Archive for August, 2010

A New Way to Groove.  A Celtic Pioneer.  Flirting with Fate.  Carving a Musical Niche.  Destination Surgery.  Definition of Crazy.  The headlines on its homepage merely hint at the eclectic excellence of Flux, a student news magazine at the University of Oregon focused on using words and visuals to “tell the untold, alternative stories of [the] incredible region” its staffers and host school call home.

Whitney Mountain, the magazine’s outgoing editor in chief, is nicknamed “WhitMo” and can apparently recite an array of lyrics from 1990s rap songs.  One of her favorites: Salt-n-Pepa’s “Shoop.” So here I go, here I go, here I go again, naming the Portland native as the latest deserving j-student to earn a spot in the CMM spotlight.

The current Stanford University journalism master’s candidate transformed herself from “troubled teen” to UO dean’s list student- and became one heck of an editor along the way.  As she shared prior to her UO graduation last spring, “Working on Flux is a dream come true because of its storied tradition of excellence.  But to be asked to serve as the editor in chief was the chance of a lifetime, and it has been one of the most important experiences I have had at the UO.”

Below, Mountain recalls a memorable all-nighter, moustaches, beards, and the uniqueness of Flux‘s northwest locale.

Whitney Mountain, Flux's outgoing editor in chief

What sparked your passion for journalism?

I have always loved performing arts, so when I told my dad that I might want to major in theater, he got scared and encouraged me to seek a more professional approach to being in the public eye.  I think he always wanted to be a journalist, so he suggested it to me.  Since I sincerely had no idea what I wanted to do, I felt fine trying journalism on for size.  It was a perfect fit!  There are so many ways to get involved in journalism, and you get to work with people, which is fabulous for me!

Why does Flux rock?

Flux is the cream of the crop. It is one of the best in the country, and that is why students come from far and wide to work on it during their upper division course work.  After eighteen years, Flux is still winning awards like crazy, which has made it the most sought-after student publication to work for on campus.  When everyone wants to work for a particular magazine, it gets to pick the best and brightest out of an already very talented pool of people.

When Flux has its staff, there is no stopping it.  Some of the most brilliant-minded young media (soon to be) professionals work on Flux, which in turn, is why it is an honor to work for such a magazine.  Not only does Flux have some of the brightest young minds at work on its pages, but being based in the northwest has made Flux eclectic, interesting, and full of stories that could never be told if the magazine wasn’t produced at the University of Oregon.

What advantages does Flux have over a professional news mag?

We are all students.  That means that we have the opportunity to collaborate on all levels.  We work together with our peers and build on each other’s areas of expertise.  Also, thanks to the SOJC [UO’s School of Journalism & Communication], we don’t have to worry as much about the business of running a magazine. We have enough financial freedom that we can focus solely on our craft.

And of course we wouldn’t be anywhere without the guidance of the exceptional faculty and staff who serve as invaluable resources throughout the production process. At Flux, we are expected to be great, but we are still expected to be students, and that means always learning new things and growing as future professionals.  We are always given the opportunity to learn, grow, and change, which may not be available in the professional world.

What is one story that especially embodies the awesomeness of Flux?

One of my favorites and one that is most Flux-esque is “No Shave, No Shame,” which is a story about the Central Oregon Moustache and Beard Society (COMBS). This story is unique to northwest culture, and it is one that hasn’t seen very much media coverage.  Not only was it a great “untold story from the northwest,” but it also had some of the best photography I have seen from a student photojournalist.  Rob Dyck had two huge photo spreads in this year’s issue of Flux, and although he shot our cover story, the COMBS story felt more like the eclectic feature that Flux is known for.

Best memory of your Flux work.

Our all-nighter.  I LOVE hunkering down for a long stint of good hard editing, so when it came time for our group of top editors and advisers to make sure that each of us had our eyes on every story, I welcomed the challenge.  It was so fun getting together and collaborating to fill the enormous shoes of 17 years of Flux greatness.  We had some of the best student editors in the SOJC, some of the best instructors, and some of the best people to work with together for a night of doing what we all love most- great journalism.

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

I am a managing editor at a magazine like Sunset or Martha Stewart Living.  Or I am copy editing, while raising a family.  If I am lucky, it will be a combination of the two.

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The editorial board of The Independent Florida Alligator is calling it a “front-page nightmare of a typo.” In the eighth paragraph of the lead story in last Wednesday’s paper, a reference to members of a University of Florida sorority was accidentally singular- and sexual.

A description of students’ outfits on the annual UF sorority bid day: “The Delta Gamma girls wore sailor caps, and the Alpha Epsilon Phi ho wore similar green and white ones.”  Spot the slip?

In an apology to readers, the Alligator board swore there was no malicious intent, instead blaming the mistake on “technical difficulties.”  As the open letter, headlined “Foot in Mouth,” explained, “Sometime between the end of the summer and the beginning of the fall semester, our computers decided to make our lives a living hell by freezing every time we try to do anything. When we’re typing and the computers freeze, sometimes it takes so long to unfreeze that we completely forget what we were trying to do when it froze.”

In a related visual (below), the Alligator‘s popular editorial cartoonist Cynthia Despres captured the larger reality of how top eds. at student pubs often come across the errors of their ways.

The editors’ apology concludes with the line: “And come on, admit it- you laughed.” As a few comments beneath it reveal, that snippet seems to have rubbed some readers the wrong way.  What do you think- accurate in its assessment (admittedly, I did chuckle), a bit crass given the circumstances or a little bit of both?

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As the new faculty adviser for The Minaret, the fantastic student newspaper at the University of Tampa, I am once again happily enmeshed within the student press production process.  This occasional CMM series outlines some of the more interesting newsroom debates we have while putting each issue to bed.

Hazing

Last spring, a number of pledges rushing a UT sorority accused three of the sorority’s members of hazing activities.  Apparently, the pledges were “yelled at, made to run, do push-ups, squats, eat garlic wrapped in Big Red gum and drink hot sauce, hold a match between their fingers while reciting a pledge, had rocks and grass thrown at them and . . . were paddled.”  The university intervened at the time and punished the members it found at fault.  Over the summer, those members filed a public complaint against the university in local court, saying they were unfairly targeted due to their race.  The university was declared innocent in the case.  Taken altogether, these events added up to a prime story for our back-from-summer issue.

The question: Do we identify the individuals found at fault by the university for hazing? Relevant details: They are identified in the criminal complaint they filed by two-letter acronyms standing in for their first and last names.  The university has not publicly identified them.  We have not previously run a story on the situation (it became public after the last issue of spring semester came out).

Cursing

The complaint filed by the fallen sorority sisters includes a quote involving the f-word.  We initially viewed it as relevant enough to include in the story.  The question: How do we cite the f-bomb in print? Spell it out?  Dash it out?  Take the a*terisk approach?  Use “f-word” or another descriptive designation?  Or blot it out [ ] entirely?

Camel Toe

The draft of a fashion column set for publication in the first issue included a reference to the infamous clothing misfire called “camel toe.”  Referring to denim leggings, the writer advises, “please pair these with a shirt that’s a bit longer than your waistline . . . they are not jeans, don’t treat them as such, unless you’re a fan of camel toe.”  The question: Do we cite this culturally-known but potentially offensive (or just plain gross) term?

Ultimate decisions: We cited the sorority hazers by acronym, sparing them the Google prints embarrassment, but of course enabling those armed with a yearbook to find out who they are- a recognition of their adult status, culpability in the case, and their proactive decision to make the incident public in court. For the f-word, we decided to run f—.  Ultimately though, the quote was cut prior to publication (a decision unrelated to the term itself).  And as for camel toe, the phrase remains in all its icky glory in the published fashion column, a decision we based in part on its regular usage within media and pop culture circles.

What would you have done?

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Earlier this month, the traffic for this blog suddenly spiked to its highest levels- ever.  An analytics check revealed that a pair of posts accounted for a bulk of the unexpected surge.  Both were about the same thing: the 2010 Princeton Review list of the “Best College Newspapers.”

The extreme interest in the list is intriguing to me on a few levels.  More than anything, I am stumped about what makes it so fascinating to the public, compared to all the other student press honors given out annually by organizations and schools nationwide.  Is it the panache of The Princeton Review brand overall?  Is it the list’s connection to the other, more fun party schools ranking?  As the Washington Post‘s Jenna Johnson recently noted, “In higher education, it’s often all about the rankings. And so my inbox has filled this afternoon with e-mails about the most important list of the year: The Princeton Review’s Top Party Schools.

Whether it’s playing off the “Party” popularity or not, the amount of attention paid to the newspaper list is doubly confusing due to one especially ginormous elephant in the room: The actual ranking system is ridiculous beyond belief. As CICM’s Bryan Murley explains in a wonderfully energized post, the selection process is about as scientifically sound as “American Idol” text message voting.

According to Murley’s rant, students participating in a survey are basically asked how OTHER people view their own school newspaper’s POPULARITY.  In his words: “Setting aside the obvious epic fail that is popular=best . . . the survey question is flawed because it asks people about what other people think. Who cares? Really, is that verifiable? . . . As well, how on earth do you rank college newspapers based on the opinions of people who have no interaction with other college newspapers? I mean, do most University of Texas students read the The Daily Collegian at Penn State?

To be clear, my confusion/frustration is directed elsewhere.  I personally have no problem with the list itself.  All the newspapers included are solid, and a few are spectacular.  All the public and press attention is positive, something that certainly helps college media overall.  And The Princeton Review does not lie about its related survey or selection process, however inane they might be.

Instead, my concern centers on us.  I worry about our seemingly enormous interest in the list, and the sense I’m getting that this interest alone is giving the list a significance it does not deserve.  (And by blogging about it, I suppose I am as guilty of contributing to this fallacy/epic fail as much as everyone else.)  As Murley rightfully points out, popular does not always equal best.

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The Eagle at American University is scaling back its print run and making other adjustments due to “financial difficulties.” In an open letter to readers, the student newspaper’s editor in chief Charlie Szold announced a 50 percent budget cut, from $100,000 to roughly $50,000.  He rightly termed it “generally unpleasant.”

The twice-weekly broadsheet pub will now be a weekly tabloid.  Student staffers’ stipends have been eliminated or severely reduced.  The staff will also deliver the papers themselves, apparently saving $10,000 a year (?!).  According to Szold, the new arrangements were required after a stunning $50,000 drop in ad revenue during the last academic year.

One potential benefit, Szold says, is the obviously inherent need for a greater online push.  In his words, “Instead of focusing most of The Eagle staff’s efforts on filling newsprint, we can now focus on doing our primary task- informing the AU community.  This year, The Eagle’s website will be updated more consistently with breaking and general news stories. We hope that each day The Eagle’s website will have new, unique and interesting content.”

The larger question: Is this a financial blip on the college media radar or a sign of a rough semester ahead?

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CMM 10 is a spotlighting of the 10 individuals who have mattered most to college media over the past academic year.  This inaugural edition honors a mix of standout student journalists, innovative student media entrepreneurs, and impassioned outside advocates of campus press 2.0. With a hat tip to the annual Time 100, the posts announcing each honoree include a few words of adoration penned by a close friend or colleague.  Next up…

Jessica Roy

Outgoing Editor in Chief, NYU Local

–-

Editor extraordinaire and all-around new media empress Jessica Roy wrote her first short story years ago on construction paper about a young girl who rescues a crashing airplane by injecting chlorine into its engine.  In the end, no lives were lost- and a writer was born.  Cut to April 2008.  Roy, a New York University student, had earned a rep as a no-holds-barred blogger, part of the tag-team responsible for the must-read “Jess and Josh Talk About Stuff.”  An announcement about a new online student news start-up called NYU Localaiming to be “a mouthpiece of news and culture for the NYU community”- caught her eye.

She was unimpressed, severely unimpressed.  As she blogged, “I shudder to think of the kind of stories this ‘revolutionary’ news blog will cover. . . . It is, as most things at NYU are, a participatory academic circle-jerk for rich kidz and gayz who want to be known in the media world, but don’t want to write about anything real. . .  . Say it with me now: LOL!”  She now laughs at the memory of the post. Why?  Because before it was a day old, the NYU Localites reached out and asked her to contribute instead of critique.  Cue unexpected life journey.

She stepped up, joined up, and quickly moved up the editorial ladder, over time coming to champion NYU Local as an online outlet with actual heart and, err, something else.  “We have a lot of, I don’t know what the term would be for it other than ‘balls,’” Roy told me in March, immediately vaulting herself to the top of my awesomely quotable people list.  “We’re not afraid to approach people who might not necessarily want to interview with us. . . . I think we’re very tenacious and passionate about the content the site produces so we’re not afraid to kind of go after it in a way that maybe isn’t traditional.”

Roy recently graduated from NYU and segued to a San Fran social media start-up. The impassioned writer who long ago helped a child save a plane remains.  In her words, “I reminisce too much, bruise too easily and write because I have to, because if I didn’t I would eventually explode.”

Roy: “A Dear Friend and a Great Mentor”

By Keyana Stevens

I honestly don’t know what I would be doing in college right now if it weren’t for Jess.  She was the one who convinced me to join NYU Local last year, just as I was about to give up on my dream of becoming a reporter. As an editor, she taught me how to be a better writer and a better journalist.  She told me that as young writers, we shouldn’t give up on the media industry just because it’s not doing well.  Since then she’s become a dear friend and a great mentor, and even though she has graduated, she’s still the first person I go to when I need advice on writing.

The thing I really admire about Jess, though, is her honesty.  She’s examined her personal life with a painstakingly self-aware lens.  She’s written about things that I would never have the guts to admit to an audience of close friends, let alone the readership of a public blog, and she has done so with a grace and humility that are far beyond her years.  That determination to tackle tough issues in an honest but considerate way extends to her work in journalism as well.  When NYU Local had to cover a student’s death last fall, Jess was the voice of reason in our group that called for respecting the wishes of the student’s family.

We need more writers like Jess- daring enough to cover difficult issues and compassionate enough to know how to do it right.  I’m thankful I was lucky enough to work with her, even if only for a short year.

Stevens most recently served as entertainment editor of NYU Local.  She’ll be on hiatus this fall while studying abroad.

Other CMM 10 honorees:

Karla Bowsher, University Press

Ryan Dunn & Dave Hendricks, College News Network

Leah Finnegan & Jose Antonio Vargas, Huffington Post College

Adam Goldstein, Student Press Law Center

Windsor Hanger, Stephanie Kaplan & Annie Wang, Her Campus

Davis Shaver, Onward State

Jennifer Waits, Spinning Indie

*** Bonus Footage of Roy:

“Don’t Die in Me” Ukulele Duet in the Subway Station from NYU Local on Vimeo.

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What are the positive characteristics of American journalism education 2.0? According to a recent Diverse Issues in Higher Education report, they include:

More students than ever.  As the DIHE piece relates: “To be sure, unlike daily newspapers, magazines and commercial TV newscasts, journalism schools are not struggling with their numbers. Enrollment has inched upward every year since the mid-1990s.”  (Sadly though, j-enrollment is not as healthy at schools located within our neighbor to the north, according to new Canadian Journalism Project and Macleans reports.)

Students who view a journalism degree as a solid base for other post-grad pursuits or interests.  Joe Foote, dean of Oklahoma University’s Gaylord School of Journalism and Communications: “Now we find students who study (journalism) with the intention of going to law school, grad school or business school. They are not vocational-minded at all but see the utility of a journalism degree. We are now seeing a first generation of students coming at this from the front end, not expecting to enter the profession. In the past, it was after they got out they decided they didn’t want to do (journalism). This has reinvigorated journalism education in a special way.”

A slow-but-steady retooling of j-schools and j-programs– their courses, curricula, academic and professional collaborations, and faculty credentials.  DIHE: “They are rethinking their methods for hiring new faculty, providing free in-depth content to news organizations, partnering with foundations and corporations to develop strategies to save news outlets and teaming up with other academic divisions at their respective universities to offer dual programs.”

J-student projects that make a difference now and uncover slices of life j-professionals no longer have the time or resources to cover.  One example cited in the piece: A University of Mississippi student reporting project that includes a story series on “life in the Mississippi Delta” that is being considered for potential publication in newspapers statewide.

According to Carol Pardun, director of the University of South Carolina’s J&MC school, “The project at Ole Miss- those kinds of things are happening all over the country. It’s a very exciting time for students. They can become the experts and they often know more about the skill set (after graduation) than those that have been working in there for a very long time.”

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