Column: Line Drives — Four years hold special memories

[This is my column in the June 30 issue of The Commercial Review.]

Four years.

Saturday marks four years as sports editor of The Commercial Review.

I didn’t expect to be here this long.

No, that’s not to say I don’t want to still be here — I do — nor am I on my way out the door.

If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to stay for a while longer.

I just never thought I’d hit four years.

I thought I’d put in a year or two and move on. It’s the epitome of small-town, community journalism — get a foot in the door, gain experience, go elsewhere.

But I don’t want to.

And I’m glad I haven’t.

It’d be hard for me to imagine not being around to see the culmination of the high school athletic careers of four local athletes.

Four years ago I came to Portland not knowing what I was getting myself into.

Four years later, the class of 2017 is the first group of student-athletes I’ve gotten to cover all the way through high school.

There are four in particular whose careers have stuck out the most.

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My first-place photos

It’s quite the challenge coming up with the right words.

Honored. Excited. Relieved.

Those are just a few.

But the most important feeling — humbled.

At the Hoosier State Press Association Newsroom Seminar and Better Newspaper Contest awards luncheon today in Indianapolis, I had four photographs receive awards; three earned first place and one was second place. One of my first-place photos was selected as the Division 3 (Dailies with circulation less than 6,000) representative for photo of the year. While I did not receive that honor, it is still pretty darn cool to come away with three first-place awards and even be considered a finalist.

After winning best feature story last year, I was shut out this year as a writer. Honestly, though, that doesn’t matter.

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Column: Line Drives — Seminar was a chance to learn

[This is my column in the Dec. 11 issue of The Commercial Review.]

There is always room for improvement.

Whether it is on the court, on the balance beam, in the water or on the field, athletes of all shapes and sizes can get better.

Professionals, even, strive for greatness and perfection.

Sports writers and photographers are no different.

Which is why at the Hoosier State Press Association Newsroom Seminar and Better Newspaper Contest Saturday in Indianapolis, learning from the best in the state was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up — even if it was on only four hours of sleep and nearly enough caffeine to stop someone’s heart.

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Dubai 2012: Journalism

(This is the eighth post in a series detailing my work trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.)


It’s pretty crazy to see how journalism differs throughout the world.

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Page design: How important is it?

I greatly apologize for the infrequency of my posts, and (as I always say) I’m going to try and be more consistent with my blogs. I’m going to shoot for one post a week, so stay with me!

The inspiration behind this post was a conversation on Facebook unintentionally started the other day by Brian Manzullo, recent Central Michigan University graduate and former editor-in-chief of Central Michigan Life. He stated,

“I know newsrooms are shifting toward the web (at least some), but it’s sad how badly newspaper design has fallen by the wayside. It really can make or break whether someone picks up your product.”

This much is true, newspaper design sure has become a lost art, however I feel when it comes down to it, the design of a paper alone will not be the deciding factor as to whether or not someone picks up an issue. Therefore, I replied to his comment with,

“Thing is though, I’ve always took pride in making a page (or pages) look good with their design, but when it all comes down to the quality and substance of news, I feel it trumps design any day.”

Over the short period of time I have known Manzullo — and by reading his blog I have noticed him as a journalism student seriously concerned about the future of the field. But in all reality, every aspiring journalist needs to be worried about the future of their career. I know I sure have.

Although I have no recent page design experience except for a final project I had to do in my editing class a few years ago, the only design experience I had was my senior year in high school as sports editor for my school newspaper in Saginaw, Mich.

While at Heritage High School’s Heritage Voice, I had to design the layout for my section and I took great pride in how those pages looked. I quickly understood the time and effort I spent to make those pages look great in my eyes, may not have looked the same to the reader. At the same time I realized no matter how the pages I designed looked, they were still going to get read. The stories are the meat and potatoes of the newspaper; not the way it looks. To me, content is more important than design any day.

On that note, from my junior year as a staff writer to my senior year as an editor, the newspaper did incorporate a new nameplate and transitioned to larger issue. The new product was far superior to the old. The nameplate before and after the change are below.

The "old" nameplate

The "new" nameplate

As you can see, the revamped nameplate sure is more visually appealing to the eye than the last, but albeit a high school newspaper where we were more concerned with content rather than the way it looked, there is a good chance the design was not a reason people picked up the paper.

A friend of Brian’s was inspired by comments he and I made, so he wrote this Although I agree with the beginning of his piece, it was the latter end of it with which I had a few qualms because I think he may have misinterpreted what I was trying to convey. It is completely understandable Mr. Marcetti may have misinterpreted my comment, given it was brief without further explanation, but let me expand on my thought.

I personally do not feel newspaper design alone can bring in new readers, but it is an important part of the equation. As I stated before, content rules all. If a flawless looking newspaper is littered with questionable journalism and poor editing, readers will be turned off. On the other hand, if a newspaper looks bland but the editing is done well and includes exceptional journalism practices, readers will stick around. To most, I would say, design plays a minor role in a reader’s decision to pick up reading material. Magazines are a prime example of this, however since they are clearly more niche than newspapers they are able to get away with inferior design.

Page designers, much like offensive linemen on a football team, are grossly under appreciated. They do what they are paid to do with little or no recognition from anyone else but their peers. Page designers go unnoticed and most don’t even know who they are. Linemen protect a team’s multi-million dollar investment at quarterback, are not compensated accordingly and are typically not recognized off the field. Frankly, at the end of the day, no one outside of the newsroom (or outside of a football organization) is concerned with the page design or who the left tackle is for (insert team name here).

As Manzullo and Marcetti have both said, it is a shame the quality of newspaper page design has declined recent years and it is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. But, it’s not as important as some say.

Web design, however, is an entirely different beast…

Prerequisites keep students from taking new courses

(published in CM Life‘s Aug. 26, 2009 edition)

Not only are the changes the journalism field goes through on a seemingly daily basis affecting those currently working in the field, they are also affecting those who are in school to be journalists.

Myself included.

When I decided to become a journalist, I envisioned myself working for a newspaper somewhere. Whether that newspaper be located in Michigan or not is the point.

However, my vision is getting darker with every passing day.

On the verge of graduating, there’s no saying where I will end up working or what medium I will be working for. To add to this confusion, there is no guarantee if I will even be prepared for the way the field is changing once I do graduate.

This makes registering for classes even that much more difficult.

I have to decide which classes to take in order to ensure I know the ropes once that degree with my name on it is physically tangible.

However, I am at risk of having too many journalism credits.

Too many journalism credits? How can I be punished for attempting to learn anything and everything I can about my chosen field?
Shoot me in the face for wanting to become a convergent journalist; that is being able to take photos, capture video and make Soundslides presentations, in addition to reporting and writing. As a convergent journalist, I will be more of an asset to a potential employer.

My first step is to take JRN 340, Intro to Online Journalism, but registration issues are delaying that process. JRN 102, Intro to Journalism, is a prerequisite for JRN 340, but since I was a transfer student, I have JRN 101 credit and not JRN 102. I signed up to take JRN 102, but was told I should not take it if I have JRN 101 credit.

So how am I supposed to become a convergent journalist when I am not even able to take the required courses?

After a few stressful days of wondering how I can get into JRN 340 and talking with numerous people to help me solve this problem, everything will be okay in the immediate future.

But only three days into the semester I will already be a week behind.

Frustrating on every level.

Central Michigan University: 'Accreditation not necessary'

The economy is horrendous. (As if you did not know this already.)

Tens of thousands of jobs are being cut seemingly every month. (I’m sure you knew that too.)

Over the last five years or so, the media has forgone some huge changes. (That, you may not have known.) It seems, however, the last twelve months have experienced the most change.

The Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy in December (read my reaction here, Job Security…) and in the last few weeks, the journalism department at Central Michigan University has decided to drop its accreditation.

Journalism schools throughout the country receive accreditation for a period of six years, and in order to keep their accreditation the program must be dissected by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, the national accrediting body for journalism schools.

In 1996, the journalism department at CMU received its first accreditation, becoming the second school in Michigan to hold such title; Michigan State University was the other.

The department had its accreditation renewed in 2002.

For three days in November, members of the ACEJMC visited CMU’s campus to re-evaluate the journalism department. These members sat in during classes, and held meetings with students to get their views on the department. I attended one of those meetings, so the ACEJMC member could get an idea of how other students and myself thought about the faculty and the program. After all, the student view is important, right?

We thought so.

A week or so later, the ACEJMC gave the department a “provisionary” accreditation because it had not met two standards on ACEJMC’s evaluation. Those two standards were diversity and assessment.

Then, a few weeks ago, the journalism department decides to not accept their provisional accreditation. Did they consult the students in making such an important decision? Negative.

Quite the marketing strategy, I know.

Three and a half years ago when I switched majors to journalism, there were three schools I was looking at.

My first choice, and the most unrealistic of the three, was Florida Atlantic University, mainly because I wanted to get out of Michigan. The reason I am not in j-school in Florida? Out of state tuition is $600+ a credit hour.

My other two choices were Michigan State and Central Michigan. Why those two? They both had accredited journalism schools. Why did I end up at Central? Because East Lansing is too big of a city for me and I didn’t want to write the essay. I am a journalism student at Central Michigan University because when I applied, they had an accredited program – and now they’re getting rid of it.

What does this mean? We don’t really know yet. I feel this means the department doesn’t care for their students anymore. What am I supposed to say after I graduate? “Hi, my name is Chris Schanz, and I graduated from a program that was accredited when I started, but dropped it during my senior year” ?? What else am I supposed to say?

Department Chairwoman Maria Marron said the idea to drop the accreditation status was best for students as the department would be “better off not having to form to accreditation standards.” From the prospective of the faculty, it may seem that it is in the best interest for the students. But why wouldn’t they talk to the students directly to let us know their plan and allow us to voice our opinions?

No one really knows.

With the great shape newspapers and media outlets are in around the country (that was a joke), the jobs that are being cut, editors being consolidated and media corporations outright going bankrupt, I am once again wondering if I have chosen the right career…

I graduated high school five and a half years ago. Journalism is my third major and career choice since then. It is too late and not financially feasible for me to switch yet again.

Looks like I’m not going to make a ton of money, if I even HAVE a job. Might as well take my chances at winning the lottery…