Teen Journalism Workshop

Local Teen Journalism Workshop

For three years, The Local has held a three-day free journalism workshop for Brooklyn teenagers every summer. This year, Lindsay Kalter interviewed Indrani Sen about the process of planning and executing the workshop, for an article she published on the International Journalists’ Network. The full, unedited interview is below.
1. How many participants did you have?

We had 14 participants this year, which is twice as many as last year. We made a big push to promote the workshop on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on the blog itself. We also reached out to organizations that work with young people, and to high school journalism advisers. We ended up with so many applicants that we had to close registration for the class (though we have invited those who didn’t make it into the workshop to a teen journalism meetup this week). Most of the teenagers who took the class heard about it from a friend, teacher or relative who saw the listing and forwarded it along.

2. In The Local’s description of the workshop, Brooklyn natives were strongly encouraged to attend. How many locals participated compared to those who came from afar?

All but two of our teen participants live in Brooklyn (the other two live in Queens). Half of the students live in or near Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, the neighborhoods that our hyperlocal blog covers, or go to school in those neighborhoods.

3. What was an average day like during the workshop? Which aspects of journalism were primarily discussed during the program?

We spent the first day focusing on basic journalistic values and practice. We talked about the elements of a news story — ledes, nut grafs, quotes, etc. We discussed interviewing, note-taking, coming up with story ideas. And we talked about news values, and how to recognize and use them in the story. We also talked about ethics — we used hypothetical situations that might come up while reporting for a high school newspaper and asked the students “What would you do?”

Over lunch, we brainstormed a question for the man-on-the-street feature they were to report that afternoon. Then the teenagers went out and interviewed people for the piece. Some teenagers were a little nervous at first, but they all rose to the challenge, and we published their work the next morning.

On the second day, one of our masters students from CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, Lisha Arino, presented a segment on photojournalism, and then the students went out on a photo scavenger hunt around the neighborhood, where they had to find and photograph items from a list. The team with the most items won prizes.

Over lunch at a local falafel joint, the students talked about how to generate story ideas with two guests: Nancy Bruni, who is a wonderful community contributor to The Local, and Solana Pyne, a multimedia journalist who has reported from all around the world.

After lunch, another masters student, Celia Gorman, presented a segment on video journalism, and did some practice shooting with the teenagers.

The third day started out with another assignment for The Local — the teenagers met in Fort Greene Park to shoot video of a concert for toddlers that was happening there that morning. Each teen had a list of shots to get, including establishing shots, medium shots, closeups of the musicians playing, kids dancing, interviews with parents, and a long shot of a whole song. They got some great footage, which Celia edited together and we published on Friday.

Over lunch, the teens met Mary Ann Giordano, a New York Times editor and founder of newspaper’s Local blogs, as well as the New York Times’ Schoolbook, and Jere Hester, a former city editor for The Daily News and the editor of CUNY’s New York City News Service. Both Jere and Mary Ann stayed on for our afternoon story meeting, where they gave feedback to the teens on their ideas for stories that they’d like to produce over the rest of the summer.

We ended by giving the teenagers certificates of completion for the workshop, and we assigned them editors to work with for the rest of the summer (from among our CUNY J-School summer interns). We followed up a couple days later with emails to each teen about their story idea, and have scheduled a teen journalism meetup for this Friday, to keep the momentum from the workshop going.

4. What tools did participants use when taking photos and video? (Iphones? Flip cameras?)

We just used basic point-and-shoot Canon cameras, with memory cards that gave them enough space to shoot a few minutes of footage. We didn’t want a massive amount of video to edit, and also we wanted to show them that they don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to contribute to the blog. We encouraged those that had smart phones or their own digital cameras to use those, so that they could start getting used to thinking of their own electronic devices as tools for journalism.

5. How big of a role did New York’s gay marriage ruling play in the workshop? What do you think it contributed to the students’ journalism education during the program?

The teenagers themselves came up with the question that we asked for the man-on-the-street article: “How does same-sex marriage affect your community?” and “How does same-sex marriage affect you?”

The first same-sex marriages in the state had happened just the day before the workshop, so when we brainstormed questions to ask based on recent news stories, it wasn’t surprising that the topic came up. Other topics included the recent heatwave and the murder of a young boy from Borough Park, Brooklyn. The teens voted on each of about a dozen or so topics, and narrowed it down to same-sex marriage. Then we discussed how best to frame the questions to get useful answers, and how to approach a broad range of people.

At last year’s workshop, using a similar process to come up with man-on-the-street questions, the teenagers zeroed in on the New York City Police Department’s “stop and frisk” practices. This year we weren’t intent on them choosing same-sex marriage — it just happened to be a timely story. The idea is to find current, ongoing stories to report on.

6. Does The Local plan to hold this workshop again in the future?

Yes, we try to run several over the summer, for teen and adult contributors, and we work with our contributors on a one-on-one basis constantly. We also hold regular meetups for our contributors — for adult contributors over happy hour in a bar, and for teen contributors over a smoothie in the park.

7. Do you have any advice for people who work with, or are working as, citizen journalists?

I think the most important thing to do when working with contributors, whether they are adults or teenagers, is follow-up. Especially when contributors aren’t getting paid for their work, the personal attention that you as an editor give them — checking in regularly, asking them how that story is going or what else they’d like to take on, and thoughtfully editing their work — shows them that you care about their contributions, and it also helps improve their work. That attentiveness can be very time-consuming for busy editors, but it really goes a long way to making the experience worthwhile for contributors.