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How Do I Keep My Writers Writing? (and Other Tips for Student Journalist)

By Kim, Connie | The Quill, November 2001 | Go to article overview

How Do I Keep My Writers Writing? (and Other Tips for Student Journalist)


Kim, Connie, The Quill


The SPJ National Convention seminar `Stories We're Missing on Our Campuses' started off with a note of frustration from Oren Campbell, publisher of the University of Washington's The Daily. 'I read 50-60 [college] papers every week and am disappointed in the lack of depth and breadth" he said.

Ruth Schubert, the education reporter for the Seattle Post-- Intelligencer, said the first problems that student reporters face are simply finding something to write about.

Schubert, along with panelists leva Augstums, editor of the Daily Nebraskan at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Marshall Maher, editor of the Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin, discussed resources students could use as leads: lawsuits (large universities were always getting sued, according to Schubert), public records (such as contracts that detail the perks for the president or a football team), school processes (such as in-state and out-of-state requirements), and school funding for research programs.

`Don't pass up the obvious, either; said Augstums. Old bell towers, the names on building and plaques, and ongoing issues like drinking, drugs and affirmative action still have story angles yet to be explored. Talking to `fringe groups' and people other than the obvious campus leaders were also stressed.

`Never take anything for granted" said Campbell.

Maher's paper recently investigated the designated driver program, a school-funded project that taxied students from downtown Austin to their residences for free. While researching the appropriation of funds, the paper discovered that cab rides home were costing an outrageous average of $128 per ride. Without investigative reporting, they would never have broken the story.

Augstums stumbled onto a controversial story when she noticed a seemingly insignificant hole in a campus sidewalk. After making a few phone calls, Augstums discovered that the hole previously held a plaque. Landscaping services told her they had no intention of returning the plaque because it was being displayed in someone's office. The plaque's keeper, knowing about the story and not wanting any more controversy, returned the plaque to its rightful place.

Another anecdote illustrated the importance of talking to fringe groups. At the University of Texas, the group Radical Action Network organized a large-scale silent protest against guest speaker Henry Kissinger. School administrators canceled the speech, blaming it on RAN's `grand planned protest: While covering the story, the paper discovered that the administration had informers or paid undercover agents that befriended fringe groups.

When running controversial stories, student journalists sometimes run into difficulties obtaining interviews or information from needed sources. A solution Augstums presented is to keep writers on their own beat, such as student government. That way, each writer can create a detailed source list and act as a mentor to new writers, sharing lists and specific tips.

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