Monday, March 31, 2008

Getting to know NewsTrust

You've all now become registered users of NewsTrust. (If you were not with us today, please go to the site and sign up.) Before class on Wednesday, I would like all of you to post an item to your blogs about your experience with NewsTrust.

Among the activities you might try: filling in more information about yourself so that your transparency rating rises; rating a few stories; and submitting a story so that others in the community can rate it. What do you like about the site? What do you think could be improved?

Remember, on Wednesday we'll be having a presentation and workshop on NewsTrust led by the editor, Rory O'Connor. Please go to Room 90 in the basement of Snell Library — the library itself, and not the classroom annex.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday night blog roundup

I haven't done this for a while, so I thought I'd post a few highlights of what you've all been writing about. Many of you have posted your midterm feature stories. I'm really struck by how much better they look online than in Word. Just to be different, I'll post in reverse alphabetical order by first name.

The Los Angeles Times really stepped in it this week by linking rap artist Sean "Puffy" Combs to the 1994 shooting of fellow rapper Tupac Shakur on the basis of documents that turned out to be phony. Stephen Asay takes a look at how the Smoking Gun got to the bottom of it.

My jaw dropped in amazement and horror as I watched a clip from a local newscast in which the anchor and the reporter went at it live over each other's journalistic chops. As Stacey Perlman notes, no happy-talk banter here. Yet that probably would have been preferable.

There's nothing humorous about child molestation. But, as Mitchell Esteller learns, there's something at least a little bit humorous about a child molester claiming in his defense that he himself had been molested by the legendary Bigfoot in New Hampshire when he was a child.

Maureen McLaughlin has been poking around 9Neighbors, a local news aggregation/social-networking site. She's particularly taken with the photo section, which gives residents a chance to share their pictures with the community.

If you think "Yugoslavia" begins with "U," then you won't get the video Lisa Newman has posted in which Americans are asked about their knowledge of foreign countries. But when the State Department can't even find Angorra, well, what do u — uh, you — expect?

Abraham Lincoln his getting a new look on the $5 bill. Kelly Sullivan likes the purple "5," and suggests pink for the $100 bill — with a tiara for Ben Franklin.

Google Maps are changing the face of online journalism. Jessica Torrez-Riley finds that the Tufts Daily has put together its own Google map of crime in the surrounding neighborhood, complete with synopses and links to more in-depth stories.

I believe it was Ben Alper who said that Dr. Jack Kevorkian is the only candidate for Congress who begins his rallies by saying, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today." Jessica MacNeil considers the candidacy of "Dr. Death," and wonders if it's possible that he might actually win.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is already one of the most Web-savvy mainstream journalists around. Now he's started a Facebook page, Erin Semagin Damio tells us. Kristof is singing our song, saying, "I’m a firm believer that the best business model for newspapers in the future has less to do with dead trees than with social networks."

Ron Paul's insurgent campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has faded, but Erin Cahill writes that what he has to say is important, though unconventional. Abolishing the IRS and pulling the United States out of the U.N. certainly amounts to change, she says.

Eleni Himaras clues us in on, which is dedicated to "[p]rolonging the slow death of newspapers" by calling our attention to great examples of narrative journalism. She also tells us a secret: she's not a huge fan of multimedia journalism.

Barack Obama has essentially won the Democratic nomination, says Derek Hawkins — he'll almost certainly finish the primary season with more votes and more delegates than Hillary Clinton. Which is why, he predicts, Obama's youthful supporters will be enraged if the superdelegates move toward Clinton.

Danny Kowalski takes a look at 9Neighbors, a site that aggregates local news and blog posts and allows users to vote on what items are the most interesting and/or important. Is it journalism? Yes and no, he says.

Chelsea Clinton recently snapped at a student who'd asked her whether her father's infidelity had harmed her mother's "credibility." Chelsey Pieretti thinks Chelsea was within her rights, noting that she was just 18 when the Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998 became public.

Just because the Red Sox were playing baseball before the sun had come up doesn't mean that Casey Ramsdell missed any of the action. Quite the contrary. She set her alarm for 5:45 a.m. and caught the action live from Japan. And she's not, she tell us, a morning person.

Candice Springer also takes note of the Chelsea Clinton story, but leans toward a different view — namely, that if she's going to take to the campaign trail on behalf of her mother, then she should be expected to answer questions just like anyone else.

There's a connection between maple-syrup production and global warming, Brian Benson writes, as sugar-maple trees are migrating north. How pronounced is this? In the 1950s, 80 percent of the world's maple syrup came from the United States and 20 percent from Canada. Today, those percentages are reversed.

The Web offers all the flexibility and freedom that cable television lacks. Brendan Gupta argues that the solution is to bring the two together by replacing the cable box with a high-speed Internet connection.

We are remarkably unaffected by the war in Iraq, notes Bianca Strzelczyk. We shouldn't be, she writes, observing that we have now lost 4,000 American lives (and many more Iraqi lives) since the war began five years ago.

For those of you who are sick of the water-skiing squirrel, Bailey Clear offers something much more entertaining — a dancing sea lion. She's also been helping with its editing, and getting results.

Student makes Universal Hub

Jessica Torrez-Riley's blog gets picked up by Universal Hub.

Monday, March 24, 2008

NewsTrust next week

Next week we will be taking a close look at, a social-networking experiment that seeks to apply the wisdom of the crowds to serious journalism. Please make sure you are able to attend class next Wednesday, April 2, when NewsTrust editor Rory O'Connor will lead a presentation and hands-on workshop.
We'll meet in 90 Snell Library. If you've never been in that room, enter the library — not the classroom annex, but the actual library — and go downstairs one flight. The room will be directly in front of you.

There will be a follow-up assignment in the next few days following the class.

"Religion in the News"

I want to call your attention to a panel discussion that will be held next Wednesday, April 2. Titled "Religion in the News: What Future Reporters and Editors Need to Know," the discussion will take place in the Ballroom at the Curry Student Center from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. This would make a good extra-credit assignment. Panelists will be:
  • Benjamin Hubbard, chair emeritus of comparative religion at California State University, Fullerton.
  • Debra Mason, executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association and director of the Center for Religion, the Professions and the Public at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
  • Munir Shaikh, executive director of the California-based Institute on Religion and Civic Values.
The moderator will be Prof. Stephen Burgard, director of our School of Journalism and author of "Hallowed Ground: Rediscovering Our Spiritual Roots."

Should you choose to cover this as an extra-credit assignment, please write a 500-word blog post in which you quote at least three people. Since there are three panelists, that ought to be easy. To be counted for extra credit, you must post by the end of the week.

Final project guidelines

We've talked about this in class, but I thought I ought to put it in writing. Your final project is due on Wednesday, April 9, at the beginning of class. It is identical to the midterm project with three exceptions:
  • It is to be 2,500 words long
  • You should quote at least eight people
  • You should include 10 links to offsite information
For any other questions, please see the midterm guidelines. Of course, you can always contact me as well.

There will be a mandatory rewrite due sometime during finals week, at a date and time TBA.

If there's one vital piece of information I can impart to you, it is this: Please give me what you consider to be a finished story on April 9. If you hand me a story that is significantly short and does not quote at least eight people, that will affect your final grade.

More important, I won't be able to do the kind of structural editing that will help you turn in a better story when you rewrite it. Instead, I'll be trying to figure out how you should go about doing what you should have done on the first draft.

I saw some excellent ideas on your story memos, so I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

News-feature slides online

I've posted the PowerPoint on the elements of a news-feature.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Some good news for the news business

The State of the News Media report released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism this week shows that the economic pressures facing the newspaper business are severe and getting worse. Yet there's a significant silver lining: add print and online readers together, and newspapers are reaching as large an audience as ever. You might be interested in my thoughts, published last night in the Guardian.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Citizen journalism and jobs

"Off the Bus," the citizen-journalism project at Huffington Post, is looking for a professional journalist to make sense of it all.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Getting to know your 9Neighbors

This Wednesday we'll hear from Rick Burnes, the co-founder of Faneuil Media, who will demonstrate and discuss 9Neighbors. A local-news aggregation site, 9Neighbors pulls in news from five cities and towns (why not nine?) in the Boston area from traditional news sources, blogs and the like. Participants vote on which stories are the most important to them, with stories getting the most votes rising to the top of the heap.

There's also a 9Neighbors blog with information about the project, including a link to a do-it-yourself pothole map.

The site raises some questions that I hope you'll think about for Rick's appearance:
  • In what ways is 9Neighbors journalism?
  • In what ways is it not journalism?
  • Is there a role for professional journalists in a project like 9Neighbors?
  • Should mainstream news organizations welcome links from 9Neighbors in order to drive traffic to their sites? Or might they look at 9Neighbors as a free rider?
Rick would also like to learn about what you think 9Neighbors does well and how you think it could be improved.

Online collectivism

No doubt you have heard the phrase "the wisdom of the crowds" to describe why blogland tends to be self-correcting, or why Wikipedia is accurate most of the time. That raises a question: Does the madness of the mob become the wisdom of the crowd when you give everyone a laptop?

Derek Hawkins today will discuss the ideas of the computer scientist Jaron Lanier (left), who has cast a dubious eye on the online collective. Here is an essay that Lanier wrote for Time magazine in December 2006. It's a quick read. If you'd like to dig deeper, Lanier explains his views more fully in a piece titled "Digital Maoism."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Further thoughts on your final project

Let me offer a few more details about your final project. There's really nothing mysterious about it — in a way, it's not much different from a Journalism 2 final project, except that you need to identify a topic related to Web journalism and/or new media, and include some Web-based features. Here are a few thoughts:
  • You should seek to do your feature on a topic you haven't written about before. This is not to be an extension of your midterm feature. Yes, it can be related in some way, but I certainly don't want you doing a story in which you would go back and re-interview the same people.
  • The length is to be about 2,500 words. That's not quite double the length of your midterm, which was 1,500 words. Again, J2 final projects are typically 2,000 to 2,500 words long, so you've done this before.
  • You will be required to interview at least seven or eight people and include probably 10 or so links. My inclination is to stick with the same number of photo/video enhancements — three — but I haven't made a final decision.
I know some of you are struggling with topics. It's easier than you think, and those who have come visiting me looking for help have found that it's really not all that hard. The secret to a good, meaningful feature story is to start with the specific and then seek to place that within a broader context. Here are some midterm feature topics that were especially successful:
  • A profile of Monica Collins, a dog lover who writes the blog Ask Dog Lady.
  • A story about a Wentworth student who started a blog about the political situation in Burma, his home country.
  • A feature about how two large newspapers are letting readers set up blogs on their Web sites.
You really could do a story on just about any blog or Web site you stumble across during your Web-surfing. Think about what interests you. Beer? Find a good Web site or blog on beer, track down the person or persons who started it, make sure you'll be able to interview him or them, and you're off and running.

For Monday, please identify your topic, tell me what your story will be about (to the best that you're able to) and three people you plan to interview. One page, single-spaced.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Radio Boston" this Friday

"Radio Boston," an hour-long weekly program on WBUR (90.9), will devote its show this Friday to the future of the newspaper business, pegged to ongoing downsizing at the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. The show is broadcast at 1 p.m. and repeated on Saturday at 1 p.m., but you'll probably rather listen on the show's Web site.

Some of you may be looking for an extra-credit assignment. Here's one that I think would work well. Listen to "Radio Boston" and write a 500-word post for your blog. In addition to the broadcast, bring in at least two other sources of relevant information — with links, of course. If you choose to do this, please do it before class on Monday.

It looks like I'm going to be one of the participants, but don't let that sway you. In fact, when you write your blog post, I'd much prefer if you emphasize the other panelists.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Update for this week

We have a real treat in store for Wednesday. Lisa Williams, founder of the groundbreaking local blog H2otown, which covers Watertown, will be with us for the last part of the class. Williams is a nationally recognized authority on hyperlocal blogs.

Working with Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media and Jay Rosen of New York University, she also runs a site called, which tracks local blogs across the country and around the world.

Because of Williams' visit, I am taking some of our reading out of order. A couple of years ago I wrote a profile of Williams for CommonWealth Magazine, which I want you to read before Wednesday. You should also spend some time with H2otown and Placeblogger. Be prepared with comments and questions.

Two other things you need to be aware of:
  • Next Monday, March 17, your one-page story memo for your final project is due. Your final project will be very much like your 1,500 mid-term story, only longer — in the range of 2,500 words. In your memo, please tell me what the subject of your story will be and identify at least three people whom you'll interview. Show me that you've done some pre-reporting — do the work you need to do now so that you'll know you can bring this story to fruition.
  • Just a reminder that your blogs will count for 20 percent of your grade at the end of the semester. To repeat, I'm looking for at least three decent-length (350 words or so) items each week. If you haven't been doing that, you need to get moving. Watch your grammar and especially your spelling. Please don't post long videos with little or none of your own commentary. If you think a video is worth posting, tell us why, and tell us something about it.
Photo of Williams (cc) by Steve Garfield, and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Spring-break blogging

Blogger is being tricky tonight. It wiped out a roundup of your blogs I had been writing, and then gave me an error message when I tried to post a shorter item. So let me just say — quickly, before I crash again — that some of you kept up blogging during spring break, and I read some excellent items tonight. See you all tomorrow.