Archive for November, 2011

The buzzworthy sex column launched earlier this semester in The Daily Collegian at Penn State University has been placed on temporary hiatus in light of the sex abuse scandal that continues to overwhelm campus.

As I wrote previously on CMM, the early October premiere of “Mounting Nittany,” the first sex column published within the Collegian, provoked a massive online response.  In subsequent weeks, it maintained a cult love-it-or-hate-it following.

Yet, as Jim Romenesko first reported yesterday on his eponymous site (I consider this his first post-Poynter mini-scoop), the column has not been run since a piece on hooking up was published at the start of the month– two days prior to Jerry Sandusky’s arrest.

Daily Collegian editor-in-chief Lexi Belculfine told Romenesko the column initially did not appear in print simply due to the bevy of breaking news and related space constraints, including an influx of letters to the editor about the scandal.

As she noted, “In the week that followed, we offered Kristina Helfer [the columnist] the opportunity to write a sex column on the scandal or sexual assault, but she decided that based on the tone of the previous columns that it would not be ‘respectful to those who have been affected by sexual assault’ to write the column that week. Instead, we ran another columnist’s piece on the importance of not being a passive bystander.  Looking forward, based on the current situation and mood at Penn State, we have decided to remove the column for the time being.”

My take: A smart, respectful move given the circumstances.  And just one of the many excellent editorial decisions being made by Collegian staffers as they continue their comprehensive coverage of the scandal.


“Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal: 10 Spin-Off Story Ideas for Your Student Newspaper”

“Penn State Daily Collegian Covering Widening Sex Abuse Scandal Nonstop”

Daily Collegian’s First Sex Column Goes Viral at Penn State

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Former University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer is now a Buckeye. In a press conference coronation yesterday, Ohio State University announced what had been leaking in sporting news circles for a week: Meyer, the former Gainesville hero who led the Gators to two BCS titles, was relocating to Columbus– and pocketing uber-millions in a down economy (something The New York Times focused on).

How did the student press cover the news?  Both The Lantern at OSU and The Independent Florida Alligator at UF featured the story atop their respective homepages.

The Lantern also put together a graphic sampling OSU student responses to the hire– optimistic about his experience, intrigued about the new spread offense, excited about the positive influence Meyer will have on young Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller, and only slightly nervous that high expectations may not mesh with incoming NCAA sanctions.

In a separate, classy commentary, Lantern staffer Michael Periatt reminded students to not forget interim coach Luke Fickell.  “Maybe Fickell made some mistakes,” he writes.  “Maybe he was put in an impossible situation.  But Fickell took over the program at its lowest point, at a time when many wouldn’t touch it   And he did it without hesitation. . . . [T]his is Meyer’s team now.  He will be the face of the program. . . . But don’t forget about the coach that led them there– the coach that cared so much it almost brought him to tears.  The season may be forgettable, but the coach deserves to be remembered.”

The Alligator also took the high road Tuesday.  The most high-profile commentary, by sports editor Tom Green, is a call-to-arms for Gator fans to get over their anger at Meyer leaving UF and then popping up at another national powerhouse a year later. As the well-written piece begins:

“Since reports began to surface last week about former Florida coach Urban Meyer taking the job at Ohio State, I have heard a lot of different reactions from Gators fans.  Some feel betrayed. Some feel they were lied to.  Others are disappointed or frustrated with the way everything played out.  However, there’s one reaction I have yet to see from the Florida faithful– empathy.  I understand all the negative reactions from Florida fans; it’s frustrating to see your coach retire, and then come back not even a year later to take his ‘dream job.’  But that’s exactly what Meyer did.  He took his dream job.  The opportunity of a lifetime approached him, and when it knocked Monday, he answered.”

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Can the student press turn a profit?  Michael Westendorf says yes, and he operates a newspaper aiming to prove it.

The Saginaw Valley Journal is an independent paper covering Michigan’s Saginaw Valley State University, an 11,000-student public school less than an hour’s drive from Flint.  The paper is a grand experiment of sorts– aiming to kick more than 100 years of college media wisdom smack in its bottom (line).  Westendorf started SVJ on the premise that it can not only earn money, but run long-term in the black.

A majority of student media operating today make barely any money.  Instead, they are produced, published, and distributed thanks to the financial largesse of their host schools.  A small number of campus outlets make enough through advertising and other support to run independently as non-profits.  For-profit, though, is not a status considered for even a second by most of the student press.

Westendorf– who started the publication small-time while a student at SVSU (he has yet to earn his degree)– is striving to buck that economic trend.  From an editorial perspective, he also appears to be attempting to embody SVSU’s motto: “Something More.  Something Better.”  In this respect, the key is a focus on substantive news.

In Westendorf’s words, “This newspaper was established for the SVSU community; for students, faculty, staff, and the administration.  It will be a newspaper’s newspaper, and by that we mean straight, hard news. . . . [W]e want to serve the faculty and staff as much as the students.”

Even its design– seemingly directly inspired by Wall Street Journal— screams serious.

The paper's most recent front page.

I admit, until I see actual revenue reports, a breakdown of how student staffers are compensated, and hear him speak and be vetted at a national or regional ACP/CMA convention, I am skeptical.  But slightly optimistic.  Westendorf is laser-focused on this venture like a tiger who’s spotted raw meat.  On spec, the content produced by him and his student team seems solid.  And Columbia Journalism Review deemed the effort worthy of a recent write-up.

In the Q&A below, Westendorf discusses the ins-and-outs of the paper’s for-profit, hard news, and independent statuses.

Michael Westendorf

These are tough times in the print news world, and advertising revenue alone does not seem to be cutting it.  How do you see SVJ turning a profit and staying afloat in the long term?

We’re really excited about the opportunities we’re seeing in the college newspaper market.  We believe we’ve found a profitable model for campus newspapers, and much of that comes from observing existing student newspapers and asking ourselves ‘What’s done right?’ and ‘What’s done wrong?’.

Our business department is in the unique position of being able to completely examine profit models, while ignoring the education aspects that other student newspapers must confront.  An admittedly cursory examination of most student newspapers nationwide would reveal bloated salaries and staff– all in the name of education.  We don’t do that.

How does the student employment component actually work?

We don’t differentiate between student-employees and employees.  If we think you’re qualified, we’re going to hire you.  We don’t limit our reporting work to students.  However, as it turns out, the editorial staff is composed of all students.  I’m sure that’s due to a number of factors, most of which is location.  We do not disclose salary/payment information to the general public due to strategic competitive concerns.  We take our competition seriously, and I’m sure they do the same with us.

You told CJR the paper would focus on more than “sex columns, Lady Gaga album reviews, and unresearched and disconnected opinion pieces.”  Why is the time for hard news now?

I don’t think the time for hard news is now (or vice-versa).  It’s just simply what we do.  I don’t think it’s any more relevant today than it was yesterday, or then it will be tomorrow.  In higher education and student newspapers, however, it seems to be sorely lacking.  At our university, at least, we’re seeking to fill that gap.

Do you worry as an independent, outside entity– and one described in CJR as occasionally combative toward SVSU– that your access might be stymied over time?

We actually don’t worry about access being stymied as much as we used to worry about it.  We’ve learned how to become diplomatic and to develop relationships with senior administration officials.  We’re also increasingly focused on community engagement.  Those two things (building relationships and community engagement) weren’t focused on as much as they should have been by us early on.  But now that they are, we’re finding that the university is actually starting to embrace us, instead of trying to avoid us.

Finally, as long as we continue to consistently put out a quality product, I think more and more administrators will start to look at the other newspaper and say to themselves, ‘Gee, this newspaper’s better, and it’s not being infused with $22,000 of student money each semester.  Maybe it’s time we start examining a better use for this money.’

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As news observers are well aware, the relative calm in Cairo, Egypt, has once again been shattered by protests, spurts of violence, and political unrest.  A side-story within the larger saga: the recent brief detainment of three U.S. students studying for a semester at the American University of Cairo.

The undergraduate trio– enrolled in the states at Drexel University, Georgetown University, and Indiana University– were arrested by Egyptian authorities for allegedly tossing Molotov cocktails and engaging in other unlawful activities with locals during a Tahrir Square protest.

Along with professional news outlets worldwide, the campus press from the students’ home schools have stepped up to provide related coverage– during what is a traditionally light week in college media circles (except for the sports staffers).

The Indiana Daily Student, The Hoya at Georgetown, and The Triangle at Drexel have collectively reported on all stages and numerous angles of the unfolding narrative– the arrests, interrogation by Egyptian officials, reaction of family and friends, the response from various university voices, and the latest update confirming their release.  Special kudos to Hoya staff writers Sarah Kaplan and Upasana Kaku for their especially vigorous reporting efforts.

One eye-opening snippet in an IDS story about the Indiana University student detained: “On his Twitter account, [the student] often wrote about going to Tahrir Square and participating in protests. On Nov. 13, he tweeted that he had a job in Cairo after graduation and on Nov. 19, he tweeted about throwing rocks, his eyes burning and seeing police fire live ammunition and rubber bullets. On the same day, he also tweeted ‘honestly, hopefully I die here.’  A video was posted on YouTube showing all three of the students on Egyptian state-run television. The video is in Arabic, but it shows the drivers licenses and student IDs of each of the students, a brief clip of them in front of plastic bottles with green fluid in them and a blurry clip of what is suggested to be the students protesting.”

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Temple University student Brian Dzenis is a devoted member of what he calls “Team Bacon.”  Along with journalism, Dzenis has publicly declared his enjoyment of three things most in this world: “sports, bacon, and foods that include bacon.”

The editor-in-chief of The Temple News, the student newspaper at the Philadelphia school, recently tested his bacon adulation and general carnivorousness by agreeing to not eat meat for a full month.

The challenge was part of “Vices,” a creative series published over the past year within the News “that challenges what we think we need.”  As the paper explains, “For each segment, a different writer will give up something he or she ‘can’t live without.’  We watch them land safely or crash and burn.”

Past News staff have temporarily sworn off personal obsessions such as coffee (“Coffee controls my life.”); smoking (“I let cigarettes control my life, my happiness, and my sanity.”); their smartphone (“My BlackBerry is my life.”); and World of Warcraft (“To say I like to game is a vast understatement.”).

Dzenis officially joined the Vices crew this semester.  A spicy beef jerky in late September was his last taste of normal for four weeks.  After removing meat from his diet, he found himself searching for protein from food such as black beans, Greek yogurt, veggie burgers, and peanut butter, to varying success.

The latter proved the tastiest.  “Jif and I are BFF’s,” he wrote in a reflection piece earlier this month.  “He made the headaches and hunger go away.  He makes fine peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, goes on crackers and goes great with bread and sliced bananas.”

In the Q&A below, Dzenis fleshes out his meat-free experience– including the side-effects and cravings– and recounts what it was like to rejoin Team Bacon after a month away.

You seem to love bacon a lot.  How did that start?

My attraction to bacon and other meat goes back to my childhood.  My mother would cook bacon on Sundays and the smell would wake me up in the morning.  She would also make homemade burgers and steaks as well, so meat has always been more or less a featured part of my diet.  At home, I’ve had days where meat has been part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  For example, there would be scrambled eggs with bacon, followed by a burger for lunch, and then chicken and a baked potato for dinner.  I guess when meat has always been regularly available, it makes it hard to give it up.

What physical, mental or emotional side-effects emerged during your recent meat exile?

Physically, the only time I really felt bad was during the first week when I started getting headaches from what my staff and I figured (and we’re certainly not doctors or nutritionists) was from the lack of protein.  Once I started eating a lot of food with beans or nuts, I was fine.  I didn’t weigh myself during the process, but I doubt I lost much, if any, weight.  I just noticed I could stay up a lot later at night during my meatless month.

On the mental or emotional side, I was told I was a little irritable at times from my staff.  As far as what I was thinking, avoiding meat never came naturally and was always a very deliberate decision. Anytime I went anywhere, I always had to do this exercise of crossing off all the things I couldn’t have. It’s not fun having to tell yourself ‘no’ so many times.

How often did you find yourself longing for meat of some type?

Every day.  Every single day.  I would get cravings from anything like smelling my roommate cooking burgers for himself to my helpful and supportive staff bringing chicken wings into the office and eating them in front of me.  I usually don’t watch that much TV, but I really made a point to get away from TV.  Those commercials are a tough sit.

In your related Temple News column, you wrote, “There are no words to describe the experience of eating bacon after a month [of not having it].” A bit more time has passed.  Do any words now come to mind?

It’s certainly hard to describe it in coherent sentences.  I would use words like strong, relief, filling, and maybe even warmth?  Even eating meat now (this is my first full week back), it doesn’t compare to that first bite after going a month without it.  It just tasted a lot stronger than I remember it, if that makes any sense.

[In Temple News video, watch Dzenis bite into meat for the first time in four weeks.  His all-smiles reaction: “Sweet Jesus, that’s good.”]

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On Friday night, the eyes and hearts of college football fans nationwide opened to an underdog hero of instantly-mythical proportions: Iowa State University.  Of course, as any living, breathing human who has ever played Madden knows by now, the ISU Cyclones staged a double-overtime, come-from-behind win this past Friday against the then-undefeated, second-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.

To this college sports fan, the historic victory brings to mind images of a narrowly-missed field goal, a batted-intercepted OT pass, a calm-cool-collected redshirt freshman QB, fans storming the field and singing “Sweet Caroline”– and a special digital edition of The Iowa State Daily, ISU’s student newspaper.

A screenshot of the front page of The Iowa State Daily "football edition."

As the paper’s editorial adviser’s Mark Witherspoon recounted in a post-game message on a popular college media advisers’ list-serv, roughly 20 staffers gathered to create the seven-page PDF “football edition.”  As he wrote, “The game was over about 11:30, they filled the newsroom by midnight, and worked until at least 5 or 6 a.m. . . . to get the special edition out.  It’s filled with wonderful photos, wonderful stories, an editorial eating crow on the sports guys’ wrong predictions, photo blogs, and digital highlights of the game.

“They collaborated with both isuTV and the two staff members of The Daily O’Collegian [the student paper at OSU] to get their video, their photos, and a column from the OK State side with its tragedy-filled day [a plane crash killed two OSU women’s basketball coaches].  They tweeted and Facebooked to get reactions from fans and former ISU athletes and suggestions for headlines and stories.”

According to a related post by Charles Apple at ACES, the key design element was freedom: “Because there was no press configuration to worry about, the ISD folks could break all sorts of rules.  Who cares about color positions if you’re not actually printing copies?  Who cares if you insert doubletrucks into places where they physically wouldn’t fit?”

ISD editor-in-chief Jake Lovett told Apple the first three pages of the paper were purposefully printed sideways, and will be available as keepsake posters for fans who want to frame and hang their memories.

A screenshot of page 4 of The Iowa State Daily "football edition."

Overall, as Witherspoon rightfully summarized the issue: “It’s a marvelous example of doing journalism in the digital age.”

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An “Ethics Corner” column in the latest issue of Editor & Publisher is offering one last journalistic smackdown of the deplorable student press censorship earlier this semester at the University of Kentucky.

For the uninitiated, here are the facts…  The timing: late August.  The location: Lexington, Ky.  The situation: University of Kentucky athletics officials, angry over a story published in The Kentucky Kernel, barred the campus newspaper from a day of one-on-one interviews with the school’s basketball team.  According to a Lexington Herald-Leader report, the Kernel had violated an unofficial UK rule limiting journalists from speaking to student athletes without the coordination of university media relations.

The UK media team says the rule is in place to ensure athletes are not “bombarded with interview requests constantly.”  Hmm.  Or maybe instead, as Rutgers University journalism professor Allan Wolper writes in E&P, the rule is an offshoot of the school’s almost-Orwellian need to control EVERYTHING about its basketball program.

As he writes, “[R]eporters from media organizations– be they students or professionals– are in constant danger of having their access to players and athletic officials cut off if they publish something the athletic department disagrees with or finds offensive.  It’s an institution of higher learning where athletic university staffers station themselves next to journalists interviewing basketball players to make sure the hoopsters don’t commit a thought crime. It’s an academic outpost where Thalethia Routt, an associate legal counsel to the university, criticized [the Kernel student reporter at the heart of this controversy] in an online post for being a ‘pretend journalist,’ because he dared to telephone two players.”

Wolper’s words build off the news media and public criticism aimed at UK Athletics that poured out in the immediate aftermath of the controversy.

The part of Wolper’s wonderful write-up that most shocked and saddened me: Apparently, UK journalism professors did not stand by the paper’s side and publicly express “real flashes of outrage” about the incident.  For the sake of the school’s j-program, I hope Wolper’s assessment is somehow mistaken.  Censorship is not something journalism educators should stay quiet about.

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