Words not spoken here

Posted: 17 August 2013 | By: | No Comments »

Capitol Hill Books

Sign seen today at Capitol Hill Books, a list of words and phrases “Not Spoken Here”:

  • “Oh, my God (or Gosh)” or “OMG”
  • “Neat”
  • “Sweet”
  • “Like”
  • “Totally”
  • “Whatever”
  • “Perfect”
  • “That’s a good question!”
  • “You know, you know, you know…”
  • Kindle
  • Amazon
  • Nook
Filed under: books | Tags: ,

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Eight things I highlighted…

Posted: 7 August 2013 | By: | No Comments »

… in Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman:

  1. His specialty was the placement of oaths inside otherwise respectable words—“The problem with that man,” he would bellow to an underling, “is that he’s too indegoddampendent.”
  2. She amused herself by noting the idiosyncrasies of the other passengers. One man, she saw, took his pulse after each meal; another, for some reason, counted the number of steps he took each day.
  3. In the West as in the East, it seemed, there was money to be made in displaying oneself for the curiosity of strangers.
  4. Journalism advice from Joseph Pulitzer: “Condense! Condense!” he regularly barked at his editors, urging them to cut extraneous words, to keep sentences short and descriptions vivid, to make the language as accessible as possible. … “I hate all rare, unusual, non-understandable words. Avoid the vanity of foreign words or phrases or unfamiliar terms. Editorials must be written for the people, not for the people, not for the few.”
  5. A World reader might find, for instance, a poignant report about flowers growing in tenement windows. “The woman who bought the flower made shirts,” the story noted about one of them. “She finished them at thirty-five cents a dozen. The flower cost fifteen cents and the pot ten. The woman made nine shirts to buy the flower.”
  6. “a pretty piece of feminine revenge.”
  7. How to tell a story: “Keep on getting him, or her, into more just such holes, one in each chapter, until they get married or take out accident insurance, when, of course, the story must end.”
  8. She described herself, in those days, as a clock with a broken mainspring. “If you shake me hard I tick for a few moments, but soon relapse into silence and uselessness.”

Filed under: books | Tags: , ,

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Using Chartbuilder

Posted: 4 August 2013 | By: | No Comments »

I’m obsessed with Chartbuilder, the new open-source tool to make beautiful graphs just like Quartz. So far, I’ve mostly used it to display some of the data collected by my Fitbit Flex (which I import to Google spreadsheets using this Quantified Self tutorial).

Like the distance I walked in July:

 

And the hours I slept:

 

Before Chartbuilder I just relied on the graphs in Google spreadsheets, but this is so easy and so beautiful that I’ll likely continue breaking my stats out by month. I like displaying my data in terms of months because it acts like as a journal. The lower distances measured at the beginning of the month? That was when I was home in Charlotte, where I have a car (and don’t have to set an alarm). The night I only slept three hours? I was up late finishing this book.

Filed under: self tracking | Tags: , , ,

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The more things change…

Posted: 1 August 2013 | By: | No Comments »

The more they stay the same.

A few days ago, I found a digital copy of The Carolina Parlance, a student magazine that was first published at UNC in the winter of 1961. Only one issue was published, best I can tell, but the magazine was digitized by UNC Libraries last year and is available on the Internet Archives. It’s definitely worth a look. Given current events, a couple of pieces about the Honor System and the impact of big-time college athletics stood out.

In the two pieces about the Honor System, the magazine raised concerns about whether the court was approaching cases with “thoroughness and scrutiny” in light of how an assault case. The student charged with assault received only an “official reprimand,” even though other students found guilty of similar crimes had been expelled. The student who was assaulted was also tried by the Honor Court; his offense was “using suggestive language to a young lady over the phone” and the trial was ultimately suspended because the court didn’t follow proper procedures.

The complaints raised by the magazine are essentially the same being raised today by many at UNC and at other schools across the country: Accused students were not being informed of their rights and were not guaranteed due process.

Court members defended how the cases were handled (here, the magazine reprinted a statement given to The Daily Tar Heel), noting that “the real issues and pertinent facts of the cases are more readily brought forward in our simple direct system than would ever be possible if our courts had to be clouded in an aura of petty legalism.” This too is essentially the same argument many make today, that student courts are a better venue for cases that might otherwise go before real courts.

There was also this bonus surprise toward the end of the magazine — an essay by then-DTH Editor Jonathan Yardley about the impact of big-time athletics:

“What has happened is that we, and almost every other college and university in the nation, have become caught in such a vicious circle of athletic competition that we cannot escape without endangering our comparative standing. …We must learn to keep our sense of perspective and proportion; we must never forget that the University of North Carolina is an academic institution, not a professional athletic camp with a built-in cheering section.”

What struck me was the timelessness of these pieces (and others in the magazine, like an essay by a professor looking at whether students at the time were more apathetic than they used to be — millenials, anyone?). It’s no surprise these concerns were being raised. These were issues of the day — then and now. It’s sometimes easy to worry today that these are issues that will sink the school, but probably, things will remain more or less the same, for better or worse.

Filed under: UNC | Tags: ,

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‘He loves her for all those qualities’

Posted: 23 July 2013 | By: | 1 Comment »

I just finished the 19th and final Amelia Peabody mystery, The Tomb of the Golden Bird (by Elizabeth Peters). I can’t remember the last time I stayed up so late to read a book, or the last time I cried after reaching the final pages.

For the past six months, Amelia (I feel as though we’re on a first-name basis) and her family have been a daily part of my life. Their adventures — every year, another dead body! — are sometimes (often) eye-rollingly melodramatic, but the characters are some of the most vivid of any I have read.

I loved the plucky lady archeologist from the start, and she has easily become one of my favorite female characters (even despite her repeated digs at journalists, who rank only slightly higher than murderers in her book). It’s hard to do justice describing her, but I think Amelia’s son, Ramses, probably does it best:

“She is a handsome lady, and she has many admirable qualities. But to my father she is quite simply the most beautiful, desirable, intelligent, amusing, exasperating, infuriating, wonderful woman on the face of the earth. He loves her for all those qualities, including the ones that drive him wild.”

Filed under: books | Tags: ,

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“We can see his emails?!”

Posted: 22 February 2013 | By: | 2 Comments »

This afternoon, I had the chance to hang out with DC/Virginia/Maryland high school student journalists at an event hosted by the local Journalism Educators Association branch. Towards the end, we broke into smaller groups to talk about the stories they’re trying to cover and the roadblocks they encounter.

I asked my group first to talk about freedom of speech at their schools — in the journalism programs, in online speech, in dress codes, in drama classes, etc. Their answers ran the gamut. One student newspaper operated without prior review and said they’d never faced pressure from administrators to not run something in the paper. Another student said she felt her school’s journalism program had more free speech than other aspects of the school A third student said her principal regularly cuts things from the newspaper that he feels shouldn’t be written about. All of the students in my group knew of someone who had been suspended for something they said online.

My favorite part of our discussion though, was talking about public records. I asked my group if anyone had filed a public records request, and none had (although several had used public records that were acquired by others). They literally gasped when I told them they had a right to request their principal’s emails. The look of empowerment on these students’ faces when I told them they could request their principal’s emails? Just incredible.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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Spreadsheets

Posted: 5 February 2013 | By: | No Comments »

I’m working on a story now that’s almost entirely data-driven, and it’s seriously testing the limits of my Excel skills. I spent a lot of time over the weekend watching how-to videos on YouTube, and I spent the better part of today trying to take two spreadsheets with similar information over different years and merging them into one. Today was a pretty frustrating, full of lots of cursing. I’m still not finished with what I’m trying to do, although I have a better sense of what to do next.

In the process, I learned a few new tricks and mastered some old ones:

  • You can double-click the bottom right-hand corner of a cell to apply the formula in it to all of the cells below it. Previously, I’d just hold and drag to accomplish this, but double-clicking is so much easier with massively large spreadsheets, like mine.
  • I successfully used the VLOOKUP function to merge my two sheets, bit by bit. Both spreadsheets have a “institution ID” number that is the same, while the other columns vary. Using VLOOKUP, I was able to grab the cells I needed from each spreadsheet.
  • Many of the cells were blank originally and registered as #N/A when I pulled them in using VLOOKUP. So I threw in an if(ISBLANK) to make sure blank cells stayed blank.

I’m anxious to get the data cleaned up completely so that I can start actually seeing what it says. I’ve already noticed a few things I know I want to look into, and I’m sure I’ll find more.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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Connecting the dots

Posted: 30 August 2011 | By: | No Comments »

My Daily Tar Heel Connecting the Dots infographic is an Associated Collegiate Press design of the year finalist. Congrats also to Kelly McHugh, a finalist for her page one design, and Chris Alton, whose illustration got an honorable mention nod. And props to Sarah Frier, who put a lot of emphasis on good design as editor-in-chief last year.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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FERPA, sexual assault and college campuses

Posted: 25 April 2011 | By: | 1 Comment »

I was happy last week to see an update on a FERPA case that’s been unfolding for several years:

The University of Maryland has finally released the names of students it has found guilty of sexual assault in the past 10 years. It was reluctant to do so, citing the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, but said it would do so after state Attorney General Doug Gansler rejected that argument last year.

Three years after journalism students first made their request, the public finally knows: Only four students have been found guilty. Four. In 10 years. According to the school’s Clery statistics for 2007-09 (the only three years I could easily find on the school’s website), 21, 17 and 10 forcible sex offenses were reported each year, respectively. With 48 reported sex offenses in three years, it’s hard to imagine that in 10 years only four students have been found guilty.

Of those four:

only one of the students found guilty was expelled, and the other three were suspended for a year and forced to meet certain requirements, such as staying away from the victim and writing reflective essays. (The Diamondback)

It’s easy of course to see why the university tried to hide behind FERPA, a law that was intended to to protect the privacy of student education records. The number of students found guilty of sexual assault seems unbelievably low compared with the number reported to the school. It calls into question how seriously the university investigates students accused of sexual assault, as well as how seriously it punishes those they find guilty.

University of Maryland students should be asking their administrators some very tough questions right now, and hopefully they will make it clear that the University has a responsibility to investigate sexual assaults on campus and punish those found guilty. Reports of on-campus sexual assaults should be as publicly available as those detailing similar crimes occurring off-campus.

As bleak as the numbers are, at least they are public now. That’s the good news. The bad news, of course, is that many, many campuses have disclosure policies similar to how Maryland’s was prior to Gansler’s directive. At UNC, my past requests for names of students found guilty by the Honor Court of sexual assault were denied because of FERPA (despite UNC’s FERPA training for professors that says this information will be released upon request). To this I echo the recent words of North Carolina state judge Howard Manning: “FERPA does not provide a student with an invisible cloak so that the student can remain hidden from public view.”

Reports of sexual assaults on campus are not educational records, and we shouldn’t tolerate it when universities insist they are. If we truly want to address sexual assault on college campuses — a topic of much recent discussion given the Title IX complaint filed against Yale and Saturday’s Wall Street Journal column that argued in favor of shutting down all fraternities — we need to start with detailed reporting about how universities address reports of assault.

That kind of reporting is only possible if universities are forced to be open instead of allowed to hide behind FERPA. So, a plea: We only know about the situation at the University of Maryland because student journalists kept pressuring the University, fighting it all the way up to the state attorney general’s office. Journalists, and particularly campus publications, have a watchdog responsibility to fight back when universities refuse to release information on sexual assaults because of FERPA, and they should give ‘em hell until every college is open with how they deal with assaults.

Updated to add information about UNC-Chapel Hill’s stated policy on disclosing the names of individuals found guilty of sexual assault through the campus Honor Court. Thanks Kevin Schwartz and Erica Perel for pointing that out.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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Social media and grief

Posted: 5 March 2011 | By: | 1 Comment »

Today is the three-year anniversary of UNC student body president Eve Carson‘s death, and Friday I asked readers on Twitter to share their memories of her or how she influenced them using the hashtag #EveToday. The response has been overwhelming, with an outpouring of Tweets all day long that is still continuing. I compiled the Tweets using Storify so that people could read through the dozens of messages at once. It struck me as I did so how much social media has changed the way we communicate even in the three years since she was killed.

In March 2008, I was still two months away from joining Twitter. I posted no updates about her death on Facebook, shared no links to any of the many stories I wrote about her death and only RSVP’d to a memorial service held a few weeks later. The Daily Tar Heel wasn’t on Twitter or Facebook either but let readers to submit messages to a Memorial Wall. In 2008 and in 2011 we tailored our approach to where our audience was, which is what we should be doing. Asking for #EveToday-style Tweets in 2008 would have yielded us few, if any responses. Our audience simply wasn’t on Twitter then, or even in 2009. Even last year I’m not sure if we would have gotten quite the reaction we did today. People are simply much more comfortable with social media and using it throughout their life.

I welcome this evolution. I remember feeling very cut-off from the rest of the UNC community when we all department for Spring Break days after she was killed. There was no easy way for us to mourn together. Reading through the Tweets today was comforting, an instant reminder that out there, hundreds more felt just like me – saddened by her death and inspired by her life.

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