The Denver Trip Still Resonates

A writer for Hunter’s alumni magazine is working on an article about my students trip to Denver to report on the Democratic National Convention. I’m not sure when it will be published but I thought I would publish the questions she asked of me via email and my responses. I’m still working to document the trip so responding to the query was beneficial for me. And it might be a decent reading for anyone interested in innovative ways of teaching undergraduate journalism, especially in light of this economic crunch that could seriously defer students’ plans to attend graduate journalism schools.



1. How did this trip come about?

THE FOLLOWING RESPONSE ADDRESSES QUESTIONS 1, 2, AND 3: I became professionally and personally interested in ethnic and immigrant news and community issues several years ago and started working on projects with an organization called the Independent Press Association of New York, which is now known as New York Community Media Alliance. It’s a organization that works with ethnic and immigrant publications in NYC. About 90 members.

That led to contact with New America Media. During this period, and because of Hunter’s cultural, ethnic and demographic diversities, I looked for programs and opportunities to address my students interests and needs as well as my own. I was also trying to develop innovative methods for teaching journalism. That, all together, led to various projects that led to my getting a Ford Foundation grant to experiment with a multimedia ethnic news reporting project for students and all that led to the WORD (, via Kisha Allison and Jonathan Mena, being invited by NYCMA to report on the New Hampshire primaries with several NYCMA members.

That success of Allison and Mena – remember, they were actually jockeying for stories with pros from local community news publications — led to an invitation by New America Media for the WORD, via my students, to be invited to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. NAM got the students press access and provided some funding for the trip. Allison, Mena and I invited Jacqueline Fernandez because of her interests in ethnic/immigrant news and community issues and, equally important, because she was a charter enrollee of my first multimedia ethnic reporting class. There were two other students we wanted to invite — charter members of my first  multimedia ethnic reporting class – but there wasn’t enough funding. It has to be said, however, that the College was very generous with helping us financially with the trip.

Funds from the Ford grant + the College’s support [via the Prez and Provost] + funding from New America Media resulted in the students’ air fare and hotel costs as well as major in-city transportation being covered. I think much if not all of their out-of-pocket expenses were covered. The students were determined to go regardless of how their expenses were to be covered but the College made it easy for them to focus on the assignment and not worry about post-convention credit card expenses.

Please note: Allison and Mena were not in my first multimedia ethnic reporting class. They were enrollees in my basic reporting classes but demonstrated a very clear interest in ethnic/immigrant news and community issues. And they were very talented.

2. How did you choose the students who would be traveling with you to Denver? The answer is above.

3. How was the trip financed? What role did Hunter play in helping to offset travel and other costs? ANSWERED ABOVE.

4. What did you hope the students would learn on this trip?

ANSWWER: Besides hoping that this very real-world experience would, at what appeared to be a moment of significant history in the making, enhance their classroom experiences, I was also hoping that this instructor would learn better ways of teaching. I am regularly experimenting with innovative ways of teaching journalism, such as requiring students to publish articles in their introductory and introductory-advanced news writing classes [most undergraduate instructors don’t]. So, based on what I saw in New Hampshire with Allison and Mena, I was hoping to enrich their journalism education by their exposure to real world challenges as well as their exposure to real world journalists and then learning for myself a better way of teaching my classes. For example, instead of inviting pros to my classroom for guest lectures about the real well of journalism, I had an opportunity to immerse some students in a real world exercise that was going down in the history books. And I was evaluating them as I evaluated myself.


Are you happy with the outcome? ANSWER: I am very, very, very pleased. I believe this trip opened new vistas for teaching journalism to students as the real world of journalism is radically changing. It’s safe to say, I think, that Mena-Allison-Fernandez have been pioneers for the next step in journalism education. They help the WORD to get prominent notice and certainly generated attention about Hunter. There is a lot that can be accomplished in a classroom, of course, but there is a lot that can’t, which is why good instructors encourage their students to apply for internships: To get as much practical experience as possible. But I have to say this experience crammed a lot more into my students than what they might have gotten from a regular newsroom internship. Obviously, most internships don’t allow interns to go to a national convention.

And this trip allowed a real evaluation of my classroom instruction because I was able to see how students’ basic boot camp instruction really prepares them for the next step. But I have to point out these students’ commitment and drive were exceptional: They were up around 6 a.m. and their work day ended around 3 a.m.

Also, there was an interesting synergy between instructor and student. This was not a for-credit exercise, which meant that student and instructor had to relate to each other in a nontraditional way. That is: As peers and not as peers.

There was definitely a give-and-take going on as the teacher-student relationship required new boundaries. The students were treated as professional journalists and they reacted as professional journalists, which meant that the normal class model of professor leading (no matter how benevolent) and students following was tossed as soon as the students and professor arrived at the media center where all the journalists were bivouacked.

5. What were some of the highlights of the trip? ANSWER: Some I witnessed and some I learned about. LEARNED: Mena and Fernandez getting access to the convention floor for Biden’s acceptance speech. They did several interviews there. Mena and Fernandez broadcasting live via the internet — that’s not taught in any class here at Hunter. Allison’s relentless pursuit of caucuses dealing with issues pertinent to issues in the black community here in NYC. I was awed by her persistence. OBSERVED: Allison was the only one who published articles in NAM’s website, a site for professional journalists and writers.  Mena and Fernandez, however, participated in a NAM internet broadcast as well as producing content for the the WORD via Youtube. I WOULD APPRECIATE IF YOU COULD FIND A WAY TO WRITE ABOUT THIS WITHOUT OFFENDING OUR NMA HOSTS: MENA AND FERNANDEZ TECHNICAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS WERE WAY AHEAD OF THE NAM PRODUCERS. WAY AHEAD. I can provide more LEARNED and OBSERVED if you want but these are the ones I most remember now.

6. What are your thoughts on the pieces of journalism that your students produced while in Denver? ANSWERED ABOVE.

7. Did you also help organize your students’ reporting trip to New Hampshire during the primary season? YES. ANSWERED ABOVE.

8. What do real-world reporting experiences provide to journalism students that classroom time cannot? ANSWERED ABOVE, BUT I WOULD LIKE TO ADD THIS: Students in my advanced reporting classes are required to attend City Council and Community Board meetings for reporting assignments as well as visit State Supreme Court for research assignments. I would love to squeeze in a reporting assignment requiring a visit to the State Legislature. But these kind of assignments, as important as they are, are no where near what Allison, Mena and Fernandez did. I would like to find a way to require my colleagues to give their J-students more real-world out of class assignments but I could best spend my time trying to learn to walk on water. More and more students, however, know the score.


9. Is this the first time that you traveled with your students to a political convention? ANSWER: Yes. Would you do it again? Why or why not? ANSWER: Absolutely yes. I believe such experiences can significantly enhance the learning experience of students, even if they don’t want journalism careers, per se. I believe such experiences give students the opportunities to evaluate if they really want to go into the business. These kind of experiences, however, are not for most students though can be food for many students. I hope that makes sense. Students involved in such activities have to be self-starters and have to be willing to take risks and have to learn from their mistakes. Which raises the question: Did the dynamic trio make mistakes? I don’t know, I didn’t observe any. But if there were I truly believe they did what the pros do: Quickly compensate when things go wrong.

10. What is your official title — and how long have you been teaching at Hunter? ANSWER: Assistant Professor. I forgot how many years. About 15, I think. If you need more specifics about this, I can get them to you sometime this week.

11. Anything else you’d like to add? NOPE. You ask really thorough questions. Where do you want me to drop off the DVD of high-res pictures?


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