Archive for June, 2010

This CMM series features a sampling of crazy cool, highly relevant or offbeat stories by student journalists that can be localized for different campus audiences- along with suggestions on ways to create and present that content. Next up…

The Magic of Being a Mascot

He is nearly seven feet tall.  He has wool paws and a massively oversized head.  He dances to entertain the crowds at major sporting events.  “What the crowd doesn’t know is that he’s a senior too. . . . They can’t know about the three years he’s devoted himself to transforming the university’s mascot from a mere character into a symbol. . . . For him, that’s what it means to hold 25,000 students in the palm of his paw, to be the representative of an entire university. For him, that’s what it means to be Wolfie.”

Wolfie is the mascot for Stony Brook University athletics and the center of a fantastic profile of sorts published last semester in The Statesman, SBU’s student newspaper.  “The Magic of Being a Mascot” is a behind-the-mask glimpse of everything involved in a student’s mascot experience.  It chronicles how the student came to be Wolfie, his practice routine, costume preparation, the challenges of the required “dancing, chest pounding, [and] somersault-rolling,” and the deeper identity issues of being a beloved character one moment and an anonymous undergrad the next.

The piece also provides an overview of the essential elements of modern mascot marketing: “In less than two years, [a school athletics department staffer] built and nurtured Wolfie’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Blogger accounts.  She’s also created a Wolfie business card– complete with a telephone and fax number and an email address– and a Wolfie contact sheet that interested parties can use to hire the mascot for an event.”

Come fall semester, profile your own school’s mascot.  Talk to the student(s) who embody the character(s).  Walk a mile in their suits for a first-person piece. Go with the historical angle- talk to alumni who formerly strutted and cheered in costume and provide a graphic showing the mascot’s evolution over time. Follow this piece’s lead and get the full story- the marketing, athletic department support, university logistics, and off-campus events involved in a mascot’s existence.  (For example, one question this piece prompted: What is Stony Brook’s Wolfie-related revenue- from booked events and stuffed animal sales, etc.?)

A few other ideas: Shoot a how-to video with a student getting in and out of the costume step-by-step.  Run a fun photo spread showing the mascot posing in various spots around campus or the nearby community.  If campus sentiment is just so-so on the current school mascot, hold a contest asking students and staff to brainstorm a new one, including desired name, creature type, and clothing choices.

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This CMM series features a sampling of crazy cool, highly relevant or offbeat stories by student journalists that can be localized for different campus audiences- along with suggestions on ways to create and present that content. First up…

An Academic Ethnography

Roughly a month ago, a California Aggie staff writer penned a first-person account of an all-nighter he pulled in a popular student work spot at UC Davis known as the “24-hour room.” The report reads like a set of polished field notes, recounting- through observations, some interviews, and personal reflections- the room’s overall atmosphere and the sentiments of those who work, sleep, socialize, and play within its walls.

As he shares about the 8 p.m. timeframe: “The vibe in here seems different. The sun has lowered and the room is slowly weaning off natural light and being replaced by the infamous fluorescent lighting that seems designed to keep your eyes up and your mood down. Things are getting serious in here now. This isn’t your six o’clock crowd, staring leisurely out the window waiting to catch the later [bus]. Students beginning to sit down now are setting up temporary workplaces. This is going to be their home for the next couple of hours and spreading out is key.”

A glimpse inside the UC Davis 24-Hour Room, via a separate YouTube video.

The piece is built atop a reporting method that remains basically untapped within collegemediatopia: ethnography, or due to its relative brevity here, what I’ll dub ethnography light.  Instead of covering a news *event* or *issue* or *individual* the piece focuses on a *scene* and attempts to better understand a *culture* unique to its school.

The wonderful reality of most campuses is that they are alive 24-7, in pockets, with different groups coming, going, and abuzz on their own personal Circadian rhythms.  Stake out some popular and unexpected campus spots.  Document their surroundings, larger moods, and the MO and motivations of the people who gather there.  Publish a time-lapse photographic slideshow of the locations over 12 or 24 hours.

If the one-reporter-one-location option seems limited, go the other way.  Have a team of staffers stake out a whole bunch of campus hot-spots at the same exact moment.  Bring a video or digital camera.  Tell the story of your school on a specific day, at a specific moment in time.

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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 . . .

The GW Hatchet

The Hatchet site mixes a newsy content base with a bluesy color scheme- atop a CMN template.  The homepage does teeter a bit toward text-heavy and too-much-for-the-eye-ness, but the soft blue headlines and big-enough-to-actually read story teasers make it work.  I also like that staff do not give up on the below-the-scroll portion.  Instead of a used-car-lot-like links listing, the featured content is still organized with care into appropriate sections and with occasional accompanying images.

The multimedia slate looks impressive- a collage of squared still images advertising photo sets, audio slideshows, and videos.  Organizing them by date and without even the briefest of explainers does make them a bit overwhelming/bewildering to take in all at once.

The standout online Hatchet job is found in the paper’s blogosphere. The six blogs cover an array of areas- from basic news and “Beyond the Books” student life to glimpses inside the Hatchet newsroom.  For example, the latter blog recently featured a direct apology to readers for a scheduling error that caused the staff to miss covering one school’s graduation ceremony.

Most impressive: Unlike many student news sites, the blogs do not exist in isolation.  They are all hyped and linked from a central site (see below).  Most also earn individual shout-outs in multiple spots on the Hatchet homepage.  The blog content overall is still a bit sporadic, but the organization angle is solid.  My favorite of the bunch: Passports, a rundown of GW students’ study abroad experiences.  It allows multiple undergrads to write reflections and post photos to a degree that would just not be desirable or possible in print.

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As the ranks and resources of the professional press continue shrinking, “news organization-university partnerships” are growing, a new Poynter piece confirms.

As the piece notes, “The New York Times, The Bay Citizen and Next Door Media have recently partnered with universities in hopes that students can help them expand their hyperlocal coverage, engage new audiences and experiment with different business models. Editors and professors say the partnerships are a step toward re-envisioning the relationship that news organizations and universities often share.”

This echoes a mid-November commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Michael Schudson and Len Downie: “[T]he major engine of original news gathering since the 19th century— the daily newspapers— are producing less original news reporting than they did a decade ago. . . . Major papers across the country have bought out or laid off editors, reporters, and photographers. . . . There has been a substantial loss of reporting capacity. Journalism schools, thanks to the Internet, can help fill the gap.”

Both pieces, and others like them, tend to focus on the benefits and difficulties involved for the news providers.  What about the challenges and opportunities for the schools and students? (An upcoming AEJMC pre-conference session, “Journalism Schools as News Providers,” will address this question.)

My take:  The opportunities provided by these partnerships seem obvious.   The first few that come to mind…

  • It quenches students’ thirst for an immediate, visible presence in the new journalism landscape.

  • It ups students’ motivation to complete “homework” and pay attention in class, considering both can now contain true real world implications. It also ups professors’ motivation to be fully engaged in their teaching-mentoring.

  • The alignment with a trusted media outlet boosts a student’s resume and a school’s reputation.

  • It offers the potential for extra guidance to be provided by staffers at the aligned outlet.

  • The financial incentives available through the alignment deal itself and advertising and other scenarios could be lucrative.

  • And as Schudson and Downie note, it fills a reporting gap.  And it just may save journalism- not journalism as we once knew it, but journalism as our wildest dreams envision it to be.

Among the most prominent university-media partnerships: The New York Times and New York University’s Arthur J. Carter Journalism Institute are teaming up on “The Local: East Village.”

On the flip side, three challenges that come to mind…

  • It potentially affects students’ output and involvement in campus media.

  • It presents a myriad of legal and ethical entanglements.  (For example, if a student screws up, who is at fault?  And how do students identify themselves when working on stories without confusing sources?  Or what happens if a student does not want to write for a certain aligned outlet due to political or other beliefs?)

  • It provides a pressure cooker of a classroom experience that needs to be handled just right so students are not overwhelmed.

What do you think about this j-education trend???

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A month ago, a prominent journalism educator lightly scolded me for using the phrase “student journalist” to describe an undergraduate reporter (since graduated) who produced a high-profile story as part of a capstone journalism course.

In his words: “I think it is important to press for equality between ‘student’ journalists and others.  Somehow ‘student’ denigrates the work as some species of subhuman work. ;0)”

The comment is intriguing- and continues to gnaw at me.  I have repeatedly argued on this blog and in other writings  that collegians should not run from their student status, but actually wear the ‘j-student’ label as a badge of honor and embrace its many advantages.  Among these advantages, in my opinion:

  • J-students’ access to, and intimate knowledge of, the many people, places, and trends impacting modern higher education.

  • The continual on-the-job training provided by classes and mentoring-on-demand provided by profs.

  • The time and impetus they have to produce feature-length, investigative reports (especially in advanced courses or via senior theses).

  • Their potentially fresh perspectives and idealism, not yet tainted by world-weariness or routine.

  • And of course the potential they now have to share their work with a massive audience ASAP- internship, degree, years of climbing the ladder not required.

It is this last point that makes the distinction between student and professional journalist more blurry than ever.

My take: The problem with "student journalist" isn't the term itself...

The problem is with the perception some people wrongly hold about student journalists being childlike or "subhuman."

After all, the online empowerment era has made youth or inexperience all but irrelevant if the reporting legwork is sound.  Acceptance by an established media outlet is also no longer the sole path to publication.

In schools worldwide, j-students’ “class assignments” are now frequently submitted to outside or campus media or posted on a class blog or students’ independent sites, enabling even Reporting 101 write-ups to be potential discussion starters or full-blown journalism blockbusters.  Students’ outside blogging and reporting efforts are also at times accepted and celebrated prior to conferral of a degree, as iconic individuals such as Alana Taylor and Brian Stelter have proven.

Simply put, student journalists are now able to compete on almost equal footing with almost all professional journalists.  Should a distinction between the two no longer exist???  And in a related sense, does calling someone a student journalist nowadays somehow lessen their work, make it sound “subhuman” or categorize it as inferior to a “true” journalist???

My take: I think it is a matter of perspective.  The belief that a student journalist is a second-class citizen (journalist) does not reveal a problem with the term “student journalist.”  It reveals a problem with that belief.

In many ways, I see this as a generational divide- not between old and young but between old and new media.  Conventions have long dictated that a certain amount of training and degrees are required before an individual is considered part of a specific profession.  The journalism profession has traditionally relied on the classes-then-internships-then-cub-reporter convention (although certainly with lots of exceptions).  Students have of course been encouraged to produce work along the way, but it was all seen as a means to an end, not an end to itself.

Now it can be its own end, and offer its own rewards.  And this end is the beginning … of a new set of conventions.  Student journalism is no longer just an embryonic stage in a journalist’s life.  It is not “subhuman.” It is fully formed.  It is making waves NOW.  I see no need to run from the term.  I say celebrate it.

I also say that it is a distinction that does not have to stop being used after one’s college commencement. I am a journalism student.  My friend at the Washington Post told me today she still considers herself a journalism student. In many ways, all of us involved in and passionate about journalism are students of the craft, for life.

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In a pre-commencement piece published last month in The Pendulum student newspaper at Elon University, a staff writer lays out of a list of more than 20 activities undergrads should consider undertaking prior to leaving campus.

Some are general- race through sprinklers, steal a brick from a campus walkway, make a 2 a.m. run to the nearby Wal-Mart, pull a library all-nighter, and take a Polar Bear plunge in a freeeeeezing campus lake.  Others are Elon-specific. They add up to what the piece calls the “Elon Bucket List.”

The related larger question: What are the must-see, must-experience activities, events, and rituals in which every incoming frosh at your own school should take part between class and episodes of “Glee”? Every campus should have a bucket list.  Its prime publishing times: the freshmen orientation issue, the first issue of a new semester or of course just before graduation.  Seek student, alumni, faculty, and staff input via social networking and publish the raddest, funniest, most popular, and most bizarre responses.  Run a contest for the best bucket list viral video.

The main key to the list’s awesomeness: Go beyond the stereotypical.  (The Pendulum‘s list, admittedly, does swing between fresh and cliché.)  Attempt to localize a national current event.  (Protest at the local BP gas station, wear an Adam Wheeler mask and attempt to get into the admissions building, etc.) Select an activity built around a prominent historical landmark, moment or anniversary on campus.  And remember that at least a few items on any modern bucket list must be digital.

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As I predicted in a recent post, the FAU-UP imbroglio is heating up and turning nastyAdministrators are beginning to bandy about threats and coming awfully close to straight-up censorship- earning rebukes from national press groups.  The new director of student media is facing a public scolding from the very j-students she is supposed to be overseeing.  And the beloved former-part-time-adviser-turned-permanent-guest-speaker continues to assist the newspaper, much to school officials’ chagrin.

For those out of the loop, a student media reorganization at Florida Atlantic University recently led to the almost-immediate, hardly-a-word-of-warning termination of Michael Koretzky, the longtime adviser for The University Press student newspaper.  In his stead, FAU administrators hired an individual responsible for the oversight of all three student media outlets- University Press and the campus radio and TV station.

UP student staffers were not pleased, feeling the staff shift was a reaction to the pub’s hard-charging reporting and part of a larger effort to regulate content.  They asked Koretzky to stick around as a “permanent guest speaker.”  Koretzky concurred, telling them, “I’ll continue to help you publish the cutting edge journalism that has won this paper awards and its staff jobs. I just won’t get paid for it.”

At first, FAU said OK, just fill out some paperwork each time he stops by.  Then suddenly, a summer flip flop.  The new student media director, Marti Harvey, is now telling Karla Bowsher, University Press editor in chief, that all individuals who help with the paper must be university employees. It is an abrupt policy change undoubtedly influenced by the current “increasingly tense feud” between the uni and the UP.

And so Bowsher apparently cannot meet with Koretzky for advising sessions on or off campus . . . or else? Palm Beach Post: “Harvey told Bowsher that FAU’s legal department wanted her to remind Bowsher that she is an employee of the university and therefore subject to university policies.”  It is unclear what the consequences of meeting with Koretzky or allowing him to participate in news production might be for Bowsher.  Will she be fired from her EIC position? Suspended from school?  Banned from Boca Raton?

Student Press Law Center attorney advocate Adam Goldstein’s one-word response: “Bullsh*t.” :-)  As he continued in his fantastically subtle manner, “That’s a flat-out freedom of association violation. [Koretzky’s] not a leader of a terrorist cell. You can’t just say, ‘You can’t talk to people.'”

The Society of Professional Journalists agrees, noting in an open letter to FAU’s president: “While Mr. Koretzky’s continued involvement may be awkward for administrators and the newspaper’s official adviser, we do not believe the university has any right to threaten Ms. Bowsher or any other FAU student simply for seeking Mr. Koretzky’s counsel and choosing to list him as a volunteer adviser.”

The even more awkward side issue in play is an investigation led by Bowsher into Harvey’s professional experience.  It has revealed a potential discrepancy about Harvey’s past stint at the Dallas Morning NewsPalm Beach Post: “Her biography on FAU’s website boasts that she was a reporter for the award-winning sports department at the Dallas Morning News, but the newspaper never published any stories with her byline, and her job duties were more like those of a news clerk.”

Bowsher: “She constantly name drops her time at the Dallas Morning News, which is by far her biggest claim to journalism experience.  And now we find out she was basically a glorified coffee server.”  (Read Bowsher’s wonderfully thorough review of all this craziness on her personal blog.)

My take: FAU administrators are simply reaping what they have sewn. Nothing’s wrong with a student media reorganization that benefits the campus press. But the unexpectedness and abruptness of the curb-kick they gave an obviously beloved adviser displays an incredible tone-deafness about these sorts of dramatic moves. At the very least, school officials should have met with Koretzky, given him ample advance notice, and worked with him to design the best plan of attack for a peaceful transition.   The man has advised the paper in good faith for 12 years, for goodness sakes.  He must know it better than anyone.  How could you not consult him about its future?

The school’s larger error: Treating its j-students like second class citizens. Like Koretzky, UP staffers should have been informed a change was a’coming.   They should have been involved in the hiring process and had a voice in the larger planned restructuring that is obviously now in motion.

Instead, school officials went with silence, a quick fire-hire scheme, and a PR bungling that is becoming more cringe-inducing by the day. Why is it so bad?  Because UP staffers are student journalists, not school lackeys.  They are not on board with this plan or how it’s been handled, and they are saying so and doing whatever they can to fix it.  They are fighting for control, rightfully asserting they know what’s best for the paper and continuing to push for the best advice they can get prior to putting each issue to bed.

My one-word response: Bravo.

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