A take-away to remember

I think the most important thing I have learned in this class is to not be afraid of the future.  As a journalist with a love for newspapers and a huge amount of nostalgia for the paper industry, it’s hard for me not to look to the past.  There’s nothing quite like holding that bundle of information in your hand.  And there’s nothing like seeing your name printed in a byline.

That being said, it’s impossible to stay in the past.  I’m a 21-year-old who can’t imagine life without the Internet and who loves to scroll through social media several times a day.  The world is changing rapidly and so is the way people receive the news.  Although I think the newspaper industry isn’t quite finished yet, I see the value of learning new digital platforms and being ready for the technology ahead.  We’ve got to be ready for anything, ready to adapt with our audience. 

Also, there is such value in the Internet with its ability to reach billions of people, despite location, language or socioeconomic status.  If our job is to inform the public, how could we not invest time and resources in a digital platform?  And it’s the same with social media.  We can create and maintain relationships from thousands of miles away.  For people in the news business, there is unprecedented importance in human interaction.  Who are journalists without the people they serve?

So, I learned that it is okay.  It’s okay to feel nostalgia for the past.  But it’s okay to feel excitement for the future.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the new platforms which seem to be replacing the old ones.  The Internet and social media are both incredible gifts and should be treated as such.  Journalists have been changing the world for centuries with mere paper and ink.  Just imagine what we can do with the technology we possess now. 

Our generation is going to change the world.  As a wise professor once said, be creative.  Be innovative.  We shouldn’t be afraid to embrace the tools we have and dare to create new ones.  That’s what will carry us into the coming decades.  That’s what will make us better journalists.


The responsibilities of an editorial

Our class is coming to a close, and as I was considering a topic for the last mass media blog post, I couldn’t help but revert back to my first love: newspapers. It’s no secret that I think newspapers have some life left and are still a vital part of society. There’s nothing quite like page after page of quality, honest and objective news.  But what about that page toward the back…the one place where opinion is allowed and readily welcomed? And not to mention the page with some of the greatest potential to make a difference in a community.

I’ve got a love-hate relationship with the editorial page. Yes, I think it deserves to be in the newspaper. A paper is an entity of the community and supposed to be the voice of its readers. Sometimes that voice needs to take a stand for the community. Also, from a personal reader’s perspective, the letters to the editor can be quite entertaining.

But I firmly believe the editorial page should be limited to just that–a page.  Readers have grown accustomed to the set-up of an editorial, but it still has no place in the rest of the regular newspaper. The occasional front-page editorial is edgy and attention-grabbing, but it should be a rare occurrence. Otherwise, the paper will become more like propaganda and less like a service to society. Writers’ main task should be to keep opinions to themselves.

But despite all that, there are four things which I think are necessary (in my 21-year-old opinion) for a good editorial and help justify its spot in the paper.

1. The editorial should be consistent with one another and reflect a coherent opinion of the paper. This is kind of a no-brainer. If you bounce back and forth between sides of an issue, it leaves readers questioning your credibility and the paper’s ability to bring dependable ideas to a community debate. It’s not the writer’s opinion; it’s the paper’s.

2. The editorial should be relevant to the community. Leave the national debate pieces to The New York Times. You’ve got to make it worth your readers’ time. If you want to write about Ferguson, don’t just parrot what everyone else has said. Make it relate. Maybe there are issues of race relations in your city or maybe you want to call upon your local police department to invest in body cameras. What does this issue mean for your community?

3. The editorial should be about an important issue and one that has the potential to evoke change. This goes along with #2. Writing about trivial issues is just a waste of space. The editorial page is meant to support the core conversations of democracy, so don’t waste inches on a subject no one cares about. Writing opinion pieces is a strict duty and yet another way to serve the community.

4. The editorial shouldn’t be ridiculous. A good opinion writer has the ability to add new insight to a popular debate, to add another facet to the conversation. But if a paper suggests a solution so implausible in the name of “being different” that it fails to help the situation, then it has failed its community. You’ll have a train wreck of all four points. No dependability/credibility, no relevance, no power to evoke change…and eventually no more readers.

The war has just begun

After listening to Penny Abernathy’s presentation a second time today in a different class, I decided it was time to give my own two cents. First, let me preface this by saying what an impressive job Prof. Abernathy has done with this research.  It’s encouraging to meet people within the journalism school who have been in the newspaper business for decades and still look at it optimistically. For better or for worse, this is my chosen field and I like to hear that the blood, sweat and tears are all worth it.

One of the most important points in the presentation was the large role newspapers play in maintaining a democracy. Although the majority of a paper is objective news, the editorial staff has an open opportunity to take a stand on any issue in the name of the publication.  Even if print readers are decreasing, a strong editorial still has the ability to set tongues wagging (just look at Indy Star’s recent front page). Now that’s a statement. Whether you agree with the opinion or not, editorials offer more dialogue among American citizens, and that’s supporting one of the core tenets of democracy. Also, as Prof. Abernathy mentioned, newspapers have the ability to improve the lives of citizens, encourage economic development and get readers involved in the community.  If all that doesn’t get you excited about the field of journalism, then I don’t know what will. Journalists are charged with such an incredible duty.

However, despite all of this important work, parts of the presentation seemed like the same ol’ sad song playing on repeat. Print newspapers are dying out, the companies behind them are tanking, the glory days of papers have gone. And still, no one knows what to do about it. This is aimed at the majority of the journalism field. Don’t tell me it’s bad; I know that already! Tell me what we can do to fix it. Scholars are not afraid to give guidelines on how to move forward, but in terms of concrete advice, there isn’t any. Don’t tell us that newspapers need a new business model; tell us what these new models could possibly be. Don’t tell us that advertisers are jumping ship; suggest how we can create a model independent of advertising revenue.

Enough talk! I’m ready for the newest batch of journalists (myself included) to get in there and make it happen.  Luckily, I think Prof. Abernathy is trying to do just that, but a 45-minute presentation isn’t enough time to explain it all. It’s time to get some mud on our boots and focus more on finding a solution rather than highlighting the problem. In the words of John Clark, “newspapers made their bed with the advertisers, but now the advertisers are sleeping with someone else.”  It’s time for some change, and Hell hath no fury like that of a paper scorned.

Sorry, Oculus, you’re out

Oculus. It’s got a cool, sci-fi name. It’s owned by Facebook. I was thinking this dive into virtual reality would be the future.

But then I saw a picture of the device. It’s a huge, clunky piece of equipment strapped onto the face. That’s when I realized virtual reality may be the future, but Oculus sure isn’t. They need to think more about the consumer. Facebook is usually good about this, but it’s not working this time. Consumers want convenience, a product that won’t interfere with daily life but rather enhance it. Even the Google glass wasn’t seen as functional. People hate wearing glasses, let alone a huge machine on their face. If you want to market mobile virtual reality, at least make it the size of glasses and ear buds. The intrigue of virtual reality just might allow consumers to overlook the annoyance of having to wear something.


Mark Wilson writes that if consumers can “look beyond the silly goggles for a moment,” then they’ll be able to see the beauty of human connection. The problem he sees with Oculus is that it is striving to create a new reality within the machine. Instead of enhancing our reality now, Oculus wants to create a sort of “Facebook Matrix.”  Again, my concern with this is how consumers will react. I don’t think the average person finds it appealing to be separated from true reality. We’re still humans, and we still like to be in touch with the world around us. As disappointing as the real world is sometimes, I think most people would still choose to be an active part of it.

So, Facebook, you’re all about the consumer, and now it’s time to translate that to the Oculus project. Don’t put so much emphasis on how “sci-fi” you can be about it. Here’s this new idea–now just ask yourselves how the consumer wants it delivered.

The luck of the viral

In last week’s class we talked about how to go viral, and then Kristin came in to tell us how she got her message noticed.  They were all good points, of course.  Create something amazing, include pictures, repromote content, try to post on Tuesday, find an influential person to share it.  But there’s one thing everyone is forgetting: you need a little bit of luck.

Honestly, it’s all good advice, but you could heed every single suggestion and still not go viral. I think I can comfortably say that most people who go viral never expected it to happen.  There are millions of cute cat videos, which are basically the same, but only a select few take off.  I would argue that while there are things you can do to improve your chances, going viral is largely a phenomenon out of our hands. It’s kind of like winning the lottery.  You can buy several tickets, but ultimately you are never 100 percent sure you’ll win the money.


Instead of trying to do everything by the book to go viral, people should just focus on creating content in a way that’s enjoyable to them and relevant to their particular circle of followers.  Of course we want people to see what we post, but focusing on that will stunt creativity and lead to yet another cookie-cutter cat video. So don’t worry so much about the popularity of content. Just post what you want to create, and someone’s bound to notice.  That’s the beauty of the Internet.

Serving communities with positivity

The Ferguson debate continues, and although I don’t think I can add anything else to the conversation, I do think Tufekci’s article on Medium raises another issue.  Yes, Ferguson has become the poster child for race relations and the role of police in the United States. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but now the city has an international reputation of being a high-crime area of unrest with a violently racist police force.  That is such a shame because I know there is more to that area than the negative connotation it receives from the media.  Behind the crime, violence and injustice lies a city of everyday people. For every racist police officer, there’s also a person trying to reach across racial boundaries. For every crime committed, there’s also someone working to keep Ferguson’s youth out of jail.  Ultimately, Ferguson is the place these people call home.

So, when the media only pays attention to an area when something bad is happening, I think they do a huge disservice to that community. As journalists, we are charged to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but parachute crime reporters aren’t doing that. They’re focusing on the bad when there’s a lot of good happening as well. 

This mindset has become particularly important to me as I’ve tackled my job at the Durham VOICE this semester.  The area we cover is no stranger to crime and poverty. But yet the people living there still call it home. And the residents continually tell us how they wish the media would find some positive things in the community.  That’s the duty we’re charged with at the VOICE. The residents don’t want to hear anymore about the bad stuff happening; that’s old news to them. They want to read about the positive things happening. 

That’s how you serve a community and do the people justice.  Yes, the crime stories need to be told, but let’s balance it out with some positivity.  Ferguson is so much more than snipers and tear gas.

Moving too fast for Incubate

Morgan wrote a blog post about a new app called Incubate, which basically lets you receive delayed messages (text, video or voice) for up to 25 years after it was originally sent.  I had never heard of this before, and when I first read about it, my first instinct was to think what a cool idea it is.  It’s kind of like the digital version of a time capsule. Or like one of those letters your teacher used to make you write to yourself at the beginning of the year, and you’d get it back at the end.  Morgan made the point that it may be a marketing ploy to ensure the app’s survival for the next couple of decades.

But then I got to thinking. Technology and the platforms on which we engage in it are rapidly changing, now overturning at a rate of about five years.  And it’s only going to continue spiraling faster. We can imagine where the future will go, but ultimately no one knows for sure, whether it be 10 or 20 years down the road.  So what happens when apps become a thing of the past?  You guessed it…goodbye, Incubate.  The app can hold messages for up to 25 years, but who knows if we’ll have anything similar to a smartphone at that time.  Apps on iPhones will probably be equivalent to the brick phone 25 years from now.  Unless a tech guru does some major overhaul of the company, there will be no technological platform to support Incubate. How are you going to receive text messages or videos if there is no smartphone to receive them?  It’ll be a bit like trying to download a VHS onto your laptop–not going to happen.

So, Incubate designers had better think fast or they’ll quickly become a thing of the past before they even reach a chance at success.  It’s the blessing and the curse of technology.

'It was bad enough when the grand kids knew more about technology than me.'