Archive for the ‘ Journalism Fundamentals ’ Category

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:

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



Part II of All On Paper. Very funny, and the students’ comments are priceless.

I had forgotten all about the number 1 key.

HOW TO BUILD A NEWSROOM TIME MACHINE Want to freak out a newsroom full of college journalists? Sit them down at manual typewriters and ask them to plunk "2011" onto a piece of paper. They'll only make it halfway. "Mine's broken!" one reporter at Florida Atlantic University yelled a couple of Saturdays ago, when we launched the inaugural ALL ON PAPER project. "There's no number 1 key." "This one is busted, too!" yelled another. "They're not broken," I replied. "Manual typewriters did … Read More

via journoterrorist

HOW TO HAVE A PAPER BALL (via journoterrorist)

Greatest teaching idea ever.

HOW TO HAVE A PAPER BALL What happens when you force college journalists to publish a newspaper with no computers? Well, first they freak out. Then they get their hands dirty. They write stories on manual typewriters and copyedit them in pencil. They shoot with film cameras and process the prints in a makeshift darkroom. They lay it all out with pica poles and proportion wheels. They paste it all up with X-Acto knives and rubber cement. And they love it. At least, that's … Read More

via journoterrorist

The News Corp. scandal reflects the human condition

Watching the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal unfold makes me both happy and sad.

My first response was satisfaction. Rupert Murdoch’s relentless drive to dominate the news industry on three continents, his well-documented ethical compromises in pursuit of his corporate goals, his creation of the disingenuous and destructive Fox News Channel: Watching the leader of this ethically corrupt enterprise being called to account, at last, gives me grim pleasure.

But after that satisfaction came sadness. Murdoch’s modus operandi epitomizes the greed, selfishness and sense of entitlement that underlies 21st-century global culture. It’s the same me-first focus that led to the 2008 financial crisis and has since blocked any real reforms, the same want-it-all worldview that has widened the chasm between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of society over the past 30 years, the same screw-your-neighbor ethos that ends in suburban sprawl.

The refusal of both Rupert and his son James to take responsibility for the company’s wrongdoing is achingly reminiscent of George Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s refusals to stand behind their aides and take responsibility for the errors and falsehoods that led the invasion of Iraq.

What really makes me gloomy is knowing that selfishness, greed and self-preservation are fundamental elements of the human condition, elements that more often than not triumph over grace and generosity. Greed ain’t one of the seven deadly sins for nothin’. Continue reading

Live-Tweeting the Class Lecture: A #selvin247 Exercise

I tried Staci Baird’s live-tweeting exercise in yesterday’s Journalism 24/7 class, using the Twitter hashtag #selvin247. I gave a lecture on net neutrality and students tweeted their notes, using their phones or laptops to enter their 140-character comments on Twitter; the “hashtag” allows Twitter users to search by topic. I projected their tweets on the board, updating every 10 minutes or so. Some of the #selvin247 timeline is still up on Twitter as I write, though it’s fading fast.

Results: Students took stabs at conveying the facts of the lecture; many missed the mark. Too much effort expended on wit. A former student posting prank tweets. Students tweeting to their friends on personal topics during class.

As an exercise in comparing tweets with traditional, handwritten note-taking, I’d call the live-tweets a failure. Baird’s instructions, however, included an admonition to give students “some examples of what good live-tweeting looks like.” I didn’t do that. I’ll save a few examples and try once more next semester.

A few wrinkles emerged, besides those prank tweets from a student who took the class last year (“Can I go to the bathroom?  #selvin247 #educationalvalue #justkiddingidonthavetogo #gogojournostudents”). Tweeters circled the points I made, occasionally landing on the bullseye, but anyone trying to follow the lecture from afar would have been confused. Jokes distracted tweeters and their followers: “If the ISP is the gatekeeper, who is the keymaster?  #selvin247 #ghostbusters  #thereisnodanathereisonlyzuhl.” A follow-up check on students’ timelines found some unpleasant surprises, like this one from earlier in the class: “Ugh this class is killing me! Idk how [a classmate] and i are going to surviveeee.” Or this, far uglier, from last summer: “The only thing more despicable than the muslims building a mosque near ground zero is @sarahpalinusa trying to gain from it politically.” This one was pointed out to me by someone who was deeply offended by it.

Twitter being a public medium, I could rightfully identify those posters, but as both are students, I will refrain from embarrassing them – or, in the case of the tweet about “the muslims,” maybe costing the student an interview or a job. The point is that everything on a public Twitter feed – everything on the  Internet — is available to everyone, now and forever. Students: Keep your online identity professional! Think before you tweet: Do I want some future potential employer, or some future source, or a professor, reading these words?

The idea for the class-tweeting exercise came at the end of a Knight Digital Media Center blog post on teaching mobile journalism, which some enthusiasts call the most important journalistic tool to emerge in recent years. More sober observers point out the limitations of live-blogging (of which live tweeting is a subset), the most critical being the lack of context or analysis. In my view, live blogging is one more tool in the journalist’s expanding toolbox, useful during breaking news events but far less so during speeches or talks. Few lectures are of such white-hot importance that every thought needs to fly through the twittersphere the moment after it is uttered. Some people seem to thrive on that hothouse sense of immediacy, but I find its breathlessness forced. I’d rather wait an hour or two, or a day, and read a considered report on a lecture, context included.

Teaching mobile journalism at journalism school

Terrific post from Michele McLellan at the Knight Digital Media Center:

Here’s an excerpt:

Baird recommends finding ways to teach mobile skills and mindset through assignments and exercises in other journalism classes.

One exercise Baird has found especially useful is to teach students how to live-tweet: “Just have them tweet their notes to your lecture, right there in class. It’s fairly futile to try to keep them from using their phones in class anyway, so you might as well have them do it in a way that adds to the lesson,” she said.

“Give them a hashtag for the class and explain how to use it, and give some examples of what good live-tweeting looks like. Then, during class, keep a projector running from your computer, to display the current results for the class hashtag. When they see the instant results, and when they see what their classmates are posting, they learn pretty quickly.”

I’m going to try this next week in Journalism 24/7.

Today’s journalism students must understand media policy and business

I began my previous post with a story about my first, feeble attempt to discuss net neutrality in Journalism 24/7, my course on the changing news industry,  planning to segue into a response to Nick Lemann’s recent “Dean’s Letter” in a Columbia J-school alumni publication. Lemann’s letter addressed the importance of teaching journalism students about media policy, but I never got to it. Instead, I wrote about how that teaching blooper (what students might call an epic fail) taught me an important lesson about pedagogy, one I’ve used to great advantage in the years since.

And now to Lemann’s letter. Lemann, Columbia’s dean since 2003, writes that his attitude toward teaching students about media policy has evolved. His letter begins: “For most of my life as a journalist, I was blissfully, even willfully, ignorant about media policy.” But, he continues, Continue reading

A teachable moment in numeracy

A recent Business Day front page in The New York Times featured an enjoyable story headlined “Rabbit Ears Perk Up for Free HDTV,” by Matt Richtel and Jenna Wortham. It reported on young people who have dropped their cable-television susbcriptions and replaced them with “the modern equivalent of the classic rabbit-ear antenna.

“Some viewers,” the story continued, “have decided that they are no longer willing or able to pay for cable or satellite service.” These viewers, “including younger ones, are buying antennas and tuning in to a surprising number of free broadcast channels. These often become part of a video diet that includes the fast-growing menu of options available online.”

“Cord-cutting,” as this phenomenon is known in media circles, has been much discussed in my Journalism 24/7 class, which examines the changing news industry. Good, I thought, here’s a story I can use in class. I turned to read the continuation on page B6, where I learned that from April to September, “cable and satellite companies had a net loss of about 330,000 customers.” Antennas Direct, a St. Louis manufacturer, “expects to  sell 500,000 this year, up from 385,000 in 2009, according to its president.” A young couple in Minnesota and another in Virginia were quoted on their decisions to cut the cord and whether they miss the cable offerings.

So this cord-cutting thing is really happening, I thought as I finished my breakfast and glanced at page B7.

“ESPN Says Study Shows Little Effort To Cut Cable,” said the headline at the top of that page.


My first thoughts were snarky, I’ll confess: Is this evidence of some kind of internecine warfare on the biz desk? Don’t the Times business editors talk to one another? Ah, schadenfreude.

The ESPN story, by Brian Stelter, reported that Continue reading

When teaching feeds the soul

My most moving teaching moment in the past two weeks came when I looked up from the work I was grading at the students in my grammar lab, who were midway through their first high-stakes proficiency test.

For our intro reporting students, moving ahead in the skills courses of our journalism curriculum is dependent on their passing either this test or a second given in the last week of classes. I allow the students to bring any materials they need into the test: books, handouts, printouts, their notes, anything but electronic devices. My rationale is that writers and editors constantly use reference materials; my goal isn’t for these students to memorize every rule for commas or the entire AP stylebook but for them to recognize the grammar and syntax elements that give them trouble and to know where to go for answers — to develop that essential journalistic habit of checking.

So I looked up at my 18 students, immersed in their task. The room was nearly silent. Some were paging through stylebooks that had at last begun to show signs of wear.  Others were leafing through our grammar text (Brooks et al., “Working With Words”), seeking the sections they had marked with bright bristles of Post-It notes. They looked so studious, so intent, these students who had started class nine weeks earlier not knowing a preposition from a pronoun. Continue reading

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