Archive for November, 2009

Ryan Dunn and Dave Hendricks are the co-founders of college media’s very own CNN. College News Network is a nationwide student press content-sharing service that the Ohio University duo launched very recently in the wake of UWIRE’s sudden disappearance.

The talented Scrippsters graciously chatted with CMM about the the basic gist of their service, their longterm goals, and their thoughts on their once-domineering, now-dormant chief competitor.  The buzzwords that stand out: nonprofit, necessity, and GoDaddy.

  

Dave Hendricks, a Scripps journalism student from Connecticut who once climbed Ayers Rock.

Ryan Dunn, a Scripps journalism student from Lancaster, Pa., whose favorite movie is "Bait Shop" with Bill Engvall and Billy Ray Cyrus.

What motivated you to start College News Network?

Ryan: We started College News Network out of necessity. I manage the opinion page of The Post, and when our well of letters dried up, we would pull a column from UWIRE. If local content isn’t an option, we still need something to put on the page.  Now, it’s a bit trickier for us, and most editors are probably in the same boat. UWIRE went under at the end of September. We quickly e-mailed a few other Ohio student papers in hopes of sharing columns and the occasional breaking news. It expanded to an actual Web site with 27 student papers from across the country on board.

Explain the service in a simple nut graf.

Ryan: Every day, we or our members post stories on the site that would be relevant to any student, regardless of college. When other papers in the network are hurting for content, they can check our site. Posts are marked as private so only those who signed up can see them. Membership is free, and all we ask is the original newspaper and author/designer/photographer be credited when his or her work is reprinted.

Any memorable moments so far?

Dave: We got a free month of hosting from GoDaddy after the company (my registrar of choice for years) botched our server setup. That’s kept our total investment to just $17.

What’s the long-term goal for the service?

Ryan: Basically, we want the site to keep growing. The more posts, the better. UWIRE was a safety net that also promoted our content, and that’s what we want for College News Network. As for specific goals, I’d love to have a student paper on the network from all 50 states. I’m pretty sure UWIRE had 800 members before shutting down. They set the bar.

What’s the plan of attack if and when UWIRE returns?

Ryan: That’s the big question, isn’t it? We know the stakes here.  UWIRE is/was the student media syndicate everyone knows. The site hired student editors (of which I was one) to add news and columns, while we rely on essentially volunteer work. It could be a very uphill battle.

Our main strength against UWIRE is that we have no corporate owners demanding a profit, or any intention of profit at all. College News Network doesn’t exactly have a budget. Dave and I continue putting the time in because the site’s grown into something that we’re very pleased with. We do read a lot of these newspapers anyway to see what other student papers are reporting on, that’s why we asked them to join. Of course, if UWIRE wants to buy us out for a few hundred million dollars, we’d probably listen.

For all the student newspaper haters out there, why do college news media matter?

Ryan: I look at student newspapers as the kind of journalism done by people who simply love reporting news. We write about serious topics that matter to students and try to cut through the jargon. Just because we’re under 25 doesn’t change a newspaper’s mission of holding people accountable. There are dumb mistakes from time to time, but these are reporters who cut class and give their all for very little pay to produce a free product. Plus, we aren’t burnouts yet.

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During this time of thanks, I want to offer a sincere thank you to the University of Southern California. In early October, USC announced that its Annenberg School for Communication was being renamed the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

In this era of uber-uncertainty and declining professional prospects within the industry, the school’s name change is a clear sign that universities will fight to keep journalism alive. The school’s dean: “The ‘Fourth Estate’ has been under siege. As one of the premier educational institutions in the United States to offer comprehensive communication, journalism and public relations programs, it is incumbent upon us to step up and publicly support the future of the profession.”

As the prominent journalism educator who passed the announcement my way noted, “While one could say it’s only words, I think it’s a strong signal of enduring values in a rapidly changing world.”

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Journalism education will not only survive but should be embedded into “the very DNA of American higher education,” according to an Ohio State University law professor.

As reported in a new Lantern piece, the prof’s vision of modern j-education includes “train[ing] people from all walks of life to deal with the enormous amount of information available in the digital age.”  A separate Lantern op-ed confirmed, “During a time when the newspaper business is severely struggling, some might find it shocking to hear such a proposition. . . . Although newspapers might be slowly reaching obsolescence, journalism is still just as, if not more, important than ever. The shift toward digital media is certainly modifying the practice of journalism . . . Democracy, essentially, is based on the important principles of equality and freedom. But in order for it to function properly and as it was intended, the people must be informed. The information must be fair and accurate. This is why journalism is so important to American society and why it always will be.”

As enrollment grows (grows!) within journalism schools and departments at universities worldwide- while the mainstream news media simultaneously declines in staff and resources- j-students and educators will undoubtedly play an increasingly influential role in shaping the craft and reporting news that matters NOW. As Atlantic correspondent Peter Osnos blogged, [T]he breadth of what is being offered [at j-schools] is amazing . . . The role of the university is potentially significant in the transformation of news from a primarily market-driven enterprise to recognition of its essential role as a civic asset- like education itself.”

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Along with providing top-notch coverage of the outcry over the recent student fees increase within the University of California system, UC campus newspapers are also fighting back in editorials.  Below is a rundown of a few standout pieces at student papers throughout the state.

Daily Californian: “The Last Straw”

“What the regents clearly don’t see is the human cost of their decisions. . . . Their decisions govern the everyday lives of students, faculty and staff at the university- yet without a campus and with separate careers, the regents rarely interact with those who are most affected by their decisions.  They see numbers, percentages and a bottom line. They don’t know the middle-class students who will be forced to drop out because they can’t afford to pay more than $10,000 in fees per year. They don’t know the members of underrepresented communities, who, fazed by sticker shock, will assume the university is out of their reach.

Daily Nexus: “UC Needs Alternative to Ever-Increasing Fees”

“Students feel disproportionately targeted by the UC’s hikes and cuts, shouldering a large share of the budget shortfall as fees rise and services disappear. Moreover, there is no indication whether these adjustments will suffice or if further painful steps will be necessary. The UC student of tomorrow will pay more to receive less.”

Daily Bruin: “Potential mid-year fee hike unfair”

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the California Master Plan for Higher Education.  The statewide plan articulates the mission of public education: to keep higher education in California affordable and achievable for everyone. Nearly half a century later, the particulars of the plan are no longer applicable to a public education system that has changed drastically since the document’s inception. For instance, the plan has no standardized policy for setting student fees, so increases are inconsistent and unpredictable.”

Ricardo Martinez, Daily Nexus

Guardian: “We’ve Got the Momentum— Let’s Run With It”

The thing about the UC Board of Regents is that no matter how violent a protest gets or how dramatic a scene it are confronted with, it remain completely unaffected. At the end of the day, a few hundred people storming around with cardboard signs is a relatively small inconvenience. Local newspapers will run a couple of stories. . . . But soon the hype will pass, and everything will go back to normal.  Until next year, that is, when the board decides to raise fees yet again. And that right there is the heart of the problem. This whole unfortunate charade is an unending cycle.”

A Guardian editorial illustration accompanying a related piece. (UC San Diego)

A different take… City on a Hill Press: “Misinformed Enthusiasm”

“I’m sitting in lecture on Wednesday, trying to get the education that I’m paying over $8,000 per quarter to receive, and in barge five students, faces painted, wielding signs that warn of 32 percent fee hikes and shouting at the students before them. Through a megaphone, they declare that our student fees are going to construction projects instead of to our education, and that UC President Mark Yudof enjoys a $900,000 annual salary while we struggle to make ends meet.  Not quite.”

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In case you have been stuck on no-journalism-allowed island recently: Past undergraduate journalism students at Northwestern University working on the famed Innocence Project have been accused of bribing witnesses and acting somewhat inappropriately while investigating a murder case that eventually set a wrongfully-convicted man free.  As the New York Times reports: Illinois prosecutors “said that during their three years of work on the case, the students . . . paid witnesses money, flirted with them and, in one instance, flashed a shotgun.”

From the evidence that Innocence Project head and NU professor David Protess presents in return– plus my general faith in the Medill program- I have almost no doubt the charges are untrue. The actual case though is not as interesting as the precedents it has the potential to set, extend or set back within collegemediatopia.

For example, the prosecution is arguing you cannot be a student journalist unless you publish!  Kind of interesting.  The argument is that students are not protected under relevant free press laws because they never published any work (at least in a traditional journalism way). What do you think? It is a tricky question in an age of unconventional communication techniques.  (For example, the students’ work was obviously hyped on the related project’s Web site.  Does that not count as publication?)

My take: Protess and his Medill minions should be rewarded, not subpoenaed.  They are prime examples of a larger trend in which student journalism will have evermore significant real-world implications.  By extension, j-students will increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs.  They are undertaking the work the professional press used to have the staff, time, and resources to do.

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It is the story of the student press so far in fall 2009: UWIRE’s vanishing act.  It happened without warning- and lots of questions remain.  What happened (and is happening) behind the scenes?  Is its MIA status temporary or long-term?  What does it mean for oft-shared-never-shy student press content previously featured and available for poaching on the site?

In a new MediaShift piece, Center for Innovation in College Media director Bryan Murley provides a nice summary of the stoppage situation, including pulling together all the scattered quotes and posts (even one of mine) that have been tossed into the world hinting at and seeking an explanation.

According to Murley, one new student-initiated service angling to potentially take its place, or simply become a content-sharing player: College News Network.  Run by two Ohio University students (both former Post editors), the service (CNN?) boasts a 14-paper contingent so far, including a few biggies!  The WordPress site screams beta and its no-touch-no-fuss rule about all content may cause problems if it was to grow, but it is definitely yet another example of student press empowerment 2.0.

One of the founders: “I’d interned at the Columbus Dispatch this summer, which spearheaded a content-sharing agreement among Ohio’s newspapers. We figured a content-sharing network would help fill space on the Post‘s opinion page and allow college papers to share big stories, like the out-of-control street parties at Kent State and Ohio University last spring. The arrangement should benefit student reporters, who gain access to a wider audience, [as well as] readers at colleges across the country, who will gain access to perspectives and news from other student-run media.”

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The Northerner has apologized for running the Resistance. The Northern Kentucky University student newspaper issued a mea culpa for featuring an advertisement in two recent issues for Resistance Records, which sells “white supremacist music” (I’m putting that in quotes because I do not know and do not even want to know what that might entail).

The Louisville Courier-Journal: The paper’s editor “found out there was a problem with the advertisement . . . when he got a voice mail from a reporter at a local television station. He quickly researched the business and discovered that it sold white supremacist and neo-Nazi music.” Apparently, a few people sent in e-mail complaints and one individual came to the paper’s newsroom in person to register an objection. The editor: “It was a mistake on our part not to research the ad enough. It’s our responsibility to research our clients if it seems a little weird or a little sketchy. It was a total honest mistake.”

An apology has been issued by the paper, with the top editor stating in part: “While it is not illegal to run ads of this nature, we at The Northerner see it as an ethical issue.  We do not wish to be in business with groups or organizations that promote any form of racism, sexism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination. While issues of this nature are dependent on who runs The Northerner each semester, it was my decision that the paper, for this semester, will not advertise with this business or other businesses like it.”

My take: Hey, it happens. Yes, more research should have been done upfront, but some things will inevitably slip through the cracks within the deadline multi-tasking hell that is student newspapering in the second half of a semester.  I applaud the editor and staff for handling the situation with class. The newspaper chose the correct route- full disclosure, return of the money, a front-and-center apology (literally atop the homepage right now), and a spirit of learn-as-you-go-do-better-next-time embedded in every word.

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