I’ll never forget the day I read that one of the big network news outlets was closing many of their foreign news bureaus. They no longer felt the need to staff an office in Paris, or even Cairo. Why? Thanks to changes in technology they could have one or two reporters do the work of 15 to 20. It’s called “backpack journalism” or “one-man banding.”
Gone are the days of the editor, producer, reporter and camera man all being separate jobs. Journalists today can expect to do it all. Oh, and while they’re at it, they often have to write a print version of their story to go online with the finished video, as well as be the master of promoting their work on social media.
In an effort to keep my Blue Jay Journal TV students current, I decided about five years ago to include a backpack assignment. All staff members are expected to produce a story alone during their second semester on staff.
Megan Freitag started Blue Jay Journal TV during the spring of her sophomore year. She is currently a senior and just wrapped up her second backpack assignment.
Freitag feels backpack stories, “really teach student journalists how to do everything to put a story together. You have to do it all on your own. You can’t depend on anyone else to pick up your slack because it is your story.” Megan also added the experience helped her feel more confident in her reporting skills.
Here’s Megan’s story she did titled “Make a Wish”:
Shannon Belsher, junior, just finished her first backpack story and agreed with Megan that it is a huge confidence builder. “This is your opportunity to learn and grow on your own. I gained a massive amount of confidence by completing my first backpack story.”
Beyond building confidence, producing a story alone can make a staff stronger by helping them find a new appreciation for working in a team.
Camron Shipley is much like Megan in that he is a senior wrapping up his second backpack story.
“Backpack stories teach me how important a team is. I realized just how much I had come to rely on my team members and I need to be someone they can rely on, too. I need to help them as much as they help me,” Shipley said.
As their adviser, my eyes aren’t just on how the backpack story helps them in the here and the now, I am asking myself constantly, “How will this prepare my students for the future?”
One of my former students, Christie Nicks, is now an anchor and reporter at Fox39 in Rockford, Illinois. No stranger to the one-man-band scenario, she was one of the first students at the University of Missouri to use a mobile backpack for a live report.
Just last week when we were talking about her career this very subject came up. To illustrate the importance of knowing how to do it all, I shared a recent clip of Christie both anchoring and doing a backpack story with my students. (If you would like to share this with your students, feel free to:
So, let’s say you’re nervous about implementing a project of this nature, I totally understand your fears. What if it’s too much pressure? What if they fail? Yes, I have had a few students in tears and I have had a few fail. It isn’t always a perfect process, but regardless of the finished product, all of my students say they have learned many lessons from the experience. And, it’s helping prepare them for that “real world” we talk to them about often. If you haven’t tried it yet, consider having your students do a backpack story, too.