The 2013 Houston Web Awards: The Best Of Online Houston
In 1996, a young reporter in Little Rock, Arkansas, ran into a problem with a grasshopper. The insect flew into the 27-year-old's mouth, and all hell broke loose. The entire profanity-laced tirade was caught on camera, including an unintentionally hilarious change in his voice from deep baritone to what the YouTube description calls "ghetto." "Even when it happened, people in the newsroom thought it was hilarious," Isiah Carey, now an investigative reporter for Fox26, said. "I was embarrassed, but I thought that was the end of it." What happened next is the stuff of Internet legend.
The video, part of station KARK's in-house blooper reel, was thrown out when they moved. But a passerby came upon the tape in the trash behind the old building, took it home and uploaded the clips he found to YouTube. Within weeks, Carey's ghetto curse-fest had millions of views, and producers from the Comedy Central show Tosh.0 were pursuing him.
Viewers of that YouTube video ultimately convinced Carey to embrace his "too real" outburst. He agreed to appear on Tosh.0, and his entire approach to social media changed. "People said, 'I love you. You're so real. You don't get this from other reporters,'" he said. Before long, he was a fixture on Facebook and Twitter, mining the social networks for story ideas.
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"Being a journalist, my main goal is to talk and meet with people, because I know everyone has a story," Carey said. "People now reach out to me for stories more than ever as a result of social media."
In this, our third year of Houston Web Awards, Isiah Carey is the winner of Best Media Personality Twitter and just one example of the incredible diversity of efforts undertaken on a daily basis by people in the Houston Web community.
They come from every walk of life, smartphone, tablet and laptop in hand, and show us the best of what the Web can be while they breathe life into 140 characters, six seconds of video, millions of words and billions of pixels.
And it takes work. Carey routinely surveys his followers on the weekend to find out what they're doing, but he jokingly admonishes "homebodies, shut-ins and stay-at-homes" not to clutter his timeline. He takes Instagram photos of his red pants and posts about his visits to the dollar store. His best-known saying, "The devil is busy," is something his mother and grandmother repeated to him while he was growing up in Baton Rouge. He stretches its meaning to include everything from crime to the high cost of gas.
He admits he's aware of the line between sharing a personality and expressing an opinion, and he's careful not to cross it when it comes to stories he covers. He also doesn't flood his timeline with "boring" news updates. Instead, he strikes a balance between his sense of humor and the serious business of the news.
"You can share a little bit of yourself with the public," he said. "If you want them to watch you, give them a little of yourself." And call it a public service when he warns his followers not to be taken in by fattening foods that are on sale. "The devil is busy," he said. "All day long."
Professional athletes and coaches are given fairly stern guidelines on how to behave (and, more important, how not to behave) on social media. Some take to them naturally, while others struggle. From Rob Gronkowski posting photos of himself with a partially clothed porn star to the Texans's own Kareem Jackson tweeting from a cockfight in the Dominican Republic, the learning curve can be steep.
That isn't the case for Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, our winner for Best Local Sports Personality Twitter. Morey, a self-proclaimed nerd who grew up with computers and studied computer science at MIT, understands the language of the Internet and sees the real value in being a part of it. And though he does use Twitter for responding to media reports and chatting with fans, he believes there are bigger reasons to be on there.
"You get a real sense of what's on people's minds and a direct channel," he said. "It's a very useful thing to have it when pursuing free agents."
He wouldn't say whether one of those free agents is Dwight Howard — whom the Rockets reportedly have targeted this offseason — citing NBA tampering rules, but he does believe that having that direct line to players is beneficial for teams, particularly when fans get involved.
"All the players are on Twitter now," he said. "Worst case, it helps you understand them better. Best case, you can use it in a way that lets fans directly interact with potential free agents."
And what can fans say to players they want to see choose Houston as their new home?
"Give them some quick snippets about Houston," Morey said, adding, "Show them the love they will get when they get here."
If you want Morey himself to respond to you or even give you a follow, that might require a different approach. "Suck up to me," he said, laughing. Kidding aside, Morey said fans should not ask him to retweet things. "Don't tweet a million times. Go for quality over quantity.
"If you write a really interesting article about the Rockets, I'll follow those people," he added. "That's probably your best bet."
Jenny Johnson didn't choose to be on Twitter. It was a requirement of her job as a television news producer. "I signed up for an account because we were all supposed to," the winner of this year's Best Twitterer award said. But once she was on the social network, the budding comedian went to work posting her material. She quickly gained a following, especially after Patton Oswalt mentioned her in his feed. But her Internet fame didn't explode to the level it is today until she began poking fun at celebrities.
"I think most people who have read an US Weekly or any other celebrity magazine have thumbed through it and made wise-ass remarks," she said. "But I have to admit, for me, the celebrity retweets are the lowest form of joke writing."
Her very public Twitter assault on rapper Chris Brown last year caused the Grammy winner to go ballistic. It was so bad, he was forced to delete his feed. As a result, Johnson's follower count swelled to more than 400,000. More recently, she was named Twitter Queen at the second annual UN-Verified Twitter Awards. Her king? Patton Oswalt.
"Since [Oswalt mentioned her in his feed], I have become friends with Patton," Johnson said. "He's been a great deal of help to me with my comedy writing career." Now a former television news producer, she's going from 140 characters to writing her first book of essays based on tweets and working on a television pilot based on the character she created on Twitter. Despite her sometimes acerbic tone, Johnson draws the line at "hitting below the belt."
"There's no glory in attacking a person's physical appearance or wishing harm or death on someone," she said. "One guy wrote to me that he hoped Kim Kardashian had a miscarriage. I was actually appalled by it. That's a truly horrible thing to want for another human being."
Of course, not all celebrities on Twitter are the subject of her jabs, and even though she has become a celebrity herself, she's genuinely surprised when she finds out someone famous is following her. "About a year ago, I told my mom Slash and Flea follow me," she said. "To this day, I'm fairly certain she thinks Slash and Flea is some kind of shampoo I use on my dogs."
THE REST OF THE BEST
Compiled by Olivia Flores Alvarez, Jeff Balke, Cory Garcia, Jef with one F,Mai Pham and Brittanie Shey
Best Instagram Feed
David A. Brown is a wonderful photographer and an accomplished artist. He even picked up a Best Photographer award from this publication in 2011. But his focus on geometric shapes in everyday objects on his Instagram feed is not only fascinating but a particularly interesting approach to the complicated relationship between professional photographer and cell-phone camera technology.
Best Online Video
"Montrose Rollerblade Dancer"
At the end of April, local videographer and documentarian Alex Luster surprised and delighted Houstonians with his playful look at Juan Carlos, the dancing rollerblader who entertains passersby on Allen Parkway and throughout Montrose. The video was created for a KUHF contest, but it quickly went viral and brought the world's attention to a uniquely Houston personality.
Funniest Twitter Account
The staff at this publication always knew Shea Serrano was talented and funny. The world is now getting a close-up look at his talent through his writing for national publications, his cartoon collaborations with rapper Bun B and the Tumblr on which he recounts conversations with his students. But if you really want to get to the soul of Serrano's wit, you follow him on Twitter. His tweets about his twin sons (Boy A and Boy B) are enough to keep you entertained for hours.
Best Local Sports Personality Twitter
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey grew up with computers and studied computer science at MIT, understands the language of the Internet, and sees the real value in being a part of it. And though he does use Twitter for responding to media reports and chatting with fans, he believes there are bigger reasons to be on there. "All the players are on Twitter now," he said. "Worst case, it helps you understand them better. Best case, you can use it in a way that lets fans directly interact with potential free agents."
Best Local Sports Fan Twitter
Sports fans can be an annoying lot, filled with righteous indignation and an over imagined belief in their abilities to do what professionals have been doing for decades. But when a fan learns to channel that rage into humor and genuine insight, he becomes like @deathbysexy. With more than 25,000 tweets, the vast majority about local Houston sports, he can be found live-tweeting any sporting event of consequence, and we're better for it.
Best Media Personality Twitter
Isiah Carey surveys his followers, takes Instagram photos of his red pants and posts about his visits to the dollar store, and his best-known saying (which he got from his mother and grandmother) is "The devil is busy." Whether it's crime or the high cost of gas, he covers a broad range of stories while trying to make sure he doesn't cross the line between sharing a personality and expressing an opinion. He covers the serious business of the news but isn't afraid to employ his sense of humor when appropriate.
Best Hyper-Local Twitter
The beauty of hyper-local coverage is that it gives us the ability to drill down to the information we need the most, but because so many local Twitter feeds can be sporadic and flaky, we may be left wanting. That's not the case with @houstonheights, which provides residents with regular updates on the venerable old Houston northside neighborhood on a daily basis. Anything going on in the rapidly expanding hood is going to be in this feed.
Best-Designed Web Site
Houston has an abundance of great Web site designs, but few combine the creativity and ease of use that PrideHouston.org delivers. Packed with wonderful photography, it manages to load quickly and still be easy to navigate. With several hundred thousand people attending Pride Week festivities every year, having a great Web site is a must, and PrideHouston.org does it right.
Best Informational Web Site
Buffalo Bayou Park
Given the amount of construction going on at any one time in Houston, there's a dearth of information about city projects readily available online, save one. Updates and information on the radical transformation of Buffalo Bayou between Shepherd and downtown are easily accessible via buffalobayoupark.org. There is no better resource for tracking the progress of any public project in the city.
Best Online Archive
Bruce Kessler's RockInHouston.com
Any longtime Houston music fan will tell you that the city's storied concert history has never been particularly well documented, until now. Bruce Kessler was a concert photographer for the famed Pace Concerts from 1965 through 2005. He has now amassed what must be one of the greatest collections of rock and roll photographs in any city, let alone this one.
Jenny Johnson didn't choose to be on Twitter. It was a requirement of her job as a television news producer. But once on the social network, the budding comedian quickly gained a following, especially after Patton Oswalt mentioned her in his feed. But her Internet fame didn't explode to the level it is today until she began poking fun at celebrities, including her very public Twitter assault on rapper Chris Brown last year that caused the Grammy winner to go ballistic.
Best Musician Facebook
One of the keys to managing a successful presence on Facebook (or any other social media platform, for that matter) is being active. Nothing is sadder than a band's Facebook page that hasn't been updated in weeks or months. Obviously, it helps if you have something to talk about, and the Wild Moccasins certainly do. Between tour updates, photos from the road and interaction with fans, the Moccasins should be a model for other Houston bands on how to do Facebook.
So many podcasts are hosted by boring amateurs whose friends find them hilarious even though no one else does. This is not the case with Ripped Foul, hosted by a professional comedian and, more recently, a sports talk radio host. When he lost his gig at 97.5 KFNC, John Wessling started his own podcast (he had already collaborated on the Whiskey Brothers podcast put together by a group of local comedians), mostly about sports. He's funny and entertaining, even more so than on radio, where the FCC and overbearing programming directors kept his personality in check.
Best Musician Twitter
This is why Bun B is better at Twitter (and social media in general) than every other musician you like: Dude is interesting without being obnoxious. A lot of people will let you into their world, but most of the time it feels like a brag. With Bun it just feels like "Here's something interesting I'm doing, and I'm sharing it with you guys." He is basically your cool uncle, if your cool uncle were also one of the best MCs around.
Best Vine Feed
Here's a quick description of what happens in a Vine video called "I Love Fresh Breakfast" by Jerry Ochoa: A man poops out two eggs and cracks one in a pan. That's the whole joke. In text it's weird, but in motion it's hysterical. You'll laugh when you watch it and smile when you think about it later. That's what Ochoa does: He delivers six seconds of perfect setup and payoff, usually with an unexpected twist, again and again.
Best Fake Twitter Account
Creating a parody account on Twitter is as easy as grabbing an obvious handle and making an obvious joke. Running a funny one is much harder. By being timely and (most important) funny, the person behind @benhall4mayor has managed to turn a one-note joke into something worth following. Whether it's keeping us up-to-date on how the mayoral battle for most Twitter followers is going or getting mayoral candidate Eric Dick to acknowledge his existence, it just works, even if you've never heard of the real Ben Hall.
Best Arts Blog
The Great God Pan Is Dead
We have a repeat winner for this year's Best Arts Blog, with Robert Boyd and his The Great God Pan Is Dead getting the nod again. Boyd, who has been writing his blog since 2006, does two things that we especially appreciate: He doesn't take fine art too seriously, and he doesn't take folk art too casually. It's a combination that works perfectly for commenting on Houston's art scene. Actually, we should say today's art scene since Boyd frequently weighs in on national shows and artists. Authoritative without being an authoritarian, he manages to stay smart without being stuffy.
Face Tattoo Army
Brian Rogers is a courts and crime reporter for the Houston Chronicle. He spends most of his days hanging around the downtown courthouse. In his free time, he snaps cell-phone pics of other court visitors, nearly all of whom have face tattoos. The photos usually include quotes from their subjects. Many of the tattoos represent gang affiliations, past or present, or a life of crime or hardship. (There are a lot of RIPs.) But for the most part, Rogers presents them without judgment, letting the photos, the subjects and the inkwork itself tell the stories.
Don't let the name fool you. Tons of people use Pinterest for sharing and saving recipes, but Houston Foodlovers takes social media diversification to a whole new level. Of the profile's 71 boards, only a handful are about food. There are also boards dedicated to thrifting, Day of the Dead imagery, sexy senior citizens, other fashion inspirations and things to do around town. If you're on Pinterest and in Houston (or even if you're not), Houston Foodlovers is a must-follow. There's a reason the profile has more than 60,000 fans.
Photo of the Year
Space Shuttle Leaving Space City
It was a bittersweet moment for Houstonians, a sort of consolation prize. The Space Shuttle Endeavour made a nearly hourlong flyover of some of Houston's most notable landmarks on September 20, 2012, before being escorted away to the California Science Center. The flight made for some amazing photo ops, like Flickr user J-a-x's (Jackson Myers) image of a sunrise-silhouetted shuttle barely above the buildings of downtown. In a way it's kind of symbolic — the following year would see scores of accolades for Houston's other assets besides Johnson Space Center. The picture is almost like saying goodbye to Houston's laurels while making way for its future.
Tweet of the Year
"Houstonians use HOU. Newstonians use HTX. Which are you?"
This summer marks my tenth year living in Houston. I am not a fifth-generation anything, and though I consider myself a Houstonian now, I guess I failed this test. I normally abbreviate "HouTX." Houstorian's tweet set off a flurry of responses before he clarified: "We also accept H-town, Bayou City, Space City, Screwston, and even Youston. But HTX is too much like Austin's jam." Lesson learned.
Best Kickstarter Campaign
Kelly Switzer for Cthulhu: A Puppet Play
Houston had some great Kickstarter campaigns over the past year, but none can really compare to what Kelly Switzer and Ornery Theatre wanted to accomplish. They sought $1,000 to bring H.P. Lovecraft's bizarre Cthulhu Mythos to life with handmade puppets, dancers and original music using the word "Cthulhu" in Morse code as a thematic melody. They brought in more than double that, and the result was a one-of-a-kind performance at 14 Pews in February. One lucky donor of $500 even walked away with a puppet from the production. Lovecraft is murderously difficult to bring to life on stage and screen, but thanks to Kickstarter, Switzer nailed it.
Best Online Charitable Effort
The Statue of Bill Hicks
Finally, the dark little poet who encouraged us to remember that all of this is just a ride will have a fitting memorial in the city where he began his ministry. Bill Hicks's comedy and insight remain ever more relevant, and some Houstonians thought it was high time we honored him with a statue. A vigorous online donation campaign netted enough funds to enable David Adickes (who's responsible for our president heads) to begin production.
Best Use of Online Activism
The Roots Bistro Domestic Violence Scandal http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2013/04/roots_bistro_domestic_violence.php
Roots Bistro made national news this year and not at all in a good way. Back in April, the vegetarian-friendly restaurant offered the following "joke" on their marquee: "Beer should be like violence: domestic." Images of the sign quickly went viral as outraged Houstonians took to Facebook and Twitter spreading their message, calling for the sign's removal and an official apology. Roots tried to fire back with another sign, this one reading, "Seriously, focus your energy on equal rights," but failed to realize that telling the Internet it can't be mad or offended is not a real thing. Eventually the backlash resulted in a "Sorry a million times over," and hopefully everyone learned not to joke about domestic violence in a country where a woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds.
Best Use of Facebook by a Business
Even in this hugely connected day and age, it's still hard to find truly underground and edgy literature and art. You're not going to find out about Richard Hell's I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by liking Barnes & Noble on Facebook. Not a day goes by that Domy Books won't show up in your newsfeed with some bizarre sub-subgenre of book you've never heard of or news that they're hosting the screening of a documentary on text-only adventure computer games.
Best Wi-Fi Spot
George R. Brown Convention Center
After spending three days immersed in the annual Comicpalooza convention, we have to give a shout-out to GRB for the tremendous Wi-Fi coverage they offer in the building for free. Seriously, the line for registration on Saturday at the convention stretched down the entire second-floor hallway and back, and all those people were tweeting, updating Facebook, etc. Just for the sheer amount of information GRB was allowing to be shared in a building the size of a small town filled to the brim with geeks, they deserve accolades.
There was much wailing among our womenfolk and gnashing of our teeth when it was announced that Houston would not be getting a retired space shuttle. For Space City, it was a blow. The only consolation was getting to follow the craft's journey to its new home, including a brief stopover in Houston at Ellington Field, by using Twitter and #SpotTheShuttle. Hundreds of videos and photographs flooded Twitter with the tag, and for a brief time, we all got to bask in the scientific awesomeness that is space travel on a victory lap.
Best Food Truck Twitter
Most food-truck Twitter feeds are filled with dry news, like location updates and calls to cover shifts, but not the Eatsie Boys's. Theirs is engaging and informative, filled with tweets about other local food trucks, restaurants around town, and retweets of customer photos and comments. The best thing about their Twitter feeds, though, is the hippie-happy rhyming ditties they always put out. In fact, if you string them together, they make an Eatsie Boys rap that would go something like this: "Mmmontrose cafe, be there today, doin our thang, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, Divine da bomb, #FrozenAwesome is cool, we've got a housemade PB&J sammy for the lil eboys & egirls!"
Best Restaurant Web Site
Philippe Restaurant + Lounge
Enter the world of Philippe Restaurant + Lounge through their Web site, and you'll find everything you might want to know about the restaurant in a beautifully designed package. The splash page is regularly updated to reflect restaurant specials, like their happy hour, special dinners and other events. Menus are available to view on the site and to download if you prefer. Easy to find, easy to navigate and super fast. Definitely a peg above the rest and an out-and-out winner. Bonus points for having a strong mobile version, too.
Best Restaurant Facebook
Max's Wine Dive
One of the most active restaurant Facebook pages in Houston, Max's is head and shoulders above the rest in the social media department. New photos of mouthwatering images crop up every day, resulting in tons of likes and fan comments like "Drool," "I'm hungry" or "Want." The page is also informative about upcoming events, allowing its followers to be first in line for anything from wine dinners to the restaurant's autumnal Houston Cellar Classic event. Keep up the great job, Max's.
Best Bartender Twitter
His Twitter profile almost says it all: "Freelance cocktail bartender, Houston ethnic food nerd and a bunch of other stuff." Known for his long stints at Anvil and as the opening bartender at Underbelly, if you follow Chris Frankel on Twitter, you'll find that he's opinionated, eats out a lot, travels to places just to eat and drink, and is totally "in the know" on where to find the best food in Houston. He prides himself on finding those hole-in-the-wall places before anyone else does, and his Twitter feed will take you there with him.
Best Chef Twitter
You can always find Carlos Rodriguez, the concept executive chef for Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse in Houston, Las Vegas, Atlantic City and New York, on Twitter. He snaps photos of his food, comments on other chefs' menus and includes random personal information about things like "Teaching my kid how to smuggle candy into the movies. I'm a bad father." Yes, he's funny, too, just one of the reasons this chef has close to 1,500 followers.
Best Food Blog
H-Town Chow Down
Blogging is full-time work these days, which is why H-Town Chow Down, one of the most active local food blog sites, is made up of not just one person but a small team. With the tagline "We eat out almost every day," the blog, headed by Albert Nurick, does a great job chronicling their eating adventures with commentary and photos. They've boldly listed their picks for Houston's best burgers with reviews to back them up. While their focus is mainly on American food — their site is organized by labels like barbecue, breakfast, brunch, burgers, sandwiches, seafood and steaks — they also have pizza and Mexican categories, along with 75 restaurant reviews and counting.
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