The student press was alive and well at Canadian University Press's 75th annual conference. (Photo: Belinda Alzner)
I spent three days last week covering Canadian University Press's 75th annual national conference for J-Source at the Delta Chelsea in downtown Toronto. The conference, known to its community as NASH, allows students from university newspapers to meet and learn from professional journalists through workshops and seminars. CUP also uses the occasion for its annual general meeting.
Attending NASH is important for student journalists, like myself, because though you can follow along online, taking advantage of all that the conference has to offer can really only be done in person.
BUT here's next best thing — a round-up of what I took away from NASH:
- From Craig Silverman's session on “BS detection for online journalists,” a toolkit to debunk fake information and images, in addition to old-school journalism techniques for verification.
- Check exif information using http://regex.info/exif.cgi
- Use TinEye or Google Images to check the history of the photo
- Hoaxers emerge in breaking news situations, beware of “too good to be true” shots
- WhoIs lookup, check internet archive with http://archive.org/web/web.php
- Other: http://snopes.com/, http://www.whendidyoujointwitter.com/, http://www.hvr.me/, https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/identify/
- From Chris Jones' session on long-form journalism: Interview police officers the way they would interview you — by starting off with small talk and making it a conversation, rather than an interrogation. Be persistent when seeking an interview with a source, but also be human (i.e. personable).
Another thing to remember: When you watch a movie, as long as there are six great scenes that captivate you, it doesn't matter how the rest of the movie goes, you'll remember it as great. The same is true for long-form journalism — think of your story in scenes and build to them. Within those scenes, make sure to get specific details. Long-form stories need to be rich with details. For example, the officer in Jones' story, told him that he had picked up a coffee. Jones' asked more questions about that seemingly simple moment and used that information to paint a more accurate scene for the reader.
- From Amanda Lang's keynote: If you're not loving what you're doing, don't do it. You're probably not that good at it if you don't love what you're doing. Lang says that we're lacking innovation in the workplace, but we can change that by being connected to what we do and being curious about it.
- “You are running a business. Your career is a business and you are the CEO of it” – The Grid senior editor Edward Keenan talking to young journalists during a panel on internships.
Keenan was the only one out of a four-person panel on unpaid internships who spoke highly in favour of them. Everyone acknowledged that the unpaid internship has replaced the entry-level job. Strong cases were made questioning the legality of it. But if you are going to apply for one (which serial intern Chris Berube says you very likely will), research it thoroughly and don't bother if there isn't an interview or if you won't get published. Aim for internships with prominent publications that have a small staff so that you'll have more work to do.
- From a Q&A with CBC Radio's Sook-Yin Lee: Take some time to get interviewed the way you would interview a source. Putting yourself in an interviewee's shoes will help you understand what they're going through and will make you a better reporter. And be genuinely interested in people because they can tell if you're just going in to get a clip from them.
- From Matt Frehner's session on designing websites for mobile: Actually test it on the mobile device instead of resizing your computer's screen area/resolution. Some organizations just stick a PDF version of their newspaper online — DON'T.
- From a freelancing session with Erin Millar: Be “ballsy” with your pitch because it shows you'll be ballsy with your reporting. You'll know you're ready to pitch if your article idea can be told in two sentences: The first about something new (event/situation/etc), and the second about the question your story will answer. Millar says that a lot of people don't pitch in person or over the phone anymore. She echoes something Chris Jones said: that it's easy to ignore an email, harder to ignore a phone call, and much harder to ignore someone who's right in front of you.
7.5. I think the CUP conference truly embodied the past, present, and future of journalism. Amazing speakers, an amazing community, and an amazing vibe. The people I met and the things I learned were only the beginning. I left with a combined feeling of inspiration, and a sadness that the next NASH conference is a year away.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Erin Millar's name as "Erin Miller." We apologize and regret the error.