How The Tab Trains Student Journalists To Be Digital First

    by Tory Russo
    September 27, 2017
    The Tab's student journalists cover 38 college campuses in the United States.

    Taylor Palmby, a senior and editor of the Tab at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, happened to be in New York for editorial training last summer when the sculpture of a naked Donald Trump appeared in Union Square. Although the art work was quickly removed, she arrived in time to chat with some bystanders, which led to landing an interview with the statue’s creator, Ginger.

    “I think there are a lot of technical skills that are really important, and you can learn them, but I think applying them is the most important thing,” Palmby says. “So getting involved with an organization like the Tab and actually doing it, instead of sitting in a classroom, I think is the most important.”

    "Being digital first means a lot more than publishing your stories and your videos on the internet." - Editor Joshi Herrmann

    The Tab’s editorial team includes 42 staff members and a network of thousands of student journalists located at 80 universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. When student editors from the Tab travel from their campuses to the publication’s offices in New York and London, respectively, they receive training on topics like online reporting, web sleuthing in online communities, and telling stories in innovative ways. Then they put those skills into action.


    The Tab, which covers “youth culture and student culture,” recently received $6 million in funding from investors including News Corp. and Knight Foundation. “Knight is very focused on that audience engagement to build trust in the media, and that’s our overlap with the Tab,” says Julia Abelkop, manager of the Knight Enterprise Fund, which funds new forms of digital media.

    Training student journalists

    Since the beginning of 2017, the Tab has trained more than 50 student editors in both its New York and London offices. Because of travel expenses, only editors participate in onsite training. But the Tab also provides internship opportunities, presentations for student editors to share with their writers, and a Facebook group that includes content like live video chats with industry experts, says editor-in-chief Joshi Herrmann.

    To make more information available to all of their contributors, Herrmann and his team are creating an online portal integrated with the Tab’s content management system that will allow reporters to access a trove of resources on topics from characteristics of high-performing content to headline writing, all developed from data the Tab collects its journalists and audience.


    Similar to the editor training sessions, the portal will have lessons followed by practical application, an area where Herrmann finds traditional education lacking. “You have to teach them and then immediately apply it, otherwise it won’t build up any personal meaning for them and it won’t be valuably taught,” Herrmann says.

    A digital world

    Herrmann emphasizes that one of the Tab’s main goals is about training its contributors to report well, but especially to report in a digital and engaging way. Valuable digital skills include the ability to tell stories, verify stories, and get those to an audience, so they’re receiving legitimate information. His advice for aspiring journalists is find an organization, whether that’s the Tab, a campus newspaper, or a local media outlet, that gives writers a chance to express themselves, an ability to learn and experiment and guidance on digital reporting.

    “Being digital first means a lot more than publishing your stories and your videos on the internet. It means having a mindset that is entirely online and that means writing things in a style that people engage with online,” Herrmann says. “It means reporting online, as in finding stories online, making certain parts of the internet that you find interesting your patch, as if you’re a local newspaper based in a geographic area.”

    Herrmann points to the Tab contributor who broke the story of Malia Obama’s decision to attend Harvard. He saw the buzz around a photo of Malia in a Harvard shirt, given only to accepted students. He verified the claim and published an exclusive story. The White House confirmed it the following morning. Herrmann contributes the achievement to the writer being plugged into the right internet community.

    Experiential Learning

    Tab editor Palmby says she’s learned more from real-world experience gained by working with the Tab’s staff than in her journalism courses. Now she knows how to spot stories, as well as make stories out of a piece of information or an experience that might not seem newsworthy, she says. That knowledge helped Palmby identify a series of Snaps that became the “UW Snapchat Love Story” and assign it to a writer on her staff. That student-centered editorial judgment is what makes the Tab special, Palmby says: “By students, for students, with some support from the outside.”

    She’s currently working on a story about a high-profile rape case that required some assistance from Herrmann. He’s helped her with more traditional reporting aspects like filing Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] requests and finding live sources to discuss their experiences with this sensitive topic.

    “It’s so much more than just the Tab. I think that they’re really just trying to create a generation of journalists that are really well-educated and really well-versed in the media,” Palmby says. “And that’s something I’m really thankful for: the experiences, the connections, and having a mentor to help me along my way in this ever-changing media industry.”

    Tory Russo is a freelance writer and editor based in Central New York.

    Tagged: digital first journalism education journalism school student journalism the tab university of wisconsin

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