16th Annual Conference: Pre-Conference Workshops For New And Seasoned Journalists

July 15, 2006

 SEJ's 16th Annual Conference, to be held in Burlington, Vt., Oct. 25-29, promises the same sort of story-producing tours, great speakers and informative panels that SEJ conference goers have come to expect.

But this year some pre-conference workshops – one a boot camp for journalists and the other at Vermont Law School – will offer new opportunities to journalists.

The annual conference agenda continues to flesh out as conference chair Nancy Bazilchuk, conference manager Jay Letto and the conference team of volunteers and staff are working to turn the membership's ideas into panel sessions, plenary sessions, tours and keynote luncheons. SEJ's conference agenda is posted on www.sej.org and is updated as soon as changes are made, so check often for emerging details.

The early deadline for those who want to save on registration fees is Aug. 15.

Two pre-conference workshops will allow journalists a chance to immerse in specialized training.

The journalism boot camp is sponsored by Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, in cooperation with SEJ. It will run Oct. 22-25 in Burlington, Vt.

The environmental journalism training camp is just before SEJ's national conference in the same city. Participants attend both events for a week of some of the most intensive environmental journalism training going. Details and applications are at www.ej.msu.edu/bootcamp.php. The application deadline is Aug. 1.

Sessions include computer-assisted reporting for environmental journalists provided by Investigative Reporters and Editors and a seminar on environmental law from the Vermont Law School. The camp targets journalists new to the beat, but seasoned reporters will also benefit.

Veteran journalists, teachers and scientists will discuss writing techniques, the latest on climate change and other environmental issues, ethics and helping readers make sense of numbers.

They'll also discuss conflicts between scientists and journalists and provide tips for mediating them.

"There is wariness there," said Rich Hayes, media director for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"I think reporters can help scientists let their guard down," said Hayes who, with former Living on Earth science reporter Daniel Grossman, has written "A Scientist's Guide to Talking with the Media" due out this August.

"And once they let their guard down, they can talk in a way that resonates with the public."

Eight of 10 journalists want more professional development, according to a 2002 study by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation which funds journalism education efforts.

"Many fields have a need for post graduate training," said Mark Neuzil, a former SEJ board member and an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. "Some have it built into the system, like nurses earning continuing education credits to keep their licenses current."

Neuzil doesn't advocate that journalists be licensed, but "the basic philosophy of keeping current should apply," he said.

The other pre-conference workshop is sponsored by the Vermont Law School, which is the first law school to co-host an SEJ annual conference.

The Vermont Law School (VLS) offers the nation's leading environmental law and policy programs, and its scenic South Royalton campus in central Vermont will be the setting for a daylong "Environmental Law for Journalists Workshop" on Wednesday, Oct. 25.

SEJ member Adam Glenn, together with VLS faculty and staff, has created an in-depth look at legal issues and sessions that will give journalists valuable new tools. As of SEJournal press time, the following details are available: Please refer to www.vermontlaw. edu/media/index.cfm?doc_id21 for updates.

On Wednesday, the bus will leave the Sheraton Burlington at 7:30 a.m., arriving at VLS by 9 a.m. Law school faculty will join the attendees on the ride down to review a comprehensive "legal primer," which will include an overview on how the judicial system is structured.

The opening plenary session will illuminate the framework that environmental lawyers and policymakers use to solve environmental problems, providing a foundation for the day. VLS's Associate Dean for the Environmental Law Program Karin Sheldon and Professor Marc Mihaly will be joined by journalists.

Attendees can choose two of the three following sessions.

FOIA: This session will be co-led by SEJ Board Member SEJournal, P. Rebecca Daugherty, who for many years was FOIA service center director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The session will review a compendium of the 50 state laws regarding FOIA, patterns (such as losing transparency), and what reporters can expect in a FOIA fight.

Legal Research for Environmental Journalists: This session will be co-led by VLS Environmental Law Librarian Christine Ryan, who has 16 years' experience teaching legal research.

Reading Case Law for Non-Lawyers: This session will be co-led by Ellen Swain, a former journalist who is now director of the VLS Academic Success Program.

A lunch-time presentation, "Vermont Law School Dinner Theater," will feature a live role play in the VLS Courtroom of a current environmental law case. Attendees will have a legal expert at their disposal to interview in order to quickly come up with story leads and their second-day stories. A group discussion will summarize the activity.

The closing plenary: "Where's My Next Environmental Law Story Coming From?" will feature a panel of legal experts and journalists, offering predictions on topics that are sure to be of national and international importance.

At 3:30 p.m., attendees will board buses for Burlington.

A survey taken this winter of SEJ members indicated strong interest in the Environmental Law for Journalists Workshop. Space is limited for the workshop and registration is currently under way. For more information, please contact SEJ Associate Director Chris Rigel, crigel@sej.org, or VLS Director of Media Relations Peter Miller, pmiller@vermontlaw.edu.

** From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal Summer, 2006 issue