Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sacramento Bee Editor Melanie Sill offers career advice

SACRAMENTO, California, USA - The executive editor of The Sacramento Bee newspaper told the CSU, Sacramento column-writing class that there is more journalism going on in the world than ever, but finding ways to make it profitable - or even pay for itself - is the challenge.

Melanie Sill, who came to the newspaper in 2007,  told the students that the newspaper industry is stable right now, after rounds of cost-cutting, but still trying to figure out how they fit into the new media landscape.

Sill took over as editor from Rick Rodriguez, who left abruptly in a disagreement with then-Bee publisher Janis Heafy over the direction of the newspaper.

Sill's background includes 25 years with the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer, where she was editor just prior to taking the position in Sacramento.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Column writers begin presentations on professional columnists

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Four column-writing class volunteers stepped up Monday in the column writing class to do profile presentations on magazine and newspaper columnists.

Steve Lopez, George Skeleton, Maureen Dowd and Lisa Kogan were profiled, with more columnist profiles set for next Monday - and a several Mondays beyond that.

In addition to an oral presentation, each column-writing student also is writing a column about their choice, with the links posted on this page.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Column writers strike out to do restaurant and food reviews

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The intrepid columnists of the column-writing class at CSU, Sacramento are heading out this week - and weekend - to review area restaurants and their fare, with a column due next Tuesday morning (by 8 a.m.) about their experiences.

The students are heading out in groups of three or more, and are in the process of picking restaurants - and times and dates - to do the research (eating!) for the reviews.

The assignment is similar to one given annually to the class, in which a group goes out to a restaurant, usually with each group member choosing something different off the menu.

Last year, I went with a group to Hoppy's Brewery where the beer was fabulous. The food? Well, the group wasn't all that hoppy (or happy) with it - or the bill.

Fine dining magazine

Budget dining

The choice of restaurants is completely up to the students, with transportation, budget and timing being major obstacles for many of the students, who juggle school, work, families and a modest amount of recreation.

In a few cases, some students are likely to pick on-campus eateries for reviews.

The Sac State campus does have a wide assortment of restaurants, including the University Center, a dining room in the University Union that serves lunches and is frequented by some faculty and many administrators, including campus president Alexander Gonzalez.

President Gonzalez
Alexander Gonzalez

Monday, October 19, 2009

Video on 'education and creativity' is, well, creative and educational

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - On a rainy Monday, rather than have my students listen to me drone on in my prepared lecture (Drone on? Never!), I opted instead to show the video below from a TED conference: Technology, Entertainment and Design.

The speaker talks about education and creativity and sparked good discussions in several classes.

Educational and creative discussions, of course.

Here's the video.

Dan Weintraub leaves The Sacramento Bee - going 'independent'

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Weintraub published his farewell column in Sunday's newspaper, ending a nine-year run as a writer and most recently as the interim editor of the editorial pages since the departure of editorial pages editor David Holwerk.

In his farewell remarks, he mentions columns upcoming with the New York Times and plans for a website where his work will be featured.

  • LINK: Weintraub says adios to The Bee

  • Dan will be missed by many of his faithful readers. He was known for doing a tremendous amount of reporting before ever touching the keyboard to write his column. And most of his columns were well thought out and analytical. High-pitched emotions were not a part of his regular repertoire. If anything, his critics complained that they wanted him to inject more opinion and/or outrage into his writing.

    Dan Weintraub
    Dan Weintraub

    I met Dan Weintraub on the day he came to work for The Sacramento Bee. He took over the office of the late Bee writer John Jacobs, his job to write about politics and policy matters. At the time, I was working as fill-in editor for Bill Moore, then editor of the Bee's Forum section.

    Over the years, when I was filling in at various times for Bill Moore or Jewel Reilly (editor of the op-ed pages), Dan and I talked a lot. On occasion, I edited Dan's column before it went to press.

    We didn't always agree on political matters. And our discussions about the politics of universities and university education - and university professors - were a lot of fun. Probably more for me than Dan.

    Dan's role at the newspaper changed in the last year or so, as the Bee management struggled with the financial free fall that has affected most media companies. His columns became rare as he took over other duties and the number of staff members in the editorial section of the newspaper kept shrinking.

    And for a brief time, he found himself at the helm of the newspaper's editorial section, a duty he just relinquished in the last few weeks, when Stuart Leavenworth was promoted to the editor's position.

    Dan Weintraub's departure adds his name to a long list of talented writers and editors who have left The Bee in the last few years, some voluntarily, some taking a buyout, some laid off (or pushed not-too-gently out the door): Bill Moore, John Hughes, Dorothy Korber, Mike Dunne, Lisa Heyamoto and Rachel Leibrock, to name just a few.

    It will be interesting to see if The Bee opts to replace Dan, or absorb his position (and salary) into the bottom line of the corporation.

    Either way, it will more interesting to follow the next adventures of Dan Weintraub as he becomes an 'independent journalist.'

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Sacramento Bee columnist offers writing tip to CSUS students

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton told a class full of aspiring columnists Wednesday that they need to do plenty of reporting before they write their columns - and not just offer up opinions.

    Breton, who writes about city issues and occasionally sports, told the students that he came to The Sacramento Bee 20 years ago, and was planning to stick around for just two. He wrote sports and a sports column before moving over full time to the news department of the paper.

    He said the Sacramento market is somewhat unusual in that his news column gets better readership than sports columns, a situation that is reversed in most major media markets.

    Marcos Breton
    Marcos Breton

    Breton said he believes that if he hasn't made readers think with his column - or cry or laugh or get mad - he hasn't done his job very well.

    And he encouraged the students to write about the things that people are not talking about, but of which they are certainly aware.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    CSUS Rally draws a small - but enthusiastic - crowd

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A crowd of approximately 150 students, faculty and staff came into the Library Quad Monday afternoon at CSU, Sacramento for a hastily called rally over budget cuts to the CSU and a bill that would tax oil companies - with the tax proceeds going to higher education.

    The rally was sponsored by the California Faculty Association and Associated Students, Inc. to also talk about AB 656, a measure by state Assemblyman Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) that would tax oil companies on the oil that they extract out of the state's oilfields.

    And the lion's share of that funding would go to the CSU.

    ASI president with Alberto Torrico
    Alberto Torrico (right) with ASI President Roberto Torres

    A firebrand speech by ASI President Torres led off the event. Torres exhorted students to get involved and support the bill.

    Later, Assemblyman Torrico told the rally that oil companies have been posting incredible profits year after year and that California is the only state in the union that doesn't have a tax on oil as it is pulled from the ground.

    "The governor is going around the state selling off state property but giving away the oil," Torrico said. "Even Sarah Palin has a tax in Alaska."

    Professor Joe Palermo talks to crowd
    CSU, Sacramento Professor Joseph Palermo

    Also speaking was CSU, Sacramento Professor Joe Palermo who told the students that they are not being served well by the trustees of the CSU - or by the university system's chancellor, Charles Reed.

    Reed and the trustees have said they are not supporting AB 656. But Palermo pointed out they haven't suggested how to solve the university's budget woes.

    "AB 656 is the only game in town," he said. "What is Reed doing for his salary?"
  • San Francisco Chronicle story on AB 656

  • Audience at Sacramento State rally
    Audience at Monday's rally

    CSUS officials confer with person handing out information
    CSUS officials confer with student handing out literature

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Column writers to profile, um, column writers

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The writers in the column writing class at CSU, Sacramento are choosing columnists about whom they will be writing profile columns in the coming weeks.

    Each student will pick a columnist, write a column-profile about the writer and their work, and then make a 5-10 minute class presentation on the writer.

    This year, the students will be also be seeing if the columnists will consider doing a telephone conference - or even a skype phone call - during the class period.

    Some of columnists under consideration are Stephen King (yes that Stephen King, photo at the left) as well as some other usual suspects: Maureen Dowd (far left), Paul Krugman and Thom Friedman.

    Wednesday, October 07, 2009

    Newswriters, columnists to cover AB 656 rally Monday at CSUS

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Newswriting students and columnists will be covering - and writing about - a rally on the CSU, Sacramento campus Monday, a rally that will feature Assemblyman Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) who will be speaking about AB 656, a measure to fund higher education.

    Assemblyman Torrico (Photo by Sacramento Bee)

    The 3 p.m. rally in the Sac State Library Quad is part of a week of activities sponsored by the California Faculty Association to draw attention to the ongoing plight of all 23 campuses in the CSU because of draconian state budget cuts.

    AB 656 proposes to tax oil companies, based on oil they extract from the ground in the state (and off the coast).

    California currently does not have a well-head tax as proposed.

    Text of the amended bill:
  • AB656
  • Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    Column writers to consider University of Phoenix takeover of CSU

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Should the state of California sell off the CSU (and maybe the UC) to the University of Phoenix for a few billion dollars?

    That question, along with a few hundred related ones about the idea, will be considered in the next set of columns written by the column-writing class at CSU, Sacramento as its assignment for next Tuesday.

    The assignment springs from an op-ed article published in the Sunday Sacramento Bee newspaper by an education expert, Prof. William Tierney associated with the privately owned, University of Southern California.

  • STORY: Should CSU be sold off

  • panel_tierney
    Professor William Tierney

    How absurd is the idea? Is the op-ed for real, or just satirical?

    Well, with the finances of the state still in a downward spiral and funding for higher education dropping as fast as David Letterman's ratings, it would seem almost any wacky proposal is likely to see some sunshine. In this case, Tierney would seem to be a real-deal expert, though it's likely reporters are already combing through his life to check out any possible connections he has to the University of Phoenix.

  • Tierney's USC web page

  • If they discover that he's somehow connected to the University of Phoenix payroll, Tierney will likely become the headline of the week.

    In the meantime, the columnistas of the class will be pondering - and then eventually publishing - their opinions about the suggested CSU takeover by the private, for-profit university.

    Perhaps they will think it's a great idea.

    Monday, October 05, 2009

    Marcos Breton scheduled for column writing class in October

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton will bring in tales of his brand city-side writing, Wednesday, Oct. 14 when he meets with the column writing class at CSU, Sacramento.

    A veteran reporter, sports writer and now columnist, Breton write about city politics and issues, occasionally touching on CSUS matters.

    His most recent column looked at District Attorney Jan Scully's struggles.

    Friday, October 02, 2009

    CSUS alumnus - and Associated Press writer - to speak at CSUS

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Associated Press writer - and Sac State graduate - Chelsea Carter will be speaking on campus Tuesday, Nov. 10.

    Carter is currently on assignment for the AP in Baghdad and is expected to talk about her wartime adventures as well as her other work as a writer for the news agency.

    She graduated from CSUS in the mid-1990s and was a State Hornet staff member. After graduation, she went to work as a reporter for the Lodi News-Sentinel and eventually the AP, with postings in West Virgina, Georgia, New York, California and overseas.

    Carter was one of the reporters on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 when former President George W. Bush announced Mission Accomplished in the Iraq War.

    Mission accomplished
    Former Pres. George W. Bush

    Carter will speak from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Hinde Auditorium of the CSUS student union. She is expected to make some opening remarks but will reserve much of her time for questions and answers.

    Last fall, Carter visited the university, speaking to about 75 Journalism students.

    Admiral Fox and Chelsea Carter
    CSUS Professor Sylvia Fox with Carter last fall

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    Column writers to take up social issues

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The 26 columnists in the column-writing class at CSU, Sacramento have opted to write about a social issue - something that really lights their rocket - instead of their various specialities for their next columns.

    The specialities include sports, music, computers, travel and, and, and...

    The group could not decide on a single issue to write on - though health care, the war in Afghanistan, a movement to ban divorce, and the legalization of marijuana all came up for discussion.

    Instead, each writer will latch onto their own issue and write their columns by Tuesday morning.

    One briefly discussed was the impact of fringe groups on discussions in mainstream media, including the people who believe that President Obama is the anti-christ.

    Here's a link to a short video from MSNBC on that topic...

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Magazine writers launching those 'How-to' stories

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The how-two stories being tackled by the writers in the Magazine Writing class at CSU, Sacramento are not pedestrian - though one does deal with shoes.

    The shoe story is actually about ballet shoes - point shoes they are called - the shoes that make all that standing on tippy-toes possible for ballet dancers, it turns out. And when the shoes are purchased, they have to be broken in just so, or else they will be a super pain for the dancer.

    Who woulda thunk it?

    So is there a market for such a piece? Probably, the class agreed tonight. We'll see. But even if not, now we will know how to break in point shoes. You never know when such things come in handy.

    Other stories in process include a piece on how to be prepared to take care of horses during a natural disaster (like a fire or flood). Another is on airline security and all the ways to avoid being the person everyone hates because you forgot your pocket knife, in, well, your pocket.

    There were too many good stories to recount them all here.

    But in addition to writing the stories (due Oct. 5 by class time via email and in hard copy), the writers will be writing query letters to magazines to try to sell their articles.

    Buena suerte, amigos.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Column writers get to take a look at 'real life' issues

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The columnists in my column-writing class have been assigned to write a slice-of-life column, something based on an experience they have had since school started, or possibly something that happened to someone close to them.

    For me, (if I were to do this assignment myself) I could write about:
    How I wriggled out of jury duty
    The visit of my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter from Mexico
    Living in the bad air of Sacramento, again
    Besting the DMV at its own game
    or possibly the university furlough dilemma

    Given the wide range of life experiences the class is likely to have had in the past few weeks, these columns should be a real hoot to read.

    At least I hope so.

    The column deadline is the same, Tuesday at 8 a.m. to post and send an email to the class, letting classmates know a new column is up and ready to be read (and critiqued).

    Life experience t shirt
    Life is a learning experience T-shirt

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Latest columns are up - some winners among the pack

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - All of the columns that made deadline (and a few that seem to have trickled in a little late) have had a cursory review and will be the subject of the Column Writing class tomorrow at CSU, Sacramento.

    It appears that the column writers are much happier writing about their pet topics than the rally that was assigned the week prior.

    No surprise there.

    Columns that I would recommend especially out of this batch include:
  • Another Point of View

  • The Glover Posting

  • The Facts of Life

  • But check them all out...

    Very different topics and perspectives, but each good first shots at writing a specialized column.

    Resting up for next Tuesday's deadline

    Magazine writers start writing 'how-to' articles

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The cadre of magazine writers in Journalism 132 have been launched to start writing their first drafts of their first stories - 600-word opuses on various topics of 'how-to' do things.

    The topics range from building computers (explain that in 600 words!) to how to be a dynamic waitress to running a background criminal check - on yourself.

    They should make for some very interesting reading.

    As in the case of the columns written by the Column Writing class, the blogs created by J132 will be posted on this page. In the case of these magazine writers, the blogs might not be quite as polished as they are drafts and in fact, the writers would like outside comments.

    In the meantime, I was excused from jury duty Monday after a long day at the courthouse. I'll detail out that adventure in a different blog, perhaps later today.

    Right now I need to begin reading the latest specialty columns (with links to which are on the side of this page), turned in by the Column Writing class.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Snagged by jury duty, several classes are off the hook

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The recorded message at the Sacramento County Courthouse was quite clear: If you are in juror group 210, report to the jury commissioner's office at 8 a.m. Monday Sept. 14. Do not pass Go, Do no collect $200.

    Ok, I added the Do not pass Go part, but the rest is true.

    So, three of my four Monday classes, Two sections of basic newswriting and my Column Writing class, are off the hook for class attendance.

    The column writers, however, do have an assignment due Tuesday at 8 a.m. They are going to be posting a column about their particular areas of specialty.

    Unless I am actually empaneled on a jury, I should be able to read them in the courthouse via my ITouch and make comments from there.

    Justice will be served.

    Jury Duty poster
    Pauly Shore in Jury Duty

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Magazine writing class to ponder 'How-To' stories

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The magazine writing class at CSU, Sacramento will be discussing its first writing assignment Monday night - writing a 'how-to' story.

    How to stories can encompass anything: How to write a 'how-to' story, How to walk a dog, How to bake a cake, How to get an A in a writing class, How to lose 20 pounds in 20 minutes, How to find a 1964 GTO, and so on... The how-to ideas are only limited by the imaginations of the writers.

    The markets for such stories are vast and one of several types of magazine stories in great demand.

    My idea for a how-to story for myself is: How to teach a magazine writing class while being required to take 8 furlough days.

    An alternative is: How to convince a judge you are unfit for jury duty.

    I might have to report Monday morning at the Sacramento County Courthouse.


    Jury box
    Jury box

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    First columns published by Column Writing Class

    SACRAMENTO, California, USA - The first set of columns from the 2009 CSU, Sacramento column writing class have been published and as expected some are excellent, some need, well, a little work.

    Slightly more than half the class made the first deadline, a combination of the deadline being on a holiday weekend, problems figuring out how to post to the web, and a probably a lot of writer's bloc. They will get over that quickly.


    The columns are posted to the lower right hand side of this page and all are open for comments.

    Wednesday, September 02, 2009

    Good turnout for CSU, Sacramento rally - despite the heat

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A crowd of about 200 faculty, students at staff took part in a noontime rally at CSU, Sacramento today, the first of many such activities as the three groups get together to fight the fee increases visited on students and the furloughs (pay cuts) forced on employees.

    Some of the student speakers were choked up as they tried to explain how much the fee increases (32 percent total for this year alone) were hurting their ability to even go to college. Several faculty gave fairly rousing speeches, despite a sound system that was below inadequate - a bullhorn with a microphone attached.

    Student speaker at rally
    Student speaker at today's rally

    The sound system - such as it was - was still considered illegal by campus police. The police had banned the use of any amplification and told the leaders of the CFA to simply raise their voices when they spoke. The bullhorns were used anyway, a protest themselves of the campus administration's attempt at keeping the rally from growing very large.

    Had the flames been fanned sufficiently (and loud enough for people to hear), it's possible the group might have marched on the offices of CSU, Sacramento President Alexander Gonzalez.

    That would have made for some good theatre, and perhaps grabbed more media attention.

    Regardless, the 25 students enrolled in my Column Writing class attended and this week will be writing columns - their first attempts.

    Loud speaker
    A 'loud' speaker

    Let us teach sign
    Sign in the crowd

    Column writing students to cover noon rally at CSU

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Students from the column writing class at CSU Sacramento are going to get to work with live ammunition right away.

    Today, they will attend a rally on the CSU, Sacramento campus to protest the student fee hikes and the faculty furloughs (which are resulting in about a 10 percent pay cut for faculty).

    They will also have a little extra to write about: The university, very quietly, is telling all faculty to fill up the rooms in which they teach, even if the classes have an agreed-upon limit. So students will be packed in tighter than sardines (and perhaps without chairs to sit upon) and their professors (getting paid less) will have more people to teach, papers to grade, and tests to review.

    Oh boy!

    Once the students write their columns, the columns will be linked to this page.