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Archive for the 'College' Category

What brick walls are good for

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

I hadn’t heard about this before, but stumbled on it recently and spent an hour listening to Randy Pausch’s last lecture.

Pausch is a highly respected scholar in computer engineering/virtual reality, but he has terminal cancer and was given a few months to live. Seriously, his lecture about achieving your childhood dreams and basically how to live your life is worth listening to for anyone.

Here’s a story about the lecture from earlier this fall in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Here’s a short Wall Street Journal video story to give you a quick snynopsis of the lecture and its point:

The full video, I caught in 10-minute snippets on YouTube, but you can read the transcript, learn more about him or watch it in entirety at the Carnegie Mellon site.

There were a few lessons in particular that struck me from his lecture, but this one was my favorite:

“Brick walls aren’t there to keep us out. Brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop people who don’t want it bad enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

Ponder that the next time you come upon something that seems impossible or really, really to the point of “is it even worth the effort?” hard. The next time you have an assignment or story you just can’t nail down, plug on and press harder. Prove every person who ever said you can’t, or doubted you would, do something wrong.

Facebook, the beginning of the end?

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Just this morning in the NPD meeting, I was talking about how eventually even the behemoth Facebook will lose its cool and kids will flee it for greener pastures of the next great thing.

Though I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet, or will anytime soon, I did laugh when I saw this Business Week article today that says Microsoft bought a $240 million chunk of the company, which puts its value in the, oh, $15 billion range. (More about the news.)

It’s good news for Microsoft, which beat out Google for the 1.6 percent share, but as I told the ME when I pointed the story out: This partnership with king-of-the-less-than-hip Microsoft could be the first kiss of death for a company that relies on its cool factor to hold the attention of Generation-Permanently-Distracted.

If not that, this: “Zuckerberg, 23, wants to take Facebook public at some point.” There’s something cool about the site precisely because it started as a college kid’s idea to link up with peers. Though it’s cool to be part of something that big, what really makes it a sticky site is that it seems small and personal. Your network is who you know, and who they know, and who may be in your class or in your city. But it’s defined and not really a free for all. Going public seems like opening some floodgates that I’m not sure wouldn’t wash away some of the roots holding kids down there. It’s not like there isn’t a plethora of other options around that could just as easily become the next big trend. Who knows?

But there’s the rub. Nobody knows. Facebook could continue to innovate, stay ahead and predict the turns in preference and consumption of the kids it’s pandering to. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my kids and my kids’ kids will still be posting on their friends’ walls when I’m old and complaining about how “back in my day, we had these CDs and if you so much as sneezed the disk would scratch.” And I’ll be wishing when Facebook had its IPO I’d cashed in. But at the rate it’s going, Facebook’s a bit too rich for my blood.

‘What sold me on journalism’

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

When I went into college as a journalism major, nobody, not even me, actually expected I would finish as such. I’ve often told people I chose the major fully expecting to fail, though I’d never really failed at anything. I didn’t want to just fall into science without at least attempting something else. I didn’t have the right personality for journalism. I didn’t have the right skills — my strengths were in Calculus and Biology, and though I’d done my share of writing for the high school newspaper and literary magazine, my grammar was atrocious or at the least embarrassing. But the one thing about me that made journalism a fit was I like a challenge. Journalism, I reasoned, was a challenge.

I saw this story about a former WP editor teaching now linked from Romenesko, and as I was reading it I came across this passage, which triggered a memory of my first few weeks as a reporter for the Daily Kent Stater.

Jackie Jones said:

Jones said her passion for journalism began years before, as she studied at George Washington University and began writing for its student newspaper, The Hatchet.

“I did a story for the GW Hatchet on the university’s food service,” Jones said. “Students complained about the food and would periodically bring food samples to the office to back up their claims. Someone brought a saucer of asparagus to the newsroom that had twigs in it.”

Jones said that when she began reporting on the situation, she met several barriers, including the food service managers shrugging off the twigs by telling her the cafeteria asparagus had “a wood-like consistency.”

Jones said her reporting required the school to take action.

“It forced the university to put out new bids and made the food service clean up its act in an effort to retain the contract – which it did, ultimately. The meals got better, and the selections became more diverse.”

Jones said as soon as she saw that her reporting had an effect, she was hooked.

“What sold me on journalism was learning that I could make a difference, as clichéd as that sounds,” Jones said. “Working for the student newspaper best prepared me for my career.”

OK. My ‘aha’ story was not about cafeteria food. There are actually three stories I can distinctly recall happening within a month of each other that convinced me of the important role a journalist plays.

First, the very first story I wrote for the Stater was about how a recent change in contract with Microsoft was costing students more money, BUT it wasn’t costing them more than the bookstore was by not telling them about that agreement and instead peddling their “student discount” version for $200 without mention of the $70 software option available right there as well. I knew as a freshman I had purchased the software for $20, and I had originally begun my story focusing on the jump to $70. But when I went to the bookstore to try and find a source or two who were buying the software, was alarmed to watch as the clerk sold the $200 box on the shelf to an unsuspecting student. They wanted to sell through their vendor, and though the software was available to pick-up at the bookstore, you had to make the purchase online. But wasn’t it worth at least mentioning that to cash-strapped students? Especially when 15 feet from the software desk was an Internet-enabled computer these kids could go make the purchase on? Well, after my story ran, they still wouldn’t go as far as telling kids “Don’t buy that software, go online and get this,” but I consider it a victory that they did put up a huge sign behind the desk advising students of that option.

There you have it, my first story I was able to a) alert kids to this option and b) make the bookstore alter its practices.

Second, only my second story — and first centerpiece, though my first story also had run on front — and I saw firsthand how my reporting directly impacted other people. The story was an enterprise look at identity theft and its prevalence among students, what students should look out for and a story from one student who had been a victim. That night, I was gathered around with the other officers before our Habitat for Humanity meeting. The co-president was flipping through her mail with a trash can beside her, tossing most everything. She tosses one envelope and then two seconds later reaches back down and grabs it out. Then she looks up and says, “I was reading this article in the Stater…” and proceeds to tell us about how you should shred credit card offers before tossing them to prevent identity theft. I laughed and said, yeah, I know, I wrote the article. But the laugh was also just happiness. My work had just prevented her from a potential disaster. How many other kids had I saved?

Third, was my first “breaking news” story ever. I’d been a reporter for a few weeks, less than a month, and my beat was student finance. Not a whole lot of breaking news there. So one Thursday, I had just finished filing my 40 inches required for class that week when we heard on the scanner there was a buck (as in those huge deer, you know?) loose running around campus. There was one other reporter in the office and she was already working on deadline. The news editor, who I’m sure only knew my name from my dual-role as a proofreader on the nights she supervised the paper, scans the room and sets her eyes on me. She tells me to go check it out. I am scared and also clueless. I catch my breath long enough to ask, “What do I do?” And she doesn’t skip a beat: “Grab a notebook and find out what happened.” So, I rush over to the area between the dorm and construction area next door where the buck was reported.

I could see the glass window shattered where passers-by told me they’d just watched the buck jump through. As I’m getting names and statements from witnesses, the buck jumps back out — CHARGING US. One of the kids in the crowd is so spooked he literally climbs up and jumps the construction fence. The rest of us dodge en masse back up the hill away from the buck as it proceeds to tear its antler in the construction fence and then sprint back down the sidewalk toward the dorm. This was the moment where I knew my role was never again to be the casual observer. I ran back down after the deer, and was able to get the first-person story of the girl whose window the buck would jump through as he charged the building that second and final time.

I guess you could say that’s how you’re supposed to be initiated into news, by the seat of your pants. It definitely was for me. Hard and swift. Within a month of starting as a reporter at the student newspaper, I was absolutely hooked.

Only a college paper could get away with it…

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

And perhaps it’s best to get it out of our system while we’re young. Err, when I was? lol.

The business reporter this morning was nice enough to point out this gem of a refer on the front of the Purdue Exponent (the student paper):

Exponent's 'shitty' headline

In case you missed it, the headline on the front page of the exponent reads: “City has issued no tickets for shitty ordinance.” (I downloaded the PDF so you can see where it ran. Look in the lower right corner.) The headline inside and online is a bit more tame, as is the story itself.

We all had a great laugh at it. I texted one of the editors over there to ask if this was on purpose or if someone was getting yelled at today. The reply? The boss OK’d it, and they decided to have some fun with it. She ended with, “I love college.”

I texted back, I miss college. And I guess it’s not so bad as the whole “F Bush!” fiasco, which ironically the editor I texted and I had just talked about this past weekend. At least it was a play on words appropriate to the story subject, and hey, it is college. Do it while you can. Because you won’t get away with that in “the real world.”

I am reminded of an instance at the Stater where I probably reacted a little too harshly to the use of the word WTF in a headline. In hindsight (a year’s time and 350+ miles distance from it), maybe it, too, was just a fun way to get the point across. And I suspect that headline, like this refer today, probably got a few more students to want to know what was so important that it broke the “no cursing unless absolutely necessary to get to the essence of the story/character” rule. I know once I got over laughing, I read the story.

I guess if the college newspaper is meant to prepare the next generation of journalists, maybe getting these things out of their system is part of that training.

UPDATE: fixed the PDF link. oops.

Where’s the Facebook backlash?

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Last year about this time, hundreds of thousands (maybe millions by the time it was all said and done) of college students protested the addition of the news feed to Facebook.

Since then, there’ve been mere ripples as the site was opened to our parents and bosses. Barely a peep was made as external applications were added forcing us to constantly ignore requests to be bitten by a vampire or take quizzes about our friends. Now we’re asked to declare our top friends and scroll for ages down our BFFs profile because he/she added so many applications that reading their wall (not the super wall or wiki wall or advanced wall) now requires you to hold down the down arrow and wait — for a long time — to eventually reach the bottom where the old-school wall has been relegated.

Now, I’m not saying these additions are horrible. They aren’t. Not all of them at least. Some are fun, some make it more useful. Others are annoying. I guess as long as it doesn’t degenerate into MySpace, I can live with the changes.

One change, however, that caught my eye when I logged in today was this:
facebook profiles going public

Yes my friends, per Facebook, we may soon be Googleable. Where’s the backlash on that from all the privacy-protecting college students who a year ago freaked that their friends would know when they added a new favorite movie?

Clicking on Read more…

Since your search privacy settings are set to “Everyone,” you now have a public search listing. This means that friends who aren’t yet on Facebook will be able to search for you by name from our Welcome page. Public Search Listings may only include names and profile pictures.

In a few weeks, these public search listings can be found by search engines like Google. No privacy rules are changing; anyone who discovers your public search listing must register and log in to contact you via Facebook. Learn More.

OK. Fine. I don’t care that people know I’m on Facebook. I don’t have anything to hide, a few of my editors are even my friends on Facebook. I wouldn’t have my privacy set to being searchable by everyone if I cared. Several old friends have found me through this feature, which is why I leave it on. But I don’t know, I’m somewhat leery about the idea of anything Facebook being searchable through Google, etc. I know, I know. The privacy settings are the same. I can up them at any time, or I could just sign off the site all together. I won’t over this, but I do think that they’re chipping away, bit by bit, at our tolerance. One day I’m going to wake up and this will be the top hit when you search for my name in any search engine.

The public search listing contains less information than someone could find right after signing up anyway, so we’re not exposing any new information, and you have complete control over your public search listing.

Fine. But, I’m still not sure mixing job-hunting and Facebook is a good idea. Check out this release from CareerBuilder.

But, what do I know?

Advice to college freshmen

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Haha, love this piece from the NYTimes: Welcome, Students. Now Watch It.

Instead of the traditional “make sure you make a wish in the fountain” or “kiss under the arch” that many colleges and papers peddle this time of year, this is a fun, snarky, no-B.S. list of things NOT to do when you’re a student in NYC.

I always wanted to go to NYC for school. But ah las, I could barely afford to stay in my own home state for college. So that wasn’t an option. But I think this type of approach would be fun for any school/student newspaper. Here’s 5 of mine from my time at Kent State, followed by a few observations on my time around Purdue.


  • Don’t spend all your money on campus. Just because you can buy food and groceries on campus doesn’t mean you won’t get ripped off. Dude, Acme is within easy walking distance, has better selection and a bonus card. Extra bonus points: Campus Wine Cellar is on the way. Plus, Kent State is already making a killing on you through fees and tuition. Don’t encourage them.

  • Don’t make eye contact with the people handing out fliers or “you’re going to hell” tracts near the student center. Sure, they have the right to be there, even if what they’re peddling is disgraceful or disgusting. Don’t get into a conversation. Even when you agree, you lose. And then, you’re late to class.
  • Don’t pull the fire alarm. Just because your drunken self has nothing better to do doesn’t mean the rest of your dormmates don’t have 7:45 classes or jobs to get to in the morning. Seriously. Grow up.
  • Don’t catch the bus to class and then complain when you’re late. Nothing on campus is that far. And everyone know the bus schedule is merely a suggestion not the reality.
  • Don’t forget to see downtown Kent — during day light. Far too many Kent Staters see only the bars of downtown Kent and never eat at Franklin Square Deli or watch the train go by or sit by the Cuyahoga. There’s also some pretty quirky “only in Kent” stores you should see.


(noting that I don’t actually have much to do with the school, this is all based on my experience living among and around college students, these are decidedly more tongue-in-cheek)

  • Don’t live on Dodge Street if you intend to sleep or park anywhere on game nights. Wish someone had given me this tip before I moved into what I came to pretty quickly learn was party central — every night of the week.

  • Don’t bother crossing at cross walks. Only seven pedestrians have been hit in 2007, and only three of them were actually injured. Besides, all the cool kids are jaywalking. Don’t believe me? Watch the video.
  • Don’t bring a car to campus. Seriously, there’s no where to park anywhere in Lafayette/West Lafayette on a good day. Add 40,000 additional vehicles, driven by inexperienced, caffeinated and sometimes drunk students and those seven pedestrians hit is likely to skyrocket. Besides, walking across campus will help work off those late night binges.
  • Don’t complain about how there’s nothing to do. There are hundreds of student organizations, tons of restaurants and bars, a few libraries (and book stores) and 39,000 other undergrads who have nothing better to do than play cornhole and walk around half-naked near the streets. Plus, Indy’s only an hour away and Chicago is just over two. Stop complaining. You could be in Kent.
  • Don’t bother going to graduation. I don’t think they tell you this in the view book, BUT, they don’t even announce your name. In fact, your name is projected about 20 at a time on the stage as you and another student walk simultaneously across the stage in opposite directions toward the middle. The whole culmination of four (or more) years hard work and thousands of dollars in tuition lasts less than 15 seconds. Sorry to break it to you, but someone should.
  • I’ll think of some more. I’m tired now. I’ll recruit some actual Boilermakers to help with this.

And there you have it. My five reasons Meranda is over college, and why she has realized living in a college town, while having its benefits, also has many downfalls.

Beer Pong and the WSJ

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Only the Wall Street Journal could take beer pong and make it this classy.

It’s been awhile since I’ve actually sat down with a print edition of WSJ (except the occasional items pointed out by the county reporter whose father bought him a print subscription for his birthday — hey my parents aren’t that thoughtful!). But I do get the CollegeJournal e-mails every day. Mostly it’s recent stories or Q&As from the WSJ. But it’s free and targeted pretty much to my demographic: soon-to-be grads and recent grads setting out in their jobs as new young professionals. I dig that.

My favorite part of the story — other than reading about young people capitalizing on the interests of other young people, (hey why not?) — is the accompanying graphic. I imagine a CEO sitting behind his desk, reading the paper and studying the inner workings of beer pong. That thought makes me smile.

They also have a video (though the audio on it is really wonky, at least it came across that way for me?). I had to watch the video because I wanted to see how you could create a video about beer pong that wasn’t like made for YouTube/Facebook. But, again, there they go making the drinking game classy.