Friday, April 18, 2008

The last roundup

I'm spending my Friday evening at Jaho Coffee & Tea in downtown Salem, where I'm assembling our final blog roundup of the semester. This is one of my favorite writing spots, and I imagine I'll be putting in a lot of time here during the next four months.

Even though the semester is nearly over, I hope you'll continue blogging. It's a skill every journalist needs to master.

It's a leap year. And Bailey Clear wants us to know that means it's the Year of the Frog, species of which are disappearing at a disturbing rate because of environmental contamination. We're also moving into whale-watching season, a dangerous time for those vulnerable animals. Scientists are taking new steps to protect them.

Continuing with our animal theme, Bianca Strzelczyk considers the phenomenon of "doggie discrimination," and shares some information about the secret lives of rats, too. She thinks the just-opened Newseum is "one of the coolest museums ever created." OK, I'm convinced. Next time I'm in Washington, I'm going.

Information is power, and with power comes a desire for someone to come along and take it. With the Internet, says Brendan Gupta, that someone is the telephone companies, who want to gain control in return for installing fiber-optic transmission lines. Brendan also lays out his political agenda for a post-9/11 world.

Surprisingly, the demand for green housing has survived the housing slump, Brian Benson finds. And — in a return to our focus on critters — Brian tells us that the long Maine winter has created problems for the state's deer population: deer do not hibernate, and the deep snow pack has covered up their food supply.

Here is a difference between Candice Springer and me: she is obsessed with David Cook; I've never heard of David Cook. Whoever he is, Candice says he has done it again. She also checks in on Donald Trump's Miss USA contest, and wonders whether beauty queens who are black are held to a higher standard of behavior than those who are white. has put together a great page on the Boston Marathon, says Casey Ramsdell, who nevertheless wonders why the 26.2-mile race doesn't seem to be that big a deal this year. Casey also finds that the Patriots really did go 19-0, only not in the United States: the NFL sent the Pats' championship gear to poor countries around the world.

Chelsey Pieretti is a fan of both J.K. Rowling and the "Harry Potter" books, but she thinks Rowling is being selfish. Chelsey also ponders those clips of Hillary Clinton drinking: "I mean, if I'm going to base my feelings on a presidential hopeful on their shot-taking technique, I think I know a few people here at school who would get my vote."

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Players Association president Donald Fehr lost their chance to do something about steroids when they should have, says Danny Kowalski; but at least they're doing something now. Danny also takes a look at the relationship between Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain and his disabled father.

The city is being challenged on its anti-student housing restrictions, reports Derek Hawkins, who issues a challenge of his own to college newspapers: cover the story. He also takes a somewhat jaundiced view of whether the college press is obliged to cover student government — and an extremely jaundiced view of Twitter.

"Puppies make everything better," writes Eleni Himaras, which allows me to return to our theme. Eleni looks at Web-based databases that will help her find a puppy when she moves to Texas later this year. She also tells us about Teens in Print: Boston, a four-times-a-year paper put out by Boston school kids with the help of the Boston Globe.

Erin Cahill checks in on a recent panel discussion about "Reporting on Religion," sponsored by the Northeastern University School of Journalism. Erin notes that such coverage isn't necessarily restricted to the religion beat. As the controversy over Barack Obama's former pastor shows, religious literacy is valuable for any journalist.

The new Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, likes to brag about how comfortable he is with online technology and social networking, observes Erin Semagin Damio. By contrast, Erin shows us a clip of President Bush on CNBC in which he talks about how much he likes Google Earth — but he can't remember what it's called.

Is that a naked woman reflected in Dick Cheney's sunglasses? No, it's a hand casting a fly rod — and it's pretty obvious unless you've got a dirty mind, says Jessica MacNeil. She also profiles Mac Slocum, an Internet entrepreneur whose Web site, The Independent Publisher, is devoted to innovation in online journalism.

The Northeastern News could have done a better job with its headline on the student-government election, writes Jessica Torrez-Riley, adding that the paper saved the good stuff for the editorial page. She also hails the Harvard Crimson for diving into live-blogging, even though she's skeptical of the trend in general.

Kelly Sullivan is appalled by the story — now revealed to have been a fraud — of the Yale student who claimed to have transformed her repeated abortions into an art project. She also ponders the fate of "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric, whose low ratings may soon force her out of the anchor chair once occupied by Walter Cronkite.

America's cocaine habit is destroying the national parks of Central and South America, reports Lisa Newman, who wonders whether there are other issues we ought to be worrying about instead. Lisa also ponders new state laws allowing the death penalty to be imposed for child rape, and wonders about the moral and logical implications.

Ninety-six years after it sunk, people are still wondering what really happened to the Titanic. Maureen McLaughlin looks at a New York Times story reporting that the problem wasn't the encounter with an iceberg per se but, rather, faulty rivets that could not withstand the force of the crash. Maureen also calls our attention to an undersea slide show.

Trying to make sense of the story about the third-graders who were allegedly plotting to hurt their teacher is difficult, notes Mitchell Esteller. What's important, he says, is to make sure the students understand the meaning of accountability. Mitchell also gives us a peek inside the dauntingly expensive "rubber room" for New York teachers accused of wrongdoing.

The new Web site iConflict could be a great way to keep track of news from hot spots around the world, says Stacey Perlman; but she adds that, so far, the idea is better than the execution. Stacey also describes Ushahidi, a system that allows Kenyans to report on violence resulting from the tumult over the December election.

I'm not sure I want USA Today bugging me via AIM, but Stephen Asay gives McPaper credit for doing it in a reasonably spritely manner. Stephen also digs up a remarkable post about the ethics of photo editing, linking to two shots of high school football players that are literally as different as night and day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Your final projects

Last night I finished editing your final projects and returned them to you. As you'll see, they're not graded, but you'll find extensive comments as well as suggestions on organization and further reporting you should do.

The deadline for e-mailing your rewrite to me is Monday, April 21, at 10 a.m. Monday is a holiday, and I will not be on campus that day. But I will be working. If you need to reach me that day, you can do so by e-mail or by calling my cell phone.

Every project I read is either already a good story or can become one with some extra work. Here are a few things you need to keep in mind as you work on your rewrites:
  • What I've done so far consists of structural editing and a little bit of copy editing. I have not checked the spelling of proper names. Please — triple-check every name via Google, Facebook or whatever. Each botched name will cost you a letter grade. Make sure you get full credit for your hard work.
  • Your story should be around 2,500 words long; include interviews with at least eight people; links to at least 10 sources of outside information; and three embedded pieces of art, whether they are photos, videos or illustrations.
  • Your rewrite should include a memo of, say, 300 to 500 words on additional ways that you could make your story a more fully realized piece of Web journalism. Is there, for instance, some way that you could incorporate a Google map? Is there an online presentation you could put together that would allow readers to add their own content? What Web features could you include that would help you develop follow-up stories? Please do not send me your memo as a separate document; rather, include it at the bottom of your story.
Let's aim for a strong finish.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Search for free art

Here is the link to Wikimedia Commons, a great resource for finding freely available public-domain photos, art, video and sound.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Our final guest speaker

Our final guest speaker of the semester, Kimberly Atkins, will join us this Wednesday for the last part of our class. Atkins, a lawyer, is a staff reporter and blogger for Lawyers USA in Washington. Before that, she covered politics and wrote a political blog for the Boston Herald. For my money, her blogging on the governor's race in 2006 was more interesting than what appeared in the print edition of the Herald because of its immediacy and Atkins' conversational tone.

Please have a look at Atkins' blog, DC Dicta, and read through her posts for the last week or so. How does blogging help a journalist to be a better reporter? To what extend is a reporter's blogging becoming as important a part of his or her job as fully reported stories? Have social-networking tools such as LinkedIn helped her do her job?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Re-editing the agenda with NewsTrust

For the past week we've been immersing ourselves in NewsTrust, a social-networking site that bills itself as "Your guide to good journalism."

Last Wednesday Rory O'Connor, NewsTrust's editorial director, led us in a presentation and workshop, highlights of which you can see in the embedded video below. Since then, we've been posting and rating stories related to the global economy, which was NewsTrust's featured topic.

NewsTrust's strength is also its weakness. Unlike Digg, which simply allows you to vote on whether you like or don't like a story, NewsTrust asks users to rate stories on a wide range of criteria, including whether you think the news organization is reliable, how well sourced the story is, whether it's fair and whether the story offers enough context.

In all, there are 12 different criteria, each of them demanding a rating of one to five stars. Though you may leave any particular criterion blank if you choose, that's still a lot — and you haven't even gotten to writing a comment, adding tags and filling in several other forms. That's quite a bit of work.

Still, the idea is a good one. It's a way for ordinary readers — well, ordinary readers who happen to be news junkies — to re-edit the news, to judge for themselves what are the best and most important stories rather than relying on the editors of the New York Times, the BBC or what have you. Some readers who don't want to submit or even rate stories may be intrigued by the idea of tapping into the wisdom of the NewsTrust community to find news they might otherwise never see.

According to O'Connor, testing has showed that journalists and non-journalists give stories similar ratings, which suggests that the NewsTrust system, though cumbersome, actually works. Perhaps the biggest drawback at the moment is the NewsTrust demographic, which O'Connor compares to the PBS audience: well-educated, aging and very liberal. Lack of ideological balance could hinder NewsTrust from becoming the well-respected guide to which its founders aspire. They understand the problem and are hoping to come up with some solutions.

Another interesting feature is that users themselves are rated in terms of how transparent they are about their backgrounds, how often they submit and rate stories and what other users think of their ratings. This, as well as community judgments about the reliability of different news sources, all gets figured into the algorithm that comes up with a score for any given story.

According to my students' blogs, NewsTrust could be improved if it were less text-heavy and loaded more quickly.

As more people begin to use NewsTrust, its ratings should become more useful. I've submitted and reviewed several stories and felt like I was shouting into the wind, as no one else rated them. I do think it would be interesting if there were some way of knowing how many other people had at least read the story.

Social networking is the hottest trend in media today. By trying to combine social networking with serious journalism, the founders of NewsTrust have hit upon one of the more promising experiments in online journalism.

Home stretch

I caught up with your blog posts this afternoon, and in most cases I'm impressed at the breadth and depth of what you've been writing about. The deadline for your final projects is this Wednesday before class. After that, you'll have one week to keep blogging for your grade. So if you're running behind, that will be a good opportunity to catch up.

I hope you will continue blogging after the semester ends.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

NewsTrust assignment

I want to thank Rory O'Connor for the terrific presentation/workshop he led on NewsTrust today. As promised, here, in writing, is what I'm going to ask of you for the rest of this week into Monday.
  • You may put your blogging on hold. Exception: I asked each of you to post a blog item about NewsTrust in advance of today. If you haven't done that yet, please do so now.
  • O'Connor has asked us to submit (and rate) at least one story a day to NewsTrust on the featured topic, the global economy. A lot of you are very good at scouring for information from mainstream and non-mainstream news sources, the Web sites of nonprofit organizations and the like, so this is a chance to put your skills to work. Please rate a few stories that are already on NewsTrust, too.
  • You've all been very busy with pulling together your final projects. So I'll give you a chance to catch your breath on Monday by spending the last hour submitting a story or two to NewsTrust and rating articles.
Have a good weekend.