Learning to write is hard. To date, no one has devised a secret recipe or a fool-proof formula on how to write winsomely and efficiently. There are tips and there are tricks but at the end of the day, there’s no way around it—writing requires practice. That’s why at Patrick Henry College, we have the Herald.
The Herald, a weekly student publication, gives the students in Patrick Henry College’s journalism program the opportunity to write for an audience and continue developing the skills they picked up in earlier classes. The journalism program requires two semesters of participation in the Herald. It’s an important step on the road to becoming a proficient writer.
Here’s how it works.
After passing Journalism II, students receive access to the journalism lab in the basement of the Barbara Hodel Center. It’s home to twelve top-of-the-line computers all equipped with the full Adobe Creative Suite, including Photoshop, InDesign, Adobe Premiere pro, and Adobe Illustrator and more. In this base of operations, each student has the tools to perform any journalism-related task required, from photo-editing to newspaper layout.
During the semester, the Herald staff will gather here every Thursday morning to go over story pitches and discuss who is covering what. Later in the evening they all meet up again to put together that week’s 12 to 18-page issue.
Around 4:00pm, the staff begins to show up and the room comes alive with people asking questions about which folder were the pictures saved to and what’s the title going to be for the front page story. It’s a group effort that teaches participants reliability and teamwork by assigning them with specific positions in the creative process. There’s a head editor, an assistant editor, a copy editor, a social media manager, and a number of other roles. It’s a steep learning curve for new members, but it only takes a few weeks before the team is like a second family.
Besides teaching the team-aspects of journalism, the Herald is there to develop skills students have just begun to understand.
Throughout Journalism I and Journalism II, students learn how to answer the fundamental questions of Journalism:
“What’s a lede quote?”
“How do you use the inverted pyramid technique?”
“What does it mean to be objective?”
“For goodness sake, where’s the nut-graph?”
But even when you know the answer, it can take a long time to make sure all those elements come together cohesively on paper. It used to take me an agonizing amount of time to write a 600-800-word article. Almost four hours would drain by before I would call it wraps, and most of the time I felt insecure about the final product. I had to stop writing at Starbucks because I would buy one cup of, drain it, and then linger on for hours. The managers started to hate me.
But being on staff with the Herald changed that.
Writers on the Herald learn to compose articles of about the same length in an hour or so, picking up confidence as they go. As a writer, once you get a sense of some of your strengths and some of your weaknesses, the writing process becomes a lot quicker and more efficient; that's a large part of the herald.
There’s something incredibly special about seeing your name at the top of a story you’re proud of. It changes the way you think about your work and encourages you to practice to become better. It’s a confidence and experience that all PHC journalism students can take with them into future internships and workplaces.
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