Monthly Archives: March 2015

For The Love Of…Media and Relationships

I graduated from JHU back in 2009 (yikes)! Was Instagram even around then? It wasn’t. Either way, one of the most exciting stages of working on my master’s degree at JHU was preparing for my thesis. Granted, we all started prepping for thesis the minute we enrolled for our first class but once I picked my topic and started researching and writing, I knew I was close to the finish line. My thesis, “Media Coverage of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Relationship: African-American Perceptions of Black Love in the Media” is still my pride and joy. Why this topic you ask? Well, who doesn’t love love? Also at that time, Barack Obama was elected the first Black president and what followed were numerous newspaper headlines, magazine covers and hours of coverage focusing on his relationship with Michelle. The bulk of coverage purported that ‘Black love’ had returned or was now a reality because Barack and Michelle appeared to actually like each other. A labor of love if you will, my completed thesis was later used as an example in the ‘Applied Qualitative Research’ class, which is the perfect segue to the point of this post.

Laughing at an audience member's comment during Districtly Speaking's 'Black Love' Panel Photo courtesy: Nefertiti Pokahantas (Sabrina Thompson)

Enjoying an audience member’s comment during Districtly Speaking’s ‘Black Love’ Town Hall
Photo courtesy: Nefertiti Pokahantas (Sabrina Thompson)

I met a student from that very class, Jonelle Henry. She started a political and social soapbox, Districtly Speaking, through which she periodically hosts engaging town halls. She invited me to participate in last month’s town hall, which was a celebration and discussion of Black television shows and films, and the popular Black couples that became household staples. We discussed Black TV shows from The Cosby Show and Martin, to classic Black movies like Love Jones and Love & Basketball and as a result, the discussion was lively. We also discussed real-life couples like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith and Barack and Michelle Obama, and the love we assumed and hoped existed between them.

What remains constant about love is that everyone has felt and experienced it; therefore everyone has an opinion about it. When it comes to romantic relationships, multiply the number of opinions by 10. Since I can’t share all of those opinions, I picked a few points I thought you’d find interesting as it relates to the media:

  • Claire and Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show are neck and neck with Barack and Michelle Obama for favorite Black couple. The loose similarities in career success, child rearing and just overall lovable factor make the two couples the ultimate blueprint of relationships. While one is fiction and the other reality, both couples represent positive representations of Blacks in the media.
  • Participants from my study, and some attendees at the town hall, expressed frustration that fictitious couples were even used as a blueprint for romantic relationships. Someone at the town hall even asked whether Caucasian viewers had to look to couples on television to help guide their relationships. I don’t have the answer to that question but what I realized from my research is that I only scratched the surface and there is a lot more to explore about the media and its impact on all romantic relationships.
  • One major takeaway came up during the panel when an attendee asked “Whose responsibility is it to protect and uphold the image of Blacks in the media- the consumers or the creators?” In other words, should Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) or Lee Daniels (Precious, Empire), both Black creatives, take care to only show ‘positive’ representations of Blacks in the media?

Should Scandal’s Olivia Pope refrain from engaging in relationships with married men? Perhaps but that certainly doesn’t mean all Black women consume huge amounts of red wine and popcorn and are involved in love triangles. Or does this mean consumers should stop watching television shows with what they think are ‘negative’ representations to demonstrate that they want something better? The conversation got a little heated as the room was divided on this one so I’m curious to hear what my fellow JHU alum and students think.

What we did agree on during the town hall is that beautiful images of Black love do exist (thank goodness) but we have to mind how these images affect the way we perceive love and each other.

 

Mercy ChikoworeMercy Chikowore (@MercyC) is a Public Relations and Social Media consultant, freelance writer and Communications Director for the DC chapter of ColorComm. With almost a decade of PR and marketing experience under her belt, Mercy has worked with nonprofit, entertainment and private sector clients. The Zimbabwe native received her Bachelor of Arts from Claflin University where she studied Print Journalism and later received her Master of Arts in Communication from The Johns Hopkins University. While at JHU she focused on Public and Media Relations and completed and defended her thesis: “Media Coverage of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Relationship: African-American Perceptions of Black Love in the Media.” Mercy often serves as a voice on relationship, career and communication panels and writes music reviews and guest posts on PR blogs. Her most recent post, Never Stop Moving: One PR Professional Shares Her Biggest Lesson, may inspire you. Mercy is also a pop culture junkie, sushi addict and has an unhealthy obsession with music and live concerts. Don’t be shy, you can say ‘hi’ to Mercy on LinkedIn or send her a tweet!

 

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The Pressure to Produce

by Anastasia Parsons

I’m in a staring contest with my cursor. I’m waiting on it to blink first.

Writers Block

Image from suzannevince.com

Okay, so it’s a lame joke, and it’s definitely a writer’s humor, but as jabs go, it is a pretty honest swipe at what it’s like to work day in and day out as a content creator. Some days you’re so prolific, the sentences just fly from your fingertips as you type away, and other days, well, it’s just not there.

Welcome to every content creator’s nightmare – writer’s block. Working in communications, it is something to be both feared and expected. We have all panicked over deadlines that inch closer and closer while your computer screen remains blank. In a business that puts a premium on content as well as speed – you’ve got to scoop the competition whenever you can – the pressure to produce can be paralyzing at times.

Personally, I’ve encountered writer’s block more times than I care to admit over the course of nearly two decades working as a writer. I’ve even had it in those moments where you’re not supposed to freeze, like when a crisis communication needs to be crafted and sent out the door ASAP. Inspiration is a fickle thing and, unfortunately, it is not always going to come when you need it to. So what do you do? What do you need to know about dislodging the logjam in your brain that is keeping you from producing the content you need to make deadline?

Walk Sign

Image from Clyde Robertson – Flickr

Get On Up
Given that Americans sit an average of 13 hours a day – according to a survey from Ergotron – it’s little wonder that once bright ideas lose their luster and dim from time to time. When I get stuck, I’ve found the most effective technique for chipping away at writer’s block is to simply get up and move around. Getting away from my screen for a short walk has been known to produce miracles when the creativity simply isn’t flowing. And, science confirms this advice. A recent Stanford University study found that walking boosts creative inspiration:

Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.

Distractions are Good
That saying about the definition of insanity and doing the same thing over and over again is pretty spot on when you’re attempting to create content. When I find myself spinning in circles with a piece, sometimes my only recourse is to stop and work on something else for a while. The something else can be anything from answering emails to organizing files. It can be mundane and mindless or involved and engaging, the “what” doesn’t so much matter, it’s the problem solving that goes along with doing something different that is the key. Thinking critically about something separate has a tendency to open up those uncooperative neural pathways keeping your creativity at bay.

Simplify

Image from Monte Mendoza – Flickr

It’s Not That Complicated
Most often I find that when I am truly and profoundly blocked, it’s usually because I’m overcomplicating the process. I am looking at an idea from too many angles or trying to incorporate more information than is necessary to convey the point. Unless what you are writing is an involved dissertation on the inner workings of a rocket engine or a specific, life-saving surgery technique, it is likely that your content is not that complicated. Narrowing down an idea to the simplest possible terms and explanation isn’t always easy, but it is likely the information your audience is most interested in. So, simplify.

Invariably, at some point in your communications career you will encounter your own O.K. Corral of sorts as you try to outstare your cursor. Getting beyond the block is not always easy, but it’s also not impossible. Just remember to keep a pair of walking shoes close by, and you should be able to beat that cursor every time.

Have another way that helps you deal with writer’s block? Make sure to note it in the comments below.

Anastasia ParsonsAnastasia Parsons is a seasoned communications specialist based in Reston, VA, who currently works as part of an internal marketing agency for a software solutions organization. For nearly 15 years, Anastasia has provided content creation and management strategies for a variety of organizations in both the non-profit and corporate sectors. She has been highly involved – and in some cases the mastermind behind – award-winning marketing and communications concepts and campaigns. In her free time, Anastasia enjoys reading, spending time with her friends and family, and writing about making life bigger for her blog, LivingWide.net. She is also actively in the process of completing her first novel. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia and will earn her Masters of Arts in Communication through The Johns Hopkins University in Spring 2015. You can find Anastasia on LinkedIn.

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