female leading class 647x301The Lemke Journalism Project, a multicultural newspaper program for high school students interested in writing about diversity issues in northwest Arkansas, celebrates its 10th year in 2011.

The program is sponsored by the Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism and the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. Students work with journalism professionals to put out a yearly edition of The Multicultural News.

Since the first workshop in February 2002, about 250 students have been trained.  Of those, eight students have entered the UA journalism program. Gaby Cruz Smith was given a $20,000 National Broadcasters Association scholarship to complete her degree, and Pamela Acosta was awarded $12,000 from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

The University of Arkansas Chancellor’s Office and the Fulbright College were the primary funding support during the first nine years; however, for a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation funded the project for two years.

In 2010,  Tyson Foods, Inc., presented a $250,000 gift for the Lemke Journalism Project to ensure its future.

“This is an enormous gift that ensures the success of this program for years to come,” said Katherine Shurlds, LJP director and journalism instrucgtor. “We cannot possibly thank Tyson Foods enough.”

The Lemke Journalism Project attracts sophomore, junior and senior high school students from local high schools. Primarily populated by Hispanic students, the program also has had participants from a variety of cultural backgrounds, including Marshallese, African-American and Caucasian.
“The increasing diversity of northwest Arkansas makes this program very important to our community and its evolving culture,” said Archie Schaffer III, Tyson’s executive vice president of corporate affairs. “The Lemke Journalism Project will make a lasting contribution to improve journalism in the region as well as multicultural understanding. We at Tyson are pleased to be able to provide financial stability to the program.”

The program also receives annual support from The Morning News, now a part of the Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, which prints and distributes the Lemke Journalism Project’s newspaper, The Multicultural News, for free.

In the past, additional support has come from Wal-Mart Good Works Foundation, on behalf of northwest Arkansas Wal-Mart stores, Neighborhood Markets and Sam’s Club, as well as Tyson Foods, Inc.

Organizations and individuals who have sponsored lunch for the students throughout the years include, among others, Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas, University of Arkansas Admissions Office, Ana Hart, the UA Multicultural Center, the Street Law Program, the Immigration Law Clinic, LULAC Council 758 and 761, Univision and the Community Support Center of Rogers.

Special guests visiting and working with the students have included Cynthia Rodriguez, in 2006 when she was a columnist for the Denver Post; Macarena Hernandez, in 2007, a reporter for The Dallas Morning News; Sergio Bustos, in 2005 when he was a correspondent for Gannett News Service; and Gilbert Bailón, in 2005 when he was publisher and editor of Al Día, a Spanish-language daily owned by The Dallas Morning News.

From its beginning, the LJP has depended on the generosity of three groups — speakers, coaches and faculty mentors. Speakers serve as sources for the stories the high school students write. They also inspire the students to ask questions and some inspire students as role models.

Writing coaches are news professionals who volunteer to spend their Saturday mornings for six weeks working with the students and shaping their story ideas. They are reporters and editors from local newspapers and news producers from KUAF, the local National Public Radio affiliate, and UATV, student-run television. Most of them are members of the northwest Arkansas chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, a national organization that encourages work with high school journalists.

Thanks to the support of Rogers and Springdale school districts, the LJP provides transportation for students who do not live in Fayetteville. Each year, the program accepts about 25-30 students in 10th, 11th or 12th grade. Students who have attended before are invited to participate again.

Each Saturday morning during February and the first two weeks of March, students arrive at the department at 9 a.m. After some preliminaries, the first hour is usually spent on a discussion of news – what it is, why it’s important and how to gather it.

During the second Saturday, students meet in small groups with local news professionals to talk about their story ideas. From these sessions, students are assigned a mentor from the pool of journalists. The mentors keep in touch with the students during the week to help with stories.

Twice during most Saturdays, the students hear from speakers from the community. Subjects have included health concerns among Latinos, Marshallese and African-Americans; immigration legislation; higher education opportunities for minorities; teen pregnancy; and racial profiling.

By the third week, students are spending every spare moment in the writing lab to work on their stories; photographers are meeting with the multimedia teacher; and broadcast projects are under way.

After much hard work during the six weeks, the students take a break as the LJP staff and volunteers edit and produce the newspaper. When the latest edition of The Multicultural News is ready for the press, it is printed and distributed in La Prensa Libre.

Early in April, at the department’s Journalism Days celebration, the students are brought again to the campus — with their parents and friends — to see the finished product and to receive awards and scholarships. This year, however, the 10th anniversary, the awards ceremony is being moved to Saturday and to the Springdale High School Performing Arts Center.

The Lemke Journalism Project is free to students – including snacks, meals, supplies and transportation.

When the LJP was established, it was intended as a way to train more journalists to provide a diverse viewpoint in Arkansas newsrooms.

However, another effect of the workshop has emerged: Students have become better informed consumers of news. They learn to judge the source of what they are reading and hearing and they ask questions they might not have asked before.