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SCJ holds forum on becoming a communications change agent

Long emphasized the importance of focusing on what really matters. (Northern Review photo/Jennifer Kolb)

Long emphasized the importance of focusing on what really matters. (Northern Review photo/Jennifer Kolb)

The fields of journalism and communications have been greatly changing over the past few years, with new technologies, methods, and expectations being introduced all the time.

With all of these changes, students in these fields may feel that there is more uncertainty with finding jobs after graduation. As part of the Society for Collegiate Journalist’s annual Speaker’s Forum, Dale Long talked about the industry and how students can utilize communications to be agents of change.

Long is an award-winning writer, publication editor, and higher education media relations professional who serves as executive editor of the alumni magazine and director of media relations at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. Rose-Hulman has been ranked the No. 1 undergraduate engineering institution for the past 17 years by the U.S. News & World Report.

Long started out by discussing his personal experiences in undergraduate study at the University of Toledo, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

He emphasized that, from the very beginning, he has been focused on taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible.  

In his case, Long started writing for his college newspaper his freshman year and quickly became an editor. He listed taking on these initial experiences as what gave him the insight to determine what he liked and what he needed to improve.

“Get out there as soon as possible,” he emphasized.

There’s no doubt that news has transformed. Now we have one-person newsrooms by just using our iPhones. News is always happening, and now many more people can be news providers. As a result, journalism is losing status as a watchdog, but that doesn’t mean that journalism doesn’t matter. There’s still a need to focus on accuracy, reporting the facts, and answering the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, and why).

In consideration of this, Long emphasized the importance of not “doing it for the money or fame.” Those are the wrong goals to pursue. Instead, you’ve got to “have a passion for this business” if you’re going to make any headway.

Although news is important, there’s been a shift from newspapers to brand sites. For example, people previously writing for newspapers are now content writers for Coca-Cola, Red Bull, etc. There are now a lot of jobs in media communications.

It’s key to be resourceful and versatile in the field of journalism and communications. You have to market yourself with your experience, knowledge, and skills. For example, business analytics are big right now, so workers with those skills have an advantage.

Long listed his efforts to continually improve as one of the reasons why he was kept on when management had to make tough decisions regarding staff reduction. It takes effort, he said, but it’s worth it. Working at smaller places provides the additional advantage of giving you more opportunities for growth and trying your hand in a range of areas.

Providing good content is ultimately the most important. One great way to achieve good content is through telling good stories. The only way to get good stories is to not just stick to the questions you came up with ahead of time. Instead, listen and ask questions that aren’t on the list. Long insisted that the best quotes he’s gotten were answers to questions he didn’t prepare ahead of time, and instead resulted from active listening.

As far as mistakes, Long cited the most common he’s seen as being issues with accuracy, where many writers don’t check the facts. “Don’t be lazy,” he said.

Ultimately, Long’s advice to students in communications is to keep their focus on what really matters.

“Be good, be true. Keep up with your reputation," he said. "You’re only as good as your last story, so make it good.

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