By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

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New-media mavens visit NU

Steve Garfield

We’ve been lucky to have some terrific guest speakers in my Reinventing the News class at Northeastern this semester.

On Monday we heard from Steve Garfield, one of the original video bloggers and the author of the just-released book “Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business.” I bought my signed copy from Garfield right after class and look forward to reading it.

Among other things, he’s got some information on how to use iMovie ’09, a great little video-editing program with a woeful lack of documentation. He also gave a demonstration of live video via Qik and showed examples of his citizen journalism, which have appeared everywhere from Rocketboom to CNN and the BBC.

Our other guest speakers have been Jennifer Lord Paluzzi, who became the editor of a thriving group of community Web sites called after being laid off by the MetroWest Daily News, and Stephanie Miller, director of digital media for CBS Boston Television, who’s in charge of the Declare Your Curiosity project at WBZ-TV.

Sree Sreenivasan on journalism’s future

Sree Sreenivasan

Columbia School of Journalism professor and dean Sree Sreenivasan, who describes himself as a “tech evangelist/skeptic,” will be speaking to Northeastern journalism students in a few moments. I will try to live-blog this as best as I can, though at the moment my connection seems a bit flaky.

Here are Professor Sreenivasan’s tips on social media. Perhaps his most important observation that didn’t make it into my notes below is that journalists should use social media mainly to “listen,” not to “broadcast.”

3:10 p.m. “I consider myself a print guy who happens to like some aspects of the Internet,” says Sreenivasan. He reads two newspapers and subscribes to five magazines. “I’m hoping there will still be print for many decades to come.” Believes there will be print for some time, but it might be “more expensive,” “more specialized” and “more niche-ified.”

3:16 p.m. Sreenivasan finds that when he talks with prospective journalism students, “there’s a sense of optimism and excitement about the media that isn’t shared by older people.”

3:23 p.m. Sree is sharing a post written for Mashable by one of his students called “8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist.” Perhaps the most important trait: be entrepreneurial.

3:24 p.m. “I may be the only Indian in the world who can’t do math.”

3:27 p.m. Need to be able to do video, photos, audio slideshows. Sree’s involved in a start-up called DNAinfo, which covers New York’s neighborhoods, and it involves the heavy use of multimedia skills. Also need to be a blogger and a curator. “Be a great pointer.”

Being a good pointer is in “direct conflict” with what a traditional journalist does. You have to be able to point to your own work, talk about it, and point to other people’s good work. Hard to do because journalism “has traditionally been such a competitive field.” If readers believe you can be trusted to be a good follower, they will follow you.

3:30 p.m. “The Tra-Digital Journalist” is a phrase coined by one of Sree’s colleagues — “a traditional journalist with a digital overlay.” Traditional journalism skills are as important as they ever were.

3:33 p.m. “I have news for you. All of you are going to be radio journalists whether you like it or not. Only it’s not called radio. It’s called audio.” Check out Blog Talk Radio, which allows anyone to have a talk show. “Problem: not everyone who wants to have a radio show should have a radio show.” It’s a great way to practice.

3:39 p.m. Following the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Sree and other members of the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) interviewed some 50 guests via SAJA’s channel on Blog Talk Radio.

3:52 p.m. “It’s really important to add these vitamins to your media diet”:

  • Mashable (the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times of social media)
  • MuckRack (follows only the tweets of journalists)
  • LifeHacker (“how you can use technology to improve your life,” explains Sree)
  • ReadWriteWeb (how the Web is changing)
  • (the future of the newsroom and how people are going to pay for our content)

3:53 p.m. Need to learn skills now. “When the plane lands in the river, it’s too late to learn about Twitter.” Students should join LinkedIn now, for instance, even though they won’t need it for job-hunting until later.

3:59 p.m. Facebook can be used as a tool for journalism. “Learn to use it better.” In a course he teaches on social media, he tell students it’s a professional tool, and they should take more control. Three advantages:

  1. Find sources and stories
  2. Connect with your audience
  3. Bring eyeballs to your work

Human attention is an increasingly scarce commodity, and Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can help command some attention.

4:04 p.m. “Facebook is the greatest time sink in human history.” You should put people in lists and label them. If you’re a Washington Post reporter, you can see what Senate staff members are talking about, or State Department employees. “You’re not learning everything that’s going on, but you’re learning something.”

4:08 p.m. “LinkedIn is one of those things that everyone is on, or should be on, but they don’t know how to use it better.” If you’re writing a story about the Red Sox, you can use LinkedIn to find not only people who work for the Red Sox, but who used to work for them, and who live near you. Also, you can pose questions to your community, a useful reporting tool.

4:11 p.m. Some acronyms: BAW (bored at work), CPA (constant partial attention), CCT (conference call time), CMS (content-management system) and (a link-shortener that provides you with analytics).

4:14 p.m. “The power of Twitter is not in the tweet. The power of Twitter is in the retweet.” To be a successful tweeter, you should do everything in 120 characters, because “I want people to retweet my work.” He’s often wanted to retweet something, but he doesn’t because he has to edit it. “Don’t make me work for you.” “Make it as easy for them as possible.”

People are often skeptical of Twitter because of the 140-character limit. Yet there are virtually no newspaper headlines that are longer than 80 or 90 characters.

“Success on Twitter is listening, and then listening to the right people.”

4:18 p.m. One of Sreenivasan’s students was stuck in Haiti when the earthquake hit. He was able to let his wife know he was all right because someone tweeted it.

4:23 p.m. @Digidave, founder of Spot.Us, is a former student of Sree’s.

NU football and sports journalism

football_20091123Football has never been a big deal at Northeastern. Still, it’s a surprise to see the program canceled just a couple of years after it survived a major review. (Huntington News coverage; Boston Globe story and Dan Shaughnessy column; Boston Herald story.)

From my parochial perspective, I feel bad that aspiring sportswriters in our School of Journalism will no longer have a football team to cover. Yes, there will still be plenty of sports news. But football is a big part of what our student newspaper, the Huntington News, does every fall.

I’m not just an employee of Northeastern; I’m also an alumnus. During the 1970s, when I was a student, I probably went to three or four football games, either as a member of the band or to tag along with the future Mrs. Media Nation, a photographer for the News.

As Northeastern has become more of a residential university, sports in general have become more important on campus. Football, though, could never compete — certainly not with the hockey program.

Ironically, I went to graduate school at Boston University, which canceled its own football program more than a decade ago. (Honest — it’s not my fault.)

I guess the lesson is that football is so expensive that if you can’t do it big, like Boston College, you shouldn’t do it at all.

Michael Dukakis on Ted Kennedy

Dukakis_20090902The public-relations office at Northeastern just sent out a Q&A it conducted with Michael Dukakis on the life and legacy of Ted Kennedy. Dukakis, a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern, is a former governor of Massachusetts and a former presidential candidate, and has been mentioned as a possible interim senator. It’s a pretty interesting interview, and I’m presenting it here in full.

Q: How would you sum up Ted Kennedy as a politician?

A: He was the whole package for me, a remarkable combination of personal commitment and passion for the job, and skills, legislative ability. He never would start a policy initiative without getting a Republican cosponsor.

You know, after Bill Clinton went down to defeat on his 1993 health care plan, he and Ted got together to see what could be done, and decided, OK we’ll start with the kids, so they came up with this children’s health plan. And Kennedy, as you might guess, was the principal cosponsor in the Senate.

[Republican Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott knew that Kennedy was looking for a Republican cosponsor. Kennedy had this long-standing personal friendship with [Utah Republican] Orrin Hatch, and when Lott found out that Hatch had agreed to cosponsor the bill, he was just furious. But they put it through-raised the federal cigarette tax from 24 cents to 67 cents and put it through. That was Kennedy.

Q: Do you remember the first time you worked with him politically?

A: I’m sure we probably did some things together in the Sixties. But people ask me, “What are your favorite Kennedy stories?” and I’ve got two.

I was first elected governor in ’74, I was defeated by Ed King in ’78, so there was the great rematch in 1982, in the Democratic primary. King was the incumbent Democratic governor, albeit a conservative one; he later switched parties. Still, there was no reason for Teddy to come out 10 days before that election and endorse my candidacy, but he did.

Q: Did you ever ask him about it?

A: He just thought it was the right thing to do, very similar to when he endorsed Obama in 2008. He was close to the Clintons, and I know they were very hurt and disappointed, but he did it anyway. And I know his endorsement was just as crucial for Obama then as it was for me in 1982.

My other favorite memory came about when I signed the universal health care bill in 1988. I’ll never forget when Teddy called me, he was just so proud-of me, of Secretary of Health and Human Services Phil Johnston, of the state.  He was incredibly proud that his state was the first in the nation to enact universal health care.

Q: You served as governor for 12 years while Ted was in the Senate, so the two of you must have worked together a lot. Does anything in particular come to mind?

A: On public transportation, which I’m slightly obsessive about, he was absolutely terrific. This was in my first term, and at the time, you could not bust the highway trust fund, the gasoline tax, you could not use it for public transportation.

I was one of the leaders to fight the so-called Master Highway Plan, which would have … created a California-style freeway system, eight lanes of elevated highway going right through Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, down Ruggles Street and three feet from the Museum of Fine Arts.

And meanwhile, the “T” was just a basket case, it was awful, it would break down three days out of five when I took it to work.

So after a 10-year debate, we had killed the Master Highway Plan, and we had given up hundreds of million of dollars in federal highway money, but we thought, why can’t we use that for public transportation?

And Ted and [former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.] were largely responsible for making it possible for Massachusetts to become the first state in the nation to be able to use federal highway money for public transportation.

We ended up with $3 billion to invest in the “T.” We acquired the entire commuter rail system in eastern Massachusetts for $35 million, stations, parking lots, tracks, … and we could not have done it without Kennedy and Tip’s leadership.

Q: What will Ted Kennedy’s legacy be — what do you think he’ll stand out for above all?

A: In a general way, that he was somebody who knew where he stood, and he lived it, practiced it, did it. He had a very strong philosophy, which at times was not in vogue. And yet he never wavered at all. I think subsequent events demonstrated clearly that his values and his approach to public service made a lot more sense than some of the folks who were critical of him.

The one piece he wasn’t able to achieve was his goal of health care for everyone, and I hope we’re going to do that.

Q: You see people at [health care] rallies holding signs, saying “Do It 4 Teddy.” How do you think his passing will change the health care debate?

A: No question we’d be on our way to a health care bill if Ted Kennedy had been healthy, engaged, and involved. If, for example, there had to be some compromising on a pure public option, because it was Kennedy, the liberal community would accept it because his credentials there were so strong.
I’m not saying we can’t get a health care bill, but there is no one with the unique set of skills and the respect that he had.

My own view is that the Democrats will have 60 votes for cloture, assuming Massachusetts changes the law and gets someone down there to vote. So what the Democrats have to do-not that you don’t keep reaching out to Republicans-is to put together a bill that has solid Democratic support, and then you use the 60 votes to close out debate.

But there is going to be some very hard work to do among Senate Democrats. Kennedy certainly would have been the glue to hold them together and get this thing passed. Now, other people will have to step up to try to do it.

Fountain and Kennedy on Cronkite

My Northeastern University colleague Chuck Fountain and I discuss the legacy of Walter Cronkite in a webcast posted on the university’s Web site.

George Merry’s local legacy

George Merry, a longtime political reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, who died on July 1, is someone I knew slightly. We were both graduates of Northeastern University, and George often attended events organized by our journalism alumni group in the 1980s.

He was a proper gentleman, and though I can’t say I was intimately familiar with his coverage of Massachusetts politics, I could tell from talking with him that he was a fine journalist, fair-minded and curious about the world around him.

Gloria Negri has a lengthy obit in today’s Boston Globe. The Monitor ran a tribute on July 7.

Last fall I was reporting a story on the Monitor for CommonWealth Magazine. Monitor executives had just announced they were going to eliminate the daily print edition, going instead with their already-excellent Web site and a new weekly magazine.

Among the angles I wanted to explore was whether it might make sense for the Monitor — which is, after all, based in Boston — to re-establish its local presence at a time when the Globe and the Boston Herald were getting smaller and smaller.

The angle didn’t pan out. But I did have a chance to interview Merry, reaching him by phone at his home in Hyde Park. He clearly wasn’t well, and he labored to speak. Yet he was as courteous and helpful as he could be.

The Monitor, of course, is known for its national and especially its international reporting. Merry, though, told me that the Monitor took its local coverage very seriously at one time, and that it was an ideal training ground for the paper’s stars of the future.

“When I first went on the New England bureau staff, there were at least a dozen reporters,” he said. “I think we brought a different viewpoint. It was a different voice. It wasn’t so commercially oriented.” He added, though, that “it got very expensive to maintain.”

Merry was also skeptical of the Monitor’s plan to eliminate the daily print edition. “The Internet’s a wonderful thing, but I think it’s somewhat of a risk,” he said.

George Merry was not well-known outside of local media and political circles. But he was a good guy and a pro, and he’ll be missed.

Social-networking that cornice collapse

The student-run Huntington News is taking the social-media route to covering the collapse of a cornice on a Northeastern University-owned residence hall on Huntington Avenue.

Editor Maggie Cassidy used her Twitter account to get out the word that the News had posted a story online. And the photos were posted to the paper’s Flickr account.

Breaking news, from a paper that only comes out every other week during the summer. Good job, although the Flickr link from Twitter doesn’t work [note: now fixed]; pick it up from the story (or from here) instead.

NU students report on Egyptian dissident

Northeastern journalism students touring the Middle East have broken some important news.

Kate Augusto, Danielle Capalbo and Nick Mendez report that Ayman Nour, a leading political dissident in Egypt, has decided to return to prison and finish his sentence in order to dramatize what he calls the Egyptian government’s ongoing lack of respect for democratic values.

The Boston Globe’s Worldly Boston blog has picked up on the news.

Nour was released earlier this year, with the government announcing that it was responding to Nour’s poor health.

Our students are traveling with journalism professor Carlene Hempel and political-science professor Denis Sullivan, who directs both the Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development and the International Affairs Program.

Please check out the group blog, as well as the individual student and faculty blogs that are linked from the main page.

Photo of Nour by Nick Mendez.

Don’t touch me there

Or anywhere else. As usual, I’ll be volunteering as a marshal at Northeastern’s commencement tomorrow. Handshaking has been banned, but coughing is fine.

Gmail and its discontents (II)

Problem solved, although not the way I would have liked. I’m now using Apple Mail to pull in my Northeastern mail (via POP) and Gmail (via IMAP) separately. I’m able to use Northeastern’s SMTP server off-campus as well as on. So all of my outgoing NU mail contains official-looking header information, and will thus not be intercepted by anyone’s spam filter.

Oh, well. Apple Mail’s not so bad, I suppose.

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