SPJ Student Chapter Revived at UT Austin

February 4, 2015

After five years of inactivity, the Society of Professional Journalists Austin Student Chapter relaunched with its first meeting on Tuesday, kicking off the new semester with a presentation by guest speaker Brenda Salinas, producer of KUT’s The Texas Standard.

Last fall, first-year journalism student Charlotte Burnod saw that there was no current student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the University of Texas and sought to revive the inactive organization by working with its former faculty adviser, journalism professor Bob Jensen.

Once again the student chapter’s faculty adviser, Jensen is optimistic about the types of programming and events that will come out of this group of students.

“They saw the value in having a group that could help journalism students network and explore career options,” he said. “These students have a lot of energy and good ideas.”

Burnod first became involved in the organization by discovering the professional chapter in her hometown of Houston and attending some of their events. Professional chapters of the society such as the one in Houston often host events like panel discussions, movie screenings and more.

“It was a really great way for me to meet all different types of journalists,” she said. “I just really like the atmosphere it created.”

The group of officers and members of the new student chapter makes for a diverse journalistic environment, including students with a wide range of experience and focus.

In addition to the opportunity to connect with fellow journalists from different backgrounds, the Society of Professional Journalists provides career-building and networking resources to members, which is especially valuable to young journalism students hoping to break into the industry. Cindy Ng, an exchange student from Hong Kong majoring in Communications Studies, wants to start a journalism career in the United States.

“I’m trying to have connections with more industry people to help me look for jobs,” Ng said at her first meeting. “I want some experience to better prepare myself to get into the industry.”

Salinas’ message and Q&A session on Tuesday focused on a “learn by doing” approach to the journalism industry and her experiences from a fellowship at National Public Radio that led to her success in the news radio business. Her story offered helpful advice about internships and real-world experience in an uncertain and changing profession to the group of journalism students gathered at the society’s first meeting.

The Society of Professional Journalists promotes excellent and ethically sound journalistic practices. There are over 200 registered chapters, 134 of which are student-run chapters in universities such as Baylor University, Texas State and Columbia University. Up until its discontinuation in 2009, there was a long-standing professional chapter located in Austin; similarly, the UT student chapter disbanded in 2010 when its officers graduated without new members.

In the upcoming semester, while the new student chapter continues to reach out to more students in order to grow into a successful organization, the officers are planning more events, such as Storytelling with J-School Professors, scheduled for Thursday, February 26.

“I’m really excited to hear from journalism professors about their experiences reporting in the field,” Burnod said. “We’re still in the works, but we’re planning a few other great events that I can’t wait for later this semester.”

The society is open to all students interested in journalism, and Burnod encourages everyone who wants to learn more, regardless of major or college, to come try it out. Meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

“I really hope this will be a great way to foster a sense of community within all the journalism students here at UT, whether you’re interested in media, print, broadcast or radio,” she said. “I hope this is a great resource for students to come together and share our passion about journalism.”

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