Brainstorming on bullying project

Students on the first day of class at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism sort ideas they brainstormed for a semester-long project on bullying. We’re aiming to have a website and book out in about 90 days.

Michigan passed a law in December, 2011, that requires school districts to have anti-bullying policies within six months. We are operating inside that window, but our multimedia project with national reach.

After the brainstorming John Hile, publisher of David Crumm Media, will put the words and phrases through keyword analysis. We need to know:

* What are people searching for?
* What do they call what they are searching for?
* Is the information out there for them?
* Can we provide the answers that aren’t there?

Our target is 8-12 hot and under-covered topics on bullying.

We plan to have e-books out on several platforms in early April and paper copies out soon after that.

We will build the website at

Can we go from Post-It notes to a book in 90 days? Watch us do it.

Distilling 380 Post-It notes to 8-10 ideas

Added Jan. 16:

Publisher John Hile came to East Lansing Jan. 11 and explained how we would evaluate the search terms we had brainstormed, looking for those that were generating a lot if interest among web surfers, but getting comparatively few hits.

John Hile lectures from a podium, his laptop resting on it.
Hile explains how we can divine the richest niches our of the content analysis.

How humbling. Every term or phrase I suggested went down in flames. As teacher, I will have to keep a close eye on my own decision-making so that I follow what the readers are telling us, rather than what my hunches tell me. Having spent more than 30 years in newsrooms — most of them before Google, I will have to watch myself and follow the evidence.

Lecturer gestures, his hands reflected in a computer screen.
Some people talk with their hands.

John ran a few terms on us in class, then went back to work on his own and generated 10 databases that showed how the various terms scored. I had my own observations, but shared databases with the class and with John, asking what others thought. Our next step will be to isolate the phrases that seem seem to be the richest niches and then begin developing ideas for the content that will go into good entry pages, attracting surfers who are looking for information.

Those ideas will direct us as we create entry pages and the entry pages’ promises will form the basis for the content we will have to create.


Jelly roll journalism

It occurs to me that the newsrooms I am used to working in are very much like bakeries. No wonder things got so hard when the internet changed expectations.

Mmmmmm, donuts ...

Newsrooms, like bakeries, attract people who want the freshest stuff. Bakers get up at 4 a.m. to have the donuts ready. Journalists at morning newspapers worked till midnight. The donuts and the newspapers were there when you wanted them, and sometimes, newspapers and donut shops ran joint promotions.

Donuts and news have to be consumed right away, before they get stale. Bakers sell the old stuff as day-old, give it away or throw it away.

Newsrooms, however, keep what they bake on their websites. The problems are, people are scarcely interested in old news stories and the news media need new stuff all the time to keep bringing people back. They now consume news at all hours of the day and night and find that the newspapers they are used to reading don’t seem as fresh as they used to.

Newsrooms have tried to expand to 24-hour operations, even though revenues have dropped. It is wearing on then.

Student in red hat with jelly donut
Devyne Lloyd show that what's on the inside counts.

But what if we build the website for this journalism class with a different thought in mind? It is always open, of course, but hat if the heart of our site is not the new, fresh baked goods that surprise and delight people looking for a treat? What if fresh news is the wrapper that goes around a larger core of information people are always searching for on the web? What if our main product served interests that do not change by the minute, but that are more or less constant? And what if we made what people told us they wanted by the way they search Google?

Now we have a donut is valued more for what is on the inside than what you see on the inside. We call that A jelly donut. Yes. We will make jelly donuts. We have to create the right filling and let people know that the filling they crave is in there, even though they can’t see it from the outside.

Added Jan. 18:

Brainstorming to keywords to entry pages to content budgets

We had eight promising keyword phrases, 16 students, some big sheets of paper and some colorful markers. We paired up and started sketching some ideas about how the entry pages would work.

Female college student writes about bullying with colorful markers on a big sheet of paper. Their phrase was "bullying questionnaire."
Leslie Tilson works on the entry page she is doing with Dmitri Barvinok.

Good things about the exercise:

* Everyone team thought visually.
* We talked about what to cover and how to say it.
* We got a handle on just how little content there can be on an entry page.

It will take more writing, focusing and reporting to get top where we will wind up, but this was a syaty.

Female student writes with marker on bug sheet of paper while male student, in foreground, watches.
Devyne Lloyd and Tony Brisco work on entry page ideas for "cyberbullying facts" and "cyberbullying statistics."

The idea is to take the entry page sketches and to extract from them enough ides to build a story budget for the semester.

The bullet point on each entry page will link to the stories and other content we will do.

The three elements then are that make-or0break headline that will help interested people find us, a few sentences that persuade them they have come to the right place on the internet. “Eureka! I have found it!” A few links, which will look like subheads, tell people where they can find the stories they are looking for.

Female student watches a male student write on large piee of paper.
Lynee Werner and Allen Martin get some ideas down on bullying information for the kids themselves.

Some reporting and intuition comes in now. Example: I did not know why we were finding that people were searching “bullying games” and “bullying songs.” Who would want that?

Once again, the students have ideas. Lynne Bentley said that, from what she is seeing online, a lot of parents and teachers are looking for resources to help kids work through situations that may ding their self esteem. We won’t be writing any anti-bullying songs, but we can help people find them. Ideally, we might even be able to find out of they help.

Our hope is to point people toward some solutions.

Jan. 22:

On the 21st, my Google Alert for bullying snagged a press release that said the co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit of Archie Comics was looking for essays by students 8-18 that told about bullying. The winning essays would form the basis for an anti-bullying comic that she said she would create. Silberkleit is involved in a bitter fight with her co-CEO Jonathan Goldwater, who has sued and accused her of, among other things, bullying. It occurred to me that when people searched for cyberbullying stories, they must be looking for stories that could help them deal with the issue. I will try a small page on the site called “bullying stories.”

I created a G-mail account that the class will use for watching Google alerts.

We need to get busy. Class has been going for almost two weeks and we need to start generating content or we’ll never make it.

The first order of business will be to polish the entry pages, to create about four assignments to support each page, to assign those and start reporting. The entry pages will appear on the site as soon as we have some content to back them up, as we don’t want to attract readers only to disappoint them, and we will post articles as soon as they are ready.

The entry pages could serve as chapter intros for the book. We will be generating the table of contents for the book as we go. I think we should drop the idea of indexing the book — although as I reader I love them — because they take a long time to make, and the e-books we make will be searchable.

Jan. 23

Kevin Epling gestures as he talks. He is at left. At right, the words Cyber Bully are projected on a screen.
Kevin Epling talked about some of the ways bullying has changed in recent years. Photo by Hayley Beitman

The pivot

Our project had a big problem, but I was in denial and, although I think the students saw it, they were too polite to say anything.

It was boring.

Creating a story budget out of search terms meant thin, one-dimensional stories. I meant to charge ahead with assignments this day, but our key guest speaker inadvertently saved us. Kevin Epling, who had become a passionate ant-bullying speaker and activist, had emailed me to say that he couldn’t make the date we had agreed upon and he wanted to come early. We moved his talk up.

For two hours this evening, he told us about bullying, the fight to get people working against it and the obstacles. Epling came with his wife, Tammy. We heard about their son, Matt, who had taken his own life at age 14 in 2002, about 40 days after being hazed and asasulted on the day he graduated from eighth grade. They are driven to stop bullying.

Head shot of Kevin Epling against gray background.
Epling took on the issue of bullying after the suicide of his son, Matt, 14.

The students asked good questions. Epling was generous with his time and kept the class engaged. We talked until 8:40 p.m. Their class day had started more than 12 hours earlier in the first of Monday’s double sessions.

Kevin Epling said that the 85% of students who do not bully want it stopped and are speaking out.

His challenge, he said, is that adults often do not want to take up the fight. Many, Epling said, do not understand what bullying is today and how it is different from the less dangerous and less pervasive bullying they grew up with.

He said that a key challenge is that the definitions of bullying are complicated and different. This is why so many people Google “bullying definition.”

Everything pivoted into place. By describing the new bullying that Epling and others see in the terms people are using to learn about them, we will have content that is helpful and compelling. Content without news value is boring; news without a way for people to fund it is ineffective.

Epling reached us just in time to show us what the project had to be about.

Jan. 25

By thinking about what new about bullying, we came up with a whole new list of story ideas. I came into the class with about two dozen, but we first had the class talk about theirs. We put them all on a story list, had students pick one they liked and agree to start working on them. The Feb. 6 deadline sounds early, but we have to get cracking to have something in April.

Students shared ideas, agreed to collaborate on some and continued thinking of new ideas through the weekend.

Jan. 26

A conversation with Gail Wolkoff of Dedicated to Make a Change, LC3, who works with students, may yield some subjects for interviews later on.

She sent us a couple copies of her handbook, 90 Ideas, 180 days of support.

Jan. 27

Michigan Sen. Rick Jones, who was attending the Michigan Press Association winter conference in Grand Rapids, confirmed he would be in to see us on Monday.

Jan. 30

Sen. Rick Jones visits.

Feb. 2

Patrick Corbett

Patrick Corbett visits

Feb. 4

We get our first email asking us for help in arranging an antibullyng program, It looks real, but is — cleverly worded spam. Darn!

Feb. 6
John Hile has evaluated our entry pages and says they look solid. He suggests that each page link to some good resources, inside our site or outside. External links, he said, should help our credibility and should open in a new window to help us assist people without ushering them right off the site. We will look for some good, relevant external links and will try first to find good links to .gov and .edu domains, which have higher credibility.

We create a pivot chart, plotting which entry pages our initial stories are satisfying, using purple tags, and where our second round of stories, represented by yellow, will help. We are finding that, once the entry pages have done their job by attracting people and the authors have done their job in providing fresh content to reward people who are searching for information, we can organize the book independently of the entry pages. The challenge will be to swing people who searched the Web for information over to what we have on the site and to get them to see that there is a book available and what is in it.

This will require some smart linking among pieces of content and good use of tags and categories. Hazing, for example, will be a category for us and we will have lots of categories under the parent category of cyberbullying. We would tag someone who shows up a lot, such as Kevin Epling. Schools would be another tag.

We are not planning to offer content that is exclusive to the book at this point, so books will be for people who want the information in a form that is, for them, more convenient.

Feb. 7

The Phi Sigma Pi National Honors Fraternity on campus has found the website and wants someone from the class to be on a panel on Feb. 27. We talked about it and will have someone on the panel and we will have our class there that night to see what we can learn.

Meanwhile, we are having some back and forth about how large the book would be. This, of course, will affect the book design and how wide the spine should be so that the cover designers know what they are working with. The number of pages will also be in the blurb we write for Amazon and probably for the promo on our website.

I decided to arbitrarily set the size at 120 pages. Another small mistake, but not a costly one. Hile reminded me that it’s almost impossible to know how much content one needs for a 120-page book because it is impossible to know how the type will break. He told me to cool it and just have the designers leave a little wiggle room. He can adjust with no problem.

Feb. 8
Glenn Stutzky, clinical instructor in the Michigan State University School of Social Work, came to the class as a super source, one who can be a source and who knows a lot of other sources.

He has dedicated his career to studying bullying and could provide history, context and definition. He welcomed the class’ efforts to look into bullying and went around the room, asking what each students was working on and giving them leads on sources or angles as well as ideas for other changes in bullying, including efforts to classify bullying as a civil rights issue. We will get that story.

He mentioned that a medically based center for bullying was being set up in Michigan.

Feb. 10
I frequently tell people I meet about The New Bullying project. Everyone has an opinion or experience about it.

This day, I called a friend and, late in the conversation, she said she had just received an email from her doctor, saying the doctor was moving to become director of a new bullying center at William Beaumont Hospital. I have been visiting the hospital several times a week recently to see a sick relative.

I asked my friend to send me the doctor’s name and contact information.

Feb. 13
There was a website about a new bullying center on the Beaumont Hospital website. It doesn’t say much yet and looked kind of new. I called the phone number and reached a helpful person who obviously has not taken many calls for the center. She gave me the name of the founder and director. It was my friend’s doctor. We plan to go out and visit.

This was a big day for us, as we began posting stories to the website. Alethia Kasben, who is comfortable with WordPress, posted the first one in front of the class. Her article, a Q&A with the band liaison at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Donna Freitag, was complete as submitted. Leslie Tilson posted an article later at night.

Our copy flow is for me to get the draft, mark it up and return it for posting. We will go through two more edits as we produce the book and should make sure that the edits find their way back to the website.

Some of the articles are complete as submitted. Others are just the start of a longer article and result in additional, related assignments. And then there are coordination problems. Working in a tight subject area, we had articles from two people come in that overlapped and, in another case, four articles kind if overlapped. The writers on those projects will work together to smooth things out, but it would be better to coordinate so we do not do that.

Feb. 22
Michigan Sen. Gretchen Whitmer

Feb. 27
Honors fraternity panel on bullying. Devyne Lloyd is on panel

Feb. 29: We go over cover concepts, choose a great one.

March 3-9: No school

March 16: Bullying conference in Washtenaw County

March 19: Joe sees a lack of copy, calls halt to book publishing, says the course needs to be rebooted.
March 21: In 1:1 meetings, students say they want it to go forward and propose someplans

March 26: We turn it back on, decide on teams/roles

March 28: We organize our stories into categories and then order them.

March 29: Briscoe and Bohland do the interview with Seltzer and Lewis

April 2: We begin editing, organizing the web content into book chapters, work resumes on cover, using iStockphoto images

April 4: We decide we need a marketing team; more editing

April 9: Editing morning and night

April 10: A long day of editing for Joe

April 11-13: Dmitri goes through the story, tagging.

April 16: John Hile comes in to show us how the process works, describe XML tagging and file structure. We see what the book will look like as an ebook project.

April 17: Nick and Seth go on Michigan Radio Network to talk about the project

April 18: Final signoff on page proofs, which are ready to upload. We have to confine our fixes to big issues to try to get this done quickly. In a better world, we would spend some time proofing the book, tweaking type.

April 19: Book is published for Nooks, available on Barnes & Noble. 101 days since class first met.

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