Nearly two weeks into the spring semester and Lindsey Gomez hasn’t sat through a single lecture on the University of Oklahoma campus or cracked a textbook in the library. Instead, the 19-year-old opted for a much more hands-on start to her semester: She's spending 16 days on the campaign trail.
The junior journalism major joined 13 other Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication students in covering the U.S. presidential campaign from Des Moines, Iowa. The team of reporters is focused on the millennial impact of the 2016 Election leading up to the Iowa caucuses Feb. 1. The student journalists are posting stories that not only run on Gaylord College's online magazine Oklahoma Routes, but on the Huffington Post and HuffPost Pollster.
Covering national political news from dawn to dusk with little time to rest might turn off some reporters, but for Gomez, it's been the experience of a lifetime.
“I wake up at 5:30, go swimming, get a shower, eat breakfast, get ready, go to the newsroom, make a game plan for the day, and then we just roll,” she said. “Sometimes our days end around 6 and you get to go to dinner, or sometimes our day ends at midnight and you don’t get to eat all day. Then you’re back up at 5:30 to do it again. It’s very stressful. It really is, but honestly, it’s worth it.”
Gomez, who aspires to be a local TV reporter upon graduation, has created packages that have appeared on Telemundo Oklahoma and KOCO 5 News, in addition to her work on Huffington Post.
“There’s no way to explain it; when I saw that package go up on Channel 5, I never in my life thought at the age of 19 that I would get one of my stories on a local channel like KOCO,” Gomez said. “Getting on the Huffington Post is cool, too. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It really is.”
The millennial impact
Students got their pick of presidential candidates to cover, and Gomez, a Democrat, chose former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She thought back to a rally she attended at the University of Iowa Jan. 21 in which pop star Demi Lovato attempted to pump up the crowd before Clinton’s speech.
Gomez focused her reporting that night on the millennial impact by interviewing students and other millennials in attendance.
“The young Iowans were not very happy about it,” she said. “(Clinton) was up on stage for about two minutes, and they weren’t really excited that Demi sang. They wanted to hear what Clinton had to say.”
Page Jones, a junior public relations major and news managing editor of the OU Daily, has been covering Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina. She’s published stories like “Women's Rights not a Topic Discussed by Some Presidential Candidates” and “Ted Cruz's Citizenship Not a Problem Among Millennials.”
“My focus is about the lack of women represented and women’s issues being represented in the campaign right now,” Jones said. “And so for that story, I used two Iowa students as sources and got their perspectives and their thoughts on the issues, letting their voices be heard.”
John Schmeltzer, OU journalism professor and former political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, said a millennial angle was an easy choice for the #OUCovers16 program. He pointed to a strong reaction from millennials leading up to the 2008 election of President Barack Obama and surprisingly disproportionate millennial turnout on Election Day.
Schmeltzer said millennials don’t feel they’re getting adequate attention from political candidates and the media. OU students, now broadcasting to a national audience, needed to put millennials and their concerns at the forefront.
“Lots of people are out there covering the horse race of the caucuses and the primary and the election,” Schmeltzer said. “We didn’t need to do that; we needed to go and have a focus on the issues confronting the nation’s largest generation.”
A leg up
Jones, who wants to pursue a career in online news, hopes the experience she’s gained in Iowa will put her closer to a career she’s passionate about once she leaves OU.
“Having the Huffington Post on your resume definitely does catch people's eye,” she said.
As the semester evolves, plans call for one student to go to New Hampshire for the Feb. 9 primary, two students to cover the primary in South Carolina in Feb. 20 and all to be involved during the month of February covering the campaigns of those 10 candidates in Oklahoma and Texas leading up to Super Tuesday on March 1.
Plans also are in the works for the students to write a book that compiles their experiences and lessons learned in Iowa. They would work alongside a professional writing professor at OU to tell their stories and publish the book.
The students have chronicled many of their experiences through live-tweeting events, Instagram posts, Facebook updates and Periscope videos. The students have been featured on the Universidad de Oklahoma Facebook page, and Aimee Schnebeck, a broadcast journalism junior, has even taken over the official University of Oklahoma Instagram account to share her experiences this week.
Hello! My name is Aimee Schnebeck. I am a broadcast journalism junior in @gaylordcollege and currently covering the 2016 #IowaCaucus for the @huffingtonpost! Today I'll be sharing a bit about what #OUCovers16 is all about and feel free to check the link in the profile to read the work I'll be discussing. #BoomerSooner #OUIGStudentTakeover #OUCovers16
The challenge now, Schmeltzer said, is finding an opportunity along the same caliber to offer the next round of journalism students, and then the next, and then the next. The Iowa coverage has created so much buzz around Oklahoma, several local media groups and other organizations have reached out to Gaylord College to create partnerships.
Having covered a presidential race for a national news website, the team of students will likely have an advantage when it comes to applying for more internships and landing their first jobs upon graduation, Schmeltzer predicted.
“All these clips and all the stuff for their broadcast reel … it’s just going to be phenomenal,” he said. “I know that the people who come out of this are going to be more prepared for a career in journalism than the people who didn’t go through this, and that’s the difference.”
The #OUCovers16 program came together through the work of journalism faculty John Schmeltzer and Mike Boettcher with assistance from Keith Gaddie, chair of OU’s political science department.
Media who wish to pursue this story or who want more information can contact John Schmeltzer at email@example.com.