Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hiring/J-degree: Austin American-Statesman

Part of a series in which professionals answer the question that students often ask me: Do you need a journalism degree to get hired in the field?

Many thanks to Sandra Kleinsasser, Executive News Editor of the Austin American-Statesman, for her answers. Sandra oversees the day and night news production desks as well as features and business production desks -- that is, the designers and copy editors.

When you hire a reporter or a copy editor, how important is it for an applicant to have a journalism degree?

It is not a steadfast criterion for a copy editor. We have hired folks without complete degrees or even degrees in other fields. I once tried to hire an editor who had a degree in library science. He was an awesome copy editor, but he decided to go to another paper instead. Many applicants have English degrees as undergraduates or even graduate degrees.

Why do you look for a journalism degree, or what do you look for instead of that?

I look first for practical experience. Internship, college paper, newsroom experience. I am also interested in curious individuals who love to learn and who love journalism. They must be ethical and communicate well in writing and in person.

Is the picture different for entry-level applicants vs. experienced applicants?

We occasionally hire someone straight out of school. I look for enthusiasm and drive, willingness to learn, practical experience such as internships or work on the college paper. I am impressed by proven leadership, such as managing a yearbook staff. If a candidate does not have a journalism degree, I look for coursework that supports some of the skills they will need. Ethics of journalism is important. AP style is critical for a copy editor. Knowledge of publishing software (for print and online) tells me that a candidate is more ready than someone with only knowledge of theory.

We administer a test that gives us a good idea of a candidate's expertise in grammar, spelling, style, editing, headline writing and current events. A certain score does not guarantee success as a copy editor, but taken as part of the whole package, it does tell us a lot about an individual. We also ask candidates to critique the paper and to write an autobiography.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

JOUR enrollment figures, Spring 2007

The number of JOUR minors for the Spring 2007 semester is 38. "Exactly twice what we had a year ago," says Dr. Randy Sumpter.

Spring 2007 enrollment in JOUR classes (a figure that may include overlap, i.e. the same student enrolled in more than one course) is 129. The Fall 2006 figure (again, with possible overlap) was 140.

1912: Old Main burns; "Valiant Fire Heroes"

May 31, 1912. Dig the groovy nameplate! Click below to hear the first part of the story read by my husband in his best old-timey-newsreader voice.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bottlecaps and Baby

Dave Thomas '93, in his "Bottlecaps and Wingnuts" blog, has recently taken a detour from writing about Billy Joe Shaver, et al., to introduce "the next great offensive lineman for Texas A&M" -- his new son, Matthew. Congratulations to Dave and Shannon!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Upcoming Batt, Aggieland editors announced

The summer Battalion editor is Chris Hokanson, a political science major who is currently the Batt's multimedia editor. Chris writes a blog about how the Batt uses video, radio, podcasts and the Web (for example, one entry talks about how he is using Atlas software to create interactive maps of Muster sites and daily police blotter items).

Editor for fall 2007/spring 2008 is Brent Shirley, a telecommunications media studies major and journalism minor who's currently the Batt sports editor. You can read some of his recent stories, including coverage of the A&M basketball team, here.

The 2008 Aggieland editor-in-chief is English major Catherine Tepera, who I believe is currently the editor of the Aggieland's "The Other Education" section.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

2007: 'Here'

Friday, April 20, 2007

1966: 'Aggies In Saigon Muster'

Friday, April 22, 1966. (The photo on the left is the campus Muster; cutline reads "64th ANNUAL MUSTER SEREMONY." Everybody needs an editor.)

Text reads in part, "The largest muster was held in a downtown Saigon restaurant but there were others in Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay. Revelry and poignancy intermingled as the graduates of the oldest public university in Texas bent elbows, swapped stories, paid tribute to deceased classmates and watched a football game film."

Softly call the Muster,
Let comrade answer 'Here!'

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Journalist-in-Residence: Kathleen McElroy

At A&M this week working with the JOUR 490 students is Kathleen McElroy, editor of news administration at The New York Times and a 1981 A&M graduate in broadcast journalism. Click here for more info about her and the J-i-R program.

Followup question: Multimedia

I asked Carlos Sanchez for a little more detail on what multimedia abilities he looks for.

People at the university tell me they have students who show a high level of talent in multimedia. What are you looking for, or what sparks your interest in an application? What skills do you find most useful/appealing?

As far as multimedia is concerned, I am most impressed with those who demonstrate an ability to tell a story in more ways than one. As newsrooms across the country begin gearing up for providing journalism on multiple platforms that extend beyond print, we recognize the value of an individual who already has such skills as writing, photography, videography, HTML, flash and even what has now become some of the more traditional computer-assisted reporting software such as Excel and Access.

In short, newsrooms need it all, but can't afford it all. If it comes prepackaged in one person, however, the marketability of that person skyrockets.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hiring/J-degree: Waco Tribune-Herald

First in a series in which professionals answer the question that students often ask me: Do you need a journalism degree to get hired in the field?

Many thanks to Carlos Sanchez, Editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, for his responses:
When you hire a reporter or a copy editor, how important is it for an applicant to have a journalism degree?

I can't remember the last time I looked at the degree that a job candidate secured. What I look for is the quality of the resume, any clips, any other attachments that would give me a sense of the applicant's writing, editing, layout or multimedia abilities.

Why do you look for a journalism degree, or what do you look for instead of that?

Versatility and someone who challenges me during the interview are keys. Multimedia experience has lately grabbed my eye more and the ability to talk about multimedia is also important. We also place a high value on copy editing, current events tests or writing abilities during tryouts.

Is the picture different for entry-level applicants vs. experienced applicants?

Certainly, the picture is different. If we have a body of work to look at, that makes the decision-making easier. In lieu of the body of work, we look at testing and the applicant's ability to ask questions as well as answer them, to inject opinions about the craft and the state of the industry and verbal communication skills.

In closing, Sue, I know from A&M grads in my newsroom that there was a lot of controversy when the J-school program was closed a few years back. But the value of any degree has always paled in comparison to practical experience on student publications or internships.

Meet Doug Pils '92, San Antonio Express-News

Douglas Pils
Class of '92
San Antonio Express-News (almost 2 years)
Night Sports Editor/Sunday Page 2 writer

I wouldn't be where I am today without those crazy two years at the Batt and my semester as the editor in Spring 1992. Clay Rasmussen (where is that guy) hired me and I also worked with Nadja Sabawala, Richard Tijerina (TJ), Scott Wudel, Doug Foster, Steve O'Brien, Chris Whitley, Jason Morris, Bridget Harrow, Mack Harrison, Karl Stolleis, etc. Jason and I helped transform the Batt from the old Hastech system to Macs and Quark when the paper moved back to the Reed McDonald basement in Fall 1991. I was the Aggie Bus driving journalist. It's the only way I could afford to work at the Batt, so I'm amazed to see how much the Batt crew makes just 15 years later.

My career started with the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung (year and a day) and went through the Waco Tribune-Herald (two-plus years), Corpus Christi Caller-Times (year and a day), Arlington Morning News (almost five years), the Dallas Morning News (five months, plus a leave of absence to finish masters degree at North Texas), the Associated Press in Arkansas covering the Razorbacks (two years), one school year freelancing for Newsday's Hi-Five magazine, and almost two years with the San Antonio Express-News.

I married a Long Island girl who attended Ball State. We have two boys (3 and seven months).
I'm serving on A&M's Student Media Board with Michael Landauer, another former Batt editor, and we recently helped select the editors for the upcoming school year. Teachers and advisers are doing all they can to provide a quality journalism education at Texas A&M, but we should do all we can to bring the major back. Give new Battalion adviser Cheri Johnson a call if you to do anything to help motivate and teach students there now. Cheri's doing a great job.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Bringing back a major and/or department

(I offer a brief recap, plus a few of my own conclusions, but I am far from the most knowledgeable person about these matters. Corrections, updates, more info all welcome.)

Amid state funding cuts and after a 2001 review that documented an influx of business students overfilling JOUR classes, the Journalism Department was eliminated and the JOUR major halted in 2004 (some background from the Eagle here). There is now a Journalism Education Program within the College of Liberal Arts, which offers a JOUR minor. (For other journalism at A&M, see the end of this post.)

Though Dr. Gates oversaw the department's closure, he was interested in bringing the major back (more from the Eagle here), but, you know, that other job thing came up. The dean of liberal arts, Charles Johnson, says in the same '06 story that the minor is serving journalism students at A&M well and they will look at bringing back a major "when there is demand and sufficient support for it."

A&M's interim president is Eddie Davis, and resurrecting a department may not be something for an interim president to do. It could likely take a couple of years to realize, as well, even after a decision was made. In any case, it seems there's some building to do first, which is what the folks in FJSA and the Journalism Education Program are working on.

So: "Demand" means "students who want to take journalism classes." Several thoughts occur to me here:
  • Loren Steffy voices concern in the '06 article that people won't know we're teaching journalism at A&M anymore (I paraphrase).
  • Natalie Holladay, in her work for the J-program, talks to high school journalism educators; at a convention last fall, she says, they "were very excited to see A&M represented, as they have many students who desperately want to be Aggies, but didn't see an avenue to continue journalism."
  • Dr. Walraven told me that he regularly hears from his students comments along the lines of "I wanted to go to a major journalism school, but I just had to be an Aggie."
This says to me: There's demand out there, coming down the pipeline. High school students who want to be Aggie journalists need to know there's still a program, and the program needs to keep serving them well. I'll keep working on ideas and ways that former students can help with this. Ideas welcome!

Next: I'm pretty sure "support" means "money," but it can also mean lively interaction with and interest from former students. The Journalist-in-Residence program, for one, is a good example of non-monetary support from former students, as are the activities of the FJSA. One kind of financial support is probably the scholarships offered to A&M students within the JOUR minor. I know FJSA endowed at least one of these -- and I didn't know that George Carlin endowed another one!

Another necessary component to bringing back a major/department appears to be curriculum changes, but I know little about this as yet.

Topics I hope to address in future (and please send me anything you know, or opinions):
  • How money might help, how much money, and what has already been done in this area?
  • Whether a new graduate trying to get hired in journalism needs to have a journalism degree.
  • Journalism continuing in other venues at A&M: of course, Student Media (the Batt, etc.), but also the Ag Journalism major, as Dr. Starr vibrantly points out, and multimedia/visual journalism, which is thriving all on its own. Technical editing/science journalism?
Comments are now enabled on this page, so please fire away!


A link to Loren Steffy's July 2003 "requiem for journalism at Texas A&M" opinion piece for those who haven't seen it yet (I hadn't).

Just ignore all that orange stuff that comes up around it on the page : )

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

1914: "Spirited Contest Against Plucky Opponents"

Nov. 18, 1914

Click here for the dramatic newsreel-style reading of the text!

Official histories of Kyle Field give its beginning as 1927-1929, but that's apparently the date for the construction of the concrete stadium. Before that, I'm guessing Kyle Field was a .... field!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Yikes! JOUR scholarship deadline Friday!

JOUR minors at A&M who want money, apply here.

There's a very brief application form and you'll need to write a short essay (no more than 2 pages). You can hand it in at Bolton Hall.

Seven scholarships are available, from up to $650 to up to $2,300.

'Area 51' moved out of RDMC

A reader asked whatever happened to "Area 51" upstairs at Reed McDonald -- the restricted-access levels that occasionally afforded glimpses of gleaming steel or mysterious lab-coated experimenters.

An Eagle story from September 2006 reported that the Texas State Chemist's office moved from Reed McDonald to new quarters on Agronomy Road.

It did get a little spooky sometimes:

"Dave Mayes, associate head of agriculture communications for the A&M System and a former Battalion editor, has worked in the Reed McDonald Building for several years. He said the chemists upstairs were not always typical office neighbors.

" 'You were never sure what you would see in the elevator,' he said. "There were people in white lab coats with trays or carts of who-knows-what. You would think, "Hmm, that's interesting." ' "