Elon School of Communications Says What It Means and Means What It Says

The fact that Elon University’s School of Communications showcases its core principles and values on an iPad is just one indication of how this journalism and mass communication program has positioned itself for the future.

ELON, N.C.– If you’ve spent any time visiting parts of the Elon University School of Communications, one of the things you notice is the bright colors and the “cutting edge” look of the building.

But, the explicit list of what the dozens of faculty and staff who work here believe is especially striking.

Nowadays with brand new buildings like those of the Cronkite School at Arizona State or the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at University of Oklahoma,  it’s not that uncommon to have a new facility.

Taking nothing away from ASU or OU,  but having visited both,  I see the facilities here Elon are reflective of a “way of life” in this School that clearly is remarkable.  

My colleague, Rich Landesberg, was kind enough to give Dr. Sunny Smith of Jackson State University and I a personal tour of  McEwen Hall so we could see the facilities.

One of the common elements in the classrooms is a posting of “The Elon Eleven,” a catchy statement of principles.  But, it’s not just that statement– but the fact that it’s presented on an iPad that is impressive.     How cutting edge can you be?

Can you think of another School of Communications in the nation where they present their core values and competencies on an iPad?

Does it mean that Elon is in Apple’s back pocket?  Or, is it a recognition of the significance of the tablet PC as a technological tool for communications in the future?

“The tools of Technology” is one core competencies that Elon emphasizes.

Many of the other ten areas: writing, truth, diversity, ethics, theory, history, freedom, creativity, data and research were evident in many of the things I heard this weekend at the Broadcast Education Association District II Conference held here in McEwen Hall.

From a rich discussion about Elon’s award-winning effort to achieve all types of diversity within its school to is offering technical training to its students on such updated software as Adobe’s Digital Creative Suite 5 to a Schoolwide iPad Initiative,  the folks here are clearly practicing what they preach.

We can sometimes put on a good show when there are visitors around (and in fact, the BEA Conference was not the only special event happening in the Comm Building this weekend), but it’s another when you can see this is an everyday thing.

From what I could see this weekend, I think this is an EVERYDAY thing here at Elon.

There are definitely some things for all of us in journalism/mass communication education to learn.

Third visit to North Carolina expected to be the best

ELON, N.C.– It’s my third trip to North Carolina in 2010.   But, I have to believe this one will be my best.   Instead of the mountains of Western North Carolina where I visited Asheville in June or the UNC-Chapel Hill about 30 minutes from here where I visited in March, I’m in an area in between Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham in a town that is part of the Alamance County.

They call it the town of Elon.  But, I think a lot of us know the area for the university that bears the same name (and actually pre-dates the establishment of the town)

Schools in the Southeastern region who are active in the Broadcast Education Association are meeting here this weekend for our “District II” Regional Conference.

This event has been in the works for more than two years.  Elon had offered to host the gathering a couple of years ago.   We finally made it.

While I had been to the Elon campus once before for a visit with a colleague in the Department of History and Geography ,  I was especially “EXCITED about Elon” this time.

A series of blog posts under the larger heading “Enjoying Elon”  follow that capture some of the highlights from this weekend’s conference.

Why I’m Really Excited U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is Coming to University of Alabama

Two days from now, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will visit the University of Alabama, thanks to the efforts to an enthusiastic top-notch sophomore, David Wilson.

Just two days until the University of Alabama will again be in the spotlight as the top official at U.S. Justice Department makes a campus visit.

This time it’s not would-be governors who will be the main attraction as they did last Thursday, but the nation’s top prosecutor– the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who will give the keynote address at the University’s 50th Anniversary Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Holder has an interesting link to the University of Alabama, by way of marriage.  His wife,  Dr. Sharon Malone, is the sister of the late Vivian Malone Jones, who was one of two students who integrated the University in the infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” incident in 1963.

Holder also has been an advocate of mentoring as one way to combat crime.  As a participant in mentoring programs here in Tuscaloosa, I am particularly interested in hearing what Holder has to say about this– even in his address on Tuesday.

“There is a direct correlation between schools that work, between mentoring efforts, between high levels of employment,” said Holder in a recent hearing before the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

n September 2009,  Holder announced more than $129 million in Recovery Act and fiscal year 2009 funds to be used for mentoring services to help prevent at-risk youth from becoming involved in delinquency.

About the book

Full disclosure:  I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird.

But after reading a Wikipedia article about it, I’m inspired to go get the book and read it.   I’m particularly inspired because of the issues and topics that apparently associated with the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, whose author is from Alabama.

Harper Lee is a celebrity, despite what some have called her tendency to avoid the spotlight.

But this excitement pales in comparison to the fact that one of our bright, up-and-coming student leaders from Tuscaloosa was apparently responsible for getting the U.S. Attorney General to come to the University of Alabama.

The student behind it all

My hats are off to David Wilson, a sophomore economics major and SGA member from the College of Commerce and Business Administration, who even before graduating from Northridge High School, here in Tuscaloosa, made a name for himself as the creator of the THINK Program.

In some ways, Wilson as a high school student exemplified the kind of mentoring for which Holder advocates.

Most recently, I had the chance to participate in a two-day workshop with Wilson as a part of the Sustained Dialogue program here at University of Alabama.

As an SGA Senator, Wilson has been instrumental in “We are UA” collection of stories about the University.

His energy and enthusiasm for what he does on campus must have been what convinced the Attorney General’s office to put a UA address on his calendar.

It should be an exciting afternoon at the UA Law School.   I look forward to it.

But, I congratulate David Wilson on stepping up and taking the initiative.

The University of Alabama should be as proud of David Wilson as they are excited about Eric Holder coming to campus.

Did the First Alabama gubernatorial debate cement your Nov. 2 voting decision?

The first Gubernatorial Debate last Thursday at the University of Alabama left me with more questions than answers about who I’ll vote for November 2.

After much hype and excitement here on the University of Alabama campus last week about us hosting the first gubernatorial debate,  I was very underwhelmed and unimpressed by what I heard from the candidates themselves.

While my journalism students tweeted away and wrote updates about the big event at Moody Concert Hall,  I sat watching the actual comments of the candidates and waited to hear substance, specifics and a real reason to vote for one candidate or the other.

Instead, I was left with confusion.   I don’t REALLY know why one candidate just rubs me the wrong way and the other has so many positions with which I fundamentally disagree.

Later this week, Alabama Public Radio and WVUA-TV are going to provide some programs to feature what others in the audience watching the Tuscaloosa debate thought about the candidates’ positions.

This entire election cycle in Alabama has been a little weird as I thought a lot of the issues have not been quite at the forefront.   Some of the statewide candidates have been unimpressive.

When the results of  the primary elections were finally decided this summer, I thought I had a candidate for whom I could vote.  Now, as the general election nears, I’m not so sure.

Guess I will have to make the trip to Auburn for the October 19th debate to help me make up my mind.

For now, I’ll be visiting the Ron Sparks Web site and the Robert Bentley Web site to research their positions a little further.

Five Reasons You SHOULD Care If President Obama Goes To Church

President Obama attending church for the first time publicly should be of interest to all Americans, and not necessarily for the reasons some would think.

How interesting on a Sunday when I was not able to attend church, the President of United States does.

It’s a “Trending Topic” on the Web this Sunday– President Obama attends church publicly.

Was it just PR?   Or, did the President wake up this morning and decide he needed to have a spiritual encounter today?  Well only Mr. Obama, or perhaps his press secretary, could answer that.   (I’m sure someone will ask it about it at Monday’s White House briefing)

Back when I worked as television news producer in 1990s,  there was the video that the White House press corps would shoot and uplink via satellite news feed to all the local stations of “Presidential Arrivals” and “Presidential Departures” for church.

At the time, it was former Presidents Bill Clinton and his family who were going and coming from church.

When I was assembling early morning news on Sundays (and some Mondays), we would have those pieces for “fresh video” of the leader of the free world to use in our newscasts.

Some might ask– SO WHAT– WHY SHOULD WE CARE if President Obama Goes To Church?   Does This Prove He’s Not Muslim?

The question is much broader than that.   Besides the obvious reason that it’s newsworthy that President Obama attended church publicly for the first time in six months, there are FIVE REASONS why WE SHOULD CARE If President Obama Goes To Church.

I’m not talking about him going to church to make a speech or do something “presidential.”  I’m talking about President Obama, the man of faith (that I personally believe he is) sitting in the pew to receive what the man or woman of God in the pulpit has to say to him and other parishioners or members gathered.

We should care about that.. and HERE’s WHY:

1.  We should know how much faith plays into the thinking of our elected officials

It would be irresponsible for us journalists not to take note of this trend and draw a connection between the incident and the political polls that reflect voter unclarity about the President’s faith.    Still more important,  it’s how much faith plays into the thinking of those who we elect.

I tend to agree with Damon Linker, who wrote in today’ Washington Post about a “Religious Test Political Candidates Should Take.”

“Depending on where believers come down on such issues, their faith may or may not clash with the requirements of democratic politics,” Linker said. ” To help us make that determination, all candidates for high office should have to take the religious test.”

As the saying goes, “Actions Speak Louder.”

President Obama has set up an Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and appointed 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor Joshua DuBois as what TIME  Magazine “Pastor-in-Chief” to head that office.

DuBois served as director of religious affairs for Obama’s Presidential campaign.  The Boston Globe did an interesting profile on DuBois.

This interest in faith-based initiatives extends beyond our U.S. borders.

Earlier this year, the White House sent its deputy director Mara Vanderslice to participate in a half-day conference on “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad.”

2. President Obama’s church affiliation is NEWS.  It’s that simple.

I recall weeks before his inauguration, there was a lot of speculation about which church President Obama would make his new church home.  (Seems like THAT should have quelled the rumors about his spiritual background)

He is said to have visited more than one church, including my own DC church, Metropolitan Baptist Church in NW Washington.  ( As a Baptist believer, I was an active member of Metropolitan while a student at Howard University in early 90s)

Down the street from Metropolitan’s former R Street location, at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, President Obama  made a passionate address earlier this year around the holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But, to my knowledge, he’s not a member of either congregation.    His membership in Trinity United Church of Christ back in Chicago would lead one to believe he might choose a unit of that denomination in Washington, DC area.

When and if a decision is made, it will be MAJOR news.     That’s just a fact and I think we should embrace this step that the President may take in spite all of all the questions about his faith.

3. It’s not about whether or not he’s Muslim.

Some would shine the focus on the naysayers or critics who want to make President Obama a Muslim simply because of the way his name sounds on where he grew up or his family background.

But, let’s advance our understanding from a media standpoint beyond that.

Moreover, understand how important it is for the President of the United States to celebrate those of all religions.

As was the case with a recent celebration of Ramadan at the White House, religious celebrations create an opportunity for the President of the United States to go “ON THE RECORD” on issues of religious freedom.

The President’s remarks made a lot of news (some reports of which were terribly misleading) and reminded us of how statements at such celebrations can create national debates, discussions and dialogues.

4.It’s good to know how much the President is or is not like the rest of us.

Like or it or not, we all like to have elected officials who are like us.  The latest data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life show 78 percent of Americans are classified as Christian. Only 16 percent of the 35,000 Americans interviewed for U.S. Religious Landscape survey were called as having “no religion.”

I would say this underscores that we are still “One Nation Under God” even if we also have a right to freedom of religion.

It’s good for us as American to know the President falls in that same “nation under God” based on his own personal choices of worship and congregational affiliation.

5. I want to know where my president is on Sunday morning

If all the aforementioned reasons aren’t good enough, there’s the matter of as a citizen, I just want to know what the President does on Sunday morning if he’s not traveling out of the country or doing something “presidential.”

When you’re a public official, it goes with the territory.

So, I would tell the White House Press Corp. — GET READY to shoot a lot more Obama Sunday Church Arrivals and Departures.    I have a feeling we may be seeing a lot more of what we saw today.

When we see those pictures again, we shouldn’t be shocked.

NPR’s Debbie Elliott Prepares for Lights, Camera At Alabama Debate Tonight

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott visits broadcast news class hours before moderating the first Alabama gubernatorial on the campus of University of Alabama.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott spoke to broadcast news students Thursday hours before she is set to moderate the first debate between Alabama's two gubernatorial candidates.

Hours before she is set to query the two men who want to be Alabama’s next governor, Debbie Elliott stopped by one University of Alabama class to give students some pointers  on how to query elected officials.

“Don’t ever be intimidated because they’re just people,” she said.

While she encouraged the students not to be intimidated by the politicians, she admitted she is not used to the lights and cameras that will be pointed at her tonight as the Alabama and nation watches the first gubernatorial debate featuring Republican Robert Bentley and Democrat Ron Sparks.

The debate to be held at University of Alabama’s Moody Music Building,  will be televised live on Alabama Public Television and Alabama Public Radio. C-SPAN will also pick up the live feed and share it with viewers around the nation.

“I don’t do television. So it should be very interesting,” said Elliott, who arrived back in Tuscaloosa last night.  Now an NPR National correspondent based in South Alabama, Elliott was the news director at Alabama Public Radio.

Even as she’s produced numerous stories about the Gulf Oil spill and other events in Alabama,  the former anchor of NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered is looking forward to tonight’s event.

“It will be good to get them on the record on the issues,” she said.

Getting lawmakers on the record is what Elliott does best.    Before moving back to Alabama, she covered Capitol Hill for NPR.

Her alma mater included a short feature about her experience covering politics on the debate web site.

She covered the Alabama legislature right out of college.

Tonight’s debate is the first of two such meetings of the men who want to succeed Bob Riley in the governor’s mansion. The second debate will be at 7 p.m., Oct. 19 at Auburn University.  At both schools, the student government associations have taken the lead in gathering questions and organizing the events along with the League of Women Voters of Alabama.

It’s Time to Pass on the Wisdom of CNN’s Victor Hernandez

Victor Hernandez, director of domestic newsgathering for CNN, gave some suggestions to early and mid-career journalists attending the Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards at Kennesaw State University. The self-proclaimed ‘backpack executive’ says journalists have to move past conventional storytelling thinking about the next way consumers will get their news and develop “passion projects” that may not be the biggest breaking news story of the day.

I’m just back from a weekend trip to Kennesaw, Ga. where I had the opportunity to hear a question-and-answer session with Victor Hernandez, director of domestic newsgathering for CNN, which includes a 50-person assignment desk, 10 U.S. bureaus and more than 900 television and newspaper affiliate partnerships.

As a television producer a decade ago, I’ve worked at CNN affiliates in Richmond, Va., Cincinnati and Atlanta.  But, that was the before the time of the “all-platform journalist,” a two-year-old creation of CNN to put more reporters on the ground to tell storytelling in a new and compelling way to is less tied to traditions of television.

Hernandez was the keynote speaker for the Society of Professional Journalists  Green Eyeshade Awards, a regional program that recognizes outstanding journalism produced in the states across the South.

While I’ve posed some questions about the All-Platform Journalist program in an earlier post,   I thought was important to summarize the wisdom of Hernandez here as I prepare to give a quick update to the University of Alabama students enrolled in my cross-media reporting and writing class.

“A Backpack Executive”

One of the appeals of Hernandez for me is that we both came of television news.    Before joining the CNN operation in Atlanta seven years ago, Hernandez worked on the assignment desks at local television stations in Fresno and San Diego.

On Saturday night, he told stories of carrying his laptop from conference room to conference room at CNN and editing videos for presentations on Final Cut Pro, a highly popular nonlinear video editing platform.

So, he lives and breathes what he preaches in terms of digital media at CNN where in 2008 they hired five all platform journalists.    Hernandez reported Saturday that those five all-platform journalists produced a total of 130 stories in 2009 alone.

Hernandez’s Wisdom in a nutshell

1.  It’s not just a three-screen strategy, but a FOUR-SCREEN strategy

In the last two years, broadcast executives have used the “Three-screen” strategy to refer to need to produce for three screens– television, the World Wide Web and mobile.

Hernandez reports that he and his colleagues at CNN have been looking at what he called “the tablet difference, ” referring to the way users with devices such as Apple’s highly successful iPad view news.

“It’s arrived and it’s probably here to stay,” Hernandez said.

The key is knowing how the consumption experience is different on a tablet PC than on a mobile phone or online.

2. Move past the Quick and Dirty 1:30 or 800-word news story

The conventional  one minute, 30-second news package has been a staple of television news for decades.    Likewise, the 800-word print story is what many news operations shoot for in conveying the news with text.

Hernandez says a hallmark of the all-platform journalists content is the innovative ways they’ve been able to do storytelling by creating “new entry points” for the users, especially online.

As noted in an earlier post today, that’s evident just from a quick review of the content of some of the stories produced by the five all-platform journalists.

3.  Learn Final Cut Pro, even if you’re not going to use it in your job

This was a bombshell.   For years, we’ve been telling our students that Final Cut Pro is overkill for a one-minute video that needs minimal editing.

For years we’ve said that the higher-end editing software if more appropriate for editing longer, documentary-style pieces and unneccessary when there’s simpler, consumer-line software like Apple’s iMovie or Windows equivalent– Windows Moviemaker, available.

“I recommend all journalists learnFinal Cut Pro, even if you don’t go into a field that requires you to edit,” Hernandez told the audience Saturday night.

But the BIG point here is that Hernandez encouraged early and mid-career journalists to pick up such skills like that on their own using what he called “Professor YouTube” and “Professor Google”  or taking advantage of the relatively nominally-priced One-to-One sessions and workshops held at Apple Stores.

This struck a chord with me as a multimedia instructor trying to pack in basic nonlinear video editing in a course primarily focused on reporting and writing.    I’ve used the Apple One-to-One training and found some great tutorials online.    I just returned from a summer workshop where I edited my first video piece using Final Cut.

(Note: Hernandez did note that CNN offers some Final Cut training for its employees)

4. Experimentation, Experimentation, Experimentation

Hernandez’s first piece of advice for early and mid-career journalists was to take it upon themselves to go above and beyond what’s required in their jobs right now and teach themselves new digital skills that will be in demand for tomorrow’s journalist.

His lists the popular consumer-line camera, FlipCam as a piece of equipment to teach oneself how to shoot and post videos.   Social media applications and Final Cut Pro were others.

“We’ve got to take more risks, we’ve got to make more mistakes and not get comfortable in what you do everyday,” Hernandez said.

He used the term “passion projects” to describe some of the news generated by the All Platform Journalists that drew on their own interests, but were not based on the same news conference or breaking story that other news organizations were covering.

5. Aim higher

Instead of striving to be the next big-time correspondent that one sees on the air right now,  Hernandez says early and mid-career journalists should be thinking about the job that nobody has right now.

Understanding what the current younger generation, the so-called “idea generation,”  is doing, Hernandez  urged those in the audience to focus on “the next big way that people tell stories or consume news.”

“I’m hiring for the future,” Hernandez said.

A Final Note

It’s worth noting that while initial reports in 2008 indicated that CNN planned to add 10 All Platform Journalists,  Hernandez only reported on the work of five such “APJs” in 2009.

One might conclude that in hiring for the future, CNN did not find enough people who had the digital skills to do the job for which there are few models out there.

Yes, ABC and NBC, have hired so-called “digital correspondents” and companies such as Scripps Television are training their reporters to shoot their own packages.    But, it would appear that in “hiring for the future,” CNN is looking for willing to do more than “think outside the box.”

They want people who will create a whole new box based on their own experimentation, who are comfortable in operating in a world where “Mobile” is the dominant platform, who can conceptualize an iPhone application just as much as they can conceptualize a news package.

Time to evaluate CNN’s All-Platform Journalists

MARIETTA, Ga.–   There’s a story to be told about the stories being told by some of the newest additions to the staff at the oldest of the three major cable news channels, CNN.

While there was no shortage of naysayers when CNN announced in 2008 that it was hiring 10 all-platform journalists,  there has been little done to examine their  journalistic work product.

The Questions

Does it matter that these s0-called APJs are shooting television news content differently?

Does it matter that they create a video news product that looks more like that of a newspaper employee doing video than a polished, broadcast “package” (a term often used for self-contained news report)  even though they represent a newsroom whose core product is broadcast?

Are these journalists producing content that is worthy of journalistic recognition as examples of good storytelling?

The Man Implementing the Plan

Victor Hernandez, director of coverage for CNN Domestic operations, talked about All-Platform Journalist at a 2009 management seminar sponsored by the Radio-Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF). Courtesy: Advancing the Story blog

These are questions that came to mind as I listened Saturday night to Victor Hernandez, who coordinates domestic news coverage for CNN.  That includes directing the content of five so-called “all-platform journalists,” who essentially are one-person bureaus in various cities around the U.S.

Hernandez was the keynote speaker at the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Green Eyeshade Awards Saturday night at a campus near here- Kennesaw State University.

Every time I come back to Kennesaw State, which is in Cobb County, my former residence,  it’s like a homecoming.    I spent the majority of my  broadcast  journalism career producing newscasts in this market, which at that time was the tenth largest in the nation,  at a station that now is hiring what used to be called “one-man bands.”

For those non-journalists reading this post, a “one-man band” is a reporter who also shoots, edits his or her own content.

While Hernandez readily admits he “hates the term one-man band,”  he clearly loves what his network is doing in creating reporters who create content that “move past the 1:30 quick and dirty.”  (reference to the traditional one-minute, 30-sec television package that viewers have become accustomed to seeing in local and network newscasts).

Instead, the all-platform journalists may produce blog pieces like this, a video report exclusively for CNN’s highly successful Web site, CNN.com, a photo gallery with still images  or all of the above.

The All Platform Journalists

Jim Spellman

This summer Jim Spellman spoke with Gary Faulkner who went to Pakistan to look for Osama Bin Laden.  He produced an edited interview and then did what’s commonly referred to as “talkback” with CNN anchor Drew Griffin.  This would appear to be very traditional broadcast news.   But, it was the type of story that he turned that was different.

Spellman’s work on homeless children was highlighted by Victor in his discussion on Saturday night.

Another example of  Jim’s work was a story about medical marijuana, which was a news package shot with a little unconventional, “edgy approach”

Nick Saban’s Media Tactics, SEC Policy Tops UA Programs This Week

Even though the countdown to kick-off to The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2010 season has been on the front page of The Tuscaloosa News for months, the rest of the world is just now shifting into “countdown mode” as we factor in football to our Labor Day Weekend plans.

Here at Alabama, two student organizations turned the spotlight on sports and media as they kicked off the 2010-2011 school year.    A day after beat writers and editors talked about the ethics in covering the Crimson Tide, the student chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America featured the top man in the PR operation for the Southeastern Conference.

It’s no surprise that both events drew packed classrooms with hundreds of UA students turning out to take in the wisdom of those covering sports and managing the brands of some of the most high-profile athletic programs in the country.

WVUA's Gary Harris makes a point as CRIMSON Magazine's Gregory Enns listens.

Monday night’s panel discussion sponsored by the UA Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists featured WVUA-TV ‘s one and only sports director, Gary Harris along with Jessie Jones from UA Alumni Publications, Dennis Pillion of al.com and Gregory Enns, founding publisher of Crimson Magazine.

After recounting some of their biggest stories involving the Crimson Tide, all four panelists were frank about the realities of covering Nick Saban and a national championship team from access to the “bad news” that fans don’t want to hear.

“We’re not going to shy away from something because we think there might be backlash,” said Pillion, who as a student was sports editor at Dateline Alabama when the scandal involving Former UA Football Coach Mike Price unfolded.

Pillion told students about the judgment calls he learned how to make even as a student editor about stories involving coaches.

“You cover scandals and at the same time, you try to make sure you don’t get caught up in the hoopla,” said Gary Harris, who readily admits that over time you can develop friendships with the coaches and their families that make it challenging to tell the bad news.

Taking a little bit of different perspective, Jessie Jones, who is the daughter of Crimson Tide Gymnastics Coach Sarah Patterson, told students how she learned to focus on the people behind many of her sports stories.  She was especially proud of a profile she did on Former UA Football Coach Mike Shula where she was given unprecedented access to him and his family.

Access is something that has been a particular issue for the sports beat writers on Monday night’s SPJ panel, which focused specifically on ethics.

“Nick Saban controls everything.   Everything he does is based on controlling image and recruiting,” Harris explained.  “You can’t just talk to a player when you want to talk to a player.”

A day later at the public relations-focused event featuring him as keynote speaker, Charles Bloom, associate commissioner for media relations at the Southeastern Conference, admitted that it’s a different day for coaches at all of the 12 SEC schools.

“The coach-media PR relationship is at its worst,” he said.  “There is a fractured relationship with the media.”

Bloom was frank with the more than 150+ public relations students about how proactive PR and crisis management are now more heavily emphasized in college sports.

“You’ve got to protect the brand,” Bloom said.

Covering Nick Saban

But, the journalists speaking a day earlier to a crowd of mostly journalism students cautioned how this protecting the brand by coaches like Alabama’s Nick Saban could impact how they do their jobs.

“I do think we all worry that it could affect our ability to cover the team,” Harris said.   “When you’re covering a program like Alabama you get access, but you don’t want that access to be taken away.”

Pillion, who writes for the Tide Corner blog for al.com, explained to students who Saban often tries to set parameters around the lines of questions asked during his news conference, the latest of which had just occurred hours before Monday’s panel.”   According to Pillion, Saban will tell reporters topics on which he won’t answer questions.  But, that doesn’t stop reporters from firing away their questions on “touchy subjects.”

“He’ll blast you for asking the question, then he’ll answer it,” Pillion said.

The sports journalists were fairly unanimous in their advice to the students, many of whom seek to work in sports media, that they have to be prepared when they interview Alabama’s head football coach and expect to be “embarrassed” if they’re not.

Even as the issue of covering Nick Saban consumed much of the hourlong panel on Monday, the SEC’s new more restrictive media policy came up at both events.

Still Sour About SEC Media Policy

In the process of negotiating its new television deal with ESPN, the Southeastern Conference initially set some restrictions on the extent to which anyone could use social media tools such as Twitter at events that are broadcast.

“Gentry Estes’ Twitter feed is not competing with a CBS broadcast,”said Pillion.  “This new policy could potentially change how people get coverage online.”

In his remarks to the PRSSA on Tuesday, Bloom addressed the policy.

“We blew it guys.”he said. “It was very overreaching.”

Bloom noted that the policy had been revised after consulting with such organizations as the Associated Press Managing Editors and the Radio-Television Digital News Association and as far he knew “Everybody’s OK with it.”

Bloom, who started out as a news-editorial journalism major before switching to public relations while a student at University of South Carolina, maintains his membership in groups of basketball and baseball writers.  He emphasized transparency in his 30-minute address to the UA students.

“I’m an open guy.  I believe in openness.”

“Status quo is Best”

That was apparent in his not dodging questions about some of the most controversial topics of 2010 such as recent talk of expanding the Southeastern Conference as other BCS (Bowl Championship Series) conferences have expanded.

“We have 12 very strong schools,” Bloom said when explained that as far as the SEC is concerned, the “status quo is best.”

“If we were to expand, somebody would have to add tremendous value.”