Community journalism at the heart of CoJMC experiences

Community journalism at the heart of CoJMC experiences

Friday, February 22, 2019 - 7:45pm
Professor Mary Kay Quinlan’s advanced reporting class spent two weeks reporting in Seward County last summer. (Photo courtesy of Seward County Independent)
Professor Mary Kay Quinlan’s advanced reporting class spent two weeks reporting in Seward County last summer. This is just one example of the CoJMC's involvement in community journalism. (Photo courtesy of Seward County Independent)

by Molly Chapple Roe

The College of Journalism and Mass Communications is dedicated to providing students with real-world experience that allows them to hit the ground running after graduation with all the tools they need to succeed. Part of this hands-on experience involves the college’s commitment to getting students involved in community journalism.

Community journalism is professional news coverage that is locally oriented. It tells stories of people, places and issues within small towns and suburbs rather than large metropolitan areas. Community journalism focuses on the effects that wider topics have on local readers. CoJMC students and faculty are involved in community journalism in various ways.

One way is through the Nebraska News Service, which is beginning its ninth year at the college. The course allows students to cover the Nebraska Legislature and other state government news. Students’ stories from this class are provided for free to more than 120 Nebraska media outlets that subscribe and are often featured on the front page of local newspapers.

In addition, each summer CoJMC students have the option to take the advanced reporting class in Seward, Nebraska, in a more than 30-year partnership with the Seward County Independent. Students in this course gain hands-on newsroom experience by interviewing, reporting and photographing local events, including the community’s Fourth of July extravaganza.

“Students in the Seward reporting class have an unparalleled opportunity to work outside their comfort zone and produce real work for real readers on deadline,” said Associate Dean Mary Kay Quinlan, who has taught the class for 19 years. “It’s a short-term, immersive internship that gives them a firsthand view of community journalism.”

Students also have had a chance to contribute stories to community newspapers through work in other reporting classes in which faculty members have reached out to editors offering to have students write feature stories local newspaper staff members don’t have the time to do. In the fall semester, for example, students wrote for the Norfolk Daily News, West Point News, the Seward County Independent and the Hickman Voice News.

The Norfolk Daily News also has regularly hosted small groups of students for weekend reporting assignments related to special projects for the newspaper.

In addition to the hands-on experiences for students, the college hosts visitors from at least three different local newspapers every year. Journalists from the Omaha World-Herald visit the CoJMC once a week to speak to students in the Real World I class, and several students who show solid news judgment, attention to detail and enthusiasm for the profession are chosen to take part in fellowships.

The Omaha World-Herald Real World Fellowship program allows students to work 20 hours a week performing all the duties that come with a journalism job, including reporting at crime scenes, writing cutlines for photographers, live tweeting events and much more. The fellowships help the World-Herald identify and develop talent for their organization.

The Grand Island Independent and Norfolk Daily News also visit the college every year and hold interviews to find potential interns.

“All of these opportunities allow our students to gain valuable experience in the field, while making connections to local communities,” said Interim Dean Amy Struthers. “Community journalism brings people together to create personal impact on readers.”

In addition to these student opportunities, the college also maintains important links with community journalism as a co-sponsor of the Nebraska Press Hall of Fame, which honors journalists who have had a lasting impact on the industry in Nebraska. The college also houses the Nebraska Press Women Hall of Fame, which recognizes women journalists who made a difference in the community, their profession and for future women journalists who follow in their footsteps.