Google Maps

NPR ran a nice story yesterday about a blog that tracks interesting applications of Google Maps. One example is a map of local murders from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

I’ve been encouraging one of our master’s students to work on a project linking a map to a database of local education statistics. This student has taken a couple of mapping courses in the university’s geography department, on his own initiative. Smart!

One of the best examples of this kind of package, of course, is Adrian Holovaty‘s award-winning

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A New Semester

Today our spring 2006 semester begins. On Friday, the dean of our college announced that she would leave our college effective July 1, 2006. So all of us go into this semester with some amount of uncertainty.

The College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida is well regarded in the state and among what are called our peer institutions — which means other large schools and colleges of mass communication. These institutions vary by large degrees, not only in their strengths and weaknesses but also in focus.

The winds of fashion in academia can blow from any direction at any time, and that can threaten a journalism program. The resolve of the dean can brace the college against those winds, or the dean might choose to turn and sail another course.

I want more of our students to have a chance to try out some innovative techniques in journalism. I want them to have better technology resources than they have now, and I want the separation between broadcast journalism students and so-called print journalism students to end.

While a new dean might make those things possible, a new dean might also make them impossible.

Our dean’s decision to leave was covered well in a Gainesville Sun story today, Jan. 9, written by Jack Stripling.

Side note: I don’t get the print edition of the Sun, because their delivery service is abysmal. Reading the story online, I have no clue what page it appeared on in the print edition. The Sun’s online headlines differ from those in the print edition (which is true of many online newspapers). Therefore, when this link no longer works because the Sun takes the story offline, the best way to locate it in the archives will be by date and the writer’s name.

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Some Sites for Citizen Journalism

The News Is Now Public: There is some uproar about a cellphone photo from the London bombings — apparently it has been used without regard for the photographer’s rights. We may see a lawsuit …

Then there is this mini-site for CJ. It’s mostly about Hurricane Katrina. (Very different from

Scoopt is very much about photos. The license deal is 50-50 with a three-month exclusivity clause. After that, your rights revert to you. This provides a way for an unknown photographer to get a great shot out in front of the public and get paid for it too.

Rocketboom is not CJ, but it’s … um … kinda like a newscast. Daily, Monday through Friday. Except they’ve been on vacation this week. So they’ve been showing reruns. (Just like ABC’s Lost.)

OhmyNews International is in English. From what I have heard, the traditional journalists in South Korea are trying hard to ignore this juggernaut in their midst. The story about the stem cell research fraud is top news today.

Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, says he will put together a nonprofit Center for Citizen Media this year.

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Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News

Tuned Out is the title of a book by David Mindich, a former assignment editor for CNN and now an educator at a small liberal arts college in Vermont. The book tries to answer the question “Why don’t Americans under 40 follow the news?” and it does come up with a few ideas that we have not heard a million times already.

1. News rates low in conversational value today, especially among most younger people. The top paragraph on page 65 sums this up with a quote from a university student, who related how her friends could talk endlessly about old Simpsons episodes, with everyone adding comments, but let anyone mention a topic from the current news and you’d get maybe one or two comments at most — and then it’s time to drop that whole subject and move on to something else.

2. If you get kids feeling curious about the news at a very young age, they might actually continue to keep tabs on it, at least now and then. On page 68 Mindich relates a conversation with an eighth-grader at a New Orleans school in which the student explains he’s been reading The New York Times Online ever since he was assigned to do so in a sixth-grade class. “[E]ver since then, we get e-mail from The New York Times,” the student said. As a result, this student knew answers to current events questions that most adults couldn’t answer. Note that the class assignment was long ended, but somehow, those e-mails from the newspaper kept this kid connected to a newspaper more than 1,000 miles away.

3. The two dominant answers to a question about whether citizens have a voice in American society today were: (a) No, MY voice doesn’t matter; and (b) Yes, OUR voices do matter. Mindich points out (page 108) that the difference lies in your image of yourself as (a) alone, or (b) a member of a group or community of people. Like a lot of things in Mindich’s book, this idea owes much to Robert Putnam and the whole Bowling Alone concept of what’s wrong with America.

I liked Mindich’s approach to his subject, but I found the book to be less substantial than I had hoped it would be. While Mindich traversed the continental U.S. and talked to people outside traditional focus groups (which I think can be some of the most unrepresentative collections of people you could ever put together in one room!), he only interviewed about 100 people for his study. He got some good comments, and it’s a good start, but it’s really just a small appetizer portion compared with the big entree that seems to be promised.

Still, the book is a pleasant enough read and it got me thinking about some new things.

One idea in particular is related to the story of schoolteacher Jane Elliott’s famous exercise with third-graders in Iowa in 1968, in which she divided the class into those with blue eyes and those without, in an effort to teach them what Martin Luther King Jr. had been trying to change. I read an article in which her original students, 35 years later, described what a huge impression the experience had left on them.

Many people have criticized Elliott for her supposed abuse of such very young pupils, but many of the students themselves have acknowledged that if they had been older, the effect would likely have been lessened. Oh, and the former students said the lasting effects of the exercise on them were good, not bad — because they had learned first-hand what it felt like to be discriminated against, they take care not to discriminate against others who are different from them.

Most 8-year-olds are still very respectful of, and trusting of, their teachers.

What if teachers in third- and fourth-grade classrooms promoted the value of being clued in to current events?

What if it were a competitive activity?

Every kid in the class could subscribe to The New York Times online. Forget those pathetic rags that local daily newspapers have become in most towns and cities across the U.S. Plug the little kids into a real news source and see what they can figure out about the world.

They could learn to feel clever and well informed. They could show off.

If they gained an attitude that it’s GOOD to be informed, SATISFYING to be informed and up-to-date, then maybe they would have a desire to stay informed.

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Taking Notes

The idea behind this blog is that it can serve as a place to keep my notes, observations and ideas about teaching. Mostly what I teach concerns online journalism. I also teach about the Internet as a communication medium and about technologies of communication in general.

I have just finished the fall semester, and my grades are in. I completely restructured my course called Reporting and Writing for Online Media, and the students’ work is all online.

How did it go? Okay, I think. One thing that may have contributed to however successful the class was: On the first day, I told them I expected them to act like journalists. They are juniors and seniors, they’ve completed their intro courses in journalism, and I don’t care if they don’t want to BE journalists — in this course, they must behave as if they are journalists.

Another thing that worked was a combination of non-redundant materials. I used Jim Foust’s book Online Journalism: Principles and Practices of News for the Web (Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway, 2004) and gave them a quiz on the reading almost every week. For the most part, this ensured that they read the assigned pages. Sometimes I assigned sites or packages online, then quizzed them on those. (Luckily, I had a graduate student to grade those quizzes for me.) Then in class, I would show them examples (mostly multimedia work) that were not mentioned in the book. We even had some pretty good discussions.

Several of the students have e-mailed me with some compliments about the course.

So what I have learned, I think, is to always approach the class as if all the students really might go into multimedia and online journalism (even though I know very few of them want to do so). With that in mind, I chose examples of today’s best practices and urged them to think about what works well and what could be improved. I required them to gain experience with tools (cameras, audio recorders, editing software) so they at least know how people go out and make these packages.

In all their other courses, they learn the rote steps of traditional journalism. In this course, now I figure it is my job to try to get them thinking about how journalism could change for the better.

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