(By Jillian Fellows, reprinted courtesy Chronicle-Tribune, Marion, IN)
Indiana Wesleyan University journalism students have launched a new digital platform to report on breaking news and community events. Grant COnnected.net is designed to give students real reporting experience while offering Grant County residents a new source for news.
“This is the second time we’ve had this as a class. It was very different two years ago and I did not teach it. When we rebranded our major a few years ago as convergent journalism, part of what we said we wanted to do was get really serious about what convergence means and to have a class that would require you to use a variety of multimedia skills,” said Dr. Randall E. King, professor of communication and director of broadcast media at IWU. “What made the most sense to me was really having a digital platform, because that’s the place where you put audio, video, text and photo together.”
The website launched on Tuesday, October 28 and already has a multitude of stories up and running, with several more planned over the next few days.
“We think there’s a need in this community for a digital news website,” King said. “The Chronicle does what it does and the radio stations do what they do but really both of those sources are sort of tied to their mainstay, whether it be print or radio, and online is not as much of a focus. We thought that this community would respond to a digital news site that could maybe do things like breaking news and multimedia and social media and find its own niche. It would be another media outlet that turns to the community.”
So far, the students have reported on school board meetings and Halloween safety tips among other topics.
“We just launched our new website this week and so it’s really exciting. We’ve been out in the community doing all types of stories, some more news and some more features,” said junior Shaelie Clark. “We have a lot of content already on the website but it’s growing every day, I think we posted a story every day this week so it’s been really exciting,”
Clark, who is studying media communication, said the class is useful because of the reporting and newsroom experience.
“Being a student that wants to go into this field, this is so exciting for me because I actually get to go out and learn how to be a true journalist,” she said. “It’s not just on campus stories, it’s learning how to deal with the police and the fire department and making calls. I feel like I’m going to be better prepared when I go out into the workforce when I graduate because this gave me a real world experience, which I think is great.”
Providing real world experience for students while they are still in school is one of the reasons why this class was created. King said it helps, “take it out of the theoretical.” Part of that experience is a rotating schedule of working in the newsrooms, listening to the police scanner and covering breaking news if necessary.
“The best part would probably be how on Tuesday night I got to work office hours at our hub and it was nice seeing what journalists in the real world do and then I was able to cover an event and then post it on our website, ‘said sophomore Lauren Carpenter. “It’s been cool being able to integrate all of the different aspects of journalism into one website and one news team. This week we’ve been really focused on school board meetings and the election. For next week, we’ll actually be covering some of the things happening on election night.”
Carpenter, who is studying convergent journalism, said that the class is helping her get a better feel for the local community.
“I hope to learn more about the community,” she said. “I don’t know too much about Grant County, since I’m not here from here, and in this class I have learned more about the community and the different schools and leaders in the county. With this class I can continue to do that and that will help me in my job and career after college, just knowing how to reach out, find stories and communicate people outside of my comfort zone.”
“We want our students to be engaged in news gathering and storytelling that takes them out into the community. There is something about having to do it in a community that advances your learning. We wanted our students to have that experience while they are here,” King said. “Although you can never feel totally ready to launch an operation like this, we thought this class could be the one to do it and put it into the curriculum that this class would not only learn all the skills, but would actually do a real life new site.”
King added, “One of the things that is clear to me in university education is it is very difficult to replicate the environment of a daily newsroom. This doesn’t totally get us there but it gets us a little closer to that.”
The digital news site can be found at www.grantconnected.net, with new content planned for every week.