Saturday, May 19, 2007

A snapshot of California community college journalism

ReportStudent publication web sites and more emphasis on them were major highlights of California community college journalism programs during the 2006-07 school year. It was also a good year for programs to upgrade the equipment they use to produce student publications.

These were among the results of JACC’s 2007 Snapshot Survey of programs.

The online survey’s 48 questions examined a multitude of aspects of community college journalism programs. Fifty-seven colleges, or approximately 75 percent of the 76 community colleges with a newspaper or journalism program, participated in the survey, creating a fairly accurate snapshot of the state of the programs in the state.

JACC’s Snapshot Survey attempts to capture a snapshot of the programs around the state at the time of the survey and can be measured against earlier snapshots taken during the 1995-96, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2000-01 and 2001-02 school years. JACC attempted a survey in 2003-04 but did not get enough participation from schools to be meaningful. In addition, Toni (Allen) Albertson, now at Mt. San Antonio College, did a similar survey of California community college programs as part of a masters project in the early 2000s. Summaries of those surveys, as well as this one, are available on the JACC web site at

The 2007 survey was broken into five sections: General information about the journalism program, information about the student newspaper, information about the online student publication, information about non-newspaper classes, and information about the college magazine.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sweet music

The Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram today contained an article about dead rabbits showing up on the Long Beach City College campus. Anyone who follows news about LBCC is going to hear, sooner or later, about the rabbits than run wild on the campus.

But the Press-Telegram story contained a paragraph I'd like to see more often:
The Viking Newspaper, the school's student publication, reported online Monday that the discovery had been made by gardener Jeff Kyle early that morning.
Unfortunately, like many other papers, the Press-Telegram story did not include a link to the Viking news story, but the mention is sweet music.

Here's a link to the story and to the Viking story.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

What students need to know: Academic Summit

What do 2007 graduates need to know to succeed in journalism jobs?

That was one of the overriding questions of today's day-long California Journalism Education Coalition (Cal-JEC) Media Industry/Academic Summit held at the Orange County Register. Twenty media professionals and educators with a respect for tradition, but open to change were invited to participate.

Wow, is there a lot to digest from the meeting and I can't do it justice this quickly; I've got pages of notes. But below are a few of the thoughts that I marked with an asterisk as we went.

Photo from summit
Jay Harris makes a point while Linda Bowen watches on.
The assumption of the day was that the industry is changing rapidly, so we focused on what current graduates need, not what they will need three years from now. But that snapshot look can point us the right direction. And while the assumption was to consider the four-year graduate, I think there is a lot in the results for community colleges to think about.
  • Students need to know more about the Constitution and about how city's work. They should know about our legal system, civics and "cultural touchstones."

    It is not that they need to be experts on everything. Jay Harris made a telling comment:
    "We have to realize that young reporters are human. They still have to grow up. (There are some things they don't know and have never known when they start.)"

    A lot of good experience comes from students working on our student publications, but they'll always be learning as they mature.

  • Students/reporters need to understand better and to connect with their readers.

  • Students need to understand that they need to develop enterprise stories, not just wait for assignments. It would be a good idea for them to learn how to develop and cover beats.

    It was pointed out that younger writers more and more are writing to older audiences who actually are more likely to read newspapers. Someone suggested that for students to better connect with the readers they need to be paid well enough to buy homes.

    I already require my returning students to create blogs if they want to be in line for an A (returning students need to be challenged, not just keep doing the same stuff). I think I'm going to alter that in the future to require them to develop a campus-related beat as the subject of their blogs.

  • Students need coursework on what to expect with their first job. Sure, internships can help with this, but students need more, including understanding the economics of the businesses they will be working for and how to deal with office politics.

  • As educators we need to be emphasizing community journalism more. Students need to understand their communities and how they work. Specialty reporting can and should come later.

  • Ethics and values are important and need to integrated into all courses, not just added on as separate courses.

  • We need to break out of some of our rigid writing styles we teach and look at how our students and their peers consume news; we need to include those forms in what we teach or what they practice on our papers.
Photo from summit
Jeff Pelline listens as a point is made.
We tried to put together one cohesive statement or set of skills/values that encompassed all this and more. We started with the list that comes from the 2006 Carnegie Report on "Improving the Education of Tomorrow's Journalists" and it went wild from there. A later report will try to put it all together coherently. But here are some of the things discussed:

  • Basic reporting and conveyance skills. We liked the word conveyance more than writing because there are different ways to convey the story and students need to know them. They must know how to gather not only the standard information for writing a story, but how to gather video and audio and photos and how to edit it all. But they also need to know the best way to convey the information; it is more than just the tech skills, it is journalistic skills of what is the best method and what needs to be included that counts. The term infosynthesis was coined by Holly Heiser. All this is important, but text still is the most important conveyance.

    Of course, the basic interviewing, writing and editing skills apply here, as does developing deep Internet search skills: getting beyond Google and into public records.

    One area that probably should be included here, the group felt, was more instruction on writing from public documents. A lot of discussion took place about understanding budgets, too.

  • Understand citizen and community journalism.

  • Understand cultural touchstones. Understand the mechanics of civic organizations, understand the Constitution, understand history of journalism and role of journalism in society, understand analogies from literature and pop culture. Understand that perhaps journalism is not mass media any more, but instead you are reporting for multiple smaller audiences.

  • Understand what is news. This definition may be changing today.

  • Develop personal characteristics. Be open-minded, be eager to learn, be curious. Bi-lingual is a big advantage; be able to converse and write in a second language. Have a broader perspective of the world. Learn math basics and HTML basics.

  • Develop ethical values. Ethics is like muscles. You need to continually flex them in all courses. Areas we discussed included plagiarism, attribution education, how to treat sources, respecting your community, situational ethics, avoiding conflicts of interest and focus on overcoming who you are not.

There was so much more we discussed, too. For instance, we discussed constraints colleges face, some imposed by AEJMC accrediting standards. Maybe that's another entry, though.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

SMS your students

For several years now I have been administering tests for my mass communications survey class --both the traditional and the online/distance ed versions-- online through That way I do not take up valuable class time with tests where some students finish in 10 minutes (and usually flunk) and others take 90 minutes (and still flunk). Because students have varying work schedules I usually give them a three-day window to take the tests.

The tests are multiple choice and I allow them to be open book, open note. I long ago got over the fear of cheating or the student who tries to look up answers as he goes because he hasn't read the text. If my students are cheating, most are doing a pretty poor job of it.

Cell PhoneA reoccurring problem, though, has been students FORGETTING to take the test. Yes, I know it is college and they should take some responsibility, but I am interested in student success and look for ways to remind them. I have been trying e-mail, but more and more students tell me that they check e-mail only a couple of times a week. Instead, the other day students suggested that I text them on their cell phones. A dinosaur like me start texting? Not likely.

But I found a way to do it through e-mail, something that is called Short Message Service, or SMS. You can type in the students' 10-digit numbers in the e-mail address and the appropriate service provider domains and send a text message to your students in one fell swoop. Of course, it takes a little bit of preparation.

You have to 1) collect all those phone numbers and 2) find out which service provider the student uses. I'm used to collecting e-mail addresses at the beginning of a semester, so that shouldn't be too much extra work. Next you need to know what domain address to send the messages to. I checked Wikipedia and found a pretty good list. Common ones are Cingular (, Verizon (, T Mobile ( and Sprint or Nextel (

Of course, typing all those numbers and addresses is just asking for human error. I store all my students' e-mail addresses on an Excel spreadsheet anyway, so I'm just going to add a few new columns. In the first column I plan to type in the cell number (if they choose to give it to me). In the second column I'll type "A" for Cingular users, "B" for Verizon users, "C" for T Mobile users, "D" for Sprint or Nextel users, etc. In the third column I'll let Excel create the address for me by creating a formula (for my spreadsheet, I'll be counting Column C for the phone number, Column D for the Service provider and Column E for the calculation).
=IF(C1="","",C1&"@"&IF(D1="A","", IF(D1="B","", IF(D1="c","", IF(D1="D","")))))
If you don't know how to use Excel's "Fill" function to duplicate the formula for as many rows as you need, learn it; it is one of the most useful functions in building Excel spreadsheets.

Now, every time I want to send a text message I can select and copy Column E and paste it into the address field of my e-mail program.

I've only run some preliminary tests on this because it is near the end of the semester and I haven't collected those cell numbers yet, but it sure looks like it will work. Sometimes you can learn by listening to your students.