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Archive for August, 2007

Hello Franklin Hall, future of student media

Monday, August 27th, 2007

When I was home last week, Stater adviser Carl Schierhorn gave me a personal tour of Franklin Hall. (In hindsight, as in right now that I’m finally penning this post, I should have taken photos and video and given you all a bird’s eye view. I’ll chock it up to stupidity and the fact that I was officially “on vacation” and instead just send you over to the JMC Franklin Hall slide show about move-in progress and the archived stories about the building at the site.)

Tomorrow (er, it’s midnight, so Today), is the first day of classes in the new journalism building. The Stater is continuing production from it’s Taylor Hall hub for at least the next few weeks, while the converged newsroom is being finished. Meanwhile, TV2 has set up shop in the former Student Media business office next door to the Stater newsroom. Not a perfect situation, but a much closer relationship than was even a pipe dream a decade ago.

This is the beginning. No more StaterOnline. No more tv2.kent.edu. Welcome to the future of student media, Kent State students: Kent News Net. One product, always on, always improving.

Though the layout looks a bit rough right now and hiccups pop up throughout the site, the content of which is mostly the annual orientation issue, you get the idea.

There’s Black Squirrel Radio podcasting and TV2 newscasts right alongside the Stater’s stories. Even prominent linkage to the Burr (student magazine). Add to it helpful links to other key KSU sites — like Flashline (the all-important hub of Student resources online) — and Stater.you action on the sidebar, and it’s definitely a winner.

As I walked the dusty halls of Franklin with t-minus a week to classes in the building, I was more than a bit jealous. I want the big collaborative classrooms and shiny new computer labs. I want the converged newsroom, with its conference rooms and single assignment desk. I want windows in the journalism classrooms (there were NONE in Taylor Hall, the faculty and Stater hogged all the windows on the first floor of the building). Amazing things are going to come out of those rooms. And though I’m excited about the opportunities for future KSU grads, I’m a bit sad I wasn’t able to partake. (And no, as I told every single person who saw and subsequently asked me during my tour of Franklin Hall, grad school is not on my horizon for a very, very, very, very long time, if ever.)

Though the new building is amazing, there are some things that will be missed:

  • Taylor Hall is central to campus. Franklin’s out in BFE comparatively, at the very corner of campus. (But, it’s a heck of a lot closer to Starbucks and Chipotle, and even the bars for those after-a-long-night-of-production celebrations.)

  • The faculty are in what Carl called “pods,” and though they might like their bigger offices off the main drag, I think the relationship with their students will change as a result. How many great conversations did I have from the hallway door of my professor’s offices while I was on my way in or out of the Stater? How much great advice did I happen upon because I stopped in to ask a non-pressing question or simply say, “What’s new?” as I meandered past. Professor hallway is no more. Now, students will have to deliberately go out of their way, to another floor even, to talk to the professors. Likewise, it will be harder for the profs to track down students who won’t be hanging down the hall in the Stater office or in the JMC office reading room area (which is now in an entirely separate area). How many mentor relationships won’t be sparked? I don’t know. But this seems like probably the biggest loss to me. Then again, the professors will probably be more productive with fewer student interruptions, so who knows.
  • The Stater loses its window to campus. Not only is it in BFE, it doesn’t have a window overlooking the commons. I never realized how important that wall of windows was until I worked in an office without a single window to the outside. Now, granted, this isn’t the case for the new newsroom, but there will be some loss in identity to student media when thousands of kids on their tours of campus aren’t marched past the Stater newsroom on their way to the May 4 memorial. There’s something to be said of walking past the newsroom. Even for non-readers, you couldn’t help but notice the Stater existed because you saw it every time you went past.
  • There’ll also probably be fewer pick-up games of football, frisbee, four square or kickball — and when the weather was ripe, lunch tray sledding down Blanket Hill — than there were when I was there. This was an amazing de-stresser, not to mention a good way to get to know each other beyond the confines of class and work.
  • And finally, there will be no 100 Taylor Hall. I know it’s silly to be sad about that, but I am. The next time I’m on campus, the room where I spent more time during college than anywhere else combined won’t exist. At least not in the way I know and love it. It was hard for me to be there last week and think about that. All the amazing fun times and friends I made, all the great stories we produced, all the days I was proud and the conversations I wish never had to happen, but which made me stronger. All I’ll have the next time I walk past those windows is my memories.

I realize that list seems longer than the benefits. I assure you it’s not. I’m just a bit nostalgic, that’s all.

And on that note, I’m out.

Good luck to all the Stater staffers, who probably haven’t even sent tomorrow’s paper and as is tradition missed deadline by a long shot tonight, the first night of daily production. And Godspeed to the next generation of student media at Kent State.

What j-school really is good for

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Tomorrow is my friend Trent’s first day at my paper.

I’m so excited. He’s one of my favorite people from Kent, and the idea that he’ll be working with me is awesome for two reasons. First, it’s nice to have someone around who I’ve known longer than seven months and with whom I can totally be myself because he’s seen me in just about every state I could possibly find myself in — and vice versa. Second, he’s a talented designer, and I look forward to the creativity he’ll bring to the job.

Abbey also starts her job this week, on Tuesday. She interned in Lafayette this summer, and she and I definitely spent quality time together. I was so sad for her to go but so happy for her to land a job (even though I’d rather she had taken one closer to me). She’s going to cover night cops in Newark — Ohio, not New Jersey, as we have learned it is necessary to qualify. I do think it would be awesome to cover cops in Newark, NJ. You’d never be bored. :/

Moving on to my original point, I’m just as excited about the futures of both these friends (OK, and all the rest of you’ns who have recently started your jobs or will do so soon — I want updates!). And also for one of my best friends at the J&C, who also is stepping into a new role soon.

Something about having other friends who are professionals makes me feel older, more mature. In a good way.

I’m not just a college-aged person masquerading as a real reporter, which is secretly how I felt the first six months. I was proving myself, to myself. But know what? I am a real journalist. And now, so are many of my friends.

Aside from beat contacts who know my name and contact me with ideas (something that takes some time to develop), I have connections beyond my beat and paper. Not just ties to a university, but ties to real people at other real papers doing their real jobs. I can use my connections here and elsewhere to help others get jobs, as I’ve done twice so far for un-posted jobs (to my own “networking is pointless, talent wins any day” surprise). Who knows, eventually, to help me get a job or do my job better. I can trade story ideas and horror stories with friends who are covering the same beat as me in different communities. I can talk to them about awesome multimedia they’ve done or seen that I want to try. I can follow their blogs (look at the side of this page, the DKS throwback list keeps growing!) or their lives through Facebook.

It’s funny because, as I alluded to earlier, I used to think networking was stupid. If you were talented and driven, that would be enough. But I’ve learned talent and hunger isn’t so rare. If my job search and the subsequent job searches of my friends has taught me anything it’s this: The value of my j-school education had nothing to do with what I learned in media writing or copy editing. I could have and would have learned that anyway. Even in key classes like beat reporting and RPA, I learned more through my work at the Stater. The real value of a j-school education is the other talented and passionate people you meet. I feel fortunate that tomorrow there will be another Kent Stater sharing my newsroom again and for good this time. Who knows whether I’ll luck into more jobs with more of my talented friends later on?

Findlay’s flooding, breaking news efforts

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

As an Ohioan (sorry guys, I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself a “Hoosier” even if I end up here for a good long time), I’ve been watching all the stories about massive flooding with great interest.

This morning, I noticed an AP story, Ohio residents displaced by flooding look to return home, as a breaking news item on jconline. When I clicked on it one thing struck me immediately: It was datelined Findlay, Ohio.

For those who don’t know, I interned at The Courier in Findlay last summer. And I assure you, no story nearly as exciting as Main Street and virtually everywhere else flooding occurred. In fact, when I pulled up the site I noticed immediately the picture of Main Street flooded. Dude. I LIVED on Main Street last summer probably a block from where that photo was taken. That’s a scary thought.

Last summer, the paper was just beginning to experiment with breaking news and video and all the things that many papers had already tapped. But, it was a small paper in a largely rural (everyone considered Findlay and it’s 40,000 residents “the city”) area. So, it was with trepidation that I logged on to the paper’s site today. I was hopeful, but I was also scared I’d be let down.

I wasn’t. Though the presentation is still lacking (and I’m still annoyed and baffled as to why they put all their stories on a single page?), the content all topping the front page is exactly what readers want to know and very easy to find. I also love that they’re inviting users to submit their flood photos (check out the Breaking News / Flooding sidebar at the top of the site).

Other things that didn’t used to be there, which I noticed as I quickly scanned the site, included a new Staff blog about upcoming stories, etc., and a whole multimedia collection (including several flooding related items). There are still things about the site that annoy me, like the stories being on one page and the photos running very low resolution and tiny. But all in all, I can see how far the paper’s come in a year, and I’m so excited for them and for the people of Findlay/Hancock County and outlying areas.

Kudos guys!

QOTD: America is not a place where the small gesture goes noticed…

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

“America is not a place where the small gesture goes noticed. We’re not a country like France, where charm, something light or effervescent, can survive. We want everything you have and we want it as fast as you can turn it out. I read an interview with Frank Sinatra in which he said about Judy Garland, ‘Every time she sings, she dies a little.’ That’s how much she gave. That’s true for writers, too, who hope to create something lasting: they die a little getting it right. And then the book comes out and there’s a dinner and maybe they give you a prize. And then comes the inevitable and very American question: what’s next? But the next thing can be so hard because now you know what it demands.”
— Harper Lee (as played by Sandra Bullock), “Infamous”

Staff and wire reports, eh?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Does it ever get to be less weird to read your writing spliced into another’s story?

I mean, I understand the “localize this” and see the point. But as I’ve discussed before, it’s weird and interesting to see your words intermingle with someone else.

Case in point, some story about the new eStadium project at Jeff High School from eSchool News Online.

It’s a cool project and a great opportunity for local kids. I wrote about it a few weeks ago. In fact, several paragraphs from my article are in that eSchool story. (I’m guessing that’s the ‘wire’ part of the “From eSchool News staff and wire service reports.”) It’s just weird to me how the story is framed and what is used and not used, especially as it appears they did do a bit of original reporting (or at least calling my sources for additional/different quotes).

Putting readers to work, an interesting read

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

An interesting read my managing editor pointed out to me last week, but which I forgot to post: To Save Themselves, US Newspapers Put Readers to Work

It’s a look at all the (insert city) mom’s, paws, etc. sites and the user generated comments, photo galleries and blogs proliferating the world of newspaper.coms right now.

I don’t think this is a bad trend at all. In fact, we’re planning to launch a site [crosses fingers] hopefully this week [/fingers crossed] where we do this at the high school level for one of our local schools using content about the school produced by, well, the kids who know it best.

Also, the local editor here is awesome at writing the call outs we feature prominently in our paper and in a prime position on our site when we’re working on stories where we’d like to, to use the “it word,” crowdsource our readers. (So awesome in fact that it’s kind of intimidating when one of us lowly reporters has to do this ourselves. My tactic has pretty much just been to emulate his style when I write them.) Our uses range from the worst intersections for feedback as we write about the county releasing its most dangerous list, to first day of school photos and anecdotes, to personal opinions on college rankings. Sometimes the call outs hit and the story chat takes off, and sometimes the response is lukewarm at best. But, our visitors can plainly see the most important aspect of the endeavor: We want to include them. Their opinions and experiences are not only important but valuable to us in telling the story.

Other than that, we have the salary and property tax databases, and we run photo galleries like there’s no tomorrow. Not to mention the phrase “Get me something for online” is so common place that even when it’s not verbalized, most of the reporters have it ingrained in their head.

I’m kind of at an advantage. I came in just after all the reorganization/while everything was still shaking out. So for me, I’m not encumbered by the way it’s always been or how it used to be. But I will say this, I don’t think most of my co-workers are either, including those who’ve been here for a long, long time. It seems like we’re all trying to do whatever we can to best tell the story of our community. And I can dig that.

Anyway, the article is an interesting look at what Gannett is up to and what could be up its sleeve next.

Embarassingly bad work… and what it’s taught me

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

So, I probably shouldn’t perpetuate links to stories from my past that are less than stellar, but oh well. I will do so for the sake of showing those just starting out that everybody starts somewhere. And for myself, to remind me how far I actually have come.

Someone hit this blog by searching for “Meranda Watling” on Google. (I am still always curious about why random people search for me, but it’s one of those things I’ve come to accept.)

I’ve mentioned before what comes up on this search, but it’s been awhile since I Googled myself, so I clicked on the link in my counter to see if anything new or cool popped up. No such luck.

After the expected top hits — MerandaWrites, my LinkedIn profile, my ClaimID — comes the Stater stuff. Mainly, a list of my articles (though, not all of them as we switched hosts and systems half-way through my sophomore year and never moved the archives).

Now, let me start by saying, seven months into my first real job I have grown a lot, but I still have much, much, much more growing to do as a person and a reporter. I realize that, and anyone at this level of the game who doesn’t think they have much to learn is delusional.

I think, actually, that’s what makes reading my old Stater stories so humbling.

Even as I wince at my blunders in these, some of my first stories ever, the practical experience I now have keeps my brain thinking, “If I did this story today, I would …” And I think that’s great. It’s a sign I’m learning. I wonder what I’ll think three years from now of the way I covered the budgets this fall, my first time covering them, or next fall how I’ll feel about the round of first day of school stories I just did as I search desperately for more new angles.

Some of these stories are pretty horrible. Allow me to introduce the lead/first-five-graphs (the holy grail of whether a story flies or flops at the J&C) of one of the articles I wrote during RPA about the fire chief being a finalist for another job:

Kent Fire Chief Jim Williams has been named one of 10 finalists for the fire chief position in Delaware.

Delaware, located in Central Ohio north of Columbus, is among the fastest growing communities not only in Ohio, but in the nation. According to the U.S. Census, Delaware County was listed as the 12th-fastest growing county in the country between April 2000 and July 2005.

In the 2000 U.S. Census, the city of Delaware’s population increased 24.7 percent. In the same period, Kent’s population declined 3.3 percent.

The growing nature of the area is exactly what attracted Williams to apply for the position, he said.

“It’s an opportunity in a growing community,” Williams said. “The department’s a little larger than ours … but it’s a pretty similar department.”

The fact that it was in Ohio also impacted his decision to apply because he said he’d like to stay in the pension system here.

I mean what?! It reads like a Wikipedia entry. I don’t get into the context — that the chief’s been in the job a decade and at the department for another 17 years beyond that — or anything else until I’ve already lost my readers to boredom and confusion (Delaware? They only have on chief for the whole state? huh? Oh, it’s a city in Ohio. Now I get you.) from which they never recover.

To be sure, not all of those stories were horrible. Although this one about a bridge being closed (as far as I know this bridge is STILL closed a year and a half later) and the impact it’s had on the area citizens could stand to be cut, I do like the lead:

Jim Wyle was excited recently when he saw railroad workers on the tracks near the Middlebury Road bridge. Thinking they were there to work on the bridge, he started a conversation.

But the workers were only working on the tracks. In fact, they complained to Wyle, who has lived near the bridge for 15 years, that they had to go all the way around because the bridge was closed.

Wyle’s response?

“How would you like to live here and do that every day?” he asked.

Nearly 80 Kent residents met yesterday afternoon at the Kent American Legion to discuss the problems and delays with the Middlebury bridge and the possible legal action they could take.

The Middlebury bridge, which links the residents to Cuyahoga Falls, Akron and the other side of the city, has been closed because of safety concerns since March 2003, said Gene Roberts, service director for the city of Kent.

OK, so I cheated, that was six graphs. But they weren’t as long and it flowed much smoother. The anecdote really got to the point of the story.

Ironically, I wrote both those stories within a week of each other. I guess that shows, it was hit or miss. In a lot of ways, it still is.

Even now, I have days where I really like the stories I write or interviews that go particularly well. Then, I have others where I feel that nothing I do is any good and I should just scrap it and start over or give up. Sometimes, I even feel that way about different stories running in the same issue. But ah las, I can’t do that.

The beauty of newspaper reporting is that every day you are essentially handed a blank canvas. It’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to paint and fill it that day. And sometimes, when you’re done, you are really happy with the outcome. And other times, when you’re done, you can’t wait for the next day to end so you can forget all about that canvas and start again fresh.

Not everything I produce is going to be great. Although it kills me, I have come to accept that sometimes I’ll miss the mark. Those are the days I hustle to leave before my story’s edited and when I hesitate to open the daily readme memo from our editors to see just how far off I was and whether they noticed.

But you know what? Those are the stories that teach me the most. They’re the ones I come back to as I grow and say, “OK, knowing what I know now, how would I approach this differently?” Then, the next time sometime like that comes along, I know better and my work is better. Give me a few years to get a few “could have been better” stories out of the way. I’ll be a more humble and effective reporter for it.