Category Archives: International coverage

Todd Chasteen is the wrong nominee for the N.C. Board of Education

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende, from a video she made specifically for the fight in Watauga County to preserve access to her book.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s latest nominee for the N.C. Board of Education, J. Todd Chasteen of Samaritan’s Purse, fought to ban a book from honors English classes at Watauga High School in 2014.

Nominees for the board go through the N.C. General Assembly, and given its track record, it’s likely Chasteen’s nomination could go through. But it’s another example of the many troubling moves that hand leadership in North Carolina to extremists that don’t represent the values of many of the people in the state. The General Assembly should think twice before letting this nomination sail through.

Chasteen’s background is in nonprofit logistics and law, and his wife, Kim, runs a private, Christian K-8 school, Grace Academy. There’s some evidence that Todd Chasteen’s effort to ban Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” was part of a larger effort to fight the book encouraged by Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse.

Allende wrote a letter to the local school board defending the book and made a strong video explaining its context and the dangers of censorship (screenshot above). The local board eventually voted 3-2 to deny the challenge. But before the resolution, the controversy hit Fox News and Media Matters and drew in the ACLU.

None of this likely matters enough to keep the N.C. General Assembly from approving Chasteen’s nomination to the N.C. Board of Education, which approves textbooks, approves or denies charter school applications, and administers the “free public school system” as spelled out in North Carolina’s Constitution.  The General Assembly sat on nominations for the board from former Gov. Bev Perdue for two years, giving McCrory more appointments instead. This latest nomination for a voice representing Samaritan’s Purse probably feels like just another routine step to increase far-right, extremist voices on a board often overlooked by most people in the state.

But here are other factors that should concern N.C. residents about Chasteen’s nomination and McCrory’s history with the state school board:

  • McCrory’s nominations fail to reflect the background of many of the consumers of public schools in North Carolina. He’s made seven nominations: four white men, two white women, one Native American woman. Chasteen’s nomination is the fifth white male.
  • McCrory’s nominations shortchange one of the two largest systems in the state, Charlotte-Mecklenburg. One member out of 13 voting members*, Eric Davis, is from Charlotte and is a recent at-large appointee. Chasteen’s nomination is for the northwest district, recently represented by Greg Alcorn, a native of Rowan County. Alcorn has somehow been moved to the southwest district representing Charlotte, through some kind of redrawing of districts effective April 1, 2015.
  • Of McCrory’s recent nominations, some don’t have strong public education backgrounds, just like Chasteen, who again comes from a private, religious, nonprofit logistics and law background. Alcorn has a marketing/logistics/business background, skills valuable on the board in balance. But those kinds of backgrounds are squeezing out members who can represent the consumers of our state’s free public classrooms.

McCrory and the General Assembly should take another crack at representing the biggest consumers of the state’s schools. The Charlotte area has educators and voices who could be a better balance on the board. Here are three names I found just digging around through media reports and social media. I don’t know them personally, and I have no idea they’d be interested, but their backgrounds are stronger than Chasteen’s for representing public school consumers. If I can find three easily, surely McCrory and the General Assembly can do a better job finding a voice that would provide better balance to the N.C. Board of Education.

  • Beatrice Thompson, a TV and radio personality in the Charlotte area. She has covered education as a reporter and is in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Women’s Hall of Fame.
  • Cheryl Turner, director of Sugar Creek Charter School and a member of the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board until June 2015. She said in 2014 that she planned to step down from that role, but she’s still listed on the board’s website. Her school got written up by the Carolina Journal in 2010 as an example of a strong charter school.
  • James E. Ford, now serving in an advisory capacity to the Board of Education because of his selection as North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year in 2014.

Chasteen, McCrory’s latest nominee, may be a shoe-in, and the redrawing of board of education district lines effective April 1 may be a signal that his appointment has been in the works for awhile. His involvement in trying to keep a book away from other students should be enough to disqualify him from the N.C. Board of Education. Taken in the context of McCrory’s nominees over time, it’s clear that his nomination is just another step stifling the voices of many consumers of public schools.

* I don’t know if Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is a voting member; I didn’t include her in the 13 voting members.

Further reading:
The Progressive Pulse has a series of profiles of state school board members.

How to share news photos: A guide for anyone who finds themselves with a camera amid news events

Mamiya camera

Thousands marched in Montpellier, France, this weekend to protest pension law changes. My daughter was there studying abroad, camera in hand, but a bit stumped about whether her images had commercial value and how she could share her images with possible paying clients. She uses Tumblr and sometimes Facebook to share images with family and friends, but this case was different and she was seeking a broader audience.

We now have the capabilities to share images from around the world, while traditional news organizations have fewer staffers capturing images. Thousands of students are studying abroad, gathering thousands of images, but knowing how to get that work seen and possibly bought is still tricky. Establishing connections and getting good work found remains as hard as it ever was, and perhaps even harder with information overload.

Quick phone images can be shared immediately with the world through services like Twitpic, but controls on use and the ability to caption and tag well are limited. Sharing on Facebook can be fast too, but the terms of service can disturb anyone who wants to maintain control of their images.

Flickr offers the best ability to be seen, to share and to protect ownership.

To start, here are a few steps that will prove valuable for anyone who finds themselves amid news events with camera in hand. I’d love more tips, corrections or alternative advice from others who have found themselves in similar situations.

First, understand that speed is crucial. If it’s a big news events, its primary value comes in the first few hours after an event. Share quickly.

Sign on to Flickr. Go to the You menu. Upload photos and videos. Tag photos liberally, thinking about the keywords that people would use to find photos. Use all languages that are appropriate.

Be brutal in self editing your work, only adding three to five of your photos from an event, mix of vertical and horizontal. Be brutal in length and quality of videos. Upload speeds can be slow; make sure size is large enough for print but not so large it makes upload time unbearable:
Resolution: minimum of 200 pixels/inch, 300 pixels/inch is better
Pixel dimensions: width of at least 1000 pixels, up to about 1600 pixels

If you think you have enough quality photos for a slideshow, you can upload more photos: 10 to 15. Flickr can make an automatic slideshow and give you a link to it that you can share. But keep in mind that each of those photos needs an accurate, unique caption, and that’s likely to take much of your time.

Captions must include who, what, when, where, maybe why, maybe how much. If the photos are taken in public places, groups of five or more people don’t require individual identification. If fewer than five people are in the photo, get names. If it’s a news event and you can’t get names, you can still upload the photo, but it might not get used. Be honest about what you don’t know. Photos taken on private property are a different matter: Did you have permission to be there? Did the people in the photos give permission? Then you’re covered. Otherwise, legal issues could get sticky.

Include your name and e-mail (a real e-mail that you will check for any questions or queries later) in the caption information. It should be an e-mail that you’re OK with being public and that you do check. If it’s an e-mail address that’s almost not functional because it’s too overloaded, use some other method of contact: public, permanent phone number, unique Facebook name, something that will find you.

Doublecheck the licensing of the photo after upload to make sure it’s some rights reserved, with noncommercial use. With that license, people who want to use it commercially should contact you and offer to pay. You could also mark it “All rights reserved.” People can still offer to pay for it, but it won’t get reused by noncommercial sites.

Consider using social media to link to that Flickr account to get the word out.

Ahead of time:
Check the default licensing on your account for noncommercial use or all rights reserved.
Check your contact settings to make sure people can get in touch with you.
Have a Flickr account, either free or pro, spend some time becoming familiar with it, check settings such as the “license through Getty” setting and remember how to sign in to it.

More ideas? Let me know.

Real data and real choices for journalists

Montpellier wedding

A wedding in Montpellier, France

This photo grabs a street scene from a wedding in Montpellier, France, and was originally captioned with these words:

“future job: wedding photographer in france?”

Not long ago, serious photographers sneered at shooting weddings. But in the last few years, that sneer turned to respect as the market changed. Some of the best photojournalists from the past are now running their own businesses and shooting weddings, portraits and even pet photos.

Things change.

Of course, the price reset for photography has also hit other “content providers,” especially desk journalists, focused on headlines, visuals and print. The ramifications are broad, including the rise of newspaper print production hubs at large chains and pay-per-piece companies.

It’s capitalism at work.

Freelance journalist Carmen Sisson has pointed out on Twitter a journalism job listing that says,

“If you are as good as you think, you won’t be deterred…that we are offering starvation wages.”

At least the job listing was transparent about the rate: $20,000 to $25,000. That transparency in job listings is rare.

You can read plenty of theory about those changes elsewhere and what they mean for the future of journalism. But when all that theory hits your house and your job, it becomes a matter of math and quantitative, personal decision-making. The myth and romance of poverty-stricken artists only go so far.

You need hard-to-find data.

You can get a sneak peek at salary levels from The organization has an interesting crowdsourcing model, with a requirement to contribute information in order to get more than a sneak peek.

Or you can check the University of Georgia’s annual survey of journalism and mass communications graduates, partly financed by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Annual national membership for SPJ costs $72, and helps provide real data for people like you. That’s money with a decent return on investment.

Armed with data, you can decide whether to shoot weddings in France or to do photojournalism in the United States. You can do piecemeal work from your couch or fight for a spot at a new or old media company.

It’s your choice. The sneers are gone.

Financial information, including 2009 Form 990, from the Society of Professional Journalists

Photo credit: Sarah Acuff (my daughter)

The new foreign correspondents: Finding a way to curate a generation of wanderers

Stony Man Mountain, Shenandoah National Forest

The view from Stony Man Mountain, Shenandoah National Forest

My daughter texted me this photo from atop Stony Man Mountain in Virginia yesterday. She’s a counselor at a camp on the flanks of the mountain, and has no phone reception, no texting, no Facebook, from within the camp. Only atop the mountain can she communicate easily with those far away.

Her fellow students, traveling in France, Germany, India and elsewhere, also reach out to share their journeys when they can, finding wi-fi in coffee shops for blog posts or emailing large groups of friends or creating their own listservs.

More than two years ago, I wondered aloud for a class whether we could find a way to use those wandering students to supplement dwindling journalism budgets for foreign correspondents. I haven’t seen a solution yet; perhaps I haven’t been looking in the right places.

But clearly, on a personal level this summer, I’ve seen the power these students have to show us our world, whether they’re traveling by bike across the country for the homeless, touring Europe to see and write about opera or just reaching out to a relative from a mountaintop. It seems we could find a better way to connect them, and ourselves.

Free speech in a small, small world

Villagers and students work on installing a sewer piper in Villa Soleada in Honduras.

Hondurans work on installing a sewer piper in Villa Soleada. Volunteers with Students Helping Honduras work on the project along with the Hondurans in a model similar to Habitat for Humanity.

My, how times have changed.

This site started in the fall of 2007 for a class at the University of North Carolina, “Global Implications of New Technologies,” taught by Deb Aikat. Many of the online tools we have now were available then.

But a recent personal experience brought home to me how quickly the world is adopting the new online tools, and how quickly the world is shrinking. And the experience reminded me how far we have to go in making sure everyone has freedom of speech and the information they need for informed decisions.

My daughter, studying international relations at the University of North Carolina, recently took a weeklong trip to Honduras with the nonprofit organization Students Helping Honduras. To keep up with that country’s news while she traveled, I used Twitter, Twitter search, and Google Language Tools (with a background in high-school French) to read real-time reports of Central American news.

I read of Andrés Rodríguez Torres, a 72-year-old Honduran journalist who was kidnapped, and who is yet to be found. I took great fascination in the use of a Twitter tag, #escandalogt, as nearby Guatemalans organized protests after the country’s president was accused of the murder of a lawyer, and then an IT worker was jailed for sending out tweets that appeared to protest the killing. I kept up with posts by Xeni Jardin, a co-editor of the website Boing Boing, as she traveled in Guatemala and followed the political unrest, and I found new people to follow with interests in Central America, from Peace Corps alumni to supporters of non-governmental organizations working to improve the lives of Hondurans.

My daughter returned to the United States before the recent 7.3 earthquake in Honduras. At least one friend of hers remained, and I continued to follow and share earthquake news on Twitter with others who still had interests in the area. The new Twitter aggregator, Breaking Tweets, covered the earthquake quickly. And Twitter search turned up raw video just hours after the quake.

The experience reminded me of the great volume of information as well as the great freedom of speech that journalists and citizens have in many places. And it reminded me of the great challenges to freedom of speech that journalists and citizens in other places still face.

But the desire to be heard is difficult to suppress, and new social-media tools are giving more citizens in other countries the means to broadcast their messages across the world, quickly.

We live in a time of momentous change, along with a shrinking of the globe. May it lead to safer, more open societies.

Photo credit:
Sarah Acuff.

Want to help Honduras? Visit Students Helping Honduras.

Citizen reporting from Kenya offers a simple, clean, visual map and gives people on the streets the ability to report from their cellphones on current conditions.
It’s a beautiful idea with broad applications for many kinds of geographically specific stories, from traffic updates in U.S. cities to election polling place information and crisis conditions in natural disasters. Ethan Zuckerman explains the project and gives background and broad thinking to how such technology can be used in other ways.

Zuckerman also links to a Jeff Jarvis blog posting from 2005 after Katrina, calling for people to convene, collaborate and use technology to share information and help those in need.
Jarvis said in September 2005: “This is about more than just technology and disasters. This is about technology and society, about empowering the people to run their lives and about how we in the web community can come together to help do that.”
H/T to Nancy White of Full Circle.

Heirs to the foreign correspondents?

With the de-funding of many foreign corrrespondents by traditional U.S. media organizations, perhaps the increase in students studying abroad could fill the gaps. We need ways to encourage these folks to tell us more — sometimes they’re the only voices on the ground. More grants? Funding of travels in return for writing and photographs? And with more funding, perhaps the U.S. voices could reflect a broader economic background. Imagine the perspective that a young person from downtown Philly could give and get from studying the struggles in a French suburb.

For a U.S. student’s perspective on the strikes in France, meet young writer Jill McCoy from Cornell:
Here and here and here.

Related: A note from the BBC’s coverage of the strikes, with many comments from readers:
“Perhaps..some education and/or articles in this BBC website would make it easier to comment on this situation in France. I really do not know what to think …yet, because I don’t know answer to the following questions. Are these rioters unemployed, poor? Is racism really a big problem in France? Or is there some cultural divide too big to manage? Please, more information, BBC.
David Stevenson, Kansas City, United States

H/T to Amanda Kelso, who is involved with the study abroad program at Duke and uses Facebook to share news about the program. She did not put me up to this.