Summer Journalism Program: Building Skills & Community
It’s the weekend and the hurricane of the century is set to strike. Are you bummed it will ruin your plans, or are you clamoring for your editor to pick you to go into the heart of the storm?
“If it’s the latter, you know you’re a journalist,” said Brian Rokus ’99 of CNN as he addressed a classroom of high school journalists as part of a workshop on breaking news with the Summer Journalism Program (SJP) at Princeton University.
Now in its 13th year, SJP selected 25 talented, low-income high school journalists from a national pool of 200 applicants to take part in a connection-rich, 10-day whirlwind tour of journalism to further ignite a passion for the craft and help students find a path after high school to elite schools and careers.
Founded and still directed by four Princeton alumni from the class of 2001– Richard Just, Michael Koike, Gregory Mancini and Rich Tucker – the program is staffed by professional journalists and students who attended the program in past summers. An intern through Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) with the Pace Center for Civic Engagement helps organize, prep and run the program each year.
“We want students to be passionate about writing and recognize that their voice matters,” said Mancini, now an English and history teacher at The Paideia School, an independent K-12 school in Atlanta, GA. “This is a journalism program first and foremost … but we also want to create a community, a family, where we can be supportive of each other and make one another better – now and in the future.”
Tasnim Shamma ’11, a Summer Journalism Program alum and former program intern who works as a radio reporter covering courts and crime for National Public Radio (NPR) in Charlotte, NC, is serving as a counselor this year and is proof positive of SJP’s success.
“I’m from Queens, NY and didn’t think I could get into a school like Princeton,” she said. “It wasn’t even something I was considering. I didn’t think I’d fit in. But during SJP everyone encouraged me to expand my search and I made it to Princeton.”
For Shamma, her experiences during SJP – meeting Princeton faculty, working with alumni, and practicing real-world skills – solidified in her mind that journalism was her true calling.
“In 2006 when I was in the program we went to New York in Harlem and interviewed people on the street about how they felt about the gentrification of the neighborhood,” she said. “We got to see firsthand how journalism can give people a voice and really make an impact. This year’s students are getting that same kind of experience and can see how they can use journalism to make a difference.”
This year’s participants echo similar sentiments. “I’m passionate about journalism because I believe the truth should be told and because people of my color and background aren’t represented as much,” said Najay Greenidge, 17 of Philadelphia. “I feel as though I can make a difference.”
Meeting staff at the Daily Beast, New York magazine and New York Times changed his impression of the profession. “I learned that journalists aren’t laid back, freelancing, free-roving people,” he said.” They work hard, if not harder, that other professions – doing their homework and research to have everything locked in even before doing an interview so they can deeply engage with the audience.”
Catherina Gioino, 17 of Astoria, NY agrees. “I thought coming in that the Summer Journalism Program would reiterate what I already know, but I’ve been completely blown away by the intensity of it all,” she said. “When I would do an interview I would just put that down as the story, but now I know it’s so much more than that. Doing reporting and the process of it all – interviewing, doing research, checking facts and going over them with others – is intense.”
Ashley Nava, 17 of El Paso, TX, hopes to bring what she learns back to her school newspaper and classes.
“(SJP) makes you think about journalism and what it is, what the role of a journalist is. It makes you question what you believe in and what your think objectivity really is,” she said. “I want to help other students feel more passionate about journalism – to do it not just to get credit, but to tell the stories of students and maybe pursue it as a career.”
After SJP, participants often stay in close contact and go on to a variety of elite schools and journalistic endeavors. Students form SJP 2013 are headed to Princeton, Harvard, Wesleyan, Georgetown, Bard, MIT, Brown, Columbia and Bowdoin. Alums are thriving in print, online, TV and radio and tackling other paths like a PhD program in Middle East Studies at Cambridge, working for social justice in Philadelphia or interning for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Has SJP exceeded expectations? “No question,” said Mancini. “Collectively we had a vision to do something and each year we meet such amazing kids, who over time get smarter and more engaged in the world.
“We’ve been really fortunate,” he continued. "A lot of people at the University, in academia and in the media have been really supportive of this.”