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Grant opens opportunities for UC journalism students

Funding through Next Lives Here initiative places interns in community-based papers

Through an innovation grant from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Journalism is offering two new internships with community-based and minority-owned news outlets.

The funding supports paid internships at urban news organizations which traditionally offered unpaid ones. It also  gives UC journalism students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in reporting, photography, social media and more at local news outlets.

With the novel coronavirus ravaging communities and Black Lives Matter protests hitting the streets, the timing is right to support local voices in the media, says Jeff Blevins, department head and Journalism professor.

UC Professor of Journalism Jeffery Blevins

UC Professor of Journalism Jeffery Blevins

“Your larger news outlets aim to serve a broad geography — all of the people in a city and the region — including those who may not be on the front lines of what is happening within certain areas of the city,” Blevins says. “But those communities within the city which have real skin in the game — their voices need to be elevated now more than ever.”

Two interns have already been placed on an accelerated timeline due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Since May, journalism major Tai Sims has been interning with the award-winning Cincinnati Herald, the longest-running black-owned newspaper in Cincinnati. Journalism major Kelcey Mucker has been interning since May with Streetvibes, published bi-monthly by the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, an alternative newspaper focused on homelessness and social justice issues.

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The innovation grant will finance these internships through the academic year 2023, during fall and spring semesters. In support of UC’s strategic direction called Next Lives Here, the grant helps advance the university’s commitment to urban impact, creating an opportunity for UC to establish a relationship with Cincinnati’s urban communities and providing students with real-world, ground-level experience producing relevant news for marginalized communities — Black, Latino, LGBTQ and homeless communities.

“Diversity in and of itself is a valued norm in journalism and public communication,” Blevins says. “The more voices, the more diverse those voices are, the better everyone’s informational climate will be. What we really took to heart were these small community outlets that have such a vital mission, and so comparatively little resources to achieve that mission.”

Students receiving internship funding will contribute to Cincinnati-based alternative publications through field reporting, photojournalism, social media, film and administrative support—all boots-on-the-ground experiential opportunities.

Diversity in and of itself is a valued norm in journalism and public communication. The more voices, the more diverse those voices are, the better everyone's informational climate will be.

Jeffrey Blevins, UC journalism professor

With a pandemic flaring and social unrest swelling, journalists face heightened opposition, and a higher challenge covering the news, where exposure and physical risk are both real possibilities. It’s a unique opportunity for journalism students to completely immerse themselves in real-world experience, Blevins says.

“What’s interesting is that this is how journalists largely operate now anyhow,” Blevins says. “So the interns are getting real, real-world experience. Journalism doesn’t stop because of pandemics.

“Journalists find a way to gather and report the news, whether it’s video  conference interviews, attending virtual meetings, more phone calls, more public records requests and so on. Journalists are a resilient bunch. Obstacles simply have to be overcome because the public service mission we fulfill is that important.”

The internship funding comes at a timely point for alternative community press in Cincinnati. The novel coronavirus pandemic has hit local news outlets, already operating with tight margins, particularly hard. These outlets get news out to communities about critical issues, for example the impact of economic change on food pantry supplies, and policies that impact the people who live there.

According to Brookings, a publication of The Brookings Institution, an economic recession could cut into the health of these outlets nationwide even more deeply, threatening layoffs and closures.

That is one reason the staff at Streetvibes is happy to have intern Kelcey Mucker in the trenches with them. Helping with photography, social media, and building an archive for the paper, Mucker brings a wide range of skills to the paper. But beyond that, he contributes to collaboration, which is especially valued when your staff is lean.

“When you have a community of writers and an intern who are really invested in the paper and making it the best version that it can be…(that) makes it more worthwhile, much more fulfilling, being surrounded by people who really care about the paper,” Streetvibes’ Editor-in-Chief Gabriela Godinez says.

The innovation grant is one step in an effort to further expand UC’s Department of Journalism to broaden its reach to students of color and women, and the department’s goal to bring A&S to higher national prominence.

In 2018, one UC journalism student and several recent UC graduates and faculty contributed to a Cincinnati Enquirer series Seven Days of Heroin, which won a Pulitzer Prize. The department also has received recognition through the national Investigative Reporters and Editors organization with a collegiate award for reporting on athletic spending at Ohio’s public universities.

Featured image at top: A stack of newspapers. Photo/Pixabay