By Cassandra Sottile
Elm Staff Writer
On Saturday, April 1 at 10 a.m. in The Egg, Elm alumni will lead a two-segment event: an open discussion for the campus community and series of workshop sessions for The Elm staff. Some topics that will be covered are interviewing techniques, government reporting, and court/crime coverage.
The discussion will feature six reporters who previously worked for The Elm or attended Washington College — Gary Fenstamaker, Class of 2013; Dorian Mitchell, Class of 2012; Kay Wicker, Class of 2014; Emily Blackner, Class of 2013; Tim Marcin, Class of 2013; and Katie Tabeling, Class of 2014.
“The idea for the panel came about in December when Katie Tabeling sent me a message asking if there was interest in bringing a bunch of alumni back,” Melissa McIntire, The Elm’s faculty advisor, said. “I had been thinking about doing something and it was perfect timing on Katie’s part. She did most of the leg work.”
McIntire said that, during their time here, the alumni all wished that they had been able to talk to people working in the industry to learn more about breaking into the journalism and publishing fields, and how to be a successful writer.
“I think the panel is going to touch on, in general, what it means to be a journalist in 2017 and what we’ve learned in our relatively short careers trying to find a path in the industry. A lot of the panel will be shaped by what the students want to know,” Marcin said.
All of the Elm alumni work for newspapers: Blackner writes for Prince George’s Sentinel, Marcin for International Business Times, and Tabeling is a city government reporter for Ocean City Today.
“One thing that helps me with my coverage of county and state governments and elections is my experience as news editor of The Elm. I had to assign stories, which gave me a sense of what is noteworthy, but was also largely responsible for pitching my own stories each week. The Elm was the first time I really learned about story structure and the inverted-pyramid style,” Blackner said.
Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Dr. James Hall, said, “We always encourage alum to come back to WC and lend their wisdom. Every day, it seems, we hear a new declaration that ‘print media is dead,’ but journalism is thriving and there’s still a dire need for truth-seekers and tellers in our culture. These panels will help prove that, for anyone interested in journalistic fields, there is space and need for your talent. These particular alumni will provide practical advice that will help students achieve their dreams.”
Speaking to this, Marcin said, “My high school didn’t have a newspaper, so The Elm was the first place I got any real journalism experience. It taught me a lot about deadlines, working with a hard and fast time to finish your work since we had to get the copy to the printer. It also taught me the value of asking for help in journalism. As sports editor, I jumped into the job not exactly knowing what I was getting myself into, but I had two great editors and a faculty advisor who really helped me whenever I felt like I was in over my head.”
Each of the alumni have taken different paths in their careers — some went to journalism school, some freelance, and some work in digital platforms. Journalism is not a dying career; it is evolving.
“I’m excited they’re all coming back, but I’m excited that Gary’s coming because he deals with the digital side of media. He’ll be able to introduce a newer side to journalism than most of them deal with. I think that will be interesting,” McIntire said.
Fenstamaker works for the Washington Post doing data science and software engineering. During his time at The Elm, he was the web editor. The other alumni will be able to discuss their day-to-day activities working at a newspaper.
“The most important thing I learned was how much I love journalism — writing about the news, telling people what is going on. I also gained confidence in doing interviews with important figures — the College president then, and now the county executive or U.S. senators,” Blackner said.
Tabeling said that The Elm was very instrumental in shaping who she is today.
“I began as a theatre reviewer and ended up news editor my senior year, which gave me crucial skills such as AP Style, time management, and an eye for local politics. It gave me the first inkling of what I wanted to do after college. I learned that to be successful in journalism, you have to tell the truth exactly as it happened, without fear that you will be less liked by your peers or community for it,” Tabeling said.
“All bring something different to the table and it’s going to be, in my opinion, worthwhile for the students to listen to what they have to say because they graduated not that long ago and they graduated from WC. They know the unique problems that WC students face,” McIntire said. “After seeing where they came from — I feel very much like a proud parent.”
By Cassandra Sottile