Bypassing traditional spring break, FMU students visit Atlanta to observe hands-on journalism

By JaConna Brooker, Mass Communication major at Francis Marion University

FMU trip trio of students
The Francis Marion University trio included, from the left, JaConna Brooker, Brandon Rybak and Michelle Carter. (Photo by David Baxley)

While many college students were heading to the beach, three Francis Marion University mass communication majors decided to devote their 2018 spring break to investigating their future in journalism by visiting three media outlets and one public relations firm in Atlanta, Georgia. The trio visited CNN Headquarters, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), WGCL-CBS46 Atlanta and and Anna Ruth Public Relations firm.

The FMU students’ trip was made possible through a REAL grant from the university. The REAL program funds non-traditional learning experiences at Francis Marion University.

“I hope our students use this trip as motivation for learning even more about their chosen field. Whether it’s public relations, print journalism or broadcast news, you must have a passion for what you do. I saw our students’ eyes light up on the trip, said David Baxley, assistant professor of mass communication at FMU who accompanied the students on this trip through the grant program.

David Baxley
David Baxley

“I believe it sparked their curiosity even more. The students gained great exposure to real-world experiences during our trip. We’re thankful to the REAL grant committee for funding this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our mass communication students,” he said.

Baxley also said he hoped the trip was fun but also educational as they gained knowledge in their respective fields and exposed students to the day-to-day operations of various companies. The trip gave students an opportunity to better understand their coursework from the classroom and bridge it with real-life work experiences, he said.

FMU trip Tracy Brown AJC tour
Francis Marion University students visit the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during their spring break. The building tour was given by Tracy Brown (in brown dress), AJC’s deputy managing editor. (Photo by David Baxley)

The students first toured the AJC newspaper, Atlanta’s metropolitan newspaper, to listen to how print journalism continues to rapidly change. One example mentioned by their AJC tour guide, Tracy Brown, AJC’s deputy managing editor, was how the newspaper has implemented changes in order to attract younger readers. She said AJC is incorporating podcasts and adapting a more mobile-friendly theme into the paper.

Along with this discussion, Brown also said potential employment opportunities for students fresh out of college will be students who possess skills in technology while using social media and also the ability to attract new readership.

FMU CNN building
CNN Headquarters is located at the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta. (Photo by David Baxley)

One of the largest news organization in the world, CNN Headquarters, was the students’ next visit in Atlanta. It gave the students a chance to see how CNN operates. The FMU students received a VIP tour behind the scenes. They witnessed different CNN productions, learned about the history of CNN, and the many different cable stations connected to it, such as HLN and CNN Español.

Next, the group visited WGCL-Channel 46, Atlanta’s CBS affiliate. Ashley Thompson, a multi-media journalist for the station, led the students through the technical aspects of newscast productions. Thompson also introduced the students to anchors and staff who took time to explain their position. Students watched the live production of the noon newscast from the studio.

FMU trip at CBS 46 one
While on tour of CBS46 Atlanta, the FMU students stop and talk to Executive Producer Howard Dorsey in the newsroom. From the left, Michelle Carter, JaConna Brooker, Brandon Rybak, CBS 46 Multi-media journalist Ashley Thompson and Dorsey. (Photo by David Baxley)

The last company visited during their trip was the Anna Ruth Public Relations firm. They met with Jennifer Blackburn, senior account manager. She gave some advice to the students who are considering a career in public relations.

Jennifer Blackburn
Jennifer Blackburn

There is value in having a connection with your coworkers and clients in order to be successful in the field and build credibility, said Blackburn. In addition, she said it was important to understand the clients you work with because of the varying personalities.

Part of most public relations jobs might include pitching information to the media. If so, she said in certain cases, the message from a public relations professional to news reporters must be effective.

Brandon Rybak, a senior mass communication major in the public relations track, said visiting the firm opened his eyes to what all is involved in public relations.

FMU trip and PR firm 2
Anna Ruth Public Relations Firm’s Business Operations Manager Josh Winkles, along with FMU Professor Kay Packett and students visiting, review the logos of the firm’s clients. (Photo by David Baxley)

Blackburn said students need to understand the difference between an in-house or an out-of-house public relations specialist to determine which area of PR they might want to pursue. It is also important to be well-versed in digital skills in public relations, she said.

Michelle Carter, junior mass communication major in the public relations track, said she was immersed during this trip with potential employment areas in print, broadcast and public relations. She said opportunities for students, like the ones on the Atlanta trip, are rare.

Kay Packett, assistant professor of mass communication, also accompanied students on the media exploration trip to Atlanta.


FMU Anna Pratt
Kay Packett

“It’s so important for our students to visit major media markets like New York, Washington and Atlanta, where they see mass communication in action in a big way. They always come home motivated and inspired, with a whole new appreciation of what they’re learning in the classroom. These students spent a lot of time with working professionals in journalism and public relations, and I think it was an eye-opening experience,” Packett said.



JaConner Brooker mug
JaConna Brooker

JaConna Brooker is a mass communication major at Francis Marion University. She reports on the trip of FMU students who visited Atlanta during their spring break. She is from Hardeeville, South Carolina. 


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