Blogs to Love: Powerful people, acting strange

Today’s edition of “me pointing out fun things I find on the Internet” is turning to tumblr! The micro-blogging platform was started in 2007 and has been growing rapidly, lately eclipsing WordPress in page impressions (However, WordPress still has more than 10 times as many users – link in German).

While anecdotal evidence suggests many 14-year-olds and cat lovers among the tumblr users, there are also the politically minded sites such as the ones below. Two of them offer a satirical take on political figures, while the final one brings us often not-so-funny reality.

Uncomfortable Moments with Putin

This is brings us “Images of people looking uncomfortable in the presence of Vladimir Putin, fearsome former President and incumbent Prime Minister of Russia.” Putin manages to even make Santa Claus look confused, leave alone current Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medwedew (below). German chancellor Angela Merkel gets a pass from me since,she always looks like this – but the cutline is worth a read.

uncomfortable w putin

Kim-Jong Il looking at things

Whether you’re president, king or dictator, one of your duties includes touring your country and, well, looking at things. Such as beverages or woodwork. It seems Kim-Jong Il doesn’t like looking at food too much (too opulent?).

Officials say the darndest things

ProPublica has set up this great tumblog (which, by the way, represents a GREAT adaptation of a news organization’s core mission to a different publishing platform). They post quotes from politicians and other figures in the news. I like that they took the idea of the soundbite, but choose interesting, shocking, and sometimes plain stupid ones. We learn: Don’t have sex with Julian Assange, and don’t expect getting your money’s worth from Illinois.


Blogs to love: The Transatlantics

While studying at Free University Berlin, me and a couple friends founded a blog called tapmag. The “tap” stands for trans-atlantic perspective – we blogged about U.S.-European politics, the 2008 Presidential election and social trends from across the Atlantic.

One of the many great things that came from running this blog was tapping (haha) into a network of fellow bloggers interested in these topics. (Our editor Kolja compiled a series of interviews with fellow bloggers into the Transatlantic Blog Review series.)

Here are some tips for your European-American cultural studies.

And Good Is – A hilarious look at German cultural sensitivities and the misunderstandings that ensue when you live in another country. The site’s author also created Nothing For Ungood (it’s now dormant, but go through the archive. Or buy the book.) The new site doesn’t fall short of the old one – dry humor and a matter-of-factly look at German and American particularities. The post on the “American bedding system” almost made me laugh out loud during a lecture.

Atlantic Review – This site fulfills the helpful task of compiling news coverage of Germany and the U.S., with a focus on security issues. While they write in English and often refer to English-language media sources, the authors also present a European perspective. Started by three Fulbright alumni, the blog currently has three authors based in Berlin, California and New York.

Sample post: Terrorism: Should Europe and the US Go to Red Alert?

A Fistful of Euros – This site’s 15 authors come from nine European countries, and their backgrounds and perspectives are as diverse. Topics covered include economic policy, the EU, and vampires. Most posts are fairly dense, backing up their conclusions with facts and charts. Their extensive blogroll lets you discover other European blogs.

Zugabe: USA Erklärt

“I try to explain the United States to Germans, as far as it can be explained,” says Scott Stevenson, author of USA Erklärt. “So I’ll do a little piece about Halloween, about what the President can or cannot do, why root beer isn’t beer, who the Lone Ranger is, or why you should never, ever put sugar on your popcorn.”

His site is in German, which is why it’s the “encore” post here, but I can’t leave it off the list. Scott’s posts are thorough, yet funny. He explicitly avoids opinion – “Dies ist kein Meinungsblog,” schreibt er. Von seiner Seite kann man viel über die USA lernen und fühlt sich dabei nie belehrt.

Scott nimmt mir freundlicherweise die Arbeit ab, den besten Eintrag auf seinem Blog auszuwählen, da er seine fünf wichtigsten Einträge breits selbst zusammen gestellt hat. Ich kann dem nur zustimmen – den Aufbau der US- Polizei habe ich noch nie so klar erklärt gesehen. Sehr lesenswert.

Scott was a guest lecturer at the seminar on international journalism tapmag organized in 2009. Watch video of it here.

Will Clinton’s new speechwriter get to write a birthday note to Botswana?

Did you know that Sept. 8 was Macedonia’s national day, or that Moldova became independet on Aug. 27, 19 years ago? Hillary Clinton does. She wished “the Moldovan people a safe and festive celebration” and promised to “continue to help strengthen Macedonia’s multiethnic and democratic institutions.”

As these notes likely aren’t written by the Secretary of State herself, someone’s gotta write them. Whose job is it to pen birthday wishes to countries in Hillary Clinton’s name?

Well, at least now I know who their boss is. Josh Rogin at The Cable reports that Hillary Clinton has a new speechwriter, Josh Daniel, who has most recently written for Bill and Melinda Gates.

He replaces Lissa Muscatine, who left State in July after 18 months as chief speechwriter. … Muscatine had been managing four, full-time speechwriters and two part-time employees, who also write for other officials.

Ever since Sam Seaborn on the West Wing, government speechwriting has become sexy (proof below). Exhibit B: Jon Favreau. I’m not sure writing birthday cards to everyone from Andorra to Gabon aligns with this image.


At least those countries allegedly have something to celebrate, unlike Chad. Clinton congratulated the country’s people on their national day on Aug. 11, writing

The United States and Chad have made great progress in recent years to strengthen our partnership. Our cooperation on political issues and improving the security and stability in sub-Saharan Africa has shown Chad to be an engaged partner and a central figure in the region. Chad’s hospitality to refugees and leadership on environmental issues such as deforestation and desertification is a testament to your ability to address global challenges.

With “hospitality to refugees,” I assume she is referring to the roughly 200,000 of Chad’s people who have fled internal conflict. The nation is at the top of Foreign Policy’s Failed States index, second only to war-ravaged Sudan. As U.N. peacekeepers get ready to leave, the situation is likely to worsen. Happy National Day? Maybe not so much.

At least Botswana, which can expect congratulations come Sept. 30, is only ranked “borderline” instable.

Blogs to love: Fashionistas

I read a lot of serious news stories on important issues such as defense policy, the wars, the effects of climate change. So every now and then, I like something a little lighter to keep me entertained: Fashion blogs! Here are my favorites.

Capitol Hill Style – I love this blog. The pseudonymous “Belle” is a Capitol Hill aide and helps bring some much-needed style to the marble halls of Congress with her tips for chic work wardrobe. I especially enjoy the “10th Commandment” feature, where she presents three items in the same style – say, silk tops or shoes with cut-outs – priced for elected officials, Hill staffers and unpaid interns. With Belle’s signature snark, this is a great blog to read for work fashion advice.

One of Belle's posts on her Capitol Hill Style site.

One of Emily's looks on her blog, Cupcakes and Cashmere.

Cupcakes and Cashmere – I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover this blog.
From sunny California, Emily Schuman writes about fashion and delicious recipies, like these Bruschetta that I have to try out. Her outfits are usually casual and feminine, but with a little edge, such as this white dress and leather jacket combo. And she owns fantastic shoes. Sigh.

Chasing Louboutin – speaking of shoes, which woman wouldn’t love a pair of outrageously expensive but supersexy high heels? Like with most designer fashion, few of us can actually afford to buy those items. Jennifer Zaczek doesn’t let that stop her. On her blog, Chasing Louboutin, she chronicles her quest for quality pieces at affordable prices – through sample sales, thrifty shopping and the help of technology.

I stumbled upon her blog through the Little Black Dress experiment, during which 31 bloggers were asked to style a simple black dress. I liked her choice, with a belted sweater on top, as well as her easy-going writing style.

Jennifer of Chasing Louboutin in her LBD.

The Cut – Unlike the former sites, New York Magazine’s fashion blog isn’t a personal style blog as much as an industry news site. Featuring celebrity images, slideshows and news from the runway shows, this blog tells you most everything you need to know about the fasion industry, and links extensively to outside sources in case you want to find out more.

Designers' inspiration, revealed on The Cut.

Blogs to love: Globetrotters

This is the first in a series of posts about “blogs to love.” Each week, I will present a couple of sites covering a similar topic that I like to read. Since I always enjoy coming across new interesting places on the Web, I finally wanted to make use of all these bookmarks and share them here.

To start off, here are three sites of fabulous travellers who are causing me some serious “Fernweh” (German word meaning the opposite of homesick; literally, “awaysick”) with their adventures.

Until 2009, Nicolas Rapp was an Art Director for the Associated Press in New York City. Then he decided to drive around the world in his Toyota truck. He chronicles this “year of living dangerously” on his blog, Trans World Expedition. Being a former art director, cool graphics accompany his posts from Colombia, Tanzania or the United Arab Emirates. Next up on his ambitious route: Pakistan and India.

The Nasir-Ol-Molk Mosque prayer hall in Iran. Photo by Nicholas Rapp, click on picture for article.

My wonderful friend Jacquelyn Ryan is currently reporting in South Africa for the non-profit investigative Health-E News Service. On her tumblr blog, My Solo Project, she tells of the everyday obstacles of reporting in a third world country, from world cup feaver to broken down cars. Colorful photos show South Africa’s vibrant side from Johannesburg to Durban (and I can’t wait for pictures from her shark dives!).

Melville, Johannesburg

Melville, Johannesburg - Picture by Jacquelyn Ryan

The charming Lauren Bohn is currently studying Arabic in Cairo as a Fulbright fellow. When she’s not sending me transatlantic care packages, Lauren is posting a “pic of the day” through her twitter @LaurenBohn, where you can follow her adventures and the news on the Middle East she shares. Like Lauren, more U.S. college students are discovering Arabic and developing a serious interest in the Middle East, writes the New York Times.

One of Lauren's pictures from Cairo.

Another fellow Medillian, Cat Rabestine, is currently teaching journalism to Palestinians. On her site, she writes about life Without A Map, reports from the West Bank, shares photographs and videos, and adds links to news reports to her personal, on-the-ground experience.

Social media presence updated

Small changes are happening in my social media presence. I’m now officially with my own Twitter account, taken over from tapmag’s account that I’ve been playing around with lately.

Jessica on Twitter

Announcing a change on Twitter: I'm taking over

But before there’s any rumors: The tapmag team is going strong! We just met in Berlin for a wonderful pre-Christmas endulgence. Thanks again to Dirk for his time spent in the kitchen to prepare a delicious meal.

The tapmag gang are still great friends, and it’s been so fun dabbling with the blog and all that has come from it. We’ve now been dispersed to Zurich, Chicago and Berlin and all been working on our own projects and degrees, so tapmag will continue it’s downtime for a little longer. I’m excited to see what we’ll all be doing and how we will work together in the future. So, as usual, this isn’t an end but a new beginning!

Can I haz CSS coding?

Here’s an excerpt of what I did today in my interactive class:

  • chatted with three friends simultaneously
  • posted on a classmate’s facebook wall
  • looked up books on CSS and working with Adobe’s Dreamweaver on Amazon (the irony of that is not lost one me: I was looking up how to teach myself what I’m supposed to be learning in that exact class)
  • researched some events to cover for this week
  • learned that the founder of “Can I Haz Cheeseburger?” graduated from Medill
Twitter-interaction to keep the spirits up

Twitter-interaction to keep the spirits up

You get it: That class is really awful. The only good part of it tonight was that I had to try really hard to not laugh out loud with all the twitter/facebook/chatting flurry going on. But really, it’s not that funny.

For once, it doesn’t teach me something essential to my future in journalism. It doesn’t even teach me something nonessential that would still look nice on my resume (such as CSS coding).

I want to be a reporter. I want to tell stories, not code web pages. If I want to learn how to code web pages, then only to tell stories better. I definitely don’t want to sit around every Monday night watching someone paste things into a document.

It comes back to that old problem Medill seems to have with its current transition to teaching “21st-century journalism.”

It’s not about learning how to use programs. It’s about telling stories. The program are only tools to do that.

A couple of years from now, we will probably use completely different tools to convey information – but the reporting, the basic understanding and techniques, will remain. That’s what should be taught. Not which shortcuts to use, or where to paste this code or that.

I wish this class was different.

I am so shopping this

Does this come with an option to customize and print my blog URL on the back?

Tee by Forever21

Tee by Forever21

And no, of course I won’t really be wearing this. Just to make you laugh.

Ah, I’ve been wandering fashion blogs too much. For example the delightful Capitol Hill Style (also on twitter), who I will turn to for advice in the coming summer when I’ll be in DC.

The way you look tonight dress (could it be named any more fittingly?)

The way you look tonight dress (could it be named any more fittingly?)

Beautiful grey dress

Beautiful grey dress

The Modcloth site might just have some of the most beautiful vintage dresses around. Like these two here. I’m in love.

I’ve also found Stylecaster, which is sort of a personalized shopping assistant – you can create an account and set your preferences, and they give you shopping and style tips that are adjusted for the local weather! I’m scared to register… haha.

But while I was finding these I was actually doing something important: Looking for fall wardrobe. Fall wardrobe that would be reporting-appropriate and chic. I already found the perfect pair of paints on my Labor Day shopping spree.

Wandering into H&M in itself made me feel like home. I went there after the delight of realizing shopping in America makes me one to two sizes smaller than I really am (sizes are measured larger here so as not to scare off customers who would be an XXL in Germany – they’re just an L here. Consequently, a small is rather large on me.)

I’m still looking for the perfect blazer, and a candidate for the perfect shoes is this one (the 5 cm heel is hidden! they’re a miracle of optical illusion). If you have any fashion tips, let me know! Otherwise, I’ve been doing pretty good so far. My bank account, not so much. But that’s a different story. At least I’ll be a pretty well dressed reporter next quarter.

The internet is not for free

This post is a shout-out to Mary, who is currently suing big German publisher Burda because they grabbed nine pictures of her blog, used them in a photo spread without crediting her and then declined to pay her the appropriate reimbursement (a story Nadine alerted me to).

Mary writes:

“Die Summe, die ich noch einfordere, ist nicht sonderlich hoch. Geklagt habe ich natürlich, weil für mich eine kleine Summe trotzdem ziemlich viel Geld ist. Und weil ich im Recht bin: weil es nicht sein kann, dass ein Verlag, der derzeit wie kaum ein anderer darauf pocht, dass das Internet kein Umsonst-Laden ist, sich dann dort einfach bedient, wissend, dass sie im Unrecht sind.”

(“The amount I am asking for is not exceptionally large. I sued, of course, because even a small amount is a lot of money for me. And because I’m right: because it’s incredible that a publisher, who like no other stresses right now that the internet is not for free, can just help themselves [to my work] online knowing that they are wrong.”)

Mary shows the pictures Burda ripped off of her blog.

Mary shows some of the pictures Burda ripped off of her blog.

This tactic, unfortunately, seems rather wide-spread with large media companies. Even in our first few months of journalism school, the Chicago Tribune has already ripped off one of my classmates’ story. They published her article under the byline of one of the Tribune’s reporters, giving Eleanore a “submitted by” credit at the end of the story, even though he had reported and written the whole thing.

It’s schizophrenic: On one hand, media organizations are raising hell because “bloggers” are “stealing” their content online, and then they go and rip off bloggers and other journalists. Another thing that seems to be quite popular is translating articles from English-language publications such as the Washington Post or New York Times and selling them as own research (well, they did make that one call to get an “expert’s” opinion, so there you have it).

These events describe the media organizations’ problems online better than any 17 theses: They just don’t understand the internet culture. It’s not my information or your information. If you find something online that’s funny, interesting, spectacular, and you want to spread the word and use that – do it, but credit it, damn it!

Coming to think of it, this is similar to thesis no. 7: the net demands a network aka links. Online, we have a conversation, not a one-way-street. And if media organizations still think they can blatantly rip off other people’s work, they are in for a rough awakening, one that’s completely deserved.

PS: Mehr zu Mary’s Blog Stil in Berlin beispielsweise hier. Ah, I love Berlin’s special style.


… so I was playing around with tapmag’s twitter profile. I was trying to be cosmopolitan and wrote “Berlin, Chicago and around the world” into the “location” field, and that’s what happend:



But since we’re talking about it: follow tapmag on twitter! I’ve hijacked the account (with permission from the fellow tapmaggers) and will be posting some random, some interesting, some funny, and some silly. Just the way it’s supposed to be.

Of course, the other four are talking through twitter, too, so don’t wonder if the feeds seems to be written by someone with a split personality, because that’s essentially what it is.

By the way, writing in “everywhere” as location works.