Archive for June, 2011

Early last year, I began writing about The AUIS Voice, the first independent student newspaper in post-Saddam Iraq.  Started by a scrappy band of Iraqi students and an impassioned ex-Washington Post reporter, the Voice’s spirit of innovation is ironically its adherence to the oldest principles of the craft: objectivity, editorial freedom, and the search for truth (rarities among Iraqi media).  In mid-May, via a university grant, I traveled to the northern Kurdish region of Iraq to interview and observe the student staffers in action– along with gaining a glimpse of the university and region where their unfolding story is set.  This series is centered on my trip.

Dan’s Journey to Iraq: A Student Press Adventure

Current and former Voice staffers and I pose for a quick pic on the AUIS campus. Left to right: Mahdi Abdullah, Namo Kaftan, Taha Faris, Me, Hazha Ahmed, and Arez Hussen Ahmed.

Part 2: “More please”

During my stay in Sulimaniyah, a city in northern Iraq affectionately dubbed Suli, I had a hard time paying taxi drivers.  Strangely, they repeatedly refused to take the money I attempted to hand them from the backseat.  I had to literally insist again and again by shoving the bills at them, until finally, seemingly reluctantly, they accepted.

I asked staffers at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), about this.  It’s apparently a matter of pride, the notion of presenting the impression that they do not need the money even though of course they do desire and require it.

One AUIS staffer told me he once experienced this back-and-forth to almost comical effect– the driver vehemently declining the bills, then finally taking them, checking the amount, looking up at him, and stating plaintively, “More please.”

They love pizza in Suli.  It is among the most popular non-local delicacies in the city, served in many restaurants.  No Western food chains exist, although a McDonald’s knock-off McConnell’s (not quite sure of the spelling) once served fast food in the American way.  It has since closed down, but the iconic yellow arches (much smaller than the real thing) still sit atop the building from which it once operated.  I spotted them one night from a local restaurant across the street– while surrounded by Hookah smoke.

The strangest segregation occurs in the eateries.  Men can sit anywhere they want.  But any parties with women are relegated to “family sections”– small spaces typically to the side or at the back of the main dining areas.  During one lunch near the end of my trip, I even ate in a “family section” that was in an entirely different building.  The restaurant apparently keeps two locations– one serving men and one serving women and mixed company.

Men hold hands in northern Iraq as they walk down the street.  From what I understand, it is a sign of immense affection and brotherhood.  For the most part, men and women do not hold hands publicly.  Apparently students at AUIS love formal dances, even the school-sponsored ones we tend to regard here as lame.  The reason: Men and women can interact flirtatiously, even touch, while the music plays.  Students also worship Facebook, again in part because it allows for private, real-time, unsupervised communication with the opposite sex.

My favorite photo among the many I took during my trip. Not sure if it touches on something deeper, reeks of easy stereotype or is just a still of two guys working on a truck. But it hooks me every time I glance at it.

There is a movie theater and old bowling alley and fairgrounds and a bustling street market and a few restaurants serving alcohol in the city, but local residents most enjoy picnics.  They are all-day, food-heavy, music-happy family get-togethers.  I saw a few from a distance in both Suli and Halabja.  The smiles on the faces of those enjoying a respite from everyday stresses and Third World realities were ELECTRIC.  I wanted in.

A shot of the Salim Street Market, the center of commerce in the city. One word: Bustling.

I am now addicted to Kurdish music.  It is buoyant, with repetitive rhythms that do not feel repetitious and a pop-like vibe that is appreciably Auto-Tune-free.  Due to the language barrier, I don’t know what the musicians are singing about but the songs are so upbeat I always just assume they are on the edge of glory.

Jogging is not a pastime in Suli.  Neither is biking.  Blogging also is not a practice many have taken up.  During my time in the city, there was not a stoplight or lane marker to be seen.  Instead, traffic is controlled by frequent speed bumps, U-turns, and traffic cops/soldiers.

Yes, there are soldiers in Suli.  They are mostly on guard at more prominent locales– political party headquarters, high-end apartment complexes, larger shopping centers.  Some sit in white shacks on sidewalks.  Armed guards do sweep underneath all cars entering AUIS with mirrors checking for explosives and I did have to pass through a metal detector.

But I never felt unsafe in Iraq, ever, not even for a moment.  People did stare, however.  There are very few outsiders, especially white people, in the area. In January, The New York Times named the region one of its “41 Places to Go in 2011,” but I did not see a single Western tourist in Suli or nearby Halabja.  None. (In a related sense, without any cynicism, I literally cannot fathom how the many hotels I saw stay in business!)

One of the opening images from a photo slideshow put together by former Voice adviser Jackie Spinner, who wrote a wonderful related Slate piece "Iraqi Kurdistan, Vacation Paradise?"

The joke among AUIS staffers is that if you see Westerners or Europeans somewhere in Suli, you should go up and ask what their job is at AUIS.  A majority of foreigners do work for the university, along with a smattering employed by NGOs.  I did not see any American soldiers.

There are seasons in Suli.  There is also a lot of dust.  One AUIS faculty member told me it gets so bad that at times the distant mountains typically seen from her 12th-floor apartment balcony literally disappear from view.

It also gets light insanely early.  After arriving at my hotel around 3 a.m. on my first day in Iraq, I still recall the groan-inducing realization that dawn had not waited long to follow me.  It broke around 4:30 a.m.

About eight hours later, a new reality dawned on me, linked to the largest student protest in AUIS history: I am not actually in Iraq.  I only think I am.

To Be Continued ||| Part 3“The Saga of the ‘S'”

Read about the Voice’s founding in my exclusive six-part CMM series, originally posted in April-May 2010.

Part One || Part Two || Part Three || Part Four || Part Five || Part Six

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Early last year, I began writing about The AUIS Voice, the first independent student newspaper in post-Saddam Iraq.  Started by a scrappy band of Iraqi students and an impassioned ex-Washington Post reporter, the Voice’s spirit of innovation is ironically its adherence to the oldest principles of the craft: objectivity, editorial freedom, and the search for truth (rarities among Iraqi media).  In mid-May, via a university grant, I traveled to the northern Kurdish region of Iraq to interview and observe the student staffers in action– along with gaining a glimpse of the university and region where their unfolding story is set.  This series is centered on my trip.

Dan’s Journey to Iraq: A Student Press Adventure

A quick shot taken during a mid-May hike outside Halabja, Iraq. Apparently, it's near the spot where those hikers recently became lost and wandered into Iran. (Photo by Arez Hussen Ahmed, Voice editor-in-chief and my traveling companion that day. More details later in this series, like why I'm wearing dress pants for a hike.) :)

Part 1: “Sulimaniyah 90210”

You do not need a visa to enter Iraq.  On spec, I found that hard to believe.  Elia Boggia, communications director at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), said he once dealt with a foreign journalist who became obnoxiously angry over email at Boggia’s insistence that he could fly in without a crazy amount of paperwork or governmental clearance.  The journalist simply refused to believe it was that easy to get into the country.

I trusted Boggia.  And he was right.  In mid-May, I flew from Tampa to New York City to Dubai to Sulimaniyah, Iraq, sans visa.  (Other suggested fly-into-Iraq spots– Amman, Jordan and Istanbul, Turkey.)

I highly recommend Air Emirates– amenities galore.  My AE flight from NYC to UAE even had electric plugs in the seatbacks!  For a laptop-cuddling workaholic, this was heaven.  (Only movie nerds will appreciate this: I first watched “Next Three Days” via the seatback screen while I worked and then watched a not-so-legally-downloaded version of “The Fugitive” on my laptop.  I prefer the latter.)

At JFK in New York, the Air Emirates ticket agent at the counter asked me about my final connecting flight into Iraq.  I told him the airline’s name: Fly Dubai.  He giggled, asking, “Is that a real airline?”  I landed in Sulimaniyah (affectionately dubbed Suli by the locals) via a very-late-night flight.  It was the size of a typical domestic plane.  A couple dozen people were on board.  At least by sight, I was the only Caucasian.  I had the vibe I was also the only Westerner.  The only women I spotted were the flight attendants.

The city’s airport is tiny.  The best way to describe it: It’s like the ‘other’ airport in many cities.  You know, the one that no major airlines are based at, mostly catering to private planes, and with one main building.

Suli greeted me with silence.  The airport is not too far from the city center, but it definitely exists in a quiet bubble, at least in the dead of night.  After the silence came slight nervousness.  The driver arranged by AUIS to pick me up did not show.  This became clear about 45 minutes after my flight, when I was the only one in the airport building besides a couple security staffers.  There was not a computer in sight.  It was far too late to call a university number and reach anyone.  My iPhone– which had admirably come through in other international situations– was, alas, wireless-impaired.  I waited at an empty taxi stand for a few minutes, capturing the video below out of boredom/scrapbook obsession.

This is the epitome of random video. It is nothing but a barebones glimpse of my view from the airport taxi stand around 2 a.m. I'm narrating the video for no apparent reason, which eventually makes me laugh at myself.

I eventually decided more proactive measures needed to be taken. I awkwardly finagled a kindly, mustachioed, somewhat-bilingual soldier (in actual fatigues) to call for a taxi on my behalf.

I was staying at the Hotel Dilan on Salim Street, the city’s main drag.  The taxi driver spoke Kurdish.  I do not.  The next five minutes of my life, more or less: “Hotel Dilan.  DILAN.  No?  Hotel, guests, sleep.  D-I-L-A-N.”  At one point, out of exasperation and personal amusement, I said, “Dilan.  You know, Dylan. 90210.  Beverly Hills 90210.  You know Dylan?  Luke Perry?”

Fortunately, my savior/soldier again happened by and stepped in to translate.  The driver nodded as he told him the hotel name in Kurdish.  The driver then suddenly started speaking quite fast for 30 seconds or so.  The soldier directed his attention back at me.  “He has a recommendation,” he said.  “He wants to know if you would like to stay somewhere else.”

Admittedly blah video of my taxi ride from the Suli airport to the hotel. Main theme: empty road, dusty window.

I laughed, hard.  (Was this his plan all along??)  Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the hotel.  There was no metered fare.  I had no idea what to pay.  I gave him $15 USD.  He seemed satisfied.  In the hotel lounge, I grabbed a Dilan business card– English on the front, Kurdish on the back. 

Yes, I eventually made it to the hotel. This is an award-winning self-portrait, "Dan, It's 3 a.m., Iraq Time." I then sweatily passed out (the AC was not working).

The view from the front of Suli's Hotel Dilan, taken the morning of my arrival.

To Be Continued ||| Part 2: “Speed Bumps & Family Sections: Things That Surprised Me About Suli”

Read about the Voice’s founding in my exclusive six-part CMM series, originally posted in April-May 2010.

Part One || Part Two || Part Three || Part Four || Part Five || Part Six

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Student staffers at an Illinois community college newspaper are continuing to speak out against the ouster of the paper’s longtime adviser.  At a board meeting Thursday, editors of The Courier at the College of DuPage implored school officials to reinstate Cathy Stablein as their faculty overseer.

As I previously posted, DuPage admins. abruptly removed Stablein from the adviser positon at the start of the month for the stated purpose of enabling her to concentrate more on the school’s flagging journalism program.  Current Courier editors and other critics were not convinced about this claim, calling the school’s decision instead a “sly attack on free speech and college media.”

In an email to college media advisers, Northern Star adviser Jim Killam at Northern Illinois University wrote: “Cathy has been removed from her advising position, with the official reason being the college wants her to spend more time revamping the college’s journalism program. She was told she doesn’t have time to do both (she disagrees). The suspected real reason for this action is that the paper has been doing reporting critical of administration and the school’s board of trustees, and that this is a first step toward eliminating the journalism program. . . . A temporary adviser was appointed this week and– you guessed it– it’s a PR person from the college.”

As one attendee at the recent board meeting stated, “When a state school removes an adviser and it doesn’t involve incompetence, unethical behavior or illegal activity, it falls under political motivation.”

According to The Chicago Daily Herald, the university is holding to its stance that the move was not motivated by content concerns or political machinations.  Instead, admins. argue it is in everyone’s best interests, allowing Stablein to concentrate solely on “breathing life into a journalism program currently at risk.”  A DuPage PR spokesman: “If the program is ultimately not found to be viable, then Ms. Stablein’s own employment at the college would be jeopardized.  We are attempting to avoid this by giving Ms. Stablein and her fellow journalism professors every opportunity to strengthen the program.”

An online petition against the decision was filed at the start of the month and now sports 480 signatures.  More recently, a DuPage faculty senate resolution was unanimously passed voicing “deep concern” over Stablein’s removal.

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As I wrote recently, one of my favorite college newspaper stories of the past year was a powerful four-part Daily Kansan report that tells the tales of three Kansas University students who lost a parent during their time in school.  It is, as the series headline states, a “tragedy in transition.”

As Kelly Stroda reported for the Kansan, one in 10 individuals deals with the death of mom or dad before turning 25.  And yet, as a prominent sociology professor is paraphrased telling Stroda, “[T]here is little research conducted on college students and the death of a parent.”

Stroda’s series begins filling this information gap.  She captures the students’ heartrending memories of the moment death entered their undergraduate experience, the emotional hole it has etched, and their baby steps toward healing.

As she writes in the introduction, “College students who lose a parent are affected emotionally, psychologically, physically, academically and financially.  At the very time they are about to launch independent lives, they lose the people they rely on most for direction.”

Kelly Stroda, who put together the four-part report, is The Daily Kansan's incoming editor-in-chief.

In a brief interview, Stroda, the Kansan‘s incoming editor-in-chief, outlines her reasons for writing the series and what she learned about life, death, and journalism along the way.

What drew you to this project?  What questions were you most interested in answering? 

The topic was one I’d been thinking about awhile.  One of my best friends is a few years older than me, and she tried to write the story when she was in school.  The story was more personal to her, however, because she lost her dad as a teenager.  She graduated before she could finish the story, so I’d been tossing around the idea of picking up the topic and writing it myself.  Then in January, Thomas Robinson, one of KU’s star basketball players, unexpectedly lost his mom.  After that, I realized how badly I wanted to do the story.  The story of his loss and the impact it had on his family was all over the media.  I realized, though, that there were plenty of other college students who have suffered the same loss.  So, in the end, I would say my piece was less about questions I wanted answered, but stories I thought deserved to be told.

How did you find students who had lost their parents while at KU?  And how open were they to having their stories told?

It wasn’t easy.  I mostly relied on Facebook and people who knew other people.  I joke that it’s a miracle I still have Facebook friends after the number of depressing statuses I had this semester looking for college students who lost a parent.  The students I spoke with were quite open to telling me their stories.  In fact, most said it was relieving to talk about their experiences.  Usually, they said they try to not talk about their loss because it might make others uncomfortable.  I was the opposite of that.

What surprised you most while reporting?

When I started, I had no idea how much research was out there.  Like I said, I mostly just wanted to tell the stories.  However, upon trying to find statistics and research for my piece, I was shocked at how little research has been done.  The loss of a parent is jolting no matter how old the child is.  There is plenty of research about both children younger than 18 and adults who lose their parents at traditional ages, but very little information about college students who lose a parent.

What did you learn from the students?

I learned that, sometimes, journalism can act as therapy for sources who have been in traumatic situations.  Sometimes, they haven’t had the chance to talk about their experiences because they don’t trust anyone to listen or don’t want to make others uncomfortable.  From the research I was able to find, many people who suffer the loss of a parent feel “silenced”– as if they can’t talk about their pain with anyone.  Seeing a source cry during an interview was a new experience for me as a journalist.  Heck, I even started tearing up during [one especially powerful] interview.  How could I not?

From your experience with this project and others, what are the keys to mounting longer-term investigative reports or feature pieces?

There are three keys to launching long-term or feature stories.  First, it’s imperative that you give yourself plenty of time to report and write the story.  Investigative and feature pieces take many interviews and lots of research.  It’s not a short-term gig.

Second, if you have the luxury to choose the subject you are writing about, make sure it’s something you want to write or learn about.  If that’s not the case, you may not enjoy it or learn as much from the experience.

Third, remember that your sources are more than sources– they are people.  They are people who deserve to be respected and listened to.  Sometimes, you may have to interview a source three, four or five times to get the story you want to tell.  That’s part of good journalism.

What’s the trick to organizing and writing the final reports after combing through all the background work and interview data?

This is definitely the tricky part.  Usually, I write down some sort of outline.  Nothing extravagant, but just a general direction of where I think the story can go.  In this case, I sort of had it easy because I divided the story into four parts.  However, earlier in the year, I wrote a profile piece about KU’s retiring university architect. That story was much more difficult to organize.  So, I think not letting yourself get overwhelmed is key.  First, just get what you want to say out.  Then, the pieces will come together and make sense.  Also, remember that editing is imperative.  Bad editing could ruin a potentially great story, so don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Separately, a note on combing through background work and interview data: Somehow note important things that strike you during interviews– dates, stories, quotes, etc.  You can always look back at those and then try to go in the direction you want to go.

On a personal level, did your work on the stories impact your relationship with your own parents?  An extra hug or phone call perhaps?

The story definitely makes me appreciate my parents more.  I’m already close with my parents, but I thought about them even more in reporting this story.  I do remember when I was writing the story itself, I would call my parents just to tell them how much I appreciated them.

Version of this Q&A also appears as my latest USA Today College “Campus Beat” post.

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For fun, a friend challenged me yesterday to complete the following sentence, “You know you stink at digital journalism when…”  Idealistically, I saw it as a possible starting point for a future class session.  But mostly, I just wanted to see what I could conjure up.

Below are 30 responses I threw together in 15 minutes (there were witnesses!).  My particular brand of optimistic snarkiness is embedded in many of them.  What do you think?  Help me out.  What else belongs on the list??

YOU KNOW YOU STINK AT DIGITAL JOURNALISM WHEN…

You sign onto Twitter once a week, just to check in.

You think shaky video is “just so much more real man.”

At the start of a press conference, you place your digital recorder at the back of the room under a duffel bag to capture “white noise reaction.”

You write a 1,000-word blog post that begins, “I don’t have anything to add to what everyone else has been saying. . . .”

Your online portfolio is on Myspace.

You watch the robbery play out across the street while holding your smartphone with video capabilities tightly in your pocket.

You tape a video stand-up with porn on your computer’s screen visible in the background.

You text a source after an interview with a three-part follow-up question and a note, “If you could hit me back by text in complete sentences ASAP that would be killa!”

You spell Arianna with one n.

All of your podcasts begin with a prolonged throat clear and the words, “OK OK, here I go, here I go, ugh, I have to pee, OK now five, four, three…”

You think The Daily Beast is an STI.

You secretly edit the dachshund out of your photo series on pet-owner lookalikes because, as you confirmed, “I’m just not a dog person.”

You think 10,000 Words is a really text-heavy magazine feature.

You post a 90-minute hidden camera report on your trip to the dermatologist under the headline, “Are skin care doctors just too darned nice?”

You think Poynter’s Romenesko is a local deli.

You sit so close to your computer while recording video your webcam captures nothing but your chin zit.

You think Quora is a character on “Game of Thrones.”

Your story’s word cloud includes your byline and the text from the nearby banner ad for Propecia.

Your email signature contains the quote “I live life 140 characters at a time.”

Your opening tweet is still visible on your Twitter profile page.

Photos for your time-lapse of the campus cafeteria were taken over 30 minutes at dawn in July.

You contact an uber-blogger with the opener, “Hello sir/madam/Super 8 creature!  You don’t know me but I have a blog post you might be interested in…”

You respond to a suggestion about using Dipity to help your story packaging with the question, “Is that like Adderall or Four Loko?”

You don’t know how to get around the New York Times paywall.

You keep a live blog about the traffic on the fourth floor of your apartment complex’s parking garage.

Your latest tweet says “Readers, check this out…” followed by a mysterious bit.ly.

You think hyperlinks are a really active species of wildcat.

You think cloud computing is web browsing while high.

You learned about bin Laden’s death in a print newspaper.

You’re reading this post on a PC powered by Windows 95.

For a somewhat similar post, click here or on the screenshot below.

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The Daily Campus, the student newspaper at Southern Methodist University, recently endured an odd bit of censorship.  Administrators at the private university near Dallas removed an opinion piece from the print version of an orientation issue published each summer and mailed to incoming SMU freshmen.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Daily Campus is independent of the university, allowing prior administrative review of only this issue each year in exchange for the froshies’ contact info.  This is the first time a piece has been pulled since this arrangement was put in place in 2007.

Now apart from the irony of the administrative act itself (they censored an article calling for more transparency), a larger question has been raised about the incident: Is the Daily Campus actually complicit in this censorship?

In recent online chatter among college media advisers, one strong viewpoint centered on the newspaper’s censorship claims being weakened by the fact that it entered into the prior review agreement on its own.  The gist of some j-profs’ perspectives: If you willingly agree to possible censorship, who are you to cry foul when such censorship occurs?

As one student newspaper adviser at a school in the Northwest wrote, “I guess that if you make a deal with the devil, the devil is going to call in his marker at some point, so I can’t see why the students would be shocked.  They handed over that control to the administration in order to get the mailing list, and then, in the edition they handed control over, they run a story that would be bound to raise some administrative hackles. Probably not the best print strategy. . . . I’m not trying to sound unsympathetic, but a deal WAS made and it sounds like the newspaper has been collecting on its bargain for several years.  The editors really are shocked that the admin. at some point isn’t going to want to collect their benefit from the deal?”

I asked Jessica Huseman, the incoming editor in chief of the Daily Campus (and the writer of the pulled piece), about these charges of devilish dealmaking.  Her response touches on two important points: 1) The devil is in the details— in this case, the most compelling one is that the agreement was made before current staff had started.  2) Enabling potential censorship does not excuse it being carried out. Simply put, censorship is still censorship, regardless of the circumstances surrounding it.

In Huseman’s words:

It is my hope that we will discontinue this agreement with the administration.  The prior review arrangement was reached before any student currently on staff was at SMU, and even before our current advisor was there.  If they will not give us the addresses without prior review, then I am in full support of pulling the issue entirely and substituting it with one to go out during freshmen orientation.

I don’t think its fair that the current staff was expected to respect a decision that was made four years ago. Nor do I think it’s fair that the verbal agreement allowed the Daily Campus no negotiating power to say what is and what is not allowed to be printed.

In the end, this paper is a valuable introduction to SMU for incoming freshmen, and the administration knows that. But to make the paper a large advertisement for the school instead of making it a realistic depiction of what SMU is both cheats the students out of a proper introduction to the university and makes our paper a farce of what it otherwise would be. . . .

Even if they do have prior review, that doesn’t make nixing a student opinion right or appropriate. I cannot dismiss the irony of nixing an article about transparency– especially since this is the first article the administration has ever pulled from the mail-home edition. Additionally, the article was literally right next to four other articles that were equally critical of other SMU policies.

All four articles addressed the same audience as mine, and all four articles called for the same thing: change at SMU. To pull mine and to leave the others indicates a larger problem of secrecy within the Board of Trustees that SMU would like to keep under wraps.

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Are yearbooks dying?  Boise State University student media director Brad Arendt isn’t buying.  Instead, he simply thinks a reinvention is needed in how they are distributed and produced.

This past week, a CNN Money report  became the latest in a long line of to-hell-in-a-handbasket stories concerning the fate of print yearbooks.  (My most recent post on the subject– “Duke Chanticleer: ‘Portrait of a Yearbook’ as an Old Man.”)

The CNN piece says yearbooks face three main problems: a drop in school funding for print costs; a drop in disposable incomes among families of students seeking extra cash to buy a copy; and, of course, the rise in digital and social networked alternatives.

In response, on a popular college media advisers’ list-serv, Arendt rejects the prediction of a yearbook takeover by Facebook, but does confirm a “a total change in the business model and Yearbook landscape is needed.”

In his words:

— 

I have thought about the notion of Facebook replacing the yearbook as the article mentions and I go back to a [student journalism] convention around 2005.  A bunch of us advisers were walking and talking about this company that had just exploded and how it *might* replace yearbooks because of many of the photo-sharing and community features it offered.  That company was MySpace.  While still around, clearly it isn’t the force we thought it would be in 2005/06.  I’m not saying Facebook WILL suffer the same fate, but it COULD and it has greatly changed over the past many years.

 —

Whatever the “social” site, they are all about the *NOW* and the– at-best– last 72 hours.  I recall reading a recent report stating the lifetime of the average Facebook post is a few hours at best, greatly diminishing after 24 and almost completely dead after 72.  How can this “life” of a post or some page last more than a year?  Sure, you can create pages but WHO owns them?  Who will update it when the “main” person or people no longer care to– something likely to last at best 1-2 years AT BEST.

— 

Compare this to what is I’m sure similar at many of your libraries.  One of the most common requests is for the yearbook (often next to the student newspaper).  I think WE as college media advisors MUST come up with a better long-term solution.  Some of these tech companies are great short-term stopgaps, but the digital age is here and a total change in the business model and Yearbook landscape is needed.

Why can’t we create e-books?  Most of us already have the computers, the software (Quark/InDesign), gear (cameras), and staff. . . . Why can’t we partner with a digital printing company to do print-on-demand?  As advisers, we are already familiar with contracts and meet companies that come to our conventions. . . .

— 

Why can’t we change the business model of yearbooks?  Perhaps instead of selling to the must-have-it-now generation we focus on selling to them in a few years?  It will take awhile, but we have been having this conversation for the past five+ years.  That means most of those students who graduated five years ago are now in their late 20s/early 30s and likely settling down and maybe ready to think about getting their yearbook on their iPad.  In the meantime, could we also incorporate social media and things like in-app purchases to subsidize current financial needs?

I’ll get off my soapbox for now, but I think many stories like this chase the wrong angle.  The old hard cover model is no longer financially viable because it isn’t wanted by enough people.  That isn’t to say it isn’t wanted at ALL.  Also, the social media/web solution I don’t think replaces the true “book” form of the printed version.

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