The job that I’ve spent the last year learning is not the one I’ll have

Being the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Tar Heel was an incredible learning experience. We made excellent strides with our reporting, we took big stands on important issues and we beautifully chronicled the best and the worst of this year.

The sad thing is that, for many people in our class, this post will probably be the first time they learn about some of our progress this year.

In some ways, it’s humbling to realize that this newspaper that I spend a lot of hours slaving over isn’t really beloved by my peers in the same way.

And that’s because we don’t read news the way our parents did. And we never will.

This class didn’t teach me that. Professors have been squawking that at me for many many years now.

Print is dying. It’s an expensive product to love. And general mangers, publishers and editors the world over must figure out a profitable way to get their news into readers’ heads.

What this class taught me is the intricacies of this problem.

1. My peers are interested in news, but they have no feelings whatsoever about where it comes from. You can be the greatest columnist in the world, but it will be tough to garner a strong following from millennials.

2. They want reporters to clearly state why a story matters to them. This is selfish, but it’s a good thing for reporters to understand in order to keep readers engaged for longer.

3. They don’t feel like picking up a newspaper. They’d rather scroll through their Twitter feed and get the day’s news from many different sources.

4. Local news is not dead. Rather, there’s a demand for hyper local news in real time, which is why Facebook pages like Overheard at UNC are incredibly popular. They’re a home for citizen journalists to curate and present content.

5. There is not a strong appreciation for opinion writing. My peers would rather be given the information and formulate an opinion on their own. They turn to their peers for help, not the local opinion editor.

As a caveat to that, the news industry’s efforts to keep opinion separate in the newsroom and in print is completely lost on readers close to my age. They don’t care if you have a special font that you only use for editorials. They can’t tell the difference. They don’t care if opinion is on the front page. That’s not how they organize the news in their mind.

But there are many questions we still don’t have answers to.

1. We didn’t come to a conclusion on the importance of accuracy. In our class discussions, people said they value it but then they also seemed to prioritize speed of delivery over everything else. And those two values aren’t always in sync.

It’s when journalists are tripping over each other to get a story out that everyone makes mistakes. And I’m not sure we fully unpacked that.

2. What triggers an international news cycle.

The tragedy of the Chapel Hill shooting was complex. But I don’t know if the overwhelming response to it came from the fact that three Muslim students in Chapel Hill were killed or from the fact that local media weren’t calling the killings a hate crime.

That distinction matters.

3. I still don’t know what the next big social network will be, but I’m confident one of my classmates will have a hand in developing it.

4. I still don’t know where this country will go with privacy. We put so much of ourselves out there on social media and I do worry that my peers don’t guard their personal details carefully enough.

This question really comes from the Ted Talk with Glen Greenwald we were required to watch earlier this semester:

Now, there’s a reason why privacy is so craved universally and instinctively. It isn’t just a reflexive movement like breathing air or drinking water. The reason is that when we’re in a state where we can be monitored, where we can be watched, our behavior changes dramatically … Human shame is a very powerful motivator,as is the desire to avoid it, and that’s the reason why people, when they’re in a state of being watched, make decisions not that are the byproduct of their own agency but that are about the expectations that others have of them or the mandates of societal orthodoxy.

5. And the big one. More than thirty of the journalism school’s best minds still couldn’t figure out a definitive way to make news profitable.

But this class sure did send me away with a lot of ideas for how to get there.

We unpacked so much and we were given the tools and the knowledge to tackle many other issues facing the journalism industry.

It was really a privilege to get to speak with some of the brightest minds from our field for a few hours each week.

And it’s kind of scary to think that I’ve spent the last year training for a job I’ll never have. But this is the first class I’ve taken that hasn’t made me feel terrified about that.

I feel empowered.


A closer look at post-consumption waste of consumer electronics

Digital media might not grow on trees, but its still destroying our forests.

As we continue our study of current issues in mass communication, it’s important to recognize the many possibilities digital media brings to our society. It’s equally important for us to take stock of how the technologies developed to support our growing appetite for digital media consumes vast amounts of energy and creates toxic waste.

That last point is what I’ve spent the last few weeks really exploring.

My journey technically started in December, when I shattered my iPhone 5. I spent many months talking to repairmen and my phone carrier in the hopes of repairing and keeping my phone. Ultimately, that wasn’t a viable option. I found I would have to replace it.

After I got a new iPhone 6, I was tasked with getting rid of the old iPhone 5. For a long time, my family and I have just kept our old cellular phones in a drawer in our kitchen — unsure of what to do with technology that we no longer want but can’t bear to get rid of.

But I was determined to do something useful with my iPhone. I was certain my phone couldn’t be refurbished. By the time I was through with it, it was beginning to leak some sort of internal liquid (note: no one at my local Apple or Sprint stores could account for what this liquid could be) and large glass pieces were missing from the cover.

So my main option was to recycle my phone. And I set out to figure out just what the industry around recycling iPhones looks like.

Media consumption fuels planned obsolescence

The reason my phone (a phone that was reinforced with heavy duty Gorilla Glass) likely broke after more than two years of use is because of a phenomenon called planned obsolescence, which is where companies intentionally limit a product’s lifespan.

In some ways, this is good. As mobile applications come out and new media debuts, we all want a phone that is technologically capable of supporting those new developments.

But in other ways, planned obsolescence creates unnecessary waste that costs consumers money and wastes resources. The different iPhone chargers, for instance, don’t represent any new innovation. They’re just an example of planned obsolescence that costs consumers money and waste resources.

For a long time, technology columnists have begged consumers to keep their phones longer or buy used technology. These experts fear an e-waste crisis — one in which the toxic elements in our precious consumer electronics pose grave consequences once they’ve sat in landfills for many decades.

But its those same critics who label the latest iPhone as uninteresting and boring, pressuring technology companies to debut newer, sleeker media to appease our tech-hungry appetites.

A look forward: the impending e-waste crisis

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So the massive consumer electronics industry is intentionally creating products that will likely stop working after two years. In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency found that Americans dispose of more than 2.4 million tons of electronic devices and only recycle 27 percent of those devices.

What’s more, the recycling rate for mobile phones is much lower — just 11 percent of cell phones that are disposed of each year are recycled. That same report found that Americans were throwing away 416,000 mobile phones per day.

That’s terrifying. If we stay on this path, we are absolutely headed to a place where the media technologies we love will sit stagnating in waste lagoons releasing their toxic fumes into an environment already weakened by our longstanding reliance on coal.

In response, media and technology companies have to begin to develop their recycling arms. Apple’s current recycling initiative to provide customers with free options for recycling their outdated technology is admirable, but it doesn’t go far enough.

It’s not enough to offer consumers the option of recycling. It should be the expectation from the minute consumers purchase an Apple product. The packaging, which is often superfluous and wasteful anyways, should come with a label consumers could use to send their old electronics to a Sims Recycling Center, the company Apple uses for its recycling services.

It would be a win for the environment, which means it would be a win for Apple.

Companies should also develop the sale of their refurbished technological devices. The market for used electronics largely exists on websites like Amazon and Craigslist. If it were brought into the mainstream, then consumers would be more likely to opt into this more sustainable system. This is something that wouldn’t cost these companies any money. For the most part, many carriers and technology companies will take customer’s old devices. Therefore, this would be an opportunity for companies to make more money off products they’ve already sold once.

In other cases, companies will have to begin to choose to stop chasing profits in the name of environmental sustainability. Just as many companies have moved away from using tantalum in their products because of the dangers of mining the element, companies have to stop developing  products that don’t represent any new innovation and only waste resources and cost consumers money.

I’m hopeful that media and technology companies will realize the error of their ways before 2025 so we don’t have to make plans for how to deal with harmful consequences of e-waste lagoons. However, these are the same companies that largely trumpeted the benefits of the fact that digital media doesn’t grow on trees.

But none seem to realize quite yet that digital media is still destroying our forests

Today I’m teaching Journalism 101

Today I volunteered to be part of SPLASH UNC, an educational program that gives local high school students a chance to take classes taught by UNC students one Saturday a semester.

I signed up to teach Journalism 101 and I had a lesson plan filled with an introduction to news values, tips for doing interviews and information about how to write the first four paragraphs of a story.

The students I’ve taught so far have been fabulous. Each of them have come with hopes and dreams for getting into journalism. One student wanted to be a writer for an outdoors publication, while one young woman wanted to be a sports announcer.

It feels a little silly, though, to be teaching anything journalism related when I have no idea what it’s going to look like in 10 years. I’m hopeful that the basics are the same — avoid anonymous sourcing like the plague and be transparent about your reporting efforts — but I know so many things will change. Is it worth students’ time to learn about press conferences? Why should they learn about news values as they relate to creating a front page?

Here’s my problem with Alert Carolina

It’s not really a problem with Alert Carolina, I suppose. It’s a problem with the way all police departments describe their suspects. And the way many media outlets mindlessly regurgitate that information without really considering its effects on readers.

So here’s how I first found out about last night’s stabbing:

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This email is actually far better than most. Normally, the Chapel Hill Police Department only issues statements that give a suspect’s race, height and build. Nothing about what he/she is wearing. Nothing about where he/she might be — even though police typically have a pretty good idea about that stuff.

It’s detrimental because it creates unnecessary fear for readers. If all a newspaper prints is that a six feet tall white man was suspected to have committed a crime, then, suddenly, every six foot tall white man becomes a suspect. That information isn’t helpful.

But we at least got a description of his clothing. And we know he fled toward Rosemary Street. Here’s what I got next from police early this morning:

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This next email gives us a name. That means if people recognize this name, they’ll know to call CrimeStoppers and give any information they have.

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And Alert Carolina, always several hours behind, regurgitates the same information from the Chapel Hill Police Department.

I hadn’t really thought about this problem — and how I might be a part of it as someone who reported on crime a lot during my junior year as the city desk editor — until I read Inside Higher Ed’s story about the University of Minnesota’s decision to no longer include racial identifiers in some of their crime alerts.

Here‘s the story and here’s the most insightful (albeit disappointing) nugget I took from it:

Minnesota officials said they had analyzed 51 crime alerts since 2012 that included descriptions of suspects. In about 30 percent of those cases, there was so little detail that, under the new policy, racial and other characteristics would not be shared in the future. In the other cases, however, the university study found that there was legitimate reason to include the identifying characteristics.

First of all, props to the students who took over a building to effect such massive change. That’s awesome activism. But here’s their response to the University’s decision to exclude racial identifiers from only some of its crime alerts:

“Why does the administration think removing racial descriptors from only a third of crime alerts is sufficient, when racialized crime alerts feed a system that literally kills black people daily in this country? This is to say nothing of how constant threats to the safety of black students impact their studies, mental health and ability to graduate — racialized crime alerts have consequences far more pervasive and consequential than mere ‘feelings’ in the lives of students of color. Racialized crime alerts put the psychological, academic and physical survival of students of color on the line. It must be asked: How committed is the administration to truly ensuring that Black lives matter on this campus? On what side of history does the university administration want to be?”

I guess this whole story just taught me to be more aware of what I’m printing and the psychological effects it could have on my readers. I don’t want to print any information that’s unhelpful. I don’t want to be part of the problem.

Instead, I’ll be part of the solution. As a journalist, I’ll try to never include racial identifiers in stories unless it’s completely necessary or relevant to the subject matter — which right now, in my morning sleepiness, I can’t really think of a time when I would have to do that.

More on front page editorials

I followed a rather interesting Twitter discussion earlier this week about The Indianapolis Star‘s front page editorial that looked at how newspaper’s should treat their epic front page stories on their website’s home page.

So, like we talked about in class on Thursday, The Indy Star did it big this week:

Then Dan Sinker, a guy I don’t follow but was retweeted several times this week, tweeted this thought-provoking nugget:

I later learned he’s the leader of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, which, according to its website, is “a joint project of Mozilla and the Knight Foundation that supports the growing community of news developers, designers and data reporters helping journalism thrive on the open web.” So that’s very cool.

Anyways, somehow I came across this tweet:

And I think it speaks volumes for the kind of journalism I’m hoping to be a part of going forward.

The homepage is obviously not getting it. Websites largely traffic in social now. Very few people wake up and head to first thing in the morning. The Daily Tar Heel’s online editor already had a lot to say about this.

But the reason I love the print product so much is because of the impact it has. It’s powerful when a newspaper’s editorial board, which is usually filled with people who know the most about the issues facing a community of people, stands behind something and plasters it on the front page. That’s a power that I have yet to see done well digitally.

It’s something The Daily Tar Heel has used its front page, albeit sparingly, to really send a message to its constituents. We like to believe it forces students, faculty and administrators to sit up, take notice and start talking about the serious issues facing our campus.

My sophomore year, we told students that rape is a violent crime that deserves a principled solution from administrators. This year, we said student-athletes carry an unfair burden and shouldn’t be expected to attend classes and compete.

But just because homepages are dying and hardly anyone is willing to pay to get the printed front page doesn’t mean editors and publishers can be let off the hook for doing big things and taking strong stances on issues. It’s about more than just content, which is a beast in and of itself. It’s also about packaging that content with visuals that set it apart, get readers’ attention and influence policies.

Publishers and editors have to start investing in the kind of news development teams that will make these dreams a reality.

Take my data; just don’t bother me with it

Today I got to read a brief history of cookies and clicks for a communications class I’m in. We read a chapter of Joseph Turow’s book “The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth.” Here are the five things I’ve spent the day thinking about since I read the chapter:

1. The class discussion revolved around cookies and privacy — mirroring many of the discussions we’ve had in our class. Most people said they don’t like that companies harvest data without active consent from web users, but many of my classmates also said they don’t want to make the effort to stop those companies from doing so.

2. I’ll be honest. The few times I’ve made the effort to go disable cookies on my different web browsers, they’ve threatened to unremember all of the different passwords I’ve saved. That was enough to scare me back into my cookie-filled browsers.

3. The discussion raised some interesting points in my mind. Particularly, the word consent. North Carolina has the one-party consent law, which makes it a crime to intercept or record any “wire, oral, or electronic communication” unless one party in the conversation consents. While I understand that we technically give consent when we sign user agreements, is it really consent if you can’t use most of the Internet without giving away that privacy? Especially now that the president declared the Internet is a public good.

4. Tonight, I tried, rather unsuccessfully to register for an account on It’s run by a company called Acxiom, a marketing data company that collects and sells internet users’ data to advertising companies. Apparently, they have a different address listed for me, so they won’t release the data they’ve collected on me to me.

5. I’m still not sure companies have perfected the algorithm they use to track my searches. If I spend an hour looking at boots on Google, Amazon, and other online shopping sites and still don’t buy anything, I’m not sure I need to be advertised at for the next few weeks. I’d rather them take the Harris Teeter VIC card approach — if I’m buying lots of cookies, I would probably use a coupon for some milk.

I interviewed my best friend tonight

My best friend and Daily Tar Heel managing editor Katie Reilly went to a big conference on narrative journalism this weekend so when I caught up with her about it tonight I just wrote down everything she said so you guys could see it here. 

What was your favorite session?

My favorite session to go to was from a reporter who works for The Marshall Project. It’s a new website all about criminal justice reporting. She’s a criminal justice reporter and her whole talk was about when you’re telling stories about crime that it’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing about good guy, bad guy in very strict dichotomies. But the best kind of story recognizes that it’s far more complex and grey than that. She talked about one finding a compelling criminal justice story to tell and then the difficulty of interviewing criminals and victims and people within these very sensitive story areas.

Her whole goal is to humanize people and all of these characters that would be involved in that situation. She is a very good writer.

So who was the keynote?

There were four keynotes. Sarah Koenig was the keynote today.  Jill Abramson was Saturday.

Tell me more about Koenig.

She introduced the audience to the premise of Serial and she lifted up the curtain even further for how she went about the reporting of it. She talked about how when it first started she didn’t even know what a podcast format should be like. So she came at it like what she does for radio and This American Life just longer.

Basically she talked about podcast as a medium and how it’s totally distinct from radio or how you would approach a written story. I approached it like this is going to be a book told in different parts. And they were like no you have to make it like really good TV.

She said that that’s where the idea “previously on Serial” and the theme song came about. So it was this idea that Serial was something listeners could either return to or tune into for the first time and pick up wherever the story was.

The huge response to it she thinks was in part to people weren’t used to appreciating journalism in the same way that they appreciate entertainment which is essentially what happened with that. And on that note, when they started last summer, she and Ira Glass said they would be satisfied with 300,000 subscribers. They reached that in five days after they launched. And now they average I think it was 6.5 million downloads per episode.

Did Jill Abramson talk about getting fired?

I think the word she used was summarily. She goes, “As many of you know I was summarily fired from my job last year.” And so she has, in that time since she was fired, she has focused on what she called three buckets of narrative journalism.

First bucket was teaching at Harvard. And so she kinda went through her whole syllabus which was really fascinating. The most important writer she talked about is Gay Talese and she said he is just unmatched in his skill. He’s 83 now but he still writes. He wrote the 50th anniversary Selma story for The New York Times because he covered it for them 50 years ago.

He doesn’t record anything because he doesn’t want to make people feel more nervous. He takes notes on these little squares that he keeps in his shirt pocket. And he keeps all his notes afterwards in these big legal boxes that he stores in his basement and one time she went to his house and saw them.

Then he decorates the legal boxes. Afterwards as  part of his creative process, he paints them as like a “I’m now done with this interview but all these notes will forever be stored here.”

His story he’s most famous for is “Frank Sinatra has a cold.” He wrote a long feature on Sinatra without any quotes from Sinatra. Frank Sinatra said he had a cold so he couldn’t be interviewed. I haven’t even read it yet but now I will read it. It’s renowned for its narrative skill.

The second bucket is the book that she’s writing about the rapidly changing industry.

She didn’t really expand a lot on the book, she just said she’s writing it. She thinks the fiercest competition in media right now is to get a button on Snapchat Discover.

She thinks there will always be a market for narrative journalism and in-depth storytelling will always be a skill that’s valued. She said there will be somedays that she goes to her desk and then somehow it gets to be noon and she’ll have done nothing but read the day’s news.

The third bucket?

The start up that she’s working on with the man who founded Court TV. She wouldn’t say what their bsinesss model is but that she’s very confident in it and there’s more to come. They’re producing nonfiction novellas that are 20,000 to 30,000 words because she thinks theres a space for something between a long form magazine piece and a book.

Can you imagine writing 20,000 words? That’s so much.

Anything else?

One of my favorite things was all about Instagram storytelling. The people that ran this panel were all writers not photographers. One of them is a National Geographic writer and every time he went out to write a story, eh would take a picture of someone on his phone.

Oh and you’ll love this. Another writer was saying “I don’t want to kill all the darlings maybe there’s a place for them to live somewhere else.” All of them are people that he comes across that are going to end up on the cutting room floor.

They all post them on Instagram and it’s a story that’s different from but related to whatever their published piece will be about. I thought it was so cool. It’s sort of Humans of New York-ish but they don’t have to be people.

Follow Katie on Twitter. Check out her work here. And here.

In response to last week’s discussion about the music industry

Last week’s discussion about the music industry is one I’ve had many times in my journalism classes. It’s often used as the classic example of an industry that was digitally disrupted and never fully recovered.

Oftentimes, I think we spend too much time looking at the damage digital downloads have caused rather than looking at how they’ve forced the music industry to consider new models for making revenue. In fact, I think there’s a lot of lessons publishers can learn from the music industry.

(Also, I don’t think enough people recognize the difference between the music industry and the record industry. But that’s another blog post.)

The music industry now makes most of its money off of concerts and events. In December 2013, I paid almost $200 for front row seats to a Beyonce concert. Then I bought a $40 t-shirt while I was at the concert.

I love Beyonce’s albums, but I buy them one single at a time. She’s not making much money off me there.

The print journalism industry will likely never fully recover from its own digital disruption. But news outlets can turn to events and other revenue-generating businesses to float their news operations.

Newspapers and their reporters are still considered thought leaders in their regions and they can trade in that. Earlier this year, The Daily Tar Heel hosted a feedback session after we printed our front page editorial on the need for reform in college athletics.

It was well attended and lasted much longer than we thought it would. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we could have made money off of it, but it seemed like people might be willing to buy tickets to hear us gab about the topics we’re well-versed in.

(I might be crazy. I don’t know. I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this idea.)

This is something the American City Business Journals has been doing for a long time — using its connections in local business circles to host professional nights out and hosting grand dinners to honor local businesses that make it onto top-40 lists the journals create.

The student media group at the University of Oregon, which is responsible for publishing The Daily Emerald, recently purchased a photo booth. The low-maintenance booth incurred a one-time cost to the group, and now it rents it out to other student groups for extra revenue.

But I guess, in the end, these are largely band-aid solutions to the broader problem — the prevailing assumption that readers shouldn’t have to pay for their news.

If I want to tweet your story, you should make it easy for me

I’m an avid reader of the news, but I’m not an avid sharer. My Twitter profile is mostly populated with stories from The Daily Tar Heel and the same goes for my Facebook page.

If I want to share a story I’ve read from a national outlet, I usually would email it to my friends I think would most appreciate it, rather than posting it for my 800 followers who mostly care about the UNC-related news I tweet.

But I really appreciate it when news sites give me an easy way to share stories. Whether that’s like what The Los Angeles Times does with it’s sharable bites:

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Which I really like to use instead of just tweeting the article’s headline or a quote from the article.

I also like that The New York Times share buttons follow me down the page. The only downside is when you click them, they queue up a tweet that’s just a headline and a shortened link to the story, which feels robotic and impersonal and not something I’d ever really want to share.

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This story is so much cooler than “Alabama Shakes’s Soul-Stirring, Shape-Shifting New Sound.”

Apparently,  The New York Times experimented with highlighting 140-character portions of stories to make it easier for readers to tweet that way.  At the time, The New York Times’ deputy editor of interactive news Marc Lavallee told Poynter the move was a one-time experiment.

“It’s not like a feature that’s in the pipeline to be rolled out site wide,” Lavallee told Poynter in August 2013.

That’s sort of a bummer because I think that feature could be really helpful, especially in some of the Times’ more dense material.

Anything publishers can do to make their stories more shareable (but not more click-baity — there is a difference!) is a worthwhile effort. For most websites, social is the source of most of their traffic. Publishers should realize that and try to capitalize on it.

Race relations with your coffee


This week, Starbucks unveiled a new ad campaign called “Race Together,” which is aimed at encouraging Starbucks’ baristas and customers to talk about race relations in America.

Howard Schultz, the chief executive officer for Starbucks, announced the new campaign at an employee conference in Seattle on Monday. According to Fortune Magazine, 40 percent of Starbucks employees identify as a racial minority.

“We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America,” Schultz said during the conference. “Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”

Immediately, the Twitter-sphere weighed in with its usual snark, which the Washington Post conveniently aggregated for me.

The campaign also includes a weekly USA Today insert that will have information about race relations and different perspectives on race. Starbucks stores will also have the insert.

While I agree with Schultz that race isn’t something America can afford to be quiet about, I do worry that this campaign doesn’t treat the issue of race relations with the sensitivity it requires. And asking employees who already have to deal with catty customers and long lines to opine on the current state of race relations in America seems tough.

I also think this campaign will succeed in certain geographies and largely fail in others.

It’s no wonder that urban areas seem to fear the proposal. People in large cities probably don’t know their barista very well, if at all. The idea of a stranger serving you coffee and forcing an intense conversation on you is likely very daunting.

But my hometown is small and the baristas in the one Starbucks in my town know nearly everyone. Encouraging those employees to be open and honest with customers about their feelings on current affairs will probably be one giant step forward for my little town.

I really appreciated The Daily Telegraph take:

It is a noble aim, of course, to improve “race relations,” and it would be churlish to suggest it stems from anything less than the best of intentions. But is Starbucks, in its very quest for equality, unwittingly entrenching those artificial divisions that have helped cause such unrest in the first place, not just lately but throughout history?

It could go really, horribly bad. People could have hilarious exchanges with baristas, similar to what happened with McDonald’s Pay with Lovin’ campaign. But I like that Schultz is open to the idea. And I think there are some places where it could really make a difference.