Just for the record, this is off the record

This is now my third year with TKS. I started as a reporter, moved up to news editor last year, and this year I’ve stepped into the managing editor position. And each year, as people come to associate me with the newspaper, I’ve heard more often that dreaded cry from a friend or acquaintance – generally someone we can call a ‘public figure’ on campus.

It goes something like this.

‘Oh, I shouldn’t be saying this in front of you. Now it’s going to be in the TKS next week.’

Well, not quite.

Sure, the reporter in me always has what I like to call the ‘story antennas’ up at all times, and Anna and I ask that TKS staffers do the same. We prefer to base our coverage on what students are talking about or what they’d like to learn more about – not just on official proceedings or scheduled events. But don’t take that the wrong way.

The story antennas should not be mistaken for a 24/7 mental voice recorder, always prepped to grab a sound byte. Essentially, my personal and professional policy on the matter states that it’s off the record unless otherwise stated or assumed in an interview setting. While I may want to pursue a story based on some thoughts I’ve gleaned from a casual conversation, by no means was that conversation on the record.

So remember that I, along with other TKS staffers, may be journalists at heart, but we’re Knox students before we’re The Knox Student. Don’t stray away from casual discourse for fear of being quoted, because I’ll make myself damn clear if I’m looking for a quote.

P.S. I can hear Anna’s cry of joy as I post this. I used to be a blogophobe, but I have since come around. Thanks for reading the Editors’ Blog, everyone.

The lateness of the hour

As some of you may know, Charlie, our managing editor, is also the journalism editor for Catch. After receiving a particularly desperate email from him today (let’s just say there were a lot of E’s in “please”), I finally sat down and went through my files from last year in search of something to submit to the journal. I soon arrived at the realization that there is very little that I have written in the past year that pleases me. I found a profile I liked well enough and my spring term in-depth project, which could have benefited from some finessing but all in all is not bad. Two pieces out of 40 or so that I’ve written since January. Really?

That’s the thing about producing really great journalism: it takes time. It takes resources. It also takes a good dollop of luck. As an editor, your time is filled to the brim with writers’ workshops and pub nights and trying to track down the reporter whose story has once again mysteriously failed to appear. You don’t have the staff you need, so you pick up leftover important stories, which are never the easy ones because those all get snatched up quickly. You write breaking news as it arises. You put together weekly pieces that don’t subscribe to the deadline structure (when data for the campus safety log comes in on Tuesday, for instance, and your deadline is Monday). You prioritize the operations of the paper above your own hankering to go after leads.

I keep a tip file on my desktop and another one in my phone. I’m flipping through them both right now. Which of these questions is the most burning? Which need to be answered now? What unknown facts could benefit from a little light? (Believe me, there are lots.) So that’s what I’m doing. I’m prioritizing. And I think I’ve landed on something I want to make time to pursue in the coming weeks. We’ll see how that goes; I’ve got an Honors project to do, a class to TA, two student groups to run and two others to co-run, fellowship applications to fill out, and my beloved newspaper to nurture.

But here again is where you have to prioritize: I guarantee you that a journalist whose clips consist entirely of great stories doesn’t do much else besides journalism. And that’s a shame. If you want to understand people, you have to spend some time being a person and not just a hand on the other end of a pen. It’s not enough to just tell stories; you have to have some stories yourself. All writers draw from their own experiences, so why shouldn’t journalists? How are you going to stumble across the perfect story if you’re only going where your editor tells you to go? How are you going to comprehend the richness and nuance of human life if you restrict yourself to observation only?

So perhaps I shouldn’t be upset about only finding two pieces I liked in my files. The profile, after all, arose out of conversations in French class; the in-depth resulted from years of interactions with a variety of people in personal settings, a deep-seated passion for politics, and an understanding of networks that could only have been gained from participating in them. All in all, I’m happy that I haven’t spent the entirety of the last year writing about life. I’ve spent it living.

(In other news, I’m editing this directly in HTML! As a non-computer person, I feel majorly accomplished. This becomes less impressive when you realize this post is just straight text and there aren’t even any formatting tags, so please ignore that and bask in the awesomeness.)

Pub night: when we publish or when we party?

It’s a fair question. Because of this year’s new weekly schedule — writers turn their stories in on Monday night, copy editors edit everything on Tuesday night, and everyone comes together to publish the paper Wednesday night — Wednesday is the only day most of the staff can really get together for a prolonged period of time. Sure, there’s a staff meeting on Monday, but since that’s usually about critiquing the previous issue, making sure everything’s ready for the next issue, and psychically daring someone to take the first piece of the vegetarian pizza, there’s not much time to bask in each other’s ambience. Since we don’t hate each other, that’s sad.

That’s not to say that Wednesday’s all play though. Quite the opposite. While the night officially starts at 4 p.m., it sometimes doesn’t end until well into the morning. Though writers send their stories in on Monday night, any revisions they’re asked to do come in on Tuesday, sometimes after all of the copy editors have gone to bed, which means more editing to get out of the way on Wednesday. Once everything’s gotten the green light, the real fun begins. Let me tell you, dear readers: there ain’t no party like a pub night party. And not just because it won’t stop.

So what’s fun for a newspaper staff? The moment when that week’s paper is done, honestly, but before that: headlines. Every week, without fail, headlines prove themselves to be the most baiting part of the publishing process.

How punny should a headline be? Should it be funny at all? What sort of humor is appropriate for what section of the paper (News versus Mosaic, for instance)? How broad or obscure should the reference pool be? How descriptive? What sort of tone should we be striving for? Should stories, which aim to be objective, even have toned headlines? What is “tone” anyway and what’s the relationship between being “toneless” and being boring? We want headlines that get your attention without biasing you before you even read the article. We also always want a student perspective on our stories whenever possible and appropriate — that sort of stuff necessitates both fairness and personality.

Keeping that in mind, it makes sense that headlines continually present themselves as the site of our most passionate battles. On the surface, we’re having a discussion about whose joke is funnier. On a deeper level, however, we’re having a discussion about what sort of paper we want to be in a way that’s completely different, and sometimes more direct, than the discussions we have on Monday.

So next time you read our paper, pay special attention to the headlines. Even ones that seem obvious were crafted with a lot of thought and most of them took at least a little negotiating and soul-searching to end up on the page. Publication night might be a type of party but it’s not one we’re throwing ourselves.

critiqued + complimented = flattered

I consider myself a decent writer but I rarely expect to be noticed, much less complimented, by people out of the blue. My discourse article for this week is called, “Sunshine Project: China’s new approach to drug problems.” It explores the Chinese government’s innovative approach to tackling drugs particularly in the southwestern province of Guizhou. Instead of punishing drug addicts with prison terms and forced rehabilitation as it has done in the past, the government passed a law in 2008 that allows drug users to avoid harsh consequences provided they voluntarily seek help from authorities or the health care system (I’ll tell you more but just read the article).

Anyway, about an hour after the Discourse section editor, Samantha Paul, posted my article online, I received an e-mail from a Peace Corp volunteer who actually lives and works in Guizhou. Although he did point out a factual error I overlooked, his comments were mostly positive. I am honored to have to someone say that my article sticks mostly to the true circumstances in a place I have never myself been to.

Generally speaking, I suck at accepting compliments because I think it is so easy to start believing what people say about you even if they don’t know who you are. But this time around, I didn’t mind the compliment. We work hard at TKS not just as editors but as writers, so a word of encouragement now and again is most welcome any time of the day. Keep ’em coming.

FYI, the most interesting part about this uncanny encounter is that the person who contacted me is not in any way affiliated with Knox College. He just happened to find my article after his Google Feed – which he calibrated to filter in non-local news about Guizhou – directed his attention to my article.

Things Photographers Say

Shooting/Shoot: Done with a camera instead of a gun. Does not cause bodily harm, but some believe it is the cause of self-confidence issues and stolen souls.

Flash: Usually a term used for people running around naked, but is also the name of the bright light on top of the camera. Neither should ever be looked at.

“What do you shoot in?”: Well obviously we shoot while in clothes, but we also shoot in RAW or JPEG.

“Gaaaaaaaaah!” “Noooo!”  or “F********ck!”
These cries of pain that are covered up by the sounds of loud crowds can mean a couple things:

  1. “I forgot my memory card/ battery and I need one now.”
  2. “I just got mauled by a sports player/ sports equipment. That really hurt.”
  3. “It is raining and I forgot my plastic bag. I guess my camera is going to swim today.”
  4. “I grabbed the wrong lens for this shoot [remember with a camera, not a gun].”
  5. “Well Ref, thank you for the lovely ass shot. Have you been working out?”

“Do you shoot on…”
Manual [man-well]: When you control shutter speed and aperture. Does not mean we are shooting on a guy named Manuel.
Tv: When we set the shutter speed. Does not mean we’re part of the TV crew.
Av: When we set the aperture. Does not mean we’re part of the audio crew.

What Photographers Are Called-
PJs: Stands for photojournalist, but we wouldn’t mind shooting in our PJs.
Photogs: We’re too lazy to say the whole word. We don’t like words. We like pictures.
Creepers: …Not much of an argument there


The NFL’s replacement referee fiasco

We all saw it, and if you didn’t you certainly heard about it. Monday Night Football, ESPN, Packers vs. Seahawks, and what will go down as one of the most controversial calls in the history of the NFL.

When Seattle Seahawk wide receiver Golden Tate ripped the ball out of the hands of Green Bay Packer cornerback M.D. Jennings  on the final play of Seattle’s 14-12 win Monday night, it signaled not only the pinnacle of the replacement referee fiasco, but also the significance the league has on our society.

In an instant the Twitterverse exploded in one united front against the league. Calls for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s head rang from coast to coast, while the replacement officials were roasted for their incompetence. While there is certainly a level of disgust NFL fans should have in relation to the matter, the incoherent blob of complaining has left a lot of people confused. Here are the key facts everyone needs to keep in mind.

Fact number one: It was an interception. As much as disgruntled Bears and Vikings fans love to see the Packers fail in front of the largest possible audience, no reasonable fan of the game can possibly think the correct call was made on the field. Jennings clearly had the ball, hit the ground, then proceeded to have it ripped from his hands in the pile.

Fact number two: Just because the wrong call was made does not mean the replacement officials are completely at fault. The men (and for the first time in league history) women officiating these games are not prepared for the NFL. They are former NCAA Division III and  NAIA officials, unprepared to the speed of the game. Calling them “scabs” is directing anger in the wrong direction and discredits the work they have done in order for us to still be able to watch the NFL right now.

Fact number three: This incident will not bring about any immediate change. The league is still miles away from a labor agreement with the normal officials, as the two sides will not budge on certain issues.

Fact number four: While most would say it is the owners and the commissioner’s office holding these negotiations back, that is simply not the case. While many have regurgitated the message “Pay the real refs” the truth is that the league is fully willing to do so if the regular officials budge on some requests from the league. The owners want make the profession a more full time position and in doing so wish to bring on additional crews. With the additional personal, individual benefits go down, and the regular officials will not let that happen.

So where does that leave the game. Well it means we will have to watch games with the replacements for at least another week, and that’s a shame.

For the love of language

NEWSFLASH: New things are scary.

Two weeks into my new position as a Co-Mosaic editor, and I’ve learned that there really isn’t time to think that anything is scary, even if it definitely is. There are constantly people asking me questions and sending me emails and showing me makeshift portfolios of high school clippings. And I end up in this unreal world where I can respond to everything, and sometimes multiple things at the same time. It’s kind of like I’m the internet. (But I’m not as cool as the internet.)

But in the midst of the in-my-head chaos, there are all these little moments that make me remember why I’m giddy-happy instead of stressed: It’s for the love of editing. It’s for the love of new writers who appreciatively respond to my comments on their stories for the week. It’s for the love of writers who include ideas for pull-out boxes (for the uninducted, they’re those gray boxes in print that have lists or statistics and stuff) with their stories. It’s for the love of minimal punctuation, which Chicago style and MLA are only beginning to warm up to. (It’s for the love of not ending sentences with prepositions.)

I’ve loved editing since we wrote our first essays in the second grade (mine was an inquiry about cats). There’s a huge sense of accomplishment in improvement, sure, but in this case, it’s about making things sound better. It’s about sentence structure and flow and diction and tone. It’s about language.

And when it comes down to it, I think language is the most important thing ever. There was an exercise we did in my FP class in which we wrote about what we valued most of all and would never give up, and I wrote about Communication. Then, we ranked our values, and mine won. It shouldn’t have (things like Justice and Equality were ranked quite lowly, for example), but it did. And I will probably always have a little sense of pride there.

Being able to communicate effectively is the key to being a real person, and it’s all because of language and the way we use it. We think differently about people who wRiTe LiKE tHiSs, or who WRITE LIKE THIS, or who write like this. (You just heard all of those differently in your head, didn’t you?) This is powerful stuff. This is real stuff. It’s in that stupid comment on a YouTube video; it’s in that web comic you just read. It’s definitely in TKS. If we miss a misspelling, we offend people and look stupid. But if we remember to eliminate every oxford comma (even though this pains my inner English literature nerd) and place an em dash where an em dash is warranted, we’re respected and taken seriously. And hey, we may even win awards.

So I might be a little bit of a Grammar Nazi. And so what if I geek out about syntax? (Let’s not even talk about etymology.) It’s awesome (yes, I mean that in both senses (“really cool” and “awe-inspiring”) of the word), and in the end, I think it’s totally worth it.

That’s why I edited this post four times before publishing it.

What is the Clinton Global Initiative?

Today I’m in New York covering the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative summit for TKS. You’re probably asking just what CGI is and does.

Since 2005, President Bill Clinton has held a conference attended by some of the most prominent figures in the international community. Their goal? According to the mission statement, CGI aims to “to turn ideas into action.”

In order to achieve this goal, the convention brings together an impressive list of attendees, including “more than 150 heads of state, 20 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations and NGOs, major philanthropists, and members of the media,” according to their website.

This year, the opening plenary session, which I attended earlier today, featured a panel discussion on the theme of the conference, Designing for Impact. The panel included President Bill Clinton, Her Majesty Queen Rania AL Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, President of the World Bank Group Jim Yong Kim, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Michael T. Duke President and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

The way it works

CGI achieves progress by gathering people with the means to institute “Commitments to Action,” in other words projects in areas of the globe with glaring needs in the realms of environmental impact, health, gender equality and many other tracks.

A full list of the tracks, along with descriptions, is available at this link, with a list of the 2012 tracks.

Presently more than 2,100 of these commitments have been made, making a difference in the daily realities of more than 400 million people in upwards of 180 countries. When these projects reach their full capacity, their value is estimated to be $69.2 billion.

Ever since volunteering at the press desk in 2010, I’ve looked forward to the day when I would be able to come back and experience the conference from the other side and spread the word of this incredible event to whatever audience would listen.

For live updates on the summit, follow Julian on Twitter @inkpenguin.

Musings of a senior

The hectic pace of senior year makes every activity, however mundane or seemingly conducive to relaxation, a chore. From the moment I wake up, my mind starts to preoccupy itself with what the day has in store, from the pile of clothes I just put into the dryer, to the never ending set of meetings and correspondences that have to be made.

Even daily prayer and the intake of God’s Word have declined in precedence because I am oft-too tired to get up in the early morning; and at night, my mind is dismally out of focus. There just is not enough daylight! I marvel at how quickly the fresh canopy smell of the morning dissipates like a mist, giving way to the moldy scent of evening and night. Still, I do not resent the fullness of my schedule. Better to have the mind and body taxed for purposeful things than to let it waste away thinking of things to do.

So inspired was I by the thought of life as constant activity that this clumsy limerick pushed itself onto a word page I had opened:

The life of a Knox senior sucks,

Some days I just feel out of luck.

Cause my schedule is full,

And my pillow’s got drool,

And I almost get hit by a truck.

(The last line is not true of me, but of someone else I do not know. A friend saw this unknown person get hit – must have been a senior preoccupied with something).

Working for The Knox Student is a new experience. I have enjoyed my tenure so far because the logistics of everything are so expertly handled by the higher-ups. The first official issue of the newspaper is in the works, which means that the following two nights will be spent carefully sifting through piles of articles.

Copy editing is not as easy as it sounds. I like to think that copy editors are the first line of defense. We man the trenches as enemies of poor structure, awful punctuation, biased writing and general BS try to get past. Though the enemy outnumbers us, the intersecting crisscross trajectory of our machine gun fire will be sure to cut many down. If that does not finish the job, our batons – that is, our pens – are filed to a delicate and deadly point.