How journalism training programs across the nation are empowering and nurturing homegrown talent (page 2)

Community College Programming

There is excellent community programming being done at three levels:

  • Curricular programming, in which students follow a course of study and earn the professional capacity to enter the field after community college or transfer to a four-year program;
  • Third-party partnership, in which students in a community college program are able to submit their work more widely to a larger media ecosystem in exchange for clips and payment;
  • Programs in which news organizations bring community college students into coverage.


El Don

👥 Multi-person staff: No, one educator for all roles

💼 Job placement function: Informal; network-based

💵 Funding type: Funding dependent on graduation/transfers

When all of the other student journalism teams had left the Pacemaker stage at the MediaFest 22 conference, two remained, chatting with each other. It was the Spanglish, El Don Adviser Sarah Bennett said, that made each team notice the other; her Santa Ana Community College students, speaking with a Mexican dialect and the Miami Dade College students with a Cuban dialect.

A group of students posting with their awards
El Don students at Pacemaker Awards from the 2022 Washington DC trip. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bennett)

Bennett and her student journalists were there to accept the Pacemaker in Innovation, one of only two awards given out in this category. In the three years this award has been offered, El Don is the only community college outlet to win the award.

Their award-winning project: A year of zines that focus on addressing the information needs of students coming back to school after years of the pandemic, ranging from a back-to-school cheat sheet to a 16-page zine on mental health to one focused on the stories of Santa Ana, a product that came from a community workshop done at the Boca de Oro Literary Festival.

Though the zine was a new format for El Don, the content was not. Sarah Bennett, a graduate of Santa Ana College herself prior to her career in local media, requires every student to conduct a community info needs assessment at the beginning of her classes.

El Don is a student publication. At the community college level, journalism student media is typically academically tied to a class. El Don is a practicum in the journalism associate’s track, making it a bigger time commitment than other courses. The class is 4-credit hours with a 10-hour lab component. But it’s an intentional time to build community. Seven or 8 classes meet at the same time with lectures specific to the student levels, and veterans teaching newcomers in practice.

Through Bennett’s community building, El Don serves as a safe space out of the house and away from family pressures, where students facing myriad barriers can connect with like-minded peers and build power through reporting.

“There isn’t one way in — we have a lot of students who are undecided,” Bennett said. “I have students who aren’t on the books as a journalism major and finally decide they like that.”

Bennett recruits for dispositions rather than accolades. The most important qualities when looking for potential journalism students, she said: Natural curiosity, critical thinking, an inclination toward anti-establishment.

There are challenges common in a community college. A large portion, if not all, of Bennett’s students have significant commitments outside of school, whether caretaking, providing for their family, working as many hours as possible, or a combination.

El Don students and advisor sarah bennett, right, at Pacemaker Awards from the 2022 Washington DC trip. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bennett)

It’s why solutions- and design-oriented frameworks are so important to Bennett in her teaching. El Don is one of eight colleges and university newsrooms participating in the inaugural Solutions Journalism Student Media Challenge, learning how to incorporate solutions journalism into their media operations. El Don specifically is focused on exploring solutions to financial insecurity faced by many in its student body and community.

In a news desert, the community sees themselves in the news only when things are bad, she said. It’s Bennett’s hope that her team’s reporting can encourage students to find solutions because their problems are solvable, whether it’s related to building wealth, mental health, etc.

“We wrote solutions to financial problems because most of the problems in the community are at the root related to money,” she said. “(The students are) building power for themselves but also their neighbors, their family members, who can’t seek out these solutions themselves.”

Most of the students enter into a 4-year program, often attending sister school California State University, Fullerton, which has a large communications college, or California State University, Long Beach.

But some students go directly into the field. Herald Pierce was a student journalist at El Don who, upon graduation, went to work at the Bakersfield Herald and then USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. He later returned to receive a 4-year degree but was able to work in the field without it.

And there are multiple prominent alumni of the program who enter after graduating from their transfer school, including Vera Jimenez, KTLA 5 meteorologist. A former multimedia editor is currently a Supreme Court clerk; another graduate runs social media for the University of New Mexico. Graduates are employed by NPR to City Hall to themselves, starting new businesses; a former editor won an Emmy as a screenwriter.

One of the current editors, Carrie Graham, has voluntarily taken on the beat reporter role to cover city council and school board meetings that have gone uncovered. Graham has been published by Voice of OC and is hoping to stay in local news long-term.

Bennett is interested in expanding to non-degree certificates and dual enrollment programs at the high school level. However, the program’s funding is dependent on how many students graduate and/or transfer. “There’s a financial imperative to get our students into jobs and career education (because those programs) get more resources,” she said.

An additional challenge is the lack of local news outlets in the area to create a place for these trained, experienced local journalists to land.

“I’m trying to think outside the box for other freelance opportunities,” Bennett said. “We try to see if they can create products to fill the information gaps locally.”

🌐 Other notable programs: Miami Dade College, Randolph Community College’s photojournalism program, El Camino College

Third-party partnership

In some cases, the work with the community college students can be done through a third party acting as a central hub or a mediator for a wider reach — or less of an initial lift.

Journalism + Design

📒 Budget: $250,000 18-month gift for initial investment, but more over time

👥 Multi-person staff: Yes; New School team plus partners

💼 Job placement function: Formal; Established media partner

💵 Funding type: Grants or philanthropic funding

The New School’s Journalism + Design program has pioneered a non-credit certificate with the Community College of Philadelphia called “Community journalism for civic power.” The six-week online class was created by the Journalism + Design team, who have been working with community colleges and faculty for years.

“We were thinking not just about strengthening newsrooms, but how do we strengthen the whole system?” said Cole Goins, managing director of the Journalism + Design Lab. “With the ability for community members to share high-quality info, there are more opportunities to participate.”

Philadelphia was a prime location because of the proximity and willingness of partners in Resolve Philly, a community-based news organization, and the natural fit for the certificate at the school’s Institute for Civic Engagement.

Goins said non-credit community college certificates are often easier to establish through the school than credited certificates, which also helped ease the lift of partnership.

In the first semester, about 30 students of all ages — who ranged from folks interested in media and journalism to city hall employees who wanted to learn more about journalism to community elders and organizers — took the virtual, six-week, once-a-week class for free using the open-source curriculum template created and taught by Journalism + Design.

After completion of the course, two students from the program continued in journalism as interns for Resolve Philly; another became more involved in the Institute for Civic Engagement.

This was the first of the programs of its kind; Journalism + Design also is working with community members and community colleges across New Jersey, Oakland and Cleveland.

Goins said the biggest challenges are finding the right partners who have capacity to participate and placing graduates into paid work. In a similar program launching in Cleveland, they’re able to direct folks to the Cleveland Documenters program, which will pay them for covering civic meetings.

“This is a network approach,” he said. “How do we all team up to use all of our collective resources?”

Amplify Utah

📒 Budget: $65,000, which covered 2021 over two milestones at the halfway mark and the end of the year

👥 Multi-person staff: No, one educator for all roles

💼 Job placement function: Informal; network-based

💵 Funding type: Grants or philanthropic funding

This is also the case for Amplify Utah, a nonprofit that “supports and facilitates engaged and dynamic journalistic storytelling to celebrate diverse points of view.” Amplify Utah acts as the go-between Salt Lake Community College and the Salt Lake Tribune, with Founder and Executive Director Marcie Young Cancio as the connecting point.

Cancio, who worked as a journalist across the country before returning to home to Utah, knew she wanted to pivot into education in order to improve the future of journalism at the foundation. She joined the Salt Lake Community College as an assistant professor of journalism and digital media in 2018; prior to that, she had been an adjunct at the University of Utah, where she’ll return as full-time faculty in July 2023.

“I wanted to reframe what journalism is and how it is, not dying on the legacy hill of how we’ve always done things,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, it gave her the time she needed to put together the proposal for Amplify Utah, which was funded by Google News Initiative: $65,000 over the course of about a year.

The program was formed to amplify voices that aren’t often represented in traditional media. The structure of Amplify Utah was designed to be replicated.

Students from Salt Lake Community College report on topics that matter to them. Because community colleges often have a more diverse student body than four-year institutions, a wider diversity of life experiences are reflected in the reporting. In her classes, Cancio encourages public service-oriented reporting but doesn’t require it.

(James Seo | Amplify Utah) From an Amplify Utah story, barber Cameron Dean gave free haircuts to Alex and other people experience homelessness in downtown Salt Lake City in the spring of 2021.

The stories are then collected on Amplify Utah’s website where news publications can republish. Upon being picked up, Amplify Utah pays a small stipend to the journalist from the GNI funds.

The Salt Lake Tribune, and its network of partnering newsrooms via the Utah News Collaborative, pick up these stories. The Tribune has a section on its site specifically for stories written through the partnership.

The results are powerful, resulting in more engagement than usual (with an average of 3.9 minutes spent on each Amplify story on the Salt Lake Tribune site) and a small payment for the journalists upon their stories being selected. It’s not much, Cancio said — an estimated $100 per story, $50 for a photo, etc. — but it helps students learn that their work is valuable and worth paying for.

Cancio cites Amplify Utah as a contributing factor that leads to jobs for participants post-graduation. Especially for roles in-state, stories written for and published through Amplify Utah can help students stand out. For example, after sending in clips they wrote for Amplify Utah, one student landed a role at KSL Radio in Salt Lake City.

Because the project encourages students to tell stories often undertold in mainstream media, it also exposes students to career paths that they might not have considered otherwise. After one student wrote about a nearby Paralympian training facility, he received a job offer from the facility’s communication team for his thoughtful coverage.

Moving forward, Cancio hopes this program can expand from community college courses into more community-based journalism, training journalists in public spaces such as the Community Center Writing program housed in the SLCC’s public library.

screenshot of the title page of a playbook
The Amplify Utah playbook

The main challenges for Amplify Utah: Bandwidth and money. Cancio is the only person on the Amplify Utah team, trying to navigate the maintenance and programmatic and financial growth of the program while teaching.

“I’m working for free on this project, and it’s taking 40 hours a week,” she said. “What we really need is a part-time grant writer, a project manager, maybe someone to do contract IT work, a volunteer board chair to do our social.”

She’s already produced the deliverable of the funding — a playbook to replicate the work that Amplify Utah has done in hopes of expanding the program to all 50 states.

🌐 Other notable programs: Communities of Hope

Programs in which news organizations bring community college students into coverage

CALMatters College Journalism Network

👥 Multi-person staff: Yes; two full-time staffers on the project (plus more in the future)

💼 Job placement function: Informal; network-based

💵 Funding type: Organization funds the program

As a multi-award-winning education reporter, Felicia Mello knows the education landscape of California very well. She covered higher ed in California and focused on statewide innovation for CALMatters, where she found that there was room for more voices in its higher education coverage.

The self-funded CALMatters College Journalism Network brings together a handful of student journalists from across the state to report stories about their colleges and universities in a paid fellowship. The fellows are from private universities, 4-year public colleges and community colleges, though some of the students at 4-year programs have transferred from community college.

“Looking at the whole landscape, we started to think about how can we improve the coverage that we’re doing by really emphasizing and highlighting student voices while at the same time providing high-quality training for student journalists, and then doing some work to help diversity the news media in California, both in our newsroom and elsewhere,” Mello said.

When selecting a new cohort, diversity is essential in building the team: Type of college, life experience, goals, ethnicity, type of expectations. Mello said she wants to build a group of students who are as representative of California as possible. More than half of students enrolled in higher education in the state are enrolled in a community college, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The fellows become close during their cohort, which lasts a semester, often with an option to stay on for another. Through the training workshops and the shared Slack, Mello helps foster an intentional community where these students can learn from each other and share successes. This has led to collaborative projects throughout the state or deeper stories that resolve problems and questions that may have been invisible otherwise.

Upon finishing the program, the fellows stay in touch with each other, the CALMatters team and meet the new cohorts through the Slack. Mello said she’s constantly writing reference letters and having conversations with graduates about next steps.

“That’s the idea — that we continue to support them to land jobs that will be fulfilling and will contribute something new to the journalism world where they can share their unique talents,” she said.

And it works — during her time as a fellow, Sacramento State student journalist Emma Hall focused on the decline of native students in higher education and the rise of tribal colleges. She reported using her lived experiences as a Native journalist. Since graduation, Hall has landed at NPR’s Diverse Sources team.

Omar Rashad joined the College Journalism Network after being declined an internship opportunity due to his status as a community college student (the exact words of the hiring manager). He wrote about the experience and the double standards the industry holds for Poynter and built his network through the program. Upon his graduation from a four-year school, he earned an internship on the data team at Seattle Times and is now the accountability reporter for Fresnoland.

Similarly to other programs, the CALMatters team faces issues with scaling sustainably, and has expanded the team to include Program Manager Matthew Reagan, a former participant. They’re currently hiring for an assistant editor for the CALMatters College Journalism Program and just hired a dedicated community college reporter who will work with the program.

Their next challenge: Getting media partners on board that are willing to pay for content — or hire interns through a more formal process.

🌐 Other notable programs: HBCU Student Reporting Network from Open Campus

Next chapter

"How journalism training programs across the nation are empowering and nurturing homegrown talent" table of contents

  1. How journalism training programs across the nation are empowering and nurturing homegrown talent
  2. Community College Programming
  3. Organizational programming
  4. Looking ahead