Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times’

Andrew Messamore has arguably enjoyed the most interesting reporting day within collegemediatopia so far this semester.  He flew to Washington D.C. last week, reporting live Wednesday from the hallowed chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Daily Texan enterprise reporter was there to cover oral arguments in a high-profile case involving the “race-conscious admissions process” employed by the University of Texas and many other schools nationwide.

As Messamore explains in a related report, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin involves “Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to UT in 2008.  Fisher sued UT claiming the university violated her right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment because the university included race as a factor in her application.  UT says race-conscious admissions are necessary to create meaningful diversity, but Fisher argues the university racially discriminated against her because its policies favor underrepresented groups.”

In the brief Q&A below, Messamore discusses his coverage’s aims and what it was like reporting from inside the Supreme Court.  He also offers advice for other student journalists faced with reporting on similar broad-based issues of national significance.

How did you end up covering the case?

I expressed interest in the case earlier in the semester.  I wanted to explore the subject.  I was an intern for the San Antonio Express-News over the summer, where I worked as a government and politics reporter.  I had come to know a little bit about the case.  I’d gone through some of the briefs and some of the filings.  I was really curious as to what the decision would be.

Amid the many news outlets providing coverage of the oral arguments, what was your particular goal and focus?

I had a pretty set purpose.  A lot of the media have focused disproportionately on the individual stories of the case.  [For example] The New York Times took the position of looking at this through the lens of Abigail Fisher [the young woman denied admission to UT]. . . . The Wall Street Journal took this from the perspective of [Supreme Court Justice] Anthony Kennedy, who everyone is looking at as the swing vote.

There’s a merit to using that kind of individual storytelling to explain a social issue.  But what I wanted to do was explain what was going to happen to the legal precedent and the big picture of how this case may really change the way we think about diversity and race.  I wanted to get away from focusing too much on only the people and move toward understanding how structures of thinking about race– and how race matters in our society– are more relevant and help our readers understand the subject we’re trying to get at.

The core was also to understand the arguments.  That’s what I was there to do.  That’s what really sets the tone for the country [on any given case], what goes on in the room.

[In part, he said, he used a portion of the argument before the Supreme Court as a way to explore the true meaning behind diversity within higher education.]  Is it a racial category?  You just admit students who are self-identified as different things.  Is it a number?  Is it a group of people you put into a room?  Or is it something else, something kind of looser, such as the concepts addressed or embodied by people when they come to university . . . including people who challenge stereotypes such as an African-American fencer or an Hispanic who has mastered classical Greek.

Those kinds of different challenges to the stereotypes I felt were very central to this issue and I think the Court was trying to find a way to measure that.  And I’m not sure what their final ruling on that will be.

What was it like to witness the arguments and the Justices in action firsthand?

It was really exhilarating.  First off, you’re a college journalist, working with parking meters or student organizations, these small issues, and then you walk into a room where these larger issues like race, zoning, and demographics become part of this national discussion about what it all means.  You see how these little things you cover day to day as a local reporter enter the national discussion and how it all comes together to decide the policy and law that will determine the narrative of race in American society.

To see the Justices, the very people on the highest court, tackling the same questions you have analyzed, is an amazing experience.  You see your level of reporting and discussion entering a whole other level of conceptualizing and discussing an issue.

I felt very honored to represent the university and to be sitting on the same bench as reporters from The Washington Post and New York Times, in a room where I was one of only a few people able to witness history unfold.  There’s nothing quite like it. . . . I was thinking, “It’s really amazing I’m here, but I’ve got a job to do.

What is your advice for student journalists covering a nationally-significant story like this?

The best way to get into these kinds of national issues is to not get too wrapped up in individual stories, to not get too wrapped up in the people.  Keep in mind always the bigger things going on, the bigger issues.  Keep in mind the ideas. . . . Think about how a structure of thought can physically impact the lives of individuals, but also the story of those concepts.

Maybe it’s the chicken or the egg.  On the one end you have the broad idea and on the other end you have the person.  The egg, for me, is the idea.  Start with the idea and then go to the person.  Don’t do it the other way around.

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There are four main reasons for journalists and journalists-in-training to be active on Twitter, according to noted “tech evangelist and skeptic” Sree Sreenivasan at Columbia University: to connect with an audience in new ways; to bring attention to your work; to enhance your personal and professional brand; and to find new ideas, trends and sources.

Certain sources sporting active feeds on the social media behemoth are especially valuable to journalism students. Here is a starter list of 20 must-follow Twitter feeds– specifically those that will help students learn the craft and keep up with what journalists are debating, enjoying and attempting to understand on a daily basis.

Some feature journalism, media and technology news. Others offer advice and job and internship listings.  And still others are kept by journalists and big thinkers whose new media maxims, mindsets and methods are worth emulating.

The must-follow feeds are listed in alphabetical order.

@10000words: Kept by staff at 10,000 Words, a cutting-edge “multimedia journalism blog– where journalism and technology meet.” More than 27,000 followers.

@brianstelter: Kept by Brian Stelter, a media reporter for The New York Times renowned for his digital journalism prowess. More than 142,000 followers.

@CICM: Kept by journalism educator Bryan Murley on behalf of the Center for Innovation in College Media, a digital think-thank centered on “helping college journalism in the 21st century.”  More than 1,500 followers.

@collegemedia: Kept by me, a complement to this blog. More than 2,200 followers.

@comminternships: Kept by journalism educator Steven Chappell, providing a running list of “internships and jobs of interest to students majoring in communications.” More than 1,700 followers.

@cschweitz: Kept by Callie Schweitzer, the director of marketing and special projects at Vox Media and a leading voice among young journalists and tech-geeks. More than 31,000 followers.

@jayrosen_nyu: Kept by Jay Rosen, an influential press critic, new media scholar and New York University journalism professor. More than 95,000 followers.

@jeffjarvis: Kept by Jeff Jarvis, a big-time author, blogger and journalism professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. More than 103,000 followers.

@JournalistsLike: Kept by a pair of journalists who collaborate on Stuff Journalists Like, “a satirical blog about journalism and the media.”

@Lavrusik: Kept by Vadim Lavrusik, the journalism program manager at Facebook, regarded as a cutting-edge digital journalist and media futurist. More than 23,000 followers.

@mashable: Kept by Pete Cashmore, the founder and CEO of Mashable, “the largest independent website dedicated to news & resources for the connected generation.”  More than 3 million followers.

@mediagazer: Kept by staff at Mediagazer, accompanying its website which “presents the day’s must-read media news on a single page.”  More than 31,000 followers.

@NiemanLab: Kept by staff at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, focused on “trying to figure out the future of news.” More than 97,000 followers.

@OHnewsroom: Kept by journalist Kevin Cobb, an accompaniment to his popular website Overheard in the Newsroom, which “delivers the best overheard comments in any newsroom.” More than 64,000 followers.

@PBSMediaShift: Kept by staff at PBS MediaShift, a quintessential “guide to the digital media revolution. Tracking how mobile devices, social media, citizen journalism and new technology are changing the media landscape.” More than 19,000 followers.

@Poynter: Kept by staff at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a renowned non-profit “school for journalism & democracy.” More than 63,000 followers.

@profkrg: Kept by journalism educator Kenna Griffin, affiliated with her blog which serves as “a practical resource for student journalists and media advisers with the goal of creating an ongoing conversation among current and future journalists.” More than 4,400 followers.

@romenesko: Kept by Jim Romenesko, a complement to his leading blog featuring “news, commentary and links about journalism and media.” More than 61,000 followers.

@SPLC: Kept by staff at the Student Press Law Center, the country’s leading “advocate for student free press rights.” More than 3,800 followers.

@sree: Kept by Sree Sreenivasan, the chief digital officer at Columbia University and a highly-respected digital journalism guru. More than 37,000 followers.

I’ll post a follow-up must-follow Twitter list for journalism students and student press outlets soon. Which accounts are missing here that should be included in part two?

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The Kenyon Collegian at Ohio’s Kenyon College is no longer allowing sources to review and request changes to their quotes in stories prior to publication.  As co-editor-in-chief Liliana Martinez tells me, the paper stopped adhering to what had apparently become accepted practice for some sources after seeing the similar review rejection policies recently adopted by The New York Times and The Harvard Crimson.

“This issue,” according to Martinez, “has prompted ongoing debate at Kenyon, especially between administrators, members of Student Council, and Collegian staffers.”

The paper ran an editorial late last week to clarify its policy switch, partially in response to a student leader’s assertion that dropping quote review was “backtracking in terms of the accountability and transparency you have with interview subjects.”

A portion of the editorial: “As more of our sources expect free rein to strike words from the record and redraft, it has become increasingly difficult for our reporters to provide perceptive coverage of this campus.  Over the course of the last year alone, sources have asked to revise their quotes to make them sound more eloquent. One source asked to add additional information to the body of a quote; another asked that a quote be taken off the record retroactively. All of the above situations violated established rules of journalistic ethics.  When interviews are given on the condition that quotes be sent back and changed after the fact, we are failing in our mission as a newspaper and effectively becoming an extension of the Office of Public Affairs.”

The editorial confirms the Collegian will still offer what editors call “read backs,” or quick quote run-throughs with a source over the phone or in person.  Sources can contest a factual error or a perceived misquotation, but any other style or wording changes are out.

The editorial’s close: “Since we announced this policy change to our staff at our fall training session, we have heard from multiple members of the campus community that they are nervous about consenting to interviews without prior review of their quotes. The truth is that we would rather go without a quote– no matter how useful– than permit sources to use our pages to mislead our readers.”

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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.

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As I wrote in early October, “The story of the student press so far this semester: The existence of the first sustained crack in college print papers’ seeming invincibility to the online takeover and economic downturn.”

 

Since then, the economy has continued to collapse faster than Amy Winehouse’s career, prompting an unprecedented ad-revenue slowdown and a cost-cutting mentality at some student papers nationwide, according to a new Daily Princetonian report.

 

With the “bottom dropping out of the economy,” as the business manager of The Daily Pennsylvanian put it, the biggest disappearance from the ad blitz of times past’ has been financial and consulting companies, who typically place advertisements in papers prior to appearing on campus to recruit students.  Stanford Daily business manager and COO: “There’s a huge gap between last fall and this fall.  Last fall we had all these recruiters for advertising.”

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Examples of cutbacks that papers have instituted or are considering due to the ad gaps: The Daily Northwestern is publishing “smaller papers with fewer pages because we don’t have advertising revenue to support our editorial news hole”; and The Indiana Daily Student is “looking at ways to economize in every area,” including staff pay rates and the paper’s travel budget.

 

Interestingly, The Daily Tar Heel continues to be a voice of optimism.  The DTH general manager notes that increased political advertising from the recent campaign season and current reader interest in men’s basketball puts the paper in “a unique position here to do better than some of our buddies.”  This echoes earlier statements about the paper’s financial robustness.

 

Aside from the DTH, is college papers’ current pessimism a sign that the end is growing ever-nearer for their print news products?  As I’ve stated before, I don’t think so.  This latest report and the in-the-red reality it presents for some papers is simply proof that college newspapers are not immune from the economic doom and gloom.  When an Obama-fied economy (hopefully) bounces back, the financial companies’ recruiting efforts and related ads will return, something The New York Times notes this morning is in the recruiters’ best interests.  And in turn, hopefully student papers’ ad-revenue stream will return to the black.

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