Monday, May 13, 2013

It may take "Sex, Drugs and Mental Illness" to get us back together

I'm excited about the possibility of a fall reunion with one of the best journalists I ever worked with, Matthew LaPlante Now Professor LaPlante at Utah State University, Matt is not only a great reporter, storyteller and writer, but his greatest strength may be his creativity and ability to see projects through to a tangible result.

Many of us can contemplate great ideas, ponder the "next big thing," and just plain bullshit about what we should do this summer. Matt moves beyond those steps - he's action-taking, get-it-done person. Always has been. I have long been impressed by those attributes.

That's why I am doubly thrilled at the possibility of reuniting with Matt in a professional manner for the first time in a decade. In fact, come October 2013, when the National Fall Media Convention gathers thousands of students, professors and professionals in New Orleans, it will be almost exactly 10 years since we were both on the staff of the News-Register in McMinnville, Ore.  I recall the date easily because we moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., on my daughter's fourth birthday. She will be turning 14 this year.

I spent time as a correspondent for the Grand Rapids Press, then started work on a master's in communication from Grand Valley State University. Going back to school then provided me to teach journalism classes at both GVSU and Grand Rapids Community College, where I was privileged to advise The Collegiate student newspaper for two years (2006-07 and 2007-08 academic years). That gave me enough experience to know my future was in teaching. That was clinched when I landed the full-time position at Ferris State University, teaching and advising the student newspaper The Torch. I now have five years with FSU. My time with students - in and out of the classroom - is what motivates me professionally every day.

Matt moved on from the N-R to work for the Salt Lake Tribune and then into academia. His ventures are countless. Off the top of my head, Matt spent time embedded in Iraq, has traveled to Africa and Cuba for stories and continues to pursue opportunities to tell important stories. A few times, we have leaned on one another for advice about teaching journalists or, heck, even parenting.

We got together briefly in Colorado under less than ideal circumstances one summer. Our car broke down and the LaPlante's were generous enough to drive over from SLC to camp with us a couple nights, making the "adventure" far more tolerable. Another year, I stopped in SLC with the kids on the way back from a Route 66 trip from Illinois to California. We stayed a night, giving Matt and I a chance to bullshit on his front porch.

A session we are loosely titling "Sex, Drugs and Mental Illness" may be what finally gets us back together. I would expect nothing less.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Summly in 140 words

In this week's news Yahoo purchased an app from a 17-year-old for $30 million. What could be worth so much,  you may be wondering: A program that summarizes news articles into 140 characters or less.

Is that the value of dumbing down the news?

Oh, wait, is that 140 words? I don't know. And I really don't want to count. Sorry, I'm done.

And, sadly, so is our thirst for learning....

Does reading carry power?

In Journalism 251: Understanding Mass Media, we are talking about the old-fashioned print business this week. Magazines and books are what I call "library week" in the course. They are old fashioned, right?
I consider them to be part of an important equation that has stood the test of time:
Reading = Knowledge
Knowledge = Power
Reading = Power
While reading books and even magazines seems to be a lost art by many, I believe this equation still rings true. I learn every time I engage in reading novels of all kinds (fiction, biographies, non-fiction, etc,...) and magazines often help me to delve deeper into current trends and topics.
I am a self-proclaimed newspaper person and that is not changing. However, the role magazines and books play in our society cannot be diminished. They hold vast knowledge that is waiting for any of us to consume.
We need to take the pursuit of knowledge into our own hands and power will come to all of us.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Gen X: Our challenge!

I am sitting in a session with well-known generational consultant Chuck Underwood, who presents about "The Generational Imperative." He is telling newspaper publishers and owners at the Michigan Press Association annual convention what they should (maybe even need) to know about likely their most important demographic if newspapers are to be successful in coming years.
That demographic is commonly called Generation X, made up of those born from 1965 to 1981. I am solidly within that range, born in 1971. I am part of this generation, which also happens to have experienced a significant decline in numbers compared to previous generations like the Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to 1964). It creates what Underwood calls "a population trough."
Hmmmm..... I'm part of a trough. Pretty tough to take that as a compliment, but I get what he is saying.
Underwood went on to say I am part of a generation that is experiences the "most materially comfortable" and "most emotionally difficult" childhoods. It is difficult to generalize like this, but that is what we do with generations - and these are not surprising generalizations.
He went on to say Gen X is a "let down" to many in older generations, but at the same time we feel as though "adults let us down." The result is a set of core values that includes: Fierce independence and self reliance; skepticism and cynicism; disempowerment; disengagement; distance from older generations; marriage is disposable; and an "us-against-them" perspective.
I have had feelings of disappointment in my generation that closelly relates to many of these core values. I have asked: What has my generation done? What will we be remembered for?
I ask those things because so far I feel like we have achieved far too little. We are not involved enough in important social issues and political activism. I am equally part of the problem.
What is the solution?
I say we take on the challenge. We follow the leadership of the strong female generation we are a part of - raised on Title IX and led by incredible women who are a major area of positive accomplishment for our generation. Our women are smart, capable and leading incredible change in our society.
Let's continue to become a generation that will do great things. We aren't done yet.
Can we overcome social shortcomings in regard to gay rights like we have women rights? Can we be the generation that leads a turn-around in political leadership to one that is able to engage in strong debate and then make positive changes? Can we make positive change in other areas, based on what we have learned, seen and accepted as our reality?
I know we can.

Proud adviser!

I just sent four Torch staff members (Mary B., Jax A., Katelyn C. and Jessica S.) over to the mLive hub office in Grand Rapids with mLive Grand Rapids Community News Director Julie Hoogland. I had the privilege of touring the facility with Michigan Collegiate Press Association members, of which I am a proud officer.
The mLive hub is a fantastic glimpse into what newsrooms will look like. It was created when the GR Press moved out of its longtime downtown Grand Rapids facility and shifted from a daily newspaper to three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday). The web-first publication is something I have mixed feelings about, but the reality is that this is happening in and to the industry I love.
As a result, I am proud to have sent the four Torch staff members with Julie Hoogland. I find great value in putting students in positions to learn from professional journalists - and every chance I get I try to step away as it happens. I find even more value if they feel the freedom of asking and commenting freely - without feeling like I am looking over their shoulders, judging, grading, or anything else.
I look forward to hearing about the tour. I want to hear what they think about this modern journalism facility and about the way reporters are working. I hope they learn and get excited about the changes - it's a heck of a lot better than being cynical.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Journalism depends on readers. No surprise.
One of the greatest things that ever happened to me is meeting and marrying an amazing reader. When I met Michelle in college, she would read every spare minute she could. Not just textbooks, but pleasure reading.
Many people can attest to the fact that there were even occasions when my roommates and I had a few guests over, were enjoying some music and beverages, and Michelle still found a way to huddle near a lamp with a good book. She wasn't ignoring the rest of us. She was always happy to stop to engage in conversation; but she wasn't going to waste an entire night like the rest of us.
Michelle's reading influence wore off on me eventually.
As a journalist, I was constantly reading at work. Mostly, I left reading as an activity I did on the job.

As Michelle moved into her real passion as a librarian, she brought home books for me. It started with John Irving novels, then extended to John Steinbeck and many others. For a while I had a John complex that extended to Jon Krakauer, as well.
My pleasure reading expanded. I felt comfortable spending my time with a book.
Reading is the single best thing I have done over the last 20 years to make me a better person, journalist, father, husband, teacher, and friend.
If you want to help secure the future of journalism, foster a reader. Encourage your spouse, children, friends and family to read.
Today marks the opening of Michelle's Little Free Library. It sits in our front yard, with books from our bookshelves.
The books are no longer inside our house, where we can only share them with visitors. Soon, when the ground isn't so frozen, I will put in a post near the sidewalk and mount the library right out front.
For now, it's on a table on our porch. Still, we hope passersby, whether friends, neighbors or strangers, feel welcome to peruse the tiny shelves for reading material.
We have been asked: "What if someone steals your books?"
Our answer: "Maybe they will read them. Then we will put more out there."

Monday, January 21, 2013

News "guru" coming to MPA Convention

Self-proclaimed "news guru" Kevin Slimp is speaking at the 2013 Michigan Press Association Annual Convention, Jan. 25-26, 2013, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Slimp headlines a program called "Tradition + Technology" during the event.
Slimp was in the news recently for a column he wrote and offered for free publication about the decline of newspapers. It was largely a rebuttal to comments made by Morley Safer on 60 Minutes during the Jan. 10, 2013 edition of the show.
Slimp weaves a story to make his point, rather than directly taking on the claim by Safer that print newspapers are "virtually an entire industry in free-fall." Rather than punch back directly, Slimp tells of his experience recently talking to those in the industry.
He also makes one very important point: Newspapers that invest in their product are much more successful than those that have actively cut into the core of their products by reducing reporters, photographers and editors.
It makes sense doesn't it?
In most industries, regressive actions result in a reduced product and eventually a product that does not mean previous standards. The level of investments many newspaper companies have poured into technology and online products has only meant that much more money siphoned away from successful print products.
The result has been a misguided shift in resources, without any solid evidence that it would produce winning results, that has resulted in weakened newspaper products around the country. I lose in this formula and so do all newspaper readers.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Getting back in the groove

If you want to see what's going on in our world, check out some recent stories to read up on current issues in journalism:

The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) is struggling and expects, like others under the same ownership like the Mlive Group newspapers and the Times Picayune in Louisiana, will soon be reduced to only a few print days a week. It is a business move toward web-first publishing. You can check out the online edition of the Oregonian here, which looks a lot like the Mlive site.

It's not shocking that a sitting President is not a fan of the way media is covering him. However, this article in the NY Times gives President Obama  credit for being a discerning and regular reader of newspapers. He is critical, but also finds great value in the long story format that good journalism provides.

And this is just a good blog covering newspaper/journalism issues: Reflections of a Newsosaur.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Making it big...

One of the best things that happens to anyone who teaches/mentors/trains young people for careers is following their future. I heard today about a former student who just landed a job in Louisville, Kentucky, designing pages for the Gannett Corporation newspapers.
I also saw a current student, and Torch staff member, get a cartoon on Mlive today. I hope it also makes the print edition. John Vestevich has won a couple national awards for his cartoon work in the Torch, but seeing him get this sort of recognition is the best!