University of Southern Indiana

You help train student journalists

You help train student journalists

11/14/2012 | University Communications
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It is said that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Similarly, one could say that it takes a whole university to train a young journalist. In that spirit, Erin Gibson, instructor in journalism and advisor to USI’s student newspaper The Shield since 2007, is grateful to University employees who take calls from The Shield staff, answer their questions, and provide them feedback.

“I really appreciate that people talk to the students as often as they do,” Gibson said. “I see the effort employees put into their jobs in getting out their message. It comes through in the stories the students write.”

Gibson reminds the campus community that story ideas, criticism, and praise is best directed to the students themselves. “Receiving criticism is part of their learning process,” she said. “Learning how to respond to criticism is something that you can’t learn early enough. When criticism is constructive, it can be about learning and growth, and is part of the whole refining process of writing and editing ability.”

Calls and emails to The Shield are welcome, but you also may reach out with a letter to the editor, in the comments section at, or with a comment on Facebook or Twitter. “There are many arenas to reach out to comment or participate in a story,” Gibson said.

Every Thursday morning you will find her in the library, marking up the hot-off-the-presses issue of the newspaper. She evaluates each story for overall writing, fairness, angle, and sources. She also comments on layout and headlines.

A Friday editorial board meeting includes a critique of that week’s newspaper. The staff goes through Gibson’s edits and discusses problems and the processes that might have prevented them.

Gibson has created an evolving document titled “Achieving Excellence” that lists the variety of checks and balances she has instituted over the years to assist students in putting together a high-quality paper every week.

These include an accuracy checklist for fact-checking; a page layout checklist; the Associated Press style guide; an internal style guide with campus-specific details; and a design guide.

Another tool is source feedback surveys, which are emailed to sources who were interviewed in each week’s issues of The Shield after the paper is published. Sources are asked if they were accurately quoted and identified correctly; if there were errors in the story; and if the student journalist conducted herself professionally. The editor-in-chief shares survey results with the staff.

“The surveys not only help students learn from sources about how well they did, but also presents the message to campus that they want to learn,” Gibson said. “It forces students to say, ‘Did you read my story, and what did you think of it?’”

The Shield’s new offices in the lower level of University Center East have boosted the staff’s professionalism, Gibson said, as do memberships in professional organizations, regular performance evaluations, and annual trainings and workshops.

Gibson is the executive director of the Indiana Collegiate Press Association, which has 42 member publications from public and private universities in Indiana. The organization hosts an annual convention and contest. Two USI students also serve on the board: Kristen Scheller, a senior advertising major, and Justin Law, a junior journalism major.

The editorial board recently attended the National College Media Convention, sponsored by the Associated Collegiate Press and the College Media Association, in Chicago.The Shield staff attends the convention, which includes trainings, workshops, guest speakers, and critiques, every year.

“The convention falls at a perfect time, because it rejuvenates students at a point in the semester when they may be feeling a little weary, and they come back with new ideas and a refreshed sense of their mission as college journalists,” Gibson said.

The Shield’s current editor-in-chief, Jimmy Pyles, has been on the staff since he was a freshman. The editor-in-chief for the 2013-14 academic year will be selected by the student publications committee in late spring 2013. That new editor will choose a new staff.

“That staff is typically new editors – they may have been writers, but they are new at management, assigning stories, and editing. So this is their first experience being in charge of something.”

So, if you read something you like, or want to respond to something you’ve read, be sure to send The Shield students your feedback.

“I encourage people to feel they are participating in the educational experience of our young journalists. We all have a role to play.”

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Erin Gibson evaluates a recent issue of The Shield.

Contact John Farless


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