Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Media Ride Along Combined Report

Lily: Niche Market and Worldwide Community

Oddly enough, it all started with a Facebook status.

Actually, it went back a little farther than that.

Keith Bardwell really started all of this. Long story short, this Louisiana judge refused to grant a marriage license in October 2009 to a mixed-race couple because he was concerned for their future children. Bardwell thought that if their children were of mixed races, they would be excluded from both groups.

Suzy Richardson thought this was uncalled for, so she uploaded a portrait of her own happy mixed-race family to Facebook, saying she planned to send it to Bardwell in a Christmas card. Almost immediately, her friends who were also in mixed-race families jumped on board. The niche community, and, was born.

The idea went international, and what started out as one mother sticking up for the happiness of her children became a worldwide phenomenon.

“And so it turns out that a bad decision sparked a Facebook status that sparked a movement,” Richardson says on her website.

Bardwell received 130 photos of mixed-racial families from around the world that Christmas.

Richardson said in an interview that she is still defining the role of

“We talk about anything and everything mixed-race families would want to talk about,” she said. She wants to be a community and a news site.

“People need to connect,” she said. attracts traffic through its content, according to Richardson. While she uses social networking to spread the word about new stories, many times people find her website by entering phrases like “products for mixed hair” and “mixed relationships” into search engines like Google.

Richardson said she knows of a website called and sites this as the only real competitor of To compare, Mixed and Happy defines itself as “…the first news site dedicated to the mixed-race community.” says its mission is to “facilitate the culture recognition of interracial/multicultural families and disassociate this culture from longstanding stigma by exposing and discrediting stereotypes.”

Richardson said that “interracial” was used more in the 1990s, and people seem to be getting away from that term.

“I decided to use the word ‘mixed’ even though people have bounced around it for so long because they thought it was a bad word,” she said. Her little sister was mixed, so she wanted to embrace the term.

“It makes people want to be a part of it,” Richardson said.

She is currently working with the City of Gainesville to hold the first Loving Day in the city the weekend of June 12, the anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case in 1967. This decision made anti-miscegenation laws illegal. The celebration would bring together a local group of people who are members of the niche market appeals to. In addition, mixed-race families in Australia want to start a Mixed and Happy chapter there.

“As I was writing (the card to Bardwell), I realized that this project was all about love,” Richardson said. “Because, when all is said and done, that’s what changes hearts and lives.”

Shannon: Using Social Media and Balancing the News with User-generated Content

Mixed and Happy, while it does focus on the news, is also meant to serve as a virtual community center. One way the site does this is through social media, like Facebook and Twitter. During our interview, Suzy Richardson, the founder and editor of Mixed Happy, talked about the various roles the social media sites have played in throughout the site’s history. In fact, it was a Facebook post that moved her to create a blog dedicated to covering issue related to mixed-race people and families. The post received so much attention from friends that created a Blogspot, which eventually became a full-fledged website.

The Facebook page also allows readers to connect with one another by sharing family photos, posting on the discussion board and generally showing support and love for Mixed and Happy. In this way, the Facebook page is an extension of the website in that it offers readers a place to not only discuss Mixed and Happy stories, but also to bring in outside influences which could possibly serves as story ideas.

Richardson went on to describe how she and the site’s reporters use the Facebook page to attract traffic to the site. She says she understands it would be ridiculous to expect people to be able to extensively connect socially on the site when most people already use Facebook to do so. Therefore, she uses the Facebook page to promote stories on the website.

Balance User Generated Content & the News

Mixed and Happy is unique in that it is dealing with issues that deeply affect people. The story about the mixed-race couple being denied a marriage license, a cross burning at a mixed family’s home, how a family is dealing with a transracial adoption: these are all very emotional stories to the authors and the readers. When I asked Richardson about how she tries to balance the site’s news stories with content contributed by users (like photos and personal stories), she said it can be difficult. As one of the few websites dedicated to mixed-race families and issues, many users expect it to do and be everything. Richardson said, as an alumna of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, she has a passion for journalism and wants her site to reflect that commitment.

Part of what Richardson is doing to make sure the site maintains a strong news presence, is to bring in outsiders to help revamp the site. For example, she recently found two interns through the College’s Job and Internship Fair. Bringing in communications students, who are familiar with writing news stories and would do the internship for academic credit, allows her to have contributers who are committed to helping the site grow. One issue Richardson discussed was the inability of finding reporters and contributors who would stick around after expressing initial interest. “I have to be careful on screening people. In the beginning, I let people write if they wanted to. What I found is that if there’s no exchange, financial or credit, people will stay with you briefly and kind of disappear.” Richardson’s commitment to keeping her site a news site is very apparent in the carefulness she uses when choosing whom to bring into Mixed and Happy.

Johnelle: A website with no advertisements?

Usually, free websites and newspaper sites use advertisements as a way to generate profit. While news sites and websites in general usually have ads to the top or sides of their web pages, Mixed and Happy displays no ads whatsoever, in turn, generating no income. This is one of the first things our group realized when analyzing the site, and we found it to be unique. But while other sites are concerned with getting loads of web hits, in turn gaining money from advertisers, the motive of Mixed and Happy is just to dedicate itself to news and the community for mixed-race families and allow this sometimes overlooked group of people to connect with one another. The founder, Suzy Richardson, has a passion for journalism, which helps keep her motivated to run the site.

Though it seems as if there are purposely no ads on the site, Richardson says it’s actually this way because she needs help making it happen. She says she is not the most tech-savvy person and is a one man band, basically doing everything on her own when it comes to supervising the site. However, she says she, along with the contributors, is in the process of reconstructing the whole face of the website, which will include ad space and ad campaigns in the future. With the new interns hired, there may be a sooner change with advertisements being placed on the site.

Between now and last week, actually, our group has observed this revamping taking place. Before, there were multiple links that would link to the same destination, and the links were a little disorganized. Now, instead of having multiple links at the top of the screen with drop box menus leading to the same page, there are now only designated links entitled “Home,” “About Us,” “Submissions” and “MH Around the World.” A lot of times we may notice that advertisements in newspapers and websites reflect the given content. Richardson says part of the revamping process will allow people to advertise what they want on the site.

But just because there are no ads doesn’t mean there is no traffic. Richardson says the site actually gets a pretty decent amount of traffic, and the social media outlets are key factors in attracting people. Surprisingly, the site attracts many viewers just through simple Google searches, such as “products for mixed hair” or “mixed relationships.” Including advertisements on the site will definitely be a positive change and would probably help to generate some sort of profit in the future.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

://URLFAN is a women's-interest blog that focuses on fashion, the media and news.

National Public Radio is a media organization that broadcasts around the country and on the Internet. NPR focuses on breaking news but also covers music and the arts.

FOIA Results

1. The Letter
University of Florida News Bureau


Dear Records Request Officer:

Pursuant to the state open records act, I request access to and copies of a detailed breakdown of where each and every one of students' tuition dollars goes.

I do not expect any fees.

If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act.

Thank you for your assistance.


Lily Parkinson

2. The response

I received your public records request today for “access to and copies of a detailed breakdown of where each and every one of the students’ tuition dollars goes.”

I am not aware we have such a public record in existence but I will certainly inquire to find out. The University of Florida is required by law to provide existing records to you for your review but we are not required to create a record for you.

I will get back to you in coming days regarding your request. If you have any questions, please let me know.


Janine Sikes
Director of Public Affairs
University Relations
University of Florida
101 Tigert Hall
Office: 352-846-3903/06

3. The follow-up
Ms. Sikes,
Thank you very much for your follow-up to my request. I was wondering if your inquiry into the existence of a document detailing where tuition money goes has yielded any results. Please let me know at your earliest convenience.
~Lily Parkinson

4. The results
Lily: Thanks for checking back. I have been out of town, only returning today. I will check on it for you. janine


The State of Florida considers tuition to a part of appropriations and commingles these funds. Through our budgeting model, we allocated tuition to each college. Attached is a spreadsheet that details how much tuition we allocated to each college. At the college level, this money is commingled with state appropriations, so you cannot tell how much tuition is used to pay each faculty member or operating expense. I hope that helps.


Janine Sikes

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wordled Speeches

I think Wordle would be a good tool for making sense of political speeches. Often times, they are filled with jargon and can be difficult to understand if you’re working quickly on deadline. A Wordle of a speech would give a basic outline of some of the main points. Such a visual representation would make the politician’s ideas and thoughts clearer to readers.

Wordle would also be helpful to compare different speeches by the same politician, especially during an election cycle. A series of Wordled speeches by a particular politician would track the issues they’re covering and provide insight to how they may or may not adjust their campaigns during an election cycle.

Along those same lines, a journalist could use Wordled speeches to compare the rhetoric of various politicians from different parties and to compare how different parties members may react to the same event. The New York Times link shows something similar to this. I think the reporter in this case used the Wordled speeches very effectively. Rather than just showing two images and expecting readers to understand what they mean, the reporter gives an explanation of how and why the two images are different. Catherine Rampell writes, “Mr. Bush’s speech was intended to explain and calm anxieties, whereas Mr. Obama’s speech was intended to make the case for significant, permanent policy changes (which perhaps explains Mr. Obama’s relatively greater willingness to use terms like “crisis” and “failure”).” She wraps up the article nicely by trying to include reader comments.


Blog Wordle

Wordle: Untitled

Resume Wordle
        Wordle: Untitled

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Past Story

I first met Marcee Lee Winthrop in March at an open mic night. She and her daughter, Tammy, were sitting in the shadows of The Orange and Brew, anxiously awaiting Marcee’s turn at the mic.

Feeling out of place at a poetry event and in desperate need of a source for my story, I approached Marcee and Tammy’s table. The anxiety that shared their table was welcoming to me, even as I was every bit as anxious as they were. I asked that dreaded reporting icebreaker:

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

That was months ago. Now I’m no longer the only person banging on Marcee’s door looking to tell her story. And what a story it is.

Marcee’s story of an upward ascent out of poverty is one that reads like a fairy tale.

Impoverished for the last two decades, abandoned by her husband of seven years, and left to be a single mother to her 14-year-old daughter and having to go without many of the things most of us take for granted, she struggled.

“We flat-lined,” she said. “We were already poor, but now we were indigent.”

Until one day, a fairy godmother appeared. Though not the kind you would expect. Marcee’s fairy godmother was Marcee.

“I was on a journey to get out of poverty and it started with a mind change,” she said. Her mindset changed from “I can’t” to “I’ll try” to “I will.”

And for the sake of her daughter, she promised that they would be out of poverty by the end of the year, “and I don’t lie to my daughter.” So in January she decided to give it a go. Her New Year’s resolution, she declared, was to lift herself and Tammy above the poverty level.

And now, with three months left in 2009, Marcee has transformed from a housewife-turned single-mother to something of a local celebrity. With her first book, “Poverty Revolution Part One: Skimming the Surface,” already under her belt and another on the way, Marcee now must try to make time for all the new media engagements.

In the coming weeks, she’s scheduled to share her work with a women’s studies class, sing for World Peace Day and to participate in a panel on homelessness in Gainesville, FL. At a recent appearance for the University of Florida’s Association of Black Communicators, Marcee’s metamorphosis was on display for students to see. Clutching two crumpled, heavily-scribbled-on sheets of paper, Marcee charmed her audience with inspiring life stories about poverty, happiness, her daughter and a nearly-sold-out book.

Several on-line bookstores carry “Poverty Revolution,” she said, but not “I’m sure I’ll get them,” she laughed. “They’ll get the second edition.”

She even came with a personal photographer. David, she says, was a student recommended by the Department of Journalism to take pictures for her upcoming second edition.

Marcee has achieved a remarkable amount of success in a short period of time. Poetry, she hopes, will be her ticket out of a poverty that has haunted her for much of her life and for all of her daughter’s.

Marcee’s tale is empowering. Without much work history or money, but with an abundance of determination and will power, she has managed to carve out a livable niche with her daughter.

Like a flower growing between the cracks in a sidewalk, Marcee’s talent and acclaim have blossomed in a city notorious for treating its impoverished populace like second-rate citizens.

But for Marcee, it is the struggle that she wants to inspire people not the success.

“I want people to know that it is possible to start with absolutely nothing.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


UT Scientists May Help Unravel Hunley's Mysteries

KNOXVILLE –- A team of scientists from the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y12 National Security Complex left Sunday to inspect the Hunley to see if they can help unravel the mysteries of the Civil War submarine that sank off the Charleston, S.C., shore 142 years ago.

The local scientists' involvement has grown out of the relationship between UT and best-selling author Patricia Cornwell.

"Ms. Cornwell has been a strong supporter of UT and the National Forensics Academy for the last four years," said Mike Sullivan, director of the Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC), part of UT's Institute for Public Service.

Cornwell recently donated $500,000 to help scientists solve the lingering mystery surrounding the loss of the Hunley and its crew.

Her donation is being used to ensure Hunley scientists have the latest forensic technology as they try to determine what caused the demise of the Confederate submarine. The Hunley disappeared after it successfully sank the USS Housatonic, a Union ship that was involved in the South Atlantic blockade off the Charleston shore. The sunken Hunley and the remains of its crew were discovered in 1995 and raised in 2000, but scientists are still trying to determine why the vessel sank and how its crew died.

In February, at a press conference in Charleston announcing her donation, Cornwell said the Hunley's sinking is "a 19th century crime scene, where evidence has been corrupted by its underwater environment. We will need to push modern technology to the limit to extract the information that is needed to discover what happened to the Hunley."

Sullivan said Cornwell recently contacted him to see if scientists from UT, ORNL and Y12 might be able to help with the Hunley.

Cornwell regularly visits UT to talk with crime scene investigators attending training programs at LEIC's acclaimed National Forensics Academy. NFA instructor Jamie Downs is the medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Hunley case.

"About a month or so ago, I took Patricia Cornwell to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to help her get acquainted with the tremendous forensic science capabilities there," Sullivan said.

Knowing that Hunley researchers are struggling to examine the submarine's sediment-encrusted hull to determine what caused the vessel to sink and what killed its eight crewmen, Cornwell asked Sullivan if local scientists might be able to help by lending their expertise on metals and metallurgy.

Sullivan said he thought local scientists could help.

"At UT, ORNL and Y12, we have some of the world's leading experts in metals and metallurgy," he said.

Cornwell and Maria Jacobsen, an archaeologist from Texas A&M University who is leading the Hunley excavation, recently came to Knoxville to visit scientists from the three institutions. They invited the scientists to travel to Charleston to view the Hunley.

The group will be in Charleston through Tuesday examining the submarine to determine if they can help researchers peel away the built-up sediment on the vessel's hull. Researchers want to see the damage on submarine's metal surface, figure out what caused it and determine, if possible, what caused the vessel to sink and what killed its eight crewmembers.

On the evening of Feb. 17, 1864, the Hunley became the world's first successful combat submarine when it sank the Housatonic. That night, after the Hunley's crew signaled to shore that the mission had been accomplished, the submarine and her eight-man crew vanished. Lost at sea for over a century, the sunken Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler's National Underwater and Marine Agency. The hand-cranked vessel was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, where an international team of scientists is trying to preserve the vessel.

A bestselling author in more than 35 countries, Patricia Cornwell is a New York Times best-selling author of both fiction and non-fiction. Her most recent No. 1 New York Times bestsellers include the novels "Predator" and "Trace," and her non-fiction book, "Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed."

Cornwell published "The Body Farm" in 1994, which attracted worldwide media attention to UT's Forensic Anthropology Center, where scientists and law enforcement personnel study the decomposition of the human body under various conditions. Her new novel, "At Risk," will be published by G.P. Putnams Sons on May 23.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chicago Murder Trial Begins for "Suicidal Blond"

Chicago Murder Trial Begins for Suicidal Blond

Former Model Killed 3 Beloved Musicians With Car in Bid to End Her Life, Prosecutors Say

They probably never saw her coming.

It was July 14, 2005. Lunch hour in Chicago.

Three local musicians who worked day jobs together at an audio electronics company we’re stopped at a traffic light in a Honda Civic in a suburb north of the city.

At a speed authorities estimated at 70 miles per hour (Check the speed. I found stories that said the speed was about 90 m.p.h.), then 23-year-old former model Jeanette Sliwinski who, police said, was trying to kill herself ran three red lights and slammed them from behind in her red Mustang convertible.

Both cars flew airborne on impact, witnesses said, and each landed crushed upside-down on the pavement.

The three young men died. The suicidal woman walked away with a broken ankle. ( I’m uncomfortable with calling her a suicidal woman. At this point, it was unconfirmed that she was suicidal. This includes the headline.)

This week, more than two years later, her murder trial begins.

"The one thing that would have brought this thing to closure would have been had she been successful in what she set out to do that day,'' said Dave Meis, older brother of victim Douglas Meis, referring to the alleged suicide attempt by the ex-model.

Sliwinski's lawyers have denied that she was attempting suicide. Her current attorney did not return a call seeking comment on the case.

The suicidal crash and subsequent arrest brought Sliwinski internet infamy. Many blogs and websites have posted modeling pictures of Sliwinski since she was arrested. (Click here for pictures.)