Monday, December 31, 2007

First year of this blog, and what's next for FJSA

A lot has happened this year in FJSA.

Since this blog began in March, we've heard from Aggies around the U.S. and the world -- from Kenya to England, from California to the Pentagon. The blog's daily traffic is rising steadily. Folks are checking in, saying hi, sending news, and I am grateful to every one of you.

For the first time in about a decade, FJSA is raising money for a new journalism scholarship. At our fall reception, we learned of plans to hire a new journalism/women's studies prof and about changes that may lead to students being once again able to major in journalism. (More on that TK.)

FJSA members who serve on committees at A&M help award journalism scholarships and keep up to date on the university's actions. FJSA members have served as Journalists-in-Residence and taught journalism classes at A&M, and more members keep volunteering to come help students in any way they can.

Also new for FJSA this year:

I don't think we've definitively hooked anybody up with a job quite yet, but we do have an exchange of information going on with people both seeking jobs and hiring, and we've provided some advice to students and recent grads.

Some news that's coming in the near future: We'll report on Liberal Arts' progress toward making journalism an interdisciplinary major and toward hiring a journalism/women's studies prof; the Journalism Studies Program will announce its 2008 Journalists-in-Residence; and FJSA will take nominations for the 2008 Hall of Honor inductee.

Some things I personally want to look into in 2008:

  • What FJSA might be able to do in pursuit of grants, to secure more funding for the Journalism Studies program.
  • Creating (with the help of some of you all) fact sheets to be available on the Web, supplying background on current journalism education available at A&M, why more would be better and how it fits into A&M's overall mission, and publicizing FJSA events and efforts (thank you Kristal for this key idea).

Stay tuned!

Wishing you a New Year that's clear of Steers

A couple silly links before we all get back to the business of the new year:

I always enjoy Texas Monthly's Bum Steer Awards. I realize there has to be an Aggie or mention of A&M on the cover so that a) Longhorns will buy it and b) Aggies will buy it to see what they're saying about us. Though Dennis Franchione's their cover boy (with an assist from a hungry Reveille), they do riff on the UT player arrests (ours came too late for press time, perhaps). And they give a thumbs-down to the "Vick 'Em" T-shirts at Tech.

As always, the state's media outlets commit a few Bum Steers: a Lubbock TV reporter arrested while under cover; the Press Club of Dallas Katies flap; the Star-Telegram agreeing to deliver Bibles. And, as a copy editor, I feel deeply for the Houston Chronicle editor who wrote the Anna Nicole cutline they cite.

That cutline also made it into Regret The Error's 2007 hits compilation. There are some corkers, including Cherie Blair NOT in the shower, numerous sightings of Obama Bin Laden and one "Titanic" goof that made it all the way around the world until a 15-year-old caught it.

May your New Year be error-free and full of good luck!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Stolleis '92 checks in from Santa Fe

Karl Stolleis sent this; he's begun blogging about multimedia, video and photography at newspapers.

Just wanted to let folks know where I am:

Karl Stolleis
Class of 92
Former Photographer and editor
Currently in Santa Fe, NM

Starting salary ranges at a few Texas papers

I guess I understand why employers don't list a salary range with a job opening, but I sure like it when they do. It seems straightforward. I've been doing surveys of Texas print journalism job openings throughout 2007, and here are some compiled results. Only a very few employers chose to place the pay range in the ad, of course, and thus these results will only tell you so much -- mostly, they tell you what you can expect to get paid in an entry-level job at a small Texas newspaper, or a management job at a tiny Texas newspaper (which can involve being the reporter/photographer/designer, anyway).

Once you get up to the mid-sized and larger newspapers, everybody starts clamming up about their pay ranges, even for entry-level jobs. So this will NOT tell you what to expect at those papers. But it still may be of use, and so I present it -- organized by rounded-up circulation size with the newspapers' names stripped off, because I see no need to punish them for being honest.

Management positions
(40,000 circ) Desk supervisor for Web and print, $50,000 to $60,000
(10,000 circ) News editor, $30,000 to $35,000
(5,000 circ) Managing editor, $40,000 to $45,000
(4,000 circ) News editor, $35,000-$40,000
(3,500 circ) Managing editor, $20,000-$25,000
Biweekly political journal CEO/executive publisher, $60,000-$75,000
Magazine managing editor, $45,000-$50,000
Magazine photo editor, $40,000-$45,000

Copy editor/page designer
(50,000 circ) $25,000 to $30,000
(23,400 circ) copy editor, $20,000-$25,000; page designer, $15,000-$20,000
(8,200 circ) $25,000 to $30,000

(10,500 circ) $20,000-$25,000
(10,000 circ) reporter/photographer/paginator, $25,000-$30,000
(8,200 circ) $20,000-$25,000
(6,200 circ) $25,000-$30,000
(3,500 circ) $20,000-$25,000
(5,000 circ 3x-weekly) $20,000-$25,000
(10,000 circ weekly) $20,000-$25,000

Job survey, late December

Alternative observations: The Dallas Observer needs a music editor, and the longtime liberal "muckraking biweekly journal" (their words) Texas Observer is looking for a CEO/executive publisher, $60,000-$75,000.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times needs a reporter and a copy editor/page designer ... Amarillo Globe-News needs a copy editor/page designer ... the Texarkana Gazette is looking for an entry-level business reporter ... Killeen Daily Herald needs an assistant managing editor ... Laredo Morning Times needs a copy editor, $20,000-$25,000, and a page designer, $15,000-$20,000 ... the Brownsville Herald seeks a sports reporter ... Denton Record-Chronicle says "bring your journalism degree here" if you want to be an assistant sports editor ... the Marshall News Messenger needs a GA reporter.

The Hill Country News, a biweekly paper out of Cedar Park/Leander, seeks a reporter, journalism degree required ... The weekly Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post needs a reporter/photog/paginator, $25,000-$30,000 with benefits ... Houston Community Newspapers seek a reporter, degree in journalism, English or comm preferred, and designers (recent grads with good clips considered).

Monday, December 24, 2007

Last-minute Christmas desperation gift!

Still looking for the perfect present for the brilliant yet underappreciated maroon-ink-stained wretch in your life? We've got you covered: It's the Aggie Journalist bumper sticker!!

Only $2.99! Limitless quantities!
Absolutely guaranteed to arrive

long, long after Christmas is past!

Though this is a real CafePress item and you could actually order one if you wanted to, it is intended more as a tip of the hat to James Bernsen '94, busily blogging away in Iraq, who donated the phrase (for an $0.03 fee) in this exchange on a TexAgs board.

I will order a couple just to see how they turn out. If they're not dreadful I will even send one to James, who will probably wish he got better stuff in the mail.

A thank-you to my dear husband, who bent his massive graphic-designer skills to this task. (However, he is not to blame for the blog's fairly silly typewriter logo; that's me. I'm silly.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hiring/J-degree: Wichita Falls Times Record News

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 Lynn Walker, Night City Editor of the Wichita Falls Times Record News, for his answers.

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

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

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

Virtually all of our hires in the editorial department over the past few years have been entry-level positions. Most of them have been people with journalism or related-field degrees. Most of them have come from our local college, Midwestern State University. Many have begun working for us part time while they were attending school. Typically, our copy desk employees start as part timers and assume full time jobs when they get their degrees.

We have hired a few reporters from non-local J schools. It is our experience that they move closer to their homes once they have picked up a little experience here.

Of course, very little hiring is happening now. Like most newspapers, our staff is in a period of contraction rather than expansion.

Not having a degree in journalism would not preclude someone from getting hired here if they brought other desirable credentials to the table. For example, we recently had a young man on our staff who had a divinity degree from Princeton. He is just an exceptionally bright and able young man who picked up journalism skills very quickly. Our present police beat reporter has a business degree and came to us through working part time in sports because he is a sports nut.

The importance of a journalism degree -- to the extent that it's still important -- is that it demonstrates the candidate has an interest in the field and enough smarts to graduate from college. Beyond that, in my opinion, most journalism degrees are virtually worthless. Few who possess them bring any substantive skills to the job and are usually hard-pressed to write a junior high school essay, much less a newspaper article. I think this is a failure on all levels of the educational system rather than an indictment of students' intelligence. They pick up almost all the skills they need on the job.

Of course, there are still some strong journalism schools out there -- University of Missouri is the first to come to my mind -- but most simply do not teach students the skills they need.

If I were to advise an aspiring journalist, I would recommend a non-journalism major in a specialty field -- economics, finance, medicine, environmental, etc. -- and a minor in journalism. I believe a good internship at a solid newspaper is also extremely valuable.

What would you say the skills are that the reporters have to learn on the job? The most crucial ones, at least -- the first ones you have to teach them.

Is it reporting ethics or skills, or more mechanical things like writing to length, hitting a deadline, or even more basic such as simply determining what the story is, writing it coherently and using spellcheck before they turn it in?

First, a caveat: There is a danger of tarring every applicant with an overly broad brush. That's neither accurate nor fair. What I'm talking about is trends.

The most notable is a lack of the most basic writing skills -- sentence construction, the ability to match subject and verb, spelling, punctuation, etc. I'm talking about knowing the difference between than and then, your and you're, that noone is not a substitute for nobody (let alone a word). Proper use of commas has become a lost art. An increasing number of graduates are coming to the job without the rudiments of plain writing.

Certainly most newbies need help with coherent writing, finding a focus, effective storytelling. That's to be expected. You can't expect a 22-year-old graduate to come to you already fine-tuned. But we should expect them to have mastered the essentials of proper writing.

Presumably, a pharmacy graduate goes to the first job knowing the basics of dispensing medicine. We can't make the same presumption in journalism.

The other trend (which you didn't ask about, but I'm going to tell you about anyway) is a lack of fire in the belly. The newer generation of journalists seems to be satisfied to come to work, get an assignment from an old codger like me, turn a journeyman's job at best, and be out of the office by 5 p.m. The industry might be as much to blame as the new journalist in this regard, because that degree of intensity toward the craft is not as encouraged as it once was.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Leabo scholarship fund: $1,500 and counting

I am delighted to report that as of today, donations to the Leabo scholarship fund will be tax-deductible. This is because the funds will now be handled through the Texas A&M Foundation, which means the mailing address has changed -- checks now should be mailed straight to the Foundation, not to FJSA. For full details go to


The fund is up to $1,500! (And we are working with those who've already donated so they get the deduction too. Least we can do to say thanks.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kate (Arnold) Travis '97/'99: Blogging in Cambridge

Thank you very much, Kate, for sending this! Read up on a giant spider parked on the Thames, the crack in the floor of the Tate Modern and gathering in a London sports bar to watch A&M beat the Longhorns:

Hi there,

This is in response to your call for blogs for the Aggie Journalists site. This might be too far from journalism to add to the site, but I thought I'd send it along. My husband and I are blogging about our experiences living in Cambridge, England: http://dceditorsincambridge.blogspot.com/. I'm JOUR '97 and STJR '99, and am now a freelance science/medical journalist and editor. I stumbled on the Aggie Journalist blog a while back and am enjoying it!


Kate (Arnold) Travis

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rojas '10 bound for NYT Institute in January

Rick Rojas '10, a sophomore political science major from Beaumont and the Battalion's enterprise editor, is one of 20 students selected for the January 2008 New York Times Institute on Student Journalism, Jan. 2-12 at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He said he applied after hearing about the program from Kathleen McElroy '81.

Rick, who's also served as city editor for the Batt, will be focusing on reporting while he's there. I asked him to tell me a little about the program and he kindly did so:

The New York Times Institute on Student Journalism is a program offered twice a year — once for student members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the other for students of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The one in January, which I am attending, is for NAHJ.

From what I understand, the participants work with editors and reporters from The Times and The Boston Globe, and we put out a publication of some sort for the sake of clips. I'm not sure if it's daily or weekly or just one for the entire two weeks.

Ms. McElroy told me about the program.

I'm really looking forward to going because having such talented people teach me and critically review my writing will be extremely helpful. Plus, I would love to work for someplace like the Times...and meeting people there may help me get my foot in the door for the future!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Columnist? Beat writer? Talk to Batt this spring

The Battalion is seeking 400 speakers for the spring semester. Columns and beat writing are very in-demand topics.

Contact adviser Cheri Shipman if you are interested in coming by the 400 meeting (4 p.m. Sundays) to speak to the staff, and possibly hang out afterwards to help them get the Monday edition rolling.

Also, I believe there is often pizza ...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hiring/J-degree: Longview News-Journal

With the kind help of some of the top journalists who do the actual hiring around the state, I've reopened this series in which professionals answer a question that students often ask me: Do you need a journalism degree to get hired in the field?

In coming weeks, I'll post responses from the Wichita Falls Times Record News, the Victoria Advocate, the Killeen Daily Herald and the Galveston County Daily News. If you or someone at your news outlet would be interested in contributing responses to the three questions below, I would be absolutely delighted to include them; I'd like to represent a wide range of newspapers as well as broadcast and Web news.

Many thanks to Juan Elizondo, Managing Editor of the Longview News-Journal, for his answers that kick off this round!

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

We hire a lot of folks pretty fresh from college, so a journalism degree is a little more important for us than it is for some of your other respondents.

Why do you look for a journalism degree, or what do you look for instead of that?
We have a small newsroom staff, so a j-school introduction to basic reporting, writing, design, newspaper photography, videography and ethics is important.

We will hire an applicant who has no j degree if that person has newspaper experience, clips that show a range of abilities and good references.

An application that doesn't include newsroom internships or some kind of newspaper experience, with or without a j-degree, doesn't get much attention.

Is the picture different for entry-level applicants vs. experienced applicants?
Yes. A degree isn't very important for an applicant with a fair amount of experience. In those cases, I look closely at where folks have worked and the progression of newspapers. Short stays, a bunch of lateral moves or no obvious progression raise flags for me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Freelance a story in North Texas

Carrie Pierce '06 at Addison Magazine (a quarterly publication in North Dallas) is looking for a freelance writer to do an upcoming cover story.

I'll get a contact posted here soon but for now just e-mail me and I'll forward it on.