Journey through journalism: Flint Hills Publication Workshop trains up the next generation of journalists

John Walter, assistant director of Collegian Media Group, thanks the advisers and students from high schools across Kansas for attending the Flint Hills Publication Workshop during the closing remarks on Tuesday, July 16. (Rachel Hogan | Collegian Media Group)

Nothing shouts “camp” more like tennis shoes, shorts and bright bandanas adorning ponytails, wrists and bags. Throw cameras and notepads into the mix and the scene is set for this year’s Flint Hills Publications Workshop at Kansas State.

From Sunday through Tuesday, sixty high school students from nineteen different schools convened on campus to learn more about the world of media and journalism. Six high school journalism advisers from three states also attended the three-day workshop to develop their skills as educators.

“This is the largest group that we’ve had in probably at least the last five years,” John Walter, assistant director of Collegian Media Group, said. “So we’ve seen a big jump in interest and students who want to come and improve their journalism skills.”

Students learned about specific focuses in journalism through their chosen tracks: storytelling, leadership, photojournalism, sports reporting, drone/video and visual communications/design. Time spent in workshops was interspersed with fun activities like bowling, a water balloon fight and an ice cream social.

Katelyn Foster, a writer and editor for the Horizon yearbook at Blue Valley Northwest High School, attended the workshop as part of the storytelling track. Over the course of three days, Foster and her classmates in the track wrote three full articles, reviewing and cementing the fundamentals of what makes a story strong.

“It was a good refresher for me to be able to take that to my staff to teach all the new people,” Foster said.

Foster also won the title of MVP among her peers in her track.

On Monday, KCTV5 News reporter and K-State alumna Caroline Sweeney presented the camp’s first keynote speech, in which she shared the steps for how students can get their feet wet and try new things in journalism. One place to start: try to write a story about a topic that interests you.

“So when I think about the story that I want to pitch at KCTV5, I think about what interests me, what makes me want to asks questions, what makes me want to know more, and what makes me go, ‘Wait, what?'” Sweeney said. “‘What did she just say? What was that thing I just saw?’ … Mostly because, in this day and age, that’s what people want. They want things that make them think a little bit.”

From an axe-throwing woman’s close call to a dog rescuer who stole her car back from a thief, Sweeney shared several stories that go beyond typical news coverage. As Sweeney relayed in snack terms to the students, the fun, fluffy stories are like Reese’s, but sometimes you need to snack on the granola, too: stories with importance, like skyrocketing taxes in Jackson County, Missouri.

But where should aspiring journalists start when they are following a story? Sweeney’s advice: Find a character.

“Find your character, find the thing or the person that the story’s going to center around,” Sweeney said. “Get that done first, interview them, find those sound bites, find what makes them interesting and and then everything will kind of pull out from there.”

During the closing remarks and awards ceremony on Tuesday, Steven Smethers, interim director for the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, invited the students to return to K-State.

“One of the things that I want to ask you is to not let this be the last that we see of you,” Smethers said.

Rachel Hogan contributed to this article.

I'm Dene Dryden, and I graduated in May 2020 with a Bachelor's of Arts in English. Before graduating, I worked at the Collegian for more than three years as a copy chief, managing editor and editor-in-chief. I also served a term on the Collegian Media Group Board of Directors. While at K-State, I also worked at Wildcat 91.1 FM. My cat Robyn is the light of my life, and I take compliments in the form of coffee.