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July 25 2011

19:02

Why Missouri J-School Should Rescind Its Apple Laptop Requirement

This story originally appeared on J-School Buzz and was edited and adapted for MediaShift with permission. It was written by David Teeghman, a recent graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.

To incoming students in the Missouri School of Journalism planning to buy an Apple MacBook just because it's a J-School requirement, don't do it.

Apple computers offer almost nothing to the average journalism student you can't find on a less pricey laptop, and certainly not enough to justify the outrageous price tag. And besides, what sense does it make to require all incoming students buy a laptop in the first place when there are so many computer labs throughout Mizzou's journalism school with all the software we could ever need?

One of the first things the J-School tells you when you show up for Summer Welcome before your freshman year (right after the part about how you will totally find a job, LOL) is that you need to buy an Apple laptop from the MU Bookstore with all the accessories.

The official line from the Mizzou J-School is that you just need a laptop equipped with Windows Office when you enroll. In reality, you will be ostracized and made to feel unwelcome carrying any laptop not emblazoned with the Apple logo. If you have ever seen the picture at the top of this post of a Mizzou journalism lecture class, you can see the J-School has been pretty effective at driving home the message that you need an Apple MacBook to make it there.

The cheapest MacBook option from the MU Bookstore is more than $1,300, while the most expensive one is closer to $2,800. Each package includes such non-essentials as a specially branded Missouri School of Journalism backpack, flash drive, notebook lock and Microsoft Office.

For all the good this laptop will do you as a journalism student, you would be better off buying a cheap Windows laptop from Dell, uploading all of your documents to Google Docs and Dropbox and your music to Amazon Cloud Drive or Google Music Beta, and downloading the free Open Office suite of software. That will save you more than $800 on the cheapest package from the bookstore, and more than $2,000 on the most expensive one.

An unfair 'suggestion'

I wasn't going to say anything about this, but then I read this story in the Columbia Tribune about an incoming journalism student named Katie Bailey:

Right in front of a Tiger Tech booth at a University of Missouri Summer Welcome fair, Lana Bailey is ready to cry.

Her daughter, Katie, needs a laptop before she starts college in the fall, but they're not sure which to buy. A pre-journalism student, she has been told the school requires, or at least prefers, a Mac. But she's not sure what type of journalism she's going to pursue, and that will make a difference.

We later learn that Bailey is a first-generation college student and the child of a single mother. She is also making some hefty sacrifices to afford her college education, like paying for this laptop herself and skipping the dorms (er, residence halls) and living with a family friend in Columbia to save on room and board.

Don't put yourself through this misery, Katie. The Mizzou J-School has a habit of putting in place technology requirements whose benefits are not clearly articulated to students, particularly those who come from a lower socio-economic class. It's an intriguing irony for a school based on the art of communication to mass audiences.

I just graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism last month, and I can say with complete certainty that I never once did an assignment in a journalism class that I could not have done on a Windows-based computer. There is no piece of software or functionality in the line of Apple laptops that is essential to a journalism student at Mizzou or any other journalism school.

The Mizzou J-School usually trots out the iLife suite of software programs on MacBooks as proof that these computers are essential to journalism students. The idea is that Apple computers come with programs that allow you to edit video, photos and even audio. But you will never use iMovie to edit video for a journalism class, never use iPhoto to edit photos, and never use Garage Band to edit audio. You will use top-of-the-line software programs like Final Cut Pro, Avid, Adobe Audition and, of course, Photoshop to do that work.

Few Requirements Elsewhere

In my reporting for this post, I heard from graduates and professors at the journalism schools at Loyola University in Chicago, Columbia University, New York University, University of North Carolina, University of Oregon, and Northwestern University, and it was only Northwestern's Medill that has any sort of technology requirements in place like Mizzou's.

macbookflickr_Mikael_Miettinen.jpg

As Loyola graduate Emily Jurlina wrote in a comment on the original version of this post on J-School Buzz, "I am a Mac user by choice and would never think of switching, but I was never once made to feel like I couldn't complete my assignments as well or as good if I didn't have a Mac. Loyola seemed to understand that not everyone chooses the Apple route and made it a point to have the computers available for all students."

Not only is Mizzou unique in that it very strongly recommends students buy the much more expensive (yet not much more useful) Apple brand of laptops, but many journalism schools don't require you to cough up money for any kind of required technology. The journalism graduates I spoke to said their schools did not have any set of requirements on what kind of phone, computer or audio recorder they buy. This came as a complete shock to me, as I have watched Mizzou's J-School go so far as to even discuss the possibility of an iPad requirement (yes, really).

Mizzou's J-School is littered with top-notch computer labs that have the latest and greatest hardware and software that can do everything from edit video in Final Cut Pro to design a graphic in InDesign. Yet every freshman must buy a laptop of their own, preferably one of the most expensive brands out there. That doesn't add up.

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Mizzou's J-School sees things differently. Associate Dean Brian Brooks told me in an email interview, "For years, students and parents asked us for guidance on buying a computer at the start of college. Almost everyone does it -- our survey eight years ago showed that almost 90 percent of freshmen bought a new computer for college."

To paraphrase, the first justification for the wireless requirement is that everyone is already buying one, so we might as well make it a requisite. Ninety percent is an awfully high figure, and though I couldn't see the raw numbers for myself, my own experience has shown that a good majority of incoming students bought new computers, even if they weren't required.

But the slim minority who did not buy one must have had a good reason for doing so. Maybe it was financial burdens similar to the ones Katie faces, a problem that is certainly widespread in this economic recession.

The justification

Brooks also said the school requires wireless laptops because, "The laptop is portable and can be used to take notes and do work while a student is on campus between classes. A desktop provides less mobility and requires the student to go back to the dorm to work."

Now, I don't want to be one of "those" people, but I should point out that a pen and notebook have the same capabilities to take notes on the fly. Estimated cost: the change rattling around in your pocket.

So, that's the justification for a wireless laptop requirement for every incoming student. It's weak, but at least it exists. Why the strong Apple suggestion?

"We wanted to start teaching the basics of audio and video editing as part of the curriculum," Brooks told me. "iLife, while simple, helps students learn the basics. They then easily graduate to more sophisticated programs in their advanced classes."

This makes sense in theory. Students start out with simple media editing programs and move on to more complicated ones. But J-Schoolers don't touch the iLife programs for any class. They might use it to Photoshop their head onto Mike Tyson's body or edit a video for YouTube in their free time, but they won't be doing it for a grade in journalism school.

As Engadget and others have pointed out, Mizzou makes these Apple items "required" partly to manipulate financial aid rules. You see, financial aid will only cover items that are required by the school, not those that are optional or recommended. It's not enough for the J-School to recommend we all buy Apple products; it has to "require" that we all buy them so we can include these expensive gadgets in our financial need estimates.

I'm sure we can find more useful ways to spend that financial aid money than on admittedly non-essential and pricey Apple products. And maybe someone should tell incoming students that this "requirement" is more like a "requirement nudge nudge say no more!"

That said, I am typing these very words on a MacBook Pro I received as a graduation gift from my parents. What's more, I carry this laptop in the Missouri School of Journalism-branded backpack I got as a freshman. It's a great computer, and given a choice between a Windows-based computer and a MacBook I would go with the MacBook every time.

But I have been blessed to come from a family that can afford such extravagances. Not every potential journalism student is so lucky, nor should they be. Diversity in every respect should be encouraged in this journalism school, be it financial or racial or intellectual.

From rising tuition to the journalism industry's reliance on indentured servitude to stagnant salaries, it is becoming less and less feasible for students who don't come from at least a middle-class background to make it in journalism. Mizzou's J-School should not make it even harder for the less economically fortunate to succeed in journalism with superfluous Apple laptop requirements.

MacBook photo by Mikael Miettinen on Flickr.

David Teeghman is a recent graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and the founder and publisher of J-School Buzz. Teeghman will soon be a Secondary English teacher in Indianapolis as part of Teach For America.

jschoolbuzz logo.jpg

A version of this story originally appeared in JSchoolBuzz.com, a site dedicated to reporting the latest news and analysis about the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Founded in October 2010, J-School Buzz is produced by current J-Schoolers. You can follow JSB on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

March 15 2011

22:16

Why Missouri's J-School Should Rethink Its Approach to Twitter

Do you check the official Twitter feed for the Missouri School of Journalism on a regular basis? Probably not, based on its dismal number of followers.

As of today, the official Twitter account of Mizzou's J-School had just 630 followers. That is a far cry from most other top journalism schools and a negative reflection on our own.

How does the Mizzou J-School Twitter feed compare to other journalism schools? Well, let's look at how many people follow the Twitter accounts of a randomly selected sample of top undergradate and graduate J-Schools across the country:

* Columbia University: 5,624
* Arizona State University: 4,893

* University of Southern California: 3,826

* University of North Carolina: 3,047

* Northwestern University: 2,312

* New York University: 1,988

* University of California - Berkeley: 1,107

* University of Kansas: 549

* University of Illinois - Urbana: 301

Why Twitter Matters for J-Schools

As students at the Missouri School of Journalism, we're familiar with the J-School's reputation as one of the top journalism schools in the country. For years, Mizzou has sat comfortably at the top, alongside universities such as Columbia and Northwestern. But because we are a school that prides itself on innovation in online media, why is it that our Twitter efforts are lacking?

At least we have more followers than arch-rival Kansas... but not by much. And that's important: The number of followers is the most objective way to measure the value of the content one posts on Twitter. Simply put, the Missouri School of Journalism does not have many followers because it is not posting enough valuable information.

A quick look at the Missouri Journalism School's feed reveals that its tweets are made up entirely of press releases. They're about J-School students and professors winning awards and other news that boosts the school's reputation. This information is important to include, as Twitter is a great public relations tool. At the same time, press releases can be boring, and unless one is mentioned or knows someone who's mentioned in the release, most people on Twitter won't bother to read them -- or, it turns out, follow @mojonews.

Plus, the feed has had a measly 15 tweets since the Spring 2011 semester began, so Mizzou students can hardly count on Twitter to keep up with the happenings in the J-School. Maybe that's why just a month and a half after we began publishing J-School Buzz, a blog about the Missouri School of Journalism, our Twitter account already has 931 followers, about 300 more than the journalism school's.

How Other J-Schools Are Using Twitter

Columbia Journalism School uses its Twitter feed to remind students of workshops and lectures as well as to publicize content that its students have published. It even engages in conversations with students, sometimes @ mentioning them and responding to their comments. Its Twitter presence is friendly, interesting and consistent, with about two tweets per day.

The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications has a similar approach. It also retweets students and other UNC accounts on a regular basis. One can read tweets about upcoming events, view students' work and even find links to internship and job opportunities.

USCtweet-500.jpg

The University of Southern California's Annenberg School has one of the most conversational Twitter accounts I saw, with an average of 10 tweets per day. It uses the hashtag #ascj, for Annenburg School for Communication and Journalism. Students, alumni and professors have joined in, so it's easy to communicate. They even encourage prospective students to use the #ascj hashtag to chat with current J-School students.

New York University's J-School does such a good job of filling their Twitter feed with interesting content that it took me a full five minutes of scrolling through tweets to find an actual press release.

More than just Content

Of course, the relationship between Twitter followers and the quality of content or interaction is not a direct one, as the millions who've read @charliesheen can attest.

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In the case of J-School Twitter accounts, the size of a J-School program or its location may matter.

But look at Columbia University: Its graduate program has only 400 students. By comparison, Mizzou's J-School has a combined 2,300 journalism students in its undergrad and graduate programs. Yet Columbia's Twitter feed has about nine times as many followers.

Of course, Columbia benefits from being located in America's largest city, so it's likely that it has a following in the community beyond its Morningside Heights campus. That's certainly not the case for UNC's J-School in cozy Chapel Hill, which had a population of only 54,492 people in 2007. @UNCJSchool has thousands more followers on Twitter than the University of Missouri, despite Mizzou's location in Columbia (2010 population: 108,500), a city nearly twice the size of Chapel Hill.

A Twitter Model for J-Schools

Like many other typical college students, checking my Twitter account is one of the first things I do when I sit down at my computer. And because we spend so many of our waking hours (and some of our non-waking ones) in the J-School, it's only natural to expect more communication from it.

I want to visit @mojonews and find links to students' work, reminders about club meetings, and announcements of speakers and films being shown in the J-School. These are the kind of tweets we feel obliged to send out at J-School Buzz because @mojonews does not. I want to see links to relevant news stories and other content that students would find helpful and interesting. The Mizzou J-School should be using social media not just as a mouthpiece for its own achievements, but also as a learning tool for students.

Suzette Heiman, director of planning and communications for the Missouri School of Journalism, maintains the J-School's Twitter account. Heiman says the account is used primarily as a publicity tool. And while including more information on Twitter is a good idea, it's more complicated than it sounds.

"It's a matter of how it's going to be monitored, and having proper organization," said Heiman.

Currently, J-School students receive relevant news and information via email. Heiman says for the foreseeable future, that system will remain in place.

How do you think the University of Missouri School of Journalism can better use its social media? Let us (and the J-School) know in the comments below, or better yet, tell them yourselves on Twitter.

*****

Jennifer Paull is a senior at the University of Missouri, majoring in convergence journalism and minoring in psychology. She is also the social media editor for J-School Buzz. While journalism is her first love, after graduation she plans to pursue her masters degree in school counseling.

jschoolbuzz logo.jpg

A version of this story originally appeared in JSchoolBuzz.com, a site dedicated to reporting the latest news and analysis about the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Founded in October 2010, J-School Buzz is produced by current J-Schoolers. You can follow JSB on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

February 23 2011

16:42

Awards season begins: narrative highlights from ASNE and Polk awards; announcement of CRMA finalists

Looking for some quality narrative journalism you might not have noticed before? As awards season for newspapers and magazines gets underway, we wanted to share links to stories recognized for their writing and storytelling. Here are some of the more narrative categories and entries from the 2010 Polk Awards in Journalism, the list of finalists for the 2011 City and Regional Magazine Awards, and the winners of the American Society of News Editors awards for the best journalism of 2010.

Earlier this month, the City and Regional Magazine Association and the Missouri School of Journalism announced the 2011 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalists. There are a lot of narrative contenders in many of the categories, but here are the candidates for feature story and for writer of the year. Winners will be announced at the CRMA 35th Annual Conference to be held April 30-May 2 at The Drake Hotel in Chicago. (Click on the article titles to read the stories.)

Feature Story

  • 5280 Magazine – Lindsey Koehler “Gone
  • Atlanta Magazine – Thomas Lake “The Golden Boy
  • Chicago Magazine – Bryan Smith “The Long Fall
  • Philadelphia Magazine – Ralph Cipriano “The Hitman
  • Texas Monthly – Michael Hall “The Soul of a Man” (link is to excerpt only)

Writer of the Year (specific stories were not mentioned, but we have included a link to a story from each writer)

The American Society of News Editors last week announced the winners of its annual awards for outstanding writing and photography for 2010. Some of the stories are projects that we’ve covered before, but here are a few with a strong element of storytelling that you might not have seen yet.

The staff of The New York Times won the Online Storytelling award, for “A Year at War,” which recounts the life of a battalion with “intimacy and deep understanding.” Michael Kruse won the Distinguished Writing Award for Nondeadline Writing for a collection of stories, including his celebrated monkey piece. Barbara Davidson of the Los Angeles Times won the Community Service Photojournalism award for her exploration of the effects of gang violence on the innocent: “those wounded or killed because of a quarrel in which they had no part, victims lying in hospital beds or relatives and friends standing by their loved ones’ coffins or sitting all alone asking, ‘Why?’ ”

William Wan of The Washington Post won the Freedom Forum/ASNE Award for Distinguished Writing on Diversity for “his stories that provide insights that add to readers’ understanding and awareness of diverse issues shaping society and culture. Wan writes about a proud U.S. Army soldier whose Islamic faith is the target of ongoing hostility within his own ranks. Another piece details unusual Saturday afternoon church services at a Giant supermarket, where worshipping occurs in the community room and sometimes in the aisles. He also reports on Major League Baseball’s quixotic training program in China.”

And just this week, Long Island University announced the 2010 George Polk Awards in Journalism. Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone won the award for Magazine Reporting for “The Runaway General,” the story of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and America’s conflicted mission in Afghanistan. The Washington Post’s “Top Secret America” project, spearheaded by Dana Priest and William Arkin, took the prize for National Reporting. The “Law and Disorder” collaboration between PBS’ “Frontline,” ProPublica and The Times-Picayune covered suspicious shootings by police in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and won the award for Television Reporting.

For more, see the complete list of ASNE winners, the Polk Awards press release, and all the 2011 CRMA finalists.

November 30 2010

18:30

Droid Does Mizzou: Speed-dating style app contest builds a new framework for journalism experience

It may not be possible to force innovation in journalism, but you may be able to guide it, starting with a little speed dating.

Lightning round-style matching is the secret to creating teams that can successfully build apps for news, at least at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. (For our purposes let’s replace nervous single-ites making awkward small talk with anxious j-students, programmers, and business majors.)

This is the fourth year the Institute has held a competition to encourage journalism students to try their hand at becoming developers. In previous years students have focused on creating applications for the iPhone and Adobe AIR. In this year’s competition students will create apps on the Android platform with help from Google, Adobe, Sprint, and the Hearst Corporation.

“What we try to do is take an emerging piece of technology and challenge our students to come up with a solution for journalism or the advertising that supports it,” Keith Politte, manager of the technology testing center at the Institute, told me.

Over the course of the next few months students will give an initial pitch to judges, followed by months of working on the apps for a final presentation in the spring. Winners will earn a trip to Silicon Valley to present their project to Google. “Android will be fun,” Politte said. “It not only allows us to go to phones, but also some of the new tablets and Google TV.”

In its role Hearst acts as a client and partner, offering specs on what types of apps or content areas it’s interested in, as well as providing project managers to help guide students. The company will also consider student apps for use in its own products. The winning projects from last year’s competition, a recommendation engine and an enhanced photo gallery program, have both been turned into internal projects at Hearst Interactive, Politte told me.

J-schools like Mizzou are taking furtive steps towards blending traditional media education with a sharper focus on teaching technical skills (or perhaps ushering in the rise of the journo-programmer), and the competition at RJI is an example of fostering innovation from journalism students in a less-than-academic (or at least outside-the-classroom) way. And if the last three competitions have been any indicator, it’s a bridge to outsiders (engineers, business students, programmers) who could bring fresh thinking into journalism’s future.

“We bring in different students, introduce them to the concept, and say go,” Politte told me. “After an hour of frenzied experiences you have a team.” Again, speed dating. They bring together undergrads from the School of Journalism with computer science majors, engineering students, and business majors. Absent the young developer toiling away in a dorm, it’s likely most people don’t have experience building web applications or may not have convenient connections to computer science geeks or budding journalists. As a practical necessity teams need members from the J-school and an “other,” meaning students from other schools, Politte said.

One benefit is that journalism students are exposed to thinking like (and communicating with) a programmer, a skill that likely will be handy once they leave college. But Politte said the opposite is true as well, as programmers, engineers, and business students gain an insight into journalism. “The world doesn’t live in silos,” Politte said. “We need to be able to cross disciplines — and our students, when they graduate, if they’re working as a journalist, will interface with IT folks.”

Of course there’s also the reality that working as a journalists going forward doesn’t necessarily mean working in a newsroom or at a newspaper. Politte thinks that future is more than apparent to students, which is why more are interested in broadening their skills outside of media.

“They see the legacy business model being fractured and are wanting to be more entrepreneurial and solve problems in a journalism context,” he said.

What may give students a greater incentive this year is the fact that they’ll own what they create outright. Politte said in previous competitions that there was uncertainty whether the university retained the license to products created by students. Now participants will have the intellectual property rights to what they develop. “The old way is the university owns everything and is motivated by capturing anything created and being able to monetize it,” Politte said. “It’s good in theory, but the university doesn’t have enough individuals to help commercialize and accelerate the licenses we have.”

Practical, tangible experience is now the mindset for many journalism schools, as we’ve seen with Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, the University of North Carolina’s Reese Felts Digital News Project, and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab.

Journalism schools find themselves launching students into an industry in flux and trying to adapt to ideas and technology that may not be fully formed yet. What the student competition suggests is that creating non-academic frameworks for students to innovate (and potentially find solutions to the industry’s problems of today) may be just as important as any curriculum or classroom experience.

Politte sums it up best: “We wanted to step out of our students’ way and let them be successful.”

May 03 2010

15:39

Job Opening: Multimedia Journalism Professor at Missouri School of Journalism

The Missouri School of Journalism invites applications for the position of assistant or associate professor (professional practice) in multimedia journalism. The person selected will teach and coordinate the School’s new sophomore-level required course in Fundamentals of Multimedia Journalism.

The ideal candidate would have experience in teaching or curricular design and a background in designing multimedia for journalism and/or strategic communication Web sites. Familiarity with common computer programs used in these endeavors – including Flash or HTML5, Web-design programs and audio-video editing programs – is essential. Familiarity with still and video cameras and other devices used in producing such media also is needed.

Screening of applicants will begin April 26, 2010, and continue until the position is filled. Applications must include a letter of interest, a resume and a list of references. Applications may be sent electronically (preferred) to hardte@missouri.edu, or by mail to Elizabeth Hardt, Staff Assistant to the Dean, Missouri School of Journalism, 120 Neff Hall, Columbia, MO 65211. If sending the application electronically, please send as a Word or PDF attachment with candidate’s last name as title. Please reference position number 100100.

The University of Missouri is committed to cultural diversity and it is expected that successful candidate will share this commitment. MU is an Equal Employment Opportunity/ADA institution and encourages applications from women and minority candidates.

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