Five helpful thoughts as you panic about not having an internship yet

When March turns to April, summer seems only a few short weeks away. For those of us in Wisconsin, that means the snow might finally finish melting and we can finally put away our shovels and salt spreaders for the year. For journalism students everywhere, however, April means moving from “Hey, I applied for this internship” to “Why haven’t I heard back from the internship?” to “GOD, WHY?!?  WHAT HAVE I DONE IN LIFE THAT IS SO FOUL AS TO NOT GOTTEN AN INTERNSHIP YET?!?!”

I asked some folks I know who hire interns in the field what thoughts they had about this time of year, working through the hiring process and so forth. I also dug through the old file of rejection letters and such to come up with some advice for those of you who are somewhere between moderate concern and psychotic panic.

The Most Basic Advice:

You aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any good freaking out. The process is going to be the process, so don’t get yourself so wired that you’re tied up in knots and likely to send a horribly embarrassing text or email to a potential employer, begging for information. Cooler heads prevail, so YOU MUST CHILL. As one person who has worked for everything from top 20 circulation newspapers to promotions for the UFC explained:

My favorite quote: Patience is not absence of ambition. #EverybodyChill

This Takes Time

I remember working night desk at the State Journal one night when we were looking to hire a swing-shift reporter. My boss, Teryl, was responsible for reviewing the candidates. It was the end of a hellish night and I had just finished the midnight cop calls and settled in near the scanner to keep an ear out for any breaking news. Teryl sat down and pulled this giant stack of folders out of her desk drawer and dropped them on her desk with that clanging THUD that only half-metal, half-Formica desks can emit. There had to be 50 or more folders there, easy. She picked up the first one and with a heavy sigh, she started going through them. I thought it would take longer for her to get through them than it took for Andy Dufresne to make his way to freedom. I’m sure it felt just about as fun for her as it did for him.

Even now, these things take time and there is a ton of work involved. Even if you are the perfect candidate, it’s going to take a while to dig through the pile to find you. Or as one of the pros I talked to who is currently hiring interns said:

I’m at a very small agency and my colleague and I also have SO many of these things to sift through. We received more than 50 resumes for our one internship, and there’s only two of us to read them through. The process of trying to line up schedules and find a time for interviews is an absolute nightmare. Even once we do that, we’ve usually gone through 2-3 rounds of candidate interviews before we find someone we like. We try to put a dedicated effort into finding someone quickly and it still takes us about 3 weeks per hiring cycle.

You need to have reasonable expectations of how long this will take and understand there are actual human beings on the other end of this process who are likely doing their level best. Your best bet is to check in when you submit your material and find out what their general plan is for contacting people and then add about two weeks to that. Once that time has ended, you should give them another week and then contact them. But only do it once and do it in a, “I know you’re insanely busy but I wanted to check in” way. As a guy who works for Facebook explained to me:

Have the students ask what the typical turnaround times are so they have the right expectations and use the time spent waiting for one internship to apply to 3 more.

That said, if you have important updates, it helps to let the people know about that so you stay at the forefront of their minds in a positive way, according to a top PR pro who has worked for major players all across the country:

I also think that continuous follow up always keeps you ahead of the game. If it means thanking them for their time, sharing a story about the news they heard about the company (recent awards or otherwise) or writing a letter about how they are the ideal candidate and list specific strong reasons why… it goes a long way. I’m currently helping hire our interns for Baird and those are just a couple of things that stand out to our Directors/Managers.

Have a Plan B (and C…)

What might be the perfect internship for you might not make you the perfect candidate for the company. With that in mind, it helps to cultivate multiple options. If you are afraid that you might not get THE internship, keep an eye out and toss your hat in the ring for others that come open. One former newspaper editor who hired interns explained why this is a good idea:

I’d also recommend that students not put all their eggs in one basket when it comes to jobs and internships. Take the time to apply for a variety of internships. At best, you have a few great options to choose from. At worst, you got practice with the application process that will help you for years to come.

Another pro, who has worked in news, PR and university marketing, said not only should you be applying for multiple internships, but you should look for every opportunity to get experience if you get one:

Don’t sit tight waiting for one or two opportunities to pan out. Keep searching and keep applying. And be willing to seek and do work that gets you access to watch and learn, not necessarily do the “intern-version” of the “full-time thing.” Be a clerk. Tackle phones and backstage stuff if it gets you a front row seat. Bottom line: apply, apply and apply some more.

Take Advantage of Bad Situation

It helps to keep your ear to the ground for just-posted internships right about now and here’s why:

  1. Media outlets don’t always have their acts together when it comes to an internship program. Some places will get involved late in the game because they finally got permission to hire or because the money was finally available for the position. This means right about now, another wave of internships might be cresting and it could be yours to ride.
  2. Don’t feel bad about this, but it is possible that other candidates out there are viewed as being better than you are. As you sit at home, in a panicking dervish of anxious hope, those “better candidates” are taking internship offers and planning an awesome summer. Yes, this eliminates a few internship possibilities for you, but it also means that several other places that were banking on the Golden God/Goddess candidate are now looking for their Plan B. In some cases, you might be that Plan B. In other cases, they run out of options that are available and they might re-post the position. This gives you another shot to apply for something you might have missed or bypassed on your first salvo of applications.
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  3. (You might not like it if you think your next internship sees you like this, but consider it a chance to prove them wrong.)

I know this all sounds like, “Hey, you might not be all that good, but you might be the best of the really lousy candidates left after all the good kids take the good jobs,” but that’s not the point. Yeah, you can look at this like you’re some kind of damaged goods if you want, but it’s better to think about it this way: You want the internship and the experience that goes with it, so suck it up, check your ego and apply to be someone else’s “good enough” option. There’s a huge benefit to this: The ceiling on how impressive you can be is really unlimited. You have the ability to prove to them that you are awesome and you probably are better than whoever it was from the Almighty Deity School of Journalism and Perfection that turned them down. Plus, nothing makes someone work harder, stronger and faster than a really big chip on the shoulder.

Don’t Be This Candidate:

You might find yourself wondering “Why?” when it comes to the lack of communication from your potential internship suitors. This is where it helps to go back through your materials. In one case, someone didn’t get the gig because they mis-typed their phone number on their resume and people couldn’t get a hold of her. In another case, the applicant’s package never made it and he was too bashful to check in on the process. Then there are candidates like the ones this pro described:

And for the love of all things holy, please ask them to read their resumes over numerous times for errors, have someone else do it, and then do it again. I just threw out one for calling the Huffington Post the Huntington Post and another for spelling her own school’s name incorrectly.

This is why it pays to edit the hell out of your resume and cover letter before you send it off. (I screwed up and misspelled the name of editor on my cover letter, but he hired me anyway. Conversely, I saw Teryl toss one of the applications away when the person wrote “Dear Mr. Franklin” to her in the salutation. It’s dicey out there.) It also would help to have someone look over it for you, preferably someone whose not just going to say, “Wow! You’re great! Now can we go to the bar?”

If you turned out to be the person who screwed up in one of these ways, it will be in your best interest to figure that out before you have to send stuff out again.

The Junk Drawer: 7 random journalism screw-ups you should learn from

Every house I’ve ever lived in had a “junk drawer” in the kitchen where we kept everything that didn’t really have a place. Batteries, bottle openers, matches, a deck of cards and more were in the junk drawer. Today’s post is kind of a “junk drawer” of sorts, with a lot of little things worth noticing that don’t really have a place or merit a full post.

Consider the following leads, tweets and other bits of information:

For the audience with an interest in 19th century French linguistics:

Police in Sacramento, California killed a 22-year-old, unarmed man who was in his grandmother’s backyard last week. Consider the approach and phraseology ABC News used in its lead:

Stephon Clark was in his grandmother’s backyard, trying to get into the house Sunday night when two Sacramento police officers loosed a fusillade of 20 bullets, killing him, Clark’s family told ABC News.

A fusillade, a term with roots in 19th-century French, is “a series of shots fired or missiles thrown all at the same time or in quick succession.” I have a Ph.D. in a communication-related field and I have spent the majority of my professional journalism life covering crime, but never once have I thought to use the word “fusillade.” This is one of those cases where you want to check the author’s desk for a “Expand Your Vocabulary” page-a-day calendars and destroy it.


The Department of Redundancies Department:

Here’s an example of how you don’t need a lot of space to screw something up:


Armed gunman? As opposed to what? An unarmed gunman? Unless you literally have a man with no arms packing an Uzi in his mouth, you need not distinguish between an armed gunman and an unarmed (or armless) gunman.

Grammar counts:

It took me two reads to realize what was wrong with this, but when I did, it came back to an old nun barking something about adjectives and verbs at me:


The author of this tweet uses the adjective “burnt” to describe the structure, which means the video would simply show the presence of a crispy statue. The author meant “burned” which is the action of someone setting fire to the item and letting the fire consume it.

Point/Counterpoint rides again:


I guess I would expect nothing less than disagreement with the premise that “straws are evil” from a person whose job it is to support the straw-manufacturing-and-distribution industry.



My worst nightmare in reverse:

I always fear that somewhere in one of my books, I’ll misspell “public” and add to the laundry list of “pubic libraries,” “pubic schools” and “pubic meetings” that have dotted the news landscape over the years. In reading the Omro Herald (*Omro, Wisconsin’s Finest News Source) this week, I ran across a formal outline of a new “anti-sexting” law the city had passed, and noticed this:


“The internet” has spoken:


Of all the dumb things we’ve been doing lately in media, saying “the internet” has something to say about whatever it is we’re talking about has to be one of the worst. The whole idea behind getting attributions is to allow us to show the readers who thinks what and why. When we just grab 83 tweets and call it a set of “mixed feelings,” we’d be just as informative if we asked my imaginary cat, Pop Pop, what he thinks about it. If you want reactions, go ask people who are informed for them. If you want to use tweets as a reaction, figure out WHO these people are and WHY your readers should put stock in their opinions. The internet isn’t a source, but the people you find using it might be.

It’s on the internet! It has to be true:


A student found this while doing a search for a research paper he was doing and saved it for me. It just reinforces my theory that “Wiki-Anything” isn’t a source.


The journalism films you should watch if you want to be a journalist (Part II)

The other day, I went through the five films I thought would be good for journalism students to watch. Today, we go through what the Hivemind had to say about which journalism films you should watch and why. Here are ten more films to consider:

All the President’s Men (1976) – Let’s talk about the 200,000-pound elephant in the room. This one popped up on everyone else’s list, and for good reason. It’s the gold standard of journalism and film, it showcases how a newspaper brought down a president and it inspired generations of writers to do more reporting and less stenography when it came to covering famous people. The story behind this movie is important, valuable and incredible as a turning point in American and journalistic history.

It didn’t show up on my list for three reasons:

  1. At 2 hours and 18 minutes, it’s a hell of a slog and it literally typifies almost everything that Meyers talks about when it comes to movie cliches. Sure, ATPM did it first and it was real, so calling it cliche in retrospect is unfair but it goes back to the third point on my rationale list. I have personally found myself drifting off watching this thing and I know I shouldn’t. Every year or so, this movie becomes a point of debate among a bunch of us on a college media listserv, so I know both sides have their supporters here.
  2. The piece lacks historical perspective for a lot of students in today’s day and age. Watergate is just as relevant as Washington crossing the Delaware in their lives. People over 50 remember Watergate happening, so it’s relevant to them, but many students are barely old enough to remember the 9/11 attacks and they weren’t even born when Nixon died. Because the film was made in 1976, it doesn’t include the “backstory” elements that current retrospectives do. In 1976, everyone KNEW the outcome because Watergate happened four years before the movie came out, so it was more about the story behind the story. That approach leaves the current generation a bit lost.
  3. OK, this is a cheap shot, but it lost the Academy Award for “Best Picture” that year to “Rocky.”

Still, overall, if you want to really dig in and watch this, go for it. I’d recommend it the same way I recommend eating vegetables: It’s good for you, but it’s not as fun as some other things you could do. Like watching “Rocky.”

The Post (2017) – This takes a look back before the Watergate scandal and showcases another huge story the Washington Post covered: The Pentagon Papers. Truth be told, the main reason it didn’t make my list was that I haven’t seen this yet. Everyone in the Hivemind who saw it thought it was perfect in its approach and its historical value, while still setting the stage well enough for people in this generation who didn’t live through it. It might be a top-five for me once I eventually find time to see it a couple times.

The Insider (1999) – Another great story of a journalist and a big story. Russell Crowe is a whistleblower in the case against Big Tobacco and Al Pacino is journalist Lowell Bergman, who is determined to make sure the story gets told.  As one of my colleagues noted it “is a great primer on the reporter-source relationship.”

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)This is another look back at an important clash in history between the government and journalism. David Strathairn stars as journalist Edward R. Murrow, who takes on Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s “Red Scare.” The work Murrow and producer Fred Friendly do to push back against a seemingly invincible opponent at a time of heightened nationwide fears was incredible. The use of news footage featuring McCarthy, as opposed to an actor playing him, adds realism and provides an even greater sense of what these journalists faced. What you are willing to do when you see nothing but risk all around you is a valuable question at the core of this film.

The Front Page (1931) – I hadn’t heard of this one, but it was suggested to me by a colleague who teaches a history of journalism as well as a “lit and film” journalism class. A comedy film, the piece looks at journalism in ways that are still relevant: Investigative reporter Hildy Johnson plans to leave his job at a tabloid to get a better-paying advertising gig when he comes across the scoop of a lifetime. A convicted killer escapes and Johnson pays off someone to get the story. Later, he comes across the killer on the lam and Johnson hides him in the newsroom until he can get the story from him. A 1974 remake starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon is also out there if you’re interested.

Almost Famous (2000) – This is a great film, even though I never really thought of it as a journalism movie. That said, two others in the Hivemind posted it, so here we go. The semi-autobiographical tale of a young Cameron Crowe, “Almost Famous” sends a 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) on tour in the 1970s with the band Stillwater so he can write a piece for Rolling Stone. It’s a fun movie, runs a little long and is more of a character study than anything else, in my mind. However, it does contain the world’s greatest lead for a band profile: “I’m flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi with America’s hottest band and we’re all about to die.”

I Am Jane Doe (2017) – A film that combines the “I haven’t seen it” and “I hadn’t thought of it as a journalism movie” issues discussed earlier. The story is about sex-trafficking and the website The question it asks in the trailer is “How can it be legal to advertise children online for sex?” The answer sits at the core of something called Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act of 1996, which has broad implications for journalism. I trust the faculty colleague who recommended this one.

Network (1976) –  This is a great, great movie, but it just didn’t make the cut for my five. (In retrospect, it probably should have, but I don’t know what to cut, and don’t you dare suggest “The Paper.”) Veteran news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) finds his ratings falling as younger journalists and “catchier” stories undercut his traditionalism. When he finds he is about to be fired, he says that he’ll kill himself on the air one week from now. This announcement leads to a ratings spike, the network’s decision to ride the story and perhaps one of the best-known moments in journalism-movie history:

Even all these years later, this piece is SO on the money in terms of where we are today with reality TV, media quality, corporatization of news and more that it essentially made a comeback when Aaron Sorkin did his version of it with “Studio 60” in 2006:

Or even when Sorkin did it again in “The Newsroom” in 2012:


As one person in the Hivemind called it it is “a favorite and works well with discussions about media dependency, conglomeration, reality TV…” It’s a real keeper. (Oddly enough, this lost out on the “Best Picture” Oscar to “Rocky” as well… “Why this fighter of such limited ability has gained such popularity is such a mystery…”)

His Girl Friday (1940) I have a love of Howard Hawks films, due in large part to his rapid-paced dialogue and his desire to just bang out the story. Of course, my favorite Hawks movie was “Rio Bravo,” which has nothing to do with journalism, but does include John Wayne. Watching everyone else working in “Hawks speed” while Wayne is still lumbering along at his own pace of dialogue is incredible. In any case, “His Girl Friday” showcases Cary Grant as a newspaper editor trying to get his ex-wife and top reporter, Rosalind Russell, from leaving the paper and getting remarried. The movie doesn’t age well, particularly in terms of sexism, but it is still a classic film worthy of a look if you can look past some of the historical failings it contains.

The Killing Fields (1984) – Another one I need to add to my NetFlix list. Sam Watterson plays a New York Times journalist who goes to Cambodia in search of a story during Pol Pot’s “ethnic cleansing” of the country.  One of the Hivemind called it “excellent for discussion of US reporters covering war, use of local sources/handlers and ethics.” 

So, what else did we miss? Feel free to drop us a comment below.


The journalism films you should watch if you want to be a journalist (Part I)

Journalism films are all over the place lately, as are documentaries about journalists. It seems like if a film can include a typewriter, somebody smoking indoors and a sense of “taking on The Man,” it’s on a screen these days. Seth Meyers did a fantastic send up of this on his late-night show:


In the 1970s, “All The President’s Men” became the “must-watch movie” for journalism students. When I was in college, we gravitated to “The Paper,” as we all seemed to know random guys like Randy Quaid’s character who bordered on insane. (One of my newsroom friends started calling me “Hackett” after Michael Keaton’s Coke-guzzling, workaholic character.) Now? It could be one of a dozen or more fictional, documentary or “based on a true story” films, so I dug back through IMDB and put out the question to the Hivemind on what was “required” watching for budding journalists.

Below are my “Top Five” films in no particular order with some rationale behind my picks. I tended to consider three things in each pick I made:

  1. Did I watch it more than once because I liked something about it?
  2. Does it give viewers something important in it, regardless of the genre or format?
  3. Do I think students would actually watch this if they weren’t forced to and actually enjoy it?

Those considerations knocked out a couple films for me that others picked up on. I’m also quite certain it will have people screaming at me that I’m wrong.

In any case, here we go:

1) Judging Jewell (2014, ESPN: 30 for 30) – At shade under 22 minutes, this story packs a lot of lessons into a short space. In 1996, a bomb shattered the peace of the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, killing 2 people and injuring more than 100 others. This could have been much worse had it not been for the heroic actions of Richard Jewell, a security guard who was working at the Games for AT&T. Jewell spotted the package and began moving people away from that area before the bomb detonated.

Jewell was originally considered a hero, but the media turned on him when public sentiment held that Jewell was likely the bomber. What followed was an 88-day “trial by media” that demonstrates what can happen when the race to get the story becomes all-consuming. (My favorite lesson comes from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which ran a line about how Jewell “fits the profile of the lone bomber,” and why attribution matters so much in news writing.) Jewell was eventually exonerated, as terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph was captured and confessed to the bombing. However, Jewell never really recovered. This is a sad story and yet a good cautionary tale for journalists.

2) Spotlight (2015) Critics have compared this film to the classic “All The President’s Men,” in that it shows how reporting can bring down a powerful institution. It also has similarities in the ways in which the journalists had to engage in real “shoe leather” reporting to make this happen. The critical nature of sources, fact checking, working around problems and other things journalists pride themselves on are on full display here. One of the more interesting things is the early resistance from within the paper when it comes to “going after” the church. Although, like most “based on a true story” movies, we know how it will end, the tension that comes from the fear of being wrong makes this both a tale of aspiration and one of caution.


3) Shattered Glass (2003) – In between his stints as a young Anakin Skywalker, Hayden Christensen portrayed another character drawn to the dark side. Stephen Glass was a young, well-liked journalist at The New Republic when he engaged in a series of fraudulent behaviors that shook the magazine to its core in the late 1990s. Glass started by faking a few quotes here and there before eventually writing pure fiction and passing it off as fact. The epilogue of the film notes that 27 of the 41 pieces he published during his time at the magazine were partially or completely made up, not to mention fabrications he freelanced to a number of other publications.

Some aspects of the film, which is now 15 years old and based on an incident that happened two decades ago, don’t age well for younger viewers. The idea of having to use “every search engine on the web” to get information seems quaint, as does the discussion of the fear associated with an “internet publication going after a giant.” That said, the lessons are fantastic.

At some point in life, almost everyone has wanted to be “the cool kid.” Glass fell into that trap, as you can see in the “60 Minutes” interview below. He loved the attention and would do anything to get it, including wandering down a path of self-destruction.

I would also wager, most people also have found themselves in a jam at some point and thought, “If I just cut a corner here, I could get out of this alive.” Some do it and convince themselves they’ll “only do it this once.” Like most other things that are horrible for you, it’s never just once. If you take the Red Pill, you never hit the bottom of the rabbit hole. Even today, Glass is still dealing with his past.


4) The Paper (1994) – It’s fiction, it’s ridiculous in spots and yet it is one of the few films that captures the complete randomness of life in a newsroom. From the A/C that breaks to the guy who swears he has “Watergate” on every story, this is a funny story with a great cast. If nothing else, this scene just nailed it for me:

“Who the hell took my stapler?”

If I had a dollar for every time something in a newsroom made me laugh, I’d be able to fund all the newspapers in the world forever. This movie reminds me of that every time I watch it. Probably a biased pick, but give it a look and tell me I’m wrong.

5) Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017) – A wrestler, a sex tape and sleazy internet publication are at the central junction point of this film and perhaps the most important free-press case in decades. The movie looks at the trial of Bollea v. Gawker, which pits wrestling star Hulk Hogan (aka Terry Bollea) against an internet gossip magazine. Gawker was a publication that a lot of people hated for being mean-spirited and snotty, but it also went after “true things about bad people” to quote a former worker. However, at the heart of this case and this film are several crucial questions including, if a sex tape is news, who gets to decide that and what forces are at play behind all of this.

The film goes beyond the “guess who saw the naughty stuff” issue and digs into who was funding Hogan’s legal team, what other multi-millionaires are out there potentially undercutting press freedoms and what this means going forward.


Feel free to tell me I’m wrong about everything, if you so choose.

Tomorrow: The answer to “How can a list like this NOT include ‘All The President’s Men!’ as well as the suggestions of the Hivemind.


Four reasons I care about what the student government is doing to The Sunflower (and why you should, too)

(Editor’s note: The situation at Wichita State University, in which the student government is cutting funding to the student newspaper, The Sunflower, is one of those horrible situations that needs hope:

EIC Chance Swaim said that sharing the message made sure that, “If a tree falls in the forest, I want everyone to hear.” Make sure people hear it loud and clear.)

Allison Hantschel Sansone, who has written for us here occasionally and runs a massively successful political blog, would occasionally confront a colossally lousy situation with a call for hope. She would call for her readers to donate coats for homeless kids, kick in to a GoFundMe for high school journalism kids or to give money for food to support hurricane victims. Her motto is one to which I aspire:

“Hi, we’re from the internet and we’re here to help.”

The responses she got often stunned her in terms of speed and help, as they did me yesterday. If you took any two posts I’ve written since I started this blog, added the views together and doubled them, you wouldn’t get as many hits as the post on The Sunflower got in 12 hours on Wednesday. (And that includes one post where I was basically giving people stuff for free.) More people bought T-shirts (or at least clicked on the link to buy them) than I had visitors for any post during the rest of the week.

You all are from the internet and you are here to help, so thank you.

For people who are still asking (and they’re out there), “Why do you care so much about a college paper in a state you never even visited and people you never met?” here are four simple reasons why I care and why I think everyone else should too:

1) Student media outlets matter: I know that this seems like a self-serving statement, but it has turned out to be more true than I could have imagined. If you skip past all the standard answers of why they matter (They shine a light on sketchy campus situations, they provide students with a voice, they train future journalists who can make an even bigger difference etc.), you can find other bigger reasons they matter.

Students who find the courage to enter the newsroom where it seems like everyone has a place and knows what they are doing tend to find their own place and their own purpose. I often joke that we’re a family, in that we all drink and yell at one another, but I mean it more honestly as well. I have yet to have students come back to me to reminisce about that “great midterm you gave us” or “remember the time in class when I raised my hand?” However, I have found they’ll come back, sometimes decades later, to talk about the paper and their time there. It is really a part of their lives.

2) Bullies suck: If you ask my mother the first time she ever saw me REALLY upset about something, she’ll likely tell you that I used to watch “Peanuts” TV specials when I was 3 or 4 years old and rail about how everyone was so mean to Charlie Brown. There is something about bullies that just drives me around the bend and I imagine I’m not the only one to feel that way.

What is happening at WSU is nothing more than bullying. And it really ticks me off.

Over the course of the past couple months, WSU student government President Paige Hungate has stated she can close a meeting when she wants, called the university president a coward, proposed draconian cuts to the student paper’s budget, told the faculty senate she is in charge and said the university president had no choice but to agree with her on cutting The Sunflower’s budget. Does that sound like someone versed in the nuance of collaborative governance?  It sounds like Loki:

Why are Hungate and others at WSU so interested in bullying the paper into submission? It could be that the paper has done a lot of investigative work that has caused the administration some consternation. It could be that the paper covers the SGA closely and it would be so much better for Hungate and the rest of the group if the paper were put on a leash. It could also be that the paper reported on Hungate’s parents who were “under criminal investigation for battery and anti-black, hate “fighting words” following an altercation at a student government banquet.” The former SGA president, Joseph Shepard, pressed charges following the event. It could be anything…

This isn’t an attack on Hungate, but rather an attempt to point out that bullying the paper into silence is something nobody should abide. Speaking up makes that point clear.

3) Feeling alone sucks worse: A big reason we take staffers to student media conferences goes beyond the writing, photography and design stuff they learn. The reason is to show them they’re not alone in their problems at the paper. A campus usually has ONE editor in chief or ONE managing editor who has to wonder, “Is all of this stuff normal or are we weird?” That “stuff” can be anything from “Why can’t the sports desk ever make deadline?” to “How do you deal with a photo editor who is trying to sleep with all his photographers and creeping everyone out?” When you think you’re the only one in the world who deals with this, it can be daunting.

The first thing Swaim asked me for wasn’t advice on how to defeat the SGA or how to fix the financial situation. He asked me to get the message out about what was happening. In other words, “Tell the story. Let people know.” When I did, he got back what he wanted to hear: “We see. We know. You are not alone. We are behind you.”

When I was fixing the finances at my student newspaper about 112 years ago, I’d be up until 4 a.m., tearsheeting a year’s worth of ads wondering where the hell everyone else was who “swore” that this place meant “so much” to them. When we asked for help to retire our debt, people wrote checks from all over the country and others who couldn’t sent letters and notes of support. It was that outpouring that told me the most important thing:

You are not alone.

4) The Hole Story: The person I can sympathize with the most is Amy DeVault, the adviser of The Sunflower. She is a long-time WSU faculty member, a top-notch journalist with a good amount of field experience and an adviser with passion for student media. The last thing she, or any good adviser, wants is to BE the news. Even more, advisers always walk the fine line of being helpful and taking over when things get rough. She saw this coming for more than six months and has been working quietly behind the scenes to try to avoid this rock-and-a-hard-place moment that seemed inevitable.

(Side note: The only way I’ve ever been able to explain the adviser-editor relationship adequately is through “The Godfather” movies: The editor is the “don” of the family and the adviser is the “consiglieri. The adviser offers all the advice and solutions possible, but at the end of the day, the don makes the call. That’s the way things are set up in student media at public institutions, thanks to this thing called First Amendment.)

I’d like to say that I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now or what Swaim is enduring, but unfortunately I can. Two years ago, the student government here decided to come after the paper. Making things worse, they came after me directly, putting together a formal resolution demanding that I resign as adviser and if I didn’t, that the chancellor fire me.

The students not only had to deal with the issue of how to fix the paper’s funding and the student government’s attacks on the paper/me, they also had to COVER this as NEWS. There is no more sickening feeling than having to leave your own newsroom because you didn’t want the students to feel awkward writing a story in front of you about an attempt at your ouster.

Every day feels like you’re getting the crap kicked out of you. You fear every email, every phone call and every text message because it might be the one that ends everything. I remember being unable to sleep and feeling like my heart was going to leap out of my chest at various random points. The world feels like it’s collapsing all around you and you have no idea how to stop it.

You also fear what it’s doing to your staff. My editors were constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It got so bad that I told my editor, “Look, if it will make life easier on you, I’ll just quit.” She looked at me and without hesitation said, “Even if it did make life easier, there’s no way I’m letting you quit.” (See point one. We were family.) DeVault sent me a message telling me that Swaim is in constant fear that what is happening here will cost DeVault her job. My students worried about that as well. Those were the worst professional days of my life.

Two years later, those student government… um… people… have graduated, the paper is fine (ish) and life is better. The only thing I have to remind me of all this is the resolution they signed to oust me, which I framed and put on my wall next to an autographed picture of Mary Beth Tinker. That’s why I want to help people like Swaim and DeVault. It’s the personification of “The Hole Story” I love to tell:

I’ve been in this hole, and I know there’s a way out.

If you have too, keep supporting these people. They deserve it.

“An inelegant death for a 123-year-old student-run publication:” An update on The Sunflower at Wichita State and its fight for funding

(Editor’s note: The upshot of this is that the situation is not good, but Chance Swaim and the staff of The Sunflower continue fighting the good fight. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to tell people who were not on campus but really wanted to help and he said this: “Thank you! It’s really kept us all going — knowing we’re not alone. Keep writing about this. Tell anyone you think might be interested. Share our stories online. Buy a classified ad. Buy a T-shirt. Keep the pressure on. If a tree falls in the forest, I want everyone to hear.”

The T-shirt link works. I just bought mine. It’s a bit odd in terms of payment, in that you have to enter your own invoice (just include N/A or T-shirt under invoice) and your own payment ($20 for the shirt plus $5 for mailing it), but hang in there. It’s for a good cause. At the bottom of the post is some additional contact information for WSU President John Bardo to make your voice heard if you so wish.)


Chance Swaim, the editor-in-chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State, checked in the other day with a few updates about the struggle the paper has continued to face. Swaim has been knocked around by three things I have also dealt with and hated: A paper that is in financial trouble, a student government that is being absurd and a bad back:

“Sorry it’s taken so long to respond,” he wrote in his email. “I’ve been fighting the flu and back pain, along with everything else…”

The “everything else” included the student government meeting in a closed session where it cut the paper’s funding from $105,000 to $55,000 for the upcoming year. The paper, and others media outlets, protested both the cut and the secrecy in which it occurred, leading university President John Bardo to ask the fee committee to redo its work in an open session. In response to this, SGA President Paige Hungate called Bardo’s actions “the pinnacle of cowardice.”

For a full look at the rolling disaster-bacle that this has all been, feel free to click on the previous posts on this topic.

Since we last left our intrepid journalists, the fee committee met in public and revised its recommendations.

“We gave a supplemental presentation,” Swaim said in his email. “During my portion of the presentation, I emphasized The Sunflower’s mission is to cover WSU campus news and our mission is not to make money from advertisements. We shouldn’t have to rely on advertisements to sustain. We asked for the amount we need to run the paper sustainably. To continue our mission, we need student fees.”

The committee recommended that the paper receive $80,000 ($75,000 for operations and $5,000 for equipment). According to Swaim and published reports, Vice President Teri Hall, who oversaw the closed-door session and who argued this shouldn’t be done in public in the first place, was one of the administrators who abstained from the vote.

“When it came to funding The Sunflower, the two student senators on the committee said they wanted to increase our funding from $75,000 (+5,000 for equipment), which was a number sort of thrown out as the highest Paige Hungate would go,” Swaim wrote. “She said she thought they had good reasons to cut us to $50,000 (+5,000). Her cabinet voted with her. the senators voted against the cut. The administrators abstained.”

(Side note: I can’t find anything in any coverage or any official documents what the “good reasons to cut” were. My best guess is that Hungate came up with them and discussed them during the closed-door session, but did not reveal them publicly. Yet another reason why open meetings matter.)

In the previous iteration of the committee’s recommendations, the student affairs office (which Hall heads) received an increase to its funding while the paper took a giant cut. At the time, Swaim noted that all of the other groups funded in the same manner as The Sunflower were only a few percentage points up or down, as opposed to the 45-50 percent cut to the paper. That didn’t really change in the second run at this:

“Student Affairs still got its increase, but it swept money from its reserve accounts to free up $75,000 extra…” Swaim said. “I think it’s atrocious that student affairs and SGA lack the leadership skills to properly fund groups that have been on campus and funded through student fees for decades. Particularly insulting is the way they pretend there have to be cuts this year, when the amount of student fees collected has increased. Of course their budgets are important to them and seen untouchable. But we were cut like crazy. All of the fixed line items were awarded within 1.5 percent of the amounts they requested, except us. We were awarded right around half.”

In the mean time, the WSU faculty senate passed a resolution in support of The Sunflower, which called for Bardo to restore the paper to its full funding and noted “the proposed budget cut is intimidation of free student press.” (It’s unclear of that meant the $153,000 it received a few years back before it received its first whack or the $105,000 it was dealing with this year.) Hungate dismissed the concerns of the faculty, saying “it’s really not the faculty’s place to tell student government how to allocate student fees.”

(Side note: I can’t escape this overwhelming desire to unpack everything Paige Hungate has said and done to this point as part of a “This is why government needs a Fourth Estate check on it” and “This is why these people should not have say over news outlet funding” post. I’m not into attacking students but she’s really pulling a “Bob Murray” in terms of forcing my hand here in her approach to this situation. I wonder if John Oliver rents out Mr. Nutterbutter.)

The budget now goes back to the student senate for a vote. Swaim said the senate can’t change the amount the committee recommended, but it can send the whole budget back to the committee again to reconsider it all. If the senate approves the budget, it will go to Bardo for his consideration.

“Really, our only hope is that President John Bardo restores our amount,” Swaim said.

Unless Bardo restores the funding, Swaim said the publication would likely devolve and become less valuable to the students in the newsroom and on the campus of WSU.

“Student jobs lost. Smaller print papers. Less content. Less money to travel to, say, the NCAA tournament, or national conferences to earn recognition for our university. That’s the first year,” he said. “Two years in, cut printing entirely. Three years with that funding level and the paper would be flat broke, editorially snuffed, and a complete joke — an inelegant death for a 123 year old student-run publication.”
Image result for john bardo wichita state If you think this situation is appalling, please contact the one person left who can stop this from happening: John Bardo. You can email him here to thank him for a commitment to the First Amendment and ask him to put his money where his mouth is and push the funding back up to where it belongs: $153,000. Heck, if you feel like really annoying the student government, ask that it be raised to $253,000, with the $100,000 cut coming directly from whatever budget line funds Hungate’s office. His office number is 316-978-3001 in case you’d like to chat with him.


Make sure that if this tree falls, everyone hears it and knows why.

“We just lost our friends.” Journalism at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

You never know what’s going to happen next in journalism. It’s what makes the job both exciting and terrifying at the same time. A group of high school journalism students discovered this truism in a horrifying way when their seemingly regular day became global news.

David Beard at the Poynter Institute tracked down the staff of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School newspaper to find out how the shooting at their school shaped the paper’s approach to journalism. His introduction illustrates the normalcy of the day, right up to the point when everything changed:

Suzanna Barna was just shutting down her computer in journalism class, thinking about her too-long story on her high school’s internet filtering policy.

The school newspaper story was 1,600 words, and her workaround was to chop it into two 800-word segments.

A few desks over, Lewis Mizen had finished a draft of his op-ed on DACA and President Trump, and Kevin Trejos, behind the other two on his assignment, had just gone into the hall to refill his water bottle.

Then the alarm went off at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Barna, Mizen and Trejos haven’t touched those stories since.

Reading that put me in my own student newsroom: My editor harping on the kid who writes too long and refuses to cut his story. The opinion desk banging out a draft on a national topic that will have me asking, “OK, how does this impact readers here?” The “last call for water” kid, heading upstairs to the water bottle refilling station with everyone’s cup or bottle before security locks off that part of the building off for the night.

Normal day, normal problems. And then none of it was normal.

In the weeks since the shooting in February, the paper and the yearbook became engaged in a crowdfunding effort to help provide each student with copies of the publications as well as to augment them in the wake of the shooting. Allison Miller, a student media adviser from Texas, started this cause and has worked with the students in Florida and on behalf of them in these efforts.

“Journalism doesn’t take a break in the face of tragedy, so they have to carry on,” Miller said. “We decided to start this to help raise the funds for these students to pursue any avenue that they choose to pursue and to use their voices without the fear of the costs and the fear of the repercussions.”

Unfortunate and truer words could not be spoken. About a day after Beard published his piece on Stoneman Douglas,  a student at Great Mills High School in Maryland shot two classmates before he died of a gunshot wound.


3 lessons beginning sports writers should learn from the 16-seeded UMBC Retrievers win over No. 1 Virginia

Sports journalism thrives on record-setting performances, amazing finishes and moments when the impossible occurs. As the NCAA men’s Division I tournament began last week, one “unbreakable” record appeared safe: No 16 seed in that tournament had ever defeated a 1 seed in the tournament. In 135 chances, the 16 seed was 0-135.

The Retrievers of the University of Maryland Baltimore County ended that streak on Friday, defeating the top-ranked team in the tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers, by 20 points. People poured on to social media to relish the moment and celebrate the “David” who just took down “Goliath.” However, in calling the Retrievers the “first 16 seed to ever defeat a 1 seed,” people were factually inaccurate.

The women’s team at Harvard came to the NCAA tournament in 1998 as a 16 seed and defeated the number one team from Stanford, 71-67. Thus, the Retrievers were the first men to accomplish this task and yet not the first team to pull it off.

This leads to three simple lessons to take forward:

  • Don’t assume only men play: In a number of sports, men and women participate and women have the edge when it comes to records. For example, the person with the most open-era singles wins at Wimbledon isn’t Roger Federer with eight, but rather Martina Navratilova with nine. The person with the most goals in Olympic soccer history is Cristiane, a player for the Brazilian women’s national team. If you think something is a first, a last or an only, make sure to check both sides of the gender ledger before calling it a one-of-a-kind event.


  • Don’t assume  your level of competition is the only level out there: Sports have multiple divisions at the collegiate level (D-I, D-II and D-III), so just because a D-I team hasn’t pulled something off, don’t assume no one else ever has. When an NFL record is broken, keep in mind it isn’t the only “pro” league to ever exist, so if you are making a statement about all professional football history, make sure to check back on things like the WFL and the USFL. Or, just stick to calling it an NFL record.


  • Don’t assume that because “everybody said” something that “everybody is right: Watching the “first-ever 16 seed” (a redundancy that was almost as bad as the error itself) story fly around the internet had people piling on until someone decided to set the record straight:Harvard2


This leads to the main point of this post and the bigger overall lesson: Say ONLY what you KNOW for SURE. Don’t get caught up in the hype or assume something has NEVER happened just because you don’t know that it happened before or because “everyone knows” that something hasn’t happened. Instead, write what you can prove: No 16-seeded men’s team in this history of the NCAA D-I tournament had beaten a 1 seed in 135 attempts before UMBC defeated Virginia.

Your readers will still enjoy your work, the outcome is still impressive and you will have the benefit of being accurate.

Explore the lore for stories (or do more people get a snip-off before March Madness tipoff?)

I have to hand it to Jim Stingl and the staff at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, because the opening on this story border on magical, so much so, I’ll ignore the AP style error in the lead:

Well-timed vasectomies put lots of guys on the couch for March Madness basketball

Jeff Kopesky is synching his surgical snip-off with the first round tipoff of March Madness.

Stingl takes a look at the lore behind men who get a surgical procedure that has a lot of guys doing the “SSSSS…. AAAAHHHHH….. MMMMPHH…” noises in their heads and how it can be used as an advantage. I have to admit, this story felt like I was watching a car wreck: I literally found myself gaping at it, unable to look away while thinking, “This is so, so, so wrong…” That said, I marveled at it for a few key reasons:

  • That lead is just… well… damn. To call it memorable is an understatement. I will likely be watching the games this weekend, thinking “snip-off” each time I hear “tipoff.”
  • The number of sources that go into this is amazing. Men have a hard time talking about almost anything, let alone something like this. Still, he had four sources (five if you count his aside about his own surgery) and it was a relatively short piece.
  • He uses facts to support the legend of “everybody has heard about…” The doctor says he’s doing double the number of surgeries of this type that he normally does around this time of year. Other information about medicine and so forth supports the narrative.

This story is a great launch point for story ideas based on urban legends, campus myths and “stuff EVERYBODY knows.” Explore the lore so to speak with things like this:

  • GENERAL CAMPUS LEGENDS: There are long-held, erroneous beliefs about college life that go beyond individual campuses. The movie “Dead Man on Campus” touches on the biggest one: If your roommate dies during the year, you automatically get straight A’s. What other myths are out there regardless of if you attend school in Maine or Arizona? What commonalities do they have and how real are they?


  • YOUR CAMPUS LEGENDS: Each campus has a specific legend that is germane to something that happened or didn’t happen on campus. A certain dorm is haunted by a kid who died there. A book exists in the library that has all the dirt on every administrator ever to threaten a certain frat. A system of tunnels run under the school that allowed students to avoid going outside in hot or cold weather, but they were sealed up after “an incident.” What are the specific legends on your campus and how did they get started? Are they rooted in fact and then spiraled or are they just old wives’ tales that got blown out of proportion?


  • THEMES OF LEGENDS: Maybe you could take a look at the broader ideas of legends themselves and what they say about the people on college campuses. Certain themes continue throughout various legends, even though they are campus-specific. For example, sex is always a hot topic on campus, which is why the legends relate to people who have or haven’t had it yet. At UW-Madison, the large statue of Abe Lincoln, seated in front of Bascom Hall, was said to stand up if a virgin walked by. The angelic “Beneficence” statute on Ball State’s campus was said to flap her wings if a similarly chaste individual walked by. Concrete lions on Penn State’s campus were believed to roar if student who hadn’t “done the deed” passed by.
    There are also legends of luck: If you rub the nose of a statue or throw coins into a certain fountain, you were more likely to pass your midterms or finals. For example, the “Tecumseh” bust on the campus of the Naval Academy is dubbed “the God of the 2.0” as in grade point average. Cadets offer a left-handed salute and toss pennies in front of the statue for luck prior to exams or athletic events.  What other themes exist? How do they matter and what does it say about what we all value.

Have a great spring break (if it’s coming this week like ours is) and enjoy March Madness (with or without a bag of frozen peas, as is the legend).

Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

What someone else thinks of me: A review of “Dynamics of News Reporting and Writing.”

(Editor’s Note: I do my best to follow the 70-20-10 rule for social media, in which only 10 percent is about some form of self-promotion. Today is one of those 10 percent days, so feel free to skip it if you feel I’ve already used up your willingness to tolerate me in promotion mode. -VFF)

I’d be willing to bet most of you have seen the “How people see me” memes out there, in which they lay out how you and others see yourself. People have created them for doctors, lawyers, students and more. Obviously, I’m partial to the professors one:



The reason I bring this up is that I got the first review on the News Reporting and Writing book, the first time someone else did a “this is how I see what you did.”

I’m biased a bit because I know the student and was more proud of how she worked on the piece for her outside job and did a good job of writing this up. It’s often awkward for students to talk to professors about anything, but she was a good interviewer and I think she wrote better than I wrote at that stage in life. Or even up to last week Thursday.

In any case, give this a read and see if it helps you figure out what I was trying to do, what I actually did and if I should be doing something else to make this a worthwhile endeavor. Comments are always welcome.