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A free summer seminar for experienced high school journalism advisers

From the 23 teachers who attended this workshop in July 2019, we have included Solutions Journalism Story Ideas, other Story Ideas for a whole range of topics and Tech Examples of something they learned, many of these for data visualization, plus some resources anyone can use in the future for these topics.

Get that coveted press pass

Tired of your entertainment reporters only coming up with ideas for movie reviews and trending fashion fads? Tired of your sports reporters pitching ideas for “team bonding” stories every athletic season? The world of sports and entertainment are so much larger than the easy gets of your local cinema and high school hallways. Looking deeper into their own backyard, high school journalists can get interesting and compelling stories in places that perhaps they didn’t think they could go. From big name concerts, to local festivals and sporting events, your high school media can do so much more and cover so much more with a few resources and the right access. All they need is a little motivation and a lot of moxie.  

We’ve all heard the boring story pitches, and maybe even the ridiculous ones – Katy Perry is coming to town and your reporters want to cover the concert. What are the odds that they will even get access to the concert, let alone access to Perry? You want them to cover real people doing real things, but is this something within the realm of reality? I’m here to say you let them live that dream. The truth is, getting press access isn’t too much of a problem for our students for most things they need to report on at school, to include scholastic athletics, academic classes, clubs and organizations. Getting press access to private locations like concerts and local sporting events actually isn’t that much more difficult, depending on the organization and venue. The one thing I’ve learned as an adviser is it cannot hurt to ask. 

I’ll use my own experience to illustrate. On July 15, five of my CSJ Advanced Advising Workshop mates and I walked down Main Street, and headed toward Panini’s for lunch in downtown Kent, Ohio. We stumbled across the Kent Stage concert venue (a 1927 vaudeville silent movie theater), and saw that Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters were playing there in two days. We decided to go.

The Kent Stage was on our walk to Panini’s for lunch. We recognized the name and decided we would give them a listen. Photo by Natalie Bieber

I mean, we were journalism advisers lucky enough to come all the way to Kent to study with experts under the great Candace Bowen. With such an amazing opportunity, I knew I had to turn our musical adventure into a journalistic endeavor. I needed to get us press access. My first step was to email the venue directly. I found the contact email to the Kent Stage on their website. I simply informed them of who I was, why I was here, and why I wanted press access. I wasn’t really expecting an answer, but I figured I’d give it a try anyway. I also looked up the band on their website and social media including Twitter and Facebook and direct messaged them as well. I was hopeful that someone would answer at least one of my queries. Many organizations have contact info for the press where requests for press access can be made. However, that isn’t true for every group, performer, team, or venue, so don’t give up if you can’t find it. Seek out all options for communication. 

An important thing to remember is to make your press access request with enough advanced notice for whomever you are requesting it from to actually have time to add you to a list. I did not make my request for access to the Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters concert until around 4:30 p.m. on the day of the concert. The odds of getting that access were very slim. In fact I got this message from the Kent Stage PR Manager, Bob Burford: “I handle PR/press and media relations for The Kent Stage. Tom Simpson forwarded your email to me. I’m really glad you’re going to the show tonight. The Boxmasters are fine rock and roll outfit. Unfortunately, we cannot help you regarding your request. Photography and interview requests must be approved by the band’s management – and it’s too late for that. Tom would’ve been fine with it – but these things have to go through channels (especially since Billy Bob Thornton is involved). I hope you have a great time tonight.”

Roadblock! Burford’s response was polite and made sense. It was a bit unrealistic of me to think I could just ask for what I wanted the night of the event (just hours before) and think I could get it. Oh well, right?  But it was a good thing that I reached out in more than one way because just before leaving the dorms on our way to eat before the concert I got a reply directly from the band via Facebook Messenger. They said that they did not have time for interviews, but would grant us photo access and time to say hi to the band after the event. We were stoked.  

As soon as we arrived at the venue, we picked up our envelope of press passes and went in. Throughout the performance we took turns going up to the stage with the camera and taking images of all the band members. After the concert, we waited for the band to finish their ticketed meet and greets and then we got our chance to get photographed with them and get autographs. How did this all happen? Because I asked. As simple as that.

Picking up our passes.

The Boxmasters left an envelope with my name on it at the merch window. We each got a press pass with the date of the event (7/17/19) and the venue.

We were allowed to use our DSLR camera (thank you HIllary Blayney, for bringing your camera).  The music was really good. They had a sound that melded rock with a little country, and while many people might have raised an eyebrow at what kind of music a band with Billy Bob in it might play, I can honestly say that their music is appealing to a wide audience. Simply put, it was a good time.

Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters on the Kent Stage July 17, 2019. Photos by Steven Tolly, Stephenie Conley, Kaitlin Edgerton, Hillary Blayney and Natalie Bieber

Of course I know that this situation won’t happen for everyone and it won’t always for your students either. But you never know who might agree to an interview, or to give you access with a camera. When Nebraskan Chuck Hagel was Secretary of Defense, he once granted my newspaper students an interview (our school is very close to Offutt Air Force Base). Other Nebraska politicians like representatives Lee Terry, and Don Bacon have also agreed to speak with my students, as well as state senators, our mayors, and more. In all honesty, we didn’t do anything special. My students simply requested press access.  

Having said this, I have some additional advice. Many venues, groups, etc. will want to see press credentials. While you do not need government approval to be a journalist, certain public events require the press to be credentialed through law enforcement agencies (depending on the city, etc.). The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) recommends you have identification from your media organization. As student media, some schools will even make press ID’s using their ID making equipment; you will have to ask your offices. If they don’t, the NPPA recommends making your own and then having it laminated using a luggage tag similar to one like this. But, just because you have your “credentials,” doesn’t mean you’re golden. The NPPA explains, “It is important to note that any press credential or ID will not necessarily entitle you to greater access than the general public. It may, however, help identify you to organizations and subjects who may be requesting such information.” If you are denied press access, do not despair. According to a study conducted by the Digital Media Law Project, 1 in 5 journalists have had their requests denied. You can read about that study here.

An additional resource for high school students is through an organization called Moxie. You can sign up for their service and contact them through their website here.  Founded in 1997, Moxie provides “… student newspapers, TV, and radio current music and videos for reviews/broadcast/airplay consideration and with free concert tickets for on-campus prizing, show reviews, and fundraisers.” There is absolutely no cost to your student media and you are under no obligation to use anything. They only thing they ask is that you tell them if you use it. We have used Moxie in the past for tickets to Katy Perry, Awolnation, and access to full albums of music and biography details for reviews such as Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish. When we did use their service, we submitted PDF’s of our pages, or links to our web site.

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  1. I loved reading about your night and how practical it was to provide the steps you followed as a model for our students. Quite the win-win. I signed up my school for Moxie as another option for students interested in entertainment reviews. Thanks so much!

  2. I loved reading about your night and how practical it was to provide the steps you followed as a model for our students. Quite the win-win. I signed up my school for Moxie as another option for students interested in entertainment reviews. Thanks so much!