Approaching graduation and the transition from classroom theories to real-world practice can shake even the most engaged, resume-ready student. But a new partnership between Florida Gulf Coast University’s journalism program and local news outlet NBC2 is helping bridge the gap between the academic arena and the working world.
As part of their senior capstone course, 19 journalism majors have been producing news stories published online and potentially on the air under the mentoring wing of media professionals. Complementing the years of coursework they’ve already completed, this experiential learning gives students additional insight into the demands of reporting, writing and producing news from the perspective of veteran journalists. Even better, the connection is leading to job opportunities.
“They’re doing work that can reach a professional level,” says Darrel Lieze-Adams, vice president of news for Waterman Broadcasting, which owns Fort Myers-based NBC2 and ABC7. “By making this commitment, we are able to give insight on what really happens in newsrooms, what the job is really about, so they are going into the field with eyes wide open. It’s a wonderful thing for a local company like ours to watch young journalists grow and maybe help them start their careers here.”
That’s already happening. Graduating senior Taylor Crehan started working as a digital producer at NBC2 in January. A former Eagle News news editor, she interned and freelanced at two local newspapers by the time she began her senior year. Even with all that experience and the journalism program’s multimedia curriculum under her belt, she’s still absorbing helpful knowledge through the capstone collaboration.
“This has been a great opportunity,” says Crehan, who originally planned to pursue print journalism. “I always like learning more about video production. One thing I’ve learned is how to put in only the most important information. Most news reports are only about two minutes long.”
Among the pieces she worked on this spring were a report on artificial reefs in Southwest Florida and a feature on a local artist who works with recycled materials. The class has focused on stories exploring solutions to environmental issues such as climate change, sustainability and water quality and posted them on the program’s website, Changing Florida. NBC2 has also published some of the content on its site.
The journalism program requires that undergraduates develop skills in audio and visual storytelling and news production as well as fact finding, journalistic writing and editing — so they are well versed in different facets of the media.
The project taps into “a growing need for solutions journalism,” according to Associate Professor of Journalism Lyn Millner, who’s leading the capstone class.
“Our task this semester is to find out what people are doing to address these issues and evaluating solutions to see if they’re effective,” she says. “This has a strong FGCU connection — we have the experts here to use as sources.”
Students approaching graduation sometimes experience “senioritis,” and their professors “start to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher,” Millner jokes; working with a professional in the business adds another credible voice to the learning process. She praises the commitment that NBC2 staff has shown in attending weekly capstone sessions and providing meaningful feedback and advice to her students.
“News people are busy people. They’ve come to every class and been very engaged,” Millner says. “They treat students with such respect, value their ideas, give constructive criticism. It has far exceeded expectations.”
To Waterman’s Adams, it’s not the first or last collaboration but part of a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship that began before FGCU’s journalism program debuted in 2011-12. He was with the company when the campus opened in 1997, and he wrote a letter of support for the journalism program when it was being developed.
“We’ve always as a company felt a bond with the university because it’s part of our community,” he says. “We have seen this relationship being very beneficial. The reason we are willing to commit our time is in the hopes that the university sees value in the journalism program there — by seeing we want to hire these people. We would love to see the journalism program grow and thrive.”