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WVU journalism professor tells importance of hands-on training in Quill magazine

Justin Weaver

West Virginia University Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism assistant professor Bonnie Stewart discusses the importance of real-life reporting experience for students in the latest issue of Quill magazine, one of the premier journals for professional journalists. The article highlights the SOJ’s Hurricane Katrina project and others from around the country.

The piece shows how projects like the School’s “Starting Over: Loss and Renewal in Katrina’s Aftermath” project get students out of the classroom so they can tell the stories of real people. She also reviews the SOJ’s Monroe County Radio Project and other hands-on journalism programs in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Alabama that emphasize the importance of young journalists learning through field experience.

Stewart’s article, “Preparing Students for the Newsroom,” can be accessed at http://www.spj.org/quill_issue.asp?ref=1212.

“Journalism educators need programs successful at getting students into real field experience,” Stewart said. “Most students want to conduct interviews by e-mail or cell phone and not meet the people to do real-world sourcing the way they should. If we are not giving students these kinds of real-world, immersion experiences, we are failing them.”

The Katrina project began shortly after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast in 2005. Some 300 New Orleans evacuees were temporarily housed at Camp Dawson, a military training base in rural Preston County, W.Va.

Over an eight-day period, WVU journalism students recorded, videotaped, photographed and wrote about the evacuees. To showcase their work in a multimedia format, the SOJ launched an award-winning Web site, which can be accessed at http://katrinaproject.journalism.wvu.edu.

The innovative Web site has won several awards, including a Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) “Mark of Excellence” first-place award for student online reporting and a Broadcast Education Association “Best of Festival” award for faculty production of interactive multimedia.

“Having a place to publish students’ work is very important,” Stewart said. “Once they have invested themselves into the real world, they need to see the results.”

The Monroe County Radio Project takes students to Monroe County, a rural community in the southern part of West Virginia. There, WVU journalism students show high school students and local volunteers how to create news programming for WHFI-FM, a radio station licensed to the Monroe County School Board.

The students help to produce 15-minute daily newscasts, monthly public affairs programming and a Web site with news and streaming video. More information on that project can be found at http://journalism.wvu.edu/SpecialProjects/monroe.htm.