University of Minnesota students involved in the 'AccessU: Queer on Campus' reporting project for the community journalism course.

By Greta Solsaa

Opportunities abound for journalism students at the University of Minnesota (UMN), including a community journalism course and practicum internships.

“It's a very flexible and good model. It works for the Twin Cities because we have a pretty rich and robust media community,” said Gayle Golden, a senior lecturer for the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UMN.

Noor Adwan, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, said the community journalism course helped her gain confidence and prepare for her future.

“It made me a better people-person. It made me a better speaker, and maybe a better conversationalist,” said Adwan. “The soft skills that you gain from a journalism degree are important in every realm of life. Even if I don't end up working at a paper in 10 years, I am still going to be using those skills.”

The community journalism course took off in 2001, and originally functioned as an external internship where students would be paired with a community newsroom and be required to write a variety of stories for the outlet. Due to lack of funds for transportation and student participation, however, the community journalism course transformed into a wire service on campus called the Murphy News Service.

Golden inherited a community journalism course in 2017, looked around at shrinking newsrooms, and decided to reshape the course to fit the needs of students and the current state of the news industry.

“I think the notion of community has changed,” Golden said. “So, I'm going to ask students to identify a community in or around campus and to cover that.”

In the Spring of 2023, the students focused on the disability community on campus. Golden's students created a website to feature stories which have been made available for republishing by local outlets.

“That actually ended up to be a really powerful experience and experience for the students,” said Golden. “A lot of students went on into community journalism as a result.”

The following semester, students chose to cover the community of students who were facing addiction or in recovery. Their reporting made waves on campus.

“That had a lot of impact for the students because we were able to do a big survey and identify needs and discover that the university wasn't doing anything,” said Golden. “The university responded by creating programming. That was a very powerful thing. And so since then, we've run that community journalism class every year, and it actually has developed into a model that really is interesting.”

Students in Golden’s course have covered communities including:nontraditional students and black students on campus; this semester students are reporting on first-generation students on campus.

Adwan was a part of a cohort of students that chose to focus their reporting on the campus' LGBTQ+ community, which is housed on the Access U Queer on Campus website. That semester, Adwan profiled transgender students on campus and took on a larger reporting project tracking “LGBTQ+ student temperatures” after the recent wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Adwan also served as a peer editor for the class.

“We were able to kind of get an idea of how students felt about those more sweeping nationwide issues, and learn how they were planning and organizing their futures, knowing that while Minnesota was a trans refugee state, and overall very friendly surrounding LGBTQ rights, surrounding states were not as friendly, so that was really rewarding,” said Adwan.

Beyond the Classroom

Beyond the classroom, there are practicums that are also managed by Golden which place students at local newsrooms including the Star Tribune, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, and Minnesota Public Radio.

“We treat them like rookie reporters, meaning we test them and we give them simple assignments to start, and then we crank it up after that as we see where they are,” said Mike Burbach, editor for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. “Our interns don't do filing and sweeping. They do journalism.”

Along with receiving a living stipend, five to 10 students every semester earn three credits by working for 14 hours a week at local outlets. Students are also required to attend weekly class check-in to reflect on their internship experience.

Bao Ong interned with the Saint Paul Pioneer Press feature writing department during his undergraduate studies at UMN. While Ong initially thought lifestyle and fashion journalism would be his niche before the internship, restaurant critique story assignments sparked his interest in culinary pursuits.

“That really gave me the opportunity to not only gain valuable internship experience, but introduced me to this world of food writing,” said Ong.

Ong said his career path can all be traced back to the opportunities for professional growth and exploration that the practicum provided. After graduation, Ong was offered a staff position at the paper. He went on to attend culinary school and graduate school, and now works as a restaurant columnist for the Houston Chronicle.

Burbach said that through the practicum, he attempts to help students like Ong hone in on their interests and skills so that they can thrive as working professionals.

“We support this practicum and have for more than two decades now, very enthusiastically. We think of it as mutually beneficial to everybody involved,” said Burbach. “We find these students' strengths and we help to develop them. That's good for them. It's good for us and it's good for the enterprise and for that matter, it's good for the world in our own tiny little way.”

Golden believes overseeing both the community journalism course and the practicum internships are worthwhile endeavors because of its impact on students.

“This is where the teaching is,” said Golden. This is where you get to see the real growth because [students] can apply what they've learned, and this is where they can make that transition between something that is abstractly applied but to practically applied. They know it makes a difference, they see through it, and it's just incredibly empowering.”