NewsU Announces Stories Campaign Winners
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (February 23, 2012) –The Poynter Institute’s e-learning project, News University (NewsU), today announced the winners of its second Stories Campaign. For the contest, NewsU asked users to share stories about how the online journalism training site transformed their lives. From more than 100 entries, seven winners were selected including one grand prize, one honorable mention and five merit winners.
Poynter NewsU first ran the Stories Campaign in 2008 to celebrate the site’s third anniversary. In 2011, the kick-off to the contest coincided with the announcement of NewsU’s 200,000th registered user. “These milestones represent a great opportunity to learn from our audience and see what kind of impact we’re having,” said Howard Finberg, Poynter’s director of interactive learning. “In 2011, as was the case in 2008, we were overwhelmed by the passion and enthusiasm reflected in these stories. Poynter NewsU users are committed to their craft and appreciate being able to perfect it, even when training budgets are tight or non-existent.”
The reality of limited training opportunities was a theme that ran through many of this year’s entries, including that of grand prize winner and Apple iPad recipient, Deborah Stever of the Deposit Courier in New York. Stever transitioned to a career in journalism without any formal training and appreciates NewsU both for its low-cost offerings and its flexibility. “When it comes to taking courses, my time is limited,” she said. “I’m the only news reporter, and at night I might have a town meeting or a school board meeting. It’s hard to plan the day with stuff coming up. I love the fact that you can jump in and out of courses. I’ve signed up for a few Webinars only to find out on the day of that I wouldn’t be able to attend. But I could still access the Webinar replay and all of the materials.”
Honorable mention winner, Jean Griffith-Thompson of The Rosen Group, also appreciates access to NewsU’s vast resources as she built a training curriculum for Boy Scouts in Baltimore seeking to earn a journalism merit badge. “Most journalists visit NewsU for themselves, but I was trying to figure out how to use it to teach high school and middle school students. I knew that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel and that there were other people teaching these things, but I didn’t know how to access them. The Poynter NewsU site opened the door for me and showed me the materials I was going to need.” As the honorable-mention recipient, Griffith-Thompson received a free pass to 25 Poynter NewsU Webinars.
In addition to the grand prize and honorable mention, five merit winners received 7,500 Poynter NewsU Training Points, worth $75. They include: Tara Leonard, a web developer for The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash.; Jayne Watts, an administrative assistant for The Post-Bulletin in Rochester, Minn.; Michelle Hofmann, a journalism instructor at Los Angeles Pierce College; Myles Dannhausen, news editor for Peninsula Pulse in Wisconsin; and Tim Lindop, a freelance video journalist.
“NewsU has run many different contests,” said Finberg. “But the Stories Campaign is a special one because it allows us to see our impact on a community that is hungry for journalism craft and values training. Poynter has always made an impact with its training – in person and online. It’s great to know that we make a real difference in the lives our learning community.”
About Poynter’s News University Poynter’s News University (http://www.newsu.org) offers training to journalists, journalism students, teachers and the public through more than 250 interactive e-learning modules and other forms of training. It has more than 211,000 registered users in 225 countries.
The Poynter Institute trains journalism practitioners, media leaders, educators and citizens in the areas of online and multimedia, leadership and management, reporting, writing and editing, TV and radio, ethics and diversity, journalism education and visual journalism. Poynter’s website, (http://www.poynter.org) is the dominant provider of journalism news, with a focus on business analysis and the opportunities and implications of technology.
Grand Prize Winner
Deborah Stever, News Reporter, Deposit Courier
Small town, rural America has a special ambiance that creates a slower paced, more relaxed, everybody-knows-your-name kind of feel. It also has some definite disadvantages. Jobs are often limited and travel time to a larger city is a consideration when contemplating options during a career shift.
For 25 years I enjoyed my role as the supervising education specialist in a private school. When the economy of our area downshifted, the school closed and I found myself facing some tough decisions. My sister and I had adopted two girls and at ages teen and pre-teen, homeschooling was solidly in the game plan.
Sifting an hour commute into a schedule that was already filled with algebra and biology assignments and all the drama that goes with adolescence didn’t seem a viable option.
A tiny ad in our local newspaper snagged my attention. Could I make the quantum leap from private education to small town news reporter? Running out of money and reasonable possibilities, I called the number on the ad.
My job interview lasted about five minutes. Experience? None. Do you read the newspaper? Of course! Can you work at home? Absolutely! (Problem of home schooling solved!) Are you willing to learn? Definitely! Good, Job’s yours.
I spent a month with the retiring newshound and then my boss turned me loose on an unsuspecting community. I still had no idea what I was doing. His only real kickoff advice: “If it seems interesting to you it will make a good story.”
My primary news responsibilities including covering everything from Girl Scout activities to government meetings and to make sure there was enough to cover the front page and oh by the way, the inside needs some work too. Since our paper is the full-sized spread I would need at least five or more articles to meet the front page requirement. I learned quickly that pictures are definitely worth at least 1000 words, especially if you can convince the layout department they are important to the story.
I also discovered Poynter Webinars! I have no continuing education budget but my boss encouraged me to sign up for a class.
I slowly transformed from a clueless wanna be journalist to a clued in not so sure I can do this news writer. My opening lines got lots more interesting and much shorter as I learned about attention grabbing openers, inverted pyramids and graphic, power verbs and adjectives. Dialogue got easier to write and suddenly I knew what questions to ask in an interview.
My articles have gotten more interesting and our news sales have increased. We have the distinction of being one of the oldest continuous print news publications in New York State. Thanks to the instruction available at Poynter, we have raised the bar for news reporting in our small town corner of the news world and continue to be a viable outlet for information for our community.
Jean Griffith-Thompson, Director of Circulation and Marketing, AmericanStyle Magazine/The Rosen Group
Poynter NewsU helped me “Be Prepared” to teach journalism skills to Boy Scouts in Baltimore.
Last fall, a telephone call summoned me to Scout headquarters in Baltimore. Ron McKinney, then a Boy Scouts of America district official for Baltimore, greeted me and shared this dilemma: Scout programs in the city’s poorest communities lag behind their suburban counterparts by many measurements, including the number of merit badges earned by the boys. This hinders their ability to advance through the ranks and qualify for Eagle Scout status. Furthermore, this squanders an opportunity: Merit badge requirements expose youths to fields of study and work that broaden their horizons.
The desire to finish is often there, McKinney added. The follow-through is not. That’s why trailblazing ways of delivering the training are being considered by urban Scout leaders. McKinney wanted to organize a “merit badge college,” assembling Scouts from across the city for a day to work on badges together.
He leveled his gaze at me. As part of that program, he wanted me to teach journalism to any Scout in the city willing to come and learn. He would provide a space and the resources of his office. He would promote the program. I would supervise the training. I would be volunteering. He handed me the badge requirements, which are serviceable, if dated; they could be rewritten for the new media environment. Make it relevant to the guys, McKinney suggested.
Yikes! I did not doubt the boys’ abilities, but I worried mightily about mine. I am a former journalist with 22 years of reporting, editing and management experience (16 years at The Baltimore Sun). I work on the business side now, at an arts magazine. I have developed internship curricula. I have recruited and trained dozens of eager college-level students over the years — some of my former news interns are now editors. However, this would be different.
Fast forward: Three Scouts signed up. One was learning disabled — highly functioning but with very low literacy skills; he watched a lot of TV and enjoyed taking pictures. One was a technology geek, more interested in the equipment than the stories; he got most of his news on the Internet. The third had written for a school newspaper, and was curious about the future of journalism.
One had a phone with no minutes, and no computer. Two relied on their grandmothers for communications: I could send the women e-mail, they could get word to the boys. They were charming, polite and earnest: Hey, they were Scouts! They immediately bonded around my laptop, using it to access their Facebook pages. (Even kids who lack the tools find a way to social media, using school, church or library computers. Maybe there is a way to teach journalism using Facebook. Save that thought.)
I knew right away that I was in trouble: I would have to throw out many of the curriculum materials that I had assembled: too demanding, too much reading. I needed more visual and digital aids. My Scout pride kicked in: Don’t give up.
Beep. An e-mail from Poynter NewsU arrived that week, as if someone had been reading my thoughts. It promoted new webinars. I glanced and moved on: I never have time to sign up for one of those.
“Wait,” I said, sitting up. I scrolled back to cruise the website and soon clicked on resources and tools for journalism instructors, including the “Be a Reporter” news game. I had never played this interactive game of news investigation, but I had played the dramatic “Be a Photographer” game at the Newseum. It was as real as virtual can get. And it was fun.
What if I rebuilt my curriculum around the elements in the game, and used it as a benchmark? If the Scouts can master the game, I can send them out into the street more confident that they can cover a basic story. I spent the next few nights “playing” and reading materials that were free and available online at Poynter NewsU and elsewhere.
I also sought the advice of friends, including teachers and journalists. My special student might have to develop his stories the old Associated Press way: He would use a tape recorder to capture quotes, then shape his stories in his head and dictate them to a scribe or an editor. Also, working with a learning disabled youth called for a one-to-one teacher-student ratio. Online, I found tutorials and ideas for teaching the First Amendment, news ethics and reporting fundamentals that I could adapt. Meanwhile, I recruited teaching partners: Pauline Norman, a stern but caring city Pack leader who the guys would respect, and Jim Spath, who writes a blog on technology and has many more digital tools and skills than I. He drove miles from the suburbs to come help my guys.
Several lessons later, the boys aced “Be a Reporter” on their second try. Our first field trip took us to the studios of WEAA-FM, the public radio station at Morgan State University, one of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities. We returned the next day at the invitation of news talk show host Marc Steiner, (a former Scout!) who allowed the boys to interview him. An Enoch Pratt Free Library branch allowed us to set up a mini-newsroom to cover National Gaming Day (a family day to play video games and board games). Spath and the librarian posted the boys’ stories on their blogs. We were almost finished.
Weeks later, the boys asked if I would drive them an hour outside the city to the Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation, the major summer camp for Maryland Scouts. Interviews for summer counseling jobs were taking place and they wanted to apply. I challenged them to make the trip a two-fer: Take pictures, interview the directors and candidates, and write a first-person story afterward.
It took nearly six months for all three boys to complete the badge requirements — not the two or three days originally envisioned. Each time they dropped from sight, I hunted them down: I will not give up on you, I said. We’ve come this far. Let’s finish what we’ve started.
When, at last, I signed the blue cards authorizing the boys to collect the journalism patch, one asked me to teach him how to sign in to Poynter NewsU, so he could play the game again. Two announced that they had been offered jobs at the summer camp. One would be a counselor in training. My shutterbug was hired to be the camp’s official photographer.
I could not be more proud of my Scouts, or more grateful to you, Poynter NewsU, for providing valuable and free tools that anyone can use. You taught this old newspaper hound some new tricks. I’ve been asked to offer the journalism badge class again this fall, and let me assure you, I will continue to use your resources to inspire Scouts in Baltimore.
Tara Leonard, Web Developer / Page Designer, The Chronicle
First off, thank you Poynter NewsU!
I joined the newsroom staff of The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash., two years ago as the newsroom assistant. I had never worked at a newspaper before and was really nervous about learning the ins and outs a new industry.
At first, my newsroom assistant duties seemed overwhelming, but as time went on, I was able to shrink the amount of time my tasks took. I eventually found myself with free time at the end of each day.
I found the free courses at Poynter’s NewsU, and brought up the idea of taking classes in my “extra” time to my editor. He agreed, and I started with “Cleaning Your Copy: Grammar, Style and More.”
That first class showed me that I had a long way to go before my copy was clean. I’ve reviewed the class a few times since, and each time I’ve found it helps refresh my memory on the basics (and intricacies) of news writing.
Eventually, my editors allowed me to write a few articles (including some really fun ones like interviewing The Kingsmen and covering pianist Charlie Albright!). Soon I even had my very own weekly food column.
About a year into working at The Chronicle, I was given minor page design duties, which eventually developed into doing page design one day a week. I also took over updating the website daily.
I had never done professional graphic design, let alone news page design, so I took the Elements of Design class taught by Pegie Stark Adam. The class has proven invaluable! Not only did I learn the basics of design, but I also learned the hows and whys of news design.
When I’m sitting around on a Friday night stuck on what to do on my front page for Saturday, I go back to the class on NewsU and flip through for inspiration.
A year and a half later, I moved to the position of web developer/page designer, and I now design physical pages of the paper five days a week. I am currently designing and implementing new web components for our push towards a “digital first” philosophy.
I even have my own office!
Again, thank you Poynter NewsU. I’m 100 percent certain that without you, I would not be in my current position, helping pave the way for a new newsroom.
Jayne Watts, Administrative Assistant, Post-Bulletin Co.
The Beginning: Originally, I was directed to NewsU.org via my manager to simply “check it out”. The site was in beta development but it was obvious from my first visit, this was an up-and-coming news training resource of significance. I registered and was thrilled to find several courses that would grow my skills as an admin — we all need better grammar and a fuller understanding of how written language functions. Furthermore, I’m personally interested to learn more about news writing, layout and design and keep up with current news trends.
The Sharing: I then promoted it to our 50-person newsroom as a resource to enhance and grow our journalistic talent — beat reporters to graphics and layout staff to copy desk to editors. There was something for everyone on NewsU. I know they have since accessed several Webinars and staff have welcomed the quality, upper level news writing training opportunities. News staff can begin to feel stale in their work so having a resource of current-to-the-day training puts the mo-jo back into them.
The Value: Economic trends in recent years have forced all businesses to practice extraordinary expense containment while continuing to be innovative in enhancing product performance and boosting quality customer service. The news industry is no exception. The free courses and reasonably priced Webinars are definitely attractive and drive usage. A reporter can get the news, write the story, collaborate on graphics and fit a few segments of a course into the workday. While cost is important, value is vital.
The Future: I’ve been instrumental in developing and coordinating our student mentorship program, day-long job shadow program (both in partnership with local high schools) and our summer college internship program. Every student regardless of age and time spent with us gets registered on NewsU.org. We require them to complete at least two of the courses — often for high school students it is the grammar course and are they surprised at their results! Being able to do a course on their own time schedule helps high school students get the required 60 hours for the mentorship program and still fit into their busy high school life. College interns not only appreciate the courses while here, but can continue to access the site after returning to college to enhance their college curriculum.
The Gratitude: Poynter’s News University has become a go-to resource for our company. Thank you for creating a user-friendly intuitive site, loaded with a variety of learning opportunities that both strengthens fundamental skills while providing new information current to today’s news industry environment. 200K? You’ve only just begun.
Michelle Hofmann, Journalism instructor, Los Angeles Pierce College, Woodland Hills, Calif.
In 1994, I was a deli waitress in Los Angeles and worked in phone sales during the day. I long dreamed about being a reporter. But at 29, and with no formal education to speak of, I really thought that ship had sailed.
In spring 1994, I walked into the counseling office at Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. I drove past the campus daily in my two-job commute and finally decided to give college a try.
My first class was journalism 101, taught by Professor Rob O’Neil, a veteran newsman and a gifted instructor. During the next two years, I took copious notes, got on staff with the Roundup student newspaper, won numerous writing awards for my news reports, served as editor in chief for the campus newspaper, and earned my associate’s degree in journalism. I was on my way.
I got my first real editing job in 1995 and transferred to California State University, Northridge (CSUN), in June 1996, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism. For the next 15 years or so, I worked as a magazine editor, played mother to my three children, and eventually settled into freelance real estate writing for the Los Angeles Times and other national publications. My life changed dramatically, but I remained consistently close to my former college professor and returned to L.A. Pierce for EIC interviews and JACC competitions whenever asked. During these visits, Professor O’Neil would always ask the same question: “When are you going to go back to school, get a master’s degree, and teach a journalism course for us?”
In 2009, at 44, I decided to bite the bullet entered the graduate program at CSUN. Five semesters, 30 units, 90 books and one killer thesis later, I completed the program, which qualified me to teach at the community college that changed my life. Still, there was barely time to breathe before my class started; my degree was conferred on Aug. 26, 2011, and I started teaching now retired Professor O’Neil’s J101 class at L.A. Pierce Aug. 30. Talk about coming full circle.
That first day in the classroom was magical. I have such joy in knowing that I have a chance to impact the lives of budding journalists — as Professor O’Neil impacted me. Still, even with a ton of reporting and writing experience, academia presented new challenges for a type-A like me. Poynter NewsU has been a tremendous resource in my classroom activities. From the “Be the Reporter” program to the online tips and educational resources I can use in class, the site has allowed me to build on my professional experience and crossover to an academic platform with some ease. I love all the resources and signed up for the 10-package series and a host of professional workshops to sharpen my skills.
The site is great for students, educators, and professions alike. Poynter NewsU has something for everyone. In short, the site is great. I have such big shoes to fill and take my charge as an educator seriously. During the first few weeks of my new teaching career, I felt a lot like that helmeted guy in the silver spandex suit at the circus who gets shot out from cannon during every performance. It was super scary, to say the least. But Poynter NewsU has provided the tools to minimize my fear of flying by making me look great while I am zooming through the air.
Thank you, Poynter NewsU.
Myles Dannhausen, News Editor, Peninsula Pulse
I became a reporter in 2004 after spending eight years as the owner of a bar and restaurant. I began by writing for pride for the Peninsula Pulse, an upstart independent newspaper in Door County, Wis. At the Pulse we’re short on journalism degrees (I don’t have one) but long on commitment to the stories of our community.
Within months of turning in my first story I was getting a small paycheck as the only reporter in a five-person office. I had little formal training and no journalism mentor to lean on.
I worked hard to learn on the job, but it is difficult to find ways to grow professionally in a small town nestled on an isolated Midwestern peninsula.
That was, until I discovered NewsU and Poynter Institute in 2008. It has been a trusted resource and a powerful inspiration ever since. The site enabled me to find tips and insight from the best journalists in the business and incorporate the latest industry tools to improve community journalism on shores far from the nation’s coasts and urban media hubs.
Whether it’s refining interview techniques, finding new ways to tell stories, keeping up with mobile media, or becoming a better mentor to our growing stable of writers, Poynter has been invaluable to my growth as a writer and a leader. Each time I find myself wondering about some aspect of our rapidly evolving industry, Poynter seems to be there the next day offering an article, tip sheet, or Webinar on that very topic. Poynter has inspired me, motivated me, and in turn, my colleagues.
I fell in love with newspapers when my grandma started saving the Chicago Tribune sports page for me 22 years ago. That passion still burns today in large part because of Poynter.
Tim Lindop, Video journalist, Freelance
I have shot video for twenty years and never once considered myself working in journalism, even when shooting for reporters from National networks and local television.
As a cameraman, I labored under the burden of thinking my future was in Hollywood, a move I always resisted. I watched time fly by left with my doubts and feeling like a failure.
I traveled the world with a camera on my shoulder shooting docs, news and tourist promos. I was in Kyrghystan following the fall of the USSR, shot for Japanese television, was in Haiti during its insurrection against Baby Doc and its slew of military dictators that followed, yet because I wasn't in L.A. making features, I counted myself a failure.
Then, while living in Cusco, Peru, wondering about my next step, I encountered NewsU. I took a course with Aly Colon. I started the course feeling like an impostor, calling myself a journalist in a virtual chat room filled with real journalists.
I finished the course confidently knowing that I am a storyteller. The video camera is how I told those stories. That seemingly small realization that I was indeed somebody lifted the onus of failure off my shoulders. I realized there is a whole world of practitioners who do what I do, melding the art of camera-work with the craft of story-telling.
I started shooting web-videos for businesses in Cusco and now shoot and produce here in the States for a video magazine “Real to Reel” aired locally in Western Mass. I don’t make close to the money I am used to as a freelance video cameraman but could care less and loving everyday feeling lucky to be doing what I do.
The simple realization that I am a story-teller who tells his story with a video camera has lifted a twenty year burden of doubt from my shoulders and I owe that new lightness to NewsU and in particular to Aly Colon with his breadth of experience, readiness to share, and availability.
Not a finalist, but we could resist giving this person a free Webinar pass….
Karen Unland, Journalism educator, MacEwan University and Unland Media Consulting
An Ode to NewsU (Sung to the tune of Blue Moon)
NewsU, You saw me standing alone, Without a clue how to teach, Up there just all on my own.
NewsU, You knew just what I was there for, You heard me saying a prayer for, Some training I really care for.
And then there suddenly appeared before me, More lessons than my brain could hold, Inspiration waiting there for me, This is journalism education gold.
NewsU, Now I’m not longer alone, I’m armed with lessons galore, And now my gratitude’s shown.
I was a fan of NewsU when I worked at the Edmonton Journal. When I left the paper to start teaching journalism, I became an evangelist. It’s one thing to know stuff; it’s a completely different thing to know how to teach it. So besides using NewsU to learn new things or refresh my memory about skills I haven’t used for a while, I also use it to learn how to help others learn.
(N.B. I submitted this ditty to an earlier call for NewsU tributes, but I think it belongs more here. If it seems familiar, that’s why.)