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Students could invigorate Sedalia journalism

By Travis McMullen Contributing Columnist

2 months 20 days 13 hours ago |9 Views | | | Email | Print

Monday’s Sedalia School District 200 Board of Education meeting brought some news that I found particularly exciting as a relatively young contributor to the Sedalia Democrat.


Smith-Cotton High School, the Donald J. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri and the Democrat are collaborating on a project that could send aspiring Smith-Cotton Tigers into the Democrat newsroom. The “Rookie Reporters” series was very interesting and I think that young people potentially have a lot to contribute to the local journalism scene.


I started contributing to the opinion page of the Democrat during my senior year of high school back in 2008. I brought then editor Oliver Wiest some writing samples and typed up a couple of columns for free just to prove that I could do it, and I am of course eternally grateful to him for giving me this opportunity — in March I’ll be six years in and I still love what I do, the people I do it for and the other people who make the Democrat what it is.


But in the modern and tumultuous world of local journalism there’s no guarantee that anyone is going to get a chance like that. I’ll freely admit that I was reasonably lucky and that even then there were probably at least a dozen fine young Tigers that could have done the job just as well if not better than I did in those first few months when I was contributing pieces to both the Smith-Cotton newspaper and the Sedalia newspaper.


We live in a time where citizen journalism is so prevalent and immediate that it is sometimes hard for the large apparatus of any given media outlet to keep up with the person who just broke the news of a new business moving into Sedalia in their latest status update.


There is potential everywhere. I’ve got young friends on Facebook that could maintain a very interesting column with a little training and a little support.


There is a lot of value in getting young people interested in local journalism. We read stories about how journalism is truly doomed. It’s ironic, because a reasonably objective journalist has to go so far as to report on the stagnation of their own industry and therefore contribute in some small way to the possible eventual death of print media.


But I think that it can survive, and if it is going to do that then it will do so on the backs and fingers of young people with fresh new takes and interesting things to say. Young people all over the world already maintain blogs and establish serious writing portfolios before they can even legally drink. A newsroom program might help convince them that the world of physical media is just as perceptive to their contributions as any website.


The newspaper isn’t exclusively the venue of the old, stubborn and well entrenched, just like the Internet doesn’t have to be the showcase of the young. Diversity of age, and background and denomination breeds debate which breeds improvement.


We could one day see Sedalia emerge as a hotbed of young Missouri journalism. Imagine the ideas and stories that could flow freely among a populace that is well informed and well spoken. Imagine middle school scoops dreaming of attending high school in Sedalia just to get a chance to ride the journalism pipeline.


I genuinely believe that every single human being has the potential to create an interesting piece of writing, be it fictional or journalistic or otherwise — but some of them might require a little more editing and a little more guidance. I believe that an injection of young blood, or at least new blood, could help improve old media relevance in the digital era.


The young people who go through the journalism program that Bob Satnan is perfecting at SCHS will have a fine foundation and a positive outlook. And, depending on grant approval, might even get the chance to contribute to the Democrat. There is no finer feeling for a high school student — I’ve felt it, so take my word for it.


But there are some who won’t get that chance — those that aren’t yet in high school, those that aren’t in the SCHS journalism program for one reason or another and those who graduated before it existed. Everyone has a valuable voice so I’d like to open my inbox to you, people of Sedalia and Pettis County. Feel free to contact me at Freedombountyhunter@gmail.com with anything — a tip, a complaint, a paragraph that you’ve been working on or just something you’d like to show me for the sake of showing it to someone. I know that you have interesting things to say — everyone does.

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