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Politics and Government

Presidential Election Provides Real World Assignment For Budding Penn State Journalists

With political campaigning in full swing, at least one class at Penn State is taking advantage of this year’s elections as a teachable moment.

Penn State professor Russ Eshleman reported on elections for 15 years with the Philadelphia Inquirer. So it was a no-brainer for him to make this year’s election the focus of his Reporting Methods class. During a recent class, he had residents of Foxdale Village retirement community come in to be interviewed by his students.

“The idea is to talk to you about sort of your political life,” Eshleman said. “From your earliest memories of voting as a young person…up until now. If you want to talk about Donald Trump or Jeb Bush or Bernie Sanders or whoever, that’s great too.”

Students with notebooks full of questions sit across from about a dozen Foxdale residents in their 70s and 80s. The assignment for the students is to create a Q & A article from their conversation. Some are scribbling in notebooks. Others type away on laptops.

Lilliana De Ciantis sits on the floor next to Oliver Goodman as she interviews him. De Ciantis is a senior studying print journalism.

Goodman is a lifelong Republican who’s being a bit cagey about who he plans to vote for this time.

“I have a pretty good idea,” Goodman said. “But there are still some people I want to watch as we move toward it.

De Ciantis never does get a name out of him.

A few chairs down, but -- politically -- miles away, Helen Roback is being interviewed by Kerri Del Collo. Roback says she plans to vote for Hillary Clinton.

“I do plan to vote for her,” Roback said. “Not because she’s a woman. I like the fact that she is a woman and I would like to see that happen. But I would vote for her because she can start to work on day one. She really has to me the best knowledge of how to run a government as complex as our government is.”

Del Collo is just starting to get interested in politics since this is the first presidential election where she’ll be old enough to vote.

Kathy Cappelli is a junior studying Journalism and Geography. She says she’s getting a lot out of her interview.

“Obviously, everyone in this room has a lot of knowledge and experience that we haven’t gotten to yet,” Cappelli said. “And hearing some of the stories Albert’s been coming out with has been pretty entertaining and very informative.”

Cappelli is excited to vote in her first election this year too. Though she’s not as excited about the available candidates. She said she’ll probably vote for Hillary Clinton as “the least of all of the evils.”

Janae Hudson is a senior studying broadcast journalism.  Her family is divided on the candidates and she hasn’t decided yet.

“My grandmother she likes Hillary. My mother she likes Bernie Sanders,” said Hudson. “And me, I don’t really like anyone.”

Later in the semester, the students will do stories on campaign finance reports and voter registration figures.

There’ll be a mock press conference too.

Eshleman says it’s important students get some experience covering elections, even if they plan to report on sports or education or some other beat that isn’t politics.

“During an election season in a big year, oftentimes it’s all hands on deck,” said Eshleman. “There’s a lot of candidates. There’s a lot of races. You know you’re going to get thrown into it.”

Eshleman plans to take his summer class to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. 

Today, Eshleman just hopes they learned a little bit about how to do a face-to-face interview.

“The whole idea is to show them how much more they can get by sitting across from a person and chatting,” Eshleman said. “Now the proof in the pudding will be when I see what they can write from it.”

I’m Emily Reddy, WPSU.  

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