Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Whoop for high school journalism camp!

Natalie Holladay says several hundred students attended last week’s high school yearbook workshop at A&M, which included an opening ceremony at Kyle Field with a mock yell practice.

A teacher blogs here* about his students’ experience at the yearbook camp:
“They drove home wearing their matching maroon shirts and were proud of their work and happy that they had worked hard. And they had fun too.
“Most of them bonded in a way that they never can do at school. For four days, they lived together in a dorm and shared their lives. They worked, ate, slept and had fun together. It is a great experience.”

Also, a sophomore at Bryan High, part of A&M's Youth Adventure Program, wrote a story for the Battalion about James Bernsen ‘94, who was in town speaking to the Batt staff. Here’s her story and a link to James’ own account.

*Note, though: A&M does offer communications majors, e.g. Telecom Media Studies.

Pay more to major in journalism or business?

A New York Times story from Sunday reports that some schools are beginning to charge students more for certain majors, including business and engineering. Excerpts, including a Texas A&M note, follow:

And Arizona State University this fall will institute a $250-per-semester charge above the basic $2,411 tuition for in-state upperclassmen in the journalism school.

Such moves are being driven by the salaries commanded by professors, the expense of specialized equipment and the difficulties of persuading state legislatures to approve general tuition increases, university officials say.

... Even as officials embrace different pricing for different majors, many acknowledge they are unsure about a practice that appears to value one discipline over another or that could result in lower-income students clustering in less-expensive fields.

... In business schools, professors' salaries have risen, with some schools paying starting professors $130,000 or more, said G. Dan Parker III, associate executive vice president of Texas A&M University, which he said was considering whether to charge higher tuition to undergraduate students studying business.

"The salaries we pay for entering assistant [business] professors on average is probably larger than the average salary for full professors at the university," Parker said. "That's how far the pendulum has swung at the business schools, and I sure wish they'd fix it."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Cub Years: Mariano Castillo '02

Many thanks to Mariano for this great account (and congratulations on grad school)!

I’m preparing to leave the daily newspaper business for a couple of years, and it’s hard to avoid reflecting on the rollercoaster that the past five years has been. Maybe I can share a few lessons I learned in those special first years as a cub reporter.

Of course, my story begins in Reed McDonald, after finishing my term as Batt editor in spring ’02 and putting everything I learned during those long basement nights to use in a job search.

My motivation during my search for that first print journalism job was a supplement from the Houston Chronicle called “Behind the Bylines,” where reporters talked about their jobs. One article featured Dudley Althaus, the paper’s Mexico Bureau Chief. He said that if you wanted to be a foreign correspondent, the border was a great place to start. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent, so I sent my best Batt clips to nearly every border newspaper from Brownsville to Tucson. I followed up with calls and emails, but leads dwindled as graduation neared.

Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to start small

I was at my most discouraged when I received an unexpected call from a weekly paper in the Rio Grande Valley that I had never even heard of. Rather than use my resume to fix a wobbly desk (as I imagined most had), the managing editor at the Harlingen paper had passed my info on to the weekly as a favor.

I flew to the Valley on my own dime to interview at the Mid-Valley Town Crier, which I learned was a weekly shopper that was transitioning into a “real” newspaper. That’s why the front page was replete with advertisements, the editor explained.

I accepted the job right away. It was a staff of four people – two reporters, an editor and a page designer – and I cut my journalistic teeth covering everything from the city council to the local flea market. It wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but it put newsprint in my blood. Literally. Only a thin wall separated the newsroom from the pressroom and the dizzying odor of the giant vats of ink.

Lesson 2: Take risks

Something else unexpected happened in those early days. An editor from the San Antonio Express-News called in response to my resume and said that I didn’t have the experience to be hired, but would I consider an internship?

It hadn’t occurred to me that graduating seniors could apply to internships, but today I encourage every J-student to consider it if they don’t have a job lined up.

I already had a job. But I had a gut feeling about this opportunity. So I decided to leave the stability of my first job after only six months for a summer internship with no guarantees of a job.

Lesson 3: Luck counts

Feeling the pressure of my decision, I busted my butt that summer and got a job offer that was sweetened by a little luck. The Express-News’ Valley Bureau Chief was about to take a year off to work on a project. Since I had just come from the Valley, my first assignment would be to fill in for her.

Everything started really moving fast at that point. Before that year ended, I had driven into hurricanes, interviewed the president of Mexico and filed dispatches from as faraway as Venezuela.

Lesson 4: Pay your dues

I’d had so many adventures so early in my career that I almost forgot I was a cub reporter. But my year as Valley correspondent eventually came to a close, and back to San Antonio I went to start over where most new hires start – on the police beat.

I won’t lie – it was one of the most difficult transitions I’d ever faced. Going from a correspondent position where I virtually chose all my stories and schedule, I felt trapped doing the daily cop shift, which started at 5 a.m.

A veteran colleague recently commented to me that every young rising journalist needs a good punch in the gut to bring them back to Earth. He’s right – paying your dues matters.

Lesson 5: Always be a student

It turned out that being a police reporter was a great opportunity for me to brush up on some journalistic fundamentals and to work closer with editors. And the hours got better, and before I knew it, the Laredo bureau opened up.

The last two years in Laredo I mostly dedicated to writing about drug cartels, a natural mix of my newfound interest in crime writing and my love of narrative journalism. But I’m always cognizant that I’m young, and that there’s a lot more to learn.

In a giant nutshell, that’s it. I’m leaving a job I like at a newspaper that has given me more opportunities than I could have imagined in order to get a master’s degree in international affairs.

In today’s tight job market, it was a tough decision that sometimes makes me think, ‘Why am doing this again?’

Then I remember. See #2.

marianocastillo (at) gmail.com

Job survey, mid-July

Gleaned from Journalismjobs.com:

Web, Web, Web: Mysanantonio.com is hiring for a webmaster, Web designer and executive producer. But in that executive producer posting, they note that MySA will be moving "outside traditional news," as partner newsrooms (the San Antonio Express-News and KENS 5) are "evolving their own online skills" ... The Amarillo Globe-News needs a director of online services ... And on the alternative side of the Web, Village Voice Media (parent of the Dallas Observer) is seeking a Web editor in Dallas. Where's Kyle Burnett when you need him? Didn't he used to have this job?

Aggieland alert: The Bryan-College Station Eagle needs a photographer, 2 years' daily experience and a degree in journalism, photo or a related field preferred. Whoop!

Both the McAllen Monitor and the Longview News-Journal need copy editor/designers, here and here ... Fort Stockton Pioneer needs a managing editor, salary $20,000-$25,000 ... The Marshall News-Messenger needs a GA, salary $20,000-$25,000 ... Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel needs a GA/city reporter ... The weekly Medina Valley Times also needs a GA, salary $15,000-$20,000 ... Houston Community Newspapers, about which I know nothing, but which says it runs 30-plus weekly suburburban publications, needs a reporter and designers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Yearbook students visit A&M next week

Natalie Holladay of A&M's Journalism Education Program is helping coordinate a Taylor Publishing summer yearbook camp at A&M for high school students next week (July 23-26).

Natalie said, "They expect between a few to several hundred journalism students to be on-campus in July. They previously hosted it at SHSU, but want to do it in Aggieland this year (and hopefully future years.)

"I think it will be a great way to increase awareness of a journalism-friendly attitude here on campus."

My best tips for copy-editing clips

Prompted by an inquiry from Dr. Sumpter (thank you!), here are my top suggestions for putting together a great copy-editing application:


The best applications I've seen include a before-and-after of several stories. The “before” is a printout of the electronic version of the story showing all your copy-editing marks and your questions for the reporter. The “after” is the clip as it appeared in the paper, hopefully with your own headlines and such.

We can tell a lot from documents such as this -- things we can't tell from the printed story. For example:

* Did the copy editor flag any serious issues involving logic errors, math, libel?
* Are the changes made correct and clean?
* Does the copy editor catch bad writing and tighten redundancies? Or does the copy editor rewrite things unnecessarily?
* Does the copy editor assume what the reporter meant to say and change it, or instead mark it with a question and get more info?
* Which facts did the copy editor check or question?
* Does the copy editor have AP style down cold or is he or she just guessing at it?

Save as you go

“Before” versions of files vanish, so you absolutely must save them as you go. Once that electronic version of the file with your editing marks is gone, it’s gone -- reporters can pull their clips from archives; you can’t.
So get in the habit of hitting “Print” every time you think, “Hey, that was a good job.” Stick the printout in a drawer with a copy of the newspaper. You can do all the clipping and pasting later. For now, just bank it and move on.


Your best headlines may not be atop your best copy-editing samples. So send along a mix of your best heads, too. (Include what date and page they ran.) Again: Save as you go. Even with electronic archives, believe me, it can be hard to go back and find your best headlines. Every time somebody says “Good headline!,” stick a copy of that newspaper in a drawer.

In response to one specific question: If you wrote most of the headlines on a page, but not all of them, how do you gracefully point out the two you didn’t write? I suggest that instead of pointing out "Somebody else wrote these two heds," flip the statement around to the positive way, and say "I wrote the top three headlines plus the caption on the wild art, as well as laying out the page."


If applying for a job that involves both design and copy-editing, I'd choose my best copy-editing clips and my best design clips for separate reasons, unless they both happened to convene on the same pages.

More on design applications later, but one parting thought: If your current job involves more deadline speed than big fancy planned centerpieces, remember that's a skill bosses want too. There's always a way to showcase your strengths, whether you're designing fancy graphics or putting out a whole section by yourself and writing the headlines too!

Friday, July 13, 2007

July 13, 2003: The Batt's fight for the JOUR department

My thanks to True Brown '04 for his account:

Four years later, I’m still amazed by the events of the summer of 2003.

While the majority of A&M’s current students weren’t yet in college the day Aggieland closed the doors to its Department of Journalism, the ramifications of those events have been far-reaching for a number of reasons. But I won’t rehash all those here; this choir, to borrow a phrase from former Battalion adviser Ron George, is already singing from the same hymnal in that regard.

The events that took place the following weeks, however, are memories that still stir strong emotions today.

First, a little background…

That spring, I was tabbed to be The Battalion’s editor in chief for the summer 2003 semester. With rumors swirling that the department’s closure was imminent, the Batt staff had a good idea that we would be the ones covering the story when it finally broke. Then, on July 13, Dean of Liberal Arts Charles Johnson sent his final recommendation to A&M officials that the department be closed—effectively axing the program and associated major.

That’s when the public fight began in earnest.

The Battalion became the unofficial voice of the Journalism students with several stories and editorials in the ensuing days. Since the closure came in the summer, there unfortunately was not a tremendous amount of statewide press surrounding the department.

That quickly changed, however.

(A quick nod is due here to FJSA, and especially former students Kelly Brown, Jon LeBas and Kirstin Voinis for their help in the public fight against Journalism’s closure. Many of the following events were a direct result of their hard work and dedication.)

Kirstin, who ran a PR firm in Austin, launched a series of press releases to basically every media outlet in the state announcing that the Battalion editors were going to fight the department’s closure. Former Batt editor Brady Creel ’03 also got in the mix, designing our SaveJournalism.com web site, complete with an online petition and links to every news story we could find.

The first release led to a smattering of coverage around the state, both print and TV. The big bombshell came a week or so later.

After much debate, managing editor Dallas Shipp and I decided that the best editorial we could script would be one in which we didn’t really have to script anything. We eventually ran a blank Op/Ed page, which read at the top:

“The Texas A&M administration’s vision of journalism:”

(Blank page to bottom)


Let your voice be heard!”

Another press release went out that morning announcing the blank page.

The response this time was absolutely overwhelming. By noon, I had at least a dozen messages from reporters seeking comment. The Associated Press picked up the release immediately, and within days, stories about the blank page (and more importantly the lack of a Department of Journalism) were everywhere. We occupied space in every daily newspaper in the state, were interviewed by TV stations in B-CS, Dallas and Houston, scored a segment with Shepard Smith on FoxNews and prompted editorials by countless college newspapers and metropolitan dailies.

Our online petition went nuts after the stories came out. We had about 4,000 signatures the next week, and they didn't come from just Aggies. People from across the country chimed in, and there were countless people from Texas, Baylor, Tech and UNT, among others, who signed the petition and sent encouraging emails. It was truly amazing to see the number of people who were on our side.

Many of the comments, whether they were from Aggies or otherwise, shared the same sentiment: educating aspiring, young journalists is vitally important to the health of Texas A&M, the State of Texas and the United States.

For me, those countless positive responses and comments made the entire battle worthwhile, and hopefully all those who have dedicated their time and effort to furthering the success of journalism at Texas A&M feel the same way. It’s certainly what made the summer of 2003 so memorable.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fine-tune your reporting clips

When you're applying for a specific job, you can ask exactly what they want to see. But before that stage, you can evaluate your clip packet. Do you show a range of styles?

Here are some examples of good writing in different categories at the college level – recent winners of the Hearst Journalism Awards.

Spot news – winner from Pennsylvania State
Profile – winner from Arizona State
In-depth – winner from U. of Kansas
Features – winner from Cal State-Fullerton

One solid recommendation is to have 5-10 clips that include breaking news, enterprise (i.e. stories you generated on your own, from your beat, not from a news event, assignment or press release; your note or letter could indicate how you came up with the story idea), investigative and news features (profiles, funny stories/"brites").

If you're lacking in one area, pitch an idea to your editor and write one to fill the gap. (Even if you've already sent a packet, you could send an additional clip later to update it.)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Fall AGCJ classes

Re: the entry on fall JOUR classes, Dr. Starr points out the following. (First I must say, Dr. Starr is awesome. Second, he is of course correct, and here is the full list of AGCJ courses for Fall 2007.)

True, JOUR courses are few, only 7 courses, 6 of which lead to a minor only.

HOWEVER, AGCJ (Ag Comm and Jour) has all manner of J-courses: for print and broadcast and for several in public relations and two for photography and one for magazine writing and design.

See Dr. Deb Dunsford at ddunsford (at) tamu.edu

Berlin, politics and the Middle East: James Bernsen '94

[Update: Since writing this, James has learned he's shipping out July 20.]

James Bernsen, FTA Class Of 1994 here! Here’s an update on what I’m doing.

I am currently the President, Executive Assistant, Mailroom Coordinator and Errand Boy for Bernsen Consulting, a political public relations company I founded as a part-time gig three years ago, but which went full-time in January. I currently live in the People’s Republic of Austin, doing legislative and political work. My big client right now is the Texas House Republican Caucus.

I served on the Batt from 1993-1995, all of it on the City Desk, where I was briefly assistant city editor. After graduating, I moved to the pinnacle of success very early in my career, landing a spot at the New York Times of the Bosque River (otherwise known as the Stephenville Empire Tribune). From there, I moved to that paragon of journalism, the Uvalde Leader News, and then on to the Brazosport Facts (Clute, Tx.) In 1998, I was selected for the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship, which is a journalism exchange program between Germany and the United States. (I was a double major – journalism and German – at A&M). I worked for the Berliner Zeitung in Berlin, Germany. It was the former newspaper of East Berlin, and even 9 years after the wall fell down, the reporters were oddly dependent on the government for news. They never actually looked for stories, just sat around waiting for a government press release to tell them what to write. They had just hired a West German editor to turn them around, as they were losing subscribers to all the West Berlin papers, with much more cutting-edge journalism. I wrote German-language articles for that paper, and English articles for my paper back in Texas.

After returning to the U.S., I took a weird detour into the fun-filled realm of politics, landing a job in 1999 as Deputy Press Secretary for Sen. Phil Gramm. When Gramm retired, I went to work on two campaigns in 2002, one for Texas Senate (won that one) and one for congress (lost that one). In 2003, I went to work for State Rep. Dianne White Delisi (R-Temple) as her legislative director.

When the Democrats decided to zip off to Ardmore, Oklahoma to bust a quorum and kill the redistricting bill in 2003, I made up a deck of playing cards similar to those showing the Iraqi generals and leaders we were trying to track down. I did this as a joke to pass the time in the suddenly quiet House of Representatives, but my boss showed them to News 8 Austin and the next day they were on CNN. Phone calls promptly poured in, and I suddenly had people from all over (including some of the Democrats themselves) calling to buy these. Trying to avoid ethical entanglements of a house staffer, I established Bernsen Consulting, had the cards printed and hired my cousin, a starving University of Texas student, to sell them for me. Texas Monthly put them in their magazine and that also helped my business.

After session ended, I went full-time, but eventually the furor died down and I had to find a real job to support myself. That’s when I got back into journalism, taking a job as a senior correspondent at the Lone Star Report, a free-market oriented political newsletter covering Texas capitol politics. I worked there through a regular session and a bunch of special sessions on redistricting and school finance.

In 2006, I was hired as the Press Secretary for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s re-election campaign. It was a fun and exciting six months, working directly for a senator who by chance was the first political person I ever interviewed way back during her first race, when I was a new reporter at the Battalion. Our race last year was under the radar compared to the governor’s race, but we had an active opponent who always kept it interesting. When the campaign was over, I decided to make a second attempt at being self-employed and re-launched Bernsen Consulting, this time as a full-fledged political P.R. company. I got a couple of clients in time for the legislative session and was in business.

All along the way, I’ve done lots of cool things on the side. For two years, I was a volunteer crewman on the Elissa, a restored 19th Century square-rigged sailing vessel homeported out of Galveston. We restored the 130 year old ship and sailed her out in the Gulf of Mexico. I got to climb up in the rigging and furl and unfurl sails 80 feet off the deck. Up there, it is surprisingly calm and peaceful.

However, the biggest change in my life came after 9/11. After the attack on our country, I was moved to do something to serve, and, after two years of soul searching, in 2004, I was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. I have since been promoted to LTJG and am currently preparing for my first deployment to the middle east in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Still waiting for my orders to come through, but it looks like a August or September date, with at least a year Boots on the Ground in Iraq. I’m looking forward to going, because I want to give back to this country that’s been so good to me, and I know that my skills can make a difference and hopefully bring more of our guys and gals back safely.

My hope is to be back in time to pick up some more clients for the next legislative session and begin building my company, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, unexpected opportunities come about all the time, and it’s good to have the flexibility to take advantage of them.

James Bernsen
james (at) bernsenconsulting.com

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Series wrapup: Do you need a J-degree?

Over the past few months a number of editors who hire reporters and copy editors at Texas newspapers have been kind enough to answer a few questions about the relative importance (or un-) of having a journalism degree when applying to a paper -- something A&M students have asked me about.

Nearly all said that a journalism degree was not required, being far outweighed by practical journalism experience. They then went on to talk specifically about what they do look for: Internships. Prior (journalism) jobs. Curiosity. Talent. Love for learning. Ethics. Multimedia skills. High-quality clips. Ability to ask and answer questions.

Read their full answers here. Much gratitude to all those who responded!

Carlos Sanchez, Waco Tribune-Herald editor
Sandra Kleinsasser, Austin American-Statesman executive news editor
Paul McGrath '78, Houston Chronicle, assistant news editor
Denise Beeber, Dallas Morning News, assistant managing editor for the news and copy desks
Gary Susswein, Austin American-Statesman metro editor

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 Gary Susswein, Metro Editor of the Austin American-Statesman, for his answers.

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

Minimally important. Experience, clips and smarts are much bigger priorities.

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

I rarely actively look for a journalism degree. Internships and prior jobs are far more important when looking at resumes.

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

I'd say it matters slightly more for entry level applicants. If clips and experience are limited, the degree in journalism might give me more confidence that the applicant knows what he/she is doing. But, again, it's not a major priority.