The last few weeks, writ small

Someday (and I do hope it’s soon), I’ll figure out how to juggle teaching, freelancing and blogging. Until then, we’ll all just have to live with somewhat sporadic posting. Here’s a recap of what’s been going on in my world:

  • Dan Kennedy called me “smart.”  Kennedy is one of several brilliant journalists who guided my graduate studies at Northeastern University.  Earlier this fall, he interviewed me for this video about the future of local news.
  • One of this year’s most interesting Congressional races is unfolding in my backyard. The contest for New Hampshire’s CD2 is, in many ways, a microcosm of the narratives about race, gender and generational identity swirling around this election season. Here’s my story in the Boston Globe.
  • I got some student journalists hooked on politics. (#sorrynotsorry.) UNH co-hosted a debate between U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown earlier this month, and a group of journalism students got an up-close look at what it takes to organize that kind of event. Here are a few of the students leaving the debate hall to interview the supporters outside:
UNH journalism student Tom Spencer leads his classmates through the crowd outside the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, NH on Oct. 21, 2014. Photo/Meg Heckman

UNH journalism student Tom Spencer leads his classmates through the crowd outside the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, NH on Oct. 21, 2014. Photo/Meg Heckman

As of this writing, roughly 36 hours remain in the 2014 midterm elections. Here’s hoping for a more regular blogging schedule after that.


The message is spreading

My research got a nice little shout out in this piece by German freelancer Pascale Mueller. Thanks!


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This arrived in today’s mail. I can’t help but notice that an organization lauded for providing “invaluable inspiration to journalists and students reporters everywhere” couldn’t find a single woman to picture on the cover of its marketing brochure.

A new book on digital journalism and ethics

51JSmCXh6HL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_A couple of essays I wrote for the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy have been published in a new book called A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics. I examined the complicated journalistic questions that arise from social media curation and how building an online social network forced me to rethink traditional standards of objectivity.

Other writers tackle the ethics of anonymous commenting, photo manipulation and credibility questions surrounding amateur restaurant reviews. The book is available through Amazon for $9.99.

Guess who came to UNH last night?

10606387_10152365995102913_4273260175722029226_nJournalist Brooke Gladstone is brilliant, funny and brave enough to do things like create a comic book style critique of the media. Last night, she spoke at UNH. The turnout was good, especially for one of the first lovely fall evenings of the semester, and the crowd included lots of UNH journalism students.

Gladstone offered them advice on building their careers and navigating the modern information ecosystem. She shared the stage with New Hampshire Public Radio’s Virginia Prescott, and it was refreshing to hear two female voices talk about the state of the media — a conversation too often dominated by men.

Here are some highlights I posted on Twitter:

Gladstone’s visit was co-hosted by the university and NHPR, where she spoke to listeners on this morning’s edition of The Exchange. Listen here.

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Throw — and code — like a girl

Back in the early days of the Internet, some feminists theorized that “computer-mediated communication” would erase the lopsided power imbalances of gender. Online, they imagined, “male” and “female” might not matter so much.That, alas, is not the case. Gender constructs still exist online and, worse, the conversation on the web — like in the physical world — often defaults to male.

Case in point: Software used by Little League Baseball to write game stories from box scores called Mo’Ne Davis “him” in a lead describing Davis’s powerhouse pitching

In case you missed it, Davis has made sure that the phrase “you throw like a girl” will henceforth be a huge compliment. She’s a 13-year-old girl from Philadelphia who’s been hurling baseballs at speeds up to 70 mph in the Little League World Series. That’s as impressive as it sounds. Most boys in the league, reports NPR, throw at 50-60 mph. 

It’s easy to blame the pronoun error on a computer glitch, but it’s not a glitch at all. Rather, the software was following directions, strings of code written by a programmer who probably didn’t think twice about assigning the male gender pronoun to all baseball players. (While boys are the majority of Little Leaguers, girls have been allowed on the field since 1974.) 

The error is a powerful example of how gender imbalance in technology fields can damage the credibility of the journalism we’re creating in the digital world. It’s likely that software programs like the ones used to generate basic game stories will become more common in the future, and it’s important that they’re created by programers from diverse backgrounds. 

Found in Montreal

Just got back from a quick trip across the border for a workshop on teaching entrepreneurial journalism. Stay tuned for a rundown of what I learned. Meanwhile, enjoy what may be the finest piece of schwag I’ve picked up in a long time:




See the gap

Here’s an impressive  -and depressing – interactive graphic that shows the extent of the racial and gender inequalities at the top levels of American media.  The project was commissioned by Stratch and includes some impressive research into the leadership history of big-name publications. Do give it a read and spend a few minutes clicking around.


All politics is local (journalism)

One of the many political opinions on display lately. Photo/Meg Heckman

One of the many political opinions on display lately. Photo/Meg Heckman

It’s been a decade since the bitter cold winter when I started covering politics. Plenty of Democrats wanted a chance to unseat President George W. Bush, so New Hampshire was bustling with candidates. It was a rare stump speech that  didn’t reference 9/11, and most voters I met knew at least one person stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Everyone who turned out to hear the potential challengers or, later, the president himself believed that this election would somehow make things better.

Sure, politics has plenty of problems. There’s too much money. Too much celebrity. Too much disconnect between the loud debates and the everyday lives of most Americans. But the political process is also beautiful. A campaign is a microcosm of a community: coalitions, networks, passions that bring people together and drive them apart. In the months before an election, voters become more public with their anger, their fears, their hopes. They display their opinions on lawns, on car bumpers and with pins on their lapels. Collectively, we consider who we are to ourselves and who we want to be in the eyes of the world.

And, as a journalist on the campaign trail, it was my job to find them at their coffee shops and their town halls, flip open my notebook and listen.

When I decided on the career shift that would eventually land me a teaching job at UNH, I assumed I was done covering politics. I was wrong. Which is awesome. Because I really missed it.

Since early June I’ve been filing dispatches from New Hampshire for the Boston Globe’s new political section, a visually stunning effort called Capital that appears Fridays in print and throughout the week online. (Here’s Poynter’s take on the project, and a look at the section’s design philosophy.) Capital was great when it launched, and it’s only gotten better since then.

As for my own contributions, I’ve written about the new proprietor of an old political landmark, the GOP’s quest for a perfect site for the 2016 Republican National Convention and Bob Smith’s return to politics after a 12 year hiatus.

Tonight, I’m heading out to work on another piece, and I’m looking forward to hearing what stories New Hampshire’s voters have to tell.

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