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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Learning through doing: The essence of student journalism

Learning through doing is learning that sticks. And upon entering 2142 Vilas Hall, that’s the first thing you’ll discover. 

The Daily Cardinal is one of over 1,500 student newspapers across the country where wide-eyed student journalists — some with high school newspaper experience and others with absolutely none — are pitched stories and told to do one thing: get out there and report. 

Whether it’s an assignment to cover a student government election or a water main break, you are hitting the ground running as a new staffer at the Cardinal. For many, these stories are the first foray into the intricacies of a new topic, or even an entire new city and state. For every writer, though, their first byline in a campus publication is their first time using their voice to tell the stories of fellow campus community members. 

These are the stories we, as student journalists, need to tell. 

The rise of amateur digital media is a vehicle for deliberative discourse. Social media platforms can serve as a forum for individuals to speak freely, expressing their ideas and gaining exposure to opposing viewpoints. But in an increasingly polarized world riddled with echo chambers and a lack of empathy for combatant perspectives, harmonious free speech and deliberation aren’t always the guaranteed outcome.

Opinion-based writing generates attention. It reels in clicks by way of persuasion or exposure to a new school of thought. It energizes readers, be they for or against the author’s stance.

But, there’s an integral spot in this world for straight news. The search for balanced and factual coverage is a long and arduous one; no one’s nature is devoid of prejudice, so how can anyone — or thing, given the relevance of artificial intelligence — produce perfectly neutral coverage?

We can’t, but we can certainly try. 

College students, specifically undergraduates, are like clay. Many are eager teenagers or young adults, and many have yet to form concrete ideologies. They’re free and courageous. If good for nothing else, the stereotypical Big Ten, four-year college experience provides young members of society with independence — the chance to refine their thinking and learn more about themselves than they knew before.

Any of their previously rooted perspectives are subject to change at this stage of life. Not only does this motivate curiosity, but it inspires a fresh outlook on the principles and practices of journalistic writing and reporting.

Student news outlets have exclusive access to the stories that impact their peers and other community members most. What’s more, coverage on the ground of college campuses can predict statewide and national trends — election outcomes, fiscal policy, social justice initiatives and so much more. 

Time spent on a student newspaper may be just a blip in a college career that results in time spent as a social worker, elementary school teacher or an electrical engineer. Some staffers may go on to become Pulitzer Prize winning journalists or media moguls who launch a revolutionary news platform. 

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And that’s the essence of student journalism.

Campus publications are funneling in staffers at a time when they are learning and growing — their views, their passions and their interests are changing. Ultimately, student newsrooms are at the core of universities’ commitment to exploring broad and diverse ideas, and promoting conversation, critical thinking and intellectual growth. 

At the Cardinal, not all staffers are forever committed to journalism. They are, however, committed to their community at the time of their enrollment. Each generation contains a group of believers in the impact of a simple story. 

Collegiate newsrooms, the Cardinal office included, serve as a space for members of that group to learn, not fail. It’s the chance to try something new and be part of an impactful legacy while doing it.

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Sophia Vento

Sophia Vento is the former editor-in-chief of The Daily Cardinal. She previously served as the college news editor. She has covered breaking campus, city, state and sports news, and written in-depth stories about health, culture and education. Any newsroom would be lucky to have Sophia on staff. Follow her on Twitter at @sophiasvento.


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