Huge Increase in Academy for Alternative Journalism Applications

AAN CAN drives the surge

A national advertising campaign linked to the AAN CAN program has pushed applications to the Academy for Alternative Journalism up 1,400 percent, says Michael Lenehan, executive editor of the Chicago Reader.

Last year the fledgling program had only 50 applicants. However, after advertising heavily in various AAN papers along with the AAN Classified Advertising Network (AAN CAN), the number of applicants has skyrocketed to more than 750.

The Academy will ultimately enroll 10 students and award each of them a $3,000 stipend.

“I had an idea of how it might work four years ago and so far, much to my amazement, it seems to be going according to plan,” Lenehan says.

Part of that plan was to help make the world of alternative journalism look a little less like the pages of a J. Crew catalogue.

Motivated by his own shop’s lack of diversity, Lenehan directed a minority writing fellowship launched by the Reader in the late 1980s. In 1998, with financial support from the Reader, he began working with Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism to establish a minority recruiting and training program specifically for the alternative press.

The Academy for Alternative Journalism was formally launched in 2000. The eight-week summer residency program, now funded by AAN and a number of individual publishers, introduces minority journalists to the alternative press and trains them in long-form feature writing.

“One of the ideas behind the academy is that alternative journalism does not do as well [at promoting diversity] as some of the more established media outlets that we like to poke fun at,” says Lenehan. “This is a way to make up for what appears to be a serious discrepancy between us and mainstream journalism.”

Charles Whitaker, a former senior editor at Ebony Magazine and assistant professor at Medill, is director of the Academy. Whitaker will attend the AAN convention in Madison, and will talk about his plans for the Academy during a special meet-and-greet on Thursday, May 30 at 9 a.m.

Matt Pulle is a staff writer for the Nashville Scene.

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