It's been a crazy two weeks.
I've been participating in a class at Ball State called "BSU at the Games." In it, more than 40 students act as a media group creating content for the Olympics.
Most participants went to Sochi, but seven of us voyaged to the land that I love, Chicago, to make graphics for the Tribune.
ON A SMALL SCALE
We are primarily visual journalism students, though some of us are in advertising.
It's been one heck of an experience.
Though I am returning to the Tribune, this is several students' first time in a newsroom environment.
And it has gone ... smoothly. To date, we have had 17 pieces published, including two full page graphics. (See one here.) We have at least four more we are working on.
Students are learning the true meaning of the word "deadline," as well as how to produce high-quality graphics with a lot of time and with no time at all. This in addition to making professional, published clips they can show future employers.
A few have been able to reach out, network and talk about internships and job openings at different locations.
It's been a lot of blood, sweat, tears of laughter, tears of sorrow. Sometimes, it's been a lot of alcohol consumed late on weekends.
But the real question is, what does a program like this show other student journalists?
BROADENING THE SCOPE
What we are doing is unique in that student journalists are having work about the Olympics published through NBC, the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere.
But the idea of student journalists contributing content about specialized topics for larger media organizations should not be so uncommon, nor does it need to be so decentralized.
For specific events, content consumers can simply not get enough. Their hunger is insatiable. Student media groups can help "feed the beast."
Thus, I believe it reasonable that journalism schools create their own media groups.
These groups do not have to specialize in specific events, such as the Olympics. Rather, whenever something big happens, schools can jump on the opportunity to create content to offer to professional organizations.
These events could include election coverage, football bowl games and local politics to name a few.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU?
Journalism programs that engage in this sort of program can build a name and relationship with news organizations. Their students will do the same.
Ideally, a successful media group will be able to funnel interns or potential employees to news organizations as necessary.
But student journalists do not have to rely on their schools to build this sort of relationship.
It is possible a student news organization, for instance, Ball State's Unified Media, could begin offering content to professional organizations independently.
If this is the case, it is possible the student group could begin generating an alternative form of revenue, charging professional organizations nominal fee for the content they offer.
(Or maybe not, depending on student groups' pay systems or lack thereof.)
WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM?
Free or cheap content, plain and simple. Professional organizations that agree to cultivate this sort of relationship are able to supplement their existing coverage with even more, boosting web traffic to websites and feeding the starving beast that is an internet audience.
Furthermore, these programs allow professional groups to groom students to a point where they are hirable immediately after – or even before – graduation.
So, that's food for thought.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?
For me, the experience at the Chicago Tribune has offered me the chance to revisit relationships in the newsroom and assert myself as someone who can lead and organize.
I was a primary contact between Jonathon Berlin and the Ball State graphics crew in the month leading up to the Olympics.
I was able to play around with a lot of data, too, and though not all of my research led to something publishable, I had a fun time collecting it.
• Ball State just opened its Unified Media Lab. It's beautiful. Expect a full write-up on it soon, and possibly a link to a website I may be commissioned to design.
• I've launched the Unified Media Design Studio system with help of a talented, dedicated crew of student designers at Ball State. It's an environment where a single student may design for print, tablet or web and across four publications in a single week. More on that later, with the official launch of its website.
And that's all, folks! More soon.