On Thursday and Friday of October 5 and 6, our journalism professor Marifaith Mueller took Ella Bouwens and I on a trip to the ICCJA conference at Eastern Illinois University. ICCJA stands for Illinois Community College Journalism Association–it gives students attending community colleges in Illinois a chance to visit and engage with professors at the best university for journalism in Illinois–EIU.
At the conference, Ella and I had the opportunity to listen in on several informational sessions about a number of related topics to journalism and hear a criminal investigative journalist tell us about some of the most interesting and perplexing stories of his career. Words can’t describe how incredibly blessed I feel after having the opportunity to participate in this year’s ICCJA conference. I had no idea just how fun, rewarding, and life-changing the experience would be for me. Here’s what happened at the conference and what triggered my application to EIU.
The First Session: Design Essentials
What’s the story? How do we tell it? What are the resources? How do we get readers involved? These were just a few imperative questions answered by Greg Bilbrey, editor for (Robinson) Daily News. A lot of journalists sometimes excuse bad newspaper and web design in exchange for good writing. Unfortunately, although you may have other-worldly writing talents, no one will read your articles if the layout of your page is designed poorly.
The InDesign program is a must-have for online-only publications. It is crucial to effectively coalescing C.V.I.–Central Visual Impact–into master pages. It looks tricky, but it’s as simple as deciding on an overall layout of the page, and rearranging articles into text boxes that look best for the page. If you’re interested in trying InDesign out, just email me. The program is available in the journalism classroom in building 4 of BHC. It’s pretty fun to experiment with different designs to keep a page fresh and engaging to the reader–and who doesn’t love to see their hard work looking more organized and easier to follow than ever?
Design is essential for any publication. The meaning of the session was to inform students that everything makes a difference when it comes to design–even the white space without any pictures or text! As long as you always consider what the reader expects and wants when designing your webpage, newspaper, or blog, you’ll be in good shape.
The Second Session: Improving Copy Editing Skills
Like good design, accurate copy editing is necessary to any publication. The truth is, nobody wants to read a paper riddled with miss-spelled words, grammar mistakes, and just plain old errors–like typing “and” twice in a row. As a newspaper writer, readers expect you to get the fundamentals of good writing correct the first time. Each time they encounter an error in your article, it takes them out of the experience of reading your work.
Lola Burnham, the student publications director at EIU, shared with us a few helpful tips for copy editing. Writers always write their work according to how they hear it being read in their heads. Even if you believe you wrote “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” you may have actually written “The quick brown fox fox jumped over the lazy dog.” If you re-read it too fast, you may miss the mistake. That’s why it’s important to get a second pair of eyes to evaluate your work. If another person isn’t available to check your work, read your article again at least three times. Remember, every word is important. If spell-check misses it, it’s your job to find the error and fix it.
Accurate grammar is so important. We’ve all heard statements like “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma” grouped together to make a point–just small punctuation marks like a comma completely change the meaning of a sentence. Your article could be completely immaculate, except for that tiny comma you forgot to place where it belonged. It manages to completely take the reader out of the article in a matter of seconds. It also makes you sound like a cannibal.
Check out The Chieftain’s Facebook page here to see a video of the first portion of Lola Burnham’s lecture! It’s informative and it’ll make you laugh.
The Third Session: A Practical Guide to Interviewing
Interviewing is tough. The person being interviewed is prepared to lay out their story to you, the naive interviewer, for all the world to later read. It’s their story, but it’s being represented by you as the writer. It’s a lot of responsibility to worry about, but thankfully Amanda Bright, journalism instructor at EIU, has some great tips up her sleeves that make interviewing less stressful.
What makes interviewing difficult is knowing which questions to ask and which answers to include in your work, all while trying to keep the nervous, awkward stomach butterflies controlled. Bright suggests not sticking to a list of questions. Constantly referring to lists gets boring for the person being interviewed. If the person you’re interviewing isn’t interested, then the responses you’ll get won’t be interesting. Try to think of it as a conversation. When a juicy subject arises, milk it for all it’s worth (as long as it still relates to the topic of the interview.) This will keep the interview going without hesitation, and you’ll receive a ton of valuable information in the short amount of time you’re given.
If the person you’re interviewing really isn’t interested in giving you any valuable information for your article, despite your desperate attempts at an engaging conversation, Bright offers a solution: take a second to observe your surroundings. For example, if you’re in the person’s office or personal room while interviewing him/her, find an intriguing object and ask him/her about it. You may just get a terrific answer with an incredible backstory, and that might just be worth writing an article.
We also did a video on Amanda Bright’s session about interviewing. We also published it on our Facebook page. Click here to check it out!
The Fourth Session: Legal Issues In Journalism
In this last session Ella and I both attended, Ensung Kim, professor at EIU, discusses the most common legal issues in journalism. These include: freedom of information; libel/defamation; invasion of privacy; copyright infringement; and reporter’s privilege. As a journalist, you must abide by these basic legalities. I’ll be going over just a couple for now: libel/defamation and copyright infringement.
“Libel is the publication of a false statement or fact that seriously harms one’s reputation,” explains Kim. Protecting yourself from a libelous lawsuit is actually pretty easy, though. As long as what you’re writing about a person is clearly an opinion, you cannot be sued for libel. The only time you can write something harmful to someone’s reputation is if it’s a fact. As long as you provide your reliable sources, make sure to address both sides of an issue, and pick words carefully, you should be just fine.
Kim defines copyright infringement as “using someone else’s original work without obtaining the copyright owner’s permission.” Reproduction, distribution, public performance, and public display are all rights protected by a copyright. For example, at the Print and Marketing Department at Staples, you cannot bring an image of Mickey Mouse on an invitation to be reproduced and copied. Disney would be losing money on their own invitations featuring their own character if other companies reproduced their copyrighted characters without permission. As long as you ask for permission to use someone else’s work in your own and receive their permission, you are protected under fair use.
John Ferak Talks about Being a Criminal Investigative Journalist
This was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. If you love watching or reading murder mysteries, you’d love reading Ferak’s work. Ella and I were so lucky to be able to hear him talk about his own experiences keeping up with some of the worst “failure of justice” murder cases.
Ferak first mentioned his book Bloody Lies. It’s all about the blame for a poor couple’s murder being pinned on their two ornery nephews. What really sealed the prosecution, however, was that they actually confessed to the crime. Surprisingly, they were innocent the whole time. In short, without any spoilers, at least one police officer was charged with planting incriminating evidence that effectively got the two nephews incarcerated while the real murderers were out galavanting through the country, plotting their own selfish schemes.
In another one of his books that explored false confessions, Ferak mentioned Failure of Justice which sounded so good, I had to buy it.
In Failure of Justice, Ferak tells the story of the greatest false confessions case in the U.S to date. Six people are wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a 69 year-old woman. Police are brutal during the interrogation process and get four out of the six suspects to confess. The other two are sent to prison for twenty more years than the four who confessed. After decades of wrongful imprisonment, advanced forensic technology develops and the original six suspects are acquitted. The long and winding process is full of treachery and woe, and it’s totally worth reading.
All in all, I wouldn’t give up this experience for anything. If it hadn’t have been for this trip, I would’ve never thought of visiting the humble university town of Charleston, IL–a good three and a half hours away from my hometown. The professors were amazing, the guest speaker was phenomenal, and I was more than impressed with what the journalism department of EIU had to offer. I just put in my application the other day. My next step is sending in my high school transcript. After my trip and personal tour of the university, I’m certain that this is the place for me and any student interested in pursuing journalism as a major field of study!
Stay tuned for an editorial of my experience touring Eastern Illinois University! I’ll be talking about the friendly staff, the gorgeous campus, the top-notch journalism department, and what plans I have for the future–as well as some advice for aspiring journalists!