Thursday, February 4, 2016

ICMA report 2: Some lessons to learn

I kind of wish I had been videotaping rather than shooting images of the Iowa College Media Association convention. Of course, I have two cameras with me, and they both shoot video, but I don’t really want to edit hours of video.

OK, what I really mean is I wish someone else shot video and edited it to a highlights reel, but then again, there were a lot of highlights from the first day of the ICMA convention.

I thought our keynote speaker was interesting. Are you ready for a mouthful? It was Amalie Nash, who since 2014 has been the executive editor and vice president for news and engagement at the “Des Moines Register.” I must be getting old, as a newsroom title, “VP of news and engagement” sounds way too new age for me.

She made many good points—many of which are not revolutionary, and echo what I’ve long told my students, but I liked the way she put things. When covering news, always ask yourself “why is this a story?” And she was spot on—one of the problems with beat journalism is the risk that the journalist becomes too much a part of the club, or, as I would paraphrase her, the writer beings writing for his or her sources rather than the readers.

Amalie Nash, "Des Moines Register" executive editor

“Know who you are writing for, who is going to read your content,” she urged. CO 120 students, take note.

She also noted that many of her college classmates didn’t end up in journalism careers because they didn’t do an internship, and thus had no professional samples. Again, as I’ve told any MMU student unfortunate enough to be cornered by me—you must write for the Times, even if you’ll never work in newspapers, because you must establish a portfolio. And there is a reason why you can’t get a journalism degree or any other communication degree from MMU without an internship.

As for breaking into the field, Nash’s wisdom isn’t new, but is relevant: Network. Get to know people. Make a name for yourself.

As a young professional (Mariah Young of Dwolla, an e-commerce company) said: “You are your own brand.” “I am a product,” she added.

Aaron Young of the "Des Moines Register"
listens to Mariah Young.

Anyway, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with all of Nash’s speech. I am a bit bit ill at ease with the need for audiences to be “personal” with their journalism sources—I don’t care what she ate at the State Fair, it doesn’t seem like “news” to me. But I don’t deny that she’s fundamentally correct that journalists have to find new ways to reach audiences as the media landscape quickly evolves. And, after all, now that I think about it, my previous blog post about ICMA awards started with what I ate, so who am I to talk?

Mariah Young, by the way, was part of what I think was the best panel of young professionals I’ve seen at ICMA.

In particular, I liked some of the things that Kyle Oppenhuizen of the Greater Des Moines Partnership said. He emphasized that he has changed jobs, and in each has found that good writing skills are the key to his work.

Two MMU students listen to young professionals panel.

“I don’t know much about business, but I know how to be a reporter,” he said.

And what is one key to good writing? “Listening is maybe the most important skill you can acquire,” Oppenhuizen said.

David Ekstrom, Meredith, and Kyle Oppenhuizen.

Amen to that.

Prior to the young pros, there was a panel on diversity. That was interesting, too, partly because Justice Gage of the BVU Tack noted how his campus had a forum on immigration.

The sound you hear is my ears pricking up. I coordinate an annual Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy, and our topic for 2016 hasn’t been named yet, but has to do with immigration.

“Everyone has an immigration story,” Gage said. I’m not sure that is literally true—at least one Native American is an official at MMU—but it’s a pretty good generalization. I’m the product of a Hungarian family that came over a bit more than 100 years ago—my grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants. My mother’s Irish family had been in the country longer, but was in the great wave of 19th century immigration that causes so much fear and anxiety in the 1800s.

If Donald Trump were running for president in 1855, he would want to stop all those Irish from coming over “until we can figure out what is going on.” Give it up, Don, you won’t ever figure it out.

Justice Gage, BVU, listens to Danielle Ferguson, ISU.
Anyway, I digress. My point is that we want to play with the way the people of the USA understand their own immigrant heritage and our reactions to new immigrants. So Gage’s remarks resonated with me.

I got a lot of food for thought from the first day of ICMA. For one thing, the editor of the Register asked how many students regularly do video storytelling. Although I require it to a limited extent in my journalism courses, I can’t help but feel even writers need to be pushed more to be conformable with that kind of storytelling.

You have to reach the audience where it is willing to be reached.

And I have to go to bed. Day two of ICMA will be exhausting if it’s as interesting as day one.

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