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NewsCraft workshop for students to celebrate SMJC centennial anniversary


As part of the centennial celebration for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Drake SJMC held a ‘NewsCraft: Reimagining the future of local news’ workshop on Feb. 22. 

The workshop, which focused on the concept of design thinking in innovation, was facilitated by the co-founders of the local startup Bonfire Strategy. 

“Bonfire is a company that helps other organizations come up with breakthrough ideas,” co-founder Lisa Rossi said. “We work with higher education, nonprofits, community leadership, and we use a process of design thinking, google methodology, as well as expertise from play to help people reach breakthrough ideas, as opposed to what’s already been done.”

The idea for the company came when Rossi and co-founder Nathan Groepper were both journalists working for the Des Moines Register. 

“I think Nathan and I have been collaborating for a long time, we used to work in the media industry together, and this company is a result of an ongoing conversation we’ve had about how to make ideas better and how to bring more creativity to the workplace,” Rossi said. “It directly relates to experiences we’ve had where we’ve thought ‘why is it this hard and it could be better?’ This company is our story living out in real life.”

Rossi and Groepper were contacted by SJMC Dean Kathleen Richardson, who wanted to hold an event commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the school. 

“She knew the anniversary was coming up and she knew she wanted to do something different, so she came to us,” Groepper said. “We threw a whole bunch of stuff at her and some of it was better than others, and it took a little while for us to say, ‘Okay, this is the right thing.’”

Ultimately, they decided to hold a workshop focusing not on the past, but on the future–and what strategies can help launch students into the future of journalism. 

“I think the first conversation we had about this was about a year ago. And eventually we arrived at ‘let’s make things. Instead of looking back, let’s look forward,’” Groepper said. “You could have a hundred year anniversary and talk about all the famous graduates and that kind of stuff, but I love it so much that she said, ‘No no, let’s not do that. This is a really interesting time for journalism and media, so let’s look forward.’”

Though the pair have conducted similar workshops before, they customized their approach for Drake students. 

“Nathan and I plan these down to the minute. We have a document called a ‘run of show’ that makes sure every moment flows to every moment, to both create good ideas but also to leave people with a meaningful experience,” Rossi said. “We’re pulling from experience at Stanford, experience Nathan has working at a marketing agency in Pennsylvania, and we’re all doing it with deep knowledge we’ve gained through observations and interviews with students from Drake.”

CJ Younger was one of the students who attended, and said the workshop reminded her that design is ultimately a human process.

“It completely changed how I think about design. I always thought of it as a very technological, analytical process, but this workshop showed me that good design is, at its essence, human,” Younger said. “It was so refreshing to just go crazy and be creative for once instead of feeling the intense pressure of deadlines or expectations, and I would love to do it again.”

Groepper said he hopes students took away a new perspective on the world around them. 

“I think it’s really about, I hope they take away thinking about themselves a little bit,” Groepper said. “That’s one of the things we notice, that people walk out and they’re thinking about their own worlds a little differently.”

According to Groepper, his and Rossi’s start in journalism helped them in their current career. 

“Both of us, one of the reasons I loved journalism, it allowed us to be endlessly curious. And I think for what we do when we kind of do innovation consulting, having that curiosity is a great place to start from if you’re trying to come up with something new,” Groepper said. “If you don’t know the answer, being curious or asking questions is a good place to start. So we started with that in journalism and definitely drug that over into the other stuff we do now.”

However, whatever field students go into, Rossi said her ultimate advice is to pursue a passion and turn it into change.

“My advice for students is to capture what brings you passion, what you think is fun and what you have questions about and chase after that, as opposed to what you’re supposed to do,” Rossi said. “I want to see students from Drake building change that deeply relates to their own beliefs and own values.”

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