December 07, 2012 | David Urban

Through a local partnership, Calvin's student newspaper gives its writers more experience and a bigger platform for their writing.

The feed for The Rapidian, Grand Rapids’ self-described “hyperlocal” online citizen journalism news source, is busier thanks to a recently established partnership between The Rapidian and Chimes, Calvin College’s student newspaper.

This partnership encourages Calvin student writers to cross-post relevant articles from Chimes onto The Rapidian, an arrangement that gives students the opportunity to revise and republish their work for a more general Grand Rapids area audience.

A bigger platform

Students seeking to cross-post their articles generally select pieces of interest to the broader Grand Rapids area, often modifying or clarifying elements that were geared toward their original Calvin audience.  Student articles submitted for cross-posting are then copyedited by an editorial mentor assigned by The Rapidian and promptly published.  All Calvin students who participate in this partnership are registered as citizen reporters with The Rapidian.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for both Chimes and The Rapidian,”said Calvin senior Abby Zwart.  “Chimes writers get their work published in a really reputable and visible online source, and community members who read The Rapidian get to hear the student voice in a city that is surrounded by colleges.”

The partnership was established through the efforts of Chimes editor-in-chief, Abby Zwart, Chelsea LaForge, The Rapidian’s former community engagement specialist and Holly Bechiri ’98, The Rapidian’s managing editor. Renato Delos Reyes, The Rapidian’s new community engagement specialist, is working to develop the partnership.

Both LaForge and Bechiri said that encouraging contributions from Calvin student writers fits with The Rapidian’s commitment to be, in Bechiri’s words, “a platform where all voices have a place.”

Pressing into the community

Bechiri also pointed out the professional benefits The Rapidian offers student writers.

“The great thing about publishing on The Rapidian is that it creates a place to showcase a portfolio of writing on a respected news source, something outside one's own college paper,” Bechiri said. “This is becoming more and more necessary, even before graduation, for those who want to build a career in journalism. People want to see that you have had experience in the ‘real world,’ and they want to see what you can do. The Rapidian is a great way to do that while getting some mentorship and assistance along the way.”

The partnership comes at a fortuitous time in Chimes’ development.  This September, Chimes expanded its online presence to update its content three times a week.  Under the leadership of online editor Ryan Struyk, this updating quickly began to take place even more often, with articles being published regularly throughout the week, just hours after writers submit them.

The Calvin junior said that Chimes’ increased online activity makes cross-posting articles onto The Rapidian a convenient and efficient process.

“Because we’re posting articles so often at Chimes, we’re able to post those articles on The Rapidian site in a time-sensitive way too,” said Struyk. “We’re able to expand our audience from the Calvin community to the broader Grand Rapids community.”

The cross-posting arrangement has also been aided by Chimes’ recent expansion of local news coverage.  Because The Rapidian reports solely on events occurring in or directly pertaining to Grand Rapids and its surrounding area, students reporting on local area happenings for Chimes can generally cross-post their articles to The Rapidian with minimal adjustment.

But while most of the Chimes articles cross-posted thus far come from Chimes’ local news section—including articles on Eastown businesses, coffee houses and ministries, a downtown brewery, the uptown Grand Rapids Holiday Shop Hop, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Urban Family Ministries, the Christmas tree lighting at downtown Rosa Parks ice rink and last month’s 76th  district Michigan state house election—other articles cover Calvin student and alumni efforts and awards in film, music, business, overseas education, philanthropy and socially-conscious art as well as Calvin’s historic fall 2012 sports season.  

Gaining experience, honing skills

Calvin student journalists who publish in The Rapidian have expressed appreciation for the forum the news source offers them as they develop as writers.

“I see writing for The Rapidian [as] a step toward an actual journalism job—it’s not as safe as writing for Chimes,” said senior Josh DeLacy, a fourth-year Chimes reporter.

“The expectations—and the stakes—seem higher for Rapidian articles. So a journalism career seems more feasible through this cooperation, when I can see my writing published in a non-Calvin context, and that is a very inspiring feeling. . . . And, obviously, cross-posting my articles on The Rapidian looks better on a resume.”

Junior Kyle Rodriguez, Chimes’ lead campus news editor, said that writing for The Rapidian pushed him to aim for a higher level of journalistic professionalism.

“Being able to publish my work in The Rapidian was great for me,” Rodriguez said. “I got a sense of accomplishment publishing in a respected local news outlet that was very different from my previous experience of blogging and writing for Chimes. Knowing that it would be published in such a form also kept me motivated to do my best work throughout the entire piece.”

Senior Ryan Hagerman recently began an internship at The Rapidian and he says that working with the Grand Rapids news source has deepened his appreciation for and involvement in the city and what it offers.

“Writing for The Rapidian has been great because it has encouraged me to go out into Grand Rapids and see what is happening in the city,” Hagerman said. “I feel much more connected to the community of Grand Rapids now.”

Hagerman also said that his work for The Rapidian has helped him develop his skills as a journalist.

“Writing for The Rapidian has also helped me be more confident in interviews,” he said. “I am better at asking for interviews and know how to ask better questions that get to the center of the story.”

Senior Brittany Beezhold is an Eastown resident who has published four articles in The Rapidian discussing Eastown businesses. Like Hagerman, she sees Chimes’ partnership with The Rapidian as a great way for Calvin students to experience, understand and appreciate Grand Rapids while developing themselves professionally.

“I am enthusiastic about the concept of Calvin students becoming more involved with the community outside the perimeter of Calvin’s campus,” Beezhold said. “The partnership between Chimes and The Rapidian is a grand opportunity for students to become more involved and invested in their communities while building a repertoire of solid, published articles.”

David V. Urban is a professor in the Calvin English department.  Many of the articles mentioned in this article were written by students taking his Basic Journalism course.  He is a reporter and editor for The Rapidian.

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