Archive for the ‘twisted events’ Category

Chicken Salad

$20 for 20 minutes?

Attention college newspapers, here’s a blunt bargain: Make a $20 donation to the College Media Association and watch your content get torched for 20 minutes. Don’t like what you see? Get your money back.

Decimate to educate

For more than a decade, I’ve visited student newsrooms and destroyed their print and online editions. I’ve rewritten and redesigned everything on the page – but not to convince students to do things my way. I’m demonstrating they have the freedom to do things their way.

Conventional warfare

I feature those before-and-after pages in a session I give at college media conventions, called Chicken Salad (because a journalist’s job is to make chicken salad out of chicken shit). It’s often the best-attended and highest-rated session, according to the conventions’ own stats.

That’s not because I’m God’s gift to journalism. It’s because I don’t tell students what to do. I simply show them all the options they can choose from – many that never occurred to them.

Cash for clash

In fact, if students publicly dispute my creations, I hand them money. After all, journalism isn’t accounting. There’s more than one right answer.

I once revamped a front page as if I were a pissed-off 16-year-old emo rocker. When I did the same thing by pretending the Soviet Union had won the Cold War, one student reviewed my session like this…

That does not help us in the slightest. That’s not the real world. It would’ve been much better if he had actually shown us something we could use at our own newspaper.

…but that’s the whole point. I don’t want to show you what to do. I don’t want to tell you what to do. I want you to consider all the things you can do.

Chicken Salad: Virtual Brutality

So here’s the deal…

Fill out a brief form by hitting the button below. We’ll discuss what you desire in your newspaper, either print or online or both. Then I’ll whip up some quick examples, from elegant to emo, from sensible to Soviet.

Meanwhile, you’ll make a $20 donation to the College Media Association – a worthy organization of advisers and professors – and a few days later, we’ll collaborate on Zoom.

I won’t talk for more than 20 minutes, promise. (College students have enough old people lecturing them every day.) I’ll stick around till all questions are answered. But if it feels like you wasted half an hour, I’ll reimburse you the 20 bucks.

So you literally have nothing to lose.




I love SPJ.

I love it for an ugly reason: I crave money. And my cravings aren’t cheap.

Over the last dozen years, I’ve blown $70,000 of SPJ’s cash, much of it on weird journalism programs…

These programs have one thing in common: None are lectures or panel discussions. You actually do something, instead of just listening to someone.

I’m feeling especially amorous right now. SPJ recently funded three new participatory programs, all from different parts of the same organization. Click the ugly logos below to learn more or sign up…

Paper Money

The bullet: A nationally renowned advertising expert will visit up to 10 struggling college newspapers. Apply now through June 25 for free hands-dirty instruction this fall.

The battle: Why would the nation’s largest journalism organization fund sales training? Because SPJ knows without paid ads, there’s no free press. This country already has enough news deserts. We don’t need them spreading to college campuses.

The bill: $2,500 from the SPJ Foundation, with matching money from Flytedesk, a college media ad agency.

PRESS the Flesh

The bullet: This fall, SPJ past president (and current ethics chair) Lynn Walsh leads college journalists to Capitol Hill, where they’ll lobby Congress on free-press issues – with the help of a professional DC lobbying firm.

The battle: SPJ and other free-press advocates have had dismal luck lobbying lawmakers. (Federal shield law, anyone?) So we’ve hired grizzled lobbyists to train fresh-faced young people. Maybe our luck will change.

The bill: $1,500 from SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund, with in-kind support from ACP, CMA, FIRE, and SPLC – the first time all these groups have worked together.

News Swap

The bullet: Readers and sources take over a college newspaper, publishing their own special summer issue. They’ll become the editors – and the editors will become their reporters.

The battle: Media literacy is crucial but dull. What if we can teach about a free press by giving one away? If this debut works, we’ll spread the concept nationwide. (Last time that happened, it was called Muslimedia, and the SPJ Foundation paid us to host it in California, Illinois, Iowa, New York, and Oklahoma.)

The bill: $500 from SPJ Florida and $600 from SPJ Region 3.

Don’t listen!

Confucius didn’t really say this, but someone smart did…

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

That should be posted on the website of every journalism school and media organization, like the warning labels on opioid bottles: “May cause addiction.”

Done right, journalism should be habit-forming. Alas…

J-schools and groups like SPJ teach pithy reporting and riveting writing, because we know our readers and viewers are busy people – yet we do so through boring lectures and meandering panel discussions.

Journalists do shit for a living. Why must they listen to so much shit in school? What if journalism was taught like it’s made? What would that look like?

It might look like these programs I’ve just described. That’s why I love SPJ. It spends money so you can learn by getting off your ass, instead of sitting on it.

If you’re curious about any of these programs, want to help, or simply want to steal the idea(s) for yourself while getting free money, hit me up.

Drone Tour 2016



* No SPJ membership required. We’re cool like that.




This photo? Shot in Kalamazoo. Won first place in Miami.

The SPJ chapter at Florida International University hosted a photo contest this spring. Even though the chapter didn’t exist a year ago – like most student chapters, it blinks in and out of existence – this new crew decided to think big.

So they covered Obama’s second inauguration, and they launched a nationwide student photo contest. Their judges just now chose two winners – one national, one from South Florida. The national winner is Adam Randall. Here’s his cutline…

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – At least 3,986 zombies staggered into the Arcadia Festival Place downtown failing to break a Guinness World Record currently held by Asbury Park, N.J. for 4,093 zombies.

Below is the South Florida winner, Sana Ullah…

On Feb. 2, 2013, hundreds of people gathered in and around the Sunlife Stadium in Miami Gardens for the national Color Me Rad 5K. Originally founded in Utah and inspired by the Hare Krishna festival of colors, CMR is famous for its colored powder bombs. At every checkpoint, runners are swallowed in colors of blue, green, pink, purple and yellow. After the final checkpoint, participants may take photos of their new body of art or stand by a lift for one last explosion of colors.

Not content with running its own photo contest, the chapter’s secretary wrote a story about it. Read on for that. And if you’re a student chapter vying for Chapter of the Year, FIU should be making you real nervous right about now.

By Brittny C. Valdes

valdesWhen seven students and one professor chose to revive Florida International University’s chapter of Society of Professional Journalists last fall, photojournalism became their topic of interest.

Photos are critical companions to stories, but FIU didn’t offer any photojournalism classes. So SPJ-FIU made it a priority to fill that gap.

It began in November, when Miami Herald photographer Dan Bock and Barbara Corbellini Duarte, current SPJ-FIU president, held a photojournalism presentation at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus. There, they shared photo and caption examples, touched on technique and dove into the discussion about the difference one image can make in news.
By the spring semester, the idea to hold a photojournalism competition almost seemed natural. So they did. The contest: “Capturing Generation Y.”

“Photos are a great way to bring in a reader,” said Michae Baisden, SPJ-FIU vice president. “But a lot of students don’t know that this is really important. We wanted to put a focus on photography in journalism, and we wanted it to be interactive.”

For the contest, SPJ-FIU invited college and high school students around the country to submit one photo that harnessed the essence of their generation in any real moment. Photos had to be accompanied by a caption, and each was judged for content, quality, originality and grammar.

The contest received 22 entries and presented to an esteemed panel of judges, including: Jason Parsley, president of SPJ South Florida Chapter; Roman Lyskowski, photo editor at The Miami Herald; Chris Cutro, photographer at the Miami Herald; Chris Delboni, news director at the South Florida News Service; and Barbara Corbellini Duarte, president of SPJ-FIU.

A national and a South Florida winner emerged, and on the evening of April 25, at Yuca Restaurant in South Beach, about 30 people came together over mojitos, salsa music and Cuban tapas to award the South Florida winner.

Sana Ullah, a digital media studies student at FIU, won for her “Color Me Rad” photo featuring young runners in a 5K getting bombed with neon-colored powder.

“I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Ullah, whose her first reaction to winning was, “why me?”
“There are so many incredible photographers,” she said. “There’s no way this is for me. However, after being shocked, I felt honored and excited to have my work framed and appreciated by others.”

Adam Randall, a journalism student at Western Michigan University, won nationally for his “Kalamazoo Zombie Festival” photo, which highlighted a crowd of young people painted as zombies behind yellow caution tape.

Both winners will have their photos published in SPJ’s Quill Magazine and will be featured in the SPJ South Florida, SPJ Region 3 and South Florida News Service websites.

Ullah will also spend a day with a Miami Herald photographer out on the field as well as in the newsroom.

“I’m a little nervous,” said Ullah. “Photojournalists are professionals, and I consider myself an amateur.”

Sergy Odiduro, an SPJ South Florida chapter board member and reporter for the Forum Publishing Group, attended the event.

“This is a very enthusiastic group,” said Odiduro. “What you’re doing, keep on doing, and all the doors will open out of nowhere.”

An Amazing Media Memphisis

I’ve spent most of my life getting kicked out of school, so it was a strange surprise to be invited to the University of Memphis last week to speak there.

The SPJ student chapter and its j-school have, for three decades, hosted something called the Freedom of Information Congress. Past speakers have included Carl Bernstein, Nina Totenberg, and Anderson Cooper.

And now me.

When I told friends and colleagues I was invited and I didn’t exactly know why, the younger ones accused me of humblebrag. (The older ones already know I’m an arrogant asshole.) But it was an objectively curious decision for a j-school to pay travel expenses for someone who’s been expelled as a student and fired as a newspaper adviser.

(Maybe this is also humblebrag, but I declined an honorarium. I’m not charging when my predecessors included Helen Thomas, Daniel Schorr, and David Broder.)

It turns out the University of Memphis is a quirky and contradictory place. It both depressed and impressed me. Here’s why.

The unkindest cuts and cops

If the University of Memphis is known to journalists outside the city, it’s for tormenting its student newspaper, The Daily Helmsman.

BoozerLast year, editor Chelsea Boozer and her staff won the Student Press Law Center’s College Press Freedom Award for fighting “a retaliatory budget cut while enduring a campaign of harassment by campus police.”

It’s a long story, but one worth reading. Or watching. I met Boozer at SPJ’s annual Will Write For Food program only days before she won this award. Her managing editor (and now SPJ chapter president) Christopher Whitten had also been accepted into what I believe is the toughest journalism weekend in the country. Both shined.

So I knew something about Memphis students when I flew up there last Tuesday. But I didn’t know squat about the faculty.

Burying the news

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s this: Just like big newspapers, big j-schools aren’t always the best. Both can be too massive to steer nimbly, too nervous to try anything new, and too arrogant for self-analysis.

The Memphis j-school lives in the shadow of its bigger (and richer) brother at the University of Tennessee, but it doesn’t seem to suffer from an inferiority complex. Maybe that’s because it’s a short drive to the famous Beale Street barbecue and bar scene, and after one night there myself, I was feeling rather mellow.

Whatever the reason, the Memphis j-school is small in all the right ways. Example: One student told me he had been arrested for stealing textbooks because he was too broke to buy them, and he got so depressed he stopped going to class. He only went back when journalism department chairman David Arant called him – and with kind but firm words, told him not to sacrifice his career over a mistake.

How many department chairs call a student in trouble? Or call a student ever?

This incident reveals something else about the University of Memphis: Many of its students are older and broker than in other places.

I spoke to three j-school classes and the Daily Helmsman staff before my keynote Wednesday evening. In each encounter, I met weary but earnest students in their late 20 or early 30s, many with one child and some with two and even three. A father told me the average student is 26 with a small kid and huge loans.

By the book

Under these circumstances, you’d think the professors would flee as soon as they got a whiff of another job offer. But all three who invited me to speak to their classes were pleased with their surroundings, and two are recently published.

Joe Hayden is the author of The Little Grammar Book, which he told me he wrote precisely because his students – who often work one or even two jobs to pay the bills –  were too frazzled to wade through musty grammar tomes. He wanted a slender, cheap paperback that would impart the crucial basics. And he succeeded.

He gave me a copy, and I read it on the plane back to Fort Lauderdale. I finished it somewhere over the Gulf without knowing I was more than halfway home. How often does a grammar book cause you to lose track of time?

Pam Denney‘s Food Lover’s Guide to Memphisis entirely different.

The veteran food critic published a gastronomic tour of her city last year, covering everything from barbecue joints to organic markets to local recipes to the city’s “food politics.”

(Memphis is, according to one study, the nation’s fattest city. Weirdly, Denney is a wisp of a woman. And few of the students were anywhere near obese – but one wryly told me that’s because they can’t afford food.)

SOL with the FOI

Unfortunately, my keynote didn’t offend, despite the photos of genital tattoos and a full-body cavity search.

(I thought it would be amusing for an FOI event to censor my slides – all of which were, of course, educational. I’m not an anarchist.)

The Memphis Flyer, the local alt-weekly, posted a mostly softball summary of what I said. I believe journalists go flaccid when they cover their own kind, out of some twisted professional courtesy.

And in fact, that was my theme for the night – “There’s nothing more hypocritical than a thin-skinned journalist.”

That led to the only Flyer flak…

I believe there are hypocrites in every profession. I don’t think one profession boasts a larger amount of hypocrites than another. … I expected that Koretzky would make some statements that were debatable, and this indeed was one of them.



Do I have to spell it out for you?

Two weeks ago, I played my first – and last – game of Words With Friends against a fellow journalist.

GrudoGideon Grudo is a former editor at the student newspaper I advise at Florida Atlantic University. He’s now managing editor of Florida’s largest gay publication, which is only a few miles away.

So I know him well. And I know he doesn’t know words like anta, which he plunked down early in our game.

I texted him, “Anta? Seriously?”

“Anta is an architectural term defining posts, or some such,” he texted me back. “Learn something new everyday.”

(But not, apparently, that everyday should be every day in this usage.)

Gideon quickly followed up with khat (a flowering plant native to the Horn of Africa) and jee (a variant of gee, for the letter g).

The big differences...Obviously, Gideon just dragged those letters onto the board to see what Words With Friends would accept.

Of course, he could’ve simply typed those letters into one of the many websites that’ll spit out obscure words for you. But I don’t believe Gideon is that ambitious.

Either way, playing Words With Friends is like playing chess against your computer and tapping “undo” whenever you make a stupid move. To wit…

You can tell yourself you’re learning something new “everyday,” but those lessons aren’t seared into your brain as if you made the same stupid move in front of a human being who immediately burns you for it – and perhaps gloats afterward.

Words With Friends is bad enough for average folks. But for journalists, it’s worse.

Making enemies of Words With Friends

This is my 15th year advising college journalists, and I’ve seen many fail because they had skill but no spine. You can’t succeed in this field if you fear having to issue a correction every now and again.

Words With Friends teaches journalists nothing. Scrabble, on the other hand, teaches them nerve.

Like poker, you can bluff in Scrabble: Lay down a bunch of letters that don’t spell a real word, and your opponent can challenge you. If he’s right, you lose a turn. But if he’s wrong, he loses a turn. And you can’t use a dictionary or a smartphone until the challenge is issued. Till that moment, you’re on your own.

X marks the spot...I’m not the only journalist who values Scrabble over its diluted and distorted impersonator. Next weekend, SPJ South Florida hosts a free event called FWWF – short for F@%# Words With Friends.

If you’re in South Florida on Saturday afternoon, join them for Speed Team Scrabble, which pits two people at one tray, with a tight deadline of 30 seconds to lay down each word. SPJ will provide the Scrabble boards, referees, dictionaries, pizza, and craft beer. The winning duo receives a pair of $10 Amazon gift certificates.

Changing the world, one tile at a time

If you share SPJ South Florida’s outrage over the dumbing down of America’s word games, I implore you to sign our online petition demanding that Zygna, the creator of Words With Friends, allows players to butch up and…

• set a time limit of 60 seconds to make a move.
• disable the sissy function that reveals if you’re placing a real or fake word.
• issue Scrabble-like challenges of real consequence.

Together, we can change the word...We just want the option to play like thinking adults. Let the mindless masses keep their computer-assisted amusement that requires all the brain calories of tic-tac-toe. But give us something that truly embraces the can-do spirit that made this country great.

George Washington didn’t have GPS when he crossed the Delaware. Lincoln didn’t have spell-check when he wrote the Gettysburg Address. Is it too much to ask for a little personal responsibility in our word games?


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