That is just one real world experience student journalists from the College of Mass Communication confronted last week during the national conference of the Associated Press Media Editors in Nashville.
Held at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, the conference brought together more than 100 top editors and journalists from around the country for three days of seminars, panel discussions and networking.
As a sponsor of the event, the university was able to give a select group of student journalists an opportunity to showcase their skills and learn some new ones. Students were charged with generating conference news — stories, photos, video and audio.
Teaching the skills necessary to report stories well in both print and digital platforms is among the key missions of the new Center for Innovation in Media within the College of Mass Communication.
The center is home to all student media outlets, as well as WMOT 89.5FM, the university’s public radio station.
When I stopped by the conference Thursday to see how things were going, senior Michelle Potts, who is the news director of the student-run TV station, MT10-HD, and colleagues Kyle Bates and Daniel Webb were working through a technical issue for video production.
“The pressure’s been on. It’s on right now,” said Potts, who managed the team responsible for video coverage. “The team’s been great. It’s been an incredible experience.”
She said she enjoyed being able to listen to Pulitzer Prize winners and connect with professional mentors.
“The best lesson I’ve taken away is … I always knew that I wanted to be in this field, but this just solidified everything,” Potts said. “I got to interview John Seigenthaler, who sat down with me, which was incredible. I will never forget it.”
Senior Becca Andrews, editor of the student newspaper Sidelines, coordinated news coverage.
The caliber of journalists on hand was impressive, she said, and the magnitude of the assignment caught her a bit off guard.
“It has not been what I expected. It’s a lot more fast-paced. There’s a lot more pressure,” she said. “I planned everything out, and when I got here, I think it hit me what a big deal this is. It’s incredibly important that me and my staff do a really good job, so there’s been more pressure associated with that than I thought there would be. But I think we’ve handled it really well.”
She said it was fun learning more about being a reporter.
Andrews and the other students heard from journalists such as Michael Berens, a reporter from the Seattle Times and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, as well as Sara Ganim, the young reporter from The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., who won a Pulitzer for her coverage of the Penn State football scandal involving Jerry Sandusky.
“I want to be her,” Andrews said of Ganim.
And there were more practical takeaways from the conference as well.
“I think the connections I’ve made here may benefit me come May when I graduate and desperately need a job,” she said.
Such student reflections won’t come as a surprise to Stephan Foust, director of the Center for Innovation in Media.
“It’s as real world as you can possibly get,” he said of the assignments. “They can learn everything a budding journalist or television production person needs to learn.
“They’re working under deadlines. They’re having to do interviews with some really outstanding people here, people in life you normally wouldn’t have that much access to, so there’s that tension … ‘I’ve got to have my A-game. I’ve gotta be sharp.’”
So, were they?
“I think they’re doing marvelously,” he said.