Open for business

Self-promotion makes me uncomfortable and the term “branding” makes me itch, but I’ve been told I should be doing this more as a freelancer.

I feel I’ve been pretty good at “putting myself out there” since I have been independent. (We’ll talk later about how I feel the term “freelancer” has a negative connotation.) But since I have to think of myself as a business, I should advertise. So here goes.

I’m a writer first. I’ve been in journalism all my life (bylines in the elementary school paper, son!), but working professionally for almost a decade. I’ve written general news. I’ve written entertainment. I’ve written education. I’ve written automotive. None of these are “hard” or “soft” topics; they should all be treated with the same level of respect. Therefore, if you need someone to report on any of those subjects — anything from one-off strings to long-term projects — let me know.

Living in Detroit, the city is one of my main subject areas. But it’s not my only subject area. I could probably give you a story about luxury sales in Germany vs. those in America, or I could recap your favorite crime drama. I’ve interviewed mayors, children, grieving parents, automotive executives, a man who sells raccoon meat, your favorite rappers, aging rock stars, racists and 100-year-olds on their birthdays.

I’ve written a lot. Therefore, I think I know my way around a sentence beyond journalism. I could write you a press release or your marketing copy. Many people in the last year probably found me through some snarky blogging I do over at Jalopnik Detroit, but I’ve been blogging long before that. Need a guest blog? I can do that. Need a ghost blog? I could do that, too.

Among one of my many current freelance projects, I’m doing community management for a soon-to-be-launched automotive enthusiast site, which means I could manage your social media accounts if you need me to. I can tell you what works, what plays to certain audiences, how to get noticed and how to make sense. Why, just the other day I picked out a promotional hashtag!

Oh, speaking of site launches. I was behind the scenes of MLive Detroit before that launched, so I know a thing or two about getting a new project off the ground. I’m very proud of my involvement with that, as it’s now one of the most-read news sites in the region. So if you need someone who’s not afraid to take risks with new developments, let me know.

I’m comfortable on radio and on camera; I’ve done local radio here in Detroit, provincial radio in Canada and lent my voice to a national launch of a new public radio show. I told you where a certain city councilman was hiding on the news and I’ve recently appeared in a soon-to-be-aired Web series about Detroit.

I also don’t mind offering guest commentary. I’ve done that for publications big and small, and if you need someone to offer up a quote or two for your journalism class project, I can do that, too. Ask me anything!

I started my career as a copy editor, so if you need a once-over on that essay you wrote (I live with a microbiologist; do you know how many scientific papers I’ve had to edit over the years?) or if you’ve got a project you need some help on, I can do that.

Finally, if I can’t help you, I probably know someone who can. I’m fortunate to know lots of talent always willing to lend a hand.

So let’s talk. Want to do some business? Email me at aaronkfoley[at]gmail[dot]com.

I haven’t blogged here in a year

….mainly because I’ve been everywhere else, literally. Check out the “media appearances” tab up above to see where I’ve been!

I have some ideas for what I want to do with this blog but I’ve gotta wait for some dust to settle. Hold tight.

The rise of the white girl power anthem

One thing to check off on my bucket list is to coin a term a la “yuppie” or “manic pixie dream girl” that becomes so popular that it earns its own place in regular conversation or Wikipedia. So maybe that’ll happen with this…(wishful thinking since like three people read this blog, but whatevs.)

I was out working in the backyard garden when Keith cranked up his Kelly Clarkson Pandora station. Most of her songs sound the same to me, but one that stands out is “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Then a few Pink songs come on. And then a few Katy Perry songs in between. All these women are singing about the same thing: Self-assurance, self-reliance and independence.

The only thing is, though, is that all these songs are mostly gender-neutral. Unlike, say, Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls),” anybody could relate to the themes in these songs, whether it be a breakup, a move-forward, a goodbye, or whatever. They avoid making too heavy-handed statements, which would nix a “Born this Way” or something similar. They’re all pop songs with faux guitars to give it a rockier edge. Most can cross between adult contemporary audiences and younger ones. There are no hints of R&B or soul, so they’re easier to digest. And they’re all sung by white women.

I’ll call it the white girl power anthem. Examples of these include:

“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” – Kelly Clarkson
“So What,” Pink
“Raise Your Glass,” Pink
“Fuckin’ Perfect,” Pink
“Wide Awake,” Katy Perry
“Part of Me,” Katy Perry (the definitive white girl power anthem)
“We R Who We R,” Ke$ha
“Already Gone,” Kelly Clarkson
“King of Anything,” Sara Bareilles

Feel free to add some more to the list.

Where have you been?

Phew! It’s been a while, so here’s what’s going on.

1. Left my old job, which was not as scary as I thought it would be when I did. It was hard to leave this job. It was my second post-college job, the one job that everyone secretly judges you on. The first job is your starting point and stepping stone. The second is the one where you’re supposed to be a rock star and have that extra oomph on your resume. Hopefully I did: I helped to launch a brand new digital newsroom, owned every story I did and helped expand the presence of a news org. But it was time to move on. I was 24 when I left my first job. It was easier the second time around at 27.

2. Started a new job two days later. I’ve jumped into the world of automotive reporting, which is fantastic if you live in the home of the Big Three. And I’m covering one of the Big Three. (Sticking to my rule of not diverging too much info on the blog, but I do enough of that on Twitter and Facebook anyway.) Few people know I’m a car nut. It’s not one of those things I wear on my sleeve, so with this job comes a few dispelling of myths. No, pop culture and entertainment isn’t the only thing I’m into. Yes, I can tell you the difference between a V6 and a V8. No, the job’s not easy, but I’m up for any challenge. Yes, I’m ready for the challenge.

I’m happy that thus far I’ve had a short career, but I’ve held jobs — short- or long-term — that some people take years to get to. Features copy editor. Columnist. Entertainment writer. Big-city education reporter. Now, having an “editor” title and your name in a masthead. And covering the Big Three in Motor City! A million girls would kill for this job.

That said, the career isn’t the only thing going. This house is still being restored (I know, I know…), I still haven’t written that book that I’ve always wanted to write, I planted a garden (again, failed last year, let a bunch of plants die due to laziness/busyness) in the backyard, I quit listening to urban radio and I bought the newest car I’ve ever owned in my driving lifetime (2010 Honda Civic with 15K miles). I’ve suddenly become become one of those people who travels for work, which means I’m fast on the path of becoming one of those dads who travels for work. (But hey! No kids on the horizon — yet.) I still tweet too much and I still watch RHOA. And I’m still taking things day by day.

Quick thought

It seems like the fastest way to get ahead and get noticed in journalism is to somehow create a huge public spectacle of yourself, whether intentionally by deliberately ratting out the company you work for, or unintentionally by making a press release about the new job you haven’t started yet, getting fired and gaining sympathy from hungry job recruiters. Strange, because it seems like merit and subtlety had always been the name of the game…

Now that you’ve seen Scandal, please save your rants about race

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OK, so we all watched “Scandal” tonight, right? ABC has promoted this nonstop in the last few weeks — endless commercials and paid Twitter ads abound.

I watched because I’m a fan of Kerry Washington. I loved her in “Ray.” But the elephant in the room is the blind support us black TV watchers have to show to shows with black lead characters. Lately there’s been a backlash against this — not everybody watches Tyler Perry’s sitcoms and we’ve given critical reviews of BET’s attempts at bringing back black sitcoms. Still, this was a pop culture moment: Black woman leading a hourlong series on one of the major networks.

I wasn’t so much the black viewer supporting a black show, per se. I was curious about how a series scripted by a black woman (Shonda Rhimes) starring a black woman would fare when the topic itself isn’t rooted in black culture. Unlike, say, “Soul Food” the series or “City of Angels,” there wasn’t an all-black cast and the issues aren’t necessarily reflective of black America.

That all said, I can see where the complaints are going to start rolling in. I can hear it now — “she’s not black enough.” “Where are the other black characters?” “Why does she have to be involved with [white character who I won't name to avoid spoilers]?” (I actually thought the relationship between those two reminded me of John and Mamie on “The Young and the Restless” in the early ’90s. #thingsonlyAaronwouldknow)

On the other side of the coin will be those die-hard, support-everything black TV viewers will be on guard for any sort of criticism lobbied at the show. “Why can’t you support a positive black show?” “Why do you have to hate?” “Why can’t we have good things without someone ruining it?” Nowadays, you can’t criticize anything black without being called a hater, and that’s sad because people with valid opinions will be stifled because they want to keep up appearances.

I do have some criticisms after one episode. Actingwise, Kerry was on her A-game; the other actors weren’t. That’ll sink the ship immediately if that isn’t fixed. I see some MAJOR character flaws in Kerry’s character that will eventually become annoying, kind of how Meredith Grey on Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” gets really annoying. The blueprint is there, and yes I will throw shade at it when I see it. That said, I won’t be criticizing her because she’s a black woman. I’ll be criticizing her because she’s a fictional character who just happens to be black.

But this is what we face as characters who happen to be black lead television shows: The arguments that will crop up that are directly related to race. Just for once, I’d like to leave race out of the discussion. Is that possible? We’ll see.

Mary J, please have a seat

During April Fool’s weekend, of all weekends, Burger King launched a new ad campaign that quickly drew fire because in one of the ads, Mary J. Blige sings about chicken. Singing all extra about a tasty tortilla, and throwing up six fingers for three cheeses. BK has had singers poking fun at their images before (I’m thinking Darius Rucker’s ad a few years ago), but with this ad, you really can’t tell if MJB is in on the joke or not.

Never mind that BK committed two advertising cardinal sins: Urban music used to market chicken products, and white people dancing off-beat to it. It’s very possible that BK was, in a sick, twisted way, making fun of “urban” ads we’ve been bombarded with for years. But considering the rush to bring down the commercial from YouTube and other sites (and blaming it on copyright issues even though one would assume BK would have had to seek copyright permissions before even filming the ad), maybe not so.

On The Detroit News’ Poptropolis blog, Adam Graham says it might be a good thing because people are talking about MJB again after her last album pretty much flopped. While I like Adam’s work, I have to respectfully disagree.

People are talking about MJB for all the wrong reasons, and this ad is just the latest in a series of career missteps. When Mary bombs, she bombs huge. Her image has always been that of a serious, soul singer who’s been more about the music than the product. But it’s been hard for Mary to maintain that image.

Who could forget that horrendous VIBE cover from a few years ago? Or her claiming to have been accepted to Howard University even though she only holds a GED? Or that epic, epic, damn-you-autocorrect fail of the decade when she demanded that no one “understand estimate my intelligents“? Her Twitter breakdown after losing out on an Oscar nomination?

To be fair, some of those were beyond her control. The things within her control after a 20-year career are inexcusable. Since “The Breakthrough,” it seems MJB has been working too hard to hold onto her crown that no one, not even Keyshia Cole, could snatch. From lending her voice to damn near everyone’s remix or hook (Robin Thicke’s “Magic,” Ne-Yo’s “Do You,” T.I.’s “Remember Me,” Musiq’s overly generic “IfULeave,” and so on) to dropping album after album of radio filler, it seems like the MJB who effortlessly gave us classics of the ’90s has devolved into merely staying relevant. The My Life II, the prologue, the Intermission, the Haiku, whatever she called it album title was the last straw for me.

And to be honest, Mary and national advertising don’t really mesh well, anyway. I couldn’t stand her Chevrolet ads around the time of “The Breakthrough” album — particularly the one where she’s driving a Tahoe with all of her former incarnations of herself. Remember that one? What does the journey between “What’s the 411?” and “The Breakthrough” have to do with a Tahoe?

No one can take MJB’s place, but it seems like she’s inadvertently losing her grip. Maybe after 20 years in the game, this is her “awkward phase” that Janet and other long-standing divas have gone through. That means MJB is around the corner from a proper comeback. Until that time, however, please have a seat.

Where are the middle-class black folks in the movies?

So, I’m doing laundry and in between loads (thank goodness I’m no longer a slave to quarters…), I’m watching TV. DISH Network didn’t let me know I apparently had a free preview of HBO, Cinemax and Starz, so I flip over to see what they’ve got on. I turn on “Jumping the Broom,” the black wedding movie that made a splash last year in the theaters and essentially greenlighted the Akil production team to go forward with the Detroit-filmed remake of “Sparkle,” Whitney Houston’s last film.

I’d seen the last half of “Jumping the Broom” when Paula Patton and Laz Alonso actually, well, jumped the broom, so I caught the first half and went on washing clothes. The movie itself was fine, but I just have issues with yet another black film with a clash of rich black folks and poor black folks.

Almost every Tyler Perry film ever made has this theme (and pretty much all of them period show black families on the upper tiers of the wealth ladder), and we’d also seen extreme displays of wealth in “This Christmas” and “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” the latter of which heavily touched on the rich vs. poor theme. And we’ll never get enough of poor or disenfranchised blacks on screen; the last two black Oscar winners won for their roles “Precious” and “The Help.”

I’m fortunate enough to come of age in the 1990s/2000s when we had black people of all classes on screen. We lived in the hood (Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, Set it Off), raised families in nice neighborhoods (Love and Basketball, Soul Food), could be wealthy or well-respected (Eve’s Bayou, How Stella Got Her Groove Back) or young and upwardly mobile (The Best Man, Brown Sugar), and everything in between. So what happened to that?

I’m having trouble looking for the people that look like me on screen — and no, I don’t necessarily need another romantic comedy (I’m looking at you, Think Like a Man). Like, where are the people who go to regular jobs every day? Not cleaning toilets or dictating orders to a secretary — but the people in between? Where are the people who drive four-door sedans that are a few payments away from being paid off, the people who live in three-bedroom colonials, the people who drink rum and cokes instead of cosmos and mimosas (or can’t afford to indulge at all), the people whose parents went to college without the weight of the world on their shoulders because their grandparents had adequately worked for that right?

Is there room in Hollywood for simple, everyday black people anymore?

Let’s be a little frank about race

Last week I had a conversation with a hard-working and pretty influential guy about race in Metro Detroit (it’s kind of a big deal right now) and how difficult it is to talk about race, especially when the parties in the conversation are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

He’s an older white guy and I’m a young black guy. That alone, even before the nationwide Trayvon Martin conversation, can make someone nervous. I’m honestly nervous talking about anyone. I think about my words too much before speaking, I “talk with my hands,” I don’t always make 100% eye contact and, as a reporter, I have to choose my words  and contexts carefully — one, to not show bias, two, not to sound like a wet-behind-the-ears dumbass. But in front of a white person, you don’t want to — what some of us black folks say in some circles — “embarrass the race.”

“Embarrassing the race” involves many things. Some would say that the Real Housewives of Atlanta, god love them, embarrass the race because of their reality theatrics. On the other hand, a well-spoken commentator like Roland Martin would be embarrassing the race because he chooses coded language to bash gays. I’m not on Bravo or CNN, though, and my fears of accidentally embarrassing the race come from a place of self-awareness. I don’t know how many black people that this white person, or any white person, has talked to today, this week, this month — so I have to do my duty to show that we’re competent, we’re capable, we can hold a conversation and, as of this month, not suspicious.

All this aside, the conversation went well and it gave me the confidence to be a little more frank about race in all conversation — and that it’s possible to talk about it without berating or preaching. So…there are white people moving into our neighborhood.

White people have been coming (back?) into Detroit, we know this. It has been alarming to the old-guard Detroiters who are concerned that Starbucks will eventually drive up their property taxes. Based on my observation, though, white people have only been flocking to Midtown, Corktown, downtown, Lafayette Park, the Villages…(I have some thoughts on this I hope to share later). But rarely anywhere else in Detroit –’til now.

I live in a very un-trendy neighborhood between Linwood (gasp!) and Dexter (double gasp!) with solid brick colonials and a hell of a lot of black folks that moved in when the Jews moved out after the riots. The pages of Central High’s yearbooks get blacker year by year after 1967. But black folks moved here when they were young and have maintained their homes all this time, and they’re much older now and still here. In many cases, their children have worked to continue that tradition — though, like all Detroit neighborhoods, we have some blight and we’re not immune to crime.

A white family moved on my street this month and they actually — wait for it — let their kids play outside and walk their dog up and down the street. I honestly don’t care who moves in as long as they cut their grass and don’t sell drugs, but I must admit I was shocked. That they’d come here — to Linwood! — and not flock to the trendy -towns or Villages.

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