This year, the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Excellence in Journalism Conference took place in Orlando, Florida for three jam-packed days of workshops, panels, and story creation. Senior Brie Ripley recounts her time at the conference and offers advice for students interested in attending next year’s event.
How did you get chosen to go to SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism Conference?
“I was one of 12 college students from across the nation selected to report for Excellence in Journalism News from a pool of about five dozen applicants. On our first day of what they called a ‘micro-internship’, our mentors, Victor Hernandez and Faith Sidlow, told us that we were all selected for our varied journalistic skills (ranging from data journalism to documentary making to audio producing) combined with some sort of algorithmic score that measured our social media presence. Crazy, right? They graded me on how often I tweeted and posted pictures to Instagram.”
What was a typical day like?
“A typical day started at 7 a.m. I’d get up, grab a granola bar, chug some water, iron my pants, then head downstairs from my hotel room to get a good seat in our team check-in and pitch meeting. We met every morning at 8:15 a.m. in our designated conference room (aka our qazi news bureau) at the Orlando World Center Marriott. After we pitched a few story ideas, we all split up to go gather stories. Each day we were given one of three primary responsibilities — social media, visuals, or writing. If I was given the responsibility of social media for the day, it would be my job to update the EIJ News Twitter or Instagram the entire day in addition to writing and producing the stories I pitched.
“I planned my days like this: I pitched story ideas based on what sort of panels and workshops I wanted to attend. And if you know me, you know that’s anything related to public media. So OF COURSE I had to go videotape Public Radio News Directors President, George Bodarky, who lead a workshop on ‘putting your best voice forward’, and audio record The Pub Podcast’s Adam Ragusea’s talk on why we’re all doing audio levels the wrong way. I even got a one-on-one critique by Charlie Meyerson of Rivet Radio of an audio story that I recently produced for KPLU Public Radio. By strategizing my EIJ News story quota based on my personal interests, I think I made the most of the experience.”
What were three things you learned there?
“I learned that you’re only as good as your current story, the three most important words are ‘I don’t know’, and when to call it a day even though I wanted to keep creating.”
What lessons did you bring back that you can use in your classes/job here in Seattle?
“So many lessons… One of the biggest would probably be the importance of working on a team you trust. I befriended my roommate pretty quickly and that made it easier for us to collaborate. We were constantly sharing resources, contacts, and materials we produced throughout the day. This made it so much easier to have a polished final story. I was making GIFs the whole time and so she would say, ‘Wow! That looks cool! Do you think I could have one of…’ whatever. It was great. So I learned how important it is to connect with my teammates which I can apply to a classroom situation by getting to know my classmates. You don’t have to go through anything alone unless you want to.”
Any suggestions for students that want to be a part of this conference in the future?
“I suggest you definitely apply because not that many people do. Make sure that you’re very present and mindful on social media. In an industry that prides itself on newness and pragmatism, it’s important to be posting to your own social media often to get this internship. Tweeting often, uploading pictures to Instagram, and having a large pool of connections on LinkedIn — these were all important areas of consideration they scrutinized before deciding that each of us 12 were the ones.”
Anything to add?
“I don’t know… Maybe don’t live on a pizza and Gatorade diet for five days like I did. Definitely don’t do that. And if you’ve taken the News Lab component of the journalism program, you’ll have an idea of how intense this micro internship with EIJ News is. It’s up there in the top five most high-stakes/high-stress experiences I’ve had. Nevertheless, the people I met and the work I created made me very fortunate to have had this opportunity. If I had to do it all over again, I would. With less pizza.”