Through community partnerships, journalism students are being immersed in newsrooms alongside reporters and editors.
Clips. When you're in journalism school, that's the magic word. You're told time and time again that you can't leave school without clips. But given the chicken-and-the-egg phenomenon of being published (you need clips to get clips!), how do students get their work published?
The answer comes for many through partnerships between SJMC and Twin Cities news organizations. These opportunities give students the chance not only to gain clips but also to work in newsrooms, experience beat reporting and work one-on-one with editors.
Field-Based Practicums Immerse Students In Newsroom
The Pioneer Press Practicum began the trend in 1998. For 15 years this class has allowed students to work among editors in the St. Paul newsroom. In fall 2012 students had a total of 247 bylines. "The students get such great experience at the Pioneer Press," said SJMC lecturer Gayle "G.G." Golden, who developed and still leads the practicum. "They're immersed in the newsroom, attending meetings and are sent out on their own to do reporting."
In 2004, the Star Tribune followed suit, led by SJMC instructor and former Star Tribune reporter Chris Ison. On the model set up by the Pioneer Press Practicum, students work in the newsroom with editors and are put on a beat. "Students are spread around the newsroom," Ison said. In spring 2013, students worked on the health, sports and suburban teams. The student staff also included a photographer and two students creating video content for online applications.
The first-hand experience with editors becomes a key takeaway for the students. "I was never more than 10 feet from my editor," said SJMC senior Rachael Krause, who worked with Pioneer Press political team leader Phillip Pina in fall 2012. "My editor was a cheerleader for better writing," she said. "He taught me how to write quick, but do it right."
Being within the newsroom is what makes this experience so significant for students. "You always feel like you're a piece of the pie," said Krause. "I was able to hear editors reporting on the phone and building relationships with their sources, which was unbelievably helpful."
Working alongside editors also gives students a "safe place" to ask questions and learn. "There was a great mentoring aspect that was a huge benefit of working in the newsroom," said 2012 graduate Urmila Ramakrishnan, who worked with Pioneer Press public safety editor Hal Davis in fall 2012. "Everyone knows you're there to learn," she said. "There is a built-in safety net for you to ask questions and get the most out of learning from professionals in the trade."
The partnerships are not only valuable for students, but, also for the editors. "This is a fantastic program that allows young journalists to get real-life experience working at a major newspaper," said Suzanne Ziegler, editor of the Star Tribune's Minneapolis team of reporters. Her intern in spring 2013 was SJMC senior Brian Arola, who covered several controversies in Minneapolis, including the Megabus parking lot dispute. "That story ran as a B1 display and was top-read online for about 24 hours," she said. "It goes to show how valuable these young journalists are. We are delighted to work with them."
Both Golden and Ison say that Practicum classes are vital for journalism students who want to work in news. "These students do really well in the job market," said Ison. "They come out of the class feeling ready to go to work."
Case-in-point is Joseph Lindberg. The 2010 graduate worked in the Pioneer Press newsroom in 2009 with Watchdog editor Debra O'Connor to create a series about unemployment rates. As a team they created the content for the series, then Lindberg created the website and interactive elements. Following graduation, he became the government reporter at the Faribault Daily News, thanks, in part, to his experiences at the Pioneer Press. "Going into a job interview and being able to talk to an editor about concrete newsroom experiences you've had is so important," said Lindberg. "They get a sense that you've covered projects under pressure and you know how to work on deadline."
In fall 2012, Lindberg was hired as the Pioneer Press' breaking news reporter and shortly thereafter he found himself working alongside a new crop of practicum students. "It's kind of surreal," he says.
Newsrooms Move Digital
In 2010, students enrolled in Jour 5131: In-depth Reporting began working with MinnPost. By the end of the semester, they had produced four in-depth stories that examined topics such as the underfunding of the Minnesota Public Defender's Office and how the recession changed the gender make-up of the state and national workforce.
Building on this success, in 2011, MinnPost received a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to hire a full-time reporter to work with journalism students. That year, long form features centered on such topics as Adderall use in high schools, the lack of training for language interpreters in medical settings and organic farming. "The project . . . not only benefitted the students by helping them develop their journalism skills, it has also benefitted the community by providing information and raising important issues," said MinnPost managing editor Roger Buoen.
In 2012, MinnPost received a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation to work with students to create a series about subprime lending. (Read all of the stories in this series.) Throughout the semester students were devoted to the topic, compiling data and writing in-depth articles. MinnPost reporter Sharon Schmickle, along with Ison, worked with the students to create these features. "It was a wonderfully constructive and instructive process," Schmickle said. "The editing and polishing was very hands-on. Going through stories line by line really combines everything that we value in journalism and ensures that stories are accurate and presented clearly."
"The online space allows for longer, more in-depth stories," Ison said. "Students have to dive deep into these topics and, on top of the writing and reporting, the student produce all of the graphics and photos."
Students Create Multimedia News
In fall 2012, another new partnership hit the ground running, this time with Minnesota Public Radio News. A small group of students enrolled in the Pioneer Press Practicum entered the MPR newsroom to work on a dedicated, semester-long project about English language learners in Minnesota. "This was an issue that MPR News wanted to explore," Golden said. "Teaching the World in Minnesota" investigated the role that non-native English speakers have in Minnesota schools.
MPR News editor Bill Wareham served as real-life editor to the students and oversaw the process. "We spent the first few weeks doing research and exploring how we could best do this project," Wareham said. "It was a very organic process."
The students -- made up of not only journalism majors, but also a computer science major and an aerospace engineering student with an interest in photography -- did the reporting, writing, sound recording, photography and web design for the project (see the finished product at z.umn.edu/sjmcmpr). "We really wanted to use all of the platforms available," Wareham said.
"We did some things with this project that we hadn't done yet in the newsroom," Wareham said. "It's a good, solid piece of work that we can continue to use and link back to."
And in coming years, MPR News wants to continue the project to deepen coverage of non-native Minnesotans.
For many, these opportunities become about much more than just clips. These partnerships not only help student journalists become newsroom reporters, they also allow editors to help shape the next generation. "The editors nurture the students and love working with them," Golden said. "The editors are impressed with the level of skills our students have and how they are ready to hit the ground running," Ison said.
"I learned a lot from the students," Wareham said. "They work with a different mindset than career reporters and were often willing to put in extra hours."
Schmickle agrees: "Working with student journalists is so refreshing for me," she said. "Watching them grow as journalists is so enjoyable."