Find your own stories. Cold call sources. Collect audio and take hand-written notes. Aim for conversations. Know your audience. Remember to be a human first, and a reporter second. Read, read, read.
Those are among the dozens of tips working journalists shared with the 10 students in my 2018 “Media Matters: Journalism in Action” class.
Over two weeks, our 30 guests — 11 of them Miami graduates — told students that journalism matters, in ways big and small.
Based on the stories they crafted — available on the linked pages below — I think they got it. In fact, I’d say all 10 members of the 2018 Media Matters class would be great Miami University media students next year or the year after.
Take a look at their work and see if you agree:
- Emma Benson, 18, will be a senior at Hilliard Davidson High School in Hilliard, Ohio, this fall.
- Sophia Casati, 17, will be a senior at Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana.
- Lydia Mandell, 17, will complete her final year at Dublin Jerome High School in Dublin, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.
- Meg Cuthbertson, 16, will enter her junior year at Barrington High School in the Chicago suburb of Barrington.
- Ilana Mermelstein, 16, will be a junior at Milton High School in the Atlanta area.
- Sawyer Muir, 17, will enter his final year at Highland Park High School in the Chicago suburbs.
- Allison Napier, 16, will be a senior at Loveland High School in the Cincinnati suburb of Loveland.
- Megan Salters, 17, will be a senior at Trinity Christian Academy in Lexington, Kentucky.
- Morgan Schneider, 17, will enter her final year at Sycamore High School in the Cincinnati suburb of Montgomery.
- Alexandra “Lexi” Whitehead, 17, will be a senior at Springfield High School in Holland, in the Toledo, Ohio, area.
Take a look, too, at the generous guests who shared their expertise and see if you, too, learn something new about the world of media:
- In Williams Hall, home of the Department of Media, Journalism & Film, outgoing Chair Richard Campbell and Chief Engineer Steve Beitzel briefed Media Matters students on the many opportunities in and out of the building. In addition to the line-up of classes, MJF students can participate in travel classes, student-run media and internships, among other opportunities. Over in King Library, meanwhile, librarian Mark Dahlquist provided a walk through journalism resources available in King.
- In the first of several “virtual visits,” ABC6 reporter Ben Garbarek (Miami class of 2008) explained why his Columbus station used graphic footage of a 2015 burn victim in one of his recent stories about accused killer Michael Slager. The now-deceased victim — Slager’s ex-girlfriend, Judy Malinowski — OK’d it. “She wanted people to see what he had done to her.” TV stories, Garbarek noted, are shaped by pictures and who is willing to be in them. “Journalism is about the art of the possible,” he said.
- At the Clermont Sun, Editor Brett Milam (MU ’09) and reporter Megan Alley aim to get into the weeds for their readers. Each writes about a half dozen stories a week, many related to city and county government decisions on the east side of Cincinnati. “People care about those tiny things that you might not know about,” Milam said. Their brand of local journalism requires attending lots of meetings and talking to lots of sources. “I walk up to people (at meetings),” Alley said. “I assume if they are there, they are interested.”
- Cassie Carothers (MU ’02), meanwhile, employs a “funnel” strategy at Global Citizen. As editor-in-chief and director of communications of the New York-based non-profit, she tries to draw readers in with big stories — among them, a recent project related to Female Genital Mutilation –– and then aims to keep them on site long enough to move them to action in fighting global poverty. Carothers said she and her staff work hard to avoid “poverty porn” employed by other poverty-fighting groups. They rejected some options in the FGM package to remain sensitive. “We don’t want to be gratuitous,” Carothers said.
- On the opposite coast, Allison Mitchell (MU ’11) is on constant alert for good stories and photos for the two magazines she edits — Modern Luxury Orange County and Modern Luxury Weddings California. Publicists are key to connecting her to sources — but so is her own networking in person or via social media. “I try to be constantly talking to people,” she said, always hoping to sit down next to someone at a can’t-miss dinner and come away with a story no one else has told.
- At the Cincinnati Enquirer, staffers Dan Horn, Amy Wilson and Terry DeMio remain amazed that Seven Days of Heroin, an all-staff project published last July, won the paper a Pulitzer Prize in April. “We never imagined that this would hit — and it did,” said Wilson, an editor on the project. She credits DeMio, as the Enquirer’s heroin reporter, for opening doors in the community. “Because of her reputation, everybody said ‘Come on in,’ ” Wilson said. The design of the project was deceptively simple: Create a week-long diary, in words and pictures, of the heroin epidemic in Cincinnati. The execution was more complex: “We didn’t just throw people into the streets and say ‘Find heroin,’ ” said Horn, who co-wrote the project with DeMio. Instead, he said, they put maximum planning to “put people in places to see and hear where stuff would be happening.”
Dan Sewell told students the Associated Press covers stories in a given location for readers outside that location. So in Cincinnati, AP writers cover sports, crime, race, government and, even, Fiona, the famous hippopotamus, for readers across the globe. But there are exceptions, when he’s called on for national stories. Earlier this month, Sewell worked up a profile of Amul Thapar, a federal
appeals court judge based in Kentucky, who was among the candidates for the coming Supreme Court opening. When Brett Kavanaugh got the nod instead, Sewell’s story was shelved and he was on to stories about Kavanaugh’s decisions. What about Thapar? “If he comes up again,” Sewell said, “I’m ready.”
- Even with less competition than in earlier years — especially from other radio stations — reporters at WVXU-FM work hard for exclusive stories. That might be a story that mentions what toys local kids flush down toilets. Or a feature on a house once owned by beer baron Christian Moerlein. Or an angle on a political story no one else has explored. Or a feature — with the help of Miami intern Kristin Stratman — on pedestrian right-of-ways. The National Public Radio affiliate has even added to its line-up in recent years — with the daily Cincinnati Edition show and new podcasts — to keep and grow its audience. “We try hard to get angles that other local media don’t get,” said reporter/host Bill Rinehart.
- Cincinnati magazine has likewise found plenty of new ways to grow over time. In addition to its monthly marque title, the Hour Media Group-owned publication produces magazines about weddings, babies and Xavier University sports, along with programs for local arts groups, festivals and even a local college guide. Some 25 to 30 staffers work in-house on the various publications, with plenty more as freelance contractors. “Print is not dead yet,” said John Fox, who signed on as the top editor last summer. “We have not only a present but a future in print.”
- With a staff of about 100, ABC affiliate WCPO-TV is now has the largest newsroom in Cincinnati, News Director Chip Mahaney told students. With seven-and-a-half hours to fill each weekday — that’s local news programming from 4:30-7 a.m., 10-10:30 a.m., noon-1 p.m., 4-6:30 p.m., 7-7:30 p.m. and 11-11:30 p.m. — it needs every body it can get. “It’s easy to fill,” Mahaney said of airtime, “but it’s hard to fill with great stuff.” The ongoing challenge, he said: “What’s going to keep you watching?”
- As a crime reporter, Bethany Bruner (MU ’12) knows she is often reporting the worst events in her subjects’ lives. With that in mind, “I approach reporting as a human first and a reporter second,” said Bruner, who just signed on as police reporter at The Columbus Dispatch after more than five years on crime and court stories for the Newark Advocate. Despite her experience, interviewing families touched by crime remains hard, she said. “That’s probably my least favorite part of my job,” she said. When the story involves death, she said, she never asks “How do you feel?” Instead, she tells families she is sorry to be meeting them under the circumstances and asks about who the deceased was in life. “We want to make sure people remember who there were, instead of just that guy that drowned in the river.”
- Maybe it’s obvious when you work for The Washington Post, but Reis Thebault (MU ’16) is happy to be in a newsroom with resources. “You get a feeling that a lot is possible,” said Thebault, an intern covering mostly local government. But the gig comes with pressure. “We hear over and over again that we represent the Washington Post” — on and off the job, in person and online. As an intern, Thebault has learned to tackled his editors’ assignments with gusto and volunteer for more. That’s what he did on the recent shootings at the Annapolis (Maryland) Capital Gazette, ending up with bylines a story about slain reporter Rob Hiaasen and two about the shooting suspect.
- Sometimes you have to leave town to advance your career. That’s what Austin Fast (MU ’10) did this summer, ending a two-and-half-year stay at WCPO.com for a seasonal reporting job at KDLG-FM in Dillingham, Alaska. “I had been trying to get into public radio for a long time,” said Fast, and Alaska was on his bucket list. As to his summer assignment as the NPR affiliate’s fisheries reporter? “I didn’t really know anything about fishing when I got to Alaska,” he admitted. “It was a little bit scary.” Less than two months in, he’s learned plenty about fish and about producing fish-centric online and radio stories. “I get the whole range of experience,” he said, “because there’s no one else here.”
- With the news industry under attack at the highest levels of government, Amanda Seitz (MU ’09) is helping the Associated Press get stories right. As a new AP fact check reporter in Chicago, Seitz tests political claims for veracity. Working with reporters in 14 states, she checks out statements from political figures and parties, aiming to separate fact from fiction. Seitz told students she was hooked on journalism as soon as she joined The Miami Student campus paper. “I loved being the first to know things.”
- As an editor and reporter covering education and technology, Emily Tate (MU ’16) hears lots of pitches for story ideas. About one in 25 is worth a story, she estimates. So instead of waiting for tech companies (or their hired public relations agencies) to feed her ideas, she calls tech executives in school systems across the country, without an introduction, to find out what’s new in their worlds. “People come back to me and say, ‘Hey, this is going on.’ ” Just a year into her time at EdScoop.com, her work is getting noticed: Next March, she’ll moderate a panel about kids’ screen time at a South by Southwest event offshoot.
- After picking up beginning audio and video skills during his last year at Miami, JM Rieger (MU ’13) applied and expanded them in service to Roll Call and HuffPost.com. In April, his now-advanced video journalism work won him a spot at The Washington Post. As video editor of The Fix political team, Rieger produces packages, with text and images, that highlight political flip-flops. One recent piece compared current Congressional comments about Brett Kavanaugh to comments from the past. (Spoiler: He found plenty of contradictory statements.) Readers and viewers owe his mother a word of thanks. She’s the one who got him interested in journalism. “You need to get involved in something in school,” she told a high-school JM Rieger. “You like to write. Why don’t you try the school paper?”
As 2018 Media Matters students headed back to their hometowns to finish high school, they reviewed their Summer Scholars learning at a closing dinner. (How they could eat after consuming sugar-laden snacks for most of the week, I don’t know!) They noted that TV seems more exciting than print work. That reporters need lots and lots of contacts. That news organizations offer a wide range of jobs. And that journalists play a pretty important role in society under tough economic and political circumstances.
Their instructor learned a few things, too, even after a fifth tour of duty on Media Matters. High-school students chat more than the ones in college classrooms. The ones who come to Summer Scholars are uniformly bright and engaged, with strong writing skills. They make meaningful friendships quickly. They present well in our outings, and make me, once again, feel the great privilege and pleasure I enjoy teaching journalism at Miami University. And, yeah, they like sugar.
Patricia Gallagher Newberry has been a member of the Journalism Program faculty at Miami since 1997. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, Doug, their three young-adult children and JJ Magoo, a “dogged” reporter for Facebook.