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JACC No. 7: Clearing out the Holiday Inn

April 20, 2017

JACC N0. 7: CLEARING OUT THE HOLIDAY INN

 

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

As I mentioned earlier, I have been involved in the background with planning of JACC annual conferences for years. Three times I was the actual conference chair.

The first was the 1982 convention, held at the old Hacienda Inn in Fresno. It was only my second year as a full-time instructor, but I had just finished my master’s thesis, which was a history of JACC.

Back in those days the organization had divvied up the state’s community college journalism programs into eight regions, four in the north and four in the south, and rotated responsibility for planning conferences among those divisions. In 1981-82 it was the San Jose area community colleges’ turn. None of my colleagues was particularly keen to take on the lead role, though Herman Scheiding of Foothill College and Art Carey of San Jose City College were certainly willing to step up in support roles. It was the beginning of many years that I would serve on the organization’s board of directors in one capacity or another.

My second conference was in the late 1980s/early 1990s (I forget the exact year). The Hacienda had changed hands a number of times in the 1980s, which was a clue that it was failing. We had been informed that the hotel’s conference complex was going to go away, so we looked elsewhere. We settled on the new Holiday Inn (now DoubleTree) and its seven-story open atrium near downtown Fresno. I volunteered to take on the task of transitioning us out of the site when had become accustomed to to the new venue.

But when the weekend for the convention came I was as sick as a dog with a terrible cold and fever. I was also still the organization’s executive secretary/treasurer, so I had to be there. I made four or five trips to the hotel’s sauna that weekend just to keep a semi-clear head.

We made a number of mistakes in planning that stand out in my mind, but the biggest one was our planning for the 500 students on the first night of the conference. We thought we had it all figured out. We had a sit-down awards dinner, workshops and on-the-spot contests that kept students busy until midnight. Then we had a dance scheduled until 2 a.m. But come 2 a.m. the students still had energy. What should they do? About 200 of them decided to march up and down the walkways of the atrium, floor by floor, chanting loudly.

By then I was pretty much on my deathbed with the cold, but got a call from hotel security demanding that I do something or the hotel was going to start throwing out the student delegations for the rest of the weekend. I announced an immediate curfew and marched up and down the walkways, floor by floor, telling students to go to their rooms. I was not in a good mood.

On my second pass, I came across one of my own students still standing outside her room. I was surprised. She was one of my best-behaved students. “You have go inside your room now,” I demanded.

She looked sheepishly at the floor and replied, “I know, but I can’t.” It seems that her roommate was “using” the room. I rolled my eyes and moved on.

The Holiday Inn was NOT a good fit for us, so we transitioned the next year to hosting our conventions on the Fresno State University campus. I did not run any of the next nine year conferences there, but could tell a number of stories. Others would remember the last year there when we were getting weary of the campus and the campus was getting weary of us. The coup dé grace that most people remember was a barbecue lunch near the campus’ horse paddies on a week that it had rained; the nearby field was quite odiferous. I escaped the smell, because I was across campus working on another aspect of the conference.

But in 1999-2000 the board decided to move the conference out of Fresno and back to a hotel venue. I stepped again to lead the transition to the Double Tree Inn in Sacramento. My assistant, Timi Poeppelman, took over as convention chair after that and built up a first-class convention for the organization over the next 15 years as it rotated between Sacramento and Los Angeles/Burbank.

– – – – –

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.

Next: Creative Thinking: Conversations with Wil and Timi

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JACC No. 8: Stories: Yosemite, The Shooter, Handcuffs, West Valley Rules

April 20, 2017

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

In my various officer roles with JACC I worked behind the scenes helping plan and run regional, faculty, and state conferences for quite a few years. Doing so put me in a position to hear stories that the average attender at these events might not know. In this post, I encapsulate some of my favorites.

YOSEMITE

I was not around when this one happened, but it is so funny. Before settling in Fresno as a semi-permanent location for conferences in the 1980s –on the theory of planning it in the middle of the state and making it easier for schools from across the state to drive there—the annual conventions rotated around the state. In 1966, it was held in Yosemite Curry Village campgrounds, the ones with the tent cabins. One college adviser could not attend with his students and sent along a school administrator as a chaperon in his place.

Students had free time in the evening and advisers shuffled off in a group by themselves. The school administrator did not think that was a good idea and patrolled the campgrounds himself to make sure no hanky-panky was taking place. He came upon a cabin where he heard a couple clearly in the throes of sex. Those cabins had no locks on the door, so he burst in and demanded, “Okay, where are you from,” hoping to find out which college needed discipline. The man in bed replied with a Swedish accent, “We are from Sweden. We are on our honeymoon.”

THE SHOOTER

The annual conventions include both workshops from media professionals and various on-the-spot writing, photography, editing, and design competitions. In the 1980s and early 1990s we staged news events for the news writing and photo competitions. Rio Hondo College’s John Francis had strong theatrical background and often was in charge of planning these events.

This one year he staged an event with a speaker standing on a stage spouting white supremacist rhetoric. Midway through the speech one of the “students” climbed on stage and argued with him. When the speaker ignored the interruptions, the “student” pulled out a gun and shot the speaker.

Now, we conference planners knew this was coming. Photographers were crowded around the semi-circular stage in the hotel ballroom snapping away, trying to get a decent photo of a boring image of a speaker at a podium. Suddenly things picked up when the “student” climbed on the stage. But the payoff was to be when then gun came out. As I watched, a third of the photographers dove for the floor. Another third lowered their cameras as if to say, “My gosh, he has a gun.” You could easily tell who was NOT going to win the photo competition.

But what makes this a memorable story is what we discovered later. San Jose City College had brought a student to the convention who was a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. And, we learned later, he had a real gun with him. We were damned lucky he did not pull the gun out and shoot the shooter. We determined shortly after that that we either needed to think through our canned scenarios a bit better or present real-life news events.

HANDCUFFS

For several years, I served as the organization’s executive secretary/treasurer. One of my responsibilities was to stay after an event and pay bills. In those 1980s days at the Hacienda Hotel in Fresno the registration fee covered the costs of running the convention, meals, AND hotel rooms for all. Today, the hotel rooms are a separate expense covered by the attendees directly or through their schools.

After one conference I was waiting around on a Sunday afternoon after all had departed while the hotel’s computer system spit out a 45-page bill for all the meals and hotel rooms –a bill that required a $60,000 check before I left town.

While waiting, the hotel’s security chief came up and said we had a problem. A maid had entered a room to clean up and found a naked male guest –a student—handcuffed to the bed. His partner the night before, who had already left town, happened to be one of the outgoing female student officers of the organization. The key to the handcuffs, thankfully, had been left behind across the room on a chest of drawers.

WEST VALLEY RULES

Pierce College was the dominant newspaper among general excellence mail-in competitions during the 1980s –much like Contra Costa or Southwestern these days. I was teaching at West Valley College by then and, surprise, that weekend the Norseman newspaper had beat out Pierce for first place in general excellence. (We no longer rank the general excellence award.)

I was waiting around to pay the organization’s bill (see above) when the security chief again showed up said that there was a problem. It seems that overnight someone had climbed up on top of the hotel and changed the hotel saloon’s marquee message. There might be damage to the Spanish tile roof. He pulled out his note pad and said, “Yeah, they changed the message to ‘West Valley rules.’” I buried my head in shame, it was MY students. Worse, as it turned out, it was the tallest, heaviest student; it couldn’t be a lightweight.” Thankfully, only one tile was damaged.

And it did not stop there. My students had already headed back to San Jose in school cars. The college had even supplied a gas credit card for use over the weekend. When they stopped for gas, one of them decided to use the credit card to buy a toy truck the gas station was selling. I had to explain that to the college administration the next week, too.

Previously: No. 10: The swimming race and the photo darkroom, No. 9: Getting a thesis topic

Next: Clearing out the Holiday Inn

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JACC No. 9: Getting a thesis topic

April 19, 2017

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

It was the late 1970s. I was teaching part-time at Merced College. I was plodding slowly through my master’s program at Fresno State University. I needed a thesis topic and needed to get started on it if I was ever going to graduate. Most of my coursework was completed, I just needed to complete the master’s thesis: probably the toughest thing I ever did in my life.

I could see in retrospect that I was still a little immature to be working on a master’s degree.

By then I was attending JACC workshops and conferences at the bidding of my Merced predecessor Dr. Steve Ames, who had moved on to Pepperdine University.

JACC conferences were a great place to meet with other journalism faculty and learn about teaching. So many of our programs across the state are one-person programs and few on campus have any idea –or care about– the demands of advising student publications. The only problem is that they happened only once a semester. We had telephone and the post office, but nowhere near the instant communication we have today: Conferences are where most communication took place.

One day I was having a conversation with Pierce College admired veteran Tom Kramer, along with a few other advisers from around the state. I had mentioned I was trying to find a thesis topic. He turned to me and said, “Why don’t you write a history of JACC.” The organization had begun in the mid-1950s and was approaching its 25th anniversary. Enough turnover was taking place in instructor ranks that history was in danger of being forgotten. Bingo, I had my topic.

I scoured boxes and boxes of newsletters and meeting minutes over the next year and drafted my history. Then I went on the road up and down the state and interviewed some of the founders or long-timers in the organization, or their widows, to fill in the gaps. I still use some of what learned about interviewing during that time as examples when I teach students today about interviewing skills.

Some of the early two-year college journalism advisers had latched on to the four-year California Intercollegiate Press Association –a mostly student-run university organization that provided conferences with workshops and contests for students. They ran a parallel organization with CIPA until 1962. California community colleges expanded rapidly around the state in the mid-1960s and with that growth came a swell of community college students at CIPA conferences.

Soon the conferences were too big and unwieldy. The Journalism Association of Junior Colleges, as it was known back then, was asked to leave. CIPA later collapsed and the California College Media Association replaced it, modeling its organizational structure largely from the successful JACC.

(Personally, I think the request to move on was partially because CIPA conferences were often planned on the fly, and thus chaotic, but an even bigger issue was the California Education Code, which still lumps the community colleges with the K-12 schools rather than with the four-year universities. The difference? Adults at universities could drink alcohol at conferences –some universities even have the own taverns on campus—and adults at two-year colleges cannot. It was becoming an issue.)

Back to the thesis: One interview eluded me. I very much wanted to interview the organization’s first faculty president: Irv Harlacher from Monterey Peninsula College (a college without a journalism program today). He had left Monterey and I tracked him through several jobs, but lost him when he had moved to a job in New Jersey.

I was almost done with my thesis when Dr. Jean Stephens of Sacramento City College –one of the biggies in the organization by then—called me and told me he was back in California as president of College of Marin, just about 50-60 miles from West Valley College, where I had just begun teaching full time. I got the interview, but by then he had little to add to my history … until I was putting the finishing touches on the thesis when I discovered an unanswered question. I called him up again and he was able to give the last piece to that puzzle.

The ordeal of getting my thesis approved by the Fresno State graduate office is another interesting, but long story. Suffice to say that it was approved on a Friday in mid-August 1981 on the last day West Valley gave me to finish if I was going to keep my job there for the 1981-82 school year. This was before fax machines, so I had to hop in the car and make a frantic four-trip from Fresno to the San Jose area to turn in my signed paperwork to the West Valley Personnel Office 15 minutes before it closed; 15 minutes before I had no job the following Monday.

JACC named me its official historian.

Any wonder yet what role JACC has played in my life?

Previously: No. 10: The swimming race and the photo darkroom

Next: Stories: Yosemite, The shooter, Handcuffs, West Valley rules

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JACC No. 10: The swimming race and the photo darkroom

April 18, 2017

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

My early days with JACC the organization held its annual conventions at the old Hacienda Inn in Fresno. The hotel, which has since been razed, was inexpensive and the theory was to have our conventions in the center of the state so as many community colleges as possible could drive the distance there.

The conventions feature a variety of workshops and deadline-based contests for students. We call the contests on-the-spot contests because they are presented with deadline pressure and were judged and awarded that same weekend. Another kind of contest, called mail-in contests featured competition among the works created throughout the school year in student publications. Those are judged before the convention and awards are announced during the convention.

Much of the work is done by faculty advisers on a volunteer basis. One year I was in charge of organizing the event for sports writing and sports photo on-the-spot competitions. Of course, we are all at a hotel near nowhere. In fact, the only business I can remember being anywhere close was a liquor store that made money only two weekends a year: New Year’s Eve and the JACC convention when under-aged students illegally purchased liquor.

So, I had planned to bus students to an all-Fresno high school track meet being held the weekend we were there. The only problem is that the bus company we had contracted with screwed up dates and at the last minute we learned that there were no buses coming. What to do?

There were some non-competing students fooling around in the small hotel swimming pool, so we staged a friendly swimming completion as photographers surrounded the kind-shaped pool. There was some grumbling, but, hey, we had SOMETHING for the writers and photographers.

One thing I learned early was that when things do not work out the way you plan –and they will—adjust and be creative.

Another thing I remember about those early conferences was how we handled darkrooms for 50 or 60 photographers, who had three contests (news, sports, and feature) they could compete in.

In those days, some of us had Kodak Ektamatic processers to develop photos. You fed an exposed piece of photo paper into one end of the machine and it roller-coasted through a series of developers and fixers and came out fully developed in a little over 30 seconds. The paper was damp and it would slowly continue to develop over days until it was unusable, especially if exposed to light for extended periods, but it was good enough for the weekend and for judging.

We took over a regular conference meeting room, lined the windows with black plastic to block any light, covered the floor with more black plastic to protect the carpets, lined the room with tables with enlargers, and placed four for five Ektamatic processers in the middle of the room. Bring in a few red lights so you could sort of see your way around and you had a darkroom. The place would soon stink of developer and fixer, but that was the hotel’s problem.

The photographers would take their black and white photos and develop negatives in their own rooms –at some regional conferences entire bathrooms were appropriated—and then showed up at the appointed hour waiting to get into the darkroom to print their entries. We could accommodate about 10-15 students at a time and the darkroom was always just outside the pool area. They would swim until their turn came up, run into the darkroom for 10 minutes and run as many exposed sheets of paper they could through the machines in the time allotted, pick their best and turn it in and jump back into the pool until it was time for the next contest/darkroom time.

I still remember this one year when this particularly sexy young coed wore the skimpiest white bikini while awaiting her turn in the darkroom, but that is another story best not told here.

Next up: No. 9: Getting a thesis topic

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Top 10 JACC memories

April 18, 2017

I had so much fun last week sharing my 10 most favorite student publication issues over my 41-year career, and got so much positive feedback that I thought I would follow up with my 10 most favorite memories of my work with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

For my friends not familiar with JACC, it is a non-profit association of California community college journalism programs that started in the mid-1950s. Of the 114 California community colleges, only between 55 and 60 have journalism programs at any given time. JACC provides extended educational opportunities for journalism students and continuing education.

Many of my non-JACC friends may find it hard to relate to the stories that follow, but I will work hard to make them interesting.

I still work with JACC, but purely on an informal basis now. Over the years, I served on the non-profit’s board of directors in one capacity or another for 30-plus of my 41 years as a journalism instructor. While that sounds like 11 years that I did not serve, subtract the first four and half years as
an adjunct instructor, my first year as a full-time instructor, and the last two or three years since I retired from the board.

JACC has been an important part of my professional life, and sometimes part of my personal life. I served as the state president twice (and, although a different organization, once as president of the national Community College Journalism Association), served as annual convention chair three times, served countless years as its Executive Secretary/Treasurer – a job that morphed into the role of Communications Director, hosted both NorCal and SoCal regional conventions, created the organization’s first e-mail listserve and website, scouted out convention sites, created and hosted a special periodic one-day training workshop for training for journalism instructors, and have had the opportunity to visit other programs across the state to help train both faculty and students.

I have had many wonderful times and opportunities with JACC. In the next few days I will share 10 stories about those experiences. Like with my previous series, it was extremely difficult to limit myself to just 10. But, again, when I considered raising it to 15, No. 16 screamed to be included. When I extended to 20, No. 21 screamed.

First up: The swimming race and the photo darkroom

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No. 1: All hell broke loose

April 18, 2017

A list of the top 10 memorable issues of student publications during my teaching career.

It was Tuesday, Oct. 9, 1989. Shortly after 5 p.m. I was in a temporary bungalow on the West Valley College campus helping a secretary with a Macintosh computer problem. The earth began to shake and she shrieked and ran out of the office. I giggled at her response. Then a big shake came and I was thrown against a wall. When I recovered, another shake came and threw me against the wall again. It was the Loma Prieta earthquake. The college was located just a few miles from the epicenter.

All hell broke loose.

It was the biggest earthquake (magnitude 6.9) I had ever experienced. It was also the proudest day of my teaching career because of how my newspaper students reacted to it.

After it was over my first thought was, “Oh, no. I wonder how many of the student newspaper’s (unsecured) computers have fallen to the floor and broken.” It was none, though a couple of four-drawer filing cabinets opened and toppled over.

(BTW, my second thought was of all the sports reporters in San Francisco, about 50 miles away, to cover what they expected would be the biggest news of the day: The World Series. Suddenly, they DID have the biggest news story of the day, and it was not the postposed game. They were the reporters on the scene for their news outlets.)

There were still a few newspaper students on campus, but over the next hour or two, students who had been off campus filtered back into the newsroom and asked what they could do to help cover the news. Some were sent back out to find food because we knew we would be working overnight to add to the paper that was already in production.

A couple of students grabbed cameras and starting combing the campus to see what kind of damage had taken place. Most dramatic was the photo that eventually adorned the front page of that week’s issue of the Norseman. It seems that none of the library book shelves had been properly bolted to the floor and the shake toppled them like dominos. Students who were in the library started digging through the stacks to find out if anyone had been trapped. (No one was.)

We labored throughout the night. Apparently, the campus was an island of electricity in the area, so we could work. Midway through Wednesday I decided to head back over the Santa Cruz mountains to my home in Felton. We had learned from TV reports that the epicenter was probably less than a mile from my house. Fortunately, my family was out of town at the time. The house sustained some significant damage, but was still standing and was not later red-tagged by inspectors.

While I was gone, college safety officials came by the newsroom and told the students I had left behind to leave because the campus was being closed to check for gas leaks. As they left they grabbed a computer or two and found a student’s garage in which to complete putting the paper together. By then electricity was being restored to the area.

There was no school on Wednesday, but when campus reopened on Thursday we had an expanded edition of the newspaper on the stands with the dramatic photo and the headline, “All hell broke loose.”

The dedication and leadership of the students who rallied to cover the disaster from a local angle remains a milestone of pride in my heart. You hope you are planting a professional ethic in the students, but you have few chances like a real disaster to see it emerge while you still have them in your care. I saw it first in those students who were still on campus, but felt it even more as students who were off campus instinctively returned to the campus newsroom. I have been blessed with outstanding students throughout my career.

PREVIOUSLY: 10: The execution, 9: We don’t need no headlines, 8: The student who died, 7: It was just a matter of time, 6: Daddy come home, 5: 911, 4: 3-D, 3. The expletive, 2: Not just another blank page.

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No. 2: Not just another blank page

April 17, 2017

A list of the top 10 memorable issues of student publications during my teaching career.

Probably the lowest point of my teaching career was in 1994 when West Valley College announced that it was eliminating six academic programs and laying off a quarter of the classified staff because of budget cuts.

I had been laid off from my adjunct gig at Reedley College many years ago to make room for a full-time employee who they were shuffling back into the journalism classroom, and that hurt a lot, but nothing like losing my program at west Valley. (BTW, the full-timer who needed a teaching slot at Reedley College was at that time my step-father. Yeah, that created some awkward family issues for about six months until I landed my adjunct position at Merced College. Not a proud moment of my life.)

Anyway, back to West Valley. I had enough seniority after 14 years there and had other skills –I was teaching Macintosh computer application courses as an overload in the Computer Applications program—and the college offered to keep me employed as an instructor and computer lab tech, but the journalism program was officially gone.

The day the college president called me into his office to inform me of the cut my crackerjack student newspaper staff –one of the best I had at West Valley—had a beach bonfire party planned. I just couldn’t tell the students. While staff members enjoyed themselves at the bonfire, I wandered off down the beach into the dark and cried.

When the entire college was notified of the cuts, we fought to save the program, but the college president had successfully cowed the faculty by pitting us against each other. Want to save one of the programs? Fine, just tell him which one to cut in its place. It was a zero-sum game.

The issue of the student newspaper that came out after the cuts were announced contained a uniquely creative front page. The page had the Norseman flag and nothing else except a single paragraph in small type in the middle of the page. It read:

“Pretty bleak, isn’t it. Sometimes we entertain you, sometimes we ridicule you, but we’ve always tried to be informative. This blank page is just about as informative as we will be next year. West Valley College plans to eliminate journalism, and with it the school newspaper. Even if a paper is resurrected in the future, it will be without the solid foundation journalism classes give to produce an informative, First Amendment newspaper. If this is important to you please let the Board of Trustees know. Only it can save the paper now.”

Page 3 was the real front page, with information about the cuts.

Perhaps the most surreal night of my life was the board of trustees meeting that followed. Most of the programs were arguing to be saved. I had broad support from a variety of constituencies, including current and former students, industry professionals, the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, and more; everyone but fellow faculty and classified staff fighting the zero-sum game. Listening to the fight and the accolades for me was like attending your own funeral; I felt somewhat disembodied.

We lost the fight.

After reaching out to San Jose State University’s journalism program for an intern who might advise a newspaper on a part-time basis –a request that was soundly rejected by that department—the college agreed to release me from part of my computer lab duties on a semester-by-semester basis to try and put out a newspaper. It was difficult to get students when the college waited until a week before the semester began to decide whether to release me for those duties.

Every morning and every evening I felt like there was poison in my system, like someone had punched me in the gut. We had just purchased a new house and had an infant daughter and my son in the house. I needed the job, but I hated it. Quite frankly, if not for my family and the support I received from the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, I might have committed suicide.

A couple years later I gave up and took a job at Cerritos College. West Valley told me time and again that it was NOT going back down the journalism route. In fact, though, shortly after I left the college hired a combination English Lit/Journalism instructor who tried for a few years to keep the paper going. But, as predicted, without a solid journalism program to back it up, it could not survive. The college has no student newspaper today.

PREVIOUSLY: 10: The execution, 9: We don’t need no headlines, 8: The student who died, 7: It was just a matter of time, 6: Daddy come home, 5: 911, 4: 3-D.

NEXT UP: “All hell broke loose