Archive for the ‘Teachable Moment’ 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 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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I recently came across a video journalism series produced by The Montana Kaimin at the University of Montana that is worth emulating or using as inspiration: “1 in 15,000,” a regular video profile of individual students at UM who are doing interesting (not necessarily extraordinary) things.

Here are two excellent “1 in 15,000” examples, both put together by Kaimin staffer Brady Moore.

Below are the top 10 reasons I like these student video profiles, and what you can learn from them while embarking on similar packages of your own:

1) They focus on a single aspect, passion or project of the people profiled, cutting out irrelevant bio info or life history clutter that often only drown out or waylay the good stuff.  The video profiles with the most verve stick to the most fascinating news hook from start to finish.

2) In vid #1 at least, the main interview with the subject is presented in a nice, natural setting with real depth of field.  It provides the eye with a bit of wonder to behold without stealing too much attention from the profilee.

3) They give their subjects some visual space, without losing sound quality or a sense of intimacy.  Too many video profiles favor uber-close-ups that squash the subject’s face into the frame, unattractively showing every pimple and wrinkle.  (Yes, vid #2 does veer into “OK, now smile for your yearbook photo” territory.)

4) They show some reporting legwork, interspersing the main sitdown interviews with a few shots of the subjects in action and the contributions to the world they are discussing.  It’s a nice break from the most oft-repeated video profile MO: a steady shot of a single drawn-out conversation with someone, edited linearly simply to cut out extraneous chunks.  The problem with that: The resulting package looks more like a hostage video than a profile.  DO NOT MAKE HOSTAGE VIDEOS. :)

5) They mix video and still images quite effectively and mesh the transitions between them seamlessly with the audio.

6) They boast a definite presentation style, in this case one I’m calling old-school quiet.  The black & white scheme, fixed shots, and gentle audio aura each stand out and complement each other.  Importantly, these choices don’t overwhelm or distract from those being profiled, but they still represent a particular vision and at least the perception of real forethought into what the reporter wanted to get across.  Just as you consider how you want to arrange words for a story after you gather the facts, spend time brainstorming about the presentation elements and overall style best suited for the video profile you’re producing.

7) In vid #2 at least, the subject is introduced in an engaging way— the sound of a blaring trombone overlaid with the student smilingly delivering the quote teaser, “Even the bad times, I have it great.”

8) The subjects come across as human, not nervous, wide-eyed interviewees stiltedly or animatronically answering questions.  That accomplishment seems to be tied to the reporter’s decision to singularly focus on topics the students care about a great deal and can speak about with ease.  It is also an offshoot of the pre-recording reporting that enabled on-point questions to be asked.  My favorite part of either video: the end of vid #2, when the student begins singing and then smiles thin-lipped, seemingly at the reporter, as if to say, “OK, well there you have it, that’s me.” :)  Always aim to report so thoroughly and interact with your subjects so engagingly that similar smiles show up on their faces.

9) They follow the rule of thirds in respect to their subjects’ positioning in the frame.  And they avoid what I call the “awkward camera staredown,” instead having the subjects look slightly away from the lens, ostensibly at the reporter asking questions.

10) They are short (maybe, maybe a tad too short) in length.  I do wish I could have learned just a tiny bit more about the first student’s art project (she actually slept in the museum or wherever this was staged?!) and the second student’s barbershop quartet participation.  But for these type of packages– what I call “glimpse vids”– brief trumps bloated in my book.

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By his own admission, Al Diaz shoots better than he speaks.  The award-winning photojournalist and Miami Herald staffer began his presentation at last weekend’s SPJ Region 3 Conference by admitting that while his oratorical skills may lack gusto he hoped the photos he planned to show and the stories behind them would resonate.

And they did.  Diaz delivered a kick-butt talk with stirring images to boot.  Below is a top 10 sampling of the wisdom and witticisms he shared last Saturday with j-students, profs., and advisers.

10 Steps to Succeed as a Photojournalist in 2012

1) When you wake up, consider yourself on assignment.  Shoot every day.  As Diaz put it, “Don’t just shoot for class.  Shoot for yourself.”  Early in the talk, Diaz mentioned with a smile that when people ask him when he stops shooting, his two-word answer: “I don’t.”  People laughed when he said it.  But I didn’t get the impression he was joking.

2) Develop your own style and vision, while also mastering the basics.  Take visual arts classes.  And visit museums to get a firsthand glimpse of how artists capture and present elements such as lighting, composition, and depth of field.

3) Embrace photojournalism as a business.  The days of surviving and thriving as simply a staff photographer at a single news outlet are over.  Set up multiple revenue streams that include editorial and commercial work such as wedding photography and holiday portraits.

4) Self-promote, humbly not arrogantly.  Set up a professional website featuring a portfolio of your work.  Be present and active on social media.  Blog within reason about assignments and photojournalism news of the day.

5) Retain the rights to your images.  Diaz repeatedly stressed the importance of copyrighting your work, along with keeping track of the whereabouts and use of your older, archived shots.

The message featured beneath images on his own site: “COPYRIGHT NOTICE All multimedia content, photographs, text, video, sound and music within is copyright protected by Miami photojournalist Al Diaz and/or the stated publication and are presented for web browser viewing only. No images are within public domain. Nothing contained within this site may be reproduced, downloaded, stored, copied, manipulated or altered for broadcast or publication. Nothing may be redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium  without prior written permission from Al Diaz and/or the stated publication. Using any image as the base for another illustration or graphic content, including photography, is a violation of copyright and intellectual property laws.”

6) Enmesh yourself within the larger photography community.  He recommended joining the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), Editorial Photographers, the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and Professional Photographers of America (PPA).

7) Don’t wait to be handed an assignment.  Develop, pitch, and undertake your own projects, for your employer and yourself.  Advantages: You get the chance to follow your passions and do work you’re excited about.  You can earn a rep as an independent thinker, someone with the foresight to simply be let loose on the waiting-to-be-photographed world.  You have the opportunity to stand out by building up a body of work that represents a particular style or content niche.  And you are motivated to stay visually sharp, always looking for the next potential project.

8) Learn and love video along with stills.  Become a multimedia whiz, adept at capturing, quickly stitching together, and presenting narrative slideshows, still-and-video mash-ups, and full-on video reports.  These presentation options also seem to be great for organizing and featuring your own work on your portfolio site.

9) Dress appropriately, depending on the assignment.  Don’t wear sandals and shorts to shoot a funeral.  Don’t wear a shirt and tie or super stilettos to shoot a construction site.  Think ahead about the type of scene you’ll be entering, the people within it, how long you will be on site, how much you will be moving around, and what the temperature will be.  Bottom line: Attempt to fit in while still projecting professionalism and ensuring comfort and ease of motion.

10) Never work for free.


Top 13 Reasons Journalists Screw Up Their Stories

10 Tips for J-Students: How to Land a Job & Impress People

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At this past weekend’s SPJ Region 3 Conference, Meredith Cochie delivered a hyperactive Broadway-esque performance– interrupted only by the occasional “coffee burp” (her words).  In a manic 50-minute session that brought a blah-carpeted University of Florida auditorium to life, Cochie shared a bevy of tips aimed at helping j-students stand out from the job-seeking masses and land a gig worth bragging about on Facebook.

As the esteemed UF journalism alum and self-described “journo-maniac” shouted to an audience literally hanging on her every word, “I’m going to tell you some things you already know.  I’m just going to say them louder.”

Below is a brief highlight reel of what she laid out.  Enjoy.

How to Land a Job and Impress People…

1) Be a know-it-all.  Or in Cochie’s words, “Be a know-it-all about what you want to be a know-it-all about.”  Journalists need to know about the world in general and should have near-encyclopedic knowledge of one field or subject in particular.  As the classic saying goes, “Know a little about a lot and a lot about a little.”  If you want to report on sports or fashion or write movie reviews, dive in.  Study the history.  Read related daily news.  Identity and write about emerging trends.  Participate in online discussions.  Share your knowledge breadth and depth in mixed company, including in front of potential employers.  Just don’t overdo it.  Asinine should not become a three-syllable synonym for you.

2) Get a real email address.  Potential employers’ first perceptions of you may veer into the unprofessional category if you contact them with a personal email containing a cringe-worthy nickname, potty humor or nonsensically odd word-number configurations.  Two whoppers that students apparently used when reaching out to Cochie in the past: tequilas69@hotmail and

3) Analyze what your social media profiles and Google results say about you.  When warranted, delete, update, revise or create new content that oozes professionalism while still retaining the essence of you.

4) Make an impression in person.  At one point, Cochie told the tale of an overzealous student who politely and repeatedly accosted her with business cards and clips and questions about job prospects.  Guess what?  He stood out to her.  Some of his early approaches were a bit abrupt and artless, but his overall persistence and speak-to-strangers-in-positions-of-power courage enabled him to earn a name for himself, one that was backed up over time by the quality of his work.  In the digital age, when anything but an email back-and-forth makes some students break out in cold sweats, those who man up and introduce themselves to people they don’t know have an edge.

5) Hustle, without being a pimp.  Work uber-hard to stand out in some way.  As Cochie mentioned, “Tweet, blog, build an online presence, and a professional individual brand. . . . Otherwise, you’re in this big group of normal people and that’s gross.”

6) Don’t be late to an interview or any other get-together with an employer or mentor.  In Cochie’s words, “When you’re late, you look rude.  And silly.”

7) “Write.  Tons.  A lot.  All the time.”

8) “Build, don’t burn, bridges.”  As I can also attest, the people you know are often just as important as what you know and where you’ve worked when attempting to land jobs or make new connections.  To be clear, this shouldn’t be about simply collecting contacts that might be called upon for favors later.  Phoniness, like Saran wrap, is see-through.  And heck, you should genuinely like people.  You’re in journalism, after all.

9) Don’t overlook the handshake.  “When you shake hands with someone, use your hand, not a dead fish.”  According to Cochie, the art of the handshake is simple: Be firm without breaking bones; make eye contact without being creepy; and lean in without inching a…bit…too…close.

10) Look at your current cover letter one last time, then rip it up.  Most applicants’ letters scream perfectly adequate, unmemorable or middle-of-the-road.  So do their job prospects.  Your goal: Be bold.  Do something different.  Inject some life into it.  Remember, it’s the first chance an employer has to vet you.  Hook them with the lede sentence.  Show them who you are and why they must hire you immediately.

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Over the past month, my magical mystery tour of collegemediatopia’s best and brashest conferences has led me to Seattle, New York, and, most recently, Gainesville, Fla.  At yesterday’s Region 3 Society of Professional Journalists Conference— held at the University of Florida– a bevy of entertaining presenters educated student and adviser attendees about all manner of journalistic greatness and ills.

A morning session, led by UF master lecturer (actual job title) Mike Foley, sought to help students stave off the most horrible creature in all of news media: the correction.  He shared the top reasons journalists make mistakes in their copy.

Below is a brief highlight reel of what he laid out, along with a few reasons I nominate as (cringe)worthy additions to the list.  Enjoy.

Journalists Most Often Screw Up Their Stories Because…

1) They work from memory.

2) They make assumptions.

3) They deal with secondhand sources.

4) They become scatterbrained from the warp speed at which they are attempting to publish.

5) They rely upon bad sources, including those who fall into categories such as spinners, incompetents, attention-seekers, and bad memory fiends.

6) They blindly trust emails, tweets, and online story comments.

7) They re-quote info from other news sources without independent verification.

What I’d add to the list…

8) They let their impassioned desire for a great story blind them to factual snafus.  (See Mike Daisey.)

9) They lack understanding about an individual or topic– through either ignorance of laziness.  (For example, see parachute journalism.)

10) They are bad at the writing part.  (Having the facts is irrelevant if you cannot explain them clearly and correctly.)

11) They do not listen to their gut/the voice inside their head telling them something is off, too good to be true or needs another go-round on the fact-checking carousel.

12) They do not want to impose on their sources by calling them back to double-check something, a sudden cowardice I’ve especially seen play out on weekends, holidays, and late nights.  (Note to student journos: Toughen up.  Make the call.  A source might be slightly annoyed at the unexpected imposition, but they’ll be more annoyed that something wrong about them is appearing online/in print.)

13) Once their pieces are published, they do not even scan the related online comments, which at times point out grammar and factual slips.

What other reasons should be included on this list???

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The Student Government Association at Butler University is refusing to release the full results from its recent elections, placing the organization at odds with the school’s campus newspaper and students favoring transparency.  The fight raises an interesting question: How open should student governments be when releasing the results of its own elections?

While the election victors have been announced, a request by The Butler Collegian to review the actual voting numbers has been denied (a recent temporary approval turned out to be short-lived).  SGA representatives have told the Collegian and stated publicly at an SGA meeting that they feel the process is already adequately vetted internally and that making the final voting tallies public may embarrass losing candidates.  One rep: “It would discourage people from participating in student government.  We don’t need that on this campus.”

In a recent staff editorial, the Collegian dismisses the latter complaint as akin to saying “SGA doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”  As the paper contends, “This argument is moot and implies that college students can’t handle disappointment.  Candidates who apply for these positions need to have a thick enough skin to hear the truth.  It should be expected that presidential candidates enter this race knowing only one person will win and that they are opening themselves up to public scrutiny.”

The Collegian and others also argue that openness should be implicit within any group controlling $700,000 in student money.  Separately, while the SGA declares its current voting oversight “fool-proof,” there are only four individuals privately checking it.  As one Butler student told the paper, “It’s ridiculous and kind of sketchy that only four people actually see these numbers.”

And so again, the question of the night, slightly reworded from the start: What is the proper level of transparency for student government elections?


Butler University Student Newspaper Criticizes Faculty Senate for Approving Closed-Door Meetings

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In my memory, I picture green.  Dark green.  A quick check on confirmed it.  Until recently, the website for The Pipe Dream, the student newspaper at Binghamton University, was overrun with a green palate that hovered somewhere between grass and puke.

Cue Daniel O’Connor.  The paper’s lead web developer has saved the site from its so-so web 1.0 layout (thanks to a partnership with College Publisher).  He has enlivened the Dream with a minimalist, responsive design that is also apparently quite mobile-friendly.

And now for the best part: O’Connor laid out his entire development scheme on a special blog post, titled, “Moving Pipe Dream from College Publisher to WordPress.”  It’s comprehensive (it even includes a thank-you section at the end), and worth a read for any editor or adviser also pining for a CP-free web existence.  Please read: It’s not just a pipe dream.

The Pipe Dream: B.O.C. (Before O’Connor)

The Pipe Dream: A.O.C.

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You have to love an editor who recognizes talent even when it’s spitting in his face.  Last week, Adam B. Sullivan, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan at the University of Iowa, came across a local blog featuring an entire post and photo slideshow devoted simply to spotlighting the paper’s recent typos.

A screenshot of one of the images featured in the DI typo slideshow put together by the Iowa City blogger.

Sullivan’s response: You’re hired.  As he explains in a blog post of his own, “[I]nstead of getting salty that a blogger was promoting our mistakes, I emailed him and offered him a job as the associate copy editor. He accepted and will start in two weeks. He obviously has a good eye for detail and I’m hopeful the new position will cut down on the embarrassing errors that creep into the print edition.”

My sole point of confusion: The blogger, Zach Tilly, seems to be a UI alum, not a student.  The paper hires non-students for editorial positions?  I’ve emailed Adam to get more info.  [Update: Message from Adam… “As far as I know, Zach is a current undergrad. But we do hire non-students occasionally (usually recently graduated alumni).”  2nd Update: Romenesko has also now posted an item on the hiring– fair warning, he has misspelled Tilly’s last name.]


Daily Iowan Dance Marathon Coverage a Reporting Tour de Force

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Spurred by a protest, a pair of top-notch student newspapers in the city by the bay are collaborating.  The Golden Gate Xpress at San Francisco State University and The Guardsman at the City College of San Francisco have joined forces to provide real-time, multi-platform coverage of the March in March, an organized statewide higher education budget cuts protest that kicked off this morning.

As the Guardsman confirms, “The partnership is the first time that the San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco’s journalism departments will work together to break live news in either school’s institutional memory.  The Xpress will bring its expertise in online breaking news technology, while the Guardsman will provide a larger news crew in Sacramento than would be possible otherwise.”

A screenshot of a recent Xpress front page previewing a related protest held at the start of the month.

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It has quickly become the most hotly-debated journalism lesson so far in 2012.  Late last month in an advanced reporting class, a DePauw University visiting journalism professor passed out a student-athlete’s public records– including her social media profiles and reports related to a recent arrest– for a session on accessing documents.  It has spurred complaints from some of his own students and a subsequent ongoing imbroglio with DePauw administrators.

The gist, as reported by The DePauw, the student newspaper at the Indiana school: “In [a recent] Investigative Reporting Techniques class, which teaches journalism students how to access public information, [Mark] Tatge passed out a 17-page packet detailing the Jan. 27 arrest of sophomore Alison Stephens.  The front three pages were Stephens’ Facebook and Twitter profiles, available online.  Other documents included her booking record, permission to travel out of state, her father’s drivers license, police incident report and other court proceedings.  Tatge said that he chose the case to present because it was local, a breaking news story and involved a peer.”

The initial reaction: “[S]ome students were uncomfortable discussing a fellow DePauw student, particularly one who had been arrested.  Four students in the seminar are in the same sorority as Stephens, Pi Beta Phi. A member of the men’s basketball team was also in the class, another connection to Stephens who plays on the women’s team.  News of the class traveled fast.”

One camp is criticizing Tatge for being crass, singling out and further embarrassing a student who has already had a tough semester (including an arrest on charges of public intoxication, minor in consumption, resisting law enforcement, and criminal mischief).  The university is investigating whether the packet’s distribution created “a hostile learning environment” for the student or her peers.

As the mother of Alison Stephens wrote to the DePauw, “The fact that a visiting professor would chose a current student’s records to teach investigative journalism is an assault to everyone on campus.  Each student on campus is subject to the whim of whether a professor may or may not want to target them as the next ‘subject’.  The lesson being taught could have been made just as strongly without harming a 19-year-old student.”

The other camp argues Tatge was well within his rights to utilize the records– all of which are public– and deserves kudos for attempting to present a records sampling relatable to students.  In Tatge’s words, “I guess I could pick something about patent law and have them go look up patent and trademarks, but I think they would be less interested in that than they would be about an arrest for drinking [and the other charges].”

The bottom-line argument, from this perspective: Journalism, even in the classroom, is a real-world endeavor.  As the top Facebook comment on a related post asks, “So, investigative reporting for beginners should exist of fantasy exercises, duck any use of public records and forgo any lessons that your reporting– the truth– will hurt feelings, create controversy and generate criticism?”

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A rash of recent news coverage and editorial comment in The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University’s student newspaper, alleges a somewhat creepy campaign of administrative social media oversight and intimidation.

WKU has apparently been monitoring student tweets and Facebook status updates, even attempting to “shut down several Twitter parody accounts and is sending students to Judicial Affairs for tweets they consider negative against WKU.”  Specifically, “Corie Martin, director of WKU’s Creative Web Services, told the Herald she checks the WKU hashtag daily and sends information she deems inappropriate to Judicial Affairs.”

Additionally, WKU forced a temporary shutdown and a slight makeover to a Twitter account parodying the school’s president Gary Ransdell.  As Ransdell later posted on a WKU Facebook account: “We, at WKU, have become particularly conscious lately of some who are misusing social media and using some poor judgment. So my message here is ‘Be smart.’ Use social media thoughtfully; always remember what you send is permanent and can be viewed years from now. Employers do their homework. They can and will track ways in which prospective employees have used social media. We, at WKU, track such things as well.”

Along with this stated educational objective to social media oversight, officials mention a responsibility to protect members of the WKU community from online racism and cyber-bullying.  But such noble aims have been drowned out by an overly broad monitoring and enforcement effort, including a social media policy in the student handbook that Student Press Law Center attorney advocate Adam Goldstein chides as “not in the vicinity of constitutional.”

In an editorial response, headlined “Students Deserve First Amendment Rights,” the Herald notes, “It’s unreasonable to think that every day is perfect for 21,000 students at WKU. Students complain about busy-work assignments. They can’t find a parking space near where they needed to be five minutes ago. They aren’t happy that WKU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are in the shadow of 20-loss seasons.  Life happens, and students are likely to share some unpleasant or frustrating experiences.  They should not be threatened with repercussions.”

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In this occasional CMM feature, I spotlight some of the interesting, innovative, and professional student journalist online portfolios, in hopes of inspiring more j-students to create worthwhile portfolios of their own.  To nominate a portfolio for a spotlight, e-mail me at

Signe Brewster

Editor-in-Chief, The Badger Herald, UW-Madison

Brewster has put together a simple, visually-pleasant portfolio that succeeds greatly in three areas: getting across who the heck she is quickly and clutter-free; providing easy-to-spot contact info; and proving she has some digital game in respect to how her work highlights are featured.  My highest compliment: Without knowing anything about her prior to arriving at her site, the design and homepage teasers lured me into clicking around and wanting to learn more.

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‘Dumb F*ckers’ Fallout: 7 Lessons from the Student Paper Slip

‘Dumb F*ckers’ vs. ‘Director of Butt Licking’

In a recent late-night newsroom slip that has been widely reported and mocked, The Suffolk Journal accidentally printed a sub-headline its editors undoubtedly immensely regret.  In a story about a campus involvement fair, the Suffolk University student newspaper’s main headline simply dubs the event a success (with an exclamation point). The sub-hed, however, states: “Even we had some dumb fuckers sign up!”  Yikes.

As the web hordes continue to pounce and simply point and stare, I want to step back for a moment.  Below are seven lessons/observations for student media staffers, advisers, and j-profs to take away from the incident:

1) Don’t insert jokes or vulgar statements into layouts-in-progress to fill space until the real headlines are created.  It’s a tradition of sorts in many newsrooms, but it is also one of the leading causes of post-publication embarrassment.

2) Be especially careful with news content late at night.  Your brain is moving slower.  Your sense of purpose is more likely to be on pause.  Your initial instincts will be to passively scan a layout instead of truly proofing it.  And your double and triple checkers are probably also punchy, asleep on the backroom couch or already in their twin dorm beds.  Snap back into the present and stay focused, line by line, for just a few minutes more.

3) Ensure as many eyes as possible take a look at the big stuff.  A team of copy editors meticulously combing through stories is meaningless if monstrous errors are sitting in the headers above them.  Have a crew devoted to checking the first-look elements such as the front page, headlines, photos, captions, and siders.

This lesson represents a departure from my comments in the first post about this slip.  I initially stressed the fact that it was a single mistake, under the auspices of ‘hey, these things happen, let’s move on.’  I take that back partially after further consideration.  There were multiple mistakes here, including the joke insertion itself and the subsequent failure of numerous editors to catch it.

4) In today’s media landscape, a single apology is not enough.  It is now a two-step process.  You must post the basic letter of regret from the editor.  But now you should also be prepared to publicly explain what happened behind the scenes in a separate column or media interview.  The fullest and most honest disclosures seem to elicit the greatest levels of respect and enable an outlet to get past a flub and move forward.

Onward State’s recent handling of the Joe Paterno death faux pas is a perfect example of this two-step (including a full letter breaking things down by the editor who resigned, a follow-up letter by the site’s founder the morning after, and a subsequent interview run on Poynter and ProPublica).

5) Take responsibility.  People forgive mistakes.  They don’t get over obfuscating or passing the buck.  In this case, the Journal quickly owned up to the error (although it seems some public squabbling played out on Facebook between the writer of the involvement fair piece and Journal editors after the initial note of apology did not explain that the writer had nothing to do with the headline).

6) Close your heart valves for 24 to 48 hours and emotionally shut down.  Immense criticism, snark, and self-righteous ridiculousness will be flung at you from all corners of your campus and the web.  Every competing publication, high-blood-pressured prof., and spiteful student reader who has been waiting in the shadows will suddenly emerge to use your slip as proof of how awful your outlet is.  Then, a new day will begin and people will get back to classes and searching for campus parking.

7) Smile.  You are now in the club.  The accidental publication of nonsensical news copy, vulgarities, inappropriate humor, spelling and grammar errors, and factual inaccuracies are a part of the news media, then, now, and forever.  After your apologies are done, segue to sharing in everyone’s laughter.  As the start of a tweet being passed around by some Suffolk students confirms, “We’re all just dumb f*ckers today.”

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