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Jun 24, 2013

Working with Pulitzer pros

Breeze editors pose for photo at Philadelphia Inquirer
Breeze editors pose for photo during their working visit at the "Philadelphia Inquirer."

When Jeff Gammage was a news editor at The Breeze, he relished the times he got to interact with professionals.

There was Frosty Landon, then the top editor at the Roanoke Times, who critiqued the student paper and mentored students during several days in 1982. And there was famed Washington Post Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, whom Breeze students met during a convention in Miami.

Now, 31 years after he became an alumni, Gammage ('82) is a Pulitzer-winning pro, and students who wouldn't be born for a decade after he graduated are the ones reaping rewards from his mentoring.

Their most recent interaction: a three-day stay in Philadelphia for four Breeze editors who witnessed daily life at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where Gammage is a reporter.

The three days were all about the news, giving students the chance to interact with reporters working on stories about the U.S. Open (which was being held right outside the city) and developments in a building collapse that killed six people. Students also observed the newspaper's morning and afternoon planning meetings, where lively discussions ensued about how best to get U.S. Open news on the web site and on mobile devices, relevant issues in today's rapidly changing media landscape.

Top editor Bill Marimow, himself a Pulitzer winner several times over, spent about 90 minutes with the students on the first day, relaying lessons from his decades at media organizations such as The Baltimore Sun and NPR. And social media director Dan Rubin spent an hour showing the young journalists how Twitter and Facebook are changing the way newspapers tell stories.

Breeze sports editor Wayne Epps Jr., a sophomore, went on the field trip of his budding career the second day of the trip when Inquirer sports reporter Mike Jensen let Epps trail along while covering Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open. That had Epps finding his way from downtown Philly to nearby Merion via train, a logistical challenge that proved worthwhile. "It was great getting a first-hand view of how a major newspaper is run," Epps said. "This trip was an invaluable opportunity."

While Epps was on the golf course, Breeze photo editor Lauren Gordon was with Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish, himself a Pulitzer winner, as he photographed Flag Day festivities near Independence Hall and a firefighter's portrait for a feature story. And Breeze news editor Liz Dsurney was with Sue Snyder for a University of Pennsylvania board of trustees meeting, something she says was valuable as she covers JMU's board of visitors and other higher-ed issues.

The final day of the trip had students brunching and networking at the Gammage home with four of Gammage's friends from various media ventures.

It all happened because Gammage believes in the value of real-world experiences for students, particularly in journalism. He credits his own interactions with pros and the real-world experiences he had at The Breeze with launching his professional newspaper career. Before the June trip, Gammage had already spent three days at JMU in the fall, holding mentoring sessions with editors, teaching a few School of Media Arts and Design classes and holding a public address about his Pulitzer-winning work on violence in Philadelphia city schools.

After spending time in Harrisonburg, he thought it'd be good to have the students join him in the city he covers. The June trip was the result.

Gammage noted that JMU welcomes alumni involvement with current students. "It's really exciting to have young people here learning about potential careers and meeting professionals in the field," he says.

Breeze editor Sean Cassidy, a junior, said the trip was an inspiring way to prepare for the coming academic year, when he and the staff he leads will publish 55 newspaper editions, almost 10 special sections, a quarterly lifestyles magazine and a website.

"Connecting with Jeff Gammage has been really rewarding for us," he said.

Real-world experiences like these of our "Breeze" editors are just one way that JMU offers students big-school opportunities with a small-school feel. Schedule a campus visit and learn more.