1 Million Story Ideas & Writing Prompts for Student Journalists [Updated Regularly]

Over the past decade, digital tools and mobile platforms have rocketed journalism to a universe of innovation, interactivity and immediacy once unimaginable. Yet, without stellar content, journalism 2.0 is not worth the effort to read, watch, click on, scroll through, contribute to or connect with. Everything journalism was, is and will be rests on our ability to tell a story. And every story starts with an idea.

So let’s brainstorm. To help get you started, below is a quick-hit, unending, hopefully indispensable, fun, fun, fun digital story ideas fountain. It is aimed at inspiring student journalists to localize, adapt and reinvent a range of stories — quirky and mainstream, text-based and visual, interactive and investigatory. Many ideas come from your student press peers. Others originate with the professional press. And still others are pulled from independent journalists, viral videos and social media mavericks that catch my eye.

1Along with providing a barebones blueprint and some links for specific stories and features, the larger goal is one also found in my book Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age. I want to ensure j-students the world over have the confidence to come across any person, place, thing, event, trend, viewpoint, document, law, word or even a single letter and respond with an idea — a good one, a newsworthy one, one worth reporting.

I will update the list in (somewhat) real-time, as cool ideas cross my path. I’ll add to the top, so fresh ideas will always be the first thing you see. I picked 1 million as a nice round target number because it is insanely large but more concrete than “a gazillion” or “endless.” If I ever actually reach 1 million, I’ll throw a party.

Have an idea for the list? Email or tweet at me ASAP.

New Ideas Added at the Top

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Time to See the Counselor. In a visually impacting front-page report, The Telescope at California’s Palomar College looked at the work routines, caseloads and general responsibilities undertaken by academic counselors. How stretched is your own school’s counseling staff? What is a typical workday like for counselors serving various roles — in academics, health and other areas? And what are they specifically tasked with helping students and staff to cope with, avoid or overcome? Separately, building on the Telescope piece, how have their jobs changed in recent years with the implementation or transformation of state, federal and school rules and regulations? (The Telescope, Palomar College)


65 Questions. The Daily Gamecock at the University of South Carolina has implemented a fun adaptation of the Vogue “73 Questions” trope by turning the camera on their own staffers. For example, in the interview below, online editor Katie Cole responds to 65 rapid-fire questions on topics ranging from favorite drink to least favorite fashion trend. It’s a fun way to humanize the editorial board, make your newsroom more of a news hub, engage audiences with trendy videos and provide an ego boost to staffers (who will undoubtedly be excited to share the vid featuring them with family and friends). (The Daily Gamecock, University of South Carolina)  Check out my related idea on this page “73 Questions.”

The 82 Percent Problem. In its 2015 Answers Issue, Time Magazine cited a study that states 82 percent of recent college alumni said they cheated in some way during their undergrad days. 82 percent?! Cheating is an evergreen issue (meaning an always-timely, oft-reported story) within college media. But this stat compels me to a call to action: Let’s take a fresh, honest look at unethical academic behavior. How, and how often, are students cheating on your campus? What are the more innovative, new media ways in which they are subverting the system? How are schools or profs attempting to catch cheating students? And what does the high percentage of cheating students possibly say about the need for reform in how classes are taught and how students are evaluated?

“Adding a Little Hoo-ah! to Your Lifestyle.” A MilSo is the colloquial term for an individual who has a significant other in the military, including of course someone actively serving overseas. As Ferris State University student Sarah Force writes in The Ferris State Torch, “Being a MilSo … is like having a long distance relationship on steroids.” In her words, “Soldiers are government property, meaning they can be torn from their families and deployed wherever and whenever they are needed for months or even years at a time. While phone use is allowed, military spouses often alter their sleep schedules just to be able to talk to their soldiers because they never really know for sure when the next time they’ll be able to. There is a constant reminder that their soldier might never return home. If that isn’t emotionally taxing, I don’t know what is.” Tell the stories of student, alumni, faculty or staff MilSos at your school — either those who are legally married or simply in long-term relationships. Outline both the taxing and positive parts of their lives and relationships and possibly the resources available to them on campus and in your community. (The Ferris State Torch, Ferris State University)  Check out my related idea on this page “The Weed Issue.”


“Living with Roommates Who Smoke Weed.” Secondhand smoke is almost always linked to cigarettes. But what if you are constantly “greeted by the stale smell of weed”? In a piece for The A&T Register at North Carolina A&T State University, a student writes about living with roommates who are heavy marijuana users. In her words, “At first it didn’t bother me. But then the smell began to get in my room and my bathroom, and that’s when the problem evolved.” What are the experiences of individuals on your campus who have a roomie, close friend, family member or significant other who smokes weed — or uses another drug — regularly? And beyond the living-arrangement-etiquette factor, what are the more complex ways the substance impacts their relationships? (The A&T Register, North Carolina A&T State University)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Science Scene. A smile-inducing video series crafted by Daily Texan staffers features rundowns on significant and quirky issues from a science and technology perspective. It’s called “Science Scene.” Among the topics tackled in recent semesters: skin cancer detection, peeing in the pool, e-cigarettes, CPR, cyberbullying, sexual attraction and albino squirrels. The best part of the Scene is its presentation style — voiceovers meshed with a rapid run-through of hand-drawn images aimed at visualizing the staffers’ explanations or commentaries. Bottom line, it’s a great example of how to utilize new media storytelling and a fresh POV to make more complicated or ‘boring’ topics palatable for your student peers. (The Daily Texan, University of Texas at Austin)

1Ghosting. When you break up with someone, do you sit them down, call them up or text them to let them know it’s over? If so, you’re now old school. The hot new method of ending a relationship — so popular it’s even sporting its own name — is ghosting. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a complete disappearing act rather than a proper goodbye. As The New York Times reports, “[I]t’s a verb that refers to ending a romantic relationship by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out. The term has already entered the polling lexicon: In October 2014, a YouGov/Huffington Post poll of 1,000 adults showed that 11 percent of Americans had ‘ghosted’ someone.” How many of your fellow students fall within that 11 percent? What’s their take as to why this is trending as a way to end a romance? And how about students who have been ghosted? There’s even a larger news-culture story lurking here about millennial couple communication rules and rituals. For example, how often and for how long is it OK to go off the grid and not be in contact with a partner?

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: “That Time I…” A new series in The Chronicle at Duke University details students’ stories beginning with the phrase “That Time I…” On spec, it’s a fun, quirky way to nab compelling narratives about offbeat or momentous experiences undertaken by staffers or readers. For example, in what appears to be the second installment, student Carleigh Stiehm details her trip to a paid cuddling service — kinda sorta like a massage parlor, I guess. As she writes: “My experience was comforting and pleasant. We tried out all five of the approved positions, and chatted happily through the first 50 minutes of my hour-long session. I am a listener by nature, so I enjoyed asking Jule’ questions about her daughters, dog and former life as a librarian. … Would I do it again? I just don’t know, but it’s certainly an experience I would recommend to seasoned cuddlers and novices alike.” (The Chronicle, Duke University)


“Pregnant at Harvard?” 1In a powerfully raw first-person essay for The Harvard Crimson, an anonymous Harvard University student writes about Ivy League life, love, a break-up and an unexpected pregnancy. In the student’s words: “This isn’t Mean Girls — I’m not going to tell you, ‘Don’t have sex. You will get pregnant, and you will die.’ But what I will say is that, yes, there are nights when I wish I could die, when I look in the mirror and hate myself with every fiber of my being. There are nights where I stay up holding the locket, the one piece I have of both my ex-boyfriend and my child, and just cry hysterically. There are nights where I try so hard to convince myself that life is worthwhile by talking myself to sleep with thoughts of stargazing and dancing and laughter, but no matter what I think about I can’t get rid of an all-encompassing sense of pain.” What are the plights, pains, joys and general experiences of pregnant students (and faculty and staff) at your school? How are they treated by their classmates and profs? And what are the official school policies or unofficial arrangements enabling them to continue with their education? (The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPTThe Quitters Club. The Washington Post recently profiled members of The Quitters Club, a small group of Washington D.C. residents who get together to debate giving up on their careers and dreams. Why? Because in “a society that values grit and stick-to-itiveness” it can sometimes be hard to stop doing what you’re doing — even if it’s making you unhappy, you’re no good at it or it’s obviously not right for you. In that vein, what jobs, passion projects, relationships and thick books have you quit in your lifetime? What compelled you to give up on them? And looking back now, how do you feel about quitting? In a similar sense, what you do secretly or not-so-secretly desire to quit — or wish you had quit if you were given a second chance?


SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: “God of the Playing Field.” An in-depth feature report in The Harvard Crimson at Harvard University details how “some athletes struggle to maintain a balance between faith and the rigorous demands of collegiate athletics.” As Crimson staff writers Caleb Lee, Samuel E. Liu and Ali M. Monfre share, “The religious athletes interviewed for this story, most of whom identify as Christian, say they are lovers of God first, athletes second. The end of their artform is, in their own words, the glorification of God and the display of appreciation for the talents they have been given. But following that path is not always easy.” Break down how student-athletes of faith on your own campus follow that path, the challenges standing in their way and the impact of their faith on their on-the-field and off-the-field activities. (The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University)


1Tales of Twin-tasticness. Vanderbilt Hustler staffer Anna Butrico at Vanderbilt University recently doubled down, exploring “the various experiences of twins as they attend college, both together and apart.” For example, as one student tells Butrico about going to school away from her twin sis: “She was the more extroverted one. When I came to college, I had to come out of my shell. I think the weirdest part for us was our first birthday apart … she always picked the place for dinner, what kind of cake [we were having]. This year my friends asked me [what I wanted to do] and it was the weirdest thing in the entire world — now I had to decide.” Tell tales of twin-tasticness at your own school, meshing childhood stories with current collegiate experiences. And along with students sporting doubles, don’t forget faculty and staff — a few of your campus elders might have DNA doppelgangers too. (The Vanderbilt Hustler, Vanderbilt University)

1SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: Student-Athlete Punishments. What punishments are meted out by coaches and team captains on student-athletes who break the rules or longstanding traditions? Specifically, what physical activities, social stigmas or mental hazings are players forced to undertake for offenses such as, say, forgetting part of a uniform, showing up late to practice, coming up short in a big game or failing to address a coach or upperclassman as sir or ma’am? And when do these punishments cross a line in the eyes of student-athletes or school officials? In respect to the latter, Tulane University recently fired its strength and conditioning coach on charges she allegedly punished student-athletes by requiring them to complete various physical exercises. But some students are fighting back, saying the rolls, bear crawls and other actions are accepted and expected parts of the athletic experience when students disobey official and informal rules. (The Tulane Hullabaloo, Tulane University)


1Funny People. The Daily Princetonian recently crafted and shared a set of masterful profiles spotlighting student improv groups at Princeton University. The features collectively offer a nice reminder for student media everywhere: Seek out the “resident jokesters” on your campus — whether they’re dabbling in improv, experimenting with stand-up atop their full course schedule or running a comedy Tumblr site, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. It might also be fun, and funny, to sit down with a professor, administrator or cafeteria worker known for being especially humorous. (The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University)

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: A Day in the Life. The University Daily Kansan recently dropped a spirited special issue shedding light on a typical day in the lives of some very important and quirky individuals at the University of Kansas — from a design professor with a New York City career background to a Quidditch club vice president. As editor Amie Just shares in the issue’s intro, “Everyone who attends, works at or visits the university has a story to share. This section showcases just a tiny slice of those stories. From a Rock Chalk Dancer who wakes up at 5:15 a.m. to prepare for her day to a rabbi who has seven children and gives back to the Jewish community at KU, every person has a different perspective based on his or her life experiences.” Grab similar slice-of-daily-life stories from the students, faculty, staff and alumni connected to your school. Spotlight those whose days might be a tad more compelling or offbeat than most, such as those who juggle a few jobs, work the night shift or take time out for a funky side passion after classes wrap. (The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas)


REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: “Toilet Talk.” North by Northwestern has struck gold again. The always innovative, occasionally irreverent online outlet at Northwestern University recently unveiled a new feature it semi-seriously dubs “Toilet Talk.” The related audio interviews focus on student stories set inside campus restroom facilities. After all, as the intro boldly declares, “The number of things that happen in a bathroom goes beyond one and two.” The fun part: After listening to each student’s tale, you can hit a side “Flush” button on the screen to shift to the next “Toilet Talk” segment. (North by Northwestern, Northwestern University)


1“A Round of Curse Words.” Cursing, on and off campus, has spurred some raves, rants and reviews in student newspapers recently. An article in The Herald at Arkansas State University, for example, explores how “cursing becomes socially acceptable in college.” Among its benefits, according to ASU student Madison Blancaflor, “Swearing while in pain actually raises pain tolerance. … [C]ursing activates the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, causing a surge in adrenaline levels. This surge can help the body cope with pain levels that it normally couldn’t. Swearing also gives us a sense of power and control. How do you feel after you spout off a round of curse words when you’re upset? Empowered, right? For some reason, cursing brings out that strong, sassy side we all have.” Meanwhile, Collegiate Times columnist Taylor Lewis at Virginia Tech notes, “People my age view cursing as harmless and while at school, in an environment that tolerates foul language, it is harmless. However, this starts to become a problem when it enters certain areas of our environment like the classroom.” What’s the status of swear words nowadays at your school? What are the more popular or recently-trending bad words and phrases entering students’ everyday speak? What are the views of students, faculty and staff about when, where and how cursing should and not should not be carried out? And how often, and in what situations, do you find yourselves tossing out swear words without a second thought — in the real world and in the mobile and digital arenas? (The Herald, Arkansas State University & The Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech)

1SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: The Interview Issue. Earlier this month, the Weekend section team at The Yale Daily News unveiled its annual, always-fantastic Interview Issue. It features a series of candid Q&As with big thinkers, academics, politicos, artists and entrepreneurs with Yale University connections and the talent and drive to genuinely leave an imprint on the universe. From a chat with “Ukraine’s #1 pop star” to a tête-à-tête with a Tony-nominated playwright, the issue is a vibrant example of how to present longform (or at least medium-length) interviews that will keep reader attention and do right by the subjects. The recipe for success, on spec: compelling people, powerful pics, bold but not blinding design, some enticing pull-quotes and questions that quickly get to current events and the heart of the individuals’ work and influence. (The Yale Daily News, Yale University)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: Starting to Improve the World. Anne Frank once observed, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Brainstorm one small way you can change the world today or this weekend or on your next free day. Come up with something doable and impacting on a human level — showing support, providing guidance or inspiring a person, group or cause you believe in. In the writing phase, reflect on why that particular individual, enterprise or idea struck you as most worthy of your time and effort — and possibly how it has helped you improve in the past.


REGULAR SERIES ALERT: “An Intern Experience.” Loyola University Chicago junior Tom Dyke is currently enjoying what seems like a very rad internship at the headquarters of Cards Against Humanity, the snarky, vulgar, fun, fun, fun card game that is all the rage among the young and hipster-ish. Loyola Phoenix staffer Erin Kelly focuses on Dyke’s internship ins-and-outs in a cool new feature that frankly doesn’t get replicated enough among student media nationwide. Students’ off-campus jobs and internship gigs deserve much more column inches and air time, especially when the work is fascinating or quirky. For example, “Dyke said the 30 hours he puts in at Cards every week aren’t completely devoted to emails or setting up play tests. Playing Killer Queen, a 10-player strategy arcade game, eats up an hour or two every day. Dyke said his boss will often have all five interns play Killer Queen with her. They also play Slap .45, a game made by one of the creators of Cards.” (Loyola Phoenix, Loyola University Chicago)


PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: Sketch Everything. The artist John Singer Sargent once declared, “You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.” Bring out your inner artist, even if your illustrative skills are amateurish or downright awful. Create a sketch, any sketch, one that attempts to capture this moment in your life, the scene around you or a dream or feeling you cannot shake.


1SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: “Wage Wars.” At the start of a new investigative feature, University Press sports editor Josue Simplice at Florida Atlantic University immediately lays out an intriguing, all-too-common scenario in the collegiate sports world: “Two coaches have the same responsibilities, the same contracts, about the same level of coaching pedigree and are employed by the same school, but one coach makes almost twice as much as the other.” Can you guess the gender of the individual making more? Simplice subsequently supplies a well-written rundown of the salary differentials among male and female sports coaches at FAU and beyond. At times, the amounts are negligible. At other times, they are extreme. And Simplice earns kudos for exploring the general workplace glass ceilings across the U.S. that have surely contributed to these on-the-court gender pay gaps. (University Press, Florida Atlantic University)
DIGITAL JOURNALISM ALERT: Anonymous Online Communities. Brown Daily Herald staff writer Grace Yoon explores the diverse set of increasingly popular social media feeds, forums and pages devoted solely to chatting, gossiping and visualizing student life at Brown University. Considering almost every school sports these digital and mobile communities — containing titles with buzzwords like confessions, crushes, memes and compliments — it’s a report worth emulating. As Yoon writes: “Anonymous online pages such as Brown Confessions are part of a growing trend among the Brown community and nationwide over the past couple of years. Many contributors choose these forums as places to divulge their innermost thoughts without facing the potential repercussions of expressing them in public. … And because the nature of each page is shaped by the content submitted and chosen for publication, moderators of these pages are faced with the challenge of creating a space that balances the freedom of expression with the safety and comfort of students.” (The Brown Daily Herald, Brown University)


PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: More of Your Faults. The famed writer and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton once remarked, “If you wish to be loved, show more of your faults than your virtues.” Consider the faults you most regularly or purposefully hide from the public and even the people closest to you. Why are you so self-conscious about them? And what is one fault you might be willing to display and discuss more openly as a start? Also consider asking others about their faults, uncovering how they first became something people felt sheepish about and how they hide them from the world. Go the virtue route as well: Reflect on a virtuous trait or skill others say you possess. What is your first memory of displaying it or when do you first recall others pointing it out to you? And in what situations do you feel constrained by this supposed strength instead of empowered?

Great Late Reporting. FiveThirtyEight writer Mona Chalabi recently tackled an annoyed physician’s question about how many patients are late to doctors’ appointments nationwide. Fascinating, but for our purposes, forget the medical focus. The lateness angle is what intrigues me here. Switch the setting from a doctor’s waiting room to a college classroom. While many student press reports have explored absences, late class arrivals are often overlooked. Let’s dive in. From the perspectives of professors and students, how often do undergrads show up late to class sessions at your school? Does it happen more often in the mornings, afternoons or evenings? How about on certain days of the week or during fall or spring semester? And what are profs’ individual syllabus rules and schools’ larger policies surrounding lateness when it comes to grades or enrollment? Beyond those official regulations, what is the unspoken and agreed-upon lateness etiquette on your campus. For example, is it polite to inform an instructor ahead of time? Do you stride in confidently or duck your head and race to a seat? And how late is too late to still show up? Separately, any especially funny or infuriating late-arrival stories? And besides students, what about profs who show up late to their own lectures or seminars?
PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: A Layer of Scum. The author Edward Abbey once remarked, “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.” What needs stirring up in society at the moment from your perspective? What is being overrun, wheedled out or simply clouded over by, ahem, scum? And how would you go about changing it? Also look for scum in the mirror. What scumminess is present in your own life at the moment that you’d love to stir up or let float away, and why?


SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: This Story is So Sick. Stories on student-athlete health and safety are increasingly frequent and well-reported. For this story though, veer from exploring on-the-field-related injuries. Focus instead on how student-athletes cope with simply being sick. I’m talking cold, flu, fever, allergies, sore throats and stomach bugs  Do they soldier through in heroic warrior style — or succumb, whine and complain like the rest of us? How does it impact their practice and play time? And do they seek or avoid treatment in different ways than other students due to their athlete status? For inspiration, check out a student journalism classic from The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania. Mimicking a famous Frank Sinatra profile, the profile of an Ivy League basketball star is headlined “Tyler Bernardini Has a Cold.” (The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: Fashion Panic. The writer P. J. O’Rourke once advised, “Never wear anything that panics the cat.” Feline fear aside, let’s shoot for pure fashion panic — and a smidgen of stunt journalism. Get gussied up in your wackiest outfit and walk around in public. What do you notice about people’s reactions? How do you feel while clothed in more noticeable or out-there garb? And what would you wear, or wear more often, if society’s fashion standards loosened or your own school or workplace rules were relaxed?


VIDEO JOURNALISM FUN: College Cribs. In recent years, MTV’s iconic “Cribs” series featuring celebrity home tours has been joined by a slew of similar shows focused on the home — and home improvement — running across cable and the Interwebs. The Beacon at the University of Portland is building off this sustained home-sweet-home fixation with a video series providing glimpses inside student living spaces. The student residents are the tour guides, speaking uninterrupted and seemingly unedited direct to the camera while walking, pointing and smiling at some of their more eclectic furniture and personal possessions. (The Beacon, University of Portland)


PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: Sunset, Rise, Revise. Influential poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once said, “My sun sets to rise again.” Write out your thoughts, feelings, fears and dreams at sunset. Then awaken at sunrise — or as close to it as you can muster. Read over your sunset write-up and, if warranted, revise. What’s changed in your thinking? What was left out that you now want to add? And do things seem more optimistic or cynical at either dusk or dawn? For added emphasis on the passage of time/time of day, let a week or month pass between initial sunset writing session and sunrise read-over/reflection period.


VIDEO JOURNALISM FUN: Mean Tweets: Student Journalist Edition. As all dedicated viral vid watchers know, the mean tweets phenomenon recently went presidential — with President Barack Obama reading some critical 140-character commentaries on his leadership style and large ears as part of a “Jimmy Kimmel Live” appearance. While not entering the zeitgeist quite so massively, The Michigan Daily staff at the University of Michigan also earned kudos and media attention for reading some mean reader comments, tweets and emails on camera. The video — “Daily Writers Share Reader Responses” — is ripe for localization by your own outlet. My two cents: Do it with a smile, come up with some witty responses and share, share, share on social media as a means of showing your audience you have a sense of humor and are clued in to their more on-point critiques. (The Michigan Daily, University of Michigan)


1A Day of Questions. Indira Gandhi once said, “The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” Embrace that power by spending a full day or week coming up with questions connected to everyone and everything around you. Focus especially hard on thinking twice and wondering why about the more common routines, items, locations, interactions and individuals you’ve taken for granted or simply accepted as the way things are. Keep a running list of questions. At the end of your designated question-empowerment period, read the list over and reflect on what the exercise compelled you to consider (possibly for the first time). Then, pick one question from the list to answer in-depth via personal reflection or dogged reporting.

1School Email Rules. Prospective 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton apparently broke the law by using a personal email address during her time as U.S. Secretary of State instead of a required governmental account. Her possible rationale? Nearly all official government emails are subject to archiving and public inspection. Bottom line, it’s a politically polarizing saga with some definite higher ed spin-off potential. For example, what are your school’s email rules? Who has access to the accounts of students, faculty and staff? Under what circumstances are messages using school addresses, or sent via school servers, allowed to be viewed and used — say in an investigation? And how do profs and students flout the rules or simply balance their personal and school accounts?

1SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: College Cool. The name of a recent exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery: “American Cool.” The photos comprising the exhibit collectively attempt to answer the question, “What do we mean when we say someone is cool? To be cool means to exude the aura of something new and uncontainable. Cool is the opposite of innocence or virtue. Someone cool has a charismatic edge and a dark side. Cool is an earned form of individuality.” Let’s deep dive into College Cool. Who or what embodies cool on or near your campus? And why do they occupy that cool perch when so many others do not? Also, has our conception of cool evolved over time or is it similar to what older alumni and longtime faculty and staff remember being cool during their own undergrad days — say, for example, the star quarterback or the local dive bar? In a related sense, what do the the cool kids (and adults) think of their ‘cool’ status? And what do they consider cool in return?

1REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Letter of Recommendation. As part of its larger reinvention, The New York Times Magazine has added a regular feature called “Letter of Recommendation.” NYT Mag editor Jake Silverstein describes the weekly segment as “a blast of enthusiasm, a gleeful yawp of praise for something, anything, that the writer feels compelled to endorse.” In that spirit, endorse something, anything, that you feel is especially worthy of wide acclaim or is being overlooked. The key, of course, is not simply the subject of your endorsement, but how well you back it up and win over readers who may not have previously known or cared about your recommended person, place, thing or idea.

1Food Waste
. After breakfast, lunch and dinner in the campus dining hall, what happens to the food tossed out, left behind or not eaten? As Nate Harris writes in a report for The Red & Black at the University of Georgia, “Most people probably do not think about what happens to the scrap of food they do not finish eating in the dining halls on campus, about the chicken wing bones, the cupcake wrappers, the little bit of untouched macaroni and those paper straws that come with a Bolton milkshake. Compared to how much food a student consumes, perhaps only a small percentage of it remains on the plate as the tray moves along the conveyor belt and around the corner, out of sight. That small percentage, however, equates to about 10 tons of food waste a week amongst the five dining halls.” 10 tons?! OK, so UGA is huge and students down South are hungry. But even if your school is smaller, the food waste each day or week most likely weighs more than you think and constitutes a clean-up-trash-recycle effort worth documenting. In a related sense, explore the decision-making behind how much and what types of food and drink are purchased and served for each meal. Also, what are students’ favorite and least favorite dining hall foods? And what are the items that dining hall workers admit they personally would not touch? (The Red & Black, University of Georgia)

CROWDSOURCING ALERT: College Life in 2030. Politico recently asked a group of leaders, innovators and big thinkers a simple, loaded question: What will the world be like in 2030? Employ it as a prompt for a related college report. Specifically, what will college life be like in 2030? Gather the perspectives of your fellow students, professors, administrators, local education reporters and, heck, even your parents.


SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: Male & Female Coaching Methods. A quartet of current field hockey players at the University of Iowa have filed a Title IX complaint against the school, alleging their coach was wrongfully fired for behavior they say would have been A-OK if she was a man. Specifically, the student-athletes are angry at the possibility that the coach’s tough talk and more intense practice methods may have been investigated differently and held to different standards simply because of her gender. The case provides the perfect launching pad for a localized look at coaching methods and athletic gender issues at your own school. Through interviews and observation, examine how assistant and head coaches in a variety of sports carry out their duties. Assess everything from their general attitude, word choices and body language to the types of physical drills, pep talks and downtime interactions they oversee and carry out. In a related sense, what are the most inspiring and helpful coaching methods current and former student-athletes have come across? And do the athletes and coaches see any gender-based double standards in place in respect to coaching expectations or etiquette?


1OP-ED AWESOMENESS ALERT: 100 Word Rant. Collegian contributing writer Rosemary Cook at Saint Mary’s College of California has tackled a number of hot-button and timeless topics in short burst op-eds. She calls the exercise the “100 Word Rant.” One example from last semester was her annoyance at how little the public seemed to know about Ebola. As she writes: “Chances are you’ve heard of the Ebola outbreak. You’ve heard how deadly it is and how rapidly it has been spreading. What many forget is that Ebola does not spread through the air, water or, in general, food. Rather than learning how it spreads, people stoke fears about the virus, pretending it is a magical, elusive disease that can be transmitted without a carrier. Rather than helping those who are suffering and at risk from the disease and supporting medical professionals, people continue spreading misinformation and making rash judgments with zero consideration of reality.” Consider crafting your own 100-word rants about current events or issues taking place on and off campus. It might make for an interesting op-ed series, the foundation for a special issue or even simply serve as a staff exercise to get the brainstorming and writing juices flowing prior to deadline. (The Collegian, Saint Mary’s College of California)

1“What It’s Like to Be Handsome.” Philadelphia Weekly columnist Timaree Schmit recently conducted a series of interviews with attractive guys centered on a specific question: What’s it like to be handsome? As Schmit explains, “There are downsides to being really, really, ridiculously good-looking, though most of them overwhelmingly affect women. Females have been denied jobs and fired for being distractingly attractive. Pretty women face more harassment from strangers, social rejection from other females, and their talents and intelligence are often downplayed. Some women’s entire sense of self becomes precariously dependent on external validation, leading to depression, substance abuse and eating disorders. And that’s an area of research that we know a ton about. But there’s surprisingly little information on the subjective experience of being a man whom society considers visually appealing. So I bravely and selflessly conducted qualitative inquiries for the advancement of science by talking to a bunch of hot dudes.” Carry out a similar inquiry at your school, attempting to assess the upsides and downsides of being a “hot dude” in your late teens and early twenties.

AUDIO JOURNALISM ALERT: “Sounds of the Downhill.” Capture the sounds of your campus — focusing on a specific location, event or set of individuals at a specific time. Maybe the cafeteria during the lunchtime rush, the hallway of a major academic building between classes, the a capella club’s warm-up process or the basketball team’s midweek practice. For inspiration, listen to the sounds of World Cup downhill skiing captured by The New York Times — including wind, silence, “start-house beeps” and “chattering skis.”


FEATURE JOURNALISM ALERT: A History of Women. Beacon living editor Cassie Sheridan at the University of Portland has stitched together an intriguing timeline displaying various feats, firsts and significant milestones related to female students, faculty and staff at UP. It spotlights everything from the opening of the first co-ed dorm and the first woman to receive a full professorship to news items about the growth of female student enrollment and the selection of the first woman to the school’s athletic hall of fame. And it’s all presented in an easy-to-read, fun-to-scroll interactive timeline. Start digging into women’s history at your own college or university — tapping into both the bigger and less-known moments, people and groups who helped carve the path toward gender equality and progress. Also assess the current state of women’s rights and visibility at your school in a range of areas — from enrollment, academic programs and athletics to staff pay, the make-up of the administration and related extracurriculars and events. (The Beacon, University of Portland)


REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Lie Witness News. People lie — especially to journalists. Jimmy Kimmel has proven this via his viral “Lie Witness News” series in which individuals are interviewed on the street about fake bits of information. Instead of admitting ignorance, the people featured on camera almost inevitably pretend to know what the faux interviewer is talking about and even offer related opinions. It’s scary and hilarious at the same time. In the spirit of Kimmel’s antics, the GU Bulldog Blog at Gonzaga University recorded their own “Lie Witness News” — involving students responding to Gonzaga-specific factoids that are partially or entirely fictional. You may not follow all the GU-insider references, but the students’ reactions and perspectives are still priceless, and cringe-inducing. This is screaming for additional school-specific adaptations. What do you think? Can you catch your fellow students in a lie — on camera? (GU Bulldog Blog, Gonzaga University)

FOODIE JOURNALISM ALERT: Memorable Meals. North by Northwestern staffer Meg Killedar recently asked a random Northwestern University student a fun, mouthwateringly intriguing question: What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had? Considering it revolves around Peruvian Chinese food, the response — shared as a 2-minute audio clip — is surprisingly suspenseful. It is also perfect for adaptation. Gather and construct a similarly appetizing breakdown of students’ culinary delights and disasters. Whether they are focused on homemade cooking attempts gone awry, campus cafeteria shockers, late-night fast food trips or romantic restaurant excursions, the stories will probably be more deliciously candid and entertaining than you might predict. (North by Northwestern, Northwestern University)


1PHOTOJOURNALISM ALERT: “Deep Inside Campus Buildings.” In an intriguing photo essay for The Dartmouth student newspaper, staff photographer Katelyn Jones goes for the guts. Specifically, she documents “the spaces deep inside campus buildings.” Join in Jones’ quest by staging a similar deep-dive exploration of the buildings in and around your own school. Capture shots of the boiler rooms, basements, electrical closets, custodial areas and storage facilities that most students, faculty and staff don’t have access to see — or never bother to really look at. Along with capturing the visuals, consider interviewing and profiling the individuals in some way connected to the spaces — sharing with readers the ins-and-outs of their work and the personal and professional journeys that brought them to campus. (The Dartmouth, Dartmouth College)

1REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Giving Recovery a Voice. Run by Temple University journalism professor Jillian Bauer, The Rooms Project is a “photo and audio story series on individuals living in recovery from addiction and alcoholism. The goal of this project is to give recovery a voice through the stories of experience, strength and hope often heard in ‘the rooms’ of recovery support groups and meetings.” Latch onto Bauer’s excellent work with a localized project of your own. Feature the stories of individuals on or near your campus who are in various stages of recovery from addiction. One especially powerful part of The Rooms Project to also consider emulating: Each person is interviewed and photographed in a location that is central to their story — providing an extra layer of intimacy and authenticity atop their spoken and written words. (The Temple News, Temple University)
SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: Quidditch Chaser. Crazy as it might seem on spec, Quidditch is far and away the fastest growing college sport in the U.S. What type of presence does it currently have on your campus? And what are the stories of the students playing it? Spartan Daily staffer Wesley Moots tracks its popularity and the ins-and-outs of its awesomeness at San Jose State University via a fun profile and complementary video focused on a student muggle playing a key position on the SJSU Quidditch squad. Here’s a classic quote from the featured student: “I love being able to tackle people and them not expecting it because they think I won’t do it. I’m small, but I love doing it.” (The Spartan Daily, San Jose State University)

1“Young, Talented & Kinky.” Eagle staffer Jordan-Marie Smith at American University delivers a fascinating, Fifty-Shades-of-Gray-esque glimpse at “[h]ow a sophomore is making waves in the BDSM community.” Any students or, hmm, even organizations at your own school similarly involved in this community? A snippet of Smith’s piece: “There is a range of people who participate in the scene and make it their own. BDSM is a normal part of life for all kinds of people that you wouldn’t expect: Wall Street types, professors, bosses and students. It’s a scene that’s often misunderstood. Despite what a majority of people might think, BDSM is not entirely sexual. Fifty percent is sexual and 50 percent is therapeutic release.” (The Eagle, American University)
MUSIC JOURNALISM ALERT: Music Shaming. Dominique Etzel at the University of Washington is angry about the rise in people “shutting down someone’s music taste” just because it conflicts with their own, seems pre-pubescent or is not en vogue. How, and how often, does this type of “music shaming” take place on your own campus? And what artists, groups and genres tend to bear the brunt of the teasing and taunting? As Etzel writes in a spirited op-ed for The Daily student newspaper: “I can’t count on one hand the amount of times somebody has told me I have the music taste of a 15-year-old girl. It is almost as if once you leave your teen years behind you aren’t allowed to appreciate the most-popular boy-band ballads or the occasional Justin Bieber throwback. Too often I refuse to step out of the house in one of my three One Direction concert shirts for fear that people would roll their eyes and scoff in disapproval. I should not be ashamed to represent a band that brings me joy, and nobody should have to live in fear of getting criticized because of their taste in music.” (The Daily of the University of Washington)


STUNT JOURNALISM ALERT: “Time to Put on that Uniform.” In her State Press column, Arizona State University student Desiree Pharias issues a challenge of sorts to students worldwide: spend some time working a low-level service job. Along with instilling extra appreciation for others who toil in those positions long-term, “working a job in customer service will help you develop strong life skills for your future career and develop stronger personality traits. It’s time to put on that uniform and try to overcome the stress of the job.” It’s a terrific immersion journalism opportunity as well, providing a firsthand glimpse into the rigors and routines of a job many students take on during their college years and most of the public doesn’t respect. (The State Press, Arizona State University)

1HEALTH JOURNALISM ALERT: “Growing Up Among Mental Illness.” In a powerful personal essay for The Daily Evergreen, Washington State University student Christina Theel bravely addresses “the depth of my mom’s illness.” It’s an important reminder about the need for stories that focus on those who may not have a mental or emotional condition themselves but are still living with one — through their relationship with a close friend, significant other or loved one. A snippet from Theel’s story: “I was 15 years old and just starting high school when my mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety, in addition to the depression. … ‘Hide the knives,’ ‘Flush these pills,’ ‘Keep an eye on your mom.’ I heard these phrases all too often during the peak of my mom’s mental illness.” (The Daily Evergreen, Washington State University)

INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM ALERT: Drunk History. An engrossing, eye-opening series in The Lantern traces the history of alcohol at Ohio State University. A snippet: “One of The Lantern’s first mentions of alcohol was in an 1895 article that said ‘alcohol is called the water of life, though this is not so.’ And that word — alcohol — would be repeated throughout the history of OSU and the Lantern. In fact, it keeps coming back again, and again and again.” What has been the impact of alcohol on your student body and school since its founding — from the psychological, sexual, cultural, law enforcement, education and economic perspectives? How, and how often, has it played a part in major campus events, riotous embarrassments, mass arrests, new or shuttered businesses, student deaths, GPA nosedives, instances of alcoholism and as a gateway to drug use or other dangerous intoxicants or behavior? (The Lantern, Ohio State University)


1“The Faceless Dr. Brown.” When was the last time you saw your school president? For Boston University students, it’s apparently been a while. In a well-written editorial, Daily Free Press editors call out BU’s current president Robert Brown. As they ask, “[W]here is Brown? Seen only in pictures and never heard, Brown is definitely the leader of BU, but an invisible one. BU suffers from an appalling lack of transparency between the hierarchy of the administration and the student body. … Is it possible to run a business while being involved with the student body? It’s hard to say, but it seems to most students that Brown hasn’t even tried. Worse still, Brown’s longtime absence in the student body means that if he ever tried to take on a more active role, he would come off as disingenuous and fake.” How, and how much, does your prez interact with students and engage in student life? How about with the professional and student press? And where and when would students, faculty, alumni and staff love to see the president show their face or do more in service to the school? (The Daily Free Press, Boston University)

FOOD JOURNALISM ALERT: “We Meat Again.” How are current, former and wannabe student vegetarians faring in the foodie cosmos nowadays, especially in respect to the options available on or near your campus? For inspiration, check out a fascinating piece in the student newspaper at UK’s Leeds University. The fun headline: “We meat again: vague-etarianism.” The gist: “After being a vegetarian for seven years, the editor of The Gryphon, Jasmine Andersson, discusses why she decided to start eating meat again, the social pressures of being a vegetarian and her reasons for initially giving up meat.” (The Gryphon, Leeds University)


SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: “Fancy Gear, Face Paint & Spirited Antics.” Who is your school’s most-impassioned super fan, and what’s their story? At Idaho State University, according to Bengal staff writer Steven Murillo, “The super fan, perhaps more commonly known as Ross Cunningham, has been attending games at ISU for over ten years. Cunningham began his practice of supporting teams by utilizing fancy gear, face paint and spirited antics when he was in high school. When he came to ISU he was happy to continue the tradition. The energy he brings to games is hard to ignore.” (The Bengal, Idaho State University)


1SPECIAL PROJECT ALERT: 50-State Fun. This is a good one for new staffers or an intro reporting class. To provide a glimpse of your student body’s diversity — at least stateside — try to track down undergrads “who come from each of the 50 states in the United States.” Follow Daily Californian staffer Summer Langton’s lead by featuring each student in a quick-hit Q&A about their home state and home campus. (The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley)

“After the Accident.” This past fall, University Daily Kansan staff writer Emily Donovan delved into the life of University of Kansas student Colby Liston, a double amputee. Liston lost both his legs in a car accident in August 2013 near the start of his freshman year. Donovan’s aim was to go beyond the initial, superficial media hubbub surrounding Liston at the time of the crash — exploring instead how he is coping long-term with his prosthetics and a new set of everyday challenges. As Donovan, a junior English major at KU, wrote, “For Colby, recovery was a matter of making himself do it. It started in the living room. Colby took five steps on newly fitted legs. The next time, he took six. Then, he walked all the way back and forth. He could make it across the room with only one crutch, so he tried without any crutches, just to see if he could do it. As soon as he accomplished one small thing, he was working toward the next goal.” Your goal: Seek out and share the story of a student, faculty or staff amputee at your school. What led to the amputation? What have their experiences been like with recovery, prosthetics, societal re-assimilation and everyday routines? And what have they learned about limbs, loss and life through their trauma or physical alteration? (The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas)


SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: “Disorderly Conduct.” This past spring, Harvard Crimson staffers Orlea L. Miller and Juliet Spies-Gans investigated the abnormal eating habits of Harvard University student-athletes and the mental stresses and social pressures connected to them. As the pair write in the Crimson, “For athletes, eating habits don’t just regulate their choices in the dining halls. They also affect their lives on the river and on the field, in classrooms and in dorm rooms. Whether it is bulking up for training camp or slimming down for a weigh-in, for many Harvard athletes, diet remains a constant in the forefront of their minds, impacting their academic, social and athletic experiences at Harvard.” Examine dietary routines, restrictions and results among student-athletes at your school. Simply put, what and how do the stars, starters, reserves and practice squad players on various teams eat? What internal and external food pressures hover over them? How does their health consciousness vibe with what’s available to them in the cafeteria and other campus eateries? And how and when have their eating habits veered into full disorders or triggered dangerous consequences impacting their athletic or academic careers? (The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University)


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RELATED STORY ALERT: “Athletes Feel the Squeeze.” As a top-notch Stanford Daily report by Katie Zingheim, Chelsey Sveinsson, Sarah Wishingrad and Leela Srinivasan shares, “With demands to perform for the most successful athletic program in the country, some Stanford student-athletes find themselves struggling with body image issues. And some of these student-athletes raise concerns about the culture of eating disorders and the resources and support provided by the university and athletic department to deal with them.” (The Stanford Daily, Stanford University)


Racial Progress & Remaining Challenges. Crimson White video editor Daniel Roth put together a documentary outlining the racial progress and remaining challenges facing the University of Alabama 50 years after campus desegregation. The nearly 18-minute film includes archival news footage and powerful interviews with UA alumni who attended the university during its initial attempts at integration in the 1960s — including a former CW editor-in-chief and the university’s first black student-athlete. Its full title: “Stepping Through: A Look at the Past 50 Years of Desegregation at the University of Alabama.” Given the short-term bursts and long-term simmer of racial unrest at the moment nationwide, the video is a perfect point of inspiration for a similar look at your school’s history with race-based issues and events and its current racial climate — through the eyes of students, faculty, administrators, professional staff, alumni and community members. (The Crimson White, University of Alabama)

SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: “Chop, Boom, You’re Gone.” This past May, The Temple News unveiled a special long-form multimedia report documenting the effects of major athletics program cuts on the Temple University community. “Chop, Boom, You’re Gone” was the culmination of five months of reporting on the Philadelphia school’s decision to eliminate seven non-revenue sports (later reduced to five). Stitched together from content previously published, posted and produced by the Temple News team, the six-part narrative guides readers through the shock of the elimination announcement to the teams completing their final seasons and the student-athletes and coaches coping with the loss of their sports and figuring out how to move on. In a similar vein, examine the economic health of the athletic program overall — and specific interscholastic and club sports teams — at your school. Which sport or team is the biggest financial drain, and why? How much are head and assistant coaches paid in various sports? How much does the travel component — for away games and tournament play — cost? And what percentage of your school’s total budget is devoted to athletics? (The Temple News, Temple University)


“Gay and Greek.” Natalie Daher reported for The Pitt News on the emergence of LGBTQ members and traditions within the Greek community at the University of Pittsburgh. The 3,500-word story is rich with sociological context and candid interviews with individuals ranging from Pitt’s openly gay Inter-Fraternity Council President to a Delta Chi fraternity brother who doubles as the student president of the school’s Rainbow Alliance. As Daher, 21, the editor-in-chief of the Pitt News, writes, “In an increasingly sexually diverse society, the ‘Animal House’ fraternity reputation of boozing and pawing at women is slowly changing.” How well do the Greek letters and the letters LGBTQ align at your college or university? Have there been any new rules, changing routines or larger cultural shifts within fraternities and sororities which show an embrace of the gay and transgender communities? And, in a related sense, is there still a natural, or purposeful, divide among Greek orgs — with some catering to members of all orientations and others remaining more conservative or ‘straight’? (The Pitt News, University of Pittsburgh)


1A “Vinyl Wonderland.” More music lovers are entering a veritable “vinyl wonderland.” As Skyline College student Haley Holmes writes in The Skyline View, “First was vinyl. Then cassette. Then 8-Track, CD and MP3. Next is … vinyl? … [V]inyl is doing better than it has in over a decade.” Louisiana State University senior Justin Stafford, who sports a collection of more than 100 records, agrees with that positive assessment. “Those black shiny discs are back in style and sounding better than ever,” he shares in The Daily Reveille. “Vinyl record sales are making a comeback after the market took a nosedive in the ’90s, and music shops resembling those of yesteryear are popping up again in cities around the country.” Surprisingly, in the age of Spotify and the iTunes shuffle, Millennial music fans are part of this old-time record resurgence. Occidental College senior Jeremy Childs confirms “the virtues of vinyl [are] no longer confined to older generations.” What’s the vinyl scene like on or near your campus? Any especially impassioned student record collectors or vinyl enthusiasts? What are the tastes and perspectives of music majors and professors? And how do students feel about the diverse set of digital and mobile music listening options available today?
Dead Malls. A number of shopping malls across America are dying and many others are in states of real distress and decay. According to a New York Times report, “Like beached whales, dead malls draw fascination as well as dismay. There is a popular website devoted to the phenomenon — deadmalls.com— and it has also become something of a cultural meme, with one particularly spooky scene in the movie ‘Gone Girl’ set in a dead mall.” Stake out the retail scene near your campus. Any dead or dying malls or shopping centers? What are the experiences of students shopping, socializing or working side jobs at these past-their-prime retail locales? For a school-centric spin-off, focus on buildings, dorms, athletic facilities, specific classrooms and general areas of campus that are similarly dead, dying, spooky or simply sad. What led to their decline? What plans are in place for their final destruction, remodeling or reconstruction? In the meantime, what are they being used for now — officially and unofficially?

(Campus) Life After People. A past popular Discovery Channel series predicted what Earth would be like if and when humans became extinct — from how wild animals and our former pets would survive and in some cases thrive to how flora, fauna and sea levels would rise up and overrun our once-iconic manmade structures. The show’s focus offers an intriguing launching pad for a higher ed twist. Specifically, what changes on campus after people — or at least most people — take off at the end of each semester? During winter and summer breaks — with a majority of students, faculty and some other employees MIA — what is it like for remaining professional staff and administrators? Or how about international students living in empty-ish dorms? Separately, what is shut down, restricted or altered to save money or because it’s simply not needed — everything from certain classroom buildings and the fitness center to security forces and dining options? In a similar sense, how do overall operations costs, incidences of crime and prospective student visits during break-times compare to fall and spring semesters? And how much more alive and crowded has campus become during break periods in recent years as schools push harder to be year-round enterprises?


1“The Forever Professors.” What is the average age of professors at your school or within specific departments? Who is the oldest prof on campus, and what are his scholarly and teacherly experiences like nowadays compared to the early days of his career? What age do most profs plan to retire? And what are the generational divides and difficulties professors of various ages face in the classroom, during department meetings and at research conferences? In a buzzworthy commentary for  The Chronicle of Higher Education, Laurie Fendrich, an older professor at Hofstra University facing imminent retirement, urges her similarly older colleagues to do the same. Her argument about more elderly profs: “Academics who don’t retire are greedy, selfish and bad for students.” Yowza. In her words, “Professors approaching 70 who are still enamored with hanging out with students and colleagues, or even fretting about money, have an ethical obligation to step back and think seriously about quitting. … Of course, there are exceptions. Some professors, especially in the humanities, become more brilliant as they grow older—coming up with their best ideas and delivering sagacity to their students. And some research scientists haul in the big bucks even when they’re old. But those cases are much rarer than older professors vainly like to think. What’s far more likely is a version of what I observed in my own department—an art-history professor in his late 70s who prowled the halls up until a few years ago. He didn’t appear to be able to use email, and we all knew he was a terribly easy grader.”
SPECIAL PROJECT ALERT: #ProjectIntern. The Post at Ohio University has put together a fascinating multi-part glimpse at the internship experiences of OU students majoring in a variety of academic disciplines. Following the blueprint laid out by the Post special report — headlined and hashtagged #ProjectIntern — examine the amount of students interning across campus, the types of internships they are taking on, the timing of those internships in their undergraduate careers, programs’ related internship requirements or recommendations and of course the lowdown on internship financials (including paid vs. unpaid and average hourly pay). (The Post, Ohio University)


1STUNT JOURNALISM ALERT: “My Tortuous Week.” American Journalism Review editorial intern Cory Blair recently took on an odd, fascinating assignment. As he writes in an AJR piece, “The challenge? For one week, I had to use a manual typewriter instead of Microsoft Word. This meant all my assignments, essays and articles for the week had to be manually typed up. It also meant I had to lug a 40-pound typewriter everywhere I went. … I’m 19. Before this experiment, I had never even seen a typewriter. I wanted to get a taste of what old-time reporters had to go through. I wanted to see how it would influence my writing and my thinking.” Influence your own writing and thinking by similarly going old-school. Attempt to use or master an out-of-touch technology, tool or work method for a set amount of time — while reflecting on your ups, downs, personal observations and others’ impressions along the way. Blair’s ultimate conclusion, by the way: “When your editor asks you to write everything on a typewriter for a week, say no. Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit. And don’t look back.”

“The Uphill Battle.” O’Colly digital editor Emily Farris recently wrote a courageously candid column about living with major depressive disorder and anxiety — a pair of afflictions more common in college students than many might think. The headline of the piece: “The Uphill Battle: A First-Hand Account of Clinical Depression.” As Farris, an Oklahoma State University multimedia journalism major, writes, “Depression.  Sometimes I wish that word would disappear all together because it makes everything seem so simple, that ignoring its existence would make it go away, but it won’t. Ignoring it wouldn’t bring my motivation to live back. Ignoring it wouldn’t make me feel happy again. Ignoring it wouldn’t save me. … I wanted to hide my diagnosis. I thought it made me crazy. I was wrong. Forty-four percent of American college students report some feeling of depression, according to psychcentral.com. All of those people aren’t crazy — they’re human.” Similar to Farris’s powerful write-up, tell the human stories behind students’ uphill battles with clinical depression — including the emotional demons, mental challenges and social stigmas they face and the treatments and more informal coping methods they have sought out and found helpful. (O’Colly, Oklahoma State University)


1“Watchful Eye.” What is actually involved in the day-to-day operations of your campus police? Or even more specifically, what are the responsibilities and routines of your school’s top cop or chief security officer? One recent report — headlined “Watchful Eye” — focused on the Virginia Commonwealth University police chief. According to the school’s media relations squad, the chief turned to police work after engaging in a separate career as a chef. At the moment, he “makes the overarching, day-to-day decisions for a department of 92 officers, dozens of civilian staff and hundreds of security personnel across two campuses. … On any given day the chief may meet with students, such as those in student government, advocacy groups or those who stop him to chat as he walks through campus in uniform. He routinely meets with university administrators and has strong partnerships with offices and agencies outside VCU.” To confirm, the story and video complement below are PR packages, so I like the idea here more than the execution.

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Ruin Something. Forget about engagement rings as the ultimate expressions of romance or the most significant symbols of pre-marital commitment. They are apparently nothing more than a scam — the result of a wildly successful marketing ploy crafted by a jeweler in the 1930s to boast ring sales and increase the value of diamonds. The spirited, snarky College Humor video sharing this info is part of a series called “Adam Ruins Everything.” It features the host picking apart sacred traditions or taken-for-granted concepts such as engagement rings, circumcision and purebred dogs. In that spirit, brainstorm and ferret out what is ripe to be “ruined” on or near your own campus. Examine the traditions, concepts, events and trends related to your school, Millennials or college life in general that are often simply accepted at face value or followed or celebrated without question. Probe deeper to reveal any especially odd origins, offbeat connections or under-the-surface issues that will make readers think twice about what they thought they knew or have never given a second thought.

STUNT JOURNALISM ALERT: Prank It Forward. Scary, mean-spirited and gross-out pranks are increasingly being eclipsed by a burgeoning “positive prank” movement — aimed at doing “good things for people who deserve some goodness.” For example, an edition of the heartwarming web series “Prank It Forward” surprises an overworked Cleveland maid with a five-star meal, a professional massage, designer clothes and a NEW HOME after first tricking her into thinking she was cleaning the house of “a very important client.” Her reaction is priceless, simultaneously smile-and-tear-inducing. To elicit similar feel-good responses, do “good things for people who deserve some goodness” on your own campus. Stage a series of “positive pranks” aimed at creatively honoring individuals who deserve a reward, a break or simply some recognition — possibly with the help of local businesses or school staffers willing to donate money, products, services or their time.

Personal Writing Prompts: What friend, family member, co-worker or classmate would you nominate for a life-changing positive prank, and why? If you could plan it, what would the prank entail? In a related sense, what is the nicest thing you have ever done for someone — or had done for you?

1“The Heart of Art.” Big question of the day: What is the current artistic state of your school? Explore the amount, variety and vitality of campus art exhibits, theater productions, staged readings and musical performances, published student and professor creative work and related speaker series. How do these and other expressions of artistic awesomeness compare to what has been presented and produced on campus in recent semesters or, say, a decade ago? In addition, how do funding levels compare? What about the status of related exhibit halls, theaters and arts and recording studios? What equipment, structure or travel funding do theater, arts, music and creative writing majors and profs pine for? According to a New York Times report, “Elite campuses across the country have emerged from the recession riding a multibillion-dollar wave of architecturally ambitious arts facilities.” The paper calls its a “A Campus Art Wave.” Is your school part of this wave in any way? Regardless, examine the art on campus building walls or objects of art such as statues placed prominently around campus. Follow the money of course in respect to how they were constructed or acquired, but also consider the diversity of the creations themselves and how they relate to the school’s mission or values. Confused about how to start that examination? My advice: Start with the identities of the creators. Notice any gender, age, ethnicity, geographic or time period trends? (The Cavalier Daily, University of Virginia)


1“Golden Tradition.” First, to confirm, yes, I’m going there. When starting this page, I made a personal vow to dive into ALL types of ideas — from the extraordinary to the apparently urinary. For devoted page visitors, please notice I’ve placed this entry beneath a serious arts exploration idea and above a fascinating photo project. OK, now the gist: Students pee in public on and near their campuses at times, typically at night and on weekends and probably while drunk. And, sometimes, they get caught in the act — leading to a police record with a cringeworthy public urination charge. For example, The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania confirms, “Public urination is a continuing problem on campus, both on [a well-known Benjamin] Franklin statue and elsewhere. Upticks occur during heavy drinking periods on campus, including New Student Orientation and Homecoming. … Though the university does not record the specific number of incidents on the statue itself, 43 cases of public urination occurred campus-wide last year.” The DP cites the Ben Franklin statue pee trend as nothing less than a “Golden Tradition” at the Ivy League school. Yowza. So how often are such acts observed and reported by campus and local police at your college or university? What are the on and off-campus punishments involved? What campus spots are prime targets for such behavior? And are there any related traditions triggering such public displays — such as a Greek life, pre-game or exam period ritual? (The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania)

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: “Friends You Haven’t Met Yet.” As part of his iconic “On the Road” series, CBS News reporter extraordinaire Steve Hartman profiled a photographer who launched and maintains a project called “Touching Strangers.” The photo series captures images of complete strangers plucked off the street and willingly posing together as if they were old friends, family or romantic partners. Beyond the quirkily powerful photos it produces, project participants say the moment of connection with someone they had never met and will most likely not see again is impacting and in some cases makes their day. Feed off the project’s essence by attempting to bring strangers together on your campus — for fun photos, quick chats or other storytelling adventures.

FASHION JOURNALISM ALERT: “Polyester Shirt & Coffee-Colored Sweater.” As a non-fashionista, one of my favorite stories, possibly ever, is a BoredPanda post about an elementary school gym teacher who wore the exact same outfit for his yearbook photo 40 years in a row — starting in the early 1970s. Honestly, I doubt the “polyester shirt and coffee-colored sweater” combo were in style even then. But believe it or not the sameness does hold some resonance with a trend today — a few elitists in various industries (including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and fashion mogul Michael Kors) famously wear the same clothes every day. They say it’s mainly so they can avoid wasting time or brainpower that instead should be directed toward their work. What are the absolute favorite outfits, articles of clothing or fashion accessories among students at your school? To what extremes do students go to protect these favorites from aging, the outdoors or even washing? Separately, are any students, faculty or staff known for wearing the same or very similar outfits every day (or on certain days of the week)? And what about individuals who proudly wear clothing or accessories long since deemed dated? For example, one of my students proudly wears a scrunchie in her hair each day, even while admitting it’s uber-retro (of course now so retro it’s making a comeback).


Personal Writing Prompts: What is your all-time favorite outfit, article of clothing or fashion accessory? Describe it in detail and explain why you love it so much. What is the most outdated outfit you have ever been photographed wearing — maybe in a family scrapbook, an old school yearbook or even an (untagged) Facebook photo? What is the story behind it — how you ended up in the clothes and what you were doing at the time? And how would you describe your personal fashion style? Then ask your friends, family, roommates and classmates how they would describe your style. What do you notice about the difference in responses?

“Time to Play.” Inside Magazine editor-in-chief Kathryn Moody at Indiana University recently told the surprisingly compelling tale of an IU freshman attempting to learn the ropes, fit in and keep up with the school’s famed marching band. Here’s a portion of the lede: “The cold rain splashes in pools and soaks Emily Warren’s white baseball cap. Her Marching Hundred uniform turns a darker and darker red as water seeps in. Nothing feels dry anymore. Nothing has been dry since the rain started, on and off, at 7:30 a.m. … She’s never marched before. She’s preparing to march in a storm with a huge instrument she doesn’t play. And if she messes up, everyone will see. … The parade formation, which includes spinning, jumping and lifting her 30-pound sousaphone, is no Sunday stroll.” Take a similar stroll with the band or any other musical group at your college or university. Similar to the narrative Moody has shaped, approach the group through the eyes — and experiences — of a newbie trying to join the ranks or even possibly via a first-person/stunt adventure in which you attempt to master the steps, cues, formations and notes. The key: BE THERE to capture the full story — at the early morning practices, during bad weather, at the more informal get-togethers and in the stands and stadium bowels before and after performances. One more snippet from Moody’s excellent feature: “Emily eyes her bandmates while they move along to the music for cues, and for some songs she still needs her book, but she picks up on it quickly. She bops side to side with her baritone. Occasionally, she puts her sprained ankle up on the bleacher in front of her, rolling it. They stand the whole half before the show, and it hurts after a while. But at least the rain has finally ended. The sky is brighter and the clouds, while still a heavy gray, roll on, harmless. And then it is time to play.” (Inside Magazine, Indiana University)


REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Newsroom Sessions. Forget chasing music stories. Just bring the noise and funk to your own newsroom. For “Newsroom Sessions,” The Banner student newspaper team at California Baptist University invites an undergrad artist or music group to their newsroom digs to chat with an editor about life and their music passion and also perform a song or two. The overall vibe — and newsroom lighting — is low-key, intimate. And there is simply something smile-inducing about a student getting soulful on his guitar against the backdrop of a world map mounted on a newsroom wall. I could see this extending to student stand-up comedians and other performers like magicians, jugglers or improv actors. Bottom line, the concept is cool and the name — “Newsroom Sessions” — is the best part. (The Banner, California Baptist University)

A Small Space. One fun viral video of the moment displays the results of a jaw-dropping apartment redesign — a young woman in Paris has transformed what is essentially a 200-square-foot storage space into a full-fledged functional home. Building off this Parisian transformation, seek out the most fascinating, functional and quirky redesigns that students have carried out on dorm rooms and off-campus apartments. Detail the secrets behind their fix-up successes including the items they swear by for enabling more space, comfort or the illusion of privacy. Then head to professors’ and administrators’ offices, classrooms, computer and science labs, athletic training facilities and student lounges to see if any similarly creative redesigns have been carried out — or should be carried out ASAP. The latter begs an interesting question worthy of a separate full report: What rooms, offices and common areas are the biggest wastes of space — literally — on campus?

Student-Athletes’ Height and Weight. The athletics department websites at colleges and universities nationwide often share the height and/or weight of student-athletes involved in various interscholastic sports. The big questions: Why? And should they? A student and cross country runner at Minnesota’s Macalester College thinks that info should remain private. Ross Boehme suffered from an eating disorder and body dysmorphia as a freshman and remains insecure about his weight — an insecurity he argues is heightened by knowing his exact weight is listed publicly alongside other athletes on the college’s athletics department site. As he writes, “It’s not fair for the athletics department to publish sensitive information on their student-athletes. … If you want Macalester student-athletes to focus on their healthiness instead of their weight, should you be posting their weight for everyone to see?” What student-athlete information is posted online at your school? Does the information differ depending on the sport or the gender of the players? (Apparently at Macalester only the male athletes’ weights are provided.) And what do the student-athletes and gender, health and sports science professors think of this practice — understandable or insensitive? Boehme: “I believe the athletics department published this information because they think it offers insight into each student-athlete. It doesn’t. Height and weight are misleading metrics when it comes to athletic performance. They might be moderately correlated with success, but does that warrant disclosure?” (The Mac Weekly, Macalester College)


#MyRoommateIsWeird. Seek out and share the strangest, wackiest, most random or most memorable experiences students at your college or university have shared with a roommate or suitemate. This lighthearted reporting challenge follows in the spirit of a past “Tonight Show” Hashtags segment in which Jimmy Fallon collected funny and eccentric shared-living stories connected by the hashtag #MyRoommateIsWeird. A similar segment on Fallon’s previous “Late Show” carried the hashtag #ThatsMyRoommate. Three examples of things students and non-students have shared with Fallon: “My roommate used to put her initials on each individual egg in the refrigerator. … She made me a mixtape called ‘Sorry I Barfed on Your Comforter.’ … I saw my college roommate in an awesome pair of boxers. I said I have the same ones. He said, ‘I know, they’re yours.'”

1From the Sidelines. During a recent home football game, a wide receiver for the University of Oklahoma Sooners “flew out of the end zone and landed on a camera lens belonging to a Tulsa World photographer.” The result: a shattered lens, a slight athlete injury, a rant from the head football coach and a new sideline policy at OU limiting where photographers can stand and the equipment they can have with them. The incident provides an interesting foundation for a wider-angle glimpse at the just-off-the-field individuals and activities impacting college athletics. Your mission: Report from, and on, the sidelines. For example, who is allowed or required to be present on or near the sidelines when various teams at your school are playing games? How tight is security, really? Who is the most influential ‘invisible’ individual along the sidelines — maybe an announcer, scoreboard operator, referee or trainer? What athletic gear, drinks, snacks, playbooks and good-luck charms do athletes and teams in various sports keep with them at all times along the sidelines? How close do fans in various sports sit or stand to the action on the field or court? How does their presence and relative enthusiasm impact the teams they’re rooting for or against? And to that end, what sport suffers the lowest attendance or most unimpassioned fan-base? (I remember once watching a university rugby match that had to be stopped when unknowing students walked across the field on the way to class.) From a more personal storytelling angle, zero in on the parent or family member who has never missed a student-athlete’s game — from childhood to college. Or profile the substitute player on the far end of the bench, someone who’s never played or barely been called to action. What is it like to have a repeated front-row seat to games they’re aching to take part in? (The Oklahoma Daily, University of Oklahoma)

1Mid-College Crisis. At the end of this past spring semester, Seton Hall University student Samantha Giedris grappled with a common undergraduate affliction that doesn’t arrive with a medical diagnosis or even have a formal name. Giedris, a journalism major from Woodlands, Texas, calls it, simply, “the mid-college crisis.” As she explains, “Basically, it’s a realization around the middle of someone’s college experience that their time is almost up. This realization causes them to reflect on missed opportunities and try, possibly too hard, to make up for lost time at any cost. This crisis is such an impacting event for students because our time in college is short and there is constant pressure to do as many things as possible in what are supposed to be ‘the best four years of our lives.’ So when it’s clear that half of that time is done, it’s easy to look back and get stressed out by all the missed opportunities.” Report on the mid-college crises experienced by your fellow students. Diagnose the external symptoms involved. Document the related internal confusion weighing them down. And catalog the activities, events, classes, clubs and trips students should engage in both before and after their collegiate midpoint. (The Setonian, Seton Hall University)

Fat Acceptance Movement. Natalie Craig is a Columbia College Chicago senior, an impassioned fashion blogger and a confident plus-size woman. She is open about having hips and curves, proudly confirming, “I am a size 14 and don’t look like Kate Upton.” As she writes on her blog Natalie in the City, “Although I was a fashionista at an early age, I grew up receiving backlash for my full-figured shape, and the thin standards of the fashion world didn’t love my body as much as I did. It’s hard out here for a plus-size fashionista, but it’s also the most amazing feeling to be able to rock an ensemble that takes time, effort and creativity to master.” Craig is also taking time to spread the word about the increasingly popular and mainstream Fat Acceptance Movement, “which means celebrating and embracing a woman’s curves rather than shaming them.” According to a recent column by Craig in The Columbia Chronicle, “The Fat Acceptance Movement exists because women like me are content with their curves and choose not to be subjected to the Photoshopped beauty standards that consume Americans and society as a whole.” Explore the Fat Acceptance Movement’s existence, ins-and-outs and impact among students, faculty and staff at your school. And consider using the movement as a launching pad for deeper looks into a range of body image issues. (The Columbia Chronicle, Columbia College Chicago)  Check out my related ideas on this page “Food Stuff” and “Body Issue.”


1IMMERSION JOURNALISM ALERT: Reporting Lab. Fun fact for the unscientific among us: In the sciences, while professors formulate projects’ starter questions and oversee the big picture, most of the actual physical research is conducted by undergraduates, graduate students and post-grad fellows. During a session at the 2014 ACP/CMA National College Media Convention, Henriette Lowisch, director of the environmental and natural resources journalism graduate program at the University of Montana, said students enrolled in the program will embed themselves in a particular science research lab for a semester. Among their embedded activities: attending lab meetings, joining group dinners or activities, spending time with the undergraduate and graduate student researchers and attempting to grasp the real spirit of the lab’s work in part by seeing it completed as much as possible firsthand. The ultimate aim with the immersion journalism project is to help breathe new life into a dense topic like science, along with sharing the voices and perspectives of the people actually completing the research — the individuals typically kept so far in the background the public may not be aware they even exist. Look into embedding opportunities with labs located on or near your own campus. Shadow the researchers for a week, a full semester or longer to better understand firsthand what their related research is all about and why it matters. Simultaneously mine the human element, capturing and telling the stories of the individuals who make up the extended research family. (Idea written and submitted by CMM correspondent Leigh Anne Tiffany)

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: “Teach Me How to Hobby.” Playing Dungeons & Dragons. Practicing yoga. Enjoying Japanese anime. And collecting cassette tapes. These are among the downtime activities and mini-obsessions featured in “Teach Me How to Hobby,” a fun series produced by The Daily of the University of Washington (the actual awesome full name of the UW student newspaper). Each week, a Daily staffer explains the ins-and-outs of one of their own hobbies, providing a mix of personal anecdotes, background info and advice for interested readers on how they can indulge in the hobbies themselves. For example, as Haylee Millikan writes about getting started with yoga and meditation, “If you have never meditated before, I suggest sitting in a quiet place, in a chair or on the floor, with your tailbone tucked under you and your hands resting in your lap. Close your eyes. As you breath in, think, ‘I am aware that I am breathing in.’ As you breath out, think, ‘I am aware that I am breathing out.'” Become more aware of the offbeat or under-the-radar hobbies enjoyed by students, faculty and staff at your school. Shoot for insights into the wacky and wonderful pastimes and collections taking up their free time now and what they were rapturous about during their childhood or high school days. My own students carried out a hobby deep-dive challenge recently and quickly ferreted out classmates who collect scrunchies, repeatedly watch old Disney Channel movies, constantly play Clash of Clans, frequently travel to Disney World and endlessly plan out their future dream wedding via Pinterest. (The Daily of the University of Washington)


CROWDSOURCING ALERT: “Big Talk.” Northwestern University freshman Kalina Silverman isn’t interested in making small talk. Instead, she is determined to engage individuals on and around the NU campus in what she calls “big talk,” discussions centered on strangers’ “responses to bigger life questions, like ‘What do you want to do before you die?'” Silverman sees the reporting series/social movement as a means of connecting with strangers, building community and diving into deeper questions worth pondering instead of the “How ’bout this weather?” chatter we all too often resort to in a pinch among unfamiliar faces. To spur big talks on your own campus, what questions would you ask your fellow students, faculty and staff?

“Speaking During Class.” College of William and Mary student Abby Boyle recently wrote an open letter of sorts in The Flat Hat campus newspaper headlined, “Dear Professors, Class Participation Is More Than Speaking During Class.” As she argues, “While a sea full of raised hands is not necessarily bad, it’s unlikely that every person has something meaningful to say. In an attempt to gain ‘participation points,’ some students will steer class discussion onto a tangent, repeat what’s already been said or ask a question that has an obvious answer.” So what is the answer to improving the participation situation? To start, how do professors at your college or university define and attempt to grade class participation? How significant a role does it play in students’ final grades in various courses and departments? And what do students suggest professors do — with their teaching or on their syllabi — to ensure continued, meaningful contributions during class sessions? (The Flat Hat, College of William and Mary)


Hook-Up Horror Stories. There comes a time in every student’s collegiate career when they will be forced to deal with one of the more classic, ridonkulously memorable undergraduate experiences: the horrible hook-up! Exhibit A, via MOVE Magazine, affiliated with The Maneater at the University of Missouri: “Last year, I met an older guy named Alex* at a party. As the night was winding down, we decided to head back to his place for an adult slumber party. … Suddenly, a weird look crept across his face, and he immediately stopped everything and bolted out of bed. Totally freaked out, I debated putting my clothes back on and leaving until Alex came back … with tissues. Because he just had a nosebleed. On my face.” Yowza. To confirm, Alex similarly bled on the student writer during two subsequent make-out sessions — which makes one wonder why anyone would make out more than once with someone who bleeds all over you. What are the hook-up horror stories students at your school have to share? For even more fun, consider following the Washington Post Date Lab model, presenting the perspectives of both parties involved in a hook-up to see how often the stories fail to match up. (MOVE Magazine, University of Missouri)

Movies in Class. Professors are increasingly employing video snippets and full-length movies as teaching supplements and discussion starters during class sessions. How much class time is set aside at your college or university for film screenings — in various departments and disciplines? What are examples of films being rolled out as especially powerful pedagogical tools? And what do students think of their tuition dollars occasionally funding so-called “movie days”? For her part, University of Central Florida student Caroline Glenn is not a fan. As she contends in the Central Florida Future, “[W]atching movies during class is a complete and utter waste of time. Most college students don’t have much time to spare, let alone gas to spare. So driving to campus and inevitably hunting for that elusive parking space just to get to class and find out you’ll be spending the next two hours watching a movie seems like a slap in the face — and the wallet. I’ll be honest. If I walk into a class and find out it’s ‘movie night,’ I walk right out because, in the infamous words of Sweet Brown, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’” (Central Florida Future, University of Central Florida)


1“While Clutching a Roll of Toilet Paper.” According to New York magazine senior writer Melissa Dahl, “One of the less-fun college experiences is being forced to share a bathroom with everyone else in your hall. But some new research suggests an upside to the awkwardness: College students who did so were more likely to meet other students there by chance, and these chance encounters often led to friendships.” As the lead researcher recalls about his own undergraduate days, “My student halls had shared toilets, and looking back, the greetings we exchanged while clutching a roll of toilet paper made it easier to let go of any pretenses and feel more relaxed around each other.” What are the opinions of your student peers about the restrooms they share with each other in residence halls? Do they have any positive, or negative, stories about the chance encounters occurring in these common bathrooms? Any lasting friendships formed via stall or shower convos? And what suggestions do they have for administrators on how to improve the shared bathroom experience?
1Presidential Spouses & Kids. The spouses and grown children of college presidents often do not officially work for the schools with which they are most closely affiliated. But they boast the potential to exert a tremendous amount of influence — socializing at public and private events, aiding in fundraising, helping with promotional efforts, serving as the prez’s most frequent and intimate sounding boards, sharing in secrets that reach the very top of a college’s food chain and delivering bad PR blows when they publicly screw up (such as the arrest of the Indiana University president’s son a while back for pot possession). They also occasionally reside with the school’s leader in an on-campus or university-approved residence — meaning they are at least marginally eating into school expenses. In deference to all this actual or conceivable campus impact, put together a profile of the First Lady or First Husband at your college or university. Also consider a related feature on the president’s adult children or other immediate family members who sport especially strong ties to the school. You may be surprised at the interesting info you uncover. For example, a feature in The Flat Hat student newspaper on the College of William and Mary’s First Lady revealed that the president and his wife want students to visit their home more often. As the First Lady tells staff writer Sarah Caspari, “Just knock on the door. We’re usually here. We like to see people. A lot of people feel, ‘I know you’re really busy, we shouldn’t bother you at all.’ But we really do like the students to stop by.” (The Flat Hat, College of William and Mary)

1“Running Away, Closing Their Eyes, Peeing Their Pants.” Washington Post reporter and former Indiana University superstar journalism student Jessica Contrera has penned a pre-Halloween feature on a guy who helps run a haunted house. As she writes about the dude, unofficially known as the scare monitor, “He knows it’s going smoothly when he can hear the screaming. The crying. The people running away, closing their eyes and, more often than he’s comfortable admitting: peeing their pants. On opening weekend, those noises of fear are what makes the scare monitor smile. The gray makeup and fake blood splatter on his face cracks from how much he smiles. Because history, science and ticket sales all tell him the same thing: We like to be scared.” Yowza. Report on the students at your school who similarly take side-jobs each October as zombies, vampires, aliens, goblins or ghouls — scaring tourists and locals in haunted houses, corn mazes and hayrides. Or dive deeper into Contrera’s secondary focus — the fear factor. Find out what genuinely scares your fellow students, and why. Profile a student or faculty thrill-seeker. Tell the story of a person who faced up to a long-held fear or a separate individual who remains beholden to it or weighed down by it.

FOODIE ALERT: Man vs. Spicy Food. Nanyang Technological University student and Nanyang Chronicle lifestyle writer Trisha Lim is on a mission this term to chow down the most fiery food she can find — and capture her feasting feats in deliciously entertaining video packages. Lim’s most recent edible battle royale occurred in Singapore’s famed Little India district, where she successfully downed a curry combo platter so spicy that eating it gets your name on the restaurant’s wall of fame. Her giggle-inducing confession at the close of the challenge, “I can barely even feel my mouth as I’m talking to you.” Now that’s journalism dedication. Follow Lim’s spicy adventures with some man vs. food fun of your own — spotlighting campus  dining options, local cuisine and even student cooking (or parents’ home cooking) along the way. (The Nanyang Chronicle, Nanyang Technological University)

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: International Student Guide. The Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University publishes an annual guide for international students who are setting foot for the first time on IU’s campus and possibly in the states overall. It includes a breakdown of university traditions, general knowledge trivia and key terms (such as answering the iconic question “What is a Hoosier?); a glimpse at the surrounding community; tips for beating back culture shock and finding a niche within student life; international student statistics; and a listing of potentially helpful offices and services on campus and foreign food options on and off campus that will enable students to feel more at home while at IU. Produce a similar welcome edition aimed at students studying at your school from abroad. Follow the IDS rubric of mixing campus 101 facts and stateside-living tips with listings of people, places, events and things international students might be interested in checking out or knowing more about. (Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University)


Honors Student Culture. A group of undergrads at Purdue University Calumet in search of a suitable study spot recently caused a ruckus when they were asked to leave the destination they’d stumbled upon — an honors lounge. Why were they kicked out? Because they weren’t honors students. The students and their supporters have subsequently been screaming segregation (“There should never be a separate set of resources for some students, but not all.”) and raising awareness about the many other “perks” bestowed upon honors students at a rising number of schools — including scholarships, “access to honors faculty and staff members for academic support, a specialized curriculum, unique course offerings and an honors thesis program … exclusive networking opportunities, study abroad programs and special events” held just for them. Examine the honors culture at your college or university. Are separate study spaces, classes, trips, events, internships and scholarships set aside solely for students deemed honors-worthy? If so, how are such honors students selected? How much money is spent to support them during their time on campus, and of course where does this money come from? And what do “regular” students think of their honors colleagues?

1Situationships. In a piece for The Hilltop at Howard University, Savannah Harris asks students everywhere an important existential-social question, “Are you wondering what you’re doing with the person you thought you were dating, but aren’t really dating, because you never had that conversation? Let me be the one to inform you that you are in a situationship, and you’re not the only one. The idea of a situationship is that two people (or more) can be intimate and spend time together without the structure of an official committed relationship. It is essentially another term for ‘friends with benefits,’ although it implies more time spent doing things that couples do, which makes it all the more frustrating.” Capture the spirit of Harris’s rundown by exploring the popularity and complexity of situationships among students at your own school. Among other areas, look into the related gender politics and the romance, monogamy and social media angles of the whole shebang. (The Hilltop, Howard University)

CROWDSOURCING ALERT: “What I Be.” “I am not my weight. … I am not my suicidal thoughts. … I am not my sexual assault. … I am not my race. … I am not my apathy.” These are a scant few of the ginormous number of statements individuals have shared with photographer Steve Rosenfeld for a special photo series “What I Be” aimed at capturing intimate glimpses of people’s private fears, thoughts and doubts. As Boston College senior Michelle Tomassi writes in The Heights, “The ‘What I Be’ project has four steps: individuals have their insecurities written on their hands or faces; pose for a headshot without smiling; have it uploaded to Facebook; and provide a caption with their insecurity, preceded by ‘I am not.’ Each photo follows the same format, but the ‘What I Be’ project is anything but formulaic — it allows participants to be open and honest about themselves in the hopes of encouraging and empowering others who are experiencing similar struggles.” Consider adapting the formula and sharing the internal struggles of individuals connected to your own campus with a candid photo-confessional spread or regularly-updated special site. (The Heights, Boston College)


1“Sell Us Your Major.” “Taking down crime, one comma at a time. … Considering the power of history. … The world needs journalists. … Improving your education by studying it.” These are among the taglines for a unique set of student sales pitches published in The Diamondback at the University of Maryland. As the paper explains, “With 90 undergraduate majors at this university, having yours stick out from the crowd can be difficult. This week, The Diamondback asked opinion columnists to ‘sell’ their majors to our readers.” Recruit a similar sales force from your own school’s student body, faculty or alumni ranks. Compel them to pitch their chosen academic program to prospective or current students — publishing the competing rundowns in a special issue, special section or a permanent spot on your website. Along with text ‘sells,’ consider complementary video pitches. The key: While focusing on the positives, ensure writers are courageous enough to point out the flaws or quirks of their programs — either in general or at your school specifically. By the way, here’s a portion of UMD freshman Samantha Reilly’s pitch for the journalism major: “People think studying journalism is about learning how to sit for makeup before a broadcast or how to print facts on a page, but it’s about so much more than that. I spend my time learning about the incredible effect of the media on people, consuming news articles and reports as though they’re candy and, best of all, writing. Journalists have so much to do with people’s everyday life. We entertain, we inform and we put in a lot of work for little monetary compensation. Journalists are expected to be there. Whether that means snapping a photo of a riot in Washington, submitting a column on time or throwing themselves into a completely new realm of reality, journalists are there.” I’m sold, although I may be biased. What do you think? (The Diamondback, University of Maryland)


SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: 25 Ducks. Following in the spirit of the Time 100, the Emerald at the University of Oregon puts together an annual issue spotlighting 25 A-list students “who are rock stars in their department or have been producing amazing work in different projects and organizations.” Bottom line, the paper features students who are “well on their way to doing great things when they leave the UO. These Ducks will soon join the ranks of alumni such as Phil Knight, Ann Curry, Kurt Widmer and Ken Kesey. Will any of these Ducks revolutionize the world of athletic wear? What about journalism? Maybe one of these folks will become king or queen of the microbrew scene or write the next great American novel.” Capture the essence of the Emerald effort with a special issue focused on standout students at your own school — either individuals already making a difference on campus, in the surrounding community or online or those with crazy-huge potential and plans to change the world upon graduation. (Emerald, University of Oregon)


FASHION ALERT: “Sweatpants Pandemic.” “Sweatpants have been a growing trend in high schools and college campuses across the country,” University of Wisconsin-Platteville student Matthew Ahasay writes in the Exponent campus newspaper. “At one point, sweatpants were considered appropriate attire exclusively for bed or laying about. The casual nature of the warm, loose-fitting comfort garment has sparked a debate of the appropriateness and possible detriment to students who choose to wear them to class.” How common is sweatpants couture among undergrads on your campus? And how appropriate are they considered as class-day fashion choices — in the eyes of students and profs? As Ahasay explains, “The core issue of the sweatpants pandemic is if they have a place in the world of higher academia, a milieu that is supposed to groom us into professionals.” (Exponent, University of Wisconsin-Platteville)
1“An Anonymous User’s Playground.” An 11-month-old mobile app — sporting a pair of forgettable one-syllable words — has “found a spot in students’ hearts and phones next to Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.” Yik Yak is an easy, free and anonymous social networking service that at the moment is “outrageously popular on college campuses.” Students are tapping, scrolling, reading and sharing any thoughts they’d like — some of them R-rated — with people nearby whom they may or may not know. The Connector at the University of Massachusetts Lowell calls it “an anonymous user’s playground.” According to Connector student contributor Henry St. Pierre, “The app is chaotic, it’s fast, it’s inappropriate and it’s extremely inappropriate.” University of Maryland junior Katie Stuller points out in The Diamondback that extremely inappropriate content is spreading, fast. As she writes, “[L]ately, many posts that should be considered disturbing are being up-voted. Users crack racist and sexist jokes. Posts about alcohol, drugs and sexual activity flood the feed. While some of the crude posts are slightly funny and entertaining, the majority of them could be filed as offensive or even considered hate crimes. Many students already have suffered the consequences of Yik Yak. An anonymous user will post the address of a party, the name of a drug dealer or a threat toward an individual. The results quickly outshine that user’s five minutes of anonymous fame.” Report on Yik Yak’s own 15 minutes of fame among students at your school, and debate the implications of its fast, vast spread. (The Connector, UMASS Lowell & The Diamondback, University of Maryland)


“Fix the World in Five Minutes or Less.” In a column for The Daily of the University of Washington, opinion editor Nathan Taft identifies a serious problem and then offers undergrads a simple, multimedia-friendly means to pitch in and help solve it. As Taft explains, “As college students, life can be busy. Our limited time is dominated by class, work, friends and — occasionally — sleep. Even when we have a moment to follow the news or learn about issues happening around us, we rarely have the means or ability to engage our world and make a difference. This column is meant to help with exactly that. ‘Fix the world in five minutes or less’ will identify a problem facing society and give readers a quick and easy way to make a difference. Now, that time normally spent awkwardly standing outside your next class can be used to improve the world.” Follow Taft’s five-minute plan by similarly ID’ing school-specific and society-wide issues in need of student attention and maybe even activism — and offer advice on how students can begin getting involved in less time than it takes them to walk across campus. (The Daily of the University of Washington)


1“My name is D… D… D…” In a column for The Independent Collegian, University of Toledo freshman Dustin Jarrett begins with a greeting: “‘Hello. My name is D… D… D…’ I would generally let out a sigh or a grunt at this point. ‘D… D… sorry. I am D… D… Dustin!’ This is a greeting that many of the people I have met at the University of Toledo receive. Am I nervous? No. Am I afraid? No. I have a stutter.” Reach out to students at your school who have a stutter or some other speaking condition. What are their biggest  challenges or social phobias on campus or in class? What are the biggest misconceptions they’d like to correct? And how do they work to overcome or make the best of their unique speech patterns? (The Independent Collegian, University of Toledo)

1SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: Drugs, Sex & Mental Health. The Washington Square News at New York University has put together a fascinating special issue focused on a triumvirate of topic areas that are both newsworthy and highly relevant to campus life: drugs, sex and mental health. Among the features presented in the issue: a debunking of popular drug myths (including “Prescription Drugs are Not Bad for You”); a summary of upcoming changes to the university’s sexual assault policy; a “guide to common mental health conditions” and “destressing spots” throughout New York City; and an exploration of how NYU handles student suicides. As WSN web managing editor Kavish Harjai shares, “Sometimes as I walk down the street, I’m thankful to be surrounded by the city’s energy. Other times, attending a demanding university in New York’s chaos is suffocating. We talk a lot about balancing our lives in college — social life, academics and sleep — in an effort to preserve our sanity. But striking a balance isn’t always easy. … I conceived of this issue to help battle the pendulum of feelings that comes with being a student in New York.” Report on the similar pendulum of feelings students at your own school are battling — and the drug use, sexual activity and mental health conditions impacting those battles or the related issues cropping up along the way. (The Washington Square News, New York University)

Student-Athlete Mind Games. George Washington University volleyball player Jordan Timmer spent her offseason mentally — not physically — rehabbing. According to GW Hatchet staffer Alex Kist, Timmer spent time “in a training program … [striving to] boost her confidence and reclaim the starting spot she lost.” Kist’s top-notch report on Timmer’s “mental toughness” regimen is a reminder of the importance that mind games and emotional fragility play in the student-athlete experience. Examine the brain-spaces of the athletically gifted on your campus. Share the stories of student-athletes’ mental breakdowns in big game moments, the toughest mental hurdles they must overcome and the mental gamesmanship they unleash on their arch-rivals or even their own teammates. Also consider reaching out to coaches to confirm how they mentally rev up or wear down the players in their stead and the rules of thumb they follow in the offseason, during practices and throughout games to ensure athletes are not just OK physically but psychologically as well. (The GW Hatchet, George Washington University)


“Notes From My Journal.” University of California, Berkeley student Anya Schultz is currently obsessed with lists. As she explains in The Daily Californian, “They seem to force themselves on me. Lists. Like my day will be more concrete if I write on my notes app on my iPhone or — better yet! — an actual notebook: a small notebook, 3-inch by 3-inch I bought at a quaint Williamsburg bookstore because I have thoughts. Not just thoughts, but creative thoughts!” Schultz is contributing these thoughts as part of “Notes From My Journal,” a Daily Cal series “in which contributors share excerpts from their private journals, diaries and notebooks.” Following in the spirit of Schultz’s excerpt, round up some (intellectually) juicy journal and diary entries created by students at your college or university. Also consider being even more proactive by approaching students with a notebook of your own and asking for their random in-the-moment thoughts and observations on a blank page. Or seek out private-ish confessions or exclamations on students’ blogs or social media spaces — only reposting with full permission of course. The ultimate goal, at least the one the Daily Cal series seems intent on achieving: presenting a slice-of-life student perspective, unvarnished, possibly even slightly nonsensical, but definitely real. (The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley)


“How to Properly Address Professors.” As Saint Joseph’s University student and CMM correspondent Leigh Anne Tiffany asks in The Hawk campus newspaper, “‘Dr.’ or ‘Professor’? ‘Mrs.” or ‘Ms.’? ‘First name’ or ‘last name’? As the semester kicks into high gear, students are left with one perennial question: What should I call my professor?” In an earlier commentary for Slate, higher ed writer extraordinaire Rebecca Schuman confirms, “The complexity of this answer — the innumerable rules for who gets called what in the modern university — will astound you.” Dive into these rules and this astounding complexity with a rundown of how students at your school address their profs (in person, in and out of class and via email) — and what profs prefer to be known as. As Tiffany notes, via a faculty source, “[M]any factors, such as ‘educationaal background, gender, age and the professor’s idea of what the proper decorum of a classroom should be,’ all contribute to the choice of ‘Dr.’ versus ‘first name.'” (The Hawk, Saint Joseph’s University)


1Trans-Friendly Perceptions & Policies. How trans-friendly is your college or university? What is the perception of its transgender inclusiveness among current and prospective students, faculty, staff and alumni? And what has it implemented or supported in reality to show its support? According to the non-profit LGBTQ organization Campus Pride, schools can display “their commitment to the trans community by implementing many trans-supportive policies, including adding ‘gender identity and/or expression’ to their nondiscrimination policies; offering gender-inclusive bathrooms, locker rooms and housing options; providing a means for trans students who have not legally changed their names or had gender confirmation surgeries to use a preferred name and to change the gender on campus records and documents; recognizing trans identities on campus forms; and covering hormones and surgeries for transitioning students as part of student health insurance.” (CMM correspondents Samantha Puleo & Mary Kate Viggiano contributed to this idea’s conception)

1“A Certain Body Image.” According to Daily Collegian staff writer Annemarie Butkiewicz at Penn State University, “College students face many daily stresses — exams, assignments, classes and student loans, to name a few — not to mention the extra pressure to constantly maintain a certain body image.” And don’t forget the pressure of pleasing a sexual or romantic partner. Among the many factors challenging students’ self-esteem mid-hook-up or while donning their birthday suits: body size, color, sexual skills, bed shaking, unflattering facial expressions, uncomfortable noises and even smells. Building on Butkiewicz’s observations, report on the confidence levels of students at your school — while in the bedroom and staring at the bathroom mirror. What concerns, annoys, intrigues, arouses or turns off students about their own bodies or the bodies of their peers (and potential playmates)? In addition, how do they identify, discuss and overcome common sexual stigmas or insecurities — while lights (and clothes) are on and off? (The Daily Collegian, Penn State) (CMM correspondents Crista Dockray, Drew Koloup & Brian Radermacher contributed to this idea’s conception)

1“My First Panic Attack.” Last year, out of nowhere, Iowa State Daily editor-in-chief Stephen Koenigsfeld “felt like something snapped in my chest and my heart was going 160 beats per minute.” As he writes in a courageously candid column, “I was overwhelmed with a feeling of doom. … Chest pains, sweaty hands, hyperventilation and dizziness all followed. As I made my way into the emergency room, my heart rate had slowed, my sweaty palms began to cool and I was starting to be able to breathe again. Little did I know I had just experienced my first panic attack and was on the road for a troubling bout with general anxiety disorder.” GAD affects close to 7 million people in the U.S., according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, including college students. Follow in Koenigsfeld’s courageous footsteps by sharing the stories of students — and staff — at your school who are coping with the condition or related forms of severe anxiety. Break down the counseling services and other support available on and off campus. And explore the larger sociological underpinnings impacting student stress in the modern higher ed universe. A description of what a panic attack feels like, given to Koenigsfeld by an ISU medical doctor: “Picture yourself in a room with no air and a window at the far end and you will do anything you can to break through that window to get to the air. You kind of shut everything else out.” (Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University)

Party Times1. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight is one of the best “idea sites” (my term) in existence at the moment. The data-driven news outlet is currently sporting a crowdsourcing feature attempting to pin down when people arrive to all types of parties — “birthdays, game nights, barbecues, religious events, ragers.” Embrace the concept with a collegiate twist: Focus on the timing involved in student partying and general socializing. For example, when do students at your school stop studying and start partying — on weekdays and weekends? When do the parties tend to segue into after-parties or shift locations? What are the unofficial rules regarding arrival and departure times at parties held on campus, off campus, at home during breaks, at music festivals or other campus or community events? How are party habits impacted by the time of year or semester (such as dead week)? And what actually occurs at various times during an all-night or weekend-long party? The latter question especially is screaming for a real-time reporting experiment.

“73 Questions.” Vogue is earning a minor burst of fashionable buzz for its “73 Questions” series. On spec, it seems intent on reinventing — or at least slightly upending — the typical celebrity Q&A. Among the most noticeable tweaks: the purposefully odd (and high) number of queries, the rapid-fire style in which they are delivered and answered, the continuous-single-shot filming and the mini-walking tours (and even Ping Pong-playing) that occur along the way. Now, yes, these A-list tête-à-têtes do seem a tad rehearsed and err on being speedy over in-depth (in one chat Blake Lively reveals her mother once brought home a CHILD from a yard sale — the interviewer immediately races to the next question instead of asking, umm, why). But the series does deserve some praise for at least attempting to liven up a staid format (the dreaded, done-to-death, blah-tastic Q&A) — and it is worthy of a campus adaptation. Explore ways to more innovatively present interviews with intriguing and influential students, faculty and staff at your college or university. While the question amount and filming style should be unique to your outlet and right for your coverage area, consider keeping Vogue’s “73 Questions” bottom-line focus of asking “some of our favorite personalities … what they like, what they hate and most importantly — what they know.”

STUNT JOURNALISM ALERT: “Every Single PR Email.” Newsweek staffer Zach Schonfeld has a confession. As he writes, “It’s not that I’m unappreciative of the PR people who score me interviews and pass along stories — it’s just that there are so frighteningly many of them, and for every inbox blast that’s relevant to me, there are four or five more that may as well be from a Nigerian prince. But what if I’m missing something?” To see what he might be missing — and have some fun — Schonfeld spent an entire week responding to every PR email cramming his inbox. His adventure is chock full of weird wonderfulness and pure entertainment, while also providing an excellent glimpse at the many products and myths people are trying to peddle as newsworthy and the awkward ways they go about it. Follow in Schonfeld’s footsteps with a PR deep dive of your own. Click on, check out and possibly respond to all the PR messages and general spamtasticness arriving in your news outlet’s email inboxes. As someone who blogs and freelances daily about higher ed, I can confirm there are a TON of wacky and wild messages touting THE NEXT BIG THING FOR STUDENTS. They just waiting to be explored — and maybe even reported on.


1“The Two-Body Problem.” What happens when a pair of professors fall in love and one lands a gig at a new school? Do they work and live apart — or stay on the tenure track together? As The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania confirms, “Finding a job in academia is no easy endeavor. But when academics are married to other academics, finding the ideal job becomes significantly more difficult. Couples trying to obtain faculty positions in the same institution or general location face many dilemmas in what is generally referred to as ‘the two-body problem.’” How many faculty members at your college or university are married? How did they both secure spots at the school? What are the perks — obvious and hidden — and challenges of researching, teaching and advising at the same institution? And what are the school’s rules — official and informal — for hiring someone who comes packaged with a scholarly spouse also needing employment? (The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania)

#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. The Collegian at Colorado State University calls domestic violence “a silent crime on college campuses,” one that is more common and complex than many students and staffers realize. Along with triggering outrage in the sports world and wider public, the Ray Rice elevator-punch video underscores the necessity of breaking the silence with responsible coverage — including from the victims’ perspective. In that respect, a pair of hashtags trending and earning media attention in the wake of the Rice scandal are #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. The related tweets provide glimpses into the mindsets of individuals who endured abuse from their partners and the reasons they either remained in or eventually ended the relationships. Taken together, the tweets attempt to humanize a statistic that on spec may leave some scratching their heads: “It takes an average of seven tries for a victim to leave an abuse relationship.” As CNN paraphrases and quotes a senior writer for Cosmopolitan, “When it comes to helping women in abusive relationships, we need to understand why they stay in the first place, ‘instead of contributing to the stigma of staying by shaking our heads and asking why.'”

Over-Parenting 2.0. It is time for a fresh look at helicopter parents, a set of individuals hovering ever more frequently and dramatically over college students nationwide. A Washington Post report on “over-parenting” 2.0, confirms, “The kids who have been raised by parents who watched their every move, checked their grades online hourly, advocated for them endlessly and kept them busy from event to activity to play date are tucked away in college. But that doesn’t mean their parents have let go. They make themselves known to schools, professors, counselors and advisers. And yes, college presidents.” How, and how much, do parents intervene in the lives of students at your school? What parent-terror stories do professors and professional staff have to share? And how do social media and smartphones factor in to all this hovering and intruding? Also consider following the Post’s lead by laying out an etiquette guide for college parents from the student perspective. Check out my related ideas on this page “Parent Survival Guide” and “Student-Parent Relationship.”


Possible Health Code Violations. The University Daily Kansan recently asked its student readers at the University of Kansas an intriguing question: “Do you have photos of possible health code violations at the KU residence halls?” Seek an answer to the UDK’s crowdsourced question — at your own school. Gather photographic proof, eyewitness testimonies (from student residents, RAs, campus security and janitorial staff) and official records displaying apparent or confirmed health code trouble within dorms and academic buildings. The campus health code beat is often centered solely on the cafeteria and other eating establishments (and occasionally the sports stadium). But violations may also exist where you — and many other students — are living, studying and showering. (The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas)

1STUNT JOURNALISM ALERT: Quit Complaining. After suffering from a recent bout of especially heavy negativity and frustration, New York magazine senior writer Melissa Dahl “decided to, temporarily, quit complaining. No shit-talking for one whole week. I went home and excitedly told my plan to my boyfriend, who laughed at me — a reaction signaling that maybe this was a bigger problem than I’d realized.” In an era filled with First World Problems and in a higher ed universe increasingly saddled with College Problems, see if you can achieve a temporary state of nonstop positivity. Attempt to match or best Dahl’s weeklong no-complaint lifestyle — monitoring how often you have to stifle a gripe or full-blown rant along the way. At the same time, observe, record and analyze the types of complaints that pop up all around you — amongst your peers, profs and social media pals.

INVESTIGATION ALERT: “Shadow Campus.” The Boston Globe has been named a 2014 Online Journalism Awards finalist for a riveting multimedia project that spotlights the increasingly dangerous living conditions found within the “Shadow Campus” — or the area around each college and university that is full of “houses with code violations and crammed with college students.” The shadowy landlords, decrepit (literally rat-filled) residences, student-neighbor tensions and safety concerns throughout Boston’s shadow campuses are astounding. What is the state of the shadow campus near your own school? Depending, what needs to be brought to light or fixed en masse? And what are students’ rights, and why are so many not speaking up about the issues they come across? Check out my related ideas on this page “Off-Campus Responsibility” and “The Secret Roommate.”


Campus Mythbusters. In a new video report, Daily Californian staffer Mira Nguyen brings up and then quickly retorts popular myths surrounding the University of California, Berkeley. Nguyen relies on quantitative evidence to shoot down statements such as “Classes at Cal are way too huge” and “Cal sucks at sports.” Create a similar myth-busting multimedia package addressing some of the more common, ridiculous or outdated (mis)beliefs concerning your college or university. And follow the DC’s footsteps by turning to hard data for back-up. (The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley)

CROWDSOURCING ALERT: Class Confessions. The anonymous college confessions craze — built atop Tumblr blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds sharing students’ romantic longings, darkest secrets, meanest putdowns and most embarrassing moments — is increasingly discussing economic worries and disparities as well. These campus-specific class confessions pages mainly present student views on how their undergrad experiences are shaped at least in part by their financial statuses and the relative size of their school bills, loans or scholarships. As a Northwestern University student shares on NU Class Confessions, “The real reason I know I have to get a job in a field I despise is because in 10 years, my little sister will need financial help to go to college and my parents won’t be able to afford it, after putting four other kids through college. I can’t do that on a teacher’s salary.” Join in this growing socioeconomic discussion. Start a class confessions page on your campus. And explore the guilt and alienation some students feel from their peers not only due to their economic hardships but also because of their wealth. (NU Class Confessions, Northwestern University)


Mandatory Curfews. Among the many newsworthy facets of the Ferguson riots, the mandatory midnight-to-5-a.m. curfew briefly imposed upon residents and visitors to the Missouri city strikes me as especially suitable for a higher ed. adaptation. What are the curfews, lockdown times and time restrictions that exist across or near your campus — say in residence halls, science labs, athletic facilities or public transportation? What curfews exist for student-athletes, students participating in campus events like orientation or students on school-sponsored trips? How are those particular curfews enforced, and broken? And what are the punishments for curfew violations? Separately, what types of curfews have students faced while studying abroad, possibly due to school rules, host family requirements or outside events such as a natural or manmade disaster? And what curfews, if any, exist at certain points of each semester for students of various religions and from foreign countries?

“We Just Can’t Have You Here.” How does your school handle students who attempt suicide or discuss having suicidal thoughts — in the short-term and long-term? In an essay for The Yale Daily News, Yale University student Rachel Williams writes candidly about discussing her suicidal thoughts and an act of self-inflicted cutting with a school counselor. Her disclosure quickly spiraled without her control into a fairly degrading stay in a psychiatric hospital and a forced temporary removal from Yale — the latter decision made by an individual who had very limited contact with her. As a university hospital psychiatrist told her at one point about her chances to remain at Yale, “Well, the truth is, we don’t necessarily think you’ll be safer at home. But we just can’t have you here.” According to the Student Press Law Center, “The practice of academically withdrawing students who demonstrate suicidal tendencies is more common than many expect. … Finding out about whether colleges have involuntary withdrawal policies that apply to students who demonstrate a risk of suicide can be difficult. Student handbooks are a good first place to look for policies that apply at your own school, but journalists should also ask colleges whether they have other policies or forms not detailed in handbooks. It’s also possible your school may keep statistics on how many students are withdrawn or expelled each year because of mental health concerns.” (The Yale Daily News, Yale University)
CROWDSOURCING ALERT: #IAmNotYourStereotype. “Just because I am white doesn’t mean my life is easier. … Just because I am loud/obnoxious doesn’t mean I am not sensitive. … Just because I’m brown doesn’t mean I’m Arab. … Just because I’m German does not mean I’m anti-semitic.” These are among the statements shared by students at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn followed by the hashtag #IAmNotYourStereotype. The hashtag, and accompanying Facebook page, are the core of a class project at SJC aiming to jumpstart a “social movement against the use of stereotypes and generalizations that some people make in a split second everyday.” Have students at your college or university dive into a similar stereotype fight — sharing the stereotypes that have been directed at them or that they have held about others. Consider following the SJC students’ lead with a social media push possibly spun off from a hashtag or Facebook or Tumblr page. (The Spirit, St. Joseph’s College) (CMM correspondent Karen Funaro contributed to this idea’s conception)


Personal Writing Prompts: How are you stereotyped? How do you feel these stereotypes impact your life? And what is an example of a stereotype you have held toward others, and why?
Big Picture Ethics Question: Are stereotypes ever helpful for storytelling or as the foundation for a journalist’s understanding of a group or subject?

1Laundry Room Revenues. A while back, The Post reported that Ohio University students “pay $3.25 to wash and dry a single load of laundry on campus, which is almost double the average cost of seven other universities located in the state. … OU has a contract with vendor Caldwell & Gregory LLC. … Caldwell & Gregory agreed to pay OU 50 percent of all revenue up to $580,000 and 80 percent of all revenue more than $580,000 annually, according to the contract.” How much do students on your campus pay for laundry services? How do those amounts compare to nearby schools? And of course where does the money go once all the washer-and-dryer card swipes and loose change are added up? In a related sense, what’s the story behind the company responsible for the laundry facilities and machines at your school? Start by nailing down the particulars of their profit-sharing and maintenance agreement with the school and how they hold up from a service perspective. (The Post, Ohio University)

1Fire Drills, Few and Far Between. I’ve written previously on this page about the ridiculously high number of false fire alarms blaring in residence halls — causing students to shrug, roll over and go back to sleep instead of evacuating the premises. But what about official, full-blown fire drills? According to a report in The Daily Tar Heel, at least at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, drills do not appear to be carried out very often, if at all. What’s the drill story at your school? Are any regularly-scheduled drills conducted across campus or within certain dorms? How are they coordinated and who oversees them? And what are the punishments for students and staff who do not take part? (The Daily Tar Heel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

SPECIAL PROJECT ALERT: “Week 192.” A fascinating series from The Minnesota Daily features profiles of three University of Minnesota students during their first weeks and last weeks at the school. On spec, it embodies the spirit of the new Richard Linklater fictional film “Boyhood” and the iconic Michael Apted nonfiction “Up” series — which both check in with individuals as they age. In this case, we gain glimpses of students during freshmen orientation and again just before their expected graduation date. As the Daily explains, “Four years ago, Ashley was considering six different majors, Tom wanted to become a famous guitar player and Keen hoped to get an education so he could support his parents. They all started at the University of Minnesota as typical freshmen, navigating classes, making friends and trying to figure out where their lives might lead. None of them had the ‘traditional’ four-year college career, but each tailored their undergraduate experience to their own lives — making discoveries, shifting passions and sacrificing goals along the way.” Engage in a similar long-term project on your campus. Select a group of freshmen who are up for being repeatedly profiled. Consider annual or once-a-semester check-ins. Maybe have the students share snippets of their stories in first-person, via blog confessionals or video diaries. And follow the Daily’s fantastic lead by producing a final package or regularly-updated standalone site that is scroll-worthy and rich with multimedia. (The Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota)


1SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: The Weed Issue. In an introduction to its first Weed Issue, Emerald editor Eder Campuzano asks readers at the University of Oregon, “Does the number 420 mean anything to you? Of course it does. It’s when your big brother used to disappear in the basement with his friends only to emerge 20 minutes later with a mad craving for anything cheesy in the pantry. We’ve come a long way since ‘Reefer Madness’ was released (78 years, to be exact) and marijuana is far more acceptable in our society than it ever has been.” It is also far more newsworthy. The Emerald’s Weed Issue tackles toking up from the legal, medical and social perspectives — with story headlines ranging from “The Effects of Marijuana on Your Brain” to “This is What Happens When you Listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ While Stoned.” What is happening with marijuana legislation, medicinal usage and general cultural norms on and near your campus? Who is getting high, how, how often, why and where (apparently at UO there is a spot called The Smoking Tree)? And how have various pot activities and price-points changed over time? In respect to the latter, check out this interesting IvyGate post from Yale University student Marissa Medansky on the 1970s marijuana scene at Ivy League schools. (Emerald, University of Oregon & IvyGate)

CROWDSOURCING ALERT: “The Bucky List.” Erik Sateren at The Badger Herald has put together a concise list of activities and traditions he suggests University of Wisconsin-Madison students should take part in before their undergraduate days are up. The 50 items on “The Bucky List” — a spin-off of the more general term Bucket List that celebrates the school’s mascot — includes sexual jaunts, naps, kayaking, sledding, coffee runs, voting and protesting in various iconic locations. Playing recruiter and ego-stroker, Sataren also advises students: “Get an article published in The Badger Herald. There’s no better feeling than seeing your name in a byline.” What deserves a spot on the bucket list for your college or university? What academic, social, digital, athletic, romantic, culinary and political endeavors will students be remiss if they don’t tackle prior to graduation? Ask your outlet’s readers and social media followers for their recommendations. And reach out to alumni to determine what traditions were considered essential for students of previous eras. And hey, if you’re in a stunt journalism mood, go out and film yourself completing items on the list. (The Badger Herald, University of Wisconsin-Madison)


Personal Writing Prompts: What is on your bucket list, and why? What is the story behind one bucket list adventure you have already had? And what is an example of an experience or place that from your perspective didn’t live up to the once-in-a-lifetime hype?

1The Red Zone. The first 10 to 12 weeks of fall semester — stretching roughly from late August to Thanksgiving break — is a period in which an especially high number of rapes and sexual assaults occur on college campuses nationwide. The timeframe, known as The Red Zone, is especially dangerous for freshmen and sophomore students. University of Georgia senior David Schick offers the following tips for providing Red Zone coverage: “Research tips on how students can protect themselves in this crucial time period. Does your school hold awareness seminars for new students? Does the college provide incoming freshmen with advice regarding sexual assault prevention? Find out what your campus police have to say about it. Make open records requests to campus police for incident reports of sexual assaults reported within the last couple of school years. Compare and contrast. Are there more reports within the August to November timeframe?”

1“If I Ruled.” If you were put in charge of your college or university, what would be different? What restrictions would you implement? What would you create, support or fund much more vigorously? And what rules would you adopt simply for the fun of it, or as test cases to see how things might turn out? Consider answering these questions in the same format as an ESPN series which lays out commentators’ ideas for changing various parts of the sports world. Each piece in the series uses the starter premise “If I Ruled…” For example, a college basketball analyst recently argued — somewhat seriously, somewhat sarcastically — that if he ruled the NCAA sport then three-pointers would become four-pointers near the end of games and coaches would be allowed to give bad referees technical fouls. So pitch in with rules of your own to save or reinvent parts of your campus or college life in general — and back them up with research and reporting. Or ask masses of students for their fully-formed and half-baked takes, and of course the rationales (however ridiculous) behind them. From a multimedia perspective, you may want to adopt the quick-hit style in which Bill Maher presents his “New Rules” segment on his HBO show “Real Time” — just steer clear of his more vulgar entries.

1“We’re Here to Listen.” A student counseling group of sorts at Columbia University is unique for its underlying anonymity and exclusive focus on “the power of listening.” The organization, called Nightline, describes itself as “an anonymous, nonjudgmental peer listening hotline. … Nightline offers a safe space for callers to talk, operating by the mottos, ‘We are here to listen’ and ‘We are here to get you through the night.'” The calls can apparently be just as meaningful and transformative for the student listeners as the callers. As CU senior and Nightline co-director Orly Michaeli confirms in an essay for The Columbia Daily Spectator, “Nightline taught me to listen. It wasn’t easy — learning how to do it was a rigorous training process, with up to five hours a week of lectures from campus professionals and practice calls and drills with experienced listeners. Instead of drawing on personal anecdotes or telling callers what I thought they should do, I learned to keep my opinions and solutions to myself. Instead, I became an emotional mirror for the caller.” Who is listening, and emotionally invested in helping others, on your campus? Explore student-run and school-run support groups and counseling services. Tell the stories of students recovering from trauma or addiction and also those studying and training to be the ones providing care. In addition, similar to a previous idea posted on this page about the process by which a student’s death is handled on campus, what is the process for identifying and assisting a student suffering overwhelming emotional or psychological stress? (The Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia University)
Personal Writing Prompts: Listen up. What do you hear, right now, all around you? Describe the sounds, in words. Separately, listen to an inspiring speech from a film, graduation ceremony or TED talk. Describe the emotions it stirs within you. And then ask yourself: What makes it so powerful? Why does it move me? And what is the difference between listening to the words versus reading them?

“Top Spots for Drops.” There are times for serious investigations into significant issues and trends — and other times when you might be reviewing campus restrooms. I’m both giggly and impressed at the seriousness with which Tiger Media Network staffers at Fort Hays State University undertook the latter assignment — a comprehensive glimpse at FHSU bathroom facilities. Heck, there’s even a video round-up of the whole shebang. It all teeters precariously between earnest and outright satirical — from the project’s title (“Top Spots for Drops”) to the toilet plunger icons used for ratings (for the record, a five-plunger status is a restroom’s goal). But hey, the categories for the rankings seem sensible enough: cleanliness, privacy, location, accessibility, fragrance and size. As student reporter Ken Moreno asks at the start, “When nature calls, where can you go to find the most secluded, fancy and vacant toilets on campus? Let’s check out some top spots for drops.” (Tiger Media Network, Fort Hays State University)

1SPECIAL PROJECT ALERT: Bias Busters. An incredibly cool journalism class called Bias Busters at Michigan State University regularly produces books aimed at increasing people’s understanding of minority groups and foreign cultures including Hispanics and Latinos, Native Americans and those of East Asian descent. Students in the class — under the supervision of journalism career guru Joe Grimm — gather “the simple, everyday questions that people have about each other but might be afraid to ask. We use research and reporting to get the answers and then put them where people can find them, read them and learn about each other.” For example, one of its latest books, “100 Questions and Answers About Hispanics and Latinos,” asks and answers questions such as the following: What race are Latinos and Hispanics? What do “Chicano” and “Chicana” mean? Which states have the largest Hispanic populations? Why is Puerto Rico a territory and not a state or a country? And is Pope Francis the first Latin American pope? According to Grimm, “The point of it all is to create communities of people that understand each other better. The guides are intended to be just the first step to more conversations and greater understanding.” Join this conversation with related Q&As focused on the diversity present on and around your own campus — in respect to ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, political viewpoints, generational differences and even academic majors/interests. This seems ripe for a complementary video series as well, showing some of the answers in action and featuring individuals providing perspectives straight to the camera.
DATA JOURNALISM ALERT: Speaking Fee Frenzy. The mainstream media is agog at the moment over the gigantic speaking fees being bestowed upon Hillary Clinton by companies, activist organizations and colleges and universities. For example, the University of Buffalo doled out $275,000 last year for a Clinton campus visit and talk. Ridiculously high? In line with what someone of her star wattage deserves? Regardless, the larger story is the money set aside at many schools for such luminaries. Dive into whatever budget numbers you can find to determine what your university at-large — and specific programs and academic departments within it — spend each year on guest speakers. Who commanded the highest fee last year? What is the median amount given to guests? And how do profs and program coordinators entice speakers to stop by when they don’t have funds at their disposal (maybe a free lunch, a book signing, paying out of their own pocket)? On the flip side, which professors and administrators are raking in cash for their own speaking gigs — as a guest speaker at other schools, the keynote speaker at a conference or via more unconventional means such as running their own workshops or establishing an online platform of some sort?

1Crowdsourcing Cancer. The leading journalism education organization AEJMC is launching a National News Engagement Day set to be held each October. Its aim: temporarily transforming passive news consumers into active news participants in various ways. One activity they’ve set forth to accomplish such engagement is called “Crowdsourcing Cancer.” As its creator Avery Holton at the University of Utah writes, “More than nine out of 10 Americans know someone diagnosed with cancer, yet our ideas of what cancer looks like continue to be driven by metaphors of fear and disease. Relying less on traditional news sources and more on the news sources within your social networks … use your social media platform to ask everyone what cancer looks like to them.” Use this activity as inspiration to tell the stories of cancer on your own campus — the survivors, individuals currently undergoing treatment, those who have passed away and deserve to be remembered, those with family or friend connections to the disease, the activists and charity groups raising money and awareness, the educators in some way utilizing cancer as a teaching tool (from the arts to the sciences) and the researchers dissecting portions of it in the lab. The keys of course are ensuring the focus remains on the people not the disease and steering clear of generalities, sappiness and clichés.

1CROWDSOURCING ALERT: The Race Card Project. “The whitest brown girl I know. … Well that’s a [pause] unique name. … Growing up biracial was very painful. … African-American, no. American who’s black, yes! … My race enters rooms before me. … Where are you from? You’re exotic!” These are among the tens of thousands of Race Cards submitted to Michele Norris over the past four years by individuals everywhere for her ongoing project aiming to “provide a window into America’s private conversations about race and cultural identity.” The cards feature six-word essays sharing people’s “experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity.” They are at times fleshed out with lengthier, fully-formed write-ups providing context or a confession. For example, a woman from Arkansas writes, “Me racist? But I teach ESL!” She then explains, “As a university-level ESL teacher, I interact with students from all over the world every day. I am well-read in the areas of cultural differences and intercultural communication. Yet recently I have come to realize that I don’t know as much as I could about different cultural groups within my own country, such as African Americans, LGBTQ persons, the elderly, the poor and so on. I’m in the process of getting a master’s degree in psychology and counseling. As a counselor, I will need to be (and want to be) sensitive to all of these groups.” Consider collecting race cards or cards devoted to more general diversity issues from students, faculty and staff at your school. Then explore the most interesting themes or individual answers in depth. The themes that stand out on spec while scrolling through the cards sent to Norris over the years: the desire to break free from one’s ethnic or racial identity/heritage; the challenges of existing as a racial ‘other’ or bearing an identity not immediately recognizable to strangers; the prevalence of willful or accidental ignorance toward racist behavior; observations of everyday racism; and the moral conundrum of ‘using’ one’s race or ethnicity for personal or professional gain.


1Becoming Taylor Swift. University of South Carolina student Elizabeth Scarborough is a Taylor Swift tribute artist. She regularly performs and impersonates the pop diva for money at schools, birthday parties and even elderly care facilities. As Sarah Ferraro writes for Garnet & Black, Scarborough currently “spends about two hours practicing every day, on top of a full course load and another part-time job” and has plans to continue her T-Swift singing career after graduation. Any current or former tribute artists or celebrity impersonators among the student body at your school? How about students with off-campus entertainment gigs that involve singing, dancing, DJing or magic acts? This also just screams for a fun man-on-the-street spin-off asking undergrads to name the celebrity they most resemble — be sure to record any especially good physical or vocal impressions. Separately, consider ferreting out and filming students showing off a hidden physical skill or performance ability à la “America’s Got Talent.” (Garnet & Black, University of South Carolina)

The F*ck Yeah Q&A. Student journalists at Brown University have put together a buzzworthy blog aiming to answer every inane, quirky and random question a prospective student, current student or alum might have about the Ivy League school. The Tumblr creation’s name, ahem: Fuck Yeah, Brown University. The keys to its success from where I’m sitting: its anonymity (enabling users to submit questions they might otherwise feel nervous emailing or meeting with someone about); its regular updating; its slapdash style in which no two questions are alike (making the reader want to keep scrolling, nonstop, since they remain eternally unsure of what they will come across next); its barebones premise and design specs (just questions and answers, single column format) and a fun name (which provokes a double-take, proves memorable and sports just the right mix of campus pride and undergrad rebellion). Can you follow in F*ck Yeah’s footsteps and similarly provoke interesting questions, provide informed answers and bring your campus community a little closer together online? (BlogDailyHerald, Brown University)


SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: An Exclusive Selfies Project. Flaunt magazine recently unveiled The Selfie Issue, “a print and digital project for which we’ve collected nearly 1,000 exclusive selfies submitted by Flaunt’s long list of friends, fans and collaborators.” The result is a fascinating scroll-through glimpse of society — sort of in the spirit of Humans of New York — featuring images filled with humor, creativity, quirkiness and remarkable candor. Consider a school-specific version of Flaunt’s efforts, engaging students, faculty, staff and alums to participate through a collective hashtag (and maybe even a chosen theme) and possibly expanding the selfie’s definition to include artistic expressions such as illustrations, videos and memes.
REGULAR SERIES ALERT: How It’s Made. The long-running Discovery Channel and Science Channel series “How It’s Made” goes behind the scenes of everyday items, breaking down how they are created or mass produced — from apple juice, manhole covers and contact lenses to airline meals, paper cups and football helmets. Even newspapers made the cut for a segment (see below). Produce a localized version extending the show’s premise from sheer things and physical products to academic ideas, events and trends connected to your campus. Concentrate on everything from the formation of popular courses, cafeteria food, a faculty job search and campus police reports to a new major, the latest school marketing campaign, freshmen orientation and the marching band routines.

1Tour Guides Gone Wild. The Old Gold & Black at Wake Forest University recently ran a three-part series featuring student tour guides gone wild. In guest op-eds of sorts, the guides offered the type of honest perspectives about the university and their work that you would never actually hear them say on a tour. As OG&B EIC Molly Dutmers tells me, “From the room I lived in this year, I could hear tours go by and I heard one of the tour guides mention our gym, which is less than spectacular. This got me thinking about what tour guides have to say versus what they really want to say.” For example, one anonymous guide writes, “As someone who grew up around people of many different cultures, I am getting tired of everyone looking and acting the same. It gets old. … Everyone is so caught up in being the best person that they let their ego get so large and hide who they really are. … As I ramble more about the problems I find with this school rather than the positives, I can’t help but question why I am a tour guide.” Give some student guides at your college or university similar freedom (via anonymity) to express themselves. Focus on their true thoughts about campus and if, when and how they have been forced to fudge, withhold or flat-out lie about more sordid school happenings. Also hone in on a sure reader favorite: What are the weirder questions they have been asked by tour-takers? (The Old Gold & Black, Wake Forest University)

1SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: Eat Clean, Train Dirty. Working out and getting in shape in between classes (and clubbing) is HUGE right now. Two T-shirt sayings seemingly favored by evermore undergrads: “Do you even lift bro?” and “Eat clean, train dirty.” In a special issue devoted entirely to all things health and fitness, The Dialog at George Brown College highlights the many ways modern students are maintaining or obtaining a better bod — including vegan diets and military-style boot camps. Join the Dialog by producing a similar report about your school’s health-and-fitness crazes and compelling related stories. Among the possibilities for profiles and features: campus exercise classes, student weight-loss support groups, a student’s extreme weight loss journey or a recovering exercise addict. Or follow the footsteps of “Supersize Me,” eating only campus cafeteria food for a week or month and measuring the physical, mental and social impact. (The Dialog, George Brown College)  (Idea written and submitted by Karen Funaro)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: “Professors Reading Mean Reviews.” Following in the spirit of Jimmy Kimmel’s “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” series, student journalists with The Peak at Canada’s Simon Fraser University implored SFU professors to read and react to mean reviews posted about them on Rate My Professors. Like the celebrity version, it’s entertaining and a tiny bit fascinating to see the educators take in and respond to the insults. Any profs on your campus up for some similar on-camera fun? One word of warning: Profs’ egos can be fragile. Only nine of the 40 faculty contacted by the Peak agreed to participate. To ease any upfront concerns, maybe toss some glowing or just-plain weird reviews into the mix along with the negative stuff? (The Peak, Simon Fraser University)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Before & After Beauty. Freelance journalist Esther Honig has gone viral with a feature on her personal blog called “Before & After.” For the project, she asked 40 individuals from more than 25 countries — a mix of Photoshop amateurs and professionals — to “make her beautiful” via the popular image-altering program. Each person edited the same untouched photo of Honig — producing an extraordinary range of results in respect to perceptions about what it means to be beautiful worldwide. Consider staging a similar before-and-after-beauty stunt among students at your school. How do they retouch someone — male or female — to make them beautiful? Or go deeper for a feature-length look at what defines physical beauty among individuals at your school. Gauge whether there is a difference between the perceptions held by students on campus and friends in your hometown. In addition, explore how beauty perceptions differ among students, faculty, staff and administrators — or between U.S. and international students. (Idea written and submitted by Karen Funaro)


SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: Dog Days. A recent edition of Rawr, an alternative weekly at the University of Idaho, boasts an intriguing one-word header on its front cover: Woof. The K9-themed issue that follows is awash in adorable dog pics, the fun feature “Which Dog Are You?” and more serious profiles of service dogs, a prominent local dog breeder and a “cute little blond Pomeranian” named Sammy who is a semi-celebrity among UI students due to his owner’s penchant for letting him stroll on campus. Does your staff have a dog issue — or maybe a more general animal issue — in them? With a little digging, you’ll most likely find some genuinely touching, newsworthy stories about animals who have helped or connected with individuals at your school in the areas of service, research and sheer (puppy) love. To start, focus on the school mascot, animal science labs, animal-related courses, special needs students in need of K9 assistance and any staff or students known for their especially outsized animal obsessions. (Rawr, University of Idaho)


1INVESTIGATION ALERT: “The Truth About EDM Culture.” A new Huffington Post report discusses various aspects of the highly-popular electronic dance music culture (commonly called EDM) — including its large festivals that many young people attend, how the movement is highly misunderstood and the concept of unity EDM embraces. The report’s headline: “The Truth About EDM Culture Beyond All Those Drug Use Statistics.” Uncover the truth about EDM on and near your campus and among your fellow students. Profile the experiences of student-age festival-goers and explore the larger reasons behind its growing mass popularity and niche cult-like following in the college sphere. (Idea written and submitted by Karen Funaro)

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: The Music Issue. The Daily Free Press at Boston University turned up the volume on music-related news in a recent edition — offering a range of stories on local, national, old-school and new-age music scenes. The eight-page musical feast features profiles of student, alumni and city-wide singers, performers, music managers and music critics; a Beantown concert-hopping guide called “Boogying in Boston”; album reviews; and glimpses into the allure of vinyl records and the “freedom of speech vs. inflammatory speech” hip-hop debate. Follow the lead of the Free Press with a music-themed issue of your own. To start, ask your staff: Who and what within the musical genre is trending, performing, stirring debate, being studied and rocking out on or near your campus?


1The Death Class. Talk to convicted murderers. See dead bodies in a morgue. Interact with dying hospice patients. Map out a bucket list, a living will and even your own eulogy. These are a few of the assignments and field trips involved in what is known as the “death class,” the most popular course at Kean University. Led by Kean professor and registered nurse Norma Bowe, Death in Perspective boasts a three-year waiting list, a spin-off community service group and growing media attention. In her book The Death Class: A True Story About Life, veteran journalist and journalism professor Erika Hayasaki teaches us about Bowe, some of her students and the transformative course that has brought them together. As Hayasaki tells me, “There are thousands of death classes now in the U.S. Believe it or not, a lot of them have waiting lists. It’s obviously something that’s very intriguing to students.” Examine the level of popularity and intrigue death is achieving on your own campus. Is there a class or set of classes exploring various facets of it? Does a professor conduct related research? And what connections do students have to the idea or reality of death — possibly through the passing of a loved one, their own near-death experiences or an internship or extracurricular activity that has opened their eyes to it in a lasting way?

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: “An Artifact of Particular Significance.” The next time you dive into a reporting project involving the history of your school, a campus organization or even someone’s life, skip the chronological rundown. Instead, focus on related stuff. For a special 95-part (?!) report commemorating the NFL’s 95th birthday, the blog Monday Morning Quarterback (affiliated with Sports Illustrated) is publishing a series of posts — each one focused on “an artifact of particular significance to the history of the NFL, accompanied by other objects that trace the rise of professional football in America.” Among the items featured so far in “NFL 95: A History of Pro Football in 95 Objects“: the Gatorade bucket, the first helmet radio, the video replay monitor, the pen that ended the 2011 lockout and a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader uniform. The key, of course, with this type of feature is using the selected objects as mere jumping-off points for much more in-depth looks at related issues, trends, individuals or events.


1CROWDSOURCING ALERT: “Here and Now I Am.” Author Perry Garfinkel offers these instructions to students at the start of every travel writing workshop he leads: “At the top of a page, write the words ‘Here and now I am’ followed by an ellipsis. In the next five minutes write as many sentences as you can, each sentence beginning with ‘Here and now I am.’ The rules: no questions, no stopping, no thinking, no worries about logic or syntax and no cheating off your neighbor. If you go blank, draw from your senses — what you see, smell, taste, hear, feel.” In a New York Times piece, he promotes the exercise as a push to more regularly “observe and then report on the meanderings of [our] minds.” As he puts it, “This is more than a classroom assignment. ‘Here and now I am’ is my mantra in the field while on assignment. It wakes me up, fully imbibing this time, this place, this smell, this sight. I’ve chanted it from the mundane Jersey Shore to the exotic India to, yes, remote regions of Costa Rica. It triggers all my sensory recording devices, whether tape recorders or cameras or my nose or ears. It guides me gently between the little details and the Big Idea.” Consider employing “Here and Now I Am” as a staff orientation assignment each fall or a recurring print or online feature. One bolder Big Idea is a crowdsourced reporting effort in which dozens of students undertake the exercise at the same moment on the same day from various parts of campus — maybe even including those studying abroad.

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Morning Show Option. Need a wake-up call for your staff and news audience? Start a morning show! It doesn’t need to start at dawn — on college campuses anything before noon counts. Morning shows are still rare birds within collegemediatopia, but the few that do exist provide broadcast students invaluable on-air experience and the chance to extend their skill-sets beyond hard news. The morning show option also enables viewers to check out a wider swath of campus life — maybe even live — including student performers, aspiring chefs, animal lovers and early risers. Plus, the repartee between student hosts has the potential to be priceless. One example below: an episode from the award-winning morning show “ELN Morning” at Elon University. (“ELN Morning,” Elon University)

VISUAL JOURNALISM ALERT: A Photocomic Education. Surviving the World is a fun, quirky webcomic maintained by a chemical engineering professor at Northeastern University. It features a new lesson every single day about “all shades of life, from science to literature, politics to sports, romance to religion and everything else in between.” Each lesson is shared through a photo — typically one displaying a brief explanation or a full Q&A on an old-school blackboard. The prof who maintains it calls the whole shebang “a photocomic education.” Educate or entertain readers at your school in a similar fashion. Start your own still-photo series sharing news of the day or a random fact about your school’s history, campus life or the people on it. Possibly dig into your outlet’s archives and present photographs regularly displaying a throwback stat or headline from days gone by. Or embrace the lesson bit with gusto, asking students and faculty to share something interesting about their research area, major or extracurricular activity.


SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: Parent Survival Guide. Along with putting together a regular survival guide for incoming students, the Niner Times at UNC Charlotte also publishes a separate guide for the parents of those soon-to-be-froshies. Parents are a fascinating — and let’s be honest — under-served audience base within college media. The Times guide advises the parental units on everything from visitor parking and properly addressing snail mail to textbook purchases, move-in day and care packages. Separate features remind them about various campus services available for their children and provide a brief history of the school and a quick look at the surrounding city. Bottom line, a parent-focused issue is an interesting way to get advertisers’ attention, break in new or emerging staffers and reach out to a demographic hopefully intrigued enough to subsequently check out your website. (Niner Times, UNC Charlotte)


1MAN ON THE STREET ALERT: “Tell Me About a Time When…” A monthly feature started by Daily Cougar columnist Kelly Schafler engages University of Houston students with the prompt “Tell me about a time when…” — subsequently adding in a specific time/experience. For example, the one I stumbled across asks students “Tell me about a time when … you adjusted to college life.” As Schafler explains, “On a campus as big and diverse as UH, it’s easy to sometimes feel insignificant. One of the coolest things about diversity is the ability for it to point out all of the similarities among the student body. Everyone has stories, and we want to hear them.” (The Daily Cougar, University of Houston)

INVESTIGATION ALERT: Room Charges. Removing posters. Clearing out cabinets. Scrubbing the stove. Rearranging furniture. For many students, along with taking exams and setting up internships, the end of each school year involves the sacred ritual of on-campus room clean-up. After the final walk-through with their RAs to make sure everything is organized and empty, students often leave to start their summers with a smile — until the expense report shows up in their mailbox or email inbox fining them for various room-related offenses. Are these charges for the most part legit or overblown? How are they decided, and by who? And how much does it all add up to — for the typical student and the school overall? Investigate your school’s post-move-out clean-up efforts and violation process. How do students feel about the charges? What is the appeal process? How do each spring’s total violations and related charges compare to other schools? What do Residence Life staffers most stringently examine and charge for? And what are the most bizarre room damages or discarded personal items they’ve come across? (Idea written and submitted by Karen Funaro)

DATA JOURNALISM ALERT: Attending a School (Not So) Far, Far Away. The Washington Post reports “58 percent of high school graduates attend college within 100 miles of their hometown, while 72 percent stay in-state, according to Niche Ink. Only 11 percent of students venture more than 500 miles from their hometown.” What is the breakdown of in-state and out-of-state (and out-of-country) students at your school? And what are the miles-away-from-home enrollment demographics? Niche Ink includes the following categories in its nationwide infographic below: students attending a school 5 miles away or less from home; 10 miles away or less, 25 miles or less; 100 miles or less; at least 500 miles away; at least 1,000 miles; and at least 2,000 miles. Build on your similar by-the-numbers glimpse with follow-up features on your school’s long-distance recruiting efforts and profiles of the students who are attending from far, far away. What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a collegiate arrangement — for the students and your school?


1STUNT ALERT: Time to Talk Tacos. Gargoyle staffer Matthew Goodman at Flagler College recently spent a week eating only food from Taco Bell. Think of it as a mini-Super Size Me. Ultimately, the experience went about as you would expect. He titled his summary, “A Taco Too Far.” One snippet, from near the start of his journey: “I spent more time in the restroom than anyone would ever care to. I went to sleep hoping the worst of it had passed through me, but I was nowhere near getting off this ride. The next six days were filled with the most unimaginable misery my insides could ever create. It seemed like my body was so irate that it was trying to expel absolutely everything from inside of it, including my soul.” If not up for such a soul-crushing stunt, try instant love instead of fast food. Goodman’s Gargoyle colleague Emily Topper recently reflected on a week she spent dating online. (The Gargoyle, Flagler College)

1INVESTIGATION ALERT: Illegal Frats. At University of Buffalo, there are a set of student groups that regularly deal drugs, haze pledges and party hard. They also technically “do not exist.” Illegal fraternities are social organizations sharing almost everything in common with recognized Greek fraternities — except their official status. According to Lisa Khoury, a recent UB graduate and a former managing editor of The Spectrum student newspaper, “They stay together after national organizations [shut them down]. They operate outside the system and protect their members’ identities by encircling themselves in a code of silence.” Khoury attempted to pierce that silence with a 4,700-word investigation. Follow Khoury’s lead, exploring the illegal and underground frat and sorority scene at your school. But be ready for some closed doors and locked lips along the way. As Khoury shares in her report, “No members want to talk about how their groups operate, who’s in them or what goes on when the house doors close. And no one is keeping track of them — not the university, not the police, not the national organizations whose names these groups steal.” (The Spectrum, University of Buffalo)

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: “A Campus Facing Violence.” The Dartmouth student newspaper at Dartmouth College has put together a buzzworthy special issue spotlighting the “once-taboo subject” of sexual violence within higher education. Called “A Campus Facing Violence,” the issue purports on the front page to explore “the lives affected by sexual assault, the policy proposals that could shift the landscape and a college in flux.” Among the featured reports: a survey revealing student attitudes and awareness of campus sexual assault; a story on a proposed shift in college policy for dealing with sexual violence; an investigation of “the Greek system’s connection to assault on campus”; and profiles of campus organizationsindividual studentsalumni and college employees who are offering support and fighting “to change the campus climate surrounding sexual violence.” (The Dartmouth, Dartmouth College)


1SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: Finals Frenzy. Near the end of spring semester, The Daily Toreador at Texas Tech University put together a special exams issue it titled “Finals Frenzy.” Features include rundowns of study tips, stress busters and memory tricks and a dead day vs. dead week debate. Other exam areas possibly worth exploring: the more intense and quirky assessments or assignments favored by faculty (one recent example from the high school ranks below); the rising disappearance of the exam in some disciplines; and glimpses at different parts of campus during the all-in study period prior to finals’ start. (The Daily Toreador, Texas Tech University)


1REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: The 60-Second Interview. Capital New York regularly engages big-time and offbeat media figures in quick-hit chats — typically five questions — it dubs 60-second interviews. Follow the CNY model by undertaking a regular set of short tête-à-têtes with important and quirky figures on or near your own campus. The key components of course are the questions and the interviewees. Shoot for creative, timely and periodically provocative in both categories.

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: “The Life of the Mind.” The Pendulum crew at Elon University recently investigated the intellectual climate on campus. The aim was to capture the amount and type of engagement students exhibit about subjects that expand beyond viral videos, relationship gossip and the new killer app. As one source explains to the paper, “Intellectual climate to me  is the life of the mind. It’s not the casual conversations we have on the pathways. It’s the conversations on the pathways that make [us] late for class. . . . It’s that self-motivated excitement about discussing ideas.” Staff explored the appearance or absence of this excitement in the residence halls, focused around common readings and core courses, among student subsets such as the LGBTQ community and student-athletes and in respect to university programs offering services and support outside the classroom. Swing the Pendulum’s way and explore the intellectual climate at your college or university. Simply put, do students at your school give a sh*t? And if so, about what? In addition, how does your school nurture “the life of the mind” of its students? And among those who profess to not care about much beyond the superficial, why is intellectual apathy winning out? (The Pendulum, Elon University)


From Graduation to Commission. Along with the graduating seniors who are preparing to take on grad school, the workforce and international research and volunteering stints, do not forget students who will be segueing from commencement to a commission in the armed forces. What will their positions be? Where will they be stationed? How has their coursework, the ROTC and other affiliated programs on your campus readied them to serve? And separately, check in with alums now serving in various military capacities — sharing the stories of their post-grad training, tours and combat. (The Battalion, Texas A&M University)

MAN ON THE STREET ALERT: First, Last, Best and Worst. A fun interviewing technique popping up in evermore Alternative Press reports revolves around the attributes first, last, best and worst. The music magazine uses those extreme attributes as question prompts, typically eliciting answers from a single person about a single set of experiences. For example, the rock star below discusses the first, last (most recent), best and worst tattoos he has received.

CROWDSOURCING ALERT: A Mass of BETTER Ideas. As part of a recent Ideas Issue, Time magazine editors asked celebrities, big thinkers, readers and the public at-large about ideas they have to make the world a better place — at times comprised into a single tweet. Four examples: “Ensure everyone [has] a great mentor and teacher in their life at all times”; “I’m thinking team sports that involve boys [and] girls together. So they learn what [great] gender balance feels like at an early age”; “We need to end the notion of nation state; remove border; declare global citizenship, with equal rights and freedoms for all”; and “The Monday after the Super Bowl should be declared National Hangover Day and all businesses should be closed.” Follow Time’s footsteps, playing off the world focus with a campus twist. Ask faculty, students, staff, alumni and even townies for ideas on making your school a better place — hopefully nabbing answers that mix serious and snarky, big picture and everyday. Possibly do it on Twitter via hashtag or more old school man-on-the-street style.


1Warning: This Class May Offend You. Academia is currently abuzz over the phrase “trigger warnings” — a reference to a growing debate about whether schools should be required to give students a heads-up whenever more explicit, offensive or possibly traumatic material may be addressed in an assignment, lecture, reading, event or work of art. Of course related questions abound: How should the warnings be worded? How much warning time is needed? How is something deemed warning-worthy? And what about whole classes or seminal works that grapple with more difficult subject matter? As Rebecca Brewster reports for the Emerald at the University of Oregon, “Colleges around the country … are struggling to define the boundaries between challenging course material, students’ well-being and free speech. Recently, the English department discussed whether they should use trigger warnings that would alarm students of potentially upsetting topics. Warnings are becoming more and more common — and more and more controversial.” (Emerald, University of Oregon)

INVESTIGATION ALERT: Scandalous Updates. In a new first-person piece for Vanity Fair, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky breaks “10 years of virtual silence.” She writes with staggering candor about the long-ago sexual affair with President Bill Clinton, its explosive aftermath and her current desire “to have a different ending to my story.” Learn from Lewinsky. Dive into some of the seamier or more sensational scandals in your school’s contemporary or ancient history. Reconnect with the principal players at their center. Determine if the passage of time or changed circumstances has made them more willing or (legally) able to share the full story — or at least their sides of it. Let them clear the air, correct the record, provide a new ending or frame the controversy in a fresh, possibly newsworthy context.


Bits of Positivity. The four-year-old in the video is almost adorably confident, rattling off a list of things and people she likes and reasons she rocks rapid-fire into a bathroom mirror. The video recording her affirmations — apparently a version of ones she recited daily growing up — now sports more than 14 million hits. Ferret out or stitch together your own set of affirmations — for yourself, your school, a sports team, an aging campus building, a sagging academic program or an intro course you just cannot bring yourself to like. Or grab bits of positivity from your student peers — getting quick-hit rundowns of what people are especially thankful for at the moment, what they are feeling confident about or are just really enjoying about life, and why. Even consider using a single person’s affirmation(s) as a starting a point for a more in-depth profile on what makes them tick or gets them through the day.

Evaluating Course Evaluations. According to a longtime professor, course evaluations — the anonymous forms students fill out assessing their classes at the close of each semester — are “biased and absurd.” As Rebecca Shuman writes for Slate, “Indeed, many evaluations, no matter who the professors [are], focused on hair (and beards!), clothes, general disdain for the subject matter (“Philosophy sucks!”) — anything but constructive assessment of teaching.” Deep dive into the evaluation process at your school. What do students, profs and administrators think of it? And what are their recommendations for more accurate, helpful student feedback? (Slate)


‘Re-entry Frustrations.’ The time students spend studying, interning, volunteering and sightseeing abroad can be enormously memorable and life-changing. But this story isn’t about all that. This is about what happens after students return home. In a piece for The Vista at the University of San Diego, Aidan Breaux documents a range of “re-entry frustrations” that might be worth checking out among student travelers at your school. Two examples: restlessness while readjusting back to a “‘normal’ way of living” and annoyance at being unable to share the memories with friends and family whose interest in listening will quickly wane. As Breaux writes, “Many people want to tell others about their experiences even though no one really feels like hearing it.” Welcome home. (The Vista, University of San Diego)

‘Senior Denial Syndrome.’ Do you know any-soon-to-be-graduates suffering from Senior Denial Syndrome (SDS)? According to a wonderfully cheeky rundown by Anna Bennett in The Collegian at the University of Tulsa, symptoms may include allergic reactions to job fairs, sudden intense school spirit and “involuntary fake ID usage — although more than 90 percent of sufferers are over the legal drinking age.” (The Collegian, University of Tulsa)

Morning Routines. Columbia University student Finn Vigeland is not a morning person. But he did recently become curious about how people at CU start their days — especially those up early. In a piece for The Eye, Columbia Daily Spectator’s weekly magazine, Vigeland “reached out to different corners of campus and found two administrators and two students willing to let me tag along on their morning routines in an attempt to find out what I’ve been missing out on.” What are students, faculty and staff at your school up to right after they rise and shine? Any especially interesting start-the-day activities, wake-up tips or productivity philosophies? Maybe some classic or cringe-worthy hangover, all-night-studying or one-night stand stories? And what individuals, organizations or operations on campus are especially lively during the early morning hours (such as the crew team, morning cafeteria workers, shuttle drivers and campus security)? (Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia University)


SPECIAL PROJECT ALERT: ‘A Day to Create.’ Once or twice a year at the University of Minnesota, theater students join forces in pursuit of a common goal — “to create a production in 24 hours using their creative talents.” It’s meant to be spontaneous, low-pressure, high-fun, socially-bonding, confidence-boosting and innovative, set against the backdrop of what one student performer calls “a common enemy — time. We’re all fighting together to beat time and this tired thing.” The production also makes an end-run around student apathy. As the same performer explains to The Minnesota Daily, “It’s like when you’ve been given a paper and you’ve got four months to do it … You’re going to do it in one night anyway, right? … So why don’t we just create this piece of theater in one night too? … It gets you doing instead of just sitting back and being like, ‘I’ll deal with it later.’ It makes you deal with it for 24 hours without being able to procrastinate or put it off.” Embrace the all-in spirit of this artistic endeavor by staging a similar production — one focused not on drama but news. Unite with other student journalists to create an entire special issue, section, project or series from scratch in 24 hours — brainstorming, reporting, writing, editing, designing, publishing/posting and promoting. For those working on daily news outlets, this is not meant to resemble a typical production night or a normal edition. Instead, pick a single newsworthy theme or timely event to tackle. Stitch it together in a way that turns the news gathering portion or final product on its head. And ENJOY the process — with pizza, music, behind-the-scenes tweets and lots of selfies. (The Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota)

The Freshman 16. Petra Zarah Jarrar had a secret when she started at The New School in New York City. She was 16, two years younger than most freshmen. As she recalls in a piece for The New School Free Press, “I remember logging onto Facebook the very day I was accepted and removed my birthday from my profile, so that when I started friending people from my college, no one would discover the truth. I have no idea what made me so ashamed of letting people know who I truly was. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I concocted a plan to portray myself as the 18-year-old girl everyone assumed that I was.” How many students at your school at below not only the drinking age but the legal voting age? Are minors subjected to different rules on campus or in any other way protected or separated from the rest of the student body? And what are younger students’ day-to-day experiences in class or the dorm, at parties or campus events and with school organizations or internships? (The New School Free Press, The New School)


Pay Schemes. Are some students not only trolling the web for material to plagiarize but actually shelling out cash to classmates in exchange for A-level work? Samantha Chaffin, editor-in-chief of The Bengal at Idaho State University, confirms, “I have always heard whispers and rumors that there are students who get paid to write papers, take tests or complete assignments for other students.” What type of underground cash-for-classwork operations are being whispered and rumored about at your school? Depending on the side they’re on, how much do the participating students pay out or cash in? What types of assignments or courses most commonly fall prey to this manner of cheating? And what are the rules of the exchange in respect to variables such as a lower-than-expected grade, failure to follow through or being caught? (The Bengal, Idaho State University)

1Major Stories. In a report for KentWired.com at Kent State University, Drew Jones shares, “Nearly 80 percent of students entering college aren’t certain what they want to major in, even if they’ve already declared a major … [and] more than 50 percent of students end up changing their major at least once.” What are your classmates’ major stories? How did they pick them? How often do they change them? And what about the undecideds? What are the most and least popular majors at the moment? How about the oldest and newest? And how have various majors evolved since their inceptions? (KentWired.com, Kent State University)

One Second Project. Boston University senior Kara Korab is on a mission. As she explains in a post for The Quad magazine, “There are so many tiny, fleeting moments in your life — beautiful, tragic, awkward, funny, ordinary moments. It’s hard to remember them all. That is why I’ve tasked myself with recording a second of my life every day for the rest of this semester.” She calls it her One Second Project. To complete it, she is using an app called 1 Second Everyday, which “stitches second-long snippets from your life into a compelling, personal movie.” What types of one second projects could you carry out on your campus? (The Quad, Boston University)


1A Broken Experience. University of St. Thomas student Alex Goering recently learned an important lesson: “Life’s a lot easier with two fully functioning legs.” After breaking an ankle, he found that “[h]aving to maneuver the snow and ice on crutches and a scooter is not only dangerous, but time consuming and tiring. … Even going to the bar and/or having fun with friends is a struggle.” He wrote about this difficult maneuvering, loss of morale and outsized gawking from passersby in a column for TommieMedia. What is life like for students at your school who are permanently or temporarily “limited and dependent”? How (in)accessible are various areas of campus? What are the hidden, personal, social and academic impacts of a physical impairment? And what are some creative or inspiring ways students make the most of what Goering calls a “broken experience”? (TommieMedia, University of St. Thomas)

Everyday Sexism. In the video, a woman over-aggressively, awkwardly and often crudely attempts to solicit sex from male strangers. At other points, she simply catcalls at them while walking or driving by. It is an eye-opening conceit — aimed at drawing greater attention to the “intimidating and impolite (not to mention bizarre) sexual harassment” men regularly inflict upon women. According to the activist who starred in the video, “The things some men say to women are shocking. It is a sad truth that only by turning the tables do we hear how unbelievable they really are.” The vid was created as part of The Everyday Sexism Project, a UK-based organization aiming “to record stories of sexism faced on a daily basis, by ordinary women, in ordinary places.” Assess the frequency and types of everyday sexism occurring at your college or university. And gauge its impact on male, female and transgender students, faculty and staff.

What Students Spend in a Day. On a recent Thursday, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore spent $348 — on a mix of clothing, cab rides, food at a few Philadelphia restaurants and a trip to a waxing center. By comparison, on the same day, a Penn junior spent only $44.30, including on a vegetarian fajita wrap and banana whip and a taxi ride to a popular Philadelphia club. The pair are among those featured in a special Daily Pennsylvanian blog post headlined “What Penn Students Spend in a Day.” As the sub-hed asks, “Are we really aware of how much dough we dole out on the daily?” In that spirit, how much do students at your school spend on a typical weekday or weekend? And of course, more interestingly, where does the money go? Follow in the DP’s footsteps by featuring the expenditures of a variety of students on the same day or set of days. Or trace the financial trail of a single willing student over the course of a week or full semester. (The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Sound Check. From a rainstorm to a runny nose, an awesometastic video report called “WORDS” captures a wide range of natural and man-made experiences with a slight twist from most vids. It features the sounds accompanying the images as the primary stars — providing a true audio-visual amalgam of life as we know it. Can you bottle and adapt this for a sound-based rundown of the people, places and events making noise and memories on your own campus? My advice: Follow the video’s footsteps and think SMALL, focusing on the quiet, everyday sounds often so innocuous we don’t even realize we hear them.

Boarding Pass/Fail. At the 2014 Journalism Interactive conference, UC Berkeley journalism professor Richard Koci Hernandez shared an assignment he has his students complete called Boarding Pass/Fail. In his words, “The design of boarding passes makes me want to scratch my eyes out.” So he has his visual journalism students redesign the typical boarding pass to enhance not only the design appeal but also the user experience. Do the same for your school’s application, homepage, promotional brochures and required class syllabi.


FOODIE ALERT: The $55,000 Fruit. During the last school year at the University of Texas at Austin, “students consumed more than 238,320 bananas, making it the best selling fruit on campus.” In a short video report, The Daily Texan confirms officials spent roughly $55,000 on purchases of the yellow fruit. What are the most and least popular fruits and vegetables on your campus? How much is spent to obtain them, and where and how does the shopping and shipping take place? More generally, any especially impassioned student, faculty or staff health nuts with interesting stories to share? (The Daily Texan, University of Texas at Austin)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Happiness Challenge. The latest social media craze is 100 Happy Days. Participants attempt to engage in things that bring them joy for 100 straight days, snapping and sharing 100 related photos along the way. The gist: “Can you be happy for 100 days in a row? … It can be anything from a meet-up with a friend to a very tasty cake in the nearby coffee place, from a feeling of being at home after a hard day to a favor you did [for] a stranger.” Any students on your campus willing to play along? Or brainstorm ways to build on or shape-shift the premise — collecting photos of 100 people doing something that brings them happiness on the same day; posting photos of things that make students UNHAPPY; or having a student keep a tweet-sized list of EVERYTHING that makes them happy during a single day, week or semester.


1Commencement Demographics. Only eight percent of commencement speakers at the University of Pennsylvania have been women, a recent front-page report in The Daily Pennsylvanian by the paper’s deputy news editor Brenda Whang reveals. What is the gender breakdown for commencement speakers at your school?  And how about other categories — alums versus non-alums, natives of your home state versus non-natives, political figures versus entertainment titans, etc.?  Of course, even more interesting, how are the speakers chosen?  What are the perks of the gig?  And how often do individuals decline an invitation?  (The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Video Letter Thingie to Yourself. Divya Bhavani is “an Indian journalism student living in London, who grew up in Botswana.” On her About.me page, she describes herself in all caps as three things: a “THIRSTY SOUL, THRIVING MIND [and] THEATRICAL HEART.” Eschewing theatrics for sheer candor, Bhavani has created a vlog post — cheeky, rambling and true — outlining life lessons she has picked up since her middle-teen years. The title of the roughly seven-minute confessional is possibly the best part: “A Video Letter Thing to My 16 Year Old Self.” It attempts to capture the “dizzying shift in perspective” that plays out between our high school and undergrad identities on a range of issues. In case interested, the teasers of her advice: Cut your parents — and siblings — some slack. Embrace wearing braces, reading books (“whether it’s trashy tabloids or enlightening works by really great historical writers”) and eating chocolate (see braces). Fight skinny shaming. Own your skin color. “For the love of God, take off your make-up before you go to bed.” And don’t do drugs or talk in text-speak. What advice would you give your 16-year-old or even freshman self?

Campaign Advertising & Apathy. A San Diego State University sophomore recently received 45,000 views and 83 votes in a student government election. As part of a campaign to be a student representative, the student created an advertisement and posted it for public consumption on YouTube. It features bikini-clad women, cigar smoking and even a runaway dog. He ultimately lost the political contest, but still managed to trigger “a minor stir on the interwebs” and “a firestorm on campus” with the odd promo. What are the advertising rules at your school for student government and other organization elections, campus-wide initiatives, popularity contests or even fundraisers like a dance marathons or 24-hour relay? And what are the more memorable, meaningful and innovative ways students have gotten their peers’ attention and their money or votes? In this case, the SDSU student said his aim was to compel more students to care about campus elections. To that end, how many students vote for student government candidates at your school? How many are aware of the roles the officers play? And how many can tell you anything about the individuals currently holding the leadership positions?

Invisible Illnesses. Butler University student Maggie Monson wears an insulin pump the size of an old flip phone. She pricks her finger and checks her blood reading up to 10 times a day. And she adjusts her diet immediately according to the results. Monson has Type One diabetes. She is one of many students who fight an “invisible battle” on campus every day with chronic illnesses and various physical and mental conditions. As Monson puts it, “People do not have to look or act sick to be sick.” Here’s a quick rundown of some of the recognized invisible illnesses and disabilities — from bipolar disorder and epilepsy to migraines and multiple sclerosis.

Campus Crying Guide. What are the best and worst spots on your campus to surreptitiously shed a tear or sob for hours without a second thought? NYU Local provides answers for students and staff at New York University, offering a Crying Guide built atop advice and confessionals from an array of undergrads. It’s a seemingly serious spin-off of the parody blog NYC Crying Guide, which focuses on “The Best/Worst Places to Cry in New York City.” If nothing else, use these features as foundations for a more expansive sad-sack brainstorming session. Hint: There are endless stories in sadness. (NYU Local, New York University)


COOL PROFILE ALERT: Know Thy Shelf. A student team at The Spectator at New York’s Hamilton College has put together a fantastically quirky, insightful Tumblr blog providing a glimpse at Hamilton students and profs — through their shelves. Each mini-profile focuses mainly on the items displayed on individuals’ dorm and office shelves — using them as the foundation for a fun Q&A about their passions, quirks and personal memories. The title of the regular feature is the best part: Know Thy Shelf. Kudos to its creators Sean D. Henry-Smith, John Rufo and Bonnie Wertheim. (The Spectator, Hamilton College)


Endorsement Speeches. As part of its student government election coverage each spring, The Spectrum at the University of Buffalo invites candidates to the newsroom on the same day to give five-minute speeches on video selling themselves and their platforms. Once their five minutes are up, the candidates participate in a Q&A with the paper’s editors about various aspects of those platforms and the state of the school. Cameras record the whole shebang for each candidate in real-time, with seemingly no edits. It’s a no-muss, no-fuss, no-filter way for students to directly watch and listen to the peers who want to represent them. It appeals to the current generation’s multimedia proclivities — they’ll be more likely to check out a YouTube vid than scan an 800-word vote-for-me column. And it ensures the paper plays an important part in the process — asking the right questions and ensuring the student candidates have thought through numerous facets of what their desired positions will entail. Sample vid below features UB junior Erin Lachaal, who is running for student government president. (The Spectrum, University of Buffalo)

1‘Dazed & Tattooed.’ Three words: Drunk. Tattoo. Stories. Tiffany Touville at The Post has put together a fun breakdown of Ohio University students’ alcohol-induced tattoo sessions — some at actual tattoo parlors and others at home via more informal “stick-and-poke” methods. According to Touville, “The results can range from an almost-perfect drunk tattoo to a disastrous scribble. … Though most tattoo shops in the U.S. have policies against tattooing intoxicated individuals, a person’s level of intoxication might go unnoticed until the marking of skin actually begins.” (The Post, Ohio University)

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: Hottest & Best. Amid the serious and even dour news surely invading certain parts of campus by this point in the academic year, promote some smiles and a spirited competition with a special “Best” issue. Focus on the people, experiences, establishments and digital thrills loved and respected by students specifically or the campus community at-large. One example: The “Best of Kent,” from KentWired.com at Kent State University, sports categories with a local flavor — including Best Place to Cure a Hangover; Best Happy Hour; Best Place for a First Date; Best Late Night Delivery; Best Tattoo & Piercing Parlor; and Best Place to Have Fun Under 21. By comparison, Fifteen Minutes Magazine, published by The Harvard Crimson at Harvard University, focuses on looks, running an annual “Fifteen Hottest Freshmen” spread. What should your outlet focus on? And how do you pull readers into the nomination and voting process?


1Dorm-Related Bad Behavior. The Minnesota Daily recently broke down the amount and type of infractions occurring over the past five years in University of Minnesota residence halls — from theft to drinking and drug use. What bad behavior is taking place in the dorms — and local student housing — on and near your campus? Along with cited infractions, what illegal or immoral acts are most likely to go unpunished? And what is technically banned by school rules but is rarely if ever checked on or stopped by RAs and security officers? (The Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota)
Lost, Forgotten & Banned. Guns, swords, knives, grenades, a rocket launcher, a bazooka round and parts of a human skull. These were among the odder and more dangerous items confiscated from passengers in 2013 by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at airports nationwide. As a TSA blog shares about the skull: “While searching clay pots in a checked baggage location at Fort Lauderdale (FLL), our officers discovered human skull fragments! While the fragments weren’t a security threat, they did slow screening down a bit since the area quickly became a crime scene!” For a similar report, change the scene from the airport to your campus. What items are banned from residence halls, classroom buildings, sports arenas, dining halls and the campus at large? Why are they banned? And what are the punishments for students who sneak things in? Beyond mere confiscation, how about what is lost? What items sit unclaimed in the lost-and-found pile at the campus security center? What are the rules for how long and how closely they are guarded? And what about leftovers — items and food not eaten by day’s end or not removed from dorm rooms at year’s end? Are they tossed, recycled, donated or pillaged by staff?


1Handling a Student’s Death. In a recent issue of The College Heights Herald at Western Kentucky University, staffer Taylor Harrison reported on the step-by-step process administrators follow in the wake of a student’s death — from notifying family members and the campus community to dealing with related academic and financial matters. What is the protocol on your own campus if a student passes away? Who are the point people or first ones called? What are the general challenges and specific legal stipulations involved? And how is a student’s death addressed in their classes, by campus counselors and online? (The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University)

1Porn Star Side Job. Tackle the ridonkulous, never-ending rising tuition/student loan narrative with a sider on students’ side jobs. Specifically, explore the work students at your school take on during semesters and breaks to make extra money. Any more extreme, offbeat or especially high-paying gigs? One example of all three: A freshman at Duke University is making news for her part-time off-campus job: acting in pornographic films. “Lauren,” as she is referred to in a Duke Chronicle profile by Katie Fernelius, is being simultaneously portrayed as “a dumb attention-seeking bimbo,” a cyber-bullying victim, a sex-positive feminist and an everyday student willing to go to extraordinary lengths to combat crazy-high college costs. As Lauren confirms in a first-person piece for xoJane, “I couldn’t afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden and I saw a way to graduate from my dream school free of debt, doing something I absolutely love.” (The Duke Chronicle, Duke University)
A “Lethal Trend.” The newest social media phenomenon and “latest student craze” involves classic college behavior — with a series of shocking and sometimes deadly twists. It is known by a single buzzword, weirdly spelled and at times strangely capitalized, seemingly designed for a hashtag more than a dictionary: neknominate (a mash-up of the words neck and nominate). At heart, it is an endless drinking game. It is also, according to The Cherwell at Oxford University, nothing less than a “lethal trend.” Is it trending on your campus?

$50,000 Free Speech Settlement. A junior college in California has agreed to revise its speech codes and pay $50,000 to one of its students. The actions are part of a lawsuit settlement stemming from a fall 2013 incident in which the school stopped the student from handing out copies of the Constitution on campus. Video of the incident is below. According to Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) president Greg Lukianoff, “FIRE is very pleased … Modesto Junior College students will now be able to exercise their First Amendment rights across campus. But because 59 percent of colleges nationwide maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict student speech, there’s much more work to be done.” Where does your school fall on FIRE’s freedom-restriction map? When, where and how are students allowed to protest, publicly speak, perform or interact with passers-by in any organized way on campus? And how, and how often, do students take advantage of your school’s free speech zones?

11Play the Kid Card. Writer Roger Angell has pumped out a fascinating new essay describing the physical, social and romantic realities of being in his 90s. As he explains in The New Yorker, “I’m ninety-three, and I’m feeling great. Well, pretty great, unless I’ve forgotten to take a couple of Tylenols in the past four or five hours, in which case I’ve begun to feel some jagged little pains shooting down my left forearm and into the base of the thumb. … Nothing is easy at this age … A wealthy old widower I knew married a nurse he met while in the hospital, but had trouble remembering her name afterward. He called her ‘kid.'” While you of course are not in your 90s, you can play the kid card. Mirror Angell’s essay by describing what life is like for you, as an individual BORN in the ’90s — possibly including your physical and fashion concerns, social and tech connections, spiritual questions, work-study-school routines, future plans, current insecurities and thoughts on the world you have grown up in. If not up for a first-person confessional like Angell’s, tackle a newsy series investigating some of the angles above.

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Short Burst of Entertainment. Think of it as a verbal adaptation of a textual expression. A new episode of “Kaimincast” features Montana Kaimin staffers Ricky Sanchez and Ashley Nerbovig reading and discussing tweets posted by University of Montana students during a campus lockdown. It strikes me as sort of Storify-lite, requiring you to simply relax and watch instead of read and scroll. I enjoyed it because their banter and reactions to the tweets added some zest and personal accessibility to what are otherwise just words on a screen. So periodically gather up some tweets and other social media chatter — maybe centered on a particular event (say, snowstorm or Spring Break) or a popular hashtag — and have your staffers chat about them on air. It is a perfect lighthearted complement to separate serious reports on a subject. It’s a short burst of entertainment for readers. It’s tailor-made for social media sharing. And it provides an easy dive into on-camera work for broadcast student newbies. (The Montana Kaimin, University of Montana)

FOODIE ALERT: Commodores’ Kitchen. Near the start of the first episode of Commodores’ Kitchen, produced by Vanderbilt Television, Vanderbilt University student Christie Bok implores the viewer, “Stick around and fall in love with our food.” The cooking show subsequently delivers a quick-hit glimpse at how to whip up three separate treats from scratch to finished product. The whole shebang sports a professional polish while still being accessible, racing through the recipes at just the right speed, knowing when to be silent instead of chatter-filled and replete with fun foodie phrases such as “This is like the eggy delicious custard base of the french toast.” What’s not to love? (Vanderbilt Television, Vanderbilt University)

1“Professors, We Need You!” Have your professors gone public? Not in the stock market sense, but in respect to spreading their intellectual awesomeness. In a New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof implores faculty nationwide to dive in and shape the great debates and fix the mega-problems in the world involving their fields. As a source tells him, the work of too many profs has become “more and more specialized and more and more quantitative, making them less and less accessible to the general public.” In Kristof’s words, “[P]rofessors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!” How are profs at your school engaging with the public? Do they blog, tweet, protest, volunteer, run for office or write for a mass audience? And what is their take on the “medieval monks” vs. public intellectuals debate?

Crush Coverage. Every student has had one. Maybe some are experiencing several right now. Sexual, romantic, celebrity and even imaginary crushes trigger smiles, lurid thoughts and marital pipe dreams on a regular basis amid the study/class/dorm routine. What are the stories behind students’ most significant, surreal and silly crushes? What are the digital-age methods by which they act on them — or avoid them? When have they blossomed into actual true love? And a fun offshoot: first love stories. As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Lane DeGregory writes with aww-inducing detail about a pair of committed middle schoolers: “Their relationship revolves around the bus: waiting for it, sharing a seat, playing Flappy Bird on her iPod. Sometimes they hold hands. They can’t eat lunch together because they have different schedules. ‘She’s an older woman, in seventh grade,’ he says. ‘But we’re the same height, so it’s okay.'”


11Attack of the Super Single. The latest dorm lifestyle trend is “a room big enough for two people, but reserved for one.” Welcome to the age of the super single. According to David Wheeler, in a kick-butt rundown in The Atlantic: “A natural outgrowth of the college amenities arms race — the competition to build facilities with ever-more luxurious spaces — super singles cater to a growing number of students willing to pay for a private room.” How many super singles are available on your campus? How do their costs compare to other rooms? And what do students, RAs and admins think of these “luxurious spaces”?

11DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Students as Teachers. Launch a video series featuring students as teachers. They should lead short one-off “courses” on camera that provide lessons on something they are expert in — from card tricks and fantasy football to checkbook balancing and Harry Potter 101. For inspiration, browse the courses offered within UC Berkeley’s famed DeCal Program, a range of for-credit student-run courses other students can enroll within. Some current DeCal offerings: Investigating North Korea, Introduction to Guitar, Modern Square Dancing, Arrested Development & Society and Pros and Con(doms): The Science of Birth Control.

1NEW JOURNALISM ALERT: The Party AFTER the Party. According to The New York Times, one of the most storied elements embedded within NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” is the show’s after-party. The Times: “[T]he “SNL” after-party, now almost four decades into its run and much of that time with the reputation as the coolest party in town, has always been a little ersatz: a conception of an exclusive showbiz bacchanal based on the lore of the good old wild days, when the only thing that would break up this party was the coming of dawn or the depletion of the night’s supply of mind-altering substances.” Within higher ed., after-parties are similarly storied traditions. And they deserve an intimate profile. So in the near future, stay up extra late. Set out to capture how students come down from their wild weekend (and Thursday) nights. Where are students’ hangout spots and what are their activities after the bars and clubs close but before sleep overwhelms? What’s the focus of their conversations? What are their opinions of the social scenes in which they were just taking part? And what are their takes on the world, the school and their futures in the wee hours of the morning, when moments of clarity, tiredness or sobering up often enable truth to prevail? For some extra fun, produce a write-up in a rambling, impassioned, opinionated, nonsensical style worthy of the after-parties you are observing.
Groundhog Day & College Addictions. Groundhog Day recently played out like normal in Punxsutawney, Pa. Surprising no one who is enduring the “polar vortex,” Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, metaphorically saddling us with six more weeks of winter. The festivities always remind me of the film “Groundhog Day,” about a weatherman living the same day over and over and over. Engaging in some brainstorming fun, play with that repetition angle, delving into related stories focused on your own campus. Start with OCD. Profile students, staff, faculty, admins. and alums living with some type of obsession or compulsion, the type that causes them to repeatedly do or desire the same thing. Interesting potential addictive story focuses beyond alcohol and drugs abound: food, online fame, FarmVille, exercise, stealing, sleeping, note-taking, web browsing and “The Hunger Games.” One especially offbeat example below: a woman obsessed with licking her cat and eating cat hair. Yikes.

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Report on Campus Like a Foreign Country. Engage in some fun faux foreign correspondence work. Follow in the footsteps of a funky Slate series “in which American events are described using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.” (Click here to read more about this idea)


Finals Feedback. How, and how much, feedback do students typically receive for their final exams, papers and projects? At some schools, apparently, it is somewhat lacking. In a staff editorial, The Wellesley News at Wellesley College argues, “Given how much time Wellesley students put into studying for final exams and writing final papers, it’s surprising that the College does not require professors to return final exams and papers with comments, as they would with any other assignment during the year. Nor are they required to set aside office hours at the beginning of the following semester for students to drop by and see their final exams and ask questions.” (The Wellesley News, Wellesley College)

11Black History Month Conversations. Celebrate Black History Month. But also ask tough questions about it. As University of Alaska Anchorage student MoHagani Magnetek recently asked in a Northern Light column about individuals, groups and issues she feels are left out of the month-long remembrances: “Where are the conversations about the National Association of Colored Women? … Where are the conversations about Zora-Neal Hurston, Alice Walker, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan and other women who elevated feminist thought to include all marginalized women throughout the world? … Where are the conversations about gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer identities in the African-American community? When are we going to have real talk about all the harm we caused one another with our own brand of sexism, misogyny, abuse, rape and violence against women and children?” (The Northern Light, University of Alaska Anchorage)

PROFILE ALERT: Stories of Student Immigrants. In fall 2013, Suffolk University student Daniella Marrero put together a fascinating digital project called “Our Journey.” It focused on sharing the stories of student immigrants in their own words (sample below). As Marrerro explains, “These are not stories of numbers, dollars or percentages. They are accounts of passion, inspiration, life and change. … Immigration impacts the lives of all people, and it is our vision to share the untold facts of the journeys of those who leave their home country to enter the United States of America.” Embark on your own reporting journey centered on immigration’s connection to your campus. Profile student, faculty, staff and alumni immigrants or those in some other way affected by the “passion, inspiration, life and change” involved in the immigration process — in and out of the U.S.

REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: Reporters of the Roundtable. Staffers at The Asbury Collegian at Kentucky’s Asbury College recently launched “Reporters of the Roundtable,” a talk show on issues of the day that is as lively as the featured tablecloth. It’s an excellent, accessible launchpad for young journos seeking on-air, op-ed-style, soundbite-friendly experience — and a chance to build a portfolio beyond written clips. I also like the change-of-pace. After all, why should the Sunday morning political shows, “Crossfire” and Bill Maher have the only roundtable fun? The Collegian earns kudos for the right format — stationary cameras, easy cuts, colorful but not overly quirky set (the Greek head statue does make me giggle a bit), a single topic, 10-minute running time, a host to keep things on point and just the right mix of idealism and nervous energy from the student panelists. (The Asbury Collegian, Asbury College)

Round Table 013014-1 from Asbury Collegian on Vimeo.

REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: Too Embarrassed to Ask. The Washington Post runs an occasional series I find worthwhile. It simply aims to clue us into ongoing events and global hot spots we keep spotting in the headlines but don’t truly know much about. Dubbed “9 Questions About [specific place/global event] You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask,” it’s a quick-hit, engaging, introductory cheat sheet of sorts breaking down complex news into more palatable chunks. The most recent edition dives into the current Ukrainian unrest. It’s tailor-made for a campus adaptation. Maybe dealing with the college budget, the student activities fee, the Greek system, game-day tailgating routines? I can also envision it as part of an annual orientation edition and ever-growing permanent online guide — “Questions About the University You Are Too Embarrassed To Ask.” It’s the type of feature prospective students, their families and new freshmen would read word for word.

11Campus Branding Bonanza. From graduation caps to urinal cakes, branding is invading the college scene with a growing ferocity. Schools have especially embraced its potential as a way to grab more bucks — naming evermore buildings, fields and classroom spaces after high-level donors. How does the naming bonanza impact higher ed? The Lanthorn at Grand Valley State University recently started a firefight with administrators simply by raising the question. Ask that one, and others, at your school: How does the branding process play out? How, and how much, are named donors vetted? (Believe me, this vetting does go wrong.) How diverse is the group of individuals whose names adorn various campus facilities? And what rights or restrictions come attached to their money and name usage? (The Lanthorn, Grand Valley State University)

Social Media Suicide Watch. The monstrously sad suicide of a University of Pennsylvania student is once more pushing issues of student stress and emotional and mental distress into the spotlight. One related side story that might be worth a check on your own campus: Apparently some schools are increasingly monitoring students’ social media, specifically searching for any chatter that hints at depression or suicidal thoughts. Good idea? NSA-surveillance-level creepy? And either way, how the heck is that watchdog apparatus put in place?
REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: Over/Under Chats. Full interview questions are out. Fun, random prompts are the new way to roll. Pitchfork has been nabbing buzz for Over/Under, an “interview series in which artists evaluate a series of random topics, declaring if they’re overrated or underrated.” With the right subjects and a mix of cool prompts, you have the potential to obtain quirkier, more genuine responses and a greater reporter-interviewee rapport. A campus adaptation screams regular feature — video series and print highlights. It also might be a perfect exercise for new staffers still warming up to the idea of speaking to strangers. My students’ favorite example is below.

FASHION ALERT: Trash the Dress. A new marriage-themed phenomenon I recently stumbled across involves brides-to-be posing for photos in their wedding attire while “effectively ruin[ing] the dress … by getting it wet, dirty or, in extreme circumstances, tearing or destroying the garment.” It’s known as Trash the Dress. Forget the marriage part for now and run instead with the trashy angle. What are students’ trashiest everyday and night-out outfits? Any campus or res life dress codes? What clothing trends do students consider especially trashy or obscene (say, underbutt shorts)? And what are students’ worst fashion #epicfails — short of setting their wardrobes on fire (see below)?

11Alarming Trend. Like 8 a.m. classes and a lack of parking, the blaring of fire alarms in residence halls is a routine part of campus life. A report in The Eyeopener by Dylan Freeman-Grist found that at Ryerson University many students no longer leave their dorms when the alarms go off — due to the late hour, laziness or because they cannot hear them. Among other angles, the article asks: Who is responsible when students don’t vacate — the students, their RAs or the university? Other questions to consider at your school: What is the fire alarm protocol? How often, at what times and where do they go off? How many are false alarms or drills versus real threats? How do outside forces like firefighters and emergency service workers interact with campus officials when the blaring begins? And how much does alarm response and maintenance cost?  (The Eyeopener, Ryerson University)

PROFILE ALERT: Twirler Sitdown. I’m a big fan of this video profile focused on a student twirler at the University of Washington. The key to its success is its simplicity. The vid’s producer Alex Bosco sits the student on a couch, asks her questions about twirling and beyond, adds cuts to some on-the-field action and the questions themselves and keeps the whole shebang under 5 minutes. Kudos. Check out the final product below and then do the same for the more fascinating students on your campus. (The Daily at the University of Washington)

STUNT ALERT: Bucket List Adventures. Last semester, California State University, Fullerton, student Sarah Gerhard jumped out of a plane — parachute attached of course. As she writes for The Daily Titan, “Skydiving was not on my bucket list, but when the opportunity presented itself I thought ‘sure, why not.'” Embrace that same gung-ho spirit for a bucket list adventure of your own. Tackle a trip or activity that has always scared you or seemed undoable, documenting its ins-and-outs along the way, including by video (see below). Bring your staff into the mix as well — or even follow random readers — to make it a regular series. (The Daily Titan, California State University, Fullerton)

SPORTS ALERT: Keeping It Clean. We associate most athletic events with things like points, cheering, overpriced food, bad calls and comebacks. But what about all the other crap? Specifically, the immense amount of trash that piles up inside and outside the stadiums before, during and after big games. Who is charged with cleaning everything up? What’s the toughest part of the job? What are the stranger things abandoned or discarded? And how much is recycled? For example, an early season game this past football season between Western Kentucky and Tennessee produced “14.11 tons of recyclable waste.” Yowza. (The Daily Beacon, University of Tennessee)

FASHION ALERT: “Inside the Mind (and Closet) of a Fashionista.” A fascinating Drake Magazine feature on a Drake University student fashionista does not simply review the clothes on her back but literally dives into her closet (and mind) as well. It’s a more intimate glimpse at her style sense that elicits greater candor and breadth from the student (the clothes in the closet acting almost as talking point/anecdote cues) and provides cooler visuals ripe for a related video report (see below). (Drake Magazine, Drake University)

11BUSINESS ALERT: Baking Cakes, Making Dough. The Daily Orange recently profiled an inspiring student sweets-lover at Syracuse University who started her own baking business via “a small ‘griddle-like’ appliance in her dorm room.” She now has a foodie following and a menu sporting “everything from peaches n’ creme caramel cake to bacon-cheesecake brownies.” Who are the more inventive or successful undergrad entrepreneurs at your school? What are the challenges and advantages of running a business while balancing a full-time class load? And even if they haven’t launched their start-ups yet, what are students’ long-term business plans or pipe dreams? (The Daily Orange, Syracuse University)
11STUNT ALERT: Free Style. In an interesting experiment this past semester, a Northwestern University student “lived for free on campus. The rules I laid out for myself were as follows: give up my residence hall key, spend no money on food, attempt to not sleep in residential halls or colleges and tell no one about my situation. I acted as if my [student ID card] had no meals on it. Needless to say, my week was difficult, awkward and at times comical.” Can you survive — eat, sleep, shower, etc. — at your school for any length of time without spending a cent, swiping your card or having access to a room of your own? What are the security challenges (or gaps) you come across? And what does it teach you about human nature or the higher ed lifestyle? (North by Northwestern, Northwestern University)
“I Was Afraid … I’m Poor.” There is ton of chatter at the moment about ethnic and sexual diversity on campuses worldwide. But what about economic diversity? In a column for The Duke Chronicle, a Duke University student recently shared her own perspectives (and life story) related to this, while also providing a prime example of how tough it can be to discuss. The lede: “In my four years at Duke, I have tried to write this article many times. But I was afraid. I was afraid to reveal an integral part of myself. I’m poor.” (The Duke Chronicle, Duke University)
MAN ON THE STREET ALERT: Campus Quizzes. Check out the vids below. Some Harvard students don’t know the capital of Canada. Separately, some students at George Mason don’t recognize The Gettysburg Address. Time for a lighthearted or more serious history, geography, current events, pop culture or general campus trivia quiz? (The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University)

1FASHION ALERT: “Fluttering T-shirt-dress-things.” College campuses are apparently evermore being overrun by hordes of female students sporting “fluttering T-shirt-dress-things.” As a student columnist asks snarkily about these oversized shirts, “Is it supposed to be sexy? Or is it just a casual style that exploded from a few brave pioneer women who decided they were absolutely done trying? I do applaud those marvelous females who made my life a thousand times simpler by dropping peasant skirts and bell-bottom jeans in favor of oversized T-shirts. I just wish that maybe they’d put on some pants.” (The Red & Black, University of Georgia)
Student-Parent Relationship. Undergrads may boast about their independence during the semester, but that doesn’t mean they’re not calling, texting, emailing, tweeting and Skyping home a whole bunch on a regular basis. How often? One study says “students … connect with their parents an astonishing 31.1 times every week, including 9.1 times via social media. Perhaps that makes family the most important social network of all for today’s students.” How, and how often, do students at your school interact with their immediate families in between studying and socializing? What tend to be the focuses of the conversations? And what are they most likely to leave out of the stories they share with mom and dad?

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BONUS IDEA: Homesickness. When students return to campuses at the start of each semester, there is one especially nagging feeling many bring with them: homesickness. Whether it’s missing family, pets, friends or the comfort of the familiar, the notion of homesickness is undoubtedly as embedded within higher education as Spring Break and Saturday football. What sorts of homesick sentiments do your students suffer from? What are the symptoms? And how do they cope?
Condoms (Increasingly) Optional. Is safe sex on campus a thing of the past? It’s apparently been steadily declining since the ’90s. “A recent study released by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada found that nearly 50 percent of sexually active college students aren’t using condoms.”
MIA Undergrads. A New York University student recently went AWOL for 35 hours before being discovered in a tiny crevice between a campus building and parking garage. One the reasons it took so long to track him down is the drawn-out nature of the MIA-student protocol in place at the school — something NYU officials are now reviewing. It’s time to review your own school’s protocol. What happens when a roommate, teammate professor, coach or parent puts the word out that a student hasn’t been seen or heard from in a while? And how often does this type of situation play out? (NYU Local, New York University)
Food Stuff. Eating disorders are evermore prevalent among men, including college guys. “Though eating disorders are commonly considered female conditions, a study released last week indicates that many young men suffer from undiagnosed eating disorders and distortions of body image.”
1Stair-Fall Snapshots. A new odd offshoot of the seemingly unstoppable selfie movement is emerging (for others see serenity selfies and funeral selfies on this list). It encompasses individuals taking photos of themselves during or immediately after a tumble down a flight of stairs. Just promise if you do a first-person piece on this that you’ll wear a helmet. #weird

Go Retro. Big questions of the day: “How often does a great story dominate the headlines, only to be dropped from the news cycle? How often do journalists tell us of a looming danger or important discovery — only to move quickly to the next new thing? What really happened? How did these events change us? And what are the lingering consequences that may affect our society to this day?” Retro Report is attempting to find out. The new news organization is diving one last time into big stories of the not-too-distant past, hoping to answer questions media of the moment may have missed or misled the public about. Examples include the Y2K craziness, the botched Hurricane Katrina recovery and the famous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. Follow in their retro footsteps. Scan your archives for a story years removed from the campus news cycle. Give it a fresh journalistic once-over. Search for elements of newsworthiness that may have been missed or exaggerated at the time. Check in with those impacted by the news to see how they are doing now and what they think of everything that happened in the past. And confirm its “lingering consequences” for individuals or the school as a whole.

DIGITAL ALERT: Jump Up. A new viral video displays the eye-poppingly astounding skills of a student jump-rope champion at Ohio State University. Use her video leaps as inspiration. Record students and alums sharing their greatest talents or quirky hobbies — whether they are elite-level or simply out-there. The key is capturing the passion.

SOCIAL MEDIA ALERT: Serenity Selfies. A recent crowdsourced cattle call by The Huffington Post enticed netizens to submit photos of themselves at their most relaxed. The so-called serenity selfies show individuals by the pool and at the beach, holding pets, kids, books and cups of coffee, standing in the sunshine and snuggled under covers in bed. Localize this image-driven initiative, focusing on members of your own campus community. When and how do students, faculty, staff and alums find themselves most at peace or blissfully happy?


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1BONUS IDEA: Timely Selfies. Selfies have never been more popular. They are the focus of their very own exhibit at a London museum. And they have sparked crazes connected to them being snapped and shared at odder or just-plain inappropriate moments — for example, see the recent Selfies at Funeral phenomenon. Forget funerals, but harness this selfie movement for big campus events. Request, collect and share selfies during orientation, homecoming, family weekend, sports rivalry weekends, commencement, across campus during a random Wednesday or even while students (and profs) are in class.

1GONZO ALERT: Imperfect Memories & Illegible Notes. A few days ago, Muckgers, a cool digital news start-up at Rutgers University, unveiled a student’s “unreliable account” of being evacuated from campus in October 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy. Timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the super-storm, the first-person chronological narrative is described as “both an experiment in Gonzo journalism and [a] design-focused approach to Sandy coverage. … [It] is a reconstruction of events from imperfect memories and illegible notes. It may contain some embellishments.” Spin off this Gonzo Sandy reflection with some 24-hour reports of your own. Ask students to recap a recent day in their lives — ones that are momentous or perfectly ordinary. In respect to the latter, see if you can find meaning in the mundane. Either way, keep the glimpse-backs personal. And use the Muckgers’ attempt as a trigger for one key related ethical question: How do you balance a person’s pure memory versus reportorial truth? (Muckgers, Rutgers University)

1STUNT ALERT: Campus Speed-Racers. A trio of daredevil road-trippers extraordinaire recently scooted across the country in a tricked-out BMW in less than 29 hours — coast to coast. The leader of the group publicly warned others not to attempt their speed racing antics due to its illegality and potential for injury, fatality and harm to others. But it should at least inspire a safer, campus-oriented challenge. Pick two points representing opposite ends of campus. See who might be able to make the journey from point to point the fastest or in the most creative fashion, under various conditions — flat-out running, riding a bike, wearing heels, walking while weighed down by a 20-pound backpack, scurrying through hordes of homecoming visitors, etc. Again, keep it safe and within reason. And be sure to promote the winners — and share the videos they record along the way.

1ETHICS ALERT: Illicit Animals. A recent Duke Chronicle report: “Duke’s campus is home to a surprising number of student pet owners, all hiding a myriad of creatures from the eyes of the law. Ball pythons … dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, ferrets and hedgehogs … about [round] out the surreptitious Duke zoo. Ownership is a risky game. Pets are strictly forbidden by Housing, Dining and Residential Life policy, and pet owners are vividly aware of this.” What pets are students surreptitiously keeping on your campus, against school rules? And what happens to the students, and the creatures, who are caught? FYI: The Chronicle changed the names of the student owners featured in its piece, to spare them immediate punishment from school officials. Should you do the same? (The Duke Chronicle, Duke University)

1SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: Body Issue. In November 2013, The Maroon Tiger at Georgia’s Morehouse College published a special issue focused on all aspects of students’ bodies. Features in the issue center on body changes due to fast food, drugs and eating disorders; the stories behind various student body types, including the perspectives of those holding them; the connection of the physical and spiritual selves; and celebrity body fixations. Explore the body politic on your own campus — with text and images — along physical, racial, gender, emotional and societal lines. (The Maroon Tiger, Morehouse College)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Op-Ed Live! A fascinating video very recently appeared on the YouTube channel of The Dartmouth. The professionally produced — albeit slightly shadowy — vid features an op-ed columnist responding in a personal, excitingly genuine way to comments on her latest piece. The op-ed involves Greek life and I guess caused some controversy. But more interesting to me is the cool fourth-wall-teardown and in-your-face immediacy that this response video represents. The Dartmouth dubs it “Op-Ed Live.” Is it worth emulating or adapting for your own columnists or when column discussions deserve to continue beyond the main piece and online comments section? (The Dartmouth, Dartmouth College)

1STUNT ALERT: The Purge Project. A top New York City advertising executive is making news for his decision to give away one personal item every day for a full year. He calls the effort “The Purge Project” and Time recently dubbed him “The Giveaway Guy.” As the magazine notes, “He may be on to something. Recent reports have found that Americans are staggering under the weight of their stuff.” Where and how bad is the clutter on your campus? What belongings are students most willing or eager to part with? And what about holding a purge event? Ask students to donate one personal good apiece and discuss its relative (in)significance in their lives — building atop their giving with a report on the stress and mess of rising college clutter.
INVESTIGATION ALERT: Understanding the Board. Middlebury Campus editors speak for many, many students when they write, “We owe much of what we enjoy here to the decisions and guidance of the Board of Trustees. But considering how much this group impacts us every day, how well do we really understand the board? … Few students truly understand the people who comprise the board and the process through which they operate, and often our existing conceptions are not accurate.” (The Middlebury Campus, Middlebury College)

1To Survive, Skim. According to Princeton University sophomore Prianka Misra, assignments calling for massive amounts of nightly or even weekly reading “beg for insincerity.” She is unable to succeed by the mantra repeated often by her classmates: “In order to survive, you must skim.” Instead, she is left pondering a system that is at least slightly broken, by being overloaded. As Misra argues, “When 200 or more pages of reading are assigned on a given night (or even in a week), students only receive a topical and superficial understanding of the literature they read. When they are subsequently tested on such material, they may be forced to make deductions and comment in a way that does not represent an accurate understanding of the material — just a condensed and watered-down version of what we really should be learning.” Do you see this assigning and skimming at your school? Any students fighting back or profs offering innovative alternatives? (The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University)
The Late Shift. What are the experiences of the evening and overnight staffers on campus — security, janitorial, residence life, construction, etc.? “Overnight workers also are not only at risk for getting sick more frequently; they are at a higher risk for more serious diseases. … [W]hile adjusting to overnight schedules is possible, the human body will suffer.” (The Daily Beacon, University of Tennessee)

FASHION ALERT: Girl Pockets. The latest female fashion statement has “depressingly little to offer.” As a Temple News columnist recently opined, “I’m convinced these pockets exist only for aesthetics, because all I’ve been able to fit in mine is assorted change and, occasionally, some business cards. As if women needed something else immobilizing them in this society. Girl pockets act as the icing on this giant patriarchal cake.” (The Temple News, Temple University)

VISUAL JOURNALISM ALERT: A Photographic Census of Campus. Forget boring man-on-the-street chats. Go for quality and quirky stills and meaningful questions. Humans of New York is the perfect project to inspire you on that journey. It’s one man’s attempt to capture “a photographic census of New York City,” while simultaneously grabbing individuals’ stories and life-changing moments.


1REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: “What’s in Your Bag?” A fun campus stop-and-chat focused on revealing the interesting items students keep in their bags, purses, wallets and pockets. The keys of course are ferreting out fascinating and quirky finds, telling brief tales about why the students are carrying them and sharing a smidgen about how they might connect to their past and present. (Washington Square News, New York University)

Non-Student Neighbors. What do locals living near your school think of student off-campus housing issues such as “too many people living in one residence, parking issues, noise, litter [and] uncontained or out-of control parties”? (Hint: They love them!) But seriously, dive into off-campus living from the perspective of those unaffiliated with your school who protest it, put up with it or even profit from it.  (The Independent Collegian, University of Toledo)

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BONUS IDEA: Off-Campus Responsibility. How, and how much, should your school be responsible for the safety, rights and behavior of students while they are off campus?  (The Spectrum, University of Buffalo)

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ANOTHER BONUS IDEA: The Secret Roommate. A group of guys at Ohio State University recently stumbled across a secret roommate living in the basement of the home they are renting off campus. Wait, what? How do leasing companies and private landlords monitor move-outs? What’s the deal with key duplication? And, depending, are locks on these often-less-than-pristine near-campus houses ever actually changed? In addition, what access do, and should, student renters have to portions of the homes considered common or more private?  (The Lantern, Ohio State University)

5Entrance Rights. Shifting to on-campus living, a pair of questions: “When is it all right for … maintenance and housekeeping staff to enter your place of residence on campus?” And what about campus security, residence life staff, administrators and parents of students?  (The Butler Collegian, Butler University)

CUTE ANIMAL IMAGE ALERT: Pet Projects. Some student animal-lovers balance academics and extracurriculars with on-campus or long-distance pet care. Profile man and beast. What are students’ more extreme pets, pet names and pet care habits?  What are your school’s pet rules, and how are they abused?  (The Arkansas Traveler, University of Arkansas)


SPORTS ALERT: Living, Breathing Mascot. Along with the overdone profiles on students who don the mascot costumes, check in with the actual animal(s) that your school trots out for sporting events. How are they cared for? What do they do in their downtime? And how much money do they cost the school?  (The Daily Cougar, University of Houston)
Lab Work. What’s lab safety like on campus? What are the oddest and most dangerous things being stored, toyed with? Any professor or student stories about close calls? Are there outside inspections like health checks at restaurants? How much do the chemicals and other materials cost the school? And which ones simply smell the worst, look the grossest or are the most fun for students to work with?
1In Storage. What are your university’s most prestigious, well-known, private and strange archives and special collections? Document the state they are in and even catalog the items. At the University of Montana, for example, it’s a zoological collection. As a related story starts, “In the basement of Schreiber Gymnasium next to two rusted boilers, nearly 3,000 jars filled with mammals, reptiles, fish and even a deer fetus sit in deteriorating cardboard boxes. The jars are a small portion of the University of Montana’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum, a roughly 24,000-specimen collection dating back to before the university’s founding.” Can you top it? (The Montana Kaimin, University of Montana)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Online Music Adventure Tour. The “Daily Discovery” feature from Spinnaker radio breaks down “the newest and most interesting” songs and artists students might be inclined to check out, often including a YouTube embed of a related music video. Launch your own version on basically anything — music, shows, films, comics, viral vids, students, townies, etc.  (The Spinnaker, University of North Florida)
Internet Fame & Niche Activities. Duke University student Rachael Nedrow is a gigantic viral success for her mastery of sport stacking, also sometimes called speed stacking or cup stacking. The increasingly popular competitive activity — which even Nedrow admits may not be an actual sport — involves stacking, de-stacking and sometimes subsequently re-stacking a set amount of specially-made plastic cups in predetermined ways as fast as possible. See how your own students stack up when it comes to outsized acclaim and online attention for outside-the-mainstream activities. (The Duke Chronicle, Duke University)

6The Grass Cut. “With so many students trying to get from point A to point B (often in a hurry), there are really only two options. Either students walk on the grass to take a shortcut or walk on the concrete pathways that meander through campus.” What are student travel routines on your campus? What are the most popular spots to cut across the grass or other undeveloped grounds? And where should campus landscapers or other infrastructure overseers alter things to allow for more direct cross-campus journeys?  (The Spartan Daily, San Jose State University)
Campus Chants. The traditional chants screamed by students and alums at campus events such as orientation and football games have been in an especially stark spotlight lately. What are the most popular and controversial chants recited by your school’s faithful? What are the stories behind them? And what chants have been or need to be retired?  (Ubyssey, University of British Columbia)

2DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: A Fountain of Humanity. A while back, Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch came across a photo of two brothers celebrating Yale University’s first NCAA hockey championship — one of the brothers is a player on the team. The photo touched him so much he asked his 87,000 Twitter followers to pass along similarly memorable images featuring ”the single best moment of your life.” As CBS News reports, “Within minutes came a rush of best moments: Parents’ first moment with a newborn; the moment he asks and she says yes; the moment of homecoming from the danger of war. Dozens, then hundreds of photos streamed in, in what Deitsch describes as a fountain of humanity.” Request and share similarly happy photos submitted by your own readers. Or go the Deadspin route. The snarky sports news site spoofed Deitsch’s request by asking their readers for “a photo or video of the single Worst Moment of Your Life.”
Don’t Forget Transfers. Every semester a new slew of transfer students sign on for the fun and games at your school. What are they like? What brought them there? And how’s it been trying to fit in? The reverse of this group may be tougher to find, but no less interesting: Ferret out and report on those who transferred FROM, not to, your school. I promise their stories will be just as interesting, and possibly illuminating to your student, faculty and admin. readers.  (The Pendulum, Elon University)

REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: Weekend Recaps. What did students do this past weekend? Any one-time experiences or regular routines that are especially odd, funny, eye-opening, life-changing or newsworthy?  (Forbes)

I QUIT! Twentysomething journalist Marina Shifrin recently quit her digital news job in a viral video blaze of glory. Grab some stories from students at your school about jobs they quit — or been fired from — or ones they wish they had left with gusto like Shifrin. And reach out to alums. What are their early post-grad job horror stories? Or get serious. Tell the tales of professors, staffers, alums and students whose job or larger career changes have proven life-changing as well.  (Gawker)

FASHION ALERT: Underbutt Shorts Attack. The latest clothing craze on campuses is very, very short shorts that purposefully and provocatively reveal the lower part of an individual’s buttocks. Report from (almost) every angle.  (The Independent Florida Alligator, University of Florida)

Segregation Circa Now. In early fall 2013, an article in The Crimson White detailing eye-opening racial segregation within University of Alabama sororities racked up thousands of tweets, Facebook likes, online comments and a growing number of professional press pieces. It subsequently led to an historic integration of UA Greek life organizations. It should also serve as an inspiration for a localized look at racial, ethnic, class, geographic and gender breakdowns within student groups, academic majors and sports teams on your campus and whether any related underlying tensions exist.  (The Crimson White, University of Alabama)
Flyover Reporting. Drone journalism is a fascinating new method of flyover reporting that a few A-list j-schools are testing. The most prominent experimentation is arguably taking place at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Drone Journalism Lab. The lab’s website features a blog-style rundown of drone journalism news and views — it alternately held my rapt attention and made me giggle with geeky journalism glee. Get geeky and gleeful with glimpses at what’s happening in the drone sphere on or near your own campus. Or figure out how to harness the drone potential for a worthy related report.
INSPIRATION ALERT: Blind Newsreader. The video report below shares the story of a staffer at Australia’s national radio network who is rocking out as a newsreader even though she “can’t see one word of the script she’s delivering.” How are students at your school coping with, overcoming or working around what most might identify as disabilities or extreme challenges — physical, psychological, emotional and social?

Safety, on a Global Scale. A while back, bandits in the dead of night cut through barbed wire, scooted over a cement fence, sneaked through an open side window, eluded a security officer and stole $25,000 in mostly electronics from University of Oregon journalism and media students stationed in Ghana. It’s an unfortunate, pertinent foundation to investigate safety measures, breakdowns and intangibles associated with study abroad courses and programs at your own school. (Emerald, University of Oregon)
Student Cheating That is SO Not OK. College students are continually redefining, undercutting and testing the limits of what has traditionally been seen as duplicitous behavior in relationships. Especially in the Internet age and within the omnipresent student hook-up culture, cheating is a more fascinating and multi-faceted creature than ever before — existing on the physical, emotional, mental and digital levels and with gender-based double standards firmly in place. As a student sex columnist for The Daily Californian at the University of California, Berkeley, once observed, “One girl I know tends to make out with whomever she’s dancing with once she’s elegantly wasted. Nothing comes of these encounters, and she feels no guilt withholding such details from her man. ‘But what if you found out he was doing the same thing when he went out?’ I pried. She shot me a look of death for such an awful question, snapping, ‘That would be SO not OK.’” (The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley)
Peanut Problems. In spring 2013, a student felt forced to leave the University of Washington, Tacoma, because of her severe peanut allergy. While the school had initially attempted to accommodate her, the chancellor confirmed, “Her allergy is too severe and it’s life-threatening. We cannot keep her safe here, and that breaks my heart.” What allergy issues do students at your school grapple with on a daily basis? What measures do schools take to accommodate them? And beyond allergies, what about phobias?

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Sugar Babies. At many schools, a growing number of mostly female students are engaging in romantic, sexual and apparently financial relationships with gentlemen often old enough to be their fathers — or even grandfathers. Under a mutually acceptable agreement, some or all of the young women’s financial needs are taken care of by their older beaus, including clothes, cars, food, trips, tuition and room and board. The young women in this arrangement are known as sugar babies. Search for sugar babies at your school. Share their stories, and possibly those of the older professionals who enter into relationships with them. Answer readers’ most pressing questions, including how they first meet, routinely interact, arrange payments, maintain secrecy and determine an end date for the relationship.
REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: Student Nicknames. In a piece on memorable political nicknames, National Public Radio’s Erica Ryan outlines the noms de plume attached to some seminal government leaders. Three biggies: Martin Van Ruin for former president Martin Van Buren (due to the country’s economic woes at the time); Slick Willie for sexually-charged former president Bill Clinton; and Snarlin’ Arlen for iconically cantankerous former senator Arlen Specter. Whether detrimental or beneficial, individuals’ nicknames always have a story behind them — including for students. Ferret out the best aliases students have been stuck with, or bestowed upon themselves, along with the tales of how they came to be. One snippet of advice: Along with the silly ‘Carlos Danger’-style pseudonyms, uncover the assumed names with more serious origins — such as those adopted by international students to better fit in with their American peers.
College-Bound Crowd-Funders. There has been a noted rise as of late in “college-bound crowd-funders,” or individuals who attempt to raise money from the masses to finance their way through school. The challenges, according to U.S. News & World Report, include “building interest or circulating their campaign page beyond their close-knit circle of friends and family.” Any crowd-funders at your school or those who frequently donate to others’ crowdfunding efforts?
Summer Tuition Sales Alert. Schools are increasingly pushing to exist as year-round educational centers, in some cases offering reduced tuition rates and other perks between semesters to grab higher enrollment. For example, as Inside Higher Ed reports, “Summer school is on sale at Montclair State University, where students at the New Jersey public institution can take classes for up to 17 percent off the regular tuition price, housing fees are reduced, and parking is free.” What are the details of your own school’s year-round status? And how do they compare to schools nearby or those of similar size?
REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: Murmurs from the Bathroom Wall. “Love yourself!” “Love God!” “Men?” “Why do we allow ourselves to live in a world of poisons that are not quite fatal?” “In my 20 years [of] life I have had a crush on 3 people. But I didn’t show it. Why? Because they’re all girl/woman.” For a while now, Kimberly Veklerov has been detailing these “anonymous musings” and others like them in a unique blog for The Daily Californian. Each week, Veklerov engages in campus restroom stall stakeouts, searching for one-of-a-kind glimpses into the minds and moods of (mostly female) students and staff at the University of California, Berkeley. Her blog, called “Murmurs from the Bathroom Wall,” is a wonderful inspiration for glimpses at the graffiti scrawled across your own campus — one of the last forms of truly anonymous self-expression. Some of it may be smut or indecipherable, but portions may also prove telling as to what’s on student’s minds. (The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley)


DATA JOURNALISM ALERT: A $200,000 Attendance Problem. Most attendance stories I come across focus on how much tuition money students waste each time they skip class. At Wyoming’s Northwest College, however, it’s not the students but the school that is stuck with an attendance-based mess. Northwest apparently lost more than $200,000 this past year in unpaid student debts. The local paper explains, “[M]ost of the bad debts resulted when students applied for and received financial aid — federal grants and/or student loans — then stopped attending classes partway through the semester, or in at least one case, failed to attend at all. But, because attendance is not required, college administrators often don’t learn about that until the semester is over. Then the college got a bill from the federal government for the money the students were paid for tuition and living expenses.” It makes me wonder how common this is. How does your school monitor and handle disappearing students, and the debt they leave behind?
DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Live Streaming. In late April 2013, The Daily Campus at Southern Methodist University provided round-the-clock coverage of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum dedication festivities. As the paper noted in one of its many posts and pieces touching on the events: “The chance to be in the same place as one president is rare. To be in the same place as five living presidents? Your chances are slim to none.” Pinpoint the campus festivities worthy of a real-time video or tweet stream. If you go with the latter, consider tone as well as content. If the right event presents itself, maybe a live-snark might fit the bill. (The Daily Campus, Southern Methodist University)
Let’s Vet. Amid the backdrop of the Snowden NSA leak, employee and student vetting has become a significant issue in academia. For example, it surged into the national spotlight in spring 2013 at Rutgers University. Newark’s Star-Ledger reported the new Rutgers athletic director has a professional past checkered with possible athlete and coach mistreatment — parts of her history glossed over or not checked out during her hiring process. Related questions: How are prospective employees vetted at your school? What about students, during undergraduate and graduate admissions? And what is the psychological evaluation process for students and staff, especially those deemed potential risks?
DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: A Leap Into the Future. Once it reaches the masses, Google Glass may quickly become the most popular technological development since the iPad. The Mace & Crown at Old Dominion University describes the augmented reality spectacles as nothing less than “a leap into the future.” Get students’ takes on this leap. And once you get hold of a pair, brainstorm like mad about its innovative reporting potential. (The Mace & Crown, Old Dominion University)


1Gender-Neutral Fight. At a growing number of colleges and universities– in middle America and along the coasts– students are protesting, passing resolutions, and publishing commentaries calling for more gender-neutral housing and restroom options. The push appears to be part of a larger student-led fight on some campuses for greater “transgender inclusiveness,” something The Oklahoma Daily hailed last spring as being at the heart of “this generation’s civil rights movement.” What is the status of the gender-neutral fight at your school, if one exists? (The Oklahoma Daily, University of Oklahoma)
Contractual Obligation. Outside contractors most likely operate all over your campus. Let’s track them down. Begin in the cafeteria. Next, head to a construction zone. Possibly check in on the campus security headquarters. And then head over to the athletic center or waste and recycling facilities. Once you’ve identified them, start digging. How are the contractors chosen? What access and privileges do they have on campus? How are they evaluated? How are their employees vetted and monitored? And what, if any, say do students have in respect to contractor selection and work quality?
Data, Breached. There is almost no more hot-button issue within academia at the moment than the protection of sensitive data. At Harvard University, a recent controversy centered on a secret email search conducted by administrators. At Louisiana State University, the fight is over the secrecy surrounding the school’s presidential search. At the University of Oklahoma, a lawsuit is pushing for the release of parking ticket records. At Saint Joseph’s University, the embarrassment was tied to the accidental release of student GPAs. What are the relevant data protection issues at your school? How well is private information secured, physically and digitally? And who is allowed access?
DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: College Confessions. Students have been evermore rabidly excited to share their innermost thoughts, feelings, fantasies, fears, regrets and images through a host of platforms — from Whisper memes and Snapchat photos to Facebook confessions and Twitter #crushes. What is the current status of the so-called Confessions Craze on your campus? And what is emerging as the next big thing in anonymous student sharing?
SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: BuzzFeed Year in Review. The latest year-in-review edition assembled by The Crimson White is full-on BuzzFeed. The student newspaper modeled its entire 32-page issue after BuzzFeed’s homepage and internal pages — right down to the iconic page-topping categories LOL, win, OMG, cute, RTR, trashy, fail and WTF. Come the end of a semester, sports season, year, decade or university president’s tenure, can you top it? (The Crimson White, University of Alabama)
Early Classes = Higher Grades? As students make their final course selections each semester, one schedule tidbit they should keep in mind: To boost your GPA, an 8 a.m. class might be worth waking up for. As a fairly new study confirms, college students enrolled in early classes earn higher grades. The researchers – a pair of psychology professors at New York’s St. Lawrence University – literally found a slight drop in student grade point averages for each hour a class starts later. Among the questions you should be asking: How common and popular are early classes on your campus? Do students find them worth waking up for? And how are grades affected by the times classes are held?

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