jump to navigation

C-SPAN Video Conference with Andrew Card April 21, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , add a comment

Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card defended the much-maligned presidency of George W. Bush in a video conference on April 7.

Card, who served under Bush for more than five years, joined students participating from the George Mason University Video Studio along with Steve Scully, the political editor for the C-SPAN networks, and students from the University of Denver to discuss his relationship with the controversial 43rd president, on both professional and personal levels.

“History will be kinder than current [attitudes],” Card said regarding Bush’s “misunderstood” time in office. “The president had to face unprecedented challenges,” including the terrorist attacks on September 11. It was Card who was faced with the unfortunate task of informing Bush of those tragic events while the president was with a classroom of second graders.

“The president had heard about a plane crash in New York,” Card recalled. Bush and his staffers initially thought it had to be an accident, with Card’s theory being that the pilot had a heart attack. But when Card was informed that the second tower of the World Trade Center had also been hit, he had to make a judgment call.

“It was very rare for me to walk into a room after the president had gone in,” Card said. The chief of staff is faced with the guideline of “Does the president need to know?” It was clear that the answer was yes in this case, so Card quickly approached Bush and whispered about the second crash, adding an “editorial comment” of “America is under attack.” He then leaned away so that Bush could not ask questions, but staffers got in contact with the FBI so that Bush could immediately talk to them once he was out of the classroom.

“I tried very hard on September 11th not to allow the emotion of the challenge get in the way of the responsibility that I had to help the president do his job,” Card said. He tried to remain “cool, calm and collective and objective” and feels the president did the same, although he was clearly emotionally affected by the tragedy. Card says that Bush’s mind likely went to the oath he took on Inauguration Day just eight months earlier.

Card also suggested that Bush was the most successful president ever in terms of saving lives (including his AIDS and malaria work in Africa) and spreading democracy. “I think history will be kinder to him when they come to recognize how difficult the challenges that he had to face were.”

The distance learning course, which is produced by C-SPAN, is a unique opportunity for students to interview guests via video conference. The course airs on C-SPAN3 on Fridays at 5 p.m. and also streams online (http://www.c-span.org/Distance_Learning/). The interview with Card can be viewed here.

Tech Blog – Making the Most of Your Journalism Internship April 14, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , add a comment

Steve Buttry was a fantastic guest speaker, and appropriately enough his blog is just as chock full of great information, including a particularly helpful article on making the most out of your internship. I’ve never partook in a journalism internship, but I’m currently interning at Loudoun County Public Schools Television, and I’ve kept Buttry’s tips in mind ever since I read his article.

The #1 entry he lists is to ask questions, and I think that can’t be stressed enough. You don’t have all the answers, and if you’re lucky enough, your supervisor will allow you to explore the possibilities on your own. But at a prior internship, I found that, while the project director appreciated my efforts and enthusiasm, whenever I was faced with an executive decision myself and I didn’t at least consult her to let her know the direction I would be heading in, there was some natural resistance to my ideas. I learned to ask ahead of time, and everything was approved immediately.

Buttry also suggests working hard and having fun. I think this applies to any job, not just an internship. I’m not the most experienced editor from a technical standpoint (although I’m certainly above competent), but I do think I’m a relatively pleasant person to work with, and even when I’m not feeling 100%, I never let it get in the way of my duties. Would that give me the edge over an incredible editor who’s a pain to work with? Probably not for every production company looking to hire, but it would certainly be a deciding factor for some.

Another piece of advice is to own up to mistakes. A couple weeks ago, I went to a shoot and had forgotten to check the camera case before leaving–everything had always been taken care of and put away properly before, so I just assumed it would be the case once again. When I arrived at the shoot, I discovered there was no battery; another intern had forgotten to put it back. But while they certainly erred, I did too. Rule numero uno going on a shoot is to check your equipment ahead of time–that it’s present, let alone in working order. I apologized profusely probably to the point where my constant “I can’t believe I did that; I’m so sorry!” was probably a bigger irritant than the situation itself.

With graduation a month away, I’m looking for employment (or paid internship) opportunities and Buttry’s advice is something I will definitely take into account. And hey, Professor Klein, if you can recommend any good journalism jobs (particularly pop culture-related), let me know!

Tech Blog – Mark Stencel April 12, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , add a comment

Mark Stencel, managing editor for digital news at NPR, is a pioneer of the cross-platform news experience. NPR is one of the largest, most consumed news organizations in North America but the bulk of that is because of radio listeners, not an online audience. NPR struggles to get people on to its website.

One tidbit that I thought was interesting was that Stencel stressed the long-term traffic of arts pieces. A feature like Moby’s songwriting process will not have as big a drop-off in page views as, say, a news piece. Stencel’s attitude towards stories, therefore, is “What part of this story are readers/listeners coming to NPR for?”–developing a story tailored to what the audience is looking for when the reality is they probably already know the news.

NPR is more about analysis–the how and the why rather than rehashing the who and the what. He quotes co-worker Matt Thompson, “Don’t cover the events, cover the implications.”

When Stencel worked for The Washington Post, he was part of a team that designed a way for the paper’s then-new website to encourage interaction with live chats with reporters and newsworthy individuals. Then those transcripts would serve as suitable stories on their own. But now, interaction is a more dynamic process thanks to social media.

Stencel praised Andy Carvin for his innovative, Twitter-based coverage of the Libyan conflict, saying that it will change the way journalists cover breaking stories. (Professor Klein deemed Carvin “the most talked about” journalist in the current landscape.)

One of the cooler projects Stencel showed us was the way NPR covered last year’s elections. They analyzed Twitter accounts, Facebook posts and more to find out how many times candidates used certain “buzzwords.” It was an interesting experiment and really brought home the fact that many of these candidates’ social media use is pretty cookie cutter.

News happens quickly. Our job is to cover it quickly.

Sometimes, news moves too fast. Stencel pointed to the inaccurate NPR report that Rep. Giffords (D-AZ) was killed in a January shooting, which in turn led to some other news organizations reporting the story (some crediting NPR and some “confirming” it on their own). NPR apologized and corrected the story immediately, earning goodwill from readers who otherwise might have lost their trust in NPR.

Tech Blog – CBS Tweet Week April 12, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , add a comment

As I mentioned in a previous post, “Survivor” host Jeff Probst recently began to tweet along with the show. As a hardcore fan, I appreciate the gesture but remain unsatisfied with the lack of real details Probst provides. However, that didn’t stop CBS from declaring last week “Tweet Week” and enlisting more of its stars to take to the social networking site.

Jeff Probst, © CBS

The stunt is obviously designed to get viewers to tune in during the live broadcast (i.e. when the commercials air) rather than just DVRing their favorite shows. The ratings don’t indicate that it accomplished that goal, but CBS should still be commended for utilizing new technology to its advantage. (Besides, “Amazing Race” host Phil Keoghan’s tweets were much more informative than Probst’s.)

The real question though is how networks can utilize other social media tools to engage fans. Twitter is neat, but let’s face it–most of these celebrities were already tweeting; they just didn’t happen to be doing so during the half-hour or hour time slot alloted to their show (and even that might not be the case for everyone). The major network websites are a mixed bag of Flash monstrosities and meager message boards. While the descent may not be as rapid, TV, like newspapers, is competing for an audience against many other forms of news and entertainment. Television websites need to follow newspaper sites’ leads by incorporating more social media.

Brad Kalbfeld April 5, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , add a comment

In today’s class, we heard from Brad Kalbfeld, who among other things, is the editor of the “Associated Press Broadcast News Handbook.” Kalbfeld brought us on a journey across the decades, showcasing his early reporting equipment (namely, a typewriter) and leading into how the advent of the iPhone has become a universal journalism tool.

Through the use of flowcharts that display the differences between the modern era of news versus the way it was in the past, Kalbfeld argued that nowadays, the audience has more power than ever in dictating what news they read and watch. There used to be a limited amount of choices–three channels, two newspapers in most markets–but now the audience is overwhelmed with options.

Of course, there are pros and cons to that. There is less of a duty to be balanced because there are niche (and mainstream) publications that appeal to every sort of political/religious/ethnic population. Amateur journalists also don’t have the same skills or background that should, in theory, lead to quality and ethical reporting.

Kalbfeld suggests readers look at the “About Us” page to learn about the attitudes and biases of particular journalists. News is now a brand, and some viewers consume it based on factors that other than what would best serve them (the attractive anchor, the political attitude, even the style or format of the page). News is at its best when it interacts with the audience, rather than being a one-way street as it used to be: ignoring the audience is a good way to see it flock to somewhere else.

I thought Kalbfeld was an especially interesting guest because he’s been around in journalism for so long and has first-hand experience in vastly different circumstances of news filtering. It was a really excellent presentation.

Tech Blog – Mark Potts March 30, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , add a comment

In today’s class, we got to hear from Mark Potts,  and I have to say, with all due respect to the others who have spoken to us, I think he was the best guest brought in to COMM361 this semester.

Within an hour or so, Potts shared approximately three to four dozen different and helpful websites that provided great resources or simply examples of particularly well-done and unique storytelling techniques. But I think what I appreciated most was his unconventional opinions on news resources, namely touting the merits of Wikipedia and downplaying the importance of Twitter. The only thing missing was a boxing match between Potts and Professor Klein, who seemed horrified at the suggestion that Twitter was not a big deal. (For the record, my money would be on Klein–he’s the one grading me!)

Potts also acknowledged that Storify does not work for every story, because it asks a lot of the reader to mentally fill in the transitions between quotes. (He once wanted to write a story consisting entirely of quotes but it never panned out.) He stressed the importance of community bloggers, the ones who aren’t doing it for the money but for the passion of helping out their community, suggesting that mainstream news sources could benefit from using these resources–as he put it, “Do what you do best and link to the rest.”

It might seem as though Potts’s visit was pretty rushed and contradicted what we’ve been taught by Klein and other guests, but I found it refreshing and I think it provided a lesson that one man’s trash is another man’s journalism (for lack of better phrase). In other words, every single journalist operates differently. The method and tools that work for you might not come in handy for everyone else. In the increasingly complex world of social media and online storytelling techniques, it’s important to give these new tools a fair shot but it’s also just as important to know your own strengths and what you’re capable of producing. I highly recommend that he be a guest in all future COMM361 classes.

Briggs Ch. 8 and 9 March 24, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Uncategorized , add a comment

With the advent of YouTube and other sites that allow users to easily share video, the format has become an essential part of journalism. There are several avenues to utilizing video, from comprehensive edited stories to raw footage of a story highlight.

Briggs provides several tips on how to make the most of your videos:

He also provides a checklist of items you will need before any shoot if you can help it:

As a film student with a particular interest in editing, I highly recommend shooting more than you need–sure, it can make the editing process a little longer and trickier but it’s far better than the alternative of not having all the footage you require.

Want an example of the prototypical news video? The BBC’s Charlie Brooker created one for “Newswipe”:


The next chapter focuses on using data to tell stories. Since online news offers virtually unlimited space and content, it’s now critical to include facts, graphs, charts and databases that provide an easily navigable way of examining lots of information that would otherwise be unpublishable (such as athlete salaries, census reports, etc.). It’s also quite easy to use Google to create spreadsheets and maps to help this purpose.

Tech Blog – Jim Iovino March 10, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , add a comment

Today in class, we got to hear from NBC Washington’s Jim Iovino, who discussed the changing face of journalism and gave tips on how writers can best appeal to audiences.

As a film student, one thing that I found especially interesting (especially in light of Jon Denunzio’s visit last week in which he actually said quite the opposite) was Iovino’s comment that an ability to shoot and edit video is practically a must-have for anyone interested in entering news these days. (In fairness to Denunzio, he didn’t disregard video entirely; he just said that it was totally irrelevant in his area, which I felt was a bit shortsighted, although he was a great guest overall.)

Some of the tips Iovino had for journalists:

Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was Iovino showing colleague Pat Collins‘ recent exposure on the “moment of zen” segment on “The Daily Show.” Collins is quite the character; another segment centered around his baffled interview with a woman who traveled three miles each way in the snow to secure a sandwich from the Giant deli. (In her defense, their deli is pretty good…but not six miles in heavy snow good.)

PS: Plastics. Um, I mean, video.

Tech Blog – How Not to Respond to Local Bloggers if you’re a Newspaper March 10, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , add a comment

Here’s a controversial one for you.

The West Seattle Herald posted an article essentially downplaying the importance of bloggers that, in many respects was the equivalent of an old man telling a bunch of teenagers to get off of his lawn.

20th Century Fox

The anonymous piece (which perhaps said it all) included such nuggets of wisdom as:

Instead of 3000 words about a community council meeting that was ‘live blogged’ with updates every seven minutes, wouldn’t you honestly prefer 300 words that tell you what happened and what was decided?

And in what would make Professor Klein burn the West Seattle Herald offices to the ground, the author even lamented the use of links in online stories.

The article does raise some good points, particularly about the effectiveness of advertising between the mediums. But a rebuttal from the Blog Herald (which, incidentally, displays a number of smart Web-writing techniques) courtesy of Thord Daniel Hedengren presents a wise argument against the West Seattle Herald’s techniques.

While I probably wouldn’t read a liveblogged council meeting, I still find this offensive. Let’s say I’m really interested in local politics but can’t attend, then the live blog is a great way to keep up to date as it happens. Is it the perfect way to cover a council meeting? No, of course not, but it is live and happening right now.

Hedengren loses some credibility by going over the top and suggesting readers cancel their West Seattle Herald subscriptions but it’s still an interesting conversation between two sources who are obviously in complete opposition when in an ideal world they would be working together.

Tech Blog – Mobile Content Is Twice as Difficult March 10, 2011

Posted by acusumano in : Assignments , 2 comments

Quick question before we begin: how are you reading this blog entry?

Those are three top options, listed in descending order of how likely you are to retain the content you read.

While I highly doubt that anyone is eagerly loading up a blog for an online journalism course on their iPhone, it is a bit discomforting to read that, as technology expands by shrinking, the power of the word may be shrinking as well.

Reading retention, thy name is futility.

Jacob Nielsen summed up a study in which University of Alberta researchers determined that reading from mobile devices results in less than half the retention of reading from a computer screen (which itself is only about a quarter of the retention from a printed page).

Nielsen points to several factors on his blog…of course, chances are that readers will miss out on 73 percent of it, which appears to be the ignored portion on text-heavy sites such as user agreements.