Annual Journalism Conference Will Focus on Indymedia

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Thanks to volunteers from the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center and other indymedia outlets, some 500 high school students from around the state will be exposed to alternative ways of doing journalism. The occasion is the fall conference of the Illinois State High School Press Association (ISHSPA), an annual event hosted by the University of Illinois journalism department. This year’s conference will be held Oct. 3 at the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana.
Consisting of about 45 sessions spread out over three 50-minute time slots, plus lunch and a keynote address, the ISHSPA conference has traditionally presented practical advice to high school journalists on topics such as news writing, feature writing, sports writing, opinion writing, investigative reporting, photojournalism, interviewing, copy editing, and publication design.
For more than a decade Dana Ewell, a U of I journalism professor, organized the conference. She did a splendid job, energizing students and advisers alike with her passion for a story well told. Unfortunately, Dana was diagnosed with leukemia in the spring of 2002 and passed away in January. I’ve succeeded her as ISHSPA’s executive director. Last fall I organized the ISHSPA conference while Dana was on medical leave. Now that I’m organizing it again, I wanted to move in a direction that I know Dana was interested in — that of broadening the scope of the conference sessions to include offerings from representatives of the independent media.
I was especially interested in offering sessions with a strong Do It Yourself bent. High school is a time when talented students burst with creativity. They enjoy writing for a school publication (assuming their adviser and principal give them the freedom to express themselves), but many of them also seek additional outlets. As the newspaper adviser at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, I myself have had students who edited our school paper (the Gargoyle) and also published their own zine. In fact, I currently have students who work for our paper and, on the side, publish their own blogs.
My experience has been that DIY media and school publications are NOT mutually exclusive — in fact, they benefit each other. School publications become energized by the tremendous vitality that DIY student journalists bring to their work. In turn, by producing school publications, those same students acquire the discipline that comes from writing for an audience — their peers— who will give them immediate feedback. Did they write something that makes no sense to anyone but themselves? Are they being too insular? Too self-indulgent? Their peers will tell them without hesitation. Those students become better journalists from the experience, and their own DIY publications improve. I’ve seen it happen. And it’s a beautiful thing.
In that spirit, this year’s conference will feature DIY sessions on zines, blogs, cartoons, radio, video, and media activism. Our speakers will include a number of IMC members, as well as representatives from WEFT, The Paper, Partners In Ink, Tales Press, In These Times, Punk Planet, ZineGuide, the Chicago Reader, The Chicago Reporter, and the Chicago Independent Press Association. In no particular order, here are just a few indymedia folks who have agreed to give sessions:
• Sascha Meinrath, community activist and co-founder of the UC-IMC;
• Paul Riismandel, IMC activist and publisher;
• Zach Miller, IMC activist and
• Darrin Drda, IMC activist, cartoonist, and production manager of The Paper;
• Clint Popetz, IMC activist and Radio News Coordinator
• Ed Mandel and Kayleigh van Poolen, WEFT;
• Jenny Southlynn, arts and entertainment editor of The Paper;
• David L. Felts, news editor, The Paper;
• Chuck Koplinski, movie editor and circulation director, The Paper;
• Ray Elliott, novelist and founder of Tales Press;
• Daniel Sinker, editor and publisher, Punk Planet;
•Brent Ritzel, editor and publisher, Zine Guide;
• Ethan Michaeli, founder and publisher of Residents’ Journal (a bimonthly publication written entirely by residents of Chicago Public Housing) and founder of the Urban Youth Journalism Program (a journalism training program for teens who live in Chicago public housing);
• Charles Willett Jr., circulation and marketing manager, The Chicago Reporter;
• Jeff Epton, publisher, and Jessica Clark, managing editor, In These Times;
• Jackie Lalley, president, Chicago Independent Press Association;
• Karen Hawkins, free lancer and contributor to In These Times and the Windy City Times (which covers Chicago’s gay and lesbian community);
• Michael Miner, “Hot Type” columnist, the Chicago Reader.
Although that’s quite a lineup, our conference will also have an abundance of more mainstream journalists, including U of I professors such as Ron Yates, a longtime Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent before he became head of the U of I journalism department, and Leon Dash and William Gaines, both of whom won Pulitzer Prizes (Gaines, in fact, won two for his investigative reporting); reporter and editors from The News-Gazette, including managing editor Dan Corkery; and editors from the Chicago Tribune, including Timothy McNulty, who coordinated the paper’s coverage of the Iraq war. Indeed, our keynote speaker will be Tony Majeri, the Tribune’s senior editor for innovation and one of the founders of the Society for News Design, who will speak about media convergence and new ways of storytelling.
All in all, it should be an extraordinary conference —one that Dana Ewell would be proud of. If you are interested in attending, the cost will be $3 per person. The sessions will run from 9:30 to 10:20 a.m., 10:30 to 11:20 a.m., and 1:30 to 2:20 p.m. Tony Majeri’s keynote address will be given in Illini Rooms A & B from 12:30 to 1:20 p.m. Our registration table will be set up in the Green Street lobby of the Illini Union. Drop by, and I’ll be delighted to give you our conference schedule. I’m sure our indymedia representatives will be glad to see you as well!

David Porreca is a teaching associate and newspaper adviser at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana. He is executive director of the Illinois State High School Press Association. He is serving his third term as president of the Illinois Journalism Education Association. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Porreca has taught at Uni High since August 1995. His students have won more than 400 awards in state and national journalism contests since the spring of 1997. Both the 2002 and 2003 Illinois State High School Journalists of the Year were his students, the latter of whom (Noah Isserman) was one of four runners-up for National High School Journalist of the Year. He can be reached at He credits his students for making him aware of the IMC. “They love the concerts,” he says.

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