Proof or Dare: The “Dynamics of Media Editing” enters the final phase (I hope).

The sign goes up on the whiteboard outside my office at least once or twice a year:

“EDITING BOOK PROOFS: KNOCK AND ENTER.”

For those of you who don’t know, the book-writing process takes on about a dozen phases, each more precise than the the last. Once the book is almost done, the folks at the publishing house lay the whole book out and send you a set of pages to examine for errors. This includes design issues, image quality and typographic mistakes.

In more than a few cases, I’ll catch typos or weird sentences where I must have accepted one change and rejected another from the copy editor in the previous editing phase. This leads to a sentence that sounds like I’m stammering through congressional testimony asking me how many mullets I grew in high school.

This week, I got the first set of proofs for the upcoming book, Dynamics of Media Editing, which should be out in January or February. If nothing else, the cover is really snazzy:

EditingCovers_Page_1

To really focus on the proofs, I have to close my door, put on a red football jersey (I don’t know why), put on a set of giant headphones to lock out the noise and sit about three inches from my monitor, picking at each sentence. Thus, I kind of get locked in and it requires someone coming into my office and nudging me with a stick to get me out of the zone.

No matter how hard I try, there’s always something that slips by. My great fear is that I’ll miss something really stupid like this:

BingCrosbyOHIO

In case you missed it, the supergroup of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young did not include this guy:

It was actually this guy:

As a journalist, I’m also constantly checking anything having to do with math, given the stereotype that numerical stuff to reporters is like Kryptonite to Superman. I also worry about graphics, in that they are often created based on some of my crude sketches. If you want to know how bad that can be, realize that I once drew a six-legged dog on the board when trying to explain something in a class. Thus, fearing something like this happening isn’t really something too far outside the realm of possibility:

MathBananas

(Somewhere, a kid is confused by numbers and bananas. Or maybe it’s a Cardassian torture method…)

With that in mind, I’m going to sit today out and focus on the proofs. Once this is done, I’ll be back at the blog. Please bear with me and check back daily.

Writing help and story suggestions: Looking at the ACP Pacemaker finalists for inspiration

The Associated Collegiate Press posted its list of Pacemaker finalists late last week, which includes both overall awards for news organizations as well as individual stories, images and advertisements. ACP bills the Pacemakers as the preeminent awards in college journalism and these things are damned hard to win. The sheer volume of high-quality entries means that a tweak here or an error there can allow judges to bounce a piece from consideration so they can pare down the list to just a few finalists.

For the longest time, I have told my students that awards should not serve as a measuring stick for them. Judging, timing, competition and other factors can have one entry win and another miss the cut. You can always put yourself in a better or worse position to win an award, but that’s about it.

I’ve explained that if you win an award, you should be grateful and happy, but you shouldn’t get too cocky about it. If you don’t win one, it doesn’t mean you did something wrong or that you were horrible, so don’t beat yourself up about it.

The reason I’m looking at the individual awards here and today is to showcase the types of stories you can cover and the ways in which the journalists wrote them. These kinds of pieces should provide you with some neat story ideas you can examine on your own campus, as well as some ways to weave sources, description and structure into these pieces.

For example, in this story about the opioid crisis around the San Luis Obispo area, the writer for the Mustang News starts with a narrative opening that really grabs the reader:

Grover Beach resident Ryan Thole was 6 years old when he walked in on his father injecting heroin in the bathroom. Thirteen years later, Thole shot up for the first time. By the time he was 26 years old, Thole was dependent on the drug, roaming the streets and searching for his next high.

“It was like everything that was wrong about my life, heroin seemed to fix,” Thole said.

The piece weaves personal experiences, data and information about recovery into a gripping story of a campus and city dealing with its share of a national epidemic.

A profile piece from the Indiana Daily Student, titled “The Man in Black,” uses a similar narrative walk-in to help attach the source to the situation:

INDIANAPOLIS — The undertaker would not watch the local news anymore. He hated how the broadcasters talked of nothing but death.
He hated each mention of the city’s rising homicide toll and how the anchors seemed excited about the city setting a new record in blood. He hated how a news item could reduce a victim to a cause of death: the number of bullets torn into them, the place their body fell.
Most of the victims were men, like the undertaker, and young and black, like the undertaker. Some of them were friends, people he’d grown up with. He knew they had emotions, motivations, lives too complex to fit in a news brief.
Often he looked down at a victim, laid out in a casket, wounds concealed by make-up or strategically arranged clothing, and had the same thought.
That could be me.
These narrative summations work well because they represent the underlying aspects of the story that the sources will continue to reveal: pain, discomfort and struggle. The writers found a way to capture these concepts and boil them down to an opening stanza that told the story in a tight, strong opening.
Other writers used observation to walk readers into their pieces and help the audience see the scene and the source via “word pictures.” Consider this level of description in a feature piece from El Camino College about a college student who bonded with a 95-year-old woman:

Eagerly yet reluctantly, a young, blonde-haired man steps through the gate of the Palos Verdes estate. He surveys the house in front of him and eyes the glass door that sits partially open. He doesn’t think twice and walks straight to it.

The glass door was the entrance to the estate’s kitchen. His shoes make contact with the hard, cold kitchen floor. He notices a walker propped up next to the counter. Inside the walker sits a small woman whose hair was colored a light brown, yet her skin was decorated with age. She faces the counter with a bowl of steaming oatmeal before her and her arm lifts with a spoonful for a bite.

A rush of anticipation runs over Hunter as he abruptly picks up pace and makes his way next to the woman. He extends his hand out to introduce himself. Startled, she looks up at him taking in his 6-foot frame and deep blue eyes. At this point, the warm mushy texture of oatmeal goes down the wrong way and Helene Denton begins to choke.

The 18-year-old Virginian, who had left everything he had ever known on the other side of the country to find himself standing standing next to the woman who has opened her home to him, freaks out.

“Oh my God, she’s dying,” Hunter thinks as he pats her on the back to bring her relief.

In that case, the author is having the source recall the situation. In this step-by-step narrative opening from the Daily Kansan, the author follows the source on her daily routine and helps put the readers right next to the source each step of the way.

It’s a Monday afternoon, and Anyae McCloud, a 23-year-old junior from Kansas City, Kansas, is picking up her daughter from preschool.

It can be a rush to get to the pickup lane, but today she’s early, so she sits in her silver Kia, parked on the curb near the playground fence. She sneaks some mini Oreos out of the blue plastic cup she picked up for 5-year-old, Harmoni, on the way here. They’re Harmoni’s favorite, she says.

McCloud has just come from the University of Kansas campus, where she worked a morning shift at her desk job in the The Dole Center for Human Development and attended her afternoon classes. In the car, she talks about graduation plans — she’ll have to take classes over the summer and winter breaks to graduate with a degree in behavioral science next May like she plans.

If you looked at her now, with her job, class schedule, and pink car seat in the back, you wouldn’t know how rough she had had it. Five years ago, she was a freshman with a newborn baby, living in an apartment she had begged her landlord for, fighting with her daughter’s father and struggling to hold down a job at the Dollar Tree.

Five years ago, she had just aged out of the foster care system.

“We walk down campus and we look like a normal face,” she says. “But you never know the background people have and what they’ve been through.”

Notice the descriptors: The silver Kia near the playground fence. The mini-Oreos in the blue plastic cup. The pink car seat. Each element adds a brushstroke of detail to the piece and helps you better see the person. (My only minor gripe was the use of a generic second-person approach in the fourth paragraph for no real reason. Still, this open works.)

The same thing can be said of another minor “rule break” in this opening. I’m not a huge fan of quote leads, as they often leave your readers lost and confused. It’s usually unclear who is saying the quote or what value that person has as a source. However, in this story about the SGA president at Western Kentucky, who was a target of threats and abuse, a three-word quote lead does the job perfectly:

“Go fuck yourself.”

The three words were scrawled in blue ink on the back of a Chick-fil-A receipt and placed behind the windshield wiper of Andi Dahmer’s car.

An anonymous note like this would likely give anyone pause for concern, and it did her as well. Dahmer called the WKU Police to Minton Lot, where her car was parked, Friday, Feb. 9, at 7:29 p.m., according to a police report.

This incident was not the first time the Student Government Association president and student regent said she faced harassing behavior or had profane language thrown her way.

Over the course of the fall 2017 semester and this spring, Dahmer contended that several members of SGA had cursed at her in her office, called her derogatory names and had anonymously exchanged group messages with each other wishing her physical harm. All this resulted in her feeling unsafe on campus. The note, she said, was the point where months of ongoing insults suddenly made her fear for her safety.

“They knew what dorm that I stayed in,” Dahmer said. “They knew where I parked my car and they had identified my car and so they could find me. I think that was the scariest part. That’s when I really started fearing for my life on this campus.”

The problems usually associated with quote leads (you don’t know the source of the quote, the information comes out of left field, the quote lacks context) all either don’t apply here or actually work as a strength for the piece. The hatred, the anonymity and the sense of “what the heck is this?” all emphasize the feelings Andi Dahmer at that moment.

Beyond the writing aspects of these and other pieces, the subject matter can help you consider some potential story ideas on your own campus.

For example, this story by the Daily Orange at Syracuse looked back at a crucial event in the history of the university: The death of 35 exchange students in the 1988 Pan AM Flight 103 explosion. The author not only looked back, but did so through the eyes of a woman whose face was captured in an iconic image that came to symbolize the sense of tragedy from that time.

A similar “look back” approach used a shorter time frame to examine the continued impact of a loss: The Spectrum at the University of Buffalo did an in-depth examination of how a football player’s death continues to affect the people who knew him and the school as a whole.

STORY IDEAS: What happened 20, 30, 50 or more years ago on your campus? Is there a need to look back and reflect, catch up with people or reexamine the topic in a new light?

In approaching this story from New York City, you might not want to do read it before lunch. The authors look at the conditions of public school cafeterias, relying on health department data, their own reporting and some great information layering. What they found had a lot to do with roaches, rats and other appetite-suppressing revelations.

Another food-related story from Pepperdine looks at the issue of food insecurity among students on the campus and what the school is doing to solve this problem.

STORY IDEAS: What has the health department found in your school’s eateries? What about the places you tend to frequent around campus? How is food a problem at your school or in your area, ranging from not having enough of it to how much of it people tend to throw away? Who sets the prices for your campus food and what rights do students have in terms of selecting food sources on campus? Also, are there other data sources regarding food sanitation, safety, sales and regulation that might be of interest to your readers.

These are just a few ideas from a few stories. To review the whole list of finalists and poke around in some truly great pieces, click here and enjoy.

 

 

Learn from the worst! The 3 top tips for balancing college and journalism (and the ways I failed at them but still hung in there)

The good folks at the Poynter Institute built a nice list of nine things to help you balance your college life with your journalism life. Of all the tips listed here, I would have to place my highest level of support on the last three:

Take care of yourself.

Learn to say no.

Do your best not to compare yourself.

These are also the three HARDEST ones to really accomplish, at least they were for me and the majority of students I have encountered over the last 20-plus years in higher education. As “Knish” said in “Rounders,” here’s a chance to learn from the bad beats I took in these areas:

 

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF:

Truth be told, I never really took care of myself in the way in which the Poynter piece explains. I often thought a balanced meal was a bag of Doritos in one hand and a can of Coke in the other. I would stock my desk drawers with protein bars and Girl Scout cookies so I wouldn’t starve while working on a deadline. I’d often get light-headed at certain points in the day, only to realize, I forgot to eat at all that day.

“Vegetable” was an obscenity and I only ran when I was being chased. I knew the guy who opened and closed the campus McDonald’s by name and he knew me by sight. After pulling an all-nighter, I’d head over there and wait for him to open up so I could get my two Egg McMuffins and hash browns, which always sounded so good at the time and yet wreaked havoc with my digestive system for the rest of the day. When Big Macs went on sale at 2 for $2, I bought four, eating one right away and metering out the other three throughout the day. I can’t think of anything as disgusting as a 16-hour-old, room-temperature Big Mac. Unless it was a 16-hour-old, 99-cent Whopper from the campus Burger King.

Sleep was what other people got while I was working on a story for the paper or trying to fix its finances. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I told people who asked why I looked like something out of a zombie movie. My friend Tony once replied, “That’ll be sooner than you think if you keep this (stuff) up.” It was also what a few of my fellow journalism students occasionally got in class, sawing logs loudly in the middle of lectures. There was nothing quite as embarrassing as the time a professor in a pit class asked me to “kindly wake the gentleman sitting next to you.”

There’s no “Behind the Music” story here, though. I made it through just fine. However, I know that I was sick a lot more often in those days and illnesses tended to linger more. I can blame my baldness on stress, but I’m sure hereditary issues played a major role as well. I will confess, however, that I was a raging a-hole during that time and the lack of sleep, good nutrition and stress reduction probably played a major role in that. I’m an awkwardly social human being to begin with, but I know I wasn’t making friends and influencing people with that kind of behavior.

Treating yourself better leads to feeling better and that helps you in acting better. In short, you become a much higher quality of human being and most people will appreciate that. At least, that’s what other people tell me…

 

LEARN TO SAY NO:

The “Just Say No” phenomenon was a big deal when I was a kid. I said no to drugs, just like the First Lady told me to, but almost nothing else. To borrow another quote from the 1980s:

Between the standard Catholic guilt and the constant refrain of “this is going to look GREAT on a resume,” I think I participated in about 912 things, all at the same time. In addition, I couldn’t say no to the student newspaper when it needed a story written or a financial overhaul. I couldn’t say no when the State Journal offered an extra shift or an extra assignment. I wouldn’t say no to almost anything that looked like it would give me an inch up on the competition within the school, the job market or anything else.

Years later, I found out from a conversation with a hiring manager at a major sports website that most of those things probably didn’t matter all that much. (OK, the extra State Journal shifts kept me from going broke, but in terms of making me a Golden God of a candidate, none of my actions got me there.) The reason, he noted, was that most people in his position don’t care about what I did or how much of it I did. Rather, they cared about what I could do for their company or their organization.

In other words, working for work’s sake didn’t help a lot. What would have been better would have been a more strategic approach to doing certain things well that would have showcased my talents to the people who did the hiring.

I always felt like I gave my best effort each time I was trying to do something someone had asked of me. However, the more things I juggled, the lower the bar was for “my best” and I usually found myself hampered by a lack of focus or other impediments. I can’t even remember the number of times I was sick with a cold or something, but I took on an extra shift or agreed to stay late at work or something. I was practically mainlining DayQuil or whatever the cheap gas-station equivalent was to keep from hacking up a lung. My head felt like it was floating above my body and I was nowhere near “my best.”

At least once I answered the city desk phone at the State Journal in such a state and forgot where I was, only saying, “Uh… Hi?” to the person on the other end. My editor sent me home in one such situation and I panicked about how this would “look on my performance evaluation.”

The point is, even if you are awesome (which I wasn’t), you can only do so much. You might be able to do one or two or even three things at a top-notch level. However, once you get past that in terms of commitments, you’re going to slip here and there and nothing good is going to come of that.

On occasion, just say no.

 

DO YOUR BEST NOT TO COMPARE YOURSELF

If I could figure out a way to get all my students to abide by this rule, I could solve any other problem on Earth, including world hunger and how to avoid getting sucked into a “Real Housewives” marathon for no good reason.

Social comparisons happen all the time, so much so, there is literally a psychological theory based entirely around this concept. I remember reading about psych experiments where people were offered X dollars but if they took it, another person in the study would get Y dollars. What researchers found is that some people would take less money overall if it meant the gap between what they got and what the other person got was larger.

In other words, instead of taking something like $100 and letting the experimenter pay the other person $90, the subject would take $50 if the other person only got $5 or something. It makes no sense financially or logically, but it clearly demonstrates how people get locked into a comparative value struggle and do their best to “win” it.

I’ve seen this way, way, way too many times with my students over the years, particularly at some of the higher-ranked J-schools. If Bill got an internship at a top 50 marketing firm, Suzie felt the need to get an internship at a top 25 marketing firm. If Jayne got a job at a 100,000 circulation newspaper, Bobby felt the need to get a job at a 250,000 circulation publication.

It led some of my best students down the rabbit hole, going after jobs they hated or pursuing careers that didn’t fit their skills. I had a lot of sobbing seniors in my office, complaining about how someone else was clearly better because of a better internship or something. I had a lot of “quarter-life crisis” kids dropping by my office on random week days, asking me if they were wasting their lives.

I get that social comparison is a big deal, and I know it took me a while to figure that out as well. However, you should just do you to the best of your ability. The sooner you figure out that life isn’t perfect for your friends or peers, regardless of how often they self-aggrandize on FaceBook, you can relax and just enjoy the weirdness that is your own path through the jungle of life.

 

Firefighters fight fire: 3 tips for avoiding the obvious and getting value out of your lead

The lead of any story is the most difficult sentence to craft. It requires a lot from you as a writer: clarity, accuracy, strength, interest and focus. The standard format of the summary lead requires a 5W’s and 1H approach, and that approach can work if you view it through the prism of the interest elements outlined in the books: Fame, oddity, conflict, immediacy and impact. If you don’t, you tend to build sentences that fail to provide your readers with value.

Here’s an example of how this works:

In a class exercise, I have my students review a press release from the Boone County fire department and use the material in it to write a four-paragraph (four sentences) inverted-pyramid brief. The lead should focus on what matters most and then the next paragraph should have the second most-important stuff and the third should have the next most important stuff and so forth.

Consider these opening sentences:

Boone County Firefighters responded to a reported structure fire just before 6:00 p.m. yesterday evening.

A structure fire was reported to the Boone County Firefighters just before 6:00 pm yesterday evening in Sturgeon.

Boone County Firefighters extinguished an electrical fire at a Sturgeon home Monday evening.

In each case, the focus is on the firefighters doing something, which is great if you’re promoting the fire department, but otherwise, their work doesn’t matter. Firefighters fight fire. That’s their job. What makes this story unique or valuable is what the fire did to the home:

A fire outbreak causes a $50,000 damage to a house in Sturgeon 6 p.m. on Monday.

An electrical fire caused $50,000 worth of damage to a Sturgeon family’s home Sunday night, at 520 S. Ogden.

A fire in northern Boone County severely damaged a home and required fire units to remain on the scene for over four hours on Sunday.

In these leads, you can see the fire’s impact more clearly. The focal point of the lead sentence shifts, which means the rest of the piece will cover the bigger issue of what happened to the house.

With that in mind, here are three tips to help you keep your eye on the prize while writing your lead:

Focus on the noun-verb-object “Holy Trinity” of the sentence: We use a simple sentence diagram to help the student “fill in the blanks” when it comes to the core of the sentence. If you look at the NVO basics in the first three examples, this is what you get:

  • Firefighters respond to fire
  • (Someone) reports fire
  • Firefighters extinguish fire

That’s not what you are shooting for in a lead. In the second batch, you can see more of what should be at the core of the lead:

  • Fire causes damage
  • Fire caused damage
  • Fire damaged home

Obviously, these could be spruced up a bit, but for a first pass, they work fairly well. At the very least, the focus on what matters more than those first three did.

Determine what your audience values: I like fire briefs for beginning students because fires lack nuance. The fire causes damage and that’s about it, unlike crime coverage that could require legal nuance or governmental stories that can become muddled in process. As a writing topic, fire gives the writer a clear path to the answer of, “What would my audience want to know first?”

The “Boone County firefighters responded…” lead isn’t all that rare in my beginning writing classes because a) it’s the first thing on the press release, so students gravitate toward it and b) it’s the opening of the chronological sequence of events. Almost every story we read or write, prior to becoming journalists, fits a chronological pattern.

To help break students of the chronology habit, I ask this question: “If you went home after class today and your roommate said, ‘Hey, your mom called. There was a fire at your house,’ what would be the first thing you would want to know?”

The answers are simple:

  • Is everyone OK?
  • How bad was the fire?
  • What happened/How did it start?

I then ask the student, “OK, so now imagine your roommate starts with, ‘Well, the Boone County firefighters responded…” That’s when the light goes on: You don’t want to hear about the firefighters fighting fire. You want to know if mom (and probably your stuff) survived the blaze.

Other stories lack this straightforward approach, but the principle remains. Don’t tell your student newspaper’s audience that the Board of Trustees held a meeting to discuss tuition increases. Tell the readers if tuition went up or not and if so, by how much. Don’t tell the local sports fans that their team played a game against a division rival last night. Tell them who won and what the score was.

If you place value on giving your readers value, the lead will dramatically improve.

 

Build outward from the core and shed things that don’t matter: If you build a core that has value and gives your readers some of the W’s and/or the H, you should be able to add layers to that core to augment and improve it. With a “fire causes damage” start, you could add answers to a few simple questions:

  • How bad was the fire? (It destroyed half the house)
  • How much damage was there? ($50,000)
  • Was anyone hurt or killed? (One guy suffered minor injuries)
  • What started it? (An electrical malfunction)
  • Where did it start? (A storage room near a freezer)

Not everything in here will make the cut, but that’s OK. You can write a lead by adding the key layers you think matter, answering the above questions in a way that gives the readers value.

You might use the $50,000 figure or the half the house answer, but probably not both in the lead. They essentially say the same thing for the moment: This was a big honkin’ fire. You might focus on the injuries, but you might decide against that since the injuries weren’t severe. Then again, you might think people in a small town would like to know if their neighbors are OK.

It’s easy to weave in the “electrical” part without too much trouble, so that’s probably going to make the cut. You might also include a “where” and a “when,” but maybe not the exact time and the exact location. In other words, “Sunday night in Sturgeon” would be better than “at 6 p.m. at a three-bedroom home at 520 S. Ogden in the town of Sturgeon.”

Once you build the lead, go back through and start trimming out things that might not need to be there. (Spoiler alert: references to firefighters doing anything probably shouldn’t remain in the lead.) This is where you might debate the issue of injuries versus damage or a broader “where” as opposed to the specific address. Most of what you’re trying to do here is play “king of the mountain” with your content. If it’s not good enough to be in the lead, knock it down the hill into the second or third paragraph.

 

 

Student Government to University of North Texas Student Newspaper: Go “Wean” Yourself

If it seems like we’ve been covering student media getting the financial shaft a lot on this blog, it’s only because so many student media outlets seem to be experiencing this situation. We talked about the financial attack the student government levied against The Sunflower at Wichita State, the crippled financial state of student media at SMU (and the alumni’s attempt to save the publication) and the various times in life the bottom dropped out of the financial status of publications I worked with and more.

The latest student media outlet to get a kick in the teeth? The NT Daily at the University of North Texas. The folks who provide student service fee money to the paper have given the paper a three-year time frame to “wean” itself off of this pot of money.

“I certainly was not expecting to be told we need to ‘wean’ ourselves off SSF,” the paper’s editor in chief, Alec Spicer, said via email. “I thought at worst, they would just keep us at the same funding as the year previous, since they had already cut it in 2017 as well.”

(In case you are unclear on the concept of “weaning,” here are a couple videos to clue you in.)

Spicer, a senior broadcast journalism major who has worked at the paper in multiple roles, said the paper supports itself through advertising revenue and student fee money, with a heavy reliance on the latter.

“The Daily serves as a voice for the students, therefore our funding comes from students,” he said. “Since I have been at the Daily, our budget has been cut each year. However, for the first time, this year we were put on a three-year time frame of being “weaned off” student service fees.”

Of the 712 reasons funding cuts like this make no sense, the biggest is that the paper is truly the voice of the students and seeks to serve students on the UNT campus.

“We’re student run, for the students by the students,” Spicer said. “From reporting on a string of sexual assaults around campus that ended up being at the hands of a UNT custodian to the Trump Jr. coverage, we present news students need to know. If you tweet out photos of the poor living conditions in your dorm, we are the ones who are going to look into it and hold someone accountable. We’ve covered everything from the court hearings and protests on Denton square regarding the Confederate monument to robberies near/on campus. These are things the students have the right to know about.”

As was the case with the cuts Wichita State received from its student government, the question of “Why this approach and why now?” resonates for Spicer.

“As for why we were chosen to have our budget cut, it’s hard to say,” Spicer wrote. “The chairperson of  the SSF advisory committee is typically the Student Government Association president and eight students who are supposed to be ‘representative of all students…’ I do know they asked one of the people we sent to pitch why we should have funding, ‘Why can’t you just not pay people?’ so it’s possible that the people on the committee weren’t educated enough about journalism.”

Of the 116 people on staff, only 16 are paid positions, according to a recent editorial the paper posted. If this student newsroom is anything like any of those I know, the “pay” is no more than a token of appreciation and could be exceeded with a part-time career as a shake-machine operator at the local Hardee’s. Also, students tend to need money to… um… eat and stuff. I can’t imagine the student government officials would willingly take no money for their SGA-related responsibilities, whatever those are, as the only actual line items in the organization’s budget listed month by month are salaries.

Spicer said although the paper has published content that hasn’t thrilled the powers-that-be, such as Donald Trump, Jr.’s inclusion in the university’s speaker series, he has no idea of why this sudden “weaning” need has emerged.

“UNT’s Provost Jennifer Cowley was also present for (University President Neal) Smatresk’s meeting with the (journalism) faculty and said she thinks sustainability concerns might have been one of the reasons why the SSF advisory committee decided to reduce our funding,” he said. “But again, that doesn’t add up. Our paper is only printed once a week, and every paper that isn’t picked up, is sent back to our publisher at the end of the week and recycled to make more newspapers. As for the papers that ARE picked up, they’re often still recycled by students on campus.”

The vice president of student affairs and SGA president sent the paper a letter on behalf of the fee committee suggesting that the paper look to get funding from the college of liberal arts or sell advertising. Spicer said this would undermine that independence of the publication and could put the staff in an awkward journalistic position.

“Let’s say hypothetically, (the college) supplemented the funding that has been cut, but we did a story they deemed unflattering, they could easily decide to pull our funding right back,” he said. “At that point, we would no longer be an independent news source.”

In addition, the rhetoric of “cut salaries” and “sell more advertising” doesn’t hold water in most cases any more when it comes to student media.

“Our ads are primarily from small, local businesses in Denton so there is no way the revenue we see from them could make up for the amount of funding we receive from SSF,” Spicer said. “I can’t say for sure what the future looks like for the Daily, but I would imagine it’s not looking good. As far as immediate affects, going forward we will no longer be producing a print version in summer.”

The staff of the NT Daily simply wants to continue serving its community, and it needs help. Spicer said several people have stepped up to provide some guidance, support and help. If you want to “express concern” (the polite blogging euphemism for telling people who are doing dumb stuff how stupid they are), you can contact the university’s president here, the university provost here and the student government here.

Another good way to provide support is through a funding mechanism the paper set up to help it close the funding gap that seems inevitable. Anyone interested in contributing can click here and make a donation. Every bit helps.

“We’re looking for support. And the best ways to do so are to be vocal of that support on social media, expressing support of the Daily to UNT’s administration, donating to the link above and reading the work of our extremely talented student journalists at ntdaily.com,” he said.

 

Journalism and Video Games: How Gieson Cacho turned his two passions into a career path

/METROGieson Cacho is living the dream, according to several students in every class I teach.

The journalist at the Bay Area Newspaper Group has worked there as a copy editor, designer and video editor. He has interned at the Ft. Myers News Press and spent time at the San Jose Mercury News and the Long Beach Press Telegram. He lives in California and has access to some of the best stuff the West Coast has to offer.

And the biggest thing of all: He writes video game reviews.

(You can find some of his more recent reviews here: Spider-Man, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.)

“I didn’t really get into it until I was at the Contra Costa Times in 2006,” Cacho said. “We used to run a video game column from this guy over in Las Vegas and I thought I could a write a better column. I talked to the Features editor about it and she told me to write a few prototypes and I started writing a weekly column regularly. My argument is that a lot of the tech companies and video game companies and studios such as EA, Bandai Namco, Crystal Dynamics, 2K Games are based in the Bay Area. Our paper not writing about it is like the LA Times not covering Hollywood.”

Cacho said he works the video desk at his current job, but the organization gives him time to work on his video game gig. If all goes well, he will have the game he is working on done early enough to have his review done before Wednesday, which is his deadline each week. He has to complete his work a week ahead of the game’s release, he said.

“The busy season for video games is August to December,” Cacho said. “It’s pretty much wall-to-wall events and releases. I get about three to four hours of sleep each night. This is on top of my regular video editing work. Things wind down in January or February.”

Although each game has its own positive and negative aspects, Cacho said he works through the games and the reviews with a consistent approach.

“My philosophy behind video games writing is try to convey why a video game is a good or the deeper meaning behind its creation,” he said. “That often comes to talk to developers or trying to see how the level design and narrative work together to create a compelling experience.”

Cacho said his journalism degree helped him learn how to convey that type of information to his readers.

“Journalism creates a good foundation for writing because it’s about translating that gameplay experience into something most people can understand,” he said. “Video gaming is so young that there’s still a gap between casual and hard-core gamers and part my role as a core gamer who write in a mainstream publication is that I should try to reach as broad an audience as possible. Also, learning how to write concisely helps a lot and because there’s not a lot of print space for 2,000-word essays on why so and so is great.”

Journalism school also helped him develop a strong ethical compass that allowed him to work in a field in which expensive hardware and software are often given away for free, he said.

“The one thing that going to J-school teaches you that is just as important is how to handle ethically precarious positions,” he said. “It hammers home what is right and what is wrong when you go to events and they’re handing out paid trips and pricey swag. You understand why you have to decline some offers that PR folks and publishers put out. I usually don’t solicit games unless I’m going to review them, and you never sell code or anything else.”

The one question I had to ask Cacho was the one students always ask me: “I love video games and I love writing, so how can I get a job as a video game reviewer?”

“Yeah, just because you love games, that’s not enough to make it in the business,” he said. “A lot of it is contacts and who you know. My advice is to never work for free. Be more outgoing and friendly to other writers and outlets. The cool thing is that I get to play a lot of games early the bad thing is that I spend most of my free time writing about it.”

In addition, with more and more people trying to find a way to monetize their love of games through blog or YouTube reviews, Cacho said he finds himself in the difficult position of competing with this new layer of gaming critics.

“The thing that has changed the most is the way streaming and video altered the relationship between publishers and media,” he said. “It used to be video game companies and press and now there’s a third category of ‘influencers’ who have just as much weight as critics. As a journalist, what makes you different from influencers is that you should have a higher standard than people who talk on livestreams. I guess it’s the difference between someone who’s a beat reporter, writing about a baseball team, and the talking head on ESPN shouting hot takes about said baseball team.”

So any advice for the students who still want to take a shot at this type of work?

“Don’t write for free and if you do, don’t do it for too long,” Cacho said. “People get stuck just giving away their work and never getting anywhere. I’ve seen a lot of people burn out quick and leave.”

 

 

 

 

“Quiet racism has been a big problem:” Staffers at Georgia Southern’s paper explain the “Let’s Talk About The N-Word” project

Georgia Southern University’s student newspaper, the George-Anne, took a single incident of racism on its campus that went viral and decided to do more than a single hit-and-run story. As we noted here earlier, the paper’s staff, led by Editor in Chief Matthew Enfinger, took on the larger issue of race relations on the campus in a project it launched this week called “Let’s Talk About the N-Word.”

Staffers sat at tables around the campus, asking people to provide personal insights about race, racism and the “n-word” itself. Members of the campus community had the opportunity to write their thoughts on index cards and return them anonymously.

“Following the ‘triggerish incident’ we covered over the summer, our adviser David Simpson and myself agreed that the conversation about this specific topic didn’t end with just one article,” Enfinger said in an email Thursday. “It would be an ongoing discussion that we could be a part of. I’m a big fan of Post Secret and their content inspired the idea for this project. I figured if we could serve as a platform for the Georgia Southern community it could be a conversation driver for a topic that is really important/impacts our audience.”

The George-Anne then published a special report on the results of the project, along with images of all 300-some cards that the paper received. Opinion Editor Ashley Jones also penned a larger piece that explained the reason behind the project as well as how the paper decided to approach it.

“We wanted other  students as well anyone who picked up a copy of the paper to see how the campus not only reacted to the ‘triggerish’ incident but also to get a sense of how students really felt about racism on our campus,” Jones wrote in an email Thursday. “I think quiet racism has been a big problem for Georgia Southern as an institution. Not so much with faculty and staff members but within the student body.”

Jones said that, like most complex issues, the project received an array of responses from the student body.

“There are a lot of students who are supporting our project but online we have received some negative comments,” she said. “Some students were reluctant when we first began tabling. They would just walk past me and ignore me or just say no. Then there were students who thought this was ‘not a good idea’ and would only provoke others to make racist comments anonymously. That was not the case at all, many students took this seriously and were really excited for their voices to be heard.”

The staff of the George-Anne knew people had concerns like those Jones mentioned, but Enfinger said everyone involved felt convinced the project could lead to a broader sense of openness regarding this topic.

“We were convinced that this project would be a driver of a campus wide conversation about the derogatory term and racism in general…” he said. “When walking around campus I see students reading that section of the paper. I think it’s been a pretty successful piece.”

Both Enfinger and Jones said the staff members involved in the paper’s decision to tackle this project really dedicated themselves to making the project more than a vanity exercise. The project had many risks, but in the end the rewards were more than worth it, they said.

“I learned that if you really want to make a change then you have to be consistent…” Jones said. “This is definitely not the end of the n-word project. I also learned that, as cliche as this may sound, anything is possible if you put hard work and dedication into it.”

Enfinger said he was proud of Jones and everyone else who decided to help the paper step out of its more traditional role and promote a larger discussion of an important and yet difficult topic.

“All articles need to be backed by facts and proof but in this particular story the fact is that there are vastly different thoughts and outlooks on this singular word,” he wrote. “I hope this piece will influence productive conversations among all our readers. I agree that journalist shouldn’t write from the mindset of an activist but that does not mean you should ignore topics brought on by your audience.”

 

 

 

More than one “triggerish” incident: George-Anne newspaper presents its “Let’s Talk About the N-word” project

About a month or so ago, we showcased a story from Georgia Southern’s George-Anne student newspaper, in which the writers discussed a racially charged incident that went viral between two incoming roommates.

After sending a few “getting to know you” texts, the white student apparently thought she was texting another friend and wrote that her new African-American roommate didn’t “look too n****rish.” (EDITOR’S NOTE: She used the full word. I will not.)  Once she realized that went to her new roommate, the white student blamed auto-correct, saying she meant “triggerish” as in “nothing that triggered a red flag.”

The paper covered the incident as it progressed, asking the solid follow-up questions about what will happen to each student, how the university dealt with the situation and what students thought in general about the issue. However, the staff of the George-Anne took it a step further in attempting to engage the larger topic of race, the “n” word and how the campus really feels about this often awkward and painful issue:

“Staff members tabled at different locations around campus and asked not only students, but faculty and staff to give us their take on the N-word. We came up with questions to help participants formulate their opinions such as:
–Is the usage of the n-word in private still racism? Why?
–Where do you draw the line on the usage of the n-word?
–Do you think the n-word should be considered free speech? Why or why not?

“Students were asked to write down their responses to these question on note cards that were provided at each tabling, or they could just write their honest and raw thoughts on the racial term.”

The paper received more than 300 note cards with responses on them and the staff published them all in a special section. (You can find them here if you scroll down and click on the Issuu version of the paper.)

This was a heck of an ambitious project and a nice read. I reached out to the editor to learn more about the experience the staff had with this. If he gets back to me, I’ll add some more to the post. In the mean time, the project is worth your time. Give it a read.

Of Mushrooms and Mistaken Identity: 3 key takeaways from two really awkward corrections

We have talked about errors and corrections at length on the blog, but two of them this week really had me stop and think about where we are as a society and a discipline.

The first correction appears benign at first, as all it does is clarify the anatomy of a fictional character in Nintendo’s “Mario” universe:

ToadCorrex

This correction, however, reveals a much darker story, much like when the co-ed in the horror film notices that the lights in the house won’t work and the floor is suddenly wet. (Yes, the killer cut the power and you’re standing in a pool of Troy’s blood, Buffy. Run, dammit!)

In this case, it was an excerpt from Stormy Daniels’ new book, in which she described her sexual encounter with President Donald Trump:

“I lay there,” she wrote, “annoyed that I was getting (EXPLETIVE DELETED) by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart.”

Daniels was likely referring to Toad, the mushroom-headed character from Nintendo’s Mario series.

As the headline of the original article suggests, you may want to wash your eyes out with bleach. You also might have a difficult time ever playing “Mario Kart” again.

The second correction was as horrific as the first, but for a completely different reason. Christine Ford came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers. Ford first provided her story anonymously, but more recently made her name public in regard to this situation.

The question of “Who is Christine Ford?” became fodder for many news outlets and websites, each of which attempted to gain an edge in giving readers something out of the ordinary about her. The website Grabien, which touts itself as providing “powerful tools for the next era of news” dug deep into Ford’s teaching background to reveal that students apparently really hated Ford:

Brett Kavanaugh’s formerly anonymous accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, has come forward. She’s a professor in the Social Work Department at California State University-Fullerton. Many interested in learning more about who Ford is have come across her students’ reviews on RateMyProfessor.com.

They’re… not good.

Something else isn’t good here, namely the research the reporter on this story conducted. For starters, Ford is professionally known as Christine Blasey, not Christine Ford, as was the name listed on the RMP board associated with this story. Second, she doesn’t teach at Cal State Fullerton, but rather she holds an appointment at Palo Alto University while also serving as a member of a consortium at Stanford. Third, she’s a professor and researcher in the field of clinical psychology, not social work. Fourth, the correction that the publication ran pretty much makes all of this look a lot worse than the previous three points:

Editor’s Note: We apologize for the error, but we’ve since learned there are two Christine Fords working in clinical psychology in California and we wrote this report about the wrong Christine Ford. We regret not going to greater lengths to ensure this was indeed the same Christine Ford. Please do not share this article with anyone (and if you have, delete it/withdraw it); we are only leaving the page up so you can see this important update.

In other words, we just ended up accusing the woman who plans to testify against a potential Supreme Court justice of being incompetent, unusually cruel to students and mentally unstable based on a set of anonymous student accusations against the WRONG PERSON. Um… Whooops?

Here are a few takeaways from these corrections, in no particular order:

Not every source is equally valid: We used to post signs around the newsroom that “Wiki-ANYTHING is not a source.” The rationale at the time (and probably still now) was that if anyone can provide content without being forced to demonstrate expertise or adhere to a certain level of professionalism, how could we rely on the material as being factual? Case in point, here is a screen shot of information about Cape Town’s highest point, according to Wikipedia a few years back:

CapeTownVagina

In the case of Grabien, it pitches itself as being at the forefront of the new era of news, but if you look into its “About Us” page, it is basically a loosely controlled flea market for news:

Grabien content is generated from a decentralized network of contributors. To ensure the highest editorial standards are met, Grabien staffers only permit content that comports to the site’s rules and style guide.

Whenever clips are purchased, the uploader receives a commission, up to 50 percent of that sale. Users receive 500 free coins upon creating an account to get accustomed to the site; these “promo” coins do not credit the uploaders’ accounts.

Much like other sites that run a cash-for-clicks approach, the more sensational the story, the more clicks you get. Also, it’s unclear what the overall vetting process is for the people submitting content or the stories themselves. I would ask the writer of this story what he or she went through in terms of an edit, but the piece contains no byline that I can find.

Also, this concept applies to the RateMyProfessors.com site, in that there is no actual vetting of what students have to say. Professors can file a protest if they feel a student is out of control or has actually engaged in libel (e.g. “Prof. Filak stabbed a student to death in front of my J-101 class just to watch him die.”), but for the most part these things go unchallenged. Here’s one of mine:

RMF

I have no idea what the heck this person was talking about regarding papers due the “VERY NEXT DAY,” although the use of all caps there makes it clear he or she is serious. I do agree that I’m not cool. The rest? Meh… I’m also not sure about what makes for a positive review, in that people for a while were getting great reviews for having no homework or letting students go early. Also, how much faith do you want to place in an academic website rating system that included the chili-pepper emoji to rate the “hotness” of your professor? Of all the things I never got in life, I was never more grateful to be without a pepper. Just… eeeew…

 

People actively involved in a topic take it seriously: In the first edition of the media writing book, I interviewed Meghan Plummer, who worked at the Experimental Aircraft Association as a publications editor. She told me that being careful with facts and details was of the utmost importance in her area because so many of her readers were passionate airplane enthusiasts for whom details mattered. Thus, if you had the wrong top speed of a plane or the horsepower of an engine, people were upset. Even when people agree on things like what sailplanes and gliders are, there’s still argumentation over distinction.

The Toad situation initially had me pondering if people were arguing over the concept of a tree while ignoring the fact they were in a forest (a giant, flaming horrifying forest, at that). However, for the fans of Nintendo who were inadvertently dragged into this horrible description, the argumentation of “hat vs. head” went deep into the night as they cited sources and debated the true “canon” of Toad. It might seem stupid and beside the point to you, but it matters to your readers, which means it REALLY should matter to you.

Every person has a distinction that matters to him or her. You might find it acceptable to refer to military personnel as “soldiers,” but you would have some serious arguments from people in the Marines, Air Force and Navy. You might think it’s fine to say someone lives in “Chicago,” but my wife is going to debate the hell out of that if the person lives in a suburb like Wilmette. I will debate for hours with anyone the idea that “Rio Bravo” is a Western, in that it’s a Howard Hawkes film that has additional elements that surpass the simple “Western” genre.

Long story short, pay attention to the details because your readers will.

 

Fact-check the heck out of everything, especially stories that have real risks: As amped up as people got about the “hat vs. head” argument in the Trump story, nothing bad really happened to Toad as a result of this. He’s not losing money because he’s now shunned from the “Mario Kart” franchise or devastated by the news that “it’s not a hat!”

Ford, on the other hand, has some serious ground for declaring defamation and demonstrating negative consequences. (I’m not getting into the “would she win?” argument here because a) I’m not a lawyer, b) there’s that whole “public/private actual malice/negligence” issue and c) that’s not the point I’m making here.) Someone with the same name got some really lousy reviews and had her mental state questioned. Suddenly, that’s a knock on Ford as she goes into the crucible of public dissection of her life because a reporter did a “RateMyProfessors.com” search and figured, “What are the odds that two people with the same name would ever teach in this tiny hamlet known as California? Let’s run this sucker!”

The information available about both of these women made it almost painfully clear that they weren’t the same person: wrong field, wrong college, wrong professional name… And yet, this story still found its way into the public.

A good rule of thumb is if your story runs the risk of defaming someone, put a little more fact checking effort than the average blowhard spinning tales at the bar after his fifth brandy old fashioned.

 

 

 

Bid on these old-school type kits to help support the future of college journalism

I have said this at least 1,001 times, but it’s always true: Without student media opportunities, I don’t come close to having anything resembling the life I have now. I know that I’m not alone in this situation, given the thousands of students I’ve met throughout my time in the collegiate environment and the many college media advisers I consider my friends.

I also know that student media outlets are dealing with shrinking budgets, diminishing support and falling advertising sales. I’ve covered this situation here on the blog with Wichita State and I’m planning to write up something later this week on the situation at the University of North Texas, where the paper has been told to “wean” itself off of university support. I also dealt with financial disasters twice, once at the Daily Cardinal, where my work there landed me in a great book and once at the Advance-Titan, where I had a bunch of little… um… student government people coming after me. (Spoiler alert: Both papers survived and continue to prosper.)

No matter how far away I get from my college experience, The Daily Cardinal will always hold a special place in my heart. The students there get no financial support from the university and receive no pay for their editorial work. The paper survives on advertising revenue and money raised through the Daily Cardinal Alumni Association. I’ve given to the paper and the DCAA over the years, but this time I wanted to do something special, so here it is:

I came across a giant trove of old lead type kits that have to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years old. Each was boxed in a wooden case and labeled based on the point size, the typeface and the specs on the letters (uppercase, lowercase, both, bold etc.). These things go for a couple hundred bucks apiece in some cases, because people didn’t keep the small letters like 6 or 8 point fonts. (Larger point sizes survived in headline drawers or as part of artwork.)

For those of you too young to know what lead type is, here are some pictures of the kits and here is some background.

I have donated five sets of type to the DCAA that the folks there are auctioning off. All the proceeds will go to the Daily Cardinal through the DCAA for whatever the students there deem valuable and important. It could be a conference. It could be new equipment. It could be anything. The important thing is that they have a chance to get something or do something they otherwise might not have had.

The typesets are listed for auction here if you are interested in bidding or you know someone who is.

Please take a look if you are interested and able to bid or pass this info along to anyone you think might want to bid on them. Not only will these sets look great in any office or home, but the money does go to help the next generation of journalists who will keep us all informed.