Reversing the talent pool ”Nieman Journalism Lab

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Opportunities for young journalists are unequal and internships in the US media are riddled with inequities.

Internships have multiple barriers to entry. “Prestige” newsrooms generally require prior internship experience. This does not necessarily take into account comparable experience gained in student media, or even self-published work with an engaged audience. Students often produce their work with few resources beyond their peers who might have an extra semester or two of experience. Yet they meet deadlines, tell stories and keep their communities informed.

Who can afford to do an internship? The game is against anyone who might not be able to move across the country for eight to 12 work weeks, sometimes for pay just above the minimum wage.

Some news agencies say they offer college credit. It’s a trap. It costs money to claim this college credit – so the internship is not only unpaid, it allows the student to raise money for the privilege of a summer of unpaid work.

The game is also stacked against people who lack a solid foundation in the basics of journalism. Our industry doesn’t have a pipeline to attract people if they don’t go to college or university.

An overwhelming majority of journalists have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to a third of American adults. Like attracts like, and this comes at the expense of our newsrooms which do not reflect the communities we are meant to serve. We need more people of color in newsrooms – especially in leadership positions – but we also need more military veterans and journalists with disabilities.

Instead of reinforcing a cycle that selects people who already have advantages, internships should focus on providing real-world journalism experience and career coaching. More can be done to ensure that people from diverse backgrounds have a level playing field.

Cities with at least two news organizations will see the value of pooling their resources to provide affordable – or free – housing for interns. Local news is best done by people integrated into the community. And a key skill for journalists is learning how to quickly build relationships with sources. Thus, internships in an unknown part of the country will broaden the horizons of a young journalist, offer him lessons to quickly learn what is important to his neighbors in the short term and allow him to bring an outside point of view to the room. drafting.

Poynter’s assistant, Kathy Lu, has an idea that would shake up the system: to allow places with the most resources to train journalists who would then be ready to succeed in smaller markets.

The internship path is set up in the manner of sports franchises. Your local papers are the farm teams, and they nurture the talent – some of which make it to the big leagues.

But this system was put in place when most newsrooms (and I’m talking mainly newspapers) were full of resources – offices that have a team of 20 now had over 100 – and information deserts. did not exist.

This was a system put in place to eventually benefit the large mainstream newsrooms (a colonialist movement), which pay intern salaries to hard-working journalists who already have many summers of experience.

This does not mean that people cannot have the ambition to work in these important reference institutions. It is a question of asking: why is the pipeline unidirectional? Why don’t bigger newsrooms with more resources also help supply talent to smaller ones? Why is there no program to train journalists to be poor quality reporters and writers for local media?

I love the idea of ​​reversing the talent pipeline. It puts organizations with the most resources – including an abundance of experienced journalists who can be mentors – able to develop promising young journalists who will thrive on the attention paid to their development during these years. crucial internship weeks.

To develop talent, news agencies must invest in creating fertile ground for emerging journalists to do their best – and make the occasional mistakes. But those mistakes shouldn’t include entering the workforce underpaid and with a mountain of student loans.


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