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The Iowa High School Press Association’s Annual Winter Thaw Educates Journalism Advisers about Student Rights, New Media

Winter Thaw was an especially accurate name for the Iowa High School Press Association’s annual retreat.

A harsh winter storm hit the state the night before, but the Iowa High School Press Association (IHSPA), headquartered at The University of Iowa, forged ahead with its sixth annual Winter Thaw on Feb. 20 at Grand View University in Des Moines. The retreat brings together high school journalism educators from across Iowa for a day of workshops, discussion and presentations.

Updating High School Journalism High school journalism advisers listen to a presentation about photography, photoshop and multimedia in journalism today

IHSPA Executive Director David Schwartz said roughly 20 people were registered to attend the event, but due to the inclement weather, only 13 were able to make it. The reduced number of participants did not affect the quality of presentations, as Schwartz insisted this year’s speakers were the best he has seen in the three years he has organized the event.

“The workshops were fantastic,” Schwartz said. “People were commenting about them afterward better than ever. We might end up bringing some of [the speakers] back in future years.”

Past retreats have had central themes, such as design, but this year’s Winter Thaw covered a broader array of topics. A major topic at this year’s retreat was student media law, stemming from an incident at Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, Iowa.

Administrators confiscated issues of that school’s newspaper due to an article they claim violated student confidentiality rules regarding drug and alcohol use. It is illegal for administrators to censor or confiscate high school newspapers in Iowa.

Iowa State University journalism professor Barbara Mack, an expert on student free-expression rights, focused much of her presentation on the Bettendorf situation. Schwartz said that in the end, the incident shows the crucial role that journalism advisers play.

“You can’t say enough about how important it is for an adviser to be supportive of his or her students,” Schwartz said.

Multimedia was another key topic. The Des Moines Register Photo Editor Arturo Fernandez presented techniques for capturing strong photographs as well as helpful Photoshop tips. When hiring photojournalists, Fernandez looks for strong multimedia training and that all photographers at The Des Moines Register are trained in shooting video.

Continuing with the new media theme, Chris Snider (B.A. 1998), assistant managing editor for digital at The Des Moines Register, offered 31 (mostly) free ways to boost web traffic. These tips included utilizing Twitter and YouTube, adding maps and live chats, sending e-mail newsletters and more.

Learning from Professionals Fernandez presents photography and Photoshop techniques

Snider’s presentation struck a chord with Mount Vernon High School’s JoAnn Gage, an English and publication and design teacher, as well as adviser for student newspaper The Mustang Moon.

“I really need to get a Web site for our newspaper,” Gage said. “It won’t be easy because we’re just an after school program, but it is necessary.”

Gage, who also attended last year’s retreat, hopes to have a Web site for the newspaper online in the fall. The retreat also taught Gage the importance of reporters forming deeper connections with readers via tools like blogs, so she plans to discuss that idea with her students.

In addition to Snider’s presentation, Gage also found the information Fernandez presented about photography to be particularly valuable.

“Especially in high school, photographers stay on the side,” she said. “Fernandez said photographers should jump right in and stay around [after an event] and get candid shots.

That’s a good step for high school journalists: be more sociable.”

Just a few days after the retreat, Schwartz was already thinking about next year’s Winter Thaw. The online tips presentation was very popular, he said, so that could potentially return. He hopes to have tests available for advisers to become certified journalism educators, and the entire retreat may move outside of Des Moines, its home for the past three years.

No matter where the Winter Thaw happens, Schwartz hopes the event’s main message will be heard by attendees and other journalism professionals.

“You have to educate yourself. Know what your rights are and know what the rights of your students are,” he said. “There are teachers who just don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing, and taking the proper courses and knowing what the laws are will take so much of the anxiety out of that position.”

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