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Journalism Students Engage in History While Studying and Working in D.C.
Missouri journalism students got a behind-the-scenes tour and meeting with host Chris Wallace at Fox News Sunday.
Washington Program Offers a Wide Variety of Hands-on Experiences
By Alexa Henning
Strategic Communication Student
A group of 10 Missouri School of Journalism graduate students would be part of something that few get to experience in their lifetime. With an exclusive invitation to the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in hand, they walked into the glamorous ballroom of the Washington Hilton and mingled with the famous and the powerful.
Among those in attendance were former Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, journalists Katie Couric and Helen Thomas as well as prominent anchors from ABC, NBC and CBS.
The attendees were recipients of $2,500 White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) scholarships that also came with invites to the gala affair and passes to a VIP reception. At the dinner the students walked across the stage and received their scholarships and congratulatory hugs from the president and first lady.
Katy Steinmetz, MA '10, who attended in the spring of 2010, is now a reporter in Time Magazine's Washington Bureau.
"I was in awe of actually meeting the president but at the same time being conflicted," she says, "as you're a young journalist being trained to be a watchdog of this national figure."
The WHCA event is just one of many opportunities Missouri journalism students have to network and gain experience in the nation's capital. The Washington Program, established in 1968, is now a year-round experience; a summer program was established in 2011.
Included for graduate and undergraduate students is 30 hours per week of hands-on experience with news media and other organizations. Students pursue a specialized project related to journalism. A weekly for-credit Friday seminar taught by an onsite professor introduces students to media and business professionals. Students have access to the first-class facilities in the National Press Building where the program is based.
Barbara Cochran, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism, directs the Washington Program. She has had a long career in Washington journalism, serving as managing editor of the daily newspaper, the Washington Star, vice president of news at NPR, executive producer of NBC's "Meet the Press" and Washington bureau chief for CBS News. She also served for 12 years as president of the Radio Television Digital News Association where she championed the First Amendment rights of journalists, launched initiatives in ethics and diversity, and led the association's inclusion of digital journalists in its membership.
Mike Dorning, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg, demonstrates the company's multi-screen terminal to the students.
Her predecessor Associate Professor Wesley G. Pippert retired in September 2012 after directing the program for 22 years. Pippert leads the program during the summer semester.
Cochran says this program stands apart from others because of the hands-on experience a student gains while participating in a professional environment. The Washington program also offers a huge variety, whether or not a student is interested in strategic communication, reporting, governmental affairs, public policy or social media.
The students visited Voice of America, where they met with Director David Ensor.
Senior Robert Partyka interned with Howard Kurtz, Washington bureau chief of Newsweek/Daily Beast and host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," during the fall 2012 semester.
Most of Partyka's work was focused on the Daily Download, a media-centric website that Kurtz frequently contributes to. Partyka also helped edit and produce videos for The Daily Beast and did editorial tasks for Newsweek.
Missouri journalism students have worked with more than 100 newspapers, TV stations, government agencies, public relations and advertising firms and think tanks since the program's inception. These include NPR, NBC, ABC, Washington Post, Washington Monthly, Politico, the International Center for Journalists and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Danji Angela Chao, MA '10, worked for CNN's Washington Bureau in the newsgathering and live production unit in the spring 2010 semester. Chao's master's project was an examination of how foreign correspondents make decisions and cope with challenges in the field.
Washington program students pose with Mike McCurry, center, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates and former press secretary for President Clinton.
Chris Canipe, MA '10, worked at The Washington Post during the fall 2010 semester. His master's project measured the effects an infographic might have on readers' understanding of a news article.
Angela Greiling Keane, BJ '98, worked at the Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal during fall 1997 semester in Washington. Her most memorable story was on the national debt and budget deficit. Her go-to person in the congressional office is now a well-known political figure.
"Congressman Paul Ryan was actually the legislative director for (at the time Senator, now Governor) Sam Brownback, and I talked with him quite often for the story," Greiling Keane says.
The Washington program students take a break at the Newseum, where they met with Paul Sparrow, the senior vice president for broadcasting.
The chance to do real on-the-job reporting for a newspaper, while still in school as a Washington correspondent, was an invaluable experience, says Greiling Keane. She attended the Washington program in the fall of 1997 and through the connections she made during her time in Washington, Greiling Keane first landed an internship at her hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The opportunities offered through the program give the students the knowledge they need to pursue the journalism careers to which they aspired.
Since then Greiling Keane has continued her career in Washington. Pippert calls her "the student who never left." She now works there as a Bloomberg News reporter.
Greiling Keane will become the president of the National Press Club in 2013, a trajectory launched 15 years ago.
Cochran says graduate students often use knowledge gleaned from their work experiences in the research they conduct for their professional projects.
Steve Weiswasser, a media lawyer and partner, poses with the students during a visit to the Covington and Burling law firm.
Behind-the-Scenes Access to Top News and Other Experts
Washington, D.C., offers a plethora of opportunities for Missouri journalism students. In addition to the internships, tours, site visits and guest lectures provide behind-the-scenes looks at the Supreme Court and Embassy Row, NBC's "Meet the Press," Fox News Sunday, Politico, NPR and the Newseum, a high-tech, interactive museum dedicated to journalism and the First Amendment.
Students can attend the National Press Foundation dinner where they have mingled with high-profile journalists and media executives such as Arianna Huffington, Bloomberg's Al Hunt, NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Google's Eric Schmidt.
During the 2012 election cycle, students met with political experts such as Mike McCurry, the co-chairman of the Presidential Debate Commission and former White House Press Secretary. He discussed the presidential debates with the students and spoke about his time as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the Clinton White House.
Mike Dorning, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg, shared his political and journalistic insight with Missouri students. Dorning offered his insider's perspective on the candidates and his principles for covering the 2012 campaign during the students' visit to the Bloomberg Washington Bureau.
Weekly guest speakers include other outstanding Washington journalists and insiders such as Sam Donaldson of ABC News and Candy Crowley of CNN.
Katy Steinmetz poses with actor Alec Baldwin at the 2010 White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
In addition to well-known journalists, students meet with experts on the policy and legal issues that dominate Washington news. Kurt Wimmer, BJ '82, and Steven Weiswasser, partners in the blue-chip law firm Covington and Burling spoke to students on media law. This visit was one of Partyka's semester's highlights.
"It was a great follow-up to the media law class I took with Sandy Davidson because of the relevance it had to my internship," he says. "I asked two high-profile lawyers about the possible legal ramifications of using different videos from many news organizations under the 'fair use' doctrine."
Charles Lewis, Hearst Washington senior correspondent and former bureau chief, as well as former AP personnel manager, spoke with students about how to get a job. Jeff Biggs, director of Congressional Fellowship Program and former Foreign Service officer and spokesman for the House Speaker, explained the balance of power among the three branches of U.S. federal government and forecast the major issues that would make news during the students' semester in Washington.
Donna Leinwand, war correspondent for USA Today and former president of the National Press Club, talked to the students about how they should prepare to cover a war or natural disaster. Terry Bracy, founder of Bracy Tucker Brown & Valanzano public affairs firm and former U.S. assistant secretary of transportation, shared the inner workings of a lobbyist.
Missouri journalism students gather around comedian Jay Leno at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
Washington program student Jenny Rogers stands with President and Mrs. Obama at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
Leaving Their Mark and Making Connections
Greiling Keane is just one of the Washington program students who stayed for their careers. Steinmetz is another.
"I came to Time and never left Time," says Steinmetz. "Everyone I met while I was reporting, especially during those initial months, was potentially a good source to help me build a portfolio of contacts that I use now."
Steinmetz was hired at Time after graduation and reports on politics and culture. A recent story covered the effect the 2012 election had on Congress, leaving it divided and further from compromise. Her master's project focused on the effects of slang in mass media.
The value of a journalism education from the Missouri School of Journalism is evident in the careers that the graduates hold. The training and ability to produce high-quality journalism is something that is expected of and fulfilled by a Missouri journalism graduate, Cochran says.
"It was extremely beneficial to have real hands-on reporting experience, both in Washington and Columbia," Greiling Keane says. "That is something that's unique to Missouri journalism students."
Cochran says that the employers are always impressed with how well prepared the students are.
"The two most important characteristics that stand out in J-School students is that they are curious and bright," she says. "Those are two qualities that will take you far in life."
Cochran adds that Missouri students are equipped with skills in digital and social media. Employers know the students are ready to work from day one on the job.
Classes and high-pressure assignments at the Columbia Missourian and Vox Magazine provided Steinmetz with plenty of opportunities to learn the skills that she would need on the job, such as how to make a Freedom of Information request.
"The program gives students the opportunity of working in as close to professional circumstances as possible without actually having a job in a professional media operation," Cochran says. "They develop appreciation for how government works and public policy issues. Most importantly, it gives you an appreciation of what it means to be a citizen of this country."
Cochran would like to see more students take advantage of the wide array of opportunities in Washington.
"Washington is, of course, the political capital, but there are cultural institutions, international organizations, business journals and nonprofits working on issues such as health, the environment and social justice," she says. "The opportunities are limitless to have a meaningful work experience and also get an inside look at one of the most fascinating cities in the world."
The students visit with "Meet the Press" host David Gregory (sixth from left).
Alexa Henning, from Dallas, is a senior majoring in strategic communication and political science. She has served as director of Mizzou for Malawi and as vice president of the American Association of University Women-MU Affiliate. She is a member of the American Advertising Federation-Mizzou. Henning interned at the Missouri State Capitol for a state congresswoman and as a public relations and public affairs intern at Hill + Knowlton Strategies in Brussels, Belgium. She plans to pursue a career as a political communication strategist in Washington D.C. after graduation.
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