Posts Tagged ‘College Journalism’

The College Media Hall of Fame is a digital enshrinement of individuals, news outlets, and organizations who have made a lasting impact on collegemediatopia or greatly contributed to it over the past year.  Much like last year’s inaugural batch (known as the CMM 10), this year’s inductees include standout student journalists, innovative student media entrepreneurs, and impassioned advocates of campus press 2.0.  With a hat tip to the annual Time 100, many of the posts announcing each honoree include a few words of adoration penned by a close friend or colleague. Next up…

Frank LoMonte, Esq.

Executive Director, Student Press Law Center

Frank LoMonte is a media law wunderkind.  He helps student journalists, their advisers, their professors, and their publications at a prodigious rate, daily. Make no mistake: LoMonte is the face of student press rights in this country.  It’s a smiling one.

LoMonte has been SPLC exec. director since January 2008.

His optimism is infectious.  His knowledge of the law is truly humbling.  During the conventions at which I’ve been lucky enough to catch him in action, he holds sway over a room with an unyielding zest and a tirelessness, literally (LITERALLY) speaking nonstop with a revival preacher’s flair, answering quick-fire questions smoothly without prep, and then jetting to his next session to start again.

He is also among the most quotable men I know.  Among his gems was an aside this past spring referencing the sudden shady dismissals of two college media advisers. In his words, “There are two occupations in America that are more dangerous the better you are at them: journalism adviser and suicide bomber.” 

For his impassioned defense of the student press, I am honored to name Frank LoMonte as an inductee to CMM’s College Media Hall of Fame.

“Hardest-Working Man in the Free Speech Business”

By Adam Goldstein

Frank LoMonte is the hardest-working man in the free speech business. He’s here when I arrive at the office in the morning and here when I leave at night. If it’s 7:30 p.m. on the West Coast, and you have a free speech question, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of reaching Frank in Arlington, Virginia, where it’s 10:30 p.m. on the East Coast. And it’s only 50/50 because half the time, he’s on the road, traveling to speak to students and other lawyers across the country, wherever the questions are or it might do some good forsomeone. If Xanadu is a real place, I’m sure Frank will be there sometime in the next three years.

I’ve been tempted to stay at the office overnight to see if there’s an army of Franks, one of them punching in on a time clock to take over when the other one goes home. That would explain a lot. It certainly feels like he’s an army, waging a carefully coordinated battle in favor of student media on multiple fronts: legal, ethical, and practical. It’s not unusual to talk with him or get an e-mail late at night or on the weekend. I can’t rule out the possibility that he moonlights as the Energizer bunny.

Frank is deeply committed and motivated to act to do what is right, and college journalists will probably never know how much he does on a daily basis to help them. There’s no fanfare when someone spends his overnight hours to draft comments on federal regulations; almost no one will know you did it, and absolutely no one would know if you didn’t. But representing the voice of college media to government agencies is the right thing to do, and that’s enough for Frank.

What’s astonishing is what Frank is doing when you don’t see him. When he’s not on the phone with you, answering your legal questions; when he’s not filing briefs on your behalf; when he’s not visiting with your staff in a town on a corner of the map that, presumably, was named after one of the six people that lives there; when he’s not writing op-ed pieces to defend student journalists when local newspapers get cold feet on First Amendment issues; when he’s not speaking to groups of lawyers to convince them of the importance of your civil rights.

Whether he visits your small township or your major metropolitan city for a media conference, he is an incredibly dynamic and popular speaker. As he’s speaking, the students are tweeting his talk, divided into t-shirt ready quotes. Once his presentation is over, he has a huge line of students waiting to ask him questions and barely has time to make it to his next presentation.

For the approximately 25 minutes per week you don’t see Frank working to help student journalists, I assure you, he is still working to help them. This makes him an inspiration to all of us, and/or proof that we have perfected human cloning and picked the perfect person to clone. I admire Frank for his amazing dedication and tireless work to protect student journalists’ first amendment rights.

Goldstein is the SPLC’s attorney advocate and a CMM 10 honoree.

Other Class of 2011 CMM Hall of Fame inductees:

Michael Koretzky

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Early last year, I began writing about The AUIS Voice, the first independent student newspaper in post-Saddam Iraq.  Started by a scrappy band of Iraqi students and an impassioned ex-Washington Post reporter, the Voice’s spirit of innovation is ironically its adherence to the oldest principles of the craft: objectivity, editorial freedom, and the search for truth (rarities among Iraqi media).  In mid-May, via a university grant, I traveled to the northern Kurdish region of Iraq to interview and observe the student staffers in action– along with gaining a glimpse of the university and region where their unfolding story is set.  This series is centered on my trip.

Dan’s Journey to Iraq: A Student Press Adventure

Current and former Voice staffers and I pose for a quick pic on the AUIS campus. Left to right: Mahdi Abdullah, Namo Kaftan, Taha Faris, Me, Hazha Ahmed, and Arez Hussen Ahmed.

Part 2: “More please”

During my stay in Sulimaniyah, a city in northern Iraq affectionately dubbed Suli, I had a hard time paying taxi drivers.  Strangely, they repeatedly refused to take the money I attempted to hand them from the backseat.  I had to literally insist again and again by shoving the bills at them, until finally, seemingly reluctantly, they accepted.

I asked staffers at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), about this.  It’s apparently a matter of pride, the notion of presenting the impression that they do not need the money even though of course they do desire and require it.

One AUIS staffer told me he once experienced this back-and-forth to almost comical effect– the driver vehemently declining the bills, then finally taking them, checking the amount, looking up at him, and stating plaintively, “More please.”

They love pizza in Suli.  It is among the most popular non-local delicacies in the city, served in many restaurants.  No Western food chains exist, although a McDonald’s knock-off McConnell’s (not quite sure of the spelling) once served fast food in the American way.  It has since closed down, but the iconic yellow arches (much smaller than the real thing) still sit atop the building from which it once operated.  I spotted them one night from a local restaurant across the street– while surrounded by Hookah smoke.

The strangest segregation occurs in the eateries.  Men can sit anywhere they want.  But any parties with women are relegated to “family sections”– small spaces typically to the side or at the back of the main dining areas.  During one lunch near the end of my trip, I even ate in a “family section” that was in an entirely different building.  The restaurant apparently keeps two locations– one serving men and one serving women and mixed company.

Men hold hands in northern Iraq as they walk down the street.  From what I understand, it is a sign of immense affection and brotherhood.  For the most part, men and women do not hold hands publicly.  Apparently students at AUIS love formal dances, even the school-sponsored ones we tend to regard here as lame.  The reason: Men and women can interact flirtatiously, even touch, while the music plays.  Students also worship Facebook, again in part because it allows for private, real-time, unsupervised communication with the opposite sex.

My favorite photo among the many I took during my trip. Not sure if it touches on something deeper, reeks of easy stereotype or is just a still of two guys working on a truck. But it hooks me every time I glance at it.

There is a movie theater and old bowling alley and fairgrounds and a bustling street market and a few restaurants serving alcohol in the city, but local residents most enjoy picnics.  They are all-day, food-heavy, music-happy family get-togethers.  I saw a few from a distance in both Suli and Halabja.  The smiles on the faces of those enjoying a respite from everyday stresses and Third World realities were ELECTRIC.  I wanted in.

A shot of the Salim Street Market, the center of commerce in the city. One word: Bustling.

I am now addicted to Kurdish music.  It is buoyant, with repetitive rhythms that do not feel repetitious and a pop-like vibe that is appreciably Auto-Tune-free.  Due to the language barrier, I don’t know what the musicians are singing about but the songs are so upbeat I always just assume they are on the edge of glory.

Jogging is not a pastime in Suli.  Neither is biking.  Blogging also is not a practice many have taken up.  During my time in the city, there was not a stoplight or lane marker to be seen.  Instead, traffic is controlled by frequent speed bumps, U-turns, and traffic cops/soldiers.

Yes, there are soldiers in Suli.  They are mostly on guard at more prominent locales– political party headquarters, high-end apartment complexes, larger shopping centers.  Some sit in white shacks on sidewalks.  Armed guards do sweep underneath all cars entering AUIS with mirrors checking for explosives and I did have to pass through a metal detector.

But I never felt unsafe in Iraq, ever, not even for a moment.  People did stare, however.  There are very few outsiders, especially white people, in the area. In January, The New York Times named the region one of its “41 Places to Go in 2011,” but I did not see a single Western tourist in Suli or nearby Halabja.  None. (In a related sense, without any cynicism, I literally cannot fathom how the many hotels I saw stay in business!)

One of the opening images from a photo slideshow put together by former Voice adviser Jackie Spinner, who wrote a wonderful related Slate piece "Iraqi Kurdistan, Vacation Paradise?"

The joke among AUIS staffers is that if you see Westerners or Europeans somewhere in Suli, you should go up and ask what their job is at AUIS.  A majority of foreigners do work for the university, along with a smattering employed by NGOs.  I did not see any American soldiers.

There are seasons in Suli.  There is also a lot of dust.  One AUIS faculty member told me it gets so bad that at times the distant mountains typically seen from her 12th-floor apartment balcony literally disappear from view.

It also gets light insanely early.  After arriving at my hotel around 3 a.m. on my first day in Iraq, I still recall the groan-inducing realization that dawn had not waited long to follow me.  It broke around 4:30 a.m.

About eight hours later, a new reality dawned on me, linked to the largest student protest in AUIS history: I am not actually in Iraq.  I only think I am.

To Be Continued ||| Part 3“The Saga of the ‘S'”

Read about the Voice’s founding in my exclusive six-part CMM series, originally posted in April-May 2010.

Part One || Part Two || Part Three || Part Four || Part Five || Part Six

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Administrators at the University of Utah have threatened to hold the academic records, transcripts, and degrees of nine soon-to-graduate senior staffers at The Daily Utah Chronicle.  The reason: A series of editorials run in the newspaper’s goodbye issue that had a bit of less-than-subtle vulgarity squeezed into their otherwise innocuous words.

As the SPLC reports, “Since 1999, graduating seniors at the Chronicle have organized a yearly send-off prank that involves arranging drop-cap letters to spell out words in their farewell columns. This year, when placed on the page, the column’s drop-caps spelled out ‘c*nt’ and ‘penis.’ The university . . . claimed the editors were in violation of the university’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities for, ‘intentional disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary proceedings or university activities,’ and ‘unauthorized or improper use of any university property, equipment, facilities or resources.'”

According to a Deseret News report, the paper’s adviser (who recently resigned, unrelated) voiced his opposition to the wordplay when consulted, calling the term in the screenshot above particularly “indefensible.”  The Chronicle editor in chief has said in response to the brouhaha, “It wasn’t meant to be obscene or pornographic.  It was in poor taste, I’ll give you that, but it was just supposed to be a silly joke.”

My take: It might not be outright pornography, but it is definitely obscene. The students should have known better. And the adviser’s warning should have been heeded. Yet, amid the university’s apparent embarrassment, administrators need to move on. The EIC has apologized. The offending staffers are graduating. The criticisms have been heard. Lesson learned.

Most troubling about the school’s actions is their aim at an independent entity. Chronicle content does not come under administrative control- vulgar column drop-caps included.  As a letter of concern sent to Utah admins. by the SPLC and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) states, “As a public university both legally and morally bound to respect the First Amendment rights of its students, the University of Utah cannot lawfully punish students for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The school is calling the wordplay an “intentional disruption or obstruction” of university activities.  If I was planning an editorial response, my columns’ drop-caps would spell: NO DICE.  This was not yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  No one’s academics or extracurriculars were held up by the columns’ printing- except now possibly the students who printed them.  But that is the fault of the school, not the students.  As the paper’s (most recent) adviser stated, “While I don’t defend [the students’] action, I will defend their right to do it forever.”

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“One Team, One Newspaper

The Founding of Iraq’s Independent Student Press

Part Six: “They Had Never Seen Something Like This”

On the first day the Voice appeared on campus at AUI-S, 15 students stopped by Jackie Spinner’s office expressing an interest in joining the staff.  “The students, and I’m talking about readers now, they had never seen anything like this before,” said Spinner, the paper’s faculty adviser.  “They had never seen something like this– where editorials are clearly labeled, opinion is clearly labeled, the news stories are pretty free of bias, the students writing the stories are not involved in the stories.  They were excited.”

By contrast, she described administrators as equal parts impressed and relieved– that the newspaper looked professional, read as journalism, and did not step into sensational or reputation-sullying territory.

The paper’s prime territories: breaking news and thoughtful views.  Proof is in its pages.  Less than a month after issue one, upon the school’s reopening after semester break, a second Voice resonated on campus.  Issue two (front page screenshot below) featured an interview with the famously-displaced Zimnaku Mohammed Saleh, now known as the Lost Boy of Halabja; told the tale of AUI-S students who contacted a textbook author about perceived mistakes in his chapter on Islam; and analyzed a stricter university attendance policy causing concerns among some students.

Subsequent issues have presented stories on the library’s push for more books; the starting of a martial arts club and IT students’ association; the premiere of the Drama Club’s first off-campus performance; cafeteria food criticisms; the lack of Internet service in the dormitories; concerns about students forced to enter and exit the university through a back gate instead of the two in front; student athletes competing for the first time in five sports; and student romantics who feel “caught between cultures as they explore a more Western style of relationships in an Eastern place.”

The Voice’s survival throughout the semester has also at last broken the Curse of the One-Issue Wonders, proving with the right mix of passion and prompting that an AUI-S student publication can produce more than one edition.  In addition, the Voice is the newest member of the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) and the Kurdistan Journalists’ Syndicate.

Staff now enjoy a dedicated newsroom space sporting wood-paneled walls, ornate couches, computers, and the expected pile-ups of page proofs and old issues.  Students are even eager to start a related chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, mirroring Spinner’s efforts in Berkeley years before.

Student staffers at work in the new Voice newsroom at AUI-S.

Staffers chat with Spinner in the paper's newsroom.

Couched in between these once-unimaginable perks and associations, the newspaper has not been immune from occasional criticisms and staff turnover. The most dramatic intertwining of the two: the resignation of Dana Jaff, the first editor in chief.

Jaff had grown concerned about the amount of influence he said Spinner was asserting over editorial decisions, a charge she and other staffers refute.  He said his breaking point was Spinner’s refusal to cede control over the editor selection process– although it is common for publication advisers to have the final say in such decisions.  “From the beginning, Jackie has had the first and the last word in everything related to our work,” he said.  “In the beginning, I took that [as] normal and thought that we were in need for her help and guidance as we were beginning our work.  But the intervention continued and I really felt that I was just a puppet there with a title of editor in chief.”

In response, Spinner reiterated her appreciation for Jaff’s passion, while admitting he had developed a “pretty toxic” leadership style that alienated staff whom he did not consider up to his intellectual or journalistic standards.  “My biggest concern with Dana, in the end, was his unwillingness to learn anything beyond what he already knows,” said Spinner.  “He wanted independence, but then as the students were getting criticized for some of the larger grammar and spelling mistakes, he wanted me to take responsibility. . . . Because there is no model for what we are trying to do in Iraq, Dana didn’t understand that we are a learning laboratory.  Everyone gets an opportunity to work for us.  I believe in everyone’s potential.”

Top reporter Arez Hussen has taken Jaff’s place, closing an introductory e-mail to his nearly 50 fellow staffers in mid-April with the rallying cry, “One team, one newspaper.”

Arez Hussen Ahmed, 19, the new Voice editor in chief.

Well, two newspapers, really.  The Voice has sported an online presence from the beginning, including a Web site featuring text and video content; a Twitter feed; and a Facebook page with nearly 250 fans– especially impressive given the school’s still-small total enrollment of 375.

A recent screenshot of the Voice Web site.

“The print edition is only for our campus, but the Web edition is like out in the world, for everybody,” said Web editor Namo Kaftan.  “The only way the world can hear about us and know about our newspaper is by Internet and our Web site. . . . We want to tell all other countries that we exist. . . . We may not be the perfect newspaper, but our collaboration and union leads us to perfection in our work step by step.”

When asked what he wanted the world to know about the newspaper, new editor Hussen said, “I just want you to deliver this message that the AUI-S Voice is the first student newspaper in the whole country.”  Yet, as Spinner said more generally about the paper’s long-term goals, “I learned this in college: The key is to be first and to be right, but it is more important to be right than to be first.”

:-) || THE END || :-)

Just In Case|| Part One || Part Two || Part Three || Part Four || Part Five

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“One Team, One Newspaper”

The Founding of Iraq’s Independent Student Press

Part Five: “Thank God We Clashed It Together”

In late January, during his birthday weekend, design editor Yad Faiq sat down and carefully laid out the editorial page for the Voice’s first issue.  And then he redesigned it.  He later redesigned it again.  And again.  And again.  “Yes, it’s true, I designed it five times before settling on a final one,” Faiq said.  “I worked very hard on this.  You should understand, Iraqi newspapers don’t have a particular arrangement or set design.  Things change all the time.  We wanted our paper to look like a newspaper, a real newspaper.”

Over three days, various staff labored at different periods for a total of roughly 36 hours, revising copy, transcribing interviews, creating headlines, editing photos, and perfecting the Voice’s overall look, one they hoped would serve as the foundation upon which to build future issues.

Voice design editor Yad Faiq lays out the first issue, as editor in chief Dana Jaff (left) and senior designer Omer Nihad look on.

They worked under the twin pressures of a tight deadline and fears about letting down Spinner and the school.  Their academic requirements also competed for their attention, including an English Composition exam for editorial page editor Baker Alhashimi scheduled for the day of the newspaper’s planned campus premiere.

With no newsroom space yet set, they worked in multiple spots on campus, inside and out, day and night, through Middle East heat and air-conditioned cold, on school computers and laptops of their own.  They secretly wondered if, in the end, the administration would bar the newspaper from being published.

They continued on.  And as individual stories, and then sections, coalesced into something whole, so did the staff.  “It was the first issue, and our first time to work as a group,” said Alhashimi.  “We are at the same university, but each of us are in different classes and everybody has his own proposal and his own design in his mind.  You have to put all of them together to give only one projection. . . . It was a huge achievement that we did it in just a few days.”

The experience was not without darkness and nearly a few tears.  First, the darkness.  “We almost got locked in a building the first Friday we were here on campus [putting out the issue],” said faculty adviser Jackie Spinner.  “I didn’t know that the generator turned off and that the campus was shut down so I had to make a special call to get them to leave the campus open for another two hours.  Then we moved to the front steps of the building and we worked out there until it was dark.”

Faiq separately recalls working diligently on Quark Express to design a portion of the paper and discovering the next day that a senior designer assisting him had completed another portion of the paper’s layout on Adobe InDesign.  “It was really horrible,” he said.  “I was thinking ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?  These people are waiting for us to finish and it’s half and half and not together.  How am I going to get this into one piece?’  Thank God we clashed it together.  I am not a kid.  I am 20 years old, but that night I still wanted to cry.”

Ultimately, Faiq’s eyes stayed dry and staff completed the final layout, placed it onto a disk, and escorted it to the printer only 30 minutes past deadline.  The Voice’s first scream then sounded in stacks across campus on Sunday, January 31st, the same day as Alhashimi’s exam.  How did he do?  “Don’t worry about me,” he said, laughing.  “I passed.”

The paper’s first issue, by comparison, was not passed up.  All but 20 of the 500 copies were quickly grabbed, or according to one editor passionately “gobbled up,” by curious AUI-S students and staff.  Total printing cost: 75,000 Iraqi dinars, or roughly $60.

On its front page, the paper recounted the university’s first graduation ceremony (above).  It was an event that prompted the provost John Agresto to write words about the school that probably echoed editors’ and Spinner’s thoughts upon seeing the first Voice in students’ hands: “I never actually knew that we would succeed before today.

As expected, the first Voice had hiccups. Yet, amid the occasional spelling, grammar and spacing slips, vague headlines, and text-heavy features, there were a number of newsworthy scoops and high-level sources. The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq was cited announcing a new $1 million student scholarship grant. In an exclusive interview, Agresto revealed a push for an environmental science major that one day might mushroom into a full pre-med program. A separate story presented student response to an announcement by administrators about possibly soon holding classes on Tuesday, previously set aside weekly as a day off.

Most impressively, in issue one, the staff reported (above), conducted a student poll, and, separately, editorialized on a controversial university policy restricting Facebook on campus due to bandwidth limitations.  The editorial opposed the blanket ban, instead suggesting an open access window after classes concluded each day.  As the piece, written by Alhashimi at the behest of the entire editorial board, argued, “Prohibition, deprivation and banning should not be part of AUI-S students’ vocabulary.”

Two weeks after the issue containing the editorial was published, the university began allowing students to access Facebook from a few wireless hot spots on campus.  “I am proud of myself, because we have to discuss the problem,” said Alhashimi.  “What is the difference between nowadays and the days before 2003? Before, we should say everything is right and everything is correct and if we said anything wrong they will put you in jail.  Now as a student, we can say this is right and this is wrong because I believe and the students believe and they should hear our voices.  That’s why we call it the Voice.”

To Be Continued||| Part Six: “They Had Never Seen Something Like This”

Just In Case||| Part One ||| Part Two ||| Part Three ||| Part Four

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“One Team, One Newspaper”

The Founding of Iraq’s Independent Student Press

Part Four: “Editorial? What Do You Mean Editorial?”

When Namo Kaftan was nine years old, his father, a biomedical engineer, brought a laptop from work to the family’s home in Sulaimani.  For Kaftan, now 21, it was love at first start-up.  As he recalled, “I was really amazed to see a new advanced technology like that.  I guess at that time nobody even knew what it was called in my city. . . . That night I stayed up very late to see and figure out, what was that thing?”

He said he tinkered for hours, until the device popped.  A pop-up error message on screen led to a frantic troubleshooting plea to his uncle, one Kaftan swore would be his last.  “Thank God my uncle was around and he kind of knew a little bit about it and he could read English, so he helped me to get it fixed,” he said.  “From that day, I vowed to myself not to tell anyone to fix anything for me about computer-related things in order not to be embarrassed in front of anyone.”

In the decade that followed, he became a self-proclaimed, self-taught computer geek interested in pursuing an IT career.  Yet, even with his high-tech passions and online experience, when an e-mail arrived in his inbox naming him Web editor of the new AUI-S student newspaper, he described his initial reaction in two words: excitement and confusion.

“For the first moment, no, I didn’t know what to do,” he said.  “They told me I am online editor.  I didn’t know what was an online editor, so Jackie [Spinner, the paper’s adviser] explained to me that I am responsible for the Web version and act as an administrator.  I searched a lot in Google about what an online editor should do and what are his responsibilities. . . . I know computers, but this was journalism, this was new to me.”

Student staffers engage in discussion during the first Voice editorial board meeting, in Spinner's office.

From the beginning, Spinner’s new newspaper venture elicited similar excitement and confusion among students.  Almost immediately, 55 of the schools’ 321 students (now 375) told Spinner they wanted to get involved.

Editors said the spate of sign-ups was due in part to Spinner’s idealism at an early recruitment meeting.  “We had a meeting, Jackie and all the students who were interested in journalism,” Kaftan said.  “She told us ‘If other countries can do it, why can’t we do it?’  She really impressed us and really inspired us. . . . We wanted to get started right away.  But, well, we were not sure really what it is we should do.”

For example, Baker Alhashimi remembers asking himself after being named editorial page editor, “Editorial.  What does that mean, editorial?”  In his words, “I had a dictionary in my cell phone and I put it between my legs and I was looking up the word ‘editorial’ in the dictionary, from English to Arabic.  It was really, really funny.  When the meeting finished, I went to Dana [Jaff, the paper’s first editor in chief] and asked him, ‘What does an editorial page editor do?  What’s my job?  What should I write?’”

Jaff answered his questions at the time, with Spinner’s help, but had previously gone through his own researching and soul-searching about the editor in chief position.  “I didn’t just know what an editor in chief would do,” he said.  “I’m really concerned with my responsibilities.  I don’t like names, fake names, titles that do not mean anything.  I told Jackie if editor in chief doesn’t mean anything, I can’t do it.”

He said he initially misunderstood the nature and extent of the top editor’s power, something Spinner also recalled.  “One of the things he was initially concerned about was that specifically while editors would all debate topics he wanted to ultimately make the decision on what an editorial would say.  He said, ‘I’m the editor in chief.’  I said, ‘That title isn’t good enough.  You have to earn the title.  And if you believe your opinion is the correct one, then it’s up to you to convince the other four editors that you are right.  If you fail to do that, then your opinion does not win just because you are editor in chief.’”

Ultimately, the handbook Spinner created for the newspaper explained the nuances of Jaff’s new role and helped him grasp the larger task at hand.  “I am trying to make all editors, and through them the reporters, the chance to feel as if they have a stake in this project,” he said during his EIC tenure.  “We are the start of something.  This is bigger, bigger than just ourselves.  In the end, we are all in this together.”

They are alone in their togetherness.  Journalism education does not yet exist at AUI-S.  “Journalism 101 is not taught here,” said Spinner.  “It’s taught on the job, through the student newspaper we’ve started.”

As her sister Jenny shared from the states, “Jackie is the adviser and the classroom, too.  I mean, our students [at Saint Joseph’s University] come and we hope they have at least a general understanding of how to put together a newspaper story or that they’ll be able to differentiate between news and opinions.  [By comparison] she’s having to teach them the process of actually having to put together a paper.  She has to start from scratch.”

Student editors literally arrived in Spinner’s office for the first editorial meeting without the slightest understanding of how to create a hard news lede.  She also had to patiently temper editors’ initial desires to place the staff editorial on the front page, a normal practice in Iraqi newspapers.  Her admonition, “This is a newspaper, not an opinion paper.”  As she said separately, “The idea of an objective press is new to them.  So when I say, ‘No, you don’t want to do that.  That’s not the way it’s done.’  They say, ‘Well, that’s the way it’s done here.’  And I say ‘Yes, but nobody respects your newspapers.’”

An editorial cartoon in the Voice’s first issue perfectly symbolized staffers’ reactions to having their news media notions turned upside down.  Within the simple hand-drawn image, a mustachioed man with Einstein-ish wild hair strokes his chin thoughtfully while staring at a mathematical formula on a blackboard reading 1 + 0 = 2.  The onlooker’s response, stammered out in excited confusion, “According … to … this … equation … everything … that … I’ve … done … until … now … is … wrong!!!”

Among the rules Spinner enacted that at first did not add up for student staffers: Opinion writers cannot be news reporters.  Staff cannot be fans of politicians’ Facebook pages.  And no political advertising will be accepted, at this point leaving the newspaper entirely reliant on the university for financial support.

Spinner has even vetoed political content from appearing in early issues and selected a printing press without political ties, ensuring the public perception of the paper’s political independence matched its reality.  “It all seems very draconian, I know,” Spinner said.  “I like to think of it as just old-fashioned journalism.  We have to start at the basics here.  I’ve always taught student journalists that you have to know the rules before you can break them.”

The main rule Spinner, and AUI-S faculty, are already pushing the students to break relates to the rigidity of the country’s classroom culture.  As editors confirm, the Iraqi education model is built atop the three-word mantra, memorize, recite, repeat.

Prior to enrollment at AUI-S, discussion, free thinking, and questioning authority was as foreign to Voice staffers as the inverted pyramid.  In the words of university provost John Agresto, “Unlike all other universities in Iraq, with my great respect . . . [w]e are looking to turn up people who are more broadly educated . . . people who do not just memorize, who can make an argument on their own.  Who will say, ‘Wait a minute.  I need to think about that.  I am not so sure about what you have just said.’”

Spinner has similarly pushed students to intellectually argue, think critically, and open up as much as possible– to the point that a spirited debate during the paper’s first editorial meeting became a transcendent experience that multiple editors say they will remember for a long time.  As she shared in an e-mail,

We had a sign on our Editorial office door when I was at SIU.  It said: A newspaper’s success is measured by the number of people pissed off at it.  My students [at AUI-S] would be horrified if I put such a sign up in their newsroom.  Right now most of them believe that a newspaper’s success is measured by the number of people who praise it.  My biggest challenge is getting them to understand that yes, it’s important to have school spirit and to support this American venture in Iraq, but they won’t be penalized in the classroom if they are critical.  At some point, I will want them to write critical accounts of the administration.  I don’t want a newspaper that reads like a pom-pon squad.  How do I get them to ask critical, tough questions and not compromise their sense of nationalism, which, for many of them, has been a source of survival in a war-torn country?  That is my challenge.

One editor especially up for the challenge is Hazha A. Abdullah.  She is a longtime artist and photographer and the paper’s photo editor, the only female on the Voice editorial board.  And more than her artistic passions or journalistic skills, it is her gender that serves as the lens through which she is viewed most often in her home country.  “In our culture, especially in Iraq, when a woman, a girl, a female, they start doing something, they face the most difficult challenges in being respected for their decisions,” said Abdullah.  “They think that they make their decisions just because they feel emotional and they can’t take care of the actions [associated with their decisions].”

Hazha A. Abdullah, Voice photo editor (back left)

In a photo of the original Voice editorial board taken in Spinner’s office, the bespectacled Abdullah stands in the back dressed almost all in black, slightly apart from the others.  She stares directly into the camera, her arms folded almost defiantly across her chest.  She is clearly ready to get back to work.  “According to my colleagues, my work can make a big difference for the future,” she said, “hopefully encouraging other girls like me who want to participate in a newspaper or an organization or anything. . . . I call it ‘the first step,’ taking the first steps to make a difference in my culture.”

To Be Continued||| Part Five: “Thank God We Clashed It Together”

Just In Case||| Part One ||| Part Two ||| Part Three

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Every copy of the current Current, the student newspaper at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisc., has vanished. Editor Nathan Giebel (recently featured in a CMM student journalist spotlight) suspects theft.  So do school officials.

In his words, “I think the main question on everyone’s mind at the moment is: Why? Did we print something that offended someone? Did someone just think it would be funny? Clearly it takes a lot of effort, and strength, to remove more than 1,000 issues from stands before people can see them. What would encourage someone, or some group of people, to go through the efforts of doing such a thing?

A portion of the front page someone at Carthage does not want others to see.

Below, a brief Q&A with Giebel about the incident:

Any leads, suspects or guesses as to why this has happened?

There have been no cases of any type of newspaper theft at Carthage, as far as I am aware. I do not believe that we have any type of clause saying that “the first paper is free; any additional ones are 25 cents (or any other fee),” so technically it is hard to term it theft, since they are free for the taking. However, I believe it is kind of understood that taking more than 1,000 copies of the campus newspaper from newsstands all over campus is slightly against policies.  There were no sensitive articles in the issue. . . . We have had issues with Greek organizations disliking some things we’ve printed in the past, but the only Greek article printed this week was . . . about the actual country of Greece, since [the writer of that article] is currently there.

What makes you think it is theft and not just a high pick-up rate?

There’s no doubt that it was theft. We’ve never had an issue completely disappear from all newsstands. The issues were placed on the newsstands on Tuesday evening, like normal. By Wednesday morning, when I went into the academic buildings for my class at 8 a.m., all copies were gone. I never even actually saw a copy on the newsstand, and for quite some time I simply thought there was some type of discrepancy in the distribution process and they hadn’t been put out yet. Today [Thursday], the campus was alerted that they were stolen by the Dean of Students.

What is the plan to deal with this incident?

The Dean of Students alerted Student Government, the Hall Directors of every dormitory, Campus Security, and the Director of Housing and Greek Life, who has notified every Greek organization. The Hall Directors have each told all of the Resident Assistants, who have spread the news to their floors. Essentially, the whole campus is being made aware of the theft and the illegality of the actions taken by whomever took the newspapers.

Unfortunately, our campus is not outfitted with a police force, and I do not think that the Kenosha Police Department will be getting involved since it most likely was not someone from the city. We also don’t have many cameras.

As a staff, we’re working on encouraging people to go to our Web site to view the issue, since we cannot afford to reprint it. It’s extremely disheartening that I spent a total of roughly eight or nine hours in the process of gathering information, interviewing people, attending events, and writing my three articles that made it to the issue; let alone the five hours I spent editing stories. I think those feelings are echoed among the whole staff.

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