An Australian journalism student interviews me

It’s always exciting to receive e-mail from someone across the ocean, whether it’s in Europe or down under. Recently, I received questions over e-mail from Dianne Denisse Climent, a journalism student at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Dianne came across my Ponderings From Pluto satire blog and had questions about satire and blogging. Here are my answers.

1. What are your passions and credibility’s to date?
I’ve been a professional writer for 10 years. I’ve done news reporting, feature writing, sports writing, copy writing, copy editing, proofreading, columns, and, of course, blogging. My passions are journalism, column writing, blogging and fiction writing. I work 30 hours a week at a weekly newspaper, and in my spare time I like to blog.

I also hope someday to be a fiction writer.

When it comes to blogs, I have four: my writing career, my opinions, my life and thoughts as a Christian, and my satirical news blog.

Here is my most recent satirical blog posting.

2. What does satire mean to you?
To me, satire is the exaggeration or embellishment of news events. If done properly, it can make people laugh as well as think. One classic example is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, which he facetiously advocates cannibalism to draw attention to Ireland’s famine. I remember one girl at college was in tears after reading it, convinced that Swift was 100% serious. I got a good laugh out of that and thankfully, she didn’t organize her friends to lynch me. I think explaining to her that it was satire saved my life.

3. What are the different types of satire?
There are two basic types: one type favors humor while the other favors driving a point home. One example I love regarding humor is a United Way parody on Saturday Night Live where Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning spoofs his good-guy image by teaching kids unsavory habits.

I wonder how many anti-Peyton Manning football fans saw this ad and thought it was really true.

Regarding driving a point home, Swift’s essay has stood the test of time.

4. What does that satirical clip on Nintendo Wii fit demonstrate to you about satire?

It’s brilliant–serious enough to be completely convincing. This is an excellent piece of satire.

5. What do you believe are the ethical implications associated with the satire in this clip?
None. It is strictly a harmless parody. I see no problems with this video.

6. What do you believe are the legal implications associated with this clip?
Please see my answer to Number 5.

7. Do you think that satire is a legitimate commentary on society and life? or just ‘taking the piss’ out of everything?
Both. In my recent posting I try to draw attention to how the American media give Joe Biden a free pass of making a fool out of himself while crucifying Dan Quayle for mostly-apocryphal quotes of his. But yet, it is also fun to be satirical strictly to be funny. I still get angry comments from readers who think I’m an inaccurate reporter because of my satire of the American band Green Day releasing American Idiot II as a way of saying the band regrets voting for President Barack Obama.

8. Do you think satire is effectively used for social comment? Or because it draws on assumptions that people have knowledge on the set topic, it is easily misunderstood, or disregarded?
For those who grasp what satire is about, it can effectively be used for social comment. For those who read a satirical story and either believe it is true or believe it is a legitimate news story based on terrible research and reporting, it can easily be misunderstood and disregarded. Still, to me, when someone reads a satirical posting of mine and either believes it is 100% true or tells me what a great laugh they had, I am content I did my job well.

9. Is it correct for people to use humor in a derogatory manner? explain?
Excellent question, Dianne. I sometimes will do this in satire to make a point. One recent example is Fred Phelps, the Kansas “pastor” who believes American service members are dying because of the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality. In the post I “quoted” Phelps using very derogatory homosexual slurs, such as “fag”. For me, it was part of making a point. The trick is to make it relevant and try to keep in tasteful. I suppose if I did satire on African-American rappers some might expect to read a few “N-words”, but I feel very leery about doing this.

10. Online content is to be quick and eye-catching, as oppose to traditional formats which have more time to meet deadlines. As a blogger what does this mean for you and your blogs?
You have to keep things fresh, updated and remain aware of the times. Computers are constantly changing, and the Internet is changing. “In” is Facebook and Twitter: on its way “out” is Myspace.

When it comes to satire, I like to add images and videos to my posts to help with the visual appeal. Sometimes unflattering photos add to the humor.

11. The  Nintendo Wii fit video is online, therefore it is spread quickly, and is easily accessible- should this be a cause for concern, as traditional media would not have that same exposure?
I don’t see any problems except for those who might be genuinely disappointed when they realize this is false.

12. As a blogger, what are your thoughts on the perception that bloggers are less ‘ethical’ when it comes to their posts?
Bloggers aren’t held to the same type of accountability that newspaper or magazine journalists and columnists are–unless the blogger works for a client who reserves the right to review, edit and delete posts. But bloggers like Perez Hilton can pretty much post what they want as long as long as they are not false or grossly misleading (Hilton famously had to delete a post suggesting Michael Jackson was faking his illness after it was revealed Jackson had died). Other bloggers who have their own blogs on WordPress, Blogspot, Typepad or Live Journal answer to themselves and don’t have to worry about negative ramifications when their blogs are ignored. While there are reporters and columnists who are dirtbags, there are also many bloggers who believe everything they see, hear or read and will post accordingly. Try to write professionally like that, and you will soon be fired.

13. Do you think that the online format enhances the potential for an improvement in ethical or “best practice” publishing over traditional legacy media? explain.
Traditional legacy media will probably someday be a relic in a museum. I think that most–if not all–media sources someday will be online only. As for potential in ethical or “best practice”, I imagine the government in the future will start passing laws designed to hold bloggers more accountable for their actions when they write “news” that is inaccurate.

14. What are the legal and ethical challenges you encounter when posting online content?
If what you posted is factually incorrect and libelous, you face lawsuits. If it is just incorrect, you quickly remove or re-edit and, when necessary, issue a correction. If it is incorrect or misleading, you face a loss of respect for readers who sometimes will tell you in blunt language that your blog isn’t worthy for reading during time on the toilet.

15. Being a blogger, do you enjoy receiving comments, likes and or dislike on your work? What does this type of online interaction do for you?
I love reading comments–whether people agree or disagree with me. Hate mail doesn’t bother me as much anymore, and I seldom respond directly to it. Online interaction is a validation that someone out there is reading your blog. That is wonderful.

16. What do you hope the online world holds in future for bloggers like yourself?
More user-friendly, smaller computers. Perhaps blogs that you can write on or update through mental thought commands. Perhaps even ways for you to blog in ways that disguise you’re away from home.

Richard Zowie is an American writer based in Michigan. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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