What I Learned in COMM-200 Sunday, Dec 6 2009 

Gosh, what didn’t I learn in this class is probably an easier question to answer!

I’ve decided to compile a list, as it’s easier for me to keep track of things that way, and it’ll probably be easier to read, too. Here goes:

  • How to write a hard/soft news lead
    This is a crucial skill for any budding reporter. A good lead will draw in a reader while a bad lead ensures that no one is going to continue reading the story past the first sentence. Also, there are a surprising amount of differences in a hard and soft news lead.
  • ONLY use “said” for attribution
    Never, ever use any other word instead of “said” for attribution.
  • What a nut graf is
    I didn’t know what nut grafs were before this class, and now every time I read a news story I always note how the author used them in a story. They’re really useful and are essential tools in structuring a news story.
  • Never underestimate the power of a killer quote
    A really powerful quote draws in the reader and really gets at the point of the story. Killer quotes are best used after the first nut graf or at the close of an article.
  • AP style
    There’s a very specific way to format words in the newsroom, and AP style is the handbook for all copy editing tips.
  • How a newsroom works
    From a traditional print newsroom, to a broadcast one, to one of a converged media, I learned all about the different functions and roles people play in the newsroom.
  • Broadcast writing
    I never paid much attention to the differences in broadcast and print writing when reading/watching the news. However, broadcast is all about keeping things simple with attribution at the beginning of a quote and one idea per sentence.
  • Public relations writing
    PR writing is all about spin to create a message and generate goodwill towards a client, which is remarkably different than the goal of broadcast and print writing.
  • The power of social media (Twitter!)
    Twitter has the power to change the news world, as demonstrated in the Iranian elections and Fort Hood.
  • Journalism laws and ethics
    From slander to libel, I learned about the consequences of fabricating news stories as well as potential situations where ethical questions arise.
  • Online news writing
    Online writing is different than print writing because there is a multimedia component. Online packages with good images, video and an interactive section are the best ways to fully immerse the reader in the story.
  • The ins and outs of blogging
    Ken Sands came and talked all about blogging, from set up to continued execution. Blogging is all about interacting with readers and finding your own niche as you write story after story and publish it online for the world to see.

I am sure I’m missing a few things, but this list just goes to show how much was covered in class and the many, many things I learned from it. I developed and refined skills that I will use no matter what direction within the field of communications I choose, and I am a stronger writer for it.

American University Career Center Thursday, Nov 19 2009 

Tucked away in the fifth floor of Butler Pavilion, American University’s Career Center is one of the school’s better kept secrets. When a peer adviser asks students where the Career Center is located during a routine classroom presentation, for example, he or she is often met with blank stares and shrugs.

“Is it in Mary Graydon Center?” students often ask.

“Students usually know a Career Center exists at AU, but that doesn’t mean they use it, or know what it has to offer,” said Emily DeCamillis, one of the six student peer advisers employed at the Career Center. “Or that students even know where it is.”

American University Career Center’s resources include career advising, administration of personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, critiquing resumes and cover letters and mentoring for applying for nationally competitive scholarships. It was ranked 19th best in the country by the Princeton Review for 2009 and has been consistently in the top 20 for the last few years. Still, students can be oblivious.

“There’s a small group that take advantage of the Career Center, but not nearly enough know about all the services the Career Center offers,” said Tasha Daniels, the student employment coordinator. “Some think that if they have a resume and just need an internship they can go on AUCareerWeb [an online career management tool] but they don’t know about things like on-campus recruiting.”

While not as many students know about the Career Center and its resources as Career Center employees would like, the small group of students who are aware is increasing, thanks to continual efforts by the Outreach and Marketing Team.

“We take into consideration all of the different audiences and the different objectives that we have in reaching out to [students] and do so largely via email, with all kinds of very tailored messages sent to specific students,” said Bridget O’Connell, director of outreach and marketing. O’Connell said she has found Today@AU as well as the Career Center online calendar to be effective tools of promotion.

The increasing popularity of social media in the last year and a half has also played a role in how the Career Center promotes itself, said O’Connell. There is a Career Center Facebook page with nearly 800 fans, a Twitter account with 350 followers, and some alumni groups on LinkedIn. In addition to social networking, there is a blog titled myCareerAdviser where advisers post information that may appeal to certain student populations. “We have found that that’s a good channel to really advise and connect students with other online resources,” said O’Connell.

Another form of outreach is the classroom presentations given by the peer advisers, which is a team of six students that critique resumes and cover letters as well as promote the Career Center and its services through classroom presentations in General Education courses and drop-in advising hours.

“[Classroom presentations] are usually how we reach the most students,” said Ed Levandoski, the lead peer adviser for the 2009-2010 academic year. “So far to date this year, we have reached over 2,100 students and are almost reaching half of the undergraduate students at AU, which is a large success considering we are only targeting 230 professors.”

The classroom presentations and the tabling that the peer advisers do are a useful way to offer advising at a peer level, said Daniels. Every presentation covers the major resources in the Career Center, as well as the function of the Office of Merit Awards, a branch of the Career Center that has been relocated to McKinley 209.

“The purpose of [the Office of Merit Awards] is to mentor and advises students on competitive national scholarships,” said Joan Echols, the associate director of the Office of Merit Awards. “[Some students] feel like this is a place where they can come to learn about how to fund their tuition and their AU experience here and it isn’t for that, so we have to be careful when we do outreach and get our message out so we don’t disappoint students when they come here for appointments about tuition money.”

Even if students are hesitant or unsure about scholarship and fellowship opportunities, Echols encourages them to still make a preliminary appointment at the Office of Merit Awards to explore some options. “I think that it is important to encourage students to look at scholarship and fellowship opportunities because it is going to propel them forward in ways that they don’t even know,” said Echols. “They can’t even identify it now, but we know that because we have seen people just take off after going through a scholarship or a fellowship experience.”

Echols’ encouragement of AU students to make appointments with a Merit Awards Adviser is echoed by the Career Center’s advisers and employees. “A myth I would dispel is that you have to know what you’re doing in order to use the Career Center,” said O’Connell. “You don’t have to have the answers, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do or what you’re setting out to do before you come in for an appointment.”

“Our whole goal is to try to get students excited about learning the steps that they are going to be using for the rest of their lives,” said Felicia Parks, one of the career advisers for the School of Communication. “It’s not to judge students, make them feel uncomfortable, or point fingers about what they should’ve done by now.”

A common misconception about some of the Career Center services is that the Career Center and its advisers provide job placement, said Carimanda Baynard, the part-time front desk receptionist. “We can revise resumes and invite students to networking receptions, but we cannot place them in a job,” said Baynard.

Equipped with a powerful arsenal of career advisers, a breadth of online tools and an active team of student employees, the Career Center has every possible resource imaginable for students looking for jobs. But that will only take a student so far.

“At the end of the day, students are responsible for their own career and their own path,” said Baynard. “After we give students the tools it’s kind of up to them to go out and find it. If students don’t choose to come to the career center, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to find a job. But students can’t get upset and blame the school for not preparing them because the resources are definitely here.”

American Forum: Change +1 Thursday, Oct 15 2009 

10/14/09
American Forum
By Amanda Osborn

The difference between expectations and reality in the first year of Obama’s presidency was discussed at a panel of five professional journalists during the American Forum at American University’s Katzen Arts Center Tuesday evening.

Moderated by Jane Hall, an associate professor in American University’s School of Communication, the American Forum panelists tackled issues such as the power of social media and public image and the effect the youth demographic have had both during and after the 2008 presidential election.

“One year later, how do young people view President Obama?” asked Hall as she opened the forum.

During the presidential election, Obama’s campaign was able to mobilize the youth demographic in a way the Republican Party was unable to. 66% of the young vote went to Obama with only 24% for McCain, said Hall.

“[Young people] could identify generationally with someone who appeared to be hip and was younger,” said panelist David Gregory, a journalist and moderator on NBC’s Meet the Press when answering a question regarding Obama’s youth appeal. “[Obama] also kind of had a galvanizing message that young people had not heard before, which was get involved, get engaged, do something to become a participant in the political process… I think that resonated with a lot of young people, and his ability to do that through social networking and the like only enhanced his appeal.”

While Obama’s popularity with the youth was an essential factor in his successful presidential election campaign, the president’s triumphs and obstacles during his first year as president has presented him with some difficulties regarding the reaction of the youth demographic.

“Young people are also pretty anti-institutional right now,” said Gregory. “There’s a lot of faith in Obama, but there’s not a lot of faith in government. There’s not as much faith in the media, probably not as much faith in banks, or in familiar ways to invest your money. You’ve gotta look at the world and say what am I supposed to trust here, what am I supposed to do? I think Obama is feeling all of that.”

Panelist David Corn, Washington bureau chief at Mother Jones, also spoke about some of the changes in the youth’s perception of Obama.

“As he’s become president, [Obama] has been far more conventional than a lot of people might have expected him to be,” said Corn. “In terms of how [the White house] make decisions and of how much they engage with the citizenry and with the media, it’s not a lot different than presidencies of the past. From one perspective, it doesn’t look like he’s a transformative president from the way he’s conducting his presidency.”

However, Obama’s approach with utilizing social media and his overall media presence has been remarkably different than that of his predecessors. Most notably, Facebook and Twitter have been powerful tools used by the Obama administration. Both were used as examples of Obama’s approach towards the general media at the forum.

“At a time which Facebook, if it were a democracy or a country, is basically the fifth largest country in the world and Twitter is a focus group, in many ways the way politics is conducted in Washington is still very much kind of an old school thing,” said Jose Antonio Vargas, technology and innovations editor at Huffington Post. “It’s fascinating to see a campaign that wrote the playbook as to how you campaign in a social networking era, and then they got to the White House and it seems as if that whole thing just, not evaporated, but it’s definitely been in the backburner.”

Obama’s Facebook fan page has over 6.9 million fans, with countless messages being written on the fan page’s wall every day, said Vargas. Even if Obama is not actively utilizing outlets such as Facebook or Twitter in the way he was prior to the election, Facebook wall posts and tweets by both supporters and non-supporters alike are “subtle and informative” ways to gage the youth’s opinion of Obama, especially as there has been a decrease in the Obama administration’s communication with young people since his presidency compared to the weeks leading up to his election.

“[The Obama administration] is not talking to young people in the same way now because they don’t think they have to. They don’t think that [the youth] care so much about specific issues,” said Erin McPike, a political reporter from CongressDaily at The National Journal. “But I think the good thing about some of this and the idea that young people may not be as enchanted with Obama as they were is that now they are paying attention more than we ever thought that they did.”

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The Seven Laws of Journalism Monday, Sep 28 2009 

When I first registered for COMM-200, I did so largely because it was an SOC requirement for my major, Public Communication. I didn’t really give the topic of the class much thought after I registered; I simply knew it was a class I had to take and would think about it later once classes actually began.

As we begin the sixth week of the semester, I’ve learned a lot from my experience in the COMM-200 classroom. I’ve learned about different types of news, news sources, leads, AP style, objectivity vs subjectivity, how a newsroom works, how to cover different types of news events… the list goes on. But what I’ve learned the most about, I think, is what journalism entails, and what the profession demands of those who are interested in it and wish to succeed as a journalist.

Journalism isn’t just about walking up to people, asking them questions, and then reporting what their answers were. It’s about researching facts, checking your sources, interviewing people, and crafting a well-written, interesting, and reliable story. (It can’t hurt to double – or triple – check to make sure your quotes and sources are all correct either.) It’s about knowing how to present your information in different ways and knowing when to write it’s appropriate to write a hard news story or a feature. It’s about knowing how to cover different situations in the most efficient way and always keeping an eye on the deadline. It’s about going out and finding a story, even if it doesn’t seem like there is one, because there is always a story out there.

The growing importance and relevance of technology doesn’t mean that journalism is being rendered obsolete, either. Perhaps print journalism is truly dying out, but that doesn’t mean journalism itself is a dead industry. Almost all major newspapers can be accessed and read online, and journalists are still the ones who write the story, whether it is printed on paper or online. Social media websites like Twitter can also be used for the news and are in fact utilized by many journalists and news sources when covering major events or spreading the word about a major news story. Blogs are also another outlet for journalists; they, like newspapers, are great mediums to use when reaching out to mass audiences.

Journalism isn’t just about writing the news. That’s definitely a huge component, but there are so many other things that journalism involves to say that it’s simply about writing the news is a massive understatement.

Pages 104 – 109 of the textbook talk about how to cover different types of events such as meetings, crime, and speeches. I never realized there are so many different things to look out for/keep in mind when covering an event, depending on what type of even it is. The checklists listed for each event are incredibly handy and I’ll definitely be using them if I have to cover an event listed in the textbook!

In with Leggings, Out with Pants Thursday, Sep 17 2009 

9/17/09
Leggings Pants
By Amanda Osborn

It’s a question that is asked all over the nation. Teenage girls argue with each other over what is the right answer and the issue is a constant plague on the fashion scene. And yet, despite all of the controversy, no one has yet to be able to come up with a definitive, irrefutable answer.

Are leggings and tights suitable substitutes for pants?

Some say they are. “They’re so much more comfortable,” says college sophomore Anita Suri. “You can’t sit on the ground comfortably in jeans.”

Others, however, are vehemently against the trend. “I think it’s very inappropriate cause you wear pants for a reason, not leggings,” says Casey Trebisacci, another sophomore in college. “The two just aren’t the same.”

It all started when women began wearing leggings instead of yoga pants when going to the gym. Soon, the once uncommon glimpse of leggings-clad legs started appearing everywhere in places like the grocery store, Starbucks, and college campuses. Celebrities like Lindsay Lohan perpetrated the trend and leggings and tights were soon showcased as pants substitutes in the fashion runways of Milan and New York. Some fashion designers are even releasing clothing lines where leggings are styled to look like pants, such as Juicy Couture’s line of denim leggings.

“People would argue now with the whole skinny jeans trend it’s just like wearing leggings, but leggings are more sheer and they can rip more easily,” says Trebisacci about the flaws of leggings and tights.

Many people believe that leggings are comfortable and go great with almost any outfit. “My preferred outfit would be a long sweater with leggings,” says Suri, who usually pairs her leggings with longer tops.

But the comfort and versatility factors do not win everyone over. There are countless websites that express disgust with this new fashion trend, and the website http://www.tightsarenotpants.com have gone as far as publishing a manifesto against leggings worn as pants.

“Let’s be clear,” the manifesto states, “the wearing of tights as pants is an abomination… We have tired of tolerating attempts to force tights into a non-native garment category and have decided to do something about it.”

As if the manifesto itself wasn’t enough, there is also a downloadable “DIY Press Kit” on the “Tights Are Not Pants” website for visitors to use to spread the resistance against this fashion trend. The press kit includes fliers with statements such as “Do Unto Others: Tights Are Not Pants” and “Tights as Pants: TMI”.

Critiques of the leggings trend are in agreement of tights and leggings showing more than one would like to see. “Leggings leave nothing to the imagination,” says Trebisacci. “It just shows way too much.”

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Objectivity vs Opinion Thursday, Sep 3 2009 

Objectivity is something I have always understood that the world of journalism strove to achieve. Subjectivity, unless in an opinion editorial or similar piece, has always been frowned upon. But whether or not journalism has ever been, or will ever become, 100% objective can probably never be answered. (Truthfully, I don’t think anything can be wholly objective, but that’s a different story.) Perhaps a better measurement of journalism’s objectivity is looking at its subjectivity and just how subjective some news outlets are.

FOX news, as pointed out in the article Journalism Junction by Geneva Overholser, is (in)famous for being partisan. However, while FOX might be the most well-known partisan news source, it is not the only news outlet to present the news with a bias. There are biases from different news sources from all ends of the political spectrum, whether it be in print, broadcast, or other forms of news media. What sparked the change from the objectivity to opinion? And are opinion-based news outlets a less reliable source of news than objective ones?

I’ve always viewed the journalists and broadcasters who present the news to the public day in, day out as objective sources of information. To me, public sources of information are meant to present the cold, hard facts and let that be enough for others to make their own subjective opinions about news events. I could always form my own ideas about current events, but I couldn’t always get the most up-to-date information about news on my own without the help of a journalist or a broadcaster.

Whenever I view a clip from FOX, or other news sources with a well-known bias, I am skeptical of believing any of the news I am presented with. Theoretically, all news should be taken with a grain of salt, known bias or not, but I can’t help but feel like I am being subjected to a sales pitch when exposed to subjective news. I understand news is an industry and like all the other industries there are sales to be made, demographics to target, and revenue generated by advertisers. But the industry component shouldn’t mean that the integrity of the news business is eliminated or even compromised.

Overholser states, “Indeed, it’s easier to make a news report compelling if you aren’t attempting to make it balanced” and I think it speaks volumes as to the measures the news industry uses when selecting what methods to use when presenting a news story. Segments in a news broadcast are called “stories” and every good story is expected to be riveting. While that might be in the best interest of the news in terms of it being an industry, it might not be the best method for the news in general.

With the increasing presence of subjectivity, I wonder if it’ll become more commonplace for news readers/viewers to read between the lines of different news reports to get an unbiased version of the news. Or perhaps bias will be the new objectivity?

COMM-200: Writing for Mass Communication Wednesday, Aug 26 2009 

I am a little apprehensive (and somewhat overwhelmed) about everything that COMM-200 looks like it’s going to be this semester. This is not to say that I’m not looking forward to the class, but I’ve never really taken a class that was about writing for the media so I’m not completely sure what to expect. All of the writing I have done in classrooms were primarily analytical essays about literature with a few about politics, so the world of journalistic writing is completely foreign to me.

The textbook highlighted using subheadings when talking about shifting topics so I’m going to try and use them for the rest of this entry:

Thoughts on the Reading (chapters 1-2 and pages 44-54)
I thought the reading was incredibly concise and informative, but because of the busy layout, it was quite overwhelming at times trying to figure out what part of the page to read first. Many of the events in the history of journalism as well as the media depictions the textbook highlighted I recalled from the Understanding Media class I took last semester.

For me, the most useful part of the reading was pages 44-54. It completely broke down the different steps that lead to a completed news article into small, manageable pieces of information. The sections I found most informative were Fog Index and AP style highlights.

How to Make This Class Work for Me Academically/Professionally
I’m really interested in learning more about different writing techniques as well as developing and refining my own personal writing style. I want to use this class as a way to gain experience writing for different mediums, learning more about the overall writing process, and becoming informed about things that go on “behind the scenes” in the world of journalism and other forms of communications and media. Not only will the experience I gain from the writing and projects I do in this class help me in terms of my major, but becoming a better writer is also very useful in terms of academics as I have to write in all of my classes. I also work as a Peer Advisor in the Career Center and part of my job requires strong written communication skills, so this class will help me in that regard too.