Saunders Hall Renaming: A Few Thoughts

I’m happy UNC no longer has a building named after a KKK leader.

I do believe there could be a certain level of burying history with removing the name from the building. However, history is only one of the factors to be weighed. The effect on current students also deserves significant consideration, and it’s not a big stretch to imagine how walking past a building named for a Klan leader can have a negative effect on black students. I do subscribe to the “man of his times” argument in some situations, but starting the KKK in North Carolina is well past where I might draw the line.

I’m not mad the building was not named after Zora Neale Hurston.

I get the symbolism of naming it after someone famous who was denied admission to UNC because of her race. Nonetheless, her ties to UNC are just too strenuous for me to really feel that her name should be on a building on campus. Other people of color who have made greater contributions to the university should be considered before her, and I hope they will be at some point. That said, however …

I’m kind of glad no one’s name is going on the building right now.

Given the contentious nature of the renaming debate and the fact that many are upset by the rejection of Hurston Hall, any other person whose name is put forward for the building at this particular time is likely to have every record of his or her life meticulously picked apart and debated not only in and of themselves, but also in the scope of this controversy and the angry feelings it has engendered. To me, that’s unfair to the individual, and it doesn’t strike me as the best way to decide someone’s worthiness to be thus enshrined. A cooling-off period is probably good for all involved, though the 16-year moratorium seems a little excessive (can that really be called “temporary”?).

The BOT’s lecture to protesters was way out of line.

The Board of Trustees told protesters to turn their attention to more substantial issues like the plight of black men on campus. That is absolutely ludicrous since, hey, that is YOUR job, UNC!

A thought on whom to rename the building after

How about: UNC courts donors for major gifts to develop an awesome support program for students from underrepresented races/ethnicities (e.g., scholarships, on-campus support, etc.), and name the building after the top donors. The renaming would then not only carry symbolic meaning, but also deliver tangible benefits to UNC and its students, especially at a time when the university could really use more money. Surely UNC can make that happen in 16 years, right?

On the journalism around the renaming

An unexplored story angle: An interesting story for a reporter to do (and please point me to it if one has already been done) would be to examine, through the lens of the renaming controversy, the fact that Hurston was denied admission to UNC because of her race yet was a vocal opponent of desegregating schools (not for white supremacist reasons, of course).

I know precious little about Hurston. It fascinated me when I discovered, while searching for information to better understand the renaming debate, her stance on desegregation, but I don’t recall seeing any mention of this in any of the coverage of the debate. It would be very interesting to delve into that aspect of her life; its pertinence to the issues raised in the renaming debate; and how it might affect the debate (e.g., if the building had been renamed Hurston Hall, do we need a plaque explaining why it was named for an opponent of desegregation? Would/should an accomplished person of another race be considered for enshrinement on a building if they were against desegregation, even if for non-racist reasons?). I hope someone writes that story someday.

The DTH’s coverage: The Daily Tar Heel has done a really good job staying on top of the renaming debate. Its searchable database of comments submitted to the BOT by UNC faculty and staff regarding the renaming is a clever use of public records.

However, I do wonder about the database potentially being used to identify people for harassment by those who disagree with their views. This is why I can’t really get on board with the DTH’s complaint about the university redacting names of students when it released the comments. If I were UNC, I would not readily give out those names either, considering that doing so could open those students up to harassment when I’m supposed to be providing a safe environment for them.

I’m not saying that’s why UNC did not release the names (I don’t know why); this is just my own reason for not doing so. Claiming that the names are under FERPA protection is unquestionably a stretch, but what other tool does a public university have to keep such information private, even if for a good reason? Also, if I were still practicing journalism, this would be a situation where I step back and really weigh the benefits and potential consequences before publishing the names, especially those of students.

Death to Embed Codes with Script Tags

Recently, while putting together a story for a website at work, I wanted to include a collection of tweets as part of the story. No problem, right? Twitter has an “Embed Tweet” function specifically for this. Just go to the tweet you want, click “embed”, copy the code, paste into your website content editor, and …

Oh crap. This embed code has a <script> tag in it.

Why is this a problem? Let one web service (which shall remain anonymous) explain in its answer to a user asking why this service’s embed code isn’t working on his site:

Frequently, a CMS may automatically strip out the script tag or important fields from our embed code. We’ve seen this with some WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Shopify, and other CMS installations that have either custom security settings or security plugins/add-ons that do this automatically.

… you will need to disable the security setting or configure your security plugin to allow our embed code. How you do this varies from CMS to CMS so you may have to do some searching on google or contact the person who manages your CMS to do this for you.

Oh, so your embed code likely doesn’t work with WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla. No biggie. Who uses those CMSes anyway?

cms

Source: builtwith.com

 

Yet so many web services keep making embed codes that contain <script> tags, which pretty much renders their content unembeddable to anyone managing a site on a CMS. Disabling the security setting that strips out the <script> tag, as the tech support above suggests, is almost never a realistic option for a website manager. The security setting is there for a reason, and every programmer I’ve come across in the decade-plus that I’ve worked in web development has recommended against disabling it when this issue came up. Hmm. Open a possible backdoor to my company’s site that could wreak havoc, against the advice of my programmers, just so I can test out a new web tool? Why, yes please! While I’m at it, let me click on that mysterious link in the poorly written email from the shady-looking address warning me that my password had been compromised.

Sure, sometimes you can have your programmer add the script into the site header or the appropriate JS database to solve this issue, but that takes time — time you may not have when you’re working on deadline. Also, it may simply not be deemed worth the time or expense unless it’s something you will use frequently.

This is becoming a more frequent issue as more and more of the websites shift to running on CMSes while more and more content are being generated on third-party web services like Twitter and Facebook. As a content producer, you want to experiment with new tools to enrich your storytelling. Yet, when it comes time to pull the content from those web services into your site, well, let’s just say there’s a reason a web service’s embed function is among the first things I look at when considering whether to use that service for work.

A Year of Podcasting

rotk-album-art_squareLast April, on somewhat of a whim, I started a podcast where I try to tell the story of the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms in a way that is more accessible to a Western audience. It’s been a little over a year and I’m still going strong, 38 episodes into what’s looking like a roughly 150-episode undertaking. Thanks to the success of “Serial” (which I still haven’t listened to) thrusting podcasts into the mainstream, I can now say I was podcasting before podcasting was cool.

Here are some things I have learned in my year podcasting.

It’s the relationship with listeners that keeps you going.

I’ve said this a few times on my podcast, and I’ll say it again here: The listeners are the ones that make this venture worthwhile. I don’t make any money from it, and it doesn’t really tie into my professional work, so it’s not really a professional promotion vehicle. There are weeks where it’s tough to get up the motivation to put in the hours to write the script, record the episode, and produce all the supplemental material. That’s when a thank-you note from a listener who sounds so happy to discover your little corner of the Internet really gives you the little boost you need to keep going.

All good things should end.

This podcast will end when we reach the end of the novel. The simple knowledge of that fact is important because I know this is a finite commitment and I can measure my progress toward living up to that commitment. If this project had no clear ending, then I would feel less obligation to stick with it through the lulls.

Setting a publishing schedule that includes a regular break was a really good idea.

I set out to publish three episodes a month, and that monthly off week has been crucial in helping me avoid burnout. I’ve said this before: When you know starting out that you’re embarking on a project that will take four-plus years, what’s a few more months if it means ensuring you keep your sanity and enthusiasm for the project?

Shorter is better.

The first couple episodes clocked in at almost 40 minutes and felt really long during production and when I listened to them. I’ve since cut back to 30 minutes, and the episodes now feel snappier, and I don’t sound like I’m about to fade away by the end.

Thank you, Romance of the Three Kingdoms video game franchise!

I can’t begin to tell you how many comments or emails I have received from people who discovered the show that include something along the lines of “I got into ROTK through the video game and have been interested in learning more about the novel ever since.”

Confession: I’ve never played any games from that franchise, but maybe I should start.

I’m learning new things about the novel, too.

I’ve read the novel many times since childhood, but when you are doing a show on the book, you have to read it and research it in a much closer way, and I’m discovering new nuggets of insight into particular passages and characters.

Apple rules podcasts.

More than 65 percent of the clients used to listen to my show is some kind of Apple product, and 50 percent of all downloads come on an Apple platform (including 41 percent on iOS).

That said, I think it’s still important to make your show available on other platforms. For instance, I’ve had a number of people discover the show through its YouTube channel. Adding the show to various podcasting networks also helps improve the site’s search engine rankings.

iTunes’s listings are messed up.

I’m not griping because of where the show is ranked in iTunes’s listings. I knew starting out that a podcast on a subject as specific as this would naturally have a smaller potential audience. However, it would be good to know more about where the show ranks in the listings and why. Generally, it seems like the show is in the low 100s under the History section of podcasts on the iTunes Store, but probably 40 percent of the time when I go into that section, I don’t see the show listed at all. Then I leave the section and come back, and it’s back in its usual spot. Maddening.

Where Journalism Jobs Aren’t, Triangle Edition

Last week, [intlink id=”7598″ type=”post”]I wrote[/intlink] about a Washington Post story on how journalism (or at least reporter) jobs are increasingly concentrated in three large cities and dwindling just about everywhere else, while public-relations jobs are growing. After writing that post, I took a closer look at how those numbers have trended in the Triangle:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Notes

  • The numbers combine statistics for all metropolitan areas that include Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. The definition of those areas change several times over the span shown in the graph.
  • There are some oddities in the number of reporter and correspondent jobs:
    • In 2005 and 2006, the Raleigh-Cary metro area did not report any reporter jobs.
    • In 2012, the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area did not report any reporter jobs.

Housekeeping

Circa 2010, I was blogging pretty frequently and had three or four blogs. Then came grad school, followed by fatherhood. At the same time, new communication technologies like Twitter started eating into my time and content for the blog. So my blogging has, unsurprisingly, dropped off big time.

Instead of having forsaken blogs sitting around attracting spam and hackers, I’ve done some house-cleaning and have folded the blog posts from my food blog, photo blog, and the blog for my family book project into this blog, so that I’m just keeping one blog. That means there are a number of old posts on this blog with broken images. I am not particularly motivated to go back and fix those, given how little time I have these days. Of course, most of those are really old stuff that you probably won’t see anyway.

Where Journalism Jobs Aren’t

This excerpt comes from a Washington Post story about journalism jobs being increasingly geographically concentrated in a handful of the biggest cities. Outside of those insulated zones, the picture is grim:

The number of news reporters in the Washington, D.C., area nearly doubled over the last decade, from 1,450 to 2,760. In Los Angeles it grew by 20 percent. In New York City, it basically stayed flat. Outside of those cities, in that same timeframe, one out of every four reporting jobs vanished – 12,000 jobs in total, according to the Labor Department.

DC, New York, and Los Angeles, by the way, each boasts more reporter jobs than the ENTIRE STATE of North Carolina. In the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, where I have lived and worked for virtually the entire past decade, the number of reporter jobs declined by 46 percent, from 370 in 2004 to 200 in 2014. In that same span, overall employment in the area GREW by 22 percent, and public-relations specialist jobs increased by 38 percent.

That’s ok, you say. I don’t mind moving to one of the big three, you say. Well, ready for a little more bad news? Take a look at those cities’ cost of living compared to what reporters there make. I did, and here’s what I found, comparing reporters’ wages and job numbers in New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles to the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Continue reading Where Journalism Jobs Aren’t

Advice for Young Journalists

Felix Salmon stirred up a big online discussion this week with a post that essentially told budding journalists to not make journalism their career. To me, the last three paragraphs of his story are spot on:

I have every faith that great journalism will continue to appear online, and reach a large and grateful audience. For news consumers, that’s fantastic news. But I have no faith that the individuals creating that great journalism are going to end up getting paid anything near what they deserve — or even that most of them will be able to build a career out of it.

If all you care about is the great journalism, then, well, go out and find great stories to tell, and tell those stories in a compelling manner. You’ll always be able to find somewhere willing to publish them, even if they pay little or nothing for the privilege of doing so.

On the other hand, if you’re more career-oriented, and want a good chance at a well-paid middle-class lifestyle down the road, I don’t really know what to tell you. Except that the chances of getting there, if you enter the journalism profession today, have probably never been lower.

Note that Salmon is NOT saying journalism is dying (despite some people’s misreading). In fact, he sounds quite high on its future. What he is down on is the likelihood that a journalism practitioner will be able to make a decent living on it.

This echoes what I’ve believed for a while now: It’s a great time to do journalism; it’s a bad time to do journalism as your primary means of income. It’s not hard to see how those two statements can co-exist, but if you need an explanation, Salmon’s post lays it out well.

Some people seem upset at Salmon for giving this advice, but I think his analysis is something every budding journalist needs to read. It’s fine if they decide to keep working toward a journalism career after reading it, but they definitely should read it, because it’s about understanding what you are getting into.

Here are a few additional pieces of advice I’d offer to aspiring journalists: Continue reading Advice for Young Journalists

On Dean Smith

On a day awash in memories of Dean Smith, I have no tales of personal encounters with the legendary coach to share, but here’s what he meant to me.

When Smith said that a billion people in China didn’t know or care about the outcome of a UNC game, he was absolutely right. I was one of those billion people. When I emigrated from China to North Carolina in 1990, I was 10 and had never heard of the Tar Heels or Smith. I came from a country that had no tradition of pickup basketball and viewed sports in general as distractions best ignored in favor of homework. Continue reading On Dean Smith