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A video about a New York post office receiving Christmas lists are featured on USA Today's homepage.
The semester is almost over but, my beat assignment for USA Today continues. 

As the Christmas approaches USA Today ran a video and story featuring a New York post office program called Operation Santa. The program was started by a group of postal workers in 1912 who wanted to give gifts to children that Santa could not get to. One hundred years later, it is still up and running, trying its best to help everyone they can.

Some of the interesting and comical request from some of the Christmas lists? One child asked Santa for "one of every toy you ever made" and another asked for "one million dollars in small bills."

What makes this story different is that many children who are sending in Christmas lists to Santa this year are victims of Hurricane Sandy. Some letters share personal stories of what their families have lost and ask Santa to help them get back on their feet. 

The video ends with a call to action. Operation Santa cannot help every child and asks for others to pitch in.

I thought this story was a nice change from the content that is normally on USA Today. It is also good to see a group of people trying to make a child smile on Christmas day, especially after Hurricane Sandy. Here's to Operation Santa granting these children the Christmas they deserve.  
 
In my last blog post about Jour 1550's visit from Meg Kissinger, I talked a little about the next project that our class will begin to work on which focuses on mental illness. Although the projects are not in full swing yet, we do have our subjects. Along with a classmate,  my mental illness piece will focus on how a specific family member deals with mental illness.

After doing research, I learned that family members who deal with mental illness within the family have their own problems. They tend to be under an incredible amount of stress and might have to take on large amounts of responsibilities. I was also intrigued to learn that family members who have mental illness in their families, do not always have the greatest of relationships with others. 

Family members often experience symptoms like guilt, embarrassment and they also have fears of developing the same illness as their loved one.  

For this project, Meg wants us to steer clear from having a audio piece that is strictly emotional and try to add humility into our stories. She manages to have such a great mix of the two in her articles, so those shall serve as great inspiration when working on this piece.

I am very interested in getting started with this project. This topic is one that I never thought I would be assigned for a class project and I'm hoping that I take something away from this once it is completed. 
 
Last week in my JOUR 1550 class, we had a visitor by the name of Meg Kissinger come in to speak to us. Meg is a journalist who writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Within her family, she has experienced the effects of mental health and often shares them in her articles. Next month, our class will begin a new project focusing on mental health issues within the Milwaukee area, there was no one else who could have provided the colorful commentary, advice, and information on this issue, than her. I was truly inspired by Meg throughout her visit and excited for what this project will bring. 

Before I get into our conversation with her, my professor emailed the class a few pieces written by Kissinger. I was taken by one story in particular. She spoke about her brother, his battle with mental health and a trip to Mexico that she embarked on with her brother and husband to visit family. What struck me was with how personal this story must have been for her, she wanted to share it. For a topic so touchy, a sibling with mental health issues, you would expect a sad emotional story but, it was the opposite. It brought a smile to my face. I wondered how she managed to take an emotional part of her life and not make you cry but, smile and want to hug your own brother a little tighter.  That's how it made me feel.

Kissinger has the greatest personality. She was personable, funny, and knowledgeable. She does her homework on the issues that are close to her heart and it only reinforced to me how important it is to focus on sharing stories that you are passionate about. 

As Meg continued to share her life experiences with the class, she mentioned that she had breast cancer, some years back. She was so open about her experience with it. I had the opportunity to ask  Meg a question about that. When I was nine years old, my grandmother passed away from Pancreatic Cancer, it's a very rare form that not many know about, and not many beat. One of the many reasons why I wanted to major in journalism is because I wanted to bring awareness to this disease. I thought sharing personal stories might be too emotional, though. I asked her is she ever felt like it was too much to share such personal things and she said she felt the need to share, because others need to know. It made me realize that once you share personal stories, you're able to connect to those who may have been through the same things. You become an advocate. Using your voice for good is what a journalist should do.

I won't keep going on and on but, having her in class was such a great experience. I am definitely ready to begin our projects next month and thanks to Meg, I may have found a new direction in my career as a future journalist. 
 
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A headline from USA Today's entertainment page features a story on the hit tv show, The Walking Dead.
When I'm not reading hard news stories, I like a little entertainment. You know, music and movie reviews, gossip? Fluff, according to some. But, it never hurts to lighten the new mood and be entertained. 

This week for my beat, I decided to check out USA Today's entertainment section and see what they have to offer. My last blog post talked about USA Today's makeover and originally, I wanted to talk about this topic then, but I found the entertainment, or "Life" section of the website to be a bit... boring. Maybe I say this because I'm used to checking out my favorite blogs that are dedicated exclusively to entertainment, and I unknowingly expected USA to be that way. But, I think that their version of entertainment differs from mine. 

It's not that there is not an abundance of stories being reported on but, there I don't find there to be a wide range of topics being touched upon. Going through the life section, I noticed articles on Barbra Streisand and Led Zeppelin. But, nothing that will help draw in a more diverse and dare I say... younger crowd? I am a fan of Barbra, though.

Other than music, there are book reviews, according to the website, Mike Tyson's releasing a memoir next year boxing fans rejoice, and shows that you should be watching on TV. Sound information is given but, to me I feel as though it's not presented in a exciting or innovative way. 

So my question would be, how can they fix it?
 
USA Today is looking pretty spectacular these days.

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through USA Today's website and there was an option to try out a new beta version. Me being the type of person who likes to stick with the tried and true decline and thought nothing more of it.  So, I was quite surprised when I found that they decided to make the a new layout. 

At first, it took some getting used to. I wasn't too sure how I felt about it. The layout was a little confusing and I felt like the only reason it was done was to "keep up" with other news outlet websites and look well... cool. As I did some browsing around, I actually came to like the new layout. In Jour 1550 it's all multimedia, all the time and I decided to make this weeks beat assignment about it. 

As I've been learning all about the importance of visuals in class, I feel as though this version of the website is something to look at for several reasons. More picture are featured on the front page, a lot of pictures. There is easier access to the different photo galleries but, on the down side... It's hard to find videos. If anything, I wish that was a little more easy to find.

Although I was somewhat disappointed in their lack of videos on the home page, I was pretty impressed with USA Today's brand new style and their push towards a more multimedia based website.
 
Last week in my Jour 1550 class, a woman by the name of Sharon McGowan came to visit as a guest speaker. She talked to us about a website called the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. McGowan is the editor and project director for the NNS.

I learned of the website last year through another journalism student and I was interested in learning more about it. I am a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native so, I wondered what there was about my hometown that I didn't know about that was featured on the website.

If there is one thing that I could say I truly appreciate about the website (and there are many things I appreciate) was how much positive news was featured about the city. Being from Milwaukee, if you turn to a local news station you barely hear about the people of this city who work incredibly hard to make Milwaukee a better place to live. 

Stories about job opportunities, the youth doing positive things, and different organizations designed to help those in need really struck a chord with me. It's wonderful to read about such positivity especially because other news stations choose to focus on the negative.

The NNS features video and photos, which was the main topic of conversation during last weeks class, as well as news stories focusing on different sections in the Milwaukee area. I learned things about Milwaukee that I did not know, which is amazing and that is why I'm encouraging everyone I know to check out the website.

 
USA Today versus Multimedia.

This past week in my Jour 1550 class, we learned all about the importance of photography and the role it plays in journalism. Continuing along with my beat for the semester,  I studied the USA Today website to see just how much they have to offer when it comes to multimedia.

First up? Photography. USA Today has a section dedicated to it on their website. There are photo galleries for events, celebrities, and sports. One thing that I found to be strange was that before viewing pictures, you have to wait for a video advertisement that lasts around 30 seconds to past. But, back to the pictures, scoping out the gallery section in detail,  there are over 25 different galleries that are available to view, and all of the pictures have captions underneath (which was something that my professor stressed the importance of). 

All of the photos posted, are related to recent events within politics and entertainment, to name a few. Which leads me to the video section. This portion of the website is set up exactly the same as the photo gallery. The top six most popular videos are displayed and they all land around the two minute mark. The most recent videos all have something to do with the iPhone 5 release and the latest news within the political world. 

While working on my One @ Marquette project, my professor encouraged the class to look into the New York Times series called "One in 8 Million" for inspiration and also for reference on this blog post. Although all of the stories told in the One in 8 Million series have narration from the person who was the focal point, the videos on the USA Today's website have voice overs featuring a news anchor. The pictures though, are similar. Different angles, colors, and perspectives are given in each photo and are rather striking. 

Although, not groundbreaking, the multimedia sections on USA Today's website are enough to get the point across. The video section features clips that can be easily viewed on television, while the photos are, in my opinion, the highlight. 
 
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USA Today's sports homepage, which lacks news on opening week of NFL
The NFL started this week and it's always a big deal for sports fans. I have always been a fan of the Green Bay Packers so when I found out they lost, let's just say... I wasn't too happy. But, back to the main task at hand, continuing along with my beat assignment for the semester, I want to talk about USA Today's coverage on the opening week of the NFL.

I kept checking the website throughout the day to see what USA Today had to report on the NFL and they kept a live feed going, which I thought was a cool idea. Regular score updates and big moments were placed on a timeline to keep fans up to date on all of the action. After most of the games were finished sunday night, I noticed that there was a gallery of pictures for week 1.

The NFL news had prime real estate space on the front page, but it wasn't the main focus. It shared the front page with other sports news (non-related to football). The links to NFL related articles weren't too big and there were three links taking you to the sports page. I was a little surprised that they didn't make a bigger deal out of the NFL's return (let's be honest, sports fans are pretty hardcore, they need their news) so I was expecting the entire front page to scream nothing but headlines reading "Football Is Back!" Or something a little more clever.

Either way, all of the news on everything football can be found on USA Today's sport page.
 
As part of my Jour 1550 class, I was assigned a beat to cover throughout the semester. I'm into all types of news and I like to think that I consume news from a range of topics. So, when I found out that my professor assigned me to USA Today. After being assigned USA Today, I realized that I don't consume news from every type of newspaper. So, I wondered if it would be a good match for me. 

I know of USA Today, though I will admit that I never read it before. The first thing that I did was make my way to the website to check it out. The website is clean and concise, not too many colors are used and has a simple layout. Everything is organized according to subject, which made it easier for me to navigate my way around. Another thing that I really liked about the website is that there is a list of the top five most popular stories of the day. It slightly reminded me of Twitter, the top five acts as what's trending on the website, what everyone is most interested in.

There are a lot of pictures available on the website to go along with articles but, I had a hard time finding a lot of videos. There are a few but, not as much as I expected. Seeing as this is online, I thought there would be more video content. I took some time to read a few articles and it is true to AP style. How I read articles in the newspaper form of USA Today, is exactly how they are online.

I don't find anything to be particularly innovative about the website. There is a section that is dedicated solely to the opinions of the writers, which I find to be interesting. But, there is nothing that I have not seen before.

Overall, usatoday.com gives it's viewers what they are looking for. Up to date news on a wide range of subjects, including topics that don't come to mind right off hand like technology and travel. There is also a section dedicated to the 2012 election, which I thought was a nice touch.

I'm looking forward to covering USA Today throughout my semester in Jour 1550.