Our Beloved Professor by Russ
April 15, 2009, 10:07 am
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As the semester winds down and we turn out our final issues, our beloved professor sets the tone.

David Johnson, hard at work… hard at work?



Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.


Their Work and Ours Too by americanobserved
March 30, 2009, 9:31 pm
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After the barn-burner of a post I just made, how about something lighter. Like how our work compares to everyone else’s.

Remember those broadcast people in our program? They do a full-scale TV news magazine every week. It’s pretty good. Sometimes it’s in Spanish. And wow, when did Annie Aho get that TV lady voice?

Our undergraduate friends at the Eagle, are plugging along too, helping us understand how not to write a cutline (click to see it bigger.)

The most tortured cutline. Ever.

The most tortured cutline. Ever.

Surfing away from the AU world, I think it’s useful to compare what other J-school grad students are doing as a yardstick to figure out what we’re doing right and wrong. We’ve hit something of a slump, but I think we’re comparing well.

The Columbia Journalist looks just like it did last semester, and it’s pretty spare – so is our site, but we kick it up with a broad Flash package which really helps. It’s also nice to see they have the same problems writing good headlines.

Columbia also has the “nyc24” which seems to be somewhere between the Journalist’s “city news” focus, and our focus on everything. Well, according to the school’s official Web site it’s focused around “GRIT,” whatever that means. I also broke their rules, by pronouncing it, “N-Y-C-TWENTY-FOUR.” That’s how we do in the Blogosphere.

Anyway, they definitely do some interesting Flash presentations to weave together some multimedia work, for any of you who are interested in that kind of thing. This is my favorite. Kind of choppy, and a little disorienting, but interesting. This one goes over the top, but really, when you’re talking about bail-bondsmen how can you not? It also gets points from me for following up on my favorite HBO show ever. But HBO did it better.

And for anyone who might be counting, or grinding his axe, Medill’s D.C. reporting program starts up again tomorrow.

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.

New AU Web Site, Submit Your User Content by americanobserved
March 30, 2009, 8:36 pm
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For devoted readers of the AmericanObserved blog, you’ll know I’ve long had a chip on my shoulder about the placement of the Observer on the AU SOC’s Web site. Well, the school has a new Web site, and so does the SOC. The content isn’t dramtically different, although it looks a littl more modern. There’s a “Student and Faculty” work page – it’s still “dynamic” and OUR student work isn’t exactly prominent. We do have a permanent link on the bottom of several pages, and a couple shout-outs throughout the site, which is nice.

Last time I complained about our lack of visibility on the SOC Web site, it got a fairly quick response, which summed up was: you have to tell us you want attention because we’ve got a lot going on. This time they’re making it easier: there’s an easy link to submit “user content” to the SOC Web site. The ability to submit “user content” may be the development that will prevent us from getting jobs in August, but let’s use it to our advantage today.

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.

RT: Twitter Wouldn’t Lie to Me! by Russ
March 24, 2009, 11:17 am
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My goal with this blog was to talk about the Observer, not my personal pet peeves or uninformed opinions about journalism, but I’m going to venture into Twitter territory today. I’m generally fairly skeptical of its application as a news tool – great for (self-)promoting, and okay for news-gathering. My blog-mate Anna will heartily disagree. Probably via a tweet. The Observer has its own Twitter account, which has recently been picked up as a promotional tool. But, we, in general, should be careful about relying too heavily on it as reliable source for our news-gathering. While it has been helpful during some dramatic, hard-to-cover news events, and we’ve used it for our reporting, it has also been “helpful” spreading hysterical, un-true rumors during these panicky economic times. For example, yesterday, the rumor that the New Yorker was going to twice-a-month was re-Tweeted all over. This time the rumor was stopped in its tracks, but like on the Internet, the rumor remains archived and ready to rise again, represented as fact. Also, bad for us and for Twitter – it made Jennifer Aniston break up with John Mayer. Allegedly. Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.

It should be said… by Anna
March 23, 2009, 9:32 am
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That last week’s issue of the Observer was one of the best so far. All of the articles were interesting, the podcast went off without a hitch, and we even had time to do a “behind the scenes” video. I’m very impressed.

Of course, I should also mention that I committed an amateur’s mistake when putting together my breakfast taco video. I needed music for the background, so I went and found a song by Los Lobos and put it in there. I credited the artist, but when I went back and read the terms of use, it explicitly said DO NOT USE THIS MUSIC EVERRRRR THAT WOULD BE STEALING!!

Which, honestly, was kind of annoying, because if you find an mp3 easily available for download, and you credit the artist and don’t try to pass it off as your own work, shouldn’t that be okay? I’m obviously a big fan of creative commons licensing, and for a simple reason: It makes sense. I have yet to go back and plug in new music, but I obviously had to take down the video until I get a chance to do that.

Copyright law is, as we know, super complicated, and it is the only reason I would want to go to law school: To study and eventually fight for or against it. But that’s a subject for another day.

I’d be interested to hear what my fellow Observers think about Creative Commons, though.

Food for thought, watch Larry Lessig’s talk from TED.

Cross-posted to Blog10 and Escapador.

Jane Hall Responds by Russ
March 5, 2009, 11:36 pm
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We’ve been talking about one-source stories a lot over the past several days – on the blog and among ourselves on the Observer staff – but it’s nice to have an expert chime in.

Last week, Jane Hall’s Advanced Reporting class submitted 15 profiles of advocates for our most recent issue. They all relied on one source – the subject of the profile. Unfortunately, those of us editing this week (Anna, myself and Meera) had some concerns about some of the pieces and we only ended up running a few of these “Profiles in Advocacy” – (Tracy Sherman by Arliene T. Penn; Kathie DiCesare by Alyssa Wolice; Stephen Chapman by Katie Litvin and Kira Sonberg by Frankie Soloman.)

In an earlier post, Anna explained our decision in a little more detail and suggested some ways to make the system work smoother for future collaborations with outside classes hoping to contribute to the Observer. I responded with some more discussion of the problem with one-source stories and some thoughts on when we might actually want to use a one-source item and how to make it work.

Jane Hall got back to the three of us who edited her students pieces with some thoughts on how it went and on the discussion we’ve been having here on the AmericanObserved blog. As you may be aware, Jane Hall happens to know a thing or two about good writing, media ethics and integrity, so, with her permission, here’s what she had to say:

As a longtime journalist, I agree with you–although I don’t agree that a Q. and A. is the only way to do a single-source thumbnail interview, as some suggest.

My students’ issue pieces, which will not come in until the end of the semester, will, of course, have multiple sources and interviews.  I made the decision to let these be single-source in part because, frankly, so many of them were having difficulty getting the person to be interviewed;  and this was a way-station on the way to deeper reporting on their beat.  I certainly push them to report–and that’s certainly what I did as a journalist–I definitely subscribe to “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

But I don’t agree with the idea that you can’t have a series of thumbnail sketches, clearly formatted as such, of advocates talking about their issue and why it’s important to them.   I think actually part of the problem was the tone of the pieces, which I told the students about.  (By the way, these were submitted without heavy editing–that’s what we said we were going to do to give you the opportunity to edit.)

At any rate, I’m glad that you thought several of these were good;  and it’s great for them to be published.  And, next time, as I think we would all agree, it would be much less painful for both you and my students if the people who are going to edit that week are the people who have signed  off on the idea, including art, sourcing, etc.”

As I’ve said before, we don’t want this to just be two people talking to themselves in the dark lonely Internet space – it’s supposed to be a discussion. So, do you have any thoughts on what we’ve said, or what Jane replied? Any other SOC professors who’d like to pipe up on what they think of a one-source story and when it is, and is not, appropriate to use?

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.

But We Really Want To One Source It! by Russ
March 4, 2009, 11:52 pm
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With all that said… it’s not impossible to have a one-source item.

There are some instances when you are focusing on a single person, who is speaking very personally about who they are and what they believe. Who would the second source on that be? We did eventually decide to publish a few of the profiles that stuck closely to that format and were as close to safe as we could get with a one-source story. But, as Wendell Cochran advised Anna and I this week, something like that really deserves to be clearly marked and formatted as one person’s account, preferably in a simple question and answer format.

Here are two good examples of how proper context and format can make a one-source item okay to use and even a bright point:

  • “Questions For…” – the New York Times Sunday Magazine weekly feature. As you’ll note at the bottom of each entry it clearly states: “INTERVIEW CONDUCTED, CONDENSED AND EDITED BY DEBORAH SOLOMON.” It’s deceptively simple, but Solomon knows how to ask questions and she knows how to properly edit them to great effect. Sometimes she asks the questions and gives the space for a subject to be funny, and sometimes her questions help it be informative, without getting too heavy. Even on heavy subjects. And sometimes things just get combative.
  • “5 Questions” – The Concord (N.H.) Monitor’s regular feature is more akin to what appears in the average newspaper, though few do it with the skill that the tiny but prestigious Monitor does. Straying from the straight profile format, the Monitor uses “5 Questions” to explore just about any issue. It’s a quick, but reputable, one-source way to explore the story-within-the-story as they did yesterday morning. It’s also good for a quirky, but relevant moment – like fist-fighting New England town officials or controversial historically-themed Bobbleheads – that might not warrant a full-blown article but readers shouldn’t miss knowing about.

With their quick-hit style and personality-oriented subject content, these types of items lend themselves to the online, multi-media format that we’re trying to work in.

I think it would be worth trying something along these lines – trying to find a key character in a story or an issue that we’re trying to build into a package, and briefly shine the spotlight on them, and only them. But do it right, with proper context and format.

It could add some color to our coverage and thanks to the brevity of the format, it won’t kill us trying to put it together

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.