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Capital News Service launches year-round operation during its 25th year

Dec 16, 2019

Posted in: News

By Alix Bryan, Instructor

Group photo of the inaugural Fall CNS classThe Fall 2019 Capital News Service.

In its 25th year of operation, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service capstone class launched a fall course -- and just in time to cover a historic General Assembly election.

The inaugural class, led by Assistant Professor Karen McIntyre and instructors Alix Bryan and Veronica Garabelli, had 12 students who filed reports for the over 100 news organizations throughout Virginia that subscribe to the CNS wire. In the spring students cover the General Assembly session; fall will focus on the elections -- which are held annually in the commonwealth.

“In both seasons students get a real newsroom experience and the opportunity to publish in state and national outlets,” McIntyre said, who previously taught the course with Associate Professor Jeff South. “Offering a fall course is great because it gives students the opportunity to take the course year round, and it also provides more content to our clients throughout the state.”

Students stayed busy. All 140 seats in the state legislature were up for reelection, in addition to local races. Democrats were hoping to again ride into the state Capitol on the “blue wave” from 2017, and so with such high stakes, there was a lot of money to track and forums to cover.

Students filed stories on redistricting, which changed the outcome for several key House races in the state. Candidates like Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, don’t usually hit the campaign trail but this election were much more visible in the community. CNS students covered numerous debates, for both House and Senate candidates. And they also tackled key issues impacting state residents and the hot topics in the upcoming General Assembly, such as hemp production, ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment and the removal of Confederate monuments.

Several students helped track and produce reports on the millions in donations that flowed into the state, and where it was being spent. They also tracked voter registration, absentee ballots and Election Day turnout. In a collaborative effort, students filed a collegiate-centered Election Day guide based on college get-out-the-vote efforts throughout the state.

CNS student Jason Boleman described CNS this semester as a “great experience.” Boleman said he plans to take this course once again in the spring, and two other students have signed up to repeat the class and continue building on their experience.

“All of my professors have been greatly helpful and I feel that I have learned more in this class than I have in any other class I've taken in the Robertson School,” Boleman said. “Plus, getting to pick up an actual newspaper with my byline in it is such a great feeling.”

CNS students moved well over 100 stories, with contributions from South’s data journalism course and instructor Mary Ann Owen’s capstone reporting course. On Election Day night, CNS students, along with South and Bryan’s graduate classes, ran a newsroom to cover the election results. Students hit the polls throughout Central Virginia, starting at 9 a.m., and wrapped up with watch parties in the evening.

“The highlight of my semester was seeing the students in action on election night,” McIntyre said. “Everyone came together and worked hard until 2 a.m. I think students experienced the thrill of political reporting that night. Plus, there was pizza.”

The newsroom was buzzing well past 2 a.m., with reporters filing stories as results came in and covering the breaking news on multiple platforms to reach followers.

“Students know CNS is going to be grueling,” McIntyre said. “But they also know it's going to be worth it.”

CNS resumes this spring as students will cover the 2020 General Session.