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News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean

Month

May 2012

Jamaica’s National Record Holder (Discus) Jason Morgan – “It’s lonely, frustrating, and also motivating”

Following is a lightly edited transcript of my interview with Jason Morgan, Jamaica’s national record holder in the discus throw, which aired on May 30, 2012 on RJR 94 FM. Morgan has twice broken the national record in the past few months with his most recent throw being 67.15 metres on May 12th, and has achieved the Olympic A qualifying standard.

Photo from www.jasonmorganonline.com

DJM: What accounts for your improved performance so far this year?

JM: This year, I think I am more focused, I’ve lost some weight, I’ve worked on my flexibility, and also just the aim of being the Jamaican discus thrower in the finals, at the Olympic Games.

DJM: That’s what been pushing you?

JM: That’s what been pushing me.

DJM: Tell us a little bit about your training regime.

JM: I can proudly confirm and stand tall to say I coach myself. I work a fulltime job, I work from 7 – 4.15 every day Monday to Friday, and as soon as I get off work I go to practice.

When I see strangers just walking on the track, I will just stop somebody and ask them to record me doing two or three throws and when I go home I try to study that video… pick out the mistakes, pick out the positive things, and work on the next thing the next day. If I see another stranger walking I would just ask them to do the same thing and keep on repeating that ’til my technique (is) sharp.

It’s been a struggle, it’s been a lot of challenges along the way, but I have this aim, I have this focus. I’ve been breaking down some barriers and doing some positive things for myself, and for people who look up to me and also for my country.

DJM: Let me go back to you coaching yourself – tell me how come.

JM: I graduated from Louisiana Tech University , the coach who is there, I know he’s got his university athletes to coach, and I know he has to spend time with them. It’s not enough time for me, so it just means falling back on my experience, my drive and willpower, my determination to do it myself…

DJM: It sounds lonely, is it?

JM: Yes, it is lonely, it’s frustrating and it’s also motivating. The frustration part comes in where I don’t think my country, I wouldn’t say my country, but my athletic association, I don’t think they do enough to keep me encouraged.

I’m the best discus thrower over the years, I’m not bragging, I’m not boasting, but just being thankful and humble for that. I reach out for a lot of help, asking for just a little assistance, I’m not trying to be rich from Jamaica, but just a little assistance would be really good, and it would make me feel wanted and appreciated,

DJM: What would you need to help you to continue, to do better?

Modern copy of Myron's Discobolus in Universit...
Modern copy of Myron’s Discobolus in University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

JM: What would really help me is just a little financial assistance to take care of my travelling, accommodation. I have to take care of my discus and buy my own throwing shoes. I don’t have a sponsor, I don’t have a shoe contract, everything comes out of my pocket for gear, shoes. Every year I say I’m going to use faith to keep going, I’m going to show determination to say ok, someone can help me, someone can reach out, somebody can see what I’m doing, and just be compassionate in some way, but it’s been really hard, it’s been really challenging.

I’m going to be the first Jamaican to represent my country well in the Games (in discus), I’ve been to two World Championships, the first and only Jamaican to ever do that, it’s balancing on both sides – to continue and to stop. I’m still weighing my options to see whether I’m going to continue after this year, whether I win the Olympics or not, because sometimes just a little motivation, a little help somewhere, can make a big difference,

DJM: For the next couple of weeks leading up to the Olympics, tell me what your schedule is going to be.

JM: I’m going to the New York Grand Prix on June 9th, and then there’s another meet in Houston …but I’m not sure about going to that because financially I don’t have that, to go there to compete, so after the 9th, I’ll probably just sit back and work hard and get ready for the Jamaican trials.

It would be really good if I can get some help because I’m going to be missing some days from work, and I still have kids and family to take care of, and I don’t get paid while I leave to represent my country, I also don’t get paid when I leave to go to meets, so I’m competing and worrying about all that stuff, it’s so much pressure, (and I’m) trying to take that pressure out on the discus, I guess that’s why I’m doing so well this year, ‘cause I’ve been showing a lot of aggression in my throws.

DJM: You’re channeling all that into the throws?

JM: I’m trying, probably I need to (channel) a whole lot more when I get to London.

DJM: We know the track events, especially the sprint events are the glamour events that get the most attention, does that frustrate you?

So-called “Lancelotti Discobolus”. Marble, Rom...
So-called “Lancelotti Discobolus”. Marble, Roman artwork, ca. 140 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

JM: I don’t think it frustrates me anymore. Over the years, to be honest it frustrated me. I’ll go to some meet, the World Championships or whatever and sometimes I’m the only discus thrower there, everybody is a runner, jumper, whatever, I’ll look around and (think) ‘This feels really good, to say I am Jamaica’s best thrower standing right here representing really well, but my focus is just on me, and doing the best I can, while inspiring others to achieve, in spite of the challenges or struggles they go through.

DJM: A couple weeks ago I spoke with Julian Robinson, the Calabar (High School) throwing coach and (track and field commentator) Hubert Lawrence, one of the things they said is that after most people leave college and those athletic scholarships are up, most people just quit at that point. What’s been allowing you to keep going?

JM: There are challenges in every area, in everybody’s life. My thing that keeps me going is that all  great achievements require time…also just to be able to do something that nobody has ever done before.

I know everybody’s going to jump and say yes, they knew he could do it, he’s strong and everything, but there are days when I’m crying. I’m a big man, 6’3”, 288 pounds, and I’m not afraid to say I cry through frustration, I’m not afraid to say I cry through victory, but I just want to keep breaking down barriers, and let it be known that staying positive and having great faith, working hard, can achieve a whole lot.

DJM: How do you assess the competition this year?

JM: I look at that field as, they’re just human like me. They may have some support and they may have two, three, different coaches, but at the end of the day, it’s what you bring on that day. I don’t have (anything) to lose, I don’t have (any) pressure to do (anything), I’m actually doing this because I really love it, and I’m doing this because I know there are a few positive people in my corner that really want me to do well.

So those guys, they know I’m coming, they know I’m on the way. Last year they looked at me at the World Championships, I finished 17th in the world, and they took top 12 to the finals so I was really close. I think that’s why I’m motivated to just make a difference, and (to) say on that day I’m going to be on the podium, that’s the aim.

DJM: Do you think you’re on track to achieve that?

JM: For sure. I’m just waiting to get some of the distance I get in practice. It’s a good thing I (got) that 67.15(metres), broke the national record, I know 70 metres can turn some heads and shock some people and open some eyes, so I am waiting for that to happen at an official meet.

DJM: I know Maurice Smith, the decathlete, introduced you (to discus) but what kept you with it?

JM: I was a sprinter at Calabar, I was a jumper, a triple jumper, but Maurice Smith encouraged me to do this and (I’m giving a) shout out to Mr. Noel White, because a lot of days they (told) me “Come on, you can do this.”

In 1999 I was a gold medalist in the medley relay, and I went to work one summer and gained about 40 pounds and (came) back to training and couldn’t get it off. Maurice was the one who pushed me and said, “Come on, you can be a thrower,” and I’d be like “No, nobody really looks at the throwers.”

It really motivated me to see how someone can really push you to do something and then I (found) …my own motivation and just (kept) going from then.

DJM: Any regrets?

JM: No regrets. I’m not sure if I would do it all over again, but I feel good about what I’ve achieved, and also feel good about when I’ve been through and still (am) going through to be where I’m at. I’m just thankful, this is just the grace of God that’s brought me to where I’m at today. I’m feeling good and I’m feeling positive.

DJM: What would you say to the Prime Minister who has the sports portfolio?

JM: I would say please, please, I need just a little help, a little recognition, to do some damage. I’m not going to say I’m going to be the Usain Bolt of track and field but I am going to be the Jason Dadz Morgan of the throws, so please do what you can. Anything you can do will be greatly appreciated.

You can get more information about Jason Morgan at his website, www.jasonmorganonline.com.

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Corporal Punishment in Jamaica Part 2 – What Happens at Home

You've got to be cruel to be kind...
You’ve got to be cruel to be kind… (Photo credit: HA! Designs – Artbyheather)

I got some interesting and heartfelt responses to my first post on corporal punishment in Jamaica, especially in relation to what used to happen in the schools.

In commenting on how students not very quick academically were treated at his primary school Earl said:

“Instead of intellectual stimulation they were mostly treated to the stimulus administered to all parts of their bodies (not just the rear end or the hands) by heavy belts, rulers, sticks, canes or any other convenient implement. Some of these instruments of cruelty were even given names by some teachers, so strong was the bond they attached to their favourite ‘weapon’.

I am still pained by the memory of a particular girl being made to stand on the desk so that her tormentor could be better positioned to beat her around the legs. The strop he used was about four ft long and with each blow it would wrap around her exposed leg and bruise her further as it retracted. But it did not stop there! With each blow he issued a string of invectives, calling her names such as “white pork”. Yes; she was of very light complexion as most the people in that section of St. Elizabeth (mainly of Scottish descent) were.”

This memory came from Vivienne:

“I still remember grade six at primary school when the whole class was caned because one boy did not do his homework. He was not punished. This went on for about a week until the boys beat up the one who refused to do his work. That was apparently the teacher’s strategy. It was a traumatic experience. Teachers should be banned (from) hitting a child point blank.”

A thin, flexible cane designed for corporal pu...
A thin, flexible cane designed for corporal punishment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People’s feelings about corporal punishment in the home, however, are a lot more mixed.

Carmen shared this:

“I think parents should parent with love, care, concern, self-control and discipline. That is what setting a good example means. Each child requires different techniques … beating them to death (or near death) to teach them about life is just plain ridiculous and abusive. Slapping down a child because “yuh jus like you fadda” makes no sense, slap yourself, you chose this no good SOB!! But again a swift swat on the behind is necessary sometimes.”

But Phyllis believes that corporal punishment is always a no-no.

“Parents may indeed rationalize that they were beaten and that they turned out alright- is that really true? This is called fooling oneself.

Teachers and parents have absolutely no need to inflict physical punishment on children- instead, both parents and teachers need to be made aware of the difference between discipline and punishment. …Correction of errant behaviour could take the form of lost privileges, doing work to compensate for what should have been done etc. The outcome of this approach is to cultivate a sense of ownership of one’s actions in the child via showing the strong relationship between logical and natural consequences of actions- positive or negative. This approach develops discipline which everyone needs to take them through life as responsible, productive and principled individuals.”

Many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of the state intervening in how a parent disciplines his/her children. with the caveat that clear cases of child abuse should be prohibited.

This of course is the difficult part. Where do you draw the line? What is ok? Carmen speaks of a swat on the behind. Most people wouldn’t bat an eye at that. Or at a slap on the arm or leg. Once you get beyond that it can get tricky.

Paul said in response to my post on Facebook:

“There is a difference between beatings to keep a child in line and taking out frustration on children with what they called “murderations.” I thank my mother for keeping me and my siblings in line with the rod. God bless her and I thank her for it every day.”

Many Jamaicans echo his sentiments and tell you they were the better for the beatings they received as a child.

The Global Coalition to End all Corporal Punishmentof Children is seeking to end corporal punishment in all settings, including the home.

Map of the world with colour applied to countr...
Map of the world with colour applied to countries with an official prohibition of all forms of corporal punishment of children, based on http://endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/progress/prohib_states.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The group’s 2012 Progress Report on the Caribbean stated that:

“A 2004 study involving 1,720 11-12 year olds in Jamaica found that the most common methods adults used to resolve conflicts with children in the home were pushing, grabbing and slapping children (experienced by 86% of children) or beating them with an object (84.2%).

In a later study, also in Jamaica, children described being beaten with objects such as belts, rulers, garden hoses and boards, and in a 2004 study involving 203 parents of 6 year olds, 46.6% stated that physical assault was the most commonly used “disciplinary method” in their homes. Of those reporting physical assault 31.1% reported spanking and 13% beating with an object; other physical assaults included pinching children, shaking them and tying their hands.”

The Report looked at children’s attitudes to corporal punishment and said that:

“In a study involving six focus groups with 60 children aged 7-12 in Jamaica, reported in 2008, children expressed their anger and hurt at physical punishments and revealed their struggle to understand the idea that their parents “beat them because of love.”

When children were asked about how they would behave as parents of the future, some children said they would use more democratic or flexible discipline while others said they wanted to hurt their own children as much as they had been hurt:

“I would give them everything they do to us; I would tape their hands; I would beat them so hard they can’t talk; I would slap the living daylights out of them; I would tie them to the bed, and thump them in their mouth …”

The Coalition notes that the laws governing corporal punishment in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries have their origin in our colonial past.

Bodilo adjusting his culottes after corporal p...
Bodilo adjusting his culottes after corporal punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“As in much of Africa and Asia, corporal punishment of children was promoted and institutionalised across the Caribbean during the colonial period, in the context of military occupation and slavery, in the development of early school and penal systems, and in some Christian missionary teaching.

The legality of corporal punishment across the region has its origins in the laws of colonising European countries. This is visible in the provisions allowing for “reasonable punishment” in the laws of many Caribbean nations, as well as the application of the English common law concept of “reasonable chastisement” in British overseas territories including Anguilla, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

The group is lobbying for law reform that would remove all legal defences to corporal punishment and for legislation clearly prohibiting corporal punishment, saying that:

“Without explicit repeal of these defences and justifications, children do not have equal protection from assault; laws may exist against violence and abuse of children, but these are not interpreted as prohibiting all corporal punishment.”

The Coalition maintains that although public education is necessary, legislative reform cannot await societal acceptance of the abolition of corporal punishment, arguing that:

“The states which have achieved full prohibition have done so in almost every case despite majority public opinion opposing a ban. On this as on many other social issues, governments must act on the basis of their human rights obligations and professional advice – well ahead of public opinion.

There is no justification for keeping children waiting for a change in the law to confirm their fundamental rights while attempting to change adult attitudes. Nobody would argue that law reform to prohibit all violence against women in the home should await universal anger management courses and full employment for men.”

It’s unlikely that our politicians are likely to grab onto this particular hot potato yet. Let’s be clear, Jamaica has made significant progress on this issue of the beating of children. The nightmare scenarios of vicious beatings in schools recalled by so many Jamaicans are unthinkable today. Thank God for that!

The Education Ministry under the leadership of Andrew Holness acted against the sentiment of a sector of the public in announcing that there is to be no more corporal punishment in schools, and corporal punishment is now legally prohibited for children in the care of the state.

Neighbours will often now call the police if they think children are being beaten excessively, that is, are being subject to what Jamaicans call “murderation.” But what is acceptable remains the subject of debate. Spankings with the palm of the hand? Beatings with a belt? Electric cord? A broomstick? A ten-minute beating? Half an hour? An hour? Where does loving discipline end and abuse begin? Is any type corporal punishment by parents ever acceptable?

These are hard questions. What I think is beyond doubt is that parents need more help. I keep hearing the question “If we are not to beat, what are we to do?” and I think it is a legitimate one.

Parenting is hard work. It is one of the hardest jobs on earth, and some children are much  more challenging than others. We need more resources, more workshops and seminars to help parents cope and to provide ideas on how to parent. Schools and churches can be instrumental here. In many cases, parents don’t choose corporal punishment as a considered method of punishment. Many of us simply don’t know of any other methods of discipline that work.

It’s a difficult issue, but one we need to keep talking about. What are your feelings on corporal punishment in the home?

Corporal Punishment in Jamaica Part 1

A thin, flexible cane designed for corporal pu...
A thin, flexible cane designed for corporal punishment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There aren’t many more emotive topics in Jamaica than the debate on corporal punishment. By law, corporal punishment is now banned in state institutions like children’s homes. Section 62 (d) of the Child Care and Protection Act provides that a child in a place of safety, children’s home or in the care of a fit person shall have the right to be free from corporal punishment.

The Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica several years ago banned corporal punishment in  its schools, and the Education Ministry has issued a directive that corporal punishment is prohibited in all schools, with legislation expected to back that up.

But although corporal punishment now (supposedly) remains the province only of parents or guardians in the home, the current position is bitterly opposed by many Jamaicans who believe that one of the worst things to have happened in the education system was the ban on corporal punishment in schools. Really?

One of the things I have great difficulty with is this romanticising of what used to happen in the schools in decades past. Let’s be clear. Some of those teachers were either sadists or mentally ill and needed to be removed from the classroom and either put into therapy or locked up.

God alone knows what issues they were bringing into the schools.

And no, this isn’t personal bitterness. Confession –  I was a nerd, I didn’t get beatings.

But sit down any group of Jamaicans and have them reminisce about the beatings they got and observed in school, and if you take off the cultural filter that tells us this is ok, you will, or should, be horrified.

A co-worker sent me this BBM when she heard me discussing the issue:

“My Grade 4 teacher nearly bruk mi thumb with a bamboo stick. Grade 4 and mi still remember she name!”

Others have stories of teachers who would wet the strap so as to inflict maximum pain.

One friend remembers a teacher who at one point during a particularly vicious beating, got up on a desk for better leverage to beat the boy since he was refusing to cry.

Another remembers a teacher hurling the black board eraser straight at her head (yes, she hit her), a common practice of teachers up to fairly recently. Hopefully by now, the threat of having their asses hauled into court, along with the Ministry’s directive, has put paid to that kind of behaviour.

And as for the fondly remembered Jamaican charge to the teacher at the beginning of the school year in respect of a “bad boy” to :

“Tek him teacher, I beg you, just spare the eye”

when stripped of the humour and the romanticism can be seen for what it was: parental complicity in the abuse of vulnerable children.

A scottish schoolboy receives corporal punishm...
A scottish schoolboy receives corporal punishment with the lochgelly tawse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is nothing romantic or alright about such stories. Personally, I think some of the parents who were quick to rush up to school and threaten teachers who beat their children might well have been reacting to the state-sanctioned child abuse they suffered as a child.

Some readers will say I am recounting the extreme examples. Problem is, there was a lot of extremist behaviour taking place.

Some teachers say it is impossible to keep order without the belt. But where do you draw the line? Is it ok for teachers to walk around lashing out indiscriminately with a wide, heavy, leather strap? Is it alright if  canings are administered only by the principal? What about a slap on the palm of the hand with a ruler? What’s ok and what’s not? Or is the best bet to abandon the slippery slope and ban all corporal punishment in schools as has been done?

As I said, the issue is controversial. but never more so than when it comes to corporal punishment in the home.  Here’s a sampling of comments from the Facebook page of Beyond-theHeadlines (my radio programme on http://www.rjr94fm.com 5.30 – 7.30 pm) illustrating the range of views on this matter.

Collin Hutchinson: One cannot equate a child’s rights to that of an adult as you are shaping the child’s behaviour, while an adult is already shaped, therefore you cannot justify children’s rights on that basis. The problem is experts cannot separate child abuse from corporal punishment and also fail to give suitable alternatives to what has been an age old human behaviour.

Troy Kennedy:  Have these people noticed how some of these foreign kids are spoiled because parents can’t discipline them? I don’t see beating a child the old fashioned way being corporal punishment. I think they should define what they call corporal punishment of a child.

Eleanor Grace: Spanking your child is sometimes effective. Child abuse is an entirely different animal. The Government should NOT be involved in a parent disciplining their child.

Brian-Paul Welsh: Everything in moderation. A firm correction and slap is not the same as “batta-bruising” and humiliating a child. Jamaicans by and large are very physically violent with their children because that is their only frame of reference for discipline. It is an ugly cycle that we keep perpetuating.

Joseph T. Farquharson: So I know good adults who were never beaten while they were growing up and I know criminals who were subjected to corporal punishment while growing up. If parents have to resort to it that means that they have already lost control. We need to be examining the parents, not taking it out on the children.

Given the controversy, it was no surprise that there were mixed reactions to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children when representatives visited Jamaica recently.

The organisation’s website states that it was launched in 2001 to speed the end of corporal punishment of children across the world.

Legality of corporal punishment in Europe Corp...
Legality of corporal punishment in Europe Corporal punishment prohibited in schools and the home Corporal punishment prohibited in schools only Corporal punishment not prohibited (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problem for many Jamaicans is the lobby to end ALL forms of corporal punishment, and the feeling that overseas lobbyists are trying to impose their values on us. Many Jamaicans will tell you they don’t support excessive corporal punishment, but have no problem with moderate corporal punishment by parents to help discipline children.

One of the problems of course, is what level of corporal punishment is ok.

The Global Initiative, of course, says it is not ok at any level. It uses the definition from the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and which states that:

The Committee defines ‘corporal’ or ‘physical’ punishment as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (‘smacking’, ‘slapping’, ‘spanking’) children, with the hand or with an implement – a whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading. In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment that are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child.”

I’ll highlight excerpts from the report in a subsequent blog post.

But tell me, what memories do you have of corporal punishment? And what are your views on the debate?

Here We Go Again – Usain Bolt and His Girlfriend

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record ...
Usain Bolt after his victory and world record in the 100m at the bird’s nest, during 2008 Beijing olympics, august 16th (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yep, here we go again.

Usain Bolt has a white girlfriend!

Usain Bolt breaks up with his girlfriend!

Here goes another media feeding frenzy over something that is none of our business and totally unimportant. And just as was being said when I wrote my post about Yendi, the media are being asked why they won’t go off and solve crime, fix the economy, and prevent the sexual abuse of children.

Well, here’s the thing. First of all, check any newspaper. Listen to any newscast or talk show. There are actually scores of articles and issues discussed and covered every week. Sure, some of them are about people like Usain Bolt and his girlfriend, Kartel’s escapades, Kim Kardashian or (personal shudder) Justin Bieber, but there are also tons of stories on the economy, Parliament, crime and certainly right now, the sexual abuse of children.

We can talk about more than one thing at a time. We certainly have the column inches, the internet space and the hours of talk time.

“Why aren’t we talking about important issues?” goes the disparaging remark.

“We need to fix the serious problems in the country!”

I always wonder if people making these comments really think that the technocrats in the Finance Ministry have halted work on the budget, the police have stopped fighting crime, and social workers have put helping abused kids on hold while they enjoy the latest gossip about Usain. Or Asafa. And I’m sure your turn is coming soon, Yohan.  The problems of the country are being grappled with folks, even if we devote a bit of media space to whichever superstar people are following these days.

I always wonder how many of the critics making comments like that actually read the long (sometimes way too long) analytical articles in the Sunday papers, the detailed pieces in the business sections, or watch the coverage of Parliament (outside of the cass-cass). Hmmm. Anyway.

So, let’s forget the nonsense about the media needing to focus on important things. Serious news organisations do. All the time. BUT NOT ALL MEDIA HOUSES HAVE SERIOUS NEWSROOMS. So if you’re expecting that all media outlets will focus on the same crime/politics/economy/etc issues, you are really out of touch. And if you expect serious news organisations to ignore stories that millions of people are interested in, you’re not being realistic.

The other issue, then, is, should people be so concerned about something that is none of their business? Surely all that his fans should be concerned about is the time he ran in his latest race!

Usain Bolt winning the 100 m final 2008 Olympics.
Usain Bolt winning the 100 m final 2008 Olympics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who cares if Usain Bolt wants to date or dump a white, black or purple woman? Well, rightly or wrongly, hundreds of thousands (millions?) do.

People tend to decide for themselves what they are and are not interested in, and we can cover Parliament, the Estimates of Expenditure and the Caribbean Court of Justice til the super moon passes by again, that won’t stop people being interested in Bolt.  And it’s because hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people across the world do care about Usain Bolt’s love life that it’s a story. As one journalist said to me

“He’s a superstar and it’s an Olympic year.” Duh!

Bolt’s Facebook page has over 6.6 MILLION likes.

usain bolt - victory lap
usain bolt – victory lap (Photo credit: hannahspanna)

I wrote a post on news in the age of social media. Yea, social media matters. Do you really think it’s possible to have that many fans that connected to you, reading your every tweet and clicking on your latest post, without them feeling invested in your life, and yes, who you’re dating?

Since I first  posted this, a FB friend Irwine Clare commented:

“Why not? Brand Usain Bolt, it goes with the territory. $$$$$$ more”

That is an important point.  Stars deliberately build their platforms to help convert fans into consumers (of branded clothes, restaurants, books, whatever). That process contributes to the deep interest in their activities and lives.

So maybe you’d prefer to watch Parliamentarians debate the Estimates of Expenditure. That’s great. But I think you should accept that Usain’s girlfriends are going to be big news as long as he is a superstar. If you don’t like it, do what I do when I’m confronted by Bieber fever. Turn the page. Change the station. Click away. In other words, move on.

Let’s Hear it for the Moms Who Suck at Art & Craft!!!

Photo by supertrooper at www.freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by supertrooper at www.freedigitalphotos.net

I’m not going to pretend that this is a virtue on par with that of the Moms who sacrifice their lives for their children, give up kidneys or who starve while giving little Billy the very last Ramen noodle, for example. But can we just stop for one minute and recognise the Moms who struggle to the very end with those horrific art and craft projects when they, to put it baldly, suck at art? I don’t know what the hell teachers are taught in training school, but you will never convince me that anything involving construction of multi-building complexes  is an age-appropriate project for a five-year-old. A teacher told me once that the projects are supposed to encourage parents to work with their kids. Ok, pause. Doesn’t pasting pictures into a scrapbook achieve that, though? Why penalise those of us who scored Fs in Art? Oh, yeah, and our kids.

1. STORY Number 1-  Junior,  kindergarten kid comes home. He says he has to make a fire station to take to school. I, Mom decides that no kindergarten teacher could possibly expect anything looking like a real fire station. Since I sucked at art and craft Since Mom sucked at art and craft, she

photo credit: Rowan fire station visit via photopin (license)
photo credit: Rowan fire station visit via photopin (license)

got a shoe box, sat with Junior and found pretty pics of fire stations and then helped him paste them all around the shoebox. Presto!  An age-appropriate project for a three-year-old. P.S. Teacher sends back word to Mom that the box wasn’t a fire station. In the interest of world peace, Mom does not respond (although I was really tempted!)

English:
English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

STORY NUMBER 2  -Little Janie,  prep/primary school kid comes home. She’s supposed to make a village. Mom (who sucks at art & craft) helps kid make a village (of sorts). A couple sheets of cardboard, with windows drawn in, repeated five times, what’s not to like? On the morning the project is to go in, Architect Parent (of another kid) marches into classroom, carrying a perfectly constructed model village, of the type you might see outside the offices of a major development company to show investors what to expect. Little Janie bursts into tears.

“‘I’M NOT CARRYING IN THAT!”

she howls, in reference to the now-pathetic looking village.

Godshill Model Village, including the scale mo...
Godshill Model Village, including the scale model of the model village, within which is a third, even smaller model of the village. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

STORY NUMBER 3 – Junior comes home. This time, he’s supposed to make a housing scheme.  Junior wisely by-passes Mom entirely this time. Dad and Junior spend three days working lovingly on a model housing scheme, with matchbox houses complete with windows that open. Did I say Dad and Junior? Junior helped paint the white line in the middle of the beautifully baba-greened roads. This time, Junior proudly walks past the kids with the crappy houses that they made with the Moms who suck at art & craft.

Moral of the story? Moms (and Dads, but today is Mothers’ Day) who suck at art & craft are the real heroes of the parenting world. Those of us whose hearts sink when  we hear that Junior needs a hat for the hat parade tomorrow, and it has to be hand-made with an ackee on top. We rally to the cause and stay up ’til midnight and proudly produce a black cylinder with what looks like red and yellow ping-pong balls on top which Junior loves until he gets to school and sees what the other Moms made (let’s not fool ourselves that these are the kids’ creations!) And then we wipe away the tears, kiss them when they get no prize at all in the competition for the sucky projects and count the years until we, I mean they, can drop art & craft for good.  Don’t worry, that day will come, I promise. In the meantime, here’s to all of us!

Mothers' Day Cake crop
Mothers’ Day Cake crop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gay Marriage? Should Jamaica Take Notice?

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. President Barack Obama has become the first U.S. President to come out (pardon the pun) and openly endorse gay marriage, and the story is having a huge impact. Jamaicans should pay attention to this debate.

The Obama administration has progressively become more openly supportive of gay rights, as seen by the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that banned openly gay people from serving in the military.

With the US president’s instructions last year that the treatment of gays should be a criterion for determining how aid is allocated, this issue undeniably affects Jamaica. The push to expand gay rights across the world is continuing, and the situation in Jamaica is on the agenda of many gay rights organisations, thanks to our unenviable reputation for homophobia, a reputation, by the way, that many Jamaicans think is unfair and unwarranted.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller may be able to deflect some of the negative criticism for a while, due to recent suggestions that she is promoting full civil rights for gays, but seeing that her press secretary recently admitted that she is doing nothing of the sort (which is what I said weeks ago), I suspect that it won’t be too long before  attention zeroes in on Jamaica again.

Gay marriage is an incredibly divisive issue and some states in the US are still flatly against it.

Same-Sex Marriage Rally
Same-Sex Marriage Rally (Photo credit: City of West Hollywood)

In 2005 the UK took the decision not to introduce gay marriage, but instead devised an institution called “civil partnership” which gives gay couples the legal rights enjoyed by marriage couples.

The administration is now having consultations, however, on whether to allow same-sex marriage in civil settings, but not religious ceremonies, a controversial move strongly opposed by church leaders and traditionalists. Gay rights campaigners aren’t happy with it either, maintaining that gay couples should be allowed to marry in church settings if they so choose.

So although the conversation here in Jamaica focuses on the most basic of issues, whether the law making buggery a criminal offence should be repealed (something unlikely to happen any time soon), we ignore the wider discussion taking place on the global stage at our peril.

Jamaica’s Love/Hate Relationship with Asafa Powell

Asafa Powell
Asafa Powell (Photo credit: aktivioslo)

Ok, hate is stretching it. But listen to any group of Jamaicans argue about Asafa Powell and a wide range of emotions emerges. Support – unwavering and constant (or not!), exasperation and frustration  are among the most common. Even dedicated Asafa fans sometimes waver in their steadfastness. But what is it about this undeniably phenomenal athlete that stirs such intense emotions? Here are a couple of suggestions.

1. Unrealised Potential – this former world record holder has never won a major title except at the Commonwealth Games.  We know he’s one of our greats, one of the world’s greats. He’s proven it by breaking the world record. Twice. How many athletes can say that? So it would just be the icing on the cake for him to be standing on that top podium as the Jamaican anthem plays and the black, green and gold ascends above the rest.  And that’s the prize that has eluded him. We want it for him, for ourselves and for Jamaica. So fans are frustrated that he hasn’t managed to get there.

World record icon.
World record icon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. That mental element – we’re used to ultra-confident 100m champions. The chest-beating of Usain Bolt,  the cockiness of Carl Lewis or even the quiet determination of Tyson Gay. THAT  type of champion. So fans have never quite known how to read Asafa. When the BBC quoted Asafa as saying after that 2007 World Championship race in which he ran third to Tyson Gay and Derrick Atkins, that “When Tyson came on and gave me a little bit of pressure I just panicked.  When I saw I wasn’t in gold medal contention, I gave up in the middle of the race. I just stopped running,” fans said “huh”?

He has, however, said that most of his problems have been physical, not mental.

World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka - ...
World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka – World Record Holder Asafa Powell running away from Keston Bledman (left) and Florin Suciu (middle) during the first round heat in the men’s 100 meters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Giving Up – As a result of his admitted missed opportunities, and comments like the one he made in 2009, everybody has been speculating about Asafa not having the mental toughness to finish the race. This, although he ran a hard race to pick up the bronze at the 2009 World Champs. Even if he has now acquired the mental toughness he admitted to lacking in 2007, many fans seem to have lost faith.

4. The Money – let’s put it out there. Some fans seem offended by the fact that Asafa obviously puts emphasis on professional races where he gets paid. Seriously? The man is a pro athlete. That’s what he does for a living. If he ends up broke with people passing a hat for him, the most he’ll be getting from a lot of people is expressions of pity and shock. The money issue is a red herring. All the pro athletes are running for money. Why is Asafa getting so much flak for it?

5. Pulling Out  – Most recently, Asafa pulled out of the Jamaica Invitational, citing soreness in the groin, but announcing that he would be running in Doha at the start of the Diamond League. Last year, after talking up a storm all season he pulled out of the 100m at the World Championships, again citing injury. Although it makes sense that an athlete and his coaches would be thinking long term, and not wanting to risk possibly serious injury especially given Asafa’s history of injury,  again, fans seem to have lost faith.

Asafa has taken notice. He was quoted last year by the Daily Mail as saying that:

“Athletics can be a very ungrateful sport. All the negative talk about me, questioning my mental strength and asking if I can ever beat those guys again when it matters, well that’s just given me motivation to prove a lot of people wrong, and to prove to myself that I still have it.”

Asafa Powell after his 9.72 win and track reco...
Asafa Powell after his 9.72 win and track record at the 2010 Bislett Games. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

.’
As we draw nearer to the London 2012 Olympics, we’re all closely watching our elite athletes and hoping for the best for them all. Are fans expecting even more from Asafa this year, or have they given up?

Tell me what you think. Are we too hard on Asafa?  Or do you think he’s let his fans down?

Was My Post about Journalists and Food Offensive?

Lunch
Lunch (Photo credit: munir)

One experienced public relations practitioner was offended by my post “More Tips from the Newsroom” suggesting that breakfasts and lunches are not efficient ways of sharing information as they waste time. The offense was, I believe, primarily because of my suggestion that the food is seen as a way to entice journalists to attend the functions. I really did not intend to suggest that this is the case for all practitioners but I know that some people do think like this.

Here is the comment:

“As a former journalist, now a Public Relations Consultant, who has taught hundreds of people about good PR principles and media relations, I am offended by your comments.

In my book, breakfast or luncheon meetings are not about the meals, per se; but, rather a “time-based” convenience, to make the best use of journalist and client availability. However, it could be that, in the crassness of what goes for public relations today, the meal is the thing. But, it is tactless to paint such a broad band.

I am not into feeding journalists anything besides timely information;

and I have never called the newsroom to find out what happened to my story; and have taught my associates and students to refrain from making that mistake.

I have always maintained that “news” can always find its own legs…and does not have to be buffeted by enticements, or follow up calls. And, it is my hope that more of today’s PR practitioners will come to “understand” that they can “cross it,” because, in many cases they are the source. And, ultimately, media houses would have more respect for them, if they simply issued timely, quality news.”

This was my response:

“Sorry to have offended you Carmen, but I can state categorically that your position is not shared by all practitioners and business operators, and that some do believe that food is an enticement to journalists. I have heard the comments.

Secondly, for those who do not hold that view and believe, like you, that it is an efficient method of sharing information, I don’t know many journalists who would agree with that. As stated, many of us do not like breakfasts and lunches because they take way too much time and we believe that there are much quicker and efficient ways of sharing information, and therefore would much prefer a simple press briefing.

Not trying to be offensive, just practical and honest.

Again, the fact that you don’t call into media houses to enquire about your story doesn’t mean it is not done. It is done. All the time.

Photo – Michael Rhys
Wikimedia Commons

I would hope the professional, experienced public relations practitioners are not insulted by my posts (the first was called “Five Tips from the Newsroom), but the reason I have felt the need to write them is that we are the ones on the receiving end of all the unprofessionalism and what you call crassness that passes for public relations nowadays. I can understand why you would feel offended. However, unfortunately, all practitioners do not operate at the level of professionalism as you do. I wish they did.”

I appreciate the feedback and the opportunity to address this. What do you think? Were my comments offensive? Did they reflect reality? What would be your comment or suggestion?

Five More Tips from the Newsroom

Photo by bizior
ww.sxc.hu

My first post on this issue received fervent Amens from my colleagues, so here are a few more.

1. DON’T DON’T DON’T try to use our Marketing Departments to put pressure on Editorial to carry your stories. Does it work? I guess it must, in some cases, if so many people do it. But editors will resent the hell out of you, whether the story gets carried or not, and will probably make a point of dumping your future releases in the bin as soon as they come in.  This is not the way to build useful professional relationships.

Photo by Tinneketin at www.sxc.hu

2. If you want to have a press conference, please, have a press conference. Don’t have a breakfast or lunch. They take way too much time, say four hours compared to a press conference which could take about one and a half to two hours. If your story is important, it’s getting covered, food or no food. Okay, I realize that unfortunately, there are probably still some reporters who follow their bellies, but really, if your issue sucks, food won’t make any decent reporter or editor like it any better. Save yourself some money and save us the time. Juice, tea and coffee are generally fine for a two-hour event. We’re not hiking through the Blue Mountains here. Sandwiches and fruit on a side table if you really want to be hospitable. That way, those of us who want to rush off can do so, having already got the information/interviews we need.

3. Stop inviting us to cover foolishness. Newsrooms have been cutting staff, and on any given day, there’s much more going on than we’ll ever be able to cover.  In addition, there’s work being done on original stories and features. Many of the events we are invited to cover are just not newsworthy,  although the discussion of what is newsworthy has been evolving as I said in my post on the Yendi story and my post on newsworthiness and social media. If your clients insist on media coverage for the launch of Pretty Calendars Week, tell them the truth – reporters are unlikely to come. Take a photo, write a release, send it in and hope for the best. And since we’re on the subject of releases…..

Photo by flautenbag
http://www.sxc.hu

4. Learn how to write one! Teach yourself how to write, brush up on your grammar and  have someone proofread what you are sending out. Do I really have to say that badly-written releases are a big turn-off and instantly tell us you are not professional? And just as importantly, learn how to write for news. Again, do you really want to hope that an editor will have the patience (a quality in short supply) to comb through paragraphs and paragraphs of dense text to try to figure out if there is a nugget of news in there somewhere?

5. Don’t call to complain about the angle a reporter took in covering your press conference or event. Well, you can call, but first understand that if you want to control the message, you shouldn’t have a press conference. Send a release and hope for the best.

What do you think of these points and is there anything you’d add?

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