What Did We Learn From Paul Isom’s Feud with East Carolina U. As Case Closes?

Instead of being fired, Paul Isom, has now resigned from his position as student media director at East Carolina University, a change in tune and an opportunity to reflect on what we all learned from this ordeal that began in January.

Courtesy:The Reflector

All who were hoping Paul Isom would re-gain his job as student media director at East Carolina University can forget about that notion.

As of Friday, Isom has officially “resigned” from his position overseeing The East Carolinian, the newspaper that ran photos of a streaker who took the field during halftime at a East Carolina University football game last November.

In a post here last month, I shared comments from Isom’s address about the ordeal given during the 2012 AEJMC Southeast Colloquium at Virginia Tech.

“I was fired in retaliation for an editorial decision, students made,” Isom said in the March 9 keynote address.

Following several weeks of negotiations with East Carolina officials, my former University of Alabama colleague has changed his tune.

A joint statement crafted by lawyers for both Isom and ECU even included a nice quote that, at least on the surface, makes it appear the story had an OK resolution.  Isom received  $31,200, which is the cost of health insurance and salary for six months at his former rate of pay.

“This allows us all to get on with our lives, without having to drag this out indefinitely,” Isom said in the statement released Friday.  “I truly enjoyed my time at ECU. The students were eager to learn, and were always very professional.”

So What Did We Learn?

1. Don’t Jump to Conclusions

First Amendment and student expression advocates like myself should better investigate cases before jumping to conclusions right?

I suppose that’s why the Society of Professional of Journalists (SPJ) and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC)   were slow to jump on the bandwagon defending Isom.

2. Things Are Not Always What They Appear

Despite the nice statement released Friday, my guess is there is a lot more to this case than the general public will ever know.   Sometimes some things are best handled behind closed doors, a hard pill for those of us in journalism to swallow.

Maybe Paul Isom’s case was not the test case that we all thought it would be for how media advisers should fight the good fight for their students, at all costs.

3. New Direction for ECU Student Media Will Be Revealed Over Time

I guess we should take ECU officials at their word.  In Friday’s statement, they reiterated that Isom’s (now) resignation was part of their effort to “take student journalism at The East Carolinian in a new direction.”

4. Isom’s Issues Present A Case Study To Be Reviewed for Years To Come

In spite of all that’s been said about Paul Isom’s case, the convincing arguments he made for why a school like ECU would take the action that it did are noteworthy.

I know I’ll be referring to the video from Isom’s address on my YouTube Channel from time to time.

Those of us who teach journalism have a duty to examine such issues as we socialize new publication staffs into their role as watchdog journalists in a culture where the relationship between university officials and student journalists is antagonistic.

Former Student Wins Pulitzer Prize With Tweets Even Without J-School Instruction on Twitter

Even without formal instruction from my multimedia journalism course, Tuscaloosa News’ Wayne Grayson figured out how to make Twitter a critical part of breaking news coverage, which won the news organization a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.

Something happened on Monday that has never happened in my nine-year career as a full-time journalism instructor:  a former student of not one, but two of my journalism classes won a Pulitzer Prize for his role on a news staff recognized for covering breaking news.

When I saw the announcement Monday, the first thing I could think to do was to send out a congratulatory tweet on Twitter.

In his Gadgetron newspaper column in today’s Tuscaloosa News, Wayne Grayson, credited his use of that microblogging service with helping him and his fellow staff members secure the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.

Wayne Grayson in 2008 when he was a student in my Reporting and Writing Across Media class. This month he is part of the news team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.

Four years ago this week, Wayne Grayson completed my Reporting and Writing Across Media course here at the University of Alabama in the Spring 2008 semester.  Little did he know that three years later, he would be covering  Alabama’s worst natural disaster, the EF-4 tornado that destroyed multiple communities here in Tuscaloosa alone.


I would never take credit for Grayson’s preparation to produce Pulitzer prize-winning work.     But, positioning our students to be able to cover a story like last April’s deadly tornado outbreak is what it’s all about, right?

Isn’t that why we journalists leave the newsroom and assume second careers full-time in the college classroom?    Often on days like last April 27, 2011, many of us long to be back in the thick of producing breaking news coverage.

Instead, we’re on the sidelines consuming and commenting on the great work that our graduates like Grayson are able to produce.

Social Media Required of a Pulitzer Winner

From Grayson’s newspaper column, I learned that this was the first year that the Pulitzer committee stressed the inclusion of social media as a part of submission for the Breaking News Reporting award.

“I am proud that it played a part in our winning,” Grayson wrote. “If you had told me that would happen a few months prior to the tornado, I would have laughed,” a reference to the Twitter skeptics in the T-News newsroom.

We all know about those skeptics of Twitter and other social media outlets, especially among the faculty teaching journalism and mass communication today.

Unlike my cross-media reporting class today,  Grayson’s class in 2008 did not have to use social media to meet course requirements.   His French Fry Filosophy blog was what Grayson used in conjunction with a multimedia reporting package and team-reporting experience to finish the course.

Now I require every student in that JN 325 course to have a Twitter account and do news gathering exercises using 140-character tweets promoting their updates on their blogs.    But, how much do those exercises REALLY help in preparing them to do what Grayson did last April 27th?

The Limits of Formal Social Media Instruction

As I noted in an earlier post here last summer, requiring Twitter use in some media classes just doesn’t work as many students only do what is needed to pass the class.

Even now, I’m not certain undergraduate students take seriously the importance of learning how to use social media as a necessary reporting tool for either producing news or strategic communication messages.

Certainly, I could start by making Grayson’s column required reading in my basic reporting class this summer.  Also, there’s the piece by the Poynter Institute’s Jeff Sonderman on  “How The Tuscaloosa News’ post-tornado tweeting helped bring home a Pulitzer Prize.”

I could also let the students study the 21 pages of Tweets that were submitted as part of the T-News Pulitzer Prize submission.

Can we really simulate the “tweeting words and pictures incessantly” that Grayson recalled doing in the immediate aftermath of the tornado coming through this town a year ago?

In my basic reporting class this summer, I will have mostly students preparing for work in public relations.   But,  as Ellen East, a former journalist  who now works in PR told us earlier this year,  social media outlets are absolutely critical for PR practitioners to know how to use too.

But there’s only so much we can TEACH in a class, especially when there are as many students who never plan to step foot in a newsroom as there are students like Wayne Grayson.

The fact is the Dothan native, who was just 25 years old when he covered the April 27th tornado, arrived in my class in January 2008 already blogging.

He was a technology enthusiast then and leveraged that interest to start The Gadgetron blog, to which he posts several times a day.  His Gadgetron newspaper column is for Sunday print edition readers of  The Tuscaloosa News like me.

So I think that’s enough proof my JN 325 had nothing to do with what he did April 27, 2012.

As journalism professors, we have to acknowledge the limited role of  our formal instruction, which has to focus on the journalism basics.  In 15 weeks, we  provide nuts and bolts learning experiences on which a graduate can build when he or she gets out there in the real world.

Even for a Pulitzer Prize-winning news staff, sometimes typographical errors can make it onto one's web site (I'm sure there are some on this blog). I wonder how long "EXLPORING" has been on the Gadgetron site. As journalism instructors, we probably give more attention to these kinds of basics than we do how to tweet on breaking story.

What Now?

Even if it doesn’t mean incessant tweeting or posting, my social media requirement is designed to help students crawl before they walk, especially when they’re still learning how to produce an accurate, complete news narrative on multiple platforms.

Wayne Grayson and his colleagues at the T-News winning journalism’s top prize, in part because of their use of social media, makes arguing for WHY we require social media of our students a little bit easier.

WVUA Video of University of Alabama Students At Bama Belle Crossed Way Over Ethical Line

A WVUA YouTube Video showing distraught, emotional University of Alabama students after Charles Edward Jones fell overboard Thursday from The Bama Belle violated the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics code, which requires journalists to minimize harm.

This is a still image taken from the questionable WVUA video that showed the crying students as they exited the Bama Belle, shortly after Charles Edward Jones, III apparently fell overboard.

A WVUA-TV video clip posted on YouTube showing emotional University of Alabama students as they left The Bama Belle Thursday night after one of their own fell overboard went far beyond reporting the news and has sparked outrage among those on social media.

The body of Charles Edward Jones,III known by friends as “Tre,” was found Friday afternoon following hours of searching Tuscaloosa’s Black Warrior River.

Jones, an engineering major from Demopolis, Ala.  had been attending a Delta Sigma Theta party Thursday on board The Bama Belle, a riverboat along The Black Warrior River that’s become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions since it started offering public cruises in 2001.

While the investigation into Jones’ tragic death continues and family and friends prepare to remember him at an April 11th memorial service,  we must call attention to a journalism mis-step that makes all of those covering this story look bad.

Continue reading “WVUA Video of University of Alabama Students At Bama Belle Crossed Way Over Ethical Line”

Tuscaloosa News Patrick Murphy Photo Illustration Raises Interesting Questions

The Tuscaloosa News’ April 6, 2012 photo illustration of Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy in what looks like an LSU Uniform misleads and goes a bit too far in illustrating a “what if” scenario.

This April 6, 2012 Tuscaloosa News Photo Illustration by Marion Walding and Anthony Bratina shows Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy in the way he WOULD have looked had he stayed at LSU, where he was hired in June 2011. Murphy never actually wore an LSU uniform.

Maybe it was only me who did a double-take this morning when I saw what I thought was a photo of Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy in a LSU ballcap in skybox on the front of The Tuscaloosa News.

For a moment, I thought I had missed an announcement that he was leaving Alabama again headed for Baton Rouge.

Fortunately (for Bama fans like me), Murphy is not repeating last June’s episode where he was announced at a news conference as Bengal tigers’ new softball coach, only to change his mind.

The image shown above may be one the National Press Photographers ethics police might look at as an example of questionable visual journalism.

As Executive Sports Editor Tommy Deas’  story today tells us, Murphy “never donned the purple and gold in a practice or at a game.”

But, the big photo ILLUSTRATION on the front of the Sports section of  today’s Tuscaloosa News would suggest otherwise.   A version of the photo is what appeared in the skybox on the main front of the newspaper.

This is the Tuscaloosa News photo that runs in the online version of the April 6, 2012 story on what would happened if UA Softball Coach Patrick Murphy had stayed at LSU, where he was hired last June, but only worked a few days before changing his mind.

It is interesting to note that the web editors of TuscaloosaNews.com decided NOT to use the photo illustration, but a file photo of Murphy in his Alabama uniform with a softball player.

Did Photo Illustration Go Too Far?

The designers at the Tuscaloosa News DID NOT cross any ethical line.  They clearly labeled the image a Photo illustration noting today that “the colors of Patrick Murphy’s shirt and cap were digitally altered from crimson to purple in this photo with LSU insignia added.”

But, STILL, why did the web editors NOT use the photo illustration online?

Is the Tuscaloosa News manufacturing an image that is misleading?

Will readers take time to read the cutline for the photo illustration produced by Marion Walding and Anthony Bratina?

Not the First Time Patrick Presented in Purple

Before we go too hard on the Tuscaloosa News editors, let’s not forget the publicity photo that the LSU folks distributed prior to the Murphy announcement. It showed Murphy and his associate softball coach Alyson Habetz, in the LSU purple before the actual news conference where Murphy was to be formally announced.

The image with the would-be labels of Murphy and Habetz is still available online.

The image, no doubt, was to designed to build enthusiasm about this new big hire for LSU.

It is not that uncommon for those in public relations or sports information departments to manipulate images for artistic or promotional effect.

But,  I think it’s a  little dangerous for journalists to wade into these murky waters with photo illustrations that look like real photos.

Had it been a cartoon (which I know Anthony Bratina does better than most in the country),  I could see that as an appropriate way to depict the “What If” scenario that is the subject of Dees’ story.

Perhaps using a file photo of Murphy from the LSU news conference last summer would have been more journalistically responsible?

This news photo that originally ran on Michael Casagrande’s Daily Bama Blog.

The Decatur Daily’s beat writer covering the Crimson Tide may not have realized how important this photo would be nearly a year later, especially as LSU softball team plays Alabama this weekend.

The trouble, of course, is the real photo is not as provocative as the photo illustration.

Perhaps Deas and his staff knew what they were doing when they did “press the envelope” (Pardon the awful cliche) and went with an illustration of reality as it ALMOST WAS.

Just as I did with the other photos in this post, anyone could  find Bratina and Walding’s illustration online and present it as a real photo.  Most readers online wouldn’t know the difference.

This ethical problem may be the reason the T-News Web staff did not use the illustration.

From an ethical standpoint, the illustration ONLY works with the cutline explanation and, even the clarification which Dees makes in his story about what Murphy actual wore.

This is NOT The Year for NABJ, UNITY to be Meeting Separately

The latest figures on newsroom diversity ought to make a case for why the nation’s largest groups of journalists of color should be meeting TOGETHER This summer. There is strength in numbers when ti comes to diversity

The latest newsroom diversity census came out today and it’s no surprise the news is not good– the number of African American journalists declined for the fourth consecutive year.

But, I’m not sure minority journalists are set up to do anything about this — especially in 2012.

African Americans in the newsroom workforce fell from 4.68 percent in 2011 to 4.65 percent.

The data released by the American Society of News Editors, which concluded its annual convention today, show overall the percentage of racial minorities in newsroom at 12.32 percent, down a percentage point from 2010 census.
Continue reading “This is NOT The Year for NABJ, UNITY to be Meeting Separately”

Ten Days and No Post– What Gives?

I just realized tonight when I went to place an update on the Society of Professional Journalists’ Diversity Blog, for which I write occasionally, that I had not provided an update here in 10 days.

In the world of journalism where working journalists are expected to post multiple times a day, that’s not acceptable.

There’s never enough time in the day.

I have a long list of topics on which to report here, but a very short span of available time to do so.  Blogging is not at the top of my “To Do” list tonight.

I’ll have more to say here tomorrow, if not sooner.

For now, consider this my first blog post for the month of April.