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Journalism class starts wire service to cover Kansas Legislature

Thu, 02/13/2014

LAWRENCE — It’s nothing new for journalism students to take an internship while completing their degree. The University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications has put a unique twist on the tried-and-true program, putting students in the Statehouse to report on the legislative session while providing content to newspapers across the state.

The Statehouse Reporting class has sent journalism majors to Topeka to cover state government for three years. This year, however, the class has launched a wire service that provides news to more than a dozen newspapers across the state. The students report on new bills, committee hearings and the major legislative issues of the day, but they also specifically tailor their coverage to meet requests from newspaper editors across Kansas.

The class aims to give students real-world experience while giving back to the state.

“The long-term goal has always been to start a wire service that can feed content to newspapers throughout the state,” said Scott Reinardy, associate professor of journalism and instructor for the class. “We’re a state institution. We need to deliver services to the state, and we see this as one way to do that.”

The benefits for the students are myriad. In addition to seeing a legislative body in action, they learn how to put together timely news on deadline, obtain bylines in several newspapers and build a relationship with both editors and lawmakers. Reinardy said he hopes the program is of value to newspapers as well. In an age when newspaper budgets have tightened, many can’t afford to send a reporter to cover the Kansas Legislature or pay freelancers to cover specific issues of interest to their coverage area.

The students attend committee meetings, report from both chambers of the Legislature and conduct interviews with legislators. They upload their stories into a database subscribing newspapers can pull content from. The students also provide regular updates via Twitter throughout the session via @KUwire, the class’ Twitter feed. Reinardy said he hopes the class can add services in the future such as photos, video and more multimedia content.

The program is not the first to send journalism students to a state Capitol. Reinardy said it is one of the few he knows of, however, that provides a wire service instead of matching students with a single, specific newspaper.

The students who take the course come from varying backgrounds, with interest in sports, entertainment and feature news writing.

“I've always had an interest in politics and tried to follow issues at the national level. However, I've found myself keeping up with local and state measures more than ever this semester,” said Elise Reuter, a senior from Colorado Springs, Colo. “I think it's fair to say that most people don't follow state politics as closely, whether for lack of information or interest. I would love to see that change.”

National level politics often grab the headlines, but the program gives students an up-close look at just how important state politics are to residents from all walks of life.

“I think the thing that strikes me most is the volume of subject matter taken on in the statehouse,” said Trevor Graff, a senior from Scott City. “It isn’t just taxes and education bills, they’re working on legislation that will affect every person regardless of who they are or what they do on a daily basis.”

Students who have taken the course in previous years have landed jobs and internships with newspapers across the country, news organizations such as McClatchy Co. newspaper services and gone on to cover the White House.

“This sort of practical, immersive experience is an invaluable opportunity for students,” Reinardy said. “Plus, being able to say ‘I’ve covered a legislature’ on your resumé gets attention. If you can cover a statehouse, you can cover anything.”



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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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