Our Beloved Professor by Russ
April 15, 2009, 10:07 am
Filed under: Russ | Tags: , ,

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.


New AU Web Site, Submit Your User Content by americanobserved
March 30, 2009, 8:36 pm
Filed under: Russ | Tags: , , ,

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.

It should be said… by Anna
March 23, 2009, 9:32 am
Filed under: Anna | Tags: , , ,

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.

But We Really Want To One Source It! by Russ
March 4, 2009, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Russ | Tags: , ,

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.

On Contributions by Anna
March 4, 2009, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Anna | Tags: , , ,

This week the American Observer tackled the weighty issue of lobbying in D.C… or rather, lobbying in general, including the new laws and a history of modern advocacy.

Unfortunately, as Russ mentioned earlier this week, several of us were tied up in editing and choosing decent advocate profiles from a giant pile sent to us by Jane Hall’s Advanced Reporting class. Out of the 15 or so that were submitted, we chose to publish four. Kind of sad, huh? Well… I think we could have curbed our problems with the articles if we had laid out the following guidelines:

  • Contributions have to be well-sourced. All of these profiles had a single source, which, had we published them without editing, would have sounded as if the American Observer was advocating them, too. We can’t have that.
  • We need to know EXACTLY what the stories are before we agree to receive contributions. Apparently Professor Hall told her students it was okay to only speak to one person as the source for the piece… had we known that, we would have said no from the beginning and saved everyone a lot of time and work.
  • Art is required. Since the beginning of the semester, we decided to make the Observer more magazine-y and multimedia heavy. That means art. Give us a photo, a graphic, whatever… just give us SOMETHING.

So that’s what I think. As managing editor for the past week, I was very involved in the entire process, so consider it a word from the experienced, and now the wiser.

Cross-posted to American Observer and Escapador.

Time is the enemy by Anna
February 28, 2009, 11:58 am
Filed under: Anna | Tags: , ,

I know Russ talked about our issue with deadlines a couple of times last week, but I wanted to weigh in on the issue as, well, sort of a devil’s advocate.

We produce an issue every Wednesday, the middle of the week. After signing up for stories, most of us have one or two classes that afternoon and/or night, usually lasting into the evening. So that afternoon is shot. The next two days are filled with classes and work, which doesn’t allow much time dedicated for stories, at least not in-person interviews, which we would prefer.

That means that most articles are written during the weekend (not business hours, obviously) or on Monday. We have very talented writers in our program, but given that our deadline is usually late Monday night, one day to write a story can be difficult, especially when we demand heavy multimedia.

Since I am the Flash-0bsessed member of our cohort, this can be even more frustrating. Flash takes time. Not even that… creating the wireframes to base the Flash on takes time. Design takes more time. Execution… even more. I posted last week on my blog that I was creating a timeline for Black History Month, but unfortunately my Monday and Tuesday were completely filled with work, and even though the reporter got the information to my by Tuesday afternoon, having everything ready to go by publish time on Wednesday was next to impossible. Coffey did me a favor by pulling the plug on that one, otherwise I would have been even more stressed out and tired come production time.

I suppose my point of this entry is to remind people that the American Observer is not the only thing we do, and that perhaps our problem isn’t meeting deadlines, but rather communicating to editors when we have problems. I like that we have started teaming up to cover stories so that the responsibility doesn’t just fall on one set of shoulders. I think that’s an easy first-step to our problem.

So take heart, Observers and Observer fans. This is a learning process.

Cross posted to Escapador and American Observer.

See You At Your New Job by Russ
February 18, 2009, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Russ | Tags: , , , , , ,

There’s been quite a bit of talk about meeting deadlines lately. Here’s more.

David Johnson sent us a rather gentle (in my opinion) email this week about meeting deadline:

“It is important that your stories are filed with enough time for production. If you don’t respect the deadlines, you are disrespecting your colleagues and abusing their time on class day.

File your content.”

He’s right, and frankly, this is the nicest thing an editor will ever say to you about making deadline.

When you’re still working on something Wednesday morning, that means a copy editor is sitting around waiting for you to finish… a multimedia person is creating a graphic that might be all wrong or just doesn’t fit with the content that’s coming… and you’re not helping produce the issue.

Does anybody notice? Maybe not. But after you graduate, someone will.

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