The Beat Goes On At OC

Andrew Binion writes:

A story in the Seattle P-I earlier this week sounded the cry over the shuttering of community college newspapers, and the doom that spells for a democratic society.

But one such student-run paper that enjoys high student interest, support from administrators and dedication from staffers is The Olympian, the twice-a-month paper with a circulation of 2,000 that is of, by and for students of Olympic College. The paper also has an online edition. Editors and advisers from The Olympian, an hour-long ferry ride from downtown Seattle, were not mentioned in the story.

“Fortunately, here we are doing well,” said Michael Prince, journalism instructor and adviser to the Olympian. Prince arrived at the school in 2006. Prior to that the school did not have a full-time journalism guru.

“They (administrators) very easily could have let it go away, but they committed to it,” he said.

The Olympian currently has five paid staff members, and may add one or two more in the coming weeks. Additionally the paper has about a dozen contributors.

The thinking goes, if community college students aren’t pounding the beats during their first two years of post-secondary education, they won’t be in shape to work for their university daily – such as the Daily Evergreen at WSU or The Daily at UW. And each step they take toward professional journalism they will shamble behind those who started cutting their teeth as a college freshman.

And if journalists aren’t properly broiled and salted at their university papers, they won’t be able to do “real” reporting when they graduate and try to set up a kiosk in the marketplace of ideas. Then we’ll have chaos, dogs and cats living together, etc.

As P-I reporter Amy Rolph points out, several Western Washington community college papers have been petering away, because, as Rolph put it, “the undeniable fact that can’t be trumped. … Nobody’s reading anymore.”

(By the way, this is not a slam on Rolph. Her story was well-written, interesting and important. It’s just that the good work of The Olympian was not mentioned among other papers not doing so well.)

The story listed community college papers from Tacoma to North Seattle that have stalled and featured reader quotes and comments of righteous indignants upset that amateur publications are so amateurish.

It’s a simple answer, and tempting to believe, that people are just stupider.

Prince said the success of The Olympian has less to do with literacy than with administrators hiring a full-time journalism instructor/adviser and staying out of decision-making. As noted in the story, schools without vibrant papers appear to have administrators who are, at best, indifferent.

Plus, Bremerton is separated from Pugetopolis by jellyfish-infested Puget Sound creating an alcove that generally isn’t represented by any other paper. Except (ahem) for the Sun. Some Kitsap students, however, attend Seattle Central Community College – Broadway High to us alumni.

An illustrative example of the importance of The Olympian to the community can be seen in a protest April 2007, where a considerably-large group of students took exception to a full-page ad from a local strip club fishing for fresh bodies to don fishnets. The students protested outside the offices, called out the paper’s editor and demanded administrators stop the ad, which featured young women three-quarters unclad.

The college’s board responded by approving a resolution disagreeing with the decision and left it at that.

But that process, 1) the publishing of the ad, which required staffers to make a very serious decisions 2) the objections of students who organized opposition to the ad and 3) the powers-that-be respecting the paper’s free speech rights, showed that not only is The Olympian doing well, it is helping to foster a sense of community, something that can be woefully lacking from the community college experience.

4 thoughts on “The Beat Goes On At OC

  1. It’s really heartening to see that OC is keeping up its proud
    tradition of teaching journalism. I was in the OC journalism program
    from 1984-85 and served on the staff of the newspaper — then called
    The Ranger — under the able tutelage of the late Richard Gray. I learned a lot of the basics that served me well in a journalism career
    that’s entering its third decade.

    Current Sun staffers who went through journalism schooling at OC — in
    addition to me — include Web Editor Lloyd Pritchett, photographer
    Lenna Himmelstein and sports clerk George Edgar.

    Keep it up, OC.

    Jim Thomsen
    Night News Editor
    The Kitsap Sun

  2. Jim…How different is the curriculum today from when you went through thirty years ago?
    Is the reporting technique taught the same ?

    If an OC Journalism student today asked you to name one other class she/he could take that would be of most benefit to a journalist, which class would you recommend?
    Congratulations Olympic College – also on hiring and paying well for excellent instructors.
    The Kitsap Sun’s OC grads are proof of journalistic excellence.

  3. I don’t have an easy answer for that question, Sharon.

    I attribute a lot of the success of the program in my day (NOT thirty years ago — I ain’t that old yet!) to the teacher, Richard Gray.

    He found a good balance between teaching the basics of reporting and writing through classes, and encouraging us to put those classroom principles into practice through service (for class credit) on the campus newspaper. He was good at finding the right balance between stepping in to set us straight and letting us sink or swim on our own so we learned the most possible from our mistakes. Students responded to him because it was clear he’d been out there and knew what he was talking about, and he seemed to enjoy listening to us spill our frustrations and questions.

    I graduated from OC in late 1985, transferred up to an excellent journalism program at Western Washington University — and felt fully prepared to step into the campus newsroom there and be an immediate and valuable contributor. It was a pretty smooth and seamless transition for me, even as I saw others with equal ambition but lesser preparation floundering all around me.

    From what I hear of Mike Prince, he seems just as dedicated to providing the same kind of experience for today’s students. Makes me proud to know that tradition’s being carried forward.

    If I were designing a basic journalism curriculum, my classes would include:

    — Basics of reporting
    — Basics of editing
    — Media law/ethics
    — Contemporary media issues
    — Basics of multimedia journalism (audio, video, Web page design and posting, etc.)

    They’re all equally important to me.

  4. Thanks Jim. Quite a testimony to Richard Gray and OC that you were able to gallop from OC directly into Western without missing a beat.

    Has any thought ever been given to the possibility of partnering with OC and the Sun to teach one or more of the classes on line to people who may or may not be interested in credits or a degree?
    Does such a concept seem interesting or feasible as another source of income for the Kitsap Sun?

    Thanks…Sharon O’Hara

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