NNAF program brings young journalists to DC

June 6, 2014

By Mark Magyar
News Fellows Mentor | NNAF

For Averi Haugesag, the National Newspaper Association Foundation’s News Fellow program provided a unique opportunity to delve into national security and privacy issues surrounding the National Security Agency and use that information in the best tradition of community journalism: to write about the large-scale drone program being developed at her home University of North Dakota and nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base.

For Jonece Dunigan, an enterprise and feature writer from the University of Mississippi, learning firsthand how to do political reporting in Washington opened up “another avenue of reporting that can fulfill my passion of being a voice for the unheard.”

And for Polo Ocampo Rocha, a self-professed political junkie from the University of Wisconsin, it “was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see how DC political reporting works. I’ve developed a passion for political reporting while reporting from the Capitol. And if there was ever any doubt I had about pursuing politics and policy reporting, it’s gone after this trip.”

Haugesag, Dunigan and Rocha were three of the eight News Fellows selected and sponsored by the Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin press associations to participate in the National Newspaper Association Foundation’s second News Fellows program in Washington in March. The program also had underwriting support from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Oklahoma City.

“NNAF’s News Fellows Program is a perfect match for our times and our readers’ needs because it teaches bright young journalists from universities around the nation to expect answers from public officials at government’s highest levels,” said NNA President Robert M. Williams Jr., president of the Southfire Newspaper Group in Blackshear, GA.

“NNA professionals in the community newspaper ranks give them the personal mentoring to ask cogent questions and then guide them in the skills needed to present an informative story conveying vital information targeted for their individual hometown interests,” Williams noted. “It’s what community newspapers do all the time and part of what separates us from the national media.”

Although the first-year 2013 program focused on the politics and policy of gun control, this year’s three-day program explored the competing balance of national security issues versus privacy rights involving the National Security Agency in the wake of NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaking of confidential documents concerning NSA data collection last June. 

NNA Chief Executive Officer Tonda Rush came up with the idea to focus on the NSA, security and privacy issues, and she worked closely with Carol Pierce, NNA’s managing director, to put the program together. Nebraska Press Association Executive Director Allen Beermann lined up visits to Gallup and the Newseum for the second year in a row.

The eight News Fellows were mentored in Washington by Steve Haynes, publisher of the Oberlin Herald in Kansas; Walt Kaechele, senior correspondent of the Kaechele Newspapers in Allegan, MI; me, editor-at-large for New Jersey Spotlight; and free-lance reporter Teri Saylor of North Carolina.

“This year, we also had some very useful inside Washington insight and mentoring offered by Toby McIntosh of Bloomberg News,” said Elizabeth K. Parker, NNAF president and publisher of the New Jersey Hills Newspaper Group, Bernardsville, NJ. “All of the mentors were terrific role models and great teachers of the trade, and it’s the one-on-one mentoring that really makes the program work.”

For the News Fellows—who also included Joseph M. Adgie of Valdosta State University, Robert Dean Korth of the University of Nebraska, Aaron Lee of Roosevelt University in Chicago, Jena Sauber of Kansas State University, and Catherine Sweeney of Oklahoma State University—it was an opportunity to meet aspiring journalists from other regions of the country who share the same passion.

“Everybody always thought I was crazy for working the hours I did on the college paper, then I showed up here, talked to my fellow students and the mentors, and felt like I was normal,” Sweeney said. She attended the Oklahoma Press Association convention, where she told her sponsors “it was a life-changing experience.”

Articles by the News Fellows appear in this issue of Pub Aux, starting on Page 9. Four News Fellows articles appeared in last month’s Pub Aux. They showed the great variety of community journalism and individual reporting styles that the News Fellows brought to the subject. All the articles are available on NNA’s website at nnaweb.org; click on the NNA News tab.

Jena Sauber’s article ran on the front page of the Kansas State University newspaper The Collegian, as part of a package that also included an opinion column written by another staff writer and an “ask the students” section. “We got good feedback from students and faculty about the articles,” Jena said. “Thank you very much for sponsoring the News Fellows program in Washington. It was an amazing and educational experience—both journalistically and personally.”

Korth, who wrote a vivid magazine-style article that took readers from the halls of the NSA and its surveillance museum into Capitol Hill offices and into a public policy institute at George Washington University, said the program showed that NNAF “cares a lot about the future of journalism.”

Lee, who shared a birthday with his mentor, Kaechele, neatly encapsulated the controversy with his headline, “Is the NSA Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ watching us or is our big brother looking out for us?” And Adgie had an excellent interview with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who made the case that tracking cell calls is critical considering that Osama Bin Laden’s operatives in Tora Bora used cell phone technology in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The News Fellows program is run at the same time as the National Newspaper Association’s We Believe in Newspapers Leadership Summit, which gave the students the opportunity to mingle and talk with publishers from across the nation, as well as to hear veteran TV newsman, Bob Schieffer, talk about his career during the summit dinner.

Schieffer geared much of his talk toward the NNA Fellows as “the future of journalism,” but what stuck with the students the most was Schieffer’s bottom line on why he stayed with his chosen profession: “Because journalism is fun.”

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