Wednesday, February 28, 2007

To Iraq and back...the Woodruff report

If, like me, you missed last night's special report by ABC News Correspondent Bob Woodruff, To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports, you can still catch it online.

In an email to JMC faculty, Prof. Bob Rucker calls it "a truly remarkable and moving special report."

He continued, "This is absolutely GREAT television reporting...definitely EMMY Award caliber. It is also very very emotional TV. It's difficult not to tear up and cry when you see what Woodruff and some Iraqi war veterans went through, and now face as life-long battles for survival."

To watch the video, go to and click on Bob Woodruff links on the main page, or click on this direct link:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Can bloggers be journalists? PR pros think so.

Remember the recent dust-up over the bloggers hired by the John Edwards campaign? In, blogger Lindsay Beyerstein explains "Why I refused to blog for Edwards."

The upshot? Her gut feeling was that any liberal blogger who joined the Edwards campaign would face a full-bore attack by right-wing bloggers and conservative groups...and she didn't want to become that kind of target.

And that's exactly what came to pass after Amanda Marcotte, a well-known feminist blogger, joined the Edwards campaign. Right-wing bloggers combed through her Pandagon blog and attacked some of her more provocative posts. Others joined in, and soon it was pig-pile time. Marcotte eventually resigned.

A better model for political blogging, Beyerstein said, is the 2006 Jim Webb Senate campaign, which put two bloggers on its payroll. These bloggers, Josh Chernila and Lowell Feld from Raising Kaine, are the guys who captured the "macaca" moment...and knew what to do with it. Beyerstein explains:

When Webb's videographer captured George Allen's "'macaca' moment"...all the campaign had to do was upload the video to YouTube and send out some well-targeted e-mails to bloggers and other supporters and wait.

Supporters forwarded the clip to their friends. Bloggers started posting the video on their sites. The "macaca" clip got more than 600,000 views on YouTube alone and exploded into the mainstream media.
The lesson for progressives, Beyerstein says, "is how effective bloggers can be when they're outside the campaign." She concludes:
"I think the candidates who benefit the most from the netroots are the ones who can inspire bloggers to do their work for free.... Every campaign needs a blog, but the most important part of a candidate's netroots operation is the disciplined political operatives who can quietly build relationships with bloggers outside the campaign. And the bomb-throwing surrogates need to be outside, where they can make full use of their gifts without saddling a campaign with their personal political baggage."
What I find interesting is that while academics and journalists waste time debating whether or not bloggers ever can be "real" journalists, PR professionals have decided. They are dealing with influential bloggers the same way they deal with influential sending them information and trying to build relationships.

"Campaigns 'work' bloggers more or less the same way they work the mainstream press," Beyerstein says. "They send out e-mails and press releases. They make phone calls. They make their candidate available for interviews. They invite bloggers to campaign events. They network in person at Drinking Liberally or the YearlyKos convention."

Sounds like dealing with the media to me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wanna be a better writer? Watch TV!

It's not the advice I would normally give a student writer, but it sure has worked for Soledad Rosas. So here is her advice: If you want to get better at telling stories, watch more TV...especially soap operas.

Rosas, a broadcast major and a student in my "Writing Workshop" class last fall, is a good writer. Right away, I noticed she had a knack for writing stories. Even with a simple assignment ("go outside and observe something...anything...then describe descriptive, use telling details...write me a couple hundred words, and turn it in by the end of class"), Rosas created a story.

Here's what she wrote. She called it, "Talking To Each Other."
"Is that a man?" she asked Sergio, who sat almost, but not
quite next to her. Sergio stopped writing in his thin
notebook. He stood up and walked quickly down the stairs.

Sitting on the side of the steps outside Dwight Bentel
Hall, Katy chewed her gum rhythmically. Her long bright
gold hair, tied at the top, glided down her back. Her right
leg supported her against the smooth rail. Using a
pocketsize, Katy typed a few words, looked up and then
typed some more. From the bright green grass with dim gold
autumn leaves where he stood Sergio replied "No." They
giggled simultaneously.

A bright summer-like sun came down from the sky. Wearing a
red baseball cap that was his perfect fit and a bright
green T-shirt, Sergio walked up the stairs again.

"Do you think anybody took notes?"Katy said in a friendly
manner as she continued typing.

"No, it is such a great day," Sergio replied, and looked
indirectly at Katy.

"I am making background noise crunching on chips," said
Katy as she reached into the bag of chips with her left
hand. She grabbed some potato chips and ate them slowly,
making sure they crunched, then she continued typing.

Sitting on the concrete steps, Sergio also kept writing
every detail in his notebook. A few minutes later, without
saying a word, he walked up the stairs and opened the heavy
brown door. Katy did not seem to care and kept typing
holding her tiny machine in an upward position.

A moment later, she left walking fast. Katy seemed to know
the path by memory.
Rosas's short piece has characters. It has dialog. It has action (of a sort). It has a beginning, a middle and an end...all the element of a story.

I particularly like her closing line: "Katy seemed to know the path by memory." To me, that's the line that makes this piece hang really together as a story. It rounds the story out; it creates a sense of familiarity, a sense of closure.

When it comes to writing, different approaches work for different people. So, students, here is what I have to say: If you want to learn to write stories, you might try watching more television...especially soap operas.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Convergence and conferences

I noticed an odd item in the latest Convergence Newsletter...a list of upcoming conferences that included the following:
Creating Communication: Content, Control and Critique
57th Annual Conference of the International Communication Assn.
San Francisco, CA, May 24-28, 2007
It struck me that anyone who still thinks it's possible to "control" content hasn't been paying attention to current trends in the media. I clicked on the link to check it out...and here's what came up in my browser window:

Obviously, the ICA conference web site has a few problems. The red and black color scheme is just lurid, and it appears that the graphics aren't showing. Worse, clicking on a link opens up the page in a new window...but there's no "back" button or link to take you back to the original page.

This may work in browsers like Explorer, where you just pile up open browser windows, but for browsers like Firefox with tabbed browsing, it's really dysfunctional.

Overall, I don't get the impression it's a forward-looking organization.

The ICA conference does list keynotes on the significance of social media and the democratic potential of blogging, so maybe it's more tuned in than the web site suggests. We'll hope so...otherwise, it looks like a bust. And that's too bad because it's practically in my backyard.

A little further afield but more promising is the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) conference in Las Vegas this April 18-21. With sessions like "Journalism Values in a Multimedia World" and "The Future of News" -- a session reporting on a new study of the public and TV news directors on the future of news, new technology and business -- it appears to be more on target.

If I was gonna pick one, I'd bet on the BEA.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Thanks to Robin Williams, Molly Bang and Pam

I wish I was a good designer.

I'm not bad...I can put together a balanced page that isn't ugly...but I just don't have the skill to take a good but pedestrian design and make it eye-catching. Wish I did.

But I do know good design when I see it.

And just as important, I know a bad design when I see it too...and I can usually figure out at least part of what's wrong with it.

I never took a class in graphic design, although I did take undergrad classes in drawing and photography, which probably helped. But I owe most of my "design eye" to three women: Robin, Molly and Pam.

Robin is Robin Williams, author of The Non-Designer's Design Book; Molly is Molly Bang, author of Picture This: Perception & Composition; and Pam is Pam Linwood, a friend and Kansas City-based direct marketer and freelance writer.

In my PR 191 -- Strategic Writing class, I make Robin Williams' The Non-Designer's Design Book a required text. I figure that, at some point in their careers, most PR practitioners will end up working on print pieces or web pages, either doing it themselves (in small shops/offices) or working with graphic designers. And that means it helps to have an understanding of the basic principles and lingo of graphic design.

In yesterday's class, I reviewed Robin Williams' four basic principles of design and Molly Bang's 10 principles of perception and perception, and had my students tackle one of Robin Williams' graphic design exercises. I also assigned my students to find two print pieces or web pages to critique -- one they like and one they don't -- based on these design principles. I call this assignment "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and I find they learn as much from bad examples as they do from good ones.

Once you start looking, you start seeing...whether you're looking for typos or good design. For example, as I was reading the newspaper today, I found a great example of one of Molly Bang's principles in a comic strip (you can read about that in this post in my PR 191 class blog).

That's one reason why I encourage my PR students to start filling an "idea file" (sometimes called a "cheat" file) with examples of good design. When you've got a project and you need some inspiration, it always helps to have a file full of great examples to draw upon. That's something I learned from my friend Pam Linwood, back in the day when we worked together at the Livestock Marketing Association (no kidding!), planning and publicizing the organization's annual conference.

Another thing I learned from Pam is the value of being a motivated learner -- of being willing and able to teach yourself new skills. In an era when so much is changing so fast, that's probably the most important skill of all. I hope I can help my students figure that out too.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Already Missing Molly

We lost one of the country's sharpest and funniest political writers yesterday: Molly Ivins.

When it came to skewering mean, vapid and greedy politicos, there was no one like Ivins. You could always count on her to knock the high and mighty down a few pegs, and make you laugh and feel outraged at the same time. It was a hellava combination.

The Chronicle carried a wonderful tribute to her, written by her long-time friend and editor Anthony Zurcher, as well as an obituary.

Do yourself a favor and read her last column, Stand Against the Surge. As Ivins put it,
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge.... We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"
Then do our country a favor and take her advice.