After almost 14 years of ad hoc meetings, day-long programs and long hours of logistical planning, the New Orleans Junior Journalism Program has expanded into a semester long program. The founding cohort of junior journalists will begin training in September 2017.
The program sets out to provide facilities, resources and a curriculum for young aspiring journalists from 8th to 12th grade to learn about journalism. A professional mentor will be paired with each student and junior journalists will report on events in the city in order to write a story for publication each week.
The New Orleans Recreation Development Commission has provided spaces in their newly renovated NORD Lyons Recreation Center on Louisiana Ave.
In addition to educational instruction from mentors and guest speakers, students will take field trips to professional journalism outlets and see real world journalism in action.
However, before there was a set place for facilities and long-term planned instruction, there was the day long programs for student journalists that paved the way for the new program vision.
The first iteration of the program took place in 2003 during the annual HBCU All-Star Classic, in which students were assigned a professional journalist mentor and had the opportunity to interview the players and write stories and take photos of the event.
The initial success of the first program caused a series of pop-up journalism events just like it over many years, including coverage of the Women’s College Basketball Final Four and the New Orleans Bowl.
Mary Rose Neumeyer, a student participant in the 2016 December New Orleans Bowl day of reporting, said her favorite takeaways from the program were the self expression journalism gave her and the guidance provided to her by her mentor.
“I feel like journalism is a way to express myself in ways I’m normally not able to in school writing,” she said. “My mentor really helped me with my reporting and gave me so much guidance and advice … I was really nervous at first and I had to write my story so quickly but it was really rewarding.”
Sam Joffray, founder of the Junior Journalism program, said his vision for the semester long program solidified in December of 2016. A record number of mentors and junior journalists enrolled in the New Orleans Bowl day program and it was clear to Joffray there was a demand to expand the program. The semester long program will also allow students to grow and develop as writers, a limitation of the earlier iterations of the program which gave students only hours to research, write and publish a story.
The program will now include news, culture, views and entertainment reporting in addition to the original sports coverage.
For Joffray, the importance of student journalism lies in the specific and valuable perspective brought to journalism by students. Although student journalists are young, they have an important stake in their community.
“[Student journalism] is tapping into a unique voice that needs to be heard by many,” Joffray said. “They may not be old enough to vote but can still ask the relevant and necessary questions.”