Archive for July, 2012

Administrators at the University of Florida and The Independent Florida Alligator continue to battle over the fate of 19 orange news racks that serve as Alligator distribution points on campus.

The so-called “UF-Alligator rack fight” is stirring a rising tide of news media attention and UF alumni criticism.

The highly-visible racks have been situated for roughly 30 years at “some of the most heavily-trafficked” spots on the 2,000-acre main campus in Gainesville, Fla.  The university plans to replace them with black modular newsstands of its own, charging the Alligator an annual licensing fee of $100 per stand to place their papers upon them.  The initial targeting of the 19 racks appears to be the first step in a larger push that will most likely lead to the removal of all independent Alligator stands.

Along with being a money issue, UF officials say the racks don’t “blend in with the historic look of the campus” and are foul-weather concerns.  As a university spokesman tells the Student Press Law Center, “Every time we have a tropical storm or hurricane, we have to get the racks off campus.  The worry was that this was a safety issue . . . where those racks could become dangerous projectiles in a storm.  The modular racks solve that problem.”

Alligator staffers and their supporters are not buying these style and safety concerns.  They say money and editorial control are the real motivations behind the sudden administrative finagling.

An online petition on, titled “Stop Removal of the Alligator’s Newspaper Racks from UF’s Campus,” secured nearly 3,000 signatures.

The petition’s creator, Alligator staff writer Erin Jester, explains, “The orange racks are the best way for the Alligator to stay independent and be easily accessible to students. By forcing the paper into university-owned racks, UF is able to control the Alligator’s campus distribution, which means the university could eventually force the newspaper off campus. The licensing fee is also an unfair tax on the paper. UF is forcing the Alligator to pay to distribute a free paper that serves the student body.”

In an editorial, headlined “Save the Racks: The Alligator Needs Your Help,” top Alligator editors similarly contend, “By removing our racks, we believe the UF administration is not acting in the best interest of the students. With UF now controlling our distribution on campus, what happens if we have coverage of the UF administration that they find unfavorable? . . . The uncertainty of this new arrangement will create a chilling effect, hampering our ability to provide students with the most accurate and unbiased coverage.”

Separately, Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago, a UF alumnus and former Alligator staffer, asks, “What is really behind this attempt to undermine the student newspaper and tax what is essentially a public service? . . . This isn’t a safety issue, and certainly UF’s orange-and-blue colors aren’t suddenly out of fashion in campus decor.  It’s at best a display of insensitivity to the value of a newspaper that shouldn’t be treated like a giveaway shopper.”

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The University of Memphis has slashed funding for The Daily Helmsman by $25,000 for the upcoming academic year, a full third of the usual financial assistance the paper receives from student activities fees.  Some current and former staffers of the campus newspaper view the dramatic cutback as possible retaliation for controversial editorial content.

According to a Commercial Appeal story earlier today, Memphis administrators and members of the student government have publicly and privately expressed their unhappiness at the paper’s recent coverage and a perceived lack of focus on UM.  UM’s dean of students: “I can’t begin to tell you the examples that came up in [a recent meeting with the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee] about things that the paper did print that seem to have very little relevance or that seemed to touch very, very few students on the campus.”

Hmm.  Those concerns seem strange, nay ridonkulously wrong, given the amount of high-profile stories the Helmsman broke and reported upon over the past year alone.  Staffers spotlit serious campus issues involving everything from retention rates, athletics revenue (or lack of it), and potential crime reporting violations to student-athlete misconduct oversights, student ID card theft, and a rape in an on-campus apartment carried out by an individual living there under the guise of being a UM student.  The list goes on…

So, what’s really going on here?  Helmsman general manager Candy Justice says censorship: “It’s a First Amendment violation.  It’s just one more example of what the Helmsman has to put up with.”

The university says editorial concerns were not part of the fee allocation committee’s funding decision, pointing out there was an overall drop in available funding for all campus groups.

Justice told the Commercial Appeal the Helmsman may be forced to cut publishing days or staff pay due to the budget chop.

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Jenna LaConte recently warned Kanye West to steer clear of a romantic relationship with Kim Kardashian. She separately pushed rageaholic R&B singer Chris Brown to move past his feud with rapper Drake.

She also told Justin Bieber to plead guilty in court and accept jail time for assaulting a photographer — stemming from an alleged incident in May — in order to finally earn the “thug status” that comes with spending time behind bars.

Bieber, Brown and West did not ask for LaConte’s advice, but that did not stop her from dispensing it.

“The Unsolicited Celebrity Advice Column” is a weekly summer blog series published by The Gavel, a progressive student newsmagazine at Boston College. LaConte, Gavel‘s culture editor and a junior English and communication double major at BC, has a four-fold aim with the half-serious, half-satiric feature.

First, she is using the column as a vehicle to indulge her celebrity and gossip news urges.  She is also seeking to provide a fresh, real-world perspective on the Hollywood bubble.  In addition, she is helping to keep Gavel blog content fresh during the summer doldrums, when many student media websites are so stale their homepages sport weeds.  And she is occasionally reminding readers that other individuals are involved in bigger celebrity stories, not just the A-list celebs.

For example, when news broke about the Miley Cyrus engagement drama, LaConte wrote to Liam Hemsworth — her budding actor fiancé — not Cyrus. Her advice to Hemsworth: Call the whole thing off, fast.  As she wrote him, “Don’t let the lack of brain activity in Hollywood drag you down. Please reconsider this grave mistake. You’re better off having everyone laugh off the short-lived engagement than going down in history as yet another failed celebrity marriage.”

In the Q&A below, LaConte lays out the scoop behind “Unsolicited Advice,” including how she selects the celebs and the advice she offers them.

Q: How did the column come about?

A: I write for The Gavel. We pride ourselves on being progressive politically and technologically, meaning we’re able to update online all the time. So as the year came to a close, we were all thinking it would be fun — just as a summer project — if individually we each took on a blog. So, for our next meeting, we were all told to present an idea. My mind instantly went to celebrity news.

In some ways, it’s a little bit embarrassing because it isn’t of course the most intellectual topic. But if I’m browsing the Internet, I find myself reading celebrity gossip websites.  We’re surrounded by it. We’re all sort of familiar with it.  Reality TV right now, we watch it for the train wrecks. It’s just how I like to unwind, I guess, to read about the train wrecks in Hollywood.

I then decided the typical kind of news writing form could easily get boring — both for me and readers. So I just thought, “Since we turn to celebrities so often for the train wreck aspect, why don’t I take that and turn it around on the celebrities and pose solutions to their unimaginable problems that we’re always reading about in the headlines?”

Q: How do you decide who to advise in each post?

A: The way I look at it, you have people like Lindsay Lohan, whose life is falling apart every day. I could write to her, but I’d end up doing it every single week. So I decided instead to go looking for some of the more hidden celebrity gems, coming up with things that aren’t right out there in the forefront of the news or taking something that’s really popular and putting a different spin on it. For example, with John Travolta’s marriage falling apart, I wrote to his wife instead of him.

Also, I like to stay as current and relevant as possible. I like to be on TMZ [the night before writing each post] so I can have something that’s a bit more recent. Some of the more interesting ones are those you aren’t necessarily thinking about all the time or aren’t all over the radio like the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce.

To read the rest of the post, click here or on the screenshot below.

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As the world hovers on the precipice of full-blown Olympics madnesseven Mitt Romney is confident the London festivities will be a rousing success– college media summer staffers are set to provide continued coverage from the student perspective.

Already, in the run-up to the Games, many outlets have profiled their own school’s student, staff, and alumni Olympians.  They have also produced more interesting and offbeat news, feature, and commentary pieces touching on everything from Olympics fashion and the treatment of transgender Olympians to sports that deserve an Olympics slot (including Quidditch and yoga) and a fascinating 10-part feature in The Daily Illini on the Olympic dreams of a world-class gymnast that ultimately came up short.

Below is a screenshot sampling of these blog posts and stories.  If you have a related feature of your own, please email me!

The State News, Michigan State University

The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley


NextGen Journal

The Lantern, Ohio State University

Her Campus


The Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

The Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University

The Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech

The Daily Athenaeum, West Virginia University

The Columbia Spectator, Columbia University

The Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

The Daily Kent Stater, Kent State University

The Daily Collegian, Penn State University

The Daily Bruin, UCLA

The Daily Kent Stater, Kent State University

The Michigan Daily, Michigan University

The Stanford Daily, Stanford University

The Daily Illini, UIUC

PBS MediaShift

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At a college media advisers’ workshop last week in St. Petersburg, Fla., Caley Cook held court.  In a spirited morning session, the print and broadcast journalist, journalism professor, and student newspaper adviser shared a bevy of tips focused on successfully navigating the college media advising minefield.  Much of the advice also applies to students segueing this fall into an editor post.

Below is a paraphrased breakdown of her words of wisdom– and a fun video at the close involving a quirky crab dance.

How to Be a Great College Media Adviser

1) Don’t be a bull in a china shop.  Drop your 18-point plan to change everything on day one, during the first semester or even during the first year.  Practice patience.  Accept that things won’t be in tip-top shape when you arrive and will require a slow shift to achieve the excellence to which you aspire.  To get there, take on one big change at a time.

2) Learn the larger campus culture and who your outside advocates are.  Specifically ferret out those who are able to approve and provide funding, a needed signature, a push through bureaucracy, and help with recruiting or promotion.

3) Communicate openly, honestly, often, and IN PERSON with your staff, students, faculty, administrators, the printer, and alumni of the school and your news outlet.  Avoid email whenever possible or at least avoid over-using it.  During her time at Allegheny College– while advising The Allegheny Campus— Cook said she tried to walk across campus at least once a day to talk to someone, shake hands, look them in the eye, get feedback, and accept criticism.

4) Administrators, repeat after me.  During chats with high-level school officials especially, what you will often have to tell those who simply don’t ‘get’ student media: “Repeat after me: I am not the editor.”

5) Ease up on the critical high ground.  Don’t make critiques your only interaction with staffers.  Be a sounding board, a mentor, a cheerleader, and, to a limited extent, a friend (or at least a friendly figure).

6) Go ahead, brag.  Brag about your staff’s work to faculty, administrators, admissions staffers, and prospective students and parents.  The praise will stir greater respect among the powers-that-be and provide students with the chance to receive the best type of compliment– secondhand.

7) Set standards and a culture of accountability.  You can have a big role in the publication’s big picture and the ways in which students work.  Create a handbook and refer to it enough that it matters in students’ eyes.  For example, while at Allegheny, Cook printed out the student newspaper handbook on day one and had all staffers read and sign it.  If nothing else, the handbook can provide a buffer during difficult moments in which students fight against taking orders from their peers or question someone’s experience or decision-making.

In a related sense, create a system in which students are held accountable by other students (their editors).  Encourage student leaders to take charge of shaping and updating the rules– making the process student-first and always collaborative.

8) Let students fail.  Prepare them to fail gracefully.  And embrace failure’s power as a learning tool.  Failure enables students to much more memorably and actively assess and see the flaws in their own work.  It also builds character and subsequently (hopefully) leads them to produce better journalism.  In part, the necessary failures will come when you stop hovering.  You need to be in the newsroom, often, but not all the time, and not standing over students’ shoulders and critiquing every move while they write, design, and edit.

9) Accept that students listen sporadically.  Toward the end of her talk, Cook shared an anecdote about advice she once offered her student newspaper team, soon after realizing it was going unheeded.  Months later, at a convention, a group of editors raced up to her, telling her they had just received some great advice from a session speaker and they intended to follow it to a tee.  As Cook recalled, she could only smile– it was the same advice she had previously given them.

10) Develop and nurture a sense of humor.  You will need it.  If not, you will burn out fast.  It will also lead to a greater rapport with students.  Journalists are quirky.  And student journalists are even quirkier because they’re just starting out and figuring out who they are.  As long as it doesn’t overly distract from a deadline push, embrace the quirkiness.

One example of j-student quirkiness: a short video sent to Cook featuring two of her (now former) student newspaper staffers at Allegheny.  Click.  Watch.  Enjoy.  Don’t try at home.  Or at least don’t livestream while you’re doing it.


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A University of New Mexico staffer apparently beat a duck to death earlier this summer with a metal trash grabber– and tossed eggs from its nest in a pond.  When confronted by an eyewitness– who wrote a letter this week to The Daily Lobo— the assailant said she was simply following school policy and cleaning up the nest’s mess.

Every Friday night at a bar near the University of Texas at Austin, raucous drinkers gather to watch turtles race.  Apparently, the shelled creatures move faster than some spectators expect.  Why is the event held?  In a new Daily Texan video, “The Slow and the Furious,” one young woman said about a recent race, “I didn’t get what the purpose of it was, but I thought it was really cool.” :)

Columbia Daily Spectator online editor Jake Davidson recently walked into his homestay in Morocco– where he is living and studying this summer– to find a chicken in the laundry room.  At first, he thought his homestay family was planning to eat it.  Now, he’s not so sure.  As he tells the Spectator, “It’s been a week and the chicken is still there.  I don’t know if we’re keeping it as a pet or what.”

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In the aftermath of the Aurora, Colo., movie massacre, the professional news media are presenting an endless stream of stories about the shooting, suspect, victims, weaponry, and the legal and law enforcement processes.

Many of the reports are directly or indirectly related to students, faculty, and staff at colleges and universities nationwide.

While student media are currently in slowdown or shutdown mode due to summer break— boasting skeleton staffs and reduced publishing schedules— the fall semester should not be considered too late to run stories in some way connected to the horrific event in Colorado.

Here are five potentially relevant news angles and spin-off stories student journalists should consider tackling at or near the start of the new school year.

1) Campus gun rules and culture: As the shock from the shooting segues to grief, anger, and soul searching, the gun debate has begun ratcheting up nationwide with renewed fervor.  Impassioned arguments range from those focused on the need for stricter gun laws to those pushing for a relaxation of concealed carry rules– built atop the premise that a moviegoer legally armed that night in the Aurora theater may have taken out the shooter before so much blood was shed.

For a related report, first outline your state’s gun laws, purchase procedures, and concealed carry permit specifications.  Then, more generally, explore your campus gun, and anti-gun, cultures.  Speak to local gun owners, collectors, and sellers about the Aurora tragedy and their larger motivations for making firearms a part of their lives.  Also seek out students or staff who have in some way been affected by a gun crime.  Separately, look into the amount and types of firearms discovered and confiscated on your campus each year, including how many have been purchased illegally.

2) Campus security issues and oversights: The shooting has raised many questions about movie theater security nationwide.  For instance, over the weekend, a Colorado State University student who previously worked at a theater confirmed what most moviegoers have long suspected: cinema security is mostly lax or entirely absent.

As Emily Kribs wrote in The Rocky Mountain Collegian, CSU’s campus newspaper, “I worked in a Thornton, Colo., movie theater for one summer, during which we weren’t faced with anything close to the shooting at Aurora’s Century 16 complex.  However, I think we were similarly prepared for one, which is to say not at all.  In terms of security, we had a box around the ticket sellers designed to prevent theft, rather than violence. We relied on peoples’ social graces when we told them they couldn’t enter without a ticket or told them to stop talking. And we never performed pat-downs or examined peoples’ costumes for potential threats.”

Extending Kribs’s observations to the larger theater of academia, pinpoint key safety issues on your campus.  Through objective reporting, confirm the most unsafe areas at your school and within the surrounding community. Highlight student behaviors deemed especially risky, such as solitary late-night food runs or attending house parties in a questionable part of town. Break down the ins-and-outs of the security team and tactics in place for student and staff protection.  Confirm the spots, times, and types of incidents that campus police are notoriously slow to deal with or tend to ignore.

Building upon the shooting’s occurrence at a midnight show, focus especially heavily on nighttime safety. Speak to student survivors of after-dark crimes. Go on an overnight ride-along with local police. Investigate late-night security at campus residence halls, science facilities, and parking lots. Survey students more generally about how safe they feel on campus at night, while alone or with friends, during the week and on the weekends.

3) Enrolled and in mourning: Family, friends, and colleagues of the shooting victims are increasingly speaking to news media about the individuals close to them who were injured or killed and their own shock and sadness– especially those who lost someone they love.

In a much larger sense, students experience loss on many levels during college— rarely as horrifically but sometimes just as suddenly and jarringly as those affected by the attack in Aurora. Sadly, the death of a parent is among the most common losses students face. In fact, one in 10 individuals deals with the death of mom or dad before turning 25.

In spring 2011, outgoing Daily Kansan editor-in-chief Kelly Stroda told the tales of three University of Kansas students who lost a parent during their time in school.  As she wrote 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.”

Tell the stories of students on your campus who have lost someone close to them, such as a parent, during their childhood, adolescence or as undergraduates. Separately, reach out to the loved ones of students who died while still enrolled at your school. Find out how the families are currently coping, what they are doing to ensure the students’ memories live on, and how the school handled the deaths at the time and in the long term.

4) Crime related: While eliciting nowhere near the same amount of sympathy as the deceased, survivors, and their loved ones, a few other individuals connected to the shooting are most likely in pain at the moment and in need of support: the family and friends of suspect James Holmes.

Of course, as most of the world now knows, when contacted by a reporter about her son’s possible involvement in the attack, Arlene Holmes immediately responded, “You have the right person.  I need to call the police. . . . I need to fly out to Colorado.”

The words are a chillingly powerful reminder: Our family members are often the ones who know us best, and are sometimes majorly affected by our decisions and mistakes. In this case, Holmes’s crime will undoubtedly have a tremendous, long-term impact on his close and extended family.

To better understand the ins-and-outs of this type of criminal connection, speak to students and staff currently dealing with the consequences of a loved one’s criminal activity or imprisonment. Document how their loved one’s crimes or punishments have impacted their own lives and their related struggles to maintain or move past a loving relationship.

Separately, profile students who have a criminal history of their own. Also, look into your school’s policies and procedures regarding student and staff criminal checks, including how the findings impact enrollment and employment decisions.

5) Student dropouts: Prior to planning and carrying out the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, James Holmes was apparently a quiet, academically-minded young man. He had recently been struggling though in a neurosciences graduate program and was in the process of withdrawing from school. In no way is the university at which he was enrolled being blamed for his horrific behavior.

But his pending dropout status aligns him with many, many students who do not finish college or graduate school.  At the undergraduate level, the number of students leaving school prior to commencement has risen so dramatically in recent years that the U.S. now boasts the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world.

In respect to its commonality, an Oakland University student who had previously dropped out of school even argued this past spring that dropouts deserve a ceremony similar to traditional graduations.

As Daniel Drake wrote in a Mooring Mast column headlined “A Shout-Out to Dropouts,” “[W]hile the graduates are treated as people, the rest of us are treated as statistics.  Every year, analysts write about why some of us failed to complete all four years of our degree.  Nobody writes about all the work we did to make it through one year, or two, or three.  If we celebrate the hard work of those who graduate, why not celebrate that of those who don’t?”

Regardless of whether or not we should celebrate them, let’s start by reporting upon them. Seek out individuals who have dropped out of your school, temporarily or permanently, due to financial, academic, behavioral or general life troubles.

Tell the stories of their student stints and current off-campus lives, including the amount, type, and quality of assistance offered by staff at your school. Also gather and share their advice to current students on the precipice of voluntarily leaving or being forced to withdraw from school.

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