At last, Spartan Daily Soundslides

The photo and online crews at the Spartan Daily have been quietly grinding away at getting more multimedia content running at this semester, and it’s paying off.

Today, the Daily put up its first photo-slideshow-with-audio created with a program called Soundslides. It’s cheap and easy, and it makes for simple to post, dramatic presentations.

Check out this audio slideshow on Monday’s immigration reform marches in San Jose.

At the moment, the photographers are just using their own sound equipment to do this sort of thing, but we’re working on digging up the funds to buy a nice M-Audio recorder or two. That way, we can keep this going, keep the gear in-house, and not have to worry about tracking down the person who owns the audio recorder when news breaks.

Student media under fire

I’ve got a guest column in today’s Spartan Daily that elaborates on the dangers of the Hosty v. Carter decision, what State Assemblyman Leland Yee wants to do about it, and why we’re actually pretty safe on public campuses in sunny California.

Here’s an excerpt from the column:

“College newspapers often boast that they are “independent,” but I’m always a bit confused about what that means. Would we be independent if we accepted no funding from SJSU, paid rent at an off-campus office, and worked on the paper on our own time, without any connection to the school of journalism and mass communications?  Maybe, but that’s not our situation.”


Protection coming for California college media?

In today’s Spartan Daily, the student newspaper here at San Jose State University, former Daily executive editor John Myers reports that a California legislator has introduced a bill in the state assembly that would make it more difficult for university officials to censor campus media outlets.

Myers wrote that Leland Yee, the sponsor of the bill, said it would allow students to collect damages if they are disciplined for comments they wrote or said in campus media.

Yee says the bill is a response to this case at Governors State University in Illinois, in which administrators allegedly called the printer and told him to hold the paper until they had signed off on its content. From what I’ve read about the case, it still seems a little murky as to whether the newspaper was funded by the university or not — I’m guesing it was. And, the student editors appear to have been playing a bit fast and loose with the rules by publishing some bits of opinion — about at least one professor the writer had a class with at the time — in the news section.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to let stand the appeals court ruling against the students was a disturbing one, given that the ruling was based on Hazelwood (484 U.S. 260, 1988). In the Hazelwood case, the Supreme Court ruled that administrators at a public high school could censor the student paper as they pleased.

At what point does the importance of teaching students how to use the First Amendment trump the superficial and temporary concerns of college administrators? I can understand the Supreme Court’s reluctance to give high-school-aged editors, who serve an audience under 18, free reign. College media, however, serves an adult audience, and provides a crucial function in the ecosystem of the press in this country, acting as the final laboratory for journalism students before they are unleashed on the public-at-large.

The new California bill (AB 2581) would protect students from university censorship by prohibiting college administrators at University of California and California State University schools from making any rules infinging on constitutional freedoms for free press protections. The code already protects student “speech,” but the changes would protect student “press.” Also, censored students could file civil suits to combat the actions of university administration.

One catch in the law, as it stands and as proposed, is that it’s talking about communications “engaged in outside a campus.” What exactly does that mean? It sounds like the old “Are we independent?” question. If the paper is funded by the school, can the dean insist on approving content? I’m not sure this bill answers that question, but then again, I’m just a student of media law, not a lawyer. Anyone out there want to give me a clue on that question?

At the Spartan Daily, we’re in a pretty unusual situation (or so they tell me — please correct me if I’m wrong about the details) in that our newspaper is a class. We get credit for it, and it’s the required capstone course for journalism majors on the newspaper reporting & editing track. But, I’ve never heard of or seen or heard stories about any real censorship coming from either the administration or the faculty advisers to the paper. Would the proposed legislation protect us? It doesn’t sound like it, but I don’t think anyone feels unprotected right now. Lucky us.

[Full disclosure: Um, yeah, I write for a college newspaper.]

For more on Yee’s proposal, check out the San Mateo County Times story on the bill, including mention of a recent memo from CSU lawyers to university presidents regarding censoring campus media.

A lesson in covering breaking news on campus from the Daily Iowan

The first thing I thought when I heard a tornado hit the Iowa City and the University of Iowa last night was “I bet the Daily Iowan has video up.” Sure enough, the student newspaper has a package of stories, plus some fantastic tornado-at-night video, including shots of students watching and describing the scene.

The Iowan already has regular video features – they seem to run a broadcast-style news report on a regular basis, and I have no idea if the print and broadcast programs in the J-School there cooperate to put video content on the newspaper’s site, or if the newspaper has a broadcast of its own. Any Iowans out there want to clue me in?

Either way, nice job.

At the Spartan Daily, we’ve got the October 18, 1989 issue of our student newspaper hanging on the wall to remind us that even if there is an earthquake, we will get a paper out. Anyone for an earthquake-coverage-preparedness drill?

[UPDATE: They’ve been, er, updating the site all day long, posting everything from aerial photos to news about the impending implosion of damaged buildings.]

A quick riff on objectivity

I’m not going to go at length about the End of Objectivity, or even the perils of objectivity, although I should get around to posting a little literature review and presentation I wrote on the topic awhile back.

But here’s a good concrete example of how awkward it can be sometimes to include “both” sides of a story in a news article…

I wrote this story on the immigration issue for today’s Spartan Daily. I talked to faculty from history, political science, and social science. I talked to a few students whom I thought might be Latino (they were), and a few who I figured weren’t (they weren’t).

And there I was, with a story totally devoid of anyone backing HR 4437. What was my obligation? My editors wanted a voice in there to state the case, but as the day went on, even the Republican leadership in Congress backed off from the whole “illegal immigrants = felons” part of the bill. So, I put in a few calls to U.S. representatives from California who had sponsored or voted for the bill. No dice, no calls back, no one who could give a statement.

Next thing I tried was a conservative group on campus – they thought the legislation was the wrong way to try and solve the problem. If the story wasn’t already up over 800 words, I probably would have thrown a quote from them in the story, but I still didn’t have the counterpoint needed.

What would you do in this case? Would you seek out a fringe group that you KNEW would give you a useful quote?

I called the Minutemen.

The media relations guy picked up his cell phone after a couple rings, then politely answered my questions with a nice long statement on the issue, giving me the “illegal immigrants = felons” bit, plus blaming all involved governments for the problem.

What’s the right thing to do? Should I have asked my editors to hold the story until I got in touch with one of our Reps, or was the Minuteman interview good enough? Should I have walked around campus until I found students who thought deporting 12 million immigrants is a good idea?

Vendor sports, SJSU style

I’ve now written stories for the Spartan Daily about Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Is Yahoo next? Thankfully, no. But I’ll keep an eye out, so I can hit the superfecta.

For the record, every single student who has talked to me about the iTunes U story has said something to the effect of “So we don’t have to go to class anymore. Cool.” I left the folks I talked to lots of openings to really explain how podcasts could be used as supplemental audio/video material, and not just class lectures, but I must have hit the wrong sources, because no one really took off on that angle.

There’s obviously a lot more to it than just class lectures, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens if/when they launch. I know SJSU is trying to teach folks how to podcast, use Skype, etc., but I don’t know what the adoption rate is looking like yet. I’m sure that would make a lovely thesis for the folks in the Instructional Technology department.

Look Ma, I got my pictures in the paper

So there was this ice storm, right? Well, sleet, slush, whatever you want to call it. I had just finished class, saw it starting, changed the dead batteries in the point-and-shoot, and starting fooling around. By the time I was done shooting useless video with my little ugly camera, one of our editors had spotted a snowball fight near Campus Village and called in to see if there were any photographers around to shoot it.

Not my department, but clearly fun. So I ran over there, shot some quick stuff (this is one of two I would actually call “decent,” and our online editor slammed it up into a slideshow.

Neat trick, eh? Posting breaking news online… who woulda thunk it?

Jerry Ceppos critiques the Spartan Daily

Jerry Ceppos, former news executive at Knight Ridder, is in the middle of a series of guest lectures and conversations in classes here at the SJSU School of Journalism & Mass Communications.

Today, Ceppos is in the Spartan Daily newsroom, taking over the usual critique.

  • Make sure the stories in your paper connect to local readers. Get those connections up high, and force your sources to connect to your readers.
  • No really, find a local angle on every story. If you’re covering a bicycle race, find the campus bike club and get their point of view.
  • User-submitted photos are a good idea.
  • More stories on the front page would be nice — it’s too easy for readers to scan three or four stories and toss the paper aside if they’re not into anything they see.

Okay, now we’re on to q & a… (all questions and answers are my paraphrasing, not the original unless you see quotes)

  • Will Knight Ridder survive? We’ll know within a month.
  • How will today’s j-school students be affected by the trend towards corporate ownership of newspapers? Conglomeration does help local papers stand up to local advertisers, and there’s capital to spend. But it’s still a problem — you want to work for newspeople, not businessmen.
  • Who gets hired? Folks who work anytime, anywhere. “If you’re half-hearted, don’t do it.” Be analytical, find the story, look for things that don’t make sense in your neighborhood. Know another language. Have an eye for news. Don’t ignore stories because you think everybody knows about them.
  • How can we show off our skills in an application? Use the clips that best show off your ability to analyze, think critically.
  • How much can we fight with our editors? “That’s how good things happen,” but good motives and politeness counts.
  • How should newspapers balance local and national coverage? Local content is better, but you can tie national/international stories into your local readers. Relevance counts more than location.
  • What should your internship application packet look like? Different in content, not in appearance. Are you an electronic engineer or accountant who can also write? Be sure to point that out.
  • Electronic portfolios? Stick with a hard copy, but printouts from online are fine.
  • Should we advertise ourselves as writers who can copy edit or copy editors who can write? You might be more useful/attractive as an editor. Don’t say you’d rather move into reporting after awhile — every copy editor wants to do that.
  • How to handle lawsuit stories? Use your Freedom of Information Act access and get everything you can.
  • How much to play up your specialty? Make it clear you’re also a reporter who can cover hard news, but point out the skills that most reporters don’t have. Break a hot story? Say so in the letter.

You’ve got at least three more chances to catch Ceppos, including a public lecture at King Library on March 13th. Check The JMC Journal for dates and times.