Freedom of the Press. Those four words are powerful. They are words burdened with responsibility and magnitude. Now think back. Do you remember being an aspiring journalist? A student whose career was not yet more than a dream with an unclear path and only the hope that those with experience would take your hand to lead the way, to mentor and protect?
Those are the students and young journalists we celebrate today with Student Press Freedom Day. This national day of action celebrates the work of student journalists and spotlights not only the critical need to protect their voices and their mission, but also our responsibility to develop and nurture them.
According to the Student Press Law Center, fourteen states have enacted “New Voices” legislation to protect the First Amendment press rights of student journalists and their advisors. And while a record number of states introduced their own New Voices legislation in 2019, more work must be done to ensure its passage.
While advocates like SPLC work for policy change, we, the leaders in our industry, can take steps today to encourage these sharp young minds of the future. It’s a principle espoused by Simon Sinek, leadership guru and author of “The Infinite Game.”
“Great leaders are the ones who think beyond ‘short term’ versus ‘long term.’ They are the ones who know that it is not about the next quarter or the next election; it is about the next generation.”
So how do we protect and nurture the next generation of journalists? Cultivate connections, create a culture of commitment and watch as relationships lead to recruitment.
As a News Director and mentor, I have found that visiting students in their environment is key to creating confidence. Meeting with students in classrooms or small groups breaks down the barriers of the students’ self-doubt and allows them to engage one-on-one with someone who shares their passion and energy and adds the benefit of experience and perspective to the equation.
The University of Central Florida is home to nearly 59,000 students and the top-notch Nicholson School of Communications. As an alumnus, I have made it a priority to establish a symbiotic relationship with the school and the professors. I speak annually to the Principles of Journalism class on the importance of press freedoms. My staff of EPs and producers join resume prep events and internship fairs, and my reporters hold seminars on public records requests.
As Professor Rick Brunson says, “Her reporters, producers and managers generously make themselves available to our students to lead seminars and workshops at our RTDNA chapter meetings. I like to joke that Allison’s newsroom is really ‘UCF’s West Campus.’’’
Over and over, I’ve witnessed connections made and meaningful relationships formed between eager students and professionals, and the next thing you know, that student has someone in my newsroom on speed-dial who is ready to dispense advice and is invested in their future.
But it’s not just reporting techniques and records law that students can learn. Lynne Adrine is Director of the DC Graduate Program of Broadcast and Digital Journalism at the Newhouse School of Public Communications for Syracuse University. Adrine and I met in 2019 at a State of the Field event in Syracuse where we participated in a #MeToo panel discussing workplace safety and expectations for burgeoning journalists.
Adrine advocates a strong relationship between schools and professional newsrooms and believes that “along with the journalistic and ethical standards we try to teach, it's also the job of the faculty to guide the students towards being Good Newsroom Citizens. We are the gatekeepers, if you will, of professional decorum and civility in the workplace. We encourage the development of good communications between newsroom management and the beginning reporters so that expectations are clear, especially when it comes to standards and newsroom culture.”
Bringing students into the newsroom also opens up the world of journalism to those who never really considered it an option. WKMG regularly hosts primary, middle and high school tours. These tours help remove the mystique and magic of television and make a career as a reporter, producer or photographer a viable and realistic option. Often a student will come away from that tour inspired and intrigued. We have had several high school students request job shadow days and then return as college interns.
CULTURE OF COMMITMENT
It’s not enough, however, to just speak in a class or on a panel. To make a real and lasting impact, experienced journalists and news leaders must foster a culture of commitment.
How often are you interacting one-on-one with the interns in your newsroom? Are you offering a final reel critique? Did you find 30 minutes in your day at some point in the semester to sit and allow a young man or woman to ask you anything?
I’ve had amazing interactions with these inspired minds. They soak up so very much in school, but it is not until they are in a true newsroom setting that they understand how it all comes together. I’ve helped explain contracts, buy-outs and health insurance options. I’ve explained the difference between being salaried and being hourly and many other “non-journalism” issues that are basic in nature, but so very critical.
You’re not done yet.
Be sure to accept the LinkedIn or Facebook request and answer e-mails. Critique their reel and take their call when it’s time to move from their first market to their second.
Encourage your staff to do the same.
When I asked one of my reporters, Erik Sandoval, why he enjoys our newsroom’s commitment to rising journalists, he said, “Our connection to the next generation of journalists is vital. We need to make sure they know how to not only ask the tough questions and to write well, but they also need to know how and where to dig for the truth.”
I’m sure Erik would agree there’s nothing more rewarding than watching a journalist bloom before your eyes and knowing you were an important part of the process.
RELATIONSHIPS TO RECRUITMENT
Finding and retaining talented teammates is one of the toughest tasks for a news manager. When you’ve already made those early career connections and committed to helping those students wade through their first job experiences, I can promise you they will remember. They will remember your guidance and that you took time to care.
As industry leaders, we have an obligation to invest in the future of these bright minds for the benefit of all. As newsroom leaders, we must adopt a long-game view and sew as many seeds of potential as possible. Each mind influenced touches many others, and the investments you make today will pay dividends tomorrow. Don’t be surprised when you see these same folks applying to return to you years later. I have a former intern who is now, several years and a couple of markets later, a weekend morning anchor for WKMG. I also have a producer trainee who seamlessly moved into a full-time digital producer role working on some of our most innovative products.
Those students you invest in today will become the contributors and leaders of tomorrow. They will become industry and newsroom leaders and will influence others as you influenced them. They will encourage their co-workers to seek out your newsroom making that perennial task of recruiting and retaining talent just a bit easier than it was before.
THIS IS WHAT STUDENT PRESS FREEDOM LOOKS LIKE
As we watch the integrity of our industry take hit after hit with threats and accusations, it buoys me to see the generation coming next isn’t willing to give up without a fight.
They’ve heard the chants of ‘fake news.’ They’ve seen the bloodshed. And yet, they still desire to fight for the Freedom of the Press.
I believe those students deserve our best efforts today and every day to ensure they’re ready.
ADVICE TO THE STUDENTS READING
While this article is meant to encourage and inform news managers, I believe no article about mentoring and teaching would be complete with a few words of wisdom for the students.
I have gathered the following advice from the professionals quoted above:
Erik Sandoval, WKMG Reporter:
- Cultivate relationships with people in your community. Save every person's contact information in your phone, and don't be afraid to ask them questions.
- Take care of yourself. There are tough stories that will test your will and your emotions. Take time to talk out issues with your bosses and your friends, and do not be afraid to ask for help.
- Don't be a jerk. Don't create unnecessary problems. You don't have to like everyone in the workplace. You'll go a lot farther if you remember to treat your co-workers with respect.
- One of our favorite guest speakers at capstone is Ken Strickland, VP and Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News. Ken makes an analogy to cookies, in that each news operation has its own recipe for producing its product. Some cookies might be filled with oatmeal and fiber, while others are decorated with M&M's and sprinkles. As an employee, you better know what recipe your newsroom prefers.
- The news industry is the ultimate Six Degrees of Separation. Everybody knows everybody. So make a great impression everywhere you go. People will remember you and that great impression will follow you far beyond the moment and the newsroom you’re in. Show initiative and exceed expectations on every task, especially the ones you may consider “small.’’ That’s what will make you stand out.
- Be an idea generator. Enterprise is the lifeblood of this industry. If you are always bringing fresh, original story ideas to the table, you’ll create and build your own value. Read, read, read. Watch, watch, watch. Speak up, speak up, speak up!