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Archive for February 4th, 2007

If you’re not on Facebook, you should be

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

“Where do you find the time?” That was the question one of my fellow reporters posed to me after I briefly explained how to use Facebook to him and a few of the editors. That’s right. I had to explain how to use Facebook.

But why should they, or anyone over the age of about 25, care? Well, it’s an invaluable tool in trying to understand the interests and interactions of my generation. And by my generation I mean anyone under the age of about 25.

Recently a student at Purdue, which is in West Lafayette, disappeared from a fraternity party. Since then, we’ve been following the story down all its different paths.

One of those paths I discovered the first day after he was reported missing. When I got home from work, I sat down to check my e-mail and see the latest happenings with my friends on Facebook. Out of curiousity, I plugged the missing student’s name in to see if he had a facebook profile. He did, but because I’m not in the network I couldn’t see it. BUT, I could see that his roommate had created a group asking to HELP FIND WADE STEFFEY.

When I first noticed it, the group had fewer than 1,000 members. By about 7 p.m. that night it had shot up to 1,200. I sent a note to my editors saying this was something I’d never seen before and worth checking into for sources, tips, etc. Currently, the group hovers around 6,000 members. All for one missing student.

Those 6,000 members have been actively posting everything from photos taken the night he disappeared, to missing person fliers to hang up and hand out, to the latest news and speculation. Students that first weekend even organized a huge group to travel from his hometown to the university to hold a prayer vigil and aid in a mass search. The university’s police and spokeswoman have even joined in, mining the group for tips, ideas and volunteers. Today, we ran a story about how Facebook has helped in the search.

My point isn’t so much about this one situation. I only use it to illustrate the point most college journalists already know: Facebook is an invaluable source. Millions of kids willingly post information about themselves, their friends and their interests. Too often we hear about Facebook getting people in trouble, as with the recent racist parties which drew attention after pictures ended up on the site. But trust me, it isn’t all bad.

At the Stater, whenever we had a student injured, killed or missing, Facebook was always the first place we went. It was second nature for us to look there, and it should be for anyone writing about students. It gave us a quick glimpse of who that student was. In one instance, I remember finding the MySpace page of a girl killed by a drunk driver through her Facebook profile. The last post she’d made on that blog was a list of things to achieve in life. It broke my heart and humanized her in a way we never could have. Without sites like Facebook and MySpace, we never could have known about her dreams or found her best friend.

Facebook used to be the exclusive playground of college students lucky enough to have the free time and the .edu e-mail address. Not any longer. You, too, Mr. Anonymous journalist can (and should) join the fun. If you don’t know how, there’s a quick tutorial I had to write to accompany the original story about the Steffey Facebook group. When my editor suggested I write it I laughed. (I may have offended him?) But I wasn’t laughing at him. I was laughing because although I hadn’t been there a week, I was teaching the “old dogs” new tricks.

QOTD: The entire universe is composed of others

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

“It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.”
— John Andrew Holmes

I feel old

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

Each of these things happened this past week:

  • My diploma came in the mail.
  • My W-2s arrived, which means I have to do my own taxes because for the first time my parents aren’t claiming me.
  • Also for the first time in my life, I have money in the bank that doesn’t have an immediate purpose.
  • I got a packet in the mail with details about Gannett’s 401K plan.

Although I live a stone’s throw away from a college campus, am younger by several years than any of my co-workers and still spend copious amounts of time on Facebook, I officially feel old.

The Beacon’s missed opportunity

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

I cringed when I clicked on the graphic packaged with Jim Carney’s Frigid weather to grip region story on Ohio.com.

Now, as I’ve stated before, I love the Beacon Journal. It was the paper I grew up reading, and consequently, it’s the yardstick to which I hold all other papers. And perhaps that’s why I hold it to a higher standard, which in turn is why that graphic disappointed me.

I know they are trying. They have embraced video and SoundSlides. (The quinceanera ones in particular impressed me as an excellent example of what SoundSlides should be.) Their Akron’s War Dead project, while maybe not the least confusing design, succeeds in humanizing the statistics. And they even came, editors and reporters alike, to Kent State for some on-camera training last semester. They are moving forward.

But the graphic only serves as a reminder of how far there is to go.

It’s not that it was poorly designed. It wasn’t. The information was supplementary to the main story as it should be.

What bothered me was the clear and utter disregard for the medium in which it was presented. They literally exported the same graphic from the paper and pasted it up on the Web. How do I know? First, it isn’t integrated as a photo might be or as a graphic should. It came up on its own page, just a .gif with no context or links (requiring me to hit back if I wanted to return to the story/site). It had about five points in one single image; many of the points are text heavy and should have been presented in, well, text on the site. And the kicker, it still has refers to page E1 and B3.

An unexpected turn for Findlay business reporter

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

Occasionally I like to slink back to The Courier‘s Web site to see what’s up with the city and newsroom I spent last summer trying to navigate my way around. Although it’s not in my daily reading (even the Stater has already fallen out of daily rotation, and I don’t know if I ever expected that to happen), it is nice to read about some of the people and places I spent the summer getting to know. That’s part of the reason I’m always attracted to the Saturday columns, which are written by the local reporters.

In skimming the latest columns tonight, I noticed one by the cops and courts reporter, Steve, that took me by total surprise. (I should warn you, the Courier’s Web site is, well, lacking.) My mind skipped a beat and went, “huh, wha?!” when I read this line:

“Hey guys, whaddaya think about the mayor stealing the Courier’s senior reporter and making him the city’s service director?” I blurted, wondering if either man even knew what I was talking about.

I searched my brain trying to remember the conversation I had early on with nearly every member of the newsroom. After learning the editor was celebrating his 40th year with the paper, I was so curious about everyone else’s tenure that I made it a point to find out how long everyone else had been there. As I read that line I tried to narrow down who the “senior” reporter would be.

It was the business reporter. The guy who taught me to “always take the penny” (long story but basically hold out and don’t go for the instant gratification). The guy who still loved his job, or seemed to, even though he’d been doing it longer than my entire life. Wait, what? Mike went to work for the city? It made me sad that after so long (27 years) he’d leave the paper. It’s a family owned paper, and I’d doubt he was up against pressures like lay offs, etc. (But perhaps? In many ways it was and is almost stiflingly behind the times.) But in some ways I am excited for him and proud that even after so long he was willing to try something new and different.

So, it could be good, other than the fact that it presents an awkward situation for the city reporter who will have to deal with Mike on two levels, as the friend who sat across from him for so long and as a city official. Imagine how weird it must have been when Jay did the story about Mike being chosen. At that point, he was still on staff. Did he roll his chair around to Mike’s desk or just peak over his own computer, “So, uh, you got any comments?” Awkward.

Anyway. It’s a good reminder that you never know where life may lead. Even when you think you have it all figured out.