"When I was 12 years old, I put the needle in my arm. By the time I was 13, I was a full-blooded heroin addict."
It was a compelling moment in a compelling interview. The former addict is now a notable community leader. The interviewers were my students in a journalism bootcamp.
We just completed that five day summer camp here in Albuquerque. It was a privilege to serve as training editor for all six of the college-age kids who may -- or may not - pursue journalism as a career.
Here's the video of Martinez, the one-time heroin addict, now an important mentor to men returning from prison.
Next Generation Radio is the workshop series started at NPR by Doug Mitchell.
The radio project has morphed over the years, becoming more multimedia, for one thing, but it still follows a basic formula: a small group of young, aspiring journalists takes on a short-term, intensive reporting assignment under the tutelage of a small group of professional journalists. The mission has been to discover and propel journalists of color into the professional ranks of public media. And it's been very successful, launching the careers of dozens, thanks in large part to Mitchell's ever-expanding social network of trainers, trainees and other beneficiaries.
Generation Justice, meanwhile, is a local non-profit established almost 10 years ago by Roberta Rael. It was incubated originally by KUNM-FM and still toils one floor below KUNM in the dilapadated former dormitory, Onate Hall, on the University of New Mexico campus. (My hope is someday to see both KUNM and Generation Justice move to more suitable digs in my imaginary "New Mexico Public Media Center" of the future!) Rael is a remarkable woman who has cobbled together grants and gifts to build a staff of 17 helpers, plus interns and fellows, to produce a weekly radio program, maintain a content-rich website and do special projects like the bootcamp. Their mission is the cause of social justice and they do that by blending youth activism with youth media training.
I've helped on several workshops with Mitchell. What was notable and challenging about this one was that we had to adjust the usual bootcamp formula. This time around, the trainees were greener, more mixed in their experience and aspirations. And, to make things interesting, we didn't have enough professionals to offer one-on-one mentorship... so reporter Tristan Ahtone and I mostly shared the mentoring duties. We did get some valuable drop-in help from news producer Furhana Afrid and local TV journalist Royale Da.
Journalism Meets Activism
I'm sure you're wondering how professional journalism training fit with the activist agenda of Generation Justice. I would say that's for them to figure out. We trainers provided a straight-up-the-middle approach to news coverage. Get the facts and let the facts tell the story. We spent a solid chunk of time on journalism ethics, including the debate over objectivity. I pointed out the many journalists who were fired for taking a stance on controversial issues via social media, in violation of their employers' ethical standards.
"We're not in the marketing business, we're in the truth telling business." -Mike Marcotte #GJNextGen— Jason Fuller (@BakariTZace) July 18, 2014
We talked about how journalism is a broadening field -- where there's more and more room for practitioners to stake positions on the political spectrum, perhaps use their talents to drive agenda-driven outcomes... or, as I prefer, strive for detachment while assuring fairness and completeness in coverage.
In the end, we all survived a hard-working week -- and the whole activist thing was never really a factor. I was very impressed with the high level of comraderie and group patience, even during the crunch hours when the clock was ticking down to our live closing event at the UNM Student Union.
A Salute to the Next Generation
I jwant to acknowledge the hard work by these six exceptional young people: Jason Fuller, Pauly Denetclaw, Lucia Martinez, Thema Fenderson, Chantel Trujillo and Christina Rodriguez. Not only did they give up a precious week of their summer, and put up with my stupid jokes, but they really leaned in to their reporting, writing and producing with intelligence and care. I expect each to go on to do great things.
Thanks, too, to Doug, Roberta, Tristan, Afrid and Royale... plus the crack team of Generation Justice producers, editors and staff. Oh, and the many supporters behind all this! (Support Generation Justice)
It's worth the toil to see the next generation take root.