Our court reporter made some specific and interesting connections between her current work and the curriculum she studied at Slippery Rock. She even had a carefully thought out suggestion for a new course to be offered to journalism students. Read all about it, in the following paragraphs.
When writing the subject said she recalled many “practices or pieces of information” from her college classes, such as the need to be “consistent and accurate,” the necessary content and brevity of story leads, “basic story structure, the inverted pyramid for the beginning of stories, and kind of more creative approach for feature stories,” and the ability to identify material for a “sidebar” or what she called “break out boxes.” She also recalled the assignments she was given in courses like Feature Writing and Investigative Reporting, as well as during her internship on another small daily in the region. What she learned at Slippery Rock, she said, is what she is doing in her current job, but she singled out her internship as of special importance. “That helped me a lot with getting the experience because everything was so much different once you were there compared to when you were in class learning about everything. … Because you have to do it on this deadline, and people are depending on you doing it; it’s not just for a grade. There’s going to be other people reading it and kind of critiquing it too.” Like a few other subjects, the reporter wanted to apply what she had learned about web site development in the New Media course to the paper’s web site. “I would love to be able to do stuff with it. Pretty much now it’s just ‘here’s the story’ and you click on it. And there’s a little writing below it, about it. But there’s no pictures, we can’t put pictures on it. There’s no multi-media or anything like that, no reader interaction; it’s just go here, click on it, and read it.”
Regarding possible ways of improving her undergraduate program, the subject mentioned having more training in conducting interviews and perhaps giving students more practice finding and drawing information from government web sites. Her most unusual and intriguing suggestion involved creating a reading course in current journalism that would lead to writing both modeled after professionally written work and departing from such work. “I would’ve liked to have had a course that kind of focused on things happening then, at that time. And being able to look at the stories, either on the newspaper or online, just to see how the story was constructed. How that writer came about that story. And maybe how they laid it out, how they decided to write it. And maybe in the course the instructor would be so inclined to ask the students to rewrite it in their own way. I think that would help. Because I read a lot of stories online just trying to learn my own way, and I think that that might be beneficial.”
The subject didn’t think that much of how she conducted research in her job was related to the more academic research of her college days, such as delving into the library’s article databases. She does occasionally research stories by visiting the newspaper’s digitized archives, which went back about seven or eight years. (Earlier archives are on microfilm and, like the production facility, are located someplace other than her own editorial office; at another of the media group’s small dailies, as a matter of fact.) Given her beat, she also relied on a hefty book containing the state penal code, on a web-site featuring state court documents, and on another site put together by the county’s jail, called an “inmate lookup; you can look up their mug shot and see what they were in jail for and when.” The subject also indicated that her co-workers and her regular courthouse sources were commonly helpful in gathering information. Early in the interview, she described how she discovered the stories she supplied us as samples. Regarding the inauguration story, the reporter was contacted via e-mail by the mother of the family, who was following up a suggestion from a staff member in Senator Arlen Specter’s office. A phone call from “one of the administration people at the technical school” led to a story on the skills competition. The story about the probation department’s new position came about through a press release sent to the paper from that office.