A New Hope

So, yeah, I teach journalism at Missouri State University, and sometimes I wonder what that means. Journalism is a complex undertaking and has many manifestations. And students have many reasons for taking journalism as a course of study.

As a baby boomer who got into journalism because I was inspired by the events of the early 1970s and the journalists who covered them, I have a natural predisposition toward news — especially coverage of politics and governance. That predisposition can be off-putting for students who aspire to write for “brides” magazines or cover sports for television. My job, if I’m doing it right, is to show them (teach them?) that the skill set and ethics are largely the same. If I’m doing it right, they should never feel their choices are second class — because they are not.

OK, I’m coming around the barn now. There’s a development that has the boomer journalist part of my identity feeling a bit excited and perhaps an equal part wistful: The debut of the Missouri Independent. It’s a non-profit news organization dedicated to covering politics and governance in Jefferson City, Missouri. It’s part of a larger effort to start/fund such news organizations in state capitols across the country.

I wish them well.

I’m also going to be paying careful attention.

Songs From the Street Screening in Springfield

The student documentary film for 2019-20 produced by Carbon Trace Productions is screening now in Springfield, Missouri at various locations sponsored by The Connecting Grounds and the Springfield Street Choir. You’ll find a running list of events on the Songs From the Street page on Facebook.

The film is also available for screenings by private or public groups interested in helping the homeless, churches, schools, and universities. Please use the Facebook link to contact Carbon Trace or use the contact form on the Carbon Trace website.


Education in the Time of COVID-19

The novel coronavirus, and the pandemic caused by it, make it necessary to change some of the ways we work as students and professors. I choose not to let this pandemic stop me from providing my students access to a good education. Because we may be living with this virus for a long time, I think there is no sense shoehorning our old ways of doing things into a new situation. I choose to move forward with a different plan.

I am trying something like an active, student-centered pedagogy with evaluation by portfolio. This is not a new idea or even a new set of ideas. I’m choosing to revisit some old methods of education going back to ancient Greece and adding a few modern twists.

Active, student-centered learning has been widely discussed in academia as a method for making traditional lectures work better, i.e. encourage students to actively engage with the material during a lecture, not just sit and listen. I am uninterested in making traditional lectures work better because that is exactly one of the models that is no longer sustainable, in my opinion. My goal instead is to make the active, student-centered model work with my variation of the ancient tutorial/peripatetic method of teaching in which the students work closely with the professor one-on-one or in small groups. And then there’s the whole outdoor thing because, you know, who wants to be trapped in a room with any number of humans these days?

This move, as I think about it and refine it over the summer, is about giving students problems to solve and letting them participate in the design of the assignments. The problems I want them to solve: learning how to critically examine and create the various stories we tell in the mass media — primarily through journalism and documentary filmmaking.

My classes this spring at Missouri State University:

MED130 Fundamentals of Media Convergence: The enrollment for this class has changed from 30 to 20 in order to create social distancing. It will also be a “blended” class — that means taught partly in person and partly online.

JRN478 Mobile Journalism: This class is moving online for next semester — possibly longer.

MED512 Documentary Practicum: This is a field course. Much of the instruction will take place outside a traditional classroom on location with film crews from Carbon Trace Productions. Student have access to a media edit lab during class hours.

Fact Check Op-eds

Margaret Sullivan asks what journalists are supposed to be today. As an answer, she offers another question: “What journalism best serves the real interests of American citizens?”

I’m going to briefly re-visit one of my earlier answers to this question specifically regarding opinion journalism and op-eds because I think it is especially important right now:

Fact check opinion journalism from your columnists, to your pundits, to your politicians, to your citizens’ letters to the editor. Publish nothing in an editorial section that has a factual error.

I’m unconcerned about the The New York Times having published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton. I find his opinion odious and authoritarian. I suspect your average Times reader finds it so. But that doesn’t mean the Times shouldn’t publish it. What the Times, and every other newspaper, should be doing is fact-checking every submission and turn back anything with factual errors for edit and re-submit.

The Times just let Cotton have his say. And it was later found to be wanting in the facts department.

Cotton has every right to believe that troops should be used to stop the “rioters.” But that doesn’t mean newspapers should give him, or anyone else, a pass on facts.

Document Your Life

Look for something do while staying home?

You may interpret that question differently depending upon whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. I’m an extrovert, so, yeah, the whole staying home thing is a challenge.

I’m encouraging everyone to document this moment in history on video using your phones. Tell your personal story.

Now you might be thinking: Dude! We do this everyday already. It’s called social media.

Yes. True. But…

  • Let’s get those phone videos turned to landscape format.
  • Start recording your experiences. Think bigger chunks — sequences — not little snippets that last seconds.
  • Talk to us. Tell us what’s going on. What are you thinking and feeling. Tell us why it’s important to you. Write a script if you have to.
  • Use text to give it a title and identify people and places.
  • Publish and share.

The personal and day-to-day are some of the most interesting bits of history.

Back to Camp

Shane Franklin, Senior Producer for Carbon Trace Productions, and I head back to Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico on Saturday to finish filming Witness at the Border — the sequel to our documentary film Witness At Tornillo.  We’ll be there for a week.

Well, assuming the border doesn’t close while we’re in the refugee camp.

And there’s the whole coronavirus thing to deal with.

This could be one hell of a trip. Or, as one wag of a student put it today in class: “It could be a whole new documentary!”

Many of my students have been expressing the “feels like I’m in a zombie movie” emotional response to coronavirus — today especially as Trump finally addressed the nation on the … what? … epidemic, pandemic, something else? MU, just up the road, has closed for a couple of weeks. MSU might. Depends. We’re heading into spring break, so the powers-that-be have a bit a breathing room before making any decision about closing school. MSU has suspended all spring study-away trips and banned travel to China.

The big Broadcast Education Association conference, where our 2019 student documentary Zero was to be honored, has been called off. If you’re of a mind to, please click that link, pay $2, and watch it.

The Kansas City FilmFest International 2020 has been postponed until later this summer. Witness At Tornillo is an official selection.

But I’ll be spending this next week with people who have it a lot worse than I do. We go into post-production upon our return. The film will be ready for screening by fall.

BTW, the donation link mentioned in the video? Just click here. Thanks!

Witness at the Border |Fundraiser| from Carbon Trace Productions on Vimeo.

The Crisis Is Here

Happy New Year!


First, read this excellent summary and commentary about the “fourth turning,” a part of the larger theory of generational dynamics as explained by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their many books on the subject they pioneered.

Next, read Heather Cox Richardson’s (do it everyday) letter today (you can also subscribe by e-mail) regarding: “2020 will be the year that determines whether or not American democracy survives.”

We’ll talk about, er… nope, I’m all about the rhetoric of lecture now… I’ll talk at you about things that transpire from here. I’ll also try to tell you some stories.

[Note: I no longer allow public comments on Rhetorica. If you have something to say, send me e-mail.]

Carbon Trace 2020 Reel

I haven’t gone away. I’ve simply changed my focus. I make documentary films with my students now. I’ve been doing this since 2014. I now have a non-profit called Carbon Trace Productions, which you may recognize as the name of my now-closed bicycle blog.

Here’s our 2020 reel of highlights going back to 2015. You can watch several of our documentary films on the Carbon Trace website. Just click the proper link in the menu.

CTP Reel 2020 from Carbon Trace Productions on Vimeo.

I Once Was A Textual Analyst

Back in the day, I was a textual analyst. This very blog began as a grad-student project in the textual analysis of campaign rhetoric in 1998. It morphed into Rhetorica in early 2002. I kept up the same general schtick in examining the press-politics relationship for many years.

Then it just became pointless.

That may have been a hasty decision on my part when I made it… how long ago now? Because this week we have seen the distribution of a presidential text so extraordinary as to be the real nail in that old coffin of this blog and my project.

The Trump letter to the House of Representatives regarding impeachment: I’ve linked you to The New York Times and its laughably who-gives-a-shit fact check.

Well, some people still give a shit, but they are opposed by an authoritarian faction that is by turns shameless in producing crude propaganda based on lies and distortion and an inability to actually tell the difference between that and the facts of reality.

They had many choices in 2016. And they picked this guy. And they support this guy.

Here’s a Quarter; Call Someone Who Cares

The New York Times ends its book review of A Warning, by Anonymous with a quote from Donald Trump: “These are just words. A bunch of words. It doesn’t mean anything.” The President was not critiquing the new book. The quote comes from another place and time. But if he does say such a thing about this book, it will be one of the (very) few things he’s ever said or done that I’ll agree with.

Anonymous is a conservative coward.

I read the wretched Michael Wolff book Fire & Fury. It was a stinker. It was entertaining. It might even have been accurate. But who can tell? Wolff gives us utterly nothing to go on but his word. Not good enough.

I read Bob Woodward’s book Fear. I’ve read many of his books over the years. He’s been generally reliable. But I came away from it thinking “meh.” I mean, anyone could guess at the general nature of the Trump presidency just watching the man operate in public, just listening to him flap his gums. All Woodward did was add some “reported” details (and, yes, we have to take him at his word … but the man has a track record).

There is no way I’m reading A Warning. Everything I say here is coming from my understanding of the book from the Times’ review and my reading of the original op-ed published in the Times.

I won’t even read it for free.

You see, the idea that there’s an adult in the room trying to save us from Trump’s worst excesses is just poppycock.

If it’s really bad, then go public. You have a whistle-blower and multiple, testifying (OMG so apt) administration officials you can emulate. And isn’t that just the juicy irony here? At a time when people are stepping up, this guy offers us a lecture about what a good conservative steward he is … from behind his momma’s skirt.

This part of the Time’s review was interesting:

Anonymous declares that this “American spirit” was best exemplified by the bravery shown by the passengers on United Flight 93, who rushed the cockpit on 9/11. We’ve seen Flight 93 used as a conservative analogy before — by another anonymous author no less, writing under the pen name Publius Decius Mus, who argued before the 2016 presidential election that “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto” and consequently that voting for Mr. Trump offered the only chance for the republic’s survival.

That the same violent tragedy has been deployed to argue one point and then, three years later, to argue its utter opposite is, to put it charitably, bizarre. But then Anonymous, a self-described “student of history,” doesn’t seem to register the discrepancy. Nor does Anonymous square the analogy with an episode mentioned in the opening pages of “A Warning” — of senior officials contemplating a replay of the Nixon administration’s so-called Saturday Night Massacre by resigning en masse. The idea of doing anything so bold was floated within the first two years of the Trump administration, and then abandoned.

Too bad the title Fear was already taken. That’s anonymous.

[Note: I no longer allow public comments on Rhetorica. If you have something to say, send me e-mail.]