Friday, February 29, 2008

Googlize your student newspaper

Want your student newspaper's stories read by people around the world? Make sure your Web site is included in Google News.

That was one piece of advice Josh Cohen, business product manager for Google News, had Thursday for students and advisers attending the Associated Collegiate Press National College Newspaper Convention in San Francisco this week.

"Make sure it's easy for us to crawl the page," he said.

You can check if your newspaper's Web site is already included in Google News by going to this page. If your site isn't included you can recommend it for inclusion here.

Google News aggregates headlines from more than 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide, including many college newspapers.

And if you don't already use Google News alerts for your reporting, start now. It's a great way to keep up to speed on what's going on.

You can, for example, register a Google alert for your college or university. Whenever your school (or whatever word or phrase you specify) is in the news, you'll get an email from Google. You can register for Google alerts to come weekly, daily or as it happens.

To keep up with news on college newspapers, for example, I have daily Google alerts on "college newspaper," "campus newspaper" and "student newspaper." They help me monitor what's going on in the world of college media.

You can create a Google alert here.

Campus Press Update

The Campus Press, the University of Colorado-Boulder student newspaper that caused a stir with a column that called for a war between Asians and whites, has suspended its opinion section pending approval of an opinions policy.

In a statement on its Web site, the newspaper said it is "in the process of organizing an open, public forum to address diversity sensitivity in our news coverage in which we invite students to voice the direction they think the publication should go. The Campus Press staff is rewriting the publication's ethics policy, which will include addressing diversity issues in our coverage."

In addition, "The Campus Press Web site will be redesigned to clearly separate our opinions from our other sections, and a disclaimer will be added to every published opinion from here after."

In a letter to the campus community posted on the newspaper's Web site Friday, Opinions Section Editor Amanda Pehrson reflected on a community meeting held Wednesday to discuss the column and racism on the campus.

"I still believe that we can use the recent events as a means to move forward," she wrote.

Meanwhile, Max Karson, the student who wrote the controversial column, published a guest column in the Daily Camera, the community paper in Boulder, on Friday defending himself and expressing his frustration at the reaction to his piece.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to offend in order to provoke thought about difficult subjects,” Karson wrote. “For example, in my ‘Asians’ piece, I poked fun at Asian stereotypes for the purpose of mocking racist white people who never bother to understand or even consider Asian cultures and race relations at the University of Colorado."

He goes on to say, "My job as a journalist is to create that open dialogue by amplifying the voices of students -- even students with racist or other hateful ideas that I disagree with."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Localize this: LA Times questions rape stats

The Los Angeles Times ran a fascinating opinion piece Sunday challenging the oft-quoted statistic that between one-fifth and one-quarter of young women will be raped by the time they graduate college.

Whether you buy the story by Heather Mac Donald or not, it's one virtually any college newspaper could localize.

"If the one-in-four statistic is correct, campus rape represents a crime wave of unprecedented proportions," the article says. "No felony, much less one as serious as rape, has a victimization rate remotely approaching 20% or 25%, even over many years."

MacDonald's conclusion: The rape crisis doesn't exist.

To localize the story, student newspapers could run MacDonald's theory by campus police officials, women's studies and criminology professors, college women's and feminist groups and campus rape crisis centers.

It's almost certain to be a well-read, much discussed story.

Student editors take readers behind the scenes

The Campus Press, the student newspaper at the University of Colorado-Boulder that started a firestorm by printing a column that satirically called for a war between whites and Asians, ran a news story Monday explaining how the controversial column came to be published. (See earlier post for background.)

The story, written by staff writers Rob Ryan and George Plaven, lays out step-by-step what happened, including comments from editors who felt they were left out of the process. It's an interesting approach to dealing with a public relations fiasco at a student newspaper. Generally student and professional newspapers just deal with their errors in an editorial or opinion column and with news stories about reaction.

The article is the lead story on the newspaper's Web site, right under an invitation to readers to write a letter to the editor about the controversial column.

Also in the paper this week is a letter signed by nine editors who were not involved in the decision to run the column and who thought it was wrong.

"Many of us -- we do not speak on behalf of the entire Campus Press staff -- disagreed with the publishing of the opinion," the editors wrote in a opinion piece entitled "A letter from some different editors." "It was a mistake and we do not stand behind the decision to publish the opinion."

The letter and the article offer readers a glimpse behind the scenes of the newspaper, providing transparency at a difficult time for the newspaper staff.

What do you think of the way The Campus Press dealt with the fallout from the column? Post a comment here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Controversial column sparks outcry, call for training

The staff of The Campus Press, the student newspaper at the University of Colorado-Boulder, will undergo diversity training, improve coverage of diverse communities and meet other measures outlined Thursday by university officials in response to a column published Monday that satirically called for "war" on Asians and Asian-Americans.

In the column, entitled "If it's War Asians Want," writer Max Karson said Asians hate whites. "They hate us all. And I say it's time we started hating them back. That's right-no more 'tolerance.' No more 'cultural sensitivity.' No more 'Mr. Pretend-I'm-Not-Racist.' It's time for war."

Though presumably meant as satire, the column stirred a firestorm of controversy that prompted community meetings and a resolution by the student government.

On Thursday, the student Legislative Council at the university unanimously passed a resolution formally opposing the column and another controversial opinion piece, "No hablo ingles," that ran the day before. On Friday, community and campus members met to discuss the article and ways to fight racism.

The chancellor of the University of Colorado-Boulder, the dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the editors of the student newspaper all issued apologies for Karson's column.

"The column was a poor attempt at social satire laden with offensive references, stereotypes and hateful language," University of Colorado Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson said in a statement. "It was not properly labeled as either satire or commentary, and readers were left with the impression that the author spoke for the collective staff and leadership of the Campus Press, and perhaps even the University of Colorado."

In their apology, the editors of The Campus Press noted that the column offended many people.

"Karson's opinion is satire and is a commentary on racism at CU published in our opinion section, not presented as fact or incitement, and not published to intentionally incite controversy. We apologize for any ambiguity of the satire that may have been misconstrued."

In a statement released Thursday, Paul S. Voakes, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado-Boulder, lays out an action plan agreed upon by campus administrators and student editors:

* Beginning immediately, The Campus Press will provide enhanced coverage on the campus controversy the paper has sparked, which will include an open forum for commentary on the issue, for as many days as are warranted by ongoing reader interest.

* The Campus Press will work with SJMC Diversity Coordinator Dave Martinez to establish a Student Diversity Advisory Board, composed of non-journalism-majors who represent a broad swath of interests on the campus. The board’s purpose will be to provide editors with regular feedback from students with a diversity of backgrounds.

* The Campus Press will invite a number of student organizations to meet face-to-face with the editors, to discuss any specific concerns.

* The Campus Press will adopt an Opinions Policy, with standards and procedures for determining the acceptability of opinion columns or other reader-generated content.

* The Campus Press will schedule a series of diversity awareness workshops for the entire staff, in concert with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, and with participation of professional journalists of color.

* The Campus Press will schedule a series of workshops for opinion writing and editing, to be presented by experienced professional opinion editors.

"I’d like to reiterate that The Campus Press is the School’s teaching publication, and I believe the events of this week have provided all of us ... with a wealth of “teachable moments,” Voakes said in the statement. "I’m confident that the current crop of editors has begun to develop a new, more nuanced understanding of the delicate balance between absolute free speech and journalistic social responsibility."

Karson, the student who wrote the column, is no stranger to controversy; in 2007 he was arrested and barred from classes after saying in class that he could understand why the gunman at Virginia Tech would shoot fellow students, according to news reports. He also wrote a controversial newsletter called The Yeti, according to a 2006 article in The Daily Camera.

Friday, February 22, 2008

February Story of the Month

OK, so we've fallen down on the job of selecting Stories of the Month. We're resurrecting the feature to showcase The Daily Bruin's "The Underground Students" series on undocumented students in higher education.

The series offers a sensitive and nuanced look at undocumented students struggling to survive and get an education at UCLA.

The series includes:
-- Two audio slideshows by Jessica Chou and Alene Tchekmedyian, Part I and Part II

and these stories and photos by Jessica Chou:
-- Deportation of father leaves son challenges
UCLA student has to run family business, pay taxes, take care of brother between classes
-- Struggling with noncitizen status
Hardships of being an undocumented immigrant force student to work long hours to finish school
-- Living the green card dream
Attaining legal citizen status opens educational, vocational doors for UCLA alumna
-- Student sees beyond immigration status

Check it out. We'll try to get an interview with Jessica Chou next week.

Share your thoughts about The Underground Students package by posting a comment here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Video shows Northern Star staff at work

Danielle Guerra of The Northwest Herald in Illinois has put together a nice video on how The Northern Star covered the Valentine's Day shootings.

Guerra interviewed Northern Star Editor in Chief John Puterbaugh, Online Editor Justin Smith, adviser Jim Killam and other staffers.

"I was so impressed by how the Northern Star covered the NIU shooting I made a video story about them on Friday, the day after the shootings," Guerra said in an e-mail message to me. "This might help other students learn what the scope of a student newspaper is in a time like this."

Show it to your staff.

For College Media Advisers: Avoiding Burnout

Advising student publications can be challenging, exhilarating and fun. It can also be repetitive, time consuming and exhausting. Let’s face it, the staff may be new each year, but the problems get old after awhile--the inevitable reporter-editor squabbles, the embarrassing typos, the ups and downs of advertising revenue, the complaints from faculty who claim they were misquoted. And how many times can you explain the difference between its and it’s without wanting to scream?

If you feel you’re stuck in the doldrums of teaching and advising, here are some tips for reigniting the flame:

• Get involved. Organizations of journalism educators provide support, camaraderie and -- let’s face it -- opportunities to vent. Join the board or chair a committee for College Media Advisers, Society of Professional Journalists, National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, your state student media organization or one of the ethnic media organizations, such as National Association of Black Journalists or National Association of Hispanic Journalists. If there isn’t a group to meet your interests, consider forming your own. When California was lacking a state student media organization, a bunch of us advisers got together and created one. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, and we created a enduring network of colleagues.

• Set themes.
For each semester or term create a theme for what you and your staff will focus on. Maybe you’ll decide to emphasize design one semester, planning special training workshops and inviting guest speakers to address your staff. Another semester you may highlight multimedia or investigative reporting or breaking news or computer-assisted reporting. Make sure your themes are in line with the interests of your staff. Establish goals related to your theme, such as “Organize three multimedia workshops for the staff” or “Train the whole staff in InDesign CS3.” Encourage your editors to come up with their own goals, such as “Post a breaking news story at least four times a week” or “Publish two investigative stories.”

•Attend professional meetings. Conferences and conventions are a great way to recharge your batteries and “meet other people who share your challenges, struggles, frustrations, and also just as importantly successes,” says Mathew Cantore, adjunct instructor and co-adviser to The Hudsonian at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. “Hearing from other people, in person, the same things you're going through is worth its weight in gold when it comes to avoiding burnout.” If you’re tired of going to the same conventions year after year, skip those and spend your travel money on a different professional meeting. You’ll meet new people and expand your professional connections.

• Network with the pros. Speaking of conferences, don’t limit yourself to gatherings of journalism educators; sign up for a meeting with the pros. Most organizations of news professionals – Society of Professional Journalists, National Press Photographers Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Radio-Television News Directors Association, state publishers associations – welcome journalism educators to their meetings. These offer opportunities to keep up with changes in the industry, meet potential guest speakers for your classes and break out of your usual circle of acquaintances.

Retool. There’s nothing like learning something new to invigorate a career and with all the recent changes in journalism there’s a lot of new stuff to learn. Go teach yourself podcasting, video editing or design. Or take a course at your university or from a professional organization. The Center for Innovation in College Media, the Knight Digital Media Center, The Media Center at the American Press Institute, and The Poynter Institute all offer training opportunities for journalism educators. The Poynter Institute’s News University offers free and low-cost online courses in everything from Telling Stories with Sound and Writing Headlines for the Web to Handling Race and Ethnicity and Math for Journalists.

• Watch your colleagues teach. We all get into ruts, teaching the same things the same way, semester after semester. To break out of that groove, go see how someone else teaches. Make arrangements to spend a day or two shadowing a colleague at another school. Watch how that person teaches classes, critiques the paper, meets with students. Ask for copies of contracts, employment forms, assessment forms and other materials. Chances are, you’ll come back brimming with new ideas.

• Make time to read. Ever feel like those stacks of student papers to grade mean you can’t do more than scan the morning newspaper and flip through the latest issue of People magazine while you’re on the treadmill at the gym? Resist! Make sure you always have a book for fun, whether it’s the latest Sue Grafton mystery or a 19th century Russian novel. It may take two months to finish, but you should always have a book on your bedside table.

• Keep a feedback file. Jane Pope, director of student publications at the University of Tennessee, keeps files of thank-you notes and letters she receives from students and alumni who worked on student publications. When she’s feeling down, she rereads some of the letters. “Hearing feedback in the students' ‘voices’ and knowing they took time out of their schedules to express gratitude for their experience always gives me a great lift,” says Pope, now in her 35th year at the university and her 22nd advising student publications.

• Don’t just teach journalism, do it. Sure, you’re busy, but try to find time to work as a journalist, even if it’s just during summer and winter breaks. Peddle your services as a freelance writer, photographer, editor or online producer. See if you can write a regular column or occasional op-ed piece for your local newspaper. Offer to work a night or weekend shift at a newspaper, television station or news Web site or see if you can line up a summer “internship.” Working in the field will not only keep you fresh, it will give you entertaining stories to tell your students.

• Take a break. One of the great things about working in academia is the opportunities for getting out of it for awhile. See if you can arrange a professional exchange with a professor in another state or country. Look into taking a sabbatical or leave. Apply for a Fulbright. Taking a vacation from the job you once loved may be the best way of rekindling that romance.

This piece was originally published in The Community College Journalist, the magazine of the Community College Journalism Association.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Northern Star helps readers find what they need

One of the things that most impresses me about the Northern Star's coverage of the Valentine's Day shootings is the way the paper has laid out its home page. The coverage is deep and there is lots of information but by listing stories and resources under categories, the Web site helps readers find exactly what they are looking for.

"The latest" in the top right hand corner guides readers to news of the most recent developments, as well as important university resources, such as the Northern Illinois University's list of counseling services and the official university memorial page. Readers who want to participate in a vigil can find one easily from a list under the latest developments. And if you want to find earlier stories, they're all there on the home page in the "coverage archive."

News not related the shootings -- entertainment, sports, other campus coverage -- is still on the home page, but you have to scroll down to find it.

Student newspapers that find themselves in the middle of a news avalanche would do well to follow the Northern Star's lead.

The paper should also get high marks for the thoroughness and timeliness of its coverage. The Northern Star proved itself this week to be a truly professional-quality news organization that served readers near and far.

Friday, February 15, 2008

When a student paper becomes part of the news

When a major news event, like yesterday's shootings at Northern Illinois University, hits a college campus, the student newspaper often becomes part of the story. Here are some articles about the Northern Star, NIU's student newspaper:

* The Herald News
* Arlington Heights Post
* CBS2 Chicago

Here's a column from a NIU alum who worked for the Northern Star and now writes for The Gazette in Iowa City.

And here's how the Collegiate Times, the student newspaper at Virginia Tech, editorialized about the Northern Illinois University shootings. Last April a man gunned down 32 people and then took his own life at the Blacksburg, Va. campus.

Northern Star covers NIU shootings

The Northern Star, the student newspaper at Northern Illinois University, has done an impressive job covering yesterday's shootings at the DeKalb university.

The first story went up on the newspaper's Web site at 3:59 p.m., less than an hour after the incident began, according to Jim Killam, adviser to the newspaper.

Today the staff came out with an 8-page paper without any ads. But Killam noted that with classes cancelled today and through the weekend and some students going home to their families, many people won't see the paper until next week. The Web, as is usually the case with a major breaking news story, is the primary vehicle for reporting the news.

The Northern Star's online coverage includes video reports, breaking news updates, a list of events (such as scheduled news conferences and event cancellations) and a message board where people can share their thoughts.

Daniel Parmenter, who worked for the Northern Star as an advertising representative, was one of six killed in the shooting.

The Northern Star's coverage can be seen as a model for what student media can do in the event of a crisis.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Think multimedia at your next editors meeting

ST. PETERSBURG, FL.--Here's something to try at your next editors meeting or staff meeting: Think multimedia.

Start with this exercise inspired by Regina McCombs (photo at left) , a senior multimedia producer at in Minneapolis-St. Paul (and a faculty member at the Multimedia Journalism for College Educators seminar I'm attending this week at The Poynter Institute).

Consider each of the different media your news organization uses--text, photos, graphics, slide shows, podcasts, audio slide shows, video. Then discuss what each medium does best. Your group will probably come up with several different attributes for each medium but they might include:

Text: Provides depth, background and context

Photo: Captures a moment in time, shows something happening

Graphic: Explains complex information, especially numbers; help readers visualize the unseeable

Slide show:
Tells a primarily visual story that goes beyond a single moment

Podcast: Captures sound, tone, voice

Audio slide show: Tells a story with strong visual and audio elements, captures mood

Video: Portrays action and motion, lets subjects tell their own stories

Once you have a list for each medium, go through your story budget for an upcoming issue. Discuss each story and what would be the best way to tell it. Ask:

* Is the story dense with information and have a lot of background/context to explain?
* Does the story have a strong visual component?
* Does it have a strong sound component?
* Does it have audio and visual elements?
* Is there action or movement?
* Does the story have a lot of number facts?
* Would a map--two-dimensional or interactive--help the reader understand the story?
* Do you have subjects with stories to tell?

Finally, consider what is the best medium to tell each story and assign the story to the appropriate journalist. Voila! Now you're thinking like a multimedia journalist!

Does your newspaper staff already ask these questions on a routine basis? Are you proud of your use of multimedia? Post a comment below.

Photo courtesy of Sandra Ellis

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Al's Rules for Online Storytelling

ST. PETERSBURG, FL.--"Make it interactive."

That was the first of "Al's 10 Rules of Interactive Storytelling" Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute offered today to 25 journalism educators.

Tompkins, group leader for Poynter's Broadcast/Online team, is playing tour guide/ring leader/master of ceremonies this week for an intensive four-day seminar on Multimedia Journalism for College Educators sponsored by The Poynter Institute.

“The Web does interactivity in ways no other media can do it,” Tompkins said.

Tompkins showed a host of examples of the power of interactivity in online storytelling, including:

* The Herald Tribune's" "Broken Trust," an investigative report on abusive teachers

* The Washington Post's "Faces of the Fallen," a report on the soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq

* The Times Herald-Record's "I Didn't Do That Murder," an investigation of the 20-year-old conviction of Lebrew Jones

*'s chilling map showing the toll of the war in Iraq on coalition forces.

"Ask yourself: What data do I have and how can I make it interactive," Tompkins said.

Here are Al’s 10 Rules for Interactive Storytelling:

1. Make it Interactive. It is NOT about YOU. Let the user manipulate the page, select what part of the story he/she wants to explore. Offer the story in graphics, text, videos, audio and photo soundslides. From the very earliest planning stages of your stories ask, “how can we make this interactive?” Don’t wait until the reporting is done and stick the leftovers online.News consumers want what they want how they want it and when they want it. It is true for the fast food business, it is true for the coffee business and it stands to reason that it would be true in the information delivery business too. If the user wants a completely packaged story we should offer that. If they want a short text brief, we should offer that. If they want just the video with no narration, let’s give it to them. Let them decide and let them interact with the information. They choose what they want to know.

2. Make a Front Page Promise.
On the web, headlines must rock. Three word headlines, playful use of words and noun-verb-object heads work best. Your website’s front page must make promises about how the reader will benefit if they click a jump link. The most important promises speak to one of five main motivators:
—money, family, health, safety and community.

3. Make it Raw. The more important or visual the event, the more willing I believe the public is to tolerate lower quality video and less than perfect sound. Content is king. That is not an excuse however to intentionally lower your photographic standards or your professionalism. Raw video allows viewers to experience the story on their own terms, not just “know” what happened.

4. Leverage Your Digital Assets.When you cover trials, get copies of jury instructions, photos introduced to juries and put those online. Web Weather might target special interest forecasts that might not have a wide enough audience in the paper, but groups like surfers, farmers and golfers want detailed information about wind, waves, humidity and lightning. What other information do you collect in the course of your day? How can you leverage it to a higher use?

5. Involve the public and/but make it meaningful.
Forget the lame online polls. How easy is it for your online users to contribute video, photos or report details of a spot news story, parades, holidays and weather? I do not recommend opening every news story up to comments. Some stories lend themselves to comments and some don’t. Be prepared to monitor discussions about news stories.

6. Tap into Local Passion Groups. What are people in your area passionate about? In San Francisco it is dogs and the environment. In Arkansas it is hunting. In Charlotte it is NASCAR and church. Whatever people are wild about in your area, give them a virtual watering holes where people gather to talk about and share whatever they are passionate about.

7. Map it! Interactive mash-up maps are a great way to allow the public to interact with information. Sites like map daily crime data over an interactive Google map. WTHR in Indianapolis mapped broken tornado sirens so viewers could see if they would be safe when a storm approached. Reporters at the The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette now collect GPS coordinates for where they gather stories and the stories get mapped daily so readers can see when a story is reported in their neighborhood. You can create free interactive flash maps easily using

8. Feed Your Needs too.
Use your online site to explain who and why businesses should advertise. Most news sites make it nearly impossible to learn anything about online advertising opportunities.’s online employee roster now offers links to stories that every staffer has contributed to.

9. You must SHINE online during elections, big breaking news and special events coverage. That is when sampling will be the highest. Do not disappoint people who are sampling you for the first time. Constantly update. Make sure you are changing your lead photo and headlines. Timestamp your coverage to highlight how often you are updating. It might be well worth hiring freelance help to make special events shine online.

10. Save elaborate online presentations for projects that have long legs.
Don’t be afraid to build coverage over time. When a high profile crime occurs, for example, build a special section of your site that will become the home of continuing coverage that could last years as the case moves through the system. For major investigative projects, include reactions, follow-ups, legislative action and resolutions that flow from the stories. Put your biggest multimedia efforts in those parts of the site that will have a long life. A great hurricane resource page could be useful for years. There are topics and stories that occur over and over in your community. Save your big efforts for those kinds of efforts.

You can read a longer version of Tompkins’ rules in the July/August 2007 issue of Communicator, the magazine of the Radio and Television News Directors Association. And for more words of wisdom from Tompkins check out Al’s Morning Meeting on

Monday, February 11, 2008

Poynter Multimedia Seminar: Day 1 Addendum

ST. PETERSBURG, FL.--Inspired by multimedia goddess Mindy McAdams to teach myself something, I decided to play around with the mapping program Atlas. Here's a map showing where the Poynter attendees come from (be sure to scroll over to Europe and the Middle East; we have two international colleagues!):

I did it! OK, now I'm going to sleep.

Poynter Multimedia Seminar: Day 1

ST. PETERSBURG, FL.--How do I sum up a day of intense learning and discussion at the Poynter Institute's Multimedia Journalism for College Educators seminar?

I keep coming back to Mindy McAdams' penultimate slide before sending the 25 brain-weary journalism profs back to the hotel after more than six hours at the institute.
Pssst! My own secret

I have usually learned technology that I teach in class less than one week before the first time I taught it!

You don’t need to be an expert; you just need to know a little more than the parts you will teach!

That's right. Mindy McAdams, multimedia guru, author of the pioneering textbook Flash Journalism, a woman whose name turns up 77,400 entries on a Google search, doesn't know it all.

And to teach this stuff we don't have to either.

All we have to do is learn a little, read/view/listen to a lot and know how to navigate an online tutorial.

McAdams, a professor of journalism at the University of Florida, recited the reasons journalism educators give for not transforming their curricula:

“We don’t know how”
“We don’t have equipment”
“We don’t know what they’re doing in these newsrooms”

"If we want to train students to think different, then we’ve got to do it ourselves," she said.

Take database reporting, for example. All those numbers, all those spreadsheets. What's a math-phobic journalism professor to do?

McAdams offered five concrete, simple things any journalism educator could do today without learning a single new skill:

* Assign articles by or about Adrian Holovaty
* Study EveryBlock
* Discuss any New York Times data project
* Assign a project to be built with Atlas
* Use exercises from National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting to teach Excel.

McAdams and the other faculty for this week's seminar--Al Tompkins and Ellyn Angelotti of the Poynter Institute and Regina McCombs, a senior producer for multimedia for The Star Tribune--had other inspiring things to say, but I'm too bushed to report them right now. And in ten hours I have to be back at the institute for another mind-numbing but inspiring day.

You can check out McAdams' presentation, as well as other course materials, on her Web site. I'll share other links as I get them.

What student newspapers can do with Facebook

Dave Lee, editor of The Linc at the University of Lincoln in the UK, offers some tips on what student newspapers can do with Facebook on his blog. Readers suggest some other good ideas in the comments on the post.

Lee started his Student Journalism Blog for the Press Gazette, a London-based newspaper for journalists, in January. The blog offers news and commentary on student journalism across the UK, but really it provides useful information to student journalists around the world. Recent posts have looked at how student newspapers report on student deaths and how Web publishing affects student journalism. You can contact Lee on

As we wrote earlier, Sean Blanda of The Temple News also offered some tips on how student newspapers can use Facebook in his blog.

The New York Times hosts essay contest

Have you dreamed about seeing your byline in The New York Times? Well, here's your chance.

The Times has launched an essay contest for undergraduate college students nationwide on the topic of love. To enter, students must write a personal essay between 1,500 and 2,000 words that illustrates the current state of love and relationships. The winning essay will be published on May 4, in a special issue of the weekly Modern Love column and on The winner will also receive $1,000 and be featured on MTVu, MTV’s 24-hour college network, as well as on The deadline for submissions is March 31.

Essays should be submitted via e-mail to

“Each week Modern Love redefines what love means as seen through the eyes of a different beholder,” Trip Gabriel, editor of the Times' Sunday Styles section said in a news release about the contest. “We’re very excited to hear the voices of our college-age readers who tackle life and love in a vastly different way than the generations before them.”

Launched in October 2004, the Modern Love column appears in the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times. Writers are invited to submit personal essays about a wide range of relationship experiences including marriage, personal loss, dating, divorce, and parenthood. An online archive of Modern Love columns can be found here.

A book of the best essays from the column, “Modern Love: 50 True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit and Devotion,” edited by Daniel Jones, Modern Love column editor, is available at bookstores and online at

This isn't the first time the Times has sponsored a college essay contest. In July, the magazine published "What's the Matter With College," an essay by the historian Rick Perlstein, online and invited college students to respond. Some 600 did. You can read the winning essay and four runners-up, as well as search 450 other entries by school, state and class year at

Friday, February 08, 2008

How to Find Story Ideas

A colleague recently posted this question to a journalism educators' listserv: How do you help students find fresh ideas for stories?

Here are some tips for finding story ideas:

1. Study bulletin boards. That includes electronic bulletin boards and other places where public notices are posted. Is there a new club on campus? An unusual class? A protest rally coming up? Jot down the contact info and check it out.

2. Read back issues of your newspaper. Keep a particular eye out for stories worth a follow-up. What’s happened since an affirmative action admissions program was discontinued? How has a rape prevention policy instituted five years ago affected sexual crimes on campus? Talk to your predecessor, the person who previously covered your beat, and ask about stories that warrant a second look or ones the reporter never got a chance to write.

3. Set up an informal focus group of your friends or roommates. What would they like to read in the paper? What are they concerned about, excited about, frustrated about?

4. Eavesdrop on conversations. Listen up when you're in the cafeteria, the bookstore, the student union and other places students gather. What are people talking about on campus?

5. Take note of announcements made in class. Your professors—or other students—may be passing on news tips.

6. See everyone as a potential news source. Roommates, friends, professors, service workers are all possible sources for news tips. Listen for trends, campus political developments, policy changes.

7. Read everything you can. Newspapers, magazines, newsletters, fliers, journals are all good sources of stories. Among the publications to pay particular attention to: The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times’ quarterly “Education Life” section. They can be great for news or trend stories that you could localize to your campus. Local newspapers are also news story bonanzas, as are other campus newspapers. As long as you don’t plagiarize and you do your own reporting, there’s nothing wrong with stealing story ideas. (See Newslink’s links to online campus newspapers.)

8. Look for research studies about college students. A Google search on “study,” “college students” and the current year will reveal a host of recent studies on such things as drinking habits and video game use that you could use as a launch pad for a trend story and localize to your campus.

9. Peruse all campus publications. Employee and faculty union newsletters and alumni magazines, as well as press releases issued by your university’s public information office, are all good sources of story ideas. Some PIOs also keep track of university staff and faculty in the news. A quote by a professor in a local or national newspaper or magazine may give you an idea for a deeper story on that person or her research.

10. Open your eyes. Look for changes – buildings being torn down, long lines, new businesses in neighborhoods near your campus. Anything fresh or different could be the beginning of a story.

11. Read display and classified ads. Whether they're in your paper, community publications or on craigslist, classified ads can make for great stories. Are apartment rental prices on the rise? Are those too-good-to-be-true airfares for real? Check out unusual job opportunities—for exotic dancers, models, escort services. And what about those "missed connections" personal ads -- do those people every find each other?

12. Check public records. Stop by the county courthouse and see if your school, the university president or other campus players or institutions have been sued.

13. Use Google news alerts. Register your school for a Google news alert. Whenever your campus comes up in the news you'll get an e-mail update.

(Excepted from The Student Newspaper Survival Guide by Rachele Kanigel)