Enterprising students, thorough legislative reporting
RSJ students show reporting chops with Nevada Media Alliance coverage of state legislature
In the spring of 2013 the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno launched the Nevada Media Alliance. Created to provide advanced multiplatform reporting on topics of public interest, The Alliance is comprised of eight undergraduate students serving as reporters, three graduate students serving as editors, and faculty member Mike Marcotte serving as Senior Supervisor. What is particularly innovative about The Alliance is that it operates as a public service news cooperative working in collaboration with regional news media. Media partners include the Reno-Gazette Journal (RGJ), KNPB public television and KUNR public radio. The Alliance is supported by grants from The Hearst Foundations, The Charles H. Stout Foundation, and the E.L. Cord Foundation.
The initial focus of The Alliance is on the 2013 Nevada Legislative Session. Student reporters produce timely stories from the state capitol in Carson City. Stories include in-depth features on legislative issues or leaders; multimedia presentations for radio, television, web; and social media coverage on Twitter, Facebook, Storify and a project blog.
"I wanted to create an experimental project where students can work directly with professional journalists and help contribute much-needed coverage for the community," said faculty advisor Marcotte. "Seeing The Alliance come to life and watching the students embrace the experience has been very satisfying."
The Nevada Media Alliance gave student reporters and editors a crash course in Nevada politics.
"I grew up in northern Nevada and politics has always been an interest of mine," said Abbie Walker, graduate student "outreach editor" for The Alliance. "Being on the ground at the Capitol has taught me very quickly what key issues are most important to legislators and the public."
Undergraduate reporter Molly Moser also learned the lay of the political land very quickly.
"I knew nothing about Nevada politics when I started working with The Alliance," Moser said. "Not many students understand local politics, but as a result of working as a reporter, I have broken out of my shell and learned more about who our state lawmakers are, what kinds of bills are being introduced and discussed, and what big priority bills there are.
"I have a greater understanding of why people are in favor of or opposed to certain bills having listened in on committee meetings and watching people testify. It's amazing to hear what people on both sides of an issue have to say when they testify and make their case to our elected officials."
Because The Alliance is a public service news cooperative providing coverage through collaboration with regional news media, Reynolds School students working on the project are gaining hands-on, real world multi-media reporting experience.
"Participating in The Alliance is as close as you can get to being a professional journalist without the risk," said Moser. "I have grown tremendously over the course of the semester and I've certainly strengthened my reporting skills."
Alliance reporters are producing print, audio and broadcast stories that are picked up by the RGJ, KNPB and KUNR.
When The Alliance launched, graduate student Alex Pompliano had the opportunity to speak with veteran Associated Press reporter Sandra Chereb.
"Sandra shared her perspective on The Alliance with me when we first arrived in Carson City," Pompliano said. "Ms. Chereb said having us there was an advantage to the public ... and the Capitol press corps. She said, having more reporters covering the session created opportunities for different story angles to be developed resulting in more robust coverage of what was happening day in and day out."
The first video package produced for KNPB was with Assemblywoman Debbie Smith. The focus of the interview was on Smith's role in education funding.
"Debbie Smith was very willing to work with us," Pompliano said. "She took us seriously and we ended up creating a very interesting show related to higher education funding. It was very exciting for The Alliance to secure an interview with her and execute what we had learned over the course of the semester."
Students work alongside seasoned journalists producing original news content.
"The first two students I worked with had fantastic attitudes and great enthusiasm," KNPB News Director Brent Boynton said. "They worked as grips on the legislative introduction show I was producing with Mitch Fox from Vegas PBS. We were in the state Capitol's old legislative chamber. The students helped with timing the interview. This was instrumental in helping assemble the show and they got to experience the whole process from start to finish.
"After finishing the interviews we went back to the station to put the next days show together in the edit bay and the students were right by my side to watch. They had a real interest in seeing all of the show's elements come together to create the final product."
Boynton added, "There is an immediate benefit to KNPB. We needed legislative coverage and we got it. But, moreover KNPB has given these enterprising students the opportunity to be seen. We air their stories and publish their work. This is tremendously valuable to them. You can write and produce news all day, but if no one is listening the students are missing out."
"The Alliance has allowed us to bring a new audience to these new journalists, has allowed them to overcome the entry level weaknesses present when a new journalist enters the field," he said. "When the project comes to an end these students will have a professional TV news package to take to a potential employer that will likely help land them a job."
The Alliance's work can also be found in the RGJ.
Kelly Ann Scott, senior editor for news and business at the RGJ, got involved with The Alliance soon after it launched.
"When the Nevada News Bureau went away, The Alliance filled that void," Scott said. "The fact that The Alliance operates as an independent news source for what's happening at the 2013 session is a huge help to the RGJ."
The partnership with The Alliance has allowed the RGJ to increase its reach, offering readers more content from a credible and reliable source.
"The partnership allows us to cover the session in greater detail than if we were there on our own," Scott said. "Feedback from our readers has been positive. The Alliance is an extension of our coverage, which speaks volumes to the level of professionalism these students bring to the Capitol every day. They are doing fantastic work."
Boynton added, "With broadcast budgets as they are almost nobody has an opportunity to staff the legislature full time. The Alliance's ability to check in regularly and get a grasp of emerging topics is a huge benefit to KNPB.
"Additionally, their ability to do stories in conjunction with the station gives me a product our audience sees as beneficial."
"Partnering with The Reynolds School on this project has been refreshing and fun," Scott said. "It is good for the students to have a real-world view into the world of journalism and it's energizing to work with students who do things differently, with a fresh perspective. They have new ideas and a solid understanding of multimedia technology and are not engrained into the newsroom culture. I think they've managed to soften even the toughest veteran reporters!"
Boynton added, "The Alliance and all of the outstanding work the Reynolds School students have created gives me great confidence for the future of journalism."
Student reporters working for The Alliance are ready to hit the ground running as professional journalists.
"Students participating in The Alliance have the chops to join a newspaper staff as the result of this experience," Scott said. "They understand professional standards and the fast-paced nature of the industry. This type of practical experience is what future journalists need to jump right in and hit the ground running."
The Alliance has earned the trust of major news outlets editors and reporters.
"Working on this project is a serious responsibility," Pompliano said. "It's the same responsibility a season journalist receives. To have earned the trust and confidence of our media partners is really rewarding.
"The biggest reward of participating in The Alliance is seeing our content published right next to the work of veteran political reporters. It is awesome to see our stories in the Reno-Gazette Journal, hear them on KUNR and watch them KNPB."
According to Pompliano working with The Alliance is the best way to build a professional portfolio and get published.
"Working with The Alliance means reporting on serious issues, first-hand, on the front lines," Pompliano said. "We are getting original quotes, posting our content, growing our readership and online following. It's a fantastic way to build a resume."
Moser added, "I can't explain why, but I love working on this project. Journalism is the love of my life and I know I want to do this kind of work for the rest of my life. Having the opportunity to work with The Alliance has been a real gift. I love the team and have gotten to work with great people. This opportunity has helped me push forward, grow and gain confidence in myself."