Be One of the Links: Joining organizations provides so many benefits


I remember stepping into the journalism classroom that fall of 2003, trying to live up to the legacy of the award-winning program I was honored to inherit from one of the historically stellar journalism teachers in the country. Even with my journalism degree and five years of experience, I constantly thought, “Who am I to teach this? How will I inspire these kids to become better photographers, writers and designers?” To add to it all, a decade ago my principal approached me about adding broadcast to the mix, even though I had limited experience in that field.

This story happens over and over again with instructors in the journalism classroom.

But there are advisers out there to offer you a life preserver: membership in journalism organizations. From metro area to regional to state to national organizations – each group has something to offer you and your students.

That fall, I joined all the organizations expected of the programs based on the last teacher – it’s one of the smartest things I did that first year. To this day, I still join all of those original organizations and then some. My journalism program currently joins six organizations annually and spends nearly $1,300 doing so. It is worth EVERY penny.


All too often, I hear journalism teachers bemoan, “No one teaches this subject,” or “I don’t have someone in my building to collaborate with or share lessons with.”

Organizations are the answer. Each one has varying numbers of members with a variety of years of teaching experience and journalism training. There’s a multitude of people to meet, share ideas with and commiserate with when things aren’t working out the way we thought they would.As students, you can attend events or contact other student staff members to share ideas of how your publication works, ask for assistance with a challenge you may face, and more. So many organizations offer opportunities to do this through media swap shops, events, camps, etc.


Several organizations offer listservs where you can ask a question and get nearly instant responses from fellow members. Do you need a quick photography lesson while you are out for a day and have a substitute – just ask and watch your inbox fill up.

Other groups offer regular newsletters – some keep you up-to-date with upcoming events, others offer lists of websites or apps that would be cool to check out, or send entire lessons or articles that you can file for when you need them.


It’s often more productive to collaborate and learn in person – so get out there and travel. It may just be in your community, in your state, or across the country for a national convention – each and every time you attend an event, you’ll learn something. As both students and teachers, you can attend class sessions on topics of interest, practice hands on, meet professional journalists, and dig deeper into areas you’d like to explore.

It’s not always about the journalism either – through traveling to the JEA/NSPA national conventions, my students have flown for the first time, learned to flag a taxi street side, learned American history in the nation’s capital, tried belly dancing in a Mediterranean restaurant in Denver, and so much more. These experiences built them as people, as well as media producers.


Top students, professional journalists and more are often speakers at events sponsored by the organizations. You can learn so much by attending keynotes or sessions.

Other organizations offer their members speakers’ bureaus. Some partner with a university which can provide speakers to your classroom for topics that may be a weakness for your staff. I recently contacted the Missouri School of Journalism through our state organization, MIPA, because I found my documentary unit to be weak – this winter I’m looking forward to having an MU professor in my classroom.


Award ceremonies aren’t just to recognize the top winners or ratings in the area, state or nation. While it means so much to be recognized for your work or see your students’ work be rewarded, there’s more to do as you sit in that space. There’s learning to be done. My students can often be seen snapping a photo of an award-winning piece during a celebration – those pieces often inspire them to improve or try something new in their own work.


Summer camp without canoes and cabins? You bet. Across the country, you’ll find a wide variety of summer journalism camps – print-specific, new media, broadcast, or a blend. Some for students, some for publications staffs, some for teachers, or a blend. Sponsored by vendors like yearbook companies, run by university programs or organized by independent owners. There’s great ones and good ones.

What they all have in common is time to concentrate on journalism without the thoughts of that algebra test next period or heading to work after class. It’s 24/7 journalism for whatever length of time the camp runs – that’s HUGE! It’s so exciting to see how much you or your students learn and/or produce in such a short time. Some of the best ideas come to you at 2 a.m. with cold pizza while trying to hammer out a theme or a redesign. Camps are the place to make that happen.


Online submission. On-site. Write-offs. Monthly. Timed challenges.

There’re so many kinds of competitions organizations offer for students to challenge themselves and see how they stack up against their peers, have their skills evaluated, learn and have their work recognized.

As you start to compete, keep in mind each organization has its own set of criteria, ratings or ranking designations, deadlines and expectations. Be sure to read instructions, explanations and follow directions carefully when entering and waiting on the results.

Over the years, I’ve found that students learn a lot from the feedback – win or lose, there’s something to learn from the experience.


Critiques can be super valuable for students. Many organizations offer critiques with some of their contests. These can be quick comments on a single contest entry, to rubrics, to multi-page booklets reviewing a year’s worth of work. Each and every one can be a learning experience, in addition to the opportunity for recognition. After I read them, I share with the student editors. They break it down and share with the staff, as well as set goals for improvement for individuals or the publication itself. We set a few goals that will push the publication to a quick visible improvement. Then we build on that feeling of success to fine tune and meet other secondary goals. Every day, you can use critiques to build and build a more successful publication for your readers or viewers.


Money, money, money. These days, students cannot earn enough scholarship monies.

Organizations offer scholarships for juniors to attend summer workshops and to seniors to recognize their top work or their portfolios. Some are singleton scholarships and others graduate from state winners to national winners. All are valuable. So please, please take the time to apply regardless of the size of the prize – every dime counts.


If you are the first-year teacher or the experienced teacher, there’s a place for you in mentor programs. You could be a mentee or a mentor. When you sign-up as a mentee, you’ll be paired up with an experienced journalism teacher who can help you in a myriad of ways. After you have some time under your belt, you could volunteer as a mentor – it doesn’t matter the size of your program, the number of years you’ve taught or whether your list of student or personal accomplishments is long or short, you have something to offer as a mentor – sign up!


This is where the bread and butter truly is – curriculum, lessons, tips, articles, websites and more. Organizations offer so much – most of their resources are on the web. Some sites have them set out for free for you, others put them behind a membership wall where you’d sign in to gain access. Either way, check them out!

Opportunities to Serve

As a teacher, I think the most learning I have done or strongest networks I have with colleagues have been built over time serving on the metro and state organizations I’ve served over the years from being accepted as a judge for other states, acting as treasurer to serving on a national board of judges. I haven’t always felt qualified to be in some of the positions I filled, but I stepped up because my curiosity often gets the better of me (like many journalists ;)), so I volunteered and others accepted the offer to help. As you serve your organization, you see the inner gears, which opens understanding and gives opportunity for affecting change or maintaining well-loved programs. I would highly recommend you serve when given the chance to be a mentor, judge or critique, or be elected to an office. As a professional educator, it opens so much for you and your career.

Here’s a few organizations you shouldn’t miss out on:

Don’t let the challenges of joining keep you from these benefits.

Yes, there’s some cost involved, but the benefits far outweigh the efforts you may need to do to make it happen. Talk to your principal, look for budget money in your building, ask the booster club for funds, fund raise – there’s so many venues to find a way to afford these necessary benefits for your program.

Jump out there – join something!