Budding Journalists get Exclusive Opportunity to Shine Covering National Editors Conference

Emily Bowers covering an ACES2018 conference session.

Emily Bowers covering an ACES2018 conference session.

(May 8, 2018) In a world where collegiate distinctions matter, USF St. Petersburg (USFSP) has added another one to its collection. The Online News Association (ONA) USFSP chapter was the only student organization in the nation invited to the annual American Copy Editors Society (ACES) national conference to manage the pop-up newsroom.

“This opportunity was not offered to any other group of students,” said Lorien Mattiacci, ONA USFSP chapter president. “The ACES team was so impressed with our coverage at last year’s conference in St. Petersburg, they wanted us to provide the coverage again.”

This year, the professional copyediting trade association met at the historic Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago from April 26 – 28 for their 2018 national conference. ACES boasts an international alliance of editors working in digital media, traditional print media, corporate communications, book publishing, academia and government.

Six students, one alumna and two faculty from USFSP’s Department of Journalism and Digital Communication (JDC) built and managed the pop-up newsroom by covering more than 700 ACES members attending 69 different sessions over the three-day period. Using Facebook livestream, compilation videos, photojournalism, podcasts, video interviews, social media and blog articles via the ACES website, the team documented all the news, key talks and working sessions to members in attendance and to the hundreds of members unable to be at the conference.

Lorien Mattiacci and Martha Rhine discuss coverage strategy during ACES2018.

Lorien Mattiacci and Martha Rhine discuss coverage strategy during ACES2018.

“The best kind of learning is doing what you want to learn instead of just learning about it,” said Graham Colton, Journalism and Media Studies graduate student and the chapter’s treasurer. “The most valuable thing for me was being thrown into the fire of a live, fast-paced newsroom with deadlines, being forced to act like a real working professional in a real newsroom for three days.”

Founded in 2015, the ONA USF St. Petersburg chapter is a student organization dedicated to supporting and enhancing the growth of digital journalists. Through member-driven projects, professional networking events, research and discussion, the group explores issues on the creation and consumption of online news. Membership is open to any student interested in expanding their education beyond the classroom.

Last fall, the organization started recruiting interested students for the ACES event and providing informal training. By January, training was formalized and mandatory for the contingent who would cover the conference in Chicago and included sessions on podcasting, broadcasting, live-streaming, blogging, photojournalism, audio and video.

“We really wanted this to be an immersive journalistic experience,” Mattiacci said. “By providing learning experiences beyond the scope of courses offered, it allowed students the opportunity to try something new and different to see if it is something they may want to continue as a career.”

Among the many accolades the team received, Mattiacci said the best by far was how ACES leadership treated her team like professional journalists, instead of students.

“They did not hover or micro-manage but trusted us to do the expert job we were there to do,” Mattiacci said. “Each member of our team had to step up and be leaders within their own expertise and all did a really good job.”

Tommy Hilliard and Emily Bowers working the ACES2018 sound booth.

Tommy Hilliard and Emily Bowers working the ACES2018 sound booth.

So, what is a pop-up newsroom?

The USF St. Petersburg journalists were given a large room at the Palmer House to conduct their coverage. This type of newsroom allows for improvising existing facilities to meet short term breaking news needs and tests journalistic versatility. In this case, these intrepid journalists created an audio recording booth out of blankets, stacked tables and chairs that more resembled a child’s tent than a professional booth. There was equipment scattered everywhere… cords, cameras, tripods, recorders, laptops and a large wall dedicated to scheduling every conference session with a post-it-note reflecting who on the team would cover the session and what their coverage would consist of.

“When it was announced at the opening ceremony that we would be covering the conference, I felt so nervous,” said Martha Rhine, a junior majoring in Mass Communications and ONA USFSP chapter secretary. “It was exciting, but these are people who work in media and we knew we had to do a good job.”

The annual gathering – which brought together editors and representatives from outlets such as  National Geographic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Buzzfeed, the Associated Press, and the AP and Chicago Style Guides – is also where changes to the English language are announced and updated.

Tommy Hilliard and Dr. Casey Frechette working on video coverage.

Tommy Hilliard and Dr. Casey Frechette working on video coverage.

“This opportunity was not just about being journalists or practicing leadership skills,” Mattiacci said. “Everyone in the publishing world was there – people from legacy newspapers, online news sites, journalists – consuming our news media and the changes being made to the English language!”

Some examples of the exciting work the team produced are Colton’s blogpost coverage on the #MeToo movement, senior Tommy Hilliard’s podcast interviews with experts on the importance of diversity in storytelling and the wide world of wordsmithing, and Rhine’s coverage on changes in the online and collegiate version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Over the three-day conference the group produced over 100 photos, 18 blog articles, 10 livestreams on Facebook, three podcasts, three daily recap/compilation videos and two video interviews.

At the end of the conference, ACES tweeted: “ACES wants to thank the incredible @ona_usfsp students who have reported on #ACES2018 for social media and our website throughout the conference. We couldn’t possibly have had such great coverage without you. Thank you so much!”

“ONA USFSP’s coverage of the ACES national conference showcases our students’ talents,” said Dr. Casey Frechette, Assistant Professor of Journalism and ONA USFSP chapter faculty advisor. “I’m very proud of their work and grateful to ACES for providing the opportunity — two years running — to document one of journalism’s most vibrant gatherings.”

To access the full coverage of the ACES conference and the work produced by the ONA USF St. Petersburg chapter, visit the ACES website and Facebook page.

Article written by Karlana June, USFSP Content Specialist.