UCF Shows SPJ How To Host a Regional Conference

ORLANDO– A couple of years ago there was some discussion at the Society of Professional Journalists about whether to continue the Spring regional gatherings.  Fortunately, those naysayers who sought to end the practice of hosting the 2-day events focused almost exclusively on professional training did not get their way.

In what traditionally has been known as Region 3 (a number that is insignificant to those outside of the organization), the Southeastern Region, which includes South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama, has gathered in the Sunshine State THREE of the last four years.

While I certainly enjoyed the 2007 conference at University of Florida in Gainesville and the 2009 “unconference” in Hollywood, Fla.,  the University of Central Florida did some different things that bear a closer look NATIONALLY as SPJ looks to the future of the regional conferences.

Rick Brunson, SPJ adviser poses with SPJ President Robyn Sidersky and Melissa Patterson, a UCF graduate and online producer at PalmBeachPost.com

In fact, UCF Professor Rick Brunson and Chapter President Robyn Sidersky assembled a team of “blue shirts” (name for the SPJ shirts that the team of students wore to help us attendees easily spot them) to put on a student-oriented, forward-looking conference that gave attendees take-home tips that hopefully will translate into them being active members of SPJ.

The more than 120 registrants who journeyed here to the UCF campus were treated to a blue-ribbon panel of recent journalism graduates who were a lot more upbeat about their future in the field than many we hear speaking at professional journalism gatherings.

UCF Journalism Professor Lance Speere moderates a session Friday featuring recent UCF graduates who are working in journalism.

Starting out on Friday afternoon with a “reality-check” from top editors at two Florida news organization, this event did more to uplift, encourage and empower those who participated than most journalism workshops to which we invite those in the field.

Usually the highlight of this conference is the Mark of Excellence student award presentations.  This year, that had a different feel because it took place at an evening banquet rather than a luncheon.   I know the food was probably more expensive than a lunch menu.  But, the Holiday Inn-UCF had great food.  (Although the chicken they served for the luncheon in Hollywood, Fla. last year was good too)

While Mark of Excellence was big, the talk of social media was bigger.   The hands-on training sessions on Saturday were a hit with my students from the University of Alabama.

At the same time, there were some industry panels that gave attendees more than just practical tips for specifics technologies or software.  Our SPJ President-Elect Hagit Limor made the trek from Cincinnati to not only give a keynote address on Friday night, but share her insights on one of those industry panels.

It’s a combination of good, timely industry panels AND professional training with hands-on instruction that made the UCF-sponsored event a success.

If I count a brief appearance at an SPJ Regional more than 10 years ago in Birmingham, this was my sixth SPJ Regional.   It ranks among the best, most memorable for me.

SPJ Regional Directors, who are charged with organizing these events around the country, need to look at what Brunson and Sidersky did here in Orlando.   From the corporate sponsorships to the return of T-shirts to an SPJ Conference (We used to have those at national convention) to the plethora of cookies/snack breaks and networking opportunities built into the schedule,  this is definitely the WAY TO DO IT!

It’s the BEST Web Video Workshop Ever

ORLANDO–  If you want to know how to do video and don’t have a television production background, you should have been at the SPJ Southeastern Regional Conference this weekend here at University of Central Florida.

I just emerged from Matt Sokoloff’s “Videography for Reporters” workshop and it’s quite clear that Tribune has the right man leading its online products division.

I’ve been to numerous sessions at conferences on video and have been in the sometimes uncomfortable position of teaching such a workshop.   As a TV person, it’s hard to know what to tell someone who has LITTLE experience with a video camera.

Sokoloff hit the nail on the head with his great suggestions.  I’m ready to implement many of his suggestions with my next Web video.

SPJ Panel Convinces Me to Blog, Seriously

ORLANDO–  I guess I am officially deciding to keep this blog up with posts DAILY.   That’s what I’m learning from the “experts” at the 2010 Society of Professional Journalists Southeastern Regional Conference here in Central Florida.

On a panel entitled “Young Journalists: Innovating, Reinventing, Thriving,”  an online producer at the Palm Beach Post.com responded to an audience question about whether students should keep blogs, a common suggestion from newspaper editors.

Melissa Patterson, a graduate of University of Central Florida and now multimedia journalist, had some not-so-kind things to say about students who start a blog and rarely update it, or post with lots of misspelled words.

Her point– if you’re going to be out here on the Web, let the work that’s found be REALLY GOOD.

I agree.

While I started blogging five years ago at a media-related conference similar to this one, I have used this medium primarily for updates from events I’ve attended.   I’ll go for months without posting.

My last post on the original blog was in December of last year, after an extensive period of very infrequent posting.  Ironically, that was post was ALSO here in Florida, though a few miles up to the road in Jacksonville on what turned out to be an awesome weekend as the Alabama Crimson Tide topped the mighty Florida Gators in the 2009 SEC Championship.  That was the day we saw Tim Tebow’s tears.

Over the last five years, I have developed an archive of reflections and rants that however infrequent are still useful for contextualizing my thoughts even now.  But, it is time for me to STEP IT UP.

Posting daily?   Several times a day?   That’s what I would need to build up an audience.

Is that realistic for an academic researcher who is primarily focused on generating publishable scholarship for academic journals?

How much time does this take away from developing a book proposal?

I don’t have the answers to these questions.

I do know that I am finding social media and blogging are crucial components of workshops or seminars I now conduct.

One thing’s for sure– If  I do this every day (more often than I workout or exercise), I will continue to get more comfortable working in the blogging interface.

Like everything else, we can try this for 7 days and see what happens.

We’ll call it INTENSIVE BLOGGING 101.