How I graduated and watched my peers have a real impact

The effects of Zunegate. Cartoon courtesy of 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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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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PW: Open source learning at Penn

The University of Pennsylvania’s place in the open-source learning movement of higher education is the focus of my story in yesterday’s Philadelphia Weekly.

I can’t find it online (seriously), but it sure did run. So go pick it up if you’re in Philly. If not, well, check below for what didn’t make it in!

You can also see how I covered Penn’s relationship with Academic Earth for Technically Philly.

Comment there, and then see what didn’t make it in.

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So late in claiming this site, others on Technorati

I am at least one year behind in claiming this site on Technorati.

I’ll bet you’re in one of two camps: either you think it’s ridiculous I’m only now understanding this process or you have no idea what I am talking about.

And, believe me, either way there’s a good chance you’re not going to care about this. But if you have a blog, a Web site or, Hell, I don’t know, a LiveJournal account, you ought to sign on to Technorati and “claim it.” So, come on, learn something if you are somehow even more behind in this than I was.

Because “claiming” your blog is for reasons I always vaguely knew but didn’t really understand, nor did I act on until just on Friday.

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Help me understand the credit crisis

With some business reporting background, I really should have a better, more fuller grasp on the complexities of what caused today’s growing financial meltdown. But lots of smart people are having trouble understanding.

For the Philadelphia Business Journal in April, I put together an interesting Q&A on the mortgage crisis with E. Robert Levy, the executive director of the Mortgage Bankers Association of New Jersey.

If only we knew then that that was just the beginning. Now those failing mortgages have collapsed other parts of the global economy, and everywhere – perhaps outside of North Dakota – is feeling the pinch.

A friend forwarded me a good video from American Public Media discussing collaterized debt obligations – the financial products that brought last spring’s mortgage foreclosure surge to the world.

It helps, seriously. See it below.

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When to go to kindergarten: who are the slower ones?

A kindergarten class in 1955

Did you want a head-start or a chance to regroup before heading off to kindergarten? That topic is an interesting one that is getting even more complicated with our country’s continued dependence on standardized testing – initially the older the better the scores, so states live it. But there are much larger ramifications, unsurprisingly.

On Friday, Slate writer Emily Blazelon posted a story on the issue:

The calculus goes like this: You look at your 4-year-old, especially if he’s a boy, and consider that his summer or fall birthday (depending on the state and its birthday cutoff) means that he’ll be younger than most of the other kids in his kindergarten class. So you decide to send him a year later. Now he’s at the older end of his class. And you presume that the added maturity will give him an edge from grade to grade. The school may well support your decision. If it’s a private school, they probably have a later birthday cutoff anyway. And if it’s a public school, a principal or kindergarten teacher may suggest that waiting another year before kindergarten is in your kid’s interest despite the official policy. [Source]

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This Land is Their Land: Could You Afford to be Poor?

I am reading the book This Land is Your Land by Barbara Ehrenreich, the noted author of the 2001 investigation into the U.S. working poor Nickel and Dimed.

It is mostly the standard fare criticism of the wealth from the left – not suggesting it is justified or not, but standard nonetheless.

However, one brief chapter did stick with me, one entitled “Could You Afford to Be Poor?” [Page 41 in hardcover].

She referenced a 2006 study of the Brookings Institution, which cited the “ghetto tax,” a higher cost of living in low-income urban neighborhoods. Many of the individual examples we all know or could recognize but seeing them together collectively was daunting.

Here is her list

  • Poor people are less likely to have bank accounts, which can be expensive for those with low balances, and so they tend to cash their pay checks at check-cashing businesses, which, in cities surveyed, charged $5 to $50 for a $500 check.
  • Nationwide, low-income car buyers, defined as people earning less than $30,000 a year, pay 2 percentage points more for a car loan than more affluent buyers.

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Exceptional Parent: "Wisdom of a Child"

Family friend Lee-Ellen Pisauro shared with me a warm piece she had featured in this month’s edition of Exceptional Parent, a magazine for parents of children or young adults with disabilities.

The mag doesn’t share it’s content online, so I thought I would – it’s brief and isn’t losing them a darn dime.

The Wisdom of a Child

By Lee-Ellen Pisauro

My four-year-old son, Steven, is wise beyond his years. His faith is so strong. His belief in “the good” does not waiver.

When my second son, Sam, was born, friends and family members assured my husband and me that Steven was the perfect big brother for Sam. After all, he is so gentle, loving and compassionate. I was sure everyone said this to take the sting away from the diagnosis. Sam was born with Down syndrome.

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