Traveling to a National Convention

Traveling to a National Convention

Why Conventions Matter

TOP EDUCATORS Kathy Habiger is one of the educators who speaks regularly at conventions. At each convention, there are more than 200 sessions from which to choose. Topics include everything from writing active leads to shooting quality sports photos to covering school news on the radio. Photo by Clilf Palmberg.

Are you running into some obstacles at your school regarding convention travel? We know that field trip restrictions are tighter than ever, and we’re here to help. Download this PDF to share with your administrators as you seek travel approval. This one-page flyer promotes the benefits of JEA/NSPA national conventions and might help showcase why conventions offer essential learning experiences — for teachers and students — beyond the regular classroom.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2004 edition of Communication: Journalism Education Today.

Traveling to a National Convention
Go Zany with Others. Fly to a New World.

By Susan Massy, Gloria Olman and Karl Grubaugh

Each year, the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association co-host two national conventions, one on the East Coast or Midwest in the fall and one on the West Coast in the spring. Use these forms and guides to make your convention experience a pleasurable and informative one.

The conventions are designed to be educational, first and foremost, and entertaining and enlightening as well. To look back at past conventions, CLICK HERE. The hundreds of sessions at each convention offer students the opportunity to learn about everything from digital photography to copy editing from some of the finest instructors and journalists in the profession.

Entering the National Student Media Contests? CLICK HERE for the rules.

The Convention Hotel

One of the first decisions you’ll have to make when planning to attend the convention is where to stay. The convention hotel is not only where most of the students and advisers stay. It is also where most of the instructions, sessions and activities take place. Use the reservation forms provied by JEA to book reservations early because the hotel is always full.

  1. Be polite on the elevator. Use it only when necessary. Do not do “cute” things such as shriek, jump or push more buttons than you need to. And try not to douse yourself with too much cologne before getting into this cramped space.
  2. No hotel has enough elevators. When other conventions fill most of the rooms, they do not pack in as many visitors as the JEA/NSPA conventions do. For that reason, elevators may be crowded, and students should plan ahead. For instance, a trip back to the room right before Write-offs is not a good idea because being in the contest room promptly is vital.
  3. Do not run up and down the halls yelling or talking obnoxiously. Walk.
  4. Quiet is the key word. When groups of teens think they are quiet, most adults think they are loud. Be more quiet than usual. What would be the impact if people mistake you for a 20-something sponsor rather than a 14-year-old tag-along?
  5. Help the housekeeper with your room by doing the following:
    • Leave all of your towels in one big pile in the bathtub.
    • Gather the trash into one pile (preferably in the wastebasket).
    • Most housekeepers earn only minimum wage and have a lot of work to do when there is only one, neat business traveler in the room, let alone a hoard of messy teens. Leave a tip and identify it as a tip.
  6. While you are in the room, lock the extra locks. Do not rely simply on the automatic lock, which can be opened if someone gets a master key.
  7. Never open the door for someone unless you know who he or she is. If the person says they are with the hotel, call the front desk and ask.
  8. Do not leave valuables in the room when you are gone.
  9. In case of fire or another emergency, find the stairs and count the doors from your room to the stair exit door. Keep a key near the door to grab on the way out in case you find you are safer in the room than out in the hall or stairway. Read other directions typically found on the back of your hotel room door.

Why Use the Convention Hotel?

By Linda Puntney

I received a phone call the other day from an experienced adviser asking if it would matter if an entire state delegation blocked rooms outside the convention hotel.

The question was a distant threat, really. It was about a convention some years from now, but the lump in my throat and my audible gasp were in the now. I experience them every time we plan a convention and every time my name goes on a hotel contract on behalf of JEA. Of course, it does matter a great deal.

Convention meeting space is expensive. But hotels provide the meeting space to groups based on anticipated revenue for the hotel. Some groups, in addition to the room revenue generated, have hundreds of thousands of dollars in food and beverage (liquor) expenses with the hotel — a factor that makes it easy for them to provide meeting facilities for free.

Other groups, such as JEA/NSPA high school journalism conventions, generate no liquor revenue and, in the eyes of the hotel, little food revenue.

What we bring to a hotel is room nights. That’s our bargaining power. Without it, registration fees would have to skyrocket to pay for the meeting rooms.

In one recent convention, for example the hotel relied on us to generate 3,545 total room nights. If we hadn’t met our block, we would have been charged on a sliding scale for the meeting space. Not meeting our block could mean we would pay as much as $55,000 for the meeting rooms. Having to pay those kinds of fees would spell financial ruin for both our nonprofit organizations.

In essence, those who support the convention by staying in a designated convention hotel are paying, in large part, for the meeting space. Those who choose to stay elsewhere are not paying their fair share.

Not staying in designated convention hotel blocks also means the organizations cannot track how many room nights have been picked up. Room rates and meeting space allotment are often determined – at the least influenced – by room pick-up history.

RULE OF THIRDS During the write-off critiques on Friday afternoon, students have their own work critiqued by professionals and educators. Many of the carry-in competitions involve personalized critiques. Photo by Bradley Wilson.

Airline Travel

You’ll also have to figure out how to get there. Pay attention to the JEA website as airlines will often offer JEA/NSPA convention attendees a discount. While airline travel may still be one of the safest ways to travel, it is not hassle free. Designed to protect the nation’s transportation system, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) manages airline security and publishes pages of guidelines to help expedite passage through security checkpoints. For more information, check out the TSA Web site.

Pack smart

  • Carry-on baggage is luggage that you take on board the airplane with you. Most airlines allow each traveler one carry-on in addition to one personal item, such as a laptop computer, purse, small backpack, briefcase or camera case.
  • Checked baggage is luggage you check in at the ticket counter or at curbside. It will not be accessible during your flight.
  • Check ahead of time with your airline or travel agent to determine the airline’s baggage policy, including number of pieces you can bring as well as size and weight limitations.
  • Carry-on baggage is limited to one carry-on bag plus one personal item. Personal items include laptops, purses, small backpacks, briefcases, or camera cases.
  • Place identification tags with your name, address and phone number on all of your baggage, including your laptop computer. It is a good idea to place an identification tag inside your baggage as well.
  • Avoid over packing so that your articles don’t spill out if your bag is opened for inspection. If possible, spread your contents over several bags. Check with your airline or travel agent for maximum weight limitations.
  • Pack shoes, boots, sneakers and other footwear on top of other contents in your luggage.
  • Avoid packing food and drink items in checked baggage.
  • Don’t stack piles of books or documents on top of one another. Spread them out within your baggage.
  • Think carefully about the personal items you place in your carry-on baggage. The screeners may have to open your bag and examine its contents.
  • Put personal belongings in clear plastic bags to reduce the chance that a TSA screener will have to handle them.
  • Wait to wrap your gifts. Be aware that wrapped gifts may need to be opened for inspection. This applies to both carry-on and checked baggage.

Metal detectors

Any metal detected at the checkpoint must be identified. If you set off the alarm, you may be required to undergo a secondary screening, including a hand-wanding and a pat-down inspection.

Remove metal items at the security checkpoint, and place them in the bins provided. The bins will be sent through the X-ray machine. Save time by not wearing metal items or by placing such items in your carry-on baggage before getting in line.

Avoid wearing clothing, jewelry or other accessories that contain metal when traveling. Hidden items, such as body piercings, may result in a pat-down inspection. You may be asked to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to the pat-down search. Avoid items such as:

  • Jewelry (pins, necklaces, bracelets, rings, watches, earrings, body piercings, cuff links, lanyard or bolo tie)
  • Shoes with steel tips, heels, shanks, buckles or nails
  • Clothing with metal buttons, snaps or studs
  • Metal hair barrettes or other hair decoration
  • Belt buckles
  • Under-wire brassieres

Place metal items in carry-on luggage or in the bins provided before going through metal detectors, including:

  • Keys, loose change
  • Mobile phones, pagers and personal data assistants (PDAs)
  • Instead, place jewelry and other metal items in your carry-on baggage until you clear security.
  • Pack your outer coat or jacket in your baggage when possible. Outer coats including trench coats, ski jackets, leather jackets, overcoats and parkas must go through the X-ray machine for inspection. If you choose to wear an outer coat to the checkpoint, you will need to either place it in your carry-on or put it in the bin that is provided for you. You will not need to remove suit jackets or blazers unless requested by the screener.

Travel Safety and Etiquette

Airline etiquette missteps usually center around luggage, personal space and talking. Follow these simple steps and your flight will be easier for everyone, including yourself.


  • Don’t expect to carry on excessive luggage or oversize bags. Airlines are enforcing regulations. Security is paramount, and space is limited.
  • Carry your bag in front of you as you walk down the aisle. Over-the-shoulder luggage can hit passengers who are already seated. And certainly that tactic can be injurious.
  • Store your bag under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin adjacent to your seat. Don’t put your bag in a bin near the front of the plane for a quick exit — it means someone else will have to wait until the entire plane has emptied to walk back to get his or her bag.
  • Place your coat and jacket on top of your luggage in the overhead bins. Don’t place them next to your luggage because space is at a premium.
  • Sit in your assigned seat. You are not to switch seats.

Settling In

  • Don’t hog the armrests.
  • Don’t crank up the volume when you listen to music with a Walkman — the loud noise is irritating.
  • Don’t recline your seat when meals are served. Airlines may be expanding the legroom in coach, but space is still limited.
  • Don’t invade your neighbor’s “personal space.” Be considerate.
  • Feet often swell on long flights, and many passengers remove their shoes for comfort. Feet can smell. If you do take off your shoes, please wear slipper sox to contain the wafting aroma. People notice.

Enjoying the Flight

  • Don’t be a bore. There is nothing worse than being held captive by a talkative seat-mate. Don’t force your conversation on the person next to you.
  • If someone is driving you crazy with their (dull) life story — it is acceptable to tell them you’re too busy, tired, sick or whatever to talk. But don’t be rude. Some people are nervous fliers and talk compulsively.
  • Don’t grab the seat in front of you when you get up — it is disturbing to the person sitting there. Use your armrests to get up.
  • Don’t kick the seat in front of you.
  • Don’t hold conversations across the aisle or from row to row. It is annoying to other passengers.
  • Don’t clog up the aisles while the flight attendants are using the food and beverage carts.
  • Don’t sleep on your seat mate’s shoulder.

Heading Out

  • Don’t jump up and try to be the first one off — unless you’re in the front row. Wait your turn, which will occur in a matter of minutes, and the exiting process will move smoothly for everyone.
  • Flight attendants are right — items can shift in the overhead compartments during flight. Be careful opening the bins. Accidents can be nasty.
  • Remember to carry your luggage in front of you as you depart.
  • Don’t linger in the jetway waiting for your colleagues. Wait at the gate so everyone can exit without delays.

    KEYNOTE FAME Bob Schieffer, anchor and moderator of “Face the Nation,” was one of the keynote speakers at national conventions in Washington, D.C. (fall 2003). Photo by Kelly Glasscock.

How to Dress

Remember, we represent our school, our city, our state and, most importantly, ourselves. The people we will meet on this trip will form their opinions of us and of our program within the first five seconds of meeting us. First impressions, good or bad, are not quickly forgotten. Their impressions will be based on the way we are dressed and the way we act. Our actions should create an impression that we can be proud of.

You will need the following clothes for the trip:

  • Three dresses/skirts/slacks for convention sessions.
  • Jeans (no holes) or shorts are appropriate for sightseeing days.
  • Tastefully casual (but comfortable) clothes for traveling and the awards ceremony.
  • You should be well groomed throughout the trip.

You will need the following clothing for the trip:

  • Attractive shirts and slacks (one or two pairs) for each day of convention sessions (business-casual dress is appropriate)
  • Jeans (no holes) or shorts for sightseeing days.
  • Tastefully casual (but comfortable) clothes for traveling and for the awards presentation.
  • You should be clean shaven throughout the trip.

Hats are acceptable only in casual situations (for example, sightseeing). Hats must be worn with the bills forward. They must be removed in buildings and on public transportation.

  • Avoid wearing highly visible and expensive accessories, such as coats, jewelry or shoes.
  • Put your money in the front pocket of your jeans or shorts, not in a back pocket. Keep a firm grip on your camera. Do not invite a mugging.
  • Leave your purse in the hotel in your luggage (not lying around the room).
  • Keep a firm grip on your camera with your camera strap always around your neck or arm.
  • School dress code rules apply except in special situations.

Everyone will need spending money best carried in the form of traveler’s checks or credit cards. Meals are almost always more expensive in tourist destination cities.

  • Put your money in the front pocket of your pants or shorts, not in a back pocket.
  • Don’t store all your money or credit cards in one place.


To ensure that students get as much as they can from each session, some advisers solicit formal feedback from their students.


Karl Grubaugh asks his students to write down anything they might find useful in their student publications. Simple. Gloria Olman goes a step further and gives her students a form asking students to give feedback on such choices as their first impressions of the city, the best thing so far, best piece of advice they learned, what they can’t wait to tell the other staffers and the top three reasons we need these JEA conventions.

Thank you

Some advisers ask their students to formally thank the presenters, who have often spent hours researching and planning for their 50-minute session. To formalize that, some students jot down what they learn in a thank you for presenters. This serves to benefit the students, who have to articulate what they learned, as well as the instructor, who receives formal feedback from the students. It also shows the appreciation the students have for the presentation.

Students become teachers

Not every student on staff can attend the national convention. It’s too expensive and a logistical challenge; however, the students who do attend can write summaries of the sessions they attend to give to other students back at school. The effort to share will have positive benefits both for the school and for the journalism program.

CONVENTION HOTEL Claire Meyers from Convent of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco enjoys the Friday night dance at the fall 2003 convention at the Washington Hilton. The official convention hotel is the center of all activity, everything from student dances to most conference sessions. Photo by Jeanel Drake.


How to proceed

  • DO order appropriately.
  • DO order more than a house salad or an appetizer if the group is there to eat a meal.
  • DO say please and thank you. Verbal acknowledgement is as important as monetary rewards.
  • DO know what silverware to use. Always work from the outside in.DO place your napkin in your lap, not around your neck.
  • DO keep your napkin in your lap until everyone at the table has finished eating. Do not hand it to the server or place it on top of your plate when you are finished.

What to avoid

  • DON’T order more food than you could possibly eat.
  • DON’T share food. Tasting other people’s food is acceptable only if the owner places it on an unused separate side plate. Never eat from another person’s plate or use another person’s utensils.
  • DON’T chew gum in a restaurant. Remove it from your mouth before entering the restaurant. Do not place gum on the edge of your plate, in your napkin or under the table. Find a waste can.
  • DON’T talk with your mouth full.
  • DON’T slurp soup or suck pasta to get it into your mouth.
  • DON’T save silverware for later courses. The only exception is your knife, which should be placed on the bread plate.
  • DON’T request more of an item. (Example: Proper — “May I have a salad?” Improper — “May I have more salad?”) The latter implies that you are being rude to your server. However, most restaurants will give refills for water, iced tea and coffee. For hot tea, they may bring another pot of hot water. Inquiries or requests for liquid refills are appropriate if done politely.
  • DON’T tell the server you are finished or to take your plate. The placement of a fork and a knife in the center of your plate will indicate to the server that you have finished the course.


As a measure of good etiquette, students should plan to tip accordingly. Service industry workers can be your best friends or your greatest enemies. Work to keep them on your side. Their income depends on the quality of their services and on your generosity and thoughtfulness.

Baggage handlers, cab drivers, bell boys, and airport attendants

  • Tips should be equivalent to 50¢ per bag. (Example: 4 bags @ 50¢ = $2)
  • For an odd number of bags, you should round up. (Example: 3 bags @ 50¢ = $1.50, but you should tip $2)
  • Always keep $1 bills with you for tipping. Never tip with change.

Restaurant servers

  • Tip a minimum of 15 percent for service in a restaurant (also applies to room service orders). (Example: $20 bill + 15% tip ($3) = $23 total bill)
  • Usually it is excessive to tip more than 20 percent.

Other Services

Hotel employees should be tipped when you ask for and receive services that require them to go beyond normally accepted duties of their job. Remember these people may have gone out of their way to help you. They should receive tips for special services, such as delivering an iron/ironing board to your room, delivering a roll-away bed to your room or delivering extra towels, pillows or blankets to your room.


The statements below, initiated as a result of convention experiences, provide refinement or elaborations of Journalism Education Association convention rules. They may be helpful additions or clarifications for communicating with your staff.

Hotel behavior

  • Students will be held liable for any damage they cause to hotel rooms and facilities.
  • If the school receives a bill for damages to a hotel room, each student in the room will pay an equal percentage of the cost of the bill unless the student or students who caused the damage accept responsibility.
  • Rudeness to hotel guests and hotel employees, misuse of or reckless behavior on the hotel elevators, excessive noise in any hotel area, destruction of property or any other inappropriate behavior is not acceptable. This kind of behavior can lead to expulsion from the hotel and/or criminal prosecution.

Movement in the hotel.

  • No student is to leave his or her hotel room after curfew for any reason unless the publications adviser is notified of an emergency that requires leaving the room.
    Minor infractions of this rule may result in the student being excluded from future travel. Students involved in major infractions may be sent home.
  • No student is to be in a hotel room of any person who is a part of another school’s delegation.
  • No student is to leave the hotel without the knowledge and express consent of the adviser.
  • No student is to leave the hotel after dark without an adult chaperone.
  • No student will be off the floor of the hotel rooms or the convention meeting rooms without at least one other member of the school’s delegation.
    tobacco and medications.
  • Any use or possession of alcohol or drugs is forbidden and will result in immediate expulsion from the convention, contacting of parents or guardians and immediately being sent home.
  • Tobacco use or possession is prohibited.
  • School policies regarding cigarettes and smoking will be enforced during the trip.
  • Students are not to smoke at any time during the trip. Smoking is forbidden even in the privacy of the hotel room.
  • Students must give their prescription medications to the adviser at the beginning of the trip and list any such medications on the district medical form.

Convention participation

  • Students are expected to wear their convention name badges at all times while in the convention hotel. For security reasons, students should remove their name badges when leaving the hotel.
  • Students are expected to attend a session during every session opportunity and will be asked to complete a session summary form.
  • Students will be sent home for any violation of local, state or federal laws.
  • Students may be sent home any time the adviser or chaperone thinks that the offender is too much of a security/trust risk to remain a part of the group.
    The offender’s parents will be called and asked to make arrangements to pick up the offender immediately. The offender will be delivered to the main lobby of the hotel. At this point, the offender is no longer associated with the group, and the school withdraws its responsibility for the student. If the offense committed is a crime, such as possession or use of controlled substances, local authorities will be notified and the offender will be turned over to them, at which time the school’s responsibility for the offender is terminated. Parents will be notified.
  • I hereby authorize my credit card to be charged for a one-way airfare should my child violate these rules and need to be transported home for disciplinary reasons. I agree that the publications adviser and chaperones on the trip have the sole discretion to decide whether such action is necessary. Should the charge be refused, I hereby agree to reimburse the teacher or parent who must charge my child’s flight to his or her own credit card.

Submitted by Karl Grubaugh, Susan Massy and Carol Singletary

The Journalism Education Association and National Scholastic Press Association have established the rules for all convention attendees.

Be prepared to show signed copies of these rules at registration.

The Journalism Education Association and National Scholastic Press Association established student conduct guidelines and rules to ensure that all convention participants have a safe and enjoyable stay at the conference. The publications adviser must present these forms at registration. Please discuss the regulations, sign and return to the publications adviser before the trip.

  • A midnight curfew will be in effect every evening. Students should be in their own rooms and quiet at that time. They must remain in their own room for the rest of the night.
  • All students should be accompanied by at least one other convention delegate at all times outside the hotel. Students should not be out on the streets at night without a chaperone.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages or taking illegal drugs is not allowed.
  • All students are expected to wear their convention name badges at all times in the hotel. However, it is suggested that name badges not be worn outside the hotel.
  • No students will be admitted to the convention without a school-approved adviser or chaperone.
  • Advisers and chaperones are expected to know where their students are at all times. Advisers and chaperones are expected to enforce the curfew and quiet time.
  • Rudeness to other hotel guests and hotel employees, misuse of or playing on elevators and excessive noise in the hotel rooms, halls or other public areas as well as all behavior that is dangerous or inappropriate, such as throwing anything out of windows, from open balconies or from escalators, is not acceptable and can lead to severe consequences to anyone involved.
  • Accordingly, students found misbehaving will be asked to leave. Convention officials reserve the right to declare fees forfeit and to send students home at their parents’ expense should individual students’ behavior or delegations prove disruptive. Breaking the rules of this convention will result in disqualification from the contests and forfeiture of awards won.
  • Advisers and their schools will be held liable for damage to hotel rooms and facilities done by students under their supervision. It is understood that by the act of registering students for the convention, the adviser assumes responsibility for the students’ behavior during the convention.
  • Advisers must have written permission, which includes authorization for emergency medical treatment, before registering students for the convention.

We have discussed the rules listed above and we agree to abide by them. We understand that violation will result in immediate expulsion from the convention and transportation home at parent/guardian expense.

Student’s signature/date

Parent’s/guardian’s signature/date

Adviser’s signature/date

Communication with parents is critical for a successful convention experience. Copy and paste the text of this letter into your word processor and modify it as needed.

Dear Parents:

Thank you for permitting your student to attend the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association convention. I especially appreciate the chance to take these students under current world conditions, and I understand your concern for our safety. I will do all in my power to ensure our safety. This is an excellent educational experience, and I am confident the time and money will be well spent.

Flight information:
[Include flight information here including airline, flight number and arrival/depature times.]

We will leave at precisely [Insert exact time and location.]. If any parent can drive to the airport, it would really help. We need enough space to carry [x] passengers and luggage. Otherwise, we will take charter vans from school to the airport. Students should bring their luggage to school and store it in the classroom. We must get boarding passes, check luggage and go through security. Each person must carry a photo ID. I am allowing ample time to cope with traffic, security, etc. Students can eat at the airport after we check in.

Students will walk and carry their own luggage so they should pack light.

We will take a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel. The same shuttle service will return us to the airport.

Drivers from airport: Please meet us at the baggage pickup to organize groups for the trip home. You will not be permitted at the gate. We need room for [X] passengers. Students will return to the school at [time].

We will be staying at the [Insert hotel address and phone number.]. I have requested that our rooms are non-smoking, located in a block, but that cannot be guaranteed. (Person listed first is first on hotel register in case you need to reach that room. The hotel also has me listed as the adviser for the group.)

Room arrangements are as follows:
[List room assignments here.]

The hotel will shut off outgoing long distance phone service in all student rooms, but you may call them. They can call out from pay phones in the hotel, and they may not add any charges to the room bill. Many students carry phone cards to make calling home easier.

Students should bring adequate spending money for meals and other activities. (Travelers’ checks should be fine if students have photo IDs.) I hope to take them to a fun, western restaurant one evening. JEA has activities for students every evening so they can meet some of the other 4,000+ delegates and have fun. We will also visit as many historic/interesting places as time permits.

Students will need:
• $10/each for shuttle service to/from airport,
• $5/each for tips
• $100/each (approx. $25/day/person) for meals. Many students also pack juice boxes, granola bars, etc., for breakfast and snacks.
• $?? souvenirs and spending money

In addition to convention activities, we will tour this city as time allows. (Meaning: Students can sleep at home; in this city they will make the most of every moment.)

[Insert detailed, day-by-day schedule here.]

That also means students should get extra rest before they leave because they have a busy agenda. Remember: At home they can sleep or shop at the Gap and Banana Republic; not on this trip. They have places to go and things to see that they cannot do at home.

Again, thank you for allowing your student to participate. I know this group will represent us well. To help you, I will send you a list of each student in our group, with hotel room designation, home address and phone number. I will also give each student other information as I receive it.

If you have any other questions, please call me at [Insert home/work/mobile phone numbers here.].

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