Empty desks at Chicago Sun-Times a sober reminder for student journalists

Posted on by sbhatt

Brenna Kajikawa was one of a half dozen Washington students nominated by the AAJA Seattle chapter for a seat at UNITY Student Campus, an intense four-day journalism bootcamp for college students beginning on July 20. After the bootcamp ended on July 23, students were allowed to attend the rest of UNITY at no cost.

Here’s a brief essay from Brenna on her UNITY Student Campus experience. If you want to see the multimedia the student teams produced, go to http://unitystudentcampus.vox.com/.


Brenna Kajikawa

I had no idea what to expect when I landed in Chicago’s Midway airport. But as soon as Unity started, I knew it was going to be an adventure.

The very first day of Student Campus was the most difficult, especially when we realized that it would be a 14-hour day. During a press conference at Columbia College in Chicago, the speakers – Delmarie Cobb, an African-American media consultant for Senator Hillary Clinton; Abdon Pallasch, a Chicago Sun-Times political reporter; and Steven Gray, a reporter for TIME Magazine – discussed issues from the role of minority voters to gay marriage. Right after the press conference ended, we went straight to work on our stories. Although we had most of the day to write, the most challenging part was getting started. We had covered so many issues that it was difficult trying to figure out which one to focus on. However, once I talked with some of the mentors and discussed where I wanted my story to go, everything started to flow together, and this new challenge wasn’t so terrifying.

Later we divided into three groups, each one visiting a Chicago media outlet: a public radio station, NBC 5 and the Chicago Sun-Times. As an aspiring print journalist, I naturally chose to go to the Chicago Sun-Times, where a few of the writers and editors talked to us about why they chose to be journalists and what it really takes to be a journalist today. Listening to these accomplished professionals was not only inspiring, but also made me realize how well rounded one has to be in order to make it as a journalist today, especially in the print industry. Limiting yourself to just being a reporter is not something that will get you far in this industry; you have to be willing to be flexible and write about a plethora of topics as well as being comfortable with different computer programs and taking pictures.

We then took a tour of the Sun-Times, and I could almost feel the tension, not from people bustling about, but from seeing so many empty desks due to layoffs. It was inspiring to envision myself working at the Sun-Times someday down the road, and yet it was also a reality check for me to actually see that the print industry is facing troubling times.

Lastly, one of the most helpful tips we received from our mentors was about résumés. A large part of getting into this industry is marketing yourself, and your résumé is essentially a first impression. One very helpful tip for me as someone who is bilingual is to put your résumé in both English and your second language. The more skills you have the better, especially in journalism, and knowing more than one language is a big asset in this industry. That said, it is also important not to exaggerate and to be honest. Ray Chávez, one of the mentors at Student Campus, told us a story of an applicant putting “fluent in Spanish” on his résumé when he actually wasn’t. Needless today, that applicant did not get the job. Knowing how to market yourself through your résumé was something that I, a college freshman, found very helpful, as well as my peers who are juniors and seniors in college.

The experience of Unity Student Campus is something that I will never forget, and is something that will be of great help for my future. Each day was packed with information and learning experiences that some people don’t have until later in life. There was a lot of hard work and no sleep involved, but the experience that I had and the people that I met will last a lifetime.

Brenna Kajikawa, a native of Seattle, is an entering journalism student at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus. She hopes to land an internship at the BBC covering international affairs.

About sbhatt

Sanjay Bhatt jumped into journalism in 1996, landing his first job at The Times Leader, a daily in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He juggled covering 12 school districts and loved turning out enterprising, investigative pieces. Within a year, he got hired by The Palm Beach Post of West Palm Beach, Fla., where he spent the next six years building a reputation as a top health reporter. The biggest story he covered there was the 2001 anthrax investigation. In 2003, he joined The Seattle Times, where he has examined public schools, neighborhood issues, the economic crisis and local government. He enjoys producing mini-documentaries, trying new ideas online and learning new technologies. View all posts by sbhatt →
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