January 28, 2010

Number of people who work at home rises. Think journalism

Once again my favorite data source, the U.S. Census Bureau, comes through with some interesting information for an article.

This time Joe Grimm at the Poynter Institute talks about "homepreneurs" in his "Ask the recruiter" column.

This column is good on a couple of levels.
  1. It shows what is happening to a lot of people -- including journalists -- who have been affected by the recession, and
  2. It shows that you can work out a good article using data from the U.S. Census.

January 26, 2010

Prepare for Black History Month: Background data on African-American population

One of my favorite places to get solid data on population groups, the economy, and loads of other things is the U.S. Census Bureau

The Census Bureau collects packets of information for special holidays or observances.

Click here to see the data on the African-American population in the United States.

For example, here is the data on African-Americans and education:
Among blacks 25 and older, the proportion who had at least a high school diploma in 2008.
Source: Educational Attainment in the United States: 2008 http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/education/013618.html

Percentage of blacks 25 and older who had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2008.
Source: Educational Attainment in the United States: 2008 http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/education/013618.html

1.4 million
Among blacks 25 and older, the number who had an advanced degree in 2008 (e.g., master's, doctorate, medical or law). In 1998, 857,000 blacks had this level of education.
Source: Educational Attainment in the United States: 2008 http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/education/013618.html

2.5 million
Number of black college students in fall 2008. This was roughly double the corresponding number from 15 years earlier.
Source: School Enrollment – Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2008 http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/education/014354.html

January 22, 2010

1985 Mexico City quake led to better SAR

Throughout the Haiti rescue efforts mentions are made of search and rescue teams from Fairfax Co., Los Angeles, Florida, etc. These are volunteers who receive special training and are self-contained SAR units.

And it all started when the ad-hoc SAR efforts in Mexico City in 1985 proved dangerous.

I know the 1985 process was dangerous and ad-hoc because I was there. I worked with dog search teams from around the USA, an underground camera team from the US Bureau of Mines and a seismic sensor team from USGS.

The Mexico earthquake was the first time any of these teams worked in an urban disaster environment. And with no training for any of us in an urban disaster situation, we went out to save lives.

Along the way, because so much help was coming in and Mexican coordination of efforts was weak at best, I was able to identify an Israeli medical team and a Venezuelan construction team. In the end we had a comprehensive unit of dogs, technology experts, 8excavation workers and a medical unit.

The video below from Fairfax County makes it clear it was the Mexico disaster that showed the need for comprehensive SAR teams ready to go at a moments notice.

And I am sure the survivors in Haiti are thankful that the lessons learned in Mexico are being applied now.

II have to think that many of the people who are critical of the SAR and relief efforts in Haiti really don't understand what happens to a place that has always had poor infrastructure and communications gets hit with a major

For journalists in the DC area, the members of the Fairfax SAR team are prime candidates for profile stories.

For journalists elsewhere, look around. I will bet there is a similar outfit in your area.

January 21, 2010

Medill students, the Census and immigrant communities

Now these guys get it! These kids delivered -- for me -- the journalism equivalent of a Reese's Cup: two great tastes in one wonderful package.

I don't know how long I have argued that the immigrant communities are important elements of any community reporting.

And how long have I argued that the Census Bureau is a wonderful treasure-trove of story ideas? A long long time!

Six Stories About the Census: How Medill students and local ethnic papers came together to find a common immigrant experience

These students looked at different ethnic communities and how they view and react to the decennial census.
From the six papers:
Jessica Abels, Raphaelle Neyton, and Shasha Zou in al Moustaqbil ("The Future"): "When Arab Americans fill out their census forms in just a few months, they won't find an Arab category listed next to Asian, Black or African American, or White. 'Arab is not considered a race, so there's no racial category,' explains Louise Cainkar, a board member of the Arab American Action Network. 'They have to check the white box, and a lot of people feel that their experience is not the white experience, so that's unfair.'"

Kate Endeley and Clara Lingle in the Korea Central Daily News: "Han and Kim cite many reasons why Koreans who are not U.S. citizens opt out of participating: they are undocumented and therefore fear the legal repercussions; they struggle with English (the 2000 census forms did not come in a Korean version); they find the participation process too tedious or they are unaware of the census itself."

Zoe Jennings in Pinoy: "Many Filipinos may not understand the importance of the count because in the Philippines, there is no census equivalent and they had never been counted. In providing the government with their name and family information, Clarito says, many Filipinos fear that the government is keeping tabs on them, or at the very least, will demand they perform jury duty or another civic duty."

Jessica Allen in the India Tribune: "Kamaria said many people don't know why the census matters, and that in general it needs to be better explained. Even she expressed uncertainty about how the census would affect illegal immigrants who choose to fill out the forms and whether illegal immigrants or students are even supposed to fill it out."

Matthew Bellassai and Alex Hollander in Extra: "Although the Census is separate from the rest of the government, people tend to associate the two. 'It's all "the government" as far as anyone's concerned,' Espinoza said. '"The government wants to charge me more taxes, the government wants to get me arrested for immigration purposes." There's no distinction there,' he said. Many people in the community tend to agree."

Arianna Hermosillo and Nadine Shabeeb in the Polish Daily News: "Another barrier to filling out the census form is that people may not even recognize it when it arrives in the mail, according to Zajaczowska. 'We will have to teach them that the Census 2010 means "Spis Powszechny,"' Zajaczowska said. This literally translates to 'common list' which is what the census is called in Poland."
While the theme of this exercise did not look at what can be done with Census Bureau data, the very fact that these students looked at the Census and the ethnic communities tells me they have a lot more on the ball than many of their more jaded and less imaginative journalism cronies.

Journalism awards time -- Deadline fast approaching for college awards

Each year the SPJ honors the best of college journalism with the Mark of Excellence Awards.

The first step to national honors is to enter.

From there the entries are judged on a regional basis. (Mason is in Region 2.) And then on to the big time.

Mark of Excellence Awards Deadline: Wednesday, Jan. 27.
The general rules and awards category information may be found on the MOE Awards Web page. The cost to enter is $9 per entry for SPJ members and $18 per entry for nonmembers.

Online entry form.

January 18, 2010

What to do after graduation -- It may not be what you think it is

Let's face it, the job market sucks for journalists right now. And it looks like it will continue to suck for several more years.

So what is a bright young graduate supposed to do? Because face it, the whole job market really sucks right now.

There are ways to get someone to train and pay you to become much more marketable. You just have to know where to look.

For my money nothing is better for a just-graduated journalism student than to join the Peace Corps. (And I have recommended this to all of my journalism classes.)

I met with dozens of Peace Corps volunteers during my time in the Dominican Republic. (And it seemed at times that they all stayed in our house -- all at the same time -- more than once.)

The volunteers came from many different walks of life and experiences. What they had in common was curiosity about other cultures and a desire to do good.

They hardly lived the "good life." Housing was adequate. (One volunteer had a beautiful house on a hill top overlooking one of the most beautiful lush valleys I have ever seen. And the house was only a short walk to the community toilet and community well.)

What they all did have, was the respect of the local Dominicans and, as the projects ended, the satisfaction that they had helped another group of people climb their way out of poverty and hunger.

Besides the feeling of satisfaction for a job well done, what else did the volunteers get?
  • Most had their student loans deferred while they were in the Peace Corps
  • They learned another language.
  • They learned management and organizational skills
  • They learned how financial and social conditions affect individuals and communities
  • They learned how to better listen and react to the needs of local communities
And they grew up faster and became more mature than if they had stayed at home and found a 9-5 job.

Go to this page to see the official list of benefits a Peace Corps volunteer gets.

Why do I recommend the Peace Corps?
  • It gives a graduate a different experience.
  • It broadens his/her perspectives about the world.
  • It helps the person better understand what people "not like them" have to go through to survive.
  • It makes a person more "hireable" because of that global exposure.
When mangers are hiring they look for more than academic credentials. They also look at a person's character. (Unless they are hiring lawyers or ad execs. Character is not a requirement there. :)) The Peace Corps helps a candidate stand out from the pack.

And it gives the graduate a chance to look around and take a break from the work of education before he/she moves on to the work of working everyday.

January 15, 2010

Charting body parts and songs

One important thing about good reporting is being able to properly explain things. Sometimes a reporter needs good art.

So if you are doing a story about what body parts are most frequently mentioned in songs, you might want to visit this web site. (I thought that would get your attention.)

Bottom line, good visuals help tell a story.

January 13, 2010

Is social media a fad?

January 7, 2010

Odd connections that can make an interesting story

From the "Honestly, honey, I was just doing some online research" Department.

I get a regular news feed from the Reuters "Oddly Enough" section. It's usually good for a laugh to read about how the South African president is having wives problems -- will they have "first lady status -- or how French police are investigating reports of a pickpocket on a Tokyo-Paris Air France flight.

One story that really caught my eye this week -- and one that might be fun to investigate to see if a similar trend is happing now in the States -- is Snowed-In Brits boost adultery website.

Seems IllcitEncounters.com gained more than 2,500 new members in just one week this month. Most from areas hardest hit by the extreme weather in the United Kingdom.
"In light of these figures, I'd be interested to see how much work those 'working from home' have actually done," IlicitEncounters.com spokeswoman Sara Hartley said in a statement.

"Perhaps these wives and husbands have just been waiting for a time when they could join, away from the eyes of their work colleagues and, most importantly, their partners..."
I have always argued before my students that story ideas can come from anywhere. All a journalist needs is curiosity and a creative mind. And, in a time of massive layoffs in our industry, a journalist who can write compelling and interesting stories has a better chance of surviving than the one who writes well but only follows the standard beats.

So, anyone up for looking to see how similar U.S.-based porn sites are doing during this nasty January?

Honestly, it is all for story research!