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Archive for November, 2007

There is hope for the printed page, kind of

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

This week when I was out giving my career presentation two things occurred that gave me hope for the printed page. Kind of.

I started the presentations by trying to engage the kids and ask whether they read the paper. I was surprised, no seriously caught off guard by the quantity of hands that shot up. I’d say 80 percent of the high school students had their hands up. I was unsurprised to learn many read the sports section first (and several exclusively). Nearly all said they read the local section, at least skimmed it. I’d guess that most skim most of the paper. But I was pretty surprised to learn they don’t read our entertainment and life sections at all. Not one of them admitted to reading TGIF, lots didn’t seem to know it existed. And this was a place that really is on the edge of our coverage area (i.e. not a mainstay of our beats/circulation) but where there is no other local paper. But still, I was a bit caught off when so many kids had their hands up.

The second thing that surprised me was from the substitute teacher who was proctoring in the room where I happened to be. I got there with about five minutes to spare before kids arrived. So we were talking about the paper. He was asking about news stories including the recent election, about our recent redesign, etc. He told me he reads the paper COVER to COVER every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY. He said he spends at least an hour and a half DAILY. Then, when he’s done, his wife reads it. And he moves on to do the same with the Indy Star, to which he also subscribes.

I was also shocked by this. I didn’t know people like that existed. Or that they still existed. No, that they ever existed. I mean, think about that. Two hours a day for him is not uncommon with the J&C. Then he reads the Star as well. He said, he’s retired, what else does he have to do? OK, I’m still kind of amazed these people exist.

Sadly, we didn’t get to talk about the Web site and more in-depth, because the kids started trickling in. But it was an interesting and eye-opening experience for me. As much emphasis as we put on the Web. How many people go through the Web site every day and read every single page? I don’t even think that is physically possible. Our links are ever-changing, our updates stale before they’d get back to square one. Plus all the evergreen databases and stories.

How can we get those kids to be as loyal as that retired engineer, who took up subbing just to fill the time? Whether they’re loyal to our print product or our Web site or our podcast or whatever. How do we continue to keep their attention and their enthusiasm for our product? I know this is an old argument, but it’s been on my mind since that day.

(BTW: The career presentation went so-so. The TV chick presenting after me had a game and free T-shirts for winners. Though I did laugh when she had to give them away to kids who couldn’t play along and name four anchors or four reporters at the station. Not that they could name four bylines in my paper. The difference is, we’d never be so pompous as to ask.)

Picking a personal theme song

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Here’s an interesting, albeit it not journalism related, task that came up in a story today.

It was National Mix It Up at Lunch Day, a concept that intrigued me enough when I got the press release a few weeks back that I actually went out of my way to call the group behind it and inquire on what local schools might be participating. The idea was basically kids sit with people different from them for a day to break out of their comfort zone and maybe, who knows, learn a little tolerance or meet a new friend.

I went to a local middle school for lunch. Rather than just one day of mixing it up, they decided to go for three. And to give the kids something to discuss, each randomly assigned table was given the task of creating a CD of songs that represent them. Basically, each kid had to come up with one song, and then they come up with a title and a CD cover, etc.

I didn’t really focus much on the CD, and mentioned it in one short paragraph in my story. When my editor goes through and is editing it, he calls across the newsroom, “Meranda, what song would you pick to represent you?”

I couldn’t think on my feet. Partially because one of his favorite sports is rolling his eyes at my pop culture choices, which are not necessarily mainstream (not that his are, but his are of an earlier era and mostly out of my knowledge base — and whenever I say this, I think he takes it personally like I’m saying he’s old, which he’s really not, I’m just not pop-cultured enough), and also because it’s hard to pick a theme song!

I said I wasn’t sure, but it’d probably be something upbeat like “Walking on Sunshine” or something ridiculous like that.

He went around the newsroom and asked everyone in turn. None of us were very good at thinking so quickly. So he said he should bring in a song on CD not labeled, and we’ll all try to guess. lol. Don’t know if anyone will actually participate.

Readers: Think on it for a moment, what would your theme song be and why?

When I got home, I started thinking about what my theme would be. Glancing through my iTunes and there was one song that is actually my unofficial theme. It was the song I played on repeat in the weeks before running for editor, and is the most-played song by a long-shot in iTunes. And it something most people have never heard of. I only heard it because once, several years ago, it was offered as a free MP3 download from MTV.com, and I was researching free & legal music for a story I was writing for the Stater. Awesome discovery. The song is “She Said” by Brie Larson. Heard it? Likely not.

Here’s the video. (I’m not a huge fan of the video, but the song is great if you just listen to the lyrics.)

I know it’s cheesy and cliche and so, well, predictable. But it’s honestly the song I put on when I need reassurance or want to cheer up. I’d say this is pretty much my theme song. I’m willing to take risks and fail, and at least I tried even if I don’t make it.

Get off of my back, stop sayin’ that
Cause I’m not afraid a heights
I may never get where I’m goin’
Yeah, but then again I might
You can’t get inside my head
Can’t be my safety net
I’m standing on the edge, yeah

I know it’s a long way down
But you can’t walk the wire
For anybody else
I might hit the ground
But at least I’ll have a story to tell
She said, I gotta find out for myself

Selling journalism to high school kids

Monday, November 12th, 2007

This Tuesday, I’m slated to talk to high school students about journalism as a career. I’m teamed up with someone from the local TV station, and together we have three 40-minute presentations to sophomores, juniors and seniors who each signed up because they have some interest in this field.

I talked to groups of students when they visited the Stater, or during the scholastic press days we had at Kent State. So I’m not entirely green.

I volunteered to do this because they were looking for speakers for three different career days and someone to let a kid shadow them. Plus, it’s at a school I don’t get out to much, so I’ll work my beat a little while I’m down there.

I asked the editor what I should expect, and what I should talk about. She was telling me that last year when she did this presentation the TV person after the talk had photos of herself to autograph. (Shoot me now.) I’m not even sure I’ll bring many biz cards. Her suggestions were what I expect:

In the 10 minutes or so, I’d talk about the newsroom in general — that we have about 50 people on our staff, and the different kinds of departments and jobs that they do. Then you can transition into what you do — what kinds of stories you write. How you get story ideas. What kind of hours you work. What you like about your job — what you don’t like. Why you would recommend it to someone. etc.

The anecdotes that seem to impress crowds are 1) famous people you have met/interviewed; 2) cool things that you’ve gotten to do as a reporter; 3) stories that have made a difference for a person or group.

The last three are of course the things kids want to know. Friday, I was at one of a high school doing the mugs and quotes for my Monday schools page. When I was done talking to one group of kids one asks, “Do you like being a reporter? Is it fun?” I laughed and joked that I thoroughly enjoy harassing high school kids with a camera and notepad. And then I told them the things I get to do that make it exciting and interesting. And then they asked question No. 1 from above. I told them a few people I’ve met, but that I’m a bad example because I never cared for or did entertainment. They asked if I knew anyone who’d interviewed Lindsay Lohan of all people. lol.

Anyway, I figure out little micro-discussion was a quick run-through of what I’ll talk about Tuesday.

Monday, I’ll have a chance at another run-through.

Last week, the editor came over to me and said, “I have a deal for you Meranda.” It was more, “I have an idea.” A local high school student taking journalism/working for her student paper graduates in December but wants to volunteer/intern here over the next month to get some experience. The editor asked me to kind of show her around and let her help me with the schools page. In particular, those mugs and quotes I love doing so much I seem to always put them off until Friday. So my editor asked me to set one up for her to try out Monday, her first day. That way, even if it turns out messed up, she or I can go back and redo it later in the week, and she can get some real-world experience (albeit at the thing most reporters loathe: man-on-the-street).

Any tips for the talk or for the high school intern? I plan to mostly just wing it Tuesday. As for the Q&A, I have it lined up already and a question prepared so it should run as smoothly as possible. I’m mostly scared about my boss intimidating the kid because, I love him but, he can be hard-core. Sometimes he still scares me. lol.

Either way, this will be the week of Meranda trying to sell journalism to high school kids. We’ll see how successful I am.

But no, I won’t be signing autographs.

QOTD: Morning comes whether you set the alarm or not

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

“Morning comes whether you set the alarm or not.”
— Ursula K. Le Guin