Daniel Reimold

Daniel Reimold, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of journalism at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where he also advises The Hawk student newspaper. He maintains the student journalism industry blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. He also serves as the "Campus Beat" columnist for USA TODAY College and a contributor to outlets including PBS MediaShift, College Media Review, and The Huffington Post. He is the author of "Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age" (Routledge, 2013) and "Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution" (Rutgers University Press, 2010).


Deposit photos

Student newspapers move to mobile as interest in print wanes

The Daily O’Collegian at Oklahoma State University is embarking on a massive reinvention that will push back deadlines, require less work on papers and encourage students to spend more time on their mobile phones.

On the surface, it sounds like every college student’s dream. In reality, it is part of a rising movement within college media 2.0 – one which principal architects are determined to see through even while unsure about its eventual success.

Starting this fall, the 119-year-old student newspaper in Stillwater, Okla., will adopt a new format, publishing schedule and digital focus. It is even changing its name, from The Daily O’Collegian to the O’Colly, the pub’s longtime nickname.

The loss of Daily in the nameplate mirrors the shrinking print schedule. Student staffers will be putting out a print edition three times per week instead of five. And these every-other-day issues – appearing Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – will be tabloid-sized instead of broadsheet.

“By making this change, we are transitioning from a five-day-a-week newspaper to a 24/7 media company,” said Editor-in-Chief Kyle Hinchey last month in a formal announcement about the changes. “In this digital age, it is imperative we direct more of our attention to our digital audience, and that’s what this step forward will allow us to do.”

The slide away from print is being taken in various ways by many student press outlets. Collectively, advisers, educators and student journalists are witnessing or participating in the biggest shift in college media since campus newspapers appeared in modern form in the mid-to-late 1800s. Their move from print to digital mirrors what is occurring in the larger media industry, with many issues and questions sounding a familiar ring.

‘100-percent digital transition’

Depending on one’s perspective, the evolution from print to digital is either a rebirth or a bloodletting. In both camps, though, there is agreement that print is the victim.

A growing number of papers are cutting or considering cutting the number of print editions they publish each week or month. Others are trimming their page sizes or reducing the number of copies or pages produced for each issue.

Still others are experimenting with magazine editions, special issues, new sections, non-content revenue streams, social media schemes, mobile apps and Web overhauls. A few papers have dropped print entirely, opting to reboot as online-only outlets.

The College Reporter at Franklin & Marshall College, for one, announced in February it will email and post a PDF of its print edition, the culmination of a three-year “100-percent digital transition.”

Ray Catalino (Ray Catalino photo)

It is a transition O’Colly General Manager Ray Catalino contends is necessary across college media, however tough it may be for traditionalists to stomach.

“I’ve been holding off,” Catalino said of the changes to print. “A lot of papers have been holding off. But now is the time to make a move. … Whether or not we’ll be any better off a year or five years from now, I don’t know. But I’ve been swayed by the belief that what we’re seeing from readers and customers is a permanent change. For the last few years, I’ve been saying, ‘Oh, it’s just a fad. It’s just that Facebook thing.’ I now see it’s not a fad. We all need to jump in.”

‘Waning interest’

The O’Colly jumped in due to a confluence of factors that its professional staff, student editors and supervisory board found too powerful to ignore, a reality that other college outlets will need to face.

First, pick-ups for the paper’s print edition on and off campus have been declining. Catalino said the return rate – which once hovered no higher than 10 percent for a 10,000-issue run – has risen closer to 20 percent over the past two years for a reduced regular circulation of 8,100 copies.

A recent survey of 2,800 Oklahoma State faculty, staff and students confirmed what the leftover stacks signaled. Student respondents said they increasingly consume digital news and more than half either did not care if the paper reduced its print edition or approved of the move.

A simultaneous, prolonged slump in print advertising – and ad revenue – also spurred the shift. Catalino said readers periodically complained that midweek issues were too skinny and basically ad-free. In addition, advertisers were reacting to print with what he described as “waning interest,” something he admitted might stem in part from “sales students who don’t know the difference between a column inch and a square inch.”

As he explained, “Too many advertisers have been saying ‘You know, I’m just not getting the kind of response that I’d like.’ … So we had to take a big step and change the model.”

‘Churning, churning, churning’

For student press outlets worldwide, developing a sustainable, innovative model that caters to their many constituencies is nearly impossible.

As much as they are viewed as the ultimate student niche media, campus newspapers answer to a variety of groups. Besides their core student audience, there are faculty, staff, alumni and nearby community readers to please. They also serve affiliated journalism schools and programs; the university as a whole; advertisers; professional staff or boards overseeing the budget; employers seeking a new generation of journalists; and, of course, the student journalists themselves.

To appease and re-energize as many audiences as possible, the O’Colly has approved a journalism-first, platform-neutral approach.

Its digital-mobile-print hybrid will deliver news about OK State, Stillwater and the outside world at intervals set to coincide with reader habits. Two of the three print issues each week will most likely contain content heavy on hard news, while the Friday edition will feature more on local arts and entertainment.

The tab format aims to increase each issue’s page count, and the paper’s perceived editorial heft. It will be coupled with whiter, heavier-poundage paper to entice advertising clients.

Through its online paywall – unique among college media – the O’Colly will continue to charge a yearly subscription fee for individuals outside the campus area, although users can still access three articles per month for free. About 450 members pay $20 annually for unrestricted website access, according to Catalino.

The marketing team plans to put together packages that mix modular print ads, social media promotions, homepage plugs and mobile app ads pegged to the amount a client wants to spend.

Finally, nightly editorial deadlines will be changed or abandoned, freeing student staffers from their ink-stained shackles.

“Time for me is the big thing,” said Catalino. “Some of these kids work 40 to 50 hours per week for the newspaper on top of school. They concentrate on print. It consumes so much of their time. … They have the desire to do something electronically, but frankly we’re lucky if we get one or maybe two editors who have the opportunity. We want to change that.”

As O’Colly editorial adviser Barbara Allen similarly shared in an email:

“Honestly, we are really excited about the prospect of being unchained from the daily print cycle. I think it’s a time-sucker. Is it possible that we’ll stop feeding the beast and have more time for thoughtful production of news? I hope so. Right now, I see my amazing, dedicated, smart students just churning, churning, churning. What suffers isn’t the print product, but the younger journalists who need mentoring, the investigations that are languishing, the really well thought-out online components that include creative social media and strong audience engagement. Wouldn’t it be cool if, by recognizing that college eyeballs are increasingly on screens and not paper, we blaze a trail for a more employable burgeoning journalist?”

‘Why trash the thing?’

Is the trail the O’Colly and other papers are blazing a positive one for the future of the student press? Kevin Schwartz is unconvinced.

Kevin Schwartz (Kevin Schwartz photo)

Schwartz spent roughly 20 years as general manager of The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Emerald Media President Ryan Frank at the University of Oregon dubbed Schwartz “the dean of the college media business.”

Schwartz, who currently runs Schwartz Media Solutions in St. Petersburg, Fla., still believes heavily in the power of print for a multitude of reasons. Along with it serving as a platform for good journalism, he sees print as the main means for college media to remain solvent.

Schwartz’s doctrine is that dropping print does not save money but rather costs the operation its ability to make money. He contends reducing the number of print issues and pages is death by a thousand cuts, not a righting of the ship.

“To give up on print is to kiss your newspaper an eventual goodbye, unless a school is willing to provide 100 percent adequate funding to a digital-only model, and even then much would be lost,” he argues.

What’s especially mystifying to him is the failure of many student editors, advisers and publication boards to recognize what seems obvious: Print is still by far college media’s main source for advertising revenue.

He offers the Daily Tar Heel as one example. The newspaper’s digital ad revenue hovers around $165,000 annually, among the highest levels in college media. By comparison, its print ads brought in approximately $1.18 million last year, an amount confirmed by current General Manager Kelly Wolff.

“What does that tell you?” Schwartz asked. “We better sustain our print edition. It’s what advertisers want. It’s paying nearly 100 percent of the bills. The digital product and digital ad development can offset at least for now the losses we take in print. But why trash the thing until advertisers are actually telling us they want digital alternatives?”

‘Why am I fighting this?’

Catalino said he definitely understands Schwartz’s concerns and admits uncertainty about how the paper’s revenue, Web traffic, mobile engagement and print pick-up will ultimately pan out.

The one thing about which he is confident, at least in the short term: In an economic and media climate demanding change, he would rather evolve based on journalism instincts than sheer survival ones.

“You know, I’m scared about it,” Catalino confessed about the paper’s transition. “I’ve been a daily advocate for years. When some of my peers moved to less than a daily, I’d say, ‘You’re crazy. What are you doing?’

“It’s just after a couple years of these dismal pick-up rates and seeing kids without the time to experiment and grow and learn electronically, it made me think, ‘Why am I fighting this?’” He paused, adding, “Only time will tell if this is the right move and the right time for it.” Read more

Tools:
4 Comments
Special_Issue_of_Year2 copy2

Top student media content that made news, went viral in 2013

Snowballs. Blackface. Sorority segregation. A mistaken sex offender. “Some good advice from a Jewish mother.” Pre-game trash talk. Australian indecency laws. And Meryl Streep.

These are some of the startlingly diverse elements entangled within student media content that made news and went viral in 2013. Read more

Tools:
0 Comments
A Singapore news site, Breakfast Network, closed down after the Singaporean government required that it meet numerous rules which site supporters say are designed to control the press. (Poynter photo)

Singaporean government bureaucracy effectively closes news site

I am in Singapore at the moment, by chance witnessing the death and dismemberment of a popular online news outlet.

I have seen scant outside coverage of this rather strange, censorious saga, so I’m writing a tiny bit about it in hopes of helping spread the word. Actually, I want to help spread two words: Kitchen Closed.

That is the announcement now plastered boldly across the homepage of what used to be known as Breakfast Network.

World of Shadows

Journalism is a tricky pursuit in Singapore. As a Fulbright researcher and visiting journalism professor here a few years back, I saw firsthand the city-state’s paradoxical existence, acting according to one researcher as both “a regional media center and a site of media repression.”

In respect to the latter, a journalism educator here once described the reporting roadblocks to me as a “world of shadows.” It is part of what many Singaporean student and professional journalists refer to loosely as legal, political and economic forces in the country with the authority to control or punish individuals who criticize the powers-that-be, upend the status quo or cause controversies of any kind.

Some of these shadows are real and others undoubtedly imagined. But either way, they lead to what Singaporeans call OB (out-of-bounds) markers – limits on how much to rant, how far to dig, how boldly to challenge, how deeply to report.

It was in this world that veteran Singaporean journalist Bertha Henson launched Breakfast Network, less than a year after leaving her high-level editor job at The Straits Times, Singapore’s leading daily newspaper. BN began in February 2013 as a media criticism blog, a digital home for Henson’s musings on what impressed, amused and dismayed her within the Singapore press scene she had long toiled within.

It grew over time into a more wide-ranging news and views site, featuring the perspectives and original reporting of other Singaporeans. These included Henson’s students at the National University of Singapore (NUS), where she serves as a journalist-in-residence.

Along with an increase in contributors (one paid full-time staffer and the rest “citizen volunteers”), Breakfast Network enjoyed a rapid uptick in web traffic and general buzz. Henson even decided to start a related company, Breakfast Network Pte Ltd (BNPL).

As she explained in a post on Yahoo! News Singapore that originally appeared on Breakfast Network:

“The site was set up because there were like-minded individuals who wanted to report and write and we thought, what the heck, why not set up something cheap? … What we didn’t reckon on was that the site would gain fans so quickly, so much so we had to keep buying more server space. And despite being a pro bono site, there were readers who wanted more and more. So, I thought why not do the site ‘properly,’ set up a legal entity to do business and pay for a more-or-less proper newsroom operation?”

Soon after, the Singapore government stepped in.

A Thicket of Rules

Late last month, officials informed Henson that Breakfast Network must register with the country’s Media Development Authority (MDA). Henson described the accompanying regulations as “a thicket of rules.” She also found the registration forms onerous, containing vague or downright indecipherable declarations.

The registration process called for the disclosure of the names and personal details of BN editors and overseers (“person(s) responsible for and/or involved in the provision, management and/or operation of the website”). The MDA subsequently requires regular updates on “changes in transactions and editorial content or staffing,” which Henson saw mostly as extra hassles and time away from fulfilling the BN’s mission of being “an experiment in forms of journalism.”

By registering, Breakfast Network would also have to comply with a national law forbidding media companies from accepting funding from certain foreign sources. While straightforward advertising from reputable businesses is apparently OK, almost any other type of outside investment is prohibited. Bottom line, the Singapore government – which Henson playfully calls the G – wants its media entities to remain locally owned.

While she joked “we never did figure on getting a … Russian oligarch or the CIA to dump money into BN,” she did have real concerns about these upfront funding limitations – given how tough it is for online news start-ups to make money and find sponsors.

As she pondered whether to sign the forms or cease operations, she shook her fist at the irony that – under Singapore regulations – Breakfast Network may have actually been better off producing crappier, less transparent journalism.

“Perhaps, we should have gone guerilla, underground, use some server from abroad and all sorts of pseudonyms to confuse everyone about who are the people really behind the site,” she wrote in late November after she received the MDA registration notice. “Then we could allow all sorts of people to post comments, do plenty of drumming and escalate the number of eyeballs. No need to worry about making money to cover cost and to hire good people to raise the quality of content.”

Ultimately, given the “thicket of rules” and the amount and personal nature of the requested information, she wanted more time to fully understand the implications of registering. According to Henson, the MDA required her consent and the completed forms in two weeks. Henson and her Breakfast Network team asked for a month’s extension.

The MDA’s reply: Nope. We’ll give you an extra week, that’s it. Henson fumed, deciding instead to close the kitchen and shut down Breakfast Network.

That’s the death. Here’s the dismemberment.

Cry Father, Cry Mother

With the site shuttered, Henson told readers content would now appear on the Breakfast Network Facebook page.

The MDA’s reply: Nope. That would be an end-run around the country’s media laws. As the MDA sees it, if Breakfast Network exists in any form, on any platform, it still must be registered and abide by the related requirements.

To steal Henson’s description, this is where the story gets “stranger and stranger or curiouser and curiouser.” You see, right now, the BN Facebook page remains online and active, ostensibly against the law. But Henson is not running it. She says she has quit Breakfast Network and is closing down the affiliated company. So it is simply some volunteers overseeing a social media account that happens to be called Breakfast Network. Must it still choose to either shut down or register for approval with the Singapore government?

Henson wrote about all this several days ago on her personal blog in a rant post she admits is a full-blown KPKB. The term ‘kow peh kow bu’ – a coarse colloquialism in Hokkien dialect – translates in English to ‘cry father, cry mother.’ Informally, it equates to a diatribe against people who you feel are making no sense.

Her KPKB is headlined “Why is MDA making a meal out of BN?” As she asks, “What the (insert your choice swear word here) is MDA up to? Why me? Why BN? Isn’t it enough that we write responsible stuff? With bylines and all? We even correct mistakes openly!!! … We just don’t want to sign your papers!”

So did the government single out Henson and Breakfast Network because it did not like the content or tone of the site? Hard to say, but Henson wrote that among her first thoughts upon receiving the MDA’s registration letter were the following questions: “Did we do something wrong? Which article pissed off who in the G? And, yes, was this a way of saying that Big Brother is watching?”

Media Destruction Authority

Longtime Singaporean journalist and journalism educator Cherian George is one of the country’s leading digital media researchers and media critics. Among other works, he is the author of the 2012 book “Freedom From The Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore.” (Disclosure: George and I worked together briefly at Nanyang Technological University during the time I spent in Singapore as a Fulbright researcher and visiting professor.)

George believes the MDA’s targeting of Breakfast Network rises to a level of government interference not seen before in the history of the Internet in Singapore.

As he argued on his blog, “For all the thunderclouds and occasional lightning strikes that bloggers faced in Singapore, we at least used to be able to point to one, clear silver lining: Not one political site had been banned in 17 years of ‘light touch’ Internet regulation. Today … that silver lining is officially history. Through the government’s clumsy handling of one site that didn’t even pose a serious threat, Singapore has now stumbled into the company of authoritarian regimes that are prepared to outlaw politically inconvenient blogs. … Blogs [previously] could be punished if what they published broke the law – but they were never expected to persuade regulators that they deserved the right to publish before they were allowed to do so.”

Kinmun Lee, who runs the popular Singaporean blog mrbrown.comsimilarly stated with his customary snarky aplomb, “I think the MDA should change their name to Media Destruction Authority. I don’t see any development here, just shackles and rules designed to ensure only the ‘right’ kind of content (the kind The G approves of) get seen.”

The MDA asserts it is in no way going after content. As officials shared in a public statement earlier this month, “MDA would like to reiterate that the content is not the issue. Rather, it is the mode of operation, i.e. via a corporate entity which means there is greater possibility for foreign influence. … MDA’s registration requirement seeks to uphold the principle that politics must remain a matter for Singapore and Singaporeans alone. This principle is not new and it has been a long standing one. There is no departure from our Internet regulatory framework.”

Critics counter that this framework – and the new burdensome registration process embedded within it – has the potential to act as a broader-based scheme to shut down critics.

According to Braema Mathi, the president of the Singaporean human rights organization Maruah (which translates to ‘dignity’ in Malay), “The closure of Breakfast Network’s website demonstrates that regardless of MDA’s stated intent, the registration requirement has chilled and reduced the space for free expression in Singapore. As a regulator tasked with developing the media landscape in Singapore, MDA should consider the substantive impact of its decisions, not just its own subjective intent. Registration requirements can operate to censor free expression as effectively as, and more insidiously than, outright demands to remove content.”

Henson agrees, arguing for an additional reconsideration of how such demands fit in with the changing online universe. “I think the G should think a bit harder about imposing regulations on this new environment that is called the Internet,” she wrote in her goodbye Breakfast post. “Because some people believe it should remain un-regulated; some think that conceding to one piece of regulation is a slippery slope that will push online views into a shape resembling the mainstream media. And that is not what people who report and write online sign up to be.”

The Singapore Way
Earlier this month, hours before my flight arrived in Singapore, a riot erupted in an area of the country known as Little India after the accidental death of an Indian national. The subsequent clash between a crowd of 400 mostly low-paid foreign workers and 300 local law enforcement officers resulted in vehicles set on fire, flipped police cars, arrests, deportations and injured police. In a country iconic and infamous for its public control and low crime rate, it was a genuinely historic event, the most violent incident in Singapore in more than four decades.

In its immediate aftermath, Henson reflected on the riot for Breakfast Network. As she asked at the start of her piece, “What did we wake up to this morning? What lies ahead? Everything has changed now. … It is a shock to the Singapore system, to think that something so ‘foreign’ could happen here. But it did, and we should start to think harder about the ‘Singapore way.’”

A day later, she closed the kitchen. Read more

Tools:
2 Comments
2013 Cover

University of Oregon students embrace iPad-only publication, challenge traditional storytelling methods

Nathan Wallner is punching me in the face.

Again and again, the mixed martial arts fighter jukes, jives and aims jabs directly at my jawbone. Or so it seems, thanks to an eye-opening, interactive reading experience courtesy of OR Magazine.

Conceived and assembled each spring by upperclassmen at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, OR is the first and most prominent student publication produced exclusively for the iPad. It’s also one of the most innovative student-media and journalism-education initiatives in the U.S., an effort that seeks to “challenge the traditional approach to classroom instruction” and pioneer new methods of content production.

Or, as a student staffer on the magazine put it last year, “I really feel like I’m working for The Daily Prophet from Harry Potter.”

The Wild West of a learning curve

The reader’s journey with OR doesn’t begin in a cupboard under the stairs but in the iTunes store on the iPad. A little patience is required – depending on your connection, downloading an issue can take about 20 minutes. And navigation is an interactive adventure in its own right, involving horizontal and vertical scrolling, occasional rotating, tapping at various speeds and levels of intensity, and uncovering the multimedia extras waiting to be digested.

As I discovered, those extras can pack a punch.

For example, the video of the MMA’s Wallner delivering digital blows at the screen is a teaser for a profile focused on “the interiority of the fighter’s mind, what it feels like to step into the cage and get beaten up or beat somebody up in front of a lot of people.”

The multimedia package, titled “How to Be a Badass,” includes video, a photo slideshow, and a write-up about how Wallner balances a brutal MMA training regimen with university classes and work as a bouncer. At one point, an image of Wallner in mid-punch is meshed seamlessly with time-lapse video of his own shadow sparring against a wall. While he remains still in the foreground, his shadow can be scrolled into action, fighting on, a metaphor for how omnipresent MMA is in his life.

The main feature by Ben Kendall concludes with a glimpse inside the sport’s famed cage, recounting a bout pitting Wallner against a hometown favorite. To win the fight, Wallner unleashes a “flurry of left-right combinations,” a left hook, and a chokehold known as the guillotine. He earns a championship medal and belt, while losing a filling. As Wallner puts it, “The whole experience is kind of a rollercoaster in your mind.”

Which isn’t a bad description of how OR came to be.

Soon after Apple’s Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in late January 2010, Ed Madison jump-started a course on the tablet’s emerging technology.

Ed Madison

At the time, Madison, a veteran journalist and a founding producer of CNN, was a UO journalism teaching fellow and doctoral candidate. He put together the 400-level invite-only lab class – called Mobile Media Production – with advertising professor Deborah Morrison. After receiving approval from School of Journalism and Communication dean Tim Gleason, it premiered only two months after the Jobs announcement.

“The class started and iPads weren’t even in the stores yet,” said Madison, now an assistant professor and media partnerships manager at the university. “We had no textbooks or anything. We created it as an experimental course.”

The experiment centered on not running from what Madison called “the wild west in terms of our learning curve.” Instead, they embraced it.

“It’s really a question of how do we define what teaching is,” Madison said. “Is teaching that I’m supposed to be in front of the room, have all the answers, and show you something that I have mastered? Or is teaching an exploration I do together with students? I think the students are more interested in the exploration.”

With iPads barely out of their boxes during that first course, students explored apps. They collaborated with several Portland-based media companies to develop app prototypes, including one for a gardening book that sought to enable users to learn more about plant life.

The experience planted the seeds for OR Magazine, which was created in spring 2011 during the course’s second go-round. As Madison put it, “If that [first] year was about apps, 2011 was about publishing.”

The 2011 cover.

Part of the beta

Since 2011, the course has also been about student control, based on a philosophy Madison advocates: “Empower leaders to be leaders.”

For each spring course, he recruits upperclassmen with a variety of skills, including reporting, copy editing, photography, videography and design. During the first weekly session, the students vie for various staff positions, and are voted in by their peers. They then make all the decisions about the thematic concept and specific content of each issue, with Madison, Morrison, and a number of experts on and off campus advising, evaluating, and teaching along the way.

“Our strength was in guiding from the sidelines, as opposed to the kind of front-of-the-room instruction that was more traditional,” Madison said in late 2011, roughly five months after students published the first edition of OR. “That by no means was meant to indicate this was a free-for-all. It’s important to have a structure in place to allow us to achieve.”

Along with structure, timing has been essential to the course’s success. Madison has repeatedly scheduled the class for 8 a.m. on Fridays, as a means of weeding out the less motivated. That bit of timing was engineered on purpose, but the timing of the most significant game-changer for the class was serendipitous.

Six weeks before the spring 2011 term began at UO, Adobe debuted its Digital Publishing Suite (DPS), which enables the creation of a more interactive, tablet-specific audience experience.

Madison read about the software and contacted Adobe staffers, asking if they could provide DPS to students prior to its public release so they could put together a magazine for the iPad. Adobe said yes, making UO’s students, in Madison’s words, “part of the beta.”

At the time, Adobe didn’t even have an instruction manual for DPS. The company asked the students to report back on anything they stumbled across that needed fixing or expanding.

While working on the magazine, students only had access to DPS for the final five weeks of the 10-week term. Functions accessible one day were suddenly gone or shifted the next. And the software was available in a single computer lab that was free solely on weekends and after 4 p.m. on weekdays.

The students soldiered on. “It’s not ‘Oh, I threw it together [at] midnight before it was due because it was just a grade,’ ” said Scott Landis, the issue’s co-editor-in-chief. “This was truly about being professionals and producing something we can be proud of and that can make a difference and change the way people view magazines, and the university.”

Bells and whistles

The first OR magazine aimed to inform readers about UO’s many accomplishments beyond what most people associate with the school – think football, Phil Knight and Nike.

A play button on that first cover brings readers to a black-and-white video depicting a campus library. On screen, a bespectacled student is slowly pushing a cart of books when a hardback title on a nearby shelf grabs his attention.

Once opened, the book flings the student – and by extension the viewer – down a colorful rabbit hole displaying many facets of the university. The images that speed by in time-lapse fashion – and against a techno-beat – appear through a tilt-shift filter. The Adobe After Effects editing option blurs and hyper-focuses certain parts of the photos, suffusing the whole proceedings with what video editor Scott Uyeda called “a figurine movement look.”

On the pages that follow, similar innovations accompany features on campus glass-blowing workshops, the school’s world-class zebrafish breeding facility, the ultimate Frisbee team, and UO professors studying Congolese apes and quantum physics.

But nothing is presented for innovation’s sake. Madison and the students describe a constant tension between experimenting with what is possible and doing what is best for the content and audience.

In a video interview conducted this spring, OR staffer Melanie Burke said that “the temptation to make everything spin and flip and turn and mirror and rotate and pop alive when you touch it is really, really strong because it’s cool and it’s new and we’ve never been able to do this kind of thing before.”

But according to Madison, “just because we have all of these bells and whistles doesn’t mean we want to gratuitously use them.”

The team tries to keep the final file size of each digital issue small enough that readers won’t become frustrated by a long download and give up before giving it a look. They also work to stay true to their editorial vision.

“We’ve had situations where we had video shot for something and went ‘You know what, this is really better told with a slideshow,’” Madison said. “Or ‘This is more oriented around the visuals instead of a lot of copy.’ It’s kind of letting the integrity of the story drive how we go about telling it.”

Dare to adventure

One last decision that has been integral to OR’s success is upending what Madison calls “the old paradigm of workflow, where a person writes an article and maybe a photographer comes out with them and then they turn things over to a design team and the design team decides how to visualize the story and how the page is going to be laid out.”

With OR, everyone is involved in every inch of story planning and execution – the brainstorming, reporting, editing, imagery, multimedia, layout, and interactivity. For this spring’s issue, this collaboration produced a set of gear guides linked to stories on Oregon kayakers, mountaineers, and mountain bikers.

The guides include head-to-toe visual rundowns of what these athletes wear and employ while paddling, pedaling, and climbing. The OR crew interacted from the get-go on the content, visual concept, and background research. They communicated throughout the subsequent reporting, including while staffers gathered audio of the adventure junkies explaining each piece of clothing and equipment. They coordinated a professional photo shoot. And they dabbled with the look and interactive elements of the final layouts, which display the supplies on their own and also attached to the individuals describing their utility.

“It’s a process that is somewhat organic, but everyone’s involved,” Madison said. “It’s not sort of handing it down a conveyor belt, if you will.”

In that spirit, one of the teaser headlines featured on the cover of the spring issue could apply to the magazine itself and the students and faculty members behind it: “Thrillseekers: Those who dare to adventure where others won’t.”

Read more

Tools:
3 Comments
legal

8 ways a landmark Supreme Court ruling has changed student journalism

Devastation.

According to Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte, the impact of the Hazelwood ruling on student journalism in this country has been nothing short of sheer devastation. In a recent column, University of Wisconsin-Madison student journalist Pam Selman similarly referred to Hazelwood as an “infectious disease … quietly spreading across the country, harming students at college campuses and high schools alike.” For his part, law professor Richard Peltz-Steele has described it as a long-term “censorship tsunami.”

The storm formed in the early 1980s, when the principal of East Hazelwood High School in St. Louis, Mo., objected to a pair of stories produced by journalism students for The Spectrum school newspaper. The principal deemed the stories — on teen pregnancy and a classmate coping with her parents’ divorce — editorially unsound and unfit for an adolescent audience. Prior to the paper’s publication, he pulled the pages containing the pieces. In response, the Spectrum’s student editor and two reporters sued.

Roughly five years later, the Supreme Court ruled in the school’s favor. The landmark January 1988 decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier was a giant step back for student press and speech rights. Unlike an earlier Supreme Court ruling that established the so-called Tinker Standard, the Hazelwood decision declared students do shed some of their Constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.

Currently, close to 30 years after the Spectrum first filed its controversial stories and 25 years after the Supreme Court ruled on the case, Hazelwood’s reach has expanded far beyond journalism, secondary schools, school-sponsored speech, and print publications.

In a recent interview timed to coincide with the milestone anniversaries, LoMonte provided eight basic truths about Hazelwood’s continued visible and invisible impact and how the ruling can be neutralized.

Truth #1: Hazelwood is a presence at the college level.

“When Hazelwood was first decided back in 1988 there was this long period where everybody in the legal and journalism community proceeded under the assumption that it was a case about children,” said LoMonte. “That was a safe assumption for a while, but it’s proving not to be any longer. The federal courts increasingly are looking to Hazelwood as providing the governing First Amendment legal standard for anyone at all who is a student, no matter how old, no matter how mature, no matter the level of education.”

For example, in 2011, a federal district court cited Hazelwood to support a decision by Auburn University at Montgomery to remove a 51-year-old graduate student from its nursing program. The student argued she had been unlawfully expelled for speaking out about perceived problems with the program’s disciplinary policies.

Truth #2: The Hazelwood ruling lays out a long, vague, subjective list of justifications for school censorship.

Administrators are increasingly empowered to ban or remove student press content they personally judge to be biased, poorly written, poorly researched or expressing an opinion on a hot-button issue.

The truthfulness or public service potential of a story are not mitigating factors. One example: a 2009 student newspaper report about drug use at Chicago’s Stevenson High School which featured an anonymous student discussing the ease of obtaining drugs on campus.

In response, LoMonte said, “The administration fabricated a fictitious ‘no anonymous sources’ rule to justify banning the story. Of course, high school newspapers not only routinely use anonymous sources, but routinely are ordered to do so by administrators under the rationale of protecting the reputations of vulnerable kids. But Stevenson was able to hide behind the fig leaf of ‘bad journalism’ to conceal what was transparently its true motivation: protecting the carefully crafted PR image of the school.”

Bottom-line, according to LoMonte, “If the administration can stop you from publishing because, in their subjective judgment, a piece is inadequately researched, biased or it takes a stand on a controversial political issue, then you’re talking about dumbing down journalism to Dick and Jane level. You’re talking about student journalism that’s going to have to meet Sesame Street standards.”

Truth #3: In a Hazelwood dispute, students or student media have an incredibly hard time claiming victory.

“If your speech is governed by the Hazelwood standard, then it is almost invariably true that in a dispute the school will win and you will lose,” said LoMonte. “Once a court decides that Hazelwood is the right legal standard, then a student is going to have to have an absolutely flawless case against a very foolish and stubborn school in order to prevail.”

This stubborn reality is producing the scariest outcome of all: a can’t-win mentality.

Truth #4: Many students no longer fight speech and press censorship.

LoMonte stated “there is no question” high school and college students — and their teachers, professors, and advisers — more actively combatted censorship prior to Hazelwood. He points to archived issues of the Student Press Law Center Report as one form of printed proof. Almost every pre-Hazelwood issue of the thrice-yearly magazine published in the 1970s and 1980s contains a summary of a legal battle against school censorship initiated by students.

“All of that changed after Hazelwood, and the spigot of litigation has almost entirely closed,” he said. According to LoMonte, it has been nearly five years since students in the U.S. filed a lawsuitagainst school censorship.

Frank LoMonte

“There’s a real sense — as I talk to students around the country — that they won’t even try to push boundaries anymore because they’re very busy,” he said. “They have two part-time jobs, six extracurricular activities, and three volunteer commitments. The last thing they need is to spend two weeks working on a story that never gets published.”

LoMonte described the mindset as akin to “You can’t fight City Hall.” As he explained, “There is a real sense that the balance of power has shifted so completely in favor of school administrators that a vindictive administrator can get away with anything — even ruining a teacher’s career or ruining a kid’s shot at college — and that the law will not step in and correct the wrong.”

Truth #5: Students are entering college timid and unaware of the power of journalism and free expression.

“What I’m hearing at the college level is that students are arriving in a damaged state,” LoMonte said. “They have been trained to believe that publishing material that upsets people is a bad thing. They have been trained if you ask too many tough and embarrassing questions of your institution that your story can be killed and you might personally be punished.”

During a symposium on Hazelwood’s legacy last fall, David Cuillier, director of the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona, said in the shadow of the ruling, “We are raising a generation of sheep.”

LoMonte agreed. “We’re fooling ourselves if we think the habits that are being taught in K through 12 are not going to carry over into college and into the profession,” he said.

Truth #6: The next avenue of expression with the potential to fall under Hazelwood’s scope is online.

“That’s our greatest fear,” LoMonte admitted. He cited the prominent 2012 case Tatro v. University of Minnesota, which involved a graduate student in UM’s mortuary science program punished by school officials after she published Facebook posts deemed threatening and inappropriate.

“We saw the University of Minnesota actually argue before the state Supreme Court that a college student’s speech on a Facebook page is entitled to only the Hazelwood level of protection if the speech somehow relates to school programs or if it is punished through academic channels,” he said.

“Although that was a pretty outlandish argument and the Court thankfully didn’t buy it, the fact that you have experienced college lawyers trying to stretch Hazelwood that far is indicative of the ambitions of at least some college administrators to completely control everything their students say about the school.”

Truth #7: Don’t expect the courts — Supreme or otherwise — to help mitigate or overturn Hazelwood.

“Honestly, I think what we’re seeing is the courts don’t want to get into the business of second-guessing schools and colleges because they think that refereeing these disputes is beneath them,” said LoMonte. “They think a dispute over flunking a class is too penny-ante for the federal courts to expend their time.”

From LoMonte’s perspective, this avoidance mentality comes at the victims’ expense. “It’s really misguided because the court is always supposed to be the place where an injured person who has nowhere else to turn can get relief,” he said. “If the courts are going to start telling students that their disputes are too insignificant for the judicial system then students are going to be left to the mercies of their schools.”

Truth #8: There are a few ways to fight back.

For inspiration, LoMonte points to school policies and state legislatures that have reversed Hazelwood or “guarantee students more than the Hazelwood minimum level of freedom.”

One example: the Illinois College Campus Press Act. The statute was cited successfully last year in a district court decision forcing Chicago State University to rehire a campus newspaper adviser who had been fired in clear retaliation for what students had published.

Ultimately, turning the Hazelwood tide requires much greater public awareness.

“That means anyone who feels that they’ve been censored needs to put it on the record,” said LoMonte.

“It’s disheartening to see anyone censored, but it’s doubly disheartening when people are so frightened and intimidated that they won’t even speak up about it. You’re never going to change public policy until the decision-makers perceive there is a widespread problem.” Read more

Tools:
0 Comments
In a photo provided by ESPN, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o pauses during an interview with ESPN on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla. ESPN says Te'o maintains he was never involved in creating the dead girlfriend hoax. He said in the off-camera interview: "When they hear the facts they'll know. They'll know there is no way I could be a part of this." (AP Photo/ESPN Images, Ryan Jones) MANDATORY CREDIT

5 reporting tips from the college student who helped break Deadspin’s Manti Te’o story

An anonymous email forwarded to the Deadspin staff more than a week ago claimed the deceased girlfriend of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o never actually existed.

Deadspin editorial fellow Jack Dickey was immediately intrigued. During an online chat, Dickey told other staffers, “This Te’o tip is fascinating. Anybody got dibs?”

“My instinct was really just to go for it,” he said in an interview Friday night. “Given how many tips we get that don’t pan out at all, I knew, of course, there was a chance this one would be a red herring. But I figured it was something to flag just in case, because it was such a crazy thing to even imagine — and because if it was true, it would be huge.”

The subsequent report — a Deadspin team effort featuring Dickey and video/assignment editor Timothy Burke in the byline and editor-in-chief Tommy Craggs and others on the editing and steering committee — has been nothing short of “a national sensation.” On its homepage Friday, ESPN.com labeled it “one of the most bizarre sports stories of our age.”

Along with enormous Web traffic, the Deadspin scoop has led to tons of questions: How did the hoax last for so long? What did Te’o know, and when did he know it? How were so many top journalists caught so flat-footed? And how did a site branded as an outsider with limited resources — at least compared to many national sports media — piece together most of the complicated tale so quickly?

As Deadspin managing editor Tom Scocca tweeted Thursday, “Our guys — and let me be clear ‘our guys’ include a COLLEGE UNDERGRADUATE — nailed it down in five days.”

Dickey, 22, is the “COLLEGE UNDERGRADUATE” in that tweet. The senior English major at Columbia University worked nonstop on the story while finishing up his winter break at home in Connecticut.

In a phone interview Friday, Dickey shared his thoughts on how Deadspin staff broke open such a big, bizarre story — one seemingly tailor-made for an online journalism investigation.

Be open and accessible to tips — even the anonymous, crazy kind.

According to Dickey, the prominent tips@deadspin.com email has been a vital trigger for many of the site’s bigger scoops and smaller, everyday stories.

“If you’re a journalist, you should have a way for people to reach you, an easy way,” he said. “At Deadspin, we tell people to tip us. We put the tips email all over the place because we want to get tips. Sometimes you’re going to get misled, but most of the time people have good reasons for wanting to get in touch with you.”

The key with a tips forum — whether it’s an online chat room or an email or voicemail inbox — is to have it constantly monitored by key staff.

“I think that’s what surprises people about the Deadspin tips line,” said Dickey. “They assume it’s some intern whose job it is to check tips and forward the most interesting ones. But no, everyone on Deadspin gets all the tips. They are forwarded to all of our own personal emails. So we all read tips at the same time, depending on how frequently we check our email … It’s the same at all the other Gawker sites. We take tips very seriously.”

Practice “Internet journalism,” especially on an Internet story.

In an email interview published Thursday, Timothy Burke, the story’s other bylined contributor, told Poynter’s Mallary Tenore that competing news media might have missed the Te’o hoax story because they “didn’t have the tools Dickey and I did.”

I asked Dickey what tools Burke was talking about. He said they were a mix of digital and mental. In his words, “Well, first, Burke is a mad scientist. He’s a genius and has all sorts of technological skills no one else has. For this, he was doing a lot of digging, finding deleted tweets, and then tying people’s identities on Twitter to real names and finding photos of the so-called Lennay Kekua [Te’o’s alleged girlfriend] and putting a real name to that. Some of that I can do, some of it I can’t. He’s obviously far more skilled at it than I am and than anyone else on Deadspin is.”

In a photo provided by ESPN, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o pauses during an interview with the sports network on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla. ESPN says Te’o maintains he was never involved in creating the dead girlfriend hoax. He said in the off-camera interview: “When they hear the facts they’ll know. They’ll know there is no way I could be a part of this.” (AP Photo/ESPN Images, Ryan Jones)

But Dickey said it was not just search skills, but online instincts that helped the pair dive in so successfully, so fast.

“If you’re not used to doing Internet journalism, you would not be able to crack this story,” he said. “Your first instinct might not be to do really deep Googling on people. It might be, ‘OK, let me find a phone number and let me search LexisNexis,’ which we did for everyone involved in the story. But we also did as much social media digging as we could. Our story needed both those things. It needed the older media component of Nexis, the press clippings, and all of that. But it also needed the new media component of searching social networking profiles. Even though there were a lot of red herrings and dead ends in those profiles, they still gave us the keys to unlock the story.”

Even on a successful story, there will be lots of failures.

“This is sort of the funny part,” Dickey said. “For all the great things people are saying about our reporting, I personally was quite unsuccessful in trying to get anyone close to [the alleged hoax perpetrator Ronaiah Tuiasosopo] to talk. I called a lot of people and kept getting no answer or full voicemail inboxes. I think the only person I got to talk to me on the phone was his football coach for two years in high school. Although the overall reporting on the story was a success, my reporting had a lot of failure in it.”

On a larger level, as he shared about the ultimate published report, “We were trying to round out the story even more than the story we had on the website. We tried to get the Te’o family [to talk]. We tried to get anyone close to Ronaiah. We tried to get people close to the first person Ronaiah had scammed. We were mostly unsuccessful with that … It goes to show that stories like this one — even big successes for Deadspin — still do have a lot of reporters’ disappointments in the process.”

The details matter, especially when they don’t add up.

To Dickey, one of the most surprising aspects of the hoax narrative was the willingness of other journalists such as Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel to simply look past or leave out details that did not add up or that they could not track down.

As he said about Thamel’s recent accounting of his ultimately mistaken reports, “There were just so many things that didn’t check out. Rather than say ‘Wait a second, there are four or five things that don’t check out here, that really calls the whole story into question,’ he said ‘Well, these four or five details don’t check out, let’s just lose those four or five details from the story.’ … You would hope no journalist would ever make a mistake like that again, although I’m sure they will.”

Being an outsider is OK, even essential at times, to break big news.

“Every so often the mainstream media will totally goof on a story like this, and we’ll get it, and they won’t and that’s because we are outsiders,” said Dickey.

“There are other times where the dominant narrative is just the wrong one and we are in the position to hold people accountable. That’s the Deadspin motto, ‘Sports News Without Access, Favor, or Discretion,’ which is not true by the way. We sometimes have access.  We have plenty of favors. And sometimes we have discretion. But the general gist of that — trying to do things that hold people accountable without being beholden to anybody else — I think that’s still part of our mission.”

On an unrelated note, I asked Dickey toward the end of our talk whether being on winter break was the key to his efforts, giving him time to really dig in, free of distractions. His answer: “For a story like this, I would have cut class.”

Correction: Jack Dickey is 22 years old, not 20 as this article originally stated. Read more

Tools:
2 Comments

6 lessons student journalists learned at the center of a reporting controversy

Daniel Reimold

The most controversial student press story of 2012 went viral before it was even written.

In early September, American University anthropology professor Adrienne Pine published a 4,000-word essay online alleging The Eagle student newspaper was out to get her. Her allegations quickly received national media attention. They stemmed from a story the paper had been pursuing about Pine breast-feeding her newborn daughter during a class lecture.

Eagle staff writer Heather Mongilio had taken on the assignment, while the paper’s editor-in-chief Zach Cohen and other editors supervised her progress. But Mongilio’s name never appeared in the published article’s byline. Instead, she joined Cohen and the Eagle as a news flavor of the week and trending Twitter topic, while caught in a swirl of nasty debate that briefly seemed to swallow the paper and students whole.

Late last month, Cohen and Mongilio gave their first interview about the story and the sudden super-storm that formed around them while they were working on it. Their reflections offer a fresh, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the multi-headed Minotaur that is the modern media scandal. The scandals are born online, spread in real-time, pounced on by the press, spit on in status updates, and often built around loud voices, larger agendas, and first impressions, facts or full stories be damned. They are also increasingly ensnaring the campus press, almost always attached to an embedded anti-student sentiment along the lines of, “What have the kids done now?”

Some real news to report

Cohen called the saga’s mundane start, simply, “the essence of journalism: We received a news tip and followed up with the proper sources to confirm the truth.”

From the outset, the newsworthy angles were easy to spot.

  • The story centered on an act that is rare in a university classroom, especially involving a professor, in front of students, mid-lecture.
  • Students were apparently discussing it online and across campus.
  • There were rumblings that the faculty senate at the Washington, D.C., school might be investigating (ultimately it did not).
  • And it linked to larger issues involving childcare, classroom decorum, family-friendly workplaces, lactivism, and gender and mother’s rights.

“The story, in our eyes, became newsworthy when we found specific policies that afforded her protection, opinions from the university on her actions, and widespread campus debate on a very legitimate question on the social acceptance of public breast-feeding,” said Cohen.

Mongilio, 19, a sophomore print journalism and psychology double major, said she was determined to follow “the inverted hard news pyramid to the dot.”

How the story unfolded

Early in her reporting, Mongilio contacted Pine to hear her perspectives as a mother and a professor leading a feminist anthropology course.

After they spoke in person, by her own admission, Pine grew “increasingly incensed at the entire premise of the ‘story.’” She wrote Mongilio an email straightforwardly pleading, “Please do not publish this story.”

“She said, ‘I don’t want to become a martyr for breastfeeding,’” recalled Cohen, 20, a junior international studies major from Wyckoff, N.J., a suburb of New York City. “We totally appreciated that. We were fine to keep her anonymous and even to not mention that she was teaching a sex, gender, and culture class, which in my mind is pretty crucial to understand the context of it.”

Regardless, Pine felt threatened, and decided “the only option left was to exposé my breasts – on my own terms – on the Internet.”

In a post for the political outlet CounterPunch, headlined “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus,” she chided the Eagle for focusing on “a pointless story centered around my breasts” and subsequently creating “a hostile work environment.”

She called it “a third-rate university newspaper” and referred to the staff directly and indirectly as naive, gossip-driven, and misogynistic. She also cited Cohen and Mongilio by name and even published their mobile phone numbers (university officials intervened to have that information removed).

In conclusion, she asked, “AU Eagle, how about finding some real news to report?”

Zach Cohen (Photo by Felicia Afuan)

When Cohen and Mongilio first received emails containing the link to the CounterPunch piece, they both thought the messages were spam. But they soon realized the essay was real, a full-blown digital body blow that Cohen admits “knocked the wind out of me a little bit.”

Pine’s post spurred a spate of mostly harsh media coverage directed at The Eagle. Online vitriol and private threats followed, along with a campus protest which included the chant, “Give it a rest, it’s just a breast” and signs screaming, “This is not news.”

All of this, and the Eagle had not yet published the story.

Instead of a simple deadline, the dilemma the students suddenly faced was much more pressing and complex: what to do when outside forces unexpectedly and dramatically shift the focus of a story onto you – and your media outlet.

Six lessons learned

In their recounting of events, roughly two months and 10 Eagle issues later, Cohen and Mongilio said they learned six main lessons from the steps they subsequently took and the reactions they encountered.

Don’t be rash. From the start of the controversy, they both fought the urge to publicly respond while still emotional and before they had brainstormed how best to go about it. It was not easy to ward off urgings from their family, some fellow staffers, the outside press, and every fiber of their beings.

“I can tell you, we wanted to come out and say something,” said Cohen. “Absolutely. When you’re being attacked like that, it’s a natural reaction to want to defend yourself.”

As Mongilio similarly shared about external pressures, “You have this balance where you’re trying to be the student on a campus where half the students hate you now and you’re trying to be a reporter and stay objective. And then your parents are yelling at you to make a stand and come out and say something and you’re trying to convey to them that you can’t because you’re a journalist and trying to maintain the paper.”

Initially maintaining what Cohen called “radio silence” allowed staffers to see the true extent of the brouhaha, once the initial ranting and bloviating died down. “We spent a lot of time deliberating, and that was important,” he said. “We didn’t want to make any rash decisions.”

In part, that was because they were witnessing the consequences of impulsive publishing firsthand. Pine admittedly wrote her anti-Eagle essay while still upset and before knowing how the paper’s story would turn out.

Heather Mongilio (Photo by Samantha Mongilio)

As she emailed Mongilio roughly a week after it went live on CounterPunch, “In writing the article I was motivated by anger at having been treated in a way that I saw (and continue to see) as profoundly unethical by The Eagle. However, that anger in no way justifies the tone I used in describing your actions.”

Slate writer Amanda Marcotte agreed that Pine “responded in a way that likely hurt her cause by coming across as pedantic and needlessly defensive.” Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak similarly called the essay “inappropriate, judgmental, and flat-out absurd.” As she wrote, “[R]ather than work with the student journalist [Mongilio] in a calm, mature, and professional way, Pine lost it. And me.” AU administrators also released a statement denouncing the essay, noting it “does not reflect professional conduct.”

And Pine later apologized to Cohen and Mongilio in a pair of personal emails for featuring their full names and phone numbers in the post.

The Eagle, by comparison, did not want to be forced to apologize due to an emotional lapse in judgment. They collaborated for more than a week on the main article, subbing a new reporter for Mongilio due to real and perceived conflict-of-interest issues. The piece finally appeared on the front page of the first print issue The Eagle published since the scandal broke.

“I know the night that we came out with the final story, we were up until 5 a.m., basically having everybody read it and check for inaccuracies and things that could be clarified in covering all of our bases,” said Cohen.  “We knew we didn’t want this to be a botched job. We were also constantly in communication with each other, down to every detail, what we were saying to our friends, what we were saying to professors, you name it. It really was a group exercise to a certain extent.”

Reach out. To that end, throughout the controversy, Cohen constantly worked to ensure he was not alone in his decision-making or brainstorming in a bubble. Along with current staff, he sought the counsel of The Eagle’s two most recent former editors-in-chief, Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte, and the paper’s adviser Adell Crowe, a veteran journalist who previously served as standards and development editor at USA TODAY.

“As editor-in-chief, obviously a lot of this is on me to make final decisions,” he said. “But I didn’t think I needed to make those decisions without consultation with people that I trusted. So I would urge people to not think of themselves as martyrs and think they have to figure things out on their own. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.”

Know where you’re coming from. In her essay, Pine argued, “The Eagle has long had a solidly anti-woman slant.” The proof she cited: a single opinion piece.

In spring 2010, an American University sophomore known for stirring the pot wrote a column for The Eagle questioning the validity of date rape.  The piece was a powder keg, triggering heated media attention and hundreds of angry comments and letters to the editor. It also spawned a protest that left more than 1,000 copies of The Eagle scattered near the newsroom under a sign reading, “No Room for Rape Apologists.”

While unquestionably controversial – and unconscionably offensive to some – the column ran more than two years ago. “At a mainstream newspaper, two years is a blink of an eye,” Cohen said. “On a college campus, it’s a complete staff turnover. I wasn’t even here two years ago.  I was in high school when that first came out.”

Yet, Pine and others still branded the Eagle as sexist, even when almost all the paper’s current staffers are female.

While ironic, the labeling also served as a three-fold reminder:

  1. It is important to know your news outlet’s previous highs and lows – including those that pre-date your time on staff.
  2. Be aware of the perceptions students, faculty, staff, alumni, locals, and online readers hold about your outlet.
  3. As the Eagle staff understands more than most, don’t dismiss the imprint a single screw-up or scandal can leave on your outlet’s long-term reputation.

“It’s incredibly important to know the history of your publication,” Cohen said. “The Chicago Tribune still suffers from the ‘Dewey Wins’ headline way back in the Truman years.”

Search for real-world reaction. As the controversy played out, The Eagle team continually took stock of related social media chatter.  Yet, they did not put much faith in it as an arbiter of true sentiment. “It’s hard to capture what people say on Facebook and Twitter,” said Cohen. “It’s hard to really insert that into a narrative. People say things on Facebook and Twitter all the time.”

Instead, staffers focused a portion of their reaction coverage on a campus protest staged to support Pine and malign the paper. It was a small gathering compared to the endless Internet debate. But it provided a glimpse into the perspectives of individuals truly motivated to make their voices heard – and not afraid to show their faces and reveal their names while doing it.

Expect, even welcome, criticism. The campus protest also provided another important lesson. Even as students chanted in rhyme and held signs indicating their disgust toward The Eagle, they still spoke to its staffers. At the height of their anger and indignation, they were agreeable to having their voice heard through the very outlet they were protesting against.

For Cohen, it was a telling reminder that many times anti-media zealotry and implicit respect go hand in hand. “It’s as American as apple pie to criticize the press,” he said. “People criticize us all the time, and then they like us or want to give us a tip for a story. It’s the American way.”

The related lessons for staff: Grow a thick skin. Trust in your work. Revel in criticism as a sign of your public significance. And recognize readers are often not the best judges of quality journalism.

“Even after something horrible like this – and it was a very stressful first four weeks of the semester and my grades are going to suffer from it – it hasn’t changed who I am,” said Mongilio, a native of Ellicott City, Md.

“I still want to write the important stories, the big stories. … People can keep saying what they’ll say about me and I can just laugh because I know it’s not true and people just don’t understand how the news works sometimes.”

Along with steeling Mongilio’s reporting resolve, the criticism has even helped her make in-roads in her new position: administration and local news editor.

“I was definitely known to administrators going in,” she said. “They joke around about the whole thing with me. … I’m covering the university budget now, so I can walk up to our VP of campus life and say hi and she’ll recognize me. They’re a little more friendly when they know who you are.”

Learn from the limelight. Read more

Tools:
3 Comments