3 Programs, One Goal: Experience
By: Rebecca Dudgeon
The room was buzzing on Thursday afternoon. The space outside Seneca’s gymnasium had transformed from a multicultural buffet into a formal business setting. Tables were wiped down. Chairs were set up. Extension cords were taped to the floor. The lighting was checked. Press kits were picked up. Lanyards were put on. Public Relations – Corporate Communications (PR), Journalism, and Broadcasting TV students were about to begin running, attending, and filming their first, although mock, press conference.
While the PR students were rehearsing speeches, running through the program, and giving the venue a once-over, the Journalism students were awaiting their first crack at getting to ask the hard questions. “Being here right now is kind of scary,” said Journalism student Ebony Nicholas, sitting in the front row. Journalism classmate Disha Melwani chimed in, “I’ve never been before so I’m kind of excited.” At the back of the venue, Broadcast TV students were setting up their gear, getting ready to film and record the whole conference. “I haven’t done anything like this before,” said Scott Chillingworth, a Broadcast TV student. “I think this is good for getting hands-on experience.”
Experience is exactly what the professors behind the press conference want their students to walk away with after it concludes. Glenn Heshka, a professor in the Broadcast TV program, says that this exercise allows students to see how the experience will play out in the real world. “There is no norm in this business,” he says. “You need to expect the unexpected and be ready for anything. It’s an educational view that you can’t really get any other way.”
A professor in the Journalism program, Bill Hutchison solidifies the need for experience when entering the workforce. “It can be really intimidating for new journalists to attend a press conference and ask questions. Here, they learn to be bolder and better with questions.”
During the press conference, Professor Heshka softly walked around while checking on his students, adjusting their placement and grip on the booms and cameras. The PR student speaking at the podium remained focused as the camera sat inches from their face and the booms hovered above them. Professor Hutchison, sitting in the row behind his students, leaned forward every so often to whisper something that they needed to pay attention to or take note of. When the PR students opened up the conference for questions, the Broadcast TV students still working quietly in the foreground, the Journalism students, encouraged by their professor, began to ask questions. Passing the microphone back and forth, the PR students on the panel fielded controversial and specific questions, referring back to their key messages and goals for the conference. When the MC spoke his closing remarks, the press conference concluded. It was a first time experience and a victory, all in one.
As the event was cleaned up, I ran to catch the Journalism students before they left, asking what they thought about the conference. “We got to put [the PR students] on the spot,” said Jardel Ebuka, grinning. “They really didn’t want to answer our questions.” “It was fun,” added Andrew Hormiz, “but it comes to a point where you keep asking the same questions.”
When I asked the PR students what they thought, their reviews ran in a similar vein. Mark Nardi, the PR student who organized the conference, said “that it was like organized chaos right until the event concluded.” “I learned more about media relations in this one week than I did over the entirety of my university career,” he added. Ran Luo, although he didn’t speak at the conference, believed it was still really useful for his future in PR. He said that “sitting and listening as part of the audience gave [him] an up-and- close glimpse of the dynamic between PR professionals and journalists.”
If the Broadcast TV, Journalism, and PR students got anything out of Thursday’s press conference, it was experience. It was busy, overwhelming, and a bit scary. But that’s the best way to learn, according to Public Relations – Corporate Communications Program Coordinator Jeff Roach. “Learning occurs when you have to do it,” he says. If learning includes answering and asking difficult questions, setting up lighting, taking directions, and working as a team, then the students from these three programs are well on their way.
Rebecca Dudgeon holds an Honours degree in English and Political Science from the University of Guelph. She is currently studying Public Relations – Corporate Communications at Seneca College. She likes breakfast for dinner and rereading her favourite books.