Spring semester, 2015 Research opportunities for TCNJ Journalism, Media and Public Health Students

What’s this all about?

We've been telling you in every class - you've got to learn how to collaborate and work in teams. You've got to get comfortable with technology. You've got to understand social media strategy. You've got to understand the business side of the news business. This is an opportunity to do that, working in one of two small teams with a professor. One team will write a business plan for a new media venture, drawing upon the experience gained from two prior media ventures launched by the program, and input from experts. The second team will complete work on the SOAP project - an environmental information system developed over the last several years through a collaboration between computer science students, journalism and Interactive Multimedia Students, and Trenton Habitat for Humanity.

JPW 391: SOAP (Students Organized Against Pollution)

The goal of the SOAP project is to create a software system that helps residents, developers and policymakers in Trenton, New Jersey easily access information about the environmental condition of a particular piece of property. This includes whether there are pollutants, whether there have been enforcement actions or remediation efforts, the potential health effects of those pollutants and additional sources of help and information. Substantial progress has been made in the development of the system, and a prototype should be near completion by the end of 2014. Students working on this project would collaborate with computer science students working under the direction of Dr. Monisha Pulimood to augment content for the system, improve its esthetics and usability, and build a social media strategy, among other projects. Students will complete a multimedia reporting project, a mapping project, and learn to write simple scripts to scrape public data from websites.

This project will be useful to students pursuing study in public health, health communication, and the environmental studies concentration. Although students who previously took Topics: Health and Environmental Reporting are encouraged to enroll, prior experience with that class is not required.

Although the weekly meeting time for this project will be flexible. Students must be available for for approximately six joint class meetings with Prof. Pulimood's students, occurring at Tuesdays and Fridays at 12:30.

Students enrolling in the independent research course need to fill out an independent study enrollment form that must be signed by Prof. Pearson and either Dr. Jean Graham or Dr. Glenn Steinberg. The independent study enrollment form is available in the English department office, Bliss 129.

JPW 393*: Reinventing unbound

In the journalism/professional writing curriculum, the practicum course is intended to allow students to pursue a substantial project related to the management of a campus publication. For Spring, 2015, we are launching a group practicum project that

Unbound was an experiment in online journalism that originated in Kim Pearson's magazine writing class and Elizabeth Mackie's graphic design class in the spring, 1996 semester. It ran continuously from then until the end of 2008. It was based, in part, on lessons learned from an experiment in launching a print magazine, College Money, which published four issues between 1991 and 1994. In the summer of 2006, students working under the direction of Dr. Monisha Pulimood created a content management system for unbound, running on a Postgres SQL database. Due to technical limitations of the system, we were unable to implement many interactive features that had become commonplace for online publications, and the project seemed to reach a dead end.

Now, however, we have an opportunity to start fresh. Students in the Fall, 2014 Writing for Interactive Multimedia class are reconceptualizing unbound as a dynamic platform for millenials seeking knowledge and resources that will give them a leg up in pursuing media-related careers. We will use their ideas, and consultations with industry experts, as a starting point for developing a formal business plan that will include:

1. A competitive analysis
2. Market research
3. A review of potential business models
4. Prototype development
5. A preliminary financial statement

Students enrolling in the practicum need to fill out an independent study enrollment form that must be signed by Prof. Pearson and either Dr. Jean Graham or Dr. Glenn Steinberg. The independent study enrollment form is available in the English department office, Bliss 129.
*An earlier version of this announcement identified the course as JPW 397. It should be JPW 393.

Tip sheet: Writing stories based on data

By Mirkolorenz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Mirkolorenz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
In getting ready for a new semester, I came across this tip sheet from a computer-assisted reporting class I taught a decade ago. Hivemind, what would you add or change to make it relevant to today’s media landscape? One thing I would add would be some tips on automating data collection.

Writing stories based on data: things to remember

1. It’s about the story, not the numbers. The data are just a means of illustrating a point. Make it clear why your data matters.
2. Corollary #1: find your focus and stick to it. It’s likely that during your reporting, you will come across a lot of interesting information that doesn’t fit your story. Lose it. As Faulkner is reported to have said, in writing, “you must kill all of your darlings.”
3. When comparing statistics, make sure the comparisons are valid. This is a problem that often occurs when looking at data over time. For example, some years, the government changed the way it counted unemployment statistics. A longitudinal comparison of unemployment rates would need to take that into account. Another example that we discussed in class concerned the way various states defined “sex crimes” for reporting purposes under Megan’s Law. SAT scores are another well-known example.
4. Corollary to #3: if you are comparing two sets of similar data, make note of differences in sampling methods, error margins or other differences that might reduce the validity of the comparison.
5. Place examples in context – but make sure it’s the right context. For example, let’s say I report that Osama bin Laden’s family has given millions of dollars to Harvard University. (This is true.) I would convey the wrong impression if I didn’t also point out that Osama bin Laden was estranged from his family, which denounced his terrorist activities. In addition, Osama’s brother is a Harvard graduate, which explains part of the relationship between the family and the university.
6. Make sure your data and analyses come from authoritative sources. If an individual who works for an organization makes an assertion about an organization’s history or policies, get written documentation or verification where possible. The employee might be repeating something he or she has heard, and it may or may not be accurate.
7. Corollary: The same thing is true for people who work in highly-specialized fields such as health care or law. When I worked in oncology, one of my jobs was to edit a publication that would provide allied health professionals with accurate, research-based information about cancer, because we were constantly getting calls from people who called us about information they had been given by a nurse or other medical professional that turned out to be inaccurate.

Baltimore Sun editor forecasts era of newspapers without copy editors

Baltimore Sun editor John E. McIntyre opined on parent company Gannett’s latest reorganization, concluding that one goal “appears to be the elimination of Gannett’s remaining copyeditors,” and offering advice both to the reporters who will be responsible for vetting their own work, and the news consumers who will need to be even more gimlet-eyed when scanning the headlines. One wonders whether Gannett will also try to make reporters responsible for any potential legal consquences stemming from what they publish as well, since newspaper copy editors also function as fact-checkers. Or perhaps someone at Narrative Science is working on a robotic copy editor. Either way, it’s just another way in which the functional division between bloggers and reporters is crumbling.

If I’m right, Gannett staffers might find some value in the guide to legal resources for online publishers that I penned for the Online Journalism Review a few years ago.

Catching a cab in Boston

I arrived in Boston the other day for the National Association of Black Journalists convention and it’s been a good visit.  But it hasn’t gone off without a hitch.  I’ve been here before, and I grew up in Philadelphia, which has many similarities. I was pretty sure I knew what to expect.

At the train station, I lined up with other travelers to catch a cab. I had a small backpack and one rollerboard suitcase that would have fit in an airplane’s overhead luggage rack. I know how to travel light.

A cab pulled up, and being next in line, I stepped up and told the cabbie my destination. The cabbie, who happened to have been a white male, proceeds to tell me that the major chain hotel that I’ve asked to go to, the one on the convention website for which I have a reservation, isn’t where I’ve said it is, and he can only take people to the airport anyway. Did I mention that I was the only black person standing there? He calls out for anyone going to the airport,  a man comes forward (who happens to be white) and they take off.

Now, here’s the thing. When the next cab pulls up, I speak to the driver, and he agrees to take me to my destination.  As I start to wheel my bag to the car, a blond-haired  boy of about 10 who had been waiting with his family stepped forward and said, “I’ll help you.”  He took the bag from me.  I thanked him and got into the cab. When we set off, I told the cab driver what had transpired with the other driver.   He confirmed my suspicion that the first cabbie lied and said, but honestly, he understood. “It’s because you are black.” He was black too, and it had happened to him as well, but he understood from the cab drivers’ point of view. He went on to tell stories of black customers who had shorted him on fares, black customers who wanted to make stops en route to get money to pay fares and black customers who didn’t tip or skimped on tips.  White customers were nice to him. They know they are important, so they treated him as if he was important. They made small talk. They tipped. Not so, black customers, on the whole.

But he didn’t discriminate. He didn’t think it was fair to judge everyone based on the actions of a few, he said.

I told him that I had lived in more than one big city and had taken cabs all the time, and had not personally had the experience of having a cabbie lie to me in that way until that day. (I’m not naive; I know it happens. It just hadn’t been my experience.)  He expressed surprise and told me about a black woman who had traveled to Boston on business who had walked blocks, dragging heavy luggage, because no cabs would stop. She thanked him profusely when he picked her up.

When we arrived, I thanked him for his honesty, paid my fare and gave my customary tip, collected my receipt and was on my way.

Welcome to Boston.