Student projects staff wrap up eventful week
Students and mentors look back on the project’s success
The end of this year’s NABJ/NAHJ Joint Convention and Job Fair also means the end of the convention’s Student Projects in Washington, D.C.
Behind the scenes of the newspapers and television broadcasts, 25 students from across the country joined forces to produce coverage of the convention and local news. These students represent the National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Knight Foundation and UNITY.
Although some faces were new to the project, some students weren’t strangers at all to the NABJ/NAHJ newsrooms. For Sean Hurd, it was his fourth year. For Gabriela Fernandez, it was her first.
Regardless of their varied levels of experience with the program, all the students arrived ready for an intense in-the-field experience.
Monica Rhor, NAHJ project lead and reporter at the Houston Chronicle, has also had her fair share of experience with the project, beginning 13 years ago in 2003. When asked why she keeps returning, she describes her experience as an empowering one for both her and the students, reflecting on the importance of encouraging minority journalists.
“It is, as you know, exhausting, incredibly stressful, incredibly intense,” Rhor said. “It’s amazingly, incredibly rewarding. It is by far one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life … Diversity is an important issue for me. I was often the only Latina in the newsroom and at times I still am.”
Both the convention and the student project aim to change that.
Rhor and other mentors encourage journalists of color to have a presence in the newsroom, and hopes the projects can build their skill and portfolio.
Although Rhor could not join the student project this year because of a family emergency, but is proud of the quality of the stories and reports she saw being produced in the competitive program.
When Hurd first heard of the program, he jumped right in.
“Any opportunity to get ahead, I was going to take it,” Hurd said.
Hurd, who finished his final year with the program, has seen the project grow to fit the new multimedia aspects of journalism.
During his first year in the program, it was an unconverged newsroom and he began at the copy desk, but by 2015, he found himself on the front lines of a breaking news story concerning a hostage situation in the convention’s hotel.
“Officers trying to determine if lobby of Hilton should be cleared. Guests encouraged not to go to rooms,” Hurd wrote in a tweet that day, Aug. 12, 2016, while live-tweeting updates on the incident.
This wasn’t the only thing Hurd gained from the project; he also earned connections that would stick with him through his recent position at ESPN.
Fernandez also felt the impact of the student project as she prepared to leave D.C. Reflecting on her week with the project team, she feels more confident in her abilities as a reporter.
Fernandez began the project participating with the broadcast team. Traveling from her home in San Diego to Arizona to record a segment before the project began, she was rewarded emotionally and professionally as she told the story of a formerly undocumented young woman. This woman, Ellie Perez, is a DREAMer, who meets requirements for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.
“I was very touched by her story so I decided I wanted to do it,” Fernandez said. “I brought my material here, I brought everything here and put it together. And then I was an anchor for one of the shows.”
Fernandez, a Mexican immigrant herself now based in California, represents the diverse background of the students in the project and the insight and voice they give to the newsroom.
Those voices are one of the many things Rhor loves about the project. Thanks to the Knight Foundation’s grant to the two journalism organizations, the project will continue to support aspiring journalists, like Hurd and Fernandez, for years to come.
Rhor has advice for the students in this year’s project and projects in the future.
“Take what you learned this year and keep building on it and keep nurturing those relationships that you formed,” Rhor said. “Really keep those ties fresh, make sure that you’re always staying in touch with people. Go out there and use your voice. We get to tell stories no one else can tell.”