Orwell, Dystopia and the Media

Today I saw the creepiest video – actually a flash movie production created by Robin Sloan, formerly of the Poynter Institute for something called the Museum of Media History, which I’m pretty sure is a construct of this video.

The video tells the story of how Google and Amazon destroy the current media establishment by creating an all encompassing online networked media that tailors all information to suit the user.

It is definitely worth the 8 minutes to watch it and it is food for thought for journalists, journalism teachers and media teachers.

Ironic that I’m using WordPress (a blog similar to, but better than blogger) and YouTube to create this post.  I guess I’m just as much a part of the “end of journalism” as anyone else.  I don’t know if it will get this bad, but I do worry about it.

Mr. C

Boys Wanted: As Journalism Students

Do you remember that very creative Volkswagon campaign “Driver’s Wanted.” Sometimes I wonder if journalism needs to do a “Boys Wanted” campaign.

At my school, especially in the Yearbook class, boys just don’t sign up. I have nearly 40 kids signed up for yearbook next year, but only about 4 are boys. That is distressing. If you go to a newspaper office, the ratio is probably 2 to 1 males to female. But in high school journalism it is 1 to 10 or worse.

My video classes are more balanced, with nearly equal male to female student ratios.

Why don’t guys sign up for Yearbook? Is it because they have to write? Is it because yearbook is considered too much a girl’s thing?

As a male journalism teacher, I’m often outnumbered more than 10 to 1 at workshops and conventions. This is great when it is time to go to the bathroom, but not when we discuss gender roles in our publications and how to recruit more boys.

This was not the case when I went to a recent round table discussion for video teachers. The guys were in the lead about 3 to 2.

So, what makes guys sign up for a video journalism class, but not for a writing journalism class or even a photography class?

I’m very interested in boys demographics and how girls are kicking boys butts in academics, especially at the college level. Check out the Boys Project and Guysread.com – and please leave a comment if you have any ideas on why boys don’t sign up for yearbook or how to make it more appealing to them.

Mr. C

Future So Bright…Will We Be Reading In The Shade?

I’ve mentioned in this blog before that I seriously wonder if what we do will be called journalism in 10 years.  I’m still not so sure.  Will we have media – oh, yes!  More than we can ever need or use.  But how much journalism will get done?  Who knows.  Today I saw two articles with vastly different ideas about this topic, one very positive and one hauntingly negative.  I tend to worry because the positive one is from a blogger and the negative one is from the editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. C

We Love The Media: We Hate The News

Watching the news is like eating vegetables for most Americans. And so we get our “news” more and more from outlets that give us less and less news. There have been a lot of studies about this lately. This fall, I am going to definitely teach a lesson that focuses on media and the lack of news judgment at all levels. We’ll see what my kids come up with when we discuss what is important and what isn’t. Here’s great proof of concept.

Mr. C

Shiny Silver Disks: How to Fix Them

Back in 1998, I bought a CD collection of fonts, graphics, and etc. Over the years we have used the heck out of it for maps, graphics, borders, fonts and more. But there are more than 10,000 graphics and more than 1,200 fonts – so I wasn’t ready to throw them away when they became scratched beyond usefulness.

This year students started to complain that sometimes they couldn’t use a disk or the graphic wouldn’t load. And they were right. The disks were scratched up bad. So I cleaned them, the usual way – with lens cleaner. Same stuff you use on camera lenses usually does a great job with CDs, DVDs, etc.

No dice.

So, I tried my wife’s CD cleaner. It is a $20 gizmo she bought from Wal-Mart. Usually works too. We rent DVDs from Blockbuster online. Get disks in the mail, send them back – $20 a month. Rent all you want. Great service. But sometimes you get a scratched disk. This gizmo has worked every time, but once. OK, now twice.

There are five disks in the collection and Disk 1 is the most trashed. Even after the gizmo, most of the files (70 percent) are still unusable.

So, I go online. I remember reading an article about using Brasso on scratched CDs. I find several articles via Google. The basic advice is use a clean cloth. I get a diaper. Not a disposable one, a real live cloth diaper. When my wife and I had our first child – 14 years ago, we saved a ton of money by using cloth diapers. When my son was born 6 years ago, we didn’t use them. Disposable diapers were worth the cost since we were making more money. But we never got rid of them. They are awesome at picking up spills and they are soft. Especially after nearly three years of washings. They are super soft.

OK, so get the diaper – apply the Brasso. Don’t be stingy. Use plenty – not so much it drips, but don’t be afraid of it. My dad was in the Army, so I’ve used Brasso before. I was in high school and college ROTC – 5 years.

Read the can. It says let it dry.

I almost forgot – fumes.  Brasso stinks and is probably bad to inhale.  Keep to a well ventilated room and  close the cap whenever you are not getting Brasso out of the can.  Wash your hands as soon as you are done.

It dries.

Use the diaper to wipe it off – in straight lines from the center out – NOT CIRCLES. Then find a new clean spot on the cloth and do it again. The CD should be VERY shiny.

Put it in the computer and see if you can copy the files. If yes, good. If not don’t panic.

Disk 1 let me copy about 50 percent of the former bad files after the first cleaning. Great! So I cleaned it again. I recovered about 30 percent more files. So I cleaned it again. I almost got all of the files. I finally had to accept that about 5 percent of the files were gone. Not too bad considering how badly that disk was scratched. The other four disks were even better – only disk 2 was a problem. But I got back all but one folder – less than 5 percent lost. The other 3 disks gave back 100 percent.

Now I just need to make TWO backups – one to use and one to store.

Good Luck.

Mr. C

Update: District Apologizes For Photo Blackout

Wow, in only a couple of days the district went from blacking out photos to apologizing to the student – that is the power of the press. If you don’t know, look back at this and then see today’s story.

I still say that the district, as well as the school, and even the yearbook itself needs to develop a policy. If you are going to allow kissing photos in the yearbook, then you can’t discriminate against gays or anyone else. There are federal laws about discrimination and you will lose.

If you want to get rid of kissing photos, then you must get rid of all of them or none.

This requires a certain amount of work do develop a policy that everyone can live with. Notice I did not say one that everyone would be happy with. You will never get a policy that satisfies everyone. Administrators need to be realistic in seeing that community values may have changed. Teachers need to strike a balance between administrators need for control of the learning environment and student free speech rights, especially when the student has purchased an ad page. And buyers should be informed that the school has a compelling interest in protecting their reputation as well as the reputation of the minors who may be portrayed in the photos.

It is a delicate balancing act, that should be taken seriously by all parties. Then the policy must be approved, posted and followed by everyone involved. This is the world we live in. A world of lawsuits, lawyers and plaintiffs. Forewarned is forearmed.

Mr. C

Top 10 Downloads For Media/Journalism Teachers

I’ve mentioned some of these before and will continue to update the Cool Downloads tab, so here they are. Most are free, but some do have a price tag attached.

1. Apple iMovie: This workhorse application, along with some well thought out plug in purchases, can be the mainstay of an in-house TV studio. Of course you need at least one miniDV video camera and a Mac running OSX. But it beats Windows Movie Maker hands down and is much more affordable than any of the mid-level or pro applications that start at $200 and go up from there very fast. OK, this one is NOT a download – but it is a great application.

2. SeaMonkey: If you teach web design or would just like a web site for your publication or class without having to learn HTML or buy an expensive product like Dreamweaver or GoLive, then SeaMonkey is for you. It is not much harder than using a word processor, the price is right and it is available for Mac and Windows. What’s not to like? (maybe the dumb name)

3. Quicktime Pro: If you teach video and especially if you use iMovie or download video from iTunes (like free podcasts), then you need to go pro. Quicktime Pro is cheap, only $29.99 and it allows you to record video, edit video and do a lot more without having to import it into iMovie. Great for doing something quick – like the name. And it too is available for Mac and Windows!

4. Firefox: How can you work on the web without the best web browser available today? Internet Explorer and Safari are just not good enough. IE is riddled with security issues and Safari is slow. Firefox is also free! It also can be customized with plugins that are available at the mozilla.org site. It works on Mac, Windows and Linux. Fast, free, secure. What are you waiting for?

5. Adobe Flash Player: Formerly Macromedia Flash until Adobe bought them out, this is still the web standard for Flash based graphics. It is a powerful tool when added to your web browser, there are a ton of great web graphics and tutorials out there that utilize flash. Every video and web teacher should have it installed. Mac and Windows.

6. Java or JRE: Java Runtime Environment from Sun Microsystems is another powerful online tool for animation and graphics. Macs need to go to the Apple Java site.

7 . Flip 4 Mac: Obviously a Mac only tool to “flip” Windows Media files over to Quicktime. This allows you play any WMV or audio file in Quicktime. The free version is limited, but does allow you to watch or listen to Windows Media files.

8. Apple iTunes: iTunes is the new Media Player across platforms. It plays video and audio equally well. It works on Windows and of course on a Mac. If you only want one media player – this one is it. But if you teach multimedia – you need more than one tool, but this one is the best tool. And of course it works with iPods.

9. Windows Media Player: Of course if you have a Windows based PC, then it came pre-installed, but keep it up to date. If you haven’t downloaded or updated this utility in a while, then you need to do so. If you have a Mac, don’t sweat it – download WMP for the Mac or Flip 4 Mac’s Windows Media Components for Quicktime. I highly recommend the WMC for Quicktime in addition to Flip 4 Mac, this adds browser compatibility for Windows Media Files streamed or embedded into web pages.

10. Real Player:  Yet another media player for the web.  Just like Pokemon, you gotta catch ’em all or you will run across a cool video file you just have to show in class, but it is in a format you can’t play.  😦   The hyperlink is for the Mac version, because I couldn’t get Real to let me see the windows version.  I’m guessing it has an autodetect system and will redirect windows users.

Mr. C

Kiss, Kiss – Bang, Bang: Yearbooks Need A System

I just saw this today, a gay student in New Jersey bought an ad in his high school yearbook for $150.  The school is blacking out the photos before they distribute the book.  Ouch all around.

I wouldn’t want to be the kid who didn’t get what he paid for.  I wouldn’t want to be the teacher who is surely under pressure, maybe won’t be the yearbook adviser much longer.  I wouldn’t wan to be the district who now has a national scandal on their hands.

But this could all have been avoided with a few simple rules.

1.  When allowing non-staff members to add content to the yearbook, they must sign a contract stating clearly that the adviser, principal and district may remove content seen as lewd, objectionable or illegal as per district policy, state law and national law.

2.  Review all ads with a district representative before publication, so you don’t have to edit out in such a terrible way.  Offer the student a chance to place a different, less objectionable photo.

3.  Have a translator check all ads that are written in a foreign language if you accept ads in languages other than English.  Plus they can check spelling, grammar, punctuation too.

4. Help students, by reviewing the ads yourself when they are turned in to check for “red flags” that you know might upset the district/your principal.

5. Explain to your staff and those who place content in your book, that the yearbook is not like the newspaper.  It is not protected as a forum of public opinion.  It is seen by most schools, administrators and many in the community as a reflection on the school and the community.  Most see it as a PR tool.  Now, if your school has a more journalistic tradition, great.  You are lucky.  But most of us do not have it so good.  Most yearbooks are “supposed” to make the school look as positive as possible and find ways to keep the negative to a minimum.  In more conservative communities, topics like sexuality, drug use and gang violence are strictly taboo in the yearbook.  More progressive communities may not have a problem with it.  You need to learn your community’s values first before you allow this kind of content in the book.  It can get you fired in the most extreme cases, or at least reassigned – maybe remedial 7th grade English?

6.  Remember, this job has more pitfalls than you can easily fit into a single web post.  Dealing with a hostile principal or school board is one of them.  Unless you have a lawyer in the family willing to work pro bono, be careful with land mines in this area.  Talk to your principal and discuss how she/he sees the role of the yearbook.  Talk to faculty members who have been at your school for a long time (10 or more years).  What are the traditions of the yearbook?  What are the values in your community?   The same yearbook will not go over well in San Angelo Texas, River Junction Vermont, Denver Colorado and San Francisco California.  They are all different places.

Most importantly get this set down in writing.  Post it on your school’s web site.  Put the basic rules on your ad contracts.  Make sure your principal will back you up when it comes to pushy parents.  Keep your head and try to remain a professional when dealing with these kinds of hot button issues – most everyone else in the room will be hot under the collar.

Finally, hope and pray (to whomever/whatever you hold dear) that it is never you, but plan for the worst.

Mr. C

Bong Hits Smacked Down By Supremes

Today, the Supreme Court struck down a Ninth Circuit Court ruling protecting the right of a student to put up a banner during a school event that said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”  I’m not surprised at the ruling, and frankly have two minds about it.

First, I do think that we need to be careful as a nation how much speech we prohibit.  Every chip away on our freedoms – especially expression of all forms is dangerous.

Second, as a teacher, I think that we need to remember that there are TIME and PLACE restrictions on speech and that schools do need a certain level of sanity and civility in order to function properly.

OK, so what does this case mean?  I do believe that it does set into stone the concept that school principals do have the power to restrict the speech/expression of minors on campus when that speech violates a school rule (sexual, violent or drug content) or would cause a disruption to the mission of the school – educating children.  The Supreme Court is going to back up principals and administrators when it comes to these kinds of topics.

This has been well established in precedent in the cases of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District where the court first set down that school could enforce restrictions on disruptive behavior (but also protected certain political speech) and Bethel School District v. Fraser where the court stated that schools could restrict sexually offensive speech.   This new case fits into this same pattern of allowing administrators the power to restrict student expression on campus or at school sponsored events.

Finally, I do think the school was excessive in its punishment of this student, simply because they didn’t like what he did.  But I also know that he admits to doing it just to push how far he could go.  That kind of attitude is not going to get him kind treatment by a school official, especially when he backed up his actions with lawyers.  I think the student felt the “religious” nature of his speech would protect him, but it did not.

I do think it is somewhat troubling for media advisers who deal with students who constantly want to push the limits of the rules.  As employees of the district, we are not protected by the first amendment in any way.  In many cases we are expected to help and assist administrators in restricting students from publishing or airing similar types of situations.  We are caught in the middle.  We want to encourage our students to pursue challenging topics, but we are also beholden to school rules, district policy and state laws.

The best we can do is advise our students to use the SPLC and other organizations, and advise our principals to be as understanding as possible before censoring publications or broadcasts.

Today’s ruling made it all that much more clear that teachers need to be careful wading into the waters of censorship and risky student expression, especially those areas like religion, sexuality, drugs, and violence.   Unfortunately, that means that many times it will allow administrators to intimidate teachers and students into maintaining student publications as PR tools and not journalistic mediums.

Mr. C

Ultralow Budget Video or No Budget Video

What if you have one video camera or maybe a digital camera or two that can shoot short videos, but you can’t afford a video editor? Well, there are options. The first one I’m going to feature is the hot, new, buzzed one – You Tube Remixer powered by Adobe. This is an online video editor with very few bells and whistles. But if you just want to do one intro to broadcasting lesson, or maybe a fun little elementary school “news” show – this could be you solution. Plus it could also be helpful for kids who want to do video editing at home for a school project (not for broadcasting class). You also need a fairly fast internet connection too – like DSL or cable modem if you want to upload your own video. I also suggest posting your final results to YouTube, not trying to download it – unless you need to present it in class.

Here’s a short how to use it – skip the first minute or two.

Mr. C