The Mackerel Wrapper

A weblog for Pete Ellertsen's mass communications students at Benedictine University Springfield.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The essence of every beauty ad [or shaving, or beer ...] you'll ever see on TV

Since I won't be teaching next semester, this may be the last post to The Mackerel Wrapper for a while. So, for my communications students -- and anybody else who surfs into the blog -- I'm linking to a sketch on advertising from the TV show That Mitchell and Webb Look on BBC television. It will keep longer than the previous items about a spring semester final paper that was due two weeks ago now.

Credit where it's due: I got it from comedian Rollie Williams, who posted it under the headline "Every Beauty Ad Ever In 58 Seconds" to Upworthy at, a social media site that's heavily critical of the fluff in media, especially the Internet, and defines its mission like this: "Hi, we're Upworthy, a new social media outfit with a mission: to help people find important content that is as fun to share as a FAIL video of some idiot surfing off his roof." .

Monday, April 30, 2012

COMM 353: Schedule of classes, coming into the home stretch ... ** UPDATE 1x - IS THIS WHAT THE FUTURE WILL LOOK LIKE?

We have two regular class periods left, and the final exam period. Please note the following change: I am scheduling a brief session during the regularly scheduled time for our final exam, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Thursday, May 10. I need the time to prepare a synopsis of the outside jurors' evaluations of Bulldog Bytes. The revised schedule is as follows:
  • Tuesday, May 1. We will wrap up our discussion of James Thurbers' "Years With Ross" and The New Yorker. I noticed a couple of you mentioned Rolling Stone as a magazine today that compares to the New Yorker in its day. Let's look at their website at and compare notes. Is Rolling Stone outmoded already? What are publications of the future going to look like?
  • Thursday, May 3. We will roll out Bulldog Bytes to a small, but select group (it may be a group of one, but I'll be there if no one else is). Your self-reflective essays are due: Please submit them to me electronically.
  • Thursday, May 10. I will return your graded self-reflective essays and give you a synopsis of the outside jurors' comments on Bulldog Bytes. After which we will ride off into the sunset.
UPDATE: They're not exactly literary, but the "hyperlocal" publications they talk about in the news biz may be one potential business model. They're almost wholly on line, they rely on amateur (and usually unpaid) bloggers, and they're springing up in "underserved" areas in the more populated parts of the country. I got to thinking about them when I was exchanging emails with David Logan, chair of our Arts & Letters division at Benedictine-Springfield:
When I say newspapers are as dead as the passenger pigeon and the great auk, I'm thinking more about the ink-on-paper platform. Have you seen the websites up in the Chicago suburbs? They have a business model like you descirbe, a few professionals who coordinate the output of community bloggers, etc., in "underserved communities." That means little towns without a paper, inner-city neighborhoods or the suburbs around Chicago that don't get covered by the Trib or the Sun-Times. I first ran across it when I was following the Occupy profests in California, and I think the basic concept behind it could be adapted to a small campus like ours. Go to and click on "About Us."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Picasso's 'Guernica,' COMM 353, the nature of art and the anniversary of a bombing that changed the way we see the world

Copy of Picasso's 'Guernica' in Guernica (Creative Commons)

In class today, Robyn mentioned Picasso's painting "Guernica," his response to the terror bombing of a Basque city during the Spanish Civil War. Turned out today was the anniversary of the bombing, on April 26, 1937, the town of Guernica destroyed by German aircraft supporting the fascist revolution that brought Spanish Gen. Francisco Franco tp [pwer/ Today the German newspaper Der Spiegel had a writeup on the bombing and its aftermath that fills in the story behind the painting. Reported Annika Müller of Der Spiegel:

The Basque town of Guernica was bustling with activity on April 26, 1937. "It was market day, and there were finally some sweets on sale once again," says Luis Iriondo Aurtenetxea, who was 14 years old at the time. There was a cloudless sky, the 89-year-old adds, and glorious spring weather.

The diary of a German pilot who took off in his "Heinkel" bomber in Burgos at around 3 p.m. that day confirms Iriondo's recollections. "We couldn't have asked for better weather for the operation," the pilot wrote. Over the next few hours, he and 37 other pilots belonging to the "Condor Legion" would shower Guernica with thousands of bombs. They were supported by a squadron of fighter planes that flew so low "that one could make out the pilots' faces," according to reports from survivors.

* * *

In the evening, when the bombers were finally gone and Iriondo could leave his shelter, the town that had been the spiritual and cultural center of the Basques was engulfed in flames. As the British historian Gijs van Hensbergen has written, by 7:45 p.m., Guernica had practically ceased to exist.

Hardly any of the houses, which were built primarily with bricks and wooden framing, remained intact. The town hall, the church and the hospital had been completely destroyed. That evening, the only thing remaining in its previous place was the sacred oak tree. What's more, not a single bomb had landed on the Astra weapons factory or the bridge in the suburb of Renteria, which was supposedly the primary objective of the attack.

Despite initial claims to the contrary, the Germans were not primarily concerned with clearing a path for Franco's troops. When testifying during the Nuremberg Trials, Hermann Göring, the leading Nazi figure and aviation minister since 1933, said that this effort to support General Franco was much more about having an ideal opportunity to test out his still young air force and examine in a live-fire situation "whether the material had been adequately developed."

Thus, Guernica was a dress rehearsal of sorts for the blitzkrieg and a new breed of warfare that held no regard for civilian populations. ...

Estimates of the death toll range from 200 to 3,000, in a town of 7,000. It was the first time heavy bombing had been unleashed on a civilian population, and Picasso, who was Spanish, was horrified. He was already commissioned to do a mural for the Spanish exhibit at an international fair in Paris, and he did the painting we know as "Guernica" instead. According to Wikipedia, which has an unusually good article on the painting, "Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace."

In class today, we were talking about art. By anybody's definition, the "Guernica" is a work of art.

After Franco's death, it was returned to Spain. When I saw it, the painting was still in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It was powerful, and a reminder that sometimes the best art is political in a way that transcends the issues of the day. The picture above is of a tiled wall in Guernica that reproduces the Picasso painting. It is available in Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

COMM 353: Interview with a copy editor at the New Yorker ... and some thoughts (*soliciting your thoughts, too) on craftsmanship


* Did you notice the in-class writing assignment cleverly embedded in the headline? Details are at the bottom of the post, in boldface type.

There's an interesting interview with a New Yorker copyeditor on literary agent Andy Ross' blog. Dated Sept. 20, 2009, it features Mary Norris, whom we know as the author of a piece on punctuation I posted to our blog a couple of weeks ago, and it's full of little random glimpses of the sense of craftsmanship The New Yorker is famous for.

The one I liked best was a little throw-away remark at the end of a long reminiscence about working under the New Yorker's editors from the 1980s to the present. It came at the very end, after a fascinating tangent on "hot type" (i.e. type that was cast in hot metal instead of the photoengraving processes used now). So you should read the whole thing to get to it:

Andy: You have worked under [editors] William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown, and David Remnick. Do you have a sense that there was a "golden age" of TNY or are we living in it now?

Mary: Hmmm. Sometimes when I have occasion to look back at an issue from the Shawn days, I am moved by the beauty of those vintage magazines: the lines of type were fitted character by character, the hot type is very alive, the black-and-white columns of print have a classic purity. Bob Gottlieb was careful to maintain that, though he introduced some changes. Tina Brown brought in color and photography, and shortened the length of pieces (and probably the attention span of the general reader). I think that what David Remnick has done is bring his newsman’s nose to the job. Remnick has succeeded in making The New Yorker a vital part of the national conversation. We seem to have found our voice after 9/11.

On the other hand, you find fewer quirky pieces that may not be particularly newsworthy but that readers love. For instance, “Uncle Tungsten,” by Oliver Sacks. (I still regret making him spell “sulfur” our way, with the “f,” when he wanted to spell it the old-fashioned British way, “sulphur,” which he’d grown up with.) Ian Frazier’s two-part piece on his travels in Siberia is a good recent example of a beautiful, funny, interesting, old-fashioned piece of writing. A good writer can make you care about anything.

There you have it: A good writer can make you care about anything. Even the nit-picky craft agenda of a copyeditor for The New Yorker.

That's my favorite. What's yours?

Craftsmanship is part and parcel of the New Yorker's brand, and Norris is all about craftsmanship. Merriam-Webster defines a craftsman as: "1 : a worker who practices a trade or handicraft; or 2 : one who creates or performs with skill or dexterity especially in the manual arts." What's your definition of craftsmanship? What's the difference between a craftsman and an artist? Do you consider yourself a craftsman? How important do you expect craftsmanship to be in your career as a writer, editor or communications professional?

Did you learn anything about craftsmanship in COMM 353? From working on Bulldog Bytes? From reading the how-to advice from Carol Saller and Nancy Brigham? From reading about Harold Ross and The New Yorker? How craftsmanslike was James Thurber? In your opinion, was he more of an artist or a craftsman? Did you pick up anything you can take away with you? (Or is that the same as the first question?) Can publications today be as careful as The New Yorker? Can you?

Please post your thoughts as comments below.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

COMM 353: Editing ... what worked? what didn't? How could we make it better?

In her handbook "How to Do Leaflets, Newsletters & Newspapers," Nancy Brigham suggest three ways of doing the editing piece for a publication (121-22). Quoted verbatim (but with citations omitted), they are:
  • One editor. One person has the job of editing everything for a particular issue. The job can rotate from month to month, or it can remain with the same person. If your group has paid staff, one staffer might become editor. The editor would still show articles to other people to get their advice. Clear controversial articles with other leaders or an expert.
  • An editor for each story. At the first planning meeting, assign each story an editor as well as a writer. This process might make articles less consistent, but it encourages a closer relationship between writer and editor. It gives everyone valuable experience without overloading one person.
  • An editing meeting. Some publications hold a staff meeting the date articles are due. Everyone shows up early to read the stories and write comments. Edit for overall content, approach, and what to cut or expand at such a meeting; but avoid getting into details, or your meeting will turn into marathons. And people might get so carried away with their own ideas, they forget the writer has rights and feelings. / Editing at meetings maies sense only when your group is very close, persnaly and politically. Even then, assign individual editors to finish going over each article and work personally with each writer.

As we put Bulldog Bytes together, we opted for a combination of the first and second methods. With the benefit of hindsight, let's review that decision.

Background. I thought we made the right decision, based partly on my own experience and my suspicion from reading between the lines that Brigham had tried the third - group editing - and swore she'd never do that again. But with hindsight, I think we would have caught any misspelled bylines if we'd had a group process. If I were doing it again, I might try for some combination of all three of Brigham's methods. But that's what I think. I want to hear what you think.

So here's the question. How well did our editing process work? What worked? What didn't? What would you recommend to the next group of students in COMM 353 as they begin their class project? Post your preliminary, top-of-the-head thoughts as comments. And let's discuss.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

COMM 353: If you haven't seen this already ..., an online magazine that focuses on business video and, apparently, Search Engine Optimization (which must be where the SEO on their name comes from), has a link and story on a video ad for TNT (Turner Network Television) that's gone viral. To see why, click on the video:

Explains Chris Atkinson of ReelSEO:
A few days ago, cable’s TNT unleashed a “We Know Drama” ad that, ironically, is really funny. You may have seen it by now, but it’s well worth an in-depth look as an example of branded entertainment. In the world of online video, it’s not enough to simply display a bunch of dramatic TV shows and movies that your brand specializes in, you have to grab the viewer’s attention with something special, perhaps original, and definitely something that people will talk about later. TNT’s ad takes the “Improv Anywhere” model and runs with it very successfully. ...
There's more. I think that reference should be to a group called Improve Everywhere, based in New York City. Anyway, it's a combination of improv and flash mobbing. And it does add drama.

COMM 353: Self-reflective essay - assignment sheet ** UPDATED 1x **


This is a rough draft, and I expect to do some tinkering to: (1) correct any illiteracies and references to other courses from which I copied and pasted parts of this assignment sheet; and (2) focus more specifically on some of the themes in Saller, Thurber and Nancy Brigham (the handouts from the UAW editorial consultant), especially editing as a collaborative process and management function.

Update on updates: Since I will be updating it, you should check back from time to time until I post a notice that it's in final form. Updates will be noted in the headline - UPDATED 1x - 2x - 3x - however many times it's been updated. - pe

Self-reflective essay (100 points). Write an essay of at least 1,250 words (five typed pages) in response to the questions below. Please feel free (or compelled) to quote freely, and attribute your quotes. Write as if you were submitting your essay for publication. Strive for a conversational tone. The essay is due Thursday, May 3. Email it to me and/or give it to me in person - but let's make sure I get it.

How has your perception of yourself as a writer, editor and/or media professional changed as a result of what we have studied in COMM 353? What was your overall sense of your professional development before you took the course? How has that changed as a result of your reading, class discussion, collaborating on the class project and observing the process by which it came together? How much have you used what you learned in COMM 353 in your other writing? What did you learn that surprised you the most? How, specifically, did it surprise you? Has your attitude toward writing and editing changed as a result of the course?

What worked? What didn’t work? Which of the texts and handouts we read for class helped you as a writer, i.e. suggested techniques you might try in your own writing or attitudes you might incorporate into your own craft agenda? Which suggested things you want to avoid at all costs! What did you learn from reading about the theory of editing and applying it to the practice of writing and producing our demonstation project? What was beneficial? What wasn’t?

INSERT A -- xxx some specifc stuff here on editing as a collaborative process and management function, what you knew about it ain Januray, what has changed -- how it can fit into your career as a wtiter, editor or media professional

Here are some questions, adapted from an English course at the University of Colorado-Denver, to help you think about your development as a writer:
  • How has your writing changed during this semester?
  • What do you see as your greatest strengths as a writer?
  • What areas of your writing are you still working on?
  • What do you think of as “good writing?” How do you evaluate your own writing and that of others?

In grading this essay, as always, I will evaluate the relevance of your discussion to the main goals and objectives of the course; the detail you cite to support or illustrate your points; and the connections you make. Be specific.

Here are some tips on self-reflective essays, from my old faculty webpage and other sources. Since COMM 353 is a writing and editing course (which academics classify as a "skills" course), this squib from an old handout on reflective essays linked to my faculty page may be helpful:
Writing (skills) courses. A skills course is one where you learn, or practice, a skill like writing. If you're taking freshman English or journalism, you'll be thinking -- reflecting -- about how you've grown as a writer. What was your writing like when you began the course? Is it better now? Are you more confident? Do you know where to look stuff up? Are you mastering the inverted pyramid format? (Basic newswriting is both a skills course and a content course, by the way, so if you're taking COM 209 look at my tips for content courses as well.) Consult the goals and objectives in our syllabus, or the "competencies" in the Illinois Articulation Iniative guidelines for the course. They'll suggest what you're supposed to learn. Be specific. What specific strategies, techniques or skills have you learned? It never hurts to be specific.
And here is a link to a very good discussion of self-reflective writing from Fairhaven College, Western Washington University. I especially like this:
A VITAL POINT: Try to write in a way which communicates information about the content of a course or independent study. Do not just speak in abstractions and personal feelings, such as "This class was extremely important to me because through discussion and the readings my thinking developed immensely." What subject? Which discussions? What did you read? think about what? developed from where to where?? A reader who does not know what the class studied should be able to gain an idea from your self-evaluation. One should be able to form some judgment about how well you understand a subject from what you say about it, not merely that you claim to understand it. In other words, BE SPECIFIC, BE SPECIFIC, BE SPECIFIC, BE SPECIFIC, BE SPECIFIC, and, finally, BE CONCRETE.
And this, which will help you evaluate all your courses, not just COMM 353 ...
To quote former Fairhaven dean Phil Ager, "It is a fiction to measure learning in a single way which therefore can be recorded by a single letter grade." Instead, he argues, there are at least four different kinds of learning:

Cognitive. Your new understandings and knowledge? What is the most important single piece of knowledge gained? What will you remember in a year? five years? How has your knowledge grown? changed? become more sound?

Skills. New skills gained? old skills improved? your ability to solve problems, think, reason, research? Did you actually use these skills? What skills do you need to develop next?

Judgment. Do you understand the difference between process and content? Can you apply principles? to other classes? life? If you took the class again, what would you do differently? Has your way of thinking changed?

Affective. (emotions and feelings) Did you change? your beliefs? values? Was the class worth your time? Do you feel good about it? the single most important thing you learned about you? Evaluate your participation in discussion. Did you discuss and learn with other students? How has the course altered your behavior? Did you grow? shrink? stagnate? float?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

COMM 353: Agenda for today's edit board meeting in class ... ** UPDATED w/ MONDAY'S CLASS NOTES **


I have two items for the editorial board, with copies of email messages attached to further explain the agenda items:

  1. Distribution of Bulldog Bytes - how are we going to get the PDF file to faculty? Please see Attachment 1 below for details.

  2. Planning public presentation (sorry about all those P's!) May 3. We need to decide: (a) how to present the meagazine; and (b) how to publicize it.
Please note: If you feel like other students, e.g. managing and layout editors, have put in more effort so far than you have, this is your chance to even the balance!

Attachment 1: Project update - COMM 353

The following message was sent to the five Benedictine Univesity Springfield faculty and administration members who have agreed to be jurors, via email Saturday, April 14, 2012 7:01 PM. Copies were emailed to you, but here it is again for convenient reference:

To: Outside readers, Bulldog Bytes

Thanks so much for agreeing to evaluate Bulldog Bytes, the student project in Communications 353 (advanced seminar - magazine editing). The magazine is finished now, and a PDF file has been saved to the faculty computer in Dawson 220. Plans now are to get it to you Tuesday. If the file can be compressed sufficiently, it will be emailed to you; if it can't be emailed, the students will copy it to flashdrives and deliver it to you in your offices. In either event, I will email you to let you know how we're handling it.

Since we're getting the completed project to you a few days later than we had anticipated, I am moving back the deadline in order to give you more time to work it into your schedules. (When we planned the production schedule, we made sure to build in enough time for contingencies like this.) The deadline is now a week later, on Tuesday, May 1.

We also tentatively plan to present the magazine to the university community during our class period, at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3. We'll send out invitations as our plans develop; in the meantime, we hope you'll be able keep your schedules open so you can drop by Dawson 220 at that time.

Student layout editor Stacie Taylor has asked me to let you know that the document should be viewed by clicking on "book" and "two-sided" options in the pulldown menus in the PDF-viewing software; please change the setting under the "new" drop-down menu. She advises that the layout is best viewed at 50%, and content is best viewed at 100%.

To this message I am attaching an evaluation questionnaire. As I said in my earlier email, I'm asking jurors to consider things like whether the design and layout are attractive; the content is interesting and targeted to its intended audience of readers in the BenU-Springfield community; the articles are well written and observe the conventions of correct usage; the pictures and graphics enhance the story; and an overall judgment call of whether the product looks professional. I'm not asking you to grade the magazine (although you should feel free to recommend a grade if you wish), and I'm focusing on the product rather than the process.

If you have any questions, comments and/or suggestions, please don't hesitate to get back to me.

- Pete Ellertsen, instructor
Attachment 2: RE presentation in comm 353?

Messages in the following thread were exchanged during the weekend:

Monday, April 16, 2012 5:31 PM
From: "David Logan" [ADDRESS REDACTED]
To: "'peter ellertsen'" [ADDRESS REDACTED]
Looks good to me. Any opportunity for them to get up and present is a good one.

I'll try my best to attend.

David Logan
Chair & Associate Professor, Division of Arts and Letters
Prose Editor, Quiddity International Literary Journal
Benedictine University at Springfield

-----Original Message-----
From: peter ellertsen [ADDRESS REDACTED]
Sent: Sunday, April 15, 2012 9:32 PM
To: David Logan
Subject: presentation in comm 353?

David -

I'd like to have the students give a public presentation of the class
project for COMM 353 - mostly so they'll get some added experience for the
kind of presentations they'll do as graduate students (most of these kids
are going on to grad school whether they know it yet or not) and/or
professionals in the communications industry - and I plan to have Jason send
out blast emails to students, faculty and staff on the Springfield campus.
But I thought I'd better run it by you first and get your blessing, along
with comments and suggestions (!), before getting too far along with the
planning. We would do it during our last class period, at 2:30 p.m.,
Thursday, May 3, and I imagine it would last 20 minutes to a half hour.

So here's a preliminary draft, abelow the 3-em dash, subject to changes I'll
solicit from the students in class Tuesday. Please let me know what you

Thx a million!

- Pete


Students, faculty and members of the administration at Benedictine
University at Springfield are invited to the presentation of "Bulldog
Bytes," a magazine on physical fitness opportunities for BenU-Springfield
students. The magazine was planned, written, edited and produced by students
in Communications 353 (advanced seminar - magazine editing). The
presentation will be at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3, in the computer lab at
Dawson 220. The magazine xxx [I think the students should supply this

Students in COMM 353 are Nick Jachino, John McCarthy, Robyn Nadziejko,
Stacie Taylor and Van Wirth. Instructor is Pete Ellertsen.


john -
1. explain why BB sted lit j
2. format – nitche journal – but widely accessible

stacie = editing [process cf. what we read. sked. deadlines. troubles.
simple process – what we learned – collective

mass email –
invididual – announce in other classes –

ideas for blast email --

STUDENTS will give a presentation of the process and reflect on how the final product came together. The magazine -- sports we’ve got, what’s going on in town – local events – exercise – new stuff on and around campus.
We look forward to seeing you. For more information, please contact – oh, for more information, just come to the presentation!
athletics on- and off-campus –
mini-workouts for the athletic mind.

COMM 353: Deadlines and due dates, expiration of grace period for Thurber paper

While we were putting Bulldog Bytes to bed, I've been quietly extending the deadline for your papers on James Thurber's "Years With Ross." I figured, as I said in class a couple of times, your time was better spent working on the magazine. Today, however, we're finished with the magazine. So that reasoning no longer holds, and the paper is now due at the beginning of class Thursday, May 19. Here are the new dates for the paper:
  • Papers that have been turned in to me by the beginning of class today will receive 10 extra points on top of the grade I assign for the paper.
  • Papers that are turned in by the beginning of class Thursday will receive the grade I assign them, with no points added or deducted.
  • Papers that are turned in by class on Tuesday, April 24, will have 10 points deducted from their grade.
  • Papers turned in by class Thursday, April 26, will have 20 points deducted.
  • Papers turned in by class Tuesday, May 1, will have 40 points deducted.
  • Papers turned in by class Thursday, May 3, will have 50 points deducted.
You should be aware that my patience with late papers is now exhausted. You can turn in the papers by emailing them to me and/or giving me the hard copy in class. Preferably both.

Due dates for final self-reflective essay. I hope to have an assignment sheet (or essay prompt) posted to the Mackerel Wrapper by class on Thursday, April 19, and the paper itself will be due on Thursday, May 1, the last day of class. As I said in class last week, the essay will be like a five- to eight-page version of "Question 2" on my final exams (which have been posted to the blog since 2006): What did you know about magazine editing before you took COMM 353? What did you learn? What do you know now? What surprised you? What did you get from the mix of theory and practice in the course? What can you take with you as you continue your careers as students, writers, editors and/or communications professionals?

About Me

Springfield (Ill.), United States
I'm a retired English, journalism and cultural studies teacher at Springfield College in Illinois (acquired by Benedictine University and subsequently closed). I coordinate jam sessions for the "Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music" at Clayville Historic Site and the Prairieland Strings dulcimer club, and I sing in the choir and the contemporary praise team at Peace Lutheran Church in Springfield. On Hogfiddle I post links and video clips for our sessions and workshops on the mountain dulcimer (a.k.a. "hog fiddle"), as well as research notes on folklore and cultural studies, hymnody and traditional Anglo-Celtic and Scandinavian music. I also posted assignments and readings in my interdisciplinary humanities classes. The Mackerel Wrapper (now on hiatus), carried assignments and readings for my mass comm. students. I started teaching b/log when I chaired SCI-Benedictine's assessment committee, and reopened it as the privatization of public schools grew increasingly troubling and closer to home.