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What newspapers can do to help journalism educators

March 15, 2009

By Rich Cameron
Cerritos College
Cal-JEC chair

What can California’s newspaper publishers do for journalism education at the high school, community college and university levels?

That’s one of the questions I will have to try to answer in a 10- to 15-minute presentation I will be making to long-time publishers next December when I report on the state of journalism education in the state of California. As chair of the California Journalism Education Coalition I lead a group that is trying to assess that topic for what we hope will be a bi-annual report. I’m already nervous.

As I woke up under the hot streams of my morning shower this morning –that shower time is some of my most creative thinking time– I pondered possible answers to the question of how they could help. Perhaps in the next six months of research that will go into the report we’ll ferret out specific needs, but I found one general answer this morning: Just talk to us.

Of course, the needs of journalism education will vary from level to level, with high schools probably being seen as needing the most help. But at all levels, I think we certainly need more communication with newspaper publishers in our area. In my 12 years at Cerritos College I’ve met only a handful of editors and publishers at local media outlets.

  • Thanks to my good friend Pat McKean of Long Beach City College I met, once, the editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, but that editor is no longer there and I have no idea whether the current leadership even knows there is a journalism program at my college.
  • A year ago I spent five minutes talking to LA Times Editor Russ Stanton at the conclusion of a keynote speech he made to the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, but I hold no illusions that he remembers the conversation.
  • Over the years I’ve had a bit of contact with reporters from local publications, but with all the downsizing taking place, few of them are still around. I DO have ONE editor who is not a former student of mine as a Facebook friend, but we really have not communicated.

Admittedly, this lack of communication is as much my fault as anyone else’s. In my previous job, 16.5 years as an instructor at West Valley College near San Jose, I had more contact with local publishers in the six months surrounding the college’s decision to eliminate journalism –when there was a crisis– than in the remaining 16 years. And truth be told, I didn’t really try all that hard when I should have. Fortunately, some of my teacher collegues at other community colleges and at universities are better at this than I, but not many from the discussions I’ve had. And woe are the high school advisers, many of whom are even more overworked and untrained.

I have more lateral communication with other community college journalism instructors and even with many four-year instructors. And I am getting better with comunication with high school instructors, but even that is hard.

How can newspaper publishers help journalism education? Help break that logjam.

Here are some simple suggestions:

  • When one of your reporters writes anything about one of the high schools, community colleges or universities that is not merely a rewrite of a press release, have that reporter check in at the school’s newspaper. There might be source material there, but that should not be the reason for the call. The reason should be, “Hey, we know you’re here and we want to say ‘hi’ and find out how you are doing.” It will be awkard at first, because we don’t expect that you know we exist.
  • As important as that will be, it will be more important if editors and publishers take time to acknowledge that we exist. Consider making calls –or visits if you’ve got the time– periodically. Pick up the phone or drop a personal note two or three times a year just to say, “Hey, we know you’re here and we want to say ‘hi’ and find out how you are doing.”That will make it easier for the programs to reach out to you when they have needs. It is better to establish relationships when there are no specific needs than wait until there is a crisis and the basis of the relationship is that I am in desperate need.
  • The idea I like best is to have lunch together. It will be tempting to pull together an annual lunch and invite the 20 or so high school, community college and university advisers all at once and counch the day in some kind of formal activity. While there would be value in that, I think that more value will be in smaller, less formal groups.

    Every six to eight weeks a half dozen of the advisers from community colleges in my area get together for what we call Lunch Bunch. There is no formal agenda. We just get together to talk and let the topics of discussion develop naturally. I like that formula. Invite just three-to-five advisers for lunch this month and another three-to-five next month and make these lunches a regular routine. Keep the groups small and informal. If you’d like to talk to students, too, keep the numbers small so you can carry on an informal discussion and include everyone. “Hey, we know you’re here and we want to say ‘hi’ and find out how you are doing.”

    While holding these lunches at the newspaper from time to time might be a thrill for some advisers and students, even a cheap-o lunch a mall food court will have value. And for those busy high school advisers with little flexibilty in their schedules, consider one-on-one brown-baggers on the high school campus during the teacher’s lunch break.

It’ll take an effort to do these. It might be easier to write a check for a specific need, but if you really are interested in helping journalism education in the long term, it is going to take a long-term personal touch. Start with, “Hey, we know you’re here and we want to say ‘hi’ and find out how you are doing.”

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