Coding from scratch

It ain’t the prettiest site, but for my first effort, I’m proud of how well it works.

I’m proud to show off my full-fledged attempt at creating a website from scratch.

It’s my variation on my Multimedia Planning and Design assignment to create a “Welcome to the SEC” website based on some of the content from the Columbia Missourian’s terrific Road to the SEC special section, put together in advance of MU’s inaugural football season in the Southeastern Conference.

Check it out, the site is live.

It’s my first foray into building from a blank slate to a fully-functional website with inside pages, media and CSS styling. We were given content for two schools, LSU and Florida, and an introduction story, then told to create something that follows HTML/CSS and journalistic design rules.

The whole thing was a real challenge, from storyboarding to execution, and it was crucial that I pace myself and work within my own limits. This design was born of a compromise between my coding capabilities and my desire to do this great content justice.

My favorite part of the site is an old-school HTML technique, called an image map, that I used as navigation to the individual schools’ profiles from the splash page. Basically, the code identifies certain areas of an image file (this time a map of SEC schools I created) clickable. By identifying the X and Y coordinates of the LSU Tiger and UF Gator logos, I was able to create a circular area with a radius of 50 pixels that essentially makes each logo a button to link you to each profile.

A look at the code associated with my image map with the “Inspect Element” feature on Google Chrome.

It’s pretty simple, but it was a cool effect for a rookie like me.

On the inside pages I made sure to play up a large lead photo and let the story flow underneath the important fast facts info. Plus, the school’s logos appear again as navigation from profile page to profile page.

The project was a good start and I had fun working through the kinks and bouncing ideas off my classmates and friends. Despite the headaches, I’m starting to feel comfortable with HTML, stylesheets and thoughtful web design.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll ditch this WordPress CMS for my own from-scratch site.

Education and the Saturday night grocery run

I had a profound moment at the grocery store this past Saturday night.

I don’t usually do my best thinking at Gerbes, but on my way through the checkout line I had the chance to chat with the guy who helped me sack my groceries. I had a small window to leave the conversation and get back to things that I thought were important when I decided to stop and hear him out. And I’m glad I did.

He mentioned that he’d wanted to get to school but had turned it down, so I simply asked him, “What do you mean?”

Well, it turns out he’d gotten a scholarship to an area community college to take his basic classes, but knew he wouldn’t be able to afford school beyond that.

“It’s just a flawed system,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to fight for scholarships, be born rich or take on debt with student loans to get an education.”

I can’t help but agree and I know there a lot of people feel the same way, so this wasn’t shocking. But as he went on, though, he said something that really struck me:

“I got a scholarship to MACC and I thought I could go there and get my basics out of the way,” he tells me. But getting my basics isn’t enough anymore.”

What a fascinating way to look at the current state of higher education. That’s something the Missourian would call “framing,” where we take a look at an issue or an article through a certain lens and/or from a certain perspective. Ideally to approach something in a fresh, revealing way.

Although he had obviously read plenty about education and knew his stuff, the real truth for this young grocery store employee was that his ambitions to be an IT professional are on hold because “getting the basics” isn’t enough — and that’s all he can afford.

I just thought it was powerful that given the chance to share, this young man had something really honest to say that I hadn’t considered as an education reporter and editor. Perhaps taking a long look at “the basics” is something we could tackle at the Missourian this semester.

Public speaking and course cross pollination

Only one of my classes this semester is not in the journalism track.

And Public Speaking 1200H is exactly as it sounds — designed to seek out and destroy the fear of speaking in front of groups large or small, and I’m finding it really applicable to the things I’m already doing as an Assistant City Editor.

So maybe I’m not giving speeches like Patton’s, but public speaking is still important to my role as an editor.

It’s not like public speaking is new to me.

The other week I spoke to a group of a couple dozen students about how to get an internship as part of a panel put on the MU chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Online News Association. Plus, I regularly speak in front of the Missourian’s newsroom full of reporters and editors and I’ve made presentations in front big classes before.

In fact, I’ve spent the last four years speaking publicly about the news and journalism behind my print byline, on my Twitter and Facebook, and right here on this blog.

So I guess it’s no surprise that learning how to be a clearer, more engaging speaker is proving to be incredibly useful for helping manage the newsroom while I’m a general assignment Assistant City Editor.

It goes toward the same kinds of skills I talked about in my last post, “Managing Down,” and my ability to work well as part of a team. I may not have to give Patton’s speech to the Third Army, but I have to be well-spoken enough to communicate clearly and thoughtfully off-the-cuff when I’m talking to reporters and other editors.

I just think it’s refreshing to see the work I’m putting into non-journalism classes paying off in the newsroom (no offense, Honors Middle Ages and Renaissance literature course).

Let’s just hope I never have to repeat the ethics and plagiarism speech I’m slated to give in the Public Speaking class to any reporters.

Managing down

In my new gig at the Columbia Missourian, there’s plenty to learn.

Despite my semester as a copy editor, I’m getting a whole new crash course in giving articles a first edit as an assistant city editor. What questions do I need to ask the reporter and what’s the priority for getting through an evening filled with copy? How do I edit a crime brief without convicting a suspect with sloppy sentences?

On top of it all, I’m having to learn a totally new way of managing all the new responsibilities.

Of course, over two semesters reporting from this newsroom I’ve had to learn a few things about handling more than myself.

My editor, Elizabeth Brixey, calls it “managing up.” Jacqui Banaszynski talks about the same thing in an essay and calls the practice “the care and feeding” of editors and writers.

Managing up is tough and it takes a keen understanding of how to work with your editor to communicate clearly and effectively, especially when the piece your managing is a massive project or vital breaking news.

But what I’ve found I’m struggling with most is keeping up with everyone on our education team. “Managing down,” as it were, is a whole different beast entirely.

It’s a challenge to stay on top of my responsibilities and helping Liz manage an education team of 20 reporters means dealing with a lot of different writing styles, personalities and levels of confidence. With everyone so eager to get published (which is a fantastic thing, by the way), I’m having to find all new ways to manage my time in and out of the newsroom.

There are still times when I have to manage up to Liz or when I’m on my general assignment editing shift with Katherine Reed, but I’m comfortable with that. It’s learning to manage down that’s proven a tough transition for me — I feel like I’ve just learned how best to manage myself, let alone 20 others.

But that’s what makes this such valuable experience and I’m excited to see what our team can produce this fall.

The end of summer

My time in Maine comes to and end this week and it’s impossible to believe that it’s passed me by so quickly.

I neglected my blog and scaled back some from my social networks (half-heartedly, at least) into the paradise that is downeast Maine in the summer. My mentor in Columbia, Liz Brixey, calls that “being present” and it’s been worth all of the withdrawal symptoms to enjoy things a bit.

But that’s not to say I haven’t been working. Just like someone has to take out the trash every week, some papers need reporters willing to hike Acadia National Park, tackle kayaking and sailing trips, tinker at the Telephone Museum and drink tea at FDR’s summer cottage.

Oh boy, I’ve gotta road trip all over again. Three days, 1,700 miles and an awful lot crummy radio stations.

So my colleague, Abby Eisenberg, and I spent the summer documenting some of the best places to visit and things to see on the Maine coast for The Ellsworth American’s special section, called Out & About.

In all seriousness, my time with The Ellsworth American has been 10 weeks of carefully crafting sentences and learning how to draw people into my stories in compelling ways. And in a complete leap of faith, I was handed a camera and told to be my own photographer.

The whole experience has been vastly different than my other reporting jobs and that’s been a blessing and a challenge.

The summer was a good retreat from my work covering higher education for the Columbia Missourian, but it won’t be much longer until UM System press releases are again flagged for my priority inbox.

Next week, I start my new gig as an Assistant City Editor at the Missourian and I’ll be returning to help lead the education coverage with Liz (like I said, mentor).

Along with tackling a capstone and a handful of other courses, I’m going to make an effort to publish more posts on this blog and hone my writing skills.

There’s plenty of work to be done, but first I have to tackle a 1,700 mile pilgrimage  to get back home to Columbia.

Another day, another town

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at fenceviewer.com**

UPDATE: My buddy Zach Welch notes that, in fact, the Yankees game is in Oakland, Calif., and therefore shouldn’t cause many traffic issues in the Bronx (Oakland and the Bronx aren’t very close at all).

After day two, we’ve made it through two more states and need to make the big trip across Pennsylvania and through New York City today. Here are our driving stats from day two:

  • Two tanks of gas over more than 450 miles through three different states all afternoon and evening.

Plus, the trip gave us a chance to make a couple of cool stops, including South Bend, Ind., the home of the Fighting Irish. Of course, the University of Notre Dame is a private school, so it took a bit of accidental cheating to get around some security gates to make our personal little campus tour happen (no laws were broken in said visit, but we may or may not have violated a few campus parking rules).

During the few hours that Beth drove yesterday, I found myself plugged back into the world of the Missourian, catching up on press release emails and the most recent local issues. For two semesters I reported on higher education in Columbia, Mo., and I’ve found it hard to ween myself off of the constant news that’s come out of my regular beat.

Then by the time I’ve gone through it all, Beth’s already angry at me — she says I’m not nearly as entertaining a passenger as she is, and I’m an admittedly bad back seat driver. Eventually, we made it (almost) to the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania and camped out (in a Holiday Inn) before the big trip through New York City.

To what seems to be everyone-I’ve-talked-to’s horror, I’ve managed to time things just terribly so that Beth and I will be venturing through Bronx just as the Yankees are done beating up on the Oakland A’s. That means that we won’t just be dealing with Saturday night, Memorial Day weekend New York City traffic — we’ll get to add the flood of Yankees fans leaving the game to the mix too. Whoops.

If I make it through New York, I’ll be posting right here and you can follow the trip on my Twitter at @zach_murdock.

I mean, I don’t think we actually did anything wrong when we made it to campus. We just went the “creative” route.

On to the next

After a week of wonderfully unplugged vacation and time with family and loved ones, it’s time to move on to the next one.

I’ve wrapped up my tenure as a higher education reporter at the Columbia Missourian after two great semesters with two great groups of reporters and my editor Liz Brixey, and now I’m headed east.

This summer I’ll be working in Ellsworth, Maine, at The Ellsworth American. I joke that it’s the Park City, Utah, (where I spent the summer after my freshman year) of the east and I couldn’t be more excited to get out there.

Maine will be a different kind of gig for me after two semesters of grinding out reporting and classes simultaneously. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, I’ve done some very cool things and in the fall I get to return to the Missourian as an Assistant City Editor.

For now, though, it’s off to Maine which is one helluva drive. Such a drive, in fact, that I’ll be blogging the trip for The American and tweeting along the way. The first leg of the drive — and the first post — start first thing Thursday morning.

Follow the trip on this website and on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

Where we’re at now

I read a really interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education today about the misconception that faculty salaries are driving up the cost of a college degree.

Here’s a quick excerpt of the most compelling piece of the story:

“The contrast is starkest at public institutions, where tuition and fees have increased over the past decade by 72 percent when accounting for inflation, largely in response to declines in state support. During that same time, the salaries of public-college professors, when adjusted for inflation, rose by less than 1 percent at doctoral and baccalaureate institutions and fell by more than 5 percent at master’s universities.”

All this just days after our own UM System administrators discussed the prospect of raising faculty salaries at last week’s Board of Curators meetings at Missouri S&T.

With the state funding roller coaster the system has been riding for the past few months, the future of any salary increases is still up in the air. UM has been pretty tight-lipped about its plan if it doesn’t get any funding cuts but discussed an average increase of 1.75 percent to faculty salaries across the four system campuses.

Of course, that’s still subject to change the system won’t be able to make any real decisions until it knows exactly how much money it will be getting from the state.

A Senate budget will likely be voted out of committee this week and will likely hit the Senate floor next week, when it would be open for debate. Last week the committee agreed with the House to keep stable funding for higher education, among other things, and the UM system’s VP of government relations Steve Knorr seemed optimistic at the meetings in Rolla that a budget without cuts to higher education would be sent to the governor.

Of course, this is potentially the slowest developing story I’ve ever worked on and there will continue to be updates. I’ve struggled to keep posting on this blog regularly, but I’m always spewing facts, figures and insights  — if you can call them that — on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

Budget Debate

I’m tweeting throughout the afternoon with some updates from the debate going on in the Missouri House today. Representatives are discussing amendments to a budget proposed by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, among other bills.

From the documents I’ve seen online, the most relevant amendment to my UM System coverage is an amendment to the system’s $360 million in proposed state support (section 3.210). If approved, the amendment would knock about $4 million off that state funding.

Follow me on Twitter for more info as it becomes available.