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Student Journalists Are Journalists — Treat Them That Way

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk about media relations with participants in the American Council on Education’s Spectrum Aspiring Leaders Program. Media training is one of my favorite things to do, and I particularly love talking with ACE leadership programs because the attendees have a keen sense of how important managing media relationships can be to their professional future and to the success of their institution.
As we talked about how to prepare for interviews and handle requests from the press, an interesting question came up – how does all of this apply to our work with student media?
The short answer? It’s pretty much the same. We should approach these members of our campus media as we approach external journalists.
What does that look like?

  1. It’s all about relationships. Building strong and professional relationships is vital to our success in media relations, regardless of whether or not we’re talking about student journalists or professional journalists. When the new leadership team for your student media outlets (newspaper, radio and/or TV) is announced, reach out. Thom Chesney, president of Brookhaven College, makes a point of meeting with his student journalists annually.
  2. It’s all about accessibility. Treat student journalists the way you do others, by returning calls promptly, offering the resources and background that’s available, and referring journalists to the best experts you have on campus to answer their questions.
  3. It’s all about education. Higher education is a complex business and most reporters need help working through the nuances of how we fund our operations, set our tuitions, administer need- and merit-based aid, and navigate policies like FERPA and the Clery Act. Providing background on these issues will help reporters get the details of their stories right, which is the best outcome for both the reporter and the institution.
  4. It’s all about preparation. Show the student reporter who has requested an interview the same respect you’d show any other reporter by preparing well for your interview, following up with promised data or other information, and keeping an eye out for the finished piece to check for any inaccuracies.

Of course there is one big difference in working with student reporters—they’re students, so our obligation to educate goes beyond just helping them navigate tricky higher education topics. As campus communicators, we need to establish expectations and then hold student journalists to them, which means calling an advisor (just as we would an editor) when the story is inaccurate or one-sided. As University of Georgia Associate Professor of Journalism Welch Suggs noted as we chatted about this topic on Twitter, we need to emphasize the importance of background research and preparation—it isn’t enough for our students to rely on interviews. And, as Tonya Oaks Smith of Henderson State University pointed out during the same Twitter chat, we must “remember it’s a classroom. They’re learning, and it’s our job to help teach.”
What resources or guidance do you offer to your colleagues when working with student journalists? Post a comment below or continue the chat on Twitter – I’m @ErinAHennessy.