By Curtis Ashley
At around three in the morning, I hauled my luggage down the steps on the exterior of my home, and made my way to the nearest bus stop. I was looking to get to JFK International Airport by five, so I could leisurely board my plane to Minneapolis at seven. All went as planned, as I met with my two colleagues, Anthony and Ebony. We boarded our plane, and in three hours, we were where we needed to be: Minneapolis, Minnesota. From there, we took an Uber to the University of Minnesota, got settled in, and rushed to find other college students on our workshop track. I found a few people with matching lanyards, indicating they were also there for the Reporting/Storytelling workshop. I said goodbye (for now) to my colleagues, and hello to a brand new experience, in a state I never went to before.
From the first few introductions, I knew I was not in Kansas (or New York) anymore. My regular instructors were Laura Widmer and Lisa Renze-Rhodes. Widmer is the associate director NSPA/ACP (National Scholastic Press Association/Associated Collegiate Press), and Renze-Rhodes is an Indianapolis-based writer with 17 years of professional journalism experience, 12 of those at The Indianapolis Star. Chris Evans, a reporter and fiction-writer, also contributed to most of our discussions. I was more than honored to be in a room with people so dedicated to the field of journalism. I learned more from them than I anticipated. When I pitched workshop story about how local news outlets have changed their coverage since the Trump administration took office, Renze-Rhodes challenged my thinking, and forced me to come up with alternative methods on the fly. She made me think outside the box, regarding who to interview, what questions to ask, and how to even go about writing my article. I ended up with a narrower focus, looking at how local news covered their city and state politicians in the wake of Trump’s arrival. This is something that I don’t get a lot of from myself; something I will surely change. Evans highlighted the usefulness of incorporating sensory storytelling into a piece. Using descriptive words and focusing on a particular detail can make a piece much more interesting to read, Evans explained. I found many of his suggestions valuable for features and op-eds, where my voice can break through a bit more than in a standard news article.
In addition to those three, a few other reporters dropped by and spoke to us about crime reporting, and A&E (arts and entertainment). Some of what they said reiterated things aforementioned by the original three. Others things stuck with me. I will never forget the presentation on how the Star Tribune broke the Philando Castile story. Two of the special guest presenters were from the Star Tribune, and worked on that story at the time. Listening to how that news organization broke down the information presented to them, the precautions they took, and the choices they made (and edited) was thrilling. Coming from a small newsroom, hearing of that level of communication nearly overwhelmed me.
But looking around the room and seeing the face of twenty-some other college students calmed me. Just like me, the students who came from as far as Rhode Island and as close as the University of Minnesota itself, were taking all of this information in. They processed it, and related it to themselves and the newsroom they would soon return to. In between discussions, or after the day was over, I spoke with a bunch of people at the workshop, whether they were on my track or not. Many said their newsroom was small as well. This made me feel a lot better about where I was, and confident in the journey ahead of me. Even when I visited the office of the University of Minnesota newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, I was more inspired than overwhelmed. That office was half a floor or an entire building, with desks, chairs, computers, and supplies to accommodate every person at that paper. My office is one small room in the corner of a huge building.
That said, it’s not about the size of the newsroom. It’s about the people inside. Even though some of the people who come into The Campus office have little to no background in journalism, if at least one person can teach them, then they should be well off. Fortunately for us, three people went, and we each learned something tailored to our position on the magazine, and where we are in our careers. With each of us bringing back the knowledge we have, I am confident in the future of our publication. For myself, after the trip, I have never been more confident in my pursuit of journalism. These kinds of workshops and events are crucial in the life of an aspiring journalist. One can never know if it’s the deciding factor between this, or something else. I will always be thankful for the opportunity to go to Minnesota. And because I went, I will always want to be a journalist.