Local writers learn from media pros
Oregon Sports Awards attendees might notice a younger-than-usual crowd of media members when the event takes place later this month.
That's because some 20 up-and-coming student journalists will cover the 65th annual event, putting the skills they learned at the recent Student Media Summit on display.
Hosted by Nike, Pamplin Media Group, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Portland Timbers, Comcast SportsNet NW and radio station 1080 the Fan, students underwent a journalism crash course taught by a panel of local media professionals.
Student writers from Wilsonville, West Linn, Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools, among others, congregated at Nike World Headquarters Wednesday, May 31, to work on their craft and prepare for potential careers in journalism. Among those in attendance were Wilsonville High seniors Keaton Whittaker and Jackson Shavere, both columnists for the Spokesman.
"Meeting the experts was the best part for me," said Shavere, who will attend the University of Oregon next year and plans to study journalism. "Learning what they do and how they got started, and learning that it takes a lot of determination were all good things to hear."
"I think there's so much to be learned outside of the classroom, so I saw it as a cool opportunity to do something different," said West Linn High School junior and West Linn Tidings student columnist Anisha Arcot. "It's really cool to be able to talk to people who are experts in their field and learn from them."
Local media professionals in attendance included Trail Blazers Digital Content Specialist Cody Sharrett, Timbers Director of Digital Media Brian Costello, CSNNW Senior Executive Producer Jeff Ingalls and 1080 the Fan host Dusty Harrah. Nike Global Football Communications Senior Director Heidi Burgett, Portland Tribune Sports Editor Steve Brandon and Pamplin Media Prep Sports Editor Miles Vance also presented to young student writers. Each shared their own path to their current positions, shedding some light on the struggles they had to endure to make it where they're at today.
Harrah, a former athlete at Southern Oregon University, said his journey was far from a straight path. He originally planned to enter the business world before pursuing a career in journalism, and Costello said he similarly stumbled into student media after a freak injury derailed his college hockey career. Burgett, meanwhile, said making it in journalism requires hard work, regardless of your talent or aspirations.
"I was an athlete in college and so I had no real working experience when I graduated," Burgett said. "I looked at the jobs I ultimately wanted and the requirements, and just started working backwards to build up that experience. I worked in radio, in PR, in journalism, in marketing. There were long hours and lot of grunt work along the way, but that's what it takes."
Professionals told students that journalism has changed radically in recent years, thanks in large part to advances in technology. Ingalls pointed out that the smartphone has turned everyone into journalists, through platforms like Facebook and Twitter. A large portion of the May 31 Student Media Summit was spent teaching student journalists how to use social media to their advantage when reporting, while avoiding many pitfalls like misreporting or crossing the line of objectiveness and opinion.
Sharrett, whose job is to manage social media accounts for the Trail Blazers, said toeing the line between entertaining and offending is the most challenging part of his job.
"Originally I wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster but I soon came to realize that those jobs are hard to come by," Sharrett said. "But I eventually realized that Twitter is kind of the play-by-play for this new generation. It's a combination of entertaining, informing and promoting, trying to balance all of those things 24 hours a day."
Students also took part in roundtable discussions with each other and professionals, learning the ins and outs of conducting interviews and building their own personal brands as future journalists. Shavere said he hadn't realized social media had become such an integral part of the profession, and that he enjoyed learning from professionals with such extensive experience.
Arcot and Lakeridge junior Ava Euker, meanwhile, said they enjoyed learning from Burgett, who offered fresh female perspective in a sports media landscape that is largely made up of males.
"She was the only woman on the panel, so I thought she had a lot of insight on what it's like to be a woman in her career. It was cool talking to her be-cause she has a unique perspective on sports journalism and media as a woman," Arcot said.
"I wanted to come because I think it's good to broaden my horizons and learn about new opportunities. I haven't done a lot of sports writing before, but I've done a lot of feature writing and opinion writing on blogs and stuff like that," Euker said. "It was really interesting hearing (Burgett's) experiences and hearing her talk about believing in yourself and maintaining moral standards that really define your character."
The group of student journalists will now cover the Oregon Sports Awards June 18, writing stories that will later be featured in Pamplin Media Group's community newspapers, including the Spokesman.