Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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The future of student publications and journalism programs

October 19, 2020
Peering into a possible future

When I was in my 30s and early 40s I was fascinated with the future and how I might best prepare for it. I subscribed to several futurist magazines to learn more.

I’m not talking about crystal ball and tea leaves future, but determining future general directions in society that might affect my lifestyle and my teaching. One of the things I learned from serious futurists is that you never predict THE future, but instead develop POSSIBLE futures based on a look at trends developing today.

I especially found that helpful in my teaching community college journalism students for the next few decades. And it still piques my interest as I sit on the sidelines of retirement watching what is going on in the world around me and how it can affect those still teaching journalism on high school, community college, and university levels.

I know more about community college level than the others and am more in tune with adivising student publications –I loved my career of working with students who found meaning in life by working for the student newspaper– than I do about many other areas of a journalism education, though I respect them as much.

So my thoughts lately have largely concentrated on the impact of COVID-19 to student publications. What long term impact will shifitng to remote instruction, however temporary (or not), have?

I am no longer in the trenches and am not dealing with the day-to-day, but that gives me the opportunity to look beyond my own program and observe more. I do this by monitoring student publications across the state on a daily basis for my Online Elsewhere project that results in my reposting interesting high school, community college stories, on my Online Elsewhere Facebook page and in develioing my five-day-a-week journalsim education newsletter aimed at an instructor audience. As a part of the project I use RSS to review hundreds of student stories each day from more than 150 high school, nearly 50 community college, and a couple of dozen university publicaitons in Calfornia. All that and talking to my colleagues still teaching.

So, what do I see as the possible future of student publications? Well, I have so much more to learn about high school and university publications, so I will focus on the community colleges that I know best.

I see a dire possible future for student publications advised by instructors (like myself) in love with print publications. Print publications are in trouble and long-time advisers, especially, are not doing enough to prepare students for a digital future. Many are talking about it, but most have not infused it in their programs enough and still put most of their efforts to teaching print journalism. The pandemic is going to chew up and spit out print publications and entire programs with them. Only the psychological and legal difficulties of laying off tenured instructors may keep some programs around longer than others.

That’s a tough prediction to make. I admire the work being done by California community college journalism instructors and their students. If I were not retired mine could be one of those programs I’m talking about.

Here’s some backgorund on why I make that prediction, though.

  1. The industry has been slowly making a shift to an onlne-first distribution, with some publications shifting to online only.

Community college programs have almost all created online versions of their publication, but they have not embraced those sites.

a. Some use the sites only as an archive of print stories, posting stories in batchs online only after or just before the print edition rather than recognizing the daily nature of their websites. Besides, websites are so last decade; today they serve as hubs for mobile, social media, and other distribution methods.

b. Even those who make an attempt to publish online first tell their stories with a print-only mindset. They seldom look at how to leverage online tools, such as linking, to their stories, and they often do not pay attention to readability of their online stories. They seldom look at other ways to tell stories, such as with audio, video, interactivity, or other multimedia.

c. Wonderful web templates for student publications, such as those provided by Student Newspapers Online and other professsional web hosts, make it easy to create a publication site and then forget about it except for uploading content to fill in the holes. Once set up, the online sites are pretty much out of site and out of mind for most publication staffs. Few staff members even look at their own websites, much less pay attention to analytics. And faculty are not moving them that direction because they are focusing too much on teaching print. How many faculty include their website in critiques of their publications?

  1. The student publication is a major factor why California community colleges even have journalism programs. There is value in a journalism curriculm beyond the student publication, but the publication is an anchor for those programs. (Remember, half of the community colleges in Calfornia do not have journalism programs and are willing to steer that course without a publication because it requires thinking about a full program. One of my former college presidents once confided in me, “Student newspapers are a pain the ass.”)

Campus readership of student newspapers at community colleges has been declining for years.

Even when I was teaching we’d see half of the print copies we distributed on campus being left on the stands and ending up in recycling. Each year the percentage of leftover print copies increased unless we decreased the print run. This begs the question: What is the role of the print edition?

a. Obstensibly, there are only a few reasons to keep a print edition these days: Campus visibilty, tradition, “pick-up-because-it-is-there” readers, advertising income, the tactile satisfaction of a completed product in the hands of publication staff members, and the family cohesivenss of working long hours to produce that product.

i. VISIBILITY – Campus visibility for your program is important. But these days no one is on campus to see a print product.

Some publications distribute off campus, and there may still be visibility value for them, but if you only distribute on campus, there is no visibilty.

Many hope the current remote instruction that has campuses closed is just temporary. They thought it was just for the end of last school year, only to find that it included the first semester of this school year. Only, it turns out that for most it is all school year. They hope that the 2021-22 school year will be back on campus. That may be wishful thinking. A COVID-19 second wave this winter and next spring, which is quite likely, will result in another school year away from campus.

ii. PICK IT UP BECAUSE IT IS THERE – Even 50 or so years ago when I was a student working on my college publication we’d take polls about what people liked in the student paper only to find that the most common answer was, “We have a student paper?”

California community colleges are largely commuter campuses and the general student population is on campus only for classes and then those students are gone. They are aware of the student newspaper only if you have a good distribution process that places the publication in their sitelines as they enter and leave the campus. Those increasingly leftover issues each week are a sign that the “pick-it-up-because-it-is-there” strategy is a dying one.

iii. TRADITION – I respect tradition. I love tradition. But traditions evolve. And the days of a print product publicaiton are numbered for most. I don’t enjoy saying that, but I believe it. Print products are costly and the pandemic is reaking havoc with college budgets. It is getting harder and harder to justify the cost of print publications when there are fewer and fewer readers of thos eprint products.

Unless new readership engagement strategies are developed, the print edition tradition needs to be changed. Colleges are also printing fewer editions as a result, dropping from weekly to every other week; dropping from every other week to monthly or semesterly. That’s just another way to say that the print edition lacks the value it once had.

iv. ADVERTISING – Gone are the days when half or more of a student pubLication’s operation budget, aside from faculty salaries, came from advertising income in the print edition. The decline of print advertising in commerical newspapers has finally started affecting student publications. Few community college pubications these days have ANY non-campus advertising in it. And with publication cutbacks to monthly or semesterly can you blame advertisers who want to reach audiences in a timely manner?

v. THE TACTILE PRODUCT – The tactile feel of a print product is still very powerful. Students LOVE putting together the print publication, though they, like their own readers, dont’ read the product once it is put together. I don’t know how we replace that powerful force, but am convinced that in a possible future we can if we switch our focus to put more importance on our digital products.

It won’t have the tactile feel, but it can probably replace it with a stronger emotional pride in our digital products.

Some programs today continue to put huge efforts into developing digital versions of their print product. As an enlightened dinosaur myself, I enjoy that because I actually enjoy reading my newspapers as thoughtful packages.

I am not convinced that there is a large audience for a pdf verison of a student publication or even an interactive one as cheesy as issuu or yumpu. They look nice and provides us with something emotionally tactitle, but unless we can create affordable versions with better readability, they will not last. They are merely archives.

Those programs putting effort into pdf versions of their print product in these pandemic times are banking on a return to normal soon. The longer remote instruction keeps students from campus, the more likely these products will fall by the wayside, unless we find a better way to utilize them and market them. They still provide value in the design and team skillsets they develop, but they are not vital to the newspaper’s role on campus.

vi. COHESIVENESS AND PURPOSE – That just leaves the cohesiveness of working long hours to produce that product. This, too, is extemely powerful. One of the biggest joys of my teaching career was seeing students come alive with purpose in working as a team for long hours to produce a product. Students some times would ignore other classes to work on the student newspaper. Students would work late nights to put out the product.

I believe there is a way to transfer that activity and cohesiveness to an online product … if we try. Doing so will be the salvation of programs if the pandemic keeps our campuses closed longer than most hope.

Failure to move that direction now and to develop strategies will find themselves behind when the budget axe starts hitting campuse as a pandemic economy starts to get beyond simple austerity measures. I’ve been on the losing end of that kind of economy when the college I was working on in the 1990s eliminated my program because it was low hanging fruit.

I became an early adopter on my campus of online education. I found ways to adapt what I taught to a virtual classroom in all areas except one: how to recreate the “clubhouse” power of a student publication lab.

Forced remote instruction will be a godsend if instructors will work at it. It actually parallels what many commerical newsrooms are having to deal with during our pandemic times. The power of utilizing possible futures requires you to accept the awkward transitions to get there.

b. The pandemic is showing us that some of the traditional roles of a print pubication are no longer as valid. Programs CAN remain vital if they accept change. What they do is important and a product of some kind is a big part of it. How they create and display our product determines whether their colleges see us as worth continuing.

  1. College programs are being forced to make temporary adjustments. It is hard on students and it is hard on faculty. But there is a silver lining for the future if all will stop thinking as remote instruction as temporary and stop hanging on to unsustainable print publications as the main focus of what they do.
    That is not to say that print publicaitons are dead, dead, dead. There may still be value in them, but not as the main product we teach and aspire to.

It is easier to discontinue programs as an austerity measure by not replacing faculty as they retire, and community colleges have a huge aging faculty base. But if the pandemic economy takes years to recover from, it is just as likely that we will see ugly situations like the one I experienced mid-way through my career. Tenure does not save you if the college decides to start axing entire programs.

• If what programs have as product is no longer considered viable and up to date, they are low hanging fruit. Even the commercial industry is finding that failure to fully embrace the new technologies can lead to the death of the print product.

• Business-based budget decisions are a numbers game; if programs don’t attract students and move them through the system to completion they are low handing fruit.

• The high cost of print, especially for what is gained in return, and the death of a traditional income source, makes programs low hanging fruit. (I’ll explain some other time why a high-cost athletic program is not a good comparison for us. But in short, those programs have higher perceived values than “dying” print publications.)

• Students willing to put in long hours producing a print product and gaining a sense of purpose in doing so is a strength for programs; students not moving through the system because they are ignoring other classes in order to work on a print product that requires huge blocks of time on a regular basis makes them low-hanging fruit. Reconstructing that family cohesion in a manner that eliminates all students working long hours in time-sensitive time blocks may well be the key to sheilding vulnerable programs.


Of course, this is all just a possible future. There are ways to avoid the dire consequences, but only if programs adapt at a more frantic pace. The realities are already here working against them.

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It’s the headline, stupid

October 1, 2020

There is a political maxim: It’s the economy, stupid. (Although this year it might be the pandemic and/or social justice.) When it comes to journalistic news sites it should be “It’s the headline, stupid.”

Yes, story content is important, but like the tree falling in the woods and whether it makes a sound, who cares if no one is there to hear it (or read the story).

Each day I review hundreds of California high school, community college, and university student news publication stories, looking for the interesting, unsual, and just plain outstanding student stories to share on my Online Elsewhere Facebook page and at the bottom of my daily newsletter on journalism education.

I often have a difficult time defining what sticks out for sharing. Sometimes it depends on what else is being published that day, the first time someone beats the rest with real news, or something else entirely. I know I prefer to pick campus-related stories or community/national stories that involve original reporting with an effort to actually talk to someone, but I will also pick opinion pieces that stray from the typical.

Occassionally, I bore through a dull headline and find a hidden gem that I think might interest my intended journalism educaiton audience. But mostly it is that first impression of a good headline, which seems to not be much of a consideration for student journalists these days. One- or two-word headlines rarely tell the reader what the story is about. Twenty-word headlines are just sloppy. Weak headline writing is common across all three levels of institutions I monitor. (Is headline writing not being taught any more?)

But most egregious are the headlines (and leads) that miss the real news. Here is an example from this last week or so. California Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley has been holding periodic press conferences for community college stuent editors. It is common to see headlines like “Chancellor meets with student editors.” Okay, I’ll give you the benefit of arguing that until the last eight months, this was not common; in that sense it is newsworthy that he is doing so. But what he says in those press conferences is more important that the fact that he met.

During his most recent meeting he apparently covered a variety of topics (a weak description that could be used for every once of his press conferences. SO FAR, I’ve seen only ONE community college story about the press conference that told me in the headline something important he said — and what he said was a doozy. Kudos to the East Los Angeles Campus News for writing “California Community College courses stay online to 2024.”

How is this not the lead story in student publications across the state this week? (By the way, he told student editors last May that this entire school year would be online, but everyone seems surprised that the spring will be.)

California State University publications have a similar problem, by the way, with headlines like “Chancellor-select Castro announces plans for time as CSU leader” that don’t say what those plans include, such as looking to see if campus service fees can be reduced while campuses are closed.

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Oh, what they missed, but I did not!

January 28, 2013

I am on my way home from the Journalism Association of Community Colleges’ 33rd annual Mid-Winter Faculty conference, once again stoked with excitement from the things I learned in workshops and renewed acquaintances with my journalism teaching colleagues.

At the same, I am sad for the 60 percent to 70 percent of the California community college journalism instructors who, for whatever reason, opted out of attending the conference. Only about 25 instructors took time from their  busy lives to recharge their batteries in the area of life that makes it possible for them to much of what they were doing instead.

I hold the distinction of being the only person in the organization who has attended EVERY Mid-Winter Faculty Conference. I also had a role in creating the concept of the pre-conference Blue Heron seminar that allows us to explore a single topic for an entire day. And I can tell you now that I will be back again next year. Sign me up now.

Here is a list of some of the things those who DID NOT attend missed out on.

Blue Heron – An interesting session where the students have become the teacher. Former community college students Aaron Williams and Kelly Goff, who teamed up working for the student publication at San Francisco State University before entering the professional journalism world introduced us to new digital tools for storytelling. Among the things were learned was how to persevere when the Inn at Morro Bay says that it has enough bandwidth in its wireless system to serve a group like ours, but really does not.

The difference between journalism teacher and journalism coach when it comes to student publications and why the latter is superior to the former. Contra Costa’s Paul DeBolt, who has almost as much seniority in the organization as I do (I have several years of adjunct experience over him) shared lessons of serving as his college’s women’s basketball coach and how they apply to coaching student publications.

New teaching tools available to us on teaching students how to write more responsible articles that involved mental disorders.

More information on the ONLY undergraduate journalism program in the University of California system and how at least one instructor in the program wants to reach out more to community college students.

Mobile journalism on the cheap with great low-end (low cost) tools and smart phone apps that improve making, editing and delivering  photos and photo stories presented by an instructor from the venerable photography school Brooks Institute of Photography.

How to improve the workflow of assigning, editing and publishing assignments for your student publication.

Updates on curriculum issues facing us all. These include the loss of repeatability for our publications, the creation and adoption of new associate of arts transfer degrees that will save many of our programs and help scads of students –as well as what is fact and what is simply your campus’ Curriculum Committee interpretation of new rules.

What we need to know about the upcoming JACC state conference,

And what has occurred in media law in the last year that we need to know.

I am on my way home from the Journalism Association of Community Colleges’ 33rd annual Mid-Winter Faculty conference, once again stoked with excitement from the things I learned in workshops and renewed acquaintances with my journalism teaching colleagues.

At the same, I am sad for the 60 percent to 70 percent of the California community college journalism instructors who, for whatever reason, opted out of attending the conference. Only about 25 instructors took time from their  busy lives to recharge their batteries in the area of life that makes it possible for them to much of what they were doing instead.

I hold the distinction of being the only person in the organization who has attended EVERY Mid-Winter Faculty Conference. I also had a role in creating the concept of the pre-conference Blue Heron seminar that allows us to explore a single topic for an entire day. And I can tell you now that I will be back again next year. Sign me up now.

Here is a list of some of the things those who DID NOT attend missed out on.

  • Blue Heron – An interesting session where the students have become the teacher. Former community college students Aaron Williams and Kelly Goff, who teamed up working for the student publication at San Francisco State University before entering the professional journalism world introduced us to new digital tools for storytelling. Among the things were learned was how to persevere when the Inn at Morro Bay says that it has enough bandwidth in its wireless system to serve a group like ours, but really does not.
  • The difference between journalism teacher and journalism coach when it comes to student publications and why the latter is superior to the former. Contra Costa’s Paul DeBolt, who has almost as much seniority in the organization as I do (I have several years of adjunct experience over him) shared lessons of serving as his college’s women’s basketball coach and how they apply to coaching student publications.
  • New teaching tools available to us on teaching students how to write more responsible articles that involved mental disorders.
  • More information on the ONLY undergraduate journalism program in the University of California system and how at least one instructor in the program wants to reach out more to community college students.
  • Mobile journalism on the cheap with great low-end (low cost) tools and smart phone apps that improve making, editing and delivering  photos and photo stories presented by an instructor from the venerable photography school Brooks Institute of Photography.
  • How to improve the workflow of assigning, editing and publishing assignments for your student publication.
  • Updates on curriculum issues facing us all. These include the loss of repeatability for our publications, the creation and adoption of new associate of arts transfer degrees that will save many of our programs and help scads of students –as well as what is fact and what is simply your campus’ Curriculum Committee interpretation of new rules.
  • What we need to know about the upcoming JACC state conference,
  • And what has occurred in media law in the last year that we need to know.
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Where have all the student publications gone?

August 23, 2012

I don’t want to steal thunder from a freelance reporter who contacted me yesterday about a story she hopes to pitch, but her questions contributed to my insomnia last night.

Her pitch will include a look at the loss of journalism programs in community colleges around the state of California. And her timing is important. In the last few weeks we have learned that five schools have shut down the student newspaper courses or “put them on hiatus,” which is code for “we’re shutting them down, but don’t really want to say so, so we’ll pretend we intend it to be short term.”

Those schools are:

  • Antelope Valley College
  • College of San Mateo
  • Los Angeles Harbor College (unconfirmed)
  • San Jose City College*, and
  • San Diego Miramar College

* Update 9/5/12: San Jose City College’s publication was reprieved for at least one semester.

And we don’t know if this is the end. School has not started for all community colleges and we might see a couple more get shut down at the last minute due to insufficient enrollments coupled with the devastating budget cuts community colleges have faced in recent years.

Before this year there have been cutbacks to student publications at:

  • Shasta College
  • College of the Canyons
  • Modesto College, and

Probably at a couple of other small colleges we have trouble tracking.

And then there are other colleges that have massive cuts to their operating budgets (remind you of the death of a thousand cuts?) or, like Moorpark College, practically have been forced to online only.

Worse, as I answered the reporter’s questions I said that it would not shock me to hear of another half dozen publications closing down in the next year, especially if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure fails this November. That is an ugly enough statement, but as I later thought about which programs those might be I actually came up with a private watch list three times that size. These are programs that might be vulnerable because of budget cuts, low or lagging enrollments, and long-time instructor retirements … or a combination of those.

There are 112 community colleges in California, but in the best of times there are only about 65-70 colleges with student publications. If my watch list is any where near accurate, combined with this year’s and recent year’s cuts, that could very well mean a loss of a third or more of the student publications since the start of the recession. Ouch!

This is one reason why the California Journalism Education Coalition, a group I chair that brings together representatives from high school, community college, university and industry groups interested in journalism education, will be sponsoring a pair of regional workshops this fall with the theme of “Journalism Education Under Assault. One will be held in Sacramento in late September and the other in Northridge in mid-October.

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Hard to keep up with software

August 11, 2012

I took my first high school journalism course a little more than 40 years ago and started teaching my first college-level journalism course five or six years later. Teaching sure seemed easier back then.  In addition to teaching students how to write, tell stories, take photos, design newspaper pages, and lead staffs, the types of technologies you had to teach included:

  • Manual typewriters
  • Waxers/wax pots
  • Film cameras (with flash cubes)
  • Light tables*
  • Photo sizing wheels
  • Pica poles (printer’s rulers)

Pasting up on windows
*At my community college we did not have light tables, so we taped newspaper paste-up sheets to windows so we could see the light blue gridlines that helped us line up typeset copy. That’s me on the right with the acne face.

When stories were written they were shipped off to a printer to be magically set into justified columns of type and sent back for paste-up. You placed back construction paper where you wanted photos and sent them to the printer along with the designed pages.

As I prepare for my sixteenth year of full-time teaching at Cerritos College (following nearly 17 years of full-time teaching at West Valley College in the San Jose area and four-and-a-half years of part-time teaching at Reedley and Merced colleges) I am looking at how much things have changed.

I spent the summer teaching multimedia reporting where I introduced students to a variety of multimedia storytelling techniques and tools. More than one student asked me how I knew so many software tools and how I kept track of what was needed to do what.

To help my fall newspaper students keep track of software tools we use in producing our multiple publications – print, digital, and online—I decided to put together the following visual map. It is interesting that for our print publication that we use just a few software packages: Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Photoshop. But for the online edition it seems like there are almost a couple dozen.

TM software tools
Click image for pdf

TM software tools
Click image for pdf

In addition to teaching students writing, storytelling, photography, leadership, and design, we now teach audio recording and editing, video editing we have added the technologies of:

  • Computers
  • Digital cameras
  • Video cameras
  • Digital audio recorders
  • And, soon, iPads

And then there are the software packages, from our high-end online content management system EllingtonCMS, to iMovie video editing software, to GarageBand audio editing software, to Facebook and Twitter social media platforms, to YouTube video sharing channels. And the smaller programs that help us assign stories and photos, create embeddable media, convert formats, and more.

What we teach
Click image for pdf

Yes, things are much more complex these days. Advising/teaching student publications is not for the weak.

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Moving forward by changing course

June 24, 2012

students working at computer laptopA time honored way of teaching the student media course at a college is to let the students run the show and have the teacher come along after the fact and provide critique.

Students learn responsibility for their own product and also learn how to learn from their own successes and failures. I am a strong advocate of this type of teaching and maintain a helping, but hands-off approach to the production process. My role is to teach, not do the work for the students or edit their work.

But I have become increasingly dissatisfied with my own performance as an instructor in the critique process. The problem stems from the fact that that while I preach a digital first approach to the news process, my critiques are steeped in the old process of critiquing the weekly print edition.

How are students to take seriously my protestations of a weekly print mindset in story assignments, coverage and deadlines when my own example engenders it?

Over the past couple of years I have stepped up my critiques of the online product, but no one would confuse the priority I give in the process to the print product.

That’s why this summer my excellent adjunct partner Walter Hammerwold and I set out to create a plan to reverse the process. I/we hope to implement it in the fall semester.

We want to transform the critique first from being an after-the-fact look at a just-completed print edition into a forward thinking story-based approach. Rather than designating one of the class periods each week as critique day we want to address stories each class period.

Our plan will be to pull together a student panel each class period to discuss one or two stories in depth.

  • The reporter will be key, and will be asked to discuss who was interviewed, what was learned, and more. We already put a lot of emphasis on collecting audio and creating an audio version of the story, so that will be a part of the discussion. Did the audio story materialize? One source or more? Identical to the print version or unique? When did the online version materialize? Identical to the print edition or unique?
  • If a photographer was assigned the photographer will be a part of this panel and will discuss similar issues, including whether an online photo gallery materialized. Why or why not?
  • The content editor will talk about expectations and problems, including presentation in both print and online.
  • The content and copy editors will talk about what they had to do to make the story publishable.
  • And the rest of the class will be encouraged to brainstorm about what else could have been done to tell the story, including what follow-ups are possible or necessary.

There are two obvious flaws to what we’re planning:

  1. Not every assignment will be evaluated this way, so we need to be strategic in how we choose stories to critique and make sure all students on the staff participate and learn over time. This will have to include provide key indicators as to how thought processes discussed of a particular story can apply to coverage of additional stories.
  2. We’re still talking about past stories, rather than planning ahead.

We’ll deal with the latter as we have mapped out a calendar for the semester that starts with the familiar format, transforms into the new format, and evolves to discussing stories and their various presentations –from online and social media, to multimedia, to print—by mid-semester.

Among our identified goals are to make sure that students plan coverage and presentation rather than simply letting it happen and recognize that stories evolve and branch out to deeper stories. We also hope that the print production process will blossom into a more organized, but creative process. (It is hard to be creative in print design when you try to edit everything at the last minute and then realize that it sure would have been great to have a photo or a sidebar to go with the story, if only you had thought of it earlier.)

And, of course, the biggest goal is to reverse the process where assignments are made with the print edition in mind and online presentation is only a mirror or an afterthought.

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Push, push, push

April 30, 2012

The end of the semester is just two weeks away and it would be easy to sit back and say, “Well, we did what we could this semester. We’ll just have to try and move further next semester.”

But that just won’t do.

We still have two weeks to start transformation to new ideas and processes. Here are some ideas that I am trying to push with Talon Marks newspaper students here at the end of the semester:

  • Our weekly news radio showhas become a beast of its own. Like the print edition the mindset is “Fill this week’s show.” All deadlines and work revolve around the deadline for the show. Instead, I am trying to get the staff to think in multiple news podcasts each week. Then at the end of the week combine the best of the podcasts to produce the campus news hour for the campus radio station.Part of the problem is that while we DO disaggregate the radio show and post the individual news audio pieces on our website, it is shovel ware. We shovel the radio show (in pieces) to the website AFTER the radio show. We need to post first, broadcast second. That might STILL take place with multiple podcasts, but at least posting can take place multiple times each week instead of after the full radio show.Too, this might lead to making the individual audio units available to other campus radio station shows, which was the intent in starting down the radio show path.
  • Move to Asana for the news budget. Yes, we long ago abandoned the white board version of a news budget and went to Google Docs, but editors are still thinking of deadlines in terms of the print edition instead of setting deadlines based on the individual story merit. Asana can help us set multiple tasks for each story with different deadlines for each task: cover the story, post a brief, submit audio, submit photos, submit complete story, etc. Even copyediting of stories couldbe part of the process if you wanted to get anal.The biggest problem with Asana is that you are limited to 30 users. There is a paid option for more users, but $300 a month? Get real. It is going to be a problem come fall semester when we have more than 30 people on the staff.
  • Online feature pages. When we went to the Ellington web management system one of the exciting possibilities was the ability to create standalone feature pages that aggregated multiple stores or elements (bios, audio interviews, videos, etc.) on one topic. We have been so myopic in thinking print issue to print issue that we have not really learned to use this feature. I’m pushing it now with three easy-to-disaggreate stories that would be good for archival presentation. I also plan to make it an integral part of my summer Multimedia Reporting course.

Why waste the last couple of weeks when it is a good time to try new things and discover unexpected roadblocks?

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Can you hear me now?

February 9, 2012

Like other college newspapers the Cerritos College Talon Marks has explored enhancing its news reporting process by introducing multimedia storytelling. We even have a three-unit course to introduce students to interactive, audio and video journalism, even though the only slot in our anemic schedule we’ve been able to plug in to is summer school, which may soon go away.

That leaves it largely to the newspaper course to teach multimedia skills in any meaningful way. Doing so is on top of producing a weekly print publication while teaching students to write and design and producing an online publication that emphasizes publish first and print second (and hopefully providing unique online content).

Any time we can leverage work, we want to do so. Lately, we’ve been emphasizing audio over video.

We have plenty of video cameras and audio recorders left over from our partnership with our Political Science Department from a few years ago where we taught video editing skills for its students, but teaching students to shoot and edit video cuts into valuable time. We don’t do it well.

microphoneSo four semesters ago we launched a different initiative, one that intersects with our efforts to cross-pollinate with our broadcast program. Students like to use the audio recorders to record interviews. While I have reservations about them relying on recordings instead of learning to take good notes, why not leverage this?

Now we ask all reporters to use the recorders, but not just to record notes. We want them to think about turning those recordings into audio stories, something akin to the in-depth stories you would hear on NPR.

We’re not good at it, but we are progressing. To start we partnered with our campus radio station to put together a weekly radio show. The first semester two newspaper students with broadcast backgrounds simply read stories from the print edition and commented on them. Then we started adding raw interviews as a means of enhancing the print stories. Then newspaper students from the broadcast program started writing stories that incorporated more storytelling with sound bytes. Our current phase is to incorporate the reporters into the writing and recording stage.

A weekly news show is weak. We know that. It is merely a vehicle to reach our goal. We want to take those individual stories and attach them to the online versions and we eventually will uncouple them from the weekly show and make them available as standalone stories that can be dropped into other radio shows on the campus radio station.

An immediate benefit from this initiative is to lure more broadcast students into journalism courses, including the student newspaper. Our broadcast program does not really teach broadcast journalism, so our campus newspaper course is filling that void.

As I said, we don’t do a good job yet, but we’re progressing. We’ve even opened up our lab so that next fall the broadcast program will offer a long-planned course in audio editing in our facility. We expect journalism students –now knowing the value of audio stories—will help fill the course. And we’ll see more broadcast students in our facility a couple of times a week; we’re bound to recruit some of them to our courses.

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Process this

February 7, 2012

Every Christmas my mother-in-law treats all her grandchildren to a trip to the local bookstore to buy a book of their choice. While I am not part of the generation that gets a free book, I like to tag along and treat myself to a book outside of my normal range of interests.

Two years ago I bought HBR’s 10 Must Reads: The Essentials,” which is an introduction to the most enduring ideas on management from Harvard Business Review and read an article in it that really enhanced the way I look at my role as adviser to the student newspaper.

The article “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change” talks about how you can predict how businesses will survive to change. The process of balancing three key components is what caught my attention.

Values, resources and processesIn essence, the article says that successful businesses are those who position themselves to balance values/goals, resources and processes.

I guess in my years of advising student publications I always did this intuitively, but the article brought more focus to it. Today I give a 10-minute lecture on this balance to my newspaper students multiple times a semester. It is a more formal aspect of what I teach and what we do.

With values and goals you define what it is that you are trying to do and what is important to you. For instance, we want to cover the news of the college campus and put together a product that not only is of value to the campus audience, but trains students in the skill sets of producing the product. Our product consists of a print newspaper, an online newspaper, a digital version of our print publication, and multimedia (including a weekly news radio show). I am training reporters, photographers, designers and multimedia producers.

To accomplish this we need to look at what resources we have, from the personnel to put these publications together, to the finances that support them, to the hardware and software tools needed, to the time students can allocate to this class.

But it is the processes that are interesting. The processes take into account the ever-evolving values and the strengths and weaknesses of the ever-changing resources. How do you accomplish what you want to do? For instance, what is the process by which students submit assignments? Do your processes emphasize the print edition or online first? You say you want multimedia? What processes do you have to encourage that? For instance, I am quite adept at critiquing print media, but I have to learn new ways to critique multimedia. I have to devote time (a resource) to that.

I inculcate editors with the concept of looking at their processes. If something is not working, and you still value it, examine the process and tweak it. What worked before is not working now. Stop expecting different results if you don’t alter the underlying process.

The concept works in other parts of one’s life, too. For instance, I love my wife and want her to know (value), so I purchase flowers (use of resource) and surprise her with them (process).

Processes are where it is at, baby. It’s fascinating.

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One a day

February 5, 2012

mystery boxOne of the toughest mysteries to solve in my 35-plus years as a student publications adviser is how to wean my students from essentially writing a daily newspaper once a week. Student focus on a weekly print edition and it seems like 90 percent of the writing and editing comes in the last 24 hours of the seven-day cycle. Deadlines hover around the print edition.

Indeed, it is one of the reasons I push for a weekly publication. I learned long ago that coming out every other week, as many community college papers do with the mistaken notion* that that is all they can afford, only means that students put off completing stories to every other week rather than develop more sensible routines. Forget that their online publications are hungry beasts that beg for multiple deadlines every day; most community college publications still post most of their stories within 24 hours of their print editions … usually after the print edition is done instead of the more logical other way around.

I’ve advised, pleaded, cajoled, threatened. Still the print publication is the top dog when it comes to the work flow.

To be honest, I’ve been part of the problem. For all of my technology hype I am still a print person myself. I am anything but a Luddite, but I still prefer to read newspapers on paper. And when I critique student work it is more than likely to be based on the print edition (which, by the way, few of them read themselves). Only in recent years have I consciously incorporated more critiques of the online edition or the multimedia my students produce.

appleBut I keep trying. I keep growing. I keep coming up with new ideas. For the last year or two I have been promoting what we do as managing a brand rather than producing a newspaper. I incorporate new language into what we do, such as referring to the newspaper as the print edition, as opposed to the online edition or the digital edition. I’m still looking for appropriate terminology for what we do with social media.

My latest attempt to change the deadline mindset, which I just launched this weekend, is to encourage the newspaper’s section editors to accept the challenge of one a day. They should activate on the publication’s website a minimum of one news, one sports, one arts, and one opinion story each day. For that it should be easy to promote at least one item a day on our Facebook page. And since most of our multimedia work these days revolves around audio, we should be posting at least one audio story a day instead of waiting until we aggregate for our weekly radio show.

I’m looking for incentives to change editors’ mindsets in how they assign stories and set deadlines and how they communicate urgency among their staff writers and photographers.

One a day. Sounds simple enough.

* Coming out weekly costs more, but can generate more revenue, making the added editions almost cost-free.