Monday, November 29, 2004

Fried Turkey and Cousins

Sweet, the holidays. Fanfreakintastic. I can usually tell the onslaught of the holiday season with the amount of ads that containing massive amounts of green, red and “percent off” graphics.

This thanksgiving took our family to our usual holiday hideaway, Grandma’s. My parents, grandparents and I are usually the only ones who gorge the edibles. This year was different though. Apparently I have cousins - 12 of them. Yeh, you know those people who are related to you that you only see once a year? Well I haven’t see these people in (according to them) 15 years. And I don’t know about you, but my five-year-old memories consist mostly of candy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Along with new people at the main dinner table and numerous satellite tables comes new stories. There’s was one older gentleman, some distant uncle of some sort, who had great anecdotes with superb punch lines. He aurally wowed the table with his unique blend of wit and satire.

But, and I fell bad for saying such, there was another “uncle,” his brother in fact, whose stories bombed completely. He had a new audience and didn’t have enough time to feel out the audience. It was like watching a bad standup comedian fail miserably. My grandmother, who I sit next to for all holiday meals, made eyes at each other and smirked at how horrible the stories were.

Aside from all of the holiday cheer, I failed to register for any journalism classes due to an NHL type lockout. My time was scheduled for Wednesday at 1:00. 121% of the classes I needed were closed. Oh well, it leaves me time to clear up some other general requirements...This is also the first year I only have two finals in my classes. Simply amazing....Wish me luck next semester, I finally nailed down a schedule with no Friday classes...

Over and out good buddy,
S.K.Bowen III

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Making choices

Heading into Thanksgiving weekend I really thought I knew what I was going to do with my schedule next semester. But a long weekend gave me too much time to think, despite the massive amount of homework hanging over me.

How is someone suppose to determine what opportunities are actually best. I have the opportunity to be a part of two amazing internships next semester. They might not be great to some people, but I definitely didn't expect to have a choice in internships for next semester. One is for my minor. I will get six hours class credit, get paid and get to work in the South Carolina state house. The other is with a major news company. I'll get to report, might get paid and I will still work in the South Carolina state house. Normally, the second choice would be a no brainer, getting to report, what I want to do. But for some reason, the one with the class credit keeps popping up in my head as something I should really be a part of next semester.

I'm not asking anyone to make my decisions for me, I am just wondering how do others decide what is best for their future when two really good opportunities are present?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

When fluff stories attack

My most recent article was one of those holiday fluff stories and my first non-political story of the semester. I spent a few days shopping around Washington, looking in gift shops in national museums and federal buildings, writing about the unique gifts out-of-state shoppers can purchase online or by phone. Not a bad gig for a 20-year-old female reporter.
I was warmly received everywhere but at one organization's gift shop. I called ahead to make sure it was open to the public, and then took the train out to Maryland to check it out. I introduced myself to the clerk, who was foreign, and told her my assignment. That's when she freaked out, telling me I couldn't be in the store.
I asked her if the store was open to the public. When she said it was, I tried to explain that I can, in fact, write about publicly sold merchandise. She repeatedly told me I couldn't write but could only shop.
"Why do you have to stick your. . .?" Nose into our business, I knew she wanted to say. I tried to explain that, worst case scenario, the shop gets a little more business as a result of my article.
She defensively said, "We don't need your help." I hung around for a while, checking out the merchandise simply for the sake of doing so. It was nothing worth mentioning in print, so I left without saying anything more to the clerk.
I couldn't help but wonder when the press became the enemy. I can't count how many guest lecturers we've had this semester that recall the days when reporters and senators played cards together in the press gallery, even got silly drinking together after work. Now, the press gallery tables are empty, and everyone carries bottled water. Today, there is an invisible wall between reporters and sources, and I often wish I could've experienced old Washington journalism.
Well, Happy Thanksgiving. I've got a plane to catch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Approaching the end

Here I sit, dazed and angry at the turn of events which inevitably seem to manifest themselves toward semester's end--the term paper, the oh-so-lovely roommates, the 'I better kick it up a notch' worries. You all know them. You all have been there. And, if you're like me, you all hate them.

After what I judged a fairly productive majority of the semester, I feel myself not giving a tinker's damn in the last 24 to 48 hours. And here's why:

To begin, I was diagnosed with some heart condition this past week. That, in itself, is not where I'm looking to gain the pity. The pity, my friends, and the root of my frustration is the ramification of having to kick a five-year habit: smoking cigarettes. And to any ex-fellow smokers, you can understand the violent agitation that accompanies being without your little cancer sticks. So, this morning--my first official smoke-free morning--came the first true test. My first break, 8:50-10:05, is when I used to grab a copy of "The Gamecock," find a suitable perch outside and yes, light the first morning cig. But not this morning. Instead, I distracted myself with superfluous tomfooleries until my next class. Then came the second break and time to register for spring classes.

With cravings intensifying and my tolerance level toward humans dwindling, one can imagine the sheer aggrivation of dealing with blackboard, the registrar's office and of course, the unavailability of all journalism classes. After enrolling in only two classes--none of which was journalism-related--I gave up, put myself on the waiting lists and smirked at the entire registering process. If it's meant to be, I thought, then it's meant to be. Besides, what good would it have done to march into the front office and deal with the three daunting ladies who seem to run this journalism school? None. Now, let's move on.

As the afternoon wore on and with no cigarettes and no classes, my mortar board reminded me of my final chemistry test the following morning. Instead of studying that afternoon, I opted to get some advice from Dr. Phil on marital fidelity, see Oprah give millions of dollars away and watch a special on the U.S. Secret Service--interesting stuff. After the six o'clock newscast, it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty. I opened my book, looked at the pages and realized I had no clue how to distinguish a sphingophospholipid from a plain ol' phospholipid. Reasoning like only a burnt-out college student can, I decided an 'F' on tomorrow's test would still leave me with a 'C' in the class. Yes, an average 'C', but looking at the grand scheme of things, what would it matter that I failed one college chemistry test. And perhaps one day, I could relate to my own child's sinister choice just as my dad had done with me that very afternoon. So, my decision was final: no studying and back to the drawing table, my couch.

To top off an already wonderful day, I decided to check my monetary supply. Now, of course, there are negative temperatures and negative feelings, but NOT negative monies. My check, made payable to Sce&g, must have "gone through" a little quicker than expected, leaving me 11 bucks in the hole. Great, that should be a fun call home tomorrow. Indeed, this money mis-hap will further my house confinement of watching Friends re-runs and eating ramen noodles.

The evening was getting late, and I asked myself, 'WWLD?' (What Would Larry David Do). Larry David, of course, was the producer of my all-time favorite sitcom Seinfeld and the star of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiam. I bargained that the master of cynicism and logical world outlook would find solace explaining his ever-so-inconsequential problems to whoever would listen. So friends, thanks for reading!


Monday, November 15, 2004

Deserted streets and tumbleweeds

Hello, Bloggers:

No postings for a week?
We must be approaching the end.
Deadlines. Reports. Examinations.
That's what faculty are up to.
What about you?
Your semester been productive?
Any new revelations to share?
Maybe with the sun setting early
and a chilly wind whistling down,
you've shuttered your windows.
Let's hear from you before you put out the lights.

Professor Wiggins

Monday, November 08, 2004

Interview with a Vicious Reporter

Hi everyone. My name is Shana Till, and I'm an electronic journalism major here at USC. I'm excited about the opportunity to join the j-school year blog.

Now with the campaigning, mud slinging and propaganda of Election 2004 coming to an end, I finally feel America has an opportunity to sit back and release a huge sigh of relief. It's over.

At the same time, I feel I get to take a deep breath and recover from the hectic past two weeks.
I realized it wasn't just that I was being barraged by Tenenbaum and DeMint ads that had me down, but I was still reeling from my very first professional interview. I had anticipated being nervous and overly self-conscious, but I was not prepared for what my interviewer had in store for me that day.

I was shocked to find my interviewer made up his mind about me in 1.5 seconds. I shook his hand, sat down and offered him my portfolio. He skipped to the clippings and frowned immediately.

"So, you just write music criticisms?" he asked.

Trying to hold back my instinctive defense mechanisms, I replied with an explanation that my clippings reflect my main journalistic focus. He cared not one bit that writing about the music business has always been my passion. He showed no remorse in telling me that this type of writing was unnecessary and showed no writing or journalistic skills whatsoever. This is all, of course, without regard to the other parts of my portfolio. I couldn't even get him to glance at my resume and professional experience.

When I tell people that I want to cover the music industry, I know I'm faced with convincing them that it's not simply to "meet the band." I'm compelled to glorify the historical links between music and journalism. I want people to see that music journalism surpasses what Mrs. Britney Spears Federline wore during her latest tour. It instead encompasses a world in which music influences society and vice versa.

I realize the journalism job market is as cutthroat as ever, but every potential employee should be judged fairly. Good writers deserve respect no matter what beat they might cover. If I were to use the same logic my interviewer used, I would not respect him as much because I do not particularly care for the crime reports section of a daily.

My interviewer also expressed his distaste for a new concept referred to as "convergence." If media outlets do not acknowledge growing trends, how can they recruit fresh journalists who have been trained to accommodate these changing times?

Overall, I learned something from this situation. Here are two things my interviewer taught me.
1. Writers should include clippings of all types in their portfolio. In other words, clippings from both news and features sections look better than articles from just one or the other. This also shows you can adapt to all situations as a writer.
2. No one interviewer's opinion should affect your true ambitions as a journalist. Instead, work on what needs improvement and do not allow yourself to be discouraged by one person who does not see eye to eye with your aspirations.

I was extremely upset after this interview, but hindsight has proven that this was simply a learning experience. I realized that today's journalists must fight tooth and nail to receive every bit of respect they deserve.

Eat an oyster

As the holiday's are rapidly approaching I have to be honest with myself. First of all, Thanksgiving break will consist of more than just a Butterball turkey, mom's sweet tea and overindulgence of nana's double covered chocolate and peanut balls. Oh no...this Thanksgiving I have to get my entire future in one massive pile: envelopes, portfolio, addresses and all. I know, I know, easier said than done.

Second of all, I must decide where I will send these massive envelope's. Should I think small businesses? Should I focus on a larger scale? The answer that I am going towards is both; I want everyone in the south to know who I am and what I have to offer. As if we were making a wedding invitation list, my mom and I are going to sit down and compile a list of companies.
As a senior, I often am asked about my experiences with Journalism here at USC. I am often asked if I feel prepared to face the big, ugly world out there. The honest truth is that I don't think anyone is ever prepared, how can one ever be prepared enough? What is enough?

From the words of a US Congress woman, Shirley Chrisholm,
"Be as bold as the first man to eat an oyster."

Friday, November 05, 2004

Annual employment survey

The report on the annual survey of journalism and mass comm. graduates, their employment prospects and salaries is out from the University of Georgia. Sobering news. Any thoughts? (See related Common Sense Journalism entry.)

Thursday, November 04, 2004

How students get information

From Doug: I belong to a journalism professor's list, JOURNET, and last week a poster started a thread by posing the question (paraphrased): We talk a lot about students' difficulty with writing, but should we also be talking about their diffculty in reporting -- especially their reluctance to go and talk with people and an overreliance on electronic sources?

That prompted a post from University of Alaska student Chris Luth (one of the querying professor's students) that I thought was very insightful. I've reproduced it here with his permission. I'd like to get reactions:
Well, I'm not an instructor, but I thought I'd give a student's
perspective. (My experience is limited, so don't take me too seriously.)

I think your first contention is correct. We are an impatient generation. I've got Google searching (Googling?) down to a science. If I'm eating eggs for breakfast and suddenly am struck with the question of which came first -- the chicken or the egg -- I can have the answer (or at least some interesting opinion) within three minutes. (This happens a lot.)

My computer never shuts down, and my Internet is always on. So I type "Chicken egg first" right in my Google toolbar, and within a half a second I get 647,000 matches, the first of which is -- well, that's a bad example.

But you get the idea.

I even have Google set to display the first 1-100 matches instead of the default 1-10. My eye is trained to quickly skim for (relatively)reliable results.

Conversely, finding people to interview is slow work. First, finding the right person is much harder than Googling. Sometimes a phone number or email address will appear on a Web page, but often you end up spending a few hours hopping from one referral to the next.

Second, you actually have to converse with a person. Sometimes it's a nice, easy, natural conversation. Other times, especially when you're new, you're not sure what to ask. I'm getting better, but I still feel inarticulate when I'm interviewing. I would have felt much more comfortable if my journalism teachers would have worked more hands-on with me in interviewing. I remember being sent out on my first practice assignment in my media writing class and not having a clue what to ask people. I came back empty-handed and with a belief I wasn't any good at interviewing.

But that's me.

Third, online communication is competing with face-to-face communication. E-mail and instant messaging is very common. Today's generation writes much more like they talk, at least in those media.(Of course, that's no excuse for "ppl writnig 2 uthers liek this." That duzn't du it 4 me.) I communicate with most of my friends via e-mail or
in a chat room we've set up, and online communication satisfies most of my needs. I tend to subconsciously think that if an online communique won't work, it's not worth following up on. There are easier fish to catch.

Fourth, today's culture is so bombarded with information and analysis that we can sometimes err on the side of not forming our own ideas. I saw a newspaper article recently that said people with cell phones are shown to be more reliant on others to help them make decisions. (Why does a guy need to worry about deciding between Best Foods mayonnaise and the in-store brand when he can call his wife and ask her what she wants?) There's a balancing act between satisfying curiosity and information overload.

As I said above, I can quickly Google anything I want to know. I'm still curious. I look up a lot of information every day. But that information can quickly become too much, and the Internet can sometimes think for me. There's so much analysis already done that sometimes I don't need to analyze it for myself.

I don't think your second idea is as true. I can recognize the difference between newsworthy and non-newsworthy material, and I'm developing that sense even more through journalism classes. Your first hypothesis has to do with students lacking a desire to act while your second one has more to do with a fundamental lapse in students' ability to perceive. I don't think that this generation is less aware -- if anything, we're trained to see everything all of the time -- as much as it is just lazy.

I hope I've given you some good food for thought. Hope your article goes well!

Chris Luth
Journalism/Public Communications junior
University of Alaska Anchorage

Journ Burn

Thanks to Southwest Missouri State's Journ Burn for cross-linking with us.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election Day

So, I worked for The State newspaper on election day. It turned out to be a lot different than I imagined, primarily in the aspect that everything seemed so calm. Not that I was expecting a "chaos in the newsroom" type deal, just a bit more excitement. I mean, it was only the day when the fate of our country for the next four years would be decided, which, correct me if I'm wrong, makes for a big news day. I guess I just thought the overall atmosphere would seem a little bit more energized.
It was an amazing experience, nonetheless. We got to go out in teams to a couple different precincts and interview people coming out of the polls. People were a lot nicer than I thought they'd be. Everyone we approached seemed pretty willing to talk to us. After being out in the heat for about three hours (It's not supposed to be above 80 in November!), we came to the conclusion that there really wasn't much diversity in the areas we were sent. We ended up talking to about 30 people and had to narrow the list down to our best six quotes. This was probably the hardest part because people had some really great things to say.
Luckily, we made our deadline. It was in the afternoon, so the craziness of election night had yet to set in. The relaxed environment probably also made it easier for the people to get the job done with as little stress as possible. Four of our quotes actually made it into the paper today. I was happy to see our work materialized in hard copy and excited to read what others had come up with. All in all, I was extremely pleased with the successful outcome. Besides being a tremendous opportunity, it makes for a pretty cool by-line.

Moblogging ... Another soon-to-be-added entry in Webster's

This election season has been filled with many ups and downs, including scandals, speeches and mudslinging only appropriate for elementary school playgrounds. It finally climaxed last evening – and even early into this morning – with the presidential and more locally, the state Senate race.

A few fellow journalism major compatriots and I had a unique opportunity to cover the election in its final days with the use of camera-phone technology. The Wireless Election Connection sponsored by Cingular put high-tech phones in the hands of students to get a close-up view of the election.

Run from Newsplex in Columbia, S.C., the WEC received hundreds of posts from students from American University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, and the University of South Carolina throughout Monday and Tuesday. Teams were sent out with Motorola and Nokia camera-phones to capture candid shots of any aspect of the election.

Team “Frat Boy,” as we were jokingly dubbed by the Newsplex editors, included fellow blogger Graeme Moore and me. We covered the Jim DeMint post-election party at the Adam’s Mark on Hampton Street in Columbia, S.C. Graeme did the interviewing while I framed the shots and took the pictures.

We met many different people throughout the evening who were at the party for many different reasons. College students, residents from around the state and many politicians filled the Capital Ballroom. We met the top five South Carolina Republicans including Gov. Mark Sanford, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, U.S. Reps. Jim DeMint (now senator-elect) and Joe Wilson, and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The media-to-attendee ratio was probably near one to three. They were confined to the back of the room securely held behind a velvet rope. Having the phones allowed us to roam throughout the room without being corralled. We even had an episode of investigative journalism that will be explained in a later post.

All in all, the evening was a great time and Graeme and I learned a lot about covering something of this nature. We were even secretly excited when DeMint announced his victory, although we had to hold such celebration back. The WEC was deemed a great success and if you ever get a chance to participate, please do so.

By the way Graeme, write that down.

Monday, November 01, 2004

'So what is that college thing?'

I have never been so thankful for my future profession and how it makes me aware of my government.

This weekend at my second job, some of the girls I worked with asked me to explain the Electoral College. They said they knew it existed, but other than that they were clueless. So, in the middle of our store I explained the Electoral College and then we started talking politics.

I don't usually like talking specifics about politics because I try really hard to be independent of partisanship, but I felt this was one of those times where talking would do some good.

We talked about the upcoming election and the girls I was working with didn't understand why the senate race was so important. I'm not sure if they even knew about local referendums and races that will be on the ballot, the ones that will have a direct effect on the community first. From my poli sci class that studies voting behaviors, I knew all the stats on why people didn't vote and how much of the population was uninformed about elections, but I had never seen it at first hand. I grew up around people who always researched candidates and their issues. My family has never voted straight party ticket, and they sure as heck weren't going to vote on personality; they voted for who would represent them and constituents in the best manner.

I realized how fortunate I am to constantly be forced to stay on top of issues and know what is going on around me. And because of this, I know there is more behind a campaign than ads and trash talk.

I know there are people who aren't like these girls, but a vast majority of our country is uninformed, and if they even bother voting at all, they probably don’t know everything about the person they are voting for.

So, if you aren't sure about who you are voting for, look up some information, away from their websites and other biased sources (I know, there aren't many out there), but don't be an uninformed voter, for this election or future ones.

Oh yeah, just in case you have been living under a rock, GO VOTE TOMORROW!!!!

Being that pesky reporter

I could tell by the way the woman called her husband to the phone that I had pronounced their last name incorrectly, and now I'd been relegated to that most odious batch of human beings -- telemarketers.
The husband was the tough sell I expected at this Tuesday dinner hour. I explained that I was calling from Washington --working on a story about campaign donations in Lynchburg, Va. -- and trying to speak to some donors.
"So what?" he replied.
I didn't really know "what." As I asked if he had time for an interview, I knew I wouldn't be much more receptive to someone calling from Washington and asking to print my personal finances and political preferences in my local newspaper.
Gearing up for the election, I had pitched presidential campaign contribution stories that would analyze Federal Elections Commission reports for the towns of our smaller newspapers. I started with Florence, S.C., and found that for the town's 238 Bush contributors, only seven people were donating to the Kerry campaign. Lynchburg proved less interesting, with about twice as many Bush contributors than Kerry contributors -- an unsurprising disparity for a Southern state.
My stories ran 1A in both towns and made enjoyable writing, despite the spreadsheet work. But I couldn't write those stories too often. I went from feeling unnecessarily intrusive to feeling excited about the final product, and it was hard to keep those conflicting feelings from affecting my mood. I wrote in my internship diary that I kept thinking, later in life, I wouldn't want my kids to hear me doing this. So I'll have to be sure not to take my work home, especially if I'm taking it into someone else's.