Writing students practice interviewing at Capitol press conference

State officials and experts gathered at the Capitol to help LSC students practice interviewing and writing by being part of a press conference just for the students. Students in LSC 111: Science and Technology Newswriting got to interview the assistant state veterinarian about avian flu in the mock press conference.

Students and experts gathered in a room in the Capitol on Monday, Oct. 5 for a mock press conference. LSC students asked the assistant state veterinarian questions about avian flu.

The Oct. 5 press conference was conducted just like a real press conference that reporters would attend at the Capitol. Department of Life Sciences Communication senior lecturer Mike Flaherty organized for assistant state veterinarian Darlene Konkle to announce the state’s latest actions to combat avian flu, a devastating new strain that has badly damaged Wisconsin’s poultry industry. The issue is an important one that has affected Wisconsin in the past. Those involved said the opportunity was really a win-win for everyone.

“The students asked great and engaging questions and this is such a great way to utilize a class like this,” Konkle said. “These types of things are always helpful for me too because I get to practice working with the media.”

Konkle announced that avian flu had been found in Dane County and then students asked questions in order to write a news story for Flaherty’s class. Their stories needed to communicate the multiple animal and human dimensions of the issue, such as biosafety practices for bird owners and also the fact that poultry, if cooked properly, is safe to eat.

LSC senior Danielle Voellinger asks a question about how avian flu will affect Wisconsin’s economy during the press conference.

“This was definitely a unique experience and I don’t know where else I would get something like this,” said Danielle Voellinger, an LSC senior with a minor in environmental studies. “This is a great professional experience and we really got a chance to understand the style of note taking and even just our role in a press conference.”

Flaherty interjected with helpful comments for his students during the press conference. He discussed the importance of quoting and sourcing accurately and how quality writing includes background information like statistics. Flaherty is a seasoned journalist and, along with lecturing for LSC, is currently president of his own public policy communications and public relations firm.

“I just find that real life professional experiences expose the students to the broader world,” said Flaherty, whose numerous professional connections made the mock press conference with state experts at the Capitol possible. “This is what it looks like from the reporters’ eyes. It’s great to help them understand how to translate technical language into a story a broader audience can understand.”