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May. 7 2010 — 12:01 pm | 12,777 views | 1 recommendations | 5 comments

College newspaper penis prank leaves nine seniors in graduation limbo

It’s getting harder and harder to make this whole ‘journalist’ gig sound appealing.

Today is graduation day at the University of Utah except for nine seniors from the student newspaper, the  Daily Utah Chronicle.

As a parting gift to the University of Utah, graduating senior writers at the student newspaper decided to leave with a vulgar word, or two.

The starting letters of each of the nine veteran reporters’ and staff members’ editorials, including one written by editor-in-chief Rachel Hanson, spelled out coarse words for male and female reproductive organs in their final printed edition, which hit stands April 28.  Since then, the stunt has gone viral, earning more than 8,400 votes on failblog.org. It has been shared on Facebook and Twitter at least 3,000 times.

“It wasn’t meant to be obscene or pornographic,” Hanson said. “It was in poor taste, I’ll give you that, but it was just supposed to be a silly joke.”

via University of Utah seniors say goodbye with vulgar send off in the Chronicle

It’s more than just a silly joke, though.  It’s a tradition, one that began in the ’80s in fits and starts but has been consistently upheld for the last 12 years.   Since 1999, graduating seniors at the Daily Utah Chronicle write and edit farewell pieces that, with some creative layout and design, reveal unexpected words.  Previous years have included hidden words like “hateu,” “tipsy,” “drunk” and “balls.”   Over the years the words have taken a more graphic turn.  This year, the hidden words were “penis” and “cunt.”

When the Daily Utah Chronicle penis prank landed on failblog.org it received the digital equivalent of a standing ovation.  University of Utah officials, however, were not laughing.  They placed a hold on the academic records and diplomas for the nine graduating seniors.

Editor Rachel Hanson was concerned the administration’s response could impinge on students’ press freedom, as was the paper’s outgoing faculty adviser, Jim Fisher.

“It was childish and stupid, but it’s not a cause for institutional notice,” said Fisher, an associate professor of communication who had long planned to step down as adviser this spring. “It, at the very least, has a chilling effect, and at the most could be censorship. I don’t agree with the behavior at all, but I support their right to be idiots.”

via Outgoing U. columnists in trouble over ‘hidden’ vulgarity – The Salt Lake Tribune

Isn’t that what college is for, to work out your inner idiot so you can successfully mask that part of you when you get a real job?  I remember walking one afternoon  in between classes at Rutgers University, listening to our college radio station WRSU-FM (on my sony walkman, thankyouverymuch).   I was a dj at the radio station, I knew the gang and the drill.  Suddenly, the standard “Some of the music heard on WRSU-FM is provided by Cheap Thrills”  was replaced with “Some of the music heard on WRSU-FM is brought to you by John’s record collection.”

They had stolen the airwaves.  A few of the guys — mostly graduating seniors — stole the airwaves and were broadcasting from their apartment.

I don’t recall why, I just know it was funny.  Then, and still.  It wasn’t so funny, though, when a disciplinary committee was brought in and there was a formal review.  I even had to testify, and while many of the details are now fuzzy I do remember how surreal it all seemed, like the bizarro world.   It was a college prank!  A really funny college prank.  I understand there were some FCC issues but no one was hurt, they switched it all back, let’s laugh, slap a wrist and move on.

Perhaps the University of Utah is using this as a “teaching moment.”  There is a valid point there, one of judgment and lines to be crossed, or not.   How a single decision can have cascading impact.   Match that against the First Amendment and the discussion heats up.  In an email to editor-in-chief Rachel Hanson, Associate Dean of Students Lori McDonald accused the nine graduating seniors of  “[I] intentional disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary proceedings or other University activities,” stating these offenses could lead to disciplinary action.

Such a charge is without merit, contends the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Student Press Law Center in a joint letter Thursday to U. officials.

“While the content in question might offend members of the campus community, it is unquestionably protected expression under the First Amendment,” the letter states, urging the U. to lift the hold on the students’ records and allow them to graduate today.

via Outgoing U. columnists in trouble over ‘hidden’ vulgarity – The Salt Lake Tribune

Are the students graduating today?  They were told they could participate in the ceremony, but that their diplomas are on hold pending a post-graduation meeting.   I went searching for the latest update on the Daily Utah Chronicle’s website but — surprise — there’s no coverage of their very own breaking story. Not on their newspaper site, and not on their @thechrony twitter feed.   Is that the result of all this?  That student journalists are intimidated into hiding?  They’re not covering their very own story for fear of recriminations from the University.  Journalists need to be fearless.  They need to learn to make good decisions, to chase stories, to follow their instincts, to not back down when the story is out there.   I understand it’s scary, taking on the administration.  Did you make a mistake?  Was it a bad judgment call?   Most will say okay on “penis,” but  “cunt” went too far.   So, you learn from your mistakes.  Trust me, every journalist has at least one big mistake they never ever forget.   Thanks to this mishap, future employers will have their eyes on all nine of you now.  Forget resumes, writing samples, cover letters.     What are you going to show them, right now, right this minute?  Turn #peniscuntgate into an opportunity.   And for Pulitzer’s sake, cover your own story.

courtesy of Salt Lake's cityweekly.net/utah



Apr. 20 2010 — 10:45 am | 568 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Lost iPhone 4G, Gray Powell, Jason Chen and Gizmodo immortalized in Hitler meme [VIDEO]

If there was a Webby Award for all of the Hitler meme videos out there, this one would hands-down win.  It brings together all the elements in an inspiring takeoff of the iPhone 4G takedown.

Hitler shows his frustration for the lost iPhone 4G that wound up in the hands of @Gizmodo

via Michael’s Posterous

Some quick background, for those lagging behind.

What’s with the Hitler meme?

“The Hitler Meme” or “Hitler finds out” is a video meme involving the addition of new subititles to the dramatic scene of Hitler’s final meltdown from the German movie Downfall directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. The subtitles are often anachronistically altered with humerous English subtitles surrounding current events.

via Know Your Meme

What’s with the lost iPhone 4G?

Apple software engineer Gray Powell drinks beer.  Loses never-before-seen-next-gen  iPhone 4G.   Gizmodo’s Jason Chen and Jesus Diaz acquire never-before-seen-next-gen  iPhone 4G.  Write blockbuster expose posts.  Apple asks Gizmodo to please return  now-seen-but-still-next-gen iPhone 4G.

1. How Apple lost the next iPhone

2. All the details about the device

3. And finally, how Apple asked for their phone back

via Gizmodo

What’s with the lost iPhone 4G Hitler video? Behold, while you can.   Just like the iPhone 4G, Hitler meme videos are disappearing.

Constantin Film is the German film production and distribution company behind the film Downfall (Der Untergang in German). The uploader of one of the Hilter parodies notes in the comments of his video that, “Constatin Films has filed a copyright infringement claim against this video, right before it was about to reach 500,000 views! Even though it falls under Fair Use, I suspect this video will be taken down soon. Sad face.

via Hitler Is Very Upset That Constantin Film Is Taking Down Hitler Parodies – TechCrunch

Since we found a blogger who still has the video up — watch it quickly one more time before it’s just a memory, like Gray Powell’s life before that ill-fated German beer bash.

The Webby acceptance speeches are traditionally only five words. After watching this video I think we all agree:

Gray loses iPhone.  We win.



Apr. 19 2010 — 11:51 pm | 7,229 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Gray Powell, Steve Jobs and the silver lining in Apple’s lost iPhone fiasco

You are about to forever know the name Gray Powell.

Gizmodo posted this story Monday morning:

This Is Apple's Next  iPhone
You are looking at Apple’s next iPhone. It was found lost in a bar in Redwood City, camouflaged to look like an iPhone 3GS. We got it. We disassembled it. It’s the real thing, and here are all the details.
via Gizmodo

They published all those details — and pictures — while shockwaves rocked the interwebs richter scale.  Gizmodo’s Jason Chen and Jesus Diaz reported what’s new: “Front-facing video chat camera.”  They documented what’s changed: “The back is entirely flat, made of either glass (more likely) or ceramic or shiny plastic in order for the cell signal to poke through.”  They solidified their place in Apple history and Steve Jobs’ long-term memory.   The story received 6,485 diggs, and was  retwittered 27, 096 times.  Colossal.

It was followed by another story: How Apple lost the Next iPhone.  And, more specifically, who lost the next iPhone.  Enter Gray Powell.

The 27-year-old Powell—a North Carolina State University 2006 graduate and talented amateur photographer—is an Apple Software Engineer working on the iPhone Baseband Software, the little program that enables the iPhone to make calls.

On the night of March 18, he was enjoying the fine imported ales at Gourmet Haus Staudt, a nice German beer garden in Redwood City, California. He was happy. The place was great. The beer was excellent. “I underestimated how good German beer is,” he typed into the next-generation iPhone he was testing on the field, cleverly disguised as an iPhone 3GS. It was his last Facebook update from the secret iPhone. It was the last time he ever saw the iPhone, right before he abandoned it on bar stool, leaving to go home.
via Gizmodo

Steve Jobs was already having a tough week.  Self-proclaimed nerd Paul Shadwell was frustrated by a  delay in the iPad’s international release.  He sent an email to Steve Jobs expressing his concern and overall Apple anxiety.  Not only did Steve Jobs respond to the email, he got right to the point.

“deliberately pulling the wool over the rest of the worlds eyes”

Are you nuts? We are doing the best we can. We need enough units to have a responsible and great launch.

via A Letter to Steve Jobs

On top of that there’s a Steve Jobs backlash brewing over Apple’s walled garden and rigid guidelines for developers.  Plus,  the Off-Broadway show Notes Toward the Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs premieres on April 22 for a one-night-only run.  So, really, did Steve Jobs need this lost-and-found-and-bought-by-Gizmodo-for-$5-to-$10K iPhone drama?  Hardly.

Still, as the sun sets on this day in iPhone history, there is a silver lining.  It comes to us not through Apple but a different kind of next-gen tech:  Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.  You see, Gray Powell now has a Facebook Fan Page. On it he says:  “Hi, my name’s Gray and I work for Apple.  I also like beer.”    Under Phone he doesn’t list his number.  Nope, our Gray enters:  “Lost it.  :( ”

Turns out Gray Powell is one  unlucky but funny and likable guy.  We all wondered, will Gray would be reprimanded or even fired?  Will Steve call him directly, yell at him, tell him how disappointed he is in his beer-goggled goof?   Will he survive this horrid embarrassment or will he shatter like an iPhone screen when you accidentally drop it on the cold, hard, unforgiving sidewalk of life?

Seems Gray Powell bounces.  And  instead of ruining Steve Jobs’ week he may have saved it.   I don’t know how the Facebook Page came to be, if it was created by Gray or (god forbid) a brilliant Apple marketing move.  Either way, a PR disaster is now a quirky and personable mistake.  Through Gray Powell Apple can be human, Steve Jobs can be kind and forgiving.   It wasn’t so long ago the interwebs was on high-alert,  in single-minded support as Steve Jobs battled cancer.   But public opinion is like that volcano over in Iceland.  Once it starts spewing, it takes a while for the ash cloud to lift.   What lesson do we learn?  Things happen. Sometimes people across the country wait in line all night long to be the first to buy a brand new sight-unseen device.  And, once in a while, a next-gen iPhone gets left on a bar stool after too many beers.  There but for the grace of Jobs…

You go, Gray.

Gray "iPhone Loser" Powell

Update:  Sadly, it’s beginning to look like the Facebook page is actually a poorly executed stunt.

This is Gray’s new status update:

Sounds like a marketing person trying to sound like a guy who drinks German beer and builds iPhones.   Meanwhile, I posted a question directly on the Facebook page:  “hey gray – did you create this page on your own or is it an apple marketing effort?”

No answer.

Ah, Gray, you’re in a tough spot.    Did you happen to build an app for that?



Apr. 8 2010 — 5:33 pm | 190 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Ode to True/Slant: First year of a news startup in rhyme

One single year has come and gone
Since the Alpha launch of trueslant.com
Launches tend to be crazy, that’s the default
Ours was no exception courtesy of Mossberg-comma-Walt

But let me back up, start with some history
Of how True/Slant first came to be
LD had the idea, he needed a check
He got the first round with a powerpoint deck

Whiteboard'ing

We sat in an office;  year 2008, month July
Just three of us then: Lewis, Coates and I
In the back right corner we commandeered our space
Our office christened once the whiteboard was in place

We talked, we drew, we diagrammed and graphed
We walked to the corner for lunch at ‘Wich Craft
We posted on Techcrunch for a CTO
Enter SMcNally; he had us at “Hello”

Like speed-dating we interviewed for UI and Design
Surely we met with at least eight or nine
Then James rolled in, the last one to show
With his Williamsburg skinny jeans and glasses; he had us at “No”

He was smart and clear but he did not hob-nob
J argued back.  As LD says, “That’s what got you the job.”
With the Athletes on board we could really begin
The beat was on: No Sleep Til Brooklyn

During this time I came to realize
A VC’s Fred Wilson was very nearby
Up one floor, in fact, and me a big fan
That’s how my Fred Wilson Watch began

continue »



Apr. 5 2010 — 5:35 pm | 74 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

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    About Me

    Spent the first half of my career in television, the second half in digital media. Worked mostly at companies with triangle logos: Fox Television and AOL. Covered the serious and the sensational at A Current Affair. Created online and mobile content, products and communities at AOL. A few startups and now, happily, Chief Product Officer for True/Slant. And let's not forget that "AOL after Dark" project...

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