Tuscaloosa Snow Nice While It Lasted

Today’s snow event in Tuscaloosa provided a nice opportunity to grab a few photos that show it can snow in this city of the Alabama Crimson Tide, just not very often.

Snow covered yards and homes in Southern Tuscaloosa County are proof of the first winter storm event of 2013.  Photos like this are rare and worth having to show Tuscaloosa does have four seasons.
Snow covered yards and homes in Southern Tuscaloosa County are proof of the first winter storm event of 2013. Photos like this one of today’s snow (January 17, 2013) are rare and worth having to show to others that Tuscaloosa does have four seasons.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve cleaned snow off my car.But, today, I had that occasion after heavy snow fell in T’uscaloosa this morning.

About an inch of snow accumulated on my car and had to be brushed away from a random towel I had inside.

Visibility was poor driving around Tuscaloosa between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. today.

But, before the snow stopped, there was time to snap a couple of rare winter wonderland pictures here in T’town.

I watched as a couple of my neighbors built a little snowman up the hill from my house.
The snowflakes were big and the wind hit you in the face this morning.

snowpix2

Hey, it’s nice to know that even Tuscaloosa has four seasons some years.

With above freezing temperatures now,  a lot of the snow is melting already as the white blanket that covered grassy areas begins to fade.

While both Tuscaloosa County and Tuscaloosa City  schools dismissed early today along with the University of Alabama, which is shutting down at 3:15 p.m., one has to wonder why.    Seems to me the hazardous conditions were several hours ago.

Assuming temperatures do fall again later in the evening, re-freezing and ice formation is a possibility.But, the sun is peeking through the clouds and likely to dry up much of what was slush on the roadways.

Alabama Snow Event Difficult for Forecasters to Predict, School Officials to Prepare

Snow events in West Alabama are difficult for weather forecasters to really pinpoint and school officials having to decide whether to open their doors are left scratching their heads.

Like many West Alabamians,  I awakened with great anticipation about the possibility of seeing yet another “snow event.” here in the land of the Crimson Tide.

Since I relocated here 10 years ago this month,  I have only seen snow on the ground here about three times.    I call them “snow events” because they usually are pretty, but very short-lived.

Almost four years ago in 2009, I wrote a post about the use of Twitter in a late winter snow event where I compared photos from 2008 to 2009.

The last time we had measurable snow in Tuscaloosa (2010),  I was in Jackson, Mississippi at a conference and experienced the snow even as I was driving to the Mississippi state capital.    About five inches of snow fell there and I’m told snow also accumulated here in Tuscaloosa.

Having lived in Cincinnati,  I have a hard time considering these events (that typically don’t require the use of a snow shovel) REAL SNOW.

Why Even Talk About IT?

Why waste my time blogging about something that hasn’t happened yet?
Well, how the winter weather coverage goes is worthy of news commentary.

For instance,   the news Web site, al.com  decided to use the headline “Winter storm warning as heavy snow expected to make its way to central Alabama starting 5 a.m. Thursday”

This tells it all– it’s 7 a.m. and not a flake of snow is reported in central Alabama.

WVUA-TV, which does not normally have a live morning news program, made a decision to air a live news program at 6 a.m.   But, when Lynn Brooks and Richard Scott hit air this morning, there was not much white stuff to show.

What’s  a web producer to do?     You can’t really predict the future.

Difficult Forecast, Changing Conditions

nwsgraphic2
Courtesy: National Weather Service

David Hartin with the Tuscaloosa Emergency Management agency told WVUA-TV Wednesday night newscasts how difficult it is to predict snow for West Alabama.     He talked about how 8 hours can make all the difference.

During the Wednesday evening newscasts, the national weather service upgraded their forecast for Tuscaloosa from a winter weather watch (conditions are favorable) to winter weather warning.

So, Tuscaloosa area officials decided not to make a decision until this morning.  It’s a good thing they did.   There’s no reason not to have school today.

But, if you live in Fayette County or Walker County, which made their calls last night, you are having a delayed school opening today.

Charles Daniel, now of WBMA ABC 33/40 explains this morning that the snow will be a “daytime event” for Central Alabama.

That’s the latest forecast from the broadcast meteorologists.

Eight Expectations for AEJMC 2011

Thousands of journalism professors and those teaching public relations and advertising will be converging on St. Louis this week for the AEJMC Annual Conference. We have at least EIGHT THINGS we expect to see at this year’s conference.

We’re on the eve of the biggest gathering of the year for those who teach or do research in areas of journalism and mass communication.

As the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Conference begins this week in St. Louis,  we thought we’d share our top EIGHT list of things we’re looking for over the next 5-6 days.

1. Lots of Talk about Social Media
Twitter and Facebook have been the subject of more and more research papers each year at AEJMC.   Last year in Denver, I saw at least a dozen titles just on Twitter.   We saw a few on the Chicago Convention two years ago.  I expect to see more and more research on social media and I’m looking for teaching tips to bring home.

2. Strategies for Combating the Mythology about the End of Journalism

We constantly hear about the demise of newspapers and the public’s assumption that means the demise of journalism.  Those of us at this conference know that’s not true.  But, our students are not always as savvy.   They believe the hype and we as journalism professors are now evangelists for a line of work going through unbelievable change.

What are our best strategies? Should I stop bringing my arm of newspapers to class and just carry the iPad so students will stop thinking about journalism as a PRINT profession?

3. Pre-Centennial Premonitions

The logo for the 100th AEJMC Convention has already been released.  A history of the association is in the works.  We know we’ll be back in the birthplace of the association.   I believe there will be even more talk of what it means to be 100 years ago and how that should impact our program next year.

For those of us who also are members of the International Communication Association (ICA), we will be back at the same hotel was ICA just three years ago.

4. Update on Hiring J-School Graduates

Just a week after DIVERSE Issues in Higher Education released its analysis of minority student graduates in journalism and communication, the Annual Surveys of Journalism and Mass Communication Enrollments and Graduates will be unveiled.

Looking forward to seeing the latest numbers (And reuniting with my colleagues in the Cox Center at University of Georgia, where I worked as a graduate research assistant a few years ago)

5. Word on What Happens as AEJMC Journals Go Corporate

We knew it had to happen eventually.  The flagship journal in our field– Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly and its sister publications, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator and Journalism & Mass Communication Monographs will now be published by Sage Publications starting next January.

This will be a blessing and a curse.   Turning our journals over to a corporate entity that is the fifth largest journal publisher, much like many of our smaller divisional journals already are , will come with some level of adjustment for AEJMC members.  Will we be restricted to the number of copies of manuscripts we can share?   What kind of restrictions will be placed on authors now?  I’m still wondering about all of this.

6.  Fewer People Paging Through Printed Programs

As much as I like the old AEJMC Convention (that’s what it used to be called up until last year) Program booklet,  this year marks the debut of the AEJMC Conference APP.    I will be doing a comparison between the APP And the old-fashioned highlighted program booklet. Which one serves me better?  We’ll see (I will post an update or two on this throughout the week)

7. Tornado Talk in a State Where Big Storms Made Headlines

OK– here’s the commercial for my “late-breaking”/late-added program.  St. Louis is home to Lambert Airport where an April tornado heavily damaged one of the concourses.    Then after our EF-4 tornado here in Tuscaloosa days later,  an EF-5 tornado brought tragedy to Joplin, Missouri May 22 in the Southwestern part of the “Show Me” State.    Todd Frankel from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and two of my Alabama colleagues along with Lee Hood from Loyola University will be joining me for what I hope will be an engaging dialogue on how we turn the recent incidents of extreme weather into dynamic teaching opportunities.

That’s Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.

8. J-School Professors Showing Off iPads

And last but certainly not least, I know I will see more of our journalism colleagues tapping away on touch screens.   Most of them did it last year in Denver on their iPhones.  But last year, the iPad had only been out a few months.  Now with iPad2, I know a lot more faculty are using these gadgets.   But, the question is WHY?  For themselves or their students?

Full disclosure: I convinced my department chair to buy an iPad2 for me to use to teach students producing for the tablet PC in the fall.   We’ll be demonstrating new APPS for news writing and reporting every class period.  That’s a definite plan that I’m fine-tuning.

But, I still think there’ s a show-off factor to the iPad.

We’re packing the camcorder and still camera to chronicle our experience at this year’s conference.   Stay tuned!

Readers Learn a Lot From Brian Stelter’s Joplin Tweets

Reading the New York Times’ Brian Stelter’s tweets from Joplin, Missouri helps one really see how this social media outlet can give reporters a very useful outlet for breaking news.

As one who is pretty immersed in and enamored with how Twitter is used by journalists, I was especially intrigued by the New York Times’ Brian Stelter’s retrospective  last week on his experience covering the aftermath of the Joplin tornado.

Brian Stelter's BusinessInsider Photo

“My best reporting was on Twitter,” Stelter said. “But only up until a certain point on Monday.”

When I saw this, I thought – WELL, the only way to really judge what’s better and what’s best is to look at the tweets themselves.

While Stelter provided an archive of his own tweets,  they don’t tell the full story of this reporter who actually was tweeting on the Joplin, Tornado many hours before he arrived in Joplin.

Also, to truly understand the chronological context for the tweets, one has to see the time stamp.    After a few days, the time stamp is only visible with a mouseover in Twitter.

One of my colleagues here at the University of Alabama, Natalie Brown, has become an expert at analyzing tweets. She and I have an ongoing research project that involves looking back at tweets over a series of months.

I thought perhaps reading through Brian Stelter’s 140-character missives for just a day would help me become at least half as adept at analyzing tweets as Brown.

Here’s what I learned from analyzing Brian Stelter’s Tweets

The STATS

Total Number of Tweets from Joplin: 97 (if you include just the ones that Stelter initiated)

Total Number of Exchanges While in Joplin with Readers: 3

GRAND Total of Tweets: 100

The hour of the day when Brian tweeted the most: 5 p.m. hour on Tuesday, May 23.

Overnight Tweets Help

While Brian seems to think that after 11 p.m., his best work was what he was filing to the New York Times Web site or preparing for A1 in next day’s edition, I think there was tremendous value in the tweets that came overnight.

Certainly, the opportunity for great photos diminishes in darkness and there aren’t as many great stories in those less-active hours of the day.

The late night hours were when Stelter had his most interesting exchanges with Twitter followers.

Two readers challenged him on his statements about his work on the stories for the NYTimes.com site and his naming of a particular auto company in his tweets.

This is not unlike other media outlets that operate around the clock.

Full disclosure: I used to produce morning newscasts in a Top Ten media market and am very familiar with the viewers/audience members who are still up in the wee hours of the morning who will call to engage you on your news product both online and on the air.

Now, with Twitter, our audience engages with us more easily all day– 24/7.

Stelter Struck a Balance

The lack of a stable Internet connection (as we had here in Tuscaloosa in the first few hours after the April 27th tornado) forced Stelter to do storytelling on his iPhone– a mobile reporting device with which more and more of our journalism students are bringing to class.

  • He established a balance between telling what he’s seeing and SHOWING what he’s seeing.
  • He gave Twitter followers a glimpse of the sausage-making (as we like to call) that happens as we as journalists GATHER the news.
  • Sometimes making the reporting process visible as it’s happening is warranted and I would argue, even preferred.
  • We didn’t see was a lot of promotion of updates on the NYTimes.com Web site.   (I fear that if there were a stable connection, we might have seen more of that self-promotion and less gathering and writing.)
  • It’s natural for us to use Twitter to share what we’ve posted online (I do it several times a day).   But, what we saw in these tweets was the value of the tweets as reporting product themselves.
  • Last, but not least, Stelter did not invest a lot of time in Re-tweeting what other folks were doing in the field. He was too busy gathering information and getting it out.

I DO Agree with Stelter that  it would be best if  there were a “Get Me Rewrite” kind of person like I’m told newspapers had years ago when reporters would phone in their stories.

The harsh reality

Most reporters have not figured out the balance between tweeting what you’re reporting and working on the writing of the core reporting product- a TV story, a story for the web or for the next day’s newspaper.

We want to bring our Twitter followers with us through the process, but we haven’t quite figured out how to do that.

OUR NEXT STEP: Compare some of tweets of others covering the Joplin Tornado to Stelter’s to see how their observations differed.  And for the academic researchers reading this post– that’s an opportunity for scholarly inquiry here when one compares the tweets to what’s ending up in the newspaper or on the next newscast.

Thanks to Brian’s hard work, we’re a little bit closer to understanding what to do in efforts to understand the link between Twitter and journalism.


Today Was My Best Visit Ever to the Dry Cleaners

A routine visit to the dry cleaners today took on a new meaning. Penny Profit Cleaners is located on 15th Street, an east-west corridor through Tuscaloosa whose landscape was changed forever April 27th by an EF-4 Tornado.

Dropping off garments to be dry cleaned is about as routine a task as one can have in a particular week or month.

But,  early today shortly after 8 a.m., I wasn’t sure I would be able to run that basic errand.  After taking different streets to the University of Alabama campus, I wondered if I would also have to find a different vendor to clean the two dozen shirts and a business suit that happened to be in my cleaning bag this time.

An EF 4 tornado last Wednesday afternoon leveled neighborhoods and businesses less than a block away from Penny Profit Cleaners, which is located at 508 15th Street.

Imagine my feeling as I drove toward the intersection of 15th Street and Hackberry Lane and looked to my left to find Bama Lanes (the major bowling alley in Tuscaloosa)  and Penny Profit still standing.   My heart leaped as I realized these Tuscaloosa institutions had been spared even though places a stone’s throw away were gone.

The Penny Profit staff there noted that today was their first day operating after the April 27th storm.   So their business has been affected.  But, they were just happy to be alive, something I think all Tuscaloosa residents would say today.

In the remaining days of this week, we will be taking note of what might otherwise seem like small or insignificant things that are part of the “new normal” that comes after a deadly tornado changes your community forever.

Two reasons I’m struggling with news of Osama bin Laden’s death

I know bin Laden’s death is the big news of the day, but what about what’s happening here in Tuscaloosa? Do national media outlets under-inform their audience by putting all their eggs in the “bin Laden basket?”

Even as I got a firsthand look today at some of the areas of town affected by the tornado that changed our West Alabama community forever,  I’ve been struggling with how to react to the media shift from the Tornado Aftermath to the bin Laden death as the BIG STORY.

Yes, it’s a lead story, but..

Yes, as a television producer, it’s a no-brainer.  Timeliness, impact, Bizarre, Unusual– all the news values that make this the BIG STORY of the day.   I think ABC, CBS and NBC were correct to field anchor their newscasts tonight from Ground Zero.

But, bodies are still being pulled from the rubble here in Tuscaloosa.  If you’re not in Tuscaloosa, can you really turn your attention away from what’s happening here in Alabama?

How Did You Learn About Osama bin Laden death?

The other issue is how we all learned about this particular story.   One of my newest Twitter followers sent me a direct message asking my advice about how to handle this story.  I was like “what, what are you talking about?”

Then, I preceded to go to my usual pecking order of news sites for verification that this was the big story– NYtimes.com, CNN.com, MSNBC.com, Washingtonpost.com

Turns out Stacey Higginbotham has outlined almost exactly my steps in a post last night even as the story was breaking.   Her “7 Stages of News in a Twitter and Facebook Era” just became required reading for my journalism students who will be taking basic news reporting from me next month.

As for the shift away from Tuscaloosa, a question I posed in an earlier post in regard to the national TV networks, I think I can accept that our tragedy here will continue for some time.   It may not be the lead story on the evening news, but it’s still news– a story that will be back on the national radar in the days, weeks, months and YES, YEARS to come.

Alabamians Pause for Day of Prayer, Look for Way to Worship

Alabama churches pull together for worship as state pauses for “Day of Prayer” May 1, 2011.

This Sunday morning not only marks the beginning of a new month.  Four days after a tornado swept away many of Alabama’s communities, it’s a new day for dozens of Alabama’s churches where parishioners will be saying more prayers than usual today.

Gov. Robert Bentley

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has proclaimed May 1, 2011 a Day of Prayer for entire state.  Perhaps no place will those prayers be especially poignant than in churches in cities of Cullman and Tuscaloosa.

Cullman Churches All Impacted

Last week, ABC News’ Steve Osunsami visited four churches in Cullman that were all heavily damaged or destroyed in Wednesday’s tornadoes.

Eastside Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, First United Methodist Cullman and Christ Lutheran Church were all affected by the storm.

As Osunsami reported, church services won’t be taking place at those churches.

But, I’m sure those parishioners in Cullman will find a way to worship somewhere on this May 1st.

Osunsami noted Cullman was the place where “God did not spare his own house.”

Two Tuscaloosa Churches Move in Together

Here in Tuscaloosa, the West Highland Missionary Baptist Church, which before Wednesday afternoon was located at 628 29th Street,  was also destroyed.

Today, members of West Highland Baptist will hold their services at our church, Cornerstone Full Gospel Baptist Church, which the tornado missed by ONE BLOCK.

Both of these churches will be worshipping and holding weekly events in the same quarters for at least the next few weeks and months.

It’s not only a new month, but a new day for these two congregations who realize their call to pray and worship is as strong on May 1st after the storm as it was just a week ago before a tornado changed our community forever.

I’m happy to be among those Cornerstone members who will be welcoming our friends at West Highland to our quarters on University Place & Brooksdale Drive.

Did NBC Nightly News Mislead with Tornado Video?

NBC Nightly News got it wrong when it showed video of one Alabama tornado in a story focused around one’s man’s experience escaping another tornado.

I know I’ll catch some flak for what I’m about to write.

But, as a longtime viewer of NBC Nightly News, I had to point out a slight video flaw that dances dangerously close to an ethical line.

Television is a visual medium.  It conveys emotion even in ways strong still images can’t.

But, sometimes in the effort to find the right video, we can stumble.

I think the NBC producers/editors stumbled tonight in their story about Reginald Epps, the Coaling, Ala. firefighter, whose tale of survival has been told by several other national media outlets.

Here’s the key point:  Epps and his three sons and wife– were caught in an early morning tornado on Wednesday that rolled through Coaling, Ala.   ( I watched on one of the Birmingham TV stations that caught the storm as it blew through downtown Tuscaloosa minutes later)

Unlike the tornado that claimed dozens of lives here in Tuscaloosa that came through late Wednesday afternoon, some have called the most-documented storm ever,  the  pre-dawn tornado that struck  Coaling was NOT caught on tape in Coaling.

In Lester Holt’s piece tonight, the producers used “cover video” of the evening tornado in Tuscaloosa.

Isn’t that a bit misleading?   In his narration, Holt described the Coaling tornado as  the “first of many that day” as they showed Chris England’s famous video of the afternoon tornado.

As a middle school kid wanting to do TV news, I watched Lester Holt  as a local anchor at WCBS-TV Channel 2  in New York City. He’s a class act.   At one time, Holt was known as “the most visible African-American newsman in broadcast television.” But, this video issue spoiled what could have been another one of his great examples of broadcast journalism.

In the haste to tell great stories when we need good video, we as broadcast journalists have to be especially careful that our images are always telling the WHOLE TRUTH.

I had heard Reginald Epps’ story earlier this week on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and read it in the Wall Street Journal. It was also reported on Web site like The Daily Mail.

Nightly News’ story showing Holt at Reginald’s bedside here in Tuscaloosa’s  DCH Medical Center— one African American father to another African American father– was the best of the bunch.  It tied together the morning and afternoon tornadoes and the experiences of those (both doctors and patients) who went through both storms.

It’s a shame that the video editing was a little sloppy.

Am I being nit-picky?   Yes, probably so.

But, I download Nightly News in my iTunes feed almost every night.  Elsewhere, I’ve praised the show’s producers when they’ve gotten it right.

Because of a poor video choice, this story wasn’t one of those times.

Conveying the Scope of the Tuscaloosa Tornado’s Devastation to the World

Convey finer points to the international media trying to cover the devastation in the wake of the tornado that came through Tuscaloosa Wednesday.

It’s now 7  a.m. in the Central Time Zone and literally the whole  world is waking up to what happened here in Tuscaloosa yesterday.  After my earlier blog list, celebrating the return of electrical power to my home, I got a call from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).

Joined by a University of Alabama student, James and another resident of Birmingham, (that would be the largest city in Alabama), we took questions about asked to share our perspectives on what happened.

The conversations about the tragedy of a tornado are different from the news reporting of death tolls, street closures and relief efforts.

Right after the BBC Interview,  I went on to talk about the situation on John Hockenberry’s The Takeaway. which airs on WNYC here in the United States.

In doing these first two interviews, it’s interesting to note the following:

The importance of being accurate about what the tornado did and didn’t do

Some have reported that the tornado left destruction on the University of Alabama campus.  But, no UA buildings sustained structural damage

Explaining the geographic landscape to  those unfamiliar with West Alabama

The pictures taken along the roads like Veterans Memorial Parkway or McFarland Boulevard might give the impression that the entire town was leveled.  This is not a small town with one traffic light.  As the commerce center for West Alabama with more than 80,000 residents, Tuscaloosa City and County are largely intact except for tree damage.   The parts where the storm hit are heavily damaged or destroyed.

Those of us talking to the rest of the world have to convey these finer points.

Showing that we DID prepare for the possibility, but can never be prepared for the impact of  a tornado

It’s hard to believe, but for those of us who live in this neck of the woods.  we know how to prepare for a possibility of severe weather.  The University did that.  The local meteorologist told us two days in advance that Wednesday would be a rough weather day.  The local schools closed in anticipation of the severe weather warnings.

in a breaking news situation, especially driven by tweets and text messages, it’s important for those of us on the ground to be the source of accurate and reliable information.