Archives for posts with tag: Auburn

Just to be clear: I am not comparing Sandy Toomer’s etiquette to that of any specific opponent. In fact, I have no way of knowing whether I have received a call from Mike Hubbard. I can only assume he would be equally gracious. I do know that I’ve had numerous hangups and push-polls, at least one of which was about a different legislative race. But since my cell has a North Carolina area code, for all I know, the calls have concerned the U.S. Senate race in that state.

I’m all for hearing from political candidates. I got a call from Sandy Toomer, a candidate for the Alabama legislature from Auburn, that went to voicemail. If I hadn’t been busy, I definitely would have liked to talk with him, and he did actually leave a message in his own voice, not a recording, asking for my support. I don’t know what he stands for, but I’ll go find out and see if I like what he has to say once I’m finished grading final exams and final projects.

As far as I know, I have not had a call from his opponent Mike Hubbard, but I can only assume that he would be equally gracious.

One thing I don’t understand in a local election campaign is when local candidates rely on robocalls, particularly those who hide behind a soft-money PAC. The saying goes that all politics is local, but particularly at level of municipal elections and state legislative elections, that’s doubly true. Relying on robocalls smacks of outside influence from people who want to conceal their motivations. I am suspicious of people who hide their motivations, particularly those who use soft-money PACs to hide where they get their support. Also, (and this is a free tip): People get a little creeped-out if you constantly call and hang up on them or don’t leave a message.

The following happened this morning. I don’t know whose campaign was behind the call, but it’s possible that it was a public opinion research outfit verifying voter registration and selling the information to anybody who would pay for it:

***RING RING ***
(Incoming call from 999-999-9999 on my cellphone)
ME: Hello?
CALLER: I just have a few questions. Are you registered to vote at 111 South Ross Street, Number 10, in Auburn, Alabama?
ME: An introduction would have been nice. Hello, my name is Michael. What’s your name?
CALLER: Sheena. Are you registered to vote at 111 South Ross Street, Number 10, in Auburn, Alabama?
ME: Are you the same caller from 999-999-9999 who called and hung up yesterday?
CALLER: (Pause) … No.
ME: And on whose behalf are you calling?
CALLER: ERS Research.
ME: And who is your client?
CALLER: I … don’t have a client.
ME: Well, I can only assume that you’re doing this because you’re being paid to make phone calls. Who’s paying you to do this?
CALLER: (Pause, and in a voice that resembled a 7-year-old when asked who had broken the cookie jar) … No one.
ME: I just think as a voter, I’m entitled to know which political campaign is trying to influence my opinions …


Please, Lord, tell me this gets me taken off their call list.

I have received similar calls from other organizations. Here’s the pattern: A real human calls to verify you are a registered voter, that you live at the address they have on file, and that you plan to vote in the June elections. This is followed by a stream of robocalls with push polls (for the initiated, these are automated phone calls that seem to be a scientific, unbiased survey for research purposes but turn out to be thinly veiled attempts to sway your opinions by asking leading questions).

If you don’t care enough about my vote to call me personally to ask for it when it’s a local campaign, you’re not working hard enough to earn my vote. Call me yourself. I’ll listen. If you leave your number, I’ll even call back. Or maybe I’ll drop in to chat if you let me know where to find you (and I do like Toomer’s Coffee).


The Multimedia Journalism students are finding out how useful and straightforward Google Maps Engine is as an online storytelling tool. Each created a map of five places on a subject relevant to the topics of their blogs.

The maps are an interactive version of an old standby of static print infographics: the locator map. Locators have a simple ingredients list: Headline, chatter, base map, place labels, and descriptions accompanying each place label. The difference with Google Maps Engine is that you get the gift of interactivity: Users can see pointer boxes with names and descriptions pop up as they hover the cursor over a list of place names.

The five-place Google Maps assignment is appropriate as an introductory exercise in interactive mapping for beginning multimedia journalists for these reasons:

  • It challenges students to conceive of a piece they find interesting and (hopefully) that their readers will also find intriguing.
  • It requires that they do the kind of research that will be expected of them in the newsrooms that will hire them after graduation.
  • It gives them an opportunity to put to use what they learned in the step-by-step, in-class Google Maps tutorial, the Kansas City barbecue map. Hey, I’m a Kansas City boy, but some things translate well from the Midwest to the South, and barbecue is one of them. So we can almost all relate to the subject.

Here’s what the students cooked up this week:

Google Maps Engine is not hard to use, once you understand what it does and how it works. The technical questions are not difficult; the challenge, as I discovered when I sat in on the international hackathon session at Auburn University’s computer science program last fall, is figuring out a journalistic use for it.

Coders provide the conduit, and it is powerful work that they do. Journalists provide the ideas for content to flow through the conduit. Technical thinkers and journalistic thinkers complement each other. Especially now, we need each other.

I’m proud of how much my Multimedia Journalism students have built their technical skillsets while flexing their storytelling muscles these last 16 weeks. May they evangelize new media thinking in the newsrooms they join in the near future. They’re smart, they love storytelling, and they’ve demonstrated a capacity for problem solving and tenacity. Editors , directors and station managers, you need these young people. Hire them!

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