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JACC…has it really helped anyone?

The Journalism Association of Community Colleges, otherwise known as JACC, is a hypocritical exercise of futility.

In recent years, instead of leaving the conference feeling like you’ve learned a lot, a lot of participants have left with an empty feeling in their minds.

This past April, over 50 schools from across the state of California had the opportunity to attend the JACC State Conference in Sacramento. The Telescope staff members attend every year.

This year, by the end of the conference, some schools questioned why they are still participating; some students have even considered not coming back to participate unless there is some serious reform.

To give you an idea on why there is such frustration from the students, let’s give a background on JACC. Note: quotations are from the website http://jacconline.org/about/.

“Founded in 1955, JACC is a nonprofit on the cutting edge of journalism education, bridging the gaps between students, educators and publications by providing networking and educational events aimed at inspiring members at each stage of their journalism career.”

The networking factor isn’t an issue. As a matter of fact, it’s fair to say that a lot of lasting business relationships and friendships have been formed at JACC. But a lot of the workshops they provide tend to be the same at every conference; sometimes with the same volunteers teaching said workshops. In some cases, the volunteers use the workshops as free advertising for their next project; they don’t really teach students anything.

“Our events support existing education by bringing professional reporters, photographers, editors and other journalists to speak with students about real-life experiences. Our on-the-spot contests offer students real world experience and our awards are a benchmark for community college journalism excellence.”

This has been a real sore spot for a lot of students AND advisers who attend the conference. A lot of workshops and on-the-spot competitions overlap, leaving students with a difficult conundrum of whether they should choose one over the other. It is also unfair for schools who can’t afford to bring a lot of students to the conference; for example, Palomar College’s journalism program was only able to bring eight students. Mt. San Antonio College, from Walnut, Calif. brought 18 students. That leaves quite a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to on-the-spot competitions.

Speaking of the on-the-spot competitions … what about the organization? How is it that the proctors didn’t have a clue as to what the judging criteria was? In the sports writing competition, there were 54 writers who participated. They were told to cover a baseball game; afterward they were given a press conference from the home team.

They were never told that they could not use other sources. There were major league scouts at the game, as well as family members from the home team in the stands; a journalism student is trained to talk to as many sources as possible to get an insider’s perspective. But at the end the writers who used those sources in their story were disqualified. At the awards ceremony for the conference only two of the 54 sports writers were given awards. The worst part was, they only got honorable mention and second place. There was no first place given. What message does that send to students?

“We engage. We lead. We are the future of journalism.”

About that. Yes, it is true. They do host student roundtables on the last day of the conference for any writer or editor who wants to give their opinion on it. A lot of the time, it’s the same complaints about organization and timeliness of the workshops; confusion over what the rules are for the competitions, and a lack of proper tools for the modern journalist. Yet very little has been accomplished as a result.

It was only this year that JACC decided to do beta testing on using laptops instead of AlphaSmarts for writing competitions. For those who don’t know what AlphaSmarts are, think of your grandmother’s old dusty typewriter, but compact. Obviously not something you would use in today’s classrooms.

The downside? Not every school got to use a laptop. And to add the cherry on top, the writers were not allowed internet access to verify facts. The proctors claimed that it was in the interest of fairness; so that no one could cheat. As if that stopped anyone from using their smartphone to look up facts. If people want to cheat, they are going to cheat. Simply said. Therefore internet access should be granted; let’s open a level playing floor for everyone.

JACC is a revered organization that does offer a lot as far as learning experiences. Unfortunately, there has been such a lack of solid leadership and organization that those experiences are tainted with disappointment.

JACC can do better. And for its future and those of the journalists it claims to engage and lead – IT MUST.

2 Comments

  1. Janna Braun
    Janna Braun May 3, 2015

    Very interesting piece. On the one hand I do agree with the writer’s points that perhaps there should not be as many on-the-spot competitions that overlap with workshops. This does present logistical issues, however, as many people leading the workshops are only available at certain times and certain events – like sports – are also scheduled at specific times. As the lead proctor for the sports writing competition, I, along with the other proctors, told the students participating that they were to write a game story. We purposely do not give additional instructions because the judging criteria are printed in the conference program. During the actual event, some students were told not to talk to people other than the ones provided at the press conference. Those who either chose not to listen to us or simply decided to do their own thing found out later that what they did got them disqualified. See, this is a competition not an actual real-life event. While we try to simulate how things would go while covering a real-life sporting event, with 54 students this is simply not possible. The teams/venues that host our events – in this case, UC Davis – do not want 54 college students running all over the stands bothering people during the game. There have to be certain rules; the competition is kind of like an assignment you get from a professor. If your professor tells you to interview the baseball coach and you interview a scout in the stands, you have not met the assignment criteria and your grade will consequently suffer.

    As for not every school having laptops or getting to use the internet during the writing lab, again, these are the rules that have been established. If you don’t like them or disagree with them, you are entitled not to participate or write an editorial, like you have here. Not every professional journalist has the same equipment either. People using laptops had absolutely zero advantage over those using AlphaSmarts. But I guarantee that if we had allowed everyone to use their smart phones during the writing lab, there would have been complaints galore from people unable to get online. So I guess we lose either way because you just can’t please everyone. We also limit the number of participants from each school for each contest to 2 so every college has the same chance of winning an award in a given competition. I have been proctoring the sports writing competitions at JACC for 9 years and every year somebody is upset about something; it’s just the nature of the beast.

    I wish you all the best as you pursue your transfer dreams. Keep up the good work!

    • Anne Belden
      Anne Belden May 12, 2015

      I just wanted to point out one misunderstanding that may have occurred between proctors, judges and students within the sports writing contest. In the program under contest rules, it did not say students must write a game story. The title of the contest was “sports writing” and the rules said students can turn in any sports writing related to the event. So some students interviewed the scouts mentioned above and wrote profiles or feature stories instead of game stories; they were following the program guidelines, but were then disqualified. This may have affected both judging if judges only looked for game stories, and students who reacted with anger to the results.

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