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Media Trailblazers and Politics

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Reprinted from Spring 2012 InterCom
By Katie Thompson


During this presidential election year, South Carolina was a must-win primary, which occurred just weeks after students walked through the doors of the Carolina Coliseum for spring semester. The reporters in the print senior semester, some of whom had no out-of-school experience, were thrown into the challenges of immediate news coverage.

Doug Fisher, a senior instructor in the journalism sequence and editor of the Carolina Reporter, described the quick transition as "throwing them into the pool and letting them swim."

Before they could begin the process of dogging the Republican presidential candidates and capturing primary results, the new reporters spent a few weeks of their senior semester laboratory class discussing multimedia stories. They learned how to effectively collect pictures and video and develop stories that are more than recycled material. At the end of the day, Fisher wanted to see students who were learning and producing articles that weren't just traditional news. He said, "It's like sports; you have to practice."

The Carolina reporters grew during the tumultuous political cycle, Fisher said. "It showed them that they could do it. I think that may be their biggest fear. 'I'm not sure if I can do this.' But they learned they could." For Fisher and his students, the all-consuming political cycle inspired them to produce stories they will carry in their portfolios.

Josh Dawsey, a May print journalism graduate, said, "Reporting in the midst of the frenetic action during the Myrtle Beach Republican debate was one of the best experiences of my reporting career thus far." Dawsey continued, "Having the opportunity to see history being made in a behind-the-scenes setting is never an opportunity to miss as a journalist."

Alex Heaton was in Dean Charles Bierbauer's Media and Politics course and had completed the broadcast journalism senior semester laboratory in the fall semester. Bierbauer told his class to get out and get involved with the campaigns, the candidates and the media for the first weeks of the semester.

Heaton co-produced and reported "Voice of the Voters" for "Washington Week in Review" 28 with fellow broadcast major Jenni Knight. Their final video was spotlighted on PBS and the University of South Carolina's homepage.

"Senior semester definitely helped," Heaton explained. "If someone called me before senior semester and asked me to produce this video, I wouldn't have been able to do it."

Heaton also got the opportunity to work with CNN on South Carolina's Presidential Preference Primary Day. Heaton said, "We set up for Candy Crowley's 'State of the Union,' and throughout the Midlands, we were taking live shots." She loved the magnitude of the national press and its constant news cycle.

Dean Bierbauer told his students that his political course "begins in the heat, and perhaps light, of the 2012 presidential campaign." He continued, "We hit the ground running just as the candidates are hitting the ground for one last assault on the Palmetto State."

The students shared insights from their own involvement in the 2008 election and hosted the chairmen of the South Carolina Republican and Democratic parties and local bloggers, reporters and consultants. The course encouraged active discussion on topics from the dirty tactics of the Lee Atwater era to political cartoons, boasting a wide-ranging curriculum and adapting to local news and the tumultuous roller coaster that is politics in the South.

The highlight of the Media and Politics class was a spring break trip to Washington, D.C. Each day was heavily programmed as students visited with Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Congressman Joe Wilson, Senator Jim DeMint and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, among others. The students also visited the offices of the National Journal and Politico, finding a number of USC journalism alumni in the process.

The experiences in the senior semester and Media and Politics courses will serve as a springboard to desired careers as a reporter with The Washington Post, as an anchor on CNN or as a White House press secretary— Heaton's personal goal. She said, "These courses and opportunities in the USC journalism school will undoubtedly give each of us a unique quality to become the media trailblazers of our generation."

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