Monday, August 30, 2010

Rojas '10 graduates, moves from WaPost to LA Times

It really seems not that long ago to me that I was putting up a post about Rick Rojas '10, then a sophomore journalism student at A&M, getting selected for a New York Times training program. Well, Rojas followed that up with an internship at the Washington Post; graduation in May; a second summer at the Post; and now he's moving west to enter the Los Angeles Times' editorial training program.

TAMU News recently profiled him, writing about his start in journalism, his work at the Post (and meeting Bob Woodward) and his coverage of the November 2009 Fort Hood shooting:
“The Metro editor at The Post, the boss of the department I interned for last summer, called me to see if I could get out there. I got to Fort Hood by Thursday night, and stayed for three days. I covered press conferences and prayer vigils and camped out at the hospital where the victims were taken, and basically did whatever the editors on the national desk told me to do,” he said.
Here are a few of Rojas' favorite stories from his time at the Washington Post:
He adds: "I recently had a chance to meet up with another former student; I was in New York last weekend, and I met with Kathleen McElroy, an Aggie and the deputy editor for continuous news at The Times, where she took the time to give me a tour of the newsroom."

Rick, congratulations from the bottom of my heart on everything you've achieved and everything you're about to embark on. Whooooop!!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Register by Sept. 12 to hear NASA's Byerly '99 in Bryan

The Voice of Mission Control, Josh Byerly '99, will speak Sept. 16 at the IABC Brazos Valley meeting, and if there's anybody who should know about business communication, it's him. I'd say communication's pretty critical when you're talking to folks flying a ship 300 miles above the earth going 17,500 mph.

Register here by Sept. 12 for the speech. You can get a glimpse of Byerly on the job here, and he also makes a quick cameo near the start of the latest "NASA: Behind the Scenes" video (on a somewhat yucky but highly necessary topic).

The KBTX alum will speak about his experience and his NASA role during the 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. meeting at Christopher's World Grille in Bryan (full details here).

"I'm excited about it because it's the first time I've returned to B/CS for about two years... we've been so busy with shuttle missions and I've been going to Russia and Kazakhstan a few times per year," he said.

"Russia and Kazakhstan?" I said.

"There are four Russian Soyuz launches and landings each year, and we send American and international partner crewmembers up on them," Byerly said. "My colleague and I rotate going over there throughout the year any time we have a crewmember on the flight. For launch, we are in Kazakhstan at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (same launch site that Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin launched from), and for landing we are a little more north in Kazakhstan.

"We climb aboard Russian military helicopters and fly out to the landing site, pick up the crew, head back to Moscow and then ultimately back to the U.S. It's always an interesting trip.

"Also, as you know, we have two shuttle missions left, one in November and one in February... The one in November will be space shuttle Discovery's final flight, and I'll be calling the launch and landing on TV from Mission Control. It's an honor for me to be able to do it, because Discovery is our oldest and most historic shuttle. "

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sell yourself in the elevator

Because this blog is also for mid-career Aggie journalists coping with the industry's current weirdness, I like to include items geared for those of us who graduated farther back in history. Like me. (These include the "What's Your OQ? Quiz" and a tutorial in building your own website fast and cheap, complete with vanity e-mail address, to display your resume and clips.)

So I'll add these "Questions to ask yourself" to the "Questions they might ask you" (a practice journalism job interview), the "Questions you might want to ask them" and the "Questions they can't ask you."

One piece of advice us mid-careeries get sometimes is to have our "elevator pitch" ready. This is a short sales pitch for your own self that will persuade someone to either hire you or keep you, in no more time than you might spend in an elevator together. You might think of it as, "What the hell would I ever say if the publisher came into the newsroom and stood at my desk," or how to sell yourself if you meet a prospective employer at a professional conference.

This can sound totally awkward, Business Insider observes, and they offer some practical thoughts on making yours better. Among them, it suggests asking yourself these questions (and answering literally out loud, perhaps phoning your own voicemail), then boiling down the answers.
  • Say, why do you like your work?
  • Why have you been doing this for 10, 15, 20 years?
  • What is it that you find interesting about it?
  • No, seriously, don’t talk to me like I’m your boss, what do you really find interesting about it?
  • Why do you want to stay in this field?
  • What do you like about this industry?
  • When you’re in the shower in the morning, what types of challenges at work make you excited to get the heck to the office as soon as possible?
  • When are you having the most fun?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meet Maroon Weekly's editor, Chris Shepperd

Maroon Weekly is a tab-sized publication that comes out weekly, distributed free around the Texas A&M campus and in Bryan-College Station; it began in 2004 and focuses on entertainment, music and reviews. Several A&M students from Agricultural Communications and Journalism are among its writers, and AGCJ master's student Chris Shepperd recently took over as editor for the upcoming school year.

Shepperd has plans to strengthen the weekly's local coverage and its web site, www.maroonweekly.com, and Maroon Weekly offers students a chance to pick up some money and build up clips with feedback and coaching.

How many writers do you have, and how much will they be writing -- does everyone file a story for each issue, one per week, or is it more or less than that?

The current staff consists of three editors including myself (editor in chief, managing editor, sports) and 20 staff writers. Most of the writers will file one story per issue. Some are a little busier than others and only write once every few issues.

We are also working on creating a lot of web-exclusive content. We haven't really focused on that in the past. We normally simply put our stories online and leave it at that. But we want to drive traffic to the site. So we will have some blogs, stories, exclusives that will be only on the website.

Please tell me, because I'm out of town and don't see the Weekly itself much, what you normally cover. I'm told there's usually a good amount of content about music/entertainment around town? Also, what should students know if they'd like to work for you: What are you looking for in writers, and how much would they get paid?

Our main drive is definitely entertainment, music, and reviews. Books, CDs, bands, movies....etc. We also try to cover sports from more of a human interest standpoint.

This semester we are going to have some new columns I am excited about: "Cheap and Easy" will be a low-budget cooking column; "CheapSkate" will be a column about repurposing old stuff; "Sojourner" (perhaps my fave) will be a column on discovering B-CS. There are so many unique things in the valley that nobody knows about. Historical and otherwise.

As far as work is concerned ... I am always open to talking to people about writing for the paper. The pay is per word for printed stories. $.05 a word. And flat rate for online content. It is definitely geared towards those looking to build their resume and portfolio.

One thing I am actively looking for right now is one more sports writer. NOT someone that wants to write about football and basketball [exclusively -- that is, to cover games regularly]. But someone that wants to write feature stories on athletes. ... I need someone to write personality profiles and features on athletes from ALL the sports. Including football and basketball.

How long do you want stories to run -- what does that five cents per word usually work out to?
Basically the stories vary in length dependent on the topic. For the sports features it might run 800-1000 words ... maybe a little more. So we are talking $40-$50. For reviews we are looking more at the 400-500 word count. So $20-$25.

Do you work with people, edit them, help 'em learn a little?
Absolutely work with people. That is one of my favorite parts of the job. I want to teach journalism when I graduate.

The learning experience is the best part of working at MW. If someone wants to grow, then that is what I am here for. I was the editor in chief of my junior college paper, staff writer, sports editor, managing editor and now editor of MW. So I have seen lots of different sides. Have also been the editor for a magazine our department publishes. So it is always a bonus when someone is doing this to get better and wants to grow. I am not trying to say I am a know-it-all; I am NOT. But I love to help people discover.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How A&M can turn out Web-skilled journalists - NOW

I asked Chris Hokanson '08 -- Editor in Chief of the Battalion in summer 2007, who also served as news editor, multimedia editor and new media editor -- to write up his thoughts on what A&M could do to educate programmer-journalists. Hokanson, who is currently a Genius at the Houston Galleria's Apple Store, responded extremely graciously with this article.

Read on and you'll learn:
  • Some of the Batt's new media efforts in recent years
  • One way Batt staffers could learn web technologies for free
  • Who to watch: Leaders of the digital news revolution
Here's Hokanson:

Why College Publisher is good, and why A&M needs to make it unnecessary

When I transitioned the Batt's radio desk - a daily, 3-minute news clip that did double duty as our podcast and a segment on the local public radio station - to the Multimedia / New Media desk, I learned something.

I learned that if you want to shoot video, develop for the web, and produce podcasts and radio shows, a little background in those areas goes a long way. Unfortunately, I had none of those things. My experience with "new media" consisted of some old home videos and a LiveJournal account. My introduction to social media was at least encouraged by the fact that Texas A&M was one of the first schools to get access to Facebook (with all the farming that happens on Facebook these days, you would have guessed A&M started the site).

The tasks given me were daunting for someone with so little experience: produce a daily radio show, weekly podcasts, video stories (both independent and complementary to print stories), and maintain and improve The Batt's website. Pretty big task for a guy who had no idea what a <div> tag was.

But thankfully, College Publisher was there to help. If you're not familiar with CP, it's a web-based content management system that the Batt and 600 other college papers utilize. Think of it as Blogger for college papers - a fairly strict template focused on content over design. CP makes money by providing its service free of charge in exchange for a large portion of ad revenue on the paper's site. In return, guys like me could record a podcast and post it into CP's system without knowing anything about creating RSS feeds or XML documents.

Today's web design world requires an alphabet soup of languages and systems to be present on one's resume. PHP, CSS, xHTML, Java, Flash - Comp Sci majors have tough times meeting the requirements of some newspaper job postings I've seen recently. CP's system is a tremendous resources at schools that simply don't have the resources to teach their students more than simple HTML. With CP, advisors and professors can spend time teaching their students about writing and reporting - not wasting away teaching them to be code monkeys.

But A&M has the resources to do both. I'm amazed at the strides the Batt's new media desk has taken since I graduated. The production quality of the videos make mine look downright childish. But sticking a YouTube embed into CP's standard article template is no longer compelling. It's a bad experience for the user and it makes for a huge headache for archiving (I started out using BrightCove because of YouTube's resolution and length restrictions, but BrightCove's non-Enterprise divisions folded - and so did all my videos). The tools are out there to make online news presentation compelling and engaging, but CP's system severely limits that.

So what can Aggie students and the student media department do?

First, make some friends in the Computer Science department. Those kids need jobs, too. Hiring from a pool of students learning those web technologies not only brings help in the form of direct experience, but their knowledge spreads like wildfire. I didn't learn Photoshop in a class. I learned it watching Stacy Reeves and Spencer Selvidge work magic with the lasso tool.

Second, learn from those leading the digital news revolution. Don't be content to simply look at chron.com and say, "Hey, let's do that!" Call up folks outside traditional newspaperdom that do work for sites like Wired or Engadget, Talking Points Memo or Popular Science. Heck, chat with the designers at The Onion - they've got one of the most engaging experiences when it comes to multimedia news (even if it is all fake). Subscribe to Smashing Magazine - probably the best continual resource in web design today.

Third and most importantly, be entrepreneurial. Don't be afraid to try new technologies and push the limits of College Publisher's system. Most of my time leading those first few years of the New Media desk was spent trying, implementing, and many times failing with systems and technologies that have become digital dodo birds. But the knowledge I gained was valuable. Innovate for innovation's sake - that's what a college paper is for! When you start pushing against College Publisher's walls, discuss whether or not it's right to break free. Talk to the staff at - heaven forbid - the Daily Texan. They're on their own now. And while their site has seen an obvious decline in usability (even just readability), their students are gaining valuable insight and knowledge by building and maintaining their own web presence. Those are skills that will allow students to succeed in the 21st century journalism - whether that means a job at the Washington Post or a career as a freelancer.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tales from the Battcave '05-'06 and Battapus captured!

I think most of us who spent waaay too much time in the Battcave will find some memories that resonate with our own in these blog posts (scroll down to the "My Life as a Journalist" entries) by Rob Saucedo '07, a 2005-06 Batt staffer and section editor, who writes very descriptively of his time working at the Battalion, both good times with his coworkers and harder times as the choices of editors came into conflict.

Also, Saucedo has been kind enough to give me a photo of the "Battypus" (or "Battapus"), a creature that was featured on Battalion staff T-shirts of this era. Love it!

In his series of nine posts, Saucedo includes some reasons why he didn't get invited back to interview then-University President Robert Gates a second time, and how his fear of the gruff Battalion adviser Ron George grew into great respect and admiration.

He also gives his view of the blackface YouTube video scandal, which made national news, and the Battalion's handling of it. "From talking to the students in question, it became obvious that the purpose of their video was to lampoon the perceived second-class status of minorities at Texas A&M. This message, unfortunately, was not obvious in the video," he writes.

(In his discussion of the controversy and coverage, he gives an opinion or two that, were this more than a blog post, I might contact other parties for comment about. But he keeps it nice and it's so clearly his own opinion that I'm sure I'd do more harm than good by raking up old differences. Just so you know.)

Having been, during my own time at the Batt, privy to the truth inside another "racist" scandal that blew up into the national news, I can tell you for absolute certain that even though there likely are race problems at A&M as elsewhere, people can be WAY too quick to tag Aggies with the racist label. In my case I'm speaking of an editorial cartoon that was latched onto by a black lawmaker as racist. I am as confident as anyone can be that the person who drew that cartoon had NO intention of including race as a factor (in fact, I think I recall that the cartoonist did not actually know the race of the lawmaker).

One factor that's the same in both cases: young people not realizing how their actions will look to outside viewers. But I digress! Share your own stories of too much time spent in the newsroom, or other Battalion tales... the comments section is open, and you can e-mail me at aggiejournalists@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Batt keeps No. 5 spot in Top 10 College Newspapers

The Princeton Review has again placed the Battalion, Texas A&M's student newspaper, at No. 5 on its list of popular American college newspapers. Whoop!

The Batt was No. 8 in 2008, No. 5 in 2009, No. 5 this year, "and No. 1 in 2011," said the incoming fall 2010 editor, Matthew Woolbright '12, when I contacted him for reaction.
I've got a Q&A with Woolbright in the works, but for now here are his responses to this honor:
I was thrilled to see that we have maintained our spot in the top 5 college newspapers in the country. I think it says a great deal about the skill, passion and determination of everyone involved with The Battalion. The people I have met working on staff are some of the most incredible people I know, and I am extremely proud to be a part of this team. I will say that my charge all along has been to be the best college newspaper in the country. This is no secret to the staff, and they are ready to show the everyone what we can accomplish together. It truely is an honor to lead such an exceptional group of Aggies, and we are excited about going into the year as the top newspaper in the Big 12.

The Princeton Review ranks newspapers according to student responses to the question, "How popular is your campus newspaper?," so I asked why he thought so many Aggies gave the Batt a thumbs-up:
I believe the students gave such a strong response because we have strived to always be their voice, and center our focus on what matters to them. Our first duty is to our classmates, so I am very happy to see that they think we are doing a good job with our top priority. We want to keep getting better and are looking into ways to incorporate even more students' opinions in how we operate and what we cover. The students of Texas A&M are our top priority and always will be.