With both the Democratic and Republican debates in Nevada now in the rear view mirror and the end of 2015 quickly approaching, here’s an updated look at which presidential candidates have visited the state the most throughout 2015 (previous post here). … Continue reading
So I’ve been a naughty blogger the past month. I have plenty of excuses (moving into a new place, hectic work schedules, no money and having less time off) but at the end of the day, I’m not helping anyone by neglecting this blog. I’ve seen tons of blogs that began with regular posts, then petered out and were eventually abandoned. I don’t want that to happen with this blog. I’ve learned a ton about my writing voice just by blogging on a regular basis. It’s been incredibly refreshing to get away from what media critic Jay Rosen calls the “Voice from Nowhere”: essentially the journalistic cult that worships impartiality to a fault. While I’m not arguing that professionally-trained journalists are unnecessary (because that means I’ve made a huge mistake), I’ve caught myself identifying and at least attempting to stop my own bad journalistic habits.
As an intern, it can be a challenge to derive a greater meaning to a story because many of the stories that I’ve worked on in the past few weeks are either one-day stories, quick website updates or event coverage. More often than not, I only have enough time to work on the who, what, when and where, when I’m more interested in the why. Like I said before, it’s not like this a startling revelation to me – I didn’t expect to be thrust into into a kind of hardcore, Woodward-and-Bernstein-type reporting my first week on the job.
But I will admit that it can be difficult to go under the surface and really dig for a unique spin day after day, week after week. Sometimes it works out, like a story I wrote about the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Rather than do a typical, by-the-numbers event coverage, I tried to tie the event’s historical background of celebrating the end of slavery to a connection between the holiday and racism in Nevada, and it turned out ok. But for every story that tries to find a deeper meaning, I’ll end up with another story like this one, with little analysis and kind of boring.
It’s maddening to know that I possess the capacity to write at a level above boring event coverage, but seem to find myself falling back into those bad habits again and again. To be honest, the layover between quitting the Sagebrush and beginning this internship probably ‘softened’ me up a little bit in regards to producing lots of content in a short amount of time. But as the weeks go on, and I settle more into a rhythm of reporting and writing, I believe that I’ll create and find better stories. After all, it’s easy to make excuses (especially for not updating a blog), but none of that really matters. What matters are the results.
What a goddamn first day. After arriving about half an hour early to the RGJ office, I was forced to play around with Twitter for about an hour until I was given a desk and a story to report. The story is a good one, dealing with a Southwest Reno neighborhood’s opposition to an opening youth drug rehabilitation center culminating in a protest yesterday and a meeting at Reno City Hall today. It felt nice to actually report again, rather than to regurgitate whatever scientific conference or mildly boring research awards the University deemed fit to show off. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed working at Media Relations very much, but there’s such a fundamental difference in the way a newsroom operates and a public relations firm operates. There is much more of a sense of urgency, a need to get all relevant sides and angles of a story right now, rather than in a week or two.
This difference was highlighted especially by the breaking news of a fire in Douglas County. Engrossed in my reporting, I ignored the escalating pace of the newsroom along with the sound of more and more phones ringing. Finally, an editor came over to my desk and essentially told me to drop whatever I was doing, and to figure out a way to Topaz Ranch Estates. To the fire. As I began packing my supplies and writing down directions, Brian Duggan turned around and said, “Welcome to the RGJ.”
The drive from the Gazette-Journal’s offices to the site of the fire takes about an hour and a half, give or take the traffic going through Carson City, Minden and any other small towns along the way. Though I attempted to drive with at least some regard to the speed limit, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body. It was the same feeling I had driving up to Galena High School during the Washoe Drive fire, and the same feeling driving through South Reno to get a closer look at the Caughlin Ranch Fire. Getting out of Carson City was the first time I saw the smoke from the blaze. From there, I would alternate between driving a handful of miles, stopping on the side of the road, jumping out to take a picture with my smartphone and then sending them out through email to the RGJ and on my personal Twitter account. When I arrived at the turn-off for Topaz Ranch, about 2 miles from the evacuation center, I finally got a good look at the inferno. It engulfed half the sky.
I spent about two hours at the community center, interviewing evacuees, taking more pictures of the fire, then slowly typing them out through my phone and emailing them back to the RGJ. All in all, I took about 15 pictures and found three good interviews during my time in Topaz Ranch, some of which were immediately posted to the RGJ site. Overall, I spent nearly 12 hours working, reporting and driving today, published photos and interviewed evacuees — all on my first day. Today, I’ll be focusing on the protest story as well as juggling whatever the news editors throw my way. What a goddamn first day. There’s nothing else I would rather do.
My summer internship at the Reno Gazette-Journal begins tomorrow, and I won’t lie – I’m nervous. Though I wrote countless stories for the Nevada Sagebrush and the University’s Media Relations, this will be my first actual experience in a professional newsroom. The stakes are higher, the audience is much, much larger, the potential to fuck everything up is exponentially greater, and yet it’s an opportunity to do more meaningful and ‘important’ journalism. I am very aware that I’m not going to be immediately diving into breaking news topics and hardcore Woodward-and-Bernstein style journalism, but probably going to stuffy and mildly boring Reno-based events. But I’m okay with that for two reasons:
- Paying dues: If there is one lesson I learned pledging a fraternity, it’s that you have to pay your dues. Even though most organizations don’t have the kind of clear-cut boundaries between new and old members, being in a fraternity has clarified the divide. A new person in any organization (fraternal, journalistic or otherwise) will usually be stuck with the least appealing and crappiest jobs or tasks to complete. It’s not fair, it’s not fun, but it’s how organizations work. Accepting that role, and working around it, is a key to early success.
- Avoid discouragement and do work: If assigned a ‘boring’ story or event to cover, there’s no benefit to be gained by going through the motions of reporting and producing a C-quality story. My view is that average work, especially in a declining industry such as journalism, is a death sentence. For me, it makes no sense to limit the opportunities I’ve been given.
There are thousands of journalism students across the country competing for a dwindling number of already limited jobs, and the competition means only the very best will have secured some resemblance of regular employment. I plan to make the most of this internship because I want to capitalize on the opportunity to produce quality journalism to a larger audience than I’ve ever had.
Because it’s a full time internship, I most likely will have less frequent updates to this blog. I do not plan on completely abandoning this site, and instead want to focus on expanding the vision and topics I write about. Yes, specificity and building a niche is key, but I feel that I write best when I’m invested in a subject like a movie I enjoyed or a thought-provoking book series. Though these topics and ideas may not fit into my niche of Nevada journalism, I’m confident that they will be at worst entertaining and at best a nice change of pace from my usual writings.
The summer is here, and I’m nervous. But also excited.
This post is the eighth in a series of 10 about the future of collegiate journalism, focusing on specific projects undertaken by members of college journalists around the country. This post details the role and value of editorials by collegiate newspapers.
Last month, the Sioux City Journal did something a little out of the ordinary for their front page; they published a full-page anti-bullying editorial after the suicide of a 14-year-old high school boy who was teased for coming out as a homosexual. The resulting paper is immediately attention-grabbing and also a great introduction into the role of newspapers and editorials. In a piece published by Charles Apple, the paper’s editor Mitch Pugh is quoted as saying, “We believe that as a community news organization one of our critical responsibilities is to serve as a strong advocate for the well-being of our community. This page underscores that belief.” The Journal is not the only paper to take this route; in years past, papers as diverse as The Detroit Free Press, The Arizona Republic and the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
While newspapers do have a critical role in any modern community, the continual debate over how much influence should be extended to a journalistic body shows no signs of stopping (especially with public trust in journalists falling every year). Although there is a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing, media outlets such as Gawker say, “…institutional editorial writing is a worthless anachronism in this modern media age.” It’s needless to say the effectiveness and purpose of editorials has, at least in the eyes of new media outlets such as Gawker, diminished greatly in the past few years.
So where does that leave collegiate newspapers? Most collegiate newspapers publish a staff editorial every week, covering and commenting about on-campus news and events, such as student government elections and other contentious issues. The editorial board has long been a mainstay of college newspapers, especially the Nevada Sagebrush, which famously made the decision in the 1960’s to publish a blank issue after an Editor-in-Chief was removed by the student government. This year’s staff continued with that tradition of pushing editorial content to the forefront by embarking in a six-part series called “ASUN Future,” designed to point out problems with the University’s student government and offer solutions on how to fix them.
It’s a noble goal, and has merit as ASUN isn’t anyone’s idea of an efficient organization. I won’t comment on the ideas suggested in the columns, but I do wonder about the effectiveness of the series. A series which begins it’s first column with, “The Nevada Sagebrush believes there is a big problem lurking on the third floor of the Joe Crowley Student Union,” is immediately taking a hostile position toward the current ASUN government, which leads to an instant tension between the people capable of making the change and the newspaper calling for change.
This isn’t the first time the Sagebrush has attempted to engage in public journalism; in 2008, Sagebrush editors Michael Higdon, Brian Duggan and Jessica Fryman published a ‘public-interest’ issue in response to the then-recent kidnapping of Brianna Denison. The issue contained a lengthy main article, guides to proactive protection and an editorial calling for a more active campus community. Much like the ASUN Future series, these Sagebrush members identified a problem on campus, but rather than publish numerous front-page columns, they actually did investigative and journalistic work. As then-Design Editor Michael Higdon said in a message to Charles Apple, “…We executed our main goal: to give students the tools of the press by providing them with information and access to officials they can deliberately use in order to make a difference by asking questions and offering solutions.”
That’s a lot different than just coming out and identifying a problem. Higdon understood that while members of the paper may have decent ideas about campus safety, change must come from public fervor and pressure, not columns in the paper. It’s a completely different mindset, in a way utilizing many different aspects of the paper to identify areas needing change, and attempting to engage students. Despite good intent, the ASUN Future series seemingly quickly delved into Ben Miller’s ideas of how to fix ASUN, rather than a combined effort with a strong emphasis on student engagement. Rather than only publish opinion articles, why not actually go through and write a handful of stories and guides to understanding ASUN? That way, students who aren’t as well versed in the operation of ASUN have an opportunity to understand the situation more clearly and to identify problem areas themselves.
For editorials to work in a modern media environment, they have to either come as part of a public-journalism package (as described by Higdon) or attract as much attention as the Sioux City Journal. While collegiate newspapers are often bastions of charged and controversial opinions, just writing about a subject usually won’t be enough to change anything prominent. If done in a more efficient manner, however, editorials can be extremely effective ways to hold public and private figures accountable.
This post is the sixth in a series of 10 about the future of collegiate journalism, focusing on specific projects undertaken by members of college journalists around the country. This post focuses on the importance of analysis journalism by college media outlets, and the importance and benefits of going in-depth for a story.
What draws readers to a college newspaper? Sure, it’s fine to make sure a paper looks professional, follows AP style, and covers the “important” beats. But what takes it to the next level? While columns about cuddling with a prostitute or attempting anal sex may draw in the page views, the a news and general reporting perspective renders them slightly extraneous (not to say they don’t have value.) What I firmly believe is that for college papers and collegiate reporters to reach a truly excellent journalistic standing, they have to increase the number of public-service journalism stories and projects published.
By public-service journalism, ones mind may immediately jump to exposes such as the Watergate scandal or misuse of adult family homes in Seattle that lead to dozens of suspicious and unreported deaths. While those stories and coverage are extremely important, it can be difficult for collegiate papers to follow their example because such controversial issues and topics aren’t as widely spread on a college campus. The New York Times has a greater chance of finding out about public or private scandals because they cover such a larger area than a single college campus. Rather, college journalists should focus on long-term, investigative reporting and unique and in-depth features,
It’s also important to remember that collegiate journalists are also college students, which means they have worries beyond reporting. Though I believe the Oregon Daily Emerald is one of the very best and forward-looking college newspapers in the country, they were beat by ESPN to a story about marijuana use among the school’s football team. To be fair, the Emerald immediately had reaction stories and opinion pieces about the story up the same day, but even an organization with hundreds of writers could not break the story before a national organization.
So where does that leave college news organizations? The answer is to give writers the opportunity to follow and develop large stories that can take weeks or even months to fully report on. While the workload is already overwhelming for many college journalists, it’s immensely important to grow an investigative knowledge among writers at a newspaper, else the content will seem dull and repetitive. For example, when I visited Portland State University for a fraternity conference, I made sure to pick up copies of the student newspaper, The Vanguard. Though it’s not fair to judge off of the very small sample size, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. All of the stories seemed a little dull and very vanilla, with no real investigative pieces jumping out. While I do respect the job they do without a dedicated journalism program, it’s clear that there’s room for improvement.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are college papers that have engaged in extremely strong reporting and storytelling methods, which both attracts attention to the paper and makes them look more credible in the eyes of their readers. For example, The Daily Princetonian at Princeton University published a detailed investigation into the suicide of a Spanish-language professor a year ago. Essentially, the paper’s reporting and document-crunching led to proof of negligence on several levels by university administrators, and also attracting nearly 130 mostly positive comments on their website. By spending weeks on the story and giving it the upmost attention, the Princetonian was able to produce an award-quality piece of public service journalism that made them a better newspaper.
Working at the Nevada Sagebrush, I’ve had firsthand experience on the benefits of this kind of journalism. My second semester at the paper, News Editor Don Weinland began working on a story about two students who found themselves pregnant while attending college. Our Editor-in-Chief decided to give Don an extra week to polish and carefully edit the story, and the results showed. The story received more than 3,000 views and was picked up by the Huffington Post and USA Today collegiate sites. Seeing just how successful the story became helped convince me that this kind of journalism, while difficult to pull of successfully, is well worth the effort.
So here are my suggestions to college papers on how to improve the level and amount of quality journalism they produce.
- Give writers time: One of the most critical things for beginning collegiate writers is having the time to actually sit down and think a story through. Too often (and I’ve experienced this firsthand) editors at college newspapers are swamped with trying to get stories out and make sure they have enough content to fill their section, let alone focus on creating really decent in-depth content. If you require an editor to write four to five stories a week and put out a decent section and expect them to produce quality journalism, you’ll be disappointed quickly.
- Use Volunteers: A better way to produce quality journalism is to utilize volunteer writers, like the Daily Pennsylvanian did with this story about basketball player Tyler Bernardini that paid homage to this famous profile of Frank Sinatra. Although it can be difficult to find volunteers with the kind of talent and willingness to write for free, it’s immensely helpful because they can focus solely on the story, rather than on the actual production process.
- Use documents: As mentioned in this post by the Oregon Daily Emerald’s auxiliary site The Garage, documents can serve as a great starting point and evidence for investigative pieces. They can serve as an excellent and usually reliable basis on which to begin interviewing and investigating contentious subjects.
I’m about half way through my series exploring the different trends and problems facing collegiate newspapers and media, and I figured it’d be pertinent to post some of the articles and websites that I’ve been using for inspiration and supplemental information. If you want to read the series thus far, click here.
This blog is my bible. Run by Dan Reimold, College Media Matters covers rising trends, interesting or controversial going-ons and story ideas in the collegiate media world. Reimold updates about once a day, and his posts are explicit in detail and usually contain some excellent analysis. For the day-to-day happenings in the world of college news and reporting, College Media Matters is one of the best resources available.
I’m not going to lie; this Colombia Journalism Review article is extremely long, and incredibly thorough. While it doesn’t specifically address the specific issues regarding the future of collegiate journalism, it does cover in great detail the issues facing modern journalism, and the steps professional journalists are taking to avoid a systematic collapse. Especially relevant is the section on a university’s role in the process, including publishing student work and the large number of journalism centers calling higher education institutions home.
During my enrollment in David Ryfe’s Future of Journalism class over winter break, I had a sudden epiphany regarding the problems facing modern journalism, and the difficulty in solving them. Although the writings and ideas of Clay Shirky, Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen were promoted heavily throughout the class, I always held to a lingering doubt in the back of my mine regarding these academic’s view of the future of news. Then I read Starkman’s essay. Although I was careful to avoid sympathizing too much with a viewpoint obviously favorable to the kind of hard-hitting print journalism I enjoy and promote, his arguments won me over. Though it’s not the best piece for a beginning reader to start with, Starkman’s essay is a thoughtful and needed reaction to the kind of ‘accepted’ future of news promoted by people such as Shirky and Jarvis.
Though it’s not entirely devoted to collegiate news, Romenesko (a former writer for Poynter) is one of the best media bloggers out there, which more often than not contains the actions of a collegiate outlet. Romenesko also has a bit of a larger audience than College Media Matters, so his blog post about a college paper naming a rape victim creates more of a conversation amid his audience than a similar post would have on CMM. Still, Romensko’s commentary is usually on-point and logical, and his blog is a great source of media news.
- Shaping 21st Century Journalism (Leveraging a “Teaching Hospital Model” in Journalism Education)
As hard as it is to admit, journalism schools play a large role in the development and training of young journalists. While it’s nice to have an active and viable student press, journalism schools need to be there from the beginning to help train young journalists and co-develop a future for the business. Faculty at these schools have a responsibility to advocate for their profession, taking the form of mentoring student journalists, starting local journalistic partnerships and more. Teaching the inverted pyramid style won’t cut it anymore.
- We, the Web Kids, by Piotr Czerski
All issues facing the world of journalism really begin with one problem; how to reach and connect with an audience that shuns newspapers, television broadcasts and most regular news. Czerski, a Polish writer who’s work was translated into English, lays out the kind of unspoken mindset that many younger people have. His argument is really that the generations born using the Internet fundamentally see the world differently than their elder peers. It’s a terrifying thing to realize that making journalism successful in the future will require the kind of humongous overhaul in how we look at the world to work and remain profitable. (Also, the comments section hosts a great debate. Definitely worth a read.)
David Carr, the media reporter and resident crotchety old man of the New York Times, is a different breed of journalist. In the Future of News class I mentioned above, Carr seemed like the opposite of new thinkers such as Shirky and Rosen, so I was immediately fascinated with the prospect of the two eating dinner together. Carr’s essay didn’t really cover the debate raging between Shirky and people such as Starkman, but he did focus on an intriguing aspect of the online world I hadn’t thought about before; the lack of intimate contact. Carr ends his essay saying, “…you can follow someone on Twitter, friend them on Facebook, quote or be quoted by them in a newspaper article, but until you taste their bread, you don’t really know them.” Though there’s no connection to collegiate readings, I feel as though the limits of social media and the online world are an excellent reminder for collegiate journalists; interviews through email or Twitter are never as good as those done in person.
While those aren’t all the readings, sources and tools I use to go about this project, it’s a pretty good representation of the wide variety and information that I use to try and understand what college media is all about. If you’re reading this and think a piece or blog is missing or would fit right in, either email me here or leave a comment down below.
Although I began college extremely wary of fraternity life last semester, I decided to jump into Greek Life at the University of Nevada, Reno. I decided to pledge Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made (next to coming to college and never, ever attempting to watch Glee.) But while being in a fraternity has it’s obvious social benefits, I’ve come to notice a number of advantages for journalists that I’ve either seen or been able to take advantage of. I’ve listed the top three below:
1. Connections: One thing I’ve noticed about journalism majors, especially those in the print track, is that they tend to stick together with people in their major. While it can be helpful for j-school students to work together, it does narrow the kinds of viewpoints and story ideas you can get from other people. Joining a Greek Life organization puts you in close contact with anywhere between 50-100 members coming across a wide range of majors, political and social beliefs and different clubs and organizations. In the few months that my fraternity life intersected my time at the Sagebrush, I found out about a former member running for the Nevada State Assembly as well as an active member who fit perfectly into a story about students re-enrolling after dropping out of school. Although being in an organization with members who are highly involved in student government and on-campus clubs has the potential to limit the amount of reporting a student can do, the wide variety and number of story ideas available are well worth the cost.
2. Social Skills: As funny as it sounds, many of the journalism majors in college can have a difficult time transitioning into a more professional role, especially when it comes to an effective demeanor and interviewing skills. While you’ll spend a lot of time in Greek Life acting casually, there are plenty occasions where professional attire and manners are utterly necessary, from formal dances to meet-and-greets with well-connected alumni. For the most part, holding a position in a Greek organization is very similar to the role of a community organizer, with different philanthropy events and community service to plan and organize. These skills are easily transferable to the more PR-y aspect of journalism, especially in regards to advertising your work and finding a reader base. Participating in a social with a sorority or working at a community service event gives you an opportunity to work on later interviewing skills and ease with people, before actually having to use those skills to cover a story.
3. Entering a huge network: A few months ago, I was speaking to UNR President Marc Johnson about the Main Station Farm controversy after an ASUN Senate meeting, and after the interview he commented on the fraternity jacket I was wearing. As it turns out, Johnson is a member of Phi Delta Theta as well, and actually helped establish a chapter at Emporia State University in Kansas. Although this conversation lasted briefly, it undoubtedly made an impression on me and most likely Johnson, and in the future he’ll be more likely to remember me. Although I joined a 164-year-old fraternity, just about any Greek Letter organization has plenty of influential members working in a wide variety of industries; this is advantageous in opening doors or creating an instant connection with not only members of a certain society, but just about any. I’ve recently been getting into LinkenIn, which contains professional groups for both local chapters and national organizations, all with different job postings and people ranging from aviation to Indian gambling.
While carousing through my twitter feed yesterday, I found an extremely interesting story from the Oregon Daily Emerald, the student newspaper in Eugene, Oregon. The story details former University of Oregon Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny, who invested money in several apartment complexes near the university’s newly built basketball arena. It’s a great read, but what interested me more was the story is a joint partnership between the Emerald and The Oregonian, a professional newspaper in Eugene. The story was prefaced by an editor’s note, which reads,
This story was a joint reporting project by Jeff Manning of The Oregonian and Deborah Bloom of the Oregon Daily Emerald. This is the start of an ongoing effort by the Emerald to partner with professional newsrooms to produce public-interest journalism that matters to Oregonians.
Interested, I emailed Deborah, a writer at the Emerald and recent graduate of the University of Oregon, about how working with another newspaper proved beneficial. Questions and answers are below:
1. How did the idea for this story come about? How long did you and Jeff work on it?It is well established in Eugene’s development community that Courtside and Skybox are referred to as “Kilkenny’s project.” So after talks with the Oregon Daily Emerald editor as well as the editor at the Oregon, we decided to do some digging and try to do a story on it. My publisher, Ryan Frank, is a former Oregonian employee and had this idea to do a cooperative partnership between the ODE and the Oregonian, and I just happened to be the case study.2. What kind of benefits did working with the Oregonian give you? Did yourself and/or the Emerald offer any specific advantages to the Oregonian?Working with Jeff Manning—likely one of the best investigative reporters at the Oregonian—taught me a lot about journalism: how to research public records and file requests, what kind of sources to seek out, how to best interview people, how to write a story so comprehensively. I also had the privilege of meeting many reporters at the Oregonian, which was a good networking opportunity for me. It was honestly such an amazing experience, getting to know Jeff and learning from him. I believe I learned more in that month of digging than I have ever learned in a classroom.3. How important do you consider this project to be in regards to the mission of the Emerald? What kind of response have you received since the story was published?It’s an important project in that it delves much deeper into the massive development that is occurring on our campus, and explains how one leads to another. I’ve received some very positive responses, and some negative responses. Some believe that the story did too much to insinuate wrongdoing by Kilkenny, but I believe we were as balanced as possible in this coverage.
It’s an understatement to say that the Nevada Sagebrush‘s front page this week is attention-grabbing. It’s a giant red-letter “SEX” surrounded by pornographic visuals and evocative phrases. It’s a nightmare for the readers who consider sex columnist Caitlin Thomas to be the biggest journalistic travesty since Jayson Blair.
Now, I don’t have an issue with addressing sex in the paper, especially in an ‘edgy’ collegiate publication like the Sagebrush. What I do have an issue with is the news judgement. The story directly underneath the fold, a feature on how Spanish professors Guillermo Meza and Emma Sepulveda escaped a Chilean military coup in the 1970s, is probably one of the best stories the organization will run this year. Why not feature this story prominently, rather than burying it underneath a massive, non-news section? Why not find an excellent photo and feature it prominently? There are so many ways to present this story that could bring attention and recognition to the front page, but the only thing normal readers see is a giant word art of “Sex.”
The lesson here is that unless a story is so important or visually appealing to be worth taking up everything above the fold, content needs to be diverse. Fluffy bullshit about which sex positions are best for each college isn’t worth shoving an actually decent story down the page and away from readers.