Author Archive

Back to the blog, and off to the moon

Gentle Reader, as the Victorians said: Perhaps you have missed my voice in the two years this blog has been silent. Or not. Either way, I’m glad to be back.

I broke off blogging in 2012 as I began a year of intense tenure-oriented work. My dean and I had agreed that my best chance for achieving that holy grail of academe would be to focus on traditional scholarship rather than persevering with a newfangled form that leaves tenure committees flummoxed. No peer review, no glory.

And so, I conducted a study of hyperlocal competition in Riverhead, L.I., which was vetted by my peers and accepted for a poster session at the annual conference of a major academic journalism group. I gave papers at two other conferences, winning an award at one. I got grants to survey the information ecosystem (how’s that for a phrase) of Brookhaven, L.I., a large, diverse suburban town. And in March 2013, I submitted my tenure portfolio at Stony Brook.

I’m still waiting for the result, these 15 months later, but that’s another story. My dean tells me the answer will come this summer. For those of you unfamiliar with academia, my job hangs in the balance. Stressful? Naaah.

I have roused from its slumber because of my involvement in solar system exploration. Hah! You weren’t expecting that, I bet. I am part of the E/PO in SSERVI’S RIS4E team.

Translation: SSERVI, the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, is a NASA-funded interdisciplinary project that will “[c]onduct basic and applied research fundamental to the lunar and planetary sciences while advancing human exploration of the solar system” (emphasis added). E/PO = Education and Public Outreach, which NASA and other federal research funders now require in grant proposals. My part is to teach a science journalism course based on the work of the RIS4E team.

RIS4E: It’s pronounced “rise,” and it stands for Remote In-Situ and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration. Situ, synchrotron, studies, science: The four S’s = S4. In a future post, I’ll explain the in-situ and synchrotron parts—once I understand them better myself. RIS4E, based at Stony Brook, is one of nine international, multi-institution research teams in SSERVI.

Lots of acronyms and unknowns, but it’s all very exciting. My class, which I’ll teach in the spring of 2015 and again in Spring 2017, will have a limited, competitive enrollment. We’ll begin by building students’ understanding of best practices (dreadful phrase) in science journalism and of the science involved in this project. Some of Stony Brook’s RIS4E scientists will be guest speakers. We’ll take field trips to RIS4E labs on campus, at Brookhaven National Lab and at the American Museum of Natural History, and maybe a road trip to visit RIS4E researchers at Goddard Space Flight Center and the Naval Research Laboratory, both in Maryland.


Photo: NASA

I will ask the team’s grants managers to tell us about the architecture of scientific research: how it is funded, managed and published, how the web has changed that, and the role of grants in the university’s finances.

The students will blog about what they’re learning, bringing the public along on their educational journey. Among other written and multimedia work, they will profile the scientists and produce “explainers” about the science and technology they encounter.

The best part comes last. In June 2015, the entire class and I will spend 10 days on the Big Island of Hawaii where RIS4E scientists will be studying a certain lava flow on the Kilauea volcano that resembles a lava flow on the moon. The students will continue to blog and will gather information, take pictures, capture audio and shoot video of the weeklong field camp. We’ll be staying with the research team in rented houses in the town of Volcano, right outside Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. We’ll spend a day or two touring the Big Island before returning to Stony Brook to put together a Journalism Without Walls website with our stories, photo galleries, podcasts and videos.

The RIS4E website will feature or link to all of the class’s work. (In 2017, field camp and our trip will be in New Mexico.)

This joint effort between the research team and a journalism school is unique to RIS4E among all the SSERVI teams, Stony Brook planetary geologist Tim Glotch, the RIS4E principal investigator and team leader, told me. It may be the first such project; I would very much like to learn about similar efforts elsewhere.

And that’s why I have brought back to life: to document what I learn about focusing a science journalism class on a research adventure of this scale. In the end, I hope to make a contribution to the literature on the pedagogy of science journalism education.

This post also appears at


Entry-level journalism jobs: expectations and misunderstandings

I intervened yesterday in a simmering conflict between several current and former Stony Brook journalism students on the one hand and their employer, the editor and publisher of a local newspaper, on the other. The students (some are alums, but for simplicity I’ll refer to all as students) were angry about what they perceived as their boss’s arrogant, demanding and inconsiderate behavior – “brutal,” one called it. The boss viewed the complaints as the grumblings of young people unprepared for the reality and responsibilities of the weekly newspaper business. As far as “truth” goes, both perceptions appear to have considerable basis in fact. But in the end – sorry, students – I side more with the boss than with you.

Maybe that’s because I’ve already lived through my share of management decisions that smacked of unfairness. I’ve paid my dues. I’m still paying dues in other ways, and so does everyone throughout life, but that’s another story. For now, I’m talking just about paying your dues in entry-level jobs.

It’s not that I disbelieve the students. I believe them when they tell me about the 10- to 12-hour days, the boss’s seemingly unfair refusal to let them off assignments for important personal obligations, the unfeeling way he edits their stories and his cluelessness about the paper’s Continue reading

Journalism and women: Poynter’s online chat

My stint as a guest on’s weekly online career chat went well. The topic: women and the news business. Many people wrote in with excellent questions. You can read the chat here:

Journalism and women: much more to be said and done

My last post, on women’s progress in newsrooms (far below the proportion of women in journalism programs, thinnest at the top, especially at newspapers), left me unsatisfied. I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to talk about the sometimes outrageous treatment of women journalists and women news sources by some male journalists and the lack of outrage this treatment receives. (Compare this with the outrage over expressions of racial stereotyping. Both are wrong, of course. But when was the last time society called out Chris Matthews for his piggishness? Check out the video linked above for some primo examples of lascivious oink.) I wanted to learn more about, and discuss, organizations that push for more accurate and comprehensive portrayals of women in news stories. And I wanted to continue the conversation about how journalism professors can help prepare students for the obstacles they, or people they care about, may face in the industry.

The Women’s Media Center video linked above and here does a fine job of illustrating the lingering obsession with looks and charm among male talking heads (seemingly everywhere) and female talking heads (largely on Fox, at least as portrayed in the video). Accomplished women, young and old, sources and journalists alike, are reduced to a tone of voice, a bit of cleavage, a hairstyle. It’s infuriating. What to do? Write letters, send emails or let the Women’s Media Center do the job for you by filling out this form when you see, hear or read reductive portrayals of women that disregard their full humanity – like this absurdity from New York City’s WCBS-TV, which I found on the media center’s terrific website. Continue reading

Women in media and gender equity: the role of journalism schools

When I read last week that a new study from the Women’s Media Center found little change over the past decade in the low levels of women holding key positions in the news media, I sent the center’s press release to my colleagues on the journalism faculty (11 women, 21 men), with this note: “Given who our students are, this should be discussed in classes.”

Of our 248 majors, 153, or 62 percent, are women. The headline on the press release read, “Report Exposes Problem: Gender Disparity in Media is at Crisis Levels.”

A male colleague replied,  “What would be the discussion? We should tell women jstudents that they face ‘a crisis’?”

I did a slow burn for a couple of days over that one, dreaming up hotheaded, sarcastic replies. Then I decided to answer the question. What would be the discussion? Continue reading

Journalism 24/7: What we studied, Fall 2011

At the end of each semester, I like to reflect on what I learned from teaching Journalism 24/7, my course on the changing news industry. The material changes so fast that the world looks different every time I teach the class. This time – my 10th – at the request of journalism major Evan Livingston, I’m compiling an annotated list of the websites we examined. For any journalism program contemplating such a course – and all programs should be preparing their students to understand the business side of journalism along with its history, ethics and skills – this list offers a framework on which to build.

Given the wildly overpriced textbook market, it’s gratifying that this is such a low-cost course. I require only one book, “The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril,” by Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser, a widely available trade paperback that costs less than $15. Though published in 2003, much of it is essential background reading. The only truly outdated chapter is the one on network television news, so we skip that. Everything else we read is available for free online – appropriately, for a class in which a major theme is the loss of revenue in the movement of news to the web.

The annual State of the News Media report published by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is essential reading for instructors. This exhaustive compilation covers newspapers; magazines; online; local, national and cable television; audio journalism; and ethnic and alternative news media. For each sector, the authors analyze audience, economics, newsroom investment, ownership and digital trends. The 2011 report includes special sections on mobile platforms and community news. A report on the previous year is issued each spring. Sections of the report could be assigned in small doses, or for graduate students, but the whole is overwhelming. I assign the section on local television, which is where many of our students hope to find jobs. The material has proved invaluable in class discussions.

Another core text is the 2011 report by Bill Grueskin, Ana Seave and Lucas Graves of the Columbia University School of Journalism, “The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism.” Each of the 10 chapters – on journalism economics, audience, Continue reading

Punctuation, attribution, Romenesko: My kingdom for a quotation mark

Punctuation saves lives!

Punctuation can hurt people, too. It can even cost a columnist his job.

The Romenesko fiasco that has been roiling the journalism world for the past two days originated in a column by editor Julie Moos over the failure of Jim Romenesko, whose daily Poynter column rounded up news about newsrooms, to put quotation marks around material he used verbatim from the stories to which he linked.

Romenesko invented the journalism gossip blog back in the 20th century, before “aggregator” became a household word (at least in journalism households). His column was water-cooler fodder in every newsroom in the country, and for years, it was the go-to place for memo leakers, until its success spawned imitators and rivals. The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., a highly regarded journalism think tank with an emphasis on ethics and best practices, describes itself as “a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders.” Uncountable journalists, journalism students and journalism educators have taken courses at, taught at or written for Poynter (including me).

I spent an afternoon reading commentary from around the Web about Moos’ post, a post that led Romenesko to move up his previously announced resignation from Poynter. He had planned to leave at the end of the year. He’s gone now, and lots of people are furious about the unhappy way his long career at Poynter ended. A few argue that Moos was absolutely right, that Romenesko violated basic journalism practice. But the prevailing view on Moos’ critique seems to be, as The New York Times’ David Carr put it, “Jim’s use of quote marks blahbity-blah resulted in questionable whoopdedoo and we are now totally on the case of not very much.” Continue reading

A Gannett strategy on newspaper video inflames the debate

A interview with Gannett Digital executive Kate Walters, in which she announced a “significant investment in video” at the company’s 80-plus newspapers, has sparked a bonfire of scorn among photographers, videographers and Gannett employees, past and present.

Walters said the company will train and equip “all reporters” to add video to their stories, use third-party suppliers to provide video in places and on topics where staff are unavailable, and feature user-generated video prominently on all sites.

What really steamed many commenters was Walter’s wide-eyed promise of a “culture shift” for all reporters, getting them to think about stories visually as well as textually. Continue reading

Newspapers and web video, part 3: Choosing the stories that need video

Over the past week, I’ve been reading what newspaper photographers and videographers have to say on the touchy topic of how their sites use web video.

Seems to me there’s a consensus that less IS more, which is exactly my point.

G.J. McCarthy, a photographer at the Dallas Morning News, posted this comment on’s message board: Continue reading

Further thoughts on newspaper video

It’s been fascinating to follow the debate that sprang up in response to my Sept. 23 post, “Newspapers should jettison (most of) their web video efforts.” Thanks to all who responded. You have given me much to ponder.

In the original post, I called for local and regional papers to be more selective in deploying their resources in today’s financially straitened times, not to abandon video altogether (emphasis added; not everybody read me correctly). While some categories of video draw visitors to newspaper sites, not every story needs multimedia, and much of what’s produced on newspaper sites goes to waste. Newspapers, I wrote, should play to their strengths.

As evidence, I cited a report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, which suggested earlier this year that fewer than 10 percent of unique visitors to newspaper and local-TV websites watch video streams. Anecdotally, I’ve found this to be true not just among middle-aged people like me but also among the undergraduates I teach.

Several commenters blamed these results the feckless way too many newspaper managers approach multimedia. Giving a reporter, or even a still photographer, a video camera doesn’t make that person a video journalist, any more than handing a photographer a notepad makes that person a writer. Training matters. Some newspapers have provided the necessary education, but many editors panicked once they decided to increase the multimedia on their sites. They shoved video cameras into the hands of nearly everyone on their staffs and demanded that they start shooting.

As Rebecca Gerendasy, a veteran video journalist from San Francisco, commented: Continue reading

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