Tag Archives: journalism

20 years later, I finally understand what college media leadership taught me


current sauce teaser


My career is in digital media now, and I’m grateful for that. But my younger self romanticized the notion of being a newspaper journalist.  Almost 20 years later, the university student newspaper I edited is celebrating 100 years of publication and digitization of its archive. Its tradition may not be yet be gone with the wind, but is certainly being buffeted by modern reality. Here are my thoughts looking back on that time.]

As a painfully introverted Northwestern State University pre-forestry major in 1990, I made one of those classic freshman errors that changes the direction of one’s life forever. In my case, it was taking Intro to Mass Comm class as an elective, a move that derailed any dreams of making a career among trees and not people. Following one class, instructor Tom Whitehead declared I should be writing for the paper and that he was sending me to meet the Current Sauce editor in the journalism suite.

I couldn’t immediately think of an excuse not to, which destined me to spend the remainder of my college life working in the “J-Lab.” It was a indeed a laboratory where an experimental tradition of combined curiosity, tenacity and vision manifested in journalism that reflected ourselves as much as the world around us.

My time as editor-elect was when I first discovered my life’s purpose, though the emergence of social media a decade later that would finally give form to it. It was a time of dreaming about what my paper might be like, and exploring the wonder of historical perspective by looking back through the archives dating back to the earliest Current Sauce issues —identifying the best parts of its legacy, and evolving them with a new generation of writers and editors.

Our “experiments” were published on Tuesday morning, usually after a bleary all-nighter. Still we all anticipated noon, when we could savor a printed copy of our creation. The savoring slowly turned to stewing with each typo found leading up to 3 o’clock. For that was the appointed hour we assembled on that stickiest of all wickets—Media Writing Class, which began with the gang …er,.. group critique of the paper led by Dr. Sara Burroughs. If you are familiar with the character of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, you have a sense of Dr. Burroughs.

Indeed, a weekly beating with a cricket bat would have been the quicker and less painful experience than those critiques. They examined every possible element of journalistic decision making that went into the issue—style, tone, grammar, placement, length and even design. The most thorough contributions came from classmates who had not (nor even cared to) write for the newspaper. The experience introduced me to the nuance of three critical career lessons:

  1. Fight fearlessly for the things that matter.
  2. Recognize a stalemate and change the conversation if you can.
  3. Take it on the chin when it’s due but always keep moving forward.

The beauty of the critiques is that they inspired more determination than defeat. If there was one thing wish I could have done better, it would have been to learn these lessons earlier in my college career and express much more gratitude for my co-editors both as people and as journalists capable of leading the paper in their own right. The talent, work ethic and diversity we had on staff that year was a source of endless conflict, but a profoundly rare gift.

We blew off steam like all proper journalism nerds—with more work. On publishing a tabloid “April Fools” insert along with the regular 12-page broadsheet, Tommy congratulated me on producing the most expensive issue of the Current Sauce ever. I congratulated him on witnessing publication of the Current Sauce’s finest edition ever. Around that time the editorial staff road tripped to Atlanta for the SSPJ conference where the Current Sauce was in competition for the first time. For all our bravado, no one was more shocked that us when we took home several awards, including an honorable mention for best overall newspaper.

We were fortunate to share one more unexpected and gratifying moment that meant more than an award. It was the end of the spring semester and the editorial staff were visibly worse for wear when we assembled for one of our last meetings. Suddenly, Dr. Burroughs appeared in the office—the first time I could recall seeing her in the suite. “This was an exceptional year for the paper,” she said. “Certainly, we’ve torn it to pieces every week, but I just wanted you all to know that.” With a wink she was off, like St. Nick.

Nearly 20 years later, I’ve worked in the digital media space in Center City Philadelphia, and am about to embark on a new adventure in Miami Beach. Two very different cultural environments than where I came from, yet I still find the lessons from that time enduring and influential. The cycles of experimentation and evolution, and the continual refinement finding one’s place in the world can be painful, but they are the ingredients of a legacy that spans generations.

As part of the celebration of the newspaper’s 100th year, Northwestern State University scanned every issue of the Current Sauce and recently put them on archive.org. Here’s the newspaper from my year as editor of “The Sauce.” What wonderful memories!

Presentation: Web 2.0 and the new World Wild Web of Journalism

Speaker Notes:

Slide 1: Welcome, I’m Jeff Guin. I’m a 1995 graduate of Northwestern’s journalism program. I am currently the public information officer for the Natonal park service’s National Center for Preservation Technology. I’m also an adjunct instructor in the journalism department here teaching public relations courses.

Slide 2: Starting pretty quick, you are going to be pulled in a number of directions. You will have to make a lot of decisions that will affect the rest of your life. It’s all happening pretty quick and the choices can be overwhelming sometimes. Your choice of a college is critical to your future.

Slide 3: Ultimately, what we’re all looking for is to find a meaningful way to contribute. To find fulfillment in our personal and professional lives. To do that, you have to answer one question first: “Who are you?” What are your values? Your beliefs? Your dreams? What drives your passions?

Slide 4: Obviously, you have some vague idea that you’d like to be a journalist or you wouldn’t be here. Take a moment to think about that. Is it because you like to write? Because you want to make a difference? Because you want to meet cool people? Those are worthy goals, but first, let’s take a look at reality …

Slide 5: It’s not a pretty picture is it? Television, radio and print media are all struggling to stay afloat. These companies have defined journalism for a century or more, yet now find themselves suddenly outdated and struggling to survive.

Slide 6: So, right now you may be thinking “OK, so maybe Accounting would be a good career after all…or maybe you’re just thinking …

Slide 7: I bet you think this a lot during classes, don’t you. Guess what? You’re on the right track.

Slide 8: If you’ve used Facebook. If you’ve set up a profile and updated it, you have already had a taste of the future of journalism. It’s been almost two years since Time Magazine made you–yes you–and all the other web users of the world, its person of the year.  At the time, it was a bold statement and was met with some ridicule. But now, I think everyone is beginning to realize how social media–also known as Web 2.0–is fundamentally changing the way we communicate.

Slide 9: So here’s another question: Do you know what social media is? (ask for crowd responses)

Slide 10: If you use any of these tools, you ARE using social media. These social tools have one purpose in common: to communicate information to audiences of like-minded people.

Slide 11: So words best describe what social media is about? Interestingly, many of those words begin with the letter “C”. Let’s think about these concepts …

Slide 12: Is there a platform more capable of widespread distribution that the World Wide Web?

Slide 13: Of all the things this new era of journalism promises, the most exciting from my perspective is the ability to find your voice. To connect with others that share your ideals and then be able to make a lasting difference without regard to how much money you have or where you’re from is pretty much all you need to begin the process of self-discovery.

Slide 14: Social media is about conversation. One of the reasons traditional media is having a problem adjusting is that it is still stuck in the gatekeeper paradigm. The fact is, that people want to make up their own minds based on informed conversation. The journalist’s new role can best be summed up as conversation pilot, rather than gate keeper. They still have the ability to raise questions, and even set the tone for discussion, but they don’t control it.

Slide 15: In that same vein, Social media journalism is about listening to an audience as much as it is about reporting the news. Even after an item goes to print or a package is aired on the six o’clock news, the story doesn’t necessarily end there. Many times, it’s only the beginning. The ability to stay engaged with a story and an audience is becoming a valued skill among new media journalists. Essentially, when you report a story, you take some form of ownership for it and commit to following it through.

Slide 16: The web is about conversation and community, but it’s also about leadership. You have a great deal of autonomy to stand up and make a difference, but you also have a great deal of responsiblity to do the right thing and not hurt people. And you still have to know how to write correctly if you want any sort of credibility!

Slide 17: Has anyone here used Second Life? (crowd response) Then you know, on the social web, you are free to develop your own identity. You aren’t bound by the expectations of people who know you, and there’s a great deal of freedom in that.  But with that freedom comes a  lot of responsibility. What you post to the web today could potentially be seen by your great-grandchildren.

Slide 18: Has anyone ever posted to YouTube? Anyone get comments? More than 10? 20? (crowd response) Then you know that anything you post on YouTube has just as much chance of going viral as something posted by a Fortune 500 company. On the social web, content is king. It’s a place where thought leadership and artistic expression hold more sway than slick production values.

Slide 19: Social media is easy to use and immediate in delivery. It offers instant feedback. As a result, the mainstream media have hopped on the bandwagon. Hit shows like American Idol encourage viewers to vote for their favorite contestants;  the more opportunities they have to personalize these things, the more engaged they’ll be. Social media caters to folks who are used to getting what they want, precisely when they want it—delivered on their favorite devices, including iPods, iPhones, and game consoles, like Playstation. This is affecting traditional entertainment too. Shows like Gossip Girl and Lipstick Jungle were ratings disasters—at least, in terms of traditional TV ratings. But when network executives took into account the buzz on blogs and fan pages, recordings on DVR and downloads on iTunes, they realized the shows were actually very successful.

Slide 20: This ease of use and immediacy makes social media extremely empowering. You can do a lot of good with it, or a lot of bad. In either case, what you post will be your legacy. That means it will likely impact your ability to find employment. The first thing human resource managers do now is Google potential job candidates. So make your mark intentionally and do it with class.

Slide 21: Social media is about helping people of similar values find each other regardless of their location or culture. Whatever you’re into, there’s someone out there who shares that passion and wants to talk about it.
This offers a lot of opportunity for the future journalist, because you can explore your interests, rather than reporting on subjects limited to the location you happen to be living in at the time.

Slide 22: Social media has given birth to a number of mobile possibilities.
I recently got a contract job producing a high-profile video blog this way.This came as a result of a chance meeting at a cemetery, of all places! I pulled up some of my past video by using the YouTube function of my iPhone. Quicker and more effective than a business card! I can take photos, record interviews, post to my blog and even use twitter from my iPhone. When Apple figures out how to make it take quality video, it has the potential to be the perfect newsgathering tool.

Slide 23: This all boils down to the fact that social media is rooted in journalism. Every time you post something, you have taken part in this new publishing paradigm. The question is “are you ready to take the next step into this new world?

Slide 24: Which brings us back to the question …

Slide 25: Northwestern State University can’t give you the answer to that question. What we can do is offer you the tools and opportunity to answer that question on your own. It’s about pursuing your passion and making a difference, not just for an editor, but for the world and the things you care about. Northwestern can help you along that path.

Slide 26: So, to recap …

Slide 27: I want to wrap this up by telling you about the guy you’ve seen in most of these slides. His name is Hunter Wilson. He’s a senior in high school who last year decided to take up digital photography as a hobby. Since then, he’s produced one digitally-enhanced photo each day and posted it on the photo sharing service Flickr. His photos have been viewed hundreds of times and he’s become a rockstar on the web. All he had to do was discover his passion. The web gave him the platform for expression. If you’d like more information on social media in journalism, you can contact me via e-mail. Thanks for being with us today and I hope to see you next fall.