Asako’s story – the incredible history I almost overlooked for four years at FSU

Asako Mazawa, a senior history major in FSU's class of '98, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1997.

Asako Mazawa, a senior history major in FSU’s class of ’98, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1997.

A few weeks back, word started trickling in that a memorial housing the ashes of a deceased student was in the way of the upcoming expansion of an academic building – a multimillion dollar project years in the making, and already embroiled in controversy over the resulting loss of dozens of on-campus trees. The plans had already been made, bright orange lines spray-painted along the grass and front-loaders, presumably, ordered to start digging after graduation, when we started getting tips.

School officials, we were hearing , somehow didn’t realize until much too late that a garden in the center of the campus – one fitted with a plaque, a small statue, some plants and a tall cherry tree – had buried in it a tiny metal urn, placed there in 1999 by the father of Asako Mazawa, a Japanese international student killed in a motorcycle accident two years earlier.

Asako's memorial is right in the heart of campus - I passed by it just about every day of my college career.

Asako’s memorial is right in the heart of campus – I passed by it just about every day of my college career.

After a few faculty members pointed out that the garden was more than just a memorial – one that could be dug up and replanted somewhere else, administrators started scrambling to make right. They called the Mazawa family in Japan through a Boston-based consulate, admitted their oversight, and sought the help of our on-campus chaplain to arrange for a proper removal and a future re-dedication ceremony.

I had panicked at first, worrying about the consequences might be, and, as always, began to imagine what our headlines might read when we ran with the story. In the end, though, we came to a realization: overlooking the significance of the memorial was a mistake, yes, but it could have been much worse.

By Friday’s paper, we no longer had an awful controversy on our hands. What we did have was an incredible story. I’d walked by that memorial almost every day of my college career, but had never really stopped to think about what, or who, it was for. Until now.

Asako's book, written by her father Y

Asako’s book, written by her father Yoichi

I spent the last week or so scouring the Internet and the FSU archives, learning everything I could about Asako – beginning with her journey to the U.S. and ending with the far-reaching impact of  her controversial decision to become an organ donor. Asako, I learned, shattered a long-held taboo in Japanese culture surrounding organ donation, helping to save or improve the lives of six people who benefited from her donated heart, kidney, lungs and corneas. At her memorial dedication ceremony, those recipients made an appearance to pay their respects and to thank her family, who had flown in for the occasion, for Asako’s generosity. The story of her life, written by her father Yoichi in a book bearing her name, has been reprinted in Japan in English language textbooks.  In 2000, her father founded the Japan Donor Family Club in her honor, and since 2002, Japan has recognized Bridge of Life day, dedicated to promoting and supporting organ donation in that country.

In short, for years, I had been completely unaware of the legacy of a remarkable student, and, just as school administrators had done, I had almost allowed the significance of the memorial in our midst to slip by. I’m glad I was able to spread the word about Asako in the last issue of The Gatepost – in what would be my very last GP article. And I’ll let this whole experience be a reminder that some of the most incredible stories, on a college campus or elsewhere, are right there in front of us, just waiting to be told.

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“First-year” or “freshman”?

Should the student pictured in the "college freshman" meme be labeled "first-year?"

Should the student pictured in the “college freshman” meme be called a “first-year?”

Writing for the University of Vermont student newspaper The Cynic, Michael Farley argued in 2010 that the publication should adopt the word “first year” to refer to students in their first year of college to replace “freshman,” the standard vernacular of just about everyone, but, some would say, a term inextricably tied to gender.

He writes:

Anyway, the whole issue stems from a few ideas that UVM students are neither “fresh” and, perhaps the most important part, half of them aren’t men. The term freshman, apparently, dates back to when only men attended college and incoming students were, thus, a “fresh man.”

The Cynic is protected under the First Amendment to print a variety of obscenities — vulgar language, racial epithets, ethnic slurs, pornography, etc. Yet we choose not to publish such language because it is inappropriate for public discourse.

If The Cynic strives to be a progressive publication, it should follow the lead of the University and adopt “first year” as the appropriate term — there is no place for biased language in the 21st century, however subtle it may be.

At Framingham State, school officials use “first-year,” but The Gatepost has yet to come down on the issue. This summer, while I’m working with our new EIC to plan for next year, I plan to bring it up. Personally, I also think we ought to be looking at the impact our word choices have – like Michael said, “however subtle [they] may be,” and at a school that’s roughly 70 percent women, like ours is, “freshman” is certainly not quite accurate, even if that’s what just about everyone – male and female students – is still saying.

I’ll leave that up to our incoming editor to decide which word we’ll use going forward.

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Behind the Gatepost Editorial

Last week, we got word that The Gatepost Editorial, our weekly unsigned column on all things Framingham State, won a national Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award. We’ve won regional SPJ awards (Region 1, ours, is made up of New England and the mid-Atlantic states), but this is the first national prize in our history.

As EIC, I’m responsible for writing the Editorial week after week on behalf of The Gatepost staff, but in no way do I pretend to be responsible for making the column as successful as it has been. The student newsroom operates like a well-oiled haphazardly functional machine – it has to – and basically nothing happens without significant support, input, back-breakingly hard work and more than a fair share of “shoeleather” along the way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about just how much work each and every editor puts into the Editorial, and all the related support I just mentioned notwithstanding, the Gatepost Editorial is a collaborative process in the following ways. By my count, it’s a six step process, and I’ll use our Pathways story as an example.

Step one: Cover the campus attentively and aggressively, following every lead and asking the tough questions – therein lies editorial gold.

Example: We dispatched one editor on what we thought was a simple story – answering the question: how does our school recruit students? What we discovered was the Pathways story – an expose about what we discovered to be a veritable abomination of a recruitment practice and a deathtrap for under-prepared admitted students. Here’s the story – Half of Pathways students failed “challenge semester – and the saber-toothed editorial that accompanied it – A Pathway to failure, which was one of our three award-winners. Had we not pursued that story and reported it fully, we never would have had something to write about.

Step two: Take the temperature of the campus, determine what students would care about and what they would want to change. We do this at our weekly e-board meetings – time we spend sitting around a round table determining the big issue of the week. Everyone contributes, people agree or disagree, and we come up with an angle together.

Example: We knew that Pathways was not a good move for the school, but needed to think about the student angle. The program allowed students who didn’t meet the school’s admission requirements to attend FSU, but those students could only stay if they could meet drastically more difficult GPA requirements their first semester. I won’t dive too deep into the issue here, but what we confronted was the possibility that our readers would think we were attacking fellow students, and critiquing them for being less qualified. We decided that we needed to make it clear that it was administrators’ decisions we needed to criticize, not students themselves. They couldn’t help it now that their grades weren’t quite there in high school, but the fact that they were setting up for, as we said, “failure,” was a serious problem, so that’s where we focused.

Step three: Write down everything everyone has to say, and work their ideas into the final product.

I can’t remember specifically who said what, but in our discussion about Pathways, everyone had something to say – some angle they found particularly disturbing about the policy. And at e-board, we wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to share their views, and have them discussed out loud. Our advisor calls the product of these discussions – the best-phrased sentences and points – Gatepost Editorial-ese. Sometimes, we’ve learned, the strongest sentences are ones uttered almost by accident – fiery critiques, pithy asides and snarky digs – and if the EIC isn’t there to catch them and scribble them on a steno pad, they could be lost forever. Every week, I made sure I got every bit of insight written down. The best stuff printed on Friday.

Step four: When necessary, put the most controversial issues to a vote. The unsigned Editorial is written as the majority opinion of the Gatepost e-board, and when we don’t have that majority, we can’t, in good conscience, run it.

This came up in the weeks before the November elections last year. Support for Obama’s second term was nearly unanimous, but the Warren-Brown race for the U.S. Senate was too close to call. So, we passed around paper ballots, and asked editors to write their picks anonymously. The result was a slim majority of Warren supporters, but when we talked about it, that really didn’t feel like enough to dedicate an editorial to her. So we didn’t. Instead, we invited editors to write signed pro Brown or Warren editorials – two of whom did, which you can read here and here – and retained the paper’s impartiality on the Senate race, and our integrity, in the process.

Step five: Invite editors to write grafs or chunks of text for consideration and inclusion. I did this every week, and sometimes, I’d get several emails worth of opinions to include. Other times, I would get few or even none. The best Editorials, though, were the ones that got editors fired up enough to opine about them out loud or in print.

Step six: Write! And hope for the best. We did that every week, and couldn’t be more happy with the result.

Just a general note, by the way: Before you graduate, write a letter to your student newspaper! Never let a good idea about how to make your campus better die at the cafeteria table, so to speak. The power of the written word is not to be understated – administrators read student newspapers very closely – or, at least, they should. When necessary, let ‘em have it!

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My last Gatepost Sunrise

sunrisepicThe Gatepost Sunrise. It’s been a tradition firmly rooted in the consciousness of FSU newspaper editors for generations. After long – ridiculously long – nights in the office finalizing articles, editing pictures and laying out pages, the sun inevitably rises (hopefully just before or after deadline). Each is worn like a badge of honor bestowed on only the most dedicated student journo volunteers, and according to Gatepost lore, you can’t join the paper’s family until you’ve experienced one.

And this week, I saw my last one.

The picture on the right was snapped by incoming EIC Kerrin Murray, a good friend of mine who I know will go on to do great things with The Gatepost after I graduate. Captured at roughly 7:45 in the morning, it immortalized a moment we all knew would be significant. Once I crossed the threshold of the office late that night/early that morning, we decided, I would officially hand the reins to Kerrin. “Once I step over this line, you don’t have to listen to me anymore,” I said.

I stood there for what I think was two minutes, happy to be done with my last-ever Gatepost, but struck by how sad it was that I’d be leaving.

It’d be a cliche to say the moment was bittersweet – and I’ve spent the last four years dodging them like the plague – but that’s what it was.

Like any student journalist, or most, at least, it’s hard to say exactly what the coming years will hold for me. But I’ll never forget my years at The Gatepost – and I’ll never forget my last Gatepost Sunrise.

 

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Is newspaper reporter really the worst job out there?

Average salaries for journalism-related jobs. News reporter's average $35,000, according to Indeed.com

Average salaries for journalism-related jobs. News reporters average $35,000, according to Indeed.com

If you’re reading it here for the first time, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention. Being a journalist, in many ways, is kind of terrible.

The pay isn’t great, it’s pull-out-your-hair stressful, the hours are sub-human, and roughly half of your readership will hate your guts on at least one occasion (if you’re doing it right, that is).

But as if journos needed anyone to tell them about how bad it is to do what we do, CareerCast figured they would rub it in a bit, placing “newspaper reporter” at the top of their list of Worst Jobs of 2013. Last year, it was fifth worst.

By CareerCast’s assessment, “Ever-shrinking newsrooms, dwindling budgets and competition from Internet businesses have created very difficult conditions for newspaper reporters.” Any by their assessment, that makes working for a newspaper worse than being a lumberjack, a soldier, or an actor – worst jobs numbers 2, 3 and 4.

Journalists, predictably, were not convinced. Although you can bet it’s been a hot topic in newsrooms and whiskey purveyors around the country over the last two weeks.

Some, like Phoenix Business Journal Managing Editor Patrick O’Grady, deflected accusations by pointing out that so many people who report the news aren’t actually “newspaper reporters” anymore, per se.

“I’m not just a newspaper reporter. I haven’t been one for the better part of a decade. Think about where you’re reading this. You’re not reading this in a newspaper, are you?”

Beth Kassab, local news columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, offered a list of 10 reasons why being a newspaper reporter actually rules. It’s great, and worth a read, but here are numbers 10 and 1:

10. Variety. At what other job can you write about backyard chickens, gun violence and teacher evaluations — all in one week?

1. Making a difference. Two recent examples: The Sentinel’s reporting on hazing at Florida A&M University led to the university president’s resignation. More recently, a judge suspended Orange County’s home-confinement program after our report of repeated violations by a man accused of committing murder while under program supervision.

“I’ll take this job over an actuary any day,” Kassab writes. Actuary, for the record, is CareerCast’s #1 job, for sort-of plausible reasons.

To try to wrap my head around why it is, exactly, I’ve chosen such a problematic profession, I asked two journos – one, a student journalist, the other a former newspaper reporter currently doing something a little bit less traditional – what they thought.

Above is an interview with Meghan Frick, a senior at Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina. Before landing a job at The News-Topic in Lenoire, N.C., Frick was Managing Editor, and later Social Media Editor at App State’s student newspaper The Appalachian. Frick is actually a public relations major at that school, but her passion lies in news, and she says she’s undeterred by CareerCast’s findings. She wrote a blog post ( Tired and broke, but news is not the worst job in the United States ) on the subject two weeks ago.

In it, she says she’s sticking with journalism “because of the fire”:

That survey can’t measure the passion and push and unexplainable fire that wakes you up in the morning, that pushes you through a 12-hour day, that moves your fingers on the keys and your pen across the notebook and keeps your head from dropping onto the desk.

You don’t do this for the money or the job security or the work environment. If you wanted any of that, you never would have done it, or you would have gotten out fast.

You do it because of the fire.

A few highlights from our talk

*On being berated by readers:

“I’m so glad I’m in a profession where someone cares enough to call me 25 times … furious that i didn’t include this thing in the article because that means they’re reading, and that means they care.”

*On whether news is a short-term gig:

“I don’ think that you should go in with the mindset that you’re going to leave, because I think that disconnects you from the future of the industry. I think that jounralists right now needs to be all-hands-on-deck, and people who are in journalism need to be thinking, ‘How are we gonna find a sustainable business model?'”

*On “journalist” as a loosely defined job title

“I feel particularly strongly about staying at a print newspaper. I would like to be in a more web-based, maybe social media-based role eventually, but where that role is is not really my number one concern. I would work for a newspaper. I would work for a website. I would work for a blog. For me, it’s the journalism that matters, not what you put it in.”

[Notes: In our conversation, Frick mentions an ill-advised, sleep deprived decision The Appalachian made while she was working for it. You can read an account of it on Jim Romenesko's blog here. Apologies, by the way, for mixing up Rochelle Gilken's story with that of Allyson Bird, the former Palm Beach Post reporter who wrote an earth-shattering mini-memoir on her decision to leave news, in our interview. I managed to mix up my notes mid-conversation, and neither of us noticed. Sorry, Meghan!]

Follow Meghan on Twitter at @FrickMeghan

Picture 9

Follow John on Twitter at @Draillih

And here’s an interview with John Hilliard, who worked previously as a community journalist in Massachusetts.

[Note: Before I interviewed John, I didn't exactly make it clear that I intended to publish his responses on the Internet - I know, I know: rookie mistake. As a result, John said some things in an earlier version that he didn't want included here. What follows is an updated, modified version of our email correspondence.]

*First, you worked as a newspaper reporter for a number of years. From your experiences, is it really the worst job out there?

I saw the CareerCast piece before. I think this is silly. There are serious problems in journalism (largely financial) right now, and a lot of people looking at ways to redefine the form and role of journalism, but something like this article is designed more for SEO placement & marketing than any meaningful discussion of those problems.

Also:

So short answer: No.

*What would you say are the best and worst parts about working as a newspaper reporter? Well, the newspaper reporter job is changing rapidly. When I started, there was a vestigial component that dealt with something called the “Information Superhighway” and now print journalists are being trained to code in HTML, be able to create and use SQL databases for research, be as effective with video and audio as you are with the written word and continue transitioning into an all-digital field. The older model of working in a newsroom with old coffee late into the night is quickly fading in favor of a reporter filing a story remotely from a meeting room or news event, pushing video / audio/ slideshows onto a website and being extremely reactive to breaking news. I think it’s more demanding now, but I also worry about whether in the transition that journalists might lose the opportunity for longer, more thoughtful/researched work. Investigative reporting comes to mind as a casualty of always-on reporting.


*When did you first realize you wanted to work in journalism? Can you remember a moment when it finally hit you that you wanted to write for a living?

Always liked it. Can’t say there was an ‘ah-ha’ moment.


*With the quote-unquote “decline of print journalism” upon us, are student journalists who work in the print medium – say, for their student newspaper – wasting their time?

No, not at all. The primary thing is watching how the field changes. It’s too simplistic to say print news is dying – much of the news content produced for the web originated from a print pub’s website. Now, are they financially solvent – that’s another issue. But for undergrad journalism students, be curious. Listen to how radio news assembles their stories, watch documentarians for similar tips on video. Learn to shoot well with still and video cameras. Learn how to record clean audio. Start your own podcast. Every edge you give yourself will help. And all of those new experiences will make you a better writer.

OK. It’s no secret that it’s tough to be a news reporter these days, but, personally, “studies” like these along with rants from nay-sayers and smug offhand comments about the “decline of newspapers,” are not enough to scare me away from doing the work that I do care so deeply about, and in which I’ve invested so much of my sweat and blood already.

You know what else is “bad,” objectively?

Staying up until 6 in the morning putting a newspaper together when I’ve got class in the morning is bad.

Being persona non grata with legions of students who disliked our coverage is bad.

Missing out on pick-up Frisbee sessions and birthday parties, and constantly skipping on seeing my favorite bands play in Boston because I have to make sure the paper comes out every week is bad.

Working full-time for a student publication for no pay is bad.

But I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t absolutely love it – the rush of breaking news, the satisfaction of putting in the hard work for articles and editorials about important issues, the sense of accomplishment I feel every Friday when, come Hell or high water, The Gatepost comes out.

So far, my affair with journalism, “student” and otherwise, has been a love story. And when I graduate – despite the snarky determinations of outsiders who don’t know what it’s like to do what journalists do – I hope it goes on. I still dream of being a professional news reporter, and I’m willing to make sacrifices – financial, psychological and otherwise – to do it.

Worst job out there? No way.

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The final Friday – an interview with UMass Amherst Daily Collegian EIC Katie Landeck

The Daily Collegian's final Friday edition, featuring a cover story on local beer brewers, ran last week.

The Daily Collegian’s final Friday edition, featuring a cover story on local beer brewers, ran last week.

Looks like “real world” newspapers aren’t the only ones taking a hit due to shrinking ad revenue.

This week, the UMass Amherst Daily Collegian ran its final Friday edition, ending a decades-long tradition of publishing its paper all five weekdays.

“Between the loan the newspaper has to pay off to the Student Government Association, the cost of printing and a decline in Friday’s advertising revenue,” Collegian EIC Katie Landeck writes in a letter from the editor published Friday, “we just couldn’t afford to keep printing it in the long term.” The Collegian is fully independent, relying on ad money exclusively.

Response from the UMass community – both current and former students – has been mixed. Some are supportive and understanding of the move:

“As a former Editor-in-Chief,” writes one commenter. “I can understand how difficult this decision was to make. I can also understand the pressures the Collegian faces to remain independent, and financially solvent in a world where print media is dying. When my executive board made the decision to accept funding from the SGA we were attempting to correct years of poor financial decisions, and rapidly shrinking advertising revenue.”

Others have taken the opportunity to decry the inevitable demise of print media less eloquently: “Not surprised,” writes another commenter. “News is dead.”

But Landeck is undeterred by the decision her e-board begrudgingly reached after what she called “months of debate.” She says she’s a news reporter, and always will be, even as the so-called death of newspapers has hit home.

You say in a letter from the editor that you applied to UMass because you wanted to work for a daily newspaper. What attracted you to the idea of campus daily?

I have been telling people since I was seven that when I grew up I was going to be a reporter. And at the age of seven, a reporter was somebody who worked for a newspaper. When it came time to apply for colleges, I was still thinking the exact same way. I don’t know if you have ever been to UMass or not, but it’s a pretty ugly campus. I had been telling people years I would go to any college that was not UMass. But on my visit, my mother made the calculated move of bringing me to the Collegian offices. She said it was the happiest I looked at any college I visited. Working for a daily was so important to me because I wanted to have some clue as to what the real world of journalism would be like, and the real world published daily.

When did your staff first start talking about cutting the Friday paper, and what were the signs you were starting to see? What was the final straw, so to speak, that led to your e-board’s decision?

Around February our business room came out with this chart, and it showed our revenue just plummeting. Down down down. It’s a really depressing graph. At the same time we were shown the graph the business room unveiled their master plan: we would cut the Friday paper which only makes 8 percent of our total revenue (we are funded entirely by ads) and save $32,000. Enough to keep the rest of the paper afloat no problem. The people who work on our finances were sure this was the way to go from the beginning. The people who work more in print – like me – were not as sure. I spent months  trying to find ways around it. We talked about just cutting circulation. We talked about doing a once a month magazine version of the tabloid (that would not be printed on glossy paper, but on tabloid style newspaper) that could focus on certain things like health and beauty to try to target those businesses to raise advertising revenue. We talked about salary cuts. We tried to come up with more ideas. But every idea we came up with, we realized was a long shot and would hard to effectively implement. So eventually, we just had to cut it.

You also say in your letter that there were arguments on both sides of the issue – those for the move and those opposed to it. What were the arguments for keeping the Friday edition?

There are so many reasons to keep the Friday paper. News breaks on Thursday. This year we had two rape stories break on a Thursday as well as a student death. If that happens again, we will be forced to cover it online and redraft for print later (which is common in the industry but not ideal). We could have kept it so that we remain a true daily. We could have kept it to keep the legacy going. We could have kept it to keep our hiring process the same (the sections usually have four assistants. Now they will have three thus eliminating a spot). The only reason to get rid of it was the finances.

Have you heard from any alums about the move? What have they been saying?

The alumni have been very kind. I have gotten emails from a few of them and lots of comments on the letter, and they have all been supportive and understanding. No one has blamed us or criticized us for the decision. In fact, almost all of them have told me not to blame myself.

What kind of role does the Collegian play in the lives of UMass students, and do you worry about the relationship between the paper and students changing?

That is a really good question and one I haven’t thought much about. I’m not sure. All I can do is hope they keep reading I guess.

Why do you think so many college dailies are having to cut down on their print run? Do you expect this trend to continue?

College dailies have changed their print schedule for several reasons. Last year out west, one paper switched from a daily to twice a week with a greater focus on web, not because of finances but because they wanted to have the time to put a greater emphasis on web. The editor of the local paper actually advised me to cut the Friday paper regardless of finances, saying that student newspapers should be focused on figuring out innovative ways to use the web. In my experience so far, running a website effectively is all based on how well you use social media. Without effective use of social media, no one will ever know you exist. And even with social media, the paper version is still your best advertisement for yourself.

As far as if other papers will continue to reduce their printing schedules, it’s possible. But it all depends on who you are and how you’re funded. For example, my best friend from high school is an editor at the Crimson at Harvard. I would be shocked if they cut their printing schedule. But if another state school did it, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. However, I don’t think the reason they cut it would necessarily be finances. It might be because they want to experiment with the web model.

Do your career aspirations include working for a newspaper? Does this shift have you rethinking a possible future in print?

I actually work with both print and radio. I was at a print journalist conference last year, and for some reason they decided to do a big seminar on radio. Why they did in that did that in a room of print people, I’m not sure. But I feel in love with it, and I now intern at my local NPR affiliate. So, I would do either job.

This summer, I am actually working in New Mexico at a print newspaper. It’s at a boy scout camp though, so I’m not sure if I count it as a newspaper or a newsletter. They call it a newspaper.

The Friday paper situation doesn’t change what I want to do. I am a news writer. I want to tell people’s stories. And, I think there will always be a place to do that.

Follow Katie on Twitter at @KatieLandeck

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Editorial Sound Board: Self-involvement journalism – “A day in the dark”

Last week, Gatepost Arts and Features Editor Talia Adry published her self-involvement journalism piece “A day in the dark: Navigating FSU’s campus without vision is no easy task,” for which she spent six hours walking around school with a blindfold on her eyes and a cane in her hands in hopes of capturing what it’s like to be a blind student.

I sat down with her this afternoon to discuss the motivations behind her approach, the difficulties she encountered and the message she hopes she conveyed. In the video above, Talia also shares a pretty useful tip for anyone else considering doing something similar.

Talia is a senior English major at Framingham State with a concentration in journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at @Talia_Adry.

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