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June 2012

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Professional Partnerships Enhance a Missouri Journalism Education

Jacqui Banaszynski with Students
Professor Jacqui Banaszynski, left, meets with students who are working on a project for the Public Insight Network at American Public Media. Photo by Erica Terry.

The Public Insight Network, IRE and NICAR Provide Hands-on Experiences for Students

By Erica Terry
Strategic Communication Student

Nine Missouri School of Journalism students are traveling the state of Missouri with a single question in mind: "How do you define the American Dream?"

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The students working on the project, titled "The American Next," converse with members of the millennial generation - ages 16 to 35 - about their ideas of the American dream, hoping that one interview could land a solid story. From churches to high schools to hotels, these young journalists host casual interviews to better understand the values of young Missourians.

Sangeeta Shastry
Print and digital news major Sangeeta Shastry interviewed four mothers as part of her reporting for "The American Next" project.

Print and digital news journalism senior Sangeeta Shastry traveled I-70 with stops in St. Charles and Columbia, where she had one of her most interesting interviews with four mothers at Fairview Methodist Church in Columbia. For themselves they dreamed of self-happiness and having means to provide for their families.

It was when they defined the American dream for their children, however, they felt that technology and social media were driving the desires of youth. Millennials' definitions of the American dream can be found in their Facebook posts or Twitter updates, where they express what it is they care about.

These interviews are a part of a professional partnership that the Missouri School of Journalism offers with the Public Insight Network. The Public Insight Network is a crowd-sourcing tool that allows community members to voluntarily submit background information and sign up to be potential sources for journalists. The network partnered with the Missouri School of Journalism in June 2011. The American Next students and the Project 573 class are both using the network to find sources for stories, while the participatory journalism class is helping build that network of sources.

Hilary Niles
Graduate student Hilary Niles is one of nine students working on the Public Insight Network project. Niles made her transition to Missouri School of Journalism after more than eight years of freelance work. Photo courtesy of Hilary Niles.

The Public Insight Network is one of many professional partnerships at the school. Students have the opportunity to see their future in action, living the life of a professional journalist.

Jacqui Banaszynski, who serves as the Knight Chair in Editing, was a major influence in the Public Insight Network's decision to partner with Missouri. She met the director of the network, and the two got excited about the possibilities of a collaboration between the Public Insight Network at American Public Media and the J-School. "We realized that there was a really good potential synergy here," Banaszynski says. "I think anything that we can do to support, encourage and teach journalism that is done in partnership with the public is essential for the future."

The Public Insight Network leadership soon realized that this partnership offered a way to work with journalism programs on college campuses.

The new partnership did bring about some challenges. Banaszynski says there is a flip side to trying new things - uncertainty of success.

Graduate student Hilary Niles enjoys the challenges that this program offers.

She had her first introduction to the Public Insight Network more than 1,300 miles away from the Missouri School of Journalism.

She first heard of the network while listening to New Hampshire Public Radio, her home NPR-member station. When it surfaced as the basis of a course at the Missouri School of Journalism, the name resonated with Niles, and she decided to participate in the American Next project.

"Starting from a blank slate is the most challenging," Niles says. "It's also one of the most valuable parts of the experience."

Niles interviewed a man she identifies as one of her most interesting interviewees to date - a Somali refugee who arrived in St. Louis six years ago.

Ahmed Sidi Abdalla's family fled Somalia for Kenya when he was an infant. They eventually settled in Kakuma, a refugee camp in northern Kenya. More than a decade passed before they were chosen to resettle in the U.S.

In Kenya, Abdalla says he grew up, like other refugees, dreaming of coming to America. Now that he is here, he is still figuring out what it means to be American.

"It's really an honor to be a channel for sharing such stories," Niles says.

The stories from the American Next students are available at ColumbiaMissourian.com under the "American Next" banner.

Professional Partnership: Two for One

Were it not for Investigative Reporters and Editors, headquartered at the school, graduate student Joe Yerardi might be attending Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Investigative Reporters and Editors is one of the Missouri School of Journalism's first professional partnerships. This program is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serve as a support system for those involved in investigative reporting.

Joe Yerardi
Graduate student and former National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting graduate assistant Joe Yerardi is currently interning with Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Joe Yerardi.

The partnership comes with committed faculty as well. Executive Director Mark Horvit says his best experience is working with students here and having the benefit of helping them become successful.

After graduating from New York University, Yerardi transitioned into the Missouri School of Journalism. He researched programs that Investigative Reporters and Editors offered and applied for a graduate assistantship with the National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR).

NICAR began in Missouri as the Missouri Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting in 1989 and merged with IRE 1993.

Yerardi became a graduate assistant for NICAR. His workload consisted of contributing to its database library. He learned practical skills of finding and analyzing electronic information.

One of Yerardi's most memorable assignments as a NICAR graduate assistant was one that reached hundreds of thousands of households in the state of Florida. He was assigned to run a data analysis on teachers' voting patterns at voting polls. The Florida news station provided NICAR with two databases that Yerardi used to measure teachers' voting power. He analyzed the subject and passed along his findings to NICAR's training director for editing. After one month, the Florida story was shared with the world. The story ran on live news, and it was featured online.

"When you work with a professional partnership, you are no longer just a student," Yerardi says. "You are a journalist."

Missouri's "incredibly talented students" make NICAR graduate assistantships very competitive, NICAR adviser David Herzog says. The benefits are very attractive - joining a network of committed journalists, developing a new skill set in data analysis and being associated with a well-known organization.

"Professional partnerships are a great enhancement of the education that you get in Missouri," says Yerardi.

Erica Terry Erica Terry, a senior at the Missouri School of Journalism, is studying strategic communication and pursuing a minor in business marketing. She was selected as a 4A's 2011 Multicultural Advertising Intern Program participant and interned as a media planner at Starcom MediaVest Group in Chicago. Terry will begin a career in media planning at Starcom MediaVest Group after graduation.


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Revised: June 1, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Curators of the University of Missouri  |  Contact the J-School