“Go take pictures of birds:” What happens when so-called adults treat student journalists poorly (and three tips for dealing with the situation properly)

When it comes to crime or disasters, the folks working the scene have a job to do and journalists need to respect that. However, respect goes both ways, something a firefighter interacting with journalists from The (El Camino College) Union didn’t quite understand:

The firefighter told (Rosemary) Montalvo, an assistant photo editor who was taking pictures of the scene, to “Go take pictures of birds,” she said.

“In my head I said ‘OK, we’re not going to get anywhere with him,’ so I decided to say ‘can I have your name and your badge number,” Montalvo said.

The firefighter refused, and said he intentionally was wearing nothing that would identify him, Montalvo said.

This isn’t the first time a student journalist met with the journalistic equivalent of a “Go (expletive) yourself” comment from a person in power. A few years back, a journalist for the Royal Purple, the paper at UW-Whitewater, apparently ran afoul of the school’s head football coach, who told him the perennial D-III national champions were off limits to the paper:

According to a story in the student paper, Leipold took the action after becoming angry over an editorial titled, “Spoiled athletes need reality check.”

Leipold then initially decided that no one from the student-run newspaper could call anyone associated with the football program unless he approved. And he said coaches or players would not be allowed to answer questions from student reporters during the 2009 season.

“The door is shut,” Leipold said Wednesday. “Go cover soccer…”

Leipold later apologized for his actions, but the sense that student journalism is some how “less than” really should bother anyone associated with journalism. I recall one incident in which our student paper’s photo editor went to the police station to request a mug shot we needed. The person at the desk flatly denied one existed for the photo editor. When the editor pointed to a copy of the photo pinned to a cork board over this woman’s desk, her response was, “Oh, that’s for the real newspaper in town,” meaning the city paper, the Muncie Star-Press. He returned empty handed and fuming.

The situation that bothered me the most, however, was one in which a student reporter told a broadcast news professor that she had to skip a class to cover a bit of breaking news. He responded that when she was done “playing journalist,” she should consider the importance of making it to class.

I get that nobody likes getting skipped out on, but a professor in a media field should clearly understand that breaking news happens and that insinuating that this was playing a Fisher-Price “My First Journalism” game is disingenuously insulting. Student journalists run the same risks as anyone else when it comes to being in the field. An active shooter doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re just PLAYING journalist, so let’s skip you…” A fire doesn’t go out of its way not to burn a student because, well, it’s just make-believe journalism. If you don’t believe me that student journalists risk a lot, go take a look at the Cavalier Daily’s coverage of the “Unite the Right” rally a few years back. Tear gas stings everyone equally and there were a lot of folks with guns out there who probably weren’t checking press passes to see which people were “real journalists.”

Student journalists also operate under the same First Amendment freedoms and run the same legal risks as anyone else. A student who libels a professor doesn’t get a “do-over” or something. A student publication that violates copyright can’t fight off a lawsuit with a hand-drawn “I’m berry berry sorry” card and a coupon for a “super-duper feature” in the next issue. People on the receiving end of problematic coverage from a student media outlet can decide to what degree they want to press the point legally, the same as if the offending work appeared in the New York Times.

When confronted with people who decide that your work lacks merit, simply because you are a student, consider these thoughts:


Remain Calm: When something essentially tries to treat you like a child, nothing proves their point better than if you act like one. Sure, that chucklehead is violating the Bill of Rights, flouting the law and basically ticking you off, but it’s much better to be in the right than to give that person ammunition to use against you later. A good rule of thumb: The worse your opponent acts, the more decent you should act.


Follow the Law: The approach the students at The Union took was perfect: Here’s the law, we’re just fine and we’re not going anywhere. They knew what their rights were and why it was they could do what they wanted. This is why most journalism programs make law a required course and why most student media organizations stress it for their staffers.

The Union folks also took a great step when they asked for identifying information from the official so they could deal with this after they did their job. The fact the guy did the, “You can’t make me! Neener, Neener, Neeeeenerrrr” thing pretty much made it clear he knew he was wrong. The staff followed up on the issue later with the fire department and got a nice apology from officials there, who promised to look into this issue.


Stay Safe: This is especially true when you cover chaotic or breaking situations. The law can protect you from a lot of ramifications, but sometimes, being right, calm and lawful won’t make you whole. The conversation I had with Tim Dodson from Virginia really drove home that point: He was watching people carry torches and guns, dealing with tear gas and riotous conditions and looking at a situation that ended with at least one person dead. Did he and his staff have the right to be there? Absolutely. If something had gone wrong, was the law on their side? Totally.

However, none of that helped if some idiot decided to punch him out or someone started shooting. The same thing is true if you find yourself covering a fire that is raging out of control. The law might make you judgment-proof, but it won’t make you fire-proof.

(A fire captain once told me a story about a broadcaster who wanted to do a stand-up in front of a building that was still on fire. He told her not to stand where she wanted to stand and then he left the area. She then immediately went to that spot to do the stand up, only to find that something the firefighters were doing caused several windows to explode outward. She was showered in flaming debris and almost hurt badly.)

This is why good relations between public safety professionals and media members is crucial. I was lucky to know a number of police and fire folks who were good to me over the years when I was a reporter. We respected each other, so when one of them told me, “Stand here” or “Don’t go over there,” I trusted it was for my own good and the good of the integrity of their operation. If I had experienced what the students at The Union experienced, I might have stood elsewhere or went somewhere that could have been dangerous.

I hope that future exchanges between those folks and public safety officers are better, because trust and credibility can make a huge difference when it comes to working together to get both of their jobs done.



Journalism 101: Use the right damned word…

Nothing will make your journalism professor get twitchier faster than if you let spellcheck guide your writing. Just because something is spelled correctly, it doesn’t always stand to reason that you are using the right word.

Being wrong isn’t fun, but having to deal with people who are repeatedly wrong isn’t a picnic, either. After constantly running into a series “close enough” errors, I asked the hivemind for the most irritating gaffes they see on a regular basis, most of which drive them to ask, “Why can’t you use the right damned word?” Below are several areas in which folks noted errors that made them want to pour scotch in their coffee and bleach in their eyes:


The “there’s a difference between ‘astigmatism’ and ‘a stigmata'” category:

alot: Not a damned word

a lot: Either a whole bunch of something or a plot of land. “Jimmy was poor as a child and thus ate a lot of Ramen as he grew up.” OR “I want to build a house on a lot near Omro.”

allot: Give a portion of something. “The moderator will allot equal amounts of time to each debater.”


aight: Not a damned word

alright: Still not really a damned word.

all right: Everything is now all right, because you spelled it right.


apart: Not part of, or not together. “My parents got divorced, so they now live apart from one another.”

a part: A component of something. “My carburetor is a part of my Mustang.”


decent: Something that is passably functional. “Ellen did a decent job on her paper, but there’s no way she’s getting an A.”

descent: Falling or moving downward or a historic lineage. “The Millers found out they were of Hungarian descent.” OR “The descent from the mountain took the climbers longer than expected.”


definitely: Absolute certainty: “I definitely want to see the Milwaukee Bucks win an NBA title this year.”

defiantly: In opposition to with anger: “The toddler defiantly flung himself to the floor and screamed that he didn’t want to leave Chuck E. Cheese.”


diffuse: Spread out over a large area. “If you light that scented candle, it will diffuse the smell of coconuts and pine throughout the house.”

defuse: Remove danger or literally remove a fuse. “Archer had to get his turtle neck and wire cutters to defuse the bomb.”


eager: Excited in a good way; wanting to do something. “I was eager to get the Mustang out of storage so I could start driving it around town.”

anxious: Excited in a bad way; worried and fearful; experiencing dread. “I was anxious about getting the Mustang out of storage because I was worried it wouldn’t start.”


everyone: All of the people in a group; synonymous with everybody. “Everyone will have to fill out a new TPS form before the payroll department will issue checks.”

every one: Each individual person involved; followed by “of” usually: “I would like to thank every one of you who volunteered for my campaign.”

everybody: Synonymous with everyone; refers to all the people: “Everybody who wants to play cards tonight should be here by 9 p.m.”

every body: Each individual physical body. “Every body we found on the streets during the zombie apocalypse was missing at least one limb.”


fazes: Bothers or creates problems for someone. “Nothing ever fazes Corey Kluber when he’s pitching in the playoffs.”

phases: Created or completed in stages or components. “The office park was constructed in three phases over a five-year period.”


lose: The opposite of win. “When I play checkers with my father, I always lose.”

loose: The opposite of tight. “The knot in Zoe’s shoelaces was loose and quickly came undone.”


then: Something that happens next. “I drank six tequila slammers and then threw up.”

than: A word of comparison. “I like butter pecan better frozen custard than vanilla ice cream.”


The “This is really awkward if you screw it up” category:

incompetence: An inability to adequately complete certain tasks. “He claimed to be a great plumber, but after he flooded three houses, his incompetence was clear.”

incontinence: Lack of control over one’s bladder or bowels. “A stroke caused her incontinence, which forced her to wear adult diapers for the rest of her life.”


bowl: A food dish or a game involving pins, an alley and a ball. “Jimmy will always eat a bowl of cereal when he wants a snack.” OR “My father is the only person I know to bowl a perfect game.”

bowel: The intestine or the deepest part of something: “Jimmy ate too much cereal and had some bowel discomfort.”


prostate: A gland between a man’s bladder and penis. “Carl’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.”

prostrate: To lay flat. “The peasant will prostrate himself before the king to show his respect.”


jive: A form of slang that sounds amazing when Mrs. Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver” lets it roll.


jibe: In accordance with what one believes. “Bill said the moon was made of green cheese, but that doesn’t jibe with what I learned in my astronomy class.”



And then there are phrases that are just wrong:

All of the sudden: You mean “all of a sudden.”

Another words: You mean “in other words.”

Could of: You mean “could have.”

For all intensive purposes: You mean “for all intents and purposes.”

Thrown to the ground or Fell to the ground: This only works when that person or thing is outside. Otherwise, it’s “fell to the floor” or “thrown to the floor.”

I could care less: You mean you “couldn’t care less” as in you literally could not give less of a damn about something, regardless of how hard you tried.

And finally, you don’t get French benefits (like a nice beret or some good onion soup). You get fringe benefits, otherwise known as “perks” or “lulus” according the AP style book.


Former Georgia State Rep. Andy Welch proposes legislation to stop journalists from being so mean to him.

As we’ve explained repeatedly here before, just because you don’t like what journalists are doing, it doesn’t mean that it’s illegal, immoral or unethical. Apparently, Andy Welch, an outgoing state representative in Georgia, didn’t get the message, given his attempt to create a Journalism Ethics Board in his state:

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, a lawyer who has expressed frustration with what he saw as bias from a TV reporter who asked him questions about legislation recently. He said he thinks the profession could benefit by setting ethical standards for all journalists to follow. Five other Republicans signed on to sponsor the bill.

Welch, who was unopposed in his November 2018 reelection bid, submitted this bill with the approach of a kid pulling a Halloween prank that involved a flaming bag of dog poo:

 Welch announced he would be resigning from the General Assembly after the session, which ended Tuesday. However, his bill remains alive for consideration during the 2020 session.

The bill would force the chancellor of the University of Georgia System to set up the board, which I hope would be referred to as “The JEB.” It would also require “The JEB” to establish the “canons of ethics” for journalism in the state, a “voluntary accreditation” system, a grievance process and a series of sanctions for people who violated whatever it is that this group established as “canons.”

Beyond these rather annoying bad ideas comes some horribly bad ones:

If approved, the bill would also mandate that anyone interviewed by the media would be able to request and receive copies of photographs and audio and video recordings taken by reporters and photographers. Such copies would have to be provided free of cost, even though state and local governments are allowed to charge the public for copies of any documents it provides.

If a media outlet refuses to provide the copies, it would be subject to a lawsuit and a civil penalty, under the bill.

Various media organizations, including the National Press Photographers Association and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, have already spoken out against this idea. I offered a law expert/journalism faculty member a chance to offer some thoughts on this thing happening in his state, but he declined, noting it wasn’t “worth my getting involved.”

He’s right that this is way beneath him to dignify something this dumb with a response. Fortunately, there’s very little beneath me, so I figured I’d outline a few points that might inform or amuse anyone worried about this:


We already have something like this, only better, clearer and non-Draconian. The Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which you can find here, outlines the ways in which ethical journalists are expected to behave as they ply their trade. Michael King, president of the NPPA, pointed this out as he highlighted both groups’ codes in his statement about the bill:

Ironically, the bill calls for the creation of an ethics board to be housed at the University of Georgia-Athens’ Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, where NPPA is headquartered. We have confirmed that the bill was introduced without their knowledge or approval.

Robust codes of ethics — including NPPA’s and SPJ’s — have existed for decades and are widely accepted as industry standards. No agent of any government should play any role in setting ethical or accreditation standards for journalism.

What you don’t see in either code is a “crime and punishment” section, because, um… that’s not the point of an ethical code. In couching his “law” as an “ethics” issue, Welch is trying to circumvent the First Amendment, which a) prohibits most of what he’s trying to accomplish and b) was established as a Constitutional right for a reason (namely the Founding Fathers saw the importance of a free and unfettered press, even if Andy Welch doesn’t).


Something shouldn’t be illegal just because you don’t like it. We pretty much covered this concept with our look at John Oliver, Bob Murray and the infamous Mr. Nutterbutter, but for those of you who missed it, enjoy this link.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Welch and several other legislators don’t like the way the media down there keep digging into their sketchy behavior. Welch himself was rather perturbed with questions from a TV reporter that he felt were biased. What those questions entailed, the AJC doesn’t make clear, but given his thin skin on this topic, I’m guessing they were only slightly tougher than this hard-hitting set of inquiries:

It’s unfortunate that Welch doesn’t like being questioned on things that he’s doing as a legislator, but that’s part of the gig when you take the job. (It’s like taking a job as the person who has to empty the Port-O-Johns at the county fair and then complaining about all the crap you have to deal with (literally) every day. As nice as it would be for you to mandate that people “hold it until they get home” so that your job would be easier, that’s not gonna happen.)

King notes in the NPPA statement that the organization will keep an eye on this bill for a variety of reasons including “the abrupt resignation of its author from the Georgia General Assembly.” The purpose of the media in this country is to hold our leaders to account for whatever it is we think the citizenry needs to know, which for me will include what led to this “abrupt resignation.” (Google news alert, here I come!)

We’re paid to be nosy and dig into stuff, even if it’s stuff you don’t like.


We don’t license journalists in this country, something for which Welch should be thankful. As bad of an idea as this is, and as horrible as it would be for journalism, and as unconstitutional as it is, I would LOVE to see this thing happen for JUST ONE DAY for one simple reason: Andy Welch has a blog.

(Irony alert: It’s tagline? “The Heart of Every Good Partnership is Trust”)

When people like Welch think about journalism, journalists and media-based endeavors, they tend to think of whatever TV reporter rubbed them the wrong way with a question five minutes earlier. What they don’t realize is that we are a long way from the days in which area “journalism” consisted of one or two major metro newspapers and three TV stations.

These days, anyone with a phone and access to an app can become a journalist in the most basic sense. When you yammer on Facebook about the annoying kid holding up the line at the cafeteria or you tweet about your landlord being a convicted murderer, that counts as journalism.

Welch’s hard-hitting expose on Week Seven of the Legislative session, his look at the “Hands-Free Georgia Act” (which sounds like something out of a “Chainsaw Massacre” movie) and  his post about the success of the Locust Grove High School baseball team, in which he has serious antecedent-pronoun-agreement issues also count as journalism in this new digital realm. Some of this journalism may be intriguing and some of it may be painfully dull, but it’s all given the same wide berth to operate unfettered under the banner of journalism.

I can’t say what will happen for sure with all this, but if I had to guess, I’d wager heavy on these two things occurring:

  1. This bill will die fast and quiet.
  2. Every media organization in the state that could have been subjected to “The JEB” will spend the next four weeks digging into anything Welch has ever done and trying to figure out what led to his “abrupt resignation” from the statehouse.

Guest Blogging: How “telling the truth” served Mary Beth Reser as she transitioned from a news reporter to a marketing COO.

As often as possible, we strive to post content from a guest blogger with an expertise in an area of the field. This week, we are fortunate to have Mary Beth Reser, the COO of Wilderness Agency. As marketing director for prominent real estate development groups and publishing companies, she leverages content to drive revenue and she works with organizations across industries to clarify messaging and share truthful stories to drive sales.

Reser.jpgShe manages operations for a team of 50+ creatives, but before her move into the “C suite,” she spent several years as a reporter, including for the Fairborn Daily Herald and Dayton Business Journal. Her post is about her movement from news to marketing and how her skills transferred across these fields. Interested in being our next guest blogger? Contact us here.

Nothing is more embarrassing than turning in an article past deadline to your college journalism adviser. It’s even more embarrassing when you’ve spent the last month restructuring your company partly on the basis of missed deadlines.

How did we get here?

I didn’t set out to be a COO. In fact, my career path is nothing if not defined by a series of pivots. I spent 15 years, from age 10 to 25, dedicated to being the absolute best journalist I could be. I started school newspapers. I pushed them to the limits. I chose my high school and college purely on the goal that I would spend my future as a daily reporter in some metro somewhere, pounding pavement and investigating tips.

I didn’t count on a couple things. The economy. The availability of jobs. The lack of pay. Sexism and ethical dilemmas I encountered while in the industry.

I told myself I wanted to focus on telling positive stories. I couldn’t bear the weight of covering crashes, fires and violence, so I switched to business reporting, which had interested me in college. Then the recession hit, and positive stories on my mostly positive beats turned sour.

In the end, I could only blame my discontent on myself, and after five years as a professional reporter, I pivoted. Having turned on the most steady passion of my life, I went through some lengthy periods of self evaluation. I knew was that I still loved telling stories. True stories. With positive results.

I spent the next four years as in-house marketing/PR at two commercial real estate firms. I was telling stories in the form of press releases, and I was starting to tell–and sell–commercial space to tenants based on stories I was telling through marketing.

Chasing happiness, I jumped back into publishing and helped to develop social media sales strategies and digital sponsored content for a mostly advertorial publication. We’ll call this my gap year.

Four years ago, I made the jump into agency work and discovered my true passion. I could work with a variety of clients and tell TRUE stories in several ways that achieved measurable results. I graduated my first agency job and convinced a friend from the business reporting days to pull me in as a project manager at Wilderness Agency. I was still telling stories, but now I was putting teams together and telling them on a larger scale, not just through copy, but also design, websites, digital marketing, content strategy and video.

I was using my storytelling skills in new ways, and the business was growing as a result. In fact, we were skyrocketing. This is not to brag, but to explain the place I find myself currently. As we grew, I grew, and I started making major decisions for the company. I moved into a director of operations role, and started focusing on the Wilderness Agency story. Who do we hire? Where do we spend? How does it all fit together?

I looked around and suddenly, I had gone from business reporter to running a business. I look up how to spell proforma at least once a week because, I am flabbergasted at how I came to see one as an extension of myself.

These days, I am still telling stories, but the stakes are higher. When I worked on our clients’ accounts, I was affecting their businesses, but now I am affecting our own. The stories I tell now, with numbers, with org charts, with process decisions, affect not just my own income, but the livelihood of the 10 employees and 40 contractors who work for Wilderness Agency. They support my boss, that same friend from the business newspaper, who had blinked and found himself transitioned from sales intern to CEO.

We are the fastest growing agency in our market. We attribute it to telling the truth, which is painful, but welcome in the current climate. It’s not always comfortable for businesses to hear what they should or should not be doing, but we find we don’t have time to mince words or present them with smoke and mirrors, and they don’t have time to hear anything else.

And sometimes, I have to prioritize work over a lot of other things I’d like to do, such as turning in this article on time — sorry, Vince.

The stories I tell now are guided by the ridiculously annoying number of questions I ask in sales meetings, because after all, I have the heart of a reporter. We dig down to the truth and use it to everyone’s advantage. And when I focus on turning that interrogation on Wilderness Agency, we benefit as well.

I may not be telling the same kinds of stories as I did 15 years ago. They don’t get measured in inches or hits. But the stories I tell now are supporting a business, and the passions of myself an a team of special marketing operatives we call Wilderness Agency.

Percentages, racism and other alterations: AP unveils major changes to it style book

Like most of us who write books, the used book market is apparently killing the Associated Press. For its upcoming 2019 edition (which seems weird, given that we’re about one-fourth of the way through 2019 already…), the folks at AP have made a number of changes that will render your old style guide (and a good portion of your institutional memory) null and void.

At the ACES: The Society for Editing conference on Friday, the AP unveiled a number of the key changes to its upcoming edition. In some cases, the ideas appeared to be extremely well researched and had some important rationale behind them, such as the way in which the entire race and racism sections were reconstructed. Other changes felt like they were inspired by this classic George Carlin routine:


One that has most journo-geeks I know and love freaking out is the organization’s decision to move away from the use of “percent” spelled out to “%” when dealing with percentages.

According to one of my former students who watched this roll out, things were a bit tense:

I was in the room at the ACES conference when they announced this. Everyone gasped.

So, 2018 version:

  • WRONG: I calculate my chance of getting a passing grade on this test to be about 3%.
  • RIGHT: I got a 58 percent on my math final, which meant I failed.

And 2019 version:

  • WRONG: According to the survey, 82 percent of the respondents eat at least one meal in the car each day.
  • RIGHT: The most common grade on the exam was a 75%.

AP also reworked its approach to hyphens, meaning I’ll likely spend about 92 hours reworking half of my AP style worksheets. The traditional method of hyphenation meant that you looked at the concept of compound modifiers to guide you.

  • Zoe is a 13-year-old girl.
  • I rented a two-bedroom apartment

In both cases, you need all of the words connected with hyphens to work together to modify the noun. You wouldn’t say, “I rented a two apartment” or “I rented a bedroom apartment.” Thus, the hyphen works there (and according to AP, it remains in cases like that).

However, in commonly known phrases, AP is going with no hyphens:

  • I ate a chocolate chip cookie.
  • Jimmy scored a first quarter touchdown.

How those differ from “two-bedroom apartment,” I remain uncertain, but we’re going with it.

The hyphens with the biggest impact, and the area with the most changes, reside in the sections on race. AP changed its long-held stance (or is it a long held stance?) on hyphenating racial qualifiers:

  • 2018: He has an African-American father and an Asian-American mother.
  • 2019: He has an African American father and an Asian American mother.

AP said it worked with multiple groups to determine how best to work through its entire section on race and that the issue of hyphenation came down to the marginalization of non-white groups and the way in which these served as microaggressions against them.

AP also now allows for the use of the term “racist” to basically call racist behavior racist instead of couching such actions in weaker language.

  • 2018: Carl appeared to engage in racially motivated language when he said, “black people are intellectually inferior.”
  • 2019: Carl made several racist statements, including “black people are intellectually inferior.”

For the full list of changes, you can download a PDF here.

Everything’s coming up roses for WSU’s Sunflower a year after a nearly fatal funding cut

Last year at this time,  Wichita State University’s student newspaper, The Sunflower, found itself on the chopping block, thanks to a massive budget cut that appeared to have political and punitive overtones. Student government officials attempted to reduce the paper’s already diminished budget from $105,000 to $55,000. Those folks also tried to close the meeting in which the fees were being debated.

The paper had repeatedly reported on things the student government (and likely the administration) didn’t want covered, leading then-EIC Chance Swaim to note “this cut is tied to our coverage.” With heightened media attention from across the state (and country), as well as some awkward legal wrangling, the paper looked all but on its way to “an inelegant death.” In an attempt to diffuse all the bombs around him, WSU President John Bardo pulled an interesting sleight of hand that allowed the student government to cut some of the paper’s funding while not actually cutting the overall amount of money the paper got from the U. Still, the $105,000 allocation kept The Sunflower in a painful monetary situation and increased the financial pressure on the business staff.

“Last year’s student government president justified our cuts by saying we weren’t putting in that much effort into our advertising and using student fees as a crutch to fund ourselves, as well as some other weird justifications,” current ad manager Kylie Cameron said recently. “However, cuts to our paper also lead to cuts in the advertising department. We used to have about 2-4 advertising representatives and an advertising manager, but because of the lack of interest in advertising in papers as well as the lack of funding from student fees, the advertising department now consists of myself and one ad rep because we simply can’t afford multiple ad reps anymore.”

In spite of the situation, the students managed to keep the paper afloat during the year.

“The Sunflower is full of students with a ton of grit,” Sunflower adviser Amy DeVault said via email last week. “They thrive on roadblocks and challenges. While the cuts angered them, they knew it was political, and they didn’t let it demoralize them. The editor and staff just kept focusing on doing good journalism and the ad manager worked her tail off trying to help with funding as much as possible.”

However, the question remained, “What will the committee do for the next year?”

Apparently, the answer is return to sanity and value the paper. Not only did the student fee committee not try to cut the newspaper’s funding, but it nearly returned the paper to the level it had prior to repeated cuts over a three year span. The paper will receive $150,000 in funding for the 2019-20 school year.

“This committee was so different from last year,”  DeVault said. “They asked important, relevant questions. Last year, it felt like nearly every question asked was some form of attack. They fixated on things like, ‘Why can’t you sell more ads?’ And ‘Why do you need reserves?’

“This year, it felt there were committee members who understood the value of a student newspaper and were prepared to do what they could to fund it. They recognized that the paper already operates on a lean budget. They had questions, but they were relevant and reasonable.”

Both DeVault and Cameron said the committee understood that The Sunflower informed the campus community about things that mattered, something that emerged during this year’s coverage of several big stories. In one case, the paper reported on allegations that the student body president had sexually assaulted a woman. More recently, the paper covered the death of university President John Bardo, who lost an extended battle with a chronic lung condition.

“Wichita State is all about these ‘applied learning’ experiences, so we emphasized the fact that we’ve been an applied learning experience since 1896, before applied learning was cool,” Cameron said.

DeVault said her big take away included several simple tips: Document everything, ask for help when you need it and “Make a nice handout explaining your budget and key points.” Above all else, however, she said it was critically important that the paper told its own story and kept fighting.

“Just don’t give up,” she said. “Campuses need student newspapers desperately. They need people asking hard questions, pushing for transparency and helping give a voice to those who might otherwise not have it.

As a member of the staff, Cameron said the committee’s decision to add funding back to the paper showed the staff that the university saw the vital role the paper plays on campus.

“All of us at the paper were absolutely thrilled when the committee came to their agreement,” she said. “Last year, we had to fight so hard to get the very little we got, and now we don’t have to fight to show how important we are, on top of covering everything else since we still have jobs to do AND being an advocate for other student organizations that received cuts. I also had a renewed faith in my generation in understanding the importance of journalism.”



Gone Fishin’: Spring Break Edition

This week, UWO goes on Spring Break, so I’ll be doing the traditional thing of using this time to catch up on grading, reading contest entries and pondering how much longer we’re going to have snow out here.

I’ll also be doing a non-traditional thing of helping Dad use a Sawzall on a dead refrigerator in his basement. Something tells me it’ll go something like this:


In any case, it’ll be relatively quiet on the blog this week unless something crucial occurs. If you have any requests for posts starting next week, just drop me a line.


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

“Your resume is not about you:” Insights from a journalism hiring manager on how to succeed in applying for internships and jobs

Tim Stephens has spent more than a quarter of a century at various media companies, including the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel and CBSSports.com, where he helped recruit, hire and develop talent.

“I placed a high premium on being connected in the industry and knowing what other outlets were developing track records in terms of producing quality journalists who could fit into our fast-paced, evolving newsroom culture,” he said. “Your organization will only be as good as the people working for it, and I didn’t want to miss on hires. I wanted a pipeline of talent.”

Stephens said that no matter who he hired or how long they worked for his organization, he was always looking to put the best people in the best positions when he hired someone.

“I was never afraid of losing talent…” he said. “I wanted ambitious, high-achieving performers to have opportunities to move up in their careers. Every time I lost an employee to a larger organization or an expanded role, I took it as an opportunity to find the next high achiever.”

A few years back, Stephens and I were at a convention where we talked about a massive disconnect between college-age applicants and places that hired them for internships and jobs. His insights shaped how I work with students as they build their application packages, resumes and cover letters

Last week,  I asked him some questions via email so that he could share some additional thoughts about how hiring works, what he looks for as a hiring manager and other things that might help you get where you want to go in this field.


What is/was life like as a person responsible for hiring interns and employees? What goes on behind the scenes that students or newly minted graduates don’t know about between the time they send in an application and the time a person gets hired?

I planned for openings months before I had them. Part of that was because I was accustomed to large organizations making occasional raids on our staff, and part of that was because of the shrinking nature of the newsroom made it extremely important to make strong hires when you had an opportunity to do so.

I had my eye on candidates who were often 2 or 3 moves away from a position on our staff. I talked to hiring managers at other companies all the time, picking their brains for potential candidates. I referred people who impressed me to hiring managers who had openings when I didn’t, with a special eye for matching those talents to newsrooms where their best attributes would be developed.

Bottom line is that it’s a small industry and you are rarely more than two or three people removed from knowing someone who knows someone.


One of the things you mentioned to me a long time ago was that students don’t really understand the point of their resume from a hiring-manager’s perspective. What are the problematic things students or new job seekers do in terms of creating documents or applying and how can they fix that to improve their odds of impressing an employer?

Your resume is not about you. It’s about ME, the hiring manager. If I move your resume through the stack, I am attaching my reputation to yours. I am being judged in large part by my hires. Don’t ever forget that. When I am looking at a resume, cover letter and portfolio, I am not looking at what you’ve done. Frankly, I don’t care.

What I care about is how what you have done translates into what you will DO if I hire you. Big difference. I have always tried to encourage job hopefuls to try to view the search from the perspective of the person doing the hiring.

First, you have to find out who that is. Be a reporter and do some digging. What is this person’s track record? What attributes do they value? Who previously held the job I am going for? Do your homework and help me project you into the job rather than simply to view you as an applicant.


If you had any key advice for students or one thing you would want to tell them about this whole process, what would it be?

Network. Always be professional — always. You never know who someone knows … or who they will become in this industry. And last, when you get an interview, try to flip that conversation toward how you’ll do the job you’re applying for, and you will take a big step toward landing it. You want me leaving that conversation feeling like you’re already part of the team.


Is there anything you think I missed or anything else you’d like to add?

Where you start in your career isn’t as important as who you are starting with. Do your homework on the hiring managers and the person or people who will supervise you.

Who has a track record of investing in and developing talent? Who has a track record of sending people on to bigger and better things? Who gives young journalists prime opportunities to shine when they earn them? Will you get feedback? Will you have a strong cast around you who will support your development? The most prestigious media company isn’t necessarily the best opportunity to advance.

Revisiting “The Midterm From Hell”

In honor of my students who will be taking this exam today, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this post with a few tweaks. Enjoy. — VFF

I often get to hear students complaining about classes and professors, as that comes with the territory of being an academic adviser, a  former newsroom adviser and having an office right next to the computer lab. When they don’t think I’m listening, I’ve heard students mutter about the amount of reading I assign in Feature Writing or the way that AP style is way too big of a deal in the Writing for the Media class.

However, two grievances have been repeated about two specific things I force students to do that are both points of annoyance and points of pride for them. When they gripe about these things, they do so loudly and with an odd tone like someone in a really bad 1980s movie yelling, “I was in ‘NAM, man! You don’t even know!” It’s a mix of irritation and self-congratulations.

The first we’ve discussed here before: The Feel-It Lab.

The second is what one student referred to as “The Midterm from Hell.”

Conceptually speaking, it’s reporting in its purest form: You get an assignment you know nothing about, you research it, you find sources and you turn the story in for publication immediately. Maybe working night desk where asking “Can I get this done tomorrow?” would have gotten me mocked and then fired and then mocked again has jaded me to the difficulty of this, but I doubt it.

Below is the outline for “The Midterm from Hell” as it is presented to the students. Feel free to use it as you see fit or adapt it as you need. Consider it a “share the hate” moment from me to you.


Reporting Midterm Assignment

The 24-Hour Story

As promised, this isn’t going to be your standard “memorize some facts, regurgitate them and move on” type of midterm. Reporting is a skill that you hone over time and in many cases, you don’t have a lot of time to do the honing. You will be responsible for your own fate and the fate of your colleagues in this midterm exercise.

Part I: The Pitch

As per your syllabus, you will have to email me a midterm pitch no later than Sunday at noon. If you do not turn in your pitch, you will not be able to participate in the midterm itself on Tuesday.

(UPDATE NOTE: About one student every other year fails the midterm before it even launches because of this. I guess if I had this threat hanging over my head, I’d make it a priority to beat the deadline by several days.)

What you are attempting to pitch is a story that you believe you could accomplish within a 24-hour period. The pitch itself should include the following things:

  • Your name
  • Your contact information (phone number, email address etc.)
  • An introductory paragraph of about five or six sentences that outlines what the story is about, what makes it worth doing and why it matters to a specific readership.
  • A list of at least THREE human sources, including contact information and rationale behind these people being used as sources.

You should attempt to create a quality pitch, obviously. If your pitch is too weak or fails to meet the basic elements of the assignment, your pitch will be discarded and you will not be allowed to participate in the midterm.


Part II: The Story

Everyone who turns in a pitch will be expected to be in class ready to go on Tuesday. I will print off all of the acceptable pitches and give each pitch a random number. Each participant will select a number and thus receive the associated pitch. YOU CANNOT RECEIVE YOUR OWN PITCH. I will read the pitch to the class and give you a copy of the pitch. The person responsible for the pitch can then augment the pitch with additional information or suggestions. We then open the floor for other people to suggest other sources or other places for information. Once you feel comfortable with your pitch, we move on to the next person.

When all the pitches are handed out, you will then have approximately 24 hours to complete a solid news story on that topic. It must be at least 2 pages, typed, double-spaced. It must contain no fewer than three human sources. You do not need to use any or all of the sources suggested to you in the pitch. You can augment the list or stick to it. The pitch is merely meant to guide you.

Your story must be in at noon on Wednesday.  If you are late, you fail the assignment, so remember the old line we repeat in here: Journalism is never done. It’s just due. Your completed work will be graded along the same lines as your previous stories, with one-third of the grade being assigned to each of the three main areas: Reporting, Writing and Style.

This is going to typify the quote on the front of your syllabus: You have to improvise. You have to adapt. You have to overcome. Stuff can go wrong. People might not get back to you. Sources might be out of town.  Your job is to be a reporter and figure out how to get the best possible version of the story out of the assignment based on what you have available to you at the time. Perfection is unattainable, so don’t panic about that. Make sure you’re accurate, clear, concise and balanced. Work on smoothing out your writing without obsessing about how perfect it is.

You can do this. We’ve been preparing for it all term.

Questions? Ask ‘em.

Fetch-Gate Parenting: Stop trying to name every phenomenon with some cute term

The saga of rich parents trying to bribe people to get their kids into great colleges has given birth to many stories, arguments and memes built from old “Full House” episodes, thanks to Lori “Aunt Becky” Loughlin’s involvement. One of the more annoying trends has been the media’s desperate need to name this phenomenon, something the NY Times chipped in on this morning:


The Times is a bit late on the name game in this situation, as others have already dubbed these folks “lawnmower parents” because they like to “mow down” any obstacle, discomfort or problem for their children. My favorite idiom was “curling parents,” named after the stone-and-broom sport, because the parents frantically try to sweep all the problems out of their children’s path.


Prior to this situation, we had “helicopter parents,” named for their ability to hover over every aspect of their children’s lives, who were quickly replaced by “drone parents,” who are like “helicopter parents on steroids.” A number of years back, we had “soccer moms,” stereotypical middle-America parents who used a calendar and a mini-van to help their kids engage in every possible extra-curricular activity that looked great on a college application.  In resistance to all of this hovering, sweeping, plowing and mowing, the concept of “free-range parenting” became popular in the media, with publications telling tales of parents who kind of just left their kids alone for 10 seconds or more each day.

This phenomenon of naming something that doesn’t really need a name isn’t new, as any journalist who started working after 1972 can tell you. In that year, several men connected to President Richard Nixon were caught while attempting to plant listening devices in the offices of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. This led to arrests, congressional hearings, impeachment hearings and Nixon’s resignation as president. The scandal became known as “Watergate,” named as such because that was the building that housed the DNC’s offices.

In the years that followed, every scandal has seemed to enjoy a -gate suffix moniker. We had “Bridgegate,” “Pizzagate,” “Deflategate,” “Clown-and-Cheesegate” “Sausagegate,” “Hookergate,” “Penisgate,” “Vaginagate,” “Dildogate,” “Potatogate” and at least two dozen more.

This is stupid for a couple reasons:

  • It’s not clever or unique: I remembered the first three. After that, I just started randomly typing foods or sex terms into Google with the word “gate” attached and got all of these. I never missed once, so you get the idea that this concept of “-gate” naming stuff isn’t new or innovative. It’s lazy writing and a stupid idea.
  • The scandals aren’t that scandalous: Watergate was a scandal that went to the highest office in the land and forced a sitting president who had won re-election in a walk to resign, something that had never happened before. Tom Brady “maybe” making footballs softer isn’t in the same neighborhood as this. Hell, it’s not even on the same planet. I’m sure that your university’s decision to keep taxing feminine hygiene products is a problem and should be covered, but don’t call it “tampongate.” (Besides, not one, but two, “scandals” have already used this one.)
  • The -gate thing isn’t real: The reason we called the Nixonian scandal “Watergate” was because that was the name of the building. It wasn’t like he used a “gate” to try to stop “water” or something. Thus, a scandal about a bridge or a clown or whatever, shouldn’t reference a suffix that isn’t part of its original title. I’m trying to imagine if someone stole stuff out of the Watergate now and how it might be a “Watergategate” or “Watergate 2.0,” another stupid way of building a term.

When it comes to covering a topic, you want to tell people what happened that matters to them. Your job isn’t to become a lexiconnoisseur or some sort of trendsetter. All it does is make you look like you can’t do your job without being cute. In addition, it will annoy your readers as you try to make your “-gate parenting” thing happen. As Regina George famously explained, you need to stop this right now: