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Journalism Students Meet Professional Journalists: Field Trip to Houston Chronicle

Journalists sit in their respective areas as their fingers furiously type on their keyboards. They are attempting to meet a tight deadline, and the air of focus in the newsroom is nearly palpable. The top floor, where all the journalists sit to write articles, is an open area with modern furnishings. It is the perfect place for people who share ideas all day every day, but it is also the perfect place to relax after the assignment is complete. Although they have incredibly tight schedules, the job itself is no burden on the journalists.

Tompkins’ publications department trails into the newsroom, its students looking around the room with obvious curiosity. They are getting a behind-the-scenes look at how the news business functions. It is their yearly field trip to a news organization, and this year the destination is the principal newspaper of the Houston metropolitan area: the Houston Chronicle.

“I want to major in journalism, so when I saw that we would be visiting the Houston Chronicle, I didn’t even hesitate to immediately fill out the field trip form,” said sophomore and newspaper student Caroline Hoffmann. “Although not many people read the newspaper anymore, I was extremely excited to visit a place that runs what once was the most successful news source in Houston.”

The Houston Chronicle is the largest daily newspaper in Houston, Texas. In April 2016, it was also announced to be the third-largest newspaper by Sunday circulation in the United States, behind only New York Times and Los Angeles Times, which can be attributed to Houston being the fourth largest city in the United States. The publication is also a Pulitzer Prize winner, the highest honor a news publication can achieve, after one of its columnists, Lisa Falkenberg, wrote a series of articles in regards to a corrupt grand jury system. As such, much can be learned from the journalists of the Houston Chronicle.

“This experience benefited me in terms knowing what to expect in the journalism spectrum a little more,” said Hoffmann.

During the field trip, the students were shown through the Houston Chronicle headquarters by two separate tour guides. The experience was interactive, with students given the task to create their own front-page layout of a newspaper. One of the main pieces of advice Jessica Hamilton, tour guide and Deputy Digital Director, gave in regards to stories was the Beyoncé rule: “if you like it, put a headline on it.” The tour guides also took the students to the newsroom, where various journalists were writing news stories and making phone calls for interviews.

“I loved being able to go into the newsroom,” said sophomore and yearbook student Melody Lu. “I read the news every day, but it’s a different situation to go into the newsroom and see the in-real-life product as opposed to reading the words on my phone screen.”

During the tour, the students had the opportunity to personally talk to one of the specialized journalists in the Houston Chronicle team, Keri Blakinger. She is a death reporter, which entails writing articles about all subjects relating to loss of life: from death row inmates to lives lost in disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. Students were able to witness the broad range of subjects one can delve in as a reporter, for Blakinger had begun her career as a breaking news writer and transitioned to the job of ‘death journalist.’

“The classroom environment can teach you the theory,” said Lu. “However, it is different to learn from the industry.”

Taking field trips is an age-old school tradition both in the American education system and several other international education systems. Exposing students not only to the theory of the material being taught, but also to the hands-on practice of the theory is a proven effective teaching method. It allows for the students to learn in a no-pressure setting where they can truly focus on their passion for a subject, which is beneficial to the end goal of the student: to decide their studies for secondary education or their job after graduation.

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