Expressions Presents: Breaking: Inside the Journalism Production Process

by | Jul 2, 2024 | Featured, Research and Innovation

By Vienna Alexander, ’25 English, Professional and Technical Writing

This article was originally published by the College of Humanities and the Arts in the spring 2024 edition of Expressions, a newsletter created by students in HA-187: Creative Team Practicum. The internship course gives students the opportunity to gain professional experience in writing, graphic design, photography, and video production.

“Good job! That’s what I’m talking about,” the Update News studio manager says over the headset. “Now make sure for this next shot you’re looking at Camera 2.” The Update News studio in Dwight Bentel Hall is filled with the SJSU student production team who adjust the settings on the soundboard and control which camera is captured. Suddenly, the screen flicks to a graphic that reads “You’re Watching: Update News,” and bossa nova music plays as the commercial break screen runs. Across the live camera feeds, the anchors reveal shy smiles and perform silent celebrations while being careful not to utter a laugh that would be picked up on the mic. “Five, four, three, two…,” the Studio Manager Juan Serna announces over the headset as the crew and anchors prepare for the next shot.

While the Update News team is in the studio, other students are reporting for the Spartan Daily and covering sports for The Spear. No matter which of these three student media publications they are working on, students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (JMC) are learning the real stuff by doing, and they are doing it all.

“The students do all the work,” says Spartan Daily Production Chief Mike Corpos, ’03 Journalism. “I’ll show them how to do it, and I’ll hit undo and say, ‘Alright, now you show me.’” Professor of Journalism and Spartan Daily Advisor Richard Craig also notes the power of the students in creating these publications. Craig says, “One of the cool things that I’ve seen happen is students actually want to take more and more responsibility for everything.” On each publication, students get a chance to cover all the story topics, report on multiple sports, or play all the roles in broadcast news in order to get a well-rounded experience. 

The Update News team. Photo by Cassandra Gonzalez.

The Update News team. Photo by Cassandra Gonzalez.

JMC students start off by creating pitches for their news coverage ideas. Dona Nichols, ’98 Journalism, journalism lecturer, gives her students the following advice about pitching: “Don’t be afraid to cover something you don’t know anything about.” Nichols, The Spear coordinator and Update News advisor, explains to students that they are not the first to write about any topic, and they can “go to school off of it” by researching and reading related articles in the field. Then students will be able to write an article, or several, on that topic. 

For all three JMC publications, news stories generally take form through conducting interviews and observations, writing a draft or script, and revising it. For the Spartan Daily and The Spear, revisions involve several rounds of editing, copyediting and proofreading. After everything has been proofread, the stories go to layout, where graphics and stories come together on the page. 

For Update News, the team gets together back in the studio to shoot the show one-take live to tape. The television news outlet creates broadcasts by combining pre-produced videos and live-shots. For the live shots, two anchors read from the teleprompter at a news desk, and one or two students do a “standup” where they shoot live from a location on campus. The under-30-minute show includes news stories along with recurring segments like the seven-day weather forecast, “State of the Spartans,” which features multiple SJSU students’ responses to a specific question, “Minute with Madison,” a 60-second national news segment, and “Karson’s Kalendar,” which lists local events in the coming week. 

Students get hands-on experience covering relevant stories about SJSU and San José through these award-winning publications. All three publications have received both state-wide and national honors. They also provide unique opportunities, like The Spear being part of SJSU’s sports journalism program—the only CSU program of its kind. These student media works are also well established, as both the Spartan Daily and Update News are long standing outlets, with the Spartan Daily celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Publishing stories for these impactful publications enriches the experience of JMC students and allows them to learn and develop in the same types of environments they aim to work in. 

Inside the newsroom, the Spartan Daily team sits around a table in front of a smart board. Led by either Craig or Corpos, the staff writers, editors and executive team review the past day’s stories. One article at a time, the team reads attentively and precisely marks each error, taking note of both the constructive feedback and positive comments. This process of reviewing work after its publication is known at the Daily as the “1:30 Critique.” “We’ll go through each story—line by line sometimes. We’ll give some suggestions as to what maybe they could have done better,” says Corpos. “When a story is really good, we have to let them know that too.” 

A similar debrief process occurs for both Update News and The Spear, which is known as a “postmortem.” After shooting the show in the studio, the Update News team heads upstairs to reflect on the filming. They review any aspects of production that can be adjusted for the next show, such as adding more cushion time while switching shots. They also discuss what went well to recognize the hard work of the team. Regardless of the publication, getting feedback on their work helps JMC students make visible progress. As Corpos says, “There is a moment when the light bulb comes on, and then their content takes off from there and that’s really fun.”

Current students add to the creative energy of decades of JMC students who came before them. “There is just an energy in this room and I don’t know what it is,” says Corpos about the Spartan Daily newsroom. “You’re in this room 12 hours a day and it develops that sort of energy from all of those people who’ve come through here and you kind of feel that when you walk in. You know that something special happens in this place.”

The Spartan Daily. Photo by Josephina Valenzuela.

The Spartan Daily. Photo by Josefina Valenzuela.

In efforts to continue building upon the legacy of combining creative energies, the three publications plan to work together. Karson Wells, ’24 Journalism, Update News producer, reveals that the student media productions want to “combine forces” by taking broadcast stories and putting them in a print setting and bringing Spartan Daily and The Spear stories into the Update News television format. This cross-collaboration will allow JMC students to develop a diverse skill set. By encouraging aspiring journalists to problem-solve and become more adaptable, it makes them valuable assets to employers. As Wells says, “I would rather be the person who knows a little bit about everything instead of the person who only knows one thing.” Wells expands on her experience, adding, “Update really opened the door for opportunities to get into before I graduate. I work at NBC Bay Area right now as a production assistant, and then I write for the morning news, and that’s one of those opportunities that I wouldn’t have really gotten if I didn’t come through this program.”

Working on student publications prepares JMC graduates to have an impact in society by taking responsibility for every part of the storytelling process, from pitch to post-production. Employers even request and prefer SJSU JMC students because of their preparation. “Our students have to shine,” says Craig. “We have gotten the reputation which we’ve cultivated that our students work harder. There are a number of news organizations, especially in the Bay Area but elsewhere too, that have told me specifically, ‘We love your students because they are just plug-and-play.’”

By the time they graduate, JMC students are ready to use their talent and skills developed through the revolving cycle of pitching, drafting and revising stories for the Spartan Daily, Update News or The Spear. “I want to make people feel a bit more informed and hopeful,” says Wells about becoming a journalist. Similarly, Nichols reflects on the roles of journalists and journalism in society. “You become a journalist for the same reason you become a teacher—you want to do something that makes a difference in your community,” says Nichols. “Journalism has never been more important than it is right now. Not fake news—real stuff. And that’s what we teach.”

Over to You, JMC students

Check out the final products that JMC students have created in each of the student media productions: