, this was a revolutionary idea, but now, it’s a trademark of any great comic book universe. But when Marvel first began constructing its shared cinematic universe in 2008, nothing like it had ever been attempted.
       For anyone not familiar with the ongoing Marvel movies (their cinematic universe is somewhat of a misnomer, as there’s also several TV shows and a handful of Netflix mini-series playing into the overall narrative), Marvel movies are not intended to be just standalone series focusing on just their big name heroes, like Iron Man, or Thor, or Captain America. Marvel movies, just like Marvel Comics, are part of a larger universe, and that's part of what sets them apart. The films are connected in mini arcs called “phases.” Phase One served to introduce the core cast of characters (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor) in individual films before building up to the release of Marvel’s The Avengers, which brought the heroes together. Avengers, in turn, set the stage for Phase Two, a character-building arc which showed how the events of Phase One impacted that core cast of characters while also introducing even more characters to the cast (like the Guardians of the Galaxy) and expanding the universe beyond a select few big names. This culminated in another Avengers team-up film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, which, again, sowed the seeds for Phase Three, tearing apart the initial cast of characters while also continuing to develop the “Infinity Stones” plotline introduced in the first Avengers film. Phase Three will end, presumably, with these characters, as well as others that Marvel has slowly introduced throughout the years (including, most recently, Doctor Strange and Black Panther), coming together to fight Thanos, the biggest threat they’ve ever faced, in this summer’s Avengers: Infinity War, the nineteenth Marvel film in ten years.
       Phase Four will kick off with the next Spider-Man movie, which is set to begin minutes after the end of Infinity War (more on that here). With this launch, Marvel’s immortality continues: another film, another story arc, always getting bigger and better than what was laid out before.
       Marvel has created a multi-billion-dollar industry by convincing fans that in order to see one film, you need to see them all, when in reality you could most likely get away with just following a few series or watching the stand-alone films on their own. But the expectation that fans need to see them all, to watch how the universe comes together, is different than what any other studio has done before.
       In the late '90s and early 2000s, DC Comics produced a number of movies featuring their characters, including Batman, Green Lantern, and Constantine, but the universes contained in these films never interacted. A Justice League was never formed. Even Marvel, prior to Iron Man in 2008, never saw a shared universe between superhero films released during the same time frame. Passing fans of one hero, like Batman or Spider-Man, could go see the films for that character without feeling obligated to also go to see Green Lantern, or even something like the Marvel-created (but Fox-owned, long story) Fantastic Four.
       The “phases” method for the Marvel movies, the shared cinematic universe, has changed the game and changed the way people think about how a movies series can and should function. But the interconnected nature of the films alone isn’t the only factor that’s made them successful.
       Marvel’s patience in releasing the films, allowing the audience to become familiar with two or three characters on their own before introducing more, helps fans to stay invested in new films. The pacing of the release dates is also significant. Release dates a few months apart allows fans to process what happened in the most recent film and get prepared for the next film, centered around a new character, while also releasing films quickly enough that fans are willing to stay invested in the overall story arc that ties the characters together.
       Although DC has recently tried to copy Marvel’s idea of a shared cinematic universe tying films together, the DC films have fallen flat, among other reasons, because they didn’t take the time to slowly introduce characters, and because the pacing of their release dates has only recently started to catch up to Marvel’s. There were three years between the rebooted Superman film Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman in 2016. The audience wasn’t even given the opportunity to get familiar with this iteration of Superman before Batman and Wonder Woman were also thrown into the mix. In short, the films aren’t readily accessible to audiences who don’t already know the story.
       But Marvel has taken the best of the comic book world, characters that last forever and who can be accessed by anyone at any time, and transferred it onto the screen. They give us, as an audience, time to get to know each character as both a person and a hero before weaving that narrative into the larger, enduring narrative. And because of that, Marvel has at last convinced movie audiences that, much like what they read on the page, their films are part of something bigger, and they’re going to last forever.
  • About the Author
    Madeleine Nowak is a sophomore Creative Writing and Biology major at Miami University, where this summer she'll be a Student Undergraduate Orientation Leader, but she was previously employed at a failing pizza parlor where she spent more time trying to write a novel in a Moleskine than serving pizza to non-existent customers. In her free time she enjoys reading comics, watching films with her friends, and attending Shambles Anonymous study group meetings.

    Monday, April 23, 2018

    The Dark Side of the Sunshine State: Florida by Lauren Groff

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    A sharp, quirky eye turned toward Lauren Groff's new collection Florida, by a native of the Sunshine State.  ♦
    "Feral cats dart underfoot, bird-of-paradise flowers poke out of the shadows, smells are exhaled into the air: oak dust, slime mold, camphor.” This is the Florida that the tourists never see: dark and damp, reeking of danger. This is the Florida that Lauren Groff, best-selling author of Fates and Furies, describes in her forthcoming story collection, aptly (and simply) titled Florida. Her collection of eleven stories transcends a single character, time, or place. The unifying thread, however, is in the air the characters breathe, the heat of the state pulsating in every sentence, and Groff’s dynamic storytelling abilities. Her voice is at times soothing, yet startling. It’s a portrait of the Florida Groff has called home for the past twelve years and the Florida I have loved forever.
       As someone who was born and raised in Florida, these stories and their characters strike a familiar chord. Florida is typically host to transients and transplants, but my family has lived in Fort Lauderdale for the past seventy years. My grandmother has watched dirt roads become major highways and cities constructed seemingly overnight. When the narrator of the sixth story quips that “Sarasota barely qualified” as part of Florida, I knew exactly what she meant and laughed silently to myself, having made the same joke before.
       Mold, humidity, and alligator swamps are elements every Floridian must come to terms with. A fourteen-foot gator once wandered into my friend’s backyard, a regular occurrence when you build housing developments in the Everglades. In “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners,” a lonely boy, Jude, grows up at the edge of a swamp that “boiled with unnamed species of reptiles,” at a time when “air conditioning was for the rich.” His father, a herpetologist, keeps snakes in jars and alligators in the bathtub. At some point, each of his pets wander down into the swamp only to be swallowed whole, a consequence too real to imagine.
       Florida is often prone to hurricanes; many have ravaged her shores and flattened her land. Rising water temperatures will fuel stronger hurricanes, experts suggest. Just last year, my mom packed up photo albums and family heirlooms, my cat and our two dogs, and headed north as Hurricane Irma barreled toward our home, predicted to be a Category 4. I sat in my dorm room, thousands of miles away, trying to imagine what kind of devastation I would return to. The storm switched tracks at the eleventh hour and lost steam after making landfall in the Caribbean.
       In the fifth story of the collection, a woman forgoes evacuation and instead rides out the storm, watching as a branch “the size of a locomotive [...] falling languorously down, the wet moss floating outstretched like useless dark wings.” The woman feels the power go out, a feeling any Floridian that has been through a hurricane can vividly remember, a feeling Groff captures so poetically: “Time erased itself from the appliances and the lights winked shut.” Until Irma, the most destructive storm to ever hit Florida was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Sixty-one people died and thousands were left homeless. The damage from the storm was estimated in the billions. Residents who did not evacuate are still haunted by the memories.
       In “Dogs Goes Wolf,” two sisters find themselves alone on a fishing island with nothing to eat or drink, their only company being a mean, fluffy white dog and buzzing mosquitoes. The older sister tells stories to distract the younger one. Florida becomes a frontier and survival a necessity through which, Groff illuminates the bonds of sisterhood. In “Ghosts and Empties” and “Midnight Zone” motherhood is explored through a recurring female narrator, a mother and wife, conflicted as she tries to answer questions bigger and burlier than the animals that lurk outside her door.
       The seventh story in the collection, “Salvador,” is the only story that does not take place in Florida, but in a place equally as hot and filled with temptation: Brazil. A woman named Helena is staying in Salvador, having the “funds to spend her time wherever she wanted.” Helena is “in that vicious pool of years in her late thirties,” and unmarried. Her character looks after her mother, “too perennially ill to live alone.” The imagery is similar to the other stories in the collection: “a storm smacked loudly at her, as if raging that she was still dry and safe when all the rest of the world was vulnerable.” Groff invokes a similar sentiment as with many of her stories in the collection. It is one of self-exploration and understanding, and learning to let go of familial and societal expectations.
      Florida is an exquisite achievement by Groff. She tells each story with startling precision and accuracy not only in describing my beloved state, but also in illustrating the complexity of the human condition. Her lyricism stays with you long after you have finished the last page. The book is due to hit shelves this June.
  • About the Author
    Alexis Metz is a sophomore English Literature and Creative Writing double major at Miami University. In 2015, she attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio at the University of Iowa, where she spent two glorious weeks in Iowa City learning from accomplished writers and graduates of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In her free time, Alexis enjoys eating Mexican food and Facetiming her cat, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    Travel Writing: How to Hook the Adventurer

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    Looking to break into travel writing? Here are some tips to make sure you're bringing the reader along with you.  ♦ 
    Rick Steves drank scotch with local pub-goers in Scotland the other night on a PBS special while, nearby, I browsed flight prices to anywhere and everywhere in Europe. Last time I followed his travels, he was exploring the Tuscan countryside with a friend guiding him to the magnificent places tourists never visit, prompting my curiosity over an article about buying dilapidated villas in Tuscany for €1. The next day, I stared for hours at travel bloggers’ photos of their adventures, praying for the day that my own travel would resume.
       Travel is a passion, a longing to experience new places, cultures, and customs beyond those of everyday life. Travel gives a feeling of freedom, a sure-fire cure for curiosity and the exploration itch. The only thing is, travel breeds craving for more travel, and continuous globe-trotting is neither practical nor inexpensive.
       Enter travel writing. This type of writing has grown vastly thanks to magazines, shows, and, more recently, travel blogging, giving audiences a sense of adventure at a fraction of the cost of real travel. But, what separates the great travel pieces that draw in readers’ attention and keep them hooked from those that show up in news feeds for a day just to vanish the next? What makes for a travel writing (and reading) experience that transports the reader to a fantastic new locale? For those writers hoping to break into the travel writing market, you might consider the following key elements of outstanding travel writing that’ll help take your reader there.

    Create a Sensory Experience

    When you arrive at the destination you plan to write about, explore it not just with your feet but with all five senses open to the environment. Walk everywhere and take notes on how every one of your senses is engulfed in the place. What do you see? What do you smell? What are the people around you discussing? How are they talking? With their hands? Loudly? Bluntly? All of these factors add into the overall aura of the place that is necessary for you to understand so that you can adequately represent it in your writing.
       Have you ever seen Under the Tuscan Sun? In the film, the main character, Frances, writes a letter describing the little Tuscan town she is visiting. She notes the bustle of the marketplace, the distinct sound of the church bells, how a warm grape breaks open in her mouth, how it “even tastes purple.” If your reader can’t taste that grape, your job is not complete.

    Make It Unique

    Obviously, research must be done on your intended place of adventure before you get there, scouring sources for the best local pubs or secluded seaside villas. But you also want to explore the place in a unique way, not simply hitting those attractions that everyone would visit. With knowing how to travel comes the ability to create your own unique experiences—you build up a curiosity, a need to explore more than just the outer layer of the tourist facade the place enlists at first glance. It is this kind of experience that makes one piece distinctly different from another written about the same geographical place.
       Also, don’t forget that the travel writer practices discernment in terms of making a narrative experience—no one wants to read the boring parts that you experienced, such as waiting in line for two hours at a restaurant or getting sick on the bus on the side of the mountain. People want to know what stuck out to you, the ultimate reason you recommend this place. When you go out to dinner, ask the server what their favorite part of living there is, or what is a must-see before you leave? And while you’re there, don’t order your regular hamburger and fries, try the most true-to-the-place item on the menu, be it fried octopus or homemade limoncello. Afterwards, experience the nightlife. Find yourself in a bar dancing with the locals to songs in a language you don’t quite understand. Mingle with people around the place that will bring you more in tune with everything you experience so that when you write, your curiosity has been quenched and you write learnedly.

    Reflect Your Personal Experience

    The last essential key to travel writing is to let your opinions reflect in your work. You are not there to sell the place you visited to readers but to inform them of, and evoke in them the sense of, your own experiences there. It is easy to confuse the two sometimes, but remember, you are not being paid by the place to write a review for their website; you’re there seeking the truth of the place. Form your opinions throughout your trip and figure out an angle you want to take for writing your piece. If you stick with the mindset you kept throughout the trip, your writing will reflect your true feelings. If it was overrated, say so. If some parts were great and some not so great, tell your reader why. Travel writing is not only for those who dream of travel but also an incentive to make those dreams reality. Don’t lead your readers astray and send them to places for which you felt no passion. In a time when the line between real and fake is wafer-thin, always side with the truth.
       Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” A travel writer’s job is to plant the seeds of travel to open the narrow minds. Do this instinctively as soon as your pen lands on your paper. Think of this as you gaze down the cobblestone streets of your next adventure. Keep in mind the reader who has never experienced anything like you have and explain it to them as best you can in ways they will understand, and you will bring the thrill and curiosity of travel to the masses.
  • About the Author
    Hannah Blackwell is a senior Professional Writing major, Political Science minor, and Pre Law focus at Miami University. She is from Huron, Ohio, but continually finds new places to call home in the various corners of the world she has traveled. After graduation in 2018 she hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in immigration law. She is excited to use all that she has learned through her travels and her writing to assist her future clients.

    No, Your Smartphone Has Not Made You a Photographer

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    Taking beautiful photos on your smartphone is a snap, but has the art of photography been devalued as a result?  ♦ 
    It goes without saying that you can take some fantastic photos on your smartphone—new phones have increasingly more megapixels, larger apertures, and better sensors. Apps like Fotor, Afterlight, and Snapseed make it easy to add filters to your smartphone pictures to get the effect you want. With increasingly accessible equipment and software, where do the professionals come in anymore? Professional photographers have dedicated themselves to their craft and have a significant investment of time and money into their work. With an in-depth understanding of concepts like framing, lighting, and composition—along with professional equipment that cannot be matched by multi-purpose devices—their skills are far superior to any hobbyist.
       Just as bad, if not worse, is how easy it has become to share, and in some cases edit and alter, photos found online. With friends and family posting cute, share-worthy pictures every day, to say nothing of organizations, businesses, and publications constantly generating and sending out photo content, we put less and less thought into where those photos actually come from. If from a professional, they might not even know about or consent to their photo being used outside of their website and social media accounts.
       The tools we have at our disposal to take share photos are incredible, but these tools have had a negative impact on the photography profession’s good name and even their businesses’ bottom lines. So what can individuals do in this age of clicking shutters and instant shares to help protect not just photographers but photography as a whole?

    Recognizing the Costs of Photography

    First, it would be good to have an understanding of what it takes, financially, to become a professional photographer. Here is a rough breakdown of the equipment needed1:

    Nikon D750 camera body (2)

      Nikon 35mm f/2.0
      Nikon 50mm f/1.8
      Nikon 85mm f/1.8
      Nikon 70-200 f/2.8
    Camera flashes (2)
    Computer and software

      21” iMac computer
      Backup hard drive (2)
      Screen calibrator
      Adobe suite
    Miscellaneous gear
    Business essentials

       Accounting services
       Client management
       Product samples


    So equipment is a significant startup cost, one that has to be earned back from taking on work and making sales. With amateur photography and the improper use of artists’ work cutting into the professionals’ bottom lines, this initial investment becomes an increasingly difficult expense to recover.

    Recognizing the Craft

    Skill is another important investment, and this involves much more than knowing when to click a button. Many professional photographers get a college degree in the craft, so you can add to the above list the cost of a degree. Years are spent learning and mastering not only taking photos, but editing them too. In fact, it is almost unheard of for a professional final image to be un-edited, and no app filter can substitute a professional edit from someone who has spent uncountable hours learning this part of the craft.
       Below are some before-and-after examples of straight-out-of-camera images next to their final edits.

    Displaying Example 1 w.jpg   | Correction: Over-exposed image. 

    Displaying Example 2 w.jpg    | Correction: Black background. 

    Displaying Example 3 w.jpg    | Correction: Fixing a subject's eyes. 

    Displaying Example 4 w.jpg    | Correction: General touch-up. 

    While filters are a wonderfully quick and easy tool for hobbyists to alter their photos, they can never replace the expertise professional photographers have in producing quality images.

    Protecting Copyright

    Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation. What that means is from the moment the photographer presses their shutter button and takes the image, they own the copyright on it. Even if you have hired a photographer and/or are the subject of the image you have no claim on the copyright. Most photographers use a print release, meaning limited permission for clients to print the photos while they, the photographer, maintain ownership of the images. The only rights a subject has is that the photographer cannot sell any images of a person which clearly have their face identified without a model release from that person.
       With the prevalence of sharing images online, many photographers now use what is called a watermark. Though from a legal standard it is completely unnecessary, photographers that use that put a watermark on their images see it as a last line of defense. Watermarks range from the standard format of © (Year) (Photographer’s Name) to more artistic marks like the company’s logo or the photographer’s signature. All the different watermarks serve the same purpose of trying to discourage the stealing of the image by either making it less appealing since it is marked or by being a final reminder that the image is not public domain.

    Being an Ethical Consumer

    So how is someone supposed to find images to use for their websites or projects that respect the artist? They have three possible routes: hiring a photographer, buying a stock photograph, or using a photograph in the public domain. Hiring a photographer is the priciest option, but it will give you full control of getting the perfect image for your needs. A lot goes into finding the perfect photographer, negotiating a budget, and having contracts written, so be sure to do your research before diving into this option. Buying stock photographs is perhaps the best option, and there are millions to choose from between sites like iStock, Shutterstock, and Bigstock, so odds are you can find an image to suit your needs for a reasonable fee. Finally, you can search for an image in the public domain. Photographers occasionally deed works to a CC0 1.0, known as a Public Domain Dedication. This means:
    The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law. You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission2.
       Free-to-use photographs can be found at sites like Pexels, Unsplash, and Burst.
      In this new age of copy and paste, where images can be altered and shared in only a few clicks, it pays to understand what you can and cannot do with images you find online. Respect the effort photographers put into their art by respecting their copyrights and use images appropriately. If you see an image on social media you would love to share, or that you might like to use on a website, send the photographer a message asking if it is alright. You will probably make their day by showing that you respect their craft.
  • About the Author
    Alexandria Tong is a sophomore Business Management and Leadership major with a Marketing minor and a thematic sequence in Photography. She has always enjoyed reading in her free time and can often be found in a study room enjoying the company of a good book and a 4 Paws for Ability service dog in training.