In May, we reported on a day of training for four Cardinal staffers — former Editor-in-Chief Madeline Heim, former Managing Editor Andrew Bahl, Associate Editor Lulu de Vogel and new EIC Sammy Gibbons — at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The four spent all day observing professional journalists at work.
Here are reactions to the day from Andrew, Madeline and Sammy.
What was the most interesting part of the training day?
Maddy: The most interesting part was getting to chat with Raquel Rutledge and Mark Johnson. It's safe to say all four of us are a little star struck around Pulitzer Prize winners, but I loved getting to ask questions about how they report and how they write. The story Mark told about getting so excited about a story that he got into an accident with his car will stick with me for a long time because I share that excitement in my reporting.
Andrew: The best part was chatting with Mark Johnson for the simple reason that it was exciting to see that the genuine curiosity that many of us have at the Cardinal for what we cover also exists in someone with the pedigree that Mark has. It is often intimidating talking with professional journalists and it is easy to wonder whether, as a student journalist, I could someday be capable of producing similar quality work. But I know that pretty much every reporter at the Cardinal has had at least one interview that got them incredibly excited and profoundly interested in a story, and it was so exciting to be able to relate with Mark in that sense.
Sammy: It was most interesting and inspiring to meet with investigative reporters Mark Johnson and Raquel Rutledge, who had won Pulitzers. Whistleblowers had found them incredible, successful stories, and it gave me hope for my career. Seeing both of them still having such fire in their eyes for their job made me excited to pursue this profession. Johnson mentioned a high he gets when leaving an amazing interview, and being able to relate to that instilled in me that I am practicing the right profession.
What did you learn about how journalism is practiced in a modern daily newspaper's newsroom?
Maddy: The analytics report from Gannett was the coolest part of journalism in a modern daily newsroom. Something Andrew and I took away from that is that an article doesn't have to be "clickbait" necessarily to get a lot of clicks. You just need to use analytical tools to figure out what your readers are most interested in and pursue those stories and follow-ups.
Andrew: The widespread use of analytics and the lack of emphasis put on print were things that really struck me. The daily updates to better use data in making decisions about what stories to feature is something that was interesting to see and something I would like to bring back to the Cardinal. It was striking when John, in one of the meetings, talked about how incorporating the metrics that the JS is now emphasizing did not have to lead to clickbait content. That is something I know we all at the DC fear and has served as a deterrent in the past from looking more closely at digital metrics. Given the quality of work happening at the JS, it was nice reinforcement to learn how those digital tools can enhance the journalistic mission we all take to heart.
Sammy: I learned a great deal about the process of deciding what is published online and in print. Instead of having one meeting in the evening like we do at the Cardinal, there are three editorial meetings that happen at the Journal Sentinel throughout the day. At those meetings, specifically on Tuesdays, they delve into analytics to make these decisions, and that gave me the idea to add another social media manager next year who will handle analytics monitoring and bolster our online product.
What advice from the professional journalists can you carry back to the Daily Cardinal newsroom?
Maddy: Analytics! After the training, Sammy and Andrew and I talked about how important it is to have someone looking at our analytics, and luckily I think we've been able to find a person who wants to do that beginning this fall. Additionally, I know Sammy wants to take a look at how the Journal Sentinel newsletter was working and see what from that we could incorporate into ours.
Andrew: I hope Sammy takes to heart the way the JS balances the digital and print elements because this is something we've been trying to grapple with a lot lately. There is a lot more excitement about creating projects that really showcase our reporting firepower (much in the same way that Erin Caughey and others do at the Journal Sentinel) and I think the value of this trip was to help give us ideas of how to channel that desire into tangible avenues. I'm excited to see how Sammy and the staff do that next year, and can't wait to help support that effort.
Sammy: I'm carrying with me the confidence in knowing that journalism helps people. By doing it ethically and through proper reporting, Johnson said, by covering science and health, he has saved lives and made an impact. This is an important reminder - we have great power as journalists, and the industry is not dying but instead depends on us, the next generation. As I go into my term as editor-in-chief, I'm going to educate my staff with this advice and teach them how to use their powers for good, as the Journal Sentinel does every day.