Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rojas '10 interning at the Washington Post

Watch here in upcoming days for news on other Battalion staffers' summer internships, but for right now I have some good news to share from Rick Rojas '10, whom I chatted with last week.

"I'm interning as a Metro reporter for the summer," he wrote. "I'm only a week into it, so I've only done three stories, but one made the Metro front and was the most popular local story online last week, which was pretty exciting."

Here are those first stories:

The citation story, about a man who flashed his lights to warn other drivers about a traffic enforcement zone, "created quite a bit of a stir in the community," Rojas says. "It was the most popular Metro story on the Web site for a few days, generated some letters to the editor and had local bloggers going berserk!"

Rojas started as a general assignments reporter on the Maryland desk, stationed in the Montgomery County, Md., bureau. Soon -- or maybe already -- he'll be assigned to a "local topic unit": politics, social issues, breaking news/general assignments or local development.

This spring, he was managing editor for the 2009 Aggieland and a Batt copy editor. Head of Student Publications Bob Wegener wrote in his Washington Post recommendation: "Mr. Rojas has proved to be a go-getter with a real passion for journalism. He has been a key contributor by doing something he does exceptionally well: reporting and writing. Because of his creativity and voice, his stories make readers care."

I've been happy to write about Rojas before (at the NYT Institute on Student Journalism and at the Louisville Courier-Journal last summer) and I'll be happy also to update on more Batt staffers' summer exploits soon. Send me yours!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Castillo '02: News desk editor at CNN

Mariano Castillo '02 started at CNN this month as a news desk editor. He says:
I work on the CNN Wire, a team of editors who organize and distribute all of CNN's original content. Basically, we take CNN's reporting and create news-wire style stories that are available for our company and others, too. My area of focus is news from Latin America.

In past posts, I've gotten to brag about Castillo's fellowships, and he was kind enough to write a little piece about his experiences getting started as a cub reporter for our series of former student profiles (send us yours!)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

(Martin) Morton '86: Texas poet laureate for 2010

Karla (Martin) Morton '86 was named the state's poet laureate for 2010 in May, and in September she'll begin visiting small Texas towns in a project she's created, the Little Town, Texas Tour.

A press release says:
The tour's main mission is to bring poetry to teens across Texas, making poetry more accessible and relevant to students, especially in towns that may be underserved in the arts. Morton will visit schools, where she will host a "Day of Poetry" in different cities, partnering with schools, community centers and other venues across the state.

Each "Day of Poetry" will include a Little Town, Texas Poetry and Art Contest, readings by Ms. Morton from her selected collection of works, readings from the top three poetry contest winners, a question and answer session with Ms. Morton, and the incorporation of other art forms into the day's festivities.

Morton's long-term goal as part of the Little Town, Texas Tour is to create and publish a book to include her own poems about the towns she visits and the first place student poem or artwork winners from each town on the tour.

Morton also plans to visit oncology and cancer centers across the state, where she will share from Redefining Beauty, a poetry collection she wrote during her own diagnosis, treatment and survival of breast cancer in 2008.

The Denton Record Chronicle article about Morton has more about her life and her battle with cancer:
Morton was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer last year but she says her prognosis is good. Like many patients, she sought out both information and solace in books after "that first kick in the gut."

"I needed some salt in my teeth. I needed some grit. I needed something more than kittens and rainbows," Morton said. "So I decided to write it myself. In that way, poetry took me by the hand and led me through it."

The writing she did became Redefining Beauty, a collection of poetry and photos she hopes will help women in chemotherapy.

She's got more about herself up at her Web site, kkmorton.com, and you can also become her fan on Facebook!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weiner '96: Fox News Radio producer gets hitched

Saturday's New York Times wedding announcements included happy news about Dawn Weiner '96:
Dawn Weiner and Andrew Siff are to be married Sunday at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger is to officiate.

The bride, 34, is taking her husband’s name. She works in Manhattan as the senior producer for politics and specials of Fox News Radio. She graduated from Texas A&M University and received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia.

She is the daughter of Hollace Ava Weiner and Dr. Bruce H. Weiner of Fort Worth. The bride’s father is a pediatric dentist in Fort Worth. Her mother, a former reporter for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has written several books about Jewish history in the South, including “Jewish Stars in Texas: Rabbis and Their Work” and “Jewish ‘Junior League.’ ”

The bridegroom, 40, is a news reporter for WNBC-TV in New York. He graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

Here's a pic from Fox News Radio's Photobucket of Weiner all bundled up and ready for the presidential inauguration.

Has this blog been of use to you? Tell me how!

This is not just a quest for egoboo :) -- feedback on what features y'all use helps me decide what to pursue in future. So: Because of this blog, have you ... gotten in touch with an old friend? Picked up a story idea? Gone to talk to A&M students? Given Facebook a try? Enjoyed the blog's Twitter account (or unfollowed it because of gratuitous "Butch Cassidy" quoting)?

Drop me a line and let me know. Maybe people are finding job connections through our LinkedIn group... I've heard from one or two folks who like the Job resources page... What do you like/use/think I should do next? E-mail me! aggiejournalists@gmail.com

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pro-UT bias in media? You betcha, says Lopez '84

Let me say this as carefully as he said it: This is absolutely not a blanket statement covering all journalists who graduated from the University of Texas. But is there a regional sports media bias in favor of UT? Absolutely, writes columnist, radio host and longtime Houston Chronicle sportswriter John P. Lopez '84 in a piece published Sunday in Billy Liucci's Maroon & White Report at Texags.com.
There IS a Longhorn media bias in this part of the country. I've seen it. I've cringed at some of the things that have been said and done on Saturdays in press boxes, in newsrooms when game stories are being laid out, early in the week when assignments are being made and late at night when pictures are chosen for the front page of the paper or website.

It is a bias that, yes, has impacted the stories and information the public receives. It happens in news rooms all over the state. It has led to some news tips being ignored while others pursued with much more vigor. Sure, it probably even has helped the Longhorns and assailed others.

Any of my fellow journalists who dispute this fact are either lying or blind.

It's hardly surprising, Lopez notes, what with the size of UT's journalism school. (In a similar post last fall, I noted that UT is graduating about 160 journalism majors per year, while A&M had at the time graduated a total of 23 journalism minors since the new program began in 2004.)

Lopez cites specific situations that I'll wager will sound familiar to anybody working in news in Texas:
All the instances below involve reporters or columnists who graduated from UT and work at Texas news outlets.
  • A writer at a major newspaper in Texas was asked if he wanted to cover a big Texas Tech game last season. He refused. When asked by an editor why, he responded: "Because it's Lubbock. And Tech."
  • While talking with an investigative reporter about a piece aimed at exposing irregularities at a major state program, I asked the reporter why he never seemed so eager to investigate UT. He responded with a chuckle, raised a Hook 'em 'Horns sign and said, "You know."
  • An editor coordinating NCAA Tournament coverage at a Texas newspaper was asked in a staff meeting why the Longhorns basketball team consistently was played on the front page, while the Aggies -- ranked higher -- consistently were inside. He responded curtly, "I make those decisions, not you."
  • An executive sports editor in Texas was approached with sourced information that indicated Vince Young's Wonderlic test score was well below par prior to the 2006 NFL draft. The editor quashed the story, which ultimately was reported elsewhere.

None of this means that any one particular instance of story play or apparent favoritism is part of a vast burnt-orange conspiracy. But as True Brown said in that earlier, related item, "In my opinion, it's not a matter of writers and editors going out of their way to downgrade A&M. Rather, there just aren't enough Aggies in the state media to keep things on an even keel. Unfortunately, this is going to get a lot worse before it gets even a little better because of A&M's jaw-dropping decision a few years ago to eliminate its journalism program."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dr. Murano resigns as A&M president

The Eagle story: Murano resigns as A&M president
Houston Chronicle story: 'Great concern' as A&M leader quits
Austin American-Statesman story: A&M president resigns before regents' meeting

Dr. Murano's statement
Texas A&M System statement

Saturday, June 13, 2009

News veteran coaches students in Liberal Arts program

The second semester of A&M's Student Reporter Project has wrapped, and the program is changing along with its students.

This fall, the College of Liberal Arts project will kick off with writing workshops that the students themselves requested. The project now also extends over two semesters instead of operating one semester at a time.

Students accepted into the program get an experience that's designed by a 35-year newspaper veteran to feel like the way a newspaper works.

Coordinator Dale Rice has divided the project into beats -- Arts, Family, GA, Health, Justice, Media, Politics and Religion/Culture. "I wanted to give the students a sense of the way an actual newsroom operates and an understanding of beats," he says.

Liberal Arts' director of college relations, Leanne South, says, "The students who apply don't get college credit, but we do pay them for their stories. They apply because they want to develop their skills as a journalist, so they come in motivated and ready to learn from Dale."

Once reporters are assigned to their beats, the work begins.

Rice says, "The students are involved in what I see as a 'real-world' relationship with an editor. As a group, we brainstorm ideas for all the beats and then the reporters pursue those they feel have a good peg."

Most reporters are asked to generate three stories per semester about Liberal Arts faculty research that falls under their beat; they are paid $50 per story. Senior reporters earn more for stories that dig deeper.

"I'm there during the reporting process to help them formulate or test questions prior to their interviews if they want that assistance (and many of them do)," Rice says.

"Then, they submit the completed stories, which I treat as first drafts. I comment on them, raise questions, suggest ways to improve ledes or restructure the pieces and then -- and this is the critical learning part -- send them back to the reporters for rework and rewriting."

Working with their editor

Rice's reporting and editing experience comes directly into play as he helps the students prepare for interviews.

"I sometimes help them figure out how to approach difficult subjects through a series of questions. Other times I help them figure out how to pace an interview so they can get comfortable with a professor who may be an intimidating figure to them. Occasionally, I help them phrase a question on a subject they consider controversial or sensitive," he says.

"It's important to remember that some of these students have had no journalism training, so the first serious interviews of their academic careers may take place for the SRP. Consequently, I also see my role as one of confidence building in that regard."

The results are rewarding, he says.

"The students have reacted very positively to the experience and I've been very pleased with their work."

Students' stories are published online as the In Depth news journal and pitched to outside media through Texas A&M’s News and Information Services. "Satara Williams' story on a professor's advice for relationships was picked up by UPI and Times of the Internet and run by both on Feb. 10 -- just in advance of Valentine's Day," Rice says. (Read the article here.)

Changing to fit students' needs

South says, "This project is what I call an organic project in that we started it from scratch and are allowing student feedback and progress to guide how we should proceed."

The most recent change allows students to spend two semesters in the project, rather than one. "When Dale asked if they would be interested in continuing on for another semester, they jumped at the opportunity," South says.

Another student-driven change is the writing workshops Rice will teach at the start of the fall semester. "The students wanted them to focus on key story elements," Rice says. "There will be three: one on ledes, one on nut grafs and one on the use of quotes to advance a story."

Rice recently was awarded a $3,000 grant for audio and video digital equipment; he plans to incorporate video and podcasting first into his classroom teaching and then into the Student Reporter Project.

An early effort is the following video filmed by a reporter from the program, in which Rice and two of his students appear:

Any liberal arts major, as well as any student minoring in journalism, can apply for the program. "We have journalism minors, Batt staffers and some who have not elected to take a minor in journalism (perhaps this experience will change their minds and offer them an enticing peek into another educational possibility)," Rice says.

South says she is interested to see Battalion reporters applying for the program. "Part of that might be because they are taking one or more of Dale's classes," she says. "We take that as a good sign that they believe the Student Reporter Project is an activity worth their time."

But for now, the program is at capacity. "The slots are full for the fall," Rice says. "We will open applications for the spring mid-way through the fall semester."

New: Your own journalism education news wire

I wanted to let y'all know about a feature I've been testing for a while (it's been hanging out over there at the bottom of the right-hand rail) that I think is now ready to offer to you guys.

The Aggie Journalists Newsvine provides stories chosen from the national media for their relevance to journalism education at Texas A&M.

If you subscribe to its RSS feed and plunk a widget on your homepage, or however you like to read RSS feeds, here's what you'll get:
  • Major news at journalism departments and schools around the nation
  • A closer focus on college journalism programs in Texas
  • Changes in journalism programs to adapt to new media
  • Grants awarded for journalism education
  • Battalion stories of special interest
  • Ideas and strategies for the future of journalism
  • Major news about A&M administration changes and the main campus
More specifically, here are some recent headlines:

Friday, June 12, 2009

LeBlanc '86 picks up Jordan Media Award today

Pamela LeBlanc '86, fitness writer for the Austin American-Statesman, will be at Cowboys Stadium today to receive a Barbara Jordan Media Award for her story "Soldiering Forward," about Mike Davis, a former Army Ranger -- and also an Aggie -- who was partially paralyzed in a 1995 training accident and concentrated on sports afterward as a way to adapt.

The Jordan awards, given by the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities, "acknowledge print, broadcast and Internet media professionals who accurately and positively report on individuals with disabilities."

Maintaining my usual veil of impartiality, I can tell you that Pam LeBlanc is a fantastic writer and reporter, as energetic as you would guess from her fitness column but also organized and prolific to such a degree that you could put out a paper with one reporter, if that reporter was Pam. She walks her fitness talk -- and bikes, runs and swims it, too. The woman is everywhere; if you've heard about it, Pam's already gotten it into the paper (or into a blog, tweet or video). It is so great to watch her work; she's an inspiration.

And she's gonna whack me upside the head for saying all this, so let me just close by saying I don't know anybody who cares more about their craft than Pam, and I'm a huge fan of hers. A totally impartial, unbiased fan, of course. Congratulations on your award, Pam!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rice gets $3,000 to add video, audio to JOUR 303

Texas A&M journalism lecturer Dale Rice is one of six recipients of the 2009 College of Liberal Arts Summer Technology Institute grants, which provide $3,000 to add technology to a course.

"I'm using the proceeds to buy the equipment (video cameras and digital voice recorders) and software to add video and audio components to JOUR 303, Media Writing II," Rice e-mailed.

The institute provides technical support as the equipment is put into use. Faculty members' applications for the grants are evaluated competitively based on their innovation and impact on students.

Rice said his students will learn to produce videos and audio podcasts to go along with the print
versions of their stories. "I plan to have the students publish an online magazine at the end of the semester with the best story of each student in 303, along with the accompanying videos and podcasts," he said.

Rice also hopes to introduce videos and podcasts into the Student Reporter Project, which he coordinates. Watch later this week for an update on that program.

"We're starting with six video cameras, four digital voice recorders and editing software for two Apple computers that will be placed in the computer lab where the class is held in Reed McDonald," Rice said.

"Fourteen students have signed up for 303 in the fall (compared with nine this spring) and there will be nine reporters in the SRP for the fall, so I think the demand will be pretty high. We'll probably handle that by allowing the students to check out a camera or recorder for one 24-hour period each week, so they will have to stagger use of the equipment. And we'll have to set up a schedule for editing time on the Apple computers.

"If it is successful, I am going to seek additional sources of funding to buy more equipment for the journalism and SRP students and to expand the video and audio components to the blogging class that I teach."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dr. Sumpter steps down as A&M journalism head

Dr. Randall Sumpter has resigned as the head of Texas A&M's Journalism Studies Program, said Associate Dean Pamela Matthews. Sumpter decided to work on his scholarship, said Matthews, who oversees Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Programs in the College of Liberal Arts.

Sumpter has overseen the journalism minor program at A&M since its inception and has drawn notable journalists to instruct A&M students in the Journalists-in-Residence program. Journalists taking part in the program have come from every major newspaper in Texas as well as the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and other outlets; many of them have been Aggies returning to their alma mater to teach and lead student projects for a week.

Watch for more updates on the Journalism Studies Program's future leadership, as well as updates coming very soon on the Student Reporter Program and a $3,000 grant that will directly benefit the students in JOUR 303, Media Writing II.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rogers remembers A&M's Donald C. Johnson

Bob Rogers, retired head of the Texas A&M Department of Journalism, sends this tribute to the late Donald C. Johnson. Thank you, sir!

In a perfect world, we would have the Donald C. Johnson Department of Student Media at Texas A&M, or, better still, the DJ Department of Student Media because he was DJ to hundreds of Battalion and Aggieland staffers.
DJ brought to A&M a lifelong passion and respect for journalism and its critical place in society. Those qualities also gave him a strong belief in the freedom and integrity of student journalism. He was devoted to his students and their work and resisted any pressures that hinted of censorship. He was a fierce protector of Student Publications from occasional attempts from university administrators to take over its funds for other purposes.
DJ came to A&M as newspaper technology was on the brink of cosmic changes from typewriters and Linotypes to computers. He embraced the new world and was instrumental in leading student publications and the Department of Journalism into it. He made the Battalion the first student newspaper in Texas, and perhaps the nation, into a computer-based operation. Only those who remember the bulky CRTs, the huge, finicky CPU and the horrid optical scanner system can imagine how difficult the change was. DJ spent untold hours making the systems work and training students to use them. As with everything else, he did it with total dedication.
Only DJ's family (and perhaps golf and music) were more important to him than journalism and student publications. When he came to A&M he chose a house next to Briarcrest Country Club's golf course for two reasons, the golf and the music programs at Bryan High School for his children. He was himself an accomplished violinist and in later years organized reunions for his high school orchestra. He also was a voracious reader and kept cabinets full of clippings from all manner of publications.
Don Johnson was a man of many interests and many talents, but most of all he was a journalist in the finest meaning of that word. And an Aggie in the finest meaning of that word, too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Johnson, ex-director of A&M Student Publications, dies

Donald Cargill Johnson, known at Texas A&M as "DJ," died May 23. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Here is an excerpt from the obituary in the Eagle:
Don's career as a newspaper editor with the Gannett Co. spanned more than 30 years, impacting innumerable lives through his professional and personal endeavors in New York and New Jersey. He made the transition to educating future journalists when he accepted the position of Director of Student Publications at Texas A&M University in 1977. Affectionately known as DJ to his students, Don spent more than a decade sharing his passions for integrity and the free press with Aggies.

There is a guest book on the Eagle's site where you can share and read comments and tributes to Mr. Johnson.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

MSC construction boots Batt out to The Grove

With the MSC closing soon for construction that will last until 2012, the Battalion has moved out to a portable building in The Grove, the open-air amphitheatre remembered primarily by Aggies of my vintage for Cut classes and midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Bob Wegener of Student Publications says they have as much space as they did in the MSC, and he promises news and photos soon. Thank you, Mr. Wegener! (Web site about the MSC expansion here.)