Student Journalist: Edit Thy Self

With the demise of copy editing at so many small and medium sized newspapers, magazines and even TV news stations; journalists need to be able to edit their own copy.  But before we delve into a grammar Nazi’s no man’s land of stylistic errors and misplaced modifiers, lets establish that most journalists are not English majors and did not get into the writing gig because of their love of grammar.

Second, remember that nobody is perfect.  You will make mistakes in your copy.  Correct your errors, especially on the Internet and learn from your typos. But strive to create perfect copy, even though you know mistakes will happen.

So, how do you teach a student how to edit themselves?

1) Spell Check.  So many errors can be prevented if students would just run spell check.  It is so easy to do, yet so few ever do it.

2) Learn the most common misused and confused list.  Know the difference between it’s and its, there and they’re and their, and to, two and too.

3)  Write in simple subject, verb, direct object style most of the time.  This keeps your sentences simple and punctuation to a minimum.

4)  Learn the basics of subject and verb agreement as well as how to deal with plural and singular.

5)  Practice punctuating dialog.  Read as many fiction and biography books as you can that contain dialog.  Learn from the masters on how to deal with tricky colloquialisms, slang and partial sentences that spill forth from most sources mouths.

6) Learn AP Style.  Read the sections dealing with abbreviations, dates, times, addresses and titles.

7) Stop texting.  Texting breeds bad habits that are hard to break later.

Most students do not check their own writing before submitting it to be published.  They need to practice looking for mistakes in their own writing since most professional journalists of the future will not have multi-layered editing to fall back on.

Thanks to Thou Shall Blog for the inspiration for this post.

Cool Stuff #21: The Blackjack Post

My box of cool stuff runneth over.  I may hit 21 items today (maybe).

1) Ever wonder why no one wants to buy a yearbook anymore, or needs a newspaper or TV for the news?  Because we are the media now!  Everyone has a camera and a video camera and it seems no matter where news happens, someone will shoot it and blog it.  Check out this pic from the Obama inaugural ball.  That being said, journalists need to leverage their access to areas that most people can go and get great shots and post them on their web sites and then link them all over.

2) Journalists can/should/need to use and get used to using social media.  Here’s a great beginners guide to using Facebook as a Journalist, which is different than using it as a casual user. Best takeaway – you do need to realize that people misrepresent themselves on the site sometimes, so don’t trust everything you read.

3) Police and other “officials” do not have the right to take your camera away, nor do they have the right to tell you to stop taking photos in a public place.  You do have to comply with their instructions, but they can’t take your property without a warrant and you can sue them for unlawful arrest, unlawful prosecution and unlawful search and seizures.  But that does not mean they can’t make your life a living hell in the meantime.  Check out Carlos Miller’s blog Photography is Not A Crime.

4) Video teachers and other teachers are always looking for ways to share YouTube videos in the classroom.  In most schools, video sites like YouTube are blocked due to content restrictions as well as bandwith issues.  KickYouTube is a great way to download YouTube videos in different formats.  Try it out.

5) All grayscale images are not the same.  Sometimes a photo has really rich colors that are lost in the conversion to grayscale for publication.  An alternate way to convert an image is to use just the Red, Blue or Green channel for the grayscale levels.  The Digital Photography School has a really cool article on how to use your software to get the best results in an RGB to grayscale conversion.

6) I’m always trying to get my student video jocks to see why handheld, zooming, autofocused, no-white balance shots look bad.  10,000 Words blog has a great list of nine ways to make your video look amature.

7)  If you read my blog, you know I’m always looking for ways to recruit non-traditional students into areas that have not been dominated by a specific gender or ethnic group.  Basically, I would like my classroom to look like my school, only in miniature.  Here’s a great article on Girls in Tech, too bad the link to their web site doesn’t work right now.  But we do need to get more girls into video and web design.

8 ) It was so cool to see Whitehouse.gov move into the 21st Century this week.  As a web design teacher it was a teachable moment.  Here’s a great pictoral history of Whitehouse.gov from it’s humble beginnings in 1996, to its slick new design in 2009.  I do hope we see a more tech-savvy government and one that sees the value of tech education in schools too.

9) I’m trying to get my newspaper staff to move beyond writing and do more research and visual journalism.  Here’s a great visual that teens should be interested in, since there doesn’t seem to be a body part they wont pierce.

10)  The journalism department bought our first netbook this year.  It is a little ASUS netbook for under $400.  I hope that we can use it at workshops and to live blog or at least post stories directly after a football game next fall.  But as we move into the world of Linux, we need a guide and I found a good article on how to install Linux software.

11) Straight from Hollywood is a list of how to conduct a confrontational interview a la Frost/Nixon.  Good List.

12) This is a great inspirational nugget for yearbook, video and web design teachers out there.  Nothing is orginal, everything is stolen. I always teach my kids to look at great video, design, etc. and then copy it and adapt it to your own needs.  You will learn a lot just by copying someone else’s design.  Then adapting it will teach you even more.  Eventually, you will learn how to create your own designs.

13) With the economic downturn, maybe some IT people and technology departments will finally get on the Open Source bandwagon and stop feeding the Microsoft Sloth.  I buy Microsoft Office because my district force feeds our students Word and PowerPoint from Kinder on through senior year.  But I agree in principal with the Blog of helios, if there is a low cost or no cost solution available – stop wasting money.  Even the WSJ had an article telling Apple to wake up and smell the downturn.  They can’t keep their caviar product line up and profitable when people are looking for crackers.  Cheap is the new Chic.

Bonus :) As a teacher, one of my pet peeves is when students come in each day and ask me what we are going to do that day in class.  I am glad that they show interest, but what most are really saying is – are we doing something I can zone out or sleep through?  Plus I post on my board a little “what we are doing today” block for each class.  And at the top of it I have a sign with “Pinky and the Brain” on it that says, “What are we going to do today Mr. C?”  I couldn’t resist bookmarking this little gem – an evil plan generator for taking over the world!

Ok, I only made it to 14, hit me again or double down?

Low Budget Image Editing Alternatives – aka No Budget Photoshop

A couple of weeks back I discussed my research into alternatives for Photoshop CS4 for my yearbook program.  So far, no alternative really exists if you need to create quality CMYK TIF images from JPGs.  But if you are running an online newspaper program or a web design class, then there are a lot of online, free alternatives to buying software.

I cribbed this list from 10,000 Words, but I’m going to only comment on those that I see worthy to include in a classroom context.

Update: (1/20/09) New tool Sumo Paint – this image editor is the most like Photoshop, except for Photoshop Express.  The tool set is very similar, but it also only exports as PNG or JPG.  Still it is free with no registration required.  (4 1/2 Stars)

Fotoflexer is a product of Photobucket, which I have used and works fine.  Fotoflexer can crop, flip, adjust and change to JPG or PNG.  It is basic and works pretty good.  It’s best features are the colorization and the cool “motivational poster” frame.  (3 stars)

Photoshop Express – I probably one of the most full featured online editors I’ve seen.  You do have to sign up for a free account, but it gives you storage space besides.  It can do the basics like crop and red eye correction, but Photoshop Express also has the best color correction and grayscale tools I’ve seen online.  You can also host and link to photos in your PE account too.  (4 1/2 stars)

Picnik – Is a really easy to use web editor that has a great crop tool for web designers/online newspapers that can crop using pixel measurements and uses and actual histogram to adjust brightness and contrast.  It even has a white balance (neutral color picker) that does a good job of eliminating color casts.  It has the best scaling feature I’ve seen and allows you to save as GIF, PNG, JPG, TIF, and PDF.  (5 stars)

DrPic – The one thing this editor has going for it is size.  The application downloads your photo at a large size on your monitor.  This makes cropping very easy.  The downside of this editor is everything else.  The interface is clumsy.  The tools are underpowered and it simply will not meet the needs of an online media shooter.  (1 star)

Snipshot – Much like DrPic, this editor just doesn’t measure up.  It will save in many formats, but the interface is somewhat confusing and the effects and edits are not in real time.  Not worthy of consideration (2 stars)

rsizr – If all you want to do is quickly change the size of an image, then this is for you.  But why would you choose it, when there are so many other more full featured applications available. (1 star)

easycropper - Need a thumbnail really fast?  Ok, then this is your app.  Otherwise it is useless.  (1 star)

Pixenate - Just another plain photo editor.  Not maxworthy. (1 star)

Slpashup – This photo editor has promise.  There is a great interface and “photoshop-like” experience.  But it lacks decent color tools and seems like it is designed more for teen users.  It also only saves as JPG, PNG and FXO (?) It does have a place to suggest features, so maybe it will improve in the future.  (2 stars)

Lunapic – This photo editor is definitely aimed at the myspace generation.  It is not for anyone serious about editing pictures.  It does have some fun features like glitter animation and an “obamanator.”  (2 stars)

72photos – This is a site that spent way too much on their web site and not enough on the actual photo editor.  The editor does nearly nothing.  It is a pretty site, but not worth the visit.  (1 star)

Imagizer – If you liked running lines of code in DOS or like to play with command line UNIX, then you’ll love this app.  It has some features worth using if they had a real GUI.  (2 stars)

VicImager – Another throwback to the days of DOS 3.o and needing to be a programmer in order to use a computer.  Not ready for prime time.  (2 stars)

Online Image Editor – Yet another myspace photo editor.  (1 star)

Piccyfix - Not bad for an editor that is not GUI.  The interface is a little confusing sometimes and less than intuitive, which means read ALL the directions.  But it actually does a good job of cropping, adjusting and toning.  Finally it can save GIF, JPG and PNG files.  Not bad.  (3 stars)

Pixer.us – Simple, easy to use, but it doesn’t have any advanced tools and many of the effects are not real time.  (1 star)

FixPicture – Not bad, but it lacks control and some real time features.  The controls are too simple and don’t really give the user enough options.  The output formats run the full gamut, but the lack of real tools is a minus.  (2 stars)

I’m A Question Mark


You Are a Question Mark


You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning.

And while you know a lot, you don’t act like a know it all. You’re open to learning you’re wrong.

You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more.

You’re naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises.

Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking.

(But they’re not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!)

You excel in: Higher education

You get along best with: The Comma

What Punctuation Mark Are You?

Cool Links #20: The Andrew Jackson Edition

Andy Jackson is on the $20 bill, so he will be the host of this edition of Cool Links.  Let’s let this list roll:

1) Jason Bakker has 10 College Marketing Suggestions for 2009, but you can easily adjust them to high school or even middle school to help market your yearbook next year.  My favorite is No. 5 – I promise not to pretend to be someone I’m not.

2) The Knight Digital Media Center has a list of New Rules for journalism in the 21st Century. Best new rule: Report the truth and debunk the lies.

3) Seth Godin has a great post on what we will miss when newspapers are gone.  I’ve said it before, that local coverage will be the one thing that can’t be easily replicated elsewhere on the net.

4) Seems like there are a lot of “What Journalists Should Do in 2009″ posts, here’s a good one by Journalism.co.uk that sums up all the things journalists should already be doing.  Best one – 4. That your readers are smarter than you think. In fact, many are smarter than you – they know more than you do.

5) The West Seattle Blog is a great new innovation – a blog that has replaced the local newspaper for a neighborhood.  They use a simple WordPress theme and have a great ad-supported site with quality, local journalism.

6) The National Press Photographers Association has a cool blog called Edit Foundry for photogs who want to get into shooting and editing video for the web.  So far there are 10 easy lessons to help out any aspiring videographer.

7) The Neiman Journalism Lab has a great profile of a “solo mojo” Mara Schiavocampo who shows off her favorite equipment for the backpack journalist.  She is really showing how you can be a one person journalist organization.  All you need is a basic set of kit and a lot of drive.

8) Chrys Wu has a great list of Travis Fox’s 10 Rules For Video Journalism.  These are basics that every beginning shooter should learn, but few ever master all the time.  Here are some of Mr. Fox’s best videos at the Washington Post.

9) The Museum of Arbeit (Work) has an online photo exhibit of old printing presses.

10) Every yearbook teacher knows that one of the biggest struggles is getting the staff to work as a team.  Teampedia has a huge collection of icebreakers, team games and more.

Gender, Media and Recruiting

I stumbled upon my own post again today about boys, girls and the media.  The year is only half over, but I’ve seen some profound changes in my classroom.

One of the most profound is that after last year, I worked very hard to find and recruit several good, male students into my yearbook and newspaper classes.  This has made a huge difference in what was previously a testosterone free zone.  Just having a few guys around has really changed how boys outside the class view it.

On the other side of the equation, I’m still working hard to recruit girls into web design and broadcast journalism.  Web Design has more girls than ever, but broadcast journalism’s number of girls has dwindled to an all time low.  I guess we always need something to worry about at recruiting time, which is coming up soon.

But I do think it is important to try to keep recruiting groups of students who are not represented in your publication or media class.  These classes should be broad enough to encompass wide spectrums of the school population to ensure good coverage and a variety of perspectives.

G Rated – For Good!

My blog is apparently very safe for work!

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets

Created by OnePlusYou – Free Dating Site

Cool Links #19: This is Not Link Bait!

Coming up with punchy headlines for the Cool Links posts is getting harder.  So, without further ado, here’s the cool stuff:

1) Top Ten Myths About Writing, from the home office in Somewhere, Indiana – just a little Letterman humor.  My favorite is number 1 – Kids Hate To Write.  Ever watch them text?

2) Free Audio Books Downloads – most are mp3 files, nearly all are classics taught in high school or junior high – so this is really for English or literature teachers, but for the j-teachers there is 1984 by Orwell, some Mark Twain, and War of the Worlds.

3) For the web teachers, there is a good, but slow History of the Internet via Vimeo.

4) This is a fun Google mashup called Earthalbum that lets you see Flickr photos that are geotagged to a specific location.  I searched for Texas and then Ike, found lots of photos from our recent hurricane.

5) This photo tool is a lot of fun too.  A Photo A Day has exactly that – one great photo every day.  The coolest feature is the ability to look back at their calendar and check out previous photos.  Not very many Not Safe For School Photos, but one every 3-4 months or so.

6) As my friends from Maine would say – this is Wicked Cool – Educational Origami (love the name) has Starter Sheets for many web applications like Google Search, Animoto and Google Maps.

7) If you teach high school photojournalists, this is how to cover a sports team in photos.  Just great photos of EVERYTHING.  Wow!

8) Copyblogger has a really fun post to share with your student writers – Don’t Be a Fancy Nancy Writer.  Too many student writers want to show off, but they really need to learn how to write with a purpose.

9) Just for Fun: Quiz: How New Media Are You? I’m “My computer misses me.”  Not sure it is right since I live on my comptuer.

10) Penn State University has a great online reference of both Mac Accent Codes and PC ALT Codes for when you need an unusual accent mark and can’t remember how to do it. Great visual guide too, in case you know what it looks like, but not what it is called.

.MOD = Means Opening is Death

I knew months ago that the new video cameras that save via SD cards were not Mac friendly, but I also see flash memory based cameras as the future.  So we ordered one.  Foolish, I know, but I also knew that eventually Apple would see the light and move away from DV tape based cameras.

But the .MOD files are the kiss of death.

I thought I had it solved when Apple release a codec for Quicktime to handle .MOD files as .MPG files.  For a mere $19.99 US I could convert to my heart’s content.

All went fine and dandy.  I shot some video of my son playing at the park. Imported the files.  Converted the file suffex’s to .MPG.  And they opened in Quicktime great.  I was ready to edit.

Where was the audio? Was it on the Quicktime files?  No.  Aaarrggh!

So, I started Googling the problem.  And there was a great blog post about my very issue – Mac .MPG files with no audio.

The problem is that the codec does not actually convert the files.  You still need another piece of software to do that!  Luckily it is free.  MPEG Streamclip (sounds liek something from a steampunk verse) is great.  But you do need the Quicktime converter too.  It is both Mac and PC, so for those of you out there trying to use .MOD files in Adobe Premiere or even MovieMaker, this is a solution for you too.

Hopefully some native plugins or upgrades will come out for Final Cut and Premiere to handle .MOD files soon.

It’s Not The Product, It’s The Process

With the slow death spiral that Newspapers seem to be in across the country, TV Stations are hunkering down in the economic storm, and Yearbooks are suffering losses in sales – I’m sure many journalism teachers are wondering how much longer we will be teaching journalism.

But the truth is that we shouldn’t think of ourselves as newspaper, yearbook or broadcast teachers.  We are journalism teachers.  And journalism has many faces.  I’m not talking about just design and PR.  I’m talking about real journalism – which means reporting, digging for information, synthesizing that information and then finding the most suitable way to convey that information.

We still need to teach journalism.  We need to teach students how to report.  That means electronic search, interviewing, crowd sourcing, photography and videography.  These are valuable skills, even for students who may not become journalists.

Second, we need to teach them how to analyze the information they find and then synthesize it into something that can be conveyed.  This is probably the hardest part of our job as teachers.  Analysis and synthesis are at the top of the Bloom’s Taxonomy.  They are hard.  Some students may not get it in one year of journalism instrution, some may need two or more years to get it.  Some kids just aren’t emotionally or intellectually mature enough in high school.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t try to teach the skills.

Finally, we can’t just think of journalism as publishing or even broadcasting.  Journalism will more and more become a creature of the web.  We must teach our students that there are six W’s now: Who, What, When, Where, Why and Web.  Journalists are storytellers and information providers.  And we must now decide: how should we tell a story?  What’s the best way:  photos, video, written text, flash animation, interactive database, or even some or all of the above?

Do the old skills still matter?  Yes.

We must still teach writing, design, photography and editing.  But we must add to that HTML, CSS, CMS, Flash, SEO, and more.  As teachers, we must be the first learner in our classroom.  We can’t just sit still and depend on our old skills to guide us through this change in the business of journalism.

Film maker Ralph Bakshi, like many others has shown us the path for how to handle a changing business in hard economic times.  If the business model is failing or broken, then don’t keep doing what you’ve always done.  You have to do something different.  Like Apple computer in the late ’90s, if you want to change the game – you have to play a different game.  Apple killed their old computer line and brought out the iMac and then the iPod.  They killed their old operating system and rolled out OS X.  It was gutsy.

We have to be gutsy and move with or even ahead of the industry.  Printed journalism will always be with us, but we must begin to move towards more of our journalism being web based, so that we can train the future journalists now in the tools they will need tomorrow.

Our society still needs journalists, to help sort the chaff of infomation from the wheat.  But that will be done more efficiently and effectively online.  The skills that journalists possess are helpful to democracy and free societies.  But journalists can not cling to the old advertiser supported-ink on dead trees model.  It is broken, and it is time to move on and see ourselves as much more.

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