Archive for February, 2011

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign head football coach Ron Zook is raking in $1.06 million this year.  University president Michael Hogan is earning a little more than half of that.  And the highest-paid employee at UIUC not in athletics, medicine or the highest reaches of the administration: Michael Moore, a law professor whose base pay is close to $300,000 this year.

These snippets are part of a comprehensive public salary database put together roughly two years ago by The Daily Illini.  Since its launch, the regularly-updated feature has been the most-visited portion of the student newspaper’s website every day.

Below, DI editor in chief Melissa Silverberg shares the story of the database’s creation and outlines another innovative newspaper project, DI Live.

How was the salary database put together?

The decision to publish the salary guide really came out of a desire for more openness from our university.  In summer 2009, the Chicago Tribune published an investigation into University of Illinois admissions practices, which discovered a “clout list” of applicants allegedly admitted to the university because of their connections to powerful state legislators or administrators at UI.  This all came in the year following former governor Rod Blagojevich’s arrest and impeachment.  There was an ethics investigation panel set up by the new Illinois governor– and by October the UI president, chancellor, and nearly the entire board of trustees had resigned.

Between the economy and the fact that the budget in the state of Illinois is one of the worst in the nation, the University of Illinois has been going through difficult budget times.  Also, during the 2009-2010 school year, our graduate and teaching assistants went on strike, tuition went up 9.5 percent, and the interim president announced furlough days.  If there was a time for transparency, openness, and letting the university community know where their money was going, it was then.

We published a print version of employee salaries for the Urbana-Champaign campus, including anyone above $30,000 and included comparisons of our football and basketball coaches as well as our presidents to other Big Ten universities.  We also created an online database (which is coded in PHP) with the entire salary listing for all three campuses of the University of Illinois.  The site went live in March 2009.  We updated it in November 2010.  It will now be an annually-updated feature on our site.

What were the challenges of creating it?

The most difficult part was actually getting the information. We filed at least three different Freedom of Information requests and talked with another college paper as well as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who had both created salary databases on their websites. We just had to figure out the right way to ask for the information so we would receive the entire salary listing, in the correct format. We needed the listings in an Excel document to feed into our database. We didn’t want to have to do any retyping of names or salaries because we wanted to avoid any possibility for error on our end.

Explain the basics of your other interactive special project, DI Live.

DI Live is a new feature we added to our website this fall.  We were looking for a way to combine interactive features and several different content types on one topic page.  Our website is built in Drupal, and we wanted a way to make it more interactive and different based on whatever topic was the talk of campus at the time.  We’ve used them for campus crime, football games, breaking news, and investigative stories.

The different story types are set up in the back end and we can place them anywhere on the page we want. Working in Drupal, we build each DI Live page from scratch using panels. This took some training, but it has really been worth it. Basically with DI Live we have to think about a story and the way it should be told for the readers, before actually doing the work.

For example, an Illini football game: We have stories written by our sports writers before the game, photos from the previous year, a live chat during the game done on CoverItLive, tweets from any users using the hashtag #Illini, photos from users posted to Flickr, audio collected, polls for our users to vote in, etc. We were able to put all of that on one page in an organized way and let our readers interact before, during, and after the game.  We used DI Live for every football game this fall.

The first time we used DI Live for something other than sports was the 2010 election, where again we started thinking about the way the story needed to be told before we did any reporting.  This top-down organization really makes our coverage more complete.  DI Live allows us to put many elements of one story all in one place, rather than making the reader search all over our site for them.

As editor, how do you balance overseeing the regular grind of daily news production with helping plan these special projects?

It’s important to have a strong staff working on the daily newspaper so that my managing editors and I can step back and plan larger projects.  We try to have regular meetings between the executive team of editors to plan larger projects as well.  It’s also required for the editor in chief to stay over the summer, which is a great time to plan large projects and look critically at our coverage overall.  I’m lucky because I have great editors in many positions so I know that the newspaper will come out every day no matter what, which gives us some room to go above and beyond and take the next steps toward planning special projects.

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Spurlock.  Just Spurlock.  The convergence journalism major at the University of Missouri no longer needs to use his first name.  In the past 24 hours, he has become the Bono or Bieber of the journalism blogosphere and Twitterverse.

Spurlock’s sudden fame is partly his own making.  In preparation for his upcoming graduation, he has created a résumé with some serious infographics game.  But the real engine behind his rocket-trip to j-student stardom: J-School Buzz, the hip and happening blog focused with hyperlocal intensity on the Mizzou journalism school.

On Friday, the Buzz posted a screenshot of Spurlock’s work on its own site and The Huffington Post with the header, “Is This the Coolest Student Journalist Resume Ever?” The post quickly went viral with a virility that would make Antoine Dodson and that David After Dentist kid blush.

Spurlock’s name is EVERYWHERE online.  As one Mizzou j-student tweeted, “I knew @ChrisSpurlock before he was famous.”  (She did not get the memo: He’s dropped the Chris.)

Now beyond the debate about actual quality (my vote is for innovative while a bit colorful/cluttered), what’s most fascinating is how enthralled the student and professional journalism populace has become with Spurlock’s CV concoction.

Is it a reflection of the sad reality that, by comparison, most j-student résumés continue to look like tax forms with typos? (One HuffPost commenter: “People are so easily impressed with visuals.”)

Is it a trumpeting of the next stage in j-students’ self-promotion in which not just their work but their SUMMARY of their work must be highlighted online in a manner that screams Journalism 3.0?  (He’s already been featured in a follow-up post in which he offers five Spurlockian snippets of wisdom about all-things-résumé-building/branding.)

Is it actually a top-secret communique about journalism or humanity released WikiLeaks style?  (Numerous commenters have used the term “decipher” to describe how they are taking it in.  A Florida comm. student who saw it told me she thinks a hidden message is embedded in its timeline-and-bubbly code, “like something out of Magic Eye.”)

Or was it simply a slow Friday in the student journalism sphere?

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Editors at The Oregon Daily Emerald are concerned about an expanding set of “unnecessary brick walls” being put in place by University of Oregon administrators.  According to the newspaper, these walls are blocking student reporting on “new propositions and changes” impacting the school.

In a staff editorial published earlier this week, headlined “University Shouldn’t Keep Students in the Dark,” the Emerald implored UO officials to grant the paper the basic access and respect all student media deserve.  As a portion of the piece reads:

“With all of the new propositions and changes coming to the university, student journalists from seemingly every publication are trying to get the complete story.  We’re hitting some unnecessary brick walls, however, in our pursuit to establish what these propositions and changes mean to our university.  As a result, it takes us much longer to actually get the full scoop than it should, affecting the student body’s ability to make a rational decision on a timely manner.  What’s more, it makes it seem as though the members of the student publication are ‘late,’ or ‘out of the loop,’ when we’ve been doing everything in our power to get the story.”

As an example, the editorial refers to a journalism class recently attended by the university president, in which he commended an Emerald staffer’s reporting work– and then reneged on a scheduled interview with the staffer later that same day.

The Emerald is concerned that a close-mouthed PR policy hurts not only UO student media but also the university itself.  As the editorial concludes, “The university’s leaders seem so concerned with saying the wrong thing or looking unprofessional that they would rather the students not be updated with university happenings. Because they are the people we pay to educate us and create an environment in which we can be educated, they have no right to withhold information and give watchdogs the wraparound. . . . Withholding information from us is withholding information from all.”

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A sizable chunk of a recent issue of The Towerlight at Towson University has been reported stolen.  According to a Student Press Law Center report, Towerlight editors estimate up to 3,000 copies of the newspaper’s 10,000-copy run for a mid-February issue were taken from multiple campus racks, most prominently in the university’s student center.

As Towerlight editor in chief Daniel Gross told the SPLC, “What we believe is that it all stems from a particular story [screenshot of print version below] that was printed in that issue regarding some forced resignations within the Housing and Residence Life department.  Some resident assistants were caught drinking with underage RAs and were forced to resign.”

Staffers first became aware something was amiss upon coming across empty racks very early in the issue’s distribution cycle.  Only hours after restocking racks in the student union specifically, they were again found completely empty. While the issue included a special cover feature popular among students, the speed and totality of the papers’ disappearance signaled trouble.

University police are investigating the incident, with hopes that student union surveillance cameras might have captured the thefts and can provide a visual on the suspect(s).

In a staff editorial headlined “Unjustified, Uncalled for and Illegal,” the newspaper confirmed, “If the culprits who stole Towerlights with ‘the intent to prevent other individuals from reading the newspapers’ [a Maryland state crime] are identified, we will press charges to the full extent of the law.”

The editorial also confirmed the suspected theft will do little to silence the published stories: “Stealing newspapers does not alter history and does not change the facts. And although printed newspapers were taken from racks, our website was viewed thousands of times that same day. In fact, it was the site’s most traffic-heavy day since its upgrade in August. Students, university faculty and staff, and community members were still able to discuss the information found in our print edition.”

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On page two of its current issue, The Koala, a student newspaper at the University of California, San Diego, calls a female student government representative a “fat wh-re” in a bolded headline.

The related article similarly condemns her as a “thick-necked uppity skank” and a “homely unf—able bovine.” Nearby, the layout features a photo of the student crudely doctored to include a cutout of male genitalia spread across her face.

According to local news media, the student believes Koala staffers are taking revenge for her vote to cut the newspaper’s funding.  She said that upon seeing the half-page spread, “[I] just kind of fell apart and called my mom.

She is seeking therapy for the emotional pain the Koala has caused, calling the content obscene, pornographic, and blatant sexual harassment.  Her mother is seeking the article’s removal from the paper’s website and legal redress.  As of last week, her communication with the university had gone unanswered.

UCSD officials did release a public statement, noting, “The university does not endorse, condone or approve of the material the Koala publishes.  Under the First Amendment, the university is severely limited in the actions it can take in response to content published by students.”

According to one law professor, the published content does not fall within the First Amendment’s purview: “It is not free speech.  It is obscenity.  It’s a criminal act. . . . The picture is not protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

A San Diego broadcast news outlet’s attempt to interview the Koala‘s top editor was rebuffed due to a disagreement over alcohol and journalism ethics.  “Late Wednesday, [the editor] returned a phone call from 10News and refused to do an interview unless 10News gave him a case of beer,” the station reported. “10News did not, because it is 10News’ policy not to pay for interviews, so [the editor] ended the conversation.”

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Suleiman Abdullahi was recently an eyewitness to the birth of the world’s newest nation.

In early January, the 20-year-old Kenyan journalism student flew to Juba, Sudan, to cover the massive referendum responsible for the creation and upcoming independence of South Sudan. As Abdullahi wrote, he arrived in the prospective nation’s capital city with a travel visa, a press pass, a story budget, and a 48-hour window to interview, observe, and report upon “the history that was about to be made.”

By the end of his first day, he was under arrest.

Suleiman Abdullahi reported from Juba, Sudan for UPIU and UPI during the historic referendum responsible for creating South Sudan.

Abdullahi was part of a two-man student reporting crew hired by UPIU, a student journalism project run by the United Press International news service. UPIU is an emerging player in the college media and journalism education arenasIts website features a self-publishing platform for news stories and multimedia journalism projects posted by students around the globe.

The most standout aspect of UPIU: It does not just publish content by students; it provides classroom workshops, story editing, and one-on-one mentoring to help their pieces sing. The students who take advantage of its services undergo what UPIU senior mentor Krista Kapralos calls a “mini-internship experience.”

It currently partners with more than 30 schools in roughly a dozen countries, leading to a cluster of student-produced stories touching on things such as Kenyans and antibiotic resistance, Moroccans and Christianity, the Chinese and homosexuality, and Egyptians and a revolution. The UPIU motto: “Mentoring Student Journalists Worldwide.”

“We want to leverage UPI’s solid reputation to attract aspiring journalists and improve foreign coverage,” said UPIU Asia regional director Harumi Gondo. “I’ve not encountered another program that has such direct communication and relationships with journalism schools around the world.”

No contracts are signed. UPIU does not collect any revenue from the posted stories. Students retain ownership of their work and are free to submit elsewhere. In the meantime, their content is vetted by professionals and considered for pick-up by UPI. Since its creation in late 2008, more than 2,300 stories have been published on the site. More than 100– roughly 4 percent of all submissions– have been approved for placement on

I can personally vouch for its potential. I have incorporated UPIU into multiple sections of my news reporting classes at the University of Tampa to mostly positive results. The process is five-fold: 1) an introductory video chat with each class hosted by veteran journalist Kapralos, who oversees UPIU’s initiatives in Africa, Europe, and the Americas; 2) an optional video session in which students pitch story ideas; 3) a critique from a UPIU mentor on subsequent story drafts students post to the site; 4) a video chat round-up with Kapralos commenting on the quality of submissions overall; and 5) revisions by the students based on the feedback from Kapralos and, of course, their professor.

Students’ involvement with UPIU ultimately helps underscore the lessons I am teaching them– if nothing else, the importance of a news hook, timeliness, editorial collaboration, and three-source minimums.

It also has served as the platform for award-winning work. In fall 2009, Michigan State University student Jeremy Blaney earned a Religion Newswriters Association honor for his reports on local Muslim issues that were published on UPIU and, soon after, UPI. The headline of one of his pieces, which touched on the intersection of Islam and technology was, “You’re a Muslim? There’s an App for That.”

“When you’re on our site, you’re not only seeing students practicing journalism,” Kapralos told a news-writing class during a recent video chat. “You’re also seeing a lot of really groundbreaking work. And you’re seeing it through a lens that you don’t always see through the New York Times or CNN.”

To Read the Rest of the Piece, Check Out PBS MediaShift

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