Archive for May, 2010

A new Facebook group criticizing The Orion at California State University, Chico, has ballooned to more than 900 members.  It has even prompted a story in a nearby alternative weekly.

The group, “Students Against The Orion Newspaper,” asks potential members: “Are you tired of the slanted reporting by The Orion? Are you tired of The Orion bashing your student organization, never reporting anything positive or constructive about your groups?”  (If you answered no, you probably should not join the group.) :-)

The paper’s most outspoken critics fall into two main camps (although not exclusively): 1) Students affiliated with campus Greek organizations concerned about what they feel has been repeatedly anti-Greek sentiments in the newspaper.  And 2) Student participants or supporters of the “moderated tag game” Humans versus Zombies, who remain angry about a mid-April Orion opinion column bashing the game as “shameful and outright disgusting” and calling student players “childish punks,” “miscreants” and “morally incompetent.”

The Facebook group is called "Students Against The Orion Newspaper."

The focus of the group’s ire and the venue in which critics are carrying out their anti-Orion crusade are interesting for three reasons:

1) Shows a lack of understanding about the function of a student news outlet.  For example, Larry Pinto, the group’s founder, complains about an Orion article discussing the minor controversy of a fraternity selling sombreros on César Chávez Day to raise money for charity.  In Pinto’s view, “the paper should have recognized the group for handing out informative pamphlets regarding Chávez, in addition to raising hundreds of dollars for a good cause.”  In his words: “The Orion is far more concerned with reporting scandals than they are with covering the good things student organizations accomplish- the civic engagement, fundraisers and community service.  Why doesn’t the Orion talk about when the students do things right?

My answer: Because the Orion is not your PR machine!  Groups raise money for things all the time.  That is hardly ever worth an individual story.  When a frat engages in an ethnically questionable decision that sparks students’ concerns, that’s a story.  It is not about the fact that it’s negative.  It’s about the fact that it’s newsworthy.

2) Shows a lack of understanding about the role of opinion writing. Apparently, some students are teeming with anger over an Orion opinion writer’s negative take on this HvZ game.  As an Orion piece mentions, “There are 300 comments and counting on Anthony Siino’s opinion column about the Humans vs. Zombies game- by far the most attention and public voice a piece in the Orion has received in a long time.”

Now is it students’ right to vent and offer feedback?  Yes.  Should editors have slightly toned down the more inflammatory portions of the columnist’s rhetoric? Perhaps.  But blaming the newspaper for a single writer’s anti-HvZ stand is misguided.  The newspaper is not necessarily anti-HvZ.  There are probably staffers who support the game.  Opinion columns are meant to reflect individual authors’ views.  And an opinion section is meant to reflect a diversity of opinions.  A lone writer does not like HvZ.  That is not the Orion‘s fault.  In fact, the paper should be celebrated for offering him a free space to offer his views.

3) Provides further proof that social networking allows for a new form of organized protest against the campus press.  This is the latest in a string of Facebook groups formed to combat perceived or actual student media injustices.  While the groups’ credibility and intentions vary, the method they are using to express their mad-ness (at times without the hyphen) exposes a powerful truth: Angry readers no longer have to write a letter to the editor or start a full-blown alternative outlet to get their voices heard.  With a few keystrokes and e-mail invites, they can start a storm, in this case one large enough to force a meeting with the incoming Orion editor and a story in the local press.

A student plays dead in a Humans versus Zombies contest at Goucher College.

P.S. It must be written, the Chico News & Review article touting the critics’ complaints is quite biased, starting with the headline, “Newspaper Under the Microscope: Chico State’s Student-Run Weekly is Unpopular with Many on Campus.” My question: How is a single Facebook group expressing anger about some of the newspaper’s content equivalent to it being put under the microscope? That is just inflammatory. The sub-hed, meanwhile, is just inaccurate. Chico State has more than 17,000 students. A bit more than 900 have joined the Facebook group bashing the paper. That does not make the paper unpopular with “many on campus.” That’s less than 5 percent of the student body (and that’s assuming the group members are current Chico State students)!

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Incoming students to the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism will have the option of majoring in one of 25 separate interest areas– and if none of those fit their ambitions, they will be allowed to create their own.

As the Missourian reports, the program revision is unique for its push away from the evermore generalized, convergence-happy curricula being put in place within other journalism schools and departments.

At Mizzou, the new plan of attack seems aimed at providing students with a general reporting, editing, and multimedia knowledge base and skill-set and then unleashing them in a more individualized direction of their choosing. Instead of majoring in just magazine journalism, for example, MU j-students can now jump into magazine design, magazine editing, magazine publishing and management, or magazine writing.

A still shot from the webcam focused on The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, home to the MU Journalism School.

The interest areas are as follows:

Arts and Culture Journalism

Convergence Photojournalism

Convergence Radio Reporting and Producing

Convergence Television Reporting

Emerging Media

Entrepreneurial Journalism

International Journalism

International Strategic Communication

Magazine Design

Magazine Editing

Magazine Publishing and Management

Magazine Writing

Multimedia Producing

Multiplatform Design

News Design

News Editing

News Reporting

Photojournalism

Radio-Television Producing

Radio-Television Reporting and Anchoring

Science and Health Journalism

Strategic Communication

Visual Editing and Management

Watchdog Journalism  (Note: How cool does this sound?) :-)

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In late March, the Associated Collegiate Press announced its selection of 50 finalists for the annual Online Pacemaker awards.  The finalists represent online versions of print publications and online-only outlets at U.S. schools large and small, public and private, admin.-controlled and independent. Sites were evaluated for the quality of their “multimedia storytelling, writing and editing, site design, in-depth and complete coverage, interactivity, and graphics and photography.”

In this occasional CMM series, I offer my personal take on some finalists’ standout innovations or positive attributes- aimed at helping other student media up their Web games.  Next up . . .

Harvard Crimson

The Crimson sports a very professional site with wonderful spacing and without distracting clutter.  The placement, large size, and standalone aspect of the main photo slideshow is a plus (especially when you have a terrific image like the Wheeler mug above- don’t look too long, the kid’s eyes will haunt you). The featured videos on the far right, midway down, also benefit from their large still image teasers- making them much more likely to elicit a curious click.  And the repetition of the maroon color scheme also exudes a calm newsiness that I cannot explain but quite like.

By far, the highlight of the Crimson Web game is FlyByBlog.  It is an obsessively-updated Web-only feature highlighting Harvard gossip, “oddities” and news that might not be fit for the paper’s print edition.  The tagline:  “Harvard Life. To Go.”

Every student newspaper should sport a similar feature.  I love FlyBy because it embodies the best of journalism 2.0.  It does not attempt to parrot the print pub.  It is providing everything the print pub cannot or does not.  It has the ability to break big news in real time, but more often treads lighter- focusing on events, hypothetical questions, and mini-profiles.

For example, among the current slate of posts: a recurring glimpse back at Crimson archives, with related commentary about various moments in school history; a set of Q&As with random HU graduating seniors about their time at the school- people who might otherwise have never been featured in the Crimson during their undergraduate careers; the full text of a prominent speech given on campus (how often do you see the full text of something like that in print?); and a heads-up that a campus shuttle stop was moved 80 yards (i.e. an item probably not newsworthy enough for a print  paper mention).

FlyBy is written in short, snappy, more personal blog style, appealing to students’ uber-short attention spans.  It incorporates new media, including word curdles and video.  It is basically a quick-hit, in-the-moment, occasionally-offbeat conversation with students that provides a real-time liveliness too often missing from campus newspaper sites.  It also offers much greater enticement for students to actually check out the site on a regular basis, an especially attractive notion for weekly student pubs whose Web content tends to sour like milk after a few days.

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The University of Utah ‘Drop-Cap Nine’ have been allowed to graduate weeks after their infamous editorial sign-off provoked the ire of school officials and almost left them without diplomas, according to a new Student Press Law Center report.

Earlier this month, Utah administrators threatened to hold the academic records and degrees of nine graduating senior staffers at The Daily Utah Chronicle.  The reason: A series of columns run in the newspaper’s goodbye issue that overtly spelled the words ‘penis’ and ‘cunt’ via the bolded drop-caps starting each column.

At first, the school cried foul, stating “the editors were in violation of the university’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities for, ‘intentional disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary proceedings or university activities,’ and ‘unauthorized or improper use of any university property, equipment, facilities or resources.’”

The drop-capping Chronicle staffers have now met with the dean.  They have been cleared of the alleged rules violations.  And they have been allowed to receive transcripts and diplomas.  The paper’s outgoing editor, about the brouhaha overall: “It was a good lesson for us as journalists and for the administration as well to see that they can’t just try to squelch our First Amendment rights without having some sort of pushback.”

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This occasional CMM series features a sampling of crazy cool or highly relevant stories that can be localized for different campus audiences- along with a few suggestions on ways to create and present that content.

1) Dancer, Revolutionary: Student staffers at Ball State’s Ball Bearings recently produced a fantastic audio slideshow featuring Ian Truelove, a BSU undergrad who is known for dancing across campus.  It is a nice reminder of the endless potential of public expression stories.  There must be a few brave or quirky students, profs or townies who are known for their more unique activities, attires or routines while on campus.  This type of report makes me think even larger- maybe a slideshow of eclectically-decorated student dorms or professors’ offices, or a behind-the-scenes video of how the hip hop club gets down.  Or of course there is the ultimate social media/public expression effort: Plan a flash mob– a dance or even a snowball fight.

2) Older Undergraduates: As a report in Insight at University of Nevada, Reno, begins, “Picture the most diverse undergraduate student you know. The funkiest. The least traditional. Chances are, even in the most radical mash-up of identity politics— the vegetarian Buddhist lesbian Chicana— the visualization is pretty standard regarding one pretty specific characteristic: age.” Undergraduates in their mid-to-late twenties, and beyond, provide an interesting student set to profile– their back-stories (i.e. why the later start/finish?) and their inherent advantages and difficulties mingling with their younger student peers.  Multimedia angle: This type of story screams for an audio slideshow, allowing an older student or two to share their story in their own words.

3) “Trash My Ride”: FLUX at the University of Oregon recently ran a feature on rat rods, or especially beat-up older cars purposefully kept in crappy condition.  Is there a rat rod culture on or near your campus?  Are certain students known for having especially decrepit vehicles?  Or maybe this calls for a more general story on students’ memories of their first autos or craziest driving tales.

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Campus crime has long been required by law and moral impetus to be publicly disclosed for potential student press coverage.  But what about parking tickets?

As Washington Post education reporter Jenna Johnson recently reported, staffers at a pair of Oklahoma university newspapers separately attempted to obtain records of student parking violations.  Both were offered general stats, but were rebuffed when they requested names and other identifying information of parking offenders.  The reason cited by school officials, five letters: FERPA.

As The Oklahoman revealed, “Officials at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University said parking tickets issued to students fall under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that requires schools to keep secret students’ education records.”

One attorney’s response: FERPA “is directed at academic records.  It is not directed at other records such as law enforcement records.  FERPA is kind of a catch-all that universities will use when they don’t want people to know what they are doing.”

My take: There are many, many possible stories that might be gleaned from a thorough glimpse at these records– exposing the student-athlete with an above-the-law attitude who regularly parks illegally without care; talking with the aggrieved freshmen whose park-jobs were ticketed during orientation weekend when confusion reigned about what lots were open; a profile of the worst student parker who has racked up hundreds of dollars in fines; or discovering the student arrested for the stalking and slaying of a classmate had been ticketed repeatedly for parking too long near the victim’s dormitory.

While illegal parking is of course uber-low on the criminal scale, it is a crime nonetheless. Obviously great care must be taken when reporting on these records. For example, it would be egregious to print a multi-page listing of every parking offender each semester or to unfairly use the information without context (such as “Professor Stevens, recently denied tenure over charges of irrational behavior, earned two parking tickets in July…”).

Yet, student journalists are trusted with sensitive information daily. Parking violations will not suddenly start an unethical free-for-all, and they should not be an administrative concern. Crying FERPA just seems foul– overly cautious and valuing secrecy over the truth.

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In late March, the Associated Collegiate Press announced its selection of 50 finalists for the annual Online Pacemaker awards.  The finalists represent online versions of print publications  and online-only outlets at U.S. schools large and small, public and private, admin.-controlled and independent.  Sites were evaluated for the quality of their “multimedia storytelling, writing and editing, site design, in-depth and complete coverage, interactivity, and graphics and photography.”

In this occasional CMM series, I offer my personal take on some finalists’ standout innovations or positive attributes- aimed at helping other student media up their Web games.  Next on the list . . .

Daily Kansan

The Kansan homepage always makes me smile the moment it loads.  In my humble opinion, it sports the nicest online masthead in collegemediatopia- complete with blue skies and a well-drawn campus landscape.  It also meshes perfectly with the site’s other standout design statute: White does not have to equal right.  Instead of sporting the traditional white backdrop, the black (or maybe absurdly dark gray?) backer to the above-the-scroll portion of the site absolutely allows the featured content to better leap out from the page.

The bigger-is-better, less-is-more approach with the featured top content is also laudable.  In a Web world filled with link-till-you-drop story listings, the Kansan is nicely restrained.  The site sells five main stories above all others. They scroll automatically and, wonder upon wonders, they feature headers and teasers and photos actually large enough to see and fully consider.

Separately, the paper sports an impressively eclectic mix of blogs.  The blogs would be enhanced by having mini-mastheads at the top of each of their individualized pages.  (Too many student media blogs still appear like basic articles.)  My advice: Contact the individual who created your homepage masthead and the blog headers will be home runs.

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