Archive for April, 2009

The connection of the so-called “Craigslist Killer” to Boston University has been publicly reported worldwide, but the BU Admissions Office would rather not remind potential students and their parents coming to campus for a visit.  Instead, certain admissions staffers have decided to literally hide the free press, removing from public view all issues of The Daily Free Press student newspaper that contain front page stories about good ol’ CK.

Of course, in the time it takes to say Facebook Status Update, students employed in the office revealed the deceptive plot, mentioning in one FB thread: “‘[T]he freep [Free Press] is out sometimes, but [admission staffer’s name removed]’s been screening it to make sure that med student’s story is not in it before they put it out.’  He continues in saying that there is a ‘huge pile’ of newspapers in the back room for this reason. . . . [Another student wrote] ‘Everytime ive been there its been in the back even when it wasn’t talking about the med student. the last time i remember the paper being out when there was a story on the hockey team winning the national championship.’”

When, oh when, will over-zealous administrators with underwhelming PR-savvy learn that in the Internet age all acts of censorship or deception will come to light and cause more harm than good?  In this case, the office’s CK-news hideaway has prompted unfavorable news coverage, allegations of possible legal wrongdoing, and public shame-on-you statements by the university’s college of communications dean and a representative of the Student Press Law Center. 

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The Lantern at Ohio State University will shutter its Friday print edition come fall, joining the growing number of TGI F-ed student papers nationwide (via The Paper Trail).

As summed up by a staffer, the recent story of The Lantern has been bleak: “More than three years ago, The Lantern cut circulation from 28,000 to 15,000. Last summer the paper ended its print publication, and in fall 2009, the Friday print edition will be eliminated.”

Amid the darkness, there is a slight print-and-ink bright spot: The A&E section has recently expanded into its own weekly edition, called btw, which has enjoyed much-needed ad growth so far.

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The Daily Egyptian at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has disabled the comments feature that follows all stories run on its Web site.  In a note to readers (which I first found via UWIRE), top editor Allison Petty wrote that the mean-spirited, at-times slanderous “sexism, racism, immaturity and malice” being posted had overwhelmed the constructive dialogue and left DE editors without an argument as to why comments should be allowed at all.

The kickers, according to Petty, included: an extreme spewing of vitriol at the newspaper in the comments section for its recent coverage of the murders of three members of a DE staffer’s family (apparently some students felt it was self-indulgent); and a comment calling a black student leader an “ape.”  Petty: “Congratulations. It is not easy to offend college students who spend most of their time in a newsroom, but some of you have persevered, pursuing standards of bad taste to depths so subterranean we could not help but take note.”

I give the newspaper credit.  It takes courage to stand up and call out the very readership you represent.  The no-comments stance undoubtedly raises an important larger point: Does the comments portion of journalism’s new media adventure need an overhaul?  It’s certainly true that on many student and professional outlets’ sites, the comments after articles tend to amount to little more than the type-and-click version of graffiti, playground bullying or drunken-Mel-Gibson-type-rants.  Sometimes they are funny.  Sometimes they rightfully call out an article’s failings.  Sometimes they are better written or more insightful than the article itself.  Often, however, they are just nonsensical, vindictive, and not worthy of the news outlet or even the commenters who are usually too cowardly to sign their names.

What’s the answer?  Should all comments require names and basic identifying information similar to that which is needed for old-fashioned letters to the editor (remember those?)?  Should each comment require approval by editors, similar to the WordPress template?  Should the comments feature only be used for certain stories or in certain sections such as opinions?  (For a blog, comments seem helpful, necessary even, in the spirit of conversation and interaction.  But I have personally never seen the relevance of allowing comments after a news story- and if you notice, neither does The New York Times).

Petty sums up her perspective beautifully, mostly Shakespeare, with a bit of Dave Barry at the end:

Words are the currency of journalists, the sacrament of writers. Words are incredible, versatile things. They can build bridges or burn them; make people laugh or make them cry; rouse nations or render them speechless. The ability to read the newspaper, to make sense of a sentence, to take pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and communicate your thoughts – this is a priceless gift. Grow up and stop squandering it. And sign your freaking name.

What do you think???  (Be the first to comment on this post!)

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99 + 1.  1,000 – 900.  10 x 10.   300 / 3.  Any way you add, subtract, multiply or divide it, the answer is the same: 100.  It is fast becoming the most famous number in collegemediatopia, especially when attached to UWIRE, an evermore iconic brand name.  

The 2009 edition of the UWIRE 100 has gone public, sporting the now-familiar mugshot motley crew of college journalists and media innovators.  Why are the select few featured below smiling?  Because they just joined the college media eliterati, an esteemed cream of the crop whose names are now synonymous with student journalism excellence.  (Say it with a prolonged pause between each word for greater dramatic effect.) 

UWIRE 100

The UWIRE team’s meticulous selection process and possibly multiple sleepless nights winnowed more than 800 applicants down to the final hundred. There are eight repeat nominees, those showing up on both the ’08 and ’09 lists. Sixty nine schools are represented, with the University of Kansas boasting the most featured j-students from a single university.  A more unofficial mugshot survey reveals 65 men and 35 women; at least 15 who wear glasses; and at least five who appear to be daydreaming in CSS code during the moment their photos were taken. :-)   

Joe Weasel, new UWIRE CEO: “This is a remarkable group of journalists.  Each has made a significant impact on the field already- they are talented, hard workers and gifted storytellers.  Each was nominated by their peers and advisers, who recognized their potential to shape the ever-changing media industry in the coming years.” 

Special kudos to j-student extraordinaires (and those CMM proudly nominated, surely along with a few other supporters) Daniel Bachhuber, Jackie Hai, and Georgia Perry.

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A college student activist on an anti-abortion crusade has employed new media (and a bit of acting) to spread her eye-opening message across the World (Wide Web).  Lila Rose, an undergraduate at UCLA, is 20 going on 13 . . . at least that’s the age she pretends to be during the half dozen “sting” operations she has carried out at Planned Parenthood clinics in four states.

The gist: Rose goes to a Planned Parenthood with a friend.  She poses as a 13-year-old (sometimes 14) impregnated by a man she tells Planned Parenthood workers is 31, raising a statutory rape red flag warning that workers in certain instances brush aside or discuss how they can get around reporting it.  

How do we know?  Because Rose’s friend is secretly videotaping each “sting” for placement on Rose’s Web site and YouTube.  As The Los Angeles Times notes, “Rose’s strategy- accusing Planned Parenthood of failing to report suspected statutory rapes- is not a new one in the antiabortion trenches. But the new-media twist on the idea has put her front and center of a new generation.”

Rose is not a journalist.  She is an activist.  But the questions that her secret video reporting raises for the new generation of colleg journalists are significant and very, very real.

Earlier this term, I asked my students here in Singapore for predictions on the future of journalism or media, mostly for fun.  One studen wrote that he envisioned a time when all our eyes, via contact lens or laser surgery, would be equipped with tiny cameras able to capture life at a blink, truly making every moment possibly YouTube-worthy. (Scary premise?  It’s closer than we might think.)

While we’re not quite at this eye-level, the video age is reaching evermore constant, surreptitious heights.  The student journalism question: In the era of easy-to-record, one-man-band video reporting, should any academic locations, time periods or types of interactions be kept strictly off-camera or free of other real-time reporting methods such as tweeting or mobile phone photographing?

Of course, Gen-Y journalist extraordinaire Alana Taylor at NYU earned infamy and acclaim early last fall for her real-time Twitter take-down of a professor she felt was out of touch with the new media vibe she was teaching.  The professor’s subsequent, quickly-implemented rule: No blogging, Twittering, texting or other live reporting while in class.

The rule is a warning but certainly not legally binding at universities worldwide (as of yet) and not covering other areas of campus life. The questions then are still ethical in nature.  Do you secretly record the campus security guard sleeping on the job?  How about the professor badmouthing the controversial new curriculum during an open-door office hours chat?  Or how about the school football star partying at a local bar past team curfew?  Or the university president arriving home late one evening arm-in-arm with two women who are clearly not his wife?

The power of video makes these ethical judgment calls especially real.  Words can be dangerous weapons, but the right video can be a veritable atomic bomb to someone or something’s credibility.  (Proof?  How about the recent disgusting Domino’s Pizza clip?)  We are living in a TMZ Twilight Zone in which videos of supposedly private moments are being more regularly accepted as worthy of public purview even when they are journalistically still abhorrent.  Future judgment calls on when to click record without warning  and, more importantly, when to post (and how to edit) the recorded bits will have to be measured ones- balancing the age-old respect of privacy with the awe-inspiring ability of new media to record ever-greater slices of life less obtrusively than ever before.

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The honesty of the lead sentence is almost painful to read.  I both laughed and cringed simultaneously: “I have written this so that I can write in my CV [résumé] that ‘I wrote for the student newspaper’.”

In a recent editorial for The Student Direct at the University of Manchester (the largest campus paper in England), Nicholas Foulis fully and almost gleefully celebrates the fact that he is not out to change the world, raise an issue, get you to think or otherwise contribute to student journalism or greater society. He simply wants to pad his resume.

In the process, he goes behind the curtain of collegemediatopia, exposing a fact that rests at its heart but, in Harry Potter terms, is normally on par with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  According to Foulis, it is “The Whole Sordid Business Of Writing Stuff For The Student Newspaper Just To Say That You’ve Done So On Your CV.”  In his words: “People write and submit pieces for all sorts of other reasons, many of them noble I’m sure, but career prospects must be at the forefront of many a student writer’s mind.”

It is certainly no secret that most, if not all, individuals involved in collegemediatopia regularly report, edit, and Webify the news not only for their readers and the first draft of history but for their own personal/professional gain. College media, more than any other types, boast the skills-training-résumé-boosting-contacts-making aspects of their enterprises as key enticers for students to join.  One comparison I hear a lot: college journalists and minor league baseball players, in the sense that they’re both generally young, up-and-coming, and obviously cannot help but look ahead to the major leagues of their chosen fields.

But what about now, in our current mediated state of betwixt and between topsy-turvydom? Is “the whole sordid business” of student journalists primarily building for the future being turned on its head? College media are more professional, interactive, independent, eager and able to compete with the professional press for eyeballs and Googling fingertips than ever before.  With the new World (Wide Web) of media favoring the individual, the amateur, the upstart, and not necessarily offering a cash reward and a stable career upon graduation, has the time come for student journalists to stop thinking of collegemediatopia as a means to an end?

My bold, if slightly far-fetched, prediction: Forget the minor league baseball analogy.  By the middle of the 21st-century, student journalists will be like the Olympians of yesteryear- young, amateur, unpaid (or lowly paid), but in the spotlight more than any other denizens of their craft (in this case, once for four years straight instead of once every four years).  With j-jobs few, fragmented, and far between in the media landscape of the future, they will pursue quality journalism not to achieve gainful post-graduation employment but for the sheer joy, camaraderie, and idealism that comes with doing it and the fulfillment of knowing they are making a difference along the way.  For many, turning pro will put their best days behind them.

What do you think???

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While it has been reported with increasing regularity by evermore news media and with ever-greater blogysteria over the past 18 months, the trend apparently did not become real until a few days ago when The New York Times said so: Journalism schools are struggling to stay ahead of the new media curve in planning their curricula and larger philosophical and practical directions.  Or in the words of the NYT story headline : “J- Schools Play Catchup.”

My first reaction: Duh.  My second reaction: The tense is wrong.  My suggestion for a revised hed: “J-Schools WILL Play Catchup, Forever and Ever and Ever and Ever . . .

The most important truth j-schools (and all media outlets) need to accept: We will never be caught up again.  New media are dynamic.  Even the name, or at least the first word, hints at their always-innovating nature.  Once we conquer or devise a course to wrap our heads around some aspect of them, it is inevitable (and exciting) that something else will change.  This does not mean a quality curriculum cannot generally capture the skills and theories j-students of tomorrow will need to succeed, but the notion that we will ever again be ‘caught up’ or on top of things is a myth- one that is rooted in our experiences with old media.

What are some foundation and fun courses that should be slotted into any new j-school curriculum?  Here is a slightly serious, slightly snarky top five:

1) Mobile Phone Use 101: The power of a reporter’s mobile phone is already great and growing evermore infinite. This class would be a field-based exercise in mobile blogging, vlogging, photography, audio recording, interviewing, and related Web uploading, downloading, and hyperlinking.

2) Twitter-tastic 140: The entire course would be rooted in the Twitter culture. The syllabus, assignments, class discussions, and exams would all need to fit into the bite-sized tweet format. 

3) Investigative Reporting: A majority of blogging is personal.  A vocal minority discuss issues.  Most of those bloggers critique or expand upon reports already presented elsewhere.  For journalism to remain relevant and needed, it must continue to do the one thing the blogosphere generally does not: in-depth, long-term, beneath-the-surface ‘tough’ stories on complex individuals or issues. (A great recent example is this ESPN investigative report on former baseball great and current entrepreneurial mess Lenny Dykstra.)

4) New Media Ethics: It is obvious even the professionals are not yet entirely sure how to handle all the issues new technology and a 24-hour news cycle hath wrought.  Students must be taught the basics, so as not to end up like Washingtonian Magazine, as reported today by CNN in this linked story and video below.

Washingtonian Video

 

5) Internet Famous Class: Nowadays, it’s all about getting eyeballs and Web hits in our “attention economy.”  The video below, linked here, explains it all.

Internet Famous Class

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