Tips and Ideas

Puntney Journalism Grant

Posted by on Oct 11, 2017 in Kansas/Missouri News, Tips and Ideas | 0 comments

Puntney Journalism Grant
The Phillip Martin and Amanda Sue Puntney Journalism Grant has been established in memory of Amanda Sue Puntney and her father, Phillip Martin Puntney. Amanda’s mother and Martin’s wife, Linda Puntney, has taught journalism in Kansas since 1979 and has served 22 years as Journalism Education Association’s Executive Director.
Applicants must be associated with Kansas high school journalism programs. The grant will award a one-time gift between $500 and $1,000 annually to one or more Kansas journalism programs that demonstrate how this money would expand their organizational capacity and further the resources, skills and/or experiences of scholastic journalism students in Kansas.
To donate to the fund or apply for the grant, visit
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Featured Speaker Matt Pearce: Adviser’s Take

Posted by on Apr 27, 2017 in Events, Tips and Ideas | 0 comments

Featured Speaker Matt Pearce: Adviser’s Take

During the Trump campaign, a lot of pundits were mocking journalists for not understanding “real Americans” as well as the pundits did. A dapper reporter from the LA Times tweeted about the pundits, “I’d pay ten bucks to watch one of these guys try to start a tractor.”

I scoffed. Silly West Coast reporter. I grew up on a farm. Tractors start like any other stick-shift vehicle, I told him.

Mr. LA responded, “I had old ones when I was growing up! Had to prime it and engage the clutch.”

I, like the pundits, was misunderestimating the redneck credentials of a big city journalist. We then shared tractor stories: My dad’s Farmall 656s from the 1960s, his dad’s Ford 8Ns from the 1940s. That was how I met Matt Pearce, became one of this 111,000 Twitter followers, and found out he was a Missouri boy. And it made my day when he agreed to speak at the JEMKC Awards Show last night.

Sometime between the tractor argument and last night, I got the impression Matt had always been a hotshot journalist. I was retelling the tractor argument to an English teacher and she said, “THE Matt Pearce? From Mizzou?!” You know Matt Pearce? “I know OF him!” I thought that meant he was known for his work on The Maneater. Nope, he was just a heckuva popular writer among English majors at Mizzou.

Matt told the audience his story: He grew up in tiny Cleveland, Missouri, and does not remember his high school even having a newspaper. He was in the band. He majored in English at Mizzou. Then, at age 24, he went back to Mizzou for his master’s in journalism and built up credentials at The Kansas City Star and The Pitch. He wanted to write 4,000-word pieces for Esquire, but he was covering crime instead.

He gave some insight to JEMKC’s young writers about the craziness of the journalism profession with his story about how he ended up in LA: When the Joplin tornado hit, he had the urge to drive down to help. Then he remembered he has a master’s in journalism. He sent notes to several major newspaper editors and said he’d freelance for whoever called him first. The LA Times won, Matt learned how to cover a tragedy by watching the professionals in Joplin, and then he worked his way up to being the national reporter for the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper, covering the celebrities and the homeless, the riots in Egypt and the white supremacists in America.

Matt told the audience, “You don’t get the money, but you get the story. And you get to know the world better every day, which is pretty cool.”

His advice to the young writers came from his father: “Don’t listen to advice.”

Also, “Slavishly imitate the people you like” and to not be afraid to strike up a conversation with a journalist you admire on Twitter.

My main takeaway from Matt’s talk was a reminder that the kids who are hotshot journalists at 16 aren’t always the future journalists. Even the star college journalists often do not stay in journalism. The editor-in-chief before me, the Kansas Collegiate Journalist of the Year, went straight into advertising. The chief after me, also the KCJOY, went straight into teaching. The talented sports co-editors were eager to be in public relations, the arts editor was called to be a Methodist preacher, and my edgy opinions editor now wears a tie in a cubicle doing something that seems dreadful.

Meanwhile, four of the beat reporters that always needed quite a bit of coaching and editing stayed with it and became professional journalists. And I’ve seen the same thing at Aquinas: my greatest chiefs never became journalists, but some quiet staffers with some flaws stuck with it.

During the awards show last night, I saw a girl go up for an award for the second or third time and the adviser behind me said, “She’s so quiet in class, you wouldn’t even know she was there.” But that adviser is a rockstar, who noticed the quiet girl’s gifts and kept working with her.

That’s what I grabbed from Matt Pearce’s journey from priming antique tractors in rural Missouri to being a national reporter at the LA Times: Even when a kid is dumped into our class because nothing else fits their schedule, seems disinterested and pushes back against news-style writing, we have to keep spreading the joys and mentality of journalism to all of our kids.

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Online Senior Ad Submission

Posted by on Oct 24, 2016 in Tips and Ideas | 0 comments

Online Senior Ad Submission

So we tried something new this year at Blue Valley High — we asked parents to submit all senior ad content online — crazy, right?!

I set up the form on Survey Gizmo (super easy, by the way). I then linked all of the survey information to a Google Sheet.

Here are some perks we’ve noticed so far:

  • When I ask for a 50-word limit on an eighth-page ad, they can’t progress through the form unless it’s 50 words or less. Also, while designing, students just have to copy/paste from the Google Sheet — it’s exactly what the parents submitted.
  • For the first deadline, we had TWO checks. Out of 168 submissions. Amazing. (We have parents pay on Vendini. It charges us like 4 percent of the total, but if you wanted, you could charge that to the parents. It’s totally worth it, in my opinion! There are also probably other sites that charge a lower fee, but this is the one used at my school.)
  • Everything is uploaded at once. Very rarely did we wait on an extra photo coming from a photographer/hard copy submission/etc.
  • Surprisingly, we had fewer issues with low-quality photos submitted.

Below is a series of screenshots I took from my phone. The submission process is broken down a bit more on the phone than it is on the computer, but this allows more of a step-by-step explanation.

Senior Ad Setup


Here is a link to the online submission form. Feel free to mess with it. We are done with senior ad submissions already, so it won’t mess us up if you submit something. You can also see what the confirmation looks like if you enter a valid email address.

Also, here is a copy of our senior ad information sheet with FAQs we send to parents. By all means, look it over.

If you have more questions, please feel free to ask me. My email address is

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Hall Passes to Interview During Classes

Posted by on Aug 31, 2016 in Tips and Ideas | 0 comments

Hall Passes to Interview During Classes

We know our students *shouldn’t* interview during class because stories turn out better if they don’t, but we also know they *do* interview during class.

My students started this last year in yearbook, and the newspaper staff picked it up this year. We created hall passes of sorts and added common times for the student body to come to the publications room to be interviewed.

Of course, they can go elsewhere once they meet up instead of staying in the loud room. It’s been very helpful for tracking down people at their teacher’s convenience instead of expecting them to be available at our beckon call — you mean, they DO stuff in other classes?!

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.37.50 AM                    Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.38.24 AM

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Teaching How to Take Interview Notes

Posted by on Aug 25, 2016 in Adviser Resources, Tips and Ideas, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Teaching How to Take Interview Notes

During my first years of teaching, I focused on questions, listening, quote selection and other basics when teaching interviewing. I assumed students knew how to take notes during interviews–what could be that hard? Listen for good stuff and write it down, right?


One day I realized that most of my students were trying to write down literally every word their interviewee was saying. Two problems: that isn’t possible (especially for slow writers) and they weren’t analyzing or even really HEARING what the people were saying. They were just trying to get every word down. So I started teaching note taking and it has helped in big ways.

I start with this handout from Tim Harrower’s “Inside Reporting” textbook and have each student decide on one tip to use for their own note taking system.

Next, I ask how many think they need to write down every word the person says (it is usually a lot). To prove that this is impossible, I play several songs for them (increasing in speed of tempo) and ask them to write down every word. They count how many they got down before they lost it and quickly figure out they can’t write everything down.

Slow Song: Hey Jude
Medium Song: Mama’s Broken Heart
Fast Song: We Didn’t Start the Fire

To practice writing important information down and to develop a critical ear, we then watch several of CNN’s Red Chair interviews. Students listen and have to write down at least five facts and two word-for-word quotes from what they hear. I do the exercise with them and then we compare and discuss after each short video.

One of my favorite Red Chair interviews is with the woman who voices Siri:

Bonus for the final video: I have them take notes without looking at their paper to practice maintaining eye contact. They hate it but it helps!

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Managing Multiple Publications in the Same Class

Posted by on Mar 30, 2016 in Adviser Resources, Tips and Ideas | 0 comments

Managing Multiple Publications in the Same Class

This school year has been the most hectic and chaotic of my eight-year career. The main source of that chaos was trying to manage yearbook, magazine and website in the same hour, with different staffs, in different rooms. To say this was less than ideal is an understatement. Did I mention this was going to be our first year transitioning from a monthly newspaper to a magazine as well as starting a website? Probably not my brightest idea.

I tried everything I could think of last year to convince my admin to separate the classes, but my efforts were futile. The classes were going to be combined, so I had to make the best of it and prepare as best I could over the summer for what this hour of my day would look like.

Originally, I thought it would be fairly easy to manage my time between the two classes. We had class during fifth hour, which was the lunch hour and the longest class of the day. I would spend the first portion with one class, we’d all go to lunch, and I’d spend the last portion with the other class. This sounds great on paper, but it did not play out well once we started our production schedules. Students on both staffs needed my attention at the same time, and I was not prepared for how taxing this would be not only on me, but on my students as well.

I was far from perfect in handling our situation this year, but I at least came away with some helpful tips in case I’m faced with this situation again. These aren’t exclusive to managing multiple publications in the same class, but they are my takeaways from how this school year has gone for me.


I thought I was an organized person before. I had schedules, checklists, rubrics, etc., but I had to constantly be aware of where every staff member was in their process. Before, I was able to focus on one for an hour, then switch gears when the other staff came into my room. I like to compartmentalize details, so this was a struggle for me. I had to keep multiple copies of things in each room so they were easily accessible. We’re not 1-to-1 yet, so I don’t have a computer available to use in the other room.

Next year, I’ve told all my editors we’re going to use Trello. Many advisers already use this system to manage your deadlines, so I’m hoping this will be a better tool to manage due dates and let everyone see how stories are progressing.

*Pick strong leaders

This is always essential to the success of a publication, but it’s especially so when these leaders will be in charge when the adviser not in the room. They have to be assertive, but not power-hungry. They have to be friendly, but still motivating. Leaders also have to get along with each other. We had a bit of a power struggle with section editors and the EIC at the beginning of the year that took up more time than any of us had to spare. It eventually worked itself out, but it was rocky through September.

One thing that helped was going to camp over the summer. I took both staffs to the same camp. This was a wonderful experience for the yearbook staff. They bonded, designed their cover, made ladder/coverage decisions, and generally started out the year in a really good spot.

On the other hand, newspaper did not benefit as much. Part of this was because my EIC told students who were supposed to go to the Beginning Newspaper class to go ahead and join everyone else in the Advanced Newspaper class. Not a great way to start the year. Those newbies were overwhelmed and didn’t get the basics covered at camp.

*Split time equally

Giving both staffs equal attention was harder than I imagined it would be. There were times, around deadlines, that I would go a couple of days without hardly speaking to one staff or the other. I relied on the EIC to keep everyone on-task and focused. Some days, this worked better than others (see point about picking good leaders).

I also found myself gravitating to my yearbook staff because they were the more motivated group. They “caught on” to the concepts quicker, were more outgoing, and seemed to be a stronger unit. This probably wasn’t fair of me, but at least I’ve recognized this flaw in myself. Since that realization, I’ve made a more concerted effort to spend more time in the newspaper room, but this far in the game, Senior-itis has set in, and I’m basically in a holding pattern until May. I created this monster, so I have to live with it.

I’ve had meetings with next year’s leaders already, and they are motivated to turn things around and pick up the slack from this year. Here’s hoping I picked a strong combination of leaders!

Not everything about having all my publications kids in the same class period was horrible. It was nice to only have to give field trip information once. When we talked about general class procedures and equipment procedures, I could put everyone in the same room.

Another benefit was that the staffs were able to quickly and easily communicate with each other. They helped cover events for one another and helped each other with areas of weakness. The yearbook kids helped teach photography and Photoshop; the newspaper kids helped teach some AP Style and story development.

This year stressed me out on so many different levels, but at least I’ve learned from it. If I’m ever faced with combined classes again, I’ll have this experience to look back on and will be able to learn from my mistakes.


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