Saturday, February 6, 2016

ICMA report 4: Observations on Students and Media

Panel of student journalists who worked with Iowa Watch on caucus night--from Iowa State University, Buena Vista University and Simpson College. They might be, right to left, Alex, Kiley, Zach, Brittany and Michelle. Or perhaps they are in some other oder.
Well, they are young, most of them. And they use media differently.

For example, there were free piles of “The Des Moines Register” readily available, but I saw few college students walking around with them at the Iowa College Media Association convention, held in conjunction with and hosted by the Iowa Newspaper Association convention.

Cell phone use. Bet my picture is better.
At ICMA/INA sessions, when something cool happened, mostly you saw cell phones taken out to snap photos or video. I saw at least one BVU student with an SLR camera, but it seems like my generation is the one more likely to use a camera. Not that old people don't take images with an iPhone, I just noted what I think was a trend as a lugged around my Nikon.

Several Friday, Feb. 4 sessions at ICMA featured advice for student journalists and/or shop talk from them. And even if it would give an old man some comfort to see these youths actually looking at a newspaper, I can take some solace in the quality of their anecdotes.

They care about journalism and think deeply about it.

A one session, Lyle Muller of Iowa Watch invited a panel of reporters who had covered the Iowa Caucuses to speak. Iowa Watch did a project on the caucuses, and two of my students took part. See their posts here and here.

Ahh! Justice! I think that's the name
of the BVU student with the camera.
Anyway, Michelle Hartmann, who I think was from Simpson College, described what it was like to have the Secret Service move you at a Ben Carson rally. I noted that when the Secret Service moves you, you do move. Muller added that you also don’t move until they do move you. “Your instincts (to get on some stairs for a better photo angle) were right,” Muller told Hartmann.

I hope I have the names right. I know Lyle, so I’m pretty sure about him, but there were five panelists from three colleges, and although I wrote their names down from a “names” slide, they were not sitting in the order they were listed. So Michelle might have been Brittany and Brittany/Michelle might have been from Buena Vista University. At least only one student was from ISU!

Lyle Muller is Iowa Watching you.
To me, the irony of my name confusion is that the session with Muller came right after a session on reporting basics by Brian Steffen, professor at Simpson College, spoke to ICMA about how easy it is to get basic facts confused when you report. As I like to warn my own students—get the information right when it’s in front of you. Don’t assume you can check it later. True, that’s advice that I should have followed.

A photographer who was moved by the Secret Service.
Anyway, back to Muller. Brittany Robb from BVU, or possible Michelle, said that covering the caucus night was a lesson in “being prepared for the last thing you would expect.”

That, I think, sums up a lot of what journalism is. In addition, as Steffen said in the previous session, you must verify information. Again, as Robb or someone else said: “Take anything you hear from a candidate with a large grain of salt.”

As Muller pointed out, that’s because a politician is trying to persuade, to sell an action. They are not trying to win the truth-telling contest.

Anyway, I have no way to fact-checking this. It’s just my personal impression, which makes it more blogging than journalism. I sensed enthusiasm at ICMA for basic shoe leather reporting. And I think the students who joined the Iowa Watch effort really gained from that experience, and not just the ones who spoke at ICMA.

As I noted earlier, two of my students wrote caucus accounts for Iowa Watch. Later, versions of their stories will appear in the MMU Times. While it’s great to write for the Times—MMU students, any of you who want to be in a communication-related field should do that—I’m sure the thrill of seeing your mug on the Iowa Watch site is a bit more of a rush then when it appears in the Times.

And it does give me pleasure to work with bright young people (and some not so young) who still seek that rush.
Brian Steffen at the earlier session. The pride of Simpson College.

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