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.
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.