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Correlation≠ causation

January 16, 2020

My wife shared this photo with me today. It is part of an opinion story that appears in the Orange County Register and presents a good lesson for editors about correlation vs. causation.

What’s wrong with it? Well, note the sentence in the cutline:

The county says that people who receive county services are most likely to become homeless.”

It is probably an accurate statement in that someone from the county –though I would like to know who or which office– said. But it certainly is misleading. The average reader would look at this and say that maybe the county should not be offering services or that the county is somehow culpable in creating homelessness. The fact is not that those who receive services become homeless, but that those on the road to homelessness often end up seeking services from the county. Good editors would catch the correlation vs. causation error. Weak editors would not pay attention to what the words REALLY say.

Oh, and by the way, the opinion story does not even make a direct connection with the cutline, but it does support the misconception.

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Christmas memories

December 24, 2019

I heard a feature on KPCC the other day about favorite Christmas memories. Then last night I awoke in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep because I was thinking of Christmas memories.

The FAVORITE Christmas memory was easy. I’ve known it for years. But dwelling on it brought other fond memories of Christmases past. I often cannot remember much of my youth, but then something like this tickles the gray cells and I suddenly remember snippets.

The favorite memory? Well, it was about 25 years ago when my son was somewhere between 9 to 12. I was sick with a bad cold that Christmas –that happened a lot when I was teaching; I’d make it to the Christmas break and then get sick for Christmas. I had seen a doctor and he had prescribed a codeine-based cough syrup.

So I sat on the couch at my in-laws’ house all spaced out. Rich and his cousins Alexander, Matthew, Jason were all about the same age, given or take a year or two, and after all the packages were unwrapped they pile up all the wrapping paper and had the best time leaping on to it like a pile of leaves. The combination of being stoned and listening to their glee as they leaped and leaped made it a special memory, despite the cold.

As my in-laws’ family grew and kids had kids we morphed into a different kind of Christmas. Everyone got huge personalized stockings. Instead of presents adults got stockings filled by 15-20 family members. (Of course, almost everyone bought 20 of the same thing so everyone go the same or similar thing, but that’s okay.) Since I was among the oldest, my mother-in-law had made mine and my wife’s stocking early in the process. It was special, but not personalized. One year Susan fixed that by quilting a copy of my students’ newspaper atop a three-foot stocking.

The other thing that was special was that my mother-in-law would take the youngest generation to the bookstore in the afternoon and they could each select a book of their liking and she’d pay. We lost mom a little over fur years ago, but continued that tradition Christmas 2015 in her memory. I even copied the idea with a family connected to my mother for a couple of years.

Of course, once we lost my mother-in-law we all knew that the huge family gathering of 30 or more in one house was an endangered tradition. It was already getting harder and harder to schedule such a great get together as generations started establishing their own family obligations.

This is the first year since I got married that the in-law family did not get together. It was bound to happen, but I miss it.

How about memories with my family. They are less clear in my mind, but I do have photos in the scrapbook my mother kept for me that remind of some Christmases.

I remember as a young kid living in a small two-bedroom duplex apartment on 15th Street in Reedley. There were at least three of us kids, maybe four, before we moved to the “big” three-bedroom house on Palm Avenue in Reedley.

There is a photo of one Christmas where I am in my pajamas and wearing a cowboy hat while playing with a toy truck I got as a present. What is it with young boys and trucks?

But most Christmases in my family seem to have been held at grandparents’ homes. I have memories of the adults all sitting around at my mother’s parents house, but the fondest memories there were using the “big” feather bed in the basement like a trampoline. It probably was only as big a as a double bed and a8-24 inches deep, but it seemed SO MUCH BIGGER. Maybe that is part of the reason my kids’ experience jumping on wrapping paper stands out.

I remember one Christmas at my father’s father’s house where “Granny Bea” had bought a boxed set of magic tricks for my brother and something else for me. I wanted the magic tricks so much and made a fuss until she simply traded the gifts between us. Six months later my mother found a woman in town who was selling a lot of magic show equipment and bought it and lessons for me. That next year I did magic shows for a couple of the service clubs in town and one for my grade school as a special school-wide assembly.

Perhaps the best Christmases, though, were at Merdikee’s (Aunt Mary, but I never called her that) house. She had a color TV. She was always extra special to me; she essentially raised my dad after his mother died when he was young. Merdikee was really his aunt, but to me she was like a grandmother.

Christmases in the 80s through the present seemed to always mean that we were traveling to the Fresno area where the biggest concentration of both mine and Susan’s families live. Christmas time at my mother’s includes enjoying the hundreds of Santas she has peppered around the house, though each year now she puts out fewer and fewer.

Our immediate family has adopted Christmas traditions of going out to a movie together on Christmas Eve and sharing Christmas breakfast together at home before hitting the road. Only a couple of times over the years did the rest of the family come our way. One was when Susan was pregnant and could not travel. Another Christmas I guess at least my mom came our way because my son Rich got some red suspenders as a gift and was “so ga-cited for his red bus-spenders.” (He hates it when that is brought up every Christmas.) Another was last year because we were the ones with a house big enough to hold everyone. But many of the family did not travel for that one either.

At 67 I still enjoy Christmas, but more as a spectator. Watching my adult daughter Rachel decorate the tree and the house and bake all kinds of goodies for friends is a different kind of special. This year we get to share part of the day with a one-year-old whose mother is sharing the house with us.

That may be the closest I ever get to having grandchildren to share Christmas with, but I will take it.

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Citing sources, especially online

December 10, 2019

Including sources in stories was a priority teaching tenet when I was teaching community college students to be journalists. I made it part of the grading process for the student newspaper and hammered attribution in my news writing instruction –after focusing on leads, of course.

To earn full credit for an article written for the student newspaper there had to be a MINIMUM of two sources. When I marked issues of the paper for critiques I marked the first use of a source in a story with a special colored marking pen to make it easier to count sources. (When I switched to PDF-marked critiques and had fewer color options I started including a “stamp” option of a person’s head to make them stand out.)

Along with the PDF critiques I included a “By the Numbers” page associated with each issue; acclimating students to numbers and news was another priority. A major part of the effort was not only to count up numbers of sources used each week, but overall average sources used per story. Opinion stories, for instance, often did not contain sources, so non-opinion stories needed to make up the difference if we were to meet the goal of an average of MINIMUM of two sources per story for the issue.

In short, forcing students out of their comfort shells and out talking to people was important in their development as journalists. But some students tried to skate anyway by quoting not from sources they talked to, but written sources from other publications, such as The New York Times and the Centers for Disease Control website.

For a while I referred to these as bogus sources, an inaccurate moniker, for sure, as these secondary sources often added credibility to the story. A student got me to change my terminology to indirect sources. I also made a distinction in critiques between direct sources and indirect sources with an aim to limiting the latter to more than 10 percent of all sources per publication.

As I monitor student publications around the state for my Online Elsewhere initiative I continue to look for sources. Are students being taught to emerge from the comfort zone of aggregating indirect sources? Mostly yes, but often no; to be blunt, some of the publications are terrible at it. Most work direct sources well into their news stories, sports stories and personality profiles. In some features and in most opinion stories, though, they don’t.

I understand it for opinion stories, though if students focused more on campus/community issues and less on national and cultural issues, they could definitely turn some opinion columns into nice reader-related features. For instance, I recently saw a Saddleback Lariat feature on vaping that included student sources commenting on vaping. Most other publications talking about vaping only quoted statistics using indirect sources.

And when indirect sources are used in stories citations are vague: The New York Times or the Centers for Disease Control. Such vagueness would never be allowed in the academic writing talk in college composition courses. Papers written for those courses would require much more bibliographic detail in footnotes/endnotes or with in-text citations. Writing for journalistic publications are not as academic in presentation than papers for composition, though, and rightly so. There are space and readability considerations. Long URLs –and usually we are talking about web sources– would interfere with the readability of text in narrow columns and short paragraphs. Footnotes/endnotes also are not the norm for newspaper publications, though they COULD be included.

Student reporters need to understand the purpose of bibliographic detail –not the least of which is that online sources can change, so dating the access point is important. They need to understand that “The New York Times” is a big complication of material. In fact, it is likely that somewhere else in the archives of the New York Times might be an article that includes conflicting information. To be fair to the reader you need to be more precise. Even “according to a Dec. 10 article in the New York Times” or “according to a Dec. 10 article by Rich Cameron in the New York Times” is doable an much closer to linking the reader to the source, should the reader need to confirm the quote or want to know more. Speaking of links, a shortened weblink from a site like bit.ly could even be used as an in-text citation without creating problems.

But what I find truly a failure in teaching students journalists is when I see stories added to the publication’s website. Almost universally it is clear that students are merely archiving their stories onto the website without paying attention to the unique properties of web pages over print pages. On websites you have another option for citations: You can link your “The New York Times” to the specific article. A recent good example is a story I noticed on the CSU Long Beach Daily 49er website. If you look at this story you will find the kinds of links I am talking about.

I don’t know if the Santa Barbara City College Channels has or enforces the same policy it had several years ago when it transitioned to online only, but the policy required each story to contain a minimum of two live links. That meant that reporters often had to go an extra mile in citing sources. Not only were links added, but sometimes those links led to campus documents the students also had to digitize and/or store online. Keeping the reader in mind and offering more than vague summaries is such a wonderful next step for student journalists to learn!

Make the publication website a learning tool rather than just an archive. You will be preparing students better for the journalism world they are about to enter.

The unique properties of an online site extend to use of use of unordered lists for bullet lists, perhaps reformatting stories to use numbered lists instead of first, second, etc., and more. How about recording interviews and extracting/attaching relevant audio snippets linked to quotations to allow the interested reader to assess context? (See the NPR websites to see the value of that.) And most, if not all, online versions of articles will attract more readers if images are attached; there are not the space limitations faced with print.

First teach students to be better journalists by talking to people rather than hiding behind indirect sources, then teach them to respect their readers with more thoughtful online presentation.

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Using the Northwestern issue in class and unpublishing stories

December 8, 2019

Seldom does a college or university student publication do something that garnered the nation attention the Daily Northwestern got last month when it redacted photos from its website and retroactively changed how it originally covered a campus story.

Mainstream media and bloggers across the country leaped on to the decision –the decision, not the story– like fleas on a dog. Most pilloried  the students for their decision while others allowed that the decision was similar to ones publications make all the time.

Stories like this make good discussion points for student journalism courses when they happened. I wondered both whether California community college instructors were bring it up in their courses for discussion and how prevalent the call to redact stories were and how student publications deal with requests like that.

I polled California’s community college instructors about both questions. Most did not respond. I only received about a dozen responses to each question. As a a result, it is hard to characterize the extent of those discussions or how often reaction requests occur, but below are some responses I did receive.

I also shared, via my Online Elsewhere newsletter sent to instructors, an array of the the mainstream and blog reactions I had culled from the RSS feeds I monitored those first few weeks:

When I was teaching it was sometimes difficult to add discussions on current issues like that in my mass communication courses in real time because I had the whole course mapped out ahead of time. If we were talking about movies, for instance, it is difficult to reference the Northwestern situation without disrupting the plan for the course. Now, if our look at print media was going on, it was easy to fit a current topic like this in. But what happened if we had already covered and gone beyond out look at print media?

My newswriting and student publication courses were different. It was always much easier to take a class period or two to talk about it in the newswriting course. I could call attention to the newspaper staff in real time and we could take a time out in production to discuss it.

As for calls for redaction. Yeah, because of digital media we got requests all the time. I specifically recall a former college president calling me up several years after she was forced out of the college and asking that we remove a story about her troubles at the college because it kept showing up first on Google when people searched her name; it was getting in the way of her finding new president jobs. The editorial board voted NOT to remove the story.

But in my last few years at the college the student editors DID decide to remove or alter stories when sources they had interviewed appropriately came back and said they were afraid their ex-relationship was stalking them and locating them because their name showed up in the story. The print version could not be changed, but it was more difficult for the ex to search print. Like many of the pundits who pilloried the Northwestern editors, I felt they made poor, non-journalistic decisions.

So what happens at college publications I surveyed these days?

First, only seven instructors said they had shared the Northwestern story with their students within the first few weeks after it occurred. Only one said she had shared it in a mass communications course and one in a newswriting course. All said they had shared it with their student publications editors. And in almost all cases, the students disagreed with the decision made by the Northwestern editors. In one case, the students had no reaction. One instructor went a step further in sharing the story and shared this:

“I first shared their (the Northwestern editors) mea culpa. At first the staff really identified with the statement, as they are all very, very new, literally first-semester students.

“Then I gave them the original article, and they, of their own volition, began to push back on the apology.

“Finally, I shared the dean’s statement. By that point, the students were quite organically coming to some of the same conclusions as the dean.

“I used the opportunity to reinforce some journalistic expectations and standards.”

About the time I was monitoring the Northwestern decision stories Nieman Lab published an article about the coming wave of requests to unpublished stories. I decided to ask community college advisers about requests from readers to redact or change stories that had already been published.

Again, only about a dozen advisers responded. A larger response would have given some insight into how common the problem was, but only two of those 12 instructors responding indicated that the issue had not come up in the last two years. Most of those who did indicate that the publication had been asked said that student editors rejected the request, but there were some instances where changes were made. Here is a sampling of the answers I received.

  • A former editor asks to remove rape opinion +3 other opinions. It was second time the request was made. Policy says staff votes. Both times staff vote to keep. Meeting with VP in a couple of weeks to discuss further. (We had) crafted an unpublish policy the first time request to take down came. Gave her option to add comment to original. She said OK, but never got back until recently when she asked to take it down again.
  • Did change a misleading headline to something more appropriate.
  • It happens with old stories when people Google themselves. We tell them it is our policy to not remove articles
  • Years ago we were asked to remove an article. A faculty member regretted talking about drunk band mate. The EIC made the decision after discussing with others. The article was not taken down.
  • Staff and faculty threatened with blackmail by yet to be identified person. Students and adviser discussed it briefly and agreed the answer was no.
  • An employee in a photo we took during a lockdown situation asked for the photo to be removed, saying she didn’t give her consent for the photo. The EIC made the call with discussion with the adviser, as the employee reached out to the adviser rather than the EIC staff.
  • A writer for our magazine reviewed a local arcade. After publishing, the owner of the arcade brought up several factual errors in the story and asked for its retraction. The new magazine EIC, in discussion with the adviser, elected to take down the story until it could be rewritten without the factual errors.
  • Former student didn’t want abusive, threatening ex to find her or her children. She wanted her articles removed. Student editors agreed to remove her opinion pieces but kept her restaurant reviews. They did change the byline to Staff.
  • The subject of a profile feature was unhappy with how she was portrayed in the story. It was an extremely positive story about an alumna who had broken barriers in her field. She demanded that the reporter take down the story and even went so far as to rewrite the story the way she wanted it and ask that the “new” version be posted. The student reporter felt intimidated and thought because an adult told her to remove the story, she needed to do so. She did. She then requested that I read the story. I found nothing wrong with the story, and strongly urged her to reconsider her choice (very little time had passed since the story was removed.) In consult with the editor in chief, the story was restored to the website. We did not notify the subject.
  • A former reporter who did excellent work asked that we take a video piece she did down because she was going into a different field (I’m guessing). The adviser contacted former student to tell her why that is not possible.
  • A former ASCC wanted a story in which he was quoted taken down. Staff did not take the story down. They made the decision. They did want advice from me about it, but honestly, they were already thinking about it how I was.
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The other half of sports reporting

November 8, 2019

Sports pageCommunity college has long been the oft-ignored child when it comes to sports coverage. Caught between rabid high school fan bases and national alumni bases for four-year college and university sports teams, “professional” newspapers often ignore most community college sports.

Community college teams even seem to get short shrift from their local campus publications. As I review California community college student publications for my Online Elsewhere initiative I see a lot of half coverage of even the most popular sports –football, basketball, and baseball– much less coverage of other campus sports. And when it comes to sports columns, college journalists are more likely to comment on professional sports than programs that they should give a damn about more than those elsewhere.

Shrinking space in print publications and staff shortages make it difficult to cover campus sports in the detail sports reporters should be cutting their teeth on. But even with major sports I see far too much past game coverage than perspective coverage.

I get it. I started my journalism career off as a sports reporter, both for my high school newspaper and for the local weekly paper. I was hired by the weekly Reedley Exponent while I was in high school to write “as much sports as I wanted for $10 a week.” One story, $10. Two stories, $10. Three stories, …. I was thrilled. But even then most of my efforts were to cover sports as if all that mattered was what happened last week.

(One excellent piece of advice the local editor game me, though, was to read stories elsewhere on sports other than football, basketball, and baseball so that I learned more about them. I mean, what are you going to do when you are suddenly asked to cover a field hockey game and you have no understanding of the sport. As a newspaper adviser one of the most-often heard complaints I got from campus coaches was that the reporter assigned to cover his or her team was that the reporter had no understanding of the sport.)

There certainly is a role for game coverage for beginning reporters. You develop the ability to take notes, evaluate game statistics, interview coaches (and players), and create a running narrative. Defining pivotal moments in a contest in any sport is important to critical thinking development.

But even back in my early days of sports reporting my reporting was always past tense.

When I teach mass media survey courses, one of my lectures talks about the roles of the media. Ask someone, for instance, what is the role of a newspaper and the answer in invariably is “to report the news.” Ask the respondent to then define “news” and most often you will get a definition of reporting on something that has already happened. I call that the Record Keeping role.

But my lecture points out that the role of the news media goes beyond simply reporting what has happened. I talk, for instance, about the Watchdog role, where media serve as a watchdog over government, and the Marketplace and Opinion Leader roles, where the media serve as conduit for community discussion. (Other important roles include an Economic role, a Social role, and an Entertainment role.)

Similar to the Watchdog role is the Sentry role, where the media serve to tell us what is happening or likely to happen BEFORE it happens. Community college sports reporters do little to inform their readers on what is coming up. If they do, it is likely a paragraph tossed in at the end of a game story or in the form of a sports calendar; there is little detail beyond time and place.

This was a problem I fought unsuccessfully for most of my four-decade student publication advising career. I could not get sports reporters to seriously cover pre-game stories.

Rabid high school sports fans will gladly read a game story for several days after the game as they re-live the experience. And they will show up for the upcoming game as readily as they will watch their favorite show on TV. And they already know when they are facing a perennial rival.

University-level fans will read a game story the next day, but by mid-week, when most weekly print publications are printed, they are ready to know more about this week’s opponent. How good is the team? What is its record? What should we expect about the team and how does our team stack up? Are there any common opponents results that should give us a clue? How are we doing in our conference and what is the importance of this game?

Community college readers will read last week’s game story mid-week because that’s usually all they get. And because they likely were not at that week’s game or match.

Game stories have a place in community college publications, but that should be just the beginning. Since most community college publications have an online presence now, that coverage should come within one or two days online. If the publication has a mid-week print publication, then in addition to recording history it should start to play sentry and emphasize the upcoming opponents both in print and online.

(And I still have not even addressed the importance of covering the non-major sports.)

The sooner community college sports reporters take that next-level step, the sooner they will evolve into the sports reporter they desire to be at a university or professionally. One day they will be covering professional sports with credibility. Note: They should even be developing their podcasting skills by covering local sports, where their opinions are likely to make more of a difference; there is already too much noise about professional sports for them to stand out at this level of their careers.

Developing upcoming stories requires a student reporter to reach out beyond the silo of his or her campus. It requires researching and understanding of other teams and talking to sources with whom you are unfamiliar. And out helps you better understand the game in front of you.

– – – – –

Now, should we talk about covering those minor sports? After all, if you add up all your school’s athletes, you’d probably find that the number of minor sports athletes nearly equals or exceeds the number of major sports athletes. They deserve coverage, too.

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Hiring and firing editors

November 6, 2019
How is a student publication hired or selected? More interesting than that, how do you fire one?
The latter question was the gist of a conversation I recently had with one California community college student publication adviser. The adviser was getting subtle pressure from the college administration to fire an editor, who, by the way, appears to be doing the job just fine.
The adviser wanted to know
  1. If he/she could be pressured to fire an editor,
  2. Who has the authority to fire the editor, and
  3. Under what grounds can an editor be fired?
Over my 40-plus years of advising community college student publications I “hired” upwards of 100 editors, both newspaper and magazines. Twice I had to fire an editor and at least two other times had to replace editors mid-semester because their life circumstances changed and they had to step down. (And I had the painful circumstance of losing one recent editor –from the semester before– who perished in a tragic off-road vehicle accident.)
I’ve always operated on the policy of the one who hires needs to be the one who fires. And I always felt that part of the reason the college hired me as the student publications adviser was because of my experience and expertise of what the job of editor required and how to train editors as leaders. That meant that the decision to hire fell in my lap.
I know that other California community college advisers have a variety of ways of making editor selections, so I specifically asked them in a SurveyMonkey poll and have summarized some of the results below. Fifteen responded and I have included some of their responses below. Bottom line: All but a couple indicated that the adviser is the one who hires. Several do so with the help of an advisory committee –usually former editors of the publication. Almost all indicated that editors are hired for one semester. I also know from another Journalism Association of Community Colleges initiative that about a third of the programs hire co-editors.
But sharing others’ responses, let me talk a bit about my experiences and policies over the years, especially since I had to actually fire two editors
The adviser I mentioned above was getting pressure from college administrators to fire the editor, who was actually doing his job. But that job included running a series of sensitive stories that for various reasons upset the administrators. That is the wrong reason to fire an editor; it flies in the face of freedom of speech and press.
California Education Code for high schools and colleges protects advisers who defend their students’ First Amendment rights.
And because both school administrators and the adviser at public institutions technically are government employees, I consider it to be illegal to fire because of content decisions. A trickier question has to do with the role of the adviser vs. the role of the adviser in editing or influencing content.
I remember one community college publication –not mine– where the editor(s) of the student newspaper were Holocaust deniers and used the publication to promote that view.
In another case, I heard of a student-written anti-Holocaust editorial being rewritten by the adviser to say exactly the opposite. That example was one I used to justify my hardline policy of not even reading stories before publication unless specifically being asked by an editor –the reporter had to go through an editor to get me to sit down and review a story. Once you start looking for spelling, grammar, style and factual errors where do you stop?
It is important that the adviser realize that he/she is NOT the editor. There is case law that addresses who has the right to act as publisher of a student newspaper at public schools and colleges. Even though the institution “owns” the publication, the institution and its administrators, as government employees, do not have the right to control content. It seems that the student editor is to be the final arbiter. (I recommend that you check with the Student Press Law Center at http://www.splc.org for specifics.)
I often pointed out that half the college –including many administrators– think as adviser I controlled content of the student publication, the other half thought I OUGHT to control content. And because so many of us are math challenged, I then said that the other (third) half knows better. Advising required a constant education of the college community as to the role and rights of a student publication and moving people to that “third half.”
But back to the topic of hiring and firing editors.
The two editors I fired were let go because they stopped attending class and running the publication in a manner consistent with a college class. (I was the adviser in charge of the class, but the structure we established a structure where the student editor ran and made content decisions for the publication.)
When a student editor has stepped over the line of missing class and doing his/her job is an individual decision and should be considered deeply. Give the errant editor ample warning and opportunity to correct the situation before taking the serious step of firing him/her.
When I started as an adviser selection of an editor was a seat-of-the-pants process that occurred in the first week(s) of a new semester when I saw who enrolled for the staff class. Over time, though, I discovered that a better process was to identify and train leaders the semester or school year BEFORE. And then I hired editors in a proscribed process spelled out by our written policy. To be sure, in a “two-year” community college (students often were there longer), there were still times when I had to draft an editor at the beginning of a semester, but most of the time after refining my process I had multiple qualified applicants each semester for the next semester.
Believe me, selecting a qualified editor toward the end of the previous semester is FAR SUPERIOR that last-minute drafting of an editor.
I also felt that even when there was only one candidate for the job, a proscribed process not only helped me make a wise decision, it helped the candidate develop a mindset to be editor. It also helped ward off interference from the college administration.
This is the process I used:
  1. The interested student submitted a simple letter indicating an interest and explaining why he/she wanted to be editor. I actively encouraged students to apply, even if only to get interview experience from the next step.
  2. I then assembled a committee of former editors to interview the candidates using a list of questions developed over the years to explore the thoughts and plans for the candidate toward editorship. It was constantly tweaked as the publication evolved and was designed to get the candidate to think about being editor. I sat in on the interviews*, but mostly tried to be a fly on the way rather than a participating member, though I sometimes intervened with followup questions based on some of the answers I heard.

* One semester I was so ill I should have been home. The medications I was taking to stay lucent caused me to fall asleep and snore during one interview. “I’m so NOT getting this job,” the applicant mused. I was embarrassed and apologized. She did not get the job, but not because she was boring. It was a difficult to make a final decision, but I believe I selected the better candidate.

  1. The committee made a recommendation based on the interviews. I mostly accepted the committee’s recommendation, sometimes against my own judgment. Occasionally I overruled the recommendation.
  2. The editor must then commit to signing up for the newspaper class the next semester and if he/she hadn’t already taken our beginning news writing class –it happened from time to time– to sign up for it, next semester, too.
  3. The editor can then select page and other editors. Because the editor hires/selects them, the editor can fire/dismiss them in consultation with the adviser. Even though the other editors are also enrolled in the class the editor cannot kick them out of the class and it is up to the adviser to make sure they get a fair shake in contributing to the publication.
In other words, the interview itself became an important learning experience for the candidate. It was important, too, to engage former editors who had gone through a similar learning experience; one’s job of teaching does not necessarily end when the student graduates.
As I mentioned above, there ARE other ways of selecting editors. My way worked for me and I believe was sound, but I respect other advisers’ policies as well. And I asked for feedback on what those polices involved.
Here are the responses I received from the advisers who responded to my request for a quick summary of their hiring process:
  • Adviser recommends EIC. EIC is interviewed by former EIC(s). EIC and ed board recommend and select section editors.
  • According to the student manual, the adviser selects the editor-in-chief
  • At the beginning of the semester, the EIC chooses likely candidate as front page editor or online editor or other positions. Toward the end of the semester, the EIC and I look at the performances. Usually, it’s obvious. This semester we had two good candidates and the EIC couldn’t decide. So we brought in all the former EICs for a consultation and the decision was unanimous.
  • Often there are bot multiple students vying for EIC so if there is only one, we go with it. If there are two or more students, I have then fill out an application and I and two other colleague interview them. I’m the tie-breaker vote but my colleagues always select the person who I would have chosen on my own.
  • Until last year, we had a formal process with letters of intent and interviews by advisers and outgoing editors. In the past year, we’ve adopted a less formal process because we have fewer students. Advisers will talk with promising students about becoming editors.
  • Three editors and two advisers select the EIC.  Candidates turn in a letter and supporting documents.  The EIC selects all other editors.  Again, candidates turn in a letter and supporting docs.
  • The adviser selects the EIC
  • Select with input from instructional assistants and current/previous editors.
  • Students run and prepare a platform with a slate of editors/staff. The candidates are interviewed by a panel of alumni/professionals (job interview). Advisors are in the interview as resources but non-voting.
  • Selected by the adviser. Students apply, the adviser decides. (In reality, we have not had a competition in year. We usually get only one applicant or get zero and have to beg a student to take on the role.)
  • We have an advisory board of five members. All are former editors-in-chief of the newspaper who work in the media industry. At the end of each semester, they choose the incoming editor-in-chief for the following semester.    Applicants fill out an application followed by a platform statement that outlines their vision and plans for the upcoming semester — the kinds of stories they’d like to do, who they are considering for section editor positions, how they see the role of journalism on a college campus. Those applications and platform statements are forwarded to the advisory board a week before the interviews. The board interviews each candidate, with the advisor(s) joining in a supervisory role but not asking questions. After all candidates are interviewed, the board makes a selection, and then brings each candidate back in for a debriefing and discussion about the selection.
  • Students are apply for editorships the last week of the previous quarter. EIC candidates are interviewed first by a committee of at least one reporter and one editor and the adviser, who has a vote and a veto. Section editors are then interviewed by EIC and at least one editor and one reporter and adviser, who does not vote but can veto.
  • I try to identify the potential EIC or Co-EICs at the end of each semester. Often times this is not possible because students haven’t yet registered for classes.  If this isn’t possible, I have to wait until the start of the semester and then just basically ask who is interested in being the EIC. Typically no more than two people volunteer, so those are the ones selected more or less by default.
  • Seat of the pants – whoever is left standing that will return next semester. Advisor chosen at this point.
  • Students apply, interview, and tested. There’s a committee.
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Linking pro/con articles online

October 23, 2019

As I routinely review California community college online student publications I have noticed that that those that those publications that like to include pro/con articles in their print editions make a serious mistake when they move those articles online.

pro/conWhen they pro-con articles are run in the print edition, they are run side by side, but there is no side by side when you move them online. They are separate articles and those readers who read one article do not necessarily read, or see, the other article. The effect of the pro/con is lost. It would be simple for those publications to add a link to each other, but publications most often do not. That is perhaps because online editors (or student reporters) are not thinking about their readers’ online experience, they are simply archiving their print stories.

It would be an easy step to take, but it requires developing an online mind-set.

In fact, many student publications miss out on helping their readers find related stories completely. If there is an on-going story the publication is covering each story over time is separate, but there is, or should be, a relationship.

And the linking should go both ways. When a new article is linked to an old article, the old article should get a link to the new one. With an online article you never know how the reader gets to the article. In fact, it is common for a Google search to drive a reader to an old article. The Cuesta College Cuestonian recently noted on its Facebook page that its most-read article (with nearly 1,200 views) is a five-year-old story about math requirements for graduation. Today’s newspaper staff may not know that the story even exists, other than because of analytics, but readers keep coming to it.

Now, it may be unrealistic to add links to all past stories where conditions have changed* –the reader has some responsibility is recognizing the publication date and employing some critical thinking– but if you have a current evolving story, it could be helpful to the reader to know what has happened before. Evolving stories should have a summary paragraph somewhere, but even summary paragraphs are weak on details.

One community college publication that does a good job with including links, either from its own publication or to other publications that perhaps serve as sources for the story, is the Santa Barbara City College Channels, which has been an online-only publication for years. At one time at least, the publication had a policy that all submitted stories should include a minimum of two links.

(The Channels also does one of the best jobs in the state in coving campus governance.)

 

*And we certainly don’t want to be be George Orwell’s Winston Smith, whose job is to rewrite old news stories so that they reflect today’s reality to have always been this way, in the book Nineteen Eighty Four, A Novel.

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Sports game story leads

October 22, 2019

Which of the following is a better sports game story lead?

Sophomore quarterback (player’s name led the (team name) to a rout in their conference opener against (other college) with four touchdowns and 261 passing yards.

or

(Unnamed College) women’s soccer put together a solid team performance as they defeated the (other college) women’s soccer team 2-0.

Despite the obvious common noun-pronoun error (a team is an it, not a they while most team names are plural and can use the plural pronoun) in the second example,  both do the job, assuming that when the contests were played ran in the second paragraph. The first lead could be better with a score, but that, too, could be saved for the second paragraph.

Note: College names and the athlete’s name were redacted to avoid any embarrassments.

Both are examples of actual sports story leads that were run by community college student publications in this week (fourth week of October 2019).

While both do the job, the first lead arguably is better because 1) it avoids the all-too-easy formula that all sports leads could use of “Team One beat/lost to Team Two by a score of … , and 2) it what is unique about this sports contest.

That is not to say that a team effort is meaningless, or that the the team effort did not stand out, but putting people in leads often is more interesting than the alternative.

The same holds true for many news stories. Most campus news stories involve or impact people. Leads that tell readers that real people are involved, perhaps people they know or who are like themselves, often make for better stories.

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Critical review leads

October 21, 2019

Which is the stronger critical review lead?

From Fox Searchlight Pictures and interestingly enough Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, comes “Jojo Rabbit” an anti hate satire, directed and written by Taika Waititi. The film stars the director himself, Roman Griffin Davis in his first professional film, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Scarlett Johansson. Other recognizable actors are Stephen Merchant, Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson.

or

Listening to Frank Ocean’s new track ‘DHL’ feels like glancing at an orange-yellow sunset in the rearview mirror with a dark purple night sky in the road ahead of you. 

Both do the job. One might argue that the shorter lead is more effective. It is, but not because it is shorter.

I regularly review stories from California community college student publication websites and limited university student publication websites for my Online Elsewhere Facebook page and Online Elsewhere daily newsletter*. I’ve left off the names of the authors and schools because it is not my intent to embarrass the student of the JoJo Rabbit review.

Both leads above were from community college papers in the last week (fourth week of October 2019). Both reviews were well written, but the first one is better because it gets to an opinion in the lead. I call it the editorial opinion: the main point of the opinion piece.

A review is an opinion piece and opinion pieces should emphasize opinion high in the story. The JoJo review took six or seven paragraphs to get to the opinion. Yes, often some background is often necessary to bring the reader up to speed on the subject, but it is the opinion that counts.

When I was teaching I regularly lectured students on how to improve their opinion stories, especially critical review stories where some students believe a movie review is a linear explanation of the plot with a “this was a great movie,” or some other similar statement, at the end.

A critical review, just as with editorials, often need some plot or context, but the review should help readers know whether the movie/concert/album/performance/video game/book/etc. was good or bad and why. Sometimes the best reviews are for something you don’t like where student writers seem to have no shortage of opinion.

One of the best critical review leads I ever saw from one of my students read:

I’ve never wanted to do blow more than I did after seeing “Blow.”

From there you want to know why the author felt that way and are more likely to read the review.

– – – – –

I’m interested in expanding the readership of my Online Elsewhere newsletter, so if you are interested in receiving the five-day-a-week e-mail newsletter contact me at richcamron@gmail.com. The newsletter, which is still evolving, includes links to journalism education stories from around the country, California community college journalism program news, occasional teaching tips, and links to interesting stories published on community college student publication site the day(s) before. You can also access repostings of these links at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges website   (Look at the menu bar).
See a related post: Monitoring student publication websites
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Newspaper Mystery Game

October 13, 2019

I have been giving a lot of thought recently to a project that has been pinging around in my head off and on for the last four years. I call it the Newspaper Mystery Game.

The idea is to build a program that helps college newspaper publications engage readers with their social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, InstraGram, SnapChat, etc.) by solving a campus-based mystery. Each of the media sites, along with the print publication if one exists, would be used to direct readers to clues for solving the mystery. It would be up to the publications to promote the game to their readers, though I would probably also provide schools with publicity suggestions. I hope to localize the mystery by engaging augmented reality using campus landmarks. The storyline would be constructed such that there could be multiple outcomes to the mystery based on clue sets that would vary from campus to campus.

I would hope to make the game free to community college (and possibly other campus) publications, though I would have to find some way to offset costs for creating and maintaining the game on servers. I’ve already got a few ideas on that, including exporting the game to small community commercial newspapers if it works as hoped.

Thoughts lately are illustrated in this mind map about all the logistics that need to be worked out even before the storyline is constructed. (I love mind maps, as they represent the way I think.)

There is a lot in this project that I know can be done, but as yet I have not learned how to do. If someone reading this post is interested and would like to partner up, either as part of a think tank or to contribute skills that can help it along I’d be interested in hearing from you. (richcamron@gmail.com).

It may take me a while to a while on my own to develop the skillsets to bring the project to fruition, if ever.