Archive for February, 2010

When is a snowball fight also a social media revolution? On a wintry day in Washington D.C., one ambitious George Washington University undergraduate employed Twitter and The Georgetown Voice student newsmagazine to help spread the word about a snowy battle “that would eventually be referenced in one way or another by the Washington Post, LA Times, U.S. News & World Report, NBC DC, and a host of campus media outlets.”

In an exclusive e-interview with Campus Overload, a fantastic new online addition to the Washington Post run by education reporter Jenna Johnson, GW’s Kyle Boller explains:

The day before the snowball fight, I sent a tweet to @GtownVoice, Georgetown’s student magazine and blog, and suggested the idea. About 46 minutes later, they replied and planning began. We created an event page on Facebook and spread the word on Twitter. Within 24 hours, about 600 students from both schools had RSVP’ed (that number would eventually rise to 850 by the time of the event). . . . There is no doubt that the #gwgusnowdown was historic, as was the snowfall that made it possible. Hopefully, though, students from both schools will hold on to the greater messages of the event. One of those messages is that when organizational skill meets the power of social networking anything can be accomplished.

In the fierce, snowy combat, GWU prevailed.  Here is a Voice battlefield report: “Due to the lack of depth on the Georgetown side, the fight quickly devolved and most Hoyas were trudging back to campus with triumphant shouts from GW in the background within a half an hour. Other students report that GWU continued pelting GU until they were out of range, even as they removed their wounded from the battlefield.”  (Click the screenshot below to watch video of the fight.)

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The dining halls at Syracuse University are at long last deliciously free of student press censorship.  A report in the SU’s Daily Orange (via Paper Trailsconfirms the reversal of a long-held policy by the school’s Food Services allowing distribution of only the Orange in student dining halls.  Food Services staffers did not have a problem with competing pubs, they just did not like the added waste.

Or at least that has been the official word.  The real story is even less appetizing- brought to light by Jerk, a monthly SU student magazine that also sports a blog with a beyond impressive amount of updates.  Jerk editor said she was recently stopped from distributing the current issue of the magazine in a dining hall by a Food Services employee, solely because the employee did not like the content.

Lorraine Branham, the dean of SU’s Newhouse School of Public Communications: “It was clear that it was a policy that wasn’t being enforced for years. This policy was unwritten, unknown and the magazine had distributed (in dining centers) for years. If you actually thought about it, it made no sense. Someone was suddenly making it a problem because of something they saw in the magazine.”

The university chancellor has now publicly confirmed the cancellation of the policy, enabling Jerk and other Orange alternatives to be consumed by interested students.  (Check out a brief video report detailing the Jerk removal incident.)

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The Optimist student newspaper at Abilene Christian University can be consumed in print, online, via iPhone, iPod touch, and soon enough . . . on the iPad.  Student staffers and an ACU faculty and staff support team are optimistic that the paper will be the first iPad-friendly student publication.

As MacNewsWorld reports, “Designing a publication for hardware one can’t get one’s hands on yet can be challenging, admitted ACU Assistant Journalism Professor Kenneth Pybus. ‘It’s like designing a newspaper without paper,’ he [said]. Even with the developer’s kit for the iPad issued by Apple, ‘there are some things that we’re not sure how they’re going to work,’ he noted. ‘We’re deciding, how much of the built-in Apple operating system do we use, and how much do we build on our own?‘”

In a quick exclusive chat with CMM, Optimist editor in chief Colter Hettich lays out a bit about the newspaper’s and school’s iPad plan and the thinking behind it.

How will iPad integration add to the news consumption experience of your readers?

I think the iPad will take readers one step closer to the type of news consumption they want.  It’s textile, it’s customizable, and it’s mobile.

What is the appeal of moving so fast toward integration versus waiting to see how the device catches on?

This is not about the iPad. This is about understanding a new technology and discovering its potential to improve news delivery. The iPad just happens to be one of the latest devices. We expect maybe a dozen students to have an iPad in the fall, and if it turns out to be as popular as the iPhone, then that will be an added bonus.

What is involved in rolling it out?

This project permeates several departments on campus.  Students from the JMC department, the department of Art & Design, and the iSchool are working under faculty guidance to produce an app designed around Optimist content.

Why is it important for student media to stay on the cutting edge of high-technology and new media trends like iPad?

Right now, keeping up with technology is key to a journalist’s survival. Newspapers were once the primary method of delivering print news because it was the only option and people liked it. Now, people would rather not read a 12-square foot stack of paper. They’re using the Web via laptops and mobile devices, they’re following social networking sites, and journalism is adapting. The iPad likely could be a trend, but whether it is or not has nothing to do with our efforts. What we learn while designing for the iPad will be invaluable when we sit down to design for the next device or platform.

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A “racial state of emergency” has been declared and funding for all school-supported student media has been frozen at the University of California, San Diego in the immediate aftermath of a racist campus event coupled with a televised racist slur.

Late last week, the editor of the Koala, a controversial UCSD student humor newspaper “everyone loves to hate,” used the phrase “ungrateful n***ers” (the derogatory term for African Americans) while speaking on the publication’s campus television program. The on-air n-word stirred student anger already brewing over a controversial campus party, called the “Compton Cookout,” whose main theme was an overt mockery of Black History Month. (One report: “An invitation to the party urged participants to dress and act like ‘ghetto chicks’ by speaking loudly, starting fights and wearing cheap clothes.”)

Apparently the Koala has a history of, ahem, boundary pushing, on air and in print.  As the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “In years past, Koala TV has been temporarily unplugged at least once for airing pornographic material.  The Koala publication has poked fun at Muslims, Latinos and Asians for years, and has been repeatedly criticized by the administration.”  On its homepage, a current message brazenly makes fun of the brouhaha and the outrage it has sparked, including this faux admonition: “The Koala would like to condemn the organizers of the Compton Cookout. If history has shown us anything, you need more black people at your party to have enough black-on-black violence to actually justify the  name ‘Compton.’   Shame on you.  SHAME.”

The cover of the current Koala issue.

While the UCSD administration attempts to calm an understandably enraged minority student contingent, the student government is irrationally pulling pursestrings- temporarily suspending the school’s student media funding.  Not just funding for the Koala, but 33 student media outlets at the university.

My head cocked to the left in confusion as I read about this action, and I have not yet come across an explanation suitable enough to straighten it back up. As best as I can tell, it seems to be a political maneuver meant to placate angry students by showing their concerns about racism have engendered prompt action, along with being an act of recognition that student media played a part in the current “emergency state.”  As the student government president said, In any game where the players are getting hurt, you hit the pause button.” The problem though is that this pause has terrible free press consequences.

The Guardian, the UCSD student newspaper, which is not funded by the university, penned a fantastic editorial response, noting in part: “Because [the student government president] is aware it’s near impossible to seek immediate alternative funds, he therefore must be aware he is essentially censoring all existing publications. . . . If there’s one thing the American Civil Liberties Union and Vice Chancellor of Student Life Penny Rue (not to mention any good therapist) can agree on, it’s that more speech- not less- is most beneficial to a hurting community.”

Or in other words, to borrow from the Koala‘s current online message: “Shame on you.  SHAME.”

(Note: This is the second free press issue this semester involving UC student governments.  Read about the other one here.)

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On Monday morning, The Huffington Post’s College section launched amid great hype and an introduction by the blog’s namesake.

In the words of Arianna Huffington, the section “features blog posts from students, professors, and academics on all things collegiate- from the high-minded to the just-for-fun- as well as the great issues of the day. . . . My years at university were among the most stimulating- and challenging- of my life. They utterly transformed me, and created the opportunities that shaped the rest of my life.   That once-in-a-lifetime blend of stimulation and challenge, risk and reward, promise and uncertainty, the intellectual and the playful- all served up with a heaping helping of youthful vigor- is what animates HuffPost College.”

Along with spotlighting news from more than 60 campus newspapers nationwide (a number co-founder Leah Finnegan hopes will reach 90 soon enough), the most invigorating, innovative feature on day one was an original report on undergraduate and graduate student debt.  The presentation includes a set of blog posts and intimate videos from indebted students talking about the financial challenges they have faced since joining higher ed.

My first impression of the section: Kind of exciting.  It is an eclectic page, providing a nice mishmash of important and lighthearted stories, while faithfully linking back to the original student sites that provided them.  The presentation style is more homespun and personal, similar to the rest of HuffPost, achieving a reader connection that former top student news aggregator UWIRE never quite mustered on its main site.  It should be a nice traffic driver for the campus paper Web sites.  Ultimately, it proves once again that student journalism content is just as timely and original as the work produced by the professional press.

As Finnegan wrote in her introductory post, “Suffice it to say that college newsrooms are special places. Reading our partners’ papers, I’m not worried about the future of journalism. Rest assured it exists, en masse, typing away on college campuses around the country. And it’s here at HuffPost College that you’ll get to see a lot more of it.”

Full disclosure: I am listed on the section’s blogroll.

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In Josh Shannon’s words: “I wanted to be a journalist long before I ever knew I wanted to be a journalist.” He has long saved newspapers from  historic moments in contemporary history (including presidential elections and the start of the Iraq War) and his own journalism history (including reporting clips), leaving one of his bedroom walls almost overrun with paper and ink.

Shannon, 21, joined the staff of The Review only three weeks after enrolling at the University of Delaware.  The political science major and journalism minor from Newark, Del., is now the student newspaper’s editor in chief. “People often ask me how I’m able to dedicate so much time to The Review,” Shannon said.  “Besides the fact that I love every minute of it . . . I don’t even know college life without it.”

For efforts to save journalism (in his bedroom and the Review newsroom), Shannon rightfully earns a spot in the CMM Student Journalist Spotlight.  Below, he shares a bit about his journalism passion and the paper’s coverage of a U.S. and campus president.

Josh Shannon, editor in chief, The Review, University of Delaware (Photo by Lauren Savoie)

Write a six-word memoir of your Review experience so far.

Not a job, but a lifestyle.

Standout memory from your time at the paper.

My most memorable experience was covering the 2008 election and Obama’s inauguration.  The fact that Joe Biden is a University of Delaware alumnus, as were Obama and McCain’s campaign managers, made the historic election even more exciting for the school.  During the few weeks leading up to the election and especially on Election Day, the staff came together like never before to cover the many election-related activities on and around campus.  I broke the story that Biden would be making an appearance on campus the week before the election and then several of us were in the press area covering his speech.

On election night, the staff gathered in the newsroom to prepare the next day’s issue.  We watched the returns come in on TV, then scrambled to put the finishing touches on the paper.  That’s one of my proudest moments at The Review: helping publish 16 pages of original election coverage, including exclusive interviews with Joe and Jill Biden.  UD is often called a politically apathetic school, but the campus was so abuzz about the election.  I still feel fortunate to have been in a position to chronicle it all.

But the most exciting part came a couple months later when another editor and I went to Washington to cover the inauguration.  We took a 1 a.m. train out of Wilmington, arrived in D.C. by 3 a.m. and spent the next 18 hours trekking around the incredibly crowded capital city. We got lost for a few hours, but made it to the National Mall a few minutes before Obama took the oath of office.  To be able to cover something that received so much international attention was pretty neat.

What is one story you are especially proud to have worked on?

About a year ago, I began looking into the salary of UD president Patrick Harker. UD is one of the only public universities that does not release the current-year salary of it’s president- instead we have to wait a year-and-a-half for tax filings to be released.  A Chronicle of Higher Education article that named Harker’s predecessor as the nation’s highest-paid public university president renewed my interest in the subject, and I began digging through tax records.

Harker was in his first year as president, so his salary was still unavailable, but in the previous year’s records, I found a $450,000 “transition payment” paid to Harker before he came to UD.  That information had been skipped over by the Chronicle and local media that picked up the story.  I talked to experts who said the transition payment was unusually high, and ran a front-page story about it.  Months later, the next year’s tax documents showed that Harker’s pay ranked third in the nation for public university presidents, and I did a follow-up story.

I received more feedback about those stories than all the others I’ve written put together.  Several people e-mailed me to thank me for writing them.  And that, of course, is the highest compliment a journalist can receive.

What sparked your passion for journalism?

I’ve read the daily newspaper for as long as I can remember.  I’ve always loved being the first one to share a piece of news, and even in elementary school, I used to read The Landry News and other kiddie books about journalism and think how cool it would be to run a school paper.  But it was never something I thought of as a career path.  My answer to that quintessential adult-to-kid question: “What do you want to be when you grow up” was always something else: lawyer, environmental analyst, or, in my less ambitious stages, waiter.

It was in a 10th grade journalism class that I realized my passion for the field, mostly thanks to a teacher who shared her love of reporting and drilled AP Style into us, a teacher who herself had worked at The Review only a few years prior.  I got my start writing about a controversial student-run Web site, covering a bitter rivalry with another school, and exposing mold in the locker rooms that sent one teacher to the hospital and caused another to leave the school.  (At a high school with prior review, I still to this day can’t believe they let me run that one.)

But my aha! moment came my senior year of high school. The final issue of the year was laid out and ready to to be sent to the publisher when reports started coming in about the shootings at Virginia Tech.  Several alumni of my school attended Virginia Tech, a counselor told me, but were they OK?  I skipped all my classes and instead spent the day frantically making calls to Blacksburg, writing a story and changing the layout of the paper.  It was that day that I proved to myself I could be a reporter.  And it was the next day, watching people turn to my story for information about their former classmates, that I realized that’s how I want to spend the rest of my life: dropping everything to get an important story.

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

How do we stay relevant amongst a flood of PR and opinions?

With the prominence of the Internet, gone are the days when companies and politicians send out press releases, the media sorts through them, finds the truth, and reports it back to their readers.  Now, every company, school, government office, and politician posts information directly to their Web site, often passing it off as “news” or as better than what the media would report.

What that means is that we as journalists have to find ways to go beyond the basic “who-what-when-where” style of reporting.  For example, it’s no longer good enough to report that a particular bill passed Congress.  Anyone who really cared about the issue could have very well been following their congressman’s tweets from the Senate floor.  Instead, we have to go in-depth with the issues, tell people how it affects them, and above all, remember our watchdog role and be sure to fact check the information disseminated through “official” channels.

What do you think is still driving students to study journalism and work on the campus paper?

Thinking about entering the job market is indeed daunting, but in a lot of ways, there’s no better time to be a journalist.  Think about it: Thirty years ago, being a reporter meant sitting behind a dusty typewriter or running to the nearest phone booth to call in your story to the rewrite desk. Now, we have so many more tools at our disposal to help tell a story.  We can post breaking news updates to the Web.  We can post videos and slideshows.  We can tweet live updates and get real-time feedback and tips from readers.  And, heck, I can even do all that from my iPhone, while still out in the field.

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

I’m working as a multimedia investigative reporter for a major metro daily.  I leave the house everyday with my pockets full not only of a notebook and pen, but also all the latest gizmos and gadgets for multimedia reporting.  I spend my days uncovering the truth and exposing corruption, all while taking pictures, recording audio, shooting video and tweeting updates via my iPhone.

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The battle at Virginia Tech over the student newspaper’s allowance of anonymous online comments is far from over.  (Read past posts on this story here and here.)  The tactics now in play- an increasingly dubious blame game, pulled advertising, and, ironically, “professional mediation.”

The latest Roanoke Times report (please read, it will make your eyebrows raise several times) mentions the word “accord” in the headline and the phrase “mediation process” in paragraph two.  But make no mistake: This is still a showdown at the Blacksburg corral.  The school’s Commission on Student Affairs is traveling the mediation route not in search of an agreeable compromise, but to simply try once again to achieve the only outcome it seems willing to accept: “to persuade the [Collegiate Times] leadership to restrict anonymous comments on the newspaper’s Web site.”

Another problem with the mediation attempt: the Collegiate Times and its parent company most likely will not even take part, choosing instead to keep communication open with the commission only in writing for the time being (a legally smart decision).

The final problem is that commission members, including undergraduate and graduate students, still seem to be holding the Collegiate Times accountable for a slew of problems that have little or nothing to do with anonymous online comments.  As the Times piece mentions, “The [online comments] controversy stretches back to January 2009, when a Chinese graduate student decapitated a woman in the Graduate Life Center, and anti-Asian comments were posted at the CT Web site. ‘This is an issue of violence prevention,” said Leighton Vila of the Graduate Student Assembly.”  At the same commission meeting earlier this week, a Virginia Tech professor added: “[It is] reprehensible that African-Americans see that the university has to underwrite an organization that posts something racist.”

Triggering campus violence?  Promoting racism?  I think we all need to take a deep breath, and remember we are talking about a scattered set of inflammatory remarks that are read by a few people and tend to be taken down in a timely fashion.  We also need to accept that anonymous comments, both offensive and inane, are EVERYWHERE on the Web, including YouTube and many major news media sites.  One popular online encyclopedia even allows anonymous entries!  Let’s be rational: If a student is incited to decapitate someone or carry out a hate attack based on anonymous online comments posted after a student newspaper story, I do not think the comments are to blame. (As a snarky colleague told me, “I’d blame video games instead.”)

According to the Times, a growing number of VT student groups have stopped or plan to soon stop running ads in the newspaper as a call-to-arms against the CT’s pro-online-anonymity stand.  In one student’s words, “The power is in our hands.”  That student is a member of the commission.  So much for accord and mediation.

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