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2007 Fall Conference Round-up
SPR reporter examines sessions at this year's conference
by Katherine Reedy
The Right Side of Copyright Law
Mark Goodman knows a thing or two about copyright law. As the director of the Student Press Law Center, Goodman has spent more than twenty years fielding questions from high school journalists on everything from whether they can use the Nike slogan "Just Do It" in a headline to how they can untangle themselves from an impending lawsuit with the Charles Schulz estate for using Peanuts characters in a comic strip parody about abortion. And he's happy to share his knowledge.
At one of the first panels during the Columbia Student Press Association's fall conference at Columbia University, Goodman spoke to students about common misunderstandings of copyright infringement and how they can keep on the right side of the law.
"What rights to students have to control their own publications?" Goodman rhetorically asked students, noting that copyright law "is the law students violate the most though they get caught least frequently."
Goodman explained that the broadest definition of copyright law requires citizens to refrain from using other people's intellectual property-- which can be anything they've tangibly created-- without being granted explicit permission. Copyright protection automatically applies to original material in the form of writing, music, images, artistic creations, or features of advertisements. It does not, however, include titles, short phrases, recipes, formulas, and facts, Goodman explained. In the case of phrases and quotes, students can use excerpts if they attribute them properly, but anything longer than a paragraph or two is fair game for copyright infringement.
Responding to questions about how students should treat the content of their newspaper, Goodman told the audience they should place a copyright note at the bottom on their paper-- taking the responsibility upon themselves rather than letting the school have authority over the paper's content. "You have to take this seriously," Goodman said.
The legal expert also noted that while it's easier than ever for students to take material from the internet, it's also easier for companies to find out if their material has been used without permission. "Some companies have firms who have people who just check the internet to find infringements," he noted. But, he added, most of the time students are in the clear unless a company thinks they'll make bank from suing. "The reality is that most copyright owners are not going to go after [you]," Goodman acknowledged.
The Contrast Factor
At 10:30 am, one of the largest auditoriums at Columbia University was packed with high school students with one thing on their minds: design.
The popular workshop, "The Contrast Factor," led by print designer Gary Lundgren, drew dozens of young layout editors interested in improving their newspapers, magazines, websites, and yearbooks by adding to their bag of "design tricks."
"The best writing, the best words, if they're not packaged in an appealing way, will not attract readers," Lundgren told the rapt audience.
Lundgren presented his observations on good design as a matter of adhering to the simple tenet of contrast. With ample Powerpoint examples, Lundgren showed students how to emphasize the contrast between big and small images and print, horizontal and vertical columns, wide and narrow elements, color and grayscale, modular and cut-out images, and isolated and unified features. All of their efforts, he said, were meant to draw the reader into the page with colorful, exciting, and appealing pictures of their friends and familiar objects.
"Can you imagine what a snoozer a page would be without visual elements?" he asked the audience in mock horror. "We want our readers to do more than flip or click," he said, "we want them to be scanners, and then readers."
After the panel, Lundgren stuck around for questions from the CSPA.
SPR: How do kids react to your presentations?
The response is always very positive. Students and their advisers really soak up new ideas, and kids really like presentations on topics like design because they can see new ideas and go back and implement them right away.
SPR: You said you were trying to get them to be more creative.
Oh, yes. They're teenagers, so why do their publications look like stodgy publications that are designed for older people. [Students] need to be challenged to think, 'Ok, we're teenage designers. So shouldn't it have a teenage look?'
SPR: What is the most important thing student designers should keep in mind?
Readability. While they're trying to be creative, they still have to keep in mind that it has to be easy to read... Often, they don't tell a story, and every element should convey some sort of story.
SPR: Is design more important now than when you started teaching?
Yes. The writing is shorter-- it doesn't mean it's not as specific but it's more strategically written, in bite-sized nuggets. There are more visual elements, and designs are more colorful. The level of sophistication of the visuals because of tools like Photoshop really allow student publications to be just as [good] as professional publications because they're using the same tools. They [now] tend to be more engaging.
The visual part of school publications is more important than it once was. Twenty years ago, people were pasting things without computers because they didn't have the right tools. We're all more visual now. We're in a generation that likes to click on things. Even television is more visual now-- when you watch CNN there's not just the program but also the things that run along the bottom. It's hard to imagine how there can be any more content coming at us in new ways, but in ten years we are going to look at our publications now and think, that's kind of old-school. It's mind-boggling.
Come Make Us Strong
"The single most important thing in improving your paper is its diversity," Bob Greenman said to students who had assembled in the Columbia School of Journalism to discuss the topic of race in high school journalism as part of the CSPA's annual fall conference.
Walt Swanston, his co-moderator and the head of diversity management at National Public Radio, nodded in agreement. "People often don't want to make a mistake across cultural boundaries," she said, adding that it's easier to stay within a racial clique for comfort. But, she said, "[Diversity] can keep you from making mistakes like that."
Greenman, who taught high school journalism in Brooklyn, New York City, for three decades, told students and instructors that he was convinced by his time as a teacher that high schools-- and especially high school newspapers-- were the most important way young people could learn how to overcome racism. But time and time again, he said, he speaks with teachers who are frustrated by the lack of diversity on their papers and at school.
The duo led the audience in discussing various reasons that students often feel discouraged from participating on the paper, and offered some suggestions to instructors who recognized the need to diversify their paper's staff. Greenman suggested students and instructors should:
+ Eliminate barriers to staff entry based on age, academic standing, or background
+ Place a call for new writers prominently in every issue
+ Try to break up cliques by assigning students from different friend groups to the same projects
+ Use photographs and advertisements that reflect diversity
+ Require students to use sources who are not their friends
+ Make it a point to cover a diverse array of stories that affect different groups
"Open your eyes. Let's have more real reporting and less goofy AP English stories."
Such was the advice Bobby Hawthorne delivered to a crowded room of high school students during his presentation, titled "Literary Genius," at the Columbia Student Press Association's fall conference.
Hawthorne, the author of the student writing style book The Radical Write, teaches students the importance of one of journalism's basic maxims, "Show don't tell," with anecdotes and examples galore. His examples of good and bad imagery alike-- one writer described his sister's flute as sounding like "the wind whipping through a Pepsi can"-- had the crowd cracking up with laughter. But the jokes were all told to emphasize Hawthorne's advice to the students. "Get smarter," he commanded, instructing them to go home and immediately watch Casablanca and read Truman Capote's journalistic classic In Cold Blood. And, he said, they needed to remember their duties as writers. "Go out, ask people what they're thinking... You're writing for your readers, not yourself."
Hawthorne, who won the CSPA's Charles R. O’Malley Award for Excellence in Teaching this year, stuck around for a few minutes to talk about how he feels about journalism today. He was interrupted briefly when two high school students asked for his autograph.
SPR: Have you always had this exciting Powerpoint presentation to show students?
Well, thirty years ago when I started, I used a chalkboard. But I evolved as everyone else evolved.
SPR: How have people evolved?
Publications have become so much more graphic because of technology evolving. And because young people are much more visual learners. The stuff coming out today is first, visual, and second, verbal. No wonder why their writing is so bad! The writing is just horrific.
SPR: Is that why you feel the need to teach students these writing techniques?
I think it's lots of things. Students just don't read as much. That's why Harry Potter was such a revelation-- we didn't have anything like that when I was in high school. No one was talking about, oh, do students need to read more. We just read more back then. Now you have so much media that's thrust upon you. There was this movie called Bladerunner a few years ago, this futuristic movie. Have you seen it?
SPR: No, unfortunately.
Well, go see it. You walk down the street and you see we're there now, all the imagery and stuff is here. But there's a real price you pay when you go from a verbal to a visual society. Verbal is, to a large degree, thinking. When you respond to visuals, you aren't thinking it through, and that's harder, more complex. It's not worth all that [trouble]. People would rather just watch Oprah or Springer.
SPR: So students should learn the difference between academic writing and dumbed-down writing?
Absolutely, I think there's a balance in there somewhere. Teachers actually teach kids not to write, with those five paragraph essays and inverted pyramid style.
Creating the Multimedia Story
"Multimedia bootcamp" sounds like a nightmare from the future. But Kurt Brungardt, known both for his writing in publications such as Vanity Fair and for his fitness background-- he authored The Complete Book of Abs-- extolled its educational value to students assembled in the Roone Arledge cinema at Columbia University during the annual CSPA fall conference.
New media journalists, he told them, must act like "highly trained tripods" who can manage a camera or other device, take notes, and follow the action of a story quickly, since new media can include everything from music, websites, still photos, sound recordings, and videos in addition to the content of the traditional news story. Brungardt, who had recently spent a week at UCLA for just such a "boot camp"-- one of the many that are popping up in journalism schools and professional societies across the nation-- told students that the most important aspect of new media is its potential to be "complementary but not redundant" when it accompanies a news article. A multimedia story, he explained, should start with a "shell" that includes the type of media one will add-- Brungardt suggested thinking of creative features like music downloads, interactive maps, calendars, and linking to the blogs or websites of the story's sources or subjects. He even told students to check out a blog he had created in hopes of linking them to one another, The Multimedia Fool (http://www.multimediafool.blogspot.com/)
After his talk, Brungardt briefly spoke with CSPA:
SPR: Do students have the sort of skills that you'd expect them to have when it comes to new media?
They're probably really into multi-media journalism, but I think what they lack is the mindset. I can shoot video of my friends at a party, but that does that mean? They're still trying to figure out what they're going to do with this [media], but it's hard work-- these are all things that aren't necessarily easy. But what makes you want to do that hard work is that you land on an inspiration. It's fun to hang out with a notebook and just be a fly on the wall, but it's hard to ask people to interview them.
Prevents layout breakage if no content