Archive for July, 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.

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

Dan’s Journey to Iraq: A Student Press Adventure

Part 7: “Kurdistan’s Story”

Kurdistan Fatih was not born in Kurdistan or as Kurdistan.  Prior to her birth, her father fought for the freedom of Kurdistan as a Peshmerga, spending most of his time in the mountains near the Iranian border.  In 1988, fearing increased violence from Saddam Hussein’s forces, he took his wife and other family to Iran.

According to Fatih, her parents frequently describe the long, secret journey across the border, on foot, as unforgettable.  She said her mother repeatedly tells her about seeing a family forced to leave one of their children along a roadside because they simply could no longer carry him through the mountainous snow-covered border region.

— 

Her mother gave birth to Fatih in Iran.  She was named Lina.  Initially, her parents thought they would never again see their beloved homeland.  And so, in Fatih’s words, “One of my father’s friends said to him, ‘Why don’t you change her name to Kurdistan?  Because whenever you call her it will remind you of your country and you will feel like you haven’t lost everything and you will still have your home.’ . . . After three months, I was renamed Kurdistan.  This is something that they tell me over and over again.”

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Kurdistan Fatih, AUIS senior and Voice reporter

Eventually, the family did return home.  They now live in Dukan, her father retired, her mother a homemaker.  Fatih is the oldest of six siblings, an even gender split.

Nearing the end of high school, Fatih’s only option initially was studying law at the local University of Sulaimani– government orders.  “The government, the ministry of higher education, decides which colleges students should go,” she said with a sigh emitted by many students who shared similar stories with me.  “Because I was studying literature in high school, I could not go to engineering or medical school.  My choices were very limited.  That is what happens here.”

Then her cousins spotted an item in a newspaper about a new university being founded with U.S. ties, the American University of Iraq, Sulaimaini (AUIS).  She was curious about potential enrollment.  By comparison, her father was insistent.  “My father wanted me to study here,” she said.  “He was one of the motivations.  When I realized that the education was in English and based on American style– everything was not Iraqi, you know?– that was one of the most important things I liked about AUIS.”

In 2012, Fatih will be part of the first undergraduate class to graduate from the university, a cohort famously known as “the 10.”  “After three months, my father asked me if I liked it here and I told him it would be impossible for me to go somewhere else,” she told me in May.  “I really love the subjects and the environment here.  I don’t know how to say it.”  She sported an impish smile, speaking with a breathlessness that made me giggle.  “I am so confident when I say that without AUIS I would not be the student that I am right now.  I have learned so much.  It is impossible to get this knowledge from other places in Iraq.  I am so happy about this.”

She happily selected her own academic program– majoring in business administration and minoring in economics.  In her spare time, she enjoys volleyball and basketball.  She dances with her roommates in the dorm to Kurdish, hip hop, and pop music.  Shakira is among her favorites.  She enjoys her current dorm– the previous one lacked water, stable electricity, and Internet.  “So dancing, studying, and sleeping, these are the things that I do,” she said.  “And of course, Facebook.”  She points out she is not addicted to the social networking site like many other AUIS students.

Fatih confessed that “journalism, being a reporter, I had no idea about this before coming to AUIS.”  She joined the campus newspaper on a whim, quickly growing to love the power the publication exerted in its role as the student voice.

During our chats, she twice mentioned a past Voice report about the lack of Internet connection in campus dorms.  Soon after the story was published, the administration started offering online access.  She said she understood the article might not have been the main reason school officials stepped up, but it was an important part of the process– and prior to the Voice’s launch students had no way to address similar issues and concerns other than in-person meetings.  “It’s just something I like,” she said about journalism.  “I never get bored.  I never have a bad time writing a report for the Voice.”

Whenever she visits home, she brings hard copies of the Voice with her, showing her parents the pieces she has written.  She said her father does not know English so has a hard time understanding the reports themselves, but his eyes beam when she shows him her name in a front page byline.

During my visit in mid-May, I shadowed her while she reported upon her next front-page story.  It was destined to be drowned out by the sudden protest madness, but it was an important piece nonetheless.  School officials had been promising students that a relocation to a bigger, better, permanent campus was inevitable, but delays continued to push back the move-in date.  Voice editor-in-chief Arez Hussen Ahmed charged Fatih with finding out why.

Fatih interviews senior structure engineer Salahaddin Sharif in mid-May for a story on the progress of construction on the new AUIS campus.

And so it was that in mid-May, on my first day in Iraq, hours after the impromptu campus protest, Kurdistan Fatih sat in a chair across from a construction engineer’s desk in a building on the soon-to-be-new AUIS campus– roughly 15 minutes from the current one.  Upon sitting down, she leaned slightly forward, crossed her legs, opened her large spiral notebook, uncapped her pen, brushed back a wisp of hair flitting from her headdress, and got right to the point: “Can you tell me why the process is so slow?”

Throughout the interview, she swiftly moved from English to Kurdish and back, depending on the language given by the man in answering.  She took notes while keeping eye contact.  She smiled while maintaining her professionalism.  She let him fill the silences, and when he gave a few somewhat surprising answers she did not let eyes or emotions give her excitement away.  She continually sought to keep him on message and to get the real answers she was seeking.  The engineer was a tough interviewee, saying respectfully again and again that delays are simply inevitable in construction.

An editorial cartoon in a recent Voice issue hints at student perceptions that promises of a move to the permanent campus have been frequent and thus far unfulfilled. (I visited the campus. While still under construction, it does seem to be nearing completion.)

At one point, the following exchange occurred:

Fatih: “There will be delays in the process, but what are the reasons?”

Engineer: “There are lots of things.”

Faith: [Almost immediately] “Like what?”

Engineer: [Roundabout answer]

Fatih, more gently: “I’m just wondering why construction’s slowed.”

Engineer: “It has not slowed down.”

Fatih: “It has.  We were supposed to move here last semester.  Now again, talk to me about why it has slowed.”

Fatih and Voice photographer Noor Aljanabi tour the new campus construction site with Sharif.

In the end, she managed some solid info and a few choice quotes– from a man who admitted upfront “It is better with these things to say as little as possible.”  It was a master-class in reporting 101, journalism at its finest, a standing-ovation-worthy moment that solidified all the work Jackie Spinner, Arez Hussen Ahmed, and a number of other student staffers and school officials put into the Voice‘s founding and continued existence.  I had to remind myself that 18 months ago, Fatih had no idea what journalism was.

— 

After it was done, the two of us stood together with Voice photographer Noor Aljanabi in the hallway near the engineer’s office.  We were silent, smiling, feeding off the spark of a quality interview.  Fatih had closed the notebook she had been scribbling in furiously during the chat.  Its outside was covered repeatedly with the same word in all caps: LOVE.

I suddenly wanted to tell her how awed I was by the performance and how I wanted to learn Kurdish so I could tell her father to be immensely proud. But she spoke first.  She turned to me and asked simply, “So what did you think?  How was that?”

Her father’s eyes beam.  Mine teared up.

The End

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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Students like LikeALittle a lot.  An increasing number of campus newspapers have turned to that tongue-twister to describe the rising popularity of a unique web service.

Simply put, LikeALittle lets students flirt with each other… anonymously.  The site offers campus-specific platforms for students to reveal their feelings for someone they know or strangers who just walked by or sit near them in class.  In respect to the latter, the whole shebang sports a Craigslist Missed Connections-feel, with a campus twist.  Begun last October at Stanford University, LikeALittle is now available at hundreds of schools worldwide.

As its co-founder Evan Reas tells The Daily Northwestern, “We really see it as a location-based communication platform.  We wanted to bridge that divide to make it easy to communicate with people in the same location, and change the psychological dynamic of the way we interact with other people.  There is this huge fear of rejection.  There is that barrier when it’s a person-to-person interaction, and it’s much lower when it’s anonymous or online.”

The quick four-step flirtation process involves choosing your flirtee’s gender, hair color, the spot he or she crossed your path, and a brief message you want them and web browsers to read.  No names are submitted.  A review of the messages posted by students at schools across the U.S. reveals four running themes: When crushing anonymously, students are idealistically romantic.  Their pick-up lines are cheesy.  The first things they notice are eyes and clothes.  And they fall hard, fast.

Among the many messages students have sent: “You held the door open for me today.  I was shocked that guys still did that.  Chivalry isn’t dead!”; “Girl in a large purple hoodie.  I think you’re cute.  I hope you’re not wearing your boyfriends hoodie.  Come talk to me sometime?”; “I think you’re too cute.  Your eyes are absolutely gorgeous.  I wish I wasn’t so shy and awkward with guys…no worries though, you’ll be my summer goal…baby steps.”; “You are most likely on the basketball team since you were on the floor for 90% of tonight’s game.  You were bleeding at one point and seemed tired and frustrated by the end of the game, I would love to nurse you back to health.”; and “At Chem 101: Male, Brunette.  I wish I was an ion so I could form an exothermic bond with you.”

To read the rest of the piece, click here or on the image below.

 

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USA Today College recently put out a nationwide call for its new Collegiate Correspondent Program.  The semester-long virtual internship-freelancing gig provides participants with an opportunity to publish their work on the fast-growing student arm of the famed newspaper’s online operation.

The program also promises mentorship from USA Today editors and a small stipend, not to mention the obvious résumé boost of being affiliated with a national news leader.  As the related FAQ page explains, “The Collegiate Correspondent Program will achieve two objectives: 1. It will provide USA TODAY College readers with hard news content, written by their peers.  2. It will give a select group of students a chance to improve as writers. Correspondents will be writing articles weekly, on developing topics and on a deadline.”

The deadline to apply is looming.  Full applications are due by July 30th.

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Student journalists at Florida Atlantic University are in the midst of a grand experiment in good ol’-fashioned journalism.  Through some funding from The Society of Professional Journalists and under the direction of beloved-former-adviser-forever-guru Michael Koretzky, staffers at The University Press are putting out an issue sans Internet, computers or high-tech tools of any kind.

As one of their potential front-page headlines screams in bold, all caps, atop a photo of confused staffers staring at a typewriter: “OMG WTF?”

“The student reporters, editors, photographers, and designers have turned off the newsroom iMacs and stowed the digital cameras– and they’re publishing their final issue of the summer on machinery that’s older than they are,” Koretzky explains on his blog, journoterrorist.  “A few of them have even dressed the part.  Well, in their warped interpretation of ’70s and ’80s fashion.”

Why oh why are the students engaged in such a tech-deficient (and fashionably-questionable) journalistic pursuit?  Koretzky says it’s about letting students live a slice of the j-history that profs are always rattling on about; enabling them to get back to the basics without the distractions of gadgetry; and, simply, enjoy a good time.  In my opinion, the whole shebang is a wonderful idea.

Apparently, the students are still up in the air about the front page.  It’s down to two finalists.  See below.  My take: The OMG is LOL funny but vague– “Old News” is stronger.  Yet, the staff-gathered-around-the-typewriter shot is iconic.  Mix and match.  Pair that photo with the “Old News” headline.  What do others think??

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Our chief copy editor quit yesterday.  It was a decision that had nothing to do with the campus newspaper.  As a student burdened recently with financial strains, she simply cannot afford to return to the university in the fall.

She had been one of our most passionate staffers– staying late, engaging with the words set before her and the staffers sitting around her.  She had recently undertaken the larger project of overhauling our badly-in-need-of-repair house stylebook.  Awhile back, she had discussed the upcoming year with genuine excitement.  All past tense now.  Instead, in the present, she is moving on.

She let us know about her situation in an email.  It is a letter of resignation in every sense of the word.

The whole thing strikes me as sadly ironic.  In an economic climate in which evermore news outlets cannot afford as many workers, a willing, eager student simply cannot afford to work for us.  Just one more reason the student press differs from the professional press.

She is the second higher-level staffer to resign.  Our incoming director of advertising abruptly walked away about a month back.  He told us he had realized that his fall class slate and extracurricular commitments would hinder him from giving the position the necessary 110 percent.  I admit, my first reaction was muted anger. We had been grooming him for awhile and paid for him to accompany other staff on our annual sojourn to the spring CMA West Coast convention.  All of this was built on the premise/promise that he would be taking the ad reins in August.  Then, it suddenly wasn’t in the cards for him anymore.

My initial grrrring aside, his decision ultimately of course wasn’t even remotely traitorous– and he even had the courtesy of informing us of it with some time to spare re: finding a replacement.  Students have a boatload of competing priorities– courses, clubs, internships, side jobs, a social life, a smartphone, naps, a workout routine, study abroad.  It’s always been like this of course (save for the smartphones), but it’s doubly ironic nowadays.  In an era in which tons of journalists whose number-one priority is news are being kicked out and left out, some students just don’t have the time to fit journalism in.

 Just one more reason the student press differs from the professional press.

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In the most recent issue of College Media Review, I profile last year’s transformation of The Ball State Daily News at Ball State University into The Daily Prophet— in honor of all-things-Potter.

Pages 16-18

I also provide a few tips for editors and advisers looking into launching a special issue of their own on areas far beyond the HP craze:

1) Make the special, well, special. It’s time to start fresh, and think beyond an annual holiday or traditional campus event. Special issues generally have grown stale, delivering satire on April Fools’ Day, guides to college life during freshmen orientation, and glimpses into a school’s past on homecoming weekend.  Piggyback instead atop a cultural trend, an in-the-moment school scandal– or even a mega-movie premiere.

2) Timing is everything, in planning and execution.  The Daily Prophet issue worked because it fed off the excitement of the latest “Potter” movie premiere.  It also worked because Daily News staff gave itself enough time to conceptualize and carry out the vision– even without a grand plan behind it all.  The lesson: Brainstorm early– even a semester in advance– about events, calendar dates or passion projects that you want to turn into full-blown issues. Put a team in place to make it happen, and establish deadlines for the development of the section.

Page 19

3) Content is just the start.  Along with running related stories, you must ensure a special issue’s overall aura embodies the topic or event serving as its inspiration.  The issue’s layout, fonts, photos, masthead, and more must pitch in.  Utilize multimedia extras and your website as additional core parts of the issue.

4) Go all in.  Not everyone is a “Harry Potter” fan or will understand all the Quidditch references, but the Daily News staff rightfully decided that if it was going to commit to the concept, it would commit fully.  Don’t worry about a special issue being too niche or geeky.  Readers in the know will appreciate the 100-percent effort.  The clueless readers will ask their friends what it all means.

5) Just do it.  Even with the most talented, impassioned staff, a special issue will never be perfect.  There will never be enough time to flesh out all ideas.  And breaking news inevitably will interfere at the wrong moment.  Embrace the flaws and chaos and simply soldier on.  As former Daily News chief designer Jen Minutillo said, “Go big or go home.”

Separately, check out my cover story on college media censorship.

Pages 4-8

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Late last month, I premiered “You know you stink at digital journalism when…”  It’s a fun feature that is nothing more than a list of completions to the sentence in the headline of this post.  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.  Back by popular demand, here is part two.

YOU KNOW YOU STINK AT DIGITAL JOURNALISM WHEN…

You send your bank account information to the stranger from Barbados who emailed to say you may be in danger.

Your comment on a popular blog’s latest post begins, “Oh man, I agree completely.  One time, I was at a drug-addled party with strippers…”  You then sign the post with your full name, the name of your news outlet, and your email.

You think Microsoft Bing is the name of Chandler’s dad on “Friends.”

You create a Facebook fan page for every one of your stories.

Your résumé lists “Writing for the Internet” under special skills and qualifications.

Someone else owns the domain for your name.

You think Storify is the shriveling, yellowing process that happens to old newsprint.

You respond to your friend’s quip, “There’s an app for that” with a blank stare, an awkward pause, and a gruff “Whatever, I don’t get it.”

When told at a cocktail party that print journalism is dying, you respond in a mock-French accent, “Tsk, no, print is not dying, dear.  It’s evolvingggg.”

You remember people’s phone numbers.

You cite the first web source you find, leading to sentences in your stories such as, “So, when Paul Revere warned the British…”

You shower, shave, slip on a three-piece suit, and walk 10 feet to your home computer to begin your workday as a blogger.

You report and write a news story, post it online, and think “Now that’s what I call a story package motherf*cker.”

You think texting on the toilet is gross.

You think Eduardo Saverin is a Republican presidential candidate.

A majority of the blogs you start feature only a single post, headlined, “Hello World.”

You try to spell Schwarzenegger without Googling it.

Your latest hyperlocal report looks at “sweeping changes across the entire Midwest.”

You call it new media.

Check out Part 1

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