By: Mollie Lastovica
With cameras flashing in their faces and reporters directing questions toward them at rapid speed, members of the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership XIII experienced the real-life scenario of a press conference during their media training workshop on July 11. The reporters? Students enrolled in the summer media writing I course, AGCJ 203.
Senior Lecturer, Deborah Dunsford, PhD., was contacted by Extension Assistant for the TALL and SALE-LE Program, Lauren Bergin, to coordinate the mock conference after Bergin participated in a similar workshop run by ALEC in the spring.
“ALEC did such a great job and I thought this was a training both TALL and SALE-LE could really benefit from,” Bergin says.
For Dunsford, giving agricultural communications and journalism students the chance to witness what goes in to a press conference, on both ends, is an experience that will be valuable to those students in the future.
“It gives students the chance to understand how a news conference works and how to ask questions,” Dunsford says. “They get to see both sides of a conference and while they are on this side today, they could be the spokespeople next time.”
The TALL participants were divided into groups and given a hot-button agricultural issue to discuss. They had two minutes to prepare and were brought back into the room to be interrogated. The student reporters applied the interviewing skills they have learned in AGCJ 203, taught by ALEC doctoral student Holli Leggette, and asked many controversial questions that often surface when discussing agricultural issues.
“We have learned in media writing to be persistent when wanting to get information and to build off of previous questions,” agricultural communications and journalism senior, Jacquelyn Matthews says. “This experience certainly gives me a better idea of what to expect in a news conference and honestly makes me excited for future ones that I can be a part of.”
The TALL program is a competitive leadership development program designed for men and women in all sectors of agriculture who are in the initial stages of their leadership careers. Bergin notes how the media training was mutually beneficial for students and TALL members.
“The TALL members were really required to step outside of their comfort zone during this media training,” Bergin says. “Not only were they forced to speak in front of a crowd of people they have never met, but they were required to work together as a team with individuals they barely know. It was a learning experience for both parties involved.”
Kelley Sullivan is a TALL member who represents beef cattle production. After concluding her mock conference, she was confident that the experience will help her and her fellow TALL members in the long-run.
“You are always going to have people who are not properly informed in these situations,” Sullivan says. “You have to be prepared to answer questions in a way that is easy to understand with facts to back up your response. Always be prepared. You are here to educate people.”
Students are also confident that this hands-on learning experience will better prepare them for the real world after graduation, especially those who aim to stay involved in communications or agriculture.
“Seeing adults who are veterans of the industry and how they dealt with questions was helpful,” Matthews says. “It was interesting to see who held their composure and how some individuals dealt with being flustered by some of our questions. One or more of the topics discussed will surely come up again for anyone involved in an agricultural job setting. It just comes with the territory.”