As the students lined up outside the White House’s heavily guarded entrance, there was soft but audible excitement. Despite the dark and drizzle hanging over the nation’s capital, for these student journalists, nothing could overshadow the day. Soon they would meet the White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, for a real-life press briefing.

The aspiring journalists — 23 college students and 2 high school students from schools around the country — were in Washington, D.C., for the inaugural Newsroom U, a four-day multimedia storytelling event hosted in early May by the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC), the George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs and the San Jose State School of Journalism and Mass Communication. At the student newsroom, based out of the George Washington School of Media & Public Affairs, the participants’ primary assignment for the weekend was to tell stories about millennials living in the shadow of the 2016 presidential election.

SOJC Assistant Professor Ed Madison brought students from three different areas to D.C. for the storytelling summit: Jose Contreras from advertising, Judy Holtz from journalism and Drew Forrest from public relations. Madison was there to provide feedback and supervise story production throughout the weekend. He also created a behind-the-scenes video of the weekend (above) to tell the story of these student journalists immersed in journalism behind the Beltway.

In addition to multimedia storytelling, the student participants had the opportunity to meet with several industry influencers, including Earnest, Chuck Todd from “Meet The Press and Brent Jones from USA Today.

“What really struck me was Jones’ ability to understand where we were coming from as almost-college-grads entering the work force,” Forrest said. “He gave us great advice that we’ll be taking forward with us.”

The SOJC students involved started gaining invaluable experience even before the event began. Contreras built the official Newsroom U website, curated content and helped create the logo. Forrest curated website material, crafted the brand’s digital voice and established the Newsroom U Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels.

“It was extremely crucial to tell the story of each student before the program even started,” Forrest said. “We worked hard to create a narrative that would stand out to the White House before we even visited.”

The advance work paid off, as social traffic to Newsroom U channels has been high. According to Forrest, the Facebook page alone reached 10,000 followers during the event.

While Contreras and Forrest worked behind the scenes, Holtz was out in the field producing work. Of the two videos she created during the Newsroom U experience, she was proudest of her second piece, “Maya Weinstein: Sexual Assault Activist,” which focused on the issue of sexual assault awareness on U.S. college campuses.

Maya Weinstein, a recent George Washington University alum, spoke to Holtz about her personal experience with rape during her freshman year. Holtz was most touched by Weinstein’s perspective that sexual assault does not define her but rather has empowered her to become an activist and voice for survivors who feel silenced.

The experience also taught Holtz something about her own abilities. “I now know I can produce high-quality videos in a short amount of time if the story is compelling enough,” she said. “Producing, editing and publishing this piece in less than 24 hours was a new experience for me, but I enjoyed the challenge.”

Story by Drew Forrest ’16 and Judy Holtz ’16
Video by Ed Madison