Monday, April 9, 2007

Workshop offers hands-on experience



CHARLESTON – Taylor Mauk stood in the hallway of the county courthouse, intimidated and nervous.

Many of the people walking out of the board meeting were angry and worn after a meeting in which members had yelled and screamed and threatened one another. The board’s chair had nearly been unseated in a heated debate because he wanted to fire the county’s engineer.

Mauk, a senior at Sullivan High School, stood quietly with pen and notebook in hand, trying to determine how to approach these very vocal county board members. But she breathed deeply, walked over to a board member and introduced herself.

The board members answered all of her questions, which enabled her to write her first real news story. That’s one reason the Illinois Press Foundation/Eastern Illinois University High School Journalism Workshop was started fourteen years ago – to give students an opportunity to learn journalism first-hand.

“That was the first time I had to actually approach a stranger in order to get information for a story,” said Mauk, a 2005 participant. “That was intimidating, but definitely a great experience. That internship is something I still talk about. There is nothing like the actual experience of being in the newsroom, and I’m lucky I had the opportunity.”

Eighteen more students will take part in this summer’s 15th edition of this journalism workshop, which runs from July 8-21. Applications, which have been sent to high school advisers statewide, can also be obtained by going to Eastern Illinois’ journalism website or by sending an email to workshop director Joe Gisondi (jgisondi@gmail).


The IPF/EIU workshop is a two-week residential program that provides students an intimate look at journalism as a career. The ultimate goal is to increase diversity in the journalism profession and in newspaper newsrooms particularly by sparking students' interest early. The workshop introduces students to the complete process of publishing newspapers: gathering information, writing news, editing it, designing and producing the paper. Participants will produce three newspapers during the course of the workshop.

“I can think of very few more worthwhile goals than to encourage young people to become involved in newspaper journalism,” said David Bennett, executive director for the Illinois Press Association. “It is a rapidly changing landscape, and we will need competent, intelligent people, from diverse, multi-cultural backgrounds to address those changes in the future. The two-week summer immersion program that is held each year at EIU is a wonderful step toward that goal. We are very happy to help fund this project.”

The first week is devoted to instruction and related exercises, including news-gathering field trips. Professional journalists provide most of the instruction. Dozens of reporters, editors, publishers, photographers and other journalists have taught in the program since 1993, representing more than 30 newspapers and news organizations throughout Illinois and from nearby states.

“It's an almost ideal summer workshop,” says Ted Gregory, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Gregory has helped students find stories at a bagel factory, a hospital and the Lincoln Log Cabin during previous years. “The students get a healthy dose of practical experience and the organizers have done a wonderful job of weaving lots of fun into that experience. Every year I return to Charleston, I can see friendships between the kids evolve almost by the hour, while they absorb valuable, hands-on lessons in journalism.

In the second week, students intern in pairs at several newspapers. Sites typically include the Herald & Review (Decatur), The News-Gazette (Champaign), The State Journal-Register (Springfield), The Daily News (Robinson), The (Charleston) Times-Courier & (Mattoon) Journal-Gazette, and The Pantagraph (Bloomington).

And the workshop is free to all students thanks to generous support from the Illinois Press Foundation, Eastern Illinois University, Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, the Pulitzer Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

“The summer workshop is a good opportunity for high school students to get hands-on experience in journalism with the help of professionals in the field,” says Odell Mitchell, a photographer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It is a pleasure for me to be asked to help with the workshop.”

Professional editors say the workshop enables them to reconnect and learn more about the next generation of journalists. Even those who volunteer reluctantly can get hooked. Dave Dawson, managing editor for the Herald & Review in Decatur, says he was impressed with the sophistication of the students in the workshop. Greg Bilbrey, editor for the Daily News in Robinson, says working with eager students can be invigorating.

“The workshop is important to help nurture the next crop of aspiring writers and editors,” Dawson said. “The Herald & Review has sent reporters and editors to help out in the workshops in the past and regularly hosts students in Decatur, but the summer of 2006 was my first year of helping out in Charleston. What surprised me most was that a couple of kids in the workshop were already pretty sophisticated writers. They really didn't need much of my help in that setting – they were well on their way toward being ready to hit the ground running in a college writing program. The writing skills of some of the others were not as developed, but each student was bright, eager to learn and wanted to improve. I was also impressed that they were able to grasp the crux of some of the issues in local government after being in Coles County for only a short time. After spending a day there, I felt a bit guilty that I had not made the trip down earlier. It's a good experience for the students as well as the professionals who help.”

“I was reluctant to say "yes" to volunteering at the workshop the first year, but it didn't take me long to fall in love with it,” Bilbrey said. “The energy of the kids, and their enthusiasm for journalism, and even newspapers – this is a generation to whom we've been told we're irrelevant – really won me over. And playing host to the student journalists at the Daily News for the ‘mini-internships’ is a lot of fun for everyone on the staff. I always come away from the whole experience recharged and hopeful for the future of our craft. It's a well-run, comprehensive, valuable workshop that could, and should, be a model for others – and that provides an experience that the students will always remember.”

Students say the best part is learning from professional journalists. More than 60 journalists from Illinois, Missouri and Indiana work with students, helping them write stories, edit copy, shoot photos and design pages. They also offer career advice and insights into the profession.

Natalie Schutz, a 2006 workshop camper, applied the things she learned at the conference right away. By her second semester at Lewis University (in Romeoville), Schutz was named online news editor.

“The IPF/EIU workshop was an amazing opportunity to learn and practice many important journalism skills,” Schutz said. “Not only did I get a head start on skills I'd learn while studying journalism in college, but I also received the chance to meet many important contacts in the journalism industry. I am online editor on my college newspaper and am succeeding in all my journalism classes. I can give some of the credit for my success, to the IPF/EIU journalism workshop.”

Amanda Podgorny was named editor in chief of her high school paper in Evansville, Ind., after attending last summer’s workshop.

“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, thus far,” Podgorney said. “Since attending the camp, I've been writing non-stop. The camp really help assure me that being a journalist is what I wanted to do. I learned so much and hope that any kid who has a passion for journalism, no matter what type, be able to have an experience like I did.”

Kristle Corbitt did not have a chance to practice journalism until she came to Charleston in 2003. Like many small-town schools, Galena’s River Ridge High School did not have the resources to produce a regular high school newspaper. Corbitt changed all that. She shared what she learned with classmates in her yearbook class.

By her senior year, Corbitt helped start a high school newspaper that was published every quarter. She was named student-adviser, meaning she assigned and edited articles, wrote headlines and helped produce each edition.

“Before attending the IPF/EIU workshop, I wasn't sure of the direction I wanted to take with writing,” Corbitt said. “I only knew that I loved to write and didn't have any experience whatsoever in the journalism field. After attending the workshop and learning more about media, I gained the information I needed to help me choose the path to take with my writing career. Working with the professional reporters and journalists was amazing, it felt awesome to be acknowledged and respected by them and their constructive criticism was more than helpful.”

Students from varied backgrounds also learned much about one another, something students take back home as well.

“In addition to the vast amount of skills I learned at the IPF/EIU journalism workshop, I made a lot of diverse friends who I hated to part with at the end of those two-weeks,” Schutz said. “All these experiences helped me and the other workshop attendees, verify our love to study journalism in the future. I am so happy with my decision to attend the workshop that helped me make many new friends, learn and practice important lessons as a journalist, and create useful contacts in the future.”

"The journalism summer program at Eastern not only helped me understand how to be a more active and proficient journalist,” said Carlos Jurado, another 2006 participant, “but the experiences, such as the internship, are unforgettable. Not only will you learn to be a better journalist, but the friendships will change your life forever."

Lucy Anne Kuhn appreciated the diversity of the students attending most of all.

“The workshop is one of the best things I've done during high school,” said Kuhn, who attended last year. “In part it’s because of the experience I gained in terms of writing, but, and this might be a cliché, it was in an even bigger way the people I met. To throw together a group as diverse as the one I was in and have a true-blue team by the end of Day One was incredible. We literally spent every waking moment together, and some nights we didn't want to go to sleep. I know this doesn't really tell anyone much about the writing experience that was gained, but I think it tells a lot about the kind of program that is run.”

Journalists wishing to nominate students or to help at this year’s session, set for July 8-21, can contact Joe Gisondi at jgisondi@gmail.com or by calling 217-581-6016.

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