Real-World Reporting: Student journalists joined the press corps to cover the Iowa presidential caucuses
The course description for Caucus Campaign Coverage read, “Welcome to the Big Leagues.”
It’s an accurate portrayal, given the real-world experience reporters-in-training at the University of Iowa gained last semester. As the state became the center of the political universe, two dozen student journalists enrolled in the four-credit-hour workshop became part of a national press corps covering the presidential hopefuls who use Iowa as a testing ground.
Students’ best in-depth work appeared on IowaWatch.org, the website of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that publishes investigative and explanatory reports. In addition, they filed reports of candidate appearances to a class website and live blogged quick updates from the campaign trail through Twitter.
“The Iowa Caucuses were the first major event in a presidential campaign that will consume the media and the nation through the November elections,” says Stephen Berry, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter who taught the course with fellow UI journalism professor Jane Singer, an expert in new media.
Caitlin Fry, a UI junior majoring in journalism and history, took the course to enhance her understanding of the political process. She believes the hands-on experience of covering the Iowa Caucuses will serve her well as she pursues an internship in Washington, D.C., this year and a career in public service or advocacy.
“I really enjoyed doing ‘spot news assignments,’ which required us to attend a candidate’s speech, Tweet from the event, then write a complete news story about the event. We had two-and-a-half hours to file the story, then we had 24 hours to write a new, revised article on the same event,” Fry says. “It gave me an increased appreciation for journalists covering politics.”
One focus of the course was accuracy—and not just getting quotes right.
“We didn’t want students to just regurgitate speeches. Anyone with a recorder can do that,” Berry says. “We had fact-checking assignments to take a deeper look at statements made by candidates.”
Students teamed up with the Hawkeye Poll, a series of state and national surveys conducted by UI graduate students and faculty in political science, to try their hand at polling; produced print and video packages; blogged and Tweeted; and analyzed news coverage of the campaigns.
“This wasn’t a typical class,” Singer says. “Students participated in a national political event, rubbed shoulders with the national press corps at rallies and other campaign events, learned from and analyzed the coverage, and produced content for a worldwide audience. It’s incredible hands-on experience.”