BERKELEY, Calif. — It’s summertime. Not much is happening in the local newsroom where you work as a producer. Suddenly, breaking news flashes across the AP wire. There has been an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and an oil rig has caught fire as a result. What would you do? Who would you interview? How are you going to tell the story?
On Saturday night, the students of the NSLC Journalism and Mass Communications program here were faced with this situation during a newsroom simulation. After being split into news teams, the students were given basic information about the spill and told they had two hours to fully cover the story.
Students were expected to collect more information and do interviews. The owner of Ranco Oil Co., the CEO of Western World Products, the Coast Guard and Greenpeace all hosted press conferences and granted interview requests to news organizations. Citizens of New Orleans were available for interviews as well, including a concerned neighbor, a business owner and the family member of a missing oil rig employee. All of these characters were played by team advisers.“It was stressful,” said sportswriting and broadcasting student Ashlee Phillips. “At first we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off.”
One of her colleagues, Andrew Hohman, agreed. “I don’t think we figured out what we were doing until there were only 30 minutes left.”
Despite the chaos, the students learned lessons that they will be able to apply to their future journalism careers. “No one expected the activity to be as tedious as it was,” said student Gabrielle Whitcomb. “Time management was really important, and we needed to start out on the same page because so much was thrown at us.”
“The last few minutes were more valuable than the first few minutes,” Hohman said, explaining that if his team could do the activity again, they would have sat down at the beginning and come up with an exact plan of action. instead of immediately rushing in different directions to gather information. “You need to know what you’re doing before you do anything,” Phillips added.
The team advisers also had fun with the activity. “After my press conference, I got to protest and run around like a crazy hippie who loves the mother earth,” said Mandy Adkins, who was playing Strawberry Fields Sometimes, a Greenpeace activist. “It was really fun.”
“The team advisers’ acting was funny,” said Hohman. ” The accents and the way they spelled their names were great.”
At the end of the two hours, the students were expected to have a news package prepared, along with some web content, which could include tweets and blog posts. The activity was a huge hit. “It was awesome, a huge adrenaline rush,” said Hohman. Phillips said, “I would love to do that every day.”
It looks like these students have found the right profession.