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Vote Up Rochester

This year's presidential election garnered the attention of the nation- and particularly the students in Andrea Hickerson's Reporting in Specialized Fields class. Through a partnership with the Democrat and Chronicle, students have contributed to a blog on the Vote Up! website that is run by the paper.

Hickerson and the Department of Communications have been working to build a strong relationship with the Gannett newspaper. The class was another result of that connection.

Students in the class wrote blog posts that appeared in a special section of the Vote Up! website, Weekly responsibilities included writing daily roundup posts highlighting the best political articles and newsworthy events of the previous day.

"We're probably posting three to four times per week individually, which is huge in terms of resume building," said Emily Clark, a third-year journalism student. "It's been really, really nice and a very good experience."

While news roundups happened daily, students also wrote blog posts that dealt with the important issues in the election. This helped to serve one of the main functions of the collaboration: educating the 18-30 demographic on political issues, platforms and terminology.

Will Hirsch, a second-year journalism student, was excited to immerse himself in the world of political reporting.

"Recently I wrote a blog about Super PACs: what they are, who runs them, what they do and why they're bad," said Hirsch. "Most people aren't very informed about the minute things in politics and who the key players in the election are."

For Hirsch, an interest in politics drove his interest in becoming a journalism major at RIT. He's the exception and not the rule in the class.

"Even though the students in the class were interested enough in politics to sign up for the class, they were willing to admit that they didn't know a lot," said Hickerson.

This was the case with Clark, who admits that she had a lot to learn when she started the class.

"I knew nothing coming in, but I've always been so interested," said Clark. "I feel like in the past few weeks I know more than I could have possibly imagined."

Being published on the Vote Up! website was good for the students and not just for their resume. Having the public comment on student's work, especially pieces discussing politics, was beneficial as well.

"In journalism you have to have a thick skin and it's usually something you learn on the job," said Hickerson. "It's really nice to embrace it in the learning community and be able to discuss [ reader comments]."

Social media also played an important role in how the class covered the election. For each of the presidential debates students gathered to watch, and tweet, about the evenings events.

"We live tweeted the debate(s) and that was a resounding success. It was obvious that everyone was really excited about it," said Hickerson. "It was nice to see other students from outside the class start to use the same hashtag."

Twitter and other social media outlets were also used to promote the blog as part of the student's class requirements.

One election night, students from the class were at the Democrat and Chronicle headquarters to observe the newsroom on election night. While the class was a tremendous experience for the students in the class, they've been provided an outreach service to younger voters.

"I've heard a lot of comments, 'Oh, I'd love to vote I just don't know how' and we can help with that," said Hickerson. "We're doing something that the Democrat and Chronicle cannot do."