Saturday, March 31, 2012

New Magazine

American-Statesman Gets REAL

Hidden between the folds of the Austin American-Statesman Friday, March 30, 2012 you may have noticed something new, not seen before.

“REAL” is the newspaper’s newest magazine, subtitled “Authentic Austin Living”. “Each issue will bring readers the city’s spin on fashion, home design, health, neighborhoods, family, pets, events and more. This month’s issue will focus on Austin’s culinary scene. Next month’s issue will concentrate on Austin neighborhoods,” according to the news release announcing its publication.

“REAL magazine is a natural extension of what the Austin American-Statesman staff does every day in our features pages,” said Kathy Blackwell, Statesman Senior Editor for Features and REAL magazine. “It’s a new outlet for the staff’s creativity, passion and commitment to covering the city and the amazing people who make it what it is.”

Blackwell put the magazine more into perspective in her first column. “To me, what it means to be ‘Real Austin’ has changed in the more than 12 years I’ve lived here,” Blackwell writes. “To put it another way, as my life has changed, the city has changed with it. When I moved here as a single woman, I relished in the late nights of live music… I still love all of that, but as a mother, wife, and professional, I’m more appreciative of the outdoor spaces, the amazing restaurants and the sense of community I encounter daily.”

REAL replaces “Glossy”. Remember Glossy? Did you read it? I remember having lunch with a close friend whose background is in print media. “What’s up with this ‘Glossy’ thing?” I asked shortly after it debuted. The title itself said that it wasn’t for me. “REAL” has more reach. “We didn’t research a target audience per se. The goal in launching REAL was to be able to offer broader content and reach a larger portion of the Austin American-Statesman audience. REAL: Authentic Austin Living allows us to accomplish this,” says Shannon Cockrell, Sr. Segment Marketing Manager/Audience.

But let’s get real: REAL is an advertising vehicle. Thumbing through the pages, you’ll see that there are an almost mind-numbing number of ads. I didn’t even try to count them. The announcement release says the magazine will reach more than 74,000 residents. (The magazine says 76,000 households.)

While the most noticeable content may be ads, REAL is reader-friendly. “A format like this gives our talented reporters and photographers a chance to explore Austin in different ways…” I always say “Content is king.” If you don’t have strong content, nobody is going to care. Nobody is going to read it.

Sifting through the advertisements and the “stories” with a commercial tilt, there is content starting on about the 41st page focusing on food and the people who prepare it. It’s the featured story of the first issue with the headline on the cover, “How we rose to the top of the food chain/behind Austin’s emergency as the hottest culinary city.”

The photos are superb. My favorite is a stop-action, mid-air shot of a lady flying from a mechanical bull. Did you know that bull riding is good for the abs? There are bull riding classes. It appears that every Statesman photographer contributed to the issue.

REAL also has an online component. “Complementing the print product is the REAL website at It features an expanded product guide, the Keeping it Real blog, neighborhood photo galleries and interactives,” the release says.

© Jim McNabb, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Two Suggestions

UT Journalism Embraces Change

You must love words. You must love words and the power of well-chosen and carefully-crafted words, if you aspire to be a professional journalist. So, it was pleasing to see a heavy emphasis on story-telling and words in the new University of Texas Journalism curriculum to be launched this fall. (

It will be “a new digital-based, state-of-the-art curriculum for undergraduates,” but it doesn’t seem to neglect the basics. The curriculum assumes, I suppose, that students will have mastered grammar and usage before moving into major subjects. I’m sad to say that when I taught a beginning journalism course, I actually taught English for the first six weeks.

“We’re eliminating the old walls between print, magazine, photojournalism, multimedia and broadcast, and we’ll be emphasizing good writing and critical thinking from Day One,” the introductory paragraphs say. I say, it’s about time! One wall is still standing apparently.

I see no collaboration or coordination between Journalism and Radio-Television-Film, even though RTF majors and broadcast journalism majors are using many of the same tools. The “Guiding Principles” say, “We want to break down the barriers between disciplines and institutions and create partnerships of learning and knowledge.” Therefore, there may be hope. It is still true that RTF majors can take some Journalism courses, but there is no mutual respect for the disciplines. The chasm remains.

I think some sort of relationship between the majors would result in a richer experience for some students. After all, they are both under the umbrella of the College of Communications, and some of the sharpest facets of the cutting edges of communications are coming from innovative RTF studies.

That said, it is good that UT Journalism is adhering to basics in the industry’ whirlwind of change. “The primary mission of the School of Journalism remains the same: to educate students to think critically and skeptically; gather a wide range of information accurately, honestly and fairly; hold institutions, individuals and themselves accountable for their promises and their deeds; and produce stories in various media platforms that communicate clearly, concisely and powerfully to the general public. The goal of our new curriculum is to further this mission.

So, this fall students will take a course entitled, “Reporting: Words.” I love it. They will also take a course entitled, “Reporting: Images.” I do hope that there is relationship between these courses. In TV news, one writes to the video or images that tell the story. In fact, a well-produced story may well have very few words leaving it to the pictures to tell the story.

One final and important fault found in the new curriculum is this: A student must be at the Fourth level out of Five before taking “Ethics in Journalism” and “Media Law”. Media Law might wait, but Ethics should come early on. This is important—very important in this digital world.

There is a “rising tide of student plagiarism” attributed to blurred lines of the digital world. Denver Post writer Kevin Simpson told the story of a Colorado State University professor in a February 7, 2012 story.

“She saw it all: blatant cut-and-paste copying from the Internet; only a word changed here and there” in spite of the fact the CSU’s web site cautions against plagiarism at least five times.

The story cited a recent study by the Pew Research Center: 55 percent of university presidents surveyed thought that plagiarism has increased over the past ten years, almost all (86%) blamed it on technology.

I also teach at the university level, and I’ve seen it too, but this kind of thievery of intellectual property isn’t confined to college.

All of the time we read of prize-winning journalist working in the real world—The Washington Post and the New York Times—being caught red-handed having stolen someone else’s intellectual property.

Small wonder that the Pew Center and the Gallup Poll continues to give journalists poor marks for ethics. Gallup reported March 25th that Journalists continue to rank near the bottom of the public opinion poll. Nurses got the highest rating. Journalist did manage to beat out bankers, lobbyists, members of Congress and car salesman. If you need a lot of love in your life, don’t be a journalist.

The University of Texas should seriously consider moving its Ethics course to a basic tier. At the very least, it should be addressed early on in some syllabus.

On the whole, the new UT Journalism curriculum looks promising and challenging with a required “capstone” course and paper during the senior year.

© Jim McNabb, 2012