Friday, April 18, 2008

Controversial art project poses dilemma for media

The Yale Daily News found itself at the center of a bizarre tug of war over the truth this week when it reported Thursday that a student had artificially inseminated herself repeatedly and taken abortion drugs to induce miscarriages for an art project.

The story of senior art major Aliza Shvarts' project swept like wildfire across the Internet, showing up in news accounts and blogs. National groups on both sides of the abortion debate immediately condemned the project. Activists gathered at the school to protest.

On Friday Yale issued a statement saying the university had investigated the story and had found it all to be a hoax.

"Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art," said the statement by university spokesperson Helaine S. Klasky. "She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body."

The statement went on to say that Shvarts "is an artist and has the right to express herself through performance art."

But Shvarts is standing by her project. In a convoluted guest column published in Friday's Yale Daily News, she described her process and in an interview she told the newspaper that the university's statement is "ultimately inaccurate."

The incident is even causing a stir on Wikipedia, where a report on the controversy was being "considered for deletion" and "flagged for rescue," according to the user-generated online encyclopedia's deletion policy.

Shvarts is scheduled to display the controversial senior art project, a presentation that supposedly includes video footage of the artist in her bathtub cramping and bleeding from a self-induced miscarriage, next Tuesday. She told reporters the work would also include a sculpture that incorporates her own blood from the forced miscarriages and a spoken piece describing what she had done.

Did Aliza Shvarts repeatedly impregnate herself and then abort the fetuses? Or did she stage an elaborate hoax? How can news organizations like the Yale Daily News learn the truth? How can newspapers -- student and professional -- avoid getting pulled into hoaxes?

It's a fascinating dilemma for the Yale newspaper and for student newspapers everywhere.

A great how-to on video blogging

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute offers a great how-to on video blogging in this YouTube video.

In addition to recommending particular tools like the much talked-about Flip video camera, Snapz Pro X (Snapz Pro Z for PC) for capturing video on your computer screen, and Videocue 2, a cheap but effective teleprompter program, he offers some suggestions on producing Web-quality video quickly. These useful tips can be applied to Web video news reporting as well as video blogging.

And if you don't already regularly "attend," check out "Al's Morning Meeting," Tompkins' daily list of story ideas that college papers as well as professional news organizations can pick up and run with.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Check out UWIRE's campus safety project

UWIRE, a membership organization for college media that aggregates and distributes student-generated content, has put together an impressive package on campus safety around the country to mark the first anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre.

The package, entitled "State of Alert: Campus Safety in the aftermath of Virginia Tech," includes stories, columns and video from The Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech, the Northern Star at Northern Illinois University (where a former student killed five students and wounded 16 before killing himself on Valentine's Day), and more than a dozen other student newspapers.

State of Alert demonstrates how powerful student media organizations can be when they work together. The package is far more comprehensive than anything a single student news organization could put together because it shows the repercussions the Virginia Tech shootings, in which 32 students and the shooter died, had around the country. The package touches on campus mental health services, security upgrades, gun control legislation, the effectiveness of lockdowns and other issues raised by the deadliest campus shooting spree in American history.

UWIRE, which is in the first phase of a relaunch, gathers, edits, and re-distributes student-created content culled from more than 800 student-run media outlets, according to the Web site's About page.

"The new is dedicated to collaborative journalism, created by and for media’s next generation of talent – whom we affectionately call “The Content Generation," the page says. "Our goal is to capture the collective intelligence of these aspiring media professionals and offer visitors a place to discover refined, quality user-generated content."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Story idea: Profs call for free, affordable textbooks

Here's a story virtually any college newspaper could pick up: Two different groups are calling for free or affordable textbooks.

On Tuesday, the Student Public Interest Research Groups released a statement signed by 1,000 professors declaring their preference for "high-quality, affordable textbooks, including open textbooks, over expensive commercial textbooks." Professors representing more than 300 colleges in all 50 states signed the statement. To find out if any professors from your campus signed, click here.

Make Textbooks Affordable is a joint project of The Student PIRGs, Arizona Students Association and the California State Student Association, according to a press release on the campaign.

Last month Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, posted a public appeal to philanthropists to "liberate educational content." He encouraged them to sign an online petition that outlines his vision of a world where textbooks cost students nothing. Some 65 people had signed it as of this writing. (The letter focuses on K-12 textbooks, but the philosophy could easily be applied to college textbooks as well.)

Both efforts support "open textbooks," free, online, open-access textbooks with content that is licensed so that anyone can use, download, customize, or print without expressed permission from the author. Some examples are listed on the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign Web site.

Textbooks cost students an average of $900 per year, according to a 2005 study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

This is a story with strong reader interest that can be localized to virtually any college campus. Have professors on your campus jumped on the bandwagon? If not, why not? Have any professors on your campus created open textbooks? How do textbook publishers and representatives of your local bookstore respond to these efforts?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Embedded student journalist ousted from Iraq

A San Francisco State University student and former marine who was an embedded journalist in Iraq for five months was ordered to leave Basra earlier this month.

James Lee Jeffreys, who used the pen name James Lee, said he wasn't told why he had to leave, but he was abruptly evacuated on April 2, one day after arriving in Basra.

Jeffreys published photos and dispatches from Iraq in Golden Gate [X]press, the student newspaper at San Francisco State University.

Lee served two tours of duty in Iraq as a marine until he was injured there by friendly fire. After returning to California and enrolling in classes at San Francisco State University, he decided to go back as an embedded reporter.

"I think it's unfortunate that the military that I served so proudly for four years is the same military that prevented me from doing my job as a civilian journalist," Jeffreys told KTVU-TV.

Check out the KTVU report, which includes interviews with Jeffreys and Golden Gate [X]press Multimedia Editor Aaron Morrison -- and a 2-second sound bite from me.

To read James Lee's dispatches from Iraq and see his photos click on the links below:

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Nebraska governor penalizes student paper

The office of the governor of Nebraska threatened to ban Daily Nebraskan reporters from the governor's press conferences last week after the University of Nebraska student newspaper revealed that a man who gives tours of the governor's mansion is a convicted murderer who lives at a nearby prison.

The governor's office later said it would allow Daily Nebraskan reporters to attend press conferences but would no longer send out e-mailed press releases to the newspaper, according to an article in the student newspaper.

The reaction came in response to a story in Thursday's edition of the Daily Nebraskan about a man convicted of second-degree murder who gives tours at the governor's mansion as part of a rehabilitation program.

Ashley Cradduck. deputy communications director to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, told the Daily Nebraskan that the governor's office wanted to cut ties with the student newspaper because staff there felt they were not given an opportunity to comment on the story before it was published.

"I wouldn't say that the story was inaccurate, but I would say some things were taken out of context," Cradduck was quoted as saying. "It's not entirely inaccurate, but it's not the full picture, either."

The story was picked up Friday by USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Omaha World-Herald.

The Student Press Law Center and Nebraska Sen. Tom White of Omaha rushed to the Daily Nebraskan's defense, according to the student newspaper.

"I hope every journalist and every editorial board in the state and every taxpayer realizes the freedom of speech violations here," Ian Russell, a legislative aide to Nebraska Sen. Tom White of Omaha, told the Daily Nebraskan. "When the governor's office goes and beats up on a college newspaper because they're doing their job, it's unbelievable."

You can read the Daily Nebraskan's editorial response to the governor's action here. You can also view a political cartoon about the incident here.

Other student newspapers may well want to comment on this apparent violation of student press freedom.

How will the newsroom of tomorrow function?

If you didn't get to attend The Next Newsroom conference, April 3-4 in Durham, N.C., check out the project's Web site for blog posts, photos, reflections and ideas.

The Next Newsroom Project is an effort to design the ideal newsroom for The Chronicle, the student newspaper at Duke University. Alumni, students and news professionals have come together to help plan the project, which is being funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the Knight News Challenge Grant program.

Other coverage:

Sounds like a fascinating dicussion; sorry I missed it!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Check out Confessions of a Journalism Student

Temple University journalism student Sean Blanda shares some really interesting insights in Confessions of a Journalism Student on his blog. Check it out.

He points out there has been "a flurry of posts directed at students with advice on school" and the future of the industry but that none of these posts are written by students.