Saturday, February 07, 2009

Editors Day at Cerritos College

Thirty-three students from seven community colleges attended the Editors Day held at Cerritos College Feb. 7, 2009. 

The purpose of the event was to give editors of student publications a chance to network and share common problems and seek common solutions. The format for the day was simple:

The students split up to assure diversity at each of seven tables and spent the first hour just talking about their programs. Then they were given a bit more direction and asked to prepare four lists:
  • 3 Biggest problems at their publications
  • 3 Things about their advisers (no names allowed and because of diversity at each table no advisers singled out)
  • 3 Ways their publications could/should cover the recession
  • 3 Things about being on newspaper staff
The topics were purposely a bit vague to give students widest latitude in answering them.

After lunch the groups were rearranged so that students were seated with others who had similar staff positions (editor-in-chief, news/other, arts/entertainment, sports, photo, online, etc.) so that they could discuss specific issues related to their jobs.

All Southern California schools were invited and nine responded, but students from two of the schools didn't make it. And because of the poor weather, even schools that did not attend often brought fewer students than they said they would (see budget notes at bottom). Schools that participated were Cerritos, Pierce, Glendale, Moorpark, Southwestern, Riverside and El Camino.

Best comment of the day: "I thought this (event) might be boring, but it is awesome." A key to that was scheduling almost all of the time for students just to talk to each other.

Here are some of the thoughts students came up with in their lists:

  • Intervention by student government (shared by almost all of the groups)
  • Getting staff members to meet deadlines (again, shared by almost all groups)
  • School staff not cooperating with the paper (an example of Theater not allowing photos during dress rehearsal)
  • Staff communication
  • Staff respect for each other
  • Determining when to cut stories/pages or to grant extensions when stories are late
  • Getting staff members to want to write news (as opposed to reviews)
  • Working with dedicated staff members vs. non-dedicated staff members
  • Whether or not there should be a newswriting pre-requisite to the newspaper: Most would like to see one, but fear they would not have big enough staffs
  • Getting students --especially new students-- to put in the time needed for the class
  • Getting writers and how to train them if they have not had newswriting first
  • Balancing writing, editing and production in the overall production cycle
  • Adequate editing while also trying to publish news quickly (example: stories posted online with lots of errors that later have to be corrected)
  • Staff attrition
  • Recruiting writers and photographers
  • Balancing online efforts with print efforts
ADVISERS (note: students could say good OR bad things about advisers)
  • Advisers need to back off and let students do the work
  • Advisers don't always fully appreciating the demand on students with full-time loads or jobs
  • Advisers pushing New Media too hard
  • Advisers not knowing when to step back: They can be pushy or hover too much
  • Advisers should be open to questions
  • Advisers need to be up to date with new technologies
  • Advisers should encourage staffs to interact outside class, both with themselves and other students on campus.
  • Advisers can be "bullet sponges," that is, they can be a mediating shield when people complain about content
  • Advisers sometimes push stories too much, stories the students are not interested in
  • Some advisers push design advice and then criticize the outcome
  • Some advisers intervene too much
  • Some advisers will not allow off-campus critical reviews
  • Some advisers review pages before they are sent to the printer and require last-minute changes
  • Students hate it when advisers skip after-issue critiques
  • Students like advisers who give them a free hand with the paper
  • Students like critiques
  • Some advisers cooperate with the editor(s) better than others
  • Students like it when advisers teach them how to do things
  • Overall, students are grateful for their advisers
COVERING THE RECESSION (again students were free to answer this any way they wanted; some listed story ideas) 
  • Use infographs
  • Use photo illustrations
  • "Put faces to the stories"
  • Use multimedia packages
  • Write about cutting of enrollments
  • Do stories on alternatives to high book costs
  • Do stories on how campus businesses (i.e., bookstores) are impacted
  • Localize state and national news stories
  • Ask students how cuts have affected them
  • Cover school budget cuts
  • Monitor how well the college spends its money
  • Do features on job opportunities and how to apply for jobs and polish resumes
  • Use diagrams/bullet points
  • Conduct man-in-the-street interviews
  • Talk about unemployment issues
  • Talk about the future (and how the Stimulus Plan will affect the college)
  • Talk to Economics teachers
  • Do stories on how students are coping with cuts
  • One school is preparing a special "cheap" issue; how to do things more cheaply
  • Outline ways to get/keep jobs. Talk to those who have lost jobs
  • Write profile features of students and faculty, focusing on impact of the economy
  • Students need to balance school, jobs and the paper
  • You will make enemies on campus
  • It's fun
  • You get to create/establish new relationships
  • You broaden your horizons when you take on different kinds of stories (news/opinion/feature), especially when you came in interested in only one kind
  • You shouldn't join the newspaper unless they are dedicated
  • You shouldn't be afraid to take on new work/heavier workloads
  • You make friends/connections for life
  • You have creative freedom
  • It is a learning experience
  • You can make collective food purchases and save money (or just mooch off others)
  • You get to share your passion by covering topics of interest
  • There is too much gossip among staff members
  • Romantic relationships on staff always end up badly
  • Communication among students needs to be better
  • Staffs need to determine and communicate acceptable speech and behavior standards (and before the first production night!)
  • Staffs need to work out how they are going to deal with differing music choices (and before the first production night!)
  • You learn a lot
  • You learn responsibility
  • Working on the paper can be all consuming
  • It is good for networking
  • You get hands-on experience you would not get your first years at a university.
Total cost for running the day was about $400-$500. The bulk of that was in food. Our out-of-pocket expenses were minimal, though. We have a caterer advertiser who is taking out his advertising in trade, so box lunches did not take any cash. We ended up ordering too many box lunches because schools told us they were bringing more students than they did. If we do this again we might charge $5 a person, just to help offset cost overages like this. We have found in the past that "free" often is looked at as "I don't really have a commitment." Of course, we could have supplied lunch for half the cost if we had just ordered pizza. Other expenses were for sodas, juice, water, donuts and muffins. It helps that we do a number of events each school year that involve serving food, so we have already purchased many items such as good table clothes, coffee makers, ice buckets, silverware and name tags. The Journalism Association of Community Colleges donated notebooks and a couple of sweatshirts to raffle off as door prizes. The school has adequate meeting space that we have learned to book in ways that costs us nothing. We save on cleanup costs by cleaning up ourselves after events; we're just used to it.

Biggest obstacles in doing something like this:
  • Just deciding to do it
  • Supplying food (but as noted we've got that figured out)
  • Getting people to register by the food-ordering deadline. We had a school call the afternoon before saying, "We just heard about this, can we still come?" Yes, but the food ordering deadline was five days earlier. Those who don't plan/run these types of events don't appreciate that.
  • Getting people to show when they say they will
  • Signage on campus (because of the rain we didn't do anything; some people got lost, but eventually found their way).


At February 07, 2009 11:35 PM, Blogger John said...

"Advisers pushing New Media too hard."

Places aren't hiring unless you can put together a multimedia package. The university's are looking for this type of skill too. I know the students want to just focus on the newspaper, but this really does ring hollow.

At February 08, 2009 9:46 AM, Blogger msprompt said...

I agree with John on the MM. In terms of learning the new tech and producing MM content, I think students often feel the way many reporters working in the field feel: I'm already doing a ton, now you want me to do more? Advisers need to figure out how best to balance the print work and the MM work.

Great blog post!


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