NOLA Notes: A “news academy” for college media newbies
Note: This is the first of a yet-to-be determined number of posts based on a mountain of notes I furiously typed into a laptop during the National College Media Convention in New Orleans last week.
Correction appended below.
Updated Nov. 1 with UCLA Daily Bruin training information at bottom of post.
John Harvey is the Johnny Appleseed of an idea likely to fascinate and frighten you the first time you hear it: What if you REQUIRED every new reporter in your student media operation to go through a 12-week “News Academy,” attending 12 one-hour classes, spending time with senior staffers, completing a minimum number of assignments and passing a final exam — all BEFORE they could apply for a staff position?
The natural reaction is, “I wish we could do that. But could we really REQUIRE it? Would anyone work here?”
For John anyway, the answer is yes. He inherited a long-standing News Academy while the adviser at Penn State, replicated it at Georgia Southern and cranked up yet another one this year when he moved to East Carolina. He had students from all three schools (and Penn State adviser Jim Rodenbush) up front with him at his New Orleans session.
Some highlights from my digital notebook:
- Arielle Coambes, magazines editor-in-chief and former newspaper editor-in-chief, Georgia Southern: The News Academy gives newbies sense of belonging. They’re being trained, not forgotten.
- Coambes: “Candidates” come once a week for class for an hour. Libel, ethics, news reporting, etc. PLUS once a week they come in for “day desk.” They observe editors getting stuff done. Learn to write up press release, look online for stories.
- Coambes: There is a 4-story minimum for semester. The stars will go way beyond it, and even some who just do the four will go on to shine. And they have to pass a final exam. “It’s not hard, but [the candidates are proud] because it seems like they’ve gone over so many hurdles,”
- Rodenbush: Penn State has noticed younger students weren’t sticking with it as well. So they’ve ramped up the mentoring between candidates and editors. A little more involvement in day-to-day operations.
- Penn State had 15 in their summer candidate class, with 14 retained. Fall 2013 semester: 55 started, 52 still on board in late October.
- Brittany Horn, Penn State editor-in-chief: Wanted to make newbies feel more welcome. So she has candidates spend an hour outside newsroom with a staff member. And groups of six sit with Horn and ask whatever.
- Harvey: Previously ECU paid by the story and had many reporters who drifted in for a few stories and then left. Moved to stipends. This fall, 14 students entered the candidate program.
- ECU News Editor Jessica Richmond: “When I was a reporter, I was only in a newsroom for an hour every two weeks, I didn’t know the EIC, I had never met the designer.”
- Richmond: We have a neuroscience major and a psych major in candidate class. They’re growing as writers much faster than staff used to. They ask questions as basic as “Are we allowed to interview people for our stories?” (Don’t laugh unless you’re sure your new prospects understand all those “basic” journalism concepts.)
- ECU Managing Editor Mike Davis: Previously, all top editors were seniors. They’d graduate at same time and brand new writers became editors. Now, people in candidate program are overtaking people who are returning for the 2nd year.
- Harvey: In reality, they learn more in newsroom than in the hour class. The class really gives them a bit and gets them to know each other.
- ECU EIC Chase Kroll: Entire staff applies for every position at beginning of every semester. He says that lets you know what employees want to do and an easy way to move out someone who isn’t doing the job. And it opens up jobs for new graduates of the candidate program.
- At ECU, “night desk” requirement means candidate sits and watches whole process of putting out the paper.
- What about photographers, designers, etc.? The schools vary. Generally designers and photographers don’t go through the entire program and may be involved in apprenticeship programs with other advisers and staff.
- Penn State tries to have candidates do their first story with an assigned mentor “staff buddy” to lean on.
- ECU has byline difference. Candidates’ bylines are “for the East Carolinian.”
- Harvey has a weekly award for best job by a candidate.
- How do you recruit candidates? House ads, freshman orientation, visit classes. Georgia Southern student marking manager Marissa Martin made a video which Coambes said was “very effective” both in classroom presentations and in social media.
- There can be cuts along the way. At East Carolina, the editors vote at 5-week mark on whether to retain candidates. Those who aren’t taking it seriously are cut.
- Graduation: No candidate is guaranteed a staff position upon completion of the program. Once you’ve passed, you interview for a job with a section editor. Harvey says one candidate got a job only after six attempts because he interviewed poorly. He later became managing editor.
Update, Nov.1: At UCLA, prospective staff members for The Daily Bruin must go through 16 hours of workshops, all on weekends. The sessions are led by alumni and other professionals, says Arvli Ward, the student media director. Ward helped lead the “Reinventing Student Media” one-day workshop and will be quoted elsewhere in my New Orleans reports.
Corrected Oct. 31 to reflect that John Harvey did not start the News Academy program at Penn State. John made that clear in his presentation; the error was mine.