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Craig Gilbert

Craig Gilbert
, political correspondent and Washington bureau chief for the Journal Sentinel

May 2009

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Student newspaper initiative brings young journalists to campus

Outstanding practitioners from well-known newspapers and highly regarded local publications made up the faculty for the First Annual St. Norbert Times Midwest Journalism Conference on campus last week. So when our own college editor, Susan Allen, was invited to take part, she was privileged to accept. Here, her experience as presenter, guest and wordsmith among her peers.

Stepping across Reid Street from my all-grown-up editorial office in PAC to Cofrin Hall, and a few hours in the company of student journalists, I was hoping for all kinds of forgiveness and ready to step up with a little of my own if needed.

My gig was a copyediting workshop, certainly not the hottest topic in journalism today, nor a topic on which I ever expected to be asked to speak. And, I knew attendance might be disappointing at this, after all, only the first annual of an ambitiously envisioned student-run college newspaper conference.

What’s more, I was up against a heavy-hitter in the form of George Stanley, managing editor of the  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I wasn’t even sure if there would be any takers for mine, the makeweight among three simultaneous breakout sessions.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the level of enthusiasm my small group brought into the room and the sheer glee that abounded as the aspirant and enthusiastic editors discovered that all human life can be found in the Associated Press Stylebook, which is redolent with innate drama wherever it falls open: say, at pages 76-77, where we find divided nations, divorcees, doctors and dogs rubbing shoulders with domain names, dominoes, dot-com and doughnut; Down East, Down syndrome, Down Under; draft beer and Dramamine.   

That, in the latest edition, rulings on terms like Asperger’s syndrome, BlackBerry, datelines (Baghdad), and Swift boat now hold sway, displacing retired entries on Internet Search Tips and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. That this year’s updates define correct usage for the new language of social networking and of economic failure: Twitter, Libor, G2G, recession-proof.

That word nerds like us look at the spaces as well as the letters, the margins as well as the body copy; that we ply our highlighting rulers backwards and forwards both; scan for consistency in design as well as text; and have words for cool stuff like folios and double possessives and kerning and multi-deck headlines.
 
It just got more fun. As we left the business of the day behind, one St. Norbert attendee was making sure two guests from University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan had somewhere comfortable to break before the Saturday-evening banquet. Turned out they weren’t even sure where they were spending the night – but they had their car, they had blankets. They had, above all, youth and a cheerful can-do spirit. Two minutes later they also had the offer of a pullout sofa bed in their new friend’s room.

On to the conference banquet and a function room at the SC Grand, where keynote speaker Craig Gilbert was due to speak. Gilbert is the political correspondent and Washington bureau chief for the Journal Sentinel, and if he rarely finds himself in front of an audience this young or this small in number, no one could have guessed it from his demeanor.

We had Gilbert on the insider’s view from the Hillary Clinton campaign bus, election year analysis, and plenty of time for the Q and A, all served up with an equal measure of respect for the newest and, for the most part, unschooled practitioners as for the veterans in the field.

And, on the vocation of the political journalist, we got an answer that wowed the young audience and, as Stanley said, reminded even the old hands all over again why they chose their profession. Never mind the current state of the newspaper industry, Gilbert said: what other career combines the same daily freedoms, the opportunity to do work that matters, and the chance of a front seat at history?

Hats off to the St. Norbert Times team that brought together students from their own campus as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW-Richland, UW-Sheboygan, and a faculty advisor from UW-Marinette, for the two-day event.

And kudos to them, too, for ensuring that participants heard from a top-notch faculty that, as well as Gilbert and Stanley (father of Greg Stanley ’09) also included President Tom Kunkel, Scott Milfried of the Wisconsin State Journal, Dan Egan of the Journal Sentinel and journalism professor Victoria Goff of UW-Green Bay. Staff from other influential state and local publications also gave their time: Tom Rozwadowski ’02, Karen Lincoln Michel, Terry Anderson and Michael King of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Brian Rasmussen of Insight on Business and Insight on Manufacturing.



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