This Teacher Learns a Few Lessons

A while back, one of my Basic Reporting students turned in an assignment that certainly wasn’t perfect, but had undeniable news value. Locura Sana Fitness, a Facebook page launched by the student and two friends, had built a following of more than 10,000. After helping him polish it into a press release, we sent it off to the university’s student newspaper and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A story sparked by that press release about the Spanish-language fitness program, offered free through Facebook and other social media sites, ran in last week’s newspaper.

Between the three of them, the college students put in at least 40 hours a week maintaining the Facebook page, YouTube channel and Instagram account which, together, boast more than 20,000 followers. But they are pursuing a passion, not a paycheck, so do it all for free.

While following their dream may eventually lead to financial gain for these young people, their efforts to educate others without expecting anything in return is an important lesson for everyone, especially this teacher. Sometimes, I lament the number of hours I put in planning and grading, occasionally thinking about giving up teaching altogether for more lucrative pursuits. But I always come back to the fact I would miss interacting with students — not only sharing my own passions, but celebrating successes when they discover theirs. When I asked the student how it felt to be featured in the newspaper, he modestly replied,”Yesterday was a good day.”


morgueFile free photo

It was a good day for both of us.





More Than Thirty Days of Thankfulness

I didn’t participate in 30 days of thankfulness during the month of November, but began composing a list in my head as I read friends’ Facebook posts and blog entries about the many good things in their lives. While I was thinking of the things and people who should be on my own list, I was also brainstorming for a way to extend the new technology-driven tradition beyond the month of November.  So here are a few of the things, animals and people I am — or at least should be — thankful for each and every day. I plan to add to the list through the new month and new year and revisit it in thankless times to come.

1. I am thankful for my boyfriend. He’s paid for more than his fair share of beer, burgers and bloody marys over the past few years so I could pursue part-time professoring and full-time freelance writing.

2. I am thankful for my so-far successful return to professional writing and reporting after a decade-long detour into teaching.

3. I am thankful for my mom who is in good health and good spirits after a life-changing move to a retirement home this summer.

4. I am thankful for my sister and her family. They have provided countless hours of logistical and moral support to both me and our mom before and since the move.

5. I am thankful for my cat Lucy. Lucy Cat, who has been a faithful and fun companion through one failed relationship, three states and nearly a half dozen moves, even decided to stay close to home this summer rather than yet again answering the call of the wild while we were on vacation.

Although, as made evident by this video, she was less than happy about it.

A Letter to Stephen Colbert About Joseph Kony

KONY 2012 Video

Like so many other bloggers today, I want to highlight KONY 2012, a film produced by the organization Invisible Children. The 30-minute documentary aims to make Joseph Kony, leader of the African Lord’s Resistance Army, so famous that he can no longer evade arrest by the International Criminal Court on charges brought in 2005. Those allegations include “brainwashing countless children across northern Uganda, turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into prepubescent killers,” according to The New York Times Topics Page that covers him.

After discussing Kony and the film  with my students in a media ethics class this morning, this is the letter I would write to television host Stephen Colbert. Feel free to use parts of it in a letter in your own missive to the Comedy Central host, one of 20 “culturemakers” the film urges people to write directly to encourage action.

Dear Mr. Colbert:

Walter Cronkite‘s personal views about the Vietnam War are widely credited with turning public opinion against the conflict in the late 1960s. To be sure, those were different times.

You are probably familiar with surveys from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that found viewers of your program and “The Daily Show” to be better informed than those who got their news from more-traditional news outlets like Cronkite’s. That same group found that “in 2010, for the first time, the internet has surpassed television as the main source of national and international news for people younger than 30.”

Given those findings, it’s no surprise that you were identified by the KONY 2012 social media campaign as one of 20 “culturemakers” capable of driving news and policy. I’m sure you’ve seen the film at the center of the movement by now. It’s a 30-minute documentary that aims to make Joseph Kony, leader of the African Lord’s Resistance Army, so famous that he can no longer evade arrest on war crimes charges brought by the International Criminal Court in 2005. Those allegations include “brainwashing countless children across northern Uganda, turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into prepubescent killers,” according to The New York Times.

Although none of the 20 American students in my 8 a.m. college media ethics course seemed to have ever read a Times story about Kony, I would say almost all of them had at least one link to the video in their Facebook queue by the time class met this morning. I would also guess that some of them — and thousands of college students like them — emailed you today.

As a former newspaper reporter, I could lament that it took a social media campaign to draw worldwide attention to a brutal rebel leader who has been covered extensively by traditional media outlets for years. Instead, I will post this letter on my own blog and Facebook page and encourage others to write one like it so they and, hopefully, you can change the world.

After all, you are their Walter Cronkite.


Charlene Oldham

Saint Louis, Missouri