The value of peer-to-peer learning was clearly and beautifully on display Friday afternoon during the second day of the three-day ACP (Associated Collegiate Press) 2023 Annual Spring Conference here in San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle breaking-news reporter Jordan Parker was describing his one-year transition from being a reporter and editor for his university paper in Sacramento to being an intern with the Chronicle to accepting full-time employment at that publication less than a year after graduation (while also considering an offer from a Sacramento-area television station).
Collegiate journalists in the audience, after a couple of days of hearing wonderful presenters encourage them to follow their passion for journalism while also citing the familiar statistics about the decline of print publications and jobs within mainstream media organizations, finally were hearing a success story from someone their own age. And it clearly made a difference, as one audience member told me after the session ended.
It’s not as if the speakers I heard at the conference were anything less than encouraging. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat Executive Editor Rick Green, during an inspirational and highly energetic keynote address Thursday evening, provided a passionate, engaging call to action reminding conference attendees of the importance of what they do, and he reminded them that the 45 words comprising the First Amendment were among the most important guiding us. Odette Alcazaren-Keeley (director of the Maynard 200 journalism fellowship program of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education), during her own keynote address Friday, did a fantastic job of reminding student journalists of the challenges they face and the important role they play: “Student journalism is local journalism.”
But it did—and does—make a difference for these collegiate journalists to be shoulder to shoulder with someone who has successfully made the leap from the positions they hold as near-term job-seekers to fully employed journalists: “Journalism itself is not dying. This industry has opportunities if you take a chance and put yourself out there,” he reminded them as he described the various skills—web design, search engine optimization, social media management—that can connect applicants to media outlets. And the excitement in the students’ voices clearly showed how encouraged they felt as they listened to this peer describe opportunities they are eager to pursue.
Parker’s session Friday afternoon offered a first-rate complement to San Francisco State University Journalism Faculty Advisor Laura Moorhead’s “Striking a Balance: Meeting Student Needs in a Changing Profession” session (Thursday afternoon), during which she offered tremendous insights into what media employers seek from prospective employees. It also offered tremendous ongoing learning opportunities far beyond what collegiate journalists find through the work they do on campus: “A first-year job…it’s interesting. Sometimes I feel like I‘m learning on the job…At the same time, you get your own freedom” to pursue stories that are interesting, he told audience members.
He also provided a glimpse of what some of us recognize to be the lifelong learning environments in which we continue to improve our skills over a very long period of time by working alongside people with more experience than we have acquired: “I like to pick the brains of the veterans in the newsroom…It’s kind of like a crash course.”
Returning to that theme near the end of his session, Parker reiterated a point well worth hearing from a peer: “I’m still learning how to write…I don’t have all the skills yet.” And that is clearly a point any of us in training-teaching-learning needs to remember to make: we are often only one step ahead of those who are coming to us for help, and we can encourage them by letting them understand we are right there with them as co-conspirators and peers in the learning process.