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Writers at Work: On the Beacon Hill Beat

COM’s Statehouse Program puts reporters in the action

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There’s no better education than experience itself, particularly when it comes to reporting the news. This week, BU Today takes a look at two College of Communication courses that get students out of the classroom and into the action: the Boston University Massachusetts Statehouse Program and the Boston University Washington D.C., Journalism Program.

Three days a week, Rachel Kolokoff wanders through the maze-like corridors of the Massachusetts Statehouse armed with a reporter’s notebook, a digital recorder, and a ballpoint pen. She spends her mornings interviewing Massachusetts lawmakers for the Eagle-Tribune, which serves the Merrimack Valley area of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

A second-semester graduate student studying in the Boston University Massachusetts Statehouse Program, Kolokoff (CAS’07, COM’09) has come a long way since January. “The first time I went to shake a senator’s hand, I was so nervous that I shook his wrist,” she says.

These days, she isn’t so easily intimidated. By now, she’s interviewed more than a dozen Massachusetts legislators and has published 15 stories. “I have a much better handle on politicians now,” she says. “I’ve learned that if I want a question answered, I generally have to ask it more than once.”

Founded in 2004 by Fred Bayles, an associate professor of journalism in the College of Communication and a former Associated Press and USA Today reporter, the 12-credit Statehouse Program offers graduate and undergraduate students a semester-long opportunity to work as Statehouse correspondents for 16 Massachusetts daily newspapers. Collectively, students publish between 200 and 250 stories each semester. The experience helps them make the transition from classroom to newsroom and prepares them for reporting jobs at dailies after graduation. “I guarantee my students that by the end of the semester they will be better, faster, and more concise writers,” Bayles says.

The benefits work both ways: by providing local angles for newspapers that otherwise would use wire copy, Statehouse Program reporters are doing Massachusetts readers a great service, says Neil Mirochnick (COM’08), who writes for the Enterprise in Brockton, Mass. “Wire services do a fine job,” he says, “but they do it in very general terms, and the stories never say how the issues affect individual towns.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu. Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

This story originally ran April 10, 2008. 

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