Monday, January 13, 2014

Outlook Update: News Academy training begins Jan. 23

 When I was asked to consider advising the student staff of the Owens Outlook for the Fall 2013 semester, I had mixed feelings.
   Yes, of course I wanted to be the adviser for the Outlook, the online news source for Owens Community College! I had been paying attention to the hard copy of the Outlook for several years, and was quite concerned. This was my chance to try and make a difference.
   There were several problems I had noticed over the years. First, the broadsheet paper was physically too large, which wouldn’t be a problem if it were filled with Owens student-produced articles and photos, but most stories were canned fodder from a college marketing firm.
   Another problem was the students weren’t covering hard-hitting campus news. When the nursing program lost it accreditation in 2009, not a peep was mentioned in the Owens Outlook newspaper. I just Googled this major incident, and the only school that actually reported on the accreditation loss was the University of Toledo’s Independent Collegian. I wondered one thing back then: was the newspaper a marketing tool?
   I also had issues with the photography usage. The photos were way too small, and there weren’t enough of them. As a photojournalist, I strongly believe good, solid photos make for a better product. Correctly packaging a product, which in this case is the Owens Outlook, is half the battle in attracting and maintaining readership.
   So yes, as a career journalist who just earned a Master’s degree in Journalism Education, I was very excited to take the adviser job.
   On the other hand, I had never been an adviser before. Knowing the problems I faced, I worried (and still worry) if I had what it took to save a sinking ship. Despite the lack of adviser experience, I had to at least try, so I accepted the $500 a semester position.
   Initially, my (and the editor-in-chief’s) primary focus was going back to print. The hard copy ceased several years ago, and now we are solely online. This means we are out of sight and out of mind. Sure, a link to the website is available for everyone who signs into their Ozone account, but judging from the hit numbers, rarely anyone does.
   It became perfectly clear throughout the semester that I had a more pressing problem to deal with first – lack of journalism training. The student staff, including the editors, had no idea how to run a student newspaper. They had the heart and desire, but not the training or experience. After all, Owens doesn’t have a journalism program anymore. That also ceased a few years ago.
The News Academy
   It became quite evident I needed to be educated myself in order to solve these problems, so I suggested to Student Life director Chris Giordano that we join the College Media Association and attend its annual Fall conference in New Orleans in October. Thankfully, Chris, who is one of our most avid student media supporters, approved our request and sent me (and the top two student editors) to the conference.
   Needless to say, we came back with very valuable information. For me, the most important being a training regime called News Academy, started at Penn State.
   The candidate training is designed for four-year schools, but I am going to make it work for our two-year community college because we desperately need it. I am taking information handed to us during that game-changing 50-minute workshop on the program and adapting it to our own needs.
   The eight two-hour weekly training sessions will include the following topics:
•    Finding and interviewing sources
•    Writing stories and photo captions
•    Using social media and being mobile capable
•    Website layout and design
•    Being legally and ethically fit
   This is an ambitious training regime.  I am in the process of designing the program, and recruiting local media professionals and teachers to share their expertise. After all, it takes a village.
   We are also working to change the website, using School Newspapers Online (SNO). But that's another blog post.

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