College chapters: Kicking ass instead of sucking ass

I hear, I forget.
I see, I remember.
I do, I understand.



Here’s what I don’t understand about SPJ’s college chapters…

Their members are students who sit in chilly classrooms all day, listening to elderly professors talk at them about really boring crap. So what do they do at night? Book elderly journalists to talk at them in chilly classrooms about really boring crap.

Then those chapter presidents lament, “Why won’t anyone join our chapter?” And they conclude, “College students just don’t care about journalism.”

Not true. They just don’t care about you.

Ask yourselves, Mr. and Mrs. Chapter President: What are you offering your members besides more lectures? If your annual reports are any indication, not a hell of a lot.

Near the end of every school year, SPJ’s college campuses are required to fill out a basic report that details the programs they’ve hosted, the money they’ve spent, and what’s left in their meager bank accounts (as little as $14.39 this year).

And while it’s not fun to write those damn reports, it’s even less fun to read them – which is what regional directors like me are forced to do each May.

My region – called Region 3 and covering Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina – has 11 student chapters. I’m supposed to choose the region’s Student Chapter of Year, which will then vie for the national prize, which comes with no money, fame, or sex-starved groupies.

Here are the Region 3 winners…

♦ First place: University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa
♦ Second place: University of Florida
♦ Third place: University of Miami

What did these chapters have in common? They did stuff instead of just talking about stuff. Specifically…

1. University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa

UA-T hosted a campus-award-winning First Amendment Free Food Festival in March. What’s an FAFFF? This is how UA-T described it in its annual report…

“Basically, we roped off an area of the Quad and called it the ‘Glorious Kingdom of Roll Tidelberg.’ The first 500 students to enter our area were given a free lunch, but only if they would relinquish their First Amendment rights. There was a jail area where our ‘goons’ took students who disobeyed the rules.”

The chapter said it was “by far our biggest event of the semester and took months of planning.” But the results were worth it…

“It was a huge success and generated a lot of media attention, including a front-page article in The Tuscaloosa News, an article on, Alabama’s top news web site and a short item on WIAT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Birmingham.”

UA-T SPJers also became teachers, speaking at an Alabama Scholastic Press Association convention and at something called the Woodlawn High School Summer Writing Academy. “Each of the SPJ officers took turns presenting on different aspects of the journalism they do,” the chapter wrote in its report. Hey, sometimes the best way to learn is to teach.

UA-T even hosted a movie night, screening the Deadline USA, the 1952 Humphrey Bogart movie that’ll blow your little mind when you see how it holds up to journalism 60 years later. Best of all, “Chapter officers also served popcorn.”

2. University of Florida

UF also hosted a First Amendment Free Food Festival – for the third straight year. And this sounded promising: “Resume Workshop and Interview Prep.” Alas, the only description in the report is, “Students learn how to land an internship from some of the older SPJ executive board members.”

If the chapter would’ve invited local hiring editors and station managers for serious mock interviews, that would’ve been impressive as hell.

While I’m a shameless pimp for participatory programs, I know it’s foolish to ignore great lectures, speeches, symposiums, and panel discussions. UF did some intriguing ones. My favorite: “Homeless speakers from the National Coalition of the Homeless came to discuss how to effectively cover homelessness in the media.”

That impressed me because the chapter president was an alumni of  Will Write For Food, a very participatory program that brings college journalists to a homeless shelter, where they take over the shelter’s newspaper. It’s nice to see a ripple effect from such a program. (If you want to apply for WWFF12, read this.)

3. University of Miami

A few years ago, UM twisted the First Amendment Free Food Festival into its own creation called No Free Lunch, which stresses freedom of speech and is less violent and more sedate than, say, the over-the-top events at UA-T and UF…

“Students could get a free slice of pizza and soda but they had to eat their lunch in the courtyard and could only talk about what we told them to talk about. This even was hugely successful.”

I love it when students take a pre-existing idea and alter it to suit their tastes. I also liked the Student Media Expo…

“Each media at the school – the newspaper, yearbook, radio station, TV station, and magazine – were represented, and students were able to communicate with the media they were interested in joining.”

Simple, inviting, and not a lecture.

Other good ideas

The University of Central Florida did this…

“We held two internship fairs this year, one in the fall and one in the spring. Each fair attracted between 20-25 media organizations from our service area, which resulted in 40 internships for our members this past year.”

…and if your chapter wants to try doing instead of just listening, here’s a list of participatory programs I’ll help you with.

Chapter presidents in Region 3 and beyond: I dare you to do something different this year. I double-dog dare you. Will your next annual report be a pain in the ass to write or a kick in the ass to read? Up to you.

For some of the programs above, I can offer you cash. For all of them, I can offer logistical help so you can focus on the fun, creative stuff. Email me. If you dare.

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  • Andy Schotz

    Thanks for this reply, Andrew. I look forward to the blog post, which I will share.
    To be clear: I didn’t post what Gideon wrote because I endorsed it. It was meant to provide him a forum for public discussion. I tagged you on Twitter so you would be aware of it.

    GIdeon and I traded some emails and thoughts on this, too. This was part of our exchange:
    I’m not sure what those two networks did was the same.

    MSNBC was just moving ahead with little thought, until Andrea Mitchell tried to pull the reporter back to caution.

    CNN seemed to be trying to be cautious the whole time, saying it would not show pictures or bio info that identified anyone.

    But was it unethical to even be live broadcasting to begin with?

    Was it just those two networks? There were other cameras in the room.
    Were they local stations going live? Or airing footage to review first
    and show later?

    What about the journos picking up items and sifting through paper?
    Should they be blasted, too? Or did the landlord’s permission absolve
    them of anything they handled inside?

  • Gideon

    Are you saying I should have gotten your statement about… your statement?

  • AndrewMSeaman

    I think your criticism would have been stronger and received better if you even tried to talk with me about why my statement was worded in such a way.

    Your blog post could have suggested concrete changes that can be made the next time SPJ needs to issue a response on short notice. Instead, it mostly says I should have yelled louder about something I didn’t know much about at the time.

    As of right now, I still think it would have been reckless and irresponsible for me to have put out a stronger statement when I knew very little of what happened outside of what was reported on social media.

    I’m only an email, text, Facebook message or phone call away.

    In my opinion, it’s a small courtesy one should expect before having their actions called “weak and cowardly.”

  • Gideon

    Whew. I’m not smart enough to come up with concrete changes on my own. But I’d be very willing to sit in with some brighter folks, especially you, and contribute to that discussion, if you’ll have me.

  • stalemate666

    Good for you.

  • AndrewMSeaman

    Don’t sell yourself short. You know I’m always an email/message/call away. Always happy to collaborate!

  • Hendrik Vanderstijn

    I think there are many who have had untruths about them reported on MSNBC who would have been very happy if they were contacted before factual lies were spread about them on their news network.

    ‘Weak and cowardly’ is remarkably mild in comparison to what MSNBC has reported falsely about others in regards to the events surrounding gamergate.

  • Andy Schotz

    This is a new post by Andrew Seaman about media coverage at the home of the San Bernardino killers

  • The categories need to be reworked, and perhaps assigned to specialized judges. There’s a big difference between news articles, feature articles and investigative articles, and that difference stood out like a sore thumb here.

    The Star Citizen article (third place tie) was a half-written, sloppy attempt at an investigative piece. It was in no way a news story (which is normally taken to mean “breaking news”, or the inverted pyramid stuff).

    If there were an investigative journalism category, judged by investigative journalists, they would have asked why the article originally ran before the company responded. What was the rush? This wasn’t time-sensitive.

    And what about the lack of indication as to what positions the oddly code-named anonymous employees held that made them privy to the financial state of the company? I can find disgruntled former employees from any sizeable organization all day. The question is whether those employees have relevant knowledge of the financial state of the company.

    Most of all, this should have been shelved until the writer talked at least one of the employees into going on the record. Also, I would have made an attempt to find someone with a history in the video-game industry in a position to evaluate some of the assertions made by the employees. There are people scattered all over the academic world who worked in gaming and do research on the economics of gaming. Do a freaking Proquest or Browzine search and find one. If Roberts has taken on an impossible job, and is burning through money on a chimera, the writer should have been able to find someone willing to talk about that, who doesn’t have to be given a code name from a bad sci-fi movie.

    My irritation with this winner isn’t that it was a bad idea for an article. It was that it seemed to be slapped together too rapidly, and reeked of angry hit piece. Another few months (which is a minimal expectation for investigative pieces) could have made it a promising article.

  • Andy Schotz

    OK. Thanks. Do they attend board meetings? Are they part of board discussions?

  • Bill McCloskey

    They attend and they discuss. They just don’t vote.


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