2016 SEJC draws record crowd to Clarksville

More than 300 faculty and students from 37 schools in six states attended the Best of the South Awards Banquet in the Wilma Rudolph Special Event Center in Clarksville, Tennessee, on Feb. 19.
More than 300 faculty and students from 37 schools in six states attended the Best of the South Awards Banquet in the Wilma Rudolph Special Event Center in Clarksville, Tennessee, on Feb. 19.

The 2016 Southeast Journalism Conference teemed with alacrity as student journalists and their advisers brushed up on the latest news trends, tricks and technology.

Held at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, the three-day-long conference Feb. 18-20 hosted around 350 people from 37 universities in six states. Conference-goers meandered around the Student Union halls like children around a candy display. The university’s hilly landscape transformed into a refuge for college reporters from which they could gather anything from insight to sheer motivation.

“It was just an incredible experience seeing all these people that are passionate about the same thing as I am,” said Claudia Young, 20, from Arkansas Tech University.

The APSU newspaper, The All State, celebrated its 85th anniversary of publication with a “birthday party on” Thursday, Feb. 18. A panoply of old newspapers decorated the room, and party-goers decorated the air with questions and comments about the papers’ designs. The smell of old newspapers accentuated the rummaging through the venerable parchments.

Every SEJC convention gives student journalists an opportunity to share their schools' newspapers, providing a useful exchange of information and ideas.
Every SEJC convention gives student journalists an opportunity to share their schools’ newspapers, providing a useful exchange of information and ideas.

The night of news nostalgia also commenced the conference’s onsite competitions, which tested journalists on subjects such as news writing, law and ethics and anchoring. During the birthday party, feature writing contestants threw questions to The All State’s editorial staff like a major league pitcher.

“I got to talk to a lot of students and get interviewed about my career at The All State,” said Katelyn Clark, SEJC student president and The All State editor-in-chief.

While feature writers queried the paper’s loquacious staff, the arts and entertainment contestants covered a comedy show hosted by the Upright Citizens Brigade.

The next day’s competitions had news writing contestants cover a staged protest regarding APSU’s missing mascot, Governor Peay X.

Peay X, the original mascot, was replaced with The Governor. Despite students’ voting for the original mascot, Peay X has still eluded APSU.

“It was a lot of fun because we have been documenting the missing mascot stuff, so this was a good way to kind of get the ball rolling on that,” Clark explained.

When students weren’t flaunting their finesse, they were in professional development panels. Reporters and professors offered a peek into their experiences, which ranged from digital storytelling methods to the relevance of World War II to today’s news.

One session that stuck out to Young was “Digital Chameleon: Shape-Shifting in the Ever-Changing Media Landscape.” Young, who said she enjoys editorial and op-ed writing, found solace in the panel.

“I’m not super interested in news, but (the speaker has) made a living out of not doing news at all,” she said. “It was great seeing someone who is passionate about the same thing I am, because I’m afraid I won’t make a living because I don’t want to do news, so that was really encouraging.”

According to Clark, preparation for SEJC began after last year’s convention in Atlanta.

“Once we realized that we were gonna be the host school for the following year, when I got elected SEJC student president … we pretty much started planning right then,” said Clark.

The process provided Clark with an experience she said will help her in the real world.

The onsite awards luncheon was held in the Student Union at Austin Peay State University on Feb. 20.
The onsite awards luncheon was held in the Student Union at Austin Peay State University on Feb. 20.

The onsite awards luncheon was held in the Student Union at Austin Peay State University on Feb. 20.

The event culminated with the Best of the South Awards Banquet on Friday, where students were garlanded for feats accomplished in 2015,  and the onsite awards luncheon on Saturday. An antsy ambiance filled the rooms as nominees and applicants awaited results.

“It was such a huge event, and I’ve never been part of planning an event of that magnitude,” Clark confessed. “Most of the planning that I’ve helped with has been on a smaller scale than this huge conference that we planned, so I think the perspective that it gave me was, there’s always a bigger picture.”

With the conference location’s shift from bustling Atlanta in 2015 to bucolic Clarksville, the SEJC shifted to a more spacious venue.

“Atlanta was a very urban area, and this one was kind of in a rural area, so it was a little bit harder to find things around here,” said Emily Proud, 21, from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. “I definitely think there’s a lot more space for us here.”

Despite the conference’s ample space, the shared passion of journalism students made the event intimate.

“Belmont has a really small journalism department, so sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few people wanting to do what I want to do,” Proud related.  “But now it’s really cool because I get around all of these people who are like, ‘I want to do it, too.’”

Clark related to the energizing conference feel; in her third year as part of The All State and SEJC, she recalled her conference experiences.

“I’ve been to every SEJC conference since I started my All State career, and so it’s been a lot of fun seeing a lot of different places,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of different schools, and I’ve met a ton of people, students and professionals who have helped me further my career and networking and things like that. SEJC has been a big part of my college career because it was The All State, just on a grander scheme.”

The schematics behind hosting a reporters’ retreat, however, demanded an even more attentive eye as Clark transitioned from attendee to administrator.

“I think the hardest part was just making sure that what we put into different people’s hands was the right thing and that we chose the right people for it, and it turned out that way,” she said passionately. “We chose the right people to do what needed to be done.”