Posts Tagged ‘Student Journalism’

In a trend story published in The New York Times last week, freelance reporter Courtney Rubin focused on the changing drinking habits of undergrads in the social media age.

Among Rubin’s findings: Students are determined to get drunk faster, favoring hard liquor and mixed drinks over beer. They increasingly want to be sure a bar is “worth the trip” before heading there, determined in part through friends’ texts and status updates. And they often spend the morning after a night of heavy drinking untagging themselves from embarrassing Facebook photos.

The morning after the piece’s posting though, these apparent trends took a backseat to the factual errors embedded within it. As the high-profile student-run blog IvyGate first revealed, six Cornell University seniors appearing in the feature– the article and an accompanying photo– apparently do not exist.

An editor’s note now implanted beneath the story online notes, “None of the names provided by those students to a reporter and photographer for the Times– Michelle Guida, Vanessa Gilen, Tracy O’Hara, John Montana, David Lieberman, and Ben Johnson– match listings in the Cornell student directory, and the Times has not subsequently been able to contact anyone by those names. The Times should have worked to verify the students’ identities independently before quoting or picturing them for the article.”

Rubin expressed genuine surprise at the mass duping, while confirming she did actually speak to the students.  “I’m honestly shocked by this,” she told The Cornell Daily Sun. “I’m looking at my notebook, going over my notes … It’s all here. I can clearly see where it was in [the bar] where I spoke to them and what they were wearing. Why would I make up names? I don’t make stuff up. Short of asking people for ID, you [assume] that when people give you a name, they represent themselves as who they are or say ‘I don’t want to be quoted.’”

One of the takeaway lessons stemming from the incident, according to Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple: “Journalists do well to double as paranoiacs. Never trust anyone, no matter how much truth serum they’ve drunk out of an oversize cocktail glass.”

Another lesson: Students do not suffer mistakes, or perceived slights, silently.

The IvyGate fact-check is one example. Another example comes from Cornell veterinary medicine student Nikhita Parandekar. In a Cornell Daily Sun column, she points out that while the piece focuses on undergraduates the main photograph shows graduate students.

Parandekar also takes issue with Rubin’s tone toward student socializing and what she sees as a lack of context in the article for why and how often student drinking occurs.

As she writes in the column, headlined “Last Call for Legitimate Journalism”: “The not-so-subtle jibes at … the pre-gaming/hook-up culture seem to be the author venting frustration more than informing readers about anything at all. … I was disappointed in Rubin’s article because it’s the kind of journalism that gives reporters a bad reputation — unashamed about being biased, half-researched, and unnecessarily antagonistic. This is the first time that I’ve ever thought that the crisis newspapers are facing in terms of readership and accessibility might actually be due in part to the newspapers themselves and not just the electronic world that we live in.”

In the latest episode of our College Media Podcast, the Center for Innovation in College Media’s Bryan Murley and I discuss this journalistic slip, its link to trend stories and parachute reporting, and the increasing fearlessness of student media to challenge what they view as incorrect or illegitimate journalism.


College Media Podcast #6: Student Press Innovation Efforts, Obstacles

College Media Podcast #5: USA TODAY Redesign & the American University Breastfeeding Controversy

College Media Podcast #4: The Harvard Crimson Quote Review Reversal & More Gaming the News

College Media Podcast #3: RNC, Student Newspaper Presidential Endorsements & Gaming the News

College Media Podcast #2: RNC, Princeton Review Rankings, Oklahoma Daily Autopsy Report

College Media Podcast #1: A Red & Black Breakdown

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Update, 1:35 p.m.: The story is more complicated.  Romenesko is all over it.

The editor-in-chief of The Bryan College Triangle at Tennessee’s Bryan College self-published a controversial story yesterday about a former professor charged with sex crimes involving a minor.  Alex Green wrote, printed, and distributed the article on his own four days after Bryan’s president told him it could not be run in the paper.

As Green told Jim Romenesko, who had the scoop on the incident, “I placed [copies] around campus and at the doors of dorm rooms and at public areas around the school.  They were primarily in the main administration building, the library and the student center. … [A PDF] was emailed and entrusted to a select few current students and alumni in the case that fake papers began to surface.”

The article [screenshot below] outlines the real reason behind the sudden, quiet resignation of a Biblical studies professor at the Christian school: his arrest over the summer during an FBI sting for attempting to meet up with a minor.  Charges include “attempted aggravated child molestation and child sexual exploitation.”  When Green initially inquired about the professor’s departure, the school told him he was leaving “to pursue other opportunities.”

In an editor’s note headlined “Why It’s Important,” Green outlined the probable reactions of readers to his publishing decision and explained his reasoning behind it:

“I know that the first reactions from students, faculty, staff, and alumni will be varied.  Some will applaud me.  Some will be livid.  Some will feel that I am defaming and throwing salt into a very fresh and very sore wound.  Some will believe I have stars in my eyes.  And that’s OK. . . . Bryan College is not Penn State.  Had one individual in the Penn State program stepped up and revealed the truth about the actions of Jerry Sandusky, there would have been no fallout 14 years later.  Joe Paterno could have died a hero. Instead, he died a goat. Penn State could have been praised. Instead, they are broken.  Bryan College is not Penn State because there are people here that will not attempt to save face by dusting over the arrest of Dr. David Morgan.  Printing this story will not cause a Penn State situation for Bryan. I believe it will prevent one.  That’s why I’m dispensing it.”

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For Daily Reveille staff writer Chris Grillot, covering a bomb threat at Louisiana State University was “the most fun I’ve had this semester.”  In a recent blog post, Grillot confirms his anxiety quickly segued to a pure adrenaline rush last week when a bomb alert began sounding in an LSU library.

In his words, “Instead of going home, I met up with a photographer and a few other student journalists and scoured the campus for news, interviews, photos, bombs, etc.  Though the threat wasn’t real, the excitement was. . . . To an average person, bomb threats at universities are pretty shitty.  But when you work for a student newspaper, bomb threats at universities are absolutely awesome– especially when it’s your university.”

According to Daily Reveille editor-in-chief Andrea Gallo, the alert prompted a full newsroom evacuation and forced staffers to temporarily work remotely.  The paper also had to forgo a print edition for a day.  But constant coverage of what was ultimately proven to be an empty threat continued.

As Gallo writes, “There’s not much that can frazzle the Daily Reveille staff– we slept in the newsroom during Hurricane Isaac for God’s sake.”


LSU’s Daily Reveille Providing Standout Isaac Storm Coverage

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The Daily Princetonian will no longer publish quotes submitted by email in its news stories, editor-in-chief Henry Rome announced today.  The Princeton University student paper’s decision is the second major policy change involving email and college media already this semester.

The Princetonian shift– “the result of consultations with major national news organizations’ senior editors and reporters” this summer– is apparently a pushback against the “prevalence of email quotes” appearing in articles.  Eds. felt it had become detrimental to the Prince’s journalistic mission.

“Interviews are meant to be genuine, spontaneous conversations that allow a reporter to gain a greater understanding of a source’s perspective,” Rome writes.  “However, the use of the email interview– and its widespread presence in our news articles– has resulted in stories filled with stilted, manicured quotes that often hide any real meaning and make it extremely difficult for reporters to ask follow-up questions or build relationships with sources.”

Rome notes that exceptions to the no-email rule will be made in “extraordinary circumstances,” I imagine when the information is especially valuable or the source is especially far away and phone-less.  Otherwise, according to Rome, sources who only want to talk via email will be cited in stories as “declined to be interviewed.”

The Prince will still be allowing sources to review quotes for factual accuracy prior to publication.  That is the policy The Harvard Crimson at Harvard University recently dropped.  The Crimson is reversing its longstanding quote-approval practice to fight a culture of decreasing candor and availability among Harvard staff sources.

As Crimson president (editor-in-chief) Ben Samuels explains in a memo to staff: “Some of Harvard’s highest officials– including the president of the university, the provost, and the deans of the college and of the faculty of arts and sciences– have agreed to interviews with the Crimson only on the condition that their quotes not be printed without their approval.  As a result, their quotes have become less candid, less telling, and less meaningful to our coverage.  At the same time, sources have more and more frequently agreed to communicate only by email rather than in person or by phone, or have asked that their names not be used along with their comments.”

In a letter to readers, Samuels and managing editor Julie Zauzmer confirm the new Crimson policy restricts “reporters from agreeing to interviews on the condition of quote review without the express prior permission of the president or the managing editor.”

The Crimson decision comes amid a larger debate now brewing about “quotation-approval as a condition of access” to significant or powerful sources.  As iconic New York Times media writer David Carr writes, “Journalism in its purest form is a transaction.  But inch by inch, story by story, deal by deal, we are giving away our right to ask a simple question and expect a simple answer, one that can’t be taken back.  It may seem obvious, but it is still worth stating: The first draft of history should not be rewritten by the people who make it.”

Carr praises the Crimson for trying to fight this “quotation-approval” culture, noting, “Thankfully, some pushback is under way and young journalists are among those doing the pushing.”

Update, 11:30 a.m., message from Princetonian EIC Henry Rome: “I wanted to make a distinction between the policy the Crimson recently did away with– ‘quote approval’– and what we call ‘quote review.’  We are firmly against ‘quote approval’ and do not practice such a policy. When I refer to ‘quote review,’ that is a non-binding courtesy we provide to sources in limited circumstances.  If they provided factual information that they later found to be wrong (eg ‘I said five but I meant six’), that is the only instance in which we would consider replacing a quote.  If there’s a question of whether the quote was transcribed accurately, that would be addressed then as well.  This happens entirely at the discretion of the editors.  To be clear, if a source said it, a source said it.  We don’t do revisionist interviewing.”

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The Australian journalism community is agog and aghast at a recent student intern’s description of her brief time in the newsroom at Melbourne’s Herald Sun.

In an anonymous piece featured in the latest issue of Farrago, a University of Melbourne campus magazine, the student characterized various Herald Sun staffers as sexist, homophobic, transphobic, perverted, ageist, sizeist, and generally mean-spirited.

For example, as she recalled an editor asking at one point about a related story: “’Why are they [the gay community] making such a fuss? It’s been this way for millennia, why change now?’  Although he had a right to state an opinion, the blatant sense of entitlement and privilege in the room was palpable.  A few minutes later, he joked to the chief-of-staff about a recent article on Catholic priests opposed to gay marriage: ‘It’s good to have the Catholics in the news with no pedophilia; although I guess there’s still sex and gays.’”

Overall, in the words of the ex-intern, who has now been identified in the Aussie press as Sasha Burden: “My internship doesn’t leave me wanting to be a journalist. At the end of every day I left The Hun’s immense grey building feeling as if all the life, love and passion in me had been sucked out, and replaced with mud. . . . If Australia’s big mastheads all function like this then I say bring on their decline.  Rip down the banners that have led to media exclusivity and elitism. Huzzah to the future of online, diverse reporting.”

According to The Age in Melbourne, “The article, published two weeks ago in print and online, has since circulated widely on Twitter, sparking a war of words between people in the industry.”  It even prompted the Herald Sun editor-in-chief to write a public letter of complaint to the university because no staffers had a chance to respond to the student’s claims in the article.

The debate seems to center on whether the intern’s observations spotlight particular ugliness in a single newsroom or if she simply witnessed the type of gallows humor and venting valued by journos everywhere who are faced with covering some of the world’s nastier bits every day, on deadline.

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University of Memphis president Shirley Raines has called for an investigation into the sudden, dramatic funding cut to The Daily Helmsman student newspaper.

As I recently posted, a Memphis student fees allocation committee overseen by a small group of administrators and undergraduate leaders slashed Helmsman funding by $25,000 for the upcoming academic year– a full third of the usual fees assistance the paper receives.  Some current and former Helmsman staffers and Memphis alums view the cutback as possible retaliation for its no-holds-barred editorial content.

This outlook has been emboldened by the public and private grumblings of Memphis officials and student government members toward the paper’s recent reporting– including stories rightfully attacking the admins. and SG– and a perceived lack of coverage that “promotes student activities.”

Now, according to a Student Press Law Center report, Raines has requested an internal review of the matter.  In her words, “Even though it is my understanding that the committee’s initial decision to cut the Helmsman’s funding was not based on the content of the newspaper, I want to be sure that this is the case.”

The Commercial Appeal also weighed in with an editorial headlined “Stifling the Press?“:

“An independent press is essential, even on a college campus.  College newspapers like the Daily Helmsman at the University of Memphis provide a valuable resource for reporting happenings on university campuses– the good and the bad; the controversial and the benign. . . . Besides being an objective news voice about campus issues and events, the Helmsman serves as a real-life training ground for journalism students. The Student Government Association and the allocation committee apparently would like to see the Daily Helmsman become more of a fluff sheet.  But responsible, independent journalism in cities and on university campuses is about reporting on a wide range of issues, and not just being a bugle call for organizations that think coverage of their events should be a priority.”

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The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s tablet news operation, is dying— or at least dramatically downsizing and reevaluating its existence.  The Daily of the University of Washington is doing just fine– evolving step-by-step in the digital age.

Don’t get them confused, OK?

The two pubs sport similar Twitter handles.  The UW student newspaper boasts @thedaily.  The Daily has just @daily.  This has apparently led the Twitterati to repeatedly mistake one for the other– especially over the last few days as the masses eagerly share the breaking news that Murdoch’s Daily is laying off a third of its staff.

In a blog post yesterday, Andrew Gospe, the UW Daily’s social media manager, shared a screenshot sampling of recent mistaken-identity tweets.  As he writes, “I see around three to five misdirected tweets per day to our account (4,650 followers) from people who are really looking for the other Daily that isn’t a college newspaper (more than 97,000 followers).  With the recent news about the layoffs, the mistweets really started heating up.”

According to Gospe, if Murdoch’s Daily goes under, one unintentional consequence: “[T]hose who manage the UW Daily’s Twitter in the future won’t be privy to such amusing tweets.”

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