Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Global Vomiting

Students participate in a press conference with the cast of "Sister Act: The Musical," on Broadway in New York City. (Photo by Alan Murray/Uncharted)

I'm an expert at throwing up.

I have an extensive resume of losing my lunch in various settings around the globe.

There's that time when I was doing some aerial photography from a small plane. We had only been in the air for a few minutes when I realized that my stomach was the stage for a people's army revolting against my choice of breakfast, a pair of strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups.

I warned the pilot. There were no vomit bags. He opened the window, rolled the plane slightly to the right and told me to empty myself over a small unsuspecting section of an equally small and unsuspecting town, unaware of the chemical warfare about to be unleashed onto its quiet, clean streets as reddish goo fell from the sky.

Then there was the canoe. And there was the amusement park ride and the racquetball courts, all rather far from any type of bucket or other suitable container for such contents.

And most recently, a New York City cab as it weaved in and out of traffic towards JFK Airport to catch my flight home to Salt Lake City after an intense week teaching online reporting and writing at Columbia University for the Columbia Scholastic Press Associations' summer journalism workshop.

The workshop, held each year, brings students from around the world to study a variety of topics, anything from photojournalism to design, to writing and multimedia.

This was my first experience teaching several hours each day for an entire week. The organizers invited me to teach a writing and reporting workshop focused specifically for the web, a first at the event that has been running for some 30 years.

I wanted to teach my students things that would not only help them become better reporters, but skills and techniques, albeit somewhat indirectly related to journalism, that would enhance their reporting.

At Uncharted we have a motto that each of our staff is taught to apply. "If you do things in ways that have never been done before, you attain results that have never been achieved before." It was with that concept that I entered my preparations for this particular workshop.

I asked myself, "What are some things that have never been taught in a reporting class focused on the web?" Answering this question inspired a whole section on teamwork and asking Uncharted's Director of Presentation, Andrew Clark, to join us as a guest speaker via Skype to discuss with my class how reporters can work in teams with designers and other visuals staff to enhance their reporting.

And Uncharted's Internet Coach, David Densley, connected in from Oregon to share with students some techniques reporters can employ to bring more readers to their stories. Given the state of the industry, with possible jobs diminishing due to cutbacks and media owners becoming more and more concerned with web traffic, a reporter who knows how to get people to their story will have more job security than the one who, despite high quality reporting and writing, knows nothing about teamwork, interacting with an audience and taking personal initiative to get readers to the story.

Students worked in an online newsroom brainstorming ideas, submitting their assignments and receiving feedback and editing that simulates a professional working environment, very similar to the one we work in at Uncharted. And Brian Davidson, Uncharted's Editor-in-Chief, volunteered his time as a guest editor to provide the class with another point-of-view slightly different than their teacher. It was a packed week with little time for sleeping.

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association does a fine job providing students and teachers with resources, ideas and opportunities to grow through attending their educational programs. CSPA's administration and staff are incredibly passionate and dedicated to making a difference in the lives of every student. It was an honor to be invited to participate in such an incredibly well organized educational program. For more information on CSPA check out their website at http://cspa.columbia.edu.

By the end of the week I was completely exhausted as I exited my cab and scrambled to catch my flight, hoping for a somewhat less eventful trip than my cab ride to the airport.

Alan Murray is the President and Executive Director
of Uncharted.
He's currently driving across the
country in an attempt to find
Buffalo Bill and UFO sightings
in Iowa. Feel free to contact him at alan@uncharted.net

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