Letter from the editor: Passing the torch

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Top, middle: Intro campers dig into journalism basics during July camp. Bottom: Intern Madie Ley interviews Laura Sobiech, mother of Zach Sobiech, in her Lakeland home.

During our July Intro to Journalism Camp, one of my newbie reporters—a freshman girl, also one of the youngest—rightfully appeared petrified as we were about to conduct our first “person on the street” interviews at St. Thomas.

True, it’s a common reporter trial-by-fire and one I always incorporate early on, but it’s also not my intention to make it nearly as dramatic as it seems on the surface. Oh no, talking to strangers! So much could go wrong!

I always have to remember that these are beginners, and to be completely honest, talking to strangers is a skill I’m not sure I’ve adequately mastered. But this is journalism camp. It must be done.

So, after a role play exercise where my student asked me a few sample questions to get comfortable, I felt satisfied that she could handle herself. Remember, “it’s just talking.”

While heading back to the office to obtain a voice recorder, one of my summer interns, Madie Ley, happened to be working at her desk. Naturally, we chatted a bit, and upon handing my frightened camper the recorder, I could tell the reality of being dispatched on her own across campus had become too much.

How did I know? Well, frozen on her face was the kind of look you expect from Wile E. Coyote as he’s about to be flattened by a cement truck. She needed some help.

Madie graciously volunteered to be her guide on campus, so off they went for 20 minutes or so, scouting for strangers.

When they returned, I pulled Madie aside. “Well, how did she do?”

Madie informed me that they strategically selected their first “victim” on campus, and at the very moment my camper was a few feet away, fear got the best of her again. With the words “ABORT! ABORT!” no doubt flashing red inside her brain, she tried to turn around and walk away.

Except Madie wouldn’t let her.

“No, you can do this,” Madie told her. And sure enough, with a polite push, the student walked up to the source and started interviewing her.

She survived.

It’s not so much the lesson in perseverance or confronting your fears that gets to me as editor of our tiny but powerful youth development program. Instead, it’s about an older student—in this instance, a freshman communications and journalism major at St. Thomas—helping a younger writer take the same kind of bold step she was once forced to embrace.

Madie, with those extra four years under her belt, certainly had a higher capacity for perspective and maturity. But she also joined our program in fall 2013 during her senior year at Elk River High School—with no formal journalism experience, mind you. This was, and still is, new to her, too.

Yet there Madie stood as a newly minted mentor, proudly basking in the glow of having helped someone overcome a fear that was all too familiar. A year of ThreeSixty had given her confidence to not only say to a cowering freshman on her first interview, “No, you can do this,” but also, “No, I can do this.”

That’s not a journalism thing. That’s a life thing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas Rozwadowski is publications editor for ThreeSixty Journalism. Prior to joining the St. Thomas nonprofit in September 2012, he served as a metro reporter, features/entertainment reporter and online editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette from 2002-2010. Thomas has also freelanced for several publications and companies, including the Green Bay Packers, The Onion A.V. Club, The Associated Press and Romenesko.

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