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Graduate students report live from business journalism conference

Lecturer Ceci Rodgers collaborated with the executive director of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers to set up a student newsroom, giving Medill students an opportunity to showcase multimedia reporting skills and network with top professionals.

July 6, 2015 | By Anna DiStefano (WCAS17, IMC Certificate)

A highly talented team of 10 graduate journalism students took the recent Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) conference in Chicago by storm with Lecturer Ceci Rodgers.

Notably, this was the first time a student newsroom was incorporated, thanks to SABEW executive director Kathleen Graham, who reached out to Rodgers for the project.

“Our student newsroom and the stories Medill students produced garnered the attention of many of the conference attendees,” Rodgers said. “Some reached out in a more personal way to extend their help and advice and even invited student to apply for their internships and jobs.”

The conference also proved to be a valuable networking experience for the students. “It was amazing to be surrounded by and speak with so many in the business journalism field who are actively covering the big stories right now,” said Andrew Fowler (MSJ15), an experienced reporter with an interest in economics. “Doing the video pieces for the conference was great because at a conference full of journalists, it was never hard to find someone who was willing to talk on camera.”

Fowler has worked in digital strategies in Slovenia, written for the St. Louis American and interned at television stations. He said covering the conference was different from professional work because he was reporting for a small and specific audience. It was rewarding to see stories published immediately to the SABEW site, Fowler said. Instant publishing allowed conference attendees to view the reports while the conference was still going on, adding to the experience.

Yimian Wu (MSJ16), a Medill graduate student from China, enjoyed networking at the conference because she “met journalism students from other universities and got to know many trade magazines that I have never heard before,” which will give her more publications to think about when searching for an internship. Wu writes about banking and entrepreneurship, and was able to learn about recent industry developments not only from panels but also by sharing tips with other journalists.

Similarly, Ryan Sachetta (MSJ15), who has a summer news internship at Bloomberg’s New York City bureau, said the conference reinforced that journalism is a career rooted in a lifetime of learning. Sachetta viewed the conference as a unique opportunity to practice skills and meet people doing what he hopes to after graduation. He covered three events, including the final keynote featuring Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I’m motivated by the challenge of learning a whole new language,” Sachetta said, referring to the unique vocabulary necessary for covering money and business. He also emphasized that business reporting students should “not to be afraid to ask what you might consider a dumb or silly question. It’s essential that you have a clear understanding about a topic before trying to write about it from a position of authority.”

SABEW is centered on the idea of explaining the “language” of business to protect economic and political freedom.

“Business journalists have an important mission to inform the public and to maintain a healthy skepticism toward the businesses and institutions they cover,” Rodgers said.

She stressed that students interested in business journalism don’t need to be experts in finance or economics—in fact, one lesson Rodgers learned early on was to become very suspicious if a business executive tries to brush off reporters by saying “You just don’t understand our business.” A who’s who of failed businesses, from Enron to Lehman Brothers, tried to convince skeptical analysts and journalists that they just didn’t understand their “unique” business models, Rodgers said.

Finding the human angle is more important.

“The best business stories focus on people and impact rather than straight numbers,” Rodgers said