Sunday, February 25, 2007

Web Watch - Feb. 25

It's been a while since I did a Web Watch of JACC online publications. I forgot how long it takes to look at the 45 or so active sites. Whew! But here's a summary of what I see.

Three schools have started online publications since the last time I did one of these. They are the San Diego City Times, the College of Sequoias Campus and the Solano Tempest. Golden West College's Western Sun has also gone online, but as a pdf presentation.

One of the most innovative approaches to an online edition is Los Medanos' Experience, which uses a Filemaker interface like JACC's conference registration system. But the Experience has been Missing In Action all school year.

And by far, the most improved site I've seen since November is the Shasta Lance with its expanded list of stories and addition of photo slide shows.

The best headline I saw in my search as Riverside College's "Castro resigns as president." No, it's not THAT Castro, but made you look. I also like Riverside's custom page concept listing awards it has won. Needs some design work, but maybe that's something more of us should be considering.

I think so and have said before that I think your front page needs to stay clean and simple, but needs to list as many stories as possible from your current edition. A lot of schools don't. My theory is that few people will navigate through your site looking for stories that they don't know are there.

This last Friday I attended a community college journalism day sponsored by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times. A speaker from the Times made a comment in one of the workshops that got my attention. He said that a lot of effort went into the design of the front page, but that the front page was not the main pathway for most of the site's hits --search engine sites and links from other external sources, such as blogs, were. Interesting.

I watched as I went through the sites. Many of the schools that use the College Publisher tool use the "Most Popular Stories" object that CP offers. About half the time the most popular story, and sometimes all five listed, WERE NOT on the front page. See today's current editions of the Bakersfield College Rip, Cosumnes River Connection, or the Palomar Telescope, for instance.

And one of the curious phenomenon is that the lead story of most sites IS NOT the most popular story at all. We've seen that a lot at where the crossword puzzle we purchase from a syndicate is outpacing the second-place story two to one. Yikes! What does that tell us?

In today's pictoral-don't-read world I would think so. But few JACC schools do much with photos and perhaps none do it well. Most sites are designed to either include too many photos or not enough, photos that take up way too much space or are displayed so small that they are difficult to read. And not enough schools bother with cutlines. I DID see some good examples, though.Photos don't have to be static, either. Some sites are putting together slide shows to show off multiple photos, a great idea!
Some sites are starting to experiment with other multimedia, too.
  • Cerritos has several news videos, but has included a front page promotional video of "What I like about Journalism" on its front page. Each week a new video featuring another staff member is featured. Talon Marks also includes a number of blogs. See the bottom of the page.
  • Citrus College's Clarion includes both blogs and audio podcasts. Citrus needs to make its story page headlines larger, though.
  • Cypress College's CyChron includes weekly video podcasts of campus news that rate as the most-popluar stories.
  • DeAnza College has featured a series of good online videos.
  • Las Positas has weird YouTube video worth watching. What's unclear, though, is whether the video is a campus video, perhaps even an Express staff video. Videos sometimes need stories, or "cutlines."
  • Mt. San Antonio's online editor promises blogs and more, but has delivered none yet. I always tell my students to do before you promise.
  • Riverside's Viewpoints is experimenting with blogs.
  • Laney College's Tower includes a couple of podcasts.
  • Santa Barbara City's Channels includes weekly news podcasts, but the latest issue "has gone to the dogs.
  • The Solano Tempest may be new to online, but is already experimenting with videos, mostly in the area of sports.

An improvement on any of these sites would be a custom page archive of just multimedia. Cerritos does this semester-by-semester and archives blogs semester-by-semester as staff come and leave. Solano has a single link to all its videos, too.

One of the marks of the best papers in the state is that they cover important off campus stories in addition to covering campus issues. Fullerton College's Weekly Hornet has a "Local" section devoted just to this.

A new report came out a few weeks ago lamblasting California Community colleges for not doing their jobs moving students along. Right or wrong, it deserves attention, but few publications seem to have stories. Some that do, include Bakersfield, Cosumnes River, Ohlone (pdf) and Sacramento through a "chat with the president." Modesto Pirates' Log former editor Ericka Langdon, might agree. She pens an all-too-familiar goodbyebefore leaving Modesto after dropping too many classes in favor of working for the paper.

Does your publication include a local weather report? Orange Coast College's Coast Report even includes a surf report. Cowabunga, dude!

Pierce College does a pretty good job addressing a failing football program that has seen only one win in two years. The various stories and online poll are worth the read.

Speaking of online polls, Rio Hondo has turned an online poll about campus crime reports into a story. Interesting idea, but it only give percentages, not numbers and it fails to report than an online poll is anything but scientific. Nice try to generate online traffic, though.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Citizen Journalism, Do We Need It? webcast

Here is the webcast of the panel discussion I participated in at Moorpark College last week. (requires Real Player).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Revisiting contest numbers

Among the most contentious issues in JACC over the years has been the emphasis on contests at our various conferences. The issue is still brewing and will be big topic of discussion at the organization’s annual business meeting at the March convention.

The issue is so contentious that it nearly split the organization in the 1980s and it could threaten a split again at this time.

In the 1980s, the issue was emphasis on contests over emphasis on workshops at conferences. Today’s issue is how many entries to allow in each of the mail-in competitions.

For more years than not in the organization’s history, that number has been three. A couple of times, including last year, it was rolled back to two. Last year’s vote was very close and the discussion passionate.

Twenty years ago there were fewer than 15 contests, but today there are more than double that. With the changes taking place in the industry and in our classrooms, the pressure to keep adding or splitting contests is intense. And once established you risk goring SOMEONE’S ox when you propose eliminating a contest.

Large-staff schools who either have better resources or more of the talented students tend to win lots of awards. Smaller-staff schools often don’t win as many awards and want to see opportunities for awards to be spread around. Often times Southern California schools prefer more contests and more opportunities to win them while Northern California instructors are sickened by the emphasis on competition and would like to see the awards and opportunities spread out. But that’s not the whole issue.

If 60 schools participate in contests and enter three entries in each (whether they have three strong entries or not), it doesn’t take a math major to see that we have some large categories.

“So what?” some will ask, it’s been that way in JACC for most of its 55-plus year history. What has changed is the number of contests. It is getting harder and harder to find enough judges, even in a state as large as California, especially when we find ourselves competing with other organizations looking at those same judges. Add to that that we ask judges to actually put comments on all those entries so students who lose can learn from the process, and you can see why conference planners are tossing their hands in the air.

I spent the last weekend in meetings with JACC’s board of directors, who are inclined to revisit the number-of-entries issue at this year’s general business meeting. There are serious pros and cons for allowing two entries or three entries. And both sides are passionate in their choices.

A compromise solution will be one of the proposals the board of directors will bring to the business meeting in March. It’s the 2.5 proposition. But even the board could not develop a consensus and will bring a multi-choice proposal to the assembly.

Along with the choice of remaining at two entries it will propose a return to three. Either decision is likely to create a rift. The innovative 2.5 proposal would allow schools to enter up to three entries per category, but only as long as they average only 2.5 entries overall; they would have enter only one entry in a contest for every contest they wanted to enter three. Sounds a bit complicated, but with today’s online registration of entries, it is something that could be checked early in the process. Schools who violated the average would see ALL of their entries disqualified.

There’s more to it than that. Not all schools publish magazines, so newspaper, broadcast-new media and magazine groupings would each have the averaging. It is possible, too, that the writing-editing, art-design, and photo areas of newspapers would each be calculated separately, though that hasn’t been decided yet.

If the organization embraces the 2.5 plan it would be a compromise for the two groups. The overall number of entries would increase only a bit over the 2.0 plan, but not as much as it would under the 3.0 plan. Schools with lots of potential winners in various categories would still have the increased opportunity to win.

I’m not sure I prefer the 2.5 plan personally, but I recognize it as perhaps the only true compromise between the two other camps. It does JACC no good to revisit the 2.0 vs. 3.0 option every few years and have so many hurt feelings in the organization. Some version of the 2.5 compromise deserves a chance..

For those wondering how it would work if adopted, the database-driven online registration of entries would count your entries for you. If you go over your limit, you would be prompted to eliminate some entries on your own or have all of your entries disqualified when they are mailed in. You would know as soon as you completed entering names on the entry form whether you were in compliance.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Do we need citizen journalism?

Had an interesting conversation last night as part of a panel discussion on “Citizen Journalism, Do We Need It,” sponsored by the South Coast Regional Multimedia Education Center and Moorpark College.

Joining me in the televised discussion were Joe Howry, editor of the Ventura County Star, and Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review out of University of Southern California.

Not sure we answered the question of whether we need it or not. Not surprisingly, we even had trouble defining it, though we pretty much agreed that citizen journalism is a lousy name. “Grassroots” journalism sounds better.

We discussed the changes occurring because of grassroots journalism and what it means to traditional publications and to education.

While at the school I was able to spend some time with a couple of staff members of the Student Voice, the newspaper that tries to serve Ventura County’s three community colleges. Most importantly, I was able to spend time with the paper’s online editor and give some tips on how better use the College Publisher tool the paper uses.

I was impressed by the multimedia news gathering I saw from students covering the event. But it was sad to see the roadblocks the student publication uses in its processing of news.

Moorpark uses a kludgey system to process its stories. Instead of using the power of its College Publisher tool as a submission point for stories –something crucial if the staff is ever going to adopt a post first, print later philosophy, students submit assignments through a WebCT server. This creates a bottleneck because only a couple of people, including the faculty adviser can access submissions for editing.

The reasons behind the WebCT submissions emerged a few years ago when the Ventura County Board of Trustees, against the advice of journalism educators and professionals, closed journalism programs at two of the district’s colleges with the mistaken administrator notion that the three campuses could be served by a single newspaper (which makes sense ONLY if you hire fulltime professional journalists, not if you try to staff it with students).

Because Moorpark adviser Joanna Miller was handed unenviable the task of trying to make the ill-conceived plan work, she turned to distance education methods to establish journalism relationships at the other two colleges. Hence WebCT. It made sense at the time.

But at about the same time the Moorpark paper joined College Publisher’s network and the program has yet to unleash the potential of a vital online publication by cutting out the bottleneck. Indeed, the disenfranchised journalists at Ventura College and Oxnard College, might feel more a part of the publication if they we posting stories directly to the online publication than submitting stories to an instructor through a distance education class. Advanced students at these schools might even be assigned editor privileges so that they can move breaking stories online immediately.

I should note that Moorpark is not the only California community college that has students submit stories this way, but the practice is not common.

By the way, when the Ventura Board made the decision to cut the two journalism programs, I wrote down my predictions, sealed them in an envelope, placed the envelope in an old mayonnaise jar, and buried under a Funk & Wagnels encyclopedia under my front door step that 1) the idea of one paper for the district would not work, that each school wanted its own identity, 2) that administrators desperate to prove they were doing the right thing would declare it an immediate success, though students at Ventura and Oxnard would forever feel disenfranchised, 3) that within 3-5 years the district would recognize its mistake and bring back journalism at Ventura College, 4) that it would take another 3-5 years for Ventura to bring the program back to its quality and enrollment levels, and 5) that it would take 7-10 years, minimum, before they would bring back a newspaper at Oxnard. From the rumblings I hear, I’m right on target with those predictions.

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