Register University: In-House Newspaper Teaching Program Offers Lectures on Topics Ranging from Libel Law to Foreign Languages to Analysis of Coverage of Foreign Affairs

Article excerpt

THERE ARE NO grades, tuition or textbooks and classes vary widely in content.

But "Register University" can take its place with the best schools of journalism, according to its students.

The latter are all staff members of the Orange County (Calif.) Register which, since january, has conducted what is believed to be a unique in-house teaching program.

Each week, Register U. -- that's really what they call it -- offers lectures on topics ranging from libel law to learning Vietnamese to U.S. newspaper coverage of the war in former Yugoslavia. The instructors are either staffers with special expertise or outside experts.

Classes are held once a week for the younger, community-beat reporters and occasionally for the main newsroom staffers. Subjects have included the "tricks and techniques of interviewing," career enhancement, creating good stories through organization, developing sources, time management, and the California Public Records and the federal Freedom of Information acts.

Reporter Kim Christensen, recognized for his ability to get people to talk, taught the interviewing session and business writer Jeff Rowe held forth on story organization.

At one class, managing editor Ken Brusic discussed budget meetings and "How high-ranking editors have an impact on every story in the paper."

At another, staff photographers Ron Londen and Joe Gentry explained "How to think in photographic terms." Several of the gatherings have involved stratagems used by experienced reporters on a particular story.

Gregg Zoroya, for example, drew on his coverage of a fraud investigation by the Orange County Bar Association for his presentation, "Stealing the story away from the competition."

Tracy Weber told how to "confirm a major rumor (starting at 5 p.m.) by deadline" for an a.m. paper. This was in connection with her report on the selection of a new chancellor for the University of California, Irvine.

Training director Larry Welborn said the Register often highlights outstanding stories in terms of writing and news gathering and asks the reporter to tell a class "not how good he or she is but what techniques and efforts were used. These are wonderful experiences that should be shared."

Sessions also have been held on using portable telephones and the computer system.

Among the outside "teachers" have been Serbian-American Marco Trbovich, a former Detroit Free Press reporter, who faulted U.S. media for what he said was a continuing anti-Serbian slant in reporting the Balkan war.

Trbovich, who now owns a Los Angeles advertising and marketing firm, described himself as an "activist" on the Serbian side.

Washington, D.C., attorneys James E. Grossberg and Michael D. Sullivan, appearing at the invitation of editor Tonnie Katz, provided insight into "Libel Law in the 1990s" and Orange County District Attorney Michael Capizzi offered his views on the media in general and the Register in particular and how they can be improved.

Quang Van Pham, who teaches the Vietnamese language for Register U., and Nghia Tran, executive director of the Vietnamese Community of Orange County Inc., gave a special lecture on the community's culture. Orange County has the largest Vietnamese population in the U.S.

Classes are held on company time in a conference room just off the newsroom. The setting is informal with the attendees sitting around a long table. The sessions are scheduled for an hour-and-a-half but will run longer if there are questions -- and there usually are many. …