Article by Jennie Hall-Franz | Owl Staff
Hatred, accusations, and distrust across the nation. These are the struggles that journalists deal with on a day-to-day basis while working to accurately report events across the globe.
For journalists to remain arbiters of the truth, education amongst peers is very crucial in their development as honest reporters. Knowing this, the College Media Association (CMA) holds a conference every year for college journalism students to learn from famous media specialists around the globe and help them to make long-lasting connections in the field.
Due to Covid restrictions, the CMA and Associated Collegiate Press hosted a virtual conference this year, with the theme, “Connect21.” With journalism students from across the globe participating in this event, students were required to sign up for sessions ahead of time and virtually attend live sessions with the event speakers.
Sponsored by Harford Community College’s Journalism Club, five students from HCC were able to attend these sessions and gain valuable insights in their fields of interest. The students in attendance included Dakara Bon, Crysta Cooke, David Dinan, Jennie Hall-Franz, and Marla Goffin.
Session titles included “Social Justice,” “Political Reporting,” “How to Spot Fake News,” “Blogging,” “Healthcare Beyond Covid,” “Local Feature Writing,” “Your Story Your Voice,” “Face to Face with Facebook,” “Journalist as a Swiss Army Knife,” and “Businesses You Should Be Covering.”
One of the speakers was award winning reporter, Libor Jany, who broke the George Floyd story with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, using methodical determination to get the story right. English major, Crysta Cooke, participated in his session and inquired about personal bias in the field.
“You can be an activism journalist,” states Jany. “And write strictly about your views and a certain position, but in general, as reporters, we should actively work against our own bias on subjects.”
In “The Student Sleuth,” the speaker said to be accurate and fair, never assuming. Give all sides of a robust response, for readers to be engaged in a balanced story they can believe.
English Major Marla Goffin learned about interviewing tips in “The Student Sleuth.”
“One take away I found extremely helpful,” Goffin states. “Was when [the speaker] said when interviewing someone, don’t feel as though you have to occupy all the dead space. Essentially giving the interviewee more time with their answer and thoughts.”
Keynote speakers included Linsey Davis (ABC), Major Garrett (CBS), and Ashley Parker (Wash.Post/MSNBC). Some may recall President Trump calling out Ms. Parker on Twitter stating that she was “nasty…and fake.” All keynotes were enlightening, with their own flair, giving solid tips. Most of the sessions in one way or another, expressed the same message: don’t react to the political environment; stay on point and ignore any distractions.
Whether to inform, discover, reveal, or even change history, Major Garrett believes that journalism is distinct. Garrett stated that something was lost on January 6- an innocence and that now we believe the worst about each other over a lie. Garret advised not to minimize or forget any details of a story.
Marla Goffin also attended the “Breonna Taylor” session in which she learned about how to deal with heavy topics in the field.
“Heavy topics require a mental health check-in,” states Goffin. “And understanding from the editor; if you feel that you can’t cover [a] topic, speak with your editor.”
In the session, “Reaching National Readership Through Local Feature Writing,” the speaker showed everyone that there are big gaps in the user’s knowledge about journalism, and people are confused by language. In their surveys, 50% of readers need an explanation of “op-ed” and 43% didn’t know the meaning of “attribution.”
Readers also have many misassumptions about journalists. They assume that journalists pay off sources, sensationalize stories, don’t care about getting the facts right, and are out to catch people looking dumb. Journalists must build a counter-narrative, with transparency and credible elements into their work, to earn trust.
General Studies Major, Dakara Bon, also attended the convention and shared her thoughts on fake news.
“I think what stuck with me from the sessions is [to] always ask questions,” states Bon. “Because we are so easy to jump the gun and assume with our confirmation bias on how we think things are supposed to be versus how they really are.”
In “Digital Storytelling,” the speaker noted that the best stories use a combination of quotes, photos, graphics, illustrations, narratives, and short paragraphs that don’t tire the reader.
Dakara Bon also attended “Visual Storytelling” where she learned some tips about photography.
“Always have a shadow in your photos and always take pictures,” states Bon. “Even if you don’t feel right in the moment. The more pictures you take, the more comfortable you’ll feel.”
It was inspiring to be in the room with so many qualified people, along with classmates, and students of all ages. It felt like destiny, for so many “mini classes,” from all these well-prepared keynote speakers and professors.
This was a positive experience overall. I gained a broad perspective, having participated in 20 lectures. I’m so glad I joined the Journalism Club after a 25-year hiatus from school. I found this conference truly inspiring and appreciate HCC for such a fantastic opportunity!
In the age of fake news and anger towards the media, it’s even more important for journalists to be precise and accurate with all of their work, and to learn from their peers’ experiences in the field. “Connect21” gave the next generation of journalists the opportunity to learn from the best in their field, grow in their own abilities, and build connections that will last a lifetime.