“Real Writers” still best option, AI or 1 million chimps on computers creativity aside

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Artificial intelligence and computers can do amazing things based on previous analysis, but can they imagine a perfect David without that?

After being fed a trillion-gazillion bytes of previous human blood, sweat, and tears involved in artwork or literature, Artificial Intelligence is becoming/has begun to be judged capable of original production.  Professionally speaking, that sounds more reasonable than a million (or 10 million?) chimpanzees on keyboards knocking out even a couple verses of Bill Shakespeare-worthy prose by accident.

At the current time, I’m a way better writing alternative.

Without going deeply into whether its a good idea or not, the AI future has been coming almost 70 years,  and the chimps haven’t produced anything noteworthy.  Having read on LinkedIn about AI “knowing” how to make hiring decisions though, that’s a belief I can’t get on board with.

Having a “presence” – something that might push a magic button for a potential employer of my talents – and result in a tah dah! moment HAS to be better, because its worked that way before. Many sites still don’t recognize MSOffice includes Word, or journalism as somehow lacking “media and communications.”

Case in point, the recently concluded series SUITS.

Could the Zen of Harvey Specter and Mike Ross coming together on the basis of – well, a busted drug deal – and Mike’s statistical memory out-dueling Harvey’s ego on trivia happen with AI? I think not.

Far above the vast area between accidental genius and synthesized, analytical material becoming heart-breaking romance, discovering the answer to someone’s pain about any number of factors is what INTERVIEWING is about, and where writers of all stripes wear the sales hat.

Sports writing is easier than CBD content creation

Of course there are the numbers, the stats, the win-loss conclusion and opinions of the result, but sports have their own voice, and quotes are usually the most compelling part. If we have or haven’t seen the event, can you appreciate how a journalist presents it, accurately and colorfully?

That’s part of what interviewing does for “client voice.” Putting them together, with the proliferation of websites and blogs that require on-going production, is what long-form informational blogging has become.  Although not as direct as words from a winning coach, corporate voice is THE voice.

From high school journalism on, the need to set the hook with readers in the first paragraph was considered paramount. Now its the click value of the headline, because people scan vs. read.

Relative to value, while Charlotte pays above the national rates (as reported by Indeed, Glassdoor, Payscale), its often a case of job title-category being a determinant.

Copy writers at $26.38/hr, content writers,  and writers generally are close to $50k (Payscale says $47k is 10% above national avg., Glassdoor pegs avg. @ $55k), while content creation, including editors and social media types, are in the middle-upper teens per hour. Indeed puts these North Carolina rates at 15% below national averages.

Obviously there are ranges.  ‘Freelancers’ is a relative term ($22.46/hr., Payscale), tutors average $23/hr. (I usually bill at $30) and technical writers lead the overall pack at $32/hour. While descriptions for all have terms in common (white papers, blogs, SEO), writers seem to involve more interfacing with other creatives. Content creation is often  list-cicles or amalgamated research and rehashing as a group effort, with the focus on Google positioning.

*Everyone* wants copy/blogs/thought leadership that “meets and exceeds customer expectations.”

Technical Writing

“Thought Leadership” style has become a strong part of long-form informational blogging, and contrasting two previous projects with a recent sketchy client description highlights the importance of interviewing.

According to a Thumbtack lead, the client had an ESL (English Second Language) situation, and to his credit, knew he needed some expertise to make a business proposal sound right.

In hearing the project was “between 2,000-10,000 words” represented an awful lot of territory to offer overall pricing. Informing the client my blogs are often 1200-1500 words, so 10,000 was a lot, is a concrete example of both parties knowing what a project entails. Whether this business plan was going to include enough budget for technical writing was also a consideration.

jensenprocedOn the other hand, writing procedures for Parts Ordering and Returns was for “guys in the pits” using industrial laundry equipment (driers, folders, belted delivery systems, timing), not front office people. The primary point was well-defined, especially how plucking a part off a machine and reading the number was actually the third best option when ordering.

Two pages of specific information only took 945 words, and fact it included addressing issue of returns, so extra junk didn’t clog up the back dock area, was gravy.

Interviews as sales calls

Because client-facing verbal understanding is at the core of all successful work interactions, my mantra is that the Q&A to be most effective is always about determining those factors most important to clients, not an interrogation. Good information makes for better decisions.

During several other career stages, interviews were more accurately sales calls, where I was providing the information aspect, and how other people reacted was a measurable outcome.  “Interviewing” with the lawyer of someone whose property had a billboard I represented was another slice of interpretation – most would consider that “negotiation” though.

In scholastic fundraising, there was essentially 40 minutes to build rapport, present information and possibilities, (hopefully) get the green lights and signature that meant putting it on a calendar.  Most interviews focused on “fixing” a sponsor’s group problem in tough economic times.

That (fix some pain) remains the central theme for all kind of ‘gigs’ now, and Writers understand that every RFP (request for proposal) type of content we send should  be intended as a statement of what we bring to the table.

Without denigrating ‘foreign competition’ on the content front – because getting ideas across in writing is not bound by location or time zones – language differences when I’m just trying to make a point with outsourced service operations are multiplied in complexity when clarifying a corporate tone or voice.

ESL clients require extra attention, and grammatically and professionally, it still seems like some corporate material has been put through a Google translator called “English” that comes off as stilted in “American.” That might be where AI can makes inroads.

Never let it be said you didn’t do the least that could be done

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There was a small element of surprise when a recent lunch and learn regarding four Early Education Tutoring (part of the OPPORTUNITY Task Force) reading programs moved as smoothly and enlightened so well. Twenty-six potential volunteers attended (only one other guy), but the feeling of helpfulness and purpose regarding a necessary grass roots effort permeated the room.

The surprise at finding the right type situation– on my fourth attempt at volunteering to help with reading programs– was gratifying and easy to schedule. The Freedom School at St. Gabriel has linked with Oakhurst STEAM Academy for six years now, with the goal of reducing the summer learning loss for about 50 kids. There are two three-week sessions, with an opening for a Harambee Reader to kick things off in the morning June 18-July 6. Its only 10 minutes of the half-hour jazzing up, but when Laura Hull said, “Boy, do we need some male readers!” a magic button was pressed.

The focus of these programs is significant. If you haven’t heard about the Chetty Study, it’s a Harvard/UC Berkeley project that found Charlotte ranked last (4.4%, San Jose was tops at 12.9%) of 50 major cities in economic mobility, essentially how many children rise from the bottom of one economic quadrille to top of it as an adult.

Early care and education is one of three primary factors that correlated with economic mobility, and one specific and very relevant fact is that students not reading to grade level by fourth grade are almost destined to fall further behind as reading-writing needs/material become more difficult.  The Task Force goal to have 80% of Char-Meck students reading at that level is lofty—its currently only 39%, with Afro-American (22%) and Hispanic boys (18%) lagging significantly.

As a writer, its somewhat simplistic to state that reading made a major difference along the way for me. While a well-regarded high school journalism program and college sharpened the tools,  knowing words (comprehension) and structure was the start. I had a ninth grade reading level in second grade, but I doubt that walking two blocks to a book mobile– my childhood included one available in a bank parking lot every Friday for years– is an option kids have in 2018.

Early care and education is one of three primary factors that correlated with economic mobility. One specific, very relevant fact is that students not reading to grade level by fourth grade are almost destined to fall further behind as reading-writing needs/material become more difficult.

As a Wyzant tutor, I’ve focused on reading-writing-public speaking, and being able to see real progress with an 8th grader’s comprehension after a simple suggestion about pausing for punctuation during a second session was meaningful to both of us.  While she’d blazed through several paragraphs in a book, her comprehension of individual ideas was obviously jumbled, so making that kind of a difference counts.

As Director-writer for SCHOBY (South Carolina Hugh O’Brian Youth) leadership program, even ten minutes of coaching before the groups of high-caliber rising juniors began doing group essays had the effect of focusing them, which improved the quality of product that was edited into a read-along, Aesops Fables-type children’s book.

It was pointed out during the lunch presentations that the non-academic period of year is where support lags and students in high-poverty schools fall back. Because those SCHOBY kids are the 90-95 percentile achievers, the point of extra help becomes even more valid—  many students need a much greater push compared to what those Ambassadors required.

Four programs worth learning about

Augustine Literacy Project – (Fall 2018) Structured, explicit lesson plan format, tutor twice a week during school time for 1 ½ years (60 hours of tutoring), is quite a commitment. Two weeks of training ($250 cost for materials is generally handled by scholarship). Free, long-term, one-on-one instruction is their goal, because 74% of poor third grade readers are still poor readers in ninth grade.

Heart Math Tutoring – Executive Director Emily Elliot stressed that “Growth in concepts counts. The nature of math as yes/no answers means that enthusiasm and academic confidence increases when the student gets the 1-1 help that makes the difference in understanding.”  Their success—98% of students have met program growth goals—is admirable. (Fall 2018)

The Padres y Padrinos (Parents and Godparents or ’PYP’) program is a LAWA (Latin Americans Working for Achievement) project that has addressed the academic and social development of ESL students in East and South Charlotte elementary schools since 1992. They need volunteer commitment to 14 or 28 weeks of one hour per week for reading and basic math skills.

Ten minutes a day for ONE day as the Harambee Reader? I put myself in, and if I won’t immediately promise to get money for supplies, or extra people to listen to kids read for an hour on the July 18th Great Day of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), I also refuse to be someone with good intentions who fails to do the least that can be done.

To participate in or learn more about any of the programs, please contact Annette Dreyer at annette.dreyer@yahoo.com.