Beyond The Byline: Students learn about journalism at Bigler conference

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected] | April 28th, 2017 9:00 pm

WILKES-BARRE — A long, long time ago, a young journalist used to sit at a table in Boscov’s restaurant and listen to two gentlemen talk about everything.

These two men would select several topics and discuss them in great detail, offering solid opinions based on facts as they knew them and often they would debate an issue or two.

These sessions were always remarkable times for learning — the lessons often going way beyond the topics or issues being discussed.

I was the young journalist sitting at the table and the two gentlemen I had the privilege of listening to and benefiting from were two icons of Luzerne County — the late U.S. Judge Max Rosenn and the late journalist extraordinaire, Tom Bigler.

So it was with great pride and honor that I participated in the 17th annual Tom Bigler Journalism Conference on Friday. The conference, which attracts more than 200 high school students annually, is named in honor of Bigler, a former Wilkes University journalism professor and pioneer in local journalism, including radio, TV and print.

This year, the conference theme was The Changing Face of Journalism. In case nobody has noticed, this face of journalism has changed quite a bit over the last 40 years or so that I have been working in the business. As has journalism itself changed — some say for the better, others will argue we now know way too much about way too much and in way too much detail.

Some people long for the days when they would wait for their paper to arrive in the late afternoon, check the headlines and the box scores and then not bother with “the news” until 11 p.m. when someone might ask, “Do you know where your children are?”

Others — millennials, especially, even some baby boomers — insist on knowing everything and they want to know it now. And then they post it on social media or tweet it or Snapchat it, or blog it or do a podcast, or put it on YouTube where millions might Google it.

Back to the Bigler conference. It’s not often that a dinosaur gets to speak to kids who have grown up in the age of technology. Even more odd is that those techie kids would sit and listen and, yes, enjoy the conversation.

That was my experience Friday at the conference. I told these high schoolers about where I came from, how I started in journalism and what I have learned and why I enjoy it so darn much. I told them about my passion for doing what I do — how I always try to bring emotion and compassion to stories to tell them in a way that readers will not only learn something, but feel it as well.

Kalen M.A. Churcher, Ph.D., assistant professor of communications and adviser to the school’s newspaper, The Beacon, told me that the high school students came to the Bigler conference from districts throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania and have various career interests — both in and out of media and communications.

Churcher said one thing she has found is that the students are always interested to hear what professionals do in their respective careers. The students have the opportunity to choose which specific sessions they’d like to attend, so they are very much interested in what people like me have to say.

I talked about journalism and how we gather the whos, whats, wheres, whens and whys. I told them how critical it is to be accurate, to attribute sources, to get all sides, to be fair and to be dogged. I told them that in today’s world, deadline is always now — not at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. like in the good old days. And I told them it is always good to be first, but being first is only preferred when you are correct.

The kids loved the chats. They asked questions. Some said they want to pursue a career in journalism.

One student from Penn Argyl made a point to tell me about how their student newspaper did an investigative piece and won an award for it. He told me how proud they all were that they accomplished this.

I told the young man that he and his colleagues should be proud of what they did and they should forever cherish that experience and apply it to all of their future stories and/or endeavors, regardless of what career they choose.

And then I realized something else — Judge Max Rosenn and Professor Tom Bigler would be very proud of them as well.

Beyond the Byline Bill O’Boyle
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By Bill O’Boyle

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Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.


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