It’s a new year and new semester (for most of us) and I’ve been reading a lot lately about New Year’s resolutions for newspapers. My favorite/most useful ones so far have been Steve Outing’s “Some Advice For Small Newspapers” column at the Editor and Publisher site and Bryan Murley’scollege publication annotation version of Outing’s suggestions at the Innovation in College Media site. (Also see Lost Remote’s Your Newsroom New Year’s Resolutions and Small Business Software’s “Free Website Content – 2007 New Year’s Resolutions“.)
Thought I’d add to the din with a few suggestions of my own for JACC programs and student publications.
1. Post first, print second.
It’s 2007 and time to stop setting deadlines to correspond with the print editions. This is doubly true for those papers that publish only every other week. This is the world our students will graduate into and it is time that we start training them for it. One caveat, though, is that once students turn in stories, we’ll be tempted to encourage them to take on another assignment right away. While that can be good, we need to make sure we don’t overwork the students to the point they don’t pass their other classes (see below).
2. Be innovative.
It is also time to grow beyond shovelware. Your online site should be more powerful with content beyond the print edition. Let the print edition more closely resemble shovelware. Time Magazine thought it was important enough to recognize the impact of video sharing sites like YouTube, social networks like MySpace and FaceBook, and photo sharing sites like Flickr, groupthinks like Wikipedia, etc., by naming YOU (the readers who now provide content instead of just consuming it) as Person of the Year. I blogged on this a week ago or so with a simple idea for involving your campus audience in providing content. I ran the idea by my own students who balked at it. “They’ll write terrible stories,” one of the editors said. The editors said they were uncomfortable with giving up control of the content. That’s an attitude that a lot of newspaper people seem to have, and one that needs to change. This is the year to be innovative, even if it means starting off small. If you are not already adding new content to your web publication, think about photo slide shows, blogs, podcasts and more. Start reading Mindy McAdams’ Teaching Online Journalism blog about all the papers in the country adding “electronic infographs.”
3. Forge alliances for additional content.
Doing more with the same staff does not have to be a problem if you forge alliances with other groups on campus to provide content. Start with your broadcasting program, you know, the one that you have not worked with in the past because it includes little or no journalism. It needs to change, too. Take the high road, for both your sakes. Look to art programs, photo programs, film programs and animation programs. And look to your study body, don’t expect the students to come to you. Innovate (see No. 2).
We all have the same goal in mind: Improve our journalism programs and the work our students do. We can learn from each other, but so many don’t share. I’m talking about sharing in at least two ways.
First is something I’ve been harping on for nearly 25 years. At conferences many of us are willing to schlep bundles of our papers along to put out on the newspaper table. Our students love to pick through the piles and collect samples of stuff they really like or really dislike. Our papers themselves can be supplemental textbooks for our students and even for the advisers. But JACC holds conferences only every three or four months, and only once a year when all schools are together. Why not share year-round by mailing out copies of your issues EACH WEEK (there’s nothing as useless as an envelope with copies of all your papers at the end of a semester or, worse, end of the school year!). You SHOULD be sending out copies of your papers to local high school programs for recruitment purposes anyway (consider sending a duplicate to the head counselor at those schools).
I hear from a lot of advisers that they can’t do that, that their schools won’t let them. But have they really tried. Just wrap a handful of papers and address them to your local high schools. IF anyone questions your practice, let them know you are recruiting. With community college enrollments down these days, you are most likely to hear, “What a great idea.” After a few weeks, add local legislators and area colleges. Over time add more colleges, the ones you’d like to return the favor. It’s only when you start hitting 100 or so a week that someone will question what you are doing, and mostly likely they’ll ask that you double that number so they can be bundled properly and shipped by bulk mail at a fraction of the cost.
Each week, on production day, one of our class rituals is to set up assembly line style and fold and address our papers for mailing. It takes 10 minutes. We print out Avery labels to snap on the papers.
The second type of sharing is to share online content (see No. 2). Those in the College Publisher network will be able to do that very simply in the near future. I’ve asked the folks there to put together one of their new aggregate headline tools for us. It will automatically grab the most popular stories on all our individual College Publisher sites and create a page of links to those stories. Once it is developed (which should be just a few more weeks at the latest) you will have the option of including the page on your web site. Your readers will be able to read the most popular stories from all the JACC papers in the state. Lots of new content without extra work! Of course, only College Publisher partners will be included and will be able to use the tool. Yet another reason to consider joining the critical mass and get all JACC papers in one network!
Another way to share is to create a Flickr account and upload hi resolution photos your photographers take. Share the URLs with the rest of us and open up the possibility of schools borrowing photos from each other (with proper controls, of course). Flickr has a built-in slide show function that you can link to on your own sites. Just think sports photos and you’ll immediately start thinking about how this could benefit all of our programs.
Just think SHARE.
Like it or not, blogging, and to certain extent podcasting and videocasting, are becoming mainstream. It is easy to create a blog account, but just try journalistic blogging and you’ll see that it is difficult to sustain. Advisers should try it simply to learn. How many of us would try to teach newswriting in the inverted pyramid method without having tried it ourselves? There are subtleties to blogging you get only with practice. Next, students should blog. I’ve decided that all veteran staff members on the Cerritos College Talon Marks will be required to create a blog with one news or other theme and generate at least 12 posts (same number of print issues for the semester) this semester if they want to earn an A in the class. They’re repeaters, so the challenge should be there to produce at a higher level. This, of course, will be in addition to the normal course load expected.
6. Students must pass their classes.
And speaking of course loads, more and more I believe we must take some responsibility for our students passing their non-journalism courses. If we weren’t benefitting so much from students pouring themselves into our publications I’d agree that it is simply the students’ responsibility to pass their classes. But often they are sacrificing their other classes to work for the journalism god. Society rebelled against athletes doing that years ago and, quite honestly, we should consider tightening up our programs, too. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the prosperity of the fifth-year student in a two-year program. Those students make my life much more pleasant. But the day of reckoning is coming when we will be judged by more than numbers of enrollments and quality of publications. We will be judged, and funded, by completion rates: How many of our students complete our programs and move on in the system or into the workforce.
And we all know the No. 1 class that our students struggle with to transfer is the math requirement. I’ve blogged before on ideas for addressing this problem. My ideas might not be the right ones, but they are better than burying our heads in the sand. We need to establish accountability within our programs –and do it statewide– before some outside group imposes it on us.
For all the issues we have with our student government, one requirement they place on us –keep in mind, that much of our funding comes from student government– is that before I can spend a dime on taking students to conferences, those students must meet minimum academic requirements. They must be enrolled in a minimum number of units, not be on academic probation and not have flunked a class the previous semester. I don’t use those requirements in selecting an editor, nor do we apply them to other editors on the staff, but perhaps we should move that direction. And students should be required to finish a minimum number of units each semester if they are to continue with the paper another semester.
Together, we all should take our students’ poor matriculation rates seriously and agree that we’ll impose some standards. Maybe we’ll do that before I retire in seven years.
7. Read my CNPA College Publisher article and tell me you like it.
And finally, over the Christmas break each school that is a member of the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association got a copy of the organization’s quarterly news magazine/newspaper California Publisher. This month’s issue has a story on the front page I wrote about community colleges and our progress in moving to online publications. Read it and tell me you enjoyed it.