The Ingram family Christmas letter for 2013

As if to make up for the last few years, winter decided to arrive early and with a vengeance in Toronto this year, dumping a couple of feet of the white stuff in early December and bringing with it some frosty temperatures of minus 15 or so Celsius. But we managed to stick it out, and Becky and I even went running during that cold spell, because we are Canadian and that’s what we do. Our annual visit to Florida can’t come soon enough!

As usual, this Christmas letter/webpage is a selection of highlights from our year, along with one fact that I made up (you’ll have to guess which one). If you want the “too long, didn’t read” version, we are all fine and healthy and the girls are doing great, and I travelled a lot this year but it was mostly fun. If you like the letter or the pictures, drop me an email and let me know. As always, the photos are available as a Flickr slideshow if you’d rather have a look at them that way. Here’s to a great 2014 for you and yours!

The new year began with some ice-skating and general snow-related merry-making at The Farm with our friends Marc and Kris and the usual assortment of dogs, friends, extended family members, snowshoes and eating that makes up our New Year celebrations. We also had a visit with Becky’s brother Dave and his wife Jenn and their family in Kingston — including a walk through their ravine with its marshmallow-looking snow — and I managed to sneak in a trip to San Francisco, which is always nice in the dead of winter. In February we continued our winter-related activities with our usual trip to Winterlude in Ottawa with its maple taffy, poutine (a delicacy that not all of my American friends seem to have been won over by for some reason) and beaver tails.

This year I got some great shots of the legendary Hog’s Back Falls in Ottawa, which was a symphony of ice. In March, we headed off to Florida with Dave and Jenn and Caitlin came with us again to keep Zoe company and to surprise her grandmother (Meaghan had to stay at university and study unfortunately). We got our share of beaches and lying around on the lanai, and made a pilgrimage out to Rum Bay, the legendary rib spot on an island south of Venice. Zoe had her 15th birthday while we were there and Becky and I got in some golf before we had to make the long trek back home to winter.

After we got back from Florida we got to see Dave and Jenn’s brand new grandchild Brooklynn, who was teeny tiny and everyone got to hold her at least once. In April I went to New York to put on a conference for Gigaom about the future of media, in a great old building right across from Radio City Music Hall, and I was pretty proud of the program we put together — with speakers like Tumblr founder David Karp (Meaghan and Zoe were quite impressed by that, as Tumblr fans) and Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian. Even though I’ve been to New York a few times by now, I still get chills walking along Broadway and seeing Times Square and doing all that touristy stuff.

At the end of April, Becky and I got to go on the trip of a lifetime (so far anyway) when we spent almost a week in Italy. I got invited to speak at the International Festival of Journalism, so we turned it into a kind mini-vacation: three days in Perugia, which is an ancient Etruscan city two hours north of Rome that has some amazing ruins and great food (the region is known for its black truffles). We stayed in a majestic old 5-star hotel called the Brufani Palace and had a romantic dinner at an Argentinian restaurant, sitting out on a little balcony overlooking the old city, and the swimming pool in our hotel had a glass panel at the bottom where we could see the ruins of the ancient fort beneath us as we swam.

Then we took the train down to Rome, where we stayed in a great 5-star hotel that Becky found, with a beautiful rooftop patio overlooking the city, and it was just a 10-minute walk from the Spanish Steps and the Trevi fountain. We only had a day and a half, but we tried to see as much of the city as we could, and managed to get to the Coliseum and St. Peters Square at the Vatican and the Roman forum and the Pantheon and a ton of other famous ruins that we couldn’t name. And we had some even more fantastic meals, like cacio e pepe at a quaint little neighborhood trattoria near the Vatican and an amazing pizza right near the Trevi fountain. It was definitely a magical trip — and they’ve invited me to come and speak at the festival again next spring, so we might get a chance to see some of the Italian landmarks we missed this time.

May brought the wedding of my cousin Jessica, which was held in the picturesque sea-side town of Ogunquit in Maine, where we all stayed in a cute little cabin right near the dunes — with our own little fireplace — and ate lobster and seafood until we couldn’t stand it any more. Caitlin was a bridesmaid and managed to look lovely even though the weather was unseasonably cold, and Meaghan and Zoe and Becky looked fantastic as always (I was there too, as this photo proves). I got to spend a little time in New York in the spring as well, which is always amazing. Then in June we had a work retreat in Santa Cruz in California, which was a great trip — despite the fact that we had to spend hours watching PowerPoint presentations while looking at the amazing beach by our hotel. But we got lots of time to explore the beach and boardwalk with its 90-year-old wooden rollercoaster, and the local pier with its customary inhabitants: dozens of noisy sea lions. And back in San Francisco, I dropped in at Twitter and got a brief tour of its famous rooftop deck.

Finally it was summer time, and we moved north to the cottage and opened up our summer office on the deck overlooking the lake, and I tried to spend as much time as humanly possible out in the kayak with the loons and the sunsets. Becky and I went on quite a few “kayak dates,” paddling down under the bridge into the bay or just sitting watching the sun go down on another beautiful evening. Zoe also got in a fair bit of kayaking — and so did Meaghan, who lived at the cottage all summer and worked as a chambermaid at the local resort for the second summer in a row. We spent a great weekend at Go Home with Marc and Kris in July, and went on a long canoe and kayak trip that unfortunately ended with me diving into the rapids with my phone in my pocket (awkward). It was time to upgrade anyway!

Then we spent a week with the rest of the Stone clan in a great cottage on Gull Lake in Muskoka with a huge dock, which really came in handy because it was about 35 degrees Celsius the whole time we were there — and we also spent a few days at Sand Banks provincial park with Becky’s family, where we had the choice campsite right next to the beach, and I went on a marathon two-hour paddle in the kayak out to the tip of the point and saw an abandoned lighthouse and all kinds of awesome stuff, but didn’t take any pictures because I was afraid to take my phone with me (for obvious reasons).

In September, I got to visit London for the first time for a conference, and had a great few days roaming around looking at a variety of British things, from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London (which is actually more of a fort) and stayed at a funky boutique hotel right near the Tower Bridge, which looks awesome at night. I saw some of the theatre district and St. Martin in the Fields (not actually in a field) and the most British-sounding pub I have ever come across. I also took the tube (subway) to see a football (soccer) match (game) and had a pastie (pastry thing), which was fun. We spent Thanksgiving at the cottage with my mum, and it was such a beautiful weekend that I got in a ton of kayaking and we saw some amazing morning fog and I even went for a swim.

And then in December, I got to visit Paris to speak at another journalism event, and stayed at a quaint little hotel in the Latin Quarter (built in 1206) and had coffee at a fantastic little cafe on Boulevard St. Germain (where poets and philosophers used to hang out in the 1920s), and went for a great long walk across the so-called “love bridge” where everyone puts locks to show their love, and then through the gardens leading to the Champs-Elysees, and all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe and then back down to the river, where I got a good look at the Eiffel Tower at sunset.

Becky and I weren’t the only ones visiting Europe this year: Caitlin used some of her massive nurse’s salary to go on several trips, including one to Italy and the Greek islands in June, with a short stop in London to see some school friends — she got some great photos of Santorini and other hot spots, went on an ATV ride through the countryside and even rode a donkey. Meaghan spent her third year at University of Ottawa doing gender studies and really enjoying it, and Zoe is having a great year in Grade 10 — at one point she had a 100-percent average in math, which is not too shabby at all.

While we were all gallivanting around the globe and whatnot, my mum continued having some health issues unfortunately, which started with a stroke late in 2012, followed by open-heart surgery, then a fall that broke her shoulder while she was recovering from the surgery, and then another small stroke in the spring that put her in a rehabilitation hospital for awhile. But she has managed to soldier on, and after a summer at the cottage we spent the fall helping her move to a new residence in Toronto.

And that’s about all the news from the Ingram family in Toronto, at least as far as I can remember. Here’s hoping your year was a good one, that your family and friends are all well, and that you have (or had) plenty of time with them over the holidays. If you want more photos of us, you can find them here or at Mathew’s Flickr page. For e-mail purposes, Mathew is here and Becky is here, and you can reach Caitlin, Meaghan and Zoe too, although they rarely use email. Mathew and Becky are both on Facebook (here and here). And if you’re on Twitter, you can follow Mathew here. We at Ingram and Co. wish you all the best of the season, and best wishes for 2014!

Twitter hoaxes and the ethics of new media — what happens now that we are all journalists?

There have been a rash of internet hoaxes lately — including a fake Google protester, a made-up tweet from Paris Hilton and a fictional conversation between a “reality TV” producer and an irritating passenger on an airplane. As a New York Times story points out, most of these were spread by social media and fuelled by credulous reports from a number of media outlets. Media critics have rightly argued that this is a problem, driven at least in part by the speed of online media.

Obviously it would be nice if more media outlets checked such reports before they repeated them. But are reporters and bloggers the only ones with any broader ethical responsibility? What about those who engage in hoaxes? What is their responsibility as members of what Yochai Benkler — of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society — has called a “networked fourth estate?”

A responsibility to correct the record

Elan Gale, a producer of the “reality” TV show The Bachelor, was the architect of the hoax conversation involving a woman theoretically named Diane, to whom he allegedly wrote passive-aggressive notes on airplane napkins as he live-tweeted the entire episode. In a Twitter debate on Monday night that included Tow Center fellow Alex Howard and me, Gale argued that he had no responsibility whatsoever to correct the record once he realized that some people believed his story was true.

Elan Gale tweet1
Elan Gale tweet2

In a nutshell, Gale said he is just a fun-loving writer who enjoys playing Twitter pranks and/or creating what he called “performance art” like the airplane incident, and it’s not his job to point out when people — or media outlets — are taking his words seriously rather than dismissing them as satire. Gale said he assumes that his Twitter followers know he routinely makes things up, and therefore they are “in on the joke.” And what about those who aren’t? They’re on their own.

Elan Gale tweet3

There’s no question that — as Josh Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab put it in the New York Times piece — the fast pace of online media often means outlets wind up simply pointing to things instead of actively trying to determine whether they are true (another reason why I wish someone would expand Snopes into a full-fledged media entity). And it should be noted that it’s not just new media like BuzzFeed: the New York Times itself mentioned the Gale incident on its travel blog, although that post appears to have been deleted.

We are all media now

BuzzFeed says it tried to reach Gale via Twitter to confirm the story, and updated it as soon as it had more information. And there is undoubtedly pressure on such sites to run a salacious piece first rather than waiting to check, since the traffic rewards can be remarkable — as Gawker’s “viral content” specialist Neetzan Zimmerman pointed out during a recent debate with founder Nick Denton on the merits of checking stories rather than just running with them.

But I would argue (and did argue during my Twitter debate with Gale) that since each of us is effectively a member of the media now, whether we like it or not, it’s incumbent on the sources of such erroneous reports to point out that they are engaging in fiction, rather than leaving everyone to their own devices.

Elan Gale tweet4

Josh Stearns of Free Press pointed out recently that the rise of networked journalism requires a new ethical approach, one that applies not just to journalists but to anyone involved in what Om has called the “democratization of distribution.” Part of Gale’s argument is that he is just a joker, and no one was harmed by his story, and that’s true — a fictitious conversation on airplane isn’t a world-changing event, and likely no one’s life was altered by his hoax. But that’s hardly the point.

The larger point is that we are all in this thing together now, this distributed and networked media ecosystem, and we should act like it. That means checking things before you retweet them, and not going off on witch hunts if you are on Reddit after a bombing, and other things as well. But blaming “the media” for getting it wrong is no solution either any more. We are all the media.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Shutterstock / Don Skarpo