The Department of Mass Communication and the Student Media Association (SMA) hosted their annual News Engagement Day event on Oct. 2 in the Academic Computer Center for students to learn news-reporting skills and gain insight from a guest speaker.
The event, which is a national event held on the first Tuesday of Oct., focused on guest speaker Meg Kinnard’s discussion of political reporting in South Carolina. Kinnard, who has been a reporter for the Associated Press (AP) at their office in Columbia, S.C. since 2005, shared her experience covering news during her time with the AP.
Kinnard began her discussion by describing her educational background and how she became a reporter. To explain her work environment and the kind of work she performs, she talked about how wide-ranging the AP is and how she covers local events, most recently the governor’s race.
“For me, with the Associated Press, everything that I do I try to look at from at least a statewide if not a national level,” Kinnard said. “We’re global and we cover the top news of whatever’s happening in our general vicinity. On a day-to-day basis, I’m writing about the governor’s race. In covering politics, it is vital to include all perspectives.”
Kinnard said among even very contentious topics, news and tools like social media inspire conversations between people. She observed an instance of this when she spoke to local women about their opinions of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court as an assignment from the AP.
“It got a conversation going,” Kinnard said. “But you know, what I saw just reading through all those mentions: conversations happened. Those people had conversations with somebody who agrees with very little of what they personally agree with, at least on this issue, but they talked. I don’t take credit for that. But because of platforms like Twitter, those people got in touch with each other and they could actually talk about a very volatile subject and hear each other out.”
According to Kinnard, an important part of news engagement is finding multiple reliable sources to form a complete idea of a newsworthy event.
“I tried to read as much as I possibly can because not everybody has got all the information, and that’s going to be the case for everything that you read,” Kinnard said.
Kinnard said in her work, and for newswriting in general, she strives to be a conduit for the information that people need to make informed decisions and that her ability to do so depends heavily on her credibility.
“Journalism is about a distillation of the facts in a very accessible way,” Kinnard said. “The point of this, especially when I’m covering politics, is for you, the reader, to be like, ‘Okay, I’ve read her piece and I feel like I understand what happened; let me figure out how I feel about it.’ It’s not my business how they come to that conclusion. My business is making sure they have all the information I can possibly give them.”
After Kinnard’s discussion, she took questions from students and faculty about topics she had brought up and how she felt about the current state of news.
Senior Hannah Halvorsen, a professional writing major, attended the event and furthered the discussion by asking Kinnard to elaborate on several topics she had mentioned. Halvorsen said she valued the opportunity to learn how Kinnard maintains objectivity in her work and why she thinks it is invaluable.
“The biggest thing that came up was about the fake news allegations,” Halvorsen said. “I think it’s very important to consider what news is actual news and what news is opinionated, because opinionated news is not actually news at all. They’re very much combining right now, and that’s messing up our perception of the media.
Halvorsen also said she thinks it is important for individuals to be able to find objective information.
“News engagement is important so that you’ll know what’s going on instead of following bandwagon events that go on in society,” Halvorsen said. “The Kavanaugh and Ford case is very much a bandwagon case because not a lot of people are actually looking at the details. They’re looking at how people feel in the case, especially our generation. It doesn’t matter how it makes you feel; it’s the facts.”
Professor of mass communication David Baxley arranged Kinnard’s visit. Baxley said it is important for students to learn about news coverage of politics and how an actual reporter conducts themselves on the job.