At the start of the summer, 10 Ithaca College students trekked to Washington D.C. to participate in a journalism bootcamp, where they created a detailed multimedia report on cybersecurity in the United States and just how vulnerable we are as a nation.
From June 3-7, 10 students from various majors within IC’s Park School, joined by associate professor Mead Loop, attended the camp, located at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank in the nation’s capital.
With guidance and teaching from various staff in the center’s iDeas Lab and cyber team, as well as journalism, political and think tank experts, the students produced a cohesive project that included a 3,000-word story, three-minute audio and video clips and an infographic that showed the history of cyberattacks in the U.S., according to a recent IC press release.
Yumi Araki, iDeas Lab senior producer and editorial lead at CSIS, said though the bootcamp is rather new, its purpose is large and impactful.
“We’re hoping to train the next generation of journalists, so that means equipping them with the digital, multimedia skills that are going to be increasingly relevant and a tool that will continue to captivate audiences,” Araki said.
Only five days to produce such an intensive project required cohesive teamwork, and several CSIS staff said IC students proved they were up to the challenge. Chief Communications Officer Andrew Schwartz was the original CSIS contact for IC’s participation in the boot camp, and he said he and everyone else at CSIS were thoroughly impressed with the students.
“They were determined to do really well,” Schwartz said. “They set themselves up for success because they hit the ground running, and they weren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work really hard and ask the right questions.”
Joel Martinez, CSIS Executive Education program coordinator, said the bootcamp, which began in 2018, was originally intended to be a one-year program that invited five colleges to attend to create different projects.
After it was so successful, however, it was brought back for 2019, bringing in five colleges, including Ithaca, to participate.
Schwartz said he suggested IC to CSIS due to Park School’s reputation of producing high-caliber journalism students.
“I realized that Ithaca was teaching advanced communications and very practical and very hands-on and geared toward real-world work, and I thought the students, given that background, would find the real-world experience that they would learn here in Washington very helpful,” Schwartz said.
Alyssa Spady, incoming sophomore and journalism student at IC, was one of the attendees, and she said that real-world experience was as helpful as it was eye-opening, and she was glad she got to participate.
“Just having the opportunity to report on politics in D.C., that’s an amazing opportunity to have,” Spady said. “To be part of such a high caliber of Park students and being a freshman at the time and being selected for that, I thought it was a perfect opportunity for me to get.”
Spady, a Long Valley, New Jersey, native, said she felt some imposter syndrome being in D.C., but she came out of her shell and learned some integral interviewing skills.
“You have to be assertive, no matter if you’re a student or not,” she said. “You’re a reporter; you’re here to get the facts.”
Attendee Jason Hannigan, Ridley, Pennsylvania, native and incoming senior at IC, said that the experience of creating such a complex project about something like cyber security was invaluable to him.
“It was a no-brainer for me as someone who’s very interested in national relations, things like cyber security, national security,” Hannigan said.
Hannigan said presenting the final project at the end of the week filled him with a large sense of satisfaction for all that he and the rest of his team had accomplished.
“For me, it was fulfilling to see it all coming together, and you could see how everyone assumed a bigger role than when they came in,” he said.
Loop, who helped navigate the students on their journey, said he was very proud of Spady, Hannigan and the rest of the students for their dedication and professionalism. He said the learning experience for him and the students was one of the best he has had in his 24 years at IC.
“They were eager to learn about a difficult, abstract topic that, frankly, isn’t taught in most quarters, and they did it willingly, they accepted the feedback from their editor at CSIS willingly, and what they produced blew the newsroom folks at the think tank away,” Loop said.
The students were tasked with taking the complex topic of cybersecurity threats to the United States and explaining it in such a way that almost any reader could understand. Martinez said this has long-standing effects of helping the public at large understand a topic that is only becoming more important in our modern times of technological attacks.
“[The students] were very much able to wrap their heads around the very broad and, quite frankly, very complicated issue that even our own research experts wrestle with on a daily basis,” Martinez said.
Loop said the residual impact of the program is two-fold; the project helps to educate the public on an important issue, and creating it added to the students’ portfolios.
“For the students, it benefits them in their career in developing contacts in the D.C. metro area for those who want to work in political journalism,” Loop said. “For society, it’s a reminder about not what the last threat or the last war was but what the last war might be.”
The bootcamp also helped students prepare for the real world of journalism, which is fast-paced, complex and not always well-liked by society, Araki said.
“It’s an industry that’s reviled and really misunderstood as to the importance of the role it plays in society,” Araki said. “My hope is that the students are able and better equipped to be able to explain the increasingly complex things that are going on in our world in a way that will make people care.”
In all, those interviewed said the experience was worthwhile. Martinez said getting to work with and guide the students was a unique chance to spread what he has learned to those eager to learn it.
“I loved the group,” Martinez said. “We got to joke quite a bit, and we got to know each other very well, and I’m just really excited for their futures.”
The bootcamp was funded by a grant through the Stavros Niarchos Foundation in Greece. The grant paid for nearly all the students’ expenses, including travel, lodging, city transportation and most meals.
Additional information on the bootcamp, as well as the students’ project, can be found at journalism.csis.org.
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