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Archive for April, 2007

QOTD: Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans

Monday, April 30th, 2007

“Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans; it’s lovely to be silly at the right moments.”
— Horace

QOTD: Be true to your work, your word and your friend

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

“Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.”
— Henry David Thoreau

Unprofessional photo? No degree for you.

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

I’ve heard some ridiculous things about people’s photos on facebook and myspace or other sites causing them to lose a job they have or otherwise would have received. I’ve even heard of police and school administrators using the sites to track underage drinking, on-campus violations, etc.

But THIS is the first time I’ve heard of a college denying a student her degree over an “unprofessional” photo. (There’s a picture posted there, and to be honest, compared to a lot of photos I’ve taken or even been in, that is really tame. You can’t even tell she’s drinking alcohol or that she’s drunk except, apparently, a silly caption. She’s also of legal drinking age.) To read the full story, go here. She was apparently given an English degree in lieu of her education degree and certificate.

PERSONALLY, I think it is more than fair for a company to use any means necessary to screen a candidate. Once you become an employee, for better or worse, you are representing that company. If you’re projecting an image that they don’t want to be associated with, then they’re better off knowing before they take the time and spend the money to bring you on. (Though, I still don’t think this image alone would or should be enough for anyone to rule out a candidate. Any company that takes itself that seriously is probably not the type of place you’d want to work.)

As for a college, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to judge a student based on their photos. Administrators are just being hypocrites for trying to ban students from using these sites or posting their photos. Whether or not they are posted or taken, colleges should and do know that students will drink and have parties. Forcing students to go underground isn’t going to change that; it’s just going to make it harder to enforce legitimate rules and push kids towards more dangerous behavior.

I blogged in detail about this earlier during my own job search: Managing your online identity

(I also posted this on a livejournal community of college students to see what they thought. If anything interesting pops up there, I’ll update it here.)

Newsrooms need dirty minds

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

Friday morning the executive editor sent out an e-mail reminding the newsroom if we come across any objectionable posts in the story chats we should let her know immediately so they can be looked at and, if necessary, removed.

I don’t know if it was simply a reminder or if there’s been an upswing recently. I don’t monitor the comments as closely as most of my colleagues. I usually read the ones on my own stories and occasionally skim comments on others. Usually, I know if anything interesting is posted, someone will bring it to my attention. Case in point:

Around lunchtime yesterday, after that e-mail had gone out earlier in the day, the reporter opposite me says, “Meranda, someone posted a comment about tossed salad.” I laughed. It was on a story about a former football player being indicted on a few counts. He’ll be headed to jail for a bit. The comment was along the lines of “how does he like his tossed salad… I bet with bleu cheese.”

The EE wasn’t around, ME had someone in his office, and even our editor was MIA.

The post had been made around 11:30 a.m. and it was at least an hour after that. Plus, I told her, probably 99 percent of people would just be confused as to why someone was randomly writing about salads.

Finally, our editor returned. And she told him the same thing she told me, “someone posted a comment about tossed salad.” And he said what most people would say: “So what?” And I laughed again as she lowered her voice and explained.

Thing is, the poster wasn’t talking about leafy greens. (I’m not going to explain what it does mean, but if you’re curious, go to Urban Dictionary and look it up.) And she knew that upon seeing the comment, and I knew when she told me, which is why I laughed.

After explaining it to our editor, he headed to the ME’s office and we could hear his comment as he walked, “Those in the newsroom with dirty minds tell me we have a dirty comment posted …”

Thing is, the newsroom needs people with dirty minds. (My defense is I went to an inner-city public school. It’s pretty much unavoidable.) But seriously, without someone who knew what that meant, it would have sat there, possibly had other replies to it and been archived forever. While most people wouldn’t have known any better, those who did could take offense. Either way, it wasn’t promoting the dialogue and it wasn’t the type of comment you want on your site.

Yeah, we’re not going to know every slang term. And there are terms the older generation knows that would fly completely under my radar. That’s what’s good about having a mix. But like I said after the “those with dirty minds” comment, you need people who are going to know to flag those things.

Another landlord flocks to craigslist

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Today, I took a brief departure from my 10-hour day of trying to do 10 stories and get on-the-record confirmation of the person who is about to be named superintendent in one of the districts I cover to look at an apartment.

When I moved to Lafayette, I had less than two weeks to find a place, move my stuff and start my job. Not a whole lot of time, especially when you’re dealing with places six hours apart and not a whole lot of money. So, I went for the simplest solution in a college town: I chose to sublease with college students.

As much fun as it’s been, I have to agree with what one of the editors I told my plan to said, “There’s a big difference between being 21 and being in college and being 21 and holding a full-time job.” Woah, was he right. This week for instance, I came home Wednesday night dead tired after working the night cops shift and ready for bed because I had to work at my normal morning hour the following day. Except, I didn’t get much sleep after I came home right in the middle of a party with, oh, probably 30 kids here. I locked myself in my room, put my iPod on and tried to fall asleep. This has become a semi-regular occurance. And I’d like to say my sleep deprivation doesn’t hurt my job, but it doesn’t help.

My editor laughed when he asked me the other day, “How’s life on Dodge Street?” And I said, “Life on Dodge Street is about to come to an end very quickly.” Apparently, “Everybody has the same idea when they first move here: go where the college kids are. It’s never a good idea.”

So basically, I’m in the market for an apartment. I looked online, at the local college student rental site and others. I looked on craigslist and I looked through the classifieds on my own newspaper’s site.

The apartment I saw today, I heard about on craigslist. Apparently, the landlord has been having a lot of luck with the site. So much that, he’s “going to repost the listings on craigslist, but I probably won’t be putting another ad in your paper.”

I said, “don’t tell me that.”

But, you know, and I hate to admit it more than anyone, I did find his listing through craiglist, though he apparently also ran it in the paper. I am turned off by many of the classifieds listed on the Web site just because they don’t tell me much of anything. Whereas on Craiglist I saw the photo, the map, the specs and more. I’ve come to expect that, and I’ve probably passed up some amazing places in the other listings that didn’t have those perks.

Personally, I think it has more to do with the audience he’s trying to reach: mostly students. Kids my age are much more likely to not only know what craigslist is but also how to use it and to not be afraid of it, the way older adults may be. I know a girl who found roommates in NYC — Harlem of all places — through craigslist and moved out there to sublease for the summer sight unseen. Now that’s more gutsy than most people I know, but hey, it happened.

I know there’s been a lot of hoopla about how craigslist isn’t killing newspapers. I’m not saying it is or isn’t. But it’s certainly putting a dent in those areas where newspapers traditionally dominated. And until newspapers figure out a way to do it better, they’re going to see more customers flocking to these sites. This landlord being the latest of the converts.

If I didn’t have a job…

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

If I didn’t have a job, you better believe I would be taking Rob Curley up on this offer.

We’re looking for folks who want to build cool things, hang out with cool people, and work in one of the coolest offices you’ll see this side of Google. And it will all be under the guise of a college internship.

We’re looking for folks who want to work with us through the summer, as well as for longer internships.

Because of competitive reasons, I can’t really go into any details right now as to what you’ll be working on with us here at WPNI other than to say that the projects are uber-cool and will likely get lots of attention inside and outside of the news/media industry.

We want solid journalists who can write their backsides off. We’re also looking for programmers with an understanding of Django. And if you’re a kick-ass designer with killer Flash or motion-graphics skills, we want you.

But what we really want are self-motivated bad-asses who have at least one of the skills I listed above.

I never thought I’d regret graduating early or taking a job. But seriously, if you’re a college student or a grad who hasn’t quite figured out the next step, you should be scrambling as fast as possible to get over there. I’m not kidding. He alludes to some pay, but, honestly, that is one internship I would consider going into debt to take.

Not sure I can encourage his, if you’ve already accepted an internship, “call them to tell them that you’re sorry that you can’t make it, but that something has unexpectedly come up” comment. But, if there’s one internship to burn a bridge for, that’s probably it.

I’m totally serious. If I didn’t have a job, or if I had accepted a job I wasn’t digging as much as I am, I’d already be trying to get on this short list.

The keepers of institutional knowledge

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

This week I was reminded, again, of one thing a great j-school education and a solid internship can’t give you: institutional knowledge, about the paper and more importantly about the community.

It was the thing my editor cited in my 90-day review as being something I need to work on. He’s right, I need to know the back story. The reasons the things I’m covering now are happening.

At first, I thought well it’s easy for someone who has been here the majority of my life to say that. Easy, for someone who doesn’t remember what it’s like to pack up and move 400 miles away from anything they’ve ever known, because it’s been an awful long time since their last similar move. Easy, for someone who has that knowledge to get frustrated that I don’t.

But he’s right. And I’m reminded of that constantly when someone mentions a name and I have to ask, who? When I have to admit my ignorance and say, no I really don’t “remember when;” I wasn’t around. Or when someone who’s been a prominent figure in the community but is gone for a bit pops up in the news somewhere else, as happened this week.

I wish I could snap my fingers and have a database in my brain of how everything intersects in space, time and personal relationships. The reporter who covered my beat was gone before I even interviewed. Every contact I’ve made has been my own. I spend a great deal of time scanning our archives looking for these bits before heading to meetings or off to interviews. I don’t think anyone realizes how badly I want to have that knowledge. I just don’t — yet.

I really want to know. And I need someone to teach me, or more specificly, to be patient when I ask what comes across as a dumb question but that I legitimately need to know.

It’s hard to realize, or I guess the better word is remember, that I am not just new to this community. I’m new to this beat, and I’m new to doing this on a daily basis. I’ve been here three and a half months, which seems both like a long time and also like just a blip in the scheme of things. Though there are days and weeks where I surprise myself by how well I handle things, there are also times where I doubt my abilities. Sometimes, I wish there was an allowance for a learning curve, there was time to sit down and just shoot the breeze with someone who’s been around long enough to fill me in.

Thing is, the industry is being flooded with “kids” like me. Bright-eyed and ready for anything, willing to take everything on and to become an expert on whatever you put on the budget with our name beside it. Willing to learn. If there’s someone there to teach us.

The problem is, the industry is also letting those keepers of institutional knowledge, who’ve been at it as long as I’ve been alive, go in record numbers. The LA Times and the Chicago Tribune are laying off or letting go (or whatever their PR-speak is) hundreds of people, to add to the thousands who’ve already left nearly every other paper. Those are the people who know how events tie together, how year flows into year. They know to perk their ears up when they hear a certain name. They can brief a new comer like me on why something matters without having to search the (hard to navigate) archive for every trivial matter.

Last week when I was home, I stopped by Kent to talk to a few professors. One of them asked me about the newsroom staff and whether there were any editors or reporters in particular that I’m learning from. I kind of shrugged and said there is one guy who’s extremely helpful and who has been here forever… but he’s leaving soon to start a new career. I wonder how much institutional knowledge he’ll take with him, and whether “kids” like me will ever be able to amass and recover that much in our high-speed, hit-and-run, master-of-everything world. In the meantime, I’m peeling bits of it away every day while I still can.