Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Friday, November 18, 2005
Is That E-mail Blogable?In the last e-mail I received from fellow E-Media Tidbits blogger Fons Tuinstra (who lives in China), I noticed an interesting addition to his signature. It read:
This e-mail is: [ ] blogable [ ] ask first [ ] private
That's great idea. Each time you send an e-mail, of course, you need to put an "x" in one of the boxes.Why is this necessary? Well, in a world where everyone, it seems, has a blog, it's worthwhile to make it clear when something you've sent in an e-mail is meant to be private. It just might save some embarrassment and hard feelings if a recipient of your e-mails decides to blog what you hadn't intended to be shared with the world.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Why we should be careful about posting stuff. Let the crackdown begin!
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Top StoriesIndex-Tribune earns four national awards
10.11.05 - The Sonoma Index-Tribune was recognized in the 2005 National Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper and Better Newspaper Advertising Contests with a total of four awards, including first place for best business story, a feature by I-T reporter Sarah Berkley, titled "Rentals, rentals everywhere."
The national contest judges said Berkley's story was a "well written, well researched piece on an important local issue."
Berkley's story titled "Finding money for school supplies," also earned an honorable mention in the best educational/literacy category.
The judges said of that story that it, "brings to light in a readable way how loss of funding can affect the classroom and how teachers and schools face those challenges. Good writing and reporting."
She adds, "I thought you might like to know
that yours truly, former student Sarah (Franklin)
Berkley was paying attention in class on some
occasions, even when it looked like she was giggling
and playing paper football in the back row with David
In other words, she was multi-tasking.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
The Media Studies Department at the University of San Francisco invites applications for a full-time, tenure-track position at the Assistant Professor level, anticipated to begin August 1, 2006.
Teaching Responsibilities include teaching two undergraduate courses per semester, plus one additional course over two years (2-2-2-3 over two years), and an active program of research and service. The successful candidate will teach courses in field reporting, reporting and editing in convergent media, and other courses related to the candidate’s specialty and departmental needs; and take responsibility for the production of a student-produced web magazine.
The Department is seeking an individual who is able to work with diverse students and colleagues. Ph. D., J.D. or equivalent advanced degree in a related field, plus a record of teaching, professional experience and research or other relevant creative activity are required. An emphasis on race/ethnicity issues and international/global issues will be a plus.
Applicants should submit a letter of application, curriculum vitae, graduate transcripts, brief description of research plans, evidence of teaching ability (including sample syllabi, student evaluations, and a statement of teaching philosophy) and three letters of recommendation to:
Dr. Dorothy Kidd
Media Studies Search Committee
Media Studies Department
University Center 517
University of San Francisco
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117-1080
Applications must be received by December 1, 2005, in order to ensure full consideration.
The University of San Francisco is a Jesuit Catholic university founded in 1855 to educate leaders who will fashion a more humane and just world. Candidates should demonstrate a commitment to work in a culturally diverse environment and to contribute to the mission of the University.
USF is an Equal Opportunity Employer dedicated to affirmative action and to excellence through diversity. The University provides reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants with disabilities upon request.
Monday, September 26, 2005
So how are you doing?
Yes, I lurk into your blog. Here is what was BANNED by your blog response form. 94 words, 453 characters, 558 with spaces.
Sad But Pretty Damn True reminds me of a conclusion reached by a labor union friend of mine. Here in Detroit the auto 'big 3' have Company-UAW [GM-UAW, etc.] collaborations each occupying large building most famously a recently built large modern structure on the riverfront.
"What actually goes in those places?" I asked.
"Determine the center point of the triangle of their three locations and, if you stand on that spot, I am convinced that all activity, motion, time and meaning will cease." he said.
Welcome to your job young journalists, now pay your dues.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Saturday, September 17, 2005
I mean top editors. I mean bosses.
The problems weren't subtle ethical issues. The problems weren't fierce debates about content or editorial direction. The problems were matters of basic competence and honesty.
In other words, the Peter Principle is alive and well. You may not need to become a master of workplace politics to survive and thrive, but you must understand it if you are going to keep yourself off the horns of the bull.
Am I right or am I right?
Addendum: My word. I reread this several hours after writing it, and I must say it's rather a rant, you know, being provocative for the sake of eliciting comment. So let me soften it a bit. I have had bad bosses and good bosses. I have been a bad boss, and I have been a good boss. All that said, there's no doubt all of us will work for bad bosses at one time or another just as there is no doubt all of us will make mistakes for which we should take responsibility. Sharing tales of both "life stories" can be useful, if only to reinforce the fact one's experience is seldom unique.
Now I feel better.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Well, it’s about damn time we have a journalism major!! I would’ve declared that a long time ago. Since graduation and completing my service as the Advertising Manager at the Foghorn, I went directly to work at the San Francisco Chronicle. A year and half later, I left my position as a Retail Advertising Account Executive. But how to get into that company was a triumph in itself.
Imagine me, fresh out of college, sitting at the head of a long mahogany table in this opulent conference room. On either side were two advertising directors and two advertising vice-presidents. And my job for the next hour is to walk them through my resume, bullet point by bullet point, and tell them why they should hire me … as their INTERN! (It wasn’t even for a permanent position?!) Mind you, this panel interview follows five other interviews (two of which were for other positions) and four tests, which included a personality test. Of course, I was sweating bullets (even during the personality test). But during the interview, I remembered one thing I learned in journalism: get these people talking. So I turned the interview back on them, asked them a bunch of questions on what they do, what they like, and flattered them a little bit. Soon enough, all five of us were laughing, and I fulfilled my intention: they felt so comfortable with me that we kept talking and talking. They liked me, so I got the job.
Although, I might be one of the few students who are more interested in the business side of journalism than the writing side, the training I got in journalism courses works in everyday situations—like a job interview. But after working in advertising and seeing how it constitutes 60% of the paper, generates the financial backbone of the newspaper industry, and how ruthless people are, I feel that it’s important for the journalism major to offer a seminar on advertising.
One thing I’ve learned along the way is that production of newsprint is declining. However, the newspaper as a company, may still survive only if it keeps up with the latest trends in advertising.
San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York are among the largest markets in the nation for newspapers. All three had the biggest decreases in subscribers. On a grand scale, that results in downsizing (which I personally was a victim of), thinner newspapers (because of less content), and a slow tarnishing of the newspaper brand in the market. People will first associate the newspaper brand with the actual newsprint before they associate it to the newspaper’s website or any other medium. So if the public sees fewer newspapers, people automatically think the newspaper is not doing so well, which may or may not be the case. But to even cause mere curiosity is not a good thing for a newspaper company that loves to uphold a steadfast image.
One contributing factor is advertisers do not receive the return on their investments in all newspaper advertising. For example, to put one ad in the Main News section means that one advertiser will be advertising to the whole Bay Area. But I worked with a laser hair removal clinic in Marin County, and they didn’t care about advertising to the South Bay. Instead, they preferred niche marketed publications, specifically those that catered just to Marin County. In addition, while Main News is the section that every reader reads, it is also the most expensive. So the laser hair removal clinic liked the niche sections, like Friday, a regional section of the newspaper whose editorial content is specifically about Marin County. Moreover, this section is cheaper than Main News because their distribution is zoned just for Marin County, not the whole Bay Area. On the other hand, the newspaper company is generating less revenue from niche marketed sections. And while niche marketed publications work for the advertisers’ benefit, advertisers turn to other magazines and local newspapers whose readers who will most likely be interested in their product. Therefore, they are spending their advertising dollars on variety of publications instead of just one medium, like the Chronicle. On a side note, the advertising department of newspapers sometimes markets a specific writer whose beat matches the lifestyle of a business’ consumer. There are many times I was pitching to home-related advertisers, and said that their advertisement will be placed alongside this well-known and sought-after home-improvement columnist. The advertising department will use beat writers as marketing tools.
Secondly, advertising online is far cheaper than print altogether. Advertisers invest their money in skyscrapers and banners, and place them on web pages the contents of which caters to a specific audience (again, niche marketing). For example, restaurants rarely advertise in print because they usually have a small budget for advertising. And small advertisements get totally lost amongst the newspaper’s heavy copy. But the restaurant will want to pay for a skyscraper on a webpage about food reviews, and that skyscraper is linked to the restaurant’s webpage, where the viewer can reserve a table online. In addition, the newspaper’s marketing team tracks the web page visitor as to when they clicked, how often they clicked, sometimes down to that visitor’s email (if the visitor is required to be a registered user to use that newspaper’s website). All this information shows the advertiser how effective their advertisement is. And if the advertiser is confident that the skyscraper is working, that advertiser spends more money on advertising. Plus, advertisers are getting exposure to people who never buy the newspaper but who only read their news online, like students and those with the 9-5 jobs. Therefore advertisers expose themselves to a market much larger than what a newspaper ad can offer. And since most newspaper websites are visited during the 9-5 work hours, businesses can keep themselves exposed to a visitor, even while they’re working. So if a business does both online and newspaper -- the latter tends to be read in the morning, evening, or on the weekends -- an advertiser has the potential of exposing themselves to a visitor 24/7, the most exposure possible for any advertiser. So it’s in the newspapers’ best interest to cut back on producing the newsprint, and invest their money on making their websites more sophisticated because advertisers like online more than they! like newsprint.
Thirdly, and the most lucrative, is direct marketing. Every major newspaper obtains demographic information about their subscribers, AND they have access to obtaining information about people who don’t subscribe. Essentially, San Francisco Chronicle has demographic information about every single person in the Bay Area. What residences don’t know is how detailed that information is. For example, I worked with a very upscale professional bike shop in Palo Alto, whose consumers tend to come from a ten mile radius. The shop wanted to bring in more people, but they only want the rich, sports-minded thirty-somethings. Obviously, a print or online ad would give them too broad of exposure. So in my cubicle, I worked with the marketing department to get information of every single million dollar home, whose owners reported somewhere that they are active in sports and/or purchased a bike within the past year, and where they lived. So the business gave me money to create a custom postcard, which I created with my artist, and mailed those postcards to those households who fit the criteria. The incentive for the advertiser was that his highly-targeted advertisement is going to be mailed to a household, who is most likely going to be interested in his products. So his return on his investment is much higher than a newspaper ad. The incentive for me was the money he gave me. Direct marketing is expensive because of all the work. So it’s in the newspaper’s best interest to invest more money on demographic research and direct marketing than developing newspaper ads. So the next time you see what you think is junk mail, it can be a direct marketed piece sent to you and only you. That’s because many companies have tricky ways of obtaining your demographic information all for the sake of generating revenue. (I can’t tell you how often I have to explain this to businesses, and they responded, “I didn’t know newspapers can do that!”)
With all that said, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York’s newspapers have fewer subscribers and thinner newspapers. But they are spending their money on their websites and obtaining as much information about their residences as possible. (They are literally watching us.) The catch is audiences have always associated the newspaper’s brand to the actual newsprint. Again, if audiences see a thinner newspaper, it could look like the newspaper is not doing so well. In reality, that may not be the case. But another catch is that it takes less man-power to operate a newspaper website or conduct demographic research, and therefore, newspapers don’t need to employ so many people in advertising. So many publications in these three markets are downsizing because they can generate more revenue by staffing fewer people.
What does all this mean for the newspaper industry as a whole? Production of newsprint will continue to decline as newspapers’ websites become more sophisticated … and people will get more junk mail. I do not know how much these trends impact the editorial side. But I do know that once a company starts downsizing, almost no one in the company is immune.
So … perhaps the journalism major can offer a seminar to highlight the business side of the journalism industry. Really, newspapers are companies, and there’s a profit to be had and people to pay to keep the organization alive and running. I think some understanding of how the money flows throughout the company deepens students’ knowledge of the industry as a whole, and deepens their appreciation of the journalism discipline … and my nerdy butt thinks this stuff is interesting. Now that I’ve given my two cents, I shall step down from my soapbox now and finish my glass of Merlot.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
I went to this event last night for the charity I'm writing for and supermodel Helena Christensen planted a big kiss on me and told me never to quit grant writing because "a man with a cause is very sexy."
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Monday, September 05, 2005
Operations Director Marlene Kler's team is going to try to print 20,000 copies of the Monday paper, with the other 20,000 being printed in Columbus. If problems arise, Columbus can handle the entire 40,000 run. The biggest challenge is keeping water pressure up enough to cool the presses. If it all works as planned, Biloxi will begin to handle the entire run. By Thursday, they're aiming to do it all there, using the pre-hurricane normal deadlines (other than inserting; preprints aren't being delivered to Biloxi yet. Randy Ladner and his crew have the inserters running, ready to go when needed.)
The Sun Herald management team, strong from the outset, is successfully ramping up operations on all fronts. Publisher Ricky Mathews was meeting again today with the governor and other officials to update emergency and relief operations. They have also begun discussing the future of the Gulf Coast and how the massive rebuilding effort will take shape.
Power has been staying on. Water pressure is still on the wish list. The fuel situation is in better shape than it was yesterday.
Great news: Only eight of the 270 employees remain unaccounted for. So far, everyone is safe.
The critical concern now is infectious disease. An MD (the husband of the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) counselor) and a local nurse arrived yesterday to help with health issues. At their advice, wash stations have been set up at the entrances to the building, near the portable toilets and other places. Those who are out and about - primarily photographers and reporters who return each day covered with mud - are asked to remove their shoes and soiled clothing before going inside. A disinfectant tent has been set up; a shoe wash is being devised.
Bathrooms inside the building had to be closed off to prevent people from using the trickle of incoming water to rinse their hands and splash their faces. With so many people eating and sleeping in such close quarters, hygiene is essential. At least one area shelter has been closed because of an outbreak of dysentery; cholera has also been reported in the area.
Today's new amenity: Building Manager Randy Ladner created a cabana-style tent shower. It's roomy enough to be comfortable; there's a pallet floor so feet stay clean and there's "hot" water - from containers warmed in the sun. True, it requires people to pour the water in when the bather is ready - but folks are lining up. Randy has been an indispensable figure since the storm blew through, always around, anticipating what needs doing and getting it done.
Advertising Director Vicki Barrett's group is gearing up to begin a survey Tuesday of The Sun Herald's advertisers to determine who's there and determine their plans and needs. The newspaper has been printing advertising again since Friday. (Vicki lost her home in the storm.)
Circulation Director Gary Raskett is continuously reorganizing distribution efforts to meet the needs of the community. They are creating new routes through neighborhoods where people remain. He is in touch with about 40 percent of the carrier force, and has help on hand from Belleville, Charlotte, Columbia, Columbus and Miami. A hundred news racks will be delivered to a vendor in Mobile, to be brought into Biloxi when Gary is ready for them.
Many of the carriers appear to be living in their cars, with their families and pets. The Sun Herald is giving them daily family packs of water, food and nonperishables; if there's a baby, they get diapers and other items; if there's a pet, they get pet food. These kinds of supplies are being provided to other employees, as well.
The housing picture is brightening a bit. Willie Cone, going door to door, was able to get 10 double hotel rooms out on I-10 toward Mobile; there's power there, some water pressure and an open restaurant. Some of the loaner journalists are being moved there; the RVs they've been using will now house three or four Sun Herald families whose homes are uninhabitable. Car pools will transport people to the hotel to conserve gas.
Biloxi's Judy Lee and HR loaners Martha Gallagher from Charlotte and Vanessa Sanz de Acedo from Miami have developed a great system for tracking housing needs and who's in what bed on any given day. The "hoteliers," as they've been dubbed, are managing 28 RVs in the newspaper parking lot, accommodations inside the newspaper building and hotel rooms as they become available. They are also assessing longer-term employee housing needs.
Inside newspaper building, a second-floor conference room full of air mattresses is serving as a dormitory. Lockers are being set up so people can lock up their personal items. People are still tucked away in other spots at night, as well. One office has been turned into an infirmary with cots; another is serving as an examining room. As the stress goes on and the heat continues unabated, health problems are cropping up. Two people have collapsed from heat exhaustion; stomach troubles are prevalent. It's been wonderful to have on-site treatment available. The VA Hospital across the street has also been a resource.
The National Guard has officers stationed right outside The Sun Herald, protecting a power transformer. Our folks have provided them with a portable toilet and are sharing food and water.
Affecting three or four Sun Herald families: Officials have cordoned off one neighborhood near the port because of contamination; the area is littered with cargo ship containers carried in by the storm surge that they believe may have held hazardous materials. It is also littered with carcasses from a nearby chicken processing plant. Residents have been refused access and have been told the homes will be bulldozed.
A number of people throughout Knight Ridder have offered temporary housing in their cities for displaced families. Everyone is very grateful for the offers; we'll send out word when we know what's needed. The same is true for offers to adopt families and provide specific clothing and home furnishings; that time may come, and we'll let you know. Right now, it's just a bit too soon.
At this point, HR Director Wanda Howell say they know of about 40 employees whose homes were totally destroyed, while many more need significant repairs. They will know more as days go by. They're distributing a daily employee newsletter with up-to-date information about activities at the paper, where to get specific kinds of help and other useful news.
We're trying to line up storage pods for employees to hold what they've been able to salvage from their homes. Moving boxes have been sent in and are available to employees.
People still unaccounted for:
If anyone has heard from any of these people, please call the employee hotline number, 1-800-346-2472.
Lee Ann Schlatter
Director, Corporate Communications
50 W. San Fernando St.
San Jose, CA 95113
Friday, September 02, 2005
Links to a New Vrinda Normand Story and to a Comparatively Old James Foster Story, Plus a Wonderful *Surprise Link*
And here's a link to a story by former magazine/feature writing student James Foster describing his pursuit of semi-famous journalist and USF grad Warren Hinckle, whose life can either be a warning or an inspiration.
Meanwhile, you ask why has the Forum lain so quiet? Well, the semester has just started and I'm sitting here pondering why only seven people have signed up for feature/magazine writing, and what that means for the future of a journalism major here. I plead indolence and preoccupation. But that doesn't excuse the rest of you Forum members. You are too young to be indolent and too healthy in mind and body to be morosely preoccupied
Thursday, September 01, 2005
more from knight-ridder's biloxi, MS paper. just to let you know, they've put out the word for reporters to lend a hand and go out to Biloxi for stretches of at least two weeks. i've volunteered. I think I have a good shot at the assignment, but we'll see
Also, the Jesuit colleges, including USF, are volunteering to take in students from Loyola New Orleans. Word is we might get some.
Addendum: George forwarded this message about K-R's Biloxi paper. It concerns journalists trying to do their job. I recall after the earthquake here in '89, people told me how heartened they were when the Chronicle hit the street. It wasn't just the news Radio and TV supplied that. It was the simple tangible fact the product existed. It was symbolic, and there was comfort in the symbolism. The network bigfeet came in and broadcast from specially built platforms in front of the Marina and the Cypress Structure. I don't think anyone found comfort in that.
Biloxi: Reinforcements Arriving at Paper; Community Situation Deteriorating
5 p.m. ET Wed., Aug. 31
We've heard from the folks in Biloxi today; here's a very fast update:
They still have no email service, Internet connectivity or phone service. We have some satellite phones in place (though a couple have stopped working; we have phone magician Bob McFarlin from KR Miami on the way.) So our communications are extremely limited.
They've heard from about half of our 240 Biloxi employees. They're starting to send out search parties to check whether the others are at their homes.More reinforcements are arriving from throughout Knight Ridder. A couple of those people have arrived in RVs with supplies. More are enroute.
People at the newspaper are sleeping on the floor. We've been able to get enough food and water there to keep them going, and more is arriving with the reinforcements.
However, we need to strictly control how many people head that way; "life support" is a very real factor right now.
Financial support is in place; we're already (or about to be) able to cash personal checks for $200 each day just to get some cash in their hands. We will have credit union reps there imminently to process low-interest $5,000 loans guaranteed by Knight Ridder.
An EAP counselor will be on hand beginning tomorrow to offer everything from counseling to assistance with FEMA emergency funding forms.
We're working on getting assistance with other kinds of insurance claims, etc.The newspaper was able to distribute 12,000 of Tuesday's 20,000 copies of the paper. They printed 20,000 again today, 24 pages in two sections. The Red Cross has also asked for bulk copies to distribute.
Columbus continues to be the editing/layout/printing hub for the newspaper, which is being trucked down to Biloxi.Tony Ridder, Art Brisbane and Larry Olmstead went to the paper Tuesday to offer support and reassurance. They report that our people are making good progress on getting organized on the most important fronts: developing logistics to keep operating; finding and helping our employees; producing and distributing the newspaper. There is some concern that the newspaper office is an oasis in the midst of a devastated area; people are beginning to come by asking about water and food. We are working on increasing security there.
As more journalists head that way to cover what is rapidly becoming an even bigger story, we have turned over coordination of all reporters, photographers and assigning editors - and all story assignment responsibility - to KR Washington Editor Clark Hoyt. This is essential to make the most of our resources, eliminate duplicated efforts and provide the broadest coverage we can to our readers.
Information will be coming later today on a Knight Ridder Fund to accept donations to help our colleagues. We'll be asking someone at each newspaper to collect and coordinate those donations - DO NOT send checks to corporate yet!
Check the news stories on www.sunherald.com or www.krwashington.com.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Anyway, I will get some links up this weekend but for now take a look at this. It is a fascinating account of how a college newspaper editor was either seduced by the possibility of an exclusive story -- or used his deadly charm to fabricate one. This is interesting. Click through!
Thursday, August 18, 2005
2) This is an email in which Sara Berkley responds to the fact I linked several posts below to one of her stories. Her p oint is you don't really know the story until you know the circumstances under which the story was written.
For goodness sakes, Dr. Robertson, I can just see it
now: Dr. Robertson, donned in his collegiate tweed livery,
raps a pointer stick at an overhead projector while a
sea of faces sulking in bagel crumbs and 8 a.m.
cynicism look on.
"Now see this, students, neophyte reporter Berkley's
test score story - a gem of what you don't want to do!
First, the drab lede. Second, the typos that Berkley
(nor the community newspaper's stable of overqualified
and disinterested proofers) did not catch. Third ... "
Well, Dr. Robertson, you can tell them that test
scores were released at 11 a.m. and I had a deadline
of 1 p.m. I had 2 hours to print out a stack of tests
scores fatter than Ulysses, highlight and compare data
from last year while waiting for the director of
curriculum to never get back to me, add up proficiency
rates across the grades (I NEVER signed on to do math!
My calculator is a paperweight only! I was an English
major for Chrissakes!) then cobble the story together
from my own research and a boilerplate press release
from Jack O'Connell - only to get the blandest of
quotes from said curriculum director one flagrant hour
after my deadline, requiring me to irritate my editor
on the insertion of said quotes after he had already
flowed the pages.
Come on, do you have to choose this one?
Maybe there's a lesson here.
If there's anything I can tell them about journalism,
besides the age old excuse of "deadline" - is an
inadvertent lesson on humility. I don't know - I'm
still fighting it. (hence, inadvertent.) Is it because
I was an English major? Maybe this email will
persuasively rest said case on the dire need for a
Being an English lit major I barreled out of USF with
an $100,000 vocabulary and keen insights into feminism
of the Victorian Age - which I will always thank Tracy
Seeley for (no seriously. Still to this day I have the
uncanny ability to actually want to curl up and read a
good George Eliot.)
Okay, so I never intended to go write for a newspaper.
Somehow - plus Lia Steakley leaving her position - I
ended up here.
Certainly there is a place for clever, irreverent
weeklies with writers who can afford to cherry pick
their stories, editorialize, indulge in abstruse
witticisms and coat it all with a nice liberal slant.
A very easy writing and stylistic persona to pick up
if you're a young cosmopolitan college grad in San
Francisco. And yes, if someone offered me one of these
positions, hell yes I'd take it!! Lucky them. Man I
I be one of the rest! I'm a journalist at a community
newspaper. We are a paper of record - and that means
everything, kitchen sink included. We cover Sonoma
Valley - a very, very small place with a very, very
When I first started out, I wrote about things I
initially didn't think anyone could possibly care
about. It was a haughty idealism I had. Why do you
care about your sewage bill hike, you moron, when
there's war on public education all around us or an
independent director living in your neighborhood
making a documentary about polka dancers? Nevermind.
Screw Jorg and his wannabe Sundance project. It it is
my job to write about the sewage bill hikes. It is my
job to write about powdery mildew in the vineyards.
And the updating of school board administrative
regulations, and when class starts, and whose fence is
encroaching on whose begonias at the planning
Yes, a small paper does also mean I occasionally get
to flex my versatility. I can write magazine features
and human interest profiles on eccentric people and
occasionally an investigative or economic trend story.
Through it all I have gotten a good knock to the chin
- by readers, my editors, the community. And it's a
You see, we are overworked and understaffed here. It's
part of the territory.
My test score story is by no means something I am
proud of stylistically. But I'm learning. I am sure
there are reporters out there far more advanced than I
who may be able to research and whip together an
intriguing, eloquent piece in two hours - alluding
through but a few simple phrases the larger context of
No Child Left Behind and with nary a 't' uncrossed -
and never succumb to the pummelling of the clock or to
their lack of a proper journalism major. (Do I get
commission for that sentence?)
But I got something written and turned in. I
highlighted the best points I could find. And in the
end, it provided news for readers. Not half bad.
In a community, the small, topical things matter. And
often underneath those diminutive issues lurk big, big
issues. And digging them up, too, is fun.
To tell you the truth, I think that even the big
dailies are beginning to try and cater more to
neighborhood news. It's the place where you live! Of course you care
about your sewage bill, your roses and your kids' test
We don't use a wire service here. Everything is
generated by us. Slow week? Call the elementary
schools. Any messy science projects that we can
photograph? How about that new crossing guard?
But the thing is, people love it.
And the biggest compliment I've ever gotten isn't in
the way I turn a phrase or my striking imagery of a
vandalized duck pond - but the fact that at the next
school board meeting, parents are often spitting fire
at the podium and referencing one of my stories.
"Well I read that the district really didn't HAVE to
close the pool and my kid's on the water polo team and
Whether they've scratched their head and uttered a
melancholy "Hmm" or crumpled it up and stomped on it,
I am discovering and appreciating that in this job -
getting a story out there, getting it right, making it
fair (yes that means quoting the conservative
Republican NRA member with as much respect as anyone
else - and no irony) and reporting on what people
care about is more important than whether or not I
sound like Joan Didion in the process. Don't get me
wrong, I would love to sound like Joan Didion. Maybe
not necessarily in a test score roundup, but there it
Well, dear Dr. Robertson, it looks as if you've caused
me to rethink my initial entreaty to hide, burn and
abandon the test score story. Let the link live.
Truly, your counsel has been worthy of the cushiest
leather couch of the best psychotherapist.
My you're good!
By the way, I'm 7 months pregnant and I wrote this all
in a haze of fudgesicle and burrito cravings. I gotta
I think most students go into journalism thinking they'll land at a glamorous magazine a la Les Shu :) and go to fabulous parties in between writing witty copy.
But those are just your internships.The ladder to Pulitzer Prize has steps made of knives. I say make USF's journalism major every bit as tough as the real thing...and the Texan in me says make it tougher. But I'm not sure that's possible.
Make sure to have a class in computer-assisted reporting, which largely deals with extrapolating data from massive spreadsheets or efficiently searching databases. A class on public record and open meeting laws is a MUST and so is a class on Freedom of Information Act and First Amendment law. USF has a law school make the newbies take it there.
Copyediting should stress Chicago manual of style and AP style. And this time, Robertson, make those AP style quizzes count. The newbies will thank you later.
Load USF computers with industry preferred NewsEdit Pro software and Quark. Make the students learn HTML and Web editing just ask Leah Hitchings at NYTimes.com how much she needed to learn how to make a table using HTML to land her job. I know USF is all about philosophy and big ideas. But tell those lofty big thinkers that the students need a vocational journalism education if they want to land one of the two jobs that will be left at the last standing media conglomerate.
In reporting II, make the students write on deadline even if class has to be three hours once a week. Let the students report for the first few hours and write the last hour. Make them spend more time at boring meetings like the school board and city council. Hell make them go to the city planning meetings and watch their heads spin while zoning labels are tossed about like slang and half way through you'd swear meeting officials were speaking a foreign tongue. Then make them write a story. And require an internship...even if it just means you can't graduate with honors or something without one. They're not THAT hard to get.
Post students stories online, include their email addresses and make their phone number for sources to call and bitch about mistakes. Make then write corrections. Encourage all sources to read the stories and provide feedback.
For the journalism major choose a rigorous curriculum and then you won't have a problem with people thinking journalism is all fun and glamour with a salary of $50,000 or more. Instead, it's stories about wastewater connection charges, land use issues, school board and city council squabbling, local elections and more mentally insane people calling you at 9 a.m. then you know what to do with for about $30,000—before taxes. Oh, and your newsroom is in middle America not major metropolitan areas. One ace in student’s pockets is if they speak a second language fluently, which can get you into a larger newspaper newsroom quicker. I'd suggest a Middle Eastern language if you want to work at the New York Times and Spanish for most California dailies.
Another way to launch your career is to go work in China, where I hear dozens of English language newspapers are hiring like mad. With all the rude awakenings of a career in journalism, I think the one thing that keeps us in it is the euphoric feeling of writing a really good story. Every once in a while you write something so well it gets picked up by other publications or you end up breaking a story that is later picked up by other publications. And the adrenaline numbs the knife of the career ladder you're standing on long enough for you to continue climbing.
When you're lacking that feeling have a cocktail and try to make it to Friday. I hear if you're at the New York Times cocaine is the choice drug. I say do the students a favor and weed out the future flaks early. Oh..and another trick for students is to go to journalism conferences with all the other struggling writers. I went to one in Seattle that had tons of annoying Ivy leaguer student journalists there. But it's still a good way to mix with journalists. Just make sure the students don't ask the editors for jobs. --Posted by Lia Steakley to USF Journalism Forum at 8/15/2005 10:49:58 PM
Robertson's first reaction: I don't know whether to stand up and cheer or curl up in a ball and cry.
Comments from a Student Who Has Shed Her Journalism, as a Snake Sheds Its Skin and Has Burst Forth Shining and New
Hey Dr. Robertson!
Thought I'd drop you a line and give you a little update as to my own
status. So... I tried the journalism thing for a while, interning at Diablo Magazine then
writing and editing for the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce B2B
monthly newsletter (a side job I did while working as their secretary);
however, I decided a year ago to stop writing about things I wanted to do and, well, just do them Thus, I've been attending The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown SF since last October and I'll be done this December. I'm studying Visual Communication, which entails everything from photo shoot styling to personal styling to event planning to store planning, etc: Basically, anything that has to do with visuals in the fashion" world.
I'm loving what I'm doing right now and I plan to do
his for a very long time, but I still have it in me to eventually go
back to magazines, maybe this time as an Art Director. What actually
got me thinking about going to fashion school was my interest in
working for a fashion magazine. In my research and relentless job
hunting, I realized that publications don't only want Journalism
Professionals, but also people who specialize in a given field.
Computer publications want someone with knowledge of/passion for
computers and technology; fashion publications want someone with
knowledge of/passion for fashion; and so forth. Hence one major
determining factor in my decision to attend fashion school.
I do consider my studies to be an extension of my previous degree since
now I am dealing with the more visual aspect of communication, and
people are always impressed when I tell them I used to be an aspiring journalist!
Actually, it is a widely known and accepted "fact" that anyone who has
strong writing and communication skills can do just about anything in
his world. I believe that my Communication Studies degree will
continue to give me an edge in my newly chosen field and I look forward
to using it more in the future.
Hope all is well with you. I do enjoy reading everyone's blogs. By the
way, the new minor curriculum looks great. Too bad it came 2 years too late...
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
This is a nomination, and a name, most Americans will forget a week after the confirmation vote. Think we are exaggerating? One survey has shown that only about 8 percent of Americans can name two or more Supreme Court Justices, with 63 percent unable to name a single one.
Vrinda Speaks! Exercising My Blog-Given Right as Supreme Gatekeeper, I Put Her Comments on Center Court
But I do have to say there are other sides to journalism than your horror story. Everyone told me I'd never start out in the Bay Area, but here I am in San Jose, my first real job out of college. And while I know daily newsrooms run at a high speed pace, forcing young reporters to choke out blurbs on boring city meetings....that's not necessarily true for weeklies or monthly pubs. There are other options out there! Don't dishearten aspiring students, because let me tell you, I'm writing stories that I choose, delving into ideas that I craft, and having a kick ass time meeting new people. I'm producing long form features on cultural movements and investigative digs with real impact on the community. It feels great and the satisfaction of seeing my name on the front page is totally worth all the unreturned phone calls and crazy people I have to deal with. Yeah, there is crap to weed out and frustrating hours when I'm trying to turn 10 thousand words of notes into a 3 thousand word feature that makes sense, but....I'm happy. I love my job. And that's more than some post people can say. --Posted by vrinda to USF Journalism Forum at 8/17/2005 11:39:17 AM
What some of us have argued is that a small college with a commitment to intellectual rigor and a commitment to social justice -- that's what some people say about USF, anyway -- is a desirable place to train journalists at a moment in our history when journalism is under attack for lacking passion and/or submitting to the false god of objectivity and/or wallowing in bias (right? left?) and/or stooping to the lowest common denominator in manners and morals in pursuit of the advertising dollar.
Or should we back off, stick with our minor and concentrate on doing what we now do but doing it better?
Tuesday, August 2: And let me add one more thing to promote discussion. There's a middle area here that grads from recent years are so very well qualified to talk about. Say that we do go ahead with the major. What courses should be required? What courses should be offered as options? What courses, either current or possible, should be avoided? In short, if we decide to do it, how should we do it? And a final point: Currently this site is set to allow anonymous comments since anonymity can promote truth-telling. In the unlikely event, things get nasty I can change the setting.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Here's some Teresa Rochester.
And some Lia Steakley. And some Sarah Berkley.
And some vintage -- by which I mean from last month -- Vrinda Normand.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Nicole Zaloumis has joined Comcast SportsNet as the host of its "Insider" talk show that airs at 7 p.m. Tuesdays. Zaloumis, a USF grad, had been working for the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. ...
Though we have assembled digitally to talk of important things, who's doing what and where is interesting, too. Updates welcome. Also, anyone know where Mike Serazio is now? He was with a weekly in Houston but has apparently moved on.
Addendum: When you work in TV, they put your nice picture online, as in the case of Pat and Nicole and Vicky and Fred and Mark. (Click on their names and through you go.) This afternoon, I'll put a list of links on the left side of the blog front that will take us to the publications/organizations for which or to which you are contributing journalism, or to your blog. We'll stick the Foghorn up there, too, so that this becomes the one-stop shop for USF journalism. Meanwhile, here's c/net's own Kent German -- but he belonged to USF first -- threatening someone with a cellphone.
And here's a really weird addendum: Jennifer Jolly was one of my first USF journalism students -- and one of my very best students, I must say. After creating a career as a TV journalist by working for nickels and dimes in the far reaches of the country, she settled in SF several years ago and has worked parttime for KTVU. Looking for a link to her bio, I stumbled across an account, complete with pictures, of her getting whacked with a pie for being a tool of the corporate media. This, of course, is an issue close to the hearts of every journalism student at USF, where the defects of the corporate media are occasionally mentioned. Our students have been known to ask: If I get a nice job, will I be a tool of the corporate media? Phrasing it that way makes it sound like a joke, but it isn't. USF is all about not fooling ourselves, about asking hard questions about how we earn our bread. (Though as Woody Allen once said, "Man cannot live by bread along. He must also have a beverage.")
Pardon me. That was silly. I really would love to see someone start a post/string on the rich and vexing topic of the degree to which we in Media Studies are sometimes -- or perhaps only seem to be -- at cross-purposes.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Core Sequence: (12 units)
0166 100 Introduction to Media Studies
0166 223 Journalism I
0166 224 Journalism II
0166 311 Communication Law and Policy
0166 323 Editing
0166 325 Feature Writing (NEW)
0166 326 Broadcast Journalism (NEW)
0166 328 Photojournalism (NEW)
0166 329 Arts and Cultural Journalism (NEW)
0166 400 Media and Politics
Capstone Course: (4)
0166 420 Journalism Philosophy and Ethics (NEW)
* As is the practice in this university to facilitate minoring across departmental lines, in some instances prerequisites for courses such as Communication Law and Policy and Media and Politics will be waived, though junior or senior status will be required.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
So what *is* this post about? It's about teaching TV journalism at USF. In a little bit I'll share some excerpts from an email from Vicky Nguyen, who is one of a handful of USF grads working in TV news. We already have an Alternative Media post/string started by Vrinda Normand. Now we can have a TV journalism post/string, where comments about that area of endeavor at USF can collect. But (he digressed) the moderately pungent headline does reflect the fact that one of the things that could get this forum going would be a post or comment ripping the head off the current journalism program at USF and sticking it on a pole. That is to say, people do like fire and they do like controversy. A sufficiently acid post from a past or present student would probably get forwarded to others connected with USF, bringing in readers and eliciting responses. I am not encouraging you to go all Geraldo or Hunter on us, cranking it up just for the sake of the noise. But once again I am encouraging you to share this URL, particularly with those friends who are not too sure their journalism courses at USF were an unalloyed blessing. Perhaps, complaints would inspire rebuttal. Complaint/rebuttal and so on and so on: That's the law of the jungle in blogworld, is it not? (For a comic look at how certain kinds of media promote controversy at the expense of sweet reason, click here.) All posts and comments welcome. If things get too spirited, I can pull the plug at any time.
A TV journalism thread may well bring out my masochism because no one would deny that preparing students for careers in TV news has not been our strength. We have not claimed it was for a very long time, not since David Thomson left the building, so this is not a mea culpa. And enough of our students have become TV journalists-- through their own initiative, working the local TV internship opportunities with persistence and tactical skill and, let us hope, inspired by USF's devoted and charismatic faculty -- to make us feel rather more proud than ashamed when it comes to this topic. All that said, if we are going to put together a real major, this is the place where we need to make strides. Given our limited resources, a journalism major must combine print and broadcast; that is, students from both groups will have to take the same basic courses. I was pleased that Vicky suggested print is good background for TV. I've argued that for years -- I mean, I would, wouldn't I? -- but I am pleased when someone agrees who's making a go of TV journalism. But maybe Vicky is just being nice!!! The point is that going forward with a journalism major means we have to make smart decisions about what TV news courses to add, which to require, what equipment we need, what facilities we need, how much print to put in the mix. Here is where some of you, both those who've tried TV and those still in that game -- have things to say we want to hear and, in fact, we need to hear. This is a long premable to Ms. Nguyen's remarks!
Here they are:
I'm at the Fox station in Phoenix these days, working as a GA reporter. I've been here since Jan 2004. Really like the news market. Very rock and roll, fast-paced, breaking news-oriented. Not so high brow, issues-driven as the SF market though. It's good to see different ends of the spectrum.
Anyway, it's hard to say whether USF should go broadcast or not. If there's enough demand, why not? There's plenty of stations in the Bay for internship experience. I don't know about specifics with curriculum but I know here at ASU's Cronkite School, local reporters/anchors go in and speak during some of the courses. Some also teach. They have their own newscast and students get to do a lot of different things on and off camera. Some of the interns we get are pretty sophisticated, some aren't, but they definitely have a leg up that I didn't have when I was in school.
The USF Foghorn was a great paper when I was in school--I think those who want to pursue journalism seriously should be required to write a bit for the paper so they get to see the print side and develop an understanding for story telling and deadlines. If we had a broadcast side with the right video equipment, editing stuff etc, and could put out some sort of broadcast newscast, that would be ideal.
Forum people. Do you have questions for her?
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Finally getting to the title of this post, maybe a journalism major would make room for more alternative journalism training. I missed this at USF. I now work for an alt-weekly and most of the skills I have developed writing for this publication have been learned through practice, seminars and a summer fellowship at the Academy for Alternative Journalism. I'm able to implement a narrative voice in many of my articles, and I'm given ample time to explore int-depth and investigative reporting. The alt-press is, for the most part, conducive to the kind of meaty journalism that much of the mainstream seems to be missing these days. I remember hearing the mainstream criticized in many of my media theory classes, but those classes never actually gave me the tools to pursue an alternative to a mainstream career.
So I stop there for now....feedback welcome.
Monday, August 08, 2005
So founding members: Copy the URL and send it to USF acquaintances who might enjoy commenting. As blog administrator, I have set the blog rules so that anonymous comments are allowed. That means USF grads who were really not that thrilled with the school, the department, you, me, anybody else can have their say. It's a big tent. Anyone can come inside.
What has been said on the blog so far? This is my summary:
* Internships are very very useful, and SF is a big enough city to support that side of a major.
* Having majored in journalism can reduce job shock -- my god, I don't know how to do this!
* Having majored in journalism helps finding a job in today's market. It's a requirement at many places. Employers seem to expect it.
* Speaking generally, there are a lot of people working in journalism who don't have a J degree and don't have a clue. From that point of view, a degree is not a waste of time.
* It would be good for USF; that is, it would attract students and boost our rep.
What comments do I have on my comments? You may not agree with my version of events. Disagreements welcome! More to the point, it may be that a more useful discussion would involve just what courses a USF major should include. For instance, if we crank up a journalism major, we will have to decide just how great an emphasis we should place on Web presentation, on Internet journalism. I am old school. I think that three basic reporting classes in which one learns to report and write solid print stories will produce people who can easily learn to do any additional skills needed to make you passable Web journalist. I'm saying we should do a lean major with solid print courses at its core, and that anyone who goes through such a major would be eminently employable because the basics are what you need. I'm saying this after saying that employers would prefer not to train reporters from scratch. I'm perhaps contradicting myself by saying that once you have the basics, employers *will* be willing to train you in basic Internet skills if your employer decides print, video and audio should "converge." I think employers understand that the basics are the key. I don't think they care that much if you have had a couple broadcasting courses of the kind that would enable you to do a little Web stand up, a little Web audio story.
Boy, could I be wrong. I invite discussion on this point.
Also, it would be interesting -- and perhaps painful -- to hear just what you think could be done to improve the existing courses, the ones many of you took. If we decide to not move forward and stick with the minor, the courses being offered will be the same old same old you guys went through. Is now the moment to suggest how they might have been better?
Monday, August 01, 2005
(And some of you are working in some form of *public relations.* Oooooooh. What's it like over there on the dark side? Yet the force is still strong in you.)
For many USF students, the study of journalism is just another emphasis, just another path through the mindfield -- accidental wordplay; let it ride -- of requirements on the way to careers that, superficially, have nothing to do with the collection of information and the production of news. And that, of course, is fine, since I would argue that journalism trains us in analysis, sharpens our abilities to focus and summarize and certainly is one of the best ways to sharpen our media literacy.
The study of journalism builds citizens, right? From one point of view, the problem right now is not that "better" news is not being offered to the public; the problem is that the public does not want better news. We need educated motivated consumers. We have plenty of competent makers -- if the public decides it wants what they make.
So this is also a place for those of you who aren't journalists and want to talk about the big picture and how USF fits into that picture.