Golden grizzlies have positive outlook going into the softball season

Oakland University’s softball program has seen its fair share of changes during the off-season, most notably the hiring of a new head coach, Connie Miner.

Miner replaces LaDonia Hughes, who left the program last year following a 10-38 season. The Grizzlies were just 27-67 in Hughes’ two years at the helm.

Miner has previous head coaching experience at Eastern Michigan, San Jose State and the University of California Riverside.

When assessing the team, Miner believes the area with the biggest room for improvement over last year is pitching.

“Our ERA last year was around 6.50 last season and it’s very tough to win games when you are giving up that many runs a game,” she said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the defense and the offense to score a lot of runs.”

Looking to improve play in the pitching circle are freshmen recruits Laura Pond, Erin Kownacki and Sarah Hartley. Each had a strong fall season for the team.

Junior catcher/outfielder Erika Polidori said she expects the freshmen newcomers should be able to contribute early on.

“We have two freshmen pitchers coming in who look like they’re going to play a lot of innings and games,” Polidori, a nursing major, said. “We have a lot of freshmen who are going to look to start and they’re going to bring something special to the team I think.”

Miner also said they need more of the team to hit .300 this year so as to not put the pressure on any one group of players to perform every game

Polidori said Miner has spent a lot of time on the mental aspect of the game with the team.

“She’s done a lot of team building things, a lot of confidence building things, worked a lot on our skills obviously,” said Polidori.

Polidori said she thought the team beat itself a lot last year by letting mistakes pile up until they couldn’t overcome them. She said this year the team has renewed confidence.

“This year it’s going to be having the confidence and knowing that we are good enough to win a lot more games and have a much better record and have the chance to make it to the Summit League conference tournament,” she said.

Being competitive in the Summit League was a goal both Polidori and her coach emphasized.

“Hopefully I can instill in the team to have faith and believe that at the end of the year they will be in a position to get into the tournament because you can do anything if you believe something and have faith in it,” Miner said.

Miner said she will have to hit the ground running on recruiting. The late timing of her hiring means she will have some catching up to do.

“In softball, people are already looking at recruits for the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes, so coming here I know I am already behind in recruiting some of the best players in the state of Michigan,” she said. “Of course there are kids who will develop later or fall through the cracks but because of the experiences I do not panic about recruiting like a younger coach might.”

Assistant Athletic Director for Development Gordie Lindsay said Miner was hired in part because of her ability to build a program.

“She has built two programs that were similar to ours in Eastern Michigan and UC-Riverside and had tremendous success while coaching several all-conference and conference players of the year,” Lindsay said. “She has a true passion for the sport and has a lot of experience that will help guide this program for years to come.”

In terms of strategy, Miner’s approach is varied.

“I’m not one-dimensional, I like to have a fast team but you also need players who can hit them in so I use small ball and power ball,” she said. “I think you have to take advantage of what the defense gives you.”

In addition to the freshmen, Miner expects continued success for two-time All Summit League selections Polidori and senior second baseman/third baseman Erin Galloway.

Miner said sophomore Jackie Kisman should play well, coming off a strong freshman campaign.

Brittany Prior, a junior, hit the ball really well in the fall, Miner said.

She said junior Shannon Cleveland has taken her coaching tips well and is working to improve her game next season. Junior Chelsea Carena had a good fall season as well.

Oakland opens up the season down south after spring break.

Click here  for a rapidfire audio session with Erika Polidori.

Sports officiating not totally above board?

I've been saying for years that officiating in the NBA is a little suspect. I shouted vindication from the mountaintop when referee Tim Donaghy was found to be entangled in a betting scandal. Now I would never report something without substantiation of course, but what happens when a reporter knows they heard something and can't prove it. This exact situation happened to Associated Press reporter Jon Krawczynski last year.

Krawczynski was covering the Minnesota Timberwolves (I can't think of a worse basketball assignment) when he overheard referee Bill Spooner promise Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis

a makeup call. He tweeted it.

"Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he'd 'get it back' after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That's NBA officiating folks."

The problem was it became a case of he said, he said. Spooner filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming he made no such promise to Rambis.

This is a classic case where the reporter would've been saved had he only followed my cardinal rule: record everything.

Obviously you will have a hard time getting some subjects to agree to this, but most people will understand it is to their advantage to be recorded. You can certainly get more words down on a recording faster than you can in a reporter's notebook. This in turn leads to a much smaller chance of misquoting someone or writing a quote down in the wrong context.

This reminds me a bit of the Boy Scout rule. Always be prepared. Keep the mic hot at all times because you never know what might come up. It occurs to me you might have trouble getting an audio recorder in to the arena because of the broadcasting rules set up by sports leagues, but at the same time in this case he would only be recorded what was within earshot.

As a journalist, it's important to bring ammunition to back up your point.

The verdict is in: Databases (might be) useful

The Oakland Post is a good training ground for any Oakland University student majoring in journalism, and it's generally a fun paper to work for as well. This story I'm about to tell was not one of those fun instances.

Last July the New York Times and several others ran articles about a study saying that the practice of college grade inflation was on the rise. "A" grades were being given in 43% of cases.

I decided I wanted to get an Oakland angle on this story. The university publishes grade reports by semester.

The problem with Oakland's databases is that they are actually Excel spreadsheets. This does not make the data easily sortable and there's a lot of manually clicking on the numbers to do math.

Nevertheless, I pressed on with this one. Maybe I saw a portfolio piece (one of my six clips I need to graduate from the journalism program here). Maybe I'm just a journalism masochist.

Through a painstakingly long process, I was able to determine that for both winter 2005 and winter 2010, OU's numbers for A’s given was theoretically higher than the national average.

That's right. I just broke a cardinal rule in journalism. I used a bailout word. Why do I say "theoretically"?

None of the articles I saw on this actually listed the study authors’ definition of an A. Is it strictly 4.0? Is it anywhere between 3.6 and 4.0, the "A range." I actually attempted to look into this again for the purpose of this blog post, but it appears that the publishers of studies don't believe quite as strongly as journalists that information should be free.

Even if I had a solid definition of what was considered an A grade, at some point between 2005 and 2011 Oakland just started lumping all grades between 3.6-4.0 together for statistical tracking purposes. This means that if the authors had only tracked perfect GPAs it would have been impossible to make a fair comparison.

At some point, I would like to take another stab at this particular story if I can figure out how to do it. One of the interesting things I noticed was there were certain classes where 95 or 100 percent of the class got a grade in the A range. I noticed this a lot in some of the art classes, where one might think it would be very difficult to objectively grade something. In comparison, there were times when there was no one in the A range in the upper-level science classes. One could look into what makes those so hard.

Databases can be useful, but you have to make sure they actually tell you the information you're looking for.

Egyptian revolution shows power of social media

Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, used Facebook and Twitter to help lead a revolution in Egypt that led to the resignation of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. In an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Ghonim said he was inspired by the uprising in Tunisia. He was further enraged by police forces' treatment of Khaled Said, a man beaten to death (WARNING: GRAPHIC FOOTAGE) for criticism of government corruption, his family and friends said.

Ghonim started a Facebook page in response titled "We Are All Khaled Said." He encouraged followers to make signs with the slogan as a way of getting people engaged in the movement.

Ghonim was eventually kidnapped and detained by Egyptian authorities for 11 days, but thanks to activism on Facebook and Twitter the movement was able to continue in his absence.

He resists taking too much credit for the campaign because in his eyes all he did was open lines of communication. In an interview with Harry Smith of "60 Minutes," Ghonim said:

Our revolution is like Wikipedia, okay? Everyone is contributing content, [but] you don't know the names of the people contributing the content. This is exactly what happened. Revolution 2.0 in Egypt was exactly the same. Everyone contributing small pieces, bits and pieces. We drew this whole picture of a revolution. And no one is the hero in that picture.

While certainly not on the scale of the Arab spring, I can personally attest to the communicative power of social media, particularly Twitter.

One seemingly innocuous tweet turned into a pretty big scoop for then Oakland Post Managing Content Editor Nichole Seguin and I.

So the @oaklandu residence hall showrooms have been converted into actual rooms. Clearly, this is a sign that we need more residence halls.

This person requested that they be left out of any eventual story because of their position as an RA in the housing department.  I've chosen to leave the name undisclosed here as well.

After following up, that tweet eventually became this Oakland Post cover story.

It wasn't the Egyptian revolution, but it did prove the power of social media as an important communication platform.

The path from "Blogs to Riches"

Clive Thompson's 2006 piece for New York Magazine, "Blogs to Riches," takes a look at what separates those few moneymakers in the blogosphere from the mountain of blogs struggling to get by or not making any money at all. Part of the answer is blood, sweat and tears. The key lies in posting as often as you can and beating the competition. Something else is necessary too though.

Good journalism.

Elizabeth Spiers, a former gossip blogger, now thinks the future of the medium lies somewhere between the individualism of writers found in the blogging community and a more traditional journalistic approach. She says:

Blogging is increasingly becoming a survival of the fittest—and that all boils down to who has the best content. The blogs that are going to stand out are the ones who break news and have credibility.

Six years later, Spiers appears to have hit on something.

Most of the blogs within Technorati's top 25 would probably be best categorized as either news or news aggregation blogs. Some of the blogs are even operated by more traditional legacy media outlets.

Going further still, this Pro Publica piece links to an AP report, giving the reader further information on the subject.

Respected sites linking to each other add credibility to posts and create an environment where journalists link to the best information from other journalists.

Blogging is no doubt a modern day example of the "marketplace of ideas" theory. Everyone has a voice. However, eventually the best work rises to the top. Readers develop a trust in certain sources.

Put simply, people always want the best. If they had no hometown affiliation, I'm sure a basketball fan would much rather see the 30-8 Bulls than the 12-26 Pistons.

Journalism, and its cousin the blog, are no exception to the rule. Credibility leads to trust and readership. Readership leads to advertising dollars.

That's the path from blogs to riches.

Five tweet tips for good photos and slideshows

Here's my list of a few basics. 1. Take shots from wide, medium and close perspectives.

Variety keeps things interesting, and photography is no different.  No one is going to look at photos that are taken from the same distance and angle.  It's boring.  I'm no great photographer, but I do vary distances and angles in this slideshow.

2. Make sure the pictures match the audio.

This seems obvious, but it is nevertheless something that needs to be looked out for.  In audio slideshows, make sure you get pictures of the things your subject is talking about.

3. A picture should be on the screen no more than five seconds.

Zac Efron

Just because some of you J school girls think this is the dreamiest picture of Zac Efron doesn't mean everyone that comes to your site to view an informational slideshow about him wants to stare at that picture for 30 seconds.  Make sure you have enough photos.  That's my friendly tip, because we're all in this together.

4. When all else fails with a camera, read the manual. This will help you take full advantage of the functionality.

If you're prone to losing such things, you can usually find your manual online.

5. Make sure to always brace yourself so the camera is steady and immobile in your hands.

When shooting your niece's birthday party, you don't want the photos to look like an earthquake disaster flick.

Facebook IPO Filing

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg would like you to confirm his friend request.  Okay, not really.  What he does want is your money. Facebook recently announced its intention to go public.  This should have no effect on users of the site.  There is no reason Facebook wouldn't continue to innovate at the frenetic pace it always has, infuriating some by changing its user interface every other second.

Investors however, should be and are watching closely.

Facebook is just a new player in a growing world of public tech startups. Groupon, a startup that offers users discounts on things like restaurants and show tickets, has yet to turn a profit.  Facebook is turning a profit, but I wonder how long that can continue.

I know companies like Facebook and Google make their revenue off of ads.  Yet, this almost doesn't pass the sniff test.

Sure, Facebook's ads are highly targeted by virtue of how much users share on the service.  At the same time however, the ads are so small on the right side of the page that it's hard to believe companies are paying that much for them.

Perhaps the best thing to do is wait and see.  Things have worked out okay for Google so far.

The Long Tail and Its Relevance in the Digital Age

Chris Anderson's article on the "Long Tail" holds more relevance today than it did when he wrote it six years ago.  The basic premise of the article is that with the rise of services offering digital publishing of content that could previously only be found in physical media, it has become easier for an independent publisher to get their contents seen. Perhaps the easiest way to explain the phenomenon is to look at what's going on in digital music sales.  With the emergence of iTunes and Amazon over the last decade as major players in the music retail space, consumers have been given more choices than ever before.  Both iTunes and Amazon will offer recommendations based upon your purchasing habits.  If you buy one of those recommended tracks, the process continues.  Within three clicks, you could go from the hot new Jason Mraz single to a catchy track from an independent piano pop band from Windsor, Canada  just getting its start.  (I recommend “Eighty Eight Keys.”)  This trend should continue as digital music sales just surpassed those of their physical counterparts for the first time ever.

The theory doesn't just hold true for music.  Various services have popped up all over the Internet to publish books for practically nothing.  Apple recently jumped into the fray in a big way by offering its iBooks Author program for free to anyone with a Mac.

Free blogs like this one are leading to more independent journalism.

Slate: Impressions of an Independent Journalism Site

Slate is an independent online news site.  For the purposes of comparison, I've chosen to look at how the same topic was covered on Slate and on the New York Times, a legacy news operation.  President Obama gave a speech at the University of Michigan today on his plan to stem the tide of rising college tuition costs. The New York Times article is very thoroughly sourced and highly technical in terms of how the plan would affect students and taxpayers.  The reporter included quotes from Obama's speech and talked to various officials within his administration.  Also included were a couple of higher education experts.

The Slate article is probably more digestible for Web audiences because it's much shorter.  It's a quick synopsis.  They reference a Washington Post article, something that would probably not normally happen at traditional media outlets.

Also, from a usability standpoint, the Slate interface is much more web friendly.  Articles are teased slideshow style and everything on the front page has a photo.  The New York Times appears to have tried to copy and paste the newspaper format onto the website.  While retaining a somewhat traditional look, it has the effect of making things jumbled on the front page.  There are very few pictures to draw your eye in.