Hilltop on Hill2010

Twenty-one Journalism and Corporate Communications & Public Affairs students in Meadows School of the Arts are studying in Washington, D.C., this October for the Hilltop on the Hill 2010 program. The program is endowed by the Bauer Foundation for CCPA students wanting to study political communication on location in D.C. and at the political party conventions, the Presidential Inauguration and the G8 Economic Summit. The students spend five days in the nation’s capital, where they visit media and governmental sites and are briefed by policy analysts, political communicators and journalists.

History while it happens

An update from CJ, a CCPA major:

DC2.jpg During my time in Washington, D.C., for Hilltop on the Hill, I was exposed to so many wonderful connections and educational opportunities. One of the most influential experiences was visiting the Newseum.

(In photo, right: CCPA Assistant Professor Dan Schill with students at the Supreme Court.)

When walking past the front page of newspapers from every state in the United States and into the building, I was overwhelmed by the vast size of the facility. When I looked up, I saw six stories filled with exhibits, and hanging from the middle of the roof was a full-size news helicopter that appeared no larger than a toy.

As I began wandering through the Newseum, I was blown away by all the fascinating things to do and see. The most powerful exhibit was the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs gallery that displayed all of the winning pictures from history – some happy, some sad, but all of them moving. While I moved from picture to picture, it was hard to not get all choked up. I had the same problem at the September 11 exhibit, which even had the antenna from the top of one of the Twin Towers.

There were other memorial-type displays, such as Tim Russert’s complete office, untouched from the day he died and a tribute to all of the fallen journalists from around the world.

hilltop%20at%20NPR.jpg Other parts of the Newseum were more fun – like the free speech, Sports Illustrated photography and Elvis exhibits. A beautiful terrace on top of the building boasts one of the best views of Capitol Hill throughout the entire city.

The Newseum made me realize the importance of news in society. We would know so much less about our world and previous generations without news. It is the embodiment of our history and shows us where we come from.

It also made me realize how lucky we are to live in the United States and to have free press, unlike so many countries around the world.

(In photo: Hilltop on the Hill participants gather in National Public Radio’s Studio 4A, which will house 80 people reporting the midterm elections on election night.)

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Social media (or life after newspapers)

Roza.jpg An update from Roza, a sophomore CCPA and political science major:

Lately, the decline of newspaper readership has been a hot topic as many companies have announced revenue losses. Newspaper companies have been devastated by this unfortunate situation – loss of jobs, loss of revenue and, ultimately, it could mean loss of print news.

Many Americans also attribute the decline of newspaper readership to an uneducated youth. But there is a positive side to this unfortunate situation. Despite claims that the decline in newspaper readership means college students are apathetic about politics, my experience in Washington, D.C., has taught me the opposite.

In fact, the decline in newspaper readership is an indication of creative ways to reach college students. If I have learned anything by my experience in Washington, D.C., it’s the importance of social media taking over as the primary outlet for news.

Kristine Fitton, managing director of Glover Park Group, said, “Social media is the turning point for reaching college-age students.” Fitton is one of the many speakers on the Hill who emphasized the importance of social media to reach young adults.

Mike Feldman, founding partner of the Glover Park Group, has also moved beyond the conventional communication tools and instead utilizes films to “accelerate a conversation about issues.” He is the genius communicator behind movies such as “Blood Diamond” and an “An Inconvenient Truth,” which embed “a social campaign” to incite discussion about important issues.

Many of the speakers reiterated the message that social media will get college students interested and educated about politics. Although this may not bring relief to the newspaper companies that are losing revenue, at least we can be hopeful about the power of social media to excite college students about politics.

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Why journalism matters

Elizabeth.jpg An update from EJ, a journalism and political science major:

DC2010LibofCongress%5B1%5D.jpg When I tell people that I am a journalism major, I get a lot of different reactions – few of which, if any, are positive. Sometimes it’s, “Oh, interesting, what do you want to do with that?” or “Journalism, hmm … isn’t that kind of a dying field?” I’ve had people sarcastically wish me luck in ever finding a job.

(In photo: A visit to the Library of Congress.)

I have also had people tell me that journalism is just gossip or that the press can’t be trusted. Whatever negative thing has been said about the profession of journalism, rest assured I have heard it.

I chose to go into journalism because I am a storyteller. I have always wanted to be the person who tells everyone else what is going on, what happened, or what is going to happen. However, it is difficult to pursue a career that is not as respected as it should be.

I chose to participate in SMU’s Hilltop on the Hill program because I wanted to network. I wanted to go to CNN. I wanted to see D.C. None of those reasons ended up giving me the indelible experience that I have chosen to write about.

On the second day of the trip, we were scheduled to visit the Newseum, a museum of news history and journalism history. I was excited about seeing a museum filled with famous artifacts of my future profession, but I had little anticipation for anything more than seeing some cool old newspapers. I ended up getting an unexpected dose of something I didn’t know I desperately needed – pride.

Pride for my major, pride for my profession, pride for the thing that I have been laughed at and scorned for pursuing. The Newseum is a six-floor monument to the news; it is a testament to the people who throughout time have put aside everything to tell the world what is happening.

One of the first things I saw when I went through the Newseum was very personal, and initiated my journey through the museum. There was a room filled with newspaper front pages for nearly every year since the start of America to present day. Each year had three different front pages encased in glass. I was reading a few of them when I saw that one of them was from Texas, my home state.

It was the cover of the Telegraph and Texas Register from 1836, the year that Texas declared its independence and established itself as a republic. I am a 7th-generation Texan and a direct descendant of someone who fought at the Alamo, so when I saw this I started beaming. I realized that the history of where I am from, the history of who I am, was once news.

I would never have had the opportunity to learn about history if someone had not reported it during his or her time. I started to feel kinship with every journalist who had ever lived. I walked through the whole exhibit, reading paper headlines from World War II, prohibition, and hundreds of other major historical events.

These journalists did what they thought was right; they gathered information and reported to the people, even if it made them unpopular or put their lives in jeopardy.

I saw how journalists covered Katrina, 9/11 and the War in Afghanistan. I saw how journalists were responsible for keeping politicians honest; I read how reporters kept the public informed on matters of government they deserved to know about.

In the Newseum, there was a wall listing the names of journalists who had died covering stories. I was astounded. The list looked like a war memorial, and I instantly grieved for the fallen.

I walked the Newseum for nearly 2 hours. I took over 300 pictures while I was there. A simple visit to a museum ended up being the highlight of Hilltop on the Hill for me. In the future, if someone asks me what I’m going to do with my journalism degree, I’ll tell them I am going to write the first draft of history.


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Exploring the many sides of net neutrality

An update from Christina, a junior CCPA major with minors in business and psychology:

DC2010WhiteHouse%5B1%5D.jpg As we walked into the building that housed the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, I had very little idea that I would be discussing an issue that I would soon become deeply fascinated by and concerned with how it affected decisions in public policy.

(In photo: The White House by night.)

Net neutrality is a controversial topic that I acquainted myself with before the trip, or should I say, tried to acquaint myself. Only thing was that when I was researching it, I had a hard time really grasping the concept of what it meant to be pro net neutrality.

The first stop on the trip at Google clearly defined what net neutrality is and how it would affect Internet users. Net neutrality is basically allowing Internet users to use the Internet free of restrictions.

Rob Atkinson at ITIF engaged my thinking beyond the definition. Before our discussion with him, I had the chance to read up on some of his recent published articles. One article stood out completely: “Who’s Who in Internet Politics: A Taxonomy of Information.” This article went into depth about different subgroups of main players in IT politics – cyber-libertarians, social engineers, free marketers, moderates, moral conservatives, old economy regulators, tech companies and trade associations, and brick-and-mortars – and each player’s attitude about the Internet: individual empowerment vs. societal benefit and laissez-faire vs. government regulation. The dominant subgroup is composed of engineers who are on the government-regulation side of the spectrum.

Atkinson considers himself a moderate as a driving force for economic growth and social progress, and a “wonk” because he supports the side of an issue that allows for innovation and digital transformation while never limiting growth. I definitely got the impression that ITIF and, more specifically, Atkinson have a narrow and single focus on technology. Their ideology seemed to be mostly moderate centralism, where you really need to increase spending in technology without destabilizing economic support.

It’s hard to imagine that one day I will be able to originate such distinctive ideas about net neutrality or other political issues and have someone walk up to me and not only quote me, but also have a meaningful conversation about what it directly means to them.

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My generation: Making an impact

Elyn.jpg An update from E’Lyn, a journalism major:

During my wonderful experience in Washington, D.C., I’ve been reminded by every speaker that I’m at a perfect age to start my career. Finding a career after I graduate is something that’s been troubling me because of the decrease of jobs in broadcast journalism, the field I want to pursue. My trip with SMU’s most profound journalism and CCPA professors and students who share the same focus as me has challenged me to explore different career goals in Washington, D.C.

E%27lyn.jpgFrom the time I got off the plane to my moment walking up the steps of Capitol Hill, I have run into nothing but younger business professionals who look just like me. I think to myself, “I can work here, and this can be my life in the next two years.”

All of the SMU alums who work in Washington, D.C., said they interned in Washington and were offered a job after they graduated. Those remarks gave me more hope and influenced me to network even more.

(In photo: E’Lyn prepares to ask a question at a televised lecture at the Newseum.)

The SMU alums related their career as “falling into this.” They didn’t know where exactly they wanted to go; all they wanted was to work in Washington, D.C. Joe Lockhart, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, said that it is very exciting to get into this industry; the important thing you should do is find a voice and have something to say. He also said that if you are 25 or older, that is considered old for working in Washington, D.C.

I’m amazed to know that our policies and the ideas that help shape a better America come from people my age. The main point I take from this trip is that Washington, D.C., wants the younger generation to experience politics and the opportunity to be a part of shaping America.

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Remembering sacrifices

An update from Jieun, a senior CCPA major and political science minor:

The night we visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, an old Korean couple offered flowers to the silent sculpted solders. I remember their eyes full of gratitude for those who fought and devoted their lives to people in a country they never knew. “Freedom is not free,” as it is engraved at the memorial.

Jieun.jpg The 19 stainless-steel sculptures at the National Mall & Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C., represent 60,000 American soldiers’ sacrifices for the freedom of South Korea. We, the younger generation, do not remember and appreciate those sacrifices that brought us freedom of today.

Unfortunately, the Korean War between the South and North has never ended, and we might need another sacrifice to end this war. However, the reason that I could smile in this photo was my belief for the bright future in the Korean peninsula – the belief that one day South and North Korea will rise up from their wounded history as a one nation.

That night, we all smiled, waving both American and Korean flags as we remembered their sacrifices; appreciate the freedom that we all have today; and wait for the day that we finally end the war in the Korean peninsula.

(In photo: Students E’Lyn, Amie, Jieun and Gloria with a Korean tourist at the memorial.)

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So many career possibilities

Chris.jpg An update from Chris, a first-year CCPA major:

DC6.jpg My visit to D.C. has been extremely impactful in that it completely changed the way I will approach jobs and internships. One meeting with Mike Feldman, former senior adviser in the Clinton-Gore White House, was all it took to alter my career plans forever.

(In photo: Students with CCPA Professor Rita Kirk and Journalism Professor Carolyn Barta.)

Stepping into the bright offices of Glover Park Group, a top consulting agency in D.C., I found myself imagining what it would be like to work at this chic establishment. I imagined running around in a slick suit putting together advertisements, editing presentations and meeting with potential new clients.

It is a fantasy that I’m sure many of my fellow students share. And with solid grades, a few jobs behind the belt, and beaming letters of recommendation, why shouldn’t we get our dream jobs?

We are the generation of the future. Who else knows how to text on a Blackberry, surf the Internet, and listen to an Ipod at the same time? Multitasking at its finest. Yet I found that no matter how driven you are, rarely will you end up where you thought you would in D.C.

Sitting at the conference table waiting for our next speaker to appear, I was already thinking about how many years it would take me to reach my dream of becoming a creative director at a top-paying agency. And just as I was contemplating this, Mike Feldman walked into the room. This was a man who had been there and succeeded.

The story of how he got his first job was a surprising one in that he had actually walked into the wrong interview, and when he was hired subsequently, he got the wrong job. Although he did not get the job he wanted, he wouldn’t have gone as far as he has if he had not stepped outside his comfort zone and tried something new.

The main point in his speech was to not go into D.C. – or any job market, for that matter – and have one set career goal because rarely will your expectations meet what is actually going to happen. “Try anything” was the most important piece of advice he could give us. This was a point made by most of the speakers our group met with.

Alumni who wanted to work in politics and ended up in advertising, professionals who started out in children’s education and were now consultants in political firms – all had their career goals change.

In D.C., jobs are like a constant melting pot always in a state of flux. Positions are always opening and closing, and nothing is ever for sure. So it makes sense not to have only one job aspiration to live by, but to be willing to throw yourself into any open position.

Other advice included: Be prepared to do dirty work, such as cleaning up after a hard day or running errands, always ask whether someone needs help because it shows that you care; and be happy to be where you are even if it isn’t what you wanted or you’re not getting paid. And most important, be willing to try anything.

So even though I haven’t given up on my career goal, I am expanding my horizons and hoping that whatever internship I receive I will do to the best of my ability. Having an open mind and knowing there is no one way to getting what you want are keys to success. In the end, your career might not be where you thought it would be; it could be better!

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Reflections on the Vietnam War

Elizabeth.png An update from Elizabeth, an ethnic studies and pre-CCPA major, with minors in religious studies and Spanish:

It has been so exciting to travel to Washington, D.C., and to learn about all things politics.

The mall crawl we all went to was my favorite. I loved hearing about the history and importance of each monument. Just being there in person was surreal. One of my favorite monuments was that of the Vietnam War. Even though I have no personal connections through family to this war, I had no shortage of personal emotion. The way that this memorial is constructed definitely helps to send a powerful message to all who encounter it.

I was able to connect with the soldiers in different ways. I touched their names, touched the wall and saw my own reflection. It was powerful how I was able to see my reflection on the names of the soldiers; it sent me the message that this could be something that could happen to me.

The monument reminded me of the Iraq war. How was it that this horrible event came to be? How would I feel if a draft were initiated? It would be devastating; I wouldn’t want to lose any member of my family.

The memorial was life-changing. It made me look at things in a different light.

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Photography and rhetoric

Cecilia.jpg An update from Cecilia, a junior sociology and CCPA major:

We explored the Newseum in Washington, D.C., an interactive museum that shows important points of American history and the news media surrounding each moment. The last exhibit I visited was a collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos that would not allow me to forget them and left me in a contemplative, melancholy mood.

The oversized photographs, lighted by spotlights in the dim room, were the main focus. Some photos were action shots of people running for freedom or away from danger. Others held tension as the subjects were awaiting their doom.

Alone, each piece was exceptionally compelling and successfully captured raw human emotion. The images held shock value that drew me in and gave me the urge to want to know more about their stories.

The short captions beneath the photos gave me a little satisfaction about the history surrounding the event and amplified the impact of each photograph. The snippet of information divulged whether the subject survived or died a gruesome death seconds after the photo was shot.

Some captions also quoted the photographers and expressed what they were thinking or feeling in these moments of intensity. The information given for each photograph was vital for viewers to fully experience the exhibit.

For example, one black-and-white photo of a young woman falling with a building in the background may appear simple. Without the caption, the viewer wouldn’t know that the girl was attempting to escape the deadliest hotel fire in American history and plummeted to her death seconds after the photo was shot. The photograph was set at the Winecoff Hotel Fire in Atlanta, Ga., in 1946, a tragic fire in a building with no fire escapes, sprinklers or alarm system that ended in the deaths of 119 people.

This is one example of how photography and writing complement each other to provide a complete picture of life-changing events.

One of the most important lessons I took from experiencing the Newseum was the importance of rhetoric in journalism and how the most minute details – from the punctuation and grammar to the word choice – can alter the perception of the news. Even the captions beneath museum photographs have to be carefully written to give the correct message.

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D.C.: The coolest place to work, literally

Hilltop-Caroline.png An update from Caroline W, a sophomore CCPA major:

Hilltop2.jpgSince coming to college and being exposed to finding friends while simultaneously landing hard-to-come-by internships and jobs, I, too, have dreamed of pursuing occupation in D.C. after graduation. I had heard this city was a place filled with young people eager to make an impact and hungry for an opportunity to do so. I imagined a city of “Ameritocracy,” full of the best and brightest, where hard work allows for position mobility regardless of age.

After already spending several – and what feel like short – days here in the city on SMU’s Hilltop on the Hill program, I can attest that all of these seemingly ideal characteristics about D.C. are true. However, on this trip I have learned that there is an integral part of the equation that I was missing. What most caught me off guard about D.C. is what I have come to consider quite a significant piece of the success of its workers – the design of their workplaces.

(In photo, right: SMU students Caroline, Sarah and Ashley reach for the skies during Hilltop on the Hill. Below: Catching up on D.C. news.)

Our first stop on the agenda was the Google Office. Bright blue, red, yellow and green were everywhere, in an otherwise sleekly white space. Modern furniture, lighting and electronics filled the space; two kitchens (stocked with every kind of candy and snack food imaginable) and a cafeteria; a game room/ lounge with TVs, beanbags, ping-pong, foosball – you name it – all for just 30 people.

DC-politico.jpg A not-so-ordinary room of cubicles and offices that were totally see-through is where the employees actually work. The cubicle walls were extremely low, making the room seem open and relaxed, and hanging from above were dozens of colorful little paper lanterns. Space is hard to come by in D.C., so Google has reserved half of its office for parties, events, gatherings or for play – a huge open room surrounded by glass walls allowing you to look out on the city.

Why such the sweet digs? Frannie Wellings, Google’s federal policy outreach manager, referenced our age’s “Blackberry Culture,” in which we are constantly working. Employees stay late at the office, work on weekends, work at home and work from their Blackberry phones on the go. Since our generation is working significantly longer hours than others before us, why not make the office an enjoyable space?

Google and most other D.C. offices have it right – a creative environment cultivates creative ideas. Washington, D.C., has said goodbye to the office space that I expected – formal, traditional, corporate, and bland – and has said hello to the new and more effective (and dare I say fun) work environment.

Check out a video tour of Google’s D.C. office here.

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