Tag Archives: Penn State

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

Meet a blogger: Run up the Score

Run up the Score, in my humble opinion, is the best of the many Penn State football-themed blogs out there. Though my particular newspaper, in my humble opinion, offers the best Penn State football coverage out there, RUTS has become required reading.

I swept the pigeons away from my typewriter long enough to e-mail the author some questions. He was kind enough to answer those questions, mid-air, while doing some kind of trick on his skateboard. (Try Fire Joe Morgan or Deadspin for an explanation of that ridiculous image.)

It was an effort to show that bloggers aren’t the inherently evil, newspaper-reader-stealing, ethics-depraved leeches that some newsroom dwellers paint them to be. A lot of thought and passion goes into their craft, and the sooner journalists understand that, the better.

(Any italics are my own, to emphasize what I believe are key points. I cut out parts of his answers just so it wasn’t too long; if anyone is interested in reading the full Q&A, I’d be happy to forward it to you.)

BDV: At what point, and why, did you decide you wanted to blog?

RUTS: Personally, Run Up The Score started as a general sports blog with a moderate concentration on college football. It didn’t take long for it to become a college football blog with a heavy Penn State concentration. Now it’s a Penn State blog that occasionally dabbles in other areas. Nobody succeeds with a blog, certainly not on a personal satisfaction level, if they only passively care about the subject. That’s why so many blogs pop up and disappear after a month. The writer finally says to himself, “wait, why the hell am I doing this?” and quits.

I think anyone who takes the time to start a blog and maintain it on a consistent basis feels that the entire story isn’t being told. It doesn’t matter if the chosen topic is college football, politics, or baking. Blogging gives a potentially loud voice to people who don’t have access, and there’s certainly a place for writers who don’t get too intimate with the people and subjects they cover. The best blogs fill in the gaps that newspapers, television, and radio can’t always cover for whatever reason. They can’t be everywhere. The Associated Press is never going to pick up a Joe Paterno road rage story unless he kills somebody. Why would they? But if you type “Joe Paterno road rage” into Google, I guarantee that 95% of the stories on the topic are written on blogs, and they did it with an informality and sense of humor you can’t get from traditional media sources.

That’s also part of why blogs published by established news outlets are often so awkward — there’s often an editing process and the writer doesn’t get to write stories predicting Anthony Morelli’s performance on the Wonderlic Test at the NFL Combine. They’ll state that he’s in Indianapolis with three other players for the NFL Combine, which is something that 80% of Penn State fans already knew. Newspaper blogs usually end up being exactly what they shouldn’t be — another source of the same news found elsewhere, not to mention there’s hardly ever any evident joy in the writing.

Credibility issues iron themselves out in the blogosphere, especially because the best bloggers are sensitive to the constant, uninformed criticism that all blogs are written by people with no regard for fact (especially because newspapers so often bungle or conceal significant parts of a story). Sure, some sites are like that, but who reads them on a consistent basis? If I posted tomorrow morning that I had an inside source in Old Main stating that Joe Paterno will resign on Thursday morning and Jay Paterno will take over as head coach, it won’t take many more of those mistakes before I squander whatever readership I’ve built up over the past two years. In a weird sense, this is my baby. If I blatantly plagiarized or fabricated something, I’d eventually be called on it in a very real, public fashion. Consumers of traditional media don’t often get the opportunity to lash out at reporters, at least not for the whole world to see.

BDV: You give a great definition of what newspaper blogs shouldn’t be. So what should they be? What do you think reporters could learn from the best bloggers?

RUTS: There are any number of ways a newspaper can go if it wants to get into the blogging game. Blogs can be heavy on opinions, or play a straighter role. They can be text, audio, or video. They can be live-blogs of the game as seen from the press box or a couch somewhere in Scranton. Really, they’re all just different forms of supplementing the newspaper’s usual processes.

Sometimes, the blogs can be completely independent of what’s happening elsewhere on the site while still being a complement to the traditional coverage — Dan Steinberg’s “D.C. Sports Blog” is a great example of this. Sports fans have a thirst for intimate details of their favorite teams, even if those details aren’t something that would normally work their way into a Michael Wilbon column.

PennLive actually does a very good job with their bloggish coverage, especially with regard to the press box videos and weekly preview videos from the office. That’s something that no other media outlet has provided with respect to Penn State football coverage.

Using a Penn State example, we know there are a number of stories that will come out of any game. There’s the standard game recap, and a handful of stories that are dictated by the smaller events within the game — individual performances, coaching decisions, all that stuff. A live-blog of a Penn State game could include descriptions of the parking lot atmosphere, the excitement within the stadium, emotional swings within the game, an ability to immediately post analysis, pictures, and video. Reporters who venture into blogging have to realize it’s a different medium that opens up innumerable opportunities to infuse technology into the reporting process. Happy Valley Hoops is a tremendous example of that.

This is all just an unnecessarily wordy answer to a simple question, though. The very nature of blogs and the internet allows news organizations to augment their traditional coverage however they see fit. Some are more entertaining and informative than others.

BDV: How did you go about growing readership? Have any stats to share?

RUTS: Growing readership is a tricky business for a blog. The art of “blogwhoring” — posting links to your site in comments of other sites and message boards — is universally frowned upon. Some people attract readership by sending in tips to bigger sites like Deadspin or Every Day Should Be Saturday. That’s a good way to solicit extra attention, because it allows the owner of the bigger site to decide whether to link to your tiny blog, instead of you clogging up someone else’s comment section with what is essentially an unpaid, unwanted advertisement.

As for my stats, they’re modest. RUTS usually attracts around 2,000 readers a day during the work week, give or take a thousand depending on incoming links from other sites and Google searches. It tapers off during the weekend, and of course, during the off-season. More importantly, the quality of the comments has increased, which naturally leads to higher interest and return visits. And hey, 2,000 people stop by to read my thoughts on Penn State football. That’s more than I’d get shouting at passing traffic on Front Street in Harrisburg! Again, to compliment the PennLive.com folks, they added links to what I suppose could be considered the “big three” PSU blogs — Black Shoe Diaries, The Nittany Line, and RUTS — and eventually added a few others to their main PSU Football page. That’s been a great help, especially because none of us really asked to be linked. PennLive totally did that on its own, which I believe is extremely rare (and quite frankly, gracious) for a newspaper site.

I could pepper Deadspin, The Big Lead, EDSBS, and other sites and plead for links on a daily basis. With the exception of sending a tip to EDSBS once a month, I try not to beg. I don’t like to get too caught up in site stats, though. Anybody can tailor a site to attract readers without necessarily providing quality content. Lots of people do it, and can generally carve out a nice secondary income in the process.

CLIPS: Bill urges colleges to use text-messaging alert system (04/19/07)

Of The Patriot-News

Could the key to saving lives come 120 characters at a time on a tiny screen?

That tiny screen — that of a cell phone — is usually on hand for an estimated 90 percent of college students. E-mails might be quick, but the shootings at Virginia Tech showed they won’t be able to give vital information to students in classrooms or in cars on their way to campus.

You could try landlines and answering machines, but those are so 1998. College students are using them sparingly, having moved toward the constant connectedness of cell phones.

“This is everyday life to those individuals,” said Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, who introduced a resolution yesterday urging colleges to implement text-messaging alert systems. “This is what they do.”

Conklin urges Pennsylvania schools to adopt alert systems similar to Penn State University’s.

The school’s public information office runs PSUTXT, which students opt into for updates on emergencies, school closings, sports scores and concert announcements. The service, launched in August 2006, sends short messages to students’ cell phone screens.

A renewed awareness effort, buoyed by the shootings at Virginia Tech, boosted subscribers from 4,055 Monday morning to 6,749 at noon yesterday, school spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said. During a 10-minute phone conversation, 25 more people enrolled.

It is one of several tools used to reach the 43,000 students at State College, she said, “because there is no one good way to reach everybody.”

“In the past, we were thinking more along the lines of school closings because of snow,” Mountz said. “But we were always aware that in an emergency, we would have this available.”

The service is provided by E2Campus, which claims about 30 colleges as customers. The service can send out 18,000 text messages per minute, and students can get updates in four to eight seconds, company spokesman Bryan Crum.

“Students have their cell phones with them wherever they go,” Crum said. “There’s a really good chance everyone on campus is going to get that alert. Even if they don’t, the person next to them will see.”

A campus of 2,000 people would pay $3,000 per year for the service, he said. A school with 50,000 would pay $27,500.

Conklin’s resolution, if passed, would urge, but not require, schools to use Penn State’s system as a model. He said he’d like to see compulsory participation from students, but he couldn’t imagine students not wanting the information.

“When you’re a student, you’re mandated to give your Social Security number,” he said. “Why not have colleges and universities say, ‘We want to have your phone number and your text messaging and your e-mail as well’?”

Crum said none of the schools using E2Campus requires students to participate. Students opt in to the service because of spam and telemarketing laws, he said.

Elizabethtown College, with 1,900 students, uses voice mail, e-mail and its Web site to contact students in emergencies, school spokeswoman Mary Dolheimer said.

The idea of text messaging is “something that we have looked at extensively in the past and will continue to look at,” she said. She sent copies of recent articles about text messaging to the school’s emergency management group, she said.

“Students do not utilize their landline phones,” Dolheimer said. “They really stick to their cell phone, especially when they’re in transit. They’re not logged into computers, and they’re not sitting in front of a TV.”

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.”

CLIPS: Yankees fans seem content to push the repeat button (10/06/09)

Of The Patriot-News

You’d never expect that leaving the new Yankee Stadium after the home team won the World Series would have an atmosphere roughly similar to leaving a nonconference Penn State football game or a Broadway play.

But most in the businesslike crowd leaving Game 6 couldn’t be bothered to high-five a stranger or participate in a “Let’s go Yankees” cheer, let alone a “Woo” or two. There were more murmurs than cheers, more July than November. It was time to file to the exits, get some sleep and go to work in the morning.

Trying to rally some excitement, Scott Detrow of Harrisburg — a lifelong Yankees fan — attempted a few chants, but none took. Frustrated with his fellow fans, he shouted: “Let’s go make some noise. We just won the World Series.” Few complied.

Let’s remember: This is the pinnacle of sports, the dream moment for every fan in the country, the utmost reward for thousands of dollars and hours spent in hopes your team might someday get to experience this day on just a few rare occurrences in your lifetime.

At least, that’s how everyone outside Yankee Stadium sees it.

But you earn indifference when you play in a $1.5 billion replica of a stadium, when the economics of baseball have priced out many of the Yankees fans who still care about winning the World Series an hour after it happened.

It also happens when you have a fan base so casually accustomed to winning that the phrase “nine long years” — the gap since their last World Series championship — was uttered repeatedly without a shred of irony.

That Yankees fans would consider nine years to be a significant cold spell, or that they actually find meaning in chanting the word “27” for their championship tally, turns the stomachs of fans of the Pirates, Phillies and Orioles.

Until 2008, Philadelphia hadn’t won a title in any sport since the year before I was born.

Pittsburgh Pirates fans, adorably, are so beaten down by an unreasonable amount of losing that they’re reduced to making a .500 record their multi-year goal.

The Baltimore Orioles haven’t had a winning record in those nine long years that Yankees fans suffered through eight playoff berths.

Yes, Yankees fans enjoy winning. When Robinson Cano threw to Mark Teixeira for the final out, the grandstands erupted as expected in cheers and hugs and high-fives. The stadium was loud during the postgame ceremonies, and certainly there were bars and streets where wild celebrations happened.

One of the legitimately celebrating streets was near the closest subway station, where this columnist in his Phillies T-shirt had many unholy chants tossed his way. I didn’t mind, though, as a lack of passion coming from a World Series attendee is more offensive to me than a few four-letter words.

But Detrow and I were both disturbed by that image of walking through the business-as-usual ramps and walkways inside and outside the stadium.

It’s hard to imagine that level of indifference outside a playoff game at PNC Park or any other title-starved city. It makes you appreciate how significant the 2008 championship was to the city of Philadelphia, and why that feeling may never be duplicated.

On our way back to Harrisburg, we talked about what it means to be a Yankees fan, and what a championship means to them. Detrow recalled stories of the ’90s, when he invited a friend to one of several championship parades the Yankees threw.

“No,” his friend said. “I’ll just go next year.”

While the 2008 championship allowed Phillies fans to lovingly release over two decades of frustration, fans of the 2009 champions somehow feel better about 27 championships instead of 26.

To his credit, Detrow said it still matters because he just loves baseball. “I still think it’s exciting and special,” he said, and his passion after the game showed he meant it.

Kudos to those Yankees fans who still find the game romantic, but I suspect there aren’t many cities in America where you’ll struggle to find rampant enthusiasm after a win that big.