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ADVISERS: please respond to our new year

A letter from executive director Eric Thomas

During our most recent KSPA board meeting, the board members were joking about the cliches that have come from this pandemic. Events are “unprecedented.” Every organization is “pivoting” and then finding “the new normal.” When events can’t be “socially distanced,” they must be “virtual.” Of course, it’s natural for us to write like this in “uncertain times.”

And now, here I sit at the keyboard, addressing an audience of talented journalists and writing teachers. Will I be able to swerve and avoid all of the clich├ęs? Here goes . . .

Our continued mission

Every year, KSPA finds its mission in supporting student journalism here in Kansas. In a typical year, we find strength by gathering for events: board meetings, conferences, contests and ceremonies. Our board remains committed to both of those goals: we will support student journalism, but do it — most often — from a distance this year.

Afterall, you and your students need more support than ever. And KSPA wants to provide that support. So much of our annual calendar of celebration and programming will remain unchanged, if not enlarged. We will continue or expand our monthly contests, Student Journalist of the Year contest, Portfolio of the Year contests, our annual KSPA awards and our All-Kansas critiques.

Of course, we will continue and our unflinching support of student free expression. In those ways, KSPA will remain largely unchanged.

Shifting in-person events

As you will see from the items below, your KSPA board has taken action to respond to the pandemic. First among the board’s concerns was the safety of you, the teachers, along with your staffs of student journalists. While our mission is vital to strong education in Kansas, we can accomplish so much of it without taking the risks involved with gathering in large groups in person during a pandemic.

Regarding our typical Fall Conference schedule, the board unanimously passed this motion: “Due to the impact of COVID-19 and out of concerns for student and adviser safety, the KSPA board has decided that the 2020 fall conference will be changed from in-person to virtual. An in-person event is not possible since the majority of schools will not be able to travel and that our host universities are not allowing in-person events in its campus buildings.” In discussion that followed that motion, the board sought ways to continue delivering the newest and best ideas to you and your students through a conference format. As executive director, I have been in touch with other state press associations about their plans for digital conferences. We will gather the best ideas, communicate them to you and deliver a great collection of speakers and resources. The timing and pricing for this conference will be delivered soon to you, our member advisers.

Regarding our typical Regional contest format, the board unanimously passed this motion: “Due to the impact of COVID-19 and out of concerns for student and adviser safety the KSPA Board has decided, the 2021 regional contest will be moved from in-person to virtual. An in-person event is not possible since the majority of schools will not be able to travel and that our host universities are not allowing in-person events in its campus buildings.” While board members noted that an in-person Regional Contest is the best option, they noted that last year’s State Contest showed that a remote contest provides a safe and educational substitute.

Your KSPA board took these actions with full discussion and guided by research that I have provided during the past few weeks. I applaud them for decisive action that aims at safety while also supporting student journalism.

Our calendar

The resulting calendar from our board meeting creates a safe and robust alternative schedule. Please see the calendar at this link.

Please note that the State Contest remains scheduled as an in-person event at the University of Kansas. The board will continue to monitor social distancing policies and school’s travel regulations during the next few months and adjust as conditions dictate.

Your voice is key

The revisions to our “typical” calendar create new possibilities. Plus, your role as a teacher has changed. And of course, your students are doing drastically different work as student journalists. For this reason, we want to know what programming — especially for the fall conference — would be most helpful.

Please take 5 minutes to complete this survey to be sure we have the best ideas to support you.

More to come

Watch for more KSPA updates to come later this week about what we are already doing to provide more support for Kansas student journalism.

All the best,

Eric Thomas

KSPA Executive Director

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