Archive for December, 2019


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.


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 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.


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.