Blogging is more productive than it looks. by Russ
January 29, 2009, 1:54 am
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Several days ago, I blogged/complained that the Observer didn’t even get a link on AU SOC’s official Web site. Proving that blogging isn’t always just idle whining and talking into the dark emptiness of cyberspace, I was almost immediately corrected by James Robertson that there is actually one on the SOC’s main page… You just have to scroll down, down and down, and then it’s on the left – a box with a graphic from the current issue and a brief description of what we worked on in the most recent issue.

And just a few moments ago, Tia Sumler, the SOC’s manager of marketing and web communication, responded with additional information about some recent changes and where our stuff has shown up on the SOC’s Web site. Among other changes she made recently, the “Student Work” page now not only touts the Observer staff’s hard work on Inauguration Day, the “American Observer” page actually links to the site. So, thank you, Tia.

Tia explained that the SOC’s Web site is dynamic, and fairly frequently updating, so unless things our work is regularly brought to her attention, it’s going to slip off the front/top of the SOC pages. So, it’s up to us to say on top of this, and if there’s something we want brought to the SOC’s attention, probably the most efficient way to do it is to directly contact her about it.

That said, maintaining a prominently and permanently placed display of student work for future employers (and potential future students) is a common feature at many similar programs, for instance, here and here. It’s good to get publicity and drive traffic for projects we’re currently working on, but providing lasting easy access of our good work is 90 percent of the game, in my opinion.

So, anyone have any suggestions to pass on to Tia about how we would like to have the school market our online clip file?

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Can we get some AU love here? by Russ
January 27, 2009, 1:52 am
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Not all posts can be as long and involved as the last two, so this one will be fairly short, sweet and to the point. What do you have to do to get some love around here?

As noted in my earlier post we’re hardly the only J-School graduate student Web publication, but we do appear to be the only one that can’t get a link from our own school.

Seriously. AU’s official SOC page has an entire page devoted to the Observer but not a link to the actual publication in sight. There’s the goofy photo of us from the first week of school but no link to the online graduate student publication.

As an online publication, this is problematic.

Needless to say, there’s also no link to the Transition Tracker Web site and it’s amazing spinning wheel of federal agency badges (it’s actually as thrilling as described, please do check it out) that several of us worked very hard on last semester.

On the “Student Work” page, there’s a link to the undergraduate Eagle site, but nothing for this year’s class of journalism grad students.

Maybe a project for the publicity person this time around?



Yardstick – Part 1 by Russ
January 27, 2009, 1:45 am
Filed under: Russ

In trying to figure out where to go from here, it really helps to figure out where here exactly is.

Unlike “real-world” publications, there are no good yardsticks to measure the relative success of a journalism student publication, and judging our Observer against professional publications isn’t fair (or maybe it is, if we want to end up in that world?)

We like to compare ourselves favorably to the Eagle but that’s a campus newspaper, a different animal altogether. There are strong student publications here at AU – for example, the “American Way of Life,” an undergraduate progressive student publication – but regrettably I couldn’t find it online anywhere.

If you mention some of AU SOC’s competitors in the graduate journalism field, it will probably make our beloved faculty’s teeth grind (I’ve tried it, you should too.) So maybe looking to see what they’re doing would be helpful – not to copy, but to get a sense of where we stand in the world. As many college and university administrators will tell you trying to quantify an institution’s faculty, curriculum and mission and rank them is unfair and not really possible, but competition is a driving force in real world journalism – the uncontrollable urge to get the scoop, no matter how small, even if readers don’t actually spend their mornings comparing news coverage.

I’ll make some brief comments, but the goal of this blog is to use the technology’s capabilities to the fullest and create an ongoing, free-flowing discussion, so the reader’s thoughts are as/more important than my own. If you happen to just be a graduate student journalism aficionado and have thoughts about what we’re missing the boat on, or what we’ve got right, tell us. If you’re a member of the AU SOC community (including the Observer staff and our beloved faculty) and you don’t like how the Observer compares, say why (via email to me to share with my classmates if you’re shy about putting an unfavorable comparison out there on the Web with your name or in the comments section) – what do you see the competition doing that we’re not?

The Competition:

Columbia University’s Journalism School: Probably the best known j-school, they’ve got more than a dozen student published Web sites, some continually updated and some not. A few of the more interesting:

  • The Columbia Journalist is a very similar product to the Observer. I really am not a fan of the Drupal CMS we use, and it’s hard to say what they’re using (at least for me,) but I like the look of our Web site better. The school’s site claims this is the best work from the Columbia News Service – a wire service that pushes student content. We have an internal queue of unused stories, but I kind of like the idea of more selectively choosing what work we run, and offering the rest for syndication. The New York Times is one of the distributors.
  • The Brooklyn Ink is intended to be an honest-to-god resource on the Web for news about Brooklyn. We’ve tossed around the idea of trying to focus the Observer as a more serious news site covering the District, but that’s for a future post. Until I get to that, this site offers some food for thought. They use the WordPress CMS and it looks great. This will also be the topic of a future post, but again, interesting to see what else is out there.

Northwestern’s Medill School has a couple of listed graduate student publications, namely two (one for the Chicago students and one for the students in D.C. that is currently on hiatus) that are pretty similar to our own publications – a general news/feature Web site. The Chicago site that’s currently up offers a mixed bag of what students are working on, and like our Transition Tracker several smaller projects with select groups of students working on specific projects, for example Medill on the Hill .

The hill project has a Twitter feed like us, but not with the same effect as our participation with the Inauguration Report.

This is hopefully enough to get some discussions going about where we are, and where we might want to go. As the semester continues, I’ll not only be following our stuff, I’ll watch to see where the others are going.



How I learned to stop worrying and love the Observer. by Russ
January 27, 2009, 1:39 am
Filed under: Russ

This first blog post is not as easy to write as it looks. I have a huge problem with the whole idea, but after chatting with our esteemed leader, David Johnson, I think I have an idea.

I do not have a problem with blogging, some of my best friends are bloggers, but it’s simply not what I do. Five years as a newspaper reporter trained me to keep my mouth shut. In my opinion, nobody needs my opinion.

Covering local politics and presidential primaries in New Hampshire, I frequently found myself in a position where someone asked, “Well, what do you think?” I always declined to answer. People already assume reporters are biased and frequently tell us what biases they believe we have. For me, if both sides of a story accused me of bias against them, I chalked it up as a good article. I knew my reporting was not biased, but the last thing I needed was anyone hearing me say anything that could be construed as “leaning” one way or another. So, for the past five years I practiced keeping my thoughts to myself, and now the habit is hard to break.

It’s even harder to break in a blog format knowing that this will remain online, as a record, until the power goes out, but Johnson is requiring it.

So, I’ll be writing about the Observer itself. It’s something that’s caused me no small amount of consternation as I figure out how I fit into it, and what we’re really doing here – just like blogging. A perfect match?

The Observer is a work-in-progress that, at points, all of the AU graduate journalism students are proud of, and just as often, we’re not so proud of. It’s the nature of the beast – rather than putting us into a fully formed, functioning news organization, our program is designed to make us build one from the ground-up. It’s one of the more exciting features of the AU graduate program that reminds me of what I love most about journalism, and it’s also one of the most frustrating things I’ve encountered at AU.

So, my blog posts will also be works-in-progress, an attempt to make our publication better – find its faults when necessary and brag about the successes when I can. I’ll try to keep it in the tradition of the “reader’s representative” or “ombudsman” columns – honest, self-conscious and constructive appraisal – but I’ll also work to respect my classmates and try to avoid singling any one of them out.

Blogs are better when there’s feedback. The Observer will be as well, especially as we grow the site’s traffic and try to cobble together a product from our varied backgrounds that is still ours but has resonance with readers. So, if there’s anything a reader thinks needs to be addressed, feel free to email me, or comment on one of my posts.