Readers of the Centre Daily Times had exclusive access to Penn State student journalism at its finest last week with the publication of a powerful four-day investigation into sexual violence on campus.
“Confronting Sexual Assault” was produced by John Dillon’s COMM 494A directed-study reporting class, a semester-long course Dillon launched about five years ago with the cooperation of former CDT executive editor Bob Heisse.
Dillon’s classes, limited to six students each semester, have produced hundreds of stories for the CDT — none of them better reported, more well-written or well-received than last week’s series, which shined light on the issue of sexual assault at Penn State and other universities across the country.
Given my love of working with student journalists, I was thrilled to learn of the CDT’s partnership with Dillon’s class soon after my arrival in Centre County three months ago.
The partnership’s winning formula is simple:
We have the audience, an emphasis on local news and multiple platforms to deliver that news. The students have the enthusiasm, a desire to be published, a unique perspective of Penn State and — in Dillon — a highly qualified and steady hand to guide their work.
“We had more students that could do good work than places to do it,” said Dillon, who acknowledged that his official title is not so simple. His business card reads: Norman Eberly professor of practice in journalism.
Dillon takes that practice seriously.
“I thought good students should have at least one more way, beyond student publications, to get their work published and that student journalists ought to contribute their talent to the good of the community at large, not just the campus,” Dillon said.
Dillon worked at the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch as a reporter and editor for 32 years and served on the advisory board of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications when it started its Capital News Service in which student journalists cover the state legislature for smaller Virginia newspapers.
The professor said the Richmond-based news service served as the inspiration for the CDT-PSU partnership.
Here’s how our partnership works:
Each semester, Dillon selects a small number of recommended students for the course, which allows students to write stories for the CDT for class credit. Dillon coordinates topics with editors at the CDT, then guides the students and edits the stories before submitting them for publication. The stories then receive additional editing and feedback from our editors.
In addition to a lengthy profile of Penn State grad and benefactor Terry Pegula and an examination of downtown State College and campus surveillance cameras, Dillon rates the sexual assault project among the finest work generated by his students.
Penn State senior Katy Galimberti, a graduate of State High, wrote the series’ lead story, which ran atop the CDT’s front page last Sunday.
“It was humbling to see my name on such an important subject in my hometown paper,” Galimberti said. “It was very exciting.”
She said the course was helpful in her development as a print journalism major.
“I would say it was the class that furthered my professional career growth the most,” said Galimberti, who will work full time as a writer for AccuWeather after graduating later this month.
The partnership has proven to be a win-win-win arrangement for the students, the CDT and our readers.
“I wanted students to have the experience of writing for a professional publication and of feeling the pressure and responsibility of producing stories under their bylines that would be seen by a large number of readers,” Dillon said.
I share his vision, and sincerely hope our partnership with up-and-coming journalists will endure for years to come.
Reaching out to readers
As you may recall, my boss Debra Leithauser two weeks ago announced a couple of new CDT outreach programs. We’ve been encouraged by the interest so far and look forward to hearing from more of you in the coming weeks. In case you missed Leithauser’s column:
• We soon will be scheduling a few informal coffee talks with readers, giving you a chance to discuss journalism, our role in Centre County and more. If you’re interested, please email us at email@example.com, and put “coffee” in the subject line. You can also send a note by mail to Leithauser’s attention at 3400 E. College Ave., State College, PA 16801.
• Or, if you join our Reader Advisory Panel — and fill out our survey athttp://goo.gl/forms/6rYbXml1Dy
— you’ll be able to give us feedback and outline the issues that interest you.