This past weekend, 80 college-range students gathered at Bryn Mawr College, located just outside of Philadelphia, for the Collegiate Network’s annual Editors’ Conference, to learn more about how they could take their university publications above and beyond.
The event, which spanned four days, featured speakers from renowned national news outlets who spoke about their experience in journalism, offering advice and insight about the unique profession.
The first evening featured an extravagant dinner at the Merion Golf Club, home to one of America’s best golf courses, which offered an open bar, great food, and a chance to get to know the other students at the conference.
We were all split randomly amongst 12 tables, and that night, I conversed with students as young as myself (a rising sophomore) as well as grad students running an academic journal.
These people attend 40 or so colleges across the country and represent a well-educated population of students studying topics from Political Philosophy to Electrical Engineering.
The second day, we convened bright and early for a networking breakfast, during which we mixed and mingled with other students to hear more about their publications. I discovered that the majority of attendees represented small, conservative publications on their campuses. Of course, there are exceptions to that characterization (such as our own publication which I wouldn’t call conservative) and people are more than the publication they represent.
Over the course of the conference, we heard multiple speakers address journalism from different angles. These people didn’t just stand on a podium lecturing us; many offered their contact information and encouraged us to engage with them if we needed help making our next issue, or finding a job.
Sterling Beard, News Editor for Campus Reform, talked to us about 10 essential things we had to learn about running a publication. He addressed increasing efficiency and broadening our reach to establish and maintain a strong presence at our respective universities, recommending books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
The Weekly Standard’s Philip Chalk is a hilarious and high-energy man who makes the strongest impact when he goes off on tangents. While he’s all over the place and enthusiastically scatterbrained, it works. He taught us about layout and even gave us access to countless resources that would help enhance our publications’ legitimacy.
Tim Carney from The Washington Examiner talked about the importance of reporting in journalism, even for opinion writers. Using his own personal life, he conveyed just how important it is to tell people things they don’t already know.
Vince Coglianese, Executive Editor at The Daily Caller, hosted two breakout sessions, both of which I sat in on. In “Journalism & New Media”, he used personal anecdotes to show how the 21st century had impacted journalism. Reporting has veered into different forms of new media, he said.
His point of view balanced being old-fashioned and getting with the times. On one hand, he said journalists should still go out and talk to their sources face-to-face, but should also use websites like Reddit and social media tools like Twitter to find inspiration for new content.
On the second evening, we had dinner in the Wyndham Alumnae House, and heard Thor Halvorssen, a Venezuelan human rights advocate, who quickly had everyone hooked on his words. His introduction revealed that this man had received many death threats from authoritarian regimes like Cuba and North Korea; a few minutes into his speech, I could easily see why.
This man is a ruthless attacker, who described a “culture war” waging between American conservatives and liberals. We all cringed each time he gestured to the stack of publications on the podium, which we had sent in to the CN earlier in the year, because at one point in the evening, he had picked them up and started directly criticizing the issues.
Afterwards, we mixed and mingled under stringed lights, discussing the course of the conference thus far. Some felt that Halvorssen’s speech was a bit intense, and others couldn’t get enough of what he had to say. We all seemed to agree that extremist or not, this man had some knowledge we could find useful, for he had left a stack of business cards at his podium, and everyone seemed to be reaching for one.
Vince Coglianese’s second breakout session covered the importance of social media. Facebook, he said, drives a huge portion of traffic to The Daily Caller’s website. Amidst the discussion of relevance scores and engagement rates, the idea was clear: social media is just as important, if not more important than the content of a publication’s articles.
After a quick coffee break in the Cloisters, we heard from The Weekly Standard’s Richard Starr as well as The Daily Caller’s Mark Tapscott.
This past weekend was interesting, to say the least. I’ve never been around people like this before. I learned a lot about journalism, but I also learned some things about myself.
While I can coexist peacefully and agree to disagree on a lot of principles some students seem to firmly believe, there were many jokes told this past weekend that I simply did not find funny. Some comments made me uncomfortable, and leaving some talks felt like letting out a breath I’d been holding in for the past hour.
Still, I tried to listen intently to what every presenter had to say, taking their advice with a grain of salt, and remembering never to take anything too personally. This weekend helped me set in perspective exactly why I feel more at home at a place like Northwestern than in Atlanta: the community is comparably more diverse and accepting.
Overall, I learned a lot and met some very interesting people, and I’m very grateful to the Intercollege Studies Institute and the Collegiate Network for this opportunity!