Communications students get hands-on newspaper experience with CDT

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Six Penn State communications students are earning valuable experience this semester through an independent study opportunity with the Centre Daily Times (CDT), in which their news stories are published.

Students participating this semester are: Mike Bray (junior-journalism), from West Chester, Pa.; Alanna Fuschillo (junior-communications), from Cape May, N.J.; Drew Gingrich (junior-print journalism), from Havertown, Pa.; Shane Hennigan (senior-telecommunications) from Dunmore, Pa.; Kate Herskovitz (sophomore-communications), from Reisertown, Md.; and Shane McGregor (senior, print journalism and English), from Ebensburg, Pa.

This is the third year that John Dillon, a senior lecturer in the Department of Journalism, has offered the internship-like course to outstanding students in the College of Communications. Dillon was a deputy managing editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va., before joining the faculty.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to be edited and published in a professional newspaper,” said Dillon. “Each student writes about nine stories, which allows them to graduate with an impressive portfolio.

“It’s also a good opportunity for the College of Communications to contribute news stories to the larger community,” he added.

Students are selected for the independent study opportunity with State College-based newspaper after recommendations from other faculty members and then an application process.

Along with the independent study effort, each has a full course load and several are involved in other extracurricular activities.

“Budgeting time and keeping up with two or three different stories may be a bit challenging, but with proper care and attention I'm thinking we will do just fine,” said McGregor, who is also the third-string quarterback for the Penn State football team.

McGregor and Hennigan are writing sports stories, while the other four are general assignment reporters who receive their stories from the metro desk at the paper or from Dillon. The students also contribute their own story ideas.

“I have written a few short pieces for the CDT before this class and am thrilled to have the chance to do so again and still continue to reap the benefits of working alongside a professor,” said Fuschillo.

The CDT, like many newspapers around the country, has fewer reporters than in the past because of cutbacks and declining advertising revenue, so the innovative approach benefits both the paper and the students — as well as the community.

"This program is a win-win for students and our readers. Students gain valuable experience by writing for a daily newspaper during an entire semester, and readers have access to additional town-and-gown stories past what our staff produces," said Bob Heisse, executive editor of the Centre Daily Times. "The students do a variety of stories and work together each semester to produce one or two in-depth stories that lead Page 1."

The students' peers at the University Park campus are able to read their CDT articles for free as part of the Penn State Student Newspaper Readership Program, an initiative instituted by Penn State President Graham Spanier in 1997 that has been duplicated at colleges and universities nationwide. The program offers students the opportunity to broaden their perspectives on world and national views and become more engaged citizens in their local community. The independent study reporting program offers a similar opportunity.

Based on the success of the independent study program in previous years, Heisse anticipates mentoring and watching the six students grow in the field he loves this fall.

"This is one of the most innovative programs taking place in college journalism, and much of the credit goes to John Dillon for overseeing it," said Heisse. “Thirteen students have completed this program in two years, and every one of them has told me at the conclusion that it was their best class experience."

Heisse and Dillon have collaborated to make the course engaging and as true to life as possible. They plan to offer the mutually beneficial course for semesters to come.

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Last Updated September 20, 2011