Mentoring young journalists has rewards

May 6, 2014

By Walter Kaechele
Senior Correspondent | Kaechele Newspapers

Is journalism dead? Some would say so. Many think it already has gone along with the land line telephone.

The demise of journalism and journalists has been a media talking point for the past decade, but they are not, as some have predicted, a thing of the past. In fact, they are in more demand than ever.

For a journalist, this is an issue of credibility and with credibility the cream, as they say, will rise to the top. However, a new breed of journalist is coming.

I was fortunate enough to watch them in action. They were simply quite remarkable.

This took place during the National Newspaper Association’s We Believe in Newspapers Summit in Washington, March 12-14.

The National Newspaper Association Foundation is the educational arm of NNA. And its mission is “to promote news literacy, protect the First Amendment, and enhance the quality, role and capabilities of community newspapers and community journalists.

To this end, the NNAF, in conjunction with state newspaper associations and with a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Oklahoma City, OK, chose eight college journalists from around the U.S. as News Fellows to take part in a crash course in hard news reporting, using primary sources as background for their articles.

There were also four working journalists selected as mentors to the News Fellows. I was selected as one of the mentors. My two fellows were Aaron Lee from Roosevelt University in Chicago and Averi Haugesag from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

They, along with the other six fellows, were researching the issue of personal privacy versus national security. This was a hot topic because of the controversy stirred up by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s divulging of sensitive NSA spying techniques.

To begin their quest for background, on the first day, the fellows toured the NSA Cryptology Museum and had a chance to interview two sources from the NSA. As one would expect, little information was provided about the issue. In fact, some of the fellows felt they were being talked down to and were a bit offended by the tone the NSA sources took with them.

The next day, we hit Capitol Hill.

Averi had made appointments to meet with her state representatives and senators for one-on-one meetings.

Aaron had no such luck, which wasn’t too surprising because of the population difference between their two states. North Dakota has fewer than 724,000 people in the state compared to Illinois 12.9 million and Chicago’s 2.7 million.

Regardless of the state’s population, the reality of Washington is be prepared for the unexpected and stay flexible. It was the rule of the day.

All three of us attended Averi’s first meeting with her representative. The timing for us was tight, but we made it; alas, her representative did not. He was tied up, so we moved on to the next appointment.

She had an appointment with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, so Aaron joined another group of fellows and mentors.

Averi’s meeting with Heitkamp went extremely well and she was able to collect some valuable information.

Aaron was able to make appointments with his representatives and senators when they were to visit their Chicago offices during the congressional break.

In short, the fellows were amazing with how polished they were with staffers, interviews and an insistence of receiving some kind of assurance their questions would be answered.

That afternoon, the fellows met with Tom Blanton, the executive director of the National Security Archives, to discuss Snowden and whether or not he thought the contractor was a criminal or a hero. Blanton said he thought Snowden was both.

On March 14, the fellows met at the Gallup International headquarters to put solid poll numbers with the information they already had, to form the articles they would be submitting for publication.

These articles, one starting on this page and others further in, reveal the real journalists of the future and the guarantee that journalism in general is in good hands for years to come. Four of the News Fellows articles are in this issue. The other four will appear in the June issue of Pub Aux.