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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