Note: This is one of several blog posts written by Shorthorn staffers about the conferences or training they attended. Today’s blog post written by reporter Matt Fulkerson about what he learned during the Education Writer’s Association Higher Ed seminar.
1. Encourage participation to win your readers
Probably the most important lesson I learned from the conference came from Scott Jaschik,co-founder and editor of Inside Higher Ed. In order to engage readers, it’s not enough to just write about students and the issues important to them. To fully engage students in the story and create a dialogue, we need to encourage active participation with the paper. Jaschik used the idea of stories on parking problems as an example. Rather than write articles about parking changes or problems, try doing a contest searching for the worst parking horror story and offer a prize to the best tale of woe. The prizes offered should connect back to the story, like a one day pass to park in the faculty lot or one day of free valet parking (how cool would that be? Probably a little iffy when it comes to insurance, but a great direction none the less).
2. Want to be an education reporter? Show up and get learnin’
EWA project director Kenneth Terrell offered his thoughts on ways student journalists can get a leg up on their peers during a conversation at lunch. Terrell suggested that the best way to get into educational journalism was to attend as many conferences like the EWA’s as possible. Not only does it allow you the chance to learn what issues are affecting schools around the country, and how journalists are attacking these stories, it provides an opportunity to make connections with professional journalists. This can help to give you some inroads after college, when you’re looking for a job, but also give you information about things you never knew existed. Which leads us to…
3. Chess reporting. Yes. It’s a thing.
When Jamaal Abdul-Alim off-handedly mentioned that he was a chess reporter, Twitter blew up. Abdul-Alim offered some great advice on using what you know and love (in his case, chess) and applying it to other fields. Abdul-Alim started freelancing at different chess tournaments around the country and the world and started building connections. He found that most of the major tournaments were hosted by defense contractors, who use the tournaments as a way to scout talent. These connections have been invaluable throughout his career. No, we don’t all have to become chess reporters, but think about the things that interest you. How can you connect those things to the larger world and build, not only your contacts, but your understanding of the world at large and as a result become a better journalist.
4. Find the person who knows it all.
Scott Jaschik mentioned during his session on building better stories something that really struck a chord with me. “Who is the unofficial university historian” at your school. What he meant was: Who understands the way things work now, and the way things worked in the past? Who knows all of the school’s dirty little secrets, and better yet, who is willing to tell you about them? Find that person. It won’t be easy, and more than likely there’s more than one. Whoever this person is could be a literal fount of information.
5. Rankings? What rankings?
Finally, something that several panelists brought up was the idea of not reporting on rankings the way they’ve been reported on in the past. The issues we should be tackling when it comes to rankings is not the numerical ranking itself, but rather what that ranking means and how the school received it. If the school claims its major focus is in one area, but it’s ranked higher in a completely unrelated area, what’s the reason for this? Regarding sexual assaults, we shouldn’t be writing about the fact that one school received more reports of problems than another. Rather, we should be discussing why one school has more reports. This doesn’t have to mean that more reports of assaults indicate the school has more problems, it could mean that the school is making students feel more comfortable coming forward. More reports could be a good thing. We have a tendency to write about the bad, but not the good work being done.