Chronicling journalism in 2017, the home stretch: The final leg of my 10,000 mile #followmylede project

My former student and Sports Illustrated Producer Kelsey Hendrix (left) showed me around SI headquarters in the Time, Inc, building in New York City, March, 2017
My former student and Sports Illustrated Producer Kelsey Hendrix (left) showed me around SI headquarters in the Time, Inc, building in New York City, March, 2017


When I started my Follow My Lede project in March of 2017, my goal was to drive 10,000 miles over six months and visit dozens of newsrooms while chronicling American journalism. I was interested in holding a mirror up to the media and the people who bring us the news every day.

I wanted to visit news outlets big and small, traditional and cutting-edge. Since then I have shot thousands of photos, hours of video and taken plentiful notes. For me, it’s important to take a peek inside the lives of journalists and why — in such a hostile climate for the profession — they do what they do

My first leg included stops at USA Today and Franconia, Virginia; Buzzfeed, Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated. I also visited Columbia University and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism to delve into the history of Joseph Pulitzer (and snuck in to see the Pulitzer Prize Hall). As a full-time instructor at the University of Alabama I was not only chronicling journalism in 2017, but also gathering information for my classes. (The Innovation Team there is the reason I was able to take this trip.)

Columbia University, March, 2017
Columbia University, March, 2017


The second leg of my road trip kicked off in late June. I had to schedule my excursions around my teaching schedule and summer journalism camps that I direct. On that leg of my trip, I visited a real-life Clark Kent at the Lewisville Texan-Journal, The Santa Fe New Mexican, and Navajo Nation and The Navajo Times. I spent some time at VidCon in Anaheim, examining how media companies both large and small use YouTube to reach consumers. I got to know the people at KPCC Southern California Public Radio and heard from a journalist who told me, as many did, that journalism is her “calling.” My eyes were opened at Street Sheet in San Francisco where I met a journalist who covers homelessness then became homeless himself.

After that I ran into some problems many mobile journalists face. I had some connectivity problems uploading video associated with wildfires and, later, dense mountains. Perhaps more daunting was that I had to drive 2,4674 miles from Portland Oregon home to Tuscaloosa Alabama in only four days while also making media stops. There was no time to write, upload and edit videos, given my long driving days. Then life got in the way. I took a break from blogging on Medium to teach fall semester at Alabama and run the two non profits that I direct that help K-12 students do journalism in schools. (I also blog for This brings me to the present:

My daughter and I at Bleacher Report during March Madness in 2017
My daughter and I at Bleacher Report during March Madness in 2017


2018 is bearing down. My December classes are online, so it’s time to finish this wild, frenzied, educational adventure. All future posts will be written from the comfort of my warm office in Tuscaloosa in the dead of winter, with snow in the forecast, as opposed to the previous ones, which were written out on the road in the summer heat, which reached 112 degrees at one point.

After my final post I will post a round up of lessons learned, as well as an interactive map of my journey. Onward.

Next up in the #followmylede series: I visit abc10 in Sacramento.

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title at, published December 26, 2017.

Hitting the streets with Street Sheet: A journalist who covers homelessness becomes homeless


Inside Street Sheet offices, San Francisco
Inside the offices of Street Sheet, San Francisco

Street Sheet, San Francisco

11:30 a.m., San Francisco, California, June 30, 2017

Journalist T.J. Johnston working in the offices of Street Sheet.
Assistant Editor T.J. Johnston working in the offices of Street Sheet


T.J. Johnston has a story that’s straight out of a movie.

He discovered journalism accidentally, through a free class offered by Media Alliance. The class included homeless people, and did some impactful, investigative reporting on “poverty pimping nonprofits.”

Ultimately, Johnston became homeless himself.

“I’m not even quite sure you could qualify it as an irony but I suddenly found myself in the same circumstances that a lot of people find themselves in,” Johnston said. “The journalist who covers homelessness finds himself without housing. I’ve been pretty much making do in the shelter system ever since.”


Now he heads up Street Sheet as an assistant editor. In the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood in downtown San Francisco, past scores of neighborhood people hanging out, through a red door and up a tiny, thin stairwell, is Street Sheet. I am there during Pride Week, in the same neighborhood where the first resistance to police sparked the Gay Liberation Movement.

Art featured on the front page of Street Sheet July 1, 2017
Art featured on the front page of Street Sheet July 1, 2017


Street Sheet reminds me of a college newsroom, and I realize that I’m a long way (geographically and metaphorically) from the polished halls of Sports Illustrated or Buzzfeed. Shopping carts line the newsroom, which has walls covered by posters with slogans about social issues.

Street Sheet started out as a newsletter in 1989 as an offshoot of the Coalition on Homelessness. It recently underwent a major redesign with help from working artists.

“Most of it is done by volunteers,” Johnston said. “We’re able to get the word out on the issues that homeless people and low-income people face. That’s pretty much an accomplishment in itself. We’ve been doing it for three decades now.”

The staff welcomes me until I’m rightly called out for being from Alabama. (The day before I visit, the governor of California issued a travel ban to seven states, including Alabama. This was getting a lot of news coverage in Alabama due to its potential impact on football, but in California the focus wasn’t football, but Alabama’s laws that target prospective LGBT people who want to adopt.)

A poster wall inside the offices of Street Sheet, San Francisco
A poster wall inside the offices of Street Sheet, San Francisco


At Street Sheet, there were certainly bigger fish to fry. Call it public service journalism or advocacy journalism, but the reporters at Street Sheet work hard to shine light on issues that affect the homeless and people in need. At Street Sheet, they do social justice loud and proud.

They hit the streets to sell papers as an alternative to panhandling. Dozens of local ordinances forbid that, along with other homeless activity, which could include sleeping, sitting and hanging out. There are another dozen or so state ordinances that restrict the activity of homeless people.

“San Francisco is the most criminalizing of homeless people throughout the state of California,” Johnston tells me.

Street Sheet Vendor Manager, Scott Nelson, oversees people who choose to sell the paper on the streets. Nelson explains how the system helps homeless people in the area and gives them an alternative to panhandling.

“Some street newspapers charge 10 — 50 cents per copy. We don’t do that because we want our vendors to be able to impart the information that the Coalition wants people to know about homelessness and the struggle. So we have a lot of interesting articles about that and if we impose a fee, we would have less vendors getting less papers and we would have less papers out there.”

Street Sheet Vendor Manager Scott Nelson explains the process for selling papers.

Inextricably linked to social justice, the mission of Street Sheet extends to watching out for those who cannot help themselves, and giving voice to the voiceless.


Street Sheet office, San Francisco, June 30, 2017
Street Sheet office, San Francisco, June 30, 2017


Next up in the #followmylede series: Chronicling journalism in 2017, the home stretch: The final leg of my 10,000 mile #followmylede project

Reblogged with permission from a post with the same title at, published August 26, 2017.

The act of witnessing: “Telling the truth isn’t just a career … it’s a calling.”

KPCC, Southern California Radio

8:30 a.m. Pasadena, California, June 28, 2017

Digital Producer Elina Shatkin at 89.3 KPCC
Digital Producer Elina Shatkin at 89.3 KPCC, Southern California Radio


At 5 a.m. Digital Producer Elina Shatkin is already at her desk at 89.3 KPCC working on news stories for radio and web. She is a hybrid reporter who spends half of her day producing radio scripts and the other half working on web packages. She races the clock, which hangs above her work space in giant red numbers, ticking down the seconds. Just under that is an analog clock, just to drive the point home. Her phone, also with an ever-present clock, sits near her keyboard. She has 20 minutes to review the audio from her interview, put together a radio script and get to the morning meeting upstairs. The staff will decide what news stories will make the cut that day, a universal, usually twice-daily routine in all newsrooms regardless of medium.

When I arrive she has just talked with a Port of L.A. spokesperson for a breaking story about a cyberattack in Europe that has shut down some shipments coming into L.A. In a room already stunningly quiet and acoustically sound for radio, she types quickly, focusing on the work in front of her and tunes out everything else. I know that look, and so does every other journalist on the planet; head down, noise out. Deadline looms. Tick. Tick. Tick. The clocks on the wall count down.

We head upstairs to the morning meeting, several minutes late. She is aware of the time. She has a six-month-old who is teething, a fact she mentions in passing in the elevator. (I pause to ponder the plight of working journalists with children, constantly on micro-schedules, but that is for another post.)

The staff at KPCC gather for a meeting June 28, 2017.
The staff at KPCC gather for a meeting June 28, 2017.

In the movie The Paper the theme of clocks and time are everywhere. Directed by Ron Howard, the movie takes viewers through a day in a newsroom. When I walk into the sunny, splashed-with-yellow-paint main newsroom of KPCC, clocks are everywhere in screaming, red digital numbers. I am reminded of that movie.

Prior to joining the station, Shatkin (whose station bio says she “is a fan of dogs, bicycles, dark chocolate and bad Russian accents”) was the arts and culture editor at Los Angeles magazine, a restaurant critic for L.A. Weekly and a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. Like many reporters, she made the leap from one medium to another and learned new skills along the way. She gives me a crash course on radio script writing to pass along to my students.

“One of the first things is that writing for radio is very very different than writing for print, and that took me some getting used to,” she said. “Writing basic news stories for radio, the wording is much simpler … As a written journalist I was used to packing a lot of information into sentences so there would be three or four facts in a big sentence. But in radio, the basic rule that was given to me was one thought per sentence when you’re writing a radio script and that’s very different than a written journalism story.”

I am struck by her willingness to learn new skills, something I see repeated over and over again in newsrooms across the country.

Something she said stuck with me more than anything else, and I’m summing up: At what cost comes journalistic speed? Newsrooms around the world hurryupfast to get a story finished, as if it were one word, and what do we, as consumers, lose from that?

Plenty of push back is happening in the industry to lobby for more in-depth reporting. (For example Narratively and others like it.) A few news outlets never lost it. But in newsrooms around America on my #followmylede tripI’ve seen dozens of stories that, echoing Shatkin’s sentiment, could have had better nuance with reporters on the ground.

A sign at KPCC announces "We Speak Angelino."At KPCC, promotional signs read “we speak Angeleno.” I imagine reporters, editors, social media managers, editorial cartoonists and anyone involved in news wants to know their public like that.

Yet I think of Shatkin, back in the shadowy downstairs at 5 a.m., sitting alone in a soundproof room. It is there in the quiet that her point is driven home. There is no commotion. Nothing to hear or see or witness. Just the tick, tick, tick of the clocks on the wall.


Next up in the #followmylede series, on the streets of San Fransisco with Street Sheet.

Reblogged with permission from a post with the same title on, published July 17, 2017.

Instructor Presence in Online Courses

We are working this year with our wonderful partners in Social Work for an Innovation Project centered on increasing instructor presence in the online classroom. We believe that strong instructor presence increases students’ sense of learning and connectedness, which may ultimately lead to increased performance and retention. Being present in the classroom, we believe, is just as critical online as it is on campus.

The Department of Education seems to believe so as well.

At the end of 2014, the DoE issued a Dear Colleague letter that indicated some requirements for Competency Based Education (CBE). CBE is an interesting topic on its own, but the more pertinent part of the letter was a requirement laid out for any Title IV program (that is, any program who’s students are eligible for federal aid):

All Title IV eligible programs, except correspondence programs, must be designed to ensure that there is regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors. (A9)

The letter clarifies a bit further on the next answer.

We do not consider interaction that is wholly optional or initiated primarily by the student to be regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.  Interaction that occurs only upon the request of the student (either electronically or otherwise) would not be considered regular and substantive interaction. (A10)

The implications for online programs and online instructors could be huge; this turned out to be the case for Western Governor’s University after an audit by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General concluded that they should repay $713 million in federal student aid.

This conclusion was based primarily on a 1992 law defining eligibility for federal aid for distance programs, and its possible that this recommendation from the Inspector General will not be enforced. The law was created in a time before online education was a normal process for so many universities, and many have expressed that this law needs revising.

But regardless of how outdated the law may be, there is a lot of value behind the sentiment. Instructors in an on-campus course are expected to interact with their students in a classroom for 2-3 hours a week. Shouldn’t online instructors be held to a similar expectation? That interaction might look substantially different in an online classroom, of course, but students deserve this interaction. And as noted in Answer 10 in the Dear Colleague letter, perhaps the interactions should be instructor-initiated.

It’s easy to forget that online education is still very new. I’ve heard faculty ask “what is the online classroom? Where does it begin and end?” It’s a good question. The immediate instinct is to say “the learning management system is the online classroom.” But that doesn’t seem right when you consider that learning could happen in email, a Zoom session, or in the community with an experiential learning assignment.

I’m not sure that we’ll be able to answer that question in the immediate future, but we’ll continue thinking and keep experimenting with our campus partners. We’re working with multiple groups on campus to increase instructor presence, either directly or indirectly, but we’d love to hear from others what they are doing.

How I Used Video Dramatization to Bring a Case Study to Life in the Online Classroom

I was teaching a graduate course in the Communication Studies Department on conflict and negotiation.  The objective was to teach communication skills that would enhance negotiation outcomes and lead to conflict resolution.  At the time, the course was held in a traditional classroom and during our weekly face-to-face meetings, students would negotiate with one another through role playing simulation based on a case they had been assigned.  Then we would debrief the exercise to analyze the process and outcomes and consider ways to improve for the next time.

When my department chair approached me about taking the course online, I was adamant that the interactive and immersive elements be maintained.  In other words, I still wanted students to experience case studies in a real way that involved scenarios being acted out and discussed, just as they had done in the traditional classroom.  Instructional designer Katherine Klose offered creative and fun solutions to achieve this goal.

The very first exercise I used in the course was a classic case called “The Ugli Orange,” whereby two scientists from different companies meet to negotiate how to divide the last known supply of these rare oranges.  The scientists, Dr. Roland and Dr. Jones, have each been tasked with saving the lives of hundreds of people in two different emergency situations.  The ugli oranges hold the key to producing formulas that will save the vulnerable populations: in one case as a serum to cure a disease and the other as a vapor to neutralize a toxic gas that has been released.  However, there are only enough oranges to produce one of the formulas and each scientist believes they have the most compelling reason for wanting the fruit.

Ordinarily, I had the students pair up and negotiate with one another, with one student as Dr. Roland and the other as Dr. Jones.  After the negotiations were finished we would debrief the exercise as a class and discuss why some pairs had satisfying outcomes and others did not.  To translate the exercise to the online classroom, Katherine envisioned the idea of filming dramatizations of a failed and a successful version of the negotiation.  She had me work closely with instructional designer and film expert Katy Allen to produce videos using actors to improvise these two different versions.

I approached two women on the University of Alabama Speech and Forensics Team with substantial acting experience about playing the roles and they agreed to do so.  It was imperative to me that experienced actors be used to make the dramatizations as realistic and interesting as possible.  I also wanted the actors to experience the case just like students in class, so the action was unscripted and the actors were instructed to improvise the negotiation.  The filming was professionally done as well.  Josh Michael and the Media Services Team located a conference room where the action could take place and they filmed the two versions in one morning.  Because I was not sure exactly how the negotiations would turn out and I wanted to have a failed and a successful attempt, I coached them a bit prior to filming. The first time, I emphasized details in the case that would prompt them to be very competitive with one another and not give in.  When the negotiation ended with an impasse, filming stopped and I then coached them to start the negotiation again, but this time ask more questions of one another and show willingness to listen.  I was pleased when these directions resulted in the successful outcome I was hoping they would reach.

Dr. Roland presents her side of the "Ugli Orange" case.
Dr. Roland presents her side of the “Ugli Orange” case.

Dr. Jones and Dr. Roland discuss the "Ugli Orange" situation.
Dr. Jones and Dr. Roland discuss the “Ugli Orange” situation.

I then reviewed the videos and took notes for a commentary that Katy spliced in at moments that were pivotal to the process and outcomes in the two versions.  In my commentary, I discussed common missteps in negotiation as well as how to negotiate more collaboratively by asking the right questions and providing key information to the other party.

Ultimately, I used the videos to introduce concepts of distributive and integrative bargaining as an introduction to the course.  Students were to watch each video and then use the discussion board to identify specific moments (with times included) that influenced the final outcomes in the two negotiations.

Here is an example of the failed negotiation plus commentary:

Since bringing this course online, I have found that students really enjoy these videos and writing about them on the discussion board.  The Ugli Orange case has a twist that many people don’t realize when they role play the exercise themselves and so watching improvisational actors grapple with the case makes for an exciting introduction to the course.

Video dramatizations are a great way to bring case studies or simulation exercises to life in the online classroom and could be produced for a variety of courses in which demonstrations of processes or human behavior are vital to learning.

Digital Sanctuary: New-Fashioned Hospitality, Slack and More

Starbucks machine on first floor of Hurley Convergence Center, UMW.
Nothing says “welcome!” like a Starbucks machine.

The past couple of days at Digital Pedagogy Lab have me thinking about the confluence of hospitality (a point of southern pride at UA, and perhaps also here in Fredericksburg, Virginia) and the new-to-me-concept of digital sanctuary (introduced by Amy Collier; more below!)

Hospitality clearly means something here at University of Mary Washington.  Beautiful architecture, brick sidewalks and fountains delight the eye; covered walkways provide shelter on rainy days; librarians adorn their outward-facing windows with declarations of “we will help!”  The Hurley Convergence Center offers all kinds of space for gathering and building community (not to mention a Starbucks machine on the first floor).

We at DigPedLab have been treated to a hot lunch every day in the student center cafeteria (even with school out of session!). A “Digicart” is ready to drive us when we need assistance, ensuring that no-one should struggle to be part of this group.  We have been offered pronoun buttons–they/them/theirs; she/her/hers; he/him/his–that help us not only signal easily about our preferred pronouns, but even more fundamentally hold space for any and all to be welcome and comfortable in their own personhood.

Implicit Design Principles: One Does Not Merely Sit

Hello from the Digital Pedagogy Lab (DigPedLab) Institute 2017!  Andrew Richardson and I are here from the Innovation Team, with 7 more faculty* from across The University of Alabama, already immersed in questions and practices surrounding Critical Digital Pedagogy and associated themes such as design, networks, data, and domains.

Inside UMW Hurley Convergence Center
The University of Mary Washington Hurley Convergence Center is full of spaces for small-group collaboration.

We are meeting in a collaboration-friendly, tech-filled space at the University of Mary Washington Hurley Convergence Center.  I especially like the Herman Miller Magis Spun Chairs on the fourth floor, which turn their riders (there really is no other noun for this — one does not merely sit) into human spinning tops — see HM’s spun chair YouTube video for the full effect.

My avatar is a scout with a light saber and fabulous hair — guiding folks down the path, with light, power, tech in hand!

Add to these the Lego™ minifigure avatars we made for one another in an opening icebreaker and you get the picture of DigPedLab as a place where community matters, play and collaboration are encouraged, and we all have the opportunity turn, to spin, to look around (or be twirled!) for new perspectives.

While play might seem to some a non-starter, I find it sets the tone for an open, willing-to-learn attitude that infuses and inspires the whole community. In our lives and jobs we are teachers and designers and administrators; but here, we are learners.  The theme of play also puts me in mind of John Seely Brown‘s keynote at UA’s Online Learning Innovation Summit 2017, in which he showed us how play is essential to curiosity about and engagement with a topic, and thereby critical to learning.

As I moved into my smaller-group track on Critical Instructional Design, I was already in a space of curiosity, eager to play with ideas.  The Design group members come from many backgrounds and experiences, so I was particularly interested to see what people would write on the board for this question: What are your implicit and/or explicit design principles?

Collabothink at DigPedLab: what are your implicit and/or explicit design principles?


It was easy for me to think about the explicit principles that form part of my institution’s approach to design:  clarity, modularity, organization, accessibility.  But I have to be quite honest and say I had never really taken a moment to consider what my own implicit design principles might be.  I quickly realized I had a set of personal design principles around relationship and community, but I felt there must also be others to discover.

My sense of wonderment and possibility took over as I considered these, written on the board: empathy, exploration, affective relationship, agency.  What could the online courses we work on become if a set of implicit design principles were agreed on by faculty, instructional designers, media and innovation teams from the beginning?  They could (and probably should) be different for each course, and would increase our ability to bring online students course material that aims not only to deliver subject matter, but to be an experience–an immersion in the principles, ethos, meaning and implications of that subject matter.

This type of approach wouldn’t be entirely new for our group.  I am sure my instructional design colleagues could offer some excellent examples, and here I’ll share one of mine:   This year, one of the Innovation Team’s projects is a collaboration with Innovation Spirit Scholar Dr. Jennifer Becker, of the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences.  Dr. Becker came to us with this conundrum: when faculty new to online teaching are assigned to teach Interpersonal Communication, they have a very large learning curve just in teaching online, not to mention connecting with online students.  How, she asked, can we help them model positive interpersonal communication as they engage with students enrolled across many time zones, cultural backgrounds, age groups and life situations?  In the terms used in today’s discussion, Dr. Becker’s implicit design principles, as she expressed them to us, include community-building, affective relationship, and empathy. Knowing those, we were able to collaborate on the development of guidance and strategies to help new instructors teach interpersonal communication online not only through readings and activities, but also through embodiment of its concepts in their own, intentionally personalized communication with students.

Clarity about implicit design values could also help us rethink how we engage our online student population.  For instance, what would the implicit value of non-isolation look like for online courses?  How would that value prompt us to think in new ways about familiar ideas like community-building and cohort formation within an online course or degree program?  How could that implicit value prompt us to think about possibilities we haven’t even thought about yet?

I admire what Dr. Becker has done for her online course, and I look forward to conversations with future UA Innovation Scholars and Innovation Catalysts (UA Instructional Designers, it’s a new opportunity for you – stay tuned!) around implicit design principles, relative to their own disciplines and teaching perspectives, to see how those could shape a more holistic way of engaging, enfolding, including online students.

* Angela Benson (College of Education), Kim Colburn (New College/New College Life Track), André Denham (College of Education), Traci Ferguson (ACCESS English), Michelle Hale (College of Human Environmental Sciences), Heather Pleasants (Office of Institutional Effectiveness/QEP), John Ratliff (College of Arts and Sciences/UA Early College)

Innovation Team at BbWorld 2017

I attended Blackboard World 2017 in New Orleans last week, along with seven colleagues from The University of Alabama, including others in the College of Continuing Studies. The two keynote speakers, Jill Biden and Mae Jemison, were fantastic, but I was more interested in seeing what was happening in the Learning Management System that our campus uses. Below is a quick list of things to look out for.

Blackboard Ultra

It has been coming for a while, but the Ultra experience of Blackboard Learn seems to be rapidly approaching readiness for larger institutions. While there is still some basic functionality needed (they’ve just added True or False question types to tests, for example), it’s clear that Ultra is the priority for Blackboard.

Blackboard Collaborate

Collaborate seems to be rebuilt from the ground up. I didn’t attend the road map for this product, but it’s clear that there is heavy investment into (the new) Collaborate. It will be more integrated in both the course and the mobile applications.

A look at the Ultra gradebook.

Mobile Apps

Blackboard has split their main app into two apps:

Blackboard presented an ambitious roadmap for both of these apps, and I’m excited to see where they are a year from now.


Blackboard has opened up their developer program to anyone – there will no longer be a fee to become a Blackboard Developer! This is great news for developers building integrations, whether they work on a campus or in a small ed-tech startup. Furthermore, Blackboard has included the LTI 2.0 spec in some Learn environments, and they appear to be doubling down on their REST API. In theory, these two steps should help to reduce the need for Building Blocks, which are much more difficult to maintain and integrate.

I drove from Alabama to California to meet Jesus. VidCon — a religious experience.

Tote bag with slogan: Be Critical of the Media You Love
A tote bag for sale at VidCon in Anaheim sums up the feeling of the conference, although its go-to slogan is DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome).


Wednesday-Sunday, June 21–24, Anaheim, California

Mainstream journalists sometimes balk when I espouse why YouTube as an important news gathering and reporting tool. Yet it has come a long way since it’s first video was uploaded April 23, 2005. This year during VidCon (started in 2010 by Hank Green) released some numbers that back up the need for journalists to take note were tossed out from the stage by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. Take this one for example: There are 1.5 billion logged-in users visiting the site every month. Those users spend a over an hour a day watching video on their mobile device, which is staggering in a world of five-second attention spans.

Journalists should remember that YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, reaches more 18–34 and 18–49-year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.

Crazy, epic, insane, ridiculous and thrilling are adjectives I’ve heard used to describe VidCon and that’s on point. But it’s also educational, enlightening and mind-opening.

Giant sculpture of "play" button outside Anaheim Convention Center.
The play button sits outside the Anaheim Convention Center and serves as a selfie magnet.


VidCon offer three tracks: Community, Creator and Industry, each a step up in ticket price and professional offerings from the next. While in one track people might be meeting the latest gaming, beauty or comedy gurus, elsewhere a panel on “Navigating algorithm changes in social video” and “Informing people in a post-truth world” are happening. (Sometimes media watchdogs become news at VidCon. This year at one of the panels, feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian — known mostly for #gamergate ––took the stage for a panel called “Women online” only to be harassed, videoed and stalked by her online haters.)

Photo of #YouTubeBlack panel members on stage.
One of the panels I attended was called #YouTubeBlack.

While old-school media grapple with how to reach the demographic that attends VidCon, VidCon offers sessions such as “Jumping the chasm from online to traditional.” It’s a media timeline in reverse.

I’ve been to VidCon twice now and both times was bewildered and awestruck. Not just because a man walked around dressed like Jesus, or that I could get more free candy than on Halloween as a child, but because I was able to learn so much. Yes, the bulk of attendees appear to be in the under 25 crowd, but growth in the Industry and Creator tacks balances things out.

A man in sunglasses portraying Jesus at VidCon.
“Jesus, you’re very big in Alabama, where I am from,” I told him.


VidCon also challenges assumptions about what journalism can be. I met Reid Nicewonder sitting outside the Convention Center at a table with a sign that said “What do you believe and why? 5-Minute Interviews.”

Man seated at a table prepared to record "What do you believe and why? 5-minute interviews"


I’m pretty sure I irked him by turning the tables and asking him tons of questions, although if that’s true, there was no sign of it. He patiently and Zen-like answered them all. “Was he a journalist?” I asked and, if so, what was his end product going to look like?

He told me he is gathering answers for a documentary. Not trained in journalism, he was more interested in philosophy and how people perceive the world around them. His social media handle everywhere is Cordial Curiosity, except on Facebook where he is Civil Discourse Network. When I pointed out that what he is doing could be considered journalism (with the addition of ethics and context) he neither agreed or disagreed.

The man who sat down at the table before me seemed confrontational, but by the time he left the table Nicewonder had killed him with civil discourse and open ears. Disarming nature oozed from his table, the opposite of the comments section on any news story.

Afterward I met up with Jose Gramajo, a reporter for Univision, who taught for a year as a high school teacher in Los Angeles before he found his home in journalism. He was covering VidCon for Univision. He talked about the difference in ethical, credible reporting and media where “anyone with a camera” can contribute.

Jose Gramajo, a reporter for Univision, covered VidCon 2017


Next up on #followmylede series is an L.A. radio station. That city is on fire. (Literally.)

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title at, published on July 3, 2017.

The mission? In Navajo Nation voices need to be heard. “Who else will tell those stories?”

Monday, June 19

12:30 p.m., The Navajo Times, Window Rock, Arizona

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. in his office June 19, 2017

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. radiates old-school journalist, but with a twist. As the person who oversees the day-to-day operations of The Navajo Times his paper, more than many, has to do double duty.

Not only does it have to cover the necessary societal watchdog issues, such as school boards, the environment and any number of other public institutions and issues, it also must cover tribal courts and tribal-specific issues.

Navajo Times Guiding Principles poster
Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times.

Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times. When I visit on a sweltering hot summer day, we stand in the middle of the pressroom, fans humming overhead. It is noisy and loud.

“I am so proud of these guys,” he said, beaming. “The quality of their work is better than anyone else’s around. They can kick everyone else’s butts. And they’re all Navajo.”

I admit my ignorance to him. As a white girl from Alabama with almost no ties to any tribe (I have Cherokee deep in the family somewhere), I stumble on how to approach a couple of questions. (When he uses the word “indian” I cringe because for so long, I have been taught not to use that word, yet I understand in this context how it’s OK.)

There are two stereotypes of Native Americans in popular culture: 1) Rich, casino-owning people and 2) People who struggle with poverty and (because I have Type 1 diabetes I am aware of this one) diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Because of the first stereotype, I expect the newsroom to be large and imposing. I have USA Today in my imagination. Yet when I drive up, the newspaper is in a small, unassuming building. I am right at home here. Arviso welcomes me in with open doors. He is a man filled with kindness who immediately ushers me around the newsroom, a welcome change from some media outlets who — though they talk a good transparency game — seem hell-bent on keeping people out.

I meet Arviso’s staff, including Terry Bowman who covers arts and entertainment, among other topics, for the paper. I interrupt him as he is working on a story, and put him on the spot.

As past president of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, I know Arviso has seen a lot while fighting for equality in newsrooms for people of color. I don’t beat around the bush, and ask him specific questions about diversity and what that means to him and to our countries newsrooms.

I wondered if there was anything specific to the Navajo reservation (about the size of West Virginia) guaranteed to sell more newspapers for his readership. (In my hometown it’s Alabama Football or Nick Saban.) I was surprised at his answer.

Back in the pressroom, the new press foreman Ron Livingston discussed the struggle of printing and distributing papers in the desert, which can reach temperature lows and highs that present problems. (The former press foreman just retired after decades of service, one of several long-time employees Arviso is losing this summer. We talk about the importance of institutional knowledge in newsrooms.) Pressroom know-how is also institutional knowledge that must be handed down from person to person. It’s an art that you can’t go to school to learn.

He shows me the consistency the ink should be, and notes that the temperature — and even water — have to be exact to make it work properly. There is lot of science that goes into making colors on newsprint vibrant and to match what a designer might see on a computer screen before it prints.

Ink and tools at The Navajo Times
Ink and tools at The Navajo Times

Next up in the #followmylede series, VidCon in Anaheim.

Reblogged with permission from a post of the same title published at on June 25, 2017.