Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

A front-page headline in The Patriot at Francis Marion University celebrating the FMU baseball team’s upset win over the South Carolina Gamecocks recently earned the attention of the wider web.

The full header… “Patriots Beat Cocks: Team christens new stadium with win over Division I champions.”  What do you think– innocently exuberant or knowingly sexual?

Deadspin’s take on it: “College Newspaper Captures Euphoria Of Historic Upset With Headline Alluding To Masturbation.”  SportsGrid: “Headline Of The Day Could Be About A Baseball Game, Could Be About A Masturbation Party.”

This reminds me of “‘Cocks Blocked,” the two-word bolded headline that dominated the front page of an early January 2011 FS View & Florida Flambeau.  On a literal level, the hed referred to the Florida State University football team’s victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks.  But the term also of course alludes to an interference preventing someone from engaging in sexual activity.  (Yes, it apparently even has a Wikipedia entry.)

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In recent years, the fallouts from student press April Fools’ editions have ratcheted up– or maybe it just seems that way due to social media.  Regardless, I strongly believe in the usefulness and power of these special issues.  When done right, they can start much-needed conversations, trigger university-wide belly-laughs, and memorably point out all manner of campus lunacies and hypocrisies.

Students should of course be warned about the dangers and educated about the legal and ethical implications.  But otherwise I do believe student media staffers should be let loose, within reason, once a year to make Fools’ themselves– for their own and others’ enjoyment.

Why I’m Still in Favor of April Fools’ Editions

1) They are part of a tradition.  Satire and one-liners have long been entertainment and commentary mainstays within college media, harkening back to the early days of student humor magazines near the start of the last century.  One example, an aside in an old Harvard Lampoon:

He: “You know I love you– will you marry me?”

She: “But, my dear boy, I refused you only a week ago”

He: “Oh! Was that you?”

2) They are funny.  Amid the gasps and mob attacks on a few high-profile failures each year, a breathtakingly large majority of college media’s April Fools’ content is simply enjoyed.  The stories and images elicit chuckles, knowing eye-rolls or “hey-look-at-this” pass-alongs.

3) There is truth in laughter.  The special editions often poke and prod at campus and national issues worthy of introspection and critiques.  In some cases, the spoof stories are able to voice an opinion about a sacred campus cow in a much more impacting, eye-catching way than a regular news story or op-ed.

4) Snark, snark, everywhere.  Current media, pop culture, and everyday conversations are evermore awash in snarky spoof-tasticness– from “The Daily Show”, The Onion, and Twitter to HBO’s “Girls,” Jenna Marbles, and memes.  The April Fools’ editions fit snugly into how students increasingly live, laugh, communicate, and receive information.

5) Education, spoofed.  Amid the clunky story tropes and painfully unfunny headlines, the editions are the foundation for an actual learning experience.  Stepping back from straight news, students’ April Fools’ work teaches them how to use “humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”  The satirical news production cycle also teaches students about related legal issues and what issues and individuals are fair game and off-limits.

6) A change of pace.  The calendar is kind to these editions, calling for them at the exact moment in spring semester when student staffs are especially tired of the news grind and each other.  Just as their journalistic hearts are growing cold and hard like leftover newsroom pizza, April Fools’ is a one-off issue in which laughter can and should kick off the brainstorming meetings; staff bonding can and should trump news pegs; and j-students’ batteries can and should be recharged.

7) The Fools’ forever factor.  The issues are unique keepsakes, providing fresh, funny glimpses into campus life at particular moments in a school’s history.

Why are you in favor, or not in favor, of student press April Fools’ editions???

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The student newspaper and yearbook staffs at the University of Portland are being evicted from their offices in the school’s student center to make room for professional staff overseeing a campus religious group.  Portland administrators apparently decided upon the shift without consulting students serving on either publication.

In a news story, The Beacon, UP’s student newspaper, shared, “Next year Campus Ministry will relocate four staff members to the Beacon’s 1,100-square-foot office in St. Mary’s Student Center, forcing the Beacon’s 30 staff members into a 400-square-foot office currently occupied by The Log staff, who in turn will take over a 250-square-foot conference room. . . . Since all of the Beacon’s staff will not be able to fit into the room, the staff will conduct its twice-weekly all-staff meetings in the main part of St. Mary’s.”

A trusted source with knowledge of the move confirms to me, “The University of Portland’s administration is unilaterally evicting the paper from the office it has had for almost 30 years to make way for the offices of an administrative group.  The paper was not consulted on this at all.  The replacement the school offered is essentially a closet. The yearbook’s in the same boat.  Its staff is much smaller, and can barely fit in its current office as it is.  The consolation prize is an even smaller closet.”

In a separate editorial this past Friday, the Beacon contended, “Though Campus Ministry plays an important role on campus, what [administrators] are doing is wrong. This forced move will greatly affect the ability of student media to do its job.  It also shows a lack of respect for students.  We are not just an extracurricular activity. We provide a necessary and integral service to the University: We are the voice of students. Anything that hurts the ability of student media to be a student voice also hurts the entire student population.”

The UP administration’s prioritizing of professional staff over student media is especially troubling against the backdrop of a dramatic cut to the school’s on-campus student employment budget that will mean “fewer students working on campus, fewer hours of work for student workers or a combination of the two.”

My Take: Unilateral decisions are the antithesis of higher education.  UP administrators should have manned up and talked it out.  Share the plan with Beacon staffers and the student body at-large.  Explain the rationales fully and clearly.  Elicit student feedback.  And be prepared and even excited to receive a better idea or idea tweak that might lead you in a different direction.

I mean, come on, seriously, UP?  You’re moving one of the most prominent student groups on campus out of its longtime HQ without warning or much explanation, in favor of a much smaller, less prominent organization that wasn’t even requesting such a large space?  Inelegant is one word that comes to mind.  Cowardly is another. Weird is a third.

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Drunkorexia.  Over the past academic year, the five-syllable word has become the most publicized new disorder impacting college students.

A growing number of students, researchers, and health professionals consider it a dangerous phenomenon.  Others dismiss it as a media-driven faux-trend.  And still others contend it is nothing more than a fresh label stamped onto an activity that students have been carrying out for years.

The affliction, which leaves students hungry and at times hung over, involves “starving all day to drink at night.”

As a new report in The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania further explained, it centers on students “bingeing or skipping meals in order to either compensate for alcohol calories consumed later at night, or to get drunk faster. . . . At its most severe, it is a combination of an eating disorder and alcohol dependency.”

Drunkorexia surged into the spotlight most prominently last fall after an an eye-opening study by University of Missouri researchers revealed “one in six students said they restricted food in order to consume alcohol within the last year.”

Why are these students allegedly engaging in such behavior?  The Calgary Herald confirmed, “They say they’re aiming to get drunk faster, they want to save food money for booze, and they want to keep their weight down.”

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

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The Daily Cardinal at the University of Wisconsin-Madison celebrated its 120th birthday today with a resplendent special issue reflecting on its past and predicting its future.  As the paper confirms, “Since the 1890s, The Daily Cardinal has been a lens through which Wisconsin students have seen their world. . . . For the past 120 years, students have produced The Daily Cardinal through wars, protests and tragedies.”

Among the issue’s highlights: a Q&A with an alum who edited the paper in the early 1940s (following an all-staff strike in the late 1930s over the firing of the executive editor for being Jewish); a full-page, two-story tribute to former staffer Anthony Shadid, who died earlier this year in Syria while reporting for The New York Times; and a piece from current executive editor Kayla Johnson headlined “The Next 120 Years.”

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The Black Student Union at the University of Oregon is accusing The Oregon Daily Emerald of racial stereotyping in its coverage of a fight last month between opposing players facing off in an intramural basketball playoff game.  The group is also charging the school’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) with racial profiling in its initial handling of the incident.

In early March, two intramural hoops squads made up of Oregon students were involved in “a really physical game that just got out of hand.”  A hard foul led to a bench-clearing brawl and some physical violence, admittedly from members of both teams.

Yet, when DPS officers arrived on scene only black students were detained.  In addition, according to a local broadcast news report, the Black Student Union (BSU) “says the [white] student who started the fight was made to look like the victim” in related Emerald coverage and treated like the victim by the DPS.

As evidence of journalistic bias, the BSU specifically cites a pair of photographs run with the Emerald brawl report: 1) A shot published on the front page of the print edition showing a black student player surrounded by DPS officers, in handcuffs, and seemingly needing to be restrained.  2) A shot on the jump page of a bruised white student appearing fragile and innocent as DPS officers inspect him– even though he confessed throwing punches and was tagged by some as the actual fight-starter.

The group feels the photos are visual representations of a slant in the story itself that they allege unfairly paints the black players as harmful perpetrators and the white students as their vulnerable prey.  They are claiming unintentional stereotyping, without malicious intent.

BSU members are also complaining about the location of the front-page photo depicting the detained black student.  It ran in the far right column, adjacent to a separate story on crime in a neighborhood near campus known as West University. The BSU is concerned about the headline “Criminals of West University” appearing so close to the student photo, apparently “stereotypically associat[ing] a black man with crime.”

(My Take: This particular grievance is extremely weak for two reasons.  1) The “Criminals” story is the seventh installment of a multi-part series on crime in that neighborhood, undoubtedly scheduled for publication and even possibly laid out long before the basketball fight broke out.  2) There is a prominent line/border separating that centerpiece from the basketball report.  Check out the image below.  I see nothing but two stories competently laid out and clearly separated, along with a weather forecast calling for fog and a high in the 50s.)

A screenshot of a portion of the front page on the day the basketball brawl story appeared.

At a special meeting last week between the paper, the BSU, the DPS, and university administrators, Emerald EIC Tyree Harris stated, “The story [on the brawl last month] was clearly questioning everything involved in the situation.  Nobody in the newsroom was trying to portray this story in a stereotypical way.”

Related

For the First Time, Black Students Serving as Editors-in-Chief of Oregon, Oregon State Campus Papers

Oregon Daily Emerald-Oregonian Joint Reporting Project: A Podcast Chat with the Emerald’s Deborah Bloom

Student Press Story Headlines That Make Me Giggle #5

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The Orange County Register‘s planned “news mob” coverage of this evening’s opening day Major League Baseball game between the Angels and Royals is earning quite a bit of buzz, including a pair of write-ups from Jim Romenesko.

Building on heavy advance coverage, more than 100 Register staffers (including roughly 70 reporters) “will descend on Angels Stadium” later today, providing a nonstop torrent of stories that makes the standard definition of comprehensive seem obsolete.

The paper’s Angels editor Keith Sharon: “I like flash mobs, I like cash mobs, and what I’ve been telling people is this is an overwhelming choreographed allocation of news resources.  I want everybody who sees our website, our print product, our iPad product, our mobile device product to think: ‘They thought of everything.  I mean everything.'”

A news mob can be a powerful tool within the college journalism ranks– for a campus publication, an intro or advanced journalism or media class or even an independent group of j-students who join forces nationwide.

Based on the rundown provided by Sharon and related reports, there appear to be 10 keys for student journalists to keep in mind when conceiving and carrying out a successful news mob of their own.

10 Keys to Staging a Successful News Mob

1) Advance Check.  The Register’s Opening Day mob is a result of seemingly immense forethought, sophisticated coordination, and months of lead-time.  In this spirit, approach your news mob with a true blueprint.  Select a point-person.  Hold planning meetings.  Elicit ideas and feedback.  And when the mob is at last dispersed, ensure everyone’s in the loop and armed with the right equipment, on-site and online access, and news pegs.  One caveat: On the day of the event, be ready for– and embrace– the unexpected.

Separately, provide uber-amounts of preview coverage to complement and build anticipation for your planned real-time and next-day reports.  Come up with a title, tagline, and logo to brand all related content, on the web and in print.

2) Immense Audience Interaction.  Let your readers join the mob!  Encourage them to submit photos, videos, first-person blog posts, story ideas, and oodles of hashtagged tweets.  One facet of the Register‘s mob has involved readers “sending in photos of themselves in Angels gear and writing about their love for their favorite team.”

3) Cross-Section & Multi-Platform Coverage.  Ensure your content scope covers as many areas as possible– from news and commentary to sports and A&E.  I’ll dub it the HuffPo test.  Among the categories currently included within Huffington Post’s ever-expanding universe: business, politics, tech, comedy, healthy living, religion, crime, women, gay voices, Latino voices, and weird news.  Have mob stories planned for most of those categories and a few others?  You’re set. :)

As Sharon recently reminded his fellow Register staffers in a memo about their Angels coverage, the paper has “received collaboration from sports, cities, music, television, movies, The Fast Food Maven, In Your Face, graphics, Freedom Interactive, social media, the iPad, mobile, Lansner on Real Estate, Handling Hard Times, Small Business, OC Moms, travel, art, The Morning Read, technology, theater, trending (and if I left you out … you probably helped too).”

Separately, utilize students working in all editorial areas, including photography, video, and social media.  Consider related advertising opportunities.  Even reach out to competitors if a collaboration of some sort might be mutually beneficial.

4) Other Perspectives.  Mob mentality is the tendency for people in a crowd to suddenly all start thinking alike.  Don’t let your news mob suffer from it.  Avoid being so laser-focused on the event that you lose sight of its larger context or opposing views.  For example, as part of the Angels mob coverage, the Register has featured the perspectives of locals who are NOT fans of the team.  In this vein, be sure to spotlight people who could care less about the event you’re covering or find it a nuisance.  Similarly, if there is controversy lurking around the event or the individuals participating in it, start digging.

In addition, don’t forget NEXT DAY coverage, a rundown of what goes on immediately after– and maybe even long after– an event wraps.  (One of my favorite related stories is a piece written by a former student of mine that focused on what happens to the party beads tossed around during an event like Mardi Gras after the parties are over.)  And separately, look back.  Complement the massive coverage of what is happening in the moment at the event with historical glimpses of the whole shebang.

5) Reward Risk.  From a Nieman Lab report on the Angels coverage: “Reporters are being encouraged to find stories that aren’t regularly on their beats, to take stylistic risks that normally wouldn’t fly, and generally to get outside of their comfort zones.  The message Sharon says he emphasized most: ‘Break out of what you normally do, and it’s okay to try something that you didn’t think you could before.’  There will be stadium food reviews, photos from the best sports bars, and an analysis of the song that plays during the seventh-inning stretch.”

6) Publish with Purpose.  Be a smart mob.  Ensure there is a point to every story, multimedia component, and interactive element.  Don’t report for the sake of reporting or simply to fill column inches or web space.  As Wilmington’s Star-News staffer Michael Voorheis contends, “It’s one thing to think of everything.  Quite another to sift through it and find what’s relevant.”

7) Think Real Time.  Along with preview pieces and post-event write-ups, present real-time videos, photos, podcasts, blog posts, Facebook status updates, and tweets.  Ensure the website you set up comes across as the fully-functioning, organized, and polished place to be for related coverage of the event you’re mobbing.

8) Self-Promotion.  Simply put, publicize your work!  Engage readers well before the start date.  Hold a related logo contest.  Lay dibs on a hashtag early.  Don’t shy from running a few reports on the build-up and execution of the mob itself, along with the news it’s covering.  Two reasons for the self-promotion: 1) It spreads the word and hopefully ups your audience.  2) It ensures people at the event being mobbed and those checking out your related coverage understand what the heck’s going on.  (“Why are 70 reporters at this game?!  “Why is the entire website given over to Angels stories??”)

9) Be Choosy.  Picking the right event is paramount for this particular endeavor.  More on this aspect in a follow-up post…

10) Have Fun.  It’s a mob, not a war.  This should be an adrenaline rush for the participants, a nice change-of-pace, not a slog.  For student publication editors planning a news mob, be sure not to bill it as an additional assignment atop everyone’s already-bursting workload.  Instead, integrate the conceptual planning, preview coverage, real-time work, and post-event wrap-ups into the existing workflow.

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