Tag Archives: Centre Daily Times

7 journalism-related things you may not know about me

I intend to always keep this blog on-topic. I created a side blog in case I felt the need to write about non-journalism stuff, though I haven’t been good about writing in it.

But I’ve been tagged by Sara Bozich to participate in this trendy meme, and I planned to ignore it. Then I thought: Why not keep it on-topic, but still let you all learn a little more about your beloved author?

So here are seven journalism-related things you may not know about me:

1) My passion for journalism was ignited when a news article I wrote for my high school newspaper was censored. It was about condom distribution in schools, and our principal decided that it and another story about birth control options were inappropriate for the audience. Some brought the paper home, and it would be read by smaller children, he argued.

In the process of a lengthy and painful back-and-forth with the school administration, I did a lot of research and thinking about the value of journalism. I wrote a research paper about the chilling effect of the Hazelwood court case on high school journalists (that was the first Web site I ever made, so forgive the crappiness). I learned why journalism matters.

2) At the same time, my high school newspaper was really freaking good. During my senior year we were named the Most Outstanding Newspaper for 2002 by the American Scholastic Press Association. Our state association graded us at 985/1000 (and 5 of those points were deducted because of a printing problem that wasn’t our fault, and I remember disputing the other two deductions, too). One judge wrote that “There is nothing I can think of to improve this paper.”

3) At Penn State, I was widely known as “Dan the Fan.” I wrote a weekly column for Blue, a youth tabloid produced by the Centre Daily Times that was geared toward college students, from the passionate perspective of a blue-blooded football and basketball fan. It was occasionally good, occasionally juvenile. I’m really not too proud of it. The many, many times I had a blank Word document staring at me an hour before deadline made me realize I’m not cut out to be a columnist. I couldn’t keep up with my own demand to be proud of everything I put my name on every single week.

4) I’m very, very critical of my own writing. Whenever I read a story the next morning I usually find a few things that I wish I would have done differently, and this causes me to rarely read my story the next morning. This also makes it very difficult to choose my best clips, because I dwell on that which I could have done better rather than that which I had done well.

5) To counter that negativity: Since I started at The Patriot-News in May 2006, I’ve had the most A1 stories of any reporter on staff outside of the D.C. and Capitol bureaus. Seeing my byline on the front page, unless it’s a story I really like, hasn’t carried any feeling for me in a long time.

6) The most fun I’ve ever had on assignment came during my internship for The Wichita Eagle when I had the honor of chasing tornadoes with staff photographer Travis Heying. We dangerously sped through unmarked country roads and slammed on the brakes when we ended up on a road that was full of cows. The grave disappointment was that I didn’t actually get to see a tornado land — it was forecast to be one of the bigger storms in years, and ended up being very tame — but chasing the clouds that looked like they’d develop into tornadoes was an adrenaline junkie’s dream.

7) I have the second-messiest desk at The Patriot-News, behind only John Luciew, who is running away with the title. I usually have a large stack of newspapers, way too many notebooks, as many as a dozen bottled waters or other soda bottles, a little Dilbert guy, and several Philadelphia and Penn State bobbleheads, including a hilariously misspelled “Donavan McNabb.” The best thing on the wall is easily the New York Post cover featuring a crying little Mets fan from the peak of their wonderful 2007 collapse.

Visual evidence:

Cleaner than usual

Cleaner than usual

Ten tips to make the most of a newspaper internship

This is my favorite time of the year in the newsroom: The annual march of the interns.

In my newsroom, we have four in the various departments, and it’s so much fun having them around. They bring a lively approach to their writing, they haven’t had all the hope squeezed out of them yet, and they make me desperately miss college. Good times.

Having gone through three internships myself from 2003 to 2005 (Centre Daily Times, The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News, The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle), here are some tips to make the most of your summers:

  1. Don’t try to play journalistic dress-up with your writing. Sometimes I see young writers write in the boring style they think newspapers require, and they squelch the youthful approach that newsrooms desperately need. The most important story I wrote as an intern was one of my shortest, but it was the point when I realized I could have fun with my writing. That, more than anything, has carried me to this day.
  2. Find a reporter or two who seem receptive to helping you out, and incessantly bug them the entire summer about anything and everything. You don’t need to impress other reporters; they’re not the ones who will write your recommendations. Ask them the dumb questions you’re afraid to ask your editors out of fear they’ll think less of you.
  3. Speaking of dumb questions, never fail to ask them. Both editors and reporters know you’re inexperienced, and they’ll be understanding if you don’t know something seemingly basic. They’ll be glad you asked, rather than pretending you know and getting caught on it later.
  4. Remember that editors are looking for good stories, but it’s your attitude and behavior that matter when trying to make a lasting impression that will pay off in your recommendation.
  5. Demand as many stories as they’re willing to give you. When I was an intern at The Patriot-News, the managing editor was once dumbfounded when I walked into her office and asked for something to do, because my assignment editor hadn’t yet come in for the day. Someone would come begging for more work to do? She just couldn’t believe it, and gave me an A1 story as payment.
  6. Come up with two or three enterprise stories on your own. Editors love this kind of initiative, and they often produce the best clips.
  7. Leave your comfort zone. I never liked cops reporting, but The Wichita Eagle made me do it for six weeks, and it was hugely important to my development.
  8. Accept that you’re going to screw up. Everyone does, and it doesn’t mean you suck. It means you’re learning.
  9. If you’re at a paper near where you live or go to school, don’t leave the summer without creating a reliable pipeline to your editors. Ask them what you can write when you go back to school.
  10. Have fun. And I don’t just mean that in the carpe diem kind of way — people love having you around because you bring some much-needed enthusiasm to the newsroom. When you’re having fun, the people around you will have more fun, too. And creating connections to your future colleagues is an important part of the experience.

UPDATE (10:47 a.m. 05/31): This one occurred to me while I was in the grocery store, and deserves its placement as 11:

11. Go buy a bunch of candy. Put it in a jar in a visible spot on your desk below a sign declaring “FREE CANDY.” Your fellow reporters love candy, and you’ll probably squeeze a lot of interesting conversations out of them as they come to you for their sugar fix.

How many reporters would readers miss?

missyou.jpgKeep your hand down, Steve Boriss. I know your answer is “zero.”

This question struck me when I read the fond adieu that the blogger at Left of Centre wrote to Adam Smeltz, a Centre Daily Times reporter and long-time friend of mine who recently accepted a job at the Cherry Hill Courier-Post. The anonymous blogger, who otherwise doesn’t hesitate to criticize other reporters and the paper as a whole, planted this one on Adam:

I wish Adam the best of luck. He has done a great job at the CDT cutting through the Old Main bullshit, despite an editorial policy at the paper which often seems to take its cue from (the university president). … His departure will be a setback to those of us who came to depend on his reporting to see behind the Blue Curtain.

Every day, plenty of reporters leave their newspapers or switch beats.

How often do the communities they cover notice? Or care?

And how often would the community care enough to write positive, farewell blog posts about it?

I can only hope my readers would say the same of me when I leave my beat someday, and it has nothing to do with ego. If I don’t get that farewell, it probably means I didn’t write enough stories that the community really valued.

It means I either fell short of, or unceremoniously met, their expectations for the newspaper. And knowing how low those expectations are right now, that’s nothing to be proud of.

So, to the reporters reading this: If you left tomorrow, would anyone miss you, or would they expect more of the same under a different name?

Newspapers need to better explain the ‘Why’ in investigative reporting

There was a great piece of investigative reporting the other day by Dena Pauling in the Centre Daily Times, my hometown newspaper and former employer. It revealed mold problems in a local high school, and how the school’s administration failed to notify the public about it. It also prints the outright denials by school officials — which strangely changed once the reporter presented evidence and made them talk about it on the record.

It’s a perfect example of why journalists are here: To hold public leaders accountable, to encourage public disclosure, to bring significant untold stories to light. It’s why the fourth estate exists, and why it’s so important for newspapers to survive.

So why is the public’s response in the Web site’s comments section so overwhelmingly negative?

It’s a problem I see in nearly every investigative report I see, whether in my own newspaper or in the New York Times (coughMcCaincough).

Newspapers rarely tell their readers WHY these stories are important. We typically hope readers will connect the dots in the way that we’ve connected the dots, but quite often that doesn’t happen.

We shouldn’t be explaining why investigative stories are important in the wink-wink, nudge-nudge way we usually do. I’m talking a breakout box that spells it out exactly.

It would say this: You need to know that a possible health problem was covered up by your administration, because it calls into question what else they’re keeping quiet about.

You rarely see anything that direct, but every significant story needs it. Don’t hope that the facts will lead readers to that conclusion, because they often don’t get there. When we don’t explain why the story is important, it’s too easy for readers to assume sensationalism and the always-popular “selling papers.”

It was disheartening to see that response from the readers, because this is the kind of story that they ought to be thanking her for. And a public that sees no value in this kind of reporting surely doesn’t see any value in keeping newspapers around.

(UPDATE: Same goes for the series in the Ann Arbor News about academics and athletics at the University of Michigan. Great series that has left a lot of fans focused on the writer, not the content.)

CLIPS: Penn State students’ efforts to entice recruits breaks rules (02/13/06)

Centre Daily Times

UNIVERSITY PARK — When highly touted football prospects such as quarterback Pat Devlin and wide receiver Vidal Hazelton visit campus, Penn State junior Brad Wilson does what he can to help urge them to become Nittany Lions.

But Wilson created an unfair advantage for Penn State when he distributed 40 hand-held signs cheering Devlin’s visit during a men’s basketball game, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The fans who roared with Wilson unknowingly repeated the offense Saturday, when Hazelton was spotted in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Based on rules that prevent schools from publicizing visits of high school prospects, Penn State is asking students to stop creating signs and chanting the names of visiting recruits during basketball and football games.

Penn State is not, however, in trouble with the NCAA for past chants and signs.

According to an NCAA staff interpretation from Feb. 27, 1991, when a school learns of the behavior, “the institution would be required to take affirmative steps to stop such an activity.”

John Bove, Penn State’s compliance director, has called several student leaders into his office to explain the NCAA rule to them.

“Now that the students have committed the action, we’re now responsible for making sure it doesn’t happen again in the future,” Bove said.

Fans learned that Devlin would visit the Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 21 from Web sites that use sources outside the athletic department. With signs in hand, several dozen to a hundred students peppered Devlin with chants of “Patrick Devlin” and encouraged him to rise from his seat with a “Stand up, Devlin” cheer. He did.

During Saturday’s men’s basketball game, students were ready to chant Hazelton’s name. One female student held up a sign that read: “Hazelton — I’m single.”

Visiting prospects often walk in front of the student section to their seats during basketball games, a practice allowed by NCAA guidelines. Cheering or applauding is acceptable, Bove said, but using the prospects’ names is not.

Hazelton, who’s from Staten Island, N.Y., walked in front of the students to his seat, but Devlin, of Downingtown, sat in a section above the students.

Wilson, after meeting with Bove, said that he had no idea the NCAA disapproved of his actions and that he won’t do it again. In the past, he’s chanted the names of then-high-schoolers Derrick Williams and Justin King inside Beaver Stadium, he said.

“We wanted to promote Penn State and show them that the student body wanted them,” Wilson said.

As long as Penn State is working to educate them, the fans won’t get the school in trouble, NCAA spokesman Kent Barrett said.

“It sounds like (Penn State is) doing exactly the right thing,” he said. “As long as they’re doing that, I can’t imagine what a potential violation would be.”

Compliance officials at Ohio State and Michigan State said they haven’t had similar problems with students. At the University of Michigan, the compliance office meets each year with the basketball student group about recruiting guidelines, said Matt Stolberg, assistant athletic director for compliance at Michigan.

“We’ve gone down that road where students had signs, and we’ve acted in accordance with the interpretation and told them not to use the signs, or took them away if we had to,” he said.

Jennifer Owsiany, a leader of the Nittwits, Penn State’s basketball student group, said she’s skeptical that students will stop their chants. They see them as an effective way to help their football team, she said.

“If I was in high school and I had people chanting my name, I can only imagine what it would feel like,” she said. “Holy moly, I would love it.”