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Nostalgia, Cities, Streetcars and the Daily Newspaper

Nostalgia is neither good or bad.  Often someone is labeled “nostalgic” as a means of dismissing their desire to return to a way or technology of the past.

1. a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.(from Dictionary.com)

It has been said that the attraction of streetcars, for example, is more about nostalgia than good mass transit.  Perhaps.  I believe streetcars in a region’s core is a good part of a healthy mass transit system that also includes buses, light rail and heavy rail.  I was in my 30s before I rode a streetcar so how can this be nostalgia for me?

Old photos do transport me to well before my time when most U.S. towns & cities had streetcar systems.  I grew up not in a suburb but most certainly in suburbia. Oklahoma City, like most cities had at least one streetcar system.  It also had an “interurban” system connecting small towns outside the city to the downtown.  My part of Oklahoma City was a new 1960s subdivision of curving cul-de-sac streets lined not with sidewalks and trees but driveways and garage doors.  The streetcars & interurban system was long gone although the compact and walkable neighborhoods once served by these transit systems remained.  They remain today.

In St. Louis the intersection of Grand & Gravois was considered suburban when new.  That is, it was less urban than the older parts if the city.  But it was well served by transit and walkable.

Grand & Gravois, late 1950s.  Note the strretcar on the left.
Grand & Gravois, late 1950s. Note the streetcar on the left.

Is this nostalgia on my part or a recognition of elements for an earlier time that would work well today?  There are lots of things from earlier times I don’t care to return to:  water from a cistern and outhouses just to name a couple.

I live for the future.  But that doesn’t mean we have to toss aside lessons from the past.  I like gardening for your food, buying from a merchant where the clerk behind the counter is the owner, hanging clothes to dry, etc.  I don’t consider myself nostalgic.

Nor do I label those who see the future demise of the daily newspaper as nostalgic.  Or do I?  For decades my parents got the paper 7 days per week.  Both read it end to end. I remember looking through the classifieds for a car when I was 16.  That was BCL — before Craigslist.  Yeah, don’t miss it at all.  But for many I believe them when they say they don’t like reading on their computer, much less on their phone.  Some are indifferent.  I never liked the paper — it was too big.  I had to fold it to manage it.Got ink on my fingers.  I do have fond memories of using Silly Putty on comics.

The daily newspaper, like the local streetcar, is going away.  But the streetcar is staging a comeback:

Portland, OR March 2009
Portland, OR March 2009

Yes, the streetcar is back.  It looks different than it used to.  They not longer are built by private developers seeking buyers for housing lots on the edge of a metropolis. Today the streetcar makes circles through areas— connecting them in the process.  How people use streetcars have changed as well.  In the past passengers would board from the roadway — most of the lines in Toronto are still this way.  New systems allow passengers to remain safely on the sidewalk.  Wheelchair users have easy access without special ramps or lifts.  So after a long absence streetcars have returned.  They have keep the good parts and tossed away the bad.

Will the same be true of the daily newspaper?  Will we see it go away only to return bigger & better half a century later? Just maybe.  If it does don’t dismiss those that want a paper as just being nostalgic or luddites.


Media Credibility Town Hall Meeting

May 2, 2009 Events/Meetings, Media Comments Off on Media Credibility Town Hall Meeting

Passing along info on an interesting meeting I can’t make tonight:

Whom do you trust
Media professionals, just like the airline industry, know that consumers have a choice when it comes to where they go for news. But in today’s complex, shifting and financially tenuous media landscape, it can be a disconcerting and daunting task to decide where to turn for news that you can trust is accurate, fair and complete.

The St. Louis chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is hosting a town hall meeting to encourage a dialogue among news listeners, readers, and viewers with the people who work for and study the media across various platforms.

St. Louis will be one of 12 sites across the country to host a dialogue during SPJ’s Ethics in Journalism Week, April 26-May 2. Pam Fine, the Knight chair in news, leadership and community at the University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication, will serve as moderator of the event. Practitioners and professors from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Beacon, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Webster University will talk about the multiple dimensions of credibility and hope to hear from news consumers throughout the St. Louis metro area.

The event is funded through support from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. SPJ is celebrating its 100th year of commitment to improving and protecting journalism.

What: Media credibility town hall meeting
When: 6-7:15 p.m., Saturday, May 2.
Where: AT&T Multipurpose Room, Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd (map).
Who: St. Louis chapter of SPJ will be hosting Pam Fine, Knight chair in news, leadership and community at the University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication, as moderator of the event with a panel of local media practitioners and professors.
Cost: Free.



And They’re Off..

April 30, 2009 Media, Site Info Comments Off on And They’re Off..

Saturday is the 135th Kentucky Derby.  But that is not the race I’m alluding to.

I’m in a race of my own.  I’ve been challenged by Lindenwood University School of Communications Assistant Professor, Jill Falk,  to see who will first reach 400 followers on Twitter.  She was ahead when she challenged me on Tuesday.  She is still ahead and quickly closing in on 400. Falk is among a growing number of professors using Twitter in the college setting:

Facebook may be the social medium of choice for college students, but the microblogging Web tool Twitter has found adherents among professors, many of whom are starting to experiment with it as a teaching device.

Marquette University associate professor Gee Ekechai uses Twitter to discuss what she’s teaching in class with students and connect them with experts in the field of advertising and public relations.

Twitter is helping these professors build community in their classes in a way that appeals to some members of a Facebook-addicted generation. The phenomenon is certainly not ubiquitous, and some professors have found Twitter doesn’t do anything for them in the academic realm.

But others, particularly those who teach in communications fields, are finding that Twitter and other social media are key devices for students and faculty to include in their professional toolbox.

Ekechai started teaching Marquette’s first undergraduate class in social media this semester. She requires students to use the tool for a month. When guest speakers come to class, some students are responsible for publishing the speaker’s thoughts on Twitter during the presentation – called “live tweeting.”

The exercise helps students develop key skills: listening, information-gathering, multitasking and succinct writing. Twitter allows only 140 characters per tweet.

Twitter also allows faculty members to post links to what they’re reading. Students who “follow” a professor’s tweets can get a look at the news stories that help inform their professor’s lectures or connect with the experts their teachers are following.

“If I stumble upon something that’s relevant, I could post that up there, and then when we meet back again in class, I can say, ‘Make sure you look back again at last week’s Twitter posts,’ ” said Marc Tasman, a lecturer in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s journalism and mass communication department who uses Twitter.

Menck says Twitter has increased the amount of communication she has with students. She gets direct messages from students about the industry or the course. She also “listens” to the conversations students have with each other on Twitter to gauge what they’re interested in or what questions they have.

“I’ve been on this morning, and I see my students posting a lot of great links to information about social media, information about going on in the advertising industry, and how public relations is changing,” she said.

Ekechai and Menck see it as their responsibility to teach students about Twitter because social media knowledge is becoming essential to their future fields – communications, advertising, public relations and marketing.

The Internet in general has changed the practice of public relations, allowing companies or brands to communicate directly with consumers and, in some cases, bypass the media.

Connecting to students on Twitter can invite a more informal level of conversation – something Menck enjoys but that not all academics would be comfortable with. One student seemed shocked when Menck tweeted, “Going into 3 hour faculty meeting. Time to catch up on my sleep!”

Not everyone in academe is as comfortable using Twitter to interact with students.

John Jordan, an associate professor in UWM’s communication department, teaches students about social media but doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter with students, opting for more formal channels of communication.

“Not all of yourself can be public,” he said. “There are notions of professionalism. Just the little back and forth that you have with your friends – you may not want your students to ask you about that.”

Others have doubts about Twitter’s educational usefulness. McGee Young, assistant professor of political science at Marquette, experimented with Twitter this semester, posting links and encouraging students to follow him.

With the experiment nearly over, Young said he doesn’t see the tool as useful in an academic sense because he can’t restrict the conversation to people in his class, as he can when he uses Marquette’s online class organization tool, Desire2Learn.

“If there’s 25 of you there in a crowd of 500, and you’re trying to have a discussion in the midst of a large crowd, you can talk to two or three people at a time, but the other 25 aren’t going to be part of the conversation in any meaningful way. That’s what happens with Twitter,” he said.

Tasman, on the other hand, said he prefers Twitter to Desire2Learn because Twitter is immediate and has no barriers to posting links. Plus, he believes Twitter will inevitably become universal.  (source)

If you are on Twitter please help me whip the good professor from Lindenwood.  This is, of course, all in fun.  But I still want to win.  If you are on Twitter please follow me.


Poll, Which Social Media Do You Use Weekly?

April 25, 2009 Media, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Poll, Which Social Media Do You Use Weekly?

There are thousands of social media networks in existence today.  Among them are Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.  The poll this week is simple, which of these do you use on a weekly basis? For example, I have a LinkedIn profile but I seldom use it.  Twitter & Facebook, on the other hand, are used daily.

The poll is in the upper right hand corner — check all that apply.  And be sure to follow UrbanReviewSTL on Twitter!


Blogger Turned Elected Official Debuts New PubDef

Tuesday Antonio French was sworn in as the newest alderman from the city’s 21st ward.  French’s wife, Dr. Jasenka Benac French, was with him taking pictures.  Benac holds a PhD. in electrical engineering from Washington University.

Antonio French is the man behind the popular blog PubDef.net.   French would regularly report on goings on at city hall. But now French is an elected official. As expected the site was to change.  For the past few days readers saw the following message:

But yesterday Ald. French unveiled the new PubDef — going from dot net to dot org in the process.

The new PubDef.org
The new PubDef.org

So check out PubDef.org.  Also check out French’s well organized but still developing ward site at 2stWard.org.  Of course Antonio French is on Twitter.  You can follow him @PubDef or me @UrbanReviewSTL.