Walking into the front office of The Shield on the lower level of University Center East, guests are greeted by a wall packed with numerous awards the student publication has earned over the years. Honors, including those from the Indiana Collegiate Press Association, speak to the dedication to journalism past teams have upheld at USI. Current Editor Shelby Clark and her staff of almost 30 are working to build on that legacy.
The Shield was first known as The Spartan Shield, which launched its first issue nearly 54 years ago on October 15, 1968. After three issues, the publication was renamed The Shield. In 2005, USI President H. Ray Hoops designated the publication as a public forum, free of administrative control. Today, The Shield continues to be completely run by student writers, photographers, editors, designers and advertising representatives.
When Clark first came to The Shield in Fall 2020, circumstances were a bit out of the ordinary. The University, along with the rest of the world, was grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and how to proceed with life during unprecedented times. The pandemic was hitting everything hard. And it hit The Shield “really hard,” she says.
The publication looked at how to switch its primary print-based format to fully digital. To add to the woes, the departure of many Shield staff members left the ranks sparse. And in July 2020, news came that the publication was losing its longtime faculty advisor. With a lot of the old guard gone, The Shield was in a prime spot to start on a new path.
“It was a clean way to grow and do something different,” says Clark. “It was a natural place of transition and growth.”
It’s easy to see the changes taking place at The Shield—changes that came about due to Clark’s diligence in working to restructure the office into an inviting work environment for students, empowering them to become leaders on campus. Adding to the changes of the publication was the addition of Ben Luttrull, Instructor in Journalism, as the publication’s new faculty advisor.
Luttrull began their new role in January 2022 after transitioning from Media Relations Specialist in the former University Communications (now University Strategic Communication). In this advisory position, the main goal is to make sure all students who come to The Shield have the resources, skills, training and support they need to do the work and fulfill the mission of the publication: to serve students and the campus community with factual information, entertaining content and a forum for discussion, reflecting their unique interests and concerns.
“A sense of place is incredibly important to both of us,” says Luttrull. “It’s always been important to me, and I know it’s been important to Shelby—and it’s one of those things that makes us work together so well—we both place an incredibly high value on the vibes of a newsroom. If our space is not a place where people can do the job at a high level, then we’ve got problems. When you walk into our newsroom, you should feel like this is a place where things happen—this is a place where people do good work.”
When Luttrull came aboard, Clark already had made strides in working on a stable staff structure as well as how the publication is put together. “We actually didn’t have a formal staff structure when I got here, so I started looking through the policy manual. We started drawing up diagrams based on job descriptions of what positions would look like. Then, once we got into [the organizational structure], we realized where things needed change, where we needed to move things around, add more teams or put teams together,” she explains.
One of those teams was management. Clark added a Managing Editor, Business Manager and just recently, a Social Media Manager to The Shield’s ranks. This was important in establishing a line of order, she says, which student members could rely on when they needed someone to go to with questions and challenges. It also allowed students to grow in positions and bond through teamwork.
With structure comes a need for policies, and again, Clark and her staff had to roll up their sleeves to meet the publication’s goals and mission and provide students what they need to succeed. COVID-19 didn’t help matters, with safety guidelines and protocols limiting interactions and the ability to be on campus.
But with trying times comes opportunity. “We looked at it as an opportunity to make this place better and make it last another 54 years beyond us,” says Clark. “Now, anything we do, we ask ourselves, ‘Is this repeatable? Is this sustainable?’ Then, we make the process off that. Last year, we were growing, learning, training and creating processes for the future.”
By the end of the 2021-22 academic year, the efforts paid off, and The Shield saw a robust staff of 30 fill its ranks. What’s even more exciting is 28 of those students, many of them underclassmen, returned for the 2022-23 academic year, representing a huge retention rate. That staff of nearly 30 includes a team of six editors (including Clark as Editor-in-Chief) covering news, sports, visuals, lifestyle and copy. There is a business manager and a sales and marketing supervisor. Other students cover a variety of positions from staff and sports writers to photographers and cartoonists.
While Clark and Luttrull may serve in top leadership roles for The Shield, both are quick to honor the work of all the self-proclaimed Shieldsters during the successful reconstruction. For Clark, her team showcases a cultural reflection of USI, complete with students from various backgrounds, opinions, and beliefs representing different races, religions, sexualities and majors of study.
“We have a sense of community, and we’re all working together to achieve our mission, which is to provide students with factual information, entertaining content and a forum for discussion that reflects their interests and concerns,” says Clark. “We also want to build relationships with each other and campus, and I think that is the big distinguisher. The Shield used to be more of just repeat and push things out, whereas now, we are more focused on how do we get better, how do we make the University better, how do we work together as a team to make The Shield an amazing place?”
Realigning a focus on the vision of The Shield has changed what the publication is by leaps and bounds. “It’s for the students, by the students,” says Clark, “And these Shieldsters put a high priority on staying focused on this student perspective. The content they produce, both print and digital, never loses sight of covering the topics USI students are buzzing about.”
Clark is also appreciative of Luttrull’s guidance as an advisor, and for their support in allowing students the independence to do their work free of oversight. When she first joined The Shield staff, Dr. Chad Tew, Associate Professor of Online Journalism, and Dr. Greg Blair, Assistant Professor of Art and Design, served as Interim Advisors. Both were a big help but also gave the staff opportunity to gain experience making needed newsroom decisions. When Luttrull joined, they continued to empower students’ work.
“I know a lot of places would say student media is (just) student content, but no. Student media is student media—that’s top to bottom, left to right. If you want to run a newsroom, run a newsroom. I’m here to help make sure you can run a newsroom,” Luttrull says. “This is a student publication, and students should be the ones making decisions on how students do the work.”
Not only is The Shield an organization that provides editorial newsroom opportunities, there also are opportunities on the business side of the publication. When she first started, Clark partnered with then-senior and business manager Cobi Schieferstein to establish processes and structure for the business side, just as was done with the editorial side. This allowed The Shield to build a business team to work on advertising sales and placements in the publication. Once Schieferstein graduated, Linh Nguyen was hired and continues in the role this year.
“I think both business and editorial are important for the functioning of a healthy ship,” explains Clark. “We do payroll, we have finances we have to keep track of, and students do all of that work."
“The work the business team does is a supplement to funding provided by the University,” adds Luttrull. "It allows us to pursue bigger and better things from a logistics perspective through the sale of advertisements.”
Additional funding is key in expanding training of students and necessary travel and helping maintain equipment and software, which the staff does on its own. “It allows The Shield to invest back into itself,” says Luttrull.
What’s next for The Shield? Clark says the most exciting aspect of the publication’s current position is its future as a “full-force Shield.”
“Coming in this year with a full staff was exhilarating,” says Clark. “When I got here for Shield Training Week (the week of August 15), I had a room of 20 of the best students on campus looking at me, waiting to get started. That was the most exhilarating feeling. I’m really excited to work with this team but also grow the team … not just in staff numbers, but also in the content we produce.
Clark is not alone—fellow staff members also have expressed “pure joy” at being back in the office and ready to produce new issues for the 2022-23 academic year. Many have described the publication and staff as a family.
“This is our family—we belong here. This is our friend group,” says Clark. “Lots of them say this organization helped them become who they are, helped them come out of their shell. It’s just so rewarding to see all that joy and to see the confidence; it’s incredible.”
As a faculty advisor, Luttrull looks forward to what The Shield and its students can accomplish. They also look forward to new stories and content the publication may not have had a chance to tackle before.
“The Shield has always been at its best when it takes big swings and when the students feel empowered to punch up, to go for big things,” Luttrull says. “Last year, big things meant surviving and making it to the next newsletter. This year, that’s not going to be the case—with all these new processes and with the staff already in place, it’s going to allow more people to take bigger shots. And to me, that’s really exciting because that means more opportunity and more potential.”
The second issue of the Fall 2022 Semester (which prints monthly) is currently on newsstands around campus. Daily content is posted online at https://usishield.com. The Shield newsletter, “Shield Source,” is a weekly email featuring curated news, sports, features, opinions and reviews every Thursday. USI employees are encouraged to sign up for the newsletter at https://usishield.com/newsletter.