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Point Park News Service alums at Tribune ReviewPoint Park News Service prepares journalists for professional success in a changing media landscape

By Colleen C. Derda

As a video reporter and producer working for a newspaper, Justin LaBar (COM 2009) is on the cutting edge of the media business. His colleagues at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review say he's helping to change the way the paper interacts with its readers, and he already has an award from the publisher to his credit.

LaBar credits the Point Park News Service with helping him turn a story idea into a professional opportunity.

As a senior broadcast major, LaBar wanted to produce a video blog of the hoopla surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers' appearance at the 2009 Super Bowl. News service director Andrew Conte and adjunct professor Jesse Colaizzi helped him interest the Tribune-Review, and soon LaBar and fellow broadcast student Josh Frketic found themselves interviewing fans and former players and coaches in Tampa, Fla. Back in Pittsburgh, Steelers fans quickly found the Point Park News Service videos on and for weeks made them the site's most popular videos.

Conte says LaBar is one of many former students who have used the Point Park News Service to gain hands-on experience and contacts with newspapers and other media outlets. The news service director, who also is an award-winning reporter for the Tribune-Review, says the wire service helps students learn about professional roles and how to work as part of a team of journalists.

"The students are getting clips and experience. And the news organizations, especially with cutbacks, are always hungry for new content," says Conte in a 2009 issue of Quill magazine. The Society of Professional Journalists turned to the Point Park News Service founder when looking at the future of the elite group of university news services.

At Point Park, 10-15 students take the advanced-level news service course each semester and commit to a specific number of written stories, videos and photojournalism projects. The program's partner, Trib Total Media, regularly selects works for publication in its newspapers and Web sites and provides bylines, photo credits and stringer fees for the students. The University posts students' work to the news service website, where other media outlets also can tap into the fresh perspectives.

Both undergraduate and graduate students have the opportunity to contribute to the news service.

Kim Kweder (COM 2007) says she honed her writing skills during two semesters as an undergrad and learned much from her instructor about creating content.

"Andy Conte was always working with us on how to get out there, talk to people and find stories," says Kweder. "He knew exactly how to make a piece come to life and what key points would make it interesting all the way through."

Kweder parlayed her news service experience and research for a media ethics class into a job writing features for The Baltic Times in Vilnius, Lithuania. She then moved to Washington, D.C. and found a job in copy editing with the Washington Times. Today the 24-year-old works for the World Bank as a social media consultant and Web writer.

Jodi Weigand (COM 2007) says the news service also helped her to strengthen writing skills.

"I learned how to be a good reporter at the Point Park News Service," says the 30-year-old, who after years working in radio, began graduate studies and soon enrolled in the news service courses. Weigand used the experience over two semesters to obtain a newspaper internship. She soon became a full-time writer with the Trib p.m. and today is a general assignment writer for the Tribune-Review morning paper.

Another graduate student, Gina Puppo (COM 2007), wanted to "switch gears" after several years in television news production and work as a journalist on the Web. She says her news service experience and contacts resulted in a job offer with Trib Total Media. In early 2010 Puppo became community coordinator for and now posts stories and photos to multiple "Your Town" sites.

Maintaining the content puts Puppo in the heart of the participatory and collaborative world of journalism today. And she credits Point Park with preparing her to dive right in.

Daveen Kurutz McLaughlin (COM 2009), an education writer for the Tribune-Review, agrees. The 27-year-old says Point Park students are trained to think about "not just the story, but the total package."

Kurutz is one of the many journalists who return to the news service to share their on-the-job experiences.

"Students who participate in the news service while they are at Point Park gain more than experience and networking contacts," says Justin LaBar, the video reporter and producer. "They know future benefits can result at any time. You never know who will see your work."

Visit to view videos, articles and photos by Point Park News Service students.

Photo by Christopher Rolinson