9 Teens on Why They’re Spending Their Summer Working In News

9 Teens on Why They’re Spending Their Summer Working In News (Grace Chun. Photo courtesy of Grace Chun)

On June 28, a gunman killed five people and injured two others at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Maryland. The suspect, Jarrod Ramos, had sued the newspaper for defamation in 2012 after the publication had written about a criminal harassment case against him. Ramos had also sent the paper and its publisher several death threats.

Days before the attack, right-wing author Milo Yiannopoulos, known for his provocative and controversial comments, texted reporters from The Daily Beast and The New York Observer that he couldn’t wait “for the vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists on sight,” a comment he now claims was a joke.

Following these recent verbal and fatal attacks — not to mention daily cries about “fake news!” — we talked to the next generation of journalists: teens participating in summer journalism programs. Here’s what they had to say about their programs, summer expectations, the future of journalism and more.

These interviews were edited for length and clarity.

1. Xavier Dominguez

Age: 16
Hometown: Las Cruces, N.M.
Program: PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs

Credit: PBS News Hour
Credit: PBS News Hour

In March, I didn’t know about the PBS NewsHour journalism academy, I didn’t know about any journalism academy. So I was like, ‘For my summer, I’m just going to work.’ Then after my sister told me to apply for the academy, I was like, ‘Wow, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go out in the country and experience something.’ So I took a chance.

I just wanted to learn more and do something other than going out with friends and getting a job. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you can tell a story from anything, and everyone has a different story. There’s not a standard on how to tell a story.

When we’re trying to tell someone’s story, we have to dive into the stuff that people don’t want to talk about. But then people who don’t do what we have to do have an entirely different perspective. For [people] to attack journalists right now shows that they don’t know what journalists have to do.

2. Aleina Dume

Age: 17
Hometown: Queens, N.Y.
Programs: The Institute for Environmental Journalism and The Princeton University Summer Journalism Program

Aleina Dume
Aleina Dume. Photo courtesy of Aleina Dume.

This is my first time doing a journalism summer program. Normally I’d be enrolled in another college course with my classmates during summer break.

I’ve spent a lot of time preparing. Every week I have articles to read and questions to answer until I go to Princeton for an exciting 10 days. My program with InsideClimate News will be taking us around New York City and teaching us how to be journalists. Then, they’re actually expecting us to go out and write so that we can show our skills. I appreciate that their expectations are so high and that they’re rising to the occasion by really teaching us what it means to be in journalism — to live it.

[Being a journalist] is sort of scary, but more than that, it is a wake-up call. The danger that journalists have been in was always something I’d been familiar with. But to be browsing articles and read about something recent is a different feeling. At this point, anyone can be caught in a dangerous situation, anywhere and at any time.

Yes, journalists do definitely have a greater risk, but that is only true because their work is necessary. The work that I will be doing is necessary.

My motivations are my communities. I really just want to make information clear and accessible, to put a spotlight on things that can improve in our society, and to celebrate its good parts too.

These events and the lack of support that the media has in our nation’s political climate makes me realize my future career is valuable. If it wasn’t, no one would care. I don’t believe journalists are wrong, and I certainly think they deserve more recognition, but even without it, they get the job done. That is what’s newsworthy.

If someone wants to be a journalist, they should go for it. Reach out to your local media if writing is something that interests you, and do research on local opportunities. If there aren’t any, see if you can find an adult who’d mentor you and help make it real. Try not to discount your ideas, because you really never know what will happen if the chance you are taking is on yourself. Like myself, you might be surprised.

3. Fernando Cienfuegos

Age: 17
Hometown: Azusa, Calif.
Programs: PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and The Princeton University Summer Journalism Program

fernando cienfuegos
Fernando Cienfuegos. Photo: PBS News Hour

Well, apart from the fact that I do have a part-time job, I decided to apply to the Student Reporting Labs Summer Academy because of all the work I had done starting my junior year. I transferred high schools to join a wrestling program at my current high school but had to use the journalism class as the reason to transfer, since my old school didn’t offer it.

I found that I really enjoyed being a reporter and storyteller after producing a story for SRL, which aired on PBS NewsHour. Not only that, I was able to report on the March For Our Lives in March with other classmates and we also had that story aired on NewsHour Weekend. In addition to that, I had an article published about the undocumented youth perspective on the March For Our Lives, and why it was important to march.

In a time span of less than a year, I produced important stories and I was interested in continuing to do that. I believed the SRL Academy would help me gain skills to continue reporting for PBS and would help me be sure about the career I plan on pursuing.

I think being a journalist now is even more important than ever. We’re living in a very interesting era where A-list celebrities are constantly making the headlines and are influencing pop culture, so it’s important to differentiate meaningful news from news that really won’t change the world.

The media is doing its best to cover news and will continue to do so, regardless of the opinion of the president or the animosity that many share towards journalists.

4. Grace Chun

Age: 18
Hometown: Lynchburg, Va.
Program: The Institute for Environmental Journalism

Grace Chun
Grace Chun. Photo courtesy of Grace Chun

I knew that I wasn’t going to work for a number of reasons — I just wanted to seek out more environmental opportunities, and this journalism program intersected my interests with writing. I’m really excited to get to learn how to start conversations on such sensitive topics like the climate in such a hyper-partisan environment where anything related to climate is seen as some liberal standpoint.

I think it’s really important for people to recognize, and for me as a journalist to communicate with everyone regardless of their political affiliation, to support something that will benefit the whole society.

I heard somewhere that news is what somebody, somewhere wants to suppress, and I think that’s really true because often in unfair political systems, the press is what the public can access for some sort of transparency and truth.

I really think it’s important for journalists, especially now, to make it a priority to build trust between the readers, and the public, and the journalists. And to display in a manner of reality that isn’t skewed. I think it’s really sad that there is partisanship in journalism, and one goal we can work toward is to correct that and make news for everyone, not just one party or another.

5. Emanuel “Manoli” Figetakis

Age: 17
Hometown: Queens, N.Y.
Program: Stony Brook Robert W. Greene Summer Institute

Emanuel "Manoli" Figetakis
Emanuel “Manoli” Figetakis. Courtesy of Emanuel Figetakis.

I had a passion for journalism and I loved more of the aspects of production and building the story and taking photos and actually developing the piece. I love seeing the final product and screaming at the end and seeing that it’s finally published after a month of working on it. Ever since I developed a learning disability, which involved more reading and writing, it takes me longer to produce something, but I’m working on it.

My generation will be looking more into political aspects and getting the right facts, and not trying to turn the information around and create fake news. … I think it will be cool to see the younger teenagers stepping into this field because hopefully a lot more students want to pursue this passion.

6. Jiyu Shin

Age: 16
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea
Program: The New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Credit: Jiyu Shin

I hoped to pursue journalism as a career and wanted to learn more about what real journalism looked like, so I applied to this program hoping to gain some experience in what journalists do.

I’ve loved being a part of this program. There are kids from all over the U.S. and a few international students as well, so it’s a really diverse group made up of so many different personalities. It’s also been amazing to learn from Pulitzer Prize-winning and experienced journalists because they’ve helped me grow so much as a writer.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is what being a journalist is like. It’s been amazing to gain real experience covering important events, like the rally against family separation in Boston and Senator Markey’s Climate Crisis Action Summit. While I’m a part of my school newspaper, I’d never gone out to cover things like this and conduct so many interviews, and I’ve really enjoyed being able to grow as a journalist with this type of hands-on experience.

It’s scary to hear about events like the attack at the Capital Gazette, and very discouraging to hear the media being disparaged. However, things like this only make journalism more necessary in the world.

I also think that public support for journalism is still very strong, which is very encouraging, especially as an aspiring journalist. I hope to use my role as a journalist for good and by letting people know what’s really going on in the world.

7. Mia Abbe

Age: 16
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Program: Schieffer Summer Journalism Camp

Credit: TCU High School Journalism Workshop

I wanted to explore journalism to see if I would be interested in it as a career path. I made a lot of friends, and got to see what being a journalism student is like.  I also learned a lot about broadcasting, and we had several guest speakers, such as Charean Williams, the first woman to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Journalists don’t wait for the story to come to them, they have to go to the story.  They also have to aggressively pursue a source to get the answers they need, even though they may not be comfortable with it.

I feel that it is even more important now to have journalists that are willing to ignore what people are saying and just do their jobs. It is very important for the people to get the stories and facts so they know what’s going on in the world, especially now, when there’s so much, well, for lack of a better word, ‘fake news’ swirling around.

8. Melanie Lust

Hometown: Westport, Conn.
Program: Northwestern Medill Cherubs Program

Credit: Melanie Lust

I did consider a summer job, but this program so far has been really rewarding, and it’s only been a few days, so I definitely made the right choice.

I’m insanely busy, probably busier than a normal school schedule. So far the biggest thing I’ve learned is what a high-pressure environment a real newsroom is like. I’ve never had any deadline less than 24 hours in my life, and the other day I wrote 11 articles, some that had 20-minute deadlines. It was insane, but I learned to think clearly, organize, and get an article down to the basics. It was a really good simulation of what real deadlines are like in journalism outside high school.

I don’t think it’s really disputed that journalism is becoming more important than ever in our divided political climate, but it’s important to remember that the media is not without its flaws. Journalists are entitled to First Amendment rights because we hold people accountable in a factual and objective manner, and if we don’t continue to value ethics and objectivity, we lose the credibility that allows us to have those protections.

Trump hasn’t put any restrictions on the media yet, so I’m not too worried in that regard, but his rhetoric has been morally reprehensible. That being said, I think journalism should persist in its original mission to serve the public and allow them to form their own opinions. That goes for both conservative and liberal media outlets.

9. Mandala Gupta VerWiebe

Age: 15
Hometown: Louisville, Ky.
Program: Western Kentucky University Photojournalism Workshop 

Mandala Gupta VerWiebe
Mandala Gupta VerWiebe. Photo courtesy of Mandala Gupta VerWiebe

This program better prepared me for what I need in school than any summer job. I loved learning all of the new techniques and basic information about how to use my camera. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to travel around and act as though I was being a photojournalist in action.

As an up and coming journalist, I must admit that I’m scared. When credibility is one of the most important aspects of journalism, the fact that it is being threatened is frightening. We have a job to represent truth and to continue being a watchdog towards groups of power. When those groups tell the public that we are not to be trusted, I feel as though we are losing this other ‘branch of government.’ Freedom of the press is so important, and I’m tired of that being jeopardized.

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