In conjunction with The Tennessean and WSMV, Belmont will be hosting two mayoral debates this summer and as the city’s debate headquarters, Belmont students will lead the efforts to officially introduce Nashville to its new mayor. Through its partnership, Belmont selected seven students who will each follow one candidate, review a recent interview and write a piece to be published in the Tennessean prior to the debates.
Participating students have been tasked with producing short pieces that will outline their candidate, review and analyze how their platforms will affect young Nashvillians and ask questions as millennials soon entering the workforce. In the end, this “millennials write for millennials” format will produce easily digestible pieces for young voters to review. When debate time rolls around, these seven students will have the chance to ask questions of the candidates.
Sophomore political science major McLean Pillon said he was excited about the opportunity to get involved with this project and have concrete experience in his field. As a student, learning in the classroom is important, but it’s the hands-on experiences that bring material to life. “Employers are not just looking for classroom experience. They wish to see applicants who are battle-tested and ready for the professional world,” Pillion said. “Belmont has greatly aided in my professional development through opportunities such as these.”
Tennessean Opinion Engagement Editor (and leader for the students’ project) David Plazas said the news outlet is thrilled to have the students on board, as efforts to connect and engage with millennials, especially during voting season, continue to increase. Before coming to the Tennessean Plazas worked with students each year and found great success in having them on board; joining efforts with the Belmont students has been no different.
“Millennials’ demographic size, embrace of digital tools and cultural significance cannot be overlooked. This was an opportunity to build awareness and encourage civic behavior by working with millennials’ peers. This is a group that wants to live in the city core, that wants to ride public transit and that values green space. Millennials have stake in this election for their own economic futures,” Plazas said.
Kirk Bado, Belmont sophomore journalism major and project head, said he is grateful to the newspaper for inviting this involvement as students are always looking for more and more opportunities to gain new skills. “We are a bunch of 19- 20-year old students and we are going to be published in the Tennessean. How good does that look? And it’s so funny because David keeps thanking us for what we are doing, but really, we could not thank him enough,” Bado said.
Project Faculty Advisor and Belmont Media Studies Chair Thom Storey said the opportunity for students to spend time in a cross-disciplined learning lab like this one is unmatched and something that doesn’t come around often. “The Tennessean deserves a big thank you for identifying the role of millennials in the future of this city, and for allowing a group of talented politically savvy Belmont students to help in the process.”
In addition to the pithy pieces, the students will record and produce a 90-second podcast to accompany their stories, offering another option for information consumption. “Our research shows that podcasting is a growing medium for storytelling. In addition to offering added value to readers, it also gives students experience with writing and editing scripts and learning to report for the ear (concisely, precisely and clearly),” Plazas said.
During the experience, students were invited to visit the Tennessean, join in on a news meeting and experience life as a journalist. During their visit, Plazas described the importance of keeping stories short and catchy, as the average reader will spend only 15 seconds on a given article. Plazas also passed along a word of caution to the journalists-in-training, saying that with social media and smart phones, everyone is a reporter, but what sets the pros apart from the crowd is their accuracy and verification. Taking care to tell the story right, not necessarily first, can make or break a career.
Tickets for both the May 21 and June 18 debates will be available beginning on April 15 and can be reserved at Belmont’s Box Office by calling (615) 460-8500.