Filmed by Alexis Simmons. Edited by André Rowe, Jr.
Jan Yopp is a professor at the School of Media and Journalism and dean of Summer School for Academic Affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she has taught a variety of skills courses for more than 30 years. She has written three books, including the co-authored text, Reaching Audiences: A Guide to Media Writing, in its sixth edition. In this interview, conducted by email with NCSMA Assistant Katie Schanze, Yopp discusses her time as director of NCSMA.
To what do you attribute NCSMA’s longevity?
The advisers at student publications around the state who keep media active at the local level. Also, the support of Richard Cole to bring NCSMA more fully into the School with a more permanent funding structure. All the directors have had a role in maintaining the program from year to year and ensuring its excellence, particularly in the last decade with financial pressures and changes in the industry.
How did your high school experience affect your role as director?
Having worked on my high school newspaper, I knew the work my adviser did and the challenges in keeping a newspaper funded and staffed. That helped me understand the needs of advisers as well as understand from a student perspective the kinds of skills and lessons they wanted at the annual Institute.
Why did you accept the job, and what were you expecting going into it?
Richard Cole asked, and I said yes. I had no idea what to expect because I had not had any experience in administering a large organization or setting up a conference. Probably a good thing I didn’t know about all the pieces that had to come together for a successful event with no injuries for 350 people.
What were some of the challenges you faced on the job? What did you learn from them?
The biggest challenge was coordinating all the speakers for several tracks—newspaper, yearbook and literary magazine—then getting the schedule published. Once everyone was on site, ensuring that all sessions happened, rooms were available, and everyone had a good time safely. I learned core organizational skills that I have carried with me since then.
When it was time to leave the job, what was the most difficult part?
The connections I had made with advisers and the support they had given to make the summer institute run so smoothly.
How did the summer Institute evolve during your tenure?
Because I was director for only three years, I was basically a placeholder to keep the Institute running. I confess I was so busy with the administrative tasks surrounding the summer workshop that I didn’t have time with teaching and other responsibilities to look at a broader picture for scholastic journalism at that time.
Please share your thoughts on the value of scholastic journalism in North Carolina.
We must keep scholastic journalism active so that students can begin to be aware of the critical need for thorough, proactive and courageous journalists—regardless of the medium that shares information. We need to make sure they get the passion and desire to become communicators while in high school so they can influence their friends and families and then pursue journalism and media education in college. Scholastic journalism is the breeding ground for the next best reporters, writers, and editors whether they are photographers, foreign correspondents, digital producers, multimedia experts, etc.
What is your hope for the future of NCSMA?
Additional financial support because of its critical role in educating students about the role of media in our democracy and about the need to share accurate and complete information so that individuals wherever they are can function fully in society and just have good lives. And that it is around to celebrate 100 years.