Archive for September, 2009

I have been passionate about college journalism since high school.  As a junior and senior, I treasured the visits I made with my father to campuses throughout greater Philadelphia and beyond.  There is simply *something* about a lively campus that puts a smile on my face and a giddy-up in my heartbeat.  Some students on a college tour seek out the main academic buildings, the athletic facilities, the freshmen dorms. I searched for newsstands.

Campus newspapers (and magazines and broadcast stations and online outlets and individual blogs) are the lifeblood of every good college or university.  I felt I learned more about the schools I visited through one issue of a quality student paper than in a full tour, admissions rep sit-down, and Web site visit.  When I selected a college, I immediately sent an e-mail to the student newspaper’s faculty adviser requesting to be considered for the position of editor in chief. OK, so I overshot a little.  In my sophomore year, that dream came true.  Cue the smile, and the giddy-up. Both have not let up since.

I believe in the power of college media and the idealism and passion of student journalists.  Over the past year, I have greatly enjoyed blogging for CMM.  I truly now feel a part of a community of like-minded scholars, professionals, and students.  My immense thanks to Meredith Cochie at UF for her guidance early on (and for helping greatly with the header).  My sincere gratitude extends to many others for their interest and support, notably Bryan Murley at CICM, Daniel Bachhuber, David Wilensky, and  Steve Veres at UWIRE.

Speaking of UWIRE, I am taking the Jay Leno approach with my blog work.  It is not goodbye, but hello, again.  I am moving into prime time- from College Media Matters to College Media Beat, a fantastic (if I do say so myself) new blog covering college journalism in-depth, in the moment, and across all media.  It will be spirited.  It will be snarky.  It will be *something.* :)

Check it out:


College Media Beat

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Warning: Do NOT study journalism in Afghanistan.  Or at least for now, if you do, keep your mouth shut.  Case in point: An Afghan journalism student was secretly freed earlier this month after spending nearly two YEARS in prison.  His crime: Speaking up in class “about women’s rights under Islam.”

Specifically, according to an AP report, “[p]rosecutors said he showed contempt for Islam by asking questions about women’s rights and for distributing an article he had taken off the Internet that asks why Islam does not modernize to give women equal rights. He also allegedly wrote his own comments on copies of the article.”

Officials originally sentenced the poor guy, a student at Balkh University, to death, and then settled for 20 years in prison.  Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai secretly signed a pardon a few weeks back and the student is now out of the country due to fear of reprisals for his actions.  All this because he had the gall to speak, or seek, the truth.  The pardon is a positive for our profession, but as the story shows, Afghanistan’s journalism education has a long way to go.

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Reputations are once again no longer safe.  Facts are once again less than sacred.  Innuendo is once again in.  As The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported, “They’re Back, and They’re Bad: Campus-Gossip Web Sites.”

While JuicyCampus, the equally loathed-and-loved “virtual campus grapevine,” shuttered its site in February, a few other entrants are happily enabling students to continue spreading the word about anyone and anything, truth be damned.  CollegeACB (Anonymous Confessions Board) is one.  A higher-profile new player is the not-so-subtly-named Campus Gossip, which implores its potential participants “Go ahead, tell it like it is…always 100% anonymous….”

Here are a few posts from the site in the past few days (with names changed): “So i met jane smith (sophmore?) a few days ago and i think she is f*cking hot/really chill…butttt i have heard some things. anyone have any info?”; “Porn ‘star’ goes to seton hill: Jane Smith spent her summer modeling. At least that’s what she told everyone. Google “Janey Smith” to find out what she was really up to. I’m sure her parents are very proud. But lets be honest. She was a whore before, so at least now she’s getting paid for it.”; and “I got VD from the Dean of Students. Pass it on.”

Others are interested in the legality angles, the possible sexual harassment issues or the woe-is-our-society critiques.  I find the sites intriguing as cultural arbiters of our repressed need to scream and shout and besmirch and smear under the cover of anonymity but before a potentially international audience.  Sure, it could be argued that these sites are simply new platforms for one of the oldest human trades, but they are different in that what they feature can stay etched into our reptuation (i.e. our Google prints i.e. the very core of our identities) far longer and far stronger than any spoken or even printed gossip of the past.

Are we becoming more cowardly (the phrase “say it to my face” almost sounds quaint nowadays)?  Are we simply more venomous or vindictive?  Are we more casual with the truth?  Are we more inclined to sensationalize?  Are we more cut-off and in turn more unfeeling to our fellow man?  Do we simply want to be heard (and do these anonymous posters even care if anyone is reading/listening)?

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There are not many of us who blog regularly about college media en masse.  Yet, according to an intriguing recent Poynter piece, commentaries, critiques, and behind-the-scenes news of specific SMOs (student media outlets) are growing in blog-land (at least in the state in which the writer spent part of his higher ed. career).  The blogs’ existence and the bloggers’ motivations behind them raise an interesting question, one that interested observers occassionally ask me as well: Is it right to critique student media?

Those in the lay-off-’em camp cite j-students’ still-in-training status.  Many students of course work for SMOs without pay, course credit or sleep, lending a helping hand out of idealism and for the experience and a résumé boost.  So, the argument goes, an outside blog-watch of all major and minor moves and miscues comes across as just mean-spirited and demoralizing to those who deserve our appreciation and need a pick-me-up (and a paycheck).

It’s an argument I have never been able to buy.  I critique because I care.  I critique because to me being a student does not somehow make you a second-class journalist. Students are at the heart and on the leading edge of journalism’s 21st-century reinvention. They do not simply need (professional, courteous) critiques, they deserve them. College media matter and if a blogtastic or more expansive treatise on their work offers them even one nugget of truth or one glimmer of new perspective to chew on, the journalism field as a whole will be the better for it.

Quality critiques also provide j-students with thicker skin.  The Poynter piece offers my favorite related quote, from a Marquette University political science professor who apparently frequently criticizes the school’s student newspaper: “Taking some flak is something that journalists don’t like, but it is part of the job. So when they go out and get jobs with real newspapers they are going to run into some flak. The whole project is to socialize them into being journalists.”

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Bryan Murley, director of the Center for Innovation in College Mediarecently announced a second internship opportunity with CICM.  The application deadline is October 1st.  The potential responsibilities, in Murley’s words:

  • Podcast interviews with media movers and shakers.
  • Reviews of college media online initiatives.
  • Maps and databases of college media online sites.
  • Live video streams of conferences and/or interviews.
  • Round-ups of relevant new media writing.
  • And more.

The shake-up from last spring’s application process: All finalists will be featured on the CICM site and voted upon by the general j-populace.  It’s the we-think-wiki-wisdom-of-crowds approach!  Best of luck. :-)

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The Shorthorn, the award-winning 90-year-old student newspaper at the University of Texas at Arlington, may cease to exist in print due to economic environmental concerns (?!).  It is true.  As the newspaper itself is reporting, the school’s student government “is researching a resolution recommending the university’s daily newspaper go online-only as a way to join ongoing university green initiatives.”

One of the student sponsors of the resolution: “I think it’ll pay off since we’re going to a more technological society.”

Pay off for who?  The newspaper’s leadership confirms more than 17,000 readers for its four-times-weekly print edition, compared to less than a thousand daily for its online version (comprised mostly of non-students). Current comparative ad sales per year:

$11,000 online

$438,000 in print

It is a loss of ad revenue, a loss of a shared en masse experience and conversation starter for students on campus, and a loss of sanity about how to best balance the environment and information.


An announcement atop The Shorthorn Web site.

My favorite quote comes from a UT Arlington student who admitted she was not even aware the newspaper had a Web site: “If it did go only online, I probably wouldn’t read it because there’s so many other things to do online such as Facebook or Twitter.  I think going green is good, but I think less people would read the newspaper online.”

Where’s the payoff in that?

To the UT Arlington Student Congress: The Shorthorn must stay in print!   Issues are still being consumed daily.  If you want to go green, force profs. to stop assigning print textbooks.  I promise you, those are not as well read.

Update: SPLC story

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When I went to bed, it seemed like a highly regrettable minor production snafu. When I awoke, it had apparently become an international incident.  In case you’ve been stuck on no-journalism-allowed island in the last 48 hours: In what its editors are calling a mistake, The Harvard Crimson ran a Holocaust denial ad on page seven of its Tuesday issue.  (Hat tip to the wonderful Adam Hemphill.)

Do I believe it was an honest mistake?  Yes. I also accept the editor’s apology and explanation that running the ad “was a logistical failure and not a philosophical one.”  And I applaud the good faith and highbrow response of groups such as Harvard Hillel, whose president and director declared the Crimson response “extraordinary mature student leadership in response to an unfortunate situation.”

These things happen.  The Crimson mea culpa– a public apology, a basic accounting of what went wrong, and promises to stop running the ad, return the money accepted for the ad and to work harder to ensure it is a one-time mistake- has been pitch-perfect.  What has become the main deplorable aspect of this “unfortunate situation”: the over-hyped press coverage.

I respect that anything occurring at this school among schools will resonate more widely than incidents elsewhere, especially on campuses without Ivy or those enrolling mere mortals.  But the news reports I have seen so far, embodied by an overblown CNN piece, are a step too far.  Take the start of CNN’s story (with my critiques in parentheses):

“Harvard University, one of America’s premiere academic institutions, is coming under fire for running an advertisement in its campus newspaper questioning the reality of the Holocaust.”  (Show me one person who is actually blaming the *university* for its *independent* student newspaper’s snafu and I’ll show you someone with half a brain and absolutely no understanding how journalism at the college level works.)

“Recently named for the second straight year as the No. 1 school in U.S. News & World Report rankings of American colleges, Harvard is known for its rigorous scholarly standards and prestigious reputation.  On Tuesday, however, The Harvard Crimson, in what it said was an error, ran the Holocaust-questioning advertisement . . .”  (Meaning what, exactly?  That the newspaper betrayed the school’s high-ranking or that these things should not happen at such “rigorous” or “prestigious” places or at the very least could be more understandable at schools not ranked No. 1???)

The photo accompanying the CNN story also literally includes smokestacks from what is left of the former Birkenau concentration camp, a horrifically off-kilter visual that again appears to place the newspaper (and according to the lede sentence, the entire university) in opposition to the atrocities that occurred there and elsewhere during World War II.

A note to CNN and others: This is NOT World War III.  It was an honest logistical mix-up by one of the world’s finest student newspapers, without any hint of a hidden ideological agenda.  Take a step back.  Take a deep breath.  Accept the apology.  And realize, these things happen.  (One exampleOne more.)

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