UMass Panel to Look Back at 9/11 Attacks on 10-Year Anniversary

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(Updated: Aug. 29)

Mark Stencel, the managing editor for Digital News at NPR, will join a group of University of Massachusetts educators on Sept. 8 to take part in a panel discussion looking at how the U.S. and the world has changed in the decade since the 9/11 terror attacks.

“The terrorist attacks of 2001 and the beginnings of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq came as newsrooms were still grappling with what exactly it meant to be Web publishers,” said Stencel, who was an editor at The Washington Post’s web site on 9/11.

“At the time, our interactive online channels were still relatively new. For many of us, these channels for the first time provided global reach around the clock — including a new workday news audience — as well as nearly unlimited potential to dabble in new formats. But there were consequences: Newsrooms had accelerated deadlines and new competitors.
And we faced difficult questions about accuracy and what NOT to report.”

The panel, entitled “After the Towers Fell: A September 11th Retrospective,” will be held at 4 p.m. on Sept. 8 in the Campus Center Reading Room on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“This panel discussion will be of great interest to anyone whose life was changed by 9/11–which means everyone,” said Karen List, director of the Journalism program.

The panelists for the event are: David Kotz from the Economics Department; MJ Peterson from Political Science; Linda Tropp from Psychology and Stencel. The panel will be moderated by Steve Fox of the Journalism Program, also a former editor for The Post’s web site.

Peterson will discuss the Bush administration’s response to the attacks; Kotz will look at the economic consequences of the attacks in the past decade; and Tropp will talk about general social psychological processes involved in group categorization.

A reception will follow the panel discussion. The panel is sponsored by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Journalism program, and the Departments of Political Science, Economics and Psychology.

It’s Carnival Time: Let’s Get Past the Talking

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I must admit, the latest topic(s) by Carnival Ringmaster David Cohn had me a bit stumped.  And, I seriously considered taking a pass this time around.  But, knowing Dave as I do I wondered whether he wasn’t doing a bit of crowdsourcing here and actually, I think it’s pretty clear he is.

So, maybe the Reynolds folks are looking for some direction?  With that possibility in mind, here are some thoughts on the future of The Reynolds Fellowship.

I struggled with answering this because when I go to the RJI web site, I don’t get much of a feeling of what the Fellows are actually doing.   It looks like a good deal of writing and researching.  And, we all know the definition of  “Fellows” — spend a year talking and writing about issues.  Which, I guess, is fine.  But, man-oh-man, we have so many people writing and talking about the “Future of Journalism.”  Honestly, I grow weary of it.   My Twitter feed is filled with people talking about the Future of Journalism — everyone and their cousin has an opinion on the New York Times’ paywall.   But, seriously, how do paywalls get wrapped into discussion about the future of journalism?  Seriously?

One of my old bosses was fond of saying: “We’re breathing our own fumes here.”  It seems to me that with so many people talking and talking and talking about the future, we end up breathing our own fumes.  We’re intoxicated with the possibilities and what could happen but (with rare exceptions) our legs get stuck in the mud when it comes to execution.

Meanwhile, flying under the radar are educators across the country who are actually experimenting, exploring and trying to implement many of the ideas that are talked to death endlessly.  How can we get them involved as Fellows?

At UMass-Amherst, I teach an Investigative Journalism & The Web course where students provide content for a local news Web site, producing both daily blog content for the site, as well as longer, semester-long projects.  There are plenty of schools around the country, including ours, that are beginning to incorporate elements of Entrepreneurial Journalism into their curriculum.

Listen, I’m not attacking the Fellows.  I know quite a few of them and they’re really smart folks.  But man-oh-man, can we start doing some things?  I’m sure many of them would be excited by that idea.

We all go to the same conferences where we get energized about the Future of Journalism.  We promise to act on the many fantastic ideas we talk about over lattes.  But, all too often (and I’m as guilty as anyone) the ideas get lost when we return to our day-to-day lives.  So, how about making the Reynolds Fellowship into something more concrete?

Some thoughts:

What: Produce from one idea.  Have the Fellows work on one idea.  Give fellows one year to take an idea and make it into reality.  Each Fellow could bring their own strengths/talents to the project….think more along the lines of editors working together in a newsroom.

* How:  The idea could come from a number of sources but it would be worth putting out a nationwide call for ideas and have a panel of former Fellows choose the best idea?

Who:  Is it possible to crowdsource educators and or/students from across the nation on a Fellows project?   This is not an original idea — it’s been kicked around in various corners but might be worth revisiting here.  Can it happen?  Kind of exciting just to think about it, no?

In the words of DigiDave, such a course of action would be pretty “rad.”

It’s Carnival Time: Talking News Sources


The latest question from David Cohn (aka DigiDave) for the Carnival of Journalism centers on one of my favorite topics:  news sources. The question:

    What can you, as an individual or employee, do to increase the number of news sources?

One of Dave’s suggestions is to focus on Knight Commission recommendations.  As an educator, the recommendation that jumps out at me most is:  “Integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements of education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state and local education officials.”

Teaching students about news literacy (I’m going to avoid the “media literacy” phrase) is the single-most important thing educators across all levels can do.  News consumers not only need to know how to recognize good sourcing and good information, but more importantly, that consumption means visiting several news sources, to make sure you are getting all viewpoints and that the information is accurate.  Reading and consuming for depth is important but doing so for accuracy and diversity is equally important

News literacy needs to start in middle school and continue at the university level.  The era of depending upon one news source for accurate information is gone.  No longer is news consumption a matter of sitting down and watching the 6 o’clock news for a half hour or more and that’s it.  News consumption has evolved.  It’s now a continuous process and this  new generation of news consumers needs to be able to discern between what is news and reality vs. speculation and rumor.

During the first week of the Egyptian revolution, I found myself watching CNN on my television, while on my laptop I was watching the live feed from Al-Jazeera English and running a Twitter feed with a number of different feeds, including #egypt and #jan25.  When I told my students I was doing this, I received a few strange looks.  But in deciding to look at two news sources as sharply contrasting as AJE and CNN, I noticed some pretty distinct differences — not only in images that were being shown (which was fairly significant at points) but also in tone.  AJE was much more critical of the behavior of the U.S. government and after a while, CNN was squeezing in Egypt coverage in between checking in with the latest Lindsay Lohan updates.

And, while the speed of the Twitter feeds was blinding at first, I was able to discover a bunch of sources from the scene that gave me first-hand accounts of what was happening in Tahrir Square.  I also discovered the Twitter curation efforts by NPR’s Andy Carvin as well as the first-hand accounts of Mahmoud Salem, also known as ‘sandmonkey.’

These were real-time sources that I was not necessarily getting from Web sites of The Washington Post or The New York Times or the broadcast coverage of CNN.

What the coverage of the Egyptian revolution also pointed out is how the whole concept of ‘sourcing’ has changed.  In the past, news sources were the New York Times, CNN and NPR.  Now, I’m not necessarily looking for the organization — I want the individual.  Increasingly, it’s the personal brand that matters.  I may not be happy with the overall perspective of the New York Times, but I am going to look for Anthony Shadid’s work in my RSS feed, and Nick Kristoff’s personal accounts on Twitter and Facebook.  I may not be happy about the images being shown by CNN, but I am going to stop and listen to what Ben Wedeman has to say on air and I’m going to follow his Twitter feed.

So, the whole notion of sourcing has been turned on its head.  In large part, thanks to Twitter.

Twitter has become a great teaching tool for educators.  It allows us to get across the idea not everything that is reported or tweeted is true (see NPR, CNN and Gabrielle Giffords shooting) as well as the idea that you can go to Twitter feeds and get a vast array of perspectives on a news event like the Egypt revolution.

What can educators do to increase the number of news sources used and consumed by students?  Teach them about the Twitter….

Newsroom Partnerships Offer Chance at Innovation: Carnival of Journalism

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UMass Journalism students Dave Brinch (left) and Julian Feller-Cohen (right) cover a meeting with MassLive's Greg Saulmon last semester.

The response to David Cohn’s (aka DigiDave) revival of the Carnival of Journalism, has been pretty impressive.  My first post focused on a new news literacy with Journalism students and the need to focus on accuracy in the aftermath of the shoddy reporting in the opening hours of the Tucson shootings.

One of the big discussion items so far in the “Carnival” center on the need for universities and programs to be innovative when it comes to the teaching of Journalism — another great topic.

I’m now entering the second semester of a formal partnership between my Investigative Journalism & The Web class and MassLive, the Web site of the Springfield Republican. The class was constructed as an attempt to take an in-depth look at the town of South Hadley and its residents in the aftermath of the tragic suicide of South Hadley teenager Phoebe Prince one year ago.

Students were required to blog throughout the course of last semester — and as more and more incidents made their way into the news, it became clear that bullying was an issue that went way beyond our corner of Western Massachusetts.  Students also produced a final package of stories — a combination of text, video and audio.

The class is both an attempt to be innovative by creating a newsroom-like environment and to get students out into the community — attending meetings and events and talking to residents about the bullying issue.

It was not easy.

That is probably the biggest message I would send out to educators looking to begin similar partnerships. As many of us often find out, a great idea often involves a lot of time.  Establishing and maintaining such a partnership is a time-intensive undertaking.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed it and see it as an important element in a students’ education but I often find myself editing blog posts at 6 a.m. in order to get them onto the site in a timely manner.  And, you find yourself fielding queries from students, editors and sources at all days and hours.  Kind of, ya know, like a newsroom.

Some other lessons:

*  The need to contact sources before you set up the class is almost mandatory.  Let as many sources as possible know what you’re doing before the class starts.  In the end, it helps students when they start making calls.

*  No matter how much you prepare students, there is a possibility students will find themselves in a confrontation (especially if it’s an investigative class.)   Classes on interviews, dealing with sensitive topics and handling confrontations should be an early discussion as well as one you return to frequently.  Also, give students your cell phone number in case they find themselves in a difficult situation.

* Set up an editing system with your newsroom partner that allows for multiple set of eyes before publishing.  In our case we had at least one set of eyes reading blog entries and the final projects had multiple editors, including myself.

* Identification.  Perhaps the biggest confusion comes when students try to identify themselves with sources.  It’s best to leave “class project” out of identifiers because sources often think that “class project” means “not published.”  Students also have to work hard to be taken seriously by sources.  Youth ends up being a negative in the eyes of many sources.

What was exciting about the class was the way that students worked with each other, helped each other and ended up producing a fairly cohesive project by the end of the semester.  It became a partnership of sorts and I found myself switching roles between editor and instructor — a mix that many traditional professors aren’t necessarily comfortable with.  Professor as “all-knowing seer” needs to be abandoned in such a class.  You find yourself working together with students, rather than standing at a podium and dictating what journalism is or should be.

The nature of the project required a certain amount of failure — some stories and blog entries were not going to pan out — so in the end you end you have to find a way to come up with a grade that reflects both the work and the effort.

Most importantly, I believe the project has kept the discussion going about bullying, teen suicide, the Phoebe Prince case and other issues.    Coverage has helped that conversation continue and in an age of decreasing resources with newspapers, that’s the biggest value Journalism programs can bring to communities.


Random Thoughts from Sri Lanka: Heading Home

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Yes, all good things must come to an end, and I’m trying to get in one final blog post before departing this beautiful and interesting part of the world.  Here are some random thoughts:

*  My wife and I had lunch today with Pavi Kulatunga, a junior journalism major at UMass, and her Dad — a succesful businessman who runs a tea business in the Southern part of the country.  We covered a lot of ground during our discussion, as a mini-rainstorm hit our hotel (I took video to capture the sound.)  As with many Sri Lankans we spoke with, Pavi and her Dad feel positive about the future of their country.

*  Elvis is alive.  And, so apparently is Karen Carpenter.  We heard both in our car rides to and from Colombo.  No Springsteen, though.

*  The British influence remains strong here and there are many formal rules to follow, much of it involving dress — we were not allowed to wear flip-flops or shorts around the hotel lobby area or restaurants after 7 p.m.  Seems silly.

*  Our string of getting sick on foreign trips continued when my wife got sick in the last day-and-a-half.  And, I couldn’t find the immodium.  Felt bad on that one.

*  On our looong drive to Colombo and then the airport today, we stopped off at one of the Buddhist temples, just to kind of absorb things, and get some photos.  We’ve become used to being magnets for people looking to “help” us and separate us from our money during this trip and for the most part we just politely said  “no.”  But when a few locals began trying to work us at the temple, we got a bit annoyed.  There’s got to be a line you don’t cross, no?

More to come….I’m headed to Germany then Washington then Boston, where the latest winter storm to end all winter storms has descended on Europe.  Hopefully the snow misers allow my connection to happen in Germany.  Wish me luck….


Thoughts from Sri Lanka: Talking about the Tsunami

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The beach at Unawatuna.

I’m an ocean lover.

There are those who love the water and those who love the mountains.  I live in the mountains (well, hills I guess) so I love to spend time at the ocean as much as possible.

We’ve spent the past several days of our Sri Lanka adventure in Unawatuna, enjoying a mini-vacation on the beach.  It’s a beautiful area filled with palm trees, cocnuts and panoramic views of the horizon.   We’re about 70 kilometers south of Colombo, the bustling city where I spent the first week of my trip.

The tone and pace of this area is much different from Colombo.  But, we weren’t sure when we first arrived.   Our first night here there was a huge disco/dance party on the beach a few hotels down for many of the divers that seem to gather in this area.  The sound levels have since lowered considerably 🙂

It’s a place dominated by 20-somethings from Europe, Australia and the U.S.,

looking for cheap ways to get to Thailand, Singapore and other exotic locales where they can surf and dive.  At points I’ve felt like I’m a ‘dude’ in a Keanu Reeves movie.

The water here is startling in its beauty.  I’ve been in the Atlantic, Pacific and the Caribbean but the ocean here is so salty that it allows you to float at ease.  There was also a fairly strong rip tide when we were here.  I would enter the ocean in one area and easily be carried down the beach within minutes.

As I swam and enjoyed the water, it was hard not to think about what nature unleashed on this part of the world six years ago.  It’s kind of a surreal feeling to be swimming where so many died.

While I was initially hesitant, I’ve spoken to a number of the locals here and in Colombo about the tsunami.  I recognize that the scope and scale is hard to describe — one person told me that nearly everyone she knows had someone who died.

Yet, many have described the scope of the tragedy in ways that transcends language barriers.

I’ve asked several people here about the level of devastation and they just put up their hand in flat manner and circle it all around, implying that everything was leveled.   Many of the locals walk the beach, selling their wares.  We bought some dresses shirts and tablecloths from Candy, who now lives in government housing, a little inland from the beach.

All that she made and sold was lost in the tsunami.

“It is hard,” she said about life after the tsunami.

But, like many Sri Lankans, the end of the war and the return of tourists are providing a sense of hope for the future.

Random Thoughts from Sri Lanka: Power Up!


Just had a very cool moment….met with Pavi Kulatunga, a Sri Lankan who is also a student in the UMass journalism program.   Her parents live just south of the beach hotel  near Galle that my wife and I are headed to on Saturday.  She has offered to take us around and show us the area.  Looking forward to it.

She was here catching up with friends, one of which will be supplying me with a power cord for my Mac tommorow — I woke up early today and sat down to do some work on my laptop, an effort that was pre-empted when the cord shorted out…..ah, the best laid plans. 

The past several days have been great.  I had a wide-ranging discussion with some academics at the Open University today, talking about Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the press and how to best operate under regimes that seek to control the flow of information.  And, since Internet connections are slow here (I’ve grown spoiled!) I’ve abandoned much of my powerpoint presentations and opted instead for chatting and discussing:  It’s been fun.

Some random observations:

*  Many, many stray dogs on the streets.

*  Not many traffic lights, but lots of traffic in Colombo.

*  One second you’re in traffic, the next you’re on a road running alongiside the Indian Ocean.

* Freedom of Expression is a valued commodity.

More to come…..(including photos.)

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