Mt. SAC media staff members Brooke Barber, Albert Serna, and Rachelle Araghi at the JACC State Convention at the Doubletree Hotel in Sacramento, Calif. on April 11, 2015.

JACC State Conference Leaves Students Confused, Frustrated

A look into the judging issues at the JACC 2015 Spring Conference

Story by Brittni Rae

JACC — The Journalism Association of Community Colleges is “hereby established to exchange ideas and opinions, to develop and maintain effective curricula, to provide enriching educational experiences for members, to render mutual aid, and to develop and maintain a free student press,” at least according to their website.

According to many students and faculty who attended the JACC State Conference in April in Sacramento, their experience was disappointing as they felt that some of the contests were unfair and the convention unorganized.

According to the JACC official website, JACC, founded in 1955, is a nonprofit organization that provides networking and educational events aimed at inspiring their members. Unlike the Associated College Press, ACP, and the College Media Association CMA, JACC is the only local organization for community college journalism students.

Toni Albertson, Mt. SAC’s journalism professor and adviser of student media, and president of the Community College Journalism Association CCJA, said that JACC is the only community college organization in the state that holds award contests that specifically target community college students.

So why is this important?

In 2004, Albertson conducted a study titled, “The Future of Community College Journalism Programs and the Newspapers They Support.” After talking to every single college in the state that had a newspaper, Albertson found that most all of them were afraid of having their programs cancelled. What could they do to keep their program going? Among other things, win awards. College administrators like award-winning programs.

So college journalism advisers across the state turn to the JACC regional and state conferences for not only a learning experience for students, but for competitions.

However, this past conference sent many students and faculty home disappointed when multiple awards were withheld. While students sat at the awards banquet on Saturday night, waiting in anticipation for their names to be called, contests were called out but many had no places. For example, a contest would be called and there would be no first, second or third, maybe just one fourth place, or one honorable mention. According to Patricia Stark, current JACC president, this was out of JACC’s control.

“Some complaints stem from factors the JACC can’t control, such as forcing professional judges to award work they don’t feel has merit,” Stark said.

Albertson said that claiming the judging is out of JACC’s control is unacceptable. Albertson, who has volunteered to judge contests for other organizations such as the College Media Advisers CMA, said she is given clear guidelines, one of those being that there are to be winners placing in first through four spots, along with six honorable mentions. She also said that she is told to write comments for all the entries.

“These are students who are not professional writers and photographers, and it means everything to these students who try so hard to win. Give them a first through forth award or an honorable mention because it means everything to them,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of writing judge’s comments on entries.

“Not giving them comments and feedback does not help them in any way. It just leaves them feeling inferior,” Albertson said.

During a phone interview with Walter Hammerwold, American River College faculty member and JACC at-large representative, he said that “JACC has given the authority to the judges.”

For an organization who states on their website, “We engage. We lead. We are the future of journalism,” some advisers and students believe the organization is not doing a good job of directing their engagement toward their partnership with judges. Understandably, these judges are professionals who volunteered, but volunteering shouldn’t equal perfunctory judging.

Keaundrey Clark, sports editor of Fresno City College’s newspaper, voiced his frustration.

“How can someone not place if we have hundreds of entries? Tell us what we can do to get better as writers. I feel like the judges left us out to dry.
— Keaundrey Clark

Clark added that many student writers had their confidence shaken. This feeling was a popular one amongst competitors. Charlotte MacKay, opinion editor for The Rampage at Fresno City College, said, “If our stories were not good enough to place, why weren’t they good enough? Show me why I didn’t place; make me better as a writer.”

The students are correct; there was no explanation given for the judging process.

“I do not like that we did not award a bunch of awards and did not give an explanation for it,” Hammerwold said.

He added that this issue has been a conversation topic for a while and faculty members are divided.

“Our faculty is split on whether or not we need to remedy it. If not, we should have some explanation for it at the awards,” he said.

A major area of debate revolved around the sports writing competition. There were issues of unclarity in the expectations of the writers. They were asked to cover a baseball game, and later attended a press conference with the home team. Some writers decided to do a feature story rather than just cover the game itself. They wanted to do something that would set them apart from other competitors.

Nick Moore, Editor-in-Chief of SAC.Media at Mt. San Antonio College, decided to do hometown style story and asked the adviser of the competition if he could cover the star player of the Cal State Fullerton team. The adviser’s response was no. Moore said he was expected to only report about the game itself.

“How are any of our stories supposed to get first and third, all the way to honorable mention? There’s nothing that’s going to be different. We’re all going to write the same facts,” Moore said.

Janna Braun, the lead proctor for the sports writing competition, mentioned in a response to Christopher Bullock’s article, “JACC…has it really helped anyone?” that not following the rules of just reporting the game resulted in students being disqualified.

“During the actual event, some students were told not to talk to people other than the ones provided at the press conference. Those who either chose not to listen to us or simply decided to do their own thing found out later that what they did got them disqualified,” Braun said.

Key word being “some.” If only some students were told not to talk to people other than the ones provided at the press conference, how were all students involved supposed to have received the message?

“I heard the same adviser that I spoke to talking to another guy asking if he could do a feature, say ‘You may get in trouble for it but you have a chance.’”

Hammerwold said that students rely on the faculty to brief students and prepare them for the contests.

“Sometimes they do a great job, sometimes not. I’ve made mistakes here too.”

But if each adviser has their own set of rules, how is that leveling the playing field for all competitors?

Saul Rubin, journalism professor at Santa Monica College, said that he was aware of problems with the sports judging. More than that, he wasn’t pleased with the unprofessionalism of one of the judges.

“One of the judges wrote ‘WTF’ for the lead and that’s all. What kind of a professional judge does that? “I thought that was out of line,” Rubin said.

Rubin also said it was unfair that they didn’t award anything in some contests.

“Students should be judged based on their entry relevance to other entries. If three or four stand out, they should get awarded. JACC needs to work on being more transparent…there’s not a lot of feedback. I’d rather see fewer contests done really well than trying to do so much.”

Hammerwold was able to shine some light on the judges’ thought process. He said that on the private e-mail service for JACC members, JACC members gave their explanation. “Here’s what was explained to us, the judges felt there was no first place for sports. Pretty vague, I know,” Hammerwold said.

He also said that his understanding of the photo competition was that if there was a first place photo, and that first place photo had what JACC calls a “gross factual error, the wrong score to a game for example, that photo was disqualified. This does not bump the second place winner to first because the judges felt that their photo only qualified for second place. So, to this standard there will be no first place.

“JACC is a large organization, with a lot of volunteers. It’s very democratic,” said Hammerwold.

If nothing were to improve or change as far as judging goes, Hammerwold said that he would not leave.

“I respect the process, not the verdict,” he said.

Albertson had a different take on whether or not Mt. San Antonio College will remain JACC members or attend future conferences.

“We have been winning numerous awards at JACC for all the years I’ve been advising at Mt. SAC, including General Excellence for our publication and even the highest award, a Pacesetter. But there are things about attending the conference that are just too stressful, and with the new issues, it almost makes it not worth it,” she said.

Cost is one of those issues.

“It’s hard to justify $500 a year for dues, and then $250 per student to compete. This does not include the hotel, travel, and several meals,” Albertson said. “We actually went to the CMA convention in New York for nearly the same cost because the dues and registration fees are so much less and students were exposed to much more in the way of innovative and evolving new media workshops and sessions.”

JACC wasn’t always a disappointment. According to Albert Serna Jr., faculty assistant and former editor in chief of The Mountaineer newspaper and Mountiewire, the first time he attended was exciting. But recently, he said that he hasn’t seen the contests evolve much.

“JACC has kind of refused to acknowledge the changing media landscape; they still have a print focus. A lot of their workshops are focused on print, and that’s kind of when I started seeing that something was wrong,” Serna said.

Despite the lack of awards given along with a few other gripes, some students were able look past the negatives to an otherwise enjoyable weekend.

“I bonded with my fellow editors and reporters and met some fantastic people…I am so incredibly fortunate for the experience and the memories I made,” said MacKay.

Clark said, “I think the convention is great for networking.”

Others have no interest in ever returning again, like Moore who said, “It was the worst experience of my entire life and I never want to go back.”

The first JACC board meeting since the conference will take place on June 19, according to Hammerwold, where they will hopefully discuss ways to improve JACC and not think of students’ concerns as “groundless” as Stark stated in an email.

“Other complaints are groundless- students are unhappy with the way things are done, even though event coordinators have good reasons for doing them,” Stark wrote.