Ten young journalists have been chosen as this year’s Academy for Alternative Journalism Fellows from a national pool of over 200 applicants. Intended as a recruitment and training tool for minority journalists, AAJ has roots 25 years deep in a diversity program started at the Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill. Mike Lenehan of the Chicago Reader discovered the program in 1999, and it became a part of the AAN roster of training opportunities in 2000.
AAJ is now fully funded by the Alternative Newsweekly Foundation, which is supported by an annual grant from AAN of as much as $75,000. The program is administered by Medill and managed by Director Charles Whitaker, who works closely with the students and is responsible for most of their training.
Instruction during the eight-week summer fellowship focuses on reporting and writing in a narrative style. AAN editors and writers who have taught courses in the past include Lenehan, Donna Ladd of the Jackson Free Press, Mark Zusman of Willamette Week and Tim Redmond of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Lenehan and Ladd will be back this year, along with OC Weekly reporter and ¡Ask a Mexican! columnist Gustavo Arellano. Medill professors guest-lecture as well, including David Protess on investigative reporting, Alex Kotlowitz on narrative and the journalism of empathy, and Patti Wolter on fact-checking.
Forty percent of former AAJ fellows have gone on to work for AAN papers in markets as diverse as Raleigh-Durham and Cleveland, while another 20 to 30 percent are involved with daily papers or freelancing, according to Whitaker.
2007 AAJ Fellows receive a $3,000 stipend, and a housing stipend, in addition to a travel allowance. [More on the Academy for Alternative Journalism on AAN.org.]
Academy for Alternative Journalism Fellowship Class of 2007
We posed two questions to the upcoming crop of fellows: “Why are you attracted to alternative journalism?” and “In this changing media environment, what do you envision your ideal job being like ten years from now?” Included are responses submitted by press time.
Ashleigh Braggs currently lives in Beijing, China, where she writes about social issues as community editor for a lifestyle and entertainment magazine. She is a graduate of Kalamazoo College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Chinese. Ashleigh is originally from the west side of Detroit – not the suburbs.
Bradley Campbell is a contributor to Willamette Week. He writes and acts as the assistant editor for Willamette Week’s FINDER magazine, their annual guide to Portland, while simultaneously serving as a substitute teacher for Portland Public Schools. He graduated in 2003 from Pacific Lutheran University, where he majored in English.
“Alternative journalism allows and encourages a writers’ voice to permeate through their stories, like raindrops through a worn-out slicker. […] I hope the changes in media will allow for more freedom in the folks we choose to spotlight. And I hope my craft will be good enough by then to bring out the details that make their lives tick. Be it an obsession with wood cabinets or whether or not they fold or hang dress shirts, my ideal job would let me find out.”
Natalie Collier is an assistant editor at the Jackson Free Press. She also works part-time with an organization that supports the parents of children in the Jackson Public Schools, helping to produce promotional material and reestablish the student newspaper at a local high school. Natalie earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Milsap College in 2002.
“Just important as the news to me, is the story behind the newsmakers. I’ve always been interested in the story behind the story. It has been my experience that alternative journalism allows for further insight and not just the facts without supporting information. Also, alternative journalism allows its writers more room for personality, and we all have a personality. Even if it sucks. (Don’t include that last sentence.) […] Ten years from now, I would love to be writing long-form narratives where I’m afforded the opportunity to spend significant time with the subjects–completely submerging myself in the subject’s world. The more I learn from all the people I get to spend time with, I’d like to chronicle the things I’ve learned in some nationally syndicated column. I just want to write.”
Geoffrey (Gus) Garcia-Roberts lives in New York, where he is a legal writer for an immigration law office. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 2005. He has done freelance work for The Gotham Gazette and The Epoch Times, an international weekly headquartered in China.
Caleb Hannan of Arlington, Virginia, graduated from James Madison University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He is a freelancer at The Washingtonian and Golf magazines. He also has been a researcher and contributor for The Almanac of American Politics, and has done freelance work for The Arlington Connection, Falls Church News Press, and The Breeze.
“I’m attracted to alternative journalism because it (mostly) devotes itself to storytelling. Breaking news doesn’t concern me. I’ve read the headline ‘President Sees Progress in Middle East Peace Talks’ every year since I became literate; the last thing I want to do is write the 800 words that follow it. And besides, where else can you get a clip bracketed by ads for phone sex lines? […] My ideal job 10 years from now would be something like I’m doing right now; travelling and finding stories. I have no idea how the ‘media environment’ will have changed in a decade, but I know people will still want to hear good stories.”
Yasmin Ali Khan currently lives in La Paz, Bolivia, where she works as a communications volunteer for a national reproductive-health organization. She is also the director and instructor at La Paz English, a language institute for professionals. She works as a immigration, higher education and culture reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican, a writer and international blogger for U Magazine, a youth culture magazine in Santa Fe, and as art reporter for Pasatiempo weekly arts magazine in Santa Fe. She continues to do freelance work from Bolivia. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and journalism.
“Alternative journalism gives voice and depth to issues that are sometimes glossed over in the mainstream media. In the interest of selling papers, mainstream media have lost their connection with people. They’ve connected with advertisers and sponsors. Alternative media listen to us. They tell our stories, record our experiences and give us an outlet. Interesting stories are found at every street corner, not just in political forums or press releases. Alternative media recognize that. […] Working in South America and South Asia telling the stories of people, communities and cultures affected by global economic and political changes. I’d like to be in radio or new media…hearing voices telling their own story interests me more than reading an AP-style story on a news page.”
Ciara Sampaio of Tacoma, Wash., has traveled around the globe, including Southeast Asia and Nepal. She graduated in 2006 from the University of Washington-Tacoma with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and minor in Hispanic Studies. Her work has been published in the University of Washington-Tacoma’s The Ledger. She currently studies flameworking at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle.
“Mainstream media bores me. It seems to be the same old stories, same cut and dry prose. I enjoy supporting local, independent media that doesn’t have a larger corporate agenda. The content is more localized and centered on culture, art, opinions and reviews, providing a perspective outside the accepted order. […] In ten years I envision myself living abroad somewhere working my way around the world as a freelance writer and photographer. I would like to continue with alternative journalism as well as write fiction and non-fiction novels.”
Suemedha Sood lives in Arlington, Va. She is an assistant editor for the Center for American Progress and freelances for the independent media outlets WireTap Magazine and AlterNet. She also writes about progressive politics and youth for Campus Progress, a publication of the Center for American Progress. She earned bachelor’s degrees in politics and religious studies from the University of Virginia in 2006.
Kelly Virella received a master’s degree in journalism in 2003 from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won a fellowship for promising young journalists. She interned for one year at the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, where she wrote news and features for the metro and four regional editions. Now, she is a freelance writer and editor living in Oakland, California.
Emily Withrow lives in Chicago, and is a freelance writer for the Onion A.V. Club and Beep. She has also covered breaking news for the Associated Press in Paris, and was part of an investigative team for broadcast news station CBS2 Chicago. She will receive her master’s in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism in 2007.