BY LAUREN LABORDE ’09
We’re in a communication revolution.
A digital age that is redefining how we create, share, and consume information. Such radical transformation has media titans spinning and has caused major shifts in the landscape.
Others—the innovators—have forged new ways to connect consumers with content and to communicate in snack-sized social media.
We spent some time with the students of “mass comm” and its leader, Dr. Sonya Duhé, to understand how a small liberal arts school rooted in Jesuit traditions consistently produces so many winning programs and student success stories.
Duhé’s office resembles that of a storied college athletic director rather than the head of a school of mass communication. Plaques, trophies, and accolades adorn the walls and reflect the winning legacy at Loyola.
Students have won more than 150 awards in the past two years alone. With pride, Duhé ticks off some of the major achievements.
There’s the Bateman, the top prize in public relations, which Loyola has won nine times, more than any other school.
And the Addy awards: “We have won for advertising campaigns students created for clients such as Nissan, Pizza Hut, and local nonprofits.”
And then there is the crown jewel—the Pacemaker. “This is the top award for any university newspaper in the country—it’s our Pulitzer Prize,” she says. “We had to beat out some excellent schools for this one.” By “excellent schools,” Duhé means prestigious schools like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt.
The School of Mass Communication, with sequences in journalism and strategic communication, is at the top because it has taken the unprecedented dynamics of the media world as a challenge: How do you foster students who are inspired, up-to-date with technology, and able to thrive in a landscape
that changes radically in between their freshman and senior years?
Undaunted, Loyola created a careerfocused program that is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences and, influenced by the Jesuit tradition, emphasizes ethics. As a result, the SMC’s graduates are wellrounded, multitalented, thoughtful, and easily adaptable young professionals.
“The world is spinning so fast—we change how we teach every course just about every semester,” Duhé says. “We’re telling stories with tools that didn’t exist a year ago.”
Thanks to this approach, our graduates are landing jobs in traditional media outlets such as ESPN and in other places where digitally savvy communicators are in-demand. One recent graduate manages the website for a local TV station, and another was tweeting about the first New Orleans Fried Chicken Festival as part of her PR job.
Duhé is involved on a national level in this conversation on how to prepare students in a constantly changing media world. She is president-elect of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, a nonprofit educational association of collegelevel journalism and communication programs
in the United States and Canada.
“Our industry right now is seeing tremendous change, and it really takes a strong vision,” Duhé says. “We are thinking about the future when we don’t even know what some of the future tools might be. I have an opportunity to help with that vision and participate in that dialogue with the 190 or so schools who belong to the association.”
Doing It All
One student in the middle of the maelstrom is Colleen Dulle. A St. Louis native, she began her Loyola career concentrating on public relations but shifted to journalism. She worked her way up through various roles at Loyola’s student newspaper, The Maroon, and now is the paper’s editor-in-chief.
“Loyola trains us to be multimedia journalists,” Dulle says. “Gone are the days when you had to choose among the tracks of broadcast, TV, or print—you have to do it all,” she says.
The Maroon staff switched to what Dulle calls a “digital-first workflow.” Now, the paper publishes stories online every day as news breaks and compiles the best stories from the week—along with a centerpiece feature focusing on a “big-picture” issue—for the paper’s weekly print issue.
This has eased the workload on press production nights and trains students to work in the 24-hour digital news cycle. As Michael Giusti, SMC instructor and Maroon adviser, put it, “I told them to think of themselves as a newsroom that creates once and publishes everywhere.”
The Maroon has been well-rewarded for its innovation and general excellence.
In the 2014-2015 year, the paper was named the Princeton Review’s No. 4 Best College Newspaper in the Nation; it won the Associated Collegiate Press’ Pacemaker award, considered the Pulitzer Prize of student media; it earned an All-American distinction from the Associated Collegiate Press—and that’s just to name a few of the record-breaking 86 awards it won that year.
So far in 2016, The Maroon has won the regional Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence for Best All-Around Non- Daily Student Newspaper, along with many other individual writing awards.
And because the Press Club of New Orleans doesn’t have college categories for its Excellence in Journalism Awards, The Maroon regularly wins in multiple categories against the city’s news professionals every year—for entries in photography, headline writing, news writing, and social media.
“We are a tiny school with a program that’s excellent but not necessarily known on the national scale, and we’re winning against the national powerhouses—the Mizzous, the Columbias, the Stanfords,” Giusti says. “We’re able to compete and win, and a big piece of that is students approach it with excellence as their standard. When people say, ‘How do you win so many awards?’ I kind of joke, ‘We don’t know that we’re not supposed to.’ ”
Students in Loyola’s SMC hold themselves to high standards, and many don’t see themselves as just students—they’re getting bylines in professional publications, working at TV news stations, and executing public relations campaigns for real companies before they even graduate.
“A Newsroom in One Person”
Starlight Williams, a journalism major and editor of Loyola’s student magazine, The Wolf, is one of the students who has written stories as part of the school’s partnership with NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune and local NPR affiliate, 89.9 WWNO-FM.
As part of the Loyola Student News Service, she is a published multimedia journalist — writing stories, taking pictures, and putting together video packages on a deadline.
"I always say that at Loyola, they teach you to be a newsroom in one person," Williams, from outside of Atlanta, says. “You can write; you can produce; you can shoot and edit video—anything multiple people would do, you can do it yourself. We’re no longer just students. We’re going out in the field and working for professional companies. While I haven’t gotten a degree yet, I can already say that I am a professional.”
Another Loyola student with real-world experience is Valeria Kawas. The bilingual Honduras native works with the local Telemundo affiliate as an anchor/reporter, and she also interned with Telemundo in Miami this summer. But even before these positions, she was able to get a lot of hands-on reporting experience in her journalism classes.
"I went around the city and state and covered everything, including natural disasters, flooding in Hammond, the tornado in LaPlace,” Kawas says. “Those classes gave me the opportunity to go around, meet new people, and explore. Journalism is the type of career where you have to work a lot outside of classes; you have to go and search for the stories. Stories are not going to come to you.”
But when it comes to her work at Telemundo, she says that Loyola has prepared her in many ways, from practical career advice to more technical skills.
"Basically everything I learned at Loyola in the morning, I had to apply at night at Telemundo," she says, referring to her work as an anchor for the Spanish-language network’s nightly newscast. "From learning how to approach sources, how to perform in front of the camera, how to talk properly, what to wear, how to edit … everything from the most basic things to the most complex things you can imagine."
Hands-On and Cutting-Edge
Students hone skills in multimedia communication on campus, too. The Maroon Minute, a TV news-style broadcast, is produced daily and published online. The Maroon also recently launched a podcast, “The Wolf of Loyno.”
Dulle, The Maroon editor, says that in classes students are constantly learning about open-source digital storytelling tools such as ThingLink, Timeline JS, and Canva. Sterling Holmes, a Los Angeles native who wants to work in public relations and event-planning in the music industry after she graduates, is also getting experience without having to leave campus.
She is interning in Loyola’s Office of Marketing and Communications and says having this internship helps reinforce the things she learns in classes.
"I get to apply [what I’ve learned]," she says. "When I see something in class, I think, 'I know how to do that; I've seen that before.' It makes it easier to learn when you’ve already done it hands-on."
The SMC's Strategic Communications program, which encompasses the advertising and public relations tracks, also promotes hands-on experience in and
outside the classroom.
How do you teach advertising in a time when it’s less about traditional TV and print ads and more about audience engagement? You bring industry leaders on the vanguard of content creation to the classroom and have students work on real campaigns alongside agency employees.
Back in the ’40s, Burma-Shave won awards for telling stories with an innovative billboard campaign. Today, it’s Dove telling women they are beautiful through short videos. The principles are the same; the delivery is just different. The SMC students are creating these new stories on platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. A recent class project had students using Snapchat Stories to promote the city of New Orleans to visitors.
The school’s Shawn M. Donnelley Center for Nonprofit Communications links nonprofit organizations needing help with advertising and public relations with students who work on the projects to build their portfolios. The nonprofits are delighted with the students’ work, and the students benefit from the realworld experience and client feedback.
Further, the SMC recently launched Brand Lab, a student-run agency that provides a similar service for for-profit clients. Students are planning events, designing logos, delivering pictures and video, and working on social media campaigns.
And Loyola shines in public relations. The SMC participates in the Public Relations Student Society of America’s annual Bateman Case Study Competition. Teams of college students develop and implement a comprehensive public relations campaign for an assigned client. Loyola has won the top prize more than any other school in the country and has finished in the top three for the past 15 years.
Winning in the Work Force
NiRey Reynolds ’15 (communication) says her experience on Loyola’s Bateman team was what led her to her first job after graduation. During last year’s competition in Chicago, she met the person who would be her boss at PRSSA’s national headquarters in New York. Just a few months after getting an administrative assistant job at the organization, she was promoted to her current position as student programs coordinator.
"I really think I took from Loyola the work ethic and the experience of having a lot of moving parts in your life," Reynolds says. "At Loyola I was on the Bateman team; before that I worked at The Maroon; then I had a work study job and an internship at the Emeril Lagasse Foundation—and that was all
happening at the same time. I think Loyola just prepared me for managing different parts of my life at once."
Reynolds stresses the importance of internships and participating with student organizations.
"You need to be involved in something else outside of the classroom that’s going to set you apart," she says, "and Loyola gave me all those opportunities to do that."
When it comes to students who haven’t graduated yet, how do they feel about entering this competitive, always-changing work force? Students at Loyola are inspired by journalism and communications and are trained in skills that can be adaptable anywhere.
"Our job placement has consistently been well above the national average," Duhé says. “That’s just impressive because that’s what parents care about and what students care about today: ‘Will I be able to get a job once I complete this degree?’ The answer is absolutely yes. This degree lends itself to directly walking into any organization and being able to hit the ground running.”
Loyola’s SMC is giving students an additional edge: This year, seniors will graduate with a certification in ethical leadership from the Student Center for the Public Trust. All students will get the certification as part of a required ethics class. More than 80 percent of young professionals face an ethical dilemma within their first two years in the work force, according to the organization, and this certification will ensure that our graduates have the skills and the backbone to successfully navigate the work environment.
Setting the Pace
Maroon adviser Giusti paraphrases Mark Twain by saying rumors of the death of traditional media are greatly exaggerated.
"Media is changing, for sure, but if you’re graduating with multi-platform skills, being able to tell stories through all the digital tools that are available, you’re still in-demand," he says. "We’re also placing people in corporate settings. The skills that they’re learning, telling stories and using digital tools to communicate, are very valuable in a public relations setting, in any kind of corporate communications. We’re also seeing people who are being picked
up by law firms as investigators. The jobs are there if you’re willing to embrace the change."
No matter the medium, students from Loyola are multitalented, thoughtful, and optimistic.
Dulle wants to work in Catholic media after graduation but is cautious about making long-term plans, not knowing what the career landscape will look like. But her reasons for wanting to go in journalism probably resemble those of many Maroon editors before her, even ones predating the Internet.
"I have a lot of hope in the power of journalism," she says. "The whole point of journalists in society is to hold institutions accountable and draw attention to what real people are going through. Ultimately, we’re not supposed to have an agenda, but you hope you’ll effect some positive change in drawing attention to things that are problems or things that are injustices. I feel like there’s a lot of power in that."