Reporting on fast-paced breaking news is difficult. Covering a floundering local committee meeting may be even more difficult. That was the challenge three students in a Duke journalism class faced when they showed up at a public meeting of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee in the university’s hometown of Durham, North Carolina. The committee, comprised of community volunteers, is supposed to help guide the city in spending a federal grant for community development.
For an hour the students — Katie Tiedemann, Dana Edelstein and Sarah Weber — observed committee members, a city councilman and staff from the Durham Department of Housing and Community Development stumble through the meeting. The students recorded the conversation on a couple iPod devices equipped with microphone attachments.
“That was the most inefficient meeting I’ve ever been to,” Weber said after the students stepped out of the meeting.
To turn the unfocused hour into a newspaper story, each student researched the stipulations of the development grant, reviewed the notes they took during the meeting and listened to the recordings they made.
In their articles, all three homed in on comments by the same committee member. Weber recounts the scene in her paper: “‘We don’t necessarily have a prescribed goal or mission at this point,’ said committee member Aaron Cain between bites of a grilled cheese sandwich. ‘I’ve been coming since June, and it seems to me that every meeting we have a long discussion about why we’re supposed to be here, and nobody’s really sure.’”
Students in Ken Rogerson’s “Newspaper Journalism” course use their iPods to listen to examples of radio journalism and to record interviews for their own stories. Three students covered a wandering local committee meeting. Listen to a portion of the meeting.
For this “Newspaper Journalism” course, the iPods are “glorified tape recorders,” says instructor Ken Rogerson, Ph.D. But, he says, the iPods are a step up from tape recorders because the iPods allow students to more easily retrieve quotes and store their interviews. The iPods also support another assignment he gives: listening to radio segments, such as a National Public Radio show on interviewing techniques. Rogerson gets permission to distribute the segments through his class Web site. The students can then download the segments and listen to them on their iPods.
Rogerson says about two thirds of the students use their iPods as recorders for the short newspaper stories he assigns each week. Compared with previous classes that didn’t use iPods, he says, “the number of sources and variety of sources [in students’ stories] have increased, and that’s been really nice.”