I attended a webinar from NPR affiliate KPCC and the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism called “The Future of Local News” in August 2020. It was the first of a three-part series connecting journalists to their communities to discuss the current crisis surrounding local news — specifically areas where coverage is barren, known as “news deserts”— and what can be done to fix it.
The panelists discussed several measures that could alleviate problems facing local journalism. Then, they transitioned to the Q&A portion, and I, fittingly, was the last person to get his question answered. As someone who had experience with print and digital media in high school, I asked how student journalists could help local news.
Christina Bellantoni, the Director of the Media Center at USC Annenberg, answered my question and gave me incredibly valuable advice that has stuck with me until today when I am now entering college as a journalism major. Now, I’m here to share her advice (and offer some of my own) with other students, explaining how it’s helped me along my journey and how it could benefit others as well.
Reach out to your community
I’ve been doing this for years as a citizen broadcast journalist, interviewing people at local events and uploading the videos to YouTube. Recently, I decided to join my community’s Facebook page, which allowed me to connect further with others and share the stories that I covered. By actively reporting on these events and sharing them through social media, I can set out to accomplish my goal of telling stories that deserve to be heard.
Use social media to your benefit (and develop a following)
After Bellantoni mentioned this, I knew I had to revamp my social media presence. Following a hiatus from Twitter, I finally decided to hop back on in Dec. 2020. Instead of using it as a personal platform, it became a way to build my brand as a journalist–something all young reporters should be doing. I began promoting my articles and podcast episodes, engaging with people thousands of miles away. Growing my social media presence (and being mindful of what I post or “like”) is another example of how I have connected with my audience and developed a following that hopefully will last for years to come.
Walk into a newspaper and ask for experience.
I have not been able to do this for various reasons, but I definitely see the value in reaching out to newspapers for opportunities. Everyone says the best way to learn is by doing, so taking a trip to your local paper and showing that you want to help is the best way to do so.
Another way you could do this is by looking out for internships. Interning at a newspaper (or any publication) — paid or unpaid — is incredibly rewarding and something I wish I had pursued this summer. Thankfully, colleges expect you to attain multiple internships in your four years, so there will be a plethora of opportunities to reach out and learn from professionals.
Show your interest and passions
I have been able to follow this advice to a tee. Aside from my sports writing and broadcasting in high school, I write often on Medium and, in addition to my own blog, am a part of three sports-related publications. This has allowed me to grow my following and work in a newspaper-like setting, with editors who proofread and publish my work. Additionally, I have been able to earn “Top Writer” distinctions in the Sports and NBA topics, as well as grow a relationship with my readers, editors, and fellow writers. It’s crucial to showcase your passion in any medium — written, audio or visual journalism.
Developing such a portfolio at a young age will do wonders in the future.
My advice to fellow student journalists
Although journalism is still facing a crisis, the advice given by professionals like Bellantoni is a valuable resource for us reporters in the next generation. I would like to offer some more ways that we can help local news:
- Read up on journalism history and ethics. Ever since I knew I wanted to become a journalist at seven years old, I have gotten my hands on a variety of materials related to the industry’s history books, articles … you name it. Engaging with all of these resources has given me a better understanding of the field I aspire to be a part of, and it has also taught me about values and standards that should be upheld when it comes to effective reporting.
- Connect with professionals any way you can. Whether it’s through social media or at in-person events, I have found that reaching out to journalists has been one of the best strategies taken in this journey. The reporters I have met have been nothing but kind to me, and I know that, if needed, I can reach out to them any time for opportunities or other advice. If you can link up with a journalist to be your mentor, that’s even better.