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GRTC Pulse hopes to start testing rides by April

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

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RICHMOND, Va. – Almost 500 days have passed since the GRTC Pulse (Bus Rapid Transit) project broke ground in August 2016.

Close to 50 people attended a community meeting Wednesday at the Broadberry,  where leaders announced that GRTC hopes to begin testing routes on April 1.

When testing starts, some barrels and construction will be removed and transit-signal lights will be tested. This  phase includes outreach and signage in addition to observation and testing.

GRTC needs 90 days to test routes, they said, and on that timeline, a July 1 launch is possible. Contractually, the project must be done by June 30, 2018. They could finish earlier.

Ten new 40-foot buses running on compressed natural gas will operate along the route when it is complete. The modern buses will have 38 seats as well as room for 15 standees. Bike capacity in the front will be slightly increased to hold three.

There will be 3.2 miles of dedicated bus lanes over the 7.6 mile route that stretches from Rockett’s Landing to Willow Lawn. The buses will run every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 during off-peak hours. There are 14 station locations; five median and nine curbside.

In the fall the project gained speed as construction moved above ground, according to Carrie Rose Pace, Director of Communications. Recently, close to 50 crews have been working day and night, according to Rose Pace.

“Most of the work that you saw last fall through this year was a lot of utility work, making sure that underneath was ready to go — and now that we’ve got all that taken care of, we are able to do all of the above ground work,” Rose Pace said.

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Haven Monahan: The twist in the alleged UVa gang rape story

Posted on 15 February 2016 by admin

An example of a story I worked on with CBS 6 reporter Laura French, to highlight the extensive work that went into the story. I helped write and format the story and used HTML design to showcase certain elements. 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Three and a half years after an alleged brutal gang rape by fraternity members at the University of Virginia, detailed in Rolling Stone magazine, lawyers say a crush over a boy sparked the sensational article.

Readers were horrified by “A Rape on Campus” when it published online in November 2014, and the article created upheaval at the university.

The 9,000-word article — with almost as many comments at the time it was taken offline — described how an UVa first-year student named Jackie was sexually assaulted by seven attackers during a fraternity party, and how the university failed to adequately respond.

The article, with global attention, instigated dialogue about sexual violence on college campuses, but the details of the story soon came under withering scrutiny and it was later retracted. Multiple lawsuits have been filed since its publication.


“I felt like I was going to cry when I saw the article,” said UVa student, Ryan Duffin. “I met Jackie the second day I was at UVa.”

It was summer 2012, and like most college freshman, Duffin was excited to meet new friends and make lasting memories.

He quickly connected with fellow first-year students Jackie, Alex Stock, and Kathyrn Hendley, after meeting the trio at orientation.

Ryan Duffin and friends. Jackie is on the far left, and blurred.

Ryan Duffin and friends. Jackie is on the far left, and blurred.

But it was Jackie, Ryan says, who wanted more.

“I think that began to become pretty clear maybe about a week after I had met her,” said Duffin, in an interview with CBS 6 reporter Laura French. “She started expressing some physical interest in me then, which I rebuffed.”

It was a rejection which the lawyers currently representing the UVa associate dean’s office said led to deception.

“She tells us that she’s met this new guy,” said Alex Stock, who was close friends with Duffin and the others. “She likes to talk about him which I thought was interesting because she had a huge crush on Ryan at the time.”

Jackie told her friends that the new guy was an upperclassman named Haven Monahan.

Ryan said Jackie even convinced him to text Haven, posing as a girl named Brianna, to learn more about him.

“She said that Haven Monahan was somebody in her chemistry class who had been interested in her and had expressed that to her, but she really wasn’t interested in him,” Duffin said.

“She came up with this plan she got me and Alex to pretend to be other girls in Haven’s class and text Haven to gauge whether he was a good person or not,” Duffin said.

CBS 6 obtained logs of hundreds of text messages between Jackie, Ryan and the person on the other end, who was presumed to be Haven Monahan, a fraternity member who would later be accused of rape by Jackie.

These documents are now in the hands of attorneys and CBS 6 has redacted Jackie’s last name and put them online here, so that readers can follow the conversation.

***WARNING. There is graphic language in the texts.***

[scribd id=298614979 key=key-koSD9PFWOSFFDFu1pkW5 mode=slideshow]
These texts, which take place between Sept. 2012 and Dec. 2014, chronicle Haven’s fabricated interest in Jackie, along with Jackie’s secret desire to date Ryan.

These texts, which take place between Sept. 2012 and Dec. 2014, chronicle Haven’s fabricated interest in Jackie, along with Jackie’s secret desire to date Ryan.

The texts CBS 6 obtained end in 2014, with Ryan telling Jackie, “…it’s probably better that we don’t talk right now, too.”


“This Haven character would always complain that she’s got a crush on some first year,” said Stock.  “It was kind of a fishing expedition to see how she felt about Ryan.”

Ryan Duffin to Jackie: (Wed Sep 05 00:51:01 EDT 2012)
He’s still asking for advice about you, to which I’m just telling him that he should go out with me.
Jackie to Ryan Duffin: (Wed Sep 05 00:54:39 EDT 2012)
Lol good please get him to leave me alone! Tell him I sound stupid and like a waste of his time
Ryan Duffin to Jackie: (Wed Sep 05 00:55:11 EDT 2012) (PAGE 25)
He’s complaining about… actually, I think he’s complaining about me.
Jackie to Ryan Duffin: (Wed Sep 05 00:55:46 EDT 2012) Wait what? You as in Brianna? Or you?
Ryan Duffin to Jackie: (Wed Sep 05 00:56:28 EDT 2012) Me as in Ryan. Or Pocket, whichever you prefer.
Jackie to Ryan Duffin: (Wed Sep 05 01:01:14 EDT 2012) Haha I prefer pocket:) why is he complaining about you?
Ryan Duffin to Jackie: (Wed Sep 05 01:01:32 EDT 2012) Did you tell him anything about me?
Jackie to Ryan Duffin: (Wed Sep 05 01:05:04 EDT 2012) Kind of….Ahh this is embarrassing. I didn’t use your name!)
Haven Monahan to Ryan Duffin: (Wed Sep 05 01:10:57 EDT 2012)
Ok. Can u help me come up with a plan to get Jackie to go out with me and forget the faggot first year she likes? I need girl advice
Ryan Duffin to Haven Monahan: (Wed Sep 05 01:11:13 EDT 2012) No!
Haven Monahan to Ryan Duffin: (Wed Sep 05 01:13:16 EDT 2012)
01/02:Why? Your a girl. Maybe you can find out who this kid is. Maybe hes a football player. All she would say is that hes ’brilliant and funny and amazing’ or

Court documents allege Haven was a fake suitor created by Jackie to win over Duffin’s affection in an elaborate scheme;  a “figment of her imagination.”

“It looks like, based on some research that was done, it was not a real phone it was Jackie hiding behind a computer,” said Stock.

That would mean Jackie was using the conversation to tell Ryan appealing things about her, and how she felt about the unnamed crush – said to be Duffin.

At the same time, Jackie would tell her friends that she had no interest in Haven, who was reported in the magazine as “Drew.”

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Notes from the West Wing: Nine minutes with President Obama

Posted on 28 January 2015 by admin

CBS 6 crew outside the White House

CBS 6 crew outside the White House

WASHINGTON, D.C. — We stood closely, hushed by the formality of the moment while Secret Service stood nearby, lazily watching us and flanking the doorway that led to another section of the White House.

In two minutes the door to the library would swing open and we would step inside for an interview that few will ever have in their career. I noticed we were both taking deep, calming breaths.

It had been just 24 hours ago since my boss told me I would be sent to Washington D.C. to assist the photographer and reporter interviewing President Obama from the White House.

My boss Scott Wise responded casually to an email thread  about a potential story.

“Also–I’d like to send you to the White House tomorrow with Tracy Sears to cover her interview the president,” he wrote to me at 11:12 a.m. Tuesday.

“So that’s not the email I expected to get back from you,” I responded. “Surprise,” he replied.

I work the 3 p.m. to midnight shift and was told simply to bring a bag into work and leave from there.

The whole affair began rather innocuously with a phone call from a man who wished to speak with reporter Tracy Sears, employed at WTVR, a CBS affiliate in Richmond, for almost 13 years.

Of course he was met with skepticism when he identified himself as the Deputy Press Secretary of the White House, Eric Schultz.

“Is this my husband?” Tracy asked, convinced it was him or a mutual friend trying to “punk” her.

He laughed and assured her that wasn’t the case. Still in disbelief she asked for him to send an email, seconds later it arrived and boasted the right string of identifying credentials:

That’s when things accelerated.

If television isn’t your industry, you may have a hard time imagining the preparation that began to occur. What you see on the television screen, hopefully, is a well-coiffed reporter, framed and nicely lit. Now, getting the reporter zapped live to your television from a remote location isn’t as effortless as it looks by the time you see it.

You don’t see the sweat from lugging gear around–cameras, microphones, lights, tripods–or the scurrying around to make deadline against all the odds.

You don’t see a producer, or someone from the news desk or master control (staffed 24-hours a day, the final point before a signal is transmitted over-the-air for broadcast television) freaking out because heavy rain can interfere with the microwave truck broadcasting the photographer’s live shot, which means the reporter might not make “slot” in the newscast–if at all.

Many in the newsroom didn’t even know about the interview until the day it aired. We were sworn to secrecy until the 5 p.m. newscast Tuesday, less than 24-hours from when Tracy’s interview would happen.

Though a bold task, one of our first decisions was to engage our Facebook fans in this one-on-one presidential interview.


Pew Research polling shows that 61% of Americans sampled are following along with the shutdown discussions and only 22% aren’t concerned about its impact. 

More Americans disapprove than approve of the way that all sides – Barack Obama, Democratic leaders and Republican leaders – are handling the negotiations over the shutdown, according to the polling data.

Though on our station’s Facebook page, if that’s any type of sample, the blame is most often directed towards the president. Regardless of the subject, or the factual information, the vitriol is posted in spades.

We promoted the one-on-one with the hashtag #AskObama, researched the questions and people who proposed them. Eventually we decided on two questions we would ask President Obama. The entire thread is here:

ASK OBAMA: President Barack Obama will answer questions posed by Tracy Sears – WTVR CBS 6 Wednesday afternoon. DETAILS…

Posted by WTVR CBS 6 News on Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In total, four East Coast stations were chosen to sit down with the president; Tampa, Fl., Philadelphia, Pa., Washington DC and CBS 6. No one has explained, despite inquiry, the process of selecting these four stations and reporters.

Virginia, with a large concentration of federal employees, contractors and veterans, definitely feels the pinch of an ongoing federal shutdown that began initially with Republicans wanting to defund the health-care law, and it would only get worse in an economic shutdown.


Certainly no one turns down an interview with the president, the esteemed leader of our nation, and a man respected around the world. A good reporter knows what balance to strike, what questions to ask.

Although the president himself has boasted that “this is most transparent administration in history,” with the White House going to great lengths to release curated information, he’s also been called the “puppet master” when it comes to “limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.”

Other journalists say that despite the “mutual loathing pact” between Obama and the D.C. press corps, Obama in his first term gave three times the amount of interviews–TV, radio, Internet, print– that  George W. Bush did, (647 versus 217) and for William Clinton (191) it was even less.

But Obama has a different strategy than other presidents. By contrast, Bush held 354 short question-and-answer sessions with reporters compared to Obama’s 107 sessions, according to statistics compiled by Matha Kumar. 

With such strategy the president has more control over timing with the one-on-one, less impromptu interviews and there are fewer opportunities for follow-up questions. But he’s also providing incredible opportunities for local stations to relate national and world news directly to their market.

Regardless, we were going and we were excited. Two a.m. found me sleepless with a pillow over my head to black out the fluorescent lighting shining into the hotel room two miles away from Capitol Hill.


Wednesday would remain mostly as grey and monochromatic as the stone and marble of the secured D.C. buildings which we stepped in and out of, so it was only an alleged sunrise that followed our car towards Capitol Hill that morning.

Hulky security guards loomed, sentinels more visible than tourists under the shadow of a government shutdown which also accounted for the absence of many employees.

Their profiles along the steps and perimeter ominously recalled recent violence: Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, rogue driver Miriam Carey, and then 64-year-old John Constantino who died from self-immolation on the National Mall.

Having visited the area my entire life, this new District of Calamity feels different, less accessible to its public owners.  Since 9/11 our nation’s capital has been fortified through incremental steps, including the closure of streets and jersey barrier construction, all designed to shield sensitive buildings.  The access that has become complicated for many is more easily granted when you are on the list, as our names were, at the first stop to interview House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at his Capitol office.

Still, our access wasn’t without its rules. We had to throw out our bottles of water as we went through security; yes, the security guard said, even if mine was sealed.

Cantor’s interview was five hours before Tracy would meet with President Obama, providing a balance of sorts by questioning two polarizing men within the government.

The political divide in our nation shows no more clearly than at this time of great strain, when it’s easy to feel that questions and answers are so often anchored in partisanship and not solution. The entire transcript of Tracy’s interview with Cantor can be read here. 


When you’re reporting from the road you wind up in a lot of MacGyver situations.  At one point in the day I remember seeing Tracy with her curling iron plugged into an available outlet, located beside a water fountain in the White House press briefing room.

We weren’t expected at the White House for another hour after Cantor’s interview, so we set up shop in a paid parking space and Tim Hawkins, our chief photographer, had to “feed” video back to the station. We use something called a Teradek that can stream video over an internet or cellular connection, which is recorded into the main system as it streams back.

At one point I looked back and saw his square black case open, with various transmitters and wires peeping through, and then quickly wrenched my neck around in all directions to see if anyone looked alarmed. After all, we just had to throw away sealed bottles of water to get into a building.

I noted several black SUVs parked around us, and men with IFBS standing around on the sidewalk, but it was D.C. after all and that’s a pretty common uniform these days. No one had tackled Tim or seemed to consider the case a suspicious package.

Tim packed up gear once again and we headed towards 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

One might think that security at the White House would be most daunting but the guys there are pretty nice; maybe because somewhere behind the office where we checked in sits a team of snipers and savvy bodyguards.

A separate team would stage and record the interview with the president, but we still had heaps of equipment to bring for evening news live shots, which would boast in the background that classic north lawn view of the White House that is usually reserved for the network stations.

White House security went through all equipment we had, including my laptop and iPad, checking for bugs and explosives. We were given our press badges, which are swiped over a keypad that then green lights us to walk through the second checkpoint–a metal detector and x-ray machine for our phones and miscellaneous things.

And suddenly we were on the other side of the gate, looking back at the tourists.  We walked toward the West Wing, into the theater converted from Theodore Roosevelt’s swimming pool into a press pool.

The space felt like a combination of an airplane and a bunker or ship galley. The blue, first-class leather seats allegedly cost around $1,500 in the renovation. Each seat, 49 in all, is assigned to a news organization, and behind the rows of seats stretches a long expanse of granite top that houses below little cubbies. A power outlet under the seat was a desperate oasis of electricity for my needy iPhone 5 battery.

It could have easily felt suffocating, yet the constant flutter of activity seemed to arrange space frequently enough to keep it from being claustrophobic. Slender hallways with cramped off-shoots house different news organizations. Presumably there are more offices downstairs, though I didn’t see any, just noticed a steady flow of back and forth traffic.

Tracy and other reporters let to meet Dennis McDonough, the White House Chief of Staff, to be briefed for the upcoming interview. It was 12:30 p.m. and Jay Carney was expected to enter the pressroom shortly for an afternoon briefing.

It was around 1 p.m. when he did enter, though we had all just reached the point of awareness that in about an hour Tracy would be interviewing the president, and it was hard to focus on much else. Tracy was going over her notes and I took notes on the press conference.

Despite the number of times that Carney said “ransom” in reference to the Republican Party taking the government hostage in attempts to defund the ACA, the press briefing was probably one of my favorite parts of the day. I discovered on my way to the bathroom that a loudspeaker broadcasts the briefing through the entire press cave.

The Press Secretary addressed one of the viewer questions that we planned to ask President Obama, about the payment of death benefits to the families of military, which had lapsed with the government shutdown. On Friday, legislation was passed to resume benefits.


A man came by and grouped all the visiting news stations together to lead us into the White House. We walked downstairs, outside and past a covered BBQ grill, and then into the White House, ground level.

A long hallway stretched out in front of us. The plush red carpet that blanketed the white marble floor muffled our footsteps while low vault ceilings shaped the way past rooms full of security, down to the Vermeil room where we would wait.

The interview was directly across the hallway, in the room that Franklin D. Roosevelt converted into a library in 1961.

We were ushered into the Vermeil room and warned not to sit on the actual furniture, but rather use the chairs provided for us. We were reminded no picture taking, nor eating or drinking in the facility either. I believe each suggestion was overlooked by some, if not all of us.

Vermeil is a combination of sterling silver, gold, and other precious metals, commonly used as a component in jewelry. Shiny, centuries-old pieces adorned the shelves.  Several First Lady portraits hung in the room; Jacqueline Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lou Hoover, Patricia Nixon, and over the mantle Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson.

If you’ve never seen the White House, Google has mapped the entire mansion as part of their arts project. You can click here to see it.

The door opened and we were beckoned to the hallway to wait with White House staff and Secret Service.

Despite the money and time our station spent on this interview, we had very little contact with the president. As it was, he was seated when we walked in, with a chair across from him set up for Tracy. It would have been ideal for him to stop and say hello to the entire group, take 5-10 minutes to do that simple thing before the interview.

Each reporter, plus one producer, was allowed in the room with the president. An iPad and an iPhone tightly controlled time with a running stopwatch. We had been told that all details from our interview were to remain secret until 5 p.m., though no reason was given why. For an administration so reliant on social media, it was surprising we couldn’t use it to communicate or promote the interview.

One crew lit and filmed all interviews and we were warned to take no pictures, a house photographer would take a two-shot of reporter and president.

Eight minutes with one the most powerful men in America goes quickly, it’s about the length of a shower. Tracy’s interview stopped at nine minutes and forty seconds.

At the end, the President offered to write two cards for each of her children, after she asked a question on behalf of her son’s third grade class.

As an interactive web producer, I was frantic to get a photo of the moment. The cameras weren’t rolling and the staff photographer wasn’t shooting. I asked if he would shoot the picture, and he said he already had one.

My phone was in my hand and I know I was just wide-eyed in panic that the moment wouldn’t be captured. Thankfully, a staffer leaned in and whispered calmly that it was just fine if I want to snap the shot. Now we’re talking! I wish I had tried this tactic at the beginning.

This left me with one photo document of the one day I was five feet away from the president. It’s not even a great photo, due to the stiff angle I had to work with.

And that was that. We waited for the others and then returned to the press room to get ready for Tracy’s live shots on the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts, and then we headed home to get ready for the 11 p.m. show. By the time I left work, it had been an 18-hour day.

The last picture I took inside the gate was of my press pass. I couldn’t help but think on my way out, as I begrudgingly surrendered the PRESS badge, about the double duty the word serves.

In America, a member of the free press–an actual novelty on a global stage–is given that chance “to bear down on, to force to action, to squeeze contents from, to lay stress on–to emphasize.”

And no matter which side of the White House gate–or the political line–that you’re on, it’s clear we must press forward from these trying times with the right amount of strength and grace.

The press must diligently push for its own right to access if we are to best serve our readers.


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Untangling the Urban Myths Behind Shoe-Tossing

Posted on 14 September 2010 by admin

Fear not, gentle readers and citizens of Richmond. Those shoes often seen suspended high from power lines do not mark gang territory or availability of crack-cocaine.

At least, that is the final word from the Richmond Police department.

“Richmond police, through the intelligence that we have gained has found no correlation between dangling tennis shoes and criminal activity,” said a spokesperson for the police department.

On the other foot, from Gang Reduction & Intervention Program (GRIP) at the attorney’s general office, is word that dangling shoes have several meanings, and those meanings change over time. A spokesperson did confirm that the shoes can indicate gang activity.

“Currently, shoes hanging from telephone wires can indicate gang presence or a drug territory, or it can simply be a youth prank,” said Amy Kube, program director for GRIP, whose information came from law enforcement partners at the Virginia Gang Investigator’s Association (VGIA).


The number of urban legends surrounding these cultural artifacts rivals the shoe collection of Imelda Marcos. All around the globe, people use shoes to decorate power, cable and phone lines. Except for the places where they don’t have powerlines. Or shoes. Or in Iraq, where shoes, especially the soles, are considered unclean. In Arab culture it is rude to even show someone the bottom of your shoe.

There are explanations that range from victorious to menacing. Sometimes the well-heeled participants are simply celebrating.

“I have heard that it means that someone has achieved something lofty, like graduating from school,” Heather VanderPas said, a former Richmond resident who has explored many a local neighborhood.

Hightops could adorn the blacktop as covert flags for illegal drag racing.

“The guys in Henrico County use them as markers for drag racing,” Samantha Fotovat said, who first heard of this when in high school and she knew some people who knew some people who illegally drag raced.

“Territory markers is all I have ever heard, ” said local hairdresser Meredith McGlohon.

And she isn’t talking about Sacagawea’s moccasins.

Sometimes, it’s just because. Just because they outgrew their shoes. Just because they were drunk. Just because they were bored.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Alison Stokes said, who sees the shoes frequently in her neighborhood off Carytown. “Just that kids are goofing off but there are no drugs sold right in this area.”


Although Ronald Savage, founder of United Coalition Association in the Bronx, N.Y. didn’t return my calls or emails, he has previously gone on record declaring a connection between sneakers and criminals.

Savage, who works with gangs in N.Y., spoke on film last year to the BBC and confirmed that tossed shoes serve as a memorial to fallen street soldiers, or, “that another gang has gone into someone else’s neighborhood and they beat him up…and after they beat him up they threw his sneakers up.”

In 1999 Beth Shuster (shoe-ster, seriously?) reported that Los Angeles Councilman Nate Holden so earnestly believed gang members used shoes as territory markers that he tried to have a law passed for their quick removal.

Like many other policemen around the nation who have been pumped for information on the correlation between gangs, drugs and sneakers, LA police did not believe Holden’s theory.


In 2005 Ed Kohler coined the term “shoefiti” and started a website that “chronicles Shoefiti from around the world while trying to find meaning in this common act.”

Kohler’s first reply to my inquiry on foreboding footwear was a bit evasive.

“Clearly, there are a ton of reasons why shoes end up on power lines,” said Koheler. “For example, I think it’s safe to assume that soccer cleats near a stadium are either hazing or a post-season celebration situation.”

I persisted, asking if he ever had a direct “tie-in” from a detective or police officer.

“I haven’t heard of any police confirming a tie-in,” said Kohler. “Our gang strike task force head in Minneapolis has said there is no relationship, which may be true.”

“Or, he may be trying to avoid alarming citizens who’d then view ALL Shoefiti as gang related,” added Kohler.


Poke around on the Internet and ask your friends what the shoe-tossing represent. You will find a mixed-bag of responses. In most cases, what is worse than there being an actual problem is the perception there is a problem.

Fear not those shoes decorating the Powhite Parkway for the past 15 years. The only gangs on that road are the toll collectors.

Wikipedia calls the act of shoe-tossing a “folksport.” Sort-of a universally shared tradition without a universally shared intention.

“It’s been around since I was a kid,”  Mark Holmberg said, a local reporter tall enough to perhaps remove the decorative shoes himself.

While nobody seems to agree on what they really mean, most concur that it’s best to leave the removal to the experts.

Dominion Virginia Power removes the shoes only if they pose a safety issue or interrupt service to customers. Don’t try to get them down yourself.

“This could allow the electricity in the power line to flow through them to the ground, hurting or even killing them, ” said Jim Norville, spokesman for Dominion.

I’ll keep my eyes out for suspicious activity, in case. A pair just went up last week behind my house.

Help us understand this folksport of shoe-tossing. Tell us what you know.


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Chance of acceptance plummets as grad school applicants increase

Posted on 03 April 2010 by admin

It is the time of year when, with bated breath, graduate school applicants await acceptance letters. Daily, eager eyes scan mailboxes in anticipation, as this could be THE day.  Bills and notices dressed in small, flat envelopes cause momentary panic, until further inspection reveals they aren’t fateful rejection letters.

You’ve done it all. Some have rushed. Some have been too meticulous. You’ve spent hours studying, brushing back up on algebra and geometry, hounding down your best references, editing and re-editing your cover letter, as well as tweaking your resume.  With sweaty palms you clutched the GRE score sheet and breathed a triumphant breath there in the Kaplan test center.  You’re qualified. You’re ready. You’re willing to go into debt.  You’re unemployed and see grad school as a great way to survive a recession–oh, and to get some new skill sets.

And you’re not alone.
Which increases the odds of that foreboding, simple, white, rejection letter showing up in your mailbox.

The nation’s unemployment rate is still at 10 percent.  There are thousands of other applicants with the same intent as you;  weather the financial drought by taking refuge in an academic oasis. But a tight economy means that funding for university programs is going down, even as applications increase.

How bad is the spike?
Well, some universities have seen a 42% jump in applications.  This lowers the acceptance rate and as a result, normally qualifying applicants can drown in the pool of competition.  What can you do?

At this point in the game, it’s too late to get your application in early. Hopefully you did and hopefully you really fortified the weaker points on your resume.  Did you consider Tier 3 schools when sending out applications? Do you have the flexibility to relocate?

Tier 3 schools range in the 50-75th percentile. This means that 50% of other schools are better, and 25% are worse.  Your decision to attend a Tier 3 school should depend on several factors.  If you want to practice law, business, or politics in Washington D.C., you will eventually be competing against Tier 1 and Tier 2 applicants. Yet, if you live in Florida, there are an abundance of Tier 3 schools.  You need to score at the top of your class if you go into a Tier 3 school. You will also need to acquire solid experience that enhances your resume enough to stand out in the pack.

Consider the alternatives.
Suppose you don’t get into your school of choice. Do you have time to wait a year?  Use the time to boost your GRE, or GMAT scores.  Search for an internship situation in your field. The Humanities Indicators Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences claims that a quarter of humanities students will end up more than $30,000 in debt. More than 14% will owe–gasp–more than $50,000.

In consideration of that figure, here are three questions to ask yourself.

Is grad school in your field worth the debt? Can you justify accepting alternatives to your original school of choice, if it means lowering your chances of employment–while accruing debt?  What out of the box scenarios will sharpen your skill set and resume while  keeping debt at a minimum?

For example, suppose you want to go to grad school for mass communications.  Unless you go to a top notch school where you pick up a lot of contacts and prestige, you might able to acquire some impressive skills on your own at a reduced cost.  The biggest challenge will be discipline.

The internet is teeming with free resources and tutorials. Some, like Lynda, W3schools, and Poynter seminars have a price tag,  but offer tremendous amounts of information. Attend conferences that have a heavy emphasis on teaching skills.  The networking opportunities will also be beneficial. Buy some programs, for example, movie and photo editing, and start teaching yourself. Unless you go to a school with a heavy emphasis on production, you’re basically going to have to teach yourself this stuff anyways. Use Google and research the syllabus for Tier 1 and 2 schools. Read what they are reading. Prove that you are a writer by starting your own website and blogging frequently. You will have greater control over the content than if you were in school anyhow.

That’s just a specific example, but apply the framework to your field of choice, especially if it is in the humanities.  Getting a flat, white envelope might not be a kiss of death after all.  The economy will be resuscitated, and with the right focus and fervor you will find employment.  You might even be able to breathe easier without debt choking you. Some consider grad school to be like signing on in the minor leagues,  “Many get signed, but few make it to the big leagues.”

Let’s not forget that higher education is a business, and not one that always serves the students interest.

*photo thumbnail used under Creative Commons licensing.

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College weight gain can be avoided

Posted on 19 March 2010 by admin

Fat Superman

Photo by swruler9284, used with CC licensing

Graduate students often report a noticeable change in weight during their first year back at school. The causes are similar to those of the notorious, yet fabled, “Freshman 15,” which refers to a claim that freshman usually lose or gain up to 15 pounds in their first year. In all reality, researchers have found the weight gain, or loss,  is around 5-7 pounds.

Instead of thinking with their noggins, many students think with their stomachs and fall victim to the temptation of carbohydrate rich foods, copious snacking, fat saturated “goodies,” and sometimes, excessive drinking. A decrease in time or willingness to exercise only exacerbates the weight gain. Even worse, these habits can stick around, contributing to obesity later in life. Common sense, education, time management, and deliberate lifestyle choices can prevent or help shed bulging waistlines.

The National Institute for Health recommends dairy, meat/beans, fruit, vegetables, grains, and oil as the food sources for a well-balanced diet. Oil? Yea, oils actually help to provide energy, insulate our bodies, protect our organs, and absorb important vitamins. The good oils, or fats, that is, like vegetable oil, canola, or olive oil. You shouldn’t run out and buy a bucket of fried chicken. Instead, get your intake from mono- and polyunsaturated fats–not saturated or trans fat.


  • Fast foods: fried chicken, biscuits, fried fish sandwiches, French fries, fried apple or other pie desserts
  • Donuts, muffins
  • Crackers
  • Many cookies
  • Cake, cake icing, & pie
  • Microwave popped corn
  • Canned biscuits

Oh, the obstacles.
College students very often have meager finances, and tend to purchase the cheapest foods possible, which are likely to be high in saturated fats. Moving away from the parental sponsored and stocked commissaries, as well as structured eating patterns, also presents a challenge. A heavy course load, often balanced with work contributes to erratic eating patterns. Seems like a never-ending cycle, eh? Lack of money and time creates poor diet and lack of time means no money to create the good diet and then a bad diet can’t create the right energy to make more time to use to go create money. Not to mention–stress also triggers the compulsion to eat. It’s easy to scarf down a bag of potato chips and bundle of Oreo’s while studying for an exam, or doing project research on the computer. In between classes, 7-11’s kitchen is always open, peddling saturated fats for just the right price. But at what cost?

Sleepless nights and a decrease in exercise contribute to weight gain. Lack of sleep lowers your lepitin levels, and exercise helps to regulate them. A lepitin deficiency, caused by lack of sleep, or exercise, actually increases the appetite and is directly related to obesity. Sometimes it seems more beneficial to pull an all-nighter or skip a work out, but studies prove the exact opposite. Exercise also helps stimulate blood flow to the brain, and even develop new brain cells. What college student doesn’t want to improve their memory and ability to learn?

There are several ways that college students can incorporate healthier patterns that ultimately enable peak performance and a healthy BMI. Evaluate the snack foods and meals you turn to in a pinch. Replace them with healthier ones, like nuts, hot-air popped popcorn, peanut butters & crackers, bananas, or dehydrated fruit (yum pineapple). Try hummus with carrots, or tortilla chips instead of nachos, french fries, or junky food. Plan ahead for your busy week by grocery shopping and preparing meals ahead of time. Pack a lunch to bring on campus, instead of visiting the local sub shop or 7-11. Buy some frozen veggie burgers to skillet cook a meal in about the same time as heating up one in the microwave. Buy bulk foods, available at most grocery or health food stores, to save money. Reward yourself with snacks after a certain amount of your workload is finished, instead of just mindlessly snacking. Mindfulness, after all, is the ultimate “life-hack,” and can apply to everything.

Be mindful and create time to go the gym, take a nap, or call it an early night. Even if the day seems too short, maximizing your health will ultimately help you maximize your time, because you will always be in your prime. If you can’t fit in a trip to the gym, take several breaks and simply walk around the block, and do some stretches/push-ups/sit-ups.  Dog owners always find a way to squeeze in three walks a day, so can you. Dick’s Sporting Goods sells cheap weights that will help you keep, or build, muscle without leaving the house. Just take 10 minutes away from the computer, and do it.

The obesity problem in America is on just about everyone’s radar. Education can prevent future weight and health problems. As you become an adult, and step into the hectic pace of college life, make sure to get an early grip on what could be a potential problem. If you find yourself at Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, definitely take this advice to heed. You won’t be allowed to graduate if your “Freshman 15,” moves into the upper levels!

P.S. If you feel like slamming down a drink after reading this post, first take a look at the alcohol calorie counter.

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The Grad Beat: Hire Us!

Posted on 06 March 2010 by admin

“You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.” ~President Obama

Long Road

Photo/Alix Bryan

Graduating college during a recession can be daunting, and sixty-four percent of college seniors surveyed have anxiety about finding employment. The unemployment rate has held at 9.7 percent, while the underemployment rate has risen recently. The latter includes people with part-time employment, who need full-time positions.

A student graduating with a degree in journalism will have more anxiety about job prospects than, say, a student of veterinarian science. Since 2001, daily newspapers have lost an estimated 17 percent of their news staff, with 15,000 jobs eliminated in just 2009. Rather than throw in the towel paper and switch careers, especially if journalism is your passion, just be prepared for the rocky road ahead–with deliberate effort it can turn into a long, prosperous road.

Certain steps will likely make your job search more successful, and possibly motivate you to get ahead of the curve with the latest in social and new media. No journalism career could possibly ignore Web 2.0, so if you don’t already have an online presence, get started–as soon as you finish this! Social media will enhance your job search, and the web is also a great place to network with other creative individuals, as well as to promote your talents.

Here are some resources.

Twitter is not only a place to curate your network by following the leader’s and thinkers in your industry, it can be a powerful job searching tool.

What it takes.
Interacting. Twitter is not merely about self promotion. Only 10-20 percent of your Tweets need to be about you. The rest needs to be information that benefits you & your followers. Also tap into your local Tweeters, and get to know them, which can lead to an “in” on local events and opportunities. As with any social networking site, potential recruiters can view your account. Keep it free of curse words, and less than savory viewpoints. Use the account to show how you are immersed in your industry, and up-to-date on the latest trends. Some people suggest maintaining two accounts. One for more personal interaction with acquaintances, a second account for professional purposes.

Follow people with experience and ask them questions, most likely they will respond back. When you engage in conversation, ask intelligent questions, and contribute meaningfully to the conversation. By nature journalists are curious and chatty.

On Wednesday’s, at 5pm PT, you will find fellow journalists participating in a conversation about web journalism, and the industry in general. As with all topics and conversations, they can be found by labeled hashtags, like #wjchat. The topic this past week was “Young Journalists Breaking into the Industry,” and it brought together college students, job seekers, and professionals–from some pretty big names in the industry.

The conversation is archived, and contains valuable suggestions. One shared viewpoint among the employers present was that the old school resume doesn’t carry the same weight it once did. Journalism employers also want to see that you have your own domain, website, blog, and Twitter account–and that they have good content. As one participant said, “Demos, not Memos.” That means showcasing a variety of subjects, media, and well developed articles, not just single-source ones.

Another consensus was that who you know is how you get someone to look at a resume or profile. Networking will always be important to a journalist.

How to make it effective

Step one, get an account. Step two, make sure your profile is optimized, which means it needs to be 100 percent complete. This will require getting three recommendations–testimonies to your character and work ethic. Try to return the favor when possible. There are several features to showcase your work, like current blog posts. LinkedIn offers a deeper dimension than just the paper resume, as a recruiter can see what other people think of you, and also get a view of your Twitter feed and blog posts without having to hit several URL’s.

Don’t get overly detailed, just put an emphasis on what you’ve accomplished and use specific numbers when possible. You can attach a more detailed resume to your profile, for managers to download and share.

Join some of the numerous groups on LinkedIn. These are another way to put yourself out there, ask questions, and be recognized. You can get a scoop on trends and access to jobs posted in the forums. You can opt to receive email notifications anytime from posts in your forum.

Be selective on LinkedIn. Never forget that you will be known by the company you keep, and here quality reigns over quantity. You don’t have to accept every request to join your network.

Wired Journalists
What it is.

Wired Journalist is a Publish2 network, and they are both collaborative platforms. Publish2 provides free tools to help curate the web, aggregating useful news and information. Use it to see who is in the field and what other journalists are following and creating. Wired Journalist is a growing community with forums to host conversations about the craft. You can join a group of colleagues interested in the same topic and mutually share your expertise. Job listings and internships are posted on WJ.

Be published

United Press International is more than another social network. The editors review and publish student submissions daily, including multimedia.  It is a great outlet to not only get your work published, but a network to receive feedback and ratings, which can help you improve your craft. They work with universities around the globe.

While you are in school, use the many resources available to strengthen your craft. Produce, produce, produce! Learn new applications, but never forget the importance of writing, and critical thinking. Attend conferences. Get an internship, or two and work beyond what is expected of you. Internships can lead to future employment, and sometimes you can create a position there for yourself.

Don’t be dismayed
Keep looking. Have several cover letters and tailor each one to the specific organization. Employers say they pay more attention to the cover letter, it helps them decide whether to look inside or not. Make your job search efficient by organizing your contacts, applications, resume, portfolio samples into one document. That will help you remember who you already contacted, and be sure to follow-up. Despite all this online networking and job searching, a phone call can be the best way to follow up with someone.

Other platforms that post job openings and internships are:

Poynter Careers
Journalism Jobs
Online News Association
Media Bistro
Cub Reporters

Remember, recessions end and news is always happening. Stay ahead of the curve in order to stay on a long, prosperous road.

For more resources, read “How To Elevate Your Journalism Career,” and “Social Media Resources for Job Seekers.”

And of course, please share your resources here for others.

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