Journalism

NABJ, NAHJ student journalism projects receive multiyear support

Students and mentors from the 2016 multimedia project newsroom at the joint NABJ/NAHJ  convention. Photo courtesy Mekahlo Medina/NAHJ

The hotel conference room is a buzzing news hub. Just after 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., almost 30 students are on deadline, producing content for a newspaper, a website, a TV newscast. To the right: a copy desk, just ahead, the design and graphics desks and behind them, to the left, young reporters, eyes boring into computer monitors, are finalizing copy. The room is a beehive, like any newsroom anywhere.

This is an annual tradition for the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which are holding a joint convention in Washington through Sunday. NABJ and NAHJ select 30 applicants each year for the all-expenses paid fellowship. All are members of their local school chapters. College students work with mentors in a real newsroom that covers the convention. Their work will appear in a student-made print newspaper and on a website, and will be broadcast on NewsChannel8, Washington’s local 24-hour news channel.

The student newsroom is made possible, in part, through the support of Knight Foundation, which recently awarded NABJ and NAHJ $75,000 each over three years to help increase diversity among journalists, technologists and entrepreneurs in the media, while providing access to training and networks of mentors and peers.

“We are supporting the next generation of journalists in the digital age,” says Karen Rundlet, Knight Foundation program officer for journalism, “and we believe that diversity is critical to accuracy in coverage. We need to have diverse newsrooms and newsrooms that reflect the demographics that they are serving to have accuracy in coverage.”

Here’s the work in action: Glissette Santana, a senior at the University of Houston who just completed an editorial internship at Knight Foundation last week, is just about to file a story about NABJ ending its sponsorship of its annual 5K race because of financial constraints. Kiara Alfonseca, a junior at the College of Brockport in New York, is a designer for the student project and she’s asking for photo possibilities. Santana shows Alfonseca a GoFundMe web page to help raise funds to save the race this year. She is waiting for permission to use the photo on the page.

Alfonseca returns to her computer where she lays out a page for the Aug. 4 edition of the Monitor and Latino Reporter, the project’s newspaper, which combines the names of NABJ’s and NAHJ’s student newspapers. Ken McFarlin, an art director at The New York Times who has been a design mentor with NABJ for 20 years, is walking her through the layout and suggests expanding a graphic to help fill white space at the end of the article.

The student newsroom in action, complete with pizza. Photo by Michael Bolden.

Other students are out about town, shooting roll for that night’s newscast. They’ll pop over to the Newschannel 8’s studios where they’ll film a 30-minute newscast. Last night, they held tryouts for anchors, a weatherman and the sports reporter.

“The goal here is to give students the opportunity to put something on their reel that will get them a real job,” said Ken Smith, an NABJ mentor and a reporter and anchor for WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This hands-on work with a mentor is the most valuable part of the workshop, said Delano Massey, the digital director for WEWS-TV in Cleveland and a  chair for student projects with NABJ.

“For a lot of them it’s another rung on the ladder toward success,” Massey says.

Massey notes that the student projects give students real experience in newsgathering, but it also gives them the opportunity to network and showcase their work to news professionals.

The work they do here may lead to prestigious internships or jobs. Take Wesley Lowery, a Washington Post national reporter covering law enforcement and justice. He attended three student projects between 2008 and 2010. One 2010 story, about NABJ’s finances, in which he delved into tax records, caught the eye of a Wall Street Journal editor. He landed an internship at the paper in 2011, and has worked at the Post since 2014.

“This is a really unique program where college students can partner with a mentor,” Lowery says. “The students are getting hands-on guidance.”

Timothy R. Smith is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.