Authority and Information on Vacation

This past week, a couple of good friends of mine were married in Atlanta. My husband was in the wedding, and we decided to make it a vacation and went out 4 days early to spend some time in the city and get some much-needed sleep. While we were there, we visited the CNN Studios and my brain started lesson planning before I could stop it.

We arrived at the CNN Studios around 11:45 am on Wednesday, March 22nd. When you walk into CNN, you’re standing in the food court/shop lobby. It’s an expansive space and your eyes immediately travel upward to the 8-9 story ceiling. There are flags of different states and countries that flank the opening and a huge globe.

The escalator entering the globe is on the 7th floor. It is the longest freestanding escalator in the world. Photo: Jenni Burke

There is a large monitor on one end of the lobby and I immediately noticed the headline: “Attack outside UK Parliament Being Treated as Terror”. I paused and read some of the closed captioning and my heart dropped. Not good.

After recovering from the shock of the lobby and the headlines, we bought VIP Tour tickets for 1:30. This put us in a group that was capped at 12 (instead of 45) and gave us access to a few extra taping areas than a regular tour. While we waited, we ate lunch at the Chick-Fil-A (yes, ironic) and wandered through the Cartoon Network store, the CNN store, and the Braves shop, stopping to talk baseball with the older gentleman who worked there (particularly about how the Rockies management keeps raising prices not because the team is any good but bc they can make money off of the opponent’s fans). On a side note, if you’re a Cardinals fan like myself, go to a Rockies-Cardinals game – it’ll feel like you’re at a home game in St. Louis.

Around 1:15, we went through security and started up the longest freestanding escalator in the world – 7 stories tall and only attached at the top and bottom! We entered the 7th floor through a giant globe, took a quick photo, and went through a set of double doors into a small theatre with a large, three-paneled control screen that showed the different camera angles and teleprompters of all of the the domestic CNN stations and CNN International. The guide would then cut the different audio feeds from what the audience would hear to the Executive Producer’s audio line directing the Breaking News show on the main CNN station. This was infinitely fascinating as he was directing different things all at once like the camera angles, the digital pictures that were coming through live feeds in London, and when different teleprompter segments were to come in to which anchor. On other screens, Wolf Blitzer was filming the Situation Room segment (that would have been playing if it weren’t for the Breaking News) and Robyn Curnow, who was waiting for the main CNN feed to cut to her. Each show has its own Executive Producer who controls every aspect of the show or segment; nothing happens without their approval.

From here, we followed the guide to a small, staged newsroom where she explained the green screen, digital touchscreen, and teleprompting technologies. I asked a few questions like what was on the paper the anchors hold (the hard copy of the teleprompt text) and where the text comes from (the writers, but the anchor can add comments). After seeing the main filming stage for HLN, things got really interesting.  We walked to a two-paneled window with a view into a large room where the writers and copyeditors work. There are normally about 100 staff members present, but during disasters like the OK City Bombing and 9/11, they cram in about 300. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of screens dominate in this room – smartphones, tablets, tv’s, radios, computers, and large digital control panels. There are marker boards with events and names and locations everywhere.

Writers are assigned to different shows and given topics to research and write about. After the initial stories are written, they go to the copy-editors who fact-check, correct grammar errors, and make revisions. From here, they’re sent to the Executive Producers for approval and disseminated to the anchors on paper and the teleprompters before and during the shows. Under normal circumstances, shows/segments are researched, written, edited, and approved in roughly 3-4 hours. Under Breaking News situations, an entirely different team of writers take over and the turnaround time for information is reduced to 5 minutes or less. During this process, every screen, tv, and radio is constantly playing competitor’s news, sister station’s news (ALSO treated as competition!), local news, and…here it comes…social media. These are the places in which writer’s pull their stories. Yes, you read that correctly. They pull stories from social media.

Here’s where my Librarian brain took over before I could help it. There are a few hidden gems in the Framework that seem “obvious” but don’t always sink in, even for librarians: Learners…understand the increasingly social nature of the information ecosystem where authorities actively connect with one another and sources develop over time AND Learners…understand how the commodification of their personal information and online interactions affects the information they receive and the information they produce or disseminate online.

You see, this is important for students to understand – how they interact with the world online has an effect on what is reported! News used to have to travel by mouth and paper. Now, it can pass through thousands of hands before it even reaches the news stations and every station is competing with each other to be the first, the fastest, and the most eye-catching. They even compete with their own networks! What we post, what we like, what we share, what we tweet – it can all directly affect the information that we receive back. We are now ALL contributors to the conversation, whether we like it or not. It’s vital that we build lessons that make our students think about the process in which the information is created and delivered, and even more importantly, where does it originate?

In the food court lobby of CNN, the tile forms a world map (with time zone lines). There is a brass plate for every CNN location. Photo by: ana_feliciano (flickr),hq

On the floor of the lobby, tiles form a map of the world. Embedded into this floor are about 45 brass plates that represent a CNN location. No one can be everywhere at once, even a network this large. They rely on each other and the population for news stories. Unless a reporter is standing on the sidewalk during an event, the news is coming second hand. So we all have to dig a little deeper than we used to find out more. Then, we have to decide how to use it.

Our voices are powerful and it’s a heavy responsibility.


The Journey to Here

I’ve been considering for a while what to write on this first post. It should be witty, thought-provoking, and special, right? Well, as I sit here dodging the projectile toys that my toddler is fast-balling around the kitchen, I realize it’s much more important to just be real. So, what’s been on my mind lately? My journey to here.

Through out my life, career has been something that has eluded me. I was born into a family in which half of us are notorious for taking the long way around life and typically not settling into a career until our 30’s (if ever).  I have proven to be no different. One of my grandfathers held a variety of jobs throughout his life: he was a school teacher, a car salesman, a landlord to a trailer park in an army town, and (my personal favorite) owner/operator of a worm farm. He was a jack of all trades, master of a few. Later in life, he’d just fall asleep in front of Nascar races watching the stock ticker to find out if he’d lost or gained anything that day. It’s fairly normal for us to end up teaching deaf kids in Kenya, nursing, welding, consulting for businesses, curating in national museums, or thinking about Mars. We’re all over the place.

When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a vet. Luckily (or unluckily, whichever way you want to look at it), I was in a Girl Scout troop who took us around to visit the professionals who held careers to which we aspired. The second I saw the operating table in our local vet’s office, I was out. Done. No way. See ya. So, what next? Teacher. I loved school and quite a few of my family members were teachers, so why not. It wasn’t something I truly desired to do, I don’t think, it just seemed to make sense. I held this idea from the time I was in 3rd grade all the way until my junior year in college when I had an epiphany while I was trying to simultaneously outmaneuver a lightning storm and a mountain lion in New Mexico (I managed this, obviously, although I’m pretty sure if the mountain lion had really wanted to eat me, there’s not much I could’ve done about it). “If I actually live through this, I need to find something I actually love.  I love showing others how to do things and seeing them succeed because of me, but does it have to be in a classroom?” So, when I got back to my university that fall, I dropped my teaching option (and, subsequently the Master’s program that paired with my BA), graduated with an English degree with a minor in Speech Communication and set out to find out what I could actually do with that. Admin work, if you were wondering.

After working for Mizzou off-and-on for about three years as an Administrative Assistant, I knew I had to do something different. I loved the people I worked with but I was bored a lot.  When I’m bored, bad things happen. I either fall asleep and get very lazy or I start causing trouble or I get under people’s feet (ask my colleagues). So, I drug myself back to college and completed classes for a teacher’s cert and went to the classroom. It was during this part of my career that I bumped into my true love and passion: librarianship. I was teaching 6th Grade Reading and took my students to the library once a week. I have no idea why this career hadn’t occurred to me before. I suspect because, as much time as I spent in libraries growing up, there wasn’t anything inspiring about it. I adored my elementary library but the librarian seemed kind of mean and I was scared of her. My middle/high school library was boring and drab. The librarian was amazingly kind and never hovered but the space itself was quite uninspired and cloistered and I never saw her outside of that room. Small town Oklahoma didn’t have much cash for places like libraries.

After moving back to Colorado, I started an online program for my MLS while working full time as a corporate Executive Assistant. The work was still a bit tedious but my boss was fantastic. He would randomly use me as a sounding board for ideas, let me do my homework in slow moments, and make fun of me when I was grumpy. He encouraged me to follow my passion and shoved me back out into the world when it was time.

Then, reality set it. There are different types of libraries (why did no one take the time to explain this to me when I was in my degree?!) and each has it’s own personality. There’s an impression that each type of library demands a special set of skills and if you’re good at one, then you won’t be good at another. Well, it’s true that each demands a special touch, but most librarians are trained at a strong enough baseline that they can jump in and perform decently. Problem is – I don’t want to be decent. I want to be excellent. I was good at School Librarianship (I was in a college prep school with high schoolers doing college level work) but I found it difficult to deal with the idea that the library would be a youth canteen, especially when the Elementary Librarian was having class and students were trying to study. After that year, I jumped at an opportunity to open a brand new public library and became a Teen Librarian in High Plains District. I enjoyed my time as a public librarian for a variety of reasons but programming was not my “thing”. I found that I was really good at the planning, coordinating, and even the active parts of putting on the programs, but it didn’t catch me in the gut. It didn’t excite me as much as doing computer classes for the adults or even being out on the desk helping patrons find answers (to the most RANDOM questions!).

When my kiddo came along, my longing to be teaching information literacy became a bit overwhelming. I kept dreaming of working in a university library, working with students and faculty who are researching and learning. I kept thinking, “If my son had a passion, what would I tell him to do?” I’d tell him to jump off the cliff and run after it! How could I ever encourage him to do that if I wasn’t willing to do the same? So, toward the end of my maternity leave, I called my boss, got on the sub list, and threw myself into applying to academic jobs. I got this gig as a temporary Instructional Librarian at Auraria and I have loved this job every day. The work is straightforward but ever-changing and my past experiences have allowed me to jump into the deep end quickly. The most challenging piece has been learning the idiosyncrasies of the world of high education. Luckily, I’ve had phenomenal examples to follow and now feel comfortable with the scholarship aspect. I have felt my love, passion, and excitement for this type of librarianship explode. All of the research, the social media, the CV-building, the presentation applications: it all makes sense in light of what we do: teach students. We aren’t “teachers” but we teach. We help students see what information means, what it does, how it affects us, how we affect it, and what our responsibilities are with it, both in the academic world and in life and society and culture. It’s librarianship in its purest form – words matter. We’re guides and mentors and path lighters and walk with students for a short time on their own paths to their own destinations.

I love that.