Archive for the ‘JACC’ Category

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Hiring and firing editors

November 6, 2019
How is a student publication hired or selected? More interesting than that, how do you fire one?
The latter question was the gist of a conversation I recently had with one California community college student publication adviser. The adviser was getting subtle pressure from the college administration to fire an editor, who, by the way, appears to be doing the job just fine.
The adviser wanted to know
  1. If he/she could be pressured to fire an editor,
  2. Who has the authority to fire the editor, and
  3. Under what grounds can an editor be fired?
Over my 40-plus years of advising community college student publications I “hired” upwards of 100 editors, both newspaper and magazines. Twice I had to fire an editor and at least two other times had to replace editors mid-semester because their life circumstances changed and they had to step down. (And I had the painful circumstance of losing one recent editor –from the semester before– who perished in a tragic off-road vehicle accident.)
I’ve always operated on the policy of the one who hires needs to be the one who fires. And I always felt that part of the reason the college hired me as the student publications adviser was because of my experience and expertise of what the job of editor required and how to train editors as leaders. That meant that the decision to hire fell in my lap.
I know that other California community college advisers have a variety of ways of making editor selections, so I specifically asked them in a SurveyMonkey poll and have summarized some of the results below. Fifteen responded and I have included some of their responses below. Bottom line: All but a couple indicated that the adviser is the one who hires. Several do so with the help of an advisory committee –usually former editors of the publication. Almost all indicated that editors are hired for one semester. I also know from another Journalism Association of Community Colleges initiative that about a third of the programs hire co-editors.
But sharing others’ responses, let me talk a bit about my experiences and policies over the years, especially since I had to actually fire two editors
The adviser I mentioned above was getting pressure from college administrators to fire the editor, who was actually doing his job. But that job included running a series of sensitive stories that for various reasons upset the administrators. That is the wrong reason to fire an editor; it flies in the face of freedom of speech and press.
California Education Code for high schools and colleges protects advisers who defend their students’ First Amendment rights.
And because both school administrators and the adviser at public institutions technically are government employees, I consider it to be illegal to fire because of content decisions. A trickier question has to do with the role of the adviser vs. the role of the adviser in editing or influencing content.
I remember one community college publication –not mine– where the editor(s) of the student newspaper were Holocaust deniers and used the publication to promote that view.
In another case, I heard of a student-written anti-Holocaust editorial being rewritten by the adviser to say exactly the opposite. That example was one I used to justify my hardline policy of not even reading stories before publication unless specifically being asked by an editor –the reporter had to go through an editor to get me to sit down and review a story. Once you start looking for spelling, grammar, style and factual errors where do you stop?
It is important that the adviser realize that he/she is NOT the editor. There is case law that addresses who has the right to act as publisher of a student newspaper at public schools and colleges. Even though the institution “owns” the publication, the institution and its administrators, as government employees, do not have the right to control content. It seems that the student editor is to be the final arbiter. (I recommend that you check with the Student Press Law Center at http://www.splc.org for specifics.)
I often pointed out that half the college –including many administrators– think as adviser I controlled content of the student publication, the other half thought I OUGHT to control content. And because so many of us are math challenged, I then said that the other (third) half knows better. Advising required a constant education of the college community as to the role and rights of a student publication and moving people to that “third half.”
But back to the topic of hiring and firing editors.
The two editors I fired were let go because they stopped attending class and running the publication in a manner consistent with a college class. (I was the adviser in charge of the class, but the structure we established a structure where the student editor ran and made content decisions for the publication.)
When a student editor has stepped over the line of missing class and doing his/her job is an individual decision and should be considered deeply. Give the errant editor ample warning and opportunity to correct the situation before taking the serious step of firing him/her.
When I started as an adviser selection of an editor was a seat-of-the-pants process that occurred in the first week(s) of a new semester when I saw who enrolled for the staff class. Over time, though, I discovered that a better process was to identify and train leaders the semester or school year BEFORE. And then I hired editors in a proscribed process spelled out by our written policy. To be sure, in a “two-year” community college (students often were there longer), there were still times when I had to draft an editor at the beginning of a semester, but most of the time after refining my process I had multiple qualified applicants each semester for the next semester.
Believe me, selecting a qualified editor toward the end of the previous semester is FAR SUPERIOR that last-minute drafting of an editor.
I also felt that even when there was only one candidate for the job, a proscribed process not only helped me make a wise decision, it helped the candidate develop a mindset to be editor. It also helped ward off interference from the college administration.
This is the process I used:
  1. The interested student submitted a simple letter indicating an interest and explaining why he/she wanted to be editor. I actively encouraged students to apply, even if only to get interview experience from the next step.
  2. I then assembled a committee of former editors to interview the candidates using a list of questions developed over the years to explore the thoughts and plans for the candidate toward editorship. It was constantly tweaked as the publication evolved and was designed to get the candidate to think about being editor. I sat in on the interviews*, but mostly tried to be a fly on the way rather than a participating member, though I sometimes intervened with followup questions based on some of the answers I heard.

* One semester I was so ill I should have been home. The medications I was taking to stay lucent caused me to fall asleep and snore during one interview. “I’m so NOT getting this job,” the applicant mused. I was embarrassed and apologized. She did not get the job, but not because she was boring. It was a difficult to make a final decision, but I believe I selected the better candidate.

  1. The committee made a recommendation based on the interviews. I mostly accepted the committee’s recommendation, sometimes against my own judgment. Occasionally I overruled the recommendation.
  2. The editor must then commit to signing up for the newspaper class the next semester and if he/she hadn’t already taken our beginning news writing class –it happened from time to time– to sign up for it, next semester, too.
  3. The editor can then select page and other editors. Because the editor hires/selects them, the editor can fire/dismiss them in consultation with the adviser. Even though the other editors are also enrolled in the class the editor cannot kick them out of the class and it is up to the adviser to make sure they get a fair shake in contributing to the publication.
In other words, the interview itself became an important learning experience for the candidate. It was important, too, to engage former editors who had gone through a similar learning experience; one’s job of teaching does not necessarily end when the student graduates.
As I mentioned above, there ARE other ways of selecting editors. My way worked for me and I believe was sound, but I respect other advisers’ policies as well. And I asked for feedback on what those polices involved.
Here are the responses I received from the advisers who responded to my request for a quick summary of their hiring process:
  • Adviser recommends EIC. EIC is interviewed by former EIC(s). EIC and ed board recommend and select section editors.
  • According to the student manual, the adviser selects the editor-in-chief
  • At the beginning of the semester, the EIC chooses likely candidate as front page editor or online editor or other positions. Toward the end of the semester, the EIC and I look at the performances. Usually, it’s obvious. This semester we had two good candidates and the EIC couldn’t decide. So we brought in all the former EICs for a consultation and the decision was unanimous.
  • Often there are bot multiple students vying for EIC so if there is only one, we go with it. If there are two or more students, I have then fill out an application and I and two other colleague interview them. I’m the tie-breaker vote but my colleagues always select the person who I would have chosen on my own.
  • Until last year, we had a formal process with letters of intent and interviews by advisers and outgoing editors. In the past year, we’ve adopted a less formal process because we have fewer students. Advisers will talk with promising students about becoming editors.
  • Three editors and two advisers select the EIC.  Candidates turn in a letter and supporting documents.  The EIC selects all other editors.  Again, candidates turn in a letter and supporting docs.
  • The adviser selects the EIC
  • Select with input from instructional assistants and current/previous editors.
  • Students run and prepare a platform with a slate of editors/staff. The candidates are interviewed by a panel of alumni/professionals (job interview). Advisors are in the interview as resources but non-voting.
  • Selected by the adviser. Students apply, the adviser decides. (In reality, we have not had a competition in year. We usually get only one applicant or get zero and have to beg a student to take on the role.)
  • We have an advisory board of five members. All are former editors-in-chief of the newspaper who work in the media industry. At the end of each semester, they choose the incoming editor-in-chief for the following semester.    Applicants fill out an application followed by a platform statement that outlines their vision and plans for the upcoming semester — the kinds of stories they’d like to do, who they are considering for section editor positions, how they see the role of journalism on a college campus. Those applications and platform statements are forwarded to the advisory board a week before the interviews. The board interviews each candidate, with the advisor(s) joining in a supervisory role but not asking questions. After all candidates are interviewed, the board makes a selection, and then brings each candidate back in for a debriefing and discussion about the selection.
  • Students are apply for editorships the last week of the previous quarter. EIC candidates are interviewed first by a committee of at least one reporter and one editor and the adviser, who has a vote and a veto. Section editors are then interviewed by EIC and at least one editor and one reporter and adviser, who does not vote but can veto.
  • I try to identify the potential EIC or Co-EICs at the end of each semester. Often times this is not possible because students haven’t yet registered for classes.  If this isn’t possible, I have to wait until the start of the semester and then just basically ask who is interested in being the EIC. Typically no more than two people volunteer, so those are the ones selected more or less by default.
  • Seat of the pants – whoever is left standing that will return next semester. Advisor chosen at this point.
  • Students apply, interview, and tested. There’s a committee.
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What is a generally excellent publication?

September 2, 2019

When I was teaching I taught my newspaper staffs, news writing classes, and mass communications survey classes that the goal of a news publication should be to be generally excellent. Some publications will have star reporters, photographers, or designers that would add to the identity of a publication, but what the reader/consumer deserves is a publication that does a good job across the publication in storytelling. The challenge comes when you try to define what generally excellent means.

It is a topic still on my mind as I regularly monitor online publication sites of California community college publications and produce a newsletter focused on community college journalism education and maintain a Facebook site that reposts stories from student publications.

There are many definitions of what makes a generally excellent publication.

  • Is it the way it looks (design)? Is it the scope of stories it covers, and what does that mean? For instance, does it cover a wide range of topics or does it focus on its geographic community? Should it repackage news from larger organizations so readers who don’t read other newspapers get at least some international, national, and regional news? Or should it focus on hyperlocal news?
  • Is it how well written and edited those stories are?
  • Is it all text, or does it provide a visually convenient way for its readers to find and understand complex stories?
  • Is it investigative or does it focus on covering events? Does having a major catastrophe happen locally give some publications an edge?
  • How about its editorial leadership?
  • Does its frequency make a difference? After all, some student publications come out as often as weekly (daily for some universities) while other have cut print versions to few and far between, if at all, relying on a digital distribution. (As an instructor, I found it difficult to motivate students to think about the demands of an online publication when they did not have a print version demanding a specific timeline. For instance, an event story can go online the same or next day, but if the print version of the publication was a week away then students took much longer to complete event stories.
  • Does the number of news stories it covers matter? And how about its balance of content. Beginning student journalists are more fond of writing opinion stories that require little or no extra information gathering on their part or “news” stories that repackage news from other sources, neither of which requires them to actually get out and talk to sources.
  • What role does consistency play? Any staff can put full effort into one or two issues, but maintaining consistency of excellence is much more difficult, especially with staffs rotating in and out every five or four or five months.

The Journalism Association of Community College for nearly seven decades has honored outstanding student publications with a general excellence award. Probably in the early 1990s it started adopting a definition of general excellence along the lines of the Associated Collegiate Press association and looks at five categories of excellence:

  1. Coverage and Content
  2. Writing and Editing
  3. Range of Opinion Content
  4. Layout and Design, and
  5. Use of Photography, Art and Graphics

Over more recent years JACC has lowered the threshold of how many issues a school year a publication needs to publish to qualify and has effectively jettisoned any distinction between broadsheet and tabloid publications. It still “discriminates” between print publications and online publications and holds a separate contest for online publications and print publications and offers a separate contest for online publications using similar criteria as that listed above. And online general excellence is considered when adding up sweepstakes awards.

It has wisely abandoned a horse race view of general excellence whereby awards were limited in number and there was a distinction between first, second, third, etc. place and decided to set a standard and award all those who met the standard, knowing if the standard was low enough that everyone easily met it then it was time to tighten the standard to encourage growth.

And while it has opened up its individual and writing and photography contests up to online entries –despite online audiences having different habits than print audience– it has not yet taken on the next step of evaluating news organizations as integrated units.

I used to teach my students that news publications served (or ought to serve) multiple roles to their audiences, too.

I argued that news publications serve a political or watchdog role, an economic role, a sentry role portending future trends, the traditional historical or record-keeping role, an entertainment role, a social role, and a marketplace of ideas and leadership role, among others. (For example, one could argue that the role of a print newspaper is to provide fish wrapping material. My mother used to use the newspaper as a source for grocery coupons, but I would include that in my definition that encompasses the economic role.)

Also big with me was the scope of sources students used in writing their stories. Part of my grading criteria included whether students actually talked to multiple sources for each story, or did they rely on what I referred to as “bogus” or “indirect” sources, sources where they merely quoted other publications. I guess you could call them primary vs. secondary sources, but that allows for their “primary” sources to be people, such as their friends or family, who had no direct knowledge of the story.

I was so focused on use of sources that major part of my weekly critiques of student work included counting up the number of sources used in each story in the publication. Knowing that some articles, such as opinion pieces, often did not include direct sources, I then emphasized the average of sources per story throughout the publication. If it fell below 2.0 then we either had too many non-source stories (balance) or we weren’t reaching out to enough stories. And I also noted that since we considered students to be the largest portion of our audience and most stories impacted them, then there should be student sources in most stories.

As I mentioned above, I run a newsletter and maintain a Facebook site that routinely looks at online versions of news written by California community colleges. One of the disturbing trends I see is the number of repackaged stories and opinion stories included in those publications. Outside of sports stories, there are relatively few original news stories. (And when it gets to sports opinion and arts opinion, students seem to focus on professional sports and non-local arts stories.) Many of those display and disturbingly small number of direct sources.

Allowing student staffs to write repackaged stories does have value in giving them curation experience, and those stories MAY be of more interest to student readers. (An early editor who influenced my journalism education told me once that there were two types of stories readers should be exposed to: the ones they want to read and the ones they OUGHT to read.) But I wonder if we are training our students in the journalism tradition when we fail to push them into the uncomfortable role of actually talking to sources.

And I wonder if a publication that overly relies on opinion stories and non-original/second-hand stories is truly generally excellent.

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The Jewel of JACC: the State Conference

March 30, 2018

jaccjewel

The Journalism Association of Junior Colleges was formed in the mid-1950s when a group of junior college (as California’s community colleges were known as then) journalism instructors saw the benefits for students provided by the California Intercollegiate Press Association, which ran annual conferences for university journalism students, complete with writing, editing and photography contests.

The organization’s founders, which included a couple of its first presidents Irv Harlacher of Monterey Peninsula College and “Sky” Dunlap of Santa Ana College, did so with three main goals: to provide similar conference/contest opportunities for junior college students, to foster communication between the junior college programs and to create a “clearing house of ideas” for teaching of journalism.

Those are still the goals of a truly great organization that MAY be on the precipice of a major transformation I talked about in my last blog post. In the late 1990s/early 2000s we started referring to the mission of JACC to provide “extended educational opportunities for journalism students and continued education for journalism instructors,” the latter goal even more necessary due to the changing technology of the field.

The jewel of JACC is its state conference. Below is some history of the conference and some of my ideas on how JACC might transform it.

The founders created the conference experience by teaming up with CIPA and running concurrent conferences. That ended in the 1960s when the junior college numbers at the conferences had grown to a point that a combined conference was harder and harder to accommodate.

But there was another reason.

The California Education Code lies out general policies for the governance of the kindergarten through high school (K-12) public education system, the junior/community college system, and the California State University system. (The University of California system has a completely different charter that almost makes it an independent system that makes it own rules.) Even though the community college and CSU students have many characteristics in common –more so today than ever– the community college section of the Education Code more closely resembles the K-12 policies than the CSU policies. Indeed, even today the funding portion of the publication education system includes a formula for funding the K-14 schools.

One provision of that community college portion of the Education Code  that separates our students from the CSU students assumes a large population of 18-20 year olds in the community college system. (The average community college student today is closer to 26 than 19.) The legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 and community colleges are prohibited from allowing alcoholic beverages at many of its school-sponsored events. (The rule has been loosened a bit and local boards CAN approve it at special events, but not for general school-sponsored events, such as conferences.) This is not true for CSUs, which today are even allowed to have pubs on campus.

Drinking at conferences has always been a problem for the community college organization. In the 1960s the conflicting policies became a bone of contention between JAJC and CIPA and became a major cause for a split of the two organizations.

Today JACC still tries to enforce non-drinking/non-drug rules, but students, some legally allowed to drink in other circumstances and others just eager to drink on a weekend while away from home, challenge the rules.

(I had a conversation with a JACC adviser at the most recent convention who questioned when JACC was going to drop the ridiculous rules about drinking, unaware that they are based in the Education Code. JACC today must provide proof of insurance to contract for meeting space at a college or a hotel and without the rules and evidence of trying to enforce them would have trouble obtaining that insurance. No insurance policy, no conference.)

Early conferences by JAJC/JACC followed the model of CIPA and were held at college campuses, but it was not long before they grew in delegate size and made the transition to hotel-based conferences. One conference was even held in Yosemite in a tent-cabin campground. (See way below for one of my favorite JACC stories about that conference.) Another was held at the Asilomar camping conference center in Monterey. (I have another interesting story about that conference, too.)

Regional conferences continued to be held at member colleges.

By the 1970s, when gas lines appeared at gasoline stations across the country, JACC moved its conference to the middle of the state: Fresno. One hotel, in particular, the Hacienda Hotel (which at various times was known as the Sheraton Hotel) served JACC’s needs for a number of years. And by then JACC (it made the transition from JAJC to JACC in the early 1970s) had developed a structure for sharing responsibility for running the conference with all its members. It broke the state up into four northern and four southern sections and rotated responsibility for running each year’s conference.

  • Region One included 15 colleges in the greater Sacramento area and north to the state border
  • Region Two included 14 colleges in the area between San Francisco and Sacramento
  • Region Three included 11 colleges in the  greater San Francisco and greater San Jose areas
  • Region Four included nine colleges from the coastal area as far south as Monterey and colleges in the San Joaquin Valley
  • Region Five included 14 colleges from Bakersfield south to Pierce and Glendale.
  • Region Six included 10 colleges in the greater LA area as far south as El Camino and Long Beach colleges
  • Region Seven included 16 colleges from southern LA eastward and into the desert and Inland Empire
  • Region Eight included Orange County through San Diego counties

In 1982-83 it was Region Three’s turn to plan the conference. That’s when my 35-year stint on the JACC board of directors began. I was into my second year as a full-time instructor at West Valley College in the San Jose area. I had the help of great colleagues Herman Scheiding of Foothill College, the irascible Warren Mac of DeAnza and the cool-headed Art Carey of San Jose City College, but took on the role of conference coordinator.

It would be the first of three stints as conference chair over the years.

Drinking continued to be a problem and I like to tell about the liquor store a quarter mile away from the Hacienda, which had extremely profitable nights/weekends twice a year: New Year’s Eve and the JACC conference. We didn’t need insurance to book hotel sites in those days and at times JACC was the Wild West despite the Education Code. (Ask me in person some time for stories from those days; I have some doozies, one in particular involving sex and handcuffs.)

One of JACC’s conference problems today, which I address below, is cost of the conference. In those days the registration for the conference was just $100 and included your hotel stay. Later we kept costs “down” by leaving the registration fee alone, but making the hotel stay a separate cost.

We left the Hacienda/Sheraton –which by the way was shortly reconfigured into a retirement facility– but stayed in Fresno. My second stint as chair involved moving the conference to what was then the new seven-story Holiday Inn across the street from the Fresno Convention Center. By then, the grand experiment of rotating responsibility of running the conferences to different regions of the state had fallen apart.

Two years later the great Wil Sims of Modest College (those who never knew him missed out on knowing one of the best friends JACC ever had) helped move us to a campus setting at Fresno State University. He became our first “permanent” conference coordinator and served for three years and did such a great job that the organization grew a hefty financial cushion, one that evaporated later on as conference costs rose while we held steadfastly to as-low-as-possible registration rates.

By 1999 we had grown too large even for Fresno State –to find a place for the group to sit down together for an awards banquet we had to go half way across Fresno to a private banquet facility. Besides, food costs at the campus settings were starting to rival food costs at hotel settings. A $15-20 dinner, for instance, suddenly becomes closer to $30 each when you add on mandatory tax and tips. So, the board of directors decided to transition back into a hotel setting.

And we’d tired of Fresno after nearly 20 years there. The board decided to look to our state capital as a setting that could draw part of the organization (southern colleges) to travel across the state. The intent was to eventually share the travel burden and rotate between north and south, possibly even looking at San Jose or San Francisco as northern sites. So in 2000 I took my third stint as chair. We ended up at the Double Tree Inn and have had a long-standing good relationship with it.

– – – – –

Perhaps here is a good place to talk about one of the defining characteristics of JACC conferences that limits where it holds them. Certainly hotel rates are a big factor in where JACC chooses to go; we want the lowest rates possible for a decent place to stay. But JACC does something else that limits its choices; college stacks as many students as we can into rooms so that they don’t have to pay for as many rooms. JACC requires a hotel with a high percentage of rooms with two double beds in them (double-doubles). All hotels have SOME double-doubles, but a limited number around the state have as high a percentage as we require/use. Keep that in mind when we discuss how to make JACC sustainable.

JACC is also somewhat unique (I know, that is a non-sequitur), is that it books its conferences by college delegation, rather than by individuals. (Other organizations might take delegation-based registrations for the conference, but require lodging registrations to be by individual.) Some of JACC’s hotel problems would go away if it registered as individuals, but it would create even more problems for us.

Besides moving from both a campus setting to a hotel setting and from Fresno to Sacramento came with three other important changes:

1) Computers became part of the conference scene back when we were still at the Hacienda (there are even more stories to tell about that transition) but everyone had to bring them with them, just as they had to bring manual typewriters before that. After a few years at a campus setting we had become accustom to not carting computers and printers along. If we were going back to a hotel setting, we had to address that problem. The answer became the notorious AlphaSmarts. Everyone hated them, but they provided an elegant solution until laptop computers were more ubiquitous (yeah, another non-sequitur).

2) We bit the bullet and raised the conference registration fees for the first time in a long time. It was a big jump because that was what was necessary. Had we raised the fees gradually over the years –something I still think JACC should be doing– the shock would not have been as great. Still, the 2000 conference in Sacramento drew a larger number of student delegates than ever seen before at a JACC conference. And that number climbed slightly each year until about two or three years ago when it saw a dramatic drop in both membership and conference participation. Over the years we added additional fees, such as contest fees for the “mail-in” competitions. The why-for and way-for is steeped in several reasons, but the main one was to avoid raising the “registration” fee.

3) We changed the membership dues dramatically, and in doing so, priced out some struggling programs. In earlier days we had a more successful way of covering operational costs of the organization. I’ll cover that below. (We still give out about $3,000 in scholarships each year, though our original and best way to pay for that no longer exists.)

Another change that came along later deserves some attention. As we evolved into a dedicated conference chair position we moved to compensating the individual who took on the role. We started with woefully low stipends and played around with the idea of percentage commissions. We rejected the latter for some sound reasons. In the early 2000s the board approved a massive payment change that was morally appropriate, but financially unsustainable. Instead of stipends of $500, $1,000 or even $2,000 for all the work put into planning and running the conference, the board approved a cost of $10,000 and folded in responsibility running regionals and the faculty conference, which I have not even mentioned heretofore in this post.

It was morally appropriate because it was “fairer” to the person running the conferences. (Twice that amount would have been closer to market value.) It also added a sense of stability to conferences as necessary skill sets being concentrated in one person made running conferences more efficient. But it was financially unsustainable and nearly bankrupted the organization. I am not sure that Timi Poeppelman was EVER paid that $10,000 a year, though she transformed the conference into a world-class convention for our students. It was a failed experiment that might better have been phased in more slowly to gauge the right balance of morality and financial sustainability.

– – – – – –

Well, that pretty much takes us through today with conferences.

  • They cost a lot and require either a dedicated (and ideally paid) conference chair position or a really dedicated volunteer army. One problem with the latter is that it is too easy to find yourself with “reinventing the wheel” every year, though JACC has gotten much better at handing down traditions.
  • The dramatic drop in membership and conference attendance exacerbates the financial problems and can threaten the organization’s existence in its present form.
  • The organization has shed the high-cost conference coordinator model. That creates a burden on a volunteer-run (volunteers have always been a part of the conference, but their role at the top was diminished under the formal conference coordinator model) team, who deserve more thanks and accolades than they will ever receive. Potential burnout is a real problem.

 

HOW CAN JACC BECOME SUSTAINABLE?

Well shedding the high-cost conference coordinator model and going back to a grass roots structure was the most important step. But at the same time JACC will have to address the high cost of running conferences and the drop in membership and delegates.

It should be noted that Sacramento conferences draw more schools –and probably more delegates– than Los Angeles/Burbank-based conferences. This is true because more southern schools are in a position to attend a northern conference than northern schools in a position to attend a southern conference. But it is more than that. There are southern schools who cannot or will not even attend a southern conference. The reasons for that vary, but not least among them is cost. I would argue that holiday timing plays a role these days, too. The problem of scheduling around varied spring breaks, Easter and Passover is a bigger issue today than ever before.

JACC leaders are now considering going back to a campus-based conference, and maybe going back to the 1970s and looking at a more central location, perhaps Fresno or San Luis Obispo.

I don’t have any insights on whether Fresno State or Cal Poly SLO would like to host us –neither has been particularly active with JACC for a long time and don’t often even send representatives to our conferences any more– so I can’t and won’t make a judgment on whether that is a good idea. I suspect it has merit, especially if one or both is interested in hosting us. I have also heard Northridge mentioned as a possibility. I suppose that on paper it is even worth considering Bakersfield. (Channel Islands in Ventura County does not seem viable because it does not even have a formal journalism program.)

Aside from a willing host, a big consideration has to be where people will stay during the conference. That’s where JACC’s proclivity for school-based hotel registrations and need of a high number of double-doubles will come into play. We’ve been to Fresno before and know there are hotel possibilities around Fresno State. But things have changed since we were last in Fresno as an organization. A recent Fresno Bee article explains what could be a problem. Since we were last there many other organizations, especially sports-based organizations have moved statewide activities there. Fresno hotels, especially those close to Fresno State, have a high occupancy rate. At times of the year, the article says, you can’t get a hotel room within 40 miles of Fresno.

And moving to a campus setting might not save as much money as one might think. The hotel is still going to get its share. And the campus facilities might not be as free to the organization as they once were; having a host journalism program helps, though. And food costs at the campus setting when we left Fresno were rivaling the cost of food at hotels. The good news with the drop in conference attendance is that we could once again find a spot on campus to all sit down for an awards banquet. And looking into a meal voucher system for breakfasts –if not included by hotels– and lunches with campus vendors that Wil Sims introduced has great potential for saving money. (At hotels we have to guarantee a certain number of meals and pay for them whether students attend them or not; with a voucher system we end up paying only for meals consumed at contracted vendors).

Meal costs make up the largest portion of running the conference. But eliminating them completely is not the answer, at least at hotels. At hotels JACC gets free or nearly free meeting space to run its conferences because the hotels can make their money from selling us room nights or selling us meals. Eliminate meals or sell fewer room nights and the hotel simply quotes a higher per-night room rate. (If JACC schools put one or two students to a room rather than loading them up with four and five students they would use more overall room nights –one room x one night = one room night– the cost of the rooms and meals might actually go down a bit. But they’d still be paying as much or more because they have shifted the cost to more rooms.)

Here are some other ideas:

FINANCES

In the 1980s JACC ran up some high financial reserves with low membership rates. Of course, it was taking advantage of high interest rates, too. In fact, it was able to start a $3,000-a-year scholarship program taking money only from interest earned each year on its reserves.

As interest rates dropped, it kept up the large scholarship program, even if it mean dipping into the $30,000-plus reserves’ principle. This was another morally appropriate but financially unsustainable decision. Who doesn’t want to honor the outstanding students of JACC with scholarships?

This might have worked had JACC not also sustained high losses to that principle from arguably poor financial management of some its conferences –we don’t know for sure because more than once we put the conference chair in charge of the checking accounts; they both spent the money and struggled with timely accountability. In one three-year span with one of the early coordinators the large reserve disappeared. I was on the board at the time and still cannot explain where that money went.

Through the years JACC has discovered that it needs professional financial accounting. We just are not prepared to do that ourselves. Today JACC has that help through the California News Publishers Association. As it has learned, though, it still needs one of its members to serve as a liaison between our accountant and the organization. I am glad to see that it appointed one at this last convention.

The board over the years has a pattern of making morally appropriate but financially unsustainable decisions. One has been trying to hold down the cost of conferences registrations in the face of rising costs. Regular small increases would be more sustainable than periodic big jumps. Of course, that does not eliminate the need to regularly assess costs and look for efficient ways to control them.

But just how did JACC manage with low membership fees for so many years? The secret was designating a percentage of the conference income for operational costs. It used to regularly designate $1-$2 per delegate fee (probably translates to $5-7 today) strictly for running the organization. It came off the top and was untouchable for other conference expenses. At one point another assessment of $1-$2 helped raise money for the scholarships; the number of delegates and money raised by that fee and earned interest determined how much could be given in scholarships each year.

The logic behind such a large membership fee is that college administrators will approve it without question. We lost some struggling programs as members as a result. Today few non-member colleges give that as a reason not to join. Still, I think there is merit to rethinking the per-delegate override, perhaps both at regional conferences and the state conference. To do so, though, we should look at cutting expenses over adding it to the current fees.

And as much as I hate to suggest it, JACC should identify specific sources of income to pay for its scholarship program and pay out only what it earns from these sources.

I don’t think JACC will see much savings from a move to a campus setting, but culturally, it might be a good move to consider a middle-of-the state location. It might see an uptick of attendance by those schools who cannot or will not travel the length of the state.

And, of course, JACC has to win back lost members. JACC is an outstanding organization that provides great value both to students and teachers, especially newer teachers.  I know some of those not participating are having needs met by Associated Collegiate Press conferences, but as good as they are, they are not JACC. And JACC is stronger with those lost members. (I still hear cost of participation as a reason for attending JACC conferences, but there are schools in the state who spend big bucks to go to national conventions or East Coast-based ACP regional conferences. Cost is not the issue when they are willing to spend money to go to them. JACC has to co-opt some of the best of those conferences –aside from the out-of-state travel appeal– and draw those schools back. There are other issues involved that I am not bringing up here; JACC leaders know the reasons and have win back trust one lost member at a time. Hashing it out here would not be productive.

CONFERENCES

How does JACC make conferences more sustainable? If I had the magic solution I would have offered it longer before now. But I have some ideas to consider.

In recent years JACC leaders have trimmed some costs considered extravagant. That’s good PR, but probably did not save all that much money in the long run. The organization is contest heavy and insists on those contests being reality-based. I cannot argue with that. But it means you pick up costs for things like buses to take reporters and photographers to off-site events. That is definitely one area where the organization can save money with a campus-based conference. And the reality-based events are arguably better than the theatrically based events we used to provide (though there are great stories about those, too; one involving a situation that COULD have resulted in people getting killed).

I still judge at annual Southern California high school journalism writing contests and cringe at the manufactured news events they throw together. Students rise to the occasion, but it is not real. For instance, I judged a sports competition this year that was a five-year-old documentary about an Olympian who participated in the Winter Olympics a week later. Students were instructed to treat the documentary as though the participants were giving a live press conference. The students did an outstanding job with their stories –other than the upcoming games were not a part of the story– but is that what we want to teach young reporters?

As technology in the field has grown, JACC has added more technology-based contests. It has been wise, though, in curbing proliferation of contests by subtracting contests along the way as well. Still, I don’t think JACC has given full consideration to use of technology to deliver what some of the conference offers.

It might consider using technology to deliver conference-style workshops throughout the year and not just at conferences. It might consider a small “technology commuter” rate to its conferences to deliver parts of the conferences to those schools who cannot afford the full conference experience. A technology-delivered workshop or awards banquet is not as appealing as a live event, but well-planned experiences could be made appealing. (With emphasis on well-planned.) At the very least, the additional costs incurred to record and deliver technologically based workshops might be recouped from these special fees and more students would be served.

When I was an adviser in the organization one of the things I hated most about the annual convention was that my students who attend invariably came back excited with lots of new ideas … and then had only about a month to implement them before the end of the school year.

I often fantasized about what might have been had the statewide conference been in the fall semester and the regionals in the spring. They would have the rest of the school year –certainly more than a month– to implement their new ideas and build off the momentum of the conference. Regionals, then, would serve as booster shots. And scheduling of a fall statewide conference would avoid the staggering spring breaks, Easter and Passover.

I know there is a strong feeling among advisers that the end-of-the-year state conference is a reward for a year’s good work. I accept that premise, but encourage JACC to this think about really shaking things up with a switch like that. Planning a statewide conference in mid-October/early November would allow major conference planning to take place over summer months when its volunteer planners are less busy with running their own programs.

And, finally, I think JACC should look back to its past and at least consider combining its conference with another organization. The two organizations could cooperate and eliminate duplication. A higher attendance base would again amortize expenses.

The logical organization team up with would be the California College Media Association, the successor to the defunct California Intercollegiate Association mentioned above. That organization currently allows community colleges into its membership, but community college participation is limited.

Right now CCMA combines its conferences with the Associated Collegiate Press western region conferences … when that conference is scheduled in California, which is at least half time time, maybe three-fourths. When ACP is out of state, CCMA puts together an awards banquet with perhaps a workshop or two.

Among other benefits, it would once again bring the university instructors into the same room with the community college instructors. That’s got to be a good outcome.

And I’ll bet students will love it. Talking to JACC students who have moved on to the university level over the years I have discovered that they really miss the JACC experience after they have transferred. The ACP regional conferences are good, and certainly less expensive than JACC, but they offer so much less. A JACC/CCMA conference would make a dent in the ACP conference … not that it is a contest between ACP and JACC. If JACC were to switch its state conference to fall, there might even be a combined JACC/ACP/CCMA conference in the spring.

There is still the drinking issue that would have to be dealt with. It might take some creative thinking to deal with it. Or it MIGHT become moot if a combined conference became an individually attended conference rather than a school delegation attended conference.

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OTHER CONFERENCES

You will notice that I have said little about regional conferences above and haven’t even touched the history or value of the faculty conference, which was started in 1979. My thoughts on the history and value of the faculty conference are too emotional to be folded into this blog entry, so it will probably be my next topic. I’ll toss in a bit about the regionals as well.

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NOW, FOR THAT YOSEMITE STORY I PROMISED

This story took place before I became involved with JACC, so it is told second-hand. But some of those there have confirmed it.

The conference was held in Yosemite in one of its tent-cabin campgrounds. Advisers then, as advisers do today, tended to leave students alone in the evenings of the conference and congregated among themselves to talk about teaching … and probably to imbibe.

That year however, the adviser from one school could not attend the conference and the college sent a dean of students as a substitute. He did not feel comfortable leaving students on their own and enlisted De Anza’s Warren Mack to patrol the campground at night on his own to make sure nothing untoward was happening.

As he was passing one of the tent cabins he heard some amorous nosies emanating from inside. Now, if you have ever been to one of those campgrounds you know that the tent-cabins do not have locks on the doors. So Mack burst into the cabin shouting, “Alright you two, where are you from?”

The man looked up and replied, in a distinct accent, “We are from Sweden. We are on our honeymoon.”

 

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Is JACC dying?

March 29, 2018

74766424 - grave yard tomb stone in misty, green cemetery.

Two nonprofit organizations I care about are waning and it hurts. It hurts because I want to jump in and save both, but I don’t know how.

And even if I could, I am not sure I should. My father tried to raise me to be indispensable in everything I do. I have come to realize I am more successful if I build a program, project, or organization that can survive me.

One organization –my church– has decided it is time to close its doors or transform into some other undetermined entity. The other, which I have worked with for many more years, may also be going through its final throes; it is the Journalism Association of Community Colleges. Read the rest of this entry ?

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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