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, February 28, 2009

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Telling the story in 150 characters

Regular readers of my comments or my blogs may have deduced that I have a hard time being brief. When I've got something to say I've got lots I want to say.

Well, learning social networking using Facebook has me learning how to share the short story, too.

One of Facebook's main features is the "what are you doing now" feature where you are encouraged to tell your "friends" what you are doing now.

A lot of my friends write a lot of unintelligible dribble. Yuck. Even the ones who write an intelligible message, such as "Rich is sad," don't tell you WHY they are sad. If I care about my friends, I want to know.

Being journalistically minded I at least want to put what I am doing into some kind of context so my friends, if they care, can understand what I am saying. I try to convey a short news story about myself.

The challenge is, though, is that you have only about 150 characters of space with that "what are you doing now" tool. I'm finding it good practice for me to say what I want to say more concisely.

Of course, when that doesn't work, you always have other options, including posting a sentence devoid of enough information, and then immediately posting a comment --which you friends can do, too-- that gives additional information, kind of like a subhead to a headline might.

Now, I haven't really delved into Twitter, though I recently have started to see some good journalistic samples so I'm beginning to understand the value, but there you are limited to just 144 characters per message.

Another thing I am trying to do with Facebook and social networking is tell stories a bit more often. As Solano College's Mary Mazzocco shared on the Journalism Association of Community Colleges' listserve when I started eging on JACC instructors to join Facebook, you want to get out and mingle often at the party, not just stay in a corner, but you don't want to overdo. Unless there is a reason, I really do not need to know that you are leaving your office to walk to your car and then get another note once you've arrived at your car.

But I try to share often, at least daily, what is going on in my life. Some of my Facebook friends NEVER seem to share what is going on in their life.

Okay, I've just used up more than 2,193 characters, or about 407 words, so I'll shut for now. I could never have shared all that in 150 characters!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brazile and Murphy entertain, Dowd asleep at public lecture series

(Feb. 24, 2009) -- Donna Brazile was delightfully folksy, Mike Murphy was amusingly arrogant, and Maureen Dowd was disappointingly detatched as the three lumanaries squared off in a panel discussion on timely political issues Monday night at the opening salvo of the American Jewish University’s 2009 speaker series.

Outspoken political commentator and founder of the Huffington Post online news site Arianna Huffington stood in for missing-in-action news commentator Jim Lehrer as moderator for the discussion at the Universal City Gibson Amphitheater.

CNN political commentator Brazile and conservative political media consultant Murphy controlled the night as the group evaluated the effectiveness of the Barack Obama Administration and, in Huffington’s words, “the upside down world we live in today.” In fact, the two, at times, seemed to be competing for who could produce the most sound bites as they unabashedly represented their liberal and conservative views.

Brazile won the battle for most sound bites and provided some of the evening’s most amusing moments, especially when her stage microphone did not work properly at the beginning. “I knew I’d have problems with it if I put it (the microphone) over my right side (breast),” she quipped. She tapped the mic until the sound crew got the sound levels correct.

When it was working properly she turned to Murphy on her right and, while tapping the microphone, asked him if he wanted to touch it. It became a running joke throughout the evening as she offered to let him touch it and he quickly declined the offer.

Murphy predictably pushed conservative points of view, but was refreshingly self-effacing and practical in many of his answers. If Brazile was popular and funny, then Murphy scored with some his statements, such as pointing out that the Republican Party, nationally, is in big trouble for now as it is has all but been relegated to an unimportant minority in the House of Representatives, Senate and White House. And, he said, things are likely to get worse and stay that way for “four, eight or even 12 years.”

He said the party’s biggest problem is that it currently appeals only only to one demographic: white males. While white males may still be the largest part of a plural electorate, it is shrinking.

Unless the GOP redefines itself to appeal to Hispanics and African-Americans, without giving up its conservative values, of course, he said that it will continue to diminish in importance.

Unless, that is, Democrats “continue to do what Democrats do and go too far and screw up” to give the GOP an opening.

The group gave California as an example. Panelists agreed that California’s state government is considered a joke around the country. Murphy added that he felt it was because the legislature is too dominated by Democrats who act in a dysfunctional fashion. Without party parity there is little hope they will allow the state to become governable.

The whole panel gave Obama good marks for his first month in office, but each felt that he has yet to live up to the potential he has. Even Murphy felt that the president had potential to make significant changes in government, but only if he is “visited by the ghost of LBJ” and learns how to control Congress, which seems to be working its own agenda right now.

NY Times columnist Dowd seemed detached from the discussion all evening. She is bright and articulate and had interesting answers whenever Huffington drew her in to the conversation, but she seemed otherwise unengaged. In fact, she spent most of the evening with her body slightly turned away from the rest of the group. While others were sure what they wanted to say, she had to spend moments deciding what she wanted to stay.

In retrospect, this should not be too surprising. In podcasts I’ve listen to of other lectures she has given, this is her speaking style. She’s a great writer, but less-than-enthusiastic speaker.

Her most memorable moments of the evening were when:

  • Huffington cornered her in to sharing a dinner-table admission that she had twice placed notes in Jerusalem’s West Wall, while on assignment, asking for a Jewish husband. She’s come to the conclusion that God probably doesn’t think pairing a Jewish man with a Black Irish Catholic woman is a good idea; and
  • She revealed that after Obama’s almost embarrassing acceptance on his European trip after securing the Democratic nomination that she asked him if he “needed a cigarette” after the experience, implying that the treatment he got was almost like having sex.
Huffington, after an opening monolog on her take of today’s “upside-down world,” relegated herself to moderator and did a good job mixing it up and making sure Murphy and Brazile did not totally exclude Dowd.

The panel was the first in a series of lectures/panel discussions scheduled by AJU. To come later this year are former New York mayor/Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuiani; an attorney-general faceoff with Janet Reno, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales; and a Mid-East discussion with Madeline Albright, Jehan Sedat and Dahlia Rabin.

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).

Friday, February 06, 2009

New approach to student magazine

This week Cerritos Journalism launched a new version of its Wings magazine. I’m really excited about the new concept.

The new magazine, which will be published in six installments over the course of the semester, has just one story/topic per installment. It is essentially a four-page tabloid newspaper, but it folds down to a 5.5-inch by 6-inch size for the cover. When you pick it up it looks like a story brochure on newsprint, but as you turn pages you start unfolding until the center spread opens up to a double-truck tabloid layout.

”WingsIn years past we’ve tried to publish an annual journalistic magazine along with the Talon Marks newspaper and its online cousin

But there have been problems:

  • We often do not really have enough students enrolled to comprise a full class and attempts we’ve made to spread the net have not always resulted in cohesive teams. I tried to widen the base to involve other campus groups, but the journalism students pretty much revolted and ignored the outsiders.

  • The cost rarely is justified with the distribution we get. We publish it at the end of the school year and it often comes out during finals week, so most students never see it. The cost per copy is expensive, especially when compared, say, to the student newspaper.

  • Students usually seem more interested in design than writing; too many designers and not enough writers or photographers.
  • When they DO think about writing, they talk and plan for weeks, but end up throwing something together at the last minute.

  • And I feel that anything we do these days MUST have an online component. Students keep promising, but because they work so hard just to get the print publication done by the end of the semester, they never follow through with the online.

When students came to me this time and asked if they could do a magazine next semester, I was looking for a kind way to say “no.” But then I walked into Starbucks and walked out with the perfect solution. Mind you, I’m not a Starbucks regular. I just HAPPENED to stop in that day. On the counter I saw a copy of Good magazine, which is really just a weekly ‘zine that covers just one article/topic at a time.

I immediately saw potential:

  • We could do it with fewer students; perhaps giving individuals responsibility for putting together one package every few weeks and staggering issues. While I would encourage a team component, personality problems could be handled easier because individuals would be working on their own projects. I could run the class as a directed studies class, where I can get by with just two or three students. If it become successful, we could start producing more often and perhaps draw enough students someday to support a regular class.

  • I did the math and if we could sell the right amount of advertising the project could actually pay for itself (sans salaries, of course, but at our level we don’t pay salaries anyway, we give class credit). If we can sell two color ads it’ll pay for full color on all pages.

  • No more “working all semester” for one product that might get out before the semester. With one-topic ‘zines we could set up a weekly schedule if we wanted. (We’re starting with a two-week cycle in the middle of the semester, or six for this semester. If we continue in the fall we’ll try for eight.)

  • The inside of the ‘zine would be devoted to the story and students could experiment with different double-spread designs. And they would not be so overwhelmed with the struggle of wanting different designs but needing to work with a cohesive overall look. The cover and some standard elements would be the same, but each student could experiment with major components. The student in charge would be responsible for the package, but could rely on the help of others to help produce the content; he/she is mostly an editor/producer for the issue.

  • With a multi-issue-per-semester cycle the deadline problem is reduced, though with the first issue the editor put off writing until the end …. again. Still, it was not a whole semester of thinking before doing.

  • And we set a rule that we would not send the print edition to the printer until the multimedia component was done. Well, we weakened on that a bit with the first issue, especially since the printer cannot handle the last fold that we need by machine; we have to fold it by hand. While the student completes the online component we are folding; we won’t distribute until the multimedia component is completed and launched.

There are still issues to work out and well have to wait and see whether the format is popular with readers --we suspect that it will be—but we’re excited. Print is not dead, but it needs to change. And after all the push we’ve been making with multimedia, it is exciting to try something new with print.

Inside view of Wings

Inside layout of Wings ‘zine is essentially a double truck tabloid layout.