Cut Off At The Salad Bar: Dave Copeland’s Blog

I’ve been blogging since May 2002 — not one of the first, but well before all the cool kids tried it, made it a craze, then gave up on it. The best way to describe this portion of my writing life is part personal notebook where I test ideas and pieces of drafts I’m working on, part self-promotion, and part random ranting.


Frequently addressed topics include journalism, teaching and higher educations, writing, cooking, drinking (or, more specifically, not drinking, running, reading and life in general. Comments are appreciated but monitored before they appear on this site. All views expressed on “Cut Off At The Salad Bar” are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any of his past, present or future employers.

Here Comes The Snow (And Pantries Full Of Shit You Don’t Need)

Posted February 8th, 2013 in Food

From this morning’s Globe:

Like all seasoned procrastinators, Wallace has her reasons. Chief among them: she panic-shopped before Hurricane Sandy in October only to have the storm fizzle here.

“I had Spam and Pop-Tarts and other food that I never normally eat on my dining room table for months,” she recalled. “I wound up recycling them via the birds and the squirrels. What a waste.”

Here’s my question: Why do people stock up on stuff they wouldn’t use in non-disaster situations? Does a hurricane or blizzard suddenly make Pop Tarts and Spam more palatable?

At our house, we’ll be having French country roasted chicken, roasted vegetables and a sage/apple pate. No Spam, no Pop Tarts and nothing we wouldn’t eat on any normal Friday.

Moving Pictures: Ode To The Journalists That Tell Stories I Can’t

Posted December 15th, 2012 in Journalism

Note: Graphic images included in the Prezi after the “more” tag.

In one of the final meetings of my Social Media & Journalism class this semester we looked at two images. One was the photo from the cover of the New York Post earlier this month of a man who had been pushed onto subway tracks and was about to be hit by an approaching train. The other was a New York Times photo of a victim in an August shooting at the Empire State Building. The Post has largely been condemned for running the photo with a rather lurid “This man is about to die” headline on the front page while the Times was primarily applauded for showing an image that shows the impact of gun violence.

I showed the photos to my students out of context before showing them how they appeared in the paper and on each publication’s Website; the ultimate consensus was that Post’s subway was the more disturbing of the two images and, even before they were shown how the post ran the photo, the students were questioning its newsworthiness – but not for the reasons you may suspect. Continue Reading »

Responding To My Critics: B.J. Mendelson

Posted December 3rd, 2012 in Books

Just found this takedown of me and since B.J. Mendelson is too much of a pussy to allow comments on his site, I figured I’d respond here.

Here’s the background: Over the summer Mendelson contacted me and asked me if he could send me a review copy of his book, Social Media Is Bullshit, in my role as a writer for ReadWriteWeb. He sent it, I read two-thirds of it and decided a review and interview of Mendelson wasn’t right for our audience. Mainly because it’s a weak premise backed up with “research” that primarily consists of Mendelson interviewing people who agree with him (or that he can easily takedown to illustrate his point).

I had some notes from my reading, which I posted in review form on the Amazon page for his book. Here’s what I thought (I just realized that B.J. apparently got my review pulled as abusive):

I rarely get pushed to write reviews on sites like Amazon, but I just don’t get how a house as respected as St. Martin’s accepted and printed something as childish and dumb as this book. Mendelson could actually make some decent points about the push by marketers to use social media as snake oil posing as a panacea, but instead relies on bad jokes, limited research, anecdotal evidence and hunches. He is worse than the marketers that he is trying to take down in that he is blatantly trying to build a book around a catchy title and a hot topic.

Mendelson also loves to name drop. He frequently sets up quotes with “As [Insert Famous Or Semi-Famous Name Here] told me,” never letting the reader forget that he is connected. The people that told Mendelson range from Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan to “I Hope They Serve Beer And Hell” author Tucker Max (who, incidentally, Mendelson seems to admire, which may explain throwaway lines like this: “The [marketers'] have to reach a larger audience to up their speaking fees, and for the foreseeable future, that’s going to be a hardcover book released through a traditinal publisher, that reaches a bestseller list like The New York Times, and not something you can get for $1.99 and a hand job.”)

Classy, right?

Beyond bad writing and a sense of humor that is unlikely to click with anyone far outside of Mendelson’s immediate circle of marketing nerd friends, there are bigger problems with this book. It totally disregards how social media is being used in fields outside of marketing, which jives with Mendelson’s sense of self-importance: if he doesn’t see value in something, than it certainly can’t be useful to anyone else.

Mendelson may very well be right when he portrays Internet marketers who promises riches built on social media campaigns as con artist, but he barely provides anecdotal evidence to support his jaded opinions. There is little in way of hard data, which leads to laughably inaccurate and outright false statements like “I don’t think we’ll ever have a clear answer as to why something goes viral organically.”

The ever growing percentages of the country’s 14,000 sociologists who are studying how information spreads through both traditional and online social networks would probably disagree with that Mendelson myth.

This book is a total waste of time for anyone who has half a brain.

He and I got into a little back-and-forth over there and then I let him have the last word (for the record, I have since gone back and read the remaining third of the book and still think it sucks, but your take may be different).

For the record, while Mendelson received some good reviews, I certainly wasn’t the only one who called bullshit on Social Media Is Bullshit:

  • From Publisher’s Weekly: “Having himself failed miserably at applying social media to his own ends, journalist and social critic Mendelson yearns to save others from his mistakes by revealing the degree to which social media have been overhyped, providing a wealth of examples from recent history to illustrate his points. While grudgingly admitting the existence of an occasional success story, Mendelson prefers to focus on the myriad ways in which social media fail to deliver what is promised; he also provides pointers to methods he thinks do work. Passionate and mercifully short, this work should provide useful ammunition for readers skeptical about the new networks linking the people of the 21st century.”
  • Ann Friedman at TNR: “The problem with this analysis is that it fails to acknowledge that the use of social media is not a zero-sum game. Small-business owners and writers and all manner of underdogs who promote their work on sites owned by others have many more ways to drum up customers and attention than they did in the pre-digital era….Sure, Facebook gets richer each time I post a link. But I also get traffic and attention.”

You get the point.

Mendelson’s argument against me, however, is I work in the tech press. He somehow thinks I have a vested interest in stoning the people who say the Emeperor Has No Clothes (of course if he actually stopped to read my work he’d see I’m one of the biggest critics of the blind optimism in Facebook and Twitter, predicted that Facebook’s IPO would be overvalued on the day they filed it, and wrote a five-part series that concluded we’re in a social media bubble. That can be a tough road to hoe as a card-carrying member of the tech press, where you earn scoops not by sourcing and reporting and asking tough questions but by subjective ass-kissing).

In fact, he says I am part of some coordinated campaign to “attack and distract” from his message. In other words, if you spend your life reading about, talking about and writing about social media, you’re not qualified to offer a worthy review of Mendelson’s book and that you must have a hidden agenda. The only people who seem to be qualified to write a review of his work, in his opinion, are people who agree with him.

Onine Privacy Is Important, Even If You Have Nothing To Hide

Posted December 1st, 2012 in Journalism

Something for people in the “I have nothing to hide so I don’t care about online privacy policies and protection” camp to consider:

In the summer of 2009, Neda Agha-Soltan became the face of the Iranian Green Revolution after her tragic death by gunshot was caught on cell phone camera and uploaded online for the whole world to see. The international media rushed to put a face to the victim–but the face they used was that of another Iranian woman by the name of Neda Soltani, who was still very much alive.

The living woman’s image was lifted by the press from a social networking site and not fact checked. When Neda Soltani tried to correct the error, protesters threatened her. When she submitted a photo to a news organization in an effort to verify her identity and set the record straight, the news agency used the image as an “exclusive” photo of the dead woman.

The full On The Media interview is worth a listen. Even if you “have nothing to hide,” it still makes sense to check and amp up your Facebook and social media privacy settings on a regular basis.

What Yellowbook is doing now that no one uses Yellowbook

Posted November 28th, 2012 in Journalism

Email forwarded to me because I teach journalism classes. Emphasis is mine:

My name is XXXXXX, I am a longtime journalist and I am currently working on the launch of eight hyper-local magazines in the Boston area. I wanted to write and tell you about the new initiative and let you know about some opportunities I might have for some of your journalism students.

My new title is publications manager for hibu, which is owned by Yellowbook. I’ll be the editor at a dozen or so monthly, hyper-local magazines which will be distributed in the mail throughout eastern Massachusetts. Yellowbook is hiring people with some serious journalism pedigree to oversee the entire operation and are hiring journalists, such as myself, to write, manage and edit the content. The magazines, although free in the mail, aren’t mailers per se. Thankfully, Yellowbook has made it clear that they want great content and there is even room for enterprise reporting, issue stories and the like. Since the deadlines are a month prior to printing, however, the content can’t really be time sensitive, unless done far in advance.

Anyway, I am looking for people who might be interested in writing content. Unfortunately, since this is a startup, I don’t have any funds at the moment to pay freelancers, but I thought you might have a few students who might be interested in getting some clips in a glossy magazine and a good reference from me. In your neck of the woods, I have magazines launching this spring in Hanover, Pembroke, Norwood and Canton. We’ll also be launching magazines in Natick, Salem, Beverly, Marlborough and Acton if you have students from those areas who might be interested in writing.

The hyper-local nature of the magazines means that most content – features, profiles, local issue stories, human interest stories, event previews, etc. — needs to be tied directly to the community, although I’d happily take general stories that would be relevant to all communities. I would love the opportunity to meet with you and discuss this new initiative in person if you are inclined. I’m in the process of coming up with story ideas and I’d happily hear any pitches you or students might have.

Thanks…Hope to speak with you soon.

“Hyperlocal” is quickly becoming synonymous with “hyper cheap.” Someday people may try that old-fashioned business model where you pay great people – students or otherwise – fair wages in return for great content. I get several emails like this every month from people looking to build their next big media business on the backs of what amounts to slave labor. If the student-run newspaper I advise can find a way to pay editors and writers, then so should Yellowbook.


Posted November 22nd, 2012 in drinking

Woke up this morning to a Facebook feed full of posts celebrating inebriation which, even without a hangover and 2.5 years without a drink, still feels like a mini kick in the balls. I never was much for going out the night before Thanksgiving but over the past several years it has taken on a rather wicked intensity as being as big of an amateur night as New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.

Then I found this tidbit: November, thanks in large part to the Thanksgiving weekend starting on Wednesday and ending sometime Sunday morning, is the month where more people die in drunk driving accidents (followed by January and December, rounding out our happy holiday season).

Not preaching. Just saying….

A Case For Journalism Classes In Higher Education

Posted November 21st, 2012 in Higher Education

Undated photo of Tent City from the Bridgewater State University Website.

In each of the six Novembers I have taught at Bridgewater State University, a small but growing band of students have lived in tents for five nights. It’s part of the International Tent City program, designed to raise awareness of homelessness and simulate the tent cities homeless people live in throughout the world.

Some students spend a night in the tents for extra credit in a class; others spend all five nights (and last week, when this year’s event was held, that was pretty hearty given temperatures that dipped below freezing). The program has become so popular in its six years I heard unconfirmed reports of alumni coming back to spend a night or two in the awareness-raising event.

The timing of this Pete Earley post on his decision to not spend time pretending to be homeless and write a book about the experience contrasts nicely with Tent City at Bridgewater State. Book publishers have loved this idea ever since George Plimpton suited up to train with the Detroit Lions and write Paper Lion. It can be entertaining reading, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the experience. Continue Reading »

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