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NCEW goes to college.

"How about March 24?" With those words, Penn State journalism professor Tom Berner helped launch NCEW's new effort last year to reach hardworking college opinion writers and editors and provide them with the support, constructive criticism, and fellowship that are the hallmarks of NCEW.

Such a connection is needed, indeed long overdue. While a few college journalists get a good grounding in opinion journalism from their instructors, many schools don't have journalism departments, and those that do often don't teach opinion writing. Too often, college writers and editors operate by the seat of their pants, and commentary pages get short shrift from busy young journalists trying to fill their newspapers.

While many of them do a fine job under trying circumstances, they could do even better if they had steady support and guidance from experienced hands -- NCEW hands.

NCEW has been forging links with student opinion writers and editors for some time. Attempts to provide student critique sessions at our annual conventions were often frustrating exercises, not least because it is hard to pry loose students so soon after the semester's start in September. So a couple of years ago, we decided to take our show on the road and go where the students are.

In May 2000, a delegation of NCEW "faculty" descended on Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. There, 20 college journalists from liberal arts schools without journalism programs were gathered for a week of seminars and field trips, under the auspices of the journalism school with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts. We offered NCEW's services for a lively afternoon session of discussion, debate, and critiques. Organizer Nancy Beth Jackson was so enthusiastic about our "piggybacking" program that she had us back for a repeat edition last May. (See box on next page.)

Meanwhile, solicitations and calls to NCEW leaders and college faculty produced more potential sites. With generous help from NCEW volunteers, we held four more successful workshops during 2001: Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the University of South Florida in Tampa, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and St. Bonaventure in St. Bonaventure, N.Y.

Altogether, 40-plus NCEW "faculty" members spent a day with 96 students representing 39 schools and 40 campus publications. Not bad for the first year!

What was the hardest part? Not recruiting college sponsors or NCEW volunteers. That was easy: It seemed everyone wanted to help if they could. The hardest part was luring the students out of their cozy beds on a Saturday We really had to go after them -- and keep after them. Everyone who came seemed to have a worthwhile time (including the faculty). One of the most satisfying parts of the workshops for me was watching the kids "come alive" during the day as they realized they were with peers and professionals who all face the same challenges. Sort of like a mini-NCEW convention. (The free pizza and snacks, courtesy of the NCEW Foundation, also helped!)

Other lessons learned:

* The college sponsor is key to the workshop's success. If the on-campus person provides the facilities, handles the logistics, and takes the lead in student recruitment, it eases the workload on everyone else -- and saves lots of money.

* You can have a successful workshop without an advance "critique exchange." This allows maximum flexibility in accommodating last-minute recruits and otherwise adjusting to student spontaneity. Just make sure everyone brings along at least two writing or editing samples to critique, and allow enough "reading time" in critique sessions so everyone can contribute and benefit.

* A workshop model might include brief opening remarks and introductions; short presentations by NCEW members on a topic of major interest to them to get Q&A and conversation going; explanation of the critique process and designation of critique groups before lunch; at least two hours for critiques; wrapping up with a mock editorial board meeting for those who finish critiques early -- or who are able and willing to stick around. (The mock editorial board worked well at Columbia as an ice-breaker to start the day.)

Models may be helpful, but as this year's experience shows, there are many ways to hold a successful student opinion workshop. We did our thing at major liberal arts schools and state university campuses, in cities and out in the country, drawing in students at regional community colleges as well as four-year institutions, newspaper writers as well as those taking journalism classes.

I have high hopes we can consolidate our gains, blaze new trails, and stake new claims in 2002. If you are interested in being part of the process, let me or Tom Berner know. Better yet: Set a date! We'll help you put on a student opinion workshop in your neighborhood.

Past president Fred Fiske is co-chair of the Journalism Education Committee. Contact him at
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Title Annotation:National Conference of Editorial Writers
Author:Fiske, Fred
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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