Robert Hooker’s public affairs reporting class at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus is making Gulfport’s city hall it’s “learning lab.”
The 12 students taught by the St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay Times veteran were taken on a field trip to a city council meeting earlier in the semester to see “democracy in action” according to Hooker, who is working as an adjunct professor at the school.
“Sam [Henderson, Gulfport’s mayor] gave us an overview of the city and how it works, and everyone had to write a news story on the trip,” Hooker said.
The student’s next assignment was to write three more stories, but one of them had to be related to Gulfport.
“I had students write about Lincoln Cemetery,” Hooker said. The professor also said proudly that he gets some of his student’s writing published in the Tampa Bay Times as well as the Tampa Tribune.
Regarding the Lincoln Cemetery story, Hooker said, “We scooped the Times with that article. [The Gabber] was first, we were second, and the Times was third.”
Hooker got the student’s story published by the Tribune before the Times could print their own.
Of the council-as-learning-lab, Hooker said that the “creative tension of council can be a good lesson that sometimes democracy can be contentious.”
That “creative tension” and more is why Hooker brought his class to study journalism in Gulfport.
“It’s such a charming community and laid back,” Hooker said.
Student Ivelliam Caballo says she has enjoyed the class and is happy to have first-hand journalism experience.
“You’re learning real-world journalism stuff,” Caballo said. “It helped me realize that reporters today have to do everything.”
For one of the assignments, students had to shadow a journalist. Caballo shadowed the Time’s Tony Marrero and went along to the protests during the latest Donald Trump rally at USF in Tampa.
“I wanted to take this because I wasn’t sure if I could handle an internship in the spring,” Caballo said, “so I wanted something to prepare me.”
Reporting student Jeffrey Zinker chose the propsed Osgood Point bike trail as his Gulfport subject and is also in the process of profiling Councilmember Yolanda Roman.
“It’s a good experience,” Zinker said about the class. Zinker also shadowed a news reporter from Channel 10. His most surprising discovery?
“Journalists do their own camera work now,” he said. “There’s not always someone else behind it.”