J-school students cover convention

August 2, 2016 01:30

By Lydia Timmins, RTDNA Contributor

Lots of experiences look good on a recent graduate’s resume. Working at the college TV station, interning at a local station. And how about covering the Democratic National Convention for online, broadcast and print media?
 
The location of the DNC’s convention in Philadelphia provided opportunities for students from a number of universities to experience first-hand the wonder and mayhem of a political convention. I’m focusing this column on the experiences of three University of Delaware students who covered it. Professor Dawn Fallik did the credentialing and prep work for the students, finding them a place to stay and driving them where they needed to go. But once they got to the Wells Fargo Center, Andrew Wichman, Alexandra Hough and Sara Jo Lee discovered that it was nothing like a classroom assignment.
 
So what’s it like to be a student thrown into the maelstrom of a contentious convention? I chatted with them Friday, after they had a day to recover. Wichman told me, “It was a lot crazier than I expected. Working on the same playing field as the big name media was amazing.” Lee said she thought there would be a definite schedule and plan, but reporting on the fly turned out to be better. Lee said what was most surprising to her was that people were willing to answer her questions! She really didn’t think anyone would talk to her, but was surprised that so many people did. Hough commented, “...what surprised me most was that I was able to do this!”
 
I asked them when they stopped feeling like students and started feeling like journalists. Hough said the moment she was standing on the floor of the arena and looked around at the “real” journalists, the people she had seen on TV, “It was amazing”! Wichman recalled a specific experience of overhearing another media person say the Sanders supporters had taken over another tent. Wichman and Lee ran over and started gathering information, doing interviews and getting it all out on social media at the same time as everyone else. He said “I wasn’t a student, I was a journalist covering a story that everyone else was doing too”. Lee recalled that they took turns standing on a chair to get a better view of the crowd and better posts for Twitter. This is what all professors are trying to teach: figure out how to get the story and get it out.
 
I asked how the DNC experience impacted their career goals. Wichman said despite the fact he’s a poli sci major, he’d planned to go into sports. But after doing this, he says he wants to be a political reporter. And Lee admitted she had not had any interest in politics because she found it boring. But after the DNC, she says “(Politics) is interesting! It’s not dull at all! I could do this (as a job), this is fun!” Hough said “...although it (politics) still is not my favorite thing to cover, I did enjoy it and now know that I can.”
 
Overall, as I spoke with the students, I was struck by their enthusiasm. How having this injection of real reporting energized them and helped them realize that they could, indeed, be reporters. Or photogs. Or producers. Or any kind of mix of journalist that the next 20-30 years will require to continue to tell the stories that we all need to know.

Lydia R. Timmins is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware.