Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Martian: A Hopeful Space Odyssey


20th Century Fox Image.

I have not yet seen the new “Star Wars” movie, but I expect to. And, like the 1977 original (and unlike the three clunky prequel movies), I expect it will be entertaining—a cowboy tale of good and evil set in a galaxy far, far away.

But it won’t be my favorite sci fi movie. In the endless Star Wars vs Star Trek debate, I’m a Trekkie. There’s something to be said for a fictional tale set in our own universe, not some alternative reality. And the whole “force” mumbo-jumbo pseudo religious stuff is kind of irritating, at least to me, even if I can cheer for the good and boo at the bad

Anyway, visions of the future are often either dystonian or hopeful, and I’ll freely admit I’m more of a fan of “hopeful.” And visions of the future are either far-fetched or seem plausible. I can’t say plausible is always the most entertaining (Star Trek is no more plausible than Star Wars, I’ll concede), still a good dose of “plausible” is pleasurable in my science fiction.

On the day after Christmas, my two sons and I saw the movie “The Martian.” They both have read the book and, naturally, chatted a lot about how it compared with the movie. Me, I would like to read the book now.

We all enjoyed the movie. Once again, millions in treasure and lives are imperiled to rescue Matt Damon. Mars doesn’t seem like the kind of place I would want to spend a year on, eating potatoes grown in my own poop—but it was entertaining to watch.

Anyway, as far as I could tell, no laws of physics had to be rewritten for the sake of the story. It presumes many technical problems had been solved in the future—but that doesn’t seem so far-fetched. It also presumes that a hot redhead mission commander would be huge disco fan—which is kind of tragic, but again doesn’t require the laws of the universe to be realigned.

ABBA on vinyl? No wonder she was ready for another year in space …

NASA-JPL image of Mars surface from Mars Rover.

But, I digress. 'The Martian," besides being a type of science fiction that I enjoy, had me wondering about the role of plausibility in fictional media. Clearly, “To Kill a Mockingbird” didn’t happen, but could have. But, why do I like it, but also enjoy Jasper Fforde books?
"Lord of the Rings" takes place in a clearly “other” place that is nothing like our world, and it works on that basis. Why does “Harry Potter” work?

Why do most fanciful tales of talking animals not appeal to me, but "Watership Down" did? Or, for that matter, what is with the appeal of "Charlotte’s Web"?

There’s no requirement that fiction be plausible to be pleasurable, I suppose—but it works better when there is some consistency within its own universe. Anyway, with science fiction, in particular, I do enjoy it if the “science” seems possible. "The Martian" is a man vs. nature fantasy in which part of the appeal is that it is a not-so-far-off future that could be.

Except for that ABBA part.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Seeking the Best & Worst TV Political Ads

I am exploring a new theory for the 2016 presidential elections, and I want your thoughts on it. I think TV ads may have peaked.

Since 1952, for two generations, TV has been the main arena of competition between presidential candidates, and we've seen and heard some historic things in that time period:  a girl plucking daisies before a mushroom cloud in 1964; a promise from Nixon to find an “honorable end” to the war in Vietnam in a commercial that ended with a soldier who had “love” stenciled on his helmet in 1968; Willie Horton in 1988; even Rick Perry wearing the Brokeback Mountain jacket in his disastrous and hilariously parodied 2012 “Strong” commercial.

NPR reported this year that television ad spending in the 2016 race should top $4 billion. But even as the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates for cash to pour into presidential politics, the 2016 races feels different to me.

Mike Huckabee—where is your “Chuck Norris” ad now? In this presidential election cycle, if you don’t live in Iowa, you might not already be inundated with candidate and PAC TV ads, but trust me, they are out there. Yet, in all the odd twists and turns of this very strange campaign (don’t look to me for an explanation why a blowhard billionaire with a tenuous hold on reality leads the polls in one of our major parties—I too am stumped by Trump), I don’t think that there has been a breakthrough TV ad message.

Indeed, some of the commercials I've seen are frankly just entertaining because they are so silly.

Take for example, this PAC ad endorsing Bobby Jindal. It’s not really loaded with much content except “Bobby is coming up in the polls,” but the meteoric rise it trumpets and praises is all the way to 6 percent. Right after this ad started airing, Jindal disappeared from the race completely. I guess he was rising so face he just raptured out of here.


Hillary, a hard-nosed politician and policy wonk of long standing, is toting a softer, "vote for grandma" message in this commercial:


Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, wants you to know that the economy is rigged in this ad. It takes a socialist to change America, I suppose, except I am not sure Middle America will ever vote for a socialist, even if he’s got a catchy slogan like “Feel the Bern.” We've certainly changed the tone of our campaigns since “I Like Ike.”



Jeb, whose poll numbers remain stubbornly low but who has the cash to keep running for some time anyway, actually takes a jab at Trump in this online ad—which I have not seen on Iowa TV, but wonder if I will should Trump’s numbers stay up:



Anyway, as noted, despite a record amount of cash pouring into the coffers of Iowa television stations, I am not sure advertising as yet has moved the needle this year. The mood of the electorate is very down, as world events prove too chilling. As a nation, we seem to be losing the middle.

I don’t want us to descend into multiple warring political factions, and I suppose the roughness of the current political rhetoric might be too easy to be alarmed at. But, how odd it is to feel nostalgic for 2012, when this was one of the hard-hitting ads of the campaign season:



To be fair, I'm not sure all of the ads I'm showing have aired on TV. I saw then on the Internet. Iowans, which have you seen on your home screen? Anyway, I want your help, legions of the Internet. What are your favorite or least favorite ads of the 2016 presidential race so far, and why? Please embed a link with your comment, so we can all share the fun.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Praise of True Photographers

An MMU student taking photos for the Mount Mercy Times, a channel 9 videographer and a Metro Sports photographer. And me, but you can't see me. Photographers all in dark, MMU AD in white behind them.

These days, the existence of cell phones means that most people are always carrying a camera that can shoot both still images and video.

But, just as having a PC with Publisher on it doesn’t make you a graphic designer, neither does your iPhone make you a photographer.

I was thinking about that this on Saturday in the Hennessy Recreation Center at Mount Mercy University. The university is on Thanksgiving break now, which means few students are around, but the Mustangs had a men’s basketball game that afternoon.

So, I bicycled to campus to grab a newspaper camera from the closed library building (where the paper office is and to which I have a key) for a student to borrow.

And I stayed for half the game to shoot some images.

I don’t know if basketball was the original sport that I shot years ago with my Minolta 35 mm camera. I know that the Calumet at Muscatine Community College had a basketball team, but I don’t recall where they played (there was no gym on campus) nor whether I shot any images of their games (I was one of the editors of the student newspaper at MCC back in the day).

Anyway, I know that I shot some basketball games at Marycrest College, as well as some soccer. At the time, the longest lens I owned was a 135 telephoto—no change in focal length.

My favorite shot of over 120.
At the game this weekend, I had a much nicer camera, my current Nikon D3100. Yet, most of my photos aren’t any good. I shot over 120 images, and consider only a few of them passable. Some samples are on this blog post, a few more can be seen in a Facebook gallery.

These days, as traditional media contract, one endangered species is the news photographer. It’s too easy to give a reporter a camera and tell her to shoot her own images, or depend on the kindness of strangers and their many photo-taking devices.

But I think the really good news or sports photographer is a rare breed worth preserving.

In this day of YouTube and instant photos and videos, we’re awash in images. That doesn’t mean we’re awash in good journalistic images—ones that really tell a key part of the story, that communication the action and emotion of a key instant.

And that kind of image is not easy to capture. Granted, I wasn’t using a really good camera—while my Nikon is an SLR digital camera and came with a 70 to 200 mm zoom, neither the camera nor the lens are the best for this kind of photography.

I can’t blame my low “hit” ratio on the camera, however. I’m a decent amateur photographer, and in my newspaper days, my photo skills did serve me well—but I was never primarily a news photographer.

A metaphorical tip of my imaginary metaphysical hat to those who are news photographers—you preserve instances of history in a way that writers like me should respect and recognize for the artistry, difficulty and skill level that good sports or news photography requires.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words—but only if it’s in focus, well composed and dramatic. And that’s not easy.

I know not much is going on in this image, but I kind of like it anyway. Under Armour vs Nike. When I left, Under Armour was out-scoring Nike about 4 to 1.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

When Does the Media Turn Doctors into Santa Claus?

Some good news and not so good news from my media life this week:

A son-in-law was featured in an English newspaper because his earlier genetic research contributed to new cancer treatments. That’s good news.

Dr. Martin speaking Thursday. Her presentation was part of the fall Vietnam series at MMU.

A professor at Mount Mercy University reminded her audience that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is not Santa Claus, and that the answer to the old question posed in a 1960s anti-war folk song—“when we they ever learn?”—sadly, seems to be “not yet.”

Congratulations Dr. Matthew Moscou for the research you’re part of that makes the world a better place. However, it’s important to recall that Moscou isn’t a magician who waived his magic wand and came up with a new cancer treatment—but part of a community of dedicated scientists working quietly behind the scenes, slowly uncovering mysteries of the universe. Someone else applied the genetic knowledge Matt uncovered studying barley to cancer cells in humans.

A link to the story about Matt is at the end of this post.

And media don’t always report well on science, which is a problem. Our public support for science has not always been high, and we have a cultural distrust of intellectuals of all sorts, including scientists. That has clear and negative impacts on our political life, such as denying, and failing to talk intelligently, about big issues such as global warming.

Anyway, it was nice to see Dr. Matt in the news in a positive way. Shifting gears, Dr. Martin spoke at Mount Mercy Thursday of last week about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and a famous speech he gave in which he articulated his reasons for opposing the Vietnam War. Since King had benefited from  civil rights legislation pushed by President Johnson, that opposition was gutsy.

And King spoke of the folly of our involvement in no uncertain terms.

Dr. Martin speeaking.

King tends to be remembered today for the “I Have a Dream” speech and his language about a society where the color of skin does not matter. That message is sometimes co-opted today by people who argue against efforts to promote diversity, on the grounds that such efforts are not color blind.

I don’t want to get into that particular quagmire right now, partly because I’m no expert on the topic and partly because I’m personally conflicted. But certainly our modern use of King's words out of context do him and his cause no favors.

Final view of Dr. Martin.
I do want to note something Martin said. I don’t know which writer she was quoting, but she recalled that someone once said that today there tends to be a “Santa Claus-ification” of King—to remember his 1963 speech, and ignore some of the harder criticisms and more controversial positions he took beyond that speech.

King had courage. As Dr. Martin noted, his concerns about military policy and nonviolence should echo today.

And we in the media should be careful of our tendency to simplify stories in order to create more digestible narratives. King was not Santa Clause. Scientists aren’t magicians.

But Matt sure does look nice in his British lab outfit! See the story.



Saturday, October 24, 2015

Adventures In Free Rabbit Ears TV

TV in bedroom, with antenna.

I recall rabbit ears. Years ago, it was the way that my family got TV. That was back in the 1960s.

They were tall, maybe 3-feet long, and sensitive. To watch a particular TV station required rotating the antenna and then playing with the angle of the “ears” until everything more or less settled on a grainy black-and-white image with so-so audio.

And that’s the way it was for many years. At some point, maybe when we moved to Muscatine or maybe in our later years in Clinton, we upgraded to a rooftop antenna and earned better reception.

But for many years, it was just the rabbit ears. I recall that it was a rare day—maybe when the atmospheric conditions were just right—that we got an IPTV signal in Clinton. We mostly subsisted on the Big 3 network affiliates from the Quad Cities. I watched the moon landing, mankind’s greatest technological adventure to date, on grainy black-and-white images courtesy of rabbit ears in our living room in Clinton.

Can you say “Capt’n Ernies Cartoon Showboat?” How about “Acri Creature Feature?”

The first antenna was OK, but no channel 9.
Anyway, those antenna days have suddenly returned. The local cable system in Cedar Rapids finally wised up and digitally scrambled their signal, so you can’t get the first 13 channels for free just by plugging in your cable. I don’t really blame them. But I had just purchased a small digital TV to replace a failing TV in our bedroom, so I was interested in getting some TV signal—without paying a cable TV bill.

At Menards while buying some fall flower bulbs, I saw a display of a cheap digital antenna for $8 or so, and I purchased it. We plugged into our new $99 digital TV, and voila, we did indeed get several stations: Channel 2, Channel 2.2, IPTV (3 channels) and an ION family of channels, as well as Home Shopping Network.

However, that left out Channel 9, and I am interested in that station. Better local news and “Modern Family” both come from that source. A quick check of the KCRG web site revealed the truth: You need rabbit ears. The $8 antenna is more like a plastic tray. So, we’re going to party like it’s 1969.

My wife and I were shopping in Target tonight, and I ended up over in electronics. And for $10, there it was, a GE rabbit-ear antenna.

Innovative TV technology of the new century.
So we bought it, and I plugged in. The stations that we got with the $8 antenna seem to come in slightly better. ION breaks up now and then, but who watches ION? We get duplicate IPTV channels with the new antenna, so there is no doubt Dowtown Abbey will be available in January (honestly, that was a large part of the motivation for the whole project for both my wife and I—we need the comfort, months in advance, that we won’t miss what the Dowager Countess will say).

I noticed that if I “play” with the modern rabbit ears, it tends to mess up whatever station it’s on. With the digital channels, most of them are best left alone—no rotating or adjusting or fiddling with the antenna. They come in crystal clear or pretty much not at all.

So we’re back in business—we can have our morning news and our shot of IPTV when we want it.

Still, it does feel a bit weird. Honestly, rabbit ears?

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Opening of the Wall

Dr. Joe Nguyen at the opening ceremony.

Thursday night was an emotional one at MMU. The Moving Wall came to campus in the morning, and a rainstorm pelted down on the workers as they were midway through installation.

They powered through. They were men and women on a mission.

Later, after skies had cleared, I took part in the afternoon opening ceremony. It was very poignant. In particular, I felt a chill as an MMU student, a veteran, read the names of Linn County’s own who are on the wall—who died in the Vietnam War.

She chocked up a bit reading the names. I felt the same just listening.

Following the opening ceremony, that evening there was a panel discussion in Flaherty where Professor Joe Nguyen asked a panel of veterans some questions about their Vietnam experience.

Flaherty was packed for the veteran's panel. Joe Nguyen leads discussion.

There were three American veterans, and three from South Vietnam’s armed forces. One of those Vietnamese veterans, dressed in a crisp white naval uniform, was Joe Nguyen’s father. To say there was a charge of emotion in the room several times would be to understate it. I’ve never seen a room so packed that was, at times, so quiet and attentive.

Most presentations in our Fall Faculty Series “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War” will be less than an hour. Thursday’s panel went on for 90 minutes or so, and when it ended, I think most people in the room wished we could take a break and continue. There simply wasn’t enough time to hear all the stories these men had to share.
MMU Times student reporter at event.


This is a blog about “media,” which implies a channel through which communication passes (like this blog). But you can experience a small piece of the legacy of Vietnam in an unmediated way. A travelling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the famous “Wall” in Washington DC, is set up in the lawn in front of Warde Hall, which is why we had the Thursday events.

It’s a quiet corner of campus, which feels right. Come on down and see it for yourself.

And if you missed the great programs we had Thursday, remember that there is a whole series of events that goes into November. Use media—check out the MMU web site for more details.

More photos of the real stars of Thursday night:

 
 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Welcome to the Blogosphere, New Writers

Students writing blog posts in library commputer lab.
As I often do in media-related writing classes, I am requiring a group of students to maintain their own personal blogs.

There is a baker’s dozen of students in the class, and I’ll update this post in about a week when they establish their URLs.

I require blogging for several reasons—mainly, so students in communication are comfortable with the genre and aware of it. But also to get students into the habit of thinking of their writing as public performance that anybody can see.

So, after I post the links, you all are invited to follow them. I’m looking forward to what these 13 new blog writers will have to say.

I hope some of them will keep their blogs going after the semester is over. Most of all, I hope they all benefit from being forced to write regularly in a different voice and style than other, academic writing, that they are doing for me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

To The 20 Students Who Are Considering The Times

Madison Coates (right), Editor-in-Chief of the "Mount Mercy Times," gives information to a student who is inquiring about the newspaper. Madison, by the way, is a nursing student.

I recall, sometimes, how the newsroom at the “Columbia Missourian” seemed like a jungle or swamp. If you stepped in there, you never knew what variety of snake would grab you or how long you might be lost.

Yet, I stepped in there a lot, and I don’t regret it. Of course, when I was a student at Mizzou, I was a graduate student—and time in my life was more precious than time was when I was a young undergraduate adult. I had five young children while I was in graduate school, so I couldn’t afford too many open-ended journeys into the unknown news swamp.

Madison and Todd Cross, Campus Editor, at Involvement Fair.
Still, I had wonderful experiences there. The best, I think, was a semester I spent reporting at the Capitol Bureau in Jefferson City, covering the state legislature. What an interesting place to be, and what a challenge it was to write about.

Why am I writing to you, the 20 who signed your names to say you’re interested in the Mount Mercy Times? We had an Involvement Fair on campus today, and many of you put your name on our sign-up sheet and took the paper with a bit of information.

Don’t forget—Sept. 1, 3:30 p.m., Lower Busse Library—the first Times staff meeting of the semester.

I am writing to you because I truly believe several things about a student's experience at a university. One is that, while classes are important (I am a professor, after all), what really can make your education come alive is connections and events beyond the classroom. For instance, when I was an undergraduate, I was for a time active in a drama group—it was an odd thing for a journalism student, and a great source of stress, but also a wonderful experience.

I also wrote for and then edited the student newspaper at my hometown community college, and then became the editor of the paper at the college where I earned my BA (I was actually recruited to go to that college as the newspaper’s editor—and there’s nothing like being editor of the campus paper to make a new transfer student put down roots in a new place very quickly.)

After college, my career path took me to newspapers, so my editing experience was directly relevant. But I think I would have gained a lot regardless of my major. As a newspaper editor, I was a student leader who wasn’t chosen by my peers, but rather rose through the ranks of a meritocracy.

And because of that rise, I had some unique opportunities. When I was at the community college, I covered meetings of the college district governing board—my first public meeting stories. When I was at the liberal arts college where I earned my BA, I met monthly with the president, just to get some perspective on what was going on. I think I was the only student who so regularly had contact with the president.

So you think you might want to join the “Mount Mercy Times?” Well, good. It’s a great idea. You may get to know Laurie Hamen, President of MMU, if you stick with it and become an editor of the Times. Even before that, you’ll go places and meet people and learn far more about MMU then most students will.

The students newspaper flag at MMU.
Most of you won’t pursue newspaper careers, and many of you won’t work directly in communication fields. But the skills you’ll pick up at the Times, the ability to get information and translate it and present it, and the management experience of being in a student-run group—those are lifelong fringe benefits which means your decision to be part of a student newspaper will forever enrich your whole college experience.

At least I hope so. It all depends on whether you stick with it and actually take part. Please, sign up for stories or photo assignments or video assignments, and get them done.

There may be times along the way when you’re being driven crazy with novels to read and papers to write and tests to study for, and the Times will seem like a giant time swamp, a place where you enter and never know when you might emerge.

Cheer up. I won’t lie, being a student journalist is hard, which is why so few do it. But in the end, it’s so worth it. I hope you stay with it long enough to learn that for yourself.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Horror, The Horror

Posted on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons,
photo by Doug Kline of Robert Duvall's costume.
In 1979, one of my sisters and I had an odd “Vietnam” Saturday. We drove to Moline, Illinois, where the largest cinema complex in our area was located, and watched two movies, practically back-to-back.

One was “Hair.” The other was “Apocalypse Now.”

Sunday night, I re-watched “Apocalypse Now.” I’m not sure how well “Hair” has aged, but this retelling of “Heart of Darkness” in Vietnam is still a movie classic. It’s a strange narrative, a more than slightly off-kilter story that starts inside a claustrophobic room in Saigon.

I also rented a copy of the documentary that was made some years later about the making of “Apocalypse Now,” but I have not watched it yet.

“Apocalypse Now” is very episodic, with discrete scenes taking place as a small Navy patrol boat moves up a river to deliver an assassin whose mission is to eliminate a rogue colonel. There is the famous assault on a village staged so that a helicopter cavalry commander could find the best waves for surfing.

Most quoted lines from the movie: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Or: “Charlie don’t surf!”

Later, there is the tense search for mangos that ends in a tiger attack. There is the massacre of the civilians in the sampan. And finally there is the encounter with the rogue colonel and his strange tribe of followers deep in the jungle.

As a narrative, it follows the source material, the colonial novel “Heart of Darkness,” surprisingly well. Instead of a jabbering Russian, there is a photojournalist extolling the genius of “Colonel Kurtz.” I did find myself wondering at the story, a bit. If they had helicopters that could deliver combat troops to a village with ultimate surfing waves, and that could pick up a patrol boat and put it where they wanted—why did they bother riding that boat all the way up the river? Why not start the journey at the eerie bridge that was the last American outpost?

For that matter, the ending of the movie is a bit unsatisfying. Why is the assassin popping up out of the water with a machete and sneaking up on the colonel when he’s been spending days in the colonel’s company previous to that?

Still, despite my minor qualms at the plot, I think the movie has a lot to offer. It puts you on edge, and has a lot to say about the dehumanizing effects of violence and war.

I’ve now binge watched “Apocalypse Now,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Platoon.” It’s been an odd week. Of the four, “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now”are the most evocative.

In part, I suppose, that’s because neither Mathew Modine nor Tom Cruise seemed to fit their leading roles well in “Full” or “Born.” In part, it’s because the other two movies are more surreal, taking you to some other place and time and making you feel that you’re not in Kansas (nor Iowa) anymore.

“Hair?” Honestly, it’s not enough of a Vietnam movie for me to include it on my watch list. For now, the Vietnam film fest continues. Again, if you have any suggestions, feel free to comment.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Which Vietnam Movies Should I View?

Logo of MMU fall series, which I am organizing and speaking in. We have 15 public events planned--check out www.mtmercy.edu later in August for more information.

Early in September, as part of the Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy University, I will be speaking with another professor in a forum on how Hollywood has told stories about Vietnam through movies.

So I’m spending a few weeks in my own private Vietnam film fest. It started with Oliver Stone weekend, in which I borrowed “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July” from the U library.

Sign in MMU University Center lists series events.

Of the two, I’m not surprised that “Platoon” won best picture. It’s a gripping story that keeps you on edge. I felt that the “good sergeant” was a bit more artificial than the “bad sergeant,” and some of the soldier characters seemed too two-dimensional. But it was a powerful movie, well worth watching.

“Born,” on the other hand, while watchable, was a bit more tiring. Honestly, that might be mostly because I don’t always enjoy watching Tom Cruise. The movie was interesting, but I wish it had explored its main characters change of heart a bit more—I know that’s internal and mental and hard to portray, but I didn’t ever understand what changed inside the character.

So, the Vietnam film series is off to an interesting start. I’m sure I’ll slip “Apocalypse Now” in. I might even do something I’ve never done before—watch a Rambo movie. I have seen “Ballad of the Green Berets” before and have no reason to review it again.

But, what do you think? What are some “must see” Vietnam movies that either offer some interesting rumination on that war and its time, or are just worth seeing for their own sake? Please comment with your suggestions.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Is The Calumet Going Up In Smoke?

A detail of a recent edition of The Calumet, from a PDF posted by The Muscatine Journal.

The Calumet is the student newspaper at Muscatine Community College, and 12 of its student staff members recently filed a federal lawsuit against MCC and the Eastern Iowa Community College District, alleging a pattern of harassment against student journalists that violates the First Amendment.

I will not pretend to be a disinterested observer of The Calumet-MCC court dispute. My heart is firmly with The Calumet. For one thing, my journalism career began as a writer for The Calumet in 1978—I’m also a proud former member of the paper’s editorial staff and graduated with AA and AS degrees from MCC in 1980.

The dispute between The Calumet and MCC is complex. It involves a photograph of Dr. Richard Boyer, a professor and interim dean there—a mug shot that was published without his permission. The dispute goes beyond the photo. Read stories about it here and here. The lawsuit involves a suddenly removed advisor, the aforementioned photo, a disputed phone call about the photograph and related stories including, of all things, a controversy over “student of the month.” As the saying goes, the most intense and pitched battles in academia are sometimes over the least valuable turf.

Still, it seems to me that MCC officials have treated their own college student newspaper rather badly.

And that’s troubling, on several levels. College papers are taking it on the chin at many institutions. Many colleges and universities are cutting back on publications or moving totally away from print to online news editions. It seems quaint and old-fashioned to publish a “paper” these days when so many students can’t be bothered to read anything on dead trees. Trust me, just ask any professors anywhere how effective or widespread student reading seems these days.

I am an advisor to a university student newspaper myself. Sure, I worry about the trend away from print partly for my own job security. Newspapers are expensive to produce, and as colleges look for ways to trim costs, they’ll naturally be asking if all that ink and wood pulp is worth it to create newsprint products that seem to simply loiter on newsstands and then later fill landfills.

I would say “yes,” for several reasons.

One, although it sounds new age and cutting edge to move student journalism to online platforms, the audiences for such online sources are tiny compared to the readership of print products. I can’t help but think that one attraction of moving to an online news source for college administrators may be that it removes the irritant of the student newspaper and puts student journalism in a “public” forum where almost nobody sees it. Better to have three nerds read that embarrassing story at that dead-end URL than have hundreds of students, alumni and potential donors exposed to that rude “thing” on campus. So to me, one reason to continue the campus newspaper is that it still provides the most authentic and loudest student voice on campus. And if you like online news, the student newspaper also often provides the staff and raw material for the best online student journalism.

Another reason for continuing college newspapers is that a student newspaper captures and preserves key skills, writing and design, in a way that other media don’t. The paper has a value for portfolio-building for future communicators in any professional writing field. Granted, those “clips” are likely to be PDFs, but those PDFs are still “published” works that mean something and demonstrate basic communication skills in a way class projects and ephemeral online content don’t.

And there is also the foundational nature of the skills students learn at a campus newspaper—the ability to interview, to cover an event, to identify newsworthy ideas and effectively pursue them. There is even the leadership of planning and running a journalistic organization. Granted, students can do good writing and journalism on their own blogs, but they are far less likely to, and with less impact and less teamwork, than on a newspaper staff.

I’ve only been a college professor in this post literate century. The handwriting on the wall for the newspaper industry is old news these days. No student should enter a journalism program today thinking he or she is primarily preparing for a newspaper career.

But the web writers, PR writers, technical writers and corporate writers I’m training in my communication classes today all have to apply the same basic journalistic writing skills that a student journalist learns best at one place on campus: the student newspaper.

Kudos and shout-out to Mount Mercy University. It has maintained a generally positive attitude towards “The Times” in a private setting where student journalists have less legal power than they do at a public college like MCC. We have cut back on the number of issues we publish, but nobody has approached me and suggested we stop printing—indeed the feedback I usually get about our student journalism at MMU is positive even when the paper can make many people (me especially) uncomfortable at times.

So even though the newspaper medium itself is in steep decline in the “real world,” in academia, that old medium has a key place as a training ground and student voice. Just as TV and movies did not make live theater on campus passé, neither should the student newspaper lose its way.

Back to The Calumet. It’s sad that things went so badly for that paper in recent times that a federal lawsuit has resulted. Surely, along the road to the courthouse, there would have been better ways for the parties involved to handle the situation. Knowing student journalists as I do, I doubt all of the fault should be laid at the feet of Boyer or MCC or EICCD administrators.

Still, changing advisors, cutting funds, investigating the advisor, etc.? There seems an unwholesome pattern of pushing The Calumet around in awkward and heavy-handed ways. Instead of valuing a longstanding student paper that has trained generations of writers, the powers that be at MCC seems to have chosen a lower, more short-sighted road.

Maybe frustration with students drove them to it. But students at a community college come and go quickly, and The Calumet has been a vibrant student voice at MCC since the 1950s. If it’s lost, MCC is a poorer place.

And even if blame could be assigned to both sides of this dispute—let’s recall that students comprise one side while educated adults with advanced degrees comprise the other. The more experienced and educated of those sides should be more mature, have a deeper understanding of the place of student journalism and foster, rather than foil, The Calumet. You don’t handle a “teachable moment” very well by burning the newspaper to the ground.

Named after a Native American peace pipe, The Calumet is doing anything but bringing peace. Then again, the place of any journalist in a healthy, democratic culture is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I wish that MCC would remember and respect that.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tickling the Global Village Funny Bone

In this, the final week of our media class, we’re talking about global media.

I wish we spent more time on the topic, although some aspects of the global media system have been included when we covered individual media earlier in the semester.

Still, today our discussion was on what unites and divides media. One point I made is that the “net neutrality” issue is important in both the U.S. and other countries, too. By the way, all of the images below are from YouTube.com

Students, here are two important videos to view: 




 Indian comedy group talks about the issue in India. We didn't watch all 9 minutes in class (and didn't watch Jon Oliver at all.)  With a final exam coming, I would suggest the half hour to watch both and ruminate on their main points would be time well spent. Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, wink, wink (apologies to Monty Python, but another global media example).

Anyway, students, the other links below are mostly for entertainment, although you might want to watch at least one in case I ask you to comment on another video of your choice. But I'm not neutral on watching the net neutrality ones!
  
One of the things that unites media is that much global content is prepared, or reasons of historic accident and to accommodate trade, in English. Another is that comedy, which is sometimes very culturally specific (Jerry Lewis is a comedic genius—in France) can also sometimes resonate in different cultures, especially when the topic concerns global communication patterns.

For example, although a particular slang term used in this video is British, Australian comedian Tim Minchin plays off of a common derogatory racial term used in the U.S. and elsewhere.


 Tim Minchin on “prejudice.”

And then there is Ylvis—Norwegian talk show hosts who lit up the internet with their “What Does the Fox Say” video. But they’ve done much more, some of it in Norwegian, some of it in English. One thing we talked about in class is how English is used globally not just to try to appeal to an American market, but because it’s a convenient language that many educated people would speak in any place that’s divided along linguistic lines. Note that the Indian video talking about net neutrality was for an Indian audience, but is mostly in English. And in Western Europe, English is often a second language for exchanging information across cultures that speak different native languages.

Ylvis plays a lot with ideas in English. For example:



A video that mocks several conventions in popular music, obvious the dub step, but also Broadway-style love ballads in general.



And a video that plays off of Norwegian politics in a global sense.



We also watched this multi-linguistic comedy routine, which I told the students I expect to see on American TV soon.



And, just for fun, we also viewed another classicYlvis comedy videos. Most students had seen “What Does the Fox Say” but had not experienced other Ylvis videos, although we did watch this one was by special request of a student who had seen it before.
  
The Internet, of course, can be used for purposes good and bad. It may promote cross-cultural understanding, where we can laugh at ideas that are also funny in Oslo. But it serves to divide, or to united dark forces, too. Much of the concern with ISIS is the way in which the group can use the ‘net to radicalize youth in western countries.

Global media is not synonymous with the internet. We talked about how innovations in content or technology have long been rapidly used across many media systems, for example. But it was fun today to finish the system on a light note, courtesy of some Norwegian TV stars.


And, just because we did not have time Monday when the topic was British media, a classic Monty Python routine.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Will The Real Edward Snowden Please Stand Up?

From the LA Times, AP photo by Aymann Ismail. Bust of Edward Snowden in a park in Brooklyn, New York.

We’re talking this week in my media class about law and ethics of mass media.

Which raises the interesting question of Edward Snowden, the man who in 2013 revealed how extensive online government monitoring of citizens had become.

We covered some basic ideas early in the week about the First Amendment, and how, even with its absolute-sounding language, that there are all kind of ethical and legal limits on communication.

Snowden revealed the “PRISM” program. The government, in Snowden’s words, “deputized” corporate America to provide internet data to the NSA.

Snowden, after revealing government secrets, fled to Russia and has become controversial.

Students, were is some background information for you:
  • Snowden is likely to be in the news as parts of the PATRIOT Act are up for renewal this year. Jon Oliver explains and does interview with Snowden.
  • One writer implies that Snowden is gaining influence due to your generation.
  • Snowden’s popularity varies worldwide.
  • A 2013 column that concerns mixed reaction to Snowden’s leaks.
  • Pultizer-prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts says Snowden should have faced courts.
Based on what you read here, where do you stand and why? What are the legal and ethical issues of media practice associated with this? Is it right or wrong, for example, for media to use leaked information under this circumstance?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My Logo Ego Is Bruised, But I’m Fine

Mount Mercy University has started a new thing called, for lack of a sexier name, “The Fall Faculty Series.” We did it in fall 2014 on the 100th anniversary of World War I, and are again planning a series for 2015.

I suggested the original series, and am coordinating the second. It just seems like a good thing, to me, for a small university to foster a big conversation that crosses disciplines and brings people together to ruminate on a set of important ideas. One cool thing about our first series is that it brought lots of new community members to campus—I joked to other faculty last fall that it was the first time in my life I had groupies, but the only disadvantage was my WWI groupies were mostly male and mostly over retirement age.

Early indications are that our second series, which focuses on the legacy of Vietnam, may turn out to be an even more popular event. With the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Marines entering Vietnam in large numbers in 1965, and the 40th anniversary of the war’s end in 1975, this topic seems to resonate—since the faculty chose the topic, I’ve seen several media items about Vietnam. And, of course, there are lots of living vets and others who directly recall Vietnam.

And it’s a big idea with lots of possibilities. For example, the war came at a critical time for race relations in America, and it can prompt us to have an interesting discussion on that topic. The way in which the government informs or misleads people will be worth considering. And how we treated veterans is a big part of Vietnam. The war even came, not coincidently, at the time of an awakening environmental movement, and Agent Orange stands as an enduring symbol of how war can not only destroy lives, but our natural world, too.

Although I consider or first series to be a huge success, I also think some aspects could have worked out better. While we had decent attendance at the WWI events, I would like to see more students, staff and faculty at the series events. I really want this fall Vietnam series to be even more engaging for the people at MMU.

So, I have a personal marketing and PR project on my hands. I’ve been advertising planning meetings this spring—and to promote those meetings, I created a visual symbol for the series after the faculty picked its name: “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.”

This is what I created:


It’s not the actual series logo. MMU has a PR office with a talented designer, and whatever else I am, I am not a graphic designer. That office will create the actual symbol for the series.

That I’m not a designer is a point that several people have made to me in recent days. Some of these logo critics aren’t experts, and I can shrug their comments off. But at least one is. The message from the expert? “That logo is ugly.”

Ouch. I can’t really argue the point. The expert has spoken.

Still, here is my lame logo defense. First of all, I did try to create it with a deliberately “retro” feel. I used Ariel, the most Helvetica-like font available on my PC, because Helvetica was a popular logo font in the 1960s and 1970s. The common diamond-shaped bullet, the ubiquitous Wingdings v, was another retro element.

Most of the art is copyright free work from Wikimedia Commons, and is referential of the era—the dove of peace, the peace symbol, an M-16 rifle and a map of Vietnam. The one image that isn’t from the wiki is a detail of a photograph by famous AP Vietnam photographer Horst Faas. I found the image on a Denver Post web page that has lots of Faas photos of the Vietnam War.

That gallery is worth a look. Faas was quite a photographer. And at right, again from the Denver Post, is the original Associated Press image of a nameless solider with the timeless message on his helmet.

Anyway, I hope that the image I created was useful for its purpose—drawing attention to the series. Getting students, faculty and staff aware of and excited about the series now is a big part of what I’m trying to do now.

And the person who called my logo ugly? All is forgiven. For several reasons.

It probably is ugly—it is a crude design by a non-designer. The critic’s verdict was delivered in a humorous, teasing manner. And most of all, and more important, the knowledgeable logo critic is enthused about the series and is coming up with all kinds of cool ideas that can help make it an even better event.

So, even if my logo ego was mildly bruised, I consider my amateur foray into logo design an overall win.

Well done, ugly logo, well done.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Strange Case of Vietnam PR

Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. I took this photo in March.
We’re close to naming a title for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series (unofficial name) at Mount Mercy University this year, but even if the name is up in the air, the topic is not.

The series will be on the War in Vietnam. It’s timely due to two anniversaries:

1) The first really big surge of troops came in 1965, 50 years ago. Advisors had been in Vietnam for years, but when the Marines went in big time in 1965, it meant thousands of American combat boots on the ground. A total of 3 million Americans would see service in Vietnam.

2) The war ended in 1975, 40 years ago. American combat troops left in 1973, and in 1975, the American Congress would not vote funding for more advisors and aid. When American support moved out of South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese Army moved in.

This week in my media class, we’re talking about public relations and advertising—in effect, the role of advocacy in PR.

I told the students that judging advocacy—to determine if you agree with it or think it’s positive or ethical, for instance—means basically looking at two sides: the message and the means used to deliver that message.

The War in Vietnam, whatever else it was—and it was a lot, hence the series—was a PR disaster. I think partly that came from the top. President Johnson ran a sometimes-delusional administration, and some of his advisors confidently predicted a quick end to the war if American boots hit the ground.

Well, the boots hit and then sank into a quagmire. The military was hampered by lots of things, among them the creativity of the NVA and the Viet Cong, who understood they were fighting a war of attrition and simply needed to outlast the Americans (this same crew had managed to outlast the French 10 years before). The war did not have clear aims or even a clear enemy; it was never fought “all out” as World War II, for example, was.

And it was a horrible war. There were napalm attacks on villages and “free fire zones” were anybody who wasn’t in an American uniform could end up dead. The policies the U.S. followed and the way they were implemented—defoliate jungle, bomb an agrarian county, prop up a corrupt regime in order to stave off the spread of Communism—added up to a long-term disaster.

It was a disaster partly built on deceit. Congress approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1964 using hazy evidence of alleged attacks on the U.S. Navy that, it appears, never really happened. And both the Johnson and Nixon administrations did their best to “craft” their message to gain maximum support—which often left both lacking in the honesty department.

In some ways, I supposed, Vietnam was a dress rehearsal for some of the dreary mistakes we’ve made since 9/11.

The media are often, and correctly, criticized for not doing enough to inform Americans about reality behind facades. But, in defense of our dysfunctional news media, it’s also fair to ask how informed people want to be. If Americans cared about facts, there would be no Fox News.

Anyway, students, we talked about the “means” and the “message” to judge PR advocacy. The U.S. Government used dubious means to push an iffy message in the 1960s to promote the Vietnam War. What do you know about that failed PR effort? And what would you like to learn? What topics of conversation could engage you in our fall series?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What Is The Game Effect?

Image from Wikipedia. A cool game in 2000.
What do video games “mean?”

As a media industry, video games are huge. According to the text my media class is using—“Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture” 8th edition by Stanley Baran—more than 200 million Americans are video game players.

I suppose I’m one of the 200 million, but in a minimal way. When bored, I may play solitaire on the computer, now and then. I have never been in an online, multiplayer game, nor have I played any of the vivid, violent video games that have caused so much controversy.

My own gaming roots are pretty modest. I do recall being a bit curious about pinball and other arcade games as a tween and teen, but I never got into that scene much. A quarter was too precious to spend that way, back in the day. I did enjoy a few games of pinball, and do recall how cool the original “pong” seemed when it appeared way back in the day—but again, I didn’t play it much.

Partly, it was the price, but partly it was skill, or a lack of it. Some kids joined the band because they were good at music. Some kids hung out at the arcade because they had the eye-wrist coordination to win free games on a fairly regular basis. Me, I stayed at home, watched reruns of Stat Trek and read short novels.

From arcade-museum.com--Zaxxon screen.
In the 1980s, when I was a small town newspaper reporter in Boonville, Missouri, the young men on the Daily News staff used to sometimes take longer lunches than they should have so that they could hang out at a local dive diner that had a video game machine. It was called “Zaxxon,” and was briefly all the rage. Again, while I confess I wasted a few precious mid-day hours there, playing that game was never one of my main pastimes.

My own minor game flings came later, after the age of the personal computer when you could play without having to spend quarters at an arcade or diner for the pleasure.

There were two games that were briefly popular for me in the PC era. The first came when one of my wife’s sisters gave us an old Mac SE computer that she didn’t want anymore. It had a game called “Crystal Quest” on it, and both my wife and I were hooked for a while. It was black and white, the sounds were strange and silly, and the goal never made much sense—but the game was oddly entrancing.

From Arcade-museum.com, "Crystal Quest." Ahhhhh.
 Later, early in the current century, there was a brief fling with an action-adventure PC game called “Crimson Skies.”

That, and Flight Simulator, were fun. But Crimson Skies came to an end—there wasn’t much point once you were done with the final mission.

I can’t say that video games were very for me in my formative years. I guess I’m part of the pre-VG generation. I know that there is cultural anxiety about video games—and there is probably reason for concern, given the violent and sexist nature of a lot of game content. But, besides a lack of first-person experience, I think one reason it’s hard for me to generalize about the huge video game industry is that it’s such a diverse medium. From faux bowling with a Wii to on-line quests in Worlds of Warcraft, gaming itself seems like an amorphous concept.

So I’ll be looking for some insight from my students, who are more likely to be children of the video game era. What does gaming mean? Is it a harmless diversion? Does it threaten morals and social skills? When games get good enough and real enough, will we disappear into them and leave this nasty, brutish world behind? Does gaming rob us of skills we’ll need when the zombie apocalypse hits, or are we quietly building technical skills that will make us all computer ninjas?

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Movies (I Have Not Seen) Do You Recommend?

We played a bit of a movie game in my media class today.

We are talking this week about what films do culturally, and today we were reviewing movie genres. As part of our discussion, I asked the class to each name a movie that he or she had seen, but think most of the people in the class have not seen. It had to be a movie that the student recommends, and then the student briefly discussed it.

It was interesting, partly because the descriptions were almost all character driven—that is, the way we described a movie was basically what happened form the point of view of one or two main characters.

The movies that the class named included:

  • Kramer vs. Kramer (actually, that was my example).
  • Stuck in Love.
  • Hotel Rwanda.
  • American History X.
  • Full Metal Jacket.
  • Snatch.
  • Inglourious Basterds.
  • Prisoners.
  • Seven.
  • Crash.

I can’t vouch for all of them, I’ve only seen about a third of them, but I thought it was an interesting list.

I also suggested four more movies that I thought are worth watching, and that I assumed most students had not seen:

My Cousin Vinny. Two New York college students are charged with murder in Alabama, and Joe Pesci plays the lawyer in the family who comes to their rescue. While Pesci is the main star, his co-star Marisa Tomei steals the show. It’s not a great movie, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition of cultures and courtroom drama. Night Court meets The Dukes of Hazard.

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Pieces of April. Several students had seen “My Cousin Vinny,” but none had heard of this movie, in which April, who has run away to New York City as a young adult, invites her family to her first attempt to cook Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s a genuine movie about people who seem “real.” I think Katie Holmes is great as April Burns.

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I also suggested a pair of British comedies. We probably covered too many American movies anyway, and British comedies often seem to aim at more dialogue and character driving humor than their sometimes juvenile American counterparts. Anyway, the two British movies I described in class were:

The World’s End. Directed by Edgar Wright and written by him and the film’s star, Simon Pegg. A mix of apocalyptic science fiction and buddy drinking movie, it is the third of the “Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy,” which includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/n__1Y-N5tQk" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Keeping Mum. Maggie Smith is a murderous housekeeper, secret mother, who solves all of a families problems through blunt force trauma. It’s not a perfect movie, and it is rather dark, but it’s also wickedly funny.

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Those four are not intended to be, by any means, my best loved or favorite movies—the premise was movies that are obscure enough that others may not have seen them.

What movies would you recommend that most people reading this will not have seen? Name the movie, briefly explain it, and maybe link to a trailer in your comment.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Movies Part I: Lessons From A Blue Dress

From Wired--original dress image in middle, two different color corrections applied on right and left. Read the article in the link below to find out why.

And no, not Monica Lewinsky’s dress-the dress that took the internet by storm recently. The dress that, in the same week Congress was failing to fund Home Security and Jihad John was identified, everyone was talking about.

Proving once and for all that there is little relationship between what people “talk about” and what really matters.

Anyway, the dress of ambiguous color is, according to this article, which I found on Wired, clearly blue. I see the original as white and gold. If you see blue and black, you earn the gold star, or possibly the teal one.

Apparently it’s a perception problem—the issue of how our brain compensates for what it perceives as the prevailing light condition. Years before Photo Shop, the human brain was evolving to color correct our world so that we could see the ripe fruit or the hiding tiger.

What does this dress have to do with movies? Movies, as a medium, are a lot like books. They both require subscription or sales revenue, rather than depending, like most media, on advertising. They are both narrative in form—in fact, there is a close relationship in content between movies and books, although as a reader, I hasten to add that never does the movie recreate the book. The fact that both are narrative media does not mean that they use the same narrative conventions or tools—and a book can almost always tap into more subtleties and interior meanings of things.

The great impact of movies comes from their dreamlike power. Although some are very artistic and complex and make you think, most operate at a cognitively less complex level then books. Books train our minds and enrich our vocabulary. They are like the best lectures in the university of our lives (hang on, students, that’s a metaphor). Movies are the quad, with its nice rose garden, fountain and naked angles in the 19th century statuary (the university of our lives has a nicer quad than MMU).

We still need the quad. We need the sunshine and the flowers and the angels. I’m not dismissing movies nor saying they are secondary in some cultural way to books. I’m merely observing that they touch us in a different way. And maybe I should have called the movies the art gallery, because they change more and involve more thought than the quad, but now we have to usher our metaphor off stage as it’s getting selfish and occupying too much real estate.

Back to movies. They are the dream medium. Granted, books invite you to enter into a dream world, but it requires more mental work on your part, and the dream world in a book is one that you construct just as much as the author does. My book Harry Potter is not the same as yours or even J.K. Rowling’s, but we both see Daniel Radcliffe as the movie HP.

But, even if movies more clearly communicate the writers’, actors’ and perhaps most of all, the directors’ dreams, even this medium that delivers more intact fantasy passes through our personal powers of perception. We both can watch “Pearl Harbor,” but if I know more about the actual World War II than you do, I’ll probably cringe more.

Anyway, perception is a funny beast. Earlier in this semester, a student in my media class noted that she enjoyed the movie “The Interview” due to its comedy. I found the movie primitive, scatological, irritatingly irrational and just not very funny.

She’s not wrong., she is perceiving the movie from her point of view, and I am from mine. Sometimes the dress looks blue, sometimes white.

The “right” answer in the dress case is blue. The right answer in the movie case partly depends on what you mean.

This week as we discuss movies, we may spend a little time talking about what we like or don’t, and I’ll probably write a second blog post to self-disclose a bit about my taste in movies. But movie reviews aren’t really the point of the week.

Understanding what movies can do, what they are capable of, what they mean to us and our culture, and what the future of movies might be might be--those, I hope, are what we’ll spend our time on, whether the dress is white or blue.


So, blogosphere, chime in. Not about the dress, about perception and movies and how movies compare to other media. Do movies move you? Why ore why not? And which ones, and why?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sam Hits a Nerve And Sami “Isn’t A Blogger”

Screen shot of Sam's anti-biker rant.

Blogging is an interesting media activity, one that a blogger I know called “emotional nudity.” It’s another genre of writing that students who aspire to any communication career should be comfortable with and understand.

Blogs, of course, have a mixed reputation. When a recent Coe graduate was arrested for an attempted terror attack in Canada, part of the way this lost and lonely young women found fellow dark and lonely people to plot with was through social media, including a blog.

But, that doesn’t make blogging all that different from any medium. After all, Hitler’s rise to power was partly fueled by his book “Mein Kampf.” Newspapers, magazines, books, movies, TV shows—all have and are used to spread terrible ideas and violence. But, as a proponent of the Marketplace of Ideas, I would observe that all of those media also can be used to educate, inform and positively persuade.

The internet is a bit different only in that facilitates unusual connections.

She doesn't have to hate not being good at blogging because she is. Good at blogging.

Anyway, 10 new blog voices have joined the internet babble, courtesy of a class writing assignment. One student, Sam, wrote a rant against bikers. One of my other blogs is called “CR Biker,” so you pretty much know how I felt about that. Was he yanking my chain? Perhaps, but that’s what a blog is for.

She is a blogger.
Samantha, aka Sami, is a bit profane on her personal blog—but I don’t think she does anything beyond what you would expect in this rather personal, emotionally nude medium. Hers is a blog worth reading. And she claims on her id that she is not a blogger. All I can say is au contraire.

And Madison also has a very visually stunning start to her blog.

One student, Meghan, is in the “mommy blog” school. Another student, also a mom, has a son who is planning his wedding, and Billie blogs about her experiences as a grown up in a young-adult world.

Each of the students is seeking to develop an online voice that is worth listening to, and to display themselves as writers. Take a glance and see what you think. Don’t troll them, please—but blog writers are partly rewarded by getting feedback on what they say:

Billie
Madison
Shavonda
Todd
Meghan
Matt
Jacob
Sam
Cody
Samantha

See her winter photos.

And, for the record, my two other blogs:

CR Gardenjoe
CRBiker

See what you think. And if you comment here, maybe you can suggest what you think are interesting blogs that Communication, Journalism, Multimedia or PR students should follow. Or just answer this question: What are your favorite blogs, and why?