What Journalists Can Learn From Shaq

Two weeks ago, Slam Magazine named Shaquille O’Neal the fourth greatest basketball player in NBA history. Now, argue all you want about whether or not Shaq is better than some other names on that list — like Oscar Robertson (no. 5 on the list), Magic Johnson (no. 6) or Juwan Howard (weirdly, not ranked). I’m not here to argue his place in history.

But here’s what I find remarkable: unlike most of the players on that list, when I think of Shaq, I don’t think of basketball first.

Sure, Jordan’s synonymous with all sorts of YouTubeable highlights. Dr. J cues up an image of a man finishing a reverse layup from behind the basket. Say John Havlicek’s name, and immediately, four words come to mind: “Stole the ball.

Then there’s Shaq. I’ll remember him not for his four NBA titles but for what he did — and said — off the court.

That’s why he’s the subject of this week’s “What Journalists Can Learn From…”

1. Control your brand name.
Shaq’s a perfect example of how to — and how to not — build your brand. He’s cultivated this larger-than-life image by being wildly quotable and media friendly. ESPN’s run a Top 10 of Shaq’s most famous quotes — my favorite: “We’re not worried about the Sacramento Queens” — on more than a handful of occasions. His “MTV Cribs” episode is awesome. His arrival in Miami a few years back was brilliant. But then there’s the flip side: his movie career was a flop, and his notorious Kobe Bryant-themed rap landed on the web. Building a brand means giving people unique content, and Shaq’s certainly as quotable as any in pro sports. But he’s also been prone to poor decision making in public.

2. If you tweet, tweet well.
Shaq’s closing in on 1.5 million followers, and it’s because his Twitter feed is among the most innovative anywhere. He engages users in ridiculous contests — today, he asked followers to send in their best “Yo Momma” joke — and retweets regularly.

3. Evolve. Shaq — the basketball player — in 2009 is not the same as the Shaq of even a few seasons ago. But after his recent trade to Cleveland, many pegged the Cavs as a title contender. Shaq’s slower, and certainly not the dominant force that he was earlier this decade. But he’s evolved into something else. He’s a role player who’s said publicly that he doesn’t mind coming off the bench, and there aren’t many stars who are willing to sacrifice their own stats for the team. He’s finding his niche as he ages and staying relevant. I’ve said it before: if you have essential skills to offer, you can always find an audience that needs your services.

When Twitter Breaks the News. (But Why Twitter Shouldn’t Be the News.)

Now here’s the miracle of Twitter: I’ve got a column in Tweet Deck searching for any Tweet that includes the word “San Antonio” or the hashtag “#satx.” And about a half hour ago, this tweet pops up at the top of the column:

But there’s no link, and no follow up. The AP doesn’t have anything on it. Neither does ESPN.com or SI.com.

And then, suddenly, a flood of tweets opens up in the column, all about the trade. One’s got a link.

So we’re off. A breaking news update goes on to kens5.com. A competitor — KSAT 12 — follows a few minutes later. (Worth noting: ESPN.com’s headline doesn’t go online until a few minutes after that.) Suddenly, the newsroom’s buzzing, with anchors getting called in and reporters being dispatched to Spur-related sites around the city.

A boss calls asking if we can get a full story on the site soon. Sure, I say. But shouldn’t we confirm the story first?

Twitter: a great tool. But nothing beats original reporting.

A Sign That I May Tweeting Too Often.

So I’m driving west on I-40 today, somewhere near Knoxville, Tenn., when I see a billboard on the opposite site of the road for a local restaurant. The billboard reads something like, “Exit 40B, then RT.”

And looking at it, I see the letters “RT” and fully expect an “@” and a username to follow it.

Then I realize that “RT” means “right.”

I’m an idiot.

What Journalists Can Learn From a Business Trip.

I’m finishing up a road trip, so this Friday’s installment of “What Journalists Can Learn From…” is all about business travel. When I’m on the road, I’m just looking to be treated humanely. But sometimes, it seems that companies forget to do even that.

The photo at right — me, standing next to an entirely-too-low shower head — will be addressed in a moment.

That being said, I’m thinking about three things that journalists can learn when traveling:

1. Serve the Public Good. On my Southwest flight from Baltimore to San Antonio, we’d only been waiting on the tarmac for 10 minutes when the pilot came over the loudspeakers. “So, we could be waiting here a while,” he said. “You can turn on your phones if you’d like.” Then, an hour later, he announced that we would be heading back to the gate, because the airport was probably going to shut down due to severe weather. So they allowed passengers to disembark.

Meanwhile, out the window, we could see that other airlines were leaving their passengers trapped on the plane during a thunderstorm.

An hour later, we reboarded the plane, and the pilot continued to keep us up-to-date about what was happening and why we weren’t taking off. The flight left some six-and-a-half hours late, but passengers didn’t complain. The Southwest crew kept the passengers informed, and they weren’t afraid to say that they were frustrated by what was happening, too. I’ve never been on a flight that was delayed that long, but I’ve also never been on a flight where we were so well informed about why the delay was happening. (The pilot even threw in a nice plug, asking passengers to write in to their Congressman about our nation’s outdated air traffic control system.) Southwest’s crew acted with the passengers’ best interests at heart, so the passengers were willing to cooperate despite the delays.

2. Be Easy to Reach. During the delay, I was trying to reach Enterprise Rent-a-Car to change my reservation. I called both numbers from my confirmation email; neither line got me through to a real human being. So I used Google’s 411 service to find Enterprise’s customer service line, and eventually, an actual person was able to direct me to the San Antonio Enterprise location. Still, if I didn’t have more than a few dollars at stake, I’d have given up. Any organization should be imminently reachable, especially by phone or email (but also via Facebook, Twitter, comments on blogs, etc). Meet your community, wherever they are.

3. Know Your Clientele. So that photo at the top of this post is of me in my shower at the La Quinta. Now, this is a hotel that gives you what you want: a clean bed, good air conditioning, and a nice bathroom. But the shower head is unbelievably low. I know that at my size — I’m 6’5” — I have to crouch to shower sometimes. But the La Quinta shower head would be too low for someone a foot shorter than me. La Quinta’s simply forgotten to do a basic thing really well, and the next time I’m considering a La Quinta, I won’t remember that the hotel had a free breakfast and a pool outside. But I’ll absolutely remember that I had to go to my knees to wash my hair.

What Was It That I Was Supposed to Remember, Exactly?

Two things that play really well on the Internet: sarcasm and lists. Last summer, I tried to combine both into a segment from Beijing that I called “What I’ve Learned.” As my week in San Antonio is winding down, I wanted to post a few initial impressions from this city.

-Real late-night drive-throughs have two lanes.

-Someone named Bill Miller is making a killing in this town.

-Air conditioning is not part of the lifestyle here; it is the lifestyle.

-If Eva Longoria shows up at a Wendy’s in town, nobody will seem surprised.

-I-10 West really goes North, and I-10 East really goes South. This is understood.

-There may not be a chicken in every pot, but there is a Mexican restaurant on every block.

-Going the wrong way? There’s a turnaround for that.

-Things are bigger in Texas, but it only takes 10 minutes to drive into downtown.

-And they still rent Chevy Aveos here.

-Some people end their conversations with “Hook ’em horns.” Many people do not want to be associated with these people.

-There was something I was supposed to remember in this town. What was it, exactly?


H/T to tomasland for the photo.

Life After College. (or: Life? After College?)

This seemed to work well with my family at Thanksgiving, so I’ll try it again here.

1. Yes, I have a job (with these guys).

2. Yes, I have a fancier title than I deserve (officially: Digital Media Producer).

3. No, the use of Title Case is not necessary, but I like it anyway.

4. Yes, I’m aware that things are bigger in Texas.

5. No, I do not plan on using “You know, they say that everything’s bigger in Texas” as a pick up line.

Never fear: I’ll still be blogging at Dan Oshinsky.com. I’ll just be keeping the pornographically-related stories to a minimum.


H/T to Corey Leopold for the photo of San Antonio’s Riverwalk, and to Dave Barry for the stolen title.

Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself.

I’m noticing a massive spike in traffic from the San Antonio region, so to my new corporate overlords, I say, “Welcome!”

If you’d like to know how I feel about meteorologists, click here.

If you’d like to read about my dedication to finding barbecue wherever I am, click here.

If you’d to learn why I’m a fairly blurry individual, click here.

If you’re wondering whether or not I’m sarcastic, click here.

The Management.

Alone Amongst Strangers (or: a Very Brief Comment About Cell Phone Usage on Airplanes).

A brief overdramatization…


He holds her in his hands, and he watches as the whole of her shuts down, here in front of everyone, and for a moment he is vulnerable, disconnected, his eyes low, like a son watching his father step on to the 3:05 to some desert town, knowing that once that train turns the corner, he’ll never be sure when it’ll come back, and part of him is sad, because he needs her, he needs her right here, pressed up against his ear, telling him what he wants and needs, finding him when he’s lost and waking him when he’s not, and now she’s slipping away, her glow fading, and all he can do his clutch her and watch her leave him, and the voice comes over the speakers again, and it tells him to let her go, because he’s off to the Southland, and he knows that she’ll be back, and it’s time to let her rest, at least for now.

And the man watches her — watches her fade to black — and then he tucks her away into a pouch in his briefcase, and for a moment, he is unmistakably down, because he knows that for a few hours, on this flight from Baltimore to San Antonio, he’s not just disconnected from his emails and his business and his family.

His BlackBerry is off.

He is alone.


H/T to saital for the photo.

How Many ‘R’s Are There in Arugula?

A brief story, told via Twitter.

  1. danoshinsky
    danoshinsky I may or may not have just spent 30 minutes looking for arugula at the grocery store. No one — myself included — knew what it looked like.
  2. danoshinsky
    danoshinsky And then, as I’m in line, about to give up, a store employee runs over, screaming out, “SIR! SIR!” and holding a bag of arugula in his hand.
  3. danoshinsky
    danoshinsky It’s quite green and leafy. Who knew?
  4. danoshinsky
    danoshinsky The worst part, actually, is that it was in hot pink packaging. No idea how I missed that.

this quote was brought to you by quoteurl


H/T to Jing a Ling for the photo of arugula, QuoteURL for the help posting these Tweets, and the Giant Food staff for valiantly searching for my dinner.