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Entries from blogs tagged with “Student Journalists”

Keep on Bloggin’

When everybody’s doing it, there’s nothing to be done but jump in. TV and newspaper reporters are finally succumbing to technology. They tweet, blog, facebook and myspace in an attempt to promote the words they write.

In classrooms, retired journalists are even teaching burgeoning journalists how to manipulate this “new media” and hopefully breathe life into the stunted practice.

And I suppose it’s a good thing.

Blogging is a more intimate outlet for a reporter. It allows them to use language that is a little looser than that in print. It has the advantage of allowing the user to interact and comment on the content. The blog site becomes a form of social networking when the readers create a discussion on the subject. Although we can’t really call them readers anymore – they are commentors.

The commentators show what stories are important to them through blogs. While the old media typically runs stories for a 48 hour cycle, bloggers can keep a story alive by continuing to talk about it and repost it.
Newspapers should take advantage of the increased space and treat the blog as an extension of the paper.

The Montgomery Advertiser allows their writers to post pieces of stories that didn’t make it into the paper, or to link to stories that a reader might find interesting. But no opinions allowed. Remember, we are still journalists, operating not as ourselves, but as an extension of a media outlet.

Jenn Rowell covers the military beat at the Montgomery Advertiser. In her blog , she writes short, two to three paragraph updates on her stories, and sometimes offers her readers suggestions of interesting pieces from other sources.

I recently e-mailed Rowell, asking how her paper controls the content of her blog. She told me she doubts her editor ever checks her blog, much less reviews her posts before they are made public. Still, she said, reporters will usually self-check because they know the importance of a good reputation.

“I think good reporters apply most of the same rules for blogging they do for their reporting,” Rowell said. “Sure you have a different format, so you can have a little more fun, but it's still your name and your readers will associate what they see on the blog with your blyine in the paper. To be full of opinions on a blog is a dangerous thing for a reporter.”

Rowell works at a paper with a circulation of 45,060. Rowell said she often receives letters or e-mails from readers referring to her print stories.

But her blog postings are commentless. I’ve said before that sometimes blogs are just white noise, while papers, actual, physical papers, stand alone with the reputation of trustworthiness and accuracy. Although Rowell lives in a community where military news is of the upmost importance, they still don’t reach out to the blog. In this perhaps rare case, the community is loyal to the paper.

But Rowell should certainly keep blogging. Even though it seems no one is reading, it’s important to continue to pump out useful, factual content in any form and just hope that someone out there is reading.

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The Quiet Revolution

      The advent of the blog created a new platform for millions of people to disseminate information, ideas, and opinions into the aether of the Internet. Some thought this would be a contributing factor in the death of the traditional media. >

      However, reporters and media outlets soon integrated and appropriated this bold new format, synthesizing the old with the new. Now, with blogs, reporters and news organizations have a new way to present the vast amounts of information that might not make it to press. They allow more stories to be told, and for the reporters to interact with their readers and others.

      Andrew Revkin, environmental reporter for the New York Times, is an excellent example of a accomplished and storied journalist making great use of the blogging platform. Although his reporting often does the same in a more traditional format, Revkin uses his Dot Earth blog to write about humanity's relationship with its environment. With a subject matter that has news nearly every moment, a blog can be quite the useful thing for a reporter, to explore the topic in multiple, nontraditional manners. Also, the environment can be a complex topic, and Revkin uses Dot Earth to answer his readers questions. For instance, after reporting on the falling budgets of government and private research into alternative energy, Revkin answered his readers questions about the subject on his blog.

      Another innovative use of blogging by reporters is their transformation into actual news sources themselves. The various blogs on Wired.com allow the magazine to report on dozens, if not hundreds of stories every day, whether they're from the video game industry, to the U.S. military, to scientists discovering new wonders. Wired covers so many topics of interest to so many different audiences, and its blogs allow readers to access an enormous amount of information.

      Now, the use of blogs by reporters is not without its pitfalls. Revkin makes no secret of his faith in the science behind global climate change, science that has been disputed by many others. The revealing of a reporter's hand, so to speak, on a controversial matter like this one might turn more skeptical readers away, thus hurt the cause of the reporter (and many others). However, this is much like the issue of objectivity with the cable networks. Fox News draws a conservative audience, MSNBC a liberal one, and those who don't believe in the science behind climate change, or care about humanity's affect on the Earth, probably won't read Dot Earth.

      Some standards should have to be applied, of course. Just like anything published by a newspaper, a reporter's blog posts should go through an editor first, and ought to be approved. But any reporter worth his or her mettle probably won't go off doing anything shameful or unethical on a blog. Journalists should hold themselves to extremely high standards, in terms of what they're producing, in any format, print, broadcast, or blog.

      Blogging exists, and we can't go back to a time before it existed or before it became a tool for the news. Personally, I wouldn't want to. As a daily reader of all of the blogs mentioned here, I'm thankful for the breadth, depth, and wealth of information reporters can now present us with. It is an exponential improvement, for one of my generation, over the old ways. The use of blogs by reporters facilitates the expansion of the discussion on many issues, and introduces us to ones we didn't even know were issues yet.

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Lede-ing the Way

Writing a good blog is not easy. To be relative, informative, engaging and entertaining week after week takes a lot of thought and effort. Add this task to an already busy schedule of writing and reporting and you have yourself a hectic workday.

Blogging journalists add a great value to a publication and to the community at large. The most important aspect of a blog is the conversation it creates. Communicating with readers, getting feedback, responding to comments, is invaluable to a dedicated journalist.

Often times, blog posts include extra tidbits, additional viewpoints that didn’t quite make the cut for the traditional news article. My favorite example of this is the Lede,

“a news blog that remixes the day's top stories, adding information gleaned from Web sites around the world or gathered through original reporting by writers, editors and readers of The New York Times, to provide fresh perspectives on events and to draw readers in to the world-wide conversation about the news taking place online. Readers are encouraged to take part in the blogging by using the comments threads to suggest links to relevant material elsewhere on the Web or by submitting eyewitness accounts, photographs or video of news events.”

I would never expect anything less than the best from The New York Times, would you?

I enjoy this blog because often times the posts pose new questions and offer a new angle to major stories. I had read a few different articles about the Belgian man who had spent years in a state that had been misdiagnosed as a coma. I wondered if anyone would link this to Terry Schiavo. The Lede did, and dispelled the possibility that she could have had the same condition. For the first time, I read of facilitated communication, an interesting and highly debated view of communication techniques used by the disabled and their care givers.

People question whether a journalist, whose job it is to remain objective, should contribute their own opinions in their blogs. I think it fully depends on the subject matter.

Journalists who expose a bit of their humanness, their personal lives, can gain a greater following and build more trust with readers. When a journalist is open about how they fit into the community a relationship can develop. Personally, I like knowing that a local reporter lives, plays and is involved in the community just like I am. I don’t need or want to know their political or religious beliefs. Hobbies, passions, and community involvement are fair ground for journalists to share. It makes them real.

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When to Edit Online News

Newspapers’ move to the Internet has made articles and their information constantly available, for years after their initial publication.

This has led to people requesting that newspapers “unpublish” certain pieces of information in the article, as Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star, has researched in "The Longtail of News: To Unpublish or Not to Unpublish.”

English has discovered that when people request a newspaper to rewrite a past story it may be for something such as charges dropped that they no longer want linked to them. An understandable request.

Other times, sources want to have their quotes removed after rethinking what they want readers to know about them. Too bad, so sad, I say.

Regardless of the reason, should a newspaper comply with unpublishing? Should a newspaper be responsible for constantly updating its online information?

It brings to mind the history-changing that goes on in Orson Welles’ “1984.” If some information can be changed, where do editors draw the line?

An article is a snapshot of history. Even if some years later its information no longer represents the contemporary, at one time it was factual. The snapshot that it embodies has relevance for future generations to reflect on.

Unpublishing means censoring or rewriting history, one editor said to English in her research. I agree with this; granting an edit to one unhappy reader means opening the floodgates to multitude of rewrites (and headaches) for editors.

Another editor said “If we err, or if new relevant facts emerge, we should correct and update online articles.” But where does this end?

Newsrooms today have limited resources as it is, without having to go back and reword the countless articles that contain information that has changed over time. And really, isn’t that nearly every article?

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The End of Objectivity

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Dec/06/allin.jpg photo by .faramarz, creative commons

Sometimes it baffles me that I came to school to be a journalist. The principles that journalists hold dear—fairness, accuracy, ethics, objectivity—are concepts that seem too far-fetched, yet obviously innate, to be taught.

This is the last week of my journalism education, and all I’ve become is increasingly skeptical of journalism as an institution. The face of journalism is changing, and we desperately need a makeover, inside and outside.

Today, we’re mostly fretting how the Web is turning the newspaper into a fiber cemetery, but it doesn’t seem like much is being discussed about how we gather information, whom we talk to and how we talk about it.

Journalists are taught to find the two sides to every story and to give each side its due share of time. We are instructed to be uninvolved, to hide our political affiliations and to delete our personal Twitter feeds. If robots could write the news, we’d give them a deadline.

Journalists are living, breathing, caring human beings. Does it make sense anymore to expect us to be uninvolved and disinterested, functioning as referees instead of participants?

A new debate has emerged about whether to allow reporters and editors to have blogs that share their views on what they cover or to detail internal problems or thoughts. Some fear this might hurt journalists’ or the publication’s credibility. But doesn’t inadvertently tailoring stories to fit advertisers’ needs or talking to only two sources do the same thing?

Perhaps this need for human opinion and error helps explain Fox News’ once-again high ratings or my generation’s ditching of the newspaper for magazines, blogs, the Daily Show or reader-ranked news, like Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious, the Weblist or Reddit.

Instead of aiming for objectivity, let’s go for thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and transparency, as Dan Gillmor suggests. When we’re mad as hell or when we want to issue a call to action, we should be able to do that.

Blogs provide that much-needed transparency. This move could spell the downfall of what we think of as traditional detached journalism for opinion journalism. Readers already go to multiple sources for multiple points of view and takes on a single subject, so let’s stop being the secretive wizard behind the curtain.

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Don’t let fear kill the blogs

In the past few years bloggers have become more and more prominent sources of information and entertainment. Many online news outlets are now faced with the question of whether to allow reporters to blog about the issues they cover. Some fear that allowing reporters to blog compromises credibility.

Some of the risks are outlined in Poynter's article about Online Journalism Ethics. The expression of bias could cause sources to change how they respond and to lose trust in a reporter. Bias may also lead readers to doubt the accuracy of future stories.

Thus it is important for blogging journalists to review their plans for blogs, and possibly each post, with an editor. Reporters must also remain mindful of their objective, as well as the risks in blogging.

Blogging is a way of showing that a reporter understands and can use new media. It allows reporters to interact with their audience so that they can answer questions and develop a greater understanding of what the public wants. Blogs can also provide reporters with an outlet for information that doesn't make it into news stories and for stories that the paper is not able to include at all.

Scott Karp argues that "Every Newspaper Journalist Should Start A Blog." If you skip to Update #2 towards the bottom of the post you'll find a discussion on the need and benefits of reporter blogs, especially in relation to readers. Blogs are an easy way for readers to subscribe to sources of information that pique their particular interests. This draws readers to the news site and can direct them to other stories and sources of information.

USA Today blogs range from posts of breaking news to blogs on the subject of a reporter's regular beat. All link to other stories, articles, and information.

Cathy Lynn Grossman is a religion beat reporter with a blog called Faith & Reason. On Nov. 27 she posted "Say 'Merry Christmas' --or else! 'MC-only' zealots insist." She presents the issue of greetings during the holiday season without showing religious bias, but with a voice and passion that blogs are known for.

A religious blog has the potential be a detriment to a writer's credibility, but because Grossman does not state her religious beliefs, does not put down any specific religion, and steers clear of highly controversial problems she avoids losing respect. The result is what I find to be an entertaining and informative blog. The number of comments shows that it draws readers and the nature of the discussion is largely positive.

This is the kind of blog that reporters should strive to create and editors should support through developing guidelines for their reporters. For instance, Blog posts might only be allowed on certain topics and they could be reviewed by an editor before posting.

While certain topics might endanger the credibility of a reporter, the whole idea shouldn't be thrown out because of fear.

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The War for Hearts and Minds

In late September, I was one of 19 journalists participating in the University of Kansas’s <a href =http://www.ftleavenworthlamp.com/articles/2009/10/01/news/news1.txt>;"Bridging the Gap: A Military Experience for Journalists" </a>funded by the McCormick Foundation.  
We ran obstacle courses, ate MREs (meals ready to eat), and exercised at 4 a.m. with the soldiers.  My experience was eye opening and fantastically fun.  But the real purpose of the week was to create a dialogue between the servicemen and women at the Command General Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. and journalists.  
Despite the fact that we are two American institutions defending freedom in the United States, we are at odds.  
The relationship is slowly getting better, of course.  Ten years ago journalists certainly wouldn’t be allowed inside the building.  But the tension between the military and the media was still apparent.  I “embedded” with a class of officers learning about the history of war.  After the professor had left, a group of students stayed behind to talk to me about the media.
They wanted to know why we are so eager to print negative stories about the war, when so many good things are going on.  We wanted to know why the military can be so difficult to work with.  Together we explored difficult media ethics issues, like the decision to print a photo of a fallen soldier without the consent of the family.
We lamented the downfall of the embed program, which allowed the journalists to get right in the action and bond with the soldiers.  Unfortunately it has become too expensive to keep journalists with the troops for an extended period of time.
Military journalists Max Boot said in his <a href=http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/boot/332>; blog </a> that the conventional thought in the military is that the press is untrustworthy and biased.  Soldiers who are quoted too often may be seen as “glory seekers” or “self promoters.”
But wars today are won with information, not guns.  And America’s enemies have mastered the art of manipulating the press.  General David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, has made an enormous effort to improve the military’s public relations.  But first there must be a significant shift in the mindset of the servicemen and women of all ranks.
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Whatever Shall We Do?

      Last Thursday, I found myself fortunate enough to be invited to the fourth annual Montgomery Family Symposium at KU. The symposium was a day-long forum of newspaper editors from around Kansas discussing the future of the media market in the state. Several pioneering news organizations posed their ideas while the rest of us listened intently, trying to glean a way to start making money again.

      At the symposium, I served a dual role as the only student representative from the William Allen White School of Journalism, and as the inevitable heir to daily newspaper in a very small Kansas town. Now, the part of my day that I bragged about to my friends was eating lunch at the table with KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, Journal-World publisher Dolph Simons, John Montgomery, who's family sponsored the event, and KPA head Doug Anstaett. But it was hearing the innovative media ideas from around Kansas that really made my day. I believe very strongly in the importance of a local press, and I want to bring anything I can to the table to help the family business stay solvent.

      Of course, the biggest focus was the online component of a news organization. With many papers, large and small, this idea of "online" is expanding beyond just a news website and into social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

      Some of the complaints I heard concerning this came from smaller papers, unsure of how to monetize their online presence. This is a qualm I also have with the online approach. I just don't know how to sell ads on a website to business in Concordia, Kansas. With a graying population, they are just not concerned with an online presence. As a side note, I think the website for my family's newspaper is just kind of ugly.

      Despite these contentions with a heavy online presence, such as the one the Lawrence Journal-World has with it's myriad websites, or the Salina Journal does, with its Salina FYI page, several small, quite unique, ideas emerged from the symposium.

      One that certainly caught my eye came from the Hays Daily News. From the obituaries on their website, you can hit a link and send flowers directly to the bereaved.

      Now here's an idea that, while it may pose a few problems, really gets at the kind of innovation small-town papers need to survive the transition into the online world. While I would be hesitant to introduce this idea back home, if we could conquer the logistics of it, then I could easily see this popping up back in Concordia. We need little ideas to get that push to online going, both for the news organization and for the readership. The small-town paper is going to need to modernize its online presence and keep it up to date, while driving traffic and readership toward that presence.

      Hopefully I can borrow a few of the ideas I gathered the symposium and send them back home, to keep the old shop afloat just a little longer.

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Journalists should never…

Poynter is compiling a list of 100 things Journalists should never do via Twitter. The participants have made some good suggestions, but they're still a long way from 100.

When I saw the article on Poynter Online, one of my pet peeves immediately jumped to mind. So here's #1 for me: Journalists should never use esoteric language. In other words, journalists shouldn't use words that only a highly educated or specialized group of people can understand.

In my time at the copy desk this semester I've come across several rather obscure words. While journalists, who work with the English language on a daily basis may understand these words, all readers do not have the same vocabulary.

One of the main jobs of a journalist is to take large amounts of data and information and make it understandable and relevant to the readers. Local news outlets must be sure that the content they publish is understandable for readers with doctorates, elementary school teachers, high school students, and sales associates.

More specialized publications, such as the Wall Street Journal can get away with specialized vocabulary and information. But others need to remember their audience.

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The Birth and Death of the Environmental Beat

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Nov/16/IMG_2922.JPG Getting some help setting up the weather station last fall.

The task seemed incredibly straightforward: Buy a thermometer and take temperature readings twice daily for a month. Compare the temperatures to other weather stations in Lawrence and data from previous years.

But I messed it up the first day.

I lived in a tangle of student apartments, so I didn’t know where to put the thermometer. I didn’t know when to read it. Should I have two readings 12 hours apart? Was it actually feasible to read it daily at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.? What if I had other plans at those times? What happened if my thermometer was stolen or mowed over (which it was … twice)?

Even as a journalism and environmental studies major, I didn’t understand the data I was collecting. How accurate was my temperature record if I missed a reading? In a seemingly simple experiment, I saw the pitfalls of synthesizing even small amounts of data. Who decides what information is told and what isn’t?

Most people don’t see the similarities between scientists and journalists (especially all the people who ask me what I’m going to do with my life), yet their missions are incredibly similar: take reams of complex information and make it understandable.

But understandable to whom? The revival of green in the last few years has given birth to the environmental beat at newspapers and magazines. Stories about the environment frequently make headlines. Joe Sixpack can learn about recycling and compact fluorescent light bulbs and methane tax.

Unfortunately, that’s where the environmental beat has seemed to end. We can talk about driving less and the greenest underwear to buy, but environmental journalists have an obligation more than most other journalists to move beyond the basics.

And that’s where the environmental beat has limited us. Journalists can’t know when the basics have been covered enough. When has everyone learned about organic food or carbon dioxide? When do we move on to CAFOs and coal-fired power plants?

Journalists, in trying to write for their audience, leave out a lot of information out of necessity. But when do we graduate to the next level?

I don’t know the answer. I can’t even take the temperature correctly.

— Lauren Keith

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100 Things

The Poynter Institute has created a list of the 100 Things Journalists Should Never Do, and by journalist they mean “anyone -- inside or outside a newsroom -- who aspires to provide an accurate account of something. It could be an account of parenthood, or what happened at the World Series, or whether the swine flu vaccination is available where you live.”

The list is posted on Twitter; anyone can chip in.

So, these guidelines not only apply to the professional journalist but to the citizen reporter as well. I think it’s a great idea for anyone wanting to report news, to get involved in storytelling to adhere to some basic ground rules and always strive to provide a complete, enlightening and eye opening contribution.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

4: “Journalists should be active community members. If you aren't of the people, you aren't by the people or for the people.”

This is crucial because being active in the community affords journalists access to the greatest wealth of information. Being engaged in the happenings of a town, neighborhood or PTA keeps us in the know and in contact with sources, our neighbors.

5: “Get out of the office & out of the house. Don't hide behind your job or computer. Rediscover the "local" in "hyperlocal."

With any reporting there is always research to be done, most of which happens on a computer these days. But good storytelling requires much more human interaction. Phone interviews are also a necessity at times as we all have limited resources, time mostly. I have found that sitting down face-to-face for an interview always yields the most amazing twists and turns I never would have thought to seek out.

One interesting thing about these two rules is that they are things “citizens” naturally do. Maybe it’s time for journalists to see themselves as citizens, not media machines.

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The Ethics of News

My involvement in the class which has me writing this blog has coincided with my enrollment in an Ethics and the Media class.

It has made for quite an experience in synergistic learning.

The recent shooting at Ft. Hood provided a topic of discussion in my ethics class. Eager to report the event and inform the public, as the media should be, much of the information was quickly compiled. This caused the information to be misreported and incorrect as well as racist and from questionable sources, as it should not be.

After working in the field for this class, I now understand the pressure for quick news. Okay, so I'm only an intern and I don't know the HALF of it, but just play along.

With the Internet and cable news available for continuous news updates, the pressure on journalists is ominous. But losing sight of our ethics cannot be compromised.

As tempting as using questionable but quick sources (Twitter) can be, the value of the hard-earned source cannot be forgotten.

I have seen many classmates (none in this class, just to clarify) go to friends for an easy source or simply invent sources for reporting assignments. This worries me greatly. In an industry that is already faltering, media workers with with that kind of ethic can only cause more damage.

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I read it online!

I mourn the loss of the newspaper. The paper that you can hold in your hands, smell, spread out on the floor on a Sunday morning. I shudder to think that a day will come when no newspaper will arrive on my doorstep.

I won’t just miss the black smudges on my fingers – I will miss the daily package of important and varied information presented to me everyday to keep me in the know.

One of the most important functions of a newspaper is to use discretion in choosing which stories to run. The paper can’t possibly print every piece of news, thus an editor must decide what information is most important to get out to the public. When we receive our papers, we are (ideally) presented with top stories that a team of media experts have chosen for us.

While flipping through a newspaper, I come across fascinating stories I wouldn’t even have known to look for on my hyperspecific go-to sites online. The Pew Research Center found that more online news consumers said they access news sites indirectly – by following links to specific stories – than by going directly to the home pages of news organizations.

With a physical newspaper, a person going in for the sports page must first get past the front page. Unfortunately it’s all too easy to miss things on the internet.

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The Family Trade

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      Much of the Kansas press has been owned and operated as a family business, and I was born into one of those families.

      For most of the last century, the men in my family have worked at, edited, and published the Concordia Blade-Empire, in Concordia, Kansas, from my great-grandfather Art Lowell, to my grandfather Brad, and my dad, Jim. There might even come a day when I return to the place that raised me and take over the family shop. I have spent a good chunk of my life down at the Blade office, whether it be in the basement, inserting circulars to earn a little extra summer cash, or more recently, upstairs, reporting and designing the newspaper that my family has put so much work into.

      Small-town newspapers are very interesting cases, because of the close-knit nature of the community. Much of the principles of journalism I've learned at the William Allen White School of Journalism have to be adjusted for Concordia. For instance, there's no avoiding talking with sources you know personally, because you know everyone already.

      If you're the town newspaper publisher, you're also probably one of its reporters, and you're already friends, or at least familiar with, judges, city commissioners, school board members, community college presidents, and so on. And small-town publishers are people who care quite a lot for their community, so they might even be members of those boards. You know they sure aren't in the business for the money.

      Also, in a small town like Concordia, the newspaper might feel a stronger obligation to the community because they are so involved. This obligation necessitates advocacy on behalf of your neighbors, and fellow Concordians, even if parts of the community malign or ill-appreciate your efforts. My family has experienced this firsthand.

      Concordia is the proud home of Cloud County Community College, a school that my grandfather serves on the foundation board of. A few years ago, the president of the college did some things he probably shouldn't have. College credit cards were used to purchase personal effects, some of them quite extravagant and costly. In his role as a community advocate, my grandfather chose to report on this, and use the newspaper as voice for what he saw as justice.

      Now, some might disagree with this choice, because of conflict of interest, or a potential source of bias in the journalism. I contend that because of his twin obligations, both to serving the community and to upholding the truth, my grandfather was, in fact, more reliable and accurate in his efforts. I should mention that in addition to being a concerned and active citizen, Brad Lowell is a member of the Kansas Press Association Board.

      It got ugly, though. College employees were intimidated for speaking out and enimity grew between former allies. Some people in the community did not appreciate being told the truth about the corruption, and might even have viewed it as a personal vendetta. In the end, the president took another job at another college in Kansas, and the grand jury investigation that was sought never resulted in an indictment.

      So I guess what I'm saying is that it's tough being a small-town editor. You fight to keep the paper afloat, and occasionally try and do some good in the community, good that the community isn't always grateful for. But you do it because you love it, you love your employees, and most of all, you love your town, no matter how bad it gets. It's places like Concordia, Kansas, where journalism and the media aren't some detached abstraction for people to feel animosity toward, but an integral part of community, somewhere between its heart and its conscience.

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Local is more than geography

We've spent a lot of time in journalism classes talking about local media and community journalism. It's the new all-important topic and some have even touted hyper-local news as the way to save newspapers, and journalism in general, from failing. Journalists are finally starting to succumb to the idea that a teacher being fired at a local school is much more important to many americans than a bombing in Palestine.

But what is local? Is it the entirety of a city or town? Is it a neighborhood? Is it a anything within 5 miles of an individual reader's home?

The answer is tied to what Steven Berlin Johnson calls the Pothole Paradox. He says the news that a pothole on your street is being repaired may be very important to you, but a similar pothole just a few blocks away is mind-numbingly boring. Unless, as one commenter pointed out, you drive over that pothole on the way to work. Johnson co-founded a site called outside.in, which allows people to search for news based on its proximity to their address.

The site seems promising, though it still appears to need a lot of work, perhaps more in some areas than others. When I typed in my address I only got two stories - both about the fights between the KU basketball and football teams. A search in the neighborhood of Upper East Side Manhattan returns over 10,000 results.

But is this all to geographical?

Amy Gahran blogged on Poynter about this issue and said that "geographically defined local communities are becoming steadily less crucial from an information perspective." She suggested that communities be defined by age, social status, interests and the like. Perhaps localized news on the basis of things like occupation would be more useful to consumers than a hyper-localized approach to a specific neighborhood. While some neighborhoods, such as East Lawrence, may share a lot of the same values, history and atmosphere, some are so large that they simply share a zip code.

Residents may share a school, a grocery store, and even an office building but others, like my mother, may send their schools to private schools across the city and shop on the way home from their 45 minute commute. While her friend and neighbor is interested in the happenings of the school two minutes down the street and the grocery store a few miles away, she is not. She is more interested in the traffic on K-10 or crime in the neighborhood of her children's school.

The power of Twitter and Facebook, for me, is that they allows you to follow people and topics that interest you, rather it be the girl who lives down the hall, the debate about taxes at city hall, or news surrounding a friend who'd deployed in Iraq. Perhaps that is the kind of localized coverage that the media needs to learn how to provide.

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iReport, therefore iAm

CNN has enlisted the help of citizen journalists by creating the iReport program. While firsthand accounts can be a great value to the masses, reports based on pure opinion should not be passed off as citizen journalism. There is a time and place for angry tirades, blogs for example, but the line gets blurry when you read “news” on iReport.

CNN beats readers over the head with their disclaimer, which includes this “iReport is the way people like you report the news. The stories in this section are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post. Only ones marked 'CNN iReport' have been vetted by CNN.” Their terms of use are extensive. They have obviously followed the CYA mantra. Unless the post is marked vetted, it may not be worth your time.

Last week, Americans scoured news outlets to better understand the atrocity that occurred at Ft. Hood near Killeen, Tx. Because I don’t have access to television news in my home, I relied solely on the Internet to get as much information as I could.

One of my first stops was cnn.com. After reading their traditional news article, I was drawn to the iReport section. There were several posts from people claiming to be on or near the base. Their information was interesting to say the least.

The first iReport post I read claimed that a terrorist attack had occurred. It referenced the September 11th attacks and alleged that members of al-Qaeda had infiltrated the US military to continue their quest for American bloodshed. Obviously I took this for what it was, an angry, ranting conjecture with little to no news value. At this time I can no longer find this post but have found similar ones.

The second iReport post I read was the firsthand account of a woman living on base which has since been vetted and appropriately marked as such. This contribution actually offered something of value, something different than what traditional media was reporting. It allowed me place myself on base, hear what she heard and feel the tension, confusion and fear.

Citizen journalists can be a major asset to a news organization and the public. But what happens when they get the story wrong? We all know that even the most seasoned journalists make mistakes from time to time, especially with breaking news.

But the difference truly is in the details. Professional journalists have the training, skills and experience to make every possible effort to get the story right and to get all angles. The average citizen journalist does not. While their perspective of an incident might be enthralling, it most likely is not the whole story.

What do you think of iReports?

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Hyperlocal Journalism

For this class, I was assigned a neighborhood in Lawrence and expected to report on what went on inside its specified boundaries.

This is known as hyper local journalism, and it is a trend that has been growing in the industry for some time now.

The neighborhood I was assigned to cover was Old West Lawrence. Old West Lawrence has a character, history and active residents that some of the neighborhoods in town may lack.

But it still wasn’t all smooth sailing.

One thought that crossed my mind before and during the assignment was “Lawrence isn’t a huge town and already has the Lawrence Journal-World. How much more coverage does each individual neighborhood need? Does local really need a ‘hyper’ in front of it?”

In his blog, Mark Coddington addresses this issue and discusses the contrast between hyperlocal journalism for a rural town and for an area of a large city. I’d say that attempting to cover Old West Lawrence falls somewhere in between.

For a smaller community, or neighborhood, news doesn’t always mean crime, political issues, and the like usually covered on a newspaper front page. As Coddington points out, it can be small-town gossip shared after church on Sunday.

When I spoke with residents in Old West Lawrence, I did get gossip from the residents. But because all of my reporting was going to feed into the LJW, I didn’t feel like this was relevant and lost one of the factions of hyperlocal journalism.

If I did find something newsworthy, chances were the LJW had already gotten to it. My foray into hyperlocal journalism was hitting all kinds of road blocks. I was frustrated. Why couldn’t a meteor just fall into the neighborhood, unbeknownst to the LJW? Then I was sure to get an A, I thought to myself.

One aspect of the assignment was a video package portraying the neighborhood’s personality. Finally, I saw the validity of hyperlocal journalism.

If something similar had been done for the city of Lawrence as a whole, certainly each neighborhood wouldn’t have been given its due. Because I was only covering the area between 6th and 9th, from Kentucky to Michigan, I was able to share perspectives that may have gone unnoticed.

Hyperlocal journalism may mean changing your idea of news. I had to. What is important in a smaller community might not hold on the front page of the New York Times, but to the inhabitants of that community it’s going to be the first thing brought up when they run into their neighbor buying milk at the store.

That’s something like a chat room, to you bloggers.

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I am an ageist.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Nov/09/Baby.jpg Photo by hyperscholar, creative commons

I keep a running mental list of the strange, time-consuming ways that my professors access Google. While everyone else in class is happily chatting and ignoring him, I watch my confused professor go to the Start menu … find Firefox … open Firefox. Loading, please wait.

My blood starts to boil as he announces to the class that he is going to do a Google search, which sounds like a thinly veiled cry for help. After blankly staring at the computer screen for a few more minutes, he finally finds that elusive Google buried in his list of bookmarks, and 15 minutes later, class can finally begin. I shudder to think how many times this scenario repeats itself on the KU campus, across the country or even in my own life.

Unfortunately, this has turned me into a discriminator. I am an ageist.

Ageism is usually the negative stereotyping against people based solely on their age. Wikipedia frighteningly categorizes it with other elements of discrimination, such as race wars, genocide and slavery, which is light-years away from me (a 21 year old) fearing the technological abilities of pentagenarians.

But ageism has very real repercussions, especially in journalism school. I think I’m on the cusp of some generation, a group of soon-to-be graduates who are expected to know how to use Photoshop, HTML and Twitter but many of whom slip through the cracks because they can’t write well or punctuate.

As KU’s School of Journalism is looking to change its curriculum to buddy up with the onslaught of social media, I have to wonder who will be learning from this help session, the students or the professors?

Journalism shouldn’t ignore technology, but if we stray too far from our core of teaching good writing, we could fail an entire generation of students.

Facebook, Twitter or Google Maps won't stop newspapers from dying. But good writing might.

— Lauren Keith

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Twitter for the masses

Journalists today hail Twitter as being an effective way to reach out to a public which is losing interest in newspapers. It’s what all the cool kids are doing – so why not jump in and try to reach them, right?

I certainly can’t speak for everyone's use of Twitter, but I know my peers at the University of Kansas. Sitting in Italian class the other day, I noticed a girl’s phone going off every few seconds. After class I found out that she was receiving Twitter updates from Kate Gosselin, Angelina Jolie, Mariah Carey, Dane Cook, and Ashton Kutcher. Needless to say, no news here.

But Kutcher has 3.5 million Twitter followers. Unfortunately, a recent study found that 40 percent of the Twitter messages are “pointless babble," 35 percent of all tweets are "conversational," and only 3.6 percent can be considered "news."

So perhaps media bigwigs are putting too much stake in Twitter. Sure, it can be a means to spread news, to learn about the Iranian election and the plane crash in the Hudson River, but from what I’ve heard around campus, I suspect that for most of those who tweet, it’s just another form of entertainment.

Twitter or no Twitter, some people will be just as clueless about the war in Iraq as they were when they didn’t read newspapers.

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The Trouble with Twitter

      I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. As a plugged-in millennial that was born into a family of old-school journalists, I find myself simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by the social networking site. Let me break it down.

      Why I love Twitter: It represents democratization of the media. Twitter has become a platform for self-expression for anyone with Internet access, and globally, that means the opening for individuals previously closed-off societies, like China or Iran. The events in Iran this summer showed the world that innovation has quite the shot at outwitting tyranny. Twitter became a lens for the world to view chaos in a way we might never have had otherwise. Every Iranian gained the potential to be a storyteller, for good or for ill. Some died telling the rest of us their narrative. As sad as it might make me to admit, Twitter helped shape international discourse.

      Another way Twitter is democratizing media is user control. Retweeting? User-created. Hashtags, the little # by a tweet? Same thing. Twitter lacks a faceless corporate overlord like Facebook or Google (both of which expressed interest in its purchase), so it is an entity beholden only to it's users. Those users have taken a very simple little thing and increased its complexity tenfold, into the beast it is today. One Wired magazine article on the subject said that "Twitter left a ball and a stick in a field and lurked on the sidelines as its users invent baseball." That, I do love.

      Why I hate Twitter: Nearly the same reason I love it, because anyone can post anything on it. Like all forms of media, it has already engendered its own absurdist scandals. Twitter's use by celebrities has become self-satirizing. Do I care about Miley Cyrus's very public breakup with the social media site? No. Have I seen her "Twitter rap?" Yes. Even an actor whose work I respect, Stephen Fry, had a silly public disagreement with another Twitter user.

      I will admit to being a media elitist. In general, I like the things I consume to come from sources that have something interesting or worthwhile to say, i.e., not Ashton Kutcher. I don't even tweet myself, because I don't ever have anything I care to say to the pittance of followers I have. (Good move, guys and gals.) Even worse, is when traditional media outlines use the site as a source for their information. (I'm looking at you, CNN.) So our public discourse becomes even more cluttered with trash as a result. That, I do hate.

      So in conclusion...well, I'm not really sure. For now, I will continue to follow Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton, Gabriel from Penny Arcade, and Stephen Colbert. (I know, I'm a nerd.) And I'm very intrigued as to where this whole Twitter thing is headed. Maybe it will merge with the new Google Wave and create an information dystopic Panopticon with zero privacy. Who knows? I sure don't.

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