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5 Years In The Sandbox – ‘The Freedom To Screw Up’

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In November, the Sandbox celebrates 5 years.  It’s been a wild journey from a handful of online articles to multiple awards! We take a look back with some of our alumni reporters at what they got from the paper and what they see coming in the future in news.

img_1472-e1466902045643by Chris Demmons

When and how did you work on the Sandbox?

I started out as social media editor at the end of January of 2012, which was a pretty exciting year for the paper. I also did a lot of managing editor type work during my time with the paper. I did a lot of photography and video work for The Sandbox, which led to my current job.

What your most memorable takeaway from the experience?

It’s hard to pick just one memorable takeaway. Covering the Obama campaign is a whole set of stories in and of itself, getting to interview one of my heroes, New York Times editor Hedrick Smith, and doing an interview with a member of the college LGBT community right after marriage equality became the law of the land are all stand outs for me.

There’s also the technical side: watching Facebook and Twitter grow, being able to do just about every important aspect of reportage from my phone, learning about drone journalism at the college innovation lab, and seeing every mobile phone become a live video studio. This is without question the coolest time to be a student journalist, you know, until the day after tomorrow.

How does media – traditional and otherwise – fit in your future or current endeavors?

The Sandbox means having the freedom to screw up, to try new things that were well outside the box of what a school paper traditionally does, things that weren’t even possible when I wrote my first story for my first student newspaper back in elementary school. I really had to fight for opening The Sandbox up to literary submissions – poetry, short stories, art photography, and the like.  It was absolutely worth it, and one of my proudest achievements as an editor. Anything that gives students a voice is worth doing. If it isn’t obvious, I am a big fan of freedom of expression. I read banned books every year during banned books week and encouraged the paper faculty and staff to join me. Doing Talk Like a Pirate Day on our social feeds was always a lot of fun, and inspired me to think about new ways of promoting the work of our hard working student journalists.

Winning an award from the Florida Society of News Editors was really cool. I don’t consider myself much of a sports photographer, so I’m especially humbled by winning an award. The thing I enjoyed most was seeing how well our little paper did. I watched my colleagues and our advisor wear out the carpet between our table and the podium. We beat colleges with more money, more resources, and larger staffs than The Sandbox has!

Finally, there was the day-to-day business of my beat: Welcome Backs, Working Wednesdays, and all the other normal activity on a college campus. Talking to our readers during national events was always wonderful. The Sandbox has always been fortunate to have a really outstanding audience. The people I got a chance to interact with both on staff and in the audience were the best part of the job.

How does media – traditional and otherwise – fit in your future or current endeavors?

I am currently a social media assistant in the St. Petersburg College Marketing department. My work with the paper, and my work study are what brought me here. I do a lot of the same sort of things that I did as a social media editor. I write posts for Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest to promote college blog posts. I write blog posts throughout the college network, I recently had the privilege of covering New York Times op-ed editor David Brooks’s talk at the Palladium theater. I take photographs and video. The thing I’m most excited about is working with Facebook Live. I recently did a live broadcast at St. Petersburg Gibbs campus of the community jazz band rehearsing. That was a lot of fun.

I’m not a journalist, I work in marketing, but I am still telling people what is going on around St. Petersburg College and stories about our students and faculty. One of my colleagues recently referred to me as “SPC’s journalist.” and I take that as a compliment. I really enjoy what I’m doing, and the Sandbox made it possible.

What role do you see media playing in everyday life?

Media will continue to inform, educate and entertain. It might reach the audience in a different way, but that’s still the job. It’s true that from a business perspective things look bad for outlets now, but I think the boom phase of the boom and bust cycle is on its way.

What advice would you give a current or prospective Sandbox reporter?

Be curious. Talk to lots of people, even beyond your beat. You never know when a teacher, or a fellow student is going to end up becoming a source or provide an important contribution to your story. You’re going to talk to a lot of people whose ideas don’t line up with your own. Listen extra carefully to those people, ask lots of questions, make sure you treat them fairly and quote them accurately. Words matter, take them seriously. Be critical of your own work, and generous with others work. Try something different every time you go to work.

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