Tatiana Solomon strode down the halls of the College of Southern Nevada’s North Las Vegas Campus main building, notepad and pen in hand.
She looked at groups of students studying at tables, most using laptops and headphones. She spied a table of headphone-less students and approached. She introduced herself as a reporter from Coyote Student News, the online newspaper at CSN. She was working on an article and wanted to ask them questions
The students agreed.
Solomon asked if they knew about the President Donald Trump-Russia investigation and what the extent of their knowledge was. As the students described their recollection of that day’s headlines, she took notes.
Solomon, 30, is a student in News Production I, the class that produces the online newspaper. The newspaper turned 5 in October.
That day’s work was one of several “on-the-ground” reporting assignments that students would participate in for the fall term. The journalists-in-training polled 100 students and wrote an article summarizing how much (or little) their peers knew about the ongoing Russia investigation.
Professor Jennifer Mitchell gave the college newspaper new life when she arrived 5½ years ago and helped retool the journalism program. That included developing new courses and moving the college’s print newspaper online at coyotestudentnews.com. Since starting, Mitchell estimates she has taught about 130 students; some pursued careers in journalism.
Mitchell’s course covers the creation of a news article. First, students pitch story ideas to her. For Coyote Student News, it has to pertain to one of CSN’s three main campuses in Henderson, the southwest valley or North Las Vegas, or its satellite learning centers.
“Even if students want to cover citywide topics, they have to drive it home to proximity and our primary readership here at CSN,” Mitchell said.
Then there are ethics.
“I hold my students to an incredibly high standard of ethics and factuality,” Mitchell said. “In terms of the type of journalists that I hope to train, I want them to be very ethical.”
That means her students must introduce themselves as reporters when they approach an interview subject, make sure they’re clear about being on the record and provide evidence for everything they write.
“I think it’s so important for them to learn how to write facts,” Mitchell said. “Everybody can write opinion. But how do you write facts and prove it?”
For that day’s assignment, Mitchell wouldn’t let her students source from other news outlets. She wanted her students to read the indictment themselves. One student wanted to cite a study about why students may or may not pay attention to politics and news. Mitchell made her find a peer-reviewed study from a recognized research institution.
“It’s a little different from other college newspapers where the students are left kind of alone,” Mitchell said. After students turn in assignments, she spends about an hour and a half with each student in an editing session.
“Sometimes it’s the pitfalls and the issues … maybe the sourcing isn’t very strong,” she said. “Maybe they didn’t get enough sourcing to make a substantive piece.”
If a piece makes it through the editing process, Mitchell will publish it on the website.She said becoming an online-only publication was the right decision for the newspaper.
“It has expanded the reach of what our students are doing, what our faculty are doing … it has unbelievable reach to the world,” she said.
Coyote Student News has become a starting point for budding journalists and a place for experienced ones to polish their skills. Solomon is applying to universities to obtain a bachelor’s degree in journalism, which she hopes will lead her to a career in travel writing. Trey Arline, 24, hopes to become a foreign-affairs reporter. Mike Sloan, 39, already writes for online sports websites in Las Vegas, but he never got a degree. He wanted to branch out and learn new skills, he said, so he chose CSN.
Former student Marcos Hung Santander graduated with an associate degree in journalism and media studies in spring. He’s pursuing his bachelors degree at UNLV and working as an intern at KTNV-TV, Channel 13.
“It was definitely a really amazing experience,” Santander said of his time studying under Mitchell. “She would like drill down to every single detail in the article. … Anything you could think of.”
Santander said Mitchell also convinced him that he was a better writer than he gave himself credit for.
“She really showed that if I put my mind to it, I could write an article and it could be published,” Santander said.