2020 RJI Potter Digital Ambassadors work with small-town newsrooms

MU Journalism students were given the opportunity to assist small-town newsrooms with multimedia and social media presence.
Profiles on students part of the RJI Potter Digital Ambassador program that connects journalism students to small newsrooms Courtesy of the Potter Digital Ambassador Program from RJI Online

One of the opportunities the MU School of Journalism Reynolds Journalism Institute is to be a part of the Potter Digital Ambassador program. For the past three years, the institute has given the opportunity for students to spend one week of their winter break working in small-town newsrooms.

According to the RJI website, the students were chosen through an application process that emphasized their skills. Additionally, the students completed most of the courses in a specific journalism specialty, such as multimedia and print digital news, and were knowledgeable in a range of media.

Students were matched with newspapers according to how their skill sets would meet the newsroom’s needs. It took the group a month to prepare for the opportunity. Each newsroom had a list of three priorities for the week which the students would complete while serving.

MU senior, Sidney Steele, spent the week at Leader Publications, a weekly paper in Festus, Missouri. According to the RJI website, Leader Publications’ goal was to create more videos and rearrange digital products and social media.

“It was a really cool experience to have the opportunity to be able to go into a real newsroom that’s established with people who are reporters in their career and have something to offer them and help them improve their publication,” Steele said.

This was an experience that helped both the students and the newsroom. Steele said she learned a lot of valuable skills while working at Leader Publications.

“I learned a lot from teaching people things that I had done already, so I had worked on social media and podcasts,” Steele said. “Then I had to take the things I knew and present them in a way to teach other people and that helped me learn a lot about what I do best.”

This experience can be very beneficial for students entering the journalism field. The skills she learned during the week will help her with her future career, in which she hopes to work with audience engagement.

“This gave me the opportunity to go in and show a newspaper how to do that work and so now I am a lot better at it,” Steele said. “I know so many things that I didn’t realize I knew, so it is really cool to be able to say when I am applying for jobs that I went into this newsroom and helped them.”

Fellow senior, Juliana Tornabene, went to the Sedalia Democrat in Sedalia, Missouri, during the week. The goal of her visit to the newsroom was to evaluate social media efforts to improve content delivery.

“There was one newsroom [The Democrat] that really wanted video put into their newsrooms,” Tornabene said. “They also wanted analytics to be able to understand why people are looking at certain stories.”

According to Tornabene, her newsroom had requested specific skills in order to achieve what they wanted. The things she is skilled in, such as analytics, is what had her placed in Sedalia.

“I definitely see the value in local news now,” Tornabene said. “Working with a small paper like the Democrat, it was so important to try to reach out to different areas of the community through social media.”

Tornabene offered words of advice for underclassmen studying journalism and encourages students to be forward thinkers.

“Understand that the type of journalism you’re going to be doing is going to be changing throughout your entire life,” Tornabene said. “We need to think of more ways to promote our stories on different platforms.”

She also recalled what made her want to study journalism in the first place. Tornabene hopes to be a digital producer for her future career.

“My family always sits down and watches the news at dinner,” Tornabene said. “It’s always been in my life, and when I did the high school journalism program all four years of high school that just solidified my decision.”

Edited by Alex Fulton | afulton@themaneater.com

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