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.”