Alabama Journalism Grad Students Catch the Blogging Bug

Journalism graduate students are blogging with more frequency, intensity and passion after more explicit suggestions about how to use this interactive medium to the fullest.

Two weeks after a not so complimentary write-up on the first blogs by graduate students in my journalism class, the posts are looking a lot better.

Some are posting pretty frequently– an indication that they just might have caught “the blogging bug.”

Either that or they’re just trying to impress their professor– who they know will be reading their blogs (smile).

Whatever the circumstance, I am glad to see some of these students’ contribution to the blogosphere.

Figuring Out The Twitter World

With a blog, “What She Said,” Sarah Cole’s has decided that she’s now an official tweeter, as opposed to a twitterer.

The official Twitter Glossary says you can use either.

“Now that I am an official “tweeter,” it’s important that I understand the concept a little more,” said Sarah Cole.

In a recent post, she works through the process of explaining

When I teach Twitter,  I often quote my friend and colleague Sybril Bennett, better known as “Dr Syb” who has the “THREE R’s of Twitter: Research, Relationships and Reputation.”

Cole adds a “P” to that– Promotion, but with one admission–

“I’m more into Facebook when it comes to that kinda stuff.”

Cole is just the opposite of me.

I have a Facebook account, but I am often turned off by the mindless chatter on mundane, unimportant things from my friends who I perceive as “over-sharing”

Read Write  Edit

Though she’s not officially a member of the American Copy Editors Society, Christine Cowan has developed a knack for editing other  people’s writing.

But, she’s still developing a level of confidence, which was on display in one of her latest posts.

On Those Whitney Photographs

After visiting two grocery stores this weekend where I saw the photos of the late singer Whitney Houston in the casket, I was not surprised to see Michelle Darrisaw commenting on the photos on her blog.

My lack of surprise was not because of the author of the blog as much as it is the topic is one that one would expect a lot of us journalists to be talking about around the Internet.

“I guess I’m more upset that someone from her circle, or perhaps the funeral home workers sold this photo,” Darrisaw wrote. “I mean at the end of the day, she was a person.”

Defensive Walking

Besides the talk about Whitney Houston casket photos, there are the random everyday events that occur in the lives of my students.

Take Erich Hilkert for instance,  he was nearly by a pizza delivery truck.

Hilkert decided to blog about it.   In the process, I learned about a concept called “defensive walking.”

“In Tuscaloosa you not only have to be a defensive driver, ” Hilkert said. “You have to practice defensive walking.”

His blog post directs readers to two other blogs on this issue.

A Classroom Exercise Works–MAYBE?

How interesting to see the students talking about things we did in class, without being forced to do so or told to fulfill and assignment.

Well, the graduate students have to maintain a blog.  But, I leave the specific topics up to them.

In one case, the blog post helped me to see how students were adjusting to a new technology that we’re using to collaborate, Google Docs.

Mike Pesca’s Linsanity Points Are Worth Repeating

I just wanted to reiterate some great points that NPR’s Mike Pesca made this week about how journalists negotiate the issue of Jeremy Lin’s racial and ethnic background.

Jeremy Lin (Courtesy: NBA)

One of my favorite radio programs, On the Media, this week tackled the issue of the media’s fascination with New York Knicks point guard of Jeremy Lin and the sometimes clumsy manner reporters address Lin’s Asian American heritage.

Instead of listening to the podcast as I do most weeks, I heard this segment in the car as I was running errands today.

But, before I could gather my thoughts to weigh in on what I thought was a great segment featuring National Public Radio’s Mike Pesca,  I learned had become the latest news outlet to stumble in reflecting sensitivity in covering those from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Mike Pesca, NPR

You can read my thoughts about two “Chink in the Armor” references on ESPN’s outlets over on the Society of Professional Journalists’ Diversity blog.

Here, I just wanted to reiterate some great points that Pesca made this week about how journalists negotiate the issue of Jeremy Lin’s racial and ethnic background.

“Just because someone talks about race doesn’t mean that that motivation about that person is racist,” Pesca told Brooke Gladstone on this week’s broadcast.  “It’s totally legitimate to note that’s he’s the first Asian American in the NBA in over fifty years. ”

Pesca likened the excitement about Jeremy Lin in the Asian and Asian-American community to the excitement about Tiger Woods in the African American community.

“I see it along the lines of a positive Asian American or ethnic celebration,” Pesca said.

But, this time this particular Asian American has made headlines in a sport that Pesca recalls is about 75% African American.

But, that’s not the only reason it’s newsworthy WHO is making the baskets for the New York Knicks.

James Fallows, veteran correspondent for The Atlantic, curated some of the best ideas  on the social scientists ideas about Asian behavior and the Asian basketball scene.

In addition to listening to Mike Pesca, I would recommend reading his piece on”The Meaning of Lin.”

“From a cultural, social, business, and individual perspective, every aspect of Jeremy Lin’s identity adds to the fascination,” Fallows said.


According to Pesca, there are FOUR (4) Elements that make the Linsanity a news story and not just a sports story:

  1. Lin went to Harvard
  2. Lin is Asian American
  3. Lin is in a group that would normally be cut from the team.
  4. Lin is playing in New York City, the media capital of the world

Washington Examiner’s Blinder Challenges Present, Future Alabama Journalists to Maintain Last ‘Golden Goose’

The Washington Examiner’s Alan Blinder told attendees at the Alabama Press Association and Alabama Scholastic Press Association Joint Convention To Maintain Journalists’ Last Golden Goose– Our Credibility”

It is not often that we as journalism professors get to see our graduates return to campus and give a keynote address to the state’s newspaper publishers less than a year after they receive their degree.

But, it’s not often that we have graduates like Alan Blinder, who today took a break from covering D.C. government for The Washington Examiner, to come back to his alma mater to address a rare joint convention of the Alabama Scholastic Press Association and Alabama Press Association.

Nearly ten months after covering the April 27th tornado for the Associated Press here, Blinder today issued pats on the back to his AP colleagues who worked alongside him in chronicling the events on the day an EF-4 twister destroyed a tenth of our city.

“News organizations can and must be at their best in times of crisis,” Blinder said. “Our first obligation is to the truth.  It is not speed.”

Blinder recalled how the Associated Press often was the second, third or fourth organization to report details in the aftermath of the storm.  As a result, they did not have to issue a single correction for any stories that were transmitted to hundreds of news organizations around the world.

“The AP instilled an idea that standards had to be first,” he said.

The Golden Goose

Blinder’s comments about the April 27th tornado were part of an luncheon address today that was part-celebration of what was accomplished by the journalists covering the worst natural disaster in the state’s history, and part-journalism lesson for the largely student crowd of middle and high school journalists from dozens of scholastic newspapers, yearbooks, broadcasts and literary magazines around the state.

“We must apply our standards of accuracy and fairness to all platforms, ” Blinder said.  “We have to maintain our last golden goose– our credibility”

Advice for the Next Generation

Blinder’s four pieces of advice for the students covering the news during a time of crisis are worth reviewing for those of us already practicing the craft:

  1. Consider the source
  2. Even Well-Meaning Emergency officials Sometimes Get It Wrong
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. Keep Your Humanity About You

Former Crimson White Editor Gives Advice That’s Golden To Alabama Students

Ellen East, executive vice president at Time Warner Cable, recounted her days as editor of The Crimson White in the even as she answered the question “Is This the Golden Age of Public Relations.” East returned to her alma mater Feb. 9 to give the John Koten Distinguished Lecture.

Any public relations or journalism student at the University of Alabama who missed this year’s John Koten Lecture on February 9 missed a chance to gain some career-setting advice.

Ellen East

In her address last Thursday, Ellen East, executive vice president and chief communications officer for Time Warner Cable, posed the question “Is this the Golden Age of Public Relations.”

No surprise– her answer is a resounding “YES”. But,  not necessarily because she’s in love with public relations.

“I never really wanted to a be PR person,” said East, who spent a decade at daily newspaper after majoring in journalism here at the University during a tumultuous time.

A Journalist At Heart

East was editor of The Crimson White in 1983 when our beloved former head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant died of a heart attack.

She recalled responding to that crisis as a journalist at UA’s student daily, just as she’s responding to crises today managing the image of one of the nation’s leading providers of video, high-speed data and voice services in the United States, Time Warner Cable.

Social media weren’t around in 1983 when Bryant died.

Today, East says, they’re the “predominant form of social discourse” and have placed “local publishing power in every person’s pocket.”

It’s hard to deny East’s Five Reasons for the Golden Age of Public Relations:

  • A Trust Deficit
  • Social Media as the Number-one Activity Online
  • Employees as Ambassador of the Brand
  • Increasing Social Consciousness  and expectations companies will do the right thing
  • Movement from Mass Communications to “Me” Communications

But, these five reasons of which any journalist or mass communicator looking to break into our field needs to be aware, were just a starting point for East

Golden Nuggets of Advice

Students attending Thursday’s lecture also got a chance ask about her career path.  Her answers provided a road map who any serious mass communication student.

“I don’t hire anyone who hasn’t interned somewhere,” East said, stressing the importance of practical experience over even a graduate degree for someone wanting to break into mass media field.

As for her journalism background–

“It’s all about writing skill,” she said. “If you’re not a strong writer,” it’s going to be a struggle for you.

And, in case any student was wondering about that foreign language requirement–

“If you’re bilingual, you’re gold,” East said.

The 15th John Koten Distinguished Lecture was sponsored by the Betsy Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, one of the reasons the University of Alabama has consistently been ranked among the top three PR programs in the nation.

Here’s Why We Must Teach All Students HOW to Blog

It’s time to offer some solutions to the problems that accompany an academic requirement that journalism students use a web log.

No I’m not frustrated.  No I’m not bad-mouthing my students online (we all know what that can do to a teacher).   I AM using this post to pose some solutions for students encouraging challenges in learning to use the blogging platform.

Earlier, I listed five problems that I’ve encountered when we require students to blog specifically in a journalism class.


Ultimately, we want future full-time journalists to be as comfortable writing a quick post (not nearly as long as this particular one is) that will engage his/her audience.

My colleague, Jim Stovall at University of Tennessee, offers some great tips for Web Writing on his JPROF web site.

Here I want to offer five solutions that I think both the students in my class (and other curious readers) can try to help their students maximize this wonderful platform.

Sidenote:  I am trying very hard to keep my blog posts short.  Most of my posts go on much longer than the recommended 350 words limit.


Greg Screws from Huntsville's WHNT-TV shows students some of the strategies of his TV station. This kind of show-and-tell is a must if we're going to require students to blog.

SOLUTION #1:  Remember you’re writing for an audience outside of the university

Save the write-ups on graduate school readings for the teacher’s eyes only.  They prove that you read and understood an assigned article or chapter.  But, they do little to build an audience for your content online.

The purpose of the blog is not to take a boring academic assignment and dump it out here online for all the world to see.

You’re building a work habit that prospective employers are (hopefully) going to admire.

SOLUTION #2: Pick something that will attract some interest or elicit a response

We have to show our students that the best posts give the reader something to which they can respond.   Take a controversial stand and then challenge your reader to agree or disagree with you.

Stay on point and make it clear, concise.   THEN, engage them as they respond.

SOLUTION #3: Keep a digital camera handy or make your own graphics

Rather than grabbing images off the web, try to use your own photos.  Take pictures EVERYWHERE you go.  Even marginal shots are better than just text.

But, please don’t just post a big block of text and say that’s a blog post.

Yes, I know, there will be some blog topics for which you don’t have art.  But, keep those to a minimum.  My eyes (and your other readers’ eyes) will appreciate that.

SOLUTION #4:  Blog, blog and then blog some more

The only way I got somewhat comfortable in this space is to spend a LOT of time (personal time) here writing.   Doing the minimum requirement for a class is not enough.

Students reading this: I KNOW you have other classes besides mine.  Time is limited, a precious resource.

SOLUTION #5: Worry about social media later

Ultimately, I was hoping that students would integrate their blogging experience with their social media experience.   Sharing links to their posts on Twitter is a goal.

In the case of the graduate class where BUILDING a community for one’s content is a goal, social media integration is a requirement.

While I have learned the consequences of requiring Twitter in a class,  I think it  or using Facebook or LinkedIn or YouTube will come more naturally here.

But, the content has to be there before you can share it.

Yes, this post is too long!

Graduate Students Provide Reality Check on Required Blogging in Class

Web writing or maintaining a blog does not come natural to digital natives. Moreover, using blogs as a class requirement requires the instructor do more than say “go blog.”

This is at least the third year I’ve had students in my journalism classes at the University of Alabama doing required blogging.

For prospective journalists,  the ability to maintain an online journal is a necessary work skill as one enters a full-time news production job.

Consequently, we here on the UA faculty decided two years ago to start requiring incoming freshman to create a blog in their very first class and do AT LEAST FOUR blog posts over that first 15-week academic term.

In this first undergraduate course, we award extra points when they dress up their blogs with photos, pictures and web links.

We hope they’ll continue to use the blog for classes throughout the major.

Bob Sims, who leads the cadre of content producers at Alabama’s top news

Bob Sims, editor of, talked about the importance of blogging during a visit to both of my journalism classes Jan. 30. He was an outstanding, enthusiastic guest speaker.

web site,, spent 90 minutes with my class almost two weeks ago.   I was curious how much of what he said would stick as the students blogged.

Starting this semester on our journalism department web page, we are going to spotlight a “BLOG OF THE WEEK.”


This is the first semester, I’ve required graduate students to maintain a web log.   Now that we’re about four weeks into the semester, I am reading over their first few blog posts of the academic term.

I can see what happens when you require something that really ought to be informal or something with a personal flair to it.


Here are five (5) problems I see from requiring something like this in an academic setting:

Problem #1:  The students think they’re writing for me, the professor

Problem #2:  The students are reporting on what we did “in class” as if the reader was in our class and heard the same instructions that they heard last Monday morning.

Problem #3Text-only writing  is boring.  Where are the images or graphics that make something appealing to read?  Most of the blog posts are link-less, destined to NOT Be found out here on the World Wide Web

Problem #4: The posts fail to take much of a stand on a controversial or unpopular issue.

There’s little to argue about what someone said in a chapter of a textbook.  They should be finding something to engage an audience in discussion.

Problem #5: Some of the posts feel like they’re written because the teacher is requiring it, not because the writer actually thinks or believes what he or she is saying.  In other words, there’s no conviction.

Here’s the newsflash:  This is ALL MY FAULT.  Just like anything else, students ?(even very bright graduate students) cannot do what they haven’t been taught.

Assuming these digital natives who spend half of their lives in social media know how to maximize this free, open and flexible web space is a BIG MISTAKE.

We all know what assuming does (hint, hint).


It’s not enough to pose problems, if I don’t have any solutions.  I think I’ll address those in a later post here.