Sunday, June 8, 2008

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

"Once upon a time, there was a community nestled against the foothills of the mountains of northeastern Alabama.

The community had a long and varied history.

It had music and art. It had hiking and biking trails.

What it didn't have was a lot of high-paying jobs.

It used to have Industry. But then times changed, and the foundries and mills and factories shut down and moved to a place called Out Source."

So begins my editorial series, published in today's Anniston Star.

What you won't see reading it online is the layout. Full front page of the Insight section -- wow! Pardon me for a moment while I turn a cartwheel or two -- figuratively speaking, of course.

This wasn't just an assignment to me. As I've spent the greater part of a year here, I've heard wistfulness in people's voices ... a yearning that Anniston, and many of its surrounding communities, could somehow regain its former "Model City" status. I've heard more about the area's problems than its potential.

That's not to say there aren't problems. But every community, every person, has problems. You can let them consume your life, or you can develop your assets and trust that the problems get resolved in the process. Mostly they do.

Calhoun County, with Anniston as its heart, has so many assets on which to draw. Maybe they've just been taken for granted -- like heirloom silver service being used for everyday breakfast but never being polished up and used to serve company. Maybe my outsider's eyes will help this area see that "what might be" might be even better than what once was.

I thought of this as my gift to a community about which I've grown to care a great deal. They've helped me make a home away from home, and I'm grateful.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Spelling Bee

From the LaQuinta motel in Tuscaloosa after a long day of tedious coding Alabama newspapers for children's content. But there's a TV in my room ... and those of you who have been following my BAMA BLOG/M'LADY'S M'LOG know that I don't have a TV set in Anniston. So ...

Kudos to ESPN for broadcasting the 2008 Scripps Spelling Bee -- loved the play-by-play! The kids amazed me ... I'd never heard of any of the words in the final round.

Pardon me while I go read my dictionary.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Spring Session

After loading us with theory and arming us with methodologies, the creators of this course launched us into the field with a short-term assignment: Produce a piece of community journalism while meeting the needs of your host news organization.

In my case, the host organization was the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg. This non-profit organization that teaches journalists around the world how to be better journalists, owns the St. Petersburg Times ... and also Tampa Bay Newspapers, for whom I wrote.

They were gracious hosts indeed -- gave me my own office with telephone, Internet access and use of the copy & fax machines and of their extensive library. Provided coffee and an assortment of teas. Even a meal or two or three.

More important, they provided friendly interest, probing questions and expert guidance as I explored elementary, middle, and high school newsrooms in the area. My focus, I thought, was going to be on how the high school programs were changing. It ended up being slightly different, and that is a subject for a different post.

In the meantime, here are two videos I produced at two of the high schools I visited. Hillsborough High in Tampa is home to The Red & Black, Florida's oldest high school newspaper, first published in 1899. At Palm Harbor University High School in Pinellas County, publishers of The Eye, I focused on yearbook journalism.

Second Term is History

So is the interim Spring term.

But I'll get to that in a separate posting.

First, I must beg pardon of all my faithful followers of the BAMA BLOG (or M'Lady's M'Log). I promised to keep you apprised of my academic adventures in Anniston, Alabama.

Instead I have digressed.

I've chatted about "chemical weapons incident" sirens and about singing with the Calhoun County Civic Chorale. I've bragged on my husband's pottery and have shared my observations on revival in Obama land ... and have given equal time to the Snoopy candidate.

Granted, I have shared some of my 'Grand Rounds in Community Journalism' videos. Viewers learned how to bake lebkuchen and experienced the beauty of Anniston awakening to Spring. And I posted an editorial about the proper punctuation of President's Day ... er, Presidents' Day ... I think.

Weighty stuff, right? For this I move 563 miles away and leave my family and friends for a year?? This is graduate school???

Allow me to make amends.

Besides Grand Rounds, which is a one-credit lab class, we studied Editorial Leadership, Media Management, and Research Methods. A slightly lighter load than last term's five classes, but we also were expected to begin work on our individual projects due later this summer. Here's a recap of each course:

Editorial Leadership -- Lots of writing in this one beginning with a lengthy op-ed column (mine was on the negative personal savings rate in the U.S.), several unsigned editorial board editorials (everything from the aforementioned punctuation piece to one on abortion), a letter to the editor (on who's really to blame for pharmaceuticals entering our water supply), several personal columns (observations about life), several reviews (the play Copenhagen, a choral concert, a middle school entrance, and Jon Stewart's America: The Book), and a 5-part editorial series written after we had organized, publicized, and held a public forum (decent attendance ... about 25 people showed up and we had a good discussion). This class gets the award for most readable textbooks -- four of them.

Media Management -- Lots of field trips in this class, both in-house -- think delivering papers at 3 a.m. to learn about independently contracted carriers -- and as far afield as Montgomery. We visited the headquarters for Southern Living (sweet, and not just as in cookies) and the offices of the Daily Home (circulation about 2500, although they have several publications). We learned about every aspect of the news business -- accounting, production, advertising, broadcasting, radio, online -- and attended legislative sessions and visited with AP reporters. Only two writing assignments for this course. Here's the intro to my final paper:

Turkeys Can Fly and Other Disastrous Circulation Assumptions

Mention the Great Thanksgiving Day Turkey Drop and those of a certain age immediately think WKRP in Cincinnati, the 1978-1982 CBS sit-com set at a struggling radio station. The turkey giveaway, station manager Arthur Carlson’s idea, involved dropping live turkeys from a helicopter to patrons at a shopping center. Needless to say, the event was a disaster – both for the turkeys and for the shoppers.

“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” Carlson said later in the show.

As God is our witness, we in the newspaper industry have tended to think newspapers can sell themselves.

“We’ve depended on the fact that we put this product out 365 days a year and that should be enough,” said Dennis Dunn, circulation director at The Anniston Star, a 30,000 circulation Consolidated Publishing daily in northeastern Alabama. “We’ve been a little na├»ve in that our attitude has been, ‘We’re ‘The Newspaper’ and people should beg to buy us.’”

Research Methods -- Actual exams in this class -- ones where we had to memorize terms like prestige bias, intercoder reliability, cohort analysis and explain how they related to other terms. Lots of analyzing of experiments as to whether they were reliable and/or valid. As a class we did a content analysis of 200+ newspaper Web sites to determine how many attempted to convey newsroom ethics policies to readers. And our final assignment was a paper/presentation proposing our master's project. Appropriately researched, cited and with every step laid out before the committee, of course. Mine is titled:

Community Journalism and the Community’s Youngest Readers:
A Study to Determine the Extent of Newspaper Content
Directed toward Readers in Grades 2 through 8

There you have it.

Had it.

It's history now.