28 April 2008

The San Francisco Chronicle

Last Friday, the San Francisco Foghorn gang got to meet with Kay Marie Jacobson, the production and design director of The San Francisco Chronicle's online platform, SFgate.com.

In a little conference room on the fourth floor of the Chronicle building, eight of us writers from the Foghorn, our adviser, and Ms. Jacobson all sat down to talk about the online future of the Foghorn, and the Chronicle.

She informed us that SFGate is in the midst of a revamp, and that their major goals are to start incorporating more and more user generated content. She said that as the web has become more interactive, they have seen a shift in user expectations about how much they should be allowed to contribute. Rather than fear the change, Jacobson said they have embraced it. Some of their ideas have been to allow users to have their own blogs, to upload their own pictures, and personalize their own profiles. Essentially, she said, SFGate is to become like its own social networking site.

The ability for users to comment all of the articles on SFGate was another big topic Jacobson talked to us about, due to our peaked interest. The Foghorn is currently incapable of allowing user comments, but as the entire staff is pretty much on board to start allowing them, we're now focusing on practical details. Particularly, we've been worried about the prospect of "inappropriate" comments that could be offensive or damaging to one's reputation. So Jacobson gave us some very practical advice, describing SFGate's screening process, their terms of use, their list of forbidden words (how I would have loved to sit in on that meeting!), and also the overall success they've found from allowing comments.

The last word of advice she left us with was, "Experiment!" Since we're in college and are not really concerned with any of this from a business perspective, now is the time to try anything and everything we want. I couldn't agree more.

After the inspiring meeting with Ms. Jacobson, politics reporter Rachel Gordon (who was working on this story at the time) gave us a tour of the Chronicle building. What a treat!

Here are some pictures I sneakily snapped along the way.

The newsroom on a Friday afternoon. It was relatively quiet that day, Gordon told us.

A silly desktop decoration. I guess anyone in this industry would have to have a sense of humor.

I was glad to see desk organization was not a job requirement -- I'd be in serious trouble if that were the case.
The Foghorn gang speaking with two of SFGate's primary multi-media guys. They showed us some of their favorite projects, from their first podcast (which was simply an article read aloud) to their more recent, and more sophisticated, interactive Olympic Torch Route Map.

The Chronicle building at 901 Mission Street. I highly recommend checking it out if you ever get the chance.

23 April 2008

Heart of the City

The outside market that takes place in the U.N. Plaza every Wednesday and Sunday is called the Heart of the City Farmers Market. I couldn't think of a better name for it if I tried, for it truly is a place where the heart and soul of San Francisco shines.

The farmers market seems to be a place for everyone in the city to come together. Whether we're rich or poor, white, black, Latino, Asian, old, young, all or none of the above, we all have to eat.

What we choose to eat has become a very complicated issue in this day and age.

Locally grown? Organic? Fair trade? Genetically engineered? Pesticide free? Cage free? Steroid free? Hormone free?

It's enough to make one's head spin.

To further complicate things, the world has gone into a Global Food Crisis.

The price of staple foods such as corn, soybeans, rice, and bread have become so unmanageably high that thousands of people around the world are starving. Such a tragedy that is leading to much suffering and political unrest. Just awful.

* * *

Needless to say, I feel blessed to be able to enjoy whatever foods I want, whenever I want.

Not only is a plethora of food available to me at farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurants, vending machines, and the USF cafeteria, but also the affordability of said foods has never been an issue for me.

While this is without doubt a blessing, there seems to be something almost unnatural about not having to struggle for food.
I have never once had to worry about where my next meal was coming from.
It's just something to think about.

* * *

After spending a day perusing through the Heart of the City Farmers Market, soaking up the sun, examining all the fresh produce, watching people scrutinize long, slender carrots and bunches of leafy kale, I settled by the fountain to enjoy a hot black bean tamale and a plump pink lady apple.

Food is a surprisingly complicated issue, but one thing I know is that food should be enjoyed and appreciated.

22 April 2008

Thrift Town

This weekend, I spent a sunny (yet windy) day in the warmest part of town: the Mission district. I always enjoy spending time there due to the variety of fun shops, interesting people, taquerias, and cool street art. But one of my favorite things to do in the Mission is shop at the thrift stores.

Thrift Town on 17th and Mission has to be one of the best thrift stores not only in the Mission but in all of San Francisco.

Photo Courtesy of dsguestblog.blogspot.com

Thrift Town is very large and very well organized, making it very easy to navigate and find whatever you are looking for. While many thrift stores have crammed racks of clothing that is organized in no particular fashion, Thrift Town organizes its goods by category, size, color, etc.

It is not so organized that it lacks character, though. There is always a lot of variety and plenty of surprises. You can find golf clubs, old electronics, books, toys, clothes, shoes, lamps, dishes, housewares, and more. Really more. There's all kinds of random surprises to be found.

The prices are very reasonable, too. While some urban thrift stores mark up their wares due to their popular locations and the newfound chicness of vintage clothing, Thrift Town is indeed a place to wear thrift is still part of the equation.

During my visit, I acquired two books, a pair of shoes, a floral scarf, and a skirt for about $20.

After a visit to Thrift Town, I recommend checking out one of the amazing taquerias the Mission has to boast for a thrifty yet satisfying meal.

16 April 2008

Curses, www.yourgmap.com

Digital Journalism goes to the Park

After spending several hours tinkering with my map of Golden Gate Park, instructing readers to click the above link is as close as I can get to embedding the map onto my blog. Apparently, the folks over at Yourgmap.com don't see the value of enabling the embed feature, so they instead offer an option of linking to the map. Grrrr.

Technology can be frustrating.

On the plus side, I think the map looks awesome, thanks to everyone in digital journalism for all their excellent blogging, flickring, and youtubing. I really do reccomend that you follow the link to my Park Map; we have a ton of great content up there. Very exciting.

14 April 2008

Mare pacificum: the Peaceful Sea

The largest body of water in Golden Gate Park also happens to be the largest body of water in the world. Spanning from the north to the south pole, washing onto the Eastern shores of Asia and Australia and the western shores of the Americas, the Pacific Ocean covers about 32% of the Earth's total surface area.

San Francisco is so infrequently thought of as a "beach town" -- it is much more often associated with its famous Bay -- and yet, on a sunny day, Ocean Beach is absolutely, positively the place to be. I enjoyed the 80 degree temperatures here on Saturday, bicycling through the park to get here. I seldom appreciate that I live only three miles from the beach.

At Ocean Beach, you can see surfers, sailors, kite fliers, dog walkers, sand castlers and sea shell collectors. It is a place where it would be difficult to feel unhappy.

Ocean Beach is the frosting on the cake of Golden Gate Park.

10 April 2008

Serene garden with a sordid past

A serene space, a taste of Japan, a moment of calmness and clarity -- it is hard to believe that the Japanese Tea Garden is located in one of the most densely populated cities in America.

The history of the Japanese Tea Garden, the first public Japanese garden in the United States nestled comfortably in Golden Gate Park, started out innocently enough. The garden was constructed for the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition, conceptualized by landscape designer Makoto Hagiwara. It was originally built as a "Japanese Village," meant to give Americans a taste of Japanese culture. In this time, the Japanese were a very small minority in this country, their culture largely unknown. The garden was an honor to their country.

The Japanese Village in 1894

After the fair passed, in was renovated as a garden, which was occupied and maintained by the Hagiwara family. They lived in a small house within the garden's property for many years.

Mr. Hagiwara and his daughter in their home, 1924

In 1942, all that changed.

America was in the midst of World War II, and Japanese Americans were under federal order to be evicted from their homes and sent to internment camps, often separated from their families. This ugly chapter in America's history did not fail to impact the Hagiwara family, despite their public service to the San Francisco community and an agreement with John McClaren that the family would tend to the garden for a century.

The family was sent to internment camps. Rubbing salt in the wound, the garden was renamed the Oriental Tea Garden, and Chinese women in Chinese costumes replaced the Japanese ones who served tea in the garden. The garden is said to have fallen into disrepair without the intricate care Mr. Hagiwara provided.

By 1952, the war had ended, and the garden was once again named the Japanese Tea Garden. The family home was destroyed during their years of absence, and the city of San Francisco refused to allow the family to return, despite McClaren's promise.

It is said that since the Hagiwara family left, the garden has never been the same, though it has improved in recent years, more rare plants being replanted each year. It is now a favorite spot for tourists in the park, the bridge a delight for children to climb, and the large, 3,000 pound Buddha statue an impressive, spiritual addition.

Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata, Makoto Hagiwara's great-great-grandson, continues the family tradition of gardening, running his well respected plant nursery in Penngrove, California.

09 April 2008

Talking Politics with Speaker Pelosi

Oh boy, have you ever had something so amazing happen that you just can't find the words to do it justice? Because that is exactly how I feel about the last few days I spent in DC for the filming of an interview with Nancy Pelosi for mtvU's Editorial Board.

I've only been gone for three days, but it feels like a lifetime of experiences have occurred. First of all, it was my first time in the nation's capital, and that was just huge for me. When I arrived Sunday night, I called up my friend Josh and he took me for a two hour walking tour of all the monuments and statues and important buildings.

Good thing we did that, because starting Monday morning, I didn't have any time to sight-see at all.

Of course the actual experience of taking part in a professional TV news show and meeting one of the most important women in the world was the most impressive of all.

So here's what happened in a nutshell.

All day Monday was spent figuring out what questions we would ask, how we would ask them, and how we would follow up if she tried to give us a "smooth" or "politician" response. We met with Charlie Mahtesian, national politics editor of Politico.com, to help us ask the tough questions the right way. As a journalist, I have never had to think so hard about my questions. I definitely learned a lot.

I was working with three amazing college students from around the country: Lily Lamboy from Smith College, Micheal O'Brien from U of Michigan, and Jake Sherman from George Washington. These three are really brilliant and I felt honored to be working with them. I was also working with mtvU people, who were all really cool, and I got to meet some folks who are pretty high up in the chain of command. I even met some Viacom people, as Viacom owns MTV. It was really exciting meeting all these important people, and they seemed excited to meet us as this is only the second episode of Editorial Board, and it is still an exciting and unpredictable project for them.

Tuesday was the big day. We woke up super early, grabbed breakfast, and met in the GW Gelman Library where we were shooting. We rehearsed our questions again, discussed follow-ups, got make-up touched up, and joked nervously to calm ourselves. The room was chaotic with lots of cameras, bright lights, tons of people from mtvU, Viacom, politco.com, even the AP.

Suddenly, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, Speaker Pelosi entered the room. She greeted us warmly, we shook hands, and sat down. Lily asked her about a small pin she was wearing, which she said was from Tibet. No more than a minute or so after she sat down, it was time for the interview to commence.

All in all it went smoothly. We got into some interesting conversations about China and Tibet, the war in Iraq, and the Democratic primaries. She was pretty smooth, and didn't say anything that would get her into trouble, but it was still interesting conversation. Sadly, we ran out of time way before we ran out of questions, but that's journalism.

Look at us! We even made the news!
Washington Post - Pelosi: Reduce number of superdelegates

Politico - Pelosi at odds with Petraeus at mtvU forum

Politic0 - Pelosi: Petraeus kicking the can

Blogs from my fellow panelists:
GW Hatchet Blog - MTV, The Hatchet and Nancy Pelosi
Christian Science Monitor - Speaking with Speaker Pelosi

Arriving home last night was odd. There is still so much on my mind from the whole experience; I am kind of overwhelmed by it all. This was something I will always remember, and will probably have to look at the pictures and video clips to make sure I didn't imagine it all.

03 April 2008

Going to D.C.!

So it is official: I am going to Washington D.C. on Sunday to participate in an mtvU program called Editorial Board. The premise of the show is for four college journalists to interview a political figure to get him or her to answer to the issues that are important to young people. There has only been one episode so far, in which the students interviewed Bill Clinton. You can watch it on the Editorial Board web site.

I am one of the lucky four who gets to interview Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for the show's second episode.

I fly out to D.C. on Sunday, rehearse Monday, and the interview takes place Tuesday. I fly back to San Francisco Tuesday night. Somewhere between all that I hope to see some of the sights our nation's capital has to offer -- I've never been! -- but I won't be heartbroken if that doesn't happen.

All in all, free trip to D.C., opportunity to meet one of my political heroines, invaluable journalistic experience -- not a bad deal.

01 April 2008

Have you ever tried throwing every bone and muscle of the body wide open?

Amidst the trees, in the plaza in front of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, dozens of San Franciscans rise early each morning to practice the 300-year-old form of martial arts called Tai-Chi Chuan. This practice strikes the ignorant eye as a strange and futile form of exercise. The motions appear so slow that it would almost seem that they are not exercising at all. However, after doing a bit of research in University of San Francisco's Gleeson Library, it is clear that these deliberate motions require all kinds of inner strength -- physical, mental, and spiritual.

In Kuo Kien-Ying's book Tai-Chi Chuan in Theory and Practice, he writes, "In any given movement of any sort, the whole body must move lightly, nimbly, and in coordination. The chi should be active as the propellant power behind all the movements and the spirit should be gathered internally so there will be no defects, nor uneven distribution, nor discontinuity anywhere." My research right away led me to understand the complexity of this art form. For how exactly does one go about activating their chi, or gathering their spirit?

According to the instructional manual Tai Chi: Ten Minutes to Health by Chia Siew Pang and Goh Ewe Hock, essential techniques to keep in mind while practicing tai chi include slowness, continuity, precision, relaxation, weight distribution, breathing, practice, and posture. With all these practices in mind, it seems that the essence of tai chi cannot be put into words, or at least not into Enlgish words.

"How should a novice begin t'ai-chi?" ask Cheg Man-ch'ing and Robert W. Smith in their book T'ai-Chi: The "Supreme Ultimate" Exercise for Health, Sport, and Self-Defense, "He should relax completely. The aim is to throw every bone and muscle of the body wide open, so that the ch'i may travel unobstructed. Once this is done, the chest must be further relaxed and the chi made to sink to the navel."

Can you see their chi sinking to their navels?

Tai Chi is clearly more complicated than I had ever understood. More than just a series of slow motions done for physical exercise, it is also an exercise in control, in self-awareness, in spiritual awakening.

Tai Chi is just one of the many mysteries that exist in Golden Gate Park.