What I learned on campus: Talented students of color need only direction, encouragement
By Catalina Camia
Freedom Forum Traveling Diversity Fellow
When I met Laurencia Smith at Alabama State University last year, she was determined to get an internship at a magazine.
Not wanting to discourage her dreams, I talked to Laurencia about the skills she could develop during an internship at a daily newspaper, such as writing on deadline and reporting on a wide variety of subjects. And I casually mentioned that many of the journalists I know at Time and Newsweek got their start at newspapers.
Laurencia eventually took an internship at the Lancaster (Pa.) New Era through the Chips Quinn Scholars program. I beamed when I saw her byline for the first time and smiled when her editor wrote in his own column about the difference Laurencia and another Chips Quinn intern had made in his newsroom.
Laurencia was my first success story as a Freedom Forum Traveling Diversity Fellow and, hopefully, not my last.
When I was attending the University of Southern California 20 years ago, I was fortunate to have a mentor Félix Gutiérrez, a former journalism educator and senior vice president of the Freedom Forum’s Newseum who pushed me toward internships. It also helped that my school was in the middle of a media capital that was a frequent pit stop for many newspaper recruiters.
But there are many students like Laurencia Smith, attending schools that don’t get a lot of attention from the news industry but whose faculty members do their best to prepare them for media careers. These faculty members often find career opportunities for students in their own back yards, but might not know about national programs such as Chips Quinn or the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund or the benefits of the minority journalism associations.
My job was to connect the dots for students and teachers, so they understood the links among journalism courses, campus newspapers and internships. It was fun, but physically demanding and, at times, emotionally tiring especially as the economy continued to challenge newspapers.
My goal was to reach just one student or teacher during each campus visit. Here is what happened at some of those campuses:
Debayo Moyo, director of the Rust College journalism program in Holly Springs, Miss., said I helped students understand the importance of doing newspaper internships and how to find opportunities. Cintia Furtado, a Rust College senior, applied for the Chips Quinn Scholars program after my visit and completed a copy-editing internship at The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va., in fall 2001.
Moyo said a visit from a Freedom Forum fellow was “refreshing and stimulating regarding the journalism profession and industry," noting that the information reinforced the advice and motivation faculty give students. Now, Moyo said, they’ve 'heard it from the horse’s mouth,' as the saying goes, meaning from someone in the industry."
At the University of Memphis, I spoke to several journalism classes about the importance of diversity in news coverage and counseled several students about how to get started in newspapers. Cynthia Bond Hopson, a journalism professor, said my talks were “insightful, interesting and certainly thought-provoking.”
“The students enjoyed meeting a 'real' journalist,” Hopson said. “The work you do is critical. Do please continue it with our blessing.”
Because of my own background, reaching out to Asian-Americans was a top priority for my work. I shared Thai food with the staff of Pacific Ties, a University of California, Los Angeles magazine by and for Asian-Americans, as we discussed ways to make news media coverage of our community less stereotypical.
At Portland State University in Oregon, I met a young woman whose Cambodian parents wanted her to become a doctor. But writing for The Vanguard, the campus newspaper, made her realize she loved journalism.
And at several campuses in the South, I was the first Asian-American journalist some of the students had ever met, challenging their perceptions about my race and ethnicity.
Lashonda Stinson was ready to graduate from Clark Atlanta University and looking for a job when she met me in April 2001. After our talks, Stinson applied for the Freedom Forum’s ASNE/APME Fellows Program. She was awarded a fellowship and now is a reporter for the Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner.
|Lashonda Stinson, Star-Banner writer, on assignment in Ocala, Fla., for a Mind and Body story for a features section. Stinson is participating in the ASNE/APME Fellows program.
"The information and contacts you gave me were very worthwhile," Stinson said.
After visiting almost 40 campuses across the country, I learned that there are many eager and talented young people of color who want to make a difference in the news industry. But they weren’t going to get far without a push in the right direction, whether it was a tip on which skills sell in today’s marketplace or suggestions on which newspapers are the best training grounds for young journalists.
I smile when I get notes from students who say they learned about an opportunity from one of my visits. It’s the best payback for many nights away from home and gaining weight from eating pizza with students and fast food at airports. I’m glad I was able to send them in the right direction toward a journalism career.
Talent search: Freedom Forum Diversity Fellows
Information on Freedom Forum Fellows visiting campuses to spread word about opportunities in journalism.