From student to professional journalist

The W&L Society of Professional Journalists chapter gets a fresh start on campus this year

Alexandra Cline

Interested in writing stories, reporting on breaking news or working for an advertising firm? There’s a new club that offers it all.

This year, the Society of Professional Journalists returned as a chapter to W&L, allowing students interested in journalism to discuss potential internships and to meet professors and peers.

For W&L’s SPJ President Jordan Cohen, ’17, the ability for these students to interact outside of class was a driving force in wanting to restart the club, which had existed at W&L in past years but never quite achieved the recognition it had hoped to gain.

“It’s great to have a club with resources for jobs and to find other people in the major,” Cohen said. “We want people to be excited and interested about the club and journalism in general.”

The club’s first program of the year included a panel of upperclassmen who shared experiences about the journalism and strategic communications majors, offering advice on course progression and the differences in majors.

Chapter Adviser and Journalism Professor Kevin Finch said he believes the program offered a realistic and truthful perspective for potential majors, allowing them to envision the type of coursework required and the careers available.

“We wanted the upperclassmen to speak candidly about the majors and for the program to be a student to student guide for first-years and sophomores who are undeclared,” Finch said.

Though the club has already completed its first event of the year, members will continue to refine their responsibilities to ensure the chapter is as successful as possible.

“Because this is the first year bringing SPJ back to campus, I’m still learning about what [my] role entails, but I work closely with the members of the other SPJ board to organize SPJ events,” SPJ Vice President Carolyn Holtzman, ’16, said.

This year, the club plans to meet once per month and currently comprises 13 members, a number Cohen and Finch hope will rise in future years.

“It would be great to expand our involvement next year once we get our feet on the ground,” Cohen said. “One student mentioned a program that we could possibly start where we would do a mentorship program with students in middle and high school in Rockbridge county.”

Finch echoed that sentiment, hoping to attract attention to the chapter on campus and ensure that the club will continue to grow.

“Our three goals are to increase membership, put on programs, and reestablish ourselves as a club here,” he said.

One motivating factor in reforming the chapter at W&L was the idea that other majors already have established clubs for students to meet outside of class and find information about their field.

“We sort of feel left out when you see all of these other clubs,” Cohen said. “It’s really the first and only club of its kind offered here for potential journalism majors.”

However, students need not be journalism or strategic communications majors to become involved in SPJ, as several members are interested in areas such as marketing and photography.

“The chapter is also for students interested in communications and public affairs,” Finch said. “Right now, we really want our members to go out and recruit as many students as possible.”

In terms of this year’s plans, the chapter has scheduled two more programs: a portfolio development session and a job seeking seminar.

“This will really teach students how to send out a resume, schedule an interview, and find out more about the process of accepting a job and creating a contract,” Finch said.

Aside from the specific initiatives of SPJ, the chapter additionally will strive to preserve and build upon the extensive history of journalism education at W&L, a program instituted by Robert E. Lee.   

“We really want to have a goal of education for people interested in journalism,” Cohen said. “The history of this program at W&L is really unique and we have one of the oldest programs in the country.”