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Volume 8, Issue 2
December 2015

Engaging the Next Generation of Journalists in Detroit Schools

  • Lucinda Davenport, Ph.D.
  • Professor and Director, School of Journalism
  • College of Communication Arts and Sciences
  • Jeremy Steele
  • Outreach Specialist and Executive Director, Michigan Interscholastic Press Association
  • School of Journalism
  • College of Communication Arts and Sciences
Picture for Engaging the Next Generation of Journalists in Detroit Schools

The Crain MSU Detroit High School Journalism Program provides collaborative learning opportunities for student journalists and teachers in Detroit high schools by connecting them with the resources and expertise of journalism faculty and professional journalists, who work with students to produce quarterly newspapers and a news website.

Administered by the Detroit Free Press since 1985, the program came under the leadership of MSU's School of Journalism last year. As the home of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA), which offers numerous journalism conferences and camps to thousands of young people each year, and which, for many years, has provided scholarships for students in Detroit to attend the programs and camps, the School of Journalism is a natural fit.

Initially funded for the 2014-2015 year by a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and an annual scholarship from the Ford Motor Company, the program now receives major financial and programmatic support from Crain Communications, Inc., a privately held media company with 25 print and online publications, headquartered in Detroit.

Lucinda Davenport, director of MSU's School of Journalism, guided the initiative as the project's principal investigator, but gave credit to faculty members Jeremy Steele and Joe Grimm and program director Joy Visconti for netting the successful collaboration.

"The MSU School of Journalism and Crain Communications partnership will carry on a strong legacy of high school journalism in Detroit," said Davenport. "This program reaches more than 13 schools and about 250 students in the Detroit area. They receive continuous hands-on experience with critical thinking, writing and visual communication skills for print and online news. They are on their way to honing their ability to be successful journalists and to be college-ready and career-ready for any field."

Core Communication Skills for Lifelong Learning

Picture for Engaging the Next Generation of Journalists in Detroit Schools

Jeremy Steele, outreach specialist in the School of Journalism and director of MIPA, provides support and administrative oversight for the program and serves as a conduit from the Detroit program into the School of Journalism's scholastic journalism activities. Supporting journalism efforts in schools not only strengthens the next generation of journalists, but also reaps many lifelong benefits for students, regardless of their eventual profession, according to Steele. "We think that journalism provides a lot of opportunities academically for students who need to know how to use core communication skills, whether they are going to become automotive engineers or teachers or lawyers or journalists, or anything else," he said. "We see from this program and other journalistic activities, the kids who are involved in journalism at the high school level tend to be more civically engaged in their schools and in their communities."

Steele works closely with Joy Visconti, a graduate of the MSU School of Journalism and the director of the Crain MSU Detroit High School Journalism Program. "Joy is our 'boots on the ground' person in Detroit, coordinating everything for us," said Steele. "She works directly with the mentors from Crain and is the interface with all the teachers and programs at the high schools."

Visconti describes herself as the "Jack of all trades" when it comes to facilitating the program. "I'm there to provide support to the journalism advisers and students at each school," said Visconti. "I visit classrooms to talk about journalism and journalism careers. I help students come up with story ideas, and I work with students during the writing and editing process. Then I coordinate the content for our quarterly newspaper and website. With the new partnership with Michigan State and Crain, I hope to spend more time working on making our website a place where Detroit young people go to get their news."

The positive feedback she receives from the students highlights the importance of the program. "I've had students tell me they've found a future career," she said. "But the feedback I hear most frequently is that being a member of the Detroit High School Journalism Program creates confidence. Students are taught how to approach sources, ask for an interview, and conduct that interview in a professional manner. I've had some shy students who were forced to break out of their shells, and they've been able to maintain this confidence going forward in their academic and personal pursuits."

Partnering with Crain Communications in Detroit

According to Steele, the program, which provides the training, resources, and technology necessary for creating the newspapers and websites, had a need for long-term funding. "What we found when MSU took over the administration a year ago," explained Steele, "is that we faced some challenges in finding funding to make sure that the program would be sustainable for the long term. So that's when we started some conversations with a variety of stakeholders in Detroit, looking for folks who could help us build and sustain this program."

The School of Journalism connected with Crain through Krishnan Anantharaman, a news editor at Crain's Automotive News and former colleague of Visconti's. He began talking with her about Crain getting involved as a partner. "I knew that if we could find a committed, enthusiastic supporter that was vested in Detroit, Joy and her partners at MSU could make the high school program thrive again," said Anantharaman.

Fostering Homegrown Talent

Crain's support is more than financial. Journalists from four Crain publications are involved as professional mentors in each of the Detroit schools, and Crain's production department helped arrange for the student newspaper to be printed on a high-quality glossy stock, using the same paper and format that's used by Automotive News and Crain's Detroit Business. "This, along with the terrific design developed at MSU, has really helped showcase the quality of the students' work and provide a "wow" factor for people in the scholastic journalism community," said Anantharaman. "My fellow Crain journalists are taking an active role in helping the teachers and students produce their newspaper, and our company's leadership in Detroit has embraced the program as an important strategic initiative to foster homegrown talent."

Anantharaman believes this involvement is crucial to the future of journalism. "Many newspapers and media companies are struggling, but the need for good journalism and great journalists hasn't diminished, and young people need to know that," he said. "It's very important for those of us who are doing well in the media business to reach out to young people who may have a knack for reporting and storytelling, and to keep them engaged and encouraged. We're not just serving the students and the community; we're serving the future of our profession."

After Visconti and the mentors from Crain help the students work through the process of reporting and writing their stories, the material is sent to Steele's office in East Lansing, where he and several MSU students work on designing the issue. Next year, he would like to include Detroit students in the design part, as well. "We really want it to be a student-driven process," said Steele. "That's a key strength with journalism in high schools, that it's student-led. We want to give them the resources that they need to do incredible work and really fulfill what they can do."

Steele graduated from MSU with a degree in journalism and then worked in journalism and public relations for ten years before returning to MSU four years ago. His love of journalism grew from his own involvement as a young person. "I got involved in journalism when I was in high school and worked on the student newspaper staff, and I participated in MIPA activities," said Steele. "I came to the MIPA fall conference and summer camp at Michigan State, so it's come around full circle. Now I run those programs so that I can bring other kids into MIPA programs and into Michigan State."

Future Plans

Steele and his partners are excited about expanding the potential of this program even further in the coming years. "We have kind of relaunched it and we're working on rejuvenating it so that we can do even more things with the schools and the journalism classes and clubs that participate with us," said Steele. One of the new upcoming projects involves having 19 students from Detroit help Automotive News cover the Detroit Auto Show in January.

"It's just amazing to see everything these kids can do," he said. "Any time I get to do one of my events where we have kids involved, I'm always reenergized because they come with so much excitement and enthusiasm for journalism and for what they're doing in their schools, and that excitement and enthusiasm rubs off on everybody else around them. It's very fulfilling to create opportunities for kids from Detroit and from everywhere else across the state to show off their talents and really shine!"

  • Written by Amy Byle, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photographs courtesy of MSU School of Journalism