The pile of crumpled papers litters the wastebasket

I am starting the Costa Rica feature article ... again. Hopefully, this time it goes somewhere. I've got one week and a horrible feeling in my stomach.

Keep your fingers crossed, pals.

A (metaphorically) sunny spring

I know, I know -- I'm failing at blogging lately. My photo blog is in a sad state of neglect, and An Ariel View needs some TNR articles linked, posts updated and, in general, some content. Any content, really.

All I can say is, between wrapping up Spring quarter, preparing for my summer internship and figuring stuff out for next year, I've barely had time to type out a Tweet, let alone a blog post.

Thankfully, we're about to head into the last week of class, which will make my life indefinitely easier. Of course, after classes come exams. After exams come the first 2011-12 production (freshman orientation tab FTW!) and then I go home for a few days to prepare for Chicago.

I cannot describe how excited I am for this summer. I scored the perfect apartment from former TNR college living editor Samantha Bohnert and signed the sublease yesterday. My paperwork has been submitted, I take my drug test this weekend and everything is neatly falling into place. Of course, I'll be blogging all about my experience (My Life as an Intern series returns!), and I hope you're at least half as pumped as I am.

The only thing I might be more excited about than Chicago is next year at The News Record. Incoming managing editor Sam Greene and I have been working on plans non-stop, and things are looking absolutely fabulous. We're moving forward on the new website, officially rolling out TNR Extra, developing advertising options, planning the budget ... basically, it's going to be a whole new TNR.

It's been an insanely busy couple of weeks, but I have to admit, I couldn't be happier. This year is wrapping up on an extremely positive note -- and considering how it started out, I am so, so happy with how Spring quarter has gone.

Now, on to a superb summer and, even better, a perfect fall.

If it would only stop thunder storming.

On the block

I've been trying to knock out my final Costa Rica article, well, since I got back from Costa Rica. It's been a real struggle, and I wasn't sure exactly why. After all, I had more than enough material and it was an article I really, really wanted to write.

Sure, it's been a busy quarter, but even when I've found time to work on the article, I found myself stuck. If I tried to force myself to write, anything that came out sounded like absolute rubbish -- some of the worst stuff I'd ever written. If I waited around for inspiration to strike, my mind went completely and utterly blank.

It's happened to me before for school assignments and News Record articles. Writing an article isn't the same as an essay or a research paper; you're trying to find a way to create something utterly unique and, at the same time, 100 percent comprehensible. Creativity is not something that can be forced, and usually, until I've got that spark of inspiration, I'm stuck with 30 crumpled-up pieces of paper and a bruise from banging my head on the desk.

So I had to ask myself: why couldn't I get started? What was holding me back? Each time I tried a different lede, a different tone, my writing came out stiff, awkward and so, so forced. I wanted to write a great travel article, highlighting all the amazing experiences and fantastic tales from that week in Costa Rica. I had a plethora of stories and angles to choose from, so what was holding me back?

Finally, tonight, on a rainy walk home from The News Record after a good chat with Gin about everything I just said, it hit me. The problem was that each time I tried to start the article, I was telling it as someone else's story. During the trip, Eamon, Sean and I were completely immersed in the experience -- we did the same things the students did, ate what they ate, saw what they saw. By trying to remove myself from the story, I was taking away what made this opportunity so valuable: the personal experience. Sure, I could have stayed in Cincinnati, interviewed the students and Gary and thrown together a news article, but that would mean leaving out all the greatest parts of the trip -- the things you have to see and feel and smell and touch. To do this story justice, I have to put myself in it. To put the reader in the middle of the rainforest, I have to show them what it was really like.

I think I've made a breakthrough. Isn't it strange how the best epiphanies come after 2 a.m.?

Bomb threat leads to McMicken evacuation

Ariel Cheung | The News Record
May 16, 2011

McMicken Hall was evacuated early Thursday due to a bomb threat found in the building.

Alarms went off at approximately 9:30 a.m. after a note was found, and the building was evacuated immediately, said Gene Ferrara, University of Cincinnati Police Division director of public safety.

Cincinnati Police Department also responded, sending trained bomb-sniffing dogs into the building. No evidence of a bomb was found.

The note found in the building did not indicate a date or time, said a UCPD officer on the scene.

The building was cleared for re-entry at 10:30 a.m.

The incident was the second time in the past year UC's campus has received a threat involving a bomb or shooting. An anonymous caller dialed 9-1-1 from Fifth Third Arena and reported a fake shooting on campus in May 2010.

It also marked the second time this academic year that a campus building has been evacuated. An explosion in an Engineering Research Center laboratory led to the evacuation of the Engineering Research Facility as well as Rhodes and Baldwin halls in November 2010.

The Holy Grail of newspaper websites

For the past few months, incoming managing editor Sam Greene and I have tossed around the idea of leaving our website host College Publisher and transferring newsrecord.org to a WordPress template. There are a number of benefits (and a number of risks), but before we make any final decisions, I wanted to try and figure out what our website would look like if we did switch over.

Since then, SG and I have looked at other college newspapers' websites, WordPress templates galore and more. I've spent hours surfing the Internet, searching in vain for that perfect design that brings us into the 2011-12 production year with pizazz, flair and chutzpah. Something to signify the Year of Change -- new TNR Extra, new advertising opportunities, new daily online and BAM! beautiful new website.

Turns out, finding the perfect website is harder than finding Nemo ... or the needle in the haystack ... or any other number of hard-to-find things. The Holy Grail of college newspaper websites continues to evade me, and I have to ask -- why?

I think Michael Koretzky said it best in a July 2010 article for the Huffington Post. Koretzky judged the national Society of Professional Journalist's Mark of Excellence award, including the best affiliated website category. In his opinion, "best" was a relative term:

Usually, when a judge says he had trouble selecting a winner, all the entries were so damn good it was hard to tell the difference. 
But in this case, nearly all the entries were so damn boring it was hard to tell the difference.

He's totally right. The WordPress templates look so similar, I forget which one I like best, while the various newspapers' websites I browse through each elicited a grimace more gruesome than the last.

I want a clean, crisp, professional website that's easy to read and smartly organized. I don't want it to be bland, cluttered or ugly.

With the billions of possibilities the Internet is supposed to provide, I don't understand why that's so hard to find.

Review: The Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow"

Meh.




In the money

I noticed last week that I haven't done much writing this quarter, so I was really excited to pick up a story for the news page. I found a story on Cincinnati.com last week about Ohio universities' unrestricted net assets. Basically, UNAs are the bottom line in a university's budget -- any surplus or, in the University of Cincinnati's case, deficit.

The Ohio State University leads Ohio public colleges with $1.2 billion in UNA, according to the article, and Senate Finance Chairman Chris Widener compiled a document assessing all the Ohio colleges' UNA totals.

Out of the 37 institutions in the report, UC is the only one with a deficit.

Immediately, I figured there was a story.

In a way, this reminded me of the story I did during my sophomore year about a news report I saw on WCPO that claimed UC had $50,000 in unclaimed funds. Strangely, these budget/fiscal stories are fascinating to me -- the fact that a university deals with millions of dollars each year is intriguing. I love finding out how the complicated web works out, and even though I know I'm barely scratching the surface, I love every time I get to solve another piece of the puzzle.

For this story, I began by calling Widener's office and asking for the document with the information on each university. The man who worked with me (his name was Danny) was very helpful, and even managed to snag me an interview with the senator. Widener (a UC alumnus!) had some interesting things to say about the budget, and the fact that UC is the only Ohio school with a deficit could play a role in the decision to allow schools to raise tuition.

I also spoke with UC spokesperson (and TNR favorite) Greg Hand about the matter, and he suggested I talk with Bob Ambach, the senior vice president for administration and finance.

I'll call Ambach tomorrow and hopefully be able to talk with him. I'm hoping he'll be able to elaborate about what exactly UC's unrestricted net assets are used for and why UC is the only Ohio school with a deficit. I also really want to know what the deficit could mean if Ohio allows/doesn't allow schools to raise tuition for the 2011-12 academic year.

It's times like these that I almost wish I'd taken a business class at UC.

UC putting end to long-time deficit

Ariel Cheung | The News Record
May 12, 2011

As the possibility of a tuition increase looms at the University of Cincinnati, one state senator is questioning whether Ohio universities require a rise in tuition.

Ohio Senate Finance Chairman Chris Widener is examining public colleges and universities' unrestricted net assets, which he said total $2.9 billion.

"Unrestricted net assets are like the end result of a large equation," said Greg Hand, UC spokesperson. "You start throwing all these [line items] into a pot, and what you come out with is this ‘unrestricted net assets.' "

For the 2010 fiscal year, UC was the only public Ohio institution with a deficit, which totaled $6.5 million, according to Widener's figures.

UC, however, expects to put an end to its long-time deficit by the end of this fiscal year.

In November 2008, the UC Board of Trustees approved the Structural Deficit Policy, which aimed to eliminate the deficit. Previously, the university allowed certain departments to function with negative balances, which helped deepen the deficit, said Bob Ambach, UC senior vice president for administration and finance.

Since then, the deficit has slowly decreased. In 2009, it totaled $60.8 million and shrank to $6.5 million by June 2010. By the end of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends June 30, it is projected UC's bottom line will be approximately $6 million in the positive, Ambach said.

The two decades of construction on UC campuses also contributed to the deficit, Ambach said. In 1989, former UC President Joseph A. Steger released a plan to reconstruct the majority of Main Campus. Since then, UC has been named one of the most beautiful campuses by several sources, but, as fundraising efforts did not meet projections, the deficit grew, Ambach said.

The end of the deficit is scheduled to arrive just in time for a possible tuition increase. With a 15 percent budget cut in the next bi-annual from the state, a 3 percent or more tuition increase is likely, said James Plummer, vice president of finance at UC.

"[The cuts] will amount to somewhere in the neighborhood of about $25 to $28 million, and a 3.5 percent tuition increase … only amounts to $11 million," Plummer said.

A tuition increase is not the remedy for erasing the deficit, though, Ambach said.

Before the state budget writers decide whether or not to approve university tuition increases, however, Widener wants to make sure it's necessary.

"I think that's something everyone has to study," Widener said. "The negative [impact] in tough economic times is that people have to pay more tuition and incur more debt, so they have that much more of a challenge when they graduate." The goal, Widener said, is to look at the entire financial picture for the university.

In March 2010, the UC Board of Trustees approved a 7.1 percent tuition increase for the 2010-11 academic year.

Column: Tenn. trip takes turn for worse

Ariel Cheung | The News Record
May 9, 2011

It was 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I was exhausted, pissed off and more than ready to get the heck out of Nowheresville, Tenn. I turned onto Highway 80 and began searching in vain for a speed limit sign.


"I'm almost positive it's 70," said Evan, my co-pilot and owner of the car.


I began driving at a solid 75 mph, accidentally over-accelerating to 81 mph for a millisecond. When I realized my error, I immediately slowed to correct it.

And then I got pulled over.


The police officer looked like a character straight out of "Reno 911": handlebar mustache, aviator shades and a sneer to rival Sgt. James Garcia. Turns out, Evan was off by a few miles on the actual speed limit, and, despite my protests, rationale and pathetic river of tears, Sgt. Garcia slapped me with a $155 ticket. Thus ended the final moment in a series of unfortunate events.


It all started a few weekends prior when a group of friends invited me to tag along on the trip to Nashville, Tenn., for Vanderbilt University's Rites of Spring music festival. The two-night event featured some great artists: Matt and Kim, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, The National. Oh, and Kid Cudi.


I was told that everything would be arranged; all I had to do was pay my dues and show up. It seemed like a fun, impromptu adventure — just the kind of thing I tended to avoid. The voice in my head (which sounds remarkably like my mom) chimed in: "You don't know where you're going, who all you'll be staying with … too many variables. Better safe than sorry. It's just not a good idea," she sensibly advised me.


And while I usually listen to that voice, and it always serves me well, another voice blurted out that, hey, I'm in college, and what's the point of being an irresponsible 20-something if I'm not going to live a little?


So I casually told the voices to shut up and agreed to go. After all, what's the worst that could happen?


We piled into Evan's car for the four-hour drive to Nashville. While a little crammed in the backseat, the ride wasn't bad. We were excited about the concert and the cabin we would be staying in just outside Nashville. The first night of the concert was featuring Sara Barreilles and The National. Everything was going great.

We made great time to Nashville. Evan pulled into a gas station to fill up while Mike, the event organizer, called the woman who owned the cabins. He explained we would be there in a few minutes and were just about to leave the gas station on such-and-such street.


After a puzzled moment, the woman asked "Why are you by my house?"


To make a long, long conversation short, the woman had put her home address on the cabin website, leading Mike to believe that was the location of the cabins. While the woman had sent Mike directions via email, we'd just plugged the address into the trusty GPS.


The cabins were two hours outside of Nashville. The woman refused to give us a refund.


So we, with the eternal optimism of college students, decided that two hours wasn't such a long drive. We could make it there after the concert. With a slightly faded enthusiasm, we piled back into the car. Evan turned the keys and … nothing. No revving engine, no clicking starter — just nothing. The battery was dead.

Then it started to rain.


In fact, it rained so hard that by the time Evan had tried jumping his car, walked to the car service store nearby, bought a new battery and installed it, the concert had been postponed several times due to the lightning. Once the festival's Twitter account announced the festival might start at 10:30 p.m., we decided it was a lost cause and began our two-hour drive to the cabins (which were actually really nice).


The next day, we went to the festival, which was pretty cool. Matt and Kim were a peppy burst of energy, Edward Sharpe was cool as ice, and I even enjoyed Kid Cudi, despite a headache that made my eyeballs fall out of my head and blood pour from my ears.


I also got to try the most delectable food concoction known to man: a Krispy Kreme cheeseburger. The doughnut is the bun. Brilliant.


After the pleasant night, I figured things were looking up. Getting pulled over that morning, however, was the last straw. I'd survived broken down cars, unnecessarily long drives and torrential downpours, and now a cop decided to inflict further suffering upon me, just as I thought it was finally safe?


So, Tennessee, I curse you and all that you stand for. You made what should have been an amazingly awesome weekend a near-disaster. I hope to never visit your God-forsaken, torturous land again.


Next time, I'm listening to the voice.

Justice warped?

Since early Monday morning, I've been thinking a lot about Osama bin Laden's death (along with the rest of the world, I'm sure) and, more specifically, our country's reaction to it. It's been a puzzling issue, especially as everyone around me has incredibly different viewpoints. Overall, however, I can't help feel that we, as a country, have gone about this whole thing the wrong way -- from our crude definition of "justice" to the way we have chosen to celebrate the death of a human being.

My boyfriend, in all his patriotic glory, thinks it's great that people are toasting to bin Laden's death. He feels that after all the tragedy and suffering bin Laden caused, it's only right that we celebrate joyously.

Another friend has his conspiracy theories already in full force; after all, you can't really celebrate anything if you don't have actual proof it happened, right?

The News Record crew hasn't had much time to reflect on the bin Laden stuff -- this week has been pretty exhausting -- but it's viewed as a generally positive thing, if nothing else but the fact that we managed to get a front-page story in Monday's issue and a two-page spread (which I designed :3) in this week's TNR Extra (it's on stands now, btw).

We discussed the event in my American Drama class, where I recently wrote a paper on the definition of justice. It's the first principle in the United States Constituion, placed before the insurance of tranquility, the promotion of general welfare and the securance of liberty. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, justice is defined as the quailty of being just, impartial or fair.

What amazed my class as a whole was the fact that virtually every political official who commented on this event (from Barack Obama to George W. Bush) asserted that, in the act of killing bin Laden, justice had been done. For the crimes he committed against our country and the people of Afghanistan, bin Laden being brought to justice equated being shot in the head by a team of Navy SEALs.

This definition is far from the one we have defined for ourselves as a country -- innocent before being proven guilty, right? I'm by no means saying bin Laden was innocent or that he deserved less than a death penalty; all I'm saying is that, for a country that prides itself on being just, we were all too quick to deny the justice we so heartily believe in.

Justice aside, it's easy to blame the lack of a trial on politics, etc., but we as citizens are just as much at fault for the crude, tasteless way we have celebrated bin Laden's death.

I think Kevin Osborne describes my feelings best in a Porkopolis column in "CityBeat" entitled "Make Sure You're Happy Enough, Or Else." In the article, he quotes Dr. Pamela Gerloff of the Huffington Post, who also wrote about the country's reaction:
“ ‘Celebrating’ the killing of any member of our species — for example, by chanting ‘USA! USA!’ and singing “The Star Spangled Banner” outside the White House or jubilantly demonstrating in the streets — is a violation of human dignity,” Gerloff wrote. “Regardless of the perceived degree of ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in any of us, we are all, each of us, human. To celebrate the killing of a life, any life, is a failure to honor life’s inherent sanctity.”

She added, “Plenty of people will argue that Osama bin Laden did not respect the sanctity of others’ lives. But I say, ‘So what?’ One aspect of being human is our ability to choose our own behavior; more specifically, our capacity to return good for evil, love for hate, dignity for indignity … A more appropriate response to his killing would be to mourn the many tragedies that led up to his violent death, as well as the violent deaths of thousands in the attempt to eliminate him from the face of the Earth.”
After all, America's already got a terrible image around the world; I would have thought we'd be wise enough to prevent ourselves from confirming the notion that we are beer-guzzling, war-hungry Neanderthals. While we might be glad to see the end of one man's reign of terror, we would do well to remember the thousands of innocent lives lost due to our own invasion of the Middle East. We would do even better to remember the shock we feel when we see those with anti-American sentiments cheer at our defeats. Do unto others. Provide justice. And, please, show some respect for human life, no matter how despicable you find that one life to be.

Turning a page

"I cried. I took a look up at the sky and said 'They got him!' Now the day has come, and it's a mixed emotion. It's sad; it's triumphant. I feel absolutely fantastic. I hope it brings some comfort to the families. No closure. That word should be stricken from the English language."

- Lee Ielpi, 66, whose son Jonathan, a firefighter, died in the 9/11 attacks (via The News York Times.)

TNR reactions to comments on tower story

Here's a list of all the blog posts The News Record staff has written in regards to the article published about the man who fell off the WLWT tower:

Managing editor Ariel Cheung (me): Reactions to man falling from WLWT tower

Editor-in-chief Gin A. Ando: Two Lives Lost


Online editor Sam Greene: Man falls to his death from WLWT tower in Clifton

News editor James Sprague: Death is life

Off The [News] Record: News vs. Sensationalism

Reactions to man falling from WLWT tower

I've been working on versions of this post all day. I've read every comment, blog post and e-mail concerning the subject, listened to advisers and tried to remain as objective as possible.

For those of you who don't know, yesterday, The News Record broke news about a man falling off the WLWT transmitter tower in Clifton Heights. We were the first reporters on the scene, we followed the story all day (and night), and it was the top story on our front page this morning. While other Cincinnati-area media gave it a brief or a short online article, the staff at TNR spent approximately eight hours gathering and going over the content and information concerning the man and the incident.

Since we posted the article on our website yesterday afternoon, we've received a lot of feedback. Ashley Anderson of "A Blonde's Guide to the World" accuses TNR of extremely disappointing bad journalism. Facebook comments on our website range from demands to remove the article from our website and issue and apology to others who say we're just doing our jobs.

The article's been called inappropriate, disrespectful, shocking, gruesome, disgusting, well-written, current, relevant and disturbing. We've been accused of violating basic journalism ethics, needing a good dose of compassion, lacking respect and common courtesy, being horribly explicit and crossing the line. One e-mail condescendingly reminded us that we are students of journalism, not journalists. Another person quoted the SPJ Code of Ethics at us.

You can read my colleagues' responses here, here and here. While they have explained the situation very well, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the past two days and this event -- honestly, I can say I've been thinking about it nonstop.

These are the sort of moments that define what sort of journalist you are. And yes, I say journalist (not merely student of journalism, although we are also that). We work at a fully functioning newspaper; furthermore, most of the TNR staff has been published in other media, including CityBeat, The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Dayton Daily News. We work as journalists, we learn as journalists. While, yes, we are still student journalists, I have to respectfully disagree that this makes us less professional or less responsible for our actions.

Anyway, there is most certainly a line between newsworthy and sensational. There is a line between information the public needs and deserves to know and information that is merely used for shock value. In situations like this, however, that line is fuzzy at best. Some readers say the TNR article should be taken down completely and thus, not covered. With this, I disagree. There were dozens of witnesses at the scene and many others who heard information secondhand. As a newspaper, it is our duty to present the facts to those who want and, sometimes, need to know them.

Others say that a more appropriate, modified, compelling story should be put in place of the current version. Some also ask for a formal apology from all involved with the article.

This is where it gets hard, because what exactly makes an appropriate story? What sort of story can a newspaper print that doesn't offend anyone? I understand how offense could be taken from certain language used in the story -- in fact, after discussing the article with a journalism adviser, two paragraphs were taken out of the online version. I wholeheartedly agree that journalists must use extreme caution in the language we use, the quotes we select and the images we present, and that respect for a human being, living or dead, must be a priority.

At the same time, we have a duty to the public to explain the events that occurred. We have a duty to present the facts of the event and tell the whole story, no matter if it upsets us or has the potential to be read by someone who does not want to know the information. (As one commenter said, if you don't want to know the information, don't read the story.) I can assure every reader that the people involved in writing this story were very upset by the events and the death that occurred. It did not weigh lightly on any of us, as you can see from the reactions we've posted. I can also assure that extreme care was taken with selection of the information we received. The News Record took into consideration the feelings of family and friends and omitted the information and images we found disturbing.

So do we owe our readers and apology? I think not. We presented the article carefully and tried to be considerate. Did we cross a line? I think perhaps some of the language we used could have been reworded. I know some of the editors disagree with me, and that's fine. I still stand by the article we published, and I still stand by the editors, writers and photographers that contributed to the story. Yes, we are student journalists and, yes, we are still learning. We are learning about how a newsroom functions, where our own personal ethics lie and just what it takes to cover a story so tragic. Turns out, it takes a lot of strength, and for that, I couldn't be prouder of our staff. They handled the situation maturely, with respect and feeling for those involved.

In Wednesday's TNR Extra edition, we are planning on writing a staff ed concerning the event and the reactions we've received. Personally, I plan on doing a follow-up article to the one published today. I want to talk with the man's family and friends about his life -- I think that's just as important to focus on as his death. If you are interested, please don't hesitate to contact me. If you still feel TNR has done an injustice, allow us to remedy the situation by providing the opportunity to celebrate the life of someone you care about. Because, often, that is the most newsworthy information of all.

Exhaustion

I have so many things to say right now, but after a 5-hour bus ride, two breaking news stories, 21 Tweets, 11 Facebook posts and one page design, I am officially and completely exhausted.

I would like to say, though, that I couldn't be prouder of The News Record staff, editor-in-chief Gin A. Ando and all the amazing work this newspaper has produced.

Look forward to one seriously amazing issue tomorrow. This is one for the record books, kids (No lie -- newsrecord.org just reached the highest number of web hits in one day since it launched.)

Or, if you're too impatient to see the print edition on stands tomorrow, view the electronic version here: http://www.issuu.com/newsrecord/docs/tnr_5.2.11

Until tomorrow (when I'll be responding to a certain blog post), good night.