The social media goddess

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My dear friend, Elizabeth Lowder, has taught me many things about social media and journalism this year. Social media is playing an increasingly important role in journalism. Website traffic frequently comes in “sideways” through social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Social media is a huge driving factor in the industry.

Before I met Elizabeth, I considered myself somewhat experienced in posting and tweeting. However, she quickly dashed my naiveté to pieces. Having been the social media coordinator for several organizations, including The Crimson White newspaper and the University of Alabama journalism department, she has acquired a myriad of skills. A million reasons, including her social presence and personality, contribute to her success in social media. But here are a few that stand out to me in particular, for those of you interested in becoming Twitter divas.

  • Frequency

Elizabeth tweets, not once, but several times a day. She tweets/posts more frequently when attending an interesting or important event. Not only does she inform people about said event, she looks like an active person. A brief glance at her Twitter page tells viewers that she is highly involved in the local social and journalism scenes.

  • Humor

Time and time again, I see the use of humor as the best indicator of high traffic. Elizabeth, with the handle @getlowder, posts typically involve some kind of humor. It is an engaging, lighthearted tool that often requires wit. Her profiles make her look intelligent, yet approachable.

  • Variety

Elizabeth, though a frequent tweeter, also maintains accounts on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine and GroupMe, among others. She reaches out to different audiences by using different platforms. This is also a way for her to gain followers on multiple levels.

  • Timing

Elizabeth does not tweet five times in a row, as she knows that people do not respond well to being bombarded in their newsfeeds. She often schedules tweets a few minutes apart, using Tweetdeck. She also notices the social media timing trends of other newspapers, and tries to discern how their approaches can be improved.

These are all reasons Elizabeth has garnered a significant social media presence, but perhaps the biggest reason is the amount of time effort she takes in interacting with users on a daily basis.

 

A new adventure

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Guys. Soon I will be saying goodbye to my home in Tuscaloosa and moving on to Anniston to work at The Anniston Star newspaper! Those two lovely ladies posing in the picture above are my future roommates and amazing classmates, Laura Monroe and Elizabeth Lowder. Not pictured is my other roommate and photo taker, Elizabeth Manning. The four of us, along with three other classmates, will start working NEXT WEEK at The Star. We’ve been waiting to leave the entire school year, and now it’s suddenly here.

Featured in the photograph above is our sweet new loft in downtown Anniston, which I haven’t seen yet. Having caught laryngitis at the most inopportune time, the girls had to check out the place sans me. Thankfully, I have faith in my comrades. Moreover, I have proof of the adorableness of our new loft.

Exhibit A

Taken by Laura Monroe

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Elizabeth L. dubbed this spot the “creativity nook.” Note the chandelier, ottoman, exposed brick and most importantly, the advantageously-positioned window, surely meant for spying on townsfolk. So yes, we’re saying goodbye to our jobs and offices in the University of Alabama journalism department, our time in the traditional classroom and our various local reporter positions. I had my last class, my last staff reporter meeting and my last cup of coffee for the semester. I’m feeling a bit sentimental.

Yet along with the wistful sadness of saying goodbye comes the sense of adventure in saying hello. I’ll be reporting in a new town, with new people and new traditions will certainly be made. I have five story ideas floating in the back of my mind, and I can’t wait to jump into the mix of things.

So here’s to keeping old friends, but also making new ones.

Thoughts on activist journalism

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Today’s topic in my Journalism Ethics graduate class reviewed activist journalism, and two assigned readings stood out to me as particularly intriguing, as well as thought-provoking. 

In her academic article, “From Journalism of Activism Towards Journalism of Accountability,” Nel Ruigrok discusses the connotations of activist journalism. Ruigrok’s main contention centers on the importance of accountability over activism in the news. She posits that reporters should not begin writing a story with an activist mindset – that they should investigate situations sans a predetermined conclusion. She emphasizes that proof and accountability usurps well-intentioned activist writers. In other words, they should fairly report the truth, without bias and while including all sides to a story, despite any personal feelings they may have.

Ruigrok argues a noble point, but I doubt that simply wishing to not have an opinion makes it so. As human beings, journalists innately form viewpoints, even on the subjects they write about. The distinction lies, not so much in the absence of an opinion, but in keeping it to oneself. Journalism requires writers to keep a certain emotional distance in their stories – to refrain from projecting their own thoughts and personalities onto them.

However, as my colleague Elizabeth Manning pointed out today, the simple act of choosing to write a certain story can in itself be a type of activism. For instance, Manning chose food insecurity as the topic for her master’s project at the University of Alabama. Though she is unbiased in her reporting on food insecurity, she picked this topic because she felt that it is an important community issue. Moreover, she feels that something should be done to address this issue. Even her story subject contains a certain amount of activist intention.

Bob Steele’s CNN article, “The dangers of activist-driven journalism,” echos Ruigrok’s work. He poses that journalists hold a unique and essential role in serving the public in their positions as neutral observers. In the article, he asserts, “I’m not arguing for a false sense of ‘objectivity.’ Rather, independence is about commitment to professional duty that serves society rather than one’s own beliefs and self-interest.” The journalist’s obligation is to report objectively. Yet, as stated above, it’s not always easy to shun an activist-like approach when faced with world issues like homelessness, child hunger, war, genocide, etc. The best any journalist can do, however, is to actively project an objective mindset.

Creepy Southern sayings

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Southerners carry a longtime reputation for peculiarity. Everything from our country accents, to foods like fried green tomatoes and G.R.I.T.S. and really sweet tea, sets us apart. Growing up below the Mason-Dixon line, it never occurred to me as a child that we might seem strange or different to outsiders. It wasn’t until I grew up and made friends with people from other geographic regions (Yankees), that I noticed this quality of eccentricity. As a tribute to this weirdness, I compiled a list of creepy sayings, for which the South is particularly known.

If creepy sayings were somehow solidified, you couldn’t throw a rock in the South without hitting one.

  • “He looked like death warmed over.”
  • “A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end.”
  • “Between the Devil and the deep blue sea…”
  • “In the dead of night”
  • “Dead man walking!”
  • “In high cotton”
  • “She looked like she’d seen a ghost.”
  • “Happy as a dead pig in the sunshine”
  • “A bird in the house means a death in the family.”
  • ”’Stop, drop and roll’ does not work in Hell.”
  • “Drowning in your own tears”
  • “He bled like a stuck pig.”
  • “If you don’t stop that crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!”
  • “You don’t believe in the devil? You should: He believes in you.”
  • “She cut off her nose to spite her own face.”
  • “Don’t kill the messenger.”
  • “I’ll give up my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.”
  • “Knocking on Death’s door”
  • “That put the final nail in the coffin.”
  • “Before the devil knows you’re dead.”
  • “Cross your heart and hope to die; stick a needle in your eye.”
  • “I need him like I need a hole in my head.”
  • “As I was going up the stair, / I met a man who wasn’t there. / He wasn’t there again today, / I wish, I wish he’d go away!”

When inspiration strikes: How to generate story ideas

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Every week, I send in story ideas to my editors at the Crimson White newspaper as part of of my job as a staff writer. I am also busy being a full-time graduate student and a part-time graduate assistant in the Department of Journalism at the University of Alabama, so I sometimes (often) come up with ideas on the fly. After several months of brainstorming for story topics before our weekly budget meetings, I picked up a few tricks. Inspiration always strikes at the strangest locations and in the most unexpected moments. Below I listed a few ways to make inspiration work on your own timeline.

  • Go outside

Working in a professionally-oriented environment like the office, the library or Starbucks, can encourage writers to focus on tasks. Even sitting in front of the laptop at home promotes the mindset that we should finish the work on our to-do lists, send e-mails, finish writing stories and of course, make more lists. Going outside helps shift our concentration from work to more abstract things, including trends in society and the “bigger picture” in life. Nature especially fosters the reflective type of thinking that in turn helps inspire us.

  • Event calendars

I really cannot stress this enough. Event calendars. Event calendars. Event calendars. Universities, churches, restaurants, bars, city government and news sites all post upcoming events. If your paper is short on content, you haven’t written enough or can’t find anything to write about, these handy calendars can be a lifeline.

  • Something beautiful

Similar to going outside, exposure to items of beauty boosts inspirational thought processes. Art, for instance, requires viewers to look beyond physicality to conjecture its deeper meaning. Get your creative juices flowing by visiting a museum alone and leave in a pensive state. Find a comfortably quiet nook, and write down your thoughts.

  • Read good writing

A basic pillar of being a better writer is to read good writing, but it can also spark ideas for future stories. See what other people are writing about and what readers are reading. What stories made it to the front page? This also serves as a way to evaluate your content – to find out if it is on par with other writing.

A writer’s guide to de-stressing

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Writers often experience a tremendous amount of anxiety. They balance writing, interviews, social media and deadlines, all while keeping up with current events. Before pulling your hair out or overdosing on caffeine, check out some of these foolproof ways to manage and relieve stress.

  • Go for a 10-minute walk

According to a scientifically-based article from the Huffington Post, walking naturally releases endorphins that reduce stress hormones. Walking through a park or another green space works even better, as it can

  • Visualization 

HuffPost also listed visualization techniques as a method for alleviating stress. Simply picture a relaxing situation. This is your “happy place” – a peaceful spot in your imagination. Envision yourself basking in the sun on the beach or walking through the woods. This daydream can be anything you want, but remember to visualize a calm situation.

  • Music

Music is my personal solution to angst and worriment. Turn on your favorite upbeat tunes and jam out. I find that positive, bouncy or bass-filled music is the best way to recapture cheerful spirits. If you’ve been working for a while, music can liven up a dreary office atmosphere and in turn bolster your attitude and productivity. As an online, mobile and tablet service, Spotify offers users free mood music. I highly recommend the “Re-Energize,” “The Happy Hipster” and “Creativity Booster” channels.

  • Take care of yourself 

This is easier said than done. When feeling intense pressure, it can be tempting to put yourself last. However, Every Day Health recommends prioritizing relationships, physical activity, as well as healthy eating and sleeping habits. Perpetually ignoring your own physical and mental needs for work can actually increase your stress levels.

You can also make to-do lists, delegate tasks or take a short break from your laptop. Be careful not to take on too many stories or too much work. If stress is ruling your life instead of you, take the time to reevaluate your situation.

 

Open records laws are a joke in Alabama

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I recently attended a speech by Dennis Bailey, a Montgomery attorney who has been involved in media law since 1980, on open records and open meeting laws in Alabama. To phrase it mildly, I am utterly disturbed and equally horrified with transparency in my home state and the country.

According to the Alabama Public Records Law, “Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute.”

Bailey pointed out that our very brief state law leaves much to the imagination, in contrast to extensive federal FOIA requirements. In-state guidelines are quite vague as to when documents must be released after the initial request is made and who should fill these requests.

In addition, the state’s governmental website A.L.I.S.O.N., or Alabama Legislative System Online, does not promote easy navigability and is of poor quality. The site’s search feature is particularly problematic, and public documents are difficult to find.

A.L.I.S.O.N. was made for legislators and the legislative staff, not everyday citizens. Stephen Jackson developed OpenBama as an easy tool for non-legislative citizens.

“Ideally government should be proactive at transparency and not reactive,” Jackson said. “Government tends to view the data it collects as belonging to them and not to the public.”

Public universities also prove problematic. The latest crime report from the University of Alabama is from 2012. Actual crime statistics are buried about 40 pages into the 100-page document. The reader must first sift through paragraph upon paragraph of public relations fluff on how the university encourages campus safety and well-being. And then (Thank you, Lord!) the arrest numbers appear.

I’m writing a story on the incidence of heroin use among students in the area. This document states that 103 arrests were made on campus in 2012 for drug violations. A tiny little chart that was inserted into the text informs me of this. I can’t tell you how annoying this is. Those first 40 pages of heartwarming positivism told me everything I needed to know. Oh, wait! They didn’t. I need information on which drug violations occurred. But I guess I can get that information from the Campus Police department itself. Oh, wait! I have to go through the one public relations official that filters reporters for the entire university. Or I could submit a FOIA request that might take days to get.

Furthermore, a recent report from the Sunshine Review, a non-profit organization that tracks and measures the nation’s availability of government data, gave Alabama the grade of “C”on overall government transparency. Not one state in the country scored an A.