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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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Straight and narrow serious vs. edgy fun

Most journalism teachers I know, present company included, teach a pretty straight and narrow serious approach to newswriting. And appropriately so.

There is a lot to learn in mastering the inverted pyramid, consistency of style, accuracy and objectivity. But to survive in tomorrow's news world and to appeal to younger audiences, I think we have to start paying attention to the edgy presentation of news. Note the success of the Daily Report with Jon Stewart and how many young people consider that to be more appealing "journalism." Shoot, when CBS was looking for a replacement for Dan Rather Stewart's name kept cropping up in the speculation. And the White House Correspondents Dinner roasting of George Bush by Stephen Colbert keeps cropping up still months later on Editor & Publisher's Most Popular Stories RSS feed.

And when I look at the work of one of my best designer students, Benedict Orbase, I realize that part of his appeal comes from a willingness to take an edgy look at serious news. It works. And I think as we look more and more at the role of online journalism we have to look at ways to separate ourselves from the vanilla world of online newspaper sites. Shoot, we probably need to do the same with the print edition.

I'm fast becoming a fan of zefrank's "The Show" and Rocketboom, who like Stewart take a more fun, edgy look at news presentation (if you can call Frank's work journalism, which I think you sometimes can; why he hasn't been signed by the Daily Show yet is a mystery to me).

But news is serious and we need to maintain a balance. For the short run, at least, the student who leaves my program without understanding how and when to write the straight and narrow serious news story is going to have a hard time finding a traditional job in the media.

Sure would like to hear from some of my fellow journalism teachers on this one.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Are college journalists ready for digital age?

Are college journalists, or even journalism teachers, ready for the digital age? Apparently not, according to Leonard Witt, president of the Public Journalism Network:

Yesterday I gave a talk to some 50 college student newspaper editors and managers about Reinventing Newspapers. Most had not heard of citizen journalism projects like OhmyNews, Northwest Voice or MyMissourian. The editors, from small colleges to major universities, were at the annual Management Seminar for College Newspaper Editors hosted by Cox Institute for Newspaper Management Studies at the University of Georgia's Grady College.

I would say their colleges, journalism schools, communication departments and advisors have some catching up to do. These are tomorrow's newsroom leaders. They are not under the gun because one advisor told me that college newspapers are doing incredibly well. They are free. They have a captive audience.

I've got to admit, I've not heard of some of those projects either and have not introduced my students to them. And I think I'm further along than many advisers when it comes to online journalism. Yikes!

So, why should students get serious about online journalism? Aside from the obvious that it is becoming a bigger part of the industry, that's where the money is going. This last year online editors were among those who got the greatest pay increases.

Small town journalism

Great story in today's LA Times about small town journalism in Atwater, Minn. The Column One feature tells about a small town left without a newspaper a decade ago. People wanted a paper, so they started one.

For nearly a decade, Atwater had no newspaper. The only way for the town's 1,047 residents to find out about fires, summer festivals and the latest births was to eavesdrop on conversations at Vern's Town & Country grocery store.

"Do you know how frustrating it is to be able to get up-to-the-minute information about what's happening in Lebanon on CNN, but not be able to know what was said at the Atwater City Council meeting?" asked Connie Feig, a registered nurse and chairwoman of the Sunfish Gazette's 12-member board of directors.

There's an old joke that in a small town everyone knows what everyone else is doing. They subscribe to the local paper only to see who got caught at it.

But there's a point here for college publications. When we hear so much about declines in readership, consolidations of media operations, cutbacks in newspaper jobs, we have to remember that people want local news. That's where our stengths are. If we fall into the trap of covering the same stuff that other, larger publications do, we are doomed. But if we provide news about our community in our stories, in our blogs and on our website that our readers cannot get anywhere else, we will do more than survive, we'll thrive.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Advertising and college web sites

We don't really look at the Talon Marks as a source of ad income, even though half our operating expenses in a school year come from advertising and those numbers have been dropping in recent years. But here is some interesting news for us to pay attention to.

A new survey of 7,500 university students found that they would like to see more local advertising on their campus' newspaper websites. 64% would appreciate more local restaurant ads, 51% more entertainment, and 50% more ads from local stores.

This comes as no surprise as colleges are a boon to local businesses. What is surprising is that local advertisers haven't picked up on the priceless medium of a local college's newspaper website yet. It just seems too obvious.
See the story Score One More Advantage for Local Online Newspapers for more details.

RSS feeds for updates. I finally get it.

RSS sample imageOkay, forgive me. I'm a dinosaur. An enlightened dinosaur, I hope, but still a dinosaur. But I finally get RSS (Really Simple Syndication).

I saw it before, but didn't understand it. I even bookmarked some feed sites without realizing what I was doing. Soon after my bookmarks bar started including numbers that I couldn't understand. The browser was looking at those feed sites and telling me how many NEW entries had been made since I last checked the site.

I'm going feed-happy with many of the sites I like to read regularly now so that I don't waste time checking a site that hasn't been updated. Likewise, I don't want to forget to check up on a site that may have interesting updates.

Gotta learn more, but this is cool. Oh, by the way, there is an RSS site for this blog and for the Talon Marks and for the Cerritos College Journalism web site.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Web is dominant media, study says

Computer imageWeb media is the dominant at-work media and No. 2 in the home, according to a June report from the Online Publishers Association, according to this CNET article.

The article and the study are interesting for a number of reasons. For one, what time of day do you think most newspapers and magazines are read? Another interesting thing about the article is how CNET handled an update to the online story.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tomorrow is just a day away

I know the lyrics for the song "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie" say that "tomorrow is ALWAYS a day away," but it is also ONLY a day away. So I like to keep in touch with my student newspaper staff during semester breaks, especially the lon-g-g-g-g summer break, and keep their thoughts focused on the coming semester.

I met with a number of returning students for lunch today to get them started thinking on goals for the semester. Among the goals expressed:

  • Move AMPED, our op-A&E opinon that morphs to a full page editor column, to online only and replace that page with our defunct Life feature page.
  • Redo the the online site front page. (See blog entry below.)
  • Include more online forums and promote them within each story in the print edition. Do more overall in the paper to promote online.
  • Include more online videos (maybe every other week).
  • Increase the use of blogs.
  • Move more reviews to online and focus a main package on the A&E page on on-campus arts. Extend campus arts coverage.
Good start.

Wish I could get some of them to attend JACC's Editor's Leadership Camp, but in absence of that it is important to keep them focused yourself.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It's so ugly

ugly web sites with zefrankA little bit of crude language, but this web video about ugly web sites on MySpace is as funny as it is informative about how much we take for granted that new technologies provide. The amount of work involved in creating a newspaper page or a web site is made so simple for us with today's technology.


Mindy McAdamsMindy McAdams is quickly becoming one of my "must read" bloggers. She has included an interesting summary of a PEW Intenet and American Life Project study on blogging.

PEW is a good source on how Americans use the Internet.

Reuters also has a story on the report.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Multimedia storytelling and artists

Mindy McAdams writes a really interesting blog on teaching online journalism. I found this post about interactive artists particularly interesting. I think it defines an element we are hoping to capture in our Internet for Journalists class.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Blogging requirement?

question markI've been thinking about how to infuse my journalism courses with blogging so that my students can learn. One thought is to require all returning newspaper staff members to develop a weekly blog that focuses on some aspect of the college or student life.*

Ran the idea past incoming editor Tanya Bermudez the other day and she wasn't interested in it.** Still, I wonder...

* The more I read about online publications the more I see that we need to focus on content that cannot be found elsewhere. I've always known that and emphasize that we should 1) cover campus news first and 2) off-campus news that affects our student readers. I've always suggested that for columns and sports coverage. Makes sense to emphasize it with blogs.

** I also read that many journalsts, including student journalists resist learning new media. Yet, can I in good conscious continue teaching ONLY old media? Much of what has developed with the online publication has taken time to infuse into the culture of the Talon Marks. Requiring blogs might not be popular at first, but will be considered normal after several semesters. The trick is to introduce it correctly.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Talon Marks reunion

Last night was the big 50th anniversary Talon Marks reunion. What at hot time (literally for a while there)!

reunion sceneIt was so great to see some 50 or 60 current and former Talon Marks staffers and their families join us for the evening. It was a thrill to talk to so many of them and see how their lives were affected by their long hours at the Talon Marks. Some were my former students, but the vast majority were from Tom Nelson's days. After all, he was here for 26 years and I'm only on my nineth.

Many remarked on how the newsroom was the same, but different. We lost the horseshoe copyediting table*, the darkroom* and the clocks of the world, but we've added computers* and the online publication.* Offices have changed a bit, but many were seen pointing to this corner and that corner and saying, "That's where my desk was." (*See comments for additional storyline)

reunion sceneMy favorite story of the evening came from Lauren Rodriguez, who is now at KTLA-TV after getting her bachelor's degree in English from UCLA. She says that because of her degree she is asked to copyedit a lot of the stories at the TV station, but that it is not her English degree that helps her, but the Dirty Dozen list that she learned at the Talon Marks.

Biggest glitch of the evening: Campus Facilities forgot to program the air conditioning to stay on for the event and the Student Center became a hothouse the hour before dinner. It took a while for the AC to kick in with any effect once we got things turned back on.

Also loved the video of memories that Amara put together.

We started a database of contacts and created a set of alumni scholarships and we're already starting to plan a renunion picnic for next summer.

Biggest disappointment: We were still getting contact information the day of the reunion. Would love to have had the info earlier so that those individuals could have planned to be there last night, too.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Who needs ink? San Jose State podcasts

San Jose State University's Steve Sloan has produced a series of podcasts that talk about journalism education and new technology. A link can be found in the sidebar of this page.

Of particular interest to me was a 13-minute podcast entitled "Who Needs Ink?" That was the title of a presentation at the California Commonwealth Club presentation in San Jose that Steve attended in March 2006. Afterward he interviewed a number of people, including panel participants Dan Gillmor, author of "We the Media," and former Knight-Ridder VP Jerry Ceppos, about what the future of the media means for journalism education. The podcast could easily be used in a mass media survey course when talking about careers in the media.

A down note, though, was the last interview with a high school student, who after three years of "fun" working for his high school newspaper proudly claims he has no intention of working in the media.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Going to online exclusively

The Bodega Bay newspaper announced this week that it is going to drop its print edition and continue to publish exclusively online. Seems that subscription costs cannot cover the printing costs and the publisher feels he has enough of an out-of-area audience to sustain the effort.

Bodega Bay logo

It is too early to tell whether this represents the shot heard 'round the world for newspapers. Bodega Bay is not the first publication to go exclusively online, just the latest. When one looks at Slate and Salon one has to think we still have a ways to go. But I like the concept of being the guy who builds the lemonade stand out in the middle of the desert. Very little business now, but when the road comes through you can put up a sign saying "Been in business since ...."

As the Cerritos College Talon Marks' online subscription rate gets ever-so-close to our print distribution numbers --just a couple of hundred away with new subscribers signing up daily, even in the summer when we're not creating new content-- it gets interesting thinking about following Bodega Bay's lead. Problem is, college newspapers exist largely because schools want a publication that can reach students.

When I look at the list of our online subscribers, I get the sense that we're looking at more of a new audience than a repeat audience. That is not to say that we don't have some double-dippers, but they probably represent less than half our online subscribers.

Until we get better at getting the campus community to look to our online publications for campus information we can't afford to consider dropping online papers --even if college students don't like to read newspapers. We built our lemonade stand eight years ago and I think we're beginning to understand some of what it is going to take to do that. In any case, we're closer than those who haven't built their stands yet.

And we can surely train students to work for those future online-only publications.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

New media has old look

Saw this clip in the LA Times today:

Emmy AwardWhen the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences created a new Emmy award this year for news and documentary programs produced for websites, mobile phones and iPods, the group aimed to recognize the best of new media. But when the award is presented in September, the winner will likely be old media.

That's because five of the seven nominees for the so-called emerging media Emmy announced Monday were actually reports done by websites of the New York Times or the Washington Post. The traditional television news divisions were shut out of the category.

All the more reason we need to get a jump on training students for multi-media storytelling. By the time our students go on, complete their four-year degrees and start working in the media, they need to have the skillsets and mindsets to tell stories in these formats. But we can't stop teaching the basics while we add the new skills.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Podcasts in journalism education

microphoneIn researching podcasting in journalism education I ran across this interesting piece produced by National Public Radio. (requires Window Media Player). It talks about one school's attempt to deliver some content to students in placed of them actually attending class three days a week.

Here is another series of podcasts discussing the changing state of college media sponsored by the College Media Advisers, Inc. that deserves a following.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Blogging and journalism classes

It's mid-summer and I just ended my summer school day class --the online class still has a couple of weeks to go-- so it is time to start thinking about next school year. Big in my thoughts is how to incorporate the concept of blogging into my journalism classes.

computerI tried an experiment in the newswriting class last semester that really did not work, but it was start. (See the entries way down below.) We also had more luck in starting some blogs in association with, but the semester ended shortly after we started.

As I'm starting my research, I ran across this interesting article. Other community college journalism instructors should read it, too, as should Cerritos journalism students.