March 28, 2009

SPJ Region 2 conference on Twitter

Many thanks to Kristen King for tweeting the SPJ Region 2 conference.

Click here to see her filings.

March 26, 2009

Old tech/New Tricks

CNN ran an interesting story about how a radio station in Sao Paulo, Brazil is using Internet and good old fashioned airwaves to connect to the community

Check it out here.

March 17, 2009

Pew Report: State of the news media 2009

Pew's annual report is out.

I haven't had time to look it over yet, but it ought to be both depressing -- more paper closings and more jobs lost -- and informative.

Take a look here.

March 15, 2009

Six Rules of Writing

Some good rules of the writing road for our students:
  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

George Orwell: ‘Politics and the English Language
First published: Horizon. — GB, London. — April 1946.

And I add my own:
  • If you see an adverb, kill it.

March 12, 2009

Gotta love computing in the clouds

Media Cloud is a great way to visualize data.

It has a great feature on how to see how different news outlets cover issues.

I was interested in seeing how the Washington Post, The New York Times and the BBC compared when it came to international coverage. Here are the results.

For students this could be a great way to look at issues and see how those issues are covered by different media outlets.

For the rest of us, it is just plain interesting.

Plain English and the sciences

From a friend:
I had this response to the observation on writing for laymen (the Baltimore milkman) from my lawyer brother, who before he became a lawyer, and after he was a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, was a tech writer for GM in Michigan. I thought you'd get a kick out of it:

Long ago when GM was making cars and money, not just cars, my job title at the Research Laboratories was "science writer," and my duties included visiting with scientists and engineers and translating what they told me about their work into versions that could be understood by (if not a Baltimore milkman) at least folks working on refrigerators at Frigidaire (then part of GM) or locomotives at Electro-Motive or jet engines at Allison or earthmoving equipment at Terex or Army tanks down the road in Warren. Better yet, sometimes I wrote releases for distribution (through PR downtown) to newspapers, wire services, etc. At times it was difficult, but I liked it.

Once I was assigned to interview a strange esoteric fellow in the Mathematics Department who had worked at the Labs for years. Bear in mind that my last math was Algebra IV at Poly (Polytechnic High School, Fort Worth). He was nice enough, but we made no headway, which seemed to frustrate me more than it did him. I couldn't get enough to write much of anything, and in due course, as was protocol, I reported to his department head as well as my boss that while Dr. X obviously was brilliant, I was unable to understand from my interview what he was working on and write a newsletter article about him and his research for distribution to those other parts of GM (such as those above and many others) that, through assessments, supported the Research Laboratories.

I was enormously relieved when the head math dude said something like this: "That's what I expected, and it will help me when I tell Dr. X that if he can't even explain what he is working on to someone in another discipline or department, maybe it isn't worth his time and our money."

Note: The "Baltimore milkman" comes from a phrase coined by former Baltimore Sun Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston who once said he wrote his articles for a Baltimore milkman. His goal was to make sure even complicated legal issues could be understood by all.

March 10, 2009

Religion and tolerance

There are many ways to look at the issue of religion and tolerance without being judgmental about one's faith.

Gallup recently did a survey of Religiosity and Perceived Intolerance of Gays and Lesbians.

Bottom line is that in areas where people said religion was very important to them were areas seen as least friendly to same-sex relationships.

There have been reports that college students -- in general -- are more accepting of same-sex relationships than their parents. And there have been recent media reports that show young people who consider religion to be important to them are also more tolerant than their parents.

A study in the early 1990s showed a majority of students became more accepting of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people during their four years at college. Sixty to seventy percent of students entering with negative attitudes became more accepting and 50% of those entering with ambivalent attitudes displayed more positive attitudes at the end of four years.

So I wonder:  What is the situation among college students at Mason who consider religion important to them?

Sounds to me as if this could be an interesting series of articles a class or the newspaper could do.

March 9, 2009

One idea follows another

One of the biggest complaints many have against most journalism is the "pack mentality."

Often the journalism scrum heads off in the same direction. Some of that is because where the journalists are headed is where the news is. And woe be the reporter who doesn't have what everyone else has on what happened that day.

But some times one reporter sees something others do not and the rest then scramble to catch up.

Here is a good example:

March 5 The Financial Times did an excellent piece on how local Chinese governments and businesses are using an old system where the people can complain to the ruling elite as a new means of repression. (Punished supplicants)

The basic story is that the one system the communist government of China allows for people to officially complain about corrupt or inefficient government leaders is now being used to silence criticism. Local government leaders send thugs to the national Office of Letters and Calls to "persuade" petitioners from their area to "rethink" their complaints. Often times, the petitioners are "helped" in making their decision by being held without charges.

So, this story comes out in the Financial Times March 5. It gets a lot of publicity from the China watching crowd. (That's how I saw it.)

And lo and behold, out come more stories along this vein.

National Public Radio did a piece March 9. (Chinese In Search Of Justice Face Arduous Task)

And a day later, the New York Times has a piece, Seeking Justice, Chinese Land in Secret Jails.

I am not complaining about the copycat reporting. We all do it. But would it not be better if we could give our students the encouragement to be the reporter who does the FIRST story that everyone else copies?

To me we must help develop our students' natural curiosity about the world around them. We should point them to different means of getting data and story ideas. And we must reward, as teachers, those students who do break away from the pack with unusual stories.

I still recall one student, when given the feature writing topic "Green," thought he would do a story about why George Mason uses green as its official color. (Other students looked at money, the environment, jealousy, etc.)

This student made a number of calls to various university offices and associations. No one could tell him why green was chosen.

He called me, rather downhearted, that he could not do the story because he could not find anyone who could tell him how or why the decision was made. I told him the LACK of solid information is now the story. I suggested he write about his search and how the university has no record of how or even when it made a decision to use green as its dominant color.

I am sure that with a few more years under his belt he would have thought of that different angle himself, but then again, maybe with a more rigid professor or editor he might have been afraid to step forward and suggest a change in the focus of the story. A change that was mandated by the lack of information about the first focus.

March 7, 2009

College newspapers share MSM woes

Friday's (3/6) USA Today had the following piece on college newspapers.

I think the one thing that might save college newspapers is that the students are much more savvy about new technology and more willing to use it to their publication's benefit than the older and more established publications in "the real world."

The student publications also have another benefit in that many of them get free office space and utilities from the school. This allows them a little more wiggle room to experiment with ways to connect with their readers than are MSM outlets.

College newspapers face weak ad revenue

By Drew FitzGerald, USA TODAY

Students working on college newspapers across the USA are learning an all-too-real-world lesson: Their papers face the same advertising revenue declines and expense cutbacks as their professional counterparts.

Since the start of the current school year, daily newspapers at schools including Syracuse University, New York University, the University of California-Berkeley, Ball State and Boston University have cut one edition a week — usually Friday's — because of weak advertising.

Rest of Story

March 6, 2009

Daily Show takes on the WH press corps

A fair look at the White House press corps.

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March 5, 2009

Getting facts right and dangers to journalism

Getting the story right means getting the facts right.

On his Wed. radio show Rush Limbaugh challenged Pres. Obama to a debate on his show. Among other things he wanted to discuss was: "let's talk about sending $900 million to Hamas."


Yes, there is $900 million planned for Gaza. But let's go to the facts:
Reuters, Feb. 23: The money will be channeled through U.N. and other bodies and will not be distributed via the militant group Hamas (U.S. plans $900 million pledge for Gaza-official)
And please note that the word "official" in the headline does not refer to a Gaza official but to a State Dept. official who said the money was coming.

Limbaugh has always had a distant relationship with the truth when it got in the way of making a point. The problem is that how many of his followers will bother to check the facts? Already a handful of conservative blogs have cited this information as "fact."

For journalists, the problem also arises that too many people view what Limbaugh and other commentators do as journalism. They see no difference between the commentaries of Limbaugh and the news reporting of a street reporter.

And that lack of understanding the difference between commentary and reporting is perhaps the greatest threat to journalism.
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March 4, 2009

Story Idea: More Hispanics on campuses

From the Census Bureau



Hispanics Become More Prevalent on College Campuses

Hispanic students comprised 12 percent of full-time college students (both undergraduate and graduate students) in 2007, up from 10 percent in 2006, according to U.S. Census Bureau tables released today. Hispanics comprise 15 percent of the nation's total population.

School Enrollment in the United States: 2007 contains eight detailed tables based on statistics collected in the October School Enrollment Supplement to the Current Population Survey. The national-level data are shown by characteristics such as age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, family income, type of college, employment status and vocational course enrollment.

Women continue their majority status, comprising 55 percent of undergraduates and 60 percent of graduate students.

Other highlights:
  • In 2007, 53 percent of Hispanic 4-year-olds were enrolled in nursery school, up from 43 percent in 1997 and 21 percent in 1987.
  • In 2007, 27 percent of the population 3 or older were enrolled in classes -- from nursery school to graduate studies.
  • More than half (59 percent) of all 4-year-olds and 39 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in nursery school.
  • Students in grades one through 12 made up 64 percent of people 3 and older enrolled in school.
  • Students 35 or older comprised 15 percent of people enrolled in college. They made up 7 percent of the full-time college students and 36 percent of those attending part time.
Editors note: The information can be accessed at


Pew Report: Newspapers Face Challenge

From the "DUH!" Files:

The Pew Trust completed its 2008 news media consumption survey. And surprise surprise, readership is down.
  • 39% said they read a newspapers yesterday in the 2008 report. That compares to 43% in 2006.
  • In 2008 14% said they read an online newspaper, in 2006 that rate was 9%.
"The balance between online and print readership changed substantially between 2006 and 2008. In 2008, online readers comprised more than a third of all newspaper readers; two years earlier, fewer than a quarter of newspaper readers viewed them on the Web. This is being driven by a substantial shift in how younger generations read newspapers."
Read the summary here
Read the full report here.

March 2, 2009

Fair Use or Rip Off

The New York Times had a good story Sunday on blog sites reprinting large portions of copyrighted material. Copyright Holders Challenge Sites That Excerpt.

This could be a good article for students to read to understand more about what stealing copyright material is all about.

Taking a graf or two as the lead in to a blog posting followed by a link to the whole story seems to still be in bounds of the "fair use" doctrine.

Maybe we, as j-profs and models for future journalists, should be talking more about this.