I was sitting in a bookstore in Amarillo more than a year ago when I was suddenly struck by a few ideas for The Prairie, the student news organization at West Texas A&M. I had a pen but, inexplicably, no paper. I grabbed a nearby (unused) napkin and jotted down some notes.
As a student media adviser, I feel strongly that I should guide my students but make sure they take the lead. With that in mind, I guess I would edit my headline to read “Things I Want (you to consider that would help you develop professionally and would improve engagement with your audience).”
The Prairie has made significant progress on all of these. For example, it debuted a completely redesigned print newspaper this semester after a few students spent part of their summer “vacation” analyzing other collegiate and professional newspapers and adopting or modifying some of their best design practices.
But I’m going to focus on the third thing on my list: hosting a town hall meeting. The general idea, as I told the crew, was to determine a topic that would be worth discussing in an open forum — if they wanted to give it a try.
They did, and the note on the napkin morphed into a poster.
The First Amendment is an important part of the entire Prairie experience, and it was a natural topic for a town hall meeting. The First Amendment is written on a newsroom wall. It’s published in every edition of the newspaper. It’s even on the back of staff T-shirts. For an hour and a half last Thursday night, a group of panelists (seen below) and audience members talked about responsibilities, challenges and misconceptions regarding our country’s ever-evolving free speech experiment.
This type of endeavor can be beneficial to other student news organizations, too. It provides student journalists with an opportunity to interact with the public personally and in a physical space (i.e., not through digital or printed media). It creates an opportunity to discuss matters of community importance, and it enhances the organization’s visibility. It’s about serving the members of your community and giving them an opportunity to speak that goes beyond the traditional news story. I believe good journalism has public service at its core, and that service can take different forms.
We’re now calling it the Inaugural Town Hall Meeting because The Prairie is already making plans to do it again next year; it was that much fun.