Going, Going, Gone Viral with “The Team at Clark & Addison”

I’ve previously blogged about my penchant for “fart-ups”—seemingly good ideas that I will think about for a while or maybe even spend a little time working on—before abandoning them to my personal black hole of unfinished projects and long forgotten to-do lists.

Sometimes, however, these fart-ups will hold my attention long enough to actually come to fruition and maybe even flourish for a while. The most recent fart-up that I have nurtured to success is my Chicago Cubs Memes account on Instagram. As a lapsed Cubs blogger with lofty ambitions of writing heart-felt reactions to every Cubs game and plot twist in the team’s annual quest to defy history, I realized two things. 1) No one on the vast Internets seemed to be devoting themselves single-mindedly to creating Cubs-related memes. 2) It was a lot faster to consistently share my thoughts about the Cubs by posting a meme than by crafting a 1,000-word blog post.

Thus, @CubMemes was born near the beginning of the 2015 Cubs season. As it turned out, a decent number of Instagramming Cubs fans were actually interested in the hot-and-hopefully-humorous takes that I had to offer. The account’s following grew tremendously over the past two years with basically no promotional effort on my part. It now sits authoritatively among other popular Cubs Instagram accounts with more than 7,000 followers and lots of interaction on my posts.

Not too shabby, right?

Well, the success of this fart-up made me hungry for more. I had been listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton regularly for nearly a year, and on one of my listens, I had the thought of rewriting the title song as a parody about the Cubs. I even had a phrase that could work: Replace “Alexander Hamilton” with “The Team at Clark and Addison.”

I floated this idea to my incredibly creative brothers, thinking that there was no way that we would ever actually find the time and energy to make it happen.

As the success of the 2016 Cubs leaned inevitably toward another playoff appearance, it occurred to me that this song was basically a musical form of a Cubs meme—and I had a devoted audience of Cubs meme fans at my disposal. I raised the idea with my brothers again, and we started a Google Document to remotely collaborate on lyrics. We wrote down phrases and people/events that we wanted to include from Cubs lore and tried to think of rhymes that matched Lin Manuel Miranda’s complex rhyme schemes in the original.

A couple weeks later (while I had put the project on the back burner), my brothers Chris and Ben messaged me that they had completed the first draft of the lyrics. This was actually happening!

Turns out the first draft was almost perfect. They recorded a demo version with a Hamilton karaoke track, and I got to work editing Cubs highlights and other appropriate Cubbie clips that fit contextually with the lyrics.

Last Friday evening, we all got together at my parents’ house to record the final version. We tweaked a few lyrics and then spent a couple hours recording the song verse-by-verse. The whole thing was a ton of fun, and a chance to hang out with my brothers in a way that just doesn’t happen that often anymore. Fortunately, my brother Ben can legitimately carry a tune and the rest of us managed to sound not terrible picking up the pieces around him. Considering we’re a bunch of nerds, I think we even handily pulled off the rap verses.

I spent the next morning finishing up my edit and laying in the final audio tracks. With my sister-in-law and niece in town for the weekend, I quickly uploaded it and posted it on my Cub Memes and personal social media accounts before we headed off to check out Open House Chicago. (which you should definitely check out next year!)

While we galavanted around downtown Chicago checking out the Aon Center, going on the stage at Millennium Park and strolling the deck of the Chicago Yacht Club’s anchored boat, the Internet worked its magic to make our Hamilton homage begin its viral rise to the top.

By the time we got home in the evening, it had more than 2,000 views. By the time the Cubs game was over, it had 3,600 views. By Sunday morning, we’d topped 10,000 views. The video continued to be shared by individuals on Twitter, and friends were telling me that /their/ friends—who didn’t know me—were also sharing it on Facebook with abandon.

My wife and I have talked about how there is a void to be filled in social media that could be called “Inside Joke Twitter.” When you sign up for an account, you would put in all of your potential interests, favorite movies, books, music, sports teams, etc. You could then choose different concentric circles of these interests and make posts about them. In this case, our video would fit perfectly into the Cubs/Hamilton crossover. While memes function this way to some extent, there are lots of memes that I only understand as a meme and not because I’ve seen the meme’s source material. This would be for deeper humorous dives among passionate fans of two seemingly disparate topics. Anyway, that’s another fart-up for another time.

Needless to say, many people who find themselves within the concentric circle of Hamilton and Cubs fandom discovered our video and were sharing it with each other. Twitter searches and Facebook posts frequently involved the poster alerting other friends to the video’s existence so they could enjoy it as well. That’s pretty much the definition of viral.

I don’t want to toot our horn, but in an age when comments sections are the bane of a digital content creator’s existence and ego, our video didn’t get any negative comments until a random “That was horrible” YouTube comment two days after it was posted—and it’s really only received one or two negative comments since then. My faith in humanity is being restored for the time being.

On Sunday evening, I received a tweet from a reporter at WGN Morning News who dabbles in quirky online stories saying that he would like to show some of it on Monday’s broadcast. I agreed, and the segment aired at 4:45, 5:45 and 7:15. It was pretty cool having our video appear on a news telecast that we had all watched growing up (and which still features the same newscasters for the most part). Unfortunately, by the time my Mom tuned in later in the morning, the main newscasters were incredibly disparaging of the video (which is kind of their schtick—to be cynical about everything), so I guess it wasn’t universally revered after all.

On Monday morning, I received an email from Chicagoist—a local Chicago news website—asking to do an interview with me. I called back the reporter and the blog post appeared in the afternoon. I figured this would breathe fresh life into the video’s circulation and I was right. The Chicagoist story led to several other news and sports website stories, many of which borrowed heavily from the interview I did with the Chicagoist reporter. It’s interesting to see how many news sites get their content from other news sites and just provide a quick attribution at the end. Takes a lot of legwork out of reporting…

By Monday evening, the video had received 20,000 views—officially viral in my book—and then NBC Chicago did a post on their website. This provided yet another boost, and the video has increased by more than 10,000 views each day, currently sitting above 50,000.

Last night, Sports Illustrated ran a story on their website, so I think we’ve pretty much peaked in terms of media coverage. Here’s a list of links to all the media mentions for posterity:

Sports Illustrated

Chicagoist

NBC Chicago

WGN Radio

Timeout Chicago

The Postgame

104.3 KHITS

As I said in the Chicagoist interview, I was hoping that this would eventually attract the attention of Hamilton composer Lin Manuel Miranda on Twitter, but that has yet to happen. Tonight is both the official opening night of Hamilton in Chicago and Game 3 of the NLCS.Also, it turns out that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s father tweeted the video! There’s no time like the present for Lin to tweet it out himself.

Beyond achieving online virality, getting decent media coverage and engaging in a quest for a famous Twitter mention, this project was mostly just fun to do because I never expected us to actually do it and because I got to do it with my brothers. We’ve talked off and on for years about how we should try to get our creative juices flowing in unison and use our talents to produce something fun like this. While none of us are quitting our day jobs to become YouTube celebrities just yet, it is pretty awesome to realize that we made more than 50,000 people smile through this seemingly frivolous endeavor. We live in an amazing time when something like this can be created, shared and enjoyed by so many people so easily.

And don’t get me started on the joy of watching the Cubs move ever closer on their journey to the World Series. To steal a line from Hamilton—how lucky we are to be alive right now.

Go, Cubs, Go! (and thanks to everyone who watched and shared our video)

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Archiving Me: The Mess That Is My Digital Life

What a mess.

I’ve always considered myself an organized person, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I’m a messy person with organized intentions.

If my work cube is a mess, I will eventually take the time to sort it all out and have a clean cube for a few weeks until disorder takes over and the cycle repeats itself.

Same with my inbox. I am not an Inbox Zero zealot, though the reality of that life does sound delightful and would probably make my work day a tad more productive.

Basically, I am bothered by a mess, even though I don’t always spring into immediate action to clean it up.

The problem with living in 2015, however, is that the messy desk extends beyond my cube into cloud and hard drive-based realms that exist outside my field of vision and therefore usually escape my plan of organizational attack.

I’m talking about the thousands of photos, files, music, blog posts and other digital assets that I have been amassing and failing to uniformly organize for more than a decade. I’m a fantastic digital historian — I save anything that could be of interest or value. But I’m a terrible digital archivist — I haven’t had a single system for cataloging my stuff.

I don’t even know where to begin.

READ THE REST…

Navigating Tragedy in the Age of Too Much Media

I’ve used this blog as a platform for sorting out my feelings about tragic events before, and I hate the fact that I have the opportunity to do that again so soon.

This was a difficult day for anyone who heard the news of the senseless murder of 20 children and 6 adults at a Newtown, CT school. That’s not something that anyone can conceive of, let alone process when faced with such a reality. For those directly affected by the day’s events, the word “horrific” probably doesn’t even come close to describing the disbelief, inconsolable pain and sense of loss reverberating through a community that previously reported only one homicide in the last 10 years. It’s unimaginable.

Many far more eloquent than I will find the right words to inscribe this event into one of the darkest corners of our nation’s history. I’ll leave that responsibility in more capable hands.

My reaction consisted mainly of praying for everyone involved, consoling myself with the timeless wisdom of Fred Rogers and attempting to follow the latest news updates via Twitter, news websites and live streams from cable news channels.

Here’s the problem: the mainstream media (by and large) is seemingly incapable of providing reliable coverage of major news events. As both a trained journalist working in the communications field and a journalism instructor training tomorrow’s reporters in the effective use of multimedia and social media, this realization comes as a depressing professional blow, but I stand by the statement. The 24-hour news cycle combined with the omnipotent, relentless social media beast has turned every big news story into an increasingly cutthroat first-to-tweet competition among news organizations — without regard for ethical considerations, proper sourcing or substantiated truth.

This has been the case for a while, but perhaps the grisly subject matter of today’s news threw the media’s shallow, self-promoting weakness into sharper relief. We needed the media today, more than we usually do. The function of the press is to to provide facts, to tell people’s stories and to make sense of a seeming chaos of details in a clear, trustworthy and understandable form. That’s why I became a journalist. I think that’s always important. I think that in a situation like today, it’s vital.

I would argue that this was not a breaking news story. By the time the journalists showed up, the deed was done and the action was over. Investigators — fellow human beings who were no doubt just as shaken by this incident as anyone else — were doing their methodical work. But their pace wasn’t fast enough, so media outlets began to peddle unsubstantiated hearsay on the air, online and on Twitter: getting the identity of the shooter wrong, linking to mistaken identity social media accounts, reporting the wrong identity of the victim at the shooter’s home, inventing the fact that the shooter’s mother worked at the school, and more (don’t even get me started on the decision to interview third graders who had just been rushed out of their classrooms by police officers). With every passing moment, there seemed to be a changing bit of crucial information or another retracted tweet. By the evening, I was discussing the events with friends who still believed some of the media-promoted lies from earlier in the day because they hadn’t heard the updates and retractions.

Call me an idealist, but there’s something radically wrong with a scenario in which the supposedly unbiased media is rushing to judgment on key facts of a news story while the entire nation is simultaneously glued to and at the mercy of the media’s coverage. Social media–for all its positive potential–has turned the media world into a lawless Wild West without consequences. A news outlet can indict the first result from a Facebook search for a heinous crime and “undo” the damage by deleting a tweet or retracting it in 140 barely apologetic characters. Too bad it’s impossible to ever really put the toothpaste back into the tube. Unfortunately the media landscape is covered in accidental toothpaste these days, and I’m at a loss for how to brush it away when it’s becoming the accepted rule rather than the appalling exception.

Perhaps I’m taking my helpless frustration at the situation out on the media a little bit, but we desperately need a higher standard. I truly hope that the general public — and especially young journalists and journalism students — are as disgusted by these media gaffes as I am and unwilling to let this continue. Difficult as it is, journalists have a commitment to uphold to the public and a responsibility to seek accuracy above all else. It doesn’t matter if the facts are being printed, posted, or tweeted.

In the heat of battle, mistakes happen. I get that. But the battle is self-imposed by competitive news organizations and the “mistakes” are calculated reporting risks designed to garner more clicks or to earn some sort of perceived recognition as the first to break the latest detail. I don’t think the public actually takes note of which news organization informed them of which facts, but I certainly hope they remember which ones misinformed them.

Be right, not first. And don’t report until you’re right. Lord knows we have much bigger things to deal with right now.