Awards, Helpful Advice, and More at the 2018 ICCJA Writer’s Workshop

Written by Elodie Bouwens, Logan Raschke, & Hannah Rose Showalter.

On April 5th and 6th, Elodie Bouwens and current writers for The Chieftain Logan Raschke and Hannah Rose Showalter had the privilege of attending the ICCJA Writer’s Workshop down in much warmer and sunnier Springfield, IL. During this two-day program at Lincoln Land Community College, everyone had the honor of listening to great speakers educated in the field of journalism. Some of the speakers included professors and alumni of the community college, current instructors at other universities, and other experienced and well-respected journalists. 

Bouwens, Raschke, and Showalter engaged in several seminars that covered different subjects in the field of journalism as well as an informative speech courtesy of Charlie Wheeler. The lectures ranged anywhere from adapting to life at a four-year university to ethics in investigative journalism. The seminars and discussions were well-organized, interesting, and eye-opening to both aspiring journalism majors and students anxious about making the leap from a community college to a university. 

In addition, Ella Bouwens, Matthew Hayes, and Logan Raschke all received awards for their articles for The Chieftain. Both Bouwens and Raschke placed second in the Editorial Writer of the Year category in the first division while Hayes won second place in the News Photo category in the second division. Bouwens also placed second in both the Feature Writing and Staff Editorial categories in the second division while Raschke received an honorable mention in the Editorial Cartoon category in the first division. Read on to learn more about the individual experiences of The Chieftain staff as well as some very helpful advice for aspiring journalists.

Elodie Bouwens

Although I am not majoring in journalism, I would have to say that going to the Illinois Community College Journalism Association conferences is my favorite thing I’ve done at Black Hawk College these past two years. I’ve gone to two conferences while at Black Hawk, one in Charleston, Illinois and one in Springfield, Illinois, both of which were inspirational, educational and memorable experiences that I will never forget.

The latest conference, which was held in Springfield in early April of this year, definitely emphasized the “inspirational” part. I attended four sessions and had the opportunity to listen to excellent speakers at each one. These speakers not only provided superb academic and job-related advice, but they also delivered meaningful personal development tips as well. My favorite presentation was Zach Kerker’s, who works for a popular local sports radio station and the website

Kerker discussed how he proposed an idea to his boss about how he thought going digital would be good for the future of local sports coverage. This was a big risk for Kerker because if the experiment failed, it would be on him. It turned out that going digital was a wise move and continues to be successful. No matter what field you plan to go into, Kerker’s advice holds true: you must be willing to go out of your comfort zone to achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to propose new things if you can see the value and potential success in those ideas.

Another thing in Kerker’s presentation that is important is his discussion of employee value. Many companies try to make it seem like employees are just cogs in the machine with little value. Kerker says to remember that a worker is valued if they are in that position. If the company did not value someone, they never would have hired that person and invested in them. Also, I think it is reasonable to suggest that many people fear failure. Kerker advises that we should use the fear of failure as a motivation to work harder when we are faced with a challenging project.

Some other important things I took away from this conference include the following: In the “Covering Politics” session by Mary Hansen, NPR Illinois reporter, I was reminded that if you see a problem, do something about it, such as contacting authorities and politicians or writing a letter to the editor. Finally, if anyone out there is a writing junkie like me, you may find some tips from Zach Kerker helpful: Stories are not about you or the topic– they are about the people affected. Effective stories motivate you to change your way of thinking. The story is about the person.

But even though these big life tips are encouraging, they were not the best part of the conference for me. My favorite part of going to these conferences is that both times I was able to go with my best friend since seventh grade, Logan Raschke. Logan and I will be transferring to different colleges this fall, the first time we have gone to different schools since kindergarten. We both have a passion for writing great stories and these conferences were opportunities for us to showcase our skills and meet some amazing people. I am blessed that I got to go to college for two years with my best friend. These conferences, and other experiences we’ve had at Black Hawk, are things I will never forget and will hold with me as I go on to another school. Logan and I will always be best friends and this just adds to the massive storehouse of memories we have made over the years. 

Hannah Rose Showalter

The first seminar I attended was called “Becoming A Journalist.” The speaker was Will Buss, director of student publications at Western Illinois University. During this seminar, Mr. Buss discussed breaking into the business of journalism and establishing yourself; both professionally and academically. “Be there first–be the one to be the source of the information,” explains Buss. He also discussed the importance of making yourself stand out among your fellow classmates and co-workers. He says it’s important to show the diverse talents that you have and showcase what you can bring to the table that no one else can. To go along with this, he also states that “[Social Media] makes your generation marketable.” While competition for jobs in journalism is more intense than it was twenty years ago, there is more availability of jobs for young people who understand the intricacies of social media. 

During the second seminar, I learned a lot about interviewing. As a shy and introverted person, interviewing is one of the most intimidating aspects of journalism. However, I feel like this seminar, led by Kate Schott, editorial engagement editor at the State Journal-Register, taught me a lot. I definitely feel more prepared for interviews after listening to her. She talked a lot about making your interviewee feel comfortable, so as to make sure they feel safe enough to open up to you. Educating yourself on the person you are interviewing is also incredibly important. Kate Schott suggests researching everything you can about your subject. This makes you seem engaged and interested from the get-go, which also will make your interviewee feel more at ease. She also recommends asking open-ended questions and not being afraid to ask “dumb” questions.

The final seminar I went to focused on in-depth reporting and was led by Jaclyn Driscoll from NPR Illinois. This talk mainly focused on the research process when writing big stories. Driscoll stresses the importance of organization. Almost more than that, she stresses the importance of fact-checking and evaluating sources as often as you can. She also talked about how to find if a story is worth your time. If a story is breaking new ground and affecting real people, it’s most likely worth your time. While researching the story, Jaclyn mentions that you should “go deep and not wide”, meaning to narrow down your research and prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed by the amount of information available to you. Make sure you narrow down your information and only include what is relevant to your story.

All in all, I genuinely feel like I learned so much from this experience. I am ready to use the information I learned from all the incredible speakers and apply it to my work at The Chieftain.

Logan Raschke

This ICCJA workshop was important to me for several reasons. First and foremost, it was my last ICCJA workshop writing for The Chieftain. It was with this small but amazing staff here at BHC I learned how to best incorporate my talents for writing and cartoon drawing. The realization that this is the last trip with them is hard to handle. Second of all, I was already interested in pursuing a career in journalism beforehand, but my trip to Charleston, IL for the 2017 workshop finalized it. The 2017 ICCJA workshop was such an informative and enriching experience that I thought the 2018 workshop couldn’t possibly top it. As a matter of fact, I’d say both trips were equally appealing and educational (and the warm weather in Springfield wasn’t too bad either). Third of all, in less than three months I’ll be transferring to EIU and writing with a totally different college newspaper staff.

Before this workshop I was anxious about moving away from family and writing for a much larger newspaper with very competitive members. Now, much in the same way I felt after the 2017 ICCJA workshop, it doesn’t seem all that bad. The ICCJA workshops have helped me out so much as both a young writer and a scared soon-to-be transfer student. These workshops didn’t just provide important information for me to use in my writing projects, they also gave me reassurance that hard work and dedication make everything worthwhile. It’ll be painful to leave The Chieftain, but the ICCJA workshops show to students like Ella, Hannah, Matthew, and I that we still have great things to look forward to in our college careers.

The first seminar I attended was conducted by Dr. Roger Sadler, professor of Broadcasting at Western Illinois University. He talked with the rest of the students and I about breaking news. He told us that while the job is inherently stressful, it is critical to maintain calm. When it comes to breaking news, the reporter has to survey the newsworthy event, take in all of the critical information about it, and only incorporate the relevant statements from bystanders. To make matters even more anxiety-inducing, they have to condense all of the information they’ve absorbed into a short 2 or 3-minute report and everything they say is captured live. He told us that as long as you do what police officers or officials ask you to do, a huge weight is lifted from their and your shoulders. It’s good to get input from the locals too, but it’s vital to only use their relevant and accurate comments. The last thing a reporter wants is to include something in their report that later turns out to be false, thus tarnishing his or her credibility.

NPR Illinois’s News Editor Maureen McKinney informed another class and I about how to write effective leads. A lead is a short, enticing first line of an article that serves the purpose of making readers want to continue reading. McKinney gave us only the key parts of a newsworthy story and asked us to create our own leads. She said that there’s an 8 year-old boy who got a bad infection from a bedbug infestation and will live the rest of his life with scars. He was living in an apartment in Inglewood, California with his parents at the time of the infection. His parents sued the owners of the apartment building and won a multi-million dollar settlement. Using that information, I decided to write my lead: “A young boy will forever be scarred after his traumatic experience living in an apartment with a horrible infestation problem located in Inglewood, California.” Other students decided to include the multi-million dollar settlement information in their own leads, but I decided that I would rather mention the trauma the boy had endured first to interest the reader and in that same paragraph mention the hefty settlement later on. I would put all of the important information in the same paragraph or two, but not in the same lead. If I had put all of the important information in one lead, it’s less of a lead and more of an information-overload. Readers are more likely to read on with a limited, but still enticing lead.

The last seminar I went to was lead by four alumni of Lincoln Land College. Ending the sessions here was great because I mostly had questions about adapting to life at a university away from home. Of course I had to ask if any of them had bad experiences with roommates, but they insisted that most university apartments are very careful about how they match students. Usually they require new applicants to fill out a resident profile so that they can most effectively match you with the right people. They also informed the other students and I that while community college newspapers usually have smaller staffs, the newspapers at universities are much larger and their staffs are comprised of highly competitive students. Sometimes articles you spend lots of time on don’t even get published. Coming from such a small staff, that’s a little scary to me. On the other hand, competitiveness influences the quality of your articles for the better, and student-lead newspaper teams are closely-knit, helpful, and passionate about what they do.

We also had the honor to hear Charlie Wheeler, Director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Springfield. He told us that he was surprised to see how much journalism has changed since he was first starting out in the news industry. With the popularity of social media comes so many benefits, such as easy accessibility and a number of new job opportunities. He explained that even though it has always been important for journalists to get the best quality story to audiences, we must remember that quality is vastly more important than speed of service. Today, journalists can stream events live to social media and commentate as the event is happening. Sometimes though, in their need to get stories out to the public before their competitors, inaccuracies flourish and the quality of the article begins to diminish. Credibility is so important for journalists. Once a journalist gives his or her credibility away, it is very difficult to earn it back. He emphasizes the importance of ensuring that accurate information is spread to audiences over the satisfaction of being the first person to publish it.

I have to say that the 2018 ICCJA conference was just as memorable and amazing as the previous one. I usually went into these seminars thinking that they were mostly going to consist of lectures that only stand to benefit those interested in pursuing journalism, but by the end of each workshop I realize that it’s so much more than that. Students, majoring in journalism or not, could stand to learn so much from these workshops. These workshops invite you to collaborate ideas with new people, make new friends and memories, and open new doors. I strongly recommend these workshops to all community college students. I’ve learned information that I’ll take straight to the university that I’m transferring to and I know it will help me in my future endeavors. If you haven’t been to an ICCJA workshop, join The Chieftain staff and cross it off your bucket list. I guarantee you won’t regret it.