The initiative, made possible through $300,000 in grant funding from the Scripps Howard Foundation, will support journalism in diverse and underserved communities, educating high school juniors and seniors from North Carolina and surrounding areas who are interested in pursuing careers in journalism and the media industry.
With a three-year financial commitment totaling $300,000 from the Scripps Howard Foundation, Elon University’s School of Communications will establish a new educational initiative to inspire high school students to embark on journalism careers. The Scripps Howard Emerging Journalists Program at Elon was officially announced on March 24 and will continue Scripps Howard and Elon’s collective commitment to advance equity, diversity and inclusion in the communications industries.
The Elon initiative will engage at least 115 high school juniors and seniors from North Carolina and surrounding areas, providing hands-on journalism experience – both virtually and in person. Student participants will partake in virtual education opportunities and experiential learning workshops, while receiving mentoring and production advice via a network of professional journalists.
Following a competitive application process that began last summer, Elon was one of two universities selected by the foundation to each receive $100,000 a year for three years. The other grant recipient is the University of North Texas.
“We’re thrilled to partner with these esteemed institutions to create real-world opportunities that bring our mission to life,” said Liz Carter, Scripps Howard Foundation president and CEO, in a written release. “We believe these programs will play an important role in building a future industry that better reflects the make-up of our diverse communities.”
Journalism Lecturer Kelly Furnas, who will oversee the Elon program’s curriculum, said he looks forward to helping students gain a solid understanding of traditional journalistic skills – reporting, writing, law, ethics and multimedia production – while also developing leadership, team-building and entrepreneurial skills.
“There are so many talented storytellers — and would-be storytellers — enrolled in high school right now. I’m excited to provide this opportunity for them to explore what pursuing their craft in college and beyond could look like,” said Furnas, who previously served as executive director of the Journalism Education Association (JEA), the nation’s largest scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers. He also is a board member of the Student Press Law Center, advocating for student press freedom and First Amendment rights.
Associate Dean Kenn Gaither explained that diversification in the media industry is critical today and in the coming years to ensure that communities are covered accurately and compassionately, and that the new Elon initiative can play a pivotal and positive role.
“We must develop voices and reporters in journalism who are as diverse as society itself,” Gaither said. “We believe the Scripps Howard Emerging Journalists Program at Elon captures the right mix of training, skills, mentoring and experience to transform underrepresented journalists into powerful storytellers.”
Furnas went one additional step, noting that diversity shouldn’t be limited to reporters on the beat. “It’s not enough to have a more diverse workforce staffing our nation’s newsrooms. We need a more diverse workforce running those newsrooms, too,” he said.
During the grant’s application and interview process, the School of Communications partnered with The LAGRANT Foundation, North Carolina Local News Workshop and Elon Academy to showcase the resources, opportunities and network that will shape the Scripps Howard Emerging Journalists Program at Elon.
Admittedly, The LAGRANT Foundation’s (TLF) objectives concentrate on increasing the number of ethnic minorities in the fields of advertising, marketing and public relations, yet Chairman and CEO Kim Hunter sees a distinct overlap with these fields and the journalism industry. This connection is why TLF plans to support the program’s aspiring journalists with a virtual media tour, scholarship opportunities, career development workshops and mentorship.
“This program aims to engage ethnic minority students, which is in alignment with TLF’s mission of providing opportunities to diverse students and young professionals,” Hunter said. “TLF strongly supports creative and innovative efforts that help foster the next generation of diverse industry leaders, and this program is a great example of that.”
Elon’s emerging journalists program is the second major initiative supporting journalism and local news efforts undertaken by the School of Communications in the past year. In June, Elon launched the North Carolina Local News Workshop, a statewide initiative championing new approaches to providing reliable, high-quality journalism and information for NC residents. The workshop was established by an initial grant from the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund.
Melanie Sill, the workshop’s executive director, applauded Scripps Howard and Elon for their commitment to local news and for educating aspiring journalists.
“Local news runs on ideas of community and shared interests, and the views and voices of young people add to our understanding of those principles,” she said. “By bringing their energy, ideas and newsgathering skills to the table, emerging journalists can add coverage and tell stories that otherwise might be missed.”
With the skills rooted in ethnical journalism, the “next generation of journalists can be the truth-tellers for their peers and build journalism in ways that are essential for their own era,” Sill added.
Communications Dean Rochelle Ford said the new Scripps Howard-funded program envelopes cleanly into the university’s Boldly Elon strategic plan, which is organized around the themes of Learn, Thrive, Connect and Rise.
“The Boldly Elon plan embraces our university’s history as an academic community intensely focused on student success and recognizes a need to support and inspire others from different nations, perspectives, backgrounds and experiences,” Ford said. “The plan calls on us to be innovative and to engage in partnerships that create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community – and that’s what the Scripps Howard Emerging Journalists Program at Elon will do. We hope to inspire high school students to embark on journalism careers and build an industry that better reflects the make-up of today’s diverse communities.”
Coincidentally, Scripps Howard’s decision to award grants to both Elon and North Texas isn’t the first connection between the two institutions. Dorothy Bland, professor of journalism at North Texas and a sought-after voice on diversity issues in higher education, serves as a diversity consultant for the NC Local News Workshop.
About the Scripps Howard Foundation
The Scripps Howard Foundation supports philanthropic causes important to The E.W. Scripps Company and the communities it serves, with a special emphasis on journalism education, excellence in journalism and childhood literacy. At the crossroads of the classroom and the newsroom, the foundation is a leader in supporting journalism education, scholarships, internships, minority recruitment and development and First Amendment causes.