Preparing Future Journalists for the Real World: Lessons on Trauma

Monday, September 5, 2011

No matter how many classes you take on the technicalities of writing or how to be ethical in your journalism, nothing can fully prepare you for the first time you see bodies being carried out from a burning buidling or crying community moments after their entire town was flattened by a tornado.

I found an interesting article about a new course at the University of Kansas plans on doing their best to prepare their journalism students for traumatic events they may encounter head-on in their future careers.

The professor (who is a veteran journalist), Tracy Lamsam, says she plans to teach the course with readings and written assignments on the topic, and with lots of guest speakers sharing their experiences in the field.

She also said she is surprised by the amount of students who signed up for the class, which is now up to 85 participants. I think it's great that this many students have signed up because they realize how much it will better their future career.

Growing up in Iowa, I haven't been exposed to much trauma at all. I would assume that the majority of college students haven't, but it's important to consider events like this if you're going into the field of journalism. Even if you plan on spending all your time writing about sports or politics, you'll never know when you'll be in the right place at the right time and have the opportunity to report first-hand on a traumatic, breaking news tragedy.

Not only do reporters need to know how to handle themselves in a situation like this, they need to know how to be helpful to the people they're interview who are being strongly affected by the occurrence.

I found it interesting that the article reported that a girl from Iowa signed up for the course because they only event she'd ever experienced first-hand was the flooding near her hometown of Iowa City.

One of the most important pieces of advice I took from the article was from Ann Brill, the Dean of the KU School of Journalism. I learned that basically, good journalists doesn't just write about the details of the event, they report the emotion and the long-terms effects as well.

Future journalists, always remember to keep these things in mind as your prepare yourself for you dream career!


Online Media - A Comical Relief

When the work-day starts to drag on, many people have multiple outlets that they turn to as a distraction or a quick relief. These can range anywhere from a quick game of solitaire, or popular news sites such as, or My personal favorite is a comedy article site known as

Although this popular site doesn't offer up to the minute news, they do give a slight mental relief during a stressful day on the job. Commonly adding anywhere from 2-5 articles a day, offers light-hearted reads that generally contain satirical information regarding current social fads, political figures or media frenzies. When first looking at the site, it is hard to see how to think of it as journalism at its best, or even worst, but upon closer examination, there are many aspects which hold true to what journalism is.

There are multiple courses that may be traversed on the site, leading into either political information, sports, news, or even pop culture, but all of them will offer information none the same. The articles, which are commonly written by freelance writers, have a distinctive structurebullets, that are commonly used to keep readers attentive and searching for more, which is a factor that many news sources are working on a daily basis to obtain.

Only a few points have been listed as to how this type of media outlet falls into journalism, and some may argue that it isn't enough, but to keep from writing a ten page blog, I will end it on this... Why not check it out for yourself and make the decision?


Do Cartoons Belong in Journalism?

In today's world of media hype and quick hitting news, journalists are constantly looking for new ways to stay on top of the game.

I will admit, I don't pay much attention to the front page headlines, or try my hardest to keep on top of the day-to-day on-goings, but one thing I usually turn to, is the cartoons. Why is this? Possibly a little comical relief, or my background in illustration, or maybe because I don't have a desire for much else. But not unlike myself, many people tend to enjoy this portion of every news paper, but is it really news?

It all depends on how you look at it. Obviously, the common cartoon strips that are found in almost every major paper in the country can go be viewed positively or negatively. Some people think it is vital the papers as it helps drive up their daily margins, but others may view it as nothing more then a filler. But when it comes to political cartoons, many people tend to get very animated.

Political cartons are a very important historical aspect as they convey powerful ideas pertaining to specific periods of time. During the political campaigns, short clips may work to convey a presidential hopeful's political views, or portray the exact opposite and slander their ideas. During times of crisis, especially era's of war, they may help to rally a nation behind their troops, or tell of a trying battle. During the Spanish American War, William R. Hearst was quoted in saying "you furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." to a prominent artist of the time, Fredrick Remington.

Political cartoons have had a long prominent history within our news, but as the new outlets develop that allow readers to gain instant access to information anywhere in the world, it is hard saying where they will stand, or if they will even have a leg to stand on.


The Changing Role of the Social Media Editor.

The role of the social media editor is quickly expanding. Editors have always played incredibly important roles in news rooms and are now adapting those roles to meet the demands of online blitz journalism.

Twitter is an incredibly powerful source for news in the now. But who confirms the news tweets are factual? Social media editors have begun taking on the responsibility of debunking incorrect information posted on twitter.

For some, it is not enough to simply ignore information that is incorrect. Instead, some social media editors have taken it upon themselves to debunk invalid information that quickly circulates on the web.

Steve Myers of Poynter shares his thoughts on the changing roles of social media editors in a recent article. In the article, Myers shares how one social media editor, Anthony De Rosa of Reuters, tweeted in regards to a photo of Irene. De Rosa tweeted, “There’s an image going around of the East River cresting. It is fake.”

Hoaxes are not new to society. However, social media seems to have assisted the speed at which a hoax may be spread. With so much misinformation being spread on the internet via social media, editors face a tough question: When do you expose misinformation and when do you let it slide?

Picture complements of


Education: In Class or Online

There have been a lot of researchers tending to this topic in recent history. It’s a valid question for the average student today who is trying to fit their education in with their current lifestyle.

The array of degrees available to seek online now can range from your average Liberal Arts degree, to Military higher learning and even medical training.

An article researched by the New York Times ( found that, on average, students doing some or all of the course(s) online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.

This analysis was hosted by The Department of Education. Now, anyone who has taken a statistics class already knows to account for the fact that they could not quantify the scope of all people seeking education. The study did use ninety-nine cases where there was a direct comparison to online and in class studies for the same courses. This is a fairly sound quantity to utilize for a case study.

Based solely on this, the recommendation would be; go to school online, or mostly online if you can.

I feel that this would need more research before a decision/recommendation would be made. I would appreciate a set of statistics that showed what type of person was excelling in the different formats.

If you are not self-motivated, I cannot see how you would be able to maintain accountability for your education. The reverse side of that coin, if you feel that the classroom is your only resource for networking with other students. You may not know to look into course descriptions to see if they offer Skype classes; you may be missing something that is a better fit for your scheduling needs.

Also, within this information I would like to see the attendance levels of the ninety-nine courses. Are we working with a curve? Was the in class participation thirty average students and the online class 10 exceptionally high achievers.

I think the decision needs to come to the individual level. What are your thoughts?

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Bogged By the Blog

As someone who considers her self to have a clear literary voice, I am currently challenged with blogging. I have been doing research to help utilize the Internet and make it work to my advantage, as my creativity seems to be stifled in this format. I am uncertain if it was the pressure to perform, the fear of not attaining a good result, or if there was a bit of resistance to the new to me formatting.

However, I decided to dive in and research any tips and tricks that other parties found useful in their endeavors on the high speed playing field.

Was the first website I went to, I had searched “challenges of blogging,” this was the first returned item under that criteria. There were 5 elements it suggested to me, but only one relevant to our class. #3 No clear purpose. I know we had visited this during class discussion, but reading this to myself, and their description really assisted my thought process.

Do you want to blog simply to share your thoughts and opinions? Do you want to use the blog to promote your services? Do you want to sell products? Do you want to build your reputation and position yourself as an expert? Do you want to make money from affiliate products or ad clicks,” borrowed from the site above.

I found this a very nice illumination on where to focus when I am searching for a topic, and designing my post for the week. I particularly wanted to share this in case anyone else needed this or knows any individuals who may benefit from this tid-bit as well.

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Writing on Your Own Time - Freelance Journalism

For college students and recent graduates, the idea of working the long hours at a large publication might not hold a lot of appeal. The good news is that there is another option for those who wish to write articles for magazines or newspapers without it consuming their lives. They can become freelance journalists.

There are those who may paint the picture that a freelance journalist is able to be their own boss and work their own hours. This may be true to an extent, but if you want to have some success in this profession you will still need to have a strong work ethic and the desire to put in the extra time to be successful. According to, freelance journalism is one of the more hectic forms of freelance writing. You will still need to travel from place to place, hunting down facts, and meet deadlines. This will still be a lot of work, because it is still a job.

A benefit to freelance journalism is the ability to spread your work across multiple platforms. You can work on some newspaper stories that have short deadlines and some magazine stories that have less structured deadlines. You will have more readers because not everyone reads the same newspapers or magazines. You will be able to build a stronger online portfolio of your work by showcasing your ability to write for multiple forms of publication.

Another benefit is the ability to focus primarily on things of interest to you. When you write about something you are interested in or care about, the content is more likely to be good. You'll have motivation to write the story for reasons beyond securing a paycheck. The end result may be a lot of great articles to attract prospective employers. More benefits to being a freelance journalist can be found at the American College of Journalism.

Being a freelance journalist can help you land that job at the major publication. It also offers a bit of flexibility for those who have busy schedules. Any college journalism student should be able to craft a few articles and send them out to various publications. Freelance journalism can be a hobby for those who want to earn some added income but still want to keep their current career.

If any of this sounds like it could be for you, there is more information on how to get started as a freelance journalist. It may take a lot of work, dedication, and piles of rejection to break into the field. But before you throw in the towel and give up on freelance journalism because of a rejection, remember this quote:

"A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success."-Bo Bennett

Photo courtesy of sambeckwith's Flickr via Creative Commons.


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