Archive for December, 2009

The managing editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat at the University of Arizona was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct late last month during a taping of ESPN’s “College GameDay.” Students staffers at the top-notch paper suddenly faced the eternal ugh-tastic j-dilemma: how to cover one of your own.

Their decision ultimately led to some nasty in-fighting and the managing editor’s forced resignation. As the pub’s adviser put it: “There is never a dull moment on a student newspaper.”

According a recent Tucson Weekly report, the paper’s editor in chief Alex Dalenberg and staff decided the incident was newsworthy and deserved coverage, as embarrassing as it might be for the ME. In Dalenberg’s words:

After the incident at ‘College GameDay,’ I suspended [the ME] for five issues. I felt that was appropriate punishment. We also decided to run a story on the incident, because [he] was a public figure at a public event the Wildcat was covering. However, even after [he] left for the day, he insisted on dictating how the newspaper published the story about himself. [He] continued to make phone calls and send text messages, some of them laced with profanity, making specific demands about how the story be run. For example, he demanded we run an unedited personal statement regarding the arrest, and also demanded that we not run his ‘f*cking’ mug shot.

The response from the ME:

I got a tip from a colleague in the newsroom that not only was Alex not going to run my statement that he told me he would run, but he was considering putting my headshot in the paper, along with quotes taken out of context from my statement and the police report. I immediately texted Alex asking why he was doing this and (was) not running my statement.

The ME resigned from the paper that night after a fairly vicious phone call with Dalenberg, who threatened to fire him for his alleged editorial interference and general insubordination. The Weekly piece goes on to document a larger battle raging throughout the semester between Dalenberg and his second-in-command that include allegations of shoddy leadership, intra-dating favoritism, and competing factions on the paper’s editorial board scheming like “Survivor” rivals. (Although I do wish the article had cited more than just the ousted ME for some of the more nefarious allegations.)

And to think the biggest Wildcat drama this term seemed to be the 10,000 stolen papers!

My take: The incident and arrest are news. The ME himself apparently contributed to an editorial published around the time of his arrest that bashed “rabid UA football fan behavior.” He was cited for something right along those lines. The paper has to suck it up and cover its own when warranted or its credibility plummets. The published piece seems quite objective and just the right length, in my scholarly and bloggy opinion. It is sad- but I suppose inevitable- that when such a dramatic dust-up occurs between a paper’s heavyweights (literally in this case the #1 and #2), it reveals deeper fissures and leads to squabbling over past slights that do nothing but intensify everyone’s pain.

In the end, this is simply one more example of what a wild and woolly beast collegemediatopia can be.  The Wildcat adviser: “The paper moves on. In the scope of things, this is one of the most minor staff flaps ever.”

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Campus Buzz has a new list bringing together the tweets of more than 300 campus media outlets onto one Twitter page. Especially in the absence of UWIRE, it is an appreciated way to gain at least a barebones glimpse of what’s going down in the campus news world at any given moment.

Separately, below are a few of my favorite recent collegemediatopia-related tweets- the last one appropriately holiday-themed.  Enjoy, and happy holidays!

(Background on why this tweet is hilarious and oh-so-true)

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Interesting course alert: Reporting on Islam, a 400-level pilot class jointly sponsored by the j-school and Muslim Studies program at Michigan State University. According to a UPI report, it is aimed at “teach[ing] students how to deal with the complexities of reporting on Islam in a post-Sept. 11 world.”

The course syllabus for this past semester explains further: “Students will analyze news stories on Muslims and Islam in the U.S. and international press.  They will be instructed in the complexity of Islam as a religion and the cultural practices of Muslims.  Students will also create content . . . focused on Reporting on Islam and Muslim peoples.  Some content will be based on interviews with scholars, expert journalists, and members of the Muslim community.  Students will also help develop ‘Best Practices in Reporting on Islam and Muslim Peoples.'”

During the fall, students visited a local Islamic Center, heard from relevant guest speakers, and completed news stories of their own, in part by conducting interviews with people via Skype in countries such as Iraq and Iran.  A number of enrollees published their classwork professionally, including a report on the birth of Islam punk rock that landed in the Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Sentinel.

One of the students provided possibly the best summary a class can get: “[The course] definitely made me uncomfortable at times, but honestly, that is how I know it was worthwhile. It helped me experience a part of the world and this country that I never had before.”

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The editor in chief of a top student newspaper is calling for change in a number of major and minor ways related to college news media outlets’ staffing, production, and presentation in the Web age.  In a new post on his personal blog, Brian Manzullo- the current Michigan Press Association College Journalist of the Year and top editor of Central Michigan Life– lays out an elite eight listing of proposed transformations. For example, he decries the practice of shuttling all Web work and content to a single online editor or online management team. As he writes:

The days of the Web being an afterthought in your college newsroom are over. You should have a Web-first mentality and work flow across your entire newsroom — for starters, have your news editors post news stories, your sports editors post sports stories and so on. And all of them need to be thinking about SEO’d headlines, keywords, tags and excerpts. They could use that Web experience for their resume, anyway. As for your online editor, keep him or her and have them focus on other tasks such as community building via social media, aggregating stories and multimedia together and conducting live chats and discussion.

While a few of Manzullo’s proposals have already been sounded quite a bit in professional circles (namely the cries over ending the regurgitation of news content on social media platforms and the need to become link-friendly even to outside sites), all have merit. My favorite is the call-to-arms that tops his list, one that has been hovering over newsrooms for far longer than wireless Internet: Dropping the hideous notion that to be a successful student journalist you need to actually be a journalism major.

My suggestions, to round out his list of things to change:

1) Letting the ever-present deadline of Web 2.0 push longer feature pieces and full-scale investigations off the storyboard.

2) Losing faith in the print product, since it is still ravenously enjoyed by your targeted student audience, at least for now.

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Awhile back, I asked CoPress co-founder and executive director Daniel Bachhuber a few questions about his growing collegemediatopia empire.  I was not shooting for “60 Minutes” type intensity but the first two are more in-your-face than softball.  The queries do not center on concerns I have about CoPress as much as curiosities.  It’s not yet “college media’s backbone,” as its tagline states, but its importance is growing.  I wanted some straight answers about things I’ve heard from others and seen firsthand.  Bachhuber, being an honorable man, responded right away and with appreciable candor.

CoPress

Your clients’ sites look great.  Of course, most are basically identical in template.  Are there plans to up the sites’ variety or individuality?  What’s your response to the haters who say there is more variety (at least in design) right now with College Media Network (CMN) sites?

I’d respond respectfully that the comparison isn’t appropriate. While some of the news organizations we are working with have chosen the Gazette Edition from WooThemes as the foundation they want to start with, others including the Campus Chronicle, the Al-Talib News Magazine, and the Campanil have started with significantly different foundations.

It’s completely up to the news organization as to the direction they want to take the design. I can’t speak with any knowledge about College Publisher’s design process but, in most cases, we have the news organization take complete ownership of the design process. They pick an existing WordPress theme to start from, and then have the freedom to tweak the CSS, functionality, how the content is presented on the home page, etc. to their heart’s content. We’re there to answer any and all questions they have. If it serves a specific, important purpose to have their site look visually different than others, then we’ll coach them through that process.

Beyond appearance, there are user experience things that should cross-pollinate.  One goal we’re working towards is to build a network of news organizations actively running experiments with technology, presentation of content, etc. that can then share the knowledge of how well those experiments work and learn from each other.  For instance, Brian Manzullo has been putting together topical landing pages as contextual explainers for ongoing stories (an example here).  It’s up to the publication to take leadership on work like this, however; we try to provide a bounty of ideas and are working on a platform for news organizations to collaborate around those ideas.

Some student newspaper editors have written me to say the empowerment push of Web 3.0 means they can do their sites themselves, without CMN or CoPress or anyone else.  What’s your pitch as to why student media outlets can really benefit from a CoPress partnership?

That’s our mission too.  We want to get the news organizations we’re working with to the point where they can manage, maintain, and develop against their websites entirely on their own.  Most aren’t there yet, which is why I think what CoPress is doing, and the network we’re building, is tremendously valuable.

What’s been the coolest moment for you since starting CoPress?

ACP/CMA in Austin this fall was a stellar experience for a few reasons: We got meet a number of the news organizations we work with for the first time. We were fortunate to talk with other news organizations very interested in taking ownership of their ability to innovate on the web. And I got to hang out in the real world with a few people on our geographically diverse team who have worked tirelessly to make the big picture a reality.

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More than 30 students at the University of Minnesota spent the past semester in FLUX. They created a printerrific, Webtastic class project on steroids, documenting the changing nature of the modern American dream via a full-color magazine and accompanying Web site.

As a letter from editor in chief Katie Pelton shares:

If you think of the American Dream, it’s likely your mind will wander to images of the 1950’s Pleasantville- you know, the breadwinner husband, his stay-at-home wife who happily tends to her two and a half children and their tidy house surrounded by a white picket fence. . . . While the concept might conjure images of 1950’s domesticity, it can equally be applied to the Pilgrims and today’s rule-rewriting, tech-savvy millennial generation. It has certainly struck a chord with me, and all of the individual dreamers we’ve encountered while producing this magazine. . . . We all have hopes and goals for the future- not only for our own lives, but also our country. With each generation comes new ideals, and because of the fluctuation of current societal standards, our principles are changing faster than ever.

According to a UM news release, the magazine is divided into four main areas. DEBATE skews political, touching on  “debt, environmental sustainability and diversity.”  LEARN presents pieces on education and the professional world, “posing the question: Is college necessary?”  LIVE screams arts and culture, including a then-and-now fashion spread. And TALK “explores modern communication and the influence technology and relationships have on the American Dream.”  My favorite snippet is a SoundSlides photo montage with audio in the multimedia section that presents young girls’ perspectives on what makes a person beautiful in the contemporary U.S.

Pelton, about the project overall: “Not only did we learn far more from this experience than a textbook could ever teach us, but we professionally produced a quality magazine that will influence people’s lives.”

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2009 has become the year of satirical and racial controversy within Georgetown University’s student media. More than eight months ago, Georgetown students staged a sit-in protest criticizing perceived racial insensitivities within the April Fool’s edition of the Hoya campus newspaper. Now, a student humor magazine that attempted to poke fun at the Hoya incident is facing similar criticisms.

The Georgetown Heckler recently published a smolderingly satirical article in which Hoya staffers aim to wash away their perceived racial slights at year’s end through a holiday-themed ceremony. For the ceremony, the Hoya team is portrayed as white robe-wearing, lynch-happy cross burners akin to the KKK. A portion of the piece (bolding by me, in case you’re just scanning):

The event began Friday . . . with everyone wearing the traditional costume of a flowing white robe, white hood, and white mask, portraying the “ghosts of Christmas past.” “It’s a time to remember our great tradition, but it’s also a time to remember some of the darkness that hangs over our past,” Hoya Features Editor [name omitted by me] said. “It feels cathartic to put on this white hood. It’s about us coming together as one and exterminating these dark figures of the past that seem to loom over us. . . . We’ve been slaving over this ceremony for weeks and it’s great to see it running so smoothly.”  In addition to the cross lighting, the Hoya drove the idea home by hanging dark, human-shaped piñatas from . . . trees, representing the demons of the past.

Jubilant <i>Hoya</i> staffers taking part in the annual tradition

The photo run with the Heckler piece.

The Heckler is now taking heat from students, faculty, and administrators who ‘get’ the larger stab at a joke, but are not laughing- saying the article did not satirize as much as inflame the racial hullabaloo hanging over the D.C. school. As one Georgetown student, the president of university’s NAACP chapter, declared, “At the end of the day, the Heckler‘s article made me sick to my stomach. I . . . felt that my Black body became a site for White (and non-Black) students to negotiate their twisted notions under the guise of satire. The nonsense has got to stop.” The most vigorous critics have pointed out that this piece is not the Heckler‘s first controversial racial satire (many are citing another recent article headlined “It’s Not a Hate Crime If You Love Doing It”). Stemming from the controversy, a community forum on “Racism and Satire” was held on campus last night.

The Heckler‘s top editor told Washington City Paper he stands by the article. A Heckler writer offered what I feel is the strongest defense, even summoning the spirit of Stephen Colbert: “I think the basic problem is people are throwing around the word satire without understanding what it actually means. The point of satire is to critique a position by adopting it, and pointing out its ridiculousness. Think of stephen colbert, he makes fun of right wing pundits by acting like them. . . . The whole point is not to laugh with racism, but at it and laugh at the people who commit racist acts. The real irony of the situation is that the whole point of the heckler was to denounce racial ignorance.”

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