Archive for June, 2009

Every major breaking story nowadays comes with a seemingly instant meta-analysis of how new media have fared while impacting the story’s coverage. Case in point: a CNN piece about the Michael Jackson death gossip-mongering news coverage.

My take: This is NOT a story that symbolizes new media’s shining greatness. In fact, they are hardly helping matters at all.  Now, in fairness, there are some positives.  Some of the more visual career timelines and discographies have caught my eye and are serving as stellar complements to the basic news pieces, especially impressive given how little lead time there was to put them together. The endless videos available of every Jackson utterance, moonwalk, and nose alteration have also been helpful at times for context and in quiet moments simply for entertainment/remembrance sake.  And obviously, the Internet proved useful for the newsibodies and Jackson fans to commiserate and find out the first death details as they spilled out.

But that’s it.  So the story broke on TMZ, and many people followed it there and on PerezHilton.com.  Who cares? Those two sites are part of the media establishment now anyway (whether the oldies like it or not).  TMZ had the story a few minutes before everyone else, but this is NOT a story in which that sort of scoop really matters at all.  I mean, c’mon, do people other than TMZ junkies and media watchers even know or care that it was the site that first broke the story?

Otherwise, TMZ has basically been doing one-source reporting updates on everything from Madonna’s reaction to the initial autopsy announcement.  (And, if you notice, Perez Hilton is basically parroting TMZ with the same news updates and with only an implicit shout-out to TMZ for doing the actual ‘reporting’ via a link to its updates in his posts.)  First, TMZ is the ONLY non-mainstream news outlet providing any credible, worthwhile details, making any citizen journalist, all-atwitter-over-Twitter or blogosphere-for-President arguments moot.  TMZ may not be the BIG media of yesteryear, but now, with its success, it has come to embody the same one-to-many media model we were raised on i.e. OLD not new.

And while, OK, it’s kind of cool that TMZ is doing some solid scoop reporting in real time, as it happens, as I go through the content (like most people) once or twice a day, I can’t help but feel like an old-style news summary would save me a lot of trouble scrolling and putting together the pieces into a coherent larger picture.

The problem with the Jackson story for new media: It’s NOT a continuing saga, unlike the Iran controversy or even something like Jon & Kate’s drama. It’s essentially one story (umm, he’s dead) with new (and old) media outlets attempting to spotlight a TON of fairly minor side stories around it to keep our interest (and keep up their Web traffic).

I’ve got new media coursing through my veins but, yes, I’m saying it: Give me a once-a-day update on all-things-Jackson in the style of an old-world newspaper report!  Why?  Because at this point, I’m already (ALREADY?!) sick of the endless updates.  And this is another ill effect of new media’s obsessive coverage: the instant overexposure, and subsequent way-too-soon public weariness, of whatever the new media outlets and blogosphere set their common sights upon.

The real-time updating is also causing problems, most horrifically the false autopsy report about Jackson being bald and speckled with drug needles (a story that I only just minutes ago corrected someone about and probably others still believe is true).  Some Internet prankster got it going, it hit TMZ and others, and boom, it was fact.  CNN mentioned other rumors that ran rampant immediately after his death, including that he was murdered and that Jeff Goldblum and Harrison Ford had also perished.

Fortunately, both stars are OK, and new media of course are also here to stay. My instant analysis of their Jackson death coverage: a tiny bit of “Thriller” with some definite “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal” activities thrown into the mix.

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A  great new piece by Kate Maternowski in the most recent Student Press Law Center Report documents the continued strength of alternative student publications at campuses across the U.S.  (Full disclosure: I’m quoted in the piece.)

In her words: “As mainstream student media across the country fight censorship battles with their school administrations, alternative publications are popping up in steady numbers in response to their own disfavored symbols of authority— official student newspapers. Often utilizing the newest and most innovative means to broadcast their views, student journalists at alternative campus publications are finding a fertile landscape of both resources and audiences.”

She touches on two of the latest and greatest entrants into the indy game: NYU Local (previous post of mine here) and Student Newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (previous post of mine here).  (Also check out the CMM Student Journalist Spotlight for Q&As with editors of both outlets.)  Additionally, Maternowski rightly mentions the two main political organizations acting as backers for liberal and conservative pubs: Campus Progress and The Collegiate Network (see screenshots of the homepages for both orgs below).

The Collegiate Network

Campus Progress

The alt/indy student press is a personal research passion of mine, something I’ve published, presented, and blogged about since 2007.  As I’m quoted in this piece: “The alternative student press is a spectacular complement to the mainstream student press. It is innovative. It is influential. It is an essential part of journalism’s reinvention. And it is here to stay.”

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The Ann Arbor News will cease being a daily newspaper starting in late July, according to a new Poynter report.  It will reemerge as a more svelte online-only operation publishing a print paper twice a week.  The reason this latest newspaper-bad-news headline stands out amid the predicted print reckoning is that it will leave Ann Arbor, Mich., home to the University of Michigan, as the first at least somewhat major metropolitan area in the states without a daily print newspaper.  Or does it?

Cue The Michigan Daily, the student-produced newspaper in the university town, and soon to become the last shining beacon of daily print news hope in Ann Arbor.  Obviously, it is campus-centric first and of course summer and term breaks make the daily distinction at least a little smudged, but its print tradition, huge readership base, and newsstand reach (maybe something that should even be expanded when fall semester starts?) are not to be snickered at.

Here’s what the Poynter piece had to say: “I don’t know the campus paper, The Michigan Daily, well, but I have observed in other university towns- Austin, Texas and Athens, Ga.- that a strong paper at a big school is formidable and often quite profitable. It provides enough news to satisfy most of the student population, just passing through for a few years.  Plus it sucks up restaurant and nightlife advertising and may be the first ad buy for youth-oriented shops.”

Honestly, I’m not loving the backward compliments. The statement admits student papers can sustain mega-huge presences and profits and yet somehow they can only do that by offering just-quality-enough news that satisfies only the just-passing-through student crowd (what about faculty, staff, admins., the local Starbucks baristas, townies, trustees, parents, prospective students, high school teachers who bring them into classes, etc.) and acting as leaches “sucking” away advertising from the apparently more deserving (and in this case just about dead) professional daily.

How about giving the student press some credit?  While The Ann Arbor News prepares to implode and admits financial failure, The Michigan Daily survives.  Formidable.  Profitable.  And still in print.

(((The previous student press defense is rated S for snarkiness.)))

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Katelyn Polantz once went on a liquid diet as a college freshman.  It lasted a week.  She fell in love with journalism as a sophomore.  It appears this love will last a lifetime.

As editor in chief of The Pitt News over the past year, Polantz led a staff of roughly 120 student reporters and editors, oversaw the formation of a multimedia department for PittNews.com, and collected a ton of devotees.  For example, The Pitt News managing editor: “Katelyn has worked tirelessly to improve The Pitt News, both as a publication and an educational experience. . . . Thanks to her efforts, our online and multimedia presences have improved dramatically.”  And the pub’s news adviser: “Katelyn is the future of journalism: informed, passionate, driving, multi-talented.  She has been an outstanding leader of our daily student newspaper.”

For her multi-talented passion and outstanding leadership, the Pitt alum (she graduated in April and is now at intern at Bloomberg News in NYC) recently joined the student media eliterati as a UWIRE 100 honoree.  Today, she basks in the virtual glow of the CMM Student Journalist Spotlight.

Katelyn Polantz

Katelyn Polantz, former editor in chief, The Pitt News

Write a six-word memoir of your student journalism experiences.

It’s a vocation, not a job.

What is the best piece of journalism advice you’ve ever received or given?

“Get off your ass and knock on doors,” or Goyakod.  It’s become my personal mantra, one that I’m not afraid to yell in the newsroom when someone says “I can’t” about their reporting.  I think I heard it first at a lecture given by Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post executive editor who led the paper through Watergate.

Memorable behind-the-scenes production moment.

Working on The Pitt Newsfirst ever sex issue this spring.  It’s when the staff became a team.  One night, a group of editors sat around a white board and deliberated story ideas for hours, debating whether to run a column on the sexile phenomenon vs. one about cockblocking.  It might have been the most professional synergy ever in our office, at the least likely time.

What first sparked your passion for journalism?

My first semester reporting I unknowingly got sucked into working a beat.  I started reporting a typical fluff profile on a custodian in the Cathedral of Learning, Pitt’s academic skyscraper.  I realized there was a larger story about the disparity between the facilities managers and the workers, and pursued it.  After reporting for four months (much of which I did during the graveyard shift), I had a three-part story that dug into managements’ unreasonable requests of custodians.  All along, my editor at the time discouraged me from working on it.  The experience taught me a lot about doing solid investigative work and sticking with my instincts.  The payoff of seeing the story’s many pieces come together on the front page was what got me in the end.

What are your predictions for the future of college journalism?

It’ll be around and strong, but the trend of consuming news online rather than in print will permeate campus audiences soon enough.  That’s why college editors need to push multimedia content and Web development now.  When their entire audience is carrying Kindles and laptops to class, college papers should be prepared to reach those eyeballs.

The business operations of college papers aren’t feeling it that severely right now, but neither were the major metro dailies eight years ago.  Professional newspapers were behind when the shift to Internet news and aggregators hit, and they’re barely making it through now.  College papers don’t have the resources to withstand this type of change if they’re unprepared.  They need to get ahead now and stay ahead.

What is one question we should all be asking much more often about the current state or future of journalism?

Are we allowing editorial content to be dictated by revenue?  The value of journalism is lost when it becomes a slave to the business world.  I know hundreds of college journalists who do solid work for free every day.  It’s important for papers to reinvent their economic models in order to save themselves, but it scares me to hear editors say current journalism is just as much a business as it is a public service.  It must be a public service, first and foremost, always.

You wake up in ten years. Where are you and what are you doing?

I’m dressed in brightly colored and slightly wrinkled business clothes, boarding a presidential candidate’s campaign bus.  We’re in the middle of Iowa.  I’m carrying an online newsroom in my backpack, fully prepared to cover this campaign for the national media and crisscross the country until next November.

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Example of Student Press Coverage of the Iranian Revolution: “UI Student Sees History Unfold in Iran”   (Daily Iowan, via UWire)

10 Ways Journalism Schools Are Teaching Social Media”   (Mashable)

Social Media: How Twitter, Facebook, and Others are- Surprise!- Strengthening Friendships”   (Boston Globe)

Everything I Need to Know About Twitter I Learned in J School”   (Mashable)

UNL Names Berens Interim Journalism Dean”   (Lincoln Journal Star)

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Let’s be honest: We’re all jealous of Cody Brown.  The guy oozes Kobe Bryant-Bono-Obama-level cool.  He founded and runs NYU Local, the raddest student media site in Manhattan.  He also has a laugh-out-loud awesome Flash mugshot of himself.  (The trick is to keep watching it for a bit…)  And he recently jumped into the real time versus batch news production debate.  It’s a long-running discussion (at least by new media standards), even tackled in the recent snarky, must-read No Time to Think by Rosenberg and Feldman.

Batch vs. Real Time is basically this: Print news outlets deliver a batch of stories all at once after the fact and after careful vetting, while online outlets (or print outlets moving online) tend to report on especially important individual stories as they happen, normally without the time to fully vet.  (You see it on stories like actor David Carradine’s recent death in Thailand where real time online reports read like this: Carradine may be dead, Carradine is dead, Carradine committed suicide, Carradine suicide questionable, Carradine’s death still a mystery…)

Brown’s write-up, headlined “Batch vs. Real Time Processing, Print vs. Online Journalism: Why the Best Web News Brands Will Never Look Like The New York Times,” makes some interesting points.  The most intriguing to me is the notion that established print outlets like the Times are at a disadvantage when going the real time Web route because what they report “has an immediate effect of seeming true,” owing to their stories-are-complete-and-that’s-the-way-it-is heritage.  In Brown’s words: “The messy, opinionated, incomplete, rumorladen, sh*t-show that is actual news production is hidden away” at these old school/old media outlets.

Obviously though, print news pubs cannot stay out of the Web’s real time reporting game.  So, according to Brown, it’s time for a rebranding.  Rosenberg and Feldman’s argument is more extremist: Slow down!  Don’t let the medium of the Web dictate the reporting of the message.  Or basically, in their view, many times getting a story right is more important than getting it out fast.  It’s idealistic, but I think it’s like asking a three-year-old to put down the shiny new toy.  Brown’s rebranding stance makes more practical sense to me.  What do you think???

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The turntables are still turning, new podcasts are humming, indie bands are still being discovered, and social networking is drawing in new listeners at college radio stations worldwide.  According to a new Chicago Daily Herald piece (a localized version of a December 2008 New York Times article), the student radio revolution of the 21st-century is a mix of old school and all-things-digital.

Rev Moose, editor in chief of College Music Journal: “Instead of killing it, the Internet has just forced college radio to get more creative.  College DJs are producing some of the best music podcasts out there, for example.”

Also, here’s a separate recent piece from Imprint Magazine by the talented Kelsey McArdle on making the most of the modern college radio experience.  I was humbled to be cited in the piece.  Here’s my take on student radio’s timeless appeal: “From those with whom I’ve spoken and observed, college radio holds a trifecta-sized mystique: on-the-job learning, an empowerment to rock the house the way you want and the opportunity to be surrounded in studio-sized confines with peers who think and behave the same way you do.”

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