Tag Archives: Northwestern University

Editors Try This: 100 Story Ideas in 100 minutes

  We’re not doing a great job as journalists covering issues of gender and family. I gave a presentation to the Associated Press Managing Editors and Suburban Newspapers of America editors at the Chicago Sun-Times last week and dared the editors to come up with 100 story ideas after my 100-minute talk about stories at the intersection of the economy and gender. 

 Before we broke for lunch, half the room said they did. We’ll see how many of those stories get reported, written and published.

But today The Wall Street Journal defies logic, facts, stats and anecdotal realities from thousands of sources and declared there is no wage gap. Really? On Equal Pay Day? It’s making me crazy. As a journalist, as a woman, as a journalism educator, as a parent of sons, as a thinking human being.

It’s the same old story of viewing the news through a lens of denial. 

I wrote about it in “Everyman News,” in the chapter, “Diversity of Thought Shifts Content.” If we cannot achieve parity of gender and race in newsrooms, and according to ASNE, (The American Society of Newspaper Editors) we can’t, then we can for sure make a point in our coverage of trying to be inclusive in our sourcing and expansive in our brainstorming. OR we can keep saying what is real is not really there.     

     The recent White House Council on Women & Girls’ report, “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” contained the seeds for hundreds of story ideas and in particular broke down the wage gap. Compared to all workers:

•Black women earned 71 percent

•Hispanic women earned 62 percent
•White women earned 82 percent of what all men earned
•Asian women earned 95 percent
•White women to white men: 79 percent
•Black women to Black men: 94 percent
•Hispanic Women to Hispanic men: 90 percent
•Asian women to Asian men: 82 percent

     Read the rest of the report.  Absorb and dissect its contents. Among some of the stats are that women experience the highest poverty rates.It’s just that simple. If realities are denied, then the realities of the gender make-up of sources for the journalism is also denied.

•In 2011, only 27 percent of sources were female: The Gender Project
•In 2010, only 24 percent of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news are female. In contrast, 76% – more than 3 out of 4 – of the people in the news are male: Global Media Monitoring Project
 
More from “Who Makes the News” on news  subjects:
-24 percent of the people heard or read on traditional platforms like newspapers, television and radio were female in the sample.
-23 percent of the news subjects on the 84 websites monitored were women.
•Story focus:
-13 percent of the news items in traditional media focus specifically on women.
-11 percent of the online news stories were centered around women.
•Authorship:
-41 percent of stories reported on traditional platforms were by female reporters in the same countries as the Internet pilot. Overall, 37 percent of stories in the whole sample were reported by women.
-36 percent of the news stories in the online samples were reported by women.
•Stereotypes:
-46 percent of the stories monitored in traditional media reinforced gender stereotypes, while only 6 percent challenged these stereotypes.
-42 percent of the online news stories were found to reinforce gender stereotypes and only 4 percent challenged them.

      OK, so it is quantified, and we are sick of reading the same old stories from the same bylines (PMS or pale, male and stale as my friends call it). Aren’t we sick of assigning and writing those stories too? 

I challenged the editors to go beyond the usual suspects and the same old thinking.  Come up with 100 story ideas today. Now.

Imagine a practice of journalism that involved consistently discovering news and stories by seeking new types of sources through academic, government, non-profit and grassroots organizations. Seek out stories that are hyperlocal, local, domestic or international with local ramifications. Beat the bushes to find story ideas that are citizen-driven and interactive. Learn from think tanks, centers on specific issues and trends. And for goodness sake, pay attention to what is happening out there in social media. And train every one of your staffers to be keenly observant.

It’s what I tell my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University very quarter, whether in the Reporting & Writing or Multimedia Storytelling classes. I just talked about this yesterday in lab.

Stories looking at gender, family and marriage issues intersect with the economy in a myriad of ways. All you have to do is cast the net for news. Story ideas will swim in. You have to know what you’re looking for, not stop looking at what is there and not throw back a big fish when you can definitely use it in the future in a new way.
  
    According to the White House report, 18 percent of women 40-44 never had a child; 46 percent of women 25-29 never had a child. For me this is the reason Eat Pray Love sold a gazillion copies.   More older women are divorced or widowed. For me this is the reason Betty White and Helen Mirren are hot and hundreds of thousands of women nationwide are into Roller Derby, the latest fitness craze for “women  old enough to know better.”
       
This country has more single mothers and the highest poverty rates are women as heads of households. There is no end to the stories that can come from that sentence. Tell the single and married working mothers paying for childcare there is no wage gap and it is not impacting women and their children across the country.
 
Still, in all of this, I urged the editors in the conference room last weeek also not to just look for stereotypical woe-is-me, half-empty stories bemoaning the economy. I urged them to find inspirational,  multidimensional stories, and to write about the individuals and communities making a solid difference.  And tell the truth. See and report what is really there.
 
We’ll see what happens.

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Profs Gone Wild! Sex Toys! Stolen Idols! Fake Names!

 

Mostly college professors seem as exciting and controversial as toll booth collectors or museum curators. Save the occasional outrageous act of Holocaust denial or live sex acts in the classroom, my colleagues at Northwestern University (where I am an assistant professor in journalism at the Medill School) are not people anyone would call a ribald or morally repulsive bunch.

They are on the whole intelligent, creative, respectful, mature professionals who behave with integrity. We write books and research archives for giggles. Discuss documentaries for a good time.  

But this week we are all lumped together as deviants, at least you would think so by reading the press. All because a full tenured professor in the psychology department, John Michael Bailey, decided that after his Human Sexuality class ended last week, the extra credit hour would be filled with the bonus of two women and one man performing a battery-enhanced act of sexual pleasure. I am not making this up.  

He defended his choice pretty much as academic freedom. It is, after all, his area of expertise. So I took a few minutes from my three-hour journalism class in Multimedia Storytelling yesterday– one that I prepared several hours for– to discuss it with my students, who were talking about the campus media stories and the fact that this is how and when our university is in the news.  

This is what I said: I believe this degrades all of the faculty. Never mind it degraded the woman who opted to be held down by another woman and to have an appliance inserted inside her unclothed body by a man, all on a stage in front of strangers.

I don’t know, but isn’t this performing a sex act in public? When is that not public indecency?  If you can get arrested for urinating in public, isn’t this just a tad more obscene? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, I do after all, get grossed out by people who pick their noses in cars.

Still, I think the academic freedom defense is thin.  I feel this was disrespectful to students, faculty, Northwestern community, and also to the parents who are spending and/or borrowing significant money for their children to attend this great institution, my alma mater. 

 As a parent paying tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also Ohio State University for two sons, I would be mad as hell if this happened in Madison or Columbus. 

Thank goodness during the NU demo we didn’t have any campus tours of high school juniors and seniors stopping in hoping to catch a glimpse of a college class.

Today NU President Morton Schapiro went on the record to pretty much agree it was a dumb thing to do: 

I  have recently learned of the after-class activity associated with Prof. Michael Bailey’s Human Sexuality class, and I am troubled and disappointed by what occurred.

Although the incident took place in an after-class session that students were not required to attend and students were advised in advance, several times, of the explicit nature of the activity, I feel it represented extremely poor judgment on the part of our faculty member. I simply do not believe this was appropriate, necessary or in keeping with Northwestern University’s academic mission.

Northwestern faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial. That is the nature of a university. However, in this instance, I have directed that we investigate fully the specifics of this incident, and also clarify what constitutes appropriate pedagogy, both in this instance and in the future.

Many members of the Northwestern community are disturbed by what took place on our campus. So am I.

Amen. Finally, some common sense. Someone defending a code of conduct that most all of us adhere to. We are not all deviants and idiots. We internalize the notion of responsibility to the students and are hardworking role models. I feel when I stand up to lecture, the students in my class are not just looking to me for the content that will be on the quiz or the assignment. They are looking to me to see how I behave.

Which brings me to the other news of a local Bad Boy Prof; this one at Loyola University Chicago. It seems Daniel Amick pleaded guilty last week to stealing archaleogical artifacts. Gee whiz.

And then in the news is another Columbia College journalism prof, Dan Sinker, who is all over the place for his fake Rahm Emanuel profanity-laced Twitter account.

OK, what did I miss? When is it OK for  a journalism professor to fabricate content pretending to be a prminent news source, hiding his identity and promoting a scam? I followed the fake Emanuel twitter feed for about two days, then stopped. I knew it was junk. I just had no idea it was a journalism prof.  

The really amazing thing is this Profs Gone Wild trend is not limited to Chicago area male colleagues. Huffington Post a month ago posted a slideshow of everything from incest to phone sex in 11 recent professor scandals. Now they need an update.

One thing is certain Bailey will not be asked to fill any vacant faculty slots at Brigham Young University, where news hit today that student and star basketball player Brandon Davies was suspended for admitting to having premarital sex, a violation of the BYU honor code.

Back to campus, where the news trucks are circling.

I spent the rest of my day creating a lecture I will deliver next week in a lecture hall on campus, thankfully not the same stage as the sex demo. Like hundreds of my colleagues, the most exciting apparatus we offer our students is  original insight, fresh useful information and concrete instruction.

And if we are really daring? Perhaps a short video clip inserted in the Power Point.

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Arianna Vs. Amy: Two Mothers’ Idealogical Battle

Arianna Huffington

   It was a battle of the Titan Mom and the Tiger Mom in Chicago Thursday night. And I know who won.

   Arianna Huffington, the $315 million woman, spoke eloquently and briefly at the WomenOnCall.org annual gathering in the Crystal Ballroom at the Hyatt Rgency on Wacker to about 500 women. The point was “speed dating for causes,” as Huffington put it, an event connecting volunteers with 76 area nonprofit groups from Working in the Schools to National Able Network.

  The 20-,30, -40- (and in my case) 50-somethings paid $25 to pair up with a nonprofit to volunteer, but mostly to hear from the media titan who recently took her initial 2005 $1 million investment in Huffington Post to Aol.com for a whole bunch more.

   Over the Chicago River and into the Tribune Tower a block away simultaneously –and likely not knowing or caring Arianna was up the street– was Amy Chua, the professor and author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” before a spill-over crowd who paid $10 each to hear the author speak about why she pushed her two daughters to the brink and why she is proud of it.

   It was an evening of stark contrasts in idealogy, parenting and world view. 

   Introduced by Margot Pritzker, the founder of WomenOn Call, Huffington took to the stage looking all the world like a woman of leisure, perfectly coiffed wearing an elegant black dress– and well-prepared.  She was forceful, inspiring and no-nonsense.

    “Life is not truly meaningful if we do not do something for others,”‘ said the author of 13 books. “When you are giving back to people you don’t know, we are expanding the boundaries of our being.” And the world, she added, “desperately needs more empathy. It’s time for everyone to step up to the plate,” she said.

   Of course she talked about HuffPo, calling it “community solutions” and she invited everyone to contact her and submit stories of their causes. “Two-hundred fifty million people around the world can read about things to motivate them and that begins to transform their lives and they recognize the responsibility to others,” she said.

    Huffington talked about Patch.com, the AOL community journalism project in 900 cities with “profesional journalists and freelancers writing about communities.” She added, “We can cover what is happening in non-profits.”

    I met Huffington in 1988 when I was a columnist for the now defunct Dallas Times-Herald. Back then I interviewed her on her tour for her breathtaking book, “Picasso: Creator and Destroyer.” She was smart, inspiring, and if I remember correctly,  pregnant with her daughter. I also wrote about her in 1999 for the Chicago Tribune, on her “Greetings from the Lincoln Bedroom.” I introduced myself to her Thursday night, reminded her of the interviews,  and she politely said, “Yes, yes,” even though I am pretty darn sure she did not remember. My point is, she was gracious.  

    “I’ve had an interesting personal journey,” she said Thursday to the crowd.

    Everyone knew what she meant: a very public divorce, media criticism, all of that. She also spoke candidly of her daughter’s dealing with anorexia and how volunteering for others helped her daughter put her own problems in perspective. As a mother,  I found her comments not exploitative, but authentic.

      A lot has been written about HuffPo not paying its bloggers. I tell my students at Northwestern  University’s Medill School of Journalism to write for money. It’s a karma thing. But the model for blogging is writing for free; if you aim to buy food with your work, then you have to seek outlets where you will be paid. 

      I am writing this on my one of two blogs for free with my goal to promote my ideas, my brand and ultimately my books and speeches for money. Because I have a family with two in college, and a third in college in a year and a half, I write for money more than I write for free. I have a paying job as a professor, I write articles for magazines and newspapers for money. 

      I also give speeches to nonprofits pro-bono each year.  I give back. I have been on boards of directors over the years for many nonprofits: Tuesday’s Child, Sarah’s Inn, Journalism & Women Symposium, and now am on the board of advisors for Between Friends, a domestic violence services agency. I don’t count all the volunteering I do for my boys’ schools and teams, because that is to benefit my sons. It is the stuff you do for strangers that counts.  I was brought up by a mother who said, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I heard her.

   “The empathy index needs to grow,” Huffington said. And I agree.      

  While she made no public apologies for the free blogging model at her site, Huffington made a case for giving of yourself to causes you believe in. Because it matters.

   “There is far too much emphasis in our media on what is not working,” she said. “We are focusing on our dysfunctionality and perpetuating it.”

         Which brings me to Amy Chua.

      We came late to Chua’s book event; we nestled in the spill over room and watched on a big screen Elizabeth Taylor of the Tribune interview the controversial Tiger Mom. Like Huffington, she was well-dressed, well-coiffed, well-spoken  and well-prepared. But all I heard was whine, whine, whine, complain, complain, defend, defend. Her daughters, her job, her beliefs, her childhood, her students, her stance on boyfriends and sleepovers. She talked about instilling respect and gratitude in her daughters. But respect for her. Gratitude to her.

    When she complained about all she did was work and take care of her family, I had enough. She expanded on her plight of having  two daughters and a husband who shares in the raising of  both girls. We left before it was over.

    It got me thinking back to Arianna and just an hour earlier. She is a single parent to daughters. She managed to write all these books, think outside the box, create a media empire built on ideas. She purports to be about the fourth instinct, or the drive to add meaning to our lives by giving back.  

    “I’m tired of describing problems,” Huffington said. “We need to break that type of behavior.”

      Final score: Arianna 1, Amy 0.

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The $315mm Woman & More J Opps

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_uo4X1SEdk&NR=1&feature=fvwp

After all the criticism about fluff and pouf and the lightness of being Huffington Post, along comes Tim Armstrong, ceo of AOL and plunks down $315 for Arianna’s 2005 Big Idea. Amen.

“We believe in real journalism and original reporting,” Huffington said in an interview after the announcement she would be in charge of all AOL content.

To all the naysayers who say journalism is as dead as Latin the language, I say, “Veni, Vidi. Vici. ” To all my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern who come in worried about their majors because they won’t get a job at the New York Times, I say double ha. Because they probably won’t. The jobs they get will be at innovative outlets, sites and new projects, non-profits, blogs, citizen journalism cooperatives. Even Huffington says in the interview that she has been hiring veterans “as well as journalists right out of school.”

Two of my Medill colleagues, Rich Gordon and Owen Youngman, just received a $4.2 million grant from the Knight Foundation to launch the Knight News Innovation Laboratory here on campus, pairing Medill students and thought leaders with McCormick School of Engineering students and faculty to develop the next big thing.  

One more time, let’s stop the trash talk of the future of the profession and see this is a phenomenal time for great ideas from men and women looking to innovate, create and put forward content in relevant forms. The world of information is undergoing major transformation and it is disruptive, messy and chaotic at times. And as always the universe rewards a good idea. With some serious cash.

Get thinking. Keep thinking. There’s room for more Big Ideas.

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The Storification Of America

 

Jim Houser with Obama

Robert and Gary Allen. Mrs. Waters of Bruce Randolph School. Kathy Proctor. James Howard. Jim Houser. Brandon Fisher. Not household names. Not celebrities. Not diplomats. All of these ordinary Americans were mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union speech 2011. These citizens shared prominence with Gabby Giffords, the late Robert Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, the Secretary of Defense, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Sputnik.

    The score is 7-7. Unofficial sources to offficial sources. Two presidents, a Congresswoman, a cabinet secretary, two terrorist movements and a Russian space capsule. All had the same number of mentions as four business owners, a school principal, a mom going back to school and a cancer patient.

    What does it mean? So what? What may have become overused in the 2008 presidential race with Joe the Plumber is more widely evident today in all media. Our culture embraces the anecdotal power of the humanistic stories of individuals. And nowhere was it more noticable than in Obama’s speech Tuesday night.

     As I stress to my journalism students at the Medill School at Northwestern University, the rise of unofficial sources needed to flesh out every news and feature story is undeniable. The age of “official source stenography” is dead. The president knows this better than anyone and capitalizes on it. When the president of the United States mentions real people as often as he names diplomats in his annual address, something big has happened.

   I call it the Storification of America.

    

 Thanks to crowdsourcing,  social media, blogging and all forms of participatory journalism, there is a demand for communication to be inclusive. Away from top-down to bottom up, all in. It’s not such a rosy we’re-all-in-this-together appraoch, rather, it is a basic shift in the way that we understand information and how we look at the world. It is in thanks to a media relying on more unofficial sourcing in its reporting to articulate the truths of events, trends and issues, than in taking the word at face value of the official sources with the titles.

      We not only as citizens want to testify, we want to storify. And I did not make up the name.

       Storify.com is a new aggregating tool for social media users and anyone and everyone wanting to connect to current mainstream media and to add reliable sources to their blogs. As I see it, it is an attempt to upgrade the blogosphere from the “my dog is sleeping right now and I am brushing my teeth” to a more professional, polished arena for links to real stories, real posts, real video,real  audio, real photos and commentary vetted and published elsewhere. I hope it punctures a hole in the balloon of hearsay.

     My 2008 book, Everyman News, dealt with the overwhelming prepronderance of unofficial sources in news stories in domestic newspapers, and the growth of that trend. And why. There are many reasons driving the cultural shift to honor the individual and to consider the sanctity of story as peculiar to our time and place. 

      The use of “story” as a brand is nearly ubiquitious. It’s even on my drive to work where a billboard for a local college begs viewers to log on to read “mystory.”    

     Obama ended his speech with a reminder of the depth of reliance we have on story in America. He said:

From the earliest days of our founding, American has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

   We need to understand the growing storification of our lives as we move ahead as journalists, observers and contributors if any of this is going to make sense.

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Journalism fast and slow

For the past three years I have been writing, speaking and lecturing about narrative or “slow” journalism as one authetic and viable form of literary antidote to the bells and whistles of live feeds, multimedia storytelling and the cacophony that is today’s media landscape. I see it not as an either or situation, but a both.

In my 2008 book, Everyman News, I wrote about the popularity of longer narrative in newspapers and magazines:

“News can be delievered more quickly to the audience by other media than by a newspaper in at least a hundred, perhaps a thousand ways. ..Narrative journalism is an attempt to make the newsworthy print stories more permanent or at the very least to have the stories so painstakingly reported and written last longer than a junk email before it hits the trash bin.”

Today I read about the new British magazine,Delayed Gratification, debuting in January 2011 and celebrating what it calls “Slow Journalism” with the clever tagline, “Last to breaking news.” From its premiere issue, the editors define the magazine’s mission: 

“Print is not dead. For all the wily charms of the digital world with its tweets, feeds, blogs and apps, there is still nothing like the pleasure created by ink on paper.”

I hear a lot of people — mostly at cocktail parties– pontificating about the death of print media. Mostly they do not know what they are talking about, only quoting bloggers misquoting other people who speak third about unnamed sources who swear it is so.

It’s a big informational universe, and a duality to the needs of a varied and fickle audience. Sometimes we like our information in real time. Sometimes we want to devour 10 videos of the crime scene or the rescue or the avalanche as it is happening. And sometimes we want to read 5,000 words in a glossy, thick magazine written by a superb phrasemaker about a theory of what happened 100 years ago and its impact on popular culture.

Sometimes we want to hit delete before we are finished reading the post. Sometimes we want to save the article and keep it on th enightstand for a couple of years.  

There is room for it all. I tell that to my students at the Medill School of Journalism. And I remind myself of this as I tweet, blog, polish a magazine article or fix up a chapter in an upcoming book of 95,000 words.

Journalism can be fast. And sometimes it is not best to be first.

Journalism can be slow. Sometimes it is best to be the most thoughtful.

A combination of the two, thank you, dear Goldilocks, is journalism that is just right.  

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On A Blue Sky View of Chicago Media

The View from Chicago Media Pep Talk

The view from the 22nd floor Cliff Dwellers Club on S. Michigan Ave., was stupendous and the conversation was even more uplifting Saturday morning for the “All Chicago Media Pep Talk.”

A handful of speakers, all gathered for the event  organized by Karen Kring, president of the Association for Women Journalists-Chicago, volleyed about their reasons for optimism, in a lively banter moderated by  GreenMark Public Relations’ Sue Markgraf

“It’s a wonderful time to be in media,” Markgraf said, for media entrepreneurs going out on their own. “We are at our core a creative group.”  

Past what he called the “hand-wringing stage,” Chicago journalists are starting to realize they “have a skillset still much in demand,” said Thom Clark, president of Community Media Workshop, which just completed a 2010 study of 120 community news sites.

Storytelling “is all we do, no matter what platform,” said Sylvia Franklin, an independent producer and content strategist. “Be smart enough and stretegic enough for people to find your information,” she advised the room of about 75 media workers.

Moving from traditional print to a radio variety show, “Chicago Live!” co-executive producer Lara Weber said her career is still about “respecting the storytelling” in an innovative way. The stage show in a partnership between the Chicago Tribune and Second City, she said, is very much like a weekly Sunday print magazine, with the best stories of Chicago now reaching a new audience.

Hyper-local news is the impetus for a positive outlook, said Mike Fourcher, publisher of CenterSquareJournal.com and RoscoeViewJournal.com. in what appeared to be the only precisely timed, prepared remarks of the morning.

Fourcher’s four reasons for optimism:

  1.  Cynicism.  Because mistrust of mainstream media is high, “start-ups can find a niche and get a foothold.”
  2. Long tail. Taking a page from author Chris Anderson’s view of the Internet, Fourcher said the “one-size fits all” approach to news by MSM proves there is room “for as many different niches as possible.”
  3. WordPress. Noting the agility and ease of publishing with this free tool (this is a WordPress blog), there has been a “revolution in publishing.”
  4. Patch.com. Because of the high-dollar, aggressive start-up of this conglomerate of hyper-local news, this endeavor is the “Starbucks of news.”

      Editor and publisher of Our Urban Times Elaine Coorens presented her view in 4 C’s , a P and an S. She said Change, Challenge, Choice, Creative Collaboration  (actually it’s 5 C’s then), leads to Passion and Success. We all applauded.

      Sherry Thomas, former editor at North Shore Magazine, (coincidentally, my first job out of grad school was as managing editor there in 1979) said when the magazine folded she did not panic. Now the editor-in-chief of Quintessential New Trier magazine, Thomas said the secret for success is to “give them stories they are not getting anywhere else. ” She added, “People will want what they always wanted– good storytelling.”

    After Kring cheerleaded the group to finding their own answers and concluded that she hoped everyone “got inspired for a few things,” the tables of journalists and media entrepreneurs went about the process of sharing their take-aways.

   Swapping praise and business cards, we filed out after Markgraf reminded us it was up to each of us to “create your own brand.” That is precisely what I tell my students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

   Ending just after 11 a.m., it was the start to a sun-fileld glorious Chicago day, where the view on the media landscape was as inspiring and bright as the one from the 22nd floor.

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