This July, eighteen Goshen students will step into the role of full-pledged journalists as they don press badges, notepads, and cameras.
As part of Religious Journalism, a half-semester course completed in February, students will travel to Pittsburgh, Pa. to form the staff of mPress, a daily newspaper distributed throughout Mennonite Church USA conventions. Mennonite convention is a biennial event that allows Mennonites from across the country to gather in community and vote on delegate issues throughout a week’s worth of events.
Mennonite Convention 2011 will take place July 4 to 9 in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center located in the center of Pittsburgh. During this week, the mPress team will be in charge of publishing four newspapers that chronicle the week’s events and happenings. The staff works on the paper all day and distributes it in the mornings to convention attendees. A corresponding Web site containing pictures and extra articles will also be frequently updated. The staff will work from their own press room and follow an 8 a.m. to midnight reporting schedule.
The creation of mPress started in 2001 at the Nashville, Tenn. convention when a team of Goshen students formed a nightly broadcast called “mVision.” Duane Stoltzfus, a professor of communication, was attending the convention and noticed the excellent reporting the students were doing. He wondered if Goshen students could form a newspaper throughout the convention to produce similar reporting but in print form. After talking to the convention director, the dream for a newspaper was eagerly approved.
The first mPress issue was published at the following convention at Charlotte, N.C. in 2003. Since then, mPress has reported in Atlanta, Ga. in 2005 and Columbus, Ohio in 2009. Stoltzfus has led each team with the help of Rachel Lapp Whitt, also a professor of communication.
This year’s staff consists of eighteen students. Additional staff beyond Stoltzfus and Lapp Whitt will include Tyler Klassen, a photographer for The Elkhart Truth, Rebecca Helmuth, a designer for The Mennonite magazine, editors from The Mennonite and The Mennonite Weekly Review, and Michael Sherer, director of ITS.
Typically, mPress has consisted of several pages of print, containing sections for news, features, funnies and pictures. The paper also holds fun traditions such as “Top 10,” in which convention attendees can submit answers to a prompted category. Last convention, responses to the category for “Top 10 Songs Michael Jackson Never Wrote About Mennonites” were “Menno Jean,” “Menno in the Mirror,” and “Beat it (Into Plowshares).” This summer, mPress hopes to continue these traditions while also looking into recording podcasts that people can download and listen to.
In preparation for July, the mPress staff met for six weeks in a class called Religious Journalism, led by Stoltzfus. Students practiced writing stories, listened to guest speakers associated with the Mennonite Church, and became acquainted with the city of Pittsburgh. Though the class is prepared for a week of fun, they also understand that the week will involve intense reporting and time constraints.
“Under personal challenges, I'd say sleep deprivation. The paper is usually 'put to bed' at midnight, but we stay up later to proofread. And then our news meeting rolls around at 8 the next morning. The nights are short and the days intense,” said Stoltzfus.
Still, mPress holds a range of exciting opportunities for its staff. Some are simply excited to be at their first convention.
“I anticipate seeing large numbers of people coming together to strengthen and seek out their faith. How do Mennonites gather and what is important to them beyond what I see in Goshen? I want to hear the stories of the people who have traveled halfway across the country, around the block, or from out of the country,” said Natasha Weisenback, a first-year who plans to work on layout and writing stories at her first convention.
Others look forward to approaching journalism from a faith perspective.
Ben Sutter, a sophomore who will be writing stories and working on the Web site, said, “mPress is a great opportunity to explore working in church media. It's a great place for writers and journalists in the church to come together and work hard together."
"The rewards are many. It's always satisfying to see a team of student journalists rise to the professional challenge of producing news on deadline for an audience of 6,000 or more," said Stoltzfus.
Pittsburgh 2011 will follow the theme of “Bridges to the Cross.” If a Goshen student isinterested in volunteering with the children’s program for free lodging and meals, contact CarolE@MennoniteUSA.org. To view past mPress papers and to follow Pittsburgh mPress articles this July, go to http://blog.goshen.edu/mpress.