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! ▸ 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 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: and one for Simpson College, where I teach (The #SimpsonCollege Daily 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.