Training, SPJ Region 8 notes


As we head into TIPA this weekend with a new round of sessions and trainings to come, here are some collective impressions from your colleagues that attended the SPJ regional event in Fort Worth recently:

Matt Fulkerson

Along with the flurry of awards we won, several Shorthorn staffers had a chance to sit down and hear from several industry professionals. Each session offered a lot, but I’m going to talk about one: Frank LoMonte’s talk on Surviving the Information Obstacle Course.

There was a lot to chew on during this session, and, along with some great practical advise and tools, I walked out thinking one thing: Don’t forget the little things.

As journalists, and especially student journalists, we want to find that big juicy story hiding in the data. Somewhere, we’ll find an issue of malfeasance and when we do, we want to pounce on it. There’s not really a problem with this method, but in our attempts to uncover the truth, we ignore the small things.

As student journalists, our readership is mostly confined to the UTA community. While we want that big story that will make publications stand up and take a look at our work, we also have the ability to affect change. Sometimes what seems like a small issue, can lead to a sweeping reform in how things are done.

With that in mind, we have an obligation to the community to shine a light on the way things work. Often, the information we need to start down a story path is sitting right in front of us. Think of all the handbooks and policies that make up the way UTA runs. LoMonte suggests that as student journalists, we should be poring over this information and uncovering those stories.

We can have an impact on the way things work at UTA, but in order to do so, we have to understand how UTA works (or doesn’t work). We need to not only become experts in how things work on our beats and within the university as a whole, but also to continue to pass the information we learn along.

Things work (or again, don’t work) for a reason. As LoMonte said, “We not only have to ask the ‘why’ questions. We have an obligation to ask the ‘why’ questions.”

As students of a state school, we are provided with a wealth of information concerning how our university and system function. As student journalists at a state school, we have a responsibility to our community not only to understand those processes, but also to shine a light on them.


Sorayah Zahir

The one workshop that stood out to me was one on data reporting. The event was hosted by John Harden, a data journalist at the Houston Chronicle and a Shorthorn alum.

What he does on a day-to-day basis is really interesting. He walked us through how he finds an idea for a story or a graphic, and works it into a well-reported story revolving around numbers.

The key thing about data reporting is that it begins with documents, whereas in normal reporting we start with finding the right people or sources.

Once those documents are acquired, usually through Public Information Act requests or through online research, Harden said he searches for trends in the information. Over a certain period of time, for example, was there an increase in the number of pedestrians hit by a vehicle? Where was it most common? What types of injuries were more common than others? What was the manner in which the people were hit? He said he tracks all sorts of information and once that happens, he just has a pile of great info that he has to sort through. It can be tempting to publish all of the findings but he said the next most important step is to publish only what is most significant. What will be most important for people to know? Most likely, what would be where it is most common for someone to get hit by a car so they can avoid being a pedestrian in those areas.

Harden also highlighted some of his favorite tools for analyzing data. This includes Google Refine, that sorts through a spreadsheet to make it more user friendly. He uses software like Excel, Google Drive, Google Charts, Quantum GIS, Illustrator and Photoshop to make graphs pretty and Tableau which is a free chart creating platform online.

These are all tools that we can get a hold of and utilize. The next time you’re curious about the numbers, always know that there is a way to find out and you are probably not the only one. Let’s work on number crunching.

Dylan Bradley

 Student Press Law Center, Frank LoMonte

  • Tools for open records
    • Pretty good limitation of fees they can charge in Texas. Can’t be charged the time for the lawyer to go over the records.
      • Can ask for itemized breakdown, if they don’t furnish it you
    • Public records stories are sometime hiding in plain sight
      • Handbooks and policy manuals
      • Codes of conduct (for studnets and employees)
      • School district regulations
        • There are tons of things already available on paper you haven’t read carefully enough yet. Journalists are consumer protectors. Skeptically consume the policies, ask questions about it. Do the policies hold up in legal and constitutional standards.
      • MYTH 1: everything about students is always “A FERPA SECRET”
        • FERPA is way overused. Federal law about confidentiality of education records. Grades, transcribes, test scores, attendance records.


  • Very little is covered by FERPA
    • Does not cover statistics, police records, outcomes of disciplinary cases involving violent crimes, parking tickets, doesn’t apply if there is a waiver.
    • Campus discipline is secret. This is the one thing, a disciplinary process. Name, offense, penalty.
    • Outcomes of any disciplinary thing resulting from violent crime, sexual crime, use the language straight from FERPA language.
    • Is there a waiver athletes or scholarship athletes have to sign?
    • HIPAA applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, (people in the process of billing), health care providers that conduct health care transactions electronically.
    • Hospitals can give you condition and that he’s there.
  • Myth 2: personnel “It’s a secret because it’s personnel.
    • There are many things that pertain to personnel things that aren’t made confidential.
      • Texas law protects the contents of personnel files ONLY IF disclosure would be a “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy”
      • Agency policy can’t opt them out of state law. A policy can’t be less forthcoming than state law requires
      • Outcome of internal investigation into mishandling of money
      • Police “use of force” reports showing which officers used pepper spray
      • Names, position, hire dates of employees mentioned in an internal investigation of hiring discrimination
      • Statistical reports about sexual abuse in mental health facilities
        • Who else might have the information.
        • Penn State records, school wouldn’t give them, but the government official had to.
      • Nothing about a private college is public record.
      • Fact: Many federal disclosure laws apply equally to public and private schools
        • Clery act crime disclosure
          • Get internal records, police records, actual clery reported numbers
        • IRS form 990 tax disclosure
          • org, largest contracts are on there, and any business they do with trustees
          • Also true for hospitals
        • Equity in athletics act
          • Student athletics cutting tool google search


Feature Writing

  • Milo!
  • Literary techniques applied to nonfiction, he loved it. Did the freak beat at DMN, did gay rugby team story.
  • When you end up spending 2 to 3 months and 5,000 words, it’s intense. Bowling story with man who bowled a 299, had a stroke. Actually an 899!
  • What makes it a feature story
    • There’s a lot of things that happen, but if you’re spending this much time on a story, what does this tell us about us. Are there lessons you can glean, deeper or bigger picture of the human condition?
      • Bowling story: perfection is what we all seek, but almost never get it.
    • The whole point of what we do is to try to unravel and explain how it came to be. Avoid trend or concept stories. “I want to write a story about…”
  • Writing and reporting are really different things.
  • If it’s cheesy and you’re rolling your eyes, throw the sentence out.
  • Get out of the way and let the sources tell the story as much as possible.
  • Find the reason you’re writing, why is the story worth telling. Find an aspect of the personality, or some part of their history that makes it a story.


Google News Lab

John Harden

  • Google realized journalists love their tools, created website with all these tools in one spot.
  • Crisis map
  • Fusion tables
    • Mapping software
    • Need address, latitude and longitude, etc.



Jasmine Deckard

“The Freelance Journey”

This session was hosted by Rebecca Aguilar and Ed Bark. They explained the step by step process of how to become a freelance journalist and the benefits of it. They both really stressed the importance of being able to give yourself a name and building contacts within journalism industry and making sure you have a plan before you go freelance. Potential freelancer has to make sure they have a social media presence and that your social media accounts sells who you are.

“Feature Writing”

The most important aspect I learned of feature writing is, what’s the bigger picture of the story you’re writing? Why is this story interesting to you? Feature writing is all about an idea or something incredible that has happened to someone that’s interesting and making someone want to read it. It’s important that the writer is curious, genuine, and is flexible.

“PR is not the dark side”

PR writing can be anything from NASCAR, sports, school and hospitals. PR offers numerous opportunities as long as you’re able to tell a story, have tight writing skills, and are able to interview people. The difference between PR writing and news reporting is the audience and the people they attract. PR is not about profit margin. It’s about the message the writer conveys.

“Broadcast and Sports Journalism”

Like the newspaper industry, sports journalism is also constantly changing. Writers should be able to tell a story to engage the audience with supporting evidence. Social media is one of the most important element in sports journalism right now. If students are looking for internships, they should be aggressive because sometimes it’s not about what you can do, they should find a contact point like a personal email of maybe the editor. Once you graduate, you can go to a smaller publication where you can make more mistakes instead or a bigger publication where you aren’t able to make more mistakes and have less chances to learn.

Zahraa Ileiwi

  1. The Freelance Journey: How to Get Noticed and Paid: This session discussed how to become a respected freelance journalist. Freelance journalism requires a strong social media presence. A professional Twitter handle should be updated regularly with no editorial tweets. Freelance requires creativity, positivity and willingness to take risks. Saving money is connective to freelance journalism because there is no fixed paycheck to rely on.
  2. Feature Writing: This session was about how feature writing is a process of not only conversing with the subject, but forming a bond with them as well. This type of writing is about gaining trust so that the subject is willing is give an adequate amount of information for the writer to provide thorough and thoughtful storytelling.
  3. PR is not the dark side: This session was concerning public relations and what it is exactly. Aside from press releases, PR does everything from sending out emails to teachers, catching criminals in public schools to putting prescription labels on medication bottles.




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