That’s a wrap

Well, I failed at keeping this blog up to date… But I passed the final hurdle in grad school.

I successfully defended my thesis!

I have some minor revisions but will submit it to the grad school soon and be set to graduate with my MA in Journalism in December.

The thesis is what I dreaded the most, but it was not as terrible as I imagined. I focused on a topic I was interested in and had the financial support from my thesis chair to get really good data to work from. And I didn’t let it consume my life. I had many moments of frustration, but I blocked out time to work on it and refused to give up the things that keep me motivated.

I still have plans to turn this research into a conference paper and maybe someday submit it to a journal. But for now I’m turning my focus to the upcoming arrival of our baby girl…

A new semester

It’s the eve of the first day of class, and I am trying to start off the semester organized, even though I know it won’t last long. This will be my last semester of course work. This summer I will write my thesis to finish up my degree. It is such a blessing to be able to do it this quickly, and the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.

I’ve actually been ready to start the semester for a couple of weeks now. Mostly because I am ready for a normal schedule again. I volunteered to work at the Missourian over Christmas break, and they used me quite a bit. I was working the 3 p.m. to midnight shift primarily. So I’m actually ready to get back to going to bed at 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m.

But I am actually looking forward to my classes and work this semester. I’m taking a web design class and a media entrepreneurship class, as well as an independent study and a class to prepare for my writing my thesis. My classes are stacked on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I am working in the newsroom on Mondays and Wednesdays. I think this will help keep me better connected with the newsroom and make me feel less isolated. And I’ll still get up every morning to do the “pajama shift.”

A new semester is like a new year in the academic world, and I have grand visions for how things will go but in three weeks I might just be in survival mode. We’ll see. I hope to do some updating here on occasion but no promises.

Tagged

The lit review

When I started my visiting editor position, I worked with graduate students on the copy desk. What they complained about the most was the lit review* (or reviews depending on their class load) that they had to complete. I would nod my head, trying to express sympathy, but really I had no idea what they were talking about. I googled it a few times and looked it up on the journalism school library website. But even still, all it was to me was some vague project that you spend hours and hours on that should be dreaded.

And just the thought of this unknown task made me not want to go back to school.

But I did go back, and I received the syllabus for the class that requires a lit review. And this week I turned in the lit review and was even pleased with my grade.

What got me through the lit review was picking a topic that I’m interested in and want to pursue in my own research (the value of news and generating digital revenues by offering value). I also worked on it piece by piece well in advance, so I wasn’t finding myself frustrated and exhausted writing it the night before it was due. All-nighters and I have never been and will never be friends.

Now that it is finished, I feel like a huge weight is lifted off of me, and it has given me much more confidence about this school thing. I’m allowing myself to like school and not allow the dread of these assignments overshadow the good things.

And there are good things. I’m getting the chance to step back from the daily grind of producing a newspaper and website to consider broader journalism issues and even theory.

I can’t say I’m the most talkative person in discussion classes, but I’m much less shy about speaking up than I was as an undergrad. I even sent a professor some links to an ethics debate I was reading about because I wanted to discuss it in class even though I knew he would put me on the spot.

I don’t want to do school forever, and I’m grateful I’m able to get my master’s in a year. But I’m learning to soak in this year and these opportunities instead of wishing them away or wanting to push the fast-forward button.

*The quick definition: A paper that examines the scholarly literature already published on a topic. It allows you to see where more research could be done and sets up a thesis.

Sometimes procrastination results in a better paper

There were major developments in possibly the biggest news story in Columbia over the last decade. It’s a story that every student who has entered the Columbia Missourian newsroom since 2001 knew about whether they were involved in coverage or not.

The news broke as I was supposed to be wrapping up my morning shift. I worked as long as I could before I had to leave for class, and then worked in the newsroom as soon as I got out of class. I finally had to leave for class at 5 p.m., but it was tough to walk away.

My colleague Joy always tells students on days like this to think about the lead of their cover letter. Since I had procrastinated on my weekly reflection paper due Wednesday morning, this became the lead of that paper at 9 p.m., and I think it is better for it. I am proud of the journalism that was done, and I was glad I was able to be in the newsroom to witness the behind-the-scenes work of students and faculty.

To understand what happened, beyond what I included below, go here for the Missourian’s main story.

Reflection for Nov. 6:

About nine and a half years ago, I was sitting in the lecture for the Columbia Missourian reporting class, and someone rushed in to say there had been arrests in the Kent Heitholt homicide case. A few reporters left the class to cover a news conference and start putting together a story.

At the time the Missourian had a website, but stories were usually published to it at midnight every day after the stories had been edited for the print edition. The link the Missourian is using for that first arrest story seems to reflect that process, but it’s possible a story was published earlier in the day. I don’t recall how the news was broken.

Fast forward to Tuesday, one of the teens arrested and later convicted in the killing had his conviction overturned. Ryan Ferguson has been fighting the conviction for nine years and finally won an appeal. I got a call from another news editor at 8:25 a.m. Tuesday alerting me to the news. As the early morning editor, I began the work of sharing the news on social media and making it the prominent story on the website.

One of the things I did was upload the opinion from the court to the Missourian website through a service called Document Cloud to give readers the original source. I highlighted the key paragraphs from the opinion and embedded those on the main page of the Missourian website. Later, we uploaded a motion filed for Ferguson’s immediate release and embedded a key paragraph in a story.

The case has been covered nationally and has been talked about a lot on social media (a Facebook page for Ferguson has more than 68,000 likes). With that in mind, the community outreach team began gathering live reactions on social media to the news.

For a news conference later in the day, a staff member was live tweeting, and a video live stream was set up. The live tweeting was combined with other media outlets’ tweets in a live coverage window embedded on the website.

In 2004, we never could have imagined all the ways there would be to tell and report this story.

There are a lot of imperfections in this new age of journalism, but as James Fallows writes for The Atlantic, there is great opportunity for new ways of telling stories, providing information directly and engaging with the audience.

Fallows admits the troubles in this age of clicks and the emphasis on “going viral” and uses Gawker as his case study. But he also points out that sensationalism and other issues were also present during the “golden age of journalism.”

If we are aware of the changes happening in journalism, “we can try to buffer them,” he writes. The greater benefits might be harder to see until we look back on the change, but change is not all bad.

In the midst of the changes, the biggest concern for any news outlet should be credibility. Traditional outlets on the web have more credibility than nontraditional online news sources, according to a study by Debra Melican and Travis Dixon. This is not a time to sacrifice that credibility with readers, and nontraditional sources will have to work to earn it.

Major news events in the last year have certainly put credibility at risk for traditional and nontraditional sources in the rush to be first to report something new. As the New York Times reported, this had a detrimental effect on the family of Sunil Tripathi, who was wrongly identified as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing on Reddit. The report picked up steam when journalists from BuzzFeed, NBC News and other outlets began treating it as fact.

I might be naïve, but I expect credibility to be the issue that shakes out the good from the bad. The Gawkers won’t disappear — the tabloids at the grocery store still haven’t — but the sources that have fostered credibility — whether traditional or nontraditional — will gain ground and become sustainable.

In the meantime, we should keep the traditional sources alive even if on “life support,” as Fallows says, to prove to readers the value of those sources.

I like that Fallows points out that it’s possible we are not at the end of this change but near the beginning. It’s been 17 years since many newspapers first established websites, according to research I’ve done for my lit review. For me, as an almost 30-year-old, that feels like a long time. But in terms of historical change, it is still a short time period.

The changes in the telling of the Ferguson story over nine years reflect just some of the benefits we will see out of this new age of journalism.

Tagged

Reflecting on a mentor

Every week for a class I have to write a reflection paper on the readings. It’s a balance of making it clear you understand the readings and adding your own experience and perspective. Some are harder to write than others, but I’ve found a good rhythm. They are by no means great writing or all that interesting to the public. However, I thought this week’s was worth sharing. The topic is gatekeeping — the theory that journalists allow some things to pass through to the public while not allowing others. My essay centers on a co-worker of mine that truly gave me a “master’s in journalism” in the years I sat next to him even if he would never utter the term gatekeeper. Here it is:

When I read David Manning White’s study of one wire editor’s decisions, I immediately pictured a wire editor I worked with in Georgia. Larry Foley easily could have been Mr. Gates explaining his decisions. He was the most thorough wire editor I have encountered, and I learned a lot about wire editing and gatekeeping from him.

He didn’t trust the wire budgets to give him the information he needed, so he spent the first hour and a half of his shift combing through the wires available and writing down slugs and notes on a legal pad. He used those notes to put together a comprehensive, readable and objective wire report for readers. When he didn’t have much space, he used briefs and well-trimmed stories to provide a complete picture of the international and national news of the day.

The saying on our copy desk was, “What would Larry do?” Many times at that newspaper and in subsequent jobs, I asked myself that question. The answer in my head was almost always: Think about the reader. Larry was a strong advocate for the reader and wasn’t content with insider stories. He used multiple wire services to find the pieces most useful for our audience.

Larry started out in newspapers as a copy boy and always adapted as the technology changed. We relied on an automatic wire feed for the newspaper’s web site, but Larry would have liked the opportunity to vet and manage a wire report for web readers. He would have enjoyed the unlimited space but, like Pamela Shoemaker and Timothy Vos, knew readers still need a gatekeeper on the Web to avoid being overwhelmed and confused by too many stories.

Shoemaker and Vos also note that the gatekeeping process is much broader than the individual wire editor. They classify the wire editor and other production side editors as news processors. While news processors make the final decisions about which stories make it in a newspaper or on a website, there is information that never turns into a story. News gatherers play a gatekeeping role in deciding what to cover and how to tell a story.

Technology has had a major impact on where news gatherers receive information. Most reporters and editors would probably say email is a blessing and a curse. It might save time from taking phone calls from public relations professionals, but it is easy to miss newsworthy items in the chaos. At the Missourian and elsewhere, editors sort through hundreds of emails a day, usually from the public relations industry, to determine if there is news to be covered. I will confess that as opinion editor, I missed submissions because I got behind on managing email. It often took a phone call from someone for me to find and decide to publish an op-ed, letter or commentary piece. The gate was not intended to be high, but the sheer volume of email I received made it that way.

As Shoemaker and Vos note, there are also constraints of the system that play into the gatekeeping that happens. When news hole shrinks in print, the gates are higher for stories to get in. There are also needs within the system that may cause a story to run one day and not another. A story with a photo might push it ahead of something without. There are also greater demands on the news processer’s time. I doubt many 40,000 circulation newspapers have the luxury of a wire editor spending the time to go through the wire offerings as thoroughly as Larry did.

But the greatest development in gatekeeping theory is what Jane Singer addresses in her study of the changes in offerings between the 2000 and 2004 elections. The way readers interact with gatekeepers has changed significantly with the Internet. Shoemaker, Vos and Singer agree that there is a need for gatekeeping on the Internet to give readers the information they need in a manageable way. But Singer also comes to the conclusion that gatekeepers need to listen to what readers are telling them and allow them to be involved in the process.

During RJI’s Journalytics Summit last week, there was much discussion about what the data about readers choices means for journalism. Miley Cyrus might go viral, but that shouldn’t translate to a news site only publishing stories on Miley Cyrus. Singer describes the primary purpose of journalism as “giving citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing.” As gatekeepers, journalists shouldn’t let the desire for increased pageviews overshadow that role.

Larry, who taught me about gatekeeping even if I didn’t realize it until now, died this summer, and the newspaper business lost one of the good ones.

A new chapter

This week I begin life as a full-time graduate student. I am completing my masters in journalism at the University of Missouri. Thanks to some classes I took last year and a transfer, I should be able to finish it by this time next year.

My job at the Missourian was always temporary. When I took it, I was only guaranteed a year. Thankfully, it was extended into a second year, which ended Aug. 9. I told J that night that no one ever gives up a dream job, and if I hadn’t been forced to, I would have stayed as long as they would let me. But getting my masters is important if teaching is going to be a part of my future, and I’d rather get it done quickly than drag it out and work full-time.

I am still going to be involved with the Missourian. My assistantship (which pays for school!) will be the early morning shift from home Monday to Friday and a Sunday afternoon shift in the newsroom. But it will be strange not to go to the newsroom every day.

Aside from a couple of classes over the last year, I haven’t been a student in eight years. The idea of being a full-time student is intimidating. I know how things work at MU and know what I’m trying to accomplish, but the reality of writing papers, attending class and being graded hasn’t sunk in yet.

For a while I’ve been writing about teaching and working at the Missourian on my personal blog, but I decided it was time to have a more professional space on the web to document my graduate school experience. I’ve reposted (and backdated) those work posts from the other blog here.

I’m still not sure exactly what will end up here, but I’m expecting it to be a little about what I’m learning, my continued work with the Missourian and the experience of graduate school.

Snow

Well, it has been a crazy few days, and there’s nothing like a big snowstorm to make me love my job more.

On Wednesday, forecasters were predicting we would get 3 to 6 inches of snow on Thursday morning. As the early morning person, I decided to go ahead and go into work before my 6:30 a.m. shift started. When I left my house, there was not a flake of snow. By 9 a.m., it was coming down fast and complete with thunder.

Since the snow started after most people got to work, many ended up stranded as they tried to get home at midday when they realized it got bad. The interstate was shut down, there were cars and even buses stranded everywhere and the university ended up closing (a very rare event). By 3 p.m. we had 11 inches of snow — a much bigger deal than 3 to 6 inches.

It was the kind of day journalists live for. I was so busy managing our website and social media accounts, the first time I got up was to go to the bathroom at 12:30 p.m. (I did have a stash of food to sustain me.)

I was doing everything I could to inform our readers and share any information I had. I was tracking the MoDOT traveler map and sharing screenshots of interstate cameras. I was tracking everything people said about the snow using a hashtag. And I was trying to translate the information I was sharing with our audience on social media with those using our website. I was juggling so many things and easily had 20 tabs open on my browser, but those are the situations where I thrive.

Meanwhile, our outreach team was collecting people’s pictures shared on social media in an easy-to-view format. This was our first experiment with the tool, and it turned out awesome. The team also had a Google map going that showed road conditions based on submissions from our readers and staff. All this stuff on our site was so popular, the site actually went down about 1 p.m. on Thursday. The tech guy got it up and running quickly, but it was a testament to how many people wanted the information we were providing.

I did make an escape about 4:30 p.m. to come home and get some rest before I went back bright and early Friday morning. On Friday, I did much of the same. What was cool was that people realized we were a good resource for information. People on Twitter started asking what we knew about road conditions at various intersections and roads around town. Using our Google map, MoDOT and anecdotal information from reporters and Twitter, I responded to each question. And that was my favorite part of the day. I loved that “direct” interaction with people and knowing that people turned to us for information.

This was one of those adrenaline-rush events that even though it is fun for me in my job is a pretty serious situation. Fortunately, there were hardly any accidents, and we didn’t hear of any fatalities. But there were a lot of people stranded or students who had a long walk home.

But it was a reminder that the newsroom is exactly where I want to be during an event like this and that’s what was missing in my time in Virginia. The bonus of this newsroom is that we got to do all of this stuff and teach our students how to do it at the same time. The downside, of course, is that two long days of hard work doesn’t let me me off the hook for teaching class Monday morning. I’ll be spending some time preparing for that on Sunday!

A change in perspective

My first job out of college was at a newspaper in south Georgia in a community that likely wouldn’t exist without a large Army post in its backyard. (Well, there is the whole Aflac thing, but…) When I got there, I had considered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be a distant conflict that didn’t really affect me. But moving into a community full of soldiers and their families changes that. The war becomes real.

At the newspaper, we ran an Associated Press story on Iraq every day and on Afghanistan a few times a week. Frequently, those stories were put on the front page. I knew a lot about what was happening, why it was happening, where it was happening and how it was happening.

We had regular updates from the units that were deployed from our area, and deployments and homecomings were front-page news. And when a soldier from the post was killed in action, the story always went on the front page.

As real as the war was for me (someone I was close to was there for 15 months), those deaths and the subsequent stories still became routine. In most cases, those soldiers were just stationed at the post in our town for a few months or maybe a couple of years. The funerals were rarely held in town, but in the soldiers’ hometowns. I was always detached from it all. Yes, I read about them and occasionally saw a picture, but it was part of my job.

Fast forward a few years. Last week we found out a soldier from Columbia had been killed in Afghanistan. There was some scrambling to get it confirmed and a lot of back and forth about when to call the family, etc. I stayed in my detached mode. I was thinking to myself, why are we scrambling? The Associated Press will put it in their daily update the next day. But I kept my mouth shut.

A few days later, another co-worker was telling me how she wished she had been soliciting memories and stories about the soldier from readers. I know I had a confused look on my face because she went on to say, “This is a hometown boy; this is a big community thing.” And I realized this doesn’t happen every week here. It probably doesn’t even happen once a year. And I had never been in those soldiers’ hometowns where people were mourning much more than a soldier. I didn’t see a community’s reaction to all of those deaths I read about in Georgia.

But I’m getting a glimpse of the community response now. Friends and neighbors put flags all along the neighborhood streets. And on Thursday, there was a processional that went all through town, and people gathered on the streets and overpasses and in his family’s neighborhood to honor him. We received picture after picture from people that watched it. There is a movement to get as many people as possible to make a human wall around the funeral to block the protestors planning to come.

As a journalist, I read about a lot of tragedies and death. There’s plenty of good news stories, but the bad news can wear you down. A lot of times the best way to deal with it is to stay detached.

But as I looked through the pictures from the procession that showed a community standing together, I realized I missed the human element of it. In Georgia, those soldiers were a number to me. In Missouri, that soldier was a son, brother, friend, student, role model, neighbor, Eagle Scout and much more. And even though it’s hard, I’m glad I’ve taken my blinders off to see that.

The big myth

Here’s the myth about school breaks and my job: It will be quieter, you won’t have to teach class and you’ll get “caught up.”

This is now my fourth school break in this job (Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break and now summer). And every time I fall for the lie. I make a long list of things I want to get done work-wise, and before I know it the break is over and I haven’t crossed off a single thing on my list. Yes, summer is longer, and I will actually get time away from daily production. But when I’m involved in production, it will be crazier than it is during a normal semester.

There are students in the newsroom during the summer. There are a lot of eager reporters, and a new batch of copy editors starting next week. But this also means we’ve hit the reset button, and there’s a lot of teaching and training to do. After a bit of grumbling about this on my part, a co-worker said to me, “It’s still the first week of the semester.” I replied, “The problem with the first week of the semester is that it comes right after the end of the semester.” In other words, as soon as you get a crew well-trained, you have to start from scratch and the juxtaposition of those things is hard.

But because we have fewer students, there’s more time that I’m the only person on the copy desk. I’m working mostly dayside shifts, and I don’t have students to delegate to. As I realized this week, I am pretty ADD at work, jumping between several different things, and if someone asks for help on something, it’ll take hours for me to get back to what I was doing. But when you have students you can delegate to, it’s easier to see things get accomplished, and I can focus on one thing at a time.

Basically what I am saying is that this week I have felt completely scattered and crazy busy. And that summer work to-do list is looking overly ambitious.

But in three weeks I will be in Ireland completely disconnected!

Quiet

I finished the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking” this week. I’ve always know I was an introvert, but it was during my time in Charlottesville that I learned more about what that meant, thanks to my friends’ obsession with Myers-Briggs. Anyway because of that, I found this book fascinating.

The author, Susan Cain, covers it all — research about introverts/extroverts, the way the differences play out in the workplace, case studies of people and relationships. And then she talks about ways to function as an introvert in an extrovert world while staying true to yourself. She also addresses raising and teaching introvert kids, how to make a workplace conducive to introverts and extroverts, and how to balance a marriage between an introvert and an extrovert.

One of the research points that I found particularly interesting was a study of children. Four-month-old babies were exposed to stimuli in a new environment. Some babies were “highly reactive” to having a bunch of new stuff put in their faces. They flailed their arms, cried, etc. Others were pretty passive and weren’t bothered by the new things and environment. Those babies were brought back at different ages after that for interviews and tests. What the researchers discovered is that the babies that were highly reactive were introverted as children. This seems surprising, but it makes the connection that introverts are sensitive in their senses (loud noises, bright lights) and to change.

I don’t fit every stereotype of introverts, and no one really does. But I was not the laid back baby my sister (an extrovert) was. I don’t handle change very well. I desperately wanted to go back to kindergarten when I was in first grade. And it always takes me time to adjust to a new environment (school, job, city, etc.), though it’s been a faster process as I’ve made more moves. But I don’t like fireworks or 3-D movies. I get overwhelmed in crowded and loud places. While I’ve always known these things were true about me, I had never really connected them to my introversion.

And a lot of introverted adults become pseudo-extroverts in different parts of their lives. But it is usually tied to something they are passionate about. And that’s the case for me in my current job. Four days a week I sit out in a loud and busy newsroom. I have to be “on” for my students on the desk and when I teach class. And I actually draw a lot of energy from that and enjoy it mostly because I am passionate about the work. I love community news, and I love teaching students.

What I realized a couple of weeks ago is that I have found a way to balance that and provide rest for myself as an introvert. One week recently I had to cover some extra night shifts for co-workers that were gone. I also had eight individual meetings with students and two classes to teach. Because of the extra shifts, I had to give up my office day, the day I get to catch up on stuff and be out of the newsroom. By the time Friday rolled around, I was exhausted and my frustration level was high. I walked out of work that day thinking it was a miracle I didn’t lose it with someone. While part of the exhaustion was the hours I was working, a big part of it was not having down time. I was always “on” and didn’t get to balance it with “off” time. The next week I worked from home on my office day, and I couldn’t believe the difference I felt. And this is a point Cain made in the book. She called it making a free trait agreement with yourself, recognizing that you can be a pseudo extrovert in part of your life, but you have to allow for down time to recharge. And you can give yourself a free pass from going to an event or social outing to get that time.

The end of the book talks a lot about raising and teaching introvert children. It definitely made me question the way I teach my class. But I also reflected on the way I was raised (my mom is an extrovert and my dad is an introvert). Again I didn’t take fit all the stereotypes, I am a risk taker and was even more of one as a kid. I was involved in a number of things, but my parents let me pick and choose what I wanted to focus on. They encouraged my imagination and eventually my writing from an early age, which was an outlet for me. When I would argue with my parents, I often needed down time to figure out what I really wanted to say. My dad was the same way, and my mom learned to give me space. Since I was pretty passive and cared a lot about others, my mom had to help me be assertive. Everyone in my family remembers the story of me getting the top bunk at camp. My mom and sister helped me role play to assert myself and get what I wanted. That’s exactly the kind of thing the book encourages parents to do with introverted children.

My dad was also an example of how to succeed in business as an introvert. I learned that if you only talk when you have something important to say, people will listen to you. While class participation was always an issue for me, my dad didn’t tell me I always had to be the most talkative student, but instead encouraged me to think through my thoughts and speak up when I had something to say. The teacher would recognize my thoughtfulness.

In the real world, I learned that I held a lot of power by only talking when I had something important to say. In meetings at the first newspaper I worked at, co-workers often talked just to hear themselves talk and others talked over them or ignored what they had to say because most if it was nonsense. But if I had something to say, everyone knew it would be important and the room would go silent. I gained the respect of those I managed by really listening and not making snap decisions. And those same things apply now. I have a wider view of what’s going on because I observe and listen.

But after reading this book, I can also see why I was unhappy in my last job. I was never passionate about the work. I didn’t really care about writing and editing stories for investment bankers. I worked with mostly introverts in a quiet office. I never had a reason to come out of my shell and be more than a passive employee. The exception was when I managed a team of employees located in Pakistan. I was an advocate for them and earned their trust and respect. But before I took over as their manager, they doubted I could be the advocate they needed because I wasn’t that way in the rest of my work. And that explains why I was passed over for some other roles prior to that.

This book reinforced the idea that I’m only going to be happy in a job where I am passionate about what I do and the impact of my work.

One negative stereotype of introverts is that they don’t like people. Cain says in the book that introverts are actually empathetic and care deeply about others. I saw a lot of myself in Cain’s example of second-grader that worried about spending equal time with friends on the playground. Her friends were in separate groups, and she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I was the peacemaker and always worried about hurting others feelings. As an adult this translates into a dislike of small talk. Introverts want to really know people and have deep conversations.

There’s so much more I could write about this, but I think it’s better if you read the book. If you’re an extrovert, it will give you insight into relationships with introverts (as a boss, co-worker, spouse or parent). And if you’re an introvert, it will help you figure out how to stay true to yourself but not get lost in an extrovert world.