Three freshman journalism students from the University of Nevada, Reno were quickly transformed into real-world journalists at the “Rally to Restore Sanity” hosted by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and the “March to Keep Fear Alive” hosted by The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert on Oct. 30 at the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
Donica Mensing, associate professor of the Reynolds School of Journalism (RSJ), asked journalism students interested in attending the rally to write essays on why he or she should be chosen to represent the University and report from Washington, D.C., during the “Rally for Sanity and/or Fear.” After reviewing the entries, Mensing and her co-instructor, RSJ Dean Jerry Ceppos, chose the winners: freshmen Kimberley Mahoney, Molly Moser and Max Wynne.
“We were discussing the rally in my Journalism 101 class and it occurred to me that it would be fun to actually send students to cover it,” Mensing said. “It grew from an in-class inspiration.”
Expenses for the three students were covered by donations collected specifically for this trip from faculty and alumni. The students shot photographs and videos, tweeted and reported during and after the rally to their blog, “Fearful Yet Sane: Three college journalism students' journey to our generation's defining moment.” They also took notes on what it was like to be a journalist at an event of that drew tens of thousands.
“This was a wonderful opportunity to go beyond just getting our feet wet,” Mahoney said. “We jumped head-first into a pool with nothing but a few instructions and one another to keep us company.”
“We interviewed people who were outside of the rally and took photos demonstrating just how desperate people were just to see Stewart and Colbert,” Moser said. “This adventure gave me a taste of what the journalism career is like – and I enjoyed it.”
The rally was broadcast live on Comedy Central. Two of the University’s journalism classes came together on Oct. 30 in the journalism school to watch the rally and present class projects. Writing Lecturer and Website Content Generator Deidre Pike had her class create public relations and advertising campaigns on Colbert’s “Rally for Fear,” and Mensing’s class identified issues, along the theme of Stewart’s rally, which they classified as sane or insane.
Media outlets estimated that more about 215,000 people attended the rally in Washington, D.C., but the majority was not able to get the seats they wanted.
“The only way to see the rally was to sit on top of portable bathrooms, tree branches, a tall object, a friend's shoulders, or to just accept the fact of your misfortune,” Moser said. “It was amazing how people outside of the gates went to such lengths just to see the show. I do not blame them for it but that's what I found insane.”
The rally may have been crowded, but the students did what they had to for the story, even if it wasn’t the story they expected to write.
“During this adventure, I learned that not everything will go as planned, but sometimes it turns out to be better than expected,” Mahoney said. “Instead of reporting on an event that was already being covered live on television, we reported things that were going on outside of the event. We found that people were also interested to know about things happening that weren’t on television.”
With this experience, the students showed other journalism students, current or potential, the possibilities for the future.
“This is an opportunity for the University to expand its scope and hopefully attract more students, especially to the (Reynolds) School of Journalism,” Wynne said. “To have the school sponsor and send students across the country to cover political rallies is a definite draw to prospective applicants. I hope this generates more projects of the same variety.”
Blog entries from the three journalism students who attended the rally, including photographs, can be found at Fearful Yet Sane.