College reporters share their secrets to success 

Education Guide

In an age when journalism remains both crucial and endangered in America, we sought to glean the thoughts of our next generation of journalists. So we checked in with the editors of four local student publications — Pikes Peak Community College's The Paper (online), Colorado College's The Catalyst (weekly newspaper) and Cipher (literary magazine), and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' The Scribe (print and online). We asked editors for their most important stories of the year, then reached out to the reporters and asked how they got the scoop. Here's what they had to say:

click to enlarge Jake Altinger - COURTESY JAKE ALTINGER
  • Courtesy Jake Altinger
  • Jake Altinger

Pikes Peak Community College, The Paper

"Professor ignites controversial academic freedom debate," by Jake Altinger

Indy: Give us a brief summary of your story.

Jake Altinger: [The story] was actually [about] a class that I was taking at the time. This economics professor, the first day of class just blew my mind with how just brazen he was with preaching his political opinions.

And then a couple of weeks in, DACA gets repealed, and then a student asked him, “What are your thoughts on the repeal of DACA, on the economic side?” And he goes into this rant. He starts out with, “I say show ’em the door.” And he doesn’t even realize that the guy who asked this question illegally immigrated here when he was very young, then got a green card, joined the U.S. Army, now is a U.S. citizen and retired from the Army.

When I talked to [the student] later about it, he was just kind of like... “It doesn’t really bother me, and I get that immigration is a contentious issue.” But then sitting right behind him in the class was a younger Hispanic girl, and when I talked to her later about it, she’s like, “It makes me not even feel safe coming to school.”

I don’t even know where I would fall on that issue, like if he should be able to say those things, because you have freedom of speech and you have academic freedom — but where do you cross that line? So I recorded the latter part of his rant ...

He was not rehired the next semester, because he was an adjunct. It’s like — I feel uncomfortable saying I got him fired, but I guess that’s kind of what happened.

Other than that, did the story make any kind of change on campus?

I did hear professors afterwards ... talking about it for weeks and debating about it, like where exactly is that line of academic freedom, what you can say in a classroom and what you can’t as far as political opinions. It definitely got quite a few comments even from students who felt pretty strongly about it. So yeah, I guess it did have an impact, especially for how young a paper we were.

What are your future plans?

I’m about to finish an associate degree in journalism and political science in December, and then I’ll kind of have to figure out what I want to do. ... I think I would still like to be involved with journalism somehow...

What I really would like to do is something like Kyle Kulinski does on YouTube. He does this show called Secular Talk, and [he] records himself and just talks about news and politics. I kind of feel like that’s what I would really like to do because I mean I’m obsessed with it, I’m a news and politics junkie. I’m always ranting about it to any of my friends that’ll listen.

*Editor’s note: Altinger completed a semester-long internship with the Indy earlier in 2018.

Colorado College, The Catalyst

"Heinous email sent to terrorize CC over spring break," by Abigail Censky and John-Henry Williams

Indy: Give us a brief summary of your story.

click to enlarge Abigail Censky - COURTESY ABIGAIL CENSKY
  • Courtesy Abigail Censky
  • Abigail Censky
Abigail Censky: The [racist, anonymous] email [received by hundreds of CC students, faculty and staff] was sent while we were on our spring break, so no students were actually on campus, so it was an effort to really give our readers — as soon as they got back from spring break — an idea of what happened. The message was filled with a lot of anti-black hate speech specifically targeting two deans who are pillars of the college community. And it also had a lot of white supremacist and white nationalist language as part of it. So [we had to figure] out what we were going to print to give people a good idea of the content of the message but also without giving that another platform.

What did that reporting process look like?

John-Henry Williams: I would say we really played to our strengths pretty well. Abby’s really phenomenal at getting the logistics and getting hard information out of someone like a police officer that I just wouldn’t have been good at, but myself as a student of color on campus, I was kind of able to gain access to subjects on campus that were probably not going to talk to a white writer, frankly, because there’s a lot of distrust between communities of color and white students on campus specifically after this really racist email.

After the story was published, did you see any impact on the dialogue or climate on campus?
click to enlarge John-Henry Williams - COURTESY JOHN-HENRY WILLIAMS
  • Courtesy John-Henry Williams
  • John-Henry Williams
Williams: [It] put the administration on its toes at the very least. I think the college did a fine job in responding, but we also had to be critical. And so we called them out pretty sharply in the article, which they didn’t think I think was entirely fair but... it made the administration focus on how they were going to respond... [And] this actually had an impact on the Catalyst itself.
Censky: There was a push to recruit more writers of color that became more serious after that.

What are your future plans?

Censky: I’m working for St. Louis Public Radio as an intern here. Next, I’m headed to Lansing, Michigan to be the politics and government reporter for the NPR affiliate WKAR.
Williams: I’ve just reached out, hopefully getting an internship soon. I’m more interested in investigative journalism. Specifically, I really would like to go and cover the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Rohingya genocide, the conflict in Yemen. My grand plan is to own my own publication.

Colorado College, Cipher

"The other minimum wage," by Ethan Cutler

Indy: Give us a brief summary of your story.

Ethan Cutler: The story was on migrant sheepherders. There are sheepherders working in lots of areas of the country, but there’s a concentration of them in western Colorado, and they face particularly harsh working conditions and especially low wages, and that’s because of the particular type of documentation that allows them in the United States. So I drove to various places in western Colorado and talked to them and talked to some of the ranchers who are on the other side of the argument.

click to enlarge Ethan Cutler - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Ethan Cutler
What was your inspiration for the story?

I originally had heard that there were various people from a certain region in Spain — of the Basque country — who were still working as sheepherders, which to me seemed like a sort of out-of-date profession, and then as I sort of got deeper into it, I realized that the story was not so much this old profession that was being carried out by a particular group of people from an interesting place, but that the job they were doing was pretty crazy and the way they were being treated was pretty crazy. I originally heard about it at first in a bar in Spain — some old guy said to me, “My uncle left for America to be a sheepherder a long time ago and he never came back.”

What was the reporting process like?

It was a lot of driving around in the middle of nowhere in western Colorado looking for sheep, and then it was a lot of trying very hard to understand [sheepherders’] Spanish. And then a big part of it was trying to convince the sheepherders that I wasn’t working for their bosses or working for the government and trying to undermine them in some way or deport them. And ... when talking to the ranchers, trying to convince them that I wasn’t trying to simply demonize them.

In your opinion, why was the story important?

I think at the time, I was sort of moved by the injustice of it, and I was also moved by the sheepherders’ resilience in the face of conditions that most people wouldn’t really tolerate at all. But I also was just intrigued, because as a story it has sort of the residue of a Western.

What are your future plans?

You know, writing this story, and then following the legal cases as they were unfolding, sort of reminded me of how futile it can sometimes feel to be a journalist, especially if you’re trying to hold truth to power or trying to participate in an effort to hold people accountable. And so I had become a little disenchanted about the world of journalism in that regard. I’m probably going to go to grad school in political theory at some point.

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, The Scribe

"Future Uncertain for DACA Students," by Sarah Bubke

Indy: Give us a brief summary of your story.

click to enlarge Sarah Bubke - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Sarah Bubke
Sarah Bubke: We wrote this article in January of this year. It was about the DACA students on campus, because as you probably remember, last fall President Trump rescinded DACA, and it was a big to-do here, and our students were legitimately very concerned about their futures. So I met with Nayda, who was in charge of the club on campus for the undocumented students, and got to learn about what everything’s been like for them and how hard it’s been.

In the fall, when DACA was rescinded, someone actually called the police on them, so that was a really shocking thing to hear. They think it was a student who called the police to say to go arrest all the illegal immigrants, and so they had the police show up [to warn them] and they felt very threatened by that.

Our students felt like the school was not really being helpful in this situation, and I had to learn why that was from the administrators’ side, too. And in the process of working on the article there was a protest on campus from the DACA students, which I got to go attend to cover.

What was the reporting process like?

We knew there was the undocumented students’ club on campus, so I contacted Nayda, and she got me connected with [Kayla], she’s a very nice girl. That was a process in and of itself, because of course it’s not necessarily safe to come out as a DACA recipient. So that was something we were very concerned about. We were considering allowing anonymous sources for this article, though both Nayda and [Kayla] were OK with [it] — they wanted to be known. They wanted everyone to see their faces and know their names to show that they were real people.

In your opinion, why was this story important to your publication and to the campus?

It highlighted a very real problem in our country and how it affects us here on campus. It made students and faculty aware that our classmates, the people sitting right next to us, some of them, it directly affects them.

What are your future plans?

I’m actually hoping to go into another career. My degree is going to be in communication, with an emphasis in digital film-making. So I’m hoping to do more fiction, but I wanted to get into journalism and work for The Scribe to get that journalism experience because I felt it was really, really important. It’s a different way of telling stories and it’s learning how to do the nonfiction side of things.

Interviews were edited and condensed for clarity and length.


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