Thursday’s 2011 Iowa High School Press Association State Conference was a good but not great production. I say that every year. I’m anxious the month leading up to the annual conference, and I’m calm yet self-critical on the day of. When it’s over, I’m relieved. A few days later: perspective. What worked? What didn’t? What surprised? What will we do better next year?
Seven takeaways from this year’s conference:
• Central Iowa is making a comeback. And, man, is it great to see. Pella, Southeast Polk, PCM, and Johnston continue to thrive. Des Moines East and its two advisers brought a great group, and Valley HS in West Des Moines, behind adviser Diane Hicks, continues to re-establish its reputation at the state level.
It’s a board decision, but I think it’s time to consider re-establishing the Des Moines Regional Conference, especially if we can get Ames, Ankeny and some DMPS schools back on board. I could see that happening in 2013.
• Thursday is the first time I can remember standing-room only in the IMU’s Main Ballroom.
• Medical students know CPR. Students of auto mechanics know their way around an engine. So why do so many high school journalism students struggle to remember the five protections under the First Amendment? There are five – not 500.
At the end of the conference we gave away a nice piece of video-editing software. To win, a school’s students had to name the five protections. That’s it. Well, the first school failed, then the second school failed. Then the first school came back with the right answer, but it took something like 10 people to figure it out, so I gave a third school the opportunity, and they could only name two of the five.
Thirty high schools attended. Maybe it’s coincidence that the three that tried for the software couldn’t ID the First Amendment. Maybe the other 27 would have.
I’m willing to bet someone dinner that Pella and Davenport Central high schools would have nailed the First Amendment question. Just a hunch.
• The keynote continues to be a hit-and-miss adventure: some really liked it, some didn’t. It’s hard to please 500 people. Nothing could ever – I hope – be as bad as the TV anchor two years ago in Des Moines, who showed up with a 5-10 minute blooper reel, a quick story and, “Any questions?” The last 30 minutes were crickets chirping. Ugh. Even two years after that keynote, recalling that experience makes me queasy.
Bobby Hawthorne in 2010 was a high note. We’ll return to a scholastic media person in 2012. (Details soon!)
• The Sports Writing On-the-Spot contest will return in 2012. The IHSPA Board, at my recommendation, tabled it for one year because of low participation. We couldn’t keep bringing in presenters for the session and only sending 2-5 kids to take part. Two years ago we had a sports presenter and zero students showed; the presenter was frustrated and we were embarrassed to have wasted his time.
But there were enough requests this year – “Why no sports writing?” – that we’ll bring it back next year and hope the numbers support the decision.
• The membership meeting for advisers was the most well-attended I can remember. I’ve only been here a half-decade, but that was a crowded table in the ballroom. Great to see. The state of Iowa has fantastic high school journalism advisers.
• A big thanks to Quill & Scroll, specifically director Vanessa Shelton, who recognized in August that our conference coincided with Q&S’s Annual Meeting, which allowed us to invite Q&S board members Julie Dodd, Jack Dvorak, and H.L. Hall to present at State. Each led two sessions (in Dodd’s case, one double-length session). They have our sincerest gratitude.