Tag Archives: Journalism

#ICMA 2017—Things I Think I Learned


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Kevin Kush, head football coach at Boys Town and author of “A Pieces of the Puzzle: Eight Traits of a Quality Teammate” speaks at the INA and ICMA conventions in Des Moines.

On Monday, IowaWatch.org is scheduled to publish a story that says, basically, college newspapers are changing all over the state—some college news media have abandoned print altogether and gone exclusively online, while those that still produce newspapers are printing fewer pages or issues as their core audience rejects print.

So it was interesting to me, in an afternoon panel Feb. 3 on “How Do Campus News Organizations Remain Relevant?” to hear a student at Buena Vista University and panelist among leading journalists from many Iowa campus, report this news from BVU: Print will be back.

For a university had led the way several years ago in shifting from a physical newspaper to strictly a virtual news source on-line, an upcoming special print edition is a big deal. Maybe it makes BVU’s college new media more tangible, real.

But, to me, the theme of Friday at the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA) convention was the inevitable media shift to mobile, instantly accessible journalism.

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Zack Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette, moderates an ICMA panel.

One afternoon panel of college journalists was moderated by Zach Zucharski, executive editor of The Gazette. He had, for me, the quote of the day on media innovation:

“We have an opportunity, every day, to do it better,” he said. Then he said something like: Even if it didn’t work today, we still have tomorrow. I can’t put that second sentence in quotation marks, honestly, because my notes get too spidery at that point.

The second day of the ICMA conference on Friday began with a shouted inspirational speech by a football coach. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it—the Iowa Newspaper Association had brought in a football player last year as its morning speaker, and although his presentation was so compelling that I purchased his book right afterwards, I just wasn’t thinking before Friday’s speech that what my life needs is more wisdom from football.

But, despite his very coachish delivery style, Kevin Kush, the football coach at Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, turned out to be a very good speaker. His advice on how to be “A Piece of the Puzzle” was pretty straightforward and familiar—points like “a piece of the puzzle believes in the team concept,” or “a piece of the puzzle adapts to change.” Yet, the anecdotes and personal humor he used as illustrations made the advice more powerful than I expected.

Although it was number three on his list, he said his main point was “a piece of the puzzle respects everyone.”

Well, as journalism tries to puzzle together a changing media environment, remembering both respect and adaptability are important to us, too. And yes, once again, a football person talked me into purchasing his book.

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Kevin Kush sells a book to MMU student Capria Davis.

Also on Friday, I attended a presentation by Kelli Brown of The Des Moines Register. She showed many examples of new news storytelling platforms, including interactive videos that let the viewer stitch together a story. To be honest, some of what she showed seemed to me to fit into the blurring of news and entertainment that is not a positive trend in our society, but I still appreciated the peek at up-and-coming storytelling tools.

And I’m going to email her to get a copy of her slide deck so I can check out those tools and some 360 cameras.

One points she made stood out to me—these days, a large majority of the Register’s online audience accesses the newspaper through mobile devices. If you’re producing content for the web, you have to take into account that most of your consumers will be looking at it via a tiny smartphone screen.

ICMA 2017 was an intersting conference. Thank you, INA, for again hosting us. Here is a link to my Facebook gallery of day 2.

And watch for that IowaWatch.org story Monday!

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#ICMA2017: And Connor Does It Again


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Connor Mahan, who repeated as winner of best news photograph in the annual ICMA contest. He is, I assume, texting his family the good news.

Kudos to Connor Mahan, Brooke Woolley and Madison Coates. The MMU students won first-place awards in various categories of the Iowa better newspaper contest announced Feb. 2 at the Iowa College Media Association Convention in Des Moines.

It was interesting that, of the four first-place awards going to the MMU Times, the three that were won by Connor and Brooke all were related to the flood of 2016. Connor was a repeat winner in one category—last year, his photograph of a young boy at the replica of the Vietnam Wall at MMU won best news photograph of the year, and he did it again this year with an image of Father Tony Adawu and an MMU student sandbagging during the September flood.

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Winning page, with winning photo and story.

Both Connor and Brooke shared the first-place award for best news story of the year for their jointly written coverage of that flood. And Brooke got best front page for the edition of the Mount Mercy Times reporting on the flood.

In addition, Madison Coates’ staff editorial last school year defending journalism won first place for best editorial leadership.

I had hoped to write several posts about ICMA today—there was a lot of think about from day 1. But, it’s getting late and I’m tired.

So here are just a few notes. Victoria Lim, who does PR for Brandman University, but who until recently was a multimedia PR storyteller for Disney and a multimedia journalist before that, was an excellent ICMA keynote speaker.

I thought her “zoo” idea to demonstrate storytelling was very good. And she made a key point to students, one I’ve often stated, but it’s good to hear someone else make. She asked the students what is the most important skill needed to be a multimedia storyteller. They listed attributes such as imagination and creativity, which she conceded were important.

But to her, the number-one skill is what I tell all communication students their number-one skill has to be: Writing.

“If you can write, you can do content, stories, whatever you call it, on any platform,” Lim noted.

Anyway, here is a list of the awards won by the MMU Times this year:

  • First place, best news photograph, Connor Mahan.
  • First place, best news story, Connor Mahan and Brooke Woolley.
  • First place, best page 1, Brooke Woolley.
  • First place, best opinion/editorial leadership, Madison Coates.
  • Third place, best profile story, Todd Cross.
  • Third place, best headline writing, Bianca Kesselring.
  • Honorable mention, best opinion writing, Billie Barker.
  • Honorable mention, best sports photograph, Sam Techau.

    Job well done, students. More images. And now I’m going to bed.

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MMU students Capria Davis, Connor Mahan, Brooke Woolley and Anna Bohr with prizes won by the MMU Times at the ICMA convention in Des Moines.

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Want to Report? Find The Sometimes Indirect Route


Zach Kucharski, senior manager of newsroom operations for The Gazette and KCRG, speaks to MMU students in the KCRG studio. Joe Winters turned the lights on for us.

Zach Kucharski, senior manager of newsroom operations for The Gazette and KCRG, speaks to MMU students in the KCRG studio. Joe Winters turned the lights on for us.

When Chelsea Keenan, a business reporter for The Gazette and Source Media, graduated from college in 2010, it was a cold, hard environment for college graduates in the shrinking communications-media world.

She was one of three journalists who shared some time this morning with my Introduction to Journalism class, and she noted that she filled in the gaps before employment with some internships, including one at NPR. There, she was placed on the business desk, a beat she had never considered covering.

For her, finding the right niche, one she was not aiming at, and leveraging it with internships allowed her to enter the working world of journalism.

It’s a point I often make with students—the importance of beyond-the-class experience, both with student media and with internships. “I think I did about five internships,” she said. In other words, students, you have to get out there and hunt down the opportunities to gain experience.

And don’t be surprised if you end up doing something that you didn’t consider on the way to doing what you really want to.

Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer; and Chelsea Keenan, business reporter, chat with students in a fancy conference room also known as "the lunch room" and "room formerly known as cramped TV studio."

Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer; and Chelsea Keenan, business reporter, chat with students in a fancy conference room also known as “the lunch room” and “room formerly known as cramped TV studio.”

For instance, Diana Nollen, a more familiar name to me as a Gazette reader, writes about arts and entertainment, which she says is her “dream job.” But, on the way to that dream job, she worked on all kinds of other beats and had various editing roles.

She said she’s been in her dream job for three years. “I had a 30-year career to get to that dream job,” Nollen noted. As she said, students, don’t expect to land your “perfect” job as your first.

And yes, even if you didn’t expect to write about it, you might end up doing something surprising, like covering business, something Keenan said she wasn’t keen on while she was in school.

Which promoted Nollen to state something in almost exactly the same words that I’ve used with students: “A reporter can cover anything.”

My first job way back in the 1980s was as a sports editor, which was ironic because I had studiously avoided athletics and athletes when I was growing up. I think it was a very minor regret of my dad’s—he had a passive interest in football, for example, and would have preferred to share that interest with his son. To his credit, he didn’t push me, and I ended up a high school star of the debate team.

Anyway, I got that sports gig because I had covered sports as a part-time writer for “The Quad City Times” while I was in college. I got out of sports as quickly as I could, but it was still valuable to me as the first rung in a media career ladder.

And so it goes. Zack Kucharski, senior manager of newsroom operations for both the Gazette and KCRG-TV, noted that he has expected to write three stories one summer for a Gazette internship, when a reporter suddenly left. “And I wrote three stories a day,” he says.

My class had an interesting tour of the joint news operations of The Gazette and KCRG. The tour always sparks interesting discussions in class. And it’s always nice to hear the messages that I’ve stated so often to students coming out of the mouths of those working in today’s media.

Other points made in our brief session this morning:

  • Have 10 questions ready for every interview. That is a piece of advice Nollen said she learned in a high school journalism class. I haven’t used that number before, and I will in the future—but having lots of questions at the ready is an important basic that I have mentioned, as is listening to answers and adjusting the interview rather than sticking to your script, which is, based on the anecdotes she shared, something I think Nollen would also agree with.
  • Go there. It’s OK, in fact it’s normal, to speak with sources on the phone, but you get better interviews, more information and thus better journalism, if you can be physically with the source in his or her environment. Kucharski noted how important it is to watch and be sensitive to a source’s reaction, his or her nonverbal communication—something that is hard to do over the phone.
  • Take notes. Use technology, but be ready for it to fail. You may not pick up the sounds you think you did, your digital device can fill with data, and—they didn’t make this point, but I’ve added it to the list in classroom discussions—good notes make it a lot easier for you to deal with and understand the recording so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing over and over as you’re trying to write.

Even in this digital age, the digits that have flesh and bone are often the most useful to journalists—take notes.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the tour. Thank you, Zack, Diana and Chelsea for your words of wisdom. Thank you, Zack, for arranging and hosting the informative tour. And thanks to all the other Source Media people who were so helpful and kind to us—even the bald lab rat who was doing everyone else’s laundry.

We had a blast. I hope you enjoyed it, too.

CO 120 students in a meeting with Gazette journalists. We got to sit in on the morning KCRG-Gazette-web news session and then chat with three journalists. I enjoyed it and I think the students did, too.

CO 120 students in a meeting with Gazette journalists. We got to sit in on the morning KCRG-Gazette-web news session and then chat with three journalists. I enjoyed it and I think the students did, too.

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To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question


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A student in CO 120 writing a blog post. I asked the students for permission before shooting them and posting these photos.

Should journalism students be required to blog?

These days, with media convulsively changing, who knows what medium future journalists will use to report the day’s events. I’m a journalism professor, and I don’t. Newsweek, the iconic American news weekly magazine, isn’t available on dried wood pulp, anymore. One of the most prominent “newspapers” is the Huffington Post, which isn’t a news “paper” at all.

So it seems reasonable to assume that writing for the web is an important skill.

Another student in lab.

Another student in lab.

That’s my rationale for having journalism students blog. That case against?

Blogging is usually emotional, and personal. Journalism, while it involves and is motivation by emotions, should be neither.

The invitation to blog is an license to opine—and the instinct to opine is exactly what journalism students need to get over. If you’re doing a good job reporting the story for a credible news outlet, nobody should know your personal opinion at the end.

Which means, maybe, that you ought not blog about it since blogs are all about personal opinion.

Still, I think the upside far outweighs the down. Blogging means that students have a public url that exposes the world to their writing, but also means that they become more aware of the “blogosphere,” that odd zone that all reporters need to be aware of. It also gets them, if it works, into the habit of regularly originating and executing their own ideas.

Anyway, my Introduction to Journalism students this semester are even now busily typing away on their first blog posts (or updates for those who already blog). Another semester has begun at MMU.

I have a larger-than-usual class this semester, which, to be honest, feels great. Introduction to Journalism is a writing course that any student of any major would benefit from, since it involves bottom-line, clear writing that is more professional than writing done in many other courses.

What will their blogs bring? I can’t wait to find out.

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More CO 120 students typing away. Did you notice how sexually segregated the room is? There is definitely a women’s area and a men’s area. Interesting how students self segregate by gender.

 

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Writing Advice From Gazette’s Rick Smith


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Rick Smith, reporter for the Gazette. He reported that he has resisted being on TV, I hope exposure on a blog is OK.

Rick Smith, a long-time Gazette reporter who has covered City Hall in Cedar Rapids for more than a decade, visited one of my classes this morning.

Students in CO 281: Newspaper Reporting will cover a Cedar Rapids City Council meeting later this month, and Smith was kind enough to give students some suggestions.

The resulting conversation was wide-ranging and open-ended. Rick just opened up and shared anecdotes and context for city issues, and I didn’t see any reason to reign him in. In fact, I felt a bit guilty glancing at the clock, because he thought I might be done with him. Nope—please carry on, Mr. Smith.

Anyway, as often seems to be the case, what he told my students shouldn’t have been new or news to them—but it’s always useful for students to hear how another journalist articulates basically the same advice I give them.

For example, Rick emphasized the importance of the story lead—the first sentence.

On this blog post, I don’t have a particularly good example, although to be fair, this isn’t a news story, either, so there. Anyway, getting a good lead—recognizing what salient point will serve as the theme of the news story and summing up that main point in a compelling and interesting sentence that both communicates the main news and yet still motivates the reader to carry on—well, that’s a big part of the battle.

Especially in a City Council meeting which offers so many false data alleys and information dead ends. I like that Rick had prompted students to look at the city’s web site for agendas and minutes—something the class did as a group on Wednesday, and that I will expect them to do individually before the meeting they cover.

Anyway, what else do I hope students will recall from Rick Smith’s visit?

  • What happens at a meeting is always part of a larger story. For example, he spoke about a new development in the works for the corner of Edgewood Road and Blair’s Ferry. The policy question is whether the city should provide tax incentives to the developer. Those incentives traditionally were given to manufacturing companies, but a decade ago the city used them to help persuade HyVee to go ahead with plans for a new store in an economically poor neighborhood—and now someone wants them for a swanky new shopping and office complex in an upscale area of town. The city’s materials explain what the tax incentive is, but don’t tie this decision to the context of earlier decisions—and that context is what a journalist provides. The rule is bigger than just this topic—on any beat for virtually any story, a journalist needs to seek the context and deliver that valued insight. I think that’s increasingly the role of the profession, tying the news of the minute to the larger saga, as events themselves are more universally experienced without information intermediaries.
  • A meeting is partially a public performance. TV, even small-audience local cable TV, changes whatever it pays attention to. There used to be five members of the Cedar Rapids City Council—now, with nine, when something important happens, “you have to listen to nine speeches.” I suspect those speeches are for the benefit of the home audience of potential voters.
  • Brevity is one of the keys to good news writing. If he were professor, Rick says, part of the assignment would be: “See how short you can make it.” Students, Rick isn’t the professor and I’m going to want you to cover the full meeting…but “covering” does mean recognizing what’s important (and writing about it) and what’s not (and leaving it out). And whatever you report, if you’re a journalist, always try to use a few words effectively rather than deploy too many for the job. Write short.

Anyway, much of the talk was Rick telling stories that I think give students some context to try to understand what will happen before them later this month. He gave students and me a lot to think about, along with good advice, and I’m grateful he was willing to speak with my class.

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Hey, Shawn, How About Journalism at MMU?


An open letter to Shawn Johnson:

Dear Shawn,

Hey kiddo, it’s not good that you have to give up a career that you’re so good at when you’re barely out of your teens, but we both know that gymnastics is a game for the young. So sorry to hear that your knee won’t let you continue competing at the Olympic level, but somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last from you.

Anyway, I read that you’re examining your options, including the possibility of college.

Do the college thing, kid. The time is now and it won’t get any easier later on. No, you don’t “need” college in the sense that others have to attend to lift themselves up to a higher career—but, college will round you out in many ways, give you more insight into life, and give you a bit of a break from your very public career.

No doubt you’re going to hear from lots of colleges, and will have your pick of places to study. You seem to be exactly what most colleges would love to have—an energetic, determined, intelligent young woman. Never mind that you’re also wealthy and famous—if you were nobody, you’d still be somebody.

Shawn Johnson

From her official web site, http://www.shawnjohnson.net, picture of Shawn Johnson. Future Mustang?

Anyway, here is more of my unsolicited advice: I think you should study journalism and either business or English, and minor in Spanish, at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids.

Why?

Well, for one thing, it’s Iowa. As an Iowan yourself, you understand that this state might not be heaven, but it can be welcoming and embracing. It’s easy, in Iowa, to find people who will care about you and help you discover yourself.

That genuine Iowa niceness is boosted at MMU by its traditions. We’re a practical university, a place where people train for careers, but with a strong liberal arts flavor. We like to think we’re educating the whole person, and not just preparing a good future employee.

You, as a person who can open many doors, need to engage in your mind at a place that will embrace you, but also put you in the same boat as everybody else.

That’s another reason to consider MMU—because it’s not the Ivy League. You don’t need to attend Harvard to open doors. You need to study at a place where you can learn deeply, sure, but also be out of the limelight for a while.

I think MMU is that kind of place. If you studied at MMU, you’d be close to family and friends, but not too close. Cedar Rapids is small to a young lady from Des Moines, but we’re not Dubuque or Waverly—you’d still have all of the diversions that a Midwestern city offers, although, granted, in the setting of a small Iowa town.

Again, that might be a refreshing change.

Anyway, I realize this is an incredible long shot. So, assuming you might attend Northwestern or UC Berkeley or some other more nationally-ranked school, I still think J-School might be a good move for you. After all, it’s likely you’ll engage in some form of media career. By studying journalism, you’ll learn more of the law and history governing media, stuff that you’ll want to know. In addition, if the journalism school you attend is anything like MMU, you’ll become a better writer—and being able to write for yourself, as well as express yourself well, are keys for your future.

In any case, if you study journalism while aiming for a future media career, combine that with something else. My suggestion is English because a sense of narrative, being grounded in classic stories and classic story telling and, again, advanced writing skills will be invaluable to you.

Business, too, is a good choice—as a young woman of means, you need to understand how business woks. Even if the only company you ever run is “Shawn Johnson, Inc.,” you’ll control and need to rationally deploy assets in a way that benefits you (and, I hope, the world).

As for a Spanish minor, love or hate the reality, it’s America’s second language—and as a primary, natural first language, it’s as global and widespread as English. You open up all kinds of new avenues for yourself if you can speak Spanish. Finally, study Spanish because fluency in a second language simply gives you a deeper and better understanding of English—you have to tune in to and understand the structure of language itself in order to learn a second tongue, and in studying Spanish, you’re really vastly improving your facility in English.

Sorry to hear about your knee. And I would have loved to see you return to compete in the Olympics in London. Along with all Iowa, I cheered you in China, and I’m anxious to see where your life will take you.

And remember, even if you don’t go to MMU, think journalism plus—journalism as a major with a second major and a minor in some language other than English—wherever your academic ambitions take you.

Finally, you probably don’t need it from me, but you are facing your own adversities—an unwanted life change that is tough even for a fortunate young woman such as you. Good luck, kiddo. And thanks, on behalf of all Iowa, for the pride we’re already felt in one of our state’s favorite daughters.

Best wishes,

Joe

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Tackling the evil side of the ‘net in 90 seconds


KGAN CBS 2 :: Top Stories – Cedar Rapids Family Reacts To Young Girls Posting, “Am I Ugly” Videos.

I was interviewed by a local TV station the other day about a recent YouTube fad, young girls posting “am I pretty or ugly” videos.

 What do I have to say on that topic?

 Well.  I am not a foe of social media.  I like that Facebook, for example, makes it easy for me to connect with family and old friends.

And I like YouTube.  I use YouTube links all the time on my blogs—“Casablanca” made a guest appearance in my previous post through a link to YouTube.

Ugy or pretty video screen

I know, painting out information won't keep you from finding this video with a 5-second YouTube search, but here is a screen shot from the original of many videos. I've only seen the one and it was more than enough. 5 million hits and counting. And YouTube is suggesting all kinds of stuff that I won't watch just because I've clicked on this video.

 But, yikes.  A 30-year-old fashion model has serious self-confidence issues if she posted a “am I pretty” video.  From a 12-year-old, it’s unbearably poignant, self-absorbed and sad.

 In communication terms, the internet is too often the Wild West.  If you post a question such as “am I pretty,” you’re inviting, and you’ll get, the surliest, crudest, meanest list of comments.  In a world with billions of people online, there are millions of jerks, guaranteed.  Nobody is perfect enough, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all of us beholders don’t have universal standards.

And no young adolescent has reached the apex of personal physical perfection at age 12 anyway.

 The “am I ugly or pretty” fad is icky on many levels:

  •  You feel bad that kids are posting the question in the first place.  Kids, don’t ask the internet questions that you would whisper only to your closest friends.  The intimacy that you feel with your computer in your bedroom is false—on the internet, you’re playing before the world.  And the internet never forgets.
  •  You wonder how “real” the whole thing is.  Is this a 12-year-old acting spontaneously?  Is there a puppet master somewhere who is prompting this behavior?  Is this a 20-something waif who can look and act much younger?  I’m sure most of the videos are exactly what they seem to be, but “most of” is not “all,” and fakery is common online.
  •  You wonder where the parents are.  A great rule of parenting is this:  No screens in the bedroom.  No cell phones, no computer, no TV.  E devices that connect you to the world can only be used in common living areas around other people.  Sure, your tween or teen will hate you if you make and enforce this rule.  But if you’re going to be a parent, you’ll earn your adolescent’s hate often, so what the heck?  Let him hate you, it’s your job.  Online sites, Facebook and YouTube, often have age rules, which are pretty universally ignored and circumvented.  You can’t (and shouldn’t) try to shield your child from seeing gritty reality, but you can guide his or her behavior and understanding of the world.  And posing a question like “am I pretty” online is stupid at any age, but beyond the pale if you’re still knee-high to a grasshopper.

 Well, that’s just a few reactions.  How did I react to being interviewed?  It felt weird because I didn’t feel that the conversation I had was very substantive, and when the story aired, it was an odd kind of feature anyway—to illustrate the story and give some narrative arc to it, the reporter used a phone to show the video to a random family in the park and then provoked the expected “that’s terrible” and “I would never do that” reactions.

 I and another MMU professor appear in brief guest roles to add, I don’t know, some “expert” commentary.  Well, OK.  Having been a reporter, I try to cooperate with reporters because I know how hard that role can be.  And it’s true, I am also an attention seeker, I don’t mind being on TV.  Because I’m so pretty.  (That’s a joke, by the way, so please don’t feel moved to comment to correct my impression.)

 But, I’m not sure in this case how illuminating I was or how illuminating the resulting story was.  Like beauty, perfection in journalism can be elusive.

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