American University Millennials Trek to New Hampshire Primary to Report, Analyze on Events

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Communicating the 2012 Election class goes into the field to cover primary

A 2008 NH primary class participant snaps photos alongside national media

This class demonstrates what is particularly unique about American University, our ability to draw on our faculty to transmit not just knowledge but professional experience and contacts with the top people in media and politics

What would a reality show about Millennials covering the primaries look like? It could look like American University’s Communicating the 2012 Election class which emphasizes “learning from leaders” and learning on-the-ground in the midst of the New Hampshire primary. Broken up into teams, cameras, iPads, and reporters’ notepads in hand, these Millennials will work alongside fellow journalists to get the day’s stories.

An eager group of 34 communication and government students – a mixture of graduate and undergraduates from AU’s School of Communication (SOC) and School of Public Affairs– led by an expert faculty will trek to Manchester, New Hampshire, as part of their class Communicating the 2012 Election. Together, they will cover the primary in a real world, breaking news environment with a serious dose of reality–16 hour work days, frigid New Hampshire weather, and finding the story that perhaps nobody in the national press corps has hit upon. Another component includes an analyses of poll data, the content of campaign communications, social media strategies, paid advertising, and the role super Pacs are playing to finance campaigns

SOC Associate Dean Rose Ann Robertson, a former AP editor and supervisor will manage the class’s Manchester newsroom (January 7-11) located at the Best Western (13500 S. Willow St., Rte 28, Manchester) where students will be blogging, filing stories, and preparing packages for media partnerships arranged in advance of their departure. Through faculty connections, the students will branch out to report on and analyze the primary to live the lives of political news journalists and political operatives by interviewing campaign workers, New Hampshire voters, the candidates, and reporters.

Learning from Leaders

While students from other schools will be in New Hampshire independently seeking out stories, AU’s program is led by a seasoned, expert media faculty possessing more than a combined century’s worth of campaign, political journalism experience and over a dozen New Hampshire primaries since 1972. "This class demonstrates what is particularly unique about American University, our ability to draw on our faculty to transmit not just knowledge but professional experience and contacts with the top people in media and politics," said Dotty Lynch, director of the SOC/SPA Masters program in Political Communication and a CBS veteran political editor. Lynch added, “When we first did this class in 2008, we realized that the faculty was having as much fun as the students. Being involved in a breaking news story and teaching the next generation how it works is exhilarating. No wonder we all signed up again this year!"

The media savvy faculty for Communicating the 2012 Election includes Richard Benedetto, adjunct professor and former White House correspondent and USA Today political columnist; Lynne Perri, journalist in residence, managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop, and former deputy managing editor for Graphics and Photography at USA Today; Bill Gentile, journalist in residence, producer for PBS Frontline, international journalist and back pack journalism expert; and Carrie Giddins, adjunct professor and former communications director at Iowa Democratic Party. Together, they will lead the students through the series of debates, rallies, media appearances, home visits, and spin zones.

Through the faculty’s connections, students will have access to national television, print, online and radio media outlets to learn how journalism in the field works. “We'll offer the guidance that comes as a result of our own professional careers in government, journalism, political communication and polling, and couple that with time to network with other professionals and watch how they work,” explained Lynne Perri. Already, the faculty has secured highly coveted credentials at debates and news broadcasts at ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC with a growing list to provide students access and networking opportunities. In addition, they will report and blog for WAMU.

Primary ‘Boot Camp’

Prior to leaving for New Hampshire, from January 4-6 students are prepping at American in an election and primary “boot camp” through lectures and discussions, training on equipment, and receiving some tips on how to elbow in along the press line to pitch a question to some of the GOP presidential hopefuls. For example, veteran Boston Globe reporter and columnist Tom Oliphant, who covered all New Hampshire primaries from 1972 to 2004 will brief the class and offer some tricks of the trade prior to departure. The class will continue through the semester preparing reports on advertising, news coverage, turnout, debates, and financing as the nomination fight continues.

Why Learn on the Ground?

“Our goal in adding an on-the-ground component to our study of the presidential primaries is to have students take what they're learning in the classroom and put it to use. What we gain from an on-site trip to New Hampshire is to see how the candidates and their campaign staffs are organized and how that plays out in a state in which people often get to meet with the candidates in sometimes intimate and informal settings,” Perri explained. “One of the big questions we'll try to answer is how are people going to make up their minds? So many people are angry and upset about the economy, and we want to see for ourselves how that will play out in an election year. Whatever we find, we'll report, analyze and reflect on.”

This is the second New Hampshire primary AU students and faculty will participate in after the successful inaugural class from 2008.

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.

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Paul Johnson
American University
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