Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Feb 27, 2013

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Welcome, welcome to our very last Wednesday chat. Fear not. We're not disappearing, we're just moving to THURSDAYS at 2 p.m.

We'll get started at 2. Feel free to submit early, especially if you have a topic that will only make sense on a Wednesday.

First: I don't usually post my own stories as discussion topics in this venue, but the news of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer halting telework options for the company is sorta kinda in our bailiwick here. So I'll link to this piece, in which I set out to prove that telework is totally a productive option, at least for reporters in the Style section.

Second: L.A. Magazine has a big and detailed piece up on its site now, about the decades-long search for a California serial killer.

Underneath the main piece online is the following notice:   

"Some of the most graphic details about the crimes committed by the Golden State Killer aren't in the magazine story. Read those details, along with extended content about his victims."


What do you think about the decision to withhold some of the more graphic details in print, but include them online? (I've included a few options here, but there's some overlap, and I'd like more detailed feedback).

 

A) It makes sense. It prevents young or sensitive readers from encountering disturbing details, while giving others the option to read more if they choose.

B) It makes sense. Space is limited in print, and newspapers have to cut something.

C) I disagree with the decision. The graphic details should have run in both print and online versions -- if they're important enough to be part of the story, they should be a part of all versions of the story.

 

D) I disagree with the decision. If the details were salacious enough to be cut from print, they should have also been cut from the online version.

And, just for funsies: This "Real Genius" trailer done in the style of M. Night Shyamalan is my favorite video of the week.

You sure you're here? The webpage doesn't show you here. I'm here.

I'm here, too! I just built the chat a bit late, so it didn't show up on the homepage the way it does if I remember to build it early. The move to the Thursday chat is going to signify turning over a new leaf. I am totally going to be on top of everything. Starting next week.

I have a dream to start a website and an app, even though I have no experience in either. I just have an idea that should help people. Is it ridiculous to try? What do you and the folks think of Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is fabulous, and it's not ridiculous to try -- but  you'll likely only get the funds if you've done your homework and resourced the right people. If you don't have any experience in app creation, do you know someone who does? Have you had discussions about how technologically feasible your idea is? Have you done an appropriate amount of research to make sure it doesn't exist already?

And now we're all dying to know what your idea is.

B. As for A, young readers will go online to read. Sure, you say you're over 18 but they don't check.

So, in your opinion, would it make an equal amount of sense to include the salacious details in the print version, but then say, "We couldn't cram the boring stuff in the paper. Go online to read a bunch of lawyerly deposition thingies." ?

This New York Times piece about Twitter hashtags being embedded on television screens -- I totally don't get the point.

Twitter is the new water cooler, or haven't you heard? Increasingly, watching television has become a symbiotic activity, which also includes an iPhone or a laptop or what have you. Viewers participate in real-time discussion as they're watching a show. It happens organically anyway; this is just American Idol's attempt to guide the discussion.

 

(Impromptu poll: How many of you are operating two screens at least while watching TV?)

So, Anheuser-Busch is subject to a class-action lawsuit saying they watered down their beer. Since their beer is little more than flavored water, how can you tell?

I have never had their beer. Or any beer. I am a teetotaler.

My answer depends on the answer and reasoning to this question: what did they do about these things before the era of the internet and why?

This is an excellent question. And I don't know the answer. So we'll just have to suppose:

 

Suppose that in the era before the internet, these details would not have been included at all, because they were considered too graphic.

How does that impact your answer?

(Except that, I might add, newspapers used to be ever so much more tabloidy than they are now. Around the turn of the 19th-to-20th century, I wouldn't be surprised if every graphic detail was loudly advertised on the front page.)

Interesting that when you click on the link for the details, it actually makes you verify that you're over 18. That seems weird to me. I can't imagine a situation in which I'd be okay with a news outlet requiring someone to be 18 before they're allowed to read a story.

Fascinating. How many other people here share this poster's view? I'm not sure if I do, FWIW. My childhood came with a whole bunch of reading material that was probably "too old," but it also came with parents who patiently answered lots of questions about the reading material. It wasn't me alone clicking on links.

That trailer reminded me how great Real Genius was. As I recall as a kid both that movie and Weird Science came out at the same time appealing to us geeks. Which do you like better? I feel like Weird Science was more popular - a TV show was made from it - but there was something almost sublimely genius about Real Genius. I feel like it never got the credit it deserved.

"Real Genius" was just a million times better in every way.  I still get irritated when people confuse the two.

I know we often veer off into grammar from web stuff here, so I have a question. New relationship, he's great and super intelligent, but he says "funner." First time I thought it was kind of a joke, but he's used it a few times. Is it crazy that almost all grammar mistakes make me want to kill people, but I find this charming? Should I correct him? Leave it as a cute foible?

The only thing that would be crazy is if you don't think this will bother you in six months. Because it will. It doesn't now because the relationship is new, but soon it's going to, and you must be prepared for that.

 

And really, don't correct him. Unless he has specifically said something like, "Gosh, I wish I hadn't been raised by hyenas with a limited understanding of grammar," just leave it be. Presumably he's managed to feed and clothe and house himself in adulthood without this holding him back.

I find that typically i watch tv with a screen (laptop) on in front of me. Which isn't the best way to watch, because I know I *do* miss stuff. but sometimes the stuff I watch is boring, I need to occupy my mind with something else while I'm watching (or I'm really *not* watching, it's just on for background noise). Such is our life now.

Tragic, all of us. "I'm so boooored by the thing designed to entertain me, I must have another form of entertainment."

No, put them online not to protect the young but to protect the people who don't want to read that - kind of like a spoiler. Make them go elsewhere to read the stuff some people will not want to read since if they read it, they might be disturb (and not in a "oh, I read the lawyerly deposition thingy and wasted my time" disturb)

Posting.

I agree with the decision to include the details online v. in print. Online is a different medium, it is interactive, you can choose to click on a link to see a photo or read additional content. By that click, you fully acknowledge that what you are about to see/read may be disturbing. In print though, that conscious choice is typically removed from the reader (unless you're reading a magazine or book that is known to be adult-only, graphic, etc.). The pictures and words are there, whether or not you want to see them. So, that's my rationale behind the different standards for the two. Plus, if you're reading the story online you could just Google the details from somewhere else. Gotta keep those pageviews.

Interesting. Now I'm wishing my original polls had tried to get at this -- the question of intentional choice. Presumably, a news story could just say, "Warning: some details might be disturbing." But that wouldn't help the people who wanted to know the gist of the story, without the details.

Nuclear weapon to your head, which do you choose?

War Games. Obviously. Give us a hard question.

Holy cow. That is brilliant! I love that movie, and that trailer does an outstanding job of disguising how very funny - and sorta poignant - the film actually is!

It is poignant, isn't it? A very nice coming of age.

Sometimes I use 'bad' language (like, the aforementioned 'funner') - just to be funny or ironic or whatever I think it is. And my kids correct me! which I think is funny...and awesome. I'm perfectly fine with it, it means they are learning something in school.

I'm not entirely convinced that the boyfriend isn't doing it for the same reasons.

A newspaper shouldn't print cursing or true crime details in case children or little old ladies pick it up. Linking to them is a good compromise.

Oh, men are far more scandalized by this sort of thing than women, I think. Little old ladies are made of very stern stuff.

I'm starting my research today, since I just got the idea. My friend posted on Facebook that her 4 year old asked her how windshield wipers worked. She responded, I'm not sure, ask Daddy. Her kid said, Daddy knows EVERYTHING in the whole world. When asked what Mommy knows, she said, "you know some things." So, I want to start a website and app that has women answering STEM related questions in videos, for different ages. Little kid questions, like why is the sky blue, and big kid questions. After a fight on FB about feminism and all that, I think it's super important for little girls, and kids in general, to see women answering sciency questions. I need to talk to web and app developers. If anyone knows anyone, I'd love ideas!

I LOVE this idea. Actually, you should email me if it gets off the ground. I will write about it.

I'm a man with a profile on an online dating site, and one of the things I've noticed on a lot of women's profiles is their disdain for grammatical errors. I work as an editor for a wire service and make my living correcting grammar. But I honestly don't care if someone accidentally writes Your instead of You're in an email to me, but for many women it's apparently a deal breaker. Why is this? Is this a gender thing or an insecurity thing? For all I know a lot of men say the same thing on their profiles.

I don't think it's a gender thing. I think it's personality. Some people view grammar mistakes as a bellwether for character, which seems to be one of the silliest bellwethers I've ever heard of. I'm always surprised when I get reader email saying something like, "In your third paragraph, your 'she' should have been a 'her,' and therefore I obviously  can never trust anything you ever write again."

I was disappointed when I heard that Yahoo! is halting the telework options. Although my work does not even allow cell phones in the work area and teleworking has never been an option, I always wished I had found a company that allowed it. Unless Ms. Mayer can prove that her company is not meeting their productivity goals BECAUSE they allow teleworking, I think it is a decision that may backfire on her. That said, I will certainly miss this chat live (I work on Thursdays), but thank you for all the knowledge and fun you have provided me in the past.

You're welcome, and we'll miss you. And you can always submit early and then come back and read the transcripts.

SO TOTALLY on board with this! I want to help answer questions! Monica, can you hook us up?

Yes. I can try. Everyone who is interested in this awesome project should email me after the chat at hessem@washpost.com. If the OP also writes, I will try to put you in contact.

I'd like to see them in both media, but I suspect the decision has more to do with the waning of the print format, not any effort to protect the public from graphic details. As you point out, newspapers in the past didn't usually skimp on the nasty bits!

I -do- think we make more of an effort to "protect the public" now, though. Not just since the rise of the Internet. For a few decades now.

That a mom who takes minimal maternity leave time would want to force all of her employees to work in the office. I doubt Mayer is really sympathetic to anyone who wants a flexible schedule. Unless she changes, either she or Yahoo will be gone within a couple of years.

Yahoo has already been perceived as "troubled" for awhile -- she may feel like now is the time to pull out all of the stops.

Print and on-line are essentially separate publications that share a LOT of content, but still separate. I'm sure the publication has information about the differences between the two sets of readers. In particular, on-line readers may be more likely to jump around if they find they don't like something - just an internetty way of reading. I guess it may be due to the space constraints, but I think it is more to do with different readers.

Posting.

I clicked on the link for the story and got a box asking me to fill in my age AND my e-mail address to get access to the details. And the box is illustrated with pictures of bound wrists. If anyone at my office had walked past right now, they would have thought I was trying to register for access to a bondage pornography site. This makes me extremely upset, and I strongly doubt the paper's claims to doing this out of ethics. They've turned the details of the story - whatever grotesque horrors these poor victims suffered - into fodder for titillation. It's a P.T. Barnum move, and honestly, I don't want to give them my e-mail address because they've made it very clear, with the option to click a box that signs you up to receive further updates on the killer, that they're doing this not to weed out the weak-stomached but to cater TO the people who are really into this stuff. I'm a true crime buff for reasons I can't even quite explain to myself, but clicking on that page made me feel like a ghoul clamoring for more tidbits of pain from a source that's dangling them like meat.

I'm interested in your read on why they asked for your email address. Maybe I'm just more jaded or pragmatic, but I don't think it has anything to do with them wanting to push you more ghoulish content. I think it has to do with them wanting to push you more content, period. They want clicks, they want eyeballs, and having your email address in their numbers helps them do that.

Bad grammar in writing drives me insane, because people have the ability to edit before sending. I'm less annoyed by spoken bad grammar (although "between you and I" is an exception to that - it's ME, people!). I'm talking about simple things, like the example the prior writer used (you're vs. your), or apostrophes in plurals (or "plural's"). I guess I think people should show a modicum of knowledge of the English language when communicating in writing. Maybe it comes from reviewing so much written work produced by business majors who clearly avoided any and all English classes beyond English 101 and therefore cannot write coherent sentences. Or, maybe I'm just a huge snob.

The thing is, I think that I would myself be a huge grammar snob, were it not for the fact that I find huge grammar snobs to be so insufferable. My hatred of poor grammar is surpassed only by my hatred of dictatorial grammarians. If they were just slightly less irritating, I could be compelled to join their ranks.

 

(Not you, though. I'm sure you're lovely).

I can't speak for all women but, as a former English major who writes for a living, I am bothered by basic grammar failures. Nevertheless, when I was on-line dating, I decided to overlook the your/you're mistakes of one guy who contacted me. (We've been together several years now. But I still tease him about that.)

And really, anyone can make the occasional mistake.

Actually, I am running two screens right now and I'm at work. One for email; the other screen has my work (and this chat) open. BTW, I am also listening to Pandora and drinking coffee.

You have two computers at work? You must be very fancy!

I almost always am on my computer while watching tv. Did you see that Nielsen tracks the popularity of shows using Twitter?

I did! I think my colleague Jessica Goldstein actually wrote a piece on this, but I havent' the time to dig it out quite yet.

I wonder if Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to abolish working from home and instead require employees to come to the workplace might have a brief success bump due to Hawthorne Effect -- i.e., that change just for the sake of change can cause a temporary improvement even if in the long run it produces less success.

Right. I mean, if my new boss instituted a broad change like that, it would probably scare me into an amazing productivity boost, based on nothing but fear.

Someone wise (my husband) indicated it was a way to do a major layoff without having to, well, announce a layoff and/or pay severance. Another idea.

I heard that theory, too -- that a certain percentage of employees would just find other work-from-home jobs rather than upend their entire schedules.

I'm always wary of people who seem a little over the top when it comes to their reaction to incorrect grammar. They tend to be insecure about their intelligence and are often looking for ways to to prove themselves. They also tend to argue over petty details and when proved wrong about something seem more angry about that than happy to learn something new.

Well, it's not true of all members of the grammar police -- but those it is true of give the others a bad name.

Am I the only one who read this and thought that they should be witholding some details about the crimes as a way to help catch the criminal, not because it may or may not offend some readers?

You and me, we've watched too many Criminal Minds episodes. My guess is that the police were pretty heavily involved, and did not think that this would be a problem.

I work at a college pushing to increase the number of online courses. Some of the tools I am being asked to use seem to fit very well, and others seem to me to be just tech for the sake of tech. The school wants us to use LOTS of the bells and whistles, but I'm reluctant to, say, embed a Twitter feed in my course when I don't see what good it will do. Assuming that there is a possibility of too many widgets in an online course, how would you decide what to include? And how heavily would you weight "students love this?"

You know who this is a question for? Father Cupcake! I know he's thought about these issues in his various professorial and administrative roles. I shall call him right now and see if he has time to answer. And if not, come back next week (Thursday!) when both he and I will have given if some thought.

Apparently, the work-at-home thing at Yahoo has been badly managed, to the point where employees have created start-ups while supposedly working on Yahoo's dime. She might have felt she needed to totally rein things in to set a new mood.

Always a possibility.

Note: I have spoken to Father Cupcake, but he is not at a computer right now. He calls this "A very cool question," though, and he and I promise to have answers for you next Thursday.

Unless someone is paying me, I'm not going to give my personal emails the same attention to grammar as I do doing work. If any of my friends have problems, I can always bill them for my emails.

Correct.

To me the issue with poor grammar (or really very sloppy writing) is that it shows a lack of consideration. Why should the other person have to work out so hard what you're trying to say?

No. I mean, yes, sometimes. But often what it shows is just that you have different values than the person you are communicating with. Perhaps you view a lapsed comma as a slight -- but you're fine with people showing up 10 minutes late to an outing.

 

That's why the Golden Rule isn't always effective. You might be treating others as you'd like to be treated, but not everyone wants to be treated the same way.

NPR does this a lot before airing certain news reports. Variations can include that the story might be inappropriate for younger listeners (anything from Santa to s-e-x).

Thanks, yes, I meant to point that out.

doesn't - oh, goodness, what's her name? vi? - do this for kahn academy?

Yes -- I was going to say that I know there are initiatives out there that do this as part of their mission. But since it sounds like the OP is in the beginning stages of her research, I'm sure she'll do due diligence in scoping out what's already out there. And I personally have no problems with an abundance of resources teaching kids -- girls and boys -- that women can be kick-butt scientists.

it's not just upending your schedule to come to work. they have people around the world that have NEVER been to the office. and if you don't want to live in CA, well, you have to find something else.

Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall that first day, when a bunch of shellshocked individuals come into the office where they have been working for five years, and learn that their email buddy Chris was actually female?

Thanks, I look forward to the hints and to finding out who Father Cupcake is! (I'm new to the chat.)

Bless your heart, we're glad to have you!

Father Cupcake is my dad. He's currently the director of the writing program at the University of Denver, but he's been the president or chair of several national organizations dedicated to college instruction, written several textbooks, and occasionally pops into the chat when a question arises that has to do with higher ed.

on how the social media engagement of Pretty Little Liars fans was making the show punch above its weight in ad rates. And they've been doing the hashtag thing this whole season. (Yeah, I watch PLL. Why not?)

Ain't nothing wrong with that.

And despite being here at the moment posting this, I'm actually a lot more productive at home than I was in an office. This is for 2 main reasons. 1. I don't want anyone thinking I'm slacking off, and 2. When I'm done with my work, it's my time. So any time I waste is also my time I'm wasting.

Plus, think of the hour you're saving every morning by just walking straight to your computer instead of finding clean work pants and battling traffic.

...when some "glassbowl" hassles or tries to humiliate you publicly about being a teetotaler and tries to bully you into drinking alcohol (or even tries to sneak it into your non-alcohol beverage)? Admittedly most folks are quite decent and unintrusive about such matters nowadays, but once in a while I still encounter a jerk.

Really? Nobody has done this to me since college. I think now everyone just assumes I'm a recovering alcoholic.

If someone does ask, I just tell them the truth, which is that I don't like the taste of alcohol.

The editor even helpfully made a small error in the topic line, to illustrate the point

We're a thoughtful bunch here.

really annoys me, and even in my texts, i try to do it right. One of the winner's speeches sunday night was awful - they said she instead of her or the other way 'round and it grated on my nerves.

Oh, but that just sounds so stressful! Going through daily life with that much irritation -- when there are so very many irritating things in the world.

While yes, I have a lot of research to do, I want to start this as answers to questions for the preschool-early elem age group. Kids need to see women answering hard questions from birth. There are lots of resources out there for older kids, it seems, but less for the big questions that 4 year olds ask.

Posting.

Speaker Boehner may cancel all Congressional trips unless they are to Iraq or to Afghanistan. So, all you Congressional staffers and members of Congress out there, your travel plans may have changed.

Really? See the things we learn during this chat.

Op here. We learned about Hawthorne Effect in introductory Psychology class. My understanding was that the temporary success of change-for-the-sake-of-change is not due to fear, but rather to the novelty of the change (even if ill-conceived, like Marissa Meyer's plan to abolish teleworking).

Noted, and that makes sense. But I would also just be knock-kneed terrified.

I have some references on my LinkedIn page from previous bosses (both very intelligent, but not able to write well). They each wrote recommendations that include several errors, grammatical and spelling. Should I have asked them to correct those recommendations prior to posting them (they were both posted before I saw them)? I am honored that they have written recommendations that state I am a great employee, but I cringe every time I read them and wonder if prospective employers would hold those errors against me.

This is a bit tougher, because I agree that business communication does have different rules than casual communication. Seeing as the recommendations are already up -- and it sounds like they have been for awhile -- I don't think there's much you can do. Except look at the bright side: An astonishingly large percentage of the population are terrible writers. There is a fair to decent chance that the people looking at these recommendations won't even realize there's anything grammatically wrong with them.

Why are only women advice columnists? How about starting a site that has dudes answering personal advice questions?

That's a topic for another chat. Or at least the next chat -- we're all out of time.

Remember, I'll see you next week, but it will be on THURSDAY. I'll try to build the chat early, and offer reminders throughout the week on Twitter, where I'm @MonicaHesse

Long time lurker here. Love your chat. I wonder if the whole grammar snob thing is sorta being used as code for judging someone's social class. I know plenty of smart people whose writing is more hilarious due all the grammatical mistakes. But sometimes the affluence of a school district and its corresponding budget do affect the kind of education a person receive. Thank you for indulging me.

(See, I always try to post questions from lurkers, because I love when new people get involved in the chat. I just saw this one too late -- but I hope you come next week and pipe up.)

 

Now I'm really leaving.

In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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