ASNE Texas: Bonding and Barbecue (and some learning)

At the famous Stubbs restaurant, stop 2 on the barbecue tour of Austin.

At the famous Stubbs restaurant, stop 2 on the barbecue tour of Austin.

Regular followers here know that I was fortunate enough to sneak in under the wire and get accepted to the ASNE Reynolds High School Journalism Institute. I was selected to join the cohort in Austin, based at the University of Texas at Austin. I write this from the airport where my plane has been delayed by two hours and already am missing my instructors and fellow teachers.

Thirty-five of us were fortunate enough to be brought together for an intensive week of instruction under the auspices of two wonderful veteran instructors, each bringing a depth of knowledge from different backgrounds. We gathered from all around the country so the first thing was breaking the ice.

Team Supreme 7 hard at work on our first group project.

Team Supreme 7 hard at work on our first group project.

Situated in the Lady Bird Johnson Conference room in one of the media center’s buildings, located in Walter Cronkite Plaza, we were all subjected to standing for the no-holds barred 30 second interview. From there we dove into other activities and lessons.

Most days we had assignments for lunch and dinner, either individual or group. On the first night, they had us interview one another for a structured feature profile so that further got us bonded. They carefully created seven groups to balance knowledge, skills, and needs. I quickly dubbed ours Team Supreme Seven.

On Tuesday, the lunch assignment was to out and find someone from the surrounding community to profile but it might also be used to tie in to that night’s first group assignment which was to find a local story and cover it with words and pictures. I found a newly opened shop and chatted up the owner. As it turned out, when we reconvened to figure out our feature story, we mostly had people that lent themselves to the bigger issue of the changing face of Austin and the attendant rising costs. That evening we did some additional interviews and research then, through the miracle of Google Docs, we collaborated on the story, added pictures and captions and added them to the class website.

There was a lot of learning packed into five, long days.

There was a lot of learning packed into five, long days.

On Tuesday, I also performed my good deed for the week. Waiting to cross the street, a homeless man asked us to call 911 for his friend who could not stand up. He was sitting in front of a church and seemed in distress. I went over, checked him out and made the call and waited for EMS to arrive. Poor Jackson told me bits and pieces of his life story and I kept checking in on him throughout the week, distressed to see him once again whisked off by ambulance and confined to a wheelchair. I did not see him my last two days and am somewhat concerned.

Wednesday was all about visuals so during lunch, I had to find something to shoot that was either a metaphor or shot from two different lighting sources which would alter the mood. That evening, though, we were to go out, find a character and tell the story using a variety of audio and video cellphone tools, editing it into a completed 2-3 minute presentation. We turned a stretch of 6th street, filled with dives, live music, and colorful characters into our character. Back at the hotel, though, everyone was at work, taxing the broadband and everyone had upload speed issues. As a result, we seriously blew our 11 p.m. deadline but we managed.

The work was intensive and the days flew by but we supported one another along the way.

The work was intensive and the days flew by but we supported one another along the way.

Thursday was about infographics and after three attempts, I quit, preferring to play at home without a deadline and try and master some of these.

Friday’s collaboration paired us up differently as we each wrote a week’s worth of curriculum on topics so we all come away with 16 weeks’ worth of useful material.

Class time was devoted to working with student staffs, ethics, social media, the changing state of journalism (with a fabulous presentation from the News Editor of the Texas Tribune), and the value of good design (with another great guest speaker). We tried out new apps, asked lots of questions, and fought off feeling either overwhelmed or in need of a nap.

Thankfully, two grad students were hired to assist us and run the break room so they saw to it we had healthy snacks, things to drink, and were available to answer questions. When we dined as a group, they made things run smoothly.

The ASNE Texas 2015 graduating class ohoto.

The ASNE Texas 2015 graduating class ohoto.

We bonded quickly, according to our instructors, and large groups went out for meals as schedules allowed. Being in Austin, I made certain to try as much barbecue as possible, often alongside a restauranteur and smoking enthusiast so we would compare and contrast each stop. (Independent of one another, we each tried to same place today for a final sampling, great minds and all that.)

Despite differing ages, work experiences, and locales, we truly came together with nary any drama. Instead, there was a great deal of laughter. The final two nights were among the best as one evening saw us take in the infamous Esther’s Follies followed by hitting the bars. A subset of us wound up singing karaoke and somehow I got dragged on stage with two women for “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. Thank goodness my convention experiences came in handy.

Team Supreme 7 after graduation, still talking to one another after the long hours and deadlines pressures..

Team Supreme 7 after graduation, still talking to one another after the long hours and deadlines pressures..

The final evening was dinner and then our awards ceremony. Since the program’s funding had run out, the normal two week program was halved and the polo shirts given out previous years were absent. One high-tech, quick-witted and hyper-organized colleague designed a shirt, collected money and placed an order on Thursday then went to collect them Friday, handing them out with our certificates. The last night saw most of us hanging out by the pool.

I learned a ton, which will make my school’s program stronger, and have formed a tight network that I suspect will remain in touch to one degree or another.

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