Every college journalist should be freelancing right now

I am on month five of full-time, professional freelancing. I think only now am I finding the hum and the rhythm of this craft, particularly in the doldrums of a sour economy and struggling print industry.

You’re a college journalist, unsure about the future. So, tell me, why aren’t you trying to make in-roads in freelancing now?

I think it’s a sin if you aren’t at least contributing to your college newspaper – it’s a great, college experience, it’s challenging and a wonderful incubator for insight and vision. But, I think you need to be doing more.

Get that internship, sure, but if you don’t have one, or perhaps even if you do, you should be developing contacts and knowledge for the freelance game – because it’s a better back up than waiting tables.

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Reader response: kind words for a ballerina tale

Sometimes it’s the stories you don’t quite expect to, that get one of the warmest responses.

I posted two weeks ago about a story on the secret lives of ballerinas I wrote for the Inquirer.

It came on the same day as my Philadelphia Weekly cover story on suburban rapper Asher Roth. While the Roth profile has gotten more than 40 comments and the glare of Phawker, my ballerina feature has received a small outpouring from pleased readers.

On Facebook, a number of old high school friends noted their interest in it, and I get messages from many others, including my 18-year-old, sports-obsessed cousin. More than a few e-mails came in and on other social media, I was surprised to find a handful of notes from readers.

I put a lot of my freelancing work out there, but I rarely get more than a couple responses at a time. I didn’t expect a quiet story on ballerinas to bring such a response, particularly not on the same day as a big, loud profile on a growing pop icon.

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How I graduated and watched my peers have a real impact

The effects of Zunegate. Cartoon courtesy of PennyArcade.com. Link in-text.

Shannon McDonald unwittingly speared a wide, if brief, revisit to a conversation about race and prejudice in one of the largest police forces in the country. She is 21-years-old.

It was early December when Neal Santos, another friend of mine, was ensnared in his own media firestorm. Ever hear of Zunegate?

Santos, the assistant online editor of Philadelphia alternative-weekly CityPaper, spotted then-President-elect Barack Obama using a Zune mp3 player on a treadmill in a Philly gym. He reported it and chaos ensued.

Every tech site in the country wanted to beat that story. Folks at the Wall Street Journal, Wired, PCWorld and MacWorld were on it.  It got around on Podcasting News, iPhone Savior and was animated on Penny Arcade (as depicted above).

These are just two cases of a trend that excites me, scares me and motivates me. Young journalists, some with whom I’ve graduated, many with whom I’ve worked and all of whom I respect, are making an impact. Not always in the ways they want, but, Christ, it helps to understand that, wow, this is real now.

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SI.com: Smokin' Joe Frazier's feud with Muhammad Ali cools

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Boxing legend Joe Frazier is again the focus of a story of mine, though this time I’ve filed a Frazier piece for SportsIllustrated.com, likely the most recognizable brand in sports reporting for a half-century.

“Smokin'” Joe Frazier is still fighting.

The former heavyweight champion of the world is 65 now, and his mind isn’t nearly as quick as his fists once were. His days are often spent traveling for appearances, doing interviews and signing autographs. He maintains the same workout routine he had in his prime, and he still rises at 4 a.m., restless and beholden to a schedule he no longer has to keep. [Source]

Go read the full story, comment and then come back here for some of the backstory.

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Bloggers need to respect old media

Updated 3:17 p.m. April 23, 2009

I was in Baltimore this weekend, which is fitting, considering some of the news that came out of the Charm City last week.

From Wired magazine blog Epicenter:

The Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun issued Jeff Quiton of Inside Charm City a cease-and-desist letter claiming that Quinton has been republishing “substantial portions” of The Sun’s content, and because the infringement was willful, Quinton could face up to $150,000 per violation in addition to lawyers fees.

The Sun took issue with Quiton copying large portions of their stories, though the suit added they don’t have a problem with a headline and a graf being used by bloggers if links are included.

It’s another case of old media taking on new media. And I am completely on the side of old media on this one.

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Journalism classes that aren't regularly available but should be

Students learn. Now lets teach them something they need.

Students learn. Now let's teach them something they need.

My friend Sean Blanda once regularly wrote on the failures of journalism schools. It’s not exactly my territory because I studied politics, not journalism in school.

But, I’ve heard enough from friends and colleagues. It seems most everything they learned, I learned while working at my college newspaper.

The journalism school at Temple University, like many other top j-schools, is chock full of talent. Temple is dripping with accomplished reporters, so I long decided j-school is for contacts, not knowledge.

That’s never more true than now, because, well, most all professors at j-schools are from an era that digitization is fast making irrelevant (There are many exceptions, two at Temple being here and here). The rules are broken and more than ever, journalism schools are repugnantly, distastefully, woefully far from leading students to careers, aside from the Temple name and, yes, the contacts they make.

I’m nearly a year out and embroiled in a freelance career, so I thought up a few classes I’d like to see j-schools teach.

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WHYY: Joe Frazier wants his whole story told

Interviewing Smokin Joe Frazier in his Center City apartment on Monday, April 6, 2009 for WHYY, Philadelphia's NPR affiliate.

Boxing legend Joe Frazier is the focus of my second professionally produced radio piece, though the first to carry the radio station’s name in my disptatch. Eight months after filing a trial state government report for the Harrisburg bureau of KYW 1060 news radio, I proudly completed a feature report for WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR affiliate.

I interviewed Frazier, recorded my narration in a sound booth in WHYY’s Old City headquarters and edited it all together with natural sound — aided immeasurably by the patient stewardship of WHYY Web producer Dan Pohlig. I also wrote a short post to run with the piece on the public radio station’s Unobstructed View blog.

In a city eager for celebrities, I’ve never quite understood why we haven’t embraced Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Most of Joe Frazier’s life, which has seen him rise to international, cultural icon and then fade into the shadows, has been spent calling Philadelphia home.

The 65-year-old former heavyweight champion of the world beat Muhammad Ali once, but officially lost to him twice, including in the famed 1975 Thrilla in Manila, which is featured in a new eponymous HBO documentary. [Source]

Read more and hear my audio report here or below.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Then come back to read the backstory and some of what didn’t make it into the final report below.

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Care about the future of news? then go to the national BarCamp NewsInnovation conference

Register to attend!

In launching TechnicallyPhilly.com, co-founders Sean Blanda, Brian James Kirk and I lamented that despite encompassing the fourth largest media market in the country, being its most historic and one of its more culturally impactful cities, Philadelphia wasn’t often the home of important tech conferences or part of broader discussions.

Despite also being home to major universities and sitting in the middle of a confluence of other important urban centers like D.C., Baltimore, New York, Pittsburgh and Boston.

So, when Jason Kristufek led the push to hold several regional and then a national BarCamp for NewsInnovation, I was thrilled that Blanda took control of the situation like the great leader he is, and brought the national version to Philly, specifically Temple University.

If you’re a tech-head or a news hound or anyone who cares about the future of news gathering and dissemination, the Fourth Estate or the protection and defense of democracy, I certainly hope you will sign up to attend even some of the FREE national BarCamp NewsInnovation to held be held all day this Saturday, April 25.

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What was lost in the coverage of a student journalist and a Philadelphia cop

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Update: 7:40 p.m. on April 23, 2009: The involved officer was suspended with intent to dismiss. That news also came from the Inquirer and Daily News.

Update: 10:12 p.m. on May 6, 2009: Ms. McDonald was the feature of a cover story in the Northeast Times.

The attention has probably subsided enough to write this now.

Shannon McDonald, whom I’ve known for nearly two years, got a round of 15 minutes of fame she didn’t quite want.

On March 31, the Philadelphia Daily News ran a story on the growing ire of a group of the city’s black cops.

The controversy surrounded around a single officer, and, it seems, Shannon started it all.

At least a month before, the 21-year-old senior Temple University journalism student had to write a feature story for a class. So, thinking a cop-ride-along would be a simple, strong and fast assignment for a class she’s eager to finish, Shannon contacted the 22nd Philadelphia police district, which covers her assigned Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

Then she wrote, as would surprise no one who knows her, a tidy, professional 900-word profile on Bill Thrasher, the officer with whom she rode. That was in February. It was a school assignment.

I spoke to her after the ride along.

“How was it?” I asked.

“OK,” she said, in a way that makes me certain she neither expected nor wanted any attention for the story.

It took a month for her expectations to be proven shortsighted.

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