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School’s out

June 1, 2017
My first day of school

My first day of school

A few months shy of 60 years ago I stated kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School in Reedley, California. I’ve been “in school” ever since. After today, school is finally out for good.

Today I retire from teaching.

From Lincoln I moved on to primary school at St. La Salle School and from there to Reedley High School. After earning my associate degree in journalism from Reedley College and spending one quarter at California State University Los Angeles I transferred over to Fresno State College (now officially California State University, Fresno) to earn my bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in mass communication.

By that time I was already on my second college teaching job. I started as a part-time journalism teacher at Reedley College and by then was teaching part time at Merced College. My first full-time teaching job came in 1980 at West Valley College in Saratoga, California. In 1997 I moved to Cerritos College. Twenty-plus years later I am retiring.

 

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JACC No. 1: Pacesetter, not pacemaker

April 23, 2017
A series of my most memorable moments with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.
 
While contributing to the model statewide transfer degree is my most significant contribution, my strongest emotional memory occurred at the 2010 state convention.
 
I woke up the third day of the convention with some chest pains. As the morning progressed they intensified. I decided to go back to my hotel room and get some rest. But before I could even call an elevator assistant conference chair Kelly Goff Whitney saw that I was in pain and dragged me into the convention headquarters room across the hallway.
 
Despite my protestations that I was okay, paramedics were called and I was carted away on a stretcher to the nearest hospital.
 
Was I having a heart attack? Well, no. They never did figure out what the cause of the pain was, but I spent several hours in the hospital until they could relieve the pain. I was released later in the day. I was ever grateful to my long-time friend Paul DeBolt for following me to the hospital and staying with me until my wife could join me.
 
I nonchalantly tried to sneak back into the convention later in the afternoon, but I was noticed. One of my first stops was to a back room where Curtis Corlew was busily collating all the awards information for the on-the-spot awards competitions taking place that day. He was using a database I created to ease the process and I wanted to check and make sure there were no problems. “It’s going okay,” he told me. “We’re almost done. Oh, and by the way, congratulations on the Pacesetter (award your students have won).”
 
Huh? In my wildest imagination I never considered my students would win enough mail-in and on-the-spot awards over the weekend to qualify for the organization’s sweepstakes award. That’s a tall order. But they had. Instead of my earning a pacemaker that day, my students earned a Pacesetter, the only one my students have ever earned. (And they didn’t crawl up on a hotel roof to change a marquee this time.)
 
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Thank you for sticking we me as I share memories of my teaching career. As I have worked on this series I have remembered other significant professional moments that just did not fit into the outline of this set of memories or of the top student newspaper issues I have advised. I have decided to do a third series on these professional moments
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JACC No. 2: My most significant contribution

April 23, 2017

A series of my most memorable moments with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

For as long as JACC has been around one of the key issues has been communicating with the universities –mostly California State University—and making sure the courses that we teach at the community college articulate.

While at one point a “gentleman’s agreement” was made between community colleges that 12 units of journalism at the community college would transfer to the universities. The sticking point is the student newspaper courses we teach at the community college. The universities reserve that for upper division and not all wanted to even transfer credit from our offerings as elective credit. Adding to that problem was the accreditation process through the Accrediting Council on Education of Journalism and Mass Communications, which looks at university programs nationally. Its process restricts the number of lower division journalism units that should be applied to a bachelor’s degree.

Over the years, as new technologies emerged and universities saw greater demands for the degree, which did not increase in overall academic units, more and more “must take” courses were added to upper division work. Room from them came at the expense of the lower division courses, including community college transfer units.

But not all CSU programs have sought ACJEMC accreditation and retained some flexibility. And there is pressure in California for the two systems to work together more closely in all disciplines, not just journalism. I have been involved with several statewide efforts over the years to help foster communication and argue for inclusion of the community college newspaper units, which are the lifeblood of most community college programs. Without the newspaper courses, many of the community colleges would simply not offer any journalism at all.

Many of our CSU journalism colleagues would agree that community college transfers greatly strengthen their upper division programs and would acknowledge the benefits of the newspaper courses those students took at their community colleges. But the extra lower division units cannot be substituted for upper division work, and thus carry baggage along with the benefits.

Then in 2010 the state legislature passed SB 1440 that required the two systems to work together to create fast track associate degrees in the top 35 transfer majors and to assure that students that followed the path of these majors had some guaranteed admission and registration pathways to similar CSU programs.

Journalism was low on that list, but it was there, and we successfully lobbied the California Community College Academic Senate to move us up in priority for developing a degree. We were already in contact with our university colleagues –had been more 30 for nearly 50 years—and were ready to go.

I chaired the group of community college and CSU faculty that formed the model curriculum degree and defined the courses, and what should be included in them. I also serve as the journalism discipline chair of the committee that reviews community college courses to make sure they are equivalent to those definitions, thus smoothing the transfer process. And, yes, the newspaper courses are a part of those degrees, but we have defined them in such a way to assure our university cousins that we understand these are lower division courses, not to be confused with their upper division courses. We even defined the degree in such a way to make it possible for ACJMCE-accredited programs can make their degree work without jeopardizing their accreditation if they want to.

Basically, we carefully codified that old 12-unit “gentleman’s agreement,” but this time with some teeth.

Of course, the degree is not perfect, and not all CSUs accept it. Part of the problem is that the universities themselves are not in full agreement of what should be included in their degrees and what should be upper-division work and what can be lower-division work.

I consider the work I have been able to assist in with this initiative to be the most significant contribution to journalism education I have ever made, both in getting the state academic senate to move up the priority and in developing a well-crafted model degree that CAN work for both systems.

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Previously: No. 10: The swimming race and the photo darkroom, No. 9: Getting a thesis topic, No. 8: Stories: Yosemite, The Shooter, Handcuffs, West Valley Rules, 7: Clearing out the Holiday Inn, 6: Creative thinking: Conversations with Wil and Timi, 5: Legal updates and Blue Heron, 4: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, 3: Honors.

 

Next: Pacesetter, not pacemaker

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JACC No. 3: Honors

April 22, 2017
JACC No. 3: HONORS
I owe a lot to JACC, from the early days when veteran advisers like Tom Kramer gave newbies like me advising advice to the support the organization gave me when my programs were in trouble. I’ve tried to give back, with interest.
And I certainly have felt appreciated by JACC in many ways for the work that I have contributed. Three particular occasions stand out: when I was honored with a lifetime achievement award and an award was named in my honor, when I stepped down from the board for the last time, and most recently this spring when they took a moment to recognize my retirement.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AND THE “CAMMIE”
Over the course of the years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the organization initiated a number of awards meant to recognize outstanding contributions to community college journalism education in California.
The first was the Distinguished Service to Journalism Education award for someone outside the organization –involved in the industry, involved at the university level, or retired from JACC—who had contributed in a significate way. The second was to name outstanding college administrators who had stood up for programs at their colleges. And the third was to recognize outstanding volunteer efforts from within the organization.
When the latter idea was floated with the organization, folks indicated that it would have to go to Rich Cameron. But that was not the point. I was on staff and on the board of directors. We wanted to recognize others. We established the Rich Cameron Outstanding Volunteer Award, later referred to some as the “Cammie.” It began in 2003.
This was flattering enough, but the board surprised me when it came time to hand out the award. It seems that the board members secretly voted to also honor me with a Lifetime Achievement Award (and a cartload of Dr. Pepper). The thing of it was, though, that I was the one keeping minutes of the meeting where the directors decided this. The vote took place surreptitiously as I sat there. I had no idea. That doesn’t happen too often.
While it is the only lifetime achievement award offered by the organization to date, I think another person deserved one, and likely would have received it had she not died from pneumonia shortly after she retired: Jolene Combs from El Camino College. Her contributions spanned over both community college and southern California high school journalism education. Those of us who worked with her, and the list is long, miss her and her energy.
Unfortunately, by 2017 austere measures undertaken by the organization to stay afloat financially appear to have ended the practice of giving out the Distinguished Service award, the Administrator award, and the Volunteer award.
What still remains are annual Outstanding Educator Awards for high school, community college, and university faculty. That award was started some 50 years ago by the California Newspaper Publishers Association (er, I guess it is now the California News Publishers Association) and is currently administered through the California Journalism and Media Affiliates. I am proud to be part of that group, but hope JACC can one day afford to acknowledge outstanding people again.
THE ROCK
I stepped down from the board for the last time in 2014 and the organization honored me again and presented me with one of the most unusual trophies I have ever seen. First, we have a special sweepstakes award we hand out to four of the top college programs at our annual convention each year. We call it the Pacesetter Award. The trophy is a mounted 20-pound rock, symbolizing me as a rock in the foundation of JACC. It is also an honorary Pacesetter.
RETIREMENT
And finally, the organization took time out at its final awards dinner of this year. Paul DeBolt of Contra Costa College said some very nice things about me and suggested that the nickname some in the organization have given me of “Mr. JACC” was inappropriate, because my contributions to journalism education span beyond JACC.
What he and others don’t understand is how much JACC has meant to me and what a blessing it has been over the years to help others. I think that is something my mother must have instilled in me.
I took advantage of the opportunity to preach a little bit about the future of community college journalism and the challenges facing journalism programs here. Among them, we need to get out of our campus silos and collaborate more.
After the ceremony, I had students from a number of schools and student groups coming up to me and asking for selfies. That felt weird.
The following week students from across the state were having a weekly Twitter chat and someone referred to me as a goat. What, do I look a goat or something? That perplexed me until someone explained that it is not a goat, but the GOAT, or Greatest of All Time. Oh.
I hope though, that even though I am retiring from teaching, that I will continue to have a role in advancing journalism education for some time. As I told the group in April: I have ideas, and they will be hearing from me.
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Next: My most significant contribution
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JACC No. 4: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

April 22, 2017
One of the iconic scenes from the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz” is when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion discover that the great and powerful Oz is really a man behind a curtain manipulating a bunch of machinery.
People in JACC often referred to me as the man behind the curtain for JACC. There was one year when I literally was.
It was the late 1980s and computers were starting to make their way into community college newsrooms. It was only a matter of time before the made their way to JACC conferences and the on-the-spot writing (and later photography and design) competitions.
But it was not easy. Colleges were required to lug manual typewriters to the conferences to compete. A few colleges tried to slip in electric typewriters, but the old Hacienda Hotel conferences had limited wall outlets.
Two issues had to be resolved before schools could bring computers and laser printers to the competitions. JACC ended up paying the Hacienda to upgrade its electrical system for this purpose, thus solving the “easy” issue. (Actually, I think the organization shared some costs with a cosmetology organization that wanted to bring in hair dryers.)
The more vexing issue, however, was among the technologists and the purists who feared that computers would give students an unfair advantage in the writing contests.
And it wasn’t just that some students might still be using typewriters. Computer word processing programs had spell checkers. That would give computer users an advantage over the poor spellers who had to copy edit their work. Things got nasty at times with purists being labeled Luddites.
It didn’t take long for everyone to learn that spell checkers –and later grammar checkers– were not the advantage everyone thought they would be.
(We left the hotel setting eventually and moved to Fresno State University –and computers were available at community college settings used for regional conferences—but faced a whole new problem in 2000 when we left the campus setting to a hotel setting again.
No one wanted to lug big computers and laptops were not yet prevalent enough. Besides, students could “pre-write” stories and sneak them into contest writing labs. And some could connect to the Internet and provide an unfair advantage.
Our solution was the much-maligned AlphaSmart typing machines. No one loved them, but they were inexpensive, required no extra electricity or fancy word processing programs. They got the job done.)
We found other uses for computers at the conventions, too. When we handed out awards at conventions for on-the-spot contests we had to hand out pre-made plaques without the winners’ names on them. Honorable mention awards consisted of typewritten certificates. Certificates had to be signed by organization officers.
To save money we went to certificates for all on-the-spot contests. Using computers made that easier, too, but officers got cramps signing hundreds of certificates. Someone suggested that we scan signatures and print the certificates with printed signatures.
That was a good idea, but graphic images took a long time to print. There was one convention where I was literally “the man behind the curtain.” I was sitting behind a curtain on the awards platform typing results and sending to a printer one certificate at a time. Presenters were slowing down the presentation to match the speed the certificates could come out of the printer.
I ended up becoming the awards guy for the organization for years. We learned to speed up the process, but trying to print all the awards AND building a PowerPoint presentation showing winners –another idea I stole from another organization and brought to JACC— nearly gave me a heart attack with all the short-turnaround stress. I eventually built a database program that greatly reduced the stress and the incidence of user error in typing names.
I have tweaked the database program over a number of years. But few in the organization understand databases and when I started slowing down my participation others started reverting the old ways of doing things. Too bad, the Filemaker-based database template I created can take existing data and spit out in a number of ways that the organization can use, all without having to re-type everything.
(I don’t understand how so few of today’s journalism instructors will embrace spreadsheets, much less databases, in today’s technology-driven environment. JACC still has a lot to do to help instructors embrace the 22nd century.)
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Next: Honors
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JACC No. 5: Legal updates and the Blue Heron

April 21, 2017

A series of my most memorable moments with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

If you are still with me on this sentimental journey you may have noticed that I am cheating to get many memories squeezed into a list of 10. I am going to do so again here.

In the late 1970s community college journalism instructors realized that every time they got together it was to run a regional or state conference/convention for students. And because of the dominant volunteer structure of the organization, it meant they had no time to just sit down and talk about teaching. So in 1979 the organization held its first Mid-Winter Faculty Conference at –where else?— the Hacienda Hotel in Fresno. The middle-of-the-state mindset, along gasoline shortages, led us back to Fresno in February.

The next year the conference was moved to a more exotic location: Morro Bay. It was repeated each year there until about five years ago when it was moved to the Pismo Beach area. I attended that first conference and am the only person left in the organization who has been to each and every one of what for a long time was referred to as “The Morro Bay Conference.”

In the early days, it was the “must attend” conference, if for no other reason than to attend the Sunday morning annual legal update by CSU Fullerton media law instructor Wayne Overbeck. We all learned so much about media law over the years from Wayne and stayed current with legal cases that might impact our programs and how we advise. When he retired from teaching his replacement at Fullerton, Genelle Belmas, another true friend to community colleges, stepped up. After she left Fullerton we had to look around for someone else. That portion of the conference has since been discontinued.

We had good turnout at the early conferences, but after a while we started losing some folks who instead chose to attend conflicting conferences sponsored by the national Associated Collegiate Press. We had gotten good at posting notes, especially the law updates, online, so it was possible to miss the conference and stay informed.

To counter the conflict with ACP we moved the conference to January, which created different sets of conflicts with faculty. The numbers never really recovered. In recent years, a constant turnover of ownership of the Inn at Morro Bay created enough problems that we moved the conference to Pismo Beach.

In even more recent years, the conference has been scheduled in June instead of during the school year. This appealed to another group of harried instructors, but numbers still never recovered to the glory days when most full-time and quite a few part-time community college journalism instructors attended.

Many of today’s journalism advisers who have never attended one of these conferences don’t know the value of having time to discuss teaching with fellow-discipline instructors; they just know that their colleges won’t pay the way there and it is both a financial and time sacrifice to get away.

Having time to talk about teaching was great, but after a while we realized that the 60- to 90-minute workshop format, while useful, had no room for some teaching topics that required longer learning formats, such as learning new technologies.

Up stepped Rich Cameron with one of his many ideas.

In June 1989 I was the only community college instructor to be invited to participate in a special week-long workshop for an international group of journalism instructors at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a life-changing week for me.

(What a great organization the Poynter Institute is. I tried several times to get invited back for more, but understood why they instead spread the experiences to new folks. I did get to visit the headquarters again a few years later –for one night– in connection with some other national business I had. I have a great it’s-a-small-world story about that trip, too, but will have to save it for later. Hint: I am planning a third series of Top 10 memories.)

In the workshop, co-led by now good friend Sylvia Fox, our “blue ribbon” group was asked to create a journalism program from scratch (no legacy issues to deal with) for a fictional university. We were so smart and sure of ourselves that we finished our task in half the time we were given, leaving us time to enjoy the beach. Or so we thought. Mid-week, a journalism school administrator was brought in to review our proposal. His job was to reject whatever we came up with. He did so, soundly.

Dejected, we could give up or we go back and try again. On our own we secured a conference meeting room at the hotel we were all staying in and worked late into the evening to come up with an alternative proposal. I had lugged my bulky Macintosh Plus computer across country with me, so I became the secretary. We had to work hard to complete the task on time.

It was such a great experience that I thought I could bring it back to California and JACC. I talked the JACC board into ponying up the expenses for a three-day pre-Morro Bay Conference workshop and invited some of the movers and shakers from JACC to attend. We recreated a shorter version of the scenario –sans the administrator rejecting our ideas—for a new fictional community college in the Morro Bay area. The Inn at Morro Bay sits next to a government-protected Blue Heron rookery, so we called it Blue Heron Community College. We followed with a major printed report that was distributed to all colleges. A few of them even adopted some of the ideas that emerged from the workshop.

That format, however, was unsustainable without a different financial backer. What WAS sustainable was adding a one-day pre-conference workshop dedicated a single topic for those who could afford the extra hotel night. Over the years, we taught instructors topics such as creativity, HTML coding, video storytelling and editing, audio editing, social media, and more. I taught most, but not all of them. Alas, as numbers dwindled for the main conference, so did they for the new Blue Heron workshop and it no longer exists.

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Previously: No. 10: The swimming race and the photo darkroom, No. 9: Getting a thesis topic, No. 8: Stories: Yosemite, The Shooter, Handcuffs, West Valley Rules, 7: Clearing out the Holiday Inn, 6: Creative thinking: Conversations with Wil and Timi

Next: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

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JACC No. 6: Creative Thinking: Conversations with Wil and Timi

April 21, 2017

A series of my most memorable moments with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

Ever think of how your epitaph would read. I think I would like mine to read, “He was a creative thinker.” I think it goes back to my childhood, as evidenced by the attached image my mother preserved in my childhood scrapbook. I sometimes like to color outside the lines, to be creative in my expression, even if I am not an artist, musician, or actor (some would say I act like a fool, though).

When I think about my elementary and high school days I can remember lots of times where I distinguished myself by coloring outside the lines with creative ideas.

Some of my fondest memories of my work with JACC were conversations I had with former Modesto College journalism instructor Wil Sims and former JACC Convention Chair Timi Poeppelman.

WILL SIMS

Wil was the organization’s executive secretary before I joined in with JACC. Later he served as a convention chair when the organization moved its conventions to the Fresno State University campus.

In the 1980s and 1990s the board of director met in different parts of the state for weekend business meetings. The meetings usually started Friday afternoon, ran all day Saturday, and wrapped up by noon on Sundays. In the evenings, especially on Fridays, we’d be free and Wil and I would squirrel off to some quiet corner and come up with all kinds of innovative solutions or initiatives for JACC that we’d be back to the board the next day.

He ran three JACC conventions and the innovations we came up with saved the organization so much money that the organization soon had a $30,000-$35,000 nest egg … a lot of money in those days. With the high interest rates banks were paying we were able to start a generous scholarship program by tapping only into the annual interest earned.

Another conference chair came along a couple years after him and in three years that nest egg had resulted in a goose egg savings account. Journalists are not good accountants and no one fully understood how we lost so much money. There were increased costs for running conferences, interest rates went down and we ate away at principal to maintain the scholarship program, but there were probably poor accounting practices taking place as well.

Costs kept going up, boards refused to raise rates, budgets shifted, weak accounting took place, some bad spending decisions were made and eventually the organization was hovering on bankruptcy. It had to borrow money, and more recently had to employ some austere measures to stay afloat.

TIMI POEPPELMAN

I first met Timi when she served as my assistant to the 2000 convention in Sacramento as we transitioned back to the hotel setting and took the convention out of Fresno. She took over as the organization’s permanent chair for the next 15 years.

Timi, too, is a creative and hard worker. Even though we live at different ends of the state we communicated regularly, first at the on-site board meetings –some of which were held at her Lake Tahoe cabin to save the organization some money– and more recently with l-o-o-o-n-g phone calls in the evening. Those phone calls might well last an hour and a half to two hours as we tackled complex problems and developed innovative solutions. I loved those talks and did not mind when she got credit, or blame, for our solutions. Sometimes we’d start with one problem and end up solving another.

She turned our conventions into first-class conventions that benefitted students immensely. But the organization could not sustain them as costs climbed and organizational accounting slipped.

Today’s newer faculty have more demands on them than we had in my early days of teaching and it is harder to get someone to step up and take on the tough task of planning a convention. They are willing to take a small part, but not jump in whole hog. JACC needs to rebuild the volunteer spirit in the organization. That is why the organization might want to consider re-configuring the 1980s approach and marrying it with the 2000s approach.

Hmmm, I already have some ideas that need to be hammered into something practical.

Previously: No. 10: The swimming race and the photo darkroom, No. 9: Getting a thesis topic, No. 8: Stories: Yosemite, The Shooter, Handcuffs, West Valley Rules, 7: Clearing out the Holiday Inn

Next: Legal updates and the Blue Heron