A favorite topic of complaint among students in the Convergence department in the Missouri School of Journalism is J4804. (Sometimes these complaints are prevalent on Twitter). This is the reporting class all Convergence students are required to take. Students split their time between working in newsrooms affiliated with the J-School and working on multimedia team stories they pitch themselves. Make no mistake, the class isn’t easy and it requires a significant time investment. But it’s also not the reporting hell one might think from talking to some previous 4804-ers.
If you don’t want to pursue a career in reporting, this might be the only reporting experience you have. Even jobs that aren’t traditional reporter listings want to know that you can write and are competent in producing multimedia. You can slide by for the rest of your college career by taking the less-demanding, non-reporting classes. In short, this is a useful class even if you never intend to be a reporter.
It’s no secret this class requires you to put in a lot of effort, have good news judgement and a strong grasp of multimedia storytelling. Those aren’t things I can teach you in a blog post, but skills you will hone if you put in an honest effort into 4804.
There are several non-journalistic skills that can make getting through the semester a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. None of these pointers will directly translate into a higher grade, but I found them to be useful strategies to work well in groups and foster strong relationships with sources and faculty.
You have to take this class seriously. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be a reporter, are thinking about switching to strategic communication or are certain you never want to work in journalism. The work you do and the attitude you have in this class sets the tone for how the faculty will remember you. When it comes time to get an internship or job, you want to be certain you have put in the effort and produced the work to secure a recommendation from them.
Think about 4804 the same way you would about the first months at a new job. The faculty members have seen hundreds of stories produced by 4804 students. They’re the experts here. They have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t, so don’t argue with them. Take risks, but don’t try to salvage a creative move that just isn’t working. This class is the time where you need to learn all the reporting rules. You can break them later on.
Be overly positive. It’s easy to gripe about the various facets of this class. “I can’t find a story pitch. I’m so stressed. The faculty doesn’t like any of the stories I propose.” If you want to complain about the class, go to your room, lock the door and call your parents. Don’t do it over social media (Karen and Amy will find it). But if you can do it, just don’t complain. You’ll feel better and your teammates will appreciate it.
Keep an open schedule during business hours. When planning out your classes, give yourself time during the day to work newsroom shifts and go interview sources. If you’re interviewing someone in a professional capacity, they are going to want to do that interview while they are at work. This means you probably shouldn’t take more than 12 hours. You need the time during the day to do interviews and you’ll need to concentrate your efforts and stress levels on this one class.
Check your equipment before going out to report. Having worked as a TA in the equipment lab, I can tell you countless stories of students in varying stages of distress because of equipment malfunction. It takes five minutes. Just do it. You’ll thank yourself later. Also, review the equipment lab hours and policies.
Get to the lab early on deadline day. There is nothing better than being the first one to the Futures Lab on deadline day. You get your pick of computers and get a few minutes of silence and calm before the craziness of the day ensues. Plus you simply give yourself more working time.
Dress up for Friday 8 a.m. pitch meetings. Yes, those meetings are early and there is high temptation to opt for sweatpants over slacks. But I’ve always found I present better if I am dressed to give a presentation. Getting story pitches approved in these meetings depends on having done your research beforehand, but it’s also essential to clearly, succinctly and completely explain you pitch during the meeting. If you can’t do that, the faculty will quickly dismiss it. Taking a few minutes in the morning to put on real clothes and mentally prepare can make a ton of difference in getting your pitch approved.
Be (or at least feign being) confident as you pitch stories. Go into the pitch meeting with a confident attitude. I even listened to pump up music on my walk to the Futures Lab. The faculty will push back and ask you questions. Brainstorm with your group beforehand what types of questions they might ask so you can have answers for them. Some common questions are:
- What types of sounds/visuals do you plan to include in this story? (Hint: NEVER say a story isn’t visual. There’s always something you can show).
- Which news outlet should you pitch this story to? (Hint: think about the audience for the story, not the medium you are using to produce it).
In general, dress like you care. If you dress like an adult, people are more likely to treat you like one. This goes for sources, professors and editors. You will encounter plenty of people while reporting who will give you a hard time for being a student. Most people in Columbia have interacted with journalism students in the past, and some of those interactions have not been positive. Don’t give them an easy reason to think you are unprofessional or unprepared. You don’t need to be dressed in business professional attire every day, but it’s a good idea to never leave the house wearing something you would be embarrassed to have on if you had to go out on a last-minute interview.
Pay attention to every detail: If you want the faculty seriously, religiously follow their rules and don’t complain. Get permission from your project manager before sending something to them. Always write a headline for a story BEFORE the faculty sees it. Karen is probably going to hate the “going green” story you want to pitch. Brush up on how to use it/they, because Amy is a stickler for that stuff.
Have a rationale for why you’re doing everything. Understand the audience of each newsroom you will pitch stories for. Think through why you want to tell a story with video instead of infographics or audio instead of text.
Get to know the people in the class. Reporting with friends is more enjoyable. Plus you’ll be with this same group of students throughout the rest of your college career. Get to know them. Hang out at the kitchen table in the Futures Lab. Celebrate completing team stories with them. Go to the Konvergence Kickback sessions at the Heidelberg. College is one of the only times you’ll get to work with a group of people who are all in the same life stage as you. Take advantage of it.
Also, know that this class can be fun. Take it seriously, but not too seriously.
For those of you who have taken J4804, what advice do you have?