Archive for August, 2019


Teaching tip: Break out of the silo

August 29, 2019

The office silo

A longtime soapbox issue for me is that too often we journalism faculty silo ourselves and our programs.

It is natural. Increasingly colleagues on our campuses –and especially the administrators that run our schools– fail to understand our roles in teaching journalism. Administrators see our programs merely as public relations outlets rather than legitimate attempts to teach our students to report what is actually going on and what truly is important to them. (Increased administrative control at Liberty University story is an example.)

And when we get into the news publication classroom we are there to guide our students into producing a product. It is easy to put blinders on and focus on the task. Being a journalism teacher can be a lonely, unsung career.

We need to break out of those silos so that we can become better teachers. Journalism organizations such as the Journalism Education Association, College Media Association, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, Scholastic Press Association, Journalism Association of Community Colleges, California College Media Association intuitively know this and schedule conferences and conventions throughout the school year to bring like-minded colleagues together. These gathering typically are aimed at students, but they allow teachers to congregate, commiserate, and learn from each other.

But these gatherings are too few and are too far in between. More is needed. Not just for us, but for our students as well. And with tightening educational budgets, many schools are finding them too costly to attend on any kind of regular basis. As a young teacher I was excited when e-mail became a thing so that I could communicate with fellow journalism instructors at other colleges whenever I encountered a new situation. The Internet has brought us social media groups we can join for similar interactions.

Two other inexpensive ideas I tried work with during my teaching years were the Editor Exchange and Lunch Bunch.


One of the benefits of organizational conferences for students is that they get exposed to ideas and staffs from elsewhere. As good a teacher I believed I was, there is so much more students can gain. Mixing with students from other staffs will show them that the problems they face are not unique and the solutions they found are not universal.

But, again, conferences are too few and far between. And they usually come near the end of semesters. So I tried to work with area schools to set up field trips. I would take my editors –the whole staff was just too much– and have them meet with another newspaper staff for an afternoon. We teachers could leave the room and not worry about any specific agenda; the students could work that out among themselves quite easily. I found it helpful if the host school could supply pizza and sodas.

Then the next semester we would reverse it and the other school could send its editors over to meet with my staff. This was always harder as it is easier to host than to take an afternoon away from your college, especially if your students are producing a weekly publication. I often found that the home-and-home attempt fell apart when you invited the other school to join you … but not always. (And I always enjoyed seeing another school’s newsroom where I inevitably stole –er, I mean borrowed– an idea for mine. Not taking the effort was their loss.)

My students found these exchanges valuable and made new friends, some of whom they might run into when transferring to a university or working together on their first jobs. I actually tried to schedule more than one a semester with multiple schools. Finding a non-production day that worked for both schools was the tough part.


And if students could benefit from interaction with students from other schools, the same could be said for instructors. For instructors we set up what we called Lunch Bunch. Either monthly or every other month during the school year we’d schedule a lunch get together with instructors from as many nearby schools that made sense. Again, no agenda was needed. Just schedule a lunch at an area restaurant and those who can make it will. By holding it regularly you picked up some instructors who had to miss because of something extra scheduled that day. We became friends, shared what was going on in our programs, and commiserated. You no longer feel like you are alone. And, I believe, you become a better teacher.

– – – – – –

The whole idea is to break out of the silo of your program and your campus. I think you can take it further, by collaborating with other staffs to take on big stories that affect students on both campuses. But that turns out to be even harder to coordinate. The two ideas above only take a little time and initiative.


Teaching tip: The treasure map

August 26, 2019

One of the most fanciful tools I used before I retired to teach my students to think through the production process was the treasure map, where x marked the completion of the production.

I downloaded cartoonish treasure map from an online source and challenged my experienced editors –it is unfair to expect new editors to know it all early in the semester– to list, in order, the various steps in the process on the map. They were to include online and social media as part of the story assigning and gathering processes, to the editing process, to the final distribution process.

After they have completed them, I had them share and discuss with other editors, where they are likely to discover steps they missed.

I even challenged myself to work it through. In one version I came up with 34 steps, which included students attending and passing their other classes. (click on images to download pdfs)



Best Practices

August 23, 2019

A university friend once told me that his university provost came up to him one day and made a comment about the daily student newspaper published through my friend’s department. “I have noticed over time that the student newspaper gets better as the semester progresses, but then it seems to retreat to making mistakes at the beginning of the next semester.”

My friend checked and said, “Yes, isn’t it great.”

Well, it is not great that it kept resetting itself, but that is the nature of the beast. You teach students and they learn. Then a new set of students comes in and you have to teach them.

I advised community college student publications for more than 40 years and one of the things I noticed as I conducted post-production critique and post-production critique is that many of the things I was commenting on were things I had always been commenting on. I understood the nature of the beast, but I wanted to go deeper with my critiques, so I started writing down the most common errors. It finally came together in the following list of best practices. This came in especially handy as I starting creating PDF versions of my critiques.

Each student was given a printed and electronic version of the list and I had them blown up to poster size and posted around the newspaper lab.

The PDF versions were required reading for the students and freed me up to go on to deeper issues during the in-class critiques. To make sure students spent at least some time reading the marked up PDF critique I buried questions throughout the critique they were required to answer. In the critique messages I could refer students to a specific numbered practice.

The PDFs required a lot of time to prepare, but one of the advantages was an archive of critiques. (I retired a couple of years ago and my predecessor has chosen to go back to in-class critiques only.)

Here’s my best practices list in case some would like to start a list for their students.


  1. No story should appear in print unless it has first appeared online. Page editors have primary responsibility for making this happen.
  2. Ideally, all stories should be featured on the Facebook page and Twitter feed before they appear in print. The primary responsibility for this lies with the page editors. Secondary responsibility lies with the social media and online editors.
  3. The online editor should “touch” every story once it has been posted to assure that it has a snappy headline, has a photo attached if one exists, and the template layout is best for the story. Stories should be properly and consistently categorized and tagged. Web sources should be linked, as should be related stories where appropriate. Movie and other entertainment reviews should be linked to official sites when appropriate; movie trailers may be embedded with reviews.
  4. Event stories, including sports, should be featured online SAME DAY when possible, but no later than 24 hours after the event. Sports GAME stories should be featured online. Sports TEAM stories should be featured in print (as opposed to game stories). Team stories should feature upcoming contests high in the story.
  5. Dates in online stories should include both day and date (Wednesday, Dec. 3), but when stories are moved to print the date should be edited to include ONLY the day OR date, depending on the AP Style seven-day rule. Don’t use today, tomorrow, yesterday. Primary responsibility for editing dates rests with page editors.
  6. Once a story has been posted or printed it is permanent. It may be corrected for errors, but all requests to redact or remove will be rejected except when required by law (i.e., copyright violations).
  7. Authors retain the copyright for the work they create for Talon Marks, but all stories, photos, cartoons, designs, multimedia pieces create by and for Talon Marks constitutes a right-to-use for Talon Marks. Once accepted for publication, the right-to-use cannot be revoked.



  1. Stories should be thoroughly edited in Camayak before being posted online or placed on a page. The goal should be that when we copyedit the print edition there are no errors to be found because they have already been fixed.
  2. When online stories must be edited, we should note that they have been edited, especially if we are fixing a factual error.
  3. All written non-opinion stories should have a minimum of two sources, with three or more preferred. When copy editing, always check that sources are properly introduced (first and last name on first reference) and identified. Subsequent references use just the last name and/or singular pronouns. The exceptions to this are stories with multiple subjects with the same last name. If a sentence or paragraph with a first-reference name is deleted/cut or moved, double check to see if the name is now improperly used elsewhere in the story.
  4. A single paragraph should have only one attribution at most. If there are two attributions, make it two paragraphs.
  5. Anonymous sources or pseudonyms may not be used in stories except under extreme circumstances as defined by the editor-in-chief proper to publication.
  6. In addition to watching for spelling, style, grammar and factual errors, part of copyediting includes assessing the “interesting” and “understandable” focus of the leads. Avoid long leads, focus on results, avoid “when” leads, and draw the reader in.
  7. When copyediting, stop at every plural pronoun (we, us, their, them, etc.) and manually check to see if the subject noun it refers to is plural. If not, fix either the pronoun or the subject noun. Subject nouns may not always be in the same sentence or even the same paragraph.
  8. Single quote marks may ONLY be used for quotes within quotes or in headlines. If punctuation is present around a quote mark it ALWAYS goes INSIDE the quote mark, even with single quotes. The exception to this would be when single quotes and double quotes meet at the end of a sentence; then the punctuation mark goes between the single quote and the double quote.
  9. If a quote extends beyond one paragraph without interruption with attribution, place quotes at the beginning of both paragraphs, but ending quote marks only at the end of the paragraph where the quote ends.
  10. When changing speakers in a story, be sure to notify the reader early in the quote that this is another speaker. Do not wait until after a long quote for the attribution.
  11. To protect academic freedom, Talon Marks will not quote or otherwise cite statements made during and as part of a class without the express permission of the instructor and source making such statements.
  12. Talon Marks reporters should not cover stories in which they are involved as this creates a conflict of interest or an appearance of conflict of interest.



  1. Photos should be cropped and pre-pressed to 900px wide x 600px deep at 200dpi. They should also be tone corrected. Vertical and square photos should be pre-pressed to 600px deep, regardless of the width; this applies to mug shots as well. NO photo should be placed on a page or online in its raw camera mode resolution and size. Because we are standardizing cropping sizes, page editors should be able to accurately calculate photo sizes for print pages even before they are properly pre-pressed.
  2. If a photo is resized on a page, it must be PROPORTIONALLY resized both directions. DO NOT use the “fill” command. NO STRETCHED PHOTOS.
  3. All print photos (and preferably online), except mug shots, should have two-sentence cutlines with the first sentence explaining who is doing what in the photograph and the second sentence giving a secondary fact. If the focal point of the photo is on specific individuals, the individuals must be properly identified.
  4. The focal point of a photo should be on one or more of the tic-tac-toe axes (rule or thirds). No photo should be cropped to put the focal point in the middle of the photo. No photo should have two focal points (i.e., individuals with gaps between them). A focal point is preferred over a generic crowd shot.
  5. All photos should have an embedded AP Style caption. (Note, no photo can get grade credit without it.) Photographers have primary responsibility for embedding cutlines. Photo editors secondary responsibility for checking that photos have embedded cutlines. If there is no photo editor secondary responsibility falls on the page editor. Photo captions should be embedded BEFORE a photo is placed on a page.


  1. Audio and video stories should be accompanied by a written story and/or, at the very least, a transcript.
  2. SoundCloud audio stories should have a relevant photo attached to go with the audio link instead of relying on the Talon Marks logo.
  3. If a meeting is filmed and posted as an archive (i.e., the whole meeting broken into multiple files for upload), the files should be uploaded to YouTube and a singlepostshould contain the links/embeds. But this should only be done if the videos are accompanied by a written or edited standalone video story. Posting of archive videos is not journalism, but can be an aid to journalism.
  4. Meetings should be live tweeted and followed up same day with Storify versions, complete with transitional explanatory paragraphs. Traditional stories should follow ASAP.
  5. The e-edition should be posted online as soon as the print edition is sent to the printer.
  6. Design/page postings should be posted in within 24 hours of the print distribution. The preference is to do this before we leave on production night.
  7. Sports schedules and latest scores should be updated no less than weekly. But sports schedules, except for playoffs, should be entered into the system in their entirety as soon as they are available. Sports scores should be updated within 24 hours of a contest.
  8. Arts events and other events should be entered into “upcoming events” before a story is assigned to a staff member. Primary responsibility for this lies with the page editor.


  1. When designing a print page, headline sizes should graduate downward as they go down the page. Larger type headlines go at the top of the page. Refer to the headline graduation illustration in the Newspaper Designer’s Handbook.
  2. Print headlines should be written so that 1) word pairs are maintained wherever possible, 2) line lengths are equivalent, and 2) prepositional phrases are not split over two lines (see No. 1).
  3. Drop heads should be only one leg of a story.
  4. Bylines and jump/continued lines are considered part of the story, not a headline. As such, they should be place in the first leg (last leg for jump lines) of a story and square off with the tops and bottoms of the remaining legs.


  1. Adjust the leading (spacing between lines) of stories to avoid spacey last legs of a story. Watch out for the hidden extra return at the end of a story. The last leg should square off with the other legs of the story.
  2. The proper placement of page items is 1) photo, 2) cutline, 3) headline, and 4) story. (Ads are bottommost on a page). Maintain a 2/10 inch space between the tops and bottoms of page modules (i.e., the bottom of one module/story and the top of the next module/story). Photos and cutlines go together, so there should be no more than 1/10 inch between them. Likewise, headlines and stories go together, so there should be no more than 1/10 inch between them. There should be 2/10 inch between a cutline and a headline. Two-tenths of an inch is equal to the gutter width between story legs.
  3. If a story is boxed, or has a side or top/bottom separator line, leave 2/10 inch between the line and the photo/text.
  4. Be consistent with spacing.
  5. When designing a print page, first place all stories in standard six-column format. Adjust to variable widths only for visual identity sake. Wide measures are not the norm, but enhancements.
  6. When designing a print page, start with a four-column or wider photo/module at the top. Horizontal photos in the top half of the page should be a minimum of four columns wide. Horizontal photos in the bottom half of the page should be NO MORE THAN three columns. Never put a three-column photo in the top half of a page. If it is necessary to place a three-column photo at the top of the page you MUST shift it from the page corner so that it crosses the center gutter.
  7. Avoid photo collages in place of real news photos.
  8. Free Speech Zone-style presentations on non-opinion pages should follow a similar design/layout pattern to promote consistency in the publication. There can be flexibility in design, but the two designs should show signs of consistency in width and depth of photos, font choices, identifications, etc.
  9. Stories resulting in large blocks of type should be chapter-ized with subheads or accompanied with drop quotes, infographs or information boxes. (See info boxes graphic in Newspaper Designer’s Handbook)


  1. Blog-style projects should 1) be designed with in mind, and 2) include full navigation from front page to story post and back, as well as from post to next and previous post.
  2. Infographs should be designed so that what is being displayed is readily understandable with a quick glance. Most often this is done with headlines and related graphics.
  3. Infographs should indicate the source of information.
  1. Infographs that appear in print should also appear online.

Running a small program more than teaching classes

August 21, 2019

What mindset is required in running a small educational program like a community college journalism program?

I once served on what I commonly refer to as the Committee from Hell, but I learned something profound from doing so.

The committee was a tenure review of a teaching colleague in another discipline. The colleague’s original tenure review committee had denied tenure in the final year of a multi-year evaluation process and the colleague was taking advantage of an appeals right. The right allowed a second review committee made up of an administrator not connected with the original committee, a faculty member of the colleague’s choice (me), and one member from the original committee.

We were tasked with coming up with a unanimous decision. That was going to be a challenge if the decision was anything but denial because the original team member was not going to change his mind.

We spent probably close to 100 hours conferring and interviewing discipline teachers, students, staff members. (It did not help that I was suffering a bad cold in the middle of the process.) After sitting in on several of the colleague’s classes I thought she was a competent teacher who was also liked by students.

In the end we DID unanimously deny the tenure, but each of us got to the decision following separate paths. What swayed me was that the job description under which the colleague was hired called for “running a small program, including teaching.” While there was no reassigned time for such actions as class scheduling, adjunct reviews, club advisership, etc., they were implied in the job description. As the sole full-time instructor in my journalism program, I was familiar with the extra work involved. I often observed campus colleagues who taught classes two or three days a week and were off campus by noon to run their side businesses. This colleague also was an artist with a side musical career and did none of the extra work, not even evaluating the adjuncts in her program.

I understood that, too. I had a lot of teaching colleagues whose identity was strengthened by their continued outside involvement in the discipline that they taught.

Remember that I felt, even at the end of the Committee from Hell, that my colleague was a competent instructor. But running a small educational program is much more than simply teaching. Yes, it is REALLY important, but there are dozens of people the hiring committee could have chosen to teach. Odds are, if someone survived paper screening and got to the interview stage of hiring process he or she was qualified to teach. And those who advanced to the final selection process were assumed to be competent teachers. The hiring committee chose the best one to “run a small program.”

The first few years of growing as a teacher requires you to put most focus on development as a teacher. But you are also hired to “run a program,” as virtually every full-time community college journalism instructor is, even if journalism is only part of the load. The job requires that you stick around more than class hours. Some of the work is defined by contract: scheduling courses, maintaining office hours, reviewing student learning outcomes, submitting grades, etc. And the institution eventually will want its full-time faculty to participate in institutional activities, such as attending graduations and serving on committees. The first few years also involve tenure review, which ideally is set up to help teachers grow into the job.

But for the program to thrive it involves so much more, much of it often undefined, and one needs to find energy to put in long hours supervising newspaper production, working with printers, writing or updating curriculum, staying up on new trends in the discipline, advising and counseling students, advising student clubs, periodically reviewing your program, and more. A lesson I learned in life, and in grad school, is that you should also give back to your discipline. I hammered this into my adjuncts over the years: if they want to just teach part-time, okay, that is what we are paying you for. But if you want to one day be working full time in a community college journalism program, learn to do more.

I am proud to say that nearly half the adjuncts I had over the years went on to full-time journalism education jobs. That is more than many of my campus colleagues in other disciplines could claim.

If you are already a full-time instructor at a California community college, you know the college requires more of you than teaching. If you are new, prepare yourself. Don’t be the next one to need to ask someone to sit on a committee from hell.

The Journalism Association of Community Colleges a number of years ago started an award for volunteer of the year in its organization and named the award after me. I am proud of those who have given back to the discipline and even more proud that several of the winners worked under my tutelage at some point in their career.

Campus demands on new hires are greater today than ever before and the idea of giving back to your discipline may seem to be too much to ask, but it is not. And giving back to your discipline includes reaching out beyond your campus boundaries.