Archive for July, 2006

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Straight and narrow serious vs. edgy fun

July 29, 2006

Most journalism teachers I know, present company included, teach a pretty straight and narrow serious approach to newswriting. And appropriately so.

There is a lot to learn in mastering the inverted pyramid, consistency of style, accuracy and objectivity. But to survive in tomorrow’s news world and to appeal to younger audiences, I think we have to start paying attention to the edgy presentation of news. Note the success of the Daily Report with Jon Stewart and how many young people consider that to be more appealing “journalism.” Shoot, when CBS was looking for a replacement for Dan Rather Stewart’s name kept cropping up in the speculation. And the White House Correspondents Dinner roasting of George Bush by Stephen Colbert keeps cropping up still months later on Editor & Publisher’s Most Popular Stories RSS feed.

And when I look at the work of one of my best designer students, Benedict Orbase, I realize that part of his appeal comes from a willingness to take an edgy look at serious news. It works. And I think as we look more and more at the role of online journalism we have to look at ways to separate ourselves from the vanilla world of online newspaper sites. Shoot, we probably need to do the same with the print edition.

I’m fast becoming a fan of zefrank’s “The Show” and Rocketboom, who like Stewart take a more fun, edgy look at news presentation (if you can call Frank’s work journalism, which I think you sometimes can; why he hasn’t been signed by the Daily Show yet is a mystery to me).

But news is serious and we need to maintain a balance. For the short run, at least, the student who leaves my program without understanding how and when to write the straight and narrow serious news story is going to have a hard time finding a traditional job in the media.

Sure would like to hear from some of my fellow journalism teachers on this one.

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Are college journalists ready for digital age?

July 28, 2006

Are college journalists, or even journalism teachers, ready for the digital age? Apparently not, according to Leonard Witt, president of the Public Journalism Network:

Yesterday I gave a talk to some 50 college student newspaper editors and managers about Reinventing Newspapers. Most had not heard of citizen journalism projects like OhmyNews, Northwest Voice or MyMissourian. The editors, from small colleges to major universities, were at the annual Management Seminar for College Newspaper Editors hosted by Cox Institute for Newspaper Management Studies at the University of Georgia’s Grady College.

I would say their colleges, journalism schools, communication departments and advisors have some catching up to do. These are tomorrow’s newsroom leaders. They are not under the gun because one advisor told me that college newspapers are doing incredibly well. They are free. They have a captive audience.

I’ve got to admit, I’ve not heard of some of those projects either and have not introduced my students to them. And I think I’m further along than many advisers when it comes to online journalism. Yikes!

So, why should students get serious about online journalism? Aside from the obvious that it is becoming a bigger part of the industry, that’s where the money is going. This last year online editors were among those who got the greatest pay increases.

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Small town journalism

July 27, 2006

Great story in today’s LA Times about small town journalism in Atwater, Minn. The Column One feature tells about a small town left without a newspaper a decade ago. People wanted a paper, so they started one.

For nearly a decade, Atwater had no newspaper. The only way for the town’s 1,047 residents to find out about fires, summer festivals and the latest births was to eavesdrop on conversations at Vern’s Town & Country grocery store.

“Do you know how frustrating it is to be able to get up-to-the-minute information about what’s happening in Lebanon on CNN, but not be able to know what was said at the Atwater City Council meeting?” asked Connie Feig, a registered nurse and chairwoman of the Sunfish Gazette’s 12-member board of directors.

There’s an old joke that in a small town everyone knows what everyone else is doing. They subscribe to the local paper only to see who got caught at it.

But there’s a point here for college publications. When we hear so much about declines in readership, consolidations of media operations, cutbacks in newspaper jobs, we have to remember that people want local news. That’s where our stengths are. If we fall into the trap of covering the same stuff that other, larger publications do, we are doomed. But if we provide news about our community in our stories, in our blogs and on our website that our readers cannot get anywhere else, we will do more than survive, we’ll thrive.

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Advertising and college web sites

July 24, 2006

We don’t really look at the Talon Marks as a source of ad income, even though half our operating expenses in a school year come from advertising and those numbers have been dropping in recent years. But here is some interesting news for us to pay attention to.

A new survey of 7,500 university students found that they would like to see more local advertising on their campus’ newspaper websites. 64% would appreciate more local restaurant ads, 51% more entertainment, and 50% more ads from local stores.

This comes as no surprise as colleges are a boon to local businesses. What is surprising is that local advertisers haven’t picked up on the priceless medium of a local college’s newspaper website yet. It just seems too obvious.

See the story Score One More Advantage for Local Online Newspapers for more details.

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RSS feeds for updates. I finally get it.

July 23, 2006

RSS sample imageOkay, forgive me. I’m a dinosaur. An enlightened dinosaur, I hope, but still a dinosaur. But I finally get RSS (Really Simple Syndication).

I saw it before, but didn’t understand it. I even bookmarked some feed sites without realizing what I was doing. Soon after my bookmarks bar started including numbers that I couldn’t understand. The browser was looking at those feed sites and telling me how many NEW entries had been made since I last checked the site.

I’m going feed-happy with many of the sites I like to read regularly now so that I don’t waste time checking a site that hasn’t been updated. Likewise, I don’t want to forget to check up on a site that may have interesting updates.

Gotta learn more, but this is cool. Oh, by the way, there is an RSS site for this blog and for the Talon Marks and for the Cerritos College Journalism web site.

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Web is dominant media, study says

July 23, 2006

Computer imageWeb media is the dominant at-work media and No. 2 in the home, according to a June report from the Online Publishers Association, according to this CNET News.com article.

The article and the study are interesting for a number of reasons. For one, what time of day do you think most newspapers and magazines are read? Another interesting thing about the article is how CNET News.com handled an update to the online story.

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Tomorrow is just a day away

July 21, 2006

I know the lyrics for the song “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie” say that “tomorrow is ALWAYS a day away,” but it is also ONLY a day away. So I like to keep in touch with my student newspaper staff during semester breaks, especially the lon-g-g-g-g summer break, and keep their thoughts focused on the coming semester.

I met with a number of returning students for lunch today to get them started thinking on goals for the semester. Among the goals expressed:

  • Move AMPED, our op-A&E opinon that morphs to a full page editor column, to online only and replace that page with our defunct Life feature page.
  • Redo the the online site front page. (See blog entry below.)
  • Include more online forums and promote them within each story in the print edition. Do more overall in the paper to promote online.
  • Include more online videos (maybe every other week).
  • Increase the use of blogs.
  • Move more reviews to online and focus a main package on the A&E page on on-campus arts. Extend campus arts coverage.

Good start.

Wish I could get some of them to attend JACC’s Editor’s Leadership Camp, but in absence of that it is important to keep them focused yourself.