Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Another random, belated update

Today, my wife sent me a text message following a meeting at her job. During that meeting, one of her coworkers asked another coworker to make some "verbiage enhancements and adjustments" to a document. I have no idea what this document is, or any other context of the meeting, but I do know that at least one of her coworkers is a monumental moron when it comes to communicating effectively and clearly with his or her coworkers.

When did it become standard practice for corporate America to make standard communication as convoluted as possible? Why can't you just ask someone to edit a document? Why do we have to utilize something instead of just use something? What's wrong with clear, plain, simple English?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm back, baby, and I'm angry...

A new semester has started, and after several months of neglecting my blog, I'm back with a vengeance. It's the third day of classes at Simpson College, and while for the most part I am very pleased with my students this semester, a few of them have really touched a nerve. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know what that nerve is: Some of my students this semester -- enrolled in a communication practicum class whose very catalogue description tells them they have to write -- are complaining because they have to write.

This upsets me on a number of levels. The first is that pretty much every student in this class, which is a new course that combines several old practicum courses into one, is a communication major. They either have a Multimedia Journalism designation (and I've heard no complaints from these majors), or they have an Integrated Marketing Communication designation, which is Simpson's iteration of public relations, and it's the major from which I'm hearing the bitching. Yeah, I said it, and now I'm going to tell you to quit your bitching.

I've talked with several of my colleagues about it, and we all remain amazed that these students believe they can get through a degree in Communication and Media Studies with little or no writing required of them. I was told by the faculty member who works most closely with IMC students they expect they will graduate and immediately become account or marketing managers, and therefore don't need to know how to write. I guess they've not bothered to do any research whatsoever into their chosen careers and read the job descriptions, every one of which lists "excellent oral and WRITTEN communication skills" as the top job requirement. I wonder what they consider "written communication skills" to entail? Their Facebook posts, most of which are grammatically incorrect? Their drunk Tweets sent at 2 a.m. from The Zoo Bar? The text messages they send nonstop before, during and after class?

It's a puzzle. I run a Twitter feed called @comminternships, where I tweet and retweet dozens of internship and entry-level communication jobs -- most of which are in the field of public relations -- every day. I read every job description I tweet, so to ensure that the information I send out is real and not some kind of spam that's slipped through the cracks. I've never seen one that doesn't strongly emphasize the need for the student not only to have the writing skills, he or she also needs the proof those skills exist. In other words, there better be a portfolio of written work.

I recognize that there will always be a group of students who, for whatever reason, just don't get it. But for the love of God, if you declare yourself a communication major, you should, at the very least, be prepared to write. Otherwise, I think it's time to find a new major.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Indianola Middle School bomb threat notification

Here's the e-mail notification sent this morning regarding the bomb threat received by Indianola Middle School:

Attention Parents:

A staff member found a note today that referred to a bomb threat around noon in a specific room of the building. District procedures have been followed and will continue to be followed. The classes were placed in “stay put” meaning students did not travel  from room to room while the noted area and adjacent areas were searched. Students will be returning to their regular schedule. A planned evacuation will take place surrounding the noon time that the threat noted.

If you feel that you need to pick up your child from school, please contact the office at 961-9530, ext. 3156.

Annette Jauron, Principal
Indianola Middle School
515-961-9530, ext. 3100

Confidentiality Notice: This email and any attachments may be covered by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C.§§2510-2521and may contain privileged and confidential information intended only for the use of the individual or entity named. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that you should not review, use, disclose, distribute, copy, or forward this email. If you have received this email in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete/destroy any and all copies of the original message.
First off, screw the privacy notice. Second, really? Kids stayed in place while the building was searched for a bomb? That's district procedure? Third, you are going to wait until the alleged bomb is allegedly set to detonate before evacuating? That's district procedure? I knew I moved to a rural, rather undereducated area, but this just seems ignorant beyond belief to me.

I already knew Duncan was probably the smartest kid in the middle school; now I find out he's also smarter than the adminstrators? Good grief.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A fascinating social media tool...

This morning as I was checking Twitter (my new morning regime that has long-supplanted reading a print newspaper over a cup of coffee), I noticed I was mentioned in a tweet (it's a good idea for everyone on Twitter to track their @mentions by others):
New-Media Educators Daily is out! http://bit.ly/dcQjaq ▸ Top stories today via @thomfound @cityjournalism @andybechtel @thegrammarnazi
I had not heard of New-Media Educators Daily, so I clicked the link to find out what this was. It's a newspaper, or, at least, the latest evolution of newspapers. In essence, it's a creation of a day's tweets in a newspaper layout, complete with sections. Here's a screen grab of this edition:
The issue of New-Media Educators Daily that featured
of my Tweets as a "top news item."
At first, I was under the impression this Twitter user was a coding genius -- and he may be. But what @ryanjz (Ryan J. Zeigler, a self-described "aspiring tech journalist") has done is use an online aggregator at the website http://paper.li/ to create an aggregation of the day's tweets in one of the Twitter lists that he follows. What's a Twitter list? It's simply a collection of people you follow on Twitter. You can create a list of people, or you can create a list from hash tags (#), or keywords, people create on Twitter. I follow more than a dozen lists. Why? Well, it separates the people I follow into categories. It also allows me to find tweets by people I don't follow on topics of interest to me. I have created several lists of people that include twitterers whom I do not follow, but I want to see what they say on that specific topic. Following lists comprised of hash tags allow me to follow everyone else who has an interest or passion in that specific topic.

So, what this website has done is created a way for people to simply type in their lists and, presto, you have a webpage that looks like a daily newspaper comprised of the day's tweets that contain URLS from your twitter list. The paper updates every 24 hours, and it includes the previous 24 hours' tweets. It's still in beta testing, but it hasn't stopped me from playing with it. I've created two newspapers since I started writing this blog: One for media website and journalists I follow (The media Daily: http://paper.li/thegrammarnazi/media) and one for Simpson College, where I teach (The #SimpsonCollege Daily http://paper.li/tag/SimpsonCollege). The latter presently has no content because, apparently, no one used the Simpson College hashtag in the previous 24 hours. 

Some of the fascinating things I have discovered at first glance (keep in mind I'm so fascinated by this thing I'm writing a blog about it fewer than 30 minutes after finding it) are that it included embedded ads (making it look like a real newspaper); it divides your tweets into sections (including such titles as arts and entertainment, business and education) using keywords in the tweets, and it's surprisingly accurate at doing so; it includes an embedded live view of all the tweets in the list you used to create the paper; you can automatically promote it each day with a tweet sent to your followers; subscribe to it via RSS; embed the code into your blog or website (see the right side of this blog for a sample); archive previous editions and more. To put it mildly, I won't be getting as much done today as I anticipated as I play with this new social media tool.

You'll notice I italicized one interesting aspect of the tweets that are aggregated: They must contain URLS. In other words, it tries to weed out tweets that are just a person's musings or ramblings, and includes only tweets that link through to additional content. I'm guessing, though I don't know this for certain, that the reasoning behind this is to include tweets that ostensibly contain more depth and provide additional substance than just the "I just bought a new dress" tweet. I will be monitoring this paper each day to see what's included and what's excluded from the paper. 

And, while my paper The media Daily has been out for just 42 minutes, I already have three subscribers. I wonder how many I'll have once I tweet I've created it and post this blog? Yet another interesting experiment!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A disturbing grammatical trend...

Now that we are four weeks into the new academic semester, I have had multiple opportunities to grade my students' work. This semester, I'm teaching six classes, including three practicums. I'm grading papers for courses ranging from the entry-level Introduction to Communication Studies up to a 300-level journalism history course. The history course is the most diverse, as it is an evening course with a number of nontraditional students, many of whom are working professionals.

But, it doesn't seem to matter whether the student is an older working professional or a freshman just out of high school, one trend is clear -- grammar is dying across the board. My freshmen are particularly weak at it, making mistakes that lead me to consider drinking heavily to dull the pain of all the red marks.

I know that at some point these rules were taught to them -- at least, I presume they were. I know they were taught to my 12-year-old son, who spent last Saturday during down time at a taekwondo tournament reading some of the papers I was grading for a class. He was constantly commenting on the poor grammar, with statements such as "these are college students?" and "I learned that in the third grade! Good grief!" However, at some point between elementary school and college, it appears teachers quit giving a rat's ass about grammar in favor of "content" and "ideas." At least, that's what my students today are telling me. My question: How can you effectively convey an idea in writing if I can't understand it for your poor grammar?

Some mistakes I saw this week that made me cringe: "granite" for "granted," "boarder" for "border," "then" for "than" (at least 10 people did this), "incontinence" for "inconvenience," and I won't even begin to rant on the hundreds of punctuation errors. Apparently, no one at any age or level of education has a clue for when a comma is needed, or not.

Several years ago, when I was teaching at a different college, a student group held a faculty spelling bee as a fundraiser. I participated, as did many of the other faculty. I remember this vividly, because I was so stunned it happened, but the first five faculty to lose? English faculty members. The last three standing? All journalism faculty. The English faculty defended their defeat by saying they are more focused on the message and its meaning when they teach. The journalism faculty were at constant war with the English faculty over the inability of students who had supposedly demonstrated competency in ENG 101 and 102 in order to qualify to take the first reporting class, because the students we were getting couldn't master simple subject-verb agreement. The argument from the faculty remained the same. Again, how can you understand the message if you can't read it?

Of course, the bigger question is, can this problem be fixed? I don't know the answer to that question. I welcome your suggestions.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Social media on the rise, but does anyone know how to use it?

This report on Mashable Monday says that social media use in 2010 jumped 20 percent. My Simpson College colleague and department chair Brian Steffen blogged over the weekend about how we can turn Twitter into a journalism tool. Meanwhile, tools such as this blog saw a decline in use in 2010, the same Mashable story reported. What does this mean? But an even bigger question is, do we even know what we are doing on here?

The Mashable report indicates that people are moving away from delayed communication online (websites, blogs and the like) and more toward real-time communication, which sites like Twitter, Facebook and foursquare provide. However, do we really understand -- both as journalists and consumers of news -- how to use these sites as journalism tools? For that matter, do we even understand how to the use the sites themselves, as tools for journalism or something else notwithstanding? One student asked me today why bother learning them at all.

As this semester started, Steffen and I both noticed that more of our students were already on Twitter than in prior semesters. However, it's not yet a majority of students, and I still had to show a few students at the start of this semester not just how Twitter worked, but how to set up an account. While we like to think these tools come to our students intuitively because they grew up in a "digital world," the fact of the matter is many of them do not understand it.

As Steffen pointed out, he, I and our peers came of age before these tools existed. As Steffen said in his blog post over the weekend, "I’ve had to pick up a lot of tools and techniques on the fly during my years of teaching, but I don’t think that I’ve ever — until now — had to teach a tool that was evolving right before our eyes." And Twitter isn't the only tool on that list.

My students in my Journalism 2.0 class are already stressing over the requirement that they create a blog and update it regularly. They must also maintain and frequently update a Twitter account related to multimedia journalism. How often is regularly, they ask. I tell them ideally, daily, but I'll accept weekly. They stress they may not have the time to do it weekly. I feel their pain. I started this semester with the goal of blogging at least once a week, and I'm finding it more and more difficult to set aside time to do it. In fact, I started writing this blog post Monday morning. It's now Tuesday afternoon, and I'm still not finished with it. However, if I am going to be effective in teaching these new media tools, I must find the time myself to immerse myself in them -- and keep them updated (as well as myself updated) to remain relevant in the classroom.

But, the question remains, how do we teach our students to use these tools appropriately. Here's a tweet from earlier today from one of my students: "sajdhsjdadjjsa'ldkjsadh! thats the best way to express how mad i am for having to be up and not having class til 2!" Not only is it irrelevant, it's grammatically abhorrent (a rant I'll save for another post). When that student starts looking for a job or an internship, and a potential employer searches the Web for information about that student, will that tweet hurt him? Maybe. Maybe not. But if all other things are equal, that single tweet might be the tiebreaker in the job search. And if all of his tweets read like that, he may not even get to the interview stage.

Beyond that, how do we teach them to blog, Facebook, use LinkedIn, foursquare and the like? And which of these tools will be dead and buried when some of these freshmen graduate in four years. Who remembers Google Wave?

Teaching our students how to use the tools that are in vogue now may not be as important as teaching them how to recognize which tools are emerging -- even if they are just going to be a flash in the pan -- and make them relevant to their careers as quickly as they can. And, once that tool falls out of favor, to recognize that as well and move along to the next tool. Early numbers say this "traditional" blog and others like it are falling out of favor, while Twitter, Facebook and other microblogging tools are on the rise. It's probably only a few short years before microblogging fades away for the latest, newest form of instant communication. Technology and time will tell.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Another example of why copy editors, indeed, are necessary...

Charles Apple has a great post on his American Copy Editors Society blog today regarding a mistake in today's issue of the Iowa State Daily. It's a small typo, but it has BIG consequences. As in, the difference between sexual consent and sexual assault.

You can read what Charles wrote here, because it says it so well. But, for those to lazy to click through, here it is:

The front page story
The jump page
The typo from the jump....

If that is accurate, then there are a lot of people who are going to be seeking to have convictions overturned....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New semester, new year, new goals

With the start of the new year and a new semester, I'm also starting with a new goal: Blog at least once a week. If I can tweet several times a day, I'm pretty sure I can find the time to blog at least once a week. What about? Well, my passions, of course: journalism, technology and, of course, good grammar.

As a journalism educator, it's my job to stay on top of all three of these topics. My students must become expert communicators. To do so, they must first of all understand the basics and importance of grammatically correct speech. I remain amazed at how many of them can't string together a simple subject-verb agreement. I need to drill it into their heads the best job they can ever hope to have includes repeating the phrase "Would you like fries with that?" if they can't master simple grammar. Every human resources and corporate executive I've ever known repeatedly tells me the first screening process for applicants is whether or not the cover letter and resume are perfect. One grammar mistake usually relegates said applicant to the trash heap.

Next up is the technology component of communication. One of the Twitter feeds I maintain is @comminternships. I use that Twitter feed to post internships in the field of communication, more and more of which require students to have social media and communication technology skills that didn't even exist 10 or even five years ago. It's becoming more and more urgent for students to recognize the need for them not just to know how to use these technologies, but to actually use them, daily, and to use them professionally, not as a way to let their friends know where the nearest drink specials are. They need to realize their potential employers are going to search for them on Google, and follow them on Twitter, and friend them on Facebook, and anything they find that brings their character into question will hinder their ability to get a job. It's not just a goal to teach them to use the tools; I have to impart the importance of using them responsibly.

And last, but not least, there's the journalism component. Just having a blog and posting whatever you think is news does not make you a journalist. You need to be able to critically evaluate that information. You need to ensure that the information you share is relevant, ethical, fair and accurate. Speaking of accuracy, how many supposedly reputable media organizations on Saturday falsely tweeted the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) had died, when in fact she had not? What kind of journalism is that? Is it journalism at all? I was taught to get it right, not get it first. But today's multimedia journalism world is far more focused on getting it first instead. That's not journalism. That's gossip. My Twitter friend Mallary Tenore, a journalist who covers the news for The Poynter Institute's website, has a great column just about that very tragedy. My friend Joseph Blake may have said it best in this tweet on Saturday: "Dear CNN: If you have to use the words 'perhaps', 'maybe', 'not sure', or 'we think' then you should just shut up before you open your mouth." It may be time for journalists to step back from the instant communication and make certain what is being reported is right before it's reported.

One thing that comes to mind regarding reporting the death of celebrities is that news organizations and public officials seem to have a double-standard. Typically, when a non-celebrity dies, the response from officials and media is "the identity of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of the next-of-kin." Why isn't that courtesy applied to celebrities. Did Rep. Giffords husband deserve that kind of trauma, just because the media wanted to get it first? Even if she had died, didn't he deserve the dignity of finding that information out privately, and not publicly? We need to get back to that, and if you're not trained to do it, you won't ever do it.

So, that's my opening rant for 2011. We'll see what the rest of the semester, and year, brings.