Archive for May, 2013

Are high school student newspapers disappearing en masse?  In a full-on “ink is drying up” rundown earlier this week, The New York Times documented the startling, sudden lack of student papers at New York City public high schools.

According to the Times, “The student newspaper has long been a cherished tradition at many of the nation’s top high schools, one that allowed students to take initiative and hone their writing skills while absorbing lessons in ethics and responsibility. . . . [T]he decline of these newspapers in recent years is not a loss only for schools, but also for an industry that is fighting for survival.”

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I would add to that Times snippet: This decline– if not supplanted by digital news offerings– would also be a huge loss for college media and higher ed. journalism programs.  A student news shortage in the scholastic ranks could have as big an impact on collegemediatopia as the long-term debilitating effects of the Hazelwood decision.  (If you recall my late February Poynter piece— “We are raising a generation of sheep.”)

Now, New York City’s scholastic press troubles are certainly troubling on their own. But is the Big Apple’s student paper shrinkage a genuine problem of national proportions?

To help provide perspective, I solicited the thoughts of Kelly Furnas, an assistant professor of journalism at Kansas State University and the executive director of the Journalism Education Association— the country’s “largest scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers.”  (Shameless plug alert: He is also a contributor to Journalism of Ideas.)

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Furnas: “I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that there’s a connection between the newspaper industry’s profit margins and the state of high school journalism programs.  However, this article looks at a segment of high schools– especially those in low-income areas– that have the hardest time maintaining elective or extra-curricular activities.  You could have just as easily replaced ‘student newspaper’ with ‘foreign language classes’ or ‘arts’ and the article probably would have read the same way.

“There are a ton of variables that affect the viability of a student newspaper, and finances are certainly part of the equation.  While sometimes advertising helps support student newspapers, staffs also fund printing through fundraisers, sponsorships, state support, and booster programs.  Unfortunately, those schools in areas where advertising sales are challenging also are going to struggle with those other funding models, too.

“However, I’d argue the most dangerous threat to a journalism program is the turnover of teachers in those schools.  Teaching journalism can be an especially stressful, time-intensive and lonely position, and the lack of support can be a real threat to their longevity.  Without a steady hand overseeing a journalism program, small problems can suddenly become major threats to the newspaper’s existence.”

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A picture posted on Twitter caught my eye this afternoon, and then made me laugh aloud, respectfully.  It’s an image of the opinion page from the last issue of the semester published by The Trail Blazer at Morehead State University.  A spirited editorial on the left flank about journalistic integrity is aligned oh-so-wonderfully with an editorial cartoon showing a student reacting to “the horrors of finals week” in full rage comic fashion.  And the capper is an oh-by-the-way headline about a deadly poison directly beneath that reaction.

Juxtaposition is everything.  Enjoy.

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How would you feel if the Spinnaker became a glossy-print magazine?  It is the second question on a survey for University of North Florida students, faculty, and staff aimed at eliciting outside feedback in preparation for the Spinnaker’s potential shift from a weekly newspaper to a monthly newsmagazine.

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As Folio Weekly reports, “The tentative plan for publishing a magazine would call for 10 monthly issues– including two double issues– beginning in Fall 2013.  ‘People can expect more investigative news pieces and longer and more in-depth feature pieces,’ if the student publication makes the change, [editor-in-chief Jacob] Harn said.”

According to Spinnaker adviser John Timpe, 10,000 to 12,000 copies of each monthly mag would be printed– compared to the current 4,000-print run for the weekly paper.

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Front page of a November 2012 Spinnaker.

As Folio Weekly confirms, the Spinnaker’s student mag inspirations: Distraction at the University of Miami and Ampersand, produced by The Red & Black at the University of Georgia.

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A cartoon satirizing Islam in an Australian student newspaper has triggered censorship, press coverage, and “a flurry of activity” in the land of Oz.

The faux infographic appeared on the backpage of a recent edition of Woroni, the campus paper at Australian National University.  According to editors, the Islam-focused illustration was “the fifth in a series that satirized facets of different religions; [also featuring] chronologically, Catholicism, Scientology, Mormonism, and Judaism.”

Cartoon critics– including some international students– “condemned the piece as insulting and offensive to Islam and to religion in general.”

ANU officials meanwhile “felt that it actually breached the rules of the university in terms of student conduct and . . . the rules of at least the Australian Press Council principles to which Woroni abides.”  They were also at least slightly concerned about a violent response from individuals outside the campus community, along with it serving as a pinprick to the university’s standing as diversity-friendly.

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Amid these concerns, the ANU leadership has forced Woroni editors to publicly apologize and remove the page featuring the cartoon from the issue’s online archives. Hmm.

In addition, according to editors, “the Woroni board was twice summoned to [a top administrator’s office], individually threatened with disciplinary action along with the authors of the piece, and informed that Woroni’s funding allocation could be compromised.”  Double hmm.

A Woroni editor says it is the first time officials have adopted “such an active role in disciplining us and saying what we can and can’t publish.”

Three larger questions prompted by ANU officials’ actions and not-so-subtle threats: Should individual students ever be punished for the work of student media as a whole? How should admins. with limited or no journalism experience judge the actual and perceived inappropriateness of student press content?  And how and when– if ever– should they intervene in the editorial process?

An editor’s note in the Woroni: “Woroni regularly features material that is challenging, and even at times confronting.  By their very nature, universities are forums to critique ideas and beliefs. University newspapers– as a platform for students– should ideally reflect this role. . . . The editors hope that Woroni will continue to be a platform for discussion and criticism.  However, from this experience we have learnt the importance of balance and tact when dealing with highly sensitive issues.”

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“If a venture capitalist gave you $750,000 to start a media company on this campus, what would you build?”

In April 2011, not long after he began his tenure as publisher of The Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon– since rebranded the Emerald Media Group– Ryan Frank posed this purposefully provocative question to the student staff.

In part, Frank’s aim with the $750,000 question was to inspire students to begin redefining how they plan, produce, and present journalism and to reinvent what it means to be a college media outlet.

As Frank told me a few weeks ago, “That was the first push we had to say, ‘Forget what we’ve done for 112 years.  Pretend you’re starting from scratch. You’ve got VC money.  You’re running a startup.  What would you build?'”

Over the next 13 months, the early ideas stemming from that question– and many free-flowing newsroom conversations that followed– dramatically evolved.  Their endpoint was a fully-realized, uber-researched, focus-group-tested, board-approved plan for an Emerald unlike any that had come before.  Exactly one year ago today– May 23, 2012– the staff went public with their reinvention MO and what they dubbed “the start of a new era, the digital one.”  Their one-word summation of the initiative: Revolution.

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At present, 365 days after its premiere, I can excitedly confirm: the Revolution has been a rousing success.  Over the past academic year, the Emerald’s innovative efforts have been immense, frequent, and fearless.  The staff’s spirit of collaboration, lean startup style moxie, and idea development have been NONSTOP and so audacious the news, marketing, and tech teams deserve a Pulitzer for Whiteboard Brainstorming. And their push to greatly expand the breadth and depth of what it means to be a student journalist and student newspaper is so awe-inspiring it makes me smile just thinking about it.

At this moment, within the land of collegemediatopia, there is nothing quite like the Emerald.  In the press landscape today, I can think of no greater compliment.

In fact, the Emerald is so cutting edge it makes this (admittedly informal) award outdated.  I am honoring what I consider to be the best college newspaper of the past academic year.  But the post-revolution Emerald is no longer just a newspaper. It hasn’t been since 11:59 p.m. PST, May 22, 2012.  At midnight on the day that followed, it morphed into a full-blown, much more wide-ranging media company with a gigantic, noble mission: “to make college better.”

On a special site erected to honor the Revolution’s one-year anniversary, staff describe 5.23.2012 as simply “the day everything changed.”

Sharing that sentiment, I do believe the Emerald is changing college media greatly, for the better– setting a foundation for how to more richly report and share news; how to unleash digital journalism’s potential; how to generate revenue; how to structure staff; how to mesh marketing, advertising, events planning, tech tinkering, and pure journalism; how to merge professional and student staff; and how to remind readers of student journalism’s sexiness and significance.

During an exclusive chat with me last night, incoming and outgoing Emerald editors-in-chief Andy Rossback and Sam Stites shared their perspectives on the Emerald’s accomplishments over the past year, laid out some plans for next year, and offered advice for student news teams looking to follow in their innovative stead. [Click on the play button in the audio track below to listen to the interview in full.]

Interview: Emerald editors Andy Rossback & Sam Stites

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At the end of the chat, Rossback summed up the Emerald staff’s stellar work ethic– and its link to the place they call home.  In his words:

All of us here really identify as Oregonians.  We identify with the pioneer spirit . . . the Oregon Trail and coming out West, searching for the edge of the world.  That’s really what we’re trying to do in our own way.  It’s kind of like Oregon’s football team.  It’s a flash of innovation and speed. And it’s everything about being an Oregonian or a Pacific Northwesterner. We love trying really hard and working really hard to come up with the best thing that we can.  We like to impress ourselves every day.  We try to impress each other.  And [the element of] surprise is, I think, probably my favorite part of working at the Emerald– walking into a room and people are talking about something that is totally next level.  I love working in an environment like that.  I think it’s probably a similar feeling to how [world-famous distance runner] Steve Prefontaine felt running around the track at Oregon or around Eugene or around Coos Bay.  His quote, I’ll read it for you here in close.  It says, “How does a kid from Coos Bay with one leg longer than the other win races? All my life people have been telling me, ‘You’re too small, Pre.’  You’re not fast enough, Pre.  Give up your foolish dream, Steve.’  But they forgot something.  I HAVE TO WIN.”  That’s hanging right above my computer screen.  Right next to a picture of Steve Jobs that says, “I want to put a ding in the universe.”

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As the most recent natural disaster in Moore, Oklah., shows, coverage of weather events is an increasingly vital skill for journalists worldwide– including, of course, in the state of Oklahoma.

According to Judy Gibbs Robinson, the veteran editorial adviser to The Oklahoma Daily and OUDaily.com at the University of Oklahoma, “[Monday’s] F4 tornado just to the north of our campus occurred during one-day training for the small summer staff [of The Oklahoma Daily, which is a weekly during summer break].  Needless to say, we were not prepared.  As the afternoon and evening unrolled, I discovered how little this current group of young students knows about covering weather (in Oklahoma!).  So I created a handout for them titled ‘How to Cover Weather Stories.'”

Among the tools and tips Robinson shares on the handout, some of which she learned from the 2013 SPJ Region 8 conference:

1. Get news releases from the National Weather Service.

Go to the National Weather Service website at http://www.srh.noaa.gov.  [Next, click on the relevant spot on the map for local weather information.]  Click on “news” in the top navigation bar.  And scroll to “media registration” to register to receive news releases.

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2. Follow InteractiveNWS.

iNWS is the new, and experimental, mobile and desktop application from the National Weather Service.  Use it to receive customized text message and email alerts for weather info you care about.  Go to http://inws.wrh.noaa.gov

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3. Social Media.

Follow the (fill in your city here) NWS office on Facebook and Twitter for real-time weather reports.  Links are on the website:  http://www.srh.noaa.gov.

4. NWS Chat.

Go to https://nwschat.weather.gov to register to participate in an instant, real-time chat between the media and the emergency response community.

5. NWS Chat Live.

Here is an enhanced version of NWS chat– not sure how they are different though: https://nwschat.weather.gov/live/

**Bonus Tip: Find Out About the Kids.

Candace Baltz, general manager of student publications at Washington State University, has one more essential weather coverage tip.  In her words, “As someone who found herself covering tornadoes live on-air last spring for several hours at a time– and with no personal tornado experience to pull from– I found the info our listeners were most interested in was not just where the storm is and where it’s heading, but their kids– what to do about the kids.  So I’d highly suggest including the school district spokesperson contact info, as well as the police and city, so you can report that the kids are on lockdown or dismissing early, etc.  That may not be as interesting for a college publication, but it’s still good info to get.”

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As the academic year at last draws to a close and the Class of 2013 leaves campus for good, advice is everywhere– in commencement speeches, parent chats, and student newspaper columns.

Along with adults who supposedly know better, current upperclassmen and graduating seniors are offering endless words of wisdom to their student peers on making the most of the college experience and the post-grad transition.

Some of the advice published in student papers lately opines on big picture issues. Other tips touch on the small stuff. In respect to the latter, as The Badger Herald at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently suggested, “Always carry cash. . . . Never let anyone drive your car. . . . [And] only date excellence.”

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In this second part of a two-part feature, here is a sampling of the excellent advice– big and small– students have shared publicly in recent weeks.

Figure Out What’s Right, Not What’s Right Now.  As Meg O’Connor, a student at the University of Minnesota, writes in The Minnesota Daily, “Graduation provides a time for people to reflect on what exactly it is they want to do. Don’t jump into something because it is what your parents want for you or because you feel that it is the ‘right thing to do.’ Do what feels right for you. We have the rest of our lives to be working professionals, so taking a couple years off or even just a summer away to give you a break sounds like a mighty fine idea to me. . . . It’s more important to figure out what is right rather than what is right now.”

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Know A Little About A Lot.  As Amanda Butcher, a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, confirms in The Torch, “Your college major might not matter so much to employers. In fact, four of five employers said that graduates should have a general arts and sciences knowledge, rather than something ultra-specific. . . . If you know a little about a lot of things, you can always be taught specifics. . . . Hardly anyone ends up in the job they started out in. As people advance in their career, they need to have more knowledge than they started out with. Having a broad spectrum of knowledge would make employers think they can let you move higher on the totem pole of the company.”

Voice Your Opinions, on All Available Platforms.  As Zack Scott, a student at Temple University, contends in The Temple News, “Writing opinions in the more traditional sense will always have its benefits and will never truly go away. . . . But there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to be avoiding letting their opinions be heard when the threshold for publication has never been so low. Whether through social media, blogs or even comment threads, you can publish your thoughts and people will actually read and be influenced by them. By any standard, that is incredible. And to not take advantage of it would be nothing short of irresponsible.”

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Recognize What You’ve Already Accomplished.  As Dennis Biles, a graduating senior at San Jose State University, writes in The Spartan Daily, “For those of you who are about to graduate and feel nervous about the next step, stop quivering in your boots of foreboding and realize you’re more prepared than you may think. Just getting through college, especially in today’s America, is a significant achievement in itself. . . . Going to college now is harder than at any time in the past. It’s more expensive and more challenging than anything your predecessors dealt with before … Take it from me, if you’re able to survive college you’re well prepared to survive the real world.”

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Admit Your Own Stupidity.  As A.J. Artis, a graduating senior at Emory University, notes in his final humor column for The Emory Wheel, “You can’t make fun of people for being stupid unless you admit that you are also stupid. No one has anything all figured out. And to mock someone for not having things figured out, without acknowledging your own lack of direction, is not funny. The best stories are the ones that secretly say, ‘I’m pathetic.’ If you want to be funny, hide your feelings or make fun of them. And of course, write on the toilet.”

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