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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Internet -- Can't Live Without It

Imagine being at work, and there is no email. Horrors! Then imagine no Internet service at all. More horrors! Well, that’s what happened to us last week. We changed Internet providers from Comcast to AT&T Uverse thinking it would be as simple as having an installation tech come out to put in a new router and then push a switch – voila . . . all done. But that’s not what happened.

It took three visits from AT&T service techs to finally get our Internet up and running properly. During that time, we were without access to the Internet and, more importantly, our email for more than a day – not a good thing for those of us in the communications field. But fortunately the old “third time’s a charm” adage brought us luck, and we could once more communicate with the outside world via the Internet.

This whole experience got me to reflecting on the “good old days” before the Internet. How in the world did we ever get anything done in a timely manner when we had to rely solely on the telephone, fax and snail mail? For research, we had to contact our friendly librarian and ask for assistance or actually go to the library. And there was no scanning and emailing of documents, no webinars, no podcasts, no YouTube. Over the last 15 years, the Internet has obviously made a big difference in how we do business, and its influence keeps expanding at a rapid rate. I can’t even imagine what we have in store for us in the years to come.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

The challenge of writing recipes

 An article in the Washington Post food section this week about recipe testing took me back to the 70s when I was food editor at the Detroit Free Press.

Very few newspapers then had test kitchens. (Not many have them today either.) I don't know how many food editors actually cooked but I was committed to trying every recipe before printing it. 

I inherited the Free Press test kitchen, an old, institutional-green painted room with an odd collection of antiquated utensils and a few beat-up pans. It was nothing like the photo of the Saveur magazine test kitchen above. 

I remember the first time I actually cooked something. People came from all over. Most reporters didn't even know the Freep had a test kitchen. That's how often it had been used.  

The Post article says that a story out of Chile this past December "was enough to make a publisher’s blood turn colder than a liquid nitrogen milkshake." A newspaper there, La Tercera, was convicted of printing a recipe that caused 13 people to get burned when frying churros in hot oil. They had to pay the victims  more than $160,000 in damages. When handing down its decision, the Chilean Supreme Court said, according to published accounts, that La Tercera had failed to fully test the recipe, causing the rolls of dough to become, essentially, projectile objects.

I agree that it's important for reporters to check all facts and that includes recipes.But even well-tested recipes don't necessarily guarantee success. I remember one cookie recipe that generated a lot of complaints. Surprisingly, the recipe with only three ingredients -- butter, sugar and flour -- had been tested several times and always turned out perfectly. For me, that is.

What could be the problem? A cube of butter is a cube of butter after all. It had to be the way people measured the flour and sugar. To investigate the problem, I collected measuring cups from several dozen neighbors and weighed one cup of sugar to see if all of the measuring devices held the same amount. What an unpleasant surprise! Only a few of the 1-cup measuring cups actually held that amount. 
But even if people weighed out their ingredients instead of using cups, there will still be problems. When I was on tour promoting my first cookbook, Five in Ten: Five Ingredients in 10 Minutes or Less, I prepared a lot of recipes with ingredients that had been assembled for me and found out that what is "finely chopped" to one person is "pulverized" to another. Recently I went to coffee at a friend's house. She served chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. When I asked for the recipe, she said it was mine. Funny thing is her cookies didn't look like any that I've ever seen.

Developing recipes is not an easy job. 

~ Paula

Friday, January 6, 2012

Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions for the PR pro:

Chances are you’ve said something like “Wow, where did the year go?” Stop it. It’s gone. Move on. Here’s a list of ideas to improve YOU (me) in 2012.

10. Go to bed
You’re not smart when you’re tired. Go to bed.

9. Drink less coffee
You didn’t go to bed so you’re compensating with coffee? Stop shaking, it’s hard to type!

8. Eat less cake
That’s not lunch, that’s a coma.

7. Get influential media coverage
Oprah’s show is over (for now), you should be fine.

6. Understand what an email is saying in less than 3 reads
Sometimes it’s not your fault. But it is.

5. Write more lists
People love lists.

4. Get good at writing and stuff
Well said.

3. Wait 10 minutes before checking email, Facebook and Twitter
Chances are nothing happened. And if it did, it can wait 10 minutes.

2. Read more articles
Knowledge is power.

1. Read more fiction, listen to more music and look at more art
This is where writing skills, intellect and innovative ideas truly come from, not Google analytics.

Happy New Year!