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Blog post: Arsenal Technical High School

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By Donna Griffin, Student Publications Adviser
Arsenal Technical High School

The journalism gods smiled on me during Cannon Multimedia’s recent field trip to Chicago to explore media careers. I felt the steely quiet of a daily deadline surround a room where the discussion was about issues that matter – hopes, dreams, collaboration, commiseration – life and death. As part of the field trip, Arsenal Technical High School students met with their Chicago counterparts from the Trustar Foundation who worked with the Chicago Tribune to create a documentary about those affected by the violence that has plagued their city.

“People think it’s all about gangs, but these are someone’s son or daughter, mother or father…we’re just trying to make them human,” said one young journalist.

Young people from Tech and Chicago truly care about their cities and their futures. The resounding theme that emerged from our four-day trip is the future for media careers is boundless for those with ideas, diverse skills, determination, perseverance and the ability to collaborate and work with others.

“You need to have talent, work ethic and the ability to work with others – if you have all three, that’s huge,” said Matt Pais, entertainment editor of the Tribune’s Redeye edition. “You need to challenge yourself. Find a way to set yourself apart.”

With help from Diana Hadley, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, I set about making this a field trip to remember beginning in January. We had intended to attend NSPA’s fall convention, but couldn’t raise enough money in time. But thanks to the generosity of Tech alumni, the Hoosier State Press Association, former Tech newspaper adviser Cecil Tresslar and the Ella Sengenberger Fund through the IPS Education Foundation, we were able to design a field trip tailored to our needs.

We toured Wrigley Field for our sports buffs, jammed the night away at “Motown,” the Broadway musical, toured Chicago Public Media, and conferred in the Page One Room of the Tribune with journalists from Trustar Foundation to screen the “Lost Friends” documentary that went live May 8 on the Tribune site.

The climax was a day at the Tribune, where we toured WGN radio and then spent the next five hours talking to editors, touring the venerable facility via a maze of elevators with general manager Amy Guth and winding up with student journalists from Chicago public schools in a Tribune conference room planning for the next issue of “Mash” the newspaper’s youth publication.

“Make the most of every opportunity, don’t give up,” said Jarrett Payton, of WGN’s The Game 87.7. (Yes, he is the son of the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears’ running back Walter Payton.)

I came away with much optimism for the future of a profession, many believe is obsolete – journalistic skills and talents are in demand now more than ever before – the delivery and technology changes rapidly, but there is a unique blend of traditional and new media we saw brewing in nearly every stop on our travels.

At WGN Radio’s news division, talk was about developing new phone apps.

“Our methods of communication are changing rapidly,” said WGN’s Judy Phelach.

Most of the professionals we met were not journalism majors; the path to their current position was in most cases, circuitous.

One was an art history major, another was sure she would work in baseball.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” said Eric Niewiarowski of WGN. “Stay up on the technology, it is always changing.”

But there is a continuity as you look over the breaking newsroom of the Tribune, smell the aged newsprint, sit in the editorial board room where heads of state, presidents, political and social figures have answered questions from some of the best journalists in the world.

Then there’s the Ken doll with a serape in the page one room of the Redeye, the junk food in break rooms and the stories…

“I slept in skyboxes (in baseball stadiums) for two weeks,” said Jackie Paulus of WGN. “It’s all about a bigger challenge in your life; getting to the next level.”

Tribune Theater Editor Johnny Oleksinski has trouble keeping to his set 40 hours a week. “I always want to stay past my 40 hours but they won’t let me.”

Chicago Public Media’s Curious City project inspired my students to start a similar endeavor next fall.

“Multimedia will have jobs forever, this is the new age. We want to push our story telling forward, meeting people where they are – on their tablets and telephones,” said Jennifer Brandel from Chicago Public Media. There is no patent on ideas and they can never run out.”

“We want to know how things can live online forever.”

For more on Cannon Multimedia’s road trip, check out, @cannonmedia716 on Twitter and the Cannon Multimedia Facebook page for detailed coverage and photos.

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