Tag Archives: #jcarn

The Carnival of Fail: Too Slow, But Not Too Late

This is my entry in this month’s Carnival of Journalism, in which all of us journalism-nerd types blog on a particular topic. 

Our topic for May is full of fail – literally. We are tasked by our fearless leader David Cohn  to write about our lessons learned from one of our biggest personal or professional failures. 

This post was proving hard to write not because I don’t fail. I do, in countless little ways, all the time. But I can’t point to a spectacular, massive journalistic or academic undertaking that crashed and burned in a memorable, thrilling way. My failures seem, well, too mundane a litany to be interesting to others. Papers written but not edited and sent in for publication. Lack of timely feedback for my students. Inattention to relationships that matter to me because I’m so focused on work. Etc. Etc. Personally frustrating, but run of the mill.

But ah-ha, you might say. Therein lies the fail.  The fail of not having the courage to try something big. And then try something bigger.

My greatest fail is fear.

It took me far, far too long – but, hopefully,  it’s not too late – to learn that sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

To have enough confidence to know that failing does not mean that I would have no worth as a person.

To not be so afraid to fail that I was often debilitated by paralyzing anxiety.

Sure, I always could have parroted back for you all the cliches about “failing early and failing often” and learning lessons and all that, but I wouldn’t have believed it, not really, at least not for me. For other people, I have always been quite compassionate. Just not for myself.

Academia is a fear-based business, and although I also worked in the real world as a journalist for several years, most of my life has one way or another been spent as part of the academy, and that’s where I work now.  We use fear a lot to keep students in line, and now as a teacher, I find myself using it too, to motivate the slackers. The problem is that the people it really works on tend to be the students who don’t need that kind of exhortation at all, but nevertheless are the ones actually listening and absorbing a worst-case scenario view of the consequences. I spent most of my time here convinced that the very next test, the next paper, would be the one where I proved that it had all been a sham and I couldn’t hack it after all. Irrational in my case? Sure. But it didn’t really matter.

And it goes on. Tenure is a freakin fear festival. I’m sure you’ve heard the words “publish or perish?” Yeah. Ask any tenure-track faculty member how many times well-meaning senior peers have ominously intoned in breathless terms the importance of publication, as though we hadn’t all heard that at least 10 million times already from the day we stepped into graduate school.  You can’t throw a stick without somebody giving you advice on “what not to do” and how to properly finesse the tenure process. Not blaming – people are genuinely trying to help.  We choose how to react. For years, I reacted to this kind of stimuli – sometimes subconsciously, in ways I couldn’t entirely control – with epic anxiety and fear.  You might not have known this unless you knew me well. I’m pretty good at faking at.

It’s only been in the past year, maybe two, that I’ve had this wonderful, liberating realization, beyond platitudes, somewhere deep in my brain, and that is: Screw it. Failure is underrated. I’m tired of fear. It’s getting us all nowhere. I can’t do this any more and stay sane.

I decided that not getting tenure, for example – a kind of worst-case scenario for most professors – would be, well, suboptimal and a little embarrassing, but I’d get over it, and find another damn job. As much as I love my job, there are gigs that pay better for half the hours that I put in, and it’s just not worth the sacrifice to become something you are not.

And ironically, ever since, I’ve been at least ten times more productive. I’ve done more research in the past year than in the three years before it. I’ve designed two brand new courses and a number of projects where my students were able to collaborate with other students around the country and even in Cairo, Egypt. I’ve helped start a Safe Zone program for LGBT students at the University of Memphis and got grant funding for it. I’ve managed a city-wide high school newspaper.

The big lesson, then is that when we are freed from fear we can really start #winning.

I haven’t done anything even close as spectacular, good or bad, as i’m sure many of the other carnivalers have. But maybe that’s to come, now that I’ve gotten over the biggest fail of them all, which is to not start.

P.S. Apologies for such a self-helpy post, which is striking me as a bit cheesy and cliched on second reading, but this was the best I could do and still be totally honest. 



Filed under Uncategorized

Boots on the Ground: Students as Local News Sources

Can’t believe a whole month has passed and it is once again time for another blazing round of blogging with the Carnival of Journalism. This time, our fearless leader David Cohn has asked us what steps we, as individuals, could do to increase the number of news sources in our communities.

I think those of us who teach at universities are especially well-positioned to add to the diversity and quantity of local news sources, and indeed, my colleagues and I are trying to do just that right now.  What else do we have but willing and able students who need to master reporting, writing, and multimedia skills not by listening to lectures, but by actually DOING journalism? Yes, our students are still, by definition, learning how to practice journalism and may not be quite up to par with the pros (though I’ve seen a few that could give some pros a run for their money), but they have faculty members who have years of newsroom experience to serve as their editors and guides. [Sorry the image here isn’t edited properly – burning the midnight oil here and running out of steam to fix.]

Probably the most impressive effort to increase local news sources at the  University of Memphis is just launching now. My colleague Dr. Lurene Kelley and our new multimedia capstone class are taking on the hyperlocal reporting challenge by providing extensive online coverage of one community: Cooper Young in Midtown Memphis. Their site just launched this very week, and they hope to not only give these senior-level students a culminating experience that brings all of their writing, reporting, photojournalism, video and web production skills  together, but also to offer this neighborhood the kind of extensive coverage not available from the major metro media. Because this is a new course, enrollment is small, but will grow in subsequent semesters, and Kelley plans on expanding to other neighborhoods as well.

In my reporting and social media courses, each student chooses a beat and creates a beat blog, which may range from anything as serious as local politics to something more fun like Memphis music or MMA. While the beats aren’t explicitly local per se, in-person reporting is required so they definitely have at least a local angle. These blogs are often fledgling efforts by inexperienced students, but local voices get heard that might not otherwise get media attention. You can check out my undergraduate and graduate students blogs via the blogrolls on our class sites. We are just getting started this semester, so there may not be much content yet.

My student Nicole Blum took this great Twitpic of a local fundraiser for St. Jude.

This semester, my social media students are also using a variety of tools such as Twitter and Flickr to report the news and share stories. For example, during a major snowstorm in Memphis last week, my students took photos and reported on everything from road conditions and wrecks to sledding spots from all over the greater metro area using the class hashtag #j4801 and #snOMG. My students have also been participating in campus and city-wide “Scavenger Hunts” that in a sense are also a form of local news reporting as they gather photos and quotes that tell a story about university and civic life. In fact, if you check out the hashtag #j7200 this week you could learn a little bit about some of the places and people in Memphis.

My goal is to continue to build upon and expand efforts such as these and get more of our courses involved in these efforts.


Filed under Journalism Education