Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Digital photos disappearing

To fulfill one class requirement for my major, I took an AGCM photography class. This past semester, I’ve been taking a class that requires black and white film. Then we manually develop the film ourselves, and create photos with an enlarger. Wow! This takes hours to develop one high quality picture, something our generation is not used too.

I’ve definitely developed more of an appreciation for past photographers like Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Eugene Smith. Those photographers spent hours and hours to create the “perfect” picture.

In addition to learning how to take and print pictures the old fashioned way, we also discuss photography topics. Our family history may be disappearing from photos was one topic discussed. We discussed an article entitled “Film Photography Fades to Black” from the Wall Street Journal explaining why digital photography will not help preserve the memories in years to come.

First of all, many of us take the pictures and never actually print them. It takes a few minutes and dollars to run to Wal-Mart and actually print them. Many of us just save them on the computer and look at the photos when we want. But what about the future? Computers will crash, and the article argues that CD’s are unstable. Our next generation probably won’t even know what CD is anyway. Only hard copy pictures will travel from people to people well.

Another argument the article brought up was about the printing quality. For those pictures actually developed, which is a small percentage of the actual photos printed, the ink will not last. The article says the ink will only last a few decades before fading away.

What? Why do we take these photos then? I know that I’ve looked through pages of old photos to see what my great-great parents looked like when they were children. Our future generations of children may not have this because the ink faded. Pictures of the past or the ones I’m learning to print right now are created through chemicals that will last forever. The normal digital picture will not last forever.

I know that I was shocked when I found this out. Photographs are a huge part in history for the world. Hopefully, we’ll figure out a way to preserve our digital photographs soon or our digital pictures may slowly disappear.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Oh, how I love Wikipedia. With a click of a button, you can find the life history of our ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, information on my hometown named Nokomis, as well as facts about my favorite show, Grey’s Anatomy. I constantly find myself on the web page searching for all types of facts. It is so easy.

However, in class we discussed how Wikipedia is not really a credible source. (Oh, man) While it is easy to access millions of articles about every topic imaginable, it is also easy for people to log on and edit material to their likings. We also discussed in class that information may be slanted and unfair. Even Wikipedia recognizes there are problems with the encyclopedia website. When one searches “Problems with Wikipedia” on the google you come up with this article as one of the first hits.

No matter the problems, I still think Wikipedia is AMAZING! Where else do you have all this information at your fingertips? I realize that it has its faults, but I find lots of uses for it. In addition to answering the fact I want to find, I also use it for my research. Scary, I know.

For example, I needed to learn about famous photograph Walker Evans. The first place I visited was Wikipedia. Within a few second I had an entry about the FSA photographer. This was not the info I used, instead I scrolled to the bottom of the entry to see the sources. I copied the name of the books, logged onto our Library website and searched for photo books I needed for class. Instead of searching through hundreds of book titles that may mention Evan’s name, I had the best books quickly. It took me longer to find the book on the shelf than the title on the internet.

My point is that you probably should not use it as a source in a research paper, but use it as a tool. Don’t be scared of the faults of the huge encyclopedia, but be smart.

After looking over my classmates blogs, I found someone else who thinks the same way. Check this blog out too.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Senioritis Is Here!

Senioritis has kicked in and I’m tired of classes. As I count down to graduation, I find myself wondering if these complicated classes are really necessary. For example, in Journalism 425, I’m constantly complaining about the endless homework assignments. They take hours to complete. Why do I need to learn about Adobe Illustrator or PhotoShop? Is my time being wasted here at school? Will I really ever use this?

Finally two weeks ago, my question was answered at work. I work at the National Soybean Research Lab, where I complete miscellaneous jobs like write press releases, answer phones, conduct research, and even stuff soy cookies into bags. The worst task is stuffing cookies. I’m bored within a minute of beginning the task, and they day goes by so sllloooowwwww.

As I was stuffing my 600th cookie for the day a few weeks ago, the communications director came to me and asked, “Do you know how to use Adobe Illustrator?” Of course, I just completed an assignment a few days ago for J425. She asked if I would create a banner for the marathon in Adobe Illustrator.

Finally, I was no longer a “keebler elf” stuffing cookies.

Fast forward two weeks.

Now that the people in the office know I can work with InDesign, Illustrator, PhotoShop and so forth, they are giving me fun assignments instead of the mind numbing task of stuffing cookies. My hours go by so quickly and the work is much more rewarding. I have a finished project instead of hundreds of cookies laying in a pile.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that classes do have a point, even when I’m a senior counting down the days until graduation.(There are 31 days left, if anyone wants to know.) I have found that information I learned in classes do have a point. It saves me from stuffing cookies all day! No, seriously, I hope that all college students even those with senioritis realize that taking classes are useful and will help in the long run. It makes the daunting homework assignments seem a little more purposeful when senioritis has set in.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why did you choose that major?

This past week, I spent some time visiting relatives in the hospital. During our conversations to pass the time, my college education came up. They asked things like do I enjoy my classes, when is graduation, and what is my area of study. I told them that I’m an agriculture communications major with a concentration in news/editorial. You should have seen their faces. To me it looked like Denny, a great uncle, was in shock. He asked, “Why did you decide to go that route?” I’ve been watching the news and all the newspapers are going under, he said.

Well, he is right in one regard. Lately, newspaper businesses are struggling. As journalism majors, we have heard of the dreadful news. Here are two examples.

Rocky Mountain News
Chicago Sun-Times

While driving home, my uncle’s face of shock still worried me. Why do I believe in agriculture journalism still? Am I pursuing the wrong career? He is right, the business is struggling and jobs are nearly nonexistent. However, journalism is still alive.

For me, I think journalism will always be alive, but it needs to find a remedy quickly. Journalism is important. We all know the profession keeps our government more honest and our citizens up to date and informed. That’s the reason for my still believing in journalism, more specifically agriculture journalism.

So if it’s so important, than why is it on the decline? Too often I think writers want to show off their skills and not give readers what they want. Readers want pictures, fun topics and easy things to read not narratives. Everyone is busy and do not make time to read countless blocks of text. In my opinion, the newspaper industry needs to give readers what they want. Once this happens, we will not keep reading newspaper company obituaries. (And jobs will be available for journalism graduates.)

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mistakes Happen

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C with a group of FFA members. We had the chance to look at some of the most spectacular memorials to help us understand America’s history. Because I believe that we should learn from our past to prepare for our future, I listened intently to our tour guide. A few memorials the tour guide showed us were the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and even the Lincoln Memorial.

One fact I still remember our tour guide telling us on the memorial tour had nothing to do with history. Instead, it relates more to our editing class. Did you know the word “future” used in Lincoln’s second inaugural address is actually misspelled on the concrete wall of his memorial? Instead of “future”, the wall reads “euture.” That’s right, the walls surrounding the 19 foot tall monument has a typo. Mistakes happen.

My point is that no matter how skilled of editors we can become, there can be errors. We should eliminate as many errors as possible, but remember that we are human as well. At times I find myself frustrated when I finish a project, and then find an error. I guess it happens to everyone everywhere, even on a memorial that reminds us of the 16th United States President.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Showing the Story with Pictures

This semester I am in photography and graphic design classes, so I have been working with lots of pictures. I spend many hours critiquing photos. I even find myself critiquing photos that are not my own, such as the photos used in our university’s newspapers.

My Findings in the March 17th edition of the Daily Illini…

The largest photo on the front page was an Irish folk band. The photo did the five things I recommended a few weeks ago in my blog. The picture had no wasted space. The photographer told a story with action. It was apparent that all three people were playing an instrument at a bar. The picture was interesting and told a story. (A thumbs up.)

The second largest photo was focused on a pole with a flyer. The picture tried to tell the reader about the Mumford House, but I only understood that from the headline, not the picture. If I only looked at the photo I see several people standing behind a pole talking. The cutline for the photo said people were protesting the university’s plan to relocate the house, but this was not portrayed in the photo. Eight people were talking not protesting. (A thumbs down)

A few recommendations I have for the photo:

1. Show us what the Mumford House looks like, not a pole.
2. If the word protest is in the cutline and headline, show people protesting.
3. Get closer and fill the frame. Part of the photo is of the ground which does not help tell the story.

The third and final photo of the page was unimpressive as well. Although the photo took little space, the space was basically wasted. The article headline read, “Airports won’t fly as shelters for homeless, authorities say.” The picture: A man dressed in a business suit carrying his luggage. In the background, two men are sitting in chairs that look like they are waiting for their flights. The cutline says they are homeless. When readers look at the photo, they cannot see homelessness in the photo. The picture has little composition and it looks like my eight year old sister snapped a picture at the airport. (A thumbs down)

A few recommendations I have for the photo:

1. Use a different photo or no photo at all.
2. Get a picture of the homeless, not a businessman.
3. Somehow show the location of the picture is an airport.

Improving the quality of photos can help improve the Daily Illini. Do not get me wrong, I enjoy reading the Daily Illini everyday. In fact, I rely on it to give me campus news each day. However, if the photos were more effective, especially on the front page, more students may be interested in picking up the paper.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Figuring Numbers

As a freshman in college, I did not understand why I needed to take to math classes to fulfill my degree requirement. I planned to work with words, not numbers. I, unlike most journalists, like numbers, but I wanted to take as many classes that would assist me with my writing, not math. However, I have found in both Jour 420 and Jour 425 that numbers are important. Many people who read the news have something in common with journalists; they need help understanding numbers too.

According to the Newslab website, a common mistake in news writing is making sure that the numbers add up. Readers actually read stories. When they find that percentages add up to more than 100, they will find it. Because this is impossible in reality, a reader may call the news organization and complain. A simple solution, use a calculator at all times.

Most journalists do not like numbers, but readers do not care. Readers want to easily understand numbers in news stories. Journalists must think and “break-down” their numbers for the reader to understand. For example, instead of saying the crime happened 120 yards from the school, say that the crime happened a football field’s length away. Being able to visualize the difference helps people understand the numbers.

Using too many numbers in one paragraph makes numbers confusing too. This occurs in news writing when journalists do not really understand their material. I found a great example on the News by the Numbers website. One example taken from a published newspaper was, “A 30-year-old Molalla man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison with a 10-year minimum in the death of a 16-month-old boy who died of head injuries three days after the baby was in his care.” Wow! That is a long sentence that contains five different numbers. How many numbers is too many? Several websites say that three numbers in an entire paragraph is the maximum any reader will want to read. Use few numbers, but tell entire story. Sometimes less is actually more.

In a few short minutes I found an abundance of information about journalistic numbers. One thing is true, journalists struggle with them. Journalists who want to be “good with numbers” need to practice.

Here are a few places to get started …

Online Calculators can helpful.
Number Quizzes can make numbers less daunting
Books are even available on this topic like Math Tools for Journalists by Kathleen Woodruff Wickham