Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Text Alerts Are Not Exclusive To UMass, TX University In Crisis Also Uses Them

I just took a look at the Google Trends page, and the terms "Colton Tooley" and "UT shooting today" are both in the top 20. Both the trending topics refer to a grisly suicide today at the University of Texas, committed by college Sophomore Tooley. The more established news sites have already moved past this story, so I followed the Trends links, and came across this ugly piece of information from an aggregation site called eWorldPost:

"At the Austin campus of University of Texas a man killed himself. Sources says a man with AK-47 rifle ran across the campus and entered the Perry-Castaneda library where he committed suicide by shooting himself. The incidence too place at around eight in the morning when classes were to begin. Students say the shooter was wearing in a ski mask."

Another news source, KTXS, posted a follow up report detailing the security reviews Abilene, TX area universities are engaging in immediately following the suicide. It turns out UMass Amherst students have something in common with their southern cousins:

"Whitehorn, VP for Student Development at Hardin-Simmons University, (says) students are given the option to sign up for system alerts in the event of dangerous situations."

Another site, Daily News Engine, identifies the shooter as Colton Tooley, and confirms that The University of Texas also uses a text alert system.

The Q.A. Assignments

For Journalism 392 I conducted and posted 3 different Q.A.s. The first time I sent Peter Jensen a list of questions, and he responded, via email. The second time, when I interviewed Samer (founder of Freeware Genius), there was more research involved, and more back and forth in the interviewing process. That was also done via email. For the final interview, I met with Jonathan Ryder, and had an old fashioned conversation.

I think all three of these interview methods worked well enough, especially for these sort of Q.A. posts. I wasn't writing in depth profiles, and I never met anyone in a parking garage. For what it was, the email format worked well enough. Especially with Samer, who would otherwise be completely inaccessible (he lives in Seattle, and he's a busy dude). Similarly, the next Q.A. I'm going to post couldn't have been done in person. Email gives me greater access as a blogger and a student.

As for lessons learned, interviewing people who have interesting/relevant things to say is definitely the way to go. In the final interview, I realized I hadn't really prepared enough. I didn't have a focus for the interview.

Third Q.A.

It's time for my third Q.A. assignment. This week I spoke with Jonathan Ryder. Like Peter Jensen, he lives at home. In a finished basement, even. But Jon lives at home for a different set of reasons than Pete. This interview focuses on those reasons.

Jon has graduated from college, he's hard working, clean cut, and has a solid resume. He likes live music, plays a mean game of chess, and frequently composes poetry. Jon spends a lot of time acting as a caretaker for his mother. Speaking with Jon, I focused on his job, his prospects, and current circumstances.

Travis: Tell me about yourself.
Jon: I'm Jonathon Ryder. I'm 27. I live in Brewster Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.

Travis: What do you do for work?
Jon: Currently I'm working at a wine store, looking at moving into their wholesale branch (Cape Cod Wine Wholesale). The wine store is named Orleans Wine and Spirits.

Travis: Do you like working at Wine and Spirits?
Jon: I'm enjoying it quite a lot. I met the owners through my previous job at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow (a coffee house in Orleans, MA).

Travis: Did you go to college?
Jon: I went to college, Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. I Enjoyed it a lot. I had obligations at home, so I was spending a lot of my time driving back and forth.

Travis: What did you study at Roger Williams?
Jon: I majored in creative writing with a minor in English and theater.

Travis: Did college help prepare you for your current job, or the job market?
Jon: College didn't really prepare me exactly, the jobs aimed at my education don't exist on Cape.

Travis: Why are you still here?
Jon: The reason I came back to the Cape was to help my mother.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

President Carter Makes a Masturbation Joke

I just saw a repeat of last night's The Daily Show. Jon Stewart had President Carter on. Carter was there, at least in part, to promote his new book "Whitehouse Diaries." Stewart made fun of the book's use of the word "Diary" in the title, and the crowd shuffled nervously. I would, you don't make fun of presidents to their face on Comedy Central.

Unless you're a president. Carter and Stewart shared a laugh about the Tea Party's most asinine candidate, Christine O’Donnell. O'Donnell campaigns against masturbation, and by her own account tooled around with witchcraft. There's also some pretty serious allegations about her finances, but that's not as interesting.

Carter admitted that "...as a young man, I wasn't necessarily opposed to..." before Stewart artfully cut him off. Carter was talking about how he used to masturbate.

I love The Daily Show. Ever since Jim Cramer's public shaming on that program, I've loved it. He might be a funny man, but Stewart's got a good head on his shoulders. And his guests know how to laugh.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Motherjones Daily Feature

Just look at this.

That's a US soldier, high-fiving kids in Afghanistan. It's a happy picture, and not the sort you'd expect to see in Mother Jones's provocatively titled, "We're Still At War" photo feature. But yeah, it's nice to see something pleasant in that space for a change.

The nation's attention seems to have shifted back toward Afghanistan. Iraq has faded into the background as General Patraeus assumes a new command, and as Afghanistan struggles through a mind numbingly complex national election.

The "We're Still At War," feature generally doesn't headline cheery images. It usually deals with combat situations, depressing hospitals, and bombed out building. Because those are the realities of war. But so is that happy high-five moment.

I'm spit balling here, trying to figure out the editors choice of shot. Maybe the MoJo editors are trying to help it's readers understand Afghanistan in something approaching it's true complexity. Not a black and white war, not a clear cut policy issue. Even occupation has it's happy little moments.

Why are these kids so happy? Do they love the US? Have they just been handed rations? Is the US finally winning some hearts and minds? I have no idea, and MoJo doesn't really include any of those details. I probably should have picked a pic from the Boston Globe's "The Big Picture" feature.

Second QA

This week I'm going to check in with Samer Kurdi, the founder and webmaster of the Freeware Genius blog. Freeware Genius has been around for quite a while, and according to both Technorati and Google it's a pretty high profile site. That's easy enough to understand, Freeware Genius publishes quality content.

Speaking of quality content, I wrote some for the site a while back. Freeware Genius updates regularly with posts discussing and reviewing free software. That includes both open source and freeware applications of all kinds; business, games, productivity, system tools, ect.

Samer agreed to answer a few of my questions about running the site:

Travis: When did you start Freeware Genius?
Samer: September of 2006.

Travis: What has kept you motivated to keep writing the blog?
Samer: It has had some good reception. I was lucky; my site was started at a good time when sites like it were not as common. I was fortunate to get linked to by some high-profile sites and/or get traffic spikes at times when my blog really needed it. There were quite a few times that I was about to give up on it. At this point it has garnered a sufficiently large following/traffic that stopping is not something I consider seriously anymore.

Travis: How many people visit Freeware Genius daily?
Samer: Approximately 6000-7000.

Travis: Do you like working with Wordpress? Have you ever used other blogging platforms?
Samer: I love Wordpress. I have experimented with Blogger, but there's no comparing the two.

Travis: Are you ideologically attracted to free software, the open source movement, or net neutrality?
Samer: I care about net neutrality in theory, but wouldn't call myself an activist. I kind of truly believe my site's slogan "Some day all software will be free", in the sense that I believe that in the future most software will be free, and that only niche or custom software will be sold. Except "Someday most software will be free" doesn't quite have the same ring to it ;)
But I do think that ultimately there is value in having a claim on people's attention: that they're using your software, watching your movie, reading your book, consuming your content, listening to your music, etc., that makes it worthwhile to give intellectual property out for free.
As the the open source movement: I am merely in awe that it has succeeded to the extent that it has.

Travis: How much time do you spend maintaining Freeware Genius?
Samer: More than you would think. approx 3 hours every day on average, in the bus, during my lunch break, and late at night. Its a full fledged second job that is takes a toll.

Travis: Do you promote Freeware Genius, or make use of SEO?
Samer: I don't do much. I have SEO plugins installed, and have benefited from organic links that I do not actively go out to solicit. At the moment I don't have the bandwidth to do much more, unfortunately.

Travis: What advice would you give a newbie blogger?
Samer: Have an opinion, and create posts that are entertaining to read. Get the theatrics right.

Travis: Can you tell me about yourself (Education, Age, Location, Profession)?
Samer: I have a BA in Psychology and Philosophy and an MBA from Boston University. I am 39. I live in Seattle, and work as an analyst in an internet marketing company.

Travis: Do you read other blogs? If so, what are your favorites?
Samer: Not really. My favorite blog is the political blog fivethirtyeight.com, which was just bought by the New York Times. I try to avoid reading tech blogs because if I see an article or a review posted on them that I am thinking to write or in the process of writing, my reaction is to chuck it out. I find it more practical to be myopic in terms of what I am working on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Twitter and Tweeting

As part of my journalism class, we need to find 10 twitterers to subscribe to. Here's who I'm choosing, and why I think they're interesting:

Richard Dawkins. This is a clever guy, scholar, gentleman, and militant atheist. Don't agree with him on the militant bit, but he's a great writer.

Danny DeVito. Funny as hell, and love him on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." I assume he'll be providing me with short humor.

The Onion News Network. Reliable and balanced coverage.

Wikileaks. Because they matter. Wikileaks releases leaked information to the world, free of charge, from anonymous but confirmed sources. Over the last year they've become a household name.

Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist. Because he's sane and elevates the national debate.

Roger Ebert, film critic, video game hater, and a bad ass who had to relearn how to speak. Because cancer took his jaw.

Naomi Klein. Far left commenter, documentary maker and author.

Some angry guy who's selling something, but seems to dig Wikileaks.

Glenn Greenwald, sane Libertarian columnist for Salon. I first started reading his stuff about a year ago, and I'm better for it.

Random person who showed up in a search for "Revelation Space." Greatest. Book. Ever.

That's it folks, my trusted inner circle of advisers.

First QA Assignment

I have two sweet incoming Q.A. interviews just over the horizon. One with the successful founder of a very well established blog, and another with a talented independent PC game developer. Sadly for me, neither of these two has had the chance to finish the email interviews. So I spoke with a cool cat named Peter Jensen. That's him up there mugging it up for the camera.

Pete shares something in common with a growing number of men in his generation. It's been the topic of numerous opinion columns, anonymous online comments, and dinner table sniping. He hasn't finished college, and he lives at home. Here he is giving me curt answers to well considered questions:

Travis: "How old are you?"
Pete: "25 almost 26."

Travis: "Where do you live?"
Pete: "St Louis, MO. I live with my parents."

Travis: "What's it like living with your parents."
Pete: "The lack of full blown independence and having to deal with their schedules is stressful."

Travis: "Why do you live with them?"
Pete: "I don't have enough income to live on my own. With them I have free rent, some free meals."

Travis: "Are you in college?"
Pete: "I go to St. Louis Community College at Merrimack."

Travis: "How do you like it there?"
Pete: "It's a good school with good teachers."

Travis: "Do you work?"
Pete: "I work at an Alpine Shop selling camping stuff. It's a good Job. I enjoy getting to mess around with the gear and helping customers figure out what they need."

Travis: "What are you studying in school?"
Pete: "Environment Sciences. I care about protecting the environment from pollution and other human stupidity."

Leave a message in the comments section to let me know what you think of my human stupidity. It's anonymous!

My First Post For Journalism 392

My name is Travis Bassett. That's a picture of me attending my good friend's wedding. I'm a student at The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and I'm a Journalism major. For the Fall 2010 semester, I enrolled in a course called "Writing for the Web."

This once shriveled and dying blog has been co-opted to help me meet that class's requirements. Namely, writing for the web. From now on all posts tagged "j392" are written to fulfill a class assignment.

I'm hoping this class helps introduce me to the tools modern journalists use to publish and promote their content online. I'm also hoping it helps me develop a more complete idea of what is involved in web journalism. For instance, I've just set up my first twitter account. See?

Spankin' new twitter account!

Check back soon, this blog will be updated regularly.