Photo description: Representatives from Bethel College, Chadron State College, Concordia University, Nebraska, Doane University, Peru State College, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and Wayne State College attend a NPCMA journalism conference panel in Thom Auditorium
Photo credit: Kayla Korb
Concordia welcomed about 60 college students, faculty advisers and professional journalists to campus over the weekend for the 2023 Northern Plains Collegiate Media Association conference, which included the presentation of the Golden Leaf Awards and forums on communications law, journalism careers and publicly funded media.
Three Concordia alumni returned to share advice from their journalism careers. Naomy Snider, CUNE class of 2022 and reporter for the York News-Times, advised the audience not to lose sight of their own stories in the hustle and bustle of their careers. She said everyone must recognize the purpose for their work to make the most of their career, and that a person’s “why” is the focus of and motivation behind their work.
“Being a good daughter, being a great role model for my baby sister who is 12 years old now, and showing them that I can make a name for ourselves: that is my ‘why,’” Snider said.
Snider also tied her work as a journalist to her vocation as a Christian. “Serving God and serving His people– that is why we are here,” she said.
Snider told the audience to write each story as if it were their first, paying attention to details, triple-checking their facts, and avoiding assuming they are right. “What you’re writing matters,” Snider said. “Do it to the best of your abilities.”
Madison Pitsch, CUNE class of 2019 and reporter and news anchor for KOLN/KGIN-TV in Lincoln, explained the importance of digging deeper into a story by asking questions. She encouraged people to “keep pulling on that thread” to unravel the details of a story beyond the easy or immediate answer.
Pitsch said journalism is the best profession because it is a “free pass to learn anything” and added that journalists are uniquely able to investigate and learn about anything they question.
Pitsch advised reporters to write character-driven stories, incorporating depth and interest into their writing that excites and engages the reader. She said a story that highlights the lives of people in the community has far more impact than a regurgitation of information.
“You can tell a story about a city council meeting, but if you could find somebody who is maybe affected by the city council’s decision… that makes that story so much richer and it’s another layer rather than just kind of a bulletin,” said Pitsch.
Emily Hemphill, CUNE class of 2014 and editor and reporter for the Seward Independent, encouraged journalists to be organized and prepared to go where the story takes them.
“Always leave a pair of, like, muck boots in your car,” Hemphill said. “I’ve had days where I’ve met with the governor in the morning and then in the afternoon, I’m standing in flood water taking pictures. You never know where you’re going to be.”
Hemphill said it is important to build relationships with people in their communities. Journalists often fear damaging relationships when they write articles about people they know, especially if those articles are negative, she said, but added that makes it important to keep interactions professional and recognize that writing critical stories is a necessary part of the job.
“Be factual, be professional about it,” Hemphill said. “Just kind of build those relationships so that they understand why you’re writing what you’re writing.”
The fourth member of the panel was Alana Kellen, University of Nebraska at Kearney class of 2020 who is the owner and publisher of Madison Star-Mail. The self-proclaimed “one-woman show” reports and writes stories, edits, takes photographs, facilitates ads, and sends out her newspaper in her community. She told the audience that, especially as a woman, she has found it important to be assertive in her career to ensure she is taken seriously. “Don’t let them push you around,” she said.
Max Kautsch, a media law specialist and legal hotline attorney for the Nebraska Press Association, gave a presentation on the application of the First Amendment and freedom of speech in student newspapers.
Keynote speaker Tim Schmitt, the managing editor of Golfweek magazine, published by the USA Today Sports Network, told the audience that journalism is a unique and impactful career that becomes “ingrained in your personality.”
“It’s almost a drug,” he said. “It’s something that gets in your veins.”
He said that journalism is a fulfilling career because it can have a profound effect on journalists and communities alike.
“There’s nothing as satisfying as knowing that, yeah you helped yourself, you got a nice by-line, you feel cool about it, you earned a paycheck, but at the end of the day you’ve built a community stronger, and that really says something about you as a person that you want to be here,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt said that journalists are unique in their ability to make connections and explore the world with curiosity.
“If you want a job that’s going to take you places every day that you never thought you’d go, I’m going to be honest, journalism is the place,” said Schmitt.
The NPCMA conference concluded with the Golden Leaf Awards presentation. Each school’s student newspaper had submitted stories, photos, podcasts, or overall newspapers and websites for consideration.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney received 21 first-place awards, Chadron State College received 6, Wayne State College received 4, and Bethel College and Doane University received 1. The Concordia Sower was awarded third place for Best Overall Website.
The colleges and universities representing NPCMA were Bethel College, Chadron State College, Concordia University, Nebraska, Doane University, Peru State College, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and Wayne State College.