Archive for August, 2011

As I predicted in my previous post, the overreaction of University of Kentucky athletics officials has turned a so-what story about a pair of basketball team walk-ons into a national media blitzkrieg.

UK’s decision to bar a Kentucky Kernel staff writer from an interview session with Wildcat basketball players led to informal and formal condemnations from major journalism figures and organizations.  It has also prompted a spirited protest on Twitter, with related tweets employing the hashtag #FreeKernel.

The most talked-about and retweeted comment came from Sports Illustrated senior writer Andy Staples.  His words: “Until Kentucky agrees to #FreeKernel, I think I’ll revoke SI coverage of their mediocre football team.”

In a public letter to the UK athletics media relations team, the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) called the restriction “reprehensible”: “This is a level of abuse of free speech not tolerated at universities in other states and is particularly abhorrent at a taxpayer-owned institution.  We urge you to restore the access of the Kentucky Kernel and [Aaron Smith, the writer of the piece that spurred the controversial response] and to ensure that your department henceforth honors its accountability to [the] public.”

In a statement to the school, the local professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists declared, “UK can’t stop a reporter from asking a question and shouldn’t cast down an excessive punishment for doing so.  It’s an abuse of power and a shameful blow to the First Amendment.”

Kernel editor Taylor Moak offered a very reasoned rationale for the paper’s decision to temporarily ignore the unofficial rules limiting access to UK student athletes: “Any good journalist is going to ask for more information from their source.  Our position is that, as journalists, we can call whomever we need to. UK has these guidelines that are written, but you never have to sign anything. They’re guidelines, but just that.”

Separately, here are a few of the #FreeKernel tweets:

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The fall semester is barely a blip on the academic radar and already the student press censorship has begun.  The location: Lexington, Ky.  The situation: University of Kentucky athletics officials, angry over a story published in The Kentucky Kernel, have barred the campus newspaper from one-on-one interviews today with the school’s basketball team.

According to a Lexington Herald-Leader report, the paper apparently violated an unofficial UK rule limiting journalists from speaking to student athletes without the coordination of university media relations.  The rule is in place to ensure athletes are not “bombarded with interview requests constantly.”

Kernel sports writer Aaron Smith is the alleged rule-breaker– singled out for his reporting on a seemingly innocuous story [screenshot below].  As the Kernel explained, Smith “reported Monday morning that two walk-ons had been added to the basketball team— information that Smith had uncovered after looking up the two players’ cellphone numbers in the directory on UK’s website and calling them. The names of the players . . . were first released on Twitter Sunday night by UK freshman basketball player Anthony Davis and also reported on Kentucky Sports Radio just after 9 a.m. Monday.”

A screenshot of Smith's story that is causing the media relations ruckus.

So the newsworthy info was public, as was the contact info Smith used to track down the players.  But for not following the preferred method of communication, the school is striking back.  The Kernel is barred from an event today for “select media” highlighted by brief private interviews with the basketball players.  A UK athletics media relations official calls it “a reward to, basically, a preferred group of people to give them special access.”  In turn, he calls canceling the Kernel‘s access a “punishment.”

My take: A tough call, but the university made the wrong one.  While the rule the Kernel “broke” isn’t official (since of course it reeks of First Amendment violations), it does make at least a smidgen of sense.  Obviously student athletes must have protection from prying outside media.  Yet, at the same time, shouldn’t campus media be treated a bit differently than these outsiders?  After all, they are bound to have more access given their staff’s student status.

Also, since it’s unofficial, shouldn’t discretion be involved in both applying the rule and “punishing” its breakers?  In this case, in terms of discretion, the media relations team has embarrassingly overreacted.  It’s a simple six-inch (if that) confirmation story.  It involved a report already leaking out.  And it featured nothing more than a pair of phone calls.  Heck, the players aren’t even on scholarship.

Have a private talk with the Kernel editors.  Publicly reiterate the reasons for the unofficial media limitation on player access.  Don’t turn to censorship so quickly.  The Kernel ban is apparently only in place for this lone event– meaning the university’s response is nothing more than a symbolic temper-tantrum that turns a so-what story about walk-ons into a national media blitzkrieg with the school as the villain.

Kentucky First Amendment lawyer says it’s “clearly a violation of First Amendment rights for the university to condition access on gathering or publishing information the way the university wants you to do it.”

This is the second censorship issue to arise in the last year between the Kernel and UK Athletics.  Click on the screenshot below to read about the other.

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Across the country, 8 a.m. classes, student newspaper staff meetings, and fake ID rings are once again up and running.  School is back in session.  In honor of what for many of us is the first day of the 2011-2012 term, below is a smidgen of advice for incoming journalism students, courtesy of some professional journos and journalism educators.

It’s Fundamental.  “Read, read and read a bit more.  While writing is the crucial bit, experiencing the way other people write also comes in pretty handy. Whether it’s other blogs, newspapers, magazines, books, it doesn’t matter. Reading how other people construct their sentences and turn their phrases is a vital ingredient in forming your own writing.  It’s also a great way to discover how not to write in some cases, because not everyone’s writing style will be to your taste.”  (Rob Mansfield)

Financial Savvy.  “Learn how to run a business.  Get involved in a student organization where you need to handle cash– raising income from sales and budgeting expenses. Watch how others make decisions about how to get money and how to spend it. Be attentive, and work hard, so that you can move into a position where you have budget responsibilities.”  (Robert Niles)

Student Press Experience.  “Join campus media.  This is an item that everyone should know, but for some reason people still don’t do it. Why? In the most simplistic way I can rephrase it: Recruiters are not going to select you for internships without some kind of previous experience in that field, and you need internships (note the plural) to get a job. Dabble in the various student media at your college or university. Find the one you like the most and focus on it, but don’t leave the others behind.” (Greg Linch)

Don’t Forget Analog.  “Become an expert at one analog craft and one digital craft. An analog craft. Yes. Not knitting. Which is cool, but not what I mean, exactly. When I say ‘analog,’ what I mean is a core reporting skill. . . . Maybe one of these: Copy Editing; Enterprise Reporting; Photography; Photo Editing; or Media Law.  There are others, of course. . . . The point: The Web is awesome, and we’ll get to those digital crafts in a moment, but you want to have more than one tool in the box. So, I recommend two diverse skills. Will Sullivan once called these “Peace Out” skills, because it makes it much easier to move from job to job as necessary, throwing up two fingers as you walk out the door.”  (Ryan Sholin)

Curiosity Factor.  “Be curious.  One of the best aspects of being a journalist is that we get paid to learn stuff every day. But sometimes we don’t take advantage of what’s right next to us.  It’s easier to report telling details and piece patterns and puzzles together if you pay attention to the world around you. Observe, look, listen, ask, introduce yourself, get out of your comfort zone.  Last semester, I was in a graduate class. We didn’t have desks; we all sat around a table. One day, the table had about a dozen small pin-on buttons, the type with writing on them, not the type that fastens shirts.  I was surprised that I was the only person in the class that looked at the buttons. Apparently no one else was curious about something different.  If you’re not curious about your immediate surroundings, are you going to be curious enough to get the full story?”  (Maurreen Skowran)

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The College Media Hall of Fame is a digital enshrinement of individuals, news outlets, and organizations who have made a lasting impact on collegemediatopia or greatly contributed to it over the past year.  Much like last year’s inaugural batch (known as the CMM 10), this year’s inductees include standout student journalists, innovative student media entrepreneurs, and impassioned advocates of campus press 2.0.  With a hat tip to the annual Time 100, many of the posts announcing each honoree include a few words of adoration penned by a close friend or colleague. Next up…

 Arez Hussen Ahmed

Outgoing editor-in-chief, The AUIS Voice

Among individuals who have helped create and nurture student journalism during its infancy in Iraq, the most passionate has been Arez Hussen Ahmed.  (Kurdistan Fatih, Namo Kaftan, and Jackie Spinner are tied for close second.)

As editor-in-chief of The AUIS Voice, Iraq’s first editorially independent campus newspaper, he has served for the past year as the face of quality, objective student journalism in the country.  By all accounts, he was an endlessly hardworking newsroom leader with a nose for news and a commitment to better understanding and practicing responsible journalism in a region known more for innuendo and partisan pandering.

Arez Hussen Ahmed, 20, an international studies major at AUIS, served as Voice editor-in-chief for more than a year. He is posing here at the door of the Voice newsroom, which is located in the university's cafeteria.

Ahmed once told me his passion for the Voice superseded almost all else.  “I feel like the Voice is a part of me,” he said.  “I always think about [it].  Sometimes I dream about it.  I never thought that I would feel that much passion for anything.”

While it is incredibly difficult to start a newspaper, it is even tougher to keep it going after the initial adrenaline rush wears off, the staff turnover increases, and the story ideas pool shallows out.  Ahmed kept the Voice alive– providing living proof that journalism can survive and thrive even in one of the hardest hit spots on Earth.

I am humbled to include him as a Class of 2011 inductee to the College Media Hall of Fame.

“The Soldier Behind the Scenes”

By Namo Kaftan

I’m writing this as Arez is sitting in front of me across the table having his lunch meal.  He has no idea why and what am I busy typing on my computer! Arez is the kind of person whom I’ve always enjoyed working with in any field, even in class projects and group works. He has always been a great colleague and the most loyal friend I’ve ever met.

He has great leadership skills, which makes him a remarkable and outstanding person to lead a team like the AUI-S Voice staff.  Since the day we met, I realized how enthusiastic and passionate he is about his work and study. I also realized how exceptionally responsive and responsible he is.  He is always courteous and wants things to be as excellent as possible.  What amazes me about him with the Voice is that he is really accurate about every single detail and policy.

Kaftan (left) and Hussen in the Voice newsroom. (Photo courtesy of Kaftan.)

Arez’s presence on the Voice team made me more enthusiastic about journalism.  I fell in love with journalism because of people like Arez.  I’m really glad that Arez was my editor-in-chief for more than a year. We had some rough times, missing some deadlines, and rushing into things, which made us tired, but we also had a lot of inexorably good times with a lot of funny situations.  One of the things that makes me really sad is that not everybody sees and appreciates what this stunning man does for the newspaper.  I see him as the soldier behind the scenes, as many people are not aware of him and his hard work.

I remember the first time I saw the flyer on the student bulletin board about creating an independent student newspaper.  I was with Arez.  He was the one who pulled me into the meeting just to check it out and see what it was about, and there we met the great American journalist, Jackie Spinner, the founder and former faculty adviser of the Voice.  If it wasn’t for Arez, I wouldn’t have gone to that meeting from the first place.  I’m grateful I’ve always worked, and experienced this entire thing, with Arez.

Kaftan, an AUIS student, is the incoming Voice editor-in-chief.

Other Class of 2011 CMM Hall of Fame inductees:

Michael Koretzky

Frank LoMonte

Victor Luckerson & The Crimson White

Connor Toohill

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The College Media Hall of Fame is a digital enshrinement of individuals, news outlets, and organizations who have made a lasting impact on collegemediatopia or greatly contributed to it over the past year.  Much like last year’s inaugural batch (known as the CMM 10), this year’s inductees include standout student journalists, innovative student media entrepreneurs, and impassioned advocates of campus press 2.0.  With a hat tip to the annual Time 100, many of the posts announcing each honoree include a few words of adoration penned by a close friend or colleague. Next up…

Victor Luckerson & The Crimson White

University of Alabama’s student newspaper and its editor-in-chief

On a weekday afternoon in late April 2011, Crimson White editor-in-chief Victor Luckerson heard the tornado sirens.  He left the University of Alabama student newspaper’s newsroom near Bryant-Denny Stadium and went to the office building’s basement.  A few minutes later, he watched on local TV news as parts of Tuscaloosa were leveled by an historic torrent of wind and rain.  And then he got to work.

In the week following the storm, Luckerson led the Crimson White staff at UA on a publishing spree that included more than 100 articles and about 30 multimedia features from numerous bases of operation, including a reporter’s grandmother’s house.

Among their prodigious output, the team of roughly 30 put together a print edition with no advertisements a week after the storm that featured profiles about affected communities– and personally delivered copies to locations around the city.  The amount of the paper’s Twitter followers doubled.  Their weekly website hits ratcheted up from 6,000 to 450,000.  MSNBC, Dateline, and NBC Nightly News featured their photos.  And they interviewed Brian Williams and Charlie Sheen for special video reports.

For their extraordinary dedication, digital journalism prowess, and hyperlocal intensity on storm coverage in the immediate and extended aftermath, I am honored to name Luckerson and the rest of the Crimson White staff to the College Media Hall of Fame.

After overseeing the paper’s storm coverage, Luckerson left for New York City, completing an internship with Sports Illustrated.

In the Q&A below, Luckerson discusses the challenges of reporting upon such a massive disaster and offers advice for student journalists charged with covering the aftermath of a similar event.

What was your experience with the tornado and its immediate aftermath?

Immediately after the storm, we had no idea of the scope of the damage.  We sent a couple of people to check around campus to assess damage and we began hearing reports that 15th Street and McFarland Boulevard, two of the biggest streets in the city, were “gone.”  I got a call from my photo editor, whose girlfriend’s home was destroyed in the storm, and he told me there were entire communities that were wiped out.

I tried to figure out how we could publish a paper without power– that was still our number-one priority.  We planned to go to The Tuscaloosa News, where our paper is printed daily, but traffic was backed up for miles on all major roads and there were rumors that another tornado was coming in our direction.  Ultimately, lack of power curtailed our plans to publish a print edition, and we ended up going to an editor’s house outside of the city that still had power and Internet.

A photo of the tornado as it tore past the UA campus, courtesy of Mark Mayfield, Crimson White editorial adviser. In his words, “The UA Office of Student Media is located in the building in the lower center of the photo, near Bryant-Denny Stadium and between those two columns in the foreground. This photo was taken by former UA Student Government Association President James Fowler.”

It was a scary night.  The roads were black.  There were ambulance and police sirens constantly.  Phone lines were mostly jammed, and there was no way to know if all your friends were safe.  Twitter and Facebook were the only viable lines of communication.  Logistically, it was a big challenge to accomplish anything because it was difficult for us to stay in contact and the city was in a chaotic state.  We wrote a few stories that first night– a story from students on the scene who’d lost their homes, a story about how the recreation center had been transformed into a shelter for displaced students, and a story about impending gas and food shortages in the city.

I have two main memories from the day of the storm.  First, maybe an hour after the tornado, one of my editors came up to me crying and told me that her house was gone.  She asked me if she needed to do anything else for the paper. Secondly, when we were in the journalism building at one point, one of the journalism professors came up to me in a daze with her husband and daughter– maybe 7 or 8– and told me that her house was completely destroyed.  She asked me what to do.  Her daughter was crying.  I didn’t know what to tell her.

What were the challenges of reporting upon such a massive event?

For me personally, it was difficult to handle the logistical and emotional pressures at the same time.  People were looking to me for guidance and leadership, and we had all just been thrown into a scenario where no one had a clue what to do.  The day after the storm was the hardest, because the scope of the destruction and the body count just seemed to grow and grow.  And we had no newsroom, shoddy Internet, limited access to disaster zones, and were debating whether we would publish a print edition until about 5 p.m. (we didn’t).  It was difficult to take some of the very sad information I was getting from my coworkers, particularly about student deaths, and then immediately process that and convert it into a directive or a story assignment.

We had no type of disaster protocol in place, and we pretty much abandoned everything about our typical newsroom structure.  Everyone that was around essentially became a pool of reporters, photographers, and videographers.  I stayed in the newsroom along with our social media managers to direct people. When someone would finish an assignment, they would come to me for another one.  We would have a budget meeting of sorts late at night when we were done, around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., and decide what stories we were going to pursue the next day.

Separating rumor from fact was also a big challenge.  There were many very morbid rumors circulating through social media in the days after the storm– that bodies had been found on the roof of the mall, that there were 30 bodies at the bottom of a neighborhood lake, that there was a group of rapists on sorority row– and some of them almost seemed plausible in the immediate aftermath.  It was tough to filter out the noise to find the actual facts about our community.

Courtesy of Mark Mayfield

What is your advice for students covering a disaster of this magnitude?

Everybody should be ready to do everything.  Our design editors took photos and managed an interactive Google Map that showed the storm damage and volunteer opportunities.  The managing editor, the lifestyles editor, and the news editor made mini-documentaries about different affected communities.  The opinions editor wrote news stories and took photos.  The sports editor interviewed Brian Williams and Charlie Sheen on camera.  I think the most impressive thing about my staff’s response was people’s willingness to leave the comfort zone of their job description and do whatever needed to be done to help in a moment of crisis.

Come together as a team, and be ready to work.  We spent every waking hour together for an entire week, and there was no complaining, no infighting, and no selfishness.  Everyone showed an incredible amount of maturity and character at a time when it would have been easy to pack up and go home.  We worked from 7 a.m. to midnight on the first day after the storm, from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next day, and from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next five days after that.

Utilize social media.  I think our activity on social media was probably the single most important thing we did.  Initially, we used Twitter to try to assess the scope of the damage.  Later, starting the day after the storm, we began using it to connect volunteer organizations with people that wanted to help.  So an organization would tweet us saying they needed diapers, we’d retweet them, and someone would bring them diapers.  But I think the most special thing we did was help to track down missing students.  With no phone service and such a massive school, it was difficult for people to find their friends.  People would tweet us the names of people that were missing, we’d ask if anyone had seen them [see sample tweet below] and (usually) someone would respond saying that the person was OK.  So we were able to confirm that dozens of people were alive in this way on the day after the storm.


Other Class of 2011 CMM Hall of Fame inductees:

Michael Koretzky

Frank LoMonte

Connor Toohill

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I wanted to log on to Google+.  I swear I did.  But the thought of it made me tired.

I recently wrote a piece for PBS MediaShift.  Like I’ve done for past pieces and many of the posts on this blog, I carried out all the expected social media promotion.  I retweeted the MediaShift tweet that announced the piece’s publication on the site.  I posted the link with a quick explainer as a Facebook status update.  I dropped it onto Digg and recommended it on StumbleUpon.  (I skpped Reddit this time around.)  I placed a chunk of it on this blog with a referral link.  I responded to some comments. I even emailed a few friends and colleagues with a heads-up and accompanying bit.ly link.  And then there was G+.

Screenshot of my MediaShift piece.

A few hours after the post went up, I received an email confirming MediaShift executive editor Mark Glaser had mentioned me and the piece in a note on Google+. Moments later, someone responded to it.  It was a great motivation to respond or post something on there myself.

But then something funny happened.  I sighed out loud.  I got the dreary feeling that often comes midday when my body begs for a catnap.  I simply couldn’t bring myself to sign on to the service.  I let it go, shrugging, thinking I’d get to it later.  But I never followed up.

On one level, the response continues to strike me as silly.  I’m sure the whole promo-post would have taken a moment or two tops.  And I have nothing against G+.  On the contrary, I’d signed up like every other wannabe tech-geek when Google first rolled it out.  I’d played with the whole circles thing.  I’d invited a few family members, colleagues, and even students (something I’ve avoided on Facebook).  I’d created a profile I must now have floating in cyberspace in at least a dozen slightly different iterations.  And I’ve been on here and there, mostly just to see what’s what.

But as much as I want to dive into Google+, I admit I’m fighting an internal enough-is-enough battle.  As Glaser said recently on his Mediatwits podcast, “There are a few things that are slightly better [than Facebook and other existing social media platforms], but what’s really making a huge difference?  You know, that’s the problem.  There’s nothing really groundbreaking.”

In that respect, is it possible that G+, at the moment, is simply a social media step too far?  Are there only so many daily destination-and-connection sites a person can invest time and effort overseeing?

As Forbes.com contributor Paul Tassi recently wrote within a column doubling as a eulogy for the service, “The fact is, very few people have room to manage many multiple social networks . . . since there is only so much time in the day to waste on the Internet.  Add in Google+, effectively a duplicate of Facebook, and there just isn’t space for it.”

I have no idea if G+ is actually already dead, simply dying or still waiting to emerge, alive and mass-addicting.  As it stands, my circles are sparse.  The stream of updates has basically run dry– reduced to one buddy who regularly writes.  My initial excitement about signing on has waned.  Just overall, frankly, it’s not happening.

Take the MediaShift piece.  Less than a week after its posting, more than 300 tweets and retweets linked to it.  Between my blog teaser and its MediaShift placement, it got hyped on Facebook by dozens of users.  Close to 50 people Stumbled Upon it on my blog.  On Google+, meanwhile, it was mentioned five times.

As Omaha World-Herald columnist Rainbow Russell recently wrote, “It’s a not-vicious-enough-to-be-interesting circle: Nobody posts on Google+ because nobody posts on Google+.  My Google+ home page is worse than a ghost town.  It doesn’t even feel haunted.”

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Hippies are so twentieth century. The new band of students living outside the lines of mainstream fashion and popular culture are hipsters.

As University of Arkansas student Kelsi Ford described hipsters in a recent Arkansas Traveler report, “They whiz by on campus on fixed-gear bicycles. They wear American Apparel T-shirts, accessorized with non-prescription glasses and piled on braided and beaded bracelets. They lounge in hammocks and play the guitar. . . . They sip lattes . . . and go to indie shows. . . . They drink Pabst Blue Ribbon at parties and give off the vibe that they just don’t care.”

In a list of the “Most Hipster Colleges” published last month, The Huffington Post placed Grinnell College on top, in part because its Iowa location makes it “pre-cool (or maybe post-cool) . . . like mom jeans, giant teddy bear sweaters, and aviator glasses.” The list overall seems to honor schools awash in students who turn their backs on everyday things such as top-40 music, Greek life, and organized sports.

A separate column by Jacob Walker in The Chimes at Michigan’s Calvin College more succinctly defines various hipsters. Among the species he has identified:

Hipsterus classicus: “This is the true hipster . . . an entirely insincere individual. Everything this hipster does is done for the sake of irony.”

Hipsterus dooficus, or hipster doofus: “[T]the hipster doofus, unlike the true hipster, is an entirely genuine individual. It is as if they fell in love with the hipster lifestyle while simultaneously failing to pick up on the key to that lifestyle: irony.”

Hipsterus musicus: “[C]an be found in the record store or the smallest local performance venue, always ready to tell you about some band nobody has ever heard of. Musicus likely carries around a half-broken guitar, a banjo or increasingly, a ukulele.”

Hipsterus historicus: “[O]bsessed with decades past, and usually expresses this through vintage clothing, listening exclusively to classic rock and folk and the possession of an unreasonably detailed knowledge of American history.”

In a brief Q&A below, Ford shares some more insight into all-things hipster.

To start, what is a hipster?

A hipster is defined by the music a person listens to, the clothes they wear, the people they associate with, the places they like to hang out, and their attitude toward mainstream culture. When I think of a typical hipster, I envision someone in oversized, non-prescription glasses, skinny jeans, and an American Apparel V-neck T-shirt. They listen to indie rock bands like Vampire Weekend and Death Cab for Cutie. They only associate with other hipsters. They hang out at coffeeshops, bookstores, and vintage boutiques. They avoid mainstream music, movies, clothing, and hang-outs.

What are the reasons behind the rise in student hipster culture?


My generation is much more tolerant of people being “weird” than past generations. These days, many people think it’s cool to be different. Young people today feel like they can follow new trends without being criticized so much by their peers, unlike with our parents’ generation and before. They wear what they want, listen to what they want, watch what they want, and do what they want.

From your research, what is the common time in someone’s life to become a hipster?

People are most likely to start following the hipster trend in high school or college. Young adulthood is usually the time when people experiment with new trends, because they’re constantly trying to discover themselves and figure out who they want to be.

What were the biggest misconceptions about hipsters that you came across during your reporting?


Some of the people I spoke with while doing research for this story assumed that all hipsters were snobs. A few of them also told me that hipsters are fake and follow hipster trends just for attention. While I agree that some hipsters are certainly snobby or fake, I would say that there are people in every group who fit into those categories. Out of all the people I spoke with, not one admitted to being a hipster. One guy said, “I don’t think I’m a hipster, but I’m not mainstream either.” That was the closest I got to an admission. Some also made fun of hipsters. I read a quote online recently that said, “FACT: 93 percent of the people making fun of hipsters are hipsters.” After researching this story, I agree with that quote completely.

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