Rich's Musings

This blog is a collection of thoughts about teaching journalism and how I teach journalism at Cerritos College.

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Location: Norwalk, CA

Rich Cameron has been the chair of the Journalism program at Cerritos College since 1997. He teaches a variety of journalism classes and advises the school newspaper, the Talon Marks. Prior to 1997 he taught at West Valley College in northern California for more than 16 years. He has also taught at Reedley and Merced community colleges.

For more information about Rich or Cerritos College journalism, go to the department's home page.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sucky days

Most days are exciting, but some are just plain sucky. Today is the latter.

It started off by waking to the sound of the street sweeper and realizing I forgot to move the car off the street. Bingo. $35 ticket. And that was the highlight of the day!

The Talon Marks computer server somehow got damaged over the weekend when the school had a spate of campus computer network troubles and for a while it looked like we were going to lose all data files. Now it looks like only some. And that news comes after a couple of days of the computer folks looking into it.

There was a cascade of other sucky things that happened, but the real downer was when one of the schools scheduled for tomorrow night's high school journalism awards night cancelled on us this morning. And it had to be the school with half the planned attendees. Ouch!

Squirrel eating a nutFirst only a few schools participated in the contests, then two of the four that did aren't coming to the awards presentation. The presentation was our main purpose for investing in the contests: it gets students on our campus. If we can just get them to visit the campus we're confident that long-term relationships will be developed. High schools are a tough nut to crack.

I feel sorry for the instructor. It was the students who baled, not her. We have that same problem with college students at conferences. I've learned tricks over time to counter-act the problem, but she hasn't yet. This is all too new.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Web page evolution

Mockup designSometimes trying to instill the value of as a primary news source among the student staff is a challenge. But every once in a while, the students show they understand and care.

The latest comes in the form of a proposed redesign of the site from outgoing online editor Diona Carrillo and designer Benny Orbase. Their proposal wil require some help from College Publisher and parts of it might not be doable, but we'll see just how flexible the tool is.

One of the cool things about the proposal is that it will require future staff photographers to contribute more and redefine the role of the online editor position. He/she will have to work more closely with the rest of the staff to insure that the proper content elements will be forthcoming. And there is even a role for video, podcasts and blogs. And the proposal is completely student generated from students who care about enhancing the online publication.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Stayin' alive

Enrollments are down and it's been a challenge this week just to get adequate enrollments to offer summer school classes. RTV instructor Craig Breit, my department mate, has been struggling, too.

I've tried recruiting high school students, first through hosting Southern California Journalism Association conferences, and most recently by sponsoring our own high school journalism competitions. But the payoff is questionable. First there is the issue that going to a UC is more important to the best high school students than getting a good start on their college careers at a community college. While high school teachers will say good things about community college, they seem to be drawn to the UC mystic, too.

And then the there is the issue of just connecting with high school programs. One of the things we're finding with our mail-in competition is that even the U.S. mail is not reliable. Our mail may get to the campus, but there is no guarantee that the high school will get the mail to the teacher in any kind of quick and reliable way.

We were afraid we'd have to cancel our awards program for the competition --a major goal for us in even sponsoring the competitions-- but most schools came through eventually. The one school that isn't coming, is our closest neighbor Gahr High School. So three of us visited Gahr today. Good visit, but again the top students, the ones who won awards, won't be coming to Cerritos. One walks away feeling that the friendly reception we got HAS to pay off some day, but when?

If enrollments continue to drop, and we cannot develop the needed pipelines with our local high schools, keeping our programs alive is going to be a challenge. We won't be around to host conferences or local competitions.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Earth is flat

Took a handful of students to listen to NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman talk about globaization last night. It was the last in the 2006 LA Music Center lecture series. What a powerful speaker! He presented an edge-of-the-seat message for 90 minutes without a single note in front of him. Of course, his talk was an outline of his very long book "The Earth is Flat."

Got home and immediately downloaded it from as part of my $20-a-month membership. Would have cost about $50 otherwise.

Thomas FriedmanThe message from the book had me spooked. I'm an innovative guy. I like to think I'm ahead of the curve. Instead, I now feel like the guy who is running away from attacking hungry bears. My only solace is that I'm a bit faster than the guy next to me. If the bears are hungry enough, though, it will only delay the inevitable.

For instance, I feel sorry for the journalism teacher today who has not embraced distance education yet. Some of us old fogeys who plan to retire in the next five to 10 years are hoping to get out before the bear catches us. I'll make it, because I'm running faster than most. But those who plan to be around for a while won't make it. Much of what we do CAN be outsourced to others who have embraced teaching distance education because there are entrepreneurial bears who will figure out how to do it. I figured it out and embraced it years ago. I haven't figured out exactly how to do the newspaper through DE yet, but I can even imagine the advising of a student publication being insourced by an outfit who will put together a writing specialist, a photo specialist, a printing specialist and a design specialist who will team up to provide our service to students to multiple schools.

Not the same, you say? Maybe not, but it might be adequate for an administration who wants a school paper but wants to avoid long-term benefits that must be paid to a tenured employee for what is a traditionally low-enrollment program. I think such a group could cobble a decent set of multiple student newspapers. You could even use an abundance of designers at one school to design the paper at another school. Technology has opened the door for a distributed operation that creates a local paper.

And journalism teachers who are putting off introducing new forms of storytelling, such as blogging, podcasting and web editions of the publication, may be setting themselves up to be caught by the bears, to say nothing of what such reluctance is doing to their students' futures.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Permanence of paper

The last thing I did before going to bed last night was check USA Today online. When I woke up this morning the page was still on my screen. I hit refresh and it changed. So much for permanence.

Robert Mercer of Cypress College talks about the new paradigm of here-is-the-news-now compared to the here-is-this-issue-of-the-paper news (my words, his sentiment). The USA Today refresh sure emphasized his concept.

Cerritos journalism students are slowly embracing the online edition, but their hearts are still entrenched in the print edition. The print edition drives deadlines, not the online edition. And of course, the College Publisher tool we use emphasizes the issue concept.

I think students still prefer the permanence of the paper product over the electronic product. The irony, of course, is that the electronic product is so much easier to archive and access in the short run than the paper version. But we've still got 50-year-old copies of the Talon Marks (not that anyone reads them with regularity). Will we still have the electronic archives 50 years from now?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Back to school

Went back to school this weekend. The Mass Communications and Journalism department at my alma mater, Fresno State, held its first-ever reunion for graduates. So I went back to school to see old classmates and teachers.

Fresno State BulldogNot sure I would have recognized any classmates had they shown up --as far as I can tell, none from my years did-- as I was so busy working and going to school at the time to get to know many of them. But over the years I've gotten to know a couple from other years who WERE there Friday night. The best part, though, was touching base with some of the instructors. Only one who was there when I was there is still there: Jim Tucker. What a great guy! He worked the crowd and seemed to remember everyone and spent a few minutes with each. Such a classy guy who really makes you feel welcome. He's retiring in another semester and Fresno State is losing a great asset, though based on how healthy he looks, he'll be on the sidelines for some time.

Also enjoyed connecting with my old journalism law prof Dayle Molen. A lot older and wrinklier, but it was fun talking with him. Heard a number of other grads talk about what they learned from him making a big difference over the years.

I know some of the "newer" profs, too, and enjoyed talking with them. And I ran across Dick Hamilton, formerly of College of the Sequoias. Somebody forgot to tell him he was supposed to look a lot older than he did 30 years ago. Nice guy with a passion for valley journalism education.

We got tours of the television, radio and newspaper offices, too. The television control room seemed rundown, but it sounds like they are doing some good programming there. The radio station is still a hole in the wall that comes nowhere near the quality of facility we have at Cerritos, but they continue to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year without a lot of looping. The Collegian News offices have been remodeled recently. While nice, they are only as good as the Cerritos facilities. With only 14 stations for a three-times-a-week paper, they rely on a reportorial staff smaller than we have at Cerritos to own their own computers and e-mail-in stories.

Disturbing was hearing that the FSU school has gone the way of many CSU programs in that it is dominated by Public Relations and Advertising sequences. The Print Journalism sequence is withering. Nothing against PR or Ads, but I'm of the print generation and hate to see it de-emphasized in so many programs across the state --and that the students in my program who love the work so much will have fewer and fewer options on where to transfer ... providing they can get past the math requirement.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Judging as learning lesson

One of the goals of the high school journalism awards we're starting this year is to turn it into a learning lesson for Cerritos College journalism students. The plan all along has been to have the newspaper students do the judging of the high school entries. We got started on that today.

In addition to working together in teams to judge the best of the entries, the students are supposed to write comments on the entries so that we can return them to the high school programs with feedback. By judging others' work, my students learn more about having to evaluate their own work.

Here are some images from the judging, thanks to Tanya:

Click on image to see a larger version. Click on the "Back" button to come back here.
HS judging photoHS judging photoHS judging photoHS judging photo

Monday, May 08, 2006

Web logs in J classes

Amara shared a good link with me about a research paper written by Eric Wiltse at University of Wyoming on web logs in journalism classes. The paper has some good discussion on blogs and how to integrate them as learning exercises in classes.

Eric Wiltse works with some of his studentsIn the paper he says that "college-level instruction is important to bring journalist standards to this growing medium." Robert Mercer, in a recent JACC faculty listserve post rightly questioned whether blogs will be as wide-spread as some in the industry claim because the best ones, the ones likely to survive, are the ones that will be written by experts in the field of what is being written about. Should we even bother with blogs when we're teaching entry-level stuff? Wiltse would answer yes.

Photo: Wiltse works with some of his students (from his UWyo web site).

The paper gave me ideas on how I might better include blogs in, say, my beginning newswriting class in the future. Some of the experiences he reports on in his paper I ran across in my experiment in newswriting this semester. I think I could have been clearer with a goal for the blog and in my instructions to the students. That's one of the problems of a "just get started" philosophy. You shoot first and then learn about aiming.

Anyway, I think I'll quote some passages from this paper in order to preserve some of what I found most meaningful. But to keep this blog entry short --something I'm learning with this blog-- I think I'll post them as comments to this entry.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Convergence issues

Attended a workshop this morning at Riverside College about convergence issues. The presenters were all from the Internet side of their publications, so there was a decided bias for web enhancements. That’s okay, though, I have that bias, too.

One presenter said that visual content –video and photos and photo galleries—is what drives readers to the web sites, not necessarily text content or voice podcasts, which is what most of old journalism types think about most. While blogging is a hot topic, they indicated that few papers are finding a model that works.

They also talked about a lot of segmentation of news. Sometimes some amateur can do one aspect of news --an example of a track and field web site was used-- better than the news organization, which still believes that it must be all things to all readers. These amateurs are going to eat news organizations' lunches. Rather than compete with everyone, they need to find what areas they do best. Or maybe they concentrate on becoming a portal that brings all these other sites to one spot.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Grading! Good golly!

Teaching would be a cushy job if it weren't for grading. Geez!

graded paper artMore and more toward the end of the semester (Thanksgiving and Spring Break) I hit a grading slump. Sometimes it lasts for weeks. Of course, that's when the more complex assignments start coming in, so I don't know if it is the break in the routine or the more intense grading involved, or both.

It's a hard slump to pull out of, but so far I've managed every semester. I'm running out of time for this semester, hope I snap out of it soon.

High school awards contests

For several years Cerritos Journalism has maintained a relationship with the Southern California Journalism Education Association by hosting its annual Write-Off competitions. Aside from wanting to support good journalism at the high school level, an obvious hoped for advantage would be to establish connections with local area high school programs.

But the problem is that most local area high schools do not participate in SCJEA.

ribbonSo this year, after a number of years of planning, we've launched our first district-wide high school journalism awards competition that includes 13 or so categories area newspapers and yearbooks can enter work done by students this school year.

We're a bit disappointed that only a few school newspapers submitted entries ... no yearbooks. We're going to extend the deadline a week and reach out again to see if we can get a few more high schools to participate. If not, we'll go with those schools who did enter and see if we can build on that number next year.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Podcasting assignment in newswriting

I've been struggling on what kind of podcasting assignment to give my beginning newswriting students. This is the first semester I'm going to try something and I'm still at a loss on what exactly to have them do. The purpose is to introduce them to podcasting, but how to do it is a mystery.

Complicating the matter is the fact that we've got so little time left in the class and I want them to concentrate on the the City Council assignment. Bam! Why not have them do a podcast on the City Council assignment? It can be about the story. It can be about writing the story. The result is not something we'll likely actually publish, but the process can take place.