Archive for February, 2012

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Can you hear me now?

February 9, 2012

Like other college newspapers the Cerritos College Talon Marks has explored enhancing its news reporting process by introducing multimedia storytelling. We even have a three-unit course to introduce students to interactive, audio and video journalism, even though the only slot in our anemic schedule we’ve been able to plug in to is summer school, which may soon go away.

That leaves it largely to the newspaper course to teach multimedia skills in any meaningful way. Doing so is on top of producing a weekly print publication while teaching students to write and design and producing an online publication that emphasizes publish first and print second (and hopefully providing unique online content).

Any time we can leverage work, we want to do so. Lately, we’ve been emphasizing audio over video.

We have plenty of video cameras and audio recorders left over from our partnership with our Political Science Department from a few years ago where we taught video editing skills for its students, but teaching students to shoot and edit video cuts into valuable time. We don’t do it well.

microphoneSo four semesters ago we launched a different initiative, one that intersects with our efforts to cross-pollinate with our broadcast program. Students like to use the audio recorders to record interviews. While I have reservations about them relying on recordings instead of learning to take good notes, why not leverage this?

Now we ask all reporters to use the recorders, but not just to record notes. We want them to think about turning those recordings into audio stories, something akin to the in-depth stories you would hear on NPR.

We’re not good at it, but we are progressing. To start we partnered with our campus radio station to put together a weekly radio show. The first semester two newspaper students with broadcast backgrounds simply read stories from the print edition and commented on them. Then we started adding raw interviews as a means of enhancing the print stories. Then newspaper students from the broadcast program started writing stories that incorporated more storytelling with sound bytes. Our current phase is to incorporate the reporters into the writing and recording stage.

A weekly news show is weak. We know that. It is merely a vehicle to reach our goal. We want to take those individual stories and attach them to the online versions and we eventually will uncouple them from the weekly show and make them available as standalone stories that can be dropped into other radio shows on the campus radio station.

An immediate benefit from this initiative is to lure more broadcast students into journalism courses, including the student newspaper. Our broadcast program does not really teach broadcast journalism, so our campus newspaper course is filling that void.

As I said, we don’t do a good job yet, but we’re progressing. We’ve even opened up our lab so that next fall the broadcast program will offer a long-planned course in audio editing in our facility. We expect journalism students –now knowing the value of audio stories—will help fill the course. And we’ll see more broadcast students in our facility a couple of times a week; we’re bound to recruit some of them to our courses.

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Process this

February 7, 2012

Every Christmas my mother-in-law treats all her grandchildren to a trip to the local bookstore to buy a book of their choice. While I am not part of the generation that gets a free book, I like to tag along and treat myself to a book outside of my normal range of interests.

Two years ago I bought HBR’s 10 Must Reads: The Essentials,” which is an introduction to the most enduring ideas on management from Harvard Business Review and read an article in it that really enhanced the way I look at my role as adviser to the student newspaper.

The article “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change” talks about how you can predict how businesses will survive to change. The process of balancing three key components is what caught my attention.

Values, resources and processesIn essence, the article says that successful businesses are those who position themselves to balance values/goals, resources and processes.

I guess in my years of advising student publications I always did this intuitively, but the article brought more focus to it. Today I give a 10-minute lecture on this balance to my newspaper students multiple times a semester. It is a more formal aspect of what I teach and what we do.

With values and goals you define what it is that you are trying to do and what is important to you. For instance, we want to cover the news of the college campus and put together a product that not only is of value to the campus audience, but trains students in the skill sets of producing the product. Our product consists of a print newspaper, an online newspaper, a digital version of our print publication, and multimedia (including a weekly news radio show). I am training reporters, photographers, designers and multimedia producers.

To accomplish this we need to look at what resources we have, from the personnel to put these publications together, to the finances that support them, to the hardware and software tools needed, to the time students can allocate to this class.

But it is the processes that are interesting. The processes take into account the ever-evolving values and the strengths and weaknesses of the ever-changing resources. How do you accomplish what you want to do? For instance, what is the process by which students submit assignments? Do your processes emphasize the print edition or online first? You say you want multimedia? What processes do you have to encourage that? For instance, I am quite adept at critiquing print media, but I have to learn new ways to critique multimedia. I have to devote time (a resource) to that.

I inculcate editors with the concept of looking at their processes. If something is not working, and you still value it, examine the process and tweak it. What worked before is not working now. Stop expecting different results if you don’t alter the underlying process.

The concept works in other parts of one’s life, too. For instance, I love my wife and want her to know (value), so I purchase flowers (use of resource) and surprise her with them (process).

Processes are where it is at, baby. It’s fascinating.

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One a day

February 5, 2012

mystery boxOne of the toughest mysteries to solve in my 35-plus years as a student publications adviser is how to wean my students from essentially writing a daily newspaper once a week. Student focus on a weekly print edition and it seems like 90 percent of the writing and editing comes in the last 24 hours of the seven-day cycle. Deadlines hover around the print edition.

Indeed, it is one of the reasons I push for a weekly publication. I learned long ago that coming out every other week, as many community college papers do with the mistaken notion* that that is all they can afford, only means that students put off completing stories to every other week rather than develop more sensible routines. Forget that their online publications are hungry beasts that beg for multiple deadlines every day; most community college publications still post most of their stories within 24 hours of their print editions … usually after the print edition is done instead of the more logical other way around.

I’ve advised, pleaded, cajoled, threatened. Still the print publication is the top dog when it comes to the work flow.

To be honest, I’ve been part of the problem. For all of my technology hype I am still a print person myself. I am anything but a Luddite, but I still prefer to read newspapers on paper. And when I critique student work it is more than likely to be based on the print edition (which, by the way, few of them read themselves). Only in recent years have I consciously incorporated more critiques of the online edition or the multimedia my students produce.

appleBut I keep trying. I keep growing. I keep coming up with new ideas. For the last year or two I have been promoting what we do as managing a brand rather than producing a newspaper. I incorporate new language into what we do, such as referring to the newspaper as the print edition, as opposed to the online edition or the digital edition. I’m still looking for appropriate terminology for what we do with social media.

My latest attempt to change the deadline mindset, which I just launched this weekend, is to encourage the newspaper’s section editors to accept the challenge of one a day. They should activate on the publication’s website a minimum of one news, one sports, one arts, and one opinion story each day. For that it should be easy to promote at least one item a day on our Facebook page. And since most of our multimedia work these days revolves around audio, we should be posting at least one audio story a day instead of waiting until we aggregate for our weekly radio show.

I’m looking for incentives to change editors’ mindsets in how they assign stories and set deadlines and how they communicate urgency among their staff writers and photographers.

One a day. Sounds simple enough.

* Coming out weekly costs more, but can generate more revenue, making the added editions almost cost-free.