Archive for March, 2010

In a spirited, wide-ranging Q&A that I strongly encourage you to click on and check out, Michael Koretzky, the incoming director of the annual spring College Media Convention, outlines his vision for a more svelte, conversational New York City experience for journalism students in 2011.

Michael Koretzky is the faculty adviser of The University Press at FAU and the new CMA spring College Media Convention director. Wikipedia: "His appearance has been compared to that of Chuck Norris."

Below are some of the highlights from his chat with Dmitry Gurvits, staffer at The College Voice, the student newspaper at New Jersey’s Mercer County Community College:

LOUNGING AROUND: “The biggest change we need to make [in 2011] is to create something called CMA Lounge. We’ll double the size of the exhibition area and we’re gonna have an area that has couches and tables and chairs and food and drink and most importantly Wi-Fi. I’m going to do my damndest to get Wi-Fi in some area of this convention. Maybe if you’re a convention of urologists you don’t need Wi-Fi. But if you’re a convention of media people, it’s as necessary as oxygen.”

LESS SESSIONS: “The other thing we’re gonna do to improve the convention is have less convention. . . . This convention there were about 300 sessions. We’ll cut that down to somewhere between 200 and 250. . . . [W]e’re going to figure out which sessions hit the mark, on both information and presentation and kinda let the others fade away.”

STUDENTS LEAD THE WAY: “If there’s going to be discussion, roundtable, confab or theoretical discussion, those discussions need to be led by students. Adults and advisers can be there, they should comment, but those are going to be led by students. . . . [Ideally] advisers don’t lead the meeting, they sit in the back and chime in when they have something intelligent to say, so they look really smart. I’ve already talked the President of CMA into giving up the presidential suite during the day, as we did in this convention. As long as we promise not to raid the liquor cabinet, she’s totally cool with that. So next year, there’ll be a lot of sessions in the presidential suites, we’ll have a series of conversations, practical or theoretical.”

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UWIRE is back. The predominant, temporarily dormant student press content sharing service will once again be live online- most likely later this week or early next week.  According to Tom Orr, UWIRE overseer and general manager of partner site Palestra.netit is a soft launch focused on steadily reestablishing UWIRE as the main pipeline for college media’s conversation with themselves and the world (wide web).

UWIRE shut down suddenly and without warning last fall, leaving hundreds of student publications without convenient access to peer content and college media overall without its highest-profile brand name.

While the behind-the-scenes dealings with Fox are mostly being kept confidential, CEO Joe Weasel can confirm, “After 18 months, it was determined we did not fit Fox’s long term plans. Fox took a directional change. It was just unfortunate that it happened rather quickly and it happened in such a way that we were left with very few options and that made it tough, but we’re here.”

Orr empathized with student journalists’ confusion and anger over the suddenness of UWIRE’s disappearance and the prolonged lack of communication about the service’s future.  “I completely understand why people feel burned by it,” he said. “I would absolutely feel that way if I was in their position.  We are very, very sorry for the way everything happened last fall. . . . There were significant elements that were out of our control. We got quite a shock and that in turn caused some real serious ripples that affected our members and a lot of people’s livelihoods.  We really are intent on making this right and restoring UWIRE’s place as the leader in this field.”

The student journalism field has changed slightly in the past six months.  One especially notable upstart that the UWIRE team has noticed: College News Network, a campus press content sharing service launched by two Ohio University j-students to fill the niche left by UWIRE’s absence.  The service now has 54 member publications.  Orr and Weasel both expressed admiration for the students’ efforts.

As Weasel noted, “God bless them. They’re real good kids. We went to talk to them because we wanted to give them a courtesy call that we were restarting, and give them a lot of advance notice. Because what they did was phenomenal. We took them to lunch and sat and talked. . . . What they did was innovative. It was outstanding. They found a void. They did a great job filling it.”

For his part, College News Network co-founder Ryan Dunn tells me, “Dave [Hendricks] and I are absolutely dedicated to College News Network and UWIRE returning does not change that. Our sites are very different. We’ve been transparent with our finances from day one, sharing content exclusively with other student newspapers for free. . . . We think our setup gives student editors an easy choice.”

In addition, Huffington Post recently launched a college news section, supplanting as the most popular Web destination featuring a mash-up of student newspaper material.  Orr’s response: “That’s fine.  Papers are certainly welcome to [share their content with HuffPost].  We do not have any sort of exclusivity with our members. They’re welcome to also be members with any other service they want to be. And they still have access to all the great content on UWIRE.”

In that vein, Orr and Weasel are confident about the continued need and desire for UWIRE among their student press constituents and outside vendors and supporters.  They said potential future add-ons to the site include the UWIRE 100 spotlight; national student columnists and video reporters in areas such as politics, business, and sports; and even numerous how-to series focused on multimedia and video production, posting, and integration.  At present, however, the plan is to return to UWIRE’s roots as a straightforward wire service.

In an exclusive chat with CMM, both gentlemen discussed the blueprint for UWIRE 2.0.  Portions of the talks are included below.

What is the initial aim of the relaunch?

Weasel: “It will start a little scaled down. Our goal is to get it up and running and get the service going first and allow the schools to have access to that service again and then figure out what the future’s going to be. . . . It’ll run. It’ll run efficiently. And at least for now, it will be what it was originally set up to be. It will be a wire service.

Orr: “We’ve spent the last couple months basically rethinking and retooling the entire site, and the whole network in essence.  The main focus has been getting back to the core product, which is of course the wire. We have put together a new site, which we did at very, very minimal cost using some very neat new tools that are out there. . . . We were able to put together what I think is a pretty functional and useful site on a three-figure budget, where a site like this was a six-figure budget a few years ago. . . . It’s been a lot of overhauling the site, really rethinking what the company itself is and what we really need to do and how we can help our members the most.”

What will be done differently with the new UWIRE operation?

Weasel: “One of the challenges we had when we acquired this asset was that it was really designed to be a kind of destination.  And when you design something as a destination, there’s a lot of money in it, things like expanded servers. The Web site was really designed to be a place for journalism students to use it for social networking and a whole list of things that never happened and never were going to happen. . . . What Tom has done is gone back to the fundamentals of working on a site that provides content to its members first and create feeds for the members and reestablish with a couple vendors. . . . In the previous operation, what we were ultimately doing was moving UWIRE around to make the marketplace accept it more and more. And what we will be doing now is making sure the schools are getting what they need first. You know, do they need a UWIRE 100? . . . If they do, let’s make it actually mean something and make it something that actually is usable by the schools and that everybody understands what the purpose is.”

Orr: “The biggest thing is that the whole business has been restructured. We’ve gone from a high full-time and part-time headcount to a much lower number. We’ve gone from having to pay monthly license fees for the CMS, for a jobs board, for other functions on the site and thousands of dollars per month in server costs, and we’ve got those down to basically nothing. . . . We have no license fees on our site now. Our server costs have gone from four figures to two figures. The whole reason the lights went out before was financial. The income simply didn’t match the expenses. We’ve now got it to the point where the expenses are extremely, extremely low. . . . The model has changed really dramatically to the point where looking at the month-to-month balance sheets it’s like a completely different company.”

Why relaunch now?

Orr: “It’s a little bit about the amount of time it took getting the site ready. It’s a little bit making sure that some of our old obligations had all been taken care of [including paying former student writers and editors for their work]. We didn’t want to relaunch and have people saying, ‘Hey, you still haven’t taken care of something from last fall.’ We wanted to make sure we had all our ducks in a row and everyone had received what they needed to receive for work that had been done before. We wanted to make sure everyone had been made whole from what had been done before we kind of turned the page. That was one of the big delays. Once we were finally in a position to do that the construction of the site was wrapping up and now in a place where we are pretty much able to launch.”

How will the new site look?

Orr: “For the most part, it will be a fairly similar look, a fairly similar layout. It will look a little different just because we’re working on a different platform now. But we’re still looking for the same type of content and have the same ultimate goal of finding content that will help serve our members and help fill pages in their print editions and all that. It’s the same product in a different package– substantially the same.”

Why is UWIRE still relevant as a wire service and student journalism hub?

Orr: “For members, UWIRE is a fantastic resource in terms of having access to basically free content from across the country. And it’s not just free content, but free content that’s been run through by writers and editors at another paper, that’s been run through and approved by an editor at UWIRE, and that’s really targeted demographically for their audience. It’s not just AP copy that’s sort of written as much for a 65-year-old sitting at the breakfast table reading the paper as a college student. This is stuff that made the paper initially because it’s important to college students. . . . As far as cost goes, UWIRE is free. The Associated Press isn’t. I think we all know that this is not a real good time budget-wise for anyone in media. I think that the free element of it plays a real role for a lot of people.”

Weasel: “Schools need to have a really good understanding that the model for the future of journalism must be explored. . . . The future of where we take and how we distribute and how we handle editorially-sound information, that’s still a moving target right now. . . . I don’t know anywhere in journalism where it’s all kind of figured out right now. We all need to be part of the exploration. . . . The truth is journalism is in trouble. We have to hunker together and figure out what it’s going to look like. It’s not going away.”

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The endorsing of political candidates prior to elections is a journalistic tradition older than the inverted pyramid and Larry King, combined. Many college newspapers trod a similar endorsement path with student government candidates- penning editorials prior to campus elections spotlighting the contenders they feel will be the best holders of particular offices.

The Daily Campus at Southern Methodist University very recently published its endorsements for three student body representative positions.  In a letter to the editor written in response, an SMU student argues that such endorsing is a step too far: “Though I would not attack the editorial board’s unbiased approach to interviewing and endorsing candidates, the fact remains that more than likely the members of the board had personal relationships with candidates or those close to the candidates which, due to human nature, affected their endorsements, whether consciously or unconsciously. This article is a humble suggestion from a student who believes in the power of a student-run news source but would hope that the Daily Campus in the future would show respect to the candidates and to the student body by advertising the candidates and the issues, not their personal opinions.”

This is a timeless ethical issue in collegemediatopia, and worthy of consideration every now and again.  The student’s concerns strike at the heart of the two main trouble spots of student newspaper endorsements: 1) In a hyper-local environment like a college campus, it is inevitable for paper staffers to have a personal relationship with student government candidates or be friends of friends (or enemies of enemies) or simply have some sort of ‘insider’ information on them.

2) Student journalists’ identities are often overlaid or might shift at a moment’s notice– from student to classmate to housemate to athlete to student organization board member to Greek lifer to student employee in the office of communications- much more than a professional journo.  This shifting presents numerous potential conflict of interest issues (real or perceived) when deciding on candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

The Daily Campus editorial board admirably responded to the concerned students’ respectful letter.  In an editorial headlined simply “Why We Endorse Candidates,” one editor noted, “It is our job to consider the positions and leadership abilities of the candidates and make a fair and objective decision. We hope in this way to give SMU students a context and point of view to consider as they decide whom to vote for.”

In my opinion, the main reasons these endorsements can and should continue:

1) The student paper is entrusted as the voice of the students, delivering information or commentary on every issue imaginable.  Student government does not get a pass.  As the Daily Campus editorial states, “The function of the editorial board is to issue opinions on behalf of the newspaper.  Not issuing an opinion in student body elections . . . would be a waste of the board.”

2) Student government candidates have the potential to exert tremendous influence on campus.  Apart from star athletes and popular profs, they are probably the most well-known people on campus.  They are, in effect, public figures.  We are not talking about endorsements of candidates for student drama club recording secretary or something similarly off the radar.

3) Student editors regularly wrestle with major ethical issues, making a conflict of interest recusal decision easy enough.

4) An endorsement is a recommendation, not a command– and it is not (necessarily) a criticism of the competition.

5) The paper has an opinion section.  If you do not agree with a particular set of endorsements, write in and make your own.  This is a point the Daily Campus piece powerfully drives home.

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This just in: A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Oregon State University claiming the school effectively censored a conservative student newspaper by limiting its distribution on campus.

As I first reported last June, the student editor of The Liberty had claimed aggrieved status because the publication was forced to distribute copies in only a few bins at certain spots on campus- a bum rap compared to the more comprehensive distribution rights bestowed upon The Daily Barometer.  According to a local TV news report at the time, OSU admins said the Barometer was the only recognized student publication at the university and “therefore is the only newspaper allowed special distribution.  The Liberty says that’s censorship.”

Click on the image to watch a video news report from June 2009 about the fight leading to the lawsuit.

A judge disagreed, siding with the school’s contention “that there was no basis for discrimination.”  The underlying message of the suit’s dismissal: A university has a right to afford its official student publications with certain privileges not offered to alternative, independent or underground outlets, including increased distribution rights.  (Read about Syracuse University’s recent cafeteria distribution issue.)

Oregon State’s news and communications director declared the fight more a publicity stunt than an actual free press battle: “This was very much an exercise in increased visibility. The story line: a big, oppressive, liberal university squelches a small, defenseless, conservative magazine. We’re glad this matter has been resolved.”

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Onward State‘s legend grows.  A new Mashable post about the Penn State University online outlet describes it as nothing less than a “rogue campus blog” and a “sociological Petri dish”- one that is at the center of an epic “old/new media rivalry.”  The new write-up follows a recent Chronicle of Higher Education report that anointed Davis Shaver, Onward State‘s co-founder, as the potential “future of alternative student media.”

The most fascinating assertion of the Mashable breakdown is that this old/new rivalry is not simply the Onward State online whiz kids against the digital immigrants running professional media, but against the traditional press run by their peers- in this case, PSU’s award-winning Daily Collegian.

Mashable paints a portrait of Onward State as the embodiment of Journalism 3.0– engaging in constant chatter with readers on Twitter and pushing for uber-user-generated awesomeness; boldly leaping into the link culture even when it requires a shout-out to its competitors; and treating newsrooms as virtual, not physical, meeting spaces.

As Shaver tells Mashable’s Greg Ferenstein, “Our office really consists of my dorm room, I guess. We don’t have any kind of physical structure, so we use [Google] Wave as our virtual newsroom.” Ferenstein continues: “Throughout the day, Shaver and his team monitor several waves at once, each tailored for a different department. In a single browser tab, Shaver has a unique eagle’s-eye view of the entire newsroom. In real-time, his editorial team can toggle between multiple conversations or throw an idea out to the crowd for greater perspective.”

The Daily Collegian, by contrast, is more reserved on social networking spaces; focused on reporting depth more than delivering “short bursts of information”; against competitor-linking; and still in favor of the face-to-face staff interaction and editorial workflow that only those crazy nights in a newsroom can foster.

What I like is that Ferenstein ultimately does not judge.  Onward State is certainly sold as sexy, but he acknowledges that online student outlets’ overall “flash-bang success” so far is not even close to supplanting campus papers’ century-long triumph.  As he notes, “a comparison of the world views of two camps of student journalists . . . portends a long war to come.” I’m personally not convinced it is a war as of yet.  At present, the camps are simply wonderful complements to one another, with readers reaping the spoils of more news grabbed and delivered in more ways than ever before.

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As Jenna Johnson writes in her Washington Post Campus Overload blog, “It’s high school spring break season- and if you are a junior (or an overachieving sophomore), chances are you will spend a chunk of your vacation wandering around college campuses with super-enthusiastic, backwards-walking student tour guides.”

In the spirit of this backwards-walking season, it’s time for a new set of forward-thinking reports on student guides’ touring duties. What about a profile or day in the life of a campus tour guide? What are the modern challenges and quirks of this iconic campus job? How are they trained? What are their horror stories? What do they secretly loathe about the position or cannot believe they have to say out loud?

More generally, what’s the latest on the smorgasbord of tours on your campus? Any innovative or even new media initiatives being put in place? What is your campus tour overselling, exaggerating, failing to hype, or just-plain fabricating? What about a first-person piece in which a student reporter trains and completes a campus tour? Or even a straight-up review of a tour, presented arts-criticism style?

Along with following student tour guides, report on the tour experience from the perspective of the prospectives and their parents. Why not even hand them a digital or flip cam and have them document their reactions firsthand?

Pull together a video montage showing different student guides working their magic at different spots, interspersed with interview snippets.  (Just steer clear of a final product that looks like an admissions office creation.)  Make a separate video featuring enrolled students’ (maybe sarcastic?) takes on what they would say about the school if granted tour guide status.  Create an info graphic showing the tour’s route, stopping spots, and the areas of interest left out that should be highlighted. Maybe include an historical compare-contrast with how the tour’s route has changed over time.  A sider breakdown of the most common or crazier questions student tour guides have been asked might also be beneficial or fun.  This last one screams for a simple Flash creation as well.

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In fourth grade, Amina Elahi’s teacher gave her a journal and told her simply, “You write very barebones. You need to learn how to write.” More than a decade later, the current Northwestern University senior is a writer, editor, and designer extraordinaire, overseeing a prominent magazine aimed at highlighting contemporary trends and issues impacting the Muslim community- from the student perspective.

As an NU sophomore, Elahi helped transform Al Bayan– moving it from a newsletter of sorts to a true journalistic force within the university and the U.S. The latest issue recently premiered in print and online.  “It’s not enough to say we’re not terrorists,” Elahi writes in her current editor’s note, in reference to stereotypes of modern Muslims. “Most educated people already know that. We need to tell them– and show them– how good we are as a people, and how normal. We need to highlight our achievements and acknowledge our faults. Most of all we, need to talk about these things.”

In a recent chat with CMM, Elahi talked about Al Bayan‘s journalistic evolution and the ups and downs of her personal experience with the influential campus pub.  (If interested, check out the Al Bayan Twitter and Facebook pages.)  Excerpts from the conversation are below.

What is Al Bayan‘s uniqueness, significance?

I’ve always been interested in journalism and I’ve always read a lot and my perception of the portrayal of Muslims in the media [growing up] was just always so negative. . . . I think student publications, at least at Northwestern, try to talk about Muslim events and stuff, but they don’t really talk about issues. So I think what Al Bayan does is it looks at it from students’ perspective. I mean, an adult can look at Islamophobia and talk about it on a widespread level, but a student can look at it and say, “This is how I see it in my classes. This is how I see it on campus.” I think it’s a matter of perspective.

I open the pages of Al Bayan. What will I find?

We are the generation growing up after 9/11, so we didn’t want to come out as this hugely political or seemingly biased publication. We didn’t want to put out propaganda. What we decided to do is to have one kind of social issue or political issue or something like that as our cover story for each issue. The first year it was about Muslims voting in the presidential election. Last year it was about the Gaza mess. This year it’s about converts to Islam finding love, how did they get married, what challenges do they face. And then we’ve got a mix.  Usually we have a fashion piece, a food piece, a movie review, a book review. We try to include current events and issues touching on dimensions of Islam from news sources.

What were the challenges you faced starting Al Bayan?

One of the major issues we ran into was funding. We are still running mostly off of donations. That’s one of those things I wish we could have improved in the last couple of years but it’s really hard to do when you’re putting out an annual publication. . . . It came down to us begging our friends, [in mock pity-inducing voice] “Put in $20 please.” We did have a lot of help though from various departments and schools who were interested in our project that chipped in a bit. That was really great. . . .

We also had an issue getting other people involved. Not that they weren’t interested, but getting them to be as loyal to it as [the founders] when they didn’t know what we were offering was really tough.  So to ask someone, “Will you write a 1,000 word article for us?” They were kind of like, “Why should I take up my time working for something that’s never existed before?” . . . In terms of the actual production, I think we missed every single one of our deadlines that first year. We tried really, really hard but it ended up being the last week of the quarter when we came out. We were OK with it because we ended up pulling it off in the end. But it definitely wasn’t the smoothest ride ever. [Laughs]

What is your advice for students who want to start a similar niche campus publication?

If you are on a campus that has departments or schools that are willing to fund you in any way, kind of build a rapport with them. Become friends with them. Drop off copies of your magazine and get them interested in you. That’s what we’ve done and we’ve gotten a good response from people. In terms of the actual publication, my favorite thing about Al Bayan is that we don’t limit the staff to only Muslim students. I think that really not only diversifies us but it also just gives us a great perspective on things we wouldn’t have realized otherwise. Just because you’re a niche publication doesn’t mean you have to have a niche staff.

Al Bayan‘s lasting personal impact.

In terms of what I feel is kind of my mark on campus, this has been the defining feature of my college experience. I mean, any job interview I’ve had or any random conversation I’ve had where a person says, “So tell me more about yourself,” this is the thing that I would be talking to them about for half an hour and I think it’s because I’m so invested in it and so proud of it. It’s worth the exhaustion and it’s worth being up at 3 a.m. sitting in front of my computer and really needing more coffee. No, I wouldn’t change it, for sure.

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