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IJEA Blog: In praise of journalism conferences and conventions

Brenda Field attended her first JEA/NSPA convention in 1996. More than 30 conventions later, she's still attending — and still learning! Whether you go with or without students, conventions will always leave you feeling inspired, refreshed and renewed.

November 21, 2016

brenda-photoLast week, the day after the fall JEA/NSPA convention in Indianapolis, a Facebook friend and fellow adviser posted a thank-you to organizers along with a photo of his collection of 12-years-worth of convention name badges, still connected to their lanyards. Friends responded not only with likes, but also with photos of their own name badge displays. Coincidence? I think not.

What is it about a JEA/NSPA convention that compels advisers to treasure what should be an easy toss amid the mountain of paperwork and other clutter that so easily fill our desks? I’d argue it’s not so much about the where — although it’s fun to remember all the cities I’ve visited — it’s about the who, the what and the why.

I attended my first JEA/NSPA convention in the fall of 1996. I was a first-year teacher, straight out of the University of Iowa, and the convention was in Chicago. Despite my training — and I owe debt of gratitude to Dick Johns and the University of Iowa Journalism School — I felt like a fish out of water.

We weren’t staying overnight, but I had never taken kids on a field trip. When faced with the reality of over 4,000 middle and high schoolers wandering around a convention hotel, I felt flustered about how to deal with, let alone find, my students. When I stumbled across two of my kids smoking in the hallway between sessions, I was paralyzed about how to respond. Some of these “kids” were only four years younger than me.

Although I still shudder about how inexperienced I felt, I also remember what I took away.

The experienced newspaper adviser supported me in making sure I had a handle on my kids, and I gained confidence in navigating the unfamiliar territory of field trips and conventions.

The kids came home buzzing about sessions they attended, and I had found time to sit in on a bunch of my own. One of my idols from Iowa City, Jack Kennedy, talked about storytelling; another speaker presented methods for grading a publication class. I ran into my student teacher supervisor, Dick Johns, and he reminded me he was only an email away.

I went back to school a better teacher and adviser, even though I still had a lot to learn.

Flash forward 20 years — more than 30 conventions and conferences later — and I’m still learning. I can’t imagine where I’d be as an adviser if I hadn’t gotten involved with the PLC that is JEA.

I owe everything to those who at every stage of my career have been so willing to share their ideas and expertise and to remind me that I’m not alone.

Advisers often feel like they’re on islands in their buildings. People don’t understand their challenges, and they don’t fully appreciate their victories. Conferences and conventions are a bridge.


Whether you go with or without students, conventions will always leave you feeling inspired, refreshed and renewed.

They’ll provide you the mental energy you need to push forward, and they’ll remind you there’s a network of support — you’re not alone on that island.

Layered along the top of a bulletin board in my office are most of the convention badges from my 20-plus years of advising. (See photo at right.)

They serve as a reminder of who’s in my corner, what I’m still learning and why it all matters.


Hoping to travel to a national convention? Anticipating questions? Download this PDF, prepared by JEA, to share with administrators as you seek travel approval.

Looking for something more local? Check out the calendar on the IJEA website; it lists dates of upcoming regional press association conferences.

Brenda Field, MJE, advises the national award-winning Etruscan yearbook at Glenbrook South High School. She is the Journalism Education Association’s Illinois state director.

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