Kat Anderson, far left, works with summer interns as they learn about journalism and workers rights. Photo by Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal.
By Kat Anderson
Our eight-week summer program in “social justice journalism” for college students appears to be having lasting impacts.
Journalism students with no previous interest in labor are showing up with notebooks and cameras at union demonstrations as fall reporting classes begin. Young people used to spending much of their online time on entertainment or chat sites are “liking” labor pages on Facebook. A few have enrolled in labor reporting classes, are working on freelance projects for the San Francisco-based Pacific Media Workers Guild, and are applying for internships at labor organizations.
Right-wing commentators see what’s left of the labor movement as so many dying embers. But the J-school students who participated in the summer program, called “Bay News Rising,” may be evidence of a rekindling.
As one student, senior Jessica Schimm, put it, “I knew nothing about unions before I started Bay News Rising. After, I felt like I could handle any topic regarding unions, strikes and labor. It also expanded my experience and knowledge on labor issues and reporting, which has greatly helped prepare me for this fall semester on the demanding student newspaper.”
In keeping with the fundamental principles of journalism Bay News Rising sought to champion, I acknowledge my bias here: I was the chief instigator and director of the summer program, sponsored by the Pacific Media Workers Guild with the financial backing of the Berger Marks Foundation. We drew critical help from the San Francisco news site Fog City Journal and journalism programs at San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco.
The program started when Guild Executive Officer Carl Hall and I started talking early this year about the anemic state of the newspaper industry and the challenges our union – I am a member of the local’s freelance unit – has had adapting.
The future of organizations like the Guild hangs in the balance. Hall handed me a study that laid all this out, and concluded with the exhortation to invest in the next generation of media workers. I became a true believer.
I was already in my personal process of meeting with professors at the journalism departments of SFSU and City College as I collected information on the programs and how I could be most helpful to journalism students. I’m a lawyer with some resources to back up my community service ideals, and I thought I might fund a couple of modest scholarships at the two colleges.
After reading the study, written by a UC Davis urban planning professor with the Guild’s blessing, I asked Hall if I could talk with students about the Guild’s freelance unit. I wanted to invite students to the Guild and perhaps create some workshops that might appeal to them. I thought students should know that we existed and that we wanted to be a resource to them. Hall told me this was called “organizing,” and he agreed to accompany me on classroom visits. I also recruited Luke Thomas, publisher of Fog City Journal, a photojournalist whose website is well known in the area, and which could provide publication opportunities to the students. (Before hatching this idea with Hall, I had been working on news assignments with Thomas.)
Such were the ingredients of our initial outreach. Former reporters turned professors who had been co-workers of Hall’s during his Chronicle days helped us connect with the students. We then held a meet and greet at the Guild offices where we asked each student to share what she or he wanted most from sources outside of school. They uniformly responded that they wanted to be mentored and edited by professional journalists, they wanted to publish in non-school publications, and they wanted help getting paid work.
Such were our marching orders. Next hurdle: money.
Hall proposed an appeal to the Berger Marks Foundation, which supports woman-led organizing projects. We started conceptualizing the components of an internship-like program, but remained steadfast in the mission that reporters must be paid for their work. So, we wrote a grant seeking money for stipends and publication fees for the students, and we developed a theme that focused on economic and social justice issues, including labor reporting. We planned to invite well-known media professionals to make presentations, match each student with a media mentor, and encourage and enable the students to pursue and publish stories in the theme of the program.
We also laid out a long-term plan to create labor reporting internships, and begin to roll out our program to other locals in Chicago, DC and New York. We figured we were on to something.
I went into high gear networking with journalists all over the Bay Area to recruit speakers, mentors and editors. Professors at San Francisco State supplied opportunities to meet with students and a list of professional journalists willing to serve as mentors. While covering breaking news with Thomas, I would discuss the student project with fellow newsprint and broadcast reporters. They were eager to speak with the students about their own careers, provide tours, and serve as mentors.
As I put the finishing touches on the program details, the first Berger Marks check came in. The grant enabled us to create an 8-week program serving 16 students. Classes were twice per week - Speakers’ Series on Tuesday nights and “newsroom” class on Thursday nights. Each week, well-known media professionals shared their personal experiences and gave students insights on how to come up with story ideas, find work, and set oneself apart from the rest of the crowd. We also went to union demonstrations, toured the Chronicle offices and ABC 7 news studios.
Award-winning reporter Rebecca Rosen Lum, chair of the freelance unit, led “Newsroom” class. A theme of social and economic justice was weaved through everything that was discussed. We emphasized the centrality of workplace reporting and the income gap between working people and the so-called “1 percent” by then infamous from the Occupy Wall Street movement.
We brainstormed angles and hooks, debriefed after covering events, edited articles and critiqued photographs. We told the students that it was time to stop submitting to the exploitation of unpaid internships, and to never work for nothing. So we showed them how to prepare invoices and discussed what rates to charge. We devoted one class to “organizing” the class itself, which elected a spokesman and presented Hall and me – management scum –with a list of demands. Fearing a strike, we quickly settled.
Each student received a binder with a resource guide created just for the program. Integral to the drafting of the guide was student Joe Fitzgerald, who had been editor-in-chief of CCSF’s Guardsman newspaper. He put together materials covering how to interview, use various public information resources, cover news in the streets, and other useful information. The Guild also provided affordable student membership to the freelance unit and press passes to each student. I matched each student with a media mentor. Thomas photographed each student and provided a “Bay News Rising” section on Fog City Journal. Each student has her/his own profile there, and his/her publications can be accessed readily.
Just as importantly, the Berger Marks grant enabled the Guild to pay each student a stipend and fees for her or his published work.
The students comprised an equal mixture of women and men, SFSU students and CCSF students, recent high school graduates, and those pursuing journalism as a second-career – most in their 20s, some in their 30s. Some had substantial reporting experience; a few had only a single journalism class under their belts. It was due to be a challenge to make sure all of their needs were met, but we persevered.
We hoped that the students, as they became exposed to the Guild, its issues, and to labor reporting in general, might become inspired to pick up the baton.
And, it seems that we achieved our goal.
By the end of the program on July 31, fifteen students had published over two dozen articles and numerous photographs in either FCJ or the Guild’s own website, www.mediaworkers.org. As a result of connections made with an alternative weekly’s editor-in-chief on Speakers’ Series night, two students were hired to write feature articles. One student has gone on to become editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, one is arts and culture editor at the same paper, and one is president of a new local school website called Her Campus.
Five Bay News Risers were awarded scholarships from the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Two students landed internships because of connections with their assigned mentors, one student attended the California Labor Federation’s biennial convention with our local president, while two others decided to sign up for a labor reporting class at SFSU. Two students are currently doing freelance website and photography work for the Guild. Another student said that the program “saved” her journalism career, as she was ready to quit the major until she met us. She has asked if she can participate in the program again next summer.
It was rewarding to see the young people blossom over the course of the program. Some began the program barely able to speak up in class discussions and fearful that her or his writing would never measure up. By the end of the program, each student walked into the Guild conference room confidently, chatting with new friends, carrying dailies or weeklies under his or her arm and ready to discuss with vim and vigor the news of the day. Each one had the chance to marvel at her or his published work product and everyone got to congratulate the work of the other students who found their own publishing opportunities using skills they picked up during Bay News Rising.
Schimm reflected, “Bay News Rising was an invaluable internship experience, although it didn't seem to be the "standard internship." I think it provided many more resources, opportunities and networking experiences than a regular internship. Looking back, I realize how many leaders I met in the prestigious San Francisco news/media industry. As students, we work so hard trying to make connections with these accomplished figures on our own, but Bay News Rising acted as a catalyst for making those connections, which are so crucial as we approach graduation.”
The Guild is planning Bay News Rising II for next summer, and we will be making presentations to other locals about possibly launching their own programs. Please contact me for further information.
Kat Anderson, a former labor and employment lawyer, does Special Projects for Pacific Media Workers Guild and Fog City Journal. She is a member of the Guild’s freelance unit. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Student learns ‘average is over’ at Guild program
By Peter Hernandez
The dwindling, setting sun filtered into the conference room of the Pacific Media Workers Guild with a gust strong enough to toss our papers into the air. It was late July and an oversized Chronicle building for the dwindling newsrooms we spoke of in our meetings loomed in the distance through the aging windows.
We were a group of fifteen students forging lasting connections with each other and media professionals under the guidance of an intensely passionate Kat Anderson, who managed the summer program through exhausting promotion, searching and resource-gathering.
Rebecca Rosen Lum, our editor and a Pulitzer-nominated journalist, offered largely positive comments on our work. Above all, her atypical and progressive perspective urged us to question the old models of journalism—when asked how she felt about undercover journalism, she would say that it was warranted when yielding a compelling story.
Carl T. Hall, who still boasted a strong independent spirit in his post-Chronicle days as executive officer of the Pacific Media Worker’s Guild, instilled a righteousness to our entitlement for pay for our journalistic work, starting with a collective bargaining-turned-socialist division of stipends, working with a grant from the Berger-Marks Foundation. He defended the quality of the Chronicle and urged us to read more news, which I later realized promotes effortless story generation and assists in a momentary expertise on a subject.
These professionals and funds fueled our excitement to write. We were being paid to do something that fomented such honor—and we strove to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comforted.”
We called ourselves Bay News Rising, and we recognized that there is a new age for news and that we are going to be part of it.
“Average is over”
We met at the conference room of the Guild two times a week. Tuesdays featured guest speakers ranging from a walk to the nearby Public Press office, where we saw the hub of an unusual publishing model that is theoretically losing money for the noble purpose of creating a socially-aware press to our enthralling first speaker, Luther Jackson. He now works as a workforce development manager for NOVA and specializes in Linkedin and professional networking. He introduced us to the displacement of former Bay Area journalists in the form of an exhaustive study by NOVA while iterating the long-lasting benefits of simple interview and resource techniques.
But among his talk, three simple words still cling to every story I write today: Average is over. Average can no longer sustain a journalist, which was evident in the study that he presented. It made me consider what facets of my work could falter as average and I set an objective for the remainder of the program: who could I learn from to defeat mediocrity?
I sat with some people who I knew and some who I didn’t, and though the distance in experience and background, we all had one thing in common: we hadn’t dealt too much with professionals before, and the objective of creating a newsroom seemed daunting.
The other writers and photographers who I never met before became close to me our weekly news discussions and repetitious introductions, which never managed to be redundant or identical to a previous self-introduction. Each time a new facet of self emerged from my peers, whether it was a new interest developed from a story they were working on, or a new beat or assignment that their mentor assigned them.
I discovered two new passions—the changing LGBT community that I now write on for Bay Area Reporter and urban planning. I realized that each time I introduced myself, some new facet of my being as a journalist was unearthed. But I was certain to assert that newswriting not only allows me to exhaustively understand my surroundings, but also to understand myself—whether it be my interests, life path, or self-esteem. And each time I reinvented average by comparing my stories with others who were working on same subject.
My lasting mentor is Matthew Bajko, assistant editor for Bay Area Reporter and correspondent for Out QNews. He and I meet on a bi-weekly basis and he critiques stories that I publish with my college newspaper, The Guardsman. He also helps me develop stories for Bay Area Reporter, which is the longest-running weekly gay newspaper in the country, and I have written three paid stories for Bay Area Reporter since ending the summer program.
My experience with Bay News Rising has been fruitful and learning. I have made connections with both professionals and my peers that have transcended my time with the program. It has also served as a preliminary image of the future of journalism—wherein new models, new media sources, and new ideas about the market of journalists will reflect the ideas that we shared at our meetings, and where average can no longer plague this shrinking industry.
I conjure the image of my peers and our program directors blanketed by the comforting glow of the setting sun in that conference room. In the midst of such a pivotal upheaval in an industry plagued by uncertainty and doubt, I felt strangely comforted and guided by our talks and conversation. I have been given so much perspective and opportunity and I hope that Bay News Rising thrives.