We Do The Yearbook Your Way

Howard Owens writes an interesting blog entry about newspapers today, but I think it refers to yearbooks too.  He says we get too stuck in our ways to give the customer what they really want.

In our yearbook I resisted it too.  I was stuck in 1995.  I wanted the yearbook to stay the same way forever.  But yearbook can and should change.  It only took me 12 years to figure it out.  I was stubborn and wasn’t thinking about the customer.

I think this is really normal for journalists.  We are not taught about the business side of the news biz.  In fact, unless it was made a mandatory course, most j majors would avoid any business class if possible.  We are raised in the culture of editorial vs. business.  Even on a college paper, the editorial dept. is usually separate from those who “just pay the bills.”   We don’t want to know and really could care less how the bills are paid as long as our salary checks clear.

We even pride ourselves on keeping editorial clean of money influence.

Now the TV side usually gets a little dirtier.  I worked in commercial and public TV (FOX, PBS).  And in both places the bottom line is a little more obvious to the production side of the house.  You are often forced to make decisions based on who pays the bills.

So, back to yearbooks.  Most journalists who become yearbook teachers resent having to sell yearbooks.  It is a necessary evil that you really just want to get out of the way so you can do your real job – cover the school.

But actually none of that is the real job.  The real job is find out what the students want in the book and give it to them whenever possible.  You may not be able to afford an all color book, but maybe you can afford more color.

If they want more photos, give them more.  If they want to see their friends, then give early buyers more photos of their friends. And if they want their graduation year huge on the cover – do it.

Find out what your kids want.  Give it to them.

In the 21st Century buying a product is about the customer, not the seller.  Look at the most successful business models.  They give the customer what they want: Walmart, Starbucks, FedEx, Subway, any cell phone company.  It is about customization to the customer’s needs.

The yearbook must follow this trend or perish.

Of course you still need to have great design and photography too, but the customer is always right.  Remember it.

Mr. C

Remember Who’s Side You’re On

I live in Texas where football is king. We don’t spell it football, it is Football.

And today I was reminded that I am a member of the media, not a football fan.

It is the rule in Texas, as it is probably most other places, that photographers are not allowed inside the “coaches box” on the field, during the game. Before the game, after and at halftime – photographers can pretty much go wherever they want to.

Our school does not have the budget to afford serious long lenses. A 70-300 mm is about the limit of what we can afford. The next step up just costs too much. So, in the past, our coaches let us cross the line into the coaches box to get better shots.

But tonight we were kicked out.

Of course the coaches have every right to do so under the rules, but it really was more about the attitude. In the past, we have provided the athletic department with a lot of free services cheerfully and without asking for a reward. But today, we were reminded that we don’t belong. We are “media.”

I’m going to make sure that we remember that when the athletic department needs something from the media. If they want us to be their PR department, then we should be treated like we are a part of the team. But, if they want to exclude us with the rest of the “press,” then they can forget us doing their PR dirty work. They can’t have it both ways.

So, since we’ve been told we are the media, then maybe it is time we acted like it. No more PR, no fluff pieces on players, only hard news.

I guess it is time we remembered whose side we are on. We are on our side – the media side.

Mr. C

After calming down a little, I’m still not happy about it, but we are going to respect the rules. But I am also going to make sure that other photographers are not given any special privileges either. Last night at least two other photographers were in the “box” and I’m going to make sure I mention it to the athletic director. Fair is fair – we only need one set of rules for everybody.

Update:  There is no UIL rule, but the UIL recognizes NCAA rules for football which does limit access to photographers from the 30 to the goal line.  The UIL also allows stadiums to set their own rules in addition on field and sideline access.  To say the least – this is a serious restriction on a free press.  I’m all for safety rules to prevent injuries, but some stadiums go too far in limiting access.

Don’t Give Up On ‘Em

Teaching any subject can be a rewarding as well as a frustrating experience. Just the other day, one of my students – V – was talking during class and acting up. She basically refused to do her work. The next day she spent talking to another student, when they were supposed to be doing the assignment.

I was ready to write her off. She was making me very mad at her. The class she is in has a waiting list. A long waiting list to get in it. Kids ask me all the time, “how can I get in that class.” And so I told her that she needed to do better and that if she kept on using her time poorly, she would probably fail.

Today, V struggled to learn a very difficult concept. Many of the students were struggling. But she kept trying. She asked for help and did so without being rude. She kept trying until she got it right.

As the students left class today, I made sure to let her know (quietly) how well she did today and how if she keeps it up (working hard like this) she will be getting very good grades.

It is easy to write off a student. They can make us mad, get on our nerves, stop doing their work, complain, get lazy or a million other things. But in the end, we are the adult. Sometimes it is important to remember that they are still growing up. Just because they have adult sized bodies and try to look or even act like adults, they still have children’s minds. Their mind is still developing and growing. Sometimes it just takes someone to give them a little push in the right direction.

As an elective area teacher with very expensive equipment, I insist on being able to “get rid” of students who aren’t media class material. But my yearbook editors will tell you that I am the king of second chances. I gave one student so many that her nickname was “bubble.” She was always on the bubble between staying and going.  “Bubble” graduated two years ago and it was one of the proudest days of my career.  I’m not saying that I was the only one who got her through school, but she thanked me for giving her so many second chances.  She was also one of the co-editors of the yearbook her senior year.

Sometimes, you do have to let a kid get out of your class. Maybe it is not a good fit for them. Not everyone is cut out for media. Maybe that is the kick in the pants they need. But, first give them enough second chances to make sure there’s nothing else you can do to help them. Don’t just pass on a problem to another teacher – they may be less qualified than you are to handle it.

In the end, I try to remember to treat my students like they were my own kids. I try to treat them as I want my kids teachers to treat them. I hope that I give them a dash of respect, a bit of discipline and a large dose of understanding, compassion and concern. Too many teachers try to teach without empathy. I can’t do that. Does that mean I get burned sometimes. Sure it does. But in the end I think more of my kids do well, than don’t do well.

Finally, you can’t win them all. There will be kids that are resistant to all your powers of persuasion. Some kids are already down a deep hole before they ever get to you. Some will respond to a lifeline, but others will run from your attempts to help them get a good education. Just don’t stop trying to get each of them to learn as much as they can while they are in your care.

I only have my kids for 45 minutes a day, but for that time – I will try to get each of them to do their best. I hate giving up on any of them.

Mr. C

Newspaper: Should It Stay, Or Shoult It Go?

Our newspaper is on hold this year.  We don’t have one.  We haven’t had a “real” newspaper staff in more than seven years.  We folded the newspaper staff into the yearbook staff and they did both publications for several years.  But it was stressful and the newspaper began to hemorrhage money.  The yearbook was able to keep it afloat until the yearbook began to lose money too.

In 2005, we began to focus more and more on the yearbook.  We devoted more time and attention to it both editorially and financially.  This year we made the decision that the yearbook class will no longer do the newspaper.

So, it sits.

At the end of the year we will have to make a decision about its future.  Should it stay, or should it go?

I’m sure that many scholastic journalism teachers will scream and grab their heads.  “You HAVE to have a newspaper!”  And I think we should have one too.  I was the asst. editor of my high school paper, the sports and then managing editor of my college paper.  I worked at my hometown paper.  I’ve been the adviser of the high school paper of and on for ten years.  Ink is in my blood.

But I think, if we bring the paper back, it will have to be online.  We can’t afford a printed paper.  Plus high school kids just don’t do paper.  They live online.  Our paper needs to be there too.  I’m thinking of possibly recruiting from several sources and trying to bring it back next year as a digital only publication – heck it could be a weekly.  Who knows what we could do?

But I don’t ever see us doing an ink on paper newspaper ever again.

Mr. C

PC Problems? Ten Techie Tricks To Try

If you are one of the ten regular readers of this blog, then you know I’m a Mac user.  But I also have two PCs in my classroom, so I do try to keep up with fixes and help in that area too.  Here’s a great article in PC World online with 10 fast fixes for common problems.

Mr. C

Hey You! Why Aren’t You Blogging?

Blogging is actually harder than it looks.  This is the second blog that I have tried to write.  The first one focused on politics.  But as we all know, there are a ton of political blogs out there.  Plus, while I am knowledgeable of politics, I’m not an expert.  But I am a certified teacher who has been teaching for 12 years. Plus five more years working in media (both print and video) before that.

When I decided to write this blog, I knew there weren’t a lot of journalism or media teaching blogs.  So, this is a niche that needs filling.  But by all means, I don’t know it all.  I wish more journalism and media teachers were out there blogging.  We need it.

First, media and journalism teachers should be blogging because it is a form of media.  It also sharpens your skills to write either daily or at least 2-3 times a week.  Just knowing that I’m writing for other teachers as well as members of the public, keeps me on my toes.

Second, many of us are lone rangers.  We are the only one on our campus who teaches what we teach.  Even within our districts, there just aren’t many of us.  Here in Houston, one of the yearbook companies offers a luncheon in May for all the yearbook advisers.  It fills a ballroom, but imagine if all the math teachers got together – it would fill Reliant Stadium.  We need to share our teaching methods and materials with each other.

But that being said, you have to work at it.  Blogging is not as easy as it looks.  You must always be on the lookout for new material.   You need to check your site and your statistics to see what people are looking for.  It can be a lot of fun and rewarding when you know someone found your site useful or used something you created in their classroom.

So, get out there and create your own blog.  It can be about anything, it doesn’t have to be journalism or media.  But start one about something you are knowledgeable about.

Mr. C

Listen To Your Students

Sometimes something really good happens when you give your students something and you watch them work with it.  It can be something small, that is the magic for the day.

My Video Tech kids are learning about advertising right now and I gave them a script writing form to use in creating their :30 second commercial.  We have already covered the basics of shooting and the rule of thirds for video.  Two of my students M and E did a really cool thing, they drew the rule of thirds grid on their script.

I watched them from my presentation station as I was helping another student with the basic idea of camera shots, angles and movements.  After the lunch bell rang, I told them how much I liked their idea.  So today I created a new version of the script writing form with scene numbers (at least two students asked if they could cut them into strips and rearrange later) and TRT (total running time) for each scene.  It helps to go over the basic shots with them again and give them a list of camera moves and shots before you write the script.

It is really cool when you can collaborate with your students, so thanks M, E and S for your help.    Hope you can use it in your own teaching.

Mr. C

Photo How To

As a former print journalism major, I have always felt less than well prepared to teach photography.  Digital photography has helped, because I have been able to learn it as it has grown up.

But I never really feel like I have enough photography resources.  Popular Photography magazine (popphoto.com) has a really great How To section with some cool tutorials, lists, helps and photoshop stuff.

I started off with this great list of 12 Photo Rules that are not in your standard “rule book” for photography.  Great stuff like using the palm of your hand as a gray card.

Happy shooting.

Mr. C

Making the Grade in Broadcast

Here are two rubrics that I have created for broadcast journalism, 1 for reporters and 1 for technical crew.  Please send your feedback, comments, ideas for improvement.  I’d really appreciate it.

Mr. C

Topic of Discussion: Who is A Journalist?

If you have time for a class discussion day, or if you are teaching a general journalism survey course, then this post will be a great discussion starter.

I don’t agree with everything that the blog post says, but it is an interesting starting point on what is journalism, media and who is a journalist.

Mr. C