The Beacon recently said farewell to Kelsey Thomas, who had been editor-in-chief for one year and one semester. Kelsey, who is graduating in December, passed the baton to her successor Katie Dunn at the final critique meeting, which was actually a party if you want to know the truth. Here are some photos from our final layout night of the semester and the party the next night. By the way, in case you’re wondering, that is sparkling apple cider.

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Lots of fun and good vibes for the app launch. Cake, coffee drinks and Italian sodas (Thanks, Espresso UP!), music from KDUP and a photo booth. More photos here.

Beacon Staffers



A message from Editor in Chief Kelsey Thomas

MobileAppiPhonebyNina                  MobileAppBanner-Group







by Nancy Copic | @nancycopic

Beacon Opinions Editor Lydia Laythe, Adviser Nancy Copic and Beacon Editor in Chief Kelsey Thomas at Google's Chicago office during ONA14

Beacon Opinions Editor Lydia Laythe, Adviser Nancy Copic and Beacon Editor in Chief Kelsey Thomas at Google’s Chicago office during ONA14

This was my first Online News Association conference, so neither my students nor I knew what to expect besides a great setting. (Hello, Chicago!) With the exception of a few local, one-day SPJ conferences, all other conventions I’d attended with Beacon staffers were for college journalists only.

Chicago in September- ideal setting for ONA 14

Chicago in September- ideal setting for ONA 14


At ONA, we were at the ‘adults’ table,’ though many of the attendees (and panelists) were not much older than Kelsey and Lydia. For instance…

Digital Millennials Take Center Stage

This panel featured:

  • Aaron Williams, a news apps developer for the Center for Investigative Reporting
  • Anika Anand, director of engagement for Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization that covers education
  • Beatrice Katcher,  graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism working on a project to get children more interested in news.

My takeaways:

Advice to young journalists from Aaron: “Learn math. Please.”

Anika on getting your stories out there, engaging readers: “Send your story to everyone you talked to in your story.” Also get people/groups who care about your story to post/share it on their social media, and look at journalism “with a fresh pair of eyes.”

Meredith Artley, Anna Homes, Liz Heron, Ann Marie Lipinski, Susan Smith Richardson, Vivian Schiller, Callie Schweitzer, Benet Wilson

Meredith Artley, Anna Homes, Liz Heron, Ann Marie Lipinski, Susan Smith Richardson, Vivian Schiller, Callie Schweitzer, Benet Wilson

Lady Leaders Lightning Talks

This powerhouse of a panel featured:

One by one, panelists shared lessons they learned, often the hard way, and “best advice.”

Some nuggets:

“It’s OK to say no.” – Holmes

Lipinski, on the other hand, said she had to train herself “to say yes” because when she was offered promotions, her initial reaction was that she wasn’t equipped to do the job. She also advocated that managers openly acknowledge both personal and professional passions (her family and journalism, in her case) because it “can humanize the leader.”

“If something scares you, it’s probably worth doing.” – Heron, who also said to “always negotiate,” something she learned after accepting her first job and realizing she had undersold herself.

“Expect resistance.” – Richardson

“It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” – Wilson


"Lady Leaders"  Power selfie

“Lady Leaders”
Power selfie

All Eyes On Ferguson, Mo.

Trymaine Lee of MSNBC

Trymaine Lee of MSNBC

This could not have been more timely. As this panel of reporters spoke about their experiences covering the anguish and racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo. following the police shooting of Michael Brown, confrontations flared up once more between citizens and police.

“There are so many stories like this across the country,” Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery said. “The story, frankly, isn’t about Michael Brown anymore. This is a deeper story.”

(In mid-August, Lowery unwittingly became part of the story  when Ferguson police arrested him and Ryan Reilly, a reporter for the Huffington Post.)

ONA produced a follow-up video with all of the panelists, who appear in the following order:

Claire Ward (Producer/Shooter Vice News) & David Carson (Photographer, St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Trymaine Lee (Reporter MSNBC) & Michel Martin (interviewer, NPR)

Wesley Lowery (Washington Post) & Mariah Stewart (freelancer covering Ferguson for Huffington Post and Beacon Reader)

Going Mobile: Best Practices for Staff and Students

This was probably the most relevant session for me as a college media adviser, and the timing was perfect: We’re about to launch The Beacon mobile app.

Mike Reilly, who teaches online journalism at Depaul University inspired me with a site his classes collaborate on,  The Red Line Project . It incorporates a lot of data visualizations, including Chicago homicides, an interactive map with local restaurant inspections, and the ChicagoStumbler, a beginning journalism class Tumblr mapping the city’s worst sidewalks.

redline project

My takeaway: Datawrapper is my new favorite digital tool.

The University of Oregon’s J-school was also well represented on this panel. Ass’t Prof. Ed Madison presented on OR Magazine, a slick, interactive iPad publication students produce in a class. I was intrigued with the workflow, which is more collaborative than assembly line style. Designers go out in the field with reporters and photographers, so it’s a team effort from the start. They also use social media extensively to create buzz around the stories.

OR magazine

UO’s Mark Blaine spoke about going beyond he-said-she-said journalism with the Climate Change Reporting Project. His key advice for digital projects: “Always use the simplest tool for the job.”

My takeaway: In pursuing projects like this, (or hiring for The Beacon), identify students who are highly motivated. Value ambition over skills.

This Storify has a lot more on this valuable session.

The Midway

One of the more interesting displays here was Gannett’s  Oculus Rift booth. The Des Moines Register experimented  with the virtual reality technology in a September interactive series called “Harvest of Change.” The headgear’s a bit clunky, but it was intriguing to consider the possible journalistic uses of virtually being on the scene of a story and getting more engaged with it as a result.

Lydia tries the Oculus Rift.

Lydia tries the Oculus Rift.

Start up your newsroom: Building your culture, your team and your products

I’m a big fan of  Vox, so it was fun to hear from Senior Project Manager/Executive Editor Melissa Bell. (“Have people enter a story from where they are.”)

She joined Re/Code’s Kara Swisher and Lara Setrakian, CEO of News Deeply and executive editor of Syria Deeply for a panel on startups.

Melissa Bell, Lara Setrakian, Kara Swisher

Topically, the conversation went all over the place.

Favorite quotes:

“Make sure we have one set objective…Having that clarity of mind allows you to move much faster.” – Bell on focus

“Do whatever you can to make people feel welcome.”- Bell on diversity in the workplace

“Are we surfacing new information? Are we tapping voices we haven’t heard from?”- Setrakian on adopting “a beat that fell off the news desk.”

“I hate bosses. I didn’t want to have to work for anybody.” -Swisher

And there was so much more…

Amy Webb

Amy Webb’s Top Ten Tech Trends in Journalism , the

Deep Dive into The New York Times Innovation Report, of which much has already been written and

Kelsey and Lydia’s Top Five Takeaways from #ONA14

Lydia and Kelsey with the famed Chicago Tribune building as a backdrop

Lydia and Kelsey with the famed Chicago Tribune building as a backdrop


1. Mobile mobile mobile. Consumers usually won’t come to our website; importance of going to them.

2. On that same note, send stories to sources / anyone who might be interested or tag on social media. The more other people share your content, the more views you’ll get.
3. Consumer as center of focus – what are her motivations, behaviors? How can we meet that? How can we create experiences that work for the consumer?
4. Brief iPhone video advice: have to be SUPER close to subject to get good sound, alternate wide shots, medium shots, and close shots, don’t have subject look at camera
5. KNIGHT LAB RESOURCES: <3 timelineJS, story map, audio tool
1. Get more diversity (in stories/voices/staff)
2. Read a story in multiple formats in various settings (to see how the user experience is different)
3. Send everyone you talk to for an article the finished piece (good relationships with sources)
4. Say “no” and say “yes” – “if something scares you it’s probably worth doing.” (know your limits but push yourself to do things outside your comfort zone)
5. Meet your audience where they are: instagram, cell phones, SNAPCHAT
(Nancy) From inspiration to reality…
There’s always a moment of truth, a bit of a comedown returning to campus after a conference like this. Inspiration! Ideas galore! So many cool things we could and will do! This week!
The challenge: incorporating ambitious new ideas with the day-to-day reality of training (and re-training) mostly inexperienced student journalists in the basics of reporting, writing, media literacy, visual journalism and ethics. Not to mention the mysteriously disappearing Google Doc (containing one of our most important stories), hiring new student reporters to replace the ones who quit suddenly, and motivating the  remaining fatigued staffers slogging through a full academic load, jobs, volunteer commitments and family obligations.
So we go step by step, one journalism experiment at a time, trying this and that. If it goes well, great. If not, I’ll think of what Washington Post Executive Producer & Senior Editor, Digital News Cory Haik said during the #FailFair panel: “Done is better than perfect.”
Bonus: ONA has linked to videos, slides and more from the conference here.
Sunrise in Chicago.

Sunrise in Chicago.

Lydia Laythe |


To be honest, the idea of talking about journalism for three days straight made me a little nervous. I’m a social work major. How could I have anything in common with 1,600 professional journalists.  But the truth is, there are issues that face everyone – as people – that don’t only exist in the social work realm or only in the journalistic realm.  The one issue that I gravitated towards during our time in Chicago was diversity.  Three of the many sessions I attended were directly related to diversity.  The panel discussion on Ferguson discussed many journalistic topics, but also touched on some racial issues.  The panel discussion titled “Lady Leaders Lightning Talk” addressed the issues of being a strong female leader in a predominantly male-led field. Lastly, the panel on diversity obviously discussed diversity: the tools employers can use to cultivate diversity and the importance of diversity itself.


“All Eyes on Ferguson”

"All Eyes on Ferguson" panel

“All Eyes on Ferguson”: Wesley Lowery, Trymaine Lee, Mariah Stewart, David Carson, Claire Ward and Michel Martin

The first session I attended was the panel on Ferguson, which was the first key note address of the conference. The discussion was REALLY interesting. Here are some of the best quotes that I took away from the discussion:

“He was armed with his blackness.” – Trymaine Lee on Mike Brown being unarmed.

“White Ferguson didn’t understand. For people of color, we know better than to wait (and say) ‘don’t worry, the legal system’s got our back.’” – Wesley Lowery about whites unaware of their privilege in trusting police/legal system.

“Moments like this, when the (racial) divide is so clear… we obviously have an issue with dialogue.” – Trymaine Lee about the lack of communication/understanding between white and black people.

Reflection on the first session:

So many thoughts came to me during this session. The first thing I noticed was that fact that the journalists of color commented more on the issues of race in their coverage, while the white journalists commented on the issues of national versus local coverage (avoiding the racial element of the issue).  And I think that’s a problem.  I think race is such an important issue that everyone needs to be aware of.  And I think it’s important (as journalists and human beings) to be aware of the way race might influence the way you cover a story, the connections you’ll have in a story, etc.  For example, the white male journalist (David) commented that the Ferguson police had complained to him about the riots.  Neither Wesley nor Trymaine (two black males) had commented about talking to the police – or getting honest confessions from them like David did.  So, my analysis of this was: because David was white, the officers felt more comfortable being honest with him.  I think being aware that your race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. might influence the responses you do (or do not) get from sources is important.

Also, I think Wesley and Trymaine really touched on some SERIOUS racial issues in the United States – how being black is reason enough to assume criminality and just how poor our conversations are about race in the U.S. We don’t talk about it nearly enough – and we don’t have enough white people joining to conversation to bring awareness to white privilege.  Again, this goes back to being aware of the privileges or disadvantages you might face given something you have no control over.


“Lady Leaders Lightning Talks”

"Lady Leaders Lightning Talks" panel

“Lady Leaders Lightning Talks”: Meredith Artley, Anna Holmes, Liz Heron, Ann Marie Lipinski, Susan Smith Richardson, Vivian Schiller, Callie Schweitzer and Benet Wilson.

The second session I want to talk about was “Lady Leaders Lightning Talks.” I thought this was another really wonderful discussion. There were eight really strong, confident, powerful women on stage talking about times they felt insecure, times they were confronted with sexism, and times they learned to be strong.  At the beginning of the session, the women were asked to go around and each say the best piece of advice they were ever given. I compiled their advice into one list:

Advice from Lady Leaders

  1. Say “no” (know your limitations; don’t feel obligated to always be accommodating)
  2. Say “yes” (don’t let fear or insecurity or other people hold you back)
  3. Negotiate
  4. Expect resistance
  5. Pass the ladder down (look out for other young women and help them in ways you wanted)
  6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
  7. Look at all the possibilities

A lot of the women had some really great quotes too:

My favorite: “The best piece of advice I ever got, I gave to myself.” – Anna Holmes

“It’s okay. You’ll make a lot of mistakes but you’ll make them out of love.” – Ann Marie Lipinski

“If something scares you, it’s probably worth doing.” – Liz Heron

“We’re not ladies, we’re journalists.” – Susan Smith Richardson

Reflection on the second session:

Women make up half the population. Women make up more than half the population of UP.  We make up almost all the population of The Beacon.  I don’t worry so much about female representation on The Beacon staff, but I do worry about the female representation in administration. I worry that the strong, intelligent, creative women in the newsroom may face discrimination in other places.  I think it’s important to have discussions about diversity, and I think that our experiences outside The Beacon are as important as our experiences within.  And I think that our experiences outside can influence our experiences within.  And I think it’s important to acknowledge that possibility and be willing to talk about it.  I hope that we can bring back an openness in the newsroom that allows for the honest sharing of thoughts, ideas, and experiences.


“Digital Diversity”

"Digital Diversity": Justin Ellis, Kim Bui, Mekahlo Medina and Danyel Smith.

“Digital Diversity”: Justin Ellis, Kim Bui, Mekahlo Medina and Danyel Smith.

The third session I want to talk about is the panel called “Digital Diversity,” and it focused on the employment end of incorporating diversity. The moderator, Justin Ellis, encouraged employers to strive for a newsroom like The Planeteers – diverse and representative.  And that was an idea that each presenter reiterated.  Here are some quotes from the discussion:

“Why is diversity important? – It’s the simplest and saddest question of all time.” – Justin Ellis

“If you look outside… it’s not mostly white.” – Kim Bui

“You can’t cover things in a just and fair way (without diversity).” – Kim Bui

“I hate that it’s my burden to be the diversity” – Kim Bui

“You have to talk to people.” – Danyel Smith

Reflection on the third session:

This session gave me a lot of energy and ideas about how to be a better Beacon, how to be more aware of diversity, and how to intentionally incorporate diversity into our newsroom/stories. The most exciting thought I had was: bring more diversity into the newsroom.   Invite students from Black Student Union, Gay Straight Partnership, Feminist Discussion group, etc. to serve as representatives to come to our Tuesday meetings and pitch ideas.  But not just pitch ideas, I want to ask students to also reflect on how they perceive The Beacon’s depiction of them (Do we accurately cover the issues facing all students/the students themselves?).  For example, is the only time we ever write about students from Hawaii is when they’re dancing in the quad at activities fair? Does that upset them/reduce them to only one aspect of their culture/being?  These are important questions to be asking and talking about. I’m really energized about this idea and I think it’d be a good way to be more aware of the diverse issues facing our diverse student body.


I think those three sessions covered three important topics – for journalists, for social workers, for human beings. And I’m excited to bring this knowledge and awareness back to The Beacon and use it to help promote discussions, honesty, and diversity.


The End

The Beacon has won two Gold Circle Awards and a Certificate of Merit from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, which is based at the Graduate School of Journalism of Columbia University in New York City.

philip award

Philip Ellefson Beacon News Editor

Philip Ellefson 

In the category of Editorial Writing, Philip Ellefson won Third Place for “RPP Hindered Vital Inclusion Discussions.”

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 5.48.06 PM

Megan Lester and Kelsey Thomas won Third Place in the News Feature category for “Nothing to Rave About.”

Megan Lester

Megan Lester

Kelsey Thomas

Kelsey Thomas


megan award

Lydia Laythe won a Certificate of Merit for news writing for “Chiles Incident Sparks Outrage.”

Lydia Laythe

Lydia Laythe



Congrats to all!

The College Media Association has announced The Beacon is one of four weekly newspapers nationwide in the running for a Pinnacle Award  for “Four-Year Weekly College Newspaper of the Year.” The other finalists are The Depaulia from Depaul University, The Lasso from Texas Woman’s University and The Vanderbilt Hustler. The winner will be announced at the National College Media Convention in Philadelphia next month.


First Place: Vanderbilt Hustler

Second Place: The Depaulia

Third Place: The Beacon


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