Local students becoming journalists of tomorrow at college
By Hugh Brown and Kathryn Shutter
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Dr. Carrie Teresa was sitting in her office when several students walked in with an idea. Teresa, as a professor of communications at Niagara University, has an extensive background in journalism and working with students. On that day, she became the faculty adviser for the new school newspaper, The Niagara Wire.
"I was really excited when they pitched me the idea. ... I was nervous, but at the same time it was something the students were really excited about; they really wanted to do it," Teresa said. She was enthusiastic about the plan to start a new paper after the previous school paper had ceased to exist several years before.
The Wire has since turned into a unique way for communications studies students at Niagara University to get real-world experience. It is also one of the ways students can practice skills that they can take into their professional careers.
"We wanted to give students a voice; there was a need on campus that was missing," said Gabrielle Jackson, one of the founders of The Wire. "We all got together and asked, 'What could we do to change the atmosphere on campus?' We were like, 'Let's make a newspaper.' "
Jackson, with the help of Teresa and the school's administration, created a space where students can create and produce articles. Located in the basement of one of the dormitories on campus, The Wire's newsroom, once a storage area, is now filled with computers, tables and whiteboards for working and editing.
The Wire has different writers who write on different topics. There's an entertainment section, an op-ed section, a film review section and a sports section, among others.
The Wire's classroom contains an "ideas board" with multiple potential articles written down. Ideas range from nouns as simple as "Drake" or "Cardi B," to fleshed-out article headlines such as "Lessons from Freshman Year" and "A Quiet Place Movie Review."
The ideas board in The Wire newsroom.
The sports writers operate on their own, having their own weekly team meetings, having their own editors, and working on a different schedule than the main paper.
"Entertainment, news and opinions overlap a lot of times. We've found with sports that it's very independent from the other sections, so we move at a different rate than them. We actually have our own sports room," said James Burns, editor for the sports section.
The Wire's sports journalists do more than write articles, which requires they have their own space and resources.
"We've cut down on the stories we've been putting out, but we've been putting out podcasts and radio shows more often than not," Burns said.
"It's a great opportunity for students to take a class and to get involved with the newspaper in that capacity," said Joshua Maloni, faculty adviser for the former Niagara University newspaper, The Niagara Index.
The Index was around for more than 100 years. Maloni wrote for and edited The Index when he was a student at Niagara, and then moved on to be the faculty adviser several years later. He is supportive of the Niagara Wire becoming a course offering for students instead of just an extracurricular club.
As for Teresa, she couldn't have been happier when students approached her with the newspaper idea.
"As a professor, you live for those moments. You don't live to lecture. It's when students say, 'I have a really great idea I need you to help execute it.' That's when you're happy," Teresa said.
The Wire students at work writing and editing articles.
Teresa has helped students create and grow The Wire over the past 18 months.
The paper is just one of many ways students at Niagara University get experience working in the field of communications. The school also hosts a biweekly telecast known as the Ridge Report.
Ridge Report is not so much a breaking news source as it is a means to talk about campus life.
"They're not covering hard-hitting news. When you webcast every other week, you're not gonna break stories. It's more like campus events, sporting stuff, theater events," said Dr. Mark Barner, chairman of the communications department and faculty adviser to Ridge Report.
Ridge Report serves as a PR and marketing platform, preparing segments discussing campus activities that often get shared by campus PR social media platforms.
"They post it to the NU YouTube channel, and we post it to our department Facebook page. There is a Ridge Report Facebook page where they post it," Barner said.
Ridge Report has been around for six years, having been founded at a time when digital media was becoming cheap and easy to use.
Both Ridge Report and The Wire have given students the skills to take into their professional careers.
Sarah Kim, one of the founding members of Ridge Report, went on to be an editor at CBS News New York. Leanne Stuck went on to be a reporter and anchor at a local ABC News station in Evansville, Indiana. Geoffrey Reddick is currently a reporter for Spectrum News.
All of these former NU students started out with Ridge Report, while Kim was also an editor with the Index.
As for Niagara Wire students, it's hard to say where they will end up, as the paper is still a new thing. Most students currently writing for The Wire are communications studies majors. David Yarger, a 2017 NU graduate, is now editor of the Niagara-Wheatfield-NT Tribune, while Burns is freelancing with the Niagara Gazette.
Ridge Report typically requires between 12 and 18 students to produce a single webcast. Each episode will typically get between 2,000 and 4,000 views, sometimes even going as high as 6,000 views.
The atmosphere is similar in both The Wire's newsroom and Ridge Report's production studio, as both contain busy, motivated students making revisions and spouting out ideas.
In an era where students are becoming more connected to media and taking in more information than before, these journalists set aside a large part of their day to practice their skills - whether those skills be giving a voice to their community or making promotional videos that celebrate the many things to do on campus. These students are preparing for their future, not by sitting in a desk and taking notes, but by having ideas and creating content.
Niagara University is a private, liberal arts, Vincentian college in between Lewiston and Niagara Falls, New York.