By Rachel Hooper,
Award-winning reporter, John Sherman, from Channel 11 WBAL-TV in Baltimore, gave an inspiring keynote message at the Society of Collegiate Journalists’ annual event. His message, that reporting can be important work and that reporters play a vital role in keeping communities informed, was a high-point in the day-long event of workshops and networking.
A group of about 40 students and teachers heard the speech, coming primarily from McDaniel, Hood, Gettysburg, Shepherd, Loyola, and Anne Arundel Community College. This year, students from two local high schools, Westminster and Century, also attended.
Sherman, a highly qualified and experienced speaker, held the attention of the future journalists in the audience. His topics included the importance of the field of journalism, the day-to-day ups and downs a news reporter faces, and a few final life tips from what he has learned over the years.
Sherman stressed the fact that as a reporter you have to do difficult things. “I’m in maybe 20 or 30 living rooms of parents with kids who died the night before?I like it when they don’t answer the door,” said Sherman. “You are inserting yourself in people’s lives in hard-news situations, often when I pull up to your house, it’s the worst day of your life.”
On the other hand, he advises, “I think it’s really important for anyone in journalism to remember not to take themselves or their jobs too seriously.” The audience laughed when he said, “I’m still the guy who on a snow day is standing out in the snow, saying it’s snowing.”
The audience viewed a sample of Sherman’s skilled reporting in his story package “Washed Away.” This emotional feature told the story of how a man named Donald Willey was trying to save a historic cemetery from being washed away along the coast of Hooper’s Island. It portrayed the battles he faced trying to conserve the history of the early settlers to the island for future generations.
Sherman advised the aspiring journalists, “Seek emotion, every good story has emotion.”
He said that the reporter has to choose to make their work important on their own because, “your boss isn’t going to come to you and say, ‘I need you to go do some really important work’?Your work will become important when your standard for yourself exceeds what is expected and you meet that standard regularly.”
He offered the audience one final life tip. “There are times when it is imperative to stand up for what is right; there are also many other times when I believe it is as important to be effective as it is to be right or wrong.”
Sherman also responded to a question about broadcasting being a very competitive field. “It’s a nasty world out there,” he answered. “The more success you achieve, the more people want to bring you down; just be ready for that.”
With all of the difficulties and stresses, Sherman still described his work with enthusiasm. “I really do love what I do; I get to drive around in a van with a great friend of mine, and we get to make little tiny movies,” said Sherman.
“We come in at ten and put it together, and at five o’clock it’s on TV,” he said, smiling. “Then you start fresh again the next day. It’s a promise; I love it.”
In the introduction by journalism professor, Terry Dalton, the group learned that Sherman has won the highest national honors in the industry since joining WBAL in August 2002. His awards include a Peabody Award for “Chesapeake Bay Pollution Investigation” and the Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University silver baton for “Dirty Secrets.” The 10-part investigative series which led to the closure of the company, New Earth Services, which was worsening rather than improving the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
Society of Collegiate Journalists president and senior communication major, Alyse Hollomon, enjoyed how Sherman spoke on a number of different topics. She learned important new details about broadcasting. She felt the clip Sherman showed was especially interesting. “It was beautifully done,” said Hollomon.
Not only the main speaker, but also the entire day was helpful to those who attended. Matt Lego, a senior from Westminster High School is hoping to double major in mass communications and marketing, with a minor in public relations. He attended the morning workshop on internships and was impressed with the importance of taking the initiative and finding opportunities in the field.
“I think I got a lot out if it,” said Lego, who enjoys working on his high school newspaper. As a senior, Lego thought the Press Day event may have helped him even more than the college students in attendance because the advice he heard from the college students carried a lot of weight.
Kevin Hudson, a high school sophomore at Century High School in Eldersburg, is considering journalism as a career. He has been working on the school paper as graphics editor. He found the page design workshop especially helpful and getting advice from the speaker who he felt had a lot of innovate ideas.
“I’m a sophomore, so to have this information early?I think it gives me an edge,” said Hudson. “I’m probably the youngest person here.”
An attendee from Gettysburg College, junior Madeline Shepherd, is a double major in English and an individualized major in religion in American political history.
“We actually don’t have a communication major at Gettysburg,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd also appreciated the morning workshop on internships, and was impressed with the value of getting experience while you’re still in school. Shepherd hopes to eventually go to law school, but says she would also like to get a job editing or working for newspaper.
When asked what stuck out most about the workshops, Shepherd said, “the experiences of the individual students?their professionalism in presenting their experiences, the stories they shared and the advice they were able to give.”
The value of College Press Day, the speaker’s message, and the workshops were summed up by Shepherd. “You might work for your school newspaper but you don’t know how to break into the real news industry or writing professionally or getting published in a regular newspaper,” she said.
Participant evaluations of the day supported the popularity of Sherman’s speech. According to Hollomon, there was a lot of positive feedback about the workshops and many attendees praised Sherman’s keynote speech. The high schools expressed appreciation for being invited to the program. “It was a great event, everyone was happy?.everything went smoothly; the food was good.” said Hollomon.