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Student Publications Prepare Future Journalists

January 4th, 2010

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

Bridget Degnan, this semester's Herald editor, at work on a J-Lab Mac

Every Thursday evening this fall 2009 semester, a buzz of noise drifted from a basement hallway in the Barbara Hodel Student Life Center (BHC). Inside, seated in front of rows of wide Macintosh monitors, a close cadre of Journalism students assembled the components of that week’s Herald, the student newspaper. Sophomore Bridget Degnan, the current editor, ran from computer to computer, checking progress.

“Bridget, what do you think of this picture?” asked sophomore Sarah Saunders, referencing her two-page photo spread in the center of the issue. Almost before Degnan could respond, someone else called for her attention on an article that was too long, or on a caption.

“In five minutes, so much happens,” grins Degnan, explaining the newsroom process. “I expected to learn a lot about writing well and writing fast [as Herald editor], but I didn’t expect the level of people skills I would be learning. You’re working with a team, balancing different issues and passions.”

On a mega-size campus, the student newspaper may not matter very much. For Patrick Henry College’s approximately 300 on-campus students, the Herald makes a real impact. Pages flip at every table in the campus dining commons during Friday lunch, when the paper is typically released. This semester, for example, a junior woman’s opinion editorial on the topic of “manliness” sparked conversations across campus, as well as counter-editorials, academic papers, and several Facebook notes with copious comments.

The first issue of the Herald was published in rudimentary form in Spring, 2003, not long after the Journalism major itself began. Since then, every Journalism major spends time working on the Herald or its magazine counterpart, the Source, during his or her PHC career.

“I was a writer, without any background in graphics or layout,” notes PHC Director of Journalism Dr. Les Sillars. “It took several years to get equipment to the proper level. And every fall we start fresh with people who don’t know anything about layout.”

The Print Media Graphics class, taught by the College’s skilled graphics designer, Art Cox, gives the launching point for Journalism freshmen and sophomores, who then jump straight into their first hands-on projects.

“The Herald and Source give practice in a newsroom environment, in a campus context where everyone sees your work and gives feedback, so that you learn to handle the consequences of an occasional mistake,” Sillars says. “This helps students compete for internships. They have something to put on their resume and clips to show.”

Students at work in the J-Lab (junior Michelle Wright in foreground)

PHC Journalism students have indeed gone on to great internships. Students have interned at, among other publications, the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, WORLD Magazine, the Baltimore Sun, NBC and Fox affiliates in Washington, National Geographic, American Spectator, NBC/Universal in Los Angeles, American Family Radio, USAToday.com, and many smaller newspapers and broadcast stations. Many of these internships have later transformed into actual jobs.

This semester, in order to broaden student exposure to real-life skills even more, Sillars and Assistant Professor of Journalism John Grano have also launched an Internet outlet for Journalism students, PHCHerald.com, which students will maintain up-to-date during the semester. The website, Sillars says, publishes many stories that are “larger than campus news,” on national political, cultural, and legislative topics. Grano, who is also primary editorial director for Inside Washington Publishers, a company that has created more than 20 publications that have received international recognition, manages the website each week. He fields story “pitch” ideas and assigns projects.

“I like to provide an opportunity for students to participate in a live newsroom process, involving today’s real issues,” says Grano. “This will give them a feel for working with an editor and writing to a real deadline.”

In general, Sillars encourages young people to study journalism, noting that “there are many ways journalism can be decidedly Christian.”

“People think of Christian journalists as seeking to counter the ‘evil, leftwing media,’” he notes. “Rather, Christian journalists have a call to honor God through the vocation of journalism. You are helping others to see the world clearly, see it whole. What are the Gospels and other historical books in the Bible but forms of journalism?

“Society needs reliable and accurate information,” he concludes.

Meanwhile, Degnan said that because of the College’s relative youth, she had originally not wanted to come. Mid-way through her application process to a number of colleges, however, she realized that she what she really needed was a credible, hands-on journalism program like PHC’s to equip for an impacting future career and ministry.

“I was looking at college as something for myself, not for God, as an opportunity to prepare for a life of service to Him,” shares Degnan. Under her new perspective, PHC soon stood out as the “only place for me to come to serve God for the rest of my life.

“I have a passion for writing and for the Gospel. Whatever I wind up doing when I graduate, it will be in pursuit of these two goals,” she says.