Archive for February, 2009

UWIRE provides a nice roundup of recent campus newspaper staff/print edition downsizing, providing briefs and links to full stories about cutbacks at a dozen student papers across the U.S.   As the intro reports: “All over the country, university newspapers are scaling back to accommodate flagging funds, from slashing staff to going online.”

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Great list (and CMM appreciates the public hat tip).  The funniest part was the subject line of the e-mail in which the list was included along with a number of other articles (part of a regular story digest sent by UWIRE): “College papers face downturn; Rampant herpes ruining pong?”  Campus media fallout and an unbridled STI epidemic- nothing like being a modern college student!

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Separately (and we in collegemediatopia hope it stays that way), here is an excellent, albeit bittersweet video on Vimeo documenting the final days of The Rocky Mountain News, which just ceased printing in Denver.  Will we all be watching similar vids for student papers one day?  (Here’s a related story about the local j-student reaction.)

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Final Edition

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Campus radio stations in the online age are keeping their anti-Top 40 attitudes even as they smartly adapt, according to a recent report in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

In greater Sioux Falls, the student stations are “are reaching beyond the confines of the college campus” via enhanced signal coverage, Webcasting, programs directed at minority groups (including Ethiopian and Spanish language broadcasts), and even the addition of shows hosted by outside community residents.  Wonderful stuff.  The result: Greater interaction with off-campus listeners, including local prison inmates (who apparently appreciate the hard metal music most).

Simultaneously, the stations still strive to deliver the underground, local, indie, and alternative music goods they have long made it their goal to get on the air.  And, in the most obvious sentiment of the stations’ long-term identities remaining intact: As the article notes, most students on the stations’ home campuses still do not know they exist.  :-)

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My contribution to the now way-too-popular “Random” list phenomenon continues below with Part 3 of “25 Random Things About Modern College Media.”  (Also see Part 1 and Part 2.)  As promised, today’s segment is all about the tough love, presenting some of the harsher truths about 21st-century collegemediatopia.  First up…

11) Student media online are still in a state of shovelware and disrepair.  Forget the biggie publications for a moment, with their Weberrific, tricked-out WordPress pages.  The truth: A majority of media outlets at smaller schools and many schools outside the states have Web sites that make my new media blood curdle.  They are amateur-ish, ill-designed, static, burdened with text, lacking images, and an absolute affront to link journalism.  Worse yet, some outlets have no Web presence at all or scant efforts, such as a site housing PDFs of past print issues.

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12) TWEET, TWeet, tweet…… The Twitter scene has flat-lined among student media overall after a wave of excitement months back when a bunch of outlets started accounts.  Only a few outlets use it for anything more than advertising their stories.  The question: Has it simply not caught on yet or has it been a bit over-hyped and is not really that necessary for student news outlets day to day?

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13) Is that a blog I see before me? Where are the blogs?  A recent Editor & Publisher piece predicted that journalism’s future will include the emergence of ‘beat blogging,’ or a reporter’s 24-7 coverage of a specific news area using all forms of media for presentation and essentially building a niche blog within his/her news outlet’s site.  This is NOT happening en masse in the land of college media as of yet.  While there are a few notable exceptions, I remain shocked, SHOCKED, at the lack of blogs among established SMOs (student media outlets).  Many j-students blog on their own, but it’s not being incorporated into the media outlets at which they work (again, certainly exceptions).  We are all praying to the micropayment Gods right now, but let’s be honest: Individual stories will not be what keep people coming back to our sites.  Bylines are no longer enough.  Readers want to see quality content delivered atop a personality that they relate to or enjoy (or even passionately hate).

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14) Most student publications still lack independence.  College media staffers of past generations fought for freedom and some earned it.  Their efforts remain iconic.  But liberty and justice for all student pubs have not been realized.  Collegemediatopia has come a long way, but far too many outlets are still beholden and at times smothered by their school sponsorship.  The recent MTSU mess is an example of why such a situation can be catastrophic: One day the admins decide pulling $100,000 from The Sidelines budget might be a good thing.  If the decision passes, boom, done, the print paper is gone.  And there’s basically nothing student staffers can do about it.

15) Student news media still suffer from SOS SASS (Same Old Stories, Semester After Semester, Syndrome).  As I have written before, there are simply some stories that on a scroll through the archives of any student media outlet pop up again and again and again, sometimes with a fresh spin (although many times, not so much), but always with the same core issue or topic intact.  Why are we covering the same stories over and over and over?  I understand student readers graduate and staff turnover at SMOs is high and knowledge of past issues is not a priority, but something needs to be done to break out of writing yet again about the debate club’s regional tournament appearance or the annual sorority Easter egg hunt.  The problem is the scrapbook journalism mentality still pervading many SMOs.  We must refrain from writing so many stories about ‘official’ events simply because they happen and there are 11.5 people involved in them who will care to read a recap.  If there was ever a time for better between-the-lines, out-of-the-box reporting, it is now.

Stay tuned for Part 4 next week, when I promise I’ll be more optimistic!  :-)

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What does it say about the online journalism revolution that a majority of its younger members are not yet in any hurry to join it and often even fight against it?

An example: Middle Tennessee State University is proposing a $100,000 budget cut for The Sidelines student newspaper that would effectively kill the paper’s print edition, according to a report in The Daily News Journal. Student eds. at the paper and undergrads at MTSU say the consequences of an online-only shift at this point are clear.  A chance for a fresh start?  A wake-up call that the time for a full online push is now?  No, and no.  Instead, they see dark days- a loss of campus presence, less student readers and, in turn, a less informed student body.

Sidelines EIC: “Most of our readers pick up a paper on their way to class.  A lot of students aren’t going to read it anymore.”  One other snippet from the DNJ piece: “In interviews conducted on MTSU’s campus by The DNJ, most students said getting rid of the print edition of Sidelines would be a mistake.  ‘There would be a lot of issues students wouldn’t hear about,’ said Sean Mahoney, an electronic media major. ‘If Sidelines wasn’t around, the small number of students who are informed would become even smaller.'”

We are living in such an interesting time in j-history! We will tell our j-children about all this one day and they will stare at us like we are telling them there used to be nine planets. :-)  Think about it: Right at this moment, literally AT THIS MOMENT, we are caught between a wireless rock and a print news hard place.  Online-only is being talked about as inevitable for the field; its many wonders extolled and experimented with daily.  And yet, even the new media generation is still hesitant to give up its print-and-ink.

Are we simply scared to do things different?  Are we nervous that just because we lead readers won’t follow?  Are we still fighting the textural bias of seeing something we hold in our hands as more trustworthy and real and all-things-online as virtual and somewhat suspicious?  Or is it a high-tech-not-quite-up-to-the-changing-times question?  (Maybe we’re just in need of a few more killer online tools and apps and one or two Kindle updates to finally recognize print’s worthlessness?)  Or will print wow us all and stage a comeback?

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An excellent recent post by CICM intern Lauren Rabaino reveals in pie chart form what those of us following student media’s attempts at Twitter have long known: Is quality tweeting taking place?  Not so much.

Two-thirds of the 50 college media Twitter accounts Rabaino looked at are either solely serving as tiny-url advertisers for stories on the outlets’ sites or saying nothing at all.  The Daily Tar Heel‘s recent tweeterific real-time coverage of a campus bomb scare at UNC is proof that Twitter *can* be harnessed as a news tool at the student level.  Is it happening in any sustained sense as of yet?  I am a follower of most of the accounts cited in the Rabaino breakdown and I can safely say the answer is a resounding no.

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Now here in Singapore, Twitter is about as relevant as a winter coat.  The student-age social media elite of S’pore and Southeast Asia instead are (at times quite rabid) aficionados of a competing microblogging service: Plurk, the “social journal for your life.” I recently dove into the Plurk-osphere and want to boldly declare: It is FAR superior to Twitter in a number of ways.

Chief among them: It cuts down on the overwhelming randomness of Twitter-mania, providing a clear-cut timeline to follow and the ability to respond to specific plurks, building a much stronger sense of community.  In this latter respect, student bloggers here use the service to hype their posts and create quite a following, in part because they are able to communicate directly to their friends/fans much more conveniently than via the big T.  Also, an honest confession: I find Plurk simply to be a lot more fun than its chief competwitter.

What do you think- Twitter or Plurk?

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As you watch the celebrified madness unfold during Oscar-mania be sure to seek out Faheem Ahmed and Anish Patel, a pair of Rice University seniors who won a contest enabling them to interview celebs and report from their very own spot on the red carpet.

For his part, Feheem is especially angling for quick chats with “Slumdog” director Danny Boyle and “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan.  His words: “It’s important to be personable, be aggressive, because I’m sure there are going to be so many journalists clamoring and were just two college kids from mtvU.  We can’t let people push us around. And I think, finally, we’ve go to represent the college demographic, so we’re going to ask questions that college kids would like to hear these actors talk about, and directors.”

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This just in: The censorship saga at Chicago State University continues, in part thanks to student staffers who won’t back down and school administrators who need to grow up.

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There has been a battle brewing for some time now amid allegations of editorial and financial censorship against The Tempo student newspaper.  The latest, according to a Student Press Law Center report: The newly-installed adviser of Tempo is refusing to allow the current issue of the paper to be published.  Apparently, it’s because he does not think there is enough original, quality content.  Critics see it as just one more attempt to stop the paper from running pieces negative of the school administration.

The paper’s student editor wrote in an e-mail to CSU admins: “This week’s decision to stop the presses is particularly disheartening.  It not only further depresses the morale of a vastly depleted staff who has felt like an orphaned child by virtue of the administration’s inattentiveness to its needs, but it is also evidence of a cavalier attitude towards the rights and expectations of students.”

My take: The new adviser should be fired, rehired, and then fired again.  Then, and only then, will he possibly know what it’s like to put together a paper only to have it pulled out from under you at the last second due to forces outside your control.  Student media quality varies, issue by issue, staff by staff, semester by semester.  It is the nature of the beast.  Unless there is truly material that is libelous or downright sophomoric, he needs to ensure the paper sticks to its deadlines, face the fact that he screwed up by not looking at the material prior to final page proofs, and respect that readers will lose trust in a product that is not presented to them on the day that they expect it.

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And if the content is truly subpar, so be it.  You’ll get it better next time.  An adviser’s greatest gift: allowing j-students to fail and to learn from their mistakes.

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