Tag Archives: newspaper

‘Drinking From The Fire Hose’–Learning What Journalistm Is Like

Francis, my bike, parked right outside the entrance to the Gazette Tuesday morning. Bikers always get the best parking places!

Francis, my bike, parked right outside the entrance to the Gazette Tuesday morning. Bikers always get the best parking places!

After touring the offices of The Gazette and KCRG Tuesday, one student in my Introduction to Journalism class vowed that she would never become a journalist. The hours and pay didn’t seem attractive to her.

Well, that’s OK. She’s a young mother, and making that kind of decision based on the kind of life balance she seeks isn’t wrong, in my opinion. As for me, I miss the madcap world of daily newspaper journalism any time I get to tour a newspaper office, so I had the opposite reaction–I envied those still caught up in that world.

Zack Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette, kindly led our tour. We saw the combined KCRG and Gazette newsroom, and the sports and circulation areas upstairs.

CO120: Introduction to Journalism students tour the KCRG news studio.

CO120: Introduction to Journalism students tour the KCRG news studio.

Then, we entered the room that impressed the student’s the most—the KCRG studio. It’s interesting to see and hear how students react when some of them see an actual TV studio for the first time—I think the main shock is how small it is compared to what it appears to be on TV. You forget that when you point a camera at something, the camera only sees a narrow rectangle right in front of itself—it doesn’t see the tangle of cords, the robot cameras, the grid holding lights, the cement floor, etc. As one experienced student observed Thursday when the class debriefed on the tour—“that’s pretty much the way they all look.”

Anyway, fun as the tour was, I think the conversation after the tour—when Kucharski; Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer; and Jennifer Hemmingsen, opinion page editor, took time to speak with students in a conference room—was even more entertaining.

Zach Kucharski; executive editor of The Gazette; Jennifer Hemmingsten, opinion page editor; and Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer speak with my Introduction to Journalism students after Kucharski has led a tour of the Gazette.

Zack Kucharski; executive editor of The Gazette; Jennifer Hemmingsen, opinion page editor; and Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer speak with my Introduction to Journalism students after Kucharski has led a tour of the Gazette.

They summed up their experiences briefly. I liked Hemmingsen’s description of her first post-college journalism job working for a 6,000-circulation daily newspaper as her “drinking from the fire hose” experience. I worked for a small daily newspaper, too—it is indeed an intense first step.

She also said, and I agree, that despite all of the shakeups in the media world to date, there is still a vital role for the watchdog in our society. As Hemmingsen noted, people are so bombarded by instant information and misinformation that a journalist’s role in uncovering and telling the truth takes on new relevance. “That essential craft is more important than ever,” she said.

Kucharski went on to note that journalists are starting to learn some key lessons in the digital age. Early in the internet era, the new 24/7 internet news cycle put so much pressure to get the information online first that lots of mistakes have been made, even by credible news organizations.

That’s starting to change, he said, as journalists re-discover what they already knew—it’s more important to be right than to be first.

“Competition is a really dumb reason to make mistakes,” he noted.

Amen to that. As a professor, I see how hard it is for students who are in communication fields to learn the basic news gathering skills in the first place. To know what you know, and to take care to verify facts before passing them on, is not easy. And getting there first if you get it all wrong is not much of an accomplishment.

While one student may have been turned away from journalism, I don’t count that as a bad outcome. It’s important that students make clearheaded choices about what they want to do, and if you don’t feel the missionary zeal, than the life of a journalist is not for you. And the student I’m writing about is a PR major anyway; I don’t want to leave the impression that the Gazette turned off a budding new talent—her reaction against journalism as a career was more along the lines of affirming a choice she had already made, not changing a path she was on.

And not all students reacted that way. Most seemed to think it was really cool to see the inside of The Gazette. And I had one student speak to me briefly after class today. This student wants to add “News Processing,” a four-hour class that he would take as an elective, to his schedule next year.

Something has inspired him to learn more about journalism. Maybe it was partly the whole Gazette tour experience.

So, for me and my students, visiting the Gazette and KCRG was great fun. The Gazette is a smaller place now that it has relocated out of its older building into what once was just KCRG. But it’s still a vibrant hub of activity, an important place in the Cedar Rapids community, and it provides a vital democracy-building role.

So thanks Gazette and Zack and Jennifer and Diana. We had a great time. I hope to see y’all again soon. And y’all are invited to our fall faculty Vietnam War series of events at Mount Mercy University!

Near the end of class Thursday after Gazette tour. One of my students had my wife's class prior to my class, and they had some doughnuts left over, which they shared. Taking about newspaper journalism while eating cast off, greasy treats? It only Iowa, not Heaven, but it's close.

Near the end of class Thursday after Gazette tour. One of my students had my wife’s class prior to my class, and they had some doughnuts left over, which they shared. Talking about newspaper journalism while eating cast off, greasy treats? It only Iowa, not Heaven, but it’s close.


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And So It Begins

Cindy Petersen

Cindy Petersen, publisher of the Hiawatha Advocate, at her open house today.

I stopped by the Hiawatha Community Center this evening for a couple of cookies, some cake and a visit with friends.

It was a birthday party. The “Hiawatha Advocate,” published by recent MMU graduate Cindy Petersen, came out today for the first time and Cindy was hosting a party to celebrate.

It was nice to see the paper and Cindy, and Corey Munson, another MMU grad, who edits the Marion Times, was also there.

It was a regular gathering of MMU media figures, because the current editor of the Mount Mercy Times, Ryan Pleggenkuhle, came too.

Two editors

Two editors confer--Cindy Petersen of the Advocate and Ryan Pleggenkuhle of the MMU Times. And Ryan has his priorities in line, too. He has cake.

The paper looks good. Its first issue is a solid 12 pages. I think Cindy could use the color on the front more by publishing more than one photo there, and particularly by using photos that show Hiawatha faces—but I’ll try to leave aside my “adviser” tendency to critique.

I’m sure it’s a relief for Cindy to finally have an actual paper in hand. I hope citizens and advertisers in Hiawatha take note, and subscribe to and support the paper.

A newspaper can be an important tool to build community. Mount Mercy would be a lesser place without the Times.

Hiawatha is more of a place with the Advocate. And today, it was nice to celebrate that.

Proud paper mama

Proud paper mama--Cindy Petersen. With camera. Getting some shots for next week's Advocate?


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My Career As A Paperboy

Library cart

A full cart, staring out to deliver MMU Times at Busse Library.

I turned 11 in 1969, and I think that was the year that I started a brief, disastrous career as a paperboy.

As sexist term, I know, but in the winter of 1969 to 1970, all of the kids I knew (including myself) who were delivering “The Clinton Herald” were boys. I don’t even recall why it occurred to me to become a paperboy, although I’m sure the idea of earning money was my main motivation.

Anyway, I would get home around 3:30 in the afternoon, and there would be a bundle of papers waiting for me by the street in our front lawn. I was to bring the bundle inside, cut it open, fold the papers into my bag and then go for a walk. My route of about 5 blocks, which included around 60 homes that subscribed to the paper, started about a two-block walk away from our home on Seventh Avenue South.

The subscribers I provided the afternoon paper to were strung out along about three blocks of Eighth Avenue and a few side streets.

Stairs in Donnelly Cener

Stairs in Donnelly Center. Yes, I got to visit all 3 floors.

I don’t think I was too bad at delivering the paper. I did get some complaints on Thanksgiving, when the paper was huge and I had to do delivery in several batches, but most days I would be done well before 5.

But, the job included collecting subscription money, and I was terrible at collecting . I found out that some adults were perfectly happy cheating an 11-year-old kid out of a few coins. I also didn’t clearly understand my role—the paper was charging me for 100 percent of the papers they delivered to me. I was to contact them if a subscriber stopped wanting (or paying for) the paper.

As it turned out, due to my failure to keep the circulation department updated, the more I delivered, the thinner my margin was becoming, until I was earning practically nothing. After a few months, my dismal first foray into the world of free enterprise came to its logical conclusion as I respectfully quit. I recall about a week afterwards that the circulation manager, a nice older gentleman, showed up at my house because my replacement noticed that the route produced no profit for the working boy, and he wanted me to understand why. His appearance merely embarrassed me.

Strange, that years later, I find myself again a paperboy. And again, profiting practically nothing.

Well, more on that later. For now, back to 1969-1970. Although I was only a paperboy for maybe 5 months, it was an eventful time. I had many interesting, and eye-opening experiences. Among the firsts:

  • I delivered to the pastor of a Protestant church, an odd experience for little Catholic boy. He was young, and most priests I knew were old (I was also an altar boy, so I had contact with the priest in my parish. I was a terrible altar boy, but that will be a future post). He also had a young , and rather cute, wife. She was the one who was usually home when I delivered. I was only 11, but I on the edge of “the change” and definitely noticed. It was mind blowing that a man of God had such a cutie.
  • I was in one of my first traffic accidents. On one winter day, to be nice, my oldest sister took me on my delivery route in the family Ford stationwagon. It was very sloppy snowy, and at the corner of Eighth Avenue South and Seventh Street, she skidded through a stop sign into the intersection. CRUNCH. I’ve since been impressed, through several accident experiences, how slow time seems to go when you can see an accident about to happen, and how freakishly LOUD crunching metal is. It was a fender-bender, it left my sister in tears and I recall running home to get my dad. Excitement, but luckily no injuries.
  • I also recall that spring of 1970 that I was on the way home when my dad pulled up beside me . He was driving a new cherry red 1969 VW van. It was the first time I had ridden in a new car, and it seemed very high-tech (the dash, unlike the metal dash of the 1958 VW that had been our family car before the Ford station wagon, was plastic, black plastic, cool and PLASTIC). That microbus even had a radio with both AM and FM. Kids, to me, in the spring of 1970, that was cool. I could set a button and instantly push it and be listening to 89 WLS, the big AM rock and roll station out of Chicago. If my dad let me. Sadly, he was not so fond of rock and roll.
Paper rack

The distribution points, this on in the University Center Commons. Really pro delivery job. Must be an experienced paperboy.

Anyway, despite that poor start, I eventually grew up to a newspaper career. I recall that when we lived in Clinton, we got 3 newspapers a day—the Des Moines Register and Quad City Times in the morning and the Herald in the afternoon. Most Sundays, I’d walk with my dad to a small downtown cigar store, where he would buy the Sunday Chicago Tribune.

Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart statue at Sacred Heart convent, where I dropped off the final papers to finish my route. When I was a Clinton Herald paperboy, I was a pupill at Sacred Heart School.

Anyway, for what I hope is a brief interlude, I’ve become a paperboy again. The work study student who had been handling the Mount Mercy Times circulation is a sophomore nursing student, and he is too busy to do the chore anymore. So, I’m desperately seeking a student who wants to earn some extra money.

I promise, there is no collections required. And almost all of the delivering is indoors.

Spring Poster


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When Fall Rolls Around

Mount Mercy University Times Web Site

We'll have to come up with a new online flag, since we aren't using the "dragon flag" this year, but the site already had coverage of this year's first big story--as Mount Mercy became a university.

At the end of the school year, it’s pretty normal for student journalists to be pretty frazzled.

It has been a long slog through weekly deadlines. Add n the stress of hearing complaints all the time for trivial errors, but not so many compliments for what you do well, and the experience of a student journalist can be difficult.

Yet, at the beginning rather than the end, I have the gut feeling that we’ll have a pretty good year a the “Mount Mercy Times.”

Early signs? The editors were mulling over today the shape of the first issue, which will be published next week. After considering the Mount Mercy University transition stories, a fairly vibrant set of sports stories, articles by editors and students in MMU fall writing classes—the editors agreed to put out 16 pages.

Well. The paper is usually 12 pages and sometimes 8, but rarely 16.

It’s a lofty goal. But there is lots of “cool” stuff. Tom has done about half a dozen versions of the flag, and every time he starts tweaking, it gets better. The latest version today was a pretty darn sexy beast, I think, and I am anxious to see it in print.

Erich and Sophia are already pumping out video news reports. We don’t print a paper until next week, but the paper feels as if it has already “arrived.”

And Cindy has already “published” an issue online. You can see it here. It’s six pages of U transition coverage, and yet we’ll have new material next week on the same topic.

There is a downside—due to scheduling conflicts, the paper cycle didn’t get as far down the road today as usual, and the editors plan to work on it Sunday.

I’m a bit old-fashioned—I don’t like weekend shifts of this nature—but, everybody seems really cool with it. The attitudes of Cindy, Bizz, Ryan, Tom, Jennifer, Amy, Jason—they seemed really upbeat today.

May it be a good year. I think it will.

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Last Times at the Times

It always feels a little odd when the school year comes crashing to an end—like a juggler unexpectedly interrupted.

Except the plates don’t come crashing down on the stage. The oddly-clad students in their totally unstylish giant black dresses merely parade across the stage, hoping not to trip.

Today is the final production cycle for the Mount Mercy Times. It’s noon, and most of the editors are at lunch, but they’re planning a 20-page issue, the largest of the year.

And they don’t even seem fazed. That’s good.

Sept. 9, 2009--first of the Kayla covers of the year.

It will give me more to read on Monday. That’s not quite as good, but on balance, it’s still a positive.

I’ve seen the editor’s draft of his column for next week, and he has some very kind words for me, which I appreciate.

The final staff editorial, written by our staff iconoclast and curmudgeon, is heartfelt and well done.

Can’t wait t see what magic the student have in store. While not all plans went according to, and while not every moment was a good one, the year was fantastic.

Shown is the cover from the first issue of the year. The world didn’t end due to H1N1, but the first cover was the start of an interesting year.


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