Each student had written a blog post about the new service's website by the time its editor-in-chief, Sharon McGowan – a veteran reporter, writer, editor and teacher – visited our class on Thursday.
McGowan had read all of their posts and concluded three things: 1) Almost all of them wrote they had not known about the news service, even though it has been headquartered in our very own Diederich College of Communication for about a year; 2) "everybody liked the look of our site," and 3) "we don't do enough enterprise or in-depth stories." To that, she said, "I 100 percent agree. It's one of my goals."
Then, after explaining the challenges of trying to cover so much territory with limited staff, McGowan told the class, "I'm very excited about you guys working on this project. ... You're going to help me break into our neighborhoods." Each student pair has been assigned to produce two audio slideshows about a selected neighborhood nonprofit organization, one focusing on someone helping to provide a service or operate a program, the other on a beneficiary of those efforts. Both pieces are to be about two minutes long and come with a 500-word news story.
The students are to function as real journalists in communities requiring a bus ride from the Marquette campus. Indeed, the organizations have not been prepped that they will be calling. "Your job is to identify the person and to identify the story," McGowan told the students, who are mostly sophomores and juniors but all journalism majors.
The reward for high achievement will be having their multimedia journalism published on the news service's site. No sure thing, McGowan said while stressing that high-quality writing and storytelling is important. "I'm a stickler for AP Style because it shows that you care about being professional," she said.
As much a nurturer as as exacting editor, McGowan offered great advice while answering student questions. Concerning personal queries of neighborhood residents who have struggled or suffered more than most, she said: "You're a lot more sensitive about it than they are. You will be very surprised ... people do want to talk, especially if they have been through a lot." And: "The main thing that young reporters do wrong in my opinion is not doing enough work before they get to the story. You can't just look at the (organization's) website."
If all goes well, the news service will be publishing digital journalism about the following organizations: Our Next Generation (Sarah Butler and Tessa Fox), Art Works for Milwaukee (Andrea Anderson and Rebecca French), COA Youth and Family Centers (Elizabeth McGovern and Benjamin Sheehan), Neighborhood House of Milwaukee (Kyle Doubrava and Eric Oliver), Select Milwaukee (Erin Caughey and Heather Ronaldson), Habitat for Humanity (Sarah Hauer and Benjamin Stanley), Centro Legal (Kathleen Doherty and Allison Kruschke) and Next Door (Alec Brooks and Ryan Ellerbusch). Each pair considers itself the class "Dream Team." Let's hope so.