Diversity Internship Recipients Bring Artistic Ambition to Alt-Weeklies

Thabi Moyo and Doron Monk Flake — recipients of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ winter/spring 2005 Diversity Internship grants — prove that talented journalists have backgrounds and professional experiences as varied as their interests.

Moyo, of Jackson, Miss., is an aspiring cinematographer and photojournalist. She graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and landed at Jackson Free Press after a chance encounter with Donna Ladd, the paper’s editor.

Flake, of New Haven, Conn., is the lead singer of a rock band. He called a staff writer at the New Haven Advocate during the course of an assignment for a class at Southern Connecticut State University. He began freelancing soon after.

Since its inception in 2001, the AAN Diversity Internship grants program has annually awarded four grants of up to $2,500 each to help fund paid internships for minority journalists, with the hope that they’ll consider a career in the alternative press.

Moyo is the first photojournalism intern to receive such a grant. She says that photography was a natural progression of her work as an aspiring documentary filmmaker: “It became my hobby and I began to take pictures uncontrollably…. With any of my pictures I like to tell a story, so photojournalism was kind of niche I didn’t know I was going to fall into, but it’s perfect for developing my craft [as a filmmaker].”

After completing a stint as campaign photographer for Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James Graves, and unhappy with the work she was doing waiting tables and substitute teaching, Moyo spotted an ad in the paper searching for a photojournalism intern at the Free Press. She rushed to the newsweekly’s office the next day to apply.

“I got my portfolio — or what I had of one — together and took it there,” she says. “They were as excited about me as I was about them.” Shortly after beginning her new internship, Moyo found herself preparing to apply for the AAN Diversity Grant. She had already completed several shoots by the time the news arrived that she had received it.

“The thing that she did well was that she approached her internship as just that,” says Ladd. “She sought out mentors. There were various photographers that she assisted with shoots, and she networked with as many people as she could along the way.”

On top of making valuable professional connections, Moyo’s determined and self-assured attitude allowed her to explore many facets of photojournalism. In addition to serving as the main photographer for the Free Press’s “Project ‘Hood,” an ongoing special series exploring each of Jackson’s individual neighborhoods, Moyo completed field assignments covering local events and city campaigns, product shoots and fashion spreads. She’s even done a bit of writing to complement her work, including interviews with poet Nikki Giovanni and musician Thelonious Monk, Jr.

Moyo says she’s most proud of the work she did that appeared on the cover of the paper, particularly an interior photo of a new urban loft. “It was one of the more challenging assignments because I didn’t have the equipment that I needed,” she explains. “I also needed more knowledge than I had to make the available equipment work. I really researched, talked with people and worked pretty hard at making sure that I got a result that I was proud of.”

Moyo plans to stay another three months with the paper, maintaining a part-time schedule and her place on the payroll. And while she hasn’t abandoned her aspiration of becoming a filmmaker (this summer, she’ll be working on her own documentary and beginning an internship with the Mississippi Film Office), she’s looking forward to maintaining a working relationship with the Free Press. Ladd says Moyo has become a fixture at the paper. “We don’t want to lose her. … She’s an invaluable part of who we are at this point.”

Long before receiving his grant, Doron Monk Flake found out that the life of a freelancer isn’t always glamorous. “At the beginning [Advocate editors] would put me on news assignments that nobody wanted to do,” he says. But he didn’t mind the assignments, and approached each story enthusiastically. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it!” he says, his voice raising an octave during a phone interview.

By the end of summer 2004, Flake had already penned two cover stories, a host of music reviews and news pieces. By the time his internship began in January, the Southern Connecticut State University journalism major had proven his ability to juggle multiple assignments.

Advocate Editor Mark Oppenheimer says it was Flake’s versatility that made him a strong candidate for the grant. “He’s a quirky guy,” Oppenheimer explains. “His interests are all over the map. He loves all aspects of pop culture, all kinds of music…. Within the arts, he could do a lot.”

Flake’s keen eye for detail and sly wit shone in stories like his cover piece titled “Break it Down,” which explored the local New Haven breakdance scene.

One of Flake’s most memorable assignments was when he had the chance to interview the Boston rock band Dresden Dolls. A big fan of the band’s music, he describes the encounter as “glamorous.”

Flake also enjoyed writing about local boxing coach Gaspar Ortega. “He punched me a couple of times,” Flake says, relaying the story of his encounter with the former flyweight champion. “I guess any story that I get punched [in pursuit of] a couple of times is probably a good piece.” (He adds that the sparring jabs he received from Ortega did, in fact, hurt.)

Flake says he’s learned a lot from working in a newsroom, but for now he’ll concentrate on his band, The Smyrk. “I think that music would be my first choice, but writing certainly isn’t drudgery,” he says. Next month, he’ll be recording an album tentatively titled, “Monster on Maple Street” — a direct reference to the title of a Twilight Zone episode.

Flake says that music writing is still a part of his future plans. “I would really like to get in touch with some magazines. I want to start sending stuff out and get some freelance work going,” he says.

Oppenheimer, who describes Flake as a “huge asset to the paper,” says he hopes that Flake will maintain his connection to writing and reporting. “I would love for some alt-weekly to call him up and try and lure him to the journalism world. If he decided that’s what he wanted to do, he would be the perfect match.”

Joy Howard is a freelance writer living in Amherst, Mass. A 2003 fellow of the Academy for Alternative Journalism, she has written for Boston’s Weekly Dig, Cleveland Free Times and the San AANtonio Convention Daily.