“We can see his emails?!”

22 February 2013

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.

Connecting the dots

30 August 2011

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.

FERPA, sexual assault and college campuses

25 April 2011

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.

Social media and grief

5 March 2011

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 departed 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.

Using Twitter to increase safety awareness

3 March 2011

In the past week, an as-yet-unidentified man has been entering unlocked homes in Chapel Hill and stroking the legs of women while they sleep. This is of course unwelcome and jarring news, particularly for those in the quiet college town that surrounds UNC, where three years ago this week the student body president was kidnapped and brutally killed (her door was also unlocked). The Daily Tar Heel has been on the story since the first incident last Friday, and since then I’ve mulled how I could use our social media accounts to make students aware of the potential threat.

I wanted to raise awareness without being alarmist, preach safety tips without being smarmy (or reminding students of their parents) and reach as many people as possible. Wednesday, day 6, I started brainstorming hashtags with other editors. The incidents have reminded folks of Antoine Dodson and his infamous “hide your wife, hide your kids” interview. We somewhat seriously considered making reference to that, in part to build off of what students were already tweeting and in part because we felt the viral video’s fame could help grab students’ attention to this issue. At the same time, we didn’t want to make light of the very real threat the victims had faced. We settled on #lockthedoor, snappy yet relevant, given that the intruder entered through unlocked doors each time. I’ve curated Tweets using Storify to show how I used the account throughout the day:

I typically use the @dailytarheel account to share links and respond to individuals. Rarely is it used to Tweet frequently on a single topic in a single day, but I decided this issue was important enough to dominate the feed for most of the day. But because of that, I tried to take a joke, hoping students would appreciate it and perhaps tuck away some of the useful advice as well. Any complaints about the hashtag so far are about equal to the amount of complaints we might generally get about anything. I’m not too worried that we’re offending followers, but it’s something I’ll be watching.

The intruder is still at-large, but I like to think that this campaign helped raise awareness at least a little bit today. From our analytics I know Twitter was a top referrer to our stories online, and the hashtag was trending in Chapel Hill at one point. I plan to continue with it until they catch someone, or until the incidents stop. Ideally, we’ll hear good news soon. What do you think? I would love to hear suggestions for ways we could make this reach and resonate with more students.

Using the new Facebook pages

10 February 2011

Today when I went to update The Daily Tar Heel’s Facebook page I was prompted to upgrade the page to access new features. I was initially wary. When are changes to Facebook ever good?

But unlike past changes, the pages upgrades make sense and solve previous problems. It’s much easier to manage a page now and there are completely new ways for page owners to interact with their fans and spread their message. Here are the top three things I love about the changes:

  1. Greater page autonomy. Previously, your page was tied to each admin’s personal account. Now, I can switch between my personal account and each page I manage. I can “like” other pages as the page and not as myself, which is helpful because I don’t care to see updates from 100+ UNC pages in my own wall. On the DTH’s news feed though, this is great.
  2. Better tracking. When I’m logged in as the page, I get notifications any time someone likes the page or a post or comments. I could see all of this information in aggregate before, using Insights, but the notification makes it easier to tell on a daily basis how fans are reacting to the page.
  3. Easier sharing. Before, if I wanted to share another page’s post on the DTH page, I had to get the URL of that post and post it to the DTH page as a link (whereas if I wanted to share on my on wall, all I had to do was press “share” and add a comment to post). Now, I can “share” and post to the DTH wall. Because it’s easier, I can see myself sharing others’ posts much more frequently and similar to how I retweet from @dailytarheel.

Other things I like: The ability to RSVP to events as the DTH, handy for keeping track of things happening later on I might want to share with readers; the ability to change our category (was previously Brands & Products and is now Media/News/Publishing); and the ability to show who is managing the page (a feature I haven’t turned on yet, but am interested in). I also like that I can post on other pages as the DTH, which I’ve already done to share a link to one of our stories. I can see this feature helping us connect with a new audience.

Dislikes: I wish the page showed thumbnail photos of our fans instead of just a number, and I wish I had greater control over the photos that line the top of the profile page (for instance, the ability to pick an album to draw those photos from). Otherwise, I’m really excited to see how this will make page management easier.

Are there any new features I’ve overlooked that I should take advantage of here?

One more woman on Wikipedia

3 February 2011

I just edited my first Wikipedia article. I set a goal to edit one a day after reading that fewer than 15 percent of the site’s contributers are women. I can’t say I was terribly surprised (as the article notes, the 85-15 percent breakdown mirrors male-female representation in offline areas, too), and after going through The Daily Tar Heel Wikipedia page and adding citations, I am even less surprised by the disparity. It’s time consuming to do well and a lonely task.

But I strongly agree with what Wikipedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner said: “Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table,” she said. “If they are not at the table, we don’t benefit from their crumb.” So, I’m going to try to do my part.

(H/t to Andy Bechtel, whose tweet reminded me of this great Office clip.)

Increasing engagement on Facebook

1 December 2010

I’m always looking for new and improved ways to interact with readers on The Daily Tar Heel‘s Facebook page. Jarrard Cole pointed out how the Wall Street Journal has started giving readers more instructions with certain posts – asking them to “like” the post if they agree with a statement or comment on why they disagree. It’s an idea they got from ESPN, @wsj Outreach Editor Zach Seward says.

I tried it yesterday on the DTH page and was quite pleased by the results. The post had more impressions and higher engagement than our wall posts generally attract. The comments were more thoughtful than usual, too.

One wall post doesn’t say much about the tactic’s overall effectiveness, but it’s definitely something I’m going to continue trying.

That time I dressed up as a newspaper

1 November 2010

I went as a newspaper for Halloween:

Twitter tips for journalists

5 September 2010

I’m giving a talk to DTH editors this week about ways they can use Twitter better and came up with these tips on what to do and what not to do. Anything else I should include?