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ACP National College Journalism Convention: Feast of Ideas

March 7, 2013

Over here at Skyline College Journalism, we’ve been gorging on the buffet of journalism ideas from the 2013 ACP National College Journalism Convention.  While we cannot possibly give you the feast that Dan Reimold offered with his College Media Matters post, 100 Things I’m Learning at Journalism Interactive 2013: A Somewhat Live Blog, here are 10 things we learned and are hoping to implement, ranging from convergence journalism to page design to managing staff:

  1. Start an above-the-fold gallery.  We already have a front-page gallery in the Skyline View newsroom. But while we know readers don’t see the whole page until they pick up the paper, designers and editors need to be reminded of this.  Ron Johnson, Indiana University’s media director, suggests putting up just what you see above the fold. What happens to that front-page layout when you only see the top?
  2. Fire the bums. “Journoterrorist” Michael Koretzky doesn’t mess around. If you have a staff member who is missing deadlines, disrespecting people, and otherwise sucking the life out of the room, man up and fire him or her. Because if you don’t, he or she will bring down the rest of the staff. With the bad apple gone (and the example set), standards and expectations will be higher in the room.
  3. Implement a two-graf deadline.  Our reporters sometimes don’t make their deadlines.  Often those missed deadlines really mean the reporter hasn’t even gotten started.  Maybe he doesn’t know who to contact.  Maybe she is not clear what angle the story should take.  Rather than offer reporters more time, suggests Koretzky, offer them less.  Make them turn in the first two grafs shortly after you assign the story.  Two grafs is less intimidating than the whole first draft, and editors will see what the problems are upfront, be it an incoherent lead, a lack of an angle, or procrastination. Whatever it is, the editor can help sooner rather than on deadline.
  4. Run it big. We’ve always talked in the newsroom about the dominant art of the page being twice as big as the next piece of art.  However, sometimes staff gets a little gun shy about running photos big, mainly because our staff lacks photographers. (Hey, if you’re a photographer, come see us!) Ron Johnson’s answer to whether or not you should go big with photos that aren’t that good? Run ’em big anyway and one of two things will happen:  Either your less skilled photogs are going to strive to get better or your publication is going to attract more skilled photographers who see that your publication gives ample space to images. That’s win either way.
  5. Play, experiment, make mistakes (and then move on).   More than one speaker advised students to experiment with their design, story ideas, and the like, while in college.  Your job won’t allow the same freedom you have now to try new things, not just with how your publication looks, but with the kinds of stories you do. Politico’s Michelle Quinn, one of four keynote speakers over the weekend, likewise encouraged the audience to acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake and then move on.  Experiments and play have lead to new story-telling ideas, too:  Students heard from Hack/Hackers and Storify co-founder Burt Herman and animator/editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore, both of whom have taken traditional content to new places.
  6. Make friends with white space. Have you checked out Ron Johnson’s Tumblr page yet? (See hyperlink above.)  You’ll know why at least one adviser may be dreaming about page design.  White space gives your eyes a break, but it also highlights what you want readers to look at.  And you know what?  You do not have to run in the print paper every story that gets filed.
  7. Ask your readers.  More than one person talked about getting onto campus to ask students what they were thinking about, what was working on campus, and what they were struggling with.  Ask for two reasons:  First, you’ll get story ideas, and second, you’re more likely to produce stories that are actually going to get read.
  8. Go mobile.  Now.  Iowa State’s Charlie Weaver emphasized that it’s not just digital first, but MOBILE first.  On what device are you reading this blog post yourself?  (If you’re reading this online, we’d still wager your mobile device is nearby.) We need a mobile app for The Skyline View.  Look for it soon!
  9. Share ideas. Don’t steal things (specific page designs, quotes, etc.  Duh!).  But by all means, share with and be inspired by others. Look at good work.  Network with your fellow advisers or your fellow student journalists.  Together, you can solve a lot of the issues your publication faces.  
  10. Tap the experts. In the session conducted by SFSU’s Rachele Kanigel, we talked about bringing in experts not just for workshops, but also for things like critiques of the paper after publication.  Or take your students on a tour of the local city paper.  (On tour of the SF Chronicle, our students were able to sit in on one heck of an editorial meeting the day after the Virgina Tech massacre.  Some of the students even ended up in the paper.) One other way to tap the experts? Go to conventions like this one.  Delicious!
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