Archive for February, 2013

The Ball State Daily News at Ball State University is currently embroiled in a situation its editor-in-chief Andrew Mishler confirms “gives a good look at the ethical side of endorsements by student newspapers and what kind of controversy it can cause.”

As Mishler explains: “On Monday, the Daily News ran an editorial endorsing a slate for the executive board of the Student Government Association during elections at Ball State.  This is a typical practice every year for us prior to the election and something that many of the top circulating newspapers in the country do.

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“That day, we received a letter to the editor from the elections board chair of the SGA at Ball State.  In the letter, he criticized our endorsement, saying it brought into question our ethics as a newspaper and made our reporting look biased.  We published his LTTE [letter to the editor] as well as a response from our editorial board in the paper the next day.”

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A portion of the letter: “When I read news, I want to learn the facts so that I may formulate my own opinion. It is not [the paper’s] job to tell me what to think, only what the facts are.  When you take a side, or show an opinion, it brings all of your reporting into question. Some of the same people who wrote articles throughout the election season sat down and decided to endorse a particular slate. . . . The writers at the Daily News never informed me, or the elections board as a whole, they were writing an editorial about us. They never asked for comment on it or for specific comments to be used in it. It was extremely one sided.”

A portion of the response from the Daily News editorial board: “[T]he reality is writing endorsements is standard newspaper practice.  The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Indianapolis Star all write endorsements, just to name a few.  Each slate came to the Daily News willingly on Sunday and were all aware that we would likely endorse one of them. It’s a process [the SG elections board chair and letter writer Kevin] Thurman should understand since he sought the Daily News’ endorsement when he ran for SGA president in 2011. . . . It’s not a coincidence the Daily News’ opinion section is called Forum. It’s an outlet to start a conversation. . . . If Thurman or other students think it is unethical for the Daily News to have an opinion page, then should we eliminate it?  If so, Thurman would not have been able to write his letter to the editor.”

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More from Mishler: “From there, Ball State students erupted on Twitter– agreeing and disagreeing with the LTTE.  Many of the students in the TCOM department at Ball State publicly supported the elections board chair, essentially creating additional disconnect between the Ball State Journalism and Telecommunications departments. It doesn’t help that the Ball State College of Communication, Information and Media is trying to unify the different student media organizations at Ball State at the same time.  The feud only serves to build more walls against that at this point.”

As a follow-up, I asked Mishler why be thinks this year’s endorsement caused so much trouble, given that the paper has published similar endorsements in the past.

In his words, “[T]here was a lot of controversy surrounding the election in the prior week due to sketchy campaigning tactics and harassment over Twitter from anonymous accounts directed at certain slates. . . . Thurman may have also been upset about an editorial we ran last week calling for the elections board to be more transparent.  This all may have blown over into a LTTE aimed at our ethics and coverage of the whole election process. Personally, I think our coverage was as in-depth and fair as I’ve seen since I joined the Daily News four years ago.”

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What would the world be better off without?  In separate articles and op-eds appearing recently within collegemediatopia, students have offered a bevy of suggestions on “unnecessary traditions, ideas, and institutions” that should be scrapped or significantly changed.

Taken together, they represent a massive de-cluttering worthy of a similar feature published in The Washington Post.  The Post’s annual “Spring Cleaning” asks a select group of thinkers to nominate “an idea, a tradition, a habit, a technology . . . that we’d all be better off tossing out” from society at-large.  In its four-year run, writers have proposed that everything from engagement rings, exit polls, and premium gas to chick flicks, small talk, and the vice presidency be given the boot.

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In the spirit of their professional opinions, this (hopefully) regular feature brings student voices into the mix.  Below is a sampling of things students argue should be scrapped from college campuses and society at-large.

1) Professors who care more about their research than teaching or their students.  As Meg O’Connor contends in The Minnesota Daily, “I sometimes feel a great disconnect between my professors and myself. Yes, I understand that I am one of 50,000 students here and can’t expect to be known by name by everyone. However, some professors seem more interested in their own research than they are in their students.  Are we sacrificing great teaching for world-renowned research?  I understand the importance of learning from professionals in the field. Yet, there should still be professors in the classroom who are passionate about, well, teaching.”

2) Complaints about being a twentysomething.  As Syracuse University senior Kevin Slack advises in The Daily Orange, “Stop whining about how hard it is to be young and fun, everybody. It is absolutely the most ridiculous thing, ever. . . . Let’s be honest, being a kid is terrible. You can’t drive, you can’t see R-rated movies or do literally anything that is fun or interesting. You’re just a short idiot who’s at the mercy of your parents.  And what about being old? Being 30? 40? 50? . . . You wrinkle. Can’t move very fast. Forget things. Have responsibilities.  Ever wonder why old people long for their youth again? Yeah, it’s because this time, right now, is probably one of the best times of your life.”

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3) Hip-hop music and artists.  As University of Florida sophomore Erik Skipper writes in The Independent Florida Alligator, “[T]he rap industry is characterized by some of the most inarticulate and unintelligible lyricists who confuse clever wordplay and humorous puns for childish metaphors and lay-z innuendos.  I’ll be honest with you. I can’t stand rap. I believe that it is the most profligate and ignoble profession of all.  Rappers spew filth and objectify women. They glorify violence and promote drug use.”

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4) Pressure to regularly jog or exercise at the gym.  As Dartmouth University student Emily Albrecht points out in The Dartmouth, “Exercise comes in different forms. . . . Personal health can be achieved by taking walks, ice skating, playing ‘Dance Central,’ throwing a Frisbee– believe it or not, physical fitness exists outside of timed runs and hellish Stairmasters. . . . If somebody abhors going on a run, or riding a bike, or lifting weights or dancing, that is absolutely fine. . . . It is entirely possible to do great things without holding a gym membership or running for miles in the snow.”

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5) The entire month of February.  As Cornell University sophomore Deon Thomas writes in The Cornell Daily Sun, “For starters, year after year, February offends me with its cold and harsh weather.  It seems as if every year on Feb. 1, right on cue, I catch a cold.  Secondly, the most dreaded day of the years falls within the month of February.  This day is without a doubt Feb. 14, better known as Valentine’s Day.  I have my own theory that candy companies, jewelers, florists, and women everywhere met in secret and devised a plan to sucker men out of their money, as well as their ever-growing egos. . . . February is also known as the ridiculous ‘African-American History Month,’ the most ludicrous of all of February’s injustices. . . . My argument is probably best expressed by Morgan Freeman’s quote: ‘I don’t want a black history month.  Black history is American history.'”

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The latest edition of “Tattoo Tuesday” premiered today in The Daily Orange.  The weekly column in the Syracuse University student newspaper aims to ferret out, photograph, and share “some of the most intriguing and inspiring stories behind one’s art.”  It is part of a larger push within the paper’s Pulp section to publish diverse, reader-friendly features.

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As DO editor-in-chief Mark Cooper tells me, “Tattoo Tuesday adds a front-of-book element to our newspaper. . . . It was an idea that the Pulp section staff (our feature section) wanted to create last year, in early 2012.  We aim to find unique tattoos that students on campus have and tell their stories.  It also provides a shorter read and a visual for readers.  We try to have a front-of-book element in Pulp each day.  We have one called Wardrobe Wednesday, which highlights a student’s fashion choices, Beer Bites, a weekly short column about a different brand of beer or special beer, and we recently debuted an FOB on new apps that are useful to students.”

Here is a screenshot sampling of the other FOBs Cooper mentions:

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The Daily Tar Heel is 120 years old.  The vaunted student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrated the milestone late last week with cake, a special wraparound atop its regular issue, a video report— and a staff grave reading.

The latter took place at the tombstone of longtime broadcast journalist Charles Kuralt. As DTH newsroom adviser Erica Beshears Perel explained on a popular college media list-serv, “Kuralt is one of our more famous editors-in-chief (in fact, he never graduated because he spent so much time at the paper, the story goes).  He had finagled a coveted spot in the on-campus cemetery.  So the year after he died, we started a tradition of taking him a piece of birthday cake and that morphed into reading him the headlines, too.  You know how college kids love traditions. It used to be a fairly secret thing, but now it gets Instagrammed.”

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On the paper’s birthday– but separate from the festivities– UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication dean Susan King underscored the importance of j-education for the next 120 years.

Responding to a reader’s concern about students’ abilities to make a living with a j-degree, she wrote in Raleigh’s News & Observer, “This is not your father’s journalism school.  Our students and alumni are helping to create an entirely new world of communication where the future is wide open and opportunities abound. Our grads work at Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Hulu.  They work for N.C. dailies and community newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. . . . They are at TV and radio stations, advertising and PR agencies, political campaigns, nonprofits and businesses large and small.  Combine the skills we teach in the journalism school with the critical thinking and world view of a liberal arts education, and you’ve got graduates who are nimble, adaptable, and marketable.”

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Also on the same day as the DTH birthday special, the Indiana Daily Student was grappling with a milestone that may alter its own editorial future– and covering it with 120-point font.  The big news: Indiana University is combining its highly-reputed School of Journalism with a pair of separate programs– the Department of Communication and Culture and the Department of Telecommunications.

On Friday, the IDS, IU’s student paper, confirmed news of the merger with a special, headline-laden front-page.  In an editor’s note also on page one, EIC Michael Auslen expressed worries about “a diminished school” for IU’s j-students, possible changes to student media including the IDS, and an apparent lack of administrative understanding about the importance of journalism in the digital age.

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Auslen: “It’s rare that a newspaper is justified in printing a 120-point, bold headline.  Today is one of those days. . . . In July, President Michael McRobbie told the Herald-Times, ‘There’s no point in saving a school that trains people to manage fleets of horses if the motorcar has taken over horse-drawn transportation.’  Contrary to McRobbie’s belief, journalism isn’t dead. It is in a state of flux, as is the journalism school. . . . We’re rededicating ourselves to asking tough questions, seeking the truth, and serving you as the student voice of IU in every story we report.  We are not a horse-and-buggy operation.  We are– in print, online and through social media– your news.”

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Roughly 300 former staffers of The Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin have digitally signed an open letter criticizing the Texan’s overseeing board for its handling of the paper’s “life-or-death financial troubles.”  The Texan alumni are especially concerned about the possible elimination of the pub’s daily print edition, calling that pending decision “reactionary, short-sighted, and ill-advised.”

What is not in dispute: While the Texan’s journalistic prowess continues unabated, its economic outlook is in sheer freefall.  As The Austin Chronicle reported last spring, “[T]he student newspaper has become a shell of its former cash-generating juggernaut.  Advertising, distribution, and especially the classifieds revenue has all but evaporated.”

The paper confirmed its dire financial plight in an editorial earlier this week. According to top eds., the lack of revenue has led the Texan’s parent organization– Texas Student Media (TSM)– to consider ending the paper’s daily print run.  The editors disagree with the effectiveness of that plan.

As their editorial argues, “We understand the need to reverse the newspaper’s downward financial spiral, but we believe that reducing the number of days the Texan is printed when print advertising has made up more than 95 percent of the Texan’s annual advertising sales will not accomplish that goal. . . . The printed future of this newspaper should not be dispensed with so quickly and the opportunity to set the Texan on a different course should not be sacrificed along with it.  We need our readers, our professors, and our predecessors to rally for our cause, which is theirs, too.”

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The problem, according to the predecessors, is that this rallying cry has not yet been backed up by any active attempts to raise money or receive guidance.

In their letter, the Texan’s large alumni base– including many individuals seemingly still in journalism and some who are real power-players in the media game– refer to themselves as, thus far, “untapped resources.”  And they are concerned that TSM would threaten dramatic changes to the publication they love before they are first given a real chance to help.

A portion of the letter (available for public viewing via a Google Doc, with apparent plans to have it published):

“As alumni of The Daily Texan, we read Tuesday’s editorial with considerable consternation.  Those of us who fondly recall our time toiling in the paper’s basement offices are well aware that times are tough.  For years we have followed the Texan’s declining circulation, its shrinking advertising base, the unfortunate decision to sell the press, the scaled-back publishing schedule– much as a child follows the decline of an aging parent.  Nonetheless, ceasing daily publication of the Texan strikes us as a reactionary, short-sighted, and ill-advised response to the current crisis– one that not only fails to consider the value of tradition and The Daily Texan’s storied history on campus, but, worse, fails to avail itself of the rich resources that tradition itself has produced. . . . Short of the most passive gestures, Texas Student Media has made no clear or sustained attempt at outreach to The Daily Texan’s vast alumni base– neither for guidance nor, most glaringly, for purposes of development. In an era of great experimentation in the capabilities of philanthropic funding models for news media, Texas Student Media has not even bothered tapping a donor base captive to its sepia memories of Daily Texans past.  Therefore, we urge the TSM Board to refrain from further reducing The Daily Texan’s print schedule without first consulting us– Texan alumni. This is not a matter of self-interest on our part; this is a simple matter of availing yourselves of untapped resources.”

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Devastation.  According to Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte, the impact of the Hazelwood ruling on student journalism in this country has been nothing short of sheer devastation.

In a recent column, University of Wisconsin-Madison student journalist Pam Selman similarly referred to Hazelwood as an “infectious disease … quietly spreading across the country, harming students at college campuses and high schools alike.” For his part, law professor Richard Peltz-Steele has described it as a long-term “censorship tsunami.”

The storm formed in the early 1980s, when the principal of East Hazelwood High School in St. Louis, Mo., objected to a pair of stories produced by journalism students for The Spectrum school newspaper. The principal deemed the stories– on teen pregnancy and a classmate coping with her parents’ divorce– editorially unsound and unfit for an adolescent audience. Prior to the paper’s publication, he pulled the pages containing the pieces. In response, the Spectrum’s student editor and two reporters sued.

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Roughly five years later, the Supreme Court ruled in the school’s favor. The landmark January 1988 decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier was a giant step back for student press and speech rights. Unlike an earlier Supreme Court ruling that established the so-called Tinker Standard, the Hazelwood decision declared students do shed some of their Constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.

Currently, close to 30 years after the Spectrum first filed its controversial stories and 25 years after the Supreme Court ruled on the case, Hazelwood’s reach has expanded far beyond journalism, secondary schools, school-sponsored speech, and print publications.

In a recent interview timed to coincide with the milestone anniversaries, LoMonte provided eight basic truths about Hazelwood’s continued visible and invisible impact and how the ruling can be neutralized.

Truth #1: Hazelwood is a presence at the college level.  “When Hazelwood was first decided back in 1988 there was this long period where everybody in the legal and journalism community proceeded under the assumption that it was a case about children,” said LoMonte. “That was a safe assumption for a while, but it’s proving not to be any longer. The federal courts increasingly are looking to Hazelwood as providing the governing First Amendment legal standard for anyone at all who is a student, no matter how old, no matter how mature, no matter the level of education.”

For example, in 2011, a federal district court cited Hazelwood to support a decision by Auburn University at Montgomery to remove a 51-year-old graduate student from its nursing program. The student argued she had been unlawfully expelled for speaking out about perceived problems with the program’s disciplinary policies.

To read the rest of my Poynter piece, click here or on the screenshot below.

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There is a snowstorm brewing in Lawrence, Kan., one rough enough to cancel Thursday classes at the University of Kansas.  But it’s not stopping The University Daily Kansan.  Moments ago, the paper tweeted an Instagram photo of its staff hard at work in the newsroom putting out the regular Thursday edition– #snowpocalypse be damned.  On the projector screen, the KU men’s basketball squad is toppling Oklahoma State in double overtime.

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Good luck UDKers– stay warm!  Definitely one of my favorite student papers in the world.

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