Sunday, April 05, 2009

SPJ "Unconventional 2009" A Big Hit in Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.-- Even as word comes of another metropolitan newspaper's possible demise, the Society of Professional Journalists through several regional conferences this weekend is continuing in its advocacy role for good journalism.

Here in Hollywood, "SPJ" was featured on the marquee of the Midway Party Room, just one of the meeting spots for sessions. Several dozen members of the Society of Professional Journalists and a Florida affiliate of American Collegiate Press (ACF) under the name FCP gathered at a rather unusual venue for a conference-- a restaurant/family gaming facility.

Dave & Busters in Hollywood is normally where we'd go to hang out, eat and have fun. But, for 8 hours here, we talked about alternative media careers for journalists, myths about magazines and what happens when our First Amendment rights are taken away.

Not one of the panels that I attended included PowerPoint presentations. Instead, there were audience-driven, discussion-oriented exchanges, some of which went over time because the interactivity couldn't be contained in the 50-60 minute time slots.

I particularly enjoyed listening, watching and participating in the "Look Good, Talk Good, Be Better" session that helped both students and professionals prepare for the world of online video and television.

Not only did I get a critique from SPJ National Secretary/Treasurer Hagit Limor, who worked at one of my former competitors in the Cincinnati television market,

But Regional Director Darcy Lunsford also had some suggestions for how I can improve
my on-camera presentation.

The participants in this session rotated between three stations where they concentrated on writing at one station while focusing on recording their one-minute video stand-ups at another. A third station was where we all got feedback on how we did.

The funny thing is I had lunch with Dan Grech from the American Public Media's MArketplace program and didn't even realize who he was-- until hours later. What a down-to-earth, personable person who just captivated the mostly student-crowd at his writing session.

Grech co-lead that session with Connie Hicks from Barry University and Lyn Millner of Florida Gulf Coast University.

The "Violent Awards Lunch" gave attendees at the SPJ Region 3 Conference a chance to see one successful First Amendment activity-- the First Amendment Free Food Festival.

It was a pleasure to pick up ten Mark of Excellence Awards for the students from the University of Alabama campus.

Here are the University of Alabama's 2009 Winners of Mark of Excellence Awards- Region 3

  • Nic Hoch, First Place Television Sports Reporting for "Broken Collar Bone"
  • Mary Scott Speigner, Third Place, Television General News Reporting for "Juicy Campus"
  • Jordan Culberson, Second Place, Radio Feature "Wallace Legacy"
  • Daniel Cherry, Third Place, Radio feature, "Housing Project"
  • Daniel Cherry, Second Place, Radio News Reporting "Lost Campaign"
  • R.F. Rains, Second Place, Sports Photography, "Fan Day Brings Excitement"
  • Caroline Gwaltney, First Place Non-Fiction Article "D.W.: The Bronze Bomber"
  • Alex Gilbert, Third Place, Feature Photography, "Summer Heat"
  • Ryan Wright, Third Place, Sports Writing, "Tide Shuts Out All"
  • Jessie Gable, Third Place, Feature Writing, "Brother Micah Returns to U.A."

BOLD winners advance to the National Mark of Excellence Competition to compete against winners from 11 other regions. Winners will be recognized at National SPJ Convention in Indianapolis, Ind. in August

After a full day of fabulous, timely and useful sessions, the focus of this conference dubbed "Unconventional 2009" shifted to a homeless shelter. For the next six hours (I left at midnight), I saw a training area of the shelter transformed into a working newsroom as dozens of us attendees did what we do best-- Journalism!

Read a separate post on the experience of working on The Homeless Voice.

There are several take-away points from the Southeastern regional gathering here this weekend.

  • There is a better way to do journalism conferences
  • It's still about good writing and presentation
  • Breaking into magazine journalism still takes special skills, but you can do it
  • Don't be afraid to get out there and do journalism on your own
  • You can help the homeless and do journalism at the same time

All of these ideas about journalism come on the very day that news reports circulated about the New York Times Company's possible closure of New England's biggest newspaper, The Boston Globe.

The intensity of discussion of what to do IN SPITE OF all the bad news is what is increasing at journalism conferences like this one.

In some ways, these conferences have become a revival for journalism evangelists who are aware that the medium in which we're doing our work is changing, but the importance of it isn't.

At least half of the Society's 12 regional spring conferences were held this weekend. I don't know what happened at the other five gatherings. But, I know this one left an impression on me.

Special thanks to Michael Koretsky, SPJ national board member, who engineered this first "unconventional" conference.

This is certainly something the entire SPJ Board ought to take a look at as it prepares to hold future conferences, both at the regional and national level.

Next March, those of us from Region 3 who hail from the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida will be back here in Sunshine state in Orlando as North Central Florida SPJ Chapter plays host. I wonder what newspapers may have folded or gone to an "online only" format by then.

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