I’m always eager to brag about my news students’ spirit when covering hard-hitting story assignments in our village of 2,500. In the last few years, our team has pushed themselves to increase their journalistic credibility and become more than “those kid reporters at the college.” We pride ourselves in practicing ethics, especially when covering the big stories in our small community that have made state and national news.
Many of our reporters openly admit they are scared or lack the confidence to rub elbows with first responders on a given news scene. However, they always return to share exciting new perspectives with their peers. Because there were others too often playing “nose goes” when asked “who’s stepping up to get that interview?” or “who’s going to drop what they’re doing to go to the scene?,” our organization established a goal last year to increase communication with our local law enforcement to help make reporting easier.
It might be the small community advantage that made this initiative successful, but I happily encourage you to use any of our ideas to help improve your local news team and first responder relationships.
Invite Officers to your Turf
We invited our county sheriff to our fall semester management retreat to candidly discuss the dos and don’ts of calling dispatch, arriving on a scene, and establishing positive reporter rapport with law enforcement officers. The discussion ventured into areas of media law, ethics, and officer media training.
Even those student leaders who were not on our news team walked away with excellent tips about media professionalism to kick-off the year.
In conjunction with our Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) chapter, we hosted a Q&A session during “Sunshine Week” with our village police and fire chiefs. Students learned firsthand that our local first responders want to get to know them, too, so officers can easily identify and trust our crew at a busy scene. We received many valuable tips about officer rankings, interviews, and how to best follow up after an incident. Both of these sessions connected textbook knowledge to practical skills and are definite repeats for coming years.
Team Up for a News Project
Our media outlet was invited to collaborate with local officials to document a prom weekend mock car crash awareness video for our town’s high school this past May. Our student television program director oversaw the entire production…from capturing pre-recorded video at the State Highway Patrol and Emergency Room, to the final edited piece to show the student body the day after the crash. Additionally, our cub reporters had an all-access on-the-scene pass to help collect endless B-Roll, interviews, and photos by documenting things like the med flight helicopter circling the accident to the funeral home leaving the scene. The best part was that students could try something new, allow on-site advisers instantly critique their work, and try again. This valuable opportunity invited our students to openly “be allowed to fail” all while gaining confidence to practice media professionalism.
A valuable gift arrived toward the end of the year from our fire chief…our very own 911 scanner! Our newsroom can now hear every call dispatch in the area. While some students are still too young to understand the significance of our instant path of first responder communication, our upperclassmen were so appreciative of our new way of learning about breaking news. I’m excited to fire it back up in August!
Share your newsroom’s local first responder-student media communication ideas; let’s propose a roundtable at! Please contact me this week | .