Monthly Archives: April 2011

A perceived lack of communication

It’d be fair to say that most Simpson College students don’t want to cause conflict and would rather skirt around the edges of it than face it head on. That being said, there’s no doubt this year that there has been a fair share of conflict between Simpson’s Student Government Association and our student newspaper, The Simpsonian. It’s been fleshed out, sometimes rationally, sometimes unprofessionally, in opinion articles and blog posts from both sides. Being a class senator and a Simpsonian staff writer over the past year, I often found myself caught in the middle. However, now, I’m a former class senator and a future editor at the Simp and I’m hoping my combined knowledge of both organizations can lead to more harmonious flow between the two.

Before going any further, I need to say, neither side is right or wrong.

In the final edition of the year, the editorial staff of the Simp wrote a column entitled “Thumbs are up and down for 2010-2011,” in which the staff writes,

The communication between students, student groups and Student Government Association (SGA) was lacking this year. The frustration of who got what money all seemed to be a game of who was best liked or who was the most persistent. Things were not consistent throughout the year, which led to more frustration and misunderstanding. 

To address the first point, I think one of SGA’s greatest accomplishments this year has been its creation and updating of its blog, its video blog and its social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter (with every meeting being live-tweeted). With news and content from SGA available on almost every platform a student could access, the “lack of communication” argument simply isn’t valid.

Not to say that the Simp writers don’t have a point. Consistency in how different groups were treated when requesting funding has been an issue, complicated even more by a little-understood finance code in need of a few revisions. In the final student government meetings of the year, discussion on revisions of the finance code revolved around developing two separate codes: one for groups requesting money during the spring budget hearings and a second for groups coming throughout the year requesting money from SGA’s operating budget for specific events or activities. This seems to be the most reasonable proposal brought forth, however, it will be up to next year’s senate and the students at large to ensure that new regulations be put in place.

So if the communication issue is not as big of an issue as previously believed and next year’s senate works to solve the consistency issue, then what else needs to happen to encourage cooperation between the Simp and SGA? On the part of the Simp, I think it’s essential to have a reporter present at SGA meetings. Perhaps this will fall under my authority (as next year’s Perspectives editor I’ve contemplated running a bi-weekly or weekly column on SGA) or will be traded between different reporters. However, as a senator, I’ve seen the nuances, the discussion and sometimes, the confusion that can take place during SGA meetings. To report fairly on the proceedings, it’s essential to have reporters and writers observe and record the various points and arguments discussed during an SGA vote.

Both of these organizations consider themselves to be advocates for students and watchdogs of the administration. Many opportunities exist for cooperation between the two groups in the form of hosting joint forum events or Q&A sessions with administrators. Of course, the Simp always has a duty to report honestly on SGA proceedings and decisions and SGA has the responsibility to make the decisions it thinks are right, even in the face of negative press. Yet in the end, a strong student press and a strong student government working to understand and cooperate with each other can only bring about positive benefits for the Simpson community.

Picking up on Twitter

I noticed a tweet from a professor of mine earlier this morning that read:

“Some of the #SimpsonCollege #BNR students have absolutely no idea how to use Twitter as a journalism tool.”

First off, I couldn’t agree more. From following a few of the Beginning News Writing and Reporting students’ Twitter feeds, it’s evident that many of the students haven’t realized the tool’s full potential. They use a technique (I know from experience) of tweeting information and Simpson news found in emails just to meet the minimum requirements for the class. Yes, it’s unfortunate and can be annoying to follow…but then again, we all start somewhere.

I went back through and dug up some of my old tweets from when I was in Beginning News Writing and Reporting. They were boring. They demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of the use of the hashtag. So I thought, “what were the blocks that held me back from a more thorough understanding of Twitter and why don’t students embrace it more enthusiastically?”

One of the first things I realized is that Twitter as a journalistic tool will only be embraced by journalism students who have a passion for journalism. I’m not convinced that all of my peers have an honest-to-god, live it and breath it passion for journalism. For me, the passion didn’t really hit until sophomore year, so that’s not to say that many of them won’t catch the fever. It’s just that, despite professors’ insistence, many don’t recognize Twitter as a 24/7 journalistic tool.

The second factor that proved to be a setback for me was something a lot of students suffer from: not having a smartphone. It’s arguable, but without a smartphone, Twitter loses much of its excitement. It’s hard to be engaged in Twitter’s conversation with a traditional cell phone, as all the incoming tweets will fill up your inbox. It ends up that for many, the only time to be on Twitter is when a computer is accessible and then Facebook wins the attention-span battle. To fight this, it all goes back to a blog post that Brian Steffen, another professor, wrote earlier in the year about the essential tools for journalism. If you’re a BNR student reading this and you don’t have a smartphone, trust me, it’s the wisest investment you will make in your career as a journalist.

Lastly, while I may be completely off here, from my observation, it doesn’t seem as though some journalism students are plugged into what’s going on in the media world. When it comes to using Twitter as a tool, this is important. Following journalists who use Twitter in great ways is really the only way to learn the skill. A few on top of my list are Andy Carvin (@acarvin), whose Twitter feed documents the situation in Libya and other countries in uprising and Kathie Obradovich (@KObradovich), who is a political columnist at the Des Moines Register. The way they deliver up-to-the-minute news via Twitter is revolutionizing the way consumers use media and on a smaller scale, I think it’s important that students incorporate their techniques and adapt them to fit their own style.

So although I agree with my professor’s tweet, I think it’s important to remember that all aspects of multimedia journalism are trial and error procedures. The only way students will improve is with time, practice and exposure to this medium.

It’s all about trial and error

I’ve been doing video stories in class and for Simpson’s PR and Marketing department for almost a year now. On one hand, my videography has come a long way, on the other hand, every time I film, I discover one more thing to keep in mind for next time. Mistakes are made, but such is the nature of being a journalism student. It’s a real learning by doing process. Watch this clip and see the “learning opportunity” that I discovered as I watched this footage I shot at Startup Storm over the weekend.

Donni gave a great interview and the lighting and audio are good. But yep, that’s my reflection in the window behind her. Perhaps my handsome figure enhances the video, but chances are it’s simply distracting. Luckily with Final Cut and other software if this situation happens to you, there are ways to fix it in the editing process. It’s simpler, however, to keep these small details in mind while shooting. It’s another item to check off the huge list of “do’s and don’ts” while shooting, however, after doing it awhile, I’ve found that (except for the occasional mistake) it becomes second nature.

Lessons from the year

This week the Simpsonian staff is working on writing and putting together the final paper of the year. I’m sure many of us are thinking, “Wow, who expected it to come so fast?” But, interestingly enough, with the end of this year, I find myself looking forward to next year. Working as a staff writer this year has been a real learning experience for me, it’s been fun, but it’s also been frustrating.

As the year comes to a close, I find myself wanting to share a few lessons I learned with those writers who may be joining our staff (or the staff of any other student newspaper) next year. Certainly I’m not an expert, but I put together few tips that I picked up working on a recent story that, perhaps, may make somebody’s life as a journalist simpler.

If you work for a college newspaper, inevitably, there will come a time when you must use college administrators as a source. In my experience, most of the time they’ve been more than willing to comment and offer information. However, sometimes, the information is intentionally vague. Sometimes these officials are extremely hard to contact and it’s even harder to set up interviews. Sometimes, you run into the occasional administrator who simply refuses to meet in person for an interview or offer any comment at all for reasons that are beyond understanding.

So when you’re dealing with these administrators, keep these three things in mind.

1. Contact the source immediately after receiving the assignment
It’s tempting to put it off, but once you have the story assigned, it will save you headaches later if you contact your source right then and there. While it simply seems expected that these folks would contact you soon after receiving your email, for one reason or another, it’s often two or three days later. Then, you’re scrambling to find time or you’re forced to send questions via email…which brings me to my next piece of advice.

2. Never use an email interview when interviewing a college administrator
When dealing with issues such as salary, college finances, or future plans, unfortunately, you can often run into that intentional vagueness I mentioned earlier. Simply sending questions in an email to administrators gives them the perfect platform for that intentional vagueness or simply not to answer questions at all. In these situations, face to face is the only way to go.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask an administrator to repeat or clarify an answer
I learned this the hard way. It’s not that an administrator would intentionally try and confuse a journalist, but, if they tend to get long-winded in their answers, it’s easy to get details confused. In my experience, this gets even worse if monetary figures are involved. It’s tough to ask an administrator to repeat or clarify an answer, especially if you’re nervous or intimidated (which was certainly normal for me in the beginning) by the interviewee. However, it beats trying to figure it all out when listening to the interview at 3 a.m., trying to get your story done by deadline in the morning.

I hope this helps someone looking forward to their career as a college journalist. It’s not all that hard, all you need is an inquiring mind and a can of Red Bull.

Also, for more insights on student journalism, check out www.journoterrorist.com. It’s a blog out of Florida I found while navigating Twitter. It’s both insightful and irreverent, so enjoy.