Archive for April, 2013

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“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center.  I’m black.  And I’m gay.”  With those words, published yesterday in a Sports Illustrated cover story, Jason Collins became an instant American icon.

The veteran NBA player is now the first active male athlete in one of America’s four premier sports leagues– the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL– to publicly declare he is gay.

As his announcement continues to reverberate across the public, press, and sporting landscapes, there are a plethora of potential spin-off stories worth pursuing that may be relevant to your campus or higher education in general.  Here are five possible news and feature pieces to consider.

1) The Obvious.  Grab reactions from students, faculty, and staff at all levels and in all parts of your school– from the university president, a campus Christian coalition representative, and student-athletes and coaches to student super-fans, foreign exchange students, and members of the LGBTQ community.  Along with grabbing your own reactions, check the social media feeds of prominent and everyday students and staff.  Any especially out-of-the-blue, passionate or vitriolic tweets or status updates?

2) The Check-In.  Use the Collins declaration as a platform for a progress report on where your school stands on gay rights, education, and awareness issues.  How accepted and safe do LGBTQ students and staff feel in 2013?  What incidents have campus security or administrators dealt with in recent semesters?  What related research are professors pursuing?  What related classes or course content is being offered?  What have been the turnouts for, and relative successes of, related campus events? And what revisions have been made to the school’s admissions, housing, and student life guidelines?  Separately, speak to alumni to determine the campus atmosphere in past eras.

3) The Neutral Movement.  At a growing number of colleges and universities– in middle America and along the coasts– students are protesting, passing resolutions, and publishing commentaries calling for more gender-neutral housing and restroom options.  The push appears to be part of a larger student-led fight on some campuses for greater “transgender inclusiveness,” something The Oklahoma Daily hailed last spring as being at the heart of “this generation’s civil rights movement.”  What is the status of the gender-neutral fight at your school, if one exists?

4) The Fame Factor.  In a new report, The Huffington Post confirms one major side-effect of Collins’ announcement is an opportunity for him “to be of some value to big brands looking to capitalize on his newfound fame.”  Sexual orientation aside, what students or staff at your school have suddenly found themselves on a rocket trip to fame-town?  What precipitated the extreme exposure?  And what have their post-fame experiences been like– short-term and long-term?

5) The Support System.  In his first-person piece for SI, Collins expresses great admiration for one of his aunts.  Being the first relative he told, her understanding made him “comfortable in my own skin.”  Who do students most often utilize as their own support systems?  Why has a particular family member or friend been placed in the number-one supporter role?  And what do students recall about the suport they have been given or given to others during a major moment of personal or even national trauma?

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For hundreds of additional ideas, check out my new book Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age.  One early supporter calls it “an instant classic” and “the next new mandatory text for college journalists.”  Order a copy today.

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Stanford Daily columnist Joseph Beyda is determined to not give a damn about Jason Collins’ historic disclosure about his sexual orientation.  In a Sports Illustrated article yesterday, NBA veteran Collins became the first active male athlete in one of America’s four premier sports leagues– the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL– to publicly declare he is gay.

As the Collins announcement continues to reverberate across the public, press, and sporting landscapes, Beyda says he will try “not to think of him as a pioneer or a national hero.”  Why?  Because that’s what Collins wants– to keep the focus on his athletic performance and not his personal life.

As Beyda writes in a larger sense:

I’ve always thought that the true joy in being a sports fan is something that is born early on. It’s about knowing the players by name, getting lost in the flow of the game, learning which opposing teams to hate– the sorts of things that a four-year-old can do.  When you get older, all of that is augmented by analyzing the action, understanding the full course of a team’s season, and learning about what players are like off the court. But none of those additions are at the heart of what makes a sporting event fun.  As much as possible, I try to be a four-year-old in the stands and a 19-year-old on the car ride home.  That kind of sporting experience is blind to the X’s and O’s, blind to the bigger picture and blind to prejudice.  So if you go to a game looking to heckle Collins, as he says he expects some fans to do, you’re the one missing out.

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Bombs in Boston. Boston Massacre. Explosions Shake Students. Marathon Ends in Tragedy. In Boston, Fear at the Finish Line.

These headlines and many others like them ran prominently on the front pages of college newspapers across the country the day after a pair of bombs caused deaths, injuries and mass panic during the Boston Marathon.

College media have since covered the manhunt for the bombers, the citywide shutdown and the initial legal decisions in the impending case against 19-year-old living suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The news outlets and their student readers have simultaneously been reflecting on the larger lessons and questions sparked by the tragedy and its aftermath.

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The main question University of Minnesota student Chris DePauw asks, in a word: Why?  He says the key is knowing where to direct that “why.”

“When tragedy strikes as it did [during the marathon], we naturally ask why,” he writes in The Minnesota Daily. “We often do this in the retroactive sense, wondering: ‘Why was this allowed to happen?’ … From 9/11, to Aurora, to [the marathon’s] nauseating horror, respectively, we question, ‘Why were they allowed to board the plane?’ and ‘Why was someone with a mental illness allowed access to a gun?’ and ‘Why was security so porous at the country’s most prominent marathon?’”

As DePauw argues, “I believe our proactive solution can be found by asking ‘why’ in the proactive sense. Why is it that these monsters are driven to kill so arbitrarily and massively?”

By comparison, in a staff editorial, The Daily Illini at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign contends our insatiable curiosity with the alleged monster Tsarnaev is misplaced.

“The suspect’s trial, his motives and his behaviors aren’t what the public needs to know,” the editorial shares. “What it needs to know about is the four who died, and the countless who have helped since … Those who, instead of running in a different direction, ran toward danger to help the injured. Those who stayed inside during the manhunt to make it easier for law enforcement to find the surviving suspect who was on the loose … Instead of continuing to focus on the perpetrators with anger and curiosity, let’s remember the people of Boston. Let’s immortalize the good rather than perpetuate the evil.”

In a related sense, Daily Free Press columnist Colin Smith writes that our desire for vengeance against evil should not overwhelm rational thought, including unfairly targeting the bombing suspects’ homeland.

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As Smith, a freshman at Boston University, explains, “America, as great a country as it is, has a propensity for fixing leaky faucets with a sledgehammer and a blowtorch. That is to say, we overreact … That’s why, when news came out that the two brothers [the bombing suspects] were from the Russian region of Chechnya, I got nervous. We can’t jump to conclusions and say the brothers were motivated by Chechen separatist groups. In fact, the main rebel group in the region has stepped away from the brothers, affirming they are at war with Russia, not the United States. Filtering these attacks through a Chechen separatist agenda makes no sense, and the last thing we need is another enemy.”

At The State Hornet, Alexandra Poggione reminds readers, in the end, there is no real explanation for what occurred earlier this month.

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As Poggione, a student at California State University, Sacramento, recounts about the scene that tragic day, “Runners’ legs were on fire — filled with lactic acid and alternately burning and aching with strain — when what some thought were fireworks celebrating their achievement exploded on the sidelines. This, America, is insanity. It is insane that people were killed at an event that holds up some fine athletes and physical fitness as pinnacles of humanity. It is insane how now some people fear these events — fear participating in an event that, in essence, celebrates life.”

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Boston Bombing Suspect: Former Classmates Tell Harvard Crimson He Was ‘Pretty Much a Friend to Everyone’

Boston Marathon Blasts: Student Newspaper Front Pages

Boston Marathon Blasts: BU Student Photographer’s Pic Picked Up by New York Times, AP, Reuters

Boston Marathon Blasts: Harvard Crimson Posts Running List of ‘Harvard Affiliates’ Confirmed OK

Letter in Boston College Student Paper: BC Professor Who Hates Running Vows to Enter 2014 Boston Marathon

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Students at the University of California, Irvine, overwhelmingly approved a measure this week that would add 99 cents to their individual student fees each quarter ($2.97 per year) in order to keep their campus newspaper in print for the foreseeable future.

As I posted last weekendNew University, UC Irvine’s paper of record, has apparently endured a financial bloodletting in recent years due to rising printing costs.  New University editor-in-chief Jessica Pratt even told the Los Angeles Times that unless a majority of students voted to approve the 99-cent fee, the paper may cease to exist in hard copy form in any frequency in only a year.

A week later, New University’s print prospects are on much more solid ground.  According to reports, close to three quarters of the UC Irvine students who voted– while also simultaneously voting in the student government election– chose to support the measure.  It needed 60 percent approval to pass.

As OC Weekly put it: “The New U was saved!  The New U was saved!  Yes, those UC Irvine students buried financially in tuition, boarding, book and PBR costs that’ll have them paying back government loans until they reach the Social Security age to be pulled out from under them, have approved a $3 fee to save the student newspaper, New University.”

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The staff’s reaction, according to Pratt: “We started screaming and cheering.  It was a great moment. . . . I’m so happy that people understand the importance of the campus newspaper and that they voted for us.  I just really want to extend my extreme gratitude because this paper means so much to me.”

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The 99 Cent Solution? UC Irvine Students to Vote on Future of Campus Newspaper

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Over the past few days The Daily Campus at Southern Methodist University has been providing around-the-clock coverage of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum dedication festivities.  As the paper noted in one of its many posts and pieces touching on the events: “The chance to be in the same place as one president is rare.  To be in the same place as five living presidents?  Your chances are slim to none.”

The Daily Campus crew made the most of the once-in-a-lifetime chance.  Along with a commemorative print edition, they unveiled and updated a special part of the website known as the Bush portal, maintained a live blog, and engaged in a live chat with The Dallas Morning News.

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Stories in the print edition centered on the library’s use of social media (a first for these types of presidential facilities), its collection (including more than 350 baseballs meaningful to Bush), former First Lady Laura Bush’s role in its design, and the library opening as a larger fresh political start for the city of Dallas— apparently still first thought about as the site of the JFK assassination 50 years earlier.

As the latter story shares, “Fifty years ago this November, another president came to visit the lone-star state setting in motion events that would tarnish Dallas’s reputation for years to come.  The assassination of President John F. Kennedy left the nation reeling, and in the aftermath Dallas was labeled not only as the place where Kennedy was killed, but also as the ‘City of Hate.’ . . . The opening of the George W. Bush Library brings with it not only many important faces– like those of the five living presidents– but also the hope of a polished new reputation.”

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An extra I found especially interesting: a Google map put together by the Daily Campus showing the locations of all 13 presidential libraries in the U.S.

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The latest year-in-review edition assembled by The Crimson White, premiering today, goes full-on BuzzFeed.  The top-notch University of Alabama student newspaper modeled the entire 32-page issue after BuzzFeed’s homepage and internal pages– right down to the iconic page-topping categories LOL, win, OMG, cute, RTR, trashy, fail, and WTF.

The special issue (hat tip JimRomenesko.com) delivers a month-by-month rundown of the previous two semesters.  Among the highlights and lowlights: a BCS national championship, the subsequent arrest of four football players, the reelection of President Obama, the resignation of UA president Guy Bailey, a Nelly concert, the end of inter-fraternity pledge programs in part due to hazing issues, and the death of athletics director Mal Moore.

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The BuzzFeed review follows the CW style of going all-in at year’s end and during big moments.  For example, in April 2011, the CW published a special 3-D year in review, an issue mostly forgotten due to the subsequent Tuscaloosa tornado.  The paper delivered a special print edition during the immediate aftermath of that storm and a year later released a special anniversary issue.  In addition, the past two Januarys, CW staff has unveiled special editions celebrating and commemorating the university’s national college football championships.

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Crimson White ‘Year in Review’ Issue Published in 3-D

Crimson White Special Edition Commemorates Alabama’s National Championship

Alabama’s Crimson White Creates Special Issue, Reporting Documentary on Anniversary of Tornado

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Roughly a month after officials at a New Mexico community college briefly shut down its student newspaper due to the publication of a sex issue, some faculty are still seeking an apology– and a promise it will not happen again.

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A letter to the editor published in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education signed by nearly two dozen current and former professors refers to it as a “seamy episode” in the history of the school.

As they write, “The dust appears to be settling and expressions of anger have subsided, but many faculty members at Central New Mexico Community College are still troubled by the administration’s decision on March 26 to suspend operations of the student newspaper.  We are relieved that the president, Katharine Winograd, reinstated the paper less than 21 hours later, but we must point out that the college has not acknowledged that its initial decision was an arrogant assault on free-speech rights.

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As I previously posted, CNM admins suspended The CNM Chronicle in late March almost immediately after the paper premiered a special sex edition.  They also removed copies of the issue from newsracks across campus.  The issue included features on BDSM, abstinence, local classes on “sexual violence, G-spots or how to give a great blow job,” sex toys, and sexual identification.

Initially, CNM officials said they were censoring the issue and temporarily closing the paper because the sexually explicit content was “offensive and not appropriate for the educational mission of CNM.”  College president Winograd later explained they shut it down due to concerns about a 17-year-old quoted in one of the pieces– even though the Chronicle’s editor confirmed the quote was given with the full knowledge and permission of the source and her parents and the Student Press Law Center noted “there are no legal problems with including a minor.”  A day after the hubbub began, the paper was reinstated.

So was the quick reinstatement a sign of good faith, or just an attempt to save face amid a bad press wave?  The faculty letter signees argue the latter.

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As they confirm, “Some of us believe that the only reason the paper was reinstated was to avoid further embarrassment for the college.  President Winograd’s unwillingness to acknowledge that the college did anything wrong in the first place has only reinforced that conviction. Nor has anyone in the administration or on the Governing Board said anything to reaffirm the centrality of First Amendments rights to the mission and operations of the college.”

The letter writers subsequently ask some big questions: “What kind of message has been sent to the college’s students, faculty, and staff?  Had there been no public uproar, would the newspaper still be mothballed?  If the administration does not believe it erred, will it try again?  Will it seek quieter, less visible ways in which to prevent the CNM Chronicle from covering stories on, say, strained relations with faculty, which the administration would like to shield from public scrutiny?  And what kind of accountability, what level of responsibility, is the college demonstrating to the community?  Does the administration assume that employees and students will eventually forget about this seamy episode?

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Central New Mexico Community College Suspends Student Newspaper After Sex Issue

Central New Mexico Community College Reinstates Student Newspaper After Sex Issue Brouhaha

College Media Podcast: Sex, Censorship & Something Called Darktable

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